A Day at the Museum – Egypt

There is quite a bit to see at the University of Penn Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. I’ve been to this museum a few times but the last visit previous to this one, has been years.  I’ve said over the years I could happily get lost for days in a museum and I was hoping maybe the kids would like to see…at least some of the galleries. There ARE three floors and 100s of thousands is artifacts. Did they make it through the whole museum? No but they made it through most of it before they rooted themselves to some chairs. So no, I didn’t get to read all the plaques because … well, I had kids with me. Best solution? Take LOTS of pictures of both the artifacts and the plaques then see if I can piece the story together.  And I’m such a nerd girl sometimes so it seemed like the perfect time to do an iMovie or three.

I have the first one posted here. It’s of Egypt. It was the kids’ favorite and between the Lower Egypt gallery, Upper Egypt gallery, the Armana gallery and the Artifact Lab where you can watch conservation happening, there were plenty of photo opps.

My favorite gallery? The Roman/Greek/Etruscan and I’ll have an iMovie based on the pics we took soon.

Anyway, hope you enjoy!

Other links of interest:

http://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/beth-shean-columns-in-lower-egypt/

 

 

 

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Sweet creations at Chocolate World

Thank goodness there are places in the world that draw our inner children out to play. One such place is the sweetest place on Earth…Chocolate World in Hershey Pa.

I’m sharing our tour via an iMovie attachment on “Creating (and designing) Your Own” Chocolate Bar.

There’s also a cameo of the singing cows.

http://youtu.be/x9ySkKdjybU

The 7th Wonder of the Water Wizards (Chichen Itza)

The crown of our Cancun vacation had to be the sojourn to dwelling of wise water wizards or in other words, Chichen Itza (the city by the well or the wise men by the water, etc). This incredible site, a shadow of its former glory with its brilliantly painted buildings, smooth concrete plazas and rich culture was designated in July 7, 2007 as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Thank you Jack for the persuasive private message on FaceBook which I used to help convince Andy that we just had to go. 🙂

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All I wish, visiting the site, is we would have had more time soaking in what we were seeing. But I am glad I took as many pictures as I did, and Andy did too, because it’s helping with that delayed “soaking” of this site.

Our adventure started with our van picking us up outside our hotel at 7 am Wed., April 30, 2014, along with some other tourists, and getting us to our Cancun Tour bus. I enjoyed seeing more of the hotel zone as we rode Boulevard Kukulkan. We passed this interesting building, Maya Design Hotel, and here (second picture) is where we waited until our bus was ready.

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Our bus was 001 and our guide, Jorge, was a very versatile bilinguist. He easily flipped from Spanish to English so it eventually blended together. He shared information about the ancient Mayans along with passing things around for us to see…like depictions of the Mayan calendar and obsidian…

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…and he talked about the itinerary of the day (besides the tour of Chichen Itza) which included a a traditional Mayan buffet lunch (which was really good with homemade tortillas and a liberal warning about the hot sauce…salt and sugar folks, salt and sugar). Please note the thatched ceiling.

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Pic of the restaurant

We drove through Valladolid, a colonial Mexican town, and viewed its downtown, the lovers’ chairs and San Gervasio Cathedral.

Oh, because of a flat tire we ended up stopping at a merchants’ plaza with hand-made items. We did get silver pendants with our names engraved in Mayan.

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(one of the masks hanging from the wall)

We were also told we’d be visiting the Suytun Cenote in order to cool off after our tour in Chichen Itza.

Also check it out this Cenote (one of many) was in National Geographics
http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/wallpaper/photography/photos/best-pod-september-2011/centoes-chichen-itza/?rptregcta=reg_free_np&rptregcampaign=20140623_t2_rw_membership_r1p_us_se_w#

“If you have your bathing suit, congratulations. And if you don’t, congratulations, what happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico. What that means is it will be on Facebook in five minutes.” ~ Jorge, guide.

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And being at the Cenote was really cool but I would have, again, preferred more time at the ruins.

Okay…so without further ado, [drumroll]
Let me introduce Chichen Itza

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My first pic entering the site shows a small corner of vendors crying out their wares! They were everywhere. Admittedly, a lot of the stuff is really cool. For example, the jaguar growls in my Chichen Itza iMovies are actually whistles that these guys had. And most everything, was being offered for $1 (US). Not having pesos on me, I was just a bit nervous of stopping with US dollars because I was sure I’d be mobbed.
(In the background is the Temple of the Jaguars and the ballcourt)

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…and my second pic….the pyramid.

