Just after the Summer solstice, a post!

I’m borrowing this post idea from Bevchen.  I don’t usually do a lot of meme-inspired posts, but lately I haven’t been posting much at all.  So here’s the “What’s New With You” format…  here’s what I’ve been up to just lately.

Reading.  I haven’t had much time for the Kindle lately, but I did start Jen Bradley‘s novel “Virago,” along with  the fascinating “Cleaning Up The Kingdom, which is written by people who are former members of the Disneyland custodial staff.  Really interesting stuff here!

Watching.  Summer is upon us, which means there’s not as much new television to be seen.  I’ve nearly completed a re-watch of Star Trek: Enterprise, which I absolutely despised on the first run.  I find it considerably less revolting now, and I’m not sure what changed.     I’ve also nearly completed a re-watch of Leverage, which was a delightful and fun show that could easily have run another season without losing steam.

I also watched the first episode of the new Dangermouse, and it’s definitely got flavor of the original ones, even though some of the new voices completely take me out of the show.  The new Silas Greenback voice is particularly terrible.  I’m rather surprised they didn’t try to get Sir David Jason back… after all, he was the original voice of Dangermouse. (And Count Duckula!)  Maybe he wants to retire from acting, since he’s 76 now.

It’s also the summer movie season.  I haven’t had time to watch everything I want to see, but I can say that “Finding Dory” was exceptionally adorable, and the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was super entertaining.  It was basically a two-hour live-action movie version of an episode of the 90s cartoon.

Fascinated by.  This news that the Earth has picked up a second moon.   Basically, an asteroid got caught in our gravity about a hundred years ago and it never managed to break free.   It’s tiny, about 150 feet by 300 feet, and it has a weird orbit.  It’s still technically a moon, though.    We have two moons!  Next up, Jedi Knights!

Cooking.  I’m not much of a cook, but I’ve been using the slow cooker for the occasional moist fall-apart-y chicken breast. (Amelie’s Salsa Chicken recipe:  Put a chicken breast in the slow cooker with mild salsa for a bunch of hours, then shred and eat with rice or something.  It’s super delicious!)

I’ve also been taking advantage of the meats that they sell which have already been prepped/seasoned/marinated-  Target sells a garlic and herb roast that is absolutely amazing after about six hours in the slow cooker.    I’ve also been making more easy-prep foods like spaghetti at home.  I want to eat out at restaurants less frequently, because I enjoy having money.

Exercising.  I’m still probably going to talk about exercise in more detail in another post down the line, but I’ve been trying to go to the gym several times a week.  When I lived in Germany, I walked most everywhere, lived upstairs, took the bus to work, and walked all over creation whenever I traveled.  My life in Florida is so much more sedentary, and I needed to get up and move.  So, the gym.  I just use the little gym at my apartment complex,  because paying for one that I would never drive to is just a waste of money.  I do some of the weight machines, some Couch-to-5K stuff on the treadmill, some time on the bike, and as little time  as possible on the Devil’s Elliptical.  I hate every second of it, but so far I keep going.

Buying.  Since I’ve been doing the gym stuff, I got myself a new Fitbit.   The Fitbit Charge HR is a wrist-worn step counter that also checks my heart-rate and tracks my sleep.  It’s great for being reassured that I am, in fact, terribly unhealthy and in need of drastic lifestyle change.

I also recently bought an install-it-yourself basic alarm system for my apartment, and the little SD card that activates the maps in my car.  The Mazda 3 model that I drive had the GPS built in already, and just needed the maps to activate the navigation.  There’s an SD card slot in the console.

Traveling. Not so much lately.  I did the Germany/Switzerland trip a little while back, but there’s nothing else on the near horizon, except a planned Disney trip in late August.  Orlando is only about a three hour drive from me, so I tend not to think of it as travel.

Thinking about: Speaking of Orlando, I won’t get into the Pulse nightclub shooting very much, except to say:   Orlando is my second home city (Regensburg is my third,) and some of the victims were friends of my friends.   I love Orlando, and I want to live there again some time in the future.  The attack was brutal and insane and it saddens me greatly.  It also makes me very angry.    I won’t say more about this, because the logical thread here gets into religion and politics, both of which are not topics I can be calm or cheerful about right now.

Listening to.  Mostly Pandora at work, but I’ve been working on an upbeat playlist called Jim Rhatt for the iPod while I’m on the aforementioned treadmill or Devil’s Elliptical.

Recent concerts with Amelie have included Florence + The Machine, Panic at the Disco, and Weezer.   The Cure is playing Miami early next week, but that’s the last show we’ve got tickets for until October (Sia) and November (the Pet Shop Boys.)

Regretting.  That my car has a manual transmission.    Almost all of the cars I’ve ever driven have had a stick shift, but this might be the last one before I go automatic.  I’ve always enjoyed driving manual because I feel like I have more control.   I’ve always preferred cars that were small and quick and maneuverable, like a White Star or the Millennium Falcon.  In fact, whenever I downshift in a turn, I feel kind of like Han pulling this lever, which is obviously the Falcon’s shifter:

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The problem with driving manual is that I live in South Florida again, and I spend most of my drive time on the highway, especially I-95.  This means there’s a lot of stop-and-go driving, and I spend a large percentage of my drive with my foot pushing the clutch all the way down while I coast along at eight or ten miles an hour.  It’s very annoying, and I often get out of the car with an ache in my clutch foot.

What’s your preference, automatic or stick?

Ampelmännchen

(This little post was written months ago, but I never got around to using it.  I’ve been hip-deep in getting moved over to Florida, so it seemed like now would be a good time to post it.  -Steven, 5 October)

One of my favorite things about visiting Eastern Germany is seeing the Ampelmännchen, or “Little traffic light men.”  This happy little fellow is left over from the former German Democratic Republic, so any city that was part of East Germany before German reunification in 1990 is likely to have these little guys on their walk signals.

The Ampelmännchen were designed by a German traffic psychologist named Karl Peglau in 1961.   Peglau wanted to create a traffic light that would be both cute and appealing to children, yet easily accessible and understandable for elderly Germans.  Also, I didn’t know before writing this post that “traffic psychologist” was a career option.

The Ampelmann is so popular that some cities in Western Germany have adopted the symbols, and an entire souvenir industry has sprung up around them.   There’s even a store in Berlin where you can buy all manner of Ampelmann swag- t-shirts, hats, buttons, keychains, deck chairs, earrings, and more.

These particular Ampelmännchen were spotted while I was in Dresden.

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Do you own any Ampelmann swag?  What do you suppose the green Ampelmann is carrying in front of him, a baguette?

Cairo

For my last trip outside of Germany before I move back to the US, I chose Cairo.  I have a very long list of places that I still want to go and see, but the pyramids have long been near the top of my “gotta see that!” list.  Egypt has had a rough time with their tourism industry since the revolution a few years ago, so I took advantage of the amazing prices and set up the trip to my 26th country.

Between the hits to Egypt’s tourism, the fact that July and August are the low season there and the exchange rate in my favor, everything was very affordable.    I booked four nights at a luxury hotel with a balcony overlooking the Nile river for about $750 US dollars, and booked tours of the pyramids and whatnot before I set out.

Arriving to the Cairo airport is somewhat chaotic.  If you’re a US citizen visiting just to be a tourist, you have to pay $25 in US dollars for the entry visa that they stick in your passport.

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I’m glad that I chose to book the tours with hotel pick-up, because it turns out that navigating Cairo woud have been extraordinarily difficult for me.  For one thing, the Metro stations at Tahrir Square and Giza are both closed and have been for quite some time due to the revolution.   For another thing, I don’t speak Arabic.  I also can’t read the Arabic numerals that are displayed on signs there.  The first time I saw an Egyptian license plate, I thought it was hand-written.  Then I saw a dozen more and I realized this is just how they look.

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Traffic in Cairo is absolutely insane.   The white lines on the highway are seen as a casual suggestion, and drivers weave in and out of each other’s lanes with abandon.  The drivers use their car horns constantly, almost like a form of echolocation, like bats in flight.  The car signals told other drivers where they were at all times.

People on foot cross the road- even the highways- without a care for the cars that are moving past.  People stop in the right-most lanes and get out of their cars.  There’s rubble on the outer edges of the highways, and random smoldering piles of rock that might have been fires a while before I got there.

I’ve never seen anything like it.  Here’s a YouTube video that showcases it pretty well, I think.  For more, just search YouTube for “Cairo traffic.”  It’s absolutely amazing.

Once I was checked into the hotel, I had about two hours to try to shake off my usual travel headache before I was picked up again for my first event.  I took some time to thoroughly enjoy the view from my balcony overlooking the Nile.  After dark, the Nile river comes alive with activity-  neon trimmed party boats, loud music, and street vendors are everywhere.

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My first touristy event was a Nile river dinner cruise, with entertainment.  The food was very good.  I liked the sea bass quite a lot.

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The entertainment was a band, then a Tannoura dance show, then a bellydancer.  The Tannoura is vaguely related to the Sufi Whirling Dervishes, and the man never stopped spinning.  Here’s a short clip of the show.

The next morning, I woke up early for my tour of the Giza Necropolis, including the pyramids and the Sphinx.    I also took a quick daytime picture from my balcony.    That tower in the left third of the picture is Cairo Tower, which has an observation deck at the top and a revolving restaurant just below that.  I’ll come back to that later in the post.

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I ganked this map of the Giza Necropolis from Wikipedia, because it shows a lot of important detail.  The first thing that I didn’t realize before this trip is that there are more pyramids in Giza than the three big ones that everyone notices.  If you look carefully, there’s three smaller ones next to the Pyramid of Khufu, which is referred to as the Great Pyramid.  There’s also another three smaller pyramids next to the Pyramid of Menkaure, and several other smaller pyramids in the Necropolis.  There are 138 known pyramids throughout Egypt, and a whole bunch of them are right there in Giza.

Also, each of the three largest pyramids is connected to a temple by a causeway.  One of these is still intact today and is visible to the naked eye.  The others are a little harder to spot.

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Here’s the Great Pyramid, also known as the Pyramid of Khufu.  This is the largest of the three on the Giza plateau.  The Pyramid of Khufu was the tallest man-made structure in the world until the Eiffel Tower opened in 1889.

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On arrival, I sat with my guide Khaled for a few minutes at the base of the Great Pyramid while he discussed the construction and history of the pyramids with me.  This picture is looking straight up the North face of the Great Pyramid.

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This photograph is looking back at the city of Giza from the base of the Great Pyramid.    Giza comes very, very close to the pyramids on one side.  The other side is the start of thousands of miles of Sahara Desert.

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The Pyramid of Khafre is the only one of the pyramids in Giza to still retain a portion of its limestone casing.  Supposedly, all three of the big pyramids were at one time fully covered in this polished limestone, with gold capstones.    That must have been quite a sight.

Khafre also looks larger than Khufu to the naked eye, but that’s because it’s on a higher elevation.  It is actually smaller in both height and width.

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I had the chance to descend into the burial chamber of one of the smaller pyramids next to Khufu.  The attendants were happy to take my picture as I climbed back up.  They’ve mounted handrails into the tunnel because the pathway down is not steps; it’s a ridged wooden plank to give you traction as you climb or descend.    This photograph is only moments before I whanged my head coming out of the entrance:  The Curse of the Pharaohs takes many forms.

You can choose to go into the Great Pyramid, but it’s another 200 Egyptian Pounds (about $30) and I decided that one musty burial chamber was enough for me.

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Khaled took me into one of the smaller structures near the pyramids- this was a small structure supposedly built for one of the architects of the pyramids.  Here, Khaled is pointing out the cartouches-  the symbols inside the oval with a crossbar on the left side.

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Each cartouche is the name of someone royal.  In most cases, it refers to those who are buried inside the pyramids.  I do not recall which was which here.

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Khaled made me do traditional silly tourist pictures with the pyramids, but I steadfastly refused to do a jumping picture.  I’m not a fan of pictures of people jumping in front of landmarks.

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One of my options was a camel ride from behind the Pyramid of Menkaure around the outer edge of the Necropolis to the Sphinx.    I’d never been on a camel before, so I was game.  My thoughts are as follows:  1) It’s a damn good thing I brought sunscreen, because this was actually a camel ride in the desert.  2) Camels are not a smooth ride.  It takes a little while to get used to the rhythm.

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I think this is how camels say hello.

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One of the advantages of taking the camel ride was that I got a really phenomenal view of all the pyramids lined up.   This photograph contains nine pyramids.

From this perspective, the Pyramids of Queens are the three small ones in front, with Menkaure right behind them.  The Pyramid of Khafre is next to the right, and the Pyramid of Khufu is just to the right of that one.  You can also make out three of the smaller pyramids to the right of Khufu.

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After about 45 minutes on camel-back, we arrived to the Sphinx.  This is the interior of the Temple of the Sphinx, with very old alabaster flooring.  Supposedly, this temple had a roof at some point.

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The Sphinx is missing forehead ornamentation, a beard, and its nose.  I’ve seen the beard in the British Museum in London.  It’s not clear what happened to the forehead ornamentation.  As for the nose, one popular theory says that it was accidentally shot off by French soldiers.  Damn you, Napoleon!

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The pyramid over the left shoulder of the Sphinx is the Great Pyramid.    The Great Pyramid is so large that I didn’t see the Sphinx at all until late in the day, despite walking around the other sides of the pyramid.

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The Giza Necropolis was the highlight of my Cairo trip, but that didn’t stop me from seeing other things.  I mentioned the Cairo Tower earlier-  this is the front entrance.

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Here’s a closer view of the entire tower.

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From the viewing platform on the top of Cairo Tower, the views are fairly spectacular.  Here’s one view along the Nile.

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Cairo is a very dense city.  It  has an estimated population of 12 million people, and when you include Giza and the remaining surrounding metropolitan area, it has a population of nearly 22 million people.  That’s roughly a fourth of the residents of the entire country.

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On a clear day, you can even see the pyramids from Cairo Tower.  On a hazy day, you can still see them- just not clearly.

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This is Tahrir Square.  It’s not really square, as far as I can tell. This is where  the most well known protests of the Egyptian revolution took place.

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This is an area of the city adjacent to Tahrir Square.  The reddish building is the Egyptian Museum.  I’m not sure what the burnt out building next to it is.

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Here’s a closer picture of that burnt out building, taken on my walk to the Egyptian Museum.   There were quite a few burnt out buildings in Cairo, signs of the struggle there over the last few years.

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When I was walking to the Egyptian Museum, I walked past four tanks and some barbed wire.  This isn’t a very good picture because I was trying not to be super obvious that I was taking a picture.  My goal here was to attract as little attention from the armed soldiers as possible.  There were a lot of armed soldiers around Cairo, and it was disconcerting.    To get into the museum, or the Cairo Tower, there were security checkpoints with metal detectors.  To get into my hotel, I had to get past the bomb sniffing dog and a metal detector.

I never really felt comfortable or safe while walking around Cairo.  I only felt safe in the touristy areas, behind  the metal detectors.

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On my third night in Cairo, I went to the Pyramid Sound & Light Show.  It was somewhat cheesy, but they used lasers on the Great Pyramid, so I liked it.   The whole thing is done from a very comfortable deck overlooking all three pyramids and the Sphinx.

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I will close this post with a picture taken from a moving car on my way out to the Pyramid Sound & Light Show-  this was taken just before sunset with an iPhone.  I rather wish I had taken the dSLR out for this part of the evening.

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Have you ever been to the Pyramids in Giza?