19 October 2013

moving on

Yep.  I'm home as declared in the previous post.  After a three month stint at my parents bludging, enjoying family, catching up with friends, playing games and looking for work I had emptied my bank account and moved onto my credit card when I packed my bags to move on.

I had planned since before I left the UK to not set up the next stage of my life in my hometown.  For one, I struggled greatly when I fell into my post-adventure rut after my year in the USA and I wanted to make sure that didn't happen again.  I believe there was more to it and I'm still dealing with stuff but there was definitely a deflation after an excitable year away.  So I had thought enough to keep some adventure happening this time around.  For two, I needed to keep exploring myself and stretching myself.  I decided to head to a big city for the ease of finding nanny employment and also for the opportunities to try new things and explore my art skills.  I further decided to make sure I was still nearby family after missing their company for the last two years.  So to continue my adventure in this fashion, I brought my packed bags to Sydney late June to begin my new job and move into the next stage of my life.

Starting somewhere new is something I always find particularly difficult being an introvert and not a currently well-balanced one.  I really have to push myself and regularly step out of my comfort zone.   I gave myself the space to settle into my new job.  As a live in nanny this requires a couple of months for me to feel completely at ease and settled.  New kids to understand, plus the parents, the local area, the routines and how it all works on top of all the "me in a new place" stuff.  I started working three days a week which was a nice, relaxed lead in to a new job in a new city.  Come September it moved up to four days as agreed.  So I work caring for two small boys who are 3.5 years and 1 year with the older one going to daycare two days a week.  It's already been a delight to see how the 1yo is changing and growing.   He's just started walking in the past week or so and now has about eight teeth all grown while I've been here.  The 3yo, who I don't spend as much time with, is well, three years old.  When he's tired he drives me nutty and some days I feel like I'm a broken record with "Get off your brother"  "Let him go".  I find him a bit of a challenge as he's the most requiring interaction child I've cared for.  Unless he's watching tv or playing the computer he generally has to be in the same room as me.  Not what I'm use to.  But all in all, it's pretty good.  Kids grow and the family is a good family to work for.  And we do some fun stuff too.  The family are pretty easy to live with.  It's quite a relaxed atmosphere granted the energy of the kids.  They also gave me the masterbedroom so I have my own big room with tv, en suite and private balcony. It's great to have my own space within a shared house where I also work.  The hours are pretty good working 8am-6:30pm Mon to Thur with a long weekend every weekend.

It's lovely to have some family just a simple train ride away out in the Blue Mountains and it's fantastic to escape the city there.  Since I'm not really a city girl.  I love being able to hang out with family from time to time and would more if I were closer.  I've still been able to get back to Victoria a few times in the short time I've been living in Sydney and I'm quite glad for that.  Another trip booked in for early November. 

Life is rolling along here.  However, I'm still in a bit of a limbo state. This job is a 12mth contract and the mum has already mentioned future ideas for when the youngest boy is a little older which doesn't include such full time nannying.  It's quite possible I will only be needed for the year meaning I need to make the most of this twelve month period to figure out what I'm going to do next.  So I've got some serious thinking and exploring and sorting out to do.  That being said I've signed up for some classes to continue exploring art and simply trying to broaden myself.  I'm really enjoying doing more art and excited about some fabric stamping and screen printing classes I have coming up.  For increasing my knowledge and understanding I'm going to a World Religions class to hear about a different belief system each week and I've signed up for a seminar that looks at how to be your best self through things like personality and understanding how you function as an individual and learning styles and such.  I also might sign up for a charity run which I have never done before since my jogging has been much improving.

Hopefully this year will be an interesting year with lots of growth and expansion.


14 June 2013

returning home

And so my UK adventure was coming to its end.  

I trained back to London from Chester and stayed my final night in London repacking my bags to contain all that remained that was mine.  Monday morning, 1st April 2013 I swiped my oyster card and rode the underground train through the city's tubes for the last time.  I boarded the plane--a massive double-decker kind--at Heathrow Airport and farewelled England, tossing over various experiences of my time of living in Kensington and travelling all about this corner of the world in my mind and tucking them back into the treasure trove of memory space.  We lifted off and my homeward bound journey began.

