Friday, August 15, 2014

My Travels Part Three

The third and final 'chapter' of my travels from earlier this year is here - if you're interested (if not I totally don't blame you for moving on to find a blog that is solidly about writing and reading!)
The first two parts covered our time in Africa which was amazing, not we move on to Egypt (which technically is Africa, I know) and Europe!

We arrived in Cairo very early in the morning and were worried the hotel might not have sent the car to pick us up. However, the driver was ready and waiting with a sign with our name on it! He didn't speak much English though so chit chat was limited. He drove us through a quiet and almost deserted Cairo to The Windsor Hotel, an old Victorian era hotel with a lot of charm. You have to love charm to stay in a place like this because it really is very vintage and rustic - the original elevator, the rooms haven't exactly been updated, but nevertheless it's got a huge amount of character and makes for an interesting stay! It's history is so vast many films have been made in the hotel!
The Windsor Hotel Restaurant

The service at the hotel was really wonderful and we even had the owner come and chat with us to make sure everything is okay. The reason, I suspect, is because of all the conflict and the lack of tourists. There are so many staff bending over backward to do whatever you wish because there are so few guests coming to stay. The owner doesn't want to lay anyone off yet he worries the hotel will close if the tourists don't come back soon. It was rather sad actually.

Just a few hours after we arrived we were awake again and being given breakfast before a big day of touring the city. We'd originally planned for a two day tour but having spent more than we intended in southern and eastern Africa we thought it better to just do one day. On reflection possibly the two day would have been better but that's hindsight for you! Our guide's name was Mina Samir - if you're ever in Egypt and find yourself needing a guide, he is wonderful. he speaks perfect English and even has a degree in Egyptology specifically for tour guiding.

Our first stop was visiting Saqqara the oldest and first pyramid in Cairo, also known as the step pyramid. It was fascinating! And given all the trouble Egypt had been having, all the tourists had pretty much stopped
coming, i'm not kidding we had the place to ourselves. This was good and bad. Great for photos but bad as it meant all the peddlers would try and get every penny out of you. Seriously. It was quite awful actually but you have to just be strong enough to say no. Occasionally Mina would offer to pay for a photo on a donkey or whatever as a way to continue good relations with the locals since he brings many tourists through regularly.

After checking out Saqqara we visited the Papyrus shop. It's the authentic Papyrus paper and it really is
quite spectacular especially with the Egyptian paintings on them. They could also write your names in hyroglifics as well as special dates in arabic on the painting you chose. It was very cool and we got a demonstration of how the paper is made. There was one we loved.... really loved, but it was just too much for us to afford at the moment. We chose a much cheaper one and what happened next was evidence of how hard the country has been hit by the conflict. When the city is thriving, you cannot bargain in these places. The prices are fixed... However they don't have enough customers and they're desperate for a sale. We genuinely weren't trying to bargain them down, we were happy with the smaller cheaper one we'd chosen, yet we really did want the other bigger one. He brought the price down from 1300 Egyptian pound to 750 Egyptian pound and threw in a small version of another big one we liked. We felt SO bad. We were of course really happy to get our beautiful painting but we felt awful. If only we could've afforded the full price! We said we'd come back when we had more money. They said, next year? Ahhh might take us a bit longer than that...!

After the Papyrus store we headed out to Giza and saw the pyramids in all their glory. We went for a camel
ride (my gosh those poor camels I'm convinced they're treated very poorly. Jesse's camel whined the whole way :( it was sad I wish I could free them all!!!!) And then we went down to see the Sphinx. What wonders they are! It was strange too, all the local girls wanting to take their photo with me. I felt like a celebrity of something. Apparently the white skin and blonde hair is something they are fascinated with. We then headed to a local bazaar to pick up some souvenirs (they drive a hard bargain but when you genuinely don't want something and are happy to leave it behind they'll start bargaining with all they've got.) Then we headed to an Egyptian cotton factory. Would've bought something there if we had room in our luggage!

