Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Top 10 Things I Learned Today in Copenhagen

It was a very educational day for me today in Copenhagen. Here's a list of what I learned.

  1. Even though it's spring Copenhagen still thinks it winter.
  2. One minute there are beautiful blue skies the next it's snowing.
  3. My coat has a hood if I wear it I stay warmer.
  4. My travel agent likes booking hotels for me in the red light district.
  5. Car tax is outrageous - it can be up to 200%.
  6. Cars all have a sticker on the inside front windshield with a dial. You specify the time you parked, if there is 2 hours free parking it is based on when the dial on your car says you parked.
  7. Many people here speak English with an American accent. At least it sounded American to me.
  8. Don't walk in the bike lane.

Did I mention it's cold but don't take my word for it check out the temperature in the photo on the left.

And #10 - it pays to advertise

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


The photo and the title says it all. My new sofa arrived today. I don't think I've ever been this happy for a furniture delivery.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weekend Update

Random News Highlights from the past 2 weeks.

1) I've had to go to Norway twice in the past 2 weeks. The first trip I had a connection through Oslo. I was a little surprised when n I had to check-in again and collect my luggage and re check that in as well. At the check in counter I was asked if it was my first visit to Oslo as SAS has a new way of issuing boarding passes there. They don't. You put your finger on this little scanner they add your passport information and that's it. At the gate there are machines to again read your fingerprint and allow you to board. It was quite a unique set-up.

2) I received a call last week that my new sofa is in - YIPPEE! The unfortunate thing is that while they could have delivered it on Saturday I was flying back from Norway then so I have to wait until Tuesday. Normally waiting around for deliveries is no fun as they are unable to give a potential window when they may arrive. In the states I seem to recall receiving a call the night before indicating a delivery window, not here they'll call by 9 AM the day of delivery to provide a window. When I said this means I basically can't make any plans for the day and will need to work from home, the rep said no we'll call you in the morning so you'll know when we'll be there. They didn't seem to understand that receiving a call the morning of the delivery makes it difficult to plan other activities for the day. I just hope that the delivery actually occurs and this doesn't turn into another fiasco like I had with the washer.

3) I've been playing around with my Facebook account. I just found out that you can have RSS feeds pulled in so when I post to my blog it should provide a status update and a short summary of the post. When I set the feed up this morning I didn't realize the default setting is to include the entire post not just a summary. I've changed the blogger settings so hopefully this post will only show a summary. We'll see if I keep the feed, just something to play around with.

4) Sitting around in airports I tend to have a lot of time on my hands, typically not enough time to get online and I'm too tired to read or do anything else. Last week I was bored during a layover and decided to count the number of stamps in my passport. As of last week I now have over 100 stamps and visas - a major milestone.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My First Exhibition

You may recall that a while back I entered a photo in a Lonely Planets competition and was a finalist. While I didn't win my photo was shown in a gallery this week in London. On Tuesday night I headed into town with some friends from my photography group to check it out. My photograph was actually chose to be part of a lightbox display. The gallery was small so I guess there wasn't room for full size pictures of all of the photos. My photo was actually included twice in the lightbox which I thought was cool. My name is also listed in the exhibition guide as having been a Judge's Favorite. Overall I thought it was really cool.
I didn't bring my camera so I had to use my blackberry to take the picture above. Can you spot my picture?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Invisible Kangaroo at the Pyramids

Ike had many adventures in Egypt and wanted to write his own blog post.

I watched the sunset from the roof deck of the hotel and had my picture taken in front of the pyramid.

Did you know I have special powers and keep leap tall pyramids in a single bound?

I tried to climb the Great Pyramid but it was too tall.

I wanted to go for a camel ride but it was scary being up that high.

This is much better.

Playing Hide N Seek.

I pretended to be a Sphinx.

This is me and the captain of the Felucca.
He was nice and let me sail the boat for a little while.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Whirling Dervish

No I'm not talking about me although I do feel like a Whirling Dervish at times. I compiled 3 video clips I took on the dinner cruise of the entertainment. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Walk Like an Egyptian

Yesterday I got back from a mini-holiday to Giza and Cairo, I spent 3 days touring the sites. Now I don't normally do tours but when I started researching Egypt everything seemed to point to the need to have a guide so I found a tour that seemed to be offering what I was looking for in terms of lots of free time and flexibility and the dates fit with my schedule. I left Thursday morning and arrived in Cairo around 4 in the afternoon (2 hour time difference between London and Cairo). Traffic in Cairo is horrible and reminded me of Jakarta, it can take up to an hour to travel only a couple of miles. I would not recommend trying to drive in Cairo there are no lane markings on the road to indicate lanes there are no street lights or traffic signs from what I could see it mostly seemed like a free for all. Add to that the pedestrians walking in the street even though the sidewalks exist many people seem to just walk on the road, you even see pedestrians standing and walking on 4 lane highways. There are no crosswalks or pedestrian crossing so pedestrians frequently jump in front of cars crossing the road. Oh yeah and there's also people in donkey-drawn vehicles. Given there is no real demarcation of where a lane ends and begins the curbs on the sidewalk are high (probably about 2 feet) I can only guess the height is so cars don't drive on the sidewalks. This came as a bit of a surprise to me when I was walking to dinner on my first night and stepped off the curb without looking and fell quite a distance, luckily I only stumbled and didn't fall flat on my face.

