Day Two – Cairo tours

2015-09-16 20.42.31Day two: August 16, 2015 started after finally getting some decent sleep. Five hours of shuteye felt luxurious after the level of deprivation and stimulation that I experienced on day one.

We were off to visit the churches, mosques and temple(s) of Cairo, and planned to finish with a tour at the Egyptian museum. I made sure I had plenty of scarves; no amount of heat would have me showing skin in a mosque. While we waited an hour for the fellas to get on their merry way, I put in a word with Abdo to make sure that we wouldn’t have another Sphinx-like time shortage at the end of the day.

I specifically said “we don’t want to get to the museum at 4pm when they close at 6, or something”.

2015-09-16 02.47.08On the Road

The drive to Cairo was uneventful other than the insanity of daily life on the streets there. The mini van had curtains, to help keep it cool, but there’s just too much to see for comfort to take precedence.

I noticed that many of the buildings along the highway have these pieces of rebar pointed up, as if they were trying to keep gigantic pigeons off of them. Come to find out, they were actually the beginnings of the next story. Cairo is perpetually going vertical.

2015-09-16 00.27.27Most every apartment building was dotted with random units where the balconies featured full colored paint jobs and murals. Sometimes there would be an explosion of color, as if neighbors were inspired by some friendly competition, like in US suburban neighborhoods that blow up with lights, during the holidays.

We hit a traffic jam, which we wasted no time navigating around. The driver did this easily, but my knuckles were white. The mini van barely stopped before it found its detour, driving over a median, then going the wrong way into distant oncoming traffic and finding an on-ramp that we used as an off-ramp to the frontage road. As I started strait ahead, the driver pointed out of his window at the twisted semi-truck, the smoking wreckage that had stopped up the traffic. I covered my mouth in shock and tried to look away before I could see any dead bodies.

Citadel of Cairo

2015-09-16 01.33.29We entered Citadel and the second thing I noticed, after how close we were to the huge and iconic place of worship, was the quiet. The 6 of us stood in front of the Mosque at a distance to get a good view of the architecture, while Abdo told us in semi-comprehendable English about its history. I covered my head with one of my scarves and made sure that the other one completely covered my shoulders. I felt pretty conservative when I saw other female tourists with their heads covered, paired with short shorts and flip flops. While we listened to Abdo’s spiel, a small group of young men gathered and waited patiently. They wanted pictures with Richard and Jordan. They asked politely and Abdo reluctantly took a break to allow it. I figured that they might have mistaken two, good looking, well put together men for movie stars or something.

We moved around the space and found our way to the inside of the the mosque built by/for the guy that stole all of that limestone from the Great Pyramid, Muhammed Ali Pasha. Abdo said that he did a lot of great things, but in my opinion, he’ll never live that one down. Or, I guess I mean, he didn’t!

We entered, our shoes in hand, mouths open, aghast at the beauty of the space. We were immediately approached by a group of young Egyptians who seemed fascinated by us. Abdo had us sit quietly in a circle on the floor of the historic space to give us more of its history, and annoyed this time, he waved off any and all of the Egyptians that wanted our pictures.

Once he was done talking, I gladly posed with smiling young people whose beaming faces were hard to say ‘no’ to. Plus, it felt kind of flattering. Group after group took turns posing with me. As I looked around for my friends, I noticed that each of the 5 of us were doing the same thing. After accommodating about a dozen photos, myself, I started to say ‘no’.

I found it almost impossible to get a good photo of this breathtaking space, because the most beautiful aspects surrounded us in every direction. It was hard to capture, say, the ceiling, because it was so close and so grand. I did manage a good pic of a huge chandelier, which I’d love to find a wiki about. A gift from the French, or something(?). I loved the way it showed it’s age, but was still well preserved.

2015-09-16 02.10.16When we exited, we left through the opening that pointed out towards Mecca. From the rooftop where we stood, beyond the outermost bastion we could see the whole of Cairo, although I’m sure that greater Cairo circled us. Off in the distance we could barely make out the Pyramids of Giza through the smog, but only because Abdo pointed them out.

Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque

Citadel contains 3 mosques and a couple of museums. Each were built at different times, with varying architecture and uses. The whole space was tourist central and we were continually asked to be in pictures.

An Islam advocacy group had set up display, some propaganda inside of Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque. Large words promised that women of Islam were treated as spiritual equals to men. I couldn’t help but think of some of the unmentioned aspects of Islamic gender “equality” that weren’t quite as tourist friendly.

Inside of this mosque, I noticed one of the interior walls with shapes that once were windows, crudely blocked off. I asked our guide and he explained that they were covered up when the city built a highway, just outside. How sad it is to see a society’s lack of consideration for its own history. Maybe the population explosion was just too hard to keep up with. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that decision was made after Cairo began loosing tourist money.

Cane Juice pit stop

2015-09-16 02.54.35Between Citadel and Coptic Cairo, the van made a sudden stop on the side of the road, or as our guide would say, “rood”. Abdo jumped out and opened our sliding door, handing each of us a frosty mug full of “real cane juice” from a little shack. Richard and I discussed the pollution content of this chilled and special treat, a conversation he closed when he said convincingly enough, “they probably don’t like the taste of city water either.” We toasted and chugged. Jordan had two.

Coptic Cairo

I’d be lying if I said that I wanted to keep on this historical tour of holy places. Abdo was into it and really impressed upon us the idea of how many different religions were practiced and accepted in Cairo, by showing us a ton of places of worship in Coptic Cairo.

It was clearly important to the Egyptians that we have a good time, see lots of open mindedness and tell our friends that Egypt is safe. Their livelihoods and survival depended on it.

2015-09-16 03.44.16What stood out was Abu Serga and the journey through a long, sunken corridor with a small market in it to get there.  When we got to the doorway of this partially underground church, it had clouds of dust coming out of it, along with the sound of sledgehammers and wet saws. I thought that maybe we wouldn’t be able to see what we’d come to see, after all. But Abdo stepped in and we covered our noses and mouths with our shirts/scarves, as we passed through the restoration work. We saw the famous mural and even more importantly a little row of steps descending to where THE Mary and Joseph came for refuge with their little baby Jesus, in like zero BC. The church was built there in celebration or honor of what was once the cave where the young family hid.

2015-09-16 03.58.33We also visited the Hanging Church and the Ben Ezra Synagogue, where I embarrassed everyone by taking an illegal picture, because I didn’t see the sign.

Out to lunch

Abdo had his ideas of where to take us to lunch that day, but we took matters into our own hands and ended up at a place that Lonely Planet spoke highly of. We found a parking spot amongst what looked like a traffic jam, but were just a whole lot of double parked cars on the street. The little restaurant was perfect and we ordered all of the traditional Middle Eastern delicacies and then some, avoiding anything raw. We drank bottled water and bottled beer.


After lunch, Abdo warned that we should probably head strait to the museum from there. A few of us were sure that a quick Turkish coffee would be a worthwhile delay. In order to take in as much of Cairo culture as possible, we decided to hit the nearby famed Café Riche. We were seated and a quick coffee order turned into a long long wait. I was blamed for ordering mine as a “French Turkish” which Abdo recommended when I asked if they ever steam milk in their Turkish coffees. I wish I hadn’t. The old old old waiter looked absolutely disgusted by my request. I tried to unorder it, but it was too late. When it arrived, I did really enjoy it. It was delicious, despite the spit that everyone promised me was surely lurking in its creaminess.

