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Trip Report GO TO EGYPT NOW - Quick, before it's rediscovered!

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Before I get into the nuts and bolts of our trip, I have to say something about Egyptians. I don't want to bore you all with a long list of superlatives describing the warmth and welcome we received from the people of Egypt. I'll will tell you that everywhere we went random people took the time to just say "welcome to Egypt", "thank you for coming to Egypt", "please tell people to come to Egypt." Hospitality industry workers at hotels, restaurants, the cruise ship, our guides, EVERYONE connected with Lady Egypt, were gracious, accommodating and went out of their way to ensure we were comfortable and enjoyed every minute of out vacation. That's saying a lot considering so many have lost jobs and the ones who are fortunate enough to still be working, don't make nearly the money they used to. Yeah, there are still touts outside tourist sights who can be a nuisance, sometimes we were approached by guys who wanted to try a scam - the same old blah, blah, blah. But if you travel at all you just have to learn to deal with it. Egypt, even in the current dire economic slump, isn't as bad as I've seen elsewhere. Egyptians deserve our respect for the dignity they show while going through some very tough times all in the name of trying to build a better future. We were all impressed.

Four of us, two couples, made plans last summer with Sarah at Lady Egypt for our two week vacation this April. Of course we watched political developments closely but there wasn't any time when we came close to canceling our trip. Sarah made sure every detail was covered and last minute on the ground changes we wanted to make were taken care of seamlessly. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend LE - they do a great job. Thanks, LE.

Also, thank you Fodorites, Casual Cairo and others who gave wise advice and insight - you all pitched in and we had a ball.

Met at Cairo airport by Mohammed, the LE representative, we were driven through Cairo and spent three nights at the Mena House in Pyramid view rooms. This is an elegant hotel, our rooms were lovely, the view was indeed inspirational, and at the bank in the hotel we bought rolls of one LE coins!!! YES!! We bought a bunch and, believe me we used them. Our first night was a wash - we slept, changed our clock and woke up to a lovely breakfast and gracious service. I'll use the word gracious a lot during this trip report.

Our first day tour was of the Pyramids of Giza and Saqqara. Our guide, Mahmoud was competent, knowledgeable and a pleasant person. Our driver, the same on who picked us up at the airport and who continued to be our driver whenever we were in Cairo, was a superb driver with a great sense of humor. The pyramids were as spectacular as you'd expect, the Sphinx better than expected and Saqqara interesting as well. I was shocked that so few people were there - there were no crowds and the people who were visiting were mostly Egyptian school groups. No papyrus museums, no shopping "opportunities" - we made it clear that we don't waste time with that sort of thing and were accommodated. We had a great day and enjoyed a fabulous dinner at the Moghul Room restaurant back at the hotel.

Day 2 was a tour of Islamic and Coptic Cairo. The original plan was to see the Egyptian Museum into that day, but we told our guide we'd rather do that on our own, so we got our tickets and postponed the museum trip. Mahmoud was our guide again and we saw quite a bit that day. The Citadel was spectacular and sitting on the floor of the Mosque absorbing the atmosphere was a highlight. The view from the Citadel gives you some idea of the size of the city but walking the streets of the old city was an adventure. We stopped for tea a couple of times, once in Islamic Cairo and another time at Khan Il Khalili. The bazaar was my least favorite place, but I figured that would be the case all along. No surprises there. Again, everywhere we went, there were no crowds, no waiting in line, only a smattering of foreigners and Egyptians tourists.

Day 3 we checked out of the Mena House and went to Alexandria on our own. Our rep arranged for our driver to take us to the train station and keep our big bags - we packed overnight bags - while we wound our way into Ramses station through a tangle of construction and swarms of travelers. We bought our own tickets, which was easy because everyone was helpful pointing us in the right direction and making sure we caught the right train (with three minutes to spare BTW). LE had made a reservation at the Cecil Sofitel in Alexandria and the 2 1/2 hour trip was relaxing, watching the view. In Alexandria, we walked to the Cecil - about 15 minutes - up a busy market street and were the only westerners in sight. We had breathtaking views overlooking the Corniche from our rooms at the Cecil - a lovely elegant hotel and again, a great staff. We walked to the Library and up and down the Corniche. Went to the Fish Market for dinner - our least favorite meal on the trip and slept well back at the Cecil.

