Saturday, August 6, 2016

Language: The Key to Slovenia

Learning to speak Slovenian is not impossible. It's just really hard.
Fortunately, the University of Ljubljana's Faculty of Arts offers a summer school program that makes it fun. I was among 107 participants from 31 countries in the 35th annual summer school of Slovene language in July 2016. A placement test is part of the application, and the first morning of the school is devoted to placement interviews.
Starting from rock bottom, I was placed in the most basic beginner class, consisting of eight people and one dog. Our little group reflected the demographics of the summer school as a whole, ranging in age from college students to retirees. The international breakdown included four Americans, one Canadian, one Argentine, one Thai and one Austrian (who brought the dog). The native English speakers had it relatively easy because those speaking Spanish or German or Thai had to juggle a third language in their heads while the class toggled back and forth between Slovene and English.
The only reason we didn't all suffer mental breakdowns was the immense patience of our teacher, 
Tanja Jerman. As the co-author of our textbook, she undoubtedly could have taught at any level and I admired her cheerful willingness to take on raw beginners. There was a more advanced beginner 
class for people such as the Serbs and Macedonians who already spoke another Slavic language, but our group had no such advantage. Wrestling with the sounds of š, č and ž, I struggled with something as basic as the correct pronunciation of my last name, Anžur. The word for the number 6 (šešt) tripped me up every time. Then there are the words like trg (sqaure) and vrt (garden).  May I please buy a vowel? The fun really begins when you realize there are no articles before the nouns, like "the" or "a." Every new word must be classified as feminine, masculine or neutral and the ending of the word can change, depending on the number and how it is used in the sentence. Asking a question involves deciding whether to use an informal or more polite form.
Adding to my misery was the fact that my son was taking the course for the second time, speaks fluent Polish, and was placed in a much higher class. Eager to show I had learned something, I proudly announced to him in Slovene that "I rode the dog to school this morning!" 
After a few days of games, drills and practice we could all ask and answer basic questions like what's your name, where are you from, what's your job, and how many languages do you speak. The four people in our group who enrolled in the optional afternoon conversation and practice course made faster progress.
Fortunately, the school provides plenty of opportunities to blow off a little steam, with an excursion or cultural activity planned every day and included with the course:
Outdoor activities included a picnic and this trip to enjoy standup paddleboards, rowing, and relaxing with drinks at Lake Zbilge.
A walking tour of the national cemetery with monuments designed by the acclaimed Slovenian architect, Jože Plečnik.
Making štruklji at a culinary workshop with
Cook Eat Slovenia.

And of course bowling!
By the end of the course I had achieved my modest goal of learning the basic structure and sound of the language. The textbook has an app on Memrise that will help me continue to study on my own.  My family lost the language after they emigrated to the United States in 1911 and wanted their kids to  speak only English. For most of its history Slovenia has been more of an ethnicity than a country with its own borders, and the question of who is a Slovenian was answered with another question: do you speak Slovene? I'm working on it. Govorim malo Slovensko. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

I'm Slovenian!

Lake Bled, one of the many beautiful places to discover in the land of my ancestors.

What kind of a name is Anzur?
Over the years, my family taught me many different ways to answer that question.
 "Tell them it's French," said my mother, pronouncing it as "Ahn-zoor." When pulling up to a restaurant, my dad would send me in to give our name to the receptionist. "Tell them it's Anderson, party of five," he would say, explaining Anzur is too hard for Americans to say or spell. Because I'm in journalism, some people just assumed it was Asner, like the actor who played the iconic Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore show. My father's name was Ed, and the rumor got started that I was Ed Asner's daughter.
My real dad would explain that my ancestors considered themselves to be immigrants from Austria, because my grandfather had served in the army of Emperor Franz Joseph.
Growing up as an American kid during the Cold War, I came to understand that they were actually from a place on the map known as Yugoslavia. Yet, it never felt right to say my family name was Yugoslavian.
The truth was always with me, in the form of a ritual our family performed at Christmastime. We'd gather around a table to crack walnuts. From a very early age, my brothers and I would wrestle with nut-cracking implements in our tiny hands. Whenever we managed to crack one of the thick brown shells, it was tempting to eat the tasty nut rather than contribute it to the family bowl. When it was filled, mom and dad would produce an antique nut grinder that could be clamped to the basement staircase. We all took turns cranking the handle to produce fluffy ground walnuts that could be mixed with sugar and rolled up into dough and baked. For my dad, it wasn't Christmas if we didn't have this holiday dessert he called "petitza."

