Ash's Azer Adventure

Hello everyone! The following is my blog about my 27 month trip to Azerbaijan working with the Peace Corps. I am a part of the 4th group sent to Azerbaijan and am in the Community Economic Development (CED) Program working with local companies to help them operate better in the world. Hopefully I’ll have some fun stories and cool pictures from traveling around Asia Minor and Eastern Europe. This blog is in no way related to the Peace Corps or their opinions. I hope you all enjoy…

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Egyptian Travels

A few quick disclaimers: we saw so many things and tried so soak in as much as humanly possible on this trip. If I mess up some stats, names or anything like that, please forgive me-it certainly won’t be on purpose but I’m sure it will happen several times. I am going to try to put in pictures in the paragraphs that correspond to what I’m talking about but the won't fit. They will at least be in chronological order. I only have about 1/3 of the pictures taken so far, so I’m missing a ton. I’ll put up a bunch more in a few weeks once we get all of the pictures from America sent to us. Oh yea, and this blog with will be long since we were there for 10 days…enjoy at your own pace…

The Egyptian travels have been completed officially! Rachel and I flew out of AZ the same day that Candice and Joy were going home for good, so we had a good last night in AZ with them. We had a long lay over in Istanbul, so Rachel and I took the tram in and got to walk through town a little bit. Sadly we both packed out cameras in our checked luggage so we don’t have any pictures-we are idiots! We saw some amazing mosques-the Blue Mosque is unbelievable. If you are bored, just pull up some pictures of it on the internet. We took off to Cario and got into town around 2am and crashed in our uber comfortable hotel beds-thank you Ron! The first day in town we hit the big bazaar for some shopping and heckling by the locals. I got offered 2,000,000 camels for Rachel, one guy said he would kill his wife if he could have her, and I got several comments on me having 3 wives. This was all weird since I was with Rachel (a friend), my mom and sister. The shop owners all know a little English and say some crazy stuff which makes it fun. We hit a FREAKIN CHILI’S and I ate myself sick. I couldn’t move for about 5 hours-it was both miserable and horrible.

Tom, his friend Jackie, and his parents got to the hotel about 3am from Chicago wide awake and bearing a bottle of Patron Tequila. Well we had to start the vacation off right, so we took a few shots, had a few bites of Chicago deep dish pizza and hit the hotel casino for a while. We then woke up bright and early to hit the Egyptian Museum. It is basically a huge building with tons and tons of ancient Egyptian artifacts in it. It isn’t very nice or organized, and is just overwhelming. You could spend all day there. We were hot and hungry so we went to Johnny Carino’s and got one of every appetizer and milkshakes for a late lunch. We then with and saw the famous Dina belly dance with an Egyptian band at the Intercontinental Hotel. We had dinner there before the show and it was basically the same as a fancy Azeri dinner with the additions of cocktail shrimp, pita bread and tons of humus. I would like to make a side note here that I am against the chickpea in every aspect FYI. I just don’t get the attraction to it what so ever. Dinner started at 10:30 and Dina came on around 12:30 after a horrible lip syncing bad performed. We had stage side seats (me up front obviously) and the place was pretty empty. Dina put on a really good dance show for about an hour with 4 costume changes, so tribal dancers, some local flute type instrument player, a good singer/MC, and a really good band (this one drum guy made the most intense faces at Dina the entire time which was hilarious). The highlight of the show was sadly not when I got up and danced with her-it was never offered. To pay me back for that she danced up right in front of me and put her hands on the outsides of her breasts and shook them right at me. Picture a huge smiling Ashley at this moment.

