What I brought home from Istanbul, Egypt, and Abu Dhabi

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One of my favourite parts about travelling is opening up my suitcase when I get home and pulling out all the treasures that I brought home. Gifts for friends, decorations for my home, edible treats and more spill out and remind me of all that I’ve seen and experienced. Of course, it’s not just physical objects that I bring home but memories, experiences, and plenty of inspiration. In Turkey, Egypt, and the UAE we saw so much and my heart is overflowing with the magic of it all. Here are some of the things I brought home from my trip, both the tangible and the ephemeral: 

Objects

When I was travelling for 10 months I was very careful about what I bought since I would have to carry it on my back through bus station after bus station. This was a much shorter trip so I might have gone a little overboard. In Istanbul I bought Turkish towels like the ones used in the hamam (Turkish bath) I went to, some old Turkish stamps and a hand-printed notebook, baklava and Turkish delight, hand-made marmalade from the sweetest cafe and market, some ceramic tiles for our bathroom, and turquoise and carnelian earrings. Matt also bought me a beautiful hamsa necklace that I ended up wearing every day after he went home to make me feel closer to him.

In Egypt we found a fair trade store in Luxor where we scooped up some cute little scarab sculptures, wooden tiles with mother of pearl inlays, and a beautiful scarf. In Cairo we bought lovely alabaster tea light holders, argon and sandalwood oils, notebooks covered in Arabic script, more earrings, and some tea. I also snagged a horseshoe we found in the sand at the pyramids. By the time I got to the UAE I was a little shopped out so the only thing I brought home from there was a gorgeous scarf that my friend brought back from Greece.

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Experiences and memories

This was Matt’s and my first big trip together, and Matt’s first trip outside North America, and it couldn’t have gone better. It was pretty amazing facing the great wide world together and we took plenty of cheesy selfies to help us remember those moments. Staying with friends in Cairo and Abu Dhabi and adventuring together also helped deepen our friendships with those two lovely ladies.

Some of the my favourite experiences, with Matt and on my own, include: finding ways to communicate when we didn’t share a language; getting scrubbed and massaged at a traditional Turkish bath; sharing my love for teaching creativity with my Turkish printmaking instructor, waiting for my words to be translated, then seeing him smile and nod in enthusiastic agreement; seeing the inside of Hagia Sophia and almost crying; eating fresh fish beside the waters of the Golden Horn; going inside the Great Pyramid; trying Kosheri, Egypt’s national dish; weaving madly through traffic in Egyptian taxis; watching students paint graffiti just blocks from Tahrir square; drinking tea with mint at the Khan Al-Khalili; watching a highly skilled Egyptian belly dancer perform in a restaurant on the Nile; riding sand dunes like a roller coaster; and splashing around in the Persian Gulf.

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Inspiration

I often wish I was the type of artist who draws as she travels, filling sketchbooks with details and ideas, but I’m not. Instead I take pictures and I write and with all the visual inspiration floating in my mind, I try to find ways to incorporate what I’ve seen in my work.

Some of the swirling images I’m left with include: brightly coloured tiles or rich woodcuts with symmetrical images of tulips and pomegranates; perfectly shaped pyramids of spices in earthy shades of red and brown; sticky mountains of baklava and pink pistachio-studded Turkish delight; dainty glasses of tea balanced on a tray heading down an alley; sparkling lamps of punched metal, smooth alabaster, or hand-blown glass; the swoops and whorls of Arabic script; the hard edges of carved hieroglyphics; a cart filled with fresh daisies; pomegranates split and peeled to show off their jewelled insides; colourful paintings giving way to dusty stone; sails unfurling over water at sunset; cars flowing haphazardly down freeways like water; sand blowing gently from the peaks of dunes….

It’s pretty full in this brain of mine. I hope these images stick with me for a long time.

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Skills

I took a workshop to learn the basics of woodblock printmaking in the Ottoman style, which involved carving a thick foam block and printing on fabric. It was so much fun and it opened my eyes to more ways that I can learn and teach printmaking techniques. I also took two private belly dance classes in Cairo to sharpen my skills. It was incredibly valuable having two different dancers watch me and point out what I can be doing better.

Photographs

After only ever having point-and-shoot cameras on trips, bringing the DSLR changed everything. Next week I’ll be writing about my first time experiences using a DSLR while travelling, and what I learned about taking travel photos.

Infections

Maybe 5 cities and 8 flights in 19 days was a little too much. I got a nasty tonsil infection the day after I got back, and my usually benign eczema turned into something out of a zombie movie. With my hand wrapped in bandages for a week I’ve been telling people that I got bit by a snake in Egypt – and a few people have fallen for it!

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Desire for more

When I travel for months at a time, I’m usually ready to stay put for awhile afterwards. But this trip just gave me a taste and I felt a little giddy when Matt started asking me about what I think about going to Costa Rica next. There’s also so much more of Turkey to be seen, plus all the other fascinating countries around the Mediterranean, plus South East Asia, plus India… This bug will never quit.

Gratitude

Being in Cairo in particular made me contemplate all that I’m thankful for back home: I don’t have to worry about frequent power cuts; I have healthy, clean water coming from the taps; I don’t have to cover my hair or face (or knees or shoulders) when I go outside; and the threat of terrorism, war, or violent uprisings is basically zero. Despite the problems we can be eager to find, life in Canada is easy, comfortable, and safe, and I try to remember that each day.

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What’s your favourite thing that you’ve brought home from a trip? An object, a memory, a photograph? Leave a comment below.

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3 comments

  1. smedford1108 says: April 29, 2015

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