Friday, March 16, 2018

Some thoughts on the trip

If ever there was a time to visit Egypt, it is now. The country desperately needs to restore the tourist economy and your entry fees help the massive restoration projects that in some cases have come to a standstill. There are no crowds so it is easy to see most of the attractions. And it's very inexpensive.

Go during the cooler months like I did. The heat in summer has to be awful and of course, that is when the Europeans arrive in droves for their summer holidays.

Of course, there are concerns about safety in Egypt but to be honest, it is more unsafe to go to the USA these days. There is security everywhere in Egypt. It reminds me of going to Spain in 1974 when Franco was in power. There were men in uniforms everywhere and I think it was a way to solve unemployment at the time.

When you arrive at Cairo airport, make sure to use a pick-up service to take you to your hotel. They smooth the way though immigration and customs and they are doing it every day. It's not necessary in Morocco.

The people in all three countries were friendly. The food was mostly very good. The oranges in Egypt and Morocco are incredibly delicious, better than the Spanish. Vegetarians were catered for but neither of the groups had gluten intolerant people.

When I was in Egypt and Morocco, I was religious about drinking bottled water and also when brushing my teeth. It worked. The father and son who got sick during the Egypt tour wondered if they picked up a bug from the swimming pool at the first hotel.

You will get sick of the touts, sellers and other  locals trying to get your attention. Just develop that 'Lawrence of Arabia' stare into the distance and keep walking. Don't respond. If you do decide to buy something, remember that an extra dollar means nothing to you but will mean a lot to them.

I was pleased with both tour groups. Even though the Timeless tour in Egypt had 26 people, I still felt that I could talk to all of them. The smaller Intrepid tour in Morocco with 12 people (max 16) does form a closer group however. Most of us had traveled extensively, often by ourselves and had some concerns about 'group travel' but these small groups seem to work well. The biggest attraction for me now is having someone to talk to at meal times. And of course, it is easy to have the transport and hotels all arranged.

The tour guides are excellent. They have to be to keep their jobs. In addition, they have to like people and they really respond well when you talk one on one with them about their lives and how they became tour guides. Tip generously if you can at the end. When you think about it, it is one of those 'herding cats' jobs, so make their lives easier by always being on-time and let them know if you plan to be away from the group for a period.

Everybody will have their own special moments when your mind goes 'wow'. In Egypt, mine were the Temple in Luxor lit up at night, seeing the remains of Rameses II and Hapshepsut and realizing that they really existed. In Morocco, having lunch with Mustapha's parents, sitting on the sand dune in the Sahara and medina in Fes. Who can forget the camel head and hoof. And of course, wandering around the top of Gibraltar and walking the Caminito del Rey.

So the next adventure starts at the end of April when we both head off to Norway and take the ferry ride down the coast and see fjords and then head off to Poland for Marianne to see where some of her ancestors came from. Retirement is wonderful.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Parque de El Retiro

Late in the afternoon, the sun was out and it was not as cold as earlier in the day so I decided to walk in the park near the Prado.

The sun was shining and the locals were out to enjoy it even if the temperatures were a bit chilly. At least the wind had died down. You might be able to see some buds on the tree in the foreground. 

Some book-sellers were open.

This elegant building is the Ministry of Agriculture.

I entered the park and started to wander.

This park is very pleasant to wander in. There were not a lot of people in this part.

Eventually I came to the central part of the park and this was obviously a popular place to chill out on a day that gave hope of an approaching Spring.

I was amused by the leg in the air. Let the poor bloke do all the work while I eat a peeled grape.

I think they still have jackets on. It wasn't all that warm.

More information about the park and the monument here.

The Statue Walk.

Somehow I don't think his last name was Panza.

She was the Queen of Castile back in 1217. More about her here.


It was a delightful walk and an excellent farewell to Madrid.

The next morning I woke to find that my plane back to the US would be five hours late since it had been delayed for over six hours leaving Newark airport. Oh well, stuff happens when you travel. I was just happy that I had not become sick during the trip. I eventually arrived home at 12:30 am the next day and went straight to bed. At least the food on the United flight was a lot better than the disgusting muck that Lufthansa served on the way over to Europe.

The trip lasted five weeks. Interestingly, Marianne said the time went very quickly. For me, it seemed like five months had passed. Time goes slowly when you travel because so much is happening and it's usually all new and different. Perhaps that is one reason why I like to travel.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Spain's Train Museum

I love trains so the chance to see a train museum really appealed. It was about a 15 minute walk from my hotel so I donned my heaviest jacket and beanie and headed off. It was still cold and windy.

The entrance.

Cute little steam engine parked outside.

The museum is housed in an old station terminus called Delicias. It opened in 1984. You can read more about the old station here.

OK, I understand that many of you do not share my enthusiasm for trains, but just look at the next few photos which feature one of the world's most unusual carriage sets. This is one of the early Talgo trains.

As I mentioned in the blog on my train from Malaga to Madrid, a Talgo carriage has only one set of wheels per carriage which you can see here. The carriage can be lighter and go round curves more easily. More about it here.

I went inside and took a couple of photos.

The cars are probably over 60 years old but look so curvy and art deco.

I sat in one of the seats. I think these were the Mark II carriages.

Back in 1974 when I was back-packing in Europe with my 1st class Eurailpass, I would occasionally ride the Catalan Talgo that traveled between Barcelona and Geneva. It used the Mark III carriages and was a really classy train. The scenery was as spectacular as you could want with a lot of variety. I traveled on it again in 2007 but the train was looking old and worn and the service was discontinued in 2010.

Non train buffs can stop now.

I have left in some of the signs in Spanish in case you can read them.

Curious looking rail motor.

Map of where Spanish trains ran back in the 70's. Spain now has additional high speed lines.

These trains ran everywhere.

A very American looking diesel engine.

Robin would immediately recognize that this is a steam engine for pulling freight because of the small driving wheels.

Cute little rail car.

It had a small kitchen

I suspect it was for carrying rail bosses around. 

Early electric engine.

I took one look at this and said to myself 'German'.

And so it turned out to be.

The southern end to the station. 

I've always liked the crocodile electric engine shape.

Maybe I should come out of retirement and become an engine driver. Maybe not.

An impressive collection of dials in the corner.

There appeared to be some smoke at the other end of the station. It turned out to be a crew taking a picture of a model with atmospheric steam.

Look at that seat cover.

Another kitchen.

A Wagon-Lit design, similar to what would have been used in Murder on the Orient Express.

Luxury as it used to be. 

As you might expect, there are quite a few old steam engines.

And one of these of course. It must have been fun to ride on one of these in the open air.

This is a high speed engine that got up to 150 kph. Note the large driving wheels.

More rail motors outside.

There were several groups of young school children making quite a din. A group was looking at this model railroad.

Most of the clocks were stopped but a few showed the correct time of  10:45.

Somehow I suspect it would not put out a very large fire.

One particularly good exhibit was an old steam engine that had been cut away at the sides to show the insides. Here is the water tank and the baffles that would stop the water sloshing around.

The fire compartment where the coal was burned.

The pipes carrying the water and steam.

The funnel exhaust.

The driving pistons. 

And there was the model looking elegant against the old carriage. A couple of minutes later she walked past carrying a hot water bottle. Yes, it was quite chilly.

And finally, a really tiny engine.

Really tiny, perhaps four feet across.

I enjoyed the museum even though I cannot read Spanish.