Cairo, Egypt

Andrew and I have a list of all the places we want to visit…in fact it seems to grow longer the more we travel instead of getting shorter each trip we take.

I guess that is why they call it the travel bug.

One of the places on our list was Cairo- I mean who doesn’t want to see the Pyramids, the Sphinx and thousands of years of history?

Exactly.

Some of my teaching colleagues felt the same way, so we all packed up and jetted off for a quick weekend trip to Egypt. (Yes, you read that right…Egypt is close enough that we could go for the weekend)

We left right after school and didn’t stop till we returned two days later, completely exhausted and amazed at all the things we had seen.

Now traveling to Cairo is a little bit different than traveling anywhere else- starting with security. We had to go through more security before arrival into Cairo than we usually do in an entire trip.

Once we arrived in Cairo we purchased our 25 USD visa (a requirement to enter the country), cleared customs and met up with our guide and driver.

I would 100% recommend, if you travel to Cairo, to book a guide who will help you navigate Cairo’s amazing sights. But more than that, you want a guide and driver who can get you safely though Cairo’s insane streets.

I moved to a country where people drive fast….140 kph on highways and sometimes even on side roads, but at least they stay in the lanes and have some understanding of lane control. Not so in Cairo. Cars literally drive everywhere. If you stuck your hand out the window, you would most definitely touch another car…maybe even a few people on a motorbike. At one point we saw a car full of people with the trunk open and three more sitting with their feet dangling out.

And if that weren’t bad enough, people walk EVERYWHERE. Not at crosswalks, not even where a crosswalk might make sense. They walk everywhere! No matter how large the road, no matter how fast people are driving, there are pedestrians weaving their way like frogger every few feet.

Needless to say, as I held my breath and would sometimes let out a little gasp as we drove, I was thankful for our driver who expertly weaved his way through the traffic and got us to our hotel safely.

We stayed at the Le Meridian Pyramids. By the time we arrived at 2:30am, we just crawled into bed and tried to get some sleep before our early start, but when we pulled the curtains back in the morning light, there were the pyramids reminding us how far from home we really were!

Our day started with a tour of Memphis- the ancient capital of Egypt. We saw many different artifacts of the old kingdom including a huge statue of Ramses II and a Sphinx.

Next we drove to Sakkara- the site of the oldest Pyramid in Egypt. Pyramids were built as the final resting place for the Kings of Egypt. The Egyptians believed that they had to prepare for the after-life and so when Kings were appointed, they quickly started building their pyramids for the day they would die.  These were not only the place where their mummified bodies would find their final resting place, but it was used for rituals and ceremonies around their roles as king.

Our final stop on our first day in Cairo was at the Pyramids of Giza. These are the ones that most people associate with Egypt. Egypt has 116 Pyramids, but by far, these are the most famous. The Pyramid of Giza complex includes the Great Pyramid (Pyramid of Cheops), a smaller pyramid (of Chephren) and the smallest pyramid of Mykerinos. There are many small pyramids surrounding these for the wives of these kings as well as the great sphinx, the mummification and funerary temples and the solar boats found near the great pyramid.

We had the opportunity to go into the pyramid of Mykerinos. For a mere 40 Egyptian pound (3 Canadian dollars) we descended 30 m into the burial chamber of the pyramid. There is not much to see down there, but the thought of being that far underground with that much rock above you, and that people thousands of years ago made it…it was pretty cool.

That evening, instead of catching up on our sleep (who needs that?) we opted for a Nile dinner cruise. We set sail on a beautiful large boat, saw Cairo from the water and ate delicious food (kofta anyone?)

Day 2 started very early so we could be some of the first people into the Egyptian Museum. This museum is home to an extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts. And when I say extensive, I mean there is stuff in every corner, every hallway…every spare space has something. And that is just the stuff they SHOW!

Our guide gave us a highlights tour of some of the key pieces in Egypt’s history and then we were able to wander around and visit King Tut’s gold room (where the famous gold head covering is) and the mummy room. Yep you read that right…a whole room filled with mummies. Mummies who have been so well preserved that they still have hair, and nails…and are thousands of years old. Unbelievable.

Our final stop was at the Saladin citadel where we visited a mosque from the 1800’s.

From there we were whisked back to the airport to catch our flight so that we could all return to work the next day exhausted but amazed by all we saw.

A week after our trip I still have to remind myself that it really happened. I saw it with my own eyes…Egypt, the pyramids. Amazing!

Rome, Italy

One of the many benefits of living in the U.A.E. is the ability we have to travel to places that, from home, would need far more time than a teacher’s schedule could afford during a school year.

Never would we have had the opportunity from Canada to spend a long weekend in Rome. So when my family began planning the second leg of their world travels, Andrew and I decided we could not pass up the opportunity to join them.

It was a whirlwind 3 day trip, but we are so thankful that we could go and spend more time with my family and see some incredible sights.

Here is how we spent our 3 days in the eternal city.

We chose an early morning flight to maximize our days in Rome. We flew AlItalia and were so pleased with the service during our flight. Because it was low season, the plane was not full which meant extra space to get a little sleep before we landed. They fed us well (something I am realizing happens on flights everywhere but Canada and the US these days) and kept us comfortable on our 6 hour flight.

