What's New On Tom's Travel Blog?

Flickr has been improved! Almost all photos on this blog come from my Flickr Photostream. You can now go directly to a page that shows all of my Flickr photo sets by following this link. It's the easiest way to navigate in my on-line photos.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

We're Back on the Internet!

After suffering 4 full days of Internet speed like this:

Vodafone has returned to this speed:

Yes, 2208 kbps versus 14 - around 150 times faster.  Check your speed here.

For $21 dollars a month, it's a pretty good deal when it's working.

(Next day Update:  We are back to about 30 and suffering again on Thursday afternoon.  the original post was written on Wednesday evening.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Three Less Commonly Visited Mosques - Part 1, Qurqumas

A week or so ago, we spent a day visiting The City of the Dead / Tombs of the Mamluks / three mosques below the Moqattam hillside near the Citadel.  I suppose that a little background is in order.

The usually comprehensive Wikipedia offers only a brief article that describes the City of the Dead.  It includes these points:
  • It is a 4 miles (6.4 km) long (north-south) dense grid of tomb and mausoleum structures, where some people live and work amongst the dead.
  • The neighborhood has been characterized as a slum.
  • Its current population may exceed half a million people. 
Tour Egypt offers a lengthier description here.   It notes:
  • For many Cairenes the City of the Dead is a mysterious, foreboding area. Many Cairenes are aware of its existence but few understand this group of vast cemeteries that stretches out along the base of the Moqattam Hills.
  • More than five million Egyptian live in these cemeteries, and have formed their own enterprises
  • There are five major cemeteries in this city there, the Northern Cemetery, Bab el Nasr Cemetery, the Southern Cemetery, the Cemetery of the Great, and Bab el Wazir Cemetery ... 
I suppose that some conclusions to draw from these descriptions are that no one really knows how many people live in the City of the Dead and that any attempt to describe a four-mile-long section of Cairo in a few paragraphs is doomed to failure.

I thought that size and population might be a good place to start in describing this area since most articles or descriptions that I have read concentrate on some tiny portion of the area.  What you might find will depend on where you visit and a lot of writers do visit.  So here are a few thoughts that I have on the City of the Dead.
  • It is definitely where many of the garbage collectors live.  This occupation generally falls to the Christians and you will find this part of the four mile long area in the south, near Coptic Cairo.
  • It seems that every taxi driver and private car owner knows a route through the City of the Dead as a shortcut to avoid traffic when moving between downtown and the outskirts along the Ring Road.
  • The narrow roads and alleys offer unlimited photographic opportunities.
  • There are many interesting monuments to be found in the northern part of the area, within that Northern Cemetery listed above.  That is where we are headed in this post.
Salah Salem street runs from the southwest to the northeast, past the Citadel and Al Azhar Park.  Continue a bit farther to the northeast and the funerary complex of Qurqumas will be found not far to the east of the road. 

Qurqumas was one of the more prominent of the fierce Mamluks who ruled Egypt from around 1250-1500 A.D.  In building elaborate mausoleums with associated mosques, their major architectural contribution was the dome.  You will find quite a large number of surviving domes in this area.

There is an excellent write-up of both Qurqumas, the warrior, and this funerary complex at touregyptnet.  It is not dated but makes reference to a couple of restoration efforts dating from 1983 on.  As we entered the building, it was apparent that there is still restoration work underway.  I had to stop and photograph the electrical box.  I checked with an electrical engineer back home and he definitely didn't think this was an example of doing things right.  It's not clear whether the power being tapped off ahead of the breakers is for the construction effort or for someone's living space.

We moved on and looked at the work being done on ceilings.  The wooden ornamentation is beautiful as it is being refinished.

The dome interior deserves special attention.

We climbed the stone stairways to the area at the base of the dome where most of the dome pictures shown above were taken.  The interior archways and narrow hallways also form interesting patterns.

I took one picture from here that included the Citadel.  I recalled having seen several old pictures of Mamluk tombs with the Citadel in the background and wanted to compare those to my own view.  I was surprised to find that those pictures are taken of a completely different set of tombs well to the south of the Citadel while these are to the north.  A couple of those other views can be found here and here.  Cornell University Library has several excellent black and white images of Cairo from the late 1800s including the Mamluk tombs which can be found here.  They license their collection freely, so I cleaned up one of their pictures and am placing it next to my shot from the opposite end of the City of the Dead.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

This Blog Is on Hiatus

We stopped by the Vodafone store today to pick some more gigabytes for Linda's iPad for the final week of our stay.  I inquired about the woefully slow Internet speed we have experienced over the past two or three days.

"There are issues in the Network," replied Moustafa.  (my good friend Amr was not working today.)

"When do you think it will be fixed," I inquired."

"In this area?  Never!

