Friday, August 20, 2010

Alexandria & Cairo, Egypt

August 17, 2010

I am such a slacker. I own up to it. I hope I can remember all the details about Egypt (and Morocco…) enough to write about it and to do my experience justice. I am officially done with summer school now, isn’t that exciting?! Most people on the ship still have a final or two to take tomorrow, but my teachers both made their finals optional, so I am DONE-ZO! It feels good to not have to do anything except finish my blog. It is such a bittersweet feeling to know that I’ll be done with Semester at Sea forever in just 4 days. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel sad to know that a whole new batch of students are going to disembark for an entire semester of traveling and getting to know new people on SAS just 6 days after we get back to the states! But I am also looking forward to getting back to Baylor and starting a new semester and moving into our new house!! I miss my roommates so much! I can’t wait to be able to talk freely to my family and friends once I get back. Life just goes by so fast!!
Okay, I’ll get on with it. EGYPT.

Egypt: Day One
The ship’s port was in Alexandria, Egypt, which is about 3 hours away from Cairo. Lee and I had signed up for a trip going to Cairo, but it didn’t leave until our second morning in Egypt. So, that first day, we hopped onto an SAS bus going into town in Alexandria. We got to go to all the major sites and places to see in the city! It was a good day, but it was so intensely hot. Whenever we were just standing outside, either touring a place or waiting to go in somewhere, we were sweating like PIGS! We were all strongly encouraged to dress “conservatively” too, since Egypt is like 90 or 95% Islamic, and all the women there are mostly covered up. It’s just disrespectful to wear your normal summer attire there, because it’s just a cultural difference – a lot of the men there that you walk by on the street are pretty disrespectful if you’re showing some skin, because they can tend to equate showing skin with a prostitute, since their women in Egypt don’t dress like that! It was more of a problem in Alexandria than in Cairo, too, since Cairo is a big city and a little more modern and such. Anyway, we were strongly encouraged not to wear any short skirts/shorts or super tight clothing, so it was even hotter since we were wearing more stuff.
On our tour, we went to some catacombs, called the Catacombs of Shawqafa – the first catacombs I’ve seen on this trip! It was really cool; we got to walk down a million winding steps down deep into the ground and suddenly, we were in this almost chilly, dark room full of tombs and doorways that led to other rooms full of tombs. It dates back to the 2nd century AC! I loved seeing that. Some of the walls were completely covered with hieroglyphics – and they looked like they were brand-new! It’s so hard to believe how old they are. We weren’t allowed to bring our cameras down there, but I wish I could have taken a picture. Next, we went to eat at a this supposedly really nice restaurant in Alexandria; they fed us salads (which we were scared to eat – the water in Egypt is not drinkable, and so eating stuff like lettuce that’s been washed in the water is not a good idea) and some mystery meat, and goat cheese! Ha! Let’s just say it was interesting. After lunch, we went to the National Museum, Alexandria’s ancient lighthouse, and the Montaza Gardens! We also got to go inside the famous Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which is the second largest library (I think) in the world? I think that’s right – but I would believe it –it’s HUGE! I would love to belong to that library! They had a “Manuscript and Rare Book Museum” in it, as well, but I didn’t have enough time to go inside! You had to buy a separate ticket to go inside and I wanted to go see it so badly! But they had another museum on the bottom floor of the library that I got to see – lots of art and papyrus scrolls, etc. It was fun just getting to drive through the streets of Alexandria and watch all the people there. Men would just be hanging out together, sitting outside of their shops or restaurants, smoking hookah together! Whenever they would see our bus coming along next to them, they’d ALWAYS wave and smile and make funny faces… they just knew the bus was full of Americans and would always stare us down! Ah! Something else that was knew to us SASers: every single field trip was assigned a body guard! My bus had this tall, in-shape man with a huge GUN on his hip! He was always the last on the bus when we stopped somewhere, and would always be looking around, observing our surroundings. We were warned not to take pictures or videos of the security in Egypt, because if they catch you, they’ll come over and take your camera away from you. You can’t take pictures of government/police buildings, either. But the Tourism Police (they wear white and have HUGE, long rifles on them) are everywhere. It’s kind of unsettling to see so many guns everywhere you go, just something strange to get used to, I guess. Anyway, I took a picture of our body guard that day while he was still outside, waiting for the last people to get on the bus. He was like 20 feet away or so, and I didn’t think he would see me, since I was inside the bus taking the picture from the window, but HE DID! HE CAUGHT ME! It wasn’t just me, it was me and my friend, Airecel, but we just immediately looked away and pretended like we were innocent. Our next stop, we were taking pictures of a Mosque, and he came up to me and smiled real big and pulled his jacket away so I could see his gun, and he pointed at it and said something in Egyptian that I couldn’t understand. He was smiling though and kind of laughed, so I just laughed and walked away! HA! I didn’t know what he was saying, and it kind of scared me! I didn’t know if I was in trouble or what, but he didn’t make me delete the picture! Maybe he was trying to let me get an up-close shot of his gun, which was not really what I wanted. I hope he didn’t think I was rude for walking away, but I didn’t know what to do! Oh wellllll!

Day Two: Cairo!
Lee and I got up early to make it to our bus for CAIRO! It took us 3 hours, but as soon as we were on the main road in Cairo, lo and behold, there were the PYRAMIDS! You could see the two biggest ones – towering over the city! AWESOME! But we didn’t get to go there right away. We went to the oldest Egyptian cemetery, Sakkara. We drove onto a dirt road that led into the desert, it seemed – and got out – and we were standing in the middle of these MOUNDS of sand and brick – they were pyramids, too! Just not as tall as the Giza pyramids. We got to go INSIDE them, yes we did! It is so scary going into them, too! They basically built the tombs underneath the pyramids, and the top part is all hollow. You have to walk (more like crawl) through a very narrow tunnel that goes really deep into the ground. They built some thin rails on either side so you can hold on, and there’s a few lanterns so that you can actually see- but I can’t imagine how frightening it would be to go in those tunnels back when they built them – they wouldn’t have been able to see a thing! They must have carried torches or something! Haha. It’s easier to go UP the tunnel than down, too. When you finally got down to the ground and could stand up straight, there were different rooms that were once the tombs of Ptah-Hotep, Mereruca, Idut, Ti, etc. (Yes, I did have to look up those names again in our travel book ☺). There were lots of hieroglyphics on the walls in these tombs, too – and they look so new! It’s AMAZING! You can even see the color that was once even more vibrant when they were first made, it was fascinating. We walked to the world’s FIRST stone building, the Step Pyramid of King Zoser, right after this. Lee and our friend Elaina and I took “pharaoh” pictures in front of it, naturally. Later that day, we went to lunch at this 5-star hotel’s buffet – and it was delicious – one of my favorite meals from my entire summer! The buffet had everything – 2 dessert tables (my favorite), tons of pastas and meatballs and meats, etc, and one huge bread table (pita bread, loafs of different bread) it was DELICIOUS! Ah! Semester at Sea was required to take us to 5-star hotels and restaurants when we were on field trips in Egypt, Turkey, and Morocco, because of health regulations and such, so we were treated nicely! After lunch, we headed to the National Archaeological Museum. We saw an awesome exhibit of King Tut stuff – we saw his funerary mask, his casket/coffin, etc. We saw tons of animal mummies and other human mummies…oh, man. We saw SO MUCH jewelry and other items that they found in all the different pharoah’s tombs. It was really interesting.
We were exhausted by this time (and overheated). We were all taken to the hotel where we would be staying that night, and were immediately grateful. Our hotel was a 5-star, like I said earlier, and so nice! We had to walk behind the main building which housed the lobby and the restaurant, and there were all these nice palm trees and grass. Our room was huge and had two huge queen beds in it that were super comfortable. Oh, and it was AIR-CONDITIONED! Lee and I got to share a room together on this trip, thankfully, and we kept it really cold. We also had a little sitting area, complete with a couch and coffee table and more. Trust me, we were not used to that, even though this looked a lot like a normal American hotel! Our bathroom was nice, too, and we had a balcony that overlooked the HUGE pool – it was the size of an Olympic lap pool, I swear! All the lounge chairs were cushioned and were all really yellow, and the pool was taken care of really well, you could tell! It was so beautiful there! But the coolest part of the hotel was that we also had a view of the Giza pyramids from the front! Since our room was facing the back, we couldn’t see them from our room, but we could see them from others’ rooms, and from the lobby! We were so close to them! We went to a “sound and light show” at 8 that night. It was actually a little chilly at night, so it felt good. The light show takes place IN FRONT OF THE GIZA PYRAMIDS and the Sphinx, so that was our first time getting to see them up close! We all got there early enough to watch the sun set over the pyramids. It was so surreal. The light show was pretty interesting- it was this loud, booming voice that talked about the history of the pyramids and the pharoahs and the genius of the building of them, etc… purple and blue and pink lights would light up the pyramids and Sphinx at different times. ☺ The show ended at 10, and we went back to the hotel and had another huge buffet dinner waiting for us. Lee and I slept soundly that night. ☺

