Almost done…..

July 7th, 2008

Not sure how I feel about that. On one hand it will be really nice to be back in the States and to be able to see everyone again. (I am planning a last ditch tour of the US: Washington, NJ, Detroit, maybe Yellowstone, LA, San Diego, Grand Canyon and I-10 to Florida, The Keys, and back to Norfolk to grab my stuff to head to DC and start work/school. In case no one knew.) On the other hand I am going to miss the constant new-ness of traveling, as well as that whole not having to get up in the morning for work thing. Anyway, Paris was absolutely amazing to see. The only thing that would have made it better was if it wasn´t in France. Go figure. Actually I didn´t have that much of a problem with the people, but more with the train systems in France. I´ll save that for later though. Anyway, I spent three days wandering pretty much all over Paris. On the first day I sort of bee-lined it to Notre Dame and the island it is on. When I got there, though, they had some small scaffolding up in the front of the church, and my first reaction was “not again!” However, it was a minor thing, so I took the chance they would only have it up for today, and figured I would come back the next day to check it out a little more thoroughly. That and the line to climb the tower was a block long, so not to self: arrive early. Well, I wandered away from there, and took the train to Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. First look was during the day, and it was pretty cool. I am still trying to figure if that or the Pyramids was better. On one hand the Pyramids are ancient and one of the old Man-made Wonders of the World, but the Eiffel tower kind of represents France like the Pyramids represent Egypt. Maybe it is also because they close the Pyramids down at sunset and don´t open them up until 8:00 in the morning too, so you really can´t get the dusk-night feel that made the Eiffel tower so cool. Maybe I´ll figure it out when I get back and start sorting through the 15000+ pictures I have snapped along the way.

So I got to the Champs de Mars at around 2:00 or so, so the sun was pretty blazing and it tends to wash out the colors a bit, plus I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty – French edition as I have yet to go visit the one in New York. (I know, tell me about it.) It is actually on a small little island at the very tip facing out to the river, so it was a bit hard getting a picture in front of it, but you get a stellar view of the back side from the bridge right behind it. I actually laughed a bit while I was snapping a picture from the bridge thinking of titling it “The Rear of Liberty.” What do you all think?


I had to hike up to the next bridge to get a good shot of the front side, and it just so happens it lines up with the Eiffel tower too, so hopefully the panoramic comes out alright when I merge it. From there I figured I would walk down to see the Arch de Triumph which it turns out was a bit more of a hike than the map made it look like. It is also quite a bit taller than you think looking at it. I got a ticket to climb to the top, and it seems like Paris is laid out in a hub around this round-about. Kind of neat to see, and I took a bunch of pictures that I can hopefully merge into one huge panoramic of the city layout. It is like a bunch of cheese wedges on a wheel laid out before you. Kind of neat, and you have the Eiffel Tower, Mt Montemart, ect… all laid out before you as well. It is a bit of a climb to the top, however. Something like 300 steps or so. Luckily carrying a 40 lb backpack for the last 6 months has made my legs strong, and I pretty much flew up it. It´s hot though, so I was sweating up a storm at the top. In fact, that pretty much describes most of Paris. No wonder they call it a “French Shower.” I guess that term is pretty universal since pretty much everyone knows it. I mean Brits, Aussies, Swedes, everyone. Anyway, I was a bit hungery after that so I stopped by for dinner. It was absolutely amazing. Veal entrecote with melted cheese, bacon, a mushroom sauce on a bed of potatos. Only cost me 45 Euro. Well, 30 Euro for the entre, 10 Euro for the liter of wine, and 5 Euro for Creme Bruelle. After that I was feeling a little bit tipsy so I figured I would head back to the hostel to get some sleep and do the night shooting the next night. Unfortunately, it doesn´t get dark in Paris until about 10:30 at night and the trains stop running around 1:00 am. Because of that I only really got to get night shots of the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame, which were the ones I really wanted, but it would have been nice to get to the Moulin Rouge and Montemarte. I actually managed to have to walk about a mile back to my hotel from the metro stop because my connection had already stopped running. I guess it was good I was already headed in that direction.

I was kind of up against a hard wall in leaving France because I had tickets to see Clapton in London on the 28th, so I managed to hop on the Eurostar through the Chunnel to London. The upside was that it dropped me in central London a short metro ride from my hotel and Hyde Park. The down side was that France apparently has a quota system for Eurail holders despite advertisements to the contrary on the Eurail site. (The say you may have to pay a supplement, but there is no limit other than the train being full.) Not so for France. I had to pay about $200 for the ticket to London when it should have only been around $75 or so. So note to those planning on making that trip: book way in advance. I kept arguing with them that they had seating available, why were they not taking my Eurail pass? No luck. It was that way for most of France in fact. Coming back from London it was $80 when France told me the return journey was booked for Eurail pass holders and it would be another $200. I managed however, and am actually way under budget for this trip anyway, so not too big of a problem, just a bit annoying. So I made it to London, and saw what is probably the best concert I have ever been to.

