The voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes, but in having new eyes
Egypt is amazing! After dreaming of Egypt since I was a little girl and trying to get there year after year..we finally made it happen! And it was all I ever dreamed it would be. After years of research and advice, we decided that we would use a Tour Company and drivers. As very independent travelers who have always planned every detail of our trips, this was a hard thing for us to concede. I am an OCD control freak about our vacations, which is so odd as I am the exact opposite kind of person in every other aspect of my life! Unfortunately-We were on a very, very tight budget for this trip. My husband had been out of work for a year shortly after I started saving for this trip and it took an incredible amount of sacrifice for 2 years to make it happen-having said that, I checked into many Tour Companies and Private Guides and most were just way out of our budget. The ones that were in our budget just didn’t seem to fit what we wanted. I contacted Memphis Tours and literally less than an hour later I received a PHONE CALL from Abdo Shawky, our Tour Representative from Memphis Tours. Wow-this really impressed me-no one else ever called me back. From the day Abdo contacted me through our last day on vacation Memphis did an amazing job. I cannot say enough good things about Memphis Tours. Every representative they sent to us went far and above any personal service I have ever received ANYWHERE in the world. I am a proud American but American Service workers could take serious lessons from Memphis Tours. Every hotel, boat, car, van, tour, restaurant was top notch. The staff is so educated and professional about what they do and so good at it. They truly care about you and your vacation and will do anything in their power to ensure you are happy. They delivered on every promise they made us. I do not know who owns Memphis Tours-but he has something to be very proud of- His people. I hope he really appreciates what they do for him. We sure appreciate all they did for us and their part in ensuring our trip was truly a trip of a lifetime.
Day One-Arrival, Coptic Cairo & Egyptian Museum
After landing in Cairo we were met and greeted by Abdul, our Cairo City tour representative from Memphis Tours who took total responsibility of us for the entire trip! As completely independent travelers, this was a hard thing to let happen, but I took all the advice from this forum as well as the thousands of other resources I used to plan this trip. My independent traveling friends..I highly suggest you do not try to do Egypt without at least a Guide & drivers. Having said that, most of this trip report will be a heap of praising to Memphis Tours and its staff who were just incredible. After meeting us at arrivals, Abdul took us straight to customs, obtained our Visas and then took us to the exchange to grab some Egyptian pounds and then we were off and running…The way I planned this trip, unfortunately left no down time! Only have 2 weeks and got to see it all! At this point I need to give Memphis a huge shout out regarding transportation. We were picked up every day in either a 4 door sedan or a van. I was amazed at how spotlessly clean every automobile was. I mean..spit clean. I could have practically eaten off the floor boards. I am not kidding. We leave the airport with Abdul and while we are driving into Cairo, he explains how our 3 days in Cairo will go, gives us a cell phone which we would keep for our entire time in Egypt giving us 24 hour access to Memphis in case any problems or emergencies pop up. Wow-I’m feeling like a rock star.. We meet up with our guide Amany Salem. Amany is a professional! Her knowledge and expertise in all things Cairo was so enlightening and educational. I am a book worm kind of girl and one of the pleasures for me in traveling is the preparation-I always go on a trip with 1 or 2 journals crammed with all the information regarding the sites I will visit, places to eat, places to play, off the beaten path places, how to do this and how to do that…-I basically write my own travel guide when I travel and follow it! So believe me when I say Amany knew her stuff-she would catch me consulting my book and sure enough-that’s what the research says too! But the really cool thing about having a local Guide versus a book is that you get the “local” stories…the little gossips and myths handed down from generations of locals. My book became a big joke for Amany…she would tease me..is that in your book? Do you really need me today? …you have your book! She can tease me all she wants..she was impressed by how prepared and educated I was even if she wouldn’t admit it! The first day we visited Coptic Cairo and the Museum. We walked through Coptic Cairo visiting the Hanging Church, Ben Ezra Synagogue, the Church of St. Barbara and the Church of Abu Serga.
