Our Travels

In November we spent eight days in Cairo, Egypt: here is a full recap of our trip.

Our Reactions on Egypt

A quick update from us about what's going on in Egypt.  Somehow, because we've been there, this whole ordeal seems much more real to us than similar past events.

Steve found a picture in the AP slideshow (it's copyrighted so you'll have to click through to see the image), and a mere two and a half months ago we were sitting in this exact restaurant eating dinner, twice.  Yes, we ate Pizza Hut on our vacation and yes we did it twice, please don't judge.  It's the only Pizza Hut in or near Tahrir Square, so there's no doubt that this is where we were.  This restaurant was always packed when we were there, and this is one of the first places in Egypt we struggled to pay with credit.  The waiters screwed up our drink orders both times we visited.  We have memories in this place that we won't soon forget.   But to know that a place we have visited and enjoyed no longer exists feels unreal and in a very indescribable way makes this feel so much more real.

Additionally, we read that looters broke into the Egyptian Museum and destroyed two mummies.  This is so sad.  There is so much rich history in the museum, despite it's shortcomings, to destroy public history for short term gain sours the whole ordeal.

Things are shifting and moving in Egypt, and we sincerely hope that in the end, it is the citizens of Egypt that benefit the most.

Jeddah and Cairo Make the News

I was going to post the next part in our Athens vacation recap, but instead I want to show you a bit more about what's going on near us.  So I'm going to talk about rain again.  It might seem strange that the only weather I talk about here is the rain, but it's because it has a huge impact on the people here in Saudi Arabia.

It rained again on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning here.  It wasn't really worth updating about, because for us, it had little negative impact.  The leaks we had last week had been fixed, and held tight this time, so the only inconvenience was having to ride our bikes home in the rain.

Sadly this was much worse in Jeddah.  Here are two videos of the flooding.  I saw the first one on Facebook from another student on campus, and the second one was posted at Susie's Big Adventure.

As much as I wish I could say this was a one time weather catastrophe, it wasn't.  The same thing happened in November 2009 and left Jeddah in much the same state.  Promises were made to improve the infrastructure, but in Saudi fashion, 14 months later, little has been changed.  What makes this sting even worse is that as part of WEP, a Saudi businessman came to speak.  He talked about how Saudi Arabia has benefited by avoiding investing in foreign countries.  He expressed how much better off Saudi Arabia was because they kept their money working at home.  Clearly there is some disconnect when keeping Saudi Arabia's money in the country can't even provide a safe city for it's people to live in.

In other news, there have been huge riots in Cairo and throughout Egypt about the recent elections.  Considering that we were just there a few months ago, it was shocking to see places we recognized filled with angry protesters.

So that's what's going on in our little part of the world.  We'll be back tomorrow with more pictures from Athens!

Traveling Back to Saudi Arabia

We're on our way back to campus from Athens (with an eight hour layover in Cairo), and hope to start updating everyone on our amazing trip starting tomorrow.  We have truly had a great time in Greece and hope to come back and explore some of the islands!

Here are only a few of the amazing photos from our trip.  I promise there will be many, many more to come.

The inedible orange trees that were planted all over Athens.  It seemed so wasteful.

Temple of Olympic Zeus as viewed from the Acropolis.

Group picture in front of the Parthenon and Acropolis from a nearby hill.

Changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Temple of Hephaistos

Posing in front of the Temple of Olympic Zeus

View of Cape Sounion on a quick day trip to the Temple of Poseidon.

Screaming bald eagle at the Attica Zoological Park.

Ancient Greek ruins discovered when building the metro.  These are actually in the metro station!  Practically everywhere in Athens was a museum.

View of the Philopappou.

Peaking out from behind a wall at Keramikos.

*Catch up on our entire Athens adventure by checking Our Travel Page, or our Greece tag.*

Restoring Faith in Traveling

Cairo really did a number on my desire to travel.  It seemed like every thing was set against us, and despite having a great time, it wore me out and stressed me out.  When we got back, I had in my mind decided that if all traveling was going to be like Cairo, that I was done with it.  I didn't want to go anywhere else, deal with more foreign languages, feel like a directionally challenged 5 year old, or have to navigate the Jeddah airport unless it was to fly back home.  As a result we drug our feet about winter break until we finally had to decide if we were actually going anywhere or if we were going to spend an entire month long break in Saudi.

So we hit the airline sites and hostel booking sites.   We gave up on Italy; I didn't want to deal with planning three or four different cities and the travel between them.  I was convinced it was going to be too expensive.  Then we embraced Athens.  I was too tired and stubborn from trying to decide anything to be reasonable, so Steve found us plane tickets and a place to stay.  So it was done, and we were going to Athens for 13 days.

Since it takes twelve hundred years to get anything shipped to Saudi Arabia, and bookstores in Jeddah are lacking, we've resorted to making our own travel books using OneNote and my obsessive compulsive organizing habits.  I began sorting through the various options of sites, shopping and restaurants we might frequent while in Athens and started to get excited about going.

