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Thursday, November 8, 2012

D, D, D, Dubai!

Over the Eid break, Ryan and I decided to go visit Dubai. For a couple of reasons...

1.  We have friends who live there and wanted to visit them.
2.  We'd heard from Bill and other friends that it was amazing.
3.  It was also a bit of a reconnaissance trip to get a feel for the city and figure out if we could see ourselves living there at some point.

Did I mention that we're planning on leaving Cairo next year?  Plans are still up in the air about where we're going exactly, but we're hoping to secure jobs before January, otherwise it's 12 timezones in 2 days to fly to Bangkok for the International Teaching Job Fair.

P.S. If any school we've applied to so far is reading this post, please feel free to hire us immediately and put us out of our misery.  

So Dubai is on the list of places we might end up moving to and we wanted to go check it out.

We arrived at the airport, and looking out the window I think I turned to Ryan wondering if we had actually left Cairo.  Everything was beige, ah just like home.  :)

Our rental car (that we booked two months previously) was unavailable because the company accidentally forgot that you can't rent more cars than you own.  So after waiting over an hour just to get to the counter we were directed to another company that still had cars.

Unfortunately my phone wasn't working either, so while we had the address of our friend Joseph, I couldn't call him and let him know we'd arrived.  By the time we got on the road and started driving towards his house it was several hours later than our expected arrival.  And then our gps, which I affectionately call George led us to a nice little neighborhood and deposited us in a roundabout with no houses matching the number we were looking for.  We drove around for a few min, and I had a moment of truly trying to remember what people did to communicate before cell phones.  Should I look for a handy owl or pigeon?  Smoke signals?  Then our saviors appeared in the form of 6 little boys playing soccer in the street.  Here went our conversation...

Me:  Hey guys, can you help me for a minute please?

Them: Share a look of mistrust between themselves, this lady will obviously try to sell us drugs. But then they realized they outnumbered us 2:1 (plus I'm pretty sure they stone you alive for drug possession in the UAE) so they approached the car.

Me: Do you know the Nettikaden family? They have a little girl named Mariska? (I was hoping maybe they'd played together at some point)

Them: No, what's their address?

I show them the sheet where Joseph scrawled his address for us, and we spent the next 2 minutes in a lengthy discussion about whether the number of the villa was a 7 or a 71.  Finally one of the older boys had a stroke of brilliance.

Them: Why don't you just call them?

Me: Yeah, I can't (explained the cell phone issue)

Them: Here, you can use mine (whips out a fancy sparkly blackberry) Did I mention he was like 9?

Me: Thank you so much (Then stare at this strange contraption in my hand for at least 5 seconds longer than is cool.  Where is the little slidy thing on the screen, how do you work this?) 

Them: Grabs the phone back and gives me a look of patient understanding (don't worry I'll help you grandma) and punches in the number, hands the phone back to me.

The phone rings, I get in touch with Joseph and he jumps in the car to come collect us. The boys then embark on many directions for places we could meet our friend that he would probably know.

Them: We'll take you to Spinney's.  Does he know Spinney's? He should meet you there!

It was super cute and they were really nice and helpful. And after a lot of hooplah we were finally able to make it to their house and relax.  

We spent the next few days in random pursuits, like driving around the city looking at the skyline, 

which totally reminded me of that futuristic city in Meet the Robinsons.

We walked through malls with aquariums, ice skating rinks, ski slopes and sky diving.

We went in the most amazing candy shop ever.

We ate awesome food. And went to the top of the Burj Khalifa.

Mariska and I watched Tangled. It was a really good trip.

So final verdict, could we live in Dubai???

Yes, though it's still a little too similar to Egypt for it to be our first choice.  So we're still hoping and betting on the job fair, and we now have a really solid plan B.

Thanks for letting us stay with you Joseph, Suneetha and Mariska! 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A bit of randomness

It's been awhile since my last post. The start of the school year has been a bit rocky, but now things are settling down again.

