Thursday, January 27, 2011

Demonstrations in Egypt

Yesterday was a national holiday in Egypt, Police Day.  Since Cameron had the day off from school, we took the opportunity to visit Alexandria, a 2 and 1/2 hour train ride from Cairo.  We heard there were likely to be demonstrations in Alexandria, which has been a hub for protests in recent weeks, so I was not that surprised to get a call from Jeff that a large chanting protest had just passed by on the street headed toward the Alexandria Library, where Cameron and I were.   Cameron wanted to see what was going on.  Here he is asking Jeff for all the details:
We followed the demonstration for a little while.  It looked to me like there were 5,000-10,000 people.  The protesters were yelling chants, but I saw no aggressive conduct from them.  The crowd was diverse:  many young people but also well-dressed middle-aged people, some chanting loudly, others just walking.  Here are some photos I took.

I had to leave the demonstration for an appointment but Cameron and Jeff kept watching.  They said at one point they saw about 300 police with riot gear run toward the protesters.  They didn't see what happened after that.  As far as I know, there wasn't tear gas or rubber bullets used by the police at the Alexandria demonstration, though newspapers reported this did happen in Cairo. 

I found this video online of police and protesters in Alexandria yesterday and I think this must be part of what Jeff and Cameron saw since they said this was in the area of the Cornish (which means the street and walkways next to the water-- in Alexandria, the body of water is the Mediteranean Sea).  I see this video is taken at the Cornish:

I found several videos online of the protests in Cairo yesterday.  One video shows a large police vehicle coming down the road with a water hose and the reaction of the protesters.  The video is the last one in the CNN article at the following link:

Here is a link to an article that tells more about the protests:

Here are links to two YouTube video from Al Jazerra:

Here's a link to a video that shows the number of people at the Cairo protests.  It's called Demonstrations in Egypt Protests in Egypt.

The article from the above link notes that more than 800 people were arrested in protests in Cairo.  Here is an audio tape of a reporter from the UK Guardian who was arrested along with dozens of others and reported from his cell phone:

Yesterday newspapers reported that two protesters died in the Egyptian city of Suez.  Newspaper accounts said one died of respiratory problems after exposure to tear gas and the other died from being hit by a rock.  One police officer died in Cairo from being hit by a rock.  I don't know anything about the police officer who died, but many of the police officers are very young men who are doing their mandatory military service.

Here's a link to a New York Times article that discusses how 6 Egyptians have set themselves on fire in recent weeks as a form of protest.
I heard one was last night in Cairo.  At least a couple of these people have died.

On a personal note, for those of you who may be concerned about our family, I don't think you need to worry.  Cairo is a very big city and we live far away from the downtown area where all these videos were taken.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

PETRA by Night and the 7 Wonders of the World

Having the chance to see Petra will be one of our high points of our year in the Middle East.

The ancient city of Petra is one of the seven modern wonders of the world.  Here's the full list of the seven modern wonders.  (Note:  You can click on any of these pictures to make them larger.)
You may be wondering why the Giza Pyramids are not listed here.  Well, they are the last remaining of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World.  Here are all the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World.
Lastly, while we're on the topic of wonders of the world, there are also 7 Natural Wonders of the World which are:
Here are pictures of the Seven Natural Wonders:
If you'd like to read more about the Seven Natural Wonders, you can visit this website:
Jeff, Cameron and I in front of the Monastery at Petra.
Now, on to Petra.  The ancient city of Petra is more than 3,000 years old and may be the ancient city of Sela (which, like Petra, means 'rock') which is described in the Old Testament of the Bible.  Petra, at its peak, was inhabited by the ancient Nabatean people who came from northeast Arabia as traders in the 6th century B.C.  They cornered the market on the spice trade, dealing with countries such as China, Greece, Egypt and India. 

The city was later occupied by Romans, than Christians, then Crusaders and Muslims.  Petra was a lost city for more than 700 years.  I heard that it may have been abandoned either because of floods or earthquakes.  It was rediscovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer who had heard local tales of a lost city in the mountains and went searching for it.   The site still remained quite inaccessible for tourists until the latter part of the 20th century.  In recent times, it has become a very popular tourist sight and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.  When a site is designated as a World Heritage Site, this means the World as a whole has an interest in protecting it.  I think it also qualifies for greater resources to preserve it.  There are more than 900 World Heritage Sites worldwide.  Here's a link to the website of World Heritage Sites that has a helpful interactive map showing all the sites:

Our first night in Petra, we went to the Petra by Night performance.  It happens twice a week.  We went on Tuesday night just after the new year.  The candlelit walk started at 8:30pm with a 45 minute performance in front of the Treasury (-- the beautiful carved stone facade entering the ancient city of Petra).  I'll never forget the other-worldly experience of walking by candle-light through these rock cliffs, in some places walking on an ancient narrow stone road that are more than 2,000 years old.  We went to this performance with a Japanese friend we met at the hotel, Koje.  Like me, he loves to take photos so I may post more photos later of shots he took of us and the event since his camera worked better than mine at night.   

