Monday, June 28, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
On Saturday, most of the people in our study abroad program took a day trip to Cairo and Giza. We left at around 6:00 am from Alexandria, as it takes a good two and a half or three hours to get to Cairo. We went together with all of us with one van. We had a tour guide and an armed guard, which was really strange at first, but it is apparently standard issue for large groups of tourists.
Our first stop was Giza. I spent a good twenty minutes when I first started writing this entry trying to describe the pyramids, and didn’t get anywhere, so I will leave it at this: the pyramids are amazing. That is pretty much it. You know how awesome the pyramids are in your brain? Multiply that by 20 and you might come close to how incredible it is to be standing right next to them. I pretty much just skipped around like a giddy schoolgirl. The best part was that we were able to purchase tickets to go inside the second pyramid. You have to crouch over to hobble into a three-foot-tall tunnel and there's not really much inside (just a stone chamber, not that that isn't totally great on its own, but I think a lot of people expect there to be art or something), but it's still perfect. During the entire time I was in there, my internal monologue went something like this: "I'M IN A PYRAMID. I'M IN A PYRAMID. I. AM. IN. A. PYRAMID." We also saw the Sphinx, which, again, defies description. It's really strange, when you are looking right at the pyramids and the Sphinx it looks like the desert goes on forever, but if you turn around you can immediately see a Pizza Hut and a KFC. Egypt is a strange place.
Next, we visited the Saladin Citadel, which was built in the 12th century AD to protect the city from the Crusaders. Inside the walls of the citadel is the mosque of Mohamed Ali, built in the early 19th century. This mosque was easily one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever been in. The pictures I took of it simply do not do it justice. The mosque is rather interesting architecturally; Mohamed Ali was an Albanian who came to Egypt with the Turkish army, so the mosque is much more Ottoman in style than most Egyptian mosques.
We then visited the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, which I could easily devote the next five years of my life to walking around in. There's just so many things in there, and so many of . There's nothing quite like seeing a statue you've written a paper on or read about extensively right in front of your eyes. For me, the best parts where the manuscript room, and the two sphinxes and one statue head of Hatshepsut that I had the privilege of seeing. I also got to see Tutankhamen's burial mask, sarcophagi, and various burial effects, which was undeniably awesome. It was also really exciting to see a lot of the artifacts from the Amarna period.
Our final stop for the evening was the Khan El-Khalili market, which is an adventure in and of itself. It's extremely crowded and tiny, and you can't take a step without someone trying to usher you into their shop or make you an offer. I only ended up buying one thing. (Hint: Dad, it's for one of your collections, and I really really hope it will actually fit you!) I like the market here in Alexandria much better, it's not as frantic and you don't have to put as much energy into haggling with the vendors.
All in all, I had a great time in Cairo, but I think one day was enough for me. Cairo has lots of really interesting things to do and see, but it is also ridiculously hot and crowded. An aside to Grandpa: I'm sorry, but I didn't get to see the opera house. If I do another trip there I will be sure to stop by it.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Quick bits: or, stuff that does not quite warrant its own post that I still feel like writing about briefly
- My professor will give you a candy bar if you give a really good answer to a question in class. I got a Tofi Luk the other day. It is kind of like a Twix. Kind of.
- It's in the mid 70s/80s temperature-wise, with the humidity at around 70-80%. It gets cooler at night, but it's still rather muggy.
- Convenience shop owners will give you a candy bar or some gum as change if they can't hunt down a 50 piastre piece.
- Everything is cheaper here than I ever thought it could possibly be. The other day, I got a 1.5 liter bottle of water, a Black Currant Fanta, and two candy bar-ish things from one of the corner stores for 5 pounds, which is the equivalent of less than one US dollar.
- Black Currant Fanta is pretty dang tasty.
- Men in Egypt (the ones who smoke, anyway) smoke constantly. Constantly. Even in a cab with the windows rolled up.
- A lot of the women in our dorms stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning doing things, and a lot of stores are open that late as well. However, if you go to look for something at 7 or 8 in the morning, a lot of stores won't be open.
