Category Archives: Travels

Travelogue: Giza Plateau

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The Three Great Pyramids and the two tiny people in the summer sun – Giza Plateau

Initial Train of Thought(s)

It’s hard to describe one “initial thought” when driving up to the Giza Plateau – it’s more of a “train of initial thoughts”, rapid-fire, one right after the other, in a heat-induced and setting-overloaded travel craze. Like seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, but on some strange planet with an alien landscape and a very, very hot sun.

  1. Whoa. Those are the pyramids! Are those really the pyramids?!?
  2. Holy crap, it’s hot here.
  3. Yeah, those are the pyramids. And that’s the sphinx.
  4. Okay, seriously, it’s really hot.
  5. This is kinda surreal.
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I think this one was called the sphinx….? – Giza Plateau

Once Upon a Time…

It’s unfortunate, really: today, the Giza Plateau sits in the shadow of a pollution-hazed, ever-approaching Cairo on the very near horizon, flanked by expanding tar roads redirected by tourist businesses, and swarmed with hawkers peddling cheap imitations of limestone carvings and rides on their over-worked an under-fed mules and horses and camels, oh my. Chilled bottled water – unsurprisingly – is the greatest commodity, with old photographic postcards coming in a close second. And it all makes you wonder what this place was like back then, during the era of those black and white photos… once upon a time. Times most certainly have changed.

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Pyramid, Camel, Egyptian, Adam… it’s a Monday – Giza Plateau

Did You Know?

Recent science has determined that the stones of the pyramids were “stuck” together by suction: small holes were drilled into the sides of every stone and then stones were placed next to each other, covered with water (to fill the holes) and rubbed together to create suction. Thus, when the water dried, the stones had created a virtually impenetrable seam that would not be effected by heat, sand, or even time.

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I call this one “Halfway”, at Dahshur Pyramid – Giza Plateau

If I had it to do all over again…

Go super early in the morning, or very late at night – preferably, when the site isn’t even “officially” open (you could leave a donation for good karma). Get it to yourself – if that’s even possible. It would be worth a thousand prime-time photos.

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The Middle Pyramid – Giza Plateau

Final Thought = Lingering Remnants

The Giza Plateau is unlike any place I’ve ever been – an epic site of truly improbable proportions… an ancient wonder that may be the epitome of an ancient *wonder*. What remains with me is sensations – sights and smells that I will never forget. Those lingering remnants that stick with you forever: the smell of sulfar at the inner sanctum of the Dahshur Pyramid; the feeling of the sun – everywhere – on this otherworldly desert; the sound of children arguing over their stock of tourist trinkets; the sight of the last bits of  limestone at the peak of the middle pyramid still holding on by the sheer willfullness of ancient construction… what’s another four thousand years? The whole place – in every aspect of it’s ancient glory and its modern decay – seems to say: go ahead world, keep pushing these boundaries, we’ll still be here.


Travelogue: Cairo

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Mosque in the middle of Khan el-Khalili Market – Old Islamic Cairo

Initial Thought

Well it’s hotter and there’s a lot of mosques, but I think the clothing and shoe stores outnumbered the papyrus shops and the city is surprisingly modern – dirty, but modern! Perhaps this won’t be so foreign after all…

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Incense for sale – Old Islamic Cairo

Moment of “Oh, wait, this is pretty foreign…”

It was obviously going to happen (ha!): walking into the Khan Al Khalili Market in Old Islamic Cairo – a labyrinth of winding streets, scarf stalls, crooked store floors, sheesha cafes and tea vendors. With narrow alleys leading to courtyards surrounding thousand year old mosques and arched walkways adorned with hammered silver lanterns covering every inch. Epcot did a damn good job of the whole Egypt recreation thing, but even Walt & Co. couldn’t capture the thoroughly lived in-ness engrained in this place, like the layered dirt between cobblestones – it’s unreal.