Roughly 24hrs of travel with a stop over in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I entertained myself with movies, sleeping and enjoying the airplane food.  (Yeah, I get a thrill to receive the little containers of goods and finding out what's inside and it usually tastes quite alright too.  At least on Malaysia Airlines.)  I got a buzz to finally touch down at Melbourne Airport, stepping out for the first time in two years with Australia beneath my feet the air filled with the homely Aussie accent.  There are plenty of Aussies around London but the part that intrigued me most was hearing it come from the staff, not just the accent but the mannerism of Australian style too. And then those stainless steel doors...  The stepping through, pausing slightly to quickly scan for familiar faces and deciding randomly which side to step to so you don't block the doors.  And then....   "Kelly! Kelly!"  A familiar voice turns my head and I quickly spot waving arms.  Family.  In the flesh.  My parents there to pick me up.

Ah, family.  I missed them a lot.  I missed most of all just being able to hang out with them.  Not doing anything in particular; just chillin' and chatting and laughing; just being with them.  It was great to catch up with all of them in the following month.  The adults don't change a whole lot in two years but little kids do.  The most definite, biggest changes I had to catch up on were the two new members of my family.  It was a joy to meet my two new nieces for the first time at 7mths and 15mths.  The littlest instilling new titles on my younger brother and his wife.  It's been fun to see them in their new roles as parents.

It's been great to have the time again to visit my brothers and sister and their families and to spend time with my 9 nieces and nephews.  I'm also ever grateful to be able to live with my parents while I have no income.  April was a month of catching up including a trip to Sydney where my older brother and his family live.

I found it strange that it didn't feel strange to be back in my hometown.  Everything was so familiar and despite a few changes about, I found myself feeling almost like I'd never been anywhere...except for an amazing store of memories I now have.  Lives have changed more.  There's been some moving house, a number of weddings and a swarm of babies born in the time I was out of the country.  It's been fabulous to catch up with just about all my friends and just spend time with them again.  It's been good to return to my home church and the home group that I love.  They are some terrific people and I enjoy our discussions.

A month of travel; a month of visits and catching up; a month of looking for work and bumming around.  I'm ready for my next adventure; just this week secured and the cogs put in motion.

Next stop: Nannying in Sydney, New South Wales.

18 May 2013

marching round the UK

The details are growing vague.  With travel, catch up blogging and flopping into my home country--catching up with friends and family, relaxing and looking for work--this post is about an adventure I now had practically two months ago.  The recollection won't be so detailed.

After making it back into England via the Eurostar, I met up with my friends at the house I had been living in London.  They'd arrived the day before from Australia.  Maree was back for round two of adventuring having a few months back home with family and she'd brought her friend, Katie, along for the adventure.  They were beginning a four month stampede around the UK and Europe and I was spending my final week with them.  That weekend was a relaxed, chilled weekend with Maree and Katie adjusting to the new timezone and me organizing some of my stuff, repacking for the UK week and doing some job search stuff. 

Saturday night I met up with my friends from round London for a final hoorah before I nicked off home.  We went to Evans and Peel Detective Agency.  In 1920s/30s style the hidden pub was a fun and quirky place for  a drink.  I buzzed and said I had an appointment and we were let in and filed down the stairs to a little office.  There the secretary asked why we'd come and, having read about the pub and its entry process, replied that I had the feeling that something or someone was following me lately (my visa being up) and that I'd brought witnesses with me.  She then asked each one of my witnesses to share their information and each one gave some minor description...except Prue who started spouting Gruffalo features. Ha ha.  I think I was the only one who got it.  The secretary said she was glad we'd come and said if we'd just like to go in a take a seat and have a drink she'd fetch the sketch artist.  Would have liked to have seen that sketch.  She pulled a book and the book case swung open revealing the bar.  It was all done up in the same era and had a really cool atmosphere with my kind of music playing.  We were led to a table that had old theatre seats along each side.  We spent the evening chatting and trying the different cocktails.  There'd been some rave about the cocktails but I think everyone there found them to be decidedly strong and not so wonderful.  The idea and atmosphere was great but the menu was a bit of a let-down.  They had quite a selection of drinks but of the four or five that I tasted I didn't particularly like any of them.  It was good to hang out with lovely people I'd shared some of my UK years with though.

Come Monday morning Maree, Katie and I were backpacked up and riding the train north.  The further north we went the whiter it seemed to get.  London was cold and it had even snowed but it hadn't settled.