Day 4 - After my favorite breakfast of our trip at the Cecil, we hired a taxi that was outside the hotel to take up to the Catacombs, Pompey's Pillar and Mahmoud Said Museum. He was a cute old guy but while we were closing the deal some men came up offering their services as "body guards" and guides. Did we need a car to Cairo? A hotel? In any case, we shooed them away and hired the taxi man for 60LE or so for the day. The Catacombs were fascinating and maybe 10 other people were there along with us. Nobody else was at Pompey's Pillar and our taxi guy took on the role of "guide". He was very sincere showing us around and I'm sure, looking to make more money than we agreed upon. By that time, traffic made it impossible for us to get the the Museum and make it back to our train for our tip back to Cairo, so we paid him a bit more than agreed on - why not? he did a great job, wasn't getting many fares, and we had a ball. We grabbed some sandwiches and pastries at Delices near the Cecil for our return trip and walked to the station. Delices has both wonderful food and great service. We hailed a cab at Ramses - 30LE- to the Marriott Omar Khayam, where our big bags were delivered by our driver, for one night before our early morning flight to Abu Simbel. Mohammed, our LE rep met us to review what the Upper Egypt plans were and to chat about our experiences in Alexandria and the trip so far. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Day 4 - Up early for a flight to Abu Simbel, stopping in Aswan. We arrived early in Abu Simbel and were met by the LE rep/guide and driver. We checked into the Seti Abu Simbel - a gorgeous could be great resort if the rooms were in better shape - and when our guide mentioned the possibility of lunch at the Eskaleh Eco Lodge, I jumped on it because I knew it would be special. For me this was the most memorable meal of the trip. The setting, in a Nubian style lodge, on the balcony overlooking the vegetable garden, Nubian town and Lake Nasser in the distance was exotic and relaxing. The service was gracious and the meal fabulous. The menu is set from soup to dessert and out of this world. The owner and manager gave us a tour of the facilities, rooms, kitchen and garden. What delightful people who have created a serene sophisticated venue in what is really, the middle of nowhere. A highlight, for sure and I thank them for being so very welcoming.

To be continued when I get a bit caught up here at home...

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    I haven't yet gotten past the fact that you had Mahmoud as a tour guide. Do you have a picture? We also arranged our trip through Lady Egypt (in August 2008). Our LE agent was Mohamed Kamel, and our tour guide in Cairo, Aswan and Luxor was Mahmoud, but I don't remember his last name. He was, as you said, competent, knowledgeable and pleasant...well, they were all great. Just wondering if it was the same guy.

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    Hey sf7307, unfortunately I don't have last names yet but I'm going to try to get them. There are a lot of Mohammeds, Mahmouds and Ahmads (Tom, Dick and Harry!).

    Day 4 cont....So, after a wonderful lunch and tour of Eskaleh, we were picked up by our guide, Mahmoud and taken to Abu Simbel monument. When we arrived, there were maybe ten people walking around, by the time we left we were absolutely alone with Ramses II :) We spent a lot of time soaking up the atmosphere before going back to the hotel for drinks and lounging. Dinner at the Seti was buffet style but since we ate such a huge lunch we only had a nibble. There was a Chinese tour group and a few others staying the night but because the grounds are so big, we really felt it was pretty deserted. After dinner, we went on a walk through the little town, past people sitting in coffee houses watching football, kids playing in the streets, through the small local bazaar and back again to the hotel. It was just a night on the town. Back at the hotel, the rooms weren't the best - the best in AS for sure, but not nearly as kept up as the grounds set right on Lake Nasser - but we got a good night's sleep.

    Day 5 - Our flight to Aswan wasn't until 1:30 so we slept late and collected the laundry we sent out the day before. Left for the airport shortly after watching a barge loaded with camels destined for the market in Cairo be off loaded on the shore! The whole scene looked like something out of "African Queen" . Arrived in Aswan, met by Mahmoud (a different Mahmoud) and taken to the Movenpick. After checking in we went on a felucca ride and walked through a Nubian Village. A nice relaxing scenic ride but walking through the Nubian village made me feel a bit voyeuristic. That evening we ate dinner at Al Masry in town, had a decent and cheap Egyptian meal and a great experience with a group of young Liberal Party political activists (I don't know the name of the party - they described it as like our Democratic Party, so I was right in step!). They came into the restaurant to eat but when they saw us, they gave us flowers and a handout, we congratulated them on their courage and future opportunities, took a photo and left feeling that's what it's all about. The Movenpick was great, fabulous rooms with one city and one Nile view, great breakfast and pleasant staff.

    Day 6 After breakfast took an early morning camel ride then we boarded our cruise ship, the Sonesta Star Goddess - two ships were combined, but saying that only eight out of 33 cabins were occupied. We had lovely upper deck balony suites with comfortable beds. The only problem was that the plumbing caused a terrible stench in the bathroom. We changed cabins to another upper deck balcony and were happier for sure. The rest of the ship was lovely, clean and the skeleton crew - how many people do you need for such a small occupancy? - were very accommodating. To be continued....

