January 31, 2007
“They” say it happens to everyone.
“They” say it is normal.
“They” say it is inevitable.
Well…it has happened to me. The numbness and lethargy, mild depression, diffuse home-sickness, general ennui of being a new ex-pat.
I had read and heard about the “crash”, but it hadn’t happened to me. The initial euphoria passed and life became business-as-usual, just in Cairo. I didn’t have the sobbing, “I want to go home” moments. I didn’t yearn for a Big Mac or Reeces cups. I could see Cairo for its problems, and still really enjoyed the vibrancy of the city – still loved being here – could see staying (if AUC wasn’t moving to true BFE).
I think it was the departure of the family that drove home how far away I really am. I still haven’t hit an “I hate it here” feeling, instead I feel like I just don’t care. I’m unmotivated and generally uninterested. I don’t feel like reading, or going out, or shopping (it is true – retail therapy doesn’t appeal to me AT ALL). Mostly I’ve been knitting – a totally isolated, self-absorbed, meditative activity. I know this will pass, and some sort of balance will follow, yet it is odd to feel so disconnected. I am neither here in Cairo, nor “at home” in Seattle. I’m in an emotional limbo, struggling for connection.
As must the family visit. It was busy, crazy, exciting and just plain good to see family. In the last few days between returning from Luxor and everyone heading home (via Milano – lucky dogs!) we packed in more sight-seeing and some relaxing.
The morning we got back from Luxor, Jack called Al Italia to fight with them about making me and mom go to the airport to get her damn bag. He got on the phone, and was ready to spit nails and tear someone a new orifice. The Al Italia agent burst his bubble – they said they would send a courier right over with the bag! So after only 8 of 12 days in Egypt, mom would get her bag back. AND it even arrived intact! We were sort of expecting that it would be shrink-wrapped back together, stuff missing, generally trashed. All was EXACTLY as it had been packed, a week + earlier!
The family spent a day “doing” the southern (earlier) pyramids near Cairo. The pyramids at Dahshur are from the 4th dynasty (~2600BC) whereas the Giza pyramids came about 100 + years later. We travelled with Lucy Jones’ recommended driver, Mr Said. He was the one to recommed that we go to Dahshur before Sakara (Saqqara, Sakkara). We took his advice and were incredibly impressed.
Dahshur has 3 main pyramids – Steve and I went into the Red Pyramid, we all walked around the Bent Pyramid, and we could see the Black Pyramid in the distance. The Red Pyramid was incredible. We climbed the outer stairs to get to the entrance, where mom (due to her knees) and Kenz (because she thought it looked scary) declined to enter. Steve and I went in anyway. The passage was LONG AND STEEP. Some of the footholds on the ramp were missing, leading to VERY long steps. The passage going down was only about 4 feet high. So we decended 63 meters into the belly of the pyramid. We are pretty sure that we were actually below ground level when we entered the first room. The air was manky, but the room was empty other than us, it had a “corbelled” ceiling – meaning that each block as it rose to the apex was stepped in about 6 inches (?) compared to the one below. The ceiling was an impressive 15 meters high! Both of us were really glad we went in, but by the time we reached the entrance again, our thighs were quivering and our backs were aching. We paid for that climb, in and out, for a few days afterwards!
From the Red Pyramid we went to the Bent Pyramid – so named because the angle of the lower portion is much greater than the angle of the upper portion (54 degrees compared to 43 degrees). We walked completely around this structure. We were about the only people at Dahshur on this morning. It was cool and windy, but fantastically quiet and peaceful.
From Dahshur we went on to Sakara. This is a HUGE area that was a burial ground for over 3500 years. Its most famous structure is the Step Pyramid of Zoser (~2650BC). We spent a long time wandering around the pyramid, its grounds, the funerary complex. It is impressive how much effort, art and importance was focused on death and the afterlife! We explored the Mastaba of Ti – a private tomb of a very rich man (Ti) from the 5th dynasty (~2300BC). It was huge, labrynthine and intricately decorated with reliefs of daily life. Lastly at Sakara, we got mom and Kenz into a pyramid – the pyramid of Teti (~2300BC). From the outside this just looks like a pile of sand, but the short entrance leads to a well carved burial chamber with a basalt sarcophagus! The inner and outer rims of the sarcophagus were intricately inscribed with hieroglyphs.
