Posts Tagged With: walking

Koh Rong, Cambodia’s Survivor Island

Cambodia’s islands are a place of mystery. In comparison to the Thai islands, they’re pretty much distant specks on the map. As I’ve said before, Cambodia is most famous for Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields. But once you’ve visited the Cambodian islands, it’s tough to stay away.

The most popular port for getting to most of the islands is the city of Sihanoukville, or “Kampong Som” in Khmer. If you look at the map below, you’ll see that Cambodia has two tiny peninsulas that jut out along the coast.  The left peninsula consists of Koh Kong and Botum Sakor National Park. The right peninsula has Sihanoukville and Ream National Park. This past January, we took a long weekend and headed down to the coast for a dip in the Gulf of Thailand.

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The town of Sihanoukville isn’t much in itself; the layout is rather disjointed and scattered across a series of hills. The beauty of the area reveals itself when you step onto the sprawling white sand beaches.

We arrived at the port in the morning, and were planning on catching a boat out to Koh Rong at around noon.

In the meantime, I snapped a photo of the ephemeral graffiti scene that seems to be making its way across Cambodia…

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Our destination was the island of Koh Rong. Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 6.44.28 PM

The journey to Koh Rong used to take a minimum of two hours. As you’d imagine, this greatly dissuaded us from visiting; there’s nothing worse than spending two hours leap-frogging over waves with an outboard motor under the penetrating sunshine.

Luckily, Koh Rong has a speedboat business now that cuts the trip down to forty-five minutes.

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Packed full of Khmer and foreigners alike, we held onto our lifejackets and started our journey.

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Now, a bit about the title of this post. To those who read local news, I like to think that Koh Rong is known as “Cambodia’s Survivor Island”. In 2013, the French version of Survivor, titled “Koh Lanta”, was filmed on Koh Rong. (Koh Lanta is actually an island in Thailand, but it wasn’t filmed there. Perhaps the producers thought that Koh Lanta sounded more romantic than Koh Rong?)

Here’s where it gets eerie. First, one of the contestants died from a heart attack during the filming of the show. Then, the television show’s resident doctor was found dead ten days later, having committed suicide in his bungalow. He left a note expressing his guilt over the heart attack of the contestant days prior. (To read more, click here.)

As if that’s not enough, the American television show Survivor is currently being filmed on the island as we speak. No joke. As stated in The Cambodia Daily, filming began this spring and is expected to conclude in July.

But to be clear, Koh Rong is not as remote as primetime television may lead you to believe.

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It is one of the more touristy islands of Cambodia. From the snorkeling and dive companies to new restaurants that pop up daily with fried rice and banana pancakes, some say that Koh Rong is a backpacker’s paradise.

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We did expect it to be full of tourists, but I didn’t quite anticipate how crowded the little stretch of beach would be. Since there’s no roads on Koh Rong, all the shops and bungalows open right onto the beach. This leads for a continual stream of bikini-clad tourists and pounding bass long into the night.

They’ve even got a pharmacy for tourists right at the pier once you get off the boat. Need some stitches? They’ve got you covered. What about typhoid? Ear cleaning? Or how about just some basic “cleaning stuff”? And while you’re at it, why not a blood test?

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We didn’t want to stay on this part of the island. Luckily, we didn’t have to.

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I booked our time at Pura Vita resort, a tiny series of bungalows on a secluded stretch of the island. Pura Vita means “pure life” in Italian, and is well-reviewed for being a clean and comfortable place far away from the hustle and decadence of the main part of the island. We were picked up by our hotel and jetted off across the bay and around the corner, to a truly quiet stretch of the island.

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And it was perfect.

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There was no one here except for some morning joggers, the other guests at our hotel, and our lovely host, Vanny. In her mid fifties, Vanny is a Cambodian woman who fled the country during the Khmer Rouge and grew up in Canada with her family. She ran a restaurant for most of her life, but had a dream to return to where she was born. So, with her kids enrolled in college, she bought a patch of land on the island, and started pursuing her dream. If you ever visit Koh Rong, definitely stay at Pura Vita and have a cup of coffee with Vanny. She’s great.

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We spent our days watching the waves, swimming, and walking along the gorgeous 7 kilometer long beach.

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And, sometimes, I did feel like we were on the set of Survivor. 13

As idyllic as it was, we were curious about that rag-tag stretch of restaurants by the pier. So, we spent one afternoon walking from our stretch of beach across the island over to the main area.

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Even though it got a bit more touristy, it was still equally as beautiful.

