Wednesday, October 28, 2009


You'd think with all the discomfort and misery involved in long haul international travel that I'd give it a rest. Can't do it. I'm just sick like that. Blame it on the bad economy. Too much god damn free time on my hands this summer so my wife ordered me out of the country......sort of. Truly, it has been an egregiously slow summer and have been nursing a serious back injury which laid me up in the hospital for a week and at home for a good couple months. I've never known pain like this before. As my injury began to heal and the walls began to creep in on me closer every day I decided no way to beat a back ache than with a back pack. So fuck it. Here we go. Southeast Asia 2009.

This will be a 10 year anniversary of my first trip to the region. From all I have read things have changed drastically since I was first there in 99 when the tourist industry in Cambodia and Vietnam was in it's infancy. In reality there was no tourist industry to speak of and only a handful of hearty Americans could be found wandering around. I gather the not so hearty can handle it these days so I should be in good company this time around.

Why Southeast Asia? It's the economy stupid! Air fares over the winter months to certain parts of Asia are far more reasonable than to other parts of the globe. The dollar isn't an actual joke in this part of the world. People actually seem to want U.S. Dollars here, and not as souvenirs. Really, the cost of traveling in Southeast Asia, while not as cheap as ten years ago, still appears damn cheap. If I am not bitten by a snake, pick up bird flu or step on some old American ordinance it should be a blast! Pun intended. There's still alot of shit that blows up over there. Especially in Laos. Sweet!

I'm launching, barring reinjury, November 13. I intend to revisit some familiar sites; Hanoi and Angkor Wat, and visit some new ones; Halong Bay, Phnom Pehn, Laos and Taipei. I get to retrieve my long gone Cambodia and Vietnam stamps and get a couple new ones in Laos and Taiwan. I plan to take my Canon 5D, which I unveiled on my trip to Egypt, a Canon 70-200mm lens and a 28-135 lens. I would like to take my film SLR and experiment with some alternative films to the now defunct Kodak Infrared Black and White film. I still like the look of black and white films to the digital alternatives..But I will admit the idea of hauling film again doesn't thrill me.

Excuse my typos, spelling goofs and shitty grammar. This is all in fun.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Or Alex as the locals call it. With 5 days in Cairo in a very comfortable Hotel I found that I had that extra day for a day trip I was hoping for. My goal for this trip was to be able to cover the Nile from North to South completely and possibly reach the Sudanese border. Accomplishing this meant a day trip from Cairo to Alexandria on the Mediterranean in the due North; the furthest point north off the Nile.

I love local trains and was skeptical about the trains in Egypt but was very pleasantly surprised. Rail Travel is available very inexpensively ($20.00 for a first class ticket R/T) to most destinations up and down the Nile. The worst part of doing my day trip to Alexandria was actually the process of buying the ticket. My Hotel preyed on me at every corner to charge me 5x as much to do something for me I could with a little study myself. The concierge offered to arrange to grab my tickets for me at the train station and charge me, I think, an additional $50.00 to do this. I balked and suffered with another local smoke choked taxi ride to the train station that took almost 2 hours round trip due to the traffic. But I got the ticket. And it was in fact cheap.

Next day I made off with a day pack filled with camera equipment for the the 2 hour ride from Ramses Station to Alex. The station itself was a bit intimidating, but once arriving in the first class cabin I had a large comfy chair in a smoke free cabin for 2 hours. Cars in first class were not even 1/8th filled. 2nd and 3rd class was another story. Think Slumdog Millionaire. Regular train travel for locals did not appear nearly as comfortable. I don't think people rode on the roofs of the cars, but I would not be surprised if they did. Nonethless it is places like trains and buses and other local forms of transport that you can really get a feel for how locals live. Do it.

After a relaxing ride North along the Nile river we arrived in Alex. There may have been 4 or 5 stations total in Alex and it was a challenge making sure I got off at the Central Station, but I figured it out and was promptly lost. No local maps. No local guides. This was a spur of the moment trip. I did know from my pre-trip study that there was not alot to actually see in Alex, and the few things to see were on the coastline. So I made for the beach.

At one time Alexandria had quite a bit of ancient historical sites, all of which are long gone. Don't quote me on this but I believe at least one of the 7 original wonders of the world was there. The lighthouse at Alexandria. No longer there, it is replaced by a Crusaders fort which is worth a look. Along the way to the fort by way of the coastal route are mostly fisherman tending to their brightly colored boats hauling their trade in from the Med. You can't beat the location of Alexandria and it was so nice to be breathing Ocean air after 4 days in Cairo.

