Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Things We Avoid

You know, one of my biggest fears is being embarrassed.

It shouldn't be any big deal, but, to me, it is.

So, I'm totally guilty of avoiding things that might put me in situations where I could potentially be embarrassed.

I know how ridiculous this is.

But...

So, for the longest time I have put off going to the local grocery store chain and applying for their "card" in order to get the discount offered on certain products.

I feared not being able to understand all the Italian the situation might require and worried that I'd look like an idiot.

However, one week while shopping I realized that I could have saved a huge amount of money if I had the card and that was the "straw that broke the camel's back" as we say.

The next week I walked up to the counter and asked for the card.

You know how much Italian was required?

Only enough to ask for it.

The rest you complete online. At home.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Why didn't I ask for the card forever ago?

Dai.

(One of my favorite Italian words that you might use when you'd say "Come on" or "Give me a break")



Now that I'm the proud holder of the Esselunga Fidaty card, I've taken advantage of their grocery delivery service.

#lifechanger

I love not having to carry my heavy groceries 20 or minutes to my apartment.

Instead they just show up at my door.

Trying to use the grocery service for the staples...
the stuff I buy fairly regularly and the stuff that's heavy: cereal, water, milk, juice, etc. 

#brilliant

One would hope situations such as this would help me get over my fear of being embarrassed.

At least it's a small step in the right direction.

Have you ever avoided doing something that turned out to be so simple? Share your experiences with me in the comments! : )

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Egypt: Days 5, 6 & 7: The Red Sea

Time to wrap up my Egyptian holiday with one final post.

Caitlin and I spent days 5, 6 & 7 in Soma Bay, Egypt, a resort village about 45 minutes south of Hurghada.

Our tour company arranged a private driver from Luxor to Soma Bay. It felt like it took forever to make the journey, primarily because traveling between villages are hundreds of speed bumps and 'pretend' checkpoints. I say 'pretend' because while there were people at every checkpoint appearing to be working there, no one seemed to be doing anything.

We made one stop along the way, where Caitlin and I made our one mistake in failing to haggle for the price of some snacks.

Several hours later though, we arrived at Soma Bay. And it was beautiful!

Sheraton Soma Bay Resort

We spent the first afternoon at the beach and had arranged for a snorkeling trip the following day.

ahhhh, the beach!

A driver picked us up and took us to Hurghada. With our snorkeling gear in hand, we boarded the boat with several Russians and a few non-Russian speaking others. (This part of Egypt is a big vacation spot for Russians apparently.)

We snorkeled twice before spending an hour on a nearby island.

We're on a boat! In Egypt! On the Red Sea!

For me, the snorkeling was fine, but the quality of corals I've seen during previous trips in the Bahamas and Hawaii was better. There were plenty of colorful fish, including one lionfish I spotted. I promptly swam the other direction.

Caitlin hated snorkeling. Just hanging out in the water wasn't so bad.

such beautiful water!

It was a nice day, but a very 'touristy' type of day. If I were to do it again, I might try and look into snorkeling options that are different from what every other boat is doing.

The following day we flew back to Cairo to await our flight to Milan.

the nitty gritty:

All of our tours were booked through Aladin Tours, based in the Nefertiti Hotel in Luxor. We researched several companies on Trip Advisor and asked two for potential itineraries and price quotes. Your Egypt Tours provided us with a solid, detailed itinerary and prompt communication. Aladin Tours written itinerary was what I would call a bit loose, but their quoted price was a third less than the YET price. Since Aladin Tours had some solid TA reviews, we decided to book with them. (I don't read reviews written by anyone who hasn't written at least 5 reviews.) When my review has posted, I'll link it here.

While in Egypt, we stayed at:
Guardian Guest House, Giza: Trip Advisor review

Because I stay at Starwood properties on an employee rate, I don't write TA reviews for them. However, I've included a few thoughts for each below.

Sheraton Luxor: Okay, but a bit run down. The free wifi is terrible and the price for paid wifi was so ridiculous we refused to pay it.

Sheraton Soma Bay Resort: A nice place. Some parts look a little run down, but the facilities overall were nice and the free wifi was awesome.

LeMeridien Cairo Airport: The best shower design I've seen in awhile. (Funny the things that stand out!) We had a really nice meal in their Asian restaurant and it's a great place to stay when you have an early flight out of Cairo. Free wifi in the room (unusual for Starwood).

