Sunday, August 16, 2009

things get churchy

One of the first indications that old Cairo is old is that you have to go down a flight of steps to get there. I love that old cities that have been here for centuries have built on top of themselves. There are a series of Coptic churches built on top of places where the holy family stayed while they were hiding out in Egypt. One church had a well that they had used. I find it interesting that flight to Egypt is a recurring theme in the bible. Abraham and Sarah go, I think Rebekah and Isaac go, the entire Jewish people go, and the holy family goes. I'm sure I could find a ton to read on about this. Almost all of the churches there are the church of St. George, because they are built on top of the Roman prison in which St. George was held prisoner and tortured. I'm pretty sure this happened after he slew his dragon. The biggest and most oppulent church is actually a Greek owned and run church. There was also a beautiful Synagoge.

The next trip we made was my favorite so far this visit. We drove out to the Sinai Peninsula to St. Katherine's. We drove under the Suez Canal and through miles and miles of empty desert. The first stop we made was at the plave of Moses' bitter wells. There were Bedoine womenpedaling handmade beaded ware and other such things for cheap. As we continued we watched the red sea, or the bit that leads up to the Suez canal go by. There were tons and tons of resorts on the water. It was interesting to see the desert meet the sea. No trees of any life to greet the ocean. First desert, then water. Not even a dune. We drove to a place that Wahied called the bath of the Pharaohs. There were hot springs that flowed out from under the rocks straight into the sea. There was a cave that you could go into that was like a sauna. I walked up and down the beach, enjoying the sea, and collecting a few shells. Mostly the ride was unremarkable desert that slowly gained rocky mountains. We did drive through an oasis though where there was a Bedoine village. THey had a date farm and plenty of goats running about. Finally reaching the hotel was a relief. We were in the mountains where it wasn't as hot, the air was not polluted, and there was a huge beautiful pool waiting in the evening sun.

As I hopped into the pool I quickly realized that 100% of the other tourists there were Italian! For once I was the one of our tiny crew that could understand the chatter all around me. We ate our dinner with gusto, then went straight to bed. We all had to wake up at 12:30 to head to Mount Sinai to beat the sun to the top. We climbed the mountain in the dark with a Bedoine guide and a pliveman. (all Americans and Israelis are escorted by the secret police or whatever). The Bedoine guide played prayers all the way up and down the mountain on his phone. Presumeable asking for a safe passage. The policeman was a nice guy who joked with us. He however felt license to grab my hands at certain points. If I were in the US it wouldn't have mattered because it was to guide me away from camels or over rockes, but here it is not ok to touch women, so I was not so pleased. The walk was not too hard at all, and even going very slowly to wait for Marc with his bad knees and his huffing and puffing, we made it up with nearly two hours to wait for sunrise.

(sidenote: Marc had just earlier been telling us how he was in good shap for a 55 year old man, but my parents, who granted are not yet 55, would have scampered up hyst as fast as I did. Well, perhaps Mom a little slower, but she has little legs.)

At the top there are two little chaples, everyone sits in the cold waiting for the sun to rise. The sun rises a lit faster here near the equator tha it does in the north, so when the sun did rise it just popped right up! The mountain rock formations are different than anywhere I've ever seen. Infact I had seen biblical paintings of Sinai and aasked myself what sort of mountains they were since I hadn't ever seen the like. They are dramatic, yet rounded. I don't know how else to describe them. The walk down was uneventful, but obviously much better for taking pictures.

After a hot shower and breakfast we went to St. Katherine's Monestary, built some time in the 3rd century. There is a teeny church, a mosque and the burning bush. They say that that bush is the only one of it kind on all of Sinai. The drive back was a brutal one for the drivemer. Imem is a really good natured, handsome young man, my guess is that he is perhaps 22. Everyone else slept in the car, but I stayed awake and made facces at him in the rearview mirro to keep him company. The poor kid was exhausted when we got home. So was I and all I had done was sit...and climb a mountain at one in the morning I guess...

Saturday, August 15, 2009


this is not the great pyramid! I climbed up inside the great pyramid. It was hot and muggy and a little creepy inside. A lot of people mistake this one for the great pyramid because it looks taller, but it is only built on higher ground the first one is actually the great pyramid.
The sphinx was not damaged by time, it was defaced by a man trying to prove to the citizens who were worshiping it that it would not hurt them, and that it was not a real god. So he took off the beard and the nose. He was killed by these people.
The casing on the pyramids was not broken, but taken off by later Pharaohs to build different things. All of the royal chambers were found completely empty. The grave robbers came within the Pharaoh's time though. It's funny how a giant pyramid helps grave robbers find your stuff. This is one of the reasons why the later pharaoh's were buried in the valley of the kings down in an attempt to hide their stuff. Still most tombs were broken into.

the citadel and beyond

I was lucky enough that the folks that Wahied's touring for the time that I'm here didn't mind me tagging along.

Sunday we went to the citadel and the Egyptian museum. the citadel is a huge fortress built on one of the highest points of the city. Inside the citadel is the mosque of Muhammad Ali. It is made all of alabaster and the domes are covered in silver. Upon reflection I don't know why the domes weren;t tarnished. Muhammad Ali is actually interred at the mosque. It has a very western feel, employing the same configuration of domes as the basilica in Rome. there are three pulpits called members, of different sizes. The tall one is beside the back dome, the second tallest is at the back of the dome, and the smallest is intended to be by the door. The tall ones help amplify the sheik's voice, and the small one has some one repeating what the sheik says so that those outside can hear. Now of course everyone has speakers.

