Friday, December 31, 2010

Interesting Internet

There's a lot of interesting internet out there and sometimes it's nice to go check that out instead.

Being out of the US sometimes it's hard to stay in touch with what's going on back home, but reading articles about TSA security (@au news) bordering on the inappropriate (@gizmodo) is just saddening.  I know we all need to stay safe, but can we keep our dignity too?

Unclutterer had a really interesting look at pack rats in "Through the Looking Glass."  I read "Alice in Wonderland" recently and have "Through the Looking Glass" on my list of upcoming reads.  It makes me wonder if there might be similar characters out there in other works of fiction.

I loved this post from Little Bit Funky about doing something instead of nothing.  The notion that even something small is better than nothing really helped kick me into the holiday season this year.

And finally, for some news from Saudi, go check out the latest post from Susie about an illegal women's sporting event that was held earlier in December.  Even though it wasn't legal, I'm so glad that events like this take place.  So many things that happen or don't happen make living here feel so dramatically different than the US, and stories like these bring me at least a small amount of hope.

Happy End of the Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cairo Day 7: Abdin Palace and Al-Azhar Park

By now, Eid was in full celebration and this proved to be the downfall of our day.  We started by going to the Abdin Palace, and had to walk all the way around the building just to figure out where we were supposed to enter.  Turned out that it was closed for the holidays so we didn't get to go in.  The palace which is one of the residences of the Egyptian President and a huge museum is supposed to be very lavish and ornamented, so it was a shame to miss out.

We then decided to walk to Al-Azhar Park, which was "relatively" nearby.  It turned out that relatively was not quite as near as we had thought, about a mile and a half actually.  We walked through a really slummy section of Cairo, but still managed to stumble upon some interesting historic buildings.

We passed through Bab Zuweila, an old gate to the old city of Cairo.

After walking a ways further we stumbled across the Sabil Muhammad Ali Pasha, which although it was not open to the public, was recently renovated.  A sabil is, according to Amazon, a public cistern and water dispenser and was apparently a tribute to a deceased son.  In case you were wondering what some of your tax dollars were likely doing, the funding in part from the US Agency for International Development whose acronym is fittingly USAID.  Who knew.  It was truly surprising to find something so beautiful hidden amongst small, winding, garbage ridden streets.

The Sabil had beautiful details which were obviously well maintained during the renovation.

Walls of the round Sabil.

Details at the top of the walls.

After trudging onwards, including a brief stint walking a long a very busy highway-ish road, we finally made it to the park.  To say it was packed would definitely be an understatement.  Since it was Eid, most families weren't working, school wasn't in session, and the park seemed to be a nice place for everyone in the whole city to try and visit at once.

There was a zero percent chance of us getting some peace and quiet here, but alas we paid the $2.50 it cost to get in and tried to find a place to sit down.  The park despite being filled beyond capacity, was very beautiful, and since it was situated on a big hill, there was a great view of Cairo.  Because of the huge crowds, I didn't even try to take pictures so here are a few great ones from the internet:

After a very long tiring day, we flagged a taxi that drove us back to the front door of the hostel.

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0
Cairo Day 1

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Athens Day 1: Too Much Travel

Getting to Athens was an exhausting trip.  We left campus around 4 pm on the 28th, even though we weren't flying out until 3:30 am on the 29th.  Our first stop was the Mall of Arabia, because we needed warmer clothes.  We were expecting a package from my parents which supposedly had some warmer clothes in it for us, but when the US Post Office says Priority International shipping is 5-7 days, apparently they mean more like 14+ days.  We picked up a sweater jacket for Steve, two long sleeve shirts, leggings, a hat, and gloves for me.  Clearly I'm the one who can't handle cold weather.  Steve had to go back and argue with one store after we realized they overcharged us, but in the end they gave us the difference back, so small wins!

After eating (delicious grilled sub) and shopping, we decided we were done with the mall and picked up a cab to the airport.  We still had a lot of time before our flight, at least six hours, but we figured the airport would be better than a mall full of loud, rowdy kids.  Turns out that was a bad, bad choice, because we forgot that Saudi doesn't work like everywhere else in the world (or at least the US).  You can only check into the flight when they open a specific counter for that flight, whereas in the US you can basically show up at the check in desk and get checked in.  Since we couldn't check in, we couldn't go through security or anything, so we just had to sit around the airport and wait.  We ended up having to kill 2-3 hours before we could check in.  Definitely something to remember for next time!