The Egyptian Museum

We arrived at the Egyptian museum, bought our tickets and checked our cameras… at 4pm. It was clearly the late start that I had feared. Rumor had it that we had two hours before they were to close. We quickly moved through rows and rows of statues and sculptures and other ancient belongings to see the pieces that Abdo deemed worthwhile. My Lonely Planet suggested that it’s best to reserve a full day to see what the museum had to offer, but that two days would be better.

The place was stacked with artifacts. There were entire rooms dedicated to sarcophaguses aka sarcophagi!

sheik-el-beledI think that my favorite was a statue of Kaaper. I wanted to sit with that for a while and nearly lost the group in my delay.

I was absolutely amazed as I was being reminded of how much more ancient egypt contained than I remembered from art history class in college. The films I’d watched before my trip focused more on archaeology.

After climbing some stairs and on our way to King Tut’s room, we were told that the museum would be closing in 10 minutes, a whole hour earlier than we’d expected. Eyes wide open, we studied every little detail. I was in complete amazement as we saw the remains of the young Pharaoh, his famous mask and belongings that seemed like something you’d find in much less ancient times. I was so confused when I saw metal knives, painted metal jewelry and chains. When I originally learned about ancient Egypt, I guess that I didn’t realize how impressive it was.

I almost cried as we were ushered back out to the street, strategically planning how I might return before our flight departed to Aswan the next day. Jordan urged us to give it up, because “we are about to spend a week seeing all of the places where this stuff came from”. Travel can be good at reminding you to seize the moment and let go of expectations.

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Pool before Happy Hour

The day before we were too late for the pool, so this day I was bent on getting a dip in before they closed it. The main pool of the Mena House Hotel had just been covered by platforms for the wedding they were preparing for (part of all of that noise, the morning before), so we visited the one in the new addition.

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The pristine pool was probably artificially cooled, because it was super refreshing considering the consistently hot climate. I took off my coverup and dove in head first, feeling relieved as the thin layer of Cairo’s heat and smog was rinsed away from my body. As soon as I came up for air, I heard a man saying that the pool was closing. I pretended not to notice him, even though he seemed to maybe be speaking directly to me, and immediately went back under, holding my breath for a long time, in the calm of the deepest part of the shallow pool. Richard and Jordan joined me for a few splashes. We toweled off together under a waxing crescent moon set against a bright/deep blue gradient, Egyptian twilight, set against a silhouette of palm trees. It was a view fit for clip art or stock photography, if I had a better camera.

The water evaporated quickly off our bodies, in the warm air and it felt so comfortable to just be outside that night, half naked and barefoot. I felt incredible. The three of us padded around on the concrete grounds, exploring the addition. Another huge and very modern restaurant had recently been built, but didn’t look like it had yet opened. We studied the design, layout and scale, wondering where all of the money came from and if and when people would actually be eating there.

When the topic of what to do for dinner came up, it was then that I realized that what I called our “meat lunch” was still sitting heavily in my surprisingly swollen belly. I thought I might skip dinner, and I did, more by accident. I laid down for a nap after my shower and ended up calling in my cancellation, a no-brainer trade of social plans for a long night’s rest.

Egypt, Denver to Giza, Day 1

2015-09-14 19.38.17It was Tuesday, September 15, 2015 in Cairo, Egypt.

I arrived 5 hours later than I was supposed to and wasn’t exactly sure if my guide would still be at the airport. I was nervous based on Lonely Planet’s warnings of aggression and a 90% chance that I’d be groped at some point on my trip. When, I saw my name on a sign immediately after stepping foot out the door, I did a happy dance, and tripped over my pant leg.

Abdo, our guide, waited for me for 5 hours. He greeted me and I felt safe and comfortable immediately. He took my bag and led me to his little car. It was a long drive to the hotel, which was in Giza, across the Nile from Cairo. We hit the highway directly, which at first, didn’t seem all too different. Big highway, big billboards, some palm trees. Kind of like California! Abdo explained that it was never this calm except for late at night. It was 1:15am. He took advantage of the space, like sleeping in a king-sized bed alone, and drove straddling a white line.

2015-09-14 00.48.33The highway was non-stop lined with buildings, in varying condition and packed in close. At one point, I noticed rows and rows of identical buildings that looked like brand new construction, without any sign of occupancy. I got flashes of the vacant and dark corridors between the buildings, as we passed at 145 KPH. I was dumbfounded by the depth of this concrete ghost-town of perfection. “What the?” I asked. This was the first of many times that I’d hear Abdo say, “I just told you…”. His accent was a challenge for me. I’m one of those people that puts the subtitles on when I watch British films.  I listened more closely and he explained that these places were built for the large population. “They keep building them” he said, “but there still aren’t enough”. “But they’re empty,” I said. He explained that the population in greater Cairo is 30 million and growing, which is hard to fathom. I understood the concept the same way I understand why they just keep building apartments in Denver. It’ll make sense some day, I guess.

Giza at Night

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 9.42.45 PMThe streets of Giza were my first peak into the chaos of this place. They were hustling and bustling, even at that hour. We turned down the street of the hotel which was very brightly lit. There were shops open and local men on the street wide awake and shouting a bit. I don’t know what that was about.

The Mena House Hotel is a historic palace with a gated entrance. When we arrived we turned off the car for security, while dogs sniffed it. Later Rudy would say that it was because it’s better for the bomb to go off at security than in the lobby. The gates were opened when the car didn’t explode. Walking into reception was a little like walking into the 19th century, but also like the 1970s, as there were mirrors on the ceilings. Although thoroughly remodeled, they were thankfully careful to retain that old world charm and mix in some modern from the time.

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I said goodnight to Abdo, who told me that he would be back in 6 hours to pick us up for the Pyramid tour. This was news to me. I was delirious with exhaustion, having only dozed off for multiple 10 minute spells, across gate area seats at the Frankfurt airport earlier that day… or was it the day before? I hadn’t really really slept for about 33 hours. I would need to make the most of the next 6 hours with committed deep sleep.

The First Hotel Room



They took me to the new section of the hotel, outside of the palace, in a golf cart; my bag was in a separate golf cart. My room was much nicer than I’d ever felt deserving of staying in, especially alone. “This is just for me?” I thought.

Pyramid View

I was taken out onto this 4th floor veranda and pointed out “the pyramid view”. The smog was so thick and the floods in the garden so bright that it was hard to see anything. I squinted, searching grayish darkness and came up with nothing, for a full minute. Suddenly, I saw a hard line, at an angle. Following it up and up and up, I adjusted my perspective. It was right there! Much closer and larger than I thought possible. I had been looking right through Khufu’s Pyramid for something much smaller on the horizon. I squeeeeed with excitement and jumped around a little, for the bell hop’s entertainment and my own release of energy that I had been building for, what seemed like, ever.

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View of the pyramid from the courtyard below my room in the morning.

When left alone, I noticed a bag on the table. A gift from Richard and Jordan, the hosts of this trip, a sweet welcome note attached to a bottle of Champagne. As tempting as it was to pop the cork, I needed sleep not a hangover. I called the front desk for a 7am wake up call, showered and laid out my clothes for the next day. It was 2:45 am, before my head hit the pillow.

The next two hours consisted of self soothing, sleep-inducing techniques, weird noises, thermostat translation issues and eventually, me on the balcony with an open bottle of champagne, watching 7+ workers, carrying and hammering and clanging away. They were building something metal in the courtyard below. Since I wasn’t going to be sleeping, I climbed over the balcony railing to sit with my bottle and an unobstructed view. It didn’t feel like 4:30am. I sat in the darkness of the New Moon, at the brink of dawn and beheld the greatest pyramid of all time, built 4,500 years ago.

