About Me

My photo

I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Monday, November 30, 2009

Egypt: Aswan to Edfu

Day 5 (March 13, 2007): This morning why not join our fantastic optional excursion to Abu Simbel - the most complete example of ancient Egyptian architecture. Built by Pharoah Ramses II more then 3,000 years ago, the temples were moved over a period of years to their new site safely above the waters of Lake Nasser. After lunch, we cruise to Kom Ombo to view this unique temple, shared by two gods. Continuing, we reach Edfu, where we spend the night on-board. (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included)

This morning our wake up call was at 4:30, we had to leave at 5:00 for Abu Simbel. Sherif arraigned for box breakfast for us, it consisted of a couple types of bread, some with cheese, a banana, cucumber and a drink. Our flight to Abu Simbel was at 6:30 and was supposed to take a half hour but we didn’t land until 7:20. I had a little trouble with security (as did bunch of other people), they didn't seem to care about the bottles of water I had, but they picked up on the hand sanitizer I had. It took me a minute to figure out the issue and then they didn't understand hand sanitizer. Finally I just said hand cleaner and I was set. On our flight we got drink service, they flew down the aisle giving us juice boxes and then collecting them just as fast – I guess you have to be quick when you only have half an hour. When we got to Abu Simbel we had to take a bus from the plane to the terminal, which was about 20 feet away. Apparently there is a rule that you can’t walk on the tarmac; however, it would be much faster if they let you. They were so strict that you couldn’t even walk to the bus that was waiting behind the bus that was loading.

When we arrived at the entrance we went through metal detectors and Sherif walked us to a shady spot and told us a little about Abu Simbel. There are two temples: one is for Ramses II the other for Nefertari. Ancient Egyptians thought quite highly of there Pharoses, Ramses II even more so. Not only is he considered one of the best Pharoses, he also lived twice as long as the average Egyptian - into his 90’s. I’m sure his portrayal of himself in temples didn’t hurt either. One of his wives, he had many, was Nefertari.

The Small Temple was built to Hathor (a goddess) and Nefertari, the Great Temple was dedicated to Ramses and 3 gods: Amun Ra, Ra Harakhti, and Ptah. The temples were built into a mountain over 20 years. When the Egyptians built the High Damn the temples were at risk of being flooded and the Egyptians approached several countries for assistance in saving the temples. The Swiss and Germans proposed to move the temples by cutting it into smaller pieces and guaranteed the safety of the temple. Between 1961 and 1964 they moved the temple; they even maintained the integrity of the axis of the temple. The temple was designed on an axis so that on February 20 and October 20 the sun would shine into the back of the temple and illuminate 3 of the 4 figures on the back wall (Ramses, Amun Ra, and Ra Harakhti), the 4th figure, Ptah, would not be illuminated because he represented darkness. The other thing of note about this temple is that is was intended to greet “visitors” from the South, the 4 Ramses II in the front were intentionally HUGE to scare away any would be invaders.

First we went inside Nefertari’s temple, which was quite amazing; the engravings in the wall were pretty cool and showed scenes from Egypt. Ramses II’s temple was even more amazing with a lot of little rooms and scenes from wars and showing Ramses II’s victories. Sherif was not allowed to guide us inside, but had told us a few things to look for inside so while some things were just cool pictures, other things had a lot of meaning. We were not allowed to take photos inside, though I managed to sneak a few little videos with my camera.

At 9:40 we met by the exit/entrance and even though I had my little videos I still bought the professional photos they were selling. Our flight was at 10:30 from the airport and we were back at the ship with time to get Tara's ATM card back.

Tara, Ed and I went straight to the bank since we only had an hour until the ship was leaving Aswan. The guy at the bank was giving Tara a bit of a hard time. First he didn’t think he could do it within the hour and made it sound really hard and complicated. Then he started with needing a copy of her passport (she had her passport, but not a photocopy on her). So we had to go across the street to get a photocopy, which was fun since they were doing construction and there was a bit of ditch in the middle of the road. Then when we got back he had her right down her info and sign for it. Then he takes the card out of the ATM machine and realizes he needs to photocopy that. But now he wanted to count a stack (over an inch tall) of money first. Ummm, hello, our boat is leaving soon! So Tara talked him into doing the photocopy first. The whole process should have taken 5 or 10 minutes, but he managed to drag out it, it was like he was punishing us for HIS ATM eating Tara’s card. After that we tried a different ATM but Tara wasn’t able to get money out of that one either. We were back at the ship with plenty of time to spare.

After that we hung out on deck until it was time for lunch at 1:30, which was just enough time for me to get a bit of sunburn on my shoulders. After lunch it was time for a nap! Tara had fallen in love with the beds on the ship, they were comfy and the bedspread was even better. I slept until 3:20 and we had a stop in Kom Ombo at 4:00.

We were the first group inside Kom Ombo Temple, which allowed us to get some really good pictures. By the time we left there were people everywhere. This temple was built for the crocodile. Ancient Egyptians were afraid of the crocodile and people could come to this temple to make sacrifices to the crocodile. The Temple was built in two different stages, the first phase around 180 BC by the Egyptians and the second phase around 30 BC. The later stage has a Greek influence in the Temple. The front façade of the temple is missing; apparently it fell into the Nile. Despite the lack of façade and the fact that the roof is missing in places, I thought it was in pretty good shape, it’s probably in better shape then any of the building we’re building now will be in 2000 years. The last thing that Sherif showed us was a room with mummified crocodiles, they’re just as pretty as mummified people, I took an obligatory picture and left. After that I walked back to the ship with Tim through the market. I noticed a lot of belly dancing outfits that were nicer (and less revealing) then the one I had bought. Other then that I wasn’t too interested in anything I was seeing. Besides, every shop you walked by, the guys (there aren’t any women selling stuff in the markets) were hounding you to buy their stuff. It made it a bit intimidating to even look at there stuff for fear that they would try to suck you into something you didn’t want. They might sell a lot more stuff if they didn’t hound everyone who walked by. I’ve never been a fan of high pressure sales techniques; it only makes me think they are trying to sell me crap before I realize it is crap. Needless to say, I probably didn’t spend nearly as much as I could have in Egypt because of this. It’s a shame; I’m usually a sucker for cheesy souvenirs.

