Sunday, March 21, 2010

Canada Dry never die

Before I head off into this crazy trip, I should give a brief mention to the happenings a few days before I left for vacation. Quick summary: Imogen Heap and Geneva Motor Show. Imogen Heap was quite good, surprisingly with a lot of guys at the concert. Swiss people are a little different perhaps? Geneva Motor Show was a tad boring, and was definitely geared toward old people actually buying cars. This is a much different concept from the Frankfurt Auto Show, which was pretty much a whole bunch of Germans showing off what crazy things they've done to cars since the previous year's show.

The summary is done. On to Egypt.

Saturday was a long day of travelling, starting off with an early (~07:20) train to Geneva. Chris and I are pros with taking the train, so upon getting our tickets, we walked on the platform just as the train pulled up. Apparently we almost gave Olivia a heart attack for cutting it so close. Gotta love Swiss punctuality! In any other country, that would not happen. Expect maybe Germany.

From train to plane, we flew to Sharm El-Sheikh. easyJet being easyJet, we were late arriving and cut it assumingly close for transferring to a plane to Cairo. But not really. Being the first off the plane, we were also the first to buy the bogus entry visa from some bank teller right before customs. 15 USD and no questions asked. USD buys you anything in Egypt! Getting through customs, we went through two amusing security areas to get to the domestic departures gates. No liquid restrictions what so ever. In fact, I walked through the metal detector with change and it didn't even go off. Needless to say, we were off one flight and awaiting for the next one in the gate in about 15 minutes. Most of this time was spent waiting in a line through customs for a stamp on our bogus visa sticker.

Arriving in Cairo (~21:00), the guy from our hostel met us with a large van to drive our group of 15 to the hostel. Bianca was MIA at this point in time (which we later found out was because she fell asleep on her train to a French airport, not because the French air traffic control was on strike as always). Arriving in the hostel, we heard that Bianca had somehow made it to Cairo airport and that she was on her way. We didn’t want to wait, so we went out for supper.

That pretty much sums up the day. A whole lot of travel and not much of anything else. As a side note, I survived the entire day of travel on nothing more than a bag of biscuits and 750mL of water. Impressive? Indeed.

Sunday morning was an early one, as we had a daytrip to a whole bunch of pyramids planned, including the great pyramids of Giza. Upon arrival at the Giza area, we were swindled into renting camels. It was a cool experience, but quite expensive considering how cheap Egypt is. That being said, we did barter and paid a lot less than initially quoted. I'd imagine that being in such a large group gave us a lot of buying power. So yah, we rode camels at the great pyramids of Giza. There are a lot of pictures. We also saw the Sphinx. There are a lot of pictures.

Next stop was lunch, which I slept on the way to. Having the daytrip planned was great, because all I had to do was follow the herd and ride in a van, avoiding a lot of energy loss and exposure to the excessive Egyptian sun. And overall effort in planning, which I completely evaded for the entire week. Literally. So yah, lunch. It was forced upon us by our guide. So weird. Such a weird place. After lunch we drove near to a step pyramid. It was kinda cool. We stopped for 2 minutes for pictures then were off to another site.

At the next site, we went IN the pyramid. I assume it was an air ventilation shaft initially, there were small wooden planks put down so it was accessible to the average person. It went a long way down. The air in the bottom was very very thick and humid. There wasn't much to see down there. A fair few of us got cramps in the bottom, assumingly from the lack of oxygen in the air. The final site was a museum in Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt. There was a HUGE statue of Ramses the something-th. Around 14m when it was made, 10m now because it lost the lower legs.

After the trip, the group left exploring without us, to Andrew and I checked out the area and went shirt shopping. I got a ridiculous green shirt with a built in vest for 9CHF. We were supposed to go to an Islamic wedding, but the hostel guy never showed up, so those of us who were around and waiting to go went to a sandwich place and then a local market to be heckled by lots and lots of Egyptians trying to make a load of money off white people. At first, this made me a little uncomfortable because I wasn't sure what the appropriate response to people was, but by the end of the week I feel that I am a pro at ignoring people trying to sell me shit. Then we smoked some Shisha on the street.