And now that we're here, I can't imagine not traveling.  Athens is amazing in so many ways, but mostly it is a breath of fresh air in regards to traveling.  It is beautiful, urine scent free, easy to navigate, and downright impressive with the history that shows up everywhere even in the metro.

Even though it was a struggle to get to where we are, I'm so grateful that we're here, because I can't imagine having Cairo as one of our only experiences with international travel.

*Catch up on our entire Athens adventure by checking Our Travel Page, or our Greece tag.*

English or Um Sort Of

We've had a really interesting time handling some of the language barriers that appear when dealing with non native English speakers, and we thought we'd share some of our more funny experiences with you guys.

When we were in Cairo, we saw a couple of laughable English translation errors at the military museum.

 Apparently they have trouble spelling trebuchet too, but since it's from French, that might have something to do with it.

Poor Jimmy Carter had to meet with the Prim Minister, I bet he was just a buzz kill.  I think I've heard of that place Israil, isn't that the one with all of the great trains?  And I bet Obama didn't realize that he was living in the Light House.  Or maybe it was renamed sometime since Jimmy Carter was president?  There are several other errors here too, but these were just three of the six or so problems with that sign.

This photo showed up in our Cairo recap, but since it has an important message, we'll highlight it again.

Remember, "The Safaty Fitst" always!

We got a cryptic text message a few weeks ago from the vet clinic that services campus.  See if you can translate the "text" speak into real sentences:

"gud a.m. this fr. happy pet vet clnc, sori 2 inform u that d vaccines 4 cats are not yet available. tnx"

That clinic can text like a champ.  In case you couldn't figure it out, they were trying to say "Good morning.  This is from the Happy Vet Clinic.  Sorry to inform you that the vaccines for cats are not yet available. Thanks."

And finally, Steve found a great vibrating reindeer toy for ages 3+ advertising "Provides infinite pleasure."  Enough said.

Cairo Day 8: Urman Gardens and Cairo Zoo

On our last day in Cairo we decided to go check out the Cairo Zoo.  We read a lot of bad things about how the animals are kept and the excuses the keepers make about it, so we figured we'd only go if we had time.

On our way to the zoo, we ran across the Urman Gardens, and since it was only 50 piasters (9 cents!) each to get in, we decided to take a stroll through the park.  It was quiet and relaxed, quite the opposite of Al-Ahzar Park where we were overwhelmed by all the people around.

After relaxing in the park reading our Kindles, we headed on to the zoo.  The zoo is also ridiculously cheap at 2 pounds (36 cents) but as soon as one of the ticket sellers saw us, he turned and went into the ticket booth and told the other ticket sellers that our tickets were going to be 20 pounds.  While it still would have been around $7 for us both to get in, having them force us to pay 10 times more just because we were Westerners just wasn't going to happen.

We decided to skip out on the zoo, and it turned out not to be a bad decision, because as we were walking by we saw their white flamingos and trashy grassy areas and realized we weren't missing much.

On the way back to the hostel, we snagged this picture at a nearby construction site, which bears a very important message we should all keep in mind:

The Safaty Fitst.  Apparently the English language isn't however safe.

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0
Cairo Day 1

Cairo Day 7: Abdin Palace and Al-Azhar Park

By now, Eid was in full celebration and this proved to be the downfall of our day.  We started by going to the Abdin Palace, and had to walk all the way around the building just to figure out where we were supposed to enter.  Turned out that it was closed for the holidays so we didn't get to go in.  The palace which is one of the residences of the Egyptian President and a huge museum is supposed to be very lavish and ornamented, so it was a shame to miss out.

We then decided to walk to Al-Azhar Park, which was "relatively" nearby.  It turned out that relatively was not quite as near as we had thought, about a mile and a half actually.  We walked through a really slummy section of Cairo, but still managed to stumble upon some interesting historic buildings.

We passed through Bab Zuweila, an old gate to the old city of Cairo.

After walking a ways further we stumbled across the Sabil Muhammad Ali Pasha, which although it was not open to the public, was recently renovated.  A sabil is, according to Amazon, a public cistern and water dispenser and was apparently a tribute to a deceased son.  In case you were wondering what some of your tax dollars were likely doing, the funding in part from the US Agency for International Development whose acronym is fittingly USAID.  Who knew.  It was truly surprising to find something so beautiful hidden amongst small, winding, garbage ridden streets.

The Sabil had beautiful details which were obviously well maintained during the renovation.

Walls of the round Sabil.

Details at the top of the walls.

After trudging onwards, including a brief stint walking a long a very busy highway-ish road, we finally made it to the park.  To say it was packed would definitely be an understatement.  Since it was Eid, most families weren't working, school wasn't in session, and the park seemed to be a nice place for everyone in the whole city to try and visit at once.

There was a zero percent chance of us getting some peace and quiet here, but alas we paid the $2.50 it cost to get in and tried to find a place to sit down.  The park despite being filled beyond capacity, was very beautiful, and since it was situated on a big hill, there was a great view of Cairo.  Because of the huge crowds, I didn't even try to take pictures so here are a few great ones from the internet:

After a very long tiring day, we flagged a taxi that drove us back to the front door of the hostel.

