Friday, April 30, 2010

The Flight of A Lifetime

The Once in A Lifetime Flight

I am bursting to share the story of the trip that Lisa and I just made to Santa Fe, NM to celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary. Before departing Kansas City, a good friend of mine, Hunter Christophersen, provided me with information about a Jet Warbird Training Center that had opened at the Santa Fe Airport. He suggested that perhaps I would like to take a lesson in a high performance fighter trainer..... When I mentioned it to Lisa, she simply said - what else do we have to do - go for it; and so I did.


With my background, I qualified for an actual lesson, that to my surprise took all morning, followed by a one hour flight of a lifetime. The aircraft I was to fly was the L-39 Albatros, one of the most sought after aircraft on the Jet Warbird Market. It is a unique blend of Soviet-style simplicity and Czechoslovakian-style Western Technology. This aircraft is in use today as the current Russian Trainer, and was also produced as a close air support aircraft.

When I arrived at the airport I really had no idea what to expect. I guessed that the instructor would go over a short briefing and then take me for a flight, where with luck I would get to actually fly the aircraft in a few simple turns... Well, that proved to be completely inaccurate. Instead, the instructor, Larry Salganek (the local FAA Examiner), took Lisa and I through a quick but intense ground school for over an hour. We focused on systems, and using a photograph of the cockpit explored the operation of all the switches and controls. Lisa said that she was completely lost within 10 minutes. Fortunately with my formal training at Simcom, I was able to not only follow, but absorb most of what was said, and when I finally stepped into the aircraft, it all somehow seemed fairly familiar.

When the time came to actually board the aircraft, to my surprise and delight, I was strapped into the front of the cockpit where I would actually get to fly the airplane. Larry stood on the stairs outside the aircraft and walked me through the engine start which we had rehearsed in our lesson. It was all very simple - really.DSC_0103 The aircraft is equipped with what they call "Sapphire" which is an onboard turbo that is started first by simply pressing and holding one button and then allowing it to spool up. When the light on the panel labeled "Shappire" lit, I lifted a switch cover and pressed the Main Start button until the RPM indicator started to move. Then I released the button and moved the throttle from off to idle and that was all there was to it. At this point, Larry helped me secure my canopy and then he climbed into the back seat and likewise closed his canopy.

At this point I moved a few more switches, locked the canopies, engaged the pressurization, ran a few checks and it was time to go. The Albatros has what is known as a trailing nose wheel, meaning that you cannot use it to steer. Instead differential braking of the main brakes is used. Unlike the aircraft I have flown where the brakes are located on top of the foot pedals, on this aircraft the brakes are engaged by pulling (ever so gently) on a small handle located on the control column. To begin our taxi, Larry turned the aircraft around 180 degrees because we were close in to a number of other aircraft. However, from that point on, Larry never, never once touched the controls again - it was all up to me.

Taxing out to the runway was comical at best. I was reminded of my first lesson where I kept trying to steer the airplane with the yoke, while in reality it is necessary to use your feet. I found it awkward to push the rudder and then engage the handbrake, so I went back and forth, and back and forth, but by the time we reached the runway, I pretty much had it down. We were cleared directly onto the runway, where after lining up, I applied full brakes. Then I pushed the throttle to full power and waited. One,...two,...three...,four...and etc. until 9 seconds had elapsed; at that point we were at full power, all the gauges were normal, and I simply released the brakes. I was pushed back in my seat as the 3,800 lbs of thrust did their thing. Before I realized it, I had passed 100 kts, so I rotated 10 degrees nose up, pulled up the gear and the flaps, and started climbing at 4,000 to at times 5,000 ft/min with an indicated airspeed of around 210 kts. Now in the cockpit I was amazed at just how quiet the aircraft was. However, Lisa tells me that every time I took off every window at the airport rattled from the deafening noise.

I climbed very quickly to 15,500 ft and leveled off. I was just having a ball. I was tooling along around 350 kts with not a care in the world watching the mountains slide by. Larry suggested I try some turns right and left, and I very quickly learned that banking 45 degrees into a turn seemed almost natural and was accompanied by no loss in altitude. In fact if I let my training take over, a steep turn like that would require me to pull back on the stick quite a bit, but Larry had already warned me that it was not necessary and if I did that I could climb several thousand feet without realizing it.

