Dear Aletha

It’s been a while since my last blog post but while browsing through Google Keep, my new obsession as I LOVE lists, I came across a letter I had written to my dear friend, Aletha.

It is a recount of my trip to Egypt and was written on my 2-3 hour flight from Istanbul to Paris using my phone. I never sent it. Now two months later, I’m reading this letter, looking back at the photos and am feeling the vibes of the country again so here goes.

Aletha, if you’re reading, this one’s for you! Wink*

 


 

Dear Aletha,

I am currently on the plane from Istanbul to Paris. It has been an extremely long flight that started at 3am this morning and not a particularly comfortable one at that.

A female official in Turkey was trying to make my life difficult and did such a good job of it that I was literally fuming. The problem? She couldn’t find my stamp of entry and was looking at my previous visas.
So I tried to show her and she asked me to step aside! A whole queue of people couldn’t advance as we were blocking the progression of the line and was being watched like a theatre piece because of this foolish woman.
Normally, I’d be a lot more patient but I haven’t slept in 36 hours and I have a huge spot above my right eyebrow.

egypt5

Ahhhhh…all complaints aside, Egypt has been a wonderful experience. You’ve probably seen from some of my posts on Facebook and Instagram how much I’ve enjoyed my stay. As a child, I was an avid reader of Egyptian history books and watched almost every Mummy movie there was. As you can imagine, for me to see real life hieroglyphs etched into almost every surface available on every tomb and temple we visited was a dream come true!

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We swam in the Red Sea and saw an aquarium of fish, then took a boat to cross the Nile River the following day. All these important landmarks we’ve heard and read about, I got to see with my own eyes. They are all the more impressive when bathed in the golden sunlight so unique to Egypt!

egypt1However, the country is still fresh out of its civil war/ second revolution but is in full development. The people praise the current president, calling him a “visionary” and it is true! He has built the roads and the housing he promised them but as all this is still work in process, many parts of Egypt look “war-ridden”.
The villages and cities have a worn down, dilapidated look about them and where we were in the south, people are still very religious and traditional.

egypt

To illustrate what I mean, there was a shisha tent on the beach at the Movenpick resort in Hurghada and one of the men employed by the Jamaican Rastafarian looking, Bob Marley loving, hash smoking Egyptian owner called Mustafa told us an otherworldly story about how his first wife was his own cousin and how she spread rumours about how he was unable to produce offspring. He was so heartbroken by what the village was whispering about him that he made his way to the Arabian gulf to work for ten years where he met his second wife. This wife gave him a son who’s now eight months old and of course, he went back to the village to celebrate and “take his revenge”. What an incredible story huh?! Never did I even stop to think for two seconds that there are still people who lead such lives and marry into their own family.

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Anyway, continuing on the topic of conservatism in the country, women still wear burkas like uniforms and the only time I’ve ever even seen women around and about were in schools so at least they have the right to an education but I have rarely seen women in the workplace. When we went to Luxor, it took me a couple hours to figure out why something seemed…off, just not quite right…and then it hit me: there were literally no women. Not in the museums, the souvenir shops, the restaurants etc. And it makes me wonder…do they feel suppressed or is it the whole “what one doesn’t know can’t hurt them” situation? What do you think?

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So all this just to bring us to my one real disappointment on this trip: that there is such a disconnect between ancient Egypt (which was such a progressive civilization during its time) and the Egypt of today, almost completely destroyed by extremist Muslims.
Emphasis on ‘extremist’. I am not at all against any religion, race, colour or what have you but the extremists of each group do not make me feel very comfortable.
This includes vegans who resort to converting others by spreading the “good word”, or rather by sharing gory videos of animal abuse. I sympathise but this isn’t the proper way to go about things.

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One thing has to be said though and that is one doesn’t need much to be happy. The Egyptians embody this humble spirit better than most people I’ve met. It is truly eye-opening when you see those with much less, much happier and more grateful than you are. They have such a hunger and a thirst to succeed so they work very hard but their smiles never falter. I’m sure we all know this but it is easy to forget when you live in such a strong consumerist society and when you have social media and the stress of a fast-paced, city life. 


 

Strangely, I never signed off but then again, in my own bizarre fashion, I never sent this letter either. 

But there you have it!

Aletha, I was thinking of you and didn’t forget about my pen pal but as usual, life sweeps us away.

egypt 6

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Sicily: Day 2 Taormina

DAY 2 – Taormina

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Taormina has got to be my favourite city out of all the ones we visited, and trust me, we visited quite a few during our short-lived nine day trip. Why Taormina then? This city definitely has a few more tourists than the rest but is also one of the livelier ones with bars and clubs every few metres. Every corner you turn is a feast for the eyes, architecturally speaking. The girls here can be seen donning stylish jumpsuits and wedge heels.



The day before, we had bumped into two holidaymakers as we were hauling our luggage into our cosy room in Villa Magara. The two energetic ladies were about to finish their trip and had enigmatically told us about how Taormina was rather posh, which really wasn’t their thing, but do try a granita* at Bam Bar.

