24 November 2010


Sorry that it took this long for me to post about Egypt. This week/the coming weeks are going to be hell on wheels, and Tuesday was my panic day. Enough with the excuses. Egypt!

Egypt was probably one of the coolest places that I've ever been. Ever. It's just a shame that we couldn't have stayed longer than the 6 days that we were there, although I talked to Hilla about it, and I don't think it would have been quite as fun had we stayed any longer. This was primarily because are hosts were the coolest people ever, and since it was a holiday, neither of them had work or school so they were able to spend the entire time with us driving us around and taking us to do cool things. Had we stayed for any longer, they would've had to go back to their normal lives and we would've been left to fend for ourselves while they were gone. Moral of the story: we stayed the perfect amount of time.

So our hosts: We stayed with two guys named Mark and Eddie who are both friends of one of my friends, Kate, who had studied abroad through EAP at the American University in Cairo a couple of years ago. After buying our plane tickets I had contacted her asking if she knew of anyone who could show us around, and she put me in contact with these two guys. Best...idea...ever. They were both incredibly awesome and spent the entire week showing us around Cairo, and some other parts of Egypt (as will be detailed later) and planning what kind of foods we were going to eat while we were there. It was also great because Eddie was Egyptian, so he not only spoke the language and would get us out of getting scammed and ripped off, but he also drove like an Egyptian, knew all of the places to go, and how to get, there, and we also go to stay at his parent's house in Giza. Mark, was American but had come back to AUC after studying abroad there to get his masters in journalism. Both of them were really cool.

As previously mentioned, we ended up staying at Eddie's parents' house in Giza, which was right outside of the Pyramids. Apparently you used to be able to see the Pyramids from the roof of the house, but a couple of months ago someone had started building an apartment building right in front of the view, so you couldn't see them anymore, but it didn't matter because we would drive down the street and be able to see them again. Anyways, the house was awesome, as it was part of an apartment complex sort of thing that his grandparents had built that had 3 floors occupied by family members and a bottom floor that housed their four golden retrievers. We got an entire wing of the apartment to ourselves, which consisted of a huge living room with TV, office, bedroom, kitchen, and two bathrooms, all hidden behind this crazy secret bookcase door so that you couldn't see that part of the house upon entering the apartment. It was nice because it meant that we could pretty much be as loud as we wanted and it didn't really matter that much, so we'd stay up until 2am and listen to music, drink wine, and watch movies.

Upon our arrival into Cairo, which was bizarre in and of itself because its completely surrounded by sand which looks really bizarre when flying over it, we were met outside of baggage by Eddie and Mark holding signs that said "We are Mark and Eddie!" and "You are Sarah Giffin and company!" We were then immediately taken into Cairo to go drink beer on a faluca that we rented for an hour. It was pretty much a long looking sailboat that the driver/steerer guy would sail back and forth across the Nile while we just sat there on little couch/benches and drink beer.

That, is a faluca (felluca?). Awesome? Indeed.

So the awesomeness of the faluca only started out what awesomeness was to come, which I will number below, and then go into more detail for the really important things. Anyways, here are the super cool things that we did:

1) Road on a faluca.
2) Ate a traditional Egyptian breakfast of foul (pronounced fool) at a restaurant so close to the pyramids that we were across the street from them and could see them as we ate.
3) Went to the Pyramids in Giza. Oh...my...god...
4) Went to the national archaeology museum which was so full of stuff that an entire floor was dedicated to sarcophagi and the stelai on the bottom floor were basically hiding behind support pillars.
5) Went to a bar frequented by the American ex-pat community where I experienced my first pull-tab soda can. I screamed when I opened it because it took me by surprise.
6) Ate koshary, a dish of tiny macaroni noodles, lentils, fried onions, tomato sauce, garbonzo beans, and a super spicy chili sauce. Cilantro might have also been involved.
7) Slept on the beach at the Red Sea. Also swam in the Red Sea. Also got eaten alive by sand fleas.
8) Ate at a legit American diner in Maadi called Lucilles that was voted by Time Magazine as having the best hamburger in the world. I got a bbq bacon burger. The bbq sauce was homemade and the bacon was beef bacon, which was an acceptable substitute. They also made pancakes with maple syrup *gasp*, chicken fried steak, Waffle-House style waffles, and raspberry iced-tea. There were also free refills.
9) Ate at a fancy Egyptian restaurant where I was stuffed full of things like rabbit, hummus, chicken, foul, and where i also ate an entire pigeon stuffed with rice.
10) Went to the Coptic quarter of Cairo and saw the Coptic Church of Saint George.
11) Went to the Nileometer which used to measure the height of the water on the Nile. I then sat and stared at the Nile in amazement for a long while.
12) Walked on a bridge built by Eiffel and was then followed around by a bunch of small children saying "WELCOME TO CAIRO"
13) Went to Cairo's version of the Grand Bazaar and drank tea at a coffee shop that hadn't closed for the night in over 200 years.
14) Went to Alexandria for a day and got to sea the ocean...and a fort!
15) Ate at a restaurant called "This is Sheren, the Fish Restaurant That Everyone's Been Talking About" in Alexandria. At least, I think it was called Sheren, I don't really remember. Anyways, we ate a 1/2 kilo of shrimp, 1/4 kilo of calamari, 4 fried fish, 2 large grilled fish, a salad, 3 orders of tahini sauce, bread, and 3 Cokes and payed about $5 each.
16) Drank what could only be described as mooshed up mango in a cup, and downed a big ol' glass of sugar cane juice.
17) Ate donuts for the first time in months from a place called House of Donuts which was associated with the American Embassy in Cairo. Apparently the Americans really needed their donuts.
18) Ate at an awesome pizza joint where we had Mexican pizza, pizza with salmon on it, and lemon meringue pie and cherry cheesecake. We called it better than sex cake.
19) Got to see large groups of lambies bunched in the side of, and in the middle of the main roads, waiting to be bought to be sacrificed/slaughtered for the holiday. We then had the joy of driving down the street with a whole lot of blood in it. Also weird: cars with bloody handprints all over them. Eddie said that they act as blessings. I thought it was a little weird/morbid.
20) Ate at an awesome Thai restaurant that was in conjunction with the Thai embassy and which imported all of its stuff from Bangkok.

I just realized that most of my trip involved me eating things.

I don't know if I can really describe in detail everything that happened on this trip. I think that I would need an entire novel to write it all down. Luckily I figured out how to directly link my photo albums to my blog, so they can be looked at easily. Hurrah!

I think that's all that can really be said about Egypt. I can't really put a lot of it into words. The trip was amazing. We did a lot of stuff that we couldn't otherwise have done without our awesome tour guides. I need to find a way to get back.

08 November 2010

Food Adventure of the Week: Kokoreç


So that is kokoreç (Co-Co-Rech). "What is kokoreç?" you may be asking yourself, and how does this count as a food adventure since it looks pretty normal and a little bit like ground and grilled chicken? That's because it's not chicken, its lamb or goat. Oh yeah, and it's also the small intestine of said animal, wrapped around a spit and then roasted over some source of heat.

Yum, doesn't that look delightful? Wikipedia says that it usually wrapped around some other organ meat like kidneys, lungs, sweetbreads (that's gland for anyone who doesn't know), or heart, but I don't think that mine had any of that stuff in it. I don't know, it might've, I'm not really sure since I couldn't exactly see what was wrapped inside of the kokoreç, nor do I think that I really want to know what was wrapped inside. Anyways, back to the intestines, they're seasoned, spit roasted, and then cut off, chopped up, and in the case of where I was, served in a lovely roll of french bread like a sandwich. You can also eat it served on a plate, or wrapped in a dürüm wrap (basically a flour tortilla).

So what was the verdict? It was super tasty! They seasoned it really really well, and it wasn't even remotely chewy, which is what I would expect from intestine. There weren't any of the gross little hairy things that you usually get with tripe, and it was so chopped up that you couldn't even tell what the hell it was. My friend Sarah said it best, that the consistency was a lot like fatty beef, soft and a little bit meaty. I feel like Andrew Zimmern would be proud of my eating weird things, and Anthony Bourdain would be proud of my eating innards.

So this all came about because Kardi, my dorm neighbor friend who took us to that place to get Maraş dondurma (icecream), likes going on food adventures and wanted to take me out to get kokoreç because I was intrigued by it. Mainly I was interested because half of the people that I talked to about it said that they loved it and then the other half just made a gross face and said that they thought it was a disgusting concept. Kardi said that most of the people who said that they hated it had actually never even tried it because they were scared/lame. I also wanted to try it because apparently it is very traditional Ottoman food, so of course I couldn't leave Turkey without eating it. So Kardi took Hilla, Sarah, and me to a kokoreç restaurant in downtown Ankara that was the recommendation of her roommate who's from Ankara and who loves kokoreç. It ended up being this bar that had the rotating intestine spits in the entryway, so you could see them making it. Because it was being served in a bar I just figured that it would be excellent bar food so I ordered a beer, some fries, and onion rings to go with my kokoreç. Kardi later told me that this is a really weird thing to do since it actually isn't considered "bar food", since it's Ottoman, and the Ottomans probably didn't drink beer with it (actually they probably didn't drink beer at all, being Muslim and all). But it did end up being good bar food in the way that someone might consider a Philly cheesesteak to be good bar food; greasy and goes great with fries and a beer. I also managed to drink good Efes for once, since their usual Pilsner tastes like Bud (gross), but their "dark" beer actually tastes a little bit like beer. So our dinner ended up being this bizarre hodgepodge of kokoreç, french fries, onion rings, stuffed muscles, calamari, beer, and then Kardi got this disgusting fermented carrot drink that tasted like drinking spicy pickle juice. She likes it though, although Sarah, Hilla, and I all made gross faces after trying it. And afterwards we finished off the night by going to Mado and buying a whole bunch of Maraş dondurma: goats milk, chocolate, and pistachio flavors, and we still had to cut them with a knife.

In a complete change of subject, this Friday I'm going to Istanbul with Hilla and Sarah to stay with Kardi and her father for a couple of days before the Korban Bayram holiday. Then Monday we're leaving for Egypt for a week to spend the holiday there. Many exciting pictures should be up in my next post after I come back from the holiday on the 21st.

Also in other news, I have less than 8 weeks until I come home. Holy crap.

02 November 2010

Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis...OH MY!

This past weekend was a 4 day holiday in observance of Republic Day on October 29th. As a result, I took it upon myself to use this time to go do some archaeology-ing! Yes, that's right, I just made up that word. As the sites around Izmir required the largest amount of time for me to visit them, due primarily to the sheer number of sites located in that area of the west coast, I decided that Izmir would be the optimal place to go to during this holiday. So as usual, I drug along Hilla and Sarah so that I wouldn't be by myself. The adventure also started out with a Pole added onto our group, and midway through a German.

The adventure begins...ON A TRAIN! Yes, a train! One of the few times that I've been on a train since I don't exactly ride trains in the US because Amtrak sucks. So Hilla, the Pole (Szymon), and I left on Wednesday evening to take an express train to Izmir so that we would arrive on Thursday morning. Since I'm in Turkey, when they say "Express Train" they actually mean "Slowest Train Possible Making Frequent Stops" so in the end the express train took about 16 hours to get to Izmir. But that's ok because we had our own couchette compartment with pull down bunkbeds and...dun dun duh...a dining car! So exciting! And not even a crappy dining car like the Amtrak trains, but a car with tables and flowers serving kebaps at way too high prices! It was all very exciting, and considerably more comfortable than a bus although it did take twice as long to get there. But at least I got to sleep lying down. The OTC sleeping pills that I took also helped.

Upon our arrival into Izmir we were greeted with this:

That's right. That is a street completely underwater. It had been raining almost continuously in Izmir for about 4 days and the streets in the low areas were so heavily inundated with water that the drains couldn't handle it so there was flash flooding. When we were walking to our hotel we had to do some creative street crossing complete with fording of road rivers, oxen dying and losing a fiddle and some sacks of flour. Sometimes we would pass stores where the store owners were having to scoop the water out of the store because the entrance was below street level. It was all very exciting. Except when my shoes soaked through. Then I was cold with wet feet. Luckily it stopped raining once we arrived, so after about an hour the water had gone down and the streets were once again passable.

