2010-11-16

Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 9:32 PM | 1 comment

Last day in Cairo

Last day in Cairo: Let’s see, what one other thing must we do while here? The world famous Egyptian Museum, of course! There were only three of us left from our original group, so we decided to walk there. Our walk took us across the Nile where we witnessed more impromptu picnickers and beautiful river views. It was still hazy during this early morning shot, but it cleared up later:

Interesting little side note: as we were walking toward the museum, we were stopped by a man claiming to have useful information. In fact, we got stopped all the time while walking, as the taxi drivers apparently assumed that foreigners didn’t really want to walk anywhere. Anyway, this “useful” guy asked us where we were going. When we told him “the Egyptian Museum”, he told us that it didn’t open until noon, then offered to drive us to some other site until it opened. We politely refused his insistent offer and continued on. When we arrived at the museum, we found that it is open every day, starting at 9:30 AM. The point of this story is that there were people all over Cairo trying to make a buck from tourists, often by way of misleading information and unwanted services.

Unfortunately, there are absolutely no cameras allowed in the Egyptian Museum, so you’ll have to settle for my written description. In a word: Wow! The whole museum is devoted to the ancient Egyptian civilizations, from 3000 BC to the Roman era. The pieces in the museum consist entirely of things taken from pyramids and temples around Egypt: royal mummies (still incredibly preserved), mummified animals (including two huge crocodiles), enormous imposing statues, hundreds (yes, hundreds) of sarcophagi, and of course the hordes of treasure from King Tutanhkamum’s tomb. There was just so much stuff in that museum, and very little of it was displayed in a formal way. Parts of the museum seemed more like a warehouse packed full of stuff. I couldn’t help but think of what all else was still lying under the desert. I mean, King Tut reigned for only 4 years and his tomb was just filled with golden jewelry and furniture. I wondered what might have been in the tombs of Pharaohs who had lived much longer. Perhaps those tombs will soon be discovered…

We were all quite impressed with the museum and agreed that we’d like to come back someday with a guide. We all also felt compelled to read up on our Egyptian history once we returned home.

After the museum, two of us meandered back to the hotel. (OK. Truth be told, we got kind of lost. But fortunately we encountered two very friendly boys who were eager to practice their English and give us directions. It was refreshing to encounter locals who weren’t trying to swindle us.). Anyway, after that little side track, we made our way back across the Nile around sunset. The lighting was just right for some last photos of the river sites:
The third person in our original party took off to brave the madness of the Khan al-Khalili market for some last minute shopping. I would have joined him, but I didn’t think I could handle the legendary crowds of merchants and shoppers there. When he finally returned from the market, he had quite a story to tell of the chaos of the market. I think I’m glad I didn’t join him. It would have been exhilarating to be sure, but I think my brain would have exploded from all the stimuli.

After our day at the museum, we finally said goodbye to Cairo and Egypt as we made our way to the airport. The airport is a cultural experience all by itself. As you might imagine, airport security is very tight in Cairo. I think we had to pass through at least 5 security barriers before getting on the plane. It was a bit unsettling for a relatively na├»ve traveler like me. After a 12 hour flight back to JFK airport, then to Boston, I stopped for one last picture of a teddy bear that my roommate in Cairo had forgotten in the room (he left Cairo a day earlier). The teddy bear was like a “Flat Stanley”. I had meant to take photos of teddy in Cairo, but it was just too chaotic, and I forgot to do it. I settled for a single photo at the baggage claim in the Boston airport.
All in all, Cairo was fantastic. Dirty. Exhausting. Intimidating. But fantastic just the same. I think I also learned a great deal at the workshop, which was the real reason for going. That being said, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and delight when I saw Julie arrive at the airport to bring me back home to clean air and peaceful surroundings.
Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 9:24 PM | 2 comments

More Pyramids...