We did Egypt for 8 nights with private guides for €150 per person, per day. This price includes everything, our flights to Cairo, the internal flights within Egypt and everything we spent along the way. It feels like a lot, but given what we did I think the price was right, especially since I know that most people spend a whole lot more.

I'm so happy I could share my trip with all my readers!

Questions about Egypt? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Egypt, Days 3 & 4: Luxor

After our two days in Cairo, we left on a 7:00 AM flight to Luxor. This required a 4:45 AM pickup coming from Giza, so perhaps a later flight was in order. It was way too early!

We were picked up at the airport by our tour guide, Mansour, and headed out directly to explore Luxor's West Bank.

Our first stop was Karnak Temple. Unfortunately, I still have no real idea who or what this place is for (too much history, too little time), but I will say that it is IMPRESSIVE!



Both Caitlin and I were fairly astonished by this place.


And shocked that we had never heard of it.


The statues and columns were massive.






Then we headed off to Luxor Temple, located between the Nile and the central part of town.

There's two huge rows of sphinxes lining a walkway here. They're in varying states of decay, but this one was still intact.


This obelisk is one of my favorite parts of Luxor Temple because you'll notice that it is missing it's matched pair. (They were usually built in pairs to mark entrances to temples.)

And I think this one is cool because I've seen it's mate. In Paris. (At Place de la Concorde.)





Our 2nd day in Luxor was spent on the East Bank of Luxor. We took a look at the temple built by Hatshepsut first.





We also spent a little time at the Valley of the Kings. Unfortunately, you're not allowed to take pictures there at all. Not even outside. But, our guide did encourage us to take one once we were beyond the gates.

Really, it's not much to look at on the outside.

At Valley of the Kings your entrance fee allows you into three tombs of your choice, exclusive of the more famous ones, for which you must pay an extra fee.

We visited the tombs of Rameses IX, Rameses III, Tausert and Setnakht, and Tutankhamun.

We paid the extra fee for King Tut's tomb, which probably wasn't worth it...as our guide warned us. But, I struggled with leaving Valley of the Kings without having seen it and his mummy!

I found this website which is a mapping site of all the tombs they've uncovered and continue to uncover.

While we were there we spent a few minutes watching some archaeologists working to piece together remains of a recently discovered tomb. It looked like a puzzle that would never end.

We also stopped at the Habu Temple, the mortuary temple of Rameses III, which had the deepest stone carvings we had seen yet! Caitlin could stick her entire hand in some of the carvings.




And finally, to cap off our day, we took a felucca ride on the Nile.

Feluccas are traditional Egyptian sailboats.


Ours was called the Nile Queen.

I wonder how many sailboats carry this same name?!?!?!



Our sailing captain.



Views from the boat:





omg, I loved this little boy. When he saw our cameras, he started waving.
And, then the guy next to him...just smoking the hookah. 

Back at our hotel, the sunset wasn't so bad either.


Notes: 
Karnak Temple: 80 Egyptian pounds
Luxor Temple: 60 Egyptian pounds
Hatshepsut Temple: 50 Egyptian pounds
Valley of the Kings: 100 Egyptian pounds
Tomb of King Tut: Additional 100 Egyptian pounds
Habu Temple: 40 Egyptian pounds

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Egypt, Day 2: Pyramids

I mean, you really go to Egypt the first time for one thing, right?

Like the only ancient wonder of the world still standing?

The pyramids at Giza.

No clear blue skies, but still an amazing site!

Holy s*&^!

I must say that it feels like Egypt is a hot mess. And that's putting it nicely.

Here's a short clip driving out of Giza on Day 1.

video


Everything is in disrepair, there's trash everywhere and no sense of organization to just about anything. We saw one (ONE!) traffic light in all of Cairo.

But, there's still these amazing pyramids to come and see.

And given how things around here seem to be taken care of...I'd make the trip sooner rather than later.

So, back to the main course at hand...Othman arrived bright and early with Bill to drive us out for the 'tour di Pyramids'. Othman provided us with our own supply of corn nuts and chocolate pebbles, after our excitement at both the day before. It's all in the details, don't ya think?

treats from our tour guide...corn nuts and chocolate pebbles...
They were both quite tasty!

We started out at Memphis, the capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, to check out the remains of this ancient city. Which, I gotta tell ya, ain't much.



Other than a huge partial sculpture of Ramses II, there's not much here to see.



From there, we headed to Saqqara, home to the famous step pyramid and burial ground of ancient Egypt.

