A Travellerspoint blog

Dunsky

rain 55 °F

Orly to Frankfurt and a quick 10 hours via Greenland and Canada and plop, Seattle. On the southbound Amtrak bound for Portland at the moment.

I just paid $10.50 for a pack of cigarettes. Welcome home ;-) Use all those taxes wisely Seattle. Like maybe a trash can here or there to put my fifty cent butt in.

Paris stayed lovely the whole time. I was not in the world's most brilliant mind-space for a couple of the days for reasons unrelated, but the city certainly did it's best to get me to focus. Sit and have some coffee, she says. You'll need it for the frigid wait in line for the catacombs (they are open by the way). Hungry? Let me make you a tasty egg and cheese crepe for the climb up Eiffel. Need to use the bathroom? Can't help you there...bathrooms I don't do. How about another coffee to take your mind off the bathroom?

The list of sights I can give some small amount of insight on grew only slightly. I meandered over to Sacre Coeur one day. Stately and gorgeous. She has the only large amount of sanguine, vibrant red stained glass that'd I'd seen so far. It really is striking and Montemartre is great area outside city center for cafes, bakeries, delis and wine shops, my hotel was there as well ($55 a night for Hotel Du Moulin). I walked from the Arc du Triumph to the Eiffel Tower another day. You don't ever have to worry about getting lost in that area really. Just wander to a place with a bit of view and look for the tower. I think that I had included Eiffel Tower when mentioning possible things that seem smaller in person. I take that back. It's plenty tall. Especially when you're climbing the stairs. Nothing off-putting but leggy for a tired old man ;-) At some point someone installed these fun, gut-flurbling clear plastic floorboards on the first level. If you have the nerve you're welcome to walk all over them and look down at the ground faaaar below you while you do it. It's a singular sensation and I witnessed plenty preferring not to have the experience. I have a thing for falling so it made me kind of weak kneed and floppy but I did it. Kind of hard not to giggle for some reason...lol

The catacombs are a bit difficult to really digest in one go I think. There are 6 million ex-people down there stacked in the old quarries. 6 million. The mines wind around for 200 miles and the catacombs take up 1/800th of them. You keep moving along, staring at endless bones and skulls, deciding whether arranging craniums in a heart shape is disrespectful or sacred. It's wonderfully macabre and slightly claustrophobic in a fun way. You can opt for an audio guide that I passed on. They were definitely worth the hour and a half wait but a lot of them are closed off. You could walk the length of the open section in probably 20 minutes at a steady pace. I spent about an hour which seems average.
It's fairly neat to exit in an entirely different part of the city and look at the streets in a new way. Lots of doin's under yonder.

I strolled through Luxembourg gardens, happened upon The Pantheon and visited St. Etienne within a few hours of each other. I'd had hopes of catching a Bach recital in St. Eustache but due to metro bumps and a prolonged Eiffel visit I made it juuuuust after but in time for mass. St. Eustache was pictured before but I hadn't gone in yet. Due to the religious service I couldn't take any pictures but it's really incredible in there and I suggest you try to visit during a recital or service just to hear the acoustics. The largest organ in France, with 8,000 pipes, is housed there. The Tabernacle organ beats it by more than 3,000 but I'd say the surrounding bit is slightly more awe inspiring ;-)

With one more day the choice between Versailles and the Louvre was a fairly simple one for me. That place is garmungus. Hugantuine times three floors. I had to smile when the first exhibits I came across were the Egyptian collections. I thought I'd breeze through them but I got caught up for too long checking all the I.D. plates and going ooooh that was that missing part in Abydos, or huh....Saqqara would be a lot more interesting if half the stuff was still there. I think they have better quality artifacts in the Louvre than the Egyptian Museum in Cairo ;-)

I'm a bit of an idiot when it comes to high-art but it goes without saying that the Greek sculptures are silkily gratifying to look at. The Spanish, Dutch French and Italian paintings are just too much to take in in one visit but even just walking down the halls surrounded by them can be enough. And of course there are the rock starts that sometimes pop out or are made obvious by loads of people taking pictures of them. Venus de Milo (turns out that without arms or distinguishing marks no one knows if this is Venus or not), a couple Michael Angelo sculptures, a wait-I-know-that-one moment when you pass Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (like I knew who Delacroix was before that...but knew the painting) . Napoleon III's apartments are just wonderfully/stupidly ostentatious and well worth breaking away from the individual pieces for a spell. And little Lisa is still up there smiling in her huge encasement. She gets her own signs telling you where she is.

