27 March – Off to Singapore

This morning we say goodbye to Egypt and head to Singapore on our way home.  Last night we grabbed an old newspaper from the hotel and wrapped up the vase ready for transport home.  Took a picture of it just incase it doesn’t survive the trip.

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We’d organised to share a cab with Greg and Kerri from out tour group to the airport for 75LE. So with our bags strapped to the roof and everyone crammed into the tiny car we set off.  Just down the road the cab driver informed us that our ride would be 100 + 2x 10 tickets making the ride 120LE.  With no-one particularly happy with this but everyone wanting to actually get to the airport we settled for being scammed one last time.  Half way he started asking for a tip which we declined. Once at the airport he dumped Greg and Kerri in Terminal 1 carpark saying he couldn’t get any closer.  He then demanded the fare which we refused to give him till he took us to our terminal.  After taking the long backstreets and refusing all requests for money now he dumped us at a bus stop and said that’s as far as he could go.  At this point he’d only gone through 1 ticket office and we could see he could drop us here and get out without buying a second ticket.  Eventually we got out and handed over the 120LE and wandered to the bus that took us to the terminal where there were clearly taxis dropping people nearer to the terminal.  It’s unfortunate that we got such a dodgy taxi driver as our last experience of Egypt.

We checked into our flight, had some lunch and boarded our plane. Today we were flying Singapore Airlines.  To our surprise the flight went via Dubai.  After a few hours in the air we sat on the tarmac for about an hour while some people got off and others on.  The plane was full and had an old entertainment system. We arrived in Singapore 1/2 hour early and headed for our hotel – The Golden Landmark Hotel.  I booked 2 nights so we could check-in and snooze shower as soon as we arrived at 6:30am and I’m really glad we did.  It was so good to have a half decent bed and a really hot shower after so many weeks.  We’ve bought some internet access to connect with the world but unfortunately the connection here is really bad and has taken all day to get a few blog posts up.  Tomorrow we’ll wander around the place before our flight tomorrow night when we head home to Brisbane.

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26 March – Cairo, Saqqara and Dashur

Our last free day in Egypt we were picked up by our awesome driver Moses and ventured out to Dashur and Saqqara to check out the less popular buy by no means less impressive pyramids. First stop was the Red Pyramid, the first known smooth pyramid.  We got here at opening and I snapped 1 picture before the tourist buses arrived. Even with a bunch of buses this place feels deserted compared to the pyramids of Giza.

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Next was the Bent Pyramid which is appropriately named due to the dramatic change in angle the pyramid was built on.  This one still has some of it’s casing which gives you an idea what they could have looked like when they were originally created.

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Watch out for “Antonio” out here.  He’s a Tourist Police on the scam for money who cornered John and then me.  I was standing on the edge of a cliff when he came bounding over on his camel to inform me I can’t take pictures in that direction. It appeared that I wasn’t allowed to take a picture in any other direction either except towards him (normally taking photos of tourist police is a big no-no). Seeing the nearest person was a long way away and he was the man with the gun I obliged and snapped a quick picture. He then demanded 10LE which i quickly refused. He started to get upset and then his mate came over carrying his machine gun so I handed over 5 LE and ran off not impressed.  He’d only just fleeced John for the same amount so he must make a decent profit out of tourists.

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We then moved to Saqqara to check out the Step Pyramid.  This one is much older and quite deteriorated but still very cool.  It’s under restoration at the moment so will be interesting to see what it looks like in 5 years.

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On the way back to the hotel Moses took us to one of the carpet schools to watch 8 year olds make carpet by hand.  The silk ones use 82 stitches per square centimetre and take 3 months per meter, while the wool ones are more like 35 stiches.  We caught up with the majority of the tour group for one last dinner before everyone went home.

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22-25 March – Sinai

After a day back in Cairo we boarded our mini-bus for Sinai in the north-east of the country. Sinai is quite different with more rocky mountains then down south, the roads were all sealed and our driver set speed records to get us to St Katherine a good hour ahead of schedule. As pat of the trip we went under the Suez Canal, I took some bumpy video of the massive container ships in the narrow canal but then left the camera on the bus for 5 min where it went walk about never to be seen again 🙁

That afternoon we hiked up the 3750 steps of repentance to the top of Mt Sinai where Moses had forged the ten commandments. Bronwen was not well enough for the trek and others in the group opted for a camel.