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    After lunch on the ship, a motor boat to Philae Temple - what a beauty that was. There were no lines at the dock, of course, so our ride was scenic and fast. The island was beautiful and the temple somehow more compelling than many. Maybe because it is small enough to wrap your head around. The other monuments in Egypt are so massive...Philae is delicate and romantic. An evening on the ship with Nubian musicians and a walk through Aswan's bazaar area. The pedestrian street that goes through the bazaar is pretty nice and the "no hassle" really does apply.

    Day 7 We set sail down river. Toured Edfu and Kom Ombo, both were lovely. Dinner on the ship and an early evening. The river was pretty hazy that day, with a lot of smoke in the air. Still, sailing on the Nile is beautiful and the scenes of villages and farming are fun to watch.

    Day 8 Sailed to Luxor. Toured Luxor Temple and Karnak. Both are overwhelmingly large but intriguing and our guide, still Mahmoud the second, was very informative. The temps were pretty hot that day and one of our group was sick (three on the ship were down that day) so only three of us went ashore. After dinner we skipped the galabaya party and went into Luxor to see the town. Luxor is interesting and the bazaar is pretty clean, easy to find and we didn't get bothered by too many of the merchants.

    Day 9 After breakfast we toured the Valley of Kings, Valley of Queens and Hatshepsut's Temple. This was one of my favorite days because the color in the tombs is so well preserved that you get some idea of what the temples must have looked like, brightly painted, way back when. Hatshepsut's Temple was amazing - another highlight. Again, even with the added busses of tourists on day trips from the Red Sea resorts, there were no lines, no crowds and I truly felt badly for the people whose livelihood depends on tourism. By this time the weather was HOT, HOT, HOT. Even though we started early, it wasn't early enough! Since our flight to Cairo wasn't until late afternoon, we left our luggage on the ship - they were so accommodating - and had lunch in town at the Winter Palace Hotel. It's a lovely hotel and the lunch by the pool was delicious. We didn't get into Cairo until 11:00 because our flight was delayed 5 hours!!! Oh well, that's the only "problem" we had in Egypt so I figure we were pretty fortunate. Another night at the Cairo Marriott in Zamalek.

    Day 10 Loved the Marriott! Another beautiful historic hotel and we had a Nile view -also a Pyramid View when the haze cleared. After breakfast we walked to Tahirir Square for some photo opps and then on to the Egyptian Museum. I'm very glad we went there last because by that time, we knew a bit about the symbolism and history of the ancient Egyptians and were better able to appreciate what we saw. We spent most of the day there, having tea at the cafe and then walked back to the hotel. That night we had dinner at Abu el Sid a few blocks from the hotel. The atmosphere was very middle eastern, the food delicious, the crowd mostly Egyptians and the bill surprisingly small :)

    Day 11 Today we went downtown near the Islamic Art Museum to look for musical instruments. My husband finally bought an Oud, after a lot searching, bargaining and enjoying the whole process. Meanwhile the rest of us took photos on the street and soaked in the sights, smells and sounds of that part of town. The taxi to/from cost about 25-30 EL.
    After that we walked around Zamalek, looking in art galleries and some of the shops in that part of town. Our last night's dinner was at Sequoia - a lovely restaurant on the Nile with very good Egyptian food and a young Egyptian crowd.

    Day 13 - I'll skip Day 12 because I have two Day 4s! - We were driven to the airport and took off for home. Our rep made sure we got there safely and on time.

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    After lunch on the ship, a motor boat to Philae Temple - what a beauty that was. There were no lines at the dock, of course, so our ride was scenic and fast. The island was beautiful and the temple somehow more compelling than many. Maybe because it is small enough to wrap your head around. The other monuments in Egypt are so massive...Philae is delicate and romantic. An evening on the ship with Nubian musicians and a walk through Aswan's bazaar area. The pedestrian street that goes through the bazaar is pretty nice and the "no hassle" really does apply.

    Day 7 We set sail down river. Toured Edfu and Kom Ombo, both were lovely. Dinner on the ship and an early evening. The river was pretty hazy that day, with a lot of smoke in the air. Still, sailing on the Nile is beautiful and the scenes of villages and farming are fun to watch.

    Day 8 Sailed to Luxor. Toured Luxor Temple and Karnak. Both are overwhelmingly large but intriguing and our guide, still Mahmoud the second, was very informative. The temps were pretty hot that day and one of our group was sick (three on the ship were down that day) so only three of us went ashore. After dinner we skipped the galabaya party and went into Luxor to see the town. Luxor is interesting and the bazaar is pretty clean, easy to find and we didn't get bothered by too many of the merchants.

