Tag Archives: Study Abroad

Up the Nile

Our cruise down the Nile River from Luxor to Aswan was among the most relaxing and spiritually refreshing experiences of my life. The ancient Egyptians regarded the river as holy for the obvious reason that all activity in Egypt is concentrated around this thin strip of life that carves its way through the desert. Millenias-old temples line the banks and the call to prayer emanates from the small river towns along this flat, lazy stretch of river.

We boarded our Faluka in the morning. It is a moderately sized sailing ship. One of the key features of the Nile, is the prevailing winds always blow south against the current. In order to go south, one simply puts up the sails and to go north one simply floats. The boat is intended to sleep perhaps twenty passengers. The three of us shared the boat with four Australians and our captain, Enrique, along with a friendly crew of indeterminate size.

On the deck

The first day we took lunch with the men and I’ve finally begun to get the hang of Egyptian colloquial Arabic, which is somewhat different than the classical Arabic I briefly studied at Georgetown. I asked the men of the crew about their families and their impressions of Egypt after the revolution. Against a substantial language barrier, the gist of their responses was “Mubarak bad, democracy good.”

Enrique, our spiritual guide for the journey.

For the remainder of the day we lounged on the luxuriously padded deck of the ship and swam in the swift currents of the Nile. The men assured us there were no crocodiles in this region. In the evening we dined with the ship’s captain and owner Enrique, an enigmatic Harvard man and Paris-based world traveler, who recounted to us tales of his exploits around the world. Hoping for more detail, I asked him in private, “Que faites-vous exactement à Paris?”

He responded simply, “Je vis.” Continue reading

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No Mosque in the Wild

Istanbul at the crossing between Europe and Asia.

I’ve finally made it to Istanbul and, as promised, this city is certainly one of the most beautiful and amazing places I’ve ever seen. Based on the landscape alone, it is easy to understand why Istanbul formed the core of several great civilizations throughout history. Endless container ships along the Bosporus at all hours of day or night make Istanbul  the heart of the world pumping the lifeblood of commerce to the far-flung extremities of civilization. This country’s palpable youth and energy manifests itself in a culture of hyper-nationalism and overheated economic growth. As the city hurdles into the future with high-rises and highways, Istanbul’s awe-inspiring monuments to its Greco-Roman and Ottoman past serve as a preview of its limitless potential.

I’ll write three separate posts later about my three obsessions: one about my impressions of Turkey’s political-economy (for those who share my IR nerd enthusiasm), another about Turkish food (which is excellent), and a final one about the music/nightlife scene (rage). But for now I’ll move on to the fun, touristy stuff:

Our first stop was the Noah’s Ark hotel in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, which would serve as our home base for 10 days. A group of four boys and four girls, we occupied a substantial portion of this small hotel. Overall, I would definitely recommend Noah’s Ark to anyone looking for a hotel in Istanbul. The owner, Ali, was friendly and his staff helpful and competent. The best part of Noah’s Ark is its prime location. Even on crutches, the hotel was a perfectly manageable walking distance from the major attractions of the old city. Like many buildings in Istanbul, the hotel features a rooftop terrace where we enjoyed breakfasts with a view of the Hagia Sofia.

The first night out, we decided to look for a bar to unwind after a day of traveling. We stumbled upon a small place tucked into the side of some ancient stone building that featured the decor of a 16th century Ottoman opium den. A waitress gave us menus for food and Nargile (Hookah).

“Can we see the menu with alcohol?” a member of the group asked.

“We don’t have alcohol,” the waitress responded with an impatient look that suggested that we were not the first group of stupid American tourists to make that mistake today. So we sat to enjoy bottled water and bond over the absurdity of having flown to the other side of the world at age 20 only to be denied alcohol one last time.

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