We were in York about midday and we walked into the centre of town and managed to find our hostel which was superbly located and warm and wonderfully decent.  We met up with Maree's relative who's been living there for ten years or so and he took us to a specific pub where we had lunch together.  I tried the pigeon pie.  It was funny watching Maree while I ate it.  She refused my offer for her to taste it.  Ha ha.  It wasn't terrific but satisfied my hunger without making my tastebuds squirm.  Our own personal guide then walked us around York telling us all sorts of interesting information about the place.  We did the periodic stops in coffee shops and pubs to take a break from wandering around in the freezing cold.  He walked us around the city walls and took us to different sites and showed us various buildings telling us a little about the history.  We even went back to his place and met his family and had a drink with they dropped us back in the town centre.  We spent Tuesday and Wednesday doing our own wandering around--sometimes together and sometimes on our own.  We went on a boatride, went to a museum (partly coz we were tired of being cold outside), went to a movie, and went out for tea each night.  Most evenings we hung out in our room watching tv, interneting, reading or whatever.  And sleeping on our uncomfortable mattresses.  York was quite amazing to walk around though.  It's so old style and still has the feel in the town centre.  Crooked buildings, Tudor influenced buildings, little doorways, pokey places, cobbled twisted streets, massive impressive cathedral--in the gothic architecture of course.  There was lots of interesting shops about though too and the more common department stores on the outskirts.  I spent one afternoon wandering around the shops by myself and quite some time in a little wool shop I found.  One night Maree and Katie went on a ghost tour...it's apparently a pretty haunted place.  They missed the one they planned to join coz they got there and realised they hadn't taken their money with them and so did one that wasn't so good.  On Thursday morning we were off to catch the train again.

With a bit of ticket drama coz Maree lost her ticket just after I gave it to her (thankfully I had the purchase printout with me which helped) we made it to Chester on the trains we'd booked seats on.  We then had some rental car drama since the rental place where I'd booked the car hire wouldn't hire it out to us without the pink slip that goes along with the British licence (I'd forgotten about that) and proof of address like a bill or something.  I no longer had an address in England AND I was a live-in and never paid bills so I could in no way prove this.  Frustration.  We went across the road to another place but being Easter weekend there was nothing available.  In the end we tried Hertz which was a short walk away and they were able to rent us a four wheel drive for only a little more than we were going to pay for a small cheapo at the original place.  Phew!  The main point in going to Chester was so we could spend the next day driving around the top of Wales so this haziness of our plans came clear again.

Friday was a lovely sunny day, still cold but sightseeing is much more pleasurable when the sun shines.  Driving west of Chester we were almost instantaneously in Wales and then arriving at our first destination--Llandudno.  We parked and wandered into town and found a coffee shop chain for an average cuppa.  We stopped by the tourist information centre for a while before just doing our own bit of wandering down to the pier and along the shore before we got too cold and just decided to get in the car and go driving again.

We went on to Conwy and wandered along the fortified walls and had a look at the castle from the outside.  As we made our way down to the bridge for some good castle shots we passed by some knights and such.  They were filming a little sword fight.  After our photo stop we went back toward the castle and there was a little square that was dressed medieval where the knights now were.  There was also a display of live hunting birds.  Then we got back in the car and headed on to Llanberis.  Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, is nearby and there's a train that takes you to the top.  The thought of the view from there was enticing but we were all disappointed to find out that the train was closed because of snow and ice.  We looked around the tourist shop at the station and I bought some little dragons for my two new nieces I was soon to meet.  We thought about going on the other train that was working though we just missed one and would have to wait an hour.  It just went part way around the lake and back.  So we went walking instead.  We found a track that led us up beside the railway and kept going until we reached the waterfalls the sign had declared was this way.  The scenery along the way was quite beautiful.  The chill and the sunshine gave it a fresh glory, sharp and raw.  Heading back to the car we decided to move on.  There was another place I'd looked up to visit.  Another bit of namesake.  We stopped in Beddgelert and Maree and Katie were instantly turning toward the cafes and I had to convince them to come with me to find the spot I was looking for.  The grave of Gelert.  I've heard the tale before and it's not quite certain that it's true.  It's a bittersweet story about a faithful dog called Gelert.  You can read the story for yourself here.  We also met an old man scooting along his dog for a walk, oldie-scooter style.  He stopped to chat with us.  It was Good Friday and he said he'd been up since 5am making 250 hot cross buns to hand out.  Pity we'd come here late in the day.  He had a good old yarn with us.  We then made for the cafe and had our afternoon tea and scones that was wonderfully satisfactory.  Then back in the car for a long, adventure across the mountain tops toward Chester.  At another time of year I suspect it would be quite a pleasant drive and even when we did it the view was splendid.  However, being so much snow around, and that it had crept onto the road and partly taken over the lanes, left us with one car-width track down the centre most of the time to drive along.  It did get interesting when we met another car coming the other direction.  There was a couple of adrenaline rushes.  Eventually I pulled in at a pub because I needed a toilet break.  But it didn't wake me up enough and so Maree drove the rest of the way.

