A Travellerspoint blog

Egypt

Back to the cousins

We woke up in the morning to a room and entire hallway that smelled of shisha. It didn't matter though, we were leaving. We took a cab back to the airport, and got our last views of Cairo, including many of the very pretty mosques. Even though for the past few days she had only eaten food she brought from the states and drank double-sealed water (the water there not only has the regular plastic lid with the break off ring, but a clear plastic over that), I think my sister was sick. She was also amazed that I wasn't sick, even after eating koshari. We spent the day traveling and finally got back to Tel Aviv and the family. My recommendations for anybody looking to go to Egypt: travel with somebody who has the same adventure level as you and discuss it ahead of time. I think we both had less fun on the trip that we otherwise could have because we were not on the same page as each other and didn't do a good job of communicating that ahead of when the decisions actually needed to be made.

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Alexandria

We headed off to Alexandria with a new tour guide. He started the day by telling us that there were issues in ancient Egypt, and the people welcomed the Romans as a solution and as better rulers. We were going to see that influence today. He pointed out that my name is an Arabic name (which meant he was about the 10th person to do so), and informed us that we couldn't be Americans today. Again, if we were Americans, the tourist police would require us to have an escort. So, for today, we were Canadian. If the whole country didn't seem to have a culture where breaking the rules was the norm, I might have said something, but since apparently nobody follows that rule and there aren't issues, I didn't really care. Alexandria was quite a drive, so we stopped at a rest stop for an opportunity to get anything we'd need. I didn't really need anything, but went inside to see what they had. Basically, it was your standard rest stop with drinks, snacks, Hannah Montana dolls, and High School Musical toys. Our driver tipped a guy on the way out- I think for watching his car or something. As my sister had been wearing a scarf on her head the whole trip, we ended up on that topic. She had been asked before if the scarf had meaning to her, and she said that it was just our of respect. To which, everybody told her she didn't need to, that people didn't expect tourists to. This time, I don't think she was listening to the question and started making up some story about a Christian head covering, that I set straight. Yes, there are Muslims, Christians, and Jews who wear head coverings for modesty, but she wasn't going to be able to hold up some story about doing it for religious reasons, and I don't think that was the road she wanted to go down anyway. Our guide basically echoed what everybody else said- that tourists weren't expected to cover their heads. Then, he expounded. He explained to us that he felt it should always be a woman's choice as to whether to cover her head or not. Of course, the Koran says she should, but a husband should never force her to. If she doesn't want to wear a head covering, she shouldn't, but he shouldn't marry her as they are clearly not compatible on religious issues. Additionally, he had a great amount of disdain for women in other nearby countries who wear full burkas (which are not required by the Koran, per him) around their country, but as soon as they take a plane elsewhere, they dress in standard clothes. He also was perturbed by the youth who wore "American clothes" and a head scarf, since he feel that they should "leave something up to the imagination" per the Koran and wear looser clothing. Of course, this is only in public. In a private home, a woman can wear anything she wants (or nothing at all) unless a man comes to visit who would be able to marry her if her husband died. (For example, she can wear anything around her father, but not her husband's brother.) All in all, it was a very interesting conversation, and I learned quite a bit about his opinions. It was actually refreshing to hear some of these opinions as it left me with hope for the women in the more progressive Muslim countries. Eventually, we arrived in Alexandria. Our first stop was the catacombs. One day, a donkey fell into a shaft. They dug out that shaft, and discovered tombs that mixed Greek/Roman style with Pharonic style. The royal tombs were decorated in a mix of Pharonic and Roman art as the Romans adopted the Egyptian gods in order to help subdue the Egyptians. Near the royal tombs were rows of "shelves" designed to hold many urns that would contain the ashes of non-royals. Toward the entrance to all of this was a room where the relatives of the deceased used to come and eat. It originally contained large quantities of broken dishes. The whole catacomb area was pretty small, but it was neat to see. They also have a restored area, but for me, seeing restored items is not as exciting as seeing what's left of the originals. On the outside area, Cleopatra had pulled up statues from other part