Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sail Away

The Nile at Night
So I'm back from the cruise. I had all these noble plans to update the blog from abroad, but the ship's Internet was terribly slow, and at 75 cents a minute I figured you all could wait. Summer and I basically ran from sight to sight, so there wasn't much time for an Internet cafe, and well, you know. But it was a great trip, so now here's the customary gushing, with a few of the less-reverent stories from abroad.
First of all, I think it's fair to say that Egypt was my favorite. It was a close race, but it was so unlike any place I'd ever been, and I'd recommend it to anyone-- even with the grenade that went off in the market while we were in town (but not nearby).

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Here's the quick and dirty summary:
First, I'm happy to report that my illness was fleeting and I felt fine for the entire trip. I packed every over-the-counter drug known to man, but only took my Flintstones vitamins. Still, I felt nice and prepared and was able to help a few people out. There were several people in Turkey who benefited from my travel TP (never leave home without it) and everyone used hand sanitizer at every turn. While in Athens, my friends and I took a little tour of a meat market where vendors hung skinned sheep, split down the middle with the faces still pretty much intact. All this bloody meat is exposed, and the merchants shout and sell and smoke and have a grand time. A very nice Indian man (my personal favorite ethnicity... no joke) was good enough to propose to me. I told him I could not marry him because he smoked. He threw down his cigarette and kissed my hand. As I walked away, my friend Julia quietly pulled out a bottle of Purell. It was appreciated.
Chronologically speaking, I suppose I should mention Espana. I was a bit jet-lagged as I flew into Barcelona, but thought of my best friend Sokphal as I took the airbus into town to Summer's hotel. What should I see first but Mount Tibidabo-- she and "Friends" fans everywhere know why this is particularly amusing.
Having just been in Spain two years earlier, I didn't feel too terrible about taking only one photograph, which I'm not even bothering to post here. I haggled with a man over the price of a Flamenco costume (complete with shoes) for my dear little niece, but I ended up walking away. What does Zoey need with polka-dotted high heels at her age, right? So Summy and I happily boarded the ship where we were quickly met by some of the most obnoxious people ever (aka the entertainment staff, particularly a man wearing a tiny matador hat... hopefully Sum will soon post video of the life-jacket drill).
There are some amusing things about going on a cruise, you know. First of all, if you are poor and have an inside-cabin, you are cut off from any natural sense of time and can sleep for 18 hours at a time. The gentle rocking of the ship lulls one to sleep. I doubt I've ever gotten such rest on a vacation, and I'm not complaining.
Secondly, you quickly find pros and cons with cruising. On the plus side, you unpack the luggage and that's it... no hauling around backpacks or awkward rolling suitcases, which is perhaps the worst part of European travel. However, you give up that sense of cultural immersion because you're only in a port for a few short hours. I miss that. I love coming home from another country because I typically feel quiet and humble and less ignorant. The culture I was surrounded by was rich, loud American. When one of the entertainers mentioned the economic stimulus package, the whole audience booed, and I realized there were more Republicans concentrated in that theatre than in a Utah township. It was actually super-interesting, and perhaps the only "We're not in Kansas anymore" moment of my vacation. Also, I got a kick out of the various cab-drivers, tour-guides and locals across Europe, Asia and Africa laughing at "St. Obama." Now you all know I'm for supporting our President, but it was certainly eye-opening to see that people abroad (despite popular belief or what pop-culture would lead the less-than-discerning to believe) aren't as impressed with our new leader as trendy American apologists would have you believe. It was a surprise I'd not anticipated. How's that for social studies?
But in a less-serious and stodgy vein, I had a genuinely enjoyable time. In Rome, Sum and I opted to not take the expensive tour where you got to see one or two landmarks, but instead ran through the city at break-neck speed and a fraction of the cost with our new friends Jim and Julia. We hit all the typical sights, including my personal favorite, the Trevi Fountain:

