Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 7 - Churches, synagogues & mosques living peacefully together

It was another early morning, as we hurried to have breakfast before meeting Noha in the lobby. After catching up on us and the cruise, we meet our driver outside and headed into the traffic of Cairo towards Coptic Cairo in the Old Cairo section of town. It was easy to find people that have lived there for generations and the doors on the homes were stunning. It was said that when the Virgin Mary came through Egypt, she stayed in this area. The area is heavily guarded since the government doesn't want to take any chances on anything happening to the churches or synagogue that is there.

Our first stop of the day was The Hanging Church, which did not allow photography, which is too bad since it's very ornate inside and would have made for some great shots. The inside is full of icons, wood screens inlay with mother of pearl, carved stone and several pews to hold the devotees that still use the church today. The most interesting thing about the church was the wood screens. Although they had red velvet curtains embroidered with angels and other Catholic symbols, the screens themselves were carved in an Arabesque pattern. It was because when the church was being built, the workmen that were hired only knew how to make these designs. I did take a photo outside of an iron sculpture attached to a wall.

We left the church and headed for the Ben Ezra Synagogue, which was no longer in use since there are not enough Jews left in Egypt to conduct services. Again, we were not allowed inside with cameras. This building was originally a church and that is why it was very similar in design to the Coptic Church we had just visited. It had the exact same layout (with the same number of columns) and even donned the wood engraved screens. The big difference was that there were more guards surrounding this building and we had to go through a metal detector to get inside.

We left Coptic Cairo, but continued to stay in old Cairo as we drove past the Aqueduct, the tombs in the City of the Dead and the old Cairo walls as we made our way to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. No no no, not that Muhammad Ali, the other one. If it's too confusing for you, we can call it the Alabaster Mosque. How appropriate that it was built in the Ottoman era by a Turk? It was giving us a little taste of the mosques we'd be seeing in a few days. The mosque (and its complex) is very large and can be seen from various points in the city. The exterior walls are covered in alabaster, so it has a glow about it, well, everywhere except the areas where the alabaster was taken for other buildings. But I guess the early Egyptians started recycling before the rest of the world caught on. The main dome is about 135 feet x 135 feet and richly decorated in tiles and Islamic calligraphy while the height of the building is 171 feet. Outside in the courtyard was a man making fez hats using a form machine right next to a perfect panoramic view of Cairo. Nice view for a job, I must say.

Leaving the great walls of the Cairo Citadel, we again drove through the City of the Dead and the great pottery community that has survived for generations in the same community. I really wish we had stopped because I really wanted to touch those pieced. The mosaics were a bright blur of colours as we sped by. Instead we headed to the Khan el-Khalili, the most famous souk (market) in all of Cairo, which is next to the Al-Hussein Mosque. We mostly wandered around to cries of "you buy, good price" but finally settled on a pair of red and gold Egyptian styled dress shoes for S's birthday. We also bought a few other items, but our two biggest finds are two male and female wooden dolls hand painted wearing traditional Egyptian clothing. We got them from the elderly artist, who signed them, and they will go beautifully with our original Helen Zughaib in our living room. I wish I had written the artist's name down, as I can't read his signature on the bottom of the pieces.

We left the bazaar for the crème de la crème, the Egyptian Museum. Once again, no cameras were allowed, which was fine, since it was so overwhelming I wouldn't have know what to take photos of inside. For those that do not know this little tid bit of info about me: while getting my Masters in International Studies at the University of Washington, I also got a Museumology Certification. I've been in almost every major museum in the US, including some not so famous ones. Going to museums is my love, but this museum was nothing like I've ever seen before. Let me warn you if you'd ever like to visit: it's very crowded. Hundreds of people walking around, guides giving tours, high school students sitting on the grand staircase drawing crypts in their sketch pads and thousands upon thousands of items that you can't even figure out what to rest your eyes on for a moment's break. Noha gave us a few moments alone on the ground floor before she took us upstairs for a detailed tour of the Tutankhamun things that had been pulled out of his tomb.