Day Three:
Since I’m writing this a couple weeks after I was in Cairo, I feel so blessed and almost amazed that I can say that I’ve been able to watch the sun set and the sun rise over the pyramids! I almost can’t believe that I even have seen the real pyramids, and that I’ve even to Egypt! The morning after the sound and light show, we all had wake-up calls at 4:15 AM – we were going to watch the sun rise right next to the pyramids! We were tired, but so excited that we barely noticed. We got there while it was still completely dark. There were about 80 of us SASers on the trip, and no one else (the public) is allowed to go near the pyramids that early, so our trip had special permission! We were all pretty quiet, waiting for the sun rise. We could still see lights from the city in the distance, and the silhouette of the two main Giza pyramids (the Great Pyramids) outlined against the sky. It took only about 30 minutes for the sun to rise completely. It was beautiful! We took pictures like crazy, and then finally realized that we just needed to enjoy it. There’s a dirt road that winds in between the Great Pyramids, and we walked down it and got right up close to them. There was no one down there when we walked down next to the Great Pyramid, and there is only a small, thin rope that surrounds the base of the pyramid, so we quickly stepped over it and climbed up a few feet on the PYRAMID! It was me, Lee, and our friend Lindsey! Okay, we had seen a few other people we knew do the same thing earlier, so we did it, too! After we took some pictures of ourselves we got down, and soon came along a tourist policeman! Here’s an example of how corrupt they really are: instead of yelling at us to get away from the pyramid, he looked over his shoulder to make sure the other cop wasn’t in view, and ushered us quickly under the rope. He took our camera for us and took a picture for us. Of course, we had to tip him (he wouldn’t leave us alone if we didn’t!) but still! He’s supposed to guard the pyramids, but instead he accepts bribes from the tourists so they can climb it and get pictures! Not that I’m complaining, of course.
After soaking in the experience for awhile, we headed back to where the rest of our group was. A few minutes later, from the distance we see about 30 camels RUNNING towards us – with Egyptian men riding them! We paid a few bucks to ride them, which was fun. We felt bad for them because they were so old and dirttty and skinny, they looked so underfed! Maybe they were just old, not sure!
The rest of the day we spent looking underneath one of the Great Pyramids (sweet), and visiting the Sphinx. It was awesome to see something that I’ve heard about and learned about since my childhood right in front of me! There were these 3 Egyptian sisters from ages like 7-12 taking pictures for all the tourists who were visiting the Sphinx – and they were pro’s! They would position you so that you were kissing the Sphinx, it was kissing your butt (“Kiss my ass” is what these little girls would scream, haha), you were holding the Sphinx, etc. and all these other creative, fun poses! They were awesome! They took our sunglasses off our heads and would borrow them for the picture so the Sphinx looked like it was wearing them! We loved them! Later that afternoon, we spent a couple hours taking a Nile cruise – we had dinner and watched a belly dancer and a Dervish dancer! The buffet was soo good and it was cool to see the Nile… I don’t know what I was expecting, but since I’ve read about it in the Bible, I think I’ve pictured it like it was during the Bible times…haha so I wasn’t expecting all the usual buildings and boats on the side of the NILE! But it was just like any other modern river through a city! Haha I felt pretty stupid after my expectations did not meet reality ;)

Day Four:
The last full day we spent in Egypt, we got back to Alexandria and had already seen everything there was to see pretty much in the city. At this point, we were feeling a bit America-sick and decided to take the day easy by spending it at a MALL! It was this huge shopping center called Alexandria’s CityCentre. It was sooo big and had a ton of stores we had never heard of but were cool, and a lot of stores that we DID know, like H&M, Zara, Mango, etc…! So we shopped, watched a movie (they had a movie theater inside) that had Shane West in it and was called Echelon ___something! It was pretty bad haha, but it was good to see something AMERICAN!

I wish I could write more but I have to go and EAT DINNER! And this post has been delayed long enough. ☺

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Istanbul, Turkey




Day One (July 19):


We were not sure what to expect when we reached Turkey, but it was an absolute success! I think that Istanbul was one of my favorite cities of this whole trip because it is so different – the culture, the people, the transportation, the language, the places you visit, the food, etc… Istanbul used to be Constantinople, you know, so it has so much history! Also, Istanbul is the only city that is on two continents – Europe and Asia. I went to both sides, since the city of Canakkale is on the Asian side, so now I can say that I’ve been to Asia, as well! Our port was on the European side. The port itself was so different than the others we went to; it was BUSY – about 1,000 other ships/vessels port there, too, which is a lot more than the other countries we visited. Because it was so busy, the water there in the port was so choppy and made our boat rocky! Looking out the window from our room, you can see all these mosques and the city buildings, it was pretty cool. Our first day off the ship, Lee and I had nothing planned (no field trips) so we took the tram further into Istanbul. It was really cheap and easy to use (the tram runs through the middle of the busy streets and just forms a long line, dropping people off after every few blocks or so.) We took the tram about 10 minutes to where the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque was – we wanted to knock out seeing those two major sites right away!! The Hagia Sophia is right across the street from the Blue Mosque, so it was very convenient! We got off the tram and headed for the Hagia Sophia first. It was amazing! We had to buy student tickets to go in. You walk through a small garden in the front first, and once you’re inside the mosque, it’s so open and HUGE. The Hagia Sophia you see was built during the reign of Justinian in 537 BC—it was built earlier but was burned down in 532. It was built as a Christian church, but then Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror converted it into a mosque later on. So, when walking through it, you can see the influence of Christian and Islamic architecture, and it boasts the culture of both! So it’s pretty cool J We walked around the first floor and saw the mirhab, the “stand” thing that is in mosques, it points to the direction of Mecca for those who are praying. The ceiling was so high and it was pretty dark in there; all candles lit it up! After spending awhile in the Hagia Sophia, Lee and I left and crossed the street to find the Blue Mosque. It had started to rain, but it felt good since it had been warm earlier. The weather in Turkey wasn’t unbearable because it was pretty windy, at least in Istanbul it was.


When we were crossing the street to the Blue Mosque, a group of 4 Turkish guys were in front of us, and they turned around and started asking us where we were from. I guess we don’t look like we’re from Turkey J We told them we were from America, and they were interested in asking us questions about ourselves and all that. They were really funny and spoke a limited amount of English, but it was amazing how they could figure out which words to speak to us that we’d understand! They were headed to the Blue Mosque, too, and asked us if we’d like to all go together! Haha! So Lee and I made a few Turkish friends that day! It was so much fun getting to talk with them; they were in their early twenties and were pretty interesting and funny! They were from Istanbul and Ankara. They wanted pictures with us hanging out in the Blue Mosque and everything, and they even helped Lee and I put on the headscarves that were “encouraged” to be worn while inside the mosque. We had never had to worn a headscarf before, and they explained that their mothers wore them, so they knew how to tie them for us. Anyway, they were pretty fun, and after the Blue Mosque, they wanted to take us to get a drink of orange juice! Orange juice is really big in Istanbul…they have orange juice (freshly squeezed!!!) stands on the side of the road and in the cafes everywhere, and they also have fresh corn stands on the roads, too! Lee and I still wanted to see other things in the city, so we had to politely decline! After saying goodbye to our new buds, we took the tram to the Grand Bazaar! The Grand Bazaar is HUGE… you walk into the tunnel, and it just seems to go on forever. You can totally get lost in there for hours. And that is exactly what Lee and I did. We bought a few scarves, and haggled for them, and got a cheaper price! The shopkeepers are so funny and will compliment you and sweet talk you – they tell you that they’ll give you a special discount that’s just for you, but really, they sweet talk every girl! It’s so fun! The scarves were our first purchase, so we didn’t get our cheapest deals on them, but they were still pretty cheap! We got better once we got to the other shops. When you’re walking down the bazaar, there are so many people hollering at you and wanting you to come into their shop, it’s awesome! In another scarf shop we went in, after we were done buying stuff from it, the shopkeeper brought us Original Turkish tea and we sat there and had hot tea with him for awhile! Haha! That’s just what they do, and they even offer you tea before you’ve bought anything – it’s just a polite thing they do for you, and they don’t expect you to buy anything even if you drank their tea. For the most part, everyone was really nice and interested in where we had come from and what we were doing in Istanbul. I bought a lot of other small knick knacks in the bazaar, a leather-bound journal (got a sweet deal on it, too!), some Turkish tea, some gifts, etc. It was so much fun! I think we spent 3 hours in there that first day. Later that afternoon, we stopped at a small restaurant on the street and had kebabs/kebaps- they were interesting…I didn’t finish mine because the pork inside the pita didn’t taste very cooked/good. J All in all, we had a very accomplished, busy but AWESOME first day in Istanbul!!!