Hyde Park was general admission so I got there about an hour and a half before the concert started and 30 minutes after the gates opened. Being alone, I easily weaseled my way up to about 5 feet away from the very front. I was that 6´0″ a$$ standing in front of the short people totally blocking their view, but hey, all is fair in love, war, and seeing Eric Clapton live. Anyway, they started out with the winners of some British reality show about getting bands back together. Not too bad, but could have cared less about them. However, I wasn´t willing to sacrifice my spot, so I endured. The next band I had never heard of, but they were damn good: Robert Randolph and the Family Band. They played for about 45 minutes, and along came Jason Mraz. First of all, I didn´t know he was playing until the night before, then when Robert Randolph came on (not in the line up the night before) I pretty much thought he had backed out. So, when he actually came on I was a bit surprised. No one in London apparently knows who he is either, because everyone was asking “who is this again” the entire time. Sort of funny to see market penetration , or lack of it, in effect. He played for about 45 minutes too, and a darn good set. I am not the biggest fan, but is acoustic stuff is amazing. Then the headliners came on. John Mayer for about an hour and a half. Very Blues-y which I actually liked more than his CD´s. It seems like he is holding back a bit on his CD´s to be more mainstream. Then Sheryl Crow. Not the biggest fan, and she had a whole “I hate Bush, gas should be free” agenda which sort of pissed me off. I mean who the heck is she to be complaining about the cost of gas, right? She sings well enough though, and it was a bit funny seeing her do the “backup dancer” dance the entire set every once in a while throwing in a power stance. (I think she was coached by Jack Black.) But, after her was Clapton so I endured. When he came on, I had managed to squirm my way to only having one person in front of me, so I was pretty much front row. I sat there the entire time blown away that I was watching Eric Clapton play from about 10 feet away (including stage space.) I had seen Van Morrison before, and he refused to play his mainstream stuff (I mean THE song he is know for: Brown Eyed Girl, as he views it as his sell out period), so I was expecting not to hear a lot of his older stuff. However, he ran the gamut. Some of the newer in the beginning, a good rendition of “Before you Accuse me,” and then closing with Layla (the original version), Cocaine (amazing), and an encore with John Mayer and Sheryl Crow of Crossroads that blew me away. So all in all, the best concert I have seen, and to see Clapton play in London just makes it that much better. Oh, and I bought the T-Shirt. He!

Coming down from that high, I spent the next days visiting with some friends I had met in Prague and Rome that were in town too, and going to the Tate and seeing Big Ben. Big Ben is better than the Tate, by the way. From there the chunnel back and the start, or maybe continuing episode of “I hate the French Train System.” I kept trying to get to Barcelona to see the running of the Bulls, however, they “couldn´t” make reservations for certain trains along the way. They apparently didn´t know why, but I managed to get stuck in Nice, Lyon, and Montpellier along the way, each for a night. I was supposed to take the night train from Paris to Geneva and then a day in Geneva, then night train to Barcelona. No such luck. Managed to see Geneva for a day, but the night train I was told was running out of Lyon, and Switzerland couldn´t book it, only a French agent and I had time in Lyon to book. I get there, no openings. Stuck. The next morning I take a train to Nice hoping to catch a train to Barcelona for the day. Stuck. Montpellier. Stuck. Show up at 6:00 in the morning to catch the ¨:26 train to Barcelona that they couldn´t reserve for me in Nice because their system wouldn´t let them “at that time” and one teller is working with a line 20 people deep. Needless to say missed that connection, and had to catch one 4 hours later that got in last night at 7:00 in the evening. SO. I wanted to smack a Frenchman after that. Hence my burgeoning dislike of the French, or at least the French railways. Anyway, I am here in Barcelona now, enjoying Sangria and San Miguel, so all is well. I am already reserved for the night train to Paris and connection to Amsterdam to fly back home on Friday. So it seems as this experience is coming to a close, but I have to say I am EXTREMELY glad I decided to do this. I wasn´t sure how I would handle the traveling alone for six months, much less the wildly different cultures I have visited, and I was actually a bit nervous to take off, but it has been amazing. I think that everyone should travel at least once in their life.

So I am off. I´ll see most of you within a month or so.

JC

Here are the pictures of Paris
Here is Venice
Here is London

Funny Story…

June 26th, 2008

I have kind of disappeared for the last week or so. Mostly that is because I caught a bit of a cold, and have been doing a whirlwind tour of Italy over that time too. Because of that I decided to finally take advantage of the travel preparations I had made before leaving. I had visited the Navy’s travel clinic before taking off to make sure I had all the required vaccinations, etc… and the Doc sat me down and gave me this big spiel on not drinking the water and such. Mostly I was a bit bored, and just wanted my travel shot card stamped saying that I was up to date on everything so no country could keep me out. As it turns out, I was being a little paranoid about the card, as no one has yet check it, however, I am glad I updated my Polio, Rabies, and Tetanus shots. The amount of people I have seen here with the severe after-effects of Polio is amazing, and there are a huge number of stray animals pretty much everywhere I have gone. One of the other benefits of this visit to the travel clinic was free meds. He gave me three doses of the Z-pack antibiotic, some Imodium (as apparently everyone gets the runs at least once while traveling – I haven’t yet… knock on wood), and malaria medication just in case I decided to go anywhere it was a problem. Well, as I was sick, and the Tylenol Flu I brought with me wasn’t doing the trick so I figured I would start one of the Z-packs. About 4 days in I was trying to figure out what day I was on and figured I would count the remaining pills and find out that way. Well, the Z-packs come in 6’s (two the first day, and 1 each of the next four days) and I got 4 sets total: 24 pills, right? Yeah, when I looked at the bottle it said 30 total, which kind of threw up a red flag for me, and I finally read the bottle and realized I had been taking prescription strength Imodium for the last couple days. Explains my lack of needing to use the facilities along the way…. I guess the moral of the story is always read the bottle. Anyway, everything is back in place, and I am trying to transfer pictures from  my flash cards to my harddrive and then hit up the Louvre. The transfer is taking FOREVER though, so I figure an quality update is in order. So here goes.

