Monday, May 31, 2010

Egypt: Afternoons & Evenings . . .

I'm coming to believe that no matter where you are on this planet, watching the sun set is pure magic.
Cairo was no exception.

Although I came home without a single sunset photo, I did manage to record a few things we did during the afternoon and evening hours:

Golden Hour After a day in Giza, we set out to tackle the touts and find a fairly priced felucca. A felucca is the traditional sailboat of the Nile. Despite the fact that motorized boats do all of the real transporting and commerce, feluccas still remain. I was impressed when I learned that they have been cruising the river since the days of the Pharaohs.

Without a motor, they rely on the winds and on the river's current. It was the perfect way to catch the breeze on a hot summer afternoon.

Setting sail!

Hannah enjoying the sights on the bank and watching the river traffic.

Already tired from sightseeing earlier in the day, I was happy to just chill on the ride. However, all that relaxin' quickly ended when our tour guide put me to work.

Yep, that's me at the helm!
Although at one point I may have gotten us a little too close to a small cruise boat at the dock, for the most part I think I did a fairly decent job. I even managed to successfully maneuver us under a bridge. It was my third time on a sailboat (I've been on the Adventuress a few times) and my first time steering.
It took a bit more muscle than I was expecting, but overall it was good fun.

We spent our last sunset in town down at souk Khan el Khalili. Now, we have a few "souks" in Abu Dhabi, but they are nothing compared to this bazaar. For starters, this souk is over 600 years old and, according to our guidebook, basically unchanged since the 1300s. The place is brimming with the bounty of the East: spices, perfumes, gold, silver, fabrics, carpets, brass, leather, pottery, musical instruments, and hundreds of other little trinkets.

The souk left me a bit dazed. There were so many things to see, so many intoxicating smells, and so many people. It was definitely a whirlwind of activity as tourists, local shoppers, and pushy vendors filled the streets and packed the narrow alleys. Even though there were thousands of beautiful and interesting things to buy, the hassle of bargaining was enough to put me off and prevented me from spending much money. Thanks to Hannah's persistence and her mad negotiating skills, I came home with 1 decently priced little lantern.

Twilight The Cairo Tower is a lovely (yet pricey) place to watch the the sun set and see the stars come out.

Sun turns the evening to rose (photo by Jill)

Given that it's the tallest thing around, was designed by a local boy (Naoum Chebib), and constructed to look like a lotus flower (the symbol of upper Egypt), it quickly became a big deal. Big enough, I guess, to be Cairo's second most famous landmark. (Go here if you're having trouble figuring out what's #1.)

(photo by Jill)

Situated on an island in the middle of the Nile, it makes you feel like you're at the heart of the city. We were even able see the pyramids peep out of the sand and smog! I thought the Nile looked especially stunning from this height.

(photo by Jill)

The Tower reminded me a bit of the Space Needle. Take away the pyramids in the distance, the men dressed in tunics and pharaoh crowns wanting to write your name in hieroglyphics, and the Nile below; add the spectacular Mt. Rainier and sparkling Puget Sound and . . . voila! Same-same. (Okay -- so maybe they're not so similar.) However, they do have a few things in common: they're about the same height and the same age. (The Cairo Tower is only 9 feet taller and 1 year older than the Space Needle.)

Between sailing the Nile, shopping at the market, and simply enjoying the panoramic views, our afternoons and evenings were pleasantly busy. I loved how our experiences allowed us to see Cairo from different angles: looking up to surveying the bustle on the banks of the river as we sailed past; catching glimpses of fabrics and faces and mashrabiya in the old souk; peering over the tower railing to watch the city frantically buzz below and gazing up at the sky to watch the stars quietly shine above.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Egypt: Heads of State ... Stately Heads?

While in Egypt we managed to visit some very important people -- or at least see their heads.

One, being this fellow . . .

King Tut!*

And another being this guy . . .

the Sphinx!

