Friday, October 24, 2008

Bond, James Bond! and Other Adventures

Right outside the Ibn Tulun mosque is the Gayer-Anderson Museum, named after a British officer stationed in Cairo who had an obscenely fantastic collection of random items. This, however, is not why the museum is famous.

The museum was used as a shooting location for the Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me." If anyone remembers the scene in which Bond is nearly assassinated by the man in the second floor window while he is distracted by the beautiful girl down below, you may find this room familiar:

This is the viewpoint of the assassin looking down at Bond.

This is taken from where Bond stood, looking up at the second shutter/window on the right, where the attempted assassin was.

After the Gayer-Anderson museum I ambled down a random street in Islamic Cairo, got bothered numerous times, nearly got run over by 6 different vehicles (this is more common than you might imagine), and ended up at the mosques of Al-Rifai and Sultan Hassan.

This is the inside of the mosque of Al-Rifai, which has incredibly high and detailed ceilings.

This is the beautiful mihrab (which indicates the way to Mecca) of Sultan Hassan.
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Mosque of Ibn Tulun

Two weekends ago I went down to the mosque of Ibn Tulun, the Gayer-Anderson museum, and the mosques of Al-Rifai and Sultan Hasssan. It was a fun photo expedition because the mosques and museum were MUCH less touristy than some of the other mosques I had been to.

Ibn Tulun was especially interesting because it was so simple yet powerful. We practically had the mosque to ourselves, which led to some great photo opportunities. These first three pictures are of Ibn Tulun, the third was taken from on top of the minaret.




A GREAT location for a basketball court, with the Citadel in the background. CC vs. OG 2009 here guys?
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Monday, October 13, 2008

Eating Pigeon - A Cultural Experience

After our relaxing visit to the Gulf of Aqaba we were horrifically reintegrated into Cairo culture by being “given the cultural opportunity” to eat pigeon by our Egyptian intern coordinator.

The meat actually wasn’t bad at all, that was the least of your problems. You are expected to eat the bones (which are crunchy but brittle) and consume almost the entire bird. After the first few bones I started to feel very sick. Actually, just looking at this picture makes me sick to my stomach, so I’m going to leave it at that for now. Once was enough!
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More Photos from Nuweiba

Some of the other huts at Rock Sea.

This is our adopted puppy Buddy. He spent most of the four days with us.


This is the multi-purpose Rock Sea Lodge = hang out spot, dining room, snorkeling launch point, board game center, etc.
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After the St. Catherine's experience, we were ready for the beach, so off we went to the Rock Sea Resort, on the Gulf of Aqaba.

The type of place where accepted formal dinner attire is no shirt, board shorts and flip flops, Rock Sea is run by a German couple (Michael and Carda) in their fifties who were given a once-in-a-lifetime offer and dove in headfirst.

In the mid-90s, they had traveled down and lived with the Bedouin in the eastern part of the Sinai for 6 months. A few years later, when the Bedouin came under economical and governmental pressure to sell off some of their land, they remembered the likable German family that had stayed with them. Michael got a phone call with an offer to buy a sizable chunk of land on the Gulf of Aqaba (the body of water between Sinai, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia). The catch was that the offer was on the table for one day only. So the family accepted, packed up their life in Germany, and opened up a basic but comfortable beachside resort just north of the town of Nuweiba. 8 years later, the family is still running the same quirky resort.

In my four days there I spent a total of $55 for food, drink, lodging, and activities. I stayed in a hut 10 feet from the water.
This was my hut.

I snorkeled 5 times for a total of $3. I saw a swordfish, and fought a nasty piece of coral and lost. I repeatedly found Nemo (over and over and over again!) and tried to catch him each time, but to my chagrin, I could not. We even created a large Mancala board into the dirt and played many games.

Here is the mancala board.

Here is my fish dinner from the 2nd night.

And here is the water with good old Saudi Arabia in the background. Everybody wave!
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St. Catherine's Monastery Day Two

After hiking down the mountain (actually, we didn't really use the switchbacks, just ran straight down in about 35 minutes), we went back to the monastery to see the things we had missed the day before.
For instance, the monastery is home to the legendary burning bush (a descendant of the original bush).

The Burning Bush is literally the MOST anti-climactic tourist attraction I have ever been to. Wowoweewaaw, it’s a bush…and it is not on fire.

Taken from the roof of the monastery after we visited the library.

View of the monastery from above.

Literally the craziest part of the whole monastery. They actually put the bones of all the monks that lived there into this house, the Charnel House, just outside the monastery walls, and separate the skulls, arm bones, leg bones, etc into different piles!
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Sunrise on Mt. Sinai Part Two

5:40 AM

group shot at the summit right after sunrise

I still have some editing to do in this (its still in the RAW format), but this is my favorite picture I took this day. It would have been a more powerful image if the isolated guy was the only one in the picture but some things are out of my control. I gotta work with what I have.