of Egypt as tombs had to have statues. Our next stop was Pompey's pillar, which actually has nothing at all to do with Pompey. Here, the ancients pulled up stone from the south to build a temple for the gods and all that's left is the one pillar and a couple of sphinxes. This site was not lost in time to be rediscovered later as the pillar itself if huge, and stands out from everything. We then went to the Roman ampitheater. This was another buried site that was actually still under excavations. So far, they had excavated the seating areas and the stage. They discovered some old mosaics and now have them where everybody can see them, and exposed to the elements. They were cool though. Around the ampitheater, they also have artifacts that were pulled up from the bay. The statues are somewhat rounded as they have suffered hundreds of years of water damage. However, you can still tell what most of them are. How cool of a job would it be to go SCUBA diving for ancient Roman/Egyptian statues? Actually, it was pretty hot outside, so I think any job in the water would be great in that area. It definitely made me miss the snow. The last place we were going to go to was the Library of Alexandria. However, right nearby was the Sadat museum, and our guide really wanted us to go there. Our guide was a huge Sadat fan because Sadat worked with the US and Israel for peace. Our guide felt that the next leaders should have stuck with Sadat's policies, but that they didn't and now it's too late. Later, he compared Mubarak to your favorite food- if that's all you have every day for a month, all meals, you might want something different. I was happy to learn his take on Egyptian politics, and wanted to ask him for some clarifications on some of his points and opinions, but I didn't want to spend all afternoon in the Sadat museum, and my sister clearly exhibited the feeling that certain topics were off-limits. While I disagree and wanted to learn more, I wasn't going to upset her like that. We moved on to what we were there to see, the library at Alexandria. The library is HUGE. We're talking stadium size. Sure it has a few display areas, but mostly, it's full of books. And it is a real library. There were people there studying, reading, and researching. In addition to the tons of books, it hosts several displays of early printing presses, and a couple of small rooms of art. For an additional fee, you can see the ancient manuscripts. If you're into history or books, it's well worth it. Most of the books are in Arabic. They had a Koran from the 900s and most of the books on display were created between that and the 1500s. I was actually able to read and understand a medieval Ladino bible, and was able to see a very old torah scroll. Even though I couldn't read the words, it was still fun to see an old math book, with all the pictures of triangles and a medieval medicine book, with detailed drawings. Overall, it was pretty exciting to be next to manuscripts that ancient. That was our last stop in Alexandria, and our guide asked us what we wanted to do for lunch. While my sister would continue to eat food she brought from the states, I had yet to have koshari, and had been told by everybody before coming that was the dish to have. The only problem was, Alexandria had a lot of fish, koshari was more likely to be found in Cairo. So, we started to drive back, with the promise of a koshari stop. At the sound of the call to prayer, we stopped at a little mosque next to a convenience store, with nothing else around. One of the guys at the convenience store offered to get me koshari for 10 LE, and I agreed. For some reason, they got me 2, even though I told them 1, but I really didn't care. I tipped them, at the reminder of the guide (I had thought htey'd build that into what price they told me.) I was finally having the long-awaited koshari! Actually, the koshari I got wasn't that exciting, maybe because I was expecting so much. What I was eating was basically noodles and rice with a red sauce on them. Maybe at a fancier place the koshari is so much better, but at least I had it and I was full. At the rest stop, I realized how poor air quality there was in the country. I had just been thinking that in the city there was a ton of pollution, which I expected. However, outside the city, where there really weren't a lot of cars, there was particulate matter floating around due to the sandiness. I was pretty happy I was wearing a bandanna to keep a lot of that crap off me. Except for the wind blowing the dust around, the rest stop would have been very pleasant to sit at. Even the flooring was tiled artistically enough for me to want a picture, and it was peaceful out there (except for the wind.) When the driver was finished praying and resting, we went back to the hotel, and again, tipped the driver amount that the guide suggested (50 LE since it was a long day of driving to and from Alexandria). Based on his suggestion, we may have been undertipping the other days, but we really had no way of knowing that at the time, and for all we know, we were over tipping the last day. We spent the rest of the evening in the hotel.