Saturday Maree was not feeling the best and decided she just needed to chill so Katie and I went venturing into another part of England.  We didn't have a plan.  We pretty much just picked a direction and drove.  I think we actually selected somewhere on the sat nav.  I like the idea of being spontaneous but it's a bit hit and miss.  You may find something spectacular and have a fascinating adventure or you may just wander aimlessly just filling in time. We did more of the latter.  I don't even remember exactly where we went.  Just south east of Chester.  We chose one little town to stop at but there was pretty much nothing there so we went to another.  We found a tourist info centre and chatted with the lady there for a while and decided to try a nearby hill that might have nice views.  We stopped in at Kelly's Bakery--just coz.  But the selection was poor and neither was it that great in quality.  We found the hill and started driving up it but it was as bothersome with snow as the drive across the mountaintops the day before.  Only a little more residential.  We couldn't see what the lady was talking about with getting to the top so we just took some photos by the road side and headed back to Chester.  We had to get the car back by early afternoon anyway.  That evening we went round the corner to a comedy club and were able to get tickets for that night's show.  I've never been to a comedy club to see live comedy acts before.  I'm usually a bit hesitant when it comes to comedians.  Unless you know what they are like.  Some are just completely vulgar and call it humour.  We saw three comedians I think it was.  One was a bit below par in my books but the other two weren't bad and they definitely drew some laughs out of me.

Sunday was Easter Sunday and while Maree chilled again so Katie and I walked into town for a tour of Chester.  About as interesting as a lot of town tours I've taken and not so delightful when you're cold.  Chester's hub is pretty to see though with all it's interesting, old-style architecture complete with wonkiness.  Maree met us in town for lunch and we ate a delicious Italian meal.  We then went easter egg hunting which was quite difficult.  We managed to find one little store that was open and had some form of chocolate egg.  We walked the streets a little longer and then back to our hostel where I packed my bags and wished them well on the rest of their journey.  As for me, I headed to the train station, my UK adventure about to wrap up.

09 May 2013

marching round france...with a hop to belgium

From Egypt I flew back to Rome, Italy, collected my bag and checked in for my flight to Paris, France.  When I landed I made my way to hub of Paris to find the flat I would be staying at--thanks to wonderfully generous friends.  I was delighted with the flat and the location.  It was on an island in the Seine River and felt quite luxurious.  When I looked out the living area windows I could see the back of the Notre Dame!  Awesome location.  My week in France was mostly a chilled week.  I hadn't really planned much but it was so nice not to run from one location to the next sight seeing.  I took it easy, relaxed and enjoyed some space to myself.  Not to say I did nothing of course.

I decided one day to go look the Notre Dame Cathedral.  I opted not to wait in line, pay and go up the steps to the top.  Instead I went inside for free.  It wasn't until I got home to Australia that I realised that's what I did last time which was why I was thinking of going up this time.  Ha ha.  Never mind.  I relaxed back at the flat cooking myself some tea and watching the final Twilight Saga movie while all cosy in my room.

On the Tuesday I went on a day trip, skipping countries, to squeeze in my visit to Brugge, Belgium that I'd been trying to work in for the past year.  It was cold and it's sometimes a tad boring daytripping on your own but it was an okay day.  We walked from the bus to the centre of the old town where we then had a boat ride on the canal.  Wasn't too fussed about the boat ride, especially feeling cold the whole time but got to see some interesting buildings.  We then had a few hours to go free range and so I wandered around the streets, looked in shops, took photos of the buildings that make Brugge interesting, bought Belgium chocolate because I simply had to and eventually sat down for some lunch.  The day turned into a long day trip when on our way back the driver pulled over to check the van.  After a bit of a look we attempted again but didn't leave the service station because it was just not a healthy van.  So we ended up waiting for quite some time for a truck to come tow us away.  Once the van was loaded onto the truck we all squeezed into double cabin of the truck and went back to Lille which we'd just passed.  There we waited outside in the cold in the street in the dark while our guide sorted something out.  At least half an hour later or more some taxis came and picked us up to take us to the train station.  We then waited there at McDonalds for a short while until our first class train ride back to Paris.  Nice to ride first class but it's actually not much different to the regular class.  Back in Paris we were picked up by the tour company and dropped back at the door of our accommodation.  So when I was due to be back at 7pm, it was 11pm when I got back to the flat.  I had nothing planned for the next day so it was all fine for me.  It was an amusing, unexpected event though if I'd had a choice there were other things I'd rather do than all that waiting in the cold. Oh, and as it was a French tour group for English/Spanish speakers and I was the only one who spoke English as my first (and only) language, everyone else was talking to the tour guide and discussing what was going on with getting home in either French or Spanish.  So I didn't have much idea what was going on.  Ha ha.  Understanding wouldn't have made much difference to the situation anyway.

My Wednesday was another lazy day but I did get out in the afternoon and go to the Louvre Museum.  Last time I was in Paris I only went to the outside so I decided I'd go in this time.  I went first to the Egyptian area and spent most of my time there.  It was intriguing to see all the artefacts rather than just tombs, temples and the paintings and carvings that cover them.  Probably particularly interesting since I'd just come from Egypt.  I then went through the Islamic display which pretty much artefacts with Arabic scrawled artfully upon them.  I was beginning to tire and completely skipped over the paintings (more of the same sort of stuff you see all over Europe...the kind I'm not that interested in) but I made sure I went and found the Mona Lisa.  It was much smaller than I expected and being so famous a painting the room was crowded, it had a plastic protector in front of it and a curved barricade keeping people from getting too close.  Bit disappointing really that you can't view it well.  I was done.  I walked back along the river's edge enjoying the sunshine; back to the flat for some more relaxing with food and a movie and indulging in my Belgium chocolates.

Thursday I got up early and caught the train to Strasbourg, France.  One thing I decided to do this week was see another part of France as the France I'd previously done was Paris.  Strasbourg was quite pretty, particularly the Petite France area.  The buildings were awesome to see and walking beside the river in the sunshine was super nice.  I poked around the shops and made my way to the centre of town.  When it was almost noon I went inside the Cathedral, found a good spot and waited with the gathering crowd.  At 12 o'clock a video was shown of the astronomical clock that stood in the corner followed at 12:30pm by the clock's 'chiming'.  It has figures up near the top of the twelve apostles who come out in a line and pause by the Jesus figure for a blessing.  There's also a mechanical cock at the top that "crows thrice".  The clock also has a perpetual calendar and an orrery which displays the real position of the sun and moon and the eclipses.  All lavishly decorated with paintings of course.

I wandered around the streets trying to decide what I wanted to eat for my late lunch before finally choosing a pub that had an indoor verandah area where I could sit in the sunshine.  I then made my way back toward the train station, using up some of my waiting time drooling around an art supply store before the ride back to Paris.

Friday I hung out in the flat again in the morning and slowly sorted out my bag again before leaving early afternoon for another adventure I wanted to tick off my list.  Riding the train under the sea!  I got to Gare du Nord (train station) a little later than I meant to.  I misread my ticket thinking I had to be there 30mins prior but realised I was meant to check in then.  So not knowing how this worked exactly, feeling a bit anxious I asked someone where the Eurostar was and then hurried upstairs where they directed.  The whole process had me in a bit of a tizz.  For starters, I'm not sure where the 'checking in' part happened.  I guess when I swiped my ticket to get through the station gates to the Eurostar area.  There was no check in like the airports.  I went through security and lined up for the next section anxious to get through in time.  Noticing a pile of landing cards, I picked one up knowing I'd need to fill it in later and moved to another line that moved faster.  When I got to the front, the guy checked my passport, looked at me, looked again at my passport...  I'd heard tales.  I was prepared for this but the hold up when I was running out of time was annoying.  He asked me a few questions because my visa had expired.  I showed him a copy of my flight booking home to Australia to prove I would definitely be leaving the country again.  He filled in a bit of paper work and then asked for my card...which wasn't filled in yet and sent me to the back of the line.  I was in a hurry and I was being sent back to the end of the line.  Arrg!  It still didn't quite click at that point that this was border control meaning I was officially entering England...in France.  Usually on the planes you fill it out on board and hand it in when you land and that's what I was expecting; to need to have it done for the end of my journey.  I got back in line while scribbling the info down but the line moved fast and I had to step aside to finish filling it in and let a couple of people go ahead.  Thankfully no one made me go to the back of the line again and I passed to the next stage.  It took me a while trying to read different screens and my ticket and figure out where I was supposed to be.  I'm not sure if it was unclear or if perhaps I was just anxious and unfamiliar with using the Eurostar but I found where I was supposed to be in time.  I only had to wait a few minutes before we were let out onto the platform and I walked alongside the train to find my carriage and then my seat.  Finally I could settle in for the trip.  It took about 2hrs 20mins to get from Paris to London and only about 20-30mins in the tunnel.  But I've done it.  ^^

I was back in England. As a tourist.  I made my way through the London tube system back to my old 'hood.  Back to my previous home where my friends from Australia, having arrived the day before, were waiting for me. The France journey over, I flopped happily into the familiar house and the company of a friend I knew (and the friend I was just meeting), my final England adventure set to begin.