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As we settled into lunch, we ordered our meals and some smoothies to quench our thirst. Little did we know that you got “One free beer with every meal.” (You can actually see the chalkboard advertisement behind my sister in the above photo.) It was definitely one of those “Only in Southeast Asia…” moments.

And of course, a trip to an island isn’t complete without some swimming.

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The water was perfect. The sand was soft. The sun was warm. The air was clean. The palms were swaying. And we were in love.

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Will I go back to Koh Rong? Absolutely. But not to stay at the main port, nor as a contestant on a reality television show. I think I like the “pura vita” just fine. 

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Hong Kong: Walk, Eat, Walk, Eat, Repeat

What do you think of when you hear “Hong Kong”? Perhaps you think of the tiny plastic emblem on the bottom of your childhood toys, Made in Hong Kong. Maybe you think of steaming platters of dim sum. Maybe you think, well, “Somewhere in Asia”. I don’t blame you.

Before I was sent there for a workshop, I suppose I imagined all of the above, and that’s pretty much it. I had no idea Hong Kong is a heaving metropolis of buildings, a salt-shaker of islands, cerulean water lapping against the steamy tropics of national parks, which shadow the perfectly paved roads with sleek BMW’s hugging the yellow line as they curve around jagged peaks heading towards the latest night club for smooth jazz and artisanal cocktails.  You can walk down the Avenue of Stars and marvel at Jackie Chan’s handprint, shop for Armani Exchange, Calvin Klein, or Victoria’s Secret in the sky-scrapping shopping malls, hike to the peak of a national park while keeping an eye out for venomous snakes, or chopstick dumplings in a bustling dimly lit alley way. All in an hour.

See what I did there? Hong Kong.

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Even though I was only there for five days, my mantra become, “Eat, walk, eat, walk, repeat.” If you don’t enjoy walking, you better love taxis, as Hong Kong is a city of staircases, sloping hills, and sidewalks, all begging to be traversed. In my opinion, there was an old-city feel to it, almost like New York City. It didn’t feel ultra-modern; instead there was a dance between the old and the new, the West and the East.
IMG_2013This is Pottinger Street, in the Central district of Hong Kong. Famous for their costume shops, Pottinger is a street full of staircases, vendors, and throngs of people huffing and puffing their way to the next destination.
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I picked up a few key elements of our Halloween costumes on Pottinger. In Hong Kong, you have to bargain hard; what starts off at 300 Hong Kong Dollars quickly drops to 120, but only if you ask.
IMG_2017Every afternoon our workshop finished, we had time to explore the city. And what better way to explore than on foot? Can you tell what this kitschy red shop specializes in? Hair cuts! Try and peek through the door to the barber—you can see him if you squint. With the candy cane barber’s pole, it was like something out of a mid-century magazine.
IMG_2020If you know me, you haven’t truly visited a country unless you explore their culinary landscape. In Hong Kong, it’s dumplings, noodle soup, and dim sum. And my goodness, is it divine. I know those dumplings don’t look appetizing, but, trust me, there’s nothing better than a savory bowl of Hong Kong noodles and tender, seasoned dumplings. And don’t forget the chili oil, which this restaurant, Sam Tor, is famous for.
IMG_2031Our workshop was held on the southern part of Hong Kong island in the Aberdeen district. Can you imagine having this view from the window of your classroom?
IMG_2044After we got off work, we headed up to The Peak, which is the highest mountain on Hong Kong island. It has an elevation of 1,818 feet. The view from the top, as you can see, is absolutely stunning.

 

 

IMG_2052After the peak, we headed to yet another noodle shop. I loved all the chaos and color. Another thing about Hong Kong, which I think happens in all major cities and may just be new to me, is that when you get to a packed restaurant, they sit you at a table with a total stranger. It was a bit of a novelty to me—to be sitting directly across from someone you don’t know—slurping your noodles in peaceful silence. Luckily, that stranger always spoke English and helped me navigate the menu and place my order. 9 times out of 10 I said, “I’ll just have what you’re having.”

 

IMG_2057Another afternoon of walking brought me to a fish store.

 

 

IMG_2058I have never seen anything like this before… it reminds me of carnivals when I was a kid.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2059The fish photo happened when I took the metro from the Central district of Hong Kong across the bay and over to Mong Kok.

 

IMG_2060Did you know that Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997?

 

IMG_2065A city is not complete without its share of buskers. This guy was performing some fantastic acrobatics and balancing acts. Next to him was a man dancing to Michael Jackson.