A time slot for the Vermeer exhibition was included in the entry price so I picked my slot and looked in on that as well. I had no idea about this guy and his contemporaries...lol These works are over 300 years old and they just POP. You've all seen The Milkmaid whether you know it or not and I can swear in person it looks 3d. It really is something. Even for an idiot. The Astronomer and the Geographer were there too. The colors are almost unbelievably vibrant. A few of the other painters from Delft seemed to have a Who Can Paint the Most Excellent Satin Skirt contest at one point and these were on exhibit as well. I didn't know that era even had paints that could do what they did.

After 8 hours my right leg was starting to cramp so I picked an exit...lol Which took another half hour to actually find and succeed in going through. Then a walk to the metro. Then a walk to the hotel. I was chuckling that I was actually limping by the end. Since when did this start happening :-P
Stupid body. Stupid cellular and telemeric degeneration. Beer helped!

And that was pretty much that folks. Early flight today and the rest was said in the beginning.

I know the blog was a bit of a silly thing to write and thanks for reading. I've been told I might have put myself in more pictures as you can look up the scenery online but too late! So there.

Go buy your tickets and get the hell out :-)

Cheers,

Shane

Oh and I'll post a couple more pics soon.

Posted by sbinnell 21:27 Archived in France Comments (0)

Comme le Noir et Blanc

A double entendre

all seasons in one day 55 °F

Bonjour, bon apres midi, bonsoir, bon nuit.

Adieu Egypte, Je ne vous manque pas ... en ce moment.

So...um...this is hard for me given my history with the travelling French (bless you all but duh, it's a thing), oh so hard to type....arg...lord help me....so far...give me a moment here to clear my fingers' throats....I think I love Paris. Let me say that again with more form. I LOVE Paris! It's London, New York, Chennai, Pondichery, Edinburgh, Lima, Cairo and others I've been to all wrapped up in an easier to navigate, easier to metro, gorgeous(er) to look upon, wonderful(er) to sense, polite(ish-er) to interact with, wonderfully smelling, good-lord-is-everyone-here-height-to-weight-proportional...(er?) city.

Maybe this is because I just came from Egypt but really, I think I get the Paris thing now. I have to apologize for blanket stereotypes I may or may not have expressed about the French in the past. I haven't spent much time yet but I don't see my experience changing within a week unless I myself decide to be an asshole. The folks here have been so helpful, so patient with an idiot American who has only two years of high school French to rely on. Everything here is a pleasure to look at...lol It almost feels sinful. It's winter and half the women still wear short skirts and black nylons :-/ Now paste them in front of Notre Dame (with equally stylish men), then add a fresh croissant and a mocha, after learning how to tie your scarf in a Parisian knot.

Granted, some of this feeling has to be due to the fact that a month ago I was still picking the dust out of my fingernails after bumping along Uganda. If I'd come straight from comfort and reliably hot showers maybe I'd be more cynical but as for me....Merci Peris. Je t'aime.

