Finally Conquered the Citadel! (kinda)


It’s crazy, we are rapidly approaching the end of the semester, and just like back home, that means lots of final projects and papers, so I have been keeping fairly busy. One sign to me that things are really winding down is that we finally went on our trip to see the Citadel, which I have pretty much been considering to be the end of the semester. As I have mentioned, we have been seeing this building from all over the city, and I was so excited to finally see it up close.

The view on the way to the Citadel; it is completely different from the other mosques in Egypt because of the sheer amount of domes, which is more the Turkish style. This design was brought into the country by Muhammad Ali (the king, not the boxer) when he came from Turkey, and my friends who have been to Istanbul say that over there the design style is basically just “throw like 5 or 6 domes on it”. Apparently the style didn’t really catch on in Cairo, because more modern mosques are usually built with the traditional Egyptian style, sans domes.

Here’s a closer view of the mosque, with a cool bush with  Allah i don’t know, pruned(?) into it. The main structure with all the domes is the mosque, but the Citadel itself refers to the fortifications around this, as well as the palace that we visited after the mosque.

This is the inside of the mosque; notice the how ornate and decorated it is compared to other ones that I have taken pictures of. I actually really liked the rings of lights thing they had going on, but it was a little weird being somewhere so showy.

It just made me think…

After the mosque we headed to the old palace, which has been converted to the Egyptian Military Museum, where we got to wander around and look at military stuff dating back to the pharaohs. There was an open air part that had tanks and planes and stuff; I like how sad and impotent they managed to make the Israeli tank on the left look…

I’ve been to a lot of museums at this point, so things are starting to get a little weird after I spend a while looking at exhibits…

Possibly the most amusing thing about the museum was the huge number of bad translations on signs and labels. This was probably our favorite; it seems like somewhere along the line someone heard the phrase cold steel and decided to try to use it in the signs, but didn’t quite get it right. I would love to have a job traveling around and fixing museum signs, as long as I don’t catch the Sudanese cold, I hear it steals arms.

So anyways, finals week is coming up, and I have to start making a bucket list of things to make sure I do before leaving, so the end of my semester will probably get pretty hectic. I’m looking forward to getting through it all and hopefully uncovering so hidden gems in Cairo that I haven’t seen yet!

Categories: Egypt Study Abroad | 1 Comment

For a desert, there has been lots of swimming…

This post has a little bit of a bittersweet feel to it; I’m feeling a little bit conflicted as I think about the latest excursion on which Amideast took us. As usual, it was an awesome trip, my sadness comes from it being the last one that I have to look forward to, while my excitement stems from the knowledge that in less than a month I will be home with my favorite people in the world and ready to annoy the crap out of them by starting countless stories with , “Well when I was in Egypt…” I know that some of the people in my program are really dreading the day that they have to leave Cairo, and I know that it will be hard, but at this point I am really looking forward to stepping off my plane and being on the same continent as my best friends.

But that is getting a little ahead of myself; the most pressing issue at hand is the trip that we took to Siwa Oasis. As its name subtly suggests, this is an oasis in the middle of the desert to the West of Egypt; at its closest point about 40km from the Libyan border, where there are apparently still lots of unexploded land mines left over from World War II. But that’s not really important.

As you can see here, Cairo is separated from the oasis by a fair amount of sand, so our bus ride took about 8 hours, heading north east to Marsa Matrouh and then south to Siwa. Little bit of back story; Siwa has a long tribal history that remains to this day distinct from the rest of Egypt; they speak their own language in addition to Arabic and have little involvement with the national government, instead relying on a tribal system. The entire area is Islamic and more conservative than Cairo, due to the combination of tribal norms and Islamic interpretation. On the drive to our hotel we stopped to check out a small military museum that had some of the creepiest/ funniest military mannequins in addition to the largest tickets that I have ever seen, as well as the Commonwealth cemetery for servicemen that died in the battles for North Africa. I have visited some military cemeteries back home, but this was the first I have seen that was the final resting place for soldiers who were fighting on the other side of the world. It was honestly a very sobering experience. After we arrived at the hotel we took a quick dip in the pool and explored town a little bit, then headed to bed to get ready for the two days of touring that we had awaiting us.

The first stop on the tour was the Shali fortress, which was built at the high point in the town to keep a lookout for the roving bands of Bedouins that sometimes attacked. It is now mostly in ruins, but you can still climb up and see a lot of the remains, as well as get a good view of the surrounding greenery, a rare sight these past few months.

The next stop was a place called the Mountain of the Dead, a bit creepy sounding, but just the site of a number of Egyptian style tombs that we were able to visit before heading up the mountain to check out the view. Unfortunately it was starting to get kinda dusty at this point, so we didn’t have the clearest horizon, but  you could see how the trees just end suddenly and then there is nothing but sand. After here we headed to a small museum of Siwa culture and the single wall that remained of an ancient temple.

And then this, the temple of the Oracle. Unlike the sexy little thing that told fortunes in the movie 300, the oracle here was probably something along the lines of a statue of the god Amun, and the prophesies were either told by priests hiding in a secret chamber or interpreted by the wobble of a statue being held by four men, kinda like an Ouji board. Legend has it that Alexander the Great visited this oracle to question if those who killed his father had been sufficiently punished. In the afternoon we headed to a natural spring called Cleopatra’s well to chill out, during which we got hit by a bit of a sandstorm, and then some of us decided to go visit a nearby salt lake.

After crossing a tiny little land bridge to a small island, we found a spot to wade and were eventually overcome with a need for a spontaneous swim, so most of us decided to dive on in mostly clothed. Oddly enough the water was only about waist deep, even a hundred or so meters out, but it was extremely salty. Kinda like the Dead Sea, we were able to float with ease, though the high amount of salt did burn some small cuts on my hand. This impromptu dip was one of the high points of my trip, one of the benefits of such a small and flexible program, even if it did leave me with pants that dried stiff with caked on salt. That night was pretty chill; I got to do some shopping at a number of the small shops and enjoyed the vast night sky that you don’t get to see in Cairo.

The next day was our desert adventure, so we loaded into off road truck to go powering up and down dunes, at what seemed to be 90 degree angles, but were probably more like 60. Similar to the previous desert trip we took, we quickly lost sight of anything that wasn’t sand or rock, but this trip differed because it was mostly straight up sand dunes, no fun rock formations or other landmarks besides sand and more sand. Did I mention there was sand?

Despite this, out drivers seemed to know exactly where they were going, and somehow managed to take us to see some tiny little sights, like these starfish fossils or the petrified coral that now stands in the middle of the dunes. Apparently the entire area used to be underwater and evidence still remains, along with several Roman footprints that we found embedded into the stones at the top of a rock formation.