King Tutankhamen:

Loads of sarcophagi*
We spent our last afternoon in Egypt touring the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. Since the museum boasts an overwhelming 120,000 items, including mummies and a huge display on King Tut, we decided to get some help and take a tour from a real Egyptologist. Our guide was a little man with a big knowledge of all things pharaonic. (He was also pretty keen to educate us on King Tut's sexual life. Awkward.)

Unlike most tombs, when British archeologist Howard Carter discovered King Tut's tomb 1923, he found it mostly intact. As a result, the museum now looks after a staggering number of the pharaoh's personal possessions. (The collection practically takes up a whole floor!) We saw golden chariots, headdresses, weapons, jewelry, and trumpets. (I really liked his bow and arrow. Wayne--I wish I could have taken a picture for you!) There were sheets of papyrus on display; a record of the official matters of his kingdom. We saw the actual rod he held in his hand when acting as judge, ruler, and diety. In addition to all of these public artifacts, there was also a collection of much more private items including things like his sandals, his bed, his toilet seat, and his condom. Our guide even took us to a case and specifically pointed out his lady friends' maxi pads. (We're still not quite sure why he would have needed these in the afterlife . . . ?)

Riding in style*

Here's a more accurate version of the 'head' we actually saw. Its is believed to resemble his real face. He looks pretty young to me--but I guess it makes sense; he was only 19 when he died. The funeral mask was big enough to cover his mummified head and chest.

Nothing but the best for the king . . . this thing is 25 pounds of pure gold!*
Even though we know more about him than almost any other pharaoh, his life and death are still surrounded in a lot of mystery. For more info on King Tut, make the leap and head to "King Tut Revealed" on the National Geographic website. Fascinating!

The Sphinx:
In addition to seeing one of the most popular kings of the ancient world, we also saw the most famous face in all of Egypt . . . that of the Sphinx!

A sphinx is a mythological creature first depicted in Egypt with the head of a woman and the body of a lioness. Since then, forms of the sphinx have shown up around the globe from Greece to South East Asia, to Europe. Along the way she kind of became a he, depending on the situation. He/She also represented a range of beliefs and served an array of purposes for the various cultures. The first sphinx ever found in Egypt supposedly portrays Queen Hetepheres II. She was one of the longest-lived members of the royal family of the fourth dynasty.

The body of a lion
The largest and most famous sphinx in the world is the one in Giza. Most experts believe the head is that of King Khafra while the body represents Sekhmet, the lioness. She was considered a powerful sun deity.

Its job was to serve as the guardian of the tomb and to make its presence known to all who dared approached the pyramids. Based on the huge volume of crowds, I'd say it still needs to be vigilant.

If you look through the rocks, you can see the Sphinx posing along the way to Khafra's pyramid.
Well, vigilant, but not too vigilant . . . What I mean is that I sure hope it didn't notice how we kinda snuck onto the grounds. We're not completely sure, but we don't think our tour guide technically paid for our admission. I haven't displayed any symptoms of coming down with a curse quite yet, so I'd wager that seeing the sphinx up close was worth the risk!

Just another typical day with the ancient and famous,

*Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the museum, so I nabbed all of mine from google images. (Possibly another form of looting?!)

Egypt: Pharaoh, Pharaoh

Of course, the main attraction in Cairo is the PYRAMIDS!

There are three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis. The largest pyramid, or the Great Pyramid, is one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. (It is the only remaining wonder as well.)

Imagine growing up and playing on this soccer pitch?

Wanting to have an authentic experience, we opted (or were heavily pressed) to see the pyramids el camel. (More on the camel ride to come.) Since camels head to the pyramids via a secret route, we were able to see a bit of local neighborhood life along the way. The picture above was taken on the beginning of our ride before we hit the sand. Contrary to the way I'd pictured it in my head, these Giza giants rub shoulders with the city. The view from one direction is quite picturesque--pyramids, blue skies, sand, the whole bit. However, swivel your head a few degrees and the view changes radically: Hello, smoggy city!

1. Iconic Egypt
2. Menkaure's Pyramid & Khafre's pyramid
3. 3 ladies and their trusty steeds
4. Khafre's pyramid; at the top you can still see the original casing stones

Jill, Hannah, and Molly with the pyramids.

