Friday, May 13, 2011

What a Trip - Cairo Time

I'm picking up right where I left off in this post, so for the casual reader you might want to skim back to find out all about our first days in Egypt spent in Luxor! Back in Cairo, we felt the effects of the rain showers the previous day when our car ride to Giza which should take about 25 minutes took 2 1/2 hours! Inching along in a not so well air conditioned car (Bob and Paul's seats actually had heat streaming out of their floor vents!), the drive was anticipation multiplied!

We started out in Memphis where we stopped at an outdoor museum and saw a few more statues before heading to the pyramids. 2 good bits of trivia:
1. If the statue's beard is longer and curled up, it means the statue was made of the person after they were dead. Now I'm reading online that the phallic look of it was also meant to hope for fertility in the after life.
2. The fists were balled to make bigger arm muscles. I say, you have control of how you make a statue - just ask for bigger muscles!
Next up was a quick trip to Sakkara to see some of the first pyramids ever created. We even got to go inside one at this location, though one may argue what we went inside looked less like a pyramid and more like a pile of dirt. Lesson learned: not all pyramids are perfect and that's okay. Although you are not supposed to take photos inside, a little tip to the guide goes a long way. Check out the wall, aren't these in perfect condition? How does that happen!!
The step pyramid, in the background, was under restoration so we could not get too close. Stray dogs everywhere.
One of the good things for us/sad things for our tour guide was the lack of tourism that they are still fighting to come back from. A parking lot that might have been filled only had one or two cars in them. This helped me in snapping pics that were not filled with other people snapping pics.
On our way to Giza to see the real deal! It actually got pretty windy and cool, and even sprinkled a little. Not what I expected at all when we signed up for this trip - I was convinced I was going to come back beet red! We were able to climb up the Great Pyramid a little bit of a ways and could have paid to go inside, but we figured we would save our pounds as our guide let us in on what little you would see inside.
We drove up to a viewing point, again the lack of tour vans and buses made for great shots. I like this one because the pyramid on the far end has three little pyramids representing the king's wives. Ladies certainly do get the short end of the stick, don't they?
Of course, the visit would not be complete without the Great Sphinx! Here she is in all of her noseless beauty:
After all this, we stopped at a Papyrus Museum to learn how the paper is made and why the super cheap ones sold on the side of the roads are not quite up to snuff (can you say Banana Leaves?). Here is Bob trying to break the papyrus plant. Tougher than it looks, this stuff.
We spent probably a good hour in the museum looking for the perfect art to buy for both gifts and ourselves. We settled on a wide piece that tells the story of Final Judgment. You can read the story here. We are waiting until we move to get this baby framed.
The next day we toured Coptic Cairo (the oldest part of Cairo and the Christian Center) as well as the Muslim section of town. In Coptic Cairo, the biggest draw is the Suspended or Hanging Church. One of the oldest churches in Egypt, it was built over a passage of a Roman fortress.
When we arrived in the Muslim center, I took a look at this mosque and though to myself, "that looks like just like the Blue Mosque in Istanbul!" Turns out it was modeled after the Blue Mosque. Talk about Deja Vu!
After a long day of walking, we put our feet up for a sunset cruise on a Nile Felucca ride. A felucca is the traditional sailboat of Egypt. I was reading about Nile tours that could last days on these boats. I'd only be there for an hour and a half.
A relaxing end to the day!
Had to share this shot of the local flavor. I was very confused when we first got Stellas at a bar and were told they were a local beer. Ohhh, not Stella Artois, now I get it!

Finally, with our last night in Cairo, we went out to have some fun walking around the shopping markets and hookah bars (or sheesha or water pipe). I did not partake considering I was fighting off a cold that would only get worse as the trip continues. I don't think the bar helped my cough much.
And just like that we were over and done with as Egyptian travellers. We said goodbye to our travel companians (who were on their way to South Africa after this!) and made our way to Italy. . .but that is for another post!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Three Cheap Vases

A few months ago I found these Pepsi bottles at our grocery store and bought a few. It wasn't until I was down to the last 2 that I had a thought to make a fun summer centerpiece or window display out of them. Because everything is better in "threes" my two lonely bottles never amounted to anything and found themselves in the recycle bin. Jewel didn't seem to carry these guys again until recently so we quickly scooped them up! (Could the wait have had to do with a lawsuit on selling the Mexican Pepsis in the US?)