The rest of the first day was lovely, wandering around Izmir, going to the archaeology and ethnography museums, getting lost on a weird street that sold mannequin parts while searching for the ancient Smyrna agora (which we never found), getting accosted by a strange man who wanted us to go into his shop, and staring at the kind of bizarre looking clock tower by the ocean. That was, until 4:00 happened, and a HUGE thunder storm rolled in. As it was warm when we left our hostel to go exploring, I was completely unprepared for rain, wearing only a scarf and sweatshirt as my warm clothing and not having an umbrella. Szymon didn't even have a jacket, but he said that he was fine because he's Polish. Hilla was the only one well prepared with both umbrella AND jacket. It didn't really matter though because once the rain started coming down we were basically soaked and had to seek refuge in the subway until it stopped raining long enough to walk under the umbrella and not get wet. After we decided that it was not quite the torrential downpour that it was at the beginning, we walked a few blocks only to find that one of the intersections that we had to cross was a raging river of water that was completely overflowing onto the sidewalk. So we took refuge again, this time inside of a candy store. I think the woman at the counter felt a little sorry for us because, after Hilla bought some Turkish delights she gave us coupons for free Turkish coffee from a little corner booth in the store. After waiting it out a little bit longer we were finally able to cross the street and make it back to our hotel. I was so excited to get changed into something dry, until I discovered that because I had left my window open before we left (it was warm and sunny then), the rain had come through the window, completely soaking my bed and my two jackets that I had left on top of my bed. I then had to go downstairs, and embarrassedly tell the desk man in very limited Turkish that my yatak (bed) was ıslak (wet) and waited for him to begrudgingly walk upstairs, flip my mattress, and get his wife to change my sheets, which she proceeded in doing while sounding like she was saying some strong words to me. It was all very embarrassing/traumatizing.

Of course the night could not have been complete without a very strange trip to a bar, which we determined was most likely a brothel partially disguised as a bar. We probably should've been suspicious at the get go since the establishment was called "Leydi Bar", but Szymon and I really wanted a beer. Upon entry, we found ourselves to be the only people in the place, although I can't imagine why as it was creepily lit only by red lamps and black lighting with a DJ doing his thing all by himself on one side of the room blasting irritating, loud, and bad Turkish pop music. And the waiters were almost overly friendly, wanting to find out where we were from, what kind of music we wanted to listen to, etc. Walking back from the bathroom I noticed that all of the tables in the middle of the room all had their chairs facing the exact same direction, towards a line of booths on one wall, which I thought was bizarre. And then the first girl walked in from the back room, wearing a gold tight dress thing with her ass barely covered by the shirt, in the highest heels that I've ever seen, and with the fakest, blondest, worst hair extensions ever. She obviously knew the guys who worked there, as she came from a back room and chatted it up with all of them. And then she just sort of sat down at one of the awkward center chairs facing away from us and began looking bored. She was then joined by another girl from the back, wearing a black corset and black shorts with her ass hanging out, who sat at another table, also looking bored. Then two older men walked into the bar, not together, and sat at different booths on the wall facing the awkward chairs and just sort of quietly sat there staring at the women. It was then that Hilla and I were convinced that we were actually in a brothel and that it was getting really awkward. The "bar" then decided to charge us out the wazoo for our beers (10TL) and for a veggie plate that we never ordered but that they set down at our table and prompted us to eat (also 10TL).

The next days were significantly less weird and a lot more awesome. On Friday Szymon, Hilla, Sarah (who joined us that morning since she had class on Thursday), and I all went to Ephesus for the day. Because it had rained so much, it was beautiful outside with all of the green, and it was relatively clear and cool, and all together much more pleasant than Thursday. The site was spectacular with a beautiful library with a two story facade, a theater with pretty good acoustics (not as good as Epidauros), and lots of antiquity...EVERYWHERE! All very exciting for me.

Us in front of the Library at Ephesus.

So beautiful and green, and with an artistically placed arch! I know. I should be a photographer when I grow up.

After hanging around Ephesus, and Szymon finding out that he had lost his wallet and calling the bus company, the police station, and anyone else who might know where his wallet was, we decided just to hang around Selçuk for a couple of hours until we could catch a train (I know! Another one!) back to Izmir. All in all it was whole-y uneventful, with the exception of Szymon finding out that his wallet was on the bus that we'd taken to Ephesus. The 3 km walk into town was quite beautiful, though, with a nice tree lined street.

For me, Saturday was the most exciting day of them all because I got to go to Pergamum, which I have been wanting to go to for about 3 years now, ever since I first saw pictures of the theater in my Classics 17A class with Crawford H. Greenewalt Jr., bad-ass extraordinaire. And oh how spectacular it was! Again, it was super green and beautifully clear, but it was also almost completely empty with the exception of a tour bus full of Germans and ourselves. This time, Sarah, Hilla, and I were joined by Florian (German) because Szymon had to go home to do a take home midterm. The site was unbelievable with the most amazing view of the plains below, and so quiet because there was hardly anybody there. And I got to sit for a long time in the theater and enjoy every single minute of it.

Oh my god that theater is so awesome! Because of the shape of the hill, instead of building the theater around, like most Greek theaters are build, they made up for it by building up so as to still fit a lot of people into it. It has kind of iffy acoustics, but the steepness of it all is quite dizzying.

