Friday, May 2, 2008

April 14-19: Kel's Visit

Okay, so after being done with my vacation for almost a week, I have to admit that I'm still not quite back in the swing of things. The prospect of homework is almost too dreadful to contemplate... (unfortunately I'm contemplating it anyway. This blog entry is just a break from researching my paper on the Iran-Iraq War) That's probably one of the reasons it's taken me so long to write this entry; I've been too busy lazing around my apartment doing very little. And perhaps you'll see why after you're updated on how busy I was during the break! This first entry will be about my friend Kel's visit to Cairo. Kel is a high school friend of mine who is currently studying in France, and took her break to come hang out with me here! You can read her insights on the experience at these pages, which are entries in her blog (all of which is worth reading, I think ^^):

A Day in Geneva and a Day in Cairo!!
A-Z of Egyptian Stuff, Plus Food and Shopping!
Ancient Egypt, Modern Cairo, and Alexandria
Egyptian Culture and Stuff

For my part, I had a great time with Kel. We visited mostly places I've been before - Coptic Cairo, the Pyramids, and Alexandria. We did have a great trip to the Khan al-Khalili, which is this fabulously sprawling marketplace which I adore, partially because I actually like bargaining, which I know a lot of Westerners don't. And I bought pretty things! I have to go again before I leave, because I had an idea for something I want to buy for my mom.

Anyway, I don't really know what to say about it that Kel hasn't already said (and would put better anyhow ^^), but pictures, as always, can be found on Flickr. My next entry will be a much more involved description of my Spring break, and a visit from my Aunt Liz, but I'm not sure how long it will be before that because I'm still sorting through the zillions of pictures I took. Until then, maasalemah.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Fake Update

Hi everyone! Sorry I haven't posted in a while... I've been really busy! I'm currently on Spring break. My Aunt Liz is visiting and we're in Luxor right now, which is very cool. ASAP (probably next week), I'll be posting about my break, as well as about my friend Kel's visit to Cairo last week. But for now, back to doing the stuff I'll be writing about later.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008


This weekend was a four-day break because of Western Easter. I had originally planned to go to Jerusalem with a friend from my Intro to Sufism class, but after the Yeshiva shooting, we were told that security would be crazy at the Israeli border, we'd have to wait forever to get in, and we probably wouldn't have been able to get to the West Bank. So, given that, we canceled that trip, and I didn't think I'd get to do anything fun. But then Sarah's plans also fell through, so we decided to figure out something to do together. We figured mostly we'd hang out in Cairo, but we also planned a day trip to Alexandria (about two hours away by express train).

Our train left from Ramses Station at 8am, and the ride went through the Nile delta - pretty green farmland that reminded me a bit of driving through the midwest. Except for the palm trees and stuff, of course.


When we got to Alexandria we found out that some of the stuff we had wanted to do was closed (the Greco-Roman museum was just closed, and the Biblioteca Alexandrina was closed until 3), so we went to some fort that I didn't know anything about, but it had gorgeous views of the Mediterranean.


It was also full of vendors, and I negotiated pretty intensely to get the price of a wooden bracelet down, bought it, and was asked for my phone number (don't worry Danny, I didn't give the guy my number). This is the second wooden bracelet I've bought so far in Egypt - the first was from that Sudanese refugee craft bazaar I posted about before. I think I'm going to start collecting them when I go other places in Egypt. I also got a really cool present for someone, but it's a surprise, so I won't tell any of you what it is. Mwahaha! I liked that the vendors let me use my Arabic, and seemed pretty impressed with it. I was told I got the "local discount" on the present I bought, although naturally I have no way of knowing whether this was true.


After hanging out there for a while, Sarah and I walked down the street looking for a place to have lunch. We went to this place the Fish Market, which had, seriously, the cleanest and most pleasant bathroom I've seen in all of Egypt. Worth it just for the bathroom, I swear (you know you're traveling in a developing country when a nice bathroom is cause for jubilation and, later, nostalgia)! Also the waiter thought I was cute (this must have been a good day for me), so we got the table with the best view in the restaurant. It looked out over the harbor and the sea beyond, and it was gorgeous! I just ate stuff from the appetizer sampler that they put out with all different mezze (I wish I'd taken a picture, it was a very pretty spread), and Sarah got a fish that she picked out and stuff, and she said it was really good.

After lunch we went to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which is this giant library (it also has a few museums inside) that's supposed to recapture the glory of the ancient Library of Alexandria or something. It was really cool, though, and we stayed there for like three hours.