This time, 3 were saved and rinsed out. I picked up some fake flowers from Michael's (though real would work just as well if not better) in matchy-matchy red, white and blue. For now these sit on our kitchen window sill amongst our orchid and bamboo greenery, but come 4th of July I can see this featured front and center on our dining room table!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What a Trip - Walking Like an Egyptian

It is hard to believe it has already been a month since we were across the pond! Bob and I had our suitcases packed and eagerly, yet cautiously, boarded the plane to check out one of the hottest news item locations in the past few months: Cairo! I am so happy that we went forward with the trip and that we were able to travel through easily and have a smooth experience.

We arrived in Cairo after a tiring couple of flights, including a 3 hour stop in Rome in which I was getting delirious with sleep deprivation and was cursing the fact that I did not have any Euro to get a bottle of water. Quickly learning how to best negotiate with cab drivers and how to fend off all of the folks who want a little tip for doing not much of anything at all, we made our way to the City View Hotel. With an overlooking view of both the Egyptian Museum and the now famous Tahrir Square, we got some interesting stories out of the hotel staff including the fact that many of the CNN folks stayed there in January/February timeframe!
With a schedule filled with day tours, trains, planes and automobiles, we got started that very night, boarding an overnight train to Luxor.

Tips for a Day Trip:
- Carefully consider what you will actually need, you'll be carrying it with you the rest of the day.
- Do make one of the things you carry a water bottle to stay hydrated.
- Charge your camera battery fully before each big day, you might not get back to an outlet for another 12 hours!
- Spring for the private sleeper cabin if you are making an overnight journey - thinking to yourself, "I could sleep sitting up" is just not the way you want to go.
Surviving the fairly smooth train ride (nothing like an overnight ferry ride I once took from Athens to Crete where I thought death was certainly in the cards from all the turbulence), we arrived at 6am and were met by our tour guide. Not only was this early a start good from a weather standpoint - by the time it hit 10am the sun was a worthy opponent - it also meant we beat any developing lines to get into the sights.

Of course, we were on a unique trip indeed because we rarely met any lines at all! Parking lots that used to be full up now only had 5 or 6 vans and 1 full size tour bus bringing tourists to the Pharoahs. Good for us, sad for our tour guides who were experiencing a drastic loss of business.

We began at the Valley of the Kings, and although we could not take photos inside the tombs, this marked my favorite part of Egypt. Just seeing the walls, decorated with hieroglyphics in full color floor to ceiling, was an amazing site. Television and books don't prepare you for the impact of how ancient the walls you are looking at are.
One of our stops was at an "Alabaster Factory." We learned how the Egyptians take the alabaster stone and shape them into vases and jars - when a light bulb or candle is placed inside the stone glows and highlights all of its veins. They are also incredibly light.
Though not at this location, Bob and I purchased a set of three alabaster vases as our major souvenir take away.
With some afternoon downtime, we grabbed lunch and walked around Luxor. Here is my artsy shot that was actually made by not waiting until the camera focused before I hit the button.
For lunch we had koshari, a combination of pasta, rice and lentils in a tomato sauce. I had heard about this before I made the trip and was assured it was a must to try. Did not dissapoint! Linking to a recipe I found so that you can make it too!
Next up was Karnak. This open air museum consists of column after column and statue after statue in ode to Ra with contributions by many of the pharoahs. The detail, the color and the size of these structures were almost too vibrant to believe.
Our last stop before grabbing a plane back to Cairo was the Luxor Temple.
We were struck by how many statues were still so well preserved and kept intact, though a good number had damage either by natural causes or by the Romans who moved in and tried to destroy the art to put up their own.

Looking at the detail they put into the hieroglyphics was awe-inspiring. The king's enemies are shown here - with their hands tied behind their backs.
The sun was shining on young King Tut and his wife this day. Below that photo is the row of sphinx - not at all comparable in size to the one we would see the next day!
A jam-packed day comes to a close. We had the experience of taking an overnight train out to Luxor, saving on a hotel night, but with us having just arrived the day before, it had been a solid three days since we had slept in a real bed. Therefore, I was pretty thankful to board the 9pm plane which got us back to Cairo within an hour or so.
Incredible but true: while we had gorgeous weather in Luxor, Cairo had rain in the forecast. Because this happens so rarely, the streets are not prepared to handle two or three hours of rain and do not have a proper drainage system in place. The streets were flooded and caused traffic delays for the next two days!
Stay tuned for a recap of the Pyramids and the rest of our Cairo days, then on to Italy!