06 April 2013

marching up Egypt

Our journey up Egypt began mid-morning on Tuesday, 12th March at the docks in Aswan where we boarded our felucca.  A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat that is very basic with a storage area below the flat deck with a small cabin up one end for the crew.  In the smaller space between the deck and the cabin the crew cooked our meals on a little make-shift stove.  Being such a simple vessel meant occasional shore stops for the bush bathroom.  Apart from that one aspect, I really enjoyed our time on the felucca.  The flat deck was our living space while sailing on the Nile River.  We relaxed and chatted there enjoying the sun or the shade as we calmly tacked down river against the wind.  No motor noise.  No rush of busy passing traffic. Just our chatter and laughter.  Rivers are my favourite body of water too and merge that with warmth I'd been missing and relaxation in nature and it was a blissful way to spend the day and definitely a highlight of my Egypt trip.  After a few days of rushing round and travelling in the heat, this was our chill time.  Snoozes, reading books, playing cards, relishing the warmth, observing the passing river banks, taking in the fact that we were sailing on the Nile...  Come meal time we cleared the middle and plastic table runner was spread out and adorned with food.  It was quite basic but tasty.

Later in the afternoon we stopped at a sandbank in the middle and some of us went swimming.  I didn't have my bathers on so I just waded in the Nile while others jumped or flipped off the boat.  As we left that area the daylight was dimming and the crew began to search for a spot to anchor for the night.  Being an old style vessel with no electricity, feluccas are not allowed to sail past sunset.  We ate another simple meal and played some more cards and chatted.  When it was fully night the crew pulled out a stash of timber and a got a mini bonfire cooking.  We all went ashore and the crew started drumming on two different drums.  The crazy drunken mugs danced around the fire and one of them fell twice knocking over the shisha both times. Most of them sat down for a short session with the shisha as well which is a glass-bottomed water pipe in which fruit-flavoured tobacco is covered with foil and roasted with charcoal.  The tobacco smoke passes through a water chamber and inhaled deeply and slowly.  And then they did some more crazy dancing before dispersing a bit.  My roomie and I were looking at the drums at this point and one of the crew was trying to show us how to play it.  I tried longer and eventually found some rhythm.  After a little more practise at keeping the rhythm steady and continuous, the guy grabbed the other drum and played along.  The crew had already wrapped a sheet around the deck area to create a breeze blocker and we sporadically climbed aboard and sprawled out side by side to fill the whole area for the night.

I woke at about 5am on Wednesday morning feeling cold even with a blanket on.  After attempting some extra warmth with another layer of clothes and lying down again for a little longer I conceded defeat and got up.  It had been a long time since I had watched the sunrise and I'd been meaning to do it again for long time.  I doubled the blanket and wrapped it round my shoulders and sat on shore and watched the sky lighten and then the sun peek over the horizon in the stillness of the sleepy morning.

After some breakfast we collected our stuff and hauled them up a sandy hill to the road where our bus was waiting and settled in for a long drive.  There was only 3 or 4 of us awake on the journey besides the driver. One girl and I were snapping photos out the window of the scenery and transport that we passed.  We saw loads of donkey pulled carts and other unfamiliar motorised vehicles.  The funniest sight was the queue of tractors lined up for a share in the recently arrived fuel at the petrol station.  Unfortunately we passed by before I could get my camera out.  Fuel is sparse in Egypt I think as we saw some pretty long line ups at petrol stations.  Beyond the Nile shores it was all desert but the fertile land near the banks was mostly farming.  Lots of sugar cane that our guide says grows all year round plus other crops too.

