Finally, here is my trip report. I have posted my itinerary as arranged with Lady Egypt. My trip report is rather long. I have written it as a memory for myself so there may be some superflous information in there. Sorry if you find it long winded - just skip to the parts that interest you. I am too lazy to edit it for fodors...
Day 1 - Thursday 9th Sept: Cairo (No meals) Mena House Pyramids View Room
Arrive at Cairo Airport where our representative will meet and assist you through customs and then claiming your baggage. You will then be transferred to your selected hotel, where warm welcome, fresh flowers, fruit basket and a cake awaits your arrival. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 2 - Friday 10th September: Cairo (B) Mena House
Free day today. This evening you will enjoy the sound & light show at the Pyramids. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 3 - Saturday 11th September: Cairo (B L) Mena House
Today you will enjoy the legendary treasures of the Egyptian Museum - take a look at some of the most exquisite and ancient artifacts and statues in History. Enjoy lunch at Felfela restaurant (downtown). Return to your hotel to relax and prepare for the busy days ahead. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 4 - Sunday 12th September: Cairo (B) Mena House
Today you will be transported back to the time of the ancient Egyptian, our friendly guide will accompany you to the awe-inspiring Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza, and then onwards to Sakkara to see the first pyramid ever built - the step pyramid of Zosser. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 5 - Monday 13th September: Cairo (B) Mena House
Relax in your room where a special room service breakfast will be brought to your room. Today you will visit Islamic areas of Cairo including the citadel of Saladdin, the Ibn Tulun Mosque and the Khan Kahili Bazaar. Next, the Coptic area of Cairo to visit the Hanging Church and the Church of St Sergius where it is said to be the resting place for the holy family. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 6 -Tue 14th Sept: Cairo-Al Amein-Alexandria(BL) Helnan Palestine
Morning transfer to Al Amein by private vehicle. Visit the WWII Museum (and cemetery if you like) and then continue onto Alexandria. Enjoy a seafood lunch overlooking the sea and then transfer to your hotel. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 7 - Wednesday 15th September: Alexandria (B) Helnan Palestine
Today you will enjoy a drive through the Montaza Gardens (to see the Palace from the vehicle), visit the Catacomb's, the National Museum and famous Library. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 8 - Thursday 16th September: Alexandria - Cairo (B) Cairo Marriott
Return to Cairo and check into your city hotel. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 9 - Friday 17th September: Cairo – Aswan (B) Movenpick – Nile View
Transfer to airport for your flight to Aswan Departing 8.30 am. Arrive to Aswan where you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Afternoon excursion on a traditional felucca to visit Elephantine Island and Kitchener Island. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 10 - Saturday 18th Sept: Aswan - Abu Simbel - Aswan (B) Movenpick
Morning excursion to Abu Simbel by flight departing 10.30 am arrives at 11.15 am. Enjoy your guided tour and then return to Aswan on 2.15 pm departure. This afternoon you will visit the Nubian Museum. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 11 - Sunday 19th September: Aswan (B) Movenpick
Free day today. Overnight at your Hotel. (We ended up going on a camel ride, wandering around Aswan and the market areas and relaxing)
Day 12 - Monday 20th September: Aswan - Nile Cruise (B L D)
Today you will enjoy the sights of Aswan. Starting with the Unfinished Obelisk. Then transfer to your Nile Cruise boat, check in and enjoy lunch. Your afternoon tour starts with High Dam and its huge lake then take a short ferry ride to Philae Temple this Romantic and Majestic Temple. Overnight Nile Cruise.
Day 13 - Tuesday 21st September: Nile Cruise (B L D)
After enjoying your breakfast while cruising down the Nile. Visit the Greco Roman Temple of Kom Ombo dedicated to the two gods Sobek the crocodile God and Harveris the Sun God. Continue sailing to visit Edfu Temple – the best-preserved and second largest Temple in Egypt. Continue sailing towards Luxor. Overnight Nile Cruise.
Day 14 - Wednesday 22nd September: Nile cruise (B L D)
Optional balloon flight over the west bank of Luxor $165 per person
After a relaxing morning. You will then visit the East Bank of Luxor – Entry down the avenue of Ram Headed Sphinx to reach the Monumental Temple of Karnak and then continue onto Luxor Temple, followed by a free afternoon and evening to enjoy this vibrant and fascinating city. Overnight Nile Cruise.
Day 15 - Thursday 23rd September: Luxor (B) Steinberger Full Nile View Room
An early morning start as you cross over to the West Bank of Luxor, as you come from sun, sand and rugged mountainside you enter - The Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple and the Colossi of Memnon. Transfer to your hotel then afternoon is free where you can relax or, for the energetic, perhaps take a visit to the Luxor Museum. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 16 - Friday 24th Sept: Luxor–Cairo-Amman (B D) Mariott
Transfer to the airport flight to Cairo depart 1.15 pm. Arrive to Cairo and transfer to the international terminal for your flight to Amman at 5 pm. Arrive to Amman Airport at 7.30 pm. Upon arrival you will be met by our representative's and then transfer to your hotel. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 17 - Saturday 25th September: Amman - Desert Castles - Amman (B)
Today you will visit the Roman Amphitheater (which is dated back to the second century AD), the Roman Ruins of the Citadel Hill and the Archaeological Museum in Amman City. Then travel east of Amman to visit the Desert castles of the 8th century. The caravansary El KHarana, the summer residence of Qasar Amra and the fortress in the oasis Azraq give a very good overview about the history of this country. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 18 - Sunday 26th Septan Amman–Jerash–Dead Sea (B) Marriott
Today you will be driven to visit Jerash which is known as the city of a 1,000 Pillars. You will also visit the Triple Arched Gate, the Huge Hippodrome, The Theatre and the only Roman Forum surrounded by 63 Ionic columns. Then we proceed to the Dead Sea - the lowest spot on the Earth Surface, 1306 feet below sea level. Check into your hotel and this afternoon enjoy the sensation of floating on water (swimming). Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 19 - Monday 27th September: Dead Sea - Petra (B) Marriott
Today we will be driven southward along the King's Highway, one of the oldest trade routes in the world which runs 200 miles along Jordan's hilly backbone. You'll stop at the Byzantine Church of Mt. Nebo, and then proceed to Madaba where you will see a unique Mosaic Map of Palestine. You'll visit the Great Crusaders Castles of Kerak, and continue to Petra. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 20 - Tuesday 28th September: Petra (B) Marriott
Today you should wear good walking shoes! To discover this ancient attraction you will take a horse back ride through the Siq, the only access to this city carved out of the Rose Colored Rock. You will visit the Treasury, Theatre Tombs, Hall of Justice and Palaces. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 21 - Wednesday 29th September: Petra – Wadi Rum (B D)
Transfer from Petra to Wadi Rum - a moonscape terrain of ancient riverbeds, towering cliffs and smooth, pastel colored sands. Arrive the camp, prepare for you Jeep tour in the desert for 2 Hours then return back to the camp for dinner with unforgettable party. Overnight Wadi Rum.
Day 22 - Thursday 30th Sept: Wadi Rum Amman- Cairo (B D) Marriott
After Breakfast, you will leave to Amman Airport departing at 12 noon to connect your flight back to Cairo. Arrive in Cairo where you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Enjoy dinner and show on one of Cairo’s famous floating restaurants. Overnight at your Hotel.
Day 23 - Friday 1st October: Cairo (B) Marriott
Free day today. Overnight at your Hotel. (We decided to go back to the Cairo Museum)
Day 24 - Saturday 2nd October: Cairo (B)
Transfer to the airport for your final departure flight.
Day 1 – 8th September 2010
We departed mid afternoon yesterday for an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn near Sydney Airport so we could have a relaxing getaway this morning. We woke at approximately 8 am and lounged around watching tv until we departed at 10.30 to return the hire car. We arrived at the Malaysian Airlines check-in dead on 11 am – the requisite 3 hours before the flight departure. We received a priority pass through customs and immigration and then looked at some of the duty free stores that seemed to only sell perfume, alcohol and sunglasses. Nothing grabbed our fancy so we left empty handed. Greg wanted a new camera lens but noticed there were hardly any stores that sold camera equipment, and the electrical equipment on sale was on par or more expensive than of that in Australia.
We hunted down the Malaysian Airlines Lounge an hour before the fight to relax. The business class lounge was relaxing and quiet but not overly glamorous. We had barely had a bite to eat and a drink when they called our flight so we wandered up and settled in to the top cabin of a 747-400 in seats 7A and 7C. The flight attendants were spectacular and looked like they had all come straight from a modelling job with perfect make up, all with blue eyeshadow. It must be company policy! The Flight attendant looking after us, Sarina, was delightful. She continually called us by name and was attentive without being overbearing.
The food was wonderful and plentiful. Our first meal, titled a “light refreshment” in the menu we were given , consisted of beef and chicken skewers with satay sauce. The next appetizer was a crab meat and potato salad dumpling, which even I loved! The main course was snapper for me and Malaysian chicken curry for Greg. I was so full after our first 2 appetizers that I could not eat my snapper. Greg indulged to see what it tasted like and said it was fabulous. For desert there was cheesecake and fruit. There was a range of French and Australian wines. Greg was not too keen on the French red, so decided to drink “something from home” . It was unusual to note that beer was not offered.
The flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur was just over 7 ½ hours. Long but not excruciating. Our flat bed made things comfy as did the video on demand entertainment system. We arrived in KL at 8.30 pm and attempted to find the transfer desk so we could be issued with our KL to Doha, Qatar boarding pass. The transfer desk said they couldn’t help, and we should go down to Gate 2 as another Qatar Airways plane had just departed. We wandered down there and had to go through a security screening with x-ray machine and I stood at it waiting as the staff were not ready for us as the area was primarily empty. I motioned to the security staff that I wanted to enter the area so I could speak to the Qatar staff. He said “just go in” and motioned for us to take our bags through the electronic security thing. It beeped as I went through so I looked at the staff for guidance and he said “don’t worry”. We asked the staff about obtaining boarding passes and they said the flight at 2.55 am had not yet opened so we should come back at 12 midnight. We had booked in to the airport transit hotel that was located in the international departures area so we did not need to clear customs.