Following the last day of the conference, the organizers took us to a really swanky outdoor restaurant in southern Cairo that overlooked the Citadel of Saladin. The camera didn’t take very good night shots (I didn’t have a tripod and I’m not an experienced photographer), so this photo doesn’t do the view justice.
With the conference over, we spend the next two days exploring more ancient and contemporary Egyptian culture. With the help and suggestions of one of our fellow conference attendees (Naoshin Haque), we arranged for an all-day tour of the area south of Cairo. Specifically, we went to Saqqara, Memphis, and Dahshur. There were 7 of us in two cars, so we were a bit more mobile and organized than before. It was both an incredibly fun and unsettling day. Fun because of all the awesome sites we saw with few if any other tourists around, and unsettling because of certain “locals” who constantly shadowed us looking for ways to separate us from our money.

First stop was Saqqara:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saqqara

It has a nice, small museum and some very accessible pyramids, including the famous “stepped” pyramid that is the oldest large pyramid in Egypt:
We delved down into one of the smaller pyramids here, through a creepy tunnel.
Then passed through a reconstructed colonnaded temple leading to the “Stepped” pyramid. I’m standing in front of a massive stone door of the temple. You can see the hinge of the door near the top.
Here’s the “Stepped” pyramid itself:
Next stop was Memphis. The drivers took us to the Memphis museum, but we weren’t in the mood for a museum when there were still so many real pyramids to explore, so we didn’t linger in Memphis. Instead we headed on to Dahshur, where we encountered the Red Pyramid, Bent Pyramid and Black Pyramid.

This is the Red Pyramid, with a path leading up to the entrance. If you squint, you can see a dog lying in the shadow of nearest-right stone outlining the path up to the entrance. I took a close up of the dog while he was yawning.
We climbed up to the entrance then made the arduous climb down into the Red Pyramid along a very narrow, very steep, and very low-ceilinged passageway. This was not for the faint of heart. We were short of breath and sore of leg when we reached the inner sanctum of the pyramid. (My legs were very sore the next day)
Unfortunately, flash photography was not allowed inside, so I don’t have a photo. The limestone inside had a red tint, hence the name of the pyramid. Apart from the impressive internal structure of the building, there was little else inside to take note off. I imagine the contents were either looted or transported to museums.

Next stop was the Bent Pyramid.
This one seemed to be as large as the Great Pyramid of Giza, but apparently it is not quite as large. The finer limestone plaster is better preserved though. We slowly made our way around the Bent Pyramid, marveling at the surroundings. Again, I tried to get a couple people in the frame next to the pyramid to give a sense of scale.
The next couple photos here are me standing next to the Bent Pyramid, with the Red Pyramid in the background.
After this fantastic day of pyramid-viewing, we were hungry for some authentic local food. Naoshin knew of a little place in the middle of crazy Cairo that served a traditional dish (that I think is called “kashuri”). After a metro ride and some hectic walking through hectic Cairo, we found the place. Really good food, and cheap too. We then found some falafel at a Cairo version of a fast food place. It was fast, but it was good. Somehow we navigated our way back to the metro and hotel for the night.
Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 9:02 PM | 1 comment

Bring on the Pyramids

On the morning of the third day of the conference, the local organizers arranged for a very nice trip to the Pyramids of Giza.
These are the big pyramids, the ones you always see pictures of in magazines, and they are right on the outskirts of Cairo. There are three main ones: Khufu (Cheops), Khafre, and Menkaure. Each built by a separate king (pharaoh) as a royal tomb. They were built around 2500 B.C.

We arrived at the pyramids around 9:30 AM. It was still hazy, but you can see the pyramid of Khufu looming over the entrance to the Giza complex. Thankfully, the haze lifted a bit as the sun warmed up the surface and mixed out some of the pollution.
Turning 180 degrees from the previous photo, you can see the cities of Giza and Cairo in the background.
The pyramids are directly behind me as I take this photo. I switched to a wide-angle lens at this point (thanks to Julie for showing me how to use it) so that I could take in the monumental views to follow.

