Archive for June, 2008

Giza, Saqqara and Memphis

King Zoser’s pyramid at Saqqara

June 29:

Today, Evan and I went to Saqqara, Memphis and Giza. Our guide, Sahar, and a driver came to pick us up early in the morning, and we headed to Saqqara first, passing Giza along the way, to see the oldest Pyramids in Egypt. We saw the step pyramid of King Zoser, which is nearly 5000 years old, and which was almost eclipsed by the palace structure leading up to it (photo coming as soon as we are able). There were also a bunch of stray dogs, who followed our tour guide around. She usually feeds them, and today was no exception. We also went to see a tomb that had some amazing designs on the walls, and some even with the original paint.

We left the desert to head back past the “green line,” which marks the boundary between the lush irrigated land and the barren desert, and went to a carpet school. We saw people making knotted and woven carpets, and I learned how to make a knot, and made my mark on a carpet! Then, of course, we went to the shop where we looked around, got quite a sales pitch, and ultimately left without anything, though they did have some very nice carpets.

Statue of Ramses II at Memphis

Next it was off to Memphis, where we saw a few ruins and statues in an outdoor museum. The most impressive piece was a giant statue of Ramses II.

After Memphis, where the Pharaohs ruled, it was off to a papyrus store to see how the world’s first paper was made. We got to see papyrus plants, then see our guide to the store slice off the outer skins, cut the center into strips, soak the strips (which would normally take six days), arrange them in a criss-cross pattern, then press them flat (which would normally take another six days). Then we got to see the finished product, write on it, test its strength, and get it wet.

We browsed the artwork, and saw plenty of the expected Egyptian themes, as well as some Christian ones and even two Jewish ones – a Happy Hannukah one and a Ten Commandments one. We settled on a plain sheet for us to decorate with our own artwork.

The Sphinx and a pyramid

We finally made it out to Giza, bought our tickets and stepped out to see the pyramids. They were huge, as expected, and we got to stand on some of the lower steps. We opted not to go inside, because from everything we’ve read and heard, walking down a steamy claustrophobic passageway to an empty room was not worth the extra cash. Our guide took some funny photos (coming soon) of us “holding” pyramids, and at one point hung out of the window of our moving van with Evan’s camera to take a photo for us.

The one disappointment was that being at the pyramids felt like being back at the bazaar. We couldn’t turn our heads without being asked to ride a camel – “Egyptian Cadillac! Its name is Michael Jackson! No? Will you come back later?” We stayed off the camels, didn’t buy any plastic pyramids, and weren’t lured by a boy yelling, “Ice! Ice!”

We also saw the Sphinx, which seemed to be home to quite a number of pigeons. There was also a great view from the Sphinx to the three pyramids in the background.

Oh, and guess what’s right in front of the Sphinx? A Pizza Hut! That must be the most scenic Pizza Hut in the world.

We ate dinner in Zamalek (a district on the island in the center of the Nile) at a restaurant called L’Aubergine. The food was good, and upstairs there was a bar packed with people watching the Euro 2008 finals (¡Viva España!). It seemed to be a bit of a Westerner’s haven.

Now we’re back at the hotel, figuring out what to do tomorrow.

The Egyptian Museum and the Crazy Bazaar

Well, we’re just finishing up day 2 in Egypt, and it’s already been a bit of a wild ride. We haven’t been able to upload any photos just yet, but I have written down what we’ve done over the past two days, and we’ve included this lovely webcam photo from the hotel’s lobby computer.

June 28:

Early this morning we arrived in Cairo, about an hour or so later than planned. We got our visas from one of the banks by Immigration, and then joined the Passport Control queue. We also made the (sort of) mistake of asking one of the policeman patrolling the line about our visas, since the man at the bank said to have a policeman put them in our passports. Well, after looking a bit confused, and searching through our passports, the policeman stuck mine on one of the blank Special Modifications pages, and stuck Evan’s diagonally spanning two pages. Thankfully, it turned out not to be a problem, and we were stamped on through to the baggage claim quickly enough.

Once we grabbed our bags, we found the driver for Havana Hotel and went with him to his car. The parking lot was packed, and we were parked in. There were words, lots of honking, and we eventually got out to the craziness that is Cairo’s streets.

Two-lane roads are treated as three lanes, everyone passes from every direction, motorcyclists don’t wear helmets, and horse-and-donkey-drawn carts use the same roads as everyone else. We even saw a bicycle in the left lane of the freeway. We did manage to make it safely to the hotel, and tipped our driver what we later learned would’ve been the full fare from the airport.

Egyptian Museum
In front of the Egyptian Museum

This morning, we headed out to the Egyptian Museum. The place is massive and filled to the brim with Egyptian antiquities, statues, carvings, sarcophagi, jewelry, mummies… The King Tut section was amazing, especially the gold mask, jewelry, and nested sarcophagi. Plus some of the side rooms with extra-special pieces, like Tut’s gold mask, were air-conditioned — very nice in the midday heat.