    Day 9 After breakfast we toured the Valley of Kings, Valley of Queens and Hatshepsut's Temple. This was one of my favorite days because the color in the tombs is so well preserved that you get some idea of what the temples must have looked like, brightly painted, way back when. Hatshepsut's Temple was amazing - another highlight. Again, even with the added busses of tourists on day trips from the Red Sea resorts, there were no lines, no crowds and I truly felt badly for the people whose livelihood depends on tourism. By this time the weather was HOT, HOT, HOT. Even though we started early, it wasn't early enough! Since our flight to Cairo wasn't until late afternoon, we left our luggage on the ship - they were so accommodating - and had lunch in town at the Winter Palace Hotel. It's a lovely hotel and the lunch by the pool was delicious. We didn't get into Cairo until 11:00 because our flight was delayed 5 hours!!! Oh well, that's the only "problem" we had in Egypt so I figure we were pretty fortunate. Another night at the Cairo Marriott in Zamalek.

    Day 10 Loved the Marriott! Another beautiful historic hotel and we had a Nile view -also a Pyramid View when the haze cleared. After breakfast we walked to Tahirir Square for some photo opps and then on to the Egyptian Museum. I'm very glad we went there last because by that time, we knew a bit about the symbolism and history of the ancient Egyptians and were better able to appreciate what we saw. We spent most of the day there, having tea at the cafe and then walked back to the hotel. That night we had dinner at Abu el Sid a few blocks from the hotel. The atmosphere was very middle eastern, the food delicious, the crowd mostly Egyptians and the bill surprisingly small :)

    Day 11 Today we went downtown near the Islamic Art Museum to look for musical instruments. My husband finally bought an Oud, after a lot searching, bargaining and enjoying the whole process. Meanwhile the rest of us took photos on the street and soaked in the sights, smells and sounds of that part of town. The taxi to/from cost about 25-30 EL.
    After that we walked around Zamalek, looking in art galleries and some of the shops that were near our hotel. Our last night's dinner was at Sequoia - a lovely restaurant on the Nile with very good Egyptian food and a young Egyptian crowd. A great way to end the trip.

    Day 13 - I'll skip Day 12 because I have two Day 4s! - We were driven to the airport and took off for home. Our rep made sure we got there safely and on time.

    What I like the most - the Egyptian people, their warmth, welcoming attitude and humor.
    What I liked the least - Khan el Kahlili and constantly giving out tips for each little thing.
    What surprised me the most - how much more beautiful the artwork and style of Egyptian monuments are. I now realize why there are so many Egyptologists and why so many artists have been inspired by the ancient Egyptians.
    Favorite city - Aswan and Cairo. One for it's small town charm the other for it's big city complexity.
    Favorite Hotel - they were all great.
    Favorite Restaurant - probably Eskaleh because of the "experience" along with the great food.

    I'd be glad to answer any questions if I can, especially because I've left out a lot of details. There were so many. This was one of the best trips I've taken and I can only hope to return someday.

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    You surely must have been very lucky with taxi's and the prices they charged. I can't imagine getting a taxi all day ANYWHERE, much less in Alexandria for only 60LE ($10). Are you sure that is right? Since you paid 30LE ($5) to get to the Marriott from Ramses Station on the same trip (this price sounds right), it seems that must be a misprint. Is that possible?
    The other one I noticed was the 25-30LE ($4.50-$5) for a round trip from the Marriott to the Islamic Museum area. That sounds like a one way price. Maybe that is what you meant when you wrote to/from - 30 LE each way?

    I'm glad you had such a marvelous time, and you did some great things and very adventurous. I just want to clear up the costs of these taxi rides because I find it a problem for the taxi drivers here who run into tourists that have read misprints on the Internet and expect to get the same rates... and these rates are much too low.
    If the Alex driver really did say $10 he must have gotten some significant kick back at some place he took you, which is fine, if that is the deal you worked out.

    The other thing I'm sad about is your meal at the Fish Market. It can be spectacular! For anyone going there, always go up to the fish counter and pick out a fresh Sea Bass and tell them you want it cooked Sang-gary (that is how to pronounce it) style. It will be baked with the best spices on it, and very delicious. If you like calamarie (or even if you think you don't like calamarie) try it. I am from Seattle and thought all calamarie had to be like eating a rubber band. It's NOT! The calamarie here is fresh and soft and wonderful. Then a few shrimp either deep fried or grilled (I prefer deep fried) and the meal is set. They automatically give you about 9 different salads (the dips for their fresh bread as well as beetroot, green salad, eggplant, pickles, etc) I love that place. I'm sorry you didn't.

    Percy- chime in here and tell her what you thought of it? :D

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    Jahlie, Thank you for a wonderful detailed report. We have moved Egypt up on our "To Do" list and are giving it serious consideration now. May I ask:

    - why did you chose to lunch only rather than stay overnight at Eskaleh Ecolodge?