After about a third of the bottle, irritation crept back in and then disbelief when added to the noise was some very loud music. Like really loud, amplified terrible singing in Arabic! Feeling courageous (champagne), I  yelled, yes yelled, down “you know I can hear everything!!!!”. The clanging stopped, the amplified singing stopped (unrelated to my yelling, it turns out) and a golf cart headed in my direction, blinking it’s headlights. I went inside and fell asleep while practicing my complaints for the front desk in the morning and crying just a little (it’s a sedative).

Pyramid tour day, ready or not!

My wake up call came way too soon. I feared that it would be a difficult, sleep deprived day, and on the day of the pyramid tours, which I’d seen as the highlight of this trip since January, when I booked my flight. On the bright side, almost two hours of uninterrupted sleep was glorious. I closed my eyes for just a moment and quickly fell back to sleep. Richard called me from breakfast 20 minutes later, jarring me directly to my feet. I donned my meticulously planned white pyramid-goddess-outfit, slathered on some sunscreen and met them for breakfast.

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The view from breakfast, wedding construction in progress.

The beauty of the grounds of the hotel was breathtaking, even if it wasn’t for those huge Pyramids as a backdrop. The excitement of seeing Jordan and Richard and the anticipation of the true start of our adventure filled me with energy and I knew it would be a glorious day, no matter what. Add a Turkish coffee and there was absolutely no doubt.

Jordan and Richard & how I found myself in Egypt

February 18, 2012, all dolled up for the Fasching Ball.

February 18, 2012, all dolled up for the Fasching Ball.

I thought you knew! Jordan and Richard are fabulously talented and driven friends of mine who have also been my most consistent and awesome clients, since the start of their business Vaudeville (site about to launch), in 2012. I’ve known them since 2008 when I met Richard in an acting class, in Denver. Jordan had researched a vacation in Egypt and decided to gift some friends the opportunity to join them on a week long cruise down the Nile, paid for. Feeling like I’d just won the lottery on the opportunity of a lifetime, I booked my flight, the next day. My trip included an additional week surrounding the float, which would start on day 4.

The breakfast buffet

The buffet, which spread through two connected rooms, inside a beautifully modern building (so modern that I can’t even find a picture on the internet) with tile floors, high ceilings and huge plate glass windows, was ridiculous. Eggs, sausage, hash browns. Fruit, salads. Pastries, croissants, toast, falafel, cereals. Cheeses, deli meats, yogurts, jams, olives. Fattoush, baba ganoush, hummus, pita. Noodles even! This would be the first of many smorgasbord meals to come. The ones where you fill your plate one last time, three times.

New friends

After breakfast, I met two of our other travel companions. Rudy is an abstract artist, originally from Mexico. I already knew of him because of his work with The Gallery at Vaudeville. He uses photography to create these fabulously colorful, abstract (sometimes illuminated from behind), large scale prints. My other new friend, his partner Chris, is an unassuming business baron. He seemed so relaxed for running so many business and properties of his own. A fascinating sweetheart.

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The wedding build as of Thursday morning.

Complaints department

I talked to the front desk about my night, but only after Jordan already had. It turns out they were building for a huge (bigger than you imagined just now, probably) wedding on the upcoming Thursday, the night of the day we were leaving. With a word of apology they upgraded me to the palace, where the rest of my crew was staying, without a charge.  I’d move in when I got back from the day.

And we’re off!

Abdo had been waiting for us, since just before 8am. We were ready by 9, a delay which would become the norm without some serious effort. We met our shuttle driver, spread out in the mini van we had to ourselves, and headed out of Giza to Saqqara, where the earlier pyramids were built. On the way, I took few photos out of the windows but lots of mental notes.

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A very tame picture on the highway, featuring a random roadside Ferris-wheel.

Passengering on the streets of Cairo was a thrilling adventure, on its own. One can try to relax, but every three seconds there was what seemed like a near miss happening right in front of my eyes. Cars drove between and around pedestrians and horse drawn carriages and jockeyed for position with mopeds, paying no mind to the lines in the road, traffic lights or signs. Cars had half-full gas cans strapped to their roofs, mini-vans with missing doors were packed with people, one baby hanging out of a passenger window and another pressed up against the hatch-back glass. Horns are constant, chatter between drivers, through open windows was a regular thing as they negotiated the next move, or offered critique to each other. The rules: If you stop, you loose. It’s kinda like roller derby drills. I think that I’d be good at it.

from a google search

The edges of the streets and canals in Cairo were lined with trash; there’s a waste and garbage management issue there. It’s like they’ve given up. I imagine it’s hard to have a different mindset when you are surrounded by filth. The air quality is so bad, it smells of smoke and looks like a light fog, all of the time. Maybe that’s what keeps the heat manageable in Cairo, I’m no meteorologist.

Imhotep & Saqqara

saqqaraWe arrived at Saqqara, once in the center of the capital of Egypt, Memphis. It’s basically an ancient burial ground. I’m not going to pretend to have an encyclopedia brain that captures and remembers historical facts, but in writing these memoirs, I’m seizing the opportunity to solidify my knowledge and understanding by referencing Wikipedia.

At Saqqara, the oldest complete stone building complex known in history was built: Djoser‘s step pyramid, built during the Third Dynasty. Another 16 Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation or dilapidation. High officials added private funeral monuments to this necropolis during the entire pharaonic period. It remained an important complex for non-royal burials and cult ceremonies for more than 3,000 years, well into Ptolemaic and Roman times.

Here we saw our first pyramids, up close. We climbed in and out of tombs and saw our first hieroglyphs, which I was in complete awe of.  The very first one that I saw felt so special and rare. I had no idea that as we entered the temple, I’d be surrounded by so many elaborate and perfect, in every way, relief carvings, full of stories, information about their lives and their gods.

2015-09-15 02.56.27Take a picture. Pay me.

Taking photos in the temples was forbidden, but the guardians there to prevent you from taking photos  alternately encouraged us to take photos. Confused at first, and afraid to see what would happen if I did, I didn’t. An especially aggressive guardian, a heavy-ish older man with a big grin, exposing his missing teeth, got Rudy to bite. Rudy took a picture and was immediately accosted for money and when he paid, urged to take another photo. The rest of the group was already moving on from that room  and listening to Abdo give us the complete low down. I hung back a bit, concerned. After the two of them disappeared around the corner, I alerted the group by saying “that one has Rudy in there, you guys!”. When he came out, he said that he’d given the guy $25 and got kissed! I wish I hadn’t been so shy and had gotten a photo of that man. I promised Rudy that I’d work with him to do a police sketch, but we never did.

We could see the famed bent pyramid in the distance, but because we had gotten a late start, we opted to skip it to spend more time at the Great Pyramid.

On the way, we passed by the carpet schools (there were many), a popular trade there, apparently. We were invited to stop, but decided to keep with the plan to get back to Giza.

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dining hall – photo credit Christopher Hill

Lunch break in Cairo

We stopped for lunch at a cafeteria, designed for tourists, it seemed. This buffet was not decadent. My first inclination was to go somewhere else, but as a group, we decided to stay. We talked about only eating things that reached a certain temp in cooking, but I really wanted something fresh. It felt needed. At the table, I boasted about my strong stomach as I ate my salad. Others followed. We all took our chances. We were instructed by our guide that he would pay for our meals and then we could pay him back, or we would get ripped off. The question still remains, about who would have ripped us off more, as it was not an inexpensive lunch.

In the bathroom, I tipped the attendant one American dollar, which must have been a good tip there because the 12 year old Egyptian beauty did this mesmerizing, head-only dance move for me when she saw it. She did not smile.