Let’s see. I left off last in Mykonos. The Greek Isles were absolutely amazing, and I spent way too much time wandering around them. I really liked renting the scooters and running off to parts of the islands were there were no tourists.. or people for that matter. There are a bunch of monasteries on all those islands, and some in pretty remote locations with awesome views. Not sure who actually visits them because pretty much every one I went to was totally deserted.  However, as Mike pointed out there are not that many people in my pictures  (which is kind of how I like it and I will wait for a while to find a break in the people to take a picture of something) so it was great for me from that standpoint. So basically I would spend my days either scootering around or laying on the beach relaxing. Normally I started the day out with a baguette (one slice of turkey, three of cheese, and a bit of lettuce… they are pretty carb heavy there), and then wandered to where ever I felt like. I am not sure the people on the Islands do any work though, because I saw the locals doing pretty much the same thing. Anyway, I figured I had spent way too much time in Greece so I only spent a 2 nights and one full day in Athens. I took the ferry from Mykonos to Athens which was about 5 hours, and got there around 6 at night. I managed to get to my hostel in time to put up my things and catch the sunset over the Acropolis from their rooftop bar. Having talked to a bunch of other backpackers along the way, everyone had advised me that you really only need a full day to see everything in Athens. That actually served me pretty well. Everything is sort of centrally located, and I managed to wander all over the old city in that full day. You can buy a ticket to all the major sites for 12 Euro so I took advantage of that and got to hiking. It was really neat seeing all the thinks that I had read so much about when I was a kid (for those that remember my fascination with Greek/Roman mythology.) Unfortunately, I think I scheduled my visit for the millennial “let’s fix things up” of Europe, as everywhere I have gone the major attractions are under renovation, and have scaffolding up. Sort of ruins the picture to have big cranes and a metal exoskeleton around everything you take pictures of. That is why I am taking a lot of niche photos. Anyway, the view from the top of the Acropolis over Athens was amazing. I couldn’t believe how big that city is. Pretty much as far as the eye can see, it spread in every direction. I have taken a bunch of piece-meal panoramic that I need to fit together when I get back. That should occupy me for the next year or so… The only bad thing is that it was hot as heck in Athens, and walking all over is not conducive to smelling good, so my backpack has taken on a distinct odor. Fun. Anyway, one day down in Athens, and I was going to try and take the train up to Budapest, but it seems that is not the best (safest) way to go, so I side-tracked straight to Italy via a bus from Athens to Ignomencia, ferry to Bari, train to Rome. Not, I feel, the best way to do it. Flying would have been better, but I hate dealing with the security and my film. Luckily, I just dropped of around 90 rolls for development, so that should not be a problem on the way back into the States. Anyway, Rome – I loved it. You walk all over that city and they have random excavations dating back 3000 years. I saw the Colosseum (actually a bit underwhelmed by that, but I think I had built it up too much), the acropolis, the Pantheon, and the fountain of Travali (I think that is the name) to name a few things. I pretty much walked from about 10 in the morning until 11 or so at night for the 3 days I was there. So much stuff to see there, but extremely spread out. I hate to catch the metro everywhere because I feel like if I do that I will miss so much other stuff. I spent an entire day in the Vatican city and go to see the Pope give his Wednesday morning ceremony (didn’t understand a word, but I saw him… from 500 feet away.) The Vatican museum was amazing in the stuff they had there. I wan’t expecting to see a bunch of ancient Egyptian art there, but they have it. The Sistine chapel was not what I was expecting. I hightailed it there hoping to beat the crowds in the morning, and then backtrack like the guidebook says to, but I don’t think it is possible to avoid the crowds. No pictures allowed either, and not one big mural, but a bunch of smaller pictures. I tried to grab a couple with my phone, but they have people wandering the crowd and I got nabbed. Oh well. I also say the “Pieta” which is not in the museum but behind a big glass enclosure in St Peter’s Basilica. Apparently some guy tried to hack it to pieces a couple years back with an axe. How the heck you get an axe into there, I have no clue.

So three days in Rome, followed by Florence which I think I short changed. I only spent 2 days and 1 night there. I was going to stay for a couple more, but I had my first bad hostel experience there, so I was fired up and took off early. The place I was staying was supposed to be 20 Euro a night, but when I got there, they started tacking on extra charges and it ended up being 35 a night. That is over $50 a night for, what turned out to be, a room with 6 cots in it stacked side by side. I couldn’t believe it, and was ready to leave right then and there, but they would have charged me for the first night anyway. So, I stayed one night, and left the next night on the last train out to Venice. I didn’t get a chance to really see that much of Florence because of that and feel like I need to head back sometime to see Michelangelo’s “David” and such. I tried to get in to see it, but apparently you need to make reservations for the museums in Florence, or wait in a line that NEVER moves. Who knew? In Venice I stayed in a campground that beat my accommodations in Florence hands down. For 13 Euro a night, I had pretty much half a doublewide to myself with AC, my own bathroom with a shower, and a double bed. If I head back to Venice, I am staying there again. It is not actually on the island, but just across the bridge. They, however, have buses that run into town every hour so it worked good for me. I think a day is really enough to see Venice if you only want to explore the main island. I pretty much strapped on my day pack and managed to get lost, get found, get lost, get found, get lost until I found all the places I wanted to see. I think that is the only way to see Venice. There are no street signs, only Parish demarcations, so not getting lost is pretty much impossible. I did see a lot of really cool areas that I don’t think I would have otherwise, though. Anyway, after that I headed up to Dusseldorf to drop off my film at a lab I have already gotten stuff developed in and liked (and because it is on the way to Paris) and then hopped on another train two hours later to gay Paris.

So now I am here in Paris, and need to get to the Louvre. I will give you all an update on Paris after I am done here.

 Here are the pictures of Athens though.
And here are the ones from the Vatican

Finally photos of the last couple weeks!

