Monthly Archives: February 2009

Kicking Things Up A Notch

Posted by on February 28, 2009

I don’t usually talk about the mechanics of running a travel blog while on the road. Most of the people who visit here are more interested in seeing photos and hearing stories of the the places I visit. Nonetheless, it is occasionally necessary to delve into the dirty underside of the business of running this site.

Sometime in the next week you should see a brand new version 3.0 of my website. It has taken a lot of time and but it is almost ready to go. I’ve never been satisfied with my website, so I got some professional help. I think the new site looks great and will be something I can live with for quite a while. It will be more visual, easier to navigate, and should really show off my photography much better.

Organizing my photography has been a real sore spot for me. Back in May I tried to self host my photos with a Galley2, which is open source photo management software. While it works, it has proven difficult to manage by myself. It has also failed spectacularly in my main objective of getting my photos indexed by Google Images. Less than 10% of my photos have been indexed in almost a year.

I also am now taking up 20gb of storage on my webserver which is waaay more than what I’m paying for. I am going to move to as my photography solution. Not only is it cheaper than trying to self host 20gb of photos, but they have everything which Flickr doesn’t. I can map my own domain name to my Smugmug site, which means I can point to them and no one need know they are at another site…except for the fact that I just told everyone. I can protect images by blocking download of images larger than a set size, which Flickr cannot do. I’m pretty confident that Smugmug will be my long term photo solution. So far, the support they’ve given has been fantastic.

Going back and fixing the links to all my images is going to take a bunch of work. Going back and changing the links doesn’t bother so much as trying to do it with Egyptian bandwidth. I’m guessing it is a process which will take about 2 months, working on it on and off. I have also not been able to upload most of my photos since I’ve arrived in the Middle East. I’m sitting on almost 300 photos from the last 2 months which I can’t upload because the connection is too slow. One photo can take 10-20 minutes and the connection will usually time out before it is finished.

When the dust settles, everything should be working like I want it to. If anyone has any comments or suggestions, please feel free to let me know. Managing a website from the middle of nowhere can be a pain in the butt sometimes, but overall I really enjoy it.

Diving the Lighthouse of Alexandria

Posted by on February 25, 2009

Artist rendition of the Lighthouse of Alexandria (from Wikipedia)

Artist rendition of the Lighthouse of Alexandria (from Wikipedia)

Today was a pretty good day. I went diving in the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was the most unique dive I’ve ever done on many different levels: it was the coldest dive I’ve ever done at 15C (59F), the shallowest dive I’ve ever done at only 8m, it was the worst visibility I’ve ever had on a dive, and the only archeological dive I’ve ever done.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was the architectural landmark of Alexandria during the Ptolemaic dynasty and during Roman rule. Also known as the Pharos, it got its name from the small island it was situated on in the Alexandria harbor. It was estimated to be between 115 and 150 m (380 and 490 ft) tall, which would put it on a par with the Great Pyramid. The lighthouse was destroyed in the early 14th century from earthquakes, and in the 15th century, Sultan Qaitbey built a fort on the site. The fort is still there today.

Surprisingly, no one knew that parts of the lighthouse were in the sea until a team of divers discovered in in 1994. I say surprisingly only because the water is shallow enough where someone could free dive from the surface and see the large stones. In 700 years, no one bothered to look.

There was only myself and a Canadian guy who did the dive today. This isn’t really the high season for tourists and given the water temperature, not a great time for divers. I had to wear a full 5mil wetsuit with a hood and boots. All of the previous dives I’ve done have been in tropical climates where at best you only needed a light, half wetsuit. The only part of my body which was exposed were my hands the area around my mouth and eyes not covered by my goggles.

The dive was run by Alexandria Divers, the only dive shop in town.

The first dive was outside the harbor wall. Visibility wasn’t too bad at about 10-12m. Everywhere you went were large rectangular blocks, pillars, stone chairs, and sphinxes. Before most dives, you have a short meeting with the divemaster to go over hand signals. They had special ones to identify is something was Roman, Greek or Egyptian or if it was a pillar or part of the lighthouse. From the maps of the area I’ve seen, there is a lot more there that we didn’t see. While air supply isn’t an issue at that depth, the temperature still was and we had a good hour in the water.

The second dive was inside the harbor and the main attraction was an Italian fighter which crashed during WWII. There were also jars, vases and lamps strewn about the seafloor. Visibility here was horrible. It was maybe 2m at best and it was very easy to get lost and lose sight of the people you were diving with. I was sort of surprised at the number of artifacts I was able to see. I figured most of them would have been hauled up and put in a museum by now.

If you are a diver and are going to Egypt, the Alexandria dive is something you should consider. There aren’t many non-wreck, archeological dives in the world you can do. The price is sort of steep at 100 Euros for 2 dives, but it isn’t outrageous. If you go in the summer, I think it would be a much more enjoyable experience. Water temperature in the summer can reach 25C (77F) which is a much nicer environment for diving than 15C. Most divers in Egypt go to the Red Sea. Alexandria isn’t too far to go if you want to do something different.

Buming Around in the Footsteps of Caesar and Alexander

Posted by on February 23, 2009

I spent most of today walking the streets of Alexandria. There is no better way to get to know a city than to walk around for a day and get lost in the process.

In some ways, I find Alexandria really depressing. This is a city where almost every building is 100 years old and looks as if nothing has been repaired in all that time. The buildings are old, the buses are old, the street cars are old, there are rotary telephones all over, and you get the feeling you’ve stepped back in time about 50 years. It is on a par in terms of development with Vietnam, except Vietnam is growing and Egypt is still living in old, dilapidated buildings. They are like Benjamin Button countries meeting in the middle. Alexandria seems to have its best days well behind it.

All of that needs to be considered when you realized that Alexandria has one of the nicest buildings, and certainly nicest library, in the world. The New Library of Alexandria, the Biblioteca Alexandria, was built as an international effort with several foreign corporation and NGO’s pitching in. As the collection of books goes it probably has less than most university libraries in the US, but it is still a feather in the cap for Alexandria and all of Egypt. That being said, it is really, really out of place here.

Today I managed to see most of the few remaining ancient sites in the city: the Roman theater, Pompey’s Pillar (which was erected 250 years after Pompey was killed in Alexandria), and the catacombs. The sites were managed much better than the Pyramids, but still had a lot of room for improvement. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of tourists in Egypt right now. I guess winter isn’t the high season.

I should also address the bomb blast in Cairo. Just so everyone knows, I was in Alexandria when it happened. I’m not scared or worried. In a country with 80 million people, things happen all the time. Almost every attack like that happens to groups of tourists on package tours and I travel alone, which paradoxically, is safer when it comes to this sort of thing. I haven’t even heard a word about it in the news here….not that I’d really know because I can’t read/speak Arabic.

Tomorrow I’m going to investigate doing some dives in the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria and visit Fort Qaitbey. The next day I’m off to Abu Mena and then Upper Egypt (confusingly in the south of the country. The Nile flows to the north).