Hallelujah! Thank God we bumped into them because as instructed, we found the charming, little, family-owned establishment right on the corner of a street. Our travel guide had listed this particular spot as well so it was a must-see and honestly, this place deserves a special mention because I had THE BEST granita of my life here. The granita tasted like real fruit and the flavours all blended perfectly. The rich chocolate granita was topped off with a flower of fresh cream so of course, this isn’t a low-in-calory moment but it was one I’d never forget! One thing you must remember is that Bam Bar is PACKED. We waited half an hour for a table!

*Granita: a course textured ice confection typically made from fruit – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

bam bar

The Garden of Villa Comunale is where we saw our first wedding; we saw two in total. The nervous bride, apparently from the UK, walked down the stairs with her father as the wedding guests and the visitors of the public gardens stood by and gawked at the procession. It was a perfect location for a wedding and the weather was gorgeous! How romantic to be wed one summer’s day on the island of Sicily…

 

 

Not To Be Missed:

(I won’t be listing churches or cathedrals as each city has hundreds! You can’t miss them!)

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Restaurants:

  • Bam Bar – Full description above
  • Timoleone CaféA jewel in the heart of Taormina. The place is cosy, quiet and more or less “hidden” which makes for a lovely escape from the constant site seeing and visiting. The staff spoke amazing english and was very professional!

    timoleone


Accommodation:

  • La Finestra sul Mare – A bed and breakfast owned by Giovanni which we found on Airbnb. The room was large with a bathroom and a completely furnished kitchen on the way in. You have a terrace facing the ocean which looks splendid at sun set in all its pink and orange magnificence. Breakfast is provided for approximately 7-8 euros and you get dinner cooked by Giovanni and his wife for an extra 20-25 euros.

Sicily: Day 1 Cefalu

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Nine days of non-stop travelling around the island, a different city each night and several foodie discoveries! Below is a recount and a few tips on how we managed.

What you absolutely must not forget to pack:

  1. COMFY SHOES! A pair of trainers is a must, flip-flops for the beach and some casual summer shoes should suffice! Wedges are alright if you absolutely must but you definitely won’t be needing your heels, girls!
  2. Sunscreen – You will need a lot of it especially when exposed to the Sicilian sun.
  3. A hat – Most useful for preventing a heat stroke
  4. A guide – because even if you do buy 3G/Internet, chances are, you won’t be getting a strong signal all the time. For the francophones out there, we found Le Routard to be most useful!

 

Recommended:

  1. Go right before or after peak season. Two return tickets with Easyjet for two adults were only 200 euros before peak season (we went around late June, early July) whereas a friend had paid 600 euros because his flights were during peak season.
  2. Book a car for your trip if you want to see several spots around the island autonomously which is how we did all the cities and spots below in nine days. We booked with Europcar who are more or less reliable but their Sicilian branch aren’t the best at answering their phones!
  3. Book accommodation via Booking.com (this website worked the best for us) and always go for the bed and breakfasts! They tend to be cheaper, especially before peak season where a night will cost you only 35-60 euros for two.

 

What To Remember:

  1. Sometimes there is a “coperto” or in other words, a cover charge for restaurants. It can be anywhere from 1-3 euros per person.
  2. Sicilian restaurants are incredibly generous in terms of portion. Usually, a meal at an Italian restaurant consists of:
    • antipasti (starter) – fresh salads, platters etc.
    • primo piatto (first dish) – usually risotto or pasta
    • secondo piatto (second dish) – meat or fish
    • contorni (side dish)
    • dolce (dessert)

Italians will typically have all of the above for a special meal but if you’re dining with one other person, most Italians will share a starter and order one primo piatto each. In my case, we often shared the full menu since we wanted to try as many different dishes as we could. Most of our meals came up to 30 euros on average.

  1. Parking can be expensive, ranging from 7-10 euros for a few hours…However, most of our bed and breakfast hosts provided free parking! The cheapest parking was at the Riserva naturale dello Zingaro where we paid only 3 euros for the whole day.

 

DAY 1 – Cefalu
We landed in Palermo early and picked up our
rental car (an adorable mini Fiat) at the airport. Most of the morning was spent driving to Cefalu which was a one hour and a half drive from Palermo airport. We arrived at midday where we lunched by the beach and ordered way too much food as it was our first day and we were completely unaware of the copious Sicilian portion sizes.

All in all, Cefalu is a lovely, little seaside town with charming beaches dotted around its harbour. Though it didn’t make my favourites list, it was a lovely welcome to the beautiful island of Sicily.

 

Not To Be Missed

 

Restaurants

Popular with tourists as their outdoor dining area sits directly in front of the ocean. Perfect spot for watching the sun set over dinner but rather expensive coperto if memory serves me well…

 

Accommodation

Daniella was a gracious host! She spoke English and the check-in time was relatively flexible! The location is excellent and provides an amazing view of the city. The pool was a huge plus and the breakfast was laden with sweet and savoury pastries and breads for only 4 euros per person! The one and only downside was perhaps the mosquitoes but you will be given two repellents: one for inside the room and the other to be placed outside the apartment.

 thepool

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