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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Coming to a Close

So let me start off by saying the past week i did a lot of sightseeing to the areas in and around Cairo (including the Pyramids) and around Sinai. Although they were fun it was very much of the same thing. Haggling, relaxing, sitting in awe, and of course enjoying my time. The photos will do a that justice.

My friend Sam and his Camel

Pyramids at Giza

Sphinx and the Pyramids

The Blue Hole at Dahab

We went Snorkeling. I did not have any actual swimming trunks so i just used my shorts.

Safa and I rode on the back of the pickup truck because well its funner in the back.

The gulf of Aqaba (or seomthing like that) the one close to the right of the Sinai Penninsula

On top of mount Sinai watching the sunrise.

They say Moses hiked up here to talk to god.

In the distance you can see the monastery of St. Catherine which is one of the oldest monasteries around.

What i really want to write about i guess is what I think I've learned. Its been hard to come up with the exact words for what it is but one thing is for sure i know that i have discovered some things about myself being in a place so very different than home. I think Egypt above all has taught me respect and perspective. Respect? I know it seems so very simple that concept that people have been trying to teach us since we were children but it is different here. Respect is a quality I think we like to talk about but very few people really have and you notice it when you arent in a familiar place surrounded by things you like and enjoy. I mean there are things people here do that i would just be outraged by at home, or things i do which create the same effect among the Egyptians. Its not just differences in cultures, traditions and societies. Its hard to describe but i have to say I think the world could do with a little more respect.
With respect i think comes perspective which is why i think i said i learned a little bit of both. One thing is for sure although i do not think i could ever live in Egypt full time there are many things that im not happy about in the country ranging from the way the throw things away (or lack there of) to the way people act around foreigners and women. Although, there are some things that i think are lacking everywhere else in the world that can be found here in Egypt, despite how rude people can be i have also never thought so many complete strangers could be so nice. Its this weird world of contradictions and i think its that actually that im upset with. That the students at AUC are both the ones on the street protesting the corruption in the government but also sometimes are blatantly cheating on their tests. That both strangers can be so very helpful and offer food and shelter to strangers but, these are the same guys who harass women on the streets for dressing certain ways. Dont get me wrong Egypt is not a horrible place but as with every country, person, and household there is always room for improvement.
For the past 4 months i have lived in a place that well is not really regarded as a welcoming place for tourists. Not anymore at least. Through unrest, revolution, and struggling i do think there is going to be change here in Egypt. I do think the Arab spring has changed the Middle East for better, i remain hopeful that the people within these nations are not that much different from other nations. They want peace, security, and a stable job to feed their family. Its not as full with extremists as the news would sometimes have you think. I'm glad i was able to go out and see a whole different (yet still so very familiar) world with my own eyes. Egypt has been worth it. All the friends and incredible people i have met maybe i will never see again, which however depressing that sounds, i cant be happier. I think ill leave this home away from home happy and sad. One thing is for sure ill have to be back one day. I'm so very lucky to have this opportunity and if anyone reading this is ever wondering to study abroad or go see something out there in our small (huge) world go and do it.


Its been fun Egypt.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Istanbul

Normally i would write much more about my vacation to Istanbul but with finals and papers i decided to be quick but at least write something since my time here in the Middle East is almost over. I actually went to Istanbul almost 2 whole weeks ago.

First off i would like to say that security in Egypt despite the fact you do it three times, is incredible simple process. I know the US we are on the look out for terrorists and such but i mean i still dont understand how it can be such a pain but anyway moving on. Landing in Turkey was a weird experience because it was almost like re-landing in Cairo but this time i knew some things about the place i was going and how to get to the hostel. But again everything was in a weird language i didnt understand (at least the letters though were Latin script) and the metro was not running unfortunately when we arrived. We took a cab and made it to the hostel and one thing that made me instantly realize i was no longer in Egypt traffic lights. Who knew people actually needed them? I had forgotten what it was like to actually stop in the middle of the road not because there was traffic but because a light said to do so. When we arrived at the hostel it was one of my first experiences in such a place 10 people one room and of course im glad i was with 2 friends but the others were strangers. We slept woke up for breakfast were given a small tourist map and Nate, Amro, and I decided the best thing to do our first day was to walk as far as possible and get as lost as possible.
We saw the Blue mosque and other things like the Hagia Sophia. We wandered through the streets and saw the people ate the incredible food.

