Monthly Archives: January 2013

Tahrir Square, Cairo, And Blogging With One Hand

Hello again! I know it’s only been a few days between posts, but I am unable to go in to work today so I thought I’d make progress on sharing our trip to Egypt with you.

I can’t go to work today because I had surgery on my wrist yesterday. I had a strange build up of blood/fluid in my vessels around my wrist. The doctors used the words “hemangioma” and “blood-filled tumor” interchangeably, and honestly don’t know what caused it. It first arose five years ago when I was waitressing in college. The doctor I saw in the States just told me to sleep with a brace on, because it caused me pain the most when I slept. Over the next five years it would sporadically hurt and swell, and has been a continuous issue the past nine months here in Kuwait. Our insurance here is great and so is the medical care, so I had it removed at the behest of my orthopedist here. They say it’s benign, but have sent it to pathology, and we will know for sure in about a week. When they removed it the doctor said it was a mess, having swelled and clotted all around my muscles and veins. He did a great job though, and took all of it out. I think it’s from waiting tables and carrying massive tray of dishes and bus tubs for six years when my muscles were developing the most. Either way, it’s all better now.

But I should cut to the chase, seeing as I am only typing with my left hand. It takes me forever to peck out a simple sentence! My right hand is my dominant hand, too, which makes my left hand quite the pathetic typist.

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Al Seef hospital in Kuwait. It was like a hotel suite in there! I felt so safe and well-taken care of. My lovely husband kept me company all day, too. I am so blessed.

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After they removed the wrapping, I was amazed at how small the surgery site actually was!

Okay, time to move on to our pictures from Egypt. I will keep you updated on the wrist, I promise. For now, though, let’s focus on Cairo!

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Sean at Tahrir Square. It was very, very quiet. I was paranoid we’d be trammeled by protesters, but it was just guys drinking coffee and snapping pictures of the place with their cell phones. We sat in a cafe for a while on the edge of the square and marveled at it all.

IMG_3789Street art around the square.

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There is so much meaning going on in every inch of art. I love it!

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A view of Tahrir Square from another angle. Can you see the hanging effigy doll? That was the strangest thing in the whole place. Everything else was calm and subdued.

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After Tahrir Square, we wanted to explore Cairo on foot. This is the view from the Kasr Al Nil Bridge, crossing over the Nile River.

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Another shot of the Nile. What did YOU picture the Nile looking like before these photos? I sure didn’t picture it cradled in a¬†metropolis!

IMG_3809We found the museum of modern art!

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Sean took this picture of me and my parents admiring the revolutionary art. It was an amazing place; you were able to see what the young artists of Cairo thought of the revolution in every piece of art.

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An example of the art in the museum. Sean liked this particular painting.

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Emily taking a break to smell the roses on Zamalek Island. (The posh district of Cairo, an actual island on the Nile.)

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A great little cafe where we feasted on sandwiches and tea after our long walk around Cairo. Don’t you love the greenery in every picture? Cairo has trees and plants every where : )

IMG_3830My mom, happy with all the sightseeing, and proud she braved Tahrir Square!

If you’re thinking of traveling to Egypt, don’t hesitate! Book your flight today. We had so much fun in Cairo, and felt so safe and welcomed the entire time. Don’t be fooled by the CNN effect!

That’s all for today, next post will be on Luxor, and hopefully with an update on my wrist!

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The Pyramids

When planning this blog, I thought to myself, “Perhaps I should condense some days in Egypt. I could combine the pyramids with… no, I can’t. It’s the pyramids.”

You really can’t “share” the pyramids with anything else. They need to stand alone in all their glory. We hired a guide and driver to help us see the pyramids, and I am glad we did. We didn’t only see the Great Pyramid, but we saw Giza, Memphis, Saqqara, and Dashur! I used to think that there were only 3 pyramids in Egypt, and they were alone in the desert, far from the city. Little did I know that there are still hundreds which border the city of Cairo, and you can even explore the interior of a few of them!

