Monday, January 31, 2011

Athens: Day 9

This was a national holiday in Athens, so we needed to find something that would actually be open to tourists.  Turns out there was a great private zoo just outside of the city that is open year round, the Attica Zoological Park.  We had a huge snafu of an adventure getting to and from the zoo, which we wrote about earlier this year.  You should seriously go check it out, it was probably our craziest adventure yet.  But, despite the hassles to get to the zoo, it turned out to be awesome!  The line to get in was so long it snaked through the parking lot as there were many families there with their kids.  Compared to zoos in the US, it was more expensive, but we were impressed that the zoo is funded entirely by private donations and sponsorships while receiving no funding from the city.  I don't think there are many if any zoos that can operate that way back home.  It's also a relatively new zoo, having just opened in 2000 as just a bird park.  Needless to say, it has expanded greatly since then.

Most of the animals were birds and reptiles, but they did have a whole section that focused on the animals of Greece, which was an interesting focus that we didn't expect.

Wild boar, these guys looked pretty fierce!

Two lynx cuddling and bathing each other. This was super cute!

We also went to the dolphin/seal show.  They were all trained very well and put on a great show.

The zoo made sure to warn us not to throw things at the crocs, and we loved the portrayal of the croc in the sign.

Sweet little penguins, photographed primarily for the enjoyment of my sister.

These giraffes cracked me up.  They kept licking and chewing on the railing around their enclosure.  I have no idea why they were doing it, but it sure did look funny!

Grant's Zebras.  Turns out they aren't at the end of the alphabetical list after all.

Pygmy hippos are so cute, little and even a bit strange.  This was a baby that had been born sometime in 2009. The adults look like baby regular hippos, and the baby was even smaller. Tiny animals are adorable!

The screaming bald eagle was loud and impressive. Neither of us had seen a bald eagle scream in a zoo before.

Look, it's Toucan Sam! Mmmm Fruit Loops.  These toucans were fun to watch, one of them was even sharpening his beak (I think) on a tree stump.

Hiding behind a branch?

All in all, we had a great time at the zoo.  It was a bit chilly, but they had a nice, warm coffee shop so we had a hot chocolate and cookie break in the middle.

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

Catch up on the rest of our adventure:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Athens: Day 8

On this day we finally made it out of Athens, and down to Cape Sunion to see the Temple of Posiedon.

Before we left we bought delicious sandwiches from BaBaReeBa a deli shop near the hostel to take with us. This turned out to be a great decision, because the one restaurant at Cape Sunion was super overpriced, no surprise. It was a bit of a walk to the bus terminal from Omonoia (aka Omonia), because the Victoria metro station was closed. It also took a bit of time to figure out that we payed for the tickets during the bus ride instead of before getting on the bus; the bus terminal was not nearly as nice as the metro stations. We took the coastal route to Sunion, which was good and bad. The views of the sea and all the islands were very pretty; this was probably the most beautiful part of our entire trip. However, both of us were hit pretty hard by the motion sickness because the bus weaves and dips almost constantly as it hugs the shore.  Thankfully, Abby slept most of the way down to the cape and only had minor problems as we approached the cape.

The entire area was absolutely beautiful.

Little pigeons hung out near the temple, probably to get food from tourists.

Part of an old wall used to protect the area.

Abby and the Temple of Poseidon. (Potential future blockbuster?)

Steve posing with the temple.

There were lots of blocks sitting around the base of the temple.  The temple hasn't held up super well compared to some in Athens, but it was still pretty.

It also was right on the edge of a pretty steep drop off to the sea.  Definitely didn't want to fall down that hill!

It was a bit chillier here than in Athens, so we decided to take the inland bus which left earlier than the coastal bus.  Overall, the ride home was much smoother, although we did end up sitting in a ship yard parking lot for about 30 minutes for no apparent reason.

After we got back in Athens we went to our favorite restaurant again: Diva Pizza! We strongly recommended it to anyone visiting the city; they have great food, pretty good prices, and good service. It is located between the Acropolis station and the Sigma Fix station. Their pizzas are amazing, and their pasta is superb. We ate there three or four times, we loved it so much.

