Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lazy Weekend

Didn't do a whole lot in Paris this weekend. Since this was the first time since getting here that I've had a weekend sans traveling, I managed to be fantastically lazy and accomplish nearly nothing. I spent the majority of the time updating the blog, getting relatively caught up with pictures on Facebook, and downloading some music. On Sunday I went to the international mass at Notre Dame, which was nice but not altogether translated into English. I guess it's just too much work to translate the sermon into four other languages, but the hymns and the Bible readings were provided in English, Spanish, German, and Italian. After church I lounged around the apartment for awhile longer - a little too chilly and cloudy to enjoy the outdoors - doing more picture uploading, music downloading, and movie watching before heading over to some friends' apartment to watch the Wisconsin/Cornell and Georgia Tech/Ohio State games.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Best Day in Paris So Far

On Friday Elizabeth took off from Paris for her Chunnel ride to London for her grad school interviews. We got breakfast next to the Centre Pompidou and then I took her to Gare de Nord to see her off. The weather was so outstanding that, after getting home, I packed a sack lunch and grabbed a book and headed to the Tuileries Gardens to do some reading. There's a bunch of public chairs clustered around the two massive pond/fountains in the gardens, so I just plopped myself down in one of those and let a couple hours tick by reading. It got a tiny bit chilly when the sun would go behind a cloud, but other than that the atmosphere was fantastic. I read until about 2:00, and then I was cold enough to merit walking around a bit.

I headed to L'Ile de La Cite and checked out Pont Neuf, the little garden area that makes up the westernmost portion of the island. I found the place in which Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was burnt at the stake in 1314 after his refusal to confess to the accusations of heresy that the church had made against him. I walked around L'Ile de La Cite a little more and then headed to Notre Dame for mass and the veneration of the crown of thorns. Louis VIII, a pious crusader-king of France during the 1200s, had brought the ACTUAL crown of thorns to Paris from Rome in 1263. It's kept in the Treasury of Notre Dame, along with a piece of the true cross and one of the nails from it, but is brought out for veneration every Friday during Lent. I was lucky enough to catch one of these services this past Friday. It was brought out of the Treasury and paraded through the aisles before being placed on the alter for the duration of the service. At the end, the priests called the congregation up pew-by-pew (much like communion) to kneel before it. A truly awesome and nearly overwhelming experience.

I was so jacked up with energy after the veneration service that I got home and decided to go on my first run since the Dallas half marathon in December. I knew I would be out of shape, but so it goes. I also didn't bring any appropriate sportswear over here, so I was wearing these ganster knee-length basketball shorts of Cameron's and these partial leather tennis shoes I brought. I'm sure I looked ridiculous. I headed south from my apartment and ran along the Seine until I got to the Louvre, then cut across the bridge, over L'Ile de La Cite, and then back along the other side of the river before returning north via Rue Sebastapol past Notre Dame. It was only about 1.4 miles, but it adequately wore me out. Felt really good to be outside and active again though. My traveling binge has really cut down on the opportunities for exercise, unfortunately.

I finished my day by taking a girl out to eat at one of the restaurants I discovered when my parents were in town, Le Coupe Chou (the one with the escargot to die for). I certainly don't mind paying a lot for dinner when it's as good as this place; it's also a super cozy basement restaurant that looks more like the Gryffindor common room from Harry Potter than anything else. All in all, a great day in Paris and one reason I'm so happy that I stayed in town this weekend versus traveling for the 9th weekend in a row.

St. Patty's 2010

Wednesday was the midterm exam in our international finance class that the three of us had been dreading for the last several days. I had to send Elizabeth out on her own again so that I could use the morning and afternoon to study, but then would be ready to go out for St. Patrick's day later that night. Between St. Patty's and the finance test being over, it would be a dangerous combination of reasons to celebrate!

Cameron had invited some people over to our apartment to preparty before we out to an Irish pub, where the Guiness would be assuredly marked up to exorbitant prices that we couldn't afford. We had to get our place presentable so the four of us cleaned up whilst showering and getting ready. Katie and Melanie from Wisconsin and our Slovakian friend Mattej were the only ones that we able to make it out, though, as half of the program still had another exam the next day and wouldn't be able to celebrate St. Patty's.

