30.04.2012 - 17.05.2012
Europe & The World
30.04.2012 - 17.05.2012
23.07.2011 - 14.08.2011
The next three weeks were to be spent in the village of Carnew in the southern part of Co Wicklow.
We drove from New Ross on the Friday evening after work, and found the GP, his wife and 6 teenagers excitedly packing their surfboards for their annual holiday in Kerry. “The Shed” is a stylishly renovated cottage in their garden, fitted out by Ikea, and was to be ours for the next three weeks. It is situated in the countryside, about 2km from the village and surrounded by ripe wheatfields, grazing cattle and sheep.
The country lanes are lovely to explore on foot [as long as you don't get mown down by a combine harvester!]
On David's birthday Sandi prepared a delicious 3 course banquet-for-two: mixed seafood starter followed by roast lamb and veg, finishing off with a divine Pavlova-ish meringue concoction with freshly made lemon curd and thick cream!
On Saturday David had to drive down to Waterford for a long overnight shift. Sandi needed a homeopathic remedy which we did not have with us, so we Googled and phoned health shops, but they did not stock any either. We were given the name of a local homeopath in Thomastown, which was halfway to Waterford. We arranged to meet on Sunday to pick up the remedy. She told us about the local arts festival, so we decided to make a day of it, as David had managed to get a few hours sleep on his shift. We had a lovely chat with Breda and her English husband Jerry over a cup of tea, and found we had a lot of common interests. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the galleries and studios of Thomastown, looking at mosaics, ceramics, paintings, wood sculptures and crafts.
Breda had also informed us about the arts festival in Kilkenny, so we made that our project for Wednesday afternoon. Again it was about an hour’s drive away, but the countryside is so beautiful to drive through. First stop was a lovely old pub called Kyteler’s Bar, for a hot pub lunch as it was raining and cold and we were starving. At last we found the renowned Kilkenny draught, which no-one else in Ireland seems to sell. There were lots of foreigners in town, but not a lot of art to see. Flowers everywhere made the streets very attractive.
Most of the shows were at times or dates that were not suitable for us, so after a few hours of trudging, and a severe case of “Disney foot”, we decided to call it a day.
All too soon the three weeks came to an end and it was time for Sandi to catch her plane to Scotland. On Sunday David dropped her at Dublin airport and drove down to New Ross in time for the evening shift at Caredoc. Two memorable home visits were made on consecutive shifts to two patients that are so fat they cannot ever get out of bed - one was an elderly man and the other a woman in her thirties - incredible that people can get to that point!
10.07.2011 - 23.07.2011 18 °C
On Sunday, after a final leisurely farm breakfast at Hillview Farm, we bade Rosemary the Poach-Egg Princess a fond farewell, and made our way down the Barrow River valley to New Ross. Our home for the next week [which turned into 2 weeks] was to be at Glendower House with our hosts Michael and Margaret, where we had spent the last 3 weeks of our walk-about, in the winter, last November.
Margaret's large garden is full of colour now, in sharp contrast to the pristine covering of snow last time we were here.
Tuesday was half day, so we decided to visit the JFK [Kennedy] Arboretum again, as the weather was sunny and mild. The last time we visited here was in early spring and Sandi had sprained her ankle at the start of our walk, so hobbling the route wasn't much fun, even though she stoically refused to abandon the outing. Again we marvelled at the variety and splendour of the trees.
On the way home we met with the couple for a van-showing, and Sandi and his delightful wife hit it off immediately. They spent some time viewing the virtues of the van, which they appeared to love. So, with mixed emotions, we suddenly had a buyer, but we were thrilled that Mr Stubby was going to a good home! Since they have four sons, they were keen to use the van for what remained of their summer holidays, which left us needing to immediately find transport for our remaining time in Ireland.
As there was no work anywhere for David on Sunday, we spent the day booking airtickets from Dublin to Edinburgh, and from Edinburgh to Gatwick. Sandi also started looked at the donedeal website for secondhand cars, as we realised that buying a car was still going to be much cheaper than renting one, as summer care hire costs are astronomical. Courtesy of our kind B&B host, we had the option of leaving the car in Ireland at Glendower House, selling it, or finding locums to use it and defray costs that way. As we were soon to discover, compulsory car insurance in Ireland is not cheap i.e. €560 pa, if you do not have a “claim-free bonus”. Motor tax adds another €425 pa! We finished off the day by treating ourselves to a pub dinner at the Horse and Hounds - a nice change from bedroom fodder!
On Monday, our host, Michael, contacted his garage man, who quickly arranged for a Polish man, who sells cars in his spare time, to contact us. He brought around a silver Ford Mondeo 1.6 for us to look at. It was perfect for our needs: big lockable boot, 11 years old, in great condition, drives like a dream, and we negotiated a price of €725. We were thrilled to have found such a bargain so quickly! We spent our afternoon off, unpacking, cleaning and clearing out Mr Stubby before driving him off [in tandem with the "new" car] to his new home in beautiful, coastal Tramore. Quite a hectic day: bidding a sad farewell to one and the excitement of buying another!