 

 

 

IMG_2073I had gone out with a friend I met at the workshop on this day, and we decided to check out a restaurant famous for pudding and scrambled eggs. It was called the “Australia Dairy Company”, and is apparently pretty historic. Trust me, it sounds just as weird to me as it does to you. And guess what? The almond vanilla pudding was the best I ever had. Honest. The whole place had a kind of 1950’s diner feel to it. Just look at those plates, and how artificially fluffy that white bread is!

 

IMG_2074Again, you’ve not been to Asia if you haven’t eaten street food. And for me, it’s stinky tofu. Or really, fermented tofu that smells kind of like a sewer. I love it—kind of in the way that Germans love sauerkraut. Must be in my genes.

 

IMG_2078On my way home on my final night, I took the ferry across the bay, back to Hong Kong island.

 

IMG_2088And when I got to my hotel, I had a message on my television that all of a sudden made the Hong Kong protests very real. All transportation had been shut down to Central, Admiralty, and Wan Chai. I was visiting Hong Kong during their largest week of protests. However, the next morning I had to hop in a taxi to get to the airport by 6:30am, so I was not able to witness the history. But I do have this photograph of my hotel tv!

 

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We Sail Tonight For Singapore

Not so long ago, Sean and I were student teaching in Madison, Wisconsin. When it came time to start the job search, we applied to the Singaporean public school system. Trust me, it felt as surreal as it sounds.  This was before we knew about overseas recruitment fairs. A professor of Sean’s recommended we apply to Singapore, and that she’d put in a good word for us. (As she “knew people” in Singapore.)

We sent our paperwork off and waited a few days. To our surprise, we received an email telling us to go to the Town Bank building on the capitol square at 10:30 at night. There, we would buzz the entrance to the complex, be led to an empty conference room on the seventh floor in the pitch dark, and conduct a video interview with the Singapore school board. We did all this, and were offered a position within the week.

Why am I telling you this? Because we visited Singapore this past month for the first time, and I couldn’t help but think about how our lives would have been different had we accepted the job.

Not only that, but my student teaching supervisor kept singing the Tom Waits song, “We sail tonight for Singapore” as we contemplated accepting the job or not.

Needless to say, there was something that didn’t feel quite right, and we politely declined the offer.

After tasting Singapore’s food and walking there streets, maybe I would have said differently all those years ago…

 

IMG_1719We were there for a conference, and settled into a nearby hawker center for a drink and an Indian meal. Tiger beer is the iconic beverage of Singapore, and due to its international nature, Indian food can be found on every menu.

 

IMG_1722A hawker center is a bit like an open-air food court. People order an iced tea, a meal, or just a snack and rest for a while on the plastic chairs.

IMG_1728As Asian as the hawker center felt, there was so much that was British and colonial about the country.  Such as the absurd pictures for bathrooms in the hotel.

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IMG_1736A morning photo down the street as we walked to the subway. Yes, Singapore is as clean as it’s rumored to be. Also, everything is in English, and the cars are impeccably clean and modern. I think it must be a literalcrime to own an old car in Singapore.

 

IMG_1743The famous “No durians” subway sign! You actually cannot take a durian on the subway. The poor, ostracized fruit. I feel bad for the durian; it is the object of everyone’s contempt despite its luscious meaty interior and pungent, unique aroma.

But seriously. The smell of a durian is like boiling a pot of gym socks, onions, vomit, and sangria. Anthony Bourdain described it as “Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.” And he loves durian.

Me? I’ve only ever had durian ice cream. And I liked it. A lot. Honest! It was that type of flavor where the initial taste is slightly repulsive, but the mouthfeel and lingering aftereffect is mouthwateringly curious. You aren’t quite sure whether you like it or not, but you can’t stop eating. I once read an article about a couple who moved to Southeast Asia because they became obsessed with the taste of durian. (You can read more here.) Animals can detect the smell half a mile away.

No wonder it’s forbidden on public transportation.

IMG_1751Another Singaporean classic: The Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

IMG_1788We settled into a restaurant across the water from the hotel and watched the evening light and sound show. All of Singapore felt a little like Disneyland.

IMG_1794After our final day of the conference, we had an evening to explore. As our hotel was in the shopping district, we decided to take it easy and see what the surrounding streets had to offer. It was a bit like being downtown Chicago.

IMG_18077-Eleven is another Southeast Asian ubiquity. We don’t have them yet in Cambodia, but their presence everywhere else is simply astounding.

IMG_1811When it was time for dinner, we went to a food court. That’s right, a food court. Why, you ask? So we could order the following:

Kim’s Meal: Barley tea and nasi lemak (The national dish consisting of coconut rice, fried fish and chicken, and spicy sauce.)