We were taken from room to room to room to room to show the items that were found in this tomb. Some of items have travelled around the world to various museums, including our very own Seattle Art Museum in 1978 as The Treasures of Tutankhamun . But come to find out, it was only a fraction of the items. The most impressive room was the jewelry room, which houses the mummy mask. I stood for some time in front of this burial mask, trying to memorize every detail since it was so much exquisite then any picture I've ever seen of it.

We left the Museum and were taken to a perfumery before lunch. But it was just too much to take in and we were in no mood to sit and smell different scents while our stomachs were grumbling away. So Nuha took us to a very popular buffet style restaurant that was packed with locals. The food was delicious but sadly she did not stay with us. We said our goodbyes to Nuha and proceeded to gorge ourselves on rich flavorful delicacies of local cuisine.

Our driver took us back to the Marriot, where we got books and sat again by the pool, reading until the evening came upon us. I'm going to leave you with one of my favorite picture I took today: an advertisement for an upcoming movie that we kept seeing all over town:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 6 - How do you say goodbye to a boat?

This morning we had breakfast on the boat while watching hot air balloons fly over the Nile. What a wonderful way to wake up. We have several hot air balloon companies in the next town over from us, Woodinville, so we felt right at home watching them float peacefully by. After breakfast we met our guide Ala to go to the Valley of the Kings, driving through the country side full of men on wagons pulled by donkeys and palm trees swaying in the wind. As we were driving through the Valley, it reminded me a bit of driving through the mesas of Utah with such interesting rock formations.

Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take cameras into this location, but it would have made for some great pictures. The one picture most impressive was that we were the ONLY people there. I have no idea where everyone was, but it was very nice to walk around and try to imagine life back between the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Dynasties when the 63 tombs were to have been built. There were lots of guards in white uniforms around paired in twos sitting under any shades they could find. And then there were guards inside the tombs dressed in gallabias trying to point out various painted images for a bit of change in your pocket. Ala wasn’t allowed inside the tombs, so most of the time we were the only ones walking down the stairs into the burial chambers with all the various rooms. One of the tombs even had a mummified baby skeleton who was one of the children that had been buried with the pharaohs. Since the tombs were inside, the colours on the walls were remarkable. The ceilings were painted with stars and the clothes worn were brightly multicolored.

We left the Valley of the Kings for Valley of the Queens, with its most famous inhabitant, Queen Nebetnehat. So far, about 70 tombs have been found, mostly of queens, but also several princes, princesses and various members of the nobility. From here we headed to Deir el-Bahari, more famous now for the massacre that occurred there, then for being the stunning mortuary temple of Hatshepsut. Again there we were, with only a few tourists around us. Although it wasn’t as empty as the Valleys, it was still sparse. It saddened me that the massacre had caused so much damage. There was a sadness to this place that could be felt in the air that I hadn’t noticed in any of the other tombs. The guards in the gallabieas were bending over backwards trying to let us take photos of places we really weren’t allowed to see. But the views from the temple were fantastic since it was built with its back toward the mountain and facing the Karnak temple that can be seen way way in the distance, cut only by the green line of trees around the Nile.

On our drive back to the cruise ship, we made two stops. The first was our second tour of an alabaster store. We did buy a very small camel from this store as it was much better priced. Our seond stop was the Colossi of Memnon, which really took us by surprise. Here it is, the middle of the dessert and these two huge 60 foot statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, at one time standing guard to his mortuary temple. In it’s hayday, it was said to have been larger and more impressive then the Temple of Karnak, but over the years damage from the floods of the Nile and dismantling and reusing portions of the stones by other rulers has left nothing there.

Back at the boat, we said goodbye to Ala, as he was heading home to see his family and packed our belongings so we can catch our plane back to Cairo. He was a wonderful tour guide and the time spent with his was full of information. You can truly tell he had a passion for this subject and knew so much more about Egyptology then any of the other guides he had on the trip. We wished him well on this PhD studies and walked around Luxor on our own for a little while. We were on a mission to find a cash machine that would take our credit card since the doctor had depleted our cash funds the night before. We were unsuccessful finding an ATM machine, but we did get some great photos of the back of the Luxor Temple with its rows and rows of left over columns and stones. Back at the boat, we said goodbye to the captain and the staff who really were outstanding.

