Monday 26 November 2007

A day in Istanbul (Day 15)

There was almost a three hour wait in front of us when we arrived to the Cairo airport. Our plane to Istanbul was scheduled for 2:30 AM.
When we finally landed in Turkey it was around 5 o'clock in the morning.
Wandering around airports, waiting for airplains always seems to tire me out. This time it was no different. Regardless of that, we have decided to take a day-trip to the center of Istanbul. Our other option was to wait at the airport for our flight to Ljubljana - more then six hours later.
Our last-time experience with prices on this same airport was not very pleasant (you can read more about that in this post). So with no real alternatives available we changed some of our money into Turkish Lira and caught a train to the city center.

The transport took quite a while. Once we got to the city center it was only time for a few things. First we went to see the Blue Mosque (a.k.a. Sultan Ahmed Mosque).

On our way to the mosque we went by Sultanahmet Square where stands one of the many obelisks that were taken from Egypt. If you ask me those things should be left in Egypt in the first place. I have been ranting about that before (you can read it in this post).

The Blue Mosque is one of two Turkish mosques with six minarets. When the number of minarets was revealed, the Sultan was criticized for presumption, since this was, at the time, the same number as at the mosque of the Ka'aba in Mecca. He overcame this problem by paying for a seventh minaret at the Mecca mosque.
We were quite impressed with its size and simple beauty.

By the time we were done with the mosque we were getting quite hungry. It was a perfect time to try a local stew called Chorba (or Çorba). It is a kind of lentil soup.
The first course of many meals in Turkey starts with some kind of soup and this is the most common one. Lentil soup is very healthy and is not prepared with heavy saturated fats. Because of its health benefits many Turkish babies/children grow up eating lentil soups.
So we had a delicious bowl of Çorba with hot crusty bread fresh out of the oven. Drizzly some lemon over and you have yourself a hardy meal for only a couple of Euros!

With our tummies full we went for a short stroll around the city center. Before we caught a train back to the airport we couldn't resist buying some Turkish souvenirs.

Our flight home went by as planned and around 5 PM we landed in Slovenia. The Egyptian adventure was over and has left us pretty much exhausted. On one hand it felt nice to be back home again, but on the other hand it was soon gonna be all work and boring routine again - I was missing Egypt already.
After getting to our flat we had a thorough shower and went strait to bed.

M. and I both slept like dead for the next 15 hours.


Friday 23 November 2007

Diving without a licence (Day 14)

Our last day in Egypt began (like the rest of them) with a clear blue sky and hot, hot sun above us.

The bigger part of our group wanted to take it easy by the hotel pool and enjoy a cocktail or two. M. and I have decided that we'll have enough time to rest when we get back home.
We have been quite busy these 14 days but we wanted to make the most of what was left of our time in Egypt. Who knows when (if ever) we'll be back again.

Not so long ago we were thinking of getting a PADI OWD diving license but in the end decided not to do it at that time. Since we didn't have a license we had to find some kind of an alternative. We didn't know it until then but you can get a taste of diving even without a license. It is called Introduction dive.
After some research we chose one of local diving agencies. They charged us €35 per person with transport and equipment included.

The vehicle that picked us up was not in a very good shape but we didn't mind it. After all it was the diving experience we were interested in.

When we arrived to the diving site we first had some paperwork to fill and equipment to try. Our instructor took us to the beach, where we listened to some theory. After a quarter of an hour we were ready for some hands on experience.
Another fifteen minutes of practice in waist deep water and we were swimming away for the real thing. Those few exercises help you learn a few basic things like emptying your mask underwater. It also helps your instructor to decide how deep can he take you.
I guess we did quite well because he took us under 10 meters. The dive itself took about a half an hour and we saw some serious fish. Among others there were some lionfish and parrotfish swimming around. We even saw a tuna.
Unfortunately we didn't take our camera with us that day. So no photos of me wearing all that diving equipment. I'm sure both of my readers will be really disappointed.

We really enjoyed it and have decided that if/when we decide to move on with our PADI license we will come back to Red Sea to do it. It's quite an alternative compared to learning in a swimming pool back at home. And most likely it would be even cheaper.

After returning to the hotel we had just enough time to grab a meal. We had a delicious portion of squids by the beach.
We didn't have much time to grab our bags from the hotel and stuff them into a minibus. Before we knew it we were looking at Dahab in our rear-view mirror.

About an hour into the desert we stopped at a police checkpoint. After a routine passport check our guide has realized that his documents were left at the Dahab hotel.
If we liked it or not we had to wait at a nearby cafe until the documents were delivered.

After a few cups of tea we were back on our way. This time we had no trouble passing through the checkpoint and into the desert.

Our driver was pushing the pedal to the metal. He didn't mind the traffic much and was overtaking everything and all the time. In one of such situations when there was also a car coming the opposite way, a loud bang could be heard. The driver somehow managed to maneuver the minibus to the edge of the road.
It was our rear right tyre.

My first thought was: 'Do we have a spare?' It wouldn't be very funny to be left in the middle of the desert with a flat tyre when you have a plane to catch.
At that time we were still more then 500 kilometers away from Cairo and at the same time our eventual replace ride was many hours away.

Fortunately we had a spare and soon enough the blown-to-shreds tyre was replaced and we were on our way again.

The rest of our trip went by without any further incidents. It was past midnight when we arrived to Cairo airport.


Tuesday 20 November 2007

Snorkeling at Blue Hole (Day 13)

A quick tour of our latest accommodation in Dahab revealed that this was the best hotel so far. It was really something completely different compared to the first one in Cairo. It even had a pool. The water inside the pool had a suspiciously greenish tone to it but we enjoyed a swim anyway.

Undeniably president Hosni Mubarak is a very important figure in Egypt (he has been the not-so-democratically-elected president of the country since 1981). You can see his image on almost every corner and Dahab is no exception. He is always waving and smiling at people passing by.

Early in the morning our guide arranged a ride to take us to the famous Blue Hole. It is one of the top diving sites in the world. The Blue Hole is just that - a very large hole over 200 m in diameter and dropping to over 80 m.
Obviously when snorkeling you shouldn't dive that deep. We didn't mind because there were just so many fish of all sizes and colors swimming around just below the surface. The coral reef begins at a depth of half a meter. We enjoyed every one of many trips to the water that day.

Judging by the stone and metal plates on a nearby rocky wall all of the divers don't settle for a reasonable depth. So once in a while the Red sea decides to chew somebody up and then after a while it spits him out or swallows him forever.

The time between snorkeling was mostly spent relaxing and enjoying delicious local drinks. We mostly drank freshly squeezed fruit juices and cocktails.
I also tried a few games of backgammon. It seems like almost everybody plays backgammon in Egypt. If you ask a bartender at any Egyptian bar for the board and pieces, you have a pretty good chance he'll give them to you. Free of charge of course.

Since most of the day was spent snorkeling, we were quite exhausted when we got back to our hotel.
In the evening we decided to taste some of the stuff we saw underwater. We went to one of many restaurants lined up by the sea. It was quite expensive but in the end - worth it.

Slowly we were starting to realize that we had just another day of Egypt left.

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