Still in Egypt

We’re still here. That’s not really news, but it will be news for some of you that we will continue to still be in Egypt for one more year. Seriously, Bethany’s blog about Greece was way more fun, but I suppose it’s only fair that I have to write this one. I’m afraid this isn’t going to be one of those cool, picture-y blogs that you’re used to, but for the few of you who like to keep up with what’s happening in our lives, it might be worth a read.

In short, we’ll be here for one more year because we were unable to find Bethany a good job outside of Egypt. We looked, believe me, but almost entirely unsuccessfully. Okay, there, now you can go back to whatever you were doing before if you’d like. Or you can read the significantly longer explanation below: Continue reading

Borg El Arab

So, this is the airport that I had considered to the be worst airport I’ve ever been to. It’s the airport we flew into when we first moved here, and we hadn’t been back since. It’s old, dirty, unorganized (not to mention that they lost our luggage.) But since Bethany’s school purchased our tickets to Greece, we didn’t really have any say in the matter, and Borg el Arab (HBE) was it.

Usually, when we leave the country, we have to pay a fine because our one-month tourist visas have expired, usually 150LE. A month or two ago, Bethany actually got her work visa after 18 months living here illegally (hooray!!) That meant she wouldn’t need to pay a fee.

The rumor was the fee had increased to several thousand pounds. So many thousands of pounds that it would have made it more expensive to leave Egypt that it cost to fly to Athens!

By some weird miracle, passport control at HBE decided not to fine me! Of course, they tried to make us sweat a little bit (even Bethany, who has a legitimate visa), but we made it out of the airport and on the plane for free! The best possible news we could have gotten.

So basically, HBE isn’t really that bad. Customs sucked, though.

Greece (or, “The Summary”)

We got back in Athens and headed to a mall to do some shopping. At the airport, we stocked up on a few other things we can’t get in Egypt before hopping back on the plane.

Athens, Santorini, and Naxos were all very different and unique experiences. But overall, Greece was amazing. (Seriously, click those links.)

We had a few observations. Ronnie had a shower thought (while we were hiking in Santorini, not actually while showering) that we probably wouldn’t have appreciated it nearly as much if we didn’t live in Egypt. In the Tri-Cities, we had easy access to good food, good wine, good views, etc., but those things are far, far harder to come by in Egypt. For me, even the difference in air quality was immediately noticeable when we got off the plane. Thank you, Egypt, for putting us in a geographical and financial position where we can actually travel, but also for altering our perspective to allow us to enjoy it even more!

There was, however, so much about Greece that was similar to Egypt, just a bit better. The food is similar, the people are just as nice. The markets, the scooters that zoom everywhere, and the somewhat lazier way of life and concept of “punctuality” all reminded us a little of Alexandria. It must just be a Mediterranean thing. Even the old, crumbling buildings reminded us of Egypt at times.

I was very glad to be there during the off season. I can just imagine how crazy it would be during the summer. Already, Monastiraki Square in Athens was a madhouse! It was disappointing that there were so many things closed on Naxos, but I guess that’s the price we pay for having beaches all to ourselves.

The other great thing about Greece — and probably the greatest thing of all —  is that we only live a 2-hour flight away and that means that it is quite affordable. Like, really affordable. We would happily go back any time; in fact, we’re kind of already planning to.

Naxos

Our final stop in Greece was on Naxos. The differences between Naxos and Santorini were huge. Naxos is much bigger so there were more people actually living there. Santorini was obviously thriving off of tourism and not much else. Unfortunately, we were on Naxos one week too early. Many of the restaurants, shops, and rental places were still closed. The buses weren’t even running yet.

Thanks to my wonderful husband, we booked an extra nice place to stay here in the town Agia Anna. The apartment was so lovely with a view straight out to the beach.

The first day there we decided to rent a couple scooters and drove them to Plaka. This is one of the best beaches in Greece according to the internet and we had it almost completely all to ourselves. Then we decided to head back to the port. There we wandered through the streets and made our way to find the Portara. That night we ate the Gorgona Greek tavern where it seemed the local fisherman came to hang out after work. I had fish souvlaki (we found out this just means on a skewer) and it was amazing, and Ronnie has mussels saginaki.