01.07.2011 - 09.07.2011
On the way to Waterford, we stopped in at New Ross to buy some airtime for the phones and internet dongle. The roads into the centre of Waterford were all closed for the Tall Ships Festival, and 3 large Park ‘n Rides with shuttle buses were in operation, coping very efficiently with the half million visitors. We parked in the CareDoc carpark and from there only had a short walk into town. There were thousands of people on the quay in a very festive mood. Queues were long to explore the ships, but there were plenty of stalls to browse, and foods to buy.
We trudged slowly back to the van to catch up on a little sleep, as David had a full night’s duty ahead. Fortunately the patients were distracted from their ailments by the festival, so the shift was quiet and David snatched a few hours sleep in the duty room, while Sandi slept in the van outside. Even the firework display did not disturb us.
On Saturday the sun came out so we took the opportunity to give Mr Stubby a good clean and scrub.
David worked that evening till midnight, then joined Sandi in the van for a few hours. We needed to make an early start the next day, as we had to drive 2 hours up to our accommodation for the week ahead, drop Sandi to settle in, with David needing to get back into Carlow by 9am for the day’s duty.
Breakfast each day consisted of the best eggs we've eaten in Ireland, in over 2 years, prepared by B&B owner, Rosemary - the Poached-egg Princess of the Universe!
We laughed at the frisky calves, who played like children at dusk every day. The long summer evenings, spent looking over the hills and trying to talk to the calves, were very relaxing.
About a maid I'll sing a song ……… sing rickety tickety tin [melody and words available on application]
25.06.2011 - 01.07.2011
With 5 days to spend in Truro, waiting for the van to be fixed, we set about planning what to do i.e. making lemonade with our lemon. On Saturday we were invited to lunch by Anton and Kay Kruger, old varsity pals of David’s, who live in a lovely country homestead, just outside Truro.
We headed for the veggie garden and tunnel to pick lunch: fresh, organic broadbeans, French beans, chillis, white radish, new potatoes, coriander seed, courgette, carrots, raspberries and strawberries. Yum! Nothing could taste better!
On the way back we stopped in at a favourite antediluvian haunt: Trago Mills, a fascinating, time-warp, multi-department store, selling everything, and then some. The parking lot is full of eccentric statues.
Stress levels were steadily climbing, as we waited for the van repairs to be timeously completed by Wednesday, as time would be extremely tight if there were any delays at all. David was just about to book the ferry crossing for Thursday evening, when an email came in expressing interest in buying the van. The couple would drive down from Plymouth that afternoon [Wednesday] to have a look, after we had picked the van up from the garage – it sounded really promising! Bob immediately phoned a friend, who offered us a reliable car for £600. So we had a buyer for the van and a car with which to travel to Ireland. Fantastic! All we had to do was to collect the van at 5pm, as we were assured that it would be ready by then, drive back to Truro in the rush hour traffic, give the van a quick wash and be ready for the buyers at 6pm. Our ferry to Ireland was a mere 30 hours away, if we were to cross the Irish Sea in time for David’s overnight shift at 6pm on Friday. Life is never dull in Nye-land!
We popped down to Truro centre to shop for the time in Ireland, as food and wine are so much cheaper in England.
But it was not to be so easy! The first blow was a call from the prospective buyer cancelling the appointment to view. This was followed shortly by a call from the garage to say that they had to order some brake callipers, which would be sent down from Exeter the next day. We both felt quite desperate with time running out. Our only option now was to take the van to Ireland and to use it while trying to sell it. An added stress was trying to find accommodation for Sandi in Waterford for Friday and Saturday, since there was absolutely nothing to be had in either this, or surrounding towns - not what were were expecting. It turns out that, unbeknown to us, David's shifts coincided with the Tall Ships Festival - an event that attracted half a million revellers to Waterford for the weekend! The decision was made that Sandi would sleep in the van, in the car park behind the Caredoc office. With that decision made we finally booked the ferry for 2.45am on Friday morning, and went to bed, praying for no more surprises. The emotional roller-coaster was however running at full throttle, and both our stress levels were stratospheric!
On Thursday morning David went into Falmouth with Bob to help him with packing up the boat, while waiting for the van to be ready. By 12.30pm the parts had still not arrived! Sandi was back in Truro stressing, and packing and unpacking to keep busy. By 2.30pm the parts arrived and they got to work on the van. We were assured that they would be finished with the repairs, and that the MOT would be issued by 5pm. This was really cutting things fine, as David still had to drive back to Truro, pick up Sandi and load everything into the van, by 6pm at the absolute latest, and start the long 6 hour drive to the ferry port in Wales. David got the key back at 5.20pm and the ferry countdown journey began. The whirlwind with which we loaded our belongings [by now all waiting on the lawn outside], was second only to the staggering blow of the whopping £627 bill [and they even forgot to do the oil change]. We hit the road in record time, leaving Bob's sanctuary at 6.10pm.