Roman-style sarcophagus

Roman-style sarcophagus


Pompey's pillar

Pompey's pillar


Ampitheater mosaic floor

Ampitheater mosaic floor


Ampitheater

Ampitheater


Library at Alexandria

Library at Alexandria


koshari

koshari

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Cairo Museum, Citadel, Market, and change of plans

We were in the lobby early to get our refund from the first tour company (which they brought, as promised) and to check out of the hotel. We asked if they had a room for another night, just in case we would need it, and the lady said sure, but that she'd check (because it might not be the same one.) Also, we had to meet our tour guide for the day. Today, we had gone with viator for our guide. Hani met us and brought us to the Egyptian Museum. Outside, there were antiquities scattered about the yard. A small pool that had lotus and papyrus growing in it was also located outside of the museum. Hani explained the symbolism as each plant was the symbol for half of Egypt, and together they represented a unified Egypt. We had to check our cameras outside as well, since they wouldn't let us bring them in the museum. I have no pictures of the museum, and the post cards at the gift shop weren't that great, so, sadly, I have nothing to show for it. However, what we saw inside was pretty great. King Tut died young (they just announced some discoveries about his health problems a few weeks ago), and nobody really knew about him at the time. As a result, his tomb wasn't really raided until an archeologist named Carter got there. Carter took photographs of everything in situ, and those photographs are on display at the museum. They show how everything was just piled in there, but they also show what direction certain items were facing, which leads to some understanding of why the items were in the tomb to begin with. They found ancient folding chairs, travel pillows, chariots (with spare parts), as well as thrones jewelry, and of course, all of the masks and burial items that grace the covers of every book about ancient Egypt. Many things (like the sarcophagus containers) were nested inside a larger one, like little Russian dolls. In addition to the King Tut areas, we explored the other sarcophagi and burial items. They had found some 3000 year old underwear, and some of the cloth was still intact after all that time. They had sarcophagi made of wood from Lebanon, of stone, and of woven materials as what people were buried in depended on their wealth in life. Some of the sarcophagi were even from the Romans who were in Egypt and had adopted some of their ways, but still had their coffins decorated with Roman faces and grapes. They had some ancient wigs, made of real human hair, but done up in one crazy hair style. One of the more interesting things that I noticed is that all of the items that were made in the styles that are always shown in books are old kingdom items. The new kingdom art was actually quite different from the old kingdom pieces, even to the point where my untrained eye could tell that they were different. A lot of the stone items were covered well so that you couldn't touch them, but a lot of them were hanging out in the open with "don't touch" signs on them. It almost seemed as if they wanted you to touch those items, since rules don't really seem to mean much in the country and those items weren't covered like the others. Certainly in passing people in a crowded area, I bumped into a pillar or two that was just sitting in the open with nothing around it. When we got back into the car from the Egyptian museum, we got stuck in traffic. I heard the driver get upset at the other drivers, saying, "yalla, yalla." (Let's go. Let's go.) I heard our guide respond with "Insha'allah," (if God wills it). I was so proud of myself for understanding the entire exchange as that's about all of my Arabic right there. As we drove in the traffic, where of course lane lines mean nothing, stop lights mean nothing, and it just seems to be a general free-for-all, we learned about the Nile riverbus and fellucas. We learned about Egyptian divorce and the intricate rules as to who can initiate it and how, the government TV stations vs. satellite, and the trash collectors. The trash collectors do just that- they collect trash. Oh yeah, and they store it on the roof of their home. They go through the trash, picking out anything useful or that can be recycled, and sending the rest who-knows-where. It made me feel better about not having a recycling bin to throw the water bottles if somebody was going to go through it. Of course, it's not just anybody somebody. There's some sort of garbage collecting family and they have the monopoly on garbage collecting. It all sounded a little like the trash mafia somehow. We passed the "city of death" as well. The "city of death" is an area where originally people were buried. Their families then came to live with them. Eventually, small structures were put up. So now, there are people living right above a graveyard. Apparently, there is a project underway to move the graves out to the desert, since the dead people are more likely to be able to be moved than the live people. Eventually, we made it over to the citadel and Alabaster Mosque. Here, we learned that the crescent is a symbol due to the Muslims keeping the lunar calendar. Our guide also told us that's where the food croissant comes from- the French won some war with somebody Muslim and wanted to show their superiority and celebrate their victory by eating the symbol of the losers. The citadel appears to be a standard fort, although it is a fort with quite a view. Not only can you see all of Cairo, but you can see all the way to the Giza pyramids, and even the Saqqara pyramids. It is actually a pretty pleasant place to walk around. It was pretty cool being right there when the call to prayer happened, as well. We took off our shoes to go inside the Alabaster Mosque. Inside is Mohammed Ali's tomb. (The ruler, not the boxer.) The inside is just amazing. The whole floor is covered with gorgeous carpet that has an intricate design all over it. The ceilings are covered in art. The chandeliers that hang down are breathtaking. Even the perfectly- shaped window coverings must have taken tons of effort. It was seriously gorgeous. After all that beauty, we went down to the Khan al