Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fall Mystery Shawl 2010

I am so addicted to lace.  I no sooner finish one shawl when I start another.  But this time I had a bit of a quandary.  From a temporal perspective (release order) the next shawl in the sequence should have been Mystery Shawl 18, but I don't have the beads for that shawl yet.  I do, however, have a substantial bead stash, and I happened to have one bag of the beads that I had decided to use for the Fall Mystery Shawl, and seeing as how I have just completed the Summer Mystery Shawl, I could logically do the Fall Mystery Shawl next, even it is not the next shawl pattern released.

This pattern is a bit more complex than the previous ones from Goddess Knits that I have done.  There are left and right twists, plus beads.  Fortunately, Renee's patterns are logically laid out.  The yarn is Decadently Dark Decadent Lace in Decadent Cranberry.  The beads are gold opaque with colorful metallic iridescence (Beadcats stock no. 2-08-840-18).

Summer Mystery Shawl 2010 - Finished!

Well, I finished this shawl this afternoon.  It is another Goddess Knits.  The yarn is by Spinning Bunny (80% Merino, 20% Tussah Silk), the color is Summer Sky.

On a different note, there was a suicide bomber in Tacsim Square, in Istanbul today.  Thirty-two people were injured (15 police, 17 civilians).  If you've been following my blog, you know that Bruce and I were just in Istanbul a couple of weeks ago, and our hotel was just off of the square.  The only casualty was the bomber, whose body ended up at the foot of the statue of Kemal Ataturk.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Summer Mystery Shawl 2010 - Clue 4

Back in the studio, and back to my knitting.  I finished up Clue 4 this morning.  I am still trying to get my clock readjusted back to Virginia time, but it is proving very difficult.  I keep waking up at 2am, and I can't seem to make myself stay up late enough (oh, say past 6pm) to shift my cycle.  I didn't have any trouble at all adjusting when we arrived in Istanbul.  It was Bruce who was waking up at 3am.  But my tummy alarm keeps going off at odd hours, and it is hard to sleep when you are hungry.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Home Again

Well, after 30 hours of travel, we finally made it home safe - at 2am this morning.  The trip was fantastic, but we were so busy that I really only had time to hit the high points in the blog, and there was so much more to the trip.

We loved Istanbul, a modern city built on ancient bones.  The hotel was not in a major tourist spot, so it was easy to wander off into side streets and catch glimpses of the real city.  There were a lot of cafes and restaurants with people playing backgammon and smoking nargile, or water pipes.  And there were a lot of cats.  Not so many dogs, but lots of cats.  Of course, I didn't see any rats, and with such a dense population you would expect to see rats.  I've seen them in Milwaukee, especially close to the river.  One of the things we liked about Istanbul was how easy it was to get around the city.  They have mass transit, plus it is very walkable.

We loved Jordan as well, but for different reasons.  The landscape is dramatically beautiful, and our guide Ra'ed was just wonderful.  On the way to Petra he had the bus pullover so he could buy us all pomegranates from a roadside vendor.  At Petra he stopped at a vendor at the beginning of the Siq and introduced us to Frankincense, Myrrh, Ambergris and Musk (he burned the first two, and applied the latter two to the inside of our wrists), all items that figured prominently in the economy of that ancient city.  On the way to the Dead Sea he had the bus stop at a little shop so he could buy some Arab bread, which he proceeded to share with the group.  The bread was flat, but not as flat as Naan bread.  I think it may have had some leavening.  It was still warm when he got it and he said that it was very special bread and that not many people make it anymore.  And after a very hot morning at Bethany he bought cold drinks for everyone.  Even the driver got in the act, buying dates for us on the way to the Dead Sea.  Ra'ed is also very knowledgeable about the history of the country and was great at contextualizing what we were seeing.

I think that the sites that I loved the most in Jordan are Petra and Little Petra, primarily because of the way the people lived in those areas.  Their homes were carved into the sandstone cliffs, and they captured virtually all of the water that fell on them with their channels and cisterns.  It is unfortunate that those systems no longer function, because Jordan needs all the water that it can get.  When we were at Shobak we heard a loud boom and when we asked what it was Ra'ed told us it was the water tank adjusting because it was empty.  It seems that a lot of Jordanians do not have water all of the time.  They have water tanks that they have to fill, and when they empty they make this booming sound.  He said that you get used to hearing it.