After lunch we stopped at the papyrus museum/store. We had a demonstration on the ancient paper, which was  fascinating. The sugar in the fibers, chemically bonds together when pressed for a day or so. This stop was more on Abdo’s agenda than our own, but what we learned there did come in handy, later in our explorations.

The Pyramids at Giza

The approach to the Giza Plateau was far less epic than I imagined, because it was basically where I’d woken up that morning.  Across the street from our hotel, we drove through a gate flanked with armed guards, chillin’ out, smoking cigarettes. We bought our tickets, one for entry, one for Khufu’s pyramid and one for Menkaure’s pyramid.

gizapyramidsAround the corner from the office, the Great Pyramid was only 100 yards away. Along that stretch we were accosted by our first of many vendors. Carrying scarves, carved or casted(?) sculptures of the Sphinx, jewelry and other things that Abdo called “not authentic Egyptian. Oriental knock offs.” He recommended against buying any of it. The vendors approached, first welcoming us. There seemed to be an order in that each one would pick a tourist and that tourist was theirs for the duration. The pressure to buy was coupled with a sincerely friendly and playful chat. They’d ask “what’s your name” and share their own, shaking your hand. When rejected, they would continue by giving you some ridiculously low price, like “you can have one, two, three, four, five, six… ALL for just one American dollar”. It was clearly a trick, and I didn’t go for it. I just made conversation telling my dedicated salesman that I wasn’t much into trinkets, even through I knew that he probably didn’t understand what I was saying. I thought that maybe if I distracted him, I could escape. A strong “La Shokran” were really the magic words. But only temporarily. “OK, maybe later!” they’d say.

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My White Pyramid Goddess Outfit! – photo by Christopher Hill

I’d thought that maybe we were seeing Ancient Egypt in chronological order that day, but Abdo’s reasoning for taking us to Saqqara first was to avoid the crowds. We only had two hours at the Giza Pyramids, but there was almost no one else there! Everyone I’d ever talked to about Egypt would complain that it was overrun with tourists. The death of tourism since the 2011 demonstrations was fortunate for us.

Khufu’s Pyramid – The Great Pyramid

greatpyramidOnce at the base of Kuhfu’s pyramid, Abdo gave us the scoop on the history. This pyramid seemed the most climbable, if you’re young and strong enough, because of the huge 3.5′ deep and tall “steps”. I wanted to climb it to the top, but apparently, that’s forbidden. It turns out that those steps were really only the underlayment for what used to be the pyramid’s surface. At one time, for 4 thousand years or so, there was a smooth, virtually seamless and gleaming limestone casing covering the biggest pyramid ever created (more than half of a mile around, if you trace the base). About 200 years ago the military leader,  governor and self appointed something or another of Egypt, Muhammad Ali needed some limestone for his Mosque. So, he took it! Never mind that four thousand years earlier, Ancient Egyptians and whoever else, managed to move the stones, weighing 2.3 metric tons each, 900+ miles and then place them absolutely perfectly, finishing this precious monument, which reaches 448′ into the sky. What is wrong with people!?! It makes me so mad…. Let’s move on.

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Me climbing in the Great Pyramid – photo by Christopher Hill

After a bit of history, we climbed up to the entry of the burial chamber. Guards told me that I couldn’t bring my camera in, so I handed it to Abdo to hold.  I ducked into the tight and narrow entrance and began my climb to the chamber, which was set high up and deep in the center of the pyramid, as opposed to the more usual placement, underneath. A board with cross bars underfoot, makes the long journey to the center manageable. Climbing up the original slick stone, never meant as a passage, once the tomb was sealed, would be a struggle.

from Wikipedia

The corridor was long, dark and surrounded by stone and even though it seemed cooler, it was more humid and I was instantly covered in sweat. You have to duck while you climb at first, but it does open up a little further in, to the relief of anyone with a touch of claustrophobia that might have made it that far. The deeper we went, the more I felt a sense of suspense, like something supernatural may occur at any moment. I imagined these things in my periphery and ahead in the darkness.

The chamber was small and a non-operational ventilation fan in the corner, leading to who knows where, reminded me of how grateful I was that we were the only ones inside. The walls of the chamber were without decoration. We marveled at the size of the stone, stacked to create the chamber and support the small entrance. Seeing it for ourselves, we agreed that it seemed impossible. We agreed that it was impossible. Its clean lines and lack of carvings or anything decorative at all, made it feel like some kind of stone machine.

I laid inside of the place where Khufu’s sarcophagus once was and sang a little wordless tune to hear my own echo.

In the corridor, on the way out, we did run into one other guy.

I could have sat on the lower stones of this pyramid at dusk for a while, but there was no time (damn Papyrus museum/store). We moved on to Menkaure’s Pyramid and my vendor was ready to greet me. They try to give you things, as gifts and insist that you take them. If you do, you have a very hard time giving them back. In a struggle to escape this vendor, Richard, “my husband” for the duration of this trip, came to my rescue. I draped the “gift” scarf over Mostafa’s shoulder and bolted.

Menkaure’s pyramid

Climbing down the shorter corridor into this smaller pyramid was really cool, but paled in comparison to the really big one, so I don’t have a lot to say.

Camel Ride

When we exited, there was a camel tour guide waiting for us. We tried not to look too interested at first, to avoid engagement, but it was too tempting. Abdo suggested  that it could be nice to take the camel ride around to the back of the Sphinx and have our photos taken at the panorama view. We asked Abdo what he thought a fair price would be, but he had a thing about not interfering with the process. The guys haggled and got the price down to $100 US dollars. They pushed for a better deal and were pleased with a new offer of 800 Egyptian Pounds. That’s when Abdo jumped in to remind us that 100 USD and 800 LE were almost the same thing. What a good guide.2015-09-15 CH9

I was the first to hop on my camel, who immediately stood up, as I screamed and then laughed. I don’t think that I’d ever been on a camel before. “Not even at the zoo when you were a kid?” Jordan asked. I didn’t think so.

I took this little video. It’s kind of a giddy, high-on-life and lack of sleep, selfie with pyramids and camels.

It was perfect until we reached the end. We were only able to see the Sphinx from the other side of a fence a good distance away and we missed the King’s boat, altogether. Our visit to the Pyramids of Giza, ended in a hurry with us getting ushered off the premises, just before closing time.

Upgrade to the Palace

2015-09-15 22.31.47

The view from my new bedroom.

From decadent to ridiculous. My new accommodations had a sitting room and two balconies. My previous travels, mostly restricted to couchsurfing and hostel dorm situations, paid off in my constant amazement on this trip and walking into every room like I was Little Orphan Annie. I’d heard that President Obama had stayed in this hotel at some point and when I saw my new room for two nights, I could have sworn that it was the one that he stayed in.


While I got settled, I heard some amplified singing again, but there was no melody, no music. It was the same sort of thing that I heard just before dawn. It sounded like it was coming from just outside, so I stepped out onto my balcony and looked down. I saw a group of men, one chanting into a microphone and it suddenly made sense. There was no yelling on my part, this time, or ever again. I was hearing Salat, Muslim prayer, of which I would hear many many more.

2015-09-14 23.51.03Cocktail Hour

We drank at the bar downstairs and learned that it what was considered the best hotel bar in all of Egypt and one of the best in the world. After that, we cleaned up and I got a call that Rudy and Chris were hosting a cocktail party for us in their room, before dinner. When I saw Chris and Rudy’s room, I realized that I was clearly mistaken about whose “suite” the president stayed in and I wasn’t even going to pretend to know that it was this one, 2015-09-15 CH1but the mirrors on the walls, the high ceilings, the woodwork, the huge bed, a living room sized for a middle class single family home and a private garden level veranda on the 10th floor (yeah, crazy), seemed like a good bet.