What it looks like sitting midway down the theater. So steep and death defying! At the end of the stage area (skene) there's a cliff. Awesome? I think yes.

The theater looking up from the stage area. I'm still totally obsessing about this place.

A kind of crappy picture of me because of where the sun is, but you can see how awesome the view was from on top of the acropolis.

After walking all around the acropolis, we went down to the Aesclipion, which is where there was an ancient hospital and medical school. The funny thing is that, in ancient times, you couldn't go into the Aesclipion if you were dying or pregnant because it was also a temple. But those are the times when you most need to go to the hospital. Anyways, there were all of these underground areas where people used to sleep and hope that the cure for their ailment would come to them in a dream. The sleeping chamber was this really cool, multi-lobed underground building with vaulted ceiling that was caving in, allowing the sun to shine into it.

After that we went to the Red Basilica, which was not to particularly exciting, other than that it had big red brick walls that were all crumbly. For the day we managed to rent a taxi to take us around to the different areas, since they were all over different parts of the city, which ended up not being that bad, as it cost us 60TL for about 3 hours of renting.

Sunday Hilla and I decided to go to Sardis since I figured that CHG Jr., bad-ass extraordinaire would be sad if I didn't go and visit the site that he's been running for the past 30 years. It ended up being quite the adventure, getting dropped off on the side of the road with our bags, walking the 1.5km to the site through town, and then getting to the Temple of Artemis site and having it almost all to ourselves with the exception of a bus of Swedish highschoolers and a bus of Koreans. The temple itself was pretty awesome, as its a monumental sized temple (bigger than your average Greek temple) in a lovely location, and with Lydian tumuli (for tumuli, see Gordion entry) around the area.

For size reference, I caught a picture of Hilla standing next to one of the elevated columns. And these aren't even half their actual height. They're HUGE! And the design work on the column bases is so intricate and beautiful, I don't even know how someone was able to do it without messing up.

I really like this picture of me, also because I'm hanging out with an IONIC CAPITAL! So exciting!

Food adventure for the weekend: FISH ON FIRE OH MY GOD!

So I read in my Lonely Planet travel guide that there's a fish restaurant in Izmir called Deniz Restaurant that serves this crazy fish where its served in a salt block and then "broken dramatically at your table". After coming back from Pergamum Florian, Hilla, Sarah, and I decided that it would be a good idea to find out what exactly this "broken dramatically at your table" entailed. We got to the restaurant, and after standing awkwardly at the front of the restaurant, waiting to be noticed, a waiter finally came up to us and we asked if they still served this salt block fish on their menu. He said of course, and we went into the restaurant to pick our fish that we were going to split between us. We chose sea bass at his recommendation. I have a feeling that he knew that we were only there for the fish because when we sat down he said "So do you guys want to order any sides at all, or do you just want to wait for the fish? I suggest sides since it will take about half an hour to cook". Not wanting to look like complete barbarians in a fancy fish restaurant, especially since we were all wearing rain jackets and polar fleeces while everyone else was wearing blazers and such, we agreed to order a salad and a yogurt dipping sauce to eat while waiting for the fish. Waiting for the fish was a little miserable as we were sitting outside and it was really, really, REALLY cold, and we were too scared to ask for blankets, which they were periodically giving to patrons. But oh, when the fish came, how dramatic it was! First of all, it was completely covered in a thick packing of salt which had hardened into a crust on the outside of the fish. And then they lit that salt crust ON FIRE and brought it out to our table ON FIRE in front of everyone. I'm pretty sure that everyone else was jealous that they hadn't thought to even ask about this on fire fish since it wasn't listed on the menu. Or we were just those assholes who were disturbing everyone else's peaceful dinner by ordering an on fire fish. You know, like those people who order baked Alaska who everyone sort of hates because they've disrupted the peace by ordering something that is on fire, but then everyone is jealous of because they never thought to order baked Alaska. Yeah, kinda like that. Anyways, after the fire had died down, the waiter had to come out and crack open the salt crust with A KNIFE AND HAMMER. We all just sort of stared open mouthed at him while he hacked away at the salt crust and took apart our fish for us. And oh, it was so delicious! The salt had kept it nice and moist, and it was tasty and not fishy at all. It was also served with a yummy lemony sauce. And in the end the meal cost each of us about 39TL each (about $30 in America speak), which I don't think is all that expensive. Plus the entertainment of it all was well worth it.