2017 Travel Recap: One Year in Three Minutes

… better late than never, right? 🙈

One day, I will publish content on time. Today is not that day.

Nevertheless, I have finally gotten around to writing a blog post to accompany my 2017 Travel Recap video that I published to YouTube about three weeks ago. As I wrote, sometimes it takes editing on your laptop for fifteen hours straight to really appreciate the magnitude of the year you’ve just had. In the space of 2 minutes and 52 seconds, I cram my adventures from five diverse yet equally incredible countries into this yearly review.

There’s the pyramids in Egypt. The nature in New Zealand. The architecture in Spain. The Mediterranean beaches in France.

Oh, and a cute ‘lil cat café from England (gotta have variety, right?).

So, without further ado, take a look…

If written posts are more your cup of tea, be sure to check out the other half of my yearly review – 2017 Blogging Recap: Running Away From My Problems – for all the honesty and behind the scenes ‘deats. Also, pop on over to the Ginger Passports’ YouTube Channel and show some love by subscribing or giving me a much appreciated thumbs up 👍

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Grey Skies, London Highs

Where does one begin to describe London?

After the last six months, I have learnt that you should never nurse expectations when experiencing a new place. All expectations do is harbour disappointment – and what would be the point of that?

Stepping off the train at Paddington Station, I immediately found myself transported back to big city life. After shying away from the masses for the best part of three months, I ached to lose myself once again in the faceless crowds. In a city of nearly nine million people – over twice the size of my home country – I was pretty sure that wouldn’t be difficult.

In true British fashion, we were welcomed with miserable, melancholic weather. Cursing my photographic luck, I readjusted my scarf, kept calm and carried on (sorry, I had to). It was the first time I had been reunited with the Metro since my week in Paris, and I wasn’t expecting to have missed it so much. There’s that galvanising feeling of silent camaraderie between passengers that you just don’t experience on buses and trains. Or is that just me? Yeah… that’s probably just me.

“… when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”
Samuel Johnson (1777)

The modus operandi of this trip wasn’t so much participatory as it was observatory. We had arrived for one day only with a very special objective – to see Star Wars – and the rest was really just the icing on the cake. I was quite content wandering around the streets and getting hopelessly lost in the hopes of learning even a little about this beautiful, monstrous metropolis.

We strolled down the River Thames and lapped up the intoxicating scent of mulled wine from the Southbank Centre Winter Market. I had never before encountered such a market culture before arriving in England, and could wile away hours at a time exploring the myriad stalls.

Weaving our way through buskers and tourists alike, we looked up to find ourselves bathed in the shadow of the London Eye. Spoiler alert: it’s freakin’ huge. There are certain landmarks over the world that I have found somewhat underwhelming in size – the Pyramids and Big Ben, just to name two – but this iconic ferris wheel certainly lives up to the hype. Whilst we didn’t join the queues to see London from above, we enjoyed the view from below, and then carried on our merry way towards Parliament.

“London is a roost for every bird”
Benjamin Disraeli (1870)

Without a doubt in my mind, I can say that the highlight for me was the Camden Market. Unlike most people (I imagine), I had never before heard of this place. This fact was met with disbelieving ears, but I digress. Upon arriving, part of me felt like I had been thrown back in the MBK Shopping Centre in Bangkok, with it’s eccentric labyrinthine marketplace. Camden Market has over one thousand shops, stalls, bars and cafés nestled inside, plus spectacular events on the daily. My personal favourite food hubs include the infamous Cereal Killer Café (you know, the one with over 120 types of cereal on the menu) and the Cheese Bar (try the rosemary goats’ cheese, honey, walnut, and rosemary butter grilled cheese toastie! Phew, that’s a mouthful…). This is also a neat place to visit if you’re vegan 🌽

The ‘Deats

Name: Camden Market

Website: www.camdenmarket.com

Location: Camden Lock Place, London, NW1 8AF

Hours: 10am – late

I also discovered that one of my favourite artists – Amy Winehouse – lived and died in Camden. For this reason, a lot of places in this district pay homage to her, such as the striking statue found right in the heart of Camden Market, as photographed below.

The day concluded under the evening glow of Leicester Square. Located in London’s West End, this pedestrianised square is home to some of the city’s most iconic shops. Think M&M’s World and the LEGO Store – but honest opinion? The LEGO Store is slightly overrated, and M&M’s World didn’t even sell my favourite flavour (peanut butter, in case you were wondering). But hey, this trip wasn’t about retail therapy. After digesting that M&M’s could warrant four floors worth of consumerism and merchandise, we withdrew back to Leicester Square and explored the lights and the art and the Christmas atmosphere. London is most beautiful at night.

I will be returning to the Old Smoke very soon. I barely scraped the surface of London, and next time, I want to get my hands dirty. There are so many things to see, so much to do… far more than a day could ever afford. What do you recommend?