Indian Food in Egypt

After cocktails and a brief glimpse into the lives of my new friends, we went to the Indian restaurant in the hotel. Jordan ordered for all of us, with our blessings and we were delivered all of our Indian favorites, cooked perfectly and more plentiful than we could possibly finish, but that “the staff would surely enjoy later”. Another aspect of abundant living that this junket would introduce me to.

That, my friends, was just Day One.

To Summarize

I’ve been back in the states for one week, now. It’s not as strange as I’d expected it would be. I thought that it to be like watching TV for the first time in a really long time, the way it all seems so fake. All in all though, it’s just life in a different place. I’ve experienced so many in the past month that coming back here is just one more–one final destination, home. Upon my return I feel full, I feel voluptuous and I feel like I have more to offer my own people, my own little world.

The Places I went

The People I Met


The Food I Ate

A few things that I learned while in Europe:

• Beauty can be expressed so easily and simply.
• Just because there’s Arabic on the sign, doesn’t mean that it’s a falafel shop.
• The meaning and full expression of the word “licentious”.
• I want a waffle maker.
• Men can carry purses and be cool.
• Tobacco is the club soda of pot smoking.
• Be really nice to your travel companion.
• A pocket full of change can buy a lot.
• Always carry condoms.
• Real freedom comes without a price tag or a drive to increase your earning potential.

What I’ll miss most:

Spontaneous public gatherings
– This was my very favorite thing about Europe. The cops do not chase you away when you gather outdoors for the sake of it. I know this makes me sound like a big boozer, but the “open container” laws in the states really squelch the potential for the kind of community that I witnessed in the cities I visited… mostly Paris, Cologne and Berlin.

Making Art Everyday
– I am an artist!!!! I forget this most of the time, ’cause I get so caught up in my everyday life of work, laundry, gardening, meals… you know how it is. My busyness really makes it difficult for me to find the time to be a creative. I know it’s possible though. After all, I’m not in prison! Being an artist for 19 days while I traveled really woke something up in me. It’s now my responsibility to not let it fall asleep again. Cynthia wrote about my creative transformation in her blog, check it out >

Urban Living – I’m such a city girl! I think that I’m meant to have the city street just outside of my window. Luckily, I can at least see the city just through my window at home…. but there’s something about the buzz of activity and being able to just step out and be in it all. I love it.

Un Cafe s’il vous plaît!
– Stops at the little street cafes for that single shot of espresso to open up my eyes and heart just a little wider, any time of day were the best.

Inexpensive Local Wine – Why is it that wine California wine isn’t really any cheaper in California? French wine in France, Italian Wine in Italy, they are super affordable and this seems to connect the people, even more so, to their own place.

2008-06-24 09.26.31-1The slowing down of time – Seeing, thinking about and experiencing things for the first time really made each day feel like it was about 72 hours long. So my average of 5 hours of sleep a night, was more like 15.

What I’ll miss least:

The Language Barrier – It was uncomfortable when I wanted to say something friendly or polite and didn’t know how to communicate it. I’m really lucky to be from an English speaking country, as it’s a commonly known language. 70% of the times I asked someone if they spoke English, they’d say “a little” and I was surprised to learn how much.

Poo Poo Platter Potties – The toilets in Germany and Amsterdam have this high and dry spot that your shit lands on, so it’s exposed before you flush. It sure puts one in touch with their dietary health (aside from the “how much fat is in my diet?” float test). It also stinks up the bathroom a lot more.

Hmmm… That’s all I can think of right now….

2008-06-13 07.34.32Ode to Cynthia

Cynthia and I.
It was hard when on the move
best when we were high.

I did a little logo job for Cynthia before we left, which she milked for every last revision, so it seemed a fair trade that she would plan our journey. She interviewed me over dinners at my place and lent me travel books from the Boulder library and together we decided where we would go and how long we would stay in each location. She found our apartments, arranged the train tickets, and did the Couch Surfing requests. Whenever we arrived in a new city, she held the map and let me follow along with my head on a swivel, just taking it all in. She went above and beyond. What she gave me was a gift that I will treasure forever!

You knew when to stop for waffles and fries.
You never kept me from stopping to take it in, write it down, or sketch it out.
You could always find us on the map and didn’t argue when it was time to hand it to me.
You were the Rollmeister.
You always encouraged and inspired me to make my art.
You shared your photos, your gift of language and your perspective.
You stopped to talk it out.
You cooked for me and saved me from eating nothing but bread and cheese.
You made sure that missing the train was NOT AN OPTION.
You taught me the words “capacious” and “licentious”.
You gifted me with the red one and made my color set complete.
You shared your computer so generously.
You made my first European Adventure!!!!

Thank You!

2008-07-02 18.26.01Travel Changes One

Of course I’ll go back to a lot of my old habits and ways, but I know that this trip has made a real mark on me. Since I’ve been home, I bought an Italian espresso pot, I biked instead of drove for the first 5 days, I’m making art a little, and I’m not saying “like” and “do you know?” nearly as much. I hope that a little bit of European style, visual and culinary art, culture, and romance have rubbed off on me.

Thanks for reading!


The final days of the Greatest European Adventure

2008-06-28 04.08.21It was my last day in Amsterdam (and the last full day I had on my vacation) and I was wide open for it to be a good one. We had some breakfast at the apartment to save money and to save room for the constant feedline of munchies that would ensue. We were in a great location with a direct route from our apartment to the heart of downtown. For that first 5 minutes on our bikes we would know just where we were. Heading out was always much easier than getting back. There was construction on the southwest bound stretch of Clercqstraat that forced us onto the tram tracks for about 400 meters. The first time I had to ride it was my first day on a bike in this city. I was so consumed with avoiding wedging a tire in the tracks that I didn’t hear the bell on the tram until it was directly behind me. I wonder how many tourists get creamed on their bikes in a year’s time.

Please and Thank you

It’s hard to get a feel for what the locals here are like because the city is just overrun by tourists. The locals are likely the ones that are most annoyed with the tourists, even me. In Amsterdam, I ran into some bitterness at the fact that I could only speak English. Alstublieft is the only word that I learned in Dutch and I’m still not sure what it means. Cythia thought that it might mean “please”, but it’s been said to me when someone gives me my change… so maybe it’s some kind of “Thank You” as well(?). I’m still not sure.

Condom Shop

2008-06-27 03.36.52Our first stop was the condom store that we’d pressed our faces on the window of two nights before. It was on Warmostraat (or something) which isn’t really too hard to remember… because it’s at least “warm” when one is doning a condom! I really had no idea how creative condoms could be before. Of course I knew they would have every color of the rainbow, day glow, every viscosity, every size, ridges and bumps, and a whole variety of other textures. But you really haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the potential to have your lover’s member topped with a windmill, scuba diver head, sea monster, mushroom, dragon, little dutch doll… the list goes on. These are all hand painted condoms each on display on it’s own little pedastal. What a nice cross over between grown up sex and childhood fun with your playroom toys! Now… why didn’t I buy one? There’s a sign that says that they are novelties and aren’t meant to be used for actual protection. There are also signs that say no photography, but Cynthia snuck one in anyway… and for that we are so lucky!

2008-06-27 09.43.19Amsterdam Shopping

This is, hands down, the very best shopping spot on the trip. If I’d had any idea before I left I would have mapped out all of the vintage stores and spent every day I had visiting them. After seeing the quality and quantity of other people’s throwaways I saw no real reason to shop for new stuff. I’m scheming a way to save up my entire shopping budget for my next trip to Amsterdam…. but I don’t know when or IF that might be, so I just have to enjoy the few things I did purchase.