We eventually arrived at the ferry port at 1.30am and were relieved to be able to board immediately. We grabbed our pillows, found a seat and fell asleep. The sun was rising by 4.30am and we had a greasy ferry-style English breakfast, as they stopped service at 5am. At 6.15am we disembarked in Rosslare, Co Wexford, grateful to once again be on the terra firma of this lush Emerald Isle, which has been one of our special homes-from-home during our 2-year walkabout. Although exhausted, we had made it, and the relief was beyond description!
22.06.2011 - 24.06.2011 15 °C
Greetings friends and welcome to our resuscitated travel blog.
Our plans were to fly Emirates to Gatwick airport, arriving in the morning of 23 June. Then to drive down to Cornwall, MOT and sell the van, buy a cheap car, drive/ferry over to Ireland to work there for 7 weeks.
Day 1 went fairly well according to plan: we picked up our rental car and started driving. It was about the same price to rent a car for 24 hours as catching the train to Cornwall. It is mid-summer and the air is cold [8-16 °C] with patchy sunshine and showers. The winter weather is Cape Town is better than this!
We soon noticed there was something wrong with the radio reception, and found the aerial was missing! We phoned the rental company and they knocked £15 off the price. We stopped over at cousin Ebu to pick up our post and were offered a “simple lunch” of delicious soup, smoked trout, prawns, potatoes, garden salad and strawberries and cream! All this was topped off with superb hand-made chocolates! Sandi preferred the violet cream ones, and David found the rose cream ones transported him instantly back to Bulgaria!
We were greeted in Truro by Bob, with whom we were to stay for a few days while we got Mr Stubby sorted out. Bear had already returned to France to welcome her summer guests. We were thoroughly exhausted after our long trip: 19 hours of flying and six hours of driving.
Day 2 and things started to go pear-shaped! We found Mr Stubby in the driveway, under his winter cover, just where we had left him, except that by now the snow had all melted!
We pulled the cover off Mr Stubby and found the interior was pretty dry, thanks to the desiccating granules we had placed inside, except for some mould growing on the front seats. He started immediately, which was amazing after 7 months! The wheels were locked at first, but David managed to free them up without too much difficulty. He set off behind Bob to follow him to the garage in Falmouth for the MOT [obligatory annual roadworthy test for those who don’t know] which was booked for 10h30. It immediately became apparent that the footbrake was not working properly….not an encouraging sign 10 minutes before an MOT!
After a 45 minute wait they started the test. An hour and a half later David was called in to be shown extensive rusting of parts of the undercarriage, disc brakes and pipes and a worn tyre. The quote for the welding needed and other repairs came to a whopping £500! The really bad news was that the job could not be done before Wednesday. That means that we have 5 days to cool our heels here with no transport, because we may not take the van on the road. It also means that we have no time to take the van up to London to sell. The recession is biting hard here, and it is beginning to look as if we will struggle to give it away. There have been no responses to our ad on Gumtree for the past week. There are much nicer campervans being advertised for next to nothing!
We have been considering our options: [a] scrap the van and save the £500. It seems such a waste! We then buy a cheap car for £500 to use in Ireland. [b] fix the van, use it in Ireland and keep it for camping in France next year. We could park it in Ireland, but it would carry on rusting and we would have the same situation next year again. We could go camping in France next year, but would have to abandon it in France before returning to the UK. [c] fix the van and try to sell it in London, but there is now no time to do that. [d] fix the van, use it in Ireland and try to sell it asap for half-price. Then rent a car for the remaining time there.
David helped Bob on his boat in Falmouth for a couple of hours. He is hoping to launch it for testing in the river and sea for 2 days, before parking it again on land until he returns from France in September.
22.10.2010 - 30.11.2010
We decided to go back to Ireland to work for the last 6 weeks, before returning home, to replenish our dwindling coffers. We were soon to discover that the financial turmoil in Ireland had become even worse than before.
We arrived in Monaghan, and were met by the GP's wife who showed us the apartment we were to stay in. She had kindly put some roses on the table, and milk, white bread and marg in the fridge [which we secretly passed on to the surgery staff the next day, since these goodies are not part of our chosen wholefood diet].
The following two weeks were spent in the GP practice during the week, with David travelling for several hours on the weekends to do CareDOC shifts in Carlow. Even though the weather was brighter down south, it remained gloomy and depressing in Monaghan, which is wayup north, near the northern Ireland border. David couldn't stop commenting on the majority of people in the town, who he thinks are very sloppily dressed and who all look depressed - much like the shopping-mall population we observed in Livingston [Scotland]. Is this sad phenomenon due to the weather or the economy? Who knows.
We were surprised to see how big Halloween is in Ireland. The shops are full of costumes and scary decor, and in the housing estates swarms of kids mob the houses "trick-or-treating". Every town and village seems to have their own fireworks display. When David returned from Carlow, he had to face his own Halloween surprise!
