Monday, February 28, 2011

Tutoring & Another Job Possibility

Hi everybody!

I thought I would just give a little update on my life over here. I recently started tutoring an adorable seven year old girl, and I hope to add a few more kids in the future. She is very bright and talkative, she just needs a little help building confidence in herself. She is a little behind in her studies because she has moved round a few times and the curricula are different.

While we were reading the other day, I discovered that we had picked up a book by one of my favorite authors for children: Jon Scieska. He's the author of the books The Stinky Cheese Man and The Real Story of the Three Little Pigs. Abby and I loved these books as kids. The book we read was Cowboy and Octopus. It wasn't as good as Math Curse, but it was still very funny.

Also, on the campout near Ta'if I met a fellow who works at Saudi Oger here on campus, and he wanted to talk to me about some work he might have for me to do. I will try giving Oger another shot, I hope this time will work out better than the last.

Friday, February 25, 2011

One Awesome Video

In my Clean Fossil Fuels & Biofuels class, we've been looking at the various kinds of biofuels that are currently being or trying to be produced, and one of the companies we looked at was Evonik.  They're making a biodiesel out of a nut called Jatropha, and to advertise or market this, they put together an awesome little Middle Eastern puppet-esqe show.

Here's a little screen shot from their website showing the two main puppets in the film.

Sadly, I can't embed the video, so you'll have to click over to Evonik's website and click on "Open the long shot of the film tract" in the purple box to view the video.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

One Pint, Three Lives?

We had our first blood drive on campus on Monday and as an avid proponent of blood donation, I wanted to seriously consider donating blood here, since obviously I can't do it back home.  So I did what makes sense in this day and age, I talked about it on Facebook.  This turned out well because one of my friends pointed me to this study that was done on blood donations here in Saudi Arabia.

While 55% of men had donated blood in the past, a mere 6% of women had done the same.  The two main reasons cited for the low donation levels among women included lack of information and difficulty in obtaining transportation.  Since women can't drive here, they must rely on a male relative for both permission and transportation, which from my understanding can be difficult to obtain.

This puts a huge amount of control outside the hands of traditional medicine. Regardless of the medical advancements made, insufficient blood supply seems like a major roadblock.

I would say the most surprising statistic I encountered was that only 15% of men and 25% of women would even accept a blood transfusion if they needed one.  Considering that 44% of those surveyed thought that blood in the blood bank was unsafe, the low acceptance of blood transfusions might not be that surprising.  I wonder how much of this distrust is a result of a bad experience, or simply a lack of accurate information about blood donations and transfusions.

Another statistic that surprised me was that 37% of men and 63% of women would only accept a blood transfusion if the donor was a relative.  This doesn't inherently surprise me, since there is a strong reliance on one’s own family here, however, I don’t see this as being truly feasible in emergency situations.  If an emergency blood transfusion is needed, I don’t think that waiting for a relative to supply it makes much medical sense.

One last statistic, this one completely unsurprising, was the gender preference for blood donations.  64% of men and 58% of women would prefer to receive blood from a donor of their same gender.  Not surprising in the least, but I feel this points to a huge gaping hole in the system.

What if for example, a woman needs an emergency transfusion, but because so few women donate blood, the only available blood is from a male donor?  (This assumes that blood donations are distinguishable by gender, and I’m not sure if this is true or not.)  Would a women or her family deny medical treatment if the preferred donor gender wasn’t available?  I hope not, but I have no earthly idea what the answer might be.  Perhaps not knowing the answer helps me sleep at night.

In the end, the clinic never got back to me about an appointment time, but perhaps another opportunity will arise in the future.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ta'if Scout Camping: Part 2

I spent both nights being miserably cold and uncomfortable. I am sad to say, but I was not well prepared. I really need a decent sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad would be nice. I have tried twice to get to the one store that people say has some of this kind of equipment here, SACO World in Jeddah, but I failed twice. The fact that the taxi drivers and I don't speak the same language and that street addresses are not used really works against me.

Hills and towers in the distance.

A tree has taken root near the edge of one of the terraces, and provides shade for the grass below.

During the second day of the camp out we worked on merit badges with the boys. We split the scouts up into groups, and rotated them through working on orienteering and rifle shooting merit badges. The rifle shooting was done in a very organized and safe way by the leader of the other troop. They used air rifles because, as the leader explained, only a Saudi can get a license to own a gun, but anybody can buy an air rifle. I did a bit of shooting later in the day after the boys were all finished, and did really well, even after not shooting for eight years.