We were driven to the airport where we had an uneventful and peaceful flight back to Cairo. Back at the Marriot, we didn’t even bother with dinner since we were just too tired from the packed days of the temples and desert and water. We were going to meet Noha bright and early tomorrow for more of tours of Cairo, so called it an early night. We did end up with a nicer room this time since we checked in earlier. It was only two rooms from the end and had an incredible view of the Nile. I must say I enjoyed the views from the Nile on the cruise ship much more then I was enjoying the ones full of city pollution and the entertainment cruise ships that were permanently docked along these parts.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 5 - Is there a Dr on the boat?

Today was S's birthday. More then anything in the world, I want to hug and kiss my baby. I miss them all so much, but more so S today since she and I share a bond on this special day. And with the huge time difference, of course I can't call and have to wait until the US east coast gets light.

So onward to waking up in Edfu and heading to the local temple. While the other tourist on the boat all get carriage rides, we quickly hop into our private air conditioned private van and head into town. We got there a few minutes early and had to wait at the gate with the hundreds of others for the opening. Say what you will about Arab time, but that gate keeper at Edfu was not going to budge until 7am sharp!

Of course, the temple is huge, overwhelming and so very beautiful. The statues, particularly, one of Horus, were mostly intact and the carving on the walls was so massive. Afterwards, I walked around outside the temple in the chaos that was the carriage drivers. Our van driver had run off with different passengers to make an extra quick buck but would return shortly since the cruise boats were close by. Honestly, the town of Edfu was quiet small in itself and really didn't have much else other then the temple. I didn't care how long he took, since I got some really great photos of the carriages and the various decorations that were on the back of them. In particular there were a number of them that were of the hand of Fatima and other forms of protection. It reminded me of taking the buses in Mexico and how the images of Mary were everywhere. In fact, some of them were even in tin. It's interesting to see how forms of protection show up in different parts of the world, but they all accomplish the same goal.

We finally got back on the boat, turned in our boat day passes as we came in the door so the staff can make sure everyone was counted, and off we went. Now it was a race to make it to the Esna Locks with all the other boats that had just also left the temple. After breakfast, I again set on the deck, feeling the cool breeze of the water, looking at the desert over the palm trees. Children were playing at the water's edge, laughing and jumping into the Nile, while donkeys neighed to each other about the hardships of their lives. I fell asleep and woke up just in time for high tea in the lounge. There were an assortment of cookies and tea biscuits covered in sesame seeds.

We finished high tea in time to go through the locks. Now we have the Ballard Locks here in Seattle, so the concept isn't that new to us. But what is new is having the lock attendant on land being paid to help the boats go through with sugar and rice. Another new thing? The attendees themselves dressed in gallabia. Since our cabin was right next to the cruise ship's control room, we had front row access to going into the locks, something we never got to experience back home. We also went to the upper deck after we were all the way into to watch the next cruise ship pull up behind us.

After the locks, we arrived at Luxor and docked for the day. Our guide took us to Luxor, the Disney World of all temples cities. Just like Disney World has Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, MGM studios and Animal Kingdom, Luxor is a town with many magical stops in it's city limits. In fact, they are still discovering temples and buying out people's homes in order to dig under them. Saying this place is huge is an understatement. It's almost like saying the Mall of America is just another strip mall. Or that Peanut M&Ms are just chocolate when we all know that those little bits of heaven are the best thing to come out since chocolate was invented. But I digress. Back to Luxor and the sheer size of this "world's greatest open air museum."

The temple of Karnak. with it's obelisicks, columns and granite scarab, oh my, were far more impressive then any old pyramids in Giza, I must admit. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, which makes it the second visited site in all of Egypt. The sacred lake, dug by Tuthmosis III had a red granite scarab and our guide told us to walk around it seven times and make a wish. Of course we did it, just like all the other tourist doing the exact same thing, looking pretty silly. But it was kinda fun.

