Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Best Burger in the World?

While trying to decide what to do on Friday I came across an article in Time magazine claiming that Cairo - not any place in the U.S. - was home to the BEST BURGER IN THE WORLD. You can find that article here:,8599,1639839,00.html

The burger place is in the upper-class suburb of Maadi, which is about 30-40 minutes south of where we live. We had been trying to begin a weekly tradition of "Felucca Fridays" - that is, going out on a sailboat on the Nile once a week at sunset to have one peaceful hour to clear the noise, chaos, and pollution of downtown Cairo from our eyes, ears and lungs - so we attempted to bargain with the Felucca captains to provide a sort of "water taxi" for us down the Nile (actually up, since it runs South to North) to our destination.

So we ambled down Corniche Al-Nil (the road that runs along the Nile), where we were hounded relentlessly by these felucca hawkers to get on their "felucca motorboats" which blast Arab music and have crazy blinking neon lights. They were trying to charge us 5 times as much as a simple ride on a sailboat would cost, even BEFORE we brought up the taxi service to Maadi, so we decided to just hop on a train down to Maadi. It was right around iftar-time, so the streets of Cairo were eerily silent, as everyone was busy somewhere else breaking their fast (more on iftar in an upcoming post about Ramadan). In a city of around 16 million people, it was weird to see the subway system completely empty (see picture).


The Metro is the preferred method of transportation for many because it only costs 1 LE (18 cents) to go almost anywhere in the city. Sadly, the closest Metro stop to our apartments is a half hour walk from the very bottom of the island, so we usually take cabs or just walk from downtown.

So off we were to test the theory that Cairo - of all places! - is home to the best burger in the world. Lucille's was right near the metro stop and we quickly felt at home in the nice American diner/restaurant atmosphere (and I'm not talking about Glory Days at 4 AM). We ordered and got our burgers, which were large and delicious, but I was not about to make any dramatic proclamations in say…Time magazine.

The burger

We decided that the author of the article had gotten incredibly sick of Egyptian food, and had been dying for something familiar, and he discovered this delicious (albeit, in my opinion, not world-class) burger. I mean come on, he’s never even been to Burgers, Shakes, and Fries!

Afterwards we headed out over a sketchy bridge and through some back alley marketplaces to get over to the Nile, where we successfully bartered with a felucca guy to take us out for an hour for 40 pounds total (about $2 for each of us).

After the felucca ride we hopped on the subway back to the bottom of Gezira (our island), and walked north through a nice park along the river. Here are some pictures of the Lion Bridge from that park.

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Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx Part 2

After visiting the Solar Boat museum, we hopped on the bus to go the designated "picture taking site" where it is easiest to capture the three pyramids side by side.

Typical tourist shot, but I had to do it.



The Sphinx!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Pyramids of Giza

While I was backing up all my old word documents this summer and deciding what I needed to take with me to Cairo and what I could leave behind, I ran across a file I wrote in 6th grade that was sort of a "life to-do list" called “20 Resolutions.”
Number 2 on the list was “keep my room straightened up.” We can leave that one unfinished for now.
Number 8 was “write a book.” Also unfinished.
Number 13 was “stay alive on Friday the 13th.” Apparently this was a big concern back then, and we can cross that off up to this point.
Of course, knowing me, I only made it up to 16 resolutions/goals and left the last four spots blank.
Number 11 however, was to go see the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, which I can now successfully cross off the list.

On the morning of Saturday, September 13, I got on a bus to go to the 47th most-popular tourist destination in the world with around 3 million visitors per year...the Pyramids of Giza!
The Faculty Services Committee from my university here organized the trip for new faculty (an exclusive group of which I happen to be a member) for a subsidized cost of 30 Egyptian Pounds (LE) - a little under $6. This was good, because entrance to the pyramids is 50 LE, entrance to the Solar Boat museum (more on this later) is 40 LE, and then we would have had to pay a driver a few hundred to take us around for the day. So this saved me about 150 pounds and we got to go on an air conditioned bus with a professional guide (her side job, she also teaches at the university).

First, we walked up to the Great Pyramid, the Pyramid of Cheops, pictured here.

Angry Camel!


This is a picture of the Solar Boat, which they buried next to the pyramids to ferry the soul to the afterlife.