On the bus from the airport all of the women on the trip were given a single red rose by the tour guide. As I expected most of the people on the trip were couples there was only 1 other person that was travelling alone, Richard or Chris or Wellington depending on who was asking (I called him Richard). Luckily we got along well and "adopted" one another for the duration of the trip. It was nice to have a companion to have dinner and drinks with and also to go off exploring. The one thing that did surprise me with the group was that I was the youngest person by a couple of decades (this was also pointed out to me by others on the trip) it wasn't a problem as I had many interesting conversations with the others on the trip.

Friday morning we were off to the Egyptian Museum for the morning. There is unfortunately no photography allowed inside the museum - that is of course unless you find a security guard wanting to earn a "basheesh." Basheesh is a tip and is a way of life in Egypt, everybody wants one from the people in the toilets that hand you paper towels and toilet paper to the people at the pyramids that "offer" to take your picture. After an hour with the tour guide getting an in-depth history lesson on the artifacts in the museum I decided to go off on my own so I could see more of the museum. The information being given was good but it was too much sometimes the guide would speak for 10 minutes about a single sculpture, I usually tuned out after 3 or 4 minutes. It was while Richard and I were exploring on our own that we came across a film crew from Japan that was shooting footage in the museum for a documentary. We stopped to check out the filming and ask a couple of questions, it was at this point that the security guard with them came over and told us we could take some photos - now all cameras had to be left either on the bus or with security so the only thing we had were our mobiles but I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. He took us around to two sculptures and allowed us to take pictures when other people tried to do the same he said they couldn't we were working with the museum and were allowed to take photos. The one thing that amazed me about the museum were the sculptures that were from 2000 BC and earlier that were still in amazing condition, of course not all were there were some that had many pieces missing but the majority were fully in tact. In the sculptures of the men and women the woman always has her arm around the man, this signifies that the man is the center and the woman is supporting him. By far my favorite part of the museum was the animal mummies. Not only were the kings and queens mummified but animals would be mummified as well. Some of the animals were provided as food so the king and queen wouldn't starve others were sacred fish or pets. Some other little tidbits I learned at the museum:

  • The beard attached to statues and masks indicates that deceased, these statues also have their arms crossed.
  • The mask is attached to the mummy so that the King can be recognized, as the face of the mummy is bandaged there is now way to recognize him without the mask.

  • The face painted on the sarcophagus is usually identical to the mask on the mummy.

After the museum there was an optional tour to the Citadel and the Khan-el-Khalil market but I decided I would rather do those on my own on Sunday so I just had lunch and headed back to the hotel. We took a taxi back from lunch and knew that we would have to agree on a price prior to getting in the cab and we were told that it shouldn't be more than 20 or 20 LE (Egyptian Pounds). The driver first wanted 50 and this is where the negotiating started, he refused to budge and eventually as we started to walk away and another couple headed to the second taxi in the queue he started getting rather animated and upset saying he was there first so he gets the first fare. He told us he would take us and we confirmed the fare would be 30 he said yes yes. I have to admit I was slightly surprised when the taxi driver started smoking in the cab, I haven't seen a cab where smoking is allowed in many years. When we arrived and paid him the 30 LE he said no it's 40 - this is rather typical we held our ground said no we agreed on 30 and just walked away, he took the money and left. The process of negotiations are definitely an art form in Egypt.

That evening I went up to the rooftop terrace of the hotel to have a drink and watch the sunset. The only problem with the view from the rooftop is the radio tower smack dab in the middle of the second pyramid. Here by far is my favorite picture taken of me while in Egypt.

That evening I signed up for a dinner cruise on the Nile complete with entertainment. I realized when we were seated that we weren't given menus but other diners were we had only been given an option of 3 dinner entrees. Of course I wanted to see what I was missing and how much more we were charged by going through the tour so I asked to see the menu. The entrees we were offered were all £30 each which was the cost of most of the entrees only 2 were higher. As I had paid £45 which included transportation to and from the hotel I didn't feel I was ripped off which was good. The best part of the entertainment was the whirling dervish - I had never seen one before and watching this man spin around and around was impressive. I've got video which I'll upload later this week.