We napped for 3 hours then ventured back to the Qatar Airways check in desk at 12.30 am, but there was nobody there and nobody had arrived by 1 am when we decided to leave. We walked back to the help desk to ask and we received a nonchalant “ask the transfer desk”, which was of course empty. We decided to go to the Malaysian Airline Lounge that looked after their “code share passengers” on Qatar. We explained our predicament after the receptionist asked for our boarding pass to enter. We said we had been trying to get one but nobody was able to help. This galvanised him in to action and he started to call numerous phone numbers on the two phones on his desk until someone answered. He spoke in Malaysian and all I could understand anything he said except for “Murray”. He hung up and said “they’ve been looking for you to issue your boarding pass”. I have no idea who would be looking for us because there was nobody around the airport at all. He then went on to say that our boarding passes would be brought up to us and we should wait in the near empty lounge. This was service! I dread to think what would of happened if we had been “lowly economy” passengers without someone to run after us!
We finally stepped onboard Qatar Airways’ flight to Doha from KL. A pleasant 6 ish hours. The business class section was only half full and most of the passengers slept for the whole night flight. Economy seemed very full, in fact, I wondered how they would all fit on the plane. The plane was fabulously new but their flat bed seats were not exactly flat beds, and I found them to be very uncomfortable. Qatar advertised, and our itinerary said the plane would be a B777 with completely flat seats, however it wasn’t to be. (boo!)
Food onboard was once again a wonderful display of airplane catering.... I was not feeling well at this stage so declined, but Greg dined on omelettes, fresh fruit, bakery delights, toast.. one course kept coming after another. The service again was wonderful. Again the flight attendants were all stunning and beautifully made up and quietly respectful. Fabulous ambassadors for their airline.
We arrived in Doha, Qatar 20 mins ahead of schedule. The time was just 5 am. The weather, the pilot announced was a balmy and probably usual 32 degrees. We had to alight via stairs and the humid heat at that time was extraordinary. The business class passengers were ushered to their own bus to be taken to the Premium Terminal where first and business class passengers were segregated. On this leg, we were travelling First Class so we were ushered in to their lounge, which was decked out in soft sand colours, with leather armchairs, thick glass topped tables, lamps and potted palms everywhere. It was early and fairly deserted however, upon walking in there were a number of single men, including sheiks which made me feel uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure if I should of stayed in the “family section “ with other women and children. I was dressed modestly in three quarter length pants and a long sleeve linen shirt yet still felt underdressed. To my relief a number of women started to appear, mainly with male partners, but then there were a few single females. Onboard the plane there was an announcement that the Ramadan fasting had begun for the day so we should refrain from eating and drinking in public. We didn’t know that meant us non muslims should show respect and not eat, however the lounge had a vast array of fabulous food and drink on display, with chefs continually replenishing stocks. There were a few people eating so we felt comfortable enough to have a shower. One thing I have noticed is that people are willing to leave their luggage and handbags unattended.
Day 1 still due to time zone differences – Doha to Cairo
Our Qatar Airways flight at 1.50 pm left exactly on time. I was fresh and ready to go afte r a refreshing shower in one of their magnificent shower rooms the size of a bedroom! There was a frameless glass shower, with a 3 meter high glass door, that could easily of fitted 10 people . There was marble and timber giving it a lovely modern look without being clinical. I relaxed under the shower for 15 minutes then dressed and asked the room attendant for a blow waver which she scurried off to find. The bathroom also had a large, probably 15 person spa in one corner, as well as a sauna, which, if I had gotten in, I would never of gotten out.
After purchasing a pair of Dior sunglasses and some perfume, we handed our first class boarding passes to the counter attendant for the Cairo flight and were ushered to a waiting bus, with sign writing on it that said “first class”. I didn’t give it much thought but figured it was just for business and first class passengers, however, in getting on, it was easy to see what it said first class on the outside. All of the inside had been customised to seat 15 passengers in luxury. Individual lounge chairs, with polished timber stands to store your carry on luggage with lulled us in to wanting this experience never to end. Our bus took us to the front of the plane where we alighted to a covered set of stairs to the aircraft. The economy bus was letting passengers on at the rear, however, they had to make the journey in the sun as they were without shade!
This flight was only a short leg, 3 hours. The majority of the flight was men and there was one other Australian couple on board in first class. Obviously they were doing exactly as we were! This airplane, whilst also an A330, had a slightly different layout with different, and far superior chairs, as well as more leg room. If only we’ d had this plane for our long leg.
We arrived in Cairo at 4 pm, after travelling across a large expanse of desert. We were herded on to a bus with only the priviledged onboard!! Some had individual pick ups with escorts, including one young guy in a headdress and robe with two women of similar age. I wonder what their relationship is. The pilot had announced that it was a pleasant 33 degrees celcius.
After lining up at the currency exchange and only getting our visas there when asked if we wished to purchase them. I figured we would get them from somewhere that said “visa’s”. That confused me. We walked in to the customs hall with huge lines. 2 other flights had just arrived at a similar time to us. We proceeded through customs and noticed a sign being held up with our names on it. We motioned that that was us and the gentleman scurried out to meet us and give me a bunch of flowers. He introduced himself as Ahmed our Rep. He expertly collected our luggage, albeit with a broken lock (but nothing missing). He weaved his way through the crowd, with my husband and I scurrying behind him, to the waiting Lady Egypt car. He introduced us to our driver Mohammed and told us that he wouldn’t tell us much as we’d probably had a long trip and were not prepared for too much information. Ahmed spoke virtually non stop from the moment we got in to the car to when we alighted at the Mena House Oberoi. I could not imagine how he’d be if he decided to give us the “full rundown”. He told us about the sights we were seeing as we drove across varying lanes whilst cars tooted and people attempted to wave us down. He also mentioned our itinerary and how he could change it at any time to incorporate anything we wanted to do. He discussed what we should wear to various sights, how he’d help us bargain so we wouldn’t pay too much, what to drink and eat, where to shop to get cheap snacks and bottled water. He gave us a cell phone with his and Lady Egypt’s phone numbers pre programmed in. He also gave us a well needed bottle of water and small wadd of small notes for tips, just in case we hadn’t managed to get any. A very nice welcome indeed.
We pulled up to the Mena House Oberoi, built in the shadows of the pyramids after our car had been searched underneath. Ahmed asked for our passports and said we should have a seat and someone would be over with a complimentary hibiscus drink as he checked us in. Ahmed said he would contact us tomorrow about what time someone would collect us for the evening Sound and Light Show at the pyramids.
At the outside of the hotel and in the street leading towards our hotel there were lots of men on the side of the road waving at cars. I asked if they were looking for a taxi. Ahmed said that they were trying to get us to stop so they could offer their services as a tour guide of the pyramids for a highly inflated price, or give you a camel ride that was super expensive. He said if you venture out, you will find many people waiting at the gate to talk to you and their aim is to get money from you. He advised if if we went out not to engage in conversation. He said once they hear you are Australian they will say “g’day mate” and you’ll never be rid of them until they give you money.
Ahmed also joked about us coming at a perfect time – the end of Ramadan . He said “us Muslims can function better with food or drink” so said we’d have guides and drivers who were refreshed, happy and “on the ball”.
A staff member then ushered us out to his golf cart and said he’d show us to our rooms. Ahmed said he’d wait around and call us to make sure our room was perfect. As we slowly weaved our way to our rooms we gazed excitedly around at the beautiful gardens illuminated by the dusk sunset. We were shown in to Room 336 – a pyramid view room on the 3rd floor. The room was fabulous – king size bed, couch, table and chairs and a bath. There was a balcony overlooking the garden courtyard and one of the great pyramids of Giza. We stood on the balcony, in the dwindling day light hours as the garden lights and lights of Giza took over. As our bellhop departed, I pressed 10LE in to his hand and thanked him for such beautiful surroundings. He beamed and took off.
Our bags arrived shortly after, and after tipping the bellhop, I could not find my purse. I hunted everywhere and told the “bag man” not to go as I had something for him, however I couldn’t find my LE. I said I was sorry and he cheerfully said “don’t worry” and departed happily. We thought we’d catch him in the lobby and give him a tip.
Our package was the “honeymoon dreams” package with Lady Egypt and everyone seemed to know. We were wished well by Ahmed obviously, as well as by the hotel staff upon check in. In the room was a congratulations cake, which was made by the hotel, and divine... I couldn’t stop eating! Later in the evening housekeeping rang to congratulate us and asked if they could bring some flowers over. I said certainly, however, I had just showered and was ready for an early bed. The housekeeping gentleman, scurried in with a bag full of goodies and proceeded to meticulously place candles on the table, as well as a beautiful arrangement of roses with a heart shaped light in it. We lit all the candles, then wished us well again and departed, with a tip.. At times like these I wish I had an unlimited supply of funds to give to these wonderfully friendly and helpful people who were making our stay fabulous.
After arriving at approximately 7 pm, we showered and changed and wandered around through the gardens to Sultan’s lounge for a few drinks. We went via the pool area and it looked magnificent in the fading light. Tomorrow we had an easy day so we thought we’d make use of the pool facilities on our untanned bodies, fresh from a winter in Australia.
We sat down and ordered from the smiling bar attendant a diet coke, which cost 22 LE including taxes and my husband a Heinekin at 45LE. The surroundings were opulent looking - small tables and chairs of gold, embroidery, wooden gold walls, large hanging lights, detailed wooden ceiling. There was a piano in the corner, which midway through our drinks, an Australian, in his 60’s, I assume Australian as he had an “Aussie-t-shirt” and shorts on sat down at the piano and started to play. His friends gathered around as did other passers by. He played 3 songs and at the end stood up as the crowd clapped. He said “folks, don’t clap, throw me money”, to which everyone laughed and he departed with his friends with a lot of “back slapping!” We paid our 113 LE bill and left a 17 LE tip.
