Apr 30 2009

Athens

Friday, April 24th we arrived in Athens at 6:00 in the morning, travel weary and anticipating our bed. It was a rainy day in Greece when we arrived and I must say, I was slightly disappointed. We found out later that day that the weather was unusual, and it cleared up within a day. Thank-goodness! The next day the weather was back to it’s Mediterranean self, and we were able to start enjoying Athens.
A friend of mine commented that he wasn’t a fan of Athens, and found it to be a dirty city. And maybe that’s how you could see it if you came straight from Vancouver to Athens. But if you want to be wowed, spend some time in Egypt before you go.
Then Athens will seem like Heaven. He was right in that Athens is not the cleanest city. That being said though, there is a lot of charm in the oler part of the city. We spent most of our time wandering around the Acropolis (where the Parthenon is), & Ancient Agora. I appreciated how they made all the archeological sites into big parks that you could spent the whole day at. (Egyptian sites were hectic and you couldn’t spent a day just relaxing at the Pyramids. Impossible). One of our favorite spots was a little street of cafes that had a great view of the Acropolis.
That same area also has a really great market area that has a lot of cute dresses and jewelry.

One thing that was a breath of fresh air for us was being in a culture that was closer to our own.
No where along the way did we have people hassling us to buy things, or honking at us, or trying desperately to please us. We also could go where we wanted without a guide constantly at our side. It was nice to feel a little bit of freedom again.
Tomorrow we head out to Crete, one of the Greek islands. It’s famous for it’s Minoan archeological sites, which Dave and I are both particularly excited to see.

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Apr 23 2009

Alexandria, as you like…

Our last days in Egypt were spent in Alexandria, the famous city founded by its namesake, Alexander the Great. We had our hotel arranged for us by a lady we met in Wadi El Naturn, (who worked at a recovery center Dave visited to do some research.) We were hoping for a cheap hotel…she booked us in a four star. Apparently it was the Coptic Easter weekend, and that’s when everyone goes and visits Alexandria (to go to the beach) so everything was booked up. Thankfully the hotel wasn’t too steep.
We had a driver that was arranged to take us from Wadi to Alexandria. And somehow (I don’t think we had decided on this ourselves…) he convinced us that he was also to be our driver for the next few days, where he had already planned our itinerary in great detail.
Here’s another lesson we learned about Egyptian culture: The phrase, “As you like!” doesn’t actually mean what you think it would mean. It’s more like how we throw around the word “love”. “I love pizza” doesn’t mean you love pizza like you love your family. Egyptians throw around the the phrase, “As you like.” Here’s an example:
Dave, (to Morad, our driver): I think we are tired now. We’ve seen a lot already today. We would like to head back to our hotel.
Morad: As you like. Or you could go to the palace. As you like.
Dave: No, I think we will just go back to our hotel.
Morad: Or you could go to the palace. As you like.
Dave: Well, we are both just tired, and it’s late. So, the hotel would be great.
Morad: As you like. You can get ice-cream and go in the palace…but as you like.
Dave: Really, it’s alright. The hotel will be fine.
Morad: As you like.
(as we approach the hotel, Morad speaks up)
Morad: So, the palace?
We did end up going to the palace, but thankfully we convinced him to take us the next day.
If you ever end up going to Alexandria, I highly recommend going to the library of Alexandria. In history, the library of Alexandria was one of the largest in the world. In it’s day, Alexander the great had every book that ever arrived in Alexandria copied and placed in the library. The old one was unfortunately destroyed by a fire, but in recent years they have built a library that is really quite the sight to see. It was most definitely my favorite thing I saw in Alexandria.
Some other sites we saw, (in order of interesting-ness)
The Catacombs: This was a burial site for many Romans who inhabited Alexandria. It’s quite vast, and very interesting. There is even a banquet room for the family of the deceased, so they could come in and feast on special occasions while in mourning.
Pompeys Pillar: To be honest…I still don’t know what the significance is of the pillar. There is an ancient temple site that is below the pillar, but the pillar itself is still a bit of a mystery to me.
The Citadel: This is built on the site of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria (one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world) It is mildly interesting, but we didn’t end up going into the main building, because it is a mosque and I didn’t have a head covering with me. Not really much to see though. Just a big fortress.
The Palace: This sounded a lot more interesting than it actually was. The Palace itself was only built in the early 1900’s, and you can’t even go in it. The grounds are nice, but nothing spectacular.
To be honest, my favorite part of Alexandria was just the fact that it was on the Mediterranean. I enjoyed just sitting and drinking coffee, while overlooking the sea. If you ever go to Alexandria, here’s what I recommend you do: If you are wealthy beyond compare, stay at the Four Seasons. It’s amazing. Unfortunately, Dave and I are not wealthy beyond compare. But, even if you are not a guest there, you can go to their rooftop lounge that looks onto the Mediterranean, and have dinner, or coffee, or drinks…or you can just sit there (as you like :) ). The service is amazing, and it’s got a great view.
Our time in Egypt is now over. Next stop, Greece.
I am so ready.

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Apr 16 2009

A week in the desert…

This past week we have spent in Wadi El Naturn, recovering from our hectic week in Cairo. I got a cold just before we left Cairo, so it has been nice to have a place to rest, where there is nothing to distract me. The only thing we had planned to do this week was go and visit a few of the old Monasteries that are in the area. This taught us a valuable lesson about Egyptian culture, and how they relate to time. Here’s how it went down:
Day before planned event: Dave suggests to Noor that we go to the monasteries. Noor says “Yes! Yes of course, I will take you. At what time would you like to go?” Dave says, “Maybe 10:00?” Noor says, “Absolutely! 10:00 is perfect!”
Day of planned event, 9:30: We eat breakfast. Noor is nowhere in sight. After breakfast, we head back to our room and get ready to go.
10:00: Sitting in the courtyard, waiting for Noor.
10:45: Sitting in the courtyard…..waiting for Noor.
11:00: I say, “I’m going back to the room to check my mail while we wait. Come and get me when he comes.”
12:30: Dave arrives back in the room. “Noor says it would be better if we went after lunch. Probably 2:00.”
2:00: “Where is Noor?” We both wonder. Asmir says, “Noor went out to get some groceries very quick. He will be back very soon. Very soon.”
3:00: ….
4:00: Still no Noor. We make a joined decision that it would be better to go the next day to the Monasteries.

