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Old City, Bratislava, Slovakia

Old City, Bratislava, Slovakia

Wednesday 30th July

Thursday, will be the one week mark for me at Thermia Palace and I’ll have 12 days left before my experience here comes to an end.  I do feel that I have grown stronger this past week and that the pinched nerve in my back is becoming less and less of a problem with each Elector session, heat treatment and massages. My Achilles tendon is not as easily agitated by my movements and walking around. (Knock On Wood!)

Today is the last day for the remaining 4 Egyptian ladies, I have had the pleasure of meeting. There company is always enlightening as well as full of amusing conversation. When they leave, I will be the remaining Egyptian here. It will be my duty to represent not only Egypt well but the other counties that I am patriotic to, too.

Going from session to session reminds me of high school. Schedule in hand along with the necessary items I’ll need for the treatments and I have to make my way from one place to the other and be on time, break for lunch  and then go to the next session. Attendance isn’t taken but the instructors or those providing the treatments, sign your schedule to indicate you attended. I’m just grateful I don’t have reading or written assignments that I have to turn in at the end of the 20 days.

I checked my list of treatments for the day and found I had two new treatments, that I’ve never had before. Dry Carbon Bath and Mud Pool. How does one have a dry carbon bath, I thought to myself? The other sessions were familiar and I knew what to expect, or so I thought!

I found my way to the floor and corridor where this new kind of bath is given. It was in a place I had never been to before and I wasn’t quite sure what I should do. One of the employees came out of one of the rows of identical doors, looked at my schedule and said to wait one moment, while she called her colleague to come. Moments later a short red-haired, stout woman came bounding down the hall way towards me, with quite a bit of make up and lead me to the last door in the corridor where a big CO2 sign was. I went in and there was no bath tub!?!?! I was confused? How do you have a bath without a tub? Instead of a tub there was a medical table/bed and a sheet on it. The woman went to a small cupboard and pulled out a long white plastic bag and placed it on the bed.  She then turns to me and says; “Madame, Please take off clothes and get in bag”, then leave the room to let me prepare. (PREPARE FOR WHAT?!? IS WHAT I WANT TO KNOW!!)

I can’t begin to tell you all of the thoughts and phrases that were whizzing around in my head! Some of them are just too vulgar, that I won’t dare write it out, because my mother reads my blog! One thought was ‘I wish I’d written my will and final testament, if Id’ known I was going to voluntarily get in a body bag!”

I do as I’m told (I’m so obedient), I get undressed, climb into the bag and wait for further instructions. The woman returns shortly after, I’ve got myself in the bag. She comes over and helps me get further in the bag and tells me, my arms have to be inside too, (OH! #$%^ me!, I think to myself). A towel is wrapped around my neck and the bag is pulled up towards my neck and then an elasticated clip is put in place, so, I look as thought I have a Victorian collar. I am then made to lie down and a pipe is then stuck into the bag through the neck piece and the gas is turned on. The bag slowly fills up with carbon gas and when I look like a human sized helium balloon or a super giant-sized bag of Kernels Pop corn. I am left to lie in ‘dry carbon gas’ for 20 minutes. (Well, now I know what it is, I thought to myself. How does this benefit me in any way?) I lay there, thinking and listening to the light relaxing music and at some point in time I drifted off to sleep. I woke up with a jolt when I felt myself teetering off the edge of the bed, (PHEW!!! that was close!). The woman came in and sat me up, not long after I saved myself from a carbon tumble and released the gas from the back of the bag. I was then told the session was over and that I could dress and leave. (I later found that it benefits the skin, and gives it more elasticity)

I make my way across the next building for my healthy back session. I was sincerely hoping that it was going to be like Pilates or yoga, but it was more like a Jane Fonda workout and again it was with the Trunchbull! Seeing this woman at the head of the class each time puts fear in me but also reassurance. I fear I may never walk again and reassurance that my ass will get whipped into shape in her class! Some of the routines I used to do when I was much younger with the greatest of ease, especially having been double jointed in the hips. After letting myself go, I find some of them strenuous, but I don’t let it deter me. I keep pushing myself… I will not give up and I will not be defeated I repeat to myself! By the end of the class, I have worked up a sweat and without a moment of rest, I make my way back to the main spa to experience the mud pool.