We changed our 100 LE notes to something smaller, and I had so much money I could not close my purse. I had asked for smaller change and had been given 20’s. At the end I asked if he could change a 100 LE for ones. He said quite annoyed “I gave you what you wanted and you didn’t stipulate”. Well, just break this down for me a bit more. He did so and gave me some 5’s and some coin. I told my husband to go back and change a hundred into ones if possible. He to got some ones and 5’s. Oh, well, who cares... it’s holidays and 5LE is only about 1 Aussie dollar so I didn’t worry if I had to “overpay” for the toilet. In our time in Egypt we found the Mena House “bank” to be the most generous in giving you small change. I really had no problems but probably should of changed more money here to small notes.
We arrived back at our room and again looked at the pyramids that felt within reach from our balcony as they were bathed in light from the light and sound show. We climbed in to our king size bed and drifted off to sleep. I turned the airconditioning off as I thought we wouldn’t need it, and we didn’t.
About the heat. I had been told it was a dry heat, but to me it feels humid. The 33 degrees was not unbearable, after all I am used to 40 in an Australian summer. There was a haze which blocked out the direct sun which made it pleasant. I am sure when we visit other places there will be full sun and I’ll be complaining.
Day 2 – Mena House Oberoi & Giza Sound and Light Show.
I woke at 6 am and figured that as I had slept for 9 hours I would get up. I crept past my sleeping husband and went out to the balcony. The pyramids were bathed in the morning light as the loudspeakers chanted prayers. The sound was beautiful in the quiet morning where I seemed to be the only one awake at the hotel at that time. As 6.15 passed, slowly people started to emerge and walk through the gardens to the lobby to have breakfast or meet their guides. It was so peaceful that I sat on the balcony for an hour (typing this).
Greg surfaced at approximately 8 and we meandered to the lobby in search of breakfast. We were, yet again, attended to by helpful staff. Our service buzzed around us making sure we were satisfied and full. He spoke to us about where we were from and he commented to me that I look like an Egyptian woman. Now that is a new one to me... being green eyed and blonde. My husband said “see, I told you that your nose was as big as the Sphinx’s, that’s why he thinks you’re Egyptian”. (my nose is small and nice, the perfect nose for plastic surgeons to use as a “sample nose” so I am not offended by the joke!). He thought my fair haired husband was British. He wished us many happy tidings in Arabic and we tried to copy what he was saying, with disastrous results mind you. I still just have shukran and la shukran under my belt... I haven’t progressed any further than that despite reading the list of useful Arabic words that Ahmed provided us at our first meeting.
Breakfast was laden with all kinds of food from the usual continental fare to Arabic goodies. I am a toast and juice gal, so I’ll leave the exotic sampling to Greg! He assured me that he was going to try something different tomorrow. He was amazed at the array of spices and condiments available for breakfast. He thought they would be more suited to an evening meal.
After breakfast we looked around the original areas of the hotel and were amazed at the architecture, which appeared very Indian like, and the detail. Magnificent arrangements of flowers were everywhere and we noted later in the day that one arrangement had been changed, even though it was still spectacular yesterday and in full bloom. Obviously the hotel deems this a very important aspect. We noted there was a guided tour about the history of the hotel from 5 pm to 6 pm and we planned to attend one evening. (unfortunately we didn’t make the guided tour) During our wanderings we walked down to the front gate and looked at the busy street outside. A number of men saw us there and slowly meandered their way through the busy traffic to ask us if they could take us somewhere. We shook our heads and said we already had a guide. Even as we turned to walk away, one was still calling out to us so we ignored him. My husband was keen to venture “outside the gated walls” but I was not so enamoured with his enthusiasm. I commented to him that in the street, there was not one woman to be seen and I would stand out. In my short time in Egypt and Qatar, I had already felt uncomfortable at being the only female a few times and didn’t want to put myself in to that situation “just yet”. Perhaps after a few days out and about with our guide I would feel more confident.
Today was just a relaxing day. We were not sure how we would pull up after our marathon flight of 30 plus hours so we didn’t want to see a “big ticket” item on the first day if we were too jet lagged to enjoy it. Surprisingly we both came out winners on the jet lag front after an early night last night. We planned to spend it around the pool swimming and arrived at the lavish pool area at approximately 11 am. We were greeted by a pool attendant who issued us with beach towels and noted our room. He didn’t say if there was a charge but I figured there was as he scurried over to the towels if anyone hovered by the “towel table”.
We settled down on reclining chairs and slathered ourselves in sun block, nevertheless we still got burnt. I suppose it was bound to happen as we stayed at the pool until 5 pm when we thought we’d head back to our room to refresh and cool down after all that sun. The sun was warm but not excruciatingly hot. Good old “Aussie summers” have made me immune! We ordered drinks throughout the afternoon from one handsome young Egyptian gentleman who I nicked named “my boyfriend” as I liked him and his quiet gentle manner. If anyone could of heard us they’d of been wondering what was happening as I would say to my husband “darling do you want another beer.. my boyfriend is coming”. We gave him a 5LE tip for every 45 LE beer he bought. One time he had taken our order and bought the beer back, and I got the 5 LE ready in my hand, then an older barman came over and shooed my little friend away after he had placed the beer on the table and proceeded to make a production about pouring it. I felt he had just taken over as he saw me with money and thought he would then get the tip. I have no idea if the tips are shared or what happens, so I decided not to tip. When my favourite friend passed by, I called him over and gave him the 10LE and said “that’s for the drink earlier”. He thanked me profusely and continued to keep an eye on us.
We were offered a menu for lunch, and as I didn’t each much at breakfast, I was starving. I had mini beef burgers with fries! They were wonderfully presented and tasted fabulous. All for the price of 100 LE. I would definitely order that again! As you can see, I am hardly a food gourmet!
During the afternoon, Ahmed called to let us know that our escort for tonight would arrive in the lobby at 7.45 pm for the 8.30 Sound and Light show. He wished us a pleasant evening and thanked me for my text I had sent him early saying “Happy Eid”. He said he showed his family and said he thought it was lovely! He said he would see us tomorrow at 8 am to introduce us to our Guide, whose name I believe is Hamdi.
As I write this, at 6.45 pm, I am watching a slowly dwindling parade of cars and buses leave the pyramids via a road high in front of our hotel. One funny observation so far. Every time we leave our room we turn off the air conditioning because we really don’t need it when inside. We don’t think it is hot enough in our room to warrant it (I must be worried about greenhouse gases in my old age), however each time we return and something has been done in our room, like laundry being returned, or the beds turned down at night, they have turned on the air conditioning! They probably think we’re hot frazzled tourists in DESPERATE need of cooling!
We met Abdul, our second Lady Egypt rep tonight at 7.45 pm in the lobby. Our regular rep, Ahmed was spending Eid with his young family and would be back to see us tomorrow. Abdul explained that the Giza Sound and Light Show started at 8.30 pm, and he suggested we sit to the right in the outdoor seating area, up near the front. As we drove along what appeared to be, a major road, we were amazed by the number of people, mainly males, walking along the road or weaving through traffic. People just seemed to stop their cars wherever they wanted to and we had to weave around them. There were people eating at tables set up in the grassy areas in the middle of the road as well as sitting out front of cafes and shops. There were many horses being lead by young boys riding the “lead horse”. I was pleased to see that the horses appeared to be in good condition. We pulled up at the front entrance to the pyramids and followed our guide who bought our tickets. We arranged a meeting place for 9.30 pm just outside the entrance.
This was the first time we had seen the pyramids and Sphinx, albeit in darkness. The Show was about the history of Egypt. I felt the show as okay but not mind blowing . Being on holidays, we felt we had to do it but if we had known what it was and had missed it, we would not of been disappointed.
We met Abdul as arranged and weaved our way through the parked cars outside the entrance gate. One site melted my heart... there was a baby donkey standing in the busy car park pressed up against the back of a bus. He was so still and quiet I thought he must be frightened. I wanted to get out of the car and lead the little donkey to the side of the road. For all I know he might of been quite happy safe in the car park and just like pressing up against cars! As we drove off we saw an array of animals including a camel, horse and grown donkeys. I thought the cute little donkey must of wandered away.
All of a sudden I felt tired so we decided to get room service and go to bed. I ate another burger for LE70.
Day 3 Cairo Museum
We woke at 7.15 am and headed to breakfast for another large breakfast. The service today was completely different from yesterday. They were pleasant and helpful, but not exceedingly so like yesterday, hence I adjusted my tip by a couple of LE.
Ahmed was going to meet us in the lobby at 10 am to introduce us to our guide who would then be taking us to the museum to see King Tut in all his glory. Ahmed arrived and spoke to us about our tour for half an hour and explained that we can make any changes, inclusions or exclusions that we liked. He said the only time it would cost extra is if there were entrance fees.
After our chat we we were introduced to Hamdi and then we were off. After chatting on the way to the Museum, by the time we arrived we felt confident that we would really like Hamdi and the guiding services he would provide.
The road towards the Museum was the only way in and it was a mad traffic jam of people, buses, cars, police, tourist police and the odd tourist hawker here and there. The entrance of the pink coloured Museum was crowded with people sitting around, people snapping pictures and videos of the statues and monuments and groups of tourists leaving, luckily for us. The great thing about our private driver was that we could leave things in the car without fear of it being stolen. We left the large Nikon camera and video camera and took my small cam to snap some pics in the entrance then check my camera as cameras are not allowed in the museum.
After passing through a metal detector at the entrance Hamdi gave us a brief explanation of what we would see today. He suggested that he show us the main pieces of importance and then we could have a look around on our own, including the Rosetta Stone (replica) and King Tuts throne. We agreed that this was a good idea. Hamdi always asked us what we thought and gave us the option of doing something completely different. Hamdi explained how to read heirogliphics and pointed out a section from a tomb that showed a “shopping list” of what the pharaoh wanted to take into his next life. He explained that in would not of been possible to put all different kinds of foods in the tomb, so just like we do in modern life, he wrote a shopping list of foods .
