My Big Trip: England and Middle East 2009

In Spring 2009, I traveled on a three month Big Trip to the Middle East via England and Spain. Originally, I had planned on making my way around the Mediterranean Sea in a grand sweep from Egypt to Morocco, but a shrinking cash reserve, lack of a Syrian visa, and horror stories about women traveling alone in Morocco meant more of a hop around the east and west sides of the Sea.

The plus side was that because of expensive plane fares to Cairo, Egypt from Chicago, I found a cheaper way and was able to visit friends Tonia and Becky in England en route to Cairo from Chicago.  Also, my best friend B was able to meet me in Istanbul for six days, where I dare say,we tore it up, one Turkish pub at a time. Overall, it was an incredible trip filled with seeing world wonders and good friends.

Abu Simbel Egypt

My original intentions, or my travel vision, for the trip were:

  • see the pyramids and travel the valley of kings
  • sail the nile
  • touch the mediterranean sea from each country I visit
  • experience istanbul
  • visit alexandria and petra
  • learn how to scuba dive
  • travel down the coast from barcelona to essouria
  • and take amazing pictures everyday and write…

And from these intentions, the following trip took shape.

Liverpool and London, England with Tonia: I had about 5 days with Tonia and Aton, her rock n’ roll boyfriend. Tonia took her cues from Indians about hosting and I was treated like a queen for this time. In her hometown we toured Liverpool, Manchester, and several pubs around her small town. To end our time together, they drove me down to London where we stayed with her fun friend Ish. Tonia wanted us to have a truly unique London experience in this dynamic city and arranged for us to visit a gallery event where we we didn’t just drink a gin and tonic, we inhaled a gin and tonic in an abstracty-gallery sort of way. We donned white jumpsuits over our dressy clothes and spent an hour laughing at each other and snapping pictures through the alcohol haze.

London, England with Becky: Becky was every bit as kind and sweet as I remembered her when we met on Cherai Beach in Kerala, India the previous fall. She hosted me at her North London apartment (or flat as they say) and let me sightsee during the day and meet her at night for dinner with friends and a theater date, very London.

Egypt: On my first day traveling in Cairo, I took the fast taxi to the Pyramids and spent all day in antiquity’s wonder. It was an excellent first taste of Egypt and for the next three weeks I sampled historical greatness along the familiar tourist route of Cairo, Aswan, and Luxor with a Nile Felucca ride in between the two ancient cities. I made my way to the desert for three nights in the Baharia Oasis and saw incredible diversity in what a “desert” means. Finally, I spent 12 days on the shores of the Red Sea, soaking up every ray of sun in Dahab. All along the way, I traveled on and off with Ian and Elizabeth, a very sweet, fun couple from Canada.

Jordan: Ever since I saw the “Rose City” in the movie Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, I’d wanted to visit and Petra did not disappoint. It was my main reason for visiting Jordan, but after three days in the Nebetean city, I made my way to Amman and took day trips to the Dead Sea, Mount Nebo, Maqaba, and the River Jordan for some biblical infusions. I didn’t plan on it, but I was very moved when I was able to, as my Dad put it, “follow in the footsteps of Jesus.” If you look at a map, you’ll perhaps wonder, why did I fly over Syria and not travel through it? Sigh. I still regret this choice. I’d wanted to go through Syria to Turkey, but could not, at the time, figure out how to get a visa within the one month of my plane departure. Or rather, I didn’t trust that I would get the visa and my passport back by the time I left.

Turkey: I spent two weeks traveling in Turkey . I spent one week in Istanbul with best friend B and then a week traveling to Cappadocia region and the seaside town of Kas. B and I turned Istanbul upside down and toured every bazaar, pub, and Frommer’s ‘must see’ destinations.  We ended each day at a rooftop restaurant or our hotel’s rooftop talking while heard the evening prayers and watched the ships pass on the Bosphorous.  Three overnight bus rides and week later, I had visited Goreme, base for the Cappadocia region with cave churches and natural spires, and Kas, the beautiful seaside town where the mountains met the turquoise blue. It actually pained me to leave Kas, I will definitely have to go back there.

Spain: My final two weeks were in Spain to eat fabulous food, drink fabulous wine, and see the Adulucian Coast. I ended up eating tapas in Barcelona with two fun girls from Wisconsin and Minnesota, flamenco-ing in Granada and being awe-struck by the Alahambra, partying and sunning in Malaga with some very fun Aussies, and flying home after a lovely visit in Madrid.  In Madrid, I was hosted by my hospitable friends Pilar and Andreas in their very nice, centrally-located apartment. Again with a friend’s generosity, I was able to sightsee during the day and hang out with them at night.

My budget for the trip was about $10,000 for everything, including return home money. I earned the money in two ways: consulting work and tax refund. I actually had gotten laid off from my first consulting position, but was able, with the help of a friend, to find another. In fact, the layoff made me think: why don’t I just leave now? And so I left 1 month and 2 weeks later.


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