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for my London travel vlog, which will be uploaded to the Ginger Passports’ YouTube Channel. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss out on any exciting updates! I will also be writing about my favourite London café’s in January, so keep your eyes peeled. Last but not least, if any of my readers are based in London and would be interested in meeting up next time I’m around, flick me a message on any of my social media profiles, or else email me at thegingerpassports@gmail.com – till then! 👋

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Could This Be the Most Photogenic Street in Europe?

When I was planning my itinerary for Paris, I would scroll endlessly through travel blogs to find the most beautiful photographs, and then track down where they had been taken. I figured that I was going to be in France, one of the most heavenly countries in the world; why not surround myself with as much beauty as possible?

Aside from the usual landmarks – I’m talking the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe – I began to notice a certain thread between pictures. There was always this one street that travellers – especially bloggers – seemed to gravitate towards. It’s not hard to see why; this narrow street had the most quaint houses, all painted different shades of pastel.

After some sleuthing, I discovered that this dreamlike place is called Rue Crémieux, and that it is located in Paris’ 12th Arrondissement (between Rue de Lyon and Rue de Bercy). When I finally visited the city, I took the Metro across La Seine to Gare de Lyon, and a short stroll later, found myself standing in the middle of the cobblestoned street I had become so familiar with through my screen.

Rue Crémieux is a pedestrian street, so you can lose yourself through your lens without having to worry about getting run over (or – a little more realistically – tooted at by impatient Parisians). Paris is known for it’s Haussmann architecture, but this is a somewhat pleasant exception; the houses give the impression that you have stumbled into a countryside lane, despite being smack bang in the middle of one of the most populous cities in Europe.

Fashion bloggers frequent Rue Crémieux to use it as a backdrop for their photographs – and who can blame them? This street is beyond idyllic, and bloggers have the luxury of choosing just what colour palette they would like to pose before. Whilst I am quite content to work behind the camera, most of the other tourists were making the most of the prismatic opportunity. This street has been likened to Portobello Road in London, and it’s not difficult to see why.

The only downside to this online exposure is that Rue Crémieux is no longer one of Paris’ best kept secrets. Now, it seems that every man and his dog is flocking here (and I suppose I’m not helping on that front, either 🙈). So perhaps be thoughtful and don’t overstay your welcome; I’m sure the locals aren’t too fussed about all the attention.

The ‘Deats

Name: Rue Crémieux (originally Avenue Millaud)

Location: Rue Crémieux, 75012, Paris, France

Psst, don’t forget to watch my Paris travel vlog if you haven’t already done so (catch Rue Crémieux from 0:58). If you’re looking for more showcasing the French capital, get your hands on my Paris photo diary and layover itinerary 🇫🇷

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2017 Blogging Recap: Running Away From My Problems

A year ago — well, a year and one month, to be exact — I told myself that enough was enough. I had been flirting with the idea of starting a blog for years now, but the technical side to things really threw me off. I’m not a complete numpty when it comes to technology, but words such as RSS and permalink could have been part of a foreign language for all I was concerned.

In the end, it was a trip to Southeast Asia in late 2016 that really pushed me to throw the Ginger Passports together. I saw it as an ideal opportunity to generate content and launch my brand. Gritting my teeth, I went the budget route and signed up to wordpress.com (I would later swap over to the more professional wordpress.org), recruited a talented friend to speak code — and here we are: thirteen months later with a blog I couldn’t be more proud of.

2017 was one hell of a year. I mean that in both the best and worst possible sense of that word, but for the purposes of positivity, I am going to focus on the best.

2017 began with a bang – quite literally. I spent my favourite New Years Eve yet in a high rise in the Auckland, curled up with a bottle of Shiraz and watching King Kong (adrenaline-pinching, amiright?). When the clock struck midnight, I ran out to the balcony and watched fireworks cartwheel over the luminescent city.

I began the year how I intended to finish it: with a map in one hand and a suitcase in the other. For the first week of January, we road tripped across the North Island of New Zealand. Beginning in Auckland, we zig-zagged our way down south, making pit stops in iconic places such as Hobbiton. We concluded the journey in Wellington, where we filled several action-packed days making the most of the capital’s cultural scene.

Trying to be all creative and such at Hobbiton in Mata Mata

Stumbling across a painted piano on the waterfront… just your average Wellington shenanigans

Feeling nosy? Get your business all up in my travel vlog of the North Island road trip 🎬

February was a milestone month for me in that it was the first time I published a piece of work on an independent platform.

I had been a follower of the feminist travel blog – Travelettes – for some time by this point, and was eager to try my hand at submitting a guest post. Not expecting much, I wrote an article on navigating the turbulent landscape of homesickness, and voila! How to Get Comfortable with Traveling was published a few weeks later.

