Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cross Egypt Challenge 2015 - Epilogue

Well, heck, it's over and done with.  When I first heard about the Cross Egypt Challenge I thought what an awesome ride that would be and kind of put the thought aside.  Then it popped up again and I mentioned it to Eric.  Honestly, I didn't think he would be all that excited about riding little scooters all over Egypt but to my surprise he showed some interest.  So we both did some research and had much discussion about doing this ride.  I checked into airfares and made a number of queries to the Cross Egypt Challenge (CEC) team before we actually committed to the ride.  Eric secured the time off he needed from work and I let my clients know I would be unavailable from mid-October until early November.

Before deciding which flight to take we discussed how much time we wanted to spend in Cairo or Alexandria before the event started and if we wanted to do an extended layover on the way home.  We decided three days in Cairo would be nice.  That would give us the time to get over any jet lag and also do a few tours before meeting up with the CEC group and starting our scooter adventure.  We also decided that since a layover of some kind was a given, an extended layover would be fun on the way home.  Here, we had multiple choices depending on which flight we took.  We could layover in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Paris or London.  Eric picked Paris and I was just fine with that!

If you followed this blog at all, you know what happened.  However, I wanted to post an Epilogue and fill you in on some missing details and just provide some general insights and thoughts regarding this stellar trip.

First, we purchased new LS2 full face helmets in black, (FF385 CR1), since this was a CEC requirement.  We had the option to rent helmets but we found a super sale, (essentially the cost of the rental helmets), and I was more comfortable with my own helmet.  I didn't wear it once before we left for Egypt.  I know, I should have worn it and worked out any hot spots but I didn't.  And......all I can say is I love this helmet!!!!!  I never once had a hot spot or uncomfortable area on my head or face.  It fit wonderfully.  At first, the cheeks were a bit snug but with repeated use it loosened up a bit.  As a matter of fact, it was so comfortable, I never even gave it a second thought.  I also loved the drop down sunshade, pump up/down cheek pads and quick release latch.  So, when I need another new helmet, I'll definitely be looking at the LS2 offerings!
My LS2 helmet before our adventure.

 New CEC markings totally changed the look and I liked it so I decided to keep it this way!

We also didn't take any protective gear other than helmets, boots and gloves, weird for us because we are big ATGATT peeps.  The genuine, overpriced, well-used Harley boots served me just fine.  I waterproofed them before we left and it was a good thing because we got the only rain in 5 years in Egypt!  We rode in jeans and the CEC tee shirts.  That was also fine for the most part - however- jeans and super hot temperatures and sweaty bootie cheeks are a great combination for monkey butt.  Ouch!  I had debated taking my LD Comfort tights but didn't.  Wish I had at least taken a pair of LD Comfort shorts.  Lesson learned :-)

When we arrived at the CEC start in Alexandria we found out just how large this event was going to be.  There were 75 riders.  Here is the breakdown:

21 Egypt
13 USA
1 UK
3 Canada
7 Australia
6 Italy
2 Germany
1 Portugal
2 India
2 Mexico
10 Taiwan
7 Brazil

We also had another 25 or so peeps along on the Challenge.  Maybe 10 of those were passengers in the support vans.  Several of the Taiwanese guys brought their wives and an Australian lady brought her daughter.  We had another gal from Germany who came along in the van just for the adventure!  We also had at least 15, if not more, support folks.  Everything from drivers, technicians (for maintenance and repairs), cooks, event planners, photographers and more.

I think there were 9 support vehicles.  3 Range Rovers, 1 lead car, 2 passenger vans, 1 large open cargo truck, 1 large enclosed cargo truck and 1 gas tanker.

Most importantly for this event to be successful were the organizers and their crew.  They were simply fantastic.
The main organizers.
The CEC team, organizers and support group.  (Not in order) Kerolos ShenoudaHadeer Hisham El MasryAhmed El MorshedyShady Safwat GarasAhmad ElzoghbyShady MamdouhKarim MishrikiAhmed Abou El KheirAmr Anas Khalil,Ahmed FahmyChristine Edward ManoukianOmar H. Sallam and Hossam Salem.

I greatly admire this entire team.  For the most part, everything was seamless to the riders.  They were incredibly organized and had thought through contingencies.  We even had two doctors along with their medical kits.  Oh, we also had an ambulance along the ride, just in case.  As a matter of fact, the ambulance was put to use one day when a spectator in a car going the other direction lost control of their vehicle as they were gawking at us and unfortunately drove into the median and flipped several times!  Fortunately for them, the ambulance was immediately on the scene and rendered appropriate aid.

