Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Richard's time in Egypt.

My husband went to Egypt for work. Here's his description of what he did. I'll create links at a later time to the places he mentions....


Hi Everyone!
I thought I should describe my very memorable trip to Egypt last week; it was quite an adventure! First off, we flew to Cairo via Frankfurt on Lufthansa on Monday, Nov. 21st. It was a very smooth flight. We arrived in Cairo at ~630pm, met by the expeditor, and driven to the Sofitel hotel in Maadi. The hotel is right on the corniche so there was a great view of the Nile. We met up with some colleagues and had dinner at TGIFs on the corniche. The weather the entire 11 days was fantastic; mid 80s, no wind, and really clear.

The next day, we were picked up at the hotel by a minibus and drove 8 hours out to the field crew. The trip took us past Giza onto the Alex highway (which is now a 4 lane express with toll booths). We then went up to Wadi Natroun and had lunch near a Coptic monastery. From there we took a desert road that took us to El Alamein where we rested. We then went along the coastal road west towards Libya before turning south into the desert on an unpaved road and into the middle of absolute nowhere! I spent the next 5 days on the crew staying in a trailer. Food and room were quite nice considering the location. One note, I have never seen so many stars in the night sky. The moon was not out so the milky way etc were very visible and sharp. wow.

The prospect the crew is currently working on is in the middle of a WWII battle field west of El Alamein with unknown mine fields. We had to stay on designated paths and were not allowed to go past the markers. The Egyptian army is conducting the mine clearance the old fashioned way by having about 12 guys walk shoulder to shoulder and poking the soil ahead of them with long sticks! Talk about teamwork...

We left the field crew on the morning of Tues, Nov. 29th back to Cairo via the same route. Checked back into the Sofitel late afternoon and arranged to go to Giza that evening for Sound and Light; it has not changed at all! One nice thing is that you can now sit at a cafe and have a beer or two while watching the show.

The next day, Wed, was a BIG day for me. I hired a car and driver and had him take me out to Saqqara, Dahshur, and Abu Sir. It was an amazing day. Driving in Cairo hasn't changed; still a death-defying experience. At Saqqara, I watched an excavation in progress. They were actually lifting two massive sarcophagii from adjacent shafts. Unfortunately, I wasn't permitted to take any pictures of the dig. I ended up going into Teti I pyramid to see the Pyramid Texts. My legs were pretty shaky after that.

From Saqqara we started to drive to Abu Sir but the police said it was closed for tourists and required a special permit from the Antiquities dept. I was not going to be deterred considering this was Egypt, land of Baksheesh! So I had the driver sneak around and make it to the locked gate. It paid off because I was entitled to a personal tour being the only one there! The escort showed me all kinds of sealed off areas under excavation by a Czech team. I found a perfect clay plate that was used for makeup but left it in place. They are now very serious about taking artifacts unlike the days of mummy bead hunting. (The paranoid side of me also envisioned the escort setting me up later for more money etc. by threatening me with arrest which is apparently a scam they use).

After Abu Sir, we then drove to Dahshur, which was closed when we were living in Egypt because of a military base. It is now open for tourists. I managed to climb down 65 meters into the Red pyramid; my legs paid the price the following day. From the Red pyramid, I walked over to the Bent pyramid which looks like the best preserved pyramid of them all since it has most of the outer casing still intact. It was closed for going into and, anyhow, I don't think that I could have managed another trek into a pyramid that day. We then drove back to Cairo in the late afternoon. On the way back, I took pictures of Felaheen and rural settings as the sun set. What colors! Dinner was at the hotel in a nice Italian restaurant. I had an excellent seafood pasta with wine.

The next day, Thursday Dec 1st, I took the metro (very clean and modern!) into Cairo to Tahir Square and spent the entire morning in the Cairo museum. I barely scratched the surface and my feet were killing me by lunchtime. Unfortunately, they no longer allow photography in the museum (so I bought a nice book from AUC instead). From the museum, I walked over to Groppi's cafe and had tea and chocolate cake. From there, I hailed a taxi and had him take me to the Citadel. It was school day so I was totally surrounded (and I mean surrounded!) by throngs of children the entire time answering their questions. They all got a big kick out of me asking them questions back in Arabic! After walking around and looking inside the Mohammed Ali mosque, I walked down to the old section of Cairo to the Ibn Tulun mosque. I made it just in time before closing and the setting sun made the whole area glow in orange. The walk was very confusing and medieval. From there, I hired a taxi who drove me to two different Mamluk tomb/mosques in the North cemetary of old Cairo. At one of the mosques, which is portrayed on the Egyptian one pound note, I managed to climb up the winding staircase in the minaret and was treated to a breathtaking view of Cairo at dusk. The climb up and down was very scary because it was in pitch black and I literally had to feel my way up with my shoes on each step. Exhausted, but very happy, I drove back to the hotel for a hot bath and dinner (Tex-Mex fajitas at El Ranchos!).

On Friday, Dec 2nd, I walked out to the corniche and hired a feluka ($5/hour) where I took pictures of farming across the Nile and of the Cairo skyline. After the boat ride, I hired a taxi and drove to the old Coptic quarter and visited the Roman guard towers and St. George's church and the Hanging church. Unfortunately, the Coptic museum is closed for renovations. I then had him drive me to Maadi and to CAC. They were having their annual Christmas bazaar! Unfortunately, the event has now grown where one has to buy tickets in advance. There were literally hundreds of people waiting in line which wrapped around to the side of the school! I wasn't going to wait that long. Instead, I walked from CAC and down memory lane. I managed to find our apartment on Road 82. It has really changed. The gate was locked and it seemed like nobody was at home (maybe at the Christmas bazaar?) Expats were living there since the SUV parked outside had stickers of Choate & Kent prep schools. They have added a floor and the area is not recognizable. However, the fruit tree out front which the bats loved is still there and that is how I found the flat. Also, there are Egyptian police posted at every street corner (who were acting nervous not knowing what I was up to taking pictures and all). Believe it or not, two kids were walking up the street. They were American and in 9th and 10th grade. I ended up talking to them for quite awhile and they were interested in hearing about how it used to be when we were living there. From Maadi and Digla, I went back to the hotel, checked out and drove to the airport. On the way to the airport, the taxi driver stopped at a few spots for me to use up the rest of my pictures. The last stop was the strange Indian temple /mansion made of red sandstone that is empty (I need to research that place). The flight back, once again, was smooth. I made it to Oslo before midnight for a snowy and cold return.

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