After that I went out on deck and worked on my journal. On my past Contiki trips I would use time on the bus to write in my journal, but we spent so little time on busses that I found I had to make time to write in my journal. Anyway, I worked on my journal until dinner, which happened to be around the time when it got cold outside. It was really nice during the day this time of year, but at night it got fairly cold. While I was downstairs waiting for dinner to start I noticed Tara going to the gift shop. She had tried on the top of her belly dancing outfit and it simply didn’t fit her right and she went to buy a scarf to use in place of it.

After dinner it was time to get ready for the Egyptian Party. I pulled out my belly dancing outfit and went into shock when I realized that most of it was see through. Tara suggested I just wear my bathing suit bottom and bra underneath it, which is a look that I hate, but at this point was my only option and it was all for fun anyway.

Everyone from our group dressed up and even a lot of the Germans (the other tour groups on our ship were older Germans) were dressed up. One thing that Sherif didn’t mention to us was that we basically were the entertainment for the party. There was a lot of dancing with the staff to start. Had I known how the night was going to go, I would have had a drink before coming to the party. It took me a little while to warm up to the party, but once I was forced to do some dancing and the guys played Egyptian soccer I was starting to get into it. Even some of the Germans got up and danced by the end of the night. At 11:30 the music was shut off and we headed up to our room. Apparently the plan was to go up to the pool, I resisted for a minute or two and then finally relented and went up with everyone else, except I didn’t bother with my bathing suit. Jenna, Ed and Reid all went in the pool and as I already knew, it was freezing cold. Tara was sorda pushed in the pool too. I ended up talking to some German guy; I don’t remember what was said, though it wasn't much since he didn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much German. I did try to say to him (with the German my sister taught me when I was like 8 years old), “my name is Crissy,” he laughed at me, so god only knows what I really said. After that Tara was frozen and I was ready to go to sleep so we went back to the room.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Google Update

I haven't totally sorted out my issues with Google, mostly because they don't seem to have any solution. However, I have found an alternative way to go around them and created a reasonable solution for me. Hopefully this will work out the way I want it to...

In the meantime I will continue to post and have a couple things ready for this week and am working on some stuff for the future.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I'm disgusted with Google

Blogger blogs are managed by Google. Google seems to have screwed up my log in. It did it against my wishes and as far as I can tell there is no way to fix it. I find the problem unacceptable and unless it can be fixed I am going to move my blog. I haven't yet chosen a new platform, but am open to suggestions while I do research. In the meantime I will not be posting because I feel as though it would be a waste of time to post here and then move to another site.

Sorry and I hope this is sorted out soon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Egypt: Aswan

Day 4 (March 12, 2007): Arriving in Aswan mid-morning we view the unfinished obelisk and visit the High Dam. We sail on a felucca to the Botanical Gardens before joining our cruise ship for a sumptuous lunch. (Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner included).

I woke up around 6am and heard Tim talking, I was never able to get back to sleep so I worked on my journal and enjoyed the scenery a bit. At 7:30 we got our wake up knock and then a few minutes later breakfast was served, a variety of unimpressive breads, it was a good morning for snacks. Tara and I managed to get ready in our cabin with both beds open. Overall the overnight train experience wasn’t too bad. The bathroom, while not great, was ok and the rooms were about what I expected. Jacqui has traveled on overnight trains in Turkey and Russia; she rated Egypt as worse then Turkey but better then Russia. After getting ready we hung out in the hallway and watched the little villages go by. Rumor has it that someone drank too much last night and got sick in the bathroom, unfortunately the guy assigned to our car had to clean it, which explains why he wasn't too happy this morning. A lot of the land was lush and green for farming and there were a lot of mud brick houses. Apparently, the mud brick keeps the houses cooler in the summer, so while they may not be pretty they probably make daily life tolerable, especially since many of them looked like they had been built before air conditioners, not that I happened to have noticed any air conditioners in the houses. Anyway, many didn’t seem to have roofs, or if they did they were made of palms or something like that. I guess if it doesn’t rain you require a lot less out of your roof then we do at home.

We pulled into Aswan at 9:45 and were taken to a bus that we would use for a tour of the city. Sherif told us a little about Aswan: since it’s in the South it is used as a winter resort area and it’s an industrial city. I thought it was a nicer city then Cairo and had some pretty landscaping around the city.

On our way to the Aswan High Dam we passed the Aswan Low Dam which was built by the English between 1899 and 1902. I think that was the first time I realized how much the English had colonized around the world and I have the distinct feeling the Egyptians liked it as much as the Americans did – don’t the English know when to take a hint??? The Low Dam didn’t really cut it for the Egyptians so in the 1950’s they started work on the High Dam just a few miles up the road, which was our next stop. Most people on the tour weren’t really excited by this, but I found it interesting enough to be worth the stop. Perhaps it is because I had seen the Hoover Dam a few years ago, and this one was quite different, shorter and more sprawling. On our way out of the Dam complex we stopped at the Soviet-Egyptian friendship monument (the lotus flower tower) and this was, at least for the guys, a highlight of the trip. Inside the monument was packed with teenage girls (Sherif says they are on school trips and many are from little villages where they don’t see tourists) and they just LOVED us. They were all crowding around the guys to take pictures, like they were movie starts. I was hanging back just
watching it all go on when I was “swarmed” by a bunch of girls, they immediately started asking me questions about where I was from?, where I had been?, did I like Egypt? And then they wanted to take pictures with me, it was really sweet, but overwhelming at the same time.

Our next stop was a stone quarry where we saw what was to be the largest obelisk, except that it was broken in 3 pieces and had to be abandoned. It’s really big but it’s hard to picture it as an obelisk since it’s lying down. It was pretty this day, probably the low 90’s, which was stunting my imagination. Near the exit from the quarry there was a market that you had to walk through and it was a little intimidating. The guys were yelling out to everyone to try to get them to buy thier stuff. Fortunately we were walking out at the same time as an older group (who were apparently from Austria) so they took the brunt of the attention. I guess we looked like poor young people The last shop in the market sold books about Egypt that Sherif recommended as the best book about Egypt. At this shop I found a puzzle for my nephew Lucas (who likes puzzles) and a book for my nephew Max so this was a fruitful stop. What I didn't realize was that pretty much every tourist attraction here is setup this way - with the market by the exit (which is sometimes also the entrance) so that you basically can't hide from them. After that we finally got to go to our Nile cruise ship.

Our cruise ship, Nile Sapphire, was a bit like a hotel. The rooms were designed like hotel rooms instead of traditional cruise ship staterooms. There was a lobby, bar, gift shop and restaurant. On the top deck was a pool and lounge chairs. The staff was very excited to have Contiki onboard. After we boarded we had a few minutes to drop our stuff in our rooms and go to eat lunch. Meals are served buffet style and offer a wide variety of food.

After eating lunch I decided to go into Aswan to use the internet. I went with Jason, Chi and Gary. The first place we tried was closed (apparently siesta isn’t only for the Spanish) so we tried some other random place, a few minutes after we got there Adam showed up. The internet was really slow here and we complained so the guy took us to another place. First he tried the first place we had tried, which was still closed, so he took us through some dirt alleys to another place, I was a little nervous on the walk over, but this place was cheaper and the internet worked. After 30 minutes we left and went back to the boat. Back at the boat I went out on deck for a few minutes where Adam and Tim talked me into changing and going for a swim, when I got back upstairs only Tim was around and the water was really cold, actually more like frigid. Adam apparently decided to take a nap. I decided it was time for a shower, I took a really long relaxing shower, one of the best in my life.

At 3:30 we met for our Felucca ride. It was so relaxing, we just sat and talked (Sherif did most of the talking) and sailed along the Nile. Sherif tried to convince us that the Nile is clean here, no one believed him so he had the Captain get a glass and filled it with water from the Nile. I have to admit that it looked clear. But I drew the line when Sherif suggested someone drink it. We all said we would drink it if he did, but then he was claiming his body wasn't used to the water, excuses!!! But the Captain drank the water and seemed fine after. Brave man! Anyway, Aswan looked even nicer from this view. Eventually we stopped at what is best described as a little café by the desert, here we were able to walk up a dune in the Sahara. The walk was a little tougher then it looked, but worth it for the great view of the city. Adam decided it would be fun to go sand surfing, only he didn’t have a board. Instead he found some cardboard and wanted to try that. So about half way up he tried and basically did a header into the sand. After coming down off the dune Sherif bought us drinks and had a baby crocodile and turtle brought to us. Since I’m not much of a fan of animals and have seen crocodiles and turtles I didn’t really jump on the opportunity, though they were really cute.

After that we sailed back to Aswan and were dropped off by our ship and had some free time before dinner. A few people went to use the internet but I went with Tara, Ed and Jason (SLC) to try and get money from the ATM. Tara had previously been unable to get money and wasn’t really sure why, when she wasn’t able to get it again Reid suggested checking her account on the internet. When she did she was locked out, apparently her account was totally locked by her bank. She got the phone number for the bank and bought a phone card. The 4 of us went to a phone booth and after a couple tries figured out how to get the card to work, but she couldn’t get the bank on the phone with the number she had gotten. Then we were trying to figure out the phone numbers on the back of the ATM card, at which point an Egyptian boy came to help us, too bad he was telling us what we already knew and wouldn’t take the hint. I guess 4 Americans in a phone booth on the side of the road for an extended period of time screamed “tourists who don’t know what they are doing.” Eventually we gave up and tried using Ed’s cell phone, but after trying a couple different ways that didn’t work. So then she tried my cell phone (which is $3 a minute) and finally got through to the bank. Apparently there was a fraud alert on her card and they deactivated the card, it might have been nice if the bank had mentioned that when she was at the bank on Friday to tell them she was going to Egypt. After 20 minutes she finally convinced them that she was starving in Egypt and needed money and got them to reactivate her card with a $200 a day limit. It had gotten late and it was almost time for dinner so we went back to the boat.

Back at the ship we had a few minutes before dinner so Tara, Tim and I looked around in the gift shop, the guy dressed the 3 of us up in an attempt to sell us stuff for the Egyptian Party the following night. Tim bought his outfit, but Tara and I had something different in mind.

After dinner Sherif took us to the market and showed us where to go. Then Tara, Ed and I went back to an ATM so she could get money, the ATM ate her card. Yup, sucked it in and wouldn’t give it back! Fortunately there was a guy inside the bank, but he couldn’t give her back the card, he told her to come back the next morning when the bank was open. Very handy since we were leaving for Abu Simbel at 5am and were sailing out of Aswan in the afternoon. Tara took the news like a trooper and we went shopping. Almost immediately Tara saw a belly dancing outfit that she liked and bargained the guy down to 200 LE. However, she didn’t have much cash and wanted to pay with a credit card and ended up having to pay an extra 20 LE to use the credit card. Then when we went back to the shop the top didn’t fit her right (no matter how hard the guy tried to insist that it would fit when she didn’t have clothes underneath), he gave her a different outfit, I thought the bottom was nicer, but the top wasn’t nearly as nice and was actually kinda goofy looking. The market is a little intense with everyone trying to sell you crap from both sides. In one shop I saw something, but when I looked closer it wasn’t really what I wanted. I found something else at another shop that I kinda liked, but then found a second one I liked better. I tried it on and the bartering began. The guy was putting a Cleopatra hat on me and trying to sell me that and wanted 350 LE. I managed to get him down to 200 LE without the Cleopatra hat thingy, but I had heartburn and was in a sweat by the time I left. It was much more stressful then I thought it would be to bargain and I probably wasn’t thinking totally clearly, I was hearing prices in the hundreds and it sounds like so much but 200 LE is only about $35 (350 LE is $61). In hindsight 200 LE was really low and according to bargaining etiquette you’re supposed to find a price that both people are happy with so 250 LE to 300 LE was probably what I should have paid. The American bargain hunter in me is proud the worldly side of me I thinks I went to far. Either way, I was the proud owner of a belly dancing outfit. After buying that the guy kept trying to get me to buy the Cleopatra hat thingy and I just wasn’t having it, he was trying every ploy I had heard they would use. Telling you 5, but meaning $5, not pounds. I was too freaked out by how much I thought I had just spent (and really had no idea how much I had spent) to think clearly and all but ran out of the shop. The guy followed for almost a block trying to sell the dopy thing to me but I just ignored him. Next time I would have to have a better idea of what I should/wanted to be paying before I even started.

Back at the ship we ran into Sherif and told him about Tara's ATM card and we were told by one of the staff members that the ATM's get hungry at night, gee thanks! Sherif said we should go right over when we get back from Abu Simbel. We went up to the top deck of the ship after to see if anyone else from tour had gotten back yet, but it was just the 3 of us, but slowly people started to come up. Jason (SLC) was the first person to come up, a bunch of other people were still out at the market looking for Karen. Karen had told people she was going to go with Jason, except Jason didn't know and never saw her. Shortly after they found Karen safe and sound and a bunch of people hung out on deck. Tara and I went to our room around 11:00 since tomorrow would be an early day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Egypt: Cairo and the Overnight Train

Day 3 (March 11, 2007): Cairo to Aswan: First the Egyptian Museum where our guide will take us back back to ancient Egypt and the time of the Pharaohs. From her to Giza for a guided tour of the Great Pyramids and Sphinx. In the evening we board our overnight train for Aswan. (Breakfast and Dinner included)

I was up at 6:00 and got to breakfast by 7:00. At 7:30 we boarded the bus and went to the Great Pyramid Complex. There was a lot more traffic this morning then there had been when I came in on Friday. We went through a roundabout that had people standing all around it, apparently this is where people wait to be picked up by local transportation to take them to work. We got to the pyramids at 8:00 and got tickets for the Great Pyramid (built for Cheops (AKA Khufu) in 2560 BC). Sherif told us that they only sell 250 or so tickets for the pyramid in the morning and then another set in the afternoon so if you’re not there early enough you won’t get tickets. The tickets were 100 LE (50 LE for students, which I managed to get with my expired student card – go me!).

No cameras are allowed in Cheops Pyramid, but we could have easily gotten one in, security consisted of occasionally asking people if they had cameras, they didn’t even look in people’s bags. When we were waiting on line Adam and I tried to convince each other to go and get a camera, but neither of us did. Walking up to the entrance was a little scary since you had to walk up part of the pyramid and while there were stairs, there were no railings and the stones were each almost as tall as me.

Inside the pyramid was initially like a cave but then there was a narrow (wide enough for about one and a half people but was designed for one person going up and one person going down) passage with an incline and low ceiling, a challenge for claustrophobics. When we were waiting to go up this passage people were coming down and they looked a little shocked, it had me a little worried. At the top of this passage there was a bigger room with a high ceiling (I think the top of the pyramid) and a steep incline to climb. After that you went under two low pillars from the ceiling and were finally in the burial chamber. It was a big dark room with an empty broken coffin type thing in the middle. I, like many other people, were a bit disappointed. We expected a bunch of painted rooms, and this was not that. And then we had to go back down, which wouldn’t have been so bad except that there were a ton of people still coming in, and now people who had gone up after us were starting to come down, needless to say it was getting really crowded inside and it was quite hot to add to it. I think they need to get rid of a number limit on the people going in and just have better control of the number of people inside the pyramid at any one time.

After the pyramid we got our cameras from the bus and took pictures of ourselves on the pyramid. As we moved around the pyramid Tara wanted to go look at a tomb on the side. The tomb was for Senegemib, who was a Chief Justice. This tomb, while above ground, was more like everyone had expected in the pyramid. It was a couple different rooms and carvings in the walls. The guy inside was really friendly and wanted to take our pictures. Tara quickly handed her camera to the guy while Tim and I hesitated expecting him to run off with the camera. But he was nice and in the end we all gave him our cameras and he even gave them back before asking for baksheesh (tip).

After that tomb we started to walk over to the second pyramid but didn’t get far before a guy started to demand Karen’s camera because she was taking a picture of the policeman on a camel with the 2nd pyramid in the background. I guess his “job” is to take people’s pictures with the police and the pyramid. She almost gave the camera to the guy before Tim pretty much dragged her away.

By the time we got to the second pyramid (Khafre’s Pyramid) it was 9:30 and we didn’t really have time to go inside since we were meeting Sherif at 9:45. While we were standing around there were quite a few kids walking around trying to sell us stuff (mostly cheesy replicas of the pyramids), but it wasn’t overwhelming or nearly as bad as I expected.

The bus then drove us to a look out spot past the third pyramid (Menkaure’s Pyramid). Everyone jumped out for pictures and some guy harassed Tim and I to take a picture with him. We tried really hard to avoid him but these guys all stand in the way of the view so you can’t, it culminated with him pretty much plopping a thing on my head, handing me a stick and Tim taking the picture. Then Tim had to get in the picture. In the end I sorda wandered away a bit while Tim told him he didn’t have any money on him. The picture was free, but he wanted baksheesh and since we made every reasonable effort to avoid this guy, I didn’t feel bad about not giving him anything.

After that Sherif took us to the camel guy for our camel rides. I must admit I was really excited to ride a camel and despite all the bad things I heard about camels. I did not get peed on and it didn’t spit!

My camel was attached to Reid and Jacquie’s camels and our guide was on a donkey, so our camels went faster then everyone else’s. Getting on wasn’t the easiest and when he stood up I was a little freaked out since he did the back legs first and I felt like I was going to take a header. And camels don’t make for the smoothest ride, but it’s a camel and that’s cool in its own right, even if it made me nervous. So the camels took us from the area of the 3rd pyramid through the desert to the Sphinx. Along the way I noticed a lot of garbage in the desert, which is disappointing; I wanted to see miles of clean sand. As we came around a corner you could see the head of the Sphinx sticking out of the ground. There were also areas being excavated in the pyramid complex, a reminder that there is still a lot to be found in Egypt.

Near the Sphinx we got off our camels and Sherif talked to us about the complex, embalming (which takes 70 days) and the Sphinx. Then he pointed us in the direction of the embalming building which would lead us to the side of the Sphinx, and told us where to meet him. At the front of the embalming building there was insanity! Holy people trying to sell crap! Ok, it wasn’t all crap, I thought the singing and dancing camels were kinda cute (my sister wasn't so enchanted by the one I bought my nephew), but I was not ready for these people, you couldn’t take a step without walking by one of them. Inside the embalming building there were a ton of people, you could barely walk around. I went up to see the Sphinx which was pretty cool. I had recently seen a show where they talked about the Sphinx and how they are doing restoration work on it, so the bottom of it seemed to be in better shape then the top. It would probably help if someone hadn’t chiseled off the nose of it. After that we met for our group photo with the Sphinx and Pyramids in the background then we walked to the bus.

Our next stop was the Egyptian Museum. On the way we drove through downtown Cairo which wasn’t looking much better then the other day. Though maybe the buildings weren't quite as bad as I thought, they were just ugly and the city is dirty. What I did notice was a lot of garbage, everywhere. Along one of the roads there was a small river and intermittently there would be heaps of garbage in it. And generally the roads and sidewalks would be a littered. I started to wonder what type of organized trash collection they had. As a general theme throughout the trip I noticed a distinct lack of garbage cans and when there was one it was hidden/small or not very garbage can like. I think this lack of garbage can thing makes it difficult for well intentioned people to throw garbage out properly, adding to the liter in the city. Sherif showed us where the nice part of town is, in Giza (on the West Bank of the Nile) on the Nile where a 1 bedroom apartment costs about 2 Million Egyptian Pounds. While this area did seem a bit nicer, it was NOT Park Avenue, though I’m sure the view from these buildings is amazing.

Sherif told us we would not be able to bring our cameras into the museum, which is true and disappointing. After having been to the Louvre and the Hermitage (which were both originally built as palaces) this museum wasn’t nearly as fancy as I am used to. Apparently after having been to two of the most famous museums in the world and maybe a handful of other museums I have become a museum snob. But I saw more pieces here then I saw in the Louvre and I stayed awake here which I couldn’t manage to do at the Hermitage, so I guess this was a better experience. Actually, it was a great experience. Sherif gave a great tour, he didn’t try to overload us with info, but chose some select pieces related to our travels in Egypt and gave a good explanation of them and Egyptian art in general. We saw pieces from Hatshepsut, Ramses II, King Tut and others. We finished up with the items from King Tut’s tomb, and based on the amount of stuff in his tomb (which is the only tomb they have found intact) I couldn’t even fathom what they would have found in Ramses II’s tomb if it had not been raided. Sherif directed us to the King Tut room and the Mummy room. We all went in the King Tut room which has his coffins (his body was inside 3, 2 are displayed in the King Tut Room, the 3rd holds his body in his tomb at the Valley of the Kings), his famous mask and other items. No one was in front of the mask when I walked in so I went there first and just stared at it for a minute. It was amazing, even by today’s standards. I would have to say the same about the coffins, they’re incredibly ornate.

My next stop was the Mummy Room; I went with Jacqui, Adam and Jenna. I tried to get the student rate again, but I was busted. Though the guy gave me a student ticket but charged me 80 LE instead of the full 100 LE, so I wonder if he pocketed the 30 LE (the student rate is 50 LE). Mummies are weird looking and freaky, but since I doubt I’ll have this opportunity again, I had to do it, besides they are a couple thousand years old so I guess they can look weird. With our last 20 minutes I went to the Hilton with Jacqui, Adam and Ed to get money. The most exciting part of this trip was the bathroom, they have a really nice bathroom here and the woman wasn’t asking us for baksheesh either.

We met at 2:30 outside the museum and were finally going to lunch. When we arrived the waiters put a bunch of stuff on the table, hummus, green stuff that tasted like cold pea soup, salsa, kosheri, pitas and falafel. I should mention that I am really picky with food and was nervous that I would starve while here. But with the encouragement of my tour mates I tried everything and I survived, I even liked most of it. Then we had a main course, I had chicken, which was very good.

Back on the bus after lunch were on the way to the papyrus store. When the bus went to turn around, we were hit by a car with a female driver. The bus driver got out and tried to help her put her headlight back in, but they couldn't get it in so she put it in her car and she drove off. Apparently, no one really has car insurance and when you get in an accident you just help each other out and go on your way. At the papyrus shop a girl did a little demo of how papyrus paper is made, how to tell if it’s real and showed us a couple popular pieces. I bought 2 different pieces. One was of my sign (cancer) with my name on it and the other had camels walking through the desert past the pyramids. I would have liked to get one with more Egyptian type of art on it, but I couldn’t honestly see myself hanging any of it in my room. The two pieces I bought are hanging in my dining room.

Our next stop was a perfumery in a Nubian village near the pyramids. Here we got to experience some Egyptian hospitality. When we came in they served us all the drink of our choice, told us a little about themselves and then brought out some samples. I had heard they do this in Egypt, and that it's not just a ploy to get you to buy stuff, it's just their hospitality. Before going I swore I wasn’t getting any perfume. Needless to say the samples they had us try were quite nice and I bought a bottle of Lotus Flower for my mother. I think the part of this stop was that was funny was that just as many men as women were trying the perfumes, it was funny to look across the room and see all these guys smelling perfume. Towards the end they offered a second round of drinks and sheesha. There was another tour in another room at the place and a couple people were leaving when we were leaving. A woman saw the sheesha and thought it was pot and asked about it. Someone told her it was a water pipe with tobacco, she was basically horrified and said it was disgusting. At this point I didn't totally get the whole sheesha thing and even I knew she was being an ignorant tourist. Then it was time to go to the train station.

I had heard a variety of stories about the overnight train to Aswan. They ranged from being ok to hearing that people didn’t use the bathroom for 20 hours because it was so gross. We arrived a little past 8:00 and Sherif arraigned to have our bags brought over to the platform where our train car was (since we were 20 people we would have a whole car to ourselves). While we waited for our train (which was leaving at 8:45) we had time to buy some snacks in case dinner wasn’t enough for us, I bought some chips. Our room was really small but had two seats and two fold down beds (the seats were also the fold down bed) and a sink. It wasn’t fancy but it was clean and more modern then I thought it would be. We had dinner in our cabins, which consisted of a burger that I think had peppers in it, something unidentifiable and cake. It’s best described as bad airplane food.

After dinner people hung out in the hallway for a bit then went to the club car. I didn’t stay there too long since it was smoky. Then I hung out in our train car talking to people and eventually made my way back to the club car since that was where the action was. At some point Ed spilled a drink on himself, which really sucked for him, especially since most people had there cameras with them. I went back to my room around midnight.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Egypt: Cairo 3

Day 2 (March 10, 2007): This morning time to explore Cairo before meeting our guide and fellow travelers at 7pm.

I had set my alarm for 9:30 this morning because breakfast was served until 10:30 and I wanted to have breakfast. Breakfast was ok, nothing to write home about. But they did have the tasty tang drink I had the night before so it was worth it. After breakfast I decided to hang out by the pool, get a little sun and read my book - it was so nice being out in the sun after the below freezing weather I had left in New York. While I was at the pool a girl came around from the spa selling spa treatments. Being a sucker for a spa treatment I got a 30 minutes reflexology message for 110 LE, which was a pretty good deal.

After my trip to the spa I sat by the pool reading and eventually ordered lunch. While waiting for lunch Gary showed up and sat down to have lunch with me. After lunch I went back to my room to rest and watched some TV. I got to watch an old episode of Days of Our Lives, which highlighted how bad the acting on Soaps is (now that I am back home I continue to watch), and some other shows on TV.

At 7:00 I went to the lobby for our pre-tour meeting. I met Sherif (our Tour Manager) and Jacqui in the lobby, and we went to a conference room where everyone else was. A few minutes later Karen arrived and the meeting started. There are 20 people on tour, 10 girls and 10 guys.

Sherif told us that the next day we would go to the pyramids and the museum - the highlights - in case people weren't feeling well by the end of the tour. After 10 -15 years of doing tours, I guess he knows what he's talking about. He also told us that this was not a holiday, this was a tour and we would have some early mornings. Sherif showed us some pictures and talked about the optionals. He then sent us to eat dinner together by the pool.

Just as we went to sit down my roommate, Tara, finally arrived from Austin. I showed her to our room so she could freshen up before dinner. Sherif commented that I looked very happy (and I was happy to finally have a roommate) and I had looked uncomfortable at the meeting, but I guess I looked a little unhappy at the meeting, probably because it was really cold. At dinner my end of the table had Chi (NY), Jason (NY), Karen (NY), Gary (Singapore), Jason (Salt Lake City), Natasha (Aus), Anton (Aus), Kelley (NY) and Jacqui (Aus but living in UK). As the night went on people started going back to their rooms for bed, and table started to shift, so I got to met Sharon (Ireland), Tim (New Zealand) and Craig (Canada). Craig was telling me who other people were, but as he was calling Adam, Adam and Alex, I didn't entirely trust his memory at that point. But in fairness, it is hard to learn 20 names in one night. A couple people were smoking Sheesha, I didn't totally get the Sheesha thing (it's a water pipe with tobacco in it) so they explained that it was a social thing. Apparently people like to go to the cafe, smoke sheesha and hang out. I gave it a try, but wasn't really feeling it. At 11:00 I went back to my room, already sensing that this would be a good group.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Egypt - Cairo 2

Day 1 (March 9, 2007): Today I arrive in Cairo in the afternoon, hopefully I find my way through customs and will have some time to relax.

My flight landed in Milan a little early and when I finally got off the plane the line for security was HUGE, I found myself wondering if I would make my flight to Cairo. Then some guy said he had been in security like this before and it took him 4 hours. I'm sure Milan is lovely, but I really didn't want to spend the day there. Luckily it only took an hour. I think the problem is that more people have connecting flights here then actually fly to stay in Milan. After getting through security I wandered around the airport a bit but stayed out of the shops since most were very Milanesk (expensive designer shops), instead I had pizza at 9am and bought some water so I had some before getting getting to Egypt, which turned out to be a smart move as there were any obvious places to get water when I first got to Egypt. Boarding for my flight from Milan to Cairo involved taking a bus to the plane and boarding from there. My theory on this is that they are either building or refurbishing a terminal and in the meantime board lots of planes from the tarmac.
At this point I was so exhausted that I could hardly stay awake for take off or for the food. I had opened my tray table and at one point I woke up and my food was there. Unfortunately the food sucked, I ate what was decent and went back to sleep. When I opened my eyes again, it had magically disappeared.

When we were over Cairo I woke up to look out the window and see the city. Years ago I had flown to El Paso, Texas and was struck my how much dirt was there and was expecting to see the same thing. Cairo was totally different, for the first time I was struck by how immense and sprawling the city was, it didn't look that big in my guide book. However, everything was dirt colored.

When I got off the plane there were people along the side of the walkway with signs, after walking a bit I found Hashim with the "Contiki" sign, relief. He put me on the line for passport control and told me he would meet me on the other side. I had no trouble getting into Egypt. On the other side I was alone for a few minutes waiting for Hashim and I felt like some people (men) were watching me. I'm not sure if I was just paranoid or if they really were. Either way Hashim found me, we collected my luggage and were on our way to the hotel.

On the ride to the hotel Hashim told me that it was Friday, which is the holiday (weekends are Friday & Saturday) so the roads would be quite since most people were at the Mosque praying. The driving wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but I was assured it would be worse on Sunday. When we first left the airport is was really nice, kinda reminded me of Florida, with grassy medians and palm trees along the road. Did I mention it was toasty warm here, I was overdressed in my long sleeve shirt, YES! As we got further into the city it started to fit into what I had pictured it to be. Buildings that looked like tenements, some looked like they were crumbling, a lot had clothing hanging outside to dry, and generally the city seemed quite dirty. I also saw a lot of half built buildings, which I had heard about before coming, I'll talk about them later. There were people hanging around on the side of the road, and not local roads, highways. And then to the left I saw the pyramids. I looked at them for a few seconds before it clicked, that they were the pyramids, the things I came all this way to see. I grabbed my camera and the driver slowed a bit so I could get a picture. Shortly after that we arrived at the hotel.

The hotel I was staying at was the Oasis Hotel and everyone there was sooooo friendly. The guy at the counter immediately recognized my last name as being German and even pronounced it right, I had to come all the way to Egypt to have my name pronounced right. At this point someone shoved my welcome drink in my hand, for a second I wondered if it was ok, but then figured Hashim would have told me if I couldn't drink it. It was orangey, like tang. Then I had a conversation about German and the couple words of it I knew. It was all happily overwhelming. I was told my room was 1601 and that my roommate would be coming the following day, then I was sent with a bellman to my room. What kind of Contiki tour is this, I don't have to schlep my bag everywhere?

The hotel had an interesting layout, it was an outside design (though the hotel was fenced in) with greenery everywhere, it sounds hokey, but it was a little Oasis in Cairo. I freshened up and went to the lobby area to get money and see if I could find anyone from tour. I had trouble getting money from the ATM, at first it said that it didn't have enough 10 LE (Egyptian Pounds), so I tried a lower amount - 60 LE, which I got, but that's only like $10. I ended up going across the street to the exchange place and exchanging some of the money I had brought with me. On the Contiki website Ed, Gary and I had discussed meeting up for drinks, but I didn't find anyone. I asked at guest relations about Gary and Ed's rooms, but was only able to get Gary's room. I decided to give him a call and we met up for dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Gary told me that Karen was going to Alexandria the next morning, it was $100 for her to hire a taxi, but the taxi was leaving at 7am. I decided that I was too jetlagged to do it, on top of that I had felt like I was getting a cold, so I decided I was going to have a more low key day before the tour started. After dinner we went back to our own rooms and by 10:00 I was out cold.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Egyptian Travelogue - Pre-Tour

Thought I would start up with my Egypt Travelogue, I'll go back to the Scandi and Russia Travelogue at a later date.

Pre-Tour (March 8, 2007): Today I fly from New York to Cairo, via Milan, on Alitalia.

I was up at 7:20 this morning because my house was too hot to sleep in, it worked out ok since I didn't want to sleep too late today and then not be able to sleep on the plane. I spent my morning doing some last minute things and reading part of a travelogue about Egypt. The travelogue wasn't the most positive (while the writer loved Egypt there were some issues along the way), adding to the anxiety that had slowly been rising in the past few days. Mostly I was worried about the water being gross, Egypt being really dirty, the people in the markets driving me nuts and not getting picked up at the airport. Even though I had been to Europe alone before, this was going to be the most culturally different place I had been to and I could already feel myself resisting it.

I went to lunch with my Mom, my sister Heidi and my nephew Alex. All week my Mom was telling me that a camel would pee on me, not sure where that came from, but it cracked me up. Before Heidi took me to the airport my Mom had some words of wisdom for me, "don't eat, drink, or breath anything."

I got to the airport at 3:15 and easily checked in and got through security. I was flying Alitalia and was a little worried about what to expect, I had read a lot of mixed reviews about them. When boarding started the line quickly got really long and I was at the back of the plane. They were only boarding rows 30-45, yet there were people from all rows on line. The airlines should either give up on the boarding from the back, or actually enforce it. I called a few days earlier to confirm my flight and I got my seat assignment, I had a window seat at the back. What I didn't realize was that it was the second to last row. What I also didn't know was that the seat would have a box for the entertainment system. I quickly grabbed the things I thought I would need for the flight and the people next to me put my backpack in the overhead compartment.

The people next to me seemed like a nice couple, but they didn't speak any English. In one of my blond moments of this trip it never occurred to me that on Alitalia they would speak Italian and there would be Italians on the flight, duh! If I had realized it I might have tried to remember a couple words of Italian, like thank you, but I didn't. The woman I was sitting next to asked me where I was going and had a horrified face when I said Egypt. She seemed relieved when I said Milan to Egypt, but I think she thought I was going to Milan and Egypt. Who cares, I would never see these people again. During the flight they wore there headphones, but never plugged them it, I thought that was really weird.

While we were taxing to take off the flight attendants asked some guy in front of me if he would switch seats with someone who had a middle seat. Apparently they weren't able to fly in the middle seat, and if they couldn't switch them then they would have to go back to the airport to drop the person off. Are you kidding me???? I really wanted to turn back and drop them off, but more importantly I wanted to make my connecting flight to Egypt. The guy switched and we were off. But really, who does that? My guess is liars who think that someone will switch out of fear of taking off late.

The flight was ok, I watched The Departed until I fell asleep. For dinner they were serving chicken and fish, but they were out of chicken by the time they got to me. Since I don't like fish, dinner wasn't my favorite meal. Actually, the only good thing was the dessert. I guess the rumors about Alitalia are true.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rockefeller Tree Lighting


Seriously, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting (December 1 this year) is an event I highly recommend NOT going to EVER. Here is why:

1. It's always REALLY cold
2. You can't see anything, well maybe if you show up 5 or 6 hours early you can get a good spot, but then you're only seeing the tree.
3. The only thing you can see, if you can see it, is the tree. Great, go turn your the lights on on your Christmas tree at home - wow, isn't it exciting! Very few people get a spot where they can see the Christmas tree (like 1,000 people), then they turn the lights on and everyone leaves.
4. The cops are really cranky! I've seen cops at all sorts of large events, this one takes the cake. Too many people come to see the lighting and there isn't nearly enough room for them and everyone becomes unpleasant. Picture crazy cops with bull horns yelling at people.
5. All those great bands and singers - most taped their performances earlier in the day or the week and are far away from the tree. The ones that actually do perform are not viewable from any of the viewing areas. If you're lucky, you'll get to see the show that's on TV on a giant jumbo tron. DO NOT COME TO SEE THE PERFORMERS!
6. It's a made for TV event, watch it on TV from the comfort of a place with heat.

So, here is a summation - it's cold, you might get to see the tree and maybe the show on a big TV while getting yelled at by the police. Oh, and it's a haven for creepy men (I'll let you use your imagination for that.) Actually, avoid the whole area that night. Come another night and see the tree when it's actually lit (not watching an unlit tree for hours then turn on and then leave.) WATCH IT ON TV!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why I love waterfalls

When I visited Yosemite National Park I remember thinking everyone was crazy for wanting to hike up it. It was a vacation after all. I finally resigned myself to hiking to the top of the lower falls, it seemed a reasonable feat. We actually made it up to that point, and while the views to the valley were amazing, I felt like something was missing. I was a bit over this whole hiking thing but everyone wanted to keep going so I continued. Not too long after, we came to the bottom of the Upper Falls. It's one of those times when you turn a corner and BAM! You've seen what you came to see. It was magnificanet to be so close to the bottom of this massive water fall. Of course a long session of photos ensued. We continues to climb after, but the view and the falls were never as great as they were when we first found the falls.

Monday, November 9, 2009

New Yorks Jewish Delis

NYC is known for a couple really good jewish delis - Katz and 2nd Avenue deli are the most popular. I'm a fan of the lesser known Ben's too. I'm a fan of potato pancakes, hotdogs and motza ball soup.

The 2nd Avenue Deli got some press in 1996 when they were robbber (follow the link for more info on that)and is well known today. I've eaten at the old location on 10th Street and 2nd Ave as well as the new location at East 33rd Street. I'm a fan and a friend of mine swears they have the best Pastrami sandwhiches of the Jewish Deli's. It's a modern restaurant with good food.

I've been to Katz's a couple times and there can be quite a line there at times. When you enter you are given a ticket, DO NOT lose the ticket. When you go to the counters they will right your price on it, when you leave you pay at the register. If you don't have your ticket I think you pay $5o. Katz's is best know from When Harry Met Sally - the orgasm scene. The decor is vintage.

My favorite place for motza ball soup is Ben's Deli. It's a modern restaurant with good food.

Which is the best? Depends who you ask and what you're getting. You can't go wrong with any of the deli's. If you want a calmer dining type experience the Ben's or the 2nd Ave Deli are a better choice. They're all a bit pricey, but the food quality is good and you'll get a good meal.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Locked Out

For my 2002 trip to Disney with my family we stayed in a time share resort.
The time share was a large building with key access to the building to
get to the doors to the units. One night I decided to go for a walk and
didn't take a key, when I got back to the building I couldn't get
inside. I waited a few minutes, but no one came around. I thought I would try
going to the windows since we were staying on the first floor. The
patio and windows were protected by a row of bushes making me hard to
see and impossible to knock on a window. What's a girl to do? I
started throwing wood chips at the windows, which wasn't the best plan -
wood chips are light and don't make much noise so it took a while.
After a good 10 minutes my sister finally saw me and let me in. To this
day I laugh whenever I think of how I got locked out of the building and
how ridiculous I would have looked if anyone saw me throwing wood chips
at the building.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Knoxville Restaurant reviews

My final post about my trip to Knoxville....

Calhouns: located at Volunteer landing and apparently the place to be. I thought it was just ok. They're known for their BBQ ribs, but with my braces didn't want to eat them. I opted instead for the pulled pork (a theme for my stay in Knoxville). I wasn't overly impressed, it wasn't even the best I had in Knoxville. If you like a spicier BBQ sauce you might like it, I prefer a sweeter sauce and this wasn't it. It's hard to tell how the atmosphere is since I had an early dinner, but I suspect the place is packed on weekend nights, and it does have a nice view of the river.

The Tomato Head: Located in Market Square. I was a little confused when I walked in for lunch, but asked for help, ordered my food and got a table. I had pizza and a salad. The pizza was good for non-nyc pizza, it was tasty. The salad was also good. This was a nice place for my lunch and I would go back again if I was there.

Market Square Kitchen: Located in Market Square. It's a breakfast and lunch place, the food was good, quick and well priced.

Cafe 4: Located in Market Square. I had good pulled pork here, there was outside seating and a nice atmosphere. The prices were reasonable and the service was good.

Woodruff Brewery: A block East of Market Square. I did not eat here, but it was the liveliest place I saw in Knoxville my whole time there.

Monday, November 2, 2009

In search of a Body Farm

When in Knoxville I visited the University of Tennessee. Having gone to Penn State, another large Football school in a University town I thought it would be intersting to see.

The campus was very hilly, which I didn't expect. It was built on a Civil War battle site, it's a shame that the area couldn't have been preserved - Bad Tennessee!!! Neyland Stadium is in the Southeast Corner of the campus, but was right next to other buildings. The stadium at Boston College was similar to that, dorms surrounding it. It's strange to me since Beaver Stadium at Penn State is on its own with other large sporting venues around it. The dorms were all in one spot in a corner of campus. The campus didn't seem well cared for like I have seen at other Universities. At one point I was walking on a side walk by what I named the "graveyard of buildings." There were small sets up steps that used to lead to buildings. The buildings have since been torn down and there are vacant lots with little sets of steps.

I did get an opportunity to go to the museum on campus. It was a nice little museum, it had a Egyptian display and a display about Knoxville during the Civil War. I even made the guard go get the video about Knoxville during the Civil War. My favorite part was when I asked the info desk woman a question and she thought I was still in college. Ummm, no, but I'll take that as a compliment.

Before I went I had heard that the University of Tennessee has a body farm, since it was raining and I didn't have too much to do I thought I would go find it. All I knew was that it was near the Medical Center, so I took a drive around there. I found luxury student houseing, close but not quite what I was looking for. Then I found a back country area with cars on blocks and No Trespassing signs. I decided it was time to head back to civilization without finding the body farm. Other then saying I was at a body farm do I really need to visit one?