We left Karnak and headed for Luxor Temple, stopping along the way to view the road that connected these two great temples to each other. It was lined with ram headed sphinxes placed there by Nectanebo I in the 30th Dynasty. Having gone through the gates of the Luxor Temple, pausing to admire the collasel size of the Ramesses II statue, we came across the Abu Haggag Mosque, the only working mosque to be placed on top of a ancient temple. The unusual thing about this is not that fact, but that fact that the mosque had been placed on top of a church. If you look closely, you can see the foundation of the temple, with the foundation of the church on top and then the foundation of the mosque still in use. Inside the temple where other evidences of church use, as the Catholic priests etched out the faces of the gods that had been carved into the walls and replaced them with plaster and then paintings of important moments in Christ's life.

We headed back to the cruise boat, lunch and a quick, yet expensive, call to the States to wish my baby a happy birthday. At this point, my DH was not feeling well at all. In fact, he only had bread for lunch and went to go lay down. By dinner it had gotten worse and we had to call the front desk for a doctor. If you are ever sick in Egypt, never call a doctor. Why? Because it was the most expensive thing we had done so far and of course he would only take cash. The doctor came and said yup, my DH was sick from the "tourist sickness" and gave him very expensive pills. But we had tickets to that evening's Karnak Temple's Sound and Light shows, with it's history of Thebes, so I decided to go ahead and go, since my DH was passed out at this point. I was picked up by private van, taken with a different guide and driver back to the Karnak temple and handed my tickets to wait for the performance.

To be totally honest with you, the best part about it was watching the full moon rise between the pylon's that were the main entrance surrounded on each side with the ram headed sphinx statues. Other then that, I found myself nodding off during the light performance while I was sitting in the bleachers over looking the lake. I was just too tired from the day and was a bit historied out from being told the same story earlier that day by our guide.

I walked back alone, well, with the other hundred or so tourist that were there, in the dark, found my guide and van and was driven back in silence through the bustling streets of Luxor. It was time for bed. It was too long of a day and tomorrow looked no different. And in case you were curious, this is the creation we had waiting for us after dinner.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 4 - Just Cruising along

I have a fear of water. Don't get me wrong, I can swim, but only if my feet can touch the ground under them and if I can see it.I'm fine in 4 ft pools and can do laps, but in rivers and oceans, not so good. I had someone tell me once that it was because I was an African slave in a past life and while crossing the Atlantic tied in chains, I jumped overboard and drowned. Maybe it's true, maybe not. But in this life, I can only be in boats that are huge (ferries) or I have panic attacks. But considering that this cruise ship is the size of an apartment building, I'm fine. I'm even more reassured when I look over the next morning and realize the boat that is tied up next to us is the Amira.

Today we got to sleep in. What a strange concept for a vacation: the ability to sleep in! After breakfast we head off the boat to go explore the town. We walk along the water front and get stopped every few feet with calls of "you want carriage ride?" but not in Arabic or English, but in Spanish. Dear hubby loves that while vacationing in Mexico three years ago, I get spoken to in Spanish and then we come to an Arab country and again with the Spanish. It's hard for the locals to see an Arab woman not in hijab, so they assume I'm not Arab. We reached a mosque that was along the Nile. Once we got closer, we noticed it wasn't even finished! There was concrete everywhere and scaffolding all along the two minarets. It was very massive and sure to be impressive to see once it's finished.

On our walk back, we came upon a souk (market). I thought I would try my hand at bargaining for an outfit for the "Gallabia Party" at the Lounge later in the evening. But I must say it didn’t go very well. One man refused to budge on his price, while a different shop had a female shop keeper that also refused to even start bargaining with me. And I had mistakenly thought that since she was a woman....

We headed back to the boat, empty handed. But I did manage to get a Diet Coke for 4 pounds, making me feel accomplished that I managed to talk the shop owner out of her original price of 5. Baby steps.

Back on the boat, I found Ala and asked him if he wouldn’t mind going back with me to the souk to give another try for a gallabia? He said of course, but he wanted to hurry since the boat would set sail soon. We went to two shops, where he rejected their wares, before we found one with decent designs. The trick was to let him do the talking in his native Egyptian, find flaws (little ones, mind you) in the material and also to try to get them to throw in a little something extra. In this case, it was a matching skull hat, with dangles of gold to match the gold stitching of the outfit.