We looked at the mummified animals, a multitude of sarcophagus and burial coffins and also the Royal Mummies Room for an extra 100LE. They were amazing to see as some still had hair on them or you could see their teeth and facial features clearly.
We arrived at the Tutenkhamun exhibit and again Hamdi explained in detail about King Tut, his treasures and the Pharoah lineage. The museum was making preparations for the move to the new museum sometime in the next year or so and they had haphazardly cordoned off areas they were working on. It was unbelievable that these priceless treasures just seemed to be thrown together in to a room, without clear labelling and with workman’s “stay clear” tape weaving through the display cases.
We were amazed by King Tut’s throne and the detailing. We received a lesson on what the picture on the thrown meant and it was so mindblowing to think that I was standing so close to something that was thousands of years old and in my mind I visualised it being moved in to his tomb. I remembered so many treasures from books I had read and many of them seemed so much bigger in real life. I could not believe that so many wonderful treasures could fit in his tomb.
We slowly headed towards the most famous exhibit in the museum and one synonomous with King Tut, the death mask. I was amazed that the wooden coffins that held the stone sarcophagus were so big. I had seen pictures of Howard Cartner crouching in front of them but had no idea they were so big. We eventually were ready to head in to the room with the death mask and as I walked towards the entrance, a security guard held his hand up to say we could not go in. Hamdi said to us that it was likely that the room was full, although it did not look full. Hamdi went to ask a security guard as to what the problem is and we watched his animated words with the guard and he said we could now go in. We walked in to the room, which was not full, and there was a commercial video camera filming as well as a professional camera man. There were people in suits, with ear pieces who watched me intently as I rummaged through my bag as I looked for a tissue. They seemed to be fawning over a casually dressed man and he stood dead centre in front of King Tuts Death Mask. Then people started to take his photo, then when he moved to look at the rear of the mask, others stood in front of it and had their photo snapped – with a flash – and also on their mobile phones. So much for preserving history and not allowing cameras in! We did not know who it was but someone said “president” and there were people wearing the flag of Ecuador. (About 2 weeks later we saw the President of Ecuador on the news and it was the same guy from the museum).
After gazing at the two coffins and the death mask we headed outside. We asked Hamdi about the hold up at being allowed in the room as we couldn’t understand what he said. He told us that he told the guard that we had finished the tour and were leaving and we could not wait 10 minutes to enter the room. He said he explained that we were American tourists (we are actually Australian) and said he did that because he said they were more likely to let American tourists in because the USA is such a world power and they don’t want to annoy anybody connected to the USA.
By now, we’d been at the museum for over 3 hours and we were “mummied out” so we decided Hamdi’s suggestion to look around on our own. We said we had a free day one day and we might come back to the museum that day.
At the museum I had my first foray into the world of Egyptian bathrooms! Hamdi advised me that although the sign above the bathroom says “no tipping” they will expect a tip so I should take a 1 LE. The toilet was not as gruesome as what was made out in a travel book, actually it was very reasonable. When I went in I paid the lady standing in the doorway my LE and walked through to the cubicles. The attendant sung out “lady, lady” and scurried to get me some toilet paper, even though I had bought my own.
We then went to lunch at Felafel in downtown cairo where Hamdi ordered us a traditional Egyptian feast for us. We were disappointed he was not going to join us but he said that after Ramadan he elects to fast for another 6 days. The meal was wonderful. I am not such an adventurous eater and just ate the “basics” however Greg ate everything and loved it. Hamdi had obtained a “doggy bag” or whatever it is called in Egypt and I queried him about it. He said that Lady Egypt was buying him his lunch today. As we had to pay for drinks, but our meal was included in our tour cost, I asked if he’d like a drink and I would buy it. Hamdi thought that was a lovely gesture and suggested we go outside to get it so we can get it cheaper.
Hamdi suggested Greg go with him and Mohammed, our driver stayed behind with me. As Hamdi got out of the car, he spoke to Mohammed in Arabic, and I assumed he was telling him to get out of the car and not sit alone in the car with me. Each time we were alone in the car after that, when Hamdi had to get tickets or whatever, he got out and left us in the car alone in private. Greg came back with 2 large bottles of water and 4 cans of soft drink, which was cheaper than one 1.5 litre bottle of water from the Mena House.
We arrived home at approximately 3 pm and spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool, followed by pre-dinner drinks in one of the bars and a quick dinner. I was happy to climb in to bed after a tiring day.
Day 3 Pyramids, Sphinx & Step Pyramid at Saaqara.
We met Hamdi in the foyer and departed for our day at the pyramids. Mohammed dropped us off right near the entrance and parked the car in wait for us. Hamdi discussed going in to a pyramid and showed us a pic of what we could expect inside, i.e. crouching down and the distance. I decided that I didn’t think I could do it, but my husband would love to do it. We could just get tickets for the second pyramid at 30 LE
We slowly walked up the path towards the great pyramid and Hamdi talked non stop about its history. It was fabulous to have our own guide as opposed to others we had seen on a big group tour trying to scuttle after their guide and keep up with a group of 20 or so people. We were able to ask questions at any stage, which we did and direct conversations to suit what we were interested in or wondering about.
Standing at the base of the great pyramid, was amazing. The shape of the pyramid looked different than what you see when you look at it at a distance. Hamdi suggested that we climb up the steps towards the entrance to “get a feel of it” and how big the stones were, and he’d take some pics of us with our camera as we did. There were a number of tourist police in the area of the entrance and they were chastising young middle eastern men for climbing too high into a restricted area and for taking to long to walk down the steps. It was good to see that they were doing everything they could to protect the pyramid.
We walked along to the corner of the pyramid and took some more snaps. Hamdi showed us the 2 holes in the ground that they thought once would of held boats but were empty when they opened them. He told us about the Solar Boat as we walked closer and could see the large building it was housed in. It was amazing to think that it was found in the 1950’s, hardly any time ago. The boat was amazing – it was so big. Hamdi said that they had tested the wood and it had touched water so they assumed that the pharaoh had actually used the boat before it was buried so he could take it with him in to the afterlife.
We walked across to the second pyramid, the slightly smaller one than the great pyramid. The vendors were out in force here and were quite persistent. I scurried behind Hamdi as the vendors seemed reluctant to approach us as he was with us. Hamdi had warned us that the vendors will say something is for free and then when we take it they will demand money. One actually put a t-shirt into the crook of Greg’s arm as he was taking a photo, then demanded he pay. Hamdi had to step in and say no we did not want it and we were not paying for it so he reluctantly took it back.
Along the way I had had a group of young middle eastern boys who started to smile at me and chat in English. I replied briefy as I followed Hamdi. They asked if I could take their photo, then they asked if they could take my photo with them so one at a time they stood beside me as each one took the photo. When I got to Hamdi he said he didn’t realise that he had such a famous person with him on a tour! I asked what the attraction of pictures with strangers and Hamdi said I was just different to what they were used to and thats why they wanted some pics.
We arrived at the entrance to the 2nd pyramid and watched Greg descend into the darkness. Hamdi said he’d be back in 15 minutes, however, he was not that long. He said the lines were pretty small and the crowd was moving quickly. Greg was annoyed that people had ignored the warnings to not take their cameras in as the flash can destroy the delicate tomb. Hamdi agreed and said he would like people to respect the relics so that they are still here for future generations. Greg said that it was really hot in the tomb. I told him that everybody that came out was fanning themselves and sweating. He said there really wasn’t anything to see but just wanted the experience of being in the tomb. He said he got exactly what he was after by visiting the tomb.
We wondered back to the designated spot where our driver was waiting with our air conditioned car. Hamdi said he’d now take us to a viewing point where we could see all the 3 pyramids. It had a special name, but I forget it. This area was crowded with buses and vendors, although this time most of them had licences to sell and were supposedly reputable, or so Hamdi said. We did the obligatory photos with us touching the top of the pyramid, as were everyone else around us.
We hopped in the car and Mohammed, our driver, weaved his way around horses, camels, donkeys, cars, buses and people towards the sphinx. I was amazed that the sphinx was not as big as I envisaged. If you looked at him closely you could see the detailed headdress and facial features that had been ravaged by time and man. The direct area around the sphinx was closed so we could not get up that close. After some snaps, we wandered towards the entrance near the Sound and Light show to meet Mohammed and our car. I needed the bathroom at this stage and was a touch nervous about what I might find as I had passed by this area during the Sound and Light Show and the smell was not exactly pleasant. Hamdi had reminded me to take my 1 LE, but the lady attendant in front of the toilet door was telling a group of tourists that the price was 2LE because it was a private bathroom and not a public one. They said that they only had a 10 LE note and she’d pay for everyone. The bathroom attendant said no, they all had to pay separately. The tourist said she didn’t have 2 LE so she would not be able to enter the bathroom. After a few frustrated words on both sides the tourists walked away and told the attendant that they could not afford it. At this stage I happily pulled another 1 LE out of my handbag and paid the lady who seemed pleasantly surprised that I was ready with my 2 LE. The bathroom was not as I expected. Yes, the floor was wet and I am sure it was not through “dubious means” as there was someone in there mopping with a large bucket of water. Armed with my own toilet paper and baby wipes I did my business without a problem. Hamdi asked how I found the bathroom and I said it was perfectly fine!
We wandered down the street – my first foray on to a regular Egyptian street, albeit outside a tourist area. I felt quite safe and nobody was really interested in me. We bought a couple of drinks from the store – water and soft drink for 25 LE. I offered to buy Hamdi and Mohammed a drink however Hamdi said it is ok that he would buy his.