The next morning we got up and toured the Giza Pyramids. These things were massive. We went inside one of them. It actually wasn’t that special besides the difficult climb up and down, and the fact that you were inside a pyramid with over 2,000,000 bricks over your head. We had a hilarious tour guide that spoke kinda like Yoda and who’s tag lines were “are you happy”, “welcome back”, and “look, look”. He made the hot and odd trip well worth it. We walked around the outsides of the other pyramids (3 big ones and 9 smaller ones for the Pharaohs’ kids as well as small graveyards for the workers who built them). We went over and checked out the Sphinx after that which was really cool. It is a weird feeling being around things of that size, age and historical significance. After those were finished we showered up at the hotel, rented a van to haul all 9 of us and our luggage to Mt. Saini (about 7 hour ride to the southern part of the peninsula). Of course on the way out of Cairo we had to stop and grab a “Party Bucket” from KFC for the road trip. That Colonel sure could cook some mean chicken…

We got to Mt. Siani around midnight and they let us begin our climb at 2am. We were feeling frisky and decided to tackle the 3,750 Steps of Repentance. This is the path that Moses took up when God gave him the Ten Commandments. I think we were a little overzealous because it was a pretty hard climb up, especially in the dark. It felt really good to complete it and the sunrise was gorgeous. There is a little Greek Orthodox Church at the top that had a little service going on that was really cool. After the long hike up we all decided to take the easier camel path back down. We then went to St. Catherine’s Monastery and walked around. There we got to see the Burning Bush that God spoke to Moses from. It was hanging off the building which surprised me. For some reason I had always had it in my head that it was a little bush on the ground. From Mt. Siani we drove about 2 hours to Sharm el-Shaik which is on the southern tip of the peninsula and is a beach/resort town on the Red Sea. Our 3pm turbo ferry boat ride was canceled so and the next boat out was at 3am that night. We got a hotel room for a day and spent a relaxing day on the beach, in the pool and hitting a couple of local bars (Madga, one was a pirate themed bar but lacking in actual pirates sadly).

We all loaded up and took the turbo ferry across the Red Sea and then had to hook onto a bus convoy to get to Luxor. In southern Egypt they want you, when traveling between cities, to join a bus convoy with police in trucks in the front and back with machine guns as well as having a “security” guy in your van/bus with his own gun. We went through a ton of police road stations where you would see officials with guns as well as locals with their own machine guns walking around. It was less than 150 miles away from where we hit land, but we had to stop 4 times to pick up more buses for the convoy. I’m not sure if they do this actually for needed security or just to “make you feel safe”. That afternoon we toured Luxor Temple and the Luxor Museum. This museum was much nicer and more organized that the big one in Cairo. It had two mummies (one of Ramses I) that were about 3,000 years old I think. You could see their heads, faces, hands and feet. Ron didn’t enjoy that part too much. They had some amazing statues they had excavated around Luxor. Luxor Temple is in the middle of the town and really interesting. We went at night when they had flood lights on everything, so it gave it an added cool factor. There is a road of small sphinxes that used to stretch 2.5 kilometers to Karnak temple, but now only goes for about 50 sphinxes on each side. The picture of Tom and me posing like Sphinxes on a couple of empty podiums. We decided after such a full day we deserved a treat so we went to Pizza hut and loaded up on some wonderful pizza pies and Mountain Dew.

We finally gave in and got a tour guide to take us to the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and to see the Colossi of Memnon. The Valley of the Kings is in the desert and just has a ton of doorways in the hills that lead down to layers and layers of temples. I can’t remember exactly how many there are, but I think it is in the 60’s (I’m too lazy to look it up right now). We went down inside 3 tombs (1 big, 1 medium, and 1 small sized one). We saw Ramses I’s, but Tutankhamun’s was closed for restoration. The network of tunnels and tombs is amazing. Ramese II’s tomb connects underground to a tomb for his sons. He had around 100 freaking sons (another 100 daughters), but they can only find tombs for 50 of them so far. I mean, take that Wilt Chamberlin and Shawn Kemp. We then headed over to Valley of the Queens which is much smaller, contains Nefertari’s tomb (off limits), and is much smaller/less complex that the Valley of the Kings. After that we stopped by the Colossi of Memnon to take some pictures of the two massive statues. It is hard to believe that they had to dig to find statues that massive. That led to an hour long camel ride around the west bank at sunset and a delicious Italian dinner at our hotel. The kids finished the night off with some beers at an Irish Pub and some dancing.

