Monday, March 31, 2008
We arrive in Cairo for an 8 hour layover. You would think there would be something to do. We did not know security there would be tight as a drum. We can't even get into the departure concourse until 3 hours before flight time! Guess where all the shops, restaurants and bathrooms are. Our luggage is x-rayed 3 times before we board. Oh well this has been pretty much a lost day. We get to Rome on time. We knew it was going to be expensive but this is insane. The cab ride to go one mile was $30. Breakfast (if we ate in the hotel) would be $70. We luck out and find a great little restaurant around the corner where prices are within reason. Our hotel is in a beautiful section of Rome just outside the Borghese Park.. This is a picture of the gate to the park at night.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
After Carnak, we went to a "Papyrus House" where they sell Egyptian artwork on papyrus. We bought some artwork and got to know the salesman pretty well. He asked us where we were going next and I told him McDonald's. OK. That's not very adventurous, but I wanted a milkshake in the worst way. He said he was going home and invited us to ride in a cab with him and he would drop us off at McDonalds. It turns out there are special cabs for the locals. They are a hybrid between a bus and a cab. They are a mini-van with four rows of seats that run a consistent route. People hop in and out thru the open sliding door and pass the driver a pound. (About a quarter) True to his word he dropped us off right in front of Micky D's and paid for our ride too.
One thing about Egypt is that it is still a cash oriented society. Our hotel wanted to be paid in cash. It took us about half an hour to find a machine that would cough up 1500 pounds. By that time we decided to forego the Felucca ride or the camel ride and just go back to the hotel for dinner.
Friday, March 28, 2008
From the ferry it's an easy walk to the Luxor Temple. This temple was built for Rameses the Great. The columns tower 80 feet high. After exploring the temple we took the ferry back to our hotel
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Along the road, Patrice took a lot of pictures of typical Egyptian farm life. The overwhelming part of the population are still farmers. She thought this guy looked particularly colorful.
Our next stop was Sakkura. It is the home of the oldest pyramids in Egypt. The best pictures here are actually short movie clips taken inside the tomb. We were surprised to learn that all the tombs, except Cheops, are actually below the pyramids. In Sakkura, you can actually go down, down inside the crypt. I really felt like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Tomb. The entrance was 3 feet wide and 4 feet high. It went down at a 45 degree slant so the floor actually had rungs that served as a sort of ladder. When inside theres a little guard in there that puts his fingers to his lips and then motions to give him your camera. He was really chapped when he found out all I had on me was 2 Egyptian pounds.
The other cool thing at Sakkura was seeing all the hieroglyphics that depicted everyday life. I was shocked that you can actually touch writing that is over 4000 years old. Of course it really helped to have Salwa along to point it out, but the meaning of the writing became very clear.
At the end of the day we visited the Great Pyramids. One of the things I didn't realize was how big the individual stones were that made these pyramids. When you look from a distance they all blend together. Each stone came up to my waist. You can go inside Cheops too, but its an extra $20 and I have had enough crypt crawling at this point. Finally, Salwa took us to this vantage point to get pictures. You really get a feeling of being in the desert when you are at this site. Unlike our deserts it is a very fine sand and it gets in everything.
But... what might be the high point of the day was actually lunch. Between Sakkura and Cheops, she took us to a garden restaurant that had a tame lion cub. There is nothing like holding a lion in your hands. This little kitty was heavy too. Thankfully, he is only 3 months old. his owner told us that by the time he is a year old, he will have to go to the zoo. I held him and petted him but never let myself forget that this is a lion. As you can see, Patrice was a little less apprehensive.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
He let us out on a busy street, We discovered that the restaurant had moved. We wandered up and down a few streets when a stranger came up and offered us his assistance. He said he knew where it was and was willing to walk us to it. After a block or two we smelled a rat, told him we were too late for the meeting and did a 180! Was he setting us up or trying to be nice? You be the judge.
Our next stop was the Khan El Khanlili, the ancient market that is supposed to typify old Cairo. There were hundreds, maybe a thousand stalls there. Vendors were there hawking all kinds of wares; cloth, copies of Egyptian antiquities, and as usual everything is negotiable. We bought a small Egyptian cat there. The market also contained Cairo's oldest coffee house, El Fishay. We had some strong Egyptian tea there and saw men smoking their "hubbly bubbly" water pipes. On top of the burning tobacco they put little white rocks. I did not ask what they were.