For the month of August, Ryan and I had some interesting times in Cairo. We had a few weeks in the city of sand, at a time of year when there were fewer expats than normal, and even fewer Egyptians, since Ramadan was keeping everyone at home. We were able to drive downtown in 20 minutes, without any traffic, and hardly anyone walking around. Though Ryan almost cried when we realized the Hard Rock Cafe downtown had closed. It's a sad but true mark of how much the loss of the tourist industry has affected Egypt.

It was also a time for seeing lots of strange things that pop up Cairo, like trucks driving down the highway with 5 cows stacked in the back like dominoes.  Or jumping for joy in the supermarket to see premade pizza dough being sold in convenient little balls, only to realize on close inspection that these are not dough, they're butter..... yeah cause I buy my butter in 5lb balls, don't you?

So between the start of school being hellishly busy, fraught with injury and sickness, Ryan and I have been plugging along.  We even joined a gym in the hopes of climbing the stairs without an aneurism. It's working so far, though we have to trade the role of bad cop back and forth.  Someone has to be the hardass every 2 days and tell the other to put the shoes in your bag cause we're working out after school.... dammit! Then the whiny one pulls faces and threatens to climb back into bed because this is such unfair treatment.  But eventually we go, there's huffing and puffing, and no houses fall down, but we leave feeling a little bit better about our cardiovascular health.  Until we follow the workout with a trip to Chilis where we devour chips and queso with ravenous workout fed hunger.

We've also become a bit obsessed with the punch buggy game.  You know, that game you used to play in the car when you were 8 where you get to slam someone in the car on the shoulder and scream "punch buggy blue" when a blue Volkswagen beetle drives by.  Believe it or not there are a remarkable number of vintage beetles in Egypt, we see them all the time.  I have the bruises on my arms and legs to prove it. Don't worry they're from the overzealous teenager Bill brought home with him this summer, not from my loving husband who just gently touches my leg with his knuckles.  This may or may not have something to do with the death glare I gave him when he accidentally beaned me in the shoulder one time.  And apparently it's not enough to frantically scope the horizon for beetles, we've also added a Cairo twist to the game and you can get points for a "punch donkey" (a donkey pulling a cart down the road/highway/parking lot) and also "punch campfire" which is harder to explain.  Feel free to add these exotic Egyptian twists to your own punch buggy escapades.  :)

Ok, sorry about the delay in insights into what's happening in Cairo.  I'll try and post again later this week about our trip to Dubai last week.  Here's your teaser... I've never spent so much time in malls in my life.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Away we went!

Get ready, this is going to be a long one!  It's a marathon post, so feel free to take a break if you can't make it through in one sitting, but there's lots of pictures, so hopefully that helps!  :)

Summer is an interesting time in the world of international teaching. Most people's flights leave the day school is out.  The majority go back to their homes in the U.S. or Canada, while some go traveling first and then usually make their way home before summer is over.

This summer Ryan and I broke away from the convention a bit.  We didn't leave right away, and we didn't go home at all.  Our summer started off very lazy.  Lots of cooking, eating and napping.  Cleo was in heaven, in fact she started acting a bit crazy having people home all the time.

On July 6th we said goodbye to our puppy and Cairo and flew to Italy.  The flight to Rome was quick and easy on good ole Egypt Air.  But when we arrived in Rome the trouble started.  We have now decided we hate Alitalia and will avoid traveling it again at all costs.  Our flight from Rome to Venice was delayed 3 times.  And each time the announcement was made, waves of angry people crashed against the customer service desk to no avail. If you've never heard an angry Italian yelling at someone it's quite an experience.  I would recommend you travel to Italy for that experience alone.

So after waiting 5 hours in Rome we were finally able to board our plane and head to Venice for our cruise.  The cruise we had been planning for since February. The Norwegian Jade, 14 days around the Adriatic and Mediterranean sea.