Now, herding 75 riders, 9 support vehicles and all their occupants was akin to herding hamsters.  And, I have to say, they did it admirably.  Nobody lost their temper, nobody got pissy even when the riders did.  Hotel rooms were secured for us without snafu, meals were served, tours were taken, bikes were repaired.  All of this for nine days without hiccups!  Also, and most importantly, there were no major injuries or accidents.  No small feat considering the amount of time we spent riding and especially on questionable road surfaces.  There were a few riders who had never ridden anything other than a bicycle before!

 Hahaha, look at the guy hanging out the side of the tuk-tuk taking pictures :-)

We were quite a group to see!

Our gas tanker.

So, it is with gratitude and admiration along with big hugs, I heartily say Thank You to the 2015 CEC team, you guys rock!

Now, the good parts of this adventure....riding scooters for 9 days across Egypt comes in at number one!  The sights, the sounds, the smells, the terrain, most certainly the wonderful people, most of the food, the lodgings (except for the tents :-)  It was all good.  Even the rain riding into Hurghada was fun. Yup, that was a good part as it just enhanced the entire adventure.

For me, the balloon ride out of Luxor, rising up into the air just before sunrise and watching the sun peek out and cover the Nile river valley in a golden glow was probably my most memorable moment.

The bad parts?  Well, I guess it depends on what you consider bad.  The parts that weren't particularly wonderful were the lack of facilities for us ladies.  Although we (the ladies) complained and they (the organizers) swore they would make a port-a-potty available for us, that didn't always happen.  In fact, it rarely happened.  And, finding a bush was simply not going to happen, there weren't any bushes.  Sometimes, we could find a decent dune but not always and that caused much discomfort.  Especially for the seven lady riders.  At stops, we had to first get in line and re-fuel our scooters before we could take care of other business and sometimes, because of the schedule, we didn't have a very long rest stop......

The seven courageous lady riders!
The occasional ladies restroom.  Like maybe 3 times out of 20?
The always available men's restroom.

Food.  Well, I'll be the first to admit I'm used to Western food.  Of course I am, I'm from the West.  However, I'm pretty game to try just about anything.  Most of the food was good, some of it was bad.  I think most everyone, including the organizers, got real tired of the hotel buffet fare.  It wasn't particularly tasty and sometimes it was downright nasty.  Not because it was Eastern, but because it was hotel buffet fare, lol.  Our lunches on the road also got a bit monotonous.  Pretty much beans at every meal.  Sometimes the beans were super, yummy tasty and other times they were just beans to choke down.  All meals were vegetarian, which I'm okay with.  I also understand the difficulty of preparing a meal for 100 peeps while traveling and not having a local grocer along the way.  The CEC team did an outstanding job considering what they had to work with.  I just got tired of beans :-)

But, look how fun this is!  Our lunch crew getting a meal ready for us.  They were a lot of fun :-)

I was a bit disappointed at some of the lodging choices.  I was expecting 4 star accommodations as had been advertised.  Some of the hotels, well, they were a bit dilapidated and not so clean.  Our hotel in Luxor comes to mind.  In it's heyday, it was obviously the four star but now, ten years later, somewhat run-down and in need of some TLC.  On the other hand, finding accommodations for 100 peeps with secure parking for the scooters and support vehicles was certainly a challenge for the organizers. 

 A group picture at the Hilton Pyramids Gold Resort.  A very nice place :-)

Overall, the lodging was just fine.  We actually had some fantastic hotels along the Red Sea.  What I really, really, really didn't care for - the tent camping (Been there, done that and don't want to do it anymore).  We had been told all of our lodging would be 4 star hotels.  A small tent on the hard ground, miles from anything, with a couple of chaise lounge cushions was a looooong way from 4 stars!  To be fair, the organizers had posted on Facebook (their main communication venue) that we would have a night of camping.  Upon reading this news, I immediately queried them as to power (my honey uses a CPAP at night and needs power to run it) and possible hotel options.  The response was there would be power available but no mention of hotel options.  Well, by now, we had already paid for the adventure and our departure was imminent so I just hoped for the best.  When we got to the Camel Camp and saw the situation, it was very obvious that the "power" was only to be had at the  two toilet buildings and our tents were a long way from there.  After a few hours, allowing plenty of time for everyone to get settled and the organizers to be a bit more relaxed, Eric and I approached the main organizer and asked to speak privately.  We both voiced our concerns and requested other accommodation.  Within an hour we were taken to a resort for the night and then re-united with the rest of the group very, very early the next morning.