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0
Cairo Day 1

Cairo Day 6: Alexandria Part 2

After leaving the fort we went to a small aquarium nearby. it was basically a dozen tanks in a little room. It was pretty good, except for the turtles. There was a large softshell turtle and a sea turtle in tanks that were way too small for them (maybe 1/4 the minimum size I would consider humane). We felt really bad for them, but we didn't really know what we could do.  Since we only paid 5 pounds each to get in, I have trouble believing they make enough for expansions or anything.  One of the young boys caught up to us in the Aquarium, and we tried to teach him that "I LOVE YOU MAN!" isn't a great thing to yell at strangers, much less stranger's wives.

Poor sea turtle stuck in a way too small tank.

After the aquarium, we got some "ice cream" from a nearby shop.  Due to the number of kids around, the shop was packed.  We only managed to order because the cashier saw us looking bewildered and helped us order.  This ice cream wasn't really quite ice cream, it was kind of a mix between sherbet and ice cream.  We both got multi flavored scoops and they were pretty tasty.

We then went to Pompey's Pillar, which was beautiful, especially at sunset. The pillar is a Roman triumphal column, and boy is it huge! There were some catacombs nearby, which provided us with the only real peace and quite we ever found in Egypt. We couldn't hear any of the honking horns, or bad mufflers, only the very gentle hum of some dehumidifiers. There was a big scary bull statue too!

Headless sphinx

Pillar and sphinx

Pillar over looking the city.

Steve at the base of the pillar.

View from the bottom of the pillar.

Quite large when compared to say, the moon!

Talking with more strangers.  The older of the two girls was really forward and friendly, but the younger one was pretty shy.

Replica of the Apis Bull.

Steve playing around in the catacombs.

One of the two sphinxes near the pillar.

Pillar in the early evening light.

Steve poking the pillar.

Another taxi ride left us at the train station, exhausted.  We wandered around until we found a bakery and got some tasty baked treats to eat for dinner.   After getting on the train, we eventually found a car that wasn't cold enough to be confused with a refrigerator car, and took a snooze till we got back to Cairo.  We're not even going to talk about how I had to go to the bathroom so badly, or how it was the most disgusting bathroom I've ever been in.

Cairo Day 6: Alexandria Part 1

The writing style might be a bit different today, Steve is writing it.

On day 6 we went to Alexandria. We went to the Roman Amphitheater, the Alexandria National History Museum, Fort Qaitbay, a little "aquarium", and Pompey's Pillar.

We managed to wake up early enough to make the 8am train to Alexandria (just "Alex" to the locals), from the Ramses train station. Tickets were very cheap, 35 pounds, about $6, per person each way. The trip lasted about an hour and a half. Immeadietly after walking out of the station in Alex we bumped into a group of students from our university. We chatted a bit and went over to the Roman Amphitheater with them. The acoustics were pretty good, and there was in impressive line of standing columns (does it become a row if it falls over?).
The view overlooking the Roman Amphitheater

Steve in front of the theatre seats

Standing columns

Corinthian column detailing

Then we went off on our own to look for the Alexandria National Museum. It was quite difficult to find, we ended up walking about for half an hour, and then just taking a cab to the address we had. Finding a taxi driver that spoke English was difficult, much more so than in Cairo, and the one we did find had never heard of the museum.  On the way the driver stopped to ask several  people how to get to the museum, but we eventually navigated our way there. This little museum is almost the opposite of the Egyptian Museum; everything was wonderfully displayed, well explained, and well taken care of. The museum itself looked fairly new, housed in a converted mansion. The planning for the museum was excellent, even using the wine cellar as a sort of tomb, with a sarcophagus down there. The greco-roman artifacts were very interesting, and on the top floor there were artifacts from the early Islamic period.  Unfortunately, photography wasn't allowed, so no pictures from there.

Then we took a cab out to the tip of the peninsula beside the harbor, to Fort Qaitbay. The fort, which was built a long time ago, is really big. It was crowded with locals, who only pay about 50 cents to get in, and some of the younger boys took great interest in us. One group of tweens just wanted to test their English curse words on us.

The Harry Potter transport van we saw outside of the fort! So cool!

Exterior of the Fort.  It was very impressive.

Entrance to the Fort.

Tiling on the floor inside the Fort.

View of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina from the Fort.  Unfortunately we didn't get to go due to time constraints, however we heard later it was closed because of Eid.

Steve looking dashing in the Fort.

A very common question in Egypt was "Where you from?," and I had gotten bored of ignoring people, so I started naming off the moons of Jupiter. This led to some confusion, and so it was that one young boy became convinced that my name was "Ganamie" (a mispronunciation of Ganymede). I decided that his name should be Stanley, and his two friends should be George and Micheal. It was pretty funny to argue with them about their own names. We had a really good time humoring these boys for almost an hour. Here is an example of how the conversation went:

Stanley: Hey Ganamie! How you like Egypt man!? You have a good time?
Ganamie: Yes, we are enjoying ourselves pretty well. How are you?
Stan: OH MY GAWSH! It is so beautiful here! You like WWE?
Gan: Huh?
Stan: WWE, John Cena, The Undertaker, Triple X!
Gan: Oh, like wrestling? No, not really.
Micheal: Hey! Look! (gives me a thumbs up and a big grin)
Gan: Ha Ha, very good! Shouldn't you be in school?
Stan: OH MY GAWSH! No way man, school is no good. Hey, take our picture. You know Obama?