I started to put the pieces together years later when I was a hosting a TV show in 1994 in New York. One night at the popular media watering hole Elaine's, I met a charming older gentleman. Frederic Morton was the author of the definitive book on late 19th century Austria, "A Nervous Splendor." He was intrigued by my last name and introduced me to people from the Austrian consulate.
"Where did your family come from?" a diplomat asked.
My answer, "a small town near Ljubljana," drew a bemused response.
"You're not Austrian. You're Slovenian."
By that time Slovenia had emerged from the former Yugoslavia, and I was eager to learn more about my family's roots in this small Eastern European country. My research has allowed me to learn the proper spelling of potiča, and the proper spelling of my last name --  Anžur. Along the way, I've discovered a lot of reasons to embrace the land my ancestors left over 100 years ago. So I'm going to blog about it.
What kind of a name is Anžur? Good question.
Moj priimek je iz Slovenije!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Five Reasons to Put Jordan on Your Travel Bucket List

Months after my unforgettable trip to Jordan, I've hesitated to blog about it. The crash of an Egypt Air flight from Paris and the attack on Istanbul's international hub airport have reminded all of us of the risk involved in visiting this part of the world. Here's why Jordan should still be on your bucket list:
The Citadel in Amman is the perfect starting point
for your adventure in Jordan.
1. A first class international airport. The sparkling Queen Alia terminal near Amman was a huge contrast to the chaotic scene we left behind in Cairo, where people were pushing and shoving to get through security with no semblance of a line. Upon arrival in Jordan, it was instantly obvious we had made it to a more orderly country that is often called the Switzerland of the Middle East.
Royal portraits stand guard at a famous
falafel stand in Amman.
A representative of our tour company met us with our visas in hand and led us through a terminal that looked brand new and felt safe. Outside, we met Robby, the driver who would be with us for the entire week. Home base was the Hotel Toledo, recently renovated in a charming Moorish style and located in a quiet residential neighborhood on a hill above the center of Amman. Robby pointed out the popular  Restaurant Ghieth nearby, and the English-speaking manager helped us order more fresh local food than we could eat -- at a stunning bargain price. The hotel gave us multiple passwords for the wifi and cheerfully changed our Jordanian money into smaller bills. Our rooms had views of both a mosque and a church -- and a huge police station. Another security plus.
Delicious Jordanian food.

2. A welcoming capital city. The highlights of Amman are easily seen in one day if you have a guide and driver who know their way around the city's perpetual traffic. The logical starting point is The Citadel, where layers of antiquity include ruins of Roman temples, a Byzantine Church and the Umayyad Palace. This open-air history lesson was populated with groups of school kids eager to try out their English on us. Our guide, Suhaib, also filled us in on more contemporary issues facing the many Palestinians who have settled in Jordan. Our loop around the city included the Roman Amphitheater, busy market streets and a snack at the famous Al Quds falafel stand on tourist-friendly Rainbow Street. We also drove through hilltop neighborhoods of sprawling mansions, where wealthy Saudi Arabians and other Middle Easterners spend their leisure time and money.
Bunnies and beer with a view.
On our free time, we got hopelessly lost wandering the streets, but enjoyed drinks on the roof of the Amman Pasha, a hip hotel with some very cute pet rabbits and a splendid view of the amphitheater. Our tour included a traditional Jordanian dinner at the Reem Albawadi restaurant, a fancy place filled with families and local groups celebrating special occasions.

