Monday, December 17, 2012

"Well I'm Going Home, Back to the Place Where I Belong"

Look at all those pins!
Alrighty, so my semester abroad is coming to an end seeing as I leave tomorrow for Larnaca’s Airport at 6:45am for my 10am flight. Since I'm heading home, the lyrics for today's post are from "Home" by Daughtry.  I can’t believe this semester is already over; it feels like I just started this blog and adventure yesterday! Since leaving the United States on September 13th, I have traveled to 15 countries including: Cyprus, Greece, Italy, The Vatican, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands with Global Learning Semesters, and Egypt, London, and Ireland independently. It has been a crazy semester of planning, trying different foods, meeting new people, traveling to so many countries, and having cool adventures. Looking at a map, it is bewildering to see how many places I managed to travel to over the course of my 3 months abroad.
            I have a few more Cyprus updates before I depart, so now it’s time for the updates!
Kyrenia Harbor
Kyrenia Mountains
 As a group we traveled to Northern Cyprus to visit Kyrenia, and I loved driving through the beautiful mountains. The weirdest part of the mountain range in the North is the section with the record breaking Turkish Flag painted on the mountain, which I have mentioned in previous posts. It’s a symbol 

to display Turkish pride, ownership, and to remind the Greeks who can see the flag from the South. I saw this flag everyday, and it’s a constant reminder of the Turkish Invasion of 1974 that divided the Island. Kyrenia is an adorable harbor town, and we visited St. Hilarion’s Castle, which was the best castle that I’ve been to in Cyprus in my opinion; it was pretty large and fun to explore.
            The other day I went for a run because it was 65 degrees and I needed a break from studying. I thought it was great weather to wear shorts and a t-shirt, but I got some funny looks because all the Cypriots were wearing scarves and coats. Their tolerance for cold is low since their summers are so warm I suppose, but I thought it was perfect weather. Haha. I guess I’ll have to get used to the cold again really soon. Traveling to Ireland and London was a helpful reminder since I had to wear layers there due to the cold weather. But actually, Cyprus has gotten pretty chilly in the early morning hours and at night, so it’s not always summertime here like most people think.
Group in the Troodos Mountains
Another trip we took was to the Troodos Mountains, which are so different to hike than the Appalachians back at home just based on the surroundings. I liked how different it was for a change, but I’m also looking forward to a good hike back home. Afterwards we visited the village Kakopetria, which is exactly the type of place you think of when you imagine an old village. 
Me and Anya on GLS Graduation Day :)
            After classes on Friday, December 14th, there was a little Global Learning Semesters Graduation Ceremony where we got certificates and watched a video made by my roommate Lauren. We also went to dinner at the same place where we went during my first night in Cyprus. It was nice to look back at that first dinner and think how none of us knew each other back then, and to see how much we have come together as a group since that first night.
The Kiddos playin' B-Ball
Volunteering at PeacePlayers
            On Saturday I volunteered with PeacePlayers and got to keep score for 

the Junior Boys tournament. It was really exciting to observe the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot children playing basketball together. As I mentioned in a previous post, PeacePlayers "uses the game of basketball to allow 11-15 year-old Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot boys and girls to play together, learn together and build positive relationships that overcome generations of mistrust and formidable physical barriers to interaction." Volunteering with this organization was a really good way to end my time in Cyprus because seeing the children playing together makes you hope that The Cyprus Problem will one day find a solution that brings the island back together as one whole again.
Kristi and Me at the APOEL Football Game
 Later that day, we went to an APOEL Football game (aka Soccer). So much sport attending in one day, haha so unlike me! My friend Kristi likes sports a lot and wanted to go to a game, and I thought it would be fun to go too. The most interesting thing about the game was people watching the crowd. They chanted and sang in Greek during the entire game, and although I have no idea what they were saying, it was pretty cool to observe. The majority of the crowd was men and I swear we were the only ones in the stadium without cigarettes in our hands. I got tired of the smoke pretty quickly and they also didn’t have good food to eat either! What kind of sporting event doesn’t have good food?! Our team APOEL won the game 1-0, and I thought the game itself wasn’t that exciting considering they made some pretty obvious errors like missing the goal completely several times. I’m really glad we went though because Football is a large part of Cypriot culture.
            Yesterday we went to Meze one last time with a group of 17 to say goodbye to my roommate, Anya. (See my post entitled "All it Takes is a Little Faith, and a lot of Heart" from September 17th to read about Meze). Both Anya and Lauren have left now, so it’s just me and I have the whole empty apartment to myself. It’s a little weird because it really means that it’s time for me to leave soon too.