We made it back to the boat, with moments to spare and had lunch while the boat set sail and passed the local beach for the townies. After a wonderful nap next to the swimming pool on the top deck of the boat, we docked at the Kom Ombo Temple, dedicated to the two Gods Sobek and Horus. Since there were only three people in our group, we were able to rush ahead of the crowd and get some decent photos with no humans in them. We were also introduced to the Nilemeter and how they were used as a way to to determine the levels of tax to be paid, in kind, by the peasantry to their rulers. If the Very nice.

Well, let me tell you, this is where the hieroglyphs start getting interesting. First on the list of stops is the earliest record of surgical instruments ever recorded. They are also carved next to two women that are on birthing stools, but um, smiling?!? So they must have been drugged up pretty well to be smiling. Along a different wall, and almost off to one side so you had to have them pointed out to you, was how the early Egyptians were the first to invent Viagra. The bottom penis has only a few drops of semen out of it, but the top penis is sure to get your wifey happy with more semen since it's been cured! Yeah!

We got back on the boat after the history and medical lesson of our day and had "Egyptian food" dinner while setting sail for Edfu. I forgot to mention yesterday that we have had a porter who goes in while we are having dinner and turns our bed for us. During this time, he creates things out of towels. Yesterday, he made us a boat and swan. Today, during dinner, he took my newly brought dress and stuffed it and put it on the bed. Imagine my surprise opening the door and seeing this being sitting in our room! It was quite comical.

At the dinner, the wait staff and cooks came out with cake and drums and had us stand in front of everyone while they sang us an Egyptian song in celebration of our anniversary. How cool to be serenaded while being surrounded by cute men. And let me tell you, that cake was de-lious-ous with a capital D. After dinner we headed for the lounge for some entertaining games that got everyone on the dance floor for many laughs. I even won of one of the games and got a free juice drink. Yummy and a great way to end the day.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 3 - Meeting the Nile

Last night, on our way back to our hotel room, we got to see a bride and groom go by. She was so beautiful in her white dress and he looked so dashing in his tux. They stopped and took pictures on the marble staircase on their way to the grand ballroom. A young women standing next to me proclaimed "the groom is my brother," grinning ear to ear. The elation of the wedding got carried into my bones and I ululated with her over their joyous occasion.

We had to get up at 2:30am this morning to meet our driver in the lobby by 4am to get to the airport. After we got dressed and packed, we sat on our patio with hot tea and listened to the sound of Cairo waking up and the party boats winding down on the Nile. Below our private porch was a different entrance to the grand ballroom that lead to the rooms of our hotel tower. Well, would you believe that at 3:30 in the morning those same two newlyweds came out that entrance to head to their room! What a party it must have been to still be going at 3:30!

We made it to the airport and caught our Egypt Air plane to Abu Simbal, with a very short layover in Aswan to drop off some passengers. We were met by a private guide and taken by a private (air conditioned!) car to the site of the great temple of Pharaoh Ramesses II and his queen Nefertari. The history of these two great temples and their move to be saved by UNESCO was quite captivating. After the history lesson by the guide, we were given some time to wonder alone around and inside the temples. This was our first introduction to the painted hieroglyphs inside the temples and our first close up view of Lake Nasser, the largest man made lake that quite honestly looked a little like Lake Powell.

After the private tour, we were taken back to the airport to fly back to Aswan, where we were met by a private guide who was Nubian. In the van, he explained to us the history of the Nubian people and their colonization by the Egyptian government. He took us through a Nubian village with brilliantly painted houses to an alabaster store where we had a tour of how alabaster is made into objects by hand. We were then taken to our cruise boat, the Movenpick M/S Radamis II, had a chance to check into our stunning, spacious room and ate a quick, but mouth-watering buffet lunch. Then we went downstairs to meet our private guide, Ala, a true Egyptologist getting his PhD in the field, who would be staying on the boat and showing us everything for the next few days. We later learned we were quite lucky, since cruise guides were assigned by languages and we had no one else that spoke English on the boat. There were several other Egyptian guides, who spoke Thai, Italian, German, Chinese, Portuguese, etc that had much larger groups. But we only had us in our group, so we didn't have to share Ala!

First on the list of stops for the day were the granite fields where the Unfinished Obelisk lay on the ground. We got an explanation of how these huge objects were carved from the earth with water and wood expansion, transported via boat up the river Nile and then how they were made to stand upright (sand was removed from the bottom and added to the top until it was high enough to pull).

