Monday, December 13, 2010

Moving forward

Update: blog discontinued. I'm keeping a new personal website here: www.hamsterwheelproject.com
It has been a fun ride blogging here, but it's time to change some things. This is more of an adaptation to some factors, rather than a change driven by the need of trying something new.

I'll keep it short: this blog will be discontinued. It has been for a while now :) ..lingering without anyone to maintain it, and probably without readers.

Moving on..
Just noticed that the previous post is named "Between stagnation and change" - and this one is "Moving forward". I guess change has won already :) and it requires the adaption I was mentioning before.

To give you an update on the situation on our end, here is a quick sum-up:
Since we came back from the summer trip, we plunged into working - at the office and at home.
At work, Assassin's Creed is now done and selling great. I was in charge of the Multiplayer part of the title, on Xbox360. We've worked like crazy (including week-ends) and it was totally worth it. Hope you're enjoying the sequel; I certainly enjoyed working on it.
At home we've reached another milestone with our website: http://www.aboutro.com/
It looks great thanks to our designer friend - George, and it works as good as it looks :) thanks to Alecs - the tech guy.
Gathering all the resources, documenting the attractions, coordinating with all the people involved in it, processing hundreds of photos and text - fell on our shoulders. It was particularly tough because of the continuous overtime at work, but we managed to pull through. There are still some bugs to fix, but it's going to be ready in no time. Alecs is on the job, so no worries.
We'll be launching it with all the bells and whistles after the holidays.

We've also moved from the old apartment in a new one.
Still with rent, since we're not sure that Romania will be the country we'll live in for too long to deserve a financial investment for a place of our own.

We're still wannabe entrepreneurs, but with more experience. Actually, Andra is a part-time entrepreneur since she keeps those pottery classes she enjoys so much. She's now working on her website: http://olarit.ro/

And we've reached the last chapter: plans for the upcoming year. We'll go traveling on long term! :) 3 to 6 months. At least this is the plan. We'll see if we get bored or we won't have enough of it - and choose to stay more.
India will probably mark the beginning of our trip, then we'll move forward from there towards China, Tibet, Thailand.. It will be different from the previous trip: instead of running from one country to another, we'll stay more in one place to absorb the culture and avoid burning out fast.
I'll set up another website with this occasion. I'm going with WordPress (it's more flexible & professional) and a paid domain.

That's everything.. I think.
See on the other side :)  I have no idea when, so no promises. Oh, the trip starts in March, so the blog/website will be ready before then.

Have fun, enjoy the holidays and let's stay in touch ..offline if possible :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Between stagnation and change.

At the usual hour (same one for the past 1825 days) I wait for the metro to take me home.
It's one of those hard working days that make me feel lobotomized after the usual 9 intensive hours. By now, my brain refuses to think anything other than the basic stuff; can't challenge it with interesting ideas.
So, I take a sit, stop the audio book that plays in my ears, close my eyes and try to empty myself of today's baggage. No more disappointments on bad decisions, no planning in advance, no nothing. I simply give my brain what it craves for: peace and quiet..

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Razvan's Life List

Live in Scotland / Ireland for at least 3 months.
Move to Spain (preferably Barcelona or Madrid) for a longer period of time.
Accomplish the entrepreneurial goal by solving at least one of the world's most important problems / needs.
Do at least one long term travel (6 months or more). First step taken in June, 2010: one month and four countries from Middle East.
Visit more than half the world's countries. 9 down, 88 more to go :)  Already been to: Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, UK, Spain, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
Discover at least 5 beautiful countries in which I would like to live in (beside Scotland, Ireland, Spain and New Zeeland) ..and stay in each of them for a while.

Do skydiving. It's one of the few things that make my heart beat faster just by thinking about it (beside Andra :D). Another one was motorcycling.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Andra's secret list..


Since three years ago, Andra has been carrying in her wallet this newspaper cut-out, with the extended list of world wonders, hoping for a long term travel.
Back then it was just a strong wish, a dream which was not yet possible. Guess who was the culprit for the delay.. Sadly, I found the idea too costly in terms of money and "precious time at university and at work". But, I've slowly - painfully slowly I may add - realized that money are not the solution and that my priorities were somewhat wrong. So, things have changed a lot since that time.
Anyway, sometimes I wish I could travel back in time, slap my younger self on the head and tell that stubborn, close minded dude a few colorful words. Or maybe hug that shy and a bit scared boy, tell him everything will be alright and even better after getting the head out of the sand..

Back to Andra's list, all I can say is this: we've reached five already, fifteen more to go my dear :)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Preconceptions - we all have them..

"Dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present" - Abraham Lincoln 

I was planning to write a post on preconceptions a while back, but for some reason I postponed it. However, the idea's seed followed me everywhere and slowly deepened my understanding on this matter. Now I'm actually glad there's no half-post of mine, because there's a blank slate to start from - for building my case against preconceptions.
Only recently I've started to grasp the true venomous power of preconceptions - and I've begun seeing them as some of the most destructive creations of one's mind. The whole idea of taking half-truths (or worse - something entirely wrong) - and wrapping the brain in layers upon layers of thick and resistant shroud - does nothing more than building a premature coffin for that particular brain. Too bad we have this capacity of committing suicide at so many levels.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The time has come..

To launch the website we've been working on for quite some time: http://www.aboutro.com/
It was a long but rewarding work - and we have learned a lot of interesting things along the way. It is our very first step towards online entrepreneurship, so we'll be very grateful for any kind of support people will offer us in the following months. The idea is to create a useful website that any traveler can consult whenever planning to visit places from Romania.
The work is far from over and I doubt we'll be able to say - anytime soon - that we've reached the end of it :)
We've just started and there are many useful features already in the works (English translation for example). So, expect some new updates on this matter.

The feedback received while still in Closed Beta was extremely useful, especially since the "testers" and their opinion came from various places on the planet - thank you Couchsurfing!
Also, some special thanks are in order to the entire team working on this project! ..and - why not  - to future members :)


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Elements of change.. learned from photography.

When you're not happy with the results, just change the angle.
In photography it can make the difference between a failed shot and a great one. In life, a different perspective often brings new understanding, opportunities and possibly better results in any kind of situation.

When you like the angle a lot and spend too much time in the same spot doing the same damn thing, you're certainly missing other opportunities.
Again - change the perspective and make sure nothing passes by unnoticed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Losing weight and learning usefull things (9kg - 1 month)

I've lost 9kg in one month and learned a few useful things in the process. I'll share these with you since some of them can be applied in a wider range of situations, not just for tailoring your shape:
  • The first and foremost important one is the mindset: don't just "try", DO it.
    You must really want to achieve your goal and decide to put aside any negative thoughts or influences that may lead you astray. Also you must be happy with the important choice of building a new ..you.
  • It's possible to eat less and have more energy than before.
    During the recent one month trip in Middle East - I ate mostly vegetarian foods for three weeks - and felt more stamina than before (keep in mind I walked and sometimes hiked all day long).
  • There's a clear difference

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The one month trip - in a nutshell (Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Turkey)


Budget, time-frame, likes, dislikes - it's all here.
In case you didn't have the patience to read all previous post from our recent trip, then you'll find below a short sum-up, plus some additional information.

Budget: 1500 euro - each.
That was the maximum amount we were comfortable spending, but we had an emergency surplus of 300 more euros. So, 1800 per person, split in half: cash and credit card. When we got to Turkey for the second time - close to the end of the trip - we realized that we spent far less than expected: around 1000 euros each. Not bad at all since we couchsurfed only four times and stayed at hotels for the rest of the trip (budget hotels recommended by the Lonely Planet guide). In the end, the overall cost was around 1200 euros per person.

