London: 4th Visit May-June 2015
When I first boarded a plane it was to live in London, UK for 4-5 months in 2012. I was studying Theatre & Drama Performance abroad at The University of London Union through my college New York University. I had so many new experiences at once it was overwhelming but in a great way. It was also my first time getting a passport, going out the country and traveling alone.My adventure for the unknown (land and experiences that awaited me) cancelled out any fears of flying or crashing. The nervous non-stop knots in my stomach would not let me sleep on the plane. The knots couldn't prevent me from eating but sleeping was not an option!
A Grey Introduction
Of course the sky was cloudy and grey the first day I arrived. The clouds squeezed and rubbed together so tight that it caused rain to spritz from the sky. The hotel shuttle driver hopped on the left side of the car and began his journey all over damp London. He of course asked "Is it weird for you seeing me drive on this side isn't it?" I responded "You have no idea..." He chuckled. A jolly older fellow about in his mid-50's riding young college students and budget travelers to their temporary homes. " I will leave you for my last drop off" He said. I nodded in agreement. After the shuttle van emptied he drove me all over London. He proudly educated me on which museums is worth my time and which are not, which stores offered student discounts, which historic sites to see and so fourth. He even passed by Buckingham Palace. He took the long route to really show me different parts of London, I was tired from my trip but I did not care....I was absorbing all the grey London can spew at me. I finally arrived to my final destination and temporary home: King's Cross in North West London. The jolly older fellow helped me unload my bags and sent me on my way. I did not get his name but I humbly thanked him. He said "Its not problem, it is my joy. I hope you have a wonderful stay here." I smiled.
Arriving at King’s Cross was a weird. I was taken aback realizing I was in another country yet I still felt like I did not leave NYC. I naturally felt at home. I already knew the streets though I just arrived. Everything felt strangely familiar as if I visited this place previously or even in a dream, déjà vu at its finest.
Lively and animated younglins trade seats in and out of The Big Chill House; causing fights while sharing drinks, dances, and lively conversations accompanied with their overzealous laughter. Scala joins the sensational mix, where local and international bands and artists perform their infamous musical sets. This vibrant club attracts all types of crowds: pop, hard rock, goth and electric dance/dub step junkies. Royal Pizza is across the street and stays open until very late. This is where you can order and have pretty decent pizza, fried foods and other desert options. Many buses whiz by taking to you to many places in London. In one direction (North) you can got to Angel where the O2 Academy Islington is at (awaiting to feed your commercial Pop & Indie rock appetites). Angel also has shopping centers, street markets (during the day) as well as many different places to eat, get your hair & nails done, etc. Almeida Theatre is also situated there where you can watch proactive, youthful, and exciting theatre shows. From Angel you can also travel on East to hip and happening Shoreditch for your choice of bars, clubs, and Brick Lane.
*Brick Lane is street (or area) that included chains of Indian restaurants, bars, and markets during the day*
You can hop on and off the bus and shuffle to the beat with the other younglins going towards the opposite directions to (Central &West London.) You can take the 205 bus to Paddington (West Central London) where there are a chain of hotels ( I stayed at the Shaftesbury Metropolis London Hype Park Hotel Dec2014-Jan 2015) near Hyde Park. *Beautiful hotel to stay at by the way, 4-star & reasonably priced for its amazing customer service* If you walk south of hotels and Paddington Station you will find Hyde Park where the Princess Diana Memorial is located. Further south of the park (near Hyde Park Corner station) Winter Wonderland vividly fills the space from Nov-Jan of each year.
Or if you want to rub elbows with ever so vibrant eclectic crowd, take the 214 (in front of St. Pancras Station) to Camden Road or to the hip, popular & crowded: Camden Market.
*Depending on what stop you get off, you may have to walk a bit to reach Camden Market if you take the 214 bus,)
My Second Love….
Kings Cross is a cross-way center that aids you to effortlessly travel to multiple destinations via tube, bus (and night buses that run 24 hrs.) You can even board the scenic EuroStar train to France from St. Pancras. There are also multiple hotels along with hostels (for the budget, youth & solo travelers.) Its literally a cross-way to go to East, West, North, Central London and beyond.....
No matter which part of London I was in- all routes led to my second home, my second love, the place that still warms my heart each time I arrive there- King's Cross.
My heart sunk into my stomach and melted into my numb hands as I departed London in Spring 2012 to NYC after my study abroad semester ended. However that feeling did not last because in my heart I knew I would return and make this place my home again, and I did!
I hope this entry inspires you to find your home away from home as well!
First Impressions: Hurghada, Egypt
I arrived in Hurghada, Egypt about a week ago shortly after the New Year to work as a Dancer at The Three Corners Sunny Beach Resort.