There is not much to say about to Turkey and Istanbul other than to go and visit it. Its a great city easy to navigate and fun to be in. Im glad i went even if i did miss one day of class. The people were awesome and I had fun. I could go into exact every detail about what i ate and what i saw but I dont think that will help. So instead i posted a lot of pictures more than usual and ill write some captions. A picture is worth a thousand words as they say.
The Blue Mosque the nickname of the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet. Its a  suiting nickname once you see the interior.

Nate having fun photo bombing my picture. But i do admit he did it very well

Still the breathtaking Blue Mosque

Its sad how little of the blue really stands out. But needless to say the Ottomans loved tiles. The mosque is covered every inch with blue tiles or paint. It is incredible.

The Hagia Sophia from the outside. Look similar to the Blue mosque? Its because the blue mosque and almost every mosque in Istanbul/Turkey/ottoman empire is modeled after it.

The view from galata tower which was across the Golden Horn one of the rivers that feed into the Bosphorus. (I think....) Istanbul is a city full of hills and the tower has lasted the test of time to give you a great view of the historic part of the city.


View of Topkapi palace and The Hagia Sophia from the tower. We walked from all the way over there.

Still the view from Galata tower but now with "The new Mosque" in the foreground and the minarets of the blue mosque far off in the distance to the left.

My first cup of Turkish coffee in Turkey. Pretty good but as usualy very very strong. Taste wise, the caffeine doesnt really do anything for me.

View from the roof of the hostel at night of the Hagia Sophia.

The Blue mosque with the only star in the sky and the crescent moon.

The inside of the Hagia Sophia where the Byzanitine emperors were crowned of course before being conquered by the Ottomans. The church faced Jerusalem but upon entering the city and of after course pillaging and stealing as every army did in those days the Sultan called for prayer and brought the army into the church and it still face mecca. Only a slight very slight turn to the right is needed. 

The cistern in the old city which was used to store water.

On the Boat to the Asian side of Istanbul. Public transportation was so easy! Ferry, tram, subway everything was for one turkish lira around 60 cents.

On the Asian side on our last day in the City

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Spring Break Ends and Another One Begins.

So i never really ended my spring break story i realized. I left off right at the end taking the midnight train back to Cairo and man what an experience that was.

My friends and I thought we had figured out the train system and the general rule was that even though you dont have a ticket you can still get on the train and pay on the train but the problem is though that you arent assigned a seat so anyone at anytime can come and claim their seat. Which is exactly what happend for about 3 hours into the night. for three hours i tried to stick with my friend Grace because the idea was that every girl should try to stick with one of the guys but after being kicked out over and over again and slipping by sleeping people to take seats only to realize it was the seat of someone in the bathroom walk around with my large backpack and also the lack of sleep throughout the trip was finally catching up with me. At around 3 i had gotten split up from grace and wandered thorughout the train cars at one point i just gave up hope and told myself the rest of the 8 hours i would stand in the akward  place between cars where everyone goes to smoke their cigarettes. At some point i decided to do what some people do and laid down on the floor in one of the closets between the cars. Lets just say that was the low point of the journey. After being offered lots of cigarettes and other things i saw my friend Nate and he said he managed to find a seat. (Later he would tell me he sat next down to probably the creepiest army officer in all of Egypt... lovely)

I told Nate i would try to find a seat and so after 30 minutes of sitting in the closet/cubical thing (it was not really sitting but rather squeezing myself into a ball they are tiny spaces) i looked again. I walked by these guys who had seen me earlier and being the friendly egyptians that i have met in so many places they spoke in their arabic and i in my broken arabic and i figured out that they were 3 guys for the 2 seats. It happens a lot where they just take rotations and they basically offered for me to join up in their rotation whcih i was so relieved i happily accepted. after about an hour of standing/sitting they all eventually got of at a stop and i finally had not only 1 but 2 seats! all to myself. I was so incredibly happy. But that was short lived when four girls searching for their seats realized that they were separated and asked me politely (and in Arabic and i understood!) if i would move so they could sit together. I really really wanted to say know but it was 5am and i did not want them to go through what i went through. So i gave up my seat luckily at the back of the car there was another seat open.