The hotels we stayed in while in Jordan were all beautiful, 5-star hotels.  Opulent comes to mind.  But they were also in more touristy areas, so it was harder to get a feel for the real county.  Tourism is big business in Jordan, but it is a two-edged sword because those hotels use a lot of water.  In fact they were ostentatious in their use of water, and water is probably the greatest challenge facing Jordan.  We saw a lot of building going on, but when we asked Ra'ed where they would get water for all of those buildings he just shrugged.  As you can tell from the picture of the Jordan river in my last post it is a shadow of what it once was.  Israel takes a lot of the water, and Jordan takes much of the rest.  The Dead Sea is drying up because the rivers that flow into it (among them the Jordan river) are being diverted.  The Mujib river, which used to empty into the Dead Sea, is being diverted to provide the hotels in that area with their water.  To be honest, I really didn't like that aspect of the trip.  Although it was wonderful to relax in the lap of luxury, I would have preferred a more eco-friendly accommodation - as long as it was still basically comfortable (I do like a hot shower and a flush toilet).

If you ever get a chance to travel to Jordan, take it.  It is a marvelous country and the people are very warm and friendly.  One of the things that I noticed was how polite the drivers were.  There were not many stop signs or traffic lights, instead they would use speed bumps to slow traffic at intersections, but these were not our small annoying speed bumps, these were longer and were not as tall.  They also used roundabouts a lot.  In contrast the drivers in Istanbul are pretty aggressive.

If you do manage to travel to Jordan and need a guide I would recommend our guide:  Ra'ed Hammouri,  He is a great guide and a great human being.  I would also recommend the Smithsonian Journeys.  We had 4 lectures during the trip that were interesting and informative, and the group that we traveled with were just great.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Journey's End

Oct 25 - Yesterday we drove from Aqaba to the Dead Sea, stopping for lunch at the Dead Sea Panorama, a relatively new exhibit about the area.
In the distance you can just make out Jericho (right hand side of the picture, about mid-way up).

This morning we went to Bethany to see the Baptism Site of John and Jesus.  This is a monastery at the Hill of Elijah.  You can still see some of the mosaics.
And this is supposed to be the Baptism Site.

This afternoon we are treating ourselves to a massage in the spa, and then we will take a dip in the Dead Sea.  Tomorrow morning, at a ridiculously early hour, we shall head back to the US.  The trip has been fantastic, due in large part, I think, to our phenomenal guide Ra'ed, and to the wonderful Jordanian people that we have met on the way.  It is an experience that I will treasure.  I will close with a picture of the Jordan River.

The Red Sea

Oct 23 - After tramping around ruins for a week, we are now ready for some relaxation.  We started our morning with snorkling at the Royal Diving Club.  If you ever get the chance to snorkle in the Red Sea, take it.  It is wonderful.  The water is about twice as salty as the ocean.  The water is a deep sapphire blue, that becomes more teal as you get into the shallows and is turquoise close to shore.  The surface of the waves looks like chipped obsidian. In the afternoon we had a lecture by the Jordanian Commissioner for the Environment on the marine biology of the Red Sea.  Then we had a sunset cruise.  The boat was like something out of Jason and the Argonauts.   Wooden, with a high prow (carved like a dragon head) and stern.  It had a square sail, and a rectangular awning over the main section that provided some shade for the main seating area.  There was more seating in the stern and I claimed it for Bruce and I, we reclined like Ceasar and Cleopatra.  We motored around for a little while, and then they unfurled the sail.  This was not done as efficiently as I would have liked.  After the sun had set they turned us cross-wise to the wind and furled the sail.  By this time the wind had picked up quite a bit, so this was a rather exciting (and somewhat dangerous) endeavor.  The boat pitched about a good deal during the operation.  Finally the sail was furled and we motored back to port.