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It was an impressive view from the top and worth the hard climb. We watched the sun set while others read passages from the bible then proceeded back down with torches.

The next day we visited the Monastery of St Katherine which was packed with tourists. The main feature was the burning bush which was a little like an out of control blackberry bush kept in shape by the fact that anything in reach was dead from being touched by the thousands of visitors per day.

We then proceeded east to the coast, the red sea and our beach resort Sawa.

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This place was really good and gave us a chance to just relax with good food. The wind was cold but the sun was nice and warm, time to reflex on how good the weather had been in Egypt, clear blue skies everyday. That night we got a sandstorm that almost took the roof the bungalow and the camp, a once in 15 year event it certainly added some adventure to our stay. When we awoke in the morning we each had a perfect silhouette of sand around where we were sleeping. The staff were very quick to clean everything up. Unable to sit still for too long we convinced the staff to setup the volleyball net which brought out everyone’s competitive nature and good fun.

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We took a break from the relaxing and took a 4WD trip to the Coloured Canyon on the second day. A 90 min trip including some bumping travel over a dry river bed it was great to see something very unique to that area.

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It was just Bronwen and myself on the trip with our guide, we were the first to arrive so got some great shots without hundreds of people in the photos. I tried to take this rock home as a souvenir but had to leave it behind as things got narrow.

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20 March – Karnak

Located very close to Luxor is the massive ruins of Karnak. This was tourist central with a bottle of Gatorade for sale, 40 pounds ($13), in the searing heat.

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The main temple was impressive, the highlight being the obelix. They were all made in Aswan and floated down the Nile, very impressive. I liked the way the guide calmly said “Some of these are now located in Paris, London and Rome”, I wondered if they were taken as spoils of war over the years.

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The temple had a great mix of detail and grand walls, pillars and statues.

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Our next stop was the Animal Hospital, a purely donation based outfit caring for the animals at Luxor. Their new facilities were donated in a Will from a British benefactor. The hospital offers free cleaning and education services with Vets from around the world donating time to help the badly treated animals from the area.

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We visited on a Friday and the place was closed to the public but every stable was full and the Vets were hard at work. It was shocking to see how badly the donkeys and the horses can be treated and very moving to see the hard working people at the hospital doing their best to help.

 

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19 March – Luxor

A 4am start today in Luxor as I headed out to the west bank to board a hot air balloon. A dawn lift off, perfect morning with very little wind.

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It was my first trip in a balloon and was impressed by the unobstructed view and smooth ride. It was an awesome way to see the monuments. The whole production was well organised with about 300 people boarding 15 balloons. Each balloon’s basket was divided into 4 passenger sections with 5 people per section and then the pilot and two helpers in the middle. The landing was a little bumpy but added to the experience.

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I met back up with Bronwen and the rest of the group at 7:30am where we proceeded by donkey to the valley of the kings. No photos in the tombs unfortunately but it would have been hard to capture the length of the tunnels, the heat inside and the crowds in a photo. We got to see 3 of the 60+ tombs, our guide selected a good mix of paintings and etchings.

After a wonderful home-cooked lunch from our guide most of the group went back over the Nile to our hotel, I stayed on to check out more of Habu temple which had caught my eye from the balloon. It features some etchings 15cm into the rock.

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18 March – Edfu

This morning we dismantle our toilet and set sail for the other side of the river.  On our way to Luxor we stop at Edfu temple.  This was supposed to be a hidden gem that not a lot of tourists go to but the place is packed! Here are some giant basalt statues of Horus and a huge temple full of carvings that you’re allowed to take photos of.  Unfortunately we’re here in the middle of the day and the sun is very harsh so not the best time for photos.

 

We then drive onto Luxor where everyone is glad to be able to have a shower! We go in search of lunch and end up in some backstreets and stumble across this awesome restaurant. The finish and the fitting on this place are the best I’ve seen here.  They invite us to see the bathrooms, odd request I know, which are fitted out with awesome bits of granite and all very fancy.