June 13th, 2008

I am taking off tomorrow evening from Corfu (an island off the eastern side of mainland Greece between there and Italy) to Rome. The ferry is actually leaving at 11:59 tomorrow night and gets in at 8:30 in the morning in Bari and then a train trip to Rome. I think my itinerary is going to be in Rome for three days and then to Venice for 2 days, Florence for 2 days, a couple days along the Côte d’Azur in the south of France and then London on the 27th for a couple days. A managed to get tickets to see Eric Clapton playing in Hyde park on the 28th for the O2 Festival. From there it is going to be Spain and Paris for a couple weeks then home. Sheesh, I can’t believe that this is so close to coming to an end. Almost a month away, and I keep thinking “Not enough time!!!” Oh, well. I guess that just means that I am going to have to do it again. I am thinking after Law School finishes in about 5 years or so. Anyway, here are the photo’s that I have been promising:
Santorini
Rhodes
Athens

I’m doing awesome, and looking forward to Italy. Greece has been relatively un-eventful in terms of things to write about. A lot of beaches and relaxing in the sun, so that is why my posts here have been a bit short. Hopefully things get a bit more exciting in Rome.

-JC

Photos of Jerusalem

June 9th, 2008

Here are the photo’s from Jerusalem, but I got kicked off for uploading photos from Greece because I was interfering with the online gaming……. yeah……

Here are the pictures

-JC

Greece is so hard to leave

June 8th, 2008

I think this trip is really just giving me places that I want to head back to and spend more time in. Greece is definitely towards the top of that list. Egypt, and all of Africa, as well along with more of Russia, and more scuba diving in Thailand. However, I think that I could spend years traveling around Greece and not get tired of it. I feel like I need to sail over here and spend at least a summer sailing around and seeing all the islands. Well, I don’t know if you can actually see all the islands, but I would spend as much time sailing around as I could. Either way, I am pretty positive that I am going to be back here.

After the first part of Greece in Rhodes, I took off to Santorini for a couple days, again renting a scooter (again, the best way to travel around the islands), and explored pretty much the entire island. From all the pictures I have seen of Greece, and most of them concentrated from Santorini, I didn’t expect the what I saw. You arrive at a port at the base of a cliff a couple hundred feet high. I actually wasn’t expecting Greece to be as mountainous as it is. Again, I guess that is like the first time I pulled up to Hong Kong and was expecting grass huts and people painted with mud. Long time ago, but I never really considered either, and each was a bit of a surprise when I was presented with it. Anyway, I stayed in Fira which is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the island on the west coast overlooking the volcano. Apparently they are pretty proud of that volcano, but it is nothing like the one in Hawaii. No lava pools or anything. In fact you are lucky if you can find an area where it feels remotely warm. But I don’t think it is the activity of the volcano that they are proud of, but the sunsets that are seen over it. Supposedly, Santorini has the best sunsets in the world. I am not going to say that, but they were pretty nice. However, I have seen just as good in California and in the Keys. Everyone goes to Oia which is on the northern point of Santorini to watch the sunsets, and I went there at about 1:00 to explore the place and snap some shots. I spent the next four hours wandering around taking around 1000 shots. Two 4GB flash cards and around 10 rolls of film. However, at 5:00 the tourist groups starting arriving, and the sunset vantage point got crowded. That was pretty much my cue to get the heck out of dodge, and I hopped back on my scooter and headed for a less populated point on the island for a good vantage point. Luckily, Santorini is only about 8 miles long, so it didn’t take too long to travel the entire length of the island. The sun also doesn’t set until around 8:00 so I had time as well. When it finally set, I had settled down in a restaurant yet to open for the season, and watched. To be honest a little anti-climatic for all the huff and puff I had heard about it. Nice, don’t get me wrong, but not anything that I would travel halfway around the world to see. However, the time in Oia was well worth the effort.

Anyway, after a couple days in Santorini, I took off to Ios for some more relaxing environments and not as much work. For about 4 days I laid on the beach during the day, and partied the nights away. Ios is a pretty young island all around, and it stays open until the last person heads home. The Greeks , unfortunately, don’t start until midnight so that tend to be past sunrise. Really, I am way to old for much of that so I was tired, and a bit relieved when I headed off to Mykonos. Here it is a bit more of a laid back atmosphere. I have been staying on the beach here, recovering from my time on Ios, and am getting ready to head to Delos and Athens tomorrow. I am not planning on spending a lot of time in Athens, maybe a day or two, and then heading on to Italy.

 Anyway, I am getting cut off here, and they are getting ready to close the internet shop, so I have to wrap up.

Glad to see that Billary has finally faced the music, though not sure for the high taxes I am seeing down the line.