This is the entrance to the tomb of Titi. The 'pyramid' just looks like a mound of sand. The descent is pretty steep and the slope has wooden slats designed to help you safely make your way down, while you also bend at your waist so as not to hit your head. The interior has two separate rooms, one with a basalt sarcophagus. There are lots of carvings on every surface, the ceiling included.


The guy on the right took us into the tomb. No pictures are allowed so we left our cameras with Othman outside, but this guy insisted that we use our cell phone to take pictures and played cameraman. This insured his collection of a tip outside. You just can't escape it. So much so that he started to rub his fingers together outside when he was getting impatient. Dai. 

the step pyramid




omg, I love this guy. Of course, he, too, wanted a tip. 

But, the real thrill is, of course, in Giza.

The pyramids you've seen and heard about all your life.

In front of the Great Pyramid.
If you look just left of Caitlin's shoulder you can see where you climb up to in order to enter the pyramid.

We climbed inside the Great Pyramid, up the short narrow shafts and into the burial chamber. This was very scary, but so very AWESOME!

If you check out this site you can see how we entered and then went down slightly before going up towards the king's chamber. You climb up an incline, again with wooden slats to help you and then take a couple steps up a ladder before continuing on up another incline.

This picture is from the very top, before you enter the chamber with the sarcophagus. You can't really see much, but...I thought I'd try.

If you need a thigh workout, climb inside a pyramid.
And don't wear Tom's! I had no tread on my shoes and it was super slippery!

The rocks used to build the pyramids were massive. 

Othman played photographer and insisted we do all the silly pyramid touching/holding poses. Caitlin was determined to ride a camel and I played along.

once in a lifetime!

Caitlin hates this pose, but I thought I'd use it anyways!

camels and pyramids, oh my!

The guy asked Caitlin to check the pictures he took, but she thought he said to take his picture.
Perhaps this is his look of utter confusion.
He's thinking..."You stupid Americans!"
I think that without my leg this pic could show up in National Geographic.

Our guide took this pic. It's one of the best of the trip.
Caitlin is screaming/laughing as her camel attempts to lay down and I'm laughing in the background.
What a moment! 

We stopped by the Sphinx on the other side of the pyramids. Current theory holds that the Sphinx was built in 2500 BC and is believed to be part of the second pyramid's funerary complex for the pharaoh, Khafra. At one point the Nile River came up to this point in Giza so that the pharaohs could come by river to inspect the construction of these massive tombs.

It's impossible to think about how old these sites are...I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around it.

Don't worry...we have the cheesy pics of us kissing the Sphinx too. 

Later in the day we attempted to watch the Sound and Light show at the pyramids, but it was weird and interrupted noisily by the longest and loudest call to prayer. So, we really didn't pay attention and I wouldn't advise anyone to pay to go to this...just stay at a hotel where you can watch for free at a distance or watch from a restaurant with a view.

A last note for the night...we headed to dinner at a nearby restaurant, only to find ourselves eating in the dark part way through our meal. Seems that power outages must be a fairly normal occurrence here, as they wait staff immediately began to bring out lights that had been previously charged for just such an event. Now the random light in the corner of our hotel room makes a whole lot more sense.

Egyptian pound notes
So, when are you making the trip?

Notes:
Mit Rahina Museum (Memphis) entrance fee: 40 Egyptian pounds
Imhotep & Saqqara entrance fee: 80 Egyptian pounds
Giza Pyramids entrance fee: 80 Egyptian pounds
The Great Pyramid entrance fee (to climb inside): 200 Egyptian pounds

Alt-J

I know you're waiting for more stories from Egypt.

And they're coming.

But I must interrupt those posts for a quick minute for a post I've been trying to get around to writing.

Back on Valentine's Day, Caitlin and I went to see Alt-J perform in Milan.

Alt-J is a British indie rock band.

It was as much of a light show as a concert. 


I kind of love them.

old school meets new school...lighters and cell phones!


The music is a little weird. I admit it. And some of the lyrics make zero sense to me.

But I don't care.

Check out some of their tunes below. And then go buy their album on iTunes.





Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Egypt, Day 1: Cairo

Egypt = country #26! This number is slowly climbing and I have set a goal to reach 30 countries by the end of 2015. It's really amazing to have all these travel opportunities.



Caitlin and I arrived at the Cairo Airport, after an interesting, if uneventful, flight from Milan. 

Caitlin was lucky enough to sit next a man appearing Egyptian, trying to speak Italian, whom we and the flight attendants failed to understand completely. He was also all into Caitlin's space, couldn't fasten his own seat belt, had to hug the seat in front of him to get up. Lots of entertainment. (I most definitely had the middle seat on the way back!)

