Archives for posts with tag: summer 2010

After two short days at sea, the ship reached Alexandria, Egypt. I was signed up on a trip through SAS, so right after we cleared customs and got our passports stamped, I got on a bus to Cairo, headed for the pyramids!

My trip leader was actually the same trip leader I had for my trip through Italy, and she was great, so I knew we would have a good time – she didn’t take too much seriously, and if you wanted to skip out on part of the day, she had no problem with it.  Our Egyptian tour guide was a hilarious woman named Iman, but she insisted we call her mom. She always addressed us as her kids, even to the hotel staff and waiters at restaurants.

Anyway, after a relatively short three hour drive, we reached Giza City and saw the pyramids in the distance. All 30 SASers on the bus were buzzing with excitement! Instead of heading to the pyramids straightaway, we stopped at a really nice hotel to have lunch. When we walked in to the hotel, a band was playing Jingle Bells for us! It was so funny, and obviously the only American song they knew.

After finishing our teas, we hopped back on to the bus and drove over to the pyramids! There are 3 main pyramids in Giza, and 2 are big, covered with granite to keep the structure intact. The 3rd one is smaller  because the pharaoh who is buried in there didn’t want his pyramid to be covered in granite. Anyway, since words can’t describe it, here are some pictures of my day at the pyramids!

Egypt 011 Me riding a camel in front of the two big pyramids

Egypt 023Me and my camel driver who was not a day over 10 years old.

At the pyramids, there are tons of locals who offer to give you camel rides, most of them are  young Egyptian boys.  They are usually fluent in Arabic, English and French. My tour guide told me they never go to school and will work their whole lives  at the pyramids. It’s actually really sad to see.

After about half an hour at the pyramids, we hopped back on the bus. It drove us about two minutes away to the other side of the pyramids where the Sphinx is. At the Sphinx, a little girl gave me a “gift” of a postcard and proceeded to follow me around. I was warned earlier that day to be wary of the kids giving gifts at monuments … they tend to be pickpockets! Luckily, it ended up okay. She did try to grab my camera at one point, but I yanked it away and she didn’t try it again. When my friend and I left the area, she started freaking out, yelling at these older Egyptian thugs about how we needed to pay her .. so we bolted. It was scary, but we ran out of there pretty fast and didn’t see her again.

Egypt 035Me in front of the Sphinx

Egypt 038The Sphinx in front of the 2nd pyramid

Since it was getting really hot out there and we were all getting sandy and irritable, we all hopped back on the bus and headed to the hotel. We stayed at the Cairo Marriott on the Nile!

This was the view from my room:Egypt 040
Yep, that’s the Nile!

We rested up for a little bit, then we headed back into Giza to see the Son et Lumiere – A really tacky light show at the pyramids.

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The pyramids were unforgettable!!!


Hands down, Istanbul was my favorite port. I was about two seconds away  from chucking my passport into the Bosphorus River and finding an apartment with Mollie. We were there for 5 days, but I wish it was 50.

Day 1 –
Mollie, Vic,Caitlin and I woke up super early to watch the ship come into port. I am so so happy we did this, because it was such a beautiful sunrise and the city of Istanbul was amazing to see from the water. So many buildings, churches and mosques were visible from the distance and it was such an unforgettable view.

Istanbul 007 Istanbul 011 

The girls and I headed out for a day of sightseeing. Victoria and Caitlin were going to be leaving Istanbul for overnight trips to other parts of Turkey, so we knew we had to hit up the major historical attractions of Istanbul.

After a traditional Turkish lunch including chai and baklava, we saw the Hagia Sophia which is just so amazing. It was first built as  a church when Istanbul was Constantinople under rule of the Roman emperor Justinian.   When Turkey was conquered by the Ottomans, the church was converted to a mosque. Today, it is a museum where you can see traces of both the mosque and the church. 

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After the Hagia Sophia, we crossed the street to see the Blue Mosque. I consulted with my wonderful Turkish friend Esra before I arrived in Istanbul, and she told me this was a must see – regardless of religious affiliation. She was so right. The mosque is called the “blue” mosque because the inside of the dome is painted with an intricate blue design.

