10 Crazy Egyptian Days

Jun 28th, 2007, 09:40 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: May 2007
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10 Crazy Egyptian Days

CHARACTERS: Middle-aged M (mom) & D (dad); twenty-something B (Brother); late-teens me.

STATS: We've been traveling as a family since I was 6; we've gone to England, Italy, France, Greece, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Germany. B was spending a year in Cairo for college so M, D and I came to pick him up and tour Egypt. B had been studying Arabic so that made it easy.

MORE STATS: We used Egyptian Express and had a private van - only used taxis in the evening (strongly suggest using a similar service).

THE STORY
DAY 1: We flew LAX - JFK - Frankfurt - Cairo on United/EgyptAir; the flights were smooth and uneventful. Arriving in Cairo we were picked up by Mohammed from Egyptian Express. He helped us navigate baggage claim and get us out the doors, which were mobbed. We were loaded into our van; a tourist policeman accompanied us, which was odd... the ride was crazy, but we became used to it pretty soon.
We stayed at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza. We always stay at B&B-type local places, but we figured the Four Seasons would be respite from the city and was trustworthy, so we decided to splurge... It was gorgeous! The flower arrangements in the lobby alone are impeccable. We met up with B just as we were checking in. We had 2 rooms facing the city/citadel/pool. Only complaints: there was construction work going on in the evening; and the pool is shady by 4 in the evening.
Exhausted, we decided to really splurge and order room service (practically a first). It was delicious! Worth it to be in a Four Seasons.

DAY 2: We had the spectacular Four Seasons buffet... the pastries were so beautifully displayed we didn't want to eat them! We were picked up by our tour guide Dina and drove to the Egyptian Museum. It was really hot/stuffy inside and the artifacts were kind of underwhelming but still impressive. We paid the extra pounds to see the mummies collection... wow!! The hair, the expressions on the faces - creepy but fascinating.
We decided to skip the Citadel because it would be packed and we would be seeing mosques in Turkey, so instead we visited the quiet Mosque of Sultan Hassan. It was empty, peaceful, and really beautiful; the history added to our experience.
Next we hit Khan el Khalili. It is admittedly not a place for a relaxing, ideal shopping experience, but it does have an energy of desperate salesmanship. The trinkets, shishas, pashminas, figurines, jewelry all look the same (and are the same), but the people are worth looking at (wear sunglasses; they have sixth senses as to what you're glancing at. look purposeful; ignore their imploring messages). We then settled down to our included lunch at a restaurant in the heart of Khan el Khalili. Tired-looking tourists abounded and the food was OK but basic.
We were crashing (jet lag) so we went back to the Four Seasons.
B decided to take us to Sequoia, a hotspot kind of dinner nightclub on the Nile. It was really beautiful - outdoors with low cushioned chairs and couches, billowing white tents, a huge screen playing music videos and current music. Everyone was smoking shisha. We ordered way too much food; it was pretty good, and B got a peach-mint flavored shisha. That in itself was an experience.
We called it a night after that and hit the sheets.

DAY 3: We were supposed to go to Memphis and Sakkara in the morning but decided against it... we needed to sleep in. After another fabulous breakfast, we hit the road for the pyramids. The drive was fascinating - seeing real Cairo - and the outskirts, with miles of unfinished apartment buildings and classic donkey carts. First we were taken to a viewpoint and did the picture thing... then we got up close and personal to the pyramids themselves. They were actually bigger than I expected. A security guard showed us where to take pictures looking like we were touching the top... and then asked for a tip.
We got tickets to go inside the Great Pyramid. It was HOT and steep... lots of stairs... the interior room was dark, echoey, and kind of spooky.
Afterwards we checked out the sphinx, which sadly seems to be deteriorating more and more, and took a short camel ride... a slightly awkward experience.
Then we checked out the Solar Boat Museum... a little-known must-see site. It's amazing that the only thing replaced are the ropes!
We finished off our sight-seeing with a late lunch (included) at the Seasons, a new mini-golf club with a view of the pyramids. The food wasn't bad but we were tired and not exactly hungry (it was like 4:00).
That evening M and I were feeling sick so we decided to just relax and pack for our early-morning flight.