I sat down where the old man next to me i dont know how but he knew where i was going exactly what time we would arrive and of course said these things only in his broken english even when i told him i understood arabic. I talked to the guys around me who were students I told them i was tired and i finally fell asleep. An hour from Cairo i woke again not only still in the same seat with the pleasant old man but in front of me all my friend Nate Ramsha Grace and Ryan had all managed to find seats near me and were talking to the students i talked to earlier. It started rough but we finally made it home.

Throughout the next week i got to celebrate a birthday/easter with a group of egyptian copts, went back to school for a week then had another small break which my friends Nate Amro and i decided to take advantage of and went to Turkey. Ill save that for next time which hopefully will be soon before i get into finals week.


One thing i did learn though about egypt this trip was how incredibly nice Egyptians can be. Although in Cairo it is different i still have never felt both so safe on a train where everything kept going wrong. Maybe though its because im a man and occasionally blend in. But one thing is for sure people are always capable of surprising you and im glad I traveled egypt and got to meet the people myself. If i listened to what the news had to say about the Middle East and the people then i dont think i would be here enjoying every second. (except that moment in the closet. that was not fun.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring Break 2

So after a nice rest in Qena we took the early morning train down further south to one of the southernmost cities in Egypt called Aswan. Aswan is a great place all the cities further south are much calmer than the craziness that is Cairo. Aswan however is really not as much of an open air museum as Luxor is it still has tons of history to it but mostly a stop for the temple of Abu Simbel and a great place to see the Nile since it is actually clean (well cleaner compared to Cairo) down in Aswan. The hostel again was very close to the train station in the middle of the market but it was a great place we planned to go to Abu Simbel the following day but the bus left at 4 in the morning to arrive at the temple close to 8. That however was later in the mean time we decide to get on a faluka (a single sail boat) and just enjoy the sunset on the Nile.






The next day we took the early bus and arrived at Abu Simbel where Ramses the 2nd decided the best way to show how important he was, was by making four massive statues of himself to cover his tomb. Which i do think did the job very well. Apparently the only name of a pharaoh still known before the finding of the Rosetta stone and the translation of egyptian hieroglyphics was the name Ramses the 2nd. So he accomplished what he wanted was remembered and his mummy is now in the Egyptian museum. Although im sure he did not want for his body to be on display but hopefully he does not mind now it has been almost 3000 years so maybe he does not care so much anymore. One cool thing during the trip to Abu Simbel was the fact that the other 5 people on the bus to the temple were actually in fact egyptoligts from no where else other than Poland. So i got to practice my polish with Piotr and the rest of the Egyptologists and thankfully they gave us some great information about all the sites we ended up visiting that day.



Piotr accidentaly hit record instead of taking a photo.




Later that day we decided to meet back up with the captain of our Feluka from the day before and he managed to procure us some very special fish made in egypt for Easter. I am not exactly sure what it is called but apparently its never cooked but just placed with spices and salt underground for a couple of weeks. The salt and peppers cure the fish and well since im still here today the fish was edible. I dont think i would eat it again it was so incredibly salty but it was an interesting experience.




Aswan was a great place to visit and im glad we enjoyed our time there. But we still had the long train ride back to Cairo filled with even more awkward meetings and stressful times.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring Break

So its been a while since i posted but to be fair nothing truly interesting happened until spring break and while on spring break i most definitely did not have internet access. I will most likely split up my Spring break trip into  two or three separate posts since it was pretty great fun time.