We stopped along the way to visit Kom-Ombo Temple.  Most of us didn't go in though preferring to skip the entrance fee and relax in the cafe.  My roomie spotted a kid and I tagged along when she "awwed" her way over to the guy who was holding it.  He requested that we name it and my roomie suggested Curly because he had some curls on his head.  The guy then took us round the back to show us the other goats in his little farmyard.  He showed us his horse as well and took us up a little watch tower where we could see across the cafe umbrellas to the temple and across the house and farmland in the other direction.  He also showed us inside the house which was set up like a typical house but I'm still unsure if it was actually used as it was all in order and didn't have such a lived-in look to it.  When everyone was back together again we loaded into the bus and continued on to our next stop.  At the temple of Edfu another girl and I decided to skip and sat in the hot bus while we waited for the others.  Our guide made it sound like we'd be better off being in the bus rather than roaming the shops stressing that we'd be harassed.  But I realised later he just meant by people trying to sell us stuff which happens everywhere and I'm not fazed by stubbornly refusing or simply ignoring them.  We got harassed by the children that were about through the bus windows anyway.  Once we'd all made the final ride to our hotel in Luxor we checked in and went swimming in their lovely pool that overlooked the Nile.

On Thursday we opted to do all our Luxor touring in the one day and have Friday as a free day which was a good plan since Thursday was only about 38ÂșC.  The next day was low 40s.  We spent the morning on the west bank roaming the Valley of the Kings where we got to pick three tombs to go inside.  The tomb walls were lavishly decorated.  As soon as a new king came into power the people would begin work on his tomb.  As long as he lived they would keep digging away.  When he died the artists would come in and work away for the 70 days that the mummification of the king was taking place.  They would carve and paint all the walls as much as possible filling the tomb with the sacred script of hieroglyphics and pictures of gods and display stories of wishes for the blessing and help of the king to pass through the "underworld" to attain a welcome into the desired afterlife.  Being shut up inside tombs for years upon years means that this artwork is still in pretty darn good condition and lot of the colours used are still quite bright.  Annoyingly we weren't even allowed to take our cameras into the valley so I have no photos to share.   We then went to the Temple of Hatshepsut who was the only female Pharaoh to rule Egypt.  Most of the statues here are displayed in a masculine way and she wove her own stories to indicate she was born of the gods and had a right to reign. Or something vaguely along those lines.  There was swarms of school groups around and one girl wanted to get a photo with some of them.  Didn't take much persuasion.  A swarm soon encircled.  We actually stopped for a number of photos for them too; with our pale hair and skin we were almost celebrities.

We did a quick stop at the great Colossi of Memnon which are two huge statues that use to guard a temple and then drove back to Luxor for lunch at KFC.  For the afternoon we did the Luxor sites visiting first Karnak Temple which was huge and then Luxor Temple which it used to be connected to by a road lined with mini sphinxes.  By this point I'm getting tombed and templed out and we reached the hottest part of the day so I didn't wander around for long in our free time.  After the temples our guide took us to a proper papyrus shop where a guy actually showed us how they made it.  That was quite fascinating, appealing to the crafter in me. The prints were pretty amazing and we spent quite a while there while a couple of people decided what ones to buy.  There was only one I considered buying--mainly due to the fact that the typical Egyptian designs are so centralised around their ancient deities and quite symbolic.  I did like the tree of life one though that had a tree with birds that represented the different stages of life.  But since this tour included costs I hadn't budgeted for I was restrictive about when I let Egyptian pounds leave my possession.  I did ask if I could get just some plain papyrus paper without a print as that's the part the fascinated me the most.  The smallest piece was the same size as the smallest print (about an A4 size) and it cost the same.  So I left papyrusless.

That night, as well as the night before and the night following, we went to the Irish Murphy's pub around the corner from our hotel for food, drink and some pool.  I really enjoyed these evenings and it was great to have a go at pool again.  We got some real good doubles competitions going and there was quite a bit of laughing, teasing, groaning and attempted interfering.