Things I’m looking forward to back home:
1.    Seeing my family and friends
2.    Driving my car and being able to go wherever I want, whenever I want.
3.    Playing my Ukulele!
4.    Going back to work at ArtsQuest
5.    Starting another semester at Muhlenberg
6.    Rooming with Allie Wertheim again!
7.    Eating good ol’ American Food!!
8.   Hearing people speaking English
9.    Being able to flush toilet paper again
10. Being able to read all of the signs and menus
11. Not having to pay $5.30 for ONE load of laundry, and that’s was just washing.
12. Being able to use a dryer rather than air drying my clothes!
13. Using my cell phone that doesn’t require topping up
14. The fact that Non-smoking rules are strictly followed

Things I will miss after leaving Cyprus:
1.    Being an hour’s distance away from the mountains or the beach in any direction.
2.    Wearing shorts and t-shirts in December. (It actually did get chilly here towards the end though!)
3.    Grilled Halloumi cheese….yum
4.    Random trips to Zorba’s 24 hour Bakery
5.    Papaphilipou Ice Cream
6.    All of the people I have met here
7.    The beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea
8.   Being able to travel around Europe rather easily

 So, that's about it for the updates before I depart! It's already 1am here, and I have a few more goodbyes to say, so I'll wrap it up here. There will be one more  post when I  return home to complete my study abroad blog, so stay tuned for my final thoughts! 

Goodbye, Cyprus! It's been an adventure. :)

-Courtney <3

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Sure They Steal your Heart Away"

  It’s been awhile since my last post, but I’ve been busy writing essays and studying for finals this past week. (See, I actually do work here too!) I am happy to report that as of Friday, December 14th, I am finished with all schoolwork for the semester! Now, as promised, I’m going to write about my travels to my favorite country- Ireland! The inspiration for today's post title is from "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" by the Irish Tenors.


Trying my free Guinness...
        Katie and I departed from Gatwick’s airport and traveled to Ireland with Ryanair, the airline for the budget traveler. Contrary to what I’ve heard, they didn’t weigh our carry-ons, and it’s a good thing too because I know for a fact that my bag (for a weeks worth of traveling) weighed more than the allowed 10 kilos. The flight from Gatwick to Dublin was quick and only took about an hour and 10 minutes. After taking the cheaper transportation option, the public bus, we walked along the river until we found our Hostel, The Four Courts. It was huge, clean, cheap, and the staff was so nice! We asked for recommendations for dinner since we were starving, and we were sent to Bobo’s, a nearby all-Irish burger joint.  It was SO good! By recommendation of the waitress, Katie and I got the smoked applewood bacon burger, which had Irish beef, lettuce, bacon, apple relish, and a delicious thick smokey cheese. And we got Chubby Fries too, made of Irish potatoes of course…yum. You can’t go wrong with a good spud! With our Burgers we got a free ½ pint of Guinness, which I only accepted since it’s made in Ireland. It wasn’t as bad as other beers that I’ve sipped, but still I could only manage a few sips before declaring that I couldn’t finish it.
            After dinner, we walked around Dublin and saw St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Boarshead Inn, the oldest tavern in Ireland. We didn’t walk around for too long because we were freezing; Dublin was so cold that first night! Back at The Four Courts, we settled in for the night, but only got about 4 hours of sleep since we had to get up early.
Blarney Castle
            Staying at the Four Courts was good research on our part because it was only a 20-minute walk away from the train station. At 7am, we started the beginning of our three-day tour at Heusten Station with RailTours Ireland! We took the train from Dublin to Blarney, where our first stop was Blarney Castle! It was so fun to walk through the castle and navigate the small stairs. There were also fun passages and caves to explore that I didn’t expect, but my adventuresome self was having quite a grand time. I kissed the Blarney stone, of course, and in order to do so you have to lay on your back and kiss it upside down, the only thing stopping you from plummeting to the ground below are two iron bars…it was a little weird, but something I can cross off my list of things to do in life! Haha.
            At the place where we ate lunch, they had samples of Rhubarb pie, and it was so good that Katie and I actually bought a whole pie to split between the two of us over the next couple of days. It was only 4 euro, so it was a great deal, and trust me we enjoyed every bite! Next we bussed to Cobh (pronounced Cove) where I saw the port at Queenstown where the Titanic made her last stop before her ultimate fate of sinking to the bottom of the sea. (I’m obsessed with the Titanic, so I enjoyed this a lot!) There was a nice exhibit at the Cobh Heritage Center about the Titanic and the Lusitania, and after viewing the exhibit I had some time to shop in town where I found a purple Claddagh Ring that I love; it’s what I really wanted from Ireland since the tradition originates there.
            We boarded another train from Cobh to Killarney where a nice elderly gentleman was waiting to pick us up and drive us to our hotel. (The RailTours people really know how to organize a package trip!) When we walked in the lobby of the International Hotel, there were carolers and Irish Dancing! Eventually we were told that Ireland’s Special Olympics team was invited to light the tree in the lobby that evening, hence the celebration. It was a very nice welcome for us! We checked into our room and it was beautiful, especially after staying in Hostels in London and Dublin. There was a twin bed and a Queen bed; to make it fair we each took a night in the Queen bed. The luxury was nice for a change, and Katie and I immediately decided that our student price for the RailTours experience was so worth it considering all the trains, tours, transportation, and lodging were included for the duration of the three days.
Katie and Me with Santa?
            Since it was raining in Killarney, we decided to dine at the hotel, which was a great idea because the food was delicious once again. I had seafood chowder, Pork in a mushroom sauce with mashed potatoes, veggies and French fries. At every meal, regardless of what you order, I swear you get a side of fries even if your meal comes with mashed potatoes! I wasn’t exactly complaining, haha. Three older gentlemen struck up a conversation with us during dinner and they were very nice. We even ended up taking a picture with Santa because he happened to be at our hotel. Seriously, he was just a guy that looks exactly like Santa and has an embroidered vest to prove it! The ambience and atmosphere of the evening was perfect, and our waiter gave us Christmas Pudding to try for free since we asked what it was. I didn’t care for it, though it was interesting.
The Ring of Kerry
Irish Rainbow :)
            The next day started off with complementary Irish breakfast of eggs, toast, ham, and sausages. We had some time to do a little shopping in Killarney before our scheduled tour for the day and I found an Irish wool hat that I adore! It’s purple of course. :) Our tour for the day was The Ring of Kerry through Deros Tours, during which I got to see what comes to mind when you think of Ireland: green mountains, gorgeous coasts, a little rain, an Irish RAINBOW, Cows, and Sheep! Due to the rain there was some fog, but we still had great views. At one point along The Ring of Kerry, the wind was so strong that I almost got knocked over, I swear! Our tour guide said that sometimes they aren’t even allowed to stop in that spot because if the wind reaches a certain speed the bus would actually be flipped over if it parked! (Crazy, right?) I’m glad it was just ‘a little’ windy so we were allowed to stop there. We also did a short hike to the Torc Waterfall, which was nice to see and reminded me of my adventures to waterfalls in PA, except all of the trees were covered in moss so everything was SO GREEN!
Torc Waterfall
            When we got back to Killarney we heard word that there was a parade later that evening, and although it wasn’t anything like parades back home it was still cute to see all the Irish kids dressed up in costumes welcoming Santa to town. And they lit the town lights for the first time too! I enjoyed seeing all the gorgeous girls with lovely red hair, and oddly enough, I kept getting comments about my blonde hair! One Irish guy did a double take and said: “My goodness, your hair is lovely! Don’t ever change it” (Imagine that with an Irish accent…) I was so flattered.
Enjoying my Bailey's
            In search of dinner we found a great place where I got shepherds pie, and despite the fact that it’s covered in mashed potatoes as you know, it came with a side of fries again. Haha. We went to a bar to listen to some Irish music, and when we entered the doorman said “I trust you girls are over 18?”  Why yes sir, I’m 21. The guys playing music were so great! I love Irish music and I could listen to it forever. I even ordered a drink, which is the first I have ever ordered for myself at a bar: Bailey’s Irish Cream on the rocks; what a great creation. I actually really enjoyed it a lot! We talked with Adam and his mother Ruth, Americans who have been traveling for awhile. Interestingly enough we ran into them at the waterfall, at the parade, and again at the bar; Killarney must be a small town, haha.
            The next day was December 1st, which made me realize how soon my time abroad would be coming to an end. It was my favorite day ever though because our tour for the day was to The Cliffs of Moher. We took a car ride from Killarney to Limerick, which was about 2 hours, and we met up with the rest of RailTours for a short tour of Limerick before going to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. It rained a tad, or course, and I wasn’t impressed with the castle itself compared to others I’ve seen. I do have a new goal in life though- return to Ireland and attend a medieval banquet in one of the castles that offer it like Bunratty! The experince sounded like so much fun, but we didn’t have time to fit it into our Ireland agenda.
Irish Cow.  So cute!!
            We drove through the country to get to Doolin where we walked across the rocky coast to view the Cliffs of Moher in the distance, our next destination. I loved the sound of the waves smacking against the rocks and it was absolutely beautiful. We grabbed lunch at an Irish pub where I got the glazed ham special of the day and chocolate fudge at the shop next-door…Yummy. On the hill next to our bus there were Cows grazing in the grass, and I smiled because the grass was so green and the Cows were adorable!
            Finally we headed to the cliffs where the sun was shining and it was actually warm as we hiked along the edge. The Cliffs of Moher was my favorite memory from Ireland because the experience was like no other. The Cliffs are the highest in Europe, and I would certainly not go cliff diving off these like the ones in Cyprus! The trek was a little muddy, but the view and journey was amazing. At one point a girl asked us to take a picture of her, and it turns out she (Carolyn) goes to Susquehanna with our friend Whitney who we are studying with back in Cyprus! It is such a small world. Pictures don’t do the experience justice, but I tried to get the best ones I could. There is a stone barrier that is supposed to prevent people from going towards the edge, but that didn’t stop me because I just climbed right over the barrier to get a better view. ;) Adventure is the spice of life after all!
The Cliffs of Moher- my favorite place in Ireland <3
Walking across The Burren
            Back on the bus, we headed to Galway and stopped along the way to see Galway Bay and walk across The Burren, basically a field of rocks that’s pretty fun to explore. When we arrived in Galway, there was a Christmas market that reminded me of Chriskindlmarkt in Bethlehem, and it made me happy that I’ll be returning home to work there this year. There, we tested out a Harry Potter Playstation game called Standard Book of Spells; it was totally for kids but fun to play. My goodness Harry Potter has creeped into this trip a lot! (See previous post about London).
            Eventually it was time to board the last train from Galway to Dublin, a two and a half hour ride. We took a shuttle from Heusten Station to our stop for our Hostel- Jacob’s Inn. I didn’t care for this place as much as the one we stayed in our first night in Dublin, but we were only there for a few hours. Dinner was at a Pizza place around the corner because they were offering a great 5-euro meal and we needed something nearby since we had to get to bed to get up to go to the airport. At the Pizza place we met Donald, a Dubliner who used to be a pilot for over 30 years. We talked about Cyprus since he actually knew where it was and he invited us over to his house to meet his sons. His exact words “You girls are so nice. I’d love if you came to meet my boys. And then marry them.” We thought it was funny and originally said we couldn’t since we were already getting less than 6 hours of sleep due to our early flight the next morning. Shortly after he left though, we changed our minds and tried to find him outside. (He was completely trustable, don’t worry). We saw him walking across the street, but he then disappeared into thin air; I’m convinced he was a Leprechaun.
            We got picked up at 5am to go to the airport for our flight to Gatwick where we caught another flight back to Cyprus. I was sad to leave Ireland because I loved it so much, and I will honestly say that it was my favorite country that I traveled to this whole semester. Irish people are so nice and willing to make sure everyone has a good time. Every part of Ireland is so beautiful and I’m glad that Katie and I got to see so much of it by booking the three day adventure with RailTours. I’m obsessed with Ireland, I’m in love with Ireland, and I will be back!

Till next time!
-Courtney <3

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Just Singin' in the Rain"

The London Eye
Well it’s December, to which I say: “When did that happen??” This semester is flying by so fast and I can’t believe it’s already coming to an end! Since I depart from Cyprus on December 18th, I’m at the point where it is too easy to count down the days. I will make the most of my remaining days, and of course I have papers to write and finals to study for too, but right now I’m going to reminisce about my free week, during which I traveled to London and Ireland! 


Buckingham Palace
     The flight from Larnaca, Cyprus to Gatwick, United Kingdom felt so long! It was about 5 hours, and after taking shorter flights during my previous travels, 5 hours seemed like forever. I can only imagine what flying home is going to feel like! On the plane I started reading ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’, and I actually finished the book before I even arrived at my hostel! It was a great book, I loved the writing style, and I can’t wait to see the movie. (You should read it if you haven’t already!)
            When I arrived in Gatwick Airport, passport control took too long and I missed my train to Waterloo, the closest station to my hostel. Unfortunately that was the last train for the night and I had to figure out another way to get to my hostel. Without giving me any directions, the ticket teller switched my ticket to Queen Victoria and told me to take a bus from there. I was a little overwhelmed that I had to figure out a new transportation route so late at night when the one I was supposed to take was so easy! Luckily Kyle, my friend from Cyprus, was already in London and met me at the Queen Victoria station so we could take the bus together to the Steam Engine Hostel. To make matters more difficult, my bankcard didn’t work at the ATM or the hostel, so I had to borrow money from Kyle so I could sleep in my bed! Knowing I needed Pounds instead of the few Euros I had on me, I called my bank before going to bed to fix the issue and went to bed at 3am London time, so it really felt like 5am Cyprus time!
Going back to Neverland :)
            After a few hours of sleep, I got up for a busy day in London! My first stop was to see the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens where I felt like Wendy flying back to Neverland, just like Junior year of high school when I played her in the musical. There was light rain but I didn’t mind because I expected that in London. I also went to Hyde Park; the parks in London are lovely!
Me at the GLOBE!
             We stopped in Harrods department store just to say we did, and I enjoyed the Disney window displays. Being typical tourists, we took pictures 

in an iconic red phone booth and went to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey before enjoying lunch in Traflagar Square at Pret A Manger. (Pret is on EVERY corner of London, I swear!) I also saw St. Pauls’ Cathedral, Millennium Bridge, London Bridge, and of course toured The Globe, which was awesome! Unfortunately the show season at the Globe had ended, so I guess I’ll just have to return to London someday to experience a performance like in Shakespeare’s time.
Two Towers Bridge

            Later that night we came across Two Towers Bridge, which was gorgeous lit up at night, the light reflecting in the River Thames. For dinner I sought out Fish and Chips, which came with a side of mushy peas, as the menu called them, and I enjoyed the meal despite having to pick around some bones. 

