The End?

As you already know, I’ve been home from my great TIME adventure for two weeks. And it has been an interesting two weeks. Not because I’ve been doing anything cool (I’ve mostly been lounging around in my pajamas), but because I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my trip. While I miss it terribly, and miss the great sense of adventure I had every day on the trip, and miss the people from TIME, I know that I will see my TIME friends soon back at St. Olaf and that there will be another adventure some day, maybe closer than I think. I truly had the TIME (haha) of my life on this trip and cannot be more grateful to the people that made it possible.

A word on the blog: I haven’t decided if I want to keep blogging or not – stay tuned for forthcoming news on that!

Thank you for your support throughout this whole journey, I hope you enjoyed reading stories of my time on TIME.

-Katie

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The Great Catch-Up, Part 6: A Night at a Sufi Dance Show

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The very last thing we did before leaving Cairo was attend a Sufi dance show by Khan el Khalili (the giant marketplace in Cairo – very stressful and crowded). The show took place at night in a beautiful tall building that seemed to be made especially for this performance. I was on the edge of my seat from the beginning of the show to the very end. The music was loud and rhythmic, and the dancers were exuberant as they spun around and around – the first main dancer spun in a circle for 30 minutes straight! This twirling, which is a form of physically active meditation, helps the dancers reach the source of all perfection and thus be connected to God. The spinning is seen as a symbolic imitation of the planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun. I am so glad I ventured out to view this show, as it was truly magical.

-Katie

The Great Catch-Up, Part 5: An Afternoon at Al-Azhar Park

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Right before we left Cairo, a group of us ventured out to Al-Azhar Park. Located amongst the business of Cairo, the park was beautiful and the perfect oasis to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Listed as one of the world’s sixty great public spaces, the park was a gift to Cairo from Aga Khan IV, a descendant of one of the caliphs who founded the city of Cairo in the year 969. The park boasts many varieties of flora and fauna and has several ponds and fountains, and there are some great views of Cairo to be seen from the park. Walking around the park wasn’t completely serene, though – even though it was a small group of us, we attracted a lot of attention and, once again, were asked to be in lots of pictures with Egyptians who were sprawled out on the grass and playing in the park. Rain clouds and light sprinkling threatened to ruin our day, but thankfully they held off until we left the park.

 

-Katie

 

The Great Catch-Up, the Intermission: An Ode to Koshery

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Through our many forays into the culinary world of Cairo, we as a group discovered the wonderful dish of koshery. Warm, filling, and cheap, it quickly became the meal of choice for our group. I like to think of it as Egypt’s answer to comfort food – here, comfort food is mac ‘n’ cheese or alfredo; in Egypt, comfort food is koshery. It’s that good.

Koshery consists of lentils, noodles in various shapes, rice, chickpeas, crunchy fried onions, and tomato sauce. A vinegar-y sauce and a hot sauce are typically served on the side with koshery. My favorite place to get koshery was at a restaurant called Cairo Kitchen on Zamalek, where you could wash down your koshery with ice cold glasses of coconut milk and finish with a bowl of rice pudding. Delicious!

koshery

-Katie

The Great Catch-Up, Part 4: Alexandria

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Near the end of our trip, we spent a few days in Alexandria. The city is right on the coast of the Mediterranean and our hotel looked out onto the water. We enjoyed touring and exploring the city in our free time.

Highlights

–On the way to Alexandria, we stopped at two Coptic monasteries and were given very interesting tours through the churches and the monks’ cells there. We even got to sit in on part of a service, where lots of monks were chanting and swinging incense. It was very cool and interesting to see!
–My favorite part of Alexandria was going to the catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa. Considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages, this necropolis consists of a series of tombs and archeological objects that meld Egyptian style with Roman and Greek influences. We unfortunately weren’t able to take pictures in it, but it was truly spectacular. The tombs were huge and expansive, and were very interesting to explore.
– While we were at the Qaitbay Citadel, a small group of schoolchildren arrived shortly after us on a tour. While we tried to pay attention to our guide, they ran around the huge fortress all the while shouting at us “WHAT’S YOUR NAME?!”, most likely the only English phrase they knew. We got a kick out of it!
– We also went to Pompey’s Pillar (the largest Roman triumphal column constructed outside of Rome and Constantinople) and Kom al-Dikka (also known as the ROman amphitheater).
– the library of Alexandria was huge, beautiful, and had a lot of interesting art exhibitions. We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore it all, but I thoroughly enjoyed it regardless.