The last shot is of the Egyptian Museum at sunset.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
One thing about Dubai is that conventional logic goes out the window. Look at the unusual shapes of these buildings. Like Las Vegas, the more outrageous the better. Only the normal return on investment equations go out the window when the royal family is funding it.
The last picture is of Old Dubai. After all, this did start out as a fishing village before the oil money started pouring in. We have seen so many guest workers from all over the world. Dubai reminds us of a 21st century goldrush mentality. Pakistan's, Phillipino's and Palestinians all coming here to work and send some money home.
At the end of the day we reluctlantly said farewell to Dubai and waited for our flight to Cairo..... And waited ...and waited. 4 hours later we were on our way. EgyptAir has not made a good impression on us. Still, considering the first 10 flights were all on time, our average is still good.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Half this city seems like it is under construction and the other half seems like it was just completed. Here's a picture of the world's tallest building. 161 stories and growing. It's is still under construction.
The ruling Sheik likes outrageous projects that call attention to his city. This picture of ski Dubai is one of them.
Another one is this building called Burg Al Arab. It is designed to look like a sail and it actually built on a man-made island just off shore. There's building just in shaped like a wave. We had "high tea" there. "High" also describes the price.
But, all this radical building must be working. They had 15 million tourists last year and expect that number to double in the coming years. Still, I wish every American who puts $4/gal gas in their SUV could see what the oil money is building OUTSIDE OUR COUNTRY
Sunday, March 23, 2008
But the biggest ritual of all is color; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow. These are the primary colors of Holi. Friends put on old clothes and throw powdered paint at each other. Here are some friends we met at the hotel after participating in Holi.
We did get some some cheap clothes to participate. But we stayed in the hotel because we wouldn't have had time to clean up before we had to check out.
We arrived in Dubai at night and took a cab to the Marriott. The reception desk gives us a free upgrade.... Says he thinks we'll like our room. Turns out to be a suite half the size of our house! This trip has been one long series of contrasts.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
The actual Holi festival begins at dark today. We are told it is the most important holiday in the Hindu religion. So we see lots of preparation on our way back to the hotel. Our driver takes some of the back streets so we can get a better idea of what is going on. On just about every block, people (ladies mostly) are preparing bonfires. They are building them right in the middle of the street!
Then as we approached our hotel, they start lighting them. The one below was right in our path. The ride back to the hotel was a sort of Disney adventure ride, but for real! We passed by the fire below at a distance of 2 feet. Glad the driver went quickly. We could feel the heat of the flames through the glass. We told him we were concerned about the condition of the car and he let us know that it did not belong to him, it belonged to the hotel.
Friday, March 21, 2008
We made him take us back to the hotel and later took a different rickshaw to the old city. This time we showed him the exact spot on the map and that worked.
We visited the Hawa Mahal, "Palace of Winds". It's five stories with latticed windows. It was built by a Maharaja so that his harem, forbidden to appear in public, could see festivals and other happenings in the street below! We walked around the colorful bazaars in that area.
In the afternoon, we took some things to the post office to mail home. We didn't think anything about India could surprise us anymore but we were wrong.! They measured our 2 packages, ripped pieces of cloth, took out a needle and thread, and hand-stitched the cloth into a slipcover to snugly wrap each package. Then the ends were stitched shut - amazing!
We saw a puppet show in the hotel's garden in the evening. We really like the Madhuban Hotel and the owner Mrs. Dicky Singh.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Of course this area is famous for its camels and we were not disappointed. We just never thought we would be passing so many in the wrong lane. We saw a little of everything being carried on someone's head; from straw to gravel for road construction.
After 4 l o n g hours, we arrived in Jaipur. They call it the Pink City because the walls to the old part of the city are painted pink. Here is one of many gates to the city.
Here is our hotel, the Madhuban. After settling in, we took a taxi up into the hills to see Chowki Jani. Here we had authentic Indian food, saw people getting camel and elephant rides and did some shopping. We even got dots on our foreheads so no one would know we were Americans.