I guess my reaction to the trip would be this: the Pyramids were big, inconceivably big, even when you are standing next to them and on them. A better testament to their size and grandeur is that when you travel away from them, they don't seem to get any smaller. Even from a tall building in downtown Cairo, on the rare day that the smog isn't so thick that you can actually see the pyramids, they still seem inexplicably large and alien.
As my plane descended through the Cairo smog in August, I glanced out the window and thought to myself, "Hey there are the pyramids," and looked away. Two seconds later a different thought hit me. "HOLY #*@& I JUST SAW THE PYRAMIDS!"

It's hard to believe they are real until you actually touch them, stand on them, climb up the first few blocks, and even after that, in the bus on the way home, you don't really believe it.
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Monday, September 15, 2008

Back to the Hyatt

On Thursday we went back to the Hyatt to have dinner in the revolving restaurant – another dinner on the University’s tab. I went straight from work so I didn’t have my camera. That night we went to the party at the house of a friend of one of the interns from last year, which was pretty fun. Interestingly, they had an ice luge which was effective for about 10 minutes in the Cairo heat (even at midnight).

On Friday we had an intern potluck dinner which we agreed made us all feel very old, but it was good food so no one complained. Went to bed relatively early Friday night because the next day I was going to…

Al-Azhar Park

On Wednesday we went to Al-Azhar Park, behind the famous mosque. It only cost 3 pounds (less than 60 cents) to get in, and it was a great way to enjoy the hazy smoggy sunset while we ate iftar on top of the hill. Here are the photos:

This is one of my top ten favorite pictures I have ever taken. I just wish it hadn't been so smoggy. I captured that bird perfectly completely by accident, but that happens a lot with photography.
The citadel
The fountain and the citadel.
A view from the top of the hill.
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Second Week of Work

This week of work was nuts because 5000 students all showed up on Sunday and EVERYONE was lost/confused/angry etc. I was in charge of distributing maps and campus floor plans to all of the entrance points on the campus, but it seemed that people still had trouble finding their way around. Also, I interviewed students and wrote my first article about the student reaction to the opening of the new campus.

On Tuesday night we were invited to dinner at the house of the president of the university, David Arnold in honor of the post-doctoral fellows teaching at AUC and the presidential interns (us!). We mingled and whatnot for a while, then all went to get dinner. It turned out my friend Corey and I ended up at a table with a post-doctoral fellow specializing in some crazy pre-biotic science field and the president of our university, David Arnold. It was kind of surreal to be sitting at this table having basically one-on-one face time with a man of such considerable importance and intelligence, but I’m beginning to realize I’m really not in college anymore.

Sufi Whirling Dervishes Show

The Whirling Dervishes were amazing, but my camera ran out of battery 20 minutes in so I didn't get to shoot as many pictures as I wanted. It was kind of nice though, because I could sit and enjoy it and not have to bother with trying to capture the perfect shot, since they do the same performance twice a week for free and it is just a short cab ride away. I’m definitely going back soon with my fancy camera and getting some quick shutter speed shots and some slow shutter speed shots.

I liked the lighting in this archway
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Khan El-Khalili by Night

Here are some pictures of Khan El-Khalili by night. We went down to see a Sufi whirling dervish show, and I have a few pictures of that in the next post.

This is one of my favorite shots of the trip so far. Simple, nice colors, separation of dynamic subjects in the picture.

Next to one of the old mosques.

Guitars and trinkets for tourists!

Here we are with our Egyptian friend Ahmed eating a simple Egyptian meal for about 25 cents.
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On Friday we went to Gold's Gym on the Nile because our intern coordinator is a member there so we got free passes. That night we set out to go to a rooftop bar near downtown, but since no cab driver knew how to get there we ended up at a different rooftop bar, Nomad, which was very cool anyway - very laid-back and the perfect temperature (this only happens in Cairo at midnight or later!)

It was on the tenth floor of a hotel, with a nice breeze and not too many people.
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Hyatt Boat Ride Part 2

The view of the Hyatt from the boat. More on the revolving restaurant at the top next week.

A picture of the first bridge connecting Downtown to the island of Gezia and Zamalek. I took this on the walk back from the Hyatt to the apartments, which was nice at night (took us about 45 minutes) but would have been horrible during the day at 100 degrees.
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Iftar on the Hyatt Boat Part 1

On Thursday night (9/4) we had iftar (iftar is the breaking of the fast, dinner at sundown during Ramadan) on a big ship associated with the Cairo Hyatt to celebrate the completion of our first week of work. Here are some pictures from that trip.