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

Catch up on the rest of our adventure:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Some Techno-Troubles

Ever since we arrived here we have noticed something wrong with our laptops: they are electrocuting us. It is just a mild shock, but it really hurts sometimes, especially places with thinner skin, like the bottom of the wrist.

I am not certain of the cause, but I have a few guesses: the power distribution system isn't properly grounded or our laptop power supply's can't really handle the 220V AC very well. I think it is probably the first, because using a voltage adapter with the power supply doesn't solve the problem.

And now my laptop from Rose-Hulman kicked the bucket. I'm not certain that it is related to the electrocution, but that is my suspicion. This idea is supported by the fact that it continuously trips the over current breaker in the power-supply. I took it apart, and have tentatively identified the motherboard as being the problem. So, yeah, that is a big problem. I doubt if I could find a new motherboard here, and I know that I would have trouble trusting it, based on the abundance of knock offs here. Knock offs are so common that when you ask for a computer part at a store in Jeddah, they immediately ask if you want an original or a copy. I suppose a knock off of a specific motherboard is unlikely, but I wouldn't want to test that hypothesis, because even the items they admit are copies are priced higher than originals in the US.

I am now using Abby's laptop from Rose. The hard drive from my computer isn't compatble with her laptop (my hard drive is EIDE, her laptop wants SATA). So now I have to try to find a EIDE to USB convertor so that I can move some of my important documents and files over. I will probably have to go to Jeddah to get one; the iZone store here on campus is little more than an Ipod and Macbook vending machine.

I would normally turn to online shopping as my first choice, but that really doesn't exist here (if you have a website to suggest please let me know in a comment!). The reasons for this are many, and I have identified three: 1) credit cards are very rare here, 2) the banking system does not allow someone to take payments unless they have a brick and mortar store, and 3) the postal system here is abysmal.  Point 3 is one we've learned first hand, as we've already had two packages get lost on their way from the US, one is about six weeks late!

On the upside, it is nice to get started on an brand new system all over again occasionally, to clean out all the widgets and doo-das that you never really used anyways. Hopefully next time I start over it will be on a new laptop, that has a working battery.

Our Reactions on Egypt

A quick update from us about what's going on in Egypt.  Somehow, because we've been there, this whole ordeal seems much more real to us than similar past events.

Steve found a picture in the AP slideshow (it's copyrighted so you'll have to click through to see the image), and a mere two and a half months ago we were sitting in this exact restaurant eating dinner, twice.  Yes, we ate Pizza Hut on our vacation and yes we did it twice, please don't judge.  It's the only Pizza Hut in or near Tahrir Square, so there's no doubt that this is where we were.  This restaurant was always packed when we were there, and this is one of the first places in Egypt we struggled to pay with credit.  The waiters screwed up our drink orders both times we visited.  We have memories in this place that we won't soon forget.   But to know that a place we have visited and enjoyed no longer exists feels unreal and in a very indescribable way makes this feel so much more real.

Additionally, we read that looters broke into the Egyptian Museum and destroyed two mummies.  This is so sad.  There is so much rich history in the museum, despite it's shortcomings, to destroy public history for short term gain sours the whole ordeal.

Things are shifting and moving in Egypt, and we sincerely hope that in the end, it is the citizens of Egypt that benefit the most.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Athens: Day 7

Another slightly dreary day in Athens, but it was still tons of fun. We went to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium, and the New Acropolis Museum.

The ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus (not to be confused with the Temple of Zeus at Olympia), are a very visible landmark, especially from above, because of the lush green ground cover contrasted with the pale marble columns. In some ways we found this site much more impressive than the Parthenon. Being of the Corinthian order, these columns are taller, more slender, and have more elaborate capitals than those of the Doric order at the Parthenon.

Steve acting Napoleonic

Big'ol columns

Abby is half as tall as the columns.

There was a pretty lichen or something that gave them this almost rusty look.