We now drove to Saaqara to look at the Step Pyramid and temple. It was interesting to see the countryside as we passed by and the various half built houses that seemed to be everywhere. The step pyramid had a different vibe to the great pyramid, perhaps due to the hype about the great pyramid. It was peaceful out in the desert, apart from the other tourists. Again there were people wanting to take our pic, obviously for money. In all, the vendors were not that annoying, except for one. I had stupidly shown interested in a set of Egyptian coins and he followed me all over the temple with his goods that were priced at LE 60. By the time we left he had dropped his price to 25 LE, however, I was a bit annoyed at his pushiness and also thought if I said yes to 25 LE, once I handed him the money he would not give me the goods and I’d be stuck. Hamdi was waiting in the car for us so I didn’t have my “Egyptian protection” which was another reason I didn’t agree to the sale.
We drove back to the hotel, again looking at the countryside and the palm trees and carpet schools. We headed straight for the pool for a nice relaxing dip. I relaxed and read one of my Egypt books. For dinner Greg got Indian take away, which we ate in the room whilst I ordered a plain old beef burger.
Day 4 Citadel, Ibin Tulin Mosque, Mohamed Ali Mosque, Khan El Khali, Coptic Cairo.
We breakfasted at the buffet and met Hamdi at 9 am in the lobby. We enjoyed our drive down town and despite people saying the Mena House was too far out of town, I thought it great to look at the sights and experiences as we drove along. It only took half an hour to arrive.
Our first stop was the Hanging Church. Hamdi discussed about its history and also the history of Christianity. The site was very significant to the Christian faith and Hamdi explained about the pulpit and the 13 pillars which stood for Jesus and his 12 apostles as well as the mosaics in the front walkway. We also got a special tour that was closed off to the public and saw the font used for baptisms as well as being able to look at windows of the church on a few different sides. When we left I figured that we had to give him baksheesh for this so we put 50 LE in to the “church box” which caused him to smile and thank us very much. On the way out, I deposited 5 LE in to the “poor box”.
We next drove to the Citadel to see the Mohammed Ali mosque, which was huge. The mosque was beautiful . We took our shoes off at the door and wandered in across the alabaster floor. Hamdi explained the significance of all the parts of a mosque. He joked about us applying for the job of calling for prayers 5 times a day as this would of involved a very long trip up 200 stairs at a time in to the “tower thingie... I’ll have to look up the correct name”. We entered the prayer area and sat on the floor, along with many other people in various little clusters. Hamdi spoke to us about the 5 pillars of Islam and why certain beliefs were important. He was not preaching he was just explaining what he believed in. He also spoke about truth and honesty and said it was no good following the 5 pillars if Islam if you are not a decent and honest person.
At this time, my tummy started to feel a bit queasy and I asked where the bathroom was. Whilst Greg stayed to take some snaps, he escorted me to the bathroom and again reminded me to take my 1 LE. I couldn’t find my coin purse so I gave the attendant 5 LE, in return for no toilet paper – which was ok as I travelled with my own. The toilet was again fine, just a bit wet on the floor, but again it was wet outside the toilet stalls so I was pretty sure it was water. Business done and I was back in action!
Greg met us and said when he was taking some snaps somebody connected to the mosque asked him if he’d like to take some photos right at the front edge of the mosque, which was out of bounds to the public. He said he would and the man took him to a fabulous vantage point overlooking the city where he took many wonderful shots. Greg gave him 20 LE and when finished he wandered back where another gentleman said he’d show him the way back and for which he was rewarded with 5 LE. Another man came over and just asked for money, without doing anything for him and Greg said that he had no more money so the man just walked away.
Prior going to the bathroom, I had bought a book Hamdi had suggested I buy as it was cheaper than at the other sites. It cost 100 LE and it was the history of ancient Egypt as well as detailing things like the houses that regular Egyptians used to live in, the mummification process and Egyptian Gods. Once other vendors saw that I bought they scurried after Hamdi and I and he said “no, we are not buying” in Arabic.
Our next stop after zig sagging around some one way streets was the Ibin Tulin Mosque, the oldest mosque in the city. It was so peaceful and quiet. There was only one other family of 4 there when I arrived and it was like the whole place was there just for us. The architecture was so pretty. In some areas it was simple and because of its simplicity it looked stunning. Hamdi gave us the history of the mosque as well as answering more of our questions.
At this stage I thought I’d better go to the bathroom again for a “just in case”. Hamdi said we’d go to the pharmacy and get something to settle my stomach. I again departed for the bathroom, armed with my 1 LE (I had found my coin purse). On returning to Greg and Hamdi Greg asked “did the bathroom smell”. I replied, yes it did smell.... he looked like “eew” and I replied “it smelled like cleaning fluid and bleach!” The bathroom attendant was obviously fastidious with her cleaning and scrubbed the bathroom continually from top to bottom.
We left the mosque and drove down the end of the street and Hamdi asked us if we’d like some fresh juice. Greg said he did so Mohammed parked the car in what seemed to be the middle of the street and we all got out. Hamdi shouted Greg and he firstly had a fresh mango juice that was more like a smoothie. They both then had sugar cane juice. Hamdi brushed our money aside and said it was his treat. Greg said he enjoyed getting out of the car and being on the streets with the “regular people”. The pharmacy was across the road from the juice store so we dropped in and the pharmacist suggested something which cost 16 LE.
The market was our next stop. Hamdi said he’d wait at his favourite coffee shop for us as we shopped. He firstly sat us down and gave us tips on how to bargain and what price we should pay. He had mentioned cartouche’s before and asked if we wanted him to show him us where to go. I actually preferred he got with us so we weaved our way through the alleys and headed upstairs. We looked through a book showing all the different styles and selected a key chain cartouche and 3 necklaces which was going to cost 550 LE and be ready in half an hour. Hamdi then suggested that he show us a place to buy inlaid pear boxes so we got one nice one, which we probably paid more than we might of got it elsewhere @ 70 LE, however I did not mind. I bought a number of smaller cheap boxes at 10 LE each. Yes I am sure Hamdi gets a “kick back” for bringing customers but he did not force us to go anywhere and good on him if he can make an extra buck or two. I did not need to beat the guy down on price so that I could get a bargain. I can afford to pay a few dollars extra so if it helps somebody then great! Since Hamdi was with us he came to look at some copper lanterns that we wanted. We agreed to pay about 400 LE for the lanterns except he only had one on display and said he had to go to the storage area to get it. Hamdi said he was probably going around to other vendors to try and buy it cheaply, as he didn’t have it in stock, and then sell it to us for a bit more so he could make a profit. We sat on chairs in the stairwell for about 10 minutes when he appeared. Hamdi told him to wrap the items in front of us to make sure we were getting what we paid for. On the way back to the coffee shop, to have a cool drink before we headed home, we stopped in to a shop that he said he has never been in and we purchased a number of tops, necklaces, bags, beaded hair pieces and a pair of “pharaoh shoes” in leather than cost 25 LE... 5 AUD! He said he’ll wear them around the pool in summer as he fondly remembered his time in Egypt.
Again, we went for a swim in the pool when we arrived home and read our Egypt books. Most other people around the pool were reading various Egypt guide books! We grabbed a simple meal and headed as we were having an early start tomorrow – 7 am.
Day 5 Giza to El Alamein to Alexandria.
I awoke and felt really lethargic and horrid. I had not slept the night before as I was worried I would miss the 6 am alarm. I was so weary as I climbed out of bed.. but as they say “the show must go on”. Greg went to breakfast at about 6.40 and I stayed in the room until the last moment. I rang reception at 6.55 and asked for someone to help me with the bags. A few minutes later the doorbell rang and a smiling staff member wheeled my cases out to the golf cart and took me and my bags to the front reception. I gave him a 10 LE tip for the door to door service!
I met Hamdi in the lobby and mentioned I was not well and had not slept as I was worried about being late. He said not to worry ever because it was my choice to leave at whatever time we liked. We headed to the car, immodium “saving the day” and started our journey. The road was not that busy as it was early. The usual procession of hawkers had started to congregate at the base of the road leading towards the pyramids, and our hotel. The other day one ran right out in front of us and was so insistent that Mohamed stopped the car to see what he wanted. It was probably that or run him over and I’m glad he chose the former!
Along the way we discussed private and public education in Egypt, as well as Hamdi’s “Aussie slang dictionary” 33he had obtained on his iphone. We giggled as he read out the saying and meaning of such things as “A over T” and “she’s easy” and gave him examples of how we might use the slang. He said he was going to have to try it out on other Australian groups.
About half way we stopped at a roadside cafe area and had a break for 15 minutes so Mohammed could have a break. We continued on through the barren Sahara Desert to El Alamein . It was amazing to see how many advertising signs were located at the side of the road. Coming in to the main area of El Amein there was a huge sign advertising something every 10 metres. Vodaphone and Pepsi were bar far the most advertised items, followed by land compounds where one could potentially build a magnificent waterfront home.
Hamdi admitted to us that he had never been to El Alamein and joked that he would be no good as a guide. We first went to the museum where most things were labelled quite well so we were fine without Hamdi’s expertise. He knew little tit-bits here and there. We first walked around the outdoor areas showing a wide range of mainly British, Italian and American tanks, some with bullet holes. We then went inside the museum that showed a wide range of items from different countries, mainly Egypt, Italy and the UK. There were uniforms, pictures, firearms, equipment and lots of other relevant items about from the second world war era and the battle at El Alamein. Hamdi was very interested in everything also and was pleased to be learning more about history. We joked about the Australian uniform on display that was made of shorts instead of long pants and we said that were must of been the smartest to dress accordingly in the desert!
The museum had taken about an hour
to look around, so we had a quick look in the expensive gift shop, and grabbed a drink then headed towards the cemetery which was only 5 minutes down the road. The cemetery was on the desert side of the road and beyond it was the vast emptiness. A perfect backdrop to the serenity of the cemetery. There were a number of moments, including one donated by a large family based Australian corporation that possibly may of had some connection to the war in Egypt, hence the donation. One of the monuments held all the names of those killed during the local battle. There was approximately 7000 buried here in perfectly symmetrical lines interspersed with the odd tree. I shed a tear at the sad waste of a human life and wiped my eyes hidden beneath my sunglasses. We slowly wandered back to the air conditioned car that was waiting up the top of the hill.