The Kniolas and Jackie took off the next morning to head back to Cairo for a day and then back home. We hit the Karnak Temple which was basically the Luxor Temple on steroids. This place was MASSIVE! The height and size of the pillars and statues was amazing. I could have walked around their the entire day if it wasn’t so hot (it wasn’t even that bad actually, the sun just beats you down after a while). We had a low key night with McDonald’s and horrible American movies on TV.

We decided to join another bus convoy and set off to visit Abydos which has the Temple of Seti I. Inside they have a wall that shows the history of all of the Pharaohs and their Gods. We then went to the Temple of Hathor at Dendara. Hathor is the goddess of joy, dance, and love. She is linked to Aphrodite sometimes. It is one of the only temples with a roof still in tact. By then we were kinda templed out and probably didn’t give it the time or concentration such an amazing place deserved. We hit the pool for a little bit and then took a night train back to Cairo.

Our last day in Egypt consisted of me, Tom and Ron having a Father’s Day round of golf next to the Pyramids of Giza (very cool to do but a crappy golf course), lots of pool time, and SPORTS CENTER followed by early Sunday U.S. Open golf-that was sooo good to watch even though I was dead tired and kept nodding off. We all flew out after mid-night and headed back our separate ways. Ali joined me, Tom and Rachel going back to AZ while mom and dad headed back home to America.

This trip was incredible if you couldn’t tell by the blog. We all had a blast and it was so cool to see such amazing architecture, carvings and history. It’s not every day you get to see one of the original wonders of the world. Thank you so much to Mom and Dad and Mike and Terry Kniola for putting up with all of us and for helping us fun such an amazing trip-we REALLY appreciate it and I am very grateful. Jackie and Ali, I’m glad you guys could catch a glimpse into me, Tom and Rachel’s world as PC Volunteers and hope you ladies had fun tagging around with three idiots such as ourselves. You can also check out Jackie's pictures on Snapfish at
=249096971/g=5750783/otsc=SYE/otsi=SALB . Now I’m off to dream of Dina and her…ummm…belly…

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Egypt Short Blogs

We made it back from Egypt all safe and sound. It was an amazing trip! My sister is hanging out in Lenkeran for a couple of days, so we will be on tour mode and then I will go into major recovery mode for the weekend. This week I’m going to put a short Top Ten style blog and will write a massive Egypt blog to post next week. Pictures will come slowly and in spurts.

Sites Visited

Giza Pyramids

Egyptian Museum

Cairo Bazar

Mt. Siani

Sharm el-Shaik/Red Sea beach

Luxor Temple

Luxor Museum

Valley of the Kings

Valley of the Queens

Colossi of Memnon

Karnak Temple

Coolest Things

Real Mummies

Mt. Siani sunrise

Giza Pyramids while playing golf

McDonald’s Delivery

The most famous belly dancer in Cairo shook her boobs at me and winked

High 80’s weather almost the entire time even though it was summer

Luxor Temple

The crazy things locals said in English to us. The best one was a man offered me 2,000,000 camels for Rachel. I accepted but he didn’t pay up so we moved on.

The Burning Bush

Massive statues at the Colossi of Memnon

Transportation Used



Huge Turbo Ferry

Small Nile Boat


Night train

Horse buggy


and my favorite…


Foods Consumed

Chili’s-oh man, chili cheese fries, bacon cheddar bbq burger, cajun chicken sandwich

McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Meal 3 times-they offer double meat on all burgers which I obviously accepted

McDonald’s McArabia Chicken and Beef-two patties, lettuce, tomato, in a pita with gyro type sauce

KFC 1 time-we all got a huge bucket of chicken for our road trip to Mt. Siani

Pizza Hut-Pepperoni pizza, meat crazy pizza, cheesy garlic bread

Fettuccini Alfredo with chicken

Johnny Carrino’s-we got one of every appetizer and went nutz topped off with milk shakes

Mexican at some decent place in Instanbul

Mountain Dew-I downed 4-5 cans over the trip and loved every last drop

Twinky-one place had twinkies in a fridge-that was so good in 105 degree heat

Monday, June 11, 2007

Egypt Baby Egypt!!!

