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.

Hungary

We’ve just returned home from Hungary. I know you’re used to seeing us post a blog after a trip, and probably expect it by this point; and really, we were there for almost two weeks, so we have plenty to say!

But what I really wanted to avoid this time was a long, droning description of every, single thing we did, maybe with a few pictures sprinkled in. So this time, we’re going to try something different! We’re going to go the purely pictorial route, using a combination of a map and Imgur albums. This way, you get the same long, droning descriptions, but with more photos!

Here is our little project. It will work well on both desktop and mobile. Work your way through the entries on the bottom (which are in no meaningful order, but they had to be in an order). The descriptions can be raised and lowered by use of the small, black arrow button on the bottom left of each picture. Click on the image for a full-size version.

The links within the descriptions will lead you to various albums on imgur.com, a convenient place for us to dump pictures we may or may not want others to see. Some pictures are captioned, so read them at your leisure. If you like it, you’re welcome to let us know; if you don’t, how about you just keep it to yourself, ok?

So there’s Hungary. Our next trip is to America in less than two weeks, and then we’re stuck back in Egypt at least until January, when we’ll go to London to get a job!

Roma

One of the most ironic things in my life for the last 6 years has been my degree in European Studies.  Why? Because I had never been to Europe.

I guess I can’t make that joke anymore because we just spent the most amazing week in Italy. Ronnie even surprised me with the plane tickets as a sort of 5 year anniversary present. Best present ever.

If you know anything about my life growing up, you’ll know that I was homeschooled and that everywhere we went, there was a lesson to be learned.  I had  been to more historical sites, State parks, National parks, etc by the time I was ten that…well that it’s hard to stay interested. Let’s just say that history was is my least favorite subject. There are millions of dates and people and places and events that I should have memorized, but I don’t.  That being said, I was a bit ashamed when we went to Rome and more than once I said, “Oh! I didn’t know that was here too!”

I stand by my statement that I went to Rome to eat good food and drink good wine. However, there were some other interesting things as well. Rather than bore you with any historical details (that I don’t know), here are some photos.

Our airbnb was an adorable “loft” with a kitchen. We cooked several meals there because there was a Carrefour a few blocks away with amazing Italian ingredients.  It was a bit far away from things, but it was nice to see what an actual Roman neighborhood looked like instead of all the touristy stuff.

My mother asked me what my favorite part was…besides the food (she knows me too well). I didn’t really know what to say, but now that I’ve thought about it, I think it was going to see the Symphony.  There’s not much I like more than sitting and listening to live, professional, classical music. I’d say it gives me goosebumps (which is true), but it’s much more than just goosebumps.  And it’s weird because it’s a completely different feeling than being in the symphony playing the music. Enough sappiness. It was excellent.

The pasta making class was also super fun and educational. The problem is that it was the night before we were leaving so when they had all these suggestions for where and what to eat, it was a bit disappointing. However, we had plenty of good food thanks to Facebook and Pinterest.

We didn’t get to many things that we would have liked to see, but according to legend, if you throw coins in the Trevi Fountain, you’ll be back.  I wonder if it matters that we threw in Egyptian pounds…

I know the last two blog posts that we’ve written sounded like we were depressed being in Egypt. But it isn’t really all that bad and I think we were both pleasantly surprised at how we were relieved to come back to something familiar.

 

 

Pictures and food

We seem to be falling into a pattern of multi-post blog entries. I guess there’s just too much to say to condense it into a readable post.  This one goes with Hurghada.  As promised here are some photos.  Mostly of water..

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The view from our basically private beach.

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I think I will also take this time to speak about the food we ate.  Egypt’s food is pretty decent, just very very very very repetitive. And they try to sell you the same thing, just with a different name. Anyway, Hurghada has been one of the only places that I’ve eaten too much food. The first night we had Thai food. My fried rice was served in a half of a pineapple.

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There was a whole area that was very “non-Egyptian” called the New Marina.  There were lots of great places to eat that served alcohol.  That’s a big deal for us. They had sandwich boards out front advertising camel steak and beer for 150 LE as well as BOGO alcoholic cocktails.  Needless to say we returned three times. And yes I ordered and ate a camel steak.  At first I thought they we full of it because my steak tasted quite normal. Ronnie ordered an actual beef steak so we were able to compare.  It was slightly different and according to google, it tastes like a cross between lamb and beef.  Perhaps I had just forgotten what steak tastes like…anyway if you ever have the chance, eat camel steak. It’s delicious!

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Another popular place in Hurghada for eating is Moby Dick.  Recommended by the Egypt guidebook we have, we thoroughly enjoyed people watching and guessing their nationality.  Hurghada is a great place to do that. They also talked us into reserving a Christmas dinner there.  Our first meal was not great, but the Christmas dinner was pretty good.  Ronnie had duck and I had beef along with salad, soup, bread, dessert, and a bottle of wine.