Istanbul 052Mollie, Victoria, me & Caitlin in front of the Blue Mosque

Our next stop was a cafe/hookah bar down the street. We needed some fuel in the form of Turkish coffee to carry us through the rest of our day. Strangely enough, at that cafe, the waiter asked me if I was Arabic. He was the first of many to recognize my ethnicity .. most people in America guess Irish! Anyway, after our snack, we saw the hippodrome where the serpent column and the largest obelisk in Turkey are. (Can you tell I’ve been paying lots of attention in my Global Studies course?) When we arrived, we were pretty excited to see these monuments, but they were kind of … a lot smaller than our professor made them sound.

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The Serpent Column – made from Carthaginian armor  

Also, a prick from the BBC was filming some sort of travel documentary and asked us to stop speaking and move out of their way because they needed clean audio. Uhhhh last time I checked it was public space, but whatever. He totally soured me on the BBC because he was such a doucher.

At this point, we were all pretty exhausted so we called it a day. We went out for dinner that night at a great restaurant called Haci Baba in Taksim Square. Taksim Square is like the cool “downtown” district in Istanbul. It has tons of shops, restaurants, and a ton of nightlife.

Day 2 –
The second day in Istanbul was great! Mollie babysits for a Turkish family back in Massachusetts, and they were kind enough to offer their nieces to be our personal tour guides for the day. The girls, Melina and Myrna were sisters in their late 20s that were a blast to be around. They took us everywhere! First, they took us for a traditional Turkish breakfast.Istanbul 092

Melina & Myrna at breakfast

After eating, we headed over to the sunken cistern. It was a building we had passed the day before with our friends, but we had no idea what was inside. After climbing down a flight of stairs, we were astounded by what we saw. It was a huge underground room that had columns all over for support, but was filled with water. Terrible description, I know, but it was really neat to see. Today they put koi in the water and fill the cistern with artwork.

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After that, we went to Topkapi Palace which is where tons of artifacts are housed, like the royal jewels and tons of artwork.  However, the most memorable part of my visit to the palace came from our stop at the restaurant inside of the palace walls. The bottled waters were $5 and the coffees were $15…  which we  didn’t realize until we got the bill. Like, I guess thats how they make money to pay the security guards or something. It was ridiculous. Melina, our Turkish friend, was literally yelling at the waiter about it. I’ve never seen anything like it. She did not hesitate to tell him how she really felt. It was hilarious.

The famous Grand Bazaar was our next stop. It was filled with literally everything from scarves and jewelry, trinkets and glassware, teapots and hookahs .. not to mention lamps and rugs! There was something for everyone here, but honestly, the haggling and bargaining was not for me. Every corner you turn, people are telling you that they will make a good price for you, come drink some tea in my shop .. it was just so overwhelming!

We stopped for some Turkish ice cream called dondurma after the bazaar. It was … different! It was like a mix between taffy and ice cream, and definitely a must try.  After our ice cream, our wonderful Turkish friends took Mollie and me back to the ship where we said goodbye. It was so nice to be with Turkish girls for a day – we really got a good experience from spending the day with them!

Day 3 –
The first two days in Istanbul were jam packed with sightseeing. Victoria and Caitlin were gone on their trips and Mollie and I were left to our own devices. So naturally, we decided to wander. First, we hit up Starbucks where I got an ICED latte. Luckily, the ice in Istanbul was just safe and I was just fine! After getting caffeinated, we tried to find the mall. Unfortunately, we had bad directions and ended up lost, so we had to duck into a Pizza Hut to ask for help. Only … no one spoke English and it was super hot outside. We tried our luck and hopped in a cab.  God was on our side that day, because we were taken to the biggest mall I have ever laid eyes upon. It was six stories of pure shopping pleasure.  Mollie and I more than happily spent the afternoon there.