Day Two (July 20):


The next day, Lee and I were signed up for a field trip that spanned two days: we were going to Canakkale, Troy, and Gallipoli! It took 5 hours via bus to get to Canakkale, which is on the Asian side of Turkey! We had to cross the Bosphorus, which only took about 10 minutes by ferry! Canakkale is really close to Troy, so we went there first to see the archaeological museum that is there. It had a lot of artifacts from the Hellenistic and Roman periods…but the museum was actually really run down. We were surprised. It didn’t look like anyone had been in there in ages! But it was still fun. Outside the museum, there were lots of grapes growing wild, so some of us tried them! They were super sweet and delicious! That’s sad that that is all I really remember to tell you about the museum, haha! Oooooh well. Next up: we went to Troy! Yes, the same Troy that Homer wrote about in The Iliad. The site was one of the first excavations in Turkey, and they found remains of nine different ancient civilizations that settled there – I have NO idea how they figured out that the walls were all from different time periods, but they did! Not much is left for you to see, but the walls are still standing, which is really cool to see.(from all nine different civilizations.) They even built a replica of the Trojan Horse close to the site! You can climb up inside of it and take pictures, which we did, of course. Fun fun.

Our trip spent the night in a hotel in Canakkale that night. About seven of us ventured out into the streets of Canakkale, and did a little shopping at some small stands for awhile. We had dinner in the hotel and later went out and walked around some more – we found a hookah place! Haha so we sat and did hookah for a few minutes. Hookah is a big deal in Turkey…in every single café on the side of the street, they offered hookahs! In the mornings, walking the streets, we would see café owners/workers sitting down at a table and smoking hookah, waiting for customers! Haha – and in the bazaar, hookahs were EVERYWHERE! Semester at Sea won’t let us bring those on the ship, nor candles or drugs OBVIOUSLY haha….so we couldn’t buy any. But they had some that were over 1000 dollars and up, isn’t that insane!? Anyway, we went to bed around 11 that night because we had an early morning wake-up call to go to Gallipoli! Our hotel was nice and not run-down, but my room had no air-conditioning! There are many things that I’ve realized through this trip that I’ve taken for granted in the United States, and air-conditioning is one of the TOP ones! It is just so hot walking around all day outside, and then to have to sleep in a bedroom with no air conditioning is kind of miserable. I took a cold shower right before bed, and woke up feeling like I had run a marathon or something, I was disgusting and sweaty! I know you wanted to read about my sweat. Sorry. : ) But yeah, the air conditioning is something I will be so glad to have once I get back to the states! Yes, we have AC on the ship, though, so that’s good.


Day Three (July 21):


We woke up (I woke up sweaty) and had breakfast in the hotel, then headed for the bus. We drove to the beach in Gallipoli first and spent a few hours there! It was fun! I had cheese toast, which is also served a lot in Turkey, which is basically exactly what it sounds like: toast and cheese inside it. It’s really good, though! I sat by the beach and just chilled out. After the beach, our trip went to the Gallipoli Museum—which was also pretty run-down but very interesting. They had all sorts of things from the World War I battle at Gallipoli – soldiers’ uniforms (Turks and Australians and New Zealanders) and SO MANY guns and artillery. It was a reality shock to actually see all the guns there, just from one battle. The uniforms had blood splotches on them, and it was just really sad to see the pictures and belongings of some of the men who died. After the museum, we went to Anzac Cove, which is the shore there at Gallipoli where the Australians and New Zealanders came and surprise attacked the Turks in the battle. Then our bus drove up the pinnacle where the soldiers all climbed up in the middle of the night to fight more… we saw real trenches there, too! Tons of them! Gosh, it was crazy to see where a real battle was fought in a war that we’ve all been learning about for years in school. I’m glad I went on the trip for sure!


It was another 5 hours on the bus to get back to Istanbul to our ship. I sleeept. J When we got back, Lee and I had dinner on the ship with our friend, Stephanie, and then we all decided to go see a movie in Istanbul together! HA! We were so exhausted from our trip, but we didn’t want to just stay on the ship that night. We ventured into Istanbul via the tram and found the movie theater. Our movie didn’t start until 9 PM so we went to a café and had some Turkish tea before it started. It was a Wednesday night – and we were the ONLY ones in the theater! We had to walk through a few deserted shops to get to the theater, but when we got there, it was HUGE! Guess what we saw?! ECLIPSE. Yes, we did. We enjoyed it immensely. We were all so giggly that night…I think it was just because we hadn’t done anything so American in a long time, like watch a chick flick! So we had a good time. They have intermissions in movies, we found out. Haha. Half way through Eclipse, the screen goes blank and the lights came back on, and we all erupted into talking and laughing. We glanced behind us and realized that there were about 4 other people in the theater with us, now! Haha! Turkish people! Oh yeah, the movie was in English, but they had Turkish subtitles. The intermission was only 5 minutes, then our movie began again. Anyway, we liked the movie a lot and laughed a lot, even though the acting was pretty lame as always! By the way, I would have totally picked Jacob.


Day Four (July 22):


This day was more of exploring Istanbul. We went back to the Grand Bazaar and spent way too much time (and dare I say money?) there – we also went to the Spice Bazaar, which was really cool! They had tons and TONS of spices just sitting out in the shops and in the tunnel in huge pots. Real cool.


That late afternoon, we took the tram to the New Mosque and walked home from there. So we got to walk the Galatta Bridge and everything! We napped later that afternoon back at the ship, and had supper on the ship. We met up with a group of friends down at the gangway at 10 that night and ventured into Istanbul once again! We went to a popular nightlife area in the city called Taksim. There were about 20 of us in the group altogether, so we all took separate taxis – my taxi man was HILARIOUS! He was this really big guy and he was constantly dancing the whole ride to Taksim, and he was blaring this techno music, haha! There were 5 of us stuffed in the car, and he was swerving all over the road and dancing, and he made the taxi bump up and down a few times at the lights! He gave us his card when we got to Taksim and wanted us to call him when we wanted to go home, but we didn’t want to fear for our life again on the way back home so we didn’t call him. Haha. Our group had planned on going salsa dancing that night, because some of the people we were with had gone a few nights before in Taksim and said it was so much fun, but unfortunately, the night we went they weren’t having salsa night in any of the clubs! We still had fun though. We went to one club that was called Quba and danced some. The people in there were dancing SO hilariously, it was great! Lots of fist pumps. Lots of head nods. Loved it. After Quba, we just stood outside and talked awhile. We had a good night! J


Day Five (July 23):


Our last day in Turkey! Turkey went by SO fast, faster than any of the other ports! Lee and I headed straight to the tram that day and stopped at Cemberlitas, which is really close to the Hagia Sophia and is walking distance from the Grand Bazaar, as well. The older part of Istanbul, many of the historical places, are all very close together, so it’s really easy to navigate and easy to walk to everything. We went to Cemberlitas because we wanted to have a very Turkish experience: we had a Turkish bath! If you don’t know what that is, please let me inform you! Cemberlitas Hamami: The Historical Turkish Bath is the place we went. It’s this very old building – built in the 1500s, that a Sultan’s wife had built for Turkish baths, and they’ve been giving baths to this very day. So it is a very old tradition (the Romans came up with it apparently and it has been passed down). Lee and I went in, paid first (only about 20 dollars) and then were ushered into the right side down this long hallway. We had to go up a really narrow flight of stairs (and old) and were put into a small locker room. We were each given a wooden locker, and inside each was a little plastic bag with a piece of black panties in it!!! And we had rubber flip flops and a towel. We were told to undress, put the towel and the underwear on, and then come back outside. So…that’s what we did! We were led back downstairs, through another hallway deeper into the center of the building. It was very darkly lit the whole time, too. Then we were led into the bathing room – and oh my gosh, I nearly had a heart attack! The room had a very tall ceiling and was naturally lit by the sun – the ceiling was circular and made out of stone, and it had small stars cut out in the top – there were no other artificial lights in the place. In the middle of the room was a huge, circular, piece of marble. The top was smooth, and laying on top of it were about twenty to thirty practically naked women!!! They were just laying there, eyes closed, like they were sleeping/relaxing, exposing it all! Lee and I were almost afraid to go in another step. Around the room were small rooms like little pockets, all made of stone once again, and the floor was completely wet. We were told to find a spot on the marble to lie down and relax. We found spots and laid down really quickly…still embarrassed about being exposed in front of all these strangers AND girls that we knew and saw every day (since it was our last day in port, there were lots of SAS girls there, wanting to experience the famed Turkish baths, too). But we got over it and eventually started to relax. The marble was sooo warm to the touch, and the whole room was like a sauna. The hottest sauna I’ve ever been in! We were laying in the middle of the marble slab, and those laying on the outside of the marble were the ones being “bathed”. The women who work there in the Turkish baths are all older women who happen to be pretty overweight. All they wear are black underwear – so a black bra and black panties, haha. It’s pretty funny. After about a half hour of just relaxing in this sauna with all these girls around us, it was our turn to lay on the outside of the marble. My Turkish woman scrubbed my back really hard, so hard that it made my back pop! Then she made me flip over, and she literally scrubbed every inch of my body…!! It felt good but I couldn’t help but laugh a little. Then she had me turn around and lay on my stomach again and scrubbed every inch AGAIN! AAH! When she was done with me, she smacked my butt! HA! It was quite an experience. Then she led me into one of the pocket rooms and splashed a big pail of water all over me and got all the soap off me. She washed my hair with some kind of really good smelling soap and sudsed up my face, too. Then it was officially over. I went into the cool pool and talked to the other girls about it. My skin was shining, I was so clean! Apparently, a lot of people looked into their “dirty water” buckets that the women used while scrubbing them, and the water was brown after they were done, because the scrubbers they use are known to take off like the first layer of your skin – that’s how hard they scrub! I can believe it, I think I lost what was left of my tan after being scrubbed down in the Turkish bath.

I’m so so glad I did it – it was definitely out of my comfort zone and unlike any other massage or sauna I’ve ever been to! I felt so clean and relaxed afterward, too.  Even if you are uber modest, you should still have a Turkish bath once in your life just to have the experience! It’s totally worth it!


Anyway, I am back on the ship now for 6 days. We have 5 days of classes and then we reach MOROCCO!!! I am so excited. BUT…that is our last country, then we are heading back to Virginia. It’ll take us 11 days to get back. This trip has gone by so quickly – I can’t believe I’ll be sitting in my classes at Baylor in less than 3 weeks. WOW!


Now for the special guest writer:::



Avid Blog Readers!! I just wanted to say “hello”! I am glad Caitlin is doing such a good job keeping you updated! We are having a LOT of fun and learning a little along the way ;)! Can’t wait to see most of you in less than three weeks?! Wow! Sooo soon!


Sending love from the Mediterranean!!




Sunday, July 25, 2010

Athens, Greece

Well helloooo! I’m a bit behind on my entries, so let me BEGIN at once ☺

 Day One: (July 14, Wednesday)

As soon as we ported in Piraeus, the port of Athens, Lee, Lindsey and I were on the go for the ferry station. We really wanted to check out times to catch a ferry to the island of Santorini. We walked down the streets of Piraeus and just followed the water, and found the ferry kiosk. The morning wasn’t too eventful, since all we did was go to the ferry station, but then we headed back to the ship (oh, we went to Starbucks. Yesss we did) for our field trip to go to the Archaeological Museum and the New Acropolis Museum in Athens. Athens is only 6 miles away from Piraeus (the port) so we just took a bus. Both museums were very interesting; the New Acropolis Museum was really sweet – it just re-opened this spring and was built on top of some Greek ruins. The lobby and outer “deck” area is made out of glass so you can see underneath; it’s like your walking on top of the ruins – so cool! Anyway, we were shown around the Acropolis Museum and our tour guide and the teacher in charge of the field trip getting into small fights along the way about different points of views on what the tour guide was telling us… it was pretty entertaining. The museum layout is built as if you were in the actual Acropolis. We wish they had left all the artifacts and statues on the real site, though – how cool would that be to see it as it really was?! But I guess they took out all the cool stuff so it wouldn’t get ruined even more by the weather. But you could see the actual Acropolis from inside the museum -on the hill above us. BUT our field trip didn’t actually take us to the real thing; we were slightly disappointed, but just decided to go on a different day! After the museums, we headed back to Piraeus and were on the mission to buy our ferry and plane tickets to Santorini. We had just looked up times earlier, but we knew for sure that we wanted to go to the island! Greece has TONS of islands along its coast, but Santorini is one of the larger ones and is supposed to be sooo beautiful and not as touristy as some of the others, more traditional feeling. The only slight problem with Santorini was that it was further away than Mykonos, Syfnos, etc. But we had to go to a Greek island, and Santorini it was! We bought an overnight ferry ticket that left at midnight two nights later (Friday)  and that got into Santorini at 8:45 AM the next morning! WOO, an almost 9 hour ferry ride! We also bought plane tickets (MUCH cheaper in Europe than they are in the US) for Saturday night at 11:10 PM- the latest flight back to Athens. I was pretty nervous about buying all these tickets, because Greece/Athens is having so many debt problems right now and TONS of spontaneous strikes with their ferry/airline companies. I was worried about missing the ship, since it was scheduled to leave on Sunday at 6 PM, and if we didn’t get a flight back the night we planned, we didn’t know what we would do! SO- basically, that first day in Athens, we planned for our trip to Santorini! We walked around Piraeus that night and had amazingly delicious chocolate pancakes (crepes) at a local restaurant. We had to be up in the morning and in a bus for our scheduled field trip to DELPHI and METEORA by 7 AM, so we called it a pretty early night.

Day Two: (Thursday, July 15, 2010)

Lee and I scrambled out of bed, had breakfast in 7 minutes flat, then ran to the Union to meet our group for our SAS field trip to Delphi and Meteora! The bus ride took about 4 hours to get to Delphi, but once we got there, it was awesome! We spent the day looking through their pretty small museum, then climbed up all the stairs to look around the Greek ruins. Delphi was a major major political and religious site for the ancient Greeks and you can still see the archaeological site and the ruins there. It’s known for having the Temple of Apollo and being the site of the important oracle of Apollo. The ancient Greeks viewed Delphi as being the center of the universe! ALSO, Delphi is a UNESCO World Heritage site…pretty sweet. The view from way up there was breathtaking too, of course (Delphi is way up in the mountains of northern Greece). Our tour guide was an older Greek man, and he said he hadn’t been to the very top of Delphi in years. But- he told us we could walk up all the steps (there were lots of them) to the top if we hurried – and met back down at the base in like 20 minutes or something crazy like that. So me and Lee did it! We trekked up the top, saw the very top temple and what looked like a chariot racing arena (we don’t know exactly what it was, haha, our guide wasn’t there to explain it to us and the rest of the SAS people!) and took some pictures, and then realized we had to meet our group to leave for dinner in 7 minutes! So we literally ran down to the end! Haha! It was fun and a nice little workout. Good thing we had our chacos on that day! So good times in Delphi. That night our trip went to this awesome little restaurant and had some traditional, authentic Greek food. Greek salad, bread, olive oil, and some chicken dish. We headed back to our hotel in the small town of Kalambaka, which is right at the bottom of Meteora. Kalambaka and Meteora (our destination for the next day) is also in Northern Greece, in the Thessaly area. YES, we did pass Thessalonica/Thessaloniki, like in the Bible! AND we passed Thermopolis; so, our tour guide recounted the story of the battle of Thermopolis (300, anyone?!) on the bus for us. I was glad that I’d seen the movie 300 after that, since now I can say I’ve seen Thermopolis! Anyway, we thought they had put us up in a ghost town when we got to Kalambaka, but after getting situated in our hotel rooms, Lee and I and a few other girls from our trip explored the town on foot. It turned out to be a pretty cute town, actually! (Once we walked far enough down some streets, that is.) There was a fun fountain in the middle of this square and tons of cafes and bars. We sat down at one and talked for a few hours and just people-watched. It was a good night!

Day Three: (July 16, 2010)

After spending the night in our barely-there air conditioned hotel room, our group got back on the bus and drove up the mountains that were looming over the town of Kalambaka: Meteora! Meteora is the site where there are a handful of monasteries (24 to be exact- only one is a nunnery) on top of these natural, tall “mountains” that they call rock pinnacles, or spires. – they were really tall and narrow and really smooth rock! And they weren’t connected to each other, either, they’re all standing individually, and there’s one monastery or nunnery on each one. We only went inside two monasteries on two different spires; we could drive to the first one and we had to walk up a bunch of stairs and trails to get to the second one. They were eastern orthodox Christian monasteries, and very beautiful. The monasteries were built in the early 1400s. Inside the chapel, the walls were covered with frescoes! They were awesome; all of them depicted heaven and hell, judgment day, different parts of Jesus’ life, crucifixion, and resurrection. Our tour guide was very interesting and knowledgeable, so it was great listening to him explain everything. On our tour of the first monastery, we all walked out onto the balcony to look around. They have this huge cross on the balcony, and behind it is this awesome view of the countryside of Greece and the small town of Kalambaka. Naturally, we had to take pictures in front of the cross ☺ I had a sweet little experience up there on the balcony, though. First, let me explain something: in order to look around the monasteries, girls have to wear long skirts covering their legs and they have to cover their shoulders. I forgot about this detail when packing for my trip, so the only shirt I brought that covered my shoulders was my pajamas shirt, which is my Vertical Ministries shirt from school! For those of you who don’t know what Vertical is, it’s aweeesome! It’s a ministry (but not a church) that students can go to (Baylor, MCC, whoever) on Monday nights in Waco, and we have an awesome speaker, Afshin, who talks about Jesus each week…anyway, it’s just a great way to plug in each week and worship for almost an hour (Jeff Johnson Band leads us each week – we are soo lucky! He’s awesome, look him up!) and listen to a good message. Anywayyyy, so I was wearing my Vertical shirt, which says, “I’d Rather Have Jesus” on the back of it…and this British/Scottish (I couldn’t tell which!) lady got all excited when she saw me and took a picture of the back of my shirt with the monastery’s cross in the background, haha! And then when she got her picture, she grabbed my arm and said, “I’d rather have Jesus, too!” hehe, it was just so sweet! It made me happy ☺ So that was my sweet moment of the day!