Possibly the thing I was most excited about during this trip, and definitely one of my favorite parts, was the chance to go sandboarding on the dunes of the Great Sand Sea. With the wind whipping and sand blowing, this was a little intimidating, but I managed to rely on natural balance and years of experience in semi-pro snowboarding in my backyard, and managed to be the only one in our group able to stay up on the board the entire way down, accomplishing that feat several times! (insert applause and compliments here) A video can be found of me shredding it up right here. I highly advise that you watch it.

As this post’s title suggests, we actually had a lot of opportunities to go swimming on this trip; it seems like most of our desert wanderings had the goal of taking us to swimming holes. In the course of one day I managed to visit a cold salt lake, a natural hot spring, and a cold freshwater lake, all of which were extremely refreshing in their own way. This pic is from the last lake, which was seriously in the middle of nothing but dunes, but was clean and deeper than I could reach. These water sources were definitely a great break from the heat of the desert and a good way to wash off all the sand that manages to stick everywhere, including inside your ears, though the combination of the water and the wind managed to send my hair into another picture-ruining mess.

In the evening we headed to a high dune to find a good place to watch the sun set and apparently to take lots of glamor photos, cause that’s what we pretty much all did. Prepare yourself for vanity

I told you my hair was interesting.

I could basically be a desert person; I know how to wear a kuffiyah and am able to stare of into the distance and ponder things. Anyways, after the sunset we headed to a camp to eat an awesome dinner by candle light while we sat outside and looked at the stars, then headed back to the hotel for the night. The next day was pretty uneventful, we just took the long drive back home and are now settling in for the last few weeks of the program. I might not have as many fun pictures to show off, but I will do my best to keep everyone updated on my o-so-important feelings as the semester wraps up. At the very least, its a good way to procrastinate from studying.

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Parks and Recreation

The one month countdown is rapidly approaching, and it seems that the second of my semester is not only passing faster, but is also more packed with activities and excursions. In addition, the weather is really starting to heat up; I’m realizing that I am just going to have to accept that at the end of the day I will probably be a bit of a sticky mess. I haven’t done anything in the past week that quite compared to the relaxation and beauty of the Nile cruise, but the trips this past week have taken us to some places that were each kinda like a little oasis in the middle of the ever-crowded city.

By happy chance I am posting this entry on Easter, even though that doesn’t mean a whole lot for me here; we still have classes like normal. Last week we headed to Coptic Cairo, one of the older parts of the city that has a several Coptic churches and a Coptic Art Museum. For those of you who aren’t familiar with religious minorities in the Middle East (don’t worry, I won’t tell) the Copts are the largest non-Islamic religious group in the country, about 10 percent of the total population. Most people don’t really think about the fact that there have been Christians in the Middle East for as long as there have been Christians, but the in some respects, the Copts are the descendents of the original Egyptians and we have pieced together some aspects of the language of the pharaohs by comparing it with modern day Coptic. Egypt also has a special significance to Christianity because Jesus’s family hung out for a while avoiding King Herod, a fact that I don’t think is as emphasized in Western churches. I like this mosaic because it has the pyramids in the background as the holy family does their wandering.

One of the churches that we visited was the Hanging Church, one of the oldest churches in Egypt (3rd CE), named because of the way it is constructed on top of an ancient Babylonian fortress, leaving some parts suspended over passages. To be honest, the design and construction of this church seems to have more in common with the mosques in this country than the churches and cathedrals that I have visited in the western world. The pulpit, pictured at the center is cool because it is supported by thirteen pillars, the one at the front center representing Jesus, and the other 12 his disciples. Even more interesting, one of the pillars is black, representing Judas and his betrayal, and one is grey, representing Thomas’s doubt. It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but they are the in the second row from the left. In addition to this, the church is home to a number of shrines that contain the remains of saints, where people submit requests or simply approach to touch or kiss.

On Friday we decided to take advantage of the sunny weather and take the metro to the outskirts of town to visit a Japanese style garden built with funding from… you guessed it, the Japanese. Getting there took about 40 minutes on the train, which included dealing with the interesting sales tactics that people use on a captive audience. One thing that is very common is people walking the length of the car with small packets of things like gum or safety pins, and throwing a bag into everyone’s hands or lap, whether you want it or not. It then becomes your job to either hold out money to pay when he comes back around or give the item back to him, operating pretty much completely on the honor system. Some people in my program say that they have seen people get off the train to chase after a vendor who forgot to take back his merchandise. Anyways, the garden was really neat, with Buddha statues and pagoda style pavilions. It seemed to be a popular place, with families all over the place and some gatherings that we guessed were birthday parties, different from previous parks I have gone to that were populated almost exclusively by couples.

As bad as this sounds, one downside to the park was the children… Or at least the ones that decided to swarm us and follow us all over the park trying to talk to us or maybe even get us to go in the questionable water with them. As an area far removed from the city center, it seemed that the kids in the park didn’t see foreigners as often as those in my neighborhood of Dokki do. While it was kinda neat to feel like a celebrity and have people want to take their picture with me, it was a little bit of a drag when I just wanted to sit and relax. I was also curious as to the fact that these children’s parents didn’t seem to have any problem with their kids walking all over the park following some strange young adults. This trip was also when I really started to notice the Egypt heat, and appreciate the difference that a little bit of shade can make.

On Saturday we took an optional program trip to go have a sunset dinner at Al-Azhar park, which to me seems like the classiest park in the city. We chose to sit outside to eat, so we had this awesome view of the gardens, the sunset, and the Citadel on the hill. Dinner was delicious and I even decided to treat myself a bit with an ice cream sundae, complete with bananas, chocolate syrup, and oddly enough, apple slices.

After dinner we headed into the market area to go see a show of Sufi dancing, apparently one of the big tourist attractions, cause there were tons of foreigners there, especially ones who were not appropriately dressed. Religious lesson number 2 for the day: Sufism is the more mystical way to follow Islam; Sufis are sometimes known to get intoxicated in the high-on-life kinda way in an effort to achieve unity with God. Probably the most famous aspect of Sufism is the dancing, which people sometimes know by the name whirling dervish, in which the dancers spin for an extended period of time as a way to lose themselves in the beating drums, singing, and horns. No monastic chants here, the people are actually dancing and their outfits are wildly colorful.

Each act, if you want to call it that, probably lasted about 20 minutes to half an hour, with the main dancer rotating the entire time, and most impressively, stopping without a single wobble at the end. One of the most interesting aspects of the dance is that the dancers wear several skirts, for lack of a better word, which the take off while spinning and then twirl above their heads, adding an extra show of color and another level of complexity.

Well we are back into the week and are also starting to get to that annoying point in the semester where you actually have to start thinking about final projects and papers. This weekend we are heading to Siwa Oasis for another desert adventure, so some work just might have to wait until after that.

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Temples, boats, and one very orange galabiya

Even though my official spring break was only about 2 weeks ago, this past weekend was time for another program excursion, a 4 day cruise on the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, with stops at temples and sites along the way. To maximize our time on the trip, our flight left Cairo at 6 am Wednesday morning, so we were in Luxor and heading to tour our first site at about 8 in the morning.