Elizabeth, bless her, brought a deck of playing cards from the States (impossible to find over here, strangely) so we were able to play a few American drinking games for the first time in months. After a few hours at our apartment, we found our way to O'Sullivans Irish pub a few blocks south, in between Hotel de Ville and the Centre Pompidou, and finished our evening there.

Elizabeth in Town

This week I had a visitor from home: Elizabeth Medlin, my friend from UCC in Fort Worth who also goes to UT with me. She was coming over the pond to interview with several graduate schools in England and she'd never been to Paris before.

She got into town Monday morning and I met her at the train station Chatelet Les Halles right by my apartment, the exact same routine as I'd done with Bob and Deb a few weeks prior. Her flight was delayed, so pretty much as soon as I'd gotten her I had to run to school for class and leave her at my apartment to take a nap. I had a finance midterm this week, so I knew that I wasn't going to be the best tour guide, but after class the two of us walked around the south bank and saw some of the touristy sites that I'd been holding off on seeing (namely, the Eiffel Tower). It was only the second real time that I'd set out and explored the city I actually live in. We walked around the area around the Eiffel Tower, including the Ecole Militaire and Les Invalides (though the building itself was closed so we couldn't see Napoleon's tomb inside), and then got crepes and walked the Seine back East. We crossed over and went through La Place de la Concorde, with Paris' pilfered Egyptian obelisk, the Tuileries Gardens and then through the Louvre to end up back near my apartment. Cameron and I cooked dinner for the four of us and we had a big feast of teriyaki chicken, pasta, and a bunch of sauteed vegetables.

The next day, since I had class nearly the whole time, Elizabeth went out on her own and explored other parts of the city like Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. Pretty tame night as the four of us ended the night watching Aliens.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Barca: Full Throttle Pt 2.

We woke up at about 2 in the afternoon after the club the night before, and were immediately in search of food. Once again (we really didn't branch out all that much this trip) we headed to Las Ramblas for tapas. Only then it was nice enough to eat outside, so we found a menu traditional enough for us and then got to work with a pitcher of sangria and some appetizers.

After that we decided to be touristy for a while and headed up north to Sangrada Familia, the unfinished Gaudi cathedral that has made Barcelona's skyline what it is for the last 150 years. I was astonished to know that it has never been close to opening (I always figured it'd been done for awhile), but no; it isn't even opening for mass until this fall and won't be completed in its entirety until 2030. The inside of the cathedral (what's done or that you can see, that is) was so intense and pretty breathtaking. I'm not one for modern art, but it was by the most intriguing architectural style on the interior that I've ever seen. You can tell that when it's finished it's going to be out of this world.

After that, we went back to Las Fondas (Cameron and I's restaurant from the first night) for sangria and dinner. Although, we started "dinner" at about 7 and, after having lunch at 3, wasn't all that hungry. So we were about 6 pitchers of sangria in before ordering any food. But Cameron and I were able to advise people on what was good, and this time around I tried the salmon plank that was so amazing when Cam had gotten it two nights before. We spent the next four or so hours just having good conversation with good friends, which was awesome. It turned out to be a pretty late evening, but we went back to the hostel and got ready for a relatively early morning leaving Barcelona back for Paris the next day.

Barca: Full Throttle Pt. 1

The next day Lauren Bonds arrived in Barcelona from London in the morning. She was the mastermind planner of the whole trip and was super excited to be getting out of the office for a few days (she's an investment banking first-year analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland and works 120 weeks typically). We got her moved into the hostel and then went back to Las Ramblas to get a good tapas and sangria lunch. Bonds' dad works for Continental Airlines, so she's probably the most well-traveled and worldly person for her age that I know. Thus Cameron and I would usually let her take the reins on pretty much anything, especially the local cuisine in a country she's frequented before.

After lunch we took another nap and waited for Kyle and Landon, our friends from UT, to get into town. It was UT's spring break and the two of them were flying from Austin to meet us in Barcelona for the weekend before continuing on to Rome and London. After they got there, we all got cleaned up and dressed to go out. For dinner, we went to a tapas bar and tavern right across the street from our hostel. It was a little place where every table had its own tap connected to a keg underneath, so you could pour your own beer. Then, we noticed that, on a television screen above the bar, it was keeping track of how much we'd poured. I'm sure it was meant for the bar to be able to charge us appropriately, but we took it in another direction and used it to compete with other tables. We won in a slaughter and finished the night at about 9 1/2 liters.

