World through my eyes

Archive for October, 2010

Tuesday 5th October

Slept well, woke at about 7:45am to what sounded like a cup of tea being placed on the bedside table. No idea what caused the noise, there was no tea. I was just being prescient of things to come.  Called Sue on Skype but she was not there. She Skyped back about 5 mins later and we chatted for a bit. I went down for a 6.90GBP buffet breakfast English style (scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, fried mushrooms and what looked like black pudding) with yoghurt, fresh fruit salad, apple juice etc. I left my room for the airport at 11:00am and caught the Hoppa bus to terminal 1 at 11:17am (runs every 20 mins).  At the airport I picked up my boarding pass at the eticket machine, did not check any baggage, passed though security, and since the boarding call was not until 12:55am I found a power point in the waiting area and connected up. I started to read the galleys of my chapter in the to be published (by the ICTP, Trieste)  book: “m-Science: Sensing, Computing and Dissemination. The modifications are due by October 9th. This book will be  released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 3.0 Unported License. I boarded the planeand took my aisle seat with an empty seat to my right. The flight attendants were very proficient if a little chronologically gifted with the youngest looking over 45-50. And miracle of miracles the plane had standard US or UK power outlets under the seat. However, the choice of movies was poor, so I watched Twilight Movie: the Eclipse(at least it had a good sound track)  followed by Predators.  The remaining choices were even less inspiring.



Monday 4th October

Awoke at 6:00am after a fitful sleep. Finished packing etc., met Mikhail and at 6:30am as we went outside at the Guest house, Osama showed up in the BMW. It was again fairly cool about ~80 deg F. We reached the airport at about 7:30, we bade goodbye to Osama and then Mikhail and I shook hands and said goodbye. His firm handshake reminded me of all the gentle handshakes experienced in Egypt. His plane to Moscow was not until about midday. I went through security with no challenges. I picked up a couple of toys for the twins and then caught my on time flight to Geneva.It was nice to hear the melodious French after the Egyptian with its glottal stops that often sounds as if people are arguing.  I added to the blog on the flight but ran out of battery power. In Geneva I came through customs in Geneva (there is no transfer lounge in Geneva) and then re-entered to catch my BMI flight to London which was pretty empty. In London I caught the Hoppa number 6 bus to the Ibis hotel. There was no problem booking in. The room was fine, no shampoo or soap in bathroom. I was in my room by 4:30pm. They had a deal 24 hours of Internet, TV movies etc. for 9.99GBP. So I decided to take since it was still early and I would not be leaving for the airport until 11am next morning. However the Internet did not work so after a couple of tries I had to move to a new room. About 7:30 after many calls to the front desk all was working and I started to catch up on my email backlog of the last 3days. I later had the English National dish chicken tika masala and an orange juice at the bar. I tried printing my boarding pass but the printer in the lobby was out of service. Into bed at about 11:30pm.

Sunday 3rd October

At 4:30am in Cairo it was finally a balmy and an enjoyable 80 degree Fahrenheit. We arrived at the airport an hour later and since we were early got a coffee, unfortunately they did not serve Egyptian coffee, so it was a latte.The flight to Luxor was uneventful about from being packed into a departure lounge from which 3 planes were leaving simultaneously, two for Luxor and one for Hurghada on the Red Sea. At Luxor the first thing we saw on entering the arrival area was a welcome sign for Roger Cottrell. Once again it was hot outside > 100F. We drove to the river and took a small ferry boat across to the West Bank of the Nile. There we met our guide for the day Ashwar. We piled into a Toyota mini-bus and introduced ourselves to  a couple from Greece, an Australian from North of Perth and 3 people from Bogota Columbia. All were in their 20’s. Our first stop was the arid Valley of the Kings where we entered three tombs (Tomb of Ramses IV, Ramses IX and Ramses III, which had the longest tunnel (410ft) in the area and a room with portraits of 2 blind harpists . The corridors were about 12 feet high so there was no stooping required. All the tombs were wall to wall decorated. In the next valley, the Valley of the Queens, we visited the Tomb of Titi and the Tomb of Khaemwaset (a son of Ramses III). We then went to the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut which is spectacular from a distance. Afterwards we headed back to the river where we caught a ferry to the East bank and stopped at a restaurant for lunch. After lunch we headed to the Karnak Temple.  It is “jaw-dropping” with massive columns and many statues. Several of them reminded me of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias (The Greek transliteration of Ramses II) . Over a period of 1300 years every pharaoh wanting to please the Gods added a temple, a hall or at least a shrine. Then it was back to Luxor to see the Luxor temple built by Amentophep in the 14th century BC. The two temples over 2km apart were linked by a long road lined with dozens of sphinxes. The temple was unearthed in the 19th century. There were 2 obelisks originally but one was gifted to France in 1829 by Mohamed Ali the Albanian-in-origin sovereign at the time, where it now stands in the Place de la Concorde. Built on top of the temple is a Muslim mosque. As it got dark it was very evocative being in the ancient temple and hearing the Muslim call to prayer. We left for the airport in Luxor at 6:30pm. The plane should have left for Cairo at 9:25pm but was delayed until 10:15pm. The flight was one hour and at Cairo we met up with Ahmed and Osama who drove us back to the Guest House. After packing etc. I went to bed at about 1:15am.