Here is a picture of the Royal Palace in Aqaba.
And the flag of the Arab Revolt, flying over the old fort.
This beautiful glass sculpture/light fixture by Dave Chihuly hung in the lobby of our hotel.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wadi Rum

Oct 22 - On our drive south to Aqaba, we went through Wadi Rum, where the Arab Revolt was headquartered for a time.  We took Land Cruisers through the desert.  At our first stop we spotted a desert lizard.  He is hard to spot due to his coloring, but he is right next to Ra'ed's hand.
As you can see, the Wadi is not lifeless, although this is the Saharan bio-geographical zone.
This is a rock formation that has been renamed by Lawrence fans - they call it "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" after his book.
You can also see several of our vehicles.
Can you spot the camels in this picture?  We also stopped to look at some petroglyphs.
This marvelous rock formation was at the spot where we stopped for lunch.
After lunch we continued on to Aqaba, to our luxurious hotel (The Intercontinental).  Here is the view from our balcony.

Little Petra

Oct 21 - In the afternoon, we took the bus to Little Petra.  Unlike the main site, which is mostly tombs, this area shows the remains of actual living quarters.  It is smaller in scale, and so much easier to comprehend.  It is also not as heavily traveled.  Upon entering, again through a narrow passage, I spotted a Beduin woman spinning.  I have seen a lot of goats and sheep, along with the camels, donkeys and horses.  She appeared to be spinning the black goat fiber.  It was fairly coarse.  Probably a worsted weight.
Notice how she is using the spindle - whorl end up.  It is also being supported on her thigh, rather than dropped.
Of course you have to have at least one monumental ediface.
That is our guide, Ra'ed in the foreground.  He is a fantastic guide, and a really sweet man as well.  Here is a picture of a cistern.  It still partially functions.
The cistern is the large opening in the rock.  You can still see the remains of a channel leading into it.  The steps are carved into the rock and provide access to other channels for maintenance purposes.  The water system has not been maintained, however.  You can see more carved stairways in this photo.
So, a caravan would stop here to rest, and possibly trade.  There was a very special chamber - a biclinium - that is a chamber with two benches carved from the stone for reclining on while eating (they would have had carpets and cushions spread on them for comfort) that still had the original frescoes.
This is an alcove where the musicians would have sat.  The picture is dark because we couldn't use flash, but in the upper arch, close to the front, you can make out grape vines.

Before dinner, several of us went up to the roof top terrace for a drink and to try the Hubble Bubble, or waterpipe.  It was very smooth.  Our tobacco was flavored with mint.

For dinner we went to the Petra Kitchen, where we prepared our own meal (mostly, there were a few things that they did).  I made pastries - rolling out dough and dropping spoonfulls of filling seemed a lot easier than chopping vegetables.  After dinner we all received the recipes for the meal that we had just prepared.  It was a lot of fun, but it made for a late night.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Walk Through the Siq

Well, we had planned on exploring more of Petra today, but it was very hot with very little breeze and a lot more tourists, so we ended up just walking the length of the Siq and back.  We did take a horse ride (included in the admission price) down to the entry of the Siq.  This is a picture of the tunnel, taken from the bridge, that was built to divert water from the Siq in the event of flash floods.  Before this was built there was such a flood and a group of French tourists were killed.  When they were excavating to build the bridge and tunnel, they discovered that the Nabateans had already done that.
At the entrance to the Siq, Bruce posed with the guards.  They had a demonstration of more of these soldiers when we were coming out.
You can see some carvings in the wall.  The niches would have held images of their deities.  As I mentioned the stone is mostly sandstone and has been carved into the most beautiful shapes by the elements.  Here is a shot of such weathering.
Here is a shot of the Siq, you can see how narrow it can get.  That is one of the carriages that will bring people in and out from the Visitor Center all the way down to the Treasury.  There was a lot of carriage traffic today and in many places you have to stand to the side to let them pass.
Here is a shot of the channel with one of the covering blocks still in place.
And, as you can see, there is vegetation growing in the Siq.
 Here is another beautiful example of the weathering.  You can see both water channels in this shot.
And here is a close up of the clay pipe in the water channel.
We caught a glimpse of the Treasury through the end of the Siq and then we turned back.
On the way back up we stopped to visit with a ginger kitten who was quite a talker.  She only seemed to shut up when she was getting attention from us.
She alternated between our two laps.
She was thin, but not starving, and I saw no evidence of ear mites or fleas.  After spending some time with her we made our way back to the hotel.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Petra - The Rose-Red City Half as Old as Time

Old Cars - Rallye Med

When we got to the hotel last night I noticed these classic cars parked at the front.  They all had maps on their doors, and numbers on them as well.  It turns out that 20 cars are driving around the Med.  It is taking them 2 months.  Here are a some shots of the cars.  I will confess to a weakness for classic automobiles.  So, here is a vintage Jaguar.
And an Austin Martin.
You can get a better look at the map of where they are going (the yellow).  You will note that they skipped Algeria.  They followed the coast road across the top of Africa.  Here is another shot, with Bruce talking to one of the people.
As you can see, they were all loading up to leave.  They were heading for Amman.


