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Egypt, April 24, 2007

Frankfurt U-Bahn Musical Shopping

Hang on to your hat and your heart rate!

frankfurt uban
All aboard the U-Bhan
pour me another
Better than Wheaties
There is nothing quite like the experience of a European layover transition between a sweaty developing country and home sweet home America. Usually appearing as some odd dream at a painfully early hour, the Euro-jolt serves as a buffer, a reentry to Western civilization.

This trip, Frankfurt was my transition and with three hours before my next jet-leg, I fought jetlag with a trip to Frankfurt's Römerberg central square. Being a transit foamer, I looked forward to checking out Frankfurt's U-Bahn.

As a combined system of full metro and typical German Stadtbahn, the U-Bahn has an eclectic mix of passengers to augment its hybrid design. On my commute this morning was the airline stewardess, a logical companion from the airport, and this man, a Renaissance accordionist:

Now I bet you are wondering what I would do in Römerberg so early on a Saturday morning. What might tempt my fancy in the largest city of the German state of Hesse?

After I broke my Nile sobriety with a beer breakfast it was time to honor Eight Shoe Sue, with the only activity worth pursuing in a European city at daybreak:

Well, that and lust after high-end techno-gadgets.

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Egypt, April 22, 2007

Friday in Alexandria, Egypt

shipyard in alexandria
Boats and condos
It is a Friday in Egypt. A day of prayer and medication for those pious, a day off for everyone else, a day to travel for me. With Luxor too far for a day-trip, I sped north on a swank Egyptian train, for day by the seashore.

Rolling out of the train station, I was immediately greatly by ancient Roman ruins. Kom el Dikka was beautiful and while unimpressive in size, it, as much as the pyramids, made me realize just how old Egypt is. The site is below street level, and with apartment buildings rising up behind it, you start to realize just how much history is right under your feet.

I used my feet to walk to the Kom el Shokafa catacombs, old Roman burial chambers cut into a limestone hill. Sadly, the insides of the chambers were stripped of almost all their original wall coverings and all of the bodies, but the experience was still quite powerful. More than any cemetery, these catacombs made me feel close to the dead of centuries past with cool walls, still air, and overwhelming silence of the tombs.

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Egypt, April 21, 2007

Millions of Cairenes in Cairo

giza district, cairo
Flying into Cairo, Egypt, you might get the impression that you're going to land in a village. From the air, all you see is empty yellow desert, with a streak of green through the middle. But when you land, you are almost instantly thrown into a maw of urban living. People everywhere.

Most sources say around 7.7 million people live in Cairo, squeezed into the Nile Valley which is only few kilometers wide at this point, or on the near desert plateau. Official government statistics estimate the population density of Cairo at 31,000 person per square kilometer.

This is almost unimaginable coming from Washington DC. We have around 500,000 people in the Capitol with a population density of 3,597/km. How can so many people live in such a small space?

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Egypt, April 20, 2007

Sober on the Nile

giza district, cairo
This round of Drinkies is on me
This afternoon was clear and sunny, a usual occurrence in Cairo, and for me, the perfect time to have a beer in a riverside café. I chose a well appointed open restaurant, with great views of the majestic Nile, complete with feluccas sailing upstream. Yet I fled disappointment and dry mouthed. Why?

Egypt is a mainly Muslim country, and while it is relatively liberal and secular, public consumption of alcohol is still a social taboo. There isn't any beer, wine, or spirits in a normal riverside café, or even most local restaurants. I knew this before I went, but it wasn't until I was confronted by an embarrassed Cairo waiter whispering to me like I was asking for porn, that I realized exactly how dry Egypt is.

If you want a drink with dinner, or just a beer in the afternoon, you're pretty much confined to either high-end Western hotels (I was in the Sheraton Galae Square) or Western-focused restaurants. Sidewalk cafes only serve tea or coffee and smoking hookah.

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Egypt, April 19, 2007

A Year of Weather in a Week

Before I arrived in Egypt, I checked out the weather in Cairo online. It looked like it would be a nice, warm set of summer days. Highs in the 80's, nights in the 60's, everyone happy.

When I arrived, the first day was indeed perfect. The next few days it was cloudy and I could smell rain. No one else could though. As a waiter told me, it rained so rarely, like only 3 times a year, he didn't know what rain smelled like. Even though I could smell the rain, it didn't rain in Cairo, yet.

It did sandstorm though. A wonderfully dusty experience where I had this painful observation:

While the sand was collecting in every nook and cranny of my existence, I was reminded of another desert I tried to hold back: the Gobi. I didn't succeed there either.

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Egypt, April 14, 2007

Cairo Taxi Traffic Turnarounds

Did you think the Skopje taxi ride tame? That driving in the developing world was easy, and you are skilled enough to master the lack of lanes, stoplights, and road rules of any obvious nature?

Then let me introduce you to the joys of a Cairo taxi ride! This would be a moment of excitement in a thrilling cross-town jaunt I had this morning on my way to gaze at pyramids on the Giza Plateau:

Note how pedestrians randomly cross the road as they see fit, regardless of cars or common sense. You should watch them jump off a moving bus, into traffic, and then dodge speeding taxis to the other side of the road. Not even my obsessive/compulsive jaywalking across DC can compare.

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Egypt, April 13, 2007

Gazing at Pyramids on Giza Plateau

The Great Pyramids are human scale. That's the first thing I noticed as the taxi drove along the Giza Plateau. The three Great Pyramids of Giza, Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, while majestic and impressive, are still man-sized when you are up close and personal with them.

Now that doesn't mean they are small, or the size of a man. Hell no! They are magnificent in their ancient grandeur and grand proportions. But when you are close, each stone block, all 2.5 tones, still look like they can be moved with enough time, will, and people.

If you've seen the Great Wall of China, or visited Machu Picchu you'll know what I mean. While big blocks of stone may impress us today, when we cannot imagine moving them without machinery, back in the day, they moved mountains, literally, one rock at a time.

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Egypt, April 12, 2007

Thank You, Rafik Hariri

Rafik Baha ad-Din Hariri was a self-made billionaire and business tycoon, and twice the Prime Minister of Lebanon. As Prime Minister, he not only rebuilt the city, even using his own funds, he rebuilt the pride of the Middle East by showing that a Sunni Muslim could be Western, wealthy, and inclusive of all religions in political leadership.

Sadly, in 2005 he was assassinated in a massive car bomb attack in downtown Beirut. The public outcry after his death at the assumed guilt of Syria, lead to the Cedar Revolution withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after a 30 years of occupation.

Because of this, Hariri is a hero to the people of Lebanon, revered almost as a founding father of the country, and his image is everywhere. During on Beirut part night, I was given a Hariri pin to wear on my coat lapel, and I've worn it since with great pride.

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