Egypt Tips

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Jun 14th, 2004, 01:56 PM
  #1
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Egypt Tips

Dear Sir or Madam:

My wife and I recently returned from our Honeymoon with a group tour on the Extraordinary Egypt tour offered by MISR Travel. While we enjoyed the sights and surroundings in Egypt, we were less than satisfied with the quality of service from our tour company, MISR Travel (run by the Egyptian government). We?re writing this open letter to your readers in the hope that they will learn from our mistakes when heading to Egypt with a group tour. As such, we offer the following tips:

1) If flying, confirm your trip in advance ? We booked a tour that included a few days in Cairo, with a flight down to Aswan where we boarded a cruise ship for a Nile cruise. MISR Travel waited until 6PM the night before our intended flight from Cairo to Aswan to inform us that we needed to be ready for our morning flight by 3AM, which meant that we got virtually no sleep and wasted about $100 on that night?s hotel stay. And though we thought this could happen only once, MISR Travel did it to us again on our return flight departing Luxor at 1AM for Cairo.

2) Beware the Egyptian food ? although you may be inclined to eat like the natives in Egypt, don?t do it unless you?re ready for ?Pharaoh?s Revenge,? the traveler?s illness that makes your stomach feel like a stone grinder and lays you out like a mummy for about 2 days. Like many western travelers, we assumed that MISR Travel would ?sanitize? our Egyptian meal since we probably paid 4 times what it costs on the street. Not so MISR Travel tells us ? ?you must not have the stomach? they said to me. Well excuse me, being Italian and my wife half Mexican, we?ve eaten plenty of meals around the world that challenge the stomach. Our conclusion ? the food & water are just plain dirty!

3) Full Board means you get what they give ? MISR Travel told us our trip was with ?full board,? a term we thought meant that it included all drinks and meals except alcohol. Unfortunately, after our 5AM flight from Cairo to Aswan we were stranded in the lounge of the cruise ship for over 3 hours waiting for our rooms to be ready. We were not provided with breakfast from our hotel (since we left at 3AM) or any food or beverages during this time until the Captain informed us that we could eat breakfast at our own expense. Full Board also doesn?t appear to include any drink other than coffee or tea at meal time, which makes for an expensive water supply in a desert when your tour company charges 4 times the street price for bottled water.

4) Ask about your ship before sailing -- while our ship?s rooms & staffs were fine, the facilities were rather sparse. We were told there would be a pool, weight set, and recreational games onboard. The pool was barely the size of a 4 person Jacuzzi, the weight set more dangerous than functional, and none of the recreational games worked. This, in and of itself, is not really a concern since most people go to Egypt to see the Great Pyramids, Temples, and Tombs. But if you get trapped onboard for any reason (and we inevitably did due to a traffic problem at the Luxor Dam), then you?ll need something to do if you don?t want to sip on overpriced water and cocktails.

5) Final Thoughts ? Egypt is an amazing country, rich with history and stories that every person should see and hear. In reading all of this, we hope that you don?t get the impression that we did not enjoy our trip. It was a magnificent journey and yes we intend to return someday with our children. We just think that there are probably many other western tourists falling victim to the same problems we had and hope that others will learn from the pitfalls our group endured.

Happy Travels,
Anthony & Evelyn Camilli
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Jun 14th, 2004, 07:51 PM
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It might be interesting to compare your tour company to the one my family and I used - A & K.

1. For the flights arranged by A & K in Egypt and our departure flight from Egypt. From Cairo to Aswan and Abu Simbel, we were told the day before sometime in the afternoon, that we must have our luggage packed and placed outside of our hotel room's door by 6 am. Breakfast was arranged to be served in room at 5.30 am and we must be in the lobby by 6 - 6.15 am. Flight was scheduled for 9 am.

For our flights from Luxor to Cairo our guide asked that we be ready by 4.30 am. We were told of this in advance and we had tried to ask for a later flight. We were strongly advise to take this flight since we needed to catch a connecting flight out of Egypt, even if we had to wait at Cairo airport for 6 hours! Apparently many flights are delayed and to be sure A & K highly recommended this departure time. Breakfast was provided in our room at 4 am.

*The airports in Egypt were pretty hectic with no organized security screening procedures and queuing system.

2. Our tour itinerary included visiting 2 local restaurants and the food was fine. Well cooked and tasty. During our trip non of us had any stomach problem.

3. While waiting for our cabins to be ready on the Sun Boat 4, waiting time around 2 hours, we were offered all sorts of drinks ranging from beer to milk. Snacks were provided but we didn't eat much in anticipation of a good dinner.