Kalili market to buy some of our own. The market was originally a place where merchants passing through could stop, rest their caravans, and show off their wares. Today, it is a tourist trap. Every shop has tons of souvenirs- hookahs, belly dancing costumes, boxes covered in stone, shawls, and jewelry. It's a fun place for tourists to come and try to bargain for souvenirs, but I can't really see too many locals showing up to try to get a tambourine for just a little bit cheaper. Every shop has pretty much the same stuff as all of the others, so you really can bargain and still get what you want. My sister wanted a particular shawl, and one of the guys let her walk away when she offered 15 LE (about $3). So, at a nearby shop, she found the exact same shawl with the same pattern and offered 20 LE (about $4) with more success. In general though, the store keepers hawk their goods to you. As we walked by one shop, the retailer even shouted at us, "Belly dance? I have your size." Actually, on the way back, one of the places we passed was a similar-looking market, but instead of swarming with tourists, it actually had locals in it. As we passed the downtown, our guide explained the various other buildings to us. Some of the buildings had been rent-controlled for 80 years and people were paying what their great grandparents had. We passed the old synagogue as well, and I got some pictures of that. Ultimately, we had the driver take us to the Marriott, again, as we had to work out a plan to get to Luxor. When we got to the travel agency, our friend Amir wasn't there, and his colleagues were telling us that there was no hope. Not only had they not gotten us train tickets, now the flights were all taken. My sister didn't believe that they had tried to get us train tickets and kept saying that the lady in charge was intentionally trying to keep us from getting to Luxor, even though we would have hired their tour in Luxor, had they been able to get us there. I don't understand why she thought the lady wouldn't want our money, but we went to check on the internet to see what was available. By the time we checked and got back to the travel agency, our friend Amir was back. He offered to try to get us plane tickets and to keep checking for cancellations, which we appreciated. While he was doing that, we grabbed lunch at the hotel. It was just pizza, but at least it was Egyptian pizza with some sort of local greenery on top. At least where we went, the didn't really seem to have anything more Egyptian anyway. Upon return, we determined that we had 3 options: take the train, but sit instead of having a sleeper car; spend the night in Cairo and pay an extraordinary sum of money to fly through some other city tomorrow and only have half a day in Luxor; don't go to Luxor. Since Luxor was the whole reason I was in Egypt, I wanted to take the train, but my sister informed me that 1- she thought somebody would mess with her bags while she was sleeping (to which I countered that she can hold on to them as I would be; it's not like I want my stuff taken either) and 2- she would be so miserable that she would make my life miserable (to which I really couldn't respond). I knew that if we did decide to pay the money and only see half of Luxor, I would be upset about spending the money and not seeing it all. I would regret my decision, and I would never see the other half of Luxor. If I didn't go at all, I might be able to be tempted to go see it another time. So, it seemed like the right choice was to not go to Luxor. I was upset at the situation, but also at myself for not making sure that we were both on the same page about everything. I should never have taken the fact that we both had been on separate successful trips to other third-world countries to mean that we would be compatible on this one. Fortunately, I remembered that Shanaenae had been to Alexandria and really enjoyed it. As long as we were going to have to be in the Cairo area for another day, I thought it would be a good idea to book a tour to Alexandria. We did. Again, I wasn't sure whether to tip Amir for putting so much effort in for us, or not because it is his job to sell tours and I'm sure he made commission or whatever for the Alexandria tour we ended up booking. The whole tipping thing was a little hard for me to figure out. In any case, if you're in Cairo and need to book a tour, I highly recommend working with Amir at Misr travel in the Marriott, as he was very helpful, much more so than his colleagues. We went to catch a cab to our hotel, but was told that since it's just of the street, nobody really wanted to take us, and we should walk. So, we did. We got there and I noticed that our bags were not in a secure storage area like how most hotels store them. The only thing preventing somebody from walking in off the street and taking them was the bellhop, or maybe the front desk person. We asked for any room for 2 nights, and were told that they only had 1 bed, and not a 2-person bed. We were not very happy about that, but apparently there were conferences in town. They suggested going next door to the New President Hotel. I was ready to go look at the rooms, see if they were clean, secure, and reasonably priced, and then stay there if they weren't, but my sister wasn't even willing to look at the place since she hadn't read about it on the internet first. While I tried to argue that the purpose of internet reviews was for people who couldn't look at the rooms themselves to have something to go on when deciding where to book, and that since we were here in the flesh, we didn't need them, she wanted to stay at the Marriott. So, we went to the Marriott, which of course, didn't have any rooms either. We went online, booked the Novotel down the block, and then headed that way. By this time, it was dark. Even though the cab caller was suggesting we walk, I told him that since it was after dark, he could just get us a cab anyway. We checked into the Novotel, and went to our room. At first, I was pretty upset that we were spending money on amenities we didn't need. (I most certainly wasn't going to go to the pool.) However, we actually had quite a view of the Nile River, so that made me feel a little better. We spent the rest of the night in our hotel room, and got a good night's sleep before we had to get up to go to Alexandria.