    - did you have no hotel nights in Luxor?

    I am currently working with Amanda at LE on an itinerary that would include Mena House, Winter Palace, Nour El Nile Dahabiyya cruise, and (hopefully) Old Cataract Hotel (soft opening scheduled for June). I really want an old fashioned Agatha Christi experience. LOL. The hotel costs have come down by about 20%, but surprisingly there is no reductions offered for the small cruise.

    Casual Cairo, do you know anything about this cruise? Amanda reports that the crew is "pushy"....not sure what that means. Worth the expense or not? Thanks.

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    Sorry, no comment on it. I don't know the dahabayias well enough to have an opinion - but have never actually heard a complaint on any of them. Probably LE just prefers another one. Is there a reason you want that one only? Theirs might be just as good.

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    Thanks CC. Beyond the fact that this cruise boat looks just amazing, I like that it is only 5 nights. It has gotten raves from a lot of publications. Another cruise line that has the "look" and size that we want, is a 7 night cruise -- taking in all of Luxor while staying on board. The 3 night cruises don't take in the sights we would like to see. LE is suggesting an Orient boat that has the look of a box with sails. Its just not very romantic.

    http://www.nourelnil.com/our-boats-el_nil.htm

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    Hi Casual Cairo - You are right the taxi from the Marriott was 25LE ONE WAY to the Islamic Art Museum - we paid 30LE returning with a different taxi. I double checked with my husband about hiring the taxi in Alexandria and he agreed with me that the man asked 60LE or 80LE and he only took us to the Catacombs and Pompey's Pillar. He was very cute, acting like a guide at the pillar. He even removed a barricade to let us into a tunnel under the pillar - yikes! We ended up paying him a bit more - at least 100LE. I will check again with our friends to see if their memory differs - you know how that goes. He didn't take us anywhere to do shopping or whatever so I can't see how he'd make money on the side. We also took a taxi from the cruise ship docked in Luxor to the bazaar next to the Luxor temple. He charged 90LE round trip and waited two hours for us in town.

    Seattle? Another Pacific NW girl (I'm originally from Eugene) and yeah, we know our seafood. I love calamari too but wasn't in the mood. The seafood case was pretty empty when we went there and the restaurant was nearly empty. That might have been part of the problem? My friend ordered shrimp that was VERY DRY and COLD - yuck. The rest of us ordered fish - One ordered sea bass that he said was very fresh but bland. I don't remember what kind my husband and I ate but again, maybe my friend took note- all were fresh but there were no spices used, and pretty bland. The rice was nice but we didn't order the salads because we weren't that hungry. We all agreed it was the only meal in Egypt - save the free one compliments of Egypt Air at Luxor airport due to a 5 hour delay in our flight - that we didn't enjoy. An off day?

    Hi TC, we chose to stay overnight at the Seti because the photos of the Eskaleh rooms looked too primitive - and when we saw them in person, I'm glad we didn't stay there. They have an ant problem although other than that, everything is clean and very interesting, but just a bit too primitive and bed-and-breakfast like for my taste. However, I know a lot of people who would love the place - it's just personal preference. Take a look at their website to get a better idea. If you decide to overnight in Abu Simbel, I can't recommend lunch at Eskaleh enough - it was a highlight and the people who work there, run and own the place are delightful. They'll talk to you, answer any questions you have, give you a tour - we loved it. Our lunch consisted of vegetable soup - a pureed zucchini or squash - pickled vegetables - great bread - one of us had fried fish, one grilled chicken and two cooked beef - and dessert. All was fresh and very delicious.

    No we didn't have a hotel night in Luxor because the ship docks there for a night and we wanted to get back to Cairo for our last two days. The Winter Palace looks fabulous - I'd try for that if I were you. The Od Cataract was closed when we were in Aswan but if you can stay there, that would be a dream. Actually, the only thing I'd do differently would be to somehow carve out another day in Aswan. It's so manageable and pretty. Luxor didn't impress me as much. But again, personal preference.

    We are an adventurous group. The four of us have traveled extensively and getting away from the road most traveled is by FAR more interesting. I really don't like guides and for the most part a good guide book is more useful for me. Fortunately the guides in Egypt are pretty well educated and not aggressive in trying to steer you into the papyrus factory. We made it clear we'd have nothing to do with that sort of business and tipped to make up for it. Also, we want to talk to other people and if you're with a guide, you don't get to do that as much. I am so glad we went to the Egyptian Museum without a guide - the four of us were guided out by that time. For example, my husband ran into some Archaeology students who were helping get items ready for the big move to the new museum and had a great time talking to them. If you're stuck to a guide, you won't usually get into a conversation with anyone else. Plus we split up and looked at what interested us individually. Don't get me wrong, our Egyptian guides were the best - it was us, not them.