Hurghada is a sea town known mostly for its diving centers and crystal clear waters to go snorkeling and scuba diving.
Hurghada is along the Red Sea Coast in Egypt, south of Cairo (the capital) and Alexandria. You can take flights to these locations and buses. (Buses take longer of course and costs are typically cheaper.) Luxor (south of Hurghada) is also about a four hour bus ride away where you can see the Temple of Amun, Mummification Museum and other ancient historical sites. You can also take a ferry to Sharm el-Sheikh, another luxurious resort. Check with your travel provider for more info ( for example: Thomas Cook is a huge travel agency from the UK that help plan your whole holiday from flights, all inclusive resort options, etc) Also inquire with your resort or hotel on options to take day(s) excursions to Luxor, Alexandria, etc, hotels usually have conjunctive travel guides to safely guide you from place to place.
Al Gouna is also nearby which I herd is a luxurious town different from typical Egyptian or tourist towns or cities. I herd from guests at the resort that there is less people haggling you.
Which brings me to my next point:
Haggling. If you are a tourist in Egypt and you look like a tourist you will be haggled constantly. You will mostly be haggled by taxi drivers, shop and retail sellers, and so on. This is especially true for woman who travel alone and look different (blonde or have an afro,etc) This is the same for any frequent tourist city and country but especially the Middle East and North African countries. This view is also based on my experiences from Morocco and Turkey as well. (Try to cover your head with a hijab or scarf to be incognito.) The men will try to be nice, ask where you are from and kindly attempt to start a conversation with you. Don't let them UNLESS you know what they are selling and are genuinely interested. They will off you a "discount" which is really not a discount since they probably already over charged you so always talk them down to at least half the price of things especially things at "antique" or tourist shops. My advice is to always ask a native person who you trust and know, what the typical price of taxi and other things are.
Interesting enough American Money (USD) Euros (EUR) as well as Egyptian Pounds (EGP) are widely accepted in many places in Hurghada. BE CAREFUL make sure you know the conversion of your currency to EGP if you plan to pay that way. Again if something cost 250 EGP (approx. $34) they will try to charge you $36 or more.
Currently the conversion rates are:
1 USD = 7.15 EGP
1 EUR = 8.42 EGP
* Prices based on XE.com but are subject to change. Consistently check the website for up to date rates.
A better explanation on pricing will come in next blog entry.
The most annoying part about landing in Egypt for me was buying my Visa at the airport. It costs around $20 or 20 Euro, though the hagglers will try to charge you $25 or more. I paid a guy 200 EGP though he tried to charge me 250 EGP (roughly $34) he claimed the price went up this year. Maybe it did, I am not sure but I only paid 200 EGP. Let's back track a minute and break down how the Visa works here:
As soon as you arrive in the airport there are travel agency stands where guys will try to get you to buy a Visa through them. It is over whelming at first. They will ask what type of money you have American or Euro and will charge you a price. If you don't have the adequate currency or want to change to another, there is a Bank Masir desk nearby to help. THERE ARE NO ATMs before you get your luggage so make sure you have the cash with you before you board the plane. Every single person besides an Egyptian citizen of course needs to buy a Visa to enter the country, even if you are just visiting. There are men at the various stands ask who are traveling with. For example: Thomas Cook or other travel agencies and you will buy a visa through them. After your passport is stamped with the Visa you move onto the Border agent, then another agent must check your Passport stamp before you retrieve your luggage. Simple huh?
Past 40 days....
Your Visa is valid for 40 days, if you plan to work here (like me) you must go with your employer to get an official work visa. If you want to stay past 40 days, make sure you visit your country's Embassy or Consulate in Egypt for more information on how to stay.
This past week went through 3 seasons. Some days it will be very hot and sunny like 65-79 degrees then at night it will be 58 degrees but feel like 30 due to the wind. Since we are near the Eastern Desert it gets very cold at night. Otherwise from sunrise to sunset (around 5-6 pm) It is very warm and sunny and beautiful! There were a few days where it was very cold during the day and skies were gray all day. It also snowed in Alexandria (Northern part of Egypt) last week! This did not happen here- it was cold and gray for two days but have been mostly sunny and warm!
So far that is all I have learned in Hurghada my first week here, many more experiences and helpful info to come. The resorts are lovely but outside resorts is not pretty at all. Lots of reconstruction going on, many more resorts and hotels are being built. Nightlife is beautiful, particularly Color Beach Club but it gets cold at night and drinks are a bit pricey. Little Buddha is nice and fun as well but get ready to spend some dough on drinks (unless you are a female & its ladies night, then you can drink free until 2am on most nights.)
Hope you have enjoyed! Thank you for reading...until next time!!!!