"Singin' in the Rain!"
      And then it was time for ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ at the Palace Theatre! The performance was absolutely wonderful and the rain on the stage was the coolest thing I have ever seen: 12,000 liters of water during every performance- Wow. What an appropriate show to see in London, haha!  This is also where my post title comes from:"Singin' in the Rain"(watch this if you've never seen it!)

Hogwarts Castle model
       The next day we went to Warner Brother’s Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter. Seriously, this was my favorite thing I did in London! All 8 movies under one roof, and I got to walk through The Great Hall, see Gryffindor’s common room, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s hut, the night bus, Privet Drive, Diagon Alley and 

many other places! I could really imagine what it was like to make these films that I grew up with, and everything was authentic! I got to see some of my favorite props including: the sorcerer’s stone, the snitch, and all the Horcruxes! I learned about the animatronics like Buckbeak, prosthetics of the Goblins and creatures, and visual effects like the fire breathing Horntail. I even got to experience special effects on the green screen by flying on a broom! The tour was an overwhelming experience, and I must admit I teared up a bit to see all of these wonders in front of me and to witness all of the work that went into my childhood favorites. My favorite parts were the giant castle model of Hogwarts, the concept art room, and Ollivander’s wand room, which had the name of over 4,000 people who worked on the movies on each wand box. It took 3 hours and 20 minutes to go through the whole tour, and I even got some butterbeer too!
Finding Danielle at Platform 9  3/4
            To continue the Harry Potter theme of the day, we went to King’s Cross Station to cross through Platform 9 ¾, and guess who came to Hogwarts with me?....I met Danielle, my friend from high school, because she’s studying abroad in London! It was great to see her and catch up over lunch, and yet again we ate at Pret A Manger.
            It was time to switch gears for the day and do something unrelated to Harry Potter, so we metro-ed to Abbey Road and took some pictures crossing the street just like the Beatles, trying not to get hit by cars of course, haha. And later we went to Fleet Street and I even found a Barbershop there! Perhaps it is owned by Mr. Sweeney Todd himself? I didn’t go in to find out….
            I loved walking through the streets of London and seeing all the Christmas decorations. On my final day in London we visited Covent Garden Market; I wish money were endless and suitcases didn’t get full because I would’ve bought something otherwise. We also went to Primark, which is the Target of London, and I actually bought something there, a pair of gloves, since my old ones had a few holes, which resulted from using them as shoes in Vienna. (See my post from Austria entitled “I've Always Longed for Adventure, To Do the Things I've Never Dared” if you’re confused!)
Such a Tourist <3
     Keeping an eye on the time, we headed back to the hostel to pick up our bags and catch our train to Gatwick airport to fly to Dublin, Ireland! I liked our hostel because it was easy to navigate around London from there, and the transportation system was simple to use and quick! Trains are expensive though and an all day metro pass was $12-14. London is expensive so I’m glad I didn’t spend too many days there! Despite the costs, I loved my time in London and I would be happy to return or maybe even intern/work there someday.  Only time will tell of course.
            Thanks for reading about my travels to London! My next post will be all about Ireland, so stay tuned!

Till next time!
-Courtney <3

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Nightswimming Deserves a Quiet Night"

 Hello again, readers! I figured it’s time for a Cyprus update, so you’re going to hear about my Cypriot Dance lesson, my 21st Birthday weekend, and of course Thanksgiving! Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

Cypriot Dancing

     For my European Cultures class I was assigned a research project and paper relating to a cultural aspect of Cyprus. Since I am a theatre major and love to dance, I thought it would be fun and interesting to research Traditional Cypriot dances! To jump-start my research, I looked up local dance studios in Nicosia that offered Cypriot dance lessons, and I was lucky enough to find Revolution Dance Studio. With them I arranged a private Traditional Cypriot/Greek Dance lesson for four friends and myself. Katie, Kyle, Kristi, and Jessica were just as eager to learn as I was!
Cypriot Dance Lesson
            Monika was our dance teacher, a 20-year-old Cypriot student studying dance and education. As she was teaching, she kept saying it was funny to see non-Greeks dancing in the traditional Greek style, but she was happy to teach us and was thrilled that I wanted to learn the dances for my culture project. During our one-hour lesson we learned 4 types of dances: Kalamatianos, Tsamikos, Tsifteteli and Syrtos. Tsamikos was my favorite because it was the most complicated and involved a lot of steps to learn. I’m really glad I decided to research traditional Cypriot dances for my culture project because I had a great time learning the dances with my friends!