That being said...a little backpedaling is necessary. I finished up my time in Egypt with what I chose to look at as a pilgrimage up Mt. Sinai. It was wretched and wonderful as a pilgrimage should be. Some of the wretched was my fault and that of the description given to me. Be more prepared when you go, especially if you go in the winter months. I had a wind-breaker and a scarf. Bring a coat.
My day was also over saturated to begin with. I started at 8am to get to an impromptu quad-bike safari in the desert outside of Hurghada. Another concession from the tour operator for slips earlier on. I didn't much want to go and should have slept it off ;-) This is one of those herky-jerky, campy tourist events one tries to avoid. A 30 minute trek out to a sort-of-Nubian-village, tea given by a bored young man in a getup who would rather be watching YouTube, a plop upon a camel's back to take a 4 minute ride around a circle, and back to the garage. Give it a miss.
I was then deposited at the beech to wait for a flight to Sharm el-Sheik, after which I was to wait for three hours at the bus station to take a 3+ hour ride to St. Catherine, where we would wait for a couple hours in the nip to start the climb at about 2am. This is where we insert the wonderful bit. Do lag behind the group when you go. The flashlights are completely UNnecessary given even a hint of moonlight and become distracting to the point of angst for anyone accustomed to night vision. It's a slog for sure. Trekking websites rate it as "strenuous" but I'd put it between that and moderate. You'll make it. The stars are brilliant, the mountain in moonlit relief is intimidating enough to get the juices going. The periodic supply points become friends offering carbs and chocolate and hot drinks.
By the time you reach the 750 steps to the top you will be properly tired and chilly having waited for the right time to ascend in order to catch the sunrise with minimal exposure to the freezing temps and open air conditions at the top (again, winter).
According to the troop guide this will have been 7km plus 750 steps.

The sunrise, while wrapped in a rented horse blanket that juuuust sufficiently held back the worst of the brisk, was something burned in memory. I swear I heard horns in deep timbre while the light grew. No pics. Not even for me. Some things should be like that yeah? I DID take you a pick of the mountains well after sunrise however.

7 much easier clicks back, a nonsense and unneeded tour of the monastery of St. Catherine (sorry...an unkempt overgrown shrub is most likely not the original Burning Bush but bless the verve), lunch, three hours to Sharm, three hours waiting for another 6 hour bus back to Cairo and oh blessed be, first horizontal position in over 40 hours. Worth it.

Couple days of my beer and shawarma haunts in Cairo and voila, Paris for a week.

I know I'm going to get back to taking scads of pics here so I wanted to get while the going is good. The double entendre in the title refers to the difference between the Arab state and Parisian plus the fact that I will most likely post about 90% black and white of Paris. I just prefer it for Gothic and public scenes. Everything really...lol

Today was up at 8, a visit to one of the Montemarte bakeries for two fresh croissants and a good walk towards Notre Dame fueled by cafe au lait. We will see Saint-Chapelle, Eglise Saint-Eustache, Tour Saint-Jacques, L'Hotel de ville de Paris, Forum des Halles (a mall) and more than one photo of Notre Dame (outside only for now, was getting late to go in today). All of these sights barring Notre Dame were accidental...lol I just recognized the names on signs or headed off towards the obvious this-must-be-something-ness of them. Pure wandering. I love it.

I even decided to catch La La Land at the Cite Cinema in the Forum. Quite the lovely flick and who doesn't love Emma Stone....and that one guy...lol
Oh he did a good job too. I enjoy seeing movies in different countries because most of the time we get out and are like, well that was that, what now? Dinner? Get back to the kids? But in places like this you get to take a break, exit, look around and go "oh yeah, off to Notre Dame!".

This is not snobbery...lol It's incentive for you ;-)

Thanks for spending time with all this. Cheers and love,

Shane

P.S. Heidi should juuuust now be settling in at Cuzco after her first bit of harrowing all-by-myself-travel in Peru. I know she'll benefit from any positive wishes sent for a first time solo-traveler so if you find the thought please send it through the ether. Even if she is spoiled ;-)

Posted by sbinnell 11:21 Archived in France Comments (0)

Learning To Walk Like An Egyptian

Close your eyes and pray to Allah.

sunny 60 °F

Well I was pretty much done with the whole blog thing but a few encouraging words from Joanne Duffin reminded me it might serve a purpose so here goes. Course in retrospect she said "seeing the world for people" not telling them so maybe pictures would be enough without my nonsense...lol

I'd gotten a bit weary of making travel decisions all the time (getting old) and decided to let a young Cairoan...Cairoian...Cairolite? man named Ahmed (aCKmed) show me what his future as a tour operator looks like. He hasn't a license yet nor an official business name but he seemed keen. He'd offered me a three day stint in the south for such and such money and I told him to stretch and make an itinerary for two weeks. Why dabble...