We then went on an audio tour of the Panathenaic Stadium. It was very impressive,but we were a little disappointed to learn that only one or two pieces of marble are from the original stadium. It was still very impressive, considering that much of the restoration was funded by benefactor, George Averoff. 

Steve couldn't afford first class seating.

A view of the stadium from the top of the seats. 

After the stadium, we walked through another Christmas village outside of the palace.  These reindeer were pretty cute.

A Christmas tree with cute little houses around it.  Behind, in the tent they had an ice skating rink set up.

They even had some amusement park rides set up.  Steve really wanted to ride the swings.

After the village, we walked over to the new Acropolis museum.  Like so many other sites in Athens, the new building was built on the site of ancient ruins.  They did a great job showing off the archelogical dig that is going on under the museum.  The outside had great open areas where you could look down on the site.

Inside the museum, the floors were made of glass, so you could look straight down onto the site.  There were even glass floors on the second floor so you could see down from even higher.  Not great for anyone who's afraid of heights, that's for sure!  Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take cameras in, so no photos of that.

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

Catch up on the rest of our adventure:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jeddah and Cairo Make the News

I was going to post the next part in our Athens vacation recap, but instead I want to show you a bit more about what's going on near us.  So I'm going to talk about rain again.  It might seem strange that the only weather I talk about here is the rain, but it's because it has a huge impact on the people here in Saudi Arabia.

It rained again on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning here.  It wasn't really worth updating about, because for us, it had little negative impact.  The leaks we had last week had been fixed, and held tight this time, so the only inconvenience was having to ride our bikes home in the rain.

Sadly this was much worse in Jeddah.  Here are two videos of the flooding.  I saw the first one on Facebook from another student on campus, and the second one was posted at Susie's Big Adventure.

As much as I wish I could say this was a one time weather catastrophe, it wasn't.  The same thing happened in November 2009 and left Jeddah in much the same state.  Promises were made to improve the infrastructure, but in Saudi fashion, 14 months later, little has been changed.  What makes this sting even worse is that as part of WEP, a Saudi businessman came to speak.  He talked about how Saudi Arabia has benefited by avoiding investing in foreign countries.  He expressed how much better off Saudi Arabia was because they kept their money working at home.  Clearly there is some disconnect when keeping Saudi Arabia's money in the country can't even provide a safe city for it's people to live in.

In other news, there have been huge riots in Cairo and throughout Egypt about the recent elections.  Considering that we were just there a few months ago, it was shocking to see places we recognized filled with angry protesters.

So that's what's going on in our little part of the world.  We'll be back tomorrow with more pictures from Athens!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Athens: Day 6

We had a lot of fun this day.  The night before we had franticly Facebook messaged with a friend from school who was going to be passing through.  We started off walking through the Ancient Agora, killing time until we headed to the Syntagma metro station where we were going to meet our friend who had a big Athens layover.  Unfortunately, her flight ended up being significantly delayed, and it was absolutely pouring in the afternoon, but despite this, it was still a great day.

Disassembled column in the Agora.

Beautiful little church in the Agora.

Huge pile of stones that were part of the buildings of the Ancient Agora.  I'm guessing that they don't know where they belong, so they store them all together in huge piles.  This was pretty common at many of the archeological sites.

The Agora was an administrative and mercantile center of the city, with many very large buildings. There were public baths, and even a water clock. In the picture below you can see the reddish porous stones that formed a sort of foundations for one of the stoas.

Steve walking through the Agora.

Little church tucked in among the cute houses and lush greenery.

Finally a visit to the Temple of Hephaistos, which we'd seen from above on several occasions. Note the curvature of the columns' profile, called entasis.

Posing in front of the temple

I loved this headless statue.  The details are impressive and the stance is so expressive.

A tripod pillar, which is so different than all of the other columns and pillars we saw in Athens.

In the afternoon, we spent some time hanging out in the metro station watching the umbrella sellers avoid the metro security, and then ducked into a little cafe for some excellent drinks when it decided to absolutely start pouring.

