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Egypt - wrap up · 3129 days ago

Since the Egypt story has been broken into multiple posts, I decided to pull links to everything together here.

Part 1: My Trip to Egypt

Part 2: There’s lots of stone in Egypt

Part 3: Sharm el Shaken

Chris’s colorful commentary at Duffergeek.com

and finally…

Travelling Home

Around 5:30pm, we gathered to get back on a bus and drove out into the desert to eat dinner at a bedouin camp. As it turns out, this was a very “touristy” experience rather than seeming authentic in any way. It was somewhat entertaining, though, and gave us all a chance to say our goodbyes to everyone since this was the last time that most of the group would be together (about a dozen people stayed in Sharm el Sheikh, and many people were taking alternate flights home).

After the “bedouin” dinner, we boarded the buses (for the last time for Chris, Josh, and I), drove to the airport, and began the long trek home. The flight from Sharm el Sheikh to Cairo is a short one (only about an hour). In Cairo, we had to get our checked luggage, drag it over to the international terminal, and check in to a 3:00am flight to Amsterdam. After the five-hour flight to Amsterdam (I was actually able to sleep on the plane for the first time!), we had a four and one-half hour layover followed by a ten-hour flight back to Seattle. It’s a long trek home. Perhaps the only interesting part of this trek is that we left Sharm el Sheikh at 11:35pm (1:35pm PST) and arrived in Seattle at just before 1:00pm the next day. By travelling from the Sinai peninsula (in Asia) to Cairo (in Africa) to Amsterdam (in Europe) to Seattle (in North America), we have visited four continents in 24 hours. Very cool!

All-in-all, this was an experience not to be missed. If the experience in Germany in Fall of 2004 seemed like the Best Disney ever, then Egypt is the “Dirtiest Disney ever™”, but it is an amazing place. The sense of ancient history here permeates everything, largely because most of the country is still missing was we think of as modern conveniences. I took a total of around 3,500 photos on this trip (about a thousand more than any previous trip that I have been on), all shot on my Canon 5D (and most shot with the amazingly versatile 24-105mm f/4L IS lens). I am hoping that I have a few hundred good shots out of these. As I make progress on processing these photos, you can be sure that they will be posted on the site.

 

Egypt - Sharm el Shaken · 3130 days ago

Continuing the story…

The next day the cruise ship travelled up the Nile and stopped at Kom Ombo. We got off of the ship and went to visit another magnificent temple with amazing artwork and hieroglyphs. After visiting Kom Ombo for several hours, we went back to the ship and had lunch while the ship moved further up the Nile to Edfu. In Edfu we got off of the boat and split the entire group up into sets of four people to ride horse-and-buggies to the temple at Edfu. This was a pretty harrowing ride through the streets of Edfu that ended in yet another large, ancient temple to be explored (I am starting to actually get bored of ancient Egyptian temples at this point). Dinner was back on the boat. That evening, Bob Brier told us some stories about ancient Egypt (mostly focusing on Tut Ankh Amon) and we took quite a few pictures of the sunset on the Nile from the deck.

The next morning, we arrived in the city of Luxor. Looking out of the window of my cabin, I could see hot air balloons floating above the area on the west bank of the Nile at sunrise. We boarded smaller boats to cross the Nile to the west bank and explored yet another Egyptian temple (the Ramesseum) before going further and visiting the Valley of the Kings (where, presumably, no photography is allowed, but we ran across other tour groups with cameras). We spent a few hours wandering through the valley and going inside several of the underground tombs. Some of them were absolutely amazing with incredible artwork from the Old Kingdom period. I wish that I could have taken pictures. After leaving the Valley of Kings, we drove the buses to an alabaster factory in a small, decrepit-looking village. Many of us took a lot of pictures of the village (and the people) while others did some shopping for stoneware. The level of poverty that many of the Egyptians live in is amazing, but according to Bob, this is actually a rather well-off town. Apparently, they keep living in squalor because 1) they always have, and 2) it is easier to get money from tourists that way. Some of the members of our group were “attacked” by large groups of kids that went nuts at the sight of pens, stickers, balloons, and “bakh shish” (tips… money!). It was quite an experience. After leaving the town, we returned to the boat and were free for the rest of the day.