This was also a time that I began to realise the value of my home. Foreshadowings of change in the coming months were beginning to creep into my life, and I began to feel a need to explore and appreciate my own city before the opportunity escaped me.

On the hottest day of the summer, I launched my beach review series at Saint Kilda Beach in Dunedin. On what was likely the windiest day, I made the trek up to Lover’s Leap to take in the jaw-dropping views of the Otago Peninsula.

Totally not posing at Saint Kilda Beach

Channeling my inner Tolkien at Lover’s Leap

If you ask me what my favourite part of New Zealand is, my answer will irrevocably by Central Otago.

For some reason or another, I decided in March that a Central Otago escape was in order. Drawn by the temptation of vineyards and gourmet cheese, I packed my bags and left the coast behind.

Quite by chance, my trip synchronised with a spontaneous roadie of my friend Becky (check out this interview with her), and one Saturday morning, we decided to go on an adventure up the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown (the tourist capital of New Zealand). A bottle of mulled wine later, and we decided that skinny dipping in glacial lakes seemed like a good idea.

Becky being the badass that she is

The stunning Lake Dunstan in Cromwell

Central Otago is the most beautiful place on Earth, and no one can convince me otherwise

(Let’s just pretend I didn’t just skip two months, okay?)

If anyone ever tells you that running away from your problems never solves anything…. well, they’re wrong.

Okay, so that’s probably not the best advice to be giving you. But in this particular case, it worked wonders.

Midway through 2017, I was not a happy chappy. As special as my home country of New Zealand was to me, I just wasn’t prepared to invest in a short-term future there. I was nearing the last semester of my degree, and needed to be thinking about what I was going to do once I walked out of that exam room for the final time. During June, I really worked myself into a state over this, and — against the wishes and logic of nearly everyone I knew — I resolved that unhappiness by buying a one-way ticket to Spain. You could say I was quite literally running — flying? — away from my problems.

I landed in Madrid a week later and I never looked back. I fell in love with Spain in the same way you might fall in love with someone who saves your life. The language, the culture, the people… I was starving for change, and took everything in my stride.

Palacio de Cibales in Madrid

As chance had it, I arrived in the Spanish capital the same weekend of World Pride, and had the unmissable opportunity to march down Puerta del Sol with three million other supporters. 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of the first LGBTIQ pride parade in Spain, so it was a particularly special event indeed.

There’s nothing like a bit of ELO

After falling for Madrid, I bought a train ticket south to the Mediterranean paradise of Andalusia. I delighted in tastes of Málaga, Granada and Seville before bidding a short adiós to Spain and flying to the City of Love.

Just east of Málaga… those beautiful moments before I was reduced to a sun-burnt lobster

As I wrote on the blog, Paris is… well, Paris. And as Anne Rice said, “Paris was a universe whole and entire unto herself, hollowed and fashioned by history… as vast and indestructible as nature itself”. One of us definitely nailed it.

To me, Paris was always one of those places where the idea surmounted the reality. To elaborate, I never actually thought I would make it there. Not in any macabre way or anything – it was just that Paris always seemed so far away and distant, as though belonging to someone else’s dream. To stand in her very midst was a surreal experience.

Because nothing screams Paris like the same photo taken by every tourist ever

I didn’t think it possible to consider any part of France to prevail over Paris, but that was before I stumbled upon Nice. Nice – the Mediterranean heel of France – drew me for reasons I cannot fathom. Perhaps it was the landscape reminiscent of Andalusia, or the local culture that made it so effortless to feel not on holiday, but at home. All I knew was that when I left – with my pockets full of truffle oil and lavender sweets – I almost felt homesick for a place I barely knew.

A local food tour with the French Way

August was punctuated with one last nod to Spain; I flew to the Catalan capital of Barcelona to immerse myself in Gaudí’s dreamscapes for a couple of weeks.

Blown away by Gaudí’s Park Güell

If you had asked me at the beginning of the year where 2017 would take me, I would not have said Egypt. Not because it didn’t intrigue me – quite the opposite – but because it existed in a completely different world that was incompatible with all safe intentions of the independent, female traveler. And yet – much to the joys of my mother and father – I found myself spontaneously stepping off the plane at Cairo airport in the early days of September.

Cairo was all I wanted it to be and more. I ticked the touristic activities off my bucket list – think Pyramids and Citadel – but I also had the opportunity to explore a more authentic side to things such as markets. Staying with locals certainly didn’t hurt, either. I was also treated to some classic street harassment, which was neither appreciated nor altogether surprising. If travel has taught me one thing, it’s that you can’t pick and choose the positive aspects of a culture.

Making friends in the desert

Taking in views from the Citadel

After over three months of living out of a suitcase, I eventually made it to my final destination: the United Kingdom. There, I began my final semester as an undergraduate on exchange in England.

It was relaxing to be able to focus on my studies for a wee while without another trip looming on the horizon. As invigorating as I find travel, it does mean sacrificing the little things. Like routine. And gym memberships. And a proper bed.

It is now mid-December, and I have itchy feet again. My restlessness has me trawling through budget flight search engines, keeping an eye out for deals. My camera has sunk into the depths of my wardrobe, and the Ginger Passports feels naked without fresh content three times a week.

The last two and a half months haven’t produced the same content as when I first left New Zealand, but I’ve still managed to be productive; just last week, I had a second piece published on the Travelettes called Barcelona vs. Madrid: Which Spanish City Is For You?

I’m not choosing to think of 2018 as the beginning of something new. I’ve learnt that seeing starts and ends to things isn’t always healthy, and can pre-empt failure if intended plans don’t exactly take shape. Rather, January 1st will just be another day. I won’t set goals for the next twelve months, nor will I foster expectation. My blog – and myself – will grow at our own pace, and enjoy what life has to offer on this side of the world 🌍

P.S. Hello from January! 👋 For a more audiovisual recap, check out this little flick

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Roussillon: Lavender Gelato and Ochre Motifs

Cruising around the winding roads of Provence on a tempestuous Sunday in mid-August, I was introduced to several idyllic villages.

The thing about the southeast of France is that everywhere you go is blindingly beautiful; but after a while, you struggle to separate the different places in your head. There’s so many… Gordes, Les Beaux and Saint Rémy, just to name a few. You can’t blame a girl for feeling a lil’ overwhelmed. However, there was one village that really cemented itself in my memory.

Allow me to introduce you to Roussillon

Often nicknamed the French Colorado, Roussillon can be found in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (well, that’s not a mouthful at all) and has gained prominence due to its abundance of ochre quarries. (For those who don’t know, ochre is a pigment found in the earth that has gorgeous red hues). These deposits give the neighbouring landscape of Roussillon a surreal look that is slightly reminiscent of Mars, and has also inspired the motif of the buildings.

There is folklore behind this ochre. Local legend has it that – during the Middle Ages – a young woman called Séramonde became engaged to the Lord of Roussillon, Raymond d’Avignon. However, because Raymond preferred to hunt than serenade his fiancé, Séramonde fell in love with someone else. When Raymond found out, he killed her beloved and – unbeknownst to Séramonde – served her his cooked heart to be eaten. When she became aware of what she had done, she threw herself off the cliff. The earth was stained red from her blood, and so coloured the ochre. Gruesome, huh?

The ‘Deats

Name: Roussillon

Country: France

Population: 1,300

The afternoon I spent meandering around the narrow, medieval alleys of Roussillon was a very happy one indeed. The commune is built atop a small rise, and a momentary hike to the summit rewards you with jaw-dropping views out over Park du Luberon. A particular highlight of my visit was relishing a lavender gelato cone (yes, you heard that right) whilst basking in the glory of the ochre hillside.

The art galleries dotted throughout only add to the painter’s palette that is this French village. Artists will welcome you inside with open arms to proudly show you their work, and you will find it irresistible to walk away without feeling inspired. Although the price tag of the paintings may exceed your budget, another way to support the artists and bring home a little of Roussillon is to purchase a print. I myself couldn’t say no.

If you have the opportunity to visit France, make it a priority to explore Roussillon. There is simply no other village like it. Whether you are drawn to Provence’s beauty, character, gastronomy or wine, there is something in Roussillon for everyone.

What are you waiting for?

France is a pretty neat place. Hungry for more? Maybe my succulent food tour of Nice will whet your appetite – and indulge on my Paris photo diary for dessert 🇫🇷

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Vlog: Cairo Edition

Before I launch into a mini rant about how much nostalgia creating this vlog bought back, I would like to formally apologise for being absent the last three or so weeks. Aside from adjusting to life in England (where the f*ck is the sun?!), I have been doing a lot of thinking in regards to this blog. As we approach the Ginger Passports’ first birthday (🎉), I have been reviewing the direction I am taking with this project. Over the last year, I have focused on creating aesthetic content that both summarises the places I have traveled to and hopefully educates my readers on some of the issues relevant to these areas. Falling into that last category are my more political posts (most notably, my defence of cultural appropriation) which have certainly struck me as a more meaningful and fulfilling purpose for this blog. Because of that, I am aiming to incorporate more of these types of post in the coming future. I would also like to explore a more journalistic side to my writing – but I won’t reveal anything more just yet! Make sure you follow the Ginger Passports on Facebook and Twitter to make sure you don’t miss any updates.

Okay! Now that that’s over and done with, let’s return to the resplendent, confused beauty of Cairo

“Egypt is a great place for contrasts: splendid things gleam in the dust.”
Gustave Flaubert

November will be a gripping month for Egypt content, but in the meantime, there’s still plenty of blog posts for you to keep yourself busy. Check out 10 Things that Surprised Me About Cairo, or for something a little more serious, read about my experience navigating unwanted attention and harassment in this eye-opening city. Last but not least, you simply cannot skip my personal favourite… Monolithic Giants: the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

P.S. You might recognise the vlog song from my travel playlist.