A bluff at the edge of the escarpment. I think my brother would like climbing here.

Neat rock formations, and you can see some of the scary switchbacks.

While some of the scouts were shooting, most of the scouts worked with one of our scoutmasters and me on orienteering. Most of the boys caught on pretty quickly, and were taking bearings like pros very soon. We had them set up a three point orienteering course, and then run a course set up by another group. All but a few boys completed all of the outdoorsy requirements and now just have to do some of the writing requirements to complete the badge.

Every rose has its thorns, but every thorn doesn't have a rose. This is an actual tree, about twenty feet tall, entirely covered with two inch long thorns. The branches look really cool thrown on a fire.

After the merit badge activities most of the younger scouts went on a five mile hike, a requirement for advancement. The older boys did a bit more shooting, and then built a sweat lodge as part of indian lore merit badge. A sweat lodge is the Native American equivalent of a sauna.

One of the scouts works on the sweat lodge. It had stone walls and a juniper roof.

We had a big communal stew for dinner, and chappel (cherry-apple) pie filling for dessert. Later, one of our scoutmasters brought out a sky lantern to launch. It was huge, maybe five feet tall, and was very beautiful flying into the night sky. I would love to attend a lantern festival in China sometime, and see thousands launched at once.

I would say these were glacial erratics, but I don't think glaciers have ever come this far south. As a judge of size, notice the camel next to the tree in the middle right of the picture.

We packed up the next day fairly fast. Most of the scouts were eager to help in any way. We had an uneventful ride home, and I took a nice hot shower, and then it was naptime.

Check out Part 1 of the adventure!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fear Driven Action

Have you ever taken action to try and prevent a fear from becoming a reality?  After reading about several tragic house fires right at the end of 2010 I realized that if something like that were to happen to us we'd have quite the disaster on our hands.  This realization coupled with 3-4 fire alarms going off in a two week span and the fact that I have no idea whether we have any kind of disaster/accident insurance drove me to do something to try and mitigate potential disaster.

Since we got back from Athens, I've slowly been creating a home inventory of all of our possessions.  I started by going through room by room by memory and copying down anything I could think of. This surprisingly captured a significant portion of our possessions.  It definitely helped that I try to have a PEEP (place for everything and everything in its place).  Now I'm going back through and adding items I didn't remember we had.  It's also been a great opportunity to clean out a bit, since if I couldn't even remember it, we might not actually need it.

Eventually, I'd like to gather additional details for our most valuable items, and try to get an idea of the overall replacement value.  This will come in handy later when we have to get our own renter's insurance.

Another reason I wanted to get this started now, is because our possessions are relatively limited here, as we could only bring what would fit into our suitcases.  I'm also not including anything that was provided with the apartment because I honestly don't feel responsible towards it.

Despite all of this work, we'll definitely have to repeat this when we get home, as we both left a considerable amount in storage at home.

Has anyone else considered doing this?  How do you keep track of all of the information?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Prescription Posture

It's been awhile since I've talked about my ability to sit, so I thought an update was in order.  After end of semester projects and finals, I was certainly having much more trouble sitting for extended periods.  Winter break was much better because we didn't really spend much time sitting while we traveled in Athens.

However, when WEP started, I ended up having up to 6-7 hours of courses to sit through especially at the beginning of the program.  After about 2 or 3 days of this, I just couldn't stand it and ended up going back to the doctor.

Now, after muscle relaxantsanti-inflammatory, and a few weeks of physical therapy, my best hope for improvement is better posture.  I have ridiculously terrible posture, which is exacerbated during class and when I'm on the computer, so there is definitely significant room for improvement.  Most days, improving my posture does seem to help, so that's reassuring.  I still get sore some days when I'm in class a lot or on the computer working for extended periods, but hopefully it'll get better soon, or it's back to the doctor again.

Have I mentioned how awesome our health insurance is here?

(photo source)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Travel Planning

I love planning for our upcoming trips, I absolutely do, but only after we have plane tickets and a hostel reservation.  Those two parts of travel planning stress me out so badly.  We almost didn't go to Greece because of the stress of deciding and buying tickets.

It is far and away a problem of too many options.  There are dozens of flight aggregators, airlines, and potential destinations, and somehow from all that picking one flight to one location seems daunting and overwhelming.