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The guide told us that the pyramid kicks out a bit from alignment from the other buildings and that it has been theorized that the building is meant to be a calendar of sorts.

The pyramid has 91 steps with four staircases — one on each side — and one platform so if you do the math it equals one solar year. Also, on the equinoxes the pyramid is a stage for a light/shadow show which shows their snake god descending from the temple into the snakes’ heads.

More tidbits: The pyramid is 78 feet tall and has an interesting surprise. What is it? There is a second temple inside this one…sort of like Russian nesting dolls. Inside this they found a jaguar throne and a chacmool. Oh, and they built the pyramid in five years.


This iMovie (above) has quite a bit of information of what the guide told us. He took us around this plaza and gave us insight with the pyramid, ball court, Temple of the Warriors, Wall of Skulls and Platform of Venus… and after he was finished I immediately asked him where the observatory was.

See, the site’s observatory was something I considered using as a template for one of the places in my book….a forgotten ruin from one of the (Chandarions) god-like people who had been interested in studying the sky. So you can imagine that I just HAD to see this not in just pictures But in front of my own eyes.

Amazing, right? Anyway the one thing I didn’t notice until later was the Chaac mask near the building’s crown. Do you see it? The Chaac masks represent the Mayan god of rain.

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more Chichen Itza iMovie. 🙂

I suppose seeing the The Church with its very obvious Chaac masks made me more aware of what these were.

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It surprised me to see lattice work carved in stone… I mean, wow! How long did this take the Mayans?

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And excavations are still going on. For example, in the 1990s, the Temple of the Big Tables was restored from the jungle. (I love saying I was in a jungle) This structure is beside the Temple of the Warriors and it has a substructure inside which can be reached by the door on the side of the staircase. One of the things that was found within were life-size figures of warriors, carved in stone relief with details in stucco and polychrome paint.

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Definitely, the science of archeology has improved. Back in the early 1900s one so-called archeologist, Le Plongeon, blew a part of the exterior away from the Edificio de las Monjas (Nunnery) in order to reveal an older structure within. Do you see the big hole on the right hand side, lower level?

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Here’s the back side of the pyramid and the Temple of the Warriors in the background.

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And one last thing I’ll share for now… the frieze from the ball court which gives us an idea how the game was played. [Please remember, kidding aside, these guys probably thought they were assured immortality. For example, the decapitated one is kneeling proudly as if he was perfectly fine, except missing a head]

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Visiting Dawn

So the tour to Tulum….

It was yet another early morning, Tuesday, April 29, beautiful though a little cloud covered and we headed downstairs to the Tulum ballroom for breakfast. Afterwards, Andy went to his conference’s “town meeting” and I took a stroll through the gift shop and headed to the beach. Wading while waiting…. who can beat that? I figured I didn’t need to change into a swimsuit since I was in shorts and could kick off my shoes. Yes, I know. The sea can be capricious and one of the waves broke across my legs and got the side of my shorts wet. Not that big of a deal but for the sake of my iPhone, I retreated further back.

Just a quick background: The conference offered a paid activity and there had been several to choose from: Swimming with the dolphins, zip lining, snorkeling, etc. Visiting Tulum and shopping at Playa de Carmen had been ours. We left at 10:45 a.m. with our boxed lunch.

Tulum is located “80 miles south of Cancun, 35 miles south of Playa del Carmen, 25 miles south of Puerto Aventuras, 15 miles south of Akumal, 40 miles from Coba, [and] Can be visited as a shore excursion for cruise ship passengers docked in Cozumel or Calica port.” – http://www.mayasites.com/tulum.html

We had enough people to fill the bus. Tour buses, I decided, have less room than coach on an airplane. We had a guide named Alfredo who told us interesting facts about the Mayans. One example, and heartbreaking too was that the jungle-dwelling Mayan people shared their books with the Europeans who upon seeing pictures of snakes within and associated snakes with the devil, burned them. The guide also told us that Cancun itself means Nest of Snakes in Mayan.

We only had one potential mishap when a runaway pear got loose and rolled to the driver and the guide took all of us to task, nicely but…

We got to Tulum, got off the bus and headed for a ice cream shop while our guides got our tickets. The place was jostling with merchants and clothes, crafts, masks, wooden skulls, etc. Passed this area, and before the tractor-driven trams, were a couple of men dressed like Mayans posing for pictures. I got two faceless pics before being told each pic would cost $5.

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I visited the only public (not have to pay) bathrooms located near the entry gate. The facility was just adequate but to wash your hands you had to step outside to share communal sinks. This arrangement came close to pinging the “scary bathroom” category but I’d find worse later in the vacation.