 Where we were scheduled to stay.....
Where we actually stayed....

I truly appreciate the quick response and corrective action taken by the organizers upon our request to re-locate for the night.  I really think the organizers should have made a resort or hotel option available to all the participants.  I know they wanted to keep the group together, especially for security reasons.  However, if they had treated the overnight at the Camel Camp as an excursion or tour, I'm sure things would have worked out just fine.  From the conversations in the morning, more than a few of our co-participants would have appreciated the option.  Really, this was my only bitch (other than a place to pee:-).

Well, you've read my bitches and think maybe it wasn't so good?  It was good, it was awesome. Read my blog posts which are pages and pages of wonderful and this post which it a few paragraphs of not so good :-)  All in all, this was an absolutely fantastic adventure!  It stretched our comfort zones in many ways but still wasn't scary.  In fact, it was easy really.  We were extremely well taken care of by the organizers and all the security folks.  

Meh, you got used to the security quick enough.  I pretty much didn't notice or just dismissed their presence.  Of course, if things got ugly, I would have been happy to have them around!  It seemed that most of the security guys were delighted to ride along with us.  They partook of lunch and watched out for us.  They became part of our adventure and the CEC staff took care of them too.  Many thanks!

A beautiful shot of some of the scooters parked at one of our hotels.  I'm number 11, Eric is number 16.
 A rest stop along the highway.
 My honey caught off guard :-)
 Not bad formation after about 8 days ;-)  Don't we look super silly on these tiny scooters?
 It's hard to open your eyes wide in the hot noon time sun!
 Aw, they we go, but I still have one eye squished!
 Lots of flat sand here - no place to pee!!!!!
Yeah, I photo bombed!  If you know me, ask me about #20 sometime, lol :-)

There is probably a lot more to say, but I can't remember right this minute. What I will remember for a lifetime is how magnificent this adventure was.  How fantastic the organizing team was.  How wonderfully diverse and interesting all the participants were.  How warm, friendly and welcoming the Egyptian people were.  How incredible the places we saw, visited and stayed were.  How much this adventure enriched my life and improved my riding, communication and interpersonal skills.

Would I go again?  Well, at first I would say no, been there, done that.  But on retrospect, maybe.  A different route?  It might intrigue me enough to say, you betcha, I'm in!

I want to give a big special shout out to my honey, Eric.  Thank you for humoring me and going on this adventure!  Also, a big thanks for helping with the blog, editing and adding your spin.  I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun without you!  As one of the participants said to us in a very personal, honest way, "You are blessed" and yes, we are blessed to have each other to enjoy and have adventures together. I love my honey and look forward to many more adventures :-)

Thanks to all of you that follow along.  You help make everyday a wonderful day and I love to share it with you.

We will be doing a few more adventures in the coming year.  I'm going to try and put together a small, intimate Baja California, Cabo San Lucas adventure as well as the European Alps and Alaska.  I hope you will consider coming along with us and enjoy a good ride.  Ping me if you're interested!

Cheers and hugs to all,

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Few Days in Paris - November 1, 2, 3 & 4, 2015 - Part 2

After a good night sleep, we were up early, grabbed a quick breakfast in our suite and took off to hop on the Big Bus again.  We dressed warmly as it was threatening rain and it was a bit nippy.  We decided that today would be monuments and buildings with one museum.  Our first stop for the day was Notre Dame Cathedral.  This is the first time I've seen it without scaffolding around it.  Truly magnificent.  We spent a bit of time both inside and out admiring.

We then headed to St. Chapelle but encountered a long line for security so we took a pass.  Little did we realize that the line at St. Chapelle was probably the shortest we would see all day, lol.

We then walked back to the Big Bus stop and hopped on again. Our next stop was the Musee d'Orsay where we encountered a rather long line.  Fortunately, the wait wasn't long and we were inside and out of the weather.  A former railway station, the museum is huge and contains many wonders!  We spent several hours here and only saw a small fraction of the museum.

 Exterior of the Musee d'Orsay.
 What a treasure!  Van Gogh's self portrait.  Sorry the pic is so bad but take my word, it was magnificent!
The view across the river from the d'Orsay is the Louvre.