Egypt: June 6 - June 16 (Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Dahab).
What we liked:
- All the places we saw - in this order: Karnak temple, Pyramids, Phylae and Abu Simbel temples, Valley of the Kings, Luxor temple;
- Dahab: a very affordable resort; a great place for relaxation and snorkeling (or diving) in the near blue lagoon with its coral reef and marine fauna. Dahab is one of the cheapest places in the world, for taking diving classes and earning a diving permit.
- Aswan city: cleaner than Cairo and Luxor, more relaxed and with an awesome Nile view.
- Egypt itself as a very affordable destination (if you bargain all the time and dodge the scams). A budget hotel room, with breakfast included and air-conditioning - was around 10 euros per night (some hotels even have a pool on the rooftop and sometimes a nice view over the area). There's also the alternative of sleeping in the roof garden and paying substantially less (we never did that, but it can help a lot in cutting down the overall costs).
- The one hour hot-air balloon flight.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

To be continued..


Almost a month has passed since we've left our country and I'm writing what's supposed to be the last entry while still on the road. As in many previous cases, I'm doing this in a bus.

The flow of ideas sometimes stops and I resort to my "muse": long breaks watching the fast changing environment from the other side of the window.
When doing this, I sometime feel like vibrating at another level, on a bridge between worlds, where my mind is tuned to hear whispers that are either the answer to what I'm looking for, or an entirely new idea.
I have this image about ideas being like invisible schools of fish, swimming around us. From time to time, one of them comes close enough to me, not to see it, but to feel the ripples it creates.
It's there for a split second and then it's gone. I take a break from gazing and write it down before forgetting it.
I forgot a lot of them in the past.. but now I've learned to pick them up and store the unripe ones for later.

Andra interrupts my contemplation; she's telling me she just hurt her foot accidentally - on the chair in front. I discover I'm still not back into this world, I simply note the fact and somewhat coldly continue the introspection.
She's not going to be happy when she reads this.. But I like it here.. it's new and interesting for me. I'm going to stay for a a little while longer.

...

Outside we leave behind an imposing mosque.. an image that we've already grown accustomed with. And suddenly comes the revelation that almost imperceptibly - the new has turned into old - and soon enough - the old will be new again ..for a while.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Safe haven in Istanbul.


After so long relying only on hotels, we're once again couchsurfing and we're being hosted - for the second time - by our friends: Ercan and Ebru.

We continue to explore Istanbul for one day and half, the city with which we started this journey, almost a month ago.
It's really interesting to see so many changes and to discover the transformations the city has been through, since the last time we strolled it's streets. So, while revisiting some places, we take a stroll down the memory lane - just to compare the present and the not so distant past.
The streets are packed with a lot more tourists now and the local small entrepreneurs take advantage of the situation: there are taverns everywhere - offering all sorts of goodies - especially ice-cream and boiled corn.
We couldn't resist the temptation and already ate three corns in Sultanahmet area. And since we have some more Turkish lira left to spend, we'll try various dishes from the local cuisine.
Also, it's time to buy some souvenirs and add some goodies to the small stash we're carrying for our friends back home.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cappadocia - part II (meeting locals, trying pottery kebab and making pottery).

Beside just hiking, we also experienced some other interesting things while in Goreme village:

First, the day I started feeling sick, we searched for a place to eat a good soup, hoping it will help my condition.
We ended up in a cozy restaurant being run by a family. Although there was a huge language barrier and we barely understood each-other, we had a great time with the four old women preparing "ravioli".
While I ate soup and drank two coups of "├žay" (tea - pronounced "ceai"), Andra joined in preparing that dish together with the old ladies.

A short summer rain caught us inside the restaurant, so we stayed there until it stopped half an hour later.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Off the beaten track in Cappadocia.

It's a shame we had to postpone writing about the wonderful Cappadocia, but it's not too late to do it now. The memories are still fresh, we have plenty of amazing pictures and there's a perfect setting for recollecting and writing: we're both laying on a couch from the hotel's exterior bar, inhaling mixed scents combined with the fresh mountain air, and listening to a good choice of songs.
The people below have started a camp fire as well.. so, let's just start the story-telling:
The first minutes in Cappadocia were quite silent, interrupted only by the camera's shutter clicks and remarks like: "wow", "look at that", "and that".. The scenery was quite unusual and amazing, with cone like structures that were used by people for various purposes, including as houses. Everything looked so fairytale like, that we wouldn't have been too surprised to see hobbits getting out of those weirdly shaped houses :)

Licking my wounds under the Mediterranean sun.


With the feet tucked below a hot curtain of sand, and the head protected under a shallow shade - cast by the nearby rocks, I'm waiting for Andra to come out of the water.

The Olympos village (Turkey) is not exactly what we expected, but it's still a good place to relax - especially now when we're getting closer to the end of our Middle Eastern pilgrimage.
The village itself is placed in a small valley surrounded by mountains, while the sea washes the shores approximately 1 kilometer away from our hotel. A tree house hotel that packs a lot of Turkish and international tourists. So many that there's a long line advancing slowly towards the people serving us dinner in the evenings.
There is one small inconvenience to this place: the showers with fluctuating water temperature; they seem to be a problem in all huts, not just ours.
However, in my case, 6 years in a university campus have thought me to anticipate the change of temperature and avoid being frozen or burned by the moody water jet. Also, I've learned to make rapid changes, so that the water stays constant for longer periods of time.
I've tried to come up with some instructions for Andra, only to discover that it's just instinct and reflex, no universal formula. There are some guidelines though:
- don't open the water flow to maximum - it gets more vulnerable to pressure drops caused by other people using the showers or toilets; it also limits your control options.
- millimeter rotations can induce the desired effect, so refrain yourself from making major adjustments (the slowly growing anger can easily influence the hand).
hmm, my mind is playing with words again: "the most minute changes induced in a system, can cause an imbalance or the desired effect. We rarely need drastic decisions in our quest for achieving a certain purpose. Just aim for the snowball effect, instead of a system that needs constant tweaking".
I have no idea if I read something like this somewhere, or it's an ad hoc personal creation.

Back to using the showers, it's a small sadistic pleasure hearing Andra fighting with the hidden enemy that plays with the water pressure. And the sounds she makes... we joked about that she's feeding the imagination of our neighbors from the other side of the thin wooden wall.

...

The shade is my enemy and my friend..here on the beach, while I fight a sore throat and a bit of a cold that threatens to morph into something worse.
I'm trying to find that "happy place", but it's not always working ...writing keeps me busy for a while.
When everything will fail, I'll put my hopes in the can of beer that is slowly getting warmer in the sand; the alcohol will numb the senses for a while and help me enjoy the scenery.

I move forward with the towel, to catch up the advancing shade. I plan to tuck the feet again under the hot sand, close the notebook's lid and deeply inhale the sea breeze ..through an insensitive nose.. maybe I'll feel something in the end.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

In a Turkish hospital..

"It's not a matter of IF, it's a matter of WHEN!"
I've heard this saying a lot, when documenting about Middle East and stomach problems or food intoxication.
I didn't expect it to hit me so hard.. and in Turkey. I would have bet on any of the other countries, especially Egypt.
Long story short, in the picture above it's me in a Turkish hospital, with an annoyingly long needle in my vein and two packs of ice under my arms - to keep the high temperature in check.
Before I got to the hospital it was horrible: powerful nausea, upset stomach, high temperature and really cold feeling in the same time, moments when I felt that I was about to pass out..

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Catching up..

We're a bit behind with the stories, mostly because we didn't have constant access to the internet for the past week, and also because there was a fast turn of events.
The crossing of Jordan was partially covered in a previous post. So, I'll just add a few details and then move forward as fast as possible, without omitting essential stuff.

Swimming in the Dead Sea.
One of the weirdest experiences we've had in this pilgrimage: effortless floating in the crazy salted water.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Petra.

The day we saw Petra will stay with me for the rest of my life, just like other memories from the Middle East: first time in a mosque, at the pyramids, in Karnak temple, in a hot-air balloon over Luxor..
However, this experience was different than all the other ones. So, I'll do my best to take you there with me, while reliving this particular memory.

We woke up in our first day in Wadi Musa, without having any idea about what lied ahead.
Zachary and Hillary whom we've recently met, joined us for breakfast and some small talk, the kind you have in the morning when the sleep still lingers on your eye lashes.
The hotel provided us with a free ride to the Petra entrance, so around 9:00 o'clock in the morning we were already buying our tickets - which included a horse ride for the first 800 meters. We slipped into the saddle and enjoyed the ride. Nice experience.. it brought back some long forgotten memories from my childhood, when I used to ride the neighbors' horses ..without them knowing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jordan.

Jordan came not a moment too soon after the hectic Egypt, and it was a most welcomed change for us.

While still in Egypt, when waiting in line for the ferry tickets (from Nuweiba to Aquaba), we met a nice couple from US. Since we discovered that we all have exactly the same route for the next two days, we decided to stick together.
So, from two, we were four people in just a couple of hours after leaving Dahab. It was especially great as we didn't have to wait one night in Aquaba to catch the morning bus to Wadi Musa (Petra); now we could instead share a "service taxi" for the two and a half hours trip directly to Petra.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dahab.


Dahab marked our last stay in Egypt and it was a great place to relax before leaving this country.

We enjoyed traveling to Dahab with some of the people we've met in Luxor, although the 16 hours bus drive wasn't the most pleasant one we've had so far..

One special thing that we did in this city, was snorkeling in the blue whole - from the blue lagoon: for the 1st time, we saw coral reefs and a lot of marine fauna, more than we've ever seen gathered in one place.
We were awe-struck for the first 20 minutes spent eyes down in the water. We didn't even care about the abyss below us (I think there were 50 or 70 meters until the sea bed) and also we didn't feel the time passing by.
I couldn't resist the temptation to swim through or with banks of colored fish, so I did a bit of free diving as well; not to deep since my ears hurt like hell after a few meters.
Long story short, we were so mesmerized this time, that the next time we'll surely apply for a diving permit (around 185 euros and 3 days training).

Equaly special was to eat together at a very nice restaurant, called Nemo. Being low season, the manager offered 30% discount, free starters, appetizer and salads, free shisha and ice-cream - at the end of the meal. The staf was super friendly, the location was perfect (2 meters from the water), nice illumination and fitting music. Oh, and wi-fi :)


It felt just like a dream coming true: spending time on the seashore, surrounded by great people, good food (vegetarian, by the way), pleasant music and having internet connection at your disposal :)

What more could we ask from Dahab?
Well, maybe some sand on the beach, since it was entirely rocky. But this can definetly be excused, taking into account all that it offered us.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Making new friends & acquaintances

One of the best thing about traveling is being able to meet interesting people almost every day, each with an interesting, funny or sometimes even a sad story to tell.
At the end of this trip, we hope to have a nice list with acquaintances and some good friends as well.

Here are some of the people we've met so far:
- Ercan and Ebru in Istanbul, whom we've already mentioned before.
They're one of the most welcoming couchsurfers we've met until now and we enjoyed every minute spent with them. Can't wait to surf their couch again and feed those funny turtles they have :)

- Jenna and Chris in Cairo.
Jenna was our host, while Chris joined us all for a nice dinner and some story sharing in our 1st night in Egypt. We owe Jenna a tour in Bucharest since she kindly offered herself as a guide in Cairo (probably the best one we had in Egypt!).

- Rebbeka, our second host in Cairo. She had a farewell party going on in the first day we arrived at her place, so, thanks to that, we met a lot of interesting German teachers living in Cairo.
Rebeka's place was like an oasis in the busy and noisy Cairo. Being placed behind the secret police office definitely helped a lot :).

- Julian, Paola and their friends, all from Columbia, funny and easy going people whom we've met on the train from Cairo to Aswan.

- Aswan: Bianca and Joost, brave couple from Holland, doing a trip through Middle East, by car, on the way to South Africa.

- In Luxor and Dahab: Tom and Alanna from Ireland; Freya from India - living in US and working at Microsoft; Hanna from US, Kim from South Korea; two guys from Taiwan (with impossible names :D); Paulo from Argentina; a couple from Japan and another nice couple from Argentina (unfortunately we can't remember their names right now, shame on us :|).

Here are some pictures with most of them:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Karnak Temple & light show..


Spread on two square kilometers, the Karnak temple is truly impressive, and after seeing it, the neighboring Luxor temple seemed lilliputian in comparison.

For the first time we hired a guide ourselves, just for the two of us, and it was well worth the 35 pounds paid (vs. the 80 pounds, initially asked by the guide).
The guided tour lasted for an hour, plus another 45 minutes on our own, mostly for taking photos. The information received from the guide was vital for understanding the basics about most things that surrounded us.
Sightseeing without a well written or well documented guide, is a huge mistake, one that we previously learned not to repeat :)

Beside the interesting architecture, the amount of stories and meaning behind every painting or written cartouche, is simply astonishing. It can easily be said that the Egyptians had a lot of imagination.

On the way out, we discovered two dark rooms with a small opening in the ceiling, which allowed light to generously flow in. We took some nice photos while playing a bit with the light effects.




In the air..



Wake-up call at 4:30 am; this was the hardest part :). After that, everything went smooth: car from the hotel to a boat, we signed the papers for acknowledging the dangers involved in flying with such a contraption (no responsibilities for the company - after having our signatures), then crossed the Nile, went again in small cars that transported us at the edge of the city - were the hot-air balloons were waiting for us.

Before arriving at the field, we got a glimpse from the distance and saw the balloons being fed with hot air. It looked like we had a plantation of huge mushrooms in front of us, some ripe, other still growing.

Seeing those things from 10 meters, was a totally different perspective: "colossal" was the first word that came into our minds.
Well, maybe it was "huge" :), but let's use "colossal" instead, since it seems more fit.

After simulating the landing procedures for a couple of times, we begun climbing.
What a smooth takeoff.. didn't feel that much different than in a good elevator, maybe even smoother.
I'm not usually afraid of heights, but I'm not that happy with them either. However, it was interesting that I didn't feel anything this time; it actually felt pleasant from the start, and it slowly turned into a breathtaking experience. I shared with Andra my idea about having some seats placed on the outside, for a truly crazy experience :)

From above, we saw the whole city, Luxor, Karnak and a queen's temple (Hatshepsut). But probably the nicest thing was the sunrise, for which, unfortunately, I have no pictures that could do it justice.



Next... skydiving :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Valley of the Kings

This trip outside Luxor was 210 Egyptian pounds each ~ approximately 35 euros, and it included a guide, a driver and a small bus - with good air-conditioning - essential against the 35-40 degrees felt in the desert.
In this particular case, the heat was not the only issue to take into account, but also the amount of light that forced us to keep the eyes half closed - when not wearing sun glasses.

Our guide was a young Egyptian woman, who is planning to spend the honeymoon in Romania, thanks to some old Romanian friends she has. What a coincidence.. maybe we'll meet again in august when she comes to Bucharest.

The trip itself felt a bit dry, half because of the constant need of water to compensate for the losses, and the other half because the three tombs we visited - were obviously empty.
The old drawings and the stories compensated for the most part though.

Andra just interrupted to tell me that the mountains seen through the window, look like a box of icecream from which someone took a few bites. Nice comparison... Maybe I'll ask her to continue this post since I currently lack the creativity :)

Back to the Valley of the Kings: I saw in a forum post, a reply saying something like "if you don't visit this place, you should have your passport revoked"..
I'll say that for the tombs we saw, it wasn't that impressive and mandatory.
It was definitely worth it for the history, but hardly anything to see inside, no photos allowed and amazingly hot & suffocating in the tombs - making the outside temperature feel like a breeze (it's curious how we rapidly change the perspective on things - even about the scorching desert heat).

The valley itself was interesting too - with its configuration and many tombs, but with a commercial feel as well, mainly because of the new things build around the tombs, and the touts that crossed the mountain into the valley - to avoid being catch by police.

It's probably best to visit the valley in a colder season, so that you can enjoy everything without being chased away by the high temperatures from the summer time.

Luxor city.