DAY 4: We woke up at about 4:30 and were driven to the Cairo airport - the Four Seasons provided boxed breakfasts with pastries, jams, etc though I couldn't even look at food. Our first flight was to Aswan. There our bags were taken by another Egyptain Express guy and we were ushered onto the Abu Simbel plane. At this point I was feeling really ill with a stomach bug but I had to tough it out... in Abu Simbel we were picked up and driven through the small town to the tourist center, then a boring monotone guide took us to the temples and lectured us for a while before giving us freedom. WOW!! I had no idea how well-preserved and how vibrant and precise Egyptian "ruins" were until then... not to mention the amount of work it took to move the entire temples when the dam was built. It was a boiling hot day, though, and the interior of the stone temples were suffocating after about 15 minutes... for all the hassle that it takes to get to Abu Simbel, though, it is absolutely worthwhile.
We were eventually transported back to the Abu Simbel airport and then back to Aswan (what a day!). We were picked up and transferred to the Old Cataract Hotel, which was really beautiful, a converted royal palace right on the waterfront. It was a very luxe experience.
At about 6 we visited teh Nubian Museum, which was pleasantly spacious and well laid-out and explained... overall, a very good, very easily managed museum that we all enjoyed.
Later we had dinner at 1902 restaurant in the hotel. It is beautiful, situated in the ex-mosque, but at the same time the heat was suffocating, the food looked rich, and I was feeling really horrible... I ended up returning to my room. Hearing that I wasn't feeling well, the staff delivered a huge bowl of plain white rice and a cup of broth to me, which was delicious though I only ate a little. They were so kind and thoughtful!

DAY 5: At about 9:00 our guide picked us up and arranged a felucca ride. This was a really good experience; the temperature oustide was perfect, the Mausoleum of Agha Khan perched on a hill in the distance, and we relaxed and took pictures of the Nubian village. We also bought a few camel bone necklaces... the first of many.
The felucca brought us to our cruise ship, the Sonesta Moon Goddess. We were initially extremely pleased; we had to walk through 3 other boats before arriving at ours, and the interiors of the others were so dark and posh and overly ornate that the modern, light, airy marble Moon Goddess was a relief. We were also very happy to have balconies from each of our rooms; none of the other boats that we saw had this amenity. The rooms were basic but functional, with large closets and good-size bathrooms. All meals were served in the lower level; the 2nd level housed a gift shop, "discotheque", bar, "casino," and workout room (a stair-stepper, stationary bike, and treadmill); and the top deck had a dipping pool, lounge chairs, bar and seating area. All in all we were pretty pleased. M and I spent the rest of the day lounging around, enjoying our time of relaxation. But D and B were more restless, so our guide arranged for them to take camel rides in the desert to the ruins of a monastery - they had a fantastic time and it turned out to be a highlight of their trip.
We started to get worried by dinnertime on board the Moon Goddess since the boat seemed relatively vacant; and that night at the planned entertainment, the Nubian dance show (which was OK but contrived), it was confirmed that there were a total of 17 passengers on our ship (which had a capacity of probably 100 or more). This turned out to be a blessing - the pool was always empty - and a curse - night activities were rather dull.

DAY 6 - 10 I will write later!

emerald013 is offline  
Jun 29th, 2007, 06:29 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 1,058
Enjoying your report so far. We have a similar trip planned for this Fall, so I look forward to reading more.
almesq is offline  
Jun 29th, 2007, 09:44 AM
  #3  
 
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Great report so far -- I'm looking forward to reading the rest!
MyDogKyle is offline  
Jun 29th, 2007, 11:03 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 195
Ours is planned, tentatively for late March into April..we're looking at Cinderella Egypt, so, if anyone has any experience, positive OR negative, please let me know!

Zen-
zengeos is offline  
Jun 29th, 2007, 12:28 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
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I especially love the food reviews and honesty about skipping stuff to sleep in. Awaiting more.
sunshine007 is offline  
Jun 29th, 2007, 02:44 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
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Terrific report. I enjoyed all of it and am looking forward to the next installment.

