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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Airplane on a Stick - Bilbeis, Egypt

Call me quirky, but I like to take photos of airplanes on a stick. Click here to see all of my collection.

There is an airplane on a stick in front of the Egyptian Air Force Academy at Bilbeis, about 50km northeast of Cairo.  I really wanted a photo but the Egyptian military is a little sensitive about photos of military installations. After being warned by all others in the car about what would happen to me if I was caught taking a photo, I did not try to photograph it.  But, about 6 km closer to Cairo along the Cairo-Bilbeis Desert Road there is a roundabout with this Sukhoi Su-7 fighter-bomber mounted in the center.

A fairly rare bird, the Su-7 saw service with the Egyptian Air Force during the October War of 1973 (Yom Kippur War.)

(Note that you can also click on the appropriate tag below following "Labels:" or click on the appropriate tag in the left-hand column under "See All Our Posts About:" to reach subjects of interest that we have referenced.)

A Visit to the Carpet Store

We were looking for two small carpets while we are here to bring home to Bloomington. We have had good luck finding quality carpets here at reasonable prices  and no luck finding the size we wanted at home.

This small showroom up on Pyramids street is where we shopped before and we headed back last week.

As it turns out, this is no small business.  Oriental Weavers has 171 retail outlets in Egypt and is doing business in the United States via Home Depot, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond and other retailers.  They are the world's largest manufacturer of machine-made carpets and have over 17,000 employees world-wide.

We wanted a 3 ft by 4 ft rug for our entry and had been unable to find one in this dimension at home.  Once you know one dimension, Oriental Weavers has a room full of carpet rolls in that width.  They will cut and put an edge on any length you desire.  They have a room full of 1 meter width carpets, 80 cm width, 70 cm width.  We can get what we want.

Linda quickly found two suitable patterns.  Why not get one of each?  We can change with the seasons.

We skipped the shags and Kid's room patterns.
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"How about one this wide, centered here?" I asked.  "No problem!"


They have a wide variety of colors for edge bindings and a machine to put them on while you wait. "Just ten minutes, sir."
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The final products look very satisfactory. If you want to see how nice they look on our floor, just come visit us in Bloomington.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Fixing Roshdy's Horn

Car horns are the major source of traffic control in Cairo.  A horn serves as a warning to pedestrians and donkey carts.  It both requests and grants the right-of-way.  One of the reasons that neither Linda nor I drive here is that we don't really understand proper horn etiquette.

The horn on Roshdy's Toyota was clearly defective.  Linda thought it sounded like gears grinding.  I was reminded of a baby goose.  I insisted that we be allowed to buy him a new one.  We selected Saturday morning to do the job.  I suppose I should mention that "morning" is very loosely defined here, maybe before or after noon.

As every mechanic knows, a successful car project begins with a good breakfast.  We proceeded up al-Maryoteya Street to just north of Faisal Street and arrived at this popular "fast food" spot.

Ful Medames is a staple of the Egyptian diet - and every home has its own family recipe.  The owner of this shop has found a winning version and you will always see a crowd lining the the street as you pass by. He began his career selling ful from a street cart and became so successful that he opened a shop selling his popular breakfast dishes.

While there is a long menu posted on the wall, almost everyone here is just looking for the standard ful meal.  The procedure works like this: you pay for a ticket at the front desk - the price is 15 EGP - about 85 cents.   Place the ticket on the counter - if you weight it down with two one-pound coins, you are going to be served a bit more quickly.  You will get a bowl of ful, a bowl of salad veggies and a bowl of sliced boiled egg.  Grab some baladi bread (Aisch Baladi) and look for a place to stand.

Yes, stand.  Ful is meant to be eaten while standing.
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We moved on to a tea shop close to the auto-parts dealer and just across the street from one of the many tiny neighborhood mosques in our area.  Here we had a cup of tea as the call to noon prayer passed.  Shortly after we finished the tea, the car parts store opened and we were ready to begin supervising the horn replacement.
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The horn on a Toyota is not readily accessible.  The shop owner began removing the grill and then loosened the front cowl assembly.
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We still couldn't reach the horn.  I tried contributing by attempting to photograph the horn mount but to no avail.

A Toyota electrical specialist was summoned.  Since the grill was cracked, the parts shop owner began repairing that while we waited.  Plastic parts here are repaired, not replaced.  This job required some epoxy, cigarette ash and a small piece of "bailing" wire.

With the one burner propane stove fired up, the owner heated a nail and used it to "drill" holes for the bailing wire.  The stove also gave us a chance for more tea, which was offered. There is no business without tea.

The electrical expert arrived but could not uncover the magic formula to reach the horn mount either.  We compromised by leaving the old horn in place and adding the new one nearby.  The electrical specialist recommended installing new headlamps which we agreed to.

