November 30, 2003

Flight from Cairo to New York (JFK) Permanent link for 'Flight from Cairo to New York (JFK)' in archive

After a 4:45 AM wakeup call, we had breakfast at 5:30 AM -- the start of another long day. We left for the Cairo Airport. The security measures in place were manual but extreme. Upon entry to the terminal, all of you bags are scanned. Then they are checked manually by a baggage checker, who checked both carry-on and checked luggage. After you get you boarding pass, bags are scanned and checked again at the gate. There are both metal dector "walk throughs" and wand checks. The flight left at 9:30 AM Cairo time and is due to take 12 hours before landing at JFK in New York.

During the flight, there were a few periods of high turbulence. At one point the place was shaking so much that a few of the overhead comparments open and a few bags fell out. I'd never before experience that on a flight -- but then again, I haven't really flown that much.

They played 3 movies on the 12 hour flight: "Down with Love", "Pirates of the Carribean" and "The Italian Job". I only watched the latter, which was okay, but had a pretty standard "master thief" plot to it.

After landing at JFK, we took a cab to my sister's place in Brooklyn, where we stayed wake for a few hours watching "Minority Report", then going to bed exhausted at 7:30 PM New York time (3:30 AM Cairo time).

posted at 7:10 AM EDT | Discussion (0)

November 29, 2003

Dinner and Shopping in Cairo Permanent link for 'Dinner and Shopping in Cairo' in archive

We had dinner at the Regency restaurant in the Ramses Hilton hotel. It was a chinese restaurant an the food was not bad. We also has a boittle of Omar Kasayyan red wine, another Egyptian wine. After dinner we visted the stores at a small mall across for the hotel, looking for a way to blow the rest of our Egyptian pounds. After the 23rd purse store, Michelle finally found a nice purse and makeup bag, and we wen tback to the hotel to pack and go to sleep.

posted at 6:06 PM EDT | Discussion (0)

City of the Dead Mausoleum Permanent link for 'City of the Dead Mausoleum' in archive

Our cab driver drove us through the "City of the Dead", which is a very large mausoleum cemetary. It is so big that is is called a city. Also because the mausoleums double as people's homes. The people who live hear are very poor, and there is a lot of garbage around, and even a few stray dogs and chickens. We took some photos, including some of puppies in amongst the garbage. At one point, while driving down the narrow alleys the road ahead was blocked by a few trucks. Our cab driver was not pleased, and began to yell at the trucks in Arabic. After several minutes of this, one of the mean by the trucks walked up to the taxi, speaking english to us, saying that it would only be a few minutes before the road was clear. After a few minutes, the driver of the first truck began to drive the truck forward and a little to one side of the narrow alley. Still there was barely enough room but our driver was able to squeeze by with only an inch of clearance. After we passed the first truck, it proceeded to back up, close to its orginal position. We were now sandwiched between two trucks in a narrow alley in the middle of the City of the Dead. There were actually 2 more trucks ahead of us, and more yelling ensued. After a few more minutes, the other drivers appeared and we were able to continue on our way.

On our way back to the hotel, the driver stopped a few times so that Michelle could take some photos -- he even stopped on busy freeways. When we asked him if it was okay to stop in the middle of the street like that, he alsways replied, "it's no problem". He also showed us a page from a Japanese travel guide book that including a photo of him, presumably next to a section of the guide about Cairo taxi drivers.

posted at 2:53 PM EDT | Discussion (0)

Cairo Citadel Permanent link for 'Cairo Citadel' in archive

We got a "black and white" taxi from the Ramses Hilton to take us to the Citadel in Cairo. Ashrahim agreed to wait for us while we toured the Citadel for 1.5 hours. The Citadel is a very large walled medieval fortress that was built to defend the city for attacking crusaders. Inside the Citadel walls is the imposing Muhammad Ali mosque, which is huge and can bee seen from miles around. From the outside it seems that the mosque could have many, many levels of storeys, but when you go inside you realize that there is only one -- with a very very high domed ceiling, seems hundreds of feet high, I but I don't know for sure. As the Citadel is located ar the top of a hill, much of Cairo can been see from the edge of the Citadel walls. A group of Egyptian school girls asked to take a photo with us. We are not really sure why they wanted to, but apparently this is not uncommon. We then went down and met our cab driver.

posted at 12:42 PM EDT | Discussion (1)

Coptic Cairo Permanent link for 'Coptic Cairo' in archive

After 4 subway stops, we got off at the Mir Girgas stop, in what is called Old or Coptic Cairo. (The Coptic church is a branch of Orthodox Christianity, etsablished in Egypt a long time ago). One of the main attraction here is the Hanging Church -- which is called this because it is suspended above the street. The church is very old and the detailed architecture was amazing.