    TC - I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time and the folks at LE know their stuff.

    A mistake - our guide in Abu Simbel was Mostafa.

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    I understand now if the Alex man only took you to those two sites. I believe you said he provided service "all day". Yes, this is how you put it, "we shooed them away and hired the taxi man for 60LE or so for the day." That indicated to me (and I dare say others might interpret it the same) that he drove for a full day for you - which I look to mean no less than 8 hours.
    I understand now if he took you to those two sites, which are VERY close to each other for 60LE, in these times, that is definately possible.
    Thanks for clearing that up, and I'm still so sorry you had such a miserable meal at the Fish Market. Usually it is much better, but it does help to know how to order the fish rather than just let them do what they think the average person wants (ie fried). Given the language barrier, there is little to no chance they could describe with any accuracy you'd understand all the ways they can cook the food. Fried or grilled seem to be the only English terms they know and we know, so everything is either or for most. Also for anyone going in the future, even if you think you aren't THAT hungry, get the salads. The bread is to die for, and the salads aren't that expensive per person, so even if you don't eat a lot of them, they are worth having on the table - they are very very good. The bread is baked RIGHT THERE in the restaurant and is usually served piping hot. YUM!

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    I'm sorry if I mislead/confused anyone. The original agreement with the taxi guy in Alexandria was to go to the Mahmous Saed Museum as well as the other sights but we were stuck in traffic for so long after seeing the first two (had to catch the 6 or 6:30 train to Cairo and wanted to grab sandwiches for the journey) that we gave up. I know that for most people that might take just a couple of hours, but at our pace we were with the taxi man for about 5 hours, between 10:00 and 3:00. Perhaps his price was so cheap because he thought we'd spend a "normal" amount of time at each sight?

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    Enjoyed that report, jahlie, as your itinerary was similar to ours, but we did make sure to see the Luxor Museum which has BEAUTIFUL presentations (which was nice to see after the disorganized Cairo Museum which is a Wonder for all that it has, otherwise).

    Unfortunately, I still haven't put photos up for 18 of my 21 days in Egypt and Jordan, so I still have only some on the Pyramids, a bit on Dashur and also Sharm Al-Sheik (which Mubarek is somewhat enjoying against his will these days -- a gorgeous place), the hot ballooning discussed with the knowledgeable Casual Cairo (wish we had heard your thoughts on how to best get our fish cooked!). And, being at Luxor, we did get to visit Hatshepsut's amazing temple, which is at least seen from the video of the hot ballooning which I also made into stills.

    I hope people WILL start going to Egypt again, more, as the country really depends on the tourist industry quite a bit and the people really are warm and welcoming.

    - Andrys
    http://www.pbase.com/egypt_jordan

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    Hi andrys, we really did miss out on the museums. I think we were all so entranced by the monuments and exotic surroundings, that we just didn't make the time. The Nubian Museum in Aswan was one I really wanted to see but didn't get the chance. Maybe next time?

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    Loved your report. I didn't like the Cairo Marriott very much. I didn't like the service or attitude of some of the staff. I suppose their attitude has changed now.. they realise they need tourists of all nationalities to keep their job.

    I am glad people are returning to Egypt. I hate the thought of people out of work though no fault of their own.

    How interesting to run in to folks who were getting stuff ready for the new museum. I would love to know how they would get King Tut's things there. Imagine the security.

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    Great report, Jahlie, enjoyed reading it. Y'all covered a whole lot in a few days! When you return to Egypt, I can highly recommend the Nubian Museum in Aswan and the Luxor Museum. Both were great, especially compared to the disorganization of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (we also toured that pretty much on our own after the King Tut stuff). I hope those archeology students y'all met are going to be packing the treasures for the new museum sooner than later! We want to go to Alexandria when we go back...

    TC, we stayed at both the Mena House Cairo and the Old Winter Palace. Enjoy both (breakfasts were super) but must say the service at the Mena House was outstanding; the best we've ever experienced. We found the service at the OWP more lackadaisical; kind of hit and miss. But we loved the OWP grounds and pool--so gorgeous! We were lucky that we paid Pavillion Winter prices and were moved to a huge room with a Nile View--not sure I'd want to pay the incredible price posted on the door!

    www.herewegoagain-egypt.blogspot.com Cheers.

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    I agree about the service at the Mena House - definitely the best I've experienced anywhere. The only problem for me was the location - really nothing out there but the Pyramids and trying to take a walk in "the neighborhood" isn't very interesting.