Anyway, Meteora was beautiful. They said that before the monasteries were built, monks would come to these huge pillars seeking isolation, and would just live in the caves/crevices of the pinnacles! And before they had roads paved up the mountains, they had these huge woven baskets that the monks would sit in and they would pull up via thick ropes. (They still had some old ones that you could see-I don’t know if I could EVER do that, they are so high!)

After we were done looking around Meteora, we ate lunch in another small town at the bottom of the mountains – Kastraki! We went to this old old woman’s little restaurant, who everyone called “momma” haha! She was your typical Greek woman/momma! She had been making ALL of the food in this restaurant for like, 50 years, or something crazy like that. Probably more. Who knows. But we all got in line and filed into her kitchen and got to point at what food we wanted –she cooked tons of different stuff in all these HUGE pots…and the food was amaaazing. I had this delicious lasagna, others had chicken dishes, beef, pork, other noodles, etc. SO GOOD.

The rest of the day was hazy for me. We took the bus back to the ship- it took about 5 hours, yikes. But that night, after showering and packing, Lee and I walked to our ferry that was scheduled to leave at midnight that night for the island of Santorini! It took us about 30 minutes to walk there, and then we were astounded by our “ferry”. It was huge- almost as big as the MV Explorer! HA! We boarded it and found our seats, which were just like an airplane, pretty much, except for more leg room ;) It was actually a pretty fun experience, looking back. Everyone was camped out on the floor, it was fun. Lee and I didn’t get very much sleep, just because it wasn’t comfortable and the lights never turned off- I got more than Lee, though! She was more worried (Rightly so) than I was about people stealing our backpacks and purses! I should probably be more cautious ;)

Day Four (July 16, 2010)

The ferry got to Santorini at about 9 in the morning. Lee and I got off the boat and got on a pretty cheap bus to go to Fira, the capital of Santorini. Once we got there, the trip was sooo worth every worry and every speck of planning! Fira is so cute and traditional and GREEK! We loved it! Santorini is every bit what you imagine when you think of a Greek isle; it has all the white houses and buildings on the coast. Santorini is individually known for its white buildings and blue doors, too, so we saw that everywhere. It was amazing. Santorini was one of my favorite days of the entire trip so far! Lee and I just walked up and down the small streets and alleyways, shopping. We ate lunch right on the water, looking out over the whole Aegan Sea! We were glad to sit down whenever we could, because we were backpacking it up that day; we had all our clothes/toiletries, money, swimsuits, etc, everything was in our backpacks on our backs. And it was flipping hot there too! Basically, we walked around all day looking at everything there was to see, and we took a couple buses to Kampari and Oia. Kampari was where there was a nice, black sand beach, and Oia is the best place on the island! It’s known for its traditional feel and best restaurants and the best place to see the sun set. So we spent the last half of the day there. We only had 14 hours in Santorini, but we made the best of it! Oia is also where the movie, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” was filmed- we walked down A MILLLION steps to get to the bottom pier (where Alexis Bledel met Costos or whatever that Greek guy’s name was in the movie) and we had a glass of wine and salads and bread and olive oil right next to all these small fishing boats/the SEA! It was amazing!! After that, we walked around the rocks there for a little while, and then we were so hot and tired, we didn’t want to walk all the way back up those stairs that we had come down. Seriously yall, they were so steep and so many. We were just not having it. GOOD THING they had DONKEYS there to take us back up to Oia!!! Haha! This man who spoke no English pretty much threw us up on top of these donkeys and smacked their butts, and without a word, the donkeys were trotting up all these steps! It was hilarious and so much fun! They kept getting so close to the edge, and we were so high up, so it was a little thrilling, even though they weren’t even going fast! Sooo, that was a fun experience. Lee and I found this little house/cottage building thing, and sat on its roof and just talked and chilled there for awhile. It was such a good day. After having chicken and pork gyros (which were so delicious, by the way) for dinner, we watched the sun set over the sea. I haven’t watched the sun actually set like I did that day in such a long time; it was so beautiful and made me so thankful for this trip!
We had to take a taxi to the airport in Santorini, which was only about 10 minutes away. Our plane left on time at 11 that night, and we got back to Athens around 11:30. (9 hour ferry or a 30 minute plane….hmm..) But the airport in Athens is an hour and a half away from the port where our ship was, so…we took a public bus back that only cost 3 euros! Sweet! The bus ride was fun, though, because there were about 6 other SAS girls on it, so we all just talked and had fun. We also sat by a girl who was our age who had been traveling through Europe for 6 months ALREADY- she is from Australia, and was going home in about 2 weeks, she was so excited! Half the fun of traveling is just meeting the different people along the way, for real! On our plane, we had also met these 2 girls who were our age and who were friends from Montreal, and they had spent a few days in Santorini, and were going to Israel that very night! Isn’t that amazing?! They were just traveling just them two that summer! They were really interesting.
Needless to say, we crashed that night when we finally got back to the ship (around 2 am.). It felt good to take a cold shower after being so dirty and sweaty ALLL day! Haha.

Day Five (July 17, 2010)

We slept in a little longer than we meant to our last day in Greece! But we eventually woke up, put on running gear/slouchy clothes, and Lee and I took a taxi to the Acropolis. We climbed up to the top of the hill and walked around the Parthenon and took pictures. It was pretty cool. We were still kind of tired; we wished we had gone there with a tour guide so we could be learning more about it while seeing it, but hey, it was still awesome! ☺ We left Athens that night around 8 PM, headed for ISTANBUL, TURKEY!
-which will be my next post! Right now, It’s almost 8 PM, and I’m on the ship. We left Istanbul last night around 8, so yes, I am a little behind on this blog ☺ sorry! We had class today, have class tomorrow, and then the next day, we arrive in Alexandria, Egypt! I AM SO PUMPED!! Woohoo!
Anyway, thank ya mucho for reading: I miss everyone so much, can’t believe I only have two more countries to visit. Where has the summer gone?! ☺

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Hi! I’m just hanging out on the ship now. We arrive to Piraeus, the port of Athens, Greece tomorrow morning. Greece has been much anticipated by me and Lee and everyone else; you can just tell everyone is really eager to get out there tomorrow! But I guess that’s the case every night before we arrive in a new port. No one really does homework for these nights – we just all make last-minute plans for the city we’re going to be traveling in.

I can’t believe how quickly Croatia flew by – I wish we had had just one more day in Dubrovnik. This trip is going by so much faster now that we’ve already been to three countries! Greece is the half-way point of the trip. But anyway – let’s get on with it! CROATIA is very very bewitching! Beautiful just wouldn’t cut it ;)

Day One: (Thursday, July 8)
Lee and I woke up and caught breakfast with a few friends and were off the ship as fast as lightning. Just the view from the windows on the ship was breathtaking; the port is in a really nice part of Dubrovnik, with tons of resorts around, and across the water on the hills were some nice houses and resorts. The famed, main part of Dubrovnik, the Old Town, was a barely 10 minute bus ride away from our ship, so we took that. But first, we had to all figure out the currency dealio. The currency of Croatia is the Kuna, and about 5 kunas equal one US dollar. So I had all of these “huge” kuna dollar bills on me…100 kuna bill, 200 kuna bill, even a 300 kuna bill! It looked scary, but they actually only equaled out to $20, $40, and $60. The bus was only 8 kuna, woohoo! So we went to the Old Town immediately.