21st Birthday Weekend!
Kolossi Castle

Climbing Kolossi's walls!
                I was lucky enough that the planned GLS trip to Limassol and Paphos was during my Birthday weekend! During the trip I saw the Limassol Castle (which wasn’t anything special in my opinion), drove through the foothills of the Troodos Mountains (which were beautiful and I can’t wait to hike there later), and stopped at Kolossi Castle (the much cooler one). During the drive, our guide told us about the Carob bean which Cypriots ate in ancient times for good health and long life. They are still found on the island and people eat them today. An interesting fact: in ancient times 24 Carob bean seeds was equivalent to 1 karat of gold, so that’s how they measured weight back then. Claudia picked some Carob beans off a tree, and we all tried it. They tasted like naturally sweet chocolate! We also visited the Ancient City of Kourion where we saw roman baths with amazingly preserved mosaics! My favorite part was the ancient theatre, of course, and Katie, Kristi, Kyle, Jessica, and I practiced our Greek dancing on the stage!            
Aphrodite's rock
               On the way to Paphos we stopped at Aphrodite’s rock, the place where she was born out of sea foam. It was beautiful and I’d love to go back sometime to swim around the rock like the legend says to absorb some of Aphrodite’s beauty. We ate lunch in Paphos’ lovely harbor where I got swordfish at the Pelican Restaurant. I had to pick around some bones, but it was delicious, and the restaurant even had a pet pelican walking around that bit me when I pet him. Haha, I didn’t get hurt, don’t worry!
            We checked into our hotel, The Coral Beach Resort, and our room was huge; there were bathrobes and everything! Our terrace was beautiful and I was looking forward to spending my birthday there. After getting settled we watched the sunset on the beach, which was magnificent! Later that night we relaxed on the beach by the sound of the waves, and we even went night-swimming! (Which is what inspired today’s post title to be from "Nightswimming" by REM).  Surprisingly the water wasn’t that cold and we had a great time. 
This is how I spent my November!

            On Saturday we ate breakfast at the hotel and lounged by the beautiful hotel pool for a few hours and went swimming for a bit. The pool water was freezing and way colder than the sea from the previous night! 

Scuba diving adventure!
Then we headed to…….guess where?........PADI Cydive for SCUBA DIVING! For a decent price we were instructed how to use the gear, rented suits etc., and got to go scuba diving in the Mediterranean! Finding a wetsuit that fit was ridiculous. Apparently I have abnormally sized calves, haha. With all the gear on, it was so heavy, and we had to walk with the gear from the truck to the practice spot in the sea. I was glad when I entered the water and the water took away all the weight. After practicing safety steps, hand signals, and getting used to breathing it was time to dive! Breathing underwater was actually harder to get used to than I imagined. It was fun to use the skills and swim with flippers; scuba diving is definitely something I want to do again! I have an official certificate and everything. J
            For dinner we went to a Japanese Steakhouse to celebrate my birthday. I got tasty teriyaki chicken and pineapple. The cook’s tricks were different than the ones back home, and he even sang Gangnam style, haha! He was very entertaining, and we even got to participate! I got to try tossing the egg on the spatula: if one of us got 10 flips, our dinner was free. Danielle technically got 10, but the egg broke on 8 so it didn’t count. I only got one flip before mine fell off! I also had to catch flying rice bowls in order to ‘earn my rice’ and I got a free birthday tempura ice cream! It was such a great birthday dinner!
Commandaria Cypriot wine, my first drink
            When midnight rolled around, it was my 21st Birthday! Since I’m 7 hours ahead of Cassie, I technically enjoyed 7 hours of being the older twin for the first time in my life! My first drink was Commandaria, a Cyprus specialty and the oldest named wine still produced in the world. Shakespeare apparently liked it and The Queen of England loved it. I didn’t care for it much because it was so sweet, but then again I don’t like alcohol in general. I finished my wine on the beach and it was such a relaxing night. The stars were so bright, and Kyle and I commandeered the peddle boat on the shore and took it for a few laps around the sea.
            On my actual Birthday it rained pretty much all day, and we left Paphos to return to Nicosia. On the way we stopped at Lefkara, a cute village town where they still produce lace and silver goods. When we got back to Nicosia, I studied for my International Marketing class midterm (see I do study here!) and we took a break to walk to Zorbas (the 24 hour bakery) to get a birthday treat. I had a great Birthday weekend full of beaches, sun, scuba diving, and lounging around in a bathrobe! Thanks GLS for planning this trip perfectly around my Birthday!


Potluck Thanksgiving
     When Thanksgiving rolled around, everyone on the program that I talked to felt a little homesick. How can you not on a holiday that is all about family, I ask? I went to class on Thanksgiving for the first time in my life, and I gave my presentation on Cypriot Dancing in European Cultures. The teacher enjoyed it, so I think I did a good job. Now all I have to do is write the corresponding paper for my final for that class due at the end of the semester…..
            For Thanksgiving GLS held a potluck style dinner where they provided Turkey and drinks and each room brought something to contribute. As a room, Anya, Lauren, and I brought mashed potatoes. Overall it ended up being a nice Thanksgiving, but I was still jealous that my family went to Hershey to celebrate back at home.

The Scuba Diving group :)
Anyways, that’s a good enough update for now, and I’m actually leaving in 40 minutes to catch the airport shuttle for my independent travel during our free week! I’m heading to London and Ireland, so stay tuned for posts about my travels!