After that, we headed down to the beach where all the clubs are. Bonds' friend from RBS, who is originally from Barcelona, used some of his Spanish connections to get us onto the list for a club called CDLC, that's right on the water underneath the main road. We spent the rest of the night there, until about 3 or 4. From there, Kyle, Landon, and Bonds set out in search of food, and Cameron and I went to a park by our hostel and messed around being kids for around an hour. That was about it.

Man Date in Barcelona

Cameron and I got into Barcelona Thursday around noon. We used RyanAir, so unfortunately we had to fly into some secondary airport called Girona and then take a bus an hour and a half into the city. We hadn't exactly come prepared with a hostel or anything, so we basically got off the bus and set out trying to find the hostel our friend had booked for Friday and Saturday nights. I had a rough idea of where it was, so we took the metro to Las Ramblas (the main street in the southern area) and just started looking for HelloBCN Hostel.

We finally got some directions and made our way to the hostel, which was off of another big artery of the city called Parallel Street. Luckily they weren't full for the evening and we were able to get two beds in the same room that our friend Lauren Bonds had booked for the five of us the following two nights. We took a nap and then asked the hostel bartender for some dinner recommendations and an English-language movie theatre. We went up to the movie theatre and looked at times, then headed back to Las Ramblas to find a restaurant based on the bartender's suggestions. We settled on a place called Las Fondas, which turned out to be amazing and surprisingly inexpensive. We got a pitcher of sangria (the best sangria of the whole weekend, it turns out), two starter salads, and then I got potted duck and Cameron got a salmon plank. After that, we headed back to the movie theatre and saw Shutter Island with Leonardo DaCaprio. That movie was super freaky, so we just went home and went to bed. But otherwise, a good bro-date for our first night in Barcelona.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lazy Layover in Athens

Cameron and I woke up today around 2:30 in the afternoon with no clear plan whatsoever as to how to use our last 24 hours in Athens. We found one of the little cheap restaurants my book recommended for lunch, and then headed north past Omonia Square to the National Archaeology Museum. Although the building itself wasn't nearly as impressive as the New Acropolis Museum, the collection inside definately dwarfed what we'd seen in Athens during our first visit. The National Archaeology Museum is, just like the Egyptian Museum, consistantly considered one of the Top 5 museums in the world. I saw in person, yet again, a good number of pieces that I'd learned about in art history.

On our way back to the hostel, we came across a Greek Communist Party march coming from Omonia Square. In recent days, Omonia and other public gathering places around the city have apparantly been very lively; rioters throwing molotov cocktails and rocks at riot police and SWAT teams, homemade bombs being put into trash cans, etc etc. Although we'd heard of riots and strikes happening when we were here before (even stumbled into a Muslim protest of sorts at one point), things have apparantly deteriorated significantly even in the course of a few days. The German Government is looking to purchase investments in Athens' temples and semi-nationalize Greece's ouzo industry in order to bail out the Greek government. Selling off some of the Greek islands has also been proposed, all as alternatives to Greece being kicked out of the E.U. for not performing economically.

Easy night in at the hostel bar again watching CNN. Going to get to bed here in a few minutes because, although we don't have an early day getting back to Paris tomorrow, getting a full night's sleep is always a welcome irregularity. I hope to get back to Paris and be able to upload a whole bunch of pictures to Facebook and here now that the blogging is all done. Thanks for the patience on the photos!

Getting Out of Egypt

Our bus experience was certainly experience. First, when we got to the bus stop we discovered that the tickets we'd bought weren't exactly the correct ones. We'd only bought the service to some town en route to Cairo, so we had to pay the bus driver an extra 30 Egyptian pounds to get the full service to Cairo. We were crammed into the second-to-last row by all these native Egyptian people. Lauren's hopes of sitting with one of us were dashed when she had to sit by a Muslim woman who wasn't allowed to sit next to a man not her husband.