The first stop on our trip was Karnak temple, the largest temple complex in the world. Over the centuries, pharaohs kept adding onto this temple, so it grew to enormous size and has different structures from different kings right next to each other. Occasionally the adding on entailed dismantling smaller structures that had been built previously and using the stone to fill a pylon, but recently archeologists have retrieved these pieces and are working on reconstructing small chapels in an open air museum right beside the main temple area.

Like I said, the temple is huge and has a bunch of different parts, but one of the main areas is the hypostyle hall, which is sull of massive columns that are covered in hieroglyphs. In ancient times, the entire area was all roofed over, with small windows along the sides, so the entire room would be fairly dim, adding to the supernatural ambiance of the temple.

Because many parts of the temple were covered, originally by ceilings and later by sand or other construction, a lot of the original colors on the walls remains. I really liked the colors of this vulture, which, unlike currently, was considered a symbol of protection.

Besides all of the cool architecture and decorations, Karnak even had some fun rituals for us to take perform! Legend has it that if you run clockwise 7 times around this scarab statue, you will be blessed with good luck and fertility. I could probably use one of those more than the other, but I guess I will take what I can get. Like I said, Karnak is huge and I have a bunch of different pictures of different parts of the temple, which can be found on my album here.

After Karnak, we headed to Luxor Temple, which is located about 2 km away. This is the typical style of temple, with two large pylons with the entrance to the temple in between them. Temples were constructed on a single axis, with the chambers getting smaller and darker as one approached the rear and the main shrine to the gods. The majority of the people were not allowed to actually enter the temples, so the outsides were decorated with impressive statues and obelisks to show off the power of the king.

The next morning we headed to check out some of the royal tombs at the Valley of the Kings, where they have discovered about 64 burial sites, including King Tut. Unfortunately the area is very heavily traveled, so cameras are completely restricted and you can’t even take pictures outside of the tombs. The area is also swarming with people attempting to sell souvenirs to all the tourists, who are not few in number. The funny thing that I see about the tourists is that they are mostly older couples who I don’t think should be out in the sun too long… After the main valley we went to the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, which was built into the cliffs of the valley. Though the original temple was destroyed about a hundred years ago by an earthquake, it has recently been reconstructed and is one of the more impressive and unique temples, in my opinion.

Queen Hatshepsut is famous because she was actually a king, one of the first women who ruled an entire nation. The pharaoh to whom she was married died with only a stepson as a male heir, and he was very young, so she ruled as a regent and pretty much kept him in the shadows until her death. She went so far as to depict herself as a man, with the false beard, to legitimize her rule and make a connection with the traditional style of representation. The statue here is of the king herself.

Our last stop for the day was the Colossi of Memnon, giant statues of Amenhotep III that used to be situated in front of a temple. Legend has it that cracks formed in these statues over time and that the wind used to blow through and make an eerie whistling sound, but they were repaired by the Romans and no longer do that.

This trip was especially awesome because of the huge amount of free time that we had. After the group tours in the morning, we were pretty much free to do anything we wanted during the afternoon and evenings. As I mentioned, we were on a cruise ship  heading south down the Nile, so we got to see some awesome views of the land on both shores of the Nile. It is really interesting how you can totally see that there is a very definite line between the green right on the banks of the river and the desert that starts very suddenly.

We were on a cruise ship with a nice little sundeck and pool, so I spent most of my time on the deck trying to get some sort of tan. In addition to the daily teatime and dip in the pool, I finally managed to get some reading done and definitely had a chance to just lay back and relax. The hour long full body massage that I only payed about 35 dollars for definitely helped some too…

Shot from the temple of Kom Ombo, which we were able to dock directly beside and pretty much just walk straight into the temple. This site was cool because it had a Nilometer, which was an ancient well-like device that was used to measure the height of the annual flood. Tax rates were set according to how high the river was, because the king reasoned that the farmers could afford to pay more on a good year. Interesting premise that takes the working people into account when thinking about taxation…

Our last full night on the ship was Galabiya night, which seemed to be aimed specifically at making tourists look silly. A galabiya is the robe like garment that is traditionally worn by Egyptians; you see them directly alongside people wearing business suits in Cairo. The normal galabiyas are fairly dull colored, but as anyone who is familiar with how I dress knows, I am not a fan of drab colors. The tourist galabiyas are more ornamented, and everyone in my program bought one to participate in the celebration. I felt so dressed up that it was like prom, so I had to take a nice photo to remember the night.

As I mentioned before, the majority of tourists that we saw were old Europeans, and our companions on the ship were no exception. I think everyone else on the boat was British, and only a few were under the age of 60. After a particularly fierce competition in some silly games, I was named the Pharaoh of the Potato, and ten women were selected to dance for my affection. Unfortunately only three of them came from my program, so the other 7 were members of the British tour group. Luckily I was saved from having to choose a favorite and was allowed to say that they were all winners, and we got a quick group picture.

The next morning we headed out to see some more sights, including the Aswan High Dam and the temple of Philae, which required us to take a small boat out to an island in the middle of the Nile. The temple was cool because it was basically the only thing on the island, although it was nt originally there; it had to be moved after the construction of the high dam because of flooding. The temple also had several crosses carved and an altar built inside of it after Christianity arrived to the area.

In the afternoon we had some free time to explore in small groups, and Ahmed and I decided that we were going to climb to the peak of this dune/mountain on the bank opposite where we were docked. After a short felucca ride, which is a sailboat with a triangular sail that is typically found on the Nile, we were dropped off and set off to explore some tombs, which were completely devoid of tourists, which meant that we got to take some pictures!

This is from the inside of one of the non-royal tombs that we visited. It is a typical offering scene and I was really impressed with the crazy amount of colors that remained. After we checked out these tombs, we headed to the side of the mountain and set off scrambling up the sandy slop from rock to rock, which I though was just the best thing ever. I will admit that it was pretty had work in the blazing sun, but the view from the top was totally worth it.

Panorama from the peak; you can really see how there really isn’t a whole lot once you get away from the banks of the river. On the smal island to the right side is the botanical gardens and a small Nubian village that some of the other people in my program visited.

We hung out on the boat till fairly late, because our flight wasn’t till late, so we were able to watch one last pretty sunset over the west bank of the Nile, known as the Land of the Dead during the Pharaonic times. I was pleased to see that they had lights all over what I had decided was my mountain, and I sat and red while overlooking a more naturalistic side of Egypt than I get to see in Cairo. The sweet break ended on a bit of a low note as our plane home got delayed until about 12:30, meaning that we didn’t get back to Cairo until after 2, meaning that I had been up for around 20 hours that day, and climbed a mountain. Either way, I think that is a pretty fair price to pay for the kind of relaxing vacation that we got on this trip and I totally would love to go on a Nile cruise like this again in the future.

Once again it is time to settle in to class mode, though I can still look forward to the upcoming trip to Siwa Oasis, which I believe will be another fantastic opportunity to get some rays and catch some Z’s.

