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Egypt! April 26, 2008

Posted by ayasawada in Personal, Travel.
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Sphinx

I was in Egypt last week for work — the first time I’d been offered a chance to travel somewhere for business purposes. The cynical side of me says it’s a buy-off to keep me from jumping ship anytime soon, and if so who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?

Photos can be found on my Flickr page.

Anyway, I had a really great time. The primary reason was to attend the BioVision Alexandria conference on life sciences, which was pretty interesting. Nothing really new or groundbreaking said — it wasn’t that kind of reporting back conference. It was more of a forward looking, ‘what can science do to bring it’s solutions more rapidly to the world’ kind of thing. Many of the issues I’d heard before but it was good to take some time out to actually listen to them properly and to hear so many good speakers debate the issues. Gave me a lot of ideas for work and was also good to meet lots of people, including some big names.

For some reason they’d classified me as a ‘speaker’ though, so I got access to the VIP areas despite not actually being an expert on anything. A number of people were surprised to hear I was a journalist! They really hadn’t made a big media effort and I think if I’d been a bit more savvy (and remembered my flipping audio recorder) I could have squeezed a few more news stories out of it. But it was good to make some contacts and get to know the big names in various fields.

I didn’t get much of a chance to see Alexandria. Much of my first four days were spent just being ferried back and forth between hotel and conference. All very nice — can’t complain about a 4 star hotel or a conference centre equipped with wifi so I could use my iPod touch! — but a bit exhausting and stale in the evenings. It’s a pain to be stuck with no option but hotel food for dinner (which was quite pricy), but I did get out for a traditional Egyptian meal one night. I met a German bioinformaticist at the conference and we in turn met a bunch of local undergrads and their professors, who kindly took us out. It was great to get out and really useful to talk to actual scientists and students about what their needs are and how they view their scientific community. Again, very useful for work. And the food was great!

The conference organisers ferried me from Cairo airport to Alexandria and back, which meant I didn’t get to take the train, but did get to experience the crazy Egyptian roads. You really do take your life into your own hands there. As someone I met said to me, those are road markings but ‘decorations’.

I spent a few days in Cairo before flying back. Mostly this was to have a couple of meetings with some potential partners and some of our journalists. Thankfully they turned out to be much more informal than I was expecting — I really don’t think I’m an expert to talk about anything or represent anyone! I stayed in the Nile Hilton thanks to a discount rate from one of our contacts in Cairo. Lovely hotel overlooking the Nile and very central. And it has a gorgeous rooftop bar that I spent a couple of nights staying up pondering stuff.

Anyway, saw the usual touristy sights in the day and a half I had to myself. Giza pyramids, Islamic Cairo, the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities. The Citadel was amazing and the bazaar in Khan El-khalili interesting but frightening. The number of people who grab you to come into their store is amazing. And you know what I’m like, confrontation takes me by surprise, so what do you do when it’s there every 2 metres? I haggled for some souvenir tat, but got ripped off on one occasion when I hadn’t realised he’d raised the price on me by 10 times! Apparently that’s just what they do to anyone who looks Japanese… Anyway, I was more successful in a perfume factory outlook store, thanks to a girl I met on my tour. We posed as a married couple a few times just for simplicity, which helped negotiations!

Weather was great. Not too hot in the end, though it did reach 37 degrees C on the day I left. Thought I had a great time, I really did miss London a lot. I also just missed people. It’s nice to go abroad and see somewhere new, but it’s always nicer to be able to share it with someone. I hadn’t realised what a sentimental old fool I’d become!

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