Our situation is a bit different than the average traveler I think, because we're very flexible about where we want to go.  I'm more than willing to let ticket and hostel prices dictate where we go, because I know that this is only the beginning of our travels, and I'm not hung up on getting to see one specific city or country at this point.

What I really need is an aggregator that will tell me the cheapest airline prices for various cities without having to search each city individually.  Does anyone know if that exists?

Right now we're leaning towards either Rome/Florence or Milan/Florence, depending on which city is cheaper to fly into. I think Italy would be a beautiful place to visit, but it certainly looks like it's going to be more pricey than Athens.  I suppose that's one benefit of visiting economy ravaged countries such as Greece, the prices seemed cheaper than elsewhere in Europe.

Despite the self inflicted stress of travel planning, please don't think for a minute that we regret or dislike traveling.  I'm so grateful that we have the opportunity to do so much of it now, as opposed to the mind set of waiting until we're more established.

Hija de la Luna had a great article about this, and I completely agree that finding ways to travel in our twenties is a high priority before we allow ourselves to get tied down with jobs, family, and the ordinary challenges of life that prevent international travel.

(photo source)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ta'if Scout Camping: Part 1

Just this past weekend (Wednesday through Friday) I went camping near Ta'if with the Boy Scout troop here on campus. We were camping with Troop 454, from Jeddah, at one of their favorite camping spots.

We left at 3 pm on Wednesday, and headed to Jeddah to meet up with the other troop. From there we headed towards Makkah (Mecca). We had to take the road around Makkah, because only Muslims are allowed there. Interestingly, that stretch of road, traveled almost solely by non-Muslims, was the only section of road that was in any state of disrepair. I have heard that asphalt roads can last upwards of fifteen years here with very little maintenance because of the lack of snow, and water in general.

Non-Muslims only have one choice at this intersection, assuming "PRIVAT" really means "PRIVATE".

Most of the 5,000+ feet of elevation gain between Jeddah and Ta'if is in a series of switchbacks just east of Makkah. As we approached the switchbacks in the dark the streetlights traced a pretty zig zag up the face of the mountain. The local drivers illustrated their recklessness by passing during hairpin turns at double to triple the posted speed limits, with deadly drop offs just beyond the edge of the road. My mother would have passed out from terror alone had she been with us.

Jagged peaks in the escarpment at the edge of the central plateau.

The roads had street lights almost all the way to the campsite, on a road that probably received fewer than twenty car each night, it seemed a bit wasteful. We had a little bit of car trouble near the campsite: one of the SUVs blew the fuse for the starter motor. This was the same SUV that got two flat tires on the previous campout.

The campsite was absolutely gorgeous; it was situated in a valley that had been terraced for farming. The way that they accomplished this terracing was pretty cool: First they would lay a series of short walls made of loose stones across the valley. Then they waited until the occasional torrential rain had deposited soil behind the walls. Then they would add more stones to each wall, making them taller. Then they would wait for more soil to accumulate, and repeat. Over many years the terraces grew, until the originally sloping land was converted into a series of flat steps separated by four to ten foot high walls.

Our tents on the step above the stone retaining wall.

The sunrise ignited the rocks into a brilliant bronze.

The area where we camped was divided in two by one of these walls. Troop 454 brought a custom made trailer with two huge awnings and we set up kitchens below them. The ground was mostly smooth dirt, because the troop would rake most of the rocks from the site each time they visited, and only flooding could move new rocks in. Setting up tents was easy, and went quickly. Some of the scouts found a flat spot up the side of the hill, and pitched their tents up there. Not very convenient, but very cool.

The scouts hurry down from their tents when they are called to fall-in.  Some of them chose to put their tents a bit out of the way.

That night we had a series of clouds blow right through the campsite, reducing the visibility to ten or twenty feet. It was very fun to watch as the whole world was engulfed by the fog.

A cloud blows in over the hills. Notice the almost entirely obscured hill.

The whole campsite. It is much greener than I expected.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

3 Reasons we Love and Hate Living Overseas

After some time living here in Saudi Arabia, there are so many aspects of our new life that we love and ones that we hate, or at least severely dislike too.

Reasons We Love Living Here:

1. Not Driving Means Less Stress: Back in the US, I had an hour-long one-way commute each day as well as traveling back and forth to visit each other on the weekends, and this was easily the most stressful loathsome part of my life. Now, we ride our bikes and take the bus on campus. In Jeddah, we take taxis to get around, so car ownership is also something we don't miss here. Couple this with the typically insane drivers in Jeddah, and this change is a complete win.