And the cruise was starting on my birthday, so we already had plans for a nice dinner that first night in Teppanyaki, the hibachi restaurant onboard.  Plans are so great right?!  Suffice it to say, my luggage did not arrive with us in Venice, or make it onboard the ship.

You know how when you travel all day, especially on planes, you're just left feeling grubby?  Well with no clothes or toiletries (all our toiletries were in my bag, which is why we checked it) I had to put on the same nasty clothes and board the ship.  It was really disappointing.  I had a new dress I wanted to wear for my birthday dinner, but couldn't.  And my bag didn't arrive for another 4 days.  Wearing the same shorts and tank top, I wasn't allowed into the nice dining rooms for dinner, and there's only so long you can handle sharing the "We're sorry" toothbrush the airline gives you.  My spirits were pretty low those first few days.  I hated feeling gross, and only having tennis shoes to wear.  I didn't have a swimsuit, so I couldn't swim. And the free shirt the cruise gave me only marked me as one of the unlucky.  The staff would smile sympathetically when they saw me and say "Lost your luggage huh?".

So the first 4 days of the cruise for me kinda sucked.  I tried really hard to stay positive about it, but I have an issue with expectations.  If I have a picture in my head of how something is going to be and then that picture is smashed and I have no way of putting it back together, it takes me awhile to adjust.

Luckily, with Athens came my luggage and the start of the cruise the way I hoped it would be.

Now that I've told you about the negatives, let me focus a bit on the positives.  Norwegian was great, they had a special person responsible for helping track down my luggage and get it onboard as quickly as possible.  They gave me a toiletry bag and a free t-shirt.  And even a free laundry voucher (if you've ever paid to have laundry done onboard a cruise ship you know how much of a gift that is).  And our room was amazing, we absolutely loved getting to relax on the balcony reading, or getting to see each city at sunset as the boat departed.

Our first stop was Dubrovnik, Croatia.  A beautiful old town inside a walled fortress on the coast.  It was gorgeous, picturesque and so hot!

This was the view we had coming into port from our balcony.

We walked around the city, through tiny cobblestoned alleys, and even followed a sign to a beautiful view of the coast.

There were fountains running all over the city where you could fill your water bottle with ice cold water.  And the ice cream was delicious!

We ended the day taking a cable car to the top of the mountain, with beautiful views of the city below.

Overall Dubrovnik was really beautiful.  I'd give it a solid 7, an 8 if it had been a little cooler.  :)  Don't think I have a burden to come back to this specific city again, but Croatia is lovely and I'd like to explore it more.

Parting shots of the city and sunset from our balcony.

Our next stop on the cruise was Athens.  It's been high on my list of places to visit for awhile now, the Parthenon, the food, I was really excited.  But after Petra and some of the other places we've visited, Athens was a bit of a let down for me.  Partially I think I'm just ruined out at the moment, but it didn't move me like I thought it would.  Don't take my assessment as the word of God though, as my good friend Mary told me the other day, "You're too worldly now, you've traveled so much that it takes a lot to impress you".  So sorry Athens, maybe if I'd seen you earlier I would have quivered in amazement.  But it's 2012 and I'm only giving you a 6.  

The second half of our Athens day was a bit more impressive for me.  We drove down the coast to the Temple of Poseidon, which is another ruin of a temple, on a cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea. The scenery was beautiful, and the water was lovely.

The next day was the peninsula of Olympia in Greece.  We split up and the boys went to the Olympic grounds and museum, and Tessa and I went to the grounds, and then to the beach.  That day was fantastic.  Mainly for the beach part.  We had the best gyros I've ever eaten at a cafe on the beach and then played in the water for the rest of the afternoon. It was so refreshing and nice to be in the water.  No pics from that day though because we sent the camera with the boys.  :)

The next stop on the cruise was Venice.  I've already been to Venice several times, but it was a first for Ryan and Tessa.  We visited the Doge's palace, walked around St. Marc's square and took a tour of a glass blowing workshop.  Then it was a gondola ride around the canals.  What a great day!