That’s me in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza. It was built during the reign of Khufu, so it is also called the Pyramid of Khufu (the Egyptian name) or Cheops (the Greek name). Here’s a handy link to information about the Giza pyramids as well as a map of the area.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pyramid_of_Giza

These next three photos are also of Khufu, viewed from the north side, looking south.
I tried to capture the scale of the structure by getting some people in the shot. Each of the blocks is huge, roughly 4 feet cubes, weighing many tons. It boggles the mind to contemplate the effort put into constructing these things, especially considering that they were built around 4500 years ago!

This next photo is also Khufu, but from a different perspective.
The view here is from the northeast corner, i.e., looking southwest. This view is similar to that shown on the Wikipedia page I linked above. Thank goodness I had the wide angle lens.

Now over on the northwest corner, looking south.
That’s the pyramid of Khafre in the background. Khafre was built after Khufu and is almost as large. You can also make out the smoother surface at the top of Khafre. Apparently, that smoother surface is smaller pieces of limestone, though it looks like plaster. The three main pyramids in this area all originally had that smoother surface over the whole structure, but it has crumbled over the years.

We got back in the bus and headed to the west side of the pyramids.
That’s Khufu on the left, Khafre in the middle, and Menkaure on the right. There are also smaller pyramid-like structures (queens’s tombs?) and other graves and structures in the area. You can see one of the smaller pyramid-like structures to the right of Menkaure.

Here’s a better shot of Khufu and Khafre.
The top of Khufu has crumbled, and you can see the finer “plaster” surface of Khafre pretty well in this shot.

And here is a close-up of Menkaure.
Though smaller than the other two, Menkaure is more streamlined and “neat” looking. Note the camels in the foreground. It may be smaller than the other two, but Menkaure is still huge.

The Great Sphinx is also on the grounds of Giza. We circled back on the bus to check that out before departing. The Sphinx was carved out of the pre-existing stone. That is, the stone was not brought in from elsewhere but rather cut right out the stone where it sits. Here’s some cool views of the Sphinx and pyramids together.
On our way back to the conference after the pyramids, I took this shot to illustrate how the massive structures loom over the city.
We also saw several people sweeping the sand off the highways. There’s trash and pollution all over the Cairo area, but they keep the streets pretty clean.
Before we made it back to the conference, the bus broke down. It was kind of disconcerting because the driver just stopped the bus on an off-ramp and got out, saying only “sorry”. Though it was fairly obvious to me that the bus had broken down, many on the bus had no idea why we had stopped. Picture yourself in that situation; you might have been startled to be in a stranded bus in the middle of Cairo with no idea why you had stopped. We were there for about 30 minutes before three smaller taxi buses arrived to take us the rest of the way.
Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 8:33 PM | No comments

Cairo, Egypt - Days 1 & 2

I (Kyle) was encouraged to travel to Cairo, Egypt to attend a workshop on Space Weather. Here is a press release about the workshop:

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/08nov_iswi/

I felt very fortunate to make this trip because I am still learning this subject matter, and I really didn’t contribute much to the content of the workshop. I treated this as an opportunity to absorb as much as I could about the topic, meet the scientists and students involved, and, of course, enjoy the culture and history of Egypt. This post is already very long, so I won’t discuss much about the workshop here. It would probably be boring to most. It was a very worthwhile experience for me though.