We now drove to Alexandria along the highway near the beach. It was fascinating to look out the left side of the window towards the beach where the ocean was the most beautiful blue colour I have ever seen and on the other side was the sandy Sahara desert, littered with the odd little bush here and there as well as crumbling houses or partly completed houses. This is what I found fascinating in Egypt – there were so many half finished building projects lying dormant. It obviously cost plenty of money to get to the half finished stage and they were never completed.
Along the way, Hamdi showed us a DVD on the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza from the eyes of one of the workers. I really enjoyed it and liked that Hamdi was prepared for us with this and also with pictures he showed us at another sites, e.g. the map of inside the Giza pyramids to show us what they looked like inside, as well as showing us how one would have to crouch down if you had wanted to go inside. He said on the way home he had a great one about the curse of Tutenkhamon’s tomb. Greg had asked about this at the museum and he obviously remembered it.
We drove in to Alexandria at about 2.30 pm and he took us to a favourite sea food restaurant of his. Hamdi and Mohammed dined with us, but at the end of our long table. He said they had wanted to sit somewhere else so that he could leave us to eat in private, however, we thoroughly enjoyed his company and the discussions we had with him so we really didn’t want him to eat elsewhere. After dinner Greg had a long conversation with him about the political situation in the middle east. Hamdi was happy to discuss things and was pleased to hear the version that we Australians heard in the news. Greg loved the lunch, or rather very late lunch. I, on the other hand, due to my sensitive stomach did not eat, but even if I had been “at my best” the meal was not really what I would of liked. For entrees about 6 or 7 entree platters we bought out the contained various vegetables, dips and salads. Greg loved them all and was probably pleased that I was not eating so he could have more. Then there was a crab soup, followed by the course of calamari, 2 whole fish and prawns.
I rolled Greg out and we drove to our hotel the Maritim Jolie Ville, a supposed 5 star hotel but in my mind it was probably a little less. I think Hamdi said it was the old Marriott that had been done up and sold. We had booked room 603, the Mediterranian suite that overlooked the beach. It had a wonderful view of the beach and street, although a touch noisy in the middle of the night, but it didn’t keep us awake as we were so tired from the busy day. It had a 3 piece lounge suite in the living area, along with a 40 inch plasma, writing desk and bar area. The bedroom held a 4 door wardrobe, small coffee table and chair, plasma tv on a tall boy and a king size bed. There was a largeish balcony that could be reached via the bedroom or living area.
We were tired from our busy day so we watched a movie on tv, grabbed room service and went to sleep pretty early.
Day 6 Alexandria – the Catacombs, Pompei’s Pillar & the Alexandria Library.
Greg breakfasted at 8.30 am whilst I stayed in the suite. I went down at 9 am to meet Greg and Hamdi. (I just had to stop typing this as I had to let room service in with our desert... chocolate cake and some fancy éclair for 20 LE and a 5 LE tip – yumm!)
Our first stop was the Roman Ampitheatre. We wandered around the ruins and stood on the circular plate and spoke.... our voice reverberated around the amphitheatre, just as it would of thousands of years ago. The sound was amazing. Hamdi told us about the Roman Baths that had been discovered on the site and the area was now currently being further excavated. I enjoyed hearing him talk about the baths as he pronounced it “bath-eez” – it was cute. Hamdi then told us about the expeditions under the water to find new artifacts and we saw an array of items on display. It would of been a huge effort to bring to the surface many of these heavy and large items.
As we were leaving there was a workman watering a small lawned area that was covered with statues and columns. He joked that he must be trying to make the small columns grow as he was watering them! Hamdi had earlier told us that he disliked some Egyptians habit of washing pavements with hoses. He said they have a shortage of good water and it should not be wasted on something like that.
Mohammed again met us, with the car’s airconditioning on and we drove to the Catacombs. These were underground tombs, found by accident when a poor donkey (or horse) fell through a hole in the ground that was once a light and ventilation shaft. This was my first foray underground and it was a touch stifiling, probably nothing compared to the great pyramid. It was amazing that all of these rooms and areas were underground. It was hard to imagine it in all its glory when it was new. I thought of all those people who had walked on the same path that I had and wondered about various things like, who where they coming to see, what were they wearing, what did they carry.
We next visited Pompeii’s Pillar and after another of Hamdi’s introduction to the site we wandered around by ourselves and looked at the various artifacts on display in the outdoor area. He Pillar, a large column was so tall when you walked right up to it. They had moved 2 sphinx statues that they had found elsewhere so that the items would easily be able to be seen by tourists. The displays were clearly signed and the surrounding areas outside the did were modern and sympathetic to the historical displays. I visited the bathroom here and found it very modern. The floor was marble, and I am sure so was the basin countertop. It was spotless! Two women from the next cubicles complained about no toilet paper... they obviously hadn’t learnt yet. There was no bathroom attendant in attendance, so this time I saved me 1 LE and used it for free! Hamdi joked that he’d let the them know I had used it for free and they’d probably chase me around the ruins trying to get their 1 LE.
We visited the Alexandria library next. I was happy to visit this new structure as I wanted to see all of Egypt, not just ancient Egypt. Hamdi showed us around the piazza outside and explained the significance of the shape – like a sun rising out of the horizon or water. He said the sun means life or knowledge so they thought this design appropriate and it won a competition from over 1000 designs for the library. There was a conference centre as well as planetarium. I would of loved to be able to spend some time there. We took a guided tour with Hamdi trailing behind us. He had obviously heard it a million times but always appeared interested in what was being said and what he saw . The library was mainly lit by the natural light outside so there was no strong artificial lighting. There were also green and blue panes of glass as those colours were soothing on the eyes.
They showed us a couple of exhibitions of paintings and sculptures which we wandered through quickly. I noted on a display there was a name that I recognised as it was the name of the buffet breakfast room. Hamdi explained who he was and complimented me on my memory! (I had noticed earlier in Cairo the name of the suburb the Lady Egypt office was in). At the end of the tour we stopped in front of the Anwar Sadaat display and we went inside and had a look. Hamdi explained to us the significance of many unsigned photos, and one or two others obviously heard him talking to us and asked him at hings.
We left the library to head towards the citadel and boardwalk where vendors had set up their touristy displays. We spoke about marriage and dating in the muslim culture and what families expected and how things were different these days. Quite a number of young men and women passed by holding hands. At one point a young woman wearing a heardscarf stopped near us and continued to look at us. Hamdi was explaining to us about the history of the citadel and I thought that she wanted to ask him something. However, she started to be more interested in me and my blonde hair and Hamdi said she wanted to have her picture taken with me. Hamdi took our photo and she thanked us.
Hamdi had originally said that our day would finish at 1 pm so we could spend the afternoon as we liked, however it was now 3.30 ish. We decided that we’d go to the beach this afternoon, which meant crossing a 6 lane road with a medium strip in the middle. There were people scooting across the road and I told Greg that if I got to the road and coudnt cross I would rather return to the hotel than attempt it. However, when we were outside the hotel there was the “beach shuttle” and the driver said hop in. Greg said it was ok that we’d walk but I insisted. I said I am sure they would take us to the other side of the road so we didn’t have to cross. I went to get in the car and then noted that there was an Egyptian woman in the car, in all black with her face covered, which is why I didn’t see her in the car when I was standing behind it. I was not sure if she would want us in the car with her and her 2 young chidren, however she shifted over and said “come in” so we did just that and jumped in. The car took us all of 3 minutes around the corner but parked on the beach side of the road so we didn’t have to cross the road. He said just to have the beach attendants call the beach shuttle when we had finished and he’d come back.
We wandered in to the private beach area that was only half full. There were deck chairs and cabanas that could be closed to varying degrees if you wanted privacy. Further down the beach was a public area that was so crowded with beachgoers. Most people were sitting on chairs and tables rather than lying on the sand. Hamdi said some of the beach areas are free and only cost a LE or 2 for a chair or umbrella and it is a good fun day for families without much money.
We chose our cabana and the beach attendant set up our chairs and towel and adjusted the cabana to how we wanted. We then took our first dip in the Mediterranean sea. It was so salty and the waves pretty big. We didn’t have to go very far out for the big waves to get us which was good as I was scared of sharks!! Hamdi assured me that the sharks don’t come in close to the beach! There appeared to be some kind of life guard as he was wandering up and down the beach telling people to come in closer to the shore if they went out too far.
The muslim women on the beach amazed me. Many sat in different states of cover. One had a swimming costume on that covered her full body and a colourful sarong over it, as well as a headscarf . It looked really pretty. Others were just fully clothed in a long skirt and long shirt and headscarf. Other more traditional women had the long galabaya over their clothes as well as the full head and face covering. My beach attire was a respectful long skirt, t-shirt and head scarf. My swimmers were long surf shorts and a rash vest so I would not get burnt. Perfect conservative swimming costume for the Mediterranean! I did not see 1 bikini on the beach and I am sure it would of felt very uncomfortable to be wearing one.
After our swim we read on the deckchairs. A 5.30 pm we thought we’d have a walk along the Corniche and I wandered along with my headscarf and sunglasses on. Yes I got a few gazes from men, but they were brief and not unnerving. Nobody was really interested in us. A guy selling t-shirts and tops just wandered past us and didn’t even stop. One or two vendors selling corn cob cooked over a few palm leaves offered us something, and we said “la shukran” and they left us be. We wandered around to the busy public beach and wandered back. We thought we’d attempt to cross the street, however after standing at the road for 5 minutes we decided that it was too busy. There was one or two middle eastern men near us that also were waiting and didn’t cross so obviously even they thought it was too busy. Just as we got back to our private beach area the driver and car was there picking us some others. He spoke to us and remembered us and said to wait and he’d drop this car load off and he’d be back for us. When we got in the car, a group of 3 young guys got in. I was not sure of their nationality, possibly Hisplanic and they said to us “are you Australian”. We admitted we were and they said they had just visited Australia and was in Paramatta! We laughed and said we know Paramatta! We all got out at our hotel.