We entered the park, passed the educational shop with books and DvDs (didn’t have time to go in) and got a mini-lesson with a scaled model of Tulum. One of the things we learned was the site had/has five gates in correlation perhaps with the five unlucky days in a Mayan year.

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There’s a path past the entry you have to follow, maybe a five minute walk…lots of stone steps. We were shown a sacred Mayan tree which was hollowed and wild animals, nothing too dangerous. The most plentiful we saw were the iguanas.

Tulum is a bit unusual. It has a defending wall on three sides and a cliff overlooking the sea, one of the few Mayan cities with a wall. Anyway, Tulum was a harbor city.

If you want to know some tidbits about its archeological history, these seem to be good sites:

http://www.resort-cancun.com/tulum#.U3jc59q9KSN
http://www.tulumruins.net
http://www.sacred-destinations.com/mexico/tulum
http://www.todotulum.com/tulum-mexico-history/
http://www.travelthruhistory.com/html/historic35.html

I have to admit, hunched over as I shuffled through the gate entrance, I touched the stones as Mayan hands might have done centuries ago and then behold, Tulum was before me. I thought I’d cry. I was actually here!

Tulum was/is magnificent! The only down side, we both wanted more time to explore but as this was a tour we had an allotted amount of time (aka read “NOT enough time”) before we had to reboard the bus. Regardless, we got a lot of pics, some video clips and I put a mini-documentary together.


Tulum video

There is an app, Tulum – Be Your Own Guide for an iPhone I discovered after I returned to the states. It’s very informative. I’d recommend getting it before visiting the site.

The first house the guide showed us was the Cenote House. If you don’t know what a cenote is … this area of Mexico has most of its water coming from underground rivers and sinkholes (aka cenotes). Cenotes provided not only water for its residents but also they played religious role as a place of sacrifice. This first house had a cenote under it. The guide said that a sacrifice would be purified here before being taken to the Temple of the Winds which was just in the distance. (Structure 45)

It was extremely windy here but with the day’s heat, it felt great.

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Map of Tulum [http://www.resort-cancun.com/tulum]

Other things of note included the beach where the harbor was. (Tulum’s beaches are named one of the best in the world). Part of it is protected because of nesting sea turtles.

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The Temple of the Frescos made me wish I had brought a better camera. I used my phone for all the pics and it did a great job but I wasn’t able to zoom in to get the faded frescos inside the building. 😦 Oh by the way, do you see the building’s corner face?

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El Castillo, the palace, is the site’s crowning jewel. It’s set on the tallest hill. Here is where I wished the buildings weren’t roped off. Even if I couldn’t climb up the castle steps, it would have been nice to walk around its complex.

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Or be part of the team who was up on the Temple of the Diving God. Above their heads is a figure descending or diving and it shows up on many of the buildings.

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What I am thankful for is being able to visit these amazing places and being able to take as many pics as I could. I know I’ve been enjoying reviewing them, reading up, learning and noticing things that I hadn’t seen before. Like how many diving gods the site had.

We got back to the bus as one of the last stragglers…but not the last ones. Yes, that was me lagging behind.

The next place we stopped at was 5th Avenue, Playa de Carmen for an hour. It was fun stopping in the little shops. I got to say “demasiado” a few time… I mean, haggling is very in vogue here.

We stopped at an outside bar having a 2 for 1 sale and allowed ourselves to be talked into having four margaritas between the two of us. I had mango and Andy had a Tamarind. If you aren’t familiar with Tamarind, it’s kind of tangy.

I wasn’t really tasting the tequila in the margaritas so when our waiter came up I said with a smile “Donde esta la tequila?” [where is the tequila] I wasn’t expecting him to bring out an additional tall shot to add to the drinks. I split among the four and wow, did I feel fuzzy after that! I guess there had been tequila in them. The drinks were just deceptive and tasty.

We boarded the bus again back to the hotel and got ready for the conference’s awards ceremony. I enjoy dressing up and I had brought a Latina-ish black dress for the occasion. I didn’t have pockets so I didn’t get any pictures. We drank Sangrias during the cocktail hour and then journeyed into the large ballroom for a wonderful three-course meal with Fillet Mignon and a thin sliced potato casserole. Oh, and the cleansing small scoop of lemon sorbet between the salad and main course. It was one of the more fancy dinners I’ve enjoyed but I would see fancier before the end of the vacation.

After the function, we headed back to the bar for drinks and dancing. I had more of the latter than the former. We retired not dreadfully late but not that early either. Many of the people we were hanging with were leaving the next morning but we were staying an extra day so we could get to Chichen Itza which will be another post.