Just to insert a point that would have come up anyway there are basically three names here; Ahmed, Muhammad, and Jeff. Just kidding...there's really only Ahmed and Muhammad. I have Ahmed taxi driver in Cairo, Ahmed my tour operator, Ahmed my rep in Aswan followed by Ahmed my rep in Luxor. I call them by cities when the ring me, not by name. They all joke about this so don't get all weird. It's a thing. Much like Alabama, where everyone is either named Cletus or Bo. Now THAT was a joke.

Full disclosure...the first couple days were hard for me. There were things outside the tour adding to this but conditions, guide attitudes, and accommodation added up to a couple dark days for me. I appreciate, again, the couple of you who willfully accepted my venting and responded in understanding and helpful ways. I was fed up and you helped me to remember why I do this. Thankee.

Aswan was the first stop. 12 hour overnight train from Cairo. Mine turned into 19 but I imagine that doesn't happen with the proper ticket. It would be an easy overnight otherwise so highly recommended when it goes as planned Here you get to start at the First Cataract and work your way back to the hub. You'll most likely be offered Elephantine Island, Abu Simbel, The High Dam and a Nubian Village. I have pictured Abu Simbel and The High Dam due to a bit of nonsense in the schedule. Do NOT let them put you in Memnon Hotel. Word to the wise.

Abu Simbel can be worth it if you have pictured being there but keep in mind it is 3 hours there, 3 hours back, with about an hour and a half to see the two sites. So "full day trip" means mostly driving.
The trip to the dam is mostly worth if for the story. You can look up the specifics if you like but the short of it is that about a couple dozen major historical sites were set to be drowned until UNESCO and a handful of countries decided to pony up the money to move them. Abu Simbel and Isis Temple, Philea (pictured) were just two. They are not in their original locations. I had no idea...forgive me if you did. Egypt hadn't the funds for this and it's astounding to me that they were going to go through with the dam anyway. Water is life, I know...but let's all take a moment to thank our countries and UNESCO for the opportunity to continue seeing these structures without a hard diving suit.

Next was Luxor. Valley of the Kings, Temple of Habu, Temple of Hatshepsut, The Colossi of Memon and Luxor Temple. All pictured a bit.
My guide was Well and he helped to assuage my fears that everyone here was just out for quick money and the minimum of effort. He was great. If you come to Egypt ask for Well. He used to be the head of Guide Tourism so everyone knows him. Won't be hard to find and he goes everywhere. If you are the Sonoma Valley type you'll appreciate his spiritual tours around Egypt in kind. His name is not self-adopted, it just an easier way to say Wa-el (sp?)...for those who fear a hippie. I very much appreciated his insight and non-conventional approach to the monuments.

The Valley of The Kings is a no picture affair. Yes, of course I took pictures on the sly but you'll see none of those! And they cost me a pretty penny...lol Not really worth it (edit--that sounded terrible. I meant the cost of taking pictures). The place is just too much to take in on one visit. They only open certain tombs at a time to the public, you get to chose three of those, so you don't get much of a choice in the matter. Two others are offered at an extra cost. I chose King Tutankhamen since it was up for the taking. Extra 100 pounds (5 US).
Despite people traffic and sort of pushy inner security I have to say The Valley is absolutely worth it. It is up to you to appreciate what you will about the place. I saw reverence and I witnessed loud singing and raucousness within the tombs. For me it was a chance to visit the grainy footage of my youth in crisp detail and try to summon up that great desire I felt to see them in person. I failed a bit at this but as a friend put it "I'll be interested to hear your views when the dust settles".

Not much to say about the Temple of Habu. It's beautiful and has some great carving and artwork. The Temple of Hatshepsut is a site to see purely based on her story if nothing else. Just go if you're here...lol

I won't go on about Karnak or Luxor Temple. The history is there for the taking. I will say the the first hypostyle hall in Karnak is worth the price of admission all on it's own. Breathtaking.