Egyptian museum

Egyptian museum


at the Egyptian museum

at the Egyptian museum


at the Citadel

at the Citadel


Alabaster mosque

Alabaster mosque


Citadel window

Citadel window


Citadel ceiling

Citadel ceiling


view from citadel

view from citadel


market

market


View from the hotel

View from the hotel

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Memphis, Saqqara, Giza, and The Call

My sister awoke to the call to prayer and was concerned that we had overslept. I checked my clock and confirmed that we were good on time. We got up and ready and headed to the hotel's breakfast. They had rolls and jam, which I ate, as well as some sort of beans, cheese, and fruit, which I didn't. Having been to countries where the water is not ok to drink before, I was aware of the rules that we couldn't eat anything that wasn't cooked or that we didn't peel. However, somebody at work had told me that in Egypt, some of the fruit sellers inject their fruit with water to make them seem plumper. Of course, that water was tap water and not ok for drinking. While that was going to limit me further than planned, I was still planning on getting nourishment besides the snack I had brought. Our guide, Mustafa, met us in the lobby. As he was a subcontractor, he didn't have our train tickets, but was sure the Hosein would bring them by at some point. So, we were off to Memphis. The way there was similar to the way to the pyramids last night. We passed the canal whose walls were made of garbage, although this portion of the canal actually seemed to have some dirt to it. As I thought about it, that's not a bad idea for garbage. Instead of having one large pile that does nothing, make 2 long piles covered in dirt that hold the water in. Except for any leaching, and animal problems, that might actually be a decent idea. Anyway, we also passed a ton of people riding animals and some donkey-drawn carts. It was neat to know that people were still living the way that they had been for who knows how long and hadn't completely given in to modern technology, even it if was just because they couldn't afford it. There are several smaller statues and parts of statues at Memphis, as Memphis was the old capital. However, the big sight was a statue of Ramses 2. At one point, it was believed ot the the tallest free-standing statue in Egypt (maybe even the world?). However, since it was not supported by anything, it fell over and then suffered water damage. There was an entire building dedicated to what was left of this very large statue, which really was most of it. I was about as tall as his palm was wide. We learned about him and his history as well as useful facts about Egyptian statues in general. for example, if the beard of the statue is curled up, the statue was made post mortem. On the other hand, if the beard of the statue is straight down, the statue was made while the person depicted was alive. Another one of the important statues is the alabaster sphinx. We learned that at first, the Egyptian antiquities were being hauled off to other countries as they were found, and then being hauled off to the Egyptian museum in Cairo. However, at some point they realized that Cairo was going to fill up fast, so they decided to leave the items at their original location and make a "museum" per city, which I think is a great idea as it gets people out of the one area, and also gives some connection between the items. As we headed to our next sight, Saqqara, our guide explained cartouches to us. He told us that each letter had a symbol with a meaning, and then explained our names. For example, A is represented by an eagle, which means that I'm strong; R is represented by a mouth which means I talk a lot, which of course I got teased about, except that my sister had the same cartouche in her name. We arrived at Saqqara, and the security out front made the guide say what hotel we were from and what country we were from. We passed through mental detectors. I had been noticing all over the various hotels and tourist sights that everywhere had metal detectors and special tourist police. Apparently, 80% of the economy of the country is based on tourism. If something bad happens to tourists, like what happened years ago, and they stop coming, everybody ends up out of a job. So, they try very hard to make sure that the tourists stay (or at least feel) safe and have a special force of tourist police. However, I felt that a lot of the security is a sham. For example, at our hotel, we set off the metal detector every time, and they still let us in without checking our bags- probably because we look like tourists. Of course, we could be anybody. In some places in the middle of the road, or at the tourist sites, they were taking info like our country and hotel. What they thought they were going to do with that info, I have no idea. Also, I found out later that our guides generally told people that we were English, and later Canadian because US citizens are required to have special security as they have an increased risk of being a target. The rule seemed to be that we were supposed to have our own tourist police escort, a safety measure that was bypassed by simply saying we weren't from the US. Back to Saqqara- Saqqara was the first area where the ancient Egyptians built pyramids. The entrance to the area was a hall made of smooth stones and large pillars. The stones had been polished with eggs and glue and stuck together with a mortar of sand and glue. The columns were lined up on the north and south sides (to represent the unification of upper ad lower Egypt) and had space in between for statues of the gods of each. The statues weren't there though. After we passed through the entranceway, we entered a large field area near the pyramids. Every 30 years, the king of Egypt would use this field to prove that the gods wanted him to still rule. He did this by chasing own a bull. Some of the kings ruled into their 90s, so they