But one last thing for now….Tulum, they believe originally was called Zama “City of the Dawn.”

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Sleeping in the Snake’s Nest

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Luxurious places can have the most interesting names such as the Mayan translation to the 18 miles stretch of hotel resorts and sugar sand beaches in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Yes. Cancun means “nest of snakes.” Not sure what to make of that, whether it’s a warning about inhabiting reptiles or a subtle nickname for the tourist trade but regardless Cancun felt like a paradise.

I recently returned from this whirlwind vacation which let me work on my manuscript on a lounge chair on the beach with the surf music and warm sun. Decadent? Like living inside a post card, dude! And I didn’t see any snakes but I did see quite a few wild iguanas.

Cancun. It’s a wonderland of ocean and pool fun; piano bars, nightclubs and dancing; tropical drinks, tequila samples and good food; … along with experiencing another culture which operates at a minimum level of “working English.”

I was a washed with sensory overload which held hands with a realized lifelong dream. See, I’ve ALWAYS wanting to go “tramping” through archaeological ruins and I got that opportunity with my time at both Chichen Itza and Tulum. Additionally, I expanded my experiences with extremes and habitats. Not only can I say I’ve been in a jungle but I have also witnessed both the poorest and richest conditions I have ever seen… to date.

Anyway, before all the wonderful memories fade as memories are wont to do… I’m putting figurative “pen to paper” along with some of the iMovies I put together. This one [below] is mostly our Cancun resort and the surrounding area.

So…why Cancun and why now? Well, a business conference for Andy was the reason and lucky me… I had this important job to make sure the pool didn’t go away plus get a little writing in.

We left Saturday, April 26, 2014 around noon from our local airport on a “puddle-jumper” to Philly. Of course a day of flying never runs smooth. We boarded and moments later were asked to vacate the plane. Reason? The Philly airport was closed. An aircraft on its runway was defunct. Made me realize I should look into traveling apps such as the one for the airports.

Nice little anxious time knowing we had two connecting flights. We reboarded not long after and disregarding the horrendous turbulence, which caused the stewardess to rush papertowels and water to at least one passenger, we got to Philly early and even had a nice lunch at a pub. The flight to Charlotte was fairly uneventful. We had time for one quick beer before boarding for Cancun.

I have to admit I was a little nervous about the idea of being out of my own country. Particularly Mexico. You hear so many horror stories and my personal experiences were limited. I had made two day-tripped excursions over to Mexica (Tijuana in 2000) and Canadian (Niagara Falls 2001) both before our pre-mandatory passports era. There are forms you have to fill out on the plane for Mexico immigration and after landing you go through customs. Wasn’t too bad. Greeted by duty-free shops as soon as we entered the airport and I will warn you … you may want to watch who you talk to at the airport. If you’re curious, let me know I might tell you.

Andy and I arrived at the JW Marriott about 10:30 that evening. We were all “eyes wide open, alert, nervous” as we found our arranged ride and checked in at the hotel. Room 336. Relatively spacious, beautiful bathroom with the large shower head (where water will glide over you from the nape of your neck to the small of your back), and sliding glass doors leading to a well-appointed balcony.

It’s always fun checking out a room but we settled in fairly quickly and headed to the bar for a beverage and wind-down time. Well…That was the plan. It kind of got enhanced. I mean, being in Cancun is a big fat permission slip to cut loose. Right? Six margaritas and dancing at the piano bar with some of the other ladies attending the conference while Andy socialized with the guys later, we headed for bed.

For anyone following me, you may remember I tore my ACL and meniscus back in May 2012, had surgery and that relearning how to do everything from walking on and also focusing on rebuilding knee strength has been an ongoing process. So I have to say emphatically that being able to dance like everyone else was incredibly satisfying.

I woke up, not hungover but dreadfully early. Really it hadn’t been on my itinerary for rising with the sun but Cancun called.

“Dawn’s light peeked through the slant in the curtains with shimmering iridescence and burst in star-patterns like Disney fireworks.”

Yes, put a creative person on location and they wax poetically.

So I got a sunstreaked “Get up! Get up!” call from nature and I actually listened. I padded out on our balcony and gazed out over the hotel’s pools and the beach and the Hard Rock building beside ours. My first day-time look with the palm trees and the Caribbean Sea did NOT disappoint.