3. Day Trips from Amman. Having a dedicated guide and driver allowed our family to take several day trips. At Umm Qais, we walked the ruins of the ancient cultural center of Gadara. This is where Jesus was said to have performed a miracle by casting out demons from two men into a herd of swine.  We marveled at the view. Just across a peaceful-looking valley we could see the Golan Heights, the border of Syria and the distant mountains of Lebanon.  Our guide referred to the Israeli territory on the other side of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias)  as Palestine, revealing the tension that persists throughout the region. Definitely bring your passports. We had to show them at one of the checkpoints maintained by Jordanian troops.
UN refugee tent on the road to the Dead Sea.
We also saw UN refugee tents in some agricultural settlements along the route, but came nowhere near the camps for those fleeing Syria and Iraq. Proceeding along the Jordan River, we stopped at the ruins of Pella en route to a resort area on the Dead Sea. Floating in the salty water is a must-do experience. We declined to join the Russian tourists covering themselves with mud, despite the proclaimed health benefits.
Another day trip took us to Jerash, the ruins of a vast Roman city that rivals Pompeii but is nearly empty of tourists except during its famed annual music festival. Suhaib had taken a special course for expert guides to the site and his in-depth knowledge added to our appreciation of what it must have been like to live in one of the great cities of the Roman empire.
Bagpiper in Jerash.
Curious schoolgirls seeking selfies.
Our 25-year-old son was greeted like a rockstar by groups of high school girls seeking selfies. We encountered more curious school groups at our next stop: the 12th century castle of Ajlun, built by Saladin during the Crusades.

4. Petra. The road to Petra winds though Mount Nebo, the place where Moses was permitted to look upon the Holy Land before he died.  The nearby town of Madaba is a model of peaceful co-existence; Muslim neighbors have helped to decorate St. George's Church, famous for a floor mosaic that is the oldest known map of the Holy Land. We also stopped at Karak Castle, an imposing fort built by Crusaders and captured by Saladin's armies.
Photobombed by a dog while hiking in Petra.
Sadly, the gateway to the wonders of Petra is something of a tourist trap. We didn't spend much time in our rundown hotel with torn sheets, fraying towels, mismatched carpet and moldy bathrooms. The Movenpick at the gates of the UNESCO attraction is a much better choice for those who can afford it. We had a tasty meal in the splendid bar on the ground floor, evoking the spirit of the Swiss adventurer who discovered the site in 1812.
Cold beer at the Cave Bar.
 Another worthwhile watering hole is the Cave Bar, part of the Petra Guest House Hotel. Sitting in a 2,000 year-old cave, perhaps the oldest bar in the world, you won't even mind paying the equivalent of $9 USD for a cold beer.
Petra by Night, with 1,500 candles lighting the way. 
Our afternoon arrival allowed us to experience Petra By Night. At about $25 USD per person, it's a priceless opportunity to walk along a candlelit path (with 1500 real candles!) through the canyon leading to the Treasury, made famous by Indiana Jones. Yes, the tourists jostling for selfies are annoying and the Bedouin music goes on for a while, but don't miss it if you are physically able to walk over a mile each way in the dark. Bring a flashlight.
You'll be offered rides on camels, donkeys and horse carts.
UNESCO wants you to consider the health of the animals.
 We were up at the crack of dawn for a full day in the UNESCO world heritage site. Suhaib guided us through the canyon known as the Siq to the Treasury and past the major sites, then set us on the trail to the Monastery and the Top of the World on our own. Much has been written about Petra, so I'll concentrate on what the tour books may not tell you.
  • Respect the locals: People lived in the caves as recently as the 1980s and have been relocated to a nearby village built for them. But they have the exclusive right to all of the concessions inside the park. All of the footpaths are lined with people imploring you to buy souvenirs or a cold drink. The downturn in tourism in recent years has left them desperate to make a sale.
  • Be kind to animals: UNESCO posters in the ticket center urge visitors to walk if they can, showing a picture of an extremely fat guy on a tiny donkey. Unfortunately, you will see this throughout your day in the park. While most of the horses, camels and donkeys seem well cared-for, don't be part of the problem. 
  • Wear sturdy hiking shoes: My fitbit showed 30,000 steps and 100 flights of stairs during a full day of hiking in Petra, most of it up and down hills on rocky, dusty paths strewn with donkey and camel droppings. We were nearly pushed off a trail by a couple of wild dogs who decided to get into a fight on the footpath.
  • It's hot and dusty. Wear a hat and sunscreen. Stay hydrated but be aware that restrooms are few and far between. 
  • The hike to the Monastery and the footpath to the Royal Tombs are worth the effort on a one-day visit. There are many other hiking options if you have more time.
  • Security: The bad guys know that most tourists will spend the entire day in the park, which leaves your hotel room vulnerable to theft. We put our valuables in the safe, but our son forgot a money pouch in a pocket of his briefcase. The cash was taken and it was obvious someone had rifled through our other belongings as well. 
A Bedouin cave at the top of the long, hot climb to the Monastery
 offers shade, a cold drink and restrooms.
At the end of the day, you'll stumble back to the Cave Bar for a much deserved cold drink and a new appreciation of the wonders of the lost Nabatean civilization. Despite the few minor annoyances, it's an experience not to be missed, as you'll see on this video.