Just wanted to let you all know, everyone made it safely to Egypt! I ate at a Chili's, seen the pyramids, the sphinx, egyptian museum, and a fantastic belly dancer! We are off to climb Mt. Siani tonight and then on to Luxor for a few days!!!! I'll post a mega trip post next week...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ron and Becky Rock Azerbaijan!

Well pretty much all of my friends came into Baku Friday for meetings, a big Baku weekend, to meet my parents, or all of the above. I had to start my weekend off having a meeting with Charlie and Carlo trying to get our boys leadership camp planned out and rolling for late August. We still have a ton of things that need to be taken care of, but I have confidence that it will all work out in the end. We ate some delicious pizza Friday night and then headed out for a typical night of hanging with the gang and dancing our butts off!

Mom and Dad flew in from London around 4am and then I met them at the hotel around 9:00 when I woke up. They treated a group of us to some good American food lunches and then Rikki George and I took them on the typical Baku tour for a few hours. It was pretty hot and none of us had gotten much sleep the night before, so we all took naps before the real fun began. We met up with some of the gang and Erin’s parents who were also visiting for some beers late in the afternoon and then Mom and Dad bought us tons of nachos, chicken nuggets and beers for about 25 of us. Thankfully we hit happy hour, so the damage to my dad’s bank account was minimal. We then took them to a few “hot spots” in Baku for them to get a taste of the night life. Ron and Becky got major cool points for going out with that big of a group of us and dancing like crazy with us until at least 3am! No one ever accused my folks of not liking to have a little fun every now and then.

Sunday we went to my first host family’s café and were treated to my favorite Azeri meal-fried chicken and French fries. My dad was not happy when my host father pulled out a bottle of vodka for toasts after the previous nights sampling. We ate a ton of food and it was fun to see everyone interacting. After that we hopped a taxi down to Lenkeran and just bummed around all night.

Monday morning we headed up into some hills just outside of Lenkeran for a scenic drive with my Azeri tutor. I took Mom and Dad to my favorite quick lunch spot-think mashed potato quesadillas basically. We put yogurt on them, but they didn’t seem to like that addition. We started to take the normal Lenkeran town tour, but for the first time in 6 weeks it started raining. This forced us to head home for a lazy afternoon. Mom and Dad helped me move all of my things into my new house and then we went out to the nicest dinner in town. They enjoyed every part but the goat liver (which none of us like).

Today we took the Lenkeran city tour-hotel, train station, places they make fresh bread and chickens, had some tea, and then met the people at my office and tom’s office. Topping off the big day in Lenkeran we hit the hottest of hot spots-Nene’s House!!! She cooked a massive meal with Lenkeran’s famous Chicken Levangi as the main course. Mom and Dad both really liked all of the food that Nene prepared, but they didn’t eat near as much as I did. Nene joked with them all through dinner and then showed them her photo albums for a while. We had a good time and the translating all week has gone a lot better than I thought it would. Heck, maybe I am learning this language a little.

Tomorrow we will take it easy, let them try a little more Azeri food, then I’ll put them on a train to Baku and off to London for a quick stop and then on to Cairo. Ali is in Rome right now and Tom and his family are getting ready to leave America soon. We will all meet up in Cario on Saturday for 10 days of blistering heat, sand for miles, the enticing smell of camel dung, and BELLY DANCERS 24/7!!!! Have a great couple of weeks everyone. I won’t put up another blog until I get back on the 18th or 19th, assuming I don’t melt into the desert…

Pictures this week are of: the family by the Eternal Flame in Baku, a big 1st host family picture, my host brother Hafiz and our moms, three pictures from our trip the mountains next to Lenkeran, and finally Ron, Becky and Nene.