Sunday, 25 January 2009

Leaving Egypt - Ready For Sudan

The lazy days are over. Today, Sunday, we spend our last night in Aswan before we take the ferry to Wadi Halfa, Sudan. Our stay was very relaxed. We've felt that we needed to prepare for Sudan. There are many reports from other travellers who visited Sudan. They experienced a beautiful landscape and friendly people. The problem is that the country has very basic standards. Hotels, Hostels and transport are rare or even non existent. We'll be happy to find a bed and a place to eat. Of course, because of the limited options, we expect to pay a high price for basic service.

On Monday we are on the ferry for a minimum of 17 hours followed by an extensive time at the Sudanese immigration. After the immigration we'll try to find a hotel and register at the police. After that I just have to get a photo permit and then we are ready for Sudanese life. Our travel time will be approximately 1-2 weeks. I look forward to post the next update in Khartoum in a week.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Aswan (أسوان)

It's time to relax! After a busy travel from Austria over countries around the Mediterranean sea we have finally a few days without a full schedule. Aswan, formerly Assuan, is a pretty nice town. As all big cities in Egypt it is located on the Nil. Its the most southern city of Egypt close to the border of Sudan. We found a nice hostel where we enjoy the luxury comfort of a big bed and TV in the room. Also the breakfast, served on the roof terrace, is great. But after Monday this will change. We'll take the ferry to Sudan. Luckily we got tickets for the first class. There is a high demand for these tickets because there are only 24 of them. The ferry company has reported a demand for 84 tickets but no chance for the poor people on the waiting list. In second class there is only a shared couch for six people and space is limited. The travel time will be 17 hours (of course only on a perfect day).

Tomorrow we'll take a tour to Abu Simbel and the high dam. The journey starts at 4am and we'll be back at the late afternoon. Apart from this particular travel the security situation is quite interesting in Egypt. We have recognised in every big city we've been a massive police presence. They come in different forms: Tourist police, Armed forces, private guards and secret police. Even if buses go to common sunset locations they will be discreetly protected by armed police. This police and military presence is omnipresent. You always run into some kind of guards. Most of them seriously bored.


A everyday's highlight for us is to find a restaurant. As we don't want to go to tourist traps our goal is to find the best local eateries. Of course this can be sometimes very, very difficult. We take advise from our guidebook, ask people for directions but most of the time we run in circles for a good restaurant and can't find one. The food we've ate in Egypt was quite unspectacular. Common people like chicken with rice, falafel, sish kebab, meat with tomato sauce and so on. Spices are not intensive, rather mild and hot food is served warm. Most Egyptians perhaps consider Kushari, rice, lentils, and macaroni, to be the national dish. I ate stuffed pigeons twice. It's quite tasty and the fact that the pigeon is stuffed makes it a full meal. Bread is the backbone of Egyptian cuisine. Bread is consumed at almost all Egyptian meals. The local bread is a form of hearty, thick, glutenous pita bread. Every region has its own taste and has a lot of variants.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Luxor (لأقصر )

After our camel adventure in Cairo it was time to go on travel again. We have reserved a first class cabin on the train. It was quite spacey as you can see and really first class. The ride was through the night and we've arrived after 10 hours in the morning. We instantly found a hotel where we've stayed the first night. Located in the middle of the town it had a terrace with a great view.

There are two main sites in Luxor city: Temple of Karnak and Luxor temple. These ruins are amazing and surprisingly well preserved and renovated. Running through the city is a tough job. Because of the hundreds of thousand tourists every year there is a lot of hassle and annoyances.

Tomorrow we'll get up early for a flight with a balloon over the necropolis and sights of the west bank.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Cairo (القاهرة)

Finally in Africa! From Syria we took the ferry to the Sinai peninsula. Surprisingly the listed price in our "Lonely Planet" has doubled to 70US$. It seems the price of the ferry has doubled as also the travel time. The welcome to Egypt was quite exciting and confusing. We had to pay the visa fees and get our passports back that we've handed over to the immigration on the ship. It was a big crowd of passengers and porters trying to stuff their goods together and pass the customs. We finally found the bank to pay the visa and also the immigration office in a barrack where we got the passports back. The ride to Cairo was quick and almost without troubles. Just every half an hour a police control and a friendly chit chat about documents.