My favorite part was the Rare Books and Manuscripts collection. These pictures are of "an old print of the Torah written in Hebrew on a long scroll" and an English translation of the Qur'an (with a fold-out map of Arabia, so you'd know where stuff was ^_^). There were more books than just sacred texts (though there were a lot of those), but since I'm a big religion geek, those were my favorites.



At 7 we caught the train home. It was a really nice trip! I found that I liked Alexandria a lot. It's very different from Cairo, but in good ways. The air is cleaner, it's easier to breathe. And there's just something different about the character of the city that's very pleasant. Plus there was the really great bathroom, can't forget that!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mt. Sinai

Note: I have pictures throughout this entry, but these are not all the pictures I took. Check my flickr page for the rest.
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I spent this weekend at Mt. Sinai (where Moses received the 10 Commandments!) with Sarah and Helen. Please remind me, if I ever decide that I want to climb a mountain, that I'm not in great shape and I get really bad altitude sickness. Still, I got some amazing pictures, to it wasn't a total loss.

We left late Friday morning, and took a bus that passed through Suez, and then down the west coast of Sinai (along the Gulf of Suez), and from there into the interior. I have a few pictures from the bus ride:


We were dropped off at St. Katherine's, the monastery at the foot of the mountain, at about 7pm. We were planning to climb up and sleep on the mountain, then wake up to watch the sunrise, but there were no groups leaving near then, and we wanted a guide up, since it was dark. We waited in the courtyard at St. Katherine's until 1 am for a group (we were misinformed about the time, otherwise we might have tried to get rooms so we could sleep). We started up with them, and Sarah and I ended up going a lot of the way by camel (there's a camel path which, while easier to walk than the Stairs of Penitence, is still much easier traversed by camel. The last leg of the journey is impossible by camel, and has to be done on foot. I did it with the help of my guide, Muhammad.


Also, I threw up partway up, probably having to do with my altitude sickness. Muhammad did not begrudge me this, and we had a nice rest. As we climbed, some people who were coming down encouraged us, telling us it was not far to the top. It was kind of nice to interact with strangers, since that's the sort of thing that's usually not a good idea in Cairo. Most of the people climbing Mt. Sinai were religious pilgrims (some sang hymns, in which I joined once I got to the top and regained my breath), and everyone was very cheerful. Once we got to the top, we settled in to watch the sun rise. I got some really nice pictures here (more on my flickr page).



Then, around 8am, Sarah, Helen and I set out for the bottom. Some of my favorite pictures were from the trip down.




I do have to say that I'm glad we did the ascent at night. I'm afraid of heights and probably would not have climbed it if I'd really known how tall it was (about 2285 meters, or 7500 feet). Helen got away from us at some point, and it took Sarah and me a long time to get down, since we hadn't slept, and I was suffering from altitude sickness, and probably dehydration, and I was nauseous, light-headed, and I think mildly delirious (I kept seeing faces in the rocks. I remember the Virgin Mary, John Lennon, and half of Gandalf). I kept sitting down and refusing to move, and I never would have gotten down at all if it weren't for Sarah, who took such amazing care of me and was so considerate and didn't get frustrated with me at all. Still, it took us about 6 hours to get down. And I got really sunburned.

Once we got back to St. Katherine's, the monastery itself was closed to visitors (it's only open three hours per day), so unfortunately we didn't get to see any of the cool stuff they had there. Helen had already headed back to Cairo, but we didn't know this, and she wasn't answering her cell phone, so we took a while trying to figure out what had happened to her. People who worked in the guest house café said that they'd seen her that morning, so we knew she'd gotten down from the mountain. We called my flatmate (also named Sarah), who works for AUC housing, and asked her what to do. She called her boss, who told us just to get home and they'd figure out what was happening with Helen. Sarah and I had missed the bus, so we took a service taxi back to Cairo. It was really expensive, but at that point we were so exhausted (and I wanted to get back to Cairo in case I needed to see a doctor, since medical care in that region isn't very good), that we paid and were driven back. I got back to my apartment at about 11 and went the heck to bed (after finding out that Helen had made it back okay). I felt much better after getting off the mountain, getting some rest in the car, drinking lots of water, and being back in Cairo. I'm staying home from class today, though, and my flatmate's taking care of me. I hope y'all like those pictures. Phew.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Jewelry and Juice

So, a couple things to report:

1) There was a craft bazaar on campus yesterday and today organized by STAR (Student Action for Refugees) with some beautiful art, scarves, jewelry and other stuff being sold by Sudanese refugees (a lot of the stuff was made in Sudan, too). I bought a few gorgeous things yesterday - a wooden beaded bracelet and a gold scarf. I went back today for a painting (by a Sudanese refugee artist, and it's a gorgeous painting of two women and a man dressed in traditional clothing, but you can't see their faces), and ended up buying that as well as a woven/wooden tray that was made in Darfur. Theoretically I'm going to use the tray here for tea, and then give it to my mom as a present when I get home (don't worry, Mom, I'll get you something I don't use first, too) unless I like it too much to give up. It is really pretty. Apparently they're holding this bazaar every month, so there goes all the money I'm saving on cheap food and cabs... ^^

2) I finally made it to one of the fresh juice stands that are scattered around the city - there's one on my way home from campus. I got blood orange juice (2 LE, ~40 cents), and the guy just cut two blood oranges in half and squeezed them in an old-fashioned press... the juice was so amazing. I'm going back there all the time. Next time, maybe orange/carrot?