It was magical to sit in front of the Treasury facade of Petra and listen to the Bedouin sing and then play the flute.  (The Bedouin are the traditional pastoral peoples who inhabited this area long ago and are still around today in some parts of Egypt.)  The melodies, echoing within the area surrounded by rock, were hauntingly beautiful.  Here's a tape of the song sung by the Bedouin.
As one Bedouin sang, other moved through-out the crowd bringing some type of spiced tea.  Unfortunately, they didn't reach where we were sitting so I can't tell you what it tasted like.  The tea we usually are served here is a blend of Jasmine tea with the plant leaves and flower blossoms in it.  Then the flute player walked through the crowd wearing a long white gown and a white headscarf around his head.  

Toward the end of the performance, the Bedouin leader told everyone to take a photo of the Treasury on the count of three.  With more than 1,000 people flashing their cameras at the same time, there was finally enough  light to get the photo I posted above.

Lastly, here's a photo of Jeff and Cameron on the kilometer walk back through the Siq (the narrow walkway through the rock cliffs to get to the Treasury).  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Best Aquarium: Underwater Observatory Marine Park (Eilat, Israel)

After leaving Jerusalem, we headed south to Eilat, Israel.  We stayed one night in Eilat headed to Petra in Jordan the next day.  Our bus from Jerusalem was a morning bus so we got to Eilat in time for Cameron and me to go to Eilat's Underwater Observatory Marine Park.  The aquarium was amazing... the best aquarium I've ever visited.  In the background of the photo below you can see the white space tower kind of building.  That is the underwater observatory that you'll see photos of later (from the inside looking out at the Red Sea) in this blog entry. 

One of Cameron's favorite parts of the park was the playground!  
Cameron is also very interested in maps these days (street maps, world maps,... any kind of map).  While I was taking care of returning the headsets for the audio tour, he said, "Mommy, I'm going to over to look at the map, ok?"
The sea turtles were amazing.  One thing I loved about this aquarium was that every half hour there was a feeding scheduled for a different type of sea animal.  When we went to that animal's habitat, one of the biologists on staff would give a talk on that particular animal.  During the sea turtle talk, Cameron and I learned that plastic bags are very dangerous for sea turtles since the sea turtles eat them thinking they are jellyfish, then the bags get wrapped up around their internal organs and can kill the turtle.  
The shark and ray tank was fascinating!

Did you know the ray had a face like this?  I didn't!

The good part about having my first camera stolen in Jerusalem is that my replacement camera has a video that is really easy to use.  So, from this point on, you'll be seeing videos on this blog periodically taken by me (or Cameron!  see below).
When we first arrived at the park, Cameron kept saying, "I want to go to the octopus playground!"  I thought he meant some tank where there were octopus playing, but it turned out he'd spied the octopus slide from afar.  Here he is on the slide.  The Red Sea is in the background.

Playgrounds are a lot of fun, until someone gets stuck in the shark...
Yes, Cameron climbed into the shark and got stuck!  I had been watching from the other side of the playground and walked over when I saw him in the shark, clicked the camera on the way, and asked if he was just posing or if he was really stuck.  The woman said, "he's stuck!"  We figured out that having him put his head back in, then rolling over and me holding his middle as we pulled him out feet first worked out to remove him.  

I asked one of the staff walking by a few minutes later if kids ever got stuck in the shark.  He said, "Yeah, it happens sometimes."  I asked him what they did.  He said, "Oh, the parents leave them there and then we feed the kids to the sharks.... not really... usually the kids wiggle around and work themselves out of the shark."

Cameron and me at the Octopus Playground.
The next site was the Rare Fish Aquarium.  This was so well done.  You walk into a dark, tunnel like viewing area with tanks on both sides and numbers next to each tank to show you what number to press on the audio guide stick.  It was about $1-$2 for the audio tour stick and I knew Cameron would enjoy it because he likes to punch numbers into gadgets, plus he learned some things.  I asked him later what he learned and he said, "Well, I learned about turkey fish.
The different types of coral in these aquariums looked surreal.  The colors are like nothing you see above ground and there were so many different types of coral.  Above is a photo of brain coral.

The photo below is of Cameron behind one of the tanks.  The designers of this aquarium really know kids.  They built in a kid-sized tunnel that lead behind one of the tanks and came out on the other side of the front of the tank.  Cameron loved it.  He went in and out of the tunnel about five times.  Here's his photo one of those times behind the tank.

The idea of going behind the aquarium seemed pretty cool to me so I gave Cameron my camera to take my photo on the other side like I took his.  What I didn't know was that Cameron knew how to effectively take a video with my camera.  I was standing on the other side of the tank waiting for Cameron to take my photo and wondering why he kept asking me questions.   Little did I know, he was shooting a video.  (If the video stops too much when you click on the video on the blog, you could try clicking twice on it and that will take you to the YouTube site where it is stored and it may be easier to watch on there.)
I really liked the sea horses.  Their shape is so graceful.