2. Cash Only Society: There is a huge debate on whether cash or credit makes you spend more, or if it's just more convenient when tracking finances, but here in Saudi this debate has been silenced simply because most the the country is essentially cash only. I'm surprised at how quickly I've adapted to this change since we both used debit and credit almost exclusively back home. Now, I can't imagine going back to credit. It's so much easier to save money when it's not in your pocket all day, every day.

3. See The World: Maybe later we'll talk about the downsides of traveling, but for now, we'll just say it's been such a blessing to have been able to travel so much. We're getting ready to plan our upcoming spring break trip and while I have no idea where we'll go or what we'll be doing, I know that it will be amazing.

Things we Miss while Living Here:

1. Friends and family: This is both obvious and expected. The hardest part about the eight hour time difference is trying to stay connected in both of them. The decision to stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning to talk to family and friends back home makes it hard in classes the next day, but I never regret doing it.

2. Barrier-free shopping: Shopping here is filled with all these little inconveniences that make shopping my least favorite activity. No dressing rooms, limited selection, and the requisite day long trip to Jeddah whenever we need or want something has really made us reconsider what we actually need. If it's not worth the trip to Jeddah, it's probably not worth buying. On the flip side, we're much more likely to buy something we need when we find it instead of shopping around.

3. Kitchen appliances: This is going to sound crazy, but I miss my food processor, KitchenAid stand mixer, and my crockpot. I used these all the time back home, and despite our best attempts, we can't even get temporary replacements for some of them. I'd love to know why crockpots don't exist here, given that they have about 20 different rice cookers, but alas, the do not know the joy of the crockpot.

It's been an interesting time in our lives living here, and despite all that we miss, I guarantee it only makes us appreciate how much we have both here and back at home.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Modern Beauty

Shortly after the newest eatery opened on campus, Steve and I went and got some tasty frozen yogurt.  To my despair, this was one of those moments where I regretted getting caught without my camera.  It actually happens a lot here, because there are just so many interesting things going on.  Like watching the maintenance staff clean windows on campus, with a cherry picker.  That's the kind of awesome stuff  I miss out on when I don't have my camera.

Thankfully, the beautiful decor at the froyo shop was still there the next time we needed our desert dessert fix.

I love the bright, bold colors contrasting against the stark white walls, and the light fixtures are gorgeous and artsy.

While the chairs and tables are all plastic, the colors are still strikingly beautiful.

How much do I love these lights!

This interesting snaking ribbon was used mostly to divide the space into the sit down area and the ordering area, but wouldn't it make a unique bookshelf/display area if the bends and turns were adjusted a bit?

Compared to our apartment decked out in browns and tans, I'm ready to move in with the froyo.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Why I Love Campus

I spend a decent amount of time griping about campus, so here's a little Valentine's Day antecedent about why being on campus is awesome.

Every week the cinema on campus shows two new movies.  Usually at least one is an American film, and this week they were showing Tron, which Steve has wanted to see since he found out about it.  At 5:48 pm, we checked the movie schedule online and realized the movie started in twelve minutes.  So we grabbed our new jackets (part of the amazing February Christmas miracle) and rode over to the theater.  We bought our tickets ($1.33 each), got popcorn and a drink for each of us because we hadn't eaten dinner ($2 each), and still managed to have time to go to the bathroom before the movie started.  So aside from only costing $6.67, we went from couch to stadium seating in twelve minutes.

That is exactly why I dread returning to the American commute.  My twelve minute bike and walk commute to class is just too nice.

Hope everyone had a chocolate filled holiday, and if you didn't the sales start soon!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Kitty on a Walk & Kitty Air Freshener

With all the terrible driving and feral cats around, we were very reluctant to let Algebra (our cat) outside at all. But we thought it might be good for her to stretch her legs, smell some new smells, chase some grasshoppers: experience the outdoors in general.

At first, we would just carry her outside and hold her the whole time. We were forced to do this two or three times due to fire alarms (false alarms). This was fun, but Algie really wanted to be on the ground, roaming and sniffing.

Abby wanted to train her to walk on a leash, which I thought was a bit silly. So we slowly introduced her to a new, tighter collar and a nice matching leash. She has picked it up pretty well, but she still refuses to be lead; she has to do the leading.

