#throwbackThursday -> EGYPT!

Last week I wrote about my White Week adventures two years ago.  As another Thursday throwback, I’m sharing my travels from last years vacation. EGYPT!

If you would’ve asked me a few years ago if I ever thought I’d go to Egypt I would’ve said absolutely not. I never in a million years dreamed of it. When I was considering going my parents may have begged me not to go..numerous times. Being an ‘adult’ meant not having to always listen to your parents right? So off I went with my friend Carrie (who is a far superior blogger than I am.. check her out) to the ancient civilization known as Egypt. Sorry Mo & Kenno!

We were there for a week and traveled to three different places: Cairo, Luxor and Hurghada. We arranged a private guide and driver for the trip, so we felt pretty good about our trip, safety wise.

We arrived in Cairo after a 3.5 hour flight from Milan. After buying our Visa we then started to look for our driver. I wish I had video or pictures of this because words won’t do it justice.  We stepped through security and there were a zillion drivers, none of which were holding a sign with my name.  We got our luggage and continued to walk around more, finally I spotted someone outside slam a tiny piece of paper scribbled with my name on the glass.  Alas, we found our driver, in an awesome Bill Cosby-esqe sweater, so naturally we called him Bill all week. I’m not even sure what his real name was, but he was a sweetie.

Our hotel was literally right across from the Pyramids. It was unbelievable. We got there and took us up to the roof to get a better view. We stayed up there for a bit taking it in.

The next morning Bill picked us up with our guide, Othman (pronounced Oz-mun).

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Our guide for Cairo, Othman.

He was incredible, kind and quite funny.  As we drove to the center of Cairo, Carrie and I were wide-eyed. It was total sensory overload. The traffic was ridiculous, on top of that there were donkeys, bikers, people walking with pita on their heads.. it was just a lot. This video doesn’t do it justice.. but gives you a taste of what we experienced daily.

Our first day we headed to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. Tahrir Square was the home of the Revolution, in 2011. If you think back to seeing news reports or pictures about the Egyptian Revolution-demonstrations, strikes, marches- most of it happened here. Bill pulled up and the square was fairly empty. I looked to my right and saw a street lined with tanks and men armed ready to go. That was an eye opener (and also the only time the whole trip I felt scared for my safety).  We walked right past these tanks to enter the Museum.

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The museum was huge and you couldn’t take pictures. We saw lots of things, which two years later I barely remember.  We saw lots of mummies that were preserved-gross. I did learn that when they mummify someone they take out their organs and put them in vases. Pretty insane.  The main part of the museum that was cool was seeing the belongings of King Tutankhamun (which I learned quickly was King Tut). There were gold coffins packed with stones, thrones, masks and lots of beautiful jewelry.

Lunch was the most interesting part of our first day. Othman told us it was time for lunch and before we knew it we were pulled over on the side of the road and he was out of the car. We were left waiting with Bill wondering what we got ourselves into. Now, he did describe what we were eating and I was familiar because I did research ‘typical Egyptian dishes’ and this was about the only thing that came up- koshari. It is a mix of macaroni, lentils, rice, chickpeas, fried onions and fried noodles topped with a tomato sauce filled with spices.

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We opened up our lunch and weren’t exactly excited to eat.. Then Othman said we needed to add our sauces. Which, mind you, were in a plastic bags that he just cut open and poured over our ‘dishes’. Yep, it was a meal to remember.  As far as taste, meh it was alright. I certainly wouldn’t want to eat it everyday.. like he said most Egyptians do.

After lunch we headed to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, a Turkish-style Mosque. It felt like I was back in Istanbul.

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Believe it or not.. to the left through all the pollution is the Pyramids

We finished up our day at a local market. Which pretty much was all junk, but the greatest people watching ever. We sat and enjoyed some fresh juice and took in the scene.

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The next day Bill and Othman picked us up for our day filled with Pyramids. Othman provided us with our own supply of snacks.. corn nuts and chocolate pebbles.