The two biggest pyramids in the Giza Necropolis belong to former King Khafre and former King Khufu. (Khafre's is on the left; Khufu's is on the right.) Khufu's pyramid is also known as the Great Pyramid. Although it may look like Khafre's pyramid is bigger, it's a bit of an optical illusion. Built after his father's pyramid, the architects maintained their pharaoh's prowess by plotting it on higher ground and designing it with a steeper angle. In reality, Papa Khufu's pyramid is larger. King Khufu's tomb was built around 2560 BC. Back in the day, it held the record for being the tallest man-made structure in the world. However, after 3,800 years, England's Lincoln Cathedral broke the record and stole the title. Shucks.

Thoughts running through my head at this moment . . . Am I really here? Are these really the pyramids? Whoa . . .

Khafre's pyramid; a.k.a. Pyramid #2

Seeing the pyramids was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The slow trek across the dunes was a highlight of the trip because I had a perfect view and a perfect opportunity to make-believe. Swaying back and forth on the back of my camel, feeling the sun on my back, and starting at these ancient towers, made it was easy to picture life as it was 4000 years ago. I could imagine what it looked like to see the first stones being laid, to hear the camels, the donkeys, and the workers create the noisy hum of the workday, to feel the wind blow sand in my eyes, and to envision the pharaoh watch his monument rise out of the desert. It was a day dreamer's paradise and I spent a happy hour recreating the lives and stories of those involved. It was so easy to be hypnotized by the ancient charm of this phenomenal site. Incredible!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Egypt: How To Make Paper Like a Pharoah

Step 1: First, you need some papyrus. If you don't have any growing near you, all it takes is a quick trip to the banks of the Nile in the lower kingdom where the papyrus thickets grow with abandon. To the ancient Egyptians, the papyrus symbolized fertility and life. It was also said to hold up the sky.

Interestingly enough, the cross section of the papyrus stalk is a triangle shape. I think it might be connected to those pyramid things or something. They do kind of hold up the sky in one sense or another.

(Thanks, google images.)

Step 2: Peeling the rind and cutting the stalk.
Next you use a sharp knife to cut off the green outer coating until you are left with the cellulose stalk on the inside. This is then sliced lengthwise into thin strips. If you take the rind and try to pull it in two, you'll find that it's tough. Real tough. Jill and Hannah tried to rip it by sheer force but they couldn't. More gym time, ladies. More gym time.

Step 3: Soak the papyrus.
Submerge the strips in room temperature water for 2 to 3 days. When you soak the strips, it releases the inner liquid. This liquid is a type of glue and will help bind the fibers together. Remove from the water, roll them with a rolling pin to flatten the strips and soak them again in fresh water. Do this soaking and rolling 2 or 3 times. The longer you soak it, the darker the paper becomes. I think it's 6 days for for cream colored papyrus; 12 days for chocolate colored papyrus.

Step 4: Prepare the strips for the paper press.
To do this, you take the strips out of the water once more, grab a nearby mallet, think of something that frustrates you, and then pound that papyrus. Keep pounding until most of the water comes out. Once more, take a rolling pin and flatten the strips so they truly are as thin as paper.

Step 5: Lay the flattened strips lengthwise and crosswise on a board. Make sure they overlap so that there aren't any gaps in the paper. (The finished look reminded me of plaid fabric.) If you have a big wooden press, that's awesome. If not, you'll have to use something really heavy. Keep the papyrus under pressure until all of the moisture is absorbed; probably about 2 or 3 days.


Now the only thing left to do is sign up for hieroglyphics classes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Egypt: First Views

Through these doors you'll see my 2 fellow travelators and our first views of Cairo!

Miss Hannah booked us a few nights in the low-key and mostly charming Meramees Hostel. It was in nice neighborhood next to a shop with top notch mango juice and just a walk away from the Nile and the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.

From our room on the 6th floor, we could look out and see the skyline during the golden hour. It' a bit sad, but we all noticed the quality of the air. In addition to being much cooler than Abu Dhabi, the air seemed . . . dare I say . . . fresh? Normally Cairo and fresh air aren't in the same sentence. However, you lower your standards quite a bit if you're from Abu Dhabi.