Truth is what they don't show you in the documentaries is that a lot of these sites are smack in the middle of the city. As I told Shaun I have to take my hat off to the camera men who film these places for NGC etc. without showing or hearing the traffic, hotels, brick houses and so on that envelope them. Well done. I could barely manage a decent photo in some...lol

I had wanted to visit Abydos but it wasn't on the agenda so the Universe sent me (we'll call him Darrel), my driver for the Luxor excursion, who invited me to tea that night. I mentioned the cost and he cut in half as long as I tell not a soul his name ;-). We set a plan for Abydos AND Dendera. Usually Abydos is a good 3 hours from Luxor on the main tourist road with traffic. BUT if you wake up early enough you can avoid the police on the "no tourists allowed" road and get there in an hour and some. This was his plan. It involved a 5am wake-up call. Meh.
I did so enjoy both sites and would encourage you to add them to you agenda. Very few tourists, so few as to feel alone on many occasions. Again I'll leave it to you to look up the architects and Kings involved if you'd like. Ramesses II is almost always involved in everything. Dude loved himself. But Seti I I have to respect in Abydos. Wonderful artwork and his legacy is heavily felt when walking around his section of the temple. Here we have Osiris as the main focus (see story about his dismemberment if interested). We also have the Kings List, as pictured, that gave Egyptology a huge helping hand in recording the chronology of rulers.

Dendera Temple is a thing on it's own. I had witnessed no temples like it. It is more modern and is mostly dedicated to the Ptolemy's and, in particular, Cleopatra VII (the famous one). This is spectacular in it inner framework and construction and should not be missed. If you have to give up three sites to visit this one I'd say make the trade. Tourists were fairly non-existent and two hours goes by like nothing.

SO! That was my scuttling around the monuments. Abbreviated of course. Now for Hurghada. Beach town. Diving, snorkeling, day cruises. And friggin' cold in the winter...lol Not USA cold mind you but chilly-ask for extra blanket-some don't do the second dive-kind of cold.

To make up for a bit of nonsense during the first couple days of the tour my operator arranged for two dives, free of charge, here. I was hesitant due to the temperature but had wanted to look into the possibilities anyway so I took advantage of the offer. You'll see a couple pics. Again, it's winter so the Hammerheads, turtles, Oceanic Whitetips etc. can't be bothered but it was so good to get back in the water. I lied to the Divemaster and said it had been less than a year since my last dive (it's been three) and we agreed to a drift dive along the reef. I was nervous at first to get back in without a refresher but turns out it's like riding a bike. All came back immediately and I had a wonderful time.
I even got to use my 50ft max depth camera on the second reef dive as you'll see. I've no experience with underwater photography so please excuse but I was happy enough with the outcome. Good to fly again.

I had also set up, outside the tour, a swim-with-dolphins outing. The sightings are not guaranteed of course but most come back happy. As I did. Our boat happened upon them twice. The first pod had to be at least 15 strong. The second, four.
If you've plans to visit Hurghada ask for Luca and his crew. To get back to an earlier point Luca, along with the ENTIRE crew are all named Mohammed...no joke...lol So he chooses Luca to differentiate himself. It's called the Dolphin House site and I couldn't recommend the crew of the El Monsieur more. You'll snorkel, frantically chase dolphins, have a great lunch and be amused by the antics of the crew, especially if you have kids. Top notch and 25 bucks..

I'm back in my hotel room now (7 US a night) with my extra blanket, a scarf and whiskey. Like I said...chilly. Tomorrow is an impromptu desert safari, again to make up for tour bumps, and a flight to Sharm el-Sheikh. From there we go to summit Mt St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula (don't get all wow for me...they take you almost all the way up--edit--no they don't...14km there all told--). Then Cairo for a night and off to camp with the Bedouins for a night in the Black and White Desert.

I hope the pictures scratch an itch. I have learned I am NOT an architectural photographer. Couldn't take one damned decent picture of any monument I came across...lol Uncanny. Totally lost any hint of eye. But they'll have to suffice for now.
I've about 2000 more crappy ones if anyone has any interest in the future ;-)

To sum up...it can be a challenging country for some personality type. Mine included. Please don't include yourself in the fray until you come here. By and large people are people and the closer you get to tourist hubs, the more you notice you are closer to tourist hubs. I have to pay homage to my diver/beach towns and say that if you are ever in need of a break from any culture shock....seek out the coast and the lovers of water. All chill....all the time.