On the way back to the hotel we stop to buy some drinks and chocolate. The guy wants 40LE (we paid 5 in Aswan) for a bottle of coke. After much haggling, leaving and being chased down we finally get the drink, some chocolate and biscuits for 20.

Later our group leader takes us for a bit of a walk through the city before leaving us to our own devices.  We wander through the markets which have a much bigger range of goods than those in Aswan looking for a nice Alabaster vase for the new house.  We’re taken to a back room (always makes me nervous) where the good stuff is kept.  They have some really nice stuff here and I spot a colourful, hand-made vase I like.  They want 850LE for the vase so we open low at 85LE.  The first guy freaks out and runs off to get someone else.  The next guy comes along to help with the sale.  For some reason he thinks we’re students and have no money.  Wonder if it’s the daggy clothes or the fact we opened so low on the item.  After lots of back and forth and him telling me I’m very difficult we finally settle on 200LE with a couple of scarab beetles thrown in.  My challenge is to get it back home without breaking it now.

 

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17 March – Felucca

After a great breakfast we say goodbye to our hosts as today we spend the whole day and night on the felucca.  I get comfy with my iPod and listen to some tunes and doze off while we sail up the Nile.  At the end of the day’s sailing we pull into a small island for the night as felucca’s aren’t permitted to sail at night.  It seems that a few people have been here before as the island is covered in 1/2 dug holes, scraps of toilet paper / rolls and general bits of garbage.  The local farmer doesn’t seem to happy with us digging our pit toilet close to his crops (who can blame him).

As it gets dark we have another great meal before a few games of uno by candlelight before we all go to sleep.  The night is quite cold and this is where I’m really glad we brought my sleeping bag and sleeping sheets with us.  John and I were nice and cosy while quite a few others weren’t warm enough under the blankets provided.

 

16 March – Nubian Homestay

We have a leisurely morning before our trip on the felucca. We wander back to the markets in search of some bread for breakfast where we find a bakery.  We’re quickly dragged inside and shown through the bakery and how they make the bread and given samples. Unfortunately we didn’t have the camera as it would have made a cool pic. After many thank-you’s we bought way too many pieces of bread and armed with a big jar of jam from another stand we are ready.

We pack up our bags so only the essentials are with us and head off on the felucca.  We’re served a delicious lunch on board the boat and sail up the nile. It’s actually quite cold and everyone huddles to one side to get some sun to thaw out.  It’s very peaceful floating along the river passing other sail boats and now and then a big cruise boat.  We pull up at a Nubian village where we will be staying the night.  It’s quite spacious with a massive sand courtyard that has been swept to perfection.

A bunch of us go for a  walk up a much smaller sand dune to get a view across the village while the others huddle around our group leader’s lap top and watch movies.  We’re shown around the house and again treated to a wonderful cooked dinner.  Some of us watch a movie and the others play cards for awhile before heading to bed. Tomorrow we have a full day of sailing ahead of us.

 

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15 March – Abu Simbel

A bunch of our group are up at 3am to join the armed convoy to Abu Simbel. We get to sleep in a little as we’re getting picked up at 7:30 for our 9am flight. We arrive a the airport quite early but don’t even start to board the plane till 8:55am. When we finally get on (1/2 hour to board) the seating is really odd. Everyone has been loaded on the left side of the plane. I think we’re the youngest people on the plane by at least 30 years.  I swear these people have never flown before as they keep getting out of their seats and playing with their bags etc.  We finally leave at 9:25am.  It’s a really short flight to Abu Simbel but you do get to admire the enormity of Lake Nasser. Once we land we look for our bus to take us to the site.  We wonder outside and don’t see anything promising.  There’s bunch of taxi’s and vans in the carpark happy to take us but we have to pay.  Starting to have flashbacks to being stranded at the airport in Peru we start to worry a little and contemplate just taking a cab.  Eventually we find the bus..it’s at the very back of the carpark, past all the cabs with a small Egypt Air logo.