Before going into the Mud pool, I have to spend 10 minutes in the mirror pool, once the time’s up. I make my way downstairs to where the pool is. I thought the mirror pool was warm… HA! the mud beats it when it comes to heat. The pool itself is of an interesting design and shape. The water is dark and not very inviting. I made my way into the pool slowly so as not to slip and because my very active imagination made me believe that there was a possibility a swamp monster my inhabit it. The temperature of the water was ok, but once my feet touched the bud, it was I would imagine walking on hot coals would feel like. It was very warm that I couldn’t stand in one place for a long period of time. I had to keep lifting my feet up and moving around. I also had to keep my upper body out of the water to keep cool. “10 minutes in this?” I thought to myself. “I might melt in this before the time is up!” While I was in the pool one of the attendees came to me and asked if I’d mind bringing my next exercise session forward, because I was the only one taking it. I didn’t mind at all, it meant I wouldn’t have a two-hour gap between this and my slim class.

After a very long and slow passing 10 minutes, i showered myself off and went to one of the resting cubicles. I was wrapped up like caterpillar in a cocoon and I was sweating like crazy. Eventually the warmth got to be and I dozed off for a while. I woke up about 30 minutes later. I threw off the sheets and covers, put on my robe and went to the changing room to get dressed in to my exercise attire.

At the exercise class I expected it to be similar to the last two sessions, either on a ball or in a standing position. No, this time, I was going to do pretty much the same workout I did earlier in the healthy back session on an elevated massage table.  Not only did I get my butt kicked but I was terrified that with one false move I would end up on the floor! In all honesty, the thought of moving afterwards made my muscles ache. I was done for the day!

For the rest of the day, I went into town and did a bit of shopping, blogged and then went down for dinner. At dinner time, I was messaging a friend of mine back in Cairo, keeping him informed of how may day and sessions are going, while in the garden enjoying the rare nice weather. On my way back, I saw the Egyptian ladies dining in the restaurant and went over to talk with them and to wish them safe travels before I turned in for the night. That didn’t happen, they insisted I sit and stay with them and join them in the bar afterwards. They are so charming that I couldn’t refuse. I joined them in the hotel lounge, I listened to them tell stories of their youth as the pianist played old hits in the background, which then led into a mini sing along when it was a song that they remembered the lyrics to.

They may be a few decades older than me, I thought, but their spirit is still young and their minds are sharp. I hope I’ll still have that spark and sense of joie de vivre at their age.

Thursday, July 31st

I wasn’t fortunate enough to see all the ladies again before they left. I did bump in to Mona after my second session one of  the morning. We said our final farewells and hoped to meet up in Cairo once we were all back and settled in to our daily lives.

My routine today wasn’t too packed and wasn’t too strenuous. I attended all my sessions and once I was done, I dashed back to my room to change, have a quick lunch before I went on a short excursion to the capital city, Bratislava with a tour guide. I was the first to be picked up, so the guide was kind enough to give me a summary of the history of Piestany and a brief rundown of the the sights we would stop and see. I was the only English speaker on the bus, so I had to rely on my language decoding skills to pick up tid bits of information in German, because there was no way I could do it in Russian.  As we drove, I dozed  off a few times. I have trained myself to do that on long car journeys, to prevent myself from getting car sick, especially when the A/C isn’t strong and I couldn’t open a window. After what seemed to be ages, we reached the Bratislava, it wasn’t as bustling as I had expected it to be for a work day. It was quite calm and quiet, which was a pleasant surprise. We drove by the Presidential Residence, it looked like a miniature one story version of the White House in DC. From there we drove to the top of a hill to where a reconstructed castle stood. If the original hadn’t been destroyed in a fire a century or so ago, I think I would have been really impressed with the architecture and air about it, but because it looked ‘new’, I wasn’t that interested. I was mainly focused on the gateway, which had four armored white soldier busts at the top of them and the panoramic view of the city.

Our next stop was the old city of Bratislava. The bus dropped us off and we made the rest of the way on foot because it was a pedestrian zone. We walked down cobbled alley ways and I was in heaven, snapping away capturing unique architecture, statues, a clock tower and few other scenes with my camera as we walked a long. The area reminded me of two places O’Connell street in Dublin and downtown Beirut. It felt familiar and I enjoyed listening to the different languages being spoken. It was more cosmopolitan than Piestany. After we had been shown the highlights, we were given some free time to wonder and were told to meet at a certain place at 5:50, to head back to our hotels. Well, without hesitation I was off, there was an Irish pub I had spotted along our walk and I wasn’t going to leave without getting a Guinness fix. The last time I had one was in March and as everyone knows it’s rich in iron and has fewer calories than beer! I went straight up to the bar and ordered a half pint, so I wouldn’t be too full for the ride back and to make sure I had time to get some souvenir shopping done too.