-Katie

The Great Catch-Up, part 3: Out and About in Cairo

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Exploring Cairo was always a fun experience. The city itself is ginormous and there is always something cool to see on every street. We didn’t always have much time to venture off Zamalek into the rest of Cairo, but when we did it was always special. On this particular day we were given a tour of several mosques in Cairo.

Highlights
– Seeing several mosques (the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the Mosque of Al Rifai, the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, and the Mohammed Ali Mosque). The Mosque of Ibn Tulun is the largest mosque in Cairo, and we got to climb to the top of its minaret and look out onto Cairo! We were also the only ones there, which made the whole experience very calm and surreal. The Mohammed Ali mosque was especially cool because it was built in the Ottoman style and reminded all of us of Istanbul.
– After admiring the most beautiful Egyptian baby I have ever seen, I was asked to take a picture with it. Flattered? Sure!
–Being crowded by school children outside the Mohammed Ali mosque who wanted to take our pictures (all too familiar, at this point).

-Katie

The Great Catch-Up, Part 2: Sakkara and Memphis

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We went on a day trip to Memphis and Sakkara, which are both extremely close to Cairo and close to each other. There we saw a giant statue of Ramses (how they even carved something so massive 3,000 years ago, I cannot fathom) and the Step Pyramid of Pharaoh Djoser. This Pyramid was built way back in the 27th century BC  and is considered to be the earliest large-scale cut stone construction. Pretty cool no? Outside the pyramid we made some friends in the form of very dirty but cute dogs and one shy donkey.

-Katie

The Great Catch-Up, Part 1: Luxor and Hurghada

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Thought I forgot about you, huh?

Well, I sort of did. But I’m back! Back in the US (have been for two weeks) and back on the blog. I figured I owed it to you guys to finish posting on all my adventures even though they’ve been over for two weeks (sob). So here’s post 1 of what I’ll call The Great Catch-Up!

For Egyptian excursion, we went to Luxor and Hurghada. Luxor was filled with antiquities, lots of history, and equally long touring days; Hurghada, on the other hand, was filled with the beach, swimming, and lots of relaxing (and lots of Russians…). Here are the highlights from both!

Luxor Highlights

– finding a cute restaurant tucked into the back streets of Luxor and having the best falafel burger of my life there.
– seeing tons and tons of antiquities and ancient things….the Luxor Temple, The Karnak Temple, the Mortuary temples of Ramses II and III, the Colossi of Memnon, the Luxor Museum, the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Artisans…
– going to the Valley of the Kings and getting to see the tombs of Ramses I, IV, and IX. They were huge and beautifully decorated – I wish we could have taken pictures in them! I also wish we would have been able to see more tombs (there are 63 in the valley!).
– being mistaken for the first time in my life as Japanese….um, what? Our very quirky tour guide named Muhammed asked me on the first day if I was Japanese, and then proceeded to call me ‘Sweetie Sweet’ for the rest of the tour days. He also made me model sandstone pigments from the different antiquities we went to, and by the end of most touring days I would have stripes of different color sandstone up and down my arms.
– being woken up by the most deafening call to prayer I’ve ever heard….okay, so maybe this wasn’t quite a highlight, but it was an added bonus that when the call to prayer happened around 5 in the morning it usually was time for us to get up anyways (our touring days started early to avoid to intense midday heat).
– going on a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings! Read all about it here.
– taking a leisurely feluca ride on the Nile at sunset.

Hurghada Highlights

– snorkeling in the Red Sea for almost a whole day. TIME had their own private boat and we cruised around the Red Sea to a few different spots where we could snorkel. We saw pretty coral, interesting fish, a small shipwreck, and even an eel!
– showing the numerous Russian tourists at our resort how to bust a move at the resort’s club (we were the best dancers there by far).
– getting absolutely eaten by mosquitos….also not a highlight, but definitely notable. This time was almost worse than Essaouira.