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Ya es primavera!

Spring break came none too soon, and after some fun transportation navigation, I found myself in the Barcelona Airport meeting up with a super awesome face from back home! After finding Alex in baggage claim, we worked our way out of the airport and to our hotel thanks to the experience and advice of my friend Autumn, who had studied there the year before. She provided us with a list of things to do in the city, and we spent the next week riding the metro all over the place to see cool stuff and eat awesome food. I have a crap ton of pictures from this trip, and rather than running through what we did day by day, I have sat patiently for 20 plus pictures to slowly load for this post; I will provide a little bit of context, but I promise not to write too much.

During our first day in the city we wandered into the Gothic Quarter of the city, where we got too see some classy architecture and nice narrow cobblestone streets without having to dodge cars.

The Cathedral of Barcelona. This wasn’t actually on our list of places to go, but we stumbled upon it and I really liked the towers.

Some of the Roman ruins underneath the city. We got to see these by stopping in the Museum pf the History of the City, which just happened to be free during the time of day that we went!

Panorama from the viewpoint of Parc Güell; you can see the Mediterranean Sea, the construction of the Sagrada Familia, and some other Barcelona landmarks.

Sitting on the benches around the plaza in the park; it was actually pretty difficult to secure a seat, so I made sure that we had proof of us enjoying the Gaudi-ness.

Underneath the main plaza area of the park; the mosaic type design is all over the place in Barcelona, I will explain it more in a bit.

The famous dragon at the main entrance of Parc Güell; I managed to snap this in between the constant flow of tourists posing for a shot with it. Ok history lesson: the park was designed byAntoni Gaudí, during a time of economic recession for the rest of Spain in the mid to late 1800s. Because of its location near the Mediterranean and its industries, Barcelona remained fairly prosperous and displayed the Modernist style, which is characterized by lots of color and designs inspired by nature, meaning few straight lines and elements that can be traced directly back to trees or flowers. Gaudí’s name is actually the origin of the English word gaudy; fun trivia fact!

This is the Casa Batlló, a building designed by Gaudí, and one of the cool places that we just happened upon when we exited a metro stop. Some say that this building is based upon the story of St George, who killed a dragon, and that the building represents the dragon. the balcony the skulls of the people that it had killed, and the spire with cross tip the lance of the saint. I couldn’t get a good picture of the top, but it is multicolored and sinuous, much like a dragon’s back.

On our beach day, we had to do the most Spanish things possible: eat paella with fresh fish and drink sangria at an outdoor cafe in view of the sea! I’m not usually a fan of seafood, but I love paella and I love shoveling down the little fishy bits with delicious rice.

On the beach in the middle of March! Alex was not pleased that there was this much sunlight, but it was nice and warm and the beach was a nice place to chill for a while. Except that people kept coming up and trying to sell us beers and other less legal things from these plastic bags that they were carrying around…

Wading in the Mediterranean Sea! It was actually pretty cold, but we did see some people swimming in it. I can now say that I have seen two almost opposite ends of the sea during this semester.

IceBarcelona!! This was a bar that was made entirely of ice, including the seats and the cups. The admission fee included one drink and the rental of these big jackets and gloves, which we totally needed. It is apparently the world’s only ice bar that is located at the beach and when we left there was a guy with a camera filming us as we exited, so maybe we will be on Spanish TV!!

The Sagrada Familia Cathedral, designed once again by Gaudí. I have visited a lot of cathedrals in my travels, but this is definitely my favorite. The foundations were constructed before he took control of the design and he died about halfway through its construction, but they are still working on it according to his plans.  I think it is a completely unique construction that looks awesome from both the inside and outside.

The front of the interior of the cathedral. We got to go in at student prices, despite the fact that Alex is 25 and his ID is from a high school… The columns are all forked at the top like tree branches and the organic designs continue everywhere. There are lots of stained glass windows that really flood the white interior with color.

The backside of the cathedral. The central scene of the decoration is the nativity scene, and all of the figures seem to be telling stories of the life of Jesus. I went a little picture happy with this cathedral, so there are plenty more detail shots here. We got to go up in the towers on this side, about where the tree with the cross and the doves are, and then walk down the little spiral staircases that I think are pretty famous.

In Parc Monjuic, we went to go see the Olympic Stadium complex from the 1992 Olympic Games. I don’t really know anything more about them, but the entryway leading up to the stadium was pretty impressive and we got to peek inside and look at the field and track where some of the events were held.

New favorite drink: Cava. It’s Spanish champagne and it is awesome. After getting a taste at a small tapas place, Alex and I decided to go find a nice bar and become nice and acquainted with the drink…

Remember how I once said that I don;t know why people decided to let me start calling myself an adult? It’s because of things like this, when the most important part of the giant Boqueria food market was the candy stand. This is only a small section of the sugary goodness, and we were at least able to contain ourselves to just this. In this one tented market they had stalls selling fresh meats, seafood, fruits, pastries, and all kinds of edible goodness.

And some of the food fought back! We decided to take our candy spoils to a pier and enjoy it while watching the sun set over the marina.

And there ends the excessive photo tour of my visit to Barcelona; I am now back in Cairo and settling in for the second half of my semester in Egypt. Just to run through some things that didn’t get photographed:

  • I love Spanish food, especially their fondness for bakeries with delicious treats and sandwiches. Tapas places are the best when you aren’t quite sure what you want and are thinking of sampling a variety of things.
  • I felt so much more confident in my language ability on this trip than I did last time I went to Spain; it probably has something to do with the fact that I have managed to survive in a country where I know much less of the language.
  • I really like European culture; it was a nice break from the conservatism that I see every day in Egypt and I am pretty much 100 percent positive that I will be visiting Spain again in the future.
  • EgyptAir is a pretty suite airline; they have good food and they played movies on my flight both to and from Spain. The most exciting was when they played Harry Potter 7 pt 2 on the way back, but it also meant that I kept sniffling on a plane full of mostly Egyptians, o well…
  • I have to go back to classes now 😦 But I am sure that I will have more fun Egyptian adventures coming up soon, so stay tuned

Hasta Luego


Categories: Egypt Study Abroad | 1 Comment

Word on the street is that you’re looking pretty swag…

Ok, it has been a little while since I last posted, but this last week and a half have been pretty busy. Today was the last day of midterm week, so this last week has been a blur of take home exams and studying and occasionally not a whole lot of sleep. But all that is behind me now; I feel confident in how I performed on everything, so I can now safely look back at the my small excursions in the past 2 weeks.

