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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Connecting to the 'Net

As was the case last year, when we hooked up our phone, there was no dial tone.  That meant no DSL connection to the Internet.

After a few calls and some exchange of money we had a trouble-shooter on the job.  You may recall that last year our building's front door and telephone connection looked like this:

This year, the HDF Safety Door company on the left side is gone, the Bridal shop has turned into a Pool Accessories store and things look like this:

I should add, do not put your retail business into our ground floor!  People have tried everything from a car dealership to wedding planning - nothing has lasted more than a year except a tire-repair business.  (You can see a couple of the previous businesses on this post.)

Our telephone man could not immediately access the roof and track down the broken wire.  He naturally wanted to take an easy solution and run a new wire out the living room window and down the front of the building.  I objected strongly on the advice of my interior design consultant, Linda.  We soon got the building bawaab involved (more money!) and managed to get the telephone man up onto the roof.

The wire, of course, was broken somewhere near where the Safety Door sign was ripped out.  A few feet of new wire were spliced in and we had dial tone.

The DSL connection was established after the passage of another day.  Of course, it disappeared about once a day for the past three days.  I am optimistic that we will stay connected now - but I am one hell of an optimist.
A look at the current wiring reveals much about Egypt.  Yes, those are all telephone lines.  The light bulb dangling by twisted wires hanging below an opening in the balcony is normal practice here.  Sometimes I have been asked if Egypt has building codes.  It is hard to explain.

Surprisingly, this was not our biggest problem.  I will talk about water tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What's the Weather Like in Egypt?

What's the weather like in Egypt is a frequent question we hear.  I usually describe it as "about like the weather in Phoenix."  Checking on Accuweather today I see that Phoenix will have a low of 48 and a high of 67.  Our thermometer here in Cairo registered an overnight low of 48 yesterday and a high of 68.  I'd say that is pretty darn close!

But today is a different day...

When the wind blows here in the winter, the fine sand of the Sahara turns the sky to a golden glow and cools the temperature.  Do not go outside!  Breathing the dust is unpleasant and it gets into places you would never imagine.

Here is a photograph from our back balcony a couple of days ago alongside one from this afternoon.

The weather forecast describes the situation this way.

After a few hours, things have begun to settle down.  This usually happens a couple of times each winter during our stay - but usually in late February or March.  I guess you would call it unseasonably sandy.

To Cairo - 2019

We are frequently asked, "how long is the trip to Egypt?"  The short answer is, "About twelve hours of flying time."

But the agony of the trip is in how those twelve hours are distributed!  After extensive research, Linda got us a good deal on a Delta/Air France flight plan that took just about 24 hours, thanks to an eleven hour layover in Paris.  There was a cheaper fare that took 36 hours but there's a point where the trade off of money vs time goes in favor of time.  We headed for the airport at about 1:00 p.m.  I only had about a half hour to pack prior to leaving due to my poor preparation habits, ie. procrastination.  All of our flying was at night so I don't have any pictures this year of the arctic ice pack or the Alps, etc.

We had a nice tailwind which gave us a mere seven hours and eighteen minutes flying time to Paris.  We flew a bit more southerly route than usual.  Most people watch movies, I watch the flight info and read the newspapers.  We had seats in row 55 on the Boeing 777.  Who knew there were row numbers that large?  Which airline will be the first to squeeze sixty rows onto a plane?


In Paris, we changed terminals at Charles De Gaulle airport requiring another run through security before ending up in Terminal 2F.  This terminal is still undergoing some remodeling but the seats in the waiting area all have good electrical connections - a far cry from a few years back when travelers shared the secret outlet locations in airports around the world.


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The food situation in a country known for its cuisine, was dismal - $8 sandwiches are available.  But the restaurant highlight in our waiting area is the YO! sushi bar, part of a small Paris chain.  Reviews on-line range from excellent to awful - with more tending toward the latter.  But the entertainment value of the dishes rotating along the counter earns high praise.  It surprised us how many Westerners sat here and ate their food with great ease using chopsticks. I have posted a 30-second YouTube of the show below since still photos don't convey the real atmosphere.  To play it, click on the triangle in the center of the second photo.


Much of the day this area of the terminal is quite empty.  Our gate for the flight to Cairo always seems to be down at the end where the smoking booth is hidden away and that's always a good opportunity for people-watching.


The second leg of the trip is about four hours from Paris to Cairo.  It had been about 36 hours since our last good sleep, so we both caught a good nap on this flight, waking up as we approached the Egyptian coastline.