The second day after returning our scooters we walked to the beach and got some sunbathing in. Ronnie went swimming, but it was a bit too cold for me to get all the way in. That night we ate at a restaurant just on the beach. As we sat there, more and more people showed up and gathered around the TV to watch the football match. Again, it reminded me very much of Egypt.

The third day we got up early and caught our ferry back to the mainland. Out of the three ferries we took, this one was the worst. The first, from Piraeus to Santorini, was amazing. Ronnie upgraded us to a cabin so we could pass some of the eight hours with a nap. The second, from Santorini to Naxos, was on the exact same boat making its return trip to Piraeus, but the trip was shorter and the boat less crowded, so we roughed it in the regular areas. The third, back to Piraeus, was with a different company (because the first would have gotten us to Piraeus at about the same time our flight would have left), and it was just bad. The boat shook the entire time, the staff was incredibly rude all around, and the food was horrendous! Moral: use Blue Star Ferries, not Hellenic Seaways.

Of all the places we went to, Naxos is the one I want to go back to. There was so much of the island that we didn’t see — ruins, caves, monasteries, etc., mainly because we had no way of getting there.

(In case you missed the links above, Santorini is here, photos are here, and the summary is here.)

 

Santorini

Our arrival on Santorini was kind of crazy. The ferry goes into a port that only has tourist cafes, car rental agencies, and travel agents. If you know where you’re going, they sweep you up and your luggage gets whisked away, and off you go. If you don’t know where you’re going, they sweep you up and your luggage gets whisked away and you’re left not knowing what’s going on or even if you were just mugged. We’re used to dealing with that kind of stuff where we live, but it still took us by surprise after not having to worry about that at all in Athens.

We ended up where we needed to go eventually, but it turned out that our Airbnb was significantly further away from the main parts of Santorini than we thought, all the way at the bottom of the island in Akrotiri. And also, it was cold! We were expecting some cold, just not that much. We arrived shortly before dinner, and killed some time by walking to the very tip of the caldera to find a lighthouse, and then found a fish restaurant that our host had recommended.

We thought we could ride the bus and/or rent 4-wheelers to get around the island, but decided it was too cold and rented a car instead, which was very easy to do through our host. Turns out it was the right choice because it rained the entire first day we were there! We bundled up with all of the clothes we could and left Akrotiri to see the sights.

It was surprising to me how much of Santorini is farm land. The photos you see are just of the beaches and the white buildings and churches. Turns out there’s a whole lot more to the island than that — mostly wine! We took a tour at the Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Wuseum in the center of the island. It was quite interesting, but their animatronic scarecrows-like figures demonstrating the process of wine-making were terrifying. It turns out that Santorini used to be a major port between Russia and Egypt. This helped the wine industry take off. It’s a shame that isn’t the case anymore. The tour concluded with a free tasting, and we bought a bottle of Vinsanto, Santorini’s P.D.O. wine. (Supposedly each island has its own particular wine and cheese that only they produce.)

Later, we took the steps down to the old port and saw the famous donkeys sitting there in the rain. It was a beautiful, scenic hike. I imagine that place is crammed during the summer but due to the rain and the off-season, it was like a ghost town. We took the cable car back up.

Day 6 was amazingly beautiful. Blue skies and lots of sun. We visited the Red Beach first. It was a gorgeous place. Next, we went to find a Black Beach. Google Maps was less than helpful and, after driving down a gravel road down the cliff, we found a beach with blackish rocks.  We ate a lunch of tzatziki, feta, pork, fresh bread, and wine before heading back up the cliff in our tiny European car.

We headed back to Fira and began to walk the trail from Fira to Oia. We didn’t make it very far because we got distracted by Skaros rock. After a quick stop on the way back to try the Volkan beers, we drove to the other end of the island to see Oia.

It was so full of tourists! Asian tourists. We wandered a bit, then watched the famous sunset. On the way back to our Airbnb, we stopped to try a bit of night photography in Thira. It was quite cold so we didn’t stay long.