We also noticed that our room was next door to a mosque. And a church. Guess who heard the call to prayer at 4:30 each morning?

crescent and cross

In addition to a pretty helpful and chill staff, the hostel had some one-of-a-kind features. Here are 3 of my favorite charms:

snazzy leopard print bed spread

high ceilings, wooden floors, french doors, and little balconies

And my favorite . . .

an old fashioned elevator! Even though you had to have the right touch to get it to work and it only went one way, we were enthusiastic patrons. I was impressed with the way it was amazingly quiet. I also enjoyed how you could make it stop--even between floors--just by pulling open the door.

The first views of Cairo on Day 1 were quite favorable. It was a nice start to our mini Spring Break.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Egypt: Bookends



excited, smelling like freshly laundered clothes, not quite sure what to expect, ready to bargain, sorta planned but mostly prepared to go with the flow, looking forward to experiencing the chaotic richness of cairo!


tired; dirty; mosquito bitten; smarter (thank you museum of egyptian antiquities!); wiser (no thank you, egyptian men); completely over the hassle of bargaining; saddle sore; survivors of the craziest taxi ride ever (even by abu dhabi standards); thankful to be coming home; awed by history; happy with our little adventure!

during: coming soon . . . .


Thursday, May 13, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow? Part II

Well, according to Shama, it's going to grow, but right now it is just "baby".

Shahad says her seed grows "big". Then she added, "Green. Big and green."

And Khawla, who always has something to say, jumped up and shouted, "BIG! Miss Molly! Me--TREE!!"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Slice of Life: Tis the Season

Summer is coming . . .
It's time to trim the trees.
Camping trips are over.
Buses are getting a bit stinkier.
The malls fill up and the beaches thin out.
Shade becomes a hot commodity.
Air conditioners go up, up, up.
Beach water becomes bath water.
Siesta time makes perfect sense.
Nights are humid.
Hot is becoming hotter.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I wanted a little comfort food to remind me of home the other day. After sifting through a few recipes, I decided to make my mom’s granola. (I’m not really sure if she made up this concoction herself or if she found it in a cook book; regardless of where she got the recipe, I’m referring to it as ‘Mom’s Granola’.)

The recipe:

Mom's Granola

Preheat oven to 225 degrees and place rack in the center.

In a large bowl combine the oat mixture.

2 pounds of rolled oats

1 C chopped nuts (I like walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts.)

1 C wheat germ

2 C coconut

1 C sunflower seeds

½ C sesame seeds

In a saucepan combine the ingredients for the sauce:

½ C canola oil*

2 sticks margarine or butter*

2 T molasses

1 T vanilla

1 C PB*

1 C honey

½ t salt

Heat over medium heat until melted & mixed together.

Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients and toss together, making sure all the oat mixture is coated with the liquid. Spread the granola onto a baking sheet and bake for about 60 minutes or until golden brown. Stir occasionally so the mixture browns evenly. The browner the granola gets (without burning) the crunchier the granola will be. When finished, remove from the oven & place on a wire rack to cool. Once the granola has completely cooled, store in an airtight container or plastic bag. It will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

*This is NOT a low-fat granola recipe.

The side story:

I'm of the opinion that a little breakfast for dinner is a nice thing now and then. So when it was my turn to host Hump Day dinner a few weeks ago, I opted for the homemade granola/yogurt combo. Unfortunately, the granola didn’t really turn out the way I was hoping. It was a little dry and tasteless. Fortunately, I figured out why it didn’t taste like Mom’s: it’s a little thing called measuring.

Yes, I made a classic measuring mistake. So classic, in fact, I can’t believe I fell for it. I didn’t look too closely when purchasing the oats from the store, and I’m a bit embarrassed to tell you that I added 2 kilograms of rolled oats instead of 2 pounds of rolled oats. Oops . . .


Sunday, May 2, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Because our garden is growing in plastic baggies. For now.