The bus would stop every few hours and let people off to stretch their legs. Often times we'd get off and be at a random truck-stop-esque place with dirt roads and nothing else. We slept off and on, and when we woke up we were unexpectedly in Suez. Since Suez is a good three hours East of Cairo and not directly on the way, we had to double-make-sure that we were on the right bus. Luckily I knew the Arabic word for Cairo (Al Cahira) and the bus driver was able to nod enough to give us some confidence. However, about three hours later we started seeing the familiar traffic and pollution, and before we knew it we were pulling into Ramses station. Ourselves and a guy from Australia we'd met - the token four white people - were the last and only people on the bus at this point.

We had a 7 hour layover in the Cairo airport before getting back to Athens. We had a brief scare when we realized (with about 30 minutes to take off) that we had neglected to pack the 9 bottles of perfume that we'd bought into our checked luggage. Thus we had 9 unlabeled bottles of 500ml liquid wrapped in packaging tape and stuffed into a velvet suitcase that we couldn't exactly explain. We tried playing dumb at first and just going...'oh God, how did we forget to repack the perfumes?' but then we ended up having to adopt a different solution. The security guys waved Lauren and I threw, but made Cameron exit security and come back through the line. This time, when he checked Cam's passport, he quickly pocketed the 300 Egyptian pounds stuffed inside. We were officially clear to leave Egypt. We got back to Athens late afternoon and headed straight back into our town to our old hostel in the ghetto neighborhood. One would think that we'd go straight to bed, but Cameron and I ended up spending a considerable amount of time in the hostel bar getting our free ouzo shots before retiring for the night.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Luxor Pt. 2

We woke up bright and early on Saturday for our day on the West Bank. Our hotel had arranged a driver for us to take us around for 6 hours for 180 Egyptian pounds (about $35 per person), which was definately nice. We drove south along the Nile for awhile before getting to the bridge that goes across. Otherwise we would have needed to take a public ferry and I'm sure we would have been scammed or ended up in the wrong place anyways. Our driver took us to the Valley of the Kings and arranged to pick us up in two and a half hours.

The Valley of the Kings is set into a brilliant mountain landscape that pops out of nowhere about a mile west of the Nile. In typical Egyptian fashion, Luxor was built with the city of the living on the east, where the sun rises, and the city of the dead on the west bank, where the sun sets. Thus the West bank is littered with mausoleums, mortuary temples, and burial complexes like the Valleys of the Kings, Queens, and Nobles. We walked around the Valley for awhile without going into any towns, until some Egyptian native invited us to climb to the top of the mountain with him for a better view. For some reason, photos are allowed in the Valley of the Kings (even the outside, which is ridiculous), so you have to climb away from the regulators if you want to get some good shots. This guy's name was Ahmed and he took us up this series of goat path looking things up this hill. We thought we were getting close until he crested the hill and saw the brunt of the mountain still staring at us. We figured we'd gone too far already to turn back, so we ended up climbing to the very top. I'm glad we did, as the views were breathtaking; you had the Valley of the Kings and the mountains on one side, and then the distant Nile and Luxor on the other. We spent some time at the top of the mountain eating some oranges we'd pilfered from the hotel breakfast before heading down to see some tombs. The ticket we bought is only good for three tombs, so we used my Frommer's book to determine which were the best ones. The Tutankhamen tomb was an extra ticket, and the book said its overrated since everything from it was taken to the British Museum, so we skipped that one. We ended up going to Ramses III, Tutmosis III, and Ramses IV. Tutmosis was the coolest, as it was dug into the side of a cliff about 50 meters up and then you had to access different parts by a skant bridge over a nice black abyss. All were very intricate in their artwork and were cool to look inside.

After Valley of the Kings we drove around a couple of the mountains (including the one we'd just climbed) to come to the Temple of Hatshetsput. The unfortunate site of the 1997 terrorist attack that aimed at eliminating Egypt's Western influence by eliminating the tourist trade, the site is a majestic three-tiered temple structure built as the mortuary palace for Queen Hatshetsput. It was super hot at this point in the day already, so after walking up the great ramp and looking around the columnades we decided to call it a day and head back to the East Bank.