We left with 3 more gigas for Linda and resigned ourselves to not much access. 

I used the CNET broadband speed test (available at this link) and found that we are running about 18 to 30 thousand bits per second (bps).  If you are old enough, you may remember when dialup speeds got to be as high as 56 thousand bps.

I suppose this is a better situation than last year when Linda was told that her connection problem was due to a "bidding in her oteresk."  At least we all understand what network issues are.

By the way, my present connection is much better than yesterday's.  So perhaps I will get a few more pictures up in the next few days.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Our Afternoon in Fayoum

I confess to total confusion about the city of Fayoum and the surrounding area.  By the time we reached the city, it was well past lunchtime and we were looking for a restaurant.  Linda and I were thinking of some nice quiet spot on a town square near the waterwheel I mentioned in a previous post.  It turns out that that square is a few miles away at Ain El Selini.  The city of Fayoum has a population of over 300,000 as listed in this estimate.  The main square downtown holds a famous ancient obelisk, now covered with revolution graffiti.

The articles that I linked to earlier in the Sisi post noted the poverty of the town and surrounding agricultural area.  We noticed both cotton and sugar beets moving along the road into town.

A circus was in town with the usual assortment of acts.  Tickets were 20, 30 or 40 pounds - about $3-$6.

As we cruised past the courthouse, there were quite a number of the standard Egyptian "paddy wagons," apparently with prisoners aboard as people were standing around talking through the screened windows.  I restrained myself from photographing this action. - lots of police standing around on traffic and crowd control duty.

All restaurant recommendation from other drivers,  pedestrians and traffic cops (life really is different here!  We had a lengthy conversation with a taxi driver in the lane next to us.) pointed to "el zowie" or perhaps "al sowie."  The word was that people come from miles around to eat there and that it would be clean and suitable for westerners.  It's amazing how much information can be gathered in heavy traffic by an inquisitive driver.  We soon arrived.  OMG! It's a fried chicken joint.

The choices being chicken, chicken or chicken, we opted for the "mixed grill."  It was a quite a large meal for  about $4.50

The service was excellent, and so was the food.  They didn't have "lemoon fresh," our favorite lemonade drink but sent out for some on our behalf.

I was intrigued by this horse and carriage that we spotted on the way into town, so I spent some time searching the Internet before starting this post.

The city of Fayoum really doesn't seem set up for tourists.  It appears, however, that there are carriage rides into the agricultural areas.  I found this description of a sustainable agricultural tour in the area.  

I think we are going to have to put a trip to the Valley of the Whales (by 4x4 "Gyp") on next year's agenda along with a proper return to the waterwheel and springs at Ain El Selini.  That agenda is getting crowded since we also thinking of a camel trek south from Giza to Abu Sir next year too.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wadi el-Rayan - The Waterfall

Egypt has a large number of "protected areas" and National Parks.  It's unfortunate that they don't have some form of Senior Pass that they could use to promote more tourism.  Once we decided that discretion was the better part of valor and crossed Wadi el-Hitan off our itinerary for the day, we retreated to the asphalt road and returned to the waterfall of Wadi el-Rayan.  We have been here before but thought it was worth a second look.

When we were here in 2006, it was a cold and very windy day.  I did manage to take this picture of the restroom facilities, though, in spite of blowing sand.

I believe they have done some landscaping since that time and the facility looks much more appealing.

In addition, there is a very attractive visitor center which was locked.  An attendant soon appeared with keys to open it for us, however, and we had a look around at a number of exhibits which focus on ecology, water and the nearby fossilized whale bones.

Outside, the attention is all on the waterfall.  There are actually a couple of them.  This one is the larger.  It is not exactly Niagara Falls but it is a pleasant surprise considering the location.

Here is a picture of the lesser falls taken from 2006.

The reason that there is a waterfall out here in the desert is that it connects the two man-made lakes that were created to capture excess water flowing into Lake Qarun as a result of steadier flow of the Nile following the construction of the Aswan High Dam.  The story is told in the museum exhibits.

Return to Fayoum - Part 2

Well, if we had known we were going into the Sahara for the better part of a day, we would have provisioned ourselves differently.  It wasn't hot by desert standards, but all we had along was three small bottles of water and a single cheese sandwich.  Now our driver had made some inquiries and been told that the journey to the Valley of the Whales was best done in a four-wheel drive vehicle (or a "Gyp" as they are called here.)  I might go so far as to suggest two Gyps and a tow strap, a large volume of water and some food.  Sort of like what you might bring along on a trip into a blizzard warning area back home.

Nevertheless, we left the major road along Lake Qarun and headed toward the entrance to the large Egypt Protected Area of Wadi el-Rayan in our low-slung 4-door sedan.  This map should help.