By that stage we were exhausted so headed back to the hotel, had dinner in their restaurant and slept. We were a little too afraid to leave the safety of the hotel! The next morning we headed to the Egyptian Museum. The receptionist at the hotel had no idea how to give us directions and naturally we got entirely lost. I have never been so scared in my life. We got lost in the Islamic area and I wasn't wearing a headscarf (novice). We got a number of looks... and walking past barricaded buildings wasn't fun. It took us an hour to find the museum. The museum itself was good. It was surrounded by more than 20 tanks all with at least 10 soldiers inside, that was a little disconcerting. The museum was very interesting but a complete mess in terms of layout. I was so freaked around the mummies. Silly really, they just.... I dunno, give me the heebie jeebies!

When it came time to head home I was worried we wouldn't find the way. We had no map, no address, no phone.... well done. We got utterly lost. Not in the Islamic direction this time though thank goodness. We just had no idea where to find our hotel. We walked around and around in circles until eventually we walked into another hotel.The hotel manager said he'd seen us wandering around half an hour ago.... clearly we stuck out like sore thumbs. They gave us very good directions and eventually we found our way back to the hotel. It was great to see the pyramids but honestly I didn't enjoy my time in Cairo. Most of the people, unless you were possibly going to give them money were really rude, the streets were full of rubbish and everyone drove where ever they wanted. No one followed the rules anymore because of all the problems with the government. It was chaos! We were really glad to leave to be honest.

By the next day we were safely in Athens and feeling like we were rejoining society a little bit! We spent the first night on an overnight ferry out to Crete. We bought the cabin ticket which was a really good idea as it meant we got a good night sleep in the beds while the people who just bought tickets for the seating areas looked exhausted. We spent the first day on Crete exploring Heraklion, checking out the city and its restaurants.

The next day hired a car and drove to Chania (we got really lost. again. and ended up on the other side of the island. Tourist time I called it. Jesse wasn't impressed at my navigating skills....) Chania was beautiful. A little Venetian style town right on the harbour. Gosh it was beautiful. Wonderful vibe, lovely people, all keen to share their stories. We had a great time there. We made good use of the car too, going out around the peninsulas and to the beaches around the area. If only it had been a bit warmer!

The blue of the water at this particular beach was so incredibly beautiful if I didn't know better I'd think it was fake. It was the most incredible beach. In the summer time it's packed with people swimming and sunbathing. It also has pink sand which is really incredible to see. It was pretty windy when we were there, would love to see it thriving in the summer months but it was quite a hike to get to!

We then headed inland and checked out this beautiful lake. This is one of those gems that usually get hidden away from the tourists simply because they don't know about it. I believe a lot of the locals love swimming here. There are paddling boats you can hire too and a restaurant right on the shore. It was quite breathtaking and at that time of the year (April) we had it all to ourselves!

The reason I chose Crete initially when planning our trip was because my granddad fought here during the war. He wrote a few of him memoirs down before he died and his time in Crete was one of them. He was stationed there however when the fighting came they were evacuated. His evacuation ship was hit and they swam back to shore. Many men were injured and couldn't go on but my granddad and other soldiers swam out to an abandoned fishing boat and used that boat to make their escape. It was really interesting visiting the area and seeing where he spent some of his time during the war. We also went to the graveyard where many of his friends and fellow soldiers were buried. The Kiwi soldiers take up a huge amount of room in that graveyard. It's a beautiful sight that's well cared for and overlooks the water.

From Chania we flew out to Athens where we spent two days checking out the Parthenon/Acropolis,
Lycabettus Hill and it's stunning view out over Athens, The Temple of Olympian Zeus, The National Archaeological Museum and wandered around the Plaka and the streets of the city. Athens was really lovely actually and we had a great time!

The food in Athens was actually really good too which was a nice change from what we'd become used to!