Next came practice with stalls. I did two stalls. The first was a clean stall straight ahead. I got a stick shaker just as the aircraft stalled, and even though I dropped the nose and added full power I still entered a secondary stall, which Larry told me was quite normal. Then I did a stall with the gear down and full flaps, and this was actually more stable and easy to handle.

Looking down, I was amazed at how much ground I was covering. My "training" flight had already gone south of Albuquerque before I turned back North. Larry had me do some more practice, including pulling the engine to idle and setting up for a glide. What a sweet experience. In a glide I was doing 140 kts. and had a slow descent of around 500 ft/min. The aircraft was very stable and we could easily have glided all the way to Santa Fe.

My next assignment was to see if I could get the aircraft to its maximum rated speed. Larry had me climb to 17,500 ft and leaving the throttle wide open, initiate a 30 degree nose down dive. Faster than a speeding bullet the earth started coming at me. Our speed went right off the airspeed indicator and the Mach meter begin to function. When we reached a speed of .73 Mach and an altitude of around 8,000 ft. Larry kicked the speed brakes, and had me go to idle power and level off. To put what just happened in perspective, I was going around 550 mph just before we leveled off. Not too shabby an experience.

It was finally time to head back to the airport, but Larry suggested that I should do at least one barrel roll. Aerobatics are not my stick, which I had told Larry, but what the heck, I am only going to live once. So at full throttle he instructed me to quickly and smoothly throw the stick all the way against my left knee and hold it there until we had recovered. When I did that the aircraft abruptly rolled all the way over on its back and kept rolling until we righted up again - and it all happened in the blink of an eye.... Still not my thing, but it was fun.

So it was time to return to the airport and Larry presented me with a little challenge. He had me look down and to the right only to see that we were very close to the Santa Fe airport, but also quite high - at that point around 15,000 ft. He challenged me to enter the traffic pattern for runway 20 at 8,000 at the mid-field point. I remember from our ground school how to accomplish this, so I figured what the heck. Larry called the tower and got their permission, so I gave it a try. Power to idle, speed brakes full, nose down and we dropped like a brick. To my amazement I was able to enter the pattern at exactly the right point and correct altitude; pretty cool.

We did four landings, three of which were "touch and goes," and to my surprise Larry let me handle each of them, in spite of the fact that Santa Fe had some wicked winds at the time, gusting to over 40 mph. To a pilot, there is no greater thrill than getting to land a new aircraft, particularly one such as the Albatros. Incredibly the Albatros was a very easy plane to land.DSC_0176 On the downwind, power is put at 87% and mid-flaps are selected, which slows me down to 140 kts. Abeam the end of the runway the gear is dropped, and we slow down to 130 kts. After turning to final full flaps are applied and we are slowed to 120 kts. When making the runway is assured, I pulled the power to idle as I slowed to around 100 kts, and then heard the magic three chirps as the wheels touched down. Then I pushed the throttle full forward before we lost too much speed and once again found myself raising the gear and flaps and entering the pattern for another landing. All too soon it was time to make a full stop landing and taxi back, but what a lifetime moment.

I proudly got my logbook endorsed and received some kind words from Larry about my piloting skills. I have not touched the ground since then, nor do I want to.


Friday, April 23, 2010

The Trusted Traveler



Global Entry

The Trusted Traveler

It all started innocently enough, I mean it seemed a good idea in the beginning....but allow me to step back and bring you along with me on my journey as a "Trusted Traveler."

A few trips back, Lisa and I arrived in Atlanta having travelled for over 24 hours already on our way back home. We had a reasonable connection time for our flight to Kansas City, but not much in the way of slack time. So, when we entered the huge assembly hall for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and found it overflowing with people waiting to clear immigration, it was a downer to say the least. We really wondered if it would be possible to make our connecting flight, so long were the lines snaking back and forth, not to mention that the thought of having to stand for a long time in our tired state, was not appealing.