Getting through security after we checked in was a breeze, and then we settled in for another wait, as we had another three-ish hours to wait.  Far and away my least favorite part about Jeddah is the squat toilets and lack of toilet paper.  Without being too gross, I just don't know how it's supposed to be effective when wearing pants...

Thankfully, planes have lovely westernized toilets.

Both of our flights were pretty short, about two hours, but the layover in Cairo was about 5 1/2 hours.  The airport was decorated for Christmas, which was so nice to see, since the only Christmas decor we'd seen so far was in our own apartment.  However, Santa seems to have the Seven Dwarfs in his beard, which befuddled and amused us.

Santa greeting us at the Cairo International Airport.

Santa's helper are the Seven Dwarfs?  This was so confusing!

We got some food, and seriously contemplated the VIP Lounge, but declined because all but one of the couches were full.  We've got an eight hour layover on the way back, so we might take advantage of this when we've got more time to enjoy it.  We watched The Sorcerer's Apprentice since neither of us could really get comfortable enough to sleep.  The movie has Steve's least favorite actor in the whole world in it, Nicholas Cage, so it was fun to watch, even if the movie was more than a bit cheesy/corny/terrible.

After a croissant and pizza breakfast, we headed to the gate to wait for boarding.  We both managed to get a tiny bit of sleep waiting for boarding because they had seats with no armrest between them!  They needed more of these in the airport, it would have made it more comfortable to try and get some sleep.

Steve waiting for boarding in his new sweater jacket, so snazzy!

Abby waiting, sporting a new hat.

I was pretty tired by this point, and managed to sleep through almost all of the flight to Greece, and Steve got some sleep too.  The trip through customs and the metro ride to the hostel were uneventful, which is always nice.

Our first impression of Athens was that it was just so darn cute.  It's definitely got that European charm, and even though it's freezing here, all the trees and grass is green, so it's pretty too.  We're staying in a small shared apartment so it's got a kitchen, living space, and bathroom all attached.  And it's just a few minutes to the Acropolis, which seems to be a great location to be staying.

After sleeping for a couple hours, we grabbed dinner, and the real fun will start tomorrow!

On a side note, apparently there's a 60% chance of big thunderstorms back in Saudi, so let's all hope that our apartment doesn't end up flooding!

*Catch up on our entire Athens adventure by checking Our Travel Page, or our Greece tag.*

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On Our Way Once Again

We're on our way again to another foreign location.  Last time we left we were headed to Cairo, and this time our trip to Athens will leave us with a bit of a layover in Cairo.  Considering that we're only traveling about 1500 miles as the crow flies, we're going to end up spending about 22 hours traveling.

We were hoping to have gotten a package by now filled with some heavier duty clothes, but since 5-7 days has turned into 2+ weeks, we're going to hit the mall in Jeddah to see if we can scrape together enough to keep us warm.

With any luck, we'll have a smoother time getting through the Jeddah airport, because last time was just sheer insanity.

We've got a pet sitter coming each day to take care of Algie while we're gone, but we sure are going to miss the little tyke.

*Catch up on our entire Athens adventure by checking Our Travel Page, or our Greece tag.*

Monday, December 27, 2010

Field Trips are Fun even in Saudi

For my membranes class this fall, we had the opportunity to take a tour of the Desalination plant and the wastewater treatment plant.  I think it's pretty cool that we get to drink the same water that we can go swimming and boating in.  It's a pretty big win for science and the desert.

The plant just opened last year and it was so sparkling clean.  The plant I worked in this past summer has been in operation in various forms since the early 20th century, so a lot of it was filthy dirty, even though they were making soap!

Exterior pumps!

View of campus from the RO plant

Large strainers inside the plant.

Membrane units in the plant

Exit side of the membrane modules.

Since membrane units are modular, it's really easy to expand in the future.

Exterior of the Wastewater Treatment Plant

Sinky poop water being aerated.

Aerators, seen because this tank wasn't being used.

Cooling towers off in the distance.

All in all, my membranes class was pretty interesting, and I learned a lot about something I didn't really know much (anything) about.  Sadly that wasn't the case for most of my classes.  I'm not really sure if anything I learned will be directly applicable in the future, but you never know right?