Off we headed to Memphis- the Capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom. We quickly learned there was not much to see here.

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After we headed to Saqqara, home to the famous step pyramid of Djoser.

Before we saw the step pyramid we stopped at the tomb of Titi.

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This is the pyramid that holds the tomb of Titi
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The guy on the right took us into the Tomb. Although cameras were not permitted he insisted I take pictures with my phone. When we got out he rubbed his fingers together to insist a tip.
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Inside the pyramid.
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The Step Pyramid

Really.. the only pyramids I wanted to see were in Giza. Luckily that was our final stop of the day.

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The Great Pyramid

Over my shoulder you can kind of see the entrance to the Great Pyramid. We did not know this prior.. but you can still go inside! Obviously we had to do it. It was so humid and hot in there, not to mention tiny, narrow, claustrophobic and a STEEP climb! A year later and I can’t believe I’ve been in one of THE pyramids. Nuts.

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GINORMOUS rocks!
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The smelliest spot in Giza.
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Easily my favorite picture of the trip. A mixture of terror/amusement.
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Before going to Egypt I knew I was going to ride a camel. Carrie was a bit iffy.. Luckily she was a trooper and joined me for a smelly, unforgettable ride.
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Our very confused camel guide. He asked me to check the pictures he took, I instead, took his picture.

We stopped at the Sphinx which is right in front of the pyramids.

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The Sphinx

And yes.. Othman made us do this. We were thrilled.

On our third day in Egypt we flew to Luxor. I’m not gonna lie.. I knew very little about Luxor, besides that I would get to see the Nile River, and for that.. I was pumped.

Our tour guide, Mansour, picked us up from the airport and we headed straight to the East Bank (as in the East side of the Nile). Our first stop was the Karnak Temple which was absolutely mind blowing.

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I can’t even tell you the history behind it, I just know there is A LOT of history behind it.

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Everything was absolutely gigantic.

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I loved all the hieroglyphs.

 

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I thought maybe this was the first emoji ever made..

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Our next stop of the day was Luxor Temple.  I loved walking up to it. Both sides were lined with sphinxes.

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At the entrance there was an obelisk on one side. Usually they are built in pairs.  The matching obelisk is located at the Place de la Concorde, in Paris. Both Carrie and I had already seen it so we thought that was pretty cool.

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This is Ramses II- we heard a LOT about Ramses.

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Our night ended with a sunset over the Nile at our hotel. Not too shabby for our first day in Luxor.

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Our second day in Luxor we spent on the West bank.

We first stopped at the Temple of Hatshepsut. It is built right under cliffs, which was pretty cool.

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Next, we headed to the Valley of the Kings. We were not allowed to take pictures here so unfortunately this is the only one we have, before we passed through the gates.

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With our ticket we could visit three tombs of our choice- we went with the three our guide suggested- Rameses IX, Rameses II, Tausert and Setnekht.  Carrie also wanted to see the tomb of Tutankhamen (aka King Tut) so we paid a bit extra for that.

The tombs were pretty amazing, but my favorite part of this stop was seeing archeologists digging and working to uncover a recently discovered tomb.  I would absolutely lose my mind with that job. I barely can handle a 100 piece puzzle.. just not my idea of a good time.

Our last stop was at the Habu Temple.

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These were easily the deepest carvings we saw, some I could fit nearly my whole hand in!

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As you can tell, the hieroglyphs were one of my favorite things in Egypt.

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We got back to our hotel and went for a felucca ride on the Nile. You can see two felucca boats behind Carrie and I.

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Ours was called the Nile Queen.

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Our boat captain steered our boat like this using his feet pretty much like hands. It was insanely impressive.

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Some of our boat views..

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The next morning we had an interesting private ride from Luxor to Soma Bay. This ride was about 3.5 hours, but it felt like a lifetime. We were on dirt roads and rode through “checkpoints” while entering villages. These checkpoints were pointless, nobody checked a damn thing. I may have pulled up a map on my phone numerous times to make sure we were heading the correct direction.