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

Catch up on the rest of our adventure:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Not Throwing Good Money After Bad

Have you ever gotten a gift that turned out being a big money suck?  Well I think I've gotten one of those: my cell phone!  When we arrived on campus back in August, the university was kind enough to have Mobiliy SIM cards ready and waiting for us.  They were even preloaded with 100 SAR ($27) worth of credit; all we needed to do was go out and purchase a phone.

This has been a really good solution as we don't make many calls here and our apartment also has a land line phone which is free for local calls.  Fast forward three months and now we're running into problems.  It turns out that credit purchased for pre-paid phones has an expiration date.  This alone doesn't make sense, as it's not something that can physically spoil or go bad, it's simply a tool used by Mobiliy and other cell phone providers to increase profits for low end users.

Initially we thought purchasing more credit would be a good solution, but the amount of time the new credits will extend phone service is lack luster.  To get an additional two months of service, we would need to add 60 SAR ($16) of credit.  While this seems like an inconsequential amount of money, especially when compared to the $100+ monthly cellphone plans that aren't uncommon in the US, it is still spending money that we know won't be used.

It took me 3 months to use 40 SAR worth of credit, so why would I spend an additional 60 SAR for only two months of service?  When it comes down to it, I'm just not willing to send money to a company that won't offer the level of service I need.  And I certainly won't pay extra for what I know I won't use.

So, it looks like I'll be abandoning my cell phone in favor of the land line.  Don't worry, if it doesn't work out, the phone has two months of inactive status where the it can be reactivated for free.

Anyone else have terrible cell phone stories to share?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Almost Didn't Get to Snorkel the Red Sea

Steve and I have only been out on the Red Sea once since we got here.  That was in October during Eid.  Last week, I got another chance to go out on the Red Sea, this time as part of a WEP class I was taking about Marine Science.

Unlike the first cruise, which went very smoothly, this snorkel trip resulted in a very long wait at the Coastguard station while the inefficiencies of work flow showed themselves once again.  So, why did we get stuck waiting over an hour just to get permission to go out in the open water?  Lack of paperwork.  Boating here isn't quite the same as it is back home.  Everyone who wants to go on a trip must be pre-approved, including a passport/iqama check.  While this isn't suppose to prevent anyone from going boating at school, apparently it's become a greater problem in the last few months.

From what I've heard, the problem they've been having stems from the fact that single women aren't permitted to go boating as it would require non-familial mixed company.  Again, this isn't supposed to be an issue here on campus, but apparently the Coastguard didn't get that memo.

As a result, we ended up eating snacks and tanning, hoping that somehow all the necessary paperwork would manage to move quickly enough so we would actually have time to get in the water.  However, we did manage to have a funny/awkward moment while waiting; sitting in the harbor with "When a Man loves a Woman" just feels awkward knowing there are a bunch of Saudi men inside the office determining the direction the boat will go.

By 11 or so we finally got permission to continue our trip.  On the way out, I even saw a dolphin surfacing in the distance.  By the time we got to the dive site, we got about 30 minutes of snorkel time, for what ended up being a 4 1/2 hour trip.  Go figure.

However, the snorkeling we did get to do was awesome.  I saw parrot fish, clown fish, angel fish, big groupers, a dog faced puffer fish, two sting rays, and much more.  Sadly, most of the coral where we were ended up being dead.  The summer bleaching was apparently especially harsh across the Red Sea, and the Pacific areas so the instructors thought that might have killed the coral.  Despite it being dead, we still got to see a wide variety of corals such as brain coral, branching coral, mushroom corals, and more.

A Red Sea nemo! We saw a lot of clownfish while we were snorkeling.  Did you know that male clownfish turn into females? (source)

Angel fish, although ones I saw were much more blue than yellow. (source)

Surgeon fish, which actually have a small blade near their back fin that is pretty sharp. (source)

A large clam, we saw so many like this.  They were definitely my favorite part.  The colors were pretty varied too.  Lots of purple, blue, and green clams all with different patterns.  The clams would actually snap shut if you got too close! (source)

The school runs snorkeling trips every Thursday which are six hour trips, so maybe that will give us more time to snorkel in the future.