Monday, June 23, 2014

Whirlwind visit to Cairo

Because Australia is so far away whenever I go overseas I want to cram in as much as possible, especially in the 3.5 weeks I got off work.

So when I was planning my trip to go to Switzerland for a Cousin’s wedding, I wanted to make good use of my time. I mean, who goes all the way to Europe just to visit one country, right?

Not me!

I had already decided that visiting Istanbul a must and so all I had to choose another contrary to go to before flying to Switzerland.

Originally I wanted to go to Morocco but Mum kept on saying it was too dangerous for a short white female to go alone.

But when I began to talk to my friend James in Egypt about my plans (by that stage Mum and Dad had decided to come too) it seemed like a perfect opportunity to visit him.

Typically, Mum began to worry about the political unrest and she thought we were crazy about going for such a short time but come on, I just want excitement!

But little did we know that that it would be a intense couple of days but that was ok as that is what travelling is all about. It was none of our finest moments travelling wise but, in hindsight, things could have been worse.

After our flight from Izmir was delayed we missed our connecting flight from Istanbul to Cairo. So after negotiating with Turkish Airlines (never again) we managed to get a later flight.

After surviving the ultimate red eye flight, we finally arrived in Cairo!

But because of the mix up our luggage got stuck somewhere in transit so it took an hour or so to try and sort it out with Egypt Air.

We didn’t let this spoil thing as it would all work out in the end and we were in Cairo to see James and the city.

After a short sleep we set out with our excellent guide James to see the Coptic area of Cairo as well as a ride down the Nile.

It was a really interesting afternoon and more history overload. It was good to remember that Egypt is more than the Pyramids.

The next day, we walked to Tahrir Square which seemed to be different to what it looked like on TV during the Arab Spring; it was just a big roundabout with many roads leading off to other parts of the city.
While we were there we visited the Egyptian Museum where there were more Mommies that we had ever seen in our whole and entire lives. They were everywhere, sometimes stacked 6 high. It was incredible!

We were warned to that there might be some people would try and tell us that the museum was closed or just open for locals and try and get us to go into a Touristy shop.

See what I mean about not being my finest moment? I fell for it. Papa knew about this but I just swept up in the whole idea about it being closed, I should have listened.

It was deemed too dangerous to go to the Pyramids so we went to a hotel with Pyramid views and we sat in their bar, drank wine and took it all in.

The final day in Cairo was soon upon us and sadly we had to say good bye to James. Thanks to his inside knowledge we were able to see a lot of Cairo that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Then there was the hand luggage saga but we won’t go there.

Luckily our luggage was waiting for us at the airport but retrieving it involved a fair amount of drama.   

First we had to wait for over an hour for some unfathomable reason, then finally Egypt Airway representatives would only allow Papa to go down to a basement room stacked with lost luggage and look for our bags himself.

He was gone for what seemed like hours (in reality, probably just 45 minutes or so) he returned with our bags. But in his absence we were imagining things that could happen to our papa, although we had nothing to worry about as he handled it in true style.

It was a dream come true to visit James in Cairo and it was a true adventure. It was travel at its most exciting.

Thanks for having us my friend, it was amazing.    

Friday, June 20, 2014

Good bye Turkey, Hello Egypt

Our holiday in Turkey was amazing; we had such a good time.

We will never forget all the historical buildings we saw but I will definitely be back to discover more of this great city that sits in between East and West.

It was everything that a holiday should be; relaxing, full of sights, sounds and smells, full of amazing food and a bit of adventure thrown in.

We also loved the many characters and people that we met on the way who had their own unique story and who made the holiday so cool.

Not that we would want it any other way but our trip from Ephesus to Cairo was quite an adventure.   

Having got from Izmir airport to Selcuk by expensive but super fast Taxi (sometimes going up to 140 km per hour) we were keen to take something a little cheaper to fly to Istanbul so we get our connecting flight to Cairo.

So we decided to take the train from Selcuk to Izmir airport and it was super cheap but only went a few times a day.

But when it came we found the train to be already full and knowing that if we waited for the next one we would miss our flight so we (plus our luggage) our British sensibilities of personal space and politeness pushed our way in. We spent the next hour and half like sardines along with the locals.

Luckily we got there on time and spent our last remaining Turkish money at Starbucks of all things and praying that our trip to Egypt would be plain sailing.

The city of Ephesus is more than just a part of a biblical story

Since I was travelling with my Mum and Dad there was a bit of negotiation our itinerary. I wanted to do a whistle stop trip to Cairo and they really, really wanted to go to Ephesus; so we did a side trip to this historical site.

To be honest, since I am not into Christianity I didn’t want to go to visit this city (in the same way being not Australian meant that I didn’t have an inherent desire to visit Gallipoli) but I ended up enjoying this venture into antiquity.

While you can do a day trip to Ephesus from Istanbul, the idea of starting out very early and arriving back at the hotel very late didn’t really appeal to Mum and Dad who wanted to take their time. So we decided to fly in late afternoon before spending the next day sightseeing and flying onwards to Cairo on the following day.

We found this quirky little B&B near the centre of town which we fell in love with straight away. It had carpets everywhere and its shelves were full of Turkish trinkets which clashed with our western sense of aesthetic and design but this is what made this so cool. 