That evening, a smaller group of us decided to go out into the city of Luxor and visit the marketplace. We walked for a while to find the market (and were clearly following people that did not know where we were going). We ended up wandering through an area of the market that sold vegetables and meats (with vendors trying to get us to buy goat heads and things of that nature). At the end of an hour-long trek through the winding maze of the market, Josh looked at his GPS that he had been carrying with him and pointed out that we had made a complete circle. After some more arguing, the women that we were following became convinced that they finally knew where to go, so we continued following and in about half an hour we were there. “There” turned out to be a cluster of shops much like just about every other that we had seen around the market, but I guess that some of the members of our group knew the owner from previous visits. After hanging out around the shops for about an hour, a few of us started heading back to the ship, following a different (but more obvious) path. The path that we followed took us by the Temple of Luxor. Now that is was well after dark, the entire temple was lit up and we used this opportunity to take a ton of pictures, a few of which might even turn out.

The next morning, those who were interested had an opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride (the same balloons that I had seen the previous morning). About 20 of us took a smaller boat across the Nile again and then took a small bus to a field where the balloon was waiting for us. We somehow crammed all of us (along with the pilot) onto the balloon (the basket of the balloon was separated into five sections) and after a bit of heat that felt like it was singing the top of my head we were up in the sky. This is the first time that I had been in a hot air balloon and the experience was pretty incredible. We floated over the Colossi and saw the temple of Ramesseum from a very different vantage point. Most of the land that we floated over was farmland (lots of sugarcane), but we also floated over small dirty clusters of buildings with kids waving up at us (the only time that the kids were not asking for bakh shish!) and small clusters of farm animals. The ride eventually ended in a muddy sugarcane field that had been recently burned (their form of crop rotation). We had to wait in the balloon for a while while the “ground crew” caught up with us and pulled the balloon to a drier area of the field so that we could get out without walking through shin-deep mud. It was quite an experience.

With a handful of additional bus and boat rides, we finally caught up with the main group as they were exploring the Temple of Karnak. Big temple. Cool obelisks. Lots of more stone and hieroglyphs. Hmmm… After a couple of hours we left and rode the buses to the Temple of Luxor (the same one that Chris, Josh, and I had photographed with all of the lights the night before). By now I was getting very tired of taking pictures of columns, statues, stone, and hieroglyphs so I didn’t take that many pictures (although there was one chamber with light coming through the ceiling that might produce some good shots). After this temple (the last one… yeah!), we ate lunch at a hotel in Luxor and were then supposed to go into the market (yes, the same one that we had visited the evening before) to take more pictures. At this point, I was tired of taking pictures and about a third of the group ended up hanging out in a cafe and relaxing until it was time to leave.

Leaving involved a long trek of getting back on the buses, driving to the airport, getting on a plane to Sharm el Sheikh (on the Sinai peninsula), getting on more buses, and driving for three hours to a small village near St. Catherine’s monastery. It was cold. Very cold. Below freezing cold. We were staying in this village at a hotel that reminded me more of summer camp (lots of small, mostly-disconnected buildings with a big central eating place looking over the whole place). The rooms had heaters, but they were largely ineffective. The rooms were about 60 degrees and the beds were extremely uncomfortable. After the previous day’s escapades (it was now about one o’clock in the morning) I was so exhausted that I fell asleep in spite of the discomfort of the room. A small set of people (maybe about a third of the total group) got up by 3:30am (just a couple of hours of sleep) to climb over 3,500 steps to reach the top of Mt. Sinai by dawn. I believe that they all made it (surprisingly), but many of them rode camels back down (and regretted that, too). That side-trek seemed a bit insane to me – I wasn’t that interested in climbing about thirty stories of stairs in below-freezing temperatures and the dark just to say that I had reached the top.

In the morning (or rather, later that morning) the rest of the group boarded a bus to visit the monastery. St. Catherine’s is a pretty interesting place to visit. It has the most valuable collection of old books and manuscripts outside of the Vatican. There is a museum that displays many icons and artifacts that have been gathered here, but no photography is allowed in the most interesting parts of the monastery. The group members that had climbed Mt. Sinai in the morning only arrived at the monastery just as we were departing, so they didn’t get a chance to take photos there. When we left, we were treated to another three-hour return bus ride to Sharm el Sheikh to stay there overnight.

We stayed at a Marriot on the beach in Sharm el Sheikh. This was the nicest of all of the places that we stayed on this trip. The rooms were clean and spacious and mine had a balcony that overlooked the pool (which, unfortunately, was basically empty because the water was frigid while we were there). After settling in a bit, a bunch of us headed out in the evening to find a place to eat. We started wandering down a path along the beach and eventually cut through one of the hotels to the main street. That is when I finally got a full sense of Sharm el Sheikh. This city is nothing like anything else that we have seen in Egypt. Sharm el Sheikh reminded me more of Las Vegas (but with beaches and fewer casinos) than any of the decrepit (whether large or small) cities that we had visited. We ate dinner at a falafel restaurant and headed back to the hotel for the night.

The next day was basically a free day until the evening, so I got to sleep in for the first time on this entire trip. Many members of the group actually decided to get up early anyway and take part in one of the many available activities (snorkeling, scuba, glass-bottom boat, etc.). The rest of us just hung out around the hotel, got some rest, played some beach volleyball, and ate lunch. In the early afternoon, while I was hanging out in my room, the building suddenly shook violently. The shaking lasted for a few seconds and then stopped. I had been in earthquakes before, but none of them came on as suddenly as this one did. There were no real aftershocks though, so the excitement died down pretty quickly. For a brief moment though, Sharm el Sheikh became “Sharm el Shake”.

 

There's lots of stone in Egypt, part 2 · 3134 days ago

I haven’t had Internet access for most of this trip, so I haven’t done a great job at keeping up with the story. I’ll try and cover the last few days…

The day after the rest of the group arrived we went back to Giza. The annoying camel hustlers and trinket pushers were still everywhere, but since we pretty much stuck together in one to three larger groups, it was a lot easier to keep them at bay. We spent the morning touring through the pyramids (and listening to Bob Brier, who seems to know everything about Egypt). The day was clearer (more blue skies), so I think that many of the pictures will turn out better (I still have only glanced through the pictures and haven’t fully processed anything). After spending several hours around the pyramids, we headed up to a panoramic overlook (this was all pretty much the opposite path that we had taken the day before). At the overlook, the group paid for a few camel drivers to pose for us in front of the vast panorama of the Giza plateau. I think that I took about three hundred pictures of the same camel (and his driver). We ate lunch back at the hotel and then came back to Giza in the afternoon to take pictures of the sphinx. Several of us got bored after a while and wandered around the surrounding area, but didn’t find much of interest. That evening we ate at Cristos (a restaurant that is supposed to have a good view of the pyramids at sunset), but the food wasn’t that good, the service was worse, and they were both better than the view.

The next day we left the hotel early to visit a camel market (in a small village outside of Cairo) at dawn. This place was incredible. There were hundreds of camels all moving around pretty much freely (except that they had one of their legs tied up so that they couldn’t move too quickly… they could still run you over though). The shooting conditions were tough (between the early dawn light and the thick haze caused by all of the dust in the air), but there were good subjects to shoot everywhere. Occasionally, a buyer would wander through with an entourage of people and loud haggling would ensue. It was pretty amazing. Other than leaving that place with shoes covered in camel dung, that was a perfect place for some amazing photography. We ate lunch at a restaurant in Cairo that had decent food, but the waiters wouldn’t listen very well, and then we left to go to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities.

The museum was heavily crowded and no photos were allowed. We all strained to hear our guide talk about stuff and then eventually gave up and wandered around on our own. They had tons of ancient Egyptian artifacts from every era of Egypt’s past, but none of them were as beautiful as the display of Tut Ankh Amon’s jewelry, mask, and sarcophagus. We even went into an area that was displaying about a dozen mummies (all from Egypt’s Old Kingdom, I believe). After leaving the museum, we drove to down town Cairo to take pictures (and shop) in the bazaar.

If the camel market was a mad house, then this place was at least twice as bad. At least you knew how to avoid the camels. The market is full of twisting alleyways and dead-ends with tiny stalls filled with people pushing their wares on you (and trying to get you to pay them for anything else, like tours of “three-thousand year old spice grinders” that happen to be powered by electricity). After a while, I needed a break, so I joined a group that was leaving the market to drive to a carpet factory in a small village outside of Cairo. This trip was a complete waste of time. We took a one and one-half hour bus ride (which, somehow, only ended up being half an hour coming back… and I never saw much traffic) to a carpet store where the weavers had all gone home for the day (no great pictures here). They then proceeded to give us a big sales pitch on buying their silk carpets (which cost many thousands of dollars). Boring. I was glad when we left. We drove back to the market and had dinner at a restaurant somewhere in its bowels and then headed back to the hotel for the night.

The next morning, we got up early and flew to Aswan (a city far to the south of Cairo on the Nile river). Aswan is the spot where they built a dam to keep the annual Nile flooding in check in modern times. We checked into our rooms on our cruise ship (Radamis II) – our home for the next several days and then left the ship after lunch to explore the island Temple of Philae. This is a beautiful temple on an island in the Nile river. The temple was relocated block-by-block after the dam was built because the change in water levels caused the island that it was on originally to become submerged. The temple is filled with amazing statues, hieroglyphs, murals, and columns and was a great spot for photography. Again, I won’t go into detail about the temple (there is lots of better information online), but I should have some great shots posted when I can get around to processing the thousands of photos that I have taken in Egypt.

Well, that’s all for now. More to come later…

 

My trip to Egypt, part 1 · 3138 days ago

I am travelling with two friends from work (Chris and Josh) to Egypt to take photos on a trip organized as part of the Mentor Series by American Photo magazine. A lot of my friends and family wanted to know how things are going and we actually have Internet access in this first hotel, so I figured that I would get started…

Note: for a more succinct (and probably more colorful) version of what we are up to, check our Chris’s blog.)

The flight from Seattle to Amsterdam was loonng (especially since I couldn’t sleep). The nice thing was that the plane was not full and in the four-seat center section there were only two of us (one on each aisle seat), so we each got to spread out a bit (but not enough to lie down). I watched a couple of movies (not a great selection) and tried to doze quite a few times and they brought three meals… none of which tasted very good.

In Amsterdam, we went through customs to get out of the airport (where it was 25 degrees) and easily got a cab to take us to Steve’s house (a friend of Josh). Steve owns the bottom two stories of one of the typical residential buildings that you see all over Amsterdam. It sounds like he has done a ton of work to refurbish the inside. He lives only a couple of blocks from the Rijk’s Museum (and another block from the Van Gogh museum), and shared a wall with the world headquarters for Heineken. Strange. We talked for a bit and then decided to take a nap. Chris and I went to sleep on two sofas in a sitting room (I could fit if I curled up a bit, but it was a lost cause for Chris :) ). Josh slept downstairs in Steve’s bed. We ended up sleeping for just over four hours. I actually woke up about two hours in and wandered around for a bit, but was able to fall back to sleep quickly once I laid back down. After the nap we went for a walk (it wasn’t any warmer… I was wishing that I had my fleece insert for my jacket, but then I wouldn’t need it for the rest of the trip). We walked through some kind of street market and then back to a pub to get something to eat (which wasn’t great either, but I was hungry). After eating, we walked back to Steve’s place and he called for a cab. One cab ride later we were back in the airport waiting for the plane. Getting on the plane was easy (security is much more relaxed in Amsterdam than in the states).

After we got on the plane they announced that they were having problems with the computer and didn’t know when it would be fixed. Josh, I found out later, fell right to sleep and didn’t really wake up until we landed (missing dinner). I was in another aisle seat in a three-seat section and the woman in the center seat was trying to get me to trade places with her husband (in the center seat in front of us). I felt bad, but I declined… trying to keep my aisle seat. The computer problem didn’t take too long to fix and we took off with only about a half hour delay. After takeoff, the woman and her husband were able to move to the row behind us, so I had another empty seat beside me for that flight as well. The seats on the KLM flight (the first Boeing 777 that I had flown on) were a bit more comfortable than on the previous flight and I almost fell asleep a couple of times. I watched two more movies: Flight Plan (it’s not bad) and Madagascar. The meal that they served was much better than the previous flight (and was served with real silverware and a warm damp cloth to freshen up – much like you get in business class). There was some kind of chocolate mousse / truffle pie thing for dessert which was pretty rich, but good.

Towards the end of the flight I ended up talking to the other guy in my row. His name was Sherif and he looks Arabic, but he was born in New Jersey. He lives in Cairo now and was returning home from a month-long vacation to the United States (visiting some friends and taking a long road-trip). He strange thing was that he had been on our flight from Seattle (with the 12-hour layover in Amsterdam) as well. His friend lives in the city. He talked a lot about night life around Cairo. Even though he looked like an Arab, Sherif doesn’t speak Arabic. He works for the US embassy here as some kind of real estate manager to manage the rental properties that US citizens stay in when they are working here.

They unloaded the plane right out on the tarmac and we walked onto buses that drove us to the terminal. In the terminal, there was a guy with an American Photo sign (which I wasn’t expecting). He basically sold us the visas that we needed and walked us through customs and immigration. He had a porter that managed all of our bags and got us onto a shuttle that took us straight to the hotel. I have heard that the airport is a mad house during the day… given what I saw, I can’t really imagine how it would get much worse. The expediter made things pretty easy though.

I also heard (from Sherif) that traffic is insane during the day… I can now verify that. The problem is that it isn’t much better at night. The roads here (at least most of the ones that I have seen) don’t really have lines to separate the lanes. People just kind of weave in and out of traffic (using some kind of strange escalation system of flashing lights and honking to various degrees) in an insane manner. We were weaving in between buses and other cars at an alarming rate and I have no idea how we didn’t hit half a dozen other cars getting to the hotel. It was also strange to see how much traffic was on the roads at well past 2:00am in the morning. We drove past several mini-vans full of 12-15 men that were either wearing what looked like military uniforms or scruffy clothes. Kind of makes you wonder where they are going. There is an “Africa cup” (as opposed to “World cup”) competition going on here this week, so maybe they are here for the games. I can hope.

After the harrowing ride, we arrived at the hotel, got our rooms, and crashed. After about 5 hours of sleep (about 10:00am) we got up with the intention of going around and taking pictures. We got a map and found that the hotel is right next to Giza (which we knew), which puts it far away from any of the real “city” of Cairo (which we didn’t realize). We figured that we could just walk over to the Giza plateau but were informed that there would be a lot of walking (everything is far apart) and we would be better off with a driver. We were told that the price was only 110EP (egyptian pounds), or less than $20, for three hours so we agreed.

The driver took us on another driving adventure on these dizzying streets. (During the day there is a constant cacophony of horns blaring that can be heard anywhere in the city… or even from my hotel room.) For going somewhere that is only supposed to be a few blocks away, the drive was pretty long. Our guide was talking about stuff the whole time, but I only understood about a third of it. He asked for money to purchase our tickets to the pyramids and then drove us up to a vantage point that looks out over the whole plateau. It was extremely windy and actually pretty cold (given that I was only wearing a short-sleeve shirt and no jacket (something that I was regretting at that point). Dust and sand (and sometimes garbage) were swirling everywhere in the strong winds. The day was very overcast (virtually no blue sky to serve as a nice background for photos), but bright. We took a bunch of pictures and then were driven to several different points around the Giza plateau (eventually ending up down by the Sphinx).

There isn’t a whole lot to say about the pyramids that hasn’t already been written in hundreds of books. They are big. Very big. There’s lots of sand, rocks, and dust around (as well as garbage and cigarette butts left by the tourists). I have yet to see if I actually like any of the pictures that I have taken today.

There are locals trying to hustle you everywhere. They will try and force you to take items as a “gift” and then demand that you pay for them. We (Chris, Josh, and I) ended up getting pushed into getting our pictures taken on some camels by a few guys (as a “gift”) who then demanded payment before they would let us down off of the camels or give me my camera back. When I offered a token payment (20EP), they refused, asked for more, and wanted American dollars. I finally ended up paying $40US, but they were demanding $100US from Chris (they had purposely moved Chris, Josh, and I apart to separate corners of a collapsed temple to do this high-pressure deal. In the end we each paid $40US, at which point the camel hustlers kept asking if we were “happy” (because if not, they would give us the money back… yeah, right). I have to say that the whole experience made me feel quite unsafe.

I am back in the hotel room now, waiting for the rest of the tour group to arrive any minute. I am feeling a bit noxious, but I don’t know if that is from lack of sleep (I don’t feel particularly exhausted, but I constantly feel a bit run down), a touch of the stomach flu that was going around, or some combination. I don’t think that it has anything to do with the water here (yet) because I haven’t eaten much here and have been very careful. We’ll see how long that lasts.

That’s all for now. More to come as this experience unfolds. :)

 

My Trip to Photokina · 3609 days ago

While most of you only visit my site to look at the photos that I post, I know that there are a precious few that actually want me to write more about what is going on. The problem is that writing takes work (photos don’t take any work—that is play!). Thankfully, for those who want to know more about my trip to Photokina, Chris (a friend that I was with on the trip) has written several great entries in his blog about the trip.

Start by checking out his latest posting regarding the trip and then check out all of the Previous Posts that are listed on that page.

Oh… and for reference, I am “The Poo”—a long story that I might relate some day (and no, this doesn’t have anything to do with “Winnie”).

 

A change in design · 3668 days ago

It has been about four months since I brought the new site online, and I decided to make some minor changes to the design to fix some things that have been bugging me. Since I have found that I rarely get around to writing “Journal” articles, it doesn’t make sense to focus the home page on these articles, so I have brought the recent photo postings front-and-center onto the home page (rather than just some links along the side).

I also changed the Photos section of the site to allow more of the previous postings to be seen at once and to get rid of my lame descriptions of the posts for these older photos.

I hope that everyone enjoys the changes. As always, if anyone has any comments or runs into any problems, just let me know.

 

The Lepp Institute of Digital Imaging · 3750 days ago

A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to attend a class on Digital Workflow at the Lepp Institute of Digital Imaging. The class had to be kept pretty short (only two days) due to scheduling constraints, so we spent the first day taking pictures with George Lepp at locations near the school (in Los Osos, California) and the second day in the lab with Tim Grey learning Photoshop stuff. (I will be posting a few of the photos from that trip in the next week or two.)

Even though I didn’t have a chance to experience one of their longer classes, I found the course very interesting and useful and would highly recommend it to anyone that has a chance to go.

 

Subscribe to the site · 3776 days ago

I now have the site subscription service up and running. If you are interested in being notified about articles and photos that are posted to the site, then just link your favorite RSS-feed client to either of the links to the left (either RSS or Atom, depending on what your software supports).

What is RSS? RSS and Atom are two different standards for publishing news “headlines” on the Internet. There are many software applications out there (and even some Internet services) that support aggregation of these news feeds. Basically, you tell these applications what news feeds you are interested in and they will collect these headlines and let you know when there are updates that you might be interested in. My favorite subscription “reader” is NetNewsWire, but I have heard that some people out there actually run an operating system known as Windows™??? Sorry, guys… the best software for RSS is Mac OS X only.

 

In the beginning... · 3792 days ago

Well, this is my first post to the new (and improved?) Parlin.org. I spent quite a bit of time trying to decide what the design of the new site should look like and considered building my own content management system for the site on more than one occasion. In the end, however, I realized that I just needed to get something up and running (it has been almost an entire year since my last update to the site).

Previous visitors to the site may notice that there are far fewer photos available here right now. I plan to remedy this over time, but first I need to go through all of my old photos and try to organize them in some more meaningful way. I plan on posting smaller groups of photos on a more regular basis from now on.