Well first of all, I started work at my internship last week; I am volunteering at the Children’s Cancer Hospital of Egypt, which, let me just say, is a big step out of my comfort zone. My job consists of keeping the children occupied while they are hooked up to IVs during chemotherapy, by coloring with them, playing games, or chatting. Besides my general inability to successfully interact with the majority of most children, I also find myself confronted with a language barrier, because the children don’t speak any English. While this means that I can’t express very complex thoughts to the kids, it is giving me great practice in speaking colloquial Arabic and this is the longest period of time that I have had to exclusively speak it. I have had some times where I don’t think that I am cut out for the job, but then I have a fun connection with a child and realize that even though I am a little uncomfortable and feel like I could be using my time on academic things, I am doing some good work and it keeps me going.

The weather is starting to get pretty nice here; there are some days where it gets really dusty and windy and everything turns orange for a while, but in general it is getting downright pleasant. I had classes canceled last Monday, so I took the opportunity to walk to a nearby park and get some quality alone time with a book and some flash cards, and spent abouut 2 hours sitting in a beautiful park watching all of the Egyptian couples come in a sit together being all cutesy. In general, Egyptian couples don’t really date in the way that we Americans think of it, so the opportunity to go to a park where they can hold hands is a big thing; though I don’t think I have ever seen anyone kissing in public. Even though it was a week or so after Valentine’s Day, there were couples carrying around giant bags with hearts on them; apparently Egyptians really like to go over the top for that holiday.

This is taken from my spot in the park, which is randomly located in the middle of the city. One of the funny things about this place is that they have waiters who come around and take drink orders, so almost as soon as I got there I had a guy walking up and asking if i wanted something to drink, who then told me that I spoke Arabic well, so that was exciting.

Our program took a trip to the University of Cairo, the largest university in the city and home to around 250,000 students. This seems like a ridiculous number, and although the school seems fairly nice, I could never see myself attending classes there.  The university is home to a fancy museum and a pretty impressive library, and we got to go visit the main lecture hall where President Obama made his speech when he visited Cairo.

This is the view from the stage where Obama spoke, showcasing the pretty impressive dome that is one of the landmarks of the college. This hall holds about 1000 people, but is apparently not used for events other than pretty important ones.

Our short excursion for the week was a trip to Islamic Cairo, where we toured the historic Muez Street. I know you are probably thinking, “wait, isn’t all of Cairo Islamic?” but the term refers to the older parts of the city that were built by the Fatimid dynasty that established Cairo as a capital city. This is basically the old quarter of the city and here you can see a lot of old architecture and famous landmarks mixed in with the modern city, as well as buy almost anything at the massive Khana Khalili market. We started by entering one of the remaining gates in the wall that originally separated the royal district from the rest of the city and headed into the Al Hakim mosque, which had beautiful marble floors in the courtyard and a very fancy prayer niche.

I thought this was one of the nicest prayer niches that we have seen so far, but apparently it was remodeled with marble instead of the traditional stone, so some people feel like it isn’t quite part of Egypt’s cultural history anymore.

The next stop was a place called Dar Al-Suhaymi, which was a wealthy person’s house in the past turned into sort of museum. We were able to wander around and marvel at the beautiful courtyard and garden and contemplate how awesome of a party house it would have been.

Just chilling on some cushions in the main party room. All of the windows of the house are made with the same wooden lattice work that you can see behind me; it’s a little bit like a screen in that it will allow light and air to enter but the interior of the house is not visible. This was useful because it meant that women would be able to sit at the windows and look out without being seen themselves. (Also, I got a haircut, that’s what the title of today’s post is referring to. Because my program is so small, everyone pretty much knows everything about each other, so people had been discussing the change were expecting something sexy when they saw me. I think I obliged)

I got a little carried away taking detail shots of the cool decorations in a lot of the sights that we visited, but I couldn’t help it, stuff looked so cool. This is a close up to the door of a room that contained nothing but a few whale vertebra, because apparently if you keep some whale bones in your house you will be more fertile. Sounds like a plan to me…

The next stop on the tour was the Mausoleum of as-Saleh Nagm Ad-din Ayyub, which boasted some very impressive decoration and a nice sarcophagus in the middle of the main chamber.

I’m really a fan of all of the stained glass, used both here in the mausoleum and in a bunch of other sights we checked out.

Islamic Cairo is set up like you would typically think of an old city: narrow stone roads with lots of space for walking and mosques with awesome towers just popping up beside newer building crowned with satellite dishes.

Our last stop on the tour was Bab Zuwayla, another of the gates to the royal city that is complete with twin minarets, one on either side of the gate. We got to, you guessed it, climb up these minarets and get a cool view of the city, including some sights that we had seen previously, in addition to a bunch of shabby rooftops that were more or less covered in garbage. Thats what you get in a city so populated.

View from the bottom of the towers; these are special because they are two of the few twin minarets in the city, so our group split up and we half of us climbed each minaret, so we were able to have our pictures taken from the same height, which was pretty cool.

During the midterm madness this week we also had the chance to go to a traditional music night called Zar, which provided a pretty cool way to relieve some stress. The show was sorta similar to what I picture a voodoo ritual being like, with drum beats that suddenly started pounding in a frenzy and people singing words I didn’t understand. I had a really good time at the show, and they even had a complimentary tea break in the middle of it.

The best I could do in the dark room. Zar is a kind of ritual that is aimed at removing the negative spirits that are plaguing someone, kind of like an exorcism. It is especially interesting because it is focused on and led by women, which is not very common in Egyptian culture.

After the craziness that overtook this past week, Spring Break is finally upon me, which means that in a day and a half I am headed to Barcelona to reunite with one of my favorite people!!! I’m excited to throw myself in an entirely new culture yet again and to get a break from school, the conservative culture, and maybe even some of the people in my program. Time to see if I can switch my brain back into Spanish; I should have some fun stories when I get back next week!

Categories: Egypt Study Abroad | 2 Comments

Like you’d never gone camping before

Ok, time for the rundown on our trip this weekend to the Black and White Desert, located like 7 hours South West of Cairo. The trip started early Thursday morning, when we had classes canceled so we could get on the bus at 7 am and head out before traffic in the city got really bad. As I expected, I fell asleep pretty quickly with the help of my iPod and a neck pillow, so when I woke up a few hours later, I was presented with a fairly new view: endless desert on both sides of the only road in sight. It was very reminiscent of my family’s Out West Adventure vacation in the past, only this desert had more dunes and our driver didn’t speak English. I remember thinking during that vacation that we could have done 100 mph the whole way on the deserted road without a problem, and I think our driver had the same thoughts in his head. While i didn’t feel unsafe at any time, the relaxed traffic laws of Cairo certainly apply to all of Egypt, and our drivers had no trouble passing each other or using both sides of the road when there was no traffic heading the opposite direction. We arrived at our hotel for the night, more of a motel in the middle of nowhere, with about a dozen rooms and a natural-fed pool with questionably colored water. It was nice enough, but you could tell that the place didn’t get many guests, and we soon learned that many of the bathroom doors were broken and couldn’t be opened from the inside, after one or two people got trapped inside. After dropping off our stuff we loaded into some 4×4 Jeeps and set off for the numerous sites we had to see that day.