The staff were super friendly and helpful but as with our hotel in Istanbul they were very keen us to leave a positive review on Trip Advisor.

After an early night we got off to an early start. Since St John’s Basilica was in walking distance we visited there first. While it hadn’t stood the passage of time but it was still impressive.

The Basilica was built in the 6th Century over the tomb of St John and must have been impressive in its day.

While I crashed and burned with a bout of gastro, Mum and Dad visited the Tomb of Mary and the Temple of Artemis. While the photos of the Tomb of Mary looked amazing, the Temple of Artemis required a little bit imagination.

Again, like the St John’s Basilica, the Temple of Artemis was an impressive dedication to the Greek god of Artemis.

Luckily, got over the sickness and I managed join mum and dad to visit the Ancient City of Ephesus and was amazing.

It was quite humbling as it reminded me of the frailties of humanity. A society and its culture could be super powerful one day and then given a couple of hundreds of years the physical manifestations of the civilisation could become relics.       
It just was amazing to actually be there and walk amongst it rather than see in books or TV.

Even if you’re not religious Ephesus is well worth a visit. There are many tour companies that run fly in fly out visits but if you have time it is great to spend more than one day there. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Istanbul holiday is a step back in time

I’ve always wanted to visit Turkey. With the country being at the intersection of East and West means that the history and culture is spectacularly amazing.  

After a long flight from Australia, my parents and I hit the ground running with visits to the Blue Mosque or otherwise known as the Sultanahmet Mosque. It was opened in 1616 originally compete with Hagia Sophia with 20,000 blue tiles and 260 windows plus 6 minarets. It is extraordinarily beautiful and guaranteed to take your breath away even if you are not Muslim.  

After a good night’s sleep we started our sightseeing properly. Mum and dad were keen to take day trips as they didn’t want to spend lots of time finding the places and, more importantly, hours queuing up to get in. The down side is that often we got taken to their “bother-in-law’s shop” to buy souvenirs but it was ok.

Our first full day included visiting Topkapi Palace which was once the royal residence but now is a museum and keeper of many beautiful historical objects such as Jewellery and gifts.

Next was Hagia Sophia and this site reflects Turkey’s place between east and west. Hagia Sophia or Aya Sophia was originally built as a Greek Orthodox church in 537 and continued to be used as such until1456 (except for a brief period between 1206 and 1261 where it was became a Roman Catholic Church) when it became a Mosque until it was made into a museum in 1935.             

What made it so special was Hagia Sophia’s age and how it has stood the passage of time considering that Istanbul suffers from earthquakes. Apparently, there have been several during its life but Hagia Sophia has only ever been partly damaged.

I loved looking at the steps as they looked so warn despite being made out of stone and I couldn’t help but wonder how many people have walked over them.

The Cisterns was a final stop of the morning and a sight that several people told me not to miss. Unfortunately it was too dark for my iphone to take any good photos but it was great to see this Roman underground reservoir that include fish. It is a little eerie but not in a bad way.

No trip to Istanbul could be without visits to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. The key with any market is to be prepared to bargain (walking away works wonders) and to go early as well as to focus on the smaller places away from the main drag.

I almost brought a Turkish Carpet and brought the price down from $1500 to $300 but in the end the carpet didn’t really ‘speck to me’.  

Finally we squeezed in a visit to Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum. It is maybe not as swankyly presented as those in Australia or Britain but you still get to see some objects that are unbelievably old.

What trip to Turkey would be without trying Turkish Baths as well as Coffee. In between checking out the Mosques and Museums, Papa and I did a Turkish Coffee Tour which was so cool and left us feeling a little wired.

I also managed to visit a Turkish Bath which was like being a kid again. After stripping down and lying naked on this slab in this empty chamber which was kinda freaky as there was no one else there and there were all these strange noises. After what felt like ages a lady came out and scrubbed me like then slapped my fat and finally leading me to a fountain where she poured water over my head. Mum did after a full day’s play outside as a 6 year old.   

Istanbul is an amazing place to visit and has enough to keep you engaged for days. There are so many things to see, eat, drink and enjoy that one visit doesn’t seem to be enough so I’ll be back.             

Friday, June 13, 2014

La vie et belle at 35000 feet

Sometimes it is nice to do something that is completely out of the ordinary and could be considered “once-in-a-life-time”.

Luckily enough, it was my turn to enjoy flying business class to Istanbul.

No, I haven’t found a prince or a rich gentleman to pay for my flight but I was lucky enough to have the number of Qantas Frequent Flyer points required to score two business class tickets.

Since there was a family wedding in Switzerland, I thought it would be nice for my mum and dad to go over for it via Istanbul in a little bit of style.

We were not disappointed!

Our flight in Qatar Business Class was amazing and an experience that we will never forget.

From the moment my Dad and I (Mum began in economy and swapped in Doha) took our seats we felt like we had stepped into another world of opulence and privilege that we were not used to in our everyday lives.

The crew were very attentive and went out of their way to help us in any way they could.

The food was presented in a way that could have been in any fine dining restaurant. There was a great choice and was beautifully presented.
Our seats were super comfortable and ensured that we could get a good night’s sleep before exploring Turkey.

I don’t know if I’ll ever go on Business Class ever again but I am glad that I got just once in my life and that I got to sharing with my family.  
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