had to do this in old age. In order to assist the king, the priests would pick the bull out a few days before the ceremony. They would feed the bull wine only. What the audience ended up seeing was that the king was such a powerful god that he could make a bull falter like he was drunk and tired. Then, the king would get to continue ruling. Nearby was the step pyramid. The kings used to build a large building, called a mastaba where they were buried. One king, however, decided to be buried lower than the mastaba and then build the mastaba up. Our guide asked us how we thought they lowered the heavy coffin to the bottom. Of course, being the engineer that I am, I started coming up with all sorts of different ways it could be done. I actually got very close to the reality- they dug 3 shafts down into the ground and then filled the middle one with sand. They put the king's coffin on the middle one and then started digging out the other 2. As they dug out the sand, the coffin was lowered to the bottom. I found this very interesting, but even after he explained it, my mind was still churning, trying to figure out if there would have been a better way, another way. In addition to the step pyramid, there were also the bent, scratched, and sandy pyramids. The bent pyramid is the other famous one. The builder started the pyramid with the walls at one angle, but then had to change mid-build to decrease the angle so that the pyramid would be shorter and more sturdy. I think the coolest part about all 4 pyramids together is seeing how the technology evolved. They changed materials, changed styles, and made interesting discoveries in engineering, all in a few generations. Of course, despite all of this, all of the tombs were raided over the years. Even false doors wouldn't stop people as everybody knew about them since everybody helped build them. Most of the pyramids even had guards for a long time after the deceased was buried, but that didn't fully prevent one person from sneaking in once to steal one item (and repeat). So, when we were done viewing the pyramid structures from the outside, we were done at the site. Our next stop was one of the tons of "carpet schools" located nearby. First off, they showed off the kids they had their making carpets. The kids work for free under the guise of "art class." Supposedly they teach the kids math, languages, and everything else as well. Also, learning to make carpets can be considered schooling in the sense of "job training" as when the kids get good at it, they can grow up to earn a living making carpets. I'm not sure how I feel about that and how much I buy their story, but if the kids really are getting a decent education and only have to work at the carpets a little in order to cover the cost of their education, and even that is going to lead to them having a job as an adult, then I'm not sure it's such a bad thing. Of course, there are a ton of "carpet schools" in the area and they all probably are run differently, so even if one is ok, that's not to say the all are. We only went to the one where I'm sure our guide gets kickbacks for tourists he brings in. The other issue I have with the term "school" is not related to the child labor, it's that the place is more of a store, but we knew that ahead of time. Our tour guide handed us over to the "carpet school guide," who I'm not sure if we were supposed to tip for our tour of the school, but we didn't since it would have felt weird to tip a salesman for trying to sell you stuff. Basically, he whisked us by several looms. At each one were people creating carpets of increasing levels of difficulty and price. The ones knotted (half hitches) with yarn were made by the young kids and were nice. The ones knotted with silk were finer, with more strands per cm, and took an older kid to make. The ones woven in silk without a pattern took an expert to make. Great. So after a very short explanation, he brought us to their "gallery" which was, of course, just their store and let us know that he could give as a great discount. Even though we knew it was going to be like this, I'm glad we went because we really did learn a little about carpet making. Our next stop at a papyrus center was very similar. We passed several other papyrus centers on the way to the one our guide wanted us to go into, so again, there are a ton in the area, and they're all probably a little different. At the National Papyrus Center, a lady showed us how to make papyrus, which was actually very cool. Right in front of us, she sliced open the plant, started squashing the sugars out of the cuts, and soaking the cuts in water. She explained to us that how they change the water affects the color of the end result and then showed us how they weave the paper and press it. She explained how to check to see if any papyrus paper was actually made of banana leaves (which is quite common in cheap souvenir areas as the paper becomes cheaper if it isn't real). The paintings that they were selling were a little larger and more expensive that what I was looking for, or else I might have actually bought something, but I didn't. I did tip this lady as she spent quite a bit of time demonstrating for us, let us take her picture, and we didn't buy anything. Again, I'm not sure if I was supposed to, but I think that I was since the whole society is all about tipping for everything. At some point during all of this, we got The Call. The guy running the tour company called to tell us he couldn't get sleeper train tickets from Cairo. We basically told him that he either gets the train tickets somehow and we stick to the original deal, or we would find our own way there and get a tour with a different tour company. He had offered to get us plane tickets and cover the difference in price himself, which I was ok with, but my sister kept pushing home the point that she didn't trust him, didn't think he could follow through on that, and was basically done with him unless