Our first stop was the museum of golden mummies, which held some mummies recovered from the are during the roman era of Egypt, which means that they were decorated in ancient Egyptian themes, but with a Roman style, which to me is pretty strange looking. The museum was tiny and you could tell that it didn’t get a whole lot of tourist attention, but the mummies were interesting, and actually the first actual mummies that I have seen so far in Egypt. Next we headed to some tombs of Roman traders, which included more Roman style art, with really well preserved bright paint colors. After exiting the tombs we headed to a nearby ridge, where we got a good look at the greenery of the oasis in which we were staying.

This is a panorama of the Baharya Oasis, a welcome sight after hours of driving through more or less barren desert.

Next stop was a natural water source, a spring that pumped out water at about 40 degrees C (104 F). They used this water for irrigation of crops, as well as washing. During the time we were waiting, a few people, probably nearby workers, came up to wash their hands, faces, or feet in the water. After we got some bottled water, we headed out to our next stop, a man made lake in the oasis, with plenty of salt in the water.

While this lake wasn’t as impressive as the sea at Alexandria, it was a nice break from all of the desert and especially from the cement jungle of Cairo. A few people did some wading in the lake, but I contented myself in just standing nearby and checking out the awesome sight. The next stop was my favorite, because I got to practice my long-unused hiking and mountain climbing skills.

This is the view from the top of English mountain, after a nice little hike where I went all lone wolf and made sure I was the first one up so I could have a little time alone at the summit. The view was amazing; with little patches of palm trees and towns among huge expanses of sand and rocky plateaus. Though it was a warm and sunny day, the wind, stronger in the desert than Cairo, kept us nice and cool, and everyone took some time to wander around and enjoy the cloudless view.

I even got the chance to get some deep thinking done while looking out over the landscape. Although I have fallen out of the habit of going on camping trips due to general college business, being stuck inside a huge city like Cairo helped me realize that I really miss heading out into the wilderness and climbing to the top of some giant rock face. This whole trip was a good reminder of the good times I have being in the wild, especially in contrast to some of the high maintenance girls who couldn’t seem to go a day without somewhere to charge their iPhones  or more than half an hour without asking pointlessly detailed questions about what we would be doing next.

After the mountain we headed back to the hotel for dinner and to relax for a while. Some of the other guys took the opportunity to swim in the pool for a bit, where the water turned progressively more and more dirt colored, even turning their skin a little orange. The night was pretty uneventful; we ate and then walked to get some shesha before heading to bed fairly early.

The next morning we moved out of the hotel and headed farther south, where we took some time to head off the road, literally. Out of nowhere the Jeeps turned off the pavement into the desert itself and started driving us across dunes until we reached a nice spot where they stopped and let us out to play for a while in the really soft sand.

I ran up the dune so that I could be sure that I made the first footprints. I had decided to ditch my shoes and was able to run around like I was at the beach. I’m sure I made a fool of myself by running and jumping around in the sand, but I liked having the chance to be out in the open and maybe show off a little to the people who were struggling to work through the thick sand.

I got to do even more thinking here, mostly about how it is cold and gross back home, while I had beautiful sunshine and sand to play in. Sorry about that… After some fun times on the dunes we went for some more adventurous off roading, with some pretty steep inclines and quick descents from the dunes. Our Jeep had two bench seats along the sides of the back, so we got to do plenty of bouncing around as the car worked its way through the thick sand.

We headed next to an ancient volcano which gave the name to the Black Desert. The area is full of rocks formed from the cooling lava and the sand has a much darker color than other areas we visited.

At this site we went on a little hike through the valley between two volcanoes, which painted a very Lord of the Rings-esque scene, at least for me. We were all starting to get fairly hungry as we headed through the pass and were pretty excited that the next stop was a cafeteria area for lunch. It was a nice open room covered with carpets and cushions to sit on around low tables. An interesting aspect about the place was that it had a small irrigation channel running through it from the natural spring right beside the building.

In which I went swimming! The guide told us that this spring was a good place to go swimming, with nice warm water and lots of sunshine, though it felt a little weird to be super touristy in the water that they use for their crops. After we got out some European tourists came and did the same thing, so then it didn’t seem so weird.

After lunch we headed out to a neat site called Crystal mountain, which had tons of little shards of alabaster all over the place. It’s not like there was a lot to do here, but it was a pretty site and the ride out through the desert was nice and interesting.

Some of the alabaster was still set in some formations, while the majority were just lying around the hill that we got to climb on.

Possibly the coolest part of the trip was the next section, in an area called Agabat, accessible through a narrow pass and a fairly steep downhill, for which we had to get out of the jeeps and walk. At a few points during this part our jeep got stuck in the thick sand and had to do some tricky maneuvering to get free. Unfortunately I started to have some stomach problems during this part of the trip, so I wasn’t able to enjoy the area completely, but it was still a weirdly beautiful area.

This part of the desert had this surreal, surface of the moon, feeling to it that was really awesome.

I don’t really have a good way to describe this place, so some pictures are gonna have to do. There are more pictures of everything here.

Our last scenic are was the White Desert National Park, where there were tons of strange rock formations left over from when the entire area was underwater. Most of the cool stuff we saw was during the ride, but we stopped at some of the most famous landmarks, like the rabbit rock.

By this point in the day we were all pretty exhausted and filthy from the sand blowing everywhere, so we were ready to call it a day when the guides said that it was time to head back to the cafeteria, where we had a delicious dinner of fire grilled chicken and some authentic music and dance before turning in for an early night in sleeping bags in the big carpeted area. I think some of the girls were really intimidated by the idea of sleeping in a group on what was essentially the ground, but I can just say that it was much more comfortable than a lot of places where I have camped in my life.

As we headed back into the city the next day I was really glad that I had chosen to do this optional trip, because I think the constant city atmosphere was starting to weigh on me. It was a good break to get me recharged for the next two weeks before spring break!

Categories: Egypt Study Abroad | 2 Comments

Soccer is pretty universal…I mean football

I don’t really have any pictures between weekend adventures but these last few days have been pretty interesting so I figured I would say a little something before I come back with a bunch of tales from the desert. After class and a lot of sitting around my apartment doing homework on Sunday, I decided to go out with one of the language buddies and play soccer with some of his friends. I didn’t realize until that night that I was getting involved in a game played from 10 pm to midnight, but I was ready to go because I figured that even if I couldn’t hold a conversation with people, I could at least kick a ball at them. On the way to the field, I tried to pick up some soccer phrases from my friend and secretly hoped that they weren’t all so amazing that I looked like a drunk child attempting to play with them.  Long story short, though I felt pretty out of shape from not doing anything athletic (other than climbing pyramids) in a while, I feel like I was a competitive player who held my own. My goalie told me that I was an awesome defender, though he might have just been being nice, and I managed to score a goal; helping my team to win the first game! While it is nice that soccer is pretty universal and that you can get by at the very least by yelling “Here!”, I did notice a little bit of a difference in the way that the Egyptians played. The biggest thing I noticed was that the guys very rarely used their bodies to play; nobody really chest trapped and I think I was the only person the entire game to head the ball, though that might have been because the ball was slightly flat and everyone else had previously learned their lesson. So I totally plan on playing again with the guys, even though my entire body has more or less been screaming at me every time I move; maybe I should avoid jumping straight into 2 hours of physical activity after months of being sedentary…