Once I had happily consumed my favorite black drink, I went and found a souvenir shop close to the meeting point. Inside I picked up three magnets, a post card and some Slovakian mead. I’ve recently started a collection of magnets of places I have visited to put on my fridge. They are easy to carry and don’t take much room in the case or in the house, I also by two other magnets to put on my sisters fridge and my parents, because they can never have too many magnets! While I was at the cashier, I was stood next to a young lady whom was speaking to the cashier and my ear picked up on not only her accent, but the slang phrases she used. So, I turned to her and asked if she was Irish. She said she was and I then told her that I was half Irish. The young lady then asked where about my family was from and when I told her they were from County Tyrone in the North, she had an astonished look on her face, ‘That’s where I’m from’, she replied. Jokingly, I looked at her inquisitively and asked her if she was from the McSorley family. She giggled and said no, but her sister was married to one!! WHAT WERE THE CHANCES!?!? Of all the souvenir shops in the old city, I happened to be in that one standing next to an Irish lass from my grandfather’s county!! The world and the powers that be never cease to amaze me!

When I got back to the hotel the first thing I did was message my mother and she was just and amused by the encounter as I was.

Friday 1st August (2 weeks left)

I have officially completed by first wee. I am feeling the benefits of the treatments and I have to say the thing that I am enjoying the most are the simple freedoms people take for granted, like being able to wear what they want without being taunted by harassers, going on long walks or riding a bicycle while breathing in clean air and being surrounded by nature. There are days when I just want to crawl back into bed and sleep, but I force myself out, because, I know if I don’t, I will come to regret it once I’m back in Cairo and taking a stroll is enough to raise your blood pressure.

First thing this morning, Elena, who is the lovely women who has been giving me electro treatment everyday since my arrival said that she would be going on vacation and that today is her last day and that she wished me well and all the best and gave me a hug.  I was very touched by her genuine well wishes and couldn’t help but like her more than I already did. I couldn’t help but wondered who her replacement would be and if she/they would be as efficient.

Today was one of those days where, I had to keep dressing and undressing. I can’t tell you how many times I had to go from being fully clothed, to half-dressed, to stark naked. I felt like I was becoming talented enough to have my very own, Las Vegas, Quick Change show! It will be very strange once I leave to be wearing the same thing all day long, without having to change into gym clothes, swim suite, rob or something suitable for dinner.

During the Healthy Back exercise class with the Trunchbull, there was some Saudi entertainment for the class participants,

(I say this with tongue in cheek and a lot of sarcasm)

An older Saudi Woman came into the class with her Sri Lankan maid. It is hard to estimate how old the Saudi woman was, because some women look far older than they are and her weight added years to her face too. She enters the class and is somewhat confused and caught off guard. The instructor tells her to come in and grab a mat but she doesn’t understand. I translated for her so that the class won’t be held up any longer. “But I’m not in sports clothes” she frets and says almost objection-ally. “It’s up to you” I inform her on behalf of the instructor. The Saudi woman then orders her lady in waiting to place an exercise mat on the floor for her, and tells her to remember next time she’ll need a blouse and pants for this. She then hands her, her black head scarf and Abaya (the long black cloak they wear) to the Sri Lankan woman, who then leaves to wait outside till the end of the session. The lady gets down on to the exercise mat make making a lot of grunting sound effects and ‘OW’ing and ‘AAH’ing noises,  while the rest of the class watched her in complete bewildered puzzlement. I can’t begin to imagine the what thoughts were going through their heads. As the class goes on the grunting and complaints of pain grow less and less. At one point there’s no sound at all and I look up to see if the woman is still alive. Over the participants bodies and across the room, I see a pair of legs up in the air as she is lying on her back, following the instructor. Her galabeya (dress) is hitched to her knees, revealing what appears to be leg warms (that may be used to conceal her ankles from men) or medical socks with the bottoms cut off and her face is beetroot red. I have to prevent myself from laughing out.loud at the vision I saw.

When the class came to an end, she remained sat on the mat and watched everyone step around her so that the can put the mat away and make their way to their next appointment. She beckons for her maid to come, who is through the doors within seconds with a wheelchair and Abaya. I leave shaking my head in sadness and disbelief.

I make my way to my next session, which is the mud pack. I arrive a few minutes before my slot. When my time comes, I’m lead into my chamber for the session to undress and walk into the adjoining room, where I lay and get wrapped up in mud for twenty minutes. There are usually two people who are responsible for this, but only one of the ladies is on duty today.  Once i’m settled and wrapped up tightly like a shawerma she moves on to the next client, whom happened to be another Saudi woman. From the conversation, it sounded as though she had never experienced this before because when she heard what she had to do, she put up a little protest ‘Laa, Laa, Laa, Aida, yimkin hathi ghalat’, which translates to ‘no, no, no Aida, maybe this is wrong/mistake’. The maid asked the attendee if it’s possible the doctor made and error. The Slovakian women in her broken English answered ‘Doctor, no make mistake, lie down, on back please.” The Saudi woman grumbles and mutters words that are inaudible for me to hear as she does as she’s told. The moment her flesh touches the heated mud the sounds of disgust fill the air and I chuckle quietly to myself. You are usually given a choice of 15-20 minutes, but the old woman wasn’t given a choice, the timer was set for 20 minutes, the lights were switched off to allow  her to relax and the sound of the door shut behind her.