We decided to finally start our low-carb diet while staying in the apartment. The idea is to eat no more than 20gm of net carbs a day (did you know that a tomato contains 3gm of carb?) It means that one eats mainly protein and fats, which is actually easier than it sounds. Vegetables are restricted to mostly raw or steamed greens [not that we mind that], but most fruit was off limits initially. Our digestive discomfort rapidly disappeared, and hunger was not a problem as one remained satisfied for up to 6 hours. We even had hot cocoa [yay for organic Green & Black's cocoa powder] in the evenings, with a dollop of [lactose-free] cream - what a treat!
Within a couple of weeks we had each lost 2kg and pulled our belts in a notch! The only problem with such restricted eating plans can be constipation, for which Psyllium husk powder is recommended. When water is added it swells alarmingly into a gelatinous mass, and can be a challenge to get down! Sandi swallows it nestled into a bowl of sugar-free jelly, dubbed Psilly-jelly by us, which makes it palatable for her. David has his with soya sauce and pretends he is eating dim sum! Research has shown that when one consumes little carbohydrate, one's metabolism converts to burning fat. Also the high fat intake is not harmful to cholesterol levels, if the carb intake is kept low, and eggs are free range.
David came across some more interesting Irish names among the patients: Sadhbh (pronounced Sive), Saoirse (Sersha), Cahill or Cathal (Ca-al), Aodhaghan (Agorn), Aoibhinn (Avin) and Eoghain (Owen). We both find some of the more rural Irish accents difficult to understand, but generally the lilting accents are a delight to the ear.
The following two weeks were spent at a GP practice in New Ross, down in the SE of Ireland .
We stayed in a B&B called Glendower House, and continued our slim-down eating plan by enjoying a standard Irish breakfast every morning, without black and white puddings and potato hash browns, and added some grapefruit. Dinner would be roast chicken and coleslaw or green salad, with chicken salad the next day, or smoked salmon, or cold meats and cheese, etc. All a tad tricky without cooking facilities - but we managed with some innovative planning. Since we were avoiding bread, Sandi created salmon or salami rolls [in place of sandwiches] with layers of lettuce and mayonnaise, rolled up into little bundles - delicious! One evening we brought the induction cooker/hot plate in from the van, and fried some chops and caourgettes on the bathroom floor. Unfortunately, the bathroom and bedroom reeked of garlic and chops for 2 days, forcing Sandi to burn incense for several days to dissipate the pong. Oh, the joys of confined living!
The last 10 days in Ireland were spent doing CareDOC after-hours shifts in various locations, so we decide to extend our stay at the Glendower, as we had a lovely big room and bathroom, and it was fairly central to the shifts in Wexford, Enniscorthy, Gorey, Clonmel and Cashel, none of which are more than 90 minutes drive away.
The Irish people are very angry with the Taoiseach [Head of Government] and the ruling Fianna Fáil party [Soldiers of Destiny] for the mess that the country is in. After the Celtic Tiger boom years, we now have the Celtic Crash, and in fact today [26 Nov], an Irish newspaper has issued a pack of playing cards with faces and quotations of the main poker-faced politicians and bankers/jokers responsible for gambling away the fortunes of an entire country.
We were pleasantly surprised to meet up with Bob and Bear again [our house-sit chums from France], who came to Ireland to view a boat they were hoping to purchase. They drove up to visit Sandi one morning and then we drove down later to join them at their hotel in Co Wicklow for a cosy winter dinner and catch-up.
At this point, with no further offers for the van, Bob and Bear kindly offered that we could park the van on their property in Truro, Cornwall, for a few months, until our return. We have realised we will have to return to Ireland to replenish the coffers after a few months, since we don't yet have any work lined up back home. We would use the van while working in Ireland and probably do some more camping, before selling it in the summer, which would be a much better time to sell it anyway. We decided to purchase a motorhome cover to protect it from the ravages of winter weather, so Mr Stubby is going into hibernation until Spring.
On the last weekend, David was to work in Gorey, about an hour's drive from New Ross, but thereby hangs a tale. On the Saturday morning we were astonished to open the curtains to a white wonderland outside our window! We were in the midst of a heavy snowfall as temperatures plummeted.
David set off with trepidation down the road, which was so thickly covered in snow and sludge, that he could only travel at 15km/hr. After 20 minutes, and not even out of the town yet, he called CareDOC to advise them of the impossibility of getting to the treatment centre in Gorey. Parked on the side of the road, he observed another van slithering crab-like down the hill towards him! He turned around and crept carefully back to the B&B - much to Sandi's relief.
The following morning he was up early to reassess the situation for the Sunday shift. The van doors were frozen closed, as the overnight temperature was a record -7.5 degrees! Michael, who runs the B&B, advised that the roads would be very icy and treacherous, so David had to beg off duty again. Another day's earnings were lost, but David survives to live another day!
And so, sadly, our two year walk-about comes to an end. Can it really be two years already? The time has just flown by. It has been a wonderful opportunity for new work and leisure experiences, which we could not have enjoyed without the opportunity of earning euros in Ireland. Out of 22 months away, we have spent 9 months in Ireland, working to finance our travels, and also having to send a considerable amount home each month for mortgages, insurances, wages, etc. Keeping the home coffers liquid in fact took 50% of our monthly budget, which meant we had to live frugally - something that could be a bit frustrating at times. However, the work in Ireland was a real blessing, without which our journey would have been very different - so no complaints!