The next stop was to the Aswan Dam, the reason for Lake Nasser. We were told about the history of this humongous man made creation and how Russia helped in its establishment. While crossing the Dam, we saw a pickup truck that thought it could carry much more then it should. Yes, there is a pick up truck under all those metal boxes. All I keep thinking about was that song Ant and Rubber Tree Plant and then of course I couldn't get that song out of my head. And now thanks to Bob, you've got it stuck too. You're welcome.

Our last and best stop of the day was the Temple of Philae located on an island just above the High Dam. This temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis and was saved by UNESCO from the flood waters by removing it from this original location. I think that it was far more beautiful then the Abu Simbal temple for a few reason. One is that it was on an island, so we had to take a boat ride to get there. What could be more serene then four people on a boat heading towards temples being welcomed with granite lions and the sounds of laughter from young Nubian boys jumping in the Nile? Two is that the temple was far less known, so it wasn't nearly as crowded. Three was that we were finally allowed to take cameras inside the temples and take some great shots of the hieroglyphics. Unfortunately, some of the photos showed the damage of a major earthquake from the 1920s while other photos were of the scratching of the God's faces by the Coptic priests who lived in the temple for awhile. What better way to repay the walls that gave you sanctuary from hostile neighbors then to scratch out the faces of the God's that were providing you that very protection?

One our way back to the cruise boat, I wanted to dip my toes in the Nile and take a photo. I was told to keep an eye out for the Nile crocodiles that were said to be seen around that area. Since I had just met Sobek on the walls of the Temple of Philae, I felt safe, but still keep one eye on the water and one eye on the camera, just in case his ancestors didn't feel like protectors that day. We left the Nile and headed back to the cruise ship, where I made a comment on the behavior of the drivers in Aswan in comparison to the drivers of Cairo. Ala told us that in Aswan there are officers that will hand out tickets if the traffic lights are not obayed. What a novel concept.

Once on the cruise ship, we took very long naps since the heat, boat ride, early wake up call and lunch buffet food just did us in. We awoke just in time for unlimited fruit drinks of pineapple, mint or apple juice in the cocktail lounge. The drinks were refreshing after the heat of the day. After sitting in the lounge and watching the other boats sailing on the water, we headed down to the buffet dinner, and then politely declined Ala's offer of visiting a local coffee shop for hookah and strong Egyptian coffee. Instead, we went to the upper deck to feel the breeze, do a little reading while rocking with the movement of the boat and listening to the adhān (call) to Friday prayer from two very close by mosques.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 2 - Camels, did someone mention camels?

We woke up super early today to try to beat the heat and the crowds. I was amazed at the Omar's Cafe's choice of breakfast food items. Along with the bagels, omelets, chicken sausages and other similar foods, there was all kinds of dinner foods offered. Rice, cooked vegetables, sushi(!) and other items I can't image I'd have for breakfast. But once we started eating, I noticed the Japanese woman at the table next to us had miso soup, so I guess they were trying to accommodate different cultures that stay at the hotel.

We meet Noha in the lobby and got taken to our first stop, the Pyramid of Djoser, or the first Step Pyramid in Egypt. Before it had been constructed, all pharaohs had been buried in platforms that looked like long over sized benches. But the architect Imhotep, kept adding layers to this particular one until there were six. This was how the first pyramid was constructed, basically by accident.

I took a great shot of a "guard" that was in front of The Enclosure Wall as we were coming into the structure. But I must admit that while walking through the roofed colonnade corridor leading into the complex, I was surprised at the amount of cigarette butts and the stench of urine in one of the smaller rooms. I can't imagine in a million years that I would find the same things walking through the Lincoln Memorial.

We drove back through the "country," if it can be called that. There were a few patches of farmland, but they were surrounded by tons of two and three story apartment buildings. Families often don't have money to build an entire house, so they build the main floor, and then leave the structural columns above for any future floors they might need to live in or rent out for extra income. As they get more money, they buy bricks, concrete, windows, etc until they can add the next floor. So the city is covered with apartment or low rise family units that are in constant states of building.