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10 Things that Surprised Me About Cairo

The more you get to know a place, the more you get to learn its many quirks. As a city I only held pigeonholed ideas about – think camels, mummy’s and sexual harassment (*cue dry laughter*) – Cairo was just waiting to surprise me.

Road lanes? What road lanes?

The very first thing I discovered was that Egyptians have absolutely no concept of road lanes (or road rules, for that matter).

When I was picked up from the airport at 2am and driven across the city to Giza, I genuinely feared for my life. People were treating the highway like they would Gran Turismo, and the blatant disregard for the law – and common sense – was mind-blowing. If you’re not quite grasping the sheer terror of driving amongst people like this, bear in mind that highways in Cairo can have up to eight lanes. And a donkey or two.

Pass the mango

I’m no stranger to mangoes. They’re one of my favourite fruits, and I have had the pleasure to try them from many different corners of the globe such as Thailand and the south of Spain.

But the embarrassing truth is that, prior to Egypt, I had never eaten a fresh mango on its own. I know, I know. Such the traveller. I’ve only ever had mango if it was in the form of a smoothie or dollop of sorbet. Even in Southeast Asia, I didn’t think to buy some from one of the countless street food stalls.

On my very first day in Cairo, I tried a real mango. Woah. It was like all of the taste palates on my tongue had just been reborn. It was so juicy, so sweet… I don’t think I can ever return to preserved, tinned mango every again. It turns out that Egypt is actually known for it’s mangoes, which – according to Fruit Link Co. – are “a tropical delicacy with no equal”.

Tip

If you’re a mango fanatic like me, make sure you visit Egypt during mango season (July to November).

The City of Unfinished Buildings

Cairo may be known as the City of a Thousand Minarets, but perhaps a more appropriate nickname is the City of Unfinished Buildings.

One of the things I noticed every time I drove into the centre was the myriad of unfinished apartment buildings. I’m not just talking about one or two of these, either. There were long stretches where I couldn’t spot a single completed building. From a practical point of view, they’re unsafe. From an aesthetic point of view, they’re just plain ugly.

When I inquired into the reasoning behind this, I was informed that there exists something of a legal loophole in that owners in Cairo do not have to pay taxes until a building is structurally finished. Given this, there is little motivation to achieve completion.

Representation

If the nickname of the City of Unfinished Buildings doesn’t catch on, then maybe the City of a Thousand Billboards will.

Cruising down the 26th of July Corridor, you are treated to advertisement after advertisement. Airbrushed models smile down on you with their photoshopped, white smiles, marketing everything from Coca Cola to Vodafone to KFC. The oddity? None of the female models are veiled.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be strange if it weren’t for the fact that up to 80% of Egyptian women are believed to wear headscarves. That’s no minority. Presuming that these advertisements are targeting Egyptian citizens, this lack of representation seems a little unusual.

Paris along the Nile

When I first heard this next fact, I burst out laughing. Did you know that Cairo was architecturally modelled after Paris?

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Downtown Cairo was transformed into what was at the time called the ‘Paris of the East’. This was because the then-ruler was raised in France and wanted Egypt’s capital to reflect European modernity. This meant that the Downtown area was to be characterised by linear, gridded streets, geometric harmony, and reflect Parisian architecture.

Let there be light… please 🙏

If the lack of consideration for road lanes doesn’t already make driving a near-death experience for you, then the lack of street lamps will. There are so many stretches of highway where there is just no lighting. When you’re zooming along at 100km/h with half of Cairo on your tail, that’s the last thing you want.

I have no idea how you would navigate anywhere if it weren’t for the head and tail lights of surrounding cars – and even then, it’s near impossible to spot potholes or barriers that suddenly jump up out of the concrete. I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents. But on that note…

Desensitisation

If you travel to Cairo, you will probably see a dead body.

I’m not talking about roadkill. I wish I was talking about roadkill. Rather, I’m referring to the 12,000 human lives that are lost due to crashes every year in this country.

I remember driving down one of the more remote highways and passing an ambulance. Upon further inspection, I realised that two paramedics were tending to an unmoving body that had been flung from an also unmoving motorcycle. I didn’t have to look too closely to fathom their fate.

It was the juxtaposition between how Egypt deals with this sort of thing compared to the response from my home country of New Zealand that really shocked me. Back home, a crash – even one that leaves no fatalities – will halt traffic, block roads and make national news. Here, it was as though nothing had even happened. If I hadn’t had my eyes peeled, there is a good chance I wouldn’t have even noticed it.

Death has been normalised.