Later that evening we had a meal at the nice Italian restaurant in the lobby. We were the only people in the restaurant and we were even waited on by the chef who came out to bring us our main meal. He came back to ask how the meal was. One thing I noticed in Egypt is that each time we ate, we were questioned as to whether or not we liked the meal. At the Mena House, when we had room service they would call half an hour after the meal was delivered to ask us what we thought of the meal. When we ate in a restaurant, we again were asked as to how we found the meal.
After dinner we watched the traffic on the balcony. There were still families at the beach late in to the evening. We watched a movie and went to sleep.
Day 7 Alexandria to Cairo
Hamdi and Mohammed picked us up right on time at 9 am. We were going to visit the Montanza Gardens before heading home. The gardens were the grounds of 2 palaces and we were able to go in to the ? palace for a tour, however, when we went in we were too early for the guided tour so we just looked around on the ground floor. Hamdi told us about the history of the royal palace and of the royal family. He really is passionate about history which shines through in what he tell us. The other palace was for the royal wives, mistresses and female family members. It was a huge beautiful palace that overlooked the water and we joked that it had to be large because of his harem!
We got out of the car at various locations to walk along the tracks near the beach and to view the beach and fishing areas. We enjoyed this and a snorkler who was fishing with a net happily waved to us and held up his catch in his net. The water was so clear along the beaches and it would of been fabulous to have a dip.
After our garden stop, we went to a huge mall called Carrefour to look at clothes and photographic equipment. We entered after going through a metal detector, but unfortunately there was no photo shop at the mall, so we spent our time just wandering around looking at the shops and buying bits and pieces here and there. I did love some of the shoes – some of the glittery or beaded sandals and thongs were stunning. Unfortunately all of the ones I loved didn’t fit me or come in my size. I bought a pair of espandrills that were on sale for 60 LE. Hamdi said I had “Egyptian tastes”! I got my husband 2 cotton polo shirts from Mocambo Cotton (I think that was the name) and these were 125 LE each. We also went to the large supermarket that sold everything as we had to buy a new suitcase as the lock on my case had been broken on the journey to Cairo. I loved some cushions I had seen in a housewares store, however, they were just too bulky to bring home. A lot of the clothes were really nice but as I had 3 men with me – Mohammed our driver also came along for a look, I felt I could not shop for as long as I would of if I was alone! I was really pleased to have Hamdi along as he was required to translate in stores for when the shopkeepers did not speak English.
We then drove the 200 or so k’s home from Alexandria to Cairo. Along the way the scenery and the people amazed me. It was so different than what I was used to back home. I had a little snooze along the way as the sun and beach had tuckered me out.
This was possibly our last day with Hamdi (we had asked for him again for when we returned to the Cairo Museum but he wasn’t sure if he had another tour and could take us). We thought we might have Mohammed again, but we tipped them in case we didn’t see them. As we were very happy with Hamdi, and Mohammed was always cheerful and happy to wait for us without complaint in the car so it would be cold when we got in, we gave them more than the suggested amount from Lady Egypt. I trust they were happy with what we offered.
When we got back in to Cairo we checked in to the Cairo Marriott. This hotel was huge and it appeared to have a different clientele than the Mena House. For some reason I didn’t quite feel comfortable. I figured that it might take a day or two to know my way around and feel comfortable so we’d see. We just had tonight at the hotel as tomorrow we were heading off to Aswan, but we were coming back to Cairo after visiting Jordan. We went to the pool this afternoon and the pool was nothing like the beautiful pool area at the mena house. The service also was something that differed greatly. We were ignored at the pool after being given towels (later on at dinner the staff were very disinterested and just stood around in a group of 4 or 5 chatting).
We wandered around the hotel and had a quick peek in the casino which thrilled Greg. We went back later but to his disappointment he needed long pants in the evening and we still had our casual shorts on. Oh, well, at east he saved money! We noted that there were 2 weddings on that evening, one in the ballroom so, according to what Hamdi said about marriages/weddings, that it was sure to of been a big grand affair, and an expensive one! We ate pizza’s for dinner at the garden cafe and went to bed at a reasonable hour!
Day 8 Cairo to Aswan
At 6.30 am we were waiting in the lobby with our luggage as arranged with our rep Ahmed. He phoned at 6.35 to say that he was running late due to a traffic problem. He arrived 20 mins late and quickly scooted us out to the car. We were pleased to see our driver was again Mohammed. There was not much traffic, due to it being a Friday, so we got to the airport in 20 or so minutes. On arrival at the airport I thanked Mohammed and pressed 100 LE in to his hand in appreciation for the short trip. In his limited English he said “no, no”... and waved the money away. I again insisted and pressed the money in to his hand and closed his hand. Probably not the correct Egyptian etiquette, however in this instance he was going to have to do what I wanted!
Ahmed grabbed my one suitcase – the second was already full of tourist stuff I had bought and shopping, so he was going to take it to Lady Egypt to store as I didn’t need it. He already has one carry on bag stored there!! Ahmed darted through the departures terminal as we trailed behind him, weaving our way through large groups of international travellers. He obviously knew many people at the airport which made things go smoothly and quickly which was most important as we were a touch late for our 8.40 am departure. Ahmed got our boarding passes and then directed us where to go and left us.
We wandered through the brand new departure area which was spotlessly clean, as was the bathrooms. We had only been sitting down for 10 mins when they announced that travellers on our flight should go to the departure gate. We sat there for another 10 mins then we boarded a bus to go to our Egypt Air flight on an Embearer 170. The plane only had 4 seats across and 38 rows. I know it had 38 rows because we were sitting in the very last row. The plane was new and in good condition. I had expected the worst, but economy was roomy and quite pleasant. The flight attendants were all friendly and helpful. An elderly traveller asked for a glass of water for some tablets a few minutes before take off and was happily assisted by a smiling flight attendant. The flight was smooth and we arrived safely! Only issue with the flight... there was no safety card in my seat pocket!!
We arrived at about 10 am with the pilot announcing the weather outside was 31 degrees. As we disembarked many of the passengers stood up as soon as we’d landed and grabbed their bags from the overhead storage compartments then had to stand in the aisle for ages. When the plane finally came to a stop, the 95% of the passengers fought their way to get off the plane, but they should of realised that as we were being bussed back to the terminal, they had to wait for the ones up the back of the plane. I was the last one to get off the plane!
Khaled met us and we were pleased to see that Egypt Air had not lost our luggage on the short flight. On the way to our hotel the Movenpick Khaled told us about the history of Aswan and how it was different from Cairo. He said everyone understands that they need tourists to survive so they want the tourists to come and are very used to seeing travellers in western clothing. He said they also try and keep everything clean and tidy because it gives a good impression to the tourists.
Upon getting to the hotel Khaled spoke to us with suggestions of what we could do that afternoon. We had a felucca ride arranged but that was it. We decided to go to a Nubian restaurant for lunch, at approximately 100 LE each and then a further boat ride to a Nubian village. We arranged to meet our guide at 1 pm, however he had been stuck in Luxor due to an issue with transport and could not make it to us until 2.30 pm, which was fine by us. It gave us time to have a swim at the pool which was huge. The water was a bit cold, but once you got in, it was really refreshing. The pool area was so relaxing.
We met Khaled who introduced us to Aamer our guide in Aswan. Aamer had arranged for our felucca to meet us at the dock and we got on. I was a touch unsteady and a bit nervous about the boat as it weaved across the nile dipping close to the water. Aamer assured me that I was safe. Once I was assured that there were no crocodiles in the Nile I was happy. Aamer said he couldn’t swim and he wasn’t worried. The Felucca captain encouraged me to take the wheel, or in this instance the oar! It was hard going. The current was really strong and it was hard work to hang on! We sailed up, or should that be down the Nile to the Nubian restaurant. Along the way we were approached by a young boy on a little raft that was paddling like crazy to catch our boat. Once he did he hung on and started to sing to us in a pretty voice. He hung on for a while and we gave him 1 LE and he let got and paddled off to better takings. I think he needed a felucca or motorboat that was packed so he had more chanced of making money!
At the Nubian restaurant I was a bit hesitant at eating. My tummy, even in Australia, sometimes doesn’t like different foods so I thought I would err on the side of caution. I had paid just over 100 LE each for my husband and I for lunch so even though I wasn’t going to eat, we were going to get my food. My husband ate my share and loved it so he was pleased that I didn’t eat mine. We rolled him out of there after a visit to the bathroom which was the worst one by far... it had no running water except for an empty bottle near the toilet. Need I say more!
We caught a motor boat to the Nubian village which took about an hour. The boat captain was just under 20 years old and his “2nd mate” was a sweet little boy of about 10. Half way in to our journey he started get tired and his little head bobbed up and down. I thought how different from kids back home. He was out trying to make money for his family, unlike other kids were playing and not experiencing any pressures. We arrived at the Nubian village and docked at the beach so took a wobbly walk down a plank to get off the boat then scrambled up a steep path to get to the village. This village was the last stop for an hour long camel ride further down the Nile so we also had to dodge camels and their possibly nervous riders.
Aamer took us straight to a house where he said a real Nubian family lives and they invite people in to their home to make money. They have a traditional house with little rooms off a main living area that housed a pen with 3 grown crocodiles about a metre long as well as a lot of baby crocodiles. Aamer picked up a croc an held it.... he wanted to know if I wanted to hold it. Hell no I didn’t want to hold that scary big teethed beast!! My husband did and he held it, then they put the croc on his head. After photos for proof the croc was put back in his pen in the middle of the living room. At this stage Aamer explained that they open their home to the tourists to make money. The elderly man, I guess the patriarch of the family offered us drinks. I eagerly accepted a fanta. We offered 50 LE to thank him for welcoming him in to our home and letting us see his crocodiles! He thanked us and we prepared to leave. It was then that we thought we hadn’t paid for the 2 fantas so we offered him another 20 LE not even sure if that was enough, and our guide translated for us. The man said he would not accept any more money and the 50 LE was more than enough.