After her most recent foray into the wilderness, she started acting strangely, and we were worried that she might have picked up fleas. So I picked up some squeeze on flea and tick repellent for about $12 for four months worth. The only brand available was Sergeant's Green brand, which is all natural. It has peppermint oil, lemongrass oil, and clove oil and boy does it smell strongly. It is as pungent as those aroma oils that you are supposed to use with reed diffusers. Forget motion activated, fan powered, plug in air fresheners: we have an air freshener that follows us from room to room!

Now for some adorable pictures:

A little bit worried peaking around the corner of our apartment building.

Walking a kitten: very manly.

Kitty must sniff EVERYTHING!

Playing in the gardens outside the back porch.

She was very hesitant to walk out into the street.

Hopefully, she either doesn't have fleas or this new medicine will knock them right out so she can get back out into the wild!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine Craft

Have I ever mentioned that I'm terrible at admitting that I've changed my mind?  I'm not terrible at actually changing my mind, given a convincing, logical argument, but fessing up to it is not my forte.  It never has been either.  The time I spent weeks sitting in my closet reading the Harry Potter series because I didn't want to admit that it was not in fact a dumb book about wizards comes to mind.

Lo and behold, it's happened again.  Bunting has been popular to say the least in the crafting world for a while now, at least since last spring perhaps longer, and it's only now that I'm willing to admit that my first instinct when I see bunting isn't "ick."  I have no idea why I changed my mind, but the Christmas star bunting I made back in December just tickles my fancy.

So, this brings us to decorating for Valentine's Day.  I didn't decorate because I'm one of those crazy/awesome new house decor at each holiday kind of people, but because our house is drab and needed some color.  The holiday simply offered a good color theme.

I got the idea for this stained glass hearts craft from Flower Patch Farmgirl and I just knew I had to try it out.

This started with me spending some quality time with the vegetable peeler.  Apparently, a pencil sharpener might have been more practical, but these were big crayons, and I'm working with limited craft goods.  After shredding all of the crayon colors I wanted, the rest was cake.  The only trick was to make sure not to put too much crayon shavings down because I wanted the light to shine through.  It was easy enough to move the crayon goo around between the wax paper sheets while using the iron to melt them.  Sadly, this was the first time I'd used our iron and ironing board.  If they hadn't been provided we really wouldn't miss them, but at least they've earned their keep now!

I used my two hole punch (there aren't three hole punches here and all the binders either have 2 or 4 rings in them) to put holes in the cut out hearts and then threaded and taped them to some red sewing thread.

Close up of the hearts strung across our living room windows.

I made some small hearts from the scrap pieces so I taped those to the thread instead of hole punching them.

The railing overlooking the living room.  The light comes through the hearts in the middle of the day and it does a good imitation of stained glass.

The hearts finally replaced the Christmas garland in the study.  The only problem I had with the hearts was some cracking around the edges where I cut out the shapes.  I suppose you could iron the hearts again to reseal the edges, but I didn't think it was necessary.

I can't wait until next year, because I've seen some really cute crafts out there that I just don't have the supplies to do over here!  Between the new paintings and these new decorations, I think the apartment is definitely starting to look more cheery and personal.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

One Last Athens Update

I thought we had covered all of the highlights from our Athens trip, but then I realized that I forgot to show you what we brought back with us.

One of my main complaints about our apartment is that it doesn't feel like us. If I had to pick furniture, paint colors, and decor this place would look completely different. I'm so not a brown and tan person.

So we spent some time wandering around shops in Athens looking for some wall decor that would make this place feel more homey.

I really wanted something that would remind us of our trip and be pretty at the same time so, after much looking, we found this:

We also found another painting which I absolutely loved, so Steve got it for my birthday present.

When we get back home we'll have them restretched so they look like proper canvas paintings, but for now we'll enjoy them as is.

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

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Charting Rudeness?

I've been working on a little data collection project during WEP, and now that it's over, I'm dismayed and pleased to show you what I've been up to for the last couple of weeks.

During all of the WEP classes and lectures I had to go to, I've been keeping track of the number of cell phone rings each day.  This all got started when in the first lecture I attended there were at least 3 rings in the first 15 minutes of the lecture!  I don't know if people here realize how rude they are being, but oh man are they ever rude.

The worst part is that people would answer their phones and actually have hushed conversations instead of ignoring the call or leaving the room.

So here you go, cell phone rings per hour for WEP.  A few notes, I started on Saturday because that's when our work week starts and thus Thursday and Friday as our weekend have less or no data because I didn't have to go to lectures. 