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Our first stop was the Bent Pyramid. It was built by the Pharaoh Snefreu around 2600 BC. It was the first “true” pyramid. (We will see one pyramid that came earlier, but it was built in a series of ‘steps’, rather than with clear linear sides.)

The reason it is called the “Bent” Pyramid is because, as you can see, the angle of the sides is bent about halfway up. Sneferu most likely wanted it built too steep, and when the builders were constructing it they realized they had to taper it off earlier than anticipated to avoid collapse. To this day, it still retains a lot of the original limestone casing; the pieces that make the sides smooth, not choppy like Lego blocks. Another cool fact? This pyramid has two entrances, not just one!

 

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Here is Emily with the Red Pyramid in the Dashur area. (The Dashur area is where the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid are located.) This is the third largest pyramid in Egypt. It is called the Red Pyramid because when seen from a certain angle and in a certain light, the pinkish limestone appears red to the eye. This pyramid was also built by Sneferu.
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Our lovely guide Mohammed held my camera while we explored the INSIDE of the Red Pyramid! He snapped a few cool photos of us making our way to the entrance. The Red Pyramid is the first successful attempt (in history) at building a smooth-sided pyramid. What was it like inside? Really hot! The heat gets trapped in there. Other than that, it is eerily “perfect”. The angles inside are perfect, the chambers are perfect, the chutes and channels are perfect. It is difficult to fathom that such perfection was achieved 5,000 years ago, and is still “perfect” to this day! I don’t have any photos inside the pyramid, as cameras were prohibited, but with a simple Google search you can see the inside for yourself ūüôā

 

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After Dashur we went to the ancient city of Memphis. (No, not in Tennessee.) It was the capital of the Old Kingdom (when the Dashur pyramids were built), and is famous because of all the statues that were found there.  The above photo is my sister and I with the Alabaster Sphinx. Yes, made completely out of alabaster!

 

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Sean and I with a statue of King Rameses II.  He is one of the most well known Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. He is seen here wearing the false beard, signifying royalty, with his left foot forward, also a stance of the royals.

 

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Inside the museum at Memphis is a giant statue of Rameses II. It is around 10 meters long, and is carved out of limestone. My favorite cool fact about this one is all of the cartouches he had carved on it. A cartouche is an Egyptian hieroglyph; you can see one on Rameses’ shoulder in the above picture. A cartouche is an oval with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the name inside the oval is royalty.

So, when Rameses II had this statue built, he had at least ten of his own cartouches carved into he statue. Why would he have it carved so many times you ask, when once would have clued us in just as well 5,000 years later? Well, archaeologists found hundreds of cartouches of other Pharoahs all over Egypt that Rameses had defaced and replaced his own name on. Therefore, when he had his own statues made, he ensured that nobody like himself could cover up his name in the future! What audacity!

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Here is the Step Pyramid, the oldest pyramid in all of Egypt. It was built for the Pharoah Djoser by the famous¬†architect¬†Imhotep. If you’ve seen the film The Mummy, then you know that the whole movie was based around Imhotep himself. While he was a famous, historically-significant architect, his body remains undiscovered, which makes him the perfect candidate for a mysterious blockbuster film…

Anyways, the Step Pyramid was the first pyramid of Egypt. Before pyramids, simple “mastabas” were built. A mastaba is a flat-roofed structure with sloping sides. Well, Imhotep began stacking mastabas and adding more to the layers as he went along, and ended up with the first pyramid ever.

The tunnels beneath this pyramid for a maze about three and a half miles long. Wow.

 

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Imhotep was also famous for building the first columns ever in history. Sean loved this fact, seeing as he is has a major in ancient Greece and Rome, the “kings” of the columns. Here we were in Egypt, looking at the birth of the first columns ever!

The funny thing was that when Imhotep had these columns built, he didn’t believe they could stand on their own, so he had a small brick “supporting wall” for each column. As we now know, those could have been removed and the columns would have functioned just as well. Pretty neat!