After these two incidents, I couldn’t help but wonder, if the girls from Asia whom are employed by families from the Arabian Gulf, ever get satisfaction from watching their employers in these situations. The thought then reminded me of two films that had been made ‘The Nanny’ with Scarlet Johansen and ‘The Help’ with Emma Stone. I wonder if these girls felt the same way as those characters did in the movie.

I finished my treatments at around one o’clock and went back to my room to change, answer messages, chat with my parents and tell them of the entertaining events that happened today. Which they found to be quite humorous that my mother laughed till she was red in the face. Once I had lunch, I went and rented a bicycle to ride around to burn off lunch. Well, that was my plan, but the weather had different plans altogether. I hadn’t been riding 10 minutes when Zeus threw his lightning bolt across the sky and a thunderstorm filled the sky. I rode as fast as I could peddle to my hotel, jumped off the bike and tried to lock it to a pole, but the damn lock wasn’t cooperating. The rain was beating down faster and harder and I was getting wetter by the second! I finally got it to lock and ran inside where I waited it out for the next 3 hours! Just when it sounded as though the storm was subsiding, I would think, maybe now I could go out and ride, it would start-up again. I went down for dinner, defeated. It looked as though I wouldn’t be riding the bike and would have to return the bicycle tomorrow, so I asked the receptionist to kindly inform the hotel I had rented it from that I would pay the extra amount. When I had finished dinner the sky was clear, the rain had stopped and I didn’t waste the opportunity, I got paper towels tried off the seat, unlocked the bike and rode! The sky was a palette of sunsets, the air was so clean and fresh my lungs couldn’t inhale enough of it. The hours I had to wait to ride, were worth it! If only it were like this in Cairo, I thought wishfully to myself!

I have come to one conclusion, Slovakian weather doesn’t like me riding a bicycle!

 

Part VI is coming up!

 

 

 

Later that day, I was catching up with my Mum, who is visiting my sister in the UK

 

 

Students and teachers alike look forward to the longest holiday of the year, ‘summer’.

In the past summers for me meant packing my bags with all that I would need and move down to Agami, a summer resort just outside of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea, where my parents had a beach house. There I would spend my days in shorts, t-shirt, swimsuit and flip-flops with my beach bag ready for the beach. Two to three months of swimming, tanning, reading, playing volleyball, running a summer camp for children and catching up with old friends whom I hadn’t seen since the previous summer.

Summer home in Agami- Villa Casa Blanca

Times have changed and friends have moved on. I have not been back to Bianki since 2007. I miss the times, I had there during my teenage years. It is there where I made some of my most memorable memories and met some very interesting people and dear friends.  To date, my summers are split between Alexandria and going abroad to various destinations to get away from the stress that the post revolution has left and the political roller coaster of electorial disappointments we have had to take part in, witness and accept the results of.

The beginning portion of my summer for the past two years has been spent in Alexandria with my parents. My mother and I have been motivating one another to get back in shape and eat healthy. (This as some of you may know has been an ongoing process for me. After  1.5 years of battling the bulge, I am 13Kg away from my target weight!) I would spend an hour working out at home, doing various crunches and sit-ups as well as using an elliptical bike and 3 hours of the day would be spent swimming laps and using various apparatus to help strengthen and tone my arms and legs. For a few weeks, I or we would go abroad.

To go abroad for me is a chance to recharge, re-evaluate, relax and look at things from a different perspective (the change in scenery and climate is also an added bonus). This year my mother and I ventured to London to visit briefly with my sister and to Ireland to attend a family wedding and strengthen family connection with our cousins, whom we had lost contact with over the past few years.

I am fascinated with our family genealogy, especially on the Irish side. I have found that not only do I look Irish, I have a lot of the Irish family traits in me and from listening to stories, I find I learn more and more about myself and why some of the members of our family are the way that they are.

