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 RÃ¶merberg 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:
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.
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?Read More
This afternoon was clear and sunny, a usual occurrence in Cairo, and for me, the perfect time to have a beer in a riverside cafÃ©. 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 cafÃ©, 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.Read More
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.Read More