We're leaving tomorrow for Greece, but we'll still have some posts that will go up automatically while we're gone.  Since they'll go up automatically, we won't necessarily be posting links to them on Facebook.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Day in Saudi

Since yesterday was our first married Christmas and we celebrated it in Saudi Arabia, I thought I'd give you an idea of what we did.  It was just the two of us, so it was pretty low key, but we still had a nice Christmas dinner.

We had presents under our tree, or maybe trees over our presents?

Steve really wanted a steak, so he made this Pan-Fried Steak.  The meat selection here was far from the best, but it turned out alright in the end.

I also made Baked Brussels Sprouts Au Gratin, Red Pepper Risotto, PW's Parker House Rolls.  This was a pretty big affair, because I just don't cook more than one thing at a time.  It's too much coordinating to get more than one thing on the table at the same time, and the amount of leftovers would be ridiculous.  To help move things along quickly we did some mise en place which generates a ton of extra dishes, but spread out the work to less busy times.

Ready for dinner.
The Parker House Rolls were a learning experience to say the least.  Rolls really aren't challenging, but I did have to cut the recipe in half, since when PW cooks she apparently feeds a hoard of people, but us not so much.  Well I think we can all see where this is going.  Despite the fact that I rewrote the ingredient list with the new amounts, I still managed to use the original amount of butter instead of half.  On the plus side, we didn't need to butter the rolls at the table!

Let me teach you a lesson about cooking rolls in the oven.  They don't need to bake for 50 minutes, I promise.  I managed to make two baking sheets perfectly fine, but the last one, let's just say it got a bit toasty.

Napping after a big dinner.

We were also going to have Spinach Artichoke Dip to munch on, but guess who can't get artichokes?  They've had them at the store in the past, but not right now I guess.  The lack of dependability on the grocery stock makes it hard to plan dishes with slightly exotic ingredients.

We also had a bit of the Chocolate Biscuit Cakes leftover from baking earlier in the week.  These are basically a British version of no bake cookies, but so much tastier!  We've got a lot of unusual items at the grocery here, like digestives and drinking chocolate, which made this recipe possible.

So delicious.

Dishes galore after we were done cooking!

We also made these tasty pizza pretzels for Christmas Eve Dinner.  They didn't look amazing, but they sure did taste great.

Pizza pretzels!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cairo Day 6: Alexandria Part 2

After leaving the fort we went to a small aquarium nearby. it was basically a dozen tanks in a little room. It was pretty good, except for the turtles. There was a large softshell turtle and a sea turtle in tanks that were way too small for them (maybe 1/4 the minimum size I would consider humane). We felt really bad for them, but we didn't really know what we could do.  Since we only paid 5 pounds each to get in, I have trouble believing they make enough for expansions or anything.  One of the young boys caught up to us in the Aquarium, and we tried to teach him that "I LOVE YOU MAN!" isn't a great thing to yell at strangers, much less stranger's wives.

Poor sea turtle stuck in a way too small tank.

After the aquarium, we got some "ice cream" from a nearby shop.  Due to the number of kids around, the shop was packed.  We only managed to order because the cashier saw us looking bewildered and helped us order.  This ice cream wasn't really quite ice cream, it was kind of a mix between sherbet and ice cream.  We both got multi flavored scoops and they were pretty tasty.

We then went to Pompey's Pillar, which was beautiful, especially at sunset. The pillar is a Roman triumphal column, and boy is it huge! There were some catacombs nearby, which provided us with the only real peace and quite we ever found in Egypt. We couldn't hear any of the honking horns, or bad mufflers, only the very gentle hum of some dehumidifiers. There was a big scary bull statue too!

Headless sphinx

Pillar and sphinx

Pillar over looking the city.

Steve at the base of the pillar.

View from the bottom of the pillar.

Quite large when compared to say, the moon!

Talking with more strangers.  The older of the two girls was really forward and friendly, but the younger one was pretty shy.

Replica of the Apis Bull.

Steve playing around in the catacombs.

One of the two sphinxes near the pillar.

Pillar in the early evening light.

Steve poking the pillar.