As I stepped into line, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a gentleman who had been seated behind me on our flight, simply walk past the lines and go to the side of the hall where several "ATM" like machines were located. I could read the sign over the machine and it said "Global Entry." He stood in front of the machine and swiped his passport, and then seemed to enter some information on the touch screen, and before you could blink your eyes, the machine spits out a receipt of some kind. Whereupon, our fellow traveler walks through immigration, grabs his luggage and exits the hall all the while holding up his "receipt." I thought at the time that he must be some official or bigwig - lucky sort.

When I got home, I really meant to look up that Global Entry thing, but as luck and old age would have it, I could not remember the name --- so, I simply forgot about the entire incident; that is until our last trip. As Lisa and I were dragging our carryons in a mad rush across the terminal, I spotted a brochure stand which had flyers which said "Apply Now!"and across the top of the brochure were those magic words "Global Entry." I grabbed a flyer and threw it into my carryon and forgot about it until I got home. At home I looked it over and it looked on the surface to be very interesting. Here in a nutshell is how the program works.

"Global Entry is a new Trusted Traveler Program managed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection which allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers expedited clearance upon arrival into the United States. Participants will enter the US by utilizing automated kiosks. The process will require participants to present their machine-readable U.S. Passport, submit their fingerprints and make a customs declaration at the kiosk's touch-screen. Upon successful completion of the process at the kiosk, the traveler will be issued a transaction receipt and directed to baggage claim and the exit. Global Entry allows the United States border agencies to concentrate their efforts on potentially higher-risk travelers, which helps to insure the security and integrity of our airports and borders." Below all this in big bold print it says "APPLY ONLINE NOW!"

This all sounded pretty good to Lisa and me, and recalling some of the huge lines in which we had had to endure, we thought to ourselves that we should give it a try. The flyer said that the program was open to anyone 14 years or older who are U.S. citizens and who do not have a criminal record. There is a required $100 fee per person for a five year permit, and once conditionally accepted, we would have to visit a customs office for an interview, be photographed and fingerprinted.

Well, anyone who thinks that something so simple could not be royally messed up is about to learn a lesson.

When I had a moment, I went to the link contained in the flyer, That link DID NOT take me to the Global Entry program, but instead directed me to the GEOS portal. It seems that before I could even get to the Global Entry web page Lisa and I first had to become registered as users on the GEOS site. I am just guessing here, but I would bet that process took me about an hour before I finally got a user ID and password for both of us.

Charged up now and ready to go, I entered GEOS and directed my browser to the Global Entry program. It would allow me to complete my application online, but first it suggested that I print out the instructions, and so I hit the print button. K-thump, k-thump, k-thump - my little printer chugged away until running out of paper, to which I attended. Then back to printing, k-thump, k-thump ....... until all sixty-six pages of instructions had printed! I should have jolly well stopped right there, but there was something about this whole things that had my ire up, and I was determined not to let the system beat me. If Lisa and I aren't trusted travelers, then who in the world would be! So I started in on completing the online application. I won't even try to go into detail about the process, other than to say it was excruciating, and that it took me well over 3 hours just to complete my application. It was crazy little things, for example, what month and year did we move into our residence. I had to go look that one up, it was after all 25 years ago. They wanted to know if my driver's license was an "EDL.?" Well, I don't know about you, but I did not have a clue. So back to Google to see what that meant. (for the record an EDL is an enhanced drivers license that can be used to legally cross the borders from Canada and Mexico.) The real killer question for us was to list every country we had visited in the last five years. That took some research on our parts, but even with the list in front of me, completing their form was at times almost impossible. Just one example: we have visited Tahiti, but Tahiti was not listed. Back to Google to learn that it is part of French Polynesia.