Once we cleared customs and collected ourselves we started out to the taxi line all steeled up to barter and fight with the taxi drivers we had heard would try to rip us off if they could.

The deal with Rome taxis from the airport is that there is a flat rate for rides inside and outside the Aurelian wall. Contrary to what is sounds like, there is no actual wall. (we asked our taxi driver on the way to the airport…typical tourists is probably what he thought)

Image result for Rome Aurelian wall map

So from the airport to the Piazza Navona (inside the Aurelian wall) should be a flat 48 euros. We were told, DO NOT get into a taxi until you have agreed on the price…so I was ready to fight for our fare.

We were pleasantly surprised to see a well organized taxi system that had drivers look at me weird when I checked the price. He pointed at the side of a taxi and said “Si!, Si! 48 euros.” And off we went for our 45 minute drive from Fiumicino airport to the Piazza Navona.

Now I’m fairly used to aggressive, fast driving since moving to the U.A.E., but the driving in Rome was on another level. The streets are small and crowded and the driving is FAST. At one point our taxi driver swerved into the tram lanes which I am hoping taxis are allowed to drive in. We drove down streets that were wide enough for one car and that, at home, we would consider a back alley. When he dropped us off at our destination, I was relieved and so thankful we didn’t have to drive anywhere else till we needed to head back to the airport.

We toured around the Piazza Navona and found a quaint corner cafe for breakfast. We had coffee, pastries and the most delicious fresh squeezed orange juice I think I have ever had. It was at this point that I knew Rome and I would get along well…

 

My sister, the planning whiz, found us a beautiful Air BnB right in the heart of Rome, steps from all the sights we would take in over the next 3 days. Angela and Kevin took incredible care of us and we loved our accommodations. If you are ever looking for a place in Rome, check out Romanitcasa Navona.

We dropped our stuff and immediately started exploring. What amazes me is that every street looks smaller than last but if you wander down what looks like a dead end or back alley, you will come across a plethora of shops and restaurants.

On our first day we saw the Castel Saint’Angelo, St. Peter’s Square, The Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. We walked 15 kms (mostly on cobblestone) and ate incredible pizza.

For dinner that first night, we wandered around a few corners from our house and found a little restaurant all lit up filled with locals. We figured that was a good sign and headed inside.

Now I didn’t know that for Italians, meals are a many course, multiple hour affair. You don’t often see people go in, order a pasta dish and then leave. There is antipasti, pasta, meat dishes and then of course, dessert. So needless to say, they look at you a little weird when all you order is pasta. But what incredible pasta it was!

Ever since Andrew had watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation episode on Rome, he was dying to try Cacio E Pepe. A simple recipe of pasta, cheese and pepper. He found it on the menu and his choice was made. I had a smoky salmon pasta and Liz and Mom had a bacon/asparagus pasta. It was an incredible meal! I could barely finish my pasta, but luckily I have Andrew who will always take one for the team and finish anything I can’t eat. We were too full for dessert, but that didn’t compute for our waiter. He brought us a plate of biscotti cookies anyways. We couldn’t be rude…so we ate one or two.

Now if you know my family, you may be wondering where my brother in law was during this meal. Matt is Italian and he has been to Rome a few times before. He was looking forward to this part of his trip since he landed in the U.A.E with us. But unfortunately, Rome seems to hate my brother-in-law. Matt was sick the last time he was in Rome and this trip was no different. He was suffering from a severe head cold and all he wanted to do was sleep. Food didn’t have any taste (the worst thing that could happen to you in Rome) and once his head cold started to clear he had an allergic reaction to some mushrooms on a piece of pizza he ate.

Matt just wanted to hold Rome’s hand, and she kept slapping it away.

Day 2 in Rome included a full day in the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.

On the last Sunday of every month, the Vatican Museums are free for visitors. We decided to buy our tickets for the Saturday before, and we are glad we did! It allowed us to skip the lines and go right in. I can’t even imagine how long the lines would have been on the free Sunday.

We chose the audio tour which I would highly recommend. You can listen to as much or as little of the tour you would like. It gave lots of information about all the incredible things you get to see…which is good because after yet another wing of amazing paintings and statutes you begin to get desensitized to the grandeur of it all.

We found another gem of a restaurant around the corner from our place called La Campana. This restaurant claims to the be oldest restaurant in Rome.

Our first impression of the restaurant was not the greatest- when you walk in and the waiter asks if you have a reservation..the sighs a HUGE sigh when you say no…you kind of feel like you are putting them out. Thankfully they squeezed us in right close to the kitchen and I had probably the best eggplant Parmesan I have ever had.

Day 3 we saw the Pantheon and Colosseum and had the opportunity to hear the Pope speak in St. Peter’s Square.

Though everything he was saying was in Italian, it was an amazing opportunity to be there, hear him speak and receive a papal blessing.

Our final dinner in Rome was at a restaurant that claims to have invented the recipe for Fettuccine Alfredo. Now it was this night that we decided to eat like true Italians.

We had antipasti (cheese, meat, bread and various other goodies on an appetizer like platter)

Pasta dishes including the famous fettuccine Alfredo that is mixed at your table.

Meat courses-which we inhaled too quickly to get a picture of…

And who could pass up dessert?

Though our stay in Rome was short, it was jam packed full of wonderful sights and food. We loved it and hope, one day, to get back and explore the rest of Italy and all it has to offer.