Then Ryan and I skedaddled back to the ship to leave Matt and Tessa by themselves.  We'd gotten the signal from Matt that now was the time he was going to propose!  Having helped him get the ring and keep everything secret, we wanted to help them have a great moment together.

After Venice there were a lot of sea days just hanging out, sleeping late, reading and relaxing by the pool.  I love cruises, it's so nice to have everything taken care of for you, and then there's the towel animals!

By the way, this is quite possibly my favorite picture of Ryan ever.... it's just so.. him.

The next three days were Greek island days back to back, Corfu, Santorini and Mykonos.  Corfu was kinda ehhhh, I'd give it a 3.  Matt went mountain biking and Ryan Tessa and I hiked into town, but it was just a big tourist trap. The views of the island from the boat were beautiful though!

But Santorini.... oh man, it was everything I dreamed it would be, a 12 1/2.  It was my favorite stop of the entire cruise and I'm already dying to go back, though maybe at a slightly cooler time of year!  I was really worried it would be a disappointment like Athens was, but I absolutely loved it!  Ryan and Matt went volcano hiking, because yes Santorini is a city on top of a caldera, how frickin cool is that?!  And Tessa and I went to Oaia, which is the town with the white houses and blue domed roofs.  The water and sky were such a vivid blue, and set against the white wash of the buildings, it was a photographers paradise.   Tessa kept losing me because I couldn't stop taking pictures, it was all so beautiful.  The other thing we found amazing was the jewelry shops. They had some of the most unique, gorgeous jewelry designs either of us had ever seen.  All well out of our price ranges, but still nice to admire. 

The last island stop was Mykonos.  It was really windy that day, which was kinda cool because the ocean was going crazy with spray.  Ryan and I actually got woken up the night before because of the storming ocean outside.  Mykonos was pretty, not as cool as Santorini, much better than Corfu, I'd give it a solid 5.

Aren't these orchids beautiful!  I almost stole them out of the restaurant window!

And last but not least, we traveled to Turkey for the 2nd time this year and visited Ephesus.  Oddly enough, the stop at the carpet making factory was my favorite part of this trip.  I thought it was going to be a stupid waste of time, just another ploy to get us to spend money (which of course is what they wanted) but it was really cool.  They started by showing us silk cocoons and how they boil them and then brush them to get the silk threads.  Then we got to see some ladies weaving, then they took us into the storeroom where they just started whipping out carpets, the dog was really funny he just kept laying there as they rolled carpets over his nose!  They were beautiful, and we got to sample some more apple tea, which we tried in Istanbul earlier this year and loved.  I asked for the price on a beautiful silk rug that Ryan and I both liked, 27 the lady said.... I turned to Ryan with a shrug... 2,700 didn't seem like too bad a price.  $27,000 she corrected me.  Damn, that's a lot of money to walk around on.

The rest of the day was the historical part, and Ryan really loved it.  It was beautiful, but we were outside for a loooooooong time, and I got to that point where I was hot, getting sunburned and just didn't care anymore.  

When the cruise finished, Ryan and I spend a few more days in Venice, getting lost down little alleyways.  We ate a lot of gelato, pizza and pasta, looked at beautiful blown glass and even went to the top of La Campanile, the tower in St. Marc's square.  Luckily there was an elevator, and while were up there they started ringing the bells.  It was so cool!  You could feel the vibrations in your chest.

This was one of the bells, swinging back and forth a couple feet above us!

Venice was wonderful.  I'd been there a few times, but never with someone I was in love with.  It really is a very romantic place!  We went to an Opera concerto that was playing one night and listened to gorgeous music and voices.  It was a nice farewell for the city.

Our summer travels were great, and we got so much relaxing in that we were ready to come back to life in Cairo, to our puppy and to work, which starts in another few weeks.

Thanks for reading, if you stuck through the entire thing!

Do any of these places interest you to visit?