Monday entailed a trip to a tourist market in the morning, which was essentially the same thing as the market we had gone to the night prior except less busy, less heckling (because it wasn’t as busy) and more touristy stuff to buy rather than knock-off clothing brand names such as Abidos and Poma. A few of us got sweet fried bread, which was awesome and only 1EGP, which is approximately 20 cents. Did I mention that Egypt is a dirt cheap country to visit?

Now would probably be a suitable time to explain the driving conditions of Cairo. Insanity. That pretty much sums it up. Pedestrians and vehicles have shared right of way as far as I can figure, which essentially means that people cross roads while avoiding cars and cars drive along the road avoiding pedestrians. Although lanes are painted on the roads, they are used as reference points rather than actual dividers. As much as everything seems like chaos, it is actually a quite efficient system. All spaces are taken up and traffic is always moving even though it would appear that there is eternal rush hour. After spending only a little more than one full day learning how to effectively cross the street, Dave, Steve and I became true locals. While crossing a busy section of the street, we wound up caught between two taxi's driving beside one another at the same speed. So we just waited for them to go by a matter of 3 inches from us on either side and continued on. Needless to say, I crunched my toes up to increase the distance from the front taxi's tires. The most frightening part of the experience was that it wasn't all that frightening...

On the way to the Cairo museum, the grand group split up so some of us could fill momentary desires of lunch. Walking down some random streets, we came across a sandwich place. The owner was more than happy to serve us, while another local helped some translations as to what sandwich we were ordering. Then we sat on the curb for 15 minutes to eat the previously purchased sandwiches. Unknown to me, we were being filmed. After we had finished eating, Dave pointed out to me that the owner had a portable camcorder out and had been recording out food consumption from the beginning. Naturally, I turned and waved. I am pretty sure that we were the largest group of white people to wander to his shop ever, possibly the only white people at all.

The museum was huge and full of a LOT of stuff. Most of which wasn't labeled or explained, which was a bit of a downer. But looking at everything was pretty cool. And if everything had written explanations in English, I doubt I'd have gotten through more than 40% of the museum before it closed anyway. "Stuff" includes mummies, sarcophaguses, statues, jewelry, etc. After the museum, we headed back to the hostel to pick up our stuff and get on a night train to Luxor. On the way, we stopped at a local market for fruit and picked up some kosheree for supper. Kosheree is essentially a mixture of dried onions, pasta, rice, chick peas, and tomato sauce. It is delicious and I hope to find it back home. We played hackie-sack at the train station, and a whole bunch of locals were staring at us. I take it hackie-sack hasn't caught on in Egypt yet.

Getting on the train, Chan and I played a few games of chess and ate oranges. I also changed from my shoes into flip flops. Such a small detail in the night couldn't possibly turn into something of importance could it?

Tuesday. Arriving in Luxor at 05:30 (ahead of schedule if you'd believe it) we didn't know it was Luxor. Then we found out and had to rush off before the train left. I left a small bag under my seat on the train. Such a small detail in the night couldn't possibly turn into something of importance could it? We walked to the hostel and check in. We were almost the only people in the hostel. We took a nap for a few hours.

Following the nap, we ate breakfast (~08:00) and got picked up in a van to begin out tour of the desert attractions of the Luxor-area. Before heading out, we sat on the side of the road in town. We are yet unsure of why, but in the end we saw a butcher work his magic on a couple of large sets of ribs. Outside. Dripping blood on the street. I'm pretty sure that what some of us had for supper at the restaurant. At least you know it's fresh :P.

The first stop was the Valley of the Kings. As you would expect, it is in a valley. The Valley of the Kings is where a whole bunch of Pharaohs were buried. There haven't been any tombs discovered in a while, so chances are there aren’t too many tombs that haven't been uncovered yet. Some of the tombs are ridiculously deep. Others aren’t so much. There were a lot of hieroglyphics on the walls. No mummies though. They were all taken to the Cairo museum (the mummies from the tombs we visited anyway). The second stop was Queen Hatshepsut's temple. It was big and made of stone. The third stop was the Valley of the Queens. This is where the rest of the royal family was buried, including the Pharaohs children and wife. The final stop was some random statues where I volunteered to take a picture for some American girls. After complaining about the picture and acting generally like what you'd expect from an American, I refused to take another picture for her on the premises that she was being ridiculous. She continued to further act like an American. Hahaha...