The Market and more shopping

2008-06-27 05.27.49 Again, we cast ourselves back out into the complicated web of rounded and angled streets with ridiculous names. Or next stop was the market. We took a wrong turn and found ourselves on the opposite end of town… ahhh the scenic route! We pass by the port for the boats that run touristy canal trips and I yelled ahead to Cynthia, because I knew that boat trips were a running theme of her own travel story. She declined and ushered me forward. I thought that we might as well stop since we were right there and had at least 3 hours to catch the market, but Cynthia reminded me that it might take 3 hours to FIND the market. She had a good point. So we pushed ahead and found a canal that flowed in our direction to travel next to. Canal’s don’t change names or directions suddenly, so they are a perfect pathfinder.

2008-06-27 03.38.04We locked up our bikes–first with the light-duty back wheel lock that’s part of the bike and then with the heavy chain through the frame and the front wheel, to a post or at least to each other. When I looked up after locking up, I saw, not two steps away, a stand selling fries. The light that is cast through the awning makes everything look as golden as the deep fried potatoes smell. There was no doubt, this was our next snack. They had four toppings to choose from: Ketchup, Curry, this pickly stuff and Mayonaise. When in Rome….! There’s nothing like a cone of fries cooked to a perfect crisp in transfats and topped with a puddle of mayonaise. I knew how bad that was for me, but it was totally worth it and I don’t regret it for a second.

2008-06-27 05.13.52They had everything at the market. It wasn’t a flea market, but a market where you could buy new stuff at a huge discount. Of course, there was tons of crap, too, but I’a trained shopper that knows just how to find the treasures. Imediately, I found one. I am know the owner of a leather jacket that looks like I was born in it. I also picked up some crap… but they are accessories (stockings and some dangley shiny belt thing) where crap is permissable.

Another Coffee Shop Diversion

2008-06-27 07.16.42After we got the shopping, the crowds, the haggling and the walking out of our systems, we decided to pick up some stuff for a picnic. I needed to go to the ATM, so Cynthia and I picked a meeting spot, the Coffee Shop not a few meters from where we stood. Finding an ATM was a task and by the time I got back to Katsu, the coffee shop, Cynthia had made a new friend. She had already had a taste of our latest purchase and flavor of the day. Our new friend was from London (I think) and had recently moved to Amsterdam. I can’t tell you much more about him, because I’m a girl that actually puts the subtitles on when I’m watching British films (I always wait for the DVD to come out so that I have this option). And once our new friend shared a splif with us, I had to give up on even trying to understand anything that he was saying at all… or caring about anything that anyone else was saying for that matter. I just sat back and soaked in the atmosphere. This was the coolest little coffee shop I’d been in so far. It is well outside of the city center, so the percentage of tourists inside, was lower than usual. It felt like a little neighborhood bar, but of course there’s no booze. 2008-06-27 07.19.29 There were pictures of patrons, sometimes with their children, stappled to the beams on the low hanging ceiling. An albumn that I used to own, by African Head Charge was playing adding to a general tribal, jungle, other worldly feeling. Also adding to this feeling was the taste of “Black Widow” that I had just had. The day before at Any Day, the server (not sure of this person’s official title) told us that you only want to have “White Widow” if there was nothing else that you wanted to accomplish all day. This was not the feeling I was seeking, but you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, so I found myself sampling something with a name on the dark side of the variety we were warned against. Huh Huh…. uh, huh… hmmmm… oh….wha? My conversation skills suffered, but my brain’s visual intake skills were all over it. The woman behind the bar at Katsu was most amazing to watch. Someone should really make a movie or short film staring her. She was probably in her mid 40s. She had a skinnier than Rosie Perez look about her, but even tougher and a little darker. This place was busy, it seemed a favorite to the locals. I sat next to the edge of the bar, which served as the take out counter. This woman could take an order, make a bag, roll a joint for someone at the bar and make change ALL AT THE SAME TIME. I was amazed.

2008-06-27 08.10.20Picnic Time Again

After that we ventured to the park for our picnic of bread, cheese and a single can of beer. Our picnic skills had deteriorated a bit. Besides the belligerent homeless people lining the historic monument on the knoll near where we sat, I was the only person drinking. You don’t see as many people drinking or smoking tobaco in Amsterdam. Cynthia says “it’s a pot culture,” and I imagine that this is true.

After that we headed back to the apartment to change clothes and head out for the night. But first, I took myself an hour nap, compliments of the Black Window.

2008-06-26 07.43.21Let’s Dance

We headed out around 9pm and hit the pub near our place. I like to get a little local flavor and since we weren’t couch surfing here, we really hadn’t gotten that yet. We probably shouldn’t have stopped because your options for dinner seriously deteriorate after 9pm. We ended up having overpriced thai food in the city center. Cynthia and our neighbor Ginger from Australia decided to head home after a little photo shoot.

Our personal Dutch tour guide, Robert and I moved forward with our plans to go dancing. We went to Studio 80 and he convinced the door man to let me check out the scene before we paid our 10 Euro to enter. Robert had told me that it was Techno Minimal and that sounded like a gamble to me. I didn’t want to blow my one Amsterdam dancing night on the wrong place. I made it 10 feet inside before I recognized the sound. It was psytrance night and we had just stumbled on it. Psytrance is more known in Europe than in the US. I’d been dancing to it for the last 4 years. The music went from OK to kind of OK to really good and back to kind of OK again. 2008-06-27 18.39.43The longer I was there the more I realized that it was kind of like home, except for the personal familiarity I have at home with the DJs and the people. It was like the European version of the same scene. Black walls, day glow art, black light, the older people were more hippy, the younger people more Gothic… It felt homey… but then I realized that I didn’t want homey. I could get homey at home! So before I ruined myself for the next day, we left. It was 2:30 am, we had been there for 3 hours, but Robert was still disappointed in my endurance. He was a gentleman and rode me one last time through the red light district and biked with me back to my hood and close t my home. I didn’t realize until the next day that I still owed him 10 Euro.

I almost died

The next day we barely had time to pack our bags, return our bikes and take a tram back to our place to load up like pack mules. After dragging our belongings to the tram tracks we waited patiently for our tram to the train station. It arrived and pulled forward a bit to make room for the next. We hurried along and Cynthia barely made it. I made it even more barely. When I’m in a hurry, I pick up and carry my bag… the wheels didn’t do so well on the cobblestone roads and were starting to get wonkier by the day. As I stepped one foot onto the tram, the doors closed, wedging me between them. There’s no safety feature on these doors to sense my presence and release me. They had me and they had me good. First I laughed and so did everyone with a decent vantage point. 2008-06-28 05.10.26But we all stopped laughing when we realized that the driver still didn’t know that I was there. The kodak moment had passed and I was struck with panic that the tram would start moving. The Dutch people started shouting to the driver. Cynthia looked terrified when she turned toward the front of the long tram to where the driver must have been and at the top of her lungs yelled, “Alstublieft!!!” The doors opened and I was free.

On the way out

Our final train ride served lunch and wine and coffee, which we milked for all it was worth. Our supplement for this leg of the trip added up to about 50 American Dollars. We arrived in Paris at 7pm and stayed in our first hotel, which was very close by to the train. Not even the cheap hotel by the station is ordinary in Paris. Nothing is.

We had our final picnic at the Pont Neuf and walked over to the Pont des Arts to say good-bye to the place and the hoards of strangers that could be friends. I slept 4 hours and made my plane.

Goodbye Europe! I’ll see you in my dreams.