We usually have to slow to a crawl at speed bumps and take them diagonally to avoid scraping the undercarriage of this car, so you can imagine the clearance level.  At around 10:30, I was starting to think about about a tea break as we reached the gate to the Protected Area and paid our admission fees.

The sign  near the entrance states a rate of $3 US for "foreigners."  I suspect that it hasn't been updated in some time.

We paid 40 Egyptian pounds (about $6) for each "foreigner."  The vehicle still got in for 5.

This sign, just beyond the entrance, was the first indication that we still had a long way to go. 

We passed the "Waterfalls" and along the way asked the few drivers that we saw for directions to "Hitan."  Remember, we are in Egypt and no Egyptian carries a map, much less a GPS.  You can always just ask.  (I know that some readers, who have been in Egypt, are chuckling!)  With good directions in hand, we turned off the asphalt at the second radio tower - not a cellphone tower judging from phone signal levels.  We encountered this sign as we moved down the sand road, now barely distinguishable from the surrounding desert.

We drove about half of those kilometers before the road just sort of disappeared.

Our driver asked, "where should we go now?"  I told you that Egyptians always ask for directions!  I suggested, "back where we came from."  Did I mention that the front wheels were now sitting off the road in soft sand?

We retreated from the road to Wadi el-Hitan and headed back to the waterfall at Wadi el-Rayan.  I had briefly envisioned newspaper articles about the Americans who drove into the Sahara and perished from dehydration accompanied by photos of footprints like this.

It's a shame that we weren't able to make it to Wadi el-Hitan since pictures I have seen of the scenery in the valley are quite impressive.  That might be a greater attraction than the fossilized whale bones.  Wikipedia's entry for the valley notes this:
Only about 1,000 visitors a year drive into wadi Al-Hitan by 4WD because the track is unpaved and crosses unmarked desert sands. For the most part, visitors to wadi Al-Hitan are foreigners, who usually camp in the valley on winter weekends.
 You see - the sum total of all human knowledge really is on the Internet - much of it within Wikipedia.  Even a good GPS wouldn't provide you with that kind of useful information.

Return to Fayoum - Part 1

In the past, we have made a couple of memorable trips to the Fayoum Oasis, located about sixty miles, as the crow flies, to our southwest.  Of course, no one ever travels like the crows here in Egypt, so we began our journey by heading north st 8:30 in the morning to catch the southerly Cairo-Fayoum road.  We were planning on heading to the point indicated by the red arrow.  Our driver, thinking we would be "in the neighborhood" was more interested in showing us the petrified whale bones at Wadi el-Hitan, or Valley of the Whales.


At that early time, bus riders were standing near the major square near the pyramids.  Some carried construction tools and others had lunches from the nearby Gad sandwich shop.

Our earlier post about traveling to Fayoum to with a police escort and our rope-tow return in 2009 can be found here.  The excursion to the nearby pyramid at Hawara can be found here.

We had fond memories of the drive along the lakeshore and of the village square at Fayoum with waterwheel and basket artisans.

A closer look at that route map on Google, shows the path along the lakeshore and the entrance to

the Wadi el-Rayan Protected Area. (Wadi is Arabic for valley.)

Switch over to the Google Earth Terrain view and the final part of that route leading to Wadi el-Hitan looks even more interesting.

We left the blacktop and headed out into the Sahara, passing this marker.

(to be continued)

Flickr Changes Their Mind - Again! (for techies only)

I was going to publish the next post down last night before I went to bed.  Unfortunately, when I tried to include the first photograph, Flickr would not let me link to my photo.  There was no link code displayed at all when I clicked on their "Share" icon.  I played with it for a while, then gave up and decided to come back to it today.

This morning, I tried the exact same thing, and, like magic, not only did the "Share" icon display my size options and link code but the old "direct sharing" html link was back!  There are now two "radio buttons" options available where there were none for the past couple of months.

Good grief - the Internet is the wild wild west of the computer frontier.

Here is the the way Flickr now lets you share a picture on your blog.  I will display it two ways.  First, using the iframe embed code that has been the only option for the past two months.

And now I'll use the new html link code that had been "disappeared" for those same two months.

No difference to you, right?  Except that if you "mouse over" the first image, you can run through the whole set while "mouse over" on the second produces the information that I have not not titled the image and it gives you a link to the single image in the set.  By the way, if you click the right arrow to run through that set, you will be able to see the two "radio buttons" that I am talking about.

This will no doubt produce a lot of happy faces for bloggers that use WordPress since that service doesn't support iframes at all.  There has been considerable gnashing of teeth by these folks since the previous Flickr change.