I was happy to read that the very early, flight to Abu Simbel is worth it. I'll be doing it in a few months and have had my doubts.
Luisah is offline  
Jun 29th, 2007, 02:52 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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A pleasure to read your trip report. So nice it is written by the "kid" rather than the parents.
Elainee is offline  
Jun 30th, 2007, 05:16 PM
  #8  
jnk
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 49
thanks for the great report. we'll also be heading to egypt this november. looking forward to the rest of your trip report!
jnk is offline  
Jul 4th, 2007, 03:01 PM
  #9  
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DAY 6: It was an early start off the boat to visit Philae Temple. All of the Sonesta passengers were lumped together with one guide, a middle-aged Egyptian guy very excited to be talking about his beloved Egypt. The vehicle we used was an over-sized van that easily sat us all.
We took a boat to Philae Temple and then wandered around while the guide showered us with facts. It is incredible that Philae was moved from another island - what a feat of engineering. It was a beautiful introduction to the other temples we would see on the Nile.
We got hooked into buying those silly wooden single-string instruments from the hawkers near our bus - they are a hassle to travel with and we could not play a tune on them. Too bad!
Next, we visited the new dam. I say "new" but it was pretty unimpressive, though our guide was very proud. Having recently seen the Hoover Dam, I was underwhelmed by this Egyptian "equivalent" - there was no dramatic drop or rushing water. But it does the job, and also clears the Nile of crocodiles (which now reside in Lake Nasser).
Next we were driven to an "authentic" mason shop and were given a demonstration of how the stoneware was made by hand... and were expected to tip for the picture. hmm. inside we decided to pick up a few bowls, plates, and scarab beetles. we ran a ridiculously high price and bartered down pretty well but it couldve been lower. the men who wrapped each stone piece expected to be tipped. we left feeling kind of taken.
The rest of the day we spent relaxing and enjoying the small pool and HOT sun. Dinner onboard was fine; the "disco" in the evening didn't happen, but it was OK by us.

DAY 7: The boat ride began and we visited the Kom Ombo temple and saw mummified crocodiles (quite cool!). The temperature continued to rise, and the pool continued to beckon...
As we were still not feeling 100% (or even close), we enjoyed sitting outside on our private balconies in the shade, reading books, and gazing at the lush palm-forested,banana-plantationed,and rice-paddie-cultivated banks of the river. It was unreal to see the small mud huts and men in galabeyas riding donkeys.
We docked at the town of Edfu. In the evening, many of the others on the boat decided to take carriage rides through town to check it out... when they returned, we heard their awful accounts of being harassed, cheated on, etc. Besides that, the horses on the carriages are so pitifully close to death that we refused to ride them when we were offered. It is really sad how the animals are treated.
In the evening there was a "Galabeya Party" onboard, meaning that everyone should "dress like an Egyptian." The on-board gift shop sold sequined belly-dancing costumes, but we opted for the more subtle sparkly shawls and scarfs and D and B bought galabeyas and head-wraps. The "party" was a barbeque held on the upper deck followed by a mummy-wrap competition in the discotheque... B and I won.