Sean: Pink juice and pepperoni pizza

Like I said, Singapore has something for everybody.
IMG_1824To end our multicultural evening, we stumbled across an outdoor art exhibit. Just when you think you can’t get any more “Wow, I’m really in Asia,” you see a giant glittering dragon. I love it.

 

Categories: Singapore | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How To Know When You’ve Fallen In Love (With A Country)

We all know the feeling. The rushing, pulsing of your blood. The grin. That stupid, cotton-candy grin. The wide eyes. The slack jaw. The wonder. The mystery. The fascination. The endless adoration. You’ve fallen in love.

In my life, I have fallen in love with one man, and three countries.

When you fall in love with a country, you go through the same system of shock and awe. You cannot get enough of the country; it courses through your veins. You hate to fall asleep because it will only separate you from spending another day with it. And when you leave, it is a bittersweet flight of tears. You begin a long-distance relationship, bound to return.

What were the three countries, you ask?

1. New Zealand

2. Sri Lanka

3. Thailand

If this has happened to you, you’re probably nodding your head along with me. If this hasn’t happened, to you, visit http://www.skyscanner.com and start looking up some flights!

Anyways, this new-found love of mine is with Thailand. We had to fly to Bangkok in the beginning of January as it was time for our next job fair.

Yes, we have decided to move on from Kuwait. This is our last year here as we had only signed a two-year contract. This means we’ve only got three and a half months to enjoy this, interesting, country left! I better stop blogging about other countries and start blogging about the one I actually live in!

Why have we decided to move on, you ask? Well, it’s not because of the school. We love our school. It is a perfect fit for us. We love our students, we love the people we work with, we love the IB program. We are only moving on because of the climate and geography. We can’t sustain life in the desert. It’s been a nice, sunny, warm two years, but we need more outdoor recreation.

We flew to Bangkok for the recruitment fair, which is a hectic, four day chaotic event. Luckily, we had done our homework, and arrived cool, calm, and collected.

We had quite a few interviews…

Even quite a few job offers… and….

Drumroll please….

We accepted positions in Cambodia!

That’s right, tropical, beautiful, lush, Southeast Asia. Miles of quiet beaches, elephants, monkeys, temples, color, flowers, love, life, smiles, music, dancing, iced coffee on the street and cold beer at night. Cambodia. Angkor Wat. We couldn’t be happier. Further, the school we signed with is also an IB school; check it out at ‘Northbridge International School’ in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is the capital. We’ve got family friends who live there and rave about it. We are incredibly excited.

So, maybe you can say I’ve fallen in love with a country I haven’t even been to yet…

But first, Bangkok. We only got to snap a few pictures because we were at the job fair the entire time, then had to fly back to Kuwait to work. We did get out and about a bit, though, which I am excited to share with you.

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Out of the airport, we took the metro all the way downtown Bangkok to our hotel. I loved how clean and organized the city was!

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A street in downtown Bangkok. I loved all the dogs that lounged around! Look at how clean and green it was…. *sigh*

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Just some alley with cool architecture. Yeah, I can’t wait to live in Southeast Asia.

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A tuk tuk. It’s like a taxi, but far more dangerous.

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One afternoon we had free, we decided to walk around a bit. We found this ordeal going on outside a restaurant. I am not sure what kind of animal it is, but everyone sure was excited to cut it open.

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You can tell by the script behind these men that it is a Japanese restaurant, and I even wonder if the picture on the wall is the animal they’re cutting up. What do you think?

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Sean loved this picture of men playing chess on their break. I loved how everyone was socializing with each other! Just relaxing outside, enjoying each other’s company. The whole city made me feel so happy.

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After we signed the contract with Cambodia, we had a free day to enjoy Bangkok. Unfortunately, and most likely due to all of the stress and travel, Sean became quite sick and stayed holed up in the hotel watching television and coughing. I gave him spoonfuls of cough syrup, bought him lunch, hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, and started my own walking tour of Bangkok.

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I loved all the temples (and color!) everywhere.

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I took a water taxi to another part of the city. Look at all these homes built right on the river.

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A view of a temple (that I read was built in Cambodian style) across the river.

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When I got off the boat, I found a street vendor selling pad thai. I sat down at her table and ate the most delicious pad thai of my life. How much did it cost? 60 Thai Baht, or $2. Paradise. (And all you flower lovers, can you spot the orchids sprinkling her kitchen? Love it!)

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Want some dried fish?

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I’m pretty sure this was at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

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This guy was creepily life-size. I expected him to turn and look at me!

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Outside a monastery for the Buddhist monks. IMG_4335

Ssssh, I snuck a picture inside the monastery where the monks live!