We finally make it to Abu Simbel at 10:30 and have to be back at the bus at 11:50 so we rush to the ticket window and skip the guided tour.  We run around and take a bunch of pictures before going inside where we aren’t allowed to take pictures.

The temple makes my jaw drop. There are a bunch of rooms all with chiselled inscriptions in such detail.  There are 8 huge statues inside the doorway acting like guards and a statue of kind and family at the back that are only lit by the sun on 2 days of the year.  It is truly amazing that they shifted this temple 60 km from it’s original location but I’m glad they did! It would truly be a tragedy to have left this to be flooded by the new dam.

I was quite disappointed by the flight as it was very expensive, only gave us 1 hr 20 mins at the temple and left us there in harsh sunlight.  The other group left in convoy arrived just on sunrise and got much better light and cost them 1/10 of what we paid. In hindsight I would have chosen the convoy.  I had tried asking for flight times when we booked to no avail and was told it was the best experience.

 

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14 March – Aswan

We arrive in Aswan in the morning and grab our hotels before wandering through the markets and surrounding streets for a few hours.  The markets are quite long with lots of vendors trying to get you into their “hassle free” shop. There are many stands with scarves, spices and statues.  They all seem to be selling a bright blue spice called Indigo that really catches the eye (we find out later it’s just washing powder). I think the trick is to look straight ahead and to not stop walking. As soon as they see you look at their stand they’re all over you. We go in search of a different power adapter as ours seems too small for some of the sockets in the hotel. Eventually we find one for 10LE only to break it as soon as we try to use it in the hotel.

That afternoon we catch a boat across the river on our way to a Nubian house for dinner. We make a pit stop and a few of us walk up this giant sand-dune. Won’t need to use a Stairmaster for a month after climbing this dune! The sand is soooo soft it feels like you aren’t going anywhere at all. The view from the top is totally worth it though.

We move on to the Nubian village and have a look at their house. The family sleep in one huge room and nothing gets thrown out. I start to wonder if Dad is in fact Nubian as he’s gotta be the biggest hoarder I’ve met.  We have an absolutely delicious home-cooked meal made by the ladies of the house.  They then show us some of their wares (scarves, caps etc) before a party with the local children. The young girls sure have some groovin’ moves!  Then we hand out some lollies to the kids. It all starts very orderly and then quickly becomes a free for all with a few of them climbing up me to get to the lollies.  Seems kids all over the world have a sweet tooth.

Then back to the hotel to sleep. We’re catching a plane to Abu Simbel tomorrow.

 

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13 March – Giza Pyramids and Museum

This morning we head off to the Pyramids and it’s quite fascinating how close they are to all the buildings in town.  They still tower over many of the buildings  and are an awe inspiring site from the road.

We’re driving up to the panoramic area where we start our camel ride back towards the Pyramids. After riding bare elephants in Thailand the camels are a breeze. It’s worthwhile to ride them through the desert towards the pyramids. Our guide snaps a few pics on my camera. I’m always nervous handing over my camera…can get grubby fingers on my lens and no-one knows how to use it…but these pics came out ok (full auto is the way to go here).  I made sure I snapped a pic of my camel before we left them for the 3rd pyramid.  It may be the smallest but up close it still feels massive!

Then off to the 2nd pyramid where some of our group ventured inside while we had some time to take a few pictures. I could have spent many more hours here so felt a bit rushed. These structures are truly amazing..a really must see!  Then to the Sphinx.  This dude is soooo cool. There are so many people jammed into a little area it’s hard to get a decent photo of him without someone’s hand, hat or other body part in your shot.  I defiantly want to come back here on one of our free nights and take some pictures when they light up the area with the Sound and Light Show.

We’re then taken to the Egyptian Museum. This place is massive and only has a fraction of actual pieces.  You could literally spend weeks looking at each piece here. My favourite sections were King Tut’s Mask and coffins and the pet mummification section.  Here they had a really cool dog still with hair and teeth and a giant Nile Perch and crocodile.  I’m so tired after today..after taking in so much information and absorbing the sites I’m ready for sleep!