After two hours work, the shop owner totaled the bill: new horn, grill repair, two new lamps - total, 430 EGP - $24.56

The horn is loud, the lights are bright and I'll bet we cut ten percent off our trip time with the ability to gain the right-of-way over slower vehicles.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Return to Al-Yemeni for Coffee

Al-Yemeni remains the best place to buy coffee in Egypt.  Located downtown, they have a wide selection of beans and will grind them for you or let you take them away whole.  Plan to wait; there is almost always a long line.

I usually buy a half-kilo at a time.  You can sample the beans before you buy.  Prices are quite reasonable, around $5-6 per pound - try the Ethiopian!  Or, go with a traditional Colombian.
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Annual Gasoline Price Post

The price for 92 octane gasolline (88 octane U.S) - also known as regular unleaded, rose from 5 EGP per liter to 6.75 EGP per liter over the past year.  Figuring in the current exchange rate of 17.5 EGP to the dollar gives us a price of:

$1.46 per gallon.

Prices are approaching "market level" - in fact they are now at market for Premium.

Here's the picture of a gas pump

and this is the typical staff - this pair is from the Taqa station just down the street - but the price is the same at all stations including the military-owned ones.

Typically there are two or three attendants taking care of each lane of cars, with one filling and the others washing or wiping the windshield.

Notice the wad of cash in the attendant's hand for payment and change.  Would this system work in your town?  I have never seen a credit card used at the pump here.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Two Days in the Delta - The Suez Canal at Ismailia

We had finished touring Tanis by 2:30 and could have easily made it back to Cairo in about three more hours. That makes for a long day in the car so we planned to make an overnight stop at Isamilia.  This would let me check off an item on my personal "bucket list," a visit to the Suez Canal.

We hadn't eaten since breakfast, so we stopped in the village of San el-Hagar just beyond the new mosque under construction and picked up some bread items at this bakery.  We bought enough for the members of the police escort as well.
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It should have taken about an hour and a half to reach Ismailia but attempts to follow the directions of "the lady in the phone" - we had now named her Magda - proved frustrating to our police escort.  They had a different route in mind.  It seems that they were heading for Cairo and would hand us over to a new escort along their planned route.  This detour is shown on the map below by the purple line.  By the time we were actually on the road into Ismailia, we were only about an hour and a half away from Cairo.

This route took us through the rich farmland of the delta including some areas where greenhouse plants are grown - probably the source of some of the year-round tomato crop that is so plentiful here.
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Once we reached Ismailia, we consulted with "Magda" and looked at the local traffic signs for a suitable hotel.


The Mercure is a modern facility on an island in the lake that adjoins the Suez Canal.  They had plenty of rooms in this winter season and we got a corner room on the third floor with a spectacular view of both the canal and the sunset.


Checking the various on-line guides, we determined that the best place for a fish dinner would be at Hassan Abo Ali.  We were not disappointed.  I chose the grilled Mullet, my favorite Egyptian fish and Linda had the Sea Bass.  We tried the appetizer plate of gambarie (shrimp) and while these were better than last year's sample at Alexandria, they just don't measure up to Alabama gulf shrimp.
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In the morning we had a nice buffet breakfast including omelettes cooked to order and relaxed  on the beach.
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As we left the hotel, one of the entrepreneurs in the neighborhood was cleaning our windshield.  He was working very hard at it but needed a much cleaner rag which Roshdy supplied.

We located a very nice observation point at the Aldenfah Beach Club right on the canal.  It is always wise to proceed with caution in a situation like this.  The Egyptian military does not like pictures taken of them, their facilities, or even strategic points like bridges.  Inquiring at the ticket window (it costs a foreigner 100 EGP to get in - 50 for a local) we were told that no cameras were allowed but pictures could be taken with a cellphone.  We paid up and entered.

There were not many guests inside and only one of the ever-popular waffle houses was operating.

The view of ships passing by was excellent since they were only about a hundred feet in front of us.

You might not have thought about it, but the standardized shipping container is arguably the most important invention of the past 75 years except for the computer.  Economist Marc Levinson makes the case in this book.

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This particular container ship passing through the canal from north to south is the Adrian Maersk.  By coincidence, there is a time-lapse video of the same ship making the entire hundred-mile trip in the opposite direction that can be viewed here.


If you are curious about what the fees are for a ship passing through, there is an on-line calculator here.  You will have to supply your own estimates for the cargo weight but can use the ship's data from the previous link.  I am guessing around $100,000 to $200,000 for this load.  I'll also guess there are about 2000 containers on board.  You do the math from there.  There is an interesting article on the economics of the canal here - low current fuel prices offer an alternative to tolls for tankers.

We departed Ismailia around noon.  Our police escort rejoined us for the trip up the four and five-lane highways toward Cairo.  They flashed their lights and finally dropped off as we approached the metropolitan area at the outer Ring Road.
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If you were wondering, Ismailia is named for Le Khedive Ismail, one of Egypt's governors who worked hard at modernization in the late nineteenth century.
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