When we got back to the port area, we headed back to Starbucks to mooch some free wifi. Unfortunately, so was every other SASer in Istanbul. Mollie and I were made friends with this guy JP who is on SAS, and we all decided to hop on the tram down to a different neighborhood to try to get wifi. Going to the restaurant, Faros, was one of the best things that happened in Istanbul. The owner, Oscar, let us use the internet and skype for a long time before we ate or even ordered a drink.  We had a really great meal there, and he actually knew the owner of an awesome club and was able to get us in for free that night.

Istanbul 2 013

Mollie, Me & Caitlin at Reina

We ended up having an awesome night .. the club was right under the Bosphorus bridge that separates the European side of Istanbul from the Asian side.

Istanbul 2 017 Istanbul is the only city in the world to lie on two continents!

Day 4 –
We all woke up a little hungover, but nothing a good Turkish bath couldn’t cure! We went to the oldest hammam in Istanbul. Once we got there, we stripped down and went into the steam room. Basically, there are a ton of naked women laying around on a huge stone waiting to get scrubbed down by an old Turkish woman in a bikini. After washing your hair, they send you into the jacuzzi/pool room to relax, then you get a hot oil massage. Strange experience, I know. It was .. not quite what I was expecting. Especially since the majority of the other women there were from SAS!

We had a low key afternoon of walking around the Grand Bazaar and doing a little souvenir shopping. That night, we went back to Faros to use the internet and have another amazing dinner. I was happy because I got to skype Rob for the second day in a row!

Day 5 –
On my last day in Turkey, I hiked through the Asian countryside of Ballikaya. Ohhhhhh, Ballikaya. While it was beautiful, I wasn’t that excited to go. I signed up for the trip because it was a requirement for my ecology class. However, in the guidebook, it was described as a “strenuous” hike through the mountainous countryside. I was a little nervous.

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It ended up being totally great! It wasn’t bad at all, even the temperature was fine! Plus, my ecology professor is awesome. Not only is he  funny, but he can identify pretty much every plant, animal and insect he sees! He stopped us a lot on the hike to talk about the ecosystem which actually made the trip a lot more interesting. 

Istanbul 2 096 We stopped for lunch at this beautiful little cove

And I think it should be mentioned that I was the first person back to the bus! This may or may not be due to the fact that there were stray dogs chasing our group .. but either way .. I was the leader of the pack!

After the hike, we headed back into Istanbul to get on the ship .. I was so not happy to be leaving such an amazing city. I saw and did so much, but I feel like I could have spent months there before being ready to leave.

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The Bosphorus Bridge

Early on the morning of the second day in Greece, Victoria and I woke up and headed to the ferry station to get tickets for our ride to Mykonos. Unfortunately, the fast ferry was sold out except for business class and the only regular tickets left were for the slow ferry. We made the poor decision to save some money and take the slow ferry. Never, ever again will I do that. Our ferry was 5 terrible hours. Once we got to Mykonos, we were bombarded with locals who had rooms and hotels for rent.Greece 058

   Vic and I were the epitome of backpack chic.

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Our other two friends Mollie and Caitlin were on the SAS trip to Mykonos so they had hotels and plans all booked up already. They got tickets on the fast ferry and were busy lounging at the hotel when we arrived in Mykonos. Vic and I booked a room at the hotel my roommate Mollie was staying at, so we hightailed it over there to meet up with everyone.

Once we arrived, we were greeted by tons of SASers and the two deans of our program! Turns out they were staying at that hotel too, so we all lounged by the pool and drank mojitos for the afternoon. The hotel was beautiful and the view from the pool was of the Adriatic Sea.
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Fun fact about Mykonos – the whole island only has 33 taxis. Our hotel was on the northern end. The town square and all the restaurants and nightlife are on the southern end. Luckily, when us girls headed out for the evening, we caught our hotel’s shuttle into town. We had a great dinner and then went out and saw what Mykonos Town had to offer.

It looked a lot like this: Greece 089

And this: Greece 112

Another fun fact about Mykonos – it is the gay capital of Europe!