After a lecture on the history of Petra, we began our long day exploring the site.  You enter Petra through the Siq, or Gorge.  A fair bit of this has been excavated down to the original paving stones - the entire way was paved originally.  This was once a trading center, linking China in the East to Rome in the West. When Rome conquered the city in 106, the trade was diverted and the city declined.

As we walked down the Siq we noticed channels cut into the rock on either side for water.  The Nabateans were very good at water control and management.  The Siq is deadly without such measures if there is a flash flood.  You can see the channel, uncovered now, in the left hand wall.
Of course the classic view that we all remember from the Indiana Jones movie - exiting the Siq and seeing the Treasury.  It is not a treasury, it is a tomb.
As you can see, this is quite a popular tourist destination.  This area has not been excavated down to the original level.  There is at least one more level of this facade that goes down, so there is something like 7 meters of sand that has been compacted that needs to be removed. The architectural style has elements of Syrian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman styles.  They carved from the top down.  The indentations to either side of the facade were used for the scaffolding.  Here is a picture of the upper portion of the facade.  The figures to either side of the center are Amazons.
And, of course, there are cats in Petra.
We also saw (and played with) several ginger kittens, who wouldn't stay still for photos.

The rock is sandstone and comes in wide array of beautiful colors.  The irony is that the Nabateans plastered over their facades - much as the Greeks and Romans painted their statues and buildings.  Here is an example of the beautiful rock.
For our first day in Petra we walked down to the Old City, ate lunch and then went up the climb to El Deir, or the Monastery.  Of course, it is not a Monastery, it is a tomb.  The climb was not easy, but it was well worth it.
We then continued on up to the viewpoint.  It was hazy, and a bit windy up there, but it did give a great look back at the way we had come.
Of course, now we had to walk back.  It was a 4 km walk just to get to the Old City, and then we climbed, and climbed and climbed.  It was a long walk back, but by then it was late afternoon, and much of the tourist crowd had gone.  As we walked back through the Siq you could really see the Rose Red in the rock.  It simply glowed.  Once we got out of the Siq proper, there was still quite a walk (all uphill) back to the visitor center.  I will confess that we wimped out and took a carriage the last bit.  It was a pretty bumpy ride, but better than walking.  Tomorrow we are planning an easier day of it, just the walk down to the Old City, and some exploration of the sites that we didn't check out today.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Birthday in Jordan

We left Amman this morning and headed south to Madaba to look at the mosaic map of the Holy Land that dates back to the Byzantine Era in the Church of St. George.  We then continued on to Mount Nebo, where Moses is buried overlooking the Jordan Valley where we able to see this mosaic that is being restored.

We then stopped at a Mosaic workshop to see how they are made.
We also made a couple of purchases.  They will be shipped directly to the house.  We bought a tile mosaic table on an iron base.
And a wooden table with inlay.  The base is also carved and has inlay.
We then returned to Madaba for lunch, where I was surprised by a wonderful chocolate birthday cake with a Roman Candle on it instead of the familiar wax kind.  Unfortunately I did not get a picture before the candle went out.  But Barbara, one of the women on the tour group took one of Bruce and I.
You can just see a little bit of the cake in the bottom right hand corner, along with one of the very yummy strawberries they gave me.  Bruce knew about the surprise, because our guide Ra'ed had told him, but I had no clue.  It did explain why one of the waiters was paying such particular attention to me.

We then had a long drive to the 12th Century Crusader Castle at Shobak.  It was built by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem to protect the road between Egypt and Damascus.
It is still mostly unexcavated, and there was someone living in one of the rooms of the castle.  I presume it was a workman.  The secret passage out of the castle is still intact.  We saw the entrance but were not allowed to go down it.  It does have a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.
After some delicious herbal tea at the Visitor Center we continued on to Petra.