After that we drove over to the Museum and went straight to the Tut exhibit and I was floored by the beauty of it. We are not really museum lovers so I know we did not spend adequate time at the Museum –we crammed the visit into about 3 hours…I asked Amany where is Room #53?-….Good grief-her and my DH had a great time heckling me over that! Amany says…Room 53? Whaaatttt? You know room numbers? Give me that book….I don’t know room numbers-I know historical facts & contents! She got a great laugh out of that-started teasing me when we’d enter a room…this is let’s see…what room number is this? Hmmm….let’s call it the purple room! It was really funny…she had a great sense of humor. After the Museum visit we met Abdo at a local restaurant on the Nile for a very nice & relaxing late lunch with Amany, Mustaffo, Abdo Kevin & I and just had a great conversation about politics and everyday life. This is what it’s all about….making new friends away from home and really experiencing another culture. What a great first day! After lunch we said our goodbyes to Abdo and headed to our hotel in Zamalek. If you are the kind of traveler that likes to feel like you have a small connection to home-this is where you want to stay. Zamalek reminded me of a New York neighborhood. It is a really easy neighborhood to navigate and walk around. We stayed at the Longchamps which comes highly recommended on the Fodors site. Rightly so! The hotel is charming. Hebba and her staff make you feel so at home- it is a great little home base while you are away from yours. The entire hotel is super clean -the rooms are spacious, the bed is comfortable, the water is hot, the breakfast is wonderful-the tea selection actually turned me-a hard core coffee drinker into a tea girl while there! The common areas are decorated very comfortably with lots of little nooks you can lounge in and check emails or have a cup of tea. There is a wonderful roof terrace and our room had a private terrace that we could have slept on if we were so inclined…And the staff is so friendly and eager to please you…what more could you possible ask for? I highly recommend you stay at Hotel Longchamps! I just want to fall into that bed….it has been a really long time since we slept! Still full from our late lunch-that is exactly what we did…Hopefully by staying up until at least 9 pm we will avoid jet lag though…and yes…that advise is in my book!
Day Two-Memphis, Giza & Sakkara,
Up at 7:00 am to have an hour for breakfast before our tour starts at 9:00 am. I make a huge effort to leave the bed and allow myself an hour to enjoy the breakfast at Longchamps and it is worth it! Amany is waiting for us in the Lobby at 5 minutes to 9! Prompt with a big smile on her face and telling me not to rush (always-accommodating us!) We finish up and head down to the car for the BIG Adventure! My first tombs, the pyramids…the excitement I am feeling right now is reminding me of my 3 year old granddaughter when she gets excited! I can hardly refrain from jumping up and down! We head first to Sakkara, to see the Step Pyramid & Teti’s Pyramid, which is the first tomb I have ever entered-descending the walkway into a tomb for the first time is a feeling I will never ever forget. I had visions of Laura Croft Tomb Raider (my secret fantasy alter ego) and wow-here we are! The pyramid texts and the basalt sarcophagus are amazing. This first descent into history alone is worth the two years of sacrifices and stresses this trip cost me! Next, it’s on to the Memphis Museum and the great statute of Ramses in all his glory along with other ruins and a small sphinx. After this we stop at the New Egypt a Carpet School and Showroom where we learn about the amazing artistry of carpet making. I actually get to weave a few strands of a work in progress and then practice my bargaining skills while purchasing a beautiful handmade wool rug for my home that l will treasure forever. Then, it’s off to Giza. Before we go to Giza though, its lunch time! Amany starts to tell us where we are going for lunch and I have to put a stop to it! No-not another suggested “tourist” restaurant…I want street food! I want Shawarma…and I want it from where you get it Amany! Hmmmm…she says….I’ve got to make a phone call. Apparently she has to get permission to go off script! That’s ok…Memphis said whatever I wanted they would do to make me happy..so Shawarma it is..we detour into a neighborhood Shawarma establishment that Amany says is one of the best in Cairo. We get out with her and are the only non-Egyptians in sight! All eyes are on us…it was weird, I’m not used to so much attention-but we hang with Amany and watch as our order of Shawarma and Fiteer are prepared to perfection! We jump in the car with our Egyptian street food and head to Giza. We have a very impromptu picnic in the back of the car while getting