 

Tonight we catch the overnight train to Aswan (13hrs). The cabins are simple but quite nifty with seats that fold out to be bunks and a mini sink etc.  It’s gotta be way more comfy than sitting on a bus or a plane or 13 hrs.

 

12 March – Alexandria to Cairo

We got up early at the Windsor Palace Hotel to find they had hotwater..YAY. We have breakfast on the roof level of the hotel which has a spectacular view of the water and city.

We then grabbed a cab out to the Fort that is best described as a giant sandcastle. Here we’re given a personal tour by one of the security guards before wandering by ourselves to take some pics on what is an absolutely gorgeous day.  There are a bunch of school groups here this morning who seem to enjoy talking at us “Hello, What’s your name, where are you from etc.”

After leaving the fort we head back towards town and come across this really cool juice bar. It has an awesome range and huge amount of fruit to choose from.

With a couple of hours before our train is due we attempt to find a cab to take us to the Catacombs. This proves a little more difficult when you’re not outside one of the big tourist attractions. We finally find a cab who then has to find someone to translate for us and says he’ll take us for 3 LE.  So we head off and end up at Pompey Pillar (not far from Catacombs). When we go to pay he gets upset and demands more money. Finally after 13 LE we get out of the cab.

The afternoon is gorgeous and we get some cool pics with the circular polariser and then attempt our walk to the train after some vague directions from the security guard.

We wander through backstreets for what feels like forever not quite knowing if we are even remotely in the right place. There are so many mangy looking cats in this city it sometimes felt like déjà vu as a cat would dart out in front of you on every corner. Eventually turn a corner and pop out at the train station. What a fluke!

Here we proceed to have the most expensive soft drinks ever – 32 LE. Our train to Cairo is really full. Even though you have assigned seats people have to stand. Good thing we got on the train early.

When finally back at our original hotel to pick up our bags we have some fun explaining why we want to leave their hotel and go to another one. Our driver doesn’t seem too confident on where he’s going and stops for directions a few times. Eventually we arrive at Pharaoh’s Hotel were I quickly discover we have no toilet paper in our room. Lucky for us I brought some with me.

After an hour to settle in we meet up with our tour group. 9 people – 2 canadians and 7 Aussies.

Really looking forward to our trip to the Pyramids tomorrow at 8am.

 

11 March – To Alexandria

I got up early for our trip to Alexandria only to find there was no hot water at the Victoria Hotel…not a good start to the day. Then we wandered down the road to the train station hoping to get a decent train time to Alexandria.  Apparently you can’t buy a ticket for a train leaving in 5 mins so we had to get the next one 15mins later. Scored a 2nd class ticket on a slightly slower train. So far have had a bit of trouble getting change for things we buy. 100 LE notes don’t seem to be popular with people here.

Once in Alexandria (3hrs later) I wanted to grab our homeward journey for a decent time. We accidentally wandered into the “locals” line and were quickly ushered away by the security guard towards the 1st and 2nd class window for tourists. Along the way we managed to pick up a taxi driver who helped us buy our ticket though I wondered if he would have handed over the ticket if security hadn’t started to wandered towards us. Then the taxi driver wanted to drive us around town though I was keen to walk to get my bearings for our trip back to the train. Finally agreed to get dropped to the library and had to be very insistent that we didn’t want him waiting for us.

After grabbing our ticket to the library we queued up to check in our bags where we were promptly dragged out of line by one of the local girls and taken to the front of the line.  Special treatment for tourists it seems.

The library is HUGE but has a very funky, modern design with very empty shelves for it’s capacity. We wandered around for a bit before finding a cafe for lunch where I had a awesome spaghetti bolognaise.

When we were done we grabbed our bags and went to wander across the street closer to the ocean.  This is where we discovered the crazy road crossing techniques of Egypt. Pretty much it’s  a cross between a game of Frogger and a leap of Faith.  After standing there for ages we decided we’d tag behind a local. Unfortunately we picked a local who had no confidence either and she ended up getting assistance aswell. 

After taking a few pics I was approached by a group of girls wanting to have their picture taken with me.  I thought it was a bit odd but agreed.  We wandered on for a bit and then were approached by two guys for pictures also. Feeling like we were sticking out a bit we decided to head back to our hotel.