 -JC

Scooters and Fat Chicks……

May 28th, 2008

Ok, at least not the fat chicks. For all those that are groaning right now… when have you ever known me to be PC??? Seriously though, a bit of catch up is in order. So here goes: I left off right before I headed over to Israel from Petra. That was an extremely fun day (I need a sarcasm key here). We got up at 6:00 to catch a 7:00 am taxi to the border crossing. The drive through Jordan was actually pretty cool though. A lot of small villages on the way and the decent into the lowest point on Earth was really neat with a bunch of old semi trucks dotting the bottom of the ravines from the winding roads, no guard rail, and the awesome penchant of the Middle East to pass on a blind curve. Anyway, we stopped by the dead sea for about an hour and a half before we headed to the border.Let me tell you, that was an absolutely amazing feeling. The pictures that you see of people literally sitting on top of the water with feet up reading a newspaper are real. I would have thought they were doctored or something, but not so. You get in and I could not submerge myself any more than neck level when I tried to hop up out of the water and plunge down. I guess that was good though as it is pretty toxic to drink, and not the most pleasant thing to get into your eyes. The water actually felt slimy from all the salt in it. Like a very think sugar solution where you boil the water and load it up with massive amounts for sweet-sweet tea. Or rock candy making. Anyway, I taught a Pakistani man (a logistician with Doctors without Borders) how to float after one unfortunate dunking on his part. Ended up getting into a discussion on Pakistan-India which led to the Iraq/Afghanistan. I know, you are all shocked that I would get into a political discussion (FTH-SAB). Anyway, after I was tired of just bobbing we took off for the border crossing at Al Hussein bridge about 10 miles west of Jerusalem. Yeah, I crossed at the West Bank, but the Israeli’s there kept telling me it wasn’t the West Bank when they were questioning me if I was planning on going there, and I responded “Isn’t this it??” So in order to get in there, you head to the Jordanian side, get your baggage X-Rayed in the arrival building, then head over to the departure building to get your exit stamp (5 Dinar, or ~$8) and bus ticket to Israel (3 Dinar). You then hop on a bus because the taxi’s cannot drive you to the Israeli border, and head the 500 yards to the border crossing through what looks like a Desert version of the DMZ. Two passport checks on the way there and then you pull up to the Israeli customs station. Men and women in jeans and T-shirts with Uzi’s, M-16’s, and vintage 1980’s Aviator sunglasses. No Pictures… From there you wait on the bus for about 20 minutes until they are ready for you when you hop off and hand your baggage over for X-Ray again hand-checking. You proceed inside to go through the metal detector and X-Ray for hand luggage where the metal detector picks up the smallest piece of metal on you. One woman held up the line for about 5 minutes because she didn’t want to uncover her head and take out the metal barrette in her hair, or couldn’t figure out that was what kept setting it off. Technology is not the Middle East’s strongest point. I had a hell of a time getting them to hand check my film going through here, but with a little whining, creative story-telling, and flirting with some Israeli women, I managed. Anyway once you are through that point, you go through a machine which you step into, small slats close behind and in front of you, and it announces “Jets will start momentarily…” at which point I was like “What the……..” You are then blasted with jets of air, which was a bit unexpected, and I am still not really sure what the heck was going on. There were a couple theories running around from de-lousing to bomb sniffing. Whatever, it was a bit of a shock. Anyway, then on to the passport stamp. “Why are you coming to Israel?” “Tourism.” “Where are you going?” “Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, maybe Haifa and Elat.” “Do you know where you are staying there?” “Yes.” “Let me see your reservations.” “They are on the internet.” “How do you know where you are going then?” “It’s right across from Damascas gate.” “What is the name of the Hotel?” “I don’t remember.” “How long are you going to be in Israel?” “Maybe 10 days.” “You don’t have a return ticket?” “I am planning on leaving via Elat back to Egypt.” Anyway, you get the picture about the questioning. Now add to that it was an extremely pretty young woman grilling me, and the picture will be complete. After about 20 minutes when she finally stamped my passport (so long Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Oman, Saudi….. but no big loss I think) she softened a bit telling me “Tel Aviv is the best city” and nodding me to the right. Apparently that was the easy questioning as some people were directed back to sit and wait for a more thorough session. So then it was the line to see if you baggage survived the interrogation process. You would hop in a line and slowly move to the front to be told that your bags were not ready yet (comforting), and to head to the back to repeat the process. Luckily it only took me one repeat to make it through. So, a grand total of about 2-3 hours getting in, and I was on the relatively fast track. Just for planning purposes if anyone is planning on crossing from Jordan to Israel anytime soon.

Jerusalem now. Absolutely amazing. Unfortunately I didn’t take a lot of digital pictures (and can’t upload now anyway), so not much to show until I get my film developed in Germany. However, the Via de la Rose is pretty heavy to walk, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was absolutely… I can’t even think of word to describe the feeling. You walk in and there is the slab that Jesus was supposedly prepared for burial on. Even if it isn’t the actual one, seeing what holds the possibility of, I don’t know, touching the greatest man in history (even in you are not Christian), and the Son of God if you are, is more than amazing. I highly recommend spending time there if you go, and just stopping to listen a bit. They also had the burial tomb of Jesus, complete with an Orthodox priest who was more than a bit pushy. I think that may be his full time job, because I was there twice and he was there both times. Anyway, the Old city was great. You have to figure out which quarter you can go to to eat on which days, and what foods you can get where. Friday the Mulsim Quarter is quiet, Saturday it is the Jewish Quarter, and Sunday the Armenian and Christian Quarters. The Dome on the Rock is only open to non-Muslims on Monday-Thursday from 7:00-11:00 in the morning, and apparently the only entrance is by the wailing wall, so it took three attempts to see this before I finally got in. Saying that, it was a really nice and quiet area, but you are not allowed to go inside the Dome nor the Mosque if you are not Muslim, so sort of anti-climatic.

After 5 days in Jerusalem, I hopped a one hour bus to Tel Aviv for three days of fun in the sun and relaxing on the beach. Nothing really to see in Tel Aviv other than the beaches so I spent most of the time just hanging out. After three days I hopped a flight to Rhodes, Greece, home of the Ancient Colossus, which isn’t there anymore. Been here for 3 days, and getting ready to leave on a ferry tonight (1:00 am) for Santorini. I have rented a scooter, which is the only way to see the Greek islands I think, and been mopeding all over. Went down to a place called the “7 Springs” named conveniently enough for the 7 springs that start there, and hiked through at 200 yard tunnel about 5 feet tall and 1.5 feet wide to get to a nice little glade with a waterfall and a lot of other neat stuff, not to mention Peacocks flying overhead and wandering around. Also went to Lindos which is a “typical Greek town” on the water with a large castle overlooking a blue lagoon. That is not even mentioning the Old City of Rhodes which is the most well preserved medieval town in the world (or at least that is what they say.)

Anyway, that is pretty much up to date. I need to put up some lessons learned, to use a Navy colloquialism, but I think those are going to have to wait a bit. I still have 7 hours of valuable moped time to explore a bit more, and I want to catch the sunset on the west side of Rhodes.