a history lesson about Giza. After we scarf all we can-oh my gosh..Fiteer is a little heaven on a plate… I am so full I feel like I’m going to explode! Mustafa pulls up right in front of the Pyramids and we jump out, feeling like rock stars! I have to digress here for a moment and tell a story from Paris that will make sense in the end…Kevin & I were standing in line at Notre Dame to go up to the roof for like 2 hours one day and while we are in line with all the other “little people”...this sedan pulls up and out jumps this very good looking man with 2 beautiful young girls on either side of him and he by-passes the line and goes straight inside while we are all eye balling him, the whole time you can hear people down the line asking “who was that” “is he famous?” my husband knows who it is-he happens to be a college basketball coach…anyway..I was envious of his rock star entrance and easy access to the site! I thought…one day I want that! Fast forward…that is how it felt to jump out of the car right at the entrance to the Pyramids at Giza while bus loads of people looked at us in the same way. The wanna-be rock star in me thought it was AWESOME! The only thing more awesome than that was my first look at the pyramids up close & personal. WOW. I have read in posts that the pyramids were not as big as people thought they’d be…I’m not sure what they were looking for, I was quite impressed! We took our time following the base of the great Pyramid all around and taking pictures-we did not go inside because I read that it’s a let-down-there is really nothing to see for the extra money it costs.
I had an aha moment here at Giza. We took a camel “ride”. I say “ride” because it was literally 15 minutes…I do not like anything that even resembles the act of riding a horse-I told Memphis I want to get on a camel-have my picture taken and get the hades off! So I mount my camel-his name was Michael Jordan…Kevin mounts his…Casanova…we ride a ways out in front of the Great Pyramid and the young man leading the camels stops them-clicks off a few, I must say amazing pictures…then we start back! But…while on the way back the Call to Prayer starts…there is hardly another body to be seen except for us and our camels, and it is a gloriously beautiful day…I am literally in the middle of a living dream! I wish I knew how to put into words the mind bending feeling of that moment in time. Truly a life experience I will never ever forget. And to top it off…I have a new joke I plan on wearing out until my husband makes me stop…….I rode Michael Jordan in the dessert! Hehe…
I have one thing I did not do that I really wanted to do because on day 2 I forgot to consult my beloved book! I meant to see the Solar Barque Museum (As my second fantasy alter ego is a Pirate and I adore ships!) but I forgot to mention it to Amany and combined with the fact that I probably threw us off schedule with the unplanned lunch stop we closed down Giza! We ran out of time! Dang….gotta look at the book before all stops……can’t let that happen again!
Back to our hotel …All I want to do is fall into that bed-but…better not-If I do I will be down for the count! We freshened up and grabbed a cab to the Cairo Tower-one of the best 360 degree views of the City and a revolving restaurant where we had a spectacular night view of the city and a really nice dinner. We shared a Mixed Grill plate, each had a salad, & Kevin had a beer. A nice meal at a very reasonable price. So here is our first hard knock lesson-Amany told us earlier that if we take a taxi anywhere tonight-do not take anything but white taxis with a meter! We were sure we could handle that! We took the white taxi with a meter to the Tower-it cost like $3.50!! We left the Tower and right away got accosted by taxi drivers-One particularly aggressive one started walking us towards his taxi-I asked do you have a meter? He says yes.., yes meter…we are walking away from tower-(this should be clue #1) oh no..it’s not white….he is opening the door for me..I ask again..do you have a meter…yes..I have a meter…ok-it’s not white but he has a meter…we get in..he starts it up…wait…there’s the meter but he’s not turning it on! Does it work? It looks like its 50 years old! How much we ask? He says 40 ponds…No way I shout! Let us out…let us out!! We paid 3.50 to get here and you are trying to triple it! (It’s not the money -it’s the point…can’t get taken on the first night…and I have Amany to answer to, don’t forget!) So he says ok..ok…20 pounds-no I say….pull over…ok, ok he says….15 pounds… Well, that’s still more than it cost to get here but ok-I give you an A for effort! Our taxi driver turns out to be pretty cool…we even take pictures with him for his wife (he says)-..he took us back to Longchamps with no issues and we finally fall into bed in complete exhaustion. Another Perfect Cairo Day.