Love to all and good lord, stop watching news. I've looked up Trump twice and regretted it...lol

Posted by sbinnell 10:08 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Alexandria

sunny 65 °F

Alexandria: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandria

Citadel of Qaitbay pictured: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citadel_of_Qaitbay

Pompey's Pillar pictured: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pompey%27s_Pillar_(column)

Bibliotheca Alexandria pictured: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibliotheca_Alexandrina

Cheers! :-)

Posted by sbinnell 14:06 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Let it Be Written...

sunny 60 °F

As-salamu alaykum!

Greetings from Alexandria...y'all.

Boy did I need to get out of Jinja. I was offered a diving job working on the dam. That's when you know you've been there too long. Actually had a shirt made for me with "Jinja Backpackers, come drink yourself into a job" on it.
The last week was really just spent lazing around, checking out the Nile River Festival and, well, drinking. I was starting to become a fixture and it was sort of sad to leave Jaco, Ben, Ashraf and the bunch.
Speaking of Ben I never did jot his bit of story down (he's the Agro-guy who's been working with Ugandans to create sustainable crops and soil). He was proper-accosted last year just down the road from where I was staying in Jinja. A local came up behind him and beat him about the head and face with a hammer! As Ben describes he "dropped like a sack of shit", scrambled up and began to run, screaming bloody murder. The thug gave chase until a few boda-boda drivers started to come to the rescue. Initially thinking they were enemies too Ben turned and ran again TOWARDS the initial attacker. Well shit. I'm a bit hazy on this part. I've heard the story a half-dozen times but there was alcohol involved every time. In the end the boda drivers chased the culprit off after Ben fell again, picked him up, stuck him between two other's on a motorcycle and drove him to the hospital. Ben had received at least two good whacks on the head and face but the first doctor in Kampala told him to rest up and all will be well in a couple weeks. After a phone call with his insurance company describing the event they basically said "F-that, we're getting you out of there" and flew him by charter plane directly to Nairobi where he spent six weeks recovering. He's now a happy cyborg having had a couple steel plates inserted in his cheek and what ever that bit of your upper jaw is called below your cheek...lol
All this he tells people with proper English downplay. Merely a flesh-wound etc. His street name around Jinja now consists of a word and a motion. "Has anyone seen Ben (hammering motion)? I think everyone in town would know ;-)

The Nile River Festival is basically a four night drinking event with a Kayaking problem. Seems a world wide thing if you're in the loop. I caught two of the party nights and one Kayaking exhibition. Naaaht much more to say about it...but folks seemed to have fun! By Sunday everyone turned into sleepy zombies. Which was my day to leave so that was fine.
I said my good-byes around 10:30pm and took my special hire direct to Entebbe Airport just south of Kampala. My flight to Cairo was scheduled for 4:15am. We arrived just after 1am and it turned out early was a good thing.
Good lord...this next bit.
Usually I hang outside airports as long as possible as I dislike sitting IN them but something said I'd better be on the safe side of time. The check-in staff looked at my ticket, consulted some B.S. little book they have concerning visas and regulations and began a process that would eat the next two and half hours of my life. "Sir you need a return ticket to enter Egypt", no I don't. "Sir you need proof of Yellow Fever vaccination to enter Egypt from Uganda", nope. "The visa for Egypt is 15 days and you must show us a plan so they know you are leaving", ain't a thing.
So the managing representative for Egypt Airlines (and Egyptian) took my passport and bailed for two hours on the premise that he was going to call Cairo and make sure I could enter the country. By the end of the two hours I was nearing the end of my rope and simply wanted a refund so I could go to Rwanda instead. The manager walked up about twenty minutes before the flight and told me he needed proof that I had enough money for the visa and travel. I told him basically to stuff it, give me my money back and I'll go spend my dollars in Rwanda. I know now that having a conversation with an Arab (not solely based on this event) is a duet conducted by oneself. If you raise your voice, they raise their voice. If you get angry, they get angry. But at any moment you can go very soft and polite and the harmony will follow instantly. It really is a sing-song. (Blatant stereotyping finished.)
At this point I think he was just as tired of me as I was of him so he just told me I could check in and go. The lady-receptionist just had to get two more cents in after my bag was checked and out of sight, telling me I should be more prepared when meeting the qualifications for entering another country. I told her if she sees me again, she was right.
AndthenIgettoCairoandeverythingisfinefinefinefinefinenoquestionsaboutyellowfeverorticketsorplansoranythingatall-andzipzipoutoftheairportintwentyminutesandthevisaisgoodforthreeeeeemonths!!!!!!!!!!!!! Choke a friggin goat...

