Pumpkin Cookies – A Taste of Autumn

One of our favorite treats for this time of year is pumpkin cookies. They are incredibly delicious as well as easy to make. Unlike a lot of cookies that are dense or hard, these are almost cake-like in texture. We haven’t found anything similar during our travels, so we consider this to be very unique to our family. Because we are not big sweet eaters, we generally share these with all of our friends who are extremely appreciative. We typically double this batch in order to use the full can of pumpkin pie mix, but that makes about six dozen cookies instead the usual three dozen that the recipe makes. They are a traditional drop cookie, so the size of the cookie is completely up to you, but we find that about a heaping tablespoon works best.

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Fresh Out of the Oven

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups Pumpkin Pie Mix (canned or you can make your own)
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 2 cups Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 cup Butterscotch Chips
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Combine the Ingredients

INSTRUCTIONS

Mix all of the ingredients together ensuring that the flour is completely incorporated.  Using a teaspoon or a small ice cream scoop, spoon out the cookie dough onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake the cookies on a center rack for 12 to 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let them cool for a couple of minutes before transferring them to a rack to completely cool. Depending upon the size of the cookies you make, the recipe makes about three dozen cookies.

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Traditional Drop Cookie Method

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Bake on a Center Rack

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Moist and Delicious

 

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Whimsical Artwork

There are so many wonderful statues and pieces of art in cities throughout the world. Most of them are usually very stoic and austere, but occasionally you run across something that just makes you smile. Who knows whether they were appreciated at the time that they were first unveiled and they often seem strangely out of place, but they are still interesting none the less. One of the statues that truly stood out to us was the pink bunny at the entrance to the train station outside of the opera house in Vienna. It really was an odd juxtaposition. Have you seen whimsical statues during your travels?

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On the Streets of Reykjavik

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At One Time it Hung on a Building in Amsterdam

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On the River in Prague

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Okay, It is Expected in Disney World

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Fountain in Coroico, Bolivia

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Downtown Denver

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Ship of Fools in Nuremburg

 

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The Beautiful Beaches of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has some gorgeous beaches, which is definitely the case in Punta Cana. Located on the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic, or “DR” as some people say, Punta Cana has a variety of beautiful resorts. All of them require that you purchase an all-inclusive package, which can make them quite expensive and also discourages you from leaving the resort to visit the surrounding area. We stayed at the Paradisus Palma Real during our trip to Punta Cana a few years ago and were definitely impressed with all of the amenities.

Paradisus Palma Real in Punta Cana

Paradisus Palma Real in Punta Cana

View of the Beach from the Resort

View of the Beach from the Resort

View of the Resort from the Beach

View of the Resort from the Beach

The Resort

The Resort

When staying at a large resort, such as the ones in Punta Cana, there are usually many restaurants to choose from, which provides many different options for dining, from casual to fine dining. We took advantage of upgrading to something that the resort called “Royal Service”, which provided us with an ocean view room, access to a concierge to make reservations to restaurants and shows, as well as private pool. It also provided us with a reserved cabana and lounge chairs on the beach without having to get up early and put a towel on it to reserve them.

Main Resort Area

Main Resort Area

Royal Service Area

Royal Service Area

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Beautiful Beaches

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Warm Water for Swimming

Obviously, the highlight of going to Punta Cana are the beautiful beaches with plenty of opportunities to partake in water activities. In addition to spending time on the beach or at one of the many pools, there are also shows every evening for anyone that wants with music and dancing. During the day, you can also participate in activities such as yoga on the beach, volleyball, cooking lessons, and more for those that need more than just sun and relaxation. We use trips like this as a vacation and a break from our hectic schedules, so we tend to simply sit back and soak up the scenery as we sip on tropical drinks.

Cabanas on the Beach

Cabanas on the Beach

Secluded Boardwalk

Secluded Boardwalk

Dos Mai Tai's at the Pool Bar

Dos Mai Tai’s at the Pool Bar

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Blue Skies and White Beaches

We hope to enjoy other beaches in the Caribbean, but Punta Cana, with beaches that face both the Atlantic and Caribbean, is definitely worth a visit.  We would also recommend the royal service to anyone who has the opportunity.  It is a bit of a splurge, but truly worth the extra expense, especially if you’re not travelling with children.