    MissGreen, you might be right about the Marriott. We had fabulous service, but that may indeed be due to the downturn in occupancy. Also, LE clients might a bit more attention as travel agencies often have special relationships with various travel industry businesses. Who knows? Might just have been our luck?

    I wonder when the new museum will open?

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    Thanks to all for your advice and recommendations. We are currently talking to Amanda at LE. Although now would be a great time to take advantage of discounts, DH can't get away from work until fall -- Oct or Nov. Still LE is offering nice discounts for that time period. So far we are considering the following. I welcome all comments.

    Fly to Cairo – on frequent flier mileage.

    Day 1: Arrive and rest. Rooftop dinner with lit view of pyramids. (Mena House - pyramid view room)

    Day 2: Islamic Cairo and Khan al Khalili bizarre (just for sightseeing, not for shopping) (Mena House)

    Day 3: Great Pyramids and Sphinx
    (Skip the Cairo Museum or do it on our own) (Mena House)

    Day 4: fly to Luxor + 1/2 day Temple of Karnake, Luxor Temple -- maybe Sound and Light Show. (Winter Palace)

    Day 5: West Bank; Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Nobles & Valley of the Queens, Deir El-Medina (Valley of the Workmen)Colossi of Memmon. (Winter Palace)

    Day 6-10 (6 days, 5 nights) -Dahabiyya cruise (Luxor to Aswan) aboard Nour el Nil
    Esna & Temple of Khnum
    Edfu, temple of Horus
    Night view of lit temple at Djebel Silsileh
    Kom Ombo

    Day 10: Disembark in Aswan. Free day for felucca sail, Nubian Culture Museum, souk, Elephantine Island, etc. (Old Cataract Hotel)

    Day 11:
    Island of Philae, Unfinished obelisk, High Dam. (Old Cataract Hotel)

    Day 12: Flight to Abu Simbel (overnight at Eskaleh Ecolodge)

    Day 13: Flight to Cairo. 1 night Radisson Blu Hotel Cairo Heliopolis, prior to departure for U.S. if needed to connect with International flights.

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    Agree about the Mena House neighborhood! I didn't leave the grounds except to go sightsee (walking boot for sprained ankle) although hubby walked around a bit. I loved our room and spent as much time gazing at the pyramids from the bed with an ice pack on my ankle as I could :)

    TC--Don't skip the Egyptian Museum in Cairo--the King Tut treasures, the Jewelry collection and the animal mummies (no extra charge) are all great to see. The Museum itself is in terrible condition but the treasures are fantastic.

    Any reason y'all are skipping Coptic Cairo on Day 2? It was quick stop and neat to see the old churches. We were there during a mass and a call to prayer--pretty cool to hear both in harmony. Because traffic can be so slow, you may want to group Cairo downtown/Old city sights to maximize your time.

    Oh! If you are overnighting at Abu Simbel, you may want to do the Sound and Light show there, Casual Cairo and others say it's the best one. We did Karnak and enjoyed it even though it was very dark and hard to understand at times.

    Wish I was going back in October!

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    Thanks, Nola. Not planning to skip Coptic Cairo - just a typo on my part. It is part of the itinerary. Is the Egyptian Museum really great? We've seen the King Tut exhibits in NY and in Chicago -- two different exhibitions. Will there really be so much more? I've read that the Luxor Museum is very nice. Great tip for the Sound and Light show at Abu Simbel. That might be the perfect reason to overnight there.

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    Egyptian Museum has great stuff but the building itself is terrible and the displays are very poorly done. I hadn't seen the King Tut stuff so was very impressed by it all (the Mask! the beds! the chairs! the carriages, etc etc) but I also loved the non-Tut jewelry display, the Palette of Narmer, the Final Judgement original papyrus; the animal mummies. We spent two hours and a half hours there (I think) and would have gone back if it was more like Luxor Museum, which we really enjoyed--well done, great displays. The Nubian Museum in Aswan was also great, if a little warm. Cheers!

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    TC Your itinerary looks fantastic. Do you have time to go to Dendara and Abydos? We didn't have the time to travel there, but I hear they're spectacular. I'm glad you're taking internal Egyptian flights - it saves time and is far more comfortable. I'll be interested in what you have to say about Eskaleh when you return. The people who run the place are wonderful and the setting/grounds lovely. The rooms will be very different from those in your other hotels in Egypt. Why are you staying in Heliopolis the night before you leave? Will your flight from AS get into Cairo late or do you just not want to get up so early to catch your flight? Traffic moves pretty quickly early in the morning so getting to the airport doesn't really take a long time. Maybe someone who knows the area can advise you on what to do if you have a lot of time in Heliopolis? We didn't attend any sound and light shows. We saw the light on the Pyramids but always seemed to have something else to do. I'm sure you'll enjoy one. We all thought the High Dam was dreadfully boring and one of us likes that sort of thing. If time is short, you can easily give it a miss. The souk in Aswan is truly wonderful at night. We went after dinner, strolled the pedestrian area, ran into our LE rep with his wife and baby and enjoyed ourselves a lot. It's a nice place to do some shopping because "no hassle" is almost true :)

    The Egyptian Museum is indeed dingy and the displays aren't well executed. It would make a great backdrop for a scary movie. We spent a lot of time with our guide books, wandering around choosing to linger where we pleased. It was a leisurely day. Yes, the jewelry, Tut treasures and mummy room (you pay extra for this) were pretty fantastic. You'll have a ball.