:-)

So Cairo is nice. Bit of a swift kick in the face as far as culture shock goes having just left Uganda. This was partly due to the fact that I tiredly accepted the purchase of a ticket on a dinner cruise that first night. To digress a bit I thought I was supposed to have been picked up at the airport by the Airbnb I had set up but he was a no-show. So I picked a man out of the taxi crowd and told him to take me to a place in Giza if he knew one.
The man turned out to be Ahmed and a soon-to-be-friend. He didn't actually take me to Giza but to central Cairo, where he grew up. I settled for the first hotel we stopped at, waited a couple hours for the room to be ready and crashed for 4 hours. The cruise was set for 8pm, taxi at 7. I was totally out of it...lol Welcome to Egypt and BAM dinner cruise with belly dancers, a spinny skirted guy with electric lights all over his outfit and an Egyptian singing I Can't Help Falling in Love With You and other such favorites. Add a cup of strong espresso to the equation and the next two hours were spent on the upper deck staring at the horizon trying not to share my tasty buffet dinner with the fishes. I did make it home without hurling, took a hot shower and bloody sacked out. Seemed a nice cruise BTW...$15, dinner included.

Not to be a slouch, I had set up a full day's taxi-hire with Ahmed starting at 9am. I could go where ever I wanted all day for about $40. I told him it'll be an easy day because I just wanted to spend all of it at the Pyramids in Giza. This proved harder than I thought. Ahmed dropped me at a perfumery/papyrus shop....of course. I was then then battered into a guided outing. Still tired but did manage to get him down from $150 to $80. This was for two hours on horse back all around the area. I THINK you can get inside without a guide. I don't know how and even if you did you would be constantly harangued by touts and such. Maybe I'll try again on the way back through and let you know. I just wanted to walk around and stare. This was more "take your time sir, many pictures, but let's keep moving aaaaaand done". I liked the horse but there has to be a better way.
The Pyramids were striking of course. Have to say the Sphinx is a bit smaller in person but he/she is sitting in front of the big boys so that makes sense. I was assured by others who have visited recently that I would basically be the only one here due to global news about Egypt. This WOULD have been the case were it not for my uncanny ability to travel during local holidays. Two weeks off school and work for most Egyptians yay! Man oh man am I good at that. I saw a handful of Chinese. That's it outside of residents. I would have been in a deserted Wonder of The World one day earlier :-) Please take this as self-amusement rather than complaining. I got to go!
Anyway moderate your expectations of a peaceful, quiet, walk about the Pyramids. And know that the entrance is a stones throw away from the skirts of the city. Otherwise lovely! They're the Pyramids of Giza der.
Ahmed could see that I felt a bit whirlwinded, and that all I wanted to do was see the sunset around Giza so he suggested we take a drive to Saqqara. Which we did. I should mention that driving with Ahmed is like driving with your short-fused Bronxian uncle in bad traffic. We'll be pleasantly smoking together while he points out various places of interest in broken English and without middle ground he'll gun his voice to the red and yell something like "go take a swim with the crocs you fatherless goat loving son of a hamster whore". This is an assumption of course. I don't speak Arabic. A second later he'll turn, say "sorry sir, so there is a mosque...", and we continue. Very amusing.
Saqqara was infinitely less crowded. Ahmed did his best to try to pass off as my guide so that I could walk around alone. He ended up failing but was so sorry for it that he offered to pay for the guide. Wow. I didn't let him but I find that incredible. At one point I offered the guide twice his fee if he would just leave me alone. No dice. No guide = no pictures, no walk around. I just don't find them very useful is all. And most of the time they just want to get through it. This one caught my drift at least and kept asking if I'd had enough pictures. I think he thought I was mentally slow after I told him most of the information won't be retained anyway. After that it was, "here is a boat carving yes? Understand? Here is a bird. Understand?". I played along. It made it better. He mumbled under his breath a lot.