he got us the train tickets. He said he would send somebody to the other train station and make some calls and get back to us by the time we were done with our tour. So, with that damper on the day, we continued our tour and moved on to what was supposed to be the piece de resistance of the day- the great pyramids of Giza, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world and honorary wonder of the modern world. What is there to explain about the pyramids? They speak for themselves to a certain extent. Our guide basically just explained their demise: when the Turkish were in charge of the area, they removed the outer casing and started to disassemble the pyramids, stone by stone and used the stone to build other buildings. So, somewhere in Cairo there are people living or working or praying in buildings made from pyramid stone. There is a small area at the bottom of one pyramid where the casing has been restored so that we can see what the pyramids would have looked like originally. We climbed the pyramids and took our pictures. Then, we moved over to the sphinx. Originally, the area around the pyramids was a quarry. There was one chunk of stone that they couldn't move though. So, they carved it into a statue- the sphinx. The sphinx was actually pretty intact for a long time, until French forces decided to use its nose as a target for practice. They basically shot away part of the sphinx's face. When we were done with the sphinx, the tour operator still didn't have any answers. We had the driver take us to the Marriott hotel instead of our own. The theory was that they had secure (albeit VERY pricey) internet as well as other tour operators so that if our original tour operator didn't follow through, we would be able to fix our plans. As we hung around there, I spent some of the time people watching. I noticed that while I did see a few ladies in full burkas up to their eyes, mostly the ladies just wore head scarves, often accompanied by regular, tight clothing. We also sat around and talked to the tour guide, as he had the phone that the operator was going to call us from. Part of what make an authentic travel experience for me is talking to locals and getting their take on the world. I learned quite a bit from Mustafa that I found really interesting. Some of it was simply factual- at one point the Egyptian government gave people food and supplies to have children so there was a baby boom. Now, those children were young adults and there weren't enough jobs. Some of it was opinion- he was telling us about which kinds of tourists he preferred giving tours to and why. Of all the things we discussed, the one I found most interesting was his concept of levels of "bad." Lying was wrong, but people do it. Drinking alcohol or smoking was a little mistake, but it happens from time to time. Sleeping with a woman not your wife was a mistake, and you just don't do it. Escalating even further to the big mistake level, you have sins like killing, or changing religions. In the end, it turned out that our original tour company wasn't able to come through, so we agreed on a time and place to meet them so they could give back our money. At that point, we went over to the Misr travel agency in the Marriott and spoke with Amir. He was extremely helpful. He helped us book a dinner cruise for that evening. He also explained our options for Luxor. The train station was closed for the day, but he told us he would send somebody over first thing in the morning to see if there were tickets left for the sleeper train. We would check in with him tomorrow, and if he wasn't able to get tickets either, we would work out something with flights. Our dinner cruise was on the Nile Crystal. We even got window seats. The boat left shore, and the fun began. The food was not particularly Egyptian or particularly great; it was pretty much tourist food- pasta with red or white sauce, rice, potatoes, coleslaw. After only eating snacks from my bag since breakfast though, the food was much better than it otherwise would have been. I did have some pickled vegetables and some bread that seemed at least somewhat authentic. The entertainment changed throughout the evening. I think that they had a couple of floors and the entertainers would rotate through the seating areas. The bellydancer was first to perform in our area. Unlike other bellydancers I've seen, this one wasn't wearing all the bangles that make belly dancing fun. She was just wearing a bra and a skirt that didn't have much coverage, to the point where everybody could see her boyshort underwear through the clear side panel. Despite this skimpiness, one of the ladies who was there with her husband and kids was very into the dancer and was clapping and cheering her on, which I found extremely amusing as she was in a headscarf herself. The other exciting entertainment was the whirling dervish. I have no idea how this guy wasn't completely nauseous. He comes out spinning in a circle so fast that his skirts fly out and are close to perpendicular to the ground. The whole show is him moving them up and down, all the while spinning in a circle, round and round. This is not a short show. He must have been spinning for 5-10 minutes, minimum. Thy also had singers, but they weren't that impressive. After the dinner cruise, we got a cab back to the hotel. The cab driver was the first who played his music instead of turning off the radio or playing us what he thought we wanted (aka pop music). I actually really enjoyed listening to what he liked. We got to listen for a long time though as he kept getting lost. We circled the hotel at least a half dozen times, but he kept missing the turn, maybe because it was a one-way street or something. He kept stopping to ask people how to get there, and they kept answering him, and he kept missing it. Eventually, he ended up asking some fast food delivery guys, and they got us back. We went to bed after a long, but educational day.