5:00: What’s that off in the distance? It’s Noor! He’s finally arrived! We go to Noor, and say “We think it would be better to go tomorrow. That way we will have more time.”
Noor: “No! Please! Let me take you now. I will take you now. Please. Please!”
Dave: “Really, it’s okay. We would rather go tomorrow.”
Noor: “Please!! Please!! I will take you right now! Please!!!! Please let me do this!”
Dave: *awkward silence* “Umm…alright.”
We all cram into Noors little truck, which barely makes it to the first monastery. When we arrive, Noor informs us that the Monastery is basically closed because it’s too late, but he will walk us around the grounds anyway. We follow reluctantly, knowing that there will not be much to see because of this. After walking around the grounds hastily, Noor says: “Maybe I will take you tomorrow. That way we will have more time.”
We agree.
And by the way…we never ended up going the next day…
Lesson learned: Egyptians must have a different time system than us. I’m pretty sure it is something like, one hour our time equals one day Egyptian time.

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Apr 13 2009

Mosquitos Bite!


We arrived Saturday in Wadi El Naturn only to discover that it is a desert oasis. Sounds nice, no? Think of it this way: Hot weather + Lakes in the middle of the desert = Mosquito breeding ground! The first night I counted 77 mosquito bites in total. Here’s a little breakdown:

Face: 10
Right Arm: 36
Left Arm: 10
Body: 5
Right Leg: 5
Left Leg: 11
Needless to say, we fumigated our bedroom nightly and coated ourselves with bug spray after that night.

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Apr 11 2009

City of a Thousand Minarets


Cairo–the city of a thousand minarets. Five times a day, wherever you are in the city you will hear prayer calls from the mosques which surround you (they told us that if we memorized the times they did prayer calls we’d never have to wear a watch in Cairo, because wherever you are, there’s a mosque nearby to hear a prayer call).
We arrived late Sunday, after a generally leisurely flight from Sharm El Sheikh. The first day and a half, I think we spent mostly just getting used to how crazy Cairo is. Think of downtown London with 5 times as many cars–none of which follow any traffic laws, and 75% of which are taxis stopping every minute or so to ask people on the side of the road if they need a taxi. Everyone driving in Cairo is nuts. You have to be. Dave has a theory that no one uses their rear view mirror in Cairo. But since no one does it, it’s not a problem. Everyone is concerned with what is directly in front of them. If you can manage to relax during a taxi ride in Cairo you will notice that there is a definite fluidity in the traffic. It’s like a strange sort of dance. Even crazier to watch is the pedestrians though. We asked the first day we were there if there were crosswalks. Our guide looked at us and said, “Crosswalks? What are those?” Completely serious. He had never heard of a crosswalk. He said on the freeways there are designated places for pedestrians to cross…but…anywhere else, it’s every man for himself.One of the first days we went to Khan el Khalili, which is a huge market (called a “bazaar”). It’s completely intimidating and crazy, but if you keep your wits about you, you can find some interesting things and good deals. We had a very strange tour of the back streets of the bazaar to some of the smaller shops by a random man. He showed us a a little art gallery, a flatbread bakery, a printshop where they print the qu’ran. We even got our picture taken with the man at the printing press. Highly awkward. :)
A couple days later we went to the Pyramids, which is crammed full of tourists–but a must see nonetheless. One thing I would recommend NOT doing is going into the Pyramids. It sounds like it would be interesting, but there is nothing to see. The walk down into the Pyramids is about 4ft high, and it goes down a ramp for about 5 minutes and then up a ramp (remember, there’s only about 4ft–so you are not standing up straight.) and then into a little room that is completely empty and there is a man that tries to tell you in the most broken English possible what this room was supposed to be. It’s also ridiculously humid and hot. Oh, and you have to pay an extra $15 to get in. Not worth it.
What is worth it though, is going to Saqaara, which is another Pyramid site–also known as the Step Pyramids. These are earlier pyramids, and they aren’t as touristy as the Giza pyramids, but much better organized. One of them you are able to go into and it IS worth it. It’s a much shorter ascent into the pyramid and it’s not stuffy. When you get in, it’s totally carved with hieroglyphs, and in one room the ceiling is carved with stars all over it.
One of our last days in Cairo we went to the Cairo museum. The King Tut exhibit is really the only thing that is worth seeing. There is a lot of stuff there–unfortunately it’s not well organized and a lot of it is written in Arabic anyway. But the King Tut is definitely directed at the international tourists. All I can really say about that is that you have to see it for yourself. Amazing.One last note about Cairo-or, just Egypt in general. If you are a woman traveling there, be mindful how you dress. I never wore shorts or tank tops while there, only t-shirts with a cardigan and jeans–and even then I was gawked at. While in the Cairo museum I had lineups of young guys wanting to take their picture with me, and even had some guys try to grab my hand. When we went out in town I constantly had guys shouting at me and honking. Our guide kept saying “It’s because you are so beauty!” But I’m pretty sure it’s just that white girls are a novelty. But if you dress as modestly as possible it might deter some of the attention.

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