        Old Town was so charming and beautiful. The entire town is on the coast, and is completely fortified; these ancient high walls surround the Old Town, and you can walk on the top of them and get an amazing view of the mountains behind you, the sea all around you, the island of Lokrum, and you can see everything below you, in the Old Town. All of the buildings inside have that reddish orange looking tiled roof and the walls are all gray stone. It’s just an amazing place! Also, the entire Old Town (and ALL of Dubrovnik, that I got to see) was so clean. They really take care of everything. Even though the walls date back several hundreds of years ago, they don’t look dirty or crumbling or anything. It’s awesome. When we were in Rome and especially Naples, you would constantly be running into some funky smells on several streets, but walking around in Dubrovnik, there’s none of that! The weather there was really great, too – warm but breezy! LOVE that sea breeze!!! ;) Anyway, anyway… so we immediately climbed the couple flights of stone outside steps to get to the top of the Old Town city walls. We walked around the entire city, and it only took us an hour and a half! And we did it leisurely, too. Obviously, the city isn’t humongous. The walls are built on cliffs that hang over the Adriatic Sea, so when we would kinda hang over the walls and look down into the water, you could see through it! Ah the water was so clear and blue and beautimous. After taking some pictures and just enjoying our surroundings, Lee and I had to get back to the ship; we both had separate field trips for our classes that we had to go on.

        My field trip was for my Anthropology class; my class and the world music class joined and took a bus to this very small village on the top mountains of Croatia, called Osojnik. The village is known for preserving its medieval appearance. It only took about an hour to get there, and as soon as we did, we all got off the bus and started walking down their dusty streets, peering through their overgrown yards and seeing chicken coops and donkeys! We had a guide (who I couldn’t really understand, he had a pretty thick accent) who took us into their church and let us sit down while he talked for a few minutes. The village only has about 400 people in it, and ONLY 100 families! I’m sure they all knew each other’s business like nothing else – that’s about the same size as my high school! The guide said that there are about 4 people in each family, so that’s where they got 400 from! After the church, we walked down their roads again and were welcomed into one of the “back porches” that belongs to one of the families. It had a wooden roof over it and all these wild flowers growing on the top of it. As soon as we got there, we had to file in a line, and they handed us each a shot glass full of what I thought was just vodka. I was pretty surprised – they practically forced us all to take shots of this mystery liquor, they were encouraging us so much! Haha! It was pretty funny. But anyway, we all took a shot of it, and guess WHAT?! It was definitely not just any old liquor, they told us that it was moonshine that they had made themselves! Haha! Let me tell ya, that was the strongest thing I’ve ever tasted. I couldn’t even get it all down in one shot! It burned so bad as it went down my throat, I almost started choking haha! But I IMMEDIATELY started sweating and my eyes teared up!! It was pretty funny. A handful of the people on the trip were so excited about the moonshine, they had a few* more shots than that first welcoming one. I don’t know how they could handle it! The couple who were hosting us had these little fires set up for us to roast BACON – from their own cows! They also gave us awesome bread and cheese, so we had ourselves tons of little bread, cheese, and bacon sandwiches. Then, the couple did a “folk dance” for us, but it was just dancing in circles and clapping, basically. I was expecting something a little cooler than that, with more people or something! Haha. But after the “folk show”, they served us white wine that they had made, once again. Haha So we basically paid for moonshine, wine, sandwiches, and dinner – that was all we did on the trip – drink and eat! I had a glass of the wine but that moonshine I swear was just crazy strong! We had dinner downstairs, in this room that was built into the stone. It was like a cool cave, pretty sweet! It was just meat and potatoes and bread, mmm!

That night, I was feeling pretty tired and worn out, so I just cooled it at an internet café for a little bit and talked to my momma on the phone! It was a good day but I had to call it an early night!:)

Day Two: (Friday)
Lee and I woke up around 8 and met Bryant, Lindsey, Matt and Erik at breakfast. We had plans to join another big group of people I didn’t know to go kayaking outside of the Old Town. We took the bus to the Old Town and met up with our Croatian kayak leaders! They were so much fun! It was 2 people to a kayak, and it was an all-afternoon deal. We kayaked near the coast and outside of the city walls over to this natural cave, and we all got out and snorkeled for about half an hour. The water was FREEZING – but it felt so good once your whole body was in the water! I loved it! Snorkeling didn’t really end up happening; we ended up climbing up on some slippery rocks and jumping off of them, and attempted to take some underwater pictures with Matt’s underwater camera. I don’t think any of them turned out, haha. We were given these really delicious sandwiches, too! Okay, so after we all ate and got back in our kayaks, (me and Lee switched places this time –she took the back seat, and our paddling and our kayak went a lot smoother. Apparently I suck at kayaking.) we paddled across the Adriatic Sea (not the whole thing) over to an island that is relatively close to the Old Town, and kayaked around the entire thing! We kayaked over 4 miles that day! Lee and I were exhausted when we were done. It was so funny, because we were always in the back of the group! Haha! We claim it’s because a lot of other people had a boy in their kayak and we didn’t! The main kayak leader and other kayakers would wait for us and a few other stragglers to catch up, and then they’d all paddle away again! It’s because they consistently had breaks, waiting for us, and we never had any breathers! That’s our theory on why we were so much slower than everyone else ☺ Oh, we caught an eyeful around one corner of the island of Lokrum! It was a nakey beach, and apparently an Old Man hangout, too. Let’s just say we had to hold back a few laughs while kayaking around that part!
After that, we all headed back to the ship to get cleaned up. We felt good after spending a day swimming and in the sun. The Adriatic is SO salty! My whole face was practically covered in dried salt when I got back to my room.

        After resting for a little while at the ship, Lee and I met up with the Texas girls, Meredith and Shea, and went out for a late dinner in the Old Town. The Old Town is so beautiful at night! You can tell it’s really safe, too. Every time I went inside the city walls, there are groups of children of all ages running around and playing with each other. We had dinner at a pescarria (I don’t know how to spell it, but a seafood/fish restaurant) that was all outside under these huge, towering umbrellas and that was right next to a smaller pier with all these cool boats in it. Dinner was… interesting. Lee and I both ordered “grilled shrimp”, and I was thinking of something along the lines of what my dad always makes when we’re in Florida – grilled shrimp, that’s already pealed and delicious…but NO! That ain’t what we got! Our waiter put down a huge black pot filled with little shrimp that looked like they had just been plucked from the ocean 5 minutes ago! They had all their antennae and EYES still on, everything! Call me unadventurous or whatever you like, but I didn’t like it at all. It took me 10 minutes to peal the darn little shrimp, and then there was barely enough meat in him once I finally got to the inside! I left the place still hungry. But the company was nice, and I loved the scenery of the restaurant! I’ll post pictures later ☺ After dinner, Lee and I got some gelato (that was my dinner) and walked around Old Town some more. At night, bats SWARM the city! It is actually really spooky, but in a good way. All you can hear are the bats screeching and you see them – there are HUNDREDS of them, at the top of the city walls right above you – flitting back and forth. We didn’t even know what they were doing up there, just having fun?!
Anyway, this was a great day. Love Dubrovnik. Love the Adriatic Sea. Love the Old Town. Love bats!

Day Three: (Saturday)
Early early in the morning, Lee and I headed out of the ship after catching a quick bite to eat in the Garden Lounge to catch our buses for our field trip to Montenegro. We were stupid and forgot to sign up for buses ahead of time, so we were assigned to different buses ☹ But, I was happy once I got on my bus, because I was on the same one as our sweet friend, Julianne! We sat together and talked and then drifted asleep ☺ It was early, and the bus ride was over two hours. Montenegro is a different country if you didn’t know, it is not part of Croatia. It shares the border with Croatia and Bosnia among others that I don’t want to mention (meaning I don’t know if there are any others –yes, I need to look at a map, OK!?) So it took awhile for us to get through customs and all that. But the bus ride itself was beautiful – we got to see the countryside of Croatia and Montenegro, and it’s amazing. The mountains are so tall and such a dark green, and then the sea is such a stark contrast of piercing blue! Love love loved it. Montenegro means “black mountains”, which is very fitting. The mountains are so high, and they just slope right down into the sea, it’s not even a gradual slope! When we got to Montenegro, we first went to the Coast of Kotor; it was built up against a mountain, just like Dubrovnik’s Old Town, and had palm trees and ancient city walls and old churches, too. It took us about 15 minutes to be guided by a tour guide throughout the main streets of the city of Kotor – it was that small! I was sad that we didn’t get to spend that much time there, because we had to get back on the bus and head over to another city called “Old Town”! It was sweet and had the awesome, narrow streets that are typical of Italy! We got separated from Lee (different groups/buses) so me and Julianne went exploring through the streets and went in a few shops, and made a pit stop at the sandy beach that was in the back of the Old Town! The whole day was really nice and everywhere we saw was beautiful and unique, I just wish we had more free time to explore on our own and really experience the towns. Ugh! Oh well. It was still a great day. On our way back to the ship, all of SAS’ buses (4 in total) drove onto this huge ferry that took us over to the other side – a short cut, so we wouldn’t have to drive all around Montenegro again, I guess. I slept the rest of the way back.

That night, what did we do?! We went to Old Town (again), of course! Dubrovnik was having a huge festival this summer, and the kickoff night of the whole festival was this night (our last night in Croatia)! It was called “Libertas”. We got there just in time to watch the fireworks! There were so many people there, and everyone was so dressed up, it was awesome. The ground of Old Town is this ancient white, pearly stone. It looks like marble but it’s not, but it’s super slippery and at night, it makes the place look even more neat! So we watched the fireworks go off right behind the high clocktower with all the people. The bats were present, once again! There was a live orchestra that started to play around 10 PM that night, and we could hear it from where we were! We were down a narrow little alley, eating chocolate pancakes (crepes!)! It was so much fun and the whole place had so much energy. It was a really fun atmosphere; I’m so glad we got to be there that night! Lee and I walked back to the ship that night, and it didn’t even take that long, about 25 minutes. It was a beautiful walk, right next to and above the sea. A great way to end the night!

Day Four: (Sunday)
Our last day in Croatia. Lee and I were pretty sad to leave such a pretty, carefree place. I think this was the safest, most low-key port we have been to so far, and probably will be out of the rest of the countries we will visit! We took our time waking up that morning ;) But as soon as we were up, we had our bathing suits on and took off for Old Town. We caught a ferry (less than 5 minutes, for real) to the small island of Lokrum. There’s a fortress in the middle of the island as well as an old monastery and a botanical garden. People usually go there and use it as a lounging beach place. It was so quiet on the island; people were all taking naps on the rocks around us and just taking it easy! There are all these dirt paths between the trees on the island, and they lead you to the rocks and cliffs and the sea. We decided to skip the nakey beach that day. We laid our towels out on these huge boulders that overlooked the sea, and you can see the Old Town city walls. It was sooo nice! There’s no sandy beaches on Lokrum, so a lot of the locals had these roll-up cushiony loungers, I was jealous. I spent the afternoon reading The Bacchae (for my Religion and Literature class) and even swam for a little while in the sea! It was such a gooood day. On our way back to catch the ferry to Old Town, we saw wild peacocks! Yep, they just roam the island. It was so cool. Oh, and I SWEAR that when you’re walking around inside the wooded paths on this island, it smells JUST LIKE Seaside/Watercolor smells, it’s unreal! I loved it! It reminded me of home!
        Anyway, we took the ferry back to Old Town and were starving, so we found a small pizzeria and split a pineapple and ham pizza. Lee and I were already missing the pizza in Italy, so we opted for the pizzeria instead of a fish place! It was delicious. We sadly made our way back to the ship around 5 PM, saying goodbye to Old Town, the birds, the bats, and the city walls. The rest of that night onboard I spent studying for my Anthropology test, wooohoo!

I miss Croatia already! We were all talking about it, and we decided that we could totally move to Croatia; the only thing holding me back is the language barrier (even though most of them do speak English…it’s starting to not surprise me when Europeans can speak my language – America needs to jump on the multiple languages deal. Europe is way ahead of us!). BUT- I could definitely get used to Old Town and Dubrovnik. I could get a job as a kayak instructor! I could totally do that! If I got better at kayaking first, though. Alrightie. That’s all I have to say. Miss yall!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Naples, Italy

Howdy! Today is a CLASS day. So is tomorrow. Then the next day, we arrive in CROATIA! A country that I know basically nothing about. So, that should be interesting. Our ship left last night around 8 PM from the port of Naples. A lot happened and I saw a lot, so I’ll try to sum up my experiences sort of quickly and try not to get off task ;)

Okay, so last Thursday, on July 1st, me and Lee were still in Rome and our field trip had just ended. The week before getting to Italy, we had the option on the ship to either sign up to stay on the ship in order to get to Naples, or to find our own way to Naples and meet the ship in the port on that Saturday (July 3rd). Lee and I signed off and decided to find our own way. Now in hindsight, we know that it would have been much easier to just let the ship take us, but at the time we thought it’d be a fun experience traveling by ourselves. But the thing is, once we made our decision, the ship wouldn’t let us change our minds- so we weren’t allowed to come back to the ship if we had signed off already, because it messed up the list they had to give to Customs, or something like that. Sooo, Thursday night, me and Lee found our way to the Roma Termini – the main train station in Rome, and bought two tickets to Naples for the 9 PM train. We were stressing big time for a few minutes before the train left, because we could NOT find our train on the screen, and we were asking these two Italian guys (who we thought were security guards, but…I think we were just confused by their strange vests they were wearing) for direction to our train, but they were no help AT ALL. They kept laughing and they led us to a DIFFERENT train! We have no idea what was going on there! But in the end, we found our train and got on just in time. In each little train cubby, there are only 6 seats, and it’s very cramped and HOT. Even though we were a little stressed at the time, the train was SO much fun for us! We were sitting with 4 other people: a middle-aged Italian woman, two Italian 18 yr olds who were dating, and a 20 yr old Italian soldier! Haha. It was so much fun, because after just a few moments of all sitting quietly and keeping to ourselves, the 4 of them all started talking quite speedily in Italian while me and Lee listened in mystery. After a moment, the girl said to us, “Holiday in Naples?” and we tried explaining to her that we were studying and traveling in Italy for a week. She said that she couldn’t speak English, but she actually knew a LOT of words! For the rest of the two hour train ride, all of the Italians tried communicating with us, and it was sooo much fun getting to talk to them! The girl explained how she and her boyfriend were dating, and one of the first things they asked us is if we had boyfriends, haha! They gave us tips about Naples, hotels/hostels there, and the girl gave me a list of the best places and things to see in Naples. She even taught me the days of the week in Italian!! Haha! ::

They were so funny! Now, I just have to say one thing… Lee and I were in love that night with the Italian soldier – he was in his uniform, and was just so charming!!! He could speak very little English, but when everyone in the train started talking to us, he knew where we were from! He asked where we were from, and then answered for us, “Texas?” We were delighted haha. We asked how he knew we were from there, and after they all stumbled for the right word, he told us it was because we talked slow! “Slow, talk slow!” Isn’t that funny?! He taught me and Lee how to say “Gratzie” (thank you) the CORRECT way, since we were saying it wrong the whole time. When we finally got it right a few times, they all cheered for us! It was just so much fun. We were all all smiles the whole time, trying to figure each other out. I was sad when the two hours were up and we had to leave the nice Italians haha. As soon as we got off the train, it was about 10:45 (the train ended up leaving late) at night, and we were exhausted and smelly and gross. There was this man standing there right when we got off, and he asked if we needed a taxi. We needed one to get to a place to stay for the night, so we followed him. He ended up leading us out of the back of the train station, and I guess we weren’t too smart to follow him out there…it was deserted back there! No other taxis were there, and when we got to his “taxi”, it wasn’t even a taxi at all! It was just a plain white car, with no light on top or any marking on the car. We looked inside and there was no meter, either, which is  bad sign! We asked how much, and he said 20 euros, but Lee and I both had a weird feeling, so we told him no gratzie and started walking away. He was NOT happy with us! He ran after us yelling at us, and we kept saying that he didn’t have a meter and it wasn’t a real taxi! Haha! Anyway, the whole thing was just sketchy. We walked back into the train station and went outside to the front, with the fake taxi driver right behind us the whole time, whining. When we got out there, there were TONS of taxis out in front, real ones! That other guy left and we got into a real one. Naples is really dirty and sketcy and not well-lit, so we weren’t feeling super safe that night. We saw a Holiday Inn from the train earlier, so we asked to be driven there! We finally got there and finally felt safe and relieved. Lee and I split the room, and were so happy to find the guy at the front desk spoke English. He gave us one hour of internet free! I was happy to get on facebook again ☺ Needless to say, Lee and I slept like logs that night. We each had a double bed to ourselves, and lo and behold, the room was air conditioned!!! What a blessing! I think we were just so ready to be in bed and secure after our long day, and after seeing just a small bit of Naples. The city is just not what you would expect. It is so poverty-ridden and there are so many deserted, trashed streets, and lots of sirens going off in the distance!!

The next day was much brighter for us, however. We woke up around 9 and got our bags together and took a taxi to the ferry station. We bought tickets to the Isle of Capri for the 11:10 AM ferry, and after a delicious nutella-filled croissant, Lee and I were on our way to CAPRI!! It was only a 40 minute ferry ride, and it was totally worth it. The island is right off the coast of Naples and is a big resort/honeymoon area. I can totally see why! The island is beautiful. The dock where all the ferries and private boats come in is right next to this strip of cute, local gelato shops, pizzerias, and bars. The beach is on the right; we were thankful to find out that it was not a nude beach, like the ones in Spain. We headed for the beach as soon as we were off the ferry. It was so hot there, but the water felt sooo cool and refreshing. The water is SO blue and clear there, I love it! I am a huge beach/ocean person, so this day was one of my favorites.