We then attempted to buy train tickets for the return trip home, only to discover that the international car was sold out. Since we're not allowed to ride in the cars with native Egyptians because of the risk of a terrorist attack killing Westerners, we had to forego the train idea and take the public bus home (which, ironically, was full of native Egyptians). After that was taken care of we returned to the Nefertiti to cool down in the terrace area. While Lauren went off shopping for more worthless scarves and Egyptian things, Cameron and I enjoyed some tea and two rounds of the shisha. This time we sampled strawberry and apple flavors. It was the perfect end to our stay in Egypt as we got to watch the sun set over Luxor Temple once again before packing up for home.

Luxor Pt. 1

We took the night train from Cairo to Luxor. We had a ticket that was completely in Arabic, with no indication of car number or seat number or anything. We knew what time the train was supposed to leave, but that was it. When it finally did show up about 20 minutes late, it was a mobscene trying to get inside from the platform. We finally ended up in a six-person car with the three of us on one side and four Egyptian men on the other. They all seemed startled that Lauren was in the same car as them. About thirty minutes into the train ride, after someone different had checked our ticket about 10 times already, we were instructed to move to car 1. The international car, they say, is guarded by Tourism Police armed with sidearms and AK-47s. A 1997 terrorist attack in Luxor that killed 63 Westerners has the entire country on edge and, since they pretty much rely solely on tourism, they are willing to do whatever necessary to protect us. So we had to move from car 6 to 1 via these rickety steel plates in between the cars that would bow downwards when you stepped on them. Sketchy, but exciting nonetheless. We finally ended up in a car with a very well traveled retired couple from South Africa and a middle-aged guy from Australia. The rest of the train was uneventful and we woke up about 6:30am to watch the sun come over the Nile and the palms.

When we got into Luxor we made straight for the Nefertiti hotel. The town itself is tiny compared to Cairo, as the only reason it exists is for tourism purposes. We were completely bombarded - way worse than in Cairo - by taxi drivers, horse carriage drivers, and anyone who wanted to carry your bag for a tip. The Nefertiti Hotel was located in a little offshoot alley from the main road and was really quaint and nice. The room set up was similar to the Mayfair with the shower positioned directly over the toilet and just a big drain in the center of the bathroom.

Cameron and I went out to explore the city while Lauren napped, but we rapidly discovered that Luxor is anywhere between 10-20 degrees hotter than Cairo at any given point. We walked from our hotel near Luxor Temple to the Western edge of town and then had to double back exhausted for some water and a nap. We woke up in the late afternoon after the hottest part of the day had passed (and prayer time, seeing that it was Friday, their holy day) to go and explore the temple complex at Karnax. About two miles north along the Nile, this used to connect to Luxor Temple by a paved road and dual rows of sphinxes, only a few of which now survive at each end. However, Karnak temple is absolutely massive and mind blowing. We walked around the hippostyle halls and columnades for an hour or two and took a bunch of pictures. In the spirit of my mom and dad, we even imitated some hieroglyph statues. Karnak was the administrative and political seat of the Old and Middle Kingdoms until the capital was moved to Thebes and / or Memphis, so the site itself was just amazing and had a whole lot of history attributed to it.

After dinner, we got a dinner recommendation from our hotel and just found a nice Korean food place near the Nile in the nicer part of town where the Sheraton and Hilton were. We knew we were getting up early for the West bank the next day, so we pretty much went home and passed out after our Korean feast.

Cairo Pt. 3

On Thursday we decided to see Cairo itself. We begun our day with an extensive stint at the Egyptian Museum. The Museum was the first throng of tourists we'd encountered (but would later become accustomed to at Luxor), but that was okay. The building itself is very cool and seems like it hasn't changed since the British colonials built it. The collection inside is also absolutely mind-boggling. After Florence and Athens, this makes weekend number three that I'm basically living my introductory art history class. I saw the classical Egyptian pieces like the Narmer Palette that up until now I'd only seen a in textbook. Unfortunately, the museum has entirely too many pieces for the space inside. Artifacts that any other museum in the world would kill for are shoved up onto a shelf in the Egyptian museum, almost out of sight completely. Most of the pieces don't even have labels. And, I read today in the paper that the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities weaseled another 25,000 artifacts out of the British Museum. I have no idea where they're going to put all that stuff; they're already bubbling at the seams with their existing collection.