Finally the moment arrives when I am at the very last page of the application. It is almost two pages of small print with a button at the bottom that says "Certify." It states that until you "certify" your application it is not completed. And so I hit the "Certify" button and my screen goes blank!!!!@!@! I cannot believe it - a blank screen; what happened to all my hard work? I finally went back into GEOS and signed in once again, then transferred to the Global Entry site and thank goodness there was my partially completed application sitting in a pending state. However, to once again get to the last page, I had to hit "next" sixty-six times to scroll through the entire form, checking along the way to find a few places where my answers were not saved. Now, here I am again at the Certify page and my dilemma. If I hit that button again, I bet it will do the blank screen again. So, I wonder what the trick is to finish this process. I start reading the fine print and buried in the middle of the two pages is a small box that requires checking. I check that, hit Certify and lo and behold my application is now submitted; well almost. I have to re-enter and go to the screen where I can charge my $100 fee, but finally it is DONE. Before I forgot everything I had just learned, I turned back to the computer and went to work on the application for Lisa, and having learned the little tricks of the system, that process only took me about an hour.

Now we wait. Our final confirmation states as follows "Your application is now pending review. Please remember to check back on this site for your application status updates. You will be notified of approvals and appointment scheduling through your online GEOS account. CBP recommends that you check this site every few days for updates." Gee, you'd think for $200 they could at least let us know what is happening....And so, we waited.

Actually, to my surprise, our wait was very short. I submitted our applications on a Friday, and by Tuesday noon I saw that the status of our applications had been changed to "Conditionally Approved." We were advised that the next required step in the process was to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center within 31 days, and when going to the appointment to bring our approval letter which I had printed from the website, and also bring our passports. Seemed simple enough - right? Wrong!

I clicked on the link which would allow me to schedule our appointments and I stare in disbelief at the locations where we are expected to present ourselves. Would you believe we had to go to one of the following locations; New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Boston, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Detroit, Miami, Newark, Orlando, Seattle and San Juan, PR. Do you find Kansas City anywhere on that list? Well, it is not there. Nowhere in that nice flyer that "hooked" me to start all this did it mention that there were only a few locations where the interviews could be conducted. I thought to myself that this was nuts. Surely they did not expect me to get on a plane and fly to Dallas for example, just to enroll in this stupid program. I found a phone number for the office in Houston and I asked the person who answered just that question, to which she replied "yes," you have 31 days to present yourself or your $100 fee will be forfeited.

We should have walked away at that point and written off the entire experience as a bad dream, but something about me did not want to let them get the better of us. I know this was not the smart thing to do, but I felt like Don Quixote on a Quest, and I'll be darned if I would give up. After talking with Lisa, we agreed to hang in there, and so we scheduled an early morning flight to Chicago O'Hare, which is where one of the processing centers is located. Then later that day we would fly home, and hopefully this would be the last of it.

Our day of adventure finally arrived, and Lisa and I were off to Chicago for the "big interview." We arrived at 10am, had our appointments scheduled at 11am, and our return flight was set for 1:15pm. We had no idea how long this process would take or what to expect. The first order of business was to find the Global Entry processing center. It was not too difficult, but it did require that we exit the secure airport area and travel on the airport metro to the international terminal. Appropriately enough we found the office on the ground floor of the building right next to McDonald's. I must admit we were both a little apprehensive, Lisa in particular was nervous. She had even dressed up for the interview to make a good impression. We entered the waiting area and gave our names, and were then directed to be seated. The room felt as if we were in a prison holding area. The walls were so well padded that no sound could be heard. Between us and the receptionist was a bullet proof glass, above which a camera monitored our every move. Lisa was called back in just a few minutes and I was called a few minutes later.

Now get this - this big darn interview and procedure for which we had to spend all day flying to Chicago to complete, took all of TEN MINUTES! We were photographed, fingerprinted, had our fingerprints sent to the FBI and their results returned in just minutes, got a sticker on our passports and we were done. So why in the world did we need to go to Chicago in the first place!

Now however Lisa and I are known as "Trusted Travelers." On the other hand we will never in a 100 years recoup the time and money it took just to save a few minutes when we come back to the US. As I said in the beginning, we should have just walked away long before the trip to Chicago.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Home Again

Map picture

I wanted to take a moment to let everyone know that Lisa and I arrived home without any incidents. In fact, security in Athens was reasonable and fast. Of course when we got to JFK, it was not bad, but we had to go through security no less than three times - welcome home. 

My thanks to everyone who wrote with your comments - that always keeps me charged.

Lisa and I will try to work on another DVD in the weeks ahead, but we are also planning for our next journey in July. For that trip we will tour the Baltic and also travel north along the Norwegian coast to what is called the North Cape.