Cameron saw these funny photo opportunities.  He looked great as a diver.  My posing in the mermaid picture is just a little too weird for me to post.

These next photos are from the underwater observatory.  The aquarium staff sunk a submarine type of vessel then built an artificial coral reef around it to draw fish.  So all the sea life you see are free creatures that just swim by.  It's really a magical place.  

At the top of the underwater observatory is a viewing tower of the whole area:  many steps on a tricky spiral staircase, but what a view at the top!

For travelers planning to visit this aquarium, the price is pretty expensive (about $28 [89 shekels I think] for my son and me together), but it was very worthwhile.  We got a 10 shekel discount by paying through our hotel concierge, then her providing us with a receipt to show the park.  You can pay extra to ride in a glass-bottomed boat, but the boats weren't running the day we went so you might want to check on which days those are offered if you want to do that.

There are decent-sized lockers at the aquarium, but I don't know if they're big enough to hold a backpack.

You can take a 15 bus from the downtown bus station to get to the aquarium.  (It's a number 16 bus for the return.)  This is the same bus that takes people to the Eilat/Taba border; the aquarium is a few minutes before you get to the border, about a 20-30 minute bus ride from the downtown station.  It's cheaper to pay the bus driver for an all-day pass than to pay one-way to the aquarium then one-way back.  (I think it cost me about 14 shekels and some change for me and my 6 year old.)  

If you want to read more about the aquarium, here's the link to their website:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Descent from the Mount of Olives & the Garden of Gethsemane

After walking visiting several famous religious sites on the top of the Mount of Olives, we followed a narrow road that wound down the mountain toward the Old City of Jerusalem.  

We had a great time exploring the Mount our Italian friends from the Capital Hotel, Monica and Luciano.  They spoke a little English and could understand my Spanish well so we could talk just fine.  Jeff and Luciano had their guide books and maps out comparing notes and figuring out where the next stop from the Bible was.  

One of the things I liked best about our vacation was that we had a rough idea of places we wanted to go and sites to see when we got there, but we never did any guided tour so we were always free to make friends, share a ride with them and then share half the day exploring together.  We did this several times over the week.  It's something I love about travelling.  You meet people, maybe spend the whole day with them, and you may never see them again, but the day is great.  There's a real aliveness to living in the now and creating nice memories with others who share the now with you.  
Descent from the Mount of Olives. 

As we hiked down the mountain, we came across a garden with a chapel, so we went in.  This chapel, known as the Chapel of Dominus Flevit, is run by Franciscan monks.  It's built at the site where Jesus supposedly wept about Jerusalem.  It was built in 1955 and is shaped like a teardrop supposedly to commemorate his weeping.
Luciano's guide book wrote about an interesting part of this chapel.  If you stand facing the altar and this beautiful window overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, the cross is right on the site of the Dome of the Rock, which was also the site of the Jewish temple that was destroyed by the Romans.  You can see the positioning intersecting with the gold dome really well in the bottom photo.

Cameron with Monica and Luciano.

Photo of a Russian Orthodox Church.
View through one of the windows in the wall flanking the path coming down from the Mount of Olives.
On the Southeast slope of the Mount of Olives is the tomb of Lazarus, who Jesus is said to have brought back from the dead.  
Monica posing with a man who earns a living by coming to stand with his donkey for photos on the main tourist path coming down from the Mount of Olives.  Monica gave him 5 shekels, a generous tip of $1.50.
We came to the Garden of Gethsemane by it was closed for lunch.  I found a couple photos of it online (see below).  The Garden of Gethsemane is where Jesus prayed with James, Peter & John but they fell asleep three times.  This is also where Peter denied three times that he knew Jesus.   Later that night, Judas came to the Garden with the soldiers and identified Jesus to them by kissing Jesus as a prearranged signal.   The soldiers arrested him.  Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate who sentenced him to death after a trial that ended at dawn the next day.  He was crucified that next day at 3pm.  One of the charges he was found to have committed was blasphemy (i.e., saying that he was the Messiah when they did not believe this was true.)

If you'd like to see a chronology of what happened with Jesus when he died, here's a link that explains it:

If you'd like to read more about this, you can visit this link:
I took this photo from the walls of the Old City.
The Church of Nations is visible here with the Garden of Gethsemane directly behind it.

Photo from this link:

Photo from

Next to the Garden of Gethsemane is a the Church of All Nations.  Below is a photo I took of the exterior of the church.  It was closed when we arrived but I found a photo online that shows the interior (below).  The Church has a large stone slab in it that is said to be the rock that Jesus sat on in the Garden to pray in agony on the night of his betrayal.  

Interior of the Church of the Nations, found online at the University of the Holy Land website.
View of Mount Olive from the bottom of the mountain,
near the wall of the Old City of Jerusalem.
View of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem
showing the ongoing excavation to find
and expose more of the original wall.
We walked about two miles down from the Mount of Olives and over to the Dung Gate to visit the Dome of the Rock (see later blog entry).