Fountain at the Resort

Fountain at the Resort

Beautiful Beaches

Beautiful Beaches

Our Room at the Resort

Our Room at the Resort

Tropical Fruit

Tropical Fruit

 

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Würzburg, Germany

We truly enjoy getting out of the larger cities and going to some smaller towns, so our trip to Würzburg was a perfect example of that. It has the old-world charm, friendly people, and wonderful food. The Residenz is definitely the largest thing to see when visiting, but just walking the streets of old town is also fascinating. We were there in late November, so the Christmas markets were also going with a wonderful variety of crafts and food on display.

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Wurzburg Residence

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Historic Buildings

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Enjoying the Market

IMGP0721One of the reasons that we like going to a smaller town is that it makes you feel even more like a local as there aren’t usually any other tourists around. This was definitely the case during our time Würzburg as we enjoyed listening to a local band playing holiday music and watched the excitement of the local children as the holiday season kicked off. We even entered a raffle that benefited the local school and actually ended up winning a bottle of wine.

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Local Band

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Historic Church

IMGP0705One of the most interesting facts about Würzburg is that it was the location of the witch trials that occurred in the 1600’s, Germany’s equivalent to Salem, Massachusetts. Unfortunately it was much larger as over 600 accused witches were burnt during the trials. On a happier note, construction began on the Würzburg Residence (Residenz) about a hundred years later, which is now a focal point within the city.

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Musician Near the Market

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Fountain at the Residenz

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Candles and Wreaths for Sale

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Old World Charm

Located almost exactly halfway between Frankfurt and Nuremberg, Würzburg is definitely a wonderful place to spend a couple of days. If you are able to visit during the holiday season, we would recommend it as the town certainly embraces the spirit of the season as the locals come out to celebrate together.

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Stalls in the Market

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Statue Details

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Another Angle of the Church

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People on the Main Street

 

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KölnTriangle

When visiting Cologne (Köln), if you want amazing views of the city and cathedral, going to the observation deck of the KölnTriangle is an absolute must. The building sits just across the Hohenzollern Bridge, which spans the Rhine River. The glass tower is clearly visible as you walk along the shore of the river with the sides of the building reflecting the surroundings. It is an easy walk across the bridge with all of the locks, passing the statue of Wilhelm II, to get to the KölnTriangle.

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Cathedral and the Rhine River

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Colorful Trees and Cloudy Skies

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Statue of Wilhelm II

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Old Town Cologne

Without a doubt, the reason for going to the top of the tower is to see the panoramic views of the city. The cathedral is certainly the star of the view, but as you look around in all directions, there are amazing views everywhere that you look. Even on a cloudy day, such as the day that we visited, seeing the incredible cityscape was a highlight of our time in Cologne.

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Close-Up of the Cahedral

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Looking Away from Downtown Colgne

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Looking Down the River

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Crossing the Bridge

Even if you decide not to go to tower and see the views from the observation deck, the building itself is architecturally interesting. It is named the triangle due to the three convex sides that surround a circular core. The sides of the building are made up of transparent glass and aluminum sides, which makes up the reflective surface. It only takes an hour or so to go to the observation deck at the KölnTriangle, so we would definitely recommend taking the time as you will definitely be rewarded.

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Walking Toward the Tower

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Buildings Along the Rhine

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Looking Down from the Observation Deck

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View from the Bridge

 

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Hearty Stew

No matter where you travel, you will likely find a local variation on a hearty stew with a mix of meat and vegetables. Stews are basically the same as soups where the solid ingredients outweigh the broth. One of the nice things about stews is that they are very economical as stewing meats are inexpensive and the meat and vegetables can be substituted for whatever is in season at the time. This meal uses ground beef as its base, but it would be equally delicious with beef, pork, or lamb chunks or you can leave out the meat completely to make it vegetarian. This particular stew is meant to be a little bit lighter, but if you wanted to make it even heartier, you could use beef stock and a thickener to create an almost gravy-like consistency. It is one of our Autumn, “go-to”, meals and we always enjoy it.

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Beef Stew in Germany

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb Lean Ground Beef (or any other stew meat)
  • 1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 2 cups of Baby Carrots – quartered
  • 3 Medium Potatoes – cubed
  • 2 cups Green Beans – cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup Frozen Corn Kernels
  • 1/2 Small Onion – diced
  • 1 Stalk Celery – diced
  • 3 Small Bay Leaves
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Dried Rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp Dried Thyme
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 5 cups Water (may need to be adjusted)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
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One Pot Wonder

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat with vegetable oil.  Add the ground beef and start to brown.  Add the celery and onion when the beef is halfway browned.  Add water and bring to a simmer.  Add remaining vegetables and seasonings, simmer until the vegetables are fork tender (approximately 45 minutes).  Serve with your favorite fresh bread and butter.