So, stay tuned, The Globe-Trotters are still on the move.


Thursday, April 1, 2010


Map picture

Tel Aviv, Israel

Every once in awhile we have a cruise stop that I could just as well have done without, and we certainly had that experience today at the port of Ashdod, entrance to Tel Aviv, Israel.

Everyone on the ship had to get up early and stand in a long line to clear Israeli Security personally, including all crew members. Strangely, I do not remember this from our previous trip.

Having spent three days in Israel just this last January, Lisa and I decided not to make the 11 hour roundtrip drive into Jerusalem, but instead to visit the nearby city of Tel Aviv. Even at that our tour was scheduled to take 5 hours. Sadly when it came time for our tour Lisa had been taken ill, and she begged me to just go on my own. I reluctantly did so, but I took my phone so we could stay in contact.

When I boarded the bus it was almost full. The first thing I noted was the age of the passengers. Most were very elderly, and many of them were so enfeebled that they had to be lifted onto the bus. I watched as an entire fleet of wheelchairs and walkers were loaded underneath as baggage. To make matters worse, I heard the sound of someone coughing, then another, and another, and soon it seemed as if almost everyone on this bus was fighting some upper respiratory problem and just hacking away. I shrunk down in my seat and cringed as we pulled away from the ship at around 8:30 am.

Our drive to Tel Aviv was around 1 hour on a superb super highway. The countryside was modern, and as we pulled into the city, it could have been a modern city right out of the US. Our bus drove for perhaps 20 minutes through the busy downtown before stopping at a plaza in front of City Hall. IMG_7956 It took forever to unload the bus and even then around 1/3 of the passengers stayed on board. We slowly walked across the street and stopped at a monument to the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was killed on this spot in 1995. IMG_7959 Then we crawled back to the bus and finally got everyone loaded up for our next stop. We drove briefly along the coast entering the southern suburb of Tel Aviv, the old city of Jaffa. Here the bus stopped on a coastal hillside where a Catholic Church was located, and again about 2/3 of the people got out. We then had a bathroom break while everyone stood around and finally the group walked a very short distance to the top of the hill where there was a small plaza from which you could overlook the coastline of the city. Our driver spent much time on his cell phone, and we just wandered around wondering what there was to see. I could see from the clock on the nearby church that we had been gone from the ship for 1:45 minutes. IMG_8001 So, imagine my surprise when our guide says that we will meet at the bus in 45 minutes thus providing us free time to look around –“at what?” I wondered.

I met the group at the bus at the appointed time, and we set off downhill for perhaps 5 blocks before the bus pulled over again. Our guide announced that now he had a little surprise for us: we were all going to have a snack of a pastry and a coffee at a nearby restaurant, which should take about an hour, after which we would have around 90 minutes to explore the nearby flea market before returning to the ship! WHOA! My hand shot up and I asked, “Do you mean that all that is left of this tour is a snack and a shopping visit to a flea market?” That is exactly what he meant. I had not really seen anything so far, and obviously I was not going to see anything else, so with Lisa back at the ship sick, I immediately said that I was catching a taxi back to the ship. A little 90 year old lady sitting at the front of the bus raised her voice and said she would go with me – and as it turns out that was a blessing in disguise.

We started trying to find a taxi, and it was not an easy job. Finally, our bus driver felt sorry for us and he came over to help, since clearly not everyone spoke English. He did get us a taxi who would take us to the ship for $45, and so my new found date and I headed off back to the ship. Arriving at the port became interesting and a little scary right off the bat. When out driver pulled up to the security booth a great deal of yelling took place. They finally looked at our passports and our ship cruise card and then more yelling took place. The agent finally called over a supervisor and a small group formed for a discussion, frequently looking back at us, looking at them. From what little I could understand from our driver, he was not allowed onto the dock and so they wanted us out of the cab and would send him away. I guess we were to walk from there, but the ship at this point was very far away. When the group of security officers came back, my little 90 year old companion wakes up, rolls down her window and starts waiving her cane at them all the while saying that she cannot walk. That startled them but good, and after a quick conference, our documents were returned and our driver was given instructions on how to reach the ship.

