Egypt Trip Report (long)

Old Jan 12th, 2007, 05:27 AM
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Egypt Trip Report (long)

My husband, d and I just got back from Egypt. We traveled around on our own for the most part and found Egypt to be a more difficult country to travel in than expected. The trip report that follows is long, but hopefully informative.

Upon arriving at the airport in Cairo from NYC, I went to stand in the customs line, while d went to fill out the forms, and immediately the guy behind me started rubbing up against me repeatedly. I kept stepping away from him, and by the time d returned the creep was right next to me giving me the eye and would not go away, until d glared at him repeatedly. Later when we were waiting for our passports to be stamped, he reappeared and pushed himself up against me again….It was a very traumatic start to the trip. From the airport we negotiated a taxi to our hotel in Giza, the Intercontinental Pyramids. As expected from reviews we had read, the hotel was dated and the staff was horrible. We even got raised eyebrows from the bellboy for changing our room to a king sized bed (as requested) rather than a room with two twins. That night we took a taxi to the Mena House Oberoi for dinner at the Indian restaurant, which we had heard great things about. Unfortunately, the food was average, overpriced, and the service was poor. The next morning we got a taxi outside of our hotel to take us to the pyramids for the day. We started at the Giza plateau, the highlight of which was climbing down the Chephren pyramid at Giza, which was amazing, but hot (so be sure to dress lightly). In Saqqara we only had a few hours but given how much there was to see, we could have easily spent almost a whole day here. We also didn’t get a chance to see Dahshur, and in retrospect a day and a half or two days here would have been better. Our driver unfortunately turned out to be a bit of a freak and upon reaching each of the sites would not let us out of the taxi until he rambled on about his own theories on the pyramids, much of which were inaccurate. He kept insisting that I stay in the car with him, while d went to buy tickets and the one time when I stupidly did so, he started flirting with me. Many of the touts/attendants that worked at Giza/Saqqara were extremely aggressive to the point of being hostile.

The next day we took a taxi to Cairo were we spent the next few days at the Longchamps hotel in Zamalek. The Longchamps was friendly, reasonably priced and was reminiscent of a small European hotel. Despite the chaotic traffic/constant honking, pollution, and masses of people, Cairo was a welcome change from the Giza area, where it is unsafe to step out of the hotel area and walk around on one’s own. Over the course of the next few days we visited the British Museum, explored Islamic Cairo and went to the Khan Al-Khali market which was fun to walk around, but which didn’t necessarily have unique goods and or low prices. The Khan Al-Khali restaurant in the market had decent food for lunch and was great for people watching (there were lots of chicster society ladies from the gulf states there when we visited). Islamic Cairo itself was fascinating and full of life, there were butchers cutting up meat on the street, kids whizzing around on scooters, carts driven by donkeys carrying produce, and lots of mosques. The Ibn Tulun Mosque was amazing and climbing up the top of the minaret allows for great views of Islamic Cairo. We also visited Coptic Cairo by subway, which was not nearly as interesting as Islamic Cairo. The only site I would not recommend visiting was the northern cemetery. We went through it by taxi and were the only tourists there. We had initially planned on walking around, but decided not to as the area looked a bit “rough” and there were a few funerals in process and we thought it would be in bad taste to be roaming around.

I was also intent on trying sheesha while in Cairo, and decided to give it a go at the Nile Hilton, because they had an outdoor café for smoking. When I went to order, the waiter kept insisting I order the flavored tobacco because that “is what women like,” until finally d had to intervene and insist that I would prefer unflavored. My first few puffs were kind of enjoyable, but after a while it started making me nauseous and lethargic and by the end of the evening I became ridiculously paranoid. Perhaps I hadn’t eaten enough?

As far as restaurants go, we tried a few recommended by the lonely planet, Hana Korean which was okay, but only authentic as far as the kimchi went and Sabaya in the Intercontinental which is supposedly the best Lebanese restaurant in the country, but which turned out to be unexceptional and pricey, although the raw lamb was interesting. The only good meal we had in Cairo was at the Maharaja Indian Restaurant at the Ramsees Nile. We also saw a belly dancing and whirling dervish performance at the rooftop bar there. The belly dancer’s performance mainly revolved around shaking her breasts…I am sure we could have seen a better performance at another hotel like the intercontinental, but we weren’t keen on paying for a 3 course meal late at night, particularly since much of the food we had been having since our arrival in Egypt was poor. Incidentally when we went to inquire about belly dancing at the Sheraton, we noticed that there were lots of foreign “working girls” hanging out in the lobby.

