Episode 7: That Time I Slept On Mount Sinai

365 Dates of Travel Podcast

Transcript for Episode 7: That Time I Slept On Mount Sinai

Welcome to 365 dates of travel with Fran. Today is a reading show and I’ll be reading stories from the December Chapter. 

The first story is from the 5th of December, which I discussed a bit last week. I spent the day on the train travelling from Cologne or Koln to Dresden. 

5th of December, 2018, Dresden, Germany

A relaxing day on the train today. It would be the longest single train journey of the trip. Seven and a half hours without changing trains. We departed Cologne at 9:12 am and arrived in Dresden at 4:36 pm. Plenty of time to sit back, relax, and view German villages rolling by. I found myself falling asleep, though. This is a new skill for me; falling asleep on transport. So it is not always welcome. I had my shoes off, feet curled up, pillow out, so I slept away most of the morning. But I had the afternoon to watch Germany go by. Such a relaxing holiday.

In the afternoon I realised I was facing forward, as in the direction the train was travelling, but I swear I was facing backwards on departure. We must have pulled into a station, changed engines, and then left on a track in a different direction. Amazing what happens when you are napping. Somehow it happened again, as I returned to going backwards. I must not have been paying attention when we stopped.

I neglected to get food and snacks prior to the train, but could order food from my seat. I was embarrassed about not being able to speak German, especially if everyone in the carriage could hear me. So when the Attendant came around for food requests, I said nothing. I found her later when by herself and put in an order pointing at pictures on the menu card for a cheese sandwich meal that included a pretzel and hot chocolate for €6.90.

Once at Dresden, I navigated my way to the correct station exit, reasonably quickly, as I had been through this station before. This allowed me to find the tram. I got on the right tram, bought a ticket, and alighted at the correct stop. However, I accidentally bought a student ticket and failed to stamp it in the machine. So I did not pay, but not on purpose.

I had a block to walk from the tram along a cobble-stoned path to the hotel. You heard me, well, my bag, coming as I rolled along. They nickname this street the “Christmas Mile” at this time of year. The hotel faced onto a Christmas Market. An excellent location for my well researched Christmas themed trip.

I spent the next few hours strolling around the historical streets of Dresden, and four different Christmas Markets. The Striezelmarkt, outside the hotel’s front door, had a six-storied Christmas Pyramid which greeted me on exiting the hotel. It is the oldest market in Germany, being in its 584th year at my visit.

A short walk away, giant star lights twinkled in the trees near the church. Every street you passed contained decorations and lights. It was magical wandering around, taking it all in. It’s like you have stumbled into a fairytale land. Christmas music is playing. Children are laughing and squealing in delight, and sounds of merriment are heard at every turn.

I was uncertain if I’d have time to make it to the furthermost market from my hotel, but pleased I did. Augustusmarkt dazzled with its all white tents and blue dancing lights. The lights imitated snow falling. I welcomed the warmth from open fires, found a place to sit, and drank in the atmosphere. I did not want to leave. This was my favourite market of the night.

The 21st of December is the day where I’m leaving London to fly to Israel and I get a bit of a nasty shock after I have checked in and already have my boarding pass. I have a tough decision to make and it wasn’t easy.

21st December (1996) Flight to Israel

I caught the Gatwick Express to Gatwick Airport and checked in. Before further formalities, I visited the ATM to attain the bulk of my spending money from my Danish bank account. I had some English Sterling cash, and some left over US dollars cash, but I’d planned to take out the rest of my budget while filling in time at the airport.

My debit Visa card would not work. The screen kept displaying “Wrong PIN”. I rang my share house and asked one of my housemates to go through my purse and find my PIN number. My housemate now knew my PIN number, but I was desperate at this point. The number he read out was the number I’d been entering. So it wasn’t the wrong PIN like the machine kept saying. Being a Saturday, no one answered when I rang the bank in Denmark.