5. The Wadi Rum Desert. I can now say I've been to Mars, because I have taken a bone-rattling truck ride across the sands of the landscape that was the location for many scenes in the Matt Damon movie "The Martian." The ghost of Lawrence of Arabia looms large here, in the shadow of a mountain called "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom." Watch the video.
Welcome to Mars -- the Wadi Rum desert.
You might wish to clamber up a sand dune for the best view, or simply admire the vistas from the comfort of a Bedouin tent. After visiting the desert we pushed on to the shores of the Red Sea in Aqaba. The falafel was great, but otherwise, not much to see in this bustling town before the long ride back to Amman. We passed camels and donkeys along the modern highway, stopping at a gas station prayer room so our driver could say his afternoon prayers.
A resort catering to daytrippers from Amman at the Dead Sea.
Use the lockers in the changing room
to store your belongings. Mud optional.
Terry's Travel Tips: Jordan is a country that works, despite all of the regional chaos around it.
Getting there: This may be the most challenging part of your trip. We arrived on Royal Jordanian Airlines from Cairo and departed on Turkish Airlines through Istanbul to Los Angeles.
Staying safe: Once you arrive in Jordan, you'll draw curious stares if you look like a foreigner. Most people are friendly and just want to take a picture. Many people have strong opinions about US presidents and Americans in general, so best to stay clear of political discussions. Jordan has welcomed US troops based in the country, or visiting on R and R. The US Embassy in Amman is a gigantic fortified complex that allows the United States to engage with the entire region.
Be polite: The King runs a pretty tight ship. Criticizing the Royal Family can get you in trouble.
Dress appropriately: This is a Muslim country where showing too much skin is frowned upon. You'll see trendy fashion in Amman, but it's pretty traditional elsewhere. Women need not cover their hair unless visiting a mosque.
Money: Most of our trip was prepaid, but you'll need plenty of cash to cover incidental expenses and tips. We felt our driver and guide went the extra mile for us and we tipped accordingly.
Food and drink: We enjoyed Jordan's take on typical middle eastern fare, from falafel to hummus. Stick to bottled water and be aware that alcohol is generally not served.
A Bedouin boy boils water for tea.
A visit to Jordan is a walk through history from the ancient Nabateans through the Greek and Roman Empires, the Byzantines and the Crusades to the modern Muslim world. In a week we covered the entire country from north to south. Whether you go now or later, it definitely belongs on your travel wish list.
At the Top of the World in Petra. Worth every one of my 30,000 steps.

To book this trip: Call Linda at (866) 878-8785 or email and

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Seven Wonderful Days in Egypt

The discovery of King Tut’s magnificent tomb in 1922 has been credited by history to Englishman Howard Carter. An Egyptian scholar tells a different story. Carter’s team had been digging for five years in the Valley of the Kings when the actual find was made by a 12-year-old Egyptian boy hired to carry water to the site on the back of a donkey. While digging a hole in the dirt to prop up a water jar, the boy stumbled upon a flat stone that turned out to be the top step of the entrance to the tomb. Later, Carter’s photographer would take a picture of the boy wearing a necklace from the treasure. Until his death at the age of 80, Hussein Abdelrasoul made a living on the west bank of Luxor by showing the photograph to tourists who gave him money.  His sons carried on the tradition.
The Egyptian Museum, a good place to start.
Egyptians have been left standing by their country’s ancient wonders, waiting to welcome visitors. But since the Arab Spring revolution of 2011, tour groups have been scared away by fears of instability and violence. The first Egyptian we met at the Cairo Airport had a message for us to take back home: “Tell everyone our country is safe.”
Esslam greeted us with a big smile and our tourist visas in hand. He didn't mind that our connecting flight from Istanbul was several hours late. His job is to make sure arrivals and departures go smoothly and he spends long hours at the airport waiting for the hardy souls who haven't been scared off by headlines like the crash of a Russian jet or the murder of an Italian graduate student. This father of two is one of the many people we met during our seven-day trip who depend on tourism for their livelihood, and they have been hurting in recent years. 
Even with an expert driver, navigating Cairo traffic is an adventure. 
We booked our trip through a US travel agent. She recommended a tour operator with long experience in the middle east. Their "platinum tour" would take us from Alexandria to Abu Simbel and we opted for most of the excursions and extras along the way. My husband, son and I usually try to "go native" by renting an apartment, mixing with the locals and finding our own way.  In Egypt, having dedicated drivers and guides for our family of three turned out to be a perfect compromise between a big tour bus and trying to go it alone. 

