Just Back from 21 Days in Egypt

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Nov 21st, 2005, 09:05 AM
  #1
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Just Back from 21 Days in Egypt

I would like to thank everyone for posting their comments and insights, while I may not have participated in the discussions I read them for info all the time. My husband and I just returned from 21 days on Nov. 18. So that you can put our comments and insights in context let me add this. We have travelled a lot, but not enough! We are middle aged, live ion the northeast part of the US, avoid organized tours and bus tours at all costs and like adventures. That being said it will give you some context for our thoughts.

First and foremost we always felt safe. We travelled on our own and while we did have hotel reservations everywhere ahead of time and I had booked air for Egypt AIr through expedia we did have to book train travel on our own. We felt very safe and comfortable. This was a question for us prior to leaving and I can only say that we felt very welcomed as tourists.

Our trip covered Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, a Nile Cruise, Aswan, Sharm el Sheik and we were scheduled to go to Petra the day the borders were closed.

Cairo is a huge city and requires a lot of fortitude. We were there during Ramadan and found that openings and closings were not well adhered to. Most people would begin leaving work around 2:00 pm and traffic became a nightmare. The metro system is very clean and efficient. The only complication is the station directions when you first enter underground. As it was obvious that we were tourists people were more than happy to go out of their way to point us in the right direction. We were able to see most of Cairo using the subway and when that didn't work we utlized cabs.

Cairo is certainly the cheapest place to purchase things and get around in Egypt. I had questioned someone as to why most preset tours only spend 2 days in Cairo and the expert who responded never really answered, however after spending some time there on 2 seperate occassions I can explain. Cairo is a real assault on your senses. It is noisey, polluted beyond description (the particulate matter suspended in the air makes LA or Mexico City look pristine, a contrast in cultures, a lot of work due to the constant hawking and touts and the noise. Drivers in Egypt always toot their horns and the traffic is non stop.

For those who posed as I did the question of where to buy egyptian cotten sheets, again the experts sent you in the wrong direction. They sugessted Wikela Ebala, which is spelled worng and is the fabric market section of Cairo. Most ex-pats go to Carfours on the ring road. This is a French chain and the fabric is sent out of the country and the sheets are made and sent back to Cairo. The quality is what people are looking for, unlike anything you can find at the market.

Another misnomer, it is very ewasy to get through immigration upon arrival in Cairo and the officers go out of their way to help you. We did prearrange to have someone meet us at the airport, again based on the experts advice and it was really unecessary.

Egypt Air flights were on time, we had 2 flights and our luggage was handled without the weigh in issues that we had been warned about.

We took 4 train journeys and while the trains went smoothly the arrangements were odd. When we first arrived in Cairo our hotel, the Sheraton Towers offered to get us the overnight tickets on the sleeper car for Luxor for a small fee. We thought this would be great as we were headed in the opposite direction to Coptic Cairo. We gave them our passports and money and went off for the day. When we came back from touring we went to the conceirage desk where we were advised that there were no tickets available on the sleeper train or the regular overnight train. Not in 1st or 2nd class. Further there were no seats the day before or the day after, everything was booked and we should change the cruise arrangements. As we were travelling on our own that wasn't an option. My husband panicked and we asked the desk to write out our request in arabic and maybe if we went we could get tickets. We were prepared to pay the expected extra tip and advised as to how much to offer. We were also told that another couple had cancelled their cruise and rebooked for a different date. We decide to not have the nice dinner but head off to try and deal with this problem.

We ate in KFC while we waited for the train station to reopen. We went up to the desk and handed the gentlemen our note, passports and asked for seats on the train at the end of the week. He looked confused and told us there were plenty of seats, no problem. So we had a lot of angst for no reason.

In the subsequent days we tried to figure this out with the concierge and no matter whether we went in the morning or night the same group that we first dealt with was always off over a period of 4 days. When we left the hotel I did speak with the manager to get my fee back for the service.

From Cairo we headed to ALexandria. While we have mixed feelings about the city, we are glad we saw the catacombs, they are vedry different from those on Rome. This is the only place we didn't use Sheraton.

Another question that is frequently posted is about Nile Cruises, there are almost 300 boats on the Nile. We sailed on the Sonesta and got a very good price through STI. I had originally planned to try my luck doing a walk on but again the expert advised that things were very crowded and booking quickly. There were 30 people on board, 4 of whom were Egyptians on a fam trip.

The difference between the boats is the following, the size, the window size and who they cater to. There are generally 2 size ships, the 100 or so category and the over 200 person category. The higher end boats and newer boats have really large stateroom windows, a nice feature. The other consideration is which nationality they are geared for. Some are strictly for groups.

We could have just wlaked on a negotiated a price, tourism is way down which is a problem for Egypt but good for not feeling crowded. One of the highlights of the cruise is going through the Esna lock, it can take 3-4 hours if there is a lot of traffic, the lock holds 2 boats at once and we were the only one going through.

The Luxor train station is an embarrassement. Considering the volume of people that pass through it needs a lot of work. It is like arriving in bombed out Beirut. The merchants and drivers are very aggressive in Luxor, Aswan is more laid back and consequently more pleasant. From Aswan we took the train back to Luxor where we stayed in the Sheraton.

As I said earlier, we intended and had reservations for Petra, but the borