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Malta

I landed in Malta around 9:30 on Saturday night.  I had made a reservation at a hostel in Valletta, the countries capitol, for that night.  When I got to “Valletta Backpackers” there were two Australians already asleep in the dorm room.  I stepped out to grab a pastizzi (pastry stuffed with ricotta cheese) at a near by cafe before calling it a night.  In the morning I made friends with Beau and Will, the Australians.  They had been on Malta for about 5 days and were staying till Wednesday so I decided to reserve my bed at the hostel until they departed.  I spent Sunday rock climbing with some locals at an amazing spot called Crazy Horse Cave.  I would have been happy to sit there all day even if I wasn’t there to climb.  Simon, the guy who picked me up for climbing that day, runs the local Malta Climbing Club and told me to stop by the climbing wall in Sliema sometime this week.  He busted his finger on his first climb and was forced to leave so I spent the rest of the day climbing with his buddy Mike, a 40 something British ex-pat.  I spent most of Monday in bed after a night of stomach problems from the local water.  It was nice to have a rest day to plan out my week though.  On Tuesday the Aussies and I woke up around ten and decided to make a trip to Gozo, the other big island that makes up the country of Malta.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it out there but having other people to travel with made it a lot easier.  We hopped on a bus north to catch a ferry but after only 25 minutes the bus we were on broke down.  Most of the buses on Malta date back to the 1950’s and 60’s.  It took us another two hours to finally reach Gozo.  We arrived at the bus terminal around 1:30pm only to find out that the bus we were looking to catch stopped running at 11:30!  Well, we had already trekked across the country to be here so we decided to walk the 5-6km to Dwerja.  After getting out of Victoria, Gozo’s capitol, we caught a ride with a retired school teacher to the only Sanctuary in Malta.  It was a beautiful church in the country side with an even more beautiful view.  We walked for about another hour before getting to the first open store we had seen since leaving Victoria.  We bought sandwiches for about 1euro and a bottle of wine to share as we watch the sunset at the Azure Window.   After snacking we headed for the coast and eventually got to where we wanted to be (after several scenic routes).  It was truly worth the 5-6 hour trek from Valletta.  We had the entire place to ourselves except for a few local fisherman.  And to be there at sunset!  I was extremely happy to make it out to such an amazing place so early in my trip.  After sunset we began the long walk back to Victoria, hoping to catch a bus to the ferry terminal, to catch a ferry to Malta, to catch a bus to Valletta.  We caught a ride from a doctor and had literally 5 minutes to spare before the last bus departed for the ferry terminal, saving us an extra 10km walk on top of the 6km from Dwerja to Victoria.  After the ferry landed in Cirkewwa we caught a bus to Paceville because Beau and Will had to show me the nightlife scene of Malta.  It was pretty much everything I have been trying to avoid since going to college but, when in Rome…This morning we woke up for a final breakfast before heading our separate ways, them going back to England for work and me off to another hostel in Sliema.  I arrived at the Hibernia Hostel after the reception had left for the afternoon but luckily they left me an envelope with a key etc.  The hostel is big but nearly deserted.  Both hostels have been considerably nicer than those I frequented in Egypt (go figure) but I think Sliema might be a little more entertaining.  Valletta was nice but the entire city clears out after about 6pm when all the businessman leave (its supposedly the smallest capitol in all of Europe).  Tomorrow I will hopefully head out to the Dingli Cliffs in Northwest Malta before meeting up with some folks at the climbing gym (which is now less than a block from my hostel!)

Frankfurt

Frankfurt has been somewhat interesting.  I had an unintentional, but anticipated, 30 hour layover here in between my journey from Cairo to Malta.  I spent the night at the Frankfurt Hostel, which was very nice, with an all you can eat breakfast (traditional European breakfast is just an assortment of cold cuts so it’s not quite as appealing at 8:30 in the morning).  My day here has made me realize just how much the euro is going to hurt my bank account.  I have been doing lots of networking with people in Malta.  Finding some contacts and hopefully places to couchsurf.  Overall it is quite a change being in Europe after 15 days in Egypt.  Everything is more expensive and significantly cleaner.  You can even flush toilet paper here.  I am glad that I went to Egypt but it is also nice to be out as well.  The next two weeks will consist of a lot of jumping around but I will be meeting up with friends along the way, which always helps when in a foreign country.  My experiences so far have me thinking a lot about where I want to travel after my semester in France.  One of the main concerns is just how long I will be able to afford to stay in Europe.  It seems like staying away from the big cities is the best way to avoid spending lots of money.  I’ve heard good things about WOOFing in Europe from a few people I’ve met along the way.  The only thing I have planned so far is going to Berlin from Paris.  Scandinavia might be an option or even Russia.  From what I’ve heard Eastern Europe is more affordable and usually more interesting as well.  It’s too early to make any solid plans.  We’ll see how the rest of this trip goes.  Now to the airport to wait for my flight to Malta.  Let’s hope they haven’t pushed it back another day.

Agami

We have escaped our retirement home!  We are now in Alexandria after spending 4 days couped up in Agami.  The villa was great but we all internally aged 60 years.  We were notified by Hind, our personal cook, when breakfast and dinner were ready.  We spent most afternoons either sleeping or reading, if we were lucky we were allowed outside for a walk and every night after dinner we played Risk. (Mike and I tied for first overall)  Agami was pretty much the complete opposite of Cairo.  The streets were empty.  Half the shops were closed (since it’s a beach town for Egyptians and we were there in the off season)  It was a nice vacation from the hussle and bussle of downtown Cairo but tomorrow we are taking the train back.  There are a few more things we’d like to do in Cairo before we all depart on Friday.

Cairo pt. II

The past few days have been quite a different Cairo experience.  We finally met up with Lila, Tammer’s aunt.  She runs an elite school for privileged  children called the International School of Egypt.  On Monday she arranged our trip to the Pyramids.  Her driver picked us up at our hostel in downtown Cairo and took us to Giza.  We were met there by the head archeologist of the Giza site. (She has some serious connections)  We were given a private tour of the area but unfortunately, due to our timing we were unable to go inside the Great Pyramid.  Giza was amazing.  The pyramids and Sphinx were even larger than I had imagined but it was a little hard to appreciate them due to the multitude of irreverent tourists.  Ahmet, our guide, arranged for us to meet his close friend, another head archeologist, at Saqqara, the site of the first pyramid in Egypt.  After a 30 minute drive we were in Saqqara.  The first thing we saw was a newly discovered tomb that is not open to the public.  We were taken inside of the tomb, which belonged to two brothers (or perhaps homosexuals as our guide some what excitedly hypothesized)  They served as manicurists to King Djoser, the first Egyptian to build a pyramid to mark his tomb.  The tomb was filled with hieroglyphics and we were secretly allowed a few minutes  to take photos inside.  The actual step pyramid of King Djoser was amazing and much less crowded with tourists.  Our guide explained the incredible ingenuity it took to build such a structure and all of the symbolism that went along with it.  After taking some more photos, Annalee and I decided it was time to fall into a tourist trap and ride horses around the Sahara Desert (at least it wasn’t a camel).  It was pretty damn cool and we’ll have bragging rights for the rest of our lives.  After we were finished with all the pyramids we were driven to ISE to meet Lila in person.  The school is in New Cairo, a sort of dystopia full of half finished structures and over the top elaborate houses alike.  It is the beginning of a sprawling suburb for the rich, with a physical geographic barrier separating it from one of the poorest areas in Cairo.  The school itself was beautiful and Lila proceeded to pitch future teaching opportunities to each of us as we explained our individual areas of study.  She gave us a tour and explained the school’s philosophy but it was hard to avoid contemplating the serious advantages these kids had over so many throughout Cairo.  She then took us to her home, which is across the street from the school.  It was a typical Grandmother house and after a short rest we were shuffled off to one of her favorite restaurants for a traditional Egyptian meal.  It was sooooo good.  I was ashamed that I was unable to finish all the food set before me.  It was a serious contrast to the street food we had been forcing down the past couple days in downtown Cairo.  Lila is great and her hospitality is seemingly endless.  Today we are heading to Agami to stay in her private villa.  We will have our own chef there and access to a private beach on the Mediterranean.  Agami should be quite a vacation compared to the hustle and bustle of downtown Cairo but its only about a half hour drive from Alexandria so we will still be able to make daily trips to explore the city.  Time to pack and catch a train!