Alex is still a City though with some of the same traffic issues as Cairo, but on a much smaller more tolerable level. If I had not mentioned there is only one rule of the road in Egypt; don't get killed. There is little effort at all made at traffic control. Crossing streets is an exercise in a mass game of chicken. No one slows down for the pedestrian. No one stops. You It's crazy. So to get back and forth from the coastal walk to the main road I would have to play Egyptian chicken.
After 4 days of Egyptian chicken in Cairo I figured out a fool proof way of winning. I would find either a single pedestrian or a group waiting for their turn of chicken and position myself about ten yards further from them than the traffic and just wait for them to run. To be completely safe I would also try to run behind women if at all possible. Galant, ey? Hey, it worked. I lived.

Anyways after checking out the Crusader fort I found one of the old and now run down European Cafe's near the water and had a comfortable lunch and a beer. Alex has a much more European feeling than any place else in Egypt due to the earlier presence of the English and French. The City must have been a gorgeous resort city at one point. And It looks like the government is trying to go that direction with the CIty again with a new Four Seasons going in and a few other high end hotels along the waterfront. But it's not there yet. It's a day trip.

Alexandria was once also famous for its Library. There is some history there but I won't guess at this one because I would be wrong. Google it. But from what I recall Alex once housed one of the world's greatest libraries. In an effort to resurrect that history a new state of the art Library and learning center was built in Alex which is astonishing. Financed by private industry and a number of Arab government donors, the facilities are amazing. Probably more so if you speak Arabic. The architecture too was world class. Pictures of the Library in Alex can be found somewhere on my FB Egypt Picture Page. It's the big silver building with the Arabic sript. My tired legs spent a good 3 hours wandering the halls and exhibits. If you see nothing else in Alex see this.

I concluded with a cab ride out to see one of President Mubarak's "castles". A home on the shore and its ground which was undoubtedly some kind of English seat of government at one time. From there it was a cab ride to the wrong train station for the evening ride back to Cairo. I bought a return ticket, since it was the wrong station, for about 8 dollars. Well worth it, I could stake my claim to Alex and the North of the Nile River Delta. If you have an extra day, Alex is a nice escape from Cairo.

Next- Luxor

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The world's biggest Epilogue - Vol. 1 Cairo

Lazy writer in the house. It's now 30 days since I returned. The jet lag has finally worn off. Yes it was that bad. Ok not THAT bad. But it was bad. The challenges of shooting hundreds of images a day, editing photos after spending all day every day on the move left no more room for writing. So here I leave a summary of the highlights for posterity.

I spent a total of 11 full days in Egypt with several goals in mind. I surpassed all my goals but I would do some things differently if I were to do this trip again, which I wouldn't. I covered it. 5 days in Cairo is 3 days too many. This city was by far the most difficult, crowded and polluted city I have been to in my entire life. It's not a dirty city as you might find in places in Central or South America. But it was a horribly polluted city due mostly to the size of the population, 15 million, and the fact that every other person drove a diesel belching automobile. The smog was Dante-esque.

Part of the problem is that I stayed about 10 km outside the city which forced me to grab local cabs every time I went into the City. Bumper to bumper traffic in Cairo is bumper ON bumper traffic. Thousands of cars literally on top of each other lurching together at no more than 10 miles per hour at any time of day all day and all night. Even in the most tightly sealed vehicle with air conditioning blowing you can't escape the nausea of the fumes. Oh. And everyone smokes....Fucking lovely.

My Hotel in Cairo was stunning. Brand new. Business traveller hotel. The Fairmont Towers Heliopolis. It was just opening so I availed myself of the promotional $110.00 a night price for a suite. Well worth it. It was a trade off but this place was quite an oasis.

I survived just fine for 3 days with my Egyptian track suit actually. My luggage took four days to show up. And when it did I was disgusted at how overpacked I was.......again!!! 42 countries and I still lug around a trunk full of clothes I never ever wear. Why??

The highlights of the City can be done in probably a day and a half if you are a motivated organized solo traveller, which I am. If you are on a tour, you can also be whisked around in an air conditioned bus and get all the highlights in adding about another half day for the perfunctory tourist shops you are dragged into on tours. Unless you are a super savvy experienced solo traveller a tour is probably the way to do this country in all honesty. I am not the tour kind of guy though.