Ahmed was set on delivering the sunset/pyramid hope. Bless him. He drove me back to Giza, chasing the sun, to the same parking lot and started asking where a person could watch. I came across an off-duty guide and asked if we could go to the top of one of the buildings. Guess where he took me...a perfumery/papyrus shop. I knew the deal from India but swallowed the inevitable outcome and went to the roof. I enjoyed my complimentary cup of mint-tea, took my time until the sun went down and took all the damned pictures I wanted to. It was superb.
Then down to the lion's den for some truffle-shuffle. Whoever I give this blasted papyrus to had better appreciate it ;-) It does look nice I have to say and I got my sunset. I'm sure there are better ways but I didn't know them on my second day.

Ahmed brought me back to the hotel and we made a plan to catch the train to Alexandria the next morning. This turned into the afternoon as he pulled an all-nighter working at the airport (I did not know this or I would not have let him take me). He gave me a ride to the station, would not accept payment, and parented me through the ticket-buying and platform-finding and had to be firmly directed to go home and get some sleep as I could wait for the train by myself. Aw. Good guy this Ahmed fellow. I would suggest to folks to befriend a taxi driver and get his number should you come to Egypt. It doesn't seem difficult. Share one of your smokes and commiserate over police corruption. If you don't smoke buy some anyway. Everyone here smokes everywhere. Banks. Stations. Boats. And the act of offering a fag seems significant. They know a hell of a lot more about the cities than you ever will (most likely) and after your first ride the prices go down significantly. I got to free in under 48 hours. Just a suggestion. Not everyone will be an Ahmed. I'll mostly likely get back to Cairo and explore some more. Tons to see there. Wanted to go chill a bit and get my bearings.

I don't have much to say about Alexandria yet as I booked a resort in the Mamoura district about 19km (an hour) outside of city center. I can walk to the Mediterranean sea in roond aboot 2 minutes eh. :-) It's chilly here if that helps. Like 65 high 40 low. I know, I'll shut up, but it's cold coming from Uganda. Have to wear my coat and everything while sipping my dollar Turkish coffee by the pool. $35 a night...lol "You can choose, sir, to come to the Greek garden for your complimentary buffet breakfast or we can deliver select items to your room." I know, I've lost all credibility, but bare in mind the dust is still on my pack and the bites are far from healed ;-)
Lord bless low season and the fear of those who watch the news. Ain't no tourists here. Just to give a counterweight to all that nonsense my morning was spent walking around looking for a sim card and a plug adapter...On one occasion I bought a phone charger from a man who spoke no english, I no Arabic. But he spoke Italian and I Spanish so the transaction was conducted wonderfully and laughingly. I bought smokes from a man who had been to Georgia and had nothing but praise for the U.S. having had a "splendid" visit. Another shop owner went out of his way to write something along the lines of "this dude needs a universal-Egyptian plug adapter" on a piece of paper and directed me to a hole in the wall selling odd bits. The owner read it and plopped the exact gizmo on the desk. 6 Egyptian Pounds. 33 cents. I offered him 20 as he'd made my day but he wouldn't take it. Only 6. Even got my sim card.
All smiles back to the hotel. Made up for the papyrus shop and guides. Either that or a crap day is coming.
When I'm done here I'll book a place in the city and start being useful again.

Enough from me.

All health and love,

Shane

Edit--Upon reading this all seems a bit on the bitchy and entitled. An possible agreement, not an apology...you know me better ;-)

Posted by sbinnell 05:20 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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