Honestly, this ranks as one of my top-five favorite places in the world. I could sit there for hours watching people, feeling the breeze off the water, and day-dreaming about holding hands with some handsome Italian man as Andrea Bocelli music wafts through the air. I think we got about 15 minutes there, but I threw my coin in, so I'll be back.
In Italy, Summer and I met the COOLEST couple, the above-mentioned Jim and Julia S. J&J were our traveling kindred spirits, interested in seeing everything possible. Now that I'm home, I can't imagine what the trip would have been like without them-- from karaoke (Jim does a great Neil Diamond) to advice (apparently if a gypsy throws a baby at you, you should never catch it) to lunches and dinners all over the Mediterranean-- they were amazing. I think Julia is possibly the sweetest woman on the planet, but she's got this unexpected sassiness. Sum and I loved them.
Of course, they were not our only friends on the cruise. For example, we became tight with Alan:
Alan is an oil man from Texas, and extremely funny. He's the king of the deal-- he can haggle with the best of them.

Cab driver: Twenty Euros to go to the market.
Alan: I'll give you three dollars.
Cab driver: Whatever you say.

Alan and his wife Betsy were super. Alan was very good to advise Summer and I on dating, reminding us that it's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man. Alan says he doesn't know any LDS guys in his circle, but he's promised to keep a lookout. I wouldn't mind if one from his Austin synagogue expressed interest, but you know....Anyway, I really did love Alan and Betsy. I hope they'll come visit me sometime.
Of course, there were other people you'd never want in your home. Sum and I met a couple we called "The One-Uppers." They'd say things like, "Oh, you didn't actually go INTO the pyramid?" Oh, that's too bad. Your camel ride was ten minutes? Ours was half an hour." They thought they were pretty cool, but their idea of a great TV theme song was "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." You know the type.
Another couple we met, dubbed "North Carolina," was even more obnoxious and entertaining. These people had been on enough cruises to learn how to get everything for free. By the third day, the wife had won a pearl bracelet, an emerald necklace, and the first of their two bottles of champagne. They attended the overpriced art auctions to receive the free prints, and because they always got two, they told me and Summer that they'd buy a frame from Wal-Mart for the extra and voila! A Christmas gift for one of their children! I think they were the cheapest people I've ever met.
There were those who admonished us to stay close to the Lord and others who suggested with stay out of the casino (no problem on either count, actually). One man in Cairo took a piece of cake off my plate at lunch and ate it without thinking it was at all socially unacceptable (I'd taken a bite out of it already). Others told me how lucky my future husband would be someday, and how I reminded them of their daughters and granddaughters. There were some BYU boys who avoided us (no big loss, I assure you), and Egyptians who loved us (well, Summer anyway).
And then, there was just the stuff to see. You know-- those things you read about your whole life and then they suddenly become real because you can touch them? Here was the library at Ephesus:
And here I was at the pyramids with Ahmed, our armed bodyguard. He yelled at people and flashed his big gun. We sat together on the bus on the ride back to Alexandria. He told me about his fiancee, but offered to be my boyfriend.

Every five minutes or so, I'd say something like, "We're in freakin' AFRICA." And Summer would sing a "They Might Be Giants" song and we'd both walk like Egyptians.

Even Malta, which I admit I didn't even know existed before the cruise, was a wonderful surprise. After two weeks of cramming in everything possible, Jim, Julia, Summer and I just strolled through the streets, breathing sea air and enjoying the slow pace of island life. We were disappointed to not get to rent mopeds and/or swim with dolphins, but it was still a heck of a place.

In the end, I whole-heartedly endorse a cruising vacation, especially if it's to Europe (because let's be honest, I'm not "beachy") and if you can get a smokin' deal like we did. Where else are you going to meet a man with a pirate earring whose wife looks like Keith Richards (again, these were some of the coolest people we met on the cruise-- the other couple was obnoxious)?
I was sufficiently entertained and came home relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated. And then I got asked to sub seminary for the week, so I get up at 4 every morning. But that's the beauty of a jacked-up circadian rhythm. It's 1 p.m. in Cairo, so I feel like I've slept in.


At March 12, 2009 at 8:32 AM , Blogger Justin said...

what an amazing experience to go to Egypt!!!!!!!!!

I have always been obsessed with Egyptian history and pyramids and mummies and wow...I want to know more! Next time we are in town I will sit and look through all of the photos and hear all of the stories!


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