As so often happens when out exploring, by the time we decided we needed a break and some lunch it was after 2pm. I had figured we’d be back in Zamalek by 3pm! Jack still laughs at my sense of time (or lack thereof). We left Sakara, grinning and awash with information and sand, and headed to Andrea’s, a highly recommended restaurant on the Giza-Sakara road. We ate well – roasted chickens, baba ghanoush, vine leaves, tahina, marinated eggplant, and the most exquisite fresh-out-of-the-clay-oven hot bread!
We had one last stop before heading to Zamalek – the Wissa Wassef art center and school. This is a weaving, pottery and batik center that trains and employs local artisans. I had heard about it, but the reality far exceeded the talk! We spent a good deal of time looking at batiks and weavings. We ALL bought some batik for our respective households. I found a rug that I would LOVE for a mere LE20,000! That’s about $3500. I don’t think I’ll be buying that any time soon – but if I had that kind of disposable income, that rug would be MINE!
Our last tourista adventure in Cairo involved going to the Ibn Toulun mosque. I’ve written about the mosque before, when Jack and I visited on a Faculty Services tour. The mosque was built between 876 and 879AD and now sits in the middle of the city. In the photos, all us girls are covering our hair (not absolutely necessary in this particular mosque for foreigners (and never for children) but still showing respect for Muslim custom) and our street shoes are covered. I think this is one of the most impressive mosques in Cairo!
Thus closes the adventures of the “Family Visit”. It was marvelous (especially for me, as Jack has less stamina for people and needs more “alone time”) to have everyone around and together – IN CAIRO! I got to show off “my new home town” and also see it thru the eyes of others. The worst part was getting up at 2am to get a taxi to take the family to the airport! Jack and I went back to bed after they left, and spent the next 2 days getting used to it only being the two of us in the apartment!
Various pictures from the southern pyramids and Ibn Toulun can be seen HERE.
January 27, 2007
Our final day in Luxor – we board the sleeper train at 9pm to head back to Cairo. We were exhausted from the Westside. We slept in. It was a beautiful day. What would the day hold? Well…I had one last Christmas present to deliver to the family. They didn’t know about it, so we let the morning play out as a quiet exploration. We went to the Old Winter Palace (now owned by Accor hotels – too bad) and meandered around the gardens. We strolled the corniche, looking at boats, the Luxor temple, the people.
Steve was really geared up to go to the Luxor Museum. We started walking up there, when I realized that we would not have time to enjoy the museum AND get to the suprise present. Steve was a bit reluctant, as he didn’t know what the suprise was, but I assured him, it would be worth it.
The suprise was a long-distance Christmas present from Grandma and Ancy. We’d worked it out before the family arrived in Egypt, and now was the time to deliver. As we walked down the corniche, everyone (other than me and Jack) was extremely curious as to what would unfold.
This was our suprise:
Kenzie figured it out first. Mom was speechless (yes, it is true!). Steve was twitching in excitement like a puppy! We “provisioned” the boat with beer, water, munchies and were off for a couple of hours of sailing on the Nile! THANK YOU GRANDMA AND ANCY!!
More photos of the Luxor felluca day are found HERE.
Other posts are in the works, but…
Tonite (January 27th) Jack and I had dinner at the “Italian Club” in Cairo. After 5 full months in Cairo, we had our most amazing dinner EVER this evening. We had no idea this place was sooooo good, or we’d have been there sooner.
We started with caprese salad (this was only ok – needed oil, balsamico and pepper, which we added) and a mixed meat plate. This doesn’t sound spectacular, however, keep in mind that Egypt is a Muslim country. This meat plate had salami, prosciuto and lomo. PORK PRODUCTS. These were actual Italian meat products!!!!! To go with the primos, we ordered a bottle of dry Italian white wine! We were both nearly in tears with ecstasy.
(Truth be told – if we’d been in the States, or Italy, neither the meats nor the wine would have been considered outstanding. After 5 months in Egypt, they were phenomenal!)
We had pasta for dinner – Jack had the bolognaise sauce and I had the matriciana (with HAM)!
All hell could break loose tomorrow, and it doesn’t matter. We ate WELL.
January 25, 2007
In a state of tarn from sensory overload, we left the Valley of the Kings to find Ahmed and go to Deir al-Bahari (Temple of Hatshepsut). Our original plan had been to do the walk over the ridge from one to the other. The boys decided against that when they saw what the walk entailed – we were all glad for their decision. The Toyota was comfortable and quick and we had a chance to chat with Mr Saleh on the way.
The parking lot at Deir al-Bahari was a ZOO. Tour busses, taxis, touts hawking every faux-pharaonic tchtchki one could imagine. Ahmed got our tickets, and dropped us all, including Mr Saleh to head for the entrance. One has to “walk the gauntlet” of touts to get to the entrance, but we seemed to be surrounded by a tout shield by being with Mr Saleh. Everyone left us alone, and we walked unmolested to a building with a shady porch where we got a really good history of the site, Hatshepsut, and the things to see. As we walked to the mini-train, our heads were full, the sun was bright and hot, and an amazing creation lay before us.
We took our time at Deir al-Bahari. It was hot. It was HUGE. The starkness and grandure of the surroundings and the beauty of the temple were incredible. Some parts had been “restored” others were “in progress” and others were in various states of dis-repair, but the temple was awe inspiring, in the purest sense of the expression.
After a hot and dusty exploration, it was “treat time”. We enjoyed the “best icecream EVER” and meandered back to find Mr Saleh, enjoying the shade during the hottest part of the day.
We had, initially, planned on continuing to Medinat Habu, near the Valley of the Queens, but by the time we’d rejoined Mr Saleh, it was pushing 2pm, we were hot, tired and HUNGRY. We decided to put off Medinat Habu until “bokra“, stop at the Collosi of Memnon and go get some lunch. It was a good decision all around.
At the Collosi of Memnon (all that is left of the funery temple of Amenophis III – the LARGEST of the Theban temples!) we met a tour-guide woman who was beside herself that we had Mr Saleh as our PERSONAL tour guide. Apparently, according to this woman, he is the “father of all the Valley tour guides”. She was so happy to see him, and in awe of his expertise that she was nearly in tears as she told us how lucky we were! WOW – we knew that Mr Saleh was awesome, but this was testament to his true grandure!
We lunched with Mr Saleh at a restaurant of his suggestion. Sated, tired and trying to process the sights we’d seen, we got back on the ferry to the East Side. The day was an expectation-exceeding experience.
And a (?culturally?) interesting sidenote is that Mr Saleh did not discuss price. He told Jack (obviously the Baba) to decide what was “fair”. We’ve since had similar experiences, always with EXCELLENT guides/drivers etc. The thing is that it is HARD to know what is fair!! I think that in all these occasions, we probably OVERPAID, but we all felt that the person was so outstanding that the monetary sum was deserved. It is an odd way to do business (at least for us), yet I think (hope) it turns out well on both sides most of the time.
After being soooo good about posting most of the family’s visit – Jack and I went off to Dahab for a week of relaxation.Â Refreshed, here’s what is “in the pipeline”
- Valley of the Kings – part II
- One Last Christmas Present
- “They say”…
- My maid won’t let me water my plants
Gotta get these done before school starts, so hold onto your hats (oh yeah – I’ve got a hat now!!!) lotsa new stuff coming.
January 14, 2007
The temples of Luxor and Karnak had exhausted us all, however the Valley of the Kings is one of the main reasons that one visits Luxor. Thus, we all went to bed early (about 9pm), in preparation for going to the Westbank early the next morning. The plan: the boys get up at oh-dark-thirty (about 5am) eat and head to the Westbank to get tickets for the valley sights. The girls would get up a little later (about 6:30am) and all would meet up on the Westbank. It all sounded good until my mobile phone rang at 10:40pm. I scrambled to find and answer it, only to find myself speaking to a pissed off Egyptian courier. Apparently he was from Al Italia and was standing at my apartment door in Cairo with mom’s bag! Only 5 days in the maelstrom that is the baggage handling on airlines! What a miracle. Then again, it was nearly 11pm and I was in LUXOR!! I asked him to leave the bag with the desk downstairs and hung up. WOO HOO – mom’s bag still existed!
At 11:30pm my mobile phone rang again – this can’t be good. Mr Courier man was just dropping mom’s bag at the airport again as he hadn’t figured out how to leave it at reception at the AUC hostel! When I questioned him on this, he hung up! OK, so now I have good news for mom (her bag exists) and bad news for mom (her bag is back at the airport and God knows if it will ever be found AGAIN!). No sleep for me.
The early wake-up call comes for Jack (it seems to me) just as I’m finally falling asleep. I set my phone alarm to get me up to meet mom and Kenz and promptly fell back asleep. The alarm launched me out of bed and into the shower so that we could get to the Valley of the Kings and meet up with the boys.
We had a lovely ferry ride (in accordance with mom’s “visions” of her arrival at the Valley of the Kings) across the river. We were only briefly hassled by a man who was sure that he could give us a much better price on a taxi for the Westbank sites than anyone else that we might meet. He finally left us alone when I dropped the “H” bomb (my husband)! We were met at the ferry by Ahmed, whom we found out was to be our driver for the day. Ahmed had a lovely Toyota Hiace minivan at which Steve and Jack awaited. We were off for the Valley of the Kings!
Steve and Jack regaled us of their morning tales as we wound our way up into the valley. Apparently, contrary to what we had heard and read (1) there was no ticket office near the ferry landing, so they had to go into the Valley to get our tickets and (b) there was really no reason to get there at oh-dark-thirty, we all could have come over together at a reasonable hour. OOPS, oh well. Now we were all here and excited to check it out!
On their ride over, the boys had met a very nice older gentleman who might (mumkin) be our guide. There was a lot of question about this since he had another group for the day, but we waited a bit to see if he (Mr Saleh) would arrive. We’d just given up, and were riding the mini-train up the valley when we saw Mr Saleh riding down. He arrived at the Valley gate on the next train. He is a stately gentleman, who garners immense respect from (seemingly) everyone on the Westbank. He spoke slowly, was unbelievably knowledgeable, and had the kindness of the grandfather everyone wishes for. We felt incredibly lucky to have this man guiding us.
Within the Valley, we saw 4 tombs. Three are included on the Valley of the Kings ticket, and we chose to purchase the extra ticket to see King Tut’s tomb – we had to do it, we were HERE!! The tombs that we visited were incredible. If memory serves me correctly, we visited:
- KV2 – the tomb of Ramses IV – the most striking feature of which was the ceiling painting of the goddess Nut on a blue background in the burial chamber
- KV6 – the tomb of Ramses IX – this one had a virtually raw painted rock burial chamber, as the pharaoh died before it was completed
- KV8 – the tomb of Merneptah – this was an incredibly deep tomb with a granite sarcophagus lid in the final burial chamber. The lid had a breathtaking relief of the goddess Nut stretching from head to toe on the inner face!
At each tomb, Mr Saleh would give us a full rundown of the artworks, epochs, history and discovery of the tomb. I know that MY brain was brimming over with information and Kenzie managed to listened attentively at every tomb and even answered some of Mr Saleh’s questions!
Our final tomb visit in the Valley was, of course, KV 62
In reality, the tomb was smaller and much less impressive than the previous three that we’d been in. The truth of the matter was, the reason that EVERYONE knows about Tut and his tomb is because it is the ONLY ONE that was found intact – with gold, furniture, food, wine etc. No robbers had ever found this small tomb. The best inside feature (IMHO) was the painting of the 12 baboons to “entertain the king during the 12 hours of the night”.
January 13, 2007
We were wakened on the overnight train from Cairo/Giza to Luxor with the sun rising over the lush agricultural lands on the edge of the Nile. The nights sleep wasn’t excellent, but it was better than if we’d been in the 2nd class seats! We had another “airplane-sque” meal of shrink-wrapped carbs (bread, PartyCake, croissant), jam and tea before pulling into the Luxor station at 7am.
We, wearily, piled off the train and headed for the street. I’d checked the map of Luxor while on the train so I knew, generally, where our hotel was in relation to the station. It was a relatively short distance, so we walked it in the cool, late-dawn/early-morning of Luxor. The light was beautifully soft and the streets were blissfully quiet. We walked away from the train station and directly towards the pillars of the temple at Luxor (1390-1352BC). The sun shone on our backs and on the side of the temple ahead of us. Hotair balloons were slowly rising from the Westbank. It was surreal to behold. (Hopefully Jack will post his stunning photo of this RSN)
We found the Mercure Inn hotel and asked them to hold our luggage until we could check in. This allowed us to head directly out and to the Luxor Temple. Well HELL, we were already THERE – what else was there to do until check-in time??!! We spent a long and quiet morning exploring the Luxor Temple and the Avenue of the Sphinxes. (Morning Luxor pix here) When we began, there were only a few early-birds at the temple, by the time we left to get some coffee (9am?) the crush of humanity and bus-tour sheep was mounting to epic levels. We took this as our cue to leave, get coffee and attempt to check in to the hotel.
Once checked in and settled, it was nap time! After nap time it was pool and lunch time. Mom, Kenzie and I got to the pool first. It was odd, it was a warm day (although with a cool breeze) yet NO-ONE was swimming! We quickly found out why – 55F pool water! Of course, we didn’t tell Steve this when he arrived, so his first (and ONLY) cannonball into the pool nearly gave him a coronary. What is family for??!! Late lunch at the pool and then off to Karnak temple.
Karnak is about 3km north of Luxor temple and is MUCH more vast. It was a “work in progress” for much of the Middle and New Kingdom (2000 to 1000 or so BC – it was in use and being rebuilt/modified/added to by just about every pharaoh through that time!) We fulfilled one of Mom/Sara’s pipedreams and arrived at the temple in a caleche (horse drawn buggy).
Outside the temple was the typical chaos of touts, tourons and cheap vendors of crap. We bought our tickets and wandered towards the criosphinxes and the massive first pylon (or wall) of the complex. Our tickets were not ripped as we entered, and (due to the massive crowds of people) Steve suggested that we attempt to return another time. The light was excellent and Jack insisted that we^H^H he was going in. We all decided to brave the crowd and it was SOOO worth it!
Jack disappeared almost immediately, and mom, Steve, Kenz and I wandered, more-or-less, together. The sky was clear, the sun was setting, rosy light infused the walls of the temple complex. It was magical and peaceful, even with the thousands of other people that were there. As the shadows lengthened, a full moon rose over Karnak. I believe that all of us have just about the same photo of the obelisk of Hatshepsut with the full moon rising. The image was just too stunning to miss. We tagged along with a few “private tours” to gain whatever knowledge we could, as all we had were a few pages from Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide. One of the best views was provided us by “Glock boy”. He was, apparently, a personal security guard for a family touring the temple. The butt of his Glock poked out from between the back vents of his beautifully tailored Italian suit jacket! NS! But he showed us a view that was incredible!
Karnak pics here
We were eventually herded out with the rest of the masses in preparation for the Sound and Light show. We were tired and hungry, so we found Jack outside the temple enclosure and headed for the Corniche. As we arrived back in Luxor, the lights were beautifully illuminating the Luxor Temple – we’d come nearly full circle, sunrise to evening lights. Beautiful every way.
January 12, 2007
29 December 2006 – They are here and settled. They slept REALLY late – go figure! Once everyone was awake and somewhat alert, they got their Christmas from Jack and me. Nothing big, the “girls” got silver cartouches and embroidered Bedouin scarves as a momento of Egypt, and Steve got a galabiyya for hanging out it at home. Simple reminders of Egypt.
I’d “planned” that it would be a quiet day, to allow the jet lag to abate a bit. The big adventure for the day was to wander around the neighborhood, pick up some juice, fruit and groceries and relax. We also found a silver shop for a chain for Kenz’ cartouche. All in all a very quiet day, with an evening drink atop the Nile Hilton for views of the Giza pyramids at sunset.
30 December – the Great Pyramids of Giza!
Everyone was up early to get to the pyramids. We taxied out to Giza on the quietest morning I’ve ever seen in Cairo. Today was the first day of the Eid el Adha – the new year feast. The streets were deserted of cars, but filled with sheep being butchered and meat being distributed. The streets literally ran with blood. It sounds gory and disgusting, yet there was nothing nasty about it. This was joyous.Â This was the affluent sharing their meat with the poor.Â This was how it was supposed to be. Bloody hand prints on walls and cars were talismans symbolizing prosperity for the new year. For a Western first-timer it was both fascinating and unsettling.
We arrived at the Giza plateau, got tickets and headed in. The area was relatively quiet, with far fewer visitors than we’d expected (much to Steve’s pleasure!). We spent the better part of the morning and early afternoon just wandering and exploring. We did not enter either of the pyramids (Sakara was recommended for entering) but did go to the Solar Boat Museum. I, personally, think the Solar Boat is unbelievably cool and was very glad to see it again!
Highlights of Giza:
- Very few people, so a really mellow exploration
- Walking forever around all the pyramids
- Mom finding her Bedouin camel jockey boyfriend while Steve, Jack and I just watch
- Steve paying LE2 to get mom back!
- Some pics of Giza (some shamelessly coopted from mom)
The rest of the post… (more…)
January 11, 2007
Yes, it is true. Now that I’ve found my Christmas in Cairo, now it is time for the fam-damily to arrive with more holiday joy. I know that sounds cynical, but it really isn’t. I’m a family person. I LIKE my family. The holidays are always (IMHO) better with family. Mom, Steve and Kenzie arrived on the 28th for about 2 weeks. We have adventures planned! I, of course, spent the days prior to their arrival stressing about everything little thing that no-one really cares about – welcome to the mystery that is me!
The arrival was…interesting. I’d arranged for airport clearance and transportation thru AUC. The clearance is a great service, as an “insider” meets your visitors inside immigration and customs and “expedites” them thru the paperwork and processing. It seems minor, but there is no long wait in line, he speaks the language, and he knows the airport officials. That part went really well. It was the baggage that caused the problem. Steve and Kenz’ checked bag came thru almost immediately, Mom’s bag of stuff for me and Jack came thru but her clothing didn’t. It took a long time, with the help of the expeditor, to fill out all the paperwork and get them on their way. I was at the airport, with the driver and car, and my stomach was in knots until they emerged from the customs area, looking tired but happy.
Kenzie, for a 5 1/2 year old, was quite a travel trooper! I think that adrenaline had a lot to do with it, but she really came thru well.
Before leaving the airport, I escorted the weary travellers (and their passports) to the duty-free shop to pick up a few “supplies” for the house. As liquor can only be purchased in bottles within 48 hours of entering the country, I took advantage of the family to stock up!
Their arrival day was a long and tiring one for us all. By the time we got back to Zamalek and got everyone settled, happy hour and some pizza from Thomas was about all we could manage. Jack and I got our Christmas in the form of opening “Brutus” (the world’s ugliest, poop-brown, hard side Samsonite), the bag that had all the Stateside supplies that we’d requested. People had said that, when living outside your “home” country, you’d be ecstatic about getting some of the oddest things delivered. Well, they were right! I nearly broke down at the sight of the right tampons, Emergen-C packets and the right deodorant! Oh how easily thrilled I am these days!