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    Jahlie, That last hotel night is really just a guess at this point. We haven't booked International flights yet, so I really don't know what we might need to do. "IF" we have a very early morning flight out, I would just as soon be settled in near the airport the night before. The High Dam certainly isn't high on my list. I'm glad you mentioned it. I was deathly bored at the dam on the Yantze in China. Cant imagine this is better. It is sort of standard in the LE quote, but we will make sure to let them know we'd rather give it a pass.

    I'm going to see what Amanda has to say about Eskelah. We're not too fussy on sparse accommodations being campers and having lived on sail boats. It is for one night only. I just think it sounds rather intriguing to stay in something similar to a private home. Can you be more specific for me on your objection to the rooms? It really doesn't sound as though any place in Abu Simbel is lux.

    The souk in Aswan sounds so much more relaxed than the bizarre in Cairo. I absolutely loathe being bombarded by sales clerks and hounded to death to buy. Shopping is the lowest property on our list. We really just want to experience the culture through the products. I will do more photographing than purchasing.

    I'm not keen on the convoy atmosphere of the trips to Dendra, so will probably give that a pass.

    Thanks for your good council. I appreciate the advice.

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    TC, there are no convoys to Dendara and Abydos (we went on April 5th 2011). We enjoyed seeing the countryside but it was a long day. The two temples are great. The only convoy left is to Abu Simbel, if you don't fly in. We went to the High Dam and it didn't take long at all, maybe 30 minutes; in case they balk at taking it out of the itinerary. BTW, when we went to the souk in Aswan, we were bombarded by the vendors. It was not a relaxing stroll for us--I hope your experience is more like Jahlie's. The street is wider than Khan al-Khalili, so it was easier walking.

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    Hi again TC, Yeah, the accommodations in AS aren't as nice as you're going to experience elsewhere. The Seti is the "best in town" and although the staff is delightful and the grounds and setting really lovely, again the rooms are a bit dingy and could use some new curtains - you know what I mean? They are clean but show wear and tear. Being right on Lake Nasser is really nice and the pool area at the Seti is wonderful. We had to ask them to turn down the music -it was an odd combination of Celine Dion and Christmas music blarring out over the loudspeaker! The staff was a quick study because every time any of us ventured near the pool, someone would automatically turn down the music - ha, ha. Watching the barge loaded with camels sail past and unload them on the opposite bank was like being in a movie - another highlight of the trip. I don't know how often that happens however. The Eskaleh isn't RIGHT on the lake, you have to walk through the garden and down to the lake. The photo on their website has been gussied up with computer magic. It's too much like a B&B for my husband and I to be comfortable and the beds didn't look as comfortable as I would like. For a really good set of photos, go to Tripadvisor and click on the hotel photos http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g297540-d646734-Reviews-Eskaleh_Nubian_Ecolodge-Abu_Simbel.html Those photos are pretty representative of what we saw.

    The souk in Aswan is a pedestrian area that is more like the "passeggiare" in Italy, where everyone strolls out for a bite to eat, a bit of shopping and just saying hi to friends. It's also cleaner than most streets :) I think you'll enjoy yourselves.

    Keep in mind however, that we found that ALL souks, bazaars, entrances to tourist sights, will have some people yelling at you or even pushing something at you. It's part of the deal. Some places are worse (tourist sights) than others (souks and bazaars). You might be pressed a bit, but if you say "la shukran" or "shukran" and just keep walking, you'll do OK. There was one instance in the Luxor bazaar where a man just wouldn't leave me alone - he wanted to be our guide. I finally turned to him and said in a pleasant but firm voice, "will you please leave me alone" and he replied "excuse me" and then left me alone. That's a lot better than I've experienced in many other places. Actually, we had fun with that sort of thing because the Egyptians are having fun too - "Welcome to Alaska" "Come look, no hassle" -They'd joke with us and we'd joke back. There may have been one or two times we were a little annoyed, but mostly they were just people who were starving for business and trying their best. "Welcome" was the most often repeated word we heard.

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