 Also, the Sunday where there were 7 rings per hour was actually all from the same lecture.  This was an especially awful presentation so the big jump in cell phone noises doesn't surprise me.

Overall there ended up being an average of about 2.2 cell phone rings each hour and 114 rings in total over 13 days, which is more than enough to be annoying and certainly enough to be rude.  I'm really irritated and disappointed that there were so many distractions.  Are people so busy these days that they can't turn off their phones for an hour?

Even worse than the cell phones was the sheer number of people who showed up late, but that's not at all surprising and in fact is very common.  So common, that for my 9 am class this semester, only nine people out of 32 have managed to show up on time!

I'm just shocked.  What do you think, am I overreacting?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Christmas Miracle!

Remember back in December when we were leaving for Athens and we told you how disappointed we were that we hadn't gotten mail?  I guess the mail deities wanted to give us a little Christmas in February because today we got not one, but two Christmas packages in the mail today!

Sure it was a little beat up, but hey showing up is half the battle here!  It took 48 and 56 days for the two packages to wander over from the US.

Honestly, after it flooded in Jeddah a few weeks ago, I gave up all hope of seeing them.  I figured they had floated away into the desert.

I don't know what we're going to do with Christmas decorations in February, but since I've been working on some Valentine's Day crafts, maybe I'll try and work them in somehow.  At least the color scheme works in our favor.  I also can't wait to use the cookie cutters.  It's one of the many cooking and baking tools I haven't been able to find on campus or in Jeddah, so we're going to have to make some Christmas shaped cookies soon.

We also got this great family calendar from my uncle, with the photos taken by my little sister.  And aren't those snowmen just too cute!

Now that we're all full up on Christmas, you'll have to stay tuned to see how we meld it together with a little bit of Valentine's Day, which in case you didn't know, is illegal here in Saudi land.  Oddly, or not, the government/religion goes so far as to ban the color red.

I always knew we were fugitives at heart.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Uggg Egypt Air, but Cairo is Awesome!

Without a doubt, the worst part of our trip was actually getting out of Greece.  Dealing with Egypt Air on the way out was a complete pain start to finish.  We did catch a bit of a break, the metro wasn't going on strike until noon that day, so we were easily able to take the metro to the Airport instead of having to navigate the bus system again. I really wish international airports checked in based on airline instead of the specific flight.  On numerous occasions, we've been stuck waiting to even check in to the flight before we even hit security or customs!  After they finally started checking in for the flight, we were told that we needed to show the credit card we used to pay for the flight.  Since we go cash only when we travel, and that particular credit card is vicious about international fees, it happened to be sitting in my wallet back at school, not with us in Athens posing a potential risk for theft and fraudulent charges.  One of the ladies tried to tell us that we would typically have to purchase new tickets (!) but that they would kindly make an exception and take a photocopy of my passport along with my signature.  This cheesed me off to all kinds of Mondays because we already had problems buying the tickets; the bank thought the ticket charge was fraudulent and blocked access, and now the airline was trying to tell me the ticket purchase wasn't legit.  There is no reason they needed to see the credit card for a purchase that was made almost a month prior to the flight, when there was no issue with the departure tickets.

Next, they tried to tell us our carry on luggage was too heavy (it weighed exactly as much as it did when we flew Egypt Air to Athens!) and that Steve's backpack didn't count as a personal item!  So we had three carry on items and one personal item instead of two of each.  We have traveled with this exact combo of luggage through no less than six airports and have never had an issue.  While it is most likely not the fault of the woman behind the counter, the fact that they are applying Egypt Air rules, that clearly didn't exist/apply when we flew two weeks prior really bugged me.  So we ended up having to check one of the bags.  Thankfully, they don't charge extra for this convenience, so the only loss is time spent waiting at the luggage carousel.  Since the handle on Steve's luggage broke about 20 feet outside of our apartment on our way to Athens, we decided to check his and not have to deal with the inconvenience.

Thankfully, the flight to Cairo was relatively peaceful, after only a slight delay of our departure.  Once in Cairo though, we got more of the airport run around.  Since we had an eight hour layover, we were directed to go to a special counter an have our tickets checked.  It turned out that they were checking to see if we'd made hotel accommodations, and if they had asked us, we easily could have told them that we hadn't.  But alas, line waiting instead.