Within a minute I could tell he did not understand and was lost. He made a right turn and not a left turn. He got blocked, and he drove around the docks before ending up in yet another security line where we had to wait a very long time before approaching the gate. When we did reach the gate no one was happy to see us. This time he was hauled out of the car, our documents were taken from us and the car was searched. We sat there while our driver stood outside with his arms up. True to form, my little old companion rolls down her window and just starts carrying on. She is shaking her cane and telling anyone who would listen that she was not walking anywhere. There is no telling what would have happened if I had been alone, but this little old lady had them bamboozled. Finally a security vehicle pulls up with two people inside, one of whom is holding our documents. Some words take place and our driver jumps back in the cab and we pull out following the security truck, while the passenger holds our documents out the window like bait. Finally the ship comes into view and our little convoy stops. A guard comes over and hands us our documents, and the driver gets a good lecture. Finally they point us toward the ship, and we are home.

As it turns out, our experience was nothing compared to what Israeli Security put the crew through? We heard all kinds of stories and witnessed some pretty petty harassment ourselves. Our butler, and the ship’s maitre’d both of whom were carrying British passports, had all their possession taken from them and were driven far away to a small building where they were interrogated for almost an hour. Stories like this were not isolated incidents. It seems that passengers were given only mild inspections, but for some reason they really focused on the crew.

We are now cruising on our way to Athens, which will mark the end of our cruise.



Map picture

Gateway to the Nile:

Alexandria, Eqypt

The city of Alexandria was once the intellectual and cultural center of the Greco-Roman civilizations. Today it forms the entrance to the mighty Nile River and serves as Egypt’s main port. With its beautiful long stretch of beaches, it is also home to a modern city of luxurious hotels lining the beautiful Mediterranean.

Having visited Alexandria several times in the past, Lisa and I chose a rather leisurely day. First we started with a bus tour to see the city’s many highlights. As the second largest city in Egypt, there is a great deal to see. We started with a drive along the oceanfront, along what is called the “Cornish.” Our bus stopped briefly at the old Fort Quait Bey.IMG_7828 On this site in ancient times, stood one of the wonders of the ancient world, the Lighthouse of Alexandria. That magnificent structure was destroyed by an earthquake in ancient times. On that site in 1400 AD, a fort was constructed which uses many of the stones from the earlier lighthouse. The fort itself is not of any particular note, so we stopped for a few photographs and drove on along the coast to stop for a picture at the largest Mosque in the city, the Abou Al Abbas Mosque. IMG_7841 I might mention that just as our bus was leaving this morning, a really big man boarded at the last minute. He was dressed in an ill fitting brown suit, and he had a great deal of trouble fitting into the first row seat. It seems that his trouble was trying to sit on the machine gun that he had strapped underneath his jacket. I mention this because when we stopped at the Mosque, I headed off down the street for a picture, and when I looked back this guy was clearly following me and rapidly gaining. The next thing I know, he bellows out, “Hey, what is your name?” At that point, I figured I was in trouble, but what was really happening was that he wanted to know if he could use my camera to take my picture. He was hustling the tourists for tips at the end, since I saw him repeat this same procedure several times.

From there we continued along the “Cornish” and next stopped for a few photographs at the newly constructed Library of Alexandria.IMG_7853 This building is not only an architectural masterpiece, but it is a highlight of the Egyptian Government’s effort to form the finest library in the world. The original Library of Alexandria was in its day, the finest in the world, but it was burned down by the Romans during their capture of Egypt. Egypt hopes this new structure will one day reclaim that grandeur. Following our quick photo stop, we went the length of the Cornish and entered the grounds of Montaza Park, once the summer residence of the former royal family. The palace today is home to a beautiful public park and is itself used by the Government to house visiting dignitaries. IMG_7900