 Hope everyone is doing well, with the exception of Hillary Clinton’s campaign that is.

Oh and to answer a few more questions:

Pat – the Berkas are not as prevalent as I would have thought. Egypt maybe 5% of the women where in full traditional dress with face/and hands covered. About 65% had the robe with head covering, and the remaining 30% or so were wearing Jeans or pants with a blouse type thing and head covering. Jordan was a bit more skewed towards the traditional, and in Jerusalem I actually saw local women with no head covering. Wow. 

Mike – I have met a couple women. The Russians are fun to talk to because I can practice Russian, and they are almost all extremely pretty. The Arab women a bit less approachable… go figure. Israeli women are extremely approachable, but also extremely money oriented. I have actually had the most fun hanging out with a couple Aussies and New Zelanders, and the occasional American girl I find running around.  

Taylor – Schwarma sucks.

-JC

Nothing to see here….

May 14th, 2008

I have taken a couple days off on this, mostly because I have been plain tuckered out to be honest. I was in Dahab for five days and all I did was wake up at 7 in the morning every day to go diving a couple times a day. The combination of the sun and Nitrogen absorption tends to tire you out on those, so my life was pretty much restricted to diving, eating, and sleeping. But it was nice. Really nice. Dahab is an extremely small “village” which I kind of got a Polk County feeling when I was there. Only they didn’t have that one stoplight, just a bunch of camels and Egyptian round-abouts: rocks in the road. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a digital camera that I could rent, so no pictures from there. Guess I will just have to go back (shucks!)  That is something I have learned the painful way. Pretty much any sort of luxury goods (i.e. anything that is not essential to life, like Coke, cameras, phones, candy, yada-yada) is cheaper in the US. I really didn’t see that one coming. Although, I am not sure how much of that is that price tags are only in the US as well. Everywhere else has been pretty much look at me, gauge how much I am willing to pay for something, then triple it. (Egypt was multiply by 10 though.) You really have to watch out about getting ripped off. Partly because the money is like monopoly money here too. You never really “know” how much you are spending until you do the math, and then you are like “What the heck???? Are you on crack???”

Anyway, Dahab was a nice breather for me, and I took off two days ago to head to Jordan. That consisted of grabbing the minibus to Newiaba, which was about 1 hour north of Dahab ($8). Then you had to buy the ticket on the ferry to Jordan where they had prices in dollars (instant warning sign, and as I can now read Arabic numbers, I knew the price difference between Egyptians and foreigners which was about 1/2). $70 for what was supposedly the “speed boat” leaving in the next 30 minutes because the ferry was not running with a picture of a cigarette boat under the price, not to mention the $10 leaving Egypt tax (gotta love those!) I wandered around the port until I found the customs station, and got my exit stamp to get into the waiting area (it was 11:00 in the morning, by the way) and headed for the exit gate at which point I was told to sit down and wait. Hmmm…. A couple from Belgium, living in London, had followed me up as apparently I looked like I knew what I was doing (HA!), and we compared notes. This is when we realized we were swindled. The ticket we got only showed a $60 purchase price so apparently the ferry was running. The _____ at the window was charging everyone an extra $10 telling them the ferry wasn’t taking passengers counting on the fact that we wouldn’t find out until we had our exit stamp and couldn’t go back to complain. I am going to have to post that somewhere so others don’t get taken advantage of. (Dangling participle? I never know.) Anyway the ferry actually left for Jordan about 6 hours later so we get into Jordan around 6:00 after only an hour long transit. Let me tell you, the Egyptians really have their stuff squared away (can you hear the sarcasm??) They even joke about their lack of punctuality. Everything is 20 minutes “Egyptian time” which roughly translates into “whenever.” Our entrance into Jordan was greeted by the typical barrage of taxi drives outside the terminal, and we managed to score a taxi to the Aqaba bus station to find out there were no more buses running to Petra that day. Crap! So we succumbed to the will of the multitude of taxi drivers surrounding us (myself and a Korean couple that is linked by a mutual loving of Pringles… Taylor….) and headed off to Petra via taxi for the nice sum of 30 Jordan Dinars (about $40 or $45 total) That means around $15 from me for a 2 hour cab ride. Can’t beat that, other than by bus that is which is 3 JD. So I got settled in and familiarized myself with Wadi Musa, which is the town outside Petra. The next day I woke up early and down the mountain to Petra which is in a valley, and found out the Monastery is on the top of the mountain. Yep, that view in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is only the entrance to Petra right after coming out of the Siq, only about 30 minutes into Petra National Park. I don’t recall reading about the climb up to monastery, but it was a nice hour long hike up…. and up… and up. The view at the top was worth it though, and I spent about 3 hours wandering around the top relaxing and checking out the views from the different vantage points. Great views out across the Jordan desert, but I am not sure how smart it was to climb a mountain in the desert. I made it though, with enough foresight to buy two 1.5L water for the trek. The fun part was the walk back down, and then back up the mountain again to get back to my hotel. I should have taken a taxi, but my distrust of taxis and general dislike of them won out, and I walked it. Can you guess what happened next??? BED!

Me next to a Beoudin Hut

So that is up to today. I am heading back to Petra to explore the lower reaches, as I spent most of my time up high yesterday, but here are some of the pictures I took.

 Livin’ life. Oh and I watched the Bucket List waiting for the Ferry the other day. Great movie, and makes me really value what I am doing now.

 JC

I thought they’d be bigger….

May 6th, 2008

Alright, now that I have some form of reliable internet access where I can upload photo’s, I figured I would give the details on the last week or so. I already talked about the taxi and all that from the airport, but what I forgot to mention is that when I got to the hotel, I immediately took off to walk around Luxor. Pretty much everyone in Egypt says “hello” as you pass, especially if you look like a foreigner (i.e. have money) and this will inevitably be followed by “where you from?” From there you can expect their sales pitch. I think everyone here hustles, even the non-locals. Heaven forbid you actually look in their direction, because you are in for a ten minute sales pitch you really can’t get out of without being rude. I found the best way was to put my earphones on and pretend that I didn’t hear them as I walked by. Anyway, I talked to my hotel owner about what there was to do in Luxor, and was immediately barraged by a huge sales pitch where he proceeded to lay out my days from about 5 in the morning until 8 or so at night. I had to scale him back considerably, but I ended up signing up for a 5:00am hot air balloon ride over Luxor. I was hoping the wind was going to take me over the temple area, but alas we ended up sailing in the opposite direction over the Nile and Luxor city. It was still an amazing trip, and cost me about $30 for an hour ride in the balloon. We sailed over the farming regions of Luxor (I put a bunch of photos of this on ofoto), and ended up landing in a farmers sugar cane field. Luckily the sugar cane had already been harvested, but the farmer was a bit irritated to have huge balloon plop down in his field and then the handlers stomping all over the place to get it loaded back in the truck. Which, by the way, managed to get stuck coming to pick up the basket and balloon. When we left, they were still arguing about what to do. I felt like I was back in Jamaica watching the bus driver trying to change a flat, but he was turning the lug nuts in the wrong direction. So, I came back from that, and then took off for a 4 hour camel ride around Luxor and a visit to a couple temples along the way, including Habu temple. I got a bit scammed on this one though. I signed up for it, and was supposed to have unlimited time at the temples. They kept telling me “no problem. However long you want….” Well, it turned out that the camel was rented from a stable that needed it back for a 65 tourist camel jockey around the village in 3 hours. My guide started getting a lot of calls around the 3 hour mark, and I ended up having to pay a bit more for the “extra hour.” Really I didn’t feel like arguing the point, and ended up paying the $5 extra dollars, but no tip for the “tour manager” and didn’t use him anymore. I kinda think that is the way you have to go here. Either way, Habu temple was amazing. Unfortunately you all are not going to get a chance to see any of it until I get back, since I only took my film camera with me on the camel ride. However, I think that it will be worth the wait. The next day, I did an actual “guided tour” which went to the Valley of the Kings, Hot Chicken Soup, The Valley of the Queen, and a couple other places. The stink of it is, anywhere that is a major tourist sight in Egypt you are not allowed to take pictures. In side the pyramids, inside any tombs, the Egyptian Museum, etc… It is kind of annoying. However, we climbed the mountain in the Valley of the King to get some great views, and I took a couple panoramics that I need to stitch together that I think are going to be amazing. The tombs were a bit of a let down to be honest. Really, the Valley of the Kings is visited by way too many people so it feels a bit like Disney Worlds 20,000 leagues under the sea where you way cheek and jowell next to other people along the way, so a bit of the mystery is lost. Also, nothing is really left in the tombs, except the mummy of King Tut, so the only thing to see are the hieroglyphics and such. Again, you see 50, you pretty much have seen them all. So-and-so Pharaoh, son of the god Amun-Ra/Horace/yada-yada, is loved by all, and has defeated many enemies…. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Regardless, the tour was fun if for nothing else than the tour guide who I had a lot of fun running around. I think she liked me, but then, we all know the ladies are pretty much helpless against me….. STOP LAUGHING! Where was I? Oh, so from there a falluca ride on the Nile for a sunset cruise and a stop by “Banana Island” for some free bananas and not so free cokes. Actually a pretty refreshing time as it was just me, the falluca captain, and a deck hand along the way for about 3 hours. And that day was spent. The last day in Luxor I headed over to Karnak temple which is the largest temple in the world. It covers almost 60 acres, so huge! I walked all over there until they kicked us out at around 6:00 and the last portion of the Luxor pictures are from there. Also very crowded though.

That night, I caught the night train to Cairo and arrived there at about 6:30 in the morning. I hightailed it to my hotel hoping that I could get an early check in and a nap before I headed out, but no such luck. Actually, they didn’t even have my reservation in the system, so I was thinking I might be SOL. They told be to leave my luggage and check back in a couple hours. I figures what the heck, and huffed it down to the Pyramids of Giza. Looooonnnnnggg walk…. there and back… For some reason taxi drivers are the only people I don’t like being generous with. Can’t stand them. I guess because they honk at you every time they pass, so they pretty much got on my bad side right away. Picture the Mexican taxi drivers on crack trying to take you somewhere, and you may get an idea of what I mean. Anyway, the Pyramids. The crazy thing is you think they are in the middle of the desert right? Nope. More like the edge of town. It’s like heading out 192 and on the other side of I-95…. pyramids. Kinda strange actually, and I really thought they would be bigger….



So, I fended of the multitude of Tourist Police looking for a handout, and camel jockeys (already been there, done that, and it hurts the rump), and spent the next 6 hours exploring the pyramids. They are re-facing the Spinx which I am not really happy with as it is starting to look like something you would find in Las Vegas, and the mystery and age is being covered up I think. But not my show. After a while though, that got old so I headed back to the hotel, finally got a room, and sacked out for the night. The next day was the Egyptian museum (again, no pictures allowed) and a tour of Cairo. I saw King Tut’s treasure including the burial mask: solid gold as well as his coffin. Do they have that option at Brownlie-Maxwell? Really cool to see the mummies and such, but the place could use a good dusting, and a few more explanations. It felt like a lot of stuff was just thrown in there with no idea what it was. Some pretty cool stuff though. A lot of Greek and Roman stuff too, which was a little surprising to me, despite two seasons of Rome on HBO. Honestly, I am sure there was a lot more that I could have done in Cairo: The Old City, the Islamic tour, Alexandria, etc… but I really did not enjoy the town. It was loud, obnoxious, annoying, and extremely dirty, so I was pretty much ready to leave after seeing the Pyramids, and was a little disappointed they actually found my reservation. I was thinking I could take off early to Dahab to do some more diving. Either way I am here now. Hopefully I will have some good stuff to relate from here too.