Flickr had justified the dropping of the direct link with a hard-to-find message in one of their FAQs:
The direct link to a photo file is no longer shown on the page. Per the Flickr Community Guidelines "pages on other websites that display content hosted on flickr.com must provide a link from each photo or video back to its page on Flickr." Linking directly to the photo file doesn't do this.
I am anxious to see if they now "disappear" that FAQ!

Another Sisi Poster Update

Today was spent traveling out into the Sahara "near" the city of Fayoum.  (also spelled Faiyum.)  Fayoum is about sixty miles southwest of our apartment and we arrived after about a seven hour drive.  Obviously, that will require some explanation, but I am too tired to give it right now.

But a few small things worth mentioning.  The desert is interesting.  Here is one picture.

After we arrived in Fayoum, I noted that there were no posters of General Sisi to be found anywhere in the area.  Our friend who was driving replied, "that's because this is a Muslim Brotherhood town!"

That didn't surprise me.  Fayoum has appeared from time to time over the past few years on the State Department's list of suggested "don't travel there" lists for Egypt.  At the moment it has no special status there.  Fayoum did get special attention in a NYT article last July which noted  , "... the Brotherhood, who attracted overwhelming support from voters in Fayoum, a stronghold for Islamists..."  Also, see this BBC piece from 2012:
At a nearby polling station in Yousef al-Sidik village, there were only Mursi voters to be found.
"You know it was an easy choice. We want an Islamic president," said Sherif Abdulatty.
  Mohammed Ramadan believes Dr Mursi is the best candidate to develop countryside
"In the past no authorities gave attention to this poor place. We think Dr Mursi will be different and bring religion back to public life," Hamada Moneim added.
There was also unanimous backing for the Brotherhood among the fishermen bobbing in makeshift boats made of tyre inner tubes on the vast saltwater lake - the area's main attraction.
"We have a shortage of fish in Lake Qarun, but Dr Mursi has a programme to help us," said Alaa, as he and his friends loaded their small vessels and fishing rods into a trailer on the back of his motorbike.

I missed one very good picture because I didn't realize its significance.  As we drove the main highway into Fayoum, there was a man with a neatly trimmed beard and dressed in the traditional galibeya standing with a box in the middle of the road.  I didn't think anything of it, as there are frequently people standing like that near speed bumps selling boxes of tissues or other merchandise.  It turns out that he was "collecting money for the mosques."  According to our friend, this practice had been banned at the time of the 2011 revolution since the money was being used for political causes instead of charity.  (Minnesota readers may recall the conviction of two Somalis for similar diversion of funds.)

Well, with that as background, I will show you the only type of reference to General Sisi that we saw in Fayoum.  The general's name is easily represented in graffiti as "CC"  Here are pictures from the walls along the main roads.

Most of the anti-CC graffiti consists of what is shown in the first two pictures.  It means that "he is dishonest."  The reference to the Star of David is self-explanatory but likely derives from reports such as this one saying:
“I was surprised to learn, from the Algerian Al-Watan newspaper, that el-Sissi is of Jewish origin,” Gamal Nasser said Saturday in an Arabic-language broadcast on Al-Jazeera, where he is a commentator.
I also saw a couple of English-language graffiti scribblings but haven't included the pictures since they are much more vulgar.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dinner in the Neighborhood

It is difficult to walk down any street in Cairo and not make a new acquaintance.  For example, yesterday while visiting a mosque, we ran into this volunteer electrician rewiring several fluorescent fixtures for the building.  He had no English language ability but his young helper (perhaps a grandson) brought out two chairs as we were invited to watch for a while.

Today, we met the owner of a nearby cafe and talked about new businesses coming to the neighborhood.  A wedding reception hall is under construction across the street and possibly two small shops will be coming next to it.  Ramy is thinking there might be an opportunity for a dress rental shop by his cafe.  (Egyptians that we meet are very entrepreneurial!)

 Make a dozen acquaintances and you are bound to get a dinner invitation.  One of our acquaintances down the street asked if we had ever eaten camel.  "Yes," we replied, without ever mentioning that we found it tough as shoe leather.  He subsequently offered us the opportunity to sample another great delicacy from Upper Egypt, a form of stuffed cow's stomach.

We had visions of something that looked like a wrinkled football - but Linda checked with another neighbor and discovered that they actually just stuff the intestines with a mixture of rice and spice, making a tasty sausage dish.  We accepted.

We were served an excellent lunch on Friday (after prayers, of course) and you can see from the plate that it was a very tasty meal.  It was accompanied by a generous dish of camel, including the heart and some liver which were much more tender than the balance of the beast.  I happen to like calve's liver so I found it delicious although I did have to eat that entire plate of sausage and was quite full.

Here was the dinner table and family with the picture taken by our host, Hussein.

It's Almost Time to Leave

We saw our first watermelon vendor a few days ago.  Now they are starting to spring up all over Cairo.