The compact old City of Cairo can be done in a day if you are interested. The Islamic quarter contains some stunning Mosques, colorful Bazzare's and wonderfully warm people. Oh yeah there's also thousands and thousands of armed guards. Despite the fact there had been a small bombing in the City the week prior I found the security in the City iron-clad. I was never worried. The government goes a long way to protect the tourist. Egypt is not a major oil producing country. Egypt's oil is the tourist. So they don't mess around.

There is a small and quiet Christian quarter which is a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the Islamic Quarter. Eqypt has a significant Christian minority and some of the world's oldest Christian sects. The Christian sites are well protected and respected. Not so much for the lone Jewish Synagogue you can find in Cairo. More on this disturbing subject later.

In total the must sees of Cairo are the Pyramids in Giza, The Egyptian Museum and the Islamic Quarter. If you have an overwhelming urge to delve deeper there is plenty more to see and do. There are side trips that can be done including the ancient Capital of Memphis and Sacarra. Then there is Alexandria on the North Coast. I didn't think I would have the time to make it here but I did. Alexandria next........

Monday, March 9, 2009

Day one

Well the 17 hour flights were far easier than I expected. But not so fast. Brian here. Luggage still not here. Im buying clothes. Looking spiffy tomorrow in my Egyptian track suit! I am thinking of growing my chest air out, dying it black and blending in with the locals. Hey you! Mister. You come look my shop! 50 Pounds. Ok 40. Ok 5 for 7 Papryus! I got the hang of it.

Just tried to get the lay of the land today. Tough on the jet lag. Got a good half day in with a quickie loop around the Egyptian Museum, a walk to the Nile, a visit to a local Mosque and culminating the day at the main Bazaar where by mere coincidence i happened upon a massive demonstration which ultimately turned out to be a city wide parade for the birthday of Muhammad! Happy Birthday Muhammad. You need a facebook page so everyone can wish you happy birthday!

Off to Giza tomorrow. Muhammad's revenge permitting.....Send a prayer for me to the luggage gods.

Muhammad's Revenge

Apparently Montezuma has a cousin in Egypt. WTF! Bottled water. Coffee and Croissants! That's it! And blam! TMI?

Wishful Thinking

I knew it was too good to be true. My trip began over 24 hours ago in Los Angeles. I departed Los Angeles International Airport at 10 pm on March the 7th first for Paris. The state of the economy being what it is, all of the airlines were having Business Class sales. I couldn't resist. What a difference. I slept like a baby all the way across the Atlantic where I awoke in Paris.
My connection times for my flights to Cairo were tight. I was sure I'd miss a connection, especially since I was going through two of the world's more notoriously negligent airports in the world; De Gaulle and Venzelios in Athens. But.....I made it. 17 hours door to door touching down in 3 countries in route and here I am...........without my god damned luggage. So me and my one pair of shorts, two t-shirts, and one pair of dirty pants are praying for a miracle. I really never expected the bag to make it in the first place. But it sure would be nice. Im off to find me some Egyptian duds.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


After an hour of trying to translate Facebook French into Facebook English here I am, fluh, and happy with a lovely cup of top notch bordeaux in Charles De Gaulle aiport waiting for my late flight to Athens and, the gods permitting, my connection to Cairo which will set me down at 245 a.m. Cairo time.

Leaving the U.S was very stressful. I wondered and aganozied as to whether leaving now was the most prudent move. It was. I am satiated beyone belief to momentarily be able to basque in the stress free enviornment of a European aiport. Of course the Bordeaux may be the culprit there. Ill take it.

A nice time out from the downward spiral of my country may be just what I need, though I yearn for the company of my wife who was selfless enough to know that if I didn't pack my camera and roll for a little while I would lose it.

One tragic note on the creative side. Anyone who has perused my photo galleries may have been able to view some of my black and white infrared images. This is a marvelous film that creates stunningly ethereal images. Thanks in large part to the digital age, and god damned recession that wonderful film, after almost 50 years in production, is gone. Maybe for good. This will be my first ever all digital photo trip. Cheers! Ain't progress grand?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Don't it just figure.....

A bomb went off in Cairo today...Now comes all the protestations that I should not go. Im going. Very excited that I found a way home that allows me to spend a couple days in Rome. Fun.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I made it about half way through Frommer's Egypt last night. Boy am I unprepared. Somehow I think I lost sight of the fact I was traveling in the developing world. The laundry list of diseases, especially food and water borne illnesses one can pick up in Egypt is a bit scary. Then there's the parasites you can pick up in the Nile. It's been quite awhile since I have been someplace where you literally have to watch every thing that goes into your body diligently. And considering I manage to pick up some form of food poisoning almost every time I travel it's time to track down some Cipro. Travel medical insurance appears to be a must. So also might be travel evacuation insurance. Lovely....