As a young girl London never appealed to me, I had formed an image of it being a dark, grey and gloomy place, much like the Industrial time in England. My opinion changed quickly when I first visited 3 years ago. I look forward to my visits there now, not solely due to it’s undeniable allure but because I actually feel normal there. I don’t worry about what I’m wearing and if I’ll be harassed as I walk down the street or how long it will take me to get to my destination. When I am there the stress of constantly having to be aware of the people around me and looking for signs of possible sexual harassers trying to invade my personal space drops from 100 to 1.

Time spent with my sister, her husband and other members of our family are precious and they always take priority. I try to spend as much time with them as I can, to keep our family bond strong and because I simply love being in their company. There is never a dull moment when we congregate! On extended visits I like to walk around and take in the sights, museums, shows, take pictures and of course shop! (One has to make a contribution to the economy of the country one happens to visit, no?)

It was also exciting to have been there pre-Olympic ceremony. To see the city decorated with flags of the different nations taking part in the games. The excitment and pride of the nationals to host the games. My mum and I missed the ceremony but watched many of the highlights and events once we had made it back to our hotel room and back to Egypt after our trip. The athletes are phenominal in their dedication and inspring!

Family time or giving new meaning to the term, ‘swimming with the fishes’

I have always been very proud and patriotic of my Irish heritage. When I visit I can’t help but be in awe of her beauty. Her beauty, in my opinion becomes more enhanced by her people, who have such a cheerful, friendly, helpful and funny disposition about them. I can’t help but find so many similarities in them and the ‘old’ Egyptian culture that I grew up knowing, ( it saddens me to think that what remains of the ‘old’ Egypt, might soon be lost, if things are not sorted out soon).

During this trip to Ireland, I made sure that I would not be rushing through like a forest fire, but I would actually have time to walk the streets, visit historical landmarks, eat in pubs, shop and talk with the locals, as well as visit with family.

I can not tell you how much I enjoyed touring the capital, learning about how Ireland earned its Independence, driving through the grounds of Phoenix Park, visiting Trinity College and sitting in its grand library of ancient manuscripts and books that were written and read by some of the greatest minds on earth and where some members of my family attended. Although my connection to the country itself isn’t strong, I think this journey has definitely strengthened it.

                                                       
                        The scene from the brige where my cousin wed his bride. Tintern Abbey-Rosslare

My cousin whom I had only reconnected with over the last three years and hadn’t seen in twenty, invited my family and I to attend his wedding. The place in which the nuptials took place and the ceremony itself was unlike any wedding that I have ever been to or seen before. It was a Humanist Wedding/Ceremony, filled with spirituality, tradition and love. It was held on a bridge on a beautiful summer’s day with beautiful landscape encompassing the couple and their families and friends. Nothing could have made it more magical, meaningful or beautiful in my opinion.  The two-day event was packed with entertainment, food and great times. Most importantly it was shared with people who truly cared for the couple and genuinely wished them nothing but happiness in their future life together. It was at this event, where I made new connections and bonds with members of our family whom I had lost contact with and those I had never met before. (Now, I know where I get my energy, drive, motivation to succeed, love of learning, sense of humor and love of partying from, The McSorley Clan)

The third part of our trip was spent visiting the area of where my grandmother and generations before her had come from. In some strange way, Wexford, a small county by the sea reminded me of Alexandria. It is here where my mother attended boarding school as a young girl and where she spent many summers with her aunt, uncle and cousins at a nearby resort called Rosslare. As I walked the quay and breathed in the fresh Irish sea air and took in the scenic views, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to have traveled to the land of my ancestors, to see where half of me is from and to be able to pass down the stories that have been told to me by my aunt, mother and cousins, so, that our history isn’t lost or forgotten.

In Wexford we strengthened existing ties with family we are in touch with. It was also a second opportunity for my mother to spend time her aged aunt of 97 years and to thank her for all the wonderful summers she had spent with them as a child and all the other things she and her late husband did for her growing up. (Moments like that should be seised, because they may never come again).

There is so much more for me to see and learn of Ireland but I have an itching desire to learn as much as I can about my family as I can. I hope to be able to go back there again soon in the near future.

Upon returning to Egypt I couldn’t help but feel depressed. Ireland might be in dire straits economically but the people have the drive to rebuild the country to get it back on its feet again. Egypt, a nation of great potential and historical as well as cultural wealth seems to be sinking before our eyes and very few seem willing to get their hands dirty. I have said it before and I will say it again. I fear for Egypt’s future and her children. I pray that I am wrong and that she will not suffer in the hands of men like Rasputin. Perhaps the Egyptian Olympians who preformed so well at the London 2012 games, might inspire their country men and women that hard work does pay off and that they can not only achieve great things but be recognised for them in the long run, if they pull together and move forward in rebuilding the country rather than pointing the finger of blame.

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