Day 1 - Cairo The first challenge was fighting through Cairo crosstown traffic from the airport to begin our visit at the Egyptian Museum. We were lucky to have arrived on a Saturday when the weekday gridlock eases up a bit. The vintage 1902 building houses artifacts that have avoided being shipped off to the Louvre, Berlin or the British Museum, including the treasures from Tut's tomb. Cameras without flash are allowed for an extra charge in most of the museum, but don't even think about trying to take a picture of Tutankhamun's golden death mask. It was our first experience with the Egypt's policy of declaring some of its most famous artifacts off limits to amateur photography of any kind, perhaps increasing the chances that you will buy the DVDs or the postcard pictures for sale at the site. It was also my first experience of being asked to pose for selfies with schoolgirls who apparently found my blonde hair more fascinating than the giant statue of Ramses II. Our guide, Mohamed, expertly led us through the dingy exhibit rooms filled with priceless artifacts, identified only by a few crumbling typewritten paper signs. Without a trained Egyptologist by our side we would have missed out on a lot. Tahrir Square, scene of Egypt's recent revolutions, turns out to be a normal-looking traffic circle next to the museum.
The citadel in Cairo.
Back in traffic, we passed the City of the Dead, a vast labyrinth of tombs where people live. Resident gangs, we were told, make it too dangerous to visit. We reached the Citadel and joined Egyptian families and school groups strolling the grounds, visiting the alabaster mosque and admiring a hazy view over the sprawling city of 29 million people. Sadly, because of our late arrival, our visit to the  maze-like streets of the Coptic Christian area was cut short because most of the churches are closed by 5 pm. We did manage to visit the Ben Ezra synagogue and the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, which is believed to be on the site of a cave where Jesus, Mary and Joseph took refuge during their flight in Egypt. Sharing the streets with horses, camels and donkey carts we made our way to the Giza Movenpick, where we could see the pyramids from our hotel room balcony. And this was just the start of a trip filled with amazing moments every day!
Pyramid view from our balcony.
Day 2 - Alexandria Up early for the nearly three-hour drive to the former capital city named for Alexander the Great. Like many Cairo-dwellers, our guide said he dreams of someday moving out of the urban chaos to a single family home in one of the pop-up suburbs under construction along the toll road to the coast. Canals from the Nile provide a water lifeline.
Seaside in Alexandria.
Mohamed recalled his childhood vacation days on the Mediterranean seaside as he guided us through the city sights: Pompey's Pillar, an amphitheater that may have been part of an early university complex, and the eerie multi-story catacombs where early Christians gathered to avoid persecution and bury the dead.
Alexandria is famous for seafood.
After lunch at a seafood restaurant we toured the new high-tech library which carries on the tradition of Alexander's great storehouse of knowledge, a wonder of the ancient world. We made it back to the Movenpick to end our day with a cold drink. Keep in mind that most restaurants outside hotels are unlikely to serve alcohol of any kind, including beer.
Day 3 and 4 - Luxor and the Valley of the Kings
Temple of Karnak
To beat the traffic, the hotel provided breakfast bags for a pre-dawn drive to the Cairo airport. In Luxor, a tour representative connected us with a new guide, a Luxor native nicknamed Sam. He walked us through the magnificent temples of Karnak and Luxor before depositing us at our boat, the Royal Esadora.
Magnificent Luxor by night.
We opted to add a nighttime excursion to the Karnak sound and light show, enjoying the resident dogs who seemed to know the script. Sam also escorted us into the small mosque that was built in the wall of the Luxor temple.  Our guide's local savvy was invaluable when we needed to pick up something at a pharmacy or find an ATM.
Valley of the Kings:
Visitors welcome without cameras.
The Valley of the Kings was disappointing due to the no-cameras policy. Sam blamed it on Russian daytrippers who couldn't turn off their flash. OK, I understand that the sensitive art on the walls of the tombs must be protected. But why prohibit photos at the modern-day sign outside King Tut's tomb? And no, I didn't just come halfway around the world to buy a DVD or a postcard of it. Guards are watching for any sign of a camera and your guide will have to negotiate with a "tip" in hand for you to get it back if it's confiscated -- even without any offending images on it.
On Luxor's West Bank, the temple built by Hatshepsut,
the only woman to rule as a Pharaoh. 
More welcoming to photographers was the astounding temple built by the only woman to rule as a Pharaoh, Hatshepsut. Security is understandable at tourist attractions that could be targeted by terrorists, but we found ourselves surrounded only by curious Egyptian school kids who don't see many foreigners.
A roadside "alabaster museum."
We also stopped at an "alabaster factory," one of the many roadside souvenir stops where tea is served while you are encouraged to buy something. Watch the Luxor video here.
Poolside on the Royal Esadora. 
Day 5 - Cruising the Nile The Royal Esadora turned out to be an efficient way to cover the vast distances between the sights while sleeping, dining or relaxing by the pool, as you'll see on this video. The buffets were bountiful for both meat-lovers and fish-eaters, with an extra charge for beverages including water. Tea time provided an afternoon break, and a top deck bar offered sunset cocktails.
Sunset cocktail on the Nile.
The agricultural shoreline and graceful felucca sailing boats provided a window on a way of life that hasn't changed much in centuries, except that every guy driving a donkey or herding goats has a cellphone pressed to his ear.