So Thursday the 5th we decided to celebrate my friend Ramsha's birthday at a restaraunt in Cairo it was great Indian food which is one thing she said she really missed from home so we ate had a good time and a great view of the city and then relaxed at a friends apartment for the rest of the night until we fell asleep only to get up at 5 to catch a cab then the metro to the train station in Cairo. I have to say the first part of the journey was not too difficult we got on the train and from all the contradictory stories i heard about how bad/good the train would be i was suprised that it really is not that bad. We sat down paid for our ticket then enjoyed the 10 hour train ride to the South of egypt the city of Luxor ahead of us. One thing i do have to have to complain about was the guy selling his, i think is was bread and cheese, because he seemed so unhappy and he walked from car to car just yelling the same repetitive set of words. 

However the view of the Egyptian country side towards the Nile was still very beautiful. So surprisingly green but the other side of the train was nothing but desert and mountains.


The first day in Luxor we were met by our hostel manager actually at the train station and he had no problem taking us to the hotel only a block or two away it seems that because of the revolution most of the tourist business has died relatively and so he treated us as best as he possibly could. We wandered the temples late at night since the 10 hours train ride took us all day and we arrived at sunset. We rested and then visited Luxor temple and Karnak in the morning.



Later that day we took a train an hour north to a small city an hour north of Luxor called Qena. Ryan managed to meet a great guy mahmoud just completely over the internet although he did not tell us that at the time so we wandered into this town met mahmoud and his friend ahmed and were brought to his university thinking that we would just have a casual talk with his English club. we then were ushered into this large auditorium put in-front of a small crowd with microphones and a small panel. Quite ridiculous but it was still a a great time. Mahmoud invited us to have koshary at his home and then we relaxed the rest of the day meeting people from Qena. It was a great time and so many great people. (Also a lot of Ahemds i think i met 5 Ahmeds that day.

Mahmoud Ahmed Ryan Grace Ramsha Nate and I in front of a fountain in Qena.







Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cairo Tower Egyptian Museum and Tahrir Square

So last week i had a Monday off because of Taba liberation day. (Im not really sure where Taba is and my roommate who is Egyptian also had to look it up apparently it is near Isreal which makes sense if Egypt is liberating something its most likely from the Isrealis.) Anyway so on Monday my friend Nate and I wanted to escape campus and go exploring and hopefully get to the Egyptian Museum.

I would just like to preface this story with the fact that the Egyptian Museum website is the worst in the world and if someone wanted to find a job in egypt with some basic html skills they could easily design websites for people in Egypt i mean it was terrible. So for this reason we had no idea when the museum opened of closed but out of fear it would close at two (a lot of government run buildings close around two in Egypt.) we decided we will walk over inquire for next time because the earliest bus leaving campus was at 12. We got on the bus arrived in Zamalek (island in denial (it sounds like the nile get it?)) and had some ful and tumiyya (beans and falafel) from a street vendor which cost us like 2 pounds hitched a cab to Cairo tower or Burg Al-Qahira.

It was a really quick cab ride over and the cab driver was a nice guy asked us how we were enjoying Cairo so far since he instantly realized we were Americans. So Cairo I realized has actually does not really have any sky scrapers its a city full of 18 million people almost and the tallest building around is Cairo tower or maybe the Pyramids. Which compared to building in New York well are not nearly as tall maybe back before the switch to AD they were really tall but not compared to todays buildings. Anyway we went up the tower took some photos and decided to walk across the bridge down to Tahrir square where the old AUC campus was, the Egyptian Museum, and of course where Egypt had its revolution/ is having.
West side of Cairo or Giza
Well we got down started crossing Nate turns to me and says "Julian i look extra white today, so if we get arrested im sorry." It was fine other than of course trying to cross the streets Tahrir was quiet with lots of murals and people selling Egyptian flags. A regular day but it was still really cool to be in a place where a year ago people were revolting and maybe now they will have a government that is run by the people Insha Allah.