I tried a currency exchange shop. Alas, they needed the PIN as well. I didn’t know what to do. Tears were flowing. I thought about not getting on the plane. I did not have enough money to cover my expenses on the trip. Nothing was pre-paid, and I’d designated this trip as my first non-budget trip. I’d been wanting to visit Israel and Egypt ever since learning about ancient history in Year 7. I wanted to do everything and enjoy myself thoroughly. In the end, it became one of my tightest budgets. £20 a day for everything—food, accommodation, travel, tours, entrance fees, and a souvenir or two. I boarded the plane and hoped my card would work in Israel.

On arriving in Tel Aviv, I joined a group of eight to share a taxi to the bus station. We arrived late in the evening, but no one was looking for a bed for the night. Everyone was content to stay up and wait for our morning buses. The bus station had closed for the day, so we sat outside together overnight and waited.

The 28th of December is the day where I wake up on the top of Mount Sinai after sleeping the night at the summit where I curled up in the middle of eight Americans to stay warm. In the morning, we walk down and go to St. Catherine’s Monastery and then I head to Cairo.

28th December (1996) St Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt

We eventually settled into sleep, then woken by the hordes of tourists arriving to see the sunrise. We quickly packed and stashed our things in the Singaporeans cave, and jostled for a viewing position. Alas, the newcomers had overrun the best spots. We all agreed that we deserved it more than them after sleeping on the summit.

It was not a breathtaking sunrise, but what an extraordinary experience. We hung out in the Singaporean’s cave, sharing a potluck picnic breakfast while waiting for the intruders to give us back our mountain.

Everyone went their own way, but I stayed with the Americans. It took us an hour and a half to climb down. Easier and quicker than climbing up. One of the army guys had an uncle who was a Monk at St Catherine’s Monastery and he invited us to join him in saying hello.

They welcomed us with open arms, despite being a dishevelled group after a night on the mountain. My diary noted my hair felt like straw. While we drank tea in the elegant library, we met a few of the monks. I relished the special treatment. We received a guided tour of the 6th century basilica, the belfry, the burning bush (where God appeared to Moses), and parts of the inner sanctum not normally open to members of the public—like the library which contained three thousand manuscripts and five thousand books, where we drank tea. They treated us like family.

The two students and I had to leave before the tour finished to catch our bus to Cairo. It disappointed me to not make the most of the V.I.P. treatment, but Cairo beckoned.

The bus was old and filthy. I’ve used those exact words to describe Cairo in my diary, but the entry begins with:

Cairo is a nightmare.

My first encounter with a taxi in Cairo, as with the others since, was not pleasant. I no longer recall the finer details of this meeting, but it involved an increase in price from the agreed amount to the actual payment. I know I kept my luggage in the taxi’s backseat with me on my next Cairo visit, so wondering if my bags were being held hostage in the car boot until I paid an additional ransom. A dirty tactic. Welcome to Cairo.

A well-known traveller’s lore was how in Cairo you could buy a student discount card, without being a student. This was my first stop, given my financial situation. I handed over my pre-organised passport photo, paid a deposit, and I could pick it up tomorrow.

While arranging the student card, I met a man called Mohammed who introduced himself as a tour guide working at The Sun Hotel, a well-known backpackers. He offered me a place on his tour in the morning if I wanted to join. It would cost 5 Egyptian pounds, which is less than one English pound. He gave me the time and place for pickup. I said I’d be there. I’d planned on doing a day tour to get more done, but I was expecting to pay 15 Egyptian pounds, so why not get it cheaper? Tomorrow was sorted.

I’d borrowed a pair of socks on Mount Sinai to warm my feet overnight. I realised once at the hostel I’d forgotten to return them. A souvenir of the night. My sock drawer contains a strange pair of hiking socks I can’t imagine buying. Maybe they are the Mount Sinai socks.

Today came under budget at £18.

I hope you enjoyed the tales of my 2018 Christmas market trip as well as my 1996 Israel and Egypt journey. Next week I’ll be discussing the January Chapter. Thank you for spending time with me today. I hope I made you smile or laugh.

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