Lee and I stayed on the beach for awhile, and then we went on a boat tour. We had so much fun! The tour was on this small boat with only about 15 people on it, and it took us around the entire island of Capri, and made a stop at the famed Blue Grotto. It surprised me that there was really NO beach on the island, except for the small strip of one we were on at the beginning of the day. Bluffs make up the entire island for the most part, and there were places here and there that had big, outdoor restaurants/bars on the tops of the bluffs, and a couple of really nice hotels, as well. It was awesome to see all the caves that the island had. The Blue Grotto was SO AMAZING! Back a long time ago, fishermen thought that the Blue Grotto was where the mythological Sirens lived! It is a natural cave that’s underneath the island, and once you’re inside, it is completely lit by this deep, beautiful blue color. It’s blue because the little sunlight that comes in plays off of the walls of the cave, the water, and the sand at the bottom! Once our tour boat got to the spot next to the Blue Grotto, we had to pay another man in a small rowing boat to take us under the island to the cave. Ugh. They totally milk you for all you’re worth, since it’s such an amazing spot! But whatever, we paid it, and climbed into the rowing boat. Only 4 people plus the rower can fit. Our guy was this loud Italian man. He made us all lie down on our backs in the boat, so that we can get under. From the outside of the Blue Grotto, it’s only this small opening in the rock, so you have to be as flat as possible to get inside. He rowed inside with one big push and we all popped up; we were transported into this surreal, blue, cool CAVE! Ahhh! It was just too cool. There are probably about 3 or 4 other row boats in there at a time – the cave is actually pretty big. ALL of the rower men were SINGING really loud in Italian, and they actually all had good voices. Their song was echoing off the walls and made for an even better experience. Mine and Lee’s rower was making fun of us for awhile, by yelling, “Oh my god!” –I guess he was teasing us Americans. Then he made us climb up on his little seat and take pictures with him. I think he just wanted a reason to kiss us; that’s probably why he even wanted the job: so he could kiss all the hundreds of tourists who go to the Blue Grotto! HA! He ended up kissing my neck in a random spot because I kept turning my head, haha, but he got Lee dead-on on the cheek! Yummmm. Anyway, he was funny. If you ever go to Capri, you MUST go to the Blue Grotto! You can walk there from the other side of the island, which is called Anacapri, which is higher up, as well.

After the boat tour was over, we were both pretty starving. We took a bus to Anacapri (other side of the island, higher up, great view of the island at the bottom and the ocean) and ended up meeting two other girls who were on Semester at Sea and who were traveling independently, too! We ended up all having dinner together at a great outdoor restaurant and walking around Anacapri a bit. We had to get back down to the town of Capri to catch our 10:30 PM ferry back to Naples (We didn’t want to stay the night in Capri, because all the places are supposedly pretty expensive). The two girls, Kayli and Lindsey, decided to come back with us and split the hotel room at the Holiday Inn for our second night- that way it was even cheaper than it was before!! We all had fun together and had enough time to get MORE gelato (my 3rd for the day!!) before getting on the ferry. I know, it’s a good thing I’m leaving Italy. I’m pretty sure I gained 20 pounds from all their amazing food.

The next morning, Saturday, us 4 gals split a cab to get back to our ship, since it had finally arrived to Naples. We spent the day catching up on some sleep and uploading our pictures, taking it easy. We were pretty exhausted.
On Sunday morning, me and Lee had signed up for a day trip to Mount Vesuvius, which was so much fun! Mount Vesuvius is the only active volcano still on the mainland of Italy, and we got to “hike” it! We were expecting something like a 4 hour hike up to the top of the volcano, but it was much less hardcore than that. We took a bus to this “rest stop” area, and walked up about a little over a half mile to the top of the crater haha. They gave us pretty sweet walking sticks, though! We had fun taking karate pictures with those. It was SO hot out, but it was worth it to look into the inside of the crater. Me and Lee were laughing once we got there, because we don’t know what we were expecting, but I guess I expected to see lava. Yeah, I know, that was a stupid expectation, but there was nothing of the sort! There was, however, some smoke/steam still coming out of that thing! It was just really cool. You could walk almost all the way around the mouth of the crater, and the view of Naples was amazing from that high up. There were also tons of beautiful flowers up there, surprisingly. We were higher than the clouds, too! Isn’t that cool?! I thought we would be able to see the ancient remains of Pompeii from the top, but we couldn’t since it was too hazy out. BUT – the crater that we were on was not the same one that erupted and was the end of Pompeii- it was actually the collapsed neighboring crater, Montesuma (sp?). You could see it from where we were, though. Pretty sweet! So, that was a fun day. I bought a postcard. ☺ It was also a fun trip because we got to hang out with another girl named Mallory, who also goes to Baylor!

The rest of that day, Lee and I spent cleaning ourselves up and getting some studying done. That night, we ventured into Naples with our group: Megan, Matt, Erik, Lindsey, Bryant, Tiffany, and Sarah. Our destination: Pizzeria da Michele. Supposedly, it is one of the only restaurants mentioned in the book, “Eat, Pray, Love” ? I haven’t read it, but Lee and Lindsey have, so they really wanted to go there! The pizza was DELICIOUS, of course. Not surprising. It was funny, though, because the place was just a small little hole in the wall pizzeria. AND: it was super cheap. Only a 1.50 euro for a big bottle of water, and the same for a beer and a coke! That is basically UNHEARD of, at least it was in Rome. We had to pay almost 3 euro every time we wanted a coke or water. It got old FAST. So we all loved that. Also, one big pizza was only 4 to 5 euros. The pizzas in Rome were at the very least 7.50 euro, so we were ecstatic. We had 2 tables and each table split 2 pizzas each, so we ended up only having to pay about 3.50 euro EACH person for our entire meal; it was a great deal and such a fun night! After dinner, we walked around Naples some and got gelato, of course. The streets were, once again, dark, dirty, and really wet. We were glad we had a couple tall boys with us, otherwise we might have been a little more nervous about walking around in the late evening.

Last day in Italy: On July 5th, Lee and I woke up early, once again, boarded a bus and traveled about 45 minutes to Pompeii! Pompeii was once a thriving city (second largest only to ancient Rome) whose people were all killed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It was so awesome because we walked the streets of this completely preserved city (for the most part!) and it looked as if it couldn’t be THAT old, because of how well-preserved everything was. The city was much bigger than I thought before going. Except the roofs, everything was there…rooms, frescoes, all the stone streets. The first settlement there was in the 8th century BC- is that not crazy?! It was first a Greek civilization and then the Romans took over. Anyway, it was really interesting. One of the things that stuck out was the prevalence of brothels in the city – we walked through one, and it was so weird to think that all that I was seeing was once real! You knew a building was a brothel if it had a *phallic symbol * on the front of it. Haha so that was fun to see. ☺ Near the end of our tour, after seeing ancient temples and the homes of wealthy citizens, we even saw body casts of real people from back then! When they were excavating, they somehow could excavate the shape that real people had formed in the solidified volcanic ash. We saw one person who was sort of tucking their knees and hiding their face; it was really sad, because that was their last position they took as they were dying from all the poisonous gas/ volcanic ash that killed them!!! (since it wasn’t lava that killed them or poured onto the city at all; it was gas and ash.) We also saw the cast of dog that was trying to bite off his chain to run away. Those really made Pompeii come even more alive. It was fascinating! If you ever go to Italy, you HAVE to go see Pompeii.

We had to be onboard our ship by 6 PM that night in order to leave for Croatia, so I had a little free time. I went with 2 friends to try to find the Archaeological Museum of Naples after lunch. It took us an hour in the sweltering heat, walking around, to find it, but once we got there, it was worth it! We saw tons more artifacts and frescoes from Pompeii and lots of statues of Greek gods and goddesses and allll that, dating back from the 1st and 2nd century AD and even older! We had a 30 minute walk back to the ship, and then our ship threw a BBQ dinner on the 7th deck outside for us, to celebrate the 4th of July! It was muy bien. Ribs, burgers, mac and cheese (my fav), corn on the cob, chocolate chake. YUM. That concludes my trip to ITALY. I do wish I could someday go back to Italy and see: Venice, Sorrento, Verona, Sicily, and Tuscany! AND spend more time in Rome. Italy is just such a great country with so much history and almost everywhere you go (except Naples ☺) is beautiful!

Man, well this was a really long post. I applaud you if you actually read all that! It’s about 10 AM back in Little Rock and Texas, but it’s about 5 PM where I am. Our ship past Sicily a couple hours ago, and we were really close to the coast. I like thinking about what time it is back home, and wondering what you all are doing at that moment! I hope yall are all doing great, once again! Thanks for being my fwends and faaamily!