I picked up our first melon on Friday, the 14th almost exactly the same date as last year.

We arrive just as the fresh strawberries are arriving in the market and depart just a couple of weeks after the watermelons begin to appear.  If it weren't hot for much of the years, we would be here for fig and date season too.

Checking the Nileometer

When you are traveling south from downtown Cairo along the Nile you might notice a peculiar looking building sitting near the southern tip of Rhoda Island.  That building is the top of the Nileometer.

There is a description at this Wikipedia link and a longer history at this serious water scholar's site.  Suffice it to say that with the rise and fall of the Nile each year playing a central role in Egyptian life, the government kept a close watch on it.  Of the many Nileometers that once existed, this one is the best preserved.

For a 15 pound entrance fee (about $2 U.S) you get a nice tour and possibly an explanation from a guide.  (tip extra, of course.)

It is an interesting device.  Lit with a mixture of both incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, it will just about drive you nuts trying to get a good picture.

A couple of blueprint drawings are on display along with some narrative, but you will need to get most of the details elsewhere.

(pre-Photoshop version on the right)

Also in the immediate area of the Nileometer is the Om-Kolthoum Museum and the Al Manesterly Palace.  Om-Kolthoum was an exceptionally well known Egyptian singer and actress.  Known throughout the Arab-speaking world, she was and still is extremely popular.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Is General Sisi's Picture Everywhere?

That was the question asked, and I responded, "no," in an earlier post.  But I pointed out that he did have a few pictures up downtown and in other locations.

But today we saw a picture of this handsome young civilian downtown near Opera Square - and I expect that there will be more.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Library of Alexandria

With time for just one more stop in Alexandria before beginning the trek back to Cairo, we chose the Library.  Built over a seven year period at a cost of some $220 million, the modern library was dedicated in 2005 as a memorial to the famous ancient library of Alexandria.

Perhaps more of an architectural tour de force than a grand library, there is an admission charge and you will have to leave your packages and purses outside and pass through a metal detector.  The entrance and interior are dramatic.

We last visited the library in 2010 and I sampled a couple of the volumes in this blog post.

Lunch in Alexandria

Any trip to Alexandria should include at least one seafood meal.  We chose Abou Ashraf, a well-known seafood spot not too far from the Citadel for our lunch.  It is back from the waterfront, so you will have to work a bit to find it but it is well-worth the effort and probably both a bit better and a bit cheaper than places located right on the main road to the Citadel.

This is a "pick your own fish" restaurant and the staff will be glad to provide guidance.  Roshdy was with us again and helped with the choices.

It wasn't very long after the salads appeared on the table that the fish and shrimp also made their apperance.

Highly recommended.  See Trip Advisor, for example.

Alexandria Egypt - At the Citadel

After visiting the Montaza Palace at the eastern end of Alexandria's waterfront, we drove the length of the beautiful Corniche to reach the Qaitbay Citadel at the western end of "tourist Alexandria."  The citadel is a fifteenth-century fortress constructed on the site of the Alexandria Lighthouse, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world.

The Citadel is one of those places where you will always run into local tourists, especially school children, and they will want to have their pictures taken with you and practice a bit of English.

Inside and out, the Citadel has been through a recent renovation leaving an interesting and clean tourist attraction.  There is a model of the fort from long ago to show some parts that are now missing.

And a number of the views are quite photogenic.

Without a doubt, the fishermen along the water near the Citadel provide one of the most scenic and entertaining views.  Don't be too quick to leave the area without walking along the waterfront.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Day in Alexandria

While Sharon was with us, we took a day-trip to the seaport of Alexandria.  It was a long day, with a van arriving for transportation at 6:30 a.m.  We headed out of town on the Alexandria Desert Road, one of two major highways linking Cairo to Egypt's "Second City."

Now, Google will tell you that this is about 135 miles (218 km) and should take about 2 and a half hours.  They lie.  Well, maybe they just don't know about the road construction, the speed bumps and the traffic.  Our driver put a heroic four hours into the morning's effort, never once hitting an oncoming truck going north in the southbound lanes, or a donkey cart on the highway or a pedestrian crossing it.

We never drive here.  Taxis are cheap.  Three dollars will get you most places you would like to go and you can rent a car and driver for far less than you'd rent a car in the states.

Along the route we stopped at a rest stop, eschewing a brand new shiny McDonalds for this more traditional coffee shop with nearby mosque.

A good part of the drive was spent making our way across Alexandria to our first stop at  the beautiful Montazah Palace.

Our last trip to Alexandria was in 2010, a year before the revolution.  We were very impressed with the city as the coastal climate means a lot more greenery and a lot less dust than we experience in Cairo.  We thought the drive along the Corniche and much of the rest of the city had a very European look.