We took a detour to a rug factory. It was very interesting how the kids are making the rugs, since making the rug needs very keen eyesight and by adulthood, the eyes can't see as well. So the factory was created by the government to teach the trade to the kids, who "allegedly" only work for two or three hours a day before they go to school. We got a lesson on the difference between the silk and wool carpets and told several times that the school was fully funded by the government. It was quite shocking to see how fast their hands move while tying the fibers.

We also stopped at a papyrus store. We learned of the process and how it is made. It is cut into stripes, rolled, place in water for six days and then placed between two carpet squares in a weaved fashion. While it is in between the two carpet pieces, it is placed between a press for another six days. At which point it is sent out to get painted upon by very fine artists who will put anything on it, including Michael Jackson. We did buy a very small piece of art that has the Birds in Acacia Tree (Tree of Life). Very cute but expensive. After a little while, we finally make it to the pyramids of Giza.

So here we are. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one that still exists. I surprised myself when I realized that I was more excited about the upcoming camel ride then to see the pyramids. Yes, they are grand, yes, there are several and yes, it's amazing how they were built without bulldozers, overpaid supervisors or CAD software. But honestly, it was a bit discouraging to see the city so close, cars driving around and people yelling at you "how much you pay" as they are shoving stuffed camel dolls made in China. I had heard from others at how "awe-inspiring" the pyramids are and who they felt insignificant around them, yet, I just wasn't feeling it.

But I was very impressed with the Boat Museum. I'm not sure if I've been living in a cave all my life, but why has no one every mentioned these boats to me? Behind the largest pyramid, we stopped for a tour of one of the cedar boats that was discovered underground in 1954. When we entered the museum, they made us wear funny shoes that covered our own shoes to protect the floor inside from sand. Finally, here was an area that was being taken care of in a way that shows pride in the history of what we are about to see. Right when we entered, there were four chairs facing each other that was roped off. We were told that no one is ever allowed to sit in these chairs, since that is where President Obama had sat when he visited Egypt in June 2009. I was about to ask if he had sat in all four chairs, since they were all roped off, but I thought it might not get a laugh. Noha said his trip was much talked about for months before and after it happened. Not because he had come (or even that he had only stayed for nine hours) but that fact that the government had spent so much money cleaning up everything he was going to see and asking everyone to stay indoors while he was visiting.

And here we are, the best part of the day. If you know me at all, you know that I love camels. I've not always loved camels. I used to hate them. Well, not them specifically, just the idea of them. Ever since I was called a camel jockey when we first moved to Oklahoma. But over the years, I've learned to love my camels and be proud of what they stand for, in the dessert and metaphorically. So here I am, late in tooth, collecting these damn things and loving them. I have about 60 of these cuties, from stuffed animals to chopsticks to puzzles. But only the Dromedary kind mind you, the Bactrian are from Asia and although I do own a salt and pepper one (it was so adorable, I couldn't resist), I turn my nose upon those “other” camels. And now I was going to ride one and finally embrace the word camel jockey with both arms. Check please, I was in heaven. They were bright, beautiful, and not one spat on me.

Reluctantly, we left, made a super quick stop at the Sphinx before heading to lunch. But first we stopped at a cotton shop. The most exceptional one in all of Egypt, that has the finest cotton garments with the highest thread count, so we were told. There were dresses, shirts, scarves, sheets (of course), t-shirts, pants and belly dance outfits, some even for little girls. We got some t-shirts for the kids (with camels, natch) and left as a bus load of Asian tourist descended upon on the staff.

Our final stop was lunch. We went to this place that would have been nearly impossible to find on our own, tucked into a side street. Our table was covered with food. Little plates of tabbouleh, pickles, various dips, herbed tomatoes, cooked vegetables, stuffed grape leaves and so much more. Just when I thought I couldn't eat any more, the chicken we had seen roasting outside was brought in with a few other side dishes. Pita bread was also on the table, having been made by the women sitting outside by the furna (oven). After they make the dough and press it into circles, it is placed on a table of bran to coat it before it gets cooked. Delicious.