-Katie

The Pyramids of Giza

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One of our first excursions in Cairo was to the infamous Pyramids of Giza. I was extremely excited to go to the pyramids – what could be more quintessentially Egyptian? Our day started early, and I was quickly surprised to find out that the pyramids were right on the edge of Cairo (still a good 45 minute drive from Zamalek thanks to the traffic, but closer than I expected).

Immediately I found myself in awe of how large the pyramids were and marveling over the amount of man-power that went into these massive structures. Truly amazing when you think about it! Before I knew it, our tour guide (who was fabulous and sassy to boot) was handing us tickets to go inside the Great Pyramid (aka the Pyramid of Khufu), the tallest one of the three pyramids of Giza. WE WENT INSIDE A PYRAMID. I kid you not. I have never been so overjoyed in my life. I felt like I was Indiana Jones or Jack & Annie from the Magic Treehouse series book Mummies in the Morning (didn’t read those? You didn’t have a childhood). While crouching through the cramped passages and climbing up the steep inclines, I quickly learned that a maxi skirt was not the right clothing item to wear on this particular excursion day – I ended up stepping on it so many times that when we went into other tombs and such I just tied it by my knees with a hair tie. The main chamber of the pyramid was slightly anticlimactic, being small, hot, empty, and undecorated, but I was excited nonetheless thinking about the fact that I was in the center of an ancient pyramid, where once the mummy of a pharaoh was laid to rest. Eep!

We also got to go inside a small tomb in front of the pyramid, which had very impressive hieroglyphs, the first of many to be seen during our time in Egypt; and also a smaller pyramid in front of the Great pyramid, which to enter into we had to crouch and climb down a steep incline. I felt like an explorer and going into each tomb gave me an adrenaline rush!

We then went to the Cheops boat (or Khufu ship) museum, which was very interesting. Found in a pit by the pyramids, it was intended for use in the afterlife, as the afterlife was extremely important to ancient Egyptians. It is thought to be the world’s oldest intact ship and is a distinct type of boat called a ‘solar barge’ that was intended to carry the resurrected king with the sun god Ra across the heavens.

As a group we then decided to ride camels (again!) in front of the pyramids. These camels were a lot larger than the ones we rode in Morocco, making the whole ordeal a bit more terrifying but still lots of fun. The boy who was leading my camel kept asking me if I wanted to go fast and would pretend to start running with the camel, to which I heartily replied “La-ah!” (an emphasized ‘no’ in standard Arabic). Slow and steady was fine with me!

We topped off the day by seeing the sphinx, which is right in front of the pyramids. One thing that surprised me was how small it is – in comparison to the pyramids, it truly is tiny! Nonetheless we enjoyed exploring the temple that surrounds its base and taking pictures with it. I even managed to steal a smooch from it!

One funny thing about our day is that our group (a group of sixteen white Americans) became the center of attention at the pyramids. There were tons of school groups there and the Egyptian teens would follow us around, snap pictures of us, and ask us our names. We were even asked to be in a great number of pictures with the teens and amused, we almost always obliged. Most of the teens asking for pictures were young girls, and they would shyly approach us and hold up their phones or cameras, asking for just one picture (which always turned into at least five, because then all their friends would want one too). We even created a mini riot outside the Cheops boat museum and had to fight our way through a crowd of teens yelling “Welcome to Egypt!” just to go inside. To them, our small group was more interesting than the pyramids, and we all enjoyed our 15 minutes of fame.

Overall, I had a great time at the pyramids and am so lucky to have stood in the shadow of this wonder of the ancient world.

-Katie

Thoughts on Cairo

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The moment you’ve all been waiting for – my first post on my time in the lovely country of Egypt! Seems appropriate since this whole TIME adventure will end for me and the gang in exactly one week (St. Olaf has decided to pull the plug on Israel in light of recent events, so I will be home the night of the 13th!). You read that right. I have one week to cram all the adventure in that I can. While I’m out doing that, I’d also like to share some Egypt adventures with you all, so stay tuned!