DAY 8: Early in the morning we (meaning all the Sonesta temple-lovers and a new guide) took a van to Hatshepsut's Temple. It was very interesting to hear about the one woman who had ruled so well and whose legacy had been blacked out by her successor. Our guide also showed us scenes in the temple that explain how the obelisks were transported from Aswan to their resting places.
We then headed to the Valley of the Kings. This was an extraordinary site. Unfortunately many of the larger tombs are closed for renovations, but it is amazing to gaze at the well-preserved carvings with their vivid and bold colors. The magic is lost by the stifling heat and crowds (at one tomb, the ticket guy passed out cardboard squares to use as "fans" and then asked for tips), but well worth it to see the tombs. My family had also paid to see the Tomb of Tutankhamun, which is less elaborate (and less well-traveled) than the rest; there are no carvings, as the tomb was built quickly, only paintings. To see the painted coffin within its naturaly surroundings and to experience the silence of that tomb was worth it.
We also visited the Valley of the Queens, which was also pretty cool but nothing stands out now in my memory.
The drive back to the boat was full of agricultural land, donkeys, and small villages - an excellent glimpse of rural Egypt.
Later in the afternoon we visited Karnak and Luxor temples. Our guide (the same as for the Temple of Hatshepsut) was our favorite on the trip so far. He showed us where the Egyptians found the colored stone pigments - just little pockets in the blocks of stone beneath our feet - and, using a key to break open the outer sealing, applied about 10 different colors of "paint" to my arm.
Karnak was fascinating, and we loved that a church had been built directly on top of a mosque without anyone knowing until it was uncovered.
The avenue of sphinxes was eerie in a good way.
The planned entertainment on the Moon Goddess that evening was a belly-dance show, but we had heard great things about the Karnak light show, so we skipped, grabbed a taxi, and headed to Karnak... actually, all of us on the Sonesta were at the show. We were confused about the time and arrived a bit late, but it was fine.
I had expected the light show to be like a laser show, flashing all over the ruins, but instead it was more of a story of the history of Karnak. It started out in the large hall with hundreds of huge columns; occasionally the light color would change to echo morning or night. Then it would flash onto the face of a statue to signify it was speaking. After a while we were guided by light to a set of bleachers overlooking the pharoah-made lake... it was a beautiful night, the voices were soothing, the lights were soft and glowy, and D fell asleep.
It wasn't a thrilling experience, but I think it was worth it - I actually learned a lot from the show and being in a temple (especially of Karnak's size) at night is so different than the hot, dusty, tourist-trodden day - it takes you back and allows you to feel the magnificence of the ruins and the magic of Egypt.

DAY 9: We said good-bye to the Sonesta Moon Goddess and all our friends aboard our little cruise and flew from Luxor back to Cairo. On the drive from the airport to the hotel there were security guards on both sides of the street about every 20 feet, and plainclothes officers lounging "inconspicuously" in the shade of every tree in the median. Apparently Mubarak was due to come out of his compound and they had stepped up security.
We returned to the Four Seasons Nile Plaza - our rooms were practically identical to our original ones.
We felt like we deserved a splurge, so we all ordered club sandwiches and french fries and had a huge, American-style lunch that satisfied every craving. Then we ordered lots of ice cream and sighed with contentment.
B suddenly realized that today was his last day in Egypt, so off we went to Khan el Khalili to pick up last-minute gifts. By 7:00pm we were thoroughly exhausted from the circus that is the bazaar and, laden with purchases, started to head home. It was just outside Khan el Khalili that 2 young Egyptian girls (they were around 6 or 8) approached me. One was in a head scarf, one was not... they said "Can we have a picture with you?" It took a few times to understand it, but first I took a picture of them and then they said "No, you!" so then I took a picture with them... they told me their names but couldn't speak much more English. We all kissed cheeks. Their small kindness and curiosity was so heart-warming, so perfectly and wholly innocent of the alterior motive of getting a tip that we had encountered with the older generations and even the young boys of Egypt, that there were almost tears in my eyes.
That night we walked to Tabbouleh, a Lebanese restaurent in Garden City, for dinner. We ordered way too much food, were joined briefly by some of our friends from the cruise, and went back to the hotel to pack. The food was decent but not excitingly great, although the atmosphere was really antique-y and cozy.

DAY 10: After staying up really, really late to pack up all the gifts, we left the Nile Plaza... with 6 checked bags (due to B's excess of schoolbooks, etc... he had been living in Cairo for a year, after all!) and 2 large carry-ons apiece (delicate gifts). We said good-bye to crazy Cairo and looked forward to our next destination: Istanbul!

OVERALL:
We had a really extraordinary time in Egypt. There were certainly problems - the tipping thing grated on us to an extreme, our cruise was much less than perfect, and our illnesses detracted from our enjoying more of the surroundings. But we loved seeing the culture and were thrilled by the enormity and excellent condition of all the sites and temples. We were surprised that Roman and Greek ruins, impressive as they are, get so much more publicity then the often-bigger and far-older Egyptian ones.

Thanks, Egypt, for such an unusual and great trip!
emerald013 is offline  
Jul 6th, 2007, 10:13 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 2,598
Excellent report. Thank you.

Will you be reporting on Istanbul? I'll keep watch for a post.
Luisah is offline  
Jul 8th, 2007, 10:47 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 867
ttt
sunshine007 is offline  
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