Friday, January 28, 2011

Egypt, Day 2: Sakkara & the Cairo Tower

Our tour this morning was with Mohammed and, since we had done much of what was scheduled, we renegotiated what we wanted to see. Mohammed took us to Sakkara, where the bench pyramids are located and are the predecessors of the step pyramids we’d seen the day earlier.
The columns were representative of reed bundles that had been used in these pyramids.
Getting a diagram of the ruins we're about to see. Mohammed gave us A LOT of infomation - I felt like I needed to take notes the entire trip - and would pause with questions and Ramon and I would both be wondering,"Are we supposed to answer?"

These are buildings to represent what had been in the pharaoh's castle but these were built and filled with detritus instead of being open. An awful lot of work, if you ask me. Some Egyptian school kids on a field trip:
I really enjoyed this site - it was really interesting and we got to go into a collapsed pyramid. The shaft to get in was three feet high – uncomfortable enough for me and a nightmare for Ramon!

Inside was amazing – all of the walls were covered with hieroglyphics and the ceiling was carved with stars since the people believed the pharaoh would join the night sky when he went to the afterlife. Then we went inside the son-in-law’s crypt where all of the walls were covered with carvings of offerings to the kind and the animals of the Nile. I wished I could have taken pictures because it was unbelievable.

We had lunch again at Andrea and then Mohammed took us to Coptic Cairo; however, the day was the Festival of the Cheese and Water (yeah, we wondered too) and many were closed. This was a good example though of how the city has built up over centuries – many inches of sand are deposited each year so we were able to look down into one of the buildings were it had been excavated into the original buildings. Something like 30 meters down.

Our last stop was the Cairo Tower built in the 80s. It’s 186 meters high and I went up but I didn’t go out on the walkway. I could see the city just fine from the doorway, thank you very much. See? You can see enough from the doorway: Ramon and Mohammed walked around and Mohammed did his best trying to get me out there. Seriously, you get a good view from here:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Miscellaneous Cairo shots

The Egyptian flag Our Oasis hotel room. See that there is SPACE between these beds, but after four days together it no longer matters! I had to take a picture of the bathroom. The pool at the hotel And my dinner!

Egypt, Day 1: The Great Sphinx

What I didn’t realize as we were headed to the Sphinx was that the Nile River used to run right by the pyramids so anyone travelling to Egypt saw the impressive structures as they came up on their boat. The Nile started to deteriorate the Sphinx so it was diverted away.The Sphinx's nose was shot off by I-forget-who.

The Sphinx was actually buried up to its head and the sand was excavated so its body is quite preserved.Tiles were added many years ago to protect it, but, as our tour guide Shereen said, ”He obviously doesn’t like it because they’re falling off, and they’re replacing them.” Seeing the Sphinx was truly impressive.

This was some kind of photo shoot using the Sphinx in the background.
When The Daisy saw those pictures, she said,"Why is that woman dressed up like Cleopatra?"

We stopped for lunch at the Andrea
where we celebrated the birthday of a guy in our group. Look at that beautiful cake! The food was awesome – I really expected some different foods but most everything I had eaten before in Mediterranean restaurants. Here is one of the women making bread in the open oven. I ate more bread in Cairo than I think I do in a year.
After lunch, we went to the Cairo Museum where statues and other objects from the pharoahs' tombs are displayed. Now, this was really hard to fathom that what I was seeing were not reproductions but the actual deal and it was overwhelming, truthfully. The coolest part of the tour was seeing the mummified animal room. So I expected cats and dogs, but not crocodiles or cows or horses!
While we were in the museum, it rained. Afterwards, we went on a walking tour of Islamic Cairo, where we visited a mosque. Call to prayers happen city-wide five times a day.
Then came the Kaan el Kalilli bazaar, which is world famous. Our guide warned us to haggle and she went to sit at a coffee shop to wait for us. I hate shopping anyway and getting harassed by the Bedouin at the pyramids was NOTHING compared to the gauntlet of shopkeepers here. For the most part, once you told them no, they were polite but a couple followed us down the bazaar trying to get us to buy stuff. So after two tours of that, we sat at the coffee shop with our group where Shereen (that's her watching) let me try her hooka, a smoking blend of tobacco and something else. It was very light but I still felt a little green after taking a couple of puffs.Remember I mentioned the rain? It wreaked havoc on the traffic. It took us 3 hours to get back to the hotel because roads were flooded and most cars stalled out trying to get through. That was an aggravation.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Egypt, Day 1: Pyramids of Giza