We managed our way through buying a visa, hitting up passport control and finding our cute lil' Egyptian driver holding Caitlin's name against the window glass from outside the airport. I promise we only worried about finding this guy for a hot minute after every other tourist's guide was inside the airport. 

a cool new visa in my passport!

We stayed out by the pyramids in Giza, and by this I mean, if I looked out the window I could see the pyramids and the Sphinx. If it's not dark. Or foggy. Or covered thickly with pollution. So, it took a full 36 hours before we really got to take a look. 

In the morning we were picked up by our tour guide, Othman (sounds like 'Osmun'), and our trusty driver, Bill...as in Cosby... (nicknamed by us for the one classic sweater he was rockin' every day), and headed towards the Egyptian Museum for our first stop. The museum sits on Tahrir Square, home of the 2011 revolution. We saw tons of artifacts that we're still pretty clueless about, having relatively little background knowledge in Egyptian history. Most of the 2nd level is dedicated to Tutkankhamun, which was really cool and much easier to follow. The coffins inlaid with gold and precious stones were amazing, along with all the jewelry that was buried with the young king. 

We saw the royal mummy collection. Totally weird, gross and spine chilling.

No pictures were allowed inside the museum.

I debated trying to take a picture of the scene outside the museum, but thought in the interest of my personal safety it would be best not to photograph the street lined with barbed wire and armed soldiers waiting in tanks for any possible outbreak of protests.

This is Tahrir Square back in 2011. You can see the Egyptian Museum in the back...it's the big coral-y pink building. The square was fairly empty the day we were there, but for some regular traffic. During the revolution, that central circle was filled with people camping out and then the crowds extended into all the areas you see below.

"Tahrir Square on September 9 2011" by Ahmed Abd El-Fatah from Egypt - Panoramic pic for tahrir Sq. 9-9-2011 صورة بانورامية لميدان التحرير الجمعةUploaded by The Egyptian Liberal. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tahrir_Square_on_September_9_2011.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Tahrir_Square_on_September_9_2011.jpg

Next up was Coptic Cairo, which I'm still trying to wrap my head around the details. We visited the Hanging Church and a couple other churches and a synagogue.


a new mosaic outside of the 'hanging' church

I love the intricate detail.


I gotta tell ya...kids are pretty much the same anywhere in the world.

Totally fascinated...by all the 'bread on the head' we saw while in Egypt.

We were told lunch was up next. They pulled the car to the side of the road and our guide jumped out and went to get us lunch. He had previously described what we would be eating, but we were a bit surprised by the idea that we would be dining in the car. At about this point, Caitlin mentioned that maybe it was best we didn't see where the food was coming from. 

Othman brought us a traditional Egyptian dish, koshari, made with spaghetti, macaroni, fried onions, lentils, chick peas, and fried noodles and had two different sauces to be poured over top.

Lunch...before we poured two different sauces over the top. 
Lunch...ready to eat. Sauces added and all stirred up!

It was fine. Not bad, not good. Nothing really to write home about...except that it looks really interesting.

We spent the afternoon at the Citadel and Muhammed Ali mosque. It's a Turkish style mosque, with tall minarets resembling those found in Istanbul. The lights inside were similar too. I love the way the lights photograph, with their interesting patterns and curved lines.






If you squint through all that pollution, you might see two pyramids in the background. 

Our last stop was to the local tourist market, which was exactly what you'd expect it to be if you've shopped in Turkey, Morocco, or another similar country. Low quality goods and annoying salesmen. But, having a little experience in this area, at least we knew what to expect and could ignore most of it. We sampled some fresh juices while people watching at a cafe on the square...and I must say the people watching in Cairo is pretty fantastic.

What makes this even better is the idea that this guys jacket had the AC Milan soccer team logo,
but yet the jacket is the colors of the other team in Milan, Inter. I guess the misprints made their way to Egypt.





Waiting on our fruit juices. 

This truck was apparently all decked out for some festivities in advance of a wedding. Everyone gets in trucks and total chaos ensues as they drive around collecting all the items one needs to start building a life together. It was pure insanity.
More to come on our Egyptian holiday in subsequent posts!

Notes:
Egyptian Museum entrance fee: 75 pounds
Royal Mummies entrance fee: 100 pounds
Citadel/Mohamed Ali mosque: 60 pounds

All hotel/tour information will be provided in the final post.