Day 3-Islamic Cairo, Citadel, Khan El Khalili Market
Today starts out with another great breakfast at the Longchamps, then on to the Citadel. & the Muhammad Ali Mosque. The City views from the citadel are breath taking! I thought the Mosque was the most beautiful one I have ever seen. I have read that some consider it gaudy-I loved it. Next we visited El Azhar, Al Mouayyed Mosque Al Hakim Mosque & Ibn Tulun Mosque where we were crazy enough to climb the Minaret during the heat of day. Our next stop is the Gayer-Anderson Museum-an actual private home that was left to the City by British Major who was a member of the Egyptian Civil Service and loved his adopted City. The home is AMAZING! I would move in it tomorrow and take up residence if only I could! The only negative to this stop-I have never, ever been so hot in my entire life! There is no air-conditioning in the Museum and it is HOT as HADES. Lunch time! Today’s menu…Koshary! I asked Amany to take us to the best Koshary spot she knew and she obliged! I adore Koshary! A big bowl of every kind of carb on the planet! Just what I need. We had a great lunch at a neighborhood Koshary which I at the same time am so sad I can’t get this at home and so happy I can’t get this at home! There must be 5,000 calories in this bowl! Amany says don’t worry about it-you’ll walk it off! A great big bowl of Yum-Yum. We then walk down Muiz Li Din Allah Street-an authentic shopping experience where I purchase a beautifully made wood and metal wall hanging and get a personal demonstration from the shop owner of him at his engraving craft. Beautiful work at handicrafts at the El Moez Silver store, ending up at Bab Zuweila, the only remaining southern gate of the medieval city of Al-Qahira and continue walking until we are in the thick of the Market! I am really disappointed in the Market. Maybe that’s my own fault for building this image up in my head all these years-but it was not the fun I expected. The touts are horrible, pushy and rude. The merchandise is cheap and made in China. Ok, I know I was warned by many, many different sources…but I hoped they were exaggerated. They were not. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough! We did take a tea break at El Fishawy’s and I smoked a hookah! Check that off my bucket list! Another out of body experience for me…another dream come true. It has been a very long, hot, busy day and we are cooked! It’s time to head back to the hotel and relax before dinner. We have Mustafa drop us off at the only Harley Davison Shop in Egypt-of course it’s in Zamalek and of course my motorcycle passionate husband sees it…oh no I am thinking…this is gonna cost us! Sure enough-Kevin buys two t-shirts that although are seriously cool with a picture of a Pharaoh, a mummy and a jackal riding out of the desert on a Harley….cost so much money that I still tear up when I think about it. But DH is so happy, gotta just shrug that one off! We walked back to the hotel and refreshed-then walked a couple of blocks to La Trattoria, a little Italian restaurant that had great food and a great ambiance. Back to the hotel to pack up for our 4:00 am wake up call for the flight o Abu Simbel. Our last, perfect day in Cairo
My over-all impression of Cairo is a City of constant motion! Being a Southern Girl, growing up in a small southern city-the sheer magnitude of people and objects in Cairo over-whelmed me. The traffic, the noise, the smells and the hustle & bustle of everyday life were complete chaos. It’s like New York City on Mega Steroids. The people of Cairo..they are what makes it such a magical city. I met some of the nicest people I have ever met on my travels. Carians sheer will and determination to make the best of what they have-the city-the climate-the political situation-the economy…is a testament to human tenacity and all that is good in human beings. Cairians want to make you happy-they go out of their way to please you. They want you to love their city the way they do and they have great hope for their future. Carians are proud and they have a lot to be proud of! I loved Cairo and will forever remember it fondly in all its chaotic glory.
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Egypt is Amazing-Go to Egypt!! Part 1 of a very long trip report..
The voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes, but in having new eyes