Through the smog you can kind of see the Pyramids

East said of Cairo across that bridge is Tahrir

I'm in denial
So we start heading to the museum but we decided to wait for a bit because Nate had invited Nadine a girl from our Art and Architecture course to join us even though shes Egyptian she has not really seen the whole museum which makes sense because it was immense. Before that though we met a guy who of course "worked at the museum" said he was going to a mosque to pray but that nate and I should visit this really cool place across the street. For once we thought this guy was legit he even stopped nagging us and started to leave. Then out of the goodness of his heart he said hey why not i have time ill take you guys over there! 5 seconds later im in this small shop with a guy trying to sell me "real papyrus look government stamped antiquity." Not even sure what that means then he decided instead of buying papyrus we looked like the guys who needed essential oils, perfume and cologne. He let us try the lotus flower scent which i do have to say smelt pretty good. When we had the chance we made a bad excuse and got out of there.

As soon as we step outside , "Hey! Dont worry im not a tour guide. I work at the museum there is this really cool place you should come buy. But dont feel preassure im going to go pray. Actually i have the time let me just take you two there!" after "uncle Hassam like uncle Sam but HAssam" took us to another store awfully simliar to the last one we were of course sprayed with tutunkhamun and ramses the 2nd scents. After Hassam asked if Nate had a girlfriend back at home for every day of the week we left and the again, "HEY! Dont worry im not a tour guide. I work at the museum there is this really cool place you sohuld come buy. Im going to pray so ill just show you its right around the corner!" but this time instead of Uncle Hassam it was to me "I am from upper egypt and you have the face of a Nubian, but not the color!" very clever. We got out of this mans deal and crossed back the street and entered the museum with Nadine.





The Museum was incredible. I realize how someone could spend all day there and still not see everything i mean this is almost 4 thousand years of history and even though i was not allowed to take photos it was incredible. I saw king Tut (right above), mummies, statues, art, real papyrus, greek art, roman, chariots, tombs, golden boats, i mean just everything possible. The only problem as with everything tourists pay the special tourists price i mean all in all i spent 15 dollars but it was sad to go with Nadine because she spent only 1. But still a successful day i would have to say.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Alexandria

So this trip actually happened a week ago but with exams, school work and my late arrival back at campus i never really had time to write about it. ISA (International student association) took a group of people to a small retreat outside of Cairo called Anafora and then to Alexandria for the weekend.



Anafora (which i did not really take any pictures of) was a very small quaint place. It was run by the coptic church but it was open to anyone and it seemed like a place from a movie. Somewhere a traveler would go to rest meet incredibly nice people and just forget about the world. It was nice, reminded me very much of a farm or village in Mexico. After a nice 2 hours we then got back on the bus for Alexandria.

Alexandria is an incredible city. Much simpler than Cairo because the whole City is just on the edge of the Mediterranean sea. One long huge street takes you through the whole city and the other side you have the sea. Maybe because it was Friday or maybe because its a city right on the beach it was so much more relaxed, it seemed friendlier to Cairo (or maybe since i was with an egyptian and apparently i can pass for an egyptian), and well a just generally calmer. The night we arrived we stayed at a nice hotel that of course ISA always manages to book for a great price since we come with a large group. We had a lot of free time in the afternoon which a group of friends and I took advantage of by going to a famous sea food restaraunt. I've heard stories of people from Cairo driving to Alexandria just to go eat then drive back down the same night. Its a 4 hour drive, the food was that good, and that inexpensive.

Balba' which apparently means to pig out was packed with locals, very funny and helpful waiters, and of course different stations for all your food. I must say im not the biggest fan of sea food but even I know this was great food. Thinking about it just makes me want to go back.



The next morning we toured some of the historic sites in Alexandria like some of the Roman catacombs, old egyptian forts, and the New library of Alexandria built on what they think are the remnants of the old one. Saw some books that are over a thousand years old, saw a part of the cloth that they used to cover the Qaba at one point, and it also serves as a museum for some of the more colonial periods. It was a great time.


I have to say Egypt is a great place for tourists i realize why now its economy was based on tourism and also why now its in such dire straits without the regular flow of foreigners. I dont want to sound like an ad but if for some reason you ever want to visit the Middle East so far its been 2 months and there is not one thing i regret. Well not being fluent in arabic is one thing, if i was i could probably get even more discounts at historical sites by faking being Egyptian. Oh well. For next time.