Amsterdam: Blowing my head

2008-06-24 05.05.40
first things first…

Van Gogh Museum

2008-06-24 06.12.46My mind has been blown by Van Gogh so many times, through books, lectures, works in local museums… but here, we were surrounded by his work and it was something else. I felt something new.

He was only 37 when he died. I look at the dates on the paintings, counting backwards from when he bit it and figure out that he was my age when he was making his best work. It’s bizarre to think that he wasn’t really appreciated during his own time. He was just some crazy guy that liked to paint. Maybe his work was so different that they couldn’t even really see it. It was too much new information. It’s perfect that these works are in Amsterdam because they are crazy psychadelic, glowing with life from millions of tiny little brush strokes that look like they are being seen through a prism. Was the sun getting to him? or did he always see things this way? He was a visionary.

Still looking like a Tourist

2008-06-24 08.08.18We rented bikes. We skipped the place that puts their add on the front so that you can ride around with a little billboard that practically reads, “I’m a tourist!” which is OK sometimes, but other times you just want to blend in and be a fly on the wall in their world. The bikes we found did the trick because I’ve been stopped on the street for directions and recommendations of places to eat quite a few times. We picked up the bikes with little hassle. Credit Card, Cash, signature, and we were off. It took us a while, but I think that I’ve got the hang of riding in traffic. (There are bikes everywhere in Europe. People use them INSTEAD OF CARS! Not just for recreation. Novel!) I just assume that some of the same basic rules of the road apply, but there are random people everywhere that seem to breaking them and it’s really no big deal, so I break some too.

We went to the grocery and made sure to get food from all 3 traveling-around-in-Europe food groups: cheese, bread and wine. We rode to the park, found a cozy spot and spread it out. We finished our meal off with chocolate and White Melon and chilled.

Dutch Hot

I’ve seen a lot in the last 2.5 weeks and here’s what it all boils down to… The votes are in and I must say, Dutch men take the pancake! OMG.

2008-06-23 14.22.36Roxanne! You don’t have to put on the red light!
Last night, we met up with Robert, who we’d met online through Couch Surfing. He’s a nice guy. A programmer, which is not unusual in this network. Is that why the couch surfing website rocks? He asked us what we wanted to do, it was totally up to us. “What are you into?” He asked, “do you want to go to the red light district?”,  which I have no idea what anyone else replied. If I had found my cool at any point in this city, maybe I just lost it a little again. We walked down long narrow halls lined with windows showcasing the working girls of Amsterdam, lit up like mannequins in store windows, but with real eyes… eyes that say, “I know you”. Should I have had some idea about this? I guess that when I heard about the red light district in Amsterdam for the first time, I was a kid and it sounded gross. A bunch of grown up perverts walking around with their dicks in their hands. But now I’m all grown up, among those perverts and likening it to being in a candy store!

2008-06-25 15.20.47Our guide is great. He has been here a few times before, and knows just where to go. “Do you want to see the Big Mama/Ebony area?” YES! “Do you want to see the transsexuals?” Yes! “Do you like them like school girls?” Yes! “muscular?” Yes! “Skinny?” Yes! Yes! Yes! There was a moment as we left the Absinthe bar that I had to consider my new career as a blog writer… it’s only 50 Euro to go inside! I admire them a bit. I imagine that they are really strong women. We see an Asian goddess ushering a short, stout balding man out of her den. She looks at us and rolls her eyes. “Bad day at the office, honey?”

2008-06-25 17.07.24There’s no way I would have missed this, but I can’t really imagine myself coming here without him. Men are all fired up, so I don’t imagine that you really want to be alone here as a woman.

Will you take this Pannenkoeken to be your lawful wedded…

2008-06-26 04.29.22Went to a Pancake house today. We had to pedal around for a while we waited for them to open… at noon! Found a vintage store along the way and scored my goods. They had so many options, but the waitress gave us her opinion and so we ordered her favorite savory dish, the Salmon with Cheese and Dill Sauce and her favorite sweet, Apples and Cinnamon. I don’t care what you say, I AM going to try this at home.

2008-06-25 13.48.42Veggie Heaven!
We went to a vegetarian restaurant last night that we happened upon, by pure luck. I ordered the specials which consisted of 5 vegan dishes that were each a main course. It was incredible. They don’t do doggie bags here, so you either control yourself and just let it go, or you eat it all. I ate it all.

Getting lost in Amsterdam

Getting lost is inevitable here. The street names are long and impossible to remember:

If that’s not hard enough, streets change names every few blocks. Forget about using anything but intuition to find your way around.

Any Day

Today I went cruising after a pit stop at Any Day. Cynthia had to head home to work. When I’m just pedaling around, I just can’t help but randomly turn right and left and left again and right. I try to keep a vague idea of the direction I’m heading in and how to get back to where I came from, but that’s impossible too. Of course, partly to blame is the most amazing marijuana I’ve ever smoked in my life. Getting lost for over an hour when you’ve got some place to be (which always comes around at some point) is not fun (I know ’cause I did it just yesterday). I manage to commit myself to a snaking pattern, so that the main drag can only be to one side or the other and by 300 meters or less. That plan works for a while, until it doesn’t.

Luckily my best travel companion quality, if you ask Cynthia, is that I’m willing to ask anyone anything at any time. So that helps.

2008-06-26 05.31.46Lost and Found

At one point, I suddenly realized that I was no longer wearing my new scarf. I remember getting warm and loosening it about 5 minutes earlier. Damn! So, I start trying to retrace me steps. Part of me would rather entertain the idea that as I wizzed by on my bike, it came undone and floated behind me, following my breeze and then gently fell to the ground. I know that the idea that I’ll find it is ridiculous, but I kind of like the mission. About ten minutes later when I have no idea where I am, I find my scarf in the middle of an incredibly busy street. I was so happy. I shared my joy with a woman who had no idea what I was saying.

Another City, Another World.

2008-06-23 04.00.34We hauled our luggage from the train station, through town, onto the tram and up the stairs to the apartment we rented only to find that the owner got the dates wrong and was not expecting us for a week. Alfred is a transplant from New York city that claims he brought the Bagel to Europe. Self named “The Bagel King” has lived in Amsterdam for the past 30 years and at some point opened a “bagel factory”. Cynthia tells me that he married a Dutch woman and that’s why he’s here. We were lucky that Alfred is not an asshole. Regardless of who is right and who is wrong, being cast out onto the street sucks just the same. He ordered up a room at his friend’s bed and breakfast for us and called us a cab.

The bed and breakfast is in a completely different part of town, so the taxi ride is really long and entertaining. I can’t believe how fast people drive here… it’s not much faster than I drive, but it’s the fact that they don’t slow down for pedestrians or bikes, or narrow roads, or anything.This was a welcomed adventure, even before I learned that we were staying at the Happy Hooker!

f95a3-display_pictureThe Happy Hooker

Xaviera Hollander is a Dutch woman that moved to NYC in the 60s and became a famous and successful Madam. She wrote the book “The Happy Hooker” which became a best seller at some point. She’s extremely proud and offers us a signed copy at a discounted price. I declined, but took some time to leaf through one of her more recent books on how to please a woman. The place is adorable and our room is perfect, complete with a balcony and a huge painting of Xaviera on the wall.  She’s got photos of herself everywhere, including one with a breast exposed, by the breakfast table.