We stumbled around the Egyptian Museum neighborhood to find a cheap place to eat, and then we headed across town to the old Citadel. It was built by Salah-al-din (or Saladin, to us Westeners) in the middle 1100s to fortify the city against any Christian crusader attacks. After the Christians took the fortress of Ascalon on the Sinai Peninsula, Cairo immediately became a target, and Saladin's expertise ensured the city's survival. He later marched on to take Jerusalem in 1187, so I guess he knew what he was doing. At the top of the citadel is the Muhammmed Ali (the Egyptian ruler, not the boxer) mosque. We respectfully took our shoes and hats off and walked inside and just admired the building while people were all around praying. Since icons and imagery of holy people is forbidden under Islam, Muslim holy sites are all decorated with natural motives like leaves, ivy, or geometric patterns. It makes for a very beautiful decor scheme. The architecture of the Muhammed Ali mosque is modeled after the Hagia Sofia church-turned-mosque in Constantinople-turned-Istanbul. The patio outside offered some pretty good views of downtown Cairo, but unfortunately the smog and pollution made any picture-taking pretty much worthless.

After the Citadel, as opposed to trying to fit in another neighborhood of Old Cairo like the Coptic area, we opted to go back to the Mayfair hotel and have tea on the rooftop terrace before heading to the train station. Since it is spring break, after all, it felt nice to just relax with a few glasses of tea as the sun set. Then, it was off to Ramses station for our 10 hour night train to Luxor.

Cairo Pt. 2: Giza

Today we set out for the pyramids at Giza. As is the norm in Egypt, apparantly, the cab drivers will unexpectedly take you to local businesses to try and get you to buy things. Our first such stop was a papyrus factory, where they showed us how papyrus paper is made. With the exception of some modern industrial assembly-line techniques, the process hasn't really changed since the time of the pharoahs. We quickly learned that Egyptian culture is very hospitable, at least to those with money to spend; we were served Egyptian coffee and tea while we perused the gallery. I ended up getting a large and beautiful papyrus banner depicting the 99 names of Allah in Arabic. I figured that, if I want to be an amateur Crusade historian, my future library would not be complete without some memorabilia from the East.

After the papyrus place, we went to one of the cab driver's friend's businesses: an ironic blend of parfumerie, tour company, and stables. We were shown how traditional parfumes are made from extracting the pure essence of various flowers. Cameron, Lauren, and I each got about an hour's worth of sampling and I ended up buying a 300g bottle of a lotus-based essence for about $40 USD. I rarely wear cologne, so I figured an Egyptian one would last me for awhile. While we were sampling the various essences, the owner of the parfumerie/stables was readying our camels. When we were all done at the parfumerie, we walked outside and our camels (Ali Baba, Schzerahad, and Michael Jackson) were waiting for us. As it should be, I was assigned Michael Jackson and the middle of the camel train. Our guide, Chemou, rode and Arabian horse in front of the caravan to lead us. We climbed up a steep sand dune at the edge of Giza village and then came in full view of the three main pyramids. They sneak up on you and are revealed all of the sudden in a truly miraculous fashion. I don't think I've ever taken so many pictures in such a short period of time in my entire life. We approached the plateau from the south, coming down from a panoramic view and arriving first at the smallest pyramid, the one belonging to Menkaure. The larger pyramid of Khafre (Menkaure's father) and the great pyramid of Khufu (Khafre's father) are arranged diagonally northeast from there. We would systematically get off our camels to walk around, see various ruins like the Pharaonic Temple where the funerals were held, and take more pictures. We then left the Pharaonic Temple in front of Khafre's pyramid and walked down the Grand Causeway toward the Sphnix. We got off our camels again, did the blatant tourist picture-taking, and then headed back into the village to demount.

Once back at the stables/parfumerie, we switched our ride from camels to Arabian horses. We then spent the next two or three horses riding south into the desert from Giza to Saqqara, site of the first pyramids built in all of Egypt and the models for the three great pyramids that are so well known now. Some of the times we would take off across the dunes at a full sprint that would almost rip you out of the saddle, but most of the time we walked up and down the tall dunes at a leisurely pace. It was extremely nice and relaxing to be riding as the sun set to our right. We passed a variety of ruins, a couple of army bases (where Lauren was whistled at considerably), and, regrettably, piles of trash just stuck randomly into the desert. Once we got to Saqqara, we demounted and took pictures with the stepped pyramids therre. As the sun was setting and it began to get dark, we headed east into the village, where a car was waiting to get us. Chemou took us to a part of the village that rarely sees tourists, as there's really nothing for them to see or do there, which made for a very interesting experience. Literally hundreds of children who were playing in the dunes or the alleys of the village would stop what they were doing and start running after us waving and yelling 'Hello!' and 'How are you?' Our guide says that, even in Egypt, tourists are not seen very often and it might have been the first time that those kids had seen Westerners.