Upon arrival in Luxor's train station, we were preparing for the worst possible experience with the touts.
Luxor is famous for the many touts that constantly wait in the station for some fresh tourist meat, just to throw on you their products; "cousin's hotels - with cheap prices"; misdirections - so that you end up in another hotel which pays them a commission (that is actually charged to your bill); and other sorts of scams (or "legit" business).
Some of them actually try to help you in any way, hoping to receive a good baksheesh.

To our surprise, we had just two people trying to sell us stuff, and one youngster that didn't succeed in sending us in the wrong direction. We ignored him, asked for proper directions from an ambulance driver and managed to find the hotel - which was surprisingly cheap: 60 Egyptian pounds ~ 9 euros per room. The price included good air conditioning, a modest breakfast, internet and sunset tea on the rooftop.
Also, we had a nice staff that didn't try to sell us tours or directly ask for any tips.

In the roof garden, we met some really nice people that have the same route as us, for Dahab and Jordan. We're actually all together right now - in the bus that goes to Dahab.
"Shisha" and good conversations were part of the menu, at every sunset.
For the shisha, me and Andra tried the apple one (yes, Andra too :D). After the first intakes, we asked the guy about what's inside exactly; he instantly answered: "hasis" :)) with quite a serious face - that he managed to keep just for 3 seconds.
It was actually just apple, but we did meet one local that was quite high from hasis, and he was saying that really loud, with a policemen in less than 10 meters ...and a half a razor blade in his mouth (we only saw it when it accidentally fell from his mouth while talking).

Anyway, back to Luxor: this city was our gate to: Valley of the Kings, Karnak temple (impressive!) and a one hour flight with a hot-air ballon. A separate short post for each one will follow.

Let's end this one with some quick facts about Luxor city:
- generally less pleasant than Aswan, because of the narrow streets and high amounts of trash everywhere (not as much as in Cairo though);
- as hot as Aswan, with around 40 degrees in the afternoon.
- many street-side vendors with special prices for tourists, not open for bargaining. We had at least three annoying moments when some Egyptians bought high amounts of foods for a few Egyptian pounds, while we were asked to pay the same amount of money - for just one small piece (overall, between 10 to 15 times the price for the locals).
- nice Nile view;
- cheaper than Aswan for accommodation;
- interesting sights in & around the city;
- similar or even less touts than in Aswan;
- nice bazaar with funny vendors. I actually enjoyed talking to them, negotiating or refusing in a funny manner, making jokes with some while dodging others.

Bottom line, Luxor is a must see if you plan to visit Egypt.
For us, seeing it once will be enough for a really long time..

Monday, June 14, 2010

Desert mirage...wow!

On the way back from Abu Simbel we saw our first desert mirage, and it was a strong one.
For us it was simply unbelievable: at the right angle, an entire patch of desert on the horizon line, turned into a reflective surface with watery like appearances.


Because the desert had many rocky structures scattered all over the place, the mirage made them look like small islands coming out of water.
It was so convincing that at first, I wanted to ask the driver if we have the Nile river on the horizon; but the angle changed a bit and it was clear to us that it was just an illusion.

When the illusion's intensity started fading away, I couldn't stop thinking about other sorts of illusions we experience every day:
- commercials that try to make us buy brands, not necessarily good products;
- political campaigns that rely on carefully chosen words, with little substance;
- fashion, with it's seasoned colors/clothes; trying to make us buy new stuff just because there's a new trend out there (a trend that doesn't exist in reality, but will soon exist after they choose & announce it);
- a path that the society imposes to us, with it's guidelines, liberties and restrictions (do this and that, but you're not allowed to do that... Soo transitory, place related and ..maybe.. useless);
- mass-media with it's way of exaggerating and emphasizing on certain things, just to score more readers count;
- religion, when it is misunderstood or misused and we get: fanatics, hidden & selfish purposes, meaningless rules & restrictions; (maybe I'll post more on religion, in a separate post - since recently I found out some new interesting things)

Anyway, I think we're getting smarter and we're not falling for the same old tricks.
Just watch out for the mirages, enjoy looking at them, learn from them, but don't start chasing any illusion - like a desperately thirsty Bedouin, tricked into meeting his fate.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Aswan city.



