Friday, January 27, 2012

Holy Land Trip - Part 1

January 11, 2012
Our trip started at the Blanco United Methodist Church (BUMC from here on out) at 8:30AM. The group from Blanco was driven to the San Antonio airport by the pastor of the Johnson City United Methodist Church in his church’s 15 passenger bus.

Clint, Al and Donna

Donna, Irene and Cindy
At the airport, Ken Greene, Pastor of BUMC, went to the counter and got everyone’s seat assignments. We were flying US Airways and found that our flight to Washington Dulles would be on GoJet, UA’s commuter airline. Some of us had carry-ons that were so stuffed, they would not fit into the overhead compartments, so the airline personnel took the bags and stowed them in the cargo hold and told us they would be available to us when we got off without having to go to baggage claim. The flight took around 4 hours, but everyone was so excited that it didn’t seem that long. When we got to Washington Dulles we had to de-plane via a stairway onto the tarmac, get out luggage then haul it up stairs into the terminal. This was the first sign that our flights to Egypt were going to be painful.

We rushed to our next gate and boarded the United Airlines flight to Frankfurt. Luckily, we were on a 777 that wasn’t completely full and the overhead bins were large and spacious. On the back of each seat was a monitor on which you could watch movies and there was also a trip map that showed where the plane was, how fast it was going, the altitude, etc. At 4 hours and 51 minutes into the flight it showed that we were travelling at 579 MPH at 39,000 FT. It was -95 degrees outside the plane (yes, that's MINUS 95 degrees) and we had a tailwind that varied between 49 and 79 MPH. At this point Iceland was to our left and we were heading directly over Shannon Ireland. We had travelled 2890 miles and had 1234 miles left to Frankfort. I just thought all this info was really cool. Once we landed in Frankfort it was January 12th at 7:10AM in the morning. I had dozed a bit as had most of the others. Luckily, we had a jet-way to de-plane from, but had a very long walk to our next gate for the plane that was to take us to Sharm el Sheik (pronounced by the locals and Europeans as Sharm el Shake).

Mom and Dad (Al and Donna in background) at the Frankfort airport

Margo, Ken, June and Nell at the Frankfort airport
January 12, 2012
After a layover of almost 4 hours, we found that we had to ride a bus from our gate, to the plane that was out on the tarmac. Condor Airlines is run by the Thomas Cook travel agency. Once again, we had to climb stairs to get on the plane and once again many of our bags would not fit into the overhead compartments. The crew put these bags in the back rows where the seats were empty. This plane was a 727, but had been refitted to hold more people that a normal 727. We got aboard and after dragging luggage, walking up stairs, etc, found that the air on the plane wasn’t on and it was hot. Mom had a window seat and I thought she might claw her way out of that window. She had a panic attack and I was fanning her furiously with the safety card from the seat pocket. Finally the air came on and we got underway. Eventually, Mom got out of her seat and went and sat with Dad in an aisle seat. I scooted over to her seat so that there was an empty seat between me and the kid who was on the aisle. This flight was cram full and there were also babies and small children aboard.

Flying over the Nile River on our way to Sharm el Sheik

Once we got to Sharm el Sheik, we again had to de-plane by stairway, but we had some help with our luggage. We hiked to the terminal and met our tour guide and bus driver, filled out our entry forms and went through security. After everyone completed this, we had to hike to our bus.

Finally, by the end of the evening, we arrived at our hotel, the Helena Marina Hotel where we checked in and met back at the dining room for dinner at 8PM. Our hotel was nice, but not luxurious by any means. We were so tired and cranky that we didn’t care what we were eating, however, there was a beef and rice dish at dinner that was delicious.  The food was OK, but just not what Americans are used to. We discovered that the hotel was going to have a Karaoke night out on the terrace that all our rooms faced. I don’t know if anyone sang Karaoke or not (I know our group didn’t) but I do know that the Arabian disco music didn’t stop until 3AM.

Our Hotel at Sharm el Sheik

Mom on the patio of our room in Sharm.  (Facingthe terrace where they were playing Arabian Disco music all night.)

Sharm was a one night rest stop.  It’s a lovely resort on the Red Sea and the city boasts casinos, hotels, shopping, etc.  The city is a vacation spot for Egyptians and Europeans and is also a favorite honeymoon spot.  The Red Sea is so blue and crystal clear and there are coral reefs and thousands of different varieties of fish.  Snorkeling is a favorite past time for tourists.
The Red Sea from the beach at our hotel.

The next morning Mom and I were up before the rest of the group, so we went to the hotel’s private beach and walked around. We were in light jackets, but there were still a few people out in swimsuits trying to catch some sun. I suppose when you are from Germany or Switzerland anything above 50 degrees is warm!

After breakfast it was check-out time and back on the bus for the trip to St. Catherine’s Monastery.

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