Our welcome to Cairo was impressive. A mixture of excitement of sinning in a taxi in high speed through crazy traffic and heavy smog. The air at the first day was full of dust and exhaust gases. It was very difficult to breath and I just wanted to get away soon. Good that we had to do some things in Cairo so we had to stay to Saturday. On Friday our main task was to get a ferry ticket from Egypt to Sudan. That is the only opportunity to cross the border. To make it a bit more challenging the ferry just operates once a week on Monday and is sometimes overbooked. Of course the office was closed and we had to come again on Saturday. With a half day left we've decided to visit the pyramids of Giza.

Visiting the pyramids was amazing for us. Not only the impressive buildings also our choice of transport was great. We rented two camels and a horse for a trip round the pyramids. I've insisted of taking pictures at sunset and so we had a 3,5h long ride in the dessert. It's great fun to ride a camel - slow and comfortable! The only negative aspect was all the plastic and other waste in the dessert. It seems that also here nobody really cares of waste treatment.

Today night we take the train to Luxor. We'll spend a few nights there before we travel to our final stop in Egypt: Aswan

Thanks to all your comments on this blog, picasa and facebook! As time is always limited for me in the internet cafe's I love to read all comments but seldom have time to reply.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Petra And A Quick Travel Overview

We are now in the middle east and tomorrow we will continue our trip and set foot on Africa. For all who have joined shortly this blog I'll give you a quick overview of the travel route.

On January 2nd we've left Austria by train to reach Cape town 90 days later. We will use all kind of transport to get there except a plane. Until now we have visited or transited the following countries:


The next countries will be:

South Africa

This is more or less a rough estimate of the route. We are flexible to react on the political and social situations on the way and we will decide what's best for us. Tomorrow we'll take a ferry to Egypt and stay there for a while. Our most important mission is to get a ferry ticket from Egypt to Sudan. It's important to get the tickets as quickly as possible because the ferry operates once a week only. We have to enter Sudan quickly because of the strict visa regulations. The visa is only valid for 30 days and it was quite a job to get it issued in Austria.

Today I will finally be able to upload the first photos to the picture gallery :))

Monday, 12 January 2009

Jordan (الأردنّ)

Today I'm not able to upload an image at all. We arrived in Petra and the internet cafe offers very basic connectivity. Yesterday we have spent our final day in Syria. We took a 3 hours bus ride to Palmyra. The most interesting thing is that it has been terrible cold in the dessert and even started to rain. Beside of the weather the ruins are amazing and very fascinating. From a nearby hill we had a pretty good overview over the whole area. Back in Damascus we had our final dinner in a very nice traditional restaurant. Unfortunatley I felt so cold from our trip to Palmyra that I just was able to eat a lentil soup - once again. Walter was quite satisfied with his dinner but Edith didn't like the veal liver at all - Too intensive and too strange.

Today, in the early morning, we took a taxi from Damascus to Aman. The drop-of at the taxi stand for the long distance taxis was very interesting. As soon as we've stopped to taxi drivers started fighting who get's us to drive to Aman. They shouted, pushed and tried to get our attention to choose one of them. We took the guy with the best car and a good deal. The ride was agreed for 700SPund per person. After half an hour driving we've stopped at rest station and prepared the papers for the boarder. Suddenly our driver wanted to have more money from us because he claimed that the cab is not full and he wanted to take additional persons with us. After some argumentations he was fine with the previous deal and we continued to Jordan.

Now we are for our first night in Petra and want to stay for three nights before we continue to Egypt. Tomorrow we will walk to the extensive area of Petra and do a lot of hiking. If we are lucky we find tomorrow a better internet cafe and I finally can upload some pictures.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Damascus Day 2

Internet access in Syria is quite an experience. Yesterday I had to learn that certain sites are fully or temporarily blocked by the state. Common sites like Facebook are not available at all. Blogs, like this one, are sometimes accessible - enshallah. It is also quite challenging to access Arabic websites as you can see on the screenshot. On the door to the internet cafe there is a sign that you should present your ID for some unimportant formalities ;-) Nevertheless yesterday the guy beside me on the neighboring computer had an interesting chat with a member of the Hamas.

Our day today was quite relaxed. We walked through the souq and also got lost. The best thing to do is to have a Turkish coffee, have a chit chat and keep on walking again until you get to a bigger street. We also have visited the national museum. It is in a very, very poor condition. It doesn't reflect the long history of this country at all. Later, Edith and I have been at a traditional cafe. That was again a great experience. Over hundred men sitting in this cafe, playing checkers or backgammon, smoking shisha and chitchatting.