Departing the d'Orsay we again caught the Big Bus and headed toward the Eiffel Tower.  Our route on the Big Bus took us past the Arc de Triomphe.  We decided a drive-by was sufficient as we had a lot more to see.

By now, we were getting hungry so made a stop at the Trocadero and found a cafe for lunch.  If you've ever been to Paris, you know how wonderful the cafes are.  Most have both indoor and outdoor seating.  Maybe you didn't know, but outdoor seating usually costs a bit more!  The price you pay to people watch :-)  We chose to sit inside because the weather was inclement.  We enjoyed a lovely lunch of faux filet and frites (steak - but not filet - and french fries) along with the ever present, delightful, crusty french baguette.

Here is a picture of the Trocadero from the front.  When I lived in Paris, I would go there on very hot days and frolic in the fountains!

After lunch it was time for the Eiffel Tower!  We were going to the TOP.  Another long line but again it progressed rather quickly.  We were prodded along like cattle,(with extra shoving from one of the Chinese visitors behind us who just kept pushing and couldn't control herself), but once we got into the actual structure, it wasn't so bad.  We rode the first elevator that glides up the side on a diagonal.  We reached the second floor, had a look around and got on the elevator to the top that goes straight up the middle.  It goes up, and up, and up, and up and ......  I'm kind of leary of heights....

 A carousel near the Eiffel Tower.  I love carousels and probably should have taken a ride.  Next time!
 See the yellow elevator going up the diagonal?
Then it was time to go up the middle. Way, way, way up!  We reached the top without me passing out or throwing up (a good thing).  Stepped out of the elevator and I was fine - there was a good, strong fence around the perimeter and all my fear of heights disappeared.  It was fantastic!  The clouds had lifted and we had pretty good views from the top.  On one side it was quite windy but the other side was calm.

 A beautiful bit of sunshine poked out for us.

I was terrified!  Not really :-)

 In fact, I was thrilled. I love Paris.
 Eric was pretty pleased, too!
The River Seine from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

After a good look-a-bout, we took the elevator back to the second floor and changed to the diagonal elevator to get to the ground. Our next stop was a boat tour on the Seine.  We had purchased the boat tour along with our Big Bus tickets and we needed to go now or miss out.  So, we headed across the street from the Eiffel Tower to the boat launch.  No line here!  We quickly got in queue to board the boat, only to discover we were at the wrong boat!  A quick walk to the other side of the bridge and another short queue, but we still had to wait about 20 minutes.  Oh well......By the time we got on the boat and took off it was nearly dark.  Actually, that turned out just fine as we had seen most of the sights during the day and it was delightful to see them after dark all lit up.  The boat tour lasted one hour and we learned a lot of history about the bridges and various structures.
 Not our yacht :-)
 The queue line for the right yacht :-)
By the time we were finished with the boat ride, it was quite dark and seeing the Eiffel Tower all lit up was a special treat.  At the top of the hour, all kinds of sparkly lights flash up and down the tower, it is something to behold!

After the boat tour we waited and waited and waited at the Big Bus stop for the last bus but it never came along.  There were probably 15 people also waiting.  We finally got impatient after about 1/2 hour and grabbed a cab back to our hotel.  It was nice to get to our lovely room.  We feasted on bread, cheese, hard salami and other various goodies before turning in.  We were tired from a long day of playing tourist and had another day ahead of us.

The next morning we again dined in our suite for breakfast and bundled up.  Today was museum day and we headed to the granddaddy of them all, the Louvre.  It was only a short walk from our hotel.  We checked our coats, grabbed a museum map and made our way inside.  It is massive!  We entered under the pyramid (which was VERY controversial in it's day) and then just gawked.  It is awesome in every sense of the word.  Rather overwhelming too!  We decided to make a plan because you simply cannot see it all.  I really wanted to see the Mona Lisa because it had been on loan when I was last in Paris so we made a beeline for that.

 Looking up through the glass pyramid.

 The great hall, filled with incredible sculptures under the pyramid.
 My honey :-)

Of course, the Mona Lisa was quite a hike and we passed a ton, no, a mega-ton of fantastic art along the way so it took us quite a while to get to the Masterpiece!