The next night I finally made the trip to a part of Cairo that I have been meaning to visit, the Khan al-Khalili market, where you can basically buy anything you could ever want as a gift or tacky souvenir. As this was my first time, this trip was more to see what the place had to offer, though I did buy one item that I had been looking to get my hands on, an Egyptian-style scarf called a keffiyah that almost everybody wears around here. I will take a picture of myself in it at some point. After we did some shopping, we went to a fancy shesha place that looked a little like an opium den, with piles of pillows around little round tables, and got some cool tea that you mixed cinnamon and other spices into right before drinking. I’m looking forward to later in the semester when I will head there more to start trying to round up all the gifts that I need to bring home.

This morning I went to the world famous Egyptian Museum for my Egyptian art class, because we had to pick objects to write catalog descriptions for. Though this was kinda an impromptu trip, we got a chance to see some of the most famous artifacts, like king Tut’s death mask and massive amounts of fancy gold jewelry. I finally got to see in person so many of the cool objects that I had always read about in books, and thanks to my hieroglyphs course, I was able to make out and translate some of the cartouches and common phrases on artifacts and statues. There is so much in the museum that it is kinda difficult to take it all in during one trip, so I am glad that I have at least two more visits there with my program, so I didn’t feel like I needed to go crazy and see everything today. It is the kind of place that I could really just wander around and look at all the cool stuff, but it is unfortunately semi disorganized and things are arranged somewhat haphazardly; I think it would be really amazing if everything were displayed properly, which might come within the next decade with the opening of a new museum.

That’s the beginning of this week, Wednesday night we have a calligraphy class, which I am sure I will be pretty bad at, and then early Thursday morning we leave on our program excursion to the Black and White Desert, where we get to really get out of the city and spend a night sleeping in tents. Some people don’t seem to be looking forward to this part, but the camper in me who hasn’t been very active as of late is really excited about what we are doing. Just a day and a half to go!

Categories: Egypt Study Abroad | 1 Comment

That’s cute, better luck on the next pyramid

This week was kinda a slow one, with a bunch of people getting sick and a pretty nice lack of homework. I myself managed to dodge the bug that was going around, but still took advantage of the light workload to sleep in when possible and spent almost two full days this week in my pjs. We had some interesting activities during the week, starting on Sunday with a movie night in the boys’ apartment. The movie for the night was The Yacoubian Building, based on a book that describes life in Cairo through a series of interrelated stories. I had read the book in a class last year, so I was excited to see the film adaption. I would highly suggest watching it to anyone who would like to learn a little more about Egypt, even though it does paint a fairly pessimistic picture of the city.

On Wednesday evening my program hosted a meeting with Al Jazeera English reporter Sherine Tadros, who I have to admit, I knew nothing about prior to the meeting. As I learned in the meeting, she is Al Jazeera’s main reporter in Cairo, and has covered an amazing amount of stories all over the Middle East. She had a bunch of crazy stories about reporting during the Revolution and was so impressive that I could see why some of the people in my program were geeking out about meeting her. Listening to her speak definitely made me realize how little I am aware of when it comes to global news; maybe I should do more than just read the live blog on Egypt…

The next thing on the agenda was an Egyptian cooking lesson in the girls’ apartment, which meant that we stuffed the tiny kitchen with way more people than there was room for and all frantically attempted to assist Yasmina, our awesome professor. I’m not exactly positive what we made, but the main dish involved lots of fried eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, ground beef, and salt, along with a side of mashed potatoes mixed with egg, and rice pudding with yummy raisins, which I can’t help but call arroz con leche . The dinner was delicious, but most people predictably found excuses to disappear right after the meal was finished, so it fell to four of us (who understand that sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves and clean shit up) to do all the dishes and organize everything. However, this also means that we decided who got to take the leftovers, including a big pot of rice pudding, and the girls got a chance to purge all the food that had been sitting in the fridge for weeks. Because we had been such good cleaners and it was the weekend, we decided we deserved some fun and took a trip to the liquor store to facilitate a dance party, Egypt style!

The gang right before digging in.

The big news this week is that while my family and some of the friends that I have known for almost my entire life are skiing at Wisp Ski Resort in Maryland this weekend, a trip that I haven’t missed for like 15 years, I went to go see more pyramids! The trip today was to Saqqara and Dashur, home to some of the first attempts at building on a monumental scale, along with some pretty cool tombs. There was almost no direction in which to look without seeing a pyramid, and there were walls everywhere covered with hieroglyphics and scenes, some of which I could start to understand, thanks to my Art and Hieroglyphics class. Here are some of the highlights of the trip; be prepared to have a bunch of Egyptology facts thrown at you:

This is the step pyramid of King Djoser, constructed in the 27th century BC and designed by the architect Imhotep, whose name has become famous because of his bad-assery in The Mummy. This was one of the first attempts at building a tomb on a monumental scale, and was constructed by taking the traditional mastaba, the stone structure over a tomb, and stacking several of them on top of each other, creating a pyramid shape.

This picture may or may have not have been taken illegally, but in my defense, our professors told us that we were allowed to take pictures as long as we didn’t use flash. Anyways, this was taken inside of one of the tombs we entered, which required navigating some steep stairs and low doorways. This scene shows Anubis, the jackal headed god of embalming, preparing the body of the deceased, with assistance from some protector goddesses.

This is the face of the god Osiris, from the outside of the tomb of Horemheb, one of the successors to the famous King Tut. Osiris is the god of the dead and the ruler of the underworld, as well of a god of fertility, hence the green skin. He is pretty much all over the place in any kind of decoration and is pretty easy to identify by his feathered crown and mummiform body. He is central to a lot of the main myths regarding kingship and the afterlife in ancient Egypt. Before leaving Saqqara, we got to go inside a small pyramid via a very low-ceilinged ramp that led to the heart. Even though the pyramid pretty much just looked like a hill of sand, the inside was covered with the script of the pyramid texts; spells that would protect the deceased. Unfortunately no cameras allowed, but it was super dark in there anyways.

Our next stop on the trip was the Red Pyramid at Dashur, which was the third, final, and most successful pyramid of king Sneferu, who was the father of Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid. At its construction, this was the tallest structure in the world and from a distance you can see the red color of the stones. We were allowed to climb up these slightly treacherous steps to get to the entrance shaft, a 200 foot passage with a 4 foot ceiling that sloped down at a 27 degree angle; needless to say it was pretty interesting going down.