Pondering our adventures so far, we find it has been a time of new togetherness for us both, as we have had more time in each other's company than at any other time in our 30 years of married life. We have tried to enjoy each day to the full and attempted to "live in the moment/present" and actually put our personal philosophy to the test. There have been difficult times, during which we have helped and supported each other, but those have been balanced out by the times we have fun, interspersed with joyful belly-laughs that we still have together, just about daily. It has been a very freeing time, as we shed most of the attachments (both emotional and professional) and responsibilities which occupied our busy lives at home. We have also eschewed many material comforts, in order to travel like gypsies on the road; but this makes our appreciation of comfort even greater when it is present. We are grateful every day for our many blessings, not least of which are our loving family and friends, many of whom have kept in touch and cheered our hearts when we have felt most alone.
13.09.2010 - 21.10.2010 12 °C
We took the ferry from Belfast to Stranraer in Scotland, having driven for 6 hours, from Cork city. We still had nearly 2 hours of stressful driving along narrow wet roads, competing for space with loads of HGVs, before we arrived in Livingston. It was wonderful to be with our friends, Bernie and Estralita, again.
We could just relax and keep warm, and felt no inclination to go out and do things. We had hilarious and naughty evenings in the kitchen, cooking up a storm, quaffing wine, and generally having [often outrageous] fun around the table, while eating wonderful food. Old friends - treasures indeed.
We needed the time to pack our last two crates, which were to join the other 10 being collected from Judy's house by the shipping agent. We advertised Mr Stubby, our darling van on Gumtree, washed it several times and had a few interested buyers, but no sale. Then, on cousin Judy's advice, we performed a ritual to bid the deva of the van farewell - imagine the sight of Bernie prancing around Mr Stubby on a frosty Scottish afternoon, with incense wafting out the doorway, and David and I earnestly doing our farewell-van thing behind her! What will the neighbours think?!! Unfortunately, as our departure time drew near, and we had still not sold the van, we had to book it on a ferry for our return to Ireland. We hoped that we might still sell it in Ireland, failing which a kind farmer (who is a CareDOC driver) had offered to store it on his farm until our return in the summer.
We had also been invited to use their house as a base, while we considered doing some package trips to different parts of Europe. We went to see the local travel agent, who suggested the cruise on the Nile, which sounded just right. So, no Europe - but lovely hot Egypt instead. We wasted no time in booking the trip for 2 weeks later. We also looked at a 4 day trip to Rome, but eventually decided it would have to keep for next year.
Bernie took us into Edinburgh for the day and we wandered in and out of shops, ate good food, and had lots of fun before heading home again. The architecture in the centre of the city is so interesting!
While the girls trawled through M&S, David went up inside the Scott Monument. It was built 170 years ago to commemorate Sir Walter Scott, the Scottish novelist and poet, who wrote Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, amongst others. David climbed the 287 spiral steps to the top; the passage became so narrow in places that both shoulders touched the sides!
The views of the city from the top were spectacular!
The nearest point at which we could join the Thomson tour to Egypt was Manchester airport, which was 5 hours away by road. We decided to go via Newcastle-on-Tyne so that we could visit the Bracchis again. This also meant that we would only have a 2 hour drive in the morning, to be at the airport by 07:00. When we were close to the Bracchis, our satnav, Molly, decided that the shortest way to cover the last stretch was to take a walking track through the woods! We bumped along, with Mr Stubby getting scratched and dented by branches on either side, unable to turn around. Finally, after about 2 miles, we emerged on the other side, rather bruised and worse for wear! Sue, Kev and the lads were astonished that we made it through the narrow lane, which they considered a physical impossibility for any vehicle - let alone a hulking great LDV van!
On our last weekend, Bernie had to attend a workshop in the Lake District, in the pretty town of Keswick. The rest of us decided to go along and make the most of it. We booked into the very nice Highfield Hotel, and enjoyed a superb 4-course dinner that evening. We were having such fun and laughing so much, that the other diners must have thought we were bonkers! We had stunning views over Derwentwater from our room.
We enjoyed browsing through a lovely street market on the Saturday, and discovered a unique jewellery shop called Expressions, from which we did not emerge empty-handed! Sandi dragged Estrelita back to the shop, and we are happy to report that a birthday present for Bernie left with her too!
We strolled along the edge of Derwentwater, admiring the beautiful scenery.
The time in Scotland flew by, and all too soon it was time to leave our dear, kind friends and head back to Stranraer, bound for Ireland.
06.10.2010 - 06.10.2010 35 °C
On our last day in Egypt, we rose again at 03:30, and were taken to boats for crossing of the Nile to the Westbank. Even though it was only a short trip, we were kindly offered tea on board.
With mounting anticipation we arrived at the launch site, to see about 10 enormous balloons laid out on the ground, and starting to inflate. The carnival colours in the pre-dawn dark, the bright flames, and hissing gasses was quite a surreal experience - and we hadn't even boarded our ballon yet. This candy-striped one was ours, and the bright colours glowing in the dark were a thrilling sight!