Going up the elevator to the clubhouse on the top floor of the hyatt.
Pictures from the clubhouse on the 40th floor of the Hyatt.
Our own personal Manhattan (Zamalek, where I live). The lower half of the island is all part of a country club that used to be exclusively for British officers, and the upper half holds a lot of embassies and my apartment building.

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Now on the dinner boat, we were entertained by a group of musicians who were quick to share their cool hats with us.

First Week of Work!

I work in an office with 11 women! For the first week of work, I mainly printed out signs and taped them up around campus to try and direct students and faculty where to go.

Here is a picture from the first day of work.

In my haste to update the blog, I forgot to mention my trip to the Egyptian Museum.
The whole experience is hard to describe, it’s a bit overwhelming to be in a place with so much history hastily thrown together in a variety of largely unmarked rooms. Only the Tutankhamen exhibit was easy to take in because the majority of the tour guides were concentrated in that area. Unfortunately the museum charges you for bringing in a camera so I didn’t bring mine. I’ll be going back at some point to see the separate exhibit of the Royal Mummies, which they charge more for.
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Friday, September 12, 2008

Back to the Hyatt

On Thursday we went back to the Hyatt to have dinner in the revolving restaurant – another dinner on the University’s tab. I went straight from work so I didn’t have my camera. That night we went to the party at the house of a friend of one of the interns from last year, which was pretty fun. Interestingly, they had an ice luge which was effective for about 10 minutes in the Cairo heat (even at midnight).

On Friday we had an intern potluck dinner which we agreed made us all feel very old, but it was good food so no one complained. Went to bed relatively early Friday night because the next day I was going to…

Monday, September 8, 2008

More Pics from Felucca Ride

More pictures from the Felucca Ride

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Shopping and a Felucca Ride

Immediately following the trip to sort through all the old interns' stuff, we took a bus over to Carrefour to do some shopping. However, as it was the Friday afternoon before Ramadan (the work week is Sunday-Thursday here), it was probably the most packed day of the year and there was literally no room to move around. If anyone knows the Rush Hour game where you have to move the cars and trucks around to get the red car out, it was like that but with shopping carts, and on the most complicated level (actually, now that I think about it, a lot of Cairo traffic is like the Rush Hour game, as cars perpetually try to squeeze into impossibly small openings). There were probably 30 checkout lines and all of them had at least 25 people in them at all times.

Two quick anecdotes from this trip:
First, there was a promotion of two 1.5 liter bottles of Pepsi and a bag of chips packaged together for the price of only the Pepsi. There were 8-10 large cardboard boxes filled with these promotional items. We were just pushing our cart trying to find the pasta aisle, when, about 25 feet away from us, the Carrefour employee opened the first box. All of a sudden, people who had been wandering around nearby raced to the boxes and started tearing them to shreds, trying to get the Pepsi and chips inside.
As the swarm grew larger, people were getting trampled and we couldn't see how many boxes were left until suddenly, the crowd dispersed and all that lay on the ground were a few trampled people and the discarded rubble of the cardboard boxes. And it all happened in about 45 seconds.
I don't know how many of you have seen the new Indiana Jones movie, but if you have, and you remember the scene in which the killer ants swarm the guy on the ground and carry him down into their hive, it was a little bit like that. Anyway, it seemed like overkill for a free small bag of chips.

Second, we were steering our carts down the condiments aisle when we saw a guy pick up a bottle of ketchup, pop off the top, stick his pinky in the bottle, lick his pinky, decide he didn't like that brand of ketchup, put the bottle BACK ON THE SHELF, and grab a bottle of another brand of ketchup. We were both incredibly amused and horrified by this, and vowed from then on to check the seals of everything we bought.

Anyway, we had about 45 minutes to do our shopping and all I managed to get was some juice, some pasta, and some peanut butter and jelly, because of the chaos of the pre-Ramadan shopping spree.

Next we hopped on our bus to get on feluccas (sailboats) for a dinner on the Nile with the new staff/faculty of the university. Given that we are the Presidential Interns, we got to ride with President Arnold and his wife Nancy (see picture below). It was very relaxing, and we managed to take home some of the food to eat later in the week.

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