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After all of this build up, we finally visited the Great Pyramid of Giza. One of the Seven Wonders of the World.  The Great Pyramid of Giza was built for the Pharoah Khufu (Cheops) around 2560 BC.  It is aligned perfectly with true North, and scientists to this day still cannot replicate the engineering that took place to build such a monument.

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The view looking out over Cairo from the steps of the Great Pyramid. (It was so sad to see such a small amount of tourists, on Christmas day!)

IMG_3717This is a shot of the Grand Gallery inside the Great Pyramid. Can you believe the engineering that had to have taken place for this to work?! The stones are laid at a slightly steeper angle with each layer starting up from the floor, so each stone fits into a perfect slot cut in the roof of the gallery. Each block supports the others around it, not only by the base of the block alone. ¬†I can’t believe they were able to build such cavernous interiors which still exist today!

Once you walked through the Grand Gallery, you were inside the King’s Chamber. It is entirely faced with granite, and the original sarcophagus is still inside.

IMG_3731Sean and I on Christmas day, looking out over the Pyramids of Giza.



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This boat was what blew my mind the most out of everything we saw that day. No joke. This is called the Solar Boat, and was discovered buried next to the Pyramids of Giza in the 1950’s. They dug up a pieces of wood perfectly inscribed with numbers for reassembling the boat ¬†– imagine “attach piece 145 A to 145 B”.

After fourteen years, they had reassembled a cedar-wood boat 143 feet long.

The cedar wood was brought from Lebanon almost 5,000 years ago when the boat was first built.

That’s right. You’re looking at a five-thousand year old boat.¬†I can’t believe it either.

It is called the Solar Boat because it was built for Khufu in the afterlife. When the Pharaoh died, he was going to sail through the sky with the sun, thus the need for the Solar Boat.

Further, they tested the wood while they were excavating, and determined that it had been, at one point immersed in water. Therefore, they can conclude that the boat was built for Khufu’s death, then sailed from Cairo (Memphis) to Aswan, the city of the dead and then back again. Aswan is the city of the dead because it is the home to the god Osiris, the god of the dead. I love this stuff.

 

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Lastly, we finished our day with the sun setting over the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids. It was a perfect day. I think I may quit my job and go into Egyptology…

Stay tuned! There is still lots more of Egypt to discover!

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Egypt: Islamic Cairo (Day 1)

First of all, let me say that I love Cairo. I love it for its speed, its noise, its throngs of people, its culture.

The people that shout, that smile, that laugh, that form the lifeblood of a city that has one hand giving a high-five to tradition and the other grabbing the short-skirted behind of capitalism and freedom of expression.

Cairo is a beast of a city, a pulsing heart running a marathon. If you ever make it to Cairo, you will be amazed at the layers of human experience.

From, literally, the oldest civilization in the world, to a mixing of cultures: Arabs, Islam, Christianity, Crusades, Colonialism, French and British influence, World War II, and McDonald’s. Every bit of rubble has a story to tell.

These are the people who live in the largest city in Africa.

Sean and I arrived two days before my parents and sister. We instantly were shocked by the sheer size of the city. It was a magnitude that we have never seen before. Sure, New York City is big, but it’s all in English, and you have the glitter of Times Square and a cop on every corner to point you to the nearest metro station and public bathroom. In Cairo, you are in a jungle of Arabic script and honking horns, with the smell of shawarma wafting through the air. We dropped off our bags and went for a walk.

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I was hoping for a side of french fries to go with my felafel sandwich, but I ended up with two sandwiches: one filled with felafel and one filled with french fries. Both were equally good.
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We found a warm, quiet cafe on the street near our apartment. We settled into the comfy, overstuffed chairs with a cup of chai, shisha, and the lovely drink I had come to be addicted to: sahleb. A delicious, thick, pudding-like drink that warms you from the inside out. We returned to this cafe multiple times not only for the shisha and chai, but for the $4 pizzas, too!

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Before my parents landed, Sean and I went to the Cairo museum. It was fantastic. We bought a book in order to be able to navigate the countless mummies, statues, and sarcophagi.

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Street art in Cairo.