The ground crew helped each of us into the basket, which held 16 plus the pilot.
We were reassured that the pilot was fully qualified and experienced. He gave us brief instruction on how to brace for landing, before we lifted gently into the cool morning air.
Interestingly, we experienced no fear or discomfort, looking over the edge of the basket, so we could relax and enjoy the scenery stretching out before us. It was silent up there, except when the pilot fired up the burner periodically to gain some height, which made one heck of a racket and was head-scorchingly hot to boot! We could clearly hear donkeys braying and roosters crowing as the sky lightened with dawn. It was entrancing! While we drank it all in, the pilot gave us fascinating insights into Egyptian life, and interesting facts about the temples we were sailing over.
Our pilot then homed in on a village, and we sailed low over it. It made us feel like peeping-toms as we could see how the local people really live, but they cheerily waved to us from their cool and airy beds on the rooftops. Many houses seemed to lack roofs altogether!
All of a sudden it was over; we received the command to brace, and without any further warning, landed with several hard jolts on a narrow road. The ground crew was there to meet us, and quickly packed up the deflated balloon. Tips all round! We were each presented with a personalised Certificate of Flight!
This ride, and the Nile trip, was our 30th wedding anniversary to ourselves, and we loved every minute of it. The balloon ride was definitely the cherry on the top! The hour spent in the dawn sky was worth every penny of the 75 pounds [sterling] we each paid. In fact it was so awesome, we hardly spoke for a while afterwards, just savouring the incredible experience of floating in the sky like a flamboyant bird of paradise.
All that remained was for us to pack up, dish out the week's tips to the staff on board, and fly back to Manchester. We picked up the van late that night from the long-stay carpark, and set off back "home" to Livingston aka Hotel Bernie and Estrelita. At about 02:30 we stopped for fuel. To our shock, David's debit card was rejected, and so was his credit card! We now had a full tank of diesel, no cash, and an unsympathetic garage attendant! Rather stressful, but the situation was resolved by waking Bernie, who once again came to the rescue, by giving us her debit card details, with which to complete the transaction. Phew!
05.10.2010 - 05.10.2010 43 °C
We decided that we could not leave Egypt without seeing the Pyramids and the Sphinx, so at the start of the trip we booked a day-excursion to Cairo, not realising how full our regular daily schedule would be. We had to get up at 03:30, were given tea and cake and a rather stodgy and dull packed breakfast of white rolls, cheese, meat, and water, and driven to the airport for our flight. The only others from our group who chose this excursion were a lovely couple, Lynn and Gary, from Wigan near Manchester.
From the official viewpoint, one can see all three pyramids on the Giza Plateau.
Nearby the camels rested, waiting patiently for tourists to ride them.
We then moved down the hill to the Sphinx, which at first impression, was smaller than we had imagined!
Close-up, one appreciates how big it is, especially considering that it was carved out of a single block of bedrock!
In front of the Sphinx lies the ruins of the Sphinx Temple, which may have never been completed. Next to it is the Valley Temple of Kafhre, built at the same time as the Sphinx, and built of the same easily-eroded sandstone. The walls were originally dressed with red granite from Aswan, and the floors paved with alabaster. The cut-outs in the floor originally held 24 statues, one for each hour of the day.
By this time, we were ready for lunch, so were driven to a restaurant [TGI Fridays] on a ship moored on the Nile, for an utterly vile meal. Even though hungry, since the breakfast wasn't very palatable, Sandi found it impossible to eat the grilled chicken meal, which was cremated - not grilled - and David managed to choke his down with glugs of over-priced beer! Several folk complained, but the guide couldn't do anything about it, and the restaurant staff wouldn't, and couldn't give a damn into the bargain. What a disappointing experience - certainly not up to Thomson Travel standards - particularly as the excursion was at significant extra cost.
We passed many blocks of apartments in the city, studded with thousands of satellite dishes.
The afternoon was spent at the Cairo Egyptian Museum, where we joined throngs of tourists, all milling and flapping around the rather shabby and tired displays.
It was so difficult to hear our guide inside the museum, that we eventually wandered off on our own to explore the treasures of Tutankh-amun. This small, enclosed exhibition was utterly spectacular. The famous burial mask and triple coffins made of solid gold and beautifully adorned, are truly breathtaking! We could only gasp in wonder at the intricate engravings on the coffins and the perfectly preserved jewellery. What a civilization!
Unfortunately we couldn't take photos inside the museum, as one of the cabinets in King Tut's room had an ancient condom on display, which would have made a rather unusual photo for the blog.
After a hectic, but very interesting day, we boarded our plane for the flight back to Luxor, arriving back on the ship at 22:00 - to two plates of yet more bread rolls and cheese, as we had missed dinner. A considerate gesture, but too much refined white glue for our constitutions, so we munched some fresh pomegranate seeds instead. On checking the schedule for our special 30th Anniversary excursion next morning, we could only laugh when we saw that we would have to be up again at 03:30! Obviously, sleep is not a priority on this trip!