So how do you comfortably kill eight hours in Cairo's airport?  VIP lounge is how.  It was $25 each for us to get in, but it was completely worth it.  We easily would have spent that amount on food while in the airport, so there was no doubt that for a long layover, it was money well spent.  We even had great comfy couches, but sadly only 30 minutes of free internet.  I really wish more airports had free or ad included internet access instead of trying to charge for it.  We're getting ready for our Spring break trip, and hopefully we can avoid flying Egypt Air through Cairo, but if we have to at least we know where to spend our layover.

The layover passed quickly and the flight from Cairo to Jeddah was uneventful.  We even had our taxi waiting for us when we got through customs!

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

Catch up on the rest of our adventure:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Athens: Day 12

This day in Athens was Abby's Birthday, and she decided that she wanted to go to the Sunday Flea Market. The flea market was packed with all kinds of people, most of whom looked more Middle Eastern than Greek. The flea market was a huge sprawling area, where you could buy anything from old faucets, to porn, to flip flops, to porn, to bootleg dvds, to porn, to a dentist's chair, to porn, to video games, and electronics. Did I mention that they had porn? There were some vendors that had dozens of milk crates full of porn on VHS and DVD, right alongside Dora the Explorer coloring books. I'm not sure who would feel comfortable buying porn in public, but I suppose it is different there, as they had porn at newsstands too.  Another strange item for sale was piles of partly used prescription drugs.  Needless to say, you could get almost anything here!

There was also artistic murals painted on the buildings nearby.  We had read about how the graffiti in Athens was supposed to be beautiful rather than just vandalism, but this was the first time we saw graffiti that wasn't actually vandalism.

They even had a robot mural!

One we fought our way out of the crowds of the flea market, we visited Kerameikos. This large archeological site contains a cemetery, part of the ancient city wall, and two important gates. Within the ancient wall was a potter's village with the remains of a few kilns. At the small, but very well displayed Kermikos Museum, we learned all about the area. The wall was quickly built after the Persians sacked the city in 480 BCE. In order to speed up the construction many funeral monuments, which were readily at hand, were used in the construction of the wall. Many of the pieces in the museum were recovered from the base of the wall.

Steve at Kerameikos.

I have no idea how they cut these stones so accurately, they interlocked very tightly with no mortar.  This wall was alongside an ancient road that passed through one of the gates at Kerameikos.

Yet another adorable little church, maybe even the same one as we saw from above earlier.

A stone arch on the grounds.

Steve admiring one of the ancient walls.

Inside the Kerameikos museum they had a huge stone bull on display in the courtyard of the museum.  The courtyard was glass enclosed and just fantastic! It would be a great addition in a house.

Steve peeking around one of the ancient walls at Kerameikos.

*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, February 3, 2011

Athens: Day 11

We had a very relaxed day in Athens on this day. We decided to revisit one of our favorite areas, and see Socrates  prison in the daylight. We climbed around for a bit at Philopappos hill, stopping at Socrates' Prison, and to play on some very randomly placed monkey bars. This time the gate was unlocked at the "prison", which was probably a house, and probably had nothing to do with Socrates. The small caverns were used to protect ancient treasures and artifacts during World War II, when there was a huge concrete bunker in front of it to add to the protection.
Don't worry, the door isn't actually locked.

Trying to escape from Socrates' Prison.

Protip: Photoshop Steve into awesome fight scenes for flying kick action!

Acropolis, with the Odean of Herodes Atticus in the foreground.

The elbow patches really are sexy, aren't they?

A small tomb carved into the rock, we can't remember the name of it.

This little church, the Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris, had interesting masonry. Much of it was recycled from ruins in the area.

One thing we haven't mentioned was the street performers and peddlers. It was hard to find a historic monument without a young foreign man selling splat tomatoes and splat pigs  on a little wooden panel. Everywhere we went there was the ubiquitous whack of a tomato or a pig being annihilated to demonstrate to every passing tourist that it was "very good product", "very high quality", and "good materials". There also seemed to be fierce competition for the best place to set up shop, often there were two or three young men within meters of each other, showing how the tomato will re-form every time he throws it against his little wooden panel. Occasionally there would be musicians, performers, or living statues. The musicians were usually on accordion, but we did see an excellent jazz trio on trumpet sax, and flute.

These two guys had a pretty good slapstick routine, and they were using a good portion of the street to do it.

Remnants of a wall lead up the hill towards the Philopappos Monument. Yet another example of how favorable the conditions were to photography.

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

Catch up on the rest of our adventure: