A Travellerspoint blog

Getting interrogated by the authorities

I arrived in Auckland. The immigration officer (actually it is now done by customs staff on immigration's behalf), looked at my arrival form and noticed that I had been to Sudan. He wrote a capital "T" on it and circled it. After collecting my luggage, I was intercepted by another officer and sent to another area where I waited for someone to become free.

I was interviewed (interrogated?) at the counter for some time in detail about what I had done, who I had met, where I had been etc during my travels. It was quite detailed and I often had to spell out the place names for them.

Next, I was asked to put my luggage on a large table. I went through more or less the same questions with a second officer there. She then looked through my luggage in detail while asking more probing questions about this trip, my work, my life and my previous travel.

Finally, they took away my laptop, tablet and smartphone to be scanned.

At the end, she said she'd write a report with a conclusion that I'm of low risk. This would be attached to my profile and I shouldn't have any issues in the future. Hopefully that's true!

At no point did I feel that I was in trouble because I have done nothing wrong. They were very professional and it was a more professional version of "tell me about your holiday". The biggest hassle was for Kim who had been working all night, and Margaret who had offered to pick us up. They both had to put up with my 2 hour delay.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

More urban pleasures of Hong Kong

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I had seen a phone that seemed perfect for me yesterday for HKD1300 (NZD200). I needed to do some research on it and it shows up as a pretty high spec quad core model. Instead of going all the way back into Hong Kong, we headed to Kwai Fong where we had made purchases before. All went well and I got what I wanted :-)

Checking in on standby was hassle free today and soon I was on my way back to Auckland.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Urban pleasures of Hong Kong

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I had a short connection in Istanbul. The meals on the flight to Hong Kong were even better than the previous. I couldn't believe Turkish Airlines had unlimitedfree wifi for all on board, except for the last couple of hours over Chinese airspace where it wasn't permitted. We landed an hour earlier due to strong tail winds.

Kim had swapped on to a duty to Hong Kong and I made my way to his hotel at Citygate near the airport. After a quick shower, we headed down to Hong Kong for our usual massage at Wan Chai. I was pleasantly surprised to get a middle-aged Thai woman (rather than Chinese) who was very strong and used her elbows and feet heaps.

After that, I also investigated replacing my phone with something a little faster.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Cairo's Necropolis & leaving

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large_5550_139645837391.jpgCairo's Necropolis.
My departure for for Hong Kong via Istanbul tonight is 2025 which would require a departure from town about 1630. Last night, I had negotiated a late checkout of 1400 for free with the hotel. A standard checkout of 1200 doesn’t leave much time for doing much in the morning.

With the extra time available, I had to decide what I wanted to do. At first, it was a toss-up between Coptic Cairo [Cairo-travel-guide-1231804] which I visited 10 years ago and the Citadel which I visited 22 years ago. Neither quite appealed so I decided I’d visit the Necropolis, City of the Dead or the northern cemetery.

I took a taxi there without much trouble but was dropped on the opposite side of the expressway where I had to wait for a long time before it was safe to run across.large_5550_13964583749297.jpgCairo's Necropolis; it is dead quiet.

It was like a deserted suburb of houses that had been locked up. Peering through the gates, I could see some graves in them. Some of the rich in Cairo keep with their ancient traditions of holding on the dead with more dignity. Apparently some of them have rooms so that relatives can come stay once in a while after a picnic.
The area was quiet change from the rest of Cairo with no living souls there bar a few passers-by and quite a few dogs.

I could see the turrets of the Citadel and the Mohammad Ali mosque not too far away. As I still had plenty of time to kill I decided to visit despite my original thoughts this morning. It was a 30 minute walk.

In the Citadel complex, I visited the grand Mohammad Ali mosque there and ignored most of the other sights there; there was a plainer mosque and a military/police museum which I couldn’t find (and it didn’t interest me).large_5550_13964583745471.jpgInside one of the homes in the Necropolis.
I took a taxi back to the hotel to wash up and check out. I spent a few hours in the afternoon in the pedestrian mall cafe sipping tea and writing this blog up. It was a very pleasant way of spending the afternoon without a home.

Hailing a taxi for the airport later, I realised it was the same taxi driver that I had coming back from the Citadel. What’s the chance of that in a city with zillions of taxis? Anyway, the ride cost me EGP100 (including airport entry fee of an unknown amount) which was less than the hotel’s price. This was despite a few turns to avoid the traffic, some of which I thought were completely unnecessary. I reckon it should have been around EGP80.

Anyway, the metered taxis in Cairo are so god-sent. Gone are the days of haggling and having a surprise afterwards regardless.large_5550_13964583759348.jpgOne of the homes in the Necropolis.

I had treated myself to a business class ticket to Hong Kong via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. The deal wasn’t available on their own website but on cheaptickets.com. I was about the same as other airlines’ economy class fare. Even though Turkish did have a fare at about half that for their own economy class, I thought I deserved the treat after having worked my way through Sudan to Egypt :-)

Boarding the aircraft at Cairo, I was disappointed to see that the Business Class seats weren't really that but Economy seats (triplet) with the centre blocked off. But realising that the flight was only 2h (rather than 3h) due to an hour's time difference made it seem perfectly acceptable. The meal on this short flight was stunning and better than those on some longhaul Business Class on other airlines.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Third time lucky with the Pyramids

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large_5550_13964567083237.jpgIf you think the pyramids are in the middle of the desert, you're wrong. It's on the city fringe.
At the pyramids

This morning, I set out for the Great Pyramids at Giza [Giza-travel-guide-1308491]. Hopefully, I’d be third time lucky aas the first and second times I didn’t get to go inside of the big pyramids. The hotel had offered a car for USD35 including waiting time and going to the Egyptian museum (10 minutes walk away) and a vegetarian lunch (which I found out was kashowri which is only USD0.50).

So I opted to do it myself, despite their warnings to expect trouble with safety or touts. Yes, with the current situation in Egypt, touts are always scaring tourists into buying their services based on the safety aspect. Outwardly, Egypt or even Cairo [Cairo-travel-guide-1231804] doesn't feel any different (apart from the lack of tourists) until you read the news.large_5550_13964567086668.jpgCheops Pyramid.

I tried getting an early start by leaving the hotel at 0715 and grabbing breakfast on the way. The only place open was McDonald’s but they weren’t quite ready and it was about 0800 when I left in earnest.

The easiest way was to use the metro nearby to Giza then taxi or bus to the pyramids. First glitch was that Giza station was closed. I backtracked to Faisal station instead. There weren’t any taxis so I took a tuktuk to Giza station where buses ran to the pyramids. It cost me a total of EGP5 (including EGP2 but should have been EGP for the tuktuk necessitated by the Giza station closure). It was all quite easy and would have been even easier if Giza station had been operational.

That’s only USD0.70 for one-way, a huge savings to the USD35 (EGP245) return I wanted to charge.large_5550_13964567095589.jpgEntry into Cheops Pyramid is through a small hole on the side.The delay was largely getting stuck in traffic and it may have been worse coming all the way by car.

I needed to walk about 15 minutes to the entrance of the pyramids area. The hotel was right. There were touts along the way trying to mislead me, telling me the ticket office was in the other direction (where they would either sell me used tickets or camel rides).

I ignored them all and made it to the ticket office where I paid for the entrance and the additional fee for the interior. I started walking to the Great Pyramids of Cheops and was hassled all the way with camel rides and people trying to mislead me in one way or another. I managed to turn them all down without being too rude.

Entering the pyramid started with a short climb to a hole in the side. It felt somewhat like a dugout cave for a while.large_5550_13964567091021.jpgCheops Pyramid doesn't look so pyramidal right close up.Then came the low and long inclined ramp which required me to duck. Next was the long inclined ramp which had a high ceiling the angle of which had a resemblance to the exterior angle of the pyramid. At the end of that, there was a low undecorated rectangular hole which led into a high-ceiling roomed where a stone sarcophagus sat.

It was all very stark and with no decorations, unlike what I had seen in Luxor [Luxor-travel-guide-1231895]. I wasn’t disappointed and I had been told there was actually nothing much to see. While it wasn’t hot, I felt all sweaty perhaps from the limited circulation in there.

I made my way out and continued to walk around the pyramids area, deflecting the occasional pestering camel man. I was relieved to get to the Sphinx which to me represents the exit area.large_5550_13964567103922.jpgCheops Pyramid; trick angle makes it look like this portal is on one side of it.

I took a metered taxi to Faisal station and due to congestion, the driver took the highway which was a bit longer. The ride cost EGP50 which took away some of the savings of the day but bought me some time for additional activities in the afternoon. Thankfully the metro ride back to my hotel had no surprises.

Egyptian Museum

After lunch, I rested briefly before heading out to the Egyptian Museum a short walk away. The area outside were full of armoured cars, barbed wire and military. They seem ready for the next flare up.

Knowing that cameras were strictly forbidden, I left mine back at the hotel. It is my third time in here as well but I seem to recollect very little from 22 and 10 years ago. I did recall 10 years ago that I didn’t recall anything from the time before and making mental efforts to log interesting things in my head.large_5550_13964567103320.jpgKhufu pyramid retains a bit of the limestone exterior.But it seems that was in vain.

The ground floor was full of stone statues and sarcophagi. There were many unopened crates lying around marked “Roma”. The exhibit that captured me most was a richly decorated and coloured coffin of which the bottom half had apparently disintegrated. The gold and paint flakes that they found had now been adhered into a clear perspex replica of the bottom half giving an idea of what it would have looked like intact.

Upstairs, there were shelves and shelves of coffins seemingly everywhere. A few had been given more prominent displays but there is literally not enough room for all of them. There were also exhibits of carriages, beds, mummified animals and knick-knacks that the dead may need.

The highlight was of course Tutankhamun’s treasures which were discovered intact (unlike most others which had been looted).large_5550_13964567103573.jpgKhufu pyramid retains a bit of the limestone exterior.I was somewhat surprised this didn’t come with an extra charge. The Russian doll concept really does apply here with his coffin and also the gilded boxes which held it along with the treasures. Of course, his famous death mask was on display and very stunning indeed.

It was about 1600 when I made my way to the Royal Mummies area which required an extra payment of EGP100 (which was more than the main entry price of EGYP75). It was closed already; the main entrance of the building closed at 1600 as well (rather than 1800 like I had read in the guidebook). I could get a glimpse of some of the exhibits. They were dark flattish dried-up corpses which didn’t look glorious like many of the items in the museum. Perhaps I didn’t miss much.

I felt like I had accomplished much in Cairo in my short time. I had been wary of spending too much time here in case it was unsafe. But the truth couldn’t be further. Life goes on and people are working, living, and living it up.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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