Anyway, we spent the evening celebrating Caitlin’s 21st birthday .. which was successful by any American’s standards. Our girl went from … Greece 095to …Greece 118  then finally to … Greece 121 
But not until we waited in the world’s longest freaking taxi line!

Greece 114Seriously.

The next day we woke up and were excited to go back into town to do a little shopping and then hit up Paradise Beach .. until Victoria fainted in the middle of a store and we had to go back to the hotel. The rest of the day we lazed around at the pool. Good news was since the hotel staff was so worried about Vic that they gave us a hotel room to use for the day! We got to nap, take another shower and relax in the room before our ferry back to Athens.

Catching the ferry back was a bitch. That whole 33 taxis on the whole island was a problem yet again. Mollie, Cait, Vic and I barely made it back to the port in time. Our hotel concierge was awesome and called in a favor to one of the taxi drivers and we got there with just a few minutes to spare. Three hours later, we were back in Athens. It was absolutely wonderful to see the M/V.

While Mykonos was an awesome island and our hotel was beautiful, our trip overall was kind of a bust. I feel like I had super high expectations for it, but it just didn’t deliver. I think the low number of taxis was definitely an issue, it really hindered us from getting around.  I absolutely loved Athens though!  Hopefully in the future I can go back to other Greek islands – all the local Athenians were saying that Ios and Santorini are much better.

As soon as we landed in Canada, my first impression was: lots of lush green landscape, grey skies, and COLD! As soon as we got into customs though, I realized how nice Canadian airport officials are .. then the cab ride .. then the hotel staff .. restaurant owners .. grocery store clerks .. consensus: Canadians are very friendly people!

The flights were nothing too out of the ordinary, except that my flight from Philly to Halifax was probably 95% other SAS’ers. I was too exhausted to really chat anyone up, but for the most part everyone seems friendly and just as excited about the summer as I am. I saw a couple of girls that I met a few weeks ago at Ohio State. Oh, get this – one girl’s luggage was lost!! How incredibly TERRIBLE! She came in yesterday and the luggage is supposed to be here tonight, so hopefully she gets her stuff. We have 10 straight days at sea, so it’s not like the luggage can even be delivered to her before we reach Barcelona.

Speaking of luggage, I have to point out that the hotel staff said my mom and I were the lightest travelers they had seen all day – by far! It left me a little worried about bringing enough stuff, but I really did take people’s advice to heart and packed only essential items that I wear/use frequently.

 (Mom & Dad – you can’t be upset about the huge suitcase of souvenirs I plan on bringing home now!)

My mom and I had a town car come scoop us up from the airport, and it was so nice! It had mints, hand sanitizer, and bottled water in the back for us!

(Since I’m such a tourist, I took pictures)

airport 4 am .. ew 003  airport 4 am .. ew 004

The ride was actually about 30 minutes and we had a (surprise, surprise) very nice driver! There were some cool bridges in the cityairport 4 am .. ew 007   airport 4 am .. ew 005 and actually, the city is cooler than I expected! Since it’s right on the water, there is a lot of different levels of elevation to the buildings, and the pictures I took just don’t do it justice!

My mom and I were tired and hungry, but hunger came first! I spotted a cute little Lebanese place about a mile out from the hotel on our ride in, so that was the stop! If I’m ever in Halifax again, I would definitely go back to Anna’s Cafe.  The owners were adorable and speaking Arabic, which my mom could catch but I was only getting every few words! Time to dust off the Arabic books .. I gotta practice my skills for Egypt!

Now, hopefully you’re still with me, because this is the BEST part of the post! The room my mom and I are in overlooks the water .. and what’s outside of my window?????

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Oh, just this little ship called the M/V Explorer that will be my home for the next 10 weeks. (!!!!!) I can’t even tell you how excited I was to have a room with a view this amazing, seriously!

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I’m going to try to set up an online photo album so that I can share more pictures with everyone, because facebook eats up internet time on the ship which is limited. Once I’ve got that figured out, I will post up the link!

  • Stamps in passport: 1
  • Books read: 1 (Food Rules by Michael Pollan)