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This guy created shapes out of everyone’s towels and took pictures.  He also took pictures of us together around the boat.  It was pretty fun and I regret not buying them.

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As excited as we were about drinking actual drinks, they were pretty bad.  The pretty blue one was supposed to be a Mai Tai. It was pretty much straight up lime juice with something blue in the bottom.

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This was right next door to the hotel and I snuck around the corner to take some pictures.  I thought it was pretty fascinating. _DSC0197

Egypt’s flag off the back of the boat.

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One Christmas day, we went to a restaurant called the Starfish.  Right inside the door there’s a huge display of fish on ice where you can choose what you want. We ate some of the biggest shrimps ever, some pretty tiny crabs, and a fish.  Again, tons of delicious food. _DSC0212

After lunch on the boat, the cook dumped the leftovers into the water and these fish came to eat.  It’s a shame I didn’t have an underwater camera.

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It’s so interesting that the reef looks pretty ugly from above, but it’s a colorful garden from below. Here are some posters of what you can see. There were a lot of orange and yellow fish, but my absolute favorite that I distinctly remember was the Naso Unicorno.  Look it up.

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There were six other couples on the boat besides us.  It was quite enjoyable…minus the incredible amount of wind.

We didn’t end up going again. It would have been a much better day to go, but we enjoyed swimming from the beach at the hotel instead.

Cairo Trip, Part 3

Right, so, after IKEA and pool/souq day, it’s the pyramids. You can’t live in Egypt and say you haven’t seen the pyramids, so we did. Even though it was the high point of the whole trip, it’s also the hardest one to write about. I can’t really explain why._DSC0065

We hired a guide for the whole day for 600LE, which included a driver and minibus. He was nice, very knowledgeable, and spoke English incredibly well – although by 3:00 we were teaching him a new English word: “hangry”. Even though we had intentions of getting to the pyramids fairly early, he was running a little late, so I don’t really know what time we got there. All I need to say is that it was very hot. After some strange security procedures (packing the bus, unpacking the bus, x-rays, metal detectors, repacking the bus), we went to buy our tickets. Giza plateau is 80LE/person ($10.25), and we also bought tickets to enter the second largest pyramid for 40LE each. The Great Pyramid was another 100LE, but we decided we could do it later.

The guide, Mohammed with a 4-year degree in tourism and an amazing wealth of knowledge about Egyptian history and mythology, told us all the stories we could possibly have wanted to know about the pyramids, one by one. We also stopped at a spot where the pictures are taken. It was all very tourist-y and awesome. We took a ton of very similar, very tan pictures. Many of them included camels, which, by the way, are everywhere around the pyramids. Some were just lying around waiting; some were being ridden by men trying to lure people onto them for photographs. The photographs were free, of course, but the story is that these touts won’t let you off their camels until you pay them an exorbitant amount of money, sometimes hundreds of pounds. Easy to resist, actually._DSC0147

After the pyramids, we stopped at the Sphinx. More stories, more pictures. What do you even say about a place
almost 800,000 people visit every year?     And many of you are those people. Giant piles of rocks, no one knows how they got there (but we can be pretty sure it wasn’t aliens); you can go inside of two of them, but the rooms are obviously empty now, and heavily vandalized with spray paint. No cameras are allowed inside the pyramids, so the only ones we can offer were taken quickly and aren’t very good. I would almost say that the culture on the plateau around the pyramids is more interesting than the pyramids themselves. Postcards won’t tell you that among all the tourists, there are hundreds of people just trying to squeeze a couple pounds out of anyone they can. It must work, too.

Anyway, after the pyramids we headed to the Egyptian Museum. Like almost every single other place in Egypt, photography is forbidden. This time I didn’t even try to sneak one, because there was nothing in that museum that you can’t find pictures of on the Internet. But again, Mohammed showed us that he “know[s] stuff” (his words, not mine), and it was all worth it. We could have made it around the pyramids without a guide. It wouldn’t have been as enjoyable, but possible. The museum, on the other hand, would have been insurmountable without someone to tell us what was actually worth looking at. Like this guy, whose eyes are made of something special (I was paying attention, I promise), and this guy, who was found in a room in front of the Sphinx that people now throw money into. And of course Tutankhamun, saved for last. We opted not to do the Mummy Room this time, because no one else wanted to pay 100 pounds and we could always go again later. There is a fascinating (and free) animal mummy room, though, which was great.

From the museum, we ate, went to the train station and boarded our train for home. The lesson there is to always check your ticket before you leave the ticket window.

This time, more pictures below:

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