Monday, February 25, 2008

My Birthday and Other Fun Stuff...

So, this past Saturday was my birthday; 20 years old, no longer a teenager. Or, to quote my boyfriend, "Congratulations on two decades of epic win!!" On Saturday I had a few people over to my apartment, and we had food and played Uno. It was good fun but I forgot to take pictures. Sorry!

On Friday (reverse chronological order... I'm quite tricky), I went to the big fancy mall (City Stars) with a bunch of the girls from my apartment building. (I actually do have a few pictures from this excursion, just one or two, but I haven't uploaded them yet). It was pretty cool; we had Lebanese food, and smoked shisha (flavored tobacco smoked in a water pipe), and went to several stores, including Spinney's which I'm told is a lot like Wal-Mart (I'm not a Wal-Mart person myself... it was like Target except larger and not as well-organized). I also went to Starbucks there; even though there are several Western-style and international coffee chains around the city, I haven't seen many Starbucks, so I was jazzed to have a vanilla crème frappucino. I got carsick on the way back, though. The highway was almost a parking lot, but not quite, so we had a great deal of stop-and-go and an obscenely long drive. Still altogether worth it, though.

Also, I wanted to tell you guys about how I've found a favorite grocery store. It's pretty near my apartment where there happen to be, for some reason I can't quite fathom, about 5 markets of the same type right next to each other. My favorite is the one on the end, farthest away from where I cross the street, which I discovered by accident about a week and a half ago when I happened to be coming from a different direction than I normally do. I like it because the proprietor is really friendly and helpful, speaks a bit of English and laughs good-naturedly at my Arabic, and always seems so happy to see me when I come in. Also, today, I proved trusted enough (or something) to receive the number one can call to have the store deliver to one's apartment. Yay! Did I mention that they deliver everything here? Seriously... prescriptions, bottled water, groceries. I even got a McFlurry delivered right after I got here, when I was like... man, I could go for a McFlurry.

Also, I've already tried once to make pilaf from scratch and was not wholly successful (although I still ate it). I had some ideas for adjustments to make, and if it turns out well I'll post a recipe.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Pyramids

Edit: I've added my pyramids and Old Cairo photos to my Flickr account since I posted this entry. I actually have more than are up there, if you're interested, but it takes forever to upload that many pictures, so maybe I can mail you a CD or something when I get home. The best ones are uploaded, anyway. ^^

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So today, I went to the Pyramids at Giza, and to Sakkara (which also has pyramids, but not as impressive). It was AWESOME.

So there are three pyramids at Giza, and it's hard to get into the Great Pyramid because they only sell 300 tickets per day, so we went inside the second pyramid instead (which apparently is often used instead of the great pyramid in photos, because it still has some of the facing limestone at the top and is more picturesque). It was really cramped in a lot of places - in some of the tunnels, we had to bend over double. I also totally stumbled on the way out and fell on my butt - I'm so smooth. Still, even though I was dripping sweat by the end, it was totally amazing. I was inside one of the pyramids! How cool is that? (They didn't let us take pictures inside)


Some of the group, including me and Sarah, broke off to go on a camel ride. I never realized how tall camels are... totally taller than horses, and like 90% joints. Seriously. It was mildly terrifying, but in a cool way.


We also saw the Sphinx, and were totally harassed by vendors. I actually started having a lot of fun bargaining with them to see how low I could prices (usually not low enough for me to actually think whatever it was was worth buying, although I did get a pretty scarf. And there's a singing camel I may get when I go back with Kel or Aunt Liz. It was just so kitsch I couldn't stand it.


After the pyramids we went to Sakkara, but by then it was already like 3 and they hadn't fed us all day, so we were totally starving and no one paid much attention. Then we went to a restaurant that was a lot of fun... there was this band that wandered around and they got me to get up and dance with them. Sarah apparently has pictures and video of me doing this, but I just have this picture of the band:


I have a ton more pictures, but I haven't uploaded them all yet. Sorry! I'll do it when I get the chance.