Green

On a lighter note, one thing that pleasantly surprised me about Cairo was the amount of greenery present. For a desert city, this wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Cruising down the Nile along Downtown’s Promenade especially draws attention to this welcome inhabitance of vegetation, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to temporarily forget that I was in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

The haze

Coming from a small town in an environmentally-friendly country, air pollution had always been something of an abstract problem. But for Cairo – the city ranked as having the worst air pollution in the world – this is an unavoidable issue.

The effect this has on the landscape is striking. Standing beneath the Mosque of Mohammed Ali in the Citadel and beholding Cairo’s skyline gave me the impression that I was looking over a civilisation on some distant planet. The horizon is a thick gray as a consequence of the fumes. As it ascends, the sky gradually fades into a dull blue. There are no clouds. There is no sun. There is only the haze.

Egypt is very… Egyptian

What amused me the most about Egypt was just how Egyptian it is.

If that sounds to you like an obvious statement, then allow me to elaborate. Like I said at the beginning of this piece, there are certain icons of Egypt that thoroughly tie into the stereotypes and conventions that the tourism industry thrives off. You know what I’m talking about.

But when I arrived, I didn’t actually expect these cultural symbols to manifest in absolutely everything. Everywhere you look is Egyptian iconography. Sphinx Bakery, Pyramid Gardens, Pharaoh Towers… walking in Cairo is like stepping into a three-dimensional postcard. I found it entertaining, to say the least.

I don’t intend for this blog post to deter anyone from visiting Cairo. In fact, I would go as far as to say that all these little quirks – good and bad – are instrumental in the formation of it’s character.

I highly recommend that you read about my experience at the Great Pyramids of Giza. Furthermore, if you want to learn about what it’s like to be a ginger in Egypt, then this post might be your cup of tea ☕

Last but not least, stay tuned for my Egypt vlog that is currently in the works! Show some love and subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss out on any exciting updates.

All photographs courtesy of the talented photographers at Unsplash

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Park Güell: Gaudí’s Barcelona Dreamscape

Ah, Barcelona. I never thought I’d get to meet you.

Park Güell is a park in the Barna neighbourhood of La Salut, designed in the early 20th century by Catalan modernist architect Antoní Gaudí. It is composed of gardens and naturalistic architecture, and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO 33 years ago.

Gaudí achieved his goal of creating a calming and tranquil atmosphere with Park Güell. His fantastical imagination is clearly reflected in the design of the gardens and structures, and walking through the front gates are like walking into a surreal dreamscape.

A ceiling mosaic in Sala Hipóstila

Perhaps the most recognised view of the park – and Barcelona in general – is that taken from the main terrace. The terrace is made from a long bench of beautiful tile-work that forms a sea serpent. This style is consistent with Gaudí’s habit of borrowing inspiration from the natural world.

The panoramic view of Barcelona from the main terrace

“Nothing is invented, for it’s written in nature first.”
Antoní Gaudí

Gaudí’s tiled dragon

If you’re in Barcelona and develop an appreciation for Gaudí’s work (I mean, let’s be realistic – who doesn’t?) then be sure to visit more of his creations. La Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló never fail to impress.

Tip

I didn’t realise until I actually arrived in Barcelona that you have to book tickets and an entry time for Park Güell. Given it’s a public park, I had erroneously assumed that you could just rock on up and enjoy the sight free of charge. Boy, was I wrong. If you’re planning on visiting, make sure you book online well in advance so that you’re not left disappointed when you have 24 hours left in the Catalonia capital and find out that the park is full for the next three days.

The entrance pavilion

The ‘Deats

Name: Park Güell

Website: www.parkguell.cat

Location: 08024, Barcelona, Spain

Hours: 8am-8.30pm

For more information about Antoni Gaudí, please visit Artsy.

If you’re hungry for more of Spain, be sure to flick through my Postcards from Madrid, or see the beauty of Sevilla’s Plaza de España in 6 Ways to Learn a New Language Without Picking Up a Book 👍

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Monolithic Giants: The Great Pyramids of Egypt

France has the Eiffel Tower. Italy has the Colosseum. And Egypt has the Pyramids.

I don’t know what it is about these Egyptian megastructures that puts them on a tier above the rest. Maybe it’s the fact that they are the last surviving wonder of the world. But what I do know is that visiting this archaeological site has been one of my greatest aspirations for a very long time, and compared to my expectations, my actual experience did not disappoint.

History lesson! The Giza Pyramid Complex includes the Great Pyramids – Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure – guarded by the limestone sculpture known as the Sphinx. Located in the Sahara Desert on the outskirts of Cairo, the Complex was believed to have been built to house the remains of the Pharaohs (Ancient Egyptian rulers).

“The people of Ancient Egypt believed that death on Earth was the start of a journey to the next world. The embalmed body of the King was entombed underneath or within the pyramid to protect it and allow his transformation and ascension to the afterlife.”