Cairo

So I have been in Cairo for three days now.  I arrived around midnight on December 30th after nearly 30 hours of straight traveling.  I met up with Mike, Tammer and Annalee at Dahab Hostel and since then we have stayed at Meramee’s Hostel and now Luna Hotel.  Luna is by far the most comfortable (and expensive, at 220 egyptian pounds per night, roughly 11 USD each)  Cairo has been amazing so far.  The first day here we walked from downtown Cairo, across the Nile, to Zamalek.  A relatively hip part of Cairo with expensive shops and moderately priced delicious food.  For New Year’s we relaxed at a beer cafe full of Egyptians.  Yesterday went to Islamic Cairo and Kan el-Khalili.  We climbed the minaret of a 13th century mosque and payed far too much for Turkish coffee.  Today we saw the Citadel of Cairo, a fortress that was active from the crusades up until world war II.  It has since been conquered by tourists.  The irony was unavoidable.  After the citadel we followed the suggested walking route to several mosques.  The last one dating back to 867? AD, the oldest standing structure of Islam.  It was also the first ever use of the pointed arch.  Tomorrow we are heading to Giza for a private tour INTO the pyramids, courtesy of Tammer’s aunt.

Cairo seems washed up upon reflection.  Almost everything is aimed at tourist dollars but today we had an especially significant experience.  Two days ago a Coptic church was bombed shortly after midnight in Alexandria.  I believe the death toll is around 21 with 80 injured(This attack was NOT aimed at tourists but rather attempted to create a riff between the Christians and Muslims of Egypt).  As we were walking around downtown Cairo today we noticed almost 25 military trucks full of soldiers positioned around the circle that we have been staying near since our arrival.  As Mike and I were returning from a late lunch this evening we noticed that the soldiers were now standing in position at every “corner” of the circle.  Sensing an interesting opportunity we quickly walked back to Luna to grab our cameras.  We returned to the circle shortly after 5pm and began to talk to an old Egyptian man.  He spoke excellent English and we later found out that he was some sort of reporter.  We were joined by a young female reporter from the Egyptian Daily News.  From what we gathered, the soldiers were positioned there in response to a student protest against Mubarak, the Egyptian president that has been rigging the elections for the past 30 years (this past year he won in a landslide 98%, a literally impossible voter percentage)  The soldiers seemed to be demonstrating a sort of nationalistic pride, not uncalled for considering the recent events.  I was able to steal a few photos of them thanks to the protection of our elderly reporter friend, who at one point “told the police to fuck off, politely” as the Egyptian Daily news reporter put it.  Around 5:30 the student protesters against Mumbarak appeared with hand-written signs, numbering at less than 20.  Our old Egyptian friend urged me to quickly snap some photos of them and within 3 minutes the soldiers had ripped theirs signs away and arrested several of them.  At this point we (I, Mike, our friend John, the old Egyptian and young female reporter) were clearly recognized as reporters of some sort and were forced to evacuate the circle.  John, Mike and I ducked into a cafe on the circle and grabbed a seat by the window to watch the scene play out.  We talked of politics, the state of affairs and what lies ahead for the conflict in the Middle East as well as troubled countries around the world (John being a UN volunteer stationed in southern Sudan to oversee a local election)  We satirically picked out the undercover secret police with their army issue mustaches.  The demonstration was anticlimactic and after finishing our Turkish coffee we headed back to our hostel for a well earned nap.  Tomorrow morning we head to Giza to see the Pyramids!  Photos coming soon.