Saturday 2nd October 2010

After breakfast, Mikhail and I took the Metro to the Sadat station in the center of Cairo and then made our way to the Egyptian Archaeological museum. The museum is the Egyptian center for all ancient things. It has an amazing collection going back of 4000 years, but no air conditioning. The highlights were the artifacts from King Tutankhamen’s tomb and in particular the mask. By 1:30pm we had seen most exhibits and with the heat were pretty exhausted so we left and made our way to downtown, quickly learning the perilous art of negotiating traffic as a pedestrian. We found a small café and ordered bottled water, Egyptian coffees, a small pizza and a chicken burger. I must say I am hooked on Egyptian coffee it is really tasty, latte does not hold a torch to it. After relaxing and watching the locals wandering around the old town we left the cafe and made our way to the river. There we hired a Feluca (the traditional Egyptian lateen-rigged sailboat) for a hour so we could just relax slowly going down and back up river looking at Cairo and river traffic with most of the incessant honking of horns well in the distance. Back at the Guest House we sat around and ate the standard dinner liven up by a bottle of beer each. Monique and Catherine left at about 9:15pm to catch an early morning flight to Paris. Mikhail and I took an early nigh (9:30pm) knowing we had to catch a 4:30am taxi on Sunday to fly on a 7:25am flight to Luxor (the site of Thebes, Egypt’s old capital),

Friday 1st October

I awoke at 7:35am to the sound of Mikhail knocking on the door. I must have overslept and/or my alarm failed. No time to figure it out, I quickly got ready and made it to breakfast in under 10 mins. I called Barbara and it was great to hear her voice and chat for awhile. A few minutes later the locals came by waving a clock to show us that the clock had gone back an hour and it was 6:45am, so the mystery of the missing alarm was solved. Fortunately the “taxi” arrived early at 7:30am (new time). The driver was Osama a friend of Ahmed. We paid him in US $ and set off for the Giza plateau and the pyramids. We arrived at the pyramids at about 8:45am. There was a slight hot breeze which sucked the moisture from us so lots of drinking was the order of the day. With it being Friday (the Muslim Holy day) it was not packed and we only queued for about 10 minutes to get tickets to enter the area, and also enter Khufre’s pyramid. We could not purchase tickets for the Sun Boat outside. We first went to Khafre’s pyramid (the one with limestone cap) and waited another 10 minutes in the queue to enter. The entrance was at ground level and started out by going down about 80 sloping steps to a level bit, then about 40 sloping steps up to the burial chamber. This was not for the nervous, claustrophobic or anyone with a bad back since the ceiling height was probably was low and we had to stoop to avoid hitting our heads. The chamber was about 20 feet high and empty apart from a sarcophagus (also empty), so someone had beaten us to it by a few thousand years. There were also no carvings or paintings on the walls. Despite this it was impressive to be inside such a great mass of stone. After the pyramid we drove to the western edge of the enclosure where there was bazaar, camels and horses to ride, and a great view of the pyramids. We returned to the Great Pyramid of Khufu and walked around it to get a better feeling of its enormity. Then we bought tickets for the Solar Boat museum on the South side of Khufu’s pyramid. It houses a boat that was disassembled into 1,224 separate pieces that were excavated in 1954. They were then put together in precisely the right pattern to create a graceful 143 ft long vessel with a high (16ft) curved prow, a 23 ft stern and a set of 5 oars on each side. It was in remarkably good condition. We then drove a short distance to the Great Sphinx (strangler) that was originally named by the Greeks. There we parted company with Osama after getting his cell phone number and agreeing to meet under the shade of a nearby tree in an hour, while he went to prayers and we viewed the Sphinx. The Sphinx was full of photo ops, but exposed as we were it was extremely hot. On the way out from the Sphinx, I decided to try my bargaining, knowing I did not really need anything and could easily walk away. There was trio of crystal pyramids and a fried magnet I decided to try for. After about 10 minutes of walking away to be called back we negotiated down by a factor of 3 on the asking price. We returned to the tree and shade and called Osama who showed up about 5 minutes later. We then headed to Saqqara about 45 minutes away where Egypt’s oldest pyramid is located. On the way, feeling puckish I finished off some of the comfort food Barbara provided me before I left. This pyramid is the 196ft high Step Pyramid of King Zoser who commissioned his polymath Grand Vizier Imhoptep to build it more than four thousand years ago. It is part of a larger complex that symbolically re-enacts the Hed-Sed Festival. We went into the pyramid via tunnel with a set of about 40 sloping steps downwards, and then about 20 yards of a flat tunnel before entering the burial chamber. Again not for people with bad backs or claustrophobia. The chamber was decorated, which made it more interesting than Khafre’s burial chamber. At one end there was a large granite sarcophagus. There was an adjoining room. After the pyramid we explored several other burial chamber is small temples nearbye. Many were beautifully decorated and the colors still held up. They used lapis lazuli for the blues. On the way out we stopped at the air conditioned Imhotep museum which was nicely laid out and had some interesting statues. However it was closing so we did not see as much as we might have liked. Since they kept it open for an extra few minutes the Antiquities and Tourist policeman requested some bacshi. We returned to the Guest house getting there at about 7pm just in time to grab a shower, before we met up with the atheist Cairo professor and drove to his club. We had a private room with perfect air conditioning neither too warm or too cold. A large selection of very tasty hors d’oevre quickly appeared, together with beer and wine. Luc claimed the wine was in the style of the South West of France. We then ordered the main course. I had shrimp kebabs which were very tasty. We treated our host. It was very reasonable, about $30 each (divided across 5 of us) including two bottle of red wine and 4 beers. On the way out we picked up some beers for Satuday night so we could celebrate the last night together. We got back to the Guest House at about 11:30pm.


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