04.10.2010 - 04.10.2010 42 °C
The last temple that we visited in Egypt was the one right in the middle of Luxor. It was begun by Queen Hatshepsut and Thutmosis lll in 1400 BC, and also dedicated to the triad of Amun, Mut and their son, Khonsu.
On returning to the front entrance, we now had a chance to get a closer look at the Avenue of Sphinxes. Note that these have human heads, in contrast to the ones discovered at the Karnak end, which have the heads of rams.
04.10.2010 - 04.10.2010 42 °C
The Karnak temple complex is the largest religious complex in the world, covering 200 acres and includes a large sacred lake, which was used for ritual navigation of images of the gods during festivals. It is a city of temples built over 2000 years and dedicated to the Theben triad of Amun, his wife Mut and son Khonsu. Building commenced in 1300 BC and was added to by 30 different pharaohs.
This derelict complex is still capable of overshadowing many of the wonders of the modern world and in its day must have been awe inspiring.
There is a regular pattern to New Kingdom temples [such as this and the ones at Edfu, Kom Ombo, Philae and Luxor]. First a monumental pylon leading to an open court, surrounded by colonnades. Then a roofed hypostyle hall followed by smaller rooms leading to the sanctuary in which the image of the god was housed. They were called festival temples and were arranged to suit the processional ceremonies that were held within their walls.
In their day the temples were brightly coloured and probably looked something like this.
There is a long avenue of ram-headed sphinxes leading up to the large pylon at the entrance. This originally connected with the processional avenue of human-headed sphinxes leading to Luxor temple 2 miles away. Amun was originally represented as a goose, but as he grew in importance he was represented as a ram.
Images of chariots seem to abound on the walls of the pylon.
In the courtyard, there is a large statue of Pinedjem l, who reigned over Egypt from 1000 BC as the High Priest of Amun.
Two of the columns in the courtyard are still unfinished.
The Hypostyle Hall is impressive; with its 134 columns, it is still the largest room of any religious building in the world.
Around the main sanctuary, lie hundreds of stones, all waiting to find a place in the puzzle of reconstruction.
Near the sacred lake, is this statue of a large scarab beetle. The legend says that if you run around it 7 times in each direction, your wishes will be granted. So we held hands and ran around it!
We would love to know what these black fruits and fragrant flowers might be!
29.09.2010 - 06.10.2010 40 °C
Luxor is the city into which we flew, where we boarded our ship and from where we departed. Most of the shops and businesses are situated on the East bank of the Nile.
Today, it appears run-down and dilapidated, but in ancient times it was known as Thebes and was the religious and cultural capital of Egypt for centuries until the Greek period. The main god of the city was Amon, who became linked to the sun god Ra, thus creating the new 'king of gods' Amon-Ra. His great temple, at Karnak just north of Thebes, was the most important temple of Egypt right until the end of antiquity.
Luxor is becoming known as the world's greatest open-air museum, as new archaeological discoveries are being made daily.
The Egyptians are generally poor, but seem contented. The government has guaranteed jobs for all, which means that there are often many people employed to do the same job, but this also means that wages are low. We were astounded to learn that our erudite guide, who has a Masters in Egyptology, earns a paltry LE 60 a day (= ZAR 60, = £5 Sterling). Hence the importance placed on receiving tips as a means to supplement one's income; every bus ride, boat ride, photo opportunity, etc. was not without the expectation of a tip. Tipping is a fundamental way of life in Egypt - it's not offensive [to us], but was a bit expensive [for us as South Africans], since our currency parallels the Egyptian pound. It really saddened us to observe how often many of our fellow cruisers refused to hand over a bit of dosh e.g. to coach drivers - and volubly complained about the tipping culture to anyone within earshot. It seems that the annoyance factor generally exceeded the compassion factor - even though tourists have so much more ready cash than these poor folk will ever have. Sandi kept muttering "mean spirits"!!
Many of the houses are made of mud bricks and the second and third levels seem to remain in an unfinished state. This is apparently a provision for the sons [when they marry] and their families to build and complete each level, in which to live.
Many of the side streets are narrow and dusty, and side-walks don't exist!
The public buses are more like converted bakkies, and if you cannot afford the bus fare you are allowed to hang on at the back!
Donkeys are also an important and affordable means of transport.
The tourist markets, or souks, have a variety of goods, which can be bought at reasonable prices, as long as one barters earnestly. Bartering is as fundamental to Egyptian tourist life as tipping!
Sandi herself became a regular item for whom the men were keen to barter. The Egyptian men were full of admiration for my beautiful wife. When the first one asked how much I wanted for her, I replied modestly "a hundred camels." Very quickly the price rose with successive traders to "five thousand camels, three pyramids, and a Mercedes Benz" to a final best price of "a million camels, half of Egypt, and the Luxor Temple". Sandi reckons it is fantastic for a gal's self-esteem! Of course, she is more valuable than the best offer, so I still have her!
On the other hand, the shops for the locals are very different to the tourist ones.
