Egypt Trip Report

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Mar 9th, 2006, 10:50 PM
  #1
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Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 96
Egypt Trip Report

I just returned from a two week tour with the Smithsonian group.

We started in Giza at the Mena House. We were in the garden rooms, but absolutely fabulous hotel. The service, food, rooms were outstanding. I even treated myself to a massage and she was among the best massage therapists ever.

Next morning, off to the Pyramids early. Only 150 tickets are sold and the tour buses are jockeying to get in. The climb in and out is an experience.

I wish I had been better prepared for the hassle of the vendors around the Pyramids. I left with some junk souveniers and felt very ripped off. I think our guide should have warned us better. Do not open your wallet or bag anywhere near these guys!!! If all else fails call "Tourist Police!" It was a stressful exprience just getting back to the bus. Trust me, there is nothing they have tha you need to buy.

We got up at 2am for a 5am flight to Luxor. Tha got us to the Karnak temple before dawn. The lighting however was perfect for pictures.

The Nile cruise was on the Kon-Tiki. I understand it is a new boat. Everything was very nice. The chef took special pride in his creations and was always on hand to explain dishes. The staff was ver over the top flirtatious though. One fellow cornered me for a kiss in the stairwell and I'm old enough to be his mother. gain, the gift shop guys will take your money, and watch the calculator when they figure the exchange rate at check out.

Our Luxor hotel was changed without notice from the Meridian to the Sofitel Karnak. This was the owest point of the trip. The Sofitel is set out in the middle of no where, surounded by scenes of abject poverty. The hotel is a rambling one storey affair and our room had to be a mile from the reception area. Meals were disorganized, and a waiter followe us out demanding a tip; we hd left money on te table and 12% is included-he was more than covered.

Tha night around 11pm, the bathrom flooded. The sink and tub drained right up through a floor drain. Mom lost a contact lens in all the water. I grabbed the phone to call for a mop, and the phone didn't work. I wonder how we were to get the 6am wakeup call?

So, I dressed and hiked up to the front desk. The young man assured me that help was coming immediately. We sat up till midnight-no one. So, I laid out a path of towels, plastic and whatever else we could find to make a path to the toilet anyway till morning. No one ever did show up. I placed a comment in the guest comment box, but the question card was all writen in French so I doubt that it will ever be read. I told our tour director and I spoke to the manager in the morning. All appropriate apologies were made, but it really ruined our night, especially when we were getting up so early. lus the contact lens gone into the flood waters made for a miserable half blind trip for Mom,(it was a hard lens she'd had forever, so , no, she didn't have a spare). (It actually took her a week to get a new one reground back home in NY).

While at the pool overlooking the Nile, the pool attendant had to be prodded by a manager type in a suit to look up and give us a towel-that is after waiting a half hour for more towels from the laundry.

Then a guest dropped a beer bottle on the pool's edge, throwing broken glass into the water. Two employees went into the pool, one with a skimmer net, retreiving shards of glass. Maybe it's just me, but glass containers houldn't be allowed around the pool and glass in the pool is a disaster calling for draining, or at least keeping guests out of that end of the pool until a thorough search using masks is conducted, or a vacuuming, or something.

That over with, we drove through Luxor and saw the city we missed walking around before boarding the cruise.

Aswan's market is a zoo. If you like to play the bartering game-this is the spot. One fellow actually grabbed my arm and pulled me into a stall, our ever present armed security man caught my eye and must've seen my alarm cause he shouted something in arabic and the guy let go; still aggressively hawking his wares. Another threw a scarf over my head and it caught in my hairclip, really making a mess. That finally got me mad enough to scream, "Don't touch me!"

The high dam is impressive, though not ver photogenic. Lake Nasser is a gorgeous shade of greenish-blue.

Abu Simbel is not to be missed. I had read that on this and other boards and now I know why. The sheer size and condition is worth experiencing. We flew in, spent a few hours and flew back all the way to Cairo. It seemed that everyone else was on the same flight plan. The sign listing prohibited items in the Abu Simbel airport is priceless. It lists, spears, arrows, the usual weapon, but also "spinning needles" and a rotating device for removal of cork". No lie. I would have taken a picture but that was probably prohibited too. I smoke and never had a problem bringing my lighter and matches with me on domestic flights. The guys checking us through security were smoking inside the terminal. This made me especially happy since I bought a lighter that says "Egypet", an unusual spelling I think?

We stayed at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. Very old and tremendous character. The new Cataract sits beside it and is a plain white motel looking high rise. I still enjoys the views, pool, retsaurant etc., just boring looking compared to the old. The old Cataract has issues, such as no a/c in many rooms that claim to have it and about thirty minutes for hot water to get up to the third floor rooms. We got lucky andhad a huge cavernous room on the third floor. It had a balcony overlooking the main nicely gardened driveway, with french doors and a window that swug wide open. So, we had nice breezes to cool the room down for sleeping; others in our group complained of small, hot, stuffy rooms. We were actually across the hall from the "Agatha Christie" suite. Our tour guide was having an issue with the food service staff in the morning, though I found the service at dinner the night before very competent.

Back in Cairo we stayed at the Semiramis intercontinental Hotel-what a treat! After a grueling travel schedule, this place was the lap of luxury. Very slick and professional. The restaurant here was the only place that did not accept US dollars. But there is a bank in the lobby to change money. If you charge it to your room, it is 2% more so it was worth just paying as you go.

The shopping in Cairo's market is much better than Aswan. Wait and buy your souveniers here! Better quality better prices and much less haggling, though that's everywhere. The market is the kalil el something.The lonley Planet book has a good map of what is sold where. It is easy to just wander and get lost in here!

We made our big jewelery purchase at a shop on the first floor of the Semiramis Hotel, probably because it was the first place tha didn't hunt you down to buy something. The gentleman in this shop was very professional and willing to offer a discount pretty quickly. We are pleased with the gold necklaces bought there. However, the best price on a cartouche was from nemo at the Mena House, our first hotel.

The constant haranging for money was the downside of the trip. They don't need to pick pocket cause they just talk you out of your money Bring lots of small bills, if you think you have too many, get more! No one wanted to give us change in small notes anywhere. We are the economy for most folks. Our guide did the cheesy thing of bringing us en mass to shops where we knew he would earn a commission on the overpriced goods, e.g., the papyrus shop, the alabaster place, the perfume factory, it leaves me feeling ripped off. Especially when I saw the same stuff a week later in Cairo for a fraction of the cost.

Using the restroom requires tipping the attendant so that she will hand you some toilet paper. I never did find out what happens if you needed a big wad of it! One girl actually hissed at customers that didn't ante up right away! We carried our own tissues to use. It just doesn't seem very sanitary to wipe yourself with paper that has been handled and who knows where.

The bathroom at the Mohammad Ali mosque is a real slice of Africa, skip it if you can. You had to roll up your pants legs just to enter and wade in. Pretty rough, and you still have to tip the girl.

The antiquities were very special to visit. But the begging and hawking will keep me from ever going back. It really was impossible to just walk freely down the street. Plus, it takes some getting used to being constantly surrounded by armed security. The buildings on the way to the airport each have a sniper or two posted, rather unnerving. Litter was pervasive. It is disappointing to see white plastic bags on the ground in front of the pyramids.

Our tour was very well organized and squeezed in everything that needed to be seen. We had no major mishaps, check ins went smoothly. One lady did lose her paper plane ticket for return and Egypt air made her pay another $600, full fare one wa, to re-ticket her. She was rather elderly and it really didn't seem right, no one even uses paper tickets anymore? But the flight was full as the airport had been closed the day before due to a sand storm. I thought it looked worse the day we flew, but here we are!

It was raning when we first landed in Cairo. That was the .2 of rain a year! It was rather chilly in Cairo, but got warmere as we went further south to Luxor. February was the month to go. March brings the winds and sandstorms, and much hotter it would be unbearable walking up and down all the steps at the temples and tombs. Bring an assortment of clothes to layer on and off. A light quilted jacket seemed the most popular item.

There is alot of walking and step climbing, it is for the physically fit.
EgyptAir did a good job, two meals, a hot towel and three movies to keep you from being just too bored!

Well, this was very long but I hope it is helpful to someone out there. Let me know if you have any specific questions before I forget, it's already blurring on me!
fitzpowell is offline  
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Mar 18th, 2006, 06:52 AM
  #2
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
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Hi Fitzpowell,

Thanks for posting the Egypt report. I found it interesting and helpful. I appreciate the detail, and if I go will be prepared for the hassling, etc. Overall, how much did it affect your trip? Are you sorry or glad that you went?

Did you fly coach or business on Egypt Air? If coach, how crowded was it?

Do you remember the approximate price of the cartouche at Mena? (I always think of shopping.)

Did the guides try to discourage the hasslers? Or maybe they're so used to them they don't notice.

Thanks again for a good report.
Luisah is offline  
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Mar 22nd, 2006, 08:44 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
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I went with Smithsonian tours in October of 05. Who was your tour guides? I am curious to see if you impressions were the
same as mine. I agree about the venders, after about 3 days I had had about enough. We were all tired and some a little sick, so we began to just lower our hats,and not acknowledge them. I felt bad about this but I couldn't enjoy the sights for the constant bickering. One of the guides asked me why it bothered me so much, it was part of Egypt. It was one part I could have done without. No one bothered my sister and I on the street. The jeweler on the cruise boat made some sexual remarks as well as one of the guides. This made us very uncomfortable with the guide. We dressed and acted conservative.I guess two women traveling alone was fair game.
We did get ripped off but so did everyone else. I think that is another part of Egypt. I am sorry for your bad lodging. Over all the hotels and cruiser was great. Our food was excellent and service wonderful. It was truly a trip of a lifetime and I would like to return someday, with another tour company that would take us to spots that are away from the tourist traps. The few "everyday people" we met were very warm and friendly, the children a delight. That's the part of Egypt I would like to see more of.
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