One group of boys who followed us around inside the Fort.

George, Michael, and Stanley clammoring to follow us on the Fort grounds.

They followed us around wherever we went. I had to tell them that Abby was "my woman", and "no, don't touch her, she is mine" in order to get them to give her some space. Eventually they got themselves in trouble with the security by climbing on the crenelations, and we lost them in the crowds.  We had several other photo ops with the locals while at the fort, it was like a day of being a mini-celebrity.

A group photo with some of the boys.  The two in the middle are Stanley and Michel.  George is behind Stanley's elbow, and the other kids just jumped in when they saw us taking a picture.

Another view from the Fort. 

The Fort was so crowded.  This is the pier outside of the fort.

We tried really hard to get more photos of both of us together on this trip!

Our trip to Alex ended up being jam packed full of awesome fun and pictures, so we'll have to finish the day in the next post!

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0
Cairo Day 1

Cairo Day 5: The Citadel

Day 5 was supposed to be our trip to Alexandria, but getting up early just wasn't happening (for Abby at least), so we pushed back the day trip and decided to go to the Citadel instead.  It was a bit tricky getting there, as it was pretty far from the hostel, so we took the metro to closest station and then took a taxi.  Since the Arabic name is not the same as the English name, we had a slight language barrier issue trying to convey to the taxi driver where we wanted to go.  This was not our day for taxis to say the least.  The driver flipped on the meter which is a rare and unusual occurrence in Cairo but when the fare came out to only 11 pounds, he immediately reset the meter and insisted the fare was going to be 25 pounds.  Steve argued with the driver for a bit, but since he didn't speak hardly any English, it was futile.  While it really wasn't much money, feeling like people can rip you off at the leisure wasn't a warm fuzzy of the trip.

The Citadel, however, was excellent.  The complex is pretty large and includes several mosques, a police museum, a military museum, and some nice babs (gateways). The whole thing is on top of a big, easily defended plateau.

Steve hopped right in front of my picture!

Beautiful Muhammad Ali Mosque

Close up of the Mosque

We got to go into the mosque.  The interior was beautiful.

Inside the Sultan al-Nasir Muhammed ibn Qala'un Mosque, a much older mosque.

Weapons on display.

Steve in the Military Museum

The museum was housed in a beautiful palace. Unfortunately, much of the museum was closed off for unknown reasons.

Pouting by the tanks.

Oddly shaped tree; see the hanging bag? The guy with the sweatshirt on his head is there to tell tourists to stay away from the wall, as it would be a pretty big fall from there.


A fun day!

It was a great day at the Citadel, and a pain in the rear to get a taxi to take us back.  We didn't want a taxi all the way back to the hostel, just to the nearest metro station, and it was almost impossible to convince a driver to take us to the metro.  We knew it was going to be a lot more to drive all the way back to the hostel, since it was located in the downtown area and the traffic there is pretty bad.

Unfortunately, we ended up having to tell the driver we were going to El-Marg, which is the end of the metro line and at least 12 miles away.  Only after that would he stop trying to convince us to drive back to the hostel.  Sadly, small lies seems to be necessary to ease traveling.

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0
Cairo Day 1

Cairo Day 4: Egyptian Museum

Our only sightseeing on this day was the Egyptian Museum.  We were up fairly early and it was a quick walk to the museum.  On the way we stopped to look in some souvenir shops.  We ended up not getting anything, but decided to come back after the museum because we didn't want to carry extra stuff around.

In terms of sightseeing in Egypt, the Egyptian Museum is one of the most expensive.  But with our school IDs we got half off on admission in a lot of places.  After getting tickets, we spent some time wandering outside the museum.  They had many statues and steles outside and some nice grassy areas.

As with other museums, we had to check the camera before we could go inside so unfortunately no pictures from inside.  On the other hand, taking pictures inside would have been pretty hard anyway due to the large crowds and generally poor lighting.

We had heard that the museum was overly packed, poorly displayed, and generally not very viewing friendly; sadly this was spot on.  Almost all of the individual signage was done on typewriters and faded, and unfortunately going through the museum was like making our way through a maze.

Stray kitty hanging out by the museum

Steles outside the museum

Despite the lack of proper display, the museum artifacts were fantastic.  The mummy coffins were pretty cool, but sadly also very poorly displayed.  They were stacked four high and pretty hard to see the top two.  We opted out of the mummy room, since it was going to be an extra 100 pounds ($20) each and they had some mummies on display outside of the mummy room.

We also got to see all of the artifacts from King Tut's tomb.  He had a ton of belongings!  They had some poster sized photographs of the tomb when it was found, and it was cool to see how everything was laid out in the tomb.

After about four hours inside the museum, we were exhausted.  We spent some more time outside on the museum grounds before we left.  The outside storage of some artifacts was sad to see.