Unfortunately, Julie didn’t join me on this trip. Perhaps the two of us will return to Egypt one day to further explore Cairo and other parts of Egypt (like the upper Nile, Thebes, Karnak, etc.). However, it just didn’t work out for this trip. Up until the week before I left, I wasn’t even sure I was going to make the trip because of some confusion regarding passports and visas. Besides, I would be at the workshop most of time, and Julie would be by herself. Cairo is not a place for a single gringo American like Julie. That would scare me if she were alone there. But I digress…

The conference itself was at Helwan University, which is a bit south of Cairo. Our hotel was in Cairo itself, so every day we had to take a ~1 hour bus ride across the Nile then south to Helwan. These first few photos are taken from the bus en route to Helwan on the first day.
As you can hopefully see from the photos, Cairo is a busy city. It is also polluted, presumably due mostly to all the automobile exhaust. The Cairo traffic was crazy (at least according to my western sensibilities). Cars, trucks, donkey carts, and pedestrians all share the road, which could vary from one to four or five lanes, all within the space of a mile or so, and all while the width of the road stayed constant. In short, the driving style in Cairo is quite different from that in the States. If you don’t like honking your horn (or being honked at), then don’t drive in Cairo.

After the conference on the first day, the organizers took the attendees on a Nile dinner cruise.

In addition to seeing the Nile shoreline at night, the highlight of the dinner was the entertainment: a bona fide whirling dervish.

He was amazing. I didn’t time it, but he must have spun in a circle for at least 10 minutes. I get dizzy after about 10 seconds. Amazing. The spinning effect was amplified by the clothes he wore: long, full skirts that spun around him. After partially disrobing (i.e., removing the spinning skirts), the dervish took it to the next level by grabbing a serving tray, bottle of water and drinking glass. He then proceeded to open the water bottle and pour it into the glass horizontally. That is, the centrifugal force of his spinning allowed him to pour the water horizontally. After he finished spinning his own body around, he continued to spin one of his skirts above his head for another 5 minutes or so while he went around the tables talking to each person to determine where they were from. He must have amazing shoulder muscle strength and endurance. Anyway, the reason why he went to each table became clear when he came back to the central performance area and did some more tricks while counting to 5 in each of 15 or so languages of the audience members. It was quite a performance.

Here’s a photo I took while crossing the Nile on the second day of the conference.

As you can see, it was not as polluted this day. One other interesting thing to note about Cairo culture: we often saw cars stopped on the bridge. There were no shoulders to the road, so the cars were effectively blocking a lane. The reason why the cars were stopped? Apparently for an impromptu picnic.

There were many, many apartment buildings like this one.


Notice that the vast majority of the rooms in the building have no windows (and presumably no furniture or anything else inside). They are largely just “empty” buildings, and there are many such buildings. We asked our driver what was going on with these empty buildings. He said that the owner of the building doesn’t have to pay taxes on the rooms unless they are “finished”. Hence, only a few of the rooms were occupied. In this photo, only one of the rooms is occupied.

2010-11-15

Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 9:28 PM | No comments

North Shore again?

On November 2nd, after I voted, we wandered around Lexington and Concord. Our afternoon consisted of shopping followed by lunch. Those two activities seem to be our favorite things to do. Sadly, Kyle had to work. He wouldn't have liked the shopping, so it worked out ok.

One great purchase was another gift from Mom and Keith to me. It was the Kodak Brownie Target Six-20 vintage camera for my collection. After we bought the first vintage camera in Gloucester, Keith was telling me about his first camera, a Kodak Target six-20. We were so excited when we found one in an antique store in Concord.

November 3rd was our final day together (again w/o Kyle). We drove back to the North Shore. This time we visited Ipswich, Crane Beach and Newburyport. As you can see, Keith was enjoying the fall weather. Sadly, I missed the photo op of him about to dump a ton of leaves on my mom from behind.
Ipswich had a few shops, but wasn't exactly what we were looking for, so we headed to Crane Beach. Now this is a great beach! We collected shells and drift wood, watched horses meander down the beach, and just enjoyed the peace of an empty beach.
The final town, Newburyport, was adorable. There were shops galore to satisfy us. We also managed to find a wonderful pub by the water, where I had another wonderful pumpkin martini.
It was a wonderful week of bouncing from town to town with Mom and Keith. I'm so glad they were able to visit during the fall.