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Old woman shopping in the heat at the Tent Market – Old Islamic Cairo

Top 3 Unexpected Somethings

  1. Egyptians are fiercely proud of their Middle Eastern heritage and if asked, there is “Egypt, Sudan, and Africa” – they are not African
  2. The then-current president (Morsi) is even worse than the past one (Mubarak) and – as we discovered soon after arriving – they were certainly preparing to do something about it… we watched the June 30th protests right after arriving back to the U.S. and felt a painful twinge of sympathy for the cause
  3. Beards – that is, like the one my husband sports – are currently a sign of the Muslim Brotherhood because of the aforementioned president… oops.
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Burnt out shell of the old government building, a result of the 2011 revolution and still standing today as a warning to the then-Morsi government – Downtown Cairo

Most Entertaining Scam

CAIRENE: “Hello Friend! Welcome! You are American, yes? I am an english student and my professor is from New Jersey, so we love the Americans. Where are you going? I can help you.”

US: “Oh, thank you, but we’re all set.”

CAIRENE: “But you are headed towards a protest! Yes, that direction! Here, let me help you cross  the street and show you a safer way to go. Please brother and sister, I will show you the way.”

US: “Um, okay. If there’s a protest… I guess we should find another way…”

CAIRENE: “Yes, here, okay, cross!” [On the other side] “Yes, this way is much safer. We must watch out for you. Oh, my brother’s shop is right here! Perhaps you would like to share a tea with us and see his papyrus?”

US: “Wait, uh, what…?” [Realizing the scam] “Oh. Arrrgh. Okay.” [Sometimes you just have to give into it… at least there will be tea]

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Colorful architecture on Catholic Church entranceway – Coptic Cairo

If I had it to do all over again…

I would have bought a few more souvenirs (who doesn’t need a tacky sphynx made of glow-in-the-dark stone?); I would have sipped a few more cups of cold hibiscus tea in the afternoon or simply taken more naps until the heat went away; I would have figured out a way to make the trek all the way down to Abu Simbel – it just looks amazing, regardless of the fact that you need a convoy to get that close to Sudan; I would have asked more questions – I didn’t need to be so fearful of their recent past… they were preparing for a new future, afterall.

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Egyptian Coffee at Al Fishawy’s Ahwa – Old Islamic Cairo

Lingering Remnant

The sound of the muezzin’s call to prayer in the very early morning… allahu akbar

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Reconstructed prayer hall of Amr ibn al-As, Cairo’s oldest mosque – Coptic Cairo

Final Thought

This city (this country in fact, as we came to find out) could be dubbed “The Land of a Thousand Welcomes.” There is a true sense of hospitality here – beneath the hawking and bardering, and much deeper than the surface of great need. It is a hospitality at the core of the Egyptian people – tinged with this current thread of desperation that is threatening the authenticity of each “Welcome!”, but nevertheless, still engrained. If only they could have it all – the government, the history, the tourism, the pride… they certainly seem to deserve it. What an incredible people!

Travelogue: An Introduction

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Old bottle shop and city moto in Nubian Market – Aswan, Egypt

So it’s been one month and the hubby and I are back on beer-friendly Portland soil after an incredible jaunt through North Africa… and what a jaunt it was! Of course I am going to laden you with an account of our travels, but there’s one caveat… I don’t read many travel accounts online that interest me, probably for two reasons:

1. I don’t really care about your selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower.
2. I’m jealous that you have been to Paris more recently than me.

So, I’m going to take a slightly different approach to my own travelogues. No: I will not include gratuitous accounts of all the beauty and wonder and magic and so forth – because what’s the point in stating the semi-annoyingly obvious? But Yes: I will still include some stuff that may not be interesting to everyone and I will likely include a selfie or two (sorry). And Most Importantly: I’ll try to tackle some less obvious stuff, such as: greatest food choice (and possibly worst); top three surprises; what we did that everyone should (or more likely, shouldn’t) do; most entertaining scam; Etc. You know, the real travel stuff.

My hope is that you find it straight to the point, semi-entertaining and/or enlightening (both would be great!), and pretty enough – read as: enough amateur photos – to qualify for a travel post. Please enjoy!

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