Cairo now has a first class modern airport terminal.  We bought our visas on arrival for $25 apiece, cleared customs quickly, found our bags and were outside in short order.  The terminal has a giant Christmas tree with Santa Claus featured prominently.  They don't quite have the candy cane right, though.  Christmas here is on the Orthodox calendar (Egyptian Christians have their own pope, too) and so falls on January 6.

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We arrived at the apartment around midnight local time and did a little shopping at nearby Ragab Sons grocery supermarket, picking up a package of fifteen eggs, some milk and the like so that we'd have breakfast food available upon rising..  "Deck the Halls" was playing over the speaker system in the store, something we find amusing in a store owned by conservative  Muslims. Makes us wonder if Egyptian Christians even sing Christmas carols.

We slept well.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Fall of 2019

We have arrived back in Cairo for another winter.  I feel I should update you on all our activities during the summer and fall before starting any Egypt blogging - but Linda says our readers just want to know what is going on here now.

But I am going to mention that Linda and the traveling ladies spent two weeks in Croatia.

There is a an album of photos of the group on tour available on Flickr.  Just follow this link.

And we took a driving tour of eleven states in seven days just after Thanksgiving.  Following that, I spent several days in California while attending the memorial service of a dear departed cousin.  There is a Flickr album that covers those trips too.  Follow this link.

I think I should squeeze in just a few pictures too:

While Linda was gone, I spent a week over at the Charles Babbage Institute where there are 700 boxes of Burroughs/ElectroData corporate papers from the 1950s, '60s and '70s.  I was joined by two other researchers from California and Tasmania for the week.
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That post-Thanksgiving trip took us to the Museum at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and a display of a Calutron control panel.
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If you don't know what a Calutron is, be sure to look up the Calutron Girls and maybe even read the book, The Girls of Atomic City.

In Salem,Virginia, we found the exact location of the Langhorne Flour Mill which you can see pictured in this previous blog post.  We even met a descendent of old J. C. Langhorne.
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There was much more excitement to our autumn, but I will just leave you with a reminder of our backyard bird watching and then we can move on to Egypt blogging.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018


We've previously written that when the garlic comes to market we know it's time to leave Egypt for Minnesota.

A friend told us that when it's garlic season his wife buys 20 kilos and preserves it. 20 kilos is 44 pounds. That does include the weight of the stems but it's still a lot of garlic.  His wife, mother-in-law and two daughters gather in the house to peel and chop the garlic in preparation for freezing it to use throughout the entire year.  He plans to be away from the house the entire day because that's how long the preparation takes.  He said the entire house smells of garlic for a couple days.


Another friend says that his family buys 50 kilos of garlic in season.  That's 110 pounds!  No wonder the dinners are always so good at that house.  At this house they preserve the garlic in oil.  When we expressed amazement at that amount he said that the price will go up to 30 EGP per kilo (about $1.76) from a low of 2 EGP ($.12).  Who would want to pay that amount?  Back at the apartment we asked our neighbor if she buys a large amount during the season.  She said that she prefers fresh garlic so she does not stockpile it except for maybe one kilo that will hang on the balcony until used.

Friday, March 30, 2018




One of our special friends in Cairo was Gamal (the name means "horse" in Arabic.)  We received word today that Gamal had passed away suddenly yesterday at age 50 as the result of a heart attack.

It was a fortunate day back in 2013 when Gamal approached us on our daily walk and offered to buy us tea at a local coffee-shop a few blocks from our home.  Gamal was one of the many victims of "The Revolution" in 2011 which virtually eliminated the tourist trade.  He had worked with tourists  at a horse stable for a number of years.  Fluent in English, he was as amiable a personality as one will meet in this country.  He did his best to teach me the art of  dominoes.

A week or so later we encountered Gamal again and took him up on his offer to visit his home for tea.  His charming wife, Samiya, provided the tea.  For the next five years we were regular visitors.  I have many pictures of Gamal - almost all including one or more of his children and their cousins whom he doted over.
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We always made it a point to bring some gifts that might make life a bit easier for Gamal and his family.  He was a fisherman which helped out a bit with the food budget.  We brought some new fishing gear and his brother told us today that one of the last things he had done this week was to go fishing.

Gamal and Samiya kept a small flock of chickens and ducks close to the house to also help provide food.