Ramses 2

Ramses 2


Alabaster sphinx

Alabaster sphinx


inscriptions

inscriptions


stepped pyramid

stepped pyramid


Saqqara columns

Saqqara columns


hammering papyrus

hammering papyrus


Giza pyramid

Giza pyramid


Sphinx

Sphinx


Whirling Dervish

Whirling Dervish

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Welcome to Cairo

We got home very late from the Henna party, much later than I expected. It made our early flight seem so much earlier. We got to the airport, but then discovered that our flight wasn't so early after all- it was delayed. This meant that instead of having 7 hours in Jordan, we had 4- not quite enough to get out of the airport and see anything in time to get back for our next flight. Oh well. When we got to Jordan, we had to go through screening again. At this screening though, they had a separate direction for men and women. The women's screening was off to the side behind translucent glass with two ladies there to pat us down. Finally, we arrived in Cairo. There was smoking allowed inside the airport, which surprised me a little, but even more surprising was the fact that the people were smoking as they worked. I find it extremely unprofessional for the information booth guy to be smoking as he's talking to us, but apparently that's ok there. He got us a taxi to our hotel, so that's all that matters, I guess. We were staying at the President Hotel in Zamelek. It was a decent hotel. The lobby was very nice, and the rooms were clean, if not the newest. We had a pretty good view of the city from our hotel room. We wanted to let our family know that we had arrived safely, so we went back down to the front desk to see where we could get internet. They directed us to an internet cafe around the corner. Of course, when we got there, it was closed because it was Friday. So, called our family from the front desk. I think we probably should have tipped the front desk person for dialing for us, but we didn't really have any small change. Plus, I wasn't completely sure as we wouldn't have tipped in the US. However, the society there is different, and you pretty much have to tip for everything, even people doing their jobs. I figured we'd tip the guy more later for whatever else he'd have to do for us then. We were met by our guide, Hosein, and our driver. They took us to the Giza area for our Pyramids light and sound show. On the way there, we told us a little about the city. He explained why all of the buildings were half-finished. Apparently, the owners only had to pay taxes on the finished buildings. So, they got one story from being done, made sure to have pylons visibly sticking up for the next level, and then let people move in. In that manner, they could collect rent without having to pay taxes. It's all quite ingenious, except that it means the skyline is littered with unfinished buildings and the government is getting cheated out of money. I'm not sure why they don't stop it, but that's their business. Also on the way, we passed a canal, the shores of which seemed to be made of garbage. I don't get why in third world countries, where everything is worth something, they still have trash lying all around. Somebody has got to be able to use it for something, right? We also got a good taste for the meaning of lines on the road- nothing. If there are lines indicating 4 lanes, there are 5 cars wide, but the cars behind them are not necessarily in a straight line behind them. The cars are all over the place, weaving in and out. I'm not sure how everybody keeps from hitting each other, other than they're going relatively slow and they are used to it. I most certainly would not have wanted driving, even if I could understand the road signs. I think that's why they sent a driver with the tour guide- so one could talk and pay attention to us and the other could have his full attention on the road. We got there a little early, so my sister bought a scarf and some water and we checked out a few of the tourist gift shops. We went into the show and got some good seats. It had been hot during the day, and would have been decent at night, except that it got windy. I was chilly enough to put on a jacket. I didn't really have many expectations, but the show was not what I expected. The dialog was like an old 50's movie. The narrator did not do a great job of holding my attention. The pyramids under the various lights were interesting, though. They had various colored lights for each of the pyramids and the sphinx. They also had a green laser that made designs on the pyramids to illustrate what the narrator was saying. Beyond that, they were projecting images onto the wall next to the sphinx. They were using still images, shadow, and moving each in order to tell the story of the pyramids and the people of ancient Egypt. Maybe it was because we had been up so late the night before, but about half way through, I was starting to lose interest in what the narrator had to say. I think that the show could have been half the time and half the price and it would have been much better. After the show, our guide told us that we couldn't pay in Egyptian pounds, but had to pay in USD, which required finding a place that would change EGP for USD. This place was the bank at the Marriott hotel. We gave him half the payment due, and said we'd have the rest after we got our train tickets. See, we had been trying to get sleeping train tickets by the internet and by calling the train company, but they never responded to our emails or picked up the phone, so we decided to have our tour company get them for us as our trip hinged on getting them and we wanted to make sure to get them. He didn't have the tickets because he required money ahead of time and didn't tell me where to send it, despite me asking several times. That was ok though, we'd have them tomorrow, our guide promised. We made it back to our hotel and got a good night's sleep. (Pictures coming soon)

Pyramid sound and light show

Pyramid sound and light show


Pyramid sound and light show

Pyramid sound and light show

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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