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Once my parents arrived, we explored Medieval Cairo. While Sean and I enjoyed navigating the city by ourselves, it was truly exhausting. Therefore, we organized a guide for much of our stay in Cairo so that we could relax and enjoy the company of our family as well as genuinely understand the city. (We booked through a wonderful woman named Mara, who was fantastically helpful in arranging everything for us. She has hotels in both Cairo and Luxor, and can organize any tour you need.) The above picture is of Bab Al Nasr, or the Gate of Victory. It was the gate the victorious warriors would return to the city through after their conquests abroad.

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Once inside the area of Medieval Cairo, we visited the Mosque of Al-Hakim. It was a beautiful mosque, but the guy who built it was a little unhinged. (He is known as the “Mad Caliph” in Western literature.) Al Hakim passed a law that prevented women from wearing shoes so that they couldn’t go outside. He also killed all the dogs in Cairo because their barking annoyed him. He would wander around at night, and ordered all the streets of Cairo to be illuminated for him. (Before electricity.) Then, he changed his mind, and ordered everyone to be indoors by sunset. ¬†Then, at the age of 36, he¬†disappeared. (And who says history isn’t fascinating?)

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Inside Bayt al-Suhaymi, or, an incredibly rich person’s house during the Ottoman era. Every part of the house was beautifully adorned. In the background, you can see me, my mother, and our AMAZING guide, Mohammed, looking at an Islamic rug.
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The view out one of the women’s windows at Bayt-Al-Suhaymi. The point was that I could see you, but you couldn’t see me…

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A ‘living room’ type area at Bayt Al Suhaymi. Isn’t it just gorgeous? And to think, this was in the 1600’s!

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After Bayt Al Suhaymi (I am so tired of forcing my fingers to type that name… try it, it’s tough!) we visited the hammam of Sultan Inal. A “hammam” is a public bath, which were incredibly popular for a long period of time. Not many exist any more in Egypt; people now visit spas, and, obviously, bathe within their own homes. I have been in quite a few hammams in the Middle East, some still in operation and some such as this that have been preserved, and you can recognize them all by their beautiful stained glass ceilings. (If you go to Egypt, be careful with your Arabic; my students in Kuwait told me that “pigeon” and “bathroom” both sound like “hammam”!)
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This was one of the most beautiful places we visited: The Mausoleum and Madrasa of Sultan Qalawun. (There’s one of those names again…) A madrasa is a learning center. In the above photo you can see the place people would pray. (The Imam reads from the Quran in the wooden pulpit, and the arched area is pointing towards Mecca.)

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This is looking at the tomb of Sultan Qalawun. I am in love with the beauty of Arabic script, and the beautiful woodworking of the Ottoman era. (And remember, this is Egypt, wood is hard to come by!)

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Walking through Medieval Cairo. I love how the old architecture towers over the modern traffic. (And, trust me, this is NOT a typical street in Cairo!) The rest of Cairo has about four cars fitting into the width of this walkway.

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Here we are in a Sufi monastery built during the Mamluk period. Can you see, behind the “gazebo” style structure, the small doorways? Those were small rooms, where the Sufis lived. They would spend their entire lives within the confines of this complex. (Unfamiliar with Sufism? They are a sect of Islam that brought us the concept of the “whirling dervish”.)

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Again, inside the Sufi monastery. The prayer area. We were the only people there!

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Our final stop brought us to Khan El Khalili, or the famous bazaar of Cairo. We spent a few hours perusing the shops and feasting on felafel and eggplant¬†sandwiches. (And, admittedly, giggling while my mom and sister got targeted by shopkeepers for “one time deals” and “special prices”.)
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Dad, are you upset you didn’t bring one of those lamps home with you?

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More of Khan El Khalili. It was great to be in a place that didn’t allow vehicles. In this photo, I am standing outside of a shop where my father bought frankincense. Very cool, huh?
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Before we got in the car to return to our apartment, Sean snapped a picture of some boys playing soccer. Like I said, it’s a city of many voices.

(Check back soon! There is lots more Egypt to share with you! And, wow, in typing this blog, I am amazed at how much I learned!)

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