Still wrapped up, hanging out on the museum grounds

Storage problems? Store it in the backyard!

Landscaping outside the museum

Artifacts hanging out by the exhaust system!

Storing artifacts by a pit of trash seems to be just fine in Egypt.  This was pretty sad to see.

We did a bit of shopping at a great little shop selling handmade crafts before returning to the hostel.

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0
Cairo Day 1

Cairo Day 3: Visiting the Pyramids! Part 2

Part 1 was our trip to Giza and the pyramids.  After Giza, we went to Dahshur.  Our driver had a few side trips on the way.  First we stopped at a "government museum" which was really just a shop selling art.  They gave us a little demonstration on how papyrus was made.  And by demo I most mean holding up each part of the process and telling us how it would have been done.  It would have been cool to actually see them do something.  We ditched out on the blatant money grubbing and not five minutes down the road, the driver told us he'd left his phone back at the shop, so we backtracked to pick it up.

Red Pyramid

When we got to Dahshur, we got to climb down inside the Red Pyramid.  It was a steep trip down and we had to duck to fit in.  After going through a tunnel we came to an open room with really interesting ceilings, as the Egyptians couldn't do arches, so they overlaid stacked blocks to make the ceiling.

Chamber inside the Red Pyramid

Climbing inside the pyramid

 After visiting the Red Pyramid, we drove by the Bent Pyramid.  We couldn't get anywhere near this pyramid as tourists aren't allowed at the pyramid, which was too bad it looks really cool.  It looks really cool because they started building it with a 55 degree angle, but switched to a 43 degree angle part way up.

The Bent Pyramid

This is what the pyramid would have looked like if they had stuck with the 55 degree angle. (Courtesy of Steve)

We were then on our way to Sakkara, or so we thought.  But of course, we had a stop to make first; this time at an aromatherapy shop.  When we got there they had a small band waiting to start playing the instant we got out of the car.  While we appreciated all of the hospitality shown, it was overwhelming, frustrating, and unwelcome.  We didn't want all of these shops forced on us, we just wanted a nice tour of the pyramids, so after making it very clear to the driver to cut out the shops, we were actually on our way to Sakkara.

By the time we got there, Steve wasn't feeling very well, so we didn't end up staying very long.  On the drive back to Cairo, the driver was on his cell phone practically the entire time! I managed to catch a quick nap and didn't wake up until we got stuck in Cairo traffic.

Step Pyramid at Sakkara

Funerary at Sakkara

We both crashed for a while when we got back.  We certainly weren't used to starting our days so early, and didn't go out until dinner later that night when we found a cute little cafe near the American University in Cairo.

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0
Cairo Day 1

Cairo Day 3: Visiting the Pyramids!

Our third day was our trip to Giza, Dahshur, and Sakkara, but due to the number of pictures we'll split this into two posts.  We had planned on going to Giza on our own, but also really wanted to go to Dahshur. We read online that getting a taxi or a driver to go out that far was pretty hard to do, so we jumped at the opportunity to go.  Because we went on a guided tour, we started out really early about 8:30 with a drive to Giza.  The drive was pretty uneventful, but seeing the pyramids for the first time was really cool.  The air quality in Cairo was awful though with lots of smog/dust in the air so there was a dusty haze around the pyramids.  We thought the driver from the hostel was going to be a guide for the day, but really he was just there to drive us around.

Instead of taking us to the pyramids, he took us to a shop where they do horseback ride tours of the pyramids.  After trying to convince us that going to the pyramids on foot was a terrible idea and that the shop's price was better than the individual prices, we finally gave in and signed up for their shortest trip.  It probably did end up costing more than it would have to go by foot, but aside from that it was pretty fun.

For as dirty as Cairo was, the streets around Giza were so much worse.  It was kind of disgusting to see one of the wonders of the world surrounded by so much trash.  It was sad and disheartening.  There were also camels all over Giza for riding to the pyramids and they were kind of gross.  I'm no big fan of camels it turns out.  I guess I never realized how big they really are.  We ended up opting for horses instead.

Us riding horses

Lots of pyramids in a row

The little kid walked with us the whole time guiding my horse.


We both wanted to go to the Solar Boat museum, but "didn't have time" according to the tour guide.  This was pretty disappointing and made it harder to enjoy the tour since it didn't seem to be about what we wanted to do, just what the tour guide was willing to do.

Soon we were back at the shop and on our way to Dahshur.

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0
Cairo Day 1

Cairo Day 2

Cairo Day 2: Coptic Cairo and Shar Hashamaim

Initially, we were going to go to the Egyptian Museum, but after Steve talked to the hostel staff, they said the Coptic Museum was much better displayed and more interesting. Their opinion was to wait and go to the Egyptian Museum last. Thus, we hopped on the metro and spent the day in Coptic Cairo. There were many interesting buildings as part of the Coptic Museum complex, unfortunately they confiscate cameras upon arrival, so we didn't end up with many pictures. The museum had a lot of textiles and written material, so the photography ban is understandable. Honestly, when I had to check my camera at the entrance, I wasn't sure if I would see it again. Thankfully, it was unscathed and waiting when we were done at the museum. The museum had a lot of stone reliefs and decorative architecture from several Christian sites across Egypt; however the focus of the museum wasn't a very great interest for me since I don't really know much about Christian or Biblical history. I was kind of upset that we decided to listen to the hostel staff because I was actually really looking forward to the Egyptian Museum.