We got back to Giza and had a kebab barbeque and Sakara beer (owned by Heineken) with our tour guide Chemou and the owner of the whole get-up, Ali. Our driver, Ahmed, had been waiting for us since the parfumerie and then took us back to the Mayfair hotel for the night. It was only about 9 pm, but we were pretty exhausted. I didn't get nearly as much sun as I thought I would, but it felt great to get a shower and get into some gym shorts. Cameron and I watched part of the Egytian/English national teams soccer game for awhile, but after England made it 3-1 we considered it over and went to bed. An overall exhausting day, but probably one of the most (if not the most) fantastic days of my life.

Cairo Pt. 1

We got into Cairo from Athens on Tuesday. We got our first experience of Egyptian 'hospitality' at the airport when tens of taxi drivers were all fighting for our business, taking our bags without our permission and heading to their cars promising "cheap price, very cheap good price." We finally bartered a price we felt good about and headed to our hotel, the Hotel Mayfair in the Zamalek neighborhood. Zamalek is kind of like Ile de la Cite is to Paris, a big island in the middle of the Nile with the city stretching out on either side. The hotel itself was nice enough, but it was a situation where you could definately tell you were in Egypt. We had a shared bathroom, and the shower was just conveniently located (no door or curtain) over the toilet. Apparantly they're fans of multi-tasking there. They also got a shock when we ordered a triple room. They saw Lauren in our party and asked if we wanted one double and one single, but when we said we were all together they looked at us like we were crazy.

With our remaining daylight we just walked around Zamalek and the Nile in search of a restaurant. We settled on an outdoor patio / riverboat place and got a nice dinner. The food prices were a wonderful comparison to Paris. We got a huge meal for about 350 Egyptian pounds, or about 90 US dollars for all three of us. We finished the meal with two shishas - the flavored tobacco smoked out of a hookah - that were pretty different and entertaining. We got grape and Coca Cola flavors. It was very relaxing, all in all, as we spent about 3 hours at the restaurant and then went back to the Mayfair to go to sleep early to get ready for an eventful day at Giza on Wednesday.

Athens Pt. 3: Sounio

On Monday, since we'd exhausted the big tourist sites in Athens, we decided to take a side trip to the coast for a few hours. We chose Sounio because of favorable reviews we'd gotten from my Frommer's book and other people; it's a tiny village on the southernmost tip of Attica that is famous for a very well-preserved Temple of Poseidon. It's claim to fame is a myth about how the Aegean Sea was named. King Ageus sent his son, Theseus, to Crete to slay King Midos's minotaur. He told Theseus' crew to return with white sails if he was victorious but black ones if he had perished. Upon his victory, Theseus was so excited that he forgot to switch the sails upon returning home. Seeing the black sails on the horizon, King Ageus threw himself heartbroken into the sea from the Temple of Poseidon at Sounio and the sea was forever after named after him. Kind of interesting.

Sounio was a two-hour bus ride away, so we got there around two in the afternoon and had about four or five hours to mess around before taking the last bus back to Athens. We first off explored some of the cliffs that make up the peninsula near the temple, and then headed down to a relatively calm rock cove to take a dip in the sea. I was under the impression that the Mediterranean was warm year round; unfortunately I quickly remembered we were bordering the Aegean. The water was pretty cold, but after going swimming at the ranch in November and being in a Norweigan glacial lake before, it was the kind of cold that I wasn't absolutely opposed to. Felt super good to go swimming again, even if I was wearing gym shorts and nearly freezing. Once I sucked it up and dived all the way in and swam about a little bit, it was definately refreshing.

After swimming for about an hour we reclothed ourselves and headed up to the Temple of Poseidon. We did the normal picture-taking and then headed back down to the lone cafe in the village to watch the sun set over the Aegean.