The largest pyramid – Khufu – reaches a height of 138.8 meters, and is estimated to have taken 200 years to build. 200 years! It is also fascinating to learn that the Great Pyramids are precisely aligned with the constellation of Orion, which was associated with Osiris, the Ancient Egyptian god of rebirth and afterlife.

Did you know?

There are actually six pyramids that comprise the Giza Pyramid Complex, not three as is commonly believed. The remaining three (called the Pyramids of the Queens) are much smaller and located in a row behind Menkaure.

  

I had already been in Cairo for over a week before paying a visit to the Giza Pyramid Complex. This meant that I had grown accustomed to the pyramids dominating the horizon every time I ventured into the City of a Thousand Minarets. But as my boyfriend and I approached the gates to the site, I couldn’t help but feel consumed with awe at the monolithic giants towering over us.

I don’t think I’d ever get used to the level of (attempted) security in Cairo. No sooner had we pulled up outside the main gate than did three guards descend upon the car demanding to check us for any weapons or dangerous goods. After asking needlessly if we were married (🙄) they let us through. We parked the car at the foot of Khafre and began to explore.

The pyramids rise grand and resplendent from the cripplingly arid desert. The size of the individual slabs are enough to astound you, let alone the size of the actual structures. Given the sheer volume of security at the entrance, you’d expect the Complex itself to be meticulously patrolled; in reality, there are no barriers or guards, meaning you can climb onto the lower landings of the pyramids and get up close and personal with the ancient wonders.

If I had to choose one thing that left a negative impact on my time at the pyramids, it would have to be people (namely men) trying to scam you. We hadn’t even gotten out of the car before they swarmed upon us, offering deals on tours and souvenirs. One boy even followed us all the way around Khafre, relentless and dogged in his pursuit. If I took a picture of a camel, its owner would materialise out of thin air and demand some sort of payment. If I accepted a ‘free gift’ from a souvenir seller, they wouldn’t leave me be until I returned the favour in some (*cough*monetary*cough*) form. In all seriousness, if I had not been there with my boyfriend – an Egyptian citizen who speaks Arabic – I am pretty damn sure I would have been guilt-tripped or manipulating into losing a lot of money.

Tip

To avoid getting scammed, give a wide berth to people at the Complex who are not official employees. The only people you should be interacting with are those at the ticket booth and those at security (both at the gates and succeeding the ticket booth). Even if they flash you their ‘license’, people claiming that they will show you where to park your car, or that they take the tours included in the entry price (spoiler alert: bullsh*t), or that tickets have sold out and they have the only remaining pass, are just trying to empty your pockets.

But as far as bad experiences go, those men were a relatively insignificant one. If anything, they were amusing. I had the luxury of sitting back and relaxing as I watched my boyfriend’s patience slowly fizzle out like an old firework. It’s worth mentioning some of the good things that happened during my visit, such as the fact that hardly anyone else was there. This can be seen in the solitariness of my photographs, and has motivated me to write a blog post chronicling the deterioration of Egypt’s tourism industry… stay tuned 😎

Before I arrived in Egypt, I had been warned by friends and family members that I would stand out like a sore thumb. I had dismissed their words of caution, but the truth to what they were saying really hit me here. Foreign tourists were something of a rarity, and the fact that I have red hair and the complexion of a white walker probably didn’t help on that front. Many local tourists asked to take photos with me, and one woman physically grabbed me by the material of my shirt and held me still until she had taken a satisfactory number of selfies. My boyfriend had to drag me away from the growing crowd so that we could continue with our sightseeing.

After taking in the marvel of Khafre, I made the executive decision that we would embark on a camel ride. After riding an elephant in Thailand last year, I was bursting to get back in the saddle. (Yes, I realise that camel-riding is probably dodgy. Yes, I plan to educate myself on this topic. And yes, I understand that condemning my own participation only in hindsight not once, but twice, makes me a textbook hypocrite. I’m working on it.)

A few minutes later and we were climbing onto the backs of two camels. You don’t really appreciate just how high it is until you’re up there. I’d read that camel riding is a largely uncomfortable experience, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s nothing of that sort. Sure, you have to keep one hand firmly clamped on the horn of the saddle to save falling off, but hey, where else is the adventure? Led by a boy no older than thirteen, we padded back around to Khafre, snapped some more photos, laughed at the noises camels make (seriously though, have you heard them?!) and then meandered back to where we started.

The Great Pyramids are the beating heart of Egypt. They have survived for 186 generations and they will survive for many more. Standing amongst these giants was a simultaneously humbling and inspiring experience, and one I hope to recreate again in the future.