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I don’t know what concerns me more, the mass amount of people or the massive amount of power lines…
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An intersection in Bangkok.

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A road that I just hated. I had heard that it would be fun to see “Khao San Road”, so I decided to check it out. What a mistake that was. Thank goodness I went during the day and not at night. It was a drunken tourist trap! I can only imagine what else is going on behind closed doors here…IMG_4330

I only stuck around long enough to take a few pictures and laughingly continue on my way. Adios, Khao San Road. No thanks.

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A Chinese school in Bangkok : )IMG_4337

After all this walking around, I decided to grab some fried banana strips. Mmmmm! (I love the middle east for their hummus, but as a vegetarian they really don’t have anything you can eat on a stick. I don’t eat kebab or shawarma, that’s for sure.)

IMG_4340I returned back home to my loving husband, who claimed he was feeling a bit better. I got us some fried rice and we celebrated our successful job fair, and looked forward to an exciting future in Southeast Asia.

Well, there you have it. If you were motivated by the beginning of my blog, and want to travel somewhere new, come see us this fall in the land of palm trees, coconuts, and ancient temples. Hopefully I will speak enough of the language by then, and Sean and I can help you fall in love with a country, like we have…

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tahrir Square, Cairo, And Blogging With One Hand

Hello again! I know it’s only been a few days between posts, but I am unable to go in to work today so I thought I’d make progress on sharing our trip to Egypt with you.

I can’t go to work today because I had surgery on my wrist yesterday. I had a strange build up of blood/fluid in my vessels around my wrist. The doctors used the words “hemangioma” and “blood-filled tumor” interchangeably, and honestly don’t know what caused it. It first arose five years ago when I was waitressing in college. The doctor I saw in the States just told me to sleep with a brace on, because it caused me pain the most when I slept. Over the next five years it would sporadically hurt and swell, and has been a continuous issue the past nine months here in Kuwait. Our insurance here is great and so is the medical care, so I had it removed at the behest of my orthopedist here. They say it’s benign, but have sent it to pathology, and we will know for sure in about a week. When they removed it the doctor said it was a mess, having swelled and clotted all around my muscles and veins. He did a great job though, and took all of it out. I think it’s from waiting tables and carrying massive tray of dishes and bus tubs for six years when my muscles were developing the most. Either way, it’s all better now.

But I should cut to the chase, seeing as I am only typing with my left hand. It takes me forever to peck out a simple sentence! My right hand is my dominant hand, too, which makes my left hand quite the pathetic typist.

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Al Seef hospital in Kuwait. It was like a hotel suite in there! I felt so safe and well-taken care of. My lovely husband kept me company all day, too. I am so blessed.

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After they removed the wrapping, I was amazed at how small the surgery site actually was!

Okay, time to move on to our pictures from Egypt. I will keep you updated on the wrist, I promise. For now, though, let’s focus on Cairo!

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Sean at Tahrir Square. It was very, very quiet. I was paranoid we’d be trammeled by protesters, but it was just guys drinking coffee and snapping pictures of the place with their cell phones. We sat in a cafe for a while on the edge of the square and marveled at it all.

IMG_3789Street art around the square.

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There is so much meaning going on in every inch of art. I love it!

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A view of Tahrir Square from another angle. Can you see the hanging effigy doll? That was the strangest thing in the whole place. Everything else was calm and subdued.

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After Tahrir Square, we wanted to explore Cairo on foot. This is the view from the Kasr Al Nil Bridge, crossing over the Nile River.

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Another shot of the Nile. What did YOU picture the Nile looking like before these photos? I sure didn’t picture it cradled in a metropolis!

IMG_3809We found the museum of modern art!

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Sean took this picture of me and my parents admiring the revolutionary art. It was an amazing place; you were able to see what the young artists of Cairo thought of the revolution in every piece of art.

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An example of the art in the museum. Sean liked this particular painting.

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Emily taking a break to smell the roses on Zamalek Island. (The posh district of Cairo, an actual island on the Nile.)

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A great little cafe where we feasted on sandwiches and tea after our long walk around Cairo. Don’t you love the greenery in every picture? Cairo has trees and plants every where : )

IMG_3830My mom, happy with all the sightseeing, and proud she braved Tahrir Square!

If you’re thinking of traveling to Egypt, don’t hesitate! Book your flight today. We had so much fun in Cairo, and felt so safe and welcomed the entire time. Don’t be fooled by the CNN effect!

That’s all for today, next post will be on Luxor, and hopefully with an update on my wrist!

Categories: Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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