1. We’re staying on the island of Zamalek, which is very very nice. There are tons of yummy restaurants and cute shops, and there are quite a few embassies. It is a very upscale island with a large population of expats. I have also noticed less headscarves here, though in the scheme of things there still are a ton (once you cross the bridge into other parts of Cairo, headscarves are all you see). Also: the TIME group is completely safe on the island of Zamalek – I feel totally comfortable walking around with only girls or even by myself. And while I wouldn’t necessarily want to go off of Zamalek without a guy (though I have done it before in a large group of girls and have been completely fine), venturing out into other parts of Cairo has been both enlightening and very non-eventful. I’m not sure what kind of news you all are getting back home about the protests going on, but Cairo is HUGE (20 million people!) and we are very far-removed from the highly concentrated incidents going on. Our American University of Cairo dorm has tight security and we know not to go anywhere near Tahrir on Tuesdays and Fridays. I hope I’m not coming across as jaded, but really we are doing just fine and are actually thriving!

AUC dorms

The dorms at AUC!

Cool graffiti around Zamalek.

Cool graffiti around Zamalek.

2. I thought the traffic in Morocco and Egypt was crazy….In Cairo it is actually insane, even on the island of Zamalek. The roads on Zamalek have room for 4 lanes of cars, but 3 of those are taken up by parked cars (Egyptians are notorious double-parkers) so basically every road within Zamalek is a one-way. There is the usual insane amount of insane moped traffic, and people here do not hesitate to cram as many people on one as they can – I’ve seen many family of four zipping down the road on a moped! The four times I’ve taken a taxi here have been scary to say the least – everyone drives SO fast and takes big risks while driving, not hesitating to weave in and out of cars. Traffic lanes don’t really exist on the major highways. And of course, everyone uses their horn liberally. I’ve heard quite the array of car horns over the course of these part four months!

3. Egyptians are the most welcoming people I have encountered. Apart from the occasional rude comment, most Egyptians are eager to welcome us to their country and ask us where we’re from. At a few sites we’ve been to, we’ve actually turned into semi-celebrities. At the pyramids of Giza, we had crowds of school children following us around and asking to take pictures with us. I can’t even tell you how many strangers cameras and phones I’m on. When we were at the Mohammed Ali mosque, a man actually had me take a picture with his baby. We all find it (mostly) flattering and are mostly willing to pose for a few pictures (we would probably be less willing if this phenomenon happened every day, but thankfully we barely warrant a second glance on Zamalek). The majority of the people who want photos are young teenage girls, who follow us around in hordes, giggling and pointing until one of them works up the courage to ask for a picture with us. Another funny memory is when we were in Alexandria at a fortress on the sea at the same time as a school group of young children. They kept running past us and shouting from the top of the castle “WHAT’S YOUR NAME???”, the only English words they knew. It’s always pretty amusing, but I am also looking forward to going back to a certain level of anonymity in the US.

4. We’re currently all done with classes here (!!) but learned a ton in the process. We had a few classes of Standard Arabic, which I failed to pick up as the professor was a fast talker and all the words swirled around with Turkish and Darija in my brain. Our main professor was Dr. John Swanson of AUC, one of the most knowledgeable and passionate educators I have ever been introduced to. He taught us about Islam, Coptic Christians in Egypt, history, and politics to name a few. We also had lessons on architecture, Egyptology (so cool!), gender issues, 19th and 20th century Egypt, and so much more!

5. Egypt has a ridiculous amount of antiquities and even more history to back those up. Some of them are underwater, some of them have been destroyed, and some haven’t even been discovered yet, but we had the amazing opportunity to see some of the great artifacts from ancient Egypt. I’ve definitely had a few moments here where I’ve felt like Indiana Jones (especially when we had the opportunity to climb inside a pyramid – nest post!). If my career in English and Journalism doesn’t work out, I’m moving here and becoming an Egyptologist…

6. …or maybe not, because it is ridiculously smoggy here. What else would you expect with a population of 20 million people? The past few days have been mercifully clear and I’ve actually noticed building on Zamalek I’ve never seen before.

Well that’s all for now, check back soon for more!

-Katie