Aswan was good to us.
Above you can see the Nile view we had from the hotel's roof garden. It was pretty breathtaking the first time.

The city is a lot different than other places in Egypt (like Cairo and Luxor): it's not crowded, less hassle from the locals... a quiet place where we could relax after the busy Cairo. We even made some new acquaintances while staying here: a couple from Japan, a guy from Argentina and a really nice couple from Holland - doing a trip to South Africa.
The trip to Abu Simbel was totally worth it, even though we had to get up at 3am and leave with the military convoy.

Time is short today, so we'll take care of the luggage and just let you enjoy some of the photos we took:
Aswan:

http://picasaweb.google.com/IonRazvanCiuca/Aswan?feat=directlink
Abu Simbel & Philae temples:

http://picasaweb.google.com/IonRazvanCiuca/AbuSimbelPhilaeTemples?feat=directlink

Friday, June 11, 2010

Aswan - update.

We arrived safely in Aswan, one of the southest touristic spots in Egypt.

There should be a funny sign here, something like: "Welcome to Hell - here you have the chance to slowly roast at 40 degrees Celsius" :)
It's hot and impossible to stay outside between 1:00 - 17:30..
(update: the locals are funny, they often say: "welcome to Alaska" :), so no need for any special sign)

We were lucky enough to find a budget hotel with air conditioning, wi-fi and a roof garden with a nice Nile view and a small pool.
More about Aswan tomorrow. Right now we just wanted to let everyone know that tomorrow we'll be traveling to Abu Simbel - 3 hours through the desert - accompanied by military convoy :|

So, wish us luck in returning safely. OR, if you have some old grudge with either of us, now is your time to pray to Allah so that he will send Bedouins to kidnap us :)
Ovidiu, do you need me to give you the direction of Mecca? :p

Train to Aswan.


In our 4th day in Cairo, we took the 13 hours train to Aswan, where we'll be staying for two days, and then move to the neighboring Luxor.

Since we knew one or two things about Egyptian trains, we booked the 1st class, which is more like a 2nd or 3rd class in Romanian trains. No kidding :)
It was ok though, we met a few other travelers like us, talked with them for a couple of hours and then slept most of the way.
Actually Andra slept more (after finishing documenting about Aswan and Luxor); I chose to write the Cairo post and this one, and also tried to take some photos. It's hard to take any quality photos through very dirty windows though.

Other than these small inconveniences, the train ride provided some insights into the rural side of the country, with its lush lands along the Nile.

Wow, I stopped for 10 seconds for some inspiration :) and saw the first camels during this ride, also people working the land, some white birds on the ground (maybe egrets), now donkeys and cows (they look like cows.. but not entirely).

One more sip from the Guava juice and back to scouting the horizons.
hmm..I don't believe I told you about the Guava juice in the previous post. Our 1st host Jenna, introduced it to us. It's simple: it smells awful, but it has an amazingly good taste :D, very different from what I've had so far. The trick is not to smell it when drinking :).
Andra is not crazy about it, I am at my third box already.

Back to train sightings: poor areas almost everywhere.
The villages look unfinished; small, isolated communities with half built houses; the people in rather dirty clothing, and only a handful of them. Many cities/villages look almost deserted, with little activity at this hour (7:30 in the morning).
We were wondering how it was possible for a civilization with such an impressive heritage, to remain behind so much. These people's ancestors build the pyramids, way before other countries were even born. Now they're building new stuff with outside help: "from the people of Japan" is written on the metro cars. A new museum is to be built soon with help from Germany (the entire Egyptian museum is supposed to move in the new location).
I don't know enough history and politics to come up with an answer and I actually have no idea about what kept these people behind.
Please don't say "Google it", as we don't have internet and will not have it for a while. It's a luxury right now.. (obviously, if you read this post we have already solved the internet problem, at least temporary).

Hopefully we'll be able to write more from Luxor. Until then, I'm curios what lies ahead and what new stories we'll be able to share with you later.