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 Birthday...in 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!

Thanksgiving

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




Cairo
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!

McDonalds
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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Morning in Paris, the City Awakes to the Bells of Notre Dame"


France

It’s time to read about Strasbourg and of course Paris, France!


Strasbourg

Sunset on the Ill
We arrived in Strasbourg during sunset, and it was beautiful to see the colors reflecting in the Ill River. After checking into the hotel, we set out for dinner and found a cute French place in Petit France where Katie and I shared roast duck with a caramelized ginger glaze, and spätzle with a puff pastry and chicken in a cream sauce. I also got chocolate moose for dessert!
Chocolate Moose!

When I returned to the hotel that night I discovered that I left my European adaptor in Salzburg, Austria. Whoops! I never leave stuff behind, but I guess I just left it in the wall with all the hustle and bustle of moving around so much. I called the hotel, and luckily they found it and were willing to ship it to me free of charge! I am happy to report that my adaptor set is complete again because they were true to their word and it was waiting for me when I returned to Cyprus!

Strasbourg was adorable :)
During our tour of Strasbourg I learned that Strasbourg has exchanged hands between Germany and France several times, so it’s no wonder that most of the signs were in both languages. It’s a cute harbor town, and the economy is in great shape because of the harbor.

A quirky thing about Strasbourg is that they are known for their storks. Apparently they didn’t return after migrating one winter once the Germans took over, and they became a sign of the Revolution because they returned when France took over again. I didn’t get to see any storks since they migrated for the winter.

At a local bakery, I tried their 7-spice special gingerbread, and it was refreshing even though I’m not a gingerbread fan.

Me and Katie with our bikes!
Celebrating Halloween in France...Vampire?
For the rest of the day, Kaite and I rented bikes and rode alongside the Ill River until we reached Oranjerie Park, where we continued to bike by lamplight. The weather was surprisingly pretty warm for a change and I was so happy to be riding a bike! We passed the Zoo inside the park, but of course it was closed at night, so I pulled my bike over to the wall and stood on the seat in order to look in. I knew there were Storks in there somewhere, so I decided the sleeping thing I saw in the closest cage was a Stork. I guess you can say I sort of saw one, maybe? Haha

We celebrated Halloween in Strasbourg by going to an ‘American’ diner, where they served burgers, fries, and shakes. It was kind of nice to be in that atmosphere since they had decorations and were dressed for Halloween. We wondered if people think all American diners still look like the 50s.

Paris
Paris!
Paris was the last city in our tour of Europe, and it was a nice way to end our adventure. We left Amsterdam at 9am and it took 7 hours for us to drive to Paris. The drive wasn’t actually bad at all! We were lucky with traffic during our entire trip really. After checking into the Hotel we walked to the Eiffel tower, and it glowed a beautiful gold color against the black night sky. It also twinkled on the hour, which reminded me a lot of a show at Disney. There's a video below!
video

Escargot!
We went to Monmarte and Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (the Sacred Heart Bascilica) where we could see Paris lit up in the night. For dinner we went to a cute little place with a piano player and I even tried Escargot (aka snails)! Surprisingly, the snails were pretty good. I’m not sure I would seek them out if I wasn’t in Paris, but I liked how the butter and garlic complemented the snail.

At the Moulin Rouge!
Kyle, Kristi, Katie and I walked to the Moulin Rouge; tickets were way too expensive and we didn’t care to see that kind of show anyways, but it was cool just to see it all lit up.

The Louvre (Yes, I took this picture!)
As a group we visited the Louvre, Paris’ most famous museum. The architecture of the building with glass pyramids and a ‘u’ shape structure was art in itself! Our audio guide was a Nintedo 3Ds, which made navigating the massive museum a little easier and it was super cool to use!

Mona Lisa :)
I enjoyed looking at a bunch of statues and paintings at the Louvre, the most famous of which was the Mona Lisa. I had heard that she is actually pretty small, but I guess I pictured her too small because she was bigger than I imagined! Haha

Pont des Arts










Next we crossed the Pont des Arts to walk along the Seine River, and I think the amount of locks on the bridge were the most I have seen yet! Of course we visited Notre Dame, which is as extravagant as you’d imagine, and I couldn’t help but break out into "The Bells of Notre Dame" from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is where I took my post title from today!
Notre Dame


If you ever go to Paris, stop at Shakespeare & Company, which is a quaint bookstore that used to house aspiring artists, writers, and musicians at no cost so they could pursue their art. I thought it was really cute and worth looking around at least if not purchasing a book or two.

It wouldn’t be Paris if it didn’t rain for at least a little bit, so we endured some heavy rain for about 4 hours; I’m glad that’s all we had to deal with compared to other stories of rain in Paris I’ve heard about! There was a beautiful double rainbow across the sky though! Katie, Lauren and I did some shopping in the fashion capital of the world on Rue de Rivoli during the rain.

Enjoying a Crepe!
My trip to Paris wouldn’t be complete without getting a crepe, so I got a banana, butter, and sugar crepe! Yummmm…I also had nutella crepes for breakfast almost everyday at the hotel. haha

Arc de Triomphe
After throwing around the idea to spend the day at Disneyland Paris or go to Versailles, Lauren and I decided to stay in Paris and just explore the city. I saw the Arc de Triomphe and strolled down Avenue des Champs-Élysées all the way to the Louvre. It was a lovely walk and along the way we saw street dancers that were pretty good; good enough that I put some change in their hat! 

Climbing trees in Luxembourg Gardens
Statue of Liberty
Père Lachaise Cemetery
We crossed through Luxembourg Gardens, which is absolutely beautiful, and we even took the time to climb some trees! We found the Statue of Liberty, watched some gentlemen play bochee ball, and headed to Père Lachaise Cemetery. This cemetery is a must see in my opinion because it was so interesting to see the long rows of elegant resting places; I even found Chopin’s grave!

View from the second level of the Eiffel Tower
For my last day in Paris, I woke up early since we were departing Paris at 11am in order to get to the airport. I decided to climb the Eiffel tower as the last thing that I would do on my 18-day journey across Europe. I left the hotel around 9am and climbed 1,665 steps to the second level in about 10 minutes. The weather was oddly warm and I climbed without a coat. I didn’t take the lift to the highest point because I was worried about time, and quite frankly I didn’t want to spend the extra money either. I climbed the tower alone since most of my friends did the tower the day before, but I’m glad I went alone because it allowed me some time to reflect.

The Group at the Louvre
While looking down to Paris below, I thought about the whole 18-day trip and how much of the world I had seen in such little time: 13 cities in 8 countries. Traveling around Europe so quickly was certainly exhausting but I enjoyed exploring so many cities and countries, and trying new foods was a big highlight of the trip! I learned some things about myself and I certainly feel a lot more cultured! When I arrived at Paris’ airport, I used the airports’ free 15 minutes of internet in order to register for Spring 2013 classes at Muhlenberg. Luckily I got the classes I wanted and I am happy to say that I am looking forward to returning to the Berg in the Spring.

Thanks for reading my post about France! I’ve posted a few updates within the past week to separate my trip for organizational purposes, so be sure to check if you missed any Country posts since there were so many! Next time you’ll get to hear all about my trip to Egypt, so stay tuned for the continuation of the craziest semester of my life!

Till next time!
-Courtney <3