Friday was our day off.  We were in for a scorcher too.  While about a third of our group departed for their extended tour that included another town, most of the remainder of the group spent the day by the pool or in the pool.  It was take a dip, relax in the shade, order some thing to eat and drink, chat round the table, take another dip, chat in the pool...  Actually, we chatted to some older Brits who apparently lived nearby having retired to Egypt which came as a surprise.  They used the hotel pool as their local pool paying an entrance fee to come in and laze about.  Egypt is not a country that would have crossed my mind as a place to retire though it would stretch your money further.  Things were fairly cheap in Egypt. Very, in fact.  We were buying 1.5ltr bottles of water for 3 to 15 L.E (Egyptian pounds).  It was about 1 GBP to 10 EGP.  The starting prices were usually cheap enough or decent price but of course you're expected to haggle.  When it got to late afternoon four of us prepared to head into town for a look at local life.  We ended up catching the local taxi in which cost us 1 L.E each.  The local taxi was an experience.  They do have taxis that are a car you hire to drive you where ever but there's also the local taxi which I guess is more like a bus.  It's pretty much a combi van or a tarago (like what I grew up knowing as the family car) except no one wears seatbelts and they never close the sliding door.  And if you can hang on somewhere you can get on so we frequently saw them with full seats plus three or so people hanging out the door.  We didn't do much in town except wander around and look and buy some drinks and ice creams from the supermarket.  It was still quite hot but not too busy.  Being Friday it was prayer day or whatever they call it.  The religious day off.  Shops were pretty much closed for the morning and some all day so there wasn't much to do.  We ended up walking back to our hotel.  We gathered for tea at the hotel restaurant before some went on an evening horse and cart ride around town and the remainder of us headed back to the pub for some more vicious pool.  I will just point out here that the night before there were four of us that ended up dominating and hogging the pool table.  We played girls against guys and us girls won 2 out of 3.  So we went back for a rematch...and did the same.  One of the guys was really impressive with his shots though especially when bouncing the ball off the cushions to be able to hit the correct ball.  We were all well matched and all took some awesome shots and it was a lot of fun.  And our guide showed me how to write my name in Arabic!

We passed time until we had to go collect our bags and head to the train station for another overnight train ride.  This time at least the toilet was quite an improvement on the last one.  Apparently.  I never used it.  The train was delayed as our guide had warned us both times could very well happen with all the drama going on in Egypt.  We had to keep stopping along the way or going slowly.  Nothing dramatic really but I'm not sure exactly what.  Just took us longer to arrive.  We were about 2-3hrs later than planned.  Not too big of a deal as they leave room for that we just didn't have time to shower before our Cairo tour and had to pick two out of three destinations to visit.

So for Saturday, after saying goodbye to our guide who was ducking out early and leaving us with a Cairo guide, we chose to first go see the Egyptian museum which would have been much more enjoyable if we weren't so tired from our long train journey.  We got to see Tutankhamen's treasures which were quite amazing and wonderful.  Our second stop took us to the Citadel of Saladin to visit the Mosque of Mohamed Ali which is perched on the summit of the citadel.  We had to make sure we were well covered and removed our shoes before we went in.  It was very grand and decorative and interesting to see.  I've never been in a mosque before.  They had a pretty grand podium to preach from with lavishly decorated steps leading up to it.  Outside the mosque was quite a view of Cairo, not that it was very easy to see with all the smog and dust clouding the horizon.  On the opposite hill outside the citadel is a church which is fairly significant.  The story goes something like this: Some king or authority of Egypt wanted to rid the country of Christians and so called upon some Christian head and insisted that he pray and ask his God to move this mountain.  If it moved the Christians could stay but if not they were all banished from Egypt.  This Christian elder called upon others to fast and pray and on the day determined by the Egyptian king the elder met him in this area.  As people prayed the mountain began to move up and down and up and down until the king begged them to stop and permitted them to stay.  Egypt is still largely Islamic but there is also a collection of Christians there too.

Our final stop that we were always going to make due to the fact that it's open late into the night was the bizarre.  Quite a few of us were looking forward to this experience.  Our main guide kept saying we didn't need to buy things along the way because everything you can get here you can get at the bizarre.  Only we didn't realise until a day or two before that we were only going to have one hour there.  One hour went by so fast and unless you knew what you wanted and just went out and got it, one hour was certainly not long enough.  I would have loved to experienced more of it.  We didn't get to go far though the bizarre is huge and it's small alleys are packed with colour and sound and people.  There's some amazing handcrafted stuff there and a load of tourist crap.  I bought just a couple of things but would have bought more if I'd had more time.  I had hoped to get to the fabric parts too but that didn't happen.  The evenings are alive in Egypt as that's when people come out to relax and socialise as the day cools.

Back at the hotel we showered and changed and met again to enjoy tea together squeezing past the noisy, slow wedding procession that was passing through the hotel centre area and moving toward the room they'd hired to celebrate in.  The food and drink and company was wonderful and it was a nice way to wrap up our tour.  I managed to repack my bags due to removing the bulky warmer items I would need to wear on my journey back to the cold winter countries.  Sunday morning I was up rather early and took in the sights of Cairo in the early morning sun as I passed by on my hour long ride to the airport.

My Egypt tour was an adventure I'd not even considered when I left Australia but it's one I rather enjoyed and I'm glad I took it.