- My dorm is run by a fierce old lady named Hoda, who often refers to herself as Mama Hoda and interrogates anyone coming into the building who she doesn't recognize and frequently asks us if we are getting enough food. The other day, she forced another portion of rice on me.
- We have a curfew, boys aren't allowed in the dorms, and if you go out at night you have to check back in upon your return so that they don't start wondering if you are dead. There are women sitting downstairs all the time to enforce these rules. It is like having 15 very worried moms.
- Since Dylan asked me the other day about what we have for breakfast at the dorms, I thought it might interest people: eggs (hardboiled or scrambled), falafel, and either beans or cheese spread with pita bread (which is served with pretty much every meal).
- Remember in Elf where Will Ferrell is in the bathroom and says to the guy next to him "Have you seen the toilets here? They're ginormous!"? The toilets in Egypt, or at least the ones I have had the privilege of using so far, are pretty much the opposite of this. They are small. Very small.
- I am going to get an Alexandria University student ID this week, and I am kind of happily, aimlessly excited about this.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
[image description: the view from my dorm room in Alexandria. There are several old-looking high-rise buildings and palm trees, as well as a small sports court where we often see kids playing during the day.]
[image description: a sticker on a wooden desk that says "Qiblah Sign", with words written in Arabic that I am too lazy to type out/translate right now, and an arrow pointing forward. It is on the desk in the hotel I stayed in, and tells you which way Mecca is for prayers.]
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
So. My first stopover was in Amsterdam, for 13 hours. I arrived at about 7:30 am, and got through Dutch customs (which is really, really, really easy to get through, at least if you have an American passport) a bit before 8:00 am, at which point I took a train to Amsterdam Central Station.
Let it be known: Amsterdam Central Station is misnamed. It is not really central to anything. It is central to my getting lost, perhaps. I asked a train worker how to get to Museum Square, and between my practically nonexistent Dutch and his not-so-great English, he sent me in a direction that I later figured out was pretty much the opposite of Museum Square. So I wandered around for approximately three hours. Amsterdam is difficult to get one's bearings in, as the streets are all crookedish (that's a word now) and it is impossible to get going in one direction. During this time, three different people asked me for directions in Dutch, which they were then dismayed to find that I do not speak very well at all. At this point you may be wondering "Alex, why did you not just ask someone for directions? Lots of Dutch people speak really awesome English." The answer to this is "I am shy and somewhat stubborn, now shush."
Eventually, I found a public transit map and figured out that I could take a tram to museum square, so I got on the tram and attempted to ask for a ticket in Dutch (I feel bad for the lady who sells tickets on the tram, she must get so tired of tourists coming in and asking for een kaart and throwing Euros at her). It worked, and I eventually made it to Museum Square. At this point I was extremely hungry, so I bought a sandwich and an exotic Dutch diet coke (in Dutch! I have Mad Dutch Skills) and consumed them rapidly. And then I had a waffle. With ice cream. It was magically delicious.
I was originally planning on going to the Rijksmuseum, but it was being remodeled and thus was half-closed down, so I went to the Van Gogh museum instead. I could write about how cool it was all day, but that would get a bit boring, so take my word when I say that the Van Gogh museum was awesome, and totally worth going to. At this point, I decided that I had had enough adventure for one day and went back to the airport. Amsterdam seems really lovely, and I would love to go back sometime when I have another person with me and speak more Dutch. Everyone rides bicycles (without helmets! Safety first, kids!) and looks hipster-y and seems rather pleasant. I was going to try to put some pictures in this post, but that doesn't seem to be working right now. Perhaps later.
My flight from Amsterdam to Cairo was on KLM/Royal Dutch, which is the best airline in the entire history of the world. (Note: your mileage may vary in how much you love KLM). I had so much leg room. The last time I said this about an airline was when I was 5 years old. They also fed me pasta and some kind of cream puff dessert, and their flight attendants are cheerful and tolerated my horrible Dutch-speaking.
Post tomorrow will be on Cairo, aka my hotel room.