We stopped for lunch, and when we felt rested we set out for Khan El-Khalili bazaar. We spent quite a bit of time, sort of accidentally, in the non-touristy, calm southern side of the market and its surrounding neighborhood, which we liked very much. The narrow streets were full of stalls and locals doing their shopping. I bought a scarf, we didn’t get hassled, we had children say hello to us, sing, and then ask for money, but we just smiled and laughed them off.

buying a scarf
Buying a scarf at Khan El-Khalili bazaar

Then we got a little bit lost. We started wandering further down the alley-like streets, and we got to an area full of construction shops. We decided to head back to where we came from — of course not on the same path — and wound up down an incredibly busy street, which had a traffic jam of cars, trucks, mopeds, rickshaws, donkey carts, and pedestrians. We had to walk in the road amidst all this because there were no sidewalks, and we almost got squished by a truck making a very close turn to a car. A young man made the truck stop and pulled me to safety, but it was a pretty scary moment. We ended up having to walk back the way we came, and finally found our way back to our starting point.

When we crossed over to the touristy side of the market, we were hassled and chatted up at every turn. We left the market shortly after we arrived there, feeling rather spent.

Weekly Reading… and We’re Off!

We’re coming to the end of our last full day in London, and it’s been action-packed right up until the end. Evan’s been busy finishing up Hellboy II — go see it in the U.S. July 11 and in the UK August 20 (or July 13 at Somerset House) — and I’ve been busy redesigning the Write-Communications site (with help from a great Revolution theme and lots of WordPress plugins), doing work for Workology and still trying to get a bit of writing done.

The weekly list:

On our trip we should be making occasional updates to Twitter (me/Evan), Facebook, this blog and Evan’s photo site, so stay tuned. Now off to do some more packing — we head to Egypt tomorrow!

Weekly Reading and the One Week Countdown

Only one more week to go until vacation and I’m feeling much more prepared than last week. I have my clothes, my shoes, my backpack and yet another guidebook. There are still a few little odds and ends that need to be sorted out (and of course packing up the apartment), but I’m feeling good and prepared about the trip.

Of course, there’s still much work to be done here, and I once again have a rather flimsy reading list, but the two Londonist posts I managed are at least pretty funny.

A Word Cloud for our Trip

As the days leading up to our departure date tick by, I’m getting more and more excited to head off and start exploring. Today, I found a fun tool called Wordle that’ll create fun tag clouds from text, so I put in some info for our trip. I don’t like how it wouldn’t take groups of words, leading to some uncomfortable splits like “dead” and “sea” being two separate entries, but I had lots of fun playing with fonts, colors and layouts and seeing what it would generate.

vacation word cloud

Planes, Motorcades and a Dude in a Dress

fighter jets over london
Fighter jets flying over Buckingham Palace

It’s been a busy weekend in London. Yesterday was the Queen’s official birthday, and though I didn’t go to see the “Trooping of the Colour,” I did happen to see a lot of horses walking down Grosvenor St. and then was quite shocked to see an air-show worthy fly-by by lots of military jets — including fighter jets flying in formation, giant bombers lots of other gray air behemoths — passing right over Buckingham Palace.

A few hours later, I was walking home and as I passed by Hyde Park Corner, I had to stop to let a police escort whisk a royal motorcade into the park — there were crowns on all the black cars, though only one had the crown right on the top, where a taxi’s sign would be. It may have been the queen, though I didn’t really get a good look into any of the cars.

Apparently Pres Bush is also in town right now, staying by us at the Dorchester, and we saw what we believed was his motorcade, with even more police escorts than the royal one I saw yesterday, coming down Piccadilly tonight. We also saw a man in a dress. Well, more a skirt and top, actually, which, you know, wasn’t necessarily that notable. But about a minute later, we passed by a man with a thick Southern accent who said in a bewildered voice, “I don’t know what was more exciting tonight, seeing President Bush or seeing the dude in the dress”!

I also saw an old man wearing pink bunny ears and smoking a cigarette on Marylebone High Street this afternoon (LJ, where’s the photo?), so it’s been a bit of an odd weekend — though fun — to say the least.

Weekly Reading and the 2-Week Countdown

Wow, my calendar is scaring me. We only have two weeks left in London, yet there is still so much to do. I’ve been very busy with a big web project, doing more community management work on Workology — where I’ve been meeting some great freelancers and entrepreneurs — and still trying to do some writing, though I don’t have much to show on the writing front this week other than a host of discussions on Workology. I did manage to finally get on to Londonist today and wrote up a rather bizarre case of tax fraud: Barrister Caught in Faux Jet Engine Foible.”

The other excitement this week is that Evan and I bought backpacks for our trip–some good-sized internal-frame packs with lots of buckles, drawstrings and bungees. I didn’t realize how intensive shopping for a backpack would be. When we were looking at bags there were definitely quite a few that we had trouble getting into right away, which was a bit disconcerting, though maybe that’s good for safety purposes. We still need to get some new shoes, clothes and some other essentials.

Also, we’ve settled on Turkey as our replacement destination for India (side note: Evan got an email back from the India visa people who said we should be able to get a visa here… hmm…). We don’t have our Turkey tickets sorted yet, but we’re very excited to check it out and even have a friend to go visit.