Saturday, July 10, 2010

The one month trip - in a nutshell (Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Turkey)

Budget, time-frame, likes, dislikes - it's all here.
In case you didn't have the patience to read all previous post from our recent trip, then you'll find below a short sum-up, plus some additional information.

Budget: 1500 euro - each.
That was the maximum amount we were comfortable spending, but we had an emergency surplus of 300 more euros. So, 1800 per person, split in half: cash and credit card. When we got to Turkey for the second time - close to the end of the trip - we realized that we spent far less than expected: around 1000 euros each. Not bad at all since we couchsurfed only four times and stayed at hotels for the rest of the trip (budget hotels recommended by the Lonely Planet guide). In the end, the overall cost was around 1200 euros per person.

Egypt: June 6 - June 16 (Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Dahab).
What we liked:
- All the places we saw - in this order: Karnak temple, Pyramids, Phylae and Abu Simbel temples, Valley of the Kings, Luxor temple;
- Dahab: a very affordable resort; a great place for relaxation and snorkeling (or diving) in the near blue lagoon with its coral reef and marine fauna. Dahab is one of the cheapest places in the world, for taking diving classes and earning a diving permit.
- Aswan city: cleaner than Cairo and Luxor, more relaxed and with an awesome Nile view.
- Egypt itself as a very affordable destination (if you bargain all the time and dodge the scams). A budget hotel room, with breakfast included and air-conditioning - was around 10 euros per night (some hotels even have a pool on the rooftop and sometimes a nice view over the area). There's also the alternative of sleeping in the roof garden and paying substantially less (we never did that, but it can help a lot in cutting down the overall costs).
- The one hour hot-air balloon flight.

What we didn't like (that much):
- The touts with their lies and exaggerated insistence. We won't forget too soon this overused phrase: "I have good price for you - my friend - Egyptian price" :)
We had a guy following us for 3-4 minutes, trying to convince us that he works for the government and that we can trust him (in giving him money for some services that he failed to mention). We had another one asking us three times in the same day - if we want a "calesh" - each time with the same emphasis, although we turned down his offer repeatedly. The second day he shouted "I feel lucky today" :) ..and everything started all over again.. At the pyramids we probably had the worst experience with the touts, since there were more of them than tourists - and they practically stayed in line for offering a horse, camel or a souvenir. It didn't matter that we already turned down three of them, the 4th/5th and so on - presented their similar offer with the same high hopes as the 1st one. And they came back after 30 minutes, probably hoping that we've changed our minds.. or that we'll break in the end under pressure.In train stations we got the famous reply "the hotel you're going to doesn't exist anymore, it burned! ..Let me take you to my cousin's cheap hotel". Some hotels give them a commission that you actually end-up paying, since it's added to your bill; so, don't show up at a hotel's reception followed by a tout. In bazaars it's really intensive; they put themselves in front of you and start presenting their offers and shops; they also throw scarfs or other clothing pieces - on women (holding one end and making the other one land on their shoulder or head).
- The taxi drivers with their sound pollution.
They use the horn as a second nature when driving - and also every time they notice you. Many of them slow down, get near the sidewalk and ask directly if you need a cab. After two / three hours wondering through the city's streets, you may develop either a headache or a mental shield against them; put your hopes in the latter :)
- The shop owners who shout and start following you to present their offers - as soon as they notice you on the sidewalk, or after showing a bit of interest in their shop (a simple glance is sometimes enough to get them started).
- The omnipresent trash in the cities - and the lack of garbage bins. People just throw garbage everywhere and told us to do the same - whenever we asked for a garbage disposal of some kind. They told us they get rid of it during the night, when it is gathered in piles - in the middle of the street - and burned..
- The men staring undisturbed at women all the time, even when dressed modest.
- Feeling like a "cash cow" / "walking euro coin" - because the vast majority of people try all possible means of getting your money (without stealing directly though - we felt safe from this point of view). With some small exceptions, you don't find prices displayed - and it doesn't take long to realize that most people don't care about you when asking personal questions. They are actually assessing your financial power - so that they can set the price. As a tourist you never get the right price, it starts 10-15 times higher (sometimes even more) and never goes down enough to be a fair price. There are Egyptian prices for locals and special prices for tourists; bargaining is your tool for decreasing the difference between those two extremes.

What we'll miss:
- I would have said Guava juice first :) ..but we managed to find it in Romania as well.
- The hassle (just a bit). It was fun after getting the hang of it.. joking with the touts is the best way of dealing with them. Ignoring works even better, but there's no fun in that, is it?
- Falafel - one of the most affordable foods there; it was good, vegetarian and it helped in spending less on food and invest more in sightseeing.

Before going forward to the next countries, I would like to stress out the fact that even if there were those things that we didn't like that much, it was totally worth experiencing them.
In fact, this was the reason we chose not to have the "fairytale experience" one can have with the help of travel agencies and prearranged things, but to discover and understand other cultures by interacting as much as possible with locals and their daily routine.

Jordan: June 17 - June 19.
In Jordan we went straight to Petra, then shared a taxi from Wadi Musa to Amman, stopped at the Dead Sea, at a crusader's castle and in a natural reservation. Amman was just a one hour stop on our the way to Syria - Damascus.
So, we have little to say about the country itself. But, we can say a few words about the places we visited:
- Petra: breathtaking.. one of the most astounding creations we saw in this trip. It's one of the places we'll wish to revisit in the future, along with Cappadocia in Turkey and Damascus in Syria. For more details about Petra, you should check this post.
- The Dead Sea: it was totally worth making a detour for swimming in it and experiencing the effortless buoyancy. Actually, it was one of the strongest reasons we chose to pay more for a taxi through the King's Way, rather than a direct bus to Amman - through the desert way. With the taxi we could stop along the path in various places - and also travel on a more interesting road; but being able to stay for 1.5 hours at the Dead Sea sufficed in deciding between taxi and bus.
Here and here are two posts with more details about Jordan - as we experienced it.

Syria: June 20 - June 26 (Damascus, Hama and Aleppo).
After Egypt, we thought there won't be another country in this trip that will have such a strong impact on us. We're glad we were wrong; Syria did have a strong impact - a positive one.
- Damascus was great. We spent most of the time wondering through the old city, especially in interesting Souq they have. And what a Souq it is! A roof punctuated by bullet holes that tinkle like stars on the night sky. Bullet holes from machine guns fired by planes during the nationalist rebellion in 1925.

Also, there is intriguing merchandise and a great ice-cream shop loved by the locals, making it a good place for people watching. We did abuse of ice-cream like never before - while staying in Damascus. It was the ice-cream's fault of course was soo good :)
- Hama: a relaxed town with interesting and unique water wheels that make a mourning like sound when turning (from wood on wood friction).
- Aleppo: just half a day in this town, and enough time only to wonder through the small and intricate pathways from one of the biggest Souqs we've seen.
My only disappointment was that I did not encounter the donkeys carrying merchandise - as described in the guide. However, we had an interesting 20 minutes talk with a local entrepreneur - about his experiences and results in foreign currency trading.

What we didn't like:
It would have been nice not to have any annoyances to report, but when getting out of the country - at the border with Turkey, were asked to pay a fee called "exit permit" - 500 Syrian ponds each ..the equivalent of 10 ice-creams in Damascus :)
Also, we learned that Syria lack quite a lot when it comes down to human rights. Except for the internet restrictions - we didn't feel anything else on our skin, but we've read about some of the problems it faces right now: controversial elections and the freedom of expression that is strictly controlled. Furthermore, there's the cult of personality that is not easy to explain: there are photos with the Bashar everywhere: in the back of the cars, in most shops, on walls ..and huge ones on advertisement panels. I've read that the president himself has asked the people not to display photos of him, but it's probably hard to stop this cult that started with his father.

Turkey: June 26 - July 5 (Istanbul, Cappadocia and Olympos).
The whole trip started with Turkey and also concluded with it.
We saw Istanbul twice and had the opportunity to follow the changes it experienced in just one month, from a relaxed city in the beginning of June - to the invasion of tourists - that started later in the same month.
There's nothing that we didn't like here, but there are a lot of things we enjoyed.
More than once, we both expressed the wish for revisiting this country in the near future.
Lets list everything below:
- Cappadocia: surreal landscapes and the most amazing sky we've ever seen! After watching the surroundings with our own eyes, we understood why scenes from Star Wars were filmed here; it's easy to pretend you are in another world. I wold definitely enjoy retracing our steps and hiking even further the next time we'll visit this place.

- Olympos: tree houses instead of normal hotels and a hippie like community placed in a valley surrounded by impressive mountain cliffs - that make you wonder if there really is a beach nearby. It is ..and it's amazing having this combination between mountains and sea side; the only drawback is the water that it's one of the coldest ones we've experienced so far (it was sunny while we stayed there, but the rains from the previous three days may have played a role in decreasing the water temperature).
- Istanbul: it's one of the main reasons we wish to revisit Turkey; there are still some things that we didn't see - and we'd definitely want to go go back to some places or wonder the streets to discover more. The athosphere is both familiar and different ..another thing hard to explain :)
It looks European, but there are a lot of small things that are either different or contradict that: you can see women completely covered and - in the same time - many local girls and women that don't appear Muslim at all; the street vendors sell and carry their merchandise in some three-wheeled contraptions; newspapers are also carried and delivered like this; other vendors carry the bagels on their heads.
It seems there is a successful combination between old and new, modern and rustic - right in the heart of the city.

What we'll miss:
- Our friends: Ercan and Ebru. They gladly hosted us twice and provided us with interesting insights to the Turkish culture.
- All the places we saw; hopefully we'll be able to go back sometime.
- The bazaars ..especially the spice bazaar with it's rainbow of different aromas that hit you the moment you step in.
- The call for prayer. It was present in all visited countries, but I found the one in Turkey more melodic and pleasant.
- Turkish tea and coffee. We bought their interestingly shaped tea glasses (tulip like shape), now it's time to learn how to properly prepare the drinks.

That's all for now..
We'll continue to sort through the 35 GB of photos and choose the best ones to share with you. We'll also think about all that we've learned - and how this trip has changed the way we see some of the things that surround us. An old idea is already pushing forward again: it's time for a change, a significant one.

1 comment:

black said...

Some little font problems there?

Also, 35gb of photos? Trigger-happy..

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