When the daytrip was finished, we went for supper and drank sugarcane juice then explored town a little bit. A bunch of the group started playing soccer, while a few of us went top check out an ancient temple. On the way to the temple, we wound up going into a mosque and got a tour from some guy. I'm pretty sure that I said something and am now a Muslim. Just playing. Walking back to the soccer game, we watched a fight break out and some Egyptian kid started attacking another with his belt. Some cool university students ushered us out of there. At this point, I decided to call it a night and head back to the hostel.

Wednesday began... No, it didn't. Well, the blogging sure didn't anyway. It is now 2 complete weeks late. Uggggh.

Wednesday began... oh right. We went to a rather large temple. It was rather large. I don't understand why people without modern machinery would put sooooo much effort into moving such large stones. Dedication doesn't even begin to describe it. After the temple visit, we ate lunch then took a Nile river cruise. We ate bananas on an island. I climbed a tree.

Then we went to the airport to fly to Luxor. Oh right, and at some point today, I went to change into shoes for walking comfort. At this point, I realized I left my shoes on the train. Oops...

Thursday was an early morning because we were heading out early for snorkeling in the Red Sea. We picked up gear at a local equipment shop, got driven up the coast, and got on camels for the rest of the journey (vehicles were unable to take the route). We wound up at a camp and got our gear on and headed out. The Red Sea is quite a phenomenon. Due to the very high concentration of salt in the water, the water is more dense. This results in a person floating on the water without putting any effort into staying afloat. It was awesome. There were lots of colorful fish. I even saw a lionfish!

Following the snorkeling, we ate lunch then went via camel back to the road. Alex killed his camel along the way. What a terrible person.

On Friday, a few of us opted to not do anything special, so we just rented bikes and went around town. We hit up a couple of beaches along the way.

Friday evening was the important ordeal. Everyone on the trip felt it necessary to climb Mt Sinai to watch the sunrise. To do this, we left the hostel at 23:00 and drove for two hours. At 01:00 Saturday morning, we began hiking up the mountain in complete darkness apart from the few headlamps people had brought. After some two hours, we reached the top and rented blankets and curled up to snooze until the joyous moment. When that moment came, I ceased to care and went back to sleep. But here is a photo stolen from the interGoogle.

Following waking up from the sunlight and the fact that I was still ridiculously cold. But the sunlight warmed the earth quickly. The walk down the mountain was much easier than the walk up, mainly because I could see where I was putting my feet. At the bottom, we checked out a church and a supposed shoot of the burning bush. I have some doubts, but I'll keep that to myself. Did I mention I did this all in flip flops? A German guy saw me on the way down and laughed aloud.

Once it was all over, we drove back to the hostel for a nap then had to fly back to Switzerland. That was an adventure in its own. Apparently the other vehicle got into a very minor car accident (no injuries) on the way to the airport. And we checked in late, so the easyJet guy was shitting a brick. Somehow, checking in 5 minutes late results in a 25 minute delay of the flight. That definitely didn't happen...

We got into Geneva at 22:15 and had to get through security and book it through the terminals to catch a 22:47 train. We easily made it. But that was just the beginning of a terrible night. The train got into Zurich at around 02:30 and had to wait until 03:00 for a night train to Baden. In the end, I got home around 04:00. At that point, I checked Facebook rather than go to bed because it didn't change the fact that I was going to bed at an ungodly hour.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the next blitz blog that I need to write to cease being behind schedule.

Bis bald,

-Original draft date: 21.03.2010-

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My name is Donal! Say it like you know me!

Last weekend was the epic trip to Ireland. We flew out of Zurich on Friday afternoon and arrived in Dublin somewhere around supper time. There was no time for eats, as we rented 3 cars and began our journey across the island. We wound up in Galway in the late evening, after my navigator for us lost a couple of times (jab at Rachel, but jokes because it was quite an adventure). Surprisingly, driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road wasn't an issue what so ever.

In Galway, we found a place to park the cars and checked in at the hostel. We then got pizza, which was delicious. Then, we walked out the door and went to the closest pub, a respectable distance of 5 meters away. The pub had some DJ playing the biggest hits from the last 30 years all night. It was quite fun. We had a few beer. I also got myself a hooker.