Have you ever been to Egypt? What was your experience like? 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Things We Avoid

You know, one of my biggest fears is being embarrassed.

It shouldn't be any big deal, but, to me, it is.

So, I'm totally guilty of avoiding things that might put me in situations where I could potentially be embarrassed.

I know how ridiculous this is.

But...

So, for the longest time I have put off going to the local grocery store chain and applying for their "card" in order to get the discount offered on certain products.

I feared not being able to understand all the Italian the situation might require and worried that I'd look like an idiot.

However, one week while shopping I realized that I could have saved a huge amount of money if I had the card and that was the "straw that broke the camel's back" as we say.

The next week I walked up to the counter and asked for the card.

You know how much Italian was required?

Only enough to ask for it.

The rest you complete online. At home.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Why didn't I ask for the card forever ago?

Dai.

(One of my favorite Italian words that you might use when you'd say "Come on" or "Give me a break")



Now that I'm the proud holder of the Esselunga Fidaty card, I've taken advantage of their grocery delivery service.

#lifechanger

I love not having to carry my heavy groceries 20 or minutes to my apartment.

Instead they just show up at my door.

Trying to use the grocery service for the staples...
the stuff I buy fairly regularly and the stuff that's heavy: cereal, water, milk, juice, etc. 

#brilliant

One would hope situations such as this would help me get over my fear of being embarrassed.

At least it's a small step in the right direction.

Have you ever avoided doing something that turned out to be so simple? Share your experiences with me in the comments! : )

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Egypt: Days 5, 6 & 7: The Red Sea

Time to wrap up my Egyptian holiday with one final post.

Caitlin and I spent days 5, 6 & 7 in Soma Bay, Egypt, a resort village about 45 minutes south of Hurghada.

Our tour company arranged a private driver from Luxor to Soma Bay. It felt like it took forever to make the journey, primarily because traveling between villages are hundreds of speed bumps and 'pretend' checkpoints. I say 'pretend' because while there were people at every checkpoint appearing to be working there, no one seemed to be doing anything.

We made one stop along the way, where Caitlin and I made our one mistake in failing to haggle for the price of some snacks.

Several hours later though, we arrived at Soma Bay. And it was beautiful!

Sheraton Soma Bay Resort

We spent the first afternoon at the beach and had arranged for a snorkeling trip the following day.

ahhhh, the beach!

A driver picked us up and took us to Hurghada. With our snorkeling gear in hand, we boarded the boat with several Russians and a few non-Russian speaking others. (This part of Egypt is a big vacation spot for Russians apparently.)

We snorkeled twice before spending an hour on a nearby island.

We're on a boat! In Egypt! On the Red Sea!

For me, the snorkeling was fine, but the quality of corals I've seen during previous trips in the Bahamas and Hawaii was better. There were plenty of colorful fish, including one lionfish I spotted. I promptly swam the other direction.

Caitlin hated snorkeling. Just hanging out in the water wasn't so bad.

such beautiful water!

It was a nice day, but a very 'touristy' type of day. If I were to do it again, I might try and look into snorkeling options that are different from what every other boat is doing.

The following day we flew back to Cairo to await our flight to Milan.

the nitty gritty:

All of our tours were booked through Aladin Tours, based in the Nefertiti Hotel in Luxor. We researched several companies on Trip Advisor and asked two for potential itineraries and price quotes. Your Egypt Tours provided us with a solid, detailed itinerary and prompt communication. Aladin Tours written itinerary was what I would call a bit loose, but their quoted price was a third less than the YET price. Since Aladin Tours had some solid TA reviews, we decided to book with them. (I don't read reviews written by anyone who hasn't written at least 5 reviews.) When my review has posted, I'll link it here.

While in Egypt, we stayed at:
Guardian Guest House, Giza: Trip Advisor review

Because I stay at Starwood properties on an employee rate, I don't write TA reviews for them. However, I've included a few thoughts for each below.

Sheraton Luxor: Okay, but a bit run down. The free wifi is terrible and the price for paid wifi was so ridiculous we refused to pay it.

Sheraton Soma Bay Resort: A nice place. Some parts look a little run down, but the facilities overall were nice and the free wifi was awesome.

LeMeridien Cairo Airport: The best shower design I've seen in awhile. (Funny the things that stand out!) We had a really nice meal in their Asian restaurant and it's a great place to stay when you have an early flight out of Cairo. Free wifi in the room (unusual for Starwood).