My plan to try to access the Sudan is now officially abandoned. It appears the only way down is by way of some kind of ferry down Lake Nasser to a horrible little border town with very nasty border guards. Combine all this with the the probable food poisoning scenario and I am bagging it. Because being detained by Sudanese border guards, after a ten hour ferry ride with the runs is exactly something that would happen to me.

So what now? Perhaps an extra day in the North to Alexandria. Time to consult the Thorn Tree.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Just found and booked my Cairo Hotel. Brand new hotel with promotional offers. The Fairmont Heliopolis Towers. $112.00 a night. Thank you Trip Advisor! Its close to the Aiport so that relieves some of my 4 a.m in Cairo anxiety and its 5 star...Me happy. Though I am still having no wife anxiety.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gettin there...

So this thing is coming together. Will be having one hell of a long travel day getting there. L.A to Paris. Paris to Athens. Athens to Cairo. I get into to Cairo at 2:45 a.m. 17 hours of flying. By the time I roll out of customs it will be 4 a.m. I've already had a few anxiety attacks over getting a cab in Cairo at that hour. But I'm doin it.....

I'm finally starting to cram in all of my study before going. 3 weeks isn't even close to enough time to become even a novice Egyptologist. I really find it much more meaningful to know what you are looking at before getting to a site.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Getting this Sudan stamp is going to be very challenging I think....


Yawn. The obsession is kicking in. Reading every hotel review 3 times over. Every tour, every restaraunt, every pyramid I just have to see. The plan changes by the nanosecond. For now I fly into Paris on a reccesssion era business class ticket. (I usually fly coach). The economy is presenting me with all kinds of cheaper travel options. 

As of this morning at 3 am when my brain finally shut down the plan is to fly into Paris on the red eye, change planes and spend another 7 hours going straight to Cairo. No layover. Just charge through. I am hoping that since the first 10 hours will be in Business Class ill have the strength to do another 7 hours from there without a rest. I may have to rethink that though. 

As of today its going to be 4 nights in Cairo, 3 nights in Luxor, and 3 nights in the extreme south to Aswan. If it can be done I want to somehow make it across the border into the Sudan and get that oh so valuable extra passport stamp! Hey how many people ya know been to the Sudan?!

I will end the trip with 3 nights kickin it in Paris probably wandering Museums and art shops on the Left Bank. This will change, I am sure, every day knowing me.


I have been suffering from an extreme case of travel withdrawal for some time now. In the past, when I worked  as a prosecutor, I was able to travel sometimes up to 4 weeks a year all on the government dime. Since going into private practice I have tried to keep up the same pace. But it's a challenge. Leaving for distant places now means going on my dime. It's a sacrifice. 

My wife and I have travelled quite a bit as a couple for the first 4 years of our relationship. Sadly I am going to be doing this one alone for now. I have been given the spousal blessing to make this next and overdue adventure to Egypt, with a layover in Paris on my own. Her work won't allow for much time off. 

It's been a long time since I travelled solo and I don't know how I am going to react. Ill miss my wife for sure and probably will cry like a baby in my hotel room at night, while blogging and emailing away. 

Now I start my process which, in reality began months ago.  I am a voracious reader and researcher when it comes to planning these trips. I try to get my hands on the best guide books for starters. I am more of a Frommers than a Lonely Planet guy. This is usually where I start reading. Depending on where I am going I always like to double source things before committing to them.  So I might also grab Fodors or a DK travel book. I think Frommers and the net should get me through this trip. There's plenty of information on Egypt all over the web. 

Booking my flight always begins with which is not a slave to the corporate hotel chains and large air carriers. This website truly will find you the best fare and has far more airlines that can be found there. Expedia is a con. Never book on Expedia or Travelocity. But do use them for research only. 

Ill use Expedia for researching accommodations as well. But my go to site for lodging is always This is more of a reviewing site, but all the reviews come from travellers so there is no bias. If my Hotel or B and B has had bad reviews on TA I never book it. Never. 

So today I committed to Egypt. The travel industry is hurting as well so prices are down. I will be able to do business class through to Paris with a savings of a couple thousand dollars. Today I bought my ticket, using the airlines web site, and locked in two weeks in Egypt, with a couple days in Paris coming back. More to come.....Lots of reading to do. 

Chapter 1 - Study and Logistics for Egypt