This is what the top of Mt. Sinai looks like during the day. I took this on the way down the mountain.
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Sunrise on Mt. Sinai

The sunrise on Mt. Sinai was one of those experiences that pictures and stories can’t truly do justice. No matter how cold I was or how tired I felt, I had a smile on my face and all I could think was that this was one of the most incredible things I had ever seen. I’m going to timestamp each picture from the sunrise to give everyone an idea of how the sky looked. Definitely click on these pictures to see a bigger version.

5:12 AM
5:15 AM, our spot on the rocks

5:30 AM

Finally, at 5:32 AM, the sun peeks over the ridge to the cheers of the frozen crowd.
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Climbing Mt. Sinai

Those of you who know me well know how religious I am (not very!). Given the religious significance attached to St. Katherine’s and Mt. Sinai, however, I cracked open a Bible for the first time since freshman year of college, when it was required reading for a humanities course.
A quick history lesson for those of you as indifferent to religious history as I am. In the book of Exodus, Moses spends 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai, while his followers stay at the base worshipping the golden calf (a false idol!), and he is given the ten commandments and ordered to created the ark of the covenant and the rest of the tabernacle. For those of you already getting bored, THIS IS THE ARK INDIANA JONES IS AFTER IN “Raiders of the Lost ARC.” “Whatever you do…don’t open your eyes!”
At the beginning of the forty days, Moses is commanded by God to climb Mt. Sinai. At this point in the story I fell asleep reading, which was probably a good thing, because I had to wake up 4 hours later to follow in Moses’ footsteps. At 1:00 AM we groggily arose to climb Mt. Sinai.

Sign at the beginning of the hike.

The true residents of the aptly named Camel path. At time they would come out of nowhere in the dark and I nearly got run over, sandwiched, and kicked in the dark (it's hard to see too far ahead when you have to concentrate on the ground in front of you)

Around 1:45 AM we set out on the camel path up Mt. Sinai, and reached the top in around 2 hours. The trail was fairly well established but there was absolutely no light so my flashlight was relied on heavily.

Brett – I almost had a “giant-yoshi at the end of grumble volcano” moment when in the dark I failed to notice a quick switchback leading away from a fairly steep precipice.

After walking for about an hour and a half we reached the plateau before the top, after which there are 750 more steps that need to be climbed. Once at the top, the wind sliced through you no matter how many layers you had on. I had, it seemed, picked an inopportune moment to shave off all my hair! I did bring a winter hat which pretty much saved my life (okay, just the experience). Just after 4:30 we started to see some light coming over the mountains.

this was one of the vendor's huts on the way up

This last picture was taken at 4:45 AM.
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Saint Catherine's Part Two

We headed back to our hotel but still had time to kill before dinner, so Corey and I decided to scale one of the little mountains near our hotel just before sunset. Here are some pictures from that climb.

Here I am on top of this part of of the ridge showing off my newly shaved head.

Captain Morgan with the sunlit ridge in the background.

Cool shot through a gap in the rocks.

The light was fading...

Got back just in time for dinner. After dinner I headed back to my room to read the Bible. SERIOUSLY!
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St. Catherine's Monastery Part One

On Tuesday, we left Cairo early in the morning and headed east. After about an hour of driving, we went through a tunnel under the Suez Canal to reach the Sinai peninsula. The Suez is technically the boundary between Africa and Asia so this was actually an inter-continental vacation. A friend of mine here who had never been out of the U.S. before this trip has now visited a total of two countries on three continents. Wrap your head around that!

After the six hour drive we arrived at St. Catherine’s around 1 PM, dropped our stuff off and wandered over to the famous monastery. For those (most) of you thinking, “what famous monastery?” here is a quick history lesson.
The monastery was built sometime around the middle of the 6th century and sits at the base of Mt. Sinai, in an area sacred to both Christianity and Islam. According to Wikipedia, the full name of the monastery is “The Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount of Sinai” which you have to admit is pretty bad-ass.

The monastery holds the second largest and most important early codices and manuscripts in the world (with only the Vatican Library holding a more important collection). The head of the university press knows the monk in charge of the library so we got to see some of these and we also got to see an old manuscript about Genghis Khan with amazingly detailed illustrations. I couldn’t take pictures inside the library though.

here is the side entrance to the monastery

you can see the full wall of the monastery from this angle

this is the inside of the church, which had amazing paintings and decorations and ancient lamps hanging from every corner of the ceiling. Im not religious but I got chills lighting a candle inside this place. I had to put the fill light to the max in picasa to get anything to show up in this picture which explains the quality.

a view down the hill from the monastery
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