We caught the waiting motorboat back home to the Movenpick Hotel and as we were going with the current it only took us about 20 minutes to get back home. I tipped the young boy and Aamer said they were from the same family so they would share it. By now I had had a lot of sun and was tuckered out so I was glad to be home.
We showered and dressed up a bit more than usual as we’d read the dress code for the hotel restaurants and it said no shorts or thongs! This did pose a problem as our dressy shoes were in a suitcase sitting in the Lady Egypt office waiting for our return! I wore long linen pants to hide my thongs and Greg wore runners and continually complained that he looked stupid. I assured him that he looked fine... but like an old man! Greg was still full from his lunch so I ate a “safe hamburger” in the bar whilst Greg sampled (again!) the local Stella beer. After 2 beers we headed back to our room. Greg fell asleep watching the tv and I didn’t last much longer. The bed was uncomfortable - there was no sheet, just a thickish doona which was not really appropriate when the weather is 30! We both slept on top of the doona all night as we’d turned the air conditioning off and we were upstairs on a mezzanine level.
when we got back to the hotel we had a relaxing swim. We’d arranged to meet Aamer to go to the Bazar a couple of streets down from the Corniche. We figured we might need some help with the stall owners if we headed out on our own. He asked us what we wanted to buy in particular so he’d have an idea without us indicating to a stall owner that we were interested in his wares. We said we wanted galabaya’s for the Nile cruise party and some sandals as the Movenpick had dress regulations that said no flip flops/thongs in the restaurants. We wandered along and were approached in the middle of the street with vendors trying to sell their wares. I suppose they had to as so many stalls had exactly the same items that they were selling. We politely said no thanks or la shukran once or Day 9 Aswan to Abu Simbel
We woke at 7.45 and Greg breakfasted at the buffet whilst I showered and fiddled around in the room. I had not been eating much since I was here. At first I was eating breakfast and dinner, and missing lunch as were often out. Now, for some reason, perhaps the heat, I did not feel like eating and have stopped eating breakfast so am only existing now on one meal a day, usually a very early dinner after we get home from our afternoon sightseeing.
We met Khaled who escorted us to the airport and got our tickets to Abu Simbel. We were on the 10.30 am flight which took off on time. The Egyptair plane was an A320 and it reminded me about why one shouldn’t fly economy. The plane was very new and the crew pleasant, smiling and helpful. One even commented on my return that my face was very red.. I was hot and sunburnt! The problem with the plane that the seat pitch seemed so small. My knees were touching the back seat of the seat in front of me. God knows how anyone survives a trip longer than half an hour on it!
We were seated on the left hand side of the plane going to Abu Simble so we saw the magnificent temple carved in to the rock from the air before we arrived. We got to the airport and our rep wasn’t easily seen. We just stood in the arrival area and waited. He arrived in a panic 5 minutes later muttering about the car or bus not being here and the guide not being here. We were a bit unsure of what was happening. He eventually told us and another couple to come with him. We walked outside and he walked us to a car and told the couple to get in and then walked us to a bus that had been ready to depart for 5 or more minutes as it was fully loaded with all seats full so we had to stand. The bus was supposedly air conditioned but it was really stuffy and warm. The pilot had announced earlier that it was 31 degrees. Call us snobs, but we were sure we were not meant to be on the hot crowded bus! We wondered why one Lady Egypt couple had a car but not us. Yes it wasn’t the end of the world but we wondered if that couple had taken our car as Mustafa, our rep, was a touch vague.
We got to the temple area about 5 minutes later and our guide, who I cannot remember his name started to tell us all about the temple and what we’d be doing for the tour. He assured us that we would go back to the bus early so we could get a seat. We visited Ramses temple as our first stop. From the pictures, I thought it would be way bigger, even though it was very large. It is amazing to think that the temple was moved to stop it being flooded and destroyed. Inside was magnificent. Some of the colourings on the pictures were still there and you could only imagine its magnificence when it was new and just completed. Our guide gave us 10 minutes to look inside alone, as guides were not allowed in. There was a sign out the front that said no photos. We went inside and marvelled at the detail and artistic abilities of the ancient Egyptians. About half way through a viewing, a man in plain clothes asked Greg to show him his camera as he had it by its side and it was turned on. I guess the man could see the light of the screen. Greg didn’t understand why he wanted to do that at first but then figured he was “undercover” inside the temples to stop it from being destroyed by people taking pictures. He wanted to see the last few pictures Greg had taken and he showed them to him but he wasn’t satisfied. He insisted that he go back and show him the last few photos taken and then first... so he could tell when the photos of Abu Simble stopped and started to make sure we had not taken any in the tomb. He insisted he look through them 3 times then turned to me and asked to look at my camera. I said my camera was turned off but he asked me to turn it on and show him the last few pictures on the camera. I showed him and he could see I had not taken anything. He gave the camera back and apologised profusely. He followed us for a few moments and again apologised to us for the inconvenience.
We met the guide outside under a tree and he explained about the next temple. The female temple he called it in memory of Ramses II favourite wife, Neferatari. Although smaller, it was still magnificent. The heirogliphics were so detailed and precise. It was hard to imagine that these pictures were thousands of years old but still existed thanks to the work of UNESCO in re-locating the tomb higher, yet not disturbing the integrity of the tomb. The guide gave us about 15 minutes to wander around and meet him at the entrance to walk back to the bus that would take us to the airport. By the time we walked up the hill back to the entrance we felt that we had been rushed. We didn’t leave the airport in a timely manner and we had to get back to the bus and then wait for the 50 or so other people to arrive. We felt we wasted at least half an hour with this. The bus on the return journey was absolutely stifling. I found standing on the tarmac in the sun cooler than this bus ride!! You could see everyone wilting and just dying to get off. The sweat was dripping off me and I felt so damp. This is why the flight attendant commented that I looked burnt and hot! I was hot indeed!
Another Lady Egypt rep met us. I assume they were Lady Egypt as they didn’t introduce themselves they just asked our names and then gave us our boarding passes. Mustafa was not to be seen again. The man was gone in 1 minute. Although there was no real problem with our trip to Abu Simble, this was the least amount of service we had received from Lady Egypt so fair. Ahmed, our Cairo rep usually rang us each day to see how we were going and if there was anything we wanted or needed.
One last hiccup in the Abu Simple trip... the plane left early as everyone had gotten on in a timely manner so we had a half hour wait at Aswan airport until Khaled was due to pick us up at 3 pm. He arrived to a deserted arrival hall – a fancy name for Aswan airport, and wondered what happened. He said “thats Egyptair for you!” He said we should of called him. I explained I didn’t always carry the Lady Egypt phone around as it was a bit bothersome. I said no harm done, he wasn’t to know the plane was getting in early.
As usual, twice and they went away. There was no big hassle. There were probably only a very small handful of vendors that were persistant and Aamer said in Arabic “no thanks we do not wish to buy” and they went away instantly. He said he preferred to go to vendors that did not speak English very well if we wanted some good prices. He said the English speaking vendors were aware that people could in fact afford high prices so they would try and make them pay as high as possible. We looked at one stall and there were no female galabayas that suited my tastes. Just for fun I wanted a glittery black traditional galabya like what many women were wearing in the street. At a wedding at the Cairo Marriott one even when we were there, almost all of the women had glittery galabayas and I thought some of them looked stunning.
We headed to another store run by a girl of approximately 20 and and man of approximately 40. The man was primarily out the front so we dealt with the girl. Aamer said before he started to talk about any items or negotiate a price he told the girl that at the end of the sale, no matter what, he would give her 20 LE for her assistance. He said that the money for the sale would go to the store owner or her family if it was a family business and he wanted to entice her to give us the best possible price. I chose my glittery galabaya and tried it on. It was black with blue embroidery and silver beading down the front to the hem and along the cuff of the sleeve. Perfect, if just a touch too big. The price negotiations were very quick. He came back with a price of 150 LE in less than 30 seconds. I was happy with that price and I didn’t want to screw them down to the last cent. It came with a matching scarf however I wanted a really fancy beaded scarf. Aamer asked me to show him which I liked and I said that I liked the girls scarf. I asked Aamer to tell the girl that I wanted a scarf like hers as it was very pretty. The girl smiled at me after he said it and put her hand up towards the scarf as if to say “thank you, I am glad you like it”. Unfortunately there was nothing similar to hers. At this moment I just thought I would take another one, so after finding out if I could have the second one for 150 LE, I chose another black galabya with silver rhinestones and beading on the sleeves and back, which also came with a matching scarf.
At this stage the girl said in Arabic to Aamir that she would love me to have her help her with her English. She said she only speaks it a little. After an initial conversation with her in English, she really couldn’t speak much and didn’t understand me. I said “shukran” to her and we headed off with my purchases.
We next stopped at a store with male galabayas and Aamir knew the owners. After much shaking of hands between the friends the vendor showed us the suggested selection. Greg was happy with anything and I chose an olive coloured one, complete with head scarf. Aamir discussed price and bargained him down. A this stage he wanted 300 LE. I said no too much and he pleaded. I am a sucker and said ok, 280 LE. Done! A few bucks more for me was not going to kill me. I was just tired by this stage so willing to pay whatever without the lengthy negotiations. I saw a Stella beer t-shirt and pointed it out to Greg. He ummed and ahhed and eventually agreed to buy it for 20 LE. We joked that the salesman had now got his 300 LE. As we were leaving the salesguy told Greg to look after me as I might be snapped up by another man as I was very elegant! (Only my second gushing overture! The desk guy at the Cairo Marriott said he didn’t like it when beautiful guests checked out! Lol)
We drifted on home, via a short ferry ride to the Movenpick Hotel and was pleased to finally flop on the couch in the cool air conditioning. After a little bit of tv and reading we drifted off to sleep.
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