Once inside, we were confronted by a very dark hallway that was filled with pretty rank smelling air. The inside of this tomb was bare, but we did get to see these high vaulted chambers. I think some people had some problems with the heat and air, but I thought it was a pretty cool experience.

This is me heading back up the tiny exit passage, a few minutes after a fun moment when all of the lights went out as we were standing in the center of a millenniums-old tomb… Not really sure why it happened, but some people did start to freak out a little bit. The lights came back on after just a little bit, which was a little lame, cause I personally would have liked to try to find my way out using just the light of my cell phone.

Last stop was the Bent Pyramid, Sneferu’s first attempt at a pyramid, which as you can see, didn’t go so well. They started with too sharp an angle and had some support problems midway through and had to change to a less steep angle. Either that or I squished down the top of the pyramid when I went to see it, choose what you want to believe.

So now since I have come to Egypt, I have climbed a bunch of minarets, gone down inside a few pyramids, taken boat rides on the Nile and the Mediterranean, and a bunch of other crazy things. Next week we are going camping in the dessert, so I should have plenty of new stories when I get back!

Categories: Egypt Study Abroad | 1 Comment

Do you want to go to the seaside?

This weekend was a trip to the city of Alexandria, or Alex as the locals call it, which threw me off a bit the first time someone said that they were excited for Alex. It was a really nice break from the hustle and bustle of Cairo, although it presented all new directional challenges, right as we were getting used to our neighborhood. Alexandria is set up kinda like your typical beach town; there is a main road that runs parallel to the shore, with hotels and restaurants all along it. We stayed at a hotel called the Winsor Palace, which was right in the middle of a curved piece of the shoreline called the corniche. We got to the city at about 7 on Thursday night, and were given a food stipend and told to go find something to eat for the night. Alexandria is known for its seafood, so a few of us decided to go find someplace to get fish, after asking for recommendations from the front desk. After some wandering, we ended up at a nice place where we got to hand pick the kilo of shrimp and fish we wanted from a huge ice chest, which they grilled and brought to us with a bunch of rice and bread. I’m personally not a huge fan of fish, but the meal we had was delicious and totally worth going a little over our allotted budget. Side note, a lot of bathrooms in Egypt have attendants who more or less require a tip if you want to use the restroom, even if it is just to hand you a paper towel, so I am generally kinda picky about where I use a bathroom. The exception was at the seafood place, where the attendant squeezed a lemon over my hands as I was washing them after eating, totally getting rid of the fish smell. It was a little weird, but that guy totally earned his tip from me.

After dinner we headed to a juice bar down the street where I got a delicious mix of mango, banana, and strawberry juices, with big chunks of fresh strawberry in the bottom. The juice place was right on the main road, so we had a good view of the sea at night while we enjoyed our drinks. The night ended with some shesha and tea and a little bit of getting lost on the way back to the hotel, but we got through everything just fine after asking for some directions from some helpful gas station workers. The next morning we got up and headed to the rooftop terrace for the continental breakfast, which had a pretty impressive spread of pastries and fruits, along with crepes and omlettes. The weather was perfect, so we got our first daytime view of the Mediterranean as we prepared for a day of touring.

Panorama of the view from the terrace, where the sun was shining and it was about 60 degrees.

The first stop on our tour was Pompey’s Pillar, a remaining pillar from a series of Egyptian and Roman temples that were successively destroyed by earthquakes. The only reason that the pillar still stands is that its foundation is an obelisk of stone that is almost as tall as the tower itself. Below the ground are the remains of a sister to the ancient library of Alexandria, but there is nothing there now except hollows in the stones where books used to be stored. There are a bunch of legends surrounding this tower, including the one that Pompey’s ashes were placed on top of the pillar

The next stop on the tour was the Catacomb of Alexandria, a tomb that was constructed during the Roman era of Egypt for a wealthy soldier, his wife, and his son, but later expanded to provide crypts for a whole slew of his poorer relatives who couldn’t afford their own tombs. A main feature of the tomb was a large chamber for banquets, where the family members of the deceased would hold feasts on the anniversaries of birthdays or deathdays. After the meal, they would and leave and break the plates as they exited, because they believed that it was bad luck to bring plates used at a tomb home. Unfortunately cameras were not allowed inside, but this place had some of my favorite decorations, because of the unique mix of Egyptian tradition with Roman style. This feature is found all over Alexandria, after it became the capital city of Alexander the Great, so it has a much more Roman feel than does Cairo.

The inside of the main chamber of the catacomb; picture found on google. All of the carvings are symbols for protection, with the snakes, Medusa, and arch coming from Roman tradition, while the winged sun disc and pillars are Egyptian.

Here is the inside of a tomb that was moved to the Catacombs area. I really like these decorations because the subject matter is typical of Egypt, but the technique and style is completely different from what you see in the previous 2000 years or so of Egyptian history.

Next stop was the cathedral of Saint Catherine, home to an order of Franciscan monks and the body of Saint Sabina, preserved in wax and on display. I thought this was a little strange, but apparently its kinda a big thing, who knew?

After the Cathedral we headed back to the hotel for a lunch of grilled fish and dessert of flan, which was awesome, although they call it some other, less exciting name. During our lunch a peaceful march passed by, so we were able to get a good view from the balcony.

After lunch we headed to the ruins of a Roman theater, where some walls of a public bath still stand alongside the seats of the theater itself. Because they didn’t have microphones in ancient times, the seats are positioned to create acoustics so that someone’s voice is amplified when they stand in the right spot.

Our last tour stop for the day was Fort Qait Bay, which is located of the left end of the corniche, so you get a great view of the coastline from the walls of the fort. The ancient lighthouse of Alexandria used to be located where the fort now stands, so its a pretty big bummer that the fort is no longer there.

Dinner for the night was another feast of grilled shrimp and fish, along with soft bread and dipping appetizers as we waited.

The next morning we had another big breakfast then headed out to see the new Library of Alexandria, constructed in the 21 century and home to the world’s largest open reading room, a million and a half books, and two state of the art “espresso book machines” capable of printing and binding a full size book on demand in five minutes. The place is massive and I would love to do some research or studying there; some people were joking about taking a train up during finals week.

I got a chance to wander through the shelves and one of the first books that I grabbed was called the Encyclopedia of Drugs and Alcohol, which seemed to be a listing of all the treatment centers in the United States. I looked in the Maryland section and sure enough, found Westminster well represented halfway across the world in one of the biggest libraries.

Our last stop in Alexandria was the gardens of King Farouk’s palace, with trees from all over the globe and plenty of grassy park type areas. The palace is huge, though currently not used for anything, because it was the property of the president prior to the revolution. There are a bunch of private beaches, and when our director went to go ask if we could hang out on a beach for a while, he ended up booking us a boat ride, so we got to go out on the Mediterranean in a little boat! I find it especially funny that this happened the same day that Maryland was getting its third or so day of snow.


OK, short trip that was chock full of activities and adventures!

Categories: Egypt Study Abroad | 2 Comments

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