November 3, 2006
Yes…as many of your astute comments have questioned…we went to Morocco via central Spain. As I’d said, we were on a tour that was sponsored by the Student Programs and Housing office. We were on a tour designed for the undergraduate students. (Read: CHEAP) In order to be cheap, you end up with the most circuitous flight arrangements! So our flight went from Cairo to Barcelona to Madrid (multi-hour layover) to Casablanca. We left Cairo at 12:30AM and arrived in Casablanca at noon local time (2pm Cairo time) – 14 hours of travel time. OUCH. Oh well, it is cheap.
We had a longer-than-planned stop in Barcelona, caused by our smarmy^H^H^H travel agent. Apparently he had messed up two of the tickets, so decided to deplane in Barcelona WITHOUT HIS LUGGAGE. Imagine airport security – Egyptian man and his wife get off a plane without their luggage at a stop that is not their destination. Kinda fishy?! Well, they searched the whole plane, trying to identify the owners of each piece of hand luggage, before we could go on to Madrid. The unfortunate part of this story is that one of the students was asleep during the search. Because she was sleeping, she did not claim her carryon bag, so it was confiscated in Barcelona. This bag contained EVERYTHING she was bringing!
When we FINALLY made it to Madrid, the best part of the layover was BREAKFAST (shown here with my mascot).
Jack and I got a chance to enjoy our favorite food on the planet: jamon bocadillos! These are crispy small baguettes filled with pieces of serrano jamon, sometimes Manchego cheese and a little olive oil. Khalas! That’s all! YUMMY!!! We practically lived on these during our trip to Spain. Bocadillos, fresh OJ, really good coffee and we were feeling good!
The flight to Casablanca was uneventful. The woman whose bag had been taken in Barcelona had to file a lost bag claim, but we got out of the airport with minimal chaos.
Casablanca, for the most part, was a disappointment. Everyone knows the name from the movie, but the city is a modern, planned, business center. It is neither lovely nor romantic. We had a “tour” of the city – saw the Corniche (seaside drive) and the Hassan II mosque (3rd largest mosque in the world, largest in Africa) and were pretty much done with Casablanca. Jack and I decided not to go for the dinner (arranged by the tour) and to strike out on our own. We found a FANTASTIC traditional Moroccan place (see Jack’s pics) near the hotel for pretty cheap but tasty Moroccan food.
In the morning, we were getting ready to head for Rabat, when we found out from the students about their dinner. Apparently they went to an italian restaurant (remember, we are in Morocco) AND were charged $20 (yes, that is US dollars!) per person for it. Jack’s and my Moroccan tagine and couscous dinner cost less than $20 TOTAL! We also found out that we all had to PAY EXTRA for the city tour of the previous day! AND the travel agent was asking it to be paid in AMERICAN DOLLARS. Spidey senses were tingling – this is not Kosher!!!
Rabat was fun. The Kasbah was beautiful, and Jack and I abandoned the tour about mid-day. The travel agent was not happy about this and warned us of “all the dangers in Rabat” before, begrudgingly, agreeing to our departure. (Not that his agreement was necessary in the first place… ) The rest of our day in Rabat was, although not overly spectacular, OURS. We wandered, ate street food, watched people, took pictures, laughed too loud and enjoyed ourselves. We got back to Casablanca on the train, for less than the “bus tour” cost.
We wakened the third day to cold rain in Casablanca. Not that it mattered, we had a 4 hour bus ride to Marrakech to look forward to!
October 31, 2006
So being the “hawagea” (foreigner – implied “not so smart”), I did not know about Eid el Fetr – the celebration/vacation at the end of the month of Ramadan. WOW, we get a week off because Ramadan has ended? That’s kinda nice.
THEN we found out that EVERYONE travels for Eid. Cairo nearly shuts down during this week, as everyone goes to the beach, or to visit relatives, or just to holiday somewhere else. We found this out about half way thru Ramadan. The Egyptians had their bookings for all kinds of exotic places, the old-timers had their bookings for all kinds of exotic places, Jack and I were just figuring out that ?maybe? we should travel.