 Isn't this amazing?  Fruit and veggies make an outstanding painting! she is!  I was surprised that the painting is kind of small.  For some reason, I expected a larger piece.  It was incredible and worth the long slog to find her.  Funny side story, as I approached the Mona Lisa, there was a woman smack dab in front of the painting putzing with her cell phone.  Not taking pictures or anything like that, just taking up prime space.  As I patiently waited for her to finish and move on, another patron told her to move, that she was in the way and not doing anything productive and to let others get a good view!  Good for him, she moved and I got a good view :-)

I also wanted to see the Napoleon Apartments which I had never seen to we made our way through the various wings to the Apartments.  It was worth the long walk.

 Even the ceilings were over the top spectacular.

The chandelier.....
Can you imagine living like this?  The carpets, furniture, art, dishes, everything was so over the top!

 Dining for about 40?

 A fold up - travel desk.  Sweet :-)

 A crystal vanity?  Nothing but the best for the nobility.

 Even the rugs and carpets were beautiful.
 The Chair....or maybe I should say, The Throne.
We took a break at one of the several cafes inside the Louvre and ordered coffees and pastry.  I didn't take a picture!  Shame on me because the pastries were so beautiful and they were sooooooo yummy!  Oh, they were also soooooo expensive, hahahahaha, but worth every penny.  It was a delightful break and just what we needed.  The Louvre is huge, massive, enormous and we were getting a bit tired.

Next on our agenda was l'Orangerie des Tuileries.  One of my very favorites!  A nice stroll from the Louvre along the Tuileries gardens gave us time to recoup from the crowds.  The weather held steady and didn't rain on us.  Although, we got this view of the Louvre.

The sky was looking very ominous but we stayed dry.

The Musee National de l'Orangerie des Tuileries is so wonderful.  It was a refreshing change from the massive d'Orsay and Louvre.  It is small and intimate and contains some of the most famous Impressionist art in the world.  The entire first floor is dedicated to Claude Monet and the Water Lily series.  It overwhelms the senses.  One simply has to take a sit down and a long look and let the beauty flow over you.

We then went down to the lower level and were not disappointed.  So much beauty.  I absolutely loved this museum :-)

There was so much to see!  From here, we walked back to our hotel suite after a stop at the grocer for some dinner fixings.  We missed a number of places that were on our list to see but one can only do so much in our limited time.  I also love the Rodin Museum and we saw glimpses of a number of sculptures including "The Thinker" as we rode the Big Bus but we simply ran out of time.  That's okay, it gives us a reason to go back to Paris and see the things we missed this time.

When we started this adventure, we decided a nice layover after Egypt would be nice before going home.  We could choose from a number of places, Dubai, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and others. I'm so glad Eric chose Paris!  I'm pretty sure I can talk him into doing another trip there :-)

We had a nice evening in our hotel suite, packed up our bags and got ready for an early morning.  The next day we were up around 4 am, ick, ick, ick!  Our taxi was waiting at the door for us and there was virtually no traffic as we made our way to the airport.  Through security we found our gate and waited for the plane.

The flight home, well, to Atlanta, was long and uneventful.  I tried to sleep for most of the way.  At Atlanta, we only had a short time before our flight to Las Vegas.  We were slightly delayed due to changing airplanes and our seats were changed.  Pfffttttt.......

We boarded the plane and I had a window seat and Eric had the aisle.  There was a woman sitting in the middle seat.  I asked her if she minded moving so Eric and I could sit together.  No problem she said!  Great.  So I asked if she wanted the window or aisle.  She said window.  Great.  I waited, and waited and waited.  Finally she asked what she should do.  I said she should just move over a seat!  Hahahahahaha, guess she was fatigued (or stupid).  Anyway, she moved over, Eric and I got to sit next to each other and again I tried to sleep.  I was tired of traveling and it was so nice to touch down at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas.  We caught a shuttle to the hotel where we had stashed the car and then drove the 130 miles home.

It was dark before we reached the house and it was bliss to drive into our yard.  Oh what?  The garage door wouldn't open?  Heck, I don't need this business.  We tried the opener on the other garage door and it opened so we went in the house that way.  The darn opener chain on the large garage door had come undone with a snapped off sprocket, (an easy fix after the repairman came the next day).  Regardless, we got into the house, dumped our luggage and made for bed.

Being home after our Egypt Cross Challenge adventure and our Paris layover was so very nice.  There really is no place like home.  I so enjoyed our travels and all the things we saw, all the wonderful folks we met and all the adventures we had, but I was glad to be home.

Thanks so very much for following along with this adventure.  I'll be posting an Epilogue soon as there are a number of things I'd like to share with all of you.  Until then....