We did Egypt for 8 nights with private guides for €150 per person, per day. This price includes everything, our flights to Cairo, the internal flights within Egypt and everything we spent along the way. It feels like a lot, but given what we did I think the price was right, especially since I know that most people spend a whole lot more.

I'm so happy I could share my trip with all my readers!

Questions about Egypt? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Egypt, Days 3 & 4: Luxor

After our two days in Cairo, we left on a 7:00 AM flight to Luxor. This required a 4:45 AM pickup coming from Giza, so perhaps a later flight was in order. It was way too early!

We were picked up at the airport by our tour guide, Mansour, and headed out directly to explore Luxor's West Bank.

Our first stop was Karnak Temple. Unfortunately, I still have no real idea who or what this place is for (too much history, too little time), but I will say that it is IMPRESSIVE!



Both Caitlin and I were fairly astonished by this place.


And shocked that we had never heard of it.


The statues and columns were massive.






Then we headed off to Luxor Temple, located between the Nile and the central part of town.

There's two huge rows of sphinxes lining a walkway here. They're in varying states of decay, but this one was still intact.


This obelisk is one of my favorite parts of Luxor Temple because you'll notice that it is missing it's matched pair. (They were usually built in pairs to mark entrances to temples.)

And I think this one is cool because I've seen it's mate. In Paris. (At Place de la Concorde.)





Our 2nd day in Luxor was spent on the East Bank of Luxor. We took a look at the temple built by Hatshepsut first.





We also spent a little time at the Valley of the Kings. Unfortunately, you're not allowed to take pictures there at all. Not even outside. But, our guide did encourage us to take one once we were beyond the gates.

Really, it's not much to look at on the outside.

At Valley of the Kings your entrance fee allows you into three tombs of your choice, exclusive of the more famous ones, for which you must pay an extra fee.

We visited the tombs of Rameses IX, Rameses III, Tausert and Setnakht, and Tutankhamun.

We paid the extra fee for King Tut's tomb, which probably wasn't worth it...as our guide warned us. But, I struggled with leaving Valley of the Kings without having seen it and his mummy!

I found this website which is a mapping site of all the tombs they've uncovered and continue to uncover.

While we were there we spent a few minutes watching some archaeologists working to piece together remains of a recently discovered tomb. It looked like a puzzle that would never end.

We also stopped at the Habu Temple, the mortuary temple of Rameses III, which had the deepest stone carvings we had seen yet! Caitlin could stick her entire hand in some of the carvings.




And finally, to cap off our day, we took a felucca ride on the Nile.

Feluccas are traditional Egyptian sailboats.


Ours was called the Nile Queen.

I wonder how many sailboats carry this same name?!?!?!



Our sailing captain.



Views from the boat:





omg, I loved this little boy. When he saw our cameras, he started waving.
And, then the guy next to him...just smoking the hookah. 

Back at our hotel, the sunset wasn't so bad either.


Notes: 
Karnak Temple: 80 Egyptian pounds
Luxor Temple: 60 Egyptian pounds
Hatshepsut Temple: 50 Egyptian pounds
Valley of the Kings: 100 Egyptian pounds
Tomb of King Tut: Additional 100 Egyptian pounds
Habu Temple: 40 Egyptian pounds

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Egypt, Day 2: Pyramids

I mean, you really go to Egypt the first time for one thing, right?

Like the only ancient wonder of the world still standing?

The pyramids at Giza.

No clear blue skies, but still an amazing site!

Holy s*&^!

I must say that it feels like Egypt is a hot mess. And that's putting it nicely.

Here's a short clip driving out of Giza on Day 1.

video


Everything is in disrepair, there's trash everywhere and no sense of organization to just about anything. We saw one (ONE!) traffic light in all of Cairo.

But, there's still these amazing pyramids to come and see.

And given how things around here seem to be taken care of...I'd make the trip sooner rather than later.

So, back to the main course at hand...Othman arrived bright and early with Bill to drive us out for the 'tour di Pyramids'. Othman provided us with our own supply of corn nuts and chocolate pebbles, after our excitement at both the day before. It's all in the details, don't ya think?

treats from our tour guide...corn nuts and chocolate pebbles...
They were both quite tasty!

We started out at Memphis, the capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, to check out the remains of this ancient city. Which, I gotta tell ya, ain't much.



Other than a huge partial sculpture of Ramses II, there's not much here to see.



From there, we headed to Saqqara, home to the famous step pyramid and burial ground of ancient Egypt.