4. The cabins on our boat was kind of small. The swimming pool on the boat was similar to the other boats that I could see docking nearby - very small. The exercise room was well equipped but was constantly occupied by about 6 Italian children who turn it in to there play room. Some games provided on board, like a French version of scrabble, cards etc but the biggest disappointment was that the internet was not operational. A & K had advertised that they had internet connection on their boats.

** Biggest disappointment was the fact that A & K had advertised that they had their own private docks or berthing place and that their boats will not be tied up to any other boats. Aswan, we were sandwiched between 2 boats and since there was not sufficient shore power each boat had their generators on. Both of the boats that we were tied up to had really "smoky" generators making it hard to go outside of the a/c environment. Our shades as well as the shades in the restaurant and lounge were drawn all the time so that we didn't ended up staring at the other boats. Same situation in Esna and Edfu and it was not until our last night in Luxor that we were tied up alone to the dock.

5. A & K's tours cost a lot more than the others but you do get very good service. I would recommend the tour to first timer to Egypt but if you are willing to do extensive research you can probably arrange a comparable tour through another tour company or do it yourself. My family and I will return to Egypt in the future but this time we will arrange everything by ourselves.

PS - our trip was over the Christmas and New Year peroid.
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Jun 14th, 2004, 07:56 PM
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Thank you for this information. I've been considering this trip. I assume you and your wife got sick from the food. Did most people on the trip? That cruise idea always made me a bit nervous.

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Jun 15th, 2004, 01:28 AM
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I'm sorry that you and your wife had a less than ideal trip to Egypt, but I'm glad it isn't keeping you from planning a return trip sometime in the future.

Just a couple of comments for anyone else considering traveling to Egypt....

1. Egypt Air is famous for its obnoxious flight times and unreliability. They are also known to change flight times up until the last minute. Unfortunately, for travel within Egypt, there just isn't any other choice.

2. Unless your stomach is made out of steel, you should always be careful about eating and never assume anything. Many hotels and cruises have large buffets - so it's critical to stick with hot, well-cooked items and to avoid anything with mayonaise or dressing. Choose a fresh-cooked omlette over already prepared scrambled eggs. Also, you should only eat fresh fruits and vegetables that you have peeled yourself. Especially avoid lettuce and other leafy greens. Drink only bottled water and avoid ice. Simple but sound advice - in 3 years I have yet to get sick.

3. "Full board" is generally food, tea and coffee. SOft drinks, alcohol, and bottled water are extra. And, yes, the bottled water can be pricey through the tour companies - but not nearly as pricey as in Europe or the States. Besides, in Egypt, water is a necessity - so you just can't worry about the cost too much. Or - you can buy your own bottles while on shore near the sites.

4. Nile cruise ships vary, but I don't know any of them with anything more than a "teeny" pool. While the main purpose of the cruise is to see the pharonic sites, there is a lot of "down" time while cruising the river - so plan ahead with books, cards, or other things entertain yourself or kids. Or - just sit back and enjoy the scenery around you - the green of the river valley fading into the brown of the desert, the women washing clothes in the river, the hustle of the people in the cities and towns, or the occasional dead animal floating down the river!

Finally, to anyone planning a Nile cruise with kids...keep in mind that there are few safety features, minimal entertainment, and set meal times. While we were occasionally able to order some french fries for the kids, I made sure to bring along PLENTY of snack items. For kids and even teenagers - the time between a 1 pm lunch and a 7 pm dinner is VERY LONG!!! My husband thought I was crazy - but the kids went through everything I brought along!
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Jun 15th, 2004, 04:02 AM
  #5
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camilli - I'm sorry to hear that your trip arranged by MISR was a disappointment in many ways, but as you see from other posters, items you thought to be inadequate are rather usual on Egyptian itineraries regardless the costs.

1. We too were scheduled for an early pickup from Cairo for our flight to Aswan - we'd be leaving our hotel at about 4am. Since breakfast was included in our room rate, we contacted room service before retiring the evening prior and arranged for juice, croissants and coffee/tea be delivered to our room. So we had our breakfast. Fortunately, or unfortunately we made good time to the airport, our guide checked us in with little problem, but had to wait about 1-1/2-hrs for departure.

Did MISR offer you the opportunity to stop at Abu Simbel prior boardng your Nile cruise boat? This is a 1/2 day morning tour which would have added about $200-$250/person for the air and transfers and tour, and well worth the visit and would have taken up the time you had to wait for your cabin to be available. If MISR didn't, their mistake; if you didn't ask, I believe some more knowledge on your part might have given you something to do for more than 3-hrs. Note: Many hotels worldwide don't have rooms/cabins available before 12N earliest.

We did, in fact, fly straight onto Abu Simbel without the stop even at Aswan as everyone on the plane had arranged the Abu Simbel "option" which was prearranged and part of our itinerary and certainly worth the trip, money and time.

2. When we returned to Aswan and transfered to the boat, before boarding there were young boys selling bottled water at the bulkhead which we purchased for way less than what it would have cost on the boat. And wherever we stopped along the Nile, always managed to find a small grocery store where we could purchase additional water and other "goodies" should be have the urge when the kitchen/galley was closed. In total the entire trip, we didn't spend more than about $12 for water and snacks.

Also, if you knew you'd have 3-hrs to wait for your cabin you could have left your luggage and walked into Aswan town as the boats aren't docked that far away (or taken an inexpensive taxi ride). The souk there is interesting & you can get a feel of the country and people. The boat would be docked there all day and overnight, so you had time to do this.

3. It's not unusual for full board to mean only coffee & tea with meals. Only on more expensive itineraries as those of an A&K type that your juices and colas and wines would be included. During our 4-days, between the two of us the cost of these drinks maybe cost $15.

We ate everything in our hotels and on the cruise, including those we were advised not to eat - watermelon, cucumber (there was no lettuce to be found) and no ill effects. We did not eat any street food. And others in our small group whom we met on the boat went without any tummy problems as well. Nor did we hear of any others on the boat taking ill due to food. So tummy problems are hit n miss regardless where one travels.

4. As to the services provided on the boat, we knew the pool would be tiny, and only one small boy on the boat used this; others sat on the top deck reading, taking the sun, watching the scenery pass as we cruised to our next port. We were busy most every hour of the day and had little time to look for an exercise room.

As to docking at certain stops along the Nile, there is a definite schedule that each boat has to adhere to. Some boats have priority for docking at the bulkhead, whereas the other boats tie up next to those moving out into the Nile. The Movenpick (our boat), the Sonesta boats and the A&K boats are the priority boats. If for some reason any of these are late in their schedule, they will get stuck between other boats on both sides, rather than only one side. Luckily by the time we arrived in Luxor, the Movenpick boat didn't even dock at the major bulkhead in Luxor rather on their own Crocodile Island where the Movenpick hotel is located. A shuttle bus took us into Luxor proper. We always had the option to take a taxi to/fr if we chose and the cost was minimal.

5. On our day of disembarkation we didn't have a flight scheduled till 7pm to Cairo (though have to admit if we were told our flight was at 1am, we we would have been steaming). So after breakfast, we checked out, paid our small bill,left our tips and headed into Luxor. Here we revisited both Luxor and Karnak temples - they are so big it's difficult to get them all in on just a single visit. We walked thru the old souk, did some shopping, took a taxi back to the boat at around 1:30pm. By that time a new group of tourists had boarded, but we used the ladies room to put on our swimsuits, went up to the top deck, ordered lunch (about $10/person which we paid directly to the waiter) and spent the balance of afternoon relaxing. At about 4pm we changed to travel cloths and ready for our 5pm pick-up to airport and 7pm flight to Cairo.

As other have indicated, the domestic flight schedules by Egypt Air are at strange hours, but we knew our schedule before even leaving home. It's very possible MISR fell down on providing you sufficient information prior your trip, but it also important on the part of the traveler to almost insist on as much information so you are aware and can make decisions. Also, it is often the guests/clients responsibility to take charge of their own free time.

But your posting is important and the following replies which indicate items that future travels should be aware and ask questions so they know what to expect and what is available.

We even arranged an extra day in Cairo to spend more time in the Museum, return to Khan el Khalili Bazaar to shop (we did this on our own using taxis) and had a very relaxing fun last day to ourselves with no schedules to keep.

Maybe we were lucky, or had a better than usual tour operator, but we didnt encounter any surprises and we made the best of any so-called free time. Besides the fact that our first experience is Egypt was very postive, with warm and welcoming friendly people.

 
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Jun 15th, 2004, 04:11 AM
  #6
 
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Wow, great post with so much information! I am presently going a little mad trying to organise our trip to Egypt this September. All of your comments are very informative and useful. Sandi, what tour company did you use? I have been considering Experience Egypt but have only found one recommendation on Virtual Traveller. I would be very very interested in hearing from anyone who has used them too.
Is it best to use an Egyptian based company or use one in your own country? I live in Australia so our choice is more limited than you who live in the US.
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Jun 15th, 2004, 04:52 AM
  #7
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DebM -

One operator in-country in Egypt that gets good reviews is

www.egyptontheweb.com/

they have good itineraries and prices.

That said, many of the "issues" mentioned above relate to inexpensive as well as expensive tours. Things such as ridiculously early flights from Cairo to Luxor; time from arrival till your cabin is available (consider the side-trip to Abu Simbel); buy water before boarding boat; juices and colas are not included and will cost you; don't eat foods that are questionnable and you're not comfortable with; take the initiative to use free time to your advantage, etc.

None of these things should put a damper on your holiday as long as you know about them in advance and read enough guide books and ask questions. Your trip to Egypt will be worth it in every way regardless some minor inconveniences or unusual circumstances. Remember, you're not at home in familiar surroundings.

Check out the site above and see what they can do for you.
 
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Jun 15th, 2004, 10:35 AM
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Just a couple things which may be of benefit for travelers. The tour I took I had the benefit of knowing other people who had taken the same trip at different times. They found that the best medicine for "mummy tummy" would be supplied by the tour guide as they seem to know what medication is best. The medicines they took with them did not work so I took nothing with me on their advice. I did indeed have a bad problem the morning we were to visit the Valley of the Kings and Queens. I immediately contacted our guide and started on the medication and was fine for the rest of the day. All of our group ate everything with no problem but I think my problem popped up (or out) with deciding to have ice in my drinks on the boat. Should have known better but we were told it was o.k. Also, if you go to Abu Simbel, it is a good idea to fly there and be able to return to the same place. The same buses transport tourists all day long and as a result you cannot leave a carryon anywhere if you are continuing to someplace else. We were fortunate to be returning to the same hotel. I would not have been happy lugging around a carryon in the heat. I can honestly say that I don't know how anything could have been any better on our trip. I wrote a short report here a couple weeks ago.
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Jun 15th, 2004, 03:30 PM
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Louise - with regards to the fact that some people "may" have carry-ons with them for the trip to Abu Simbel - there were a few on our flight that did. They took these off the plane and off the bus that takes you to the site. Once at the temples they were able to leave the bags at the entrance where a kindly local man sat and "watched" belongings (probably all day) come and go. Then when the owners returned to retrieve their belongings, gave him a small tip.

I'm sure after all these years he's a very rich kindly local man who has sent all his children to college. Not a bad deal!
 
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Jun 15th, 2004, 04:27 PM
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Sandi - Yes I did log on to egyptontheweb.com a week ago and put in my request for a custom tour, then I received about 12 emails from lots of different companies with prices and suggested itineraries.......but my question begs - who to go with? We want a 5* trip as this is a life long dream so we thought the boats and service would be better. Naturally I realise that anything may go wrong no matter the price paid. Your assistance has been very welcome but in light of no real recommendations from Egyptian based tour companies I think I best organise it from Australia.
We have agents for MISR here - but thanks to camilli's report (and a few others) we will give them a miss!!
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Jun 16th, 2004, 04:52 AM
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DebM - I don't know when you plan to take your trip, but you've got to compare each of the itineraries you've received - day-by-day
- hotels in Cairo,
- sites seen while in Cairo,
- length of time for the Nile cruise. Some are 4nts/5days, others 3nts/4days; if the shorter trip you sometimes have a nite in Luxor or Aswan, so which hotel.
- which stops along the Nile cruise.
- whether a Light and Sound Show is included anywhere between Cairo (at Pyraminds) in Luxor (at Karnak Temple) and at Aswan (on Philae Isl), or are they optional (but price is about US$20)
- some itineraries offer an overnight train from Cairo to Luxor, so check this (I prefer the flight even if you have to get up in the middle of the night to get to airport)
- if flights, have them confirm departure times going and coming ahead of booking (camilli memo refers to this specifically)
- which Nile cruise boat (name) and whether the cruise goes from Luxor to Aswan or the other way.
- Abu Simbel, whether included or an optiona and the cost.

I cannot comment on Nile cruise boats, as yearly new boats come on line. Admittedly, Oberoi and Sonesta and Movenpick boats are some of the best, but recent comments have noted that some boats seem somewhat "worn" - so check if & when they were refurbished. Some newer boats might actually be an option. Also find out how many passengers each boat carries - I don't believe you want a boat with more than 100 people - which is about 50 cabins. A doable size - not too big, not too small. And it's not like all 100 will be in a single tour, as they often have some small groups on a boat who will have their own guide/s. Travelers who speak different languages will have a guide who speaks English, Italian, or French, or German, etc.

Then with information re hotels, check the web for descriptions; with information about the boats, see if you can find info on the web, though this might be a bit more difficult.

Compare prices on the itineraries that meet your criteria and make your choice, but always ask questions of the tour operator/s for anything that you might need answered. Hope this gives you some direction on how to at least eliminate some of the itineraries you have in front of you.

Let us know how you do with this.
 
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Jun 16th, 2004, 04:54 AM
  #12
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Our tour guide told us to be sure any bottled water we bought in Egypt was SEALED.
 
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Jun 16th, 2004, 10:08 AM
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Isn't Sandi just awesome? She's a true blessing when it comes to info on Egypt. I know from first hand experience. She helped with excellent tips for me and my wife when we visited Eygpt in March. Keep up the good work, Sandi!

As far as MISR goes as a tour group, I would like to respectfully disagree with Anthony & Evelyn's observations. My wife and I found them to be a great tour group. In fact, our guide for the Luxor to Aswan part of the trip was just so knowledgeable and willing to share his words of wisdom with our group.

Not every tour is perfect particularly when it comes to this area of the world. In fact, we had to be flexible with our hotel arrangements. Rather than staying 6 nites at the Mena House, we were told this would be changed to 3 nites at Mena House and 3 nites at the Ramses Hilton. I didn't really want this but it turned out perfect for us. It enabled us to stay in and be part of the city of Cairo for 3 days. And this was just so much better than I expected. But, again, we were flexible. And I think tourists in this area of the world no matter who they travel with should keep this flexibility in mind.

Again, we highly recommend MISR in NYC.

If anyone wants our travelog, please email me: [email protected]

Happy trails to all.
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Jun 16th, 2004, 10:20 AM
  #14
sandi
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happywanderer - thank you, but just passing along information I've learned along the way, which holds true for any destination one chooses.

Do your Homework, read guidebooks, check websites and ask questions on forums like this, friends, business associates whomever.

Ask questions, get answers, make decisions, and as you say - be flexible. In many places around the world one has to be prepared for things not necessarily being done as they are at home - and always travel with a sense of adventure and don't leave your sense of humor at home.
 
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Jun 16th, 2004, 12:07 PM
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Before we travelled to Egypt in March, I too had read that some of the top Nile cruise boats were a bit "worn", including the Oberoi Philae. We took a 4 night cruise on the Philae and found it to be in tip-top shape. It was just beautiful and we didn't see anything worn about it. I highly recommend this boat. The service is outstanding and the balconies are a great extra.
DebM - I would think that you could tell the Egyptian tour operators what Nile cruise boat and hotels you want. That's the way it worked for me with Experience Egypt. I think the Egyptian tour operators are very flexible and the initial itinerary they send you is really just a start. Anyway, best of luck with your planning.
Lori
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Jun 16th, 2004, 06:29 PM
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Thank you for your great input expecially Sandi - hi Lori - I have seen your posting on Virtual Tourist, this is how I have come by Experience Egypt - but I am still a little nervous using them. Do you know of anyone else who recommends them too? How did you come to use them?
Sandi's input re the flights from Cairo-Aswan- Abu Simbel on the same day is certainly a great idea, I looked at the proposed itinerary we had and yes we would have been wasting so much time doing Abu Simbel on the following day... well done!
Looking forward to reading more.
We will be leaving on our holiday on Aug 16 but not getting to Egypt until 8 Sept so I have to get moving on finalising plans.
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Jun 17th, 2004, 05:23 AM
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Hi DebM:

I came by Experience Egypt through the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism website. You can submit some basic info about your proposed trip to Egypt and they will send it out to licensed, approved Egyptian travel companies. I probably got about 15 responses, so my husband and I carefully weeded through all of them. We narrowed it down to Experience Egypt. We were nervous about using them, but got a recommendation from a Fodorite and someone on VT. If you send me an email at [email protected], I can hook you up with several people who have travelled with them recently. But regardless of who you travel with, I really feel you will have greater flexibility and very personalized attention with an Egyptian operator. Plus the money stays in the country and they need that so badly.
I agree with Sandi on one of her earlier postings that flying to Aswan is preferable over the train. You get there so quickly.
Kind regards,
Lori
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Jun 17th, 2004, 09:21 PM
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Hi Lori
Many thanks, an email is on the way to you.
Robert - thank you so much for your travelog - wonderful reading and so very helpful.
MISR seems to be at least 2x the price to arrange for Australia than booking with an Egyptian agency! Whew....
Thanks everyone... what did we do before Fodors???
Debra
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