Till next time!
-Courtney <3

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Walk Like an Egyptian"

Pyramids of Giza
 This post is dedicated to my travels in Cairo, Egypt! If you’ve viewed my pictures on Facebook, you’re probably expecting to read about Camels and Pyramids, and although there will be quite a lot about those adventures, there is more to Egypt than Camels and Pyramids. The fact of the matter is there are some experiences that you cannot capture in a photograph, and I suppose that is precisely what this blog is for! It’s a little long because I have a lot to say, but I hope you enjoy reading about my trip to Egypt! And obviously my post title is from "Walk Like An Egyptian" by the Bangles. (Watch the music video if you're bored because Michael Jackson is in it. haha)


Egypt's Flag
Allow me to start by telling you about my decision process to go to Egypt because that’s all part of the experience after all. When I came to Cyprus, I knew that I was close enough to Egypt to travel there feasibly, but with all the news of the revolution occurring in Egypt, I decided it was out of the question.

Some of my GLS friends planned a trip though, and once they were there and I heard about their experiences and saw their pictures, I couldn’t resist the temptation.  When I heard they were safe, I decided to jump in on another group’s plans. With the luck of finding a 5 person private room in a hostel, I was able to join Kyle, Katie, Jessica, and Kristi on their adventure to Egypt. All I had to do was buy my plane ticket! So I did. My round trip flight to Egypt cost me less than $200!

On Friday, November 9th, after checking in and going through security, I was excited and nervous to board the plane to Egypt. To make the anticipation even longer, our flight was delayed an hour. We finally left at 7:30pm, arriving in Cairo around 8:40pm. It only took an hour and 10 minutes to get to Egypt from Cyprus!

Welcome to Egypt!
To get into the country, I had to pay $15 for a visa, and when I got money out of the ATM in Egyptian Pounds (LE), I felt rich due to the exchange rate! $1 = 6.10 LE. Our bus driver welcomed us and he was amusing as he mimed in order to communicate since he didn’t speak much English, and he drove us to our Hostel.

Driving in Cairo is nuts! We drove between lanes to pass other cars, sometimes there were no lanes at all, and there are no stoplights!

The Elevator
Finally we arrived at Meramees Hostel, and the building had an elevator that I never expected to find in Egypt. It was a 40’s style elevator with manual-doors and open windows with an iron gate on each floor to block the shaft. As we were going up to the 5th floor, I watched a bunch of deserted looking floors pass by. I wondered what the heck kind of place we were staying in.

5 Person Private Suite
We checked in and met Ahmed, who works there. He was nice and spoke English very well. After asking what we wanted to do in Egypt, he began drawing a visual map of the trip the hostel would plan for us the next day. He threw some prices our way, and it all seemed easy! (Remember this later….) Our 5 person private room, which only cost $22 per person for 3 nights, was a decent size and charming with bright red comforters and hard wood floors. The only thing I didn’t like about the place was the initial smell when you walked through the door. Once we turned on the fan and opened the windows, it didn’t smell that bad, so I got over it.

Best seat in the car?
By this time it was 10pm, and I was going to rest up for the big adventure the next day; especially since we were advised not to go out at night. Our host Ahmed, however, offered to take us out for shisha (hookah) and some of my friends wanted to go, so we all went together, myself a little reluctant. I informed Ahmed that I wasn’t going to smoke, and he learned that I’m a stubborn girl and I never gave in to his insistent efforts to convince me to try it.

We walked through a crowded square full of men smoking hookah in order to get to Ahmed’s place, and as we passed people called out: “Welcome to Egypt,” “Have a seat,” and “Care to smoke?” Clearly we were attracting a lot of attention. It was certainly strange to get so much attention, but I never felt threatened by their calls.
Sitting on the floor for Breakfast

The next day, Saturday, November 10th, was my favorite day! Showering at the hostel wasn’t bad, contrary to what I’ve heard about some hostels. And breakfast was 3 rolls, a hard-boiled egg, butter, jam, and cheese. Apparently this is a typical Egyptian hostel breakfast; nothing impressive, but we paid less than $8 a night after all.

As part of the tour our hostel arranged, we got into our car for the day, which cost 50 LE each (about $8.50). Our driver was kind and offered us a cigarette out of Egyptian hospitality; of course we all said no.

Our first stop of the day?- a camel ride around the Pyramids of Giza! At first the owner said 480 LE per person for the extended ride, but our driver talked him down to 380 LE, which is about $63. A little pricey compared to what I’ve heard, and the ‘negotiation’ felt like an act to me, so I’m sure we still over paid. I suspect there was some commission involved for our driver, but what can you do?

Charlie and Me!

Our camels were all lined up and ready to go, and mine was the one at the back of the line. I named him Charlie! Haha. Riding Charlie was so rickety and we weren’t strapped on at all! Eventually I got the hang of it though as we rode through the dessert with a young boy guiding our camels.  The older guide on horseback was the leader, and he knew exactly what pictures to take, so I got some great ones! The whole journey was a great experience and I loved riding through the desert! Dismounting a camel is ridiculous! Whenever we stopped for pictures or exploring I had to prepare myself for Charlie’s sharp lurk forward and hold on tight!