We passed this colourful mosque on the outskirts of the city.
The West Bank of Luxor is far less populous, but boasts the Valley of the Kings, the two temples of Ramses ll and lll and the Collossi of Memnon.
WE ARE SAILING......
29.09.2010 - 06.10.2010
Cruising on the Nile is obviously a very popular pastime, attested to by the large numbers of ships we saw, often berthed three abreast at major stops.
Our cabin was air-conditioned and comfortable, with a large picture window through which we could watch life along the banks slipping by.
On our first evening we found the beds had been turned down, and a sculpture of towel-art on our bed!
In the dining room, we enjoyed buffet-style meals; but with only small daily variations it tended to become monotonous (There are only so many different ways one can prepare so-called sea bass!) We were allocated to a table for the whole time, and became friendly with our table companions, Mandy and Gillian.
The Egyptian waiters could speak a little English, but had a great sense of fun, often pretending to drop one's plate, and would demonstrate tricks with matches after supper.
On the top deck, which was open, there is a bar and a plunge-pool. Many of the English passengers lay about all day, cooking like sausages in the sun, but we found the heat stifling until it eased a little after dark.
Drinks on board are very expensive, and we had been advised to pay for an all-inclusive drinks package. Sandi ordered a Bloody Mary at the bar one evening, which threw the barman into a quiet flap! After eventually getting Sahar to translate the word "tomato", he disappeared for the third time. We had almost given up waiting, when he appeared, proudly bearing her drink, then stood back for her appreciation. The drink looked rather anaemic, but Sandi took a gulp and spluttered! He had gone down 3 levels to the kitchen, pulverised some fresh tomatoes, added loads of water and a shot of vodka! Try as she might, Sandi couldn't even pretend to like it, as it was beyond vile. Rather strange to put a cocktail on the drinks menu when no-one knew what it was! Maybe it was just another bit of quirky Egyptian humour.
The locals seem to do everything in the river; washing themselves, clothes, and their livestock.
David took the opportunity to tour the workings of the ship and kitchens, and was impressed with the triple filtration system in place for treating the water. Here is our skipper on the bridge. We learnt that they get to know the river intimately from a young age, as an apprentice for many years, then pass some exams to become a skipper, with little formal education.
The Nubian dancers, who entertained us while berthed at Aswan, performed a series of unsophisticated, but colourful dances. They also brought on a witchdoctor and a horse, which went around intimidating the passengers!
The high-light of the week was the much-publicised Galabeya Evening. A galabeya is the dress-like garment worn by traditional Egyptian men and women. Most of the English passengers on our tour group bought galabeyas and got into the party spirit, but the German tour group declined to take part!
Sunset on the second last day.
02.10.2010 - 03.10.2010 43 °C
During the night we sailed further south, passing through a large lock on the way. On arrival at Aswan in the morning, we disembarked to explore the local market. The city lies just below the large Aswan dam, which was built to regulate the seasonal flow of the Nile.
A group of us piled into two taxis, which were more like rusty jalopies, to get to the market.
In the evening we had booked an excursion to the Light and Sound show at Philae temple. We took a boat ride to the temple which is situated on an island in the Nile. As we approached the island, the temple was illuminated and shone like a beacon in the dark. The show consisted of a narration about Isis, to whom the temple is dedicated, and Osiris, while the lights played on the walls and pillars.
That evening, back on board the ship, we were entertained by some Nubian dancers, dressed in gaily coloured costumes.
On Sunday morning we visited the Aswan High dam wall, which was built in 1970 to replace the old dam wall built in 1902. The dam enables the Egyptians to control the annual flooding of the Nile, and also generates hydro-electric power. Unfortunately, it also deprives the farmland downstream of millions of tons of valuable, fertile silt deposits. The Lake Nasser it created is 550km long, and extends right into Sudan. We spotted a couple of crocs swimming near the dam wall.
Our next stop was a genuine papyrus factory shop, where we were shown how papyrus is made.
We then returned to Philae temple for a guided tour with Sahar. The temple is situated on a small lake between the Old and New dam walls. As it was now daytime we could appreciate the boat ride to the temple island, situated among many other islands.
The original Philae island was situated high above cataracts on the river, but after the first dam wall was built, it became partially submerged every year between December and March. When the High dam wall was completed, the temple was completely submerged. With international aid, a coffer dam was built around the island, and the water drained out. Over the next 8 years, about 20 000tons of blocks and artifacts were dismantled and reassembled on the nearby island of Agilkia, where the temple now stands in its fully restored glory.
Sahar pointed out to us how the impressive columns in temples were shaped. They are erected into position as rough-hewn blocks, before being rounded and carved in situ as seen here by comparing an unfinished column with a finished one.
Note the ornate papyrus flowers on the capital here. The papyrus represented the Kingdom of Lower Egypt.
Here we saw evidence of the presence of early Coptic Christians, who had carved their crosses on top of the obliterated heathen murals.
This is an early Christian altar, situated in a corner of the temple.
Our last excursion for the day took us on a scenic boat ride around the islands on the Nile below both dams.