Then we headed over to Turkey! We headed straight down the South-West Coast to Kalkan where we were staying in a villa for a week. It was really beautiful but unfortunately we were there at the wrong time of the year and not a lot was open yet. We had hired a car but when we got there realised it was a manual. Jesse can't drive manuals and I'm not a super confident driver, particularly when it's driving on the opposite side of the road. We had the car for a night. We took it for a drive, we tried to visit another town, another beach.... I failed.
I freaked out, I couldn't do it. I don't know why... it was just so different driving from the other side of the car with the gear stick being changed with my other hand... I kept messing up and I really didn't like it. We decided we were on holiday and I didn't want to be that stressed, so we returned the car and spent the week lying by the pool in the sun reading and playing monopoly. Jesse got a bit bored but I loved it!

Then came Paris, the city of love! It's definitely not my favourite city in Europe and for me.... it didn't really live up to the hype. Going up the Eiffel Tower was cool as we saw the sunset from the top, and we were there with Jesse's sister and her family so that was really nice.

We enjoyed walking through Notre Dame during the Easter Mass too which was interesting. The food in Paris is not good. Unless you have a lot of money... all the touristy restaurants have exactly the same menu and it's dull and bland. There are plenty of crepe places though which are good. We also checked out Sainte-Chappelle which was so beautiful! What a church! Even better than the Notre Dame in terms of impressivenses I'd say. Those stain glasses... wow! We also took some time to check out Montmartre & Sacre Coeur which was lovely. We sat on the hill and ate gluten free treats from the gluten free bakery we'd discovered! We went to the Louvre and walked around looking at all the art, hello Mona Lisa.

We saw the Moulin Rouge (though we're too cheap to see a show there!) and we had an amazing day out at Versailles which was our Paris highlight. We did a bike tour through the gardens which included a stop at the Versailles market to stock up on food for a picnic.

We got strawberries, cheese, roast chicken, tomatos and a few gluten free treats and after biking past Marie Antoinette's house and various other places in the grounds we sat by the canal in the sun for a picnic. It was perfect! We ended the tour with a trip through the palace. Amazing.

The last thing we did was something I've wanted to do for a long time. We bought a padlock, wrote our names on, padlocked it to this 'over run with padlocks' bridge and threw the keys into the water :)

We took an overnight bus to Amsterdam which was not fun and as soon as we arrived were greeted with nastiness from public transport staff. Some people don't have a heart! I found quite a lot of that in
Amsterdam actually, general rudeness and disregard for others. Such a shame as it's a really beautiful city. We had arrived really early so were right at the front of the line for the Anne Frank House which was very sad and a really moving experience. That poor girl.... Then we had lunch at a delicious Dutch pancake house (Called Pancakes!) then headed for a canal cruise on one of the canal boats.

That was really nice, though both Jesse and I were having trouble staying awake not having got much sleep the night before on the bus! We were staying in an Airbnb apartment and fell asleep almost as soon as we got there! The next day we checked out the streets of Amsterdam, walking around the canals to Dam Square where there was an incredible festival going on, trying the famous hot chocolate, trying chips in a cone (huge in Amsterdam!) and checking out the Sex Museum and the Red Light District (when in Amsterdam!).

The next day was King's Day so it was madness with orange everywhere on the streets. There was a lot of partying, drinking, street stalls, food stalls, live music... it was quite epic, but I think it's the kind of thing that's best if you know the good places to go and if you have a big group of friends to celebrate with! We spent our final day at the Rijksmuseum which is a really impressive art museum in a beautiful building. I'm not a big art museum fan but this one I highly recommend!

That evening we jumped on another overnight bus and headed to our new lives in London. This bus trip was awful as we got woken multiple times, had to get off the bus for the ferry ride and for customs etc etc. horrible! But we got to London and that's what matters! We've been here ever since, exploring all the corners of our new city and trying to find jobs. We miss our travelling hugely and would love to get back on the road and explore more of Europe. It'll happen, in time I guess.

So that's that. That is the end of my big adventure for 2014! I hope you enjoyed it and maybe it inspired you to do some travelling. I highly HIGHLY recommend Africa :)

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