Another taxi ride left us at the train station, exhausted.  We wandered around until we found a bakery and got some tasty baked treats to eat for dinner.   After getting on the train, we eventually found a car that wasn't cold enough to be confused with a refrigerator car, and took a snooze till we got back to Cairo.  We're not even going to talk about how I had to go to the bathroom so badly, or how it was the most disgusting bathroom I've ever been in.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cairo Day 6: Alexandria Part 1

The writing style might be a bit different today, Steve is writing it.

On day 6 we went to Alexandria. We went to the Roman Amphitheater, the Alexandria National History Museum, Fort Qaitbay, a little "aquarium", and Pompey's Pillar.

We managed to wake up early enough to make the 8am train to Alexandria (just "Alex" to the locals), from the Ramses train station. Tickets were very cheap, 35 pounds, about $6, per person each way. The trip lasted about an hour and a half. Immeadietly after walking out of the station in Alex we bumped into a group of students from our university. We chatted a bit and went over to the Roman Amphitheater with them. The acoustics were pretty good, and there was in impressive line of standing columns (does it become a row if it falls over?).
The view overlooking the Roman Amphitheater

Steve in front of the theatre seats

Standing columns

Corinthian column detailing

Then we went off on our own to look for the Alexandria National Museum. It was quite difficult to find, we ended up walking about for half an hour, and then just taking a cab to the address we had. Finding a taxi driver that spoke English was difficult, much more so than in Cairo, and the one we did find had never heard of the museum.  On the way the driver stopped to ask several  people how to get to the museum, but we eventually navigated our way there. This little museum is almost the opposite of the Egyptian Museum; everything was wonderfully displayed, well explained, and well taken care of. The museum itself looked fairly new, housed in a converted mansion. The planning for the museum was excellent, even using the wine cellar as a sort of tomb, with a sarcophagus down there. The greco-roman artifacts were very interesting, and on the top floor there were artifacts from the early Islamic period.  Unfortunately, photography wasn't allowed, so no pictures from there.

Then we took a cab out to the tip of the peninsula beside the harbor, to Fort Qaitbay. The fort, which was built a long time ago, is really big. It was crowded with locals, who only pay about 50 cents to get in, and some of the younger boys took great interest in us. One group of tweens just wanted to test their English curse words on us.

The Harry Potter transport van we saw outside of the fort! So cool!

Exterior of the Fort.  It was very impressive.

Entrance to the Fort.

Tiling on the floor inside the Fort.

View of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina from the Fort.  Unfortunately we didn't get to go due to time constraints, however we heard later it was closed because of Eid.

Steve looking dashing in the Fort.

A very common question in Egypt was "Where you from?," and I had gotten bored of ignoring people, so I started naming off the moons of Jupiter. This led to some confusion, and so it was that one young boy became convinced that my name was "Ganamie" (a mispronunciation of Ganymede). I decided that his name should be Stanley, and his two friends should be George and Micheal. It was pretty funny to argue with them about their own names. We had a really good time humoring these boys for almost an hour. Here is an example of how the conversation went:

Stanley: Hey Ganamie! How you like Egypt man!? You have a good time?
Ganamie: Yes, we are enjoying ourselves pretty well. How are you?
Stan: OH MY GAWSH! It is so beautiful here! You like WWE?
Gan: Huh?
Stan: WWE, John Cena, The Undertaker, Triple X!
Gan: Oh, like wrestling? No, not really.
Micheal: Hey! Look! (gives me a thumbs up and a big grin)
Gan: Ha Ha, very good! Shouldn't you be in school?
Stan: OH MY GAWSH! No way man, school is no good. Hey, take our picture. You know Obama?

One group of boys who followed us around inside the Fort.

George, Michael, and Stanley clammoring to follow us on the Fort grounds.

They followed us around wherever we went. I had to tell them that Abby was "my woman", and "no, don't touch her, she is mine" in order to get them to give her some space. Eventually they got themselves in trouble with the security by climbing on the crenelations, and we lost them in the crowds.  We had several other photo ops with the locals while at the fort, it was like a day of being a mini-celebrity.

A group photo with some of the boys.  The two in the middle are Stanley and Michel.  George is behind Stanley's elbow, and the other kids just jumped in when they saw us taking a picture.

Another view from the Fort. 

The Fort was so crowded.  This is the pier outside of the fort.

We tried really hard to get more photos of both of us together on this trip!

Our trip to Alex ended up being jam packed full of awesome fun and pictures, so we'll have to finish the day in the next post!

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0
Cairo Day 1