Photos of the Pyramids
Photos of Luxor

-JC

Thanks to Rina for pointing out my Typo….

May 4th, 2008

The “hotel” I booked in Luxor had touted its free wifi and internet access, so I was thinking I would be able to communicate easier while I was there, not to mention post a bunch of pictures. However, while there was a computer, the internet connection did not work there pretty much the entire time I was there. I kept hearing rumors of someone getting it to work for a bit, but I think those were spread by the owner so people wouldn’t get too mad. Who knows? Anyway because of that, my last post was sent from my phone through the McDonalds wifi (pretty much the only place in Luxor I found a reliable internet connection). Hence the typo. Anyway, I loved Luxor in spite of all that. When I landed my heart was beating pretty hard, and I felt the excitement running through me. I kept thinking “Holy crap! I’m in Africa!” and I am pretty sure I was smiling ear to ear. I proceeded to grab a cab and argue from 20 Euro for a trip to town (about 180 Egyptian Pounds) down to 25. I was pretty proud of myself on that one, and everyone who asked how much I paid for a cab from the airport kind of had their eyes open in shock after I told them. Saying that, I didn’t haggle too much after that except in a few notable instances. I keep thinking that we are relatively well off, and I can afford to spread a little around so I give to those I don’t think are trying to rip me off too much. That said, if you are with an Egyptian, you will be amazed at how little you pay for things, and I think the prices are still inflated for what they are for Egyptians alone. I payed 8 L.E. (Egyptian Pounds) for  soda’s and two big bottles of water which works out to about $1.50 when I was with an Egyptian. When it was just me I had a hard time getting one soda for 5 L.E. (just under a dollar.) Go figure. My hotel on the other hand, only cost me 20 L.E. per night, so do the math on that one. I can’t really get my head around the pricing structure here. Lodging is extremely cheap, while other things are ridiculous. When I was at the temple of Hetchetsup (otherwise known as “Hot Chicken Soup”) they tried to charge me 70 L.E. for two soda’s and a snickers bar, which comes out to about $14. I had to restrain myself from laughing in the guys face on that one, and just left the stuff sitting on the counter without even trying to haggle the price. Anyway though, I am currently in Cairo for a couple of nights before I head to Dahab for diving and fun in the sun. I only booked three days for Cairo, and am pretty glad I did that, since really the only things that I wanted to see here were the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum. I have already done both and only been here 24 hours. Now I am just looking for souvenirs and exploring. Not really sure what I am going to bring back yet, so recommendations would be nice. I am thinking a hooka, but I don’t really smoke, so it would just sit there. Apparently all the good Egyptian cotton is exported and not sold here too much, so that idea it pretty much out too. Other than that, I am only seeing the typical touristy stuff like carved figurines, etc… I don’t know, yet.

From here, like I said, is Dahab, then onto …. wait for it….  PETRA!!! How cool is that?? Just slap me silly and call me “Indiana Jones!” I have been wanting to see that for years. I got some good advise from a couple other backpackers while I was in Luxor, and they said the gates open at 6:00am, and if you are there then, you will pretty much have the place to yourself almost the entire day until the trip out as everyone will be behind you. I am thinking 2 days there and then onto Israel. Can’t wait to see Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

To answer a few questions.

Pat – Yes, the gas here is ridiculously expensive. I had a 12 gallon tank in the rental car I had and it cost me over $100 to fill up. It is around 1.45 Euro per liter which comes to about $9 per gallon. Luckily I was able to fill up on the bases a couple times where it was only like $4/gallon. Either way, I am glad I don’t have a car here. As for the shark attack… was this at the famous “No Shark Beach?” Oh, and everyone here keeps telling me “American’s… Great people…… bad government…” Go figure.

Mike – No Frauleins nor Berka’s yet, but I am having a fun time flirting with a couple which pretty much backs up Rina’s idea that I am a flirt, and why she refuses to introduce me to any of here friends…. Missing the art-fair was a bit of a disappointment for me as well, though it has been going down in the past couple years. I think Anthony is doing too good a job as the Alcohol Supply Coordinator, so everyone it too drunk to notice if the art is good or bad anymore.

Katie – I love “House” and am particularly distressed to be missing all the new seasons of TV. But I am willing to make that sacrifice…. I think…. Rina – DVR Grey’s Anatomy and Lost! Sean – you have “House.” NO DELETING!!!!! Ok, that’s taken care of….

Taylor – I did my taxes before I left. Already have my money and am spending it to finance this trip… partly….  I am also officially out of the Navy! No more paycheck though…

Rina – Totally not ready to head home yet, but there is the annual Keys trip that I have to make in August, so I am planning on getting back around the 15th of July or so. Also, not a clue where I am living yet, but I checked craigslist before I left to see what was out there. Pretty much everyone was looking for someone within the month, so I am figuring I can get that set up when I get back and start checking craigslist the last couple weeks I am in Europe.. hopefully…. 

Anthony – are you still headed to the Netherlands in June? Not sure if I am heading back to Vienna or not.. why?

I think that is it for now. Hope everyone is doing well, because I know I am.

-JC

Just a quickie

May 1st, 2008

I just wanted to let everyone now I’m OK. Africa is absolutely amazing! I am totally enjoying myself and have been pretty busy with tours and walking all over. Unfortunately, the internet here is off and on so you all are going to have to wait a bit for pictures. And for those wanting me to try and call around 6:00 or so (Katie) just a reminder that it is 7 hours later here…