Just about that time, we see a flyer/poster in the Hostel advertising for a 5day/4night trip to Morocco. Two nights each in Casablanca and Marrakech – sounds exotic! It is affordable. WTH – how bad could it be? [insert foreshadowing music here]
I spend about 4 days trying to track down information about the trip – and with a bit of trepidation about the organization of the trip, we put down our deposit. We are committed.
There are other small snafus. Jack has not received his “Residence Visa” yet. I have mine, but his was messed up because we have different last names. He extends his “Tourist Visa” and gets “Re-entry” permission and that seems to be fixed. Only took a week and about 4 visits to various offices – we’re making progress.
We “insist” on getting the flight numbers and itinerary, so that we can look at the flights, etc. We decided (with slight feelings of not being a “team” player (which we got over)) to get our own airport clearance and a car/driver for our return.
In case I haven’t mentioned it in previous posts – airport clearance is a GODSEND. A “fixer” meets you inside customs and immigration to collect your passport. He goes straight to the head of the line and gets you processed in about 3 minutes – NO LINE. He then gets your baggage and “escorts” you thru customs – no hassles, easy as pie. It would be (as Jack says) “Cheap at twice the price”
The day before we leave (our departure is 9:30pm on Sunday October 22nd, from the hostel – flight at just past midnight!) we pack, pull out all the possible paperwork that we could need and we are READY FOR MOROCCO!
On Sunday – we head downstairs about 30 minutes before we are due to depart. There is CHAOS in the lobby. Students leaving for holiday. Students arriving for the tour. People visiting. Cats prowling. We eventually find our way onto a mini-bus for the trip to the airport. In general, the trip to the airport was uneventful. We were obviously the old people on our bus (by about 2 decades)! We resigned ourselves to that fate and decided to have fun.
Checking in was as chaotic as any check in usually is – especially with 30+ people, all traveling on “grouped” tickets. We were all checked in, and waiting in the boarding area 20 or so minutes prior to boarding. By this time it is past midnight, I’m fading fast. When we finally boarded the flight, it didn’t even matter that I was in a middle seat in coach! I was ready to check out for the majority of the flight.
Ready – yes! Did I? No. I spend a large portion of the flight talking with one of the AUC Housing staff who was coordinating the trip. It was a pleasant conversation, but eventually both of us needed sleep. I woke up just as we were landing in Barcelona for a “quick stop” before going on to Madrid.
September 15, 2006
After saying goodbye to our stuff on August 11th, we welcomed it to our new home on September 12th.
Nine containers – only moderately beaten up – with ALL OUR BELONGINGS, except one box of anti-diarrheal tablets, delivered to our apartment! When I got home from school, Jack had already unpacked almost everything. He had gone thru our inventory, checked that things were there and stacked stuff all over the house. The amusing thing was going thru what we had shipped. We were both left laughing/questioning, “Why did we bring THAT?” and “Why DIDN’T we bring ***?”. As I’d stated in a previous post (9 containers – 68,000 cubic inches), there are no guidelines to follow. There is no list of “What everyone needs when they move to Cairo”
So, having packed more-or-less blindly, our chosen items, for better or worse, are here. I’ve already begun making lists for those coming to visit – cuz there are just some things that I can’t get here (or are “imported” here, so won’t pay the price for here!).
August 25, 2006
Here are some photos
Well – I’ve been going thru a lot of the photos on my camera and found a few that kinda summed up the last few months. They are random, not-so-good, and those pictured have not given their permission. Oh well! You’ll have to come to Cairo to get me.
Hope at least one or two give people a laugh. Hope at least one or two get people to Cairo.
Just brain/camera dumping for my own sake.
August 23, 2006
Sunday, August 20th -
We finished packing/organizing/moving our stuff in the house – thanks to Pat, we managed to keep our king size mattress in storage. Jack and I had “disagreed” frequently about this. I won.