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Ground Beef, Onion, and Celery

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Simmer the Vegetables

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A Complete Meal in a Bowl

 

 

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Do You Have a Favorite Season to Travel?

Autumn (or fall) is truly our favorite time of year and we often travel during this season as it can be an off-season in many countries. The changing leaves are certainly part of the attraction for autumn, but we also enjoy the cooler temperatures and the anticipation of the holiday season. Because we live at a higher altitude, the trees change earlier here in Colorado than in most other places, so we often get to see the changing colors more than once during the season.

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Autumn in Koblenz

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Vibrant Colors in the Colorado Mountains

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View down the River in Heidelberg

There are many festivals at this time of year, such as Oktoberfest, sausage festivals, and different markets, which makes it even more interesting. The list of places that we have visited in September, October, and November is quite long and the scenery can be quite varied. Obviously, the later that you travel into November, you have to take into account the potential for weather issues, but that can be a risk whenever you travel.

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Changing Colors in Germany

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Eiffel Tower and Autumn Leaves

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Aspen Leaves and Blue Skies

There is something special about traveling during this time of year when the trees around the sights are vibrant with color. In our opinion, it only adds to the experience and we have many fond memories of seeing the countryside, mountains, and rivers. Is there a time of year when you prefer to travel?

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Falling Leaves in Alexandria, Virginia

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Contrasting Colors

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Near Cripple Creek, Colorado

 

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Luxor Temple Complex in Egypt

The Luxor Temple Complex is certainly a highlight of any trip to Luxor, Egypt. Although, not as large as the Karnak Temple Complex, it is still quite impressive. One can only imagine what it must have been like 3000 years ago when both temples were in use and there was an avenue that connected the two complexes with statues of lions with different heads lining the entire road. Work is currently being done to restore the area between the two temples and it will be another amazing sight to see when visiting Luxor.

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Statue within the Complex

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Temple Entrance

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The Avenue Between the Temples

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Different Statues Lining the Avenue

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Broken Statues

Unlike many of the other temples in Egypt, the Luxor Temple Complex is not dedicated to any specific god or specific king. Many of the pharaohs added temples to the complex, as with other temple complexes, including Amenhotep, Alexander, Ramesses II, and Tutankhamun. One interesting feature within the complex is the remains of a statue that was very much in the style of the Greek’s.

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Greek Style Statue

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Unique Painting next to Hieroglyphs

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King and Queen Together

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Dramatic Columns

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Enormous Statues

The entrance to the Luxor Temple Complex is quite dramatic with the sitting statues of Ramses II on either side. In addition to all of the statues, there were also two obelisks in the complex, one of which is still standing. Another interesting aspect to the Luxor Temple is that there is a working mosque on the temple grounds. It is an example of how the modern world and ancient sites can become merged over time.

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Walking Towards the Entrance

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Mosque Inside of the Temple Complex

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Rows of Columns

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Baboons

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Obelisk and Statues

With so many different sites to see in Luxor such as the Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Colossus of Memnon, and the Temple of Hatshepsut, it definitely takes at least a couple of days to visit. Even with all of these temples, tombs, statues, and historic sites, the Luxor Temple Complex is as important to see as these other sites.

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Temple Courtyard

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Hieroglyphs

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Standing Statue

 

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A Perfect Getaway to San Francisco, California

A few years ago, we had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in San Francisco. From Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, to the Golden Gate Bridge, there are plenty of sights to be seen in the city of San Francisco.  Clearly two days is not enough time to see everything that this wonderful city has to offer, but we took full advantage of the time that we had.  It is a friendly city with a wonderful climate that seems to just make you feel relaxed and at home during your time there.

Sea Lions at Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf

Sea Lions at Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf

Grant Avenue, the Main Street in Chinatown

Grant Avenue, the Main Street in Chinatown

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San Francisco Skyline

No visit to San Francisco would be complete without wandering the streets of Chinatown and exploring the shops and eating authentic Chinese food in one of the many restaurants.  There are other cities with their own Chinatown districts, like New York and Chicago, but Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest and largest in the United States.  In fact it is the largest anywhere outside of Asia.  Chinatown is a city within a city with its own vibrant culture and crowded and colorful streets.