The last day, we drove down to see one more beach before returning the rental car and heading down to the port to catch our ferry to Naxos.

Athens

This vacation has been on my list for a year now, ever since all our friends went to Greece over Spring Break and Ronnie just took me to Rome. Besides that, who wouldn’t want to go to Greece?!

We took a flight straight from Alexandria to Athens around 1 in the morning, arriving two hours later at 4:30 AM (math…). We found a coffee shop that was open and had wifi, where we hung out a bit and made a plan for the day while we waited for things to open, particularly the luggage storage place. Eventually, we had a plan and headed out to make the most of International Monuments Day.  It just so happens that on April 18th, all of the monuments and museums have free entry!  So, with very little sleep, we checked off monument after monument, starting with Hadrian’s Library and ending with the Acropolis.

If you prefer to just look at photos, I don’t blame you. They can be found here.

I highly recommend using this guide to get you through and around Athens. It was very helpful for those of us who don’t know what to do or see. Also, a good idea before you travel, research some restaurants, bars, sights, etc and use google maps to place a star on the location. For some reason, even though I don’t have cell service or data, my phone can show me where I am and I can use that to find our next spot.

After being up all night and walking all the way around the Acropolis, were exhausted by 2 pm and went to check into our Airbnb where we crashed hard. I think we made it out to a small shop later to get some food for dinner and a SIM card. Naturally, most of our meals included cheese, pork, bread, and alcohol.

Day 2 in Athens started out at a cute little coffee/book shop at the base of the Acropolis. There’s nothing like Greek yogurt with fruit and a fresh croissant for breakfast. We headed to the Acropolis Museum and a few other sights we missed the day before.

Then we headed to the Cinque Wine Bar. The owner shared all sorts of knowledge about the wines, cheese, meats, fruits, and nuts that we ate there. Unfortunately, I have a terrible memory for things like that, plus her Greek accent made it a bit hard to understand. I just know it was one of the most delicious parts of the trip. We also met a couple of graduate students on vacation and chatted with them for a while.

We climbed a hill, wandered the Monastiraki flea market, and found a real supermarket to buy some dinner.

Day 3 was a sort of a surprise. We thought we were leaving for Santorini on this day, and that’s what we were telling the people we met. Fortunately, the night before, we checked and verified that we actually had an entire extra day in Athens! We spent in Piraeus, the main port. There wasn’t much to see or do there so we bought ferry tickets and then walked around the marina for a bit before heading back to the central part of Athens for dinner and drinks. We had gyros from a little shop and went to Brettos Bar for some drinks where we ended up chatting with two American couples for a while.

Day 4 We got up super early and hopped on the metro to catch our ferry to Santorini.

Flexiblity

I know I wrote about yoga in the last blog, but this is about a different kind of flexibility.

It’s about that unique kind of flexibility you gain from teaching and living abroad, especially in a developing country. I can’t even count how many times our plans have changed in the last two years. It seems as though every single plan we made didn’t actually happen.

This has been a valuable experience for both of us, learning to just let life happen. Go with the flow (this is sounding more and more yoga like). Both of us were raised in families love to plan things, yet our plan changes daily so we can’t exactly organise anything.

I know this is all very vague so I’ll give you some specifics.

I supposed you could say the first year in Egypt went according to our plan, but this second one has been insane. We originally came to Egypt with the idea that we will be here for two years without going home. Both of my younger sisters were getting married during summer, so we went home (probably the best change of plans ever!). Then we came back to a school that was shut down by the government so I switched schools. Then in November our money was devalued, throwing our travel plans out the window. By January I’d had 0 interviews for next year and by February we had decided it wouldn’t be the worst thing to stay in Egypt for another year. Now I’ve had a few interviews as well as a job offer but we still have not made a commitment to leave Egypt.

So here’s the current thinking. We would rather stay in Egypt a third year than move to another difficult country or a difficult school. Only if an IB school with good reviews offers me a position will we be moving out of Egypt.