We woke up in Esna, for a morning walk to a temple that was once used for storage and target practice. Here, I had a scary moment when I fell behind the group and found myself snapping pictures all alone, drawing unwanted attention from some guys in a passing car. They buzzed off when I caught up to my male relatives. Traveling as a woman alone is probably not a good idea.
Horsing around in Edfu.
Our arrival in Edfu was met by horse-drawn carriages. We clip-clopped through the busy market town to another splendid temple that could have been a set for an epic movie. By this time we were getting used to running the gauntlet of shops outside each and every attraction. With such a scarcity of tourists, merchants desperate to make a sale are literally in your face. Watch the video here.
Boatmen sell their wares
on the Nile.
We arrived after dark at the temple of Kom Omeo, with its ancient healing center and quirky crocodile museum. Back at the boat, it was time to "Dress Like an Egyptian" for an evening of silly fun and games.

Day 6 - Aswan Morning tour of a rock quarry with an unfinished obelisk, followed by a drive across the old dam to reach the High Dam and its splendid views of Lake Nasser. The highlight was a boat trip to the Temple of Philae, which was moved by UNESCO to keep it above the water in a stunning new island setting. We returned to the cruise ship with enough time before lunch to browse the bustling marketplace of Aswan for souvenirs. We also signed up for an afternoon boat trip, first on a felucca and then transferring to a motorboat when the wind died.
Our destination was a Nubian village, where camels are the favored mode of transportation for tourists and locals alike. Sam explained that the Nubian tradition of hospitality requires homes to be open to visitors. Check out the video.
Crocodile in a Nubian village home.
We were offered hibiscus tea and entertained by the household pets: cats, dogs and crocodiles. The return trip passed by the Cataract Hotel, where Agatha Christie stayed while writing Death on the Nile.

Day 7 - Abu Simbel/ Cairo The astonishing temples honoring Ramses II and Queen Nefertari are worth the effort it takes to get there by plane. Travel tip: check as much of your stuff as possible and carry minimal hand baggage. There's no place to leave it while you are walking around Abu Simbel, and you'll be juggling your hand luggage as you take and pose for photos outside.
Check your bags or you'll have to carry them around Abu Simbel.
We were given tickets to hook up with a local guide at the site, and the roundtrip bus ride was included with our Egyptair ticket. No photos are allowed inside the temples, which look as if they've been there forever. Hard to believe they were moved block by block when the dam was built. You don't want to miss the bus for your flight back to Cairo, so keep an eye on the clock as you marvel at one of the world's most impressive sights. Video here.
Upon arriving at Le Meridien, we had a free night for dinner in Cairo. The Heliopolis neighborhood is home to many embassies as well as middle/upper class Egyptians. The hotel called a taxi, which waited as we enjoyed tasty pizza on the roof of a popular family restaurant called Bistro, mingling outside the tourist zone with Egyptians enjoying a night out.