So I was quite disappointed to see that the general appearance of many buildings still showed battle scars.

A few buildings, like the classic Hotel Cecil have been well-repaired.

Just as the retail market in downtown Cairo has largely moved onto the sidewalks, a similar scene presents itself along both sides of the streets near the main square.

General Sisi posters and merchandise can be found, of course.


How Many Matches Does It Take to Light the Oven?

(by Linda)

First let me remind you that our oven does not have an electric starter. Instead this is the process to light our oven:
1-Open the oven door
2-Light a match (This is the hardest part!)
3-Turn on the gas
4-Place lighted match into the hole in the oven floor
Presto! The oven is lit.

Now for some additional info on step 2. Egyptian wood matches come in boxes, the same style container used in the U.S. In the 50's. It's not unusual to reach into the box of matches and pull out a match with no red head. Okay, pull out another one. This one may ignite but just as quickly extinguish. Another common occurrence is for the match head to fly off when struck.

It usually takes 3-4 matches before there is a light strong enough to ignite the oven.

Today I wanted to bake bread and it took an unusually high number of matches to achieve success with the oven. From right to left: no match head, match head flew off when struck, too short and not enough match head, again no match head, tiny bit of match head and with the 6th match I struck pay dirt and lit the oven.

Twenty minutes later we had classic dinner rolls.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cairo in 22 Pictures - and a Blog Worth Viewing

One of the interesting writers on airlines, airplanes and pilots is Patrick Smith who writes the Ask The Pilot blog.  I had been waiting for him to comment on the recent disappearance of Malaysia's flight 370.  A post appeared on the 9th.  While looking over his blog archive, I noticed that he wrote about his several visits to Egypt in a post with 22 delightful photos that capture the essence of Cairo.  Worth a look!   By the way, if you haven't seen the disappearance of Malaysia 370 from one of the several flight tracking Internet sites, there is an excellent 4 minute video available on YouTube here.  Watch from about 2:30 to 2:53 to see a change in direction followed by disappearance.

Smith,  by the way, offers this in a reply to a comment within his post:
As to point 3… we keep hearing about this “turning back.” Turned back to where? They were a long way from their departure airport. More likely, if the crew was going to change course, they would be diverting to a closer suitable airport, not “turning back.”
This is a good example of why the general media is pretty worthless as a news source.  Any reporter who talked to a pilot would not make this mistake.  I enjoy getting my airplane news from pilots and legal analysis from law professors.  The Internet is a wonderful thing.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Staying at Home, Spending Money

I e-mailed one friend today that I would be staying at home.  I was waiting for the washing machine repairman.  Not, the Maytag repairman, the Zanussi guy.  Our washing machine, lightly used, died after the third load placed in it yesterday.

While Zanussi is a good Italian brand, I'm not sure just where this one was built.  But it would no longer agitate and had a fairly strong "burnt electronics" odor emanating from it.  A friend located a repairman who would be at our place between 11 and 4 today.  I got the job of supervising since Linda was off to a newly found Gymnasium with one of our neighbors.  Hopefully, it is a quieter place than L.A. Fitness back home in Roseville. (If this kind of thing happened in Egypt, the State Department would put out a travel advisory!)  Maybe I can persuade her to blog about it.

Well, 4 p.m. came and went without a repairman.  At 6 p.m. as we were looking for alternative repairmen, the Zanussi guy showed up.  He quickly diagnosed the problem as the motor-starting capacitor, replaced it and was done by 6:30.  Total bill, 97 Egyptian Pounds - about 14 dollars.  I checked on the Internet tonight and the part alone would cost between 10 and 25 dollars in Britain and this Michigan company wants $38.85 for one.  Mine came with a one-year guarantee, by the way.  Needless to say, I tipped my repairman generously.

Photos?  Of course.  Here is Linda watching her first load of washing in the Zanussi in January of 2010.

And here is the defective capacitor.  Note the burned spot on the seal.  Linda said, "yes, that's the odor."  I felt bad that I didn't follow the smell and spot the burn.  But for $14 to have someone else fix it, I guess you just can't afford to do it yourself here.

Meanwhile, as I was waiting patiently for Mr. Zanussi, the doorbell did ring in the late afternoon.  It was the electric meter reader with the bill for the month of February.  We had the lights on quite a bit - well, except for those several days when the power was turned off for an hour at a time.  But we used 308 KWH for the month.  The bill came to a total of  $6.68  That's about 2 cents per KWH, or probably around 15% of what you are paying.  This is another energy subsidy from the government.