When we arrived we were very pleased. Our hotel- the Sheraton Soma Bay Resort– was beautiful! We were certainly glad we saved this for the last part of our trip.

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Yep, thats the Red Sea beyond the pool.

We dropped our stuff off and headed straight to the beach.

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The next day we got picked up by our driver to head out for the day on a snorkeling excursion.  I had never been snorkeling.. boy was I terrible at it! I had more fun just lounging and swimming.

We got back and had a lovely sunset swim at the pool, along with a cocktail, of course.

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The next morning we relaxed on the beach then it was time to head back to Milan. It was an incredible week. One I never thought I would have, but I am so thankful I did.

Next week is my February break and Carrie and I are heading to DUBAI! I promise that blog post won’t be as long as this one! Or maybe.. it will.

 

If you made it this far.. you deserve some kind of award. Leave me a comment and I’ll send you a virtual hi-five.

A Look Back on a Memorable Trip

With just about two weeks to go before our February break I decided to throw it back to past February vacations.  We have a week off every February called ‘White Week’ because its the time where most people go skiing.

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I did that my first year.. for two days. That was enough for a couple years.

Two years ago my trusty travel companion, Grace, and I decided to head to Poland. Yep. Poland. In February… Not exactly our brightest move. It was as cold as you would imagine. Were we 100% prepared? It wouldn’t be a trip with the two of us if it were. So no.. we weren’t.

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Yes, that is Grace in shorts and a light jacket. In retrospect- we should’ve had those puffy-down coats. Ya live, ya learn.

We spent the first part of our week in Krakow. We stayed at the Mosquito Hostel which was easily the best hostel experience I have had thus far. We had our own private room and bathroom, the staff was so friendly and helpful and the other travelers were awesome. This environment made for an awesome 5 days in Krakow.

Our first day we arrived in late afternoon so we walked around and explored a bit. Krakow was adorable. These cute old men made my day.

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The next day we took the Free Jewish Walking Tour.  We started in the Kazimierz district, which, until 1941 was the main Jewish district of Krakow.  We stopped at the Old Synagogue, built in the 1400’s, it is the oldest standing synagogue in Poland. Until it was invaded by the Germans, it was one of the most important synagogues in the city as well as the center of the Jewish community of Krakow.  Today, it is a museum.  Our tour guide, Pawel, then proceeded to teach us a traditional Jewish dance in front of the synagogue.

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We then headed to the Jewish Ghetto- Podgorze. This area was across the Wisla river opposite the Kazimierz district. It was only about 15 different streets and in 1941, when the Jewish people were expelled, held 17,000 people, normally fit for about 3,000 people. Walls were surrounding the Ghetto to separate it from the rest of the city. It held factories, like Shindler’s factory, that utilized forced cheap labor of ghetto inhabitants.  Steven Spielberg’s movie Shindler’s List made this area famous.

In March of 1943 the destruction of this ghetto started, sending Jewish laborers from the ghetto to the nearby Plaszow concentration camp.  The remaining inhabitants were killed in their homes or on the streets and several hundred Jews were taken to Auschwitz. The destruction continued until December 1943.

The center of the Jewish ghetto was Plac Zgody.  This was a point of departure for thousands of Jews who boarded the waiting trains to different camps.  Today it holds a memorial by Krakow architects consisting of 70 empty chairs.  These represent furniture and other remnants discarded by deportees.

Jewish Quarter

After a long, emotional day we had one of the most delicious and memorable meals. We ate at Starka, located in the Kazimierz district. We started with a typical Polish drink- Zubrowka, a Polish bison-grass vodka that’s been around for centuries, and apple juice over ice. It tastes like an apple pie in liquid form. Needless to say we were obsessed. Grace had the grilled salmon with pistachios served with a celery-dill sauce, potato purée
and warm caramelised beets. I had chicken breast stuffed with herbs and nuts, served with creamy broad bean sauce, potato purée and honey caramelised vegetables. Both were as amazing as the sound. After we headed to a local bar for obviously.. some more vodka.