This is the entrance to the tomb of Titi. The 'pyramid' just looks like a mound of sand. The descent is pretty steep and the slope has wooden slats designed to help you safely make your way down, while you also bend at your waist so as not to hit your head. The interior has two separate rooms, one with a basalt sarcophagus. There are lots of carvings on every surface, the ceiling included.


The guy on the right took us into the tomb. No pictures are allowed so we left our cameras with Othman outside, but this guy insisted that we use our cell phone to take pictures and played cameraman. This insured his collection of a tip outside. You just can't escape it. So much so that he started to rub his fingers together outside when he was getting impatient. Dai. 

the step pyramid




omg, I love this guy. Of course, he, too, wanted a tip. 

But, the real thrill is, of course, in Giza.

The pyramids you've seen and heard about all your life.

In front of the Great Pyramid.
If you look just left of Caitlin's shoulder you can see where you climb up to in order to enter the pyramid.

We climbed inside the Great Pyramid, up the short narrow shafts and into the burial chamber. This was very scary, but so very AWESOME!

If you check out this site you can see how we entered and then went down slightly before going up towards the king's chamber. You climb up an incline, again with wooden slats to help you and then take a couple steps up a ladder before continuing on up another incline.

This picture is from the very top, before you enter the chamber with the sarcophagus. You can't really see much, but...I thought I'd try.

If you need a thigh workout, climb inside a pyramid.
And don't wear Tom's! I had no tread on my shoes and it was super slippery!

The rocks used to build the pyramids were massive. 

Othman played photographer and insisted we do all the silly pyramid touching/holding poses. Caitlin was determined to ride a camel and I played along.

once in a lifetime!

Caitlin hates this pose, but I thought I'd use it anyways!

camels and pyramids, oh my!

The guy asked Caitlin to check the pictures he took, but she thought he said to take his picture.
Perhaps this is his look of utter confusion.
He's thinking..."You stupid Americans!"
I think that without my leg this pic could show up in National Geographic.

Our guide took this pic. It's one of the best of the trip.
Caitlin is screaming/laughing as her camel attempts to lay down and I'm laughing in the background.
What a moment! 

We stopped by the Sphinx on the other side of the pyramids. Current theory holds that the Sphinx was built in 2500 BC and is believed to be part of the second pyramid's funerary complex for the pharaoh, Khafra. At one point the Nile River came up to this point in Giza so that the pharaohs could come by river to inspect the construction of these massive tombs.

It's impossible to think about how old these sites are...I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around it.

Don't worry...we have the cheesy pics of us kissing the Sphinx too. 

Later in the day we attempted to watch the Sound and Light show at the pyramids, but it was weird and interrupted noisily by the longest and loudest call to prayer. So, we really didn't pay attention and I wouldn't advise anyone to pay to go to this...just stay at a hotel where you can watch for free at a distance or watch from a restaurant with a view.

A last note for the night...we headed to dinner at a nearby restaurant, only to find ourselves eating in the dark part way through our meal. Seems that power outages must be a fairly normal occurrence here, as they wait staff immediately began to bring out lights that had been previously charged for just such an event. Now the random light in the corner of our hotel room makes a whole lot more sense.

Egyptian pound notes
So, when are you making the trip?

Notes:
Mit Rahina Museum (Memphis) entrance fee: 40 Egyptian pounds
Imhotep & Saqqara entrance fee: 80 Egyptian pounds
Giza Pyramids entrance fee: 80 Egyptian pounds
The Great Pyramid entrance fee (to climb inside): 200 Egyptian pounds

Alt-J

I know you're waiting for more stories from Egypt.

And they're coming.

But I must interrupt those posts for a quick minute for a post I've been trying to get around to writing.

Back on Valentine's Day, Caitlin and I went to see Alt-J perform in Milan.

Alt-J is a British indie rock band.

It was as much of a light show as a concert. 


I kind of love them.

old school meets new school...lighters and cell phones!


The music is a little weird. I admit it. And some of the lyrics make zero sense to me.

But I don't care.

Check out some of their tunes below. And then go buy their album on iTunes.





Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Egypt, Day 1: Cairo

Egypt = country #26! This number is slowly climbing and I have set a goal to reach 30 countries by the end of 2015. It's really amazing to have all these travel opportunities.



Caitlin and I arrived at the Cairo Airport, after an interesting, if uneventful, flight from Milan. 

Caitlin was lucky enough to sit next a man appearing Egyptian, trying to speak Italian, whom we and the flight attendants failed to understand completely. He was also all into Caitlin's space, couldn't fasten his own seat belt, had to hug the seat in front of him to get up. Lots of entertainment. (I most definitely had the middle seat on the way back!)