We were able to join up with a group of seniors and a guy from Seattle – Tom – who had been on the Athens trip too. Our first stop was the pyramids of Giza – the three pyramids everyone sees and they happen to be smack-dab in the middle of the city.Ramon chastised me for taking this picture of security playing with the dog. It couldn't be helped ...... I started taking crazy pictures because we were waiting on the bus for people in our group to get their go-inside-the-pyramid tickets.Egyptians probably really hate it when we do pictures like this:There's an itty-bitty me at the bottom of the pyramid: Ramon and I got out and wandered to the side of the largest one while some in the group went inside the pyramid. What no one warned us about is how we were going to get accosted by the locals who offer stuff “for free” and then expect money, or take your picture and expect money.Beginning with the above picture, we got taken for quite a bit straight off and then a guy with a camel appears. He wants me to take his picture. I’m like, no thanks, because I'm on to this whole exchange. He jumps off the camel, puts his headscarf on me before I can say anything and has me sit on the camel. “No money, no money,” he says, then leads the camel way off so Ramon can get a picture of me on the camel in front of the pyramid. Here I am getting run off with: Just like riding a horse only this thing grumbled a lot.My goal was to get a picture of me doing a yoga Camel Pose in front of the camel. So Ramon says when I dropped to my knees and bent backwards, the camel guy’s expression was priceless, like I totally freaked him out. We got taken for money on that one too and hurried back to the bus.
At the second pyramid: see the difference in how its top is encased in smooth granite. The rest has been stolen.(By this time, I am OVER getting tagged by the Bedouin and did notice that they would not approach or harass me but Ramon and Tom got hounded mercilessly.) Our guide, Shereen, was excellent in explaining the pyramids were built for the pharaoh, his mother and his son. It was too hazy to get a picture of all three together. We drove up and Shereen says,"Now you can get a picture of all three pyramids ... where are the pyramids?!"

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Athens, Day 2: Delphi

We had the same tour guide Affie on our two-hour trip to Delphi, the site of the temple to Apollo, the messenger god. It was amazing to see the city surrounded by mountains and eventually see one with some snow on it. Affie said the winter had been mild compared to previous ones so we weren’t seeing the usual amount of snow.
We had a quick break where we got a snack and Ramon and I chose this enormous cookie-type thing that ended up reminding me of a Moon Pie! Getting to Delphi took us through a small village – really quaint and I wished we had been able to spend more time there on the way back – where there is only one road in and out and the traffic presents a problem. Delphi is set in the mountains and the ruins were excavated in the 19th century by French archaeologists.It was imposing enough seeing the ruins but that they are set into the middle of this mountain is even more so.
This is a model of what Delphi looked like way back when:This site was a place where on the 7th of every month, people ventured to the temple to get an oracle. They’d walk up this pediment and present thei question to a priest who would give it to a woman priestess. She would enter into a lower chamber to the right of these ruins where gasses coming out of the ground gave her hallucenations and she would give her prophecy. Turns out crystals tested from this site showed some methamphetamene so it was your earliest meth lab. I'm just sayin' ...
Situated where the statue of Apollo was now grows a cedar tree so you get the idea of how large the statue was.This omphalus symbolized the center of the earth where Zeus released two eagles and the point where they met was the center. Ramon says I have a thing for doorways:There was a sacrificial altar to Apollo given by Syrians so they would have first dibs during oracle day. I mean there's just one day out of the whole month so they were on to something. And close to it were carefully inlaid rocks where the names of freed slaves were written, symbolizing the freedom.Lead had been poured where statues were to be placed so in case of an earthquake, the statues wouldn't fall.After spending some time among the ruins, we went into the Delphi museum to see statues recovered from the site and that was really impressive. This is a sphinx:This is a bull made of silver recovered in the dig:I believe this statue is Socrates but behind it is a picture of the excavation of Delphi:As a group, we had lunch and our table included a couple from Sydney, a Navy guy from Ohio, and a family from Brazil. It was a long day touring but it was my favorite from our time in Athens.