Entrance to Chinatown

Entrance to Chinatown

Chinatown Mural

Chinatown Mural

Streets of Chinatown

Streets of Chinatown

The city is definitely very walkable, but there are a lot of hills, so you need to be in shape if you are considering that approach.  A better option, however, is hopping on and off of the trolley cars as they are an excellent way to get around as well.  Along with the Golden Gate Bridge, the trolley cars are one of the images that immediately come to mind when people think of San Francisco.  They are also a great way to get to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is famous for its restaurants, boating excursions, sea lions, and family activities.

San Francisco Trolley

San Francisco Trolley

Irish Pub

Irish Pub

Sea Lions Playing at Pier 39

Sea Lions Playing at Pier 39

Pier 39, which is the pier with the most attractions in Fisherman’s Wharf, can be a full day’s worth of activities, with plenty to do during the day as well as at night.  While we were there, we watched the sea lions play on the pier and had clam chowder and drinks at one of the many restaurants.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to take one of the tours out to Alcatraz Island, but there was no missing its presence out in the bay.  We had driven over the Golden Gate Bridge on our way into the city, but it was even more impressive seeing it from the pier.  As the day came to an end, the famous fog rolled in and engulfed the bridge.  We were there in January, so as the day came to a close, the temperatures dropped quickly.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Fog Close Up

Fog Rolling in over the Golden Gate Bridge

There is a carousel in the center of the shops at the pier, which is colorful during the day, but even more so at night when the lights are all lit.  We couldn’t resist the temptation to release our inner child and take a ride on the carousel.  There was also an artist drawing caricatures, so we decided to sit and have one done of the two of us.  We’d had them done of the kids in the past, but this was the first time we decided to do that for ourselves.  There a many restaurants to choose from in Fisherman’s Wharf and we went to a couple, including Scoma’s Restaurant on Pier 47 for dinner.  

Pete and Dona on the Carousel

Pete and Dona on the Carousel

Our Caricature

Our Caricature

Dessert at Scoma's Restaurant

Dessert at Scoma’s Restaurant

San Francisco is definitely a destination that should be visited as it is beautiful and has so many things to see and do.  We’ll definitely be back in the future to see more that the city has to offer, but any amount of time is worth spending in this wonderful city.  Clearly, our night at Fisherman’s Wharf was the highlight of our stay, but dining and shopping in Chinatown will forever linger in our memories forever.

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Buying Alabaster in Luxor, Egypt

One of the things that Luxor, and Egypt in general, is known for is alabaster and our guide made sure to take to one of the alabaster factories. At the factory, you can find two types of products, those that are machine-made and those that are hand-made. The differences are fairly obvious as the machine-made products are thinner, lighter, and don’t have tool markings on them while the hand-made are heavier and have distinct tool marks. Alabaster comes in three colors, dark green, tannish-yellow, and white. One of the reasons that alabaster is prized is due to its translucence and the effect of the light passing through the soft stone.

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Chiseling the Soft Stone

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Filing the Surface

Before going into the store with all of the various products made out of alabaster, we were treated to a demonstration of how the artisans made vases from the stones. It is a three or four step process depending on the product being created. In the first step, the stone is chiseled into the basic shape of the design of the object being created. Next, if it is to be a vase or candle holder, a kind of drill is used to hollow out the stone. Afterwards, the outside of the stone is filed and sanded to make it completely smooth to the touch. Finally, if the artisan desires, images are carved into the surface such as hieroglyphs, scarabs, or an ankh.

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The Alabaster that We Purchased

 

Once the workers demonstrated the tools to us, it was our turn to take a turn chiseling and drilling into the alabaster. Although not complicated, it was actually tiring work, so one could only imagine spending a full day of shaping the alabaster. After spending time learning about the process, we went into the store to decide if we wanted to purchase any of the alabaster products. Having seen the process, we focused on those that were hand-made and eventually chose a couple of alabaster vases that we now put on display, lighting candles inside of them to show off their color and semi-transparency.

 

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View of the Workers

Going to an alabaster factory while in Egypt is definitely worthwhile and certainly a must if you are in Luxor. There is certainly nothing wrong with getting a machine-made alabaster product as they are uniformly shaped, extremely smooth, and sometimes allow more light to pass through. Every time we see our hand-made alabaster vases, we are reminded of our day in Luxor.

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Hollowing Out the Stone

 

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