That ended our formal tour and we returned to our ship, but the day was far, far from over. The next day was Lisa’s birthday, and I had silently been hoping to find a beautiful gold chain in Alexandria for a pendant she bought a few years ago. The big problem of course would be where to go that I did not get royally ripped off. Well, as luck would have it, our butler was English, but also Egyptian. He offered to go with us to a place he knew where we could find a high quality product at a fair price. This project took on a life of its own, and the next thing we knew, Lisa and I had been invited by several of the butler staff to join them for a traditional Egyptian lunch, after which, Samir, our butler, would help us locate a necklace. It gets a little more complicated. Several years ago Lisa and I invited our butler at the time, Engin, to visit us when he and his wife came to travel the United States. Well, they took us up on the offer, and we spent a wonderful week sharing our country with them. They were the absolute perfect guests and we have stayed in contact ever since. As it turns out, Engin is onboard this cruise and so he was able to arrange his schedule to join us. It was set to be a truly joyous afternoon.

We all met at the dock at 12:30. There was Lisa and I, Samir, our butler, Engin our friend, along with Url and Nigel, both on the butler staff. Our first challenge was to acquire a taxi at a reasonable price, which Samir after much haggling, managed to arrange. Next, came the challenge of putting all six of us in a cab. I got stuffed into the front, Lisa and Samir in the back seat, and the three remaining guys were squeezed like balled up laundry into the very back. I had to keep talking to them, just to be sure they were still breathing.

We arrived at lunch – and had to watch the three from the back roll out of the cab all scrunched over looking like little corpses. IMG_7931 We were shown to a small table in the back of the restaurant, and Samir ordered for the group. The next thing I knew I was seeing all kinds of small plates loaded with “stuff” being slammed down on the table along with baskets of hot pita bread. We each got an empty plate and a Kleenex, and the guys got to work. I learned that I was to use the bread to sweep up the different sauces, and when I tentatively tried some, I was amazed at how good it was. Next came a huge plate of rice in which was mixed nuts and cinnamon, topped with a phylo dough creation of minced meat and cinnamon. They insisted I try the meat, and it was excellent. Just when I thought we had finished, out came the plates filled with all different kinds of meat. In the end, the group left with a large bag of take home food for the staff onboard the ship, and we went with Samir to look for a necklace.

Before entering the shop, Samir told us not to say anything about the price. Once Lisa had selected what she liked, he would take it from there. Sure enough, once Lisa had made a choice, Samir took over. I just watched in awe – it was all theater, on his part as well as theirs. It was a well choreographed ritual that was expected. Just when voices were raised and Samir headed to the door, he would mutter under his breath for us to drag our feet and take our time leaving. We did this little stunt 3 times before out of the back of the store came the “big guy.” Clearly the top dog, he was also huge. This was to be the end of the negotiating. Some words, some discussion about cards vs cash, and it was done. The boss walked away in a huff as if we were robbing him, and minions ran over to complete the transactions before we changed our mind. All in all wonderful theater, and Lisa got a real treasure from Alexandria for her birthday.

We went outside and sat for a coffee to celebrate our purchase and to await the return of our taxi, which was scheduled to arrive any time. Over 90 minutes later and no cab, Samir is fit to be tried. He wants this taxi because any other taxi would not be authorized to enter the harbor and we would be dumped on the street and have a difficult time gaining entry into the port. Finally the driver arrives, Lisa and I get in the back, and Samir gets up front, and the two of them are going at it tooth and nail. The driver is clearly getting chewed out and just as clearly, he is determined to make our return trip as quick as possible.

Now the ride out was a journey in itself. This return trip was one for the record books. This ride was a good as any ride in any theme park anywhere. If he got an open stretch, he would accelerate to over 80, before slamming on the brakes to slide into traffic. Cars were coming from all directions. I never saw such aggressive driving. Most cars bore scratches and bent fenders as testament to the rigors of driving in Egypt. I do not know why they bother to paint stripes on the roads, because no one places any stock in they--they are not even advisory. Into this bedlam pedestrians venture with no hesitation; at times a mother will be dragging a small child whose eyes are wide with fright, while she is looking straight ahead and completely oblivious to what is around her. IMG_7928 It was nothing short of a madhouse. Start, stop, accelerate, beep horn, beep horn again and again, and all the while our driver was talking on his cell phone which also having to manually shift gears on the transmission. By the time we reached the ship, every one of us was just glad to be alive….. What a day!