Now before you get ahead of yourself in shock or disgust, I should inform you that Hooker is a type of Irish ale. it is quite light with a strong taste of hops but lacks the bitterness usually associated with hoppy beer. Guinness was also consumed that night, as one would expect to do while visiting Ireland. In fact, Bruce kept ordering 9 at a time. If you did that in Calgary, the bartender would probably get pissed off. These guys loved it and even brought out 9 shots of Sourpuss for Bruce and Co.

The following day, we headed off rather early to Doolin, the coolest place ever. On the way there, we drove a coastal road which was quite awesome. We stopped randomly at a castle, stopped at a pier, went to the ocean, and drove through The Burren.

<--- This is the convoy, stopped at some farmers field to take pictures on a stone wall.

Upon stopping in Doolin to check in at the hostel, we went to a pub for some lunch. They served food early just for us, but only offered a limited menu. Luckily, we were all more than happy to have fish and chips (except Luke, who just HAD to be different). Once again, Guinness was consumed. After lunch, we headed off to the Cliffs of Mohr. They are quite large.

<---A group of Canadians looking over the edge at the water some 320m below.

Bianca and I then decided to jump over a wall like most people do, so we could get a cool view of the cliffs.

<---This is what we came up with.

Once we had our fill of really tall cliffs, we drove back to Doolin and checked out a nearby abandoned church. Then I took a nap. Then I woke up and it was really, really cold. Then on to the pubs!

There are a total of three pubs in Doolin, probably because it's a town of only 500 people. On that particular weekend, there was a traditional music festival there. So the pubs had live music and were very, very busy. It was great. But they were too packed to get pub food for supper, so we opted for some Italian. That turned out to be a terrible mistake. But the beer at the pub made up for it. More Guinness!

We met some Irish guys who were quite drunk. This one guy (Bill) was getting married the following day, so his stag party was that night. He was having a good time to say the least, and his buddy Donal was talking to us for a while. We couldn't hear his name, so it took a few tries to get it right (this is where the title comes from, if you hadn't already guessed it).

All in all, the night was a tame one, and it ended fairly early considering the party atmosphere. It didn't end empty-handed though. I walked out with a half-pint of Guinness and made a bee-line to the hostel. No questions asked, and now I've got a pretty sick souvenir!

The following morning, we headed out early because we had a fair bit of driving ahead of us. The pub wasn't serving breakfast yet, so we opted to find something a little down the road. We ended up in some other random town at a Spar (which is essentially the European version of 7-11). Most of us guys got breakfast sandwiches, and man were they meaty and huge. Picture a foot-long sub with 2 sausages, 3 slabs of ham, an egg, 2 black puddings, and sauce. My arteries got clogged just looking at it. But it was SOOOOOOOO good.

Some time down the road, we arrived at our first official pit stop. Bunratty Castle. We got a tour from an Irishman. He was quite pleasant.

<--- Bunratty Castle.

After the pit stop, we blitzed for Dublin. We needed to return the cars by 17:00 or we'd be charged an additional day. We made it.

That evening in Dublin, the group split up a little bit. One group went with Luke to a restaurant, while those with out priorities straight went to a pub. The pub food was great as always, and super filling. I tried out a couple of other beer while there, naturally. Upon completion of our meal, we headed to Spar to get some beer. Then back to the hostel where we took over the main lounging room and watched the hockey game. I don't need to get into details at this point, because I fully expect everyone to have been watching this game. But I will say this: IN YOUR FACE USA.

Monday was the day of departure, but still had a little time to burn. We ate breakfast and strolled around town. Going through the park, the Cana-dar went off and we found Bianca (who had been staying with a friend in Dublin) by accident. We then went to a cafe where I had a mocha and a lemon-poppyseed muffin. Man those are good... I miss them. Then we flew off back to Switzerland.

Tuesday was Germany night to pick up an excessive amount of chicken nuggets for the chicken nugget party on Wednesday at Ziegelhau. Wednesday was the nugget party. Picture 17.5kg of chicken consumed in one evening. Thursday was chill and Friday I went to Schad to watch Moon. No space werewolves! WTH!

To end this post, I inform you all that I will be going to Egypt for a week starting next weekend. Seeing as I have nothing planned for this weekend, there probably won't be anything worth posting until I get back from Egypt. But that post will kick ass.