Steve: I agree that the Coptic Museum was a little underwhelming. I did find it interesting to see how the older Egyptian and other religions influenced the early Christian art.

Another site we saw was the Hanging Church, which I was looking forward to seeing after reading about it online. Unfortunately, it was packed full of tourists and I was greatly off put by the seeming lack of respect shown in the church. It was a very beautiful church with many interesting detail, but the area where you can see it hanging over the Roman Water Gates was a bit of a let down. I expected it to be much less touristy since it was a church, and seeing tons of kids running around unsupervised and people talking loudly as if on the street made me regret going.

After the church, we walked through the cemetery behind the church. It was filled with many beautiful mausoleums and statues. I liked the cemetery much more than the church or museum and it was nice to get away from all of the crowds.

Steve: Abby's abundant interest here was a little bit creepy, but I have to admit that it was very beautiful. Some of the mausoleums were as big as small houses (like the one shown below) and they were all unique and beautiful. It looked like it has been actively used for several centuries, and it is well cared for. There were even a few citrus trees in the cemetery with ripe fruit, but we decided it would be disrespectful to have some of the fruit. On the way out of the cemetary we passed some mausoleums that had actually been converted into homes, probably because of extreme poverty and crowding.

We walked through a couple of shops and St. Sergius church, but again no pictures allowed. We played an intricate game of trying to avoid the salespeople in the shops, because it was really hard to get away from them after they latched on to you. We did find a great map book of Cairo for less than $10 and it was probably our best purchase of the whole trip.

Our next stop was lunch, where we had a great meal of falafel sandwiches. They were delicious and it didn't hurt that the restaurant had a policy that if you were unsatisfied at all you didn't have to pay. Needless to say, we loved it! There were two kitties hanging around while we were waiting on our food, and it was so fun to watch them. We didn't have Algebra at that point, and were missing kitties pretty badly.

Our next stop was Shar Hashamaim, a Jewish synagogue. The metro stop exited right into a huge bazaar and it was a madhouse. We had a bit of trouble figuring out which direction we needed to go; we really needed a compass on more than once instance. After we figured out which way to go, it was pretty easy to find, and it was a small victory each time we managed to find what we were looking for.

We were surprised to find half a dozen armed guards in front of the synagogue. Although after an incident with hurling explosives in February, maybe we shouldn't have been. We had to have our passport information recorded before they would let us in. They seemed pretty surprised when we asked if we were allowed in. The Jewish population in Cairo is pretty small these days, so I'd imagine it doesn't get many visitors. The interior was well maintained and very beautiful. The caretaker also was surprised to see us, but did his best to tell us about the synagogue in his broken English. Again, photos weren't allowed, not even of the exterior of the building!

Steve: The synagogue was definitely the highlight of the day for me. It was quite, peaceful, and well maintained. It seems like so many of the attractions are done up especially for tourists, it was relaxing to find places that were not only historic, but also still fulfilling their original purpose. The caretaker was very nice, and I got the feeling that he was proud of the building, and not just looking for a tip. The exterior was very impressive, and as we had read online, it was reminiscent of a tomb raider movie.

Our evening was pretty laid back; we went to a restaurant that must have been in all of the tourist guidebooks, because it was full of foreigners. The service was especially terrible and left us irritated.

The hostel offered guided tours of three pyramid sites, so we signed up for a tour the following day.

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0
Cairo Day 1

Cairo Day 1: Gabalaya Aquarium and Cairo Tower

After a night of rest in our new locale, we woke around 11 am and went to check out the free breakfast.  Breakfast consisted of bread stick type rolls with jam and butter along with some cheese and coffee or juice.  While I appreciated the free meal, that was prepared and served to us with no effort on our part, after a few days of this every morning, I many never eat bread again, much less for breakfast.  The breakfast room was pretty nice, everyone sits on pillows on the floor which was way more laid back and relaxed than having a dining table to sit at.

Our first trip out involved taking the metro over a few stops to a small island in the Nile where the Gabalaya Park was as well as the Cairo Tower.  Managing the metro wasn't very challenging, the only hard part was figuring out which exit tunnel would be best.  All of the metros had at least two exits and some had as many as 4 or 6.  So getting our orientation after exiting the metro was a constant battle.  The metro was always pretty busy and unfortunately this lead to some pretty poor behavior when getting on and off the metro.  The technique seemed to be to push your way on the train with no concern for anyone else.  We even saw a man pull a woman out of his way so that he could get on the metro.  That just completely shocked me that someone would have so little respect or concern for someone else.

It took a fair bit of walking and getting lost before we found the park/aquarium.  We had some Google maps that I had printed from the internet, but since most of the street names on the map were in Arabic, they were only useful to an extent.  After finding the park, we found out the entry fee was about 10x more than expected.  It was still only going to be about $8 to get in, which isn't bad at all for two people, but feeling blindsided by the increase irked me.