We had planned on taking the overnight sleeper train from Cairo to Aswan, and went to purchase tickets at the train station two days in advance of our departure date, Jan. 1st. When we got there the woman behind the counter told us to give her $120 and she’d give us the tickets, but shortly thereafter another guy came, shooed the woman away and told us that all of the tickets were sold out until the 3rd of January, all while picking his nose. It seemed obvious to us that he had tickets, but for some reason didn’t want to sell them to us. We went back to our hotel, and asked the receptionist if he could get us tickets, and he too, claimed that the tickets were sold out until the 3rd. The next morning we returned to the train station to try to buy tickets again, and there was a whole new crowd in the office. We were warmly greeted by a new agent, who was very curious as to where we were from (d is originally Indian and I am Persian), and gladly sold us tickets for the 1st. The train itself turned out to be comfortable and conducive to sleeping. The bathrooms, however, were quite gross.

In Aswan we spent 3 nights at the Basma Hotel, which had a nice pool, but was otherwise overpriced, run down, and had bad food and the rudest waiters ever. After a night of sleep here, I woke up covered in flea bites, presumably from the bedding. The Nubian Museum, is right by the Basma hotel and was definitely worth visiting, as the exhibitions are well curated.

We also visited the local souk, which had much better shopping than the Khan el Khali market, although the bargaining became exhausting, and at one point I had my butt patted by a shopkeeper, while d was right next to me. After telling some of the merchants that I was originally Iranian, word somehow got out around the market and many of them started shouting “Nejadi” as I walked by in reference to President Ahmadinjead of Iran, which was disconcerting at first since I am not exactly a fan, but after a while I decided to smile and take it with a grain of salt. Our only good meal in Aswan was actually in the souk at the Chef Khalil fish restaurant, where we were initially the only foreigners. The grilled squid that we mistakenly ordered here in place of seabass was fabulous.

From Aswan, we arranged for a van to take us to Abu Simbel on the 4 am convey, which turned out to be a disaster, particularly after we discovered that we paid $100 more than we should have for the experience. The van was freezing because the driver refused to turn up the heat and our tour guide was not particularly well informed and was furious at these poor Spanish tourists in our van for not understanding her English. Abu Simbel itself was amazing, and well worth the drive there, but unfortunately because of having to travel by convoy we only had an hour and a half there, which wasn’t really enough time to absorb everything. By taxi we visited the dam (which was not really worth a visit), the unfinished obelisk, and the island of philae. When we were in line to buy tickets at Philae, d commented on the pushiness of this Egyptian man behind us in line, which resulted in him thinking that d was accusing him of hitting on me somehow. Anyway, he completely flipped out, pointed at his wedding ring and said he was a married man, and looked ready to hit d until I intervened and repeatedly told him that everything was okay and that he had misunderstood d. Despite this, Philae was memorable and getting to and from there by boat was pleasant.

For a much more reasonable price than what we paid to get to Abu Simbel, we arranged for a taxi to take us by convey from Aswan to our hotel in Luxor, while stopping at Kom Ombu and the Temple of Horus at Edfu from the tourist information center outside of the Aswan train station. Again because of the convoy time restrictions we felt like we didn’t get enough time to visit either site, but at least our driver this time was pleasant.

In Luxor, we stayed at the Al Moudira hotel for four nights, which was our splurge hotel of the trip. The landscaping and the architectural design of the Moudira is amazing, and definitely much nicer than any hotel we had seen thus far in Egypt, but other than this it was very disappointing. The pool area and it’s accompanying restaurant were swarming with flies, so much so that every table and or chair had a small broom next to it for fly swatting. The main restaurant had ridiculously bad food, and since the Moudira is out in the middle of nowhere guests have no choice but to eat there. On our first night here I ordered a dish of beef and lentils that was hands done the worst meal I have ever ordered in a restaurant….I could only stomach a few bites of it. And d, who normally has a resilient stomach ordered a fish entrée that made him extremely sick for much of the night. After that we did our best to avoid eating in the main restaurant, but were forced to do so on the last night where we both fared a little better in that neither of our entrees made us sick and tasted a bit better in a plane food sort of way.

During our first two days in Luxor we took taxis from Moudira to the ferry station on the west bank where we took the ferry across the Nile. On the east side we visited Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, and the mummification museum, all of which we walked to from the ferry platform. Since most of the tourists in Luxor seem to be bused from their cruise ships to and from temples, the economy in Luxor seems to be suffering and as a result we were hounded upon more than elsewhere, but in a friendlier way than at the pyramids. For the next few days here we called and arranged for a driver that my cousin’s husband had used in Luxor 5 years ago to take us to sites on the west bank. The driver, Nubi, turned out to be a real gem. On our first day with him we visited tombs in the Valley of the Kings (Tuthmosis III was our favorite), the Valley of the Queens, Hatsheput and the colossi of memnon. Afterwards he invited us to his “place,” alongside the Nile on the west bank, which we were at first hesitant to visit, but then agreed to because he seemed so gentlemanly. We only saw his house from the outside and were instead given a tour of an adjacent building where he had just opened a restaurant and planned on building a small hotel above it. Afterwards we had drinks with him in his restaurant, the Blue Sky Restaurant (just south of the west bank ferry station) which had a lovely relaxed seaside vibe to it. The next day he took us to see Ramesseum, Deir al Medina, the workmen’s village, and Medina Habu. The workmen’s village was the most remarkable of all of these, particularly the tomb paintings, and there were hardly any other tourists there. Afterwards we had lunch with him in his restaurant, which had surprisingly tasty food and turned out to be another relaxing experience. From here we arranged for a felucca ride to and from banana island. The island itself wasn’t interesting, but the felucca ride itself was really pleasant, particularly once we got away from the pollution from the cruise ships. When we got back it had almost become dark and Nubi had started a bonfire outside of his house and we sat down with him his wife and the neighbor around the fire for a while before he took us back to the Moudira. The next day Nubi took us to the airport where we had a flight to Cairo, and then back to New York. He was really sweet saying goodbye and had gifts for us to remember him by, two alabaster jars, one for us and one for my cousin’s husband who had kept his card for 5 years. It was a really nice note to end the trip on.

My last words of advice are to bring lots of high spf sunscreen, and be sure to double check how much you are paying for something and always count your change.
z_n_d is offline  
Old Jan 12th, 2007, 01:44 PM
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Wow, thanks so much for the info! I'm so glad I'll be paying in advance through GAT tours, and hopefully will be able to keep nasty experiences to a minimum! Thanks also for telling us what was enjoyable and worthwhile or not. Very helpful post!
mileagemaven is offline  
Old Jan 12th, 2007, 05:10 PM
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Sorry for all your problems, but your post is a ood example of why a reputable tour co. is worth its cost.
sunshine007 is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2007, 03:34 PM
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My husband and I are leaving for Egypt in 2 weeks. What type and weight of clothing should I pack? We will visiting the regular tour sites.
paulaaf is offline  
Old Jan 14th, 2007, 06:00 AM
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The weather fluctuates a lot. Cairo was colder, mostly in the 50's. Aswan and Luxor were much warmer during the day (70-80's), and from 4:00 pm onwards the temperature dropped rapidly until it was cold and night, say 40's and 50's. You'll do best layering....I wore short sleeved cotton shirts during the day with jeans, and by evening I was usually wearing a sweater and or jacket as well. If you are staying anywhere with a pool, you may want to bring a swimsuit. Enjoy your trip.
z_n_d is offline  
Old Jan 16th, 2007, 02:52 AM
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Thanks for all the helpful info. I'm just starting to research a trip to Egypt.
sharon1306 is offline  
Old Jan 19th, 2007, 06:51 AM
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I am planning to go May 15th. Is the weather supposed to be okay at that time as far as dust storms and the like.

Also, has anyone worked with Royal Egypt or Miss Egypt Travel and which would be better?
junglemits is offline  
Old Sep 12th, 2007, 05:53 AM
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Nubi sounded great. Do you have his email address or some way to get in touch with him?
Brahmama is offline  
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