After lunch, we were taken back to the hotel where we promptly took very long naps from pure exhaustion, heat strokes and full bellies. When we awoke, we took books and sat by the pool, feeling the breeze, watching the bats fly overhead and listening to the live band as the night rolled in and the moon came out. And munched on Ketchup chips.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 1 - Geneva to Cairo

We are heading for our two week anniversary trip to Cairo and Istanbul and I must say that having to leave the girls was very hard. The hardest was leaving A since I'd never left her for longer then 2 nights and that was with her father. I did take a picture of the three of them on the stairs and I've been staring at that a lot lately. Plus showing them to every person I run across, whether they want to see it or not.

Our plane out of Dullas Airport left at 6pm and we meet the cutest little Indian man while waiting in line of the international flight check-in. Turns out he was also going to Geneva, so he was also at our gate where he told us a bit of his life story.

We learned he lived in the area and was planning to visit his son. He had planned on going on the trip with his wife, but she had passed away in March. Such a sad story. Since the tickets were non-refundable, he decided to do the trip anyway. On the plane, Richard helped him put his bag in the overhead. Later, during the flight, he brought over a book and had wanted us to read a chapter on parenting. It was adorable.

When we landed in Geneva, he offered to have his son drive us to where we needed to go, but we declined. We really wanted to go explore on our own.

At the airport, we stopped at a machine that gave us tickets that allowed you to ride the bus or train for 80 minutes. Why not 60 or 90? No idea! We later found out that we never needed the tickets. On the various buses we used, not a single driver asked to see these. The Swiss are so trusting! Nor did we ever see anyone buy tickets from the ticket boxes next to several of the bus stops. Go figure.

We took the bus to downtown and walked along the river for a little while. We tried to find a cafe to get a little breakfast. I really wanted some tea to wake up a bit, since I had watched movies on the plane to catch up on what we don't get to see at the theaters. We ended up at a mini grocery store and just got two sandwiches and cold drinks. The cheese, tomato and basil sandwich was amazing. The tomatoes tasted so fresh, as if they had been picked a few moments before.

We walked to Lake Geneva with the huge spouting jet d'eau (fountain). It was taller than the buildings surround the lake. We found a farmers market right in the middle of the downtown area with fresh fruits and vegetables. The smells were so wonderful and I wanted to buy everything. While walking back to the bus stop, we passed a school with a large park next to it. We got quite a giggle out of a very funny Do Not Pee sign next to a little kids playground.

We took the bus back to the airport, but first stopped at the Balexert Shopping Centre. Man, that thing was huge! It was deceiving on the outside, as it looked like a giant metal box. But once inside, there were over 100 shops, including a grocery store, wine shop, post office that sold electronic goods and delis with the same sandwich we had found earlier. Although I was full, I really waned to buy another one, just to re-experience that taste explosion in my mouth again.

We headed back to the airport and waited three more hours for our plane to Cairo. The chairs at that airport are the most uncomfortable chairs in the world. I decided against buying postcards at the airport, since the only two options were of the jet d'eau and cows in fields. Guess my postcard collection would have to go without Switzerland for now.

When we landed in Egypt, it was still light out, but the haze was so bad that we couldn't see the pyramids from the plane. It really is shocking how Cairo seems to go for miles and miles and miles. It is estimated to have anywhere from 20-22 million people. 20-22! Crazy.

We were met off the plane by our Egypt tour rep, Mohammed, who grabbed our bags and lead us outside to the van, which had waiting our guide, Noha and the driver, Aswad. I was so happy that we decided to let Rita at Caravan-Serai Tours take care of the planning of the trip. It would have been a nightmare trying to figure out which taxi driver that was yelling at us to "Come with me, I take you" we would have needed to get us to our hotel.

The heat outside was insane. It was 7:30 at night, yet the temperature read 91*! I can't image what it had been like during the day. We were wisked off and along the way we were given the history of Cairo by Noha. We finally made it to the Cairo Marriott two hours later with all the crazy drivers on the road and Mohammed fixed a problem we had with our room. I'm not sure about the exact details, since he had us sit in the lobby while he handled it all. What a amazing experience to have someone take care of details for you! We finally made it to our room on the Zamelek Tower side and found a surprise. Rita had told them it was our anniversary and we had a cake waiting for us! Yummy....and a perfect ending for Day 1.