If you read the 1986 article on Cairo rioting that I mentioned in the nightclub post, you might have noted this:
The United States, which provides Egypt with about $2 billion a year, has been pressing Egypt to make deep cuts in its massive subsidies, viewed here as a necessary palliative for the poor and potentially volatile masses.
 Of course, when that was tried back in 1977, the result was the Egyptian Bread Riots.  Pity the poor man who will be elected president here next.  Egyptians have a keen sense of humor and they say that there is a campaign underway to depose the next president.  They just have to find out who it is.

Fuel Price Update

When I showed the price of gasoline in a previous post, I was talking about 92 Octane, the type of fuel used in most of our friends cars.  There is cheaper gas - and there is diesel.  We visited Alexandria a few days ago and traveled in a van that ran on diesel.  Filling up on the return trip, I discovered that it sells for 1.10 Egyptian Pounds per liter.  That equates to 60 cents per gallon.  But that is not the cheapest option.  80 octane gasoline, which will run your old Russian Lada - or a surprising number of newer vehicles too goes for 0.90 EGP per liter which equates to 49 cents per gallon.  Here is the diesel pump and price. - Also a representative old Lada still on the road.

While we were stopped, I took a picture of this over-the-road trucker who was fueling up next to us.  He has quite a kitchen setup in the metal box on the truck.  With the door folded down, he has room to sit in front of his small butane cook stove and make tea.

Say is that legal in the U. S.?  Or is there some prohibition against cooking over an open flame in the line to fuel up?  Well, at least diesel fuel isn't as volatile as gasoline, hamdela.

Nightclubbing in Cairo

Nightclubbing in Cairo has long been an "iffy" proposition.  The typical local neighborhood night spots look like these two places just down the street.

They are actually "coffee shops," which means they sell tea and provide water-pipes with flavored tobacco (apple and cherry are big sellers.)  Don't look for any women to be there except for, perhaps, a tourist invited by a local.  You won't find any beer for sale, not even Birel, the local non-alcoholic brand.  And there isn't much demand for the brew.  We don't know anyone here who who drinks beer or wine although we know a few who did so in their wild and crazy younger days.

 But, Cairo has long had an open market for beer and wine.  They even have at least one decent locally brewed beer, Stella, and a number of quality wineries.  But it's a bit like pork.  You have to know where to shop for it. (Hint: look in a Christian or ex-pat neighborhood.)  Drinkies is the most favored location.

Which brings us to the subject of real nightclubs, the ones with belly-dancers.   Let's say that they come and go.  Wikipedia documents the burning of 92 bars and a number of famous clubs in an uprising in 1952.  This 1986 Chicago Tribune article describes the burning of nightclubs along Pyramids Street amid other turmoil.  At least one of those burned out clubs stood until recently, in charred ruins, like the Packard Factory in Detroit as a monument to another era.  I was aware of considerable closing of the large clubs on Pyramids Street since the 2011 revolution so I was surprised to see these small clubs on our first ride along Pyramids Street this year.

I was told that they are frequented by the "African people."  Ethiopians, Nigerians and Somalis are frequently hired here by the upper class as domestic help.  That led me to explore the Internet a bit to find out what did happen to the previous large clubs on Pyramids Street and I came upon this fascinating article by Priscilla Adum, one of the belly-dancers from the pre-revolution night club scene.

Priscilla asserts that the clubs were bought up by the owner of El Tawhed Wi El Nour department stores.  I definitely suggest that you read the whole piece by Priscilla at the above link.  Here are pictures of a couple of the El Tawhed stores.  I can vouch for the employment policies and practices that she describes.

The Gilded Serpent website provides both a list of current venues for bellydance/nightclub entertainment and preserves their page from pre-revolution times.

The general absence of alcohol here is a good thing.  With people driving on the wrong side of the road, driving fast  and a sizeable fraction declining to use their headlights at night, timely reflexes are always needed.

A Trip to the Market - continued

Besides the fruits and vegetables, there is plenty of meat available on this market street.  Chicken, pigeon, duck and turkey can be found in several shops.  This rooster is going to make some family happy.

The pigeon is a common dinner bird here as in other middle-eastern countries.  The picture on the right shows several kind of fowl but the prices are all for chicken:
  • 14 pounds per kg., ($0.91 / lb.)  for whole chicken. 
  • 16 pounds per kg., (1.04 / lb.) for chicken breasts (a very good buy, we are told)
  • 34 pounds per kg., ($2.21/ lb.)  for chicken filets.

More fowl, here.

We met this fellow, with the unlikely name of Ali Baba, while strolling along the street.  He wanted to buy us tea, so we stopped for a bit to chat.  He operates a jewelry shop in Khan El-Khalili and would be happy to take care of any silver or gold needs that we might have.  He works in the Khan during the week but is always here at the coffee shop on Friday.