Saturday was the day I had been waiting for THE PYRAMIDS!!! You might think that the pyramids are out in the desert and far from the city but they aren't you can actually see them from the city and there are major roads and businesses all around them. Even though I could see them from my hotel and as we were driving around I was still eager to get up close and personal with them. The tour did not include entrance into the pyramids so I spent an additional 30LE to go inside the second pyramid, how can you not go inside. The trip into the pyramid is rather interesting you go 15M down a slope hunched over as the opening to the tomb is maybe 4 ft high. There is then a little chamber where you can stand up straight before heading up a 15M passage to the burial chamber. Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside the tomb so you'll just have to imagine it. As you start the upward climb it starts getting warm and musty at the top you are in the burial chamber at one end on a tiny altar is the crypt that you can look inside - bear in mind the room is completely empty as everything in it has been removed and is now either in various museums or possibly in personal collections around the world. The room isn't that large maybe about 10 ft X 20 ft and I just looked around and tried to imagine the room packed with the various belongings of the king.

The number of people at the pyramids that ask for Basheesh is ridiculously high you have to be very prepared for the people who will offer camel rides or to take their picture or come up and offer you something "for free" only to come back and ask for money. I managed to ignore everybody trying to sell something but ran into debates when taking pictures of Ike. When taking the photo on the right a man dressed as a security guard stood behind me watching me take the photo and after I was done followed me asking for basheesh I said no and walked away. (In case you're wondering why the photo is in B&W it's because Ike wanted an artsy photo of him. More photos of Ike's adventures in Cairo will be provided in a later post).

The reason I say he was dressed as a guard is I quickly realized that there were some people there wearing guards uniforms that weren't actually guards it's actually a pretty good scam if an official looking person offers to guide you to a good place to take a photo or to take your picture you'll be more likely to oblige than not. In addition to scaling the pyramid Ike also wanted a camel ride I went up to one of the men offering camel rides and asked if I could take a picture of Ike on the camel for 5 LE he said OK and we went off arranging him in various poses and I took some pictures he then said that he would take a picture of me and Richard we kept saying no but he did it anyways. Afterwards I gave him the 5 LE and he started asking for more he said that was for the bear but he took pictures of us too and we needed to pay for that. Saying no we didn't ask for that and walking away seemed to do the trick.

It really is impressive just looking at the pyramids and the construction and manpower involved in creating these.

Walking around outside the pyramids I could avoid many of the crowds however this wasn't the case at the Sphinx. The masses of people jostling around to get their picture taken in front of the sphinx and jumping on anything in site is a tiny bit overwhelming. It's a much more enclosed area so while there may not be more people there than at the pyramids they are in a smaller space so it looks like more.

The afternoon was a trip further out of town to Memphis and Saqqara. Memphis is the site of a small museum with a giant statue of Ramses II and was originally the capital of Egypt. Personally I didn't think the trip to Memphis was all that impressive but Saqqara was. Saqqara is the site of the Step Pyramid of Zoser one of the oldest pyramids in Egypt. Comparing the construction of this with the "modern" Giza pyramids you can see how the thinking and construction evolved. In the distance you can see the bent pyramid and the red pyramid. The angle of construction of the bent pyramid had to be changed midway through construction which gives the bent perspective this knowledge resulted in coming up with the correct angle necessary to create the Giza pyramids.

Sunday was a free day and I opted to explore the Citadel and markets on my own. The military museum at the Citadel is unique. There are many wars, and battles that aren't discussed it would appear that only the wars that are favorable to Egypt are discussed if the end result was not favorable it is not mentioned in the museum. The views from the Citadel over the city were amazing. Everything is pretty much the same sand-stone color, there is very little in the way of colors on the buildings, my guess is that the paint would quickly look dingy with all the sand flying around. Satellite dishes are everywhere, looks like cable television didn't make it's way to Egypt. Many of the buildings look like they are unfinished, I found out that this is because if the building is under construction then there are tax breaks available.

Leaving the Citadel I headed to the market. Knowing that a bomb went off there a week ago I wasn't sure what to expect. All entrances to the market area are guarded by police every non-westerner is stopped and asked for ID and their bags are searched. We were able to walk in without being stopped. Once you get in the market the hawkers are all out in full force offering "just what you're looking for" - most of the shops are selling similar items jewelery, pipes, silk, purses and for similar prices I imagine the person that yells the loudest gets the business. Outside of the markets it seems like the majority of the shops are Papyrus and Perfume shops.
Anyways I wasn't looking to buy anything just photographing. It wasn't until we were on the way out that I stumbled across a nifty little trick to get people to stop bothering or following you. As soon as somebody came up to me I picked up my camera to take their picture they immediately said "no photo" and walked away. I tried it out on a couple of other people and got the same reaction. It was funny to see the reactions of course there were some people that let me take their picture and really got into it. Sometimes the people in the next shop would also ask for their picture to be taken. Through this I managed to get some great photos of the people in the souk. I'll have to remember this the next time I'm at a souk.

Sunday night was a sunset dinner cruise on a Felucca. It was a nice way to end the holiday. The only thing I was slightly disappointed in was the food. Of all the meals that were provided as part of the group excursions the meals were all identical - grilled chicken and lamb kofka. It would have been nice to have had some other options as well. I'll be posting more photos to my photography site over the weekend.