We had an outstanding dinner at one our favorite restaurants – Harvest Vine. Many plates of tapas (Sardine fillets, stuffed piquillo peppers with salt cod, calamari with squid ink icecream [YES, icecream], chorizo, and the most OUTSTANDING venison) a lovely bottle of the wine that we drank during our wedding ceremony and espresso. What a delightful way to end our Seattle life for our Cairo adventure. We went back to the pub for a last drink before going to the airport – it was sad to leave, but a really great send off.
Monday, August 21st
SeaTac airport at 1am is pretty deserted. We drank port from paper cups (thank you Mark Alpen) and waited for the desk to open. Check-in was uneventful, I wish I could say the same for security.
Apparently, having a one-way ticket to Egypt gets one “extra attention” from security. We and our carry-ons got a FULL inspection. After that, however, the flight to Philly was wonderful. As I have said earlier, thanks to my mother we flew to Philly first class, and to Frankfurt in Business/Envoy class. The flight to Philly was lovely and comfortable.
We only had about an hour in Philly, so we found our gate (about as far from our arrival gate as possible) and waited briefly to board the flight to Frankfurt.
Being served mimosa as soon as one sits in thier seat on the plane is soooo civilized!! I wish I could fly that way all the time. Our Philly to Frankfurt leg was positively luxurious! I slept REALLY WELL on the plane – a couple of glasses of wine, headphones, a “sleep mask” and a seat that nearly fully reclines also help.
Tuesday, August 22nd
We arrived in Frankfurt as rested as any traveller could. It was early/late/who knows. It was mid-morning, Frankfurt time. We found our departure gate and had 8 hours to spend in the airport. We had received complimentary passes to the Lufthansa lounge while in Envoy class, so we headed there. The “Gold” lounge said that they would not honor the passes, but Jack was wise and suggested we try to use them at the Business class lounge next door. We wiled away the hours in the lounge – free wi-fi access, free snacks and beverages, showers, etc. That really made the lay-over manageable.
On our flight to Cairo we were back in coach, but it was a relatively short flight. Jack offered to trade his diminished hearing for my lack of sense of smell during the flight!
As we flew over the Mediterranean, I began to realize what we were doing. I began to feel slightly nauseated. My blood pressure went up. As we descended into Cairo, the pilot approached from the southwest, which gave us a loop around the Pyramids at Giza. When I saw them for the first time, at about 6:45pm local time, I could not breathe. I cried and yet could not take my eyes off the Pyramids.
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
What have I done? There is no going back. I said I wanted to do this, and now look! Here I am, and I am scared!
Sheer stubbornness made me regain my composure before we landed.
As we walked off the plane, we joked about whether or not there would be an AUC representative there to meet us. Relief and joy are pale representations of my feelings when we saw Abdul with the AUC sign with my name on it.
Abdul was picking up another faculty member as well as me and Jack, and a load of students, so it took a while to get everyone together, give Abdul the passports for immigration clearance and find bags. Think herding cats – Abdul must know Bastet.
We got everyone together, and on to customs. As far as I can tell, customs was one guy, waving the lot of us with ALL OUR BAGGAGE thru a side gate and out of the area! The students left with one driver and Jack, the other faculty member and I waited for our driver. While waiting, Jack decided to wander around just a bit (cue ominous music here).
The driver arrived, the bags were loaded, and there was no sign of Jack! I went back into the terminal to look for him, but could not find him. I must admit, this was the first time I have wished for a cell phone. I began to panic. Where could he have gotten off to in such a short period of time? We’ve only been on the ground for about an hour! Just about the time I was about to completely freak out, he arrived, victorious, from Duty Free. His comment to me, “You will be so happy when you see what I got.”
The drive into Cairo from the airport gave me a glimpse into why it is that most people I’ve talked to say never to drive in Cairo. More on driving later.
We dropped off the other faculty member at her housing complex and then it was our turn at the AUC Hostel in Zamalek. Two men met us at the curb and brought all our bags up to the apartment. Nabil was waiting for us at the apartment to show us around and give us the keys.
FINALLY we have arrived! As we took out the laptops to check the internet connections, Jack pulled out his “suprise” from Duty Free. Sherry wood aged single malt scotch! I did a little happy dance as we sipped nice scotch in our new home in Cairo.
August 21, 2006
Warren Zevon has been Jack’s and my hero for a long time. This trip is no different. After much craziness with flights thru Heathrow and trying to get to Cairo on time, we got rerouted through Frankfurt. OUr tickets were booked SOOOOO late, that we could not get seat assignments until the day we flew. On a fluke, Jack figured he would try to get us upgraded from Cattle Class (MOOOOO!) to Business/Envoy. We knew it would be expensive, but some things are worth the money.
First class from Seattle to Philly and Envoy class from Philly to Frankfurt was DEFINITELY worth whatever they wanted. However, my mom (thank you Mommy) gave us the frequent flyer miles that we needed to “pay” for the upgrade. We toasted her multiple times as we enjoyed large, comfortable seats, good food and real dishes, glasses and SILVERWARE!!!
We are now killing 8 hours in Frankfurt before our flight to Cairo, however (again because of my totally awesome mother) since we had Envoy class tickets, we can use the Business class lounge for the time we are here. Jack is currently showering in the lounge, so that he will be fresh and clean (ok, he’s ALWAYS fresh!) for the leg into Cairo. I’ll get a chance to shower once he is done. This has been the most unbelievably intense run-up to a trip that I think I’ve ever experienced. Then again, this is the most intense trip I’ve ever experienced. So to have such an incredibly smooth and relaxing trip (at least thus far) has been an unexpected blessing.
We both have some really bad “travel photos” that will go up soon. Keep watching – same Bat time, same Bat channel.
August 20, 2006
It is FINALLY here. Departure time. Not the actual, “OMG, the plane is taking off” departure, but we are stripping the bed, doing the last load of laundry, cleaning out the last bits of personal minutia. We will be off for dinner and the airport this evening.
This long-awaited moment arrives, bittersweet, as all departures are.
August 10, 2006
Today, the last pieces of our shipment were purchased, and are making their way into the boxes, to leave us tomorrow.
The cats move to a new home to live happily ever after.
I am drinking a lovely $25 dollar wine out of a plastic cup because all of our non-essential possessions have been purged or packed.Â Jack is drinking the “garage beer”.
The time for departure is upon us.
August 8, 2006
Yes, in fact, this is what our lives have been reduced to for the next few years. Of course, this is ONLY worldly belongings. Life is, after all, about the experiences that you can’t put in a box, and yet are always with you. The freight forwarding company picks up “our life” on Friday. At that point, all our belongings, save what we bring in our luggage, is in the hands of (pick your diety here). I am sure that there are things that we don’t know we will need in Cairo, and there is no way to prevent that. Thanks to those who are coming to visit – we’ll send shopping lists before you leave the States!
I am stunned at how LITTLE we are actually bringing. We did not use our entire 748 pound allotment for freight AND we each have two HUMONGOUS suitcases and carry-on bags! What the heck are we forgetting that others remember to bring????
There is a great sense of accomplishment in having our stuff ready to go, and there is a simultaneous sense of panic about what “should” or “should not” be in the shipment. At this point, there is no changing what is in there, to any great extent, so… I guess it will suffice. How is it that we are “supposed to know” what we will need in a country/culture that we have never been to? There are no universal guidelines to follow – apparently, one just punts! We do have the advantage that we are not going to a place where supplies are scarce. If we need something, I am sure we will find something to suffice in Cairo!
OMG it is really happening!
July 17, 2006
Today I finished packing up my office, throwing away files and giving away crap. Today I turned in all 8 keys that I’d accrued in the last 7 years, and my electronic key card. I no longer have access outside of “normal” business hours. How distinctly odd, and scary, and (MOSTLY) liberating.
I have found that, like most people, I have been in the service of my stuff and my job. Getting rid of the stuff and separating from the job, although only temporarily, is an amazing feeling. I am no longer active faculty at one institution, and am not yet active faculty at the next. I am in limbo. I approve!
The house packing and getting ready for air-freighting our stuff continues to be a constant, but having the weight of my office/previous position off my shoulders makes the house seem less overwhelming.