The park was awkwardly fun, but also frustrating for both of us.  The aquarium aspect was significantly lacking, which I had read online, but despite the lack of fish, a man still insisted on showing us all of the ones they did have.  Most of them were Tilapia, which is a bit underwhelming, but he also insisted on pointing out each of the male and female fish in each tank.  We're pretty sure he was just trying to convince us to tip him for this extra personal service.  It seemed like the overall mindset in Cairo was to guilt you into tipping for a service regardless of whether you asked for it or not!  All of this unwanted attention was really starting to grate on me, and on more than one occasion while in Cairo I just wished people would leave us alone.

I was almost in culture shock to see couples walking around the park holding hands and sitting together in the grass.  After the conservative environment of Saudi, even holding hands seems to be a big deal.  The weather was also shockingly nice.  There was almost no humidity and the temperatures were much cooler than those we left in Saudi.

So Steve told you a little bit about the fish we saw when we posted from Egypt, but here are some pictures to support his fine details.

Taxidermied animals anyone?

Fish in a jar.  This does not make for a good aquarium.

Poor shark needs some moisturizer.

Almost all of the trees were painted white like this, we never found out why.

 Our next stop was the Cairo Tower, and after all of the walking and getting lost when getting to the park, we decided to take a taxi to the tower.  Overall, I wasn't really impressed with the tower.  I thought it was kind of ugly, the tickets were overpriced, and the view was underwhelming.  There's a lot of smog/fog over Cairo so the view was pretty limited and I feel like once you've seen one cityscape, you've probably seen them all.

We ate dinner at a restaurant near the tower, which was pretty nice.  The service however was pretty darn bad.  That seemed to be the case in almost all of the restaurants we ate at. It didn't help that they automatically add 12% to your bill as a 'service' charge, so maybe that impacted the low level of service.

By this time it was completely dark and it was only 6pm.  I really think Daylight Savings Time would do wonders in the Middle East.  It gets dark so early here.  We tried to find the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art, but had no luck wandering around in the dark.  We ended up getting pretty lost and walking quite a ways back to the hostel.

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0

Cairo: Day 0

So you've all heard the tale of our adventure getting out of Saudi Arabia, and now it's time for the rest of our fantastic trip.  Rather than throw it all out there in one epic saga that honestly I don't have the time or inclination to produce in one big blog post, I'll go day by day for all of you.  We also have way more pictures than is reasonably feasible for the blog, so I'll probably post the excess on my facebook for you all to check out at your leisure.  Because I know prying into our lives is really high on your list of things to do today, and really who doesn't like a good time suck like facebook?

So Day 0 as I will call it pretty much represents our late night flight and arrival into Cairo at 2am.  We had a heck of a time finding flights to Cairo, and it turns out the first one we were actually able to find and purchase, resulted in a 12:30 am flight out of Jeddah.  After our interesting experience getting through the Jeddah airport, we left late, and finally got to Cairo. We bought our entry visas and romped our way through customs.  We also admired the kitties that were hanging around in the Cairo airport.  Little did we know that Cairo is swarming with stray kitties and cats so this was not our last encounter with the little creatures.

After making it though customs, which didn't really take too long, we proceeded to the exit to find our driver.  One of the benefits of the hostel we stayed at was that they would pick you up from the airport.  This was greatly appreciated given our late arrival and my lack of desire to try and navigate taxis at 3am.  Let me now sing the praises of traveling with no checked luggage.  Glorious.  It greatly reduces waiting around in the airport after you arrive, and normally it speeds up your check in process too.  We had a small rolling suitcase (part of an amazing set of luggage we got for the wedding), Steve's backpack, and my London tote.  We packed clothes for six days, and this was a pretty good amount for a nine day trip.

The staff at our hostel was pretty easy to work with; they even managed to fix our reservation after I forgot to book us a room for the first night of our trip (whoops).  We ended up getting to the hostel around 3:30 or 4 am, and we were quickly shown to our room. The building the hostel was in had an amazing old fashioned elevator:

We had a pretty interesting view from our room.  We were right next door to a mosque and  the minaret made for a lovely view.  The giant chicken mural/advertisement was also pretty amusing.

They let us know that breakfast was normally served until 11 am, but they'd serve us later since we weren't likely to be up that early the next day.  This was greatly appreciated!  Overall the hostel was decent, it got really good reviews and ratings online, but I would say it didn't quite live up to its online reputation.  We ended up buy some air freshener the next day because the room had a bit of funk, and the bathrooms were in a general state of patched up working throughout the trip.  They did have amazing hot water though, so it could have been worse.

With our arrival in Cairo a success, we hit the sack and eagerly awaited our first opportunity to explore the city.