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The Beach Review #2: Nice

If you’re a long time reader of the Ginger Passports, then you might remember a wee blog post I published several months back where I reviewed Saint Kilda Beach in Dunedin, New Zealand. As the first edition of my beach review series, Saint Kilda scored 6.5 stars out of a possible 10, exceeding expectations in isolation and sand, but falling short in temperature.

A week in Nice in August offered the opportunity to dip my toes in the waters of the Mediterranean. The French Riviera is famous for it’s luxury and iconography, and I could hardly wait to embrace the coast after a month of meandering down central France.

For those perhaps unacquainted with my system of rating, here’s how it goes… I take a beach and evaluate it according to seven attributes: water, sand, temperature, wildlife, beauty, recreation and congestion. Each beach has the potential to earn 10 stars (★) and are stacked up against one another at the end of the post.

#2
Beach: Nice
Location: Nice, French Riviera, France

Water

Whilst the Mediterranean may not be like dipping your toes in a warm bath, it’s not far from it. I’m a complete wuss when it comes to the cold, so the fact that I was able to submerge myself after taking a few steps speaks volumes.

The water gets deep very, very quickly. This is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. There’s no jagged reefs or coral to cut yourself on, so it makes for a carefree swim. There are also no waves – but more on that later!

Sand

Yeah… that’s some misleading heading there. Unfortunately, you won’t find any sand in Nice (you’ll have to head westward past Antibes for that), but rather smooth pebbles by the name of ‘galets’. While these pebbles aren’t sharp, they’re not exactly nice to walk on either. I would make the regular dash from the towel to the shore grimacing in pain and searing heat, cursing my decision not to bring sandals.

Temperature

The biggest drawback to Saint Kilda is that it’s freakin’ freezing. I’m not just talking about the water, either – the south of New Zealand in general is a pretty chilly place to be.

Nice is hot but not uncomfortably hot. In fact, I would go as far to say that it is perfect beach weather. I visited during August, a month that on average scores between 24-27°C during the daytime. I was relieved to escape the 40°C highs of southern Spain whilst still being able to break out the bikini and sunscreen (because, y’know, I’m ginger).

Wildlife

When I came to write this part of the review, I had to actually open up another internet browser to search the answer. Even then, Google failed me. I never saw a single sea or land creature during my time lolling on the beach in Nice (save for perhaps a few nosy gulls). While there have been past sightings of sharks off the coast of the French Riviera, there isn’t really anything notable or iconic that I can discuss here.

Beauty

Strolling down the French Riviera is like strolling down the canvas of a painting. The colours, the texture, the music… everything titillates the senses. It may not be the natural landscape itself that draws the eye, but rather the mix of people and culture, blending together like wet paint on a palette.

Recreation

The adrenalised parasailing scene draws fun-seekers of all walks of life, but that – and the odd jet ski here and there – is about as lively as it gets. As a keen surfer, I was disappointed to learn that Nice has very little to offer in terms of waves. Nevertheless, myself and my budget were satisfied with floating in the water for hours on end.

Nice Beach runs alongside Promenade des Anglais, a coastal highway offering delightful (albeit overpriced) cafés and the sort of souvenir shops that you can’t help but check out every time even though they’re all the same. Although there is much to eat on offer here, Cours Saleya Market is a mere 50m stroll away. Here, you will find fresh fruit, local produce and savoury specialities of the Côte d’Azur. If all else fails, you can always count on people to be doing the rounds on the beach selling everything from chilled beer to carved watermelon 🍉

Congestion

Holy f*ck.

If you’re someone who values their personal space, then Nice is not for you. Be prepared to be sandwiched like sardines between holidaymakers, struggling to find just one square meter of free space to lay out your towel. People will assemble umbrellas right in your face. They will walk straight over you to get to the water. They might even strip right next to you (hey, it’s Europe). I distinctly remember waking up from a sun-soaked slumber to an eyeful of an old woman’s naked breasts.

The Verdict

7.1/10

★★★★★★★

I had imagined the beach at Nice to fulfil my wildest Mediterranean dreams: kilometres of white sand, gorgeous cerulean waters and a landscape like something out of a vintage postcard. I guess you could say I had high expectations.

The good news is that the reality of Nice wasn’t that different to my imagination. The ocean, heat and landscape all ticked the boxes, and even the severe lack of wildlife and lush sand didn’t dull my enjoyment. If I had to choose just one aspect of Nice that really impacted negatively upon my experience, it would have to be the pure congestion of bodies.

But hey – I suppose you can’t have everything.

The Rankings

  1. Nice 🇫🇷 France
    (7.5 stars)
    ★★★★★★★
  2. Saint Kilda 🇳🇿 New Zealand
    (6.5 stars)
    ★★★★★★

If you weren’t aware of the excessive links to my previous post in the Beach Review series, then here it is again: Saint Kilda. Or, if Nice has tickled your fancy, then you might like to read about a scrumptious food tour I embarked on in the unforgettable city (featuring a delicious recipe!).

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