Gamal leaves behind four children, ages 2 to 15 years old. We miss you Gamal. Thank you for enriching our lives.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Save Mart Comes to Marioteya

There are not a lot of exciting retail businesses down on our end of the Marioteya canal.  Yes we have what must be Egypt's largest Papyrus and Perfume shop named Golden Eagle Papyrus.  But what if you are just looking for some fresh tomatoes and cucumbers?  It's a long hike up to the vegetable market next to El-Hekma Chicken (the best chicken in the city!)

Finally, a new market has opened for fruit and vegetables, just behind the landmark Ragab Sons supermarket.  The big sign on the corner says "Save Mart."

Fresh produce is a big attraction to us during our winter visits to Egypt.  At prices of 2.50 to 5 EGP per kilogram  (seven to 14 cents a pound) we enjoy the vegetables of the season.  Prices for bananas and strawberries can range up to two or three times more.

The structure of Save Mart just screams "low overhead" and seems to epitomize what city planner, David Sims, describes as"informal Cairo" in his classic Understanding Cairo, the Logic of a City Out of Control.

Think of this as a combination farmer's market and flea market back in the states and you won't be too far off base.  At its heart is a large, well-stocked collection of fresh vegetable merchants.

We recognized at least one couple who were previously doing a slow business closer to our flat. All of the merchants were exceptionally friendly.
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The variety being offered even includes fresh grape leaves for rolling stuffed grape leaves - not found just anywhere.

Around the periphery there is chicken and fish for sale.  There are even a few specialty shops selling plastic, cleaning products and the like.

Last year, this corner was just  a vacant lot surrounded by a brick wall.  You never know what will happen as the neighborhood grows.  Now if someone would just open a bakery - perhaps in this empty stall.

Garlic Season

Once again, we are nearing the end of our winter stay in Cairo.  We know that it is just about time to leave when we start to see the truckloads of garlic arriving in the city.

This year we encountered something approaching garlic convoys on our trips out to the Fayoum area.  The loads come in all sizes.

Eventually, most of it ends up being sold from the back of donkey carts for 2.50 EGP per kilo (about seven cents a pound).

Some friends buy it and freeze it while others hang on the balcony where it will stay usable for months.  Everyone knows the price will only rise as the year goes by and it will be selling for 10 EGP or more before next season.  There is scarcely a dish that can be prepared here without a good base of tomato and garlic.

There was garlic in everything in this meal except the salad.  And it was good!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Visit to the Pyramid at Maidum

A friend asked if we would be interested in taking a trip out to the village of Maidum where his cousin lived.  We could visit the nearby pyramid while we were in the area.  We naturally responded, "Y es."

Maidum (also sometimes found as Meidum or Maydum in English transliteration) is a tiny village located about fifty miles south of Cairo near the main north-south highway that runs parallel to the Nile.

Heading south from the city toward Faiyum, the highway splits and the route toward Maidum/Asyut quickly becomes first rate desert.  It's 399 km, or about 240 miles further to Asyut.
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The black ribbon near the horizon is the road to Asyut.  We have pulled off and come up the dirt road to the top of a small hill with a good view.  The long building without windows on the right is a chicken coop.  It appears that there are a few building being constructed in this area, just barely beyond the Faiyum oasis, visible as green vegetation on the right.

Approaching the Faiyum Oasis, farmland appears along with the occasional desert villa that makes you think of perhaps building your own fantasy castle.

On the Faiyum Oasis there are a multitude of large and small farms raising grain, onions and other crops.


Livestock seems to be mostly smaller operations, probably to meet the individual farmer's needs. 
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Water is the key to crops in the desert and there is the usual series of canals around Faiyum as well as evidence of pumping from wells.

Exit the Cairo-Asyut highway, turning East, and the Maidum pyramid appears quickly on the horizon on this clear day.
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The village and surrounding farmland provide a picturesque setting for this unusual lone pyramid that stands some three hundred feet tall.  
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The literature credits the Maidum pyramid to Sneferu and it is possibly the next pyramid built after the Step Pyramid on the other side of the Nile.  The Wikipedia entry includes an interesting reconstruction diagram showing the original seven layers.  It appears that there is quite a bit of dispute about when the original building collapsed and shed its outer coat.

It's about another 200 miles on south to Asyut.  From there, it is reportedly a pretty drive along the Nile south to Aswan.  Linda has been wondering if perhaps we should rent a car for a month and drive some of these roads ourselves.  She has just about got me talked into it.