Holy mother of chaos

I'm not sure that Steve's description of our departure from Saudi was really accurate.  It was probably the most hectic, busy, crazy, chaotic experience of my life, and it all began at the wrong airport terminal.  We had caught the shuttle bus from campus to the Mall of Arabia and after that had haggled for a trip to the airport.  Either the driver didn't understand which terminal we needed to go to or he didn't care because we ended up at the terminal for all of the foreign airlines when we were flying on Saudi's airline.  Terminals here at the JED are not like most in the US where you've either got a big walk ahead of you or a short little train ride.  The two terminals are several kilometers apart requiring another taxi ride.  After arriving at the correct terminal, we wandered around to figure out what line we needed to be in.  After snaking around each of the placed elastic ropes, it continued as Steve said at least another 100 yards around the airport basically ending near the entrance to the airport.  It was completely disheartening.  We'd gotten there about 3 1/2 hours before our flight and we knew that there was no hope of making it through that line in time.  The worst part was that this was just the line to check in and get boarding passes; we weren't even going to check any luggage.  Steve poked around some, found a much shorter line off to the side behind a very large pillar and then we started waiting again.  After another 10 or so minutes of waiting, Steve wandered off and found some self service kiosks, but unfortunately they didn't work for international flights.  It was bizarre to be standing around such chaos.  One person in line near us said that he had never seen the airport so busy before, and I'd imagine it was because of the beginning of the Eid holiday.  Every one had boxes and boxes of luggage (yes literally boxes, very few suitcases) pushed around on carts while all we had was one of the small rolling carry one bags, a bookbag, and my purse.  After an incredibly long day getting ready to leave, going to classes, project meetings, and the prospect of a very stressful return from break, this was exactly what I did not want or need to deal with.  Eventually one of the security guards managed to yell at the airline workers and got the booth we were in line for staffed, although it was very intermittently so.  They like to get up and walk over to the other booths at very random intervals.  We finally got our tickets and headed through security, which compared to the US is a relative breeze.

Getting on the plane managed to be equally hectic as well.  First, our flight was simultaneously listed as "cancelled" and "on-time" which was strange, but it did turn out to board on time.  Boarding planes in the US can get a bit crazy as people try to get ahead of their assigned boarding group and get on sooner, but here there aren't boarding groups; everyone makes a mad dash for the boarding gate as soon as it opens feeling no remorse physically pushing people along the way.  We then had our passports checked again and boarded buses that would take us out to our plane.  When the bus let us out at the plane there was more pushing and jostling as everyone boarded the stairs to the plane.

If ever there was a time when the intricate nature of human beings trying to fill a limited number of seats needs to be overcome, it is when filling a plane.  Two of the worst words for this situation would be "free seating" which is exactly what we were told when we got onto the plane.  For us, it worked out great, we grabbed seats at the beginning of a section, those ones with all the leg room because there's no one directly in front of you.  It ended up taking and extra 30 minutes or so to seat everyone because some of the parents of infants put their kids in seats, leaving others with no where to sit.

The flight went pretty smoothly, except for the old woman beside me scolding me for not cleaning my lemon before putting it in my tea.  Who knows where I was going to have the means to clean a lemon peel; at that point, pesticides were the least of my concerns!

Up next on our Cairo journey: Cairo Day 0

"Welcome to Egypt"

We arrived in Egypt at about two in the morning on the 11th after a very trying ordeal at the Jeddah Airport. I will never complain about airport hassles in the US again. There was a line for international check-in that snaked its way all the way through the airport, easily 100 yards long. If we had stayed in that line we probably would have missed our flight. After some scouting around I found a much shorter line, but it still took us an hour to check-in. The hostel sent someone to the airport to pick us up, and we were in our room and asleep very quickly.

Today we went out to one of the islands in the Nile and visited and aquarium/park. There weren't many live fish, but there was a guy very very eager to tell us all about the Tilapia. There were bunches of preserved fish in jars, and taxidermified animals, it was pretty creepy, Abby will put up some pictures later.

Then we went to the Cairo Tower, which was pretty overpriced, and had a really good meal at the cafe near the base of the tower. I had beef shewarma, and it was amazing.

The title of this post is the little bit of english that everybody seems to know, and it is what they say before hassling you to see their perfume shop, or take their tour, visit their shop, see their fish, or whatever. It is really aggravating, almost as much as the constant, and I do mean constant, car horns. We have decided to visit the Coptic tomorrow, and I will make sure Abby puts up some pictures.

On Our Way

Steve and I are all packed and ready to go.  We're catching the bus to the Mall of Arabia at 6pm tonight so we can have a much cheaper trip to the airport.  The shuttle buses to Jeddah are free, but getting a taxi to the airport from campus would be approximately 200 SAR ($53) so we'll save a bunch by only taking a taxi from the Mall of Arabia to the airport.

Thankfully, the hostel we're staying at has airport pick up in Cairo, so we won't even have to worry about navigating the city in the middle of the night!  It was one of the main factors for choosing our place to stay, so hopefully it will live up to the comments and reviews on hostels.com!

We're going to do our best to add some pictures and updates while we're gone, but we're not sure how good the internet access will be.

Here's to hoping for a great nine days, because when we get back, it's going to be a rough haul to the end of the semester.  I've got two 10+ page reports, three presentations, four exams, and a trip to Europe to plan in the four weeks after Eid.