Climbing the Pyramids!
We were able to climb one of the pyramids, and they are massive! I have no idea how the ancient Egyptians built them. My rock hiking skills came in handy though! Haha. I saw the Sphinx and even kissed it. (sort of). It was smaller then I imagined. The Egyptians around the Pyramids gawked at us, took pictures, and kept asking, “What’s your name?” We were such a sight to them, and my blonde hair attracted a lot of attention. People tried to sell us stuff or ask for money, and Katie was called Mona Lisa and I was called Shakira by some of them. I couldn’t stop smiling while riding around the Pyramids on a freakin’ Camel!

Kissin' the Sphinx
Next we visited Golden Crystal Perfume shop where we learned about Egyptian oils. He was very hospitable and gave us hibiscus juice, mango ice cream, and Egyptian oil massages for free. These were all gestures to get you in the mood to buy stuff of course, and it’s a good business strategy really because I bought something. (I did a little Business negotiating of my own though too!)

Our next stop was a Papyrus place where we learned how Papyrus is made. Just like the Perfume guy, he also gave us a free Egyptian hospitality drink. I rolled my eyes, but I must confess I bought something there too: my name written in hieroglyphics on Papyrus paper! I thought it was a cool souvenir.

Nile at Night

 That night we went on a dinner Nile cruise, which wasn’t that great, but the boat was pretty docked along the Nile at least. Kristi and I decided we could dance better than the awkward Belly Dancer, but the two male Turkish dancers with skirts were pretty good. Honestly though, the singer accompanying them in Arabic song was the best part. We learned later that the Hostel overcharged us for the cruise, so we vowed not to book anything through them again.

Zao and Me
Before going to bed I sat on the steps to pick up the Internet and I ended up having a great conversation with my new friend Zao from DC! He was traveling to Cairo and other places alone, so we exchanged travel stories.

Egyptian Museum
On Sunday, November 11th we went to the Egyptian Museum. To get there we had to cross one of the busiest streets in Cairo with cars zooming past in all directions. Obviously we made it, but it took a lot of effort. We couldn’t take pictures inside the museum, and they enforced this strictly by making us leave our cameras outside in a checked area. The museum was poorly arranged and hardly labeled; it appeared to be one giant Egyptian warehouse rather than a museum, but still I enjoyed looking at hieroglyphics, statues, and sarcophagi that still contained their mummies! My favorite part was King Tut’s room where I saw some of the artifacts buried in his tomb and even his golden facemask!

Old Cairo
We took the metro to Old Cairo, and an interesting thing about the metro is that the last two cars are women only. We got in a mixed car though since we were traveling with 4 girls and one guy. The metro was so crowded, and the old city was dirty, run down, and smelly with lots of flies and garbage everywhere. We were harassed more frequently as we walked through the streets but it was never threatening, just annoying. We were also followed by a young teen, but we made sure to loose him quickly. Eventually we ended up at Khan el-Khalili, which is one of the largest markets in Cairo. My strategy to tackle this market: cut their offer price down by 80%, refuse to pay anything higher, and if they don’t accept your offer, walk away and say you’ll get it somewhere else- of course they scream for you to come back and they take your offer; worked like a charm and I got some great stuff!

For dinner we went to McDonalds because we didn’t want to seek out a place in the dark, and besides we knew it was safe and inexpensive.

Felucca ride on the Nile!
During my last day in Egypt, we walked along the Nile hoping to take a Felucca ride. We bargained with one guy for 50 LE for the hour, and it was a really fun experience cruising down the Nile with Arabic music in the background! We had a good half hour of cruising, then 15 minutes of awkward floating in a circle, and then he docked. If you add those up, that only comes to 45 minutes so we refused to pay the full 50 LE we agreed upon and gave him 40 LE instead. This means we got 45 minutes on the Nile for 8 LE a person ($1.33 each!). We felt bad paying so little, but we agreed upon a price and time that he didn’t stick to, so we taught him an important Business lesson by cheating him as he cheated us.

Tahrir Square
Next we walked through Tahrir Square and viewed Egyptian revolution artwork. There was no sign of any demonstrations while I was in Cairo except a small gathering of people that looked peaceful as we passed them in the car. Overall I enjoyed my trip to Egypt, but it would’ve been nice if they didn’t harass tourists so much. I never felt unsafe or threatened in Cairo, but all the attention got overwhelming at times. We departed from the hostel at 1pm in order to catch our flight back to Cyprus, but first they had to change the flat tire on our car….they did so while we were still sitting in the car. It was so bizarre.

I’m glad I decided to change my mind and travel to Egypt with Katie, Jessica, Kristi, and Kyle because otherwise I would’ve missed out on an experience of a life time!
Good times in Egypt!

Thanks for reading my blog! I have reached over 1,000 page views since I began this blog in September, which I never expected, so thanks for following my travels and check back for more posts!

Till next time!
-Courtney <3