A Trip to the Market

Friday was Sharon's final day with us in Egypt so we finished her tour with a trip through our nearby market street.  This narrow road, about a mile from our place, is lined on both sides with vegetable, fruit, meat and fish vendors serving the local neighborhood and any others lucky enough to stumble upon it.  Plug "29.982846, 31.159572" into your Google search bar to locate the south entrance yourself.

Delicious red tomatoes and fresh mandarins (known locally as Yus-Effendi or mandarine - see previous post here) are among the colorful fruits.

This merchant on the left was filling telephone orders for delivery. (He has a very nice glossy business card with three phone numbers) and invited us to sit down and wait so he could talk.  He had a nice 1 kg weight for his scale, so I took a picture to include in the Scale set on Flickr.  The fellow on the right, deep-frying felafel and potato chips was equally anxious to show his technique. 

Everyone was eager to show their product or just chat for a while.

We stopped at the local baladi (native) bread bakery for a while to watch the loaves dropping from this ancient band oven.  This 2009 article in the New York Times about baladi bread will tell you a lot about life and politics in Egypt.

(To be continued)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Return Trip to Sakkara

We drove the 12 miles south to Sakkara last week to visit the Step Pyramid of King Zoser.  One of my attractions to this pyramid is the tall wall and entrance-way.  I have always wanted to get a picture of the large wall without lots of people appearing in it.  I had my chance on Tuesday afternoon.

An explanation for the lack of people can be found by looking at the parking lot.  On the left is a picture from this year and on the right, one from my first trip to Egypt in October, 2003. Tourism isn't just down a little, here.  It is nearly non-existent. 

A lot has changed at this site since that first  trip.  When I first saw the Step Pyramid in 2003, it was crumbling rather badly.  By 2010, scaffolding was up for a major repair job. 

A look at the corner shows quite a change from 2003 to 2010 to 2014.

I suppose the restoration had to be done in order to preserve the pyramid but I am glad I had the chance to see it in its earlier state.

The number of visitors is certainly small at the present time.  That gives a good opportunity to people who want to gain "pyramid power" through meditation at this site.  This group was just beginning to "feel the power" as we passed by.

Close to that meditation site, there is a pair of small observation portals that allow visitors to see an image of Zoser.  I photographed an observer back in 2003 but neglected to get a good shot through the portal.  I took care of that on this visit.

Back on the road behind the Step Pyramid, there is a good overall view, although the scaffolding spoils it a bit at the current time.

Also, from that area, you can almost always see the pyramids at Abu Sir that we visited previously.  On a clear day, the Giza Pyramids can also be sighted just to their left.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Are Sisi's Pictures Everywhere?

I had written in a much earlier post that we really didn't see many General Sisi posters.  One reader had expected to see more so I have kept a sharp eye out for clusters of them.  I have included a few in recent posts but here is a good set.

We were driving across the 6 October bridge to downtown.  You can easily see how someone crossing the bridge on foot, like this gentleman might think Sisi is everywhere.

Traffic Trouble

We were headed into town on Saturday when we came to a halt in traffic.  This is nothing unusual in Cairo, of course, but there seemed to be a serious problem ahead judging from the water being splashed up by cars in the distance.  Perhaps there was a broken pipe?  The first sign that we might have a problem came when we saw a few people lift up a Tuk-Tuk and get it onto the sidewalk so it could begin navigating among the concrete mushrooms and other yard art.  (see the post below.)

The slow moving traffic gave an advantage to the pedestrians who were going a bit faster.

Of course, motorcycles moved onto the sidewalk and were able to move faster yet.

Then this taxi and 3-wheel delivery vehicle also moved up onto the sidewalk.  That strategy ended at the large electrical box on the sidewalk so the taxi had to come back down onto the road.

We eventually moved through the water without major problems.  Some vehicles moved faster, some slower.

We realized it was only going to get worse, as eastbound vehicles tried our westbound lanes.  Here, the lead driver makes the universally understood sign for, "look out, I'm coming through and you need to move!"

I have a YouTube video that demonstrates the skill of a driver going the correct direction in the northbound lanes as southbound drivers begin to appear around him on both sides.  U.S. driver's-ed does not prepare one for Cairo.

By the way, we came through that same area on Thursday, five days later and the water was still flowing.  We opted for the u-turn this time going way around the problem.

Things Texas and Egypt Have in Common

Well, there is sand, of course.  And both are pretty flat.  But Texas has a number of excellent places to buy concrete yard art, such as the one we visited here, and there are several along I-35.  What about Cairo?  On the road leading up to the Citadel from Coptic Cairo, you will find some of the best concrete mushrooms on earth.

Here are a few - and do notice the camel!  Not as exciting, perhaps, as that rooster in Hempstead but interesting.

And there are plenty of columns and ceiling medallions.  Almost every home here has several of the medallions.