Next came the egyptian museum. There Wahied's friend, also named Wahied, took me into the royal mummy room while Wahied started Marc and Nico's tour (the folks who Wahied is taking around these weeks). I have to say, for people that have been dead for 4000 years, they look pretty good!. Ramses II in particular. His hair is still there, he might have been loosing his hair during life, but not in death. Their finger nails were well manicured, and their ear lobes intact. The finery from king Tut's tomb takes up an incredible amount of space. His tomb is the only one that was found in its full splendour. From the amount that was found in his tomb, a fairly insignificant pharoh, one can imagine all that was in Ramses II's tomb. It was fantastic to see all of the treasure up close and personal after having seen pictures of it in National Geographic. Some of the neaterst things were: the camping bed that folded using hinges that are nearly identical to the design that is used today. The precise base relief carving on the sarcofoci that we still can not imitate with all of our powerful modern tools and technology. Finally something that I saw when I was wandering around by myself for a bit. There was a period of time, during the reigns of the two pharoh's previous to King Tut when the art style was noteably different. The notes marked it as more naturalistic. The body shapes were more pearlike and their skulls were elongated, their lips fuller. On the whole it looked more like the art work that yo usee from the rest of the continent of Africa.

Sunday also happened to be my birthday so Lisy and Wahied took me out to dinner. Afterwards we sat in the garden of the Villa that the restaurant was in and hade ice cream cake and sheesha. The evenings here are quite comfortable. It has not been too hot at all, and there is always a lovely breeze.

That is all that I have written so far. I'm woefully behind, as I have visited old coptic cairo, and climbed mount sinai since then.

Friday, August 14, 2009

more on egypt

I would find it hard to believe that anyone really has fun at the pyramids. It's really hot in the desert, you need a car to get through from one place to the next. But then, you can't not see the pyramids...just don't do it on your own, that's my recommendation. Lisy spent a lot of the time convincing the guards that she was married to a curator at the Egyptian museum and was therefore entitled to go in for free. Eventually people were convinced. Perhaps the best part was the boat museaum. The found a full sized bost buried outside the great pyramid. It was dismantled with instructions as to how to put it back together. After seeing the Sphinx and climbing in the great pyramid (a little creepy, and a little empty) we returned for lunch and naps.

The drive through Cairo to get to Giza is almost eyeopening. Thre are unfinished buildins that are absolutely everywhere, they have been that way and will continue to be that way for years. They will crumble before they are finished. The apartment buildings only have windows on one side, the brick work is done by hand and is visibly shoddy. They legally only have to leave a meter between the buildings, so there are building on top of each other. Each building is like a series of brick shanties built on top of oneanother. Most buildings are unfinished, so they have to proper roof. You definitely understand that you are traveling through a third world city.

Cairo traffic is what you might expect; lots of high speed weaving bumper to bumper. Intersting to note are headlight habits. Few cars have headlights and when they do they are flashed to tell the person infront of you that you would like to pass them. Otherwise if people see you with your lights on they will signal for you to turn them off, even at unreasonable hours like two in the morning. The high ways aren't limited access, so there are street cleaners, men with brooms walking along dodging traffice while cleaning the roads. Also people catch vans, the local public transport along the highway Jumping over medians and hanging out under bridges. There are even some vendors hanging out under there.

Monday, August 10, 2009

writing from Egypt

I'm writing in a journal, the journal is at this point a day behind, and I'm copying it, so I'll get as far as I get today and start up the next time I have internet, which will probably be Thursday.

As soon as I exited the plane I could feel the burn of the pollution in my nose and lungs. I have never been anywhere so polluted. It took about an hour to get through customs, even though we were the only flight there. It was because there were no instructions telling people they needed to buy a visa. Lisy has told me, however I still had to wait in a line of confused people. They are super scared about the swine flu here, and you pass through a quarentine check point before getting your passport checked. They look at you through an infrared camera to make sure that you aren't glowing too orange.

The first day I slept until noon, found that the internet in the apartment did not work and took a small walk around the neighborhood. Lisy lives in a very beautiful and upscale part of Cairo. Here there are lots of trees and villas. Many diplomats and ex-pats live here. Lsiy says there is no other place quite like it in Cairo. I believe her. Looking out from her balcony are lots of trees, some of them Mango! Compared to the rest of the city it's a green paradise.

The drive home from the airport was unremarkable except for passing through the city of the dead. The city of the dead is technically a huge graveyeard of tombs. the tombs are like small homes (perhaps for the afterlife? more so living reletives can visit) Many of the tombs are guarded by a member of the family or a hired guard who lives in the tomb itself. These are generally people without any other options. The city of the dead is a dangerous place that has little to no electricity, no water, the police don't go in, and it spans an astonishing 20% of the city. Needless to say, no one will notice an extra dead body in a tomb.

The weekend started nice and slowly. We went to Cardouf, the Egyptiann Walmart for the weekely grocery and thing shop.. CArdouf is built in the middle of the deasert and is surrounded by new developments that will aparently be quite expensive. Building materials are so valuble here that they hire villagers to live in the unfinished buildings and guard the materials.
We also walked through the neighborhood and got sandwiches and mango juice from street vendors. 36 hours later my tummy was a little yucky, but nothing that has stopped me from treking about the city. falafel here by the way is way yummier than any falafel I've ever had. IT has fennel seed in it which is delicious!

Saturday Lisy and I went to the pyramids in the morning. In typical Embly fashion I forgot my camera, but Lisy saved the day with her camera phone. I've since stashed my camera in my purse so that I can't forget it.

ok I have no more time, but I will continue later!