We had a nice breakfast at the Sedona Grill. I had the fancy bacon quesadilla which was like $170. Yes, we are talking pesos which is about 13 to $1 US. We sat outside near palm trees and the beach listening to the calls of these blue-black birds with yellow eyes and sipped coffee as the coastal breeze caressed us. Yep we arrived in paradise and it smells like salt and coconuts. Only problem, we had a little adventure scheduled at 8:30 a.m. and it took most of the morning. We did go dressed in our swimsuits as we were told and the excursion did give us cheap Chichen Itza tour tickets, some free stuff and practice time with my Spanish with the taxi driver.

Remember watch who you talk to? Anyway, we had to pass on the snorkeling excursion which we were under the impression would be that morning because we needed to return to our hotel and sign in for our/his conference.

We rode back in a van and talked with other tourists. Some were only English speaking and some, like the Brazilian couple, only spoke Spanish. Just the first time in several days where I encountered people from all over the world.

We arrived at the hotel, signed in and got more free stuff and shortly afterwards, we spent a good portion of the day pool-side. We did make a valiant five-minute attempt to swim in the ocean but with the waves bowling us over and wanting to tug on our suits we surrendered to the pool.

As robust as the ocean was the temperature felt nice but the pool was like bathwater. I forwent my usual descent by centimeters and enjoyed a delightful circuit: Swim, have an adult beverage while in the pool, socialize, swim more and repeat. The pool set-up was rather intriguing with these little islands and channels under little bridges to connecting pools. Yes, one of the pools had a swim-up bar.

We ate at the Beachwalk and watched a wedding on the beach. Yes, Brittanee, Shush. I had this tasty steak wrap thing and Andy had a salad and we both had pink rumrunners. In hindsight I could have eaten a little lighter because of the evening’s meet and greet but had a second drink.

The evening’s activities took place outside buffet style in stations. The food was lavish, the staff attentive and the open bar flowing. Andy and I along with some of the conferrees debating how much this shindig would cost. My guess was at $12,000. (US dollars not pesos) I had an offer to go dancing later with my new pals but after two margaritas I switched to bottled water. Yes, my playful fun-loving side wanted so much to keep going, hit a night club and party till dawn my physical being was passed mildly grumbling about being exhausted and too full.

I got up with Andy on Monday to do the breakfast which was included in the conference. This meal really wasn’t lavish. I did enjoy the fresh pineapple and I ate a little of my bagel sandwich.

Afterwards, I spent the morning on the lounge chair under shade along the beach and worked on my book while Andy attended the conference sessions. I really enjoyed this time. It was peaceful and the muse spoke intermittedly with me. I think she got mesmerized by the ocean waves too.

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“A mermaid herself must have fashioned the Mexican Caribbean sea from the brightest sea-teal and skirted it with cloud-white crests.”

“And just passed the reef the teal transforms with no hesitation to a rich indigo until it touched the periwinkle sky.”

One of my gal pals told me as a writer I had no excuse not to find a way to describe the sea. I gave it my best go.

All ocean watching comes to a close though and I went back in to get lunch. Again it came with the conference. So… while in line, Andy says “I went all the way to Cancun to get this hot dog” and I responded by saying “whose wearing that shirt.” Naive little me…no they were serving hot dogs and hamburgers. My thought? I’m in Mexico so were is the good Mexican food??

I spent the afternoon shopping with my new gal pals at one of the malls. It felt good to learn more of the “lay of the land.” Ten pesos gets you on the bus to whichever bus stop on the circuit you want. Cancun’s resort area is only a 1/4 mile wide so there is only one throughway. I discovered shops will give you samplings of tequila if you look like you want to buy a bottle. I also saw this absolutely gorgeous Italian rapier in one of the shops and I was not allowed to photograph that. They did give me a business card. But — I mean what the heck?

We returned and spent more time pool-side. I don’t think this ever could get old.

Best part of the day (or second best) — I’m debating as my beach time was heavenly — was dinner at Destilaria. We asked the concierge what would be a good place for traditional Mexican food would be. She set up the reservation and gave us coupons for the house drink. (Yes, it was kind of margarita) We sat outside looking out over the lagoon. The service, the food, the ambiance was all wonderful. I’d happily go back. Andy had a fish platter with vegetables and I had a steak flambéed in front of us. We also had decadent Mexican desserts. The place was home to a tequila distillery as well and a shop “World of Tequila” where Andy and I sampled a great deal of tequila with a pleasant and knowledgable man before selecting our purchases.

I have to admit it’s a strange sensation wanting a vacation to slow to savor it while also wanting to rush to the final two days. Archeological ruins, remember?

I’m going to end here for now but I’ll post about Tulum, Chichen Itza, the Mayan underground and the extremes I mentioned very soon.