That night we went to a local restaurant listed in our guidebook called El Shark.  We had a massive meal that only cost 30 LE including drinks.  They had some really yummy homus and a pretty decent spaghetti.  I feel like a wuss eating spaghetti but am just waiting a few days till my stomach adjusts to the timezone before getting too adventurous.

 

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9-10 March – DC to Cairo

After a good sleep-in and a leisurely morning we headed to the airport for the next leg of our journey – Egypt.  This consisted of 2 flights: DC->Frankfurt and Frankfurt->Cairo on Lufthansa. The first was quite painful as there was no in-seat entertainment and much less legroom than previous flights. It really makes the journey seem so much longer. The 2nd leg we weren’t seated together so were a bit concerned about how full the flight would be.

Once in Frankfurt we attempted to get re-seated together only to find the flight is oversold and they were after volunteers to go via Munich. While the 400 Euros was tempting, memories of our night stranded in Chicago last year made us think twice.

After getting to Cairo, picking up our Visa and cash at the bank before customs we were quickly bombarded by people wanting to drive us to our hotel. We succumbed and finally paid way too much for a cab to our hotel.  We crashed hard that afternoon with plans to get up early for our train to Alexandria.

My first impression of Cairo is it’s much more modern, less crazy traffic, newer cars etc than Peru.  There’s also multiple satellite dishes on top of every building.

 

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8 March – Air and Space Museum

Today we ventured out to the Air and Space Museum near the Dulles International Airport. They have an amazing selection of planes, helicopters and even space craft like the Endeavour.

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They also had a Concorde from Air France. Such a cool looking plane.

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Here’s an F35 – a stitched panorama. You can see the amazing hanger all these planes were in.

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We’re flying on Lufthansa tomorrow to Cairo. Hopefully it’s a bit newer than this one.

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Finally, the Blackbird – John’s favourite plane. It’s capable of Mach 3.3.

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7 March – Washington DC

Now that the summit is over we’ve moved onto Washington DC. Today we wandered up the mall taking pictures of all the monuments. Unfortunately none of the water features are turned on and no tripods are allowed. So we got harassed by security  and got very grey pictures but it was a nice, warm day for wandering around.

As you can see, would be nice to Photoshop in a blue sky

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There were some cool statues around to take pictures of.

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The Lincoln Memorial is really impressive but no tripods and very poorly lit inside

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We then wandered over to Arlington Cemetery and wandered through the many gravestones.

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MVP Summit Day 1

Day 1 of the summit was very relaxed, we were able to sleep in and adjust a little better to the time zone. The first session of the day was Steve Marx (@smarx) and Azure, fantastic to see all he bits we have been playing with over the past months brought together as a Twitter Bot demo. Some of the many questions we have had were answered, for example it turns out that all storage in Azure is replicated 3 times! We got to speak to Steve afterwards about creating a good live Azure demo and of course the Gadget.

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Then off to the opening keynote by Toby. The highlight for us was when he showed shot of the MVP Summit attendee map that we’d prepared based on the data supplied by our MVP Lead Nick.

We have already run into many MVPs from previous years and new MVPs. This is an amazing event.

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Arrived in Seattle

24 hours of travel and here we are in Seattle. It is never fun to travel 15,000 KM but this trip was actually quite good. We flew Air New Zealand, a 777-200 from Brisbane to Auckland which was very rooming in economy then a classic 747-400 to San Francisco. Both planes had awesome entertainment systems, large personal LCD screens with 70 movies, 170 television shows all on demand. Interesting they let you start watching straight away, I didn’t even realise we had landed in Auckland until Top Gear suddenly turned off…

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This was the first time we had entered the US from San Francisco rather then LA, it was rather quite and a nice airport, recommend it. We did have the fun of hitting customs in the middle of the pack, everyone after us was moved into the additional lines / US lines. We were processed last but had plenty time to spare.

So compared to last year I’m rating Air New Zealand Cattle class higher then Qantas.

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Here we are on the other side of the world, and it is still Saturday! We have one week here then off to DC.