 

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The next day we headed to Auschwitz. This was a day I will certainly remember until I am old and wrinkly. It was utterly eerie walking around the grounds.  There are no words to justify what I saw or felt.

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The day after our visit to Auschwitz we were glad to have a relaxing, easy-going day. We started our day at Cafe Camelot. It was adorable and delicious.  From there we then wandered around the Wawel Castle and popped in some shops around Old Town.

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Our last day in Krakow we headed to the Wieliczka Salt Mines.  It was opened in the 13th century and has dozens of sculptures carved out of rock salt.  There were elaborate chandeliers which were incredible.  As a salt lover, I found myself wanting to lick the walls, but I refrained.  Did I love it? Not really.. but it’s pretty cool to say I’ve been to one of the oldest Salt Mines in the world.. I guess.

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That night we headed to my favorite bar- Pijalnia Wodki I Piwa.  Although this place was packed every time we went, we couldn’t pass the cheap drinks and awesome atmosphere.  When you walk in the bar it feels like you went back in time, with the walls covered in old newspapers.  We had shots of my favorite- hazelnut vodka. We also drank hazelnut vodka and coke- which pretty much tastes like a cream soda dream. We ended the night at our favorite late night 24-hour pierogi spot. Those things are to die for.

Needless to say we weren’t on our A-game the next morning when we needed to head to the airport to go to Warsaw. In fact, we woke up late, “packed” in a frantic, lost the key to our room and were very stressed on our way to the airport. Until we realized the airport was the tiniest airport ever and we wouldn’t have a problem. Luckily, Grace found our key in her jacket pocket.. so at least there was that.

We arrived in Warsaw in the morning so we decided to do a free walking tour that afternoon. We quickly learned that we wouldn’t make friends with true locals if we told them we spent the majority of our time in Poland in Krakow.  These cities are rivals. We started at the Royal Castle then headed to the Main Market Square, which was the cutest part of Warsaw, in my opinion.  It is one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe.  In the middle of the square is a Mermaid statue in a fountain.  The Mermaid is the official city coat of arms, the long-standing symbol of Warsaw.  It is said that it is the sister of the mermaid of Copenhagen and she wanted to swim a bit further along the Baltic sea. She then fell in love with a fisherman in Warsaw. She was then kidnapped and put on display, she said she would always guard the city with her sword and shield.

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Our next stop was a small square which had a bell that was found in a basement, and was never hung so they put it in this square. Superstition says if you hop around the bell on one leg three times and make a wish it will come true.

The whole group watched as each of us hopped around the bell on one leg.

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That is the face of someone who just hopped around a bell.. and forgot to make a wish. Idiot.

The tiny house in the corner was built by a clever man who wanted to minimize his city tax.  City tax was billed according to how big the frontage facing the square was. His house extends back and out to each side, only appearing small from the front.

 

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My favorite part of Warsaw was our last full day in Poland. It was a day dedicated to eating Paczki.  Paczki Day kicks off the final week of pre-Lent celebrations.  Paczki are similar to jelly filled doughnuts.  So naturally, we had to take part in this special day.

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Yep, they were pretty much heavenly.

The next day we headed back to the airport. We checked the board and our flight was nowhere to be found. We went to the information desk to ask about it and they laughed at us and said.. your flight leaves from the other airport. We assumed they meant terminal, so we said okay? Do we take a tram or a bus there? They laughed again and told us it was 50km away. Now.. being American my brain is a bit slow to convert km to miles so it took me a second to realize..shit, thats far! Epic fail. We hopped in a taxi and told the driver to go to the other airport. After a chuckle and some explanation we were on our way. Luckily Poland is super cheap and this hour long cab ride cost about 30 dollars. We managed to make our flight and *bonus* even had time to pick up a couple bottles of our favorite vodka.

My second white week, although I saw no snow, was certainly one to remember. Next week I’ll recap last years white week.. which I spent in a place a bit warmer.