Day 8 - Giza Having a well-connected guide and driver can make a big difference in your visit to the pyramids. We drove around to the uncrowded far side where Bedouins and their camels were waiting. Watch the video here.
Camel and pyramids. Perfect.
 Trudging through the sand on a "ship of the desert" with the ancient wonders as a backdrop was unforgettable. Our guide also showed us a small pyramid where we could go inside. The one light bulb in the tunnel wasn't working; only when we snapped a flash picture did we see how close we came to the edge of a deep pit. Note to self: bring a flashlight.
Inside the pyramid of Queen Henutsen.
From there, it was on to the Sphinx, picking our way among the vendors and the mostly Egyptian crowds. Our guide suggested a break at a "perfume factory," which provided a brief respite from the sun and another sales pitch.
Most visitors in Giza are Egyptians.
More wonders awaited at the site of the step pyramid and the ancient capital of Memphis, including some of the best-preserved tomb art of the trip. We said our goodbyes to a giant statue of Ramses II. Fighting traffic once again to return to the hotel, we could see why it was a smart choice to stay near the airport for our flight the next morning.
Sharing the road with camels and donkey carts.
Terry’s travel tips:
Timing is everything: It’s worth paying a bit extra to travel during the high season (spring and autumn) when daytime temperatures are tolerable. Be prepared to get an early start to avoid the hottest part of the day, and sign-up for guided nighttime excursions to enjoy the cool evenings. 
Bulletproof vests on the gate to Pompey's Pillar in Alexandria.
Safety: We purposely avoided Sharm al Sheikh resorts at the Red Sea because of the involvement of a terrorist group in the downing of a airliner filled with Russian tourists. A big group of foreigners anywhere could present a likely target. In our small group we felt safe as long as we were with our assigned guides and drivers. Tourist police officers are visibly packing automatic weapons. All of the major sites, hotels and ships go through the motions of airport-style security. A woman walking alone is likely to draw catcalls or worse.

Money: Bring dollars to pay the required boat tipping fee and additional tour options. Also, in a country where no one wants to make change for the large bills you get from the ATM, you'll have to scheme to get your hands on "small" Egyptian currency for the many people who will expect tips or exact change. Bring all correspondence with the travel agent booking your trip, as we had to prove to the management of the cruise ship we had already paid for two upgraded suites, and one suite with a child's bed for our 25-year old son was not acceptable.
Cabin crew aims to please
with creative towel art.
Be generous when tipping the guides and drivers who go the extra mile to take good care of you; they've earned it!

What to Pack: Women need not cover their heads unless visiting a mosque. You’ll want a hat and sunscreen; major sites have little or no shade. Both men and women should avoid exposing a lot of skin except poolside on a cruise ship or at a hotel catering to foreigners.  Long skirt, pants or leggings and long-sleeved tops for women are a must. Shorts look out of place on everyone. No matter what you wear, you will stand out as different. Get used to being stared at, and smile back or just move on.
Most people were friendly,
curious and welcoming.

Staying Healthy: Don’t underestimate how much walking and stair climbing is involved at any of the major sites. There’s always a camel or a horse carriage standing by to offer you a ride, but generally this is a destination for the physically fit. Your shoes should be sturdy enough to withstand walking through sand, rocks and dirt. Don't even think about drinking tap water or brushing your teeth with it. Even if you are vigilant about drinking bottled water, you're likely to need a dose or two of an anti-diarrhea medicine like Imodium as your body adjusts to the food. Fortunately, most pharmacies are well stocked and pharmacists speak English.

Why go NOW? With Egypt's military leader in charge, there is hope of enough stability to bring back the tourism on the scale that is needed to revive the economy. The authorities take a hard line with any type of dissent so it's best to avoid political discussions altogether. If you keep an open mind and a willingness to be a polite guest in a fascinating country, you'll be glad you came. 

To Book this Tour: Call Linda at (866) 878-8785 or email and