The Israelis are not very welcomed in this area. Since Turkey we have noticed an outrage against the war against the Hamas. The media is full of dead or wounded children and we have been often asked about our opinion in this conflict. There are also Israeli flags on the street you can step on...

At the end of the day we had a highlight. We found a nice restaurant with a big menu. I decided to try some Syrian specialties: lamb brain on lemon with mixed salad and raw, minced meat. It was quite interesting to eat and made a great picture. I hope to upload it soon. Tomorrow we will travel to a place called Palmyra. It is located 3 hours from Damascus and is a spectacular ancient site. We will return for the last evening in Damascus before we depart do Amman/Jourdan at the next morning.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Damascus (دمشق)‎

Today we've arrived in Damascus. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In the morning we've explored Hama. It is located between Aleppo in the north and Damascus in the middle of Syria. After a walk through the historic center we had a break at a small bakery. It was great fun to enjoy the fine pastries and drinks they had to offer. The price was unbelievable cheap - Breakfast for 1.5Eur. Before we've organized the bus trip to Damascus we had a break at a very traditional cafe I've found it on a late night walk. At night it was crowded with men only! The coffee was great: Turkish coffee with a bit cardamon makes a fine Berber style coffee. In this region it is also common to smoke a shisha (water pipe).

It was a bit difficult to find a budget hotel in Damascus. Either the hotels are full or overpriced. At the end we've managed to stay in a small hotel with basic services but a nice entrance hall. As we've arrived at the late afternoon there was enough time for the first city walks. At the perfect picture time (sunset) we found the great Umayyad mosque. This is the picture above.

Friday is the holy day and so the wide spread souq area was almost empty - No open shops - no people. But some streets still have been very busy with locals and tourists from all over the world. Tomorrow, Saturday, we will see the difference when we discover the three different quarters of the Damascus: Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim. We are now still in time with our travel plan and will stay here for three nights.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Out Of Europe - Now In Syria

This is my first blog entry on the road to cape town. We had a busy week travelling through Europe and Turkey. It's quite interesting to write on a computer with Arabic windows XP. We are now at Cairo hotel in the little town Hama.

Until now we had a very smooth travel. We started last week at centrail railway station in Graz. The ride to Istanbul was two days and the route was through Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and finally Turkey. We found quite quickly an affordable hotel nearby the railway station. The train ride was very relaxing. With slow speed and antique trains we left good old Europe behind.

Turkey was great and easy to travel. After two days sightseeing we took a "direct" bus to the city of Aleppo in northern Syria. We had to learn that direct means only to change the bus two times and the overall length of the ride got longer and longer. In total 22 hours. We where lucky to already have a visa to syria. The time of the boarder was two hours endless waiting.

In Aleppo we've stayed at a hotel in middle of the old city. It was much more eays to communicate with the locals because English is more common then French. Staying for two days was a good decision. It's great to get fascinated by colourful souqs and the arabic surroundings. We even had our first experiance in a hamam (bath house). Of course Edith had to go to an other hamam then Walter and me because of the strict gender separation. Getting scrubbed and washed was a very new and strange experiance - but it was worth it! We felt very clean and relaxed afterwards.

After Aleppo we've got a private driver to reach the remote sights of upper Syria. Wonderful old ruins and a great landscape. It's better to express these impressions with pictures. I'll upload them as soon as I get a faster Internet connection in the next city.

Tomorrow, after a city stroll, we take a bus to Damascus. As Friday is the holy day in Islam we don't yet know if it will be easy to get a bus but as usual we are very positive about that. We all fell very comfortable on the trip and can't hardly await the adventures of the next day.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Ready To Go - Goodbye Austria

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Before I leave tomorrow I'm now going through my backpack. I've never been on such a long, continuous road trip before. Usually I have a home base where I can leave some stuff behind. The challenge now is to get rid of some things to reduce the total weight. Especially in the beginning the backpack will be full because of the cold climate. Even in Istanbul the temperatures are below zero now.

Tomorrow the journey starts at 18:30 at the central train station in Graz. The next stops are Zagreb, Belgrade, Bulgaria and finally Istanbul. We'll arrive probably on Sunday at the central station and will stay there for a night. Then we have to find transportation to Syria. Depending on what we get the destination could be Aleppo or Damascus - enshallah!

I try to maintain this blog as often as possible. I just don't know how easy it will be to find an internet cafe in the middle of Africa. But that is also a reason for the travel - to find out how it is and share the experience!