2008-06-23 13.15.23Heading Out

We dropped our stuff off and hit the streets for dinner. We found a tram which took us directly to the heart of things. Little passageways filled with tourists and lighted signage calling people into Restaurants, Bars, Coffee Houses and “Coffee Shops”. Cynthia gives me the lowdown that the difference between a House and a Shop is that a shop doesn’t serve coffee. We stopped into a Greek Restaurant and had an incredible meal and a half carafe of house red. After that we started to wander and head away from this tourist trap where stoned teenagers flit through doorways. We don’t wander far before we see a place with a sign that says “Noon” and hope that it’s what we are looking for.

2008-06-23 14.47.59Popping my Coffee Shop cherry

As soon as we stepped through the doorway, we knew that this was our place. Apparently, this makes me a big DORK, but I stepped up to the counter and announced that I just arrived in Amsterdam and that this is the first time I’ve been to a coffee shop. Of course add my usual over-excitement to this scenario and… maybe I was a dork. But ask yourself how are you going to get the full low down if you try to act all cool like you’ve done this a million times before. He gives us a menu, but I can’t tell one thing from another. Orange Haze, NYC Diesel, White Widow, Grapefruit, Blueberry, White Melon… I asked the proprieter for help and he narrowed it down into categories for us. “Do you want high, mellow, stoney?” he asks. “Mellow”. They were running a deal, instead of 10 Euro for 1 gram, add a gram for just a Euro more! So we ended up with more pot than I would usually be able to smoke in a year.  We rolled our own joint and took a seat in a loungy booth toward the back of the small space. We lit it up and the most amazing thing happened. Cynthia and I stopped fighting! Ahhhhh. After an hour or so, we motivated back out onto the street, where I totally blow Cynthia’s cool-cover once again.

2008-06-23 14.22.36Typical Tourist

I seriously couldn’t stop laughing. Marijuana hasn’t been this funny since high school. Someone from across the way pointed at me and said, “man, she’s really stoned” which sent me into hysterics. The rest of the sensation and experience was completely wonderful. I was clear, content and very happy. The laughing was becoming a bit much, though, so we stopped into a bar to get a drink and mellow out. This wasn’t a bad idea, but it really didn’t do much to stifle my joy. After that, we begin to wander the streets aimlessly, something I have always enjoyed, but Cynthia mostly avoided on our trip until just now.

2008-06-23 15.34.55The Scenery is Surreal

The flowers look almost fake (you could probably accidentally drop a seed on the ground here and it would sprout). The reflections of the street lights on the surface of the canals wiggle and twinkle. The quaint little store and home fronts look like gingerbread. It was late, so with the exception of some passing bicyclists, we had the streets pretty much to ourselves (this would never happen in Berlin). Each time we crossed over the canals on a bridge we stopped to behold the scene. It is so surreal here. It’s like being transported into another time… another world.


At about 1am, we came across a store window full of shoes. I can’t believe my eyes! At this point I had something that C refers to as a “shoegasim”… which I guess you could call a “multiple shoegasim” because directly across the street from the coolest boots I’ve ever seen in my entire life are the coolest boots I’ve ever seen in my entire life and caddy corner from those there were the second coolest boots I’d ever seen. Maybe it’s being around all of these Europeans, but suddenly I needed a cigarette.

Day One

We slept well at the Happy Hooker. We were served croissants, yogurt, coffee and orange juice. While I ate, I watched Xaviera’s toy poodle do a doodle outside and suddenly realized that the five huge potted plants that are rustling in the breeze are pot plants. In Amsterdam, each person in a household is allowedfive plants. What does one person do with the product from five plants?

It’s a perfect day and Cynthia says that it’s supposed to be like this the whole time we are here. We took the tram back to our clean and perfect little apartment, unpacked and headed out.

Last Day in My Favorite City

2008-06-22 08.39.31My Last Day in my Favorite  City – 6.22.08

I finally caught up on some sleep. I
woke up at 2:30pm and found that it was really hot out! Maybe 90 degrees, fahrenheit of course. Welcome summer!

Cynthia, Suk-Han and I headed
out to see the sand sculptures at the competition downtown.

The two of them were tired by the time we left there and so they headed home for a nap. It was
6pm so I thought I’d see if could catch back up with my new friend Egbert. I
called him and he was getting ready to meet some friends to watch
Football,… they say “foozeball”. When I told Egbert what that
means in the states, he told me that they call that game “Kicker,” which
I’m sure I’ve done a wacked job of spelling.

2008-06-20 06.47.34A Completely German Experience

I borrowed Corinna’s bike for my first ever European city biking
adventure. I’d observed this from the street in wonder and taking notes. I had also
found myself standing absent mindedly in the middle of the bike path and luckily warned by bicyclists that promised they were nicer than the others might
be about it. Now it was my turn to avoid unsuspecting
tourist pedestrians! It was really fun. The crappy brakes only added to
the thrill. Cynthia recommended I gear up, but I said “Nein Helmut!”
The directions to Egbert’s yard
were easy to follow.

2008-06-20 22.03.39Every time I talked to Egbert he had some great story or
some intriguing history on the city. I tried to convince him that he should do a podcast
or something. I think he thought I was kidding. I got tid bits about the Wall, about the scene before and after the Wall fell, what Burgermeister means (“Mayor”. Burger = citizens, Meister = Master… but it’s also the name of the burger stand across the way), a bit about Jugendstil, which he’s really into. He told me one story that I found most dreamy. He and some partners had opened a dance club in the early 90s. It was in the East side in a space that wasn’t occupied and therefore had no real

It was technically illegal, without fire exits and other compliances, but they were left alone for a while. When they were busted, no penalties were exacted, they were just asked to come in for a chat. They figured out that if they changed their place into a collective, rather than a business, making patrons “members,” they had a different and easier set of rules to follow. The members signed their names and partied on. Inevitably, they were asked to comply with more and more of the laws and eventually shut down. It sounds like clubs like this were common back in the day, but unfortunately I got there kinda late.

2008-06-22 12.29.23We walked through back streets, a park and then
to a Biergarten where they were having a public viewing of the Italy
vs. Spain football game. It was great. I had a bio sausage (bio = organic) with a roll and some mustard. Egbert and I shared
some potatoes with the most delicious sauces, which were more like
piles of minced herbs. I’m determined to find a recipe online somewhere.

It came up in conversation that he had read Naomi Klien’s “Shock Doctrine”. Naomi probably makes more
book sales outside of the US than inside. I’ve only spoken to a handful of German people at length but most of them are more educated on what’s really going on in the states than most Americans I know. When
the topic of 9-11 came up, I shared my views and Egbert and his friend had both told me that they’d seen “Loose Change“. Go figure.

2008-06-22 12.45.47The game was long, drawn out and without any climax. A fantastic thunderstorm rolled in toward the end of the game and it chased us into another bar once the game ended. It was a really nice night. Egbert and I said our goodbyes. I hope to
stay in touch with him.

Making Friends with Travelers

It’s wild to move from place to place and find such incredible people just living their regular day to day lives. I think that it’s like what they say about having a child. It slows things down as you watch them see things for the first time, and have a brand new experience. I imagine that through me, my new friends had a little less than usual night. I’ll never forget.

My bike ride home was fun, in the mist, wearing my summer dress and seeing the city at night for the last time. I’ll miss it.

2008-06-23 08.58.49Savoring the flavor of this place–down to the last drop

To think of the hardships that this city has seen in the last
century and within the last 20 years, and to see where it is now.
They’ve built it up again, with so much pride and creativity. It’s modern, it’s cool, it’s big, it’s diverse (people come from many different places to live here). I can see myself living in this city. This might be far-fetched and I’m sure it will fade, but it’s fun to imagine. It’s really my city, if I’ve ever seen it. There are obviously some barriers to this dream, but I just thought that I’d put it out there, just in case someone is looking over me and in the mood for granting wishes.