We managed our way through buying a visa, hitting up passport control and finding our cute lil' Egyptian driver holding Caitlin's name against the window glass from outside the airport. I promise we only worried about finding this guy for a hot minute after every other tourist's guide was inside the airport. 

a cool new visa in my passport!

We stayed out by the pyramids in Giza, and by this I mean, if I looked out the window I could see the pyramids and the Sphinx. If it's not dark. Or foggy. Or covered thickly with pollution. So, it took a full 36 hours before we really got to take a look. 

In the morning we were picked up by our tour guide, Othman (sounds like 'Osmun'), and our trusty driver, Bill...as in Cosby... (nicknamed by us for the one classic sweater he was rockin' every day), and headed towards the Egyptian Museum for our first stop. The museum sits on Tahrir Square, home of the 2011 revolution. We saw tons of artifacts that we're still pretty clueless about, having relatively little background knowledge in Egyptian history. Most of the 2nd level is dedicated to Tutkankhamun, which was really cool and much easier to follow. The coffins inlaid with gold and precious stones were amazing, along with all the jewelry that was buried with the young king. 

We saw the royal mummy collection. Totally weird, gross and spine chilling.

No pictures were allowed inside the museum.

I debated trying to take a picture of the scene outside the museum, but thought in the interest of my personal safety it would be best not to photograph the street lined with barbed wire and armed soldiers waiting in tanks for any possible outbreak of protests.

This is Tahrir Square back in 2011. You can see the Egyptian Museum in the back...it's the big coral-y pink building. The square was fairly empty the day we were there, but for some regular traffic. During the revolution, that central circle was filled with people camping out and then the crowds extended into all the areas you see below.

"Tahrir Square on September 9 2011" by Ahmed Abd El-Fatah from Egypt - Panoramic pic for tahrir Sq. 9-9-2011 صورة بانورامية لميدان التحرير الجمعةUploaded by The Egyptian Liberal. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tahrir_Square_on_September_9_2011.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Tahrir_Square_on_September_9_2011.jpg

Next up was Coptic Cairo, which I'm still trying to wrap my head around the details. We visited the Hanging Church and a couple other churches and a synagogue.


a new mosaic outside of the 'hanging' church

I love the intricate detail.


I gotta tell ya...kids are pretty much the same anywhere in the world.

Totally fascinated...by all the 'bread on the head' we saw while in Egypt.

We were told lunch was up next. They pulled the car to the side of the road and our guide jumped out and went to get us lunch. He had previously described what we would be eating, but we were a bit surprised by the idea that we would be dining in the car. At about this point, Caitlin mentioned that maybe it was best we didn't see where the food was coming from. 

Othman brought us a traditional Egyptian dish, koshari, made with spaghetti, macaroni, fried onions, lentils, chick peas, and fried noodles and had two different sauces to be poured over top.

Lunch...before we poured two different sauces over the top. 
Lunch...ready to eat. Sauces added and all stirred up!

It was fine. Not bad, not good. Nothing really to write home about...except that it looks really interesting.

We spent the afternoon at the Citadel and Muhammed Ali mosque. It's a Turkish style mosque, with tall minarets resembling those found in Istanbul. The lights inside were similar too. I love the way the lights photograph, with their interesting patterns and curved lines.






If you squint through all that pollution, you might see two pyramids in the background. 

Our last stop was to the local tourist market, which was exactly what you'd expect it to be if you've shopped in Turkey, Morocco, or another similar country. Low quality goods and annoying salesmen. But, having a little experience in this area, at least we knew what to expect and could ignore most of it. We sampled some fresh juices while people watching at a cafe on the square...and I must say the people watching in Cairo is pretty fantastic.

What makes this even better is the idea that this guys jacket had the AC Milan soccer team logo,
but yet the jacket is the colors of the other team in Milan, Inter. I guess the misprints made their way to Egypt.





Waiting on our fruit juices. 

This truck was apparently all decked out for some festivities in advance of a wedding. Everyone gets in trucks and total chaos ensues as they drive around collecting all the items one needs to start building a life together. It was pure insanity.
More to come on our Egyptian holiday in subsequent posts!

Notes:
Egyptian Museum entrance fee: 75 pounds
Royal Mummies entrance fee: 100 pounds
Citadel/Mohamed Ali mosque: 60 pounds

All hotel/tour information will be provided in the final post.

Have you ever been to Egypt? What was your experience like?