We also walked through a greek cemetary and visited St.George church. Down a narrow alley, below street level, is St. Sergis, the siet of a cave where it is belived that the Holy Family (Mary, Joesph, and Jesus) stayed, while hiding in Egypt from King Herod. We couldn't go down into the crypt, as it was being restored due to damage caused by the rising water table. We also visited Ben Ezra Synagogue, which also very old.

After that we did a bit of shopping and bought two lamp covers: one with a mosaic of multi-colored glass and the other made of metal mesh that lets the light through. We then got back on the subway.

The entire morning trip cost us about $1 USD (not including the lamps). This is much better than is we had choseon to pay $60 USD for the optional "Coptic Cairo" excursion earlier in the trip.

posted at 10:31 AM EDT | Discussion (0)

Streets and Subways in Cairo Permanent link for 'Streets and Subways in Cairo' in archive

We slept until 9 AM, then went down for breakfast. The Ramses Hilton Hotel si situated on the bank of the Nile, and we got a window seat for breakfast, watching the boats on the river as we ate our breakfast. We also looked through our Egypt guide book to decide what to do during our final day in Egypt. Our scheduled tour is over, so today we are on our own.

We decided to take the subway to Old Cairo. To get to the nearest subway stop we had to walk a few blocks. The most interesting part of this was crossing the street, which is a little different in Cairo, compared to what we are used to. Although there are 18 million people in this city, there are very few traffic lights. And many of those traffic lights that do exist are rarely obeyed by drivers. And traffic is busy and crazy all the time, with constant honking of cars. And forget about lane lines too. To cross the street, you have to just walk out in front of the cars, hoping to find a small gap before the cars (and hoping that the oncoming cars will slow down, if necessary). With 2 to 6.5 lane roads, it is not uncommon to be stuck halfway, with cars moving fast closely by you. Egyptians are used to this, of course, and seem to beavely walk in front of moving cars and cross the street with ease. It took us a little longer, as we waited for longer gaps in the traffic before stepping out into the street.

When we arrived at the subway stop, the large subway map was extremely faded with age and seemed incomplete. So we asked the ticket sellers which direction we needed to go and paid the 1.5 LE fare. The subway train seemed a little older, but not that much different from subway systems in other countries.

posted at 8:15 AM EDT | Discussion (0)

November 28, 2003

Sharm El Sheik Promenade Permanent link for 'Sharm El Sheik Promenade' in archive

Since it was our last day in Sharm El Sheik, we packed our things and then went to breakfast. After breakfast, more snorkelling and then we checked out at 12 Noon, putting our luggage in the luggage room. We went snorkelling again and then later had lunch at the dive shop restaurant. I had a falafel and Michelle had a shawarma and orange Fanta.

Later, we went for a walk down to the beach for a swim. We watched the sunset from our beach chairs again, but it not quite as nice as on our first day here. We went down to the beach to collectr some sand -- we try to collect some sand from each (sandy) place that we visit.

Then we walked down the Sharm El Sheik promenade that runs through each of the resorts here on Naama Bay, running between the beaches and the resorts. Just off the promenade, there are restaurants, shops, and booths selling everything. Since most resort packages here do not include dinner, you can eat at any of the restaurants from any of the other resorts, providing quite a variety to choose from. After shopping, we ate at one of the restaurants at the Novotel Hotel, called Al Dente. I had a pizza and Michelle a fish fillet stuffedf with smoked salmon.

We walked back to the resort and fell asleep in the lobby as we waited to be picked up for the airport. The flight on an Airbus 320 left ata bout 12 midnight. We landed in Cairo an hor later, picked up our luggage, and waited for a van to pick us up. It was very busy at the terminal, our van had to go around 3 times before being able to stop to pick up up. After checking into the Ramses Hilton at 2 AM, we were exhausted.

posted at 9:14 AM EDT | Discussion (0)

November 27, 2003

More Snorkelling in Sharm El Sheik Permanent link for 'More Snorkelling in Sharm El Sheik' in archive

Today we woke up early, got some good seats on the beach -- actually, the seats were on an upper terrace that was built into the cliff next to the beach -- so we were raised up high, with a great view of the bay and nearby desert mountains.

We had breakfast at the buffet, sitting outside next to the pool. Near our table was a "birds table". Similar to a bird house, but without the house. It was really just a table where they placed bread for the birds. Basically, the birds were enjoying the paradise of the resort as much as the people.

After breakfast, we went for a walk around the resort, which is huge. It consists of a many buildings, mostly one storey each, with a few building having 2 or 3 storeys. We walked up the stairs to a second floor terrace to take some photos of the resort and the mountains behind it. From here, you can see a desert plain leading from the resort to the mountains.

We then went tot the beach and more snorkelling in Sharm El Sheik. The snorkelling is so good here, you can't get enough. Some people have said that the Red Sea has some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving of anywhere in the world. It seems like snorkelling in the morning is best, both in terms of visibility and number of fish. We took some more photos of the colorful fish and coral.

We had lunch, relaxed in the sun, and went snorkelling again. We went for a walk along the beach, passing each of the resorts on the bay -- they all seem very nice. We went for a swim at one of the beaches on the other side of the bay, then walked back.

We had dinner at the buffet by the pool -- this time the theme was Egyptian, and the food was very good. We watched the show for a while then went to bed.

posted at 7:38 AM EDT | Discussion (0)

November 26, 2003

Relaxing in the Red Sea Sun Permanent link for 'Relaxing in the Red Sea Sun' in archive

Before breakfast, we picked up some towels and staked out a couple of prime deckchairs by the beach.

We had a nice buffet breakfast, sitting outside beside one of the many pools. We then went to the beach to relax, which was nice for a change, after being constantly "on the go" in recent days. We went snorkeling right off the beach, which was incredible. The coral reef was just off of the beach and there were tons of fish of many different colors. We later learned that some of these fish were called Parrot Fish, Tiger Fish, and more. We then had lunch at the buffet, with fish, rice, and pizza. After lunch, we went snorkelling again, but it was harder see, since it was 3 PM by that time. We spoke with the hotel rep about various "excursion" options. While several of the them sounded very interesting, we decided to stay at the resort to relax and enjoy the beach.

We took some photos, including some nice ones of the sunset over the bay and nearby mountains.

For dinner, the buffet was again outside near the pool, with some of the food actually being cooked outdoors. It was an "international" theme night, both for the food and for the entertainment program. Michelle had about 12 (or 14) crepes with chocolate and peanuts. I had some fish, rice, ratatouille, and beef. We had a bottle of Obelisk Rose, an Egyptian wine. We had chocolate ice cream (and more crepes) for dessert. This is the first time I have ever has dessert in the desert.

The entertainment featured a singer singing songs in english, russian, italian, french. (The resort seems to be very popular with Russians and Italians). Then some dancers performed some international dance routines. At 11 Pm the singing and dancing stopped, and we went to bed.

posted at 9:17 AM EDT | Discussion (0)

November 25, 2003

Sonesta Beach Resort at Sharm El Sheik Permanent link for 'Sonesta Beach Resort at Sharm El Sheik' in archive

After a 20 minute drive from the airport, we arrived at the Sonesta Beach Resort in Sharm El Sheik. The resort is very nice, with many separate white buildings with archways and other decorations. We went for a walk all around the resort complex which is quite large.

posted at 11:14 PM EDT | Discussion (0)

Flight from Luxor to Sharm El Sheik Permanent link for 'Flight from Luxor to Sharm El Sheik' in archive

When we arrived at the Luxor airport, we realized that our flight had been delayed further. It eventually left at around 10 PM. The flight to Sharm El Sheik -- a resort town on the red sea coast -- took about an hour. Before landing, several resorts could be seen from the plane window.

posted at 7:30 PM EDT | Discussion (0)

Horse and Carriage Ride in Luxor Permanent link for 'Horse and Carriage Ride in Luxor' in archive

We hired a horse and carriage for a ride through Luxor. The highlights of the ride were the souqs (bazaars). These are markets frequented by the locals, not tourists. They were comprised of a series of road and alleys and stands, selling fruit, spices, and more. Michelle bought a good luck Fatimid bronze hand from 2 of the carriage drivers. One of the hands has beads, the other does not. These aren't typcially for sale, the drivers hand them on their carriages for good luck. Seems like a pretty authentic souvenier. I plan to use on of the hand as a dash ornament for my car[iagge] when we get home.

posted at 5:30 PM EDT | Discussion (0)

Felucca Boat Ride on the Nile Permanent link for 'Felucca Boat Ride on the Nile' in archive

We arrived in Luxor with enough time to hire a felucca (sailboat) for a sunset cruise on the Nile. Apart from the fact that there was virtually no window, the experience was great, and so was the sunset. After the sun went down, we could see the crescent moon, the sign that Ramadan was over.

We then had dinner at a small restaurant on the bank of the Nile River. I had the chicken curry and Michelle had soup with tahina and bread. The turkish coffee was very good. After dinner we learned that our flight, which was scheduled to leave at 8:00pm, was delayed for 1 hour. So we walked up and down the main corniche, stopping at a few stores.

posted at 4:30 PM EDT | Discussion (0)

Flight from Aswan to Luxor Permanent link for 'Flight from Aswan to Luxor' in archive

After the Aswan dams, we went to Awan Airport for our first of 2 flights today. Our first flight was delayed for several hours. After the plane was delayed a second time, we were all entitled to a free slice of pizza and drink from Sbarro in the airport. After a game of Scrabble, the plane was finally ready to leave (at 3:30 PM).

posted at 12:10 PM EDT | Discussion (0)

Aswan Dams and Lake Nasser Permanent link for 'Aswan Dams and Lake Nasser' in archive

We then went to see Aswan's two dams: the old Aswan Dam, and the new High Dam, which was completed in 1970. Unitl the contruction of the Three Gorges Dam in China, this dam was the largest in the world. The High Dam led to the creation of the largest man-made lake in the world, Lake Nasser. Lake Nasser is 500 km long and 180 m deep. The dam generates electricity and helps regulate the water level of the Nile, preventing the annual flooding which occured prior to the contruction of the dam.

posted at 9:49 AM EDT | Discussion (0)

Quarry at Aswan Permanent link for 'Quarry at Aswan' in archive

After breakfast, we boarded the bus to see the unfinished obelisk at Aswan. The obelisk in an acient granite quarry used by the ancient Egyptians. On the way to the site, we passed an old cemetary from the Fatamid period. As Ramadan has now eneded, many people, mostly women, were visiting the cemetary.

The granite quarries in Aswan are the only ones used by the ancient Egyptians for monuments all over the country. The quarry was used for as much as 5,000 years. Blocks and obelisks were transported by boats on the Nile River, to the temple or monumental sites. The unfinished obelisk is a huge obelisk that was not finished because a crack was found in the rock. The obelisk would have been the largest ever erected in ancient Egypt. We learned about thow they cut granite and seperated the momnuments and blocks from the bedrock.

posted at 7:38 AM EDT | Discussion (0)

November 24, 2003

Kom Ombo Permanent link for 'Kom Ombo' in archive

The Nile Cruise boat arrived in Kom Ombo at about 4:30 PM. The sun was beginning to set, but instead of leaving the boat to see Kom Ombo Temple, we went down to the longe to coffee and watch a video about Egypt. Since the video wasn't telling us anything new, we decided to head up to the top deck to watch the sun set over the Nile.

At 5:30, now dark, we left the boat for Kom Ombo Temple, which is a short walk from the dock. The temple is up on a hill and lit up at night. The temple was dedicated to Horus and Sobeck, the local crocodile god. It was built by Ptolemy to gain support of the local people in the area. The temple features a hieroglyphical depiction of the ancient Egyptian calendar -- a Nileometer, as well as a few mummified crocodiles.

We then had 30 minutes -- and by 30 minutes, I mean 15 minutes -- to shop at the vendor booths that were setup between the temple and the boat dock. We were then rushed onto the boat as we were going to leave earlier that planned. After a successful "walk-away haggle", Michelle bought a black scarf with beading.

Dinner was a choice between beef and chicken -- we had the chicken. Dessert was some sort of a dry cube in a red sweet sauce -- so-so. We then met with our guide who explained the agenda for the morning, as the cruise ends in Aswan. We arrived in Aswan before we went to bed, and the city lights suggest that it is a large city.

posted at 4:18 PM EDT | Discussion (0)

Temple of Horus at Edfu Permanent link for 'Temple of Horus at Edfu' in archive

I woke up a 6:30 and the boat was not moving. I slept quite well, considering that the boat was moving overnight - my first time sleeping on a moving boat. We have arrived at Edfu.

After breakfast, we left for the Temple of Horus. Our boat was docked alongside several other boats, parallel to the shore. So we had to walk through the lobbies of 6 other boats in order to reach the dock. Interesting.

From the dock, we travelled by horse and carriage to reach the temple of Horus, riding through street mostly filled with shops trying tio sell things to tourists.

The Temple of Horus is said to the most well-preserved temple in Egypt. The temple is new - by ancient Egyptian standards - only 2,000 years old, from Ptolemaic period around -300 B.C. A huge pylon, over 100m high, was at the gate, then hypostyle halls, many detailed reliefs and stairs, and upper chambers. We also saw a replica of a sun boat that was found in the temple. A gold statue of Horus was also found, now housed in a museum in Boston.

Mayhem ensure as 100 horses and carriage all tried to leave at the time, some people almost were hurt and others almost left behind. Good fun.

Back to the boat to continue up the river.

posted at 6:37 AM EDT | Discussion (0)

November 23, 2003

Nile Cruise Costume Party Permanent link for 'Nile Cruise Costume Party' in archive

Dinner on the Nile crusie boat was an "Egyptian Dinner"-themed buffet. The buffet featured a tastey okra dish, some kind of kabab, and chicken in a pita. Not bad at all.

After the main course was finished, they dimmed the lights and began to sing and beat some drums. The hotel manager was leading the procession of singing and drumming staff, pushing a cart with a cake on it, with a single blue candle. They stopped when they arrived at our table, and invited Michelle and I to stand and join the procession around the tables. We stopped in the middle of the tabled by the buffet. The manager asked me my name, but I did not hear him very well. Someone told him that my name was Mark and that my wife's name was Michelle. He misheard "Mark" or "Mike" and not ony that, he thought Mike was our last name. Thus, he announced that it was the honeymoon of "Mr. and Mrs. Mike". The cake said "honeymooner" on it and we blew out the candle and ate some cake. They also gave us a papyrus painting and beaded necklace.

After the dinner was the costume party, in which all of the guests wore their Galibayas and hats. When we arrived, they had some of the male guests playing a game in which they had tied a potato by a string around their waists. The object of the game was to swing the potato back and forth to move another potato across the dance floor. A guy from our tour was the winner. Then there was a dancing competition for the women, in which they would dance to traditional Egyptian music. I don't think they declared a winner. Finally there was a competition for couples, and Michelle and I participated. Each couple was to hold and orange between their foreheads while dancing, without dropping the orange. We won, and received another papyrus, which we forgot and left in the lounge.

After that, we went up to the top deck to see if we were about to enter the lock, as the boat began to move for the first time in hours. We waited for another 2 boats to leave the locks, travelling in the opposite direction. The we enter the lock and waited as the water began to rise by as much as 10 metres. After that, we exited the loack and then realized that the next lock was immediately ahead of us. We decided not to wait and went to bed.

posted at 8:33 PM EDT | Discussion (1)

Cruise on the Nile Permanent link for 'Cruise on the Nile' in archive

Our cruise boat finally began its journey on the Nile river, and for the first time on the trip, we had some time to relax. We are on a boat and won't be leaving it until tomorrow morning.

The sun was out on and off. When it was out, it was HOT. We took some photos of mountains, towns, and people on the banks of the Nile as we sailed south up the river.

For lunch, Michelle and I both chose the Sea Bass Amandine over the lamb. The fish was quite good, as was the Eggplant appetizer and "Ohm Ali" dessert, which seemed like rice pudding with coconut. Michelle did not like this, as she like neither rice pudding nor coconut.

After lunch it was quite hot so I went in the pool on the top deck of the boat. The water was cold, but not freezing. After that we sat and relaxed for a few hours until we reach the locks at Esna. Several boats were waiting ahead of us to go through the locks.

As we approached, about a dozen row boats descended upon us, calling out to us, trying to sell us scarves, rugs, and Galabiyas (traditional Egyptian tunic commonly worn by locals). The men would throw the items up onto the top deck of the ship for us to examine the goods and haggle about the price. Much bargaining and throwing took place over the next 2 hours. If you agreed to buy something, they would throw up another small bag containing cloth for you to place your money and throw it down to them (the cloth is just to give the bag weight for throwing). Michelle bought another scarf/throw/rug and we each bought a Galabiya for the so-called costume party this evening

As we anchored quite close to the riverbank, some small boys (and few girls) were yelling to us and throwing up empty film canisters, asking us to place money in them and throw them back down. At first, no one did, then later, a few people did. One guy went down to his room to get a bag of mini-chocolate bars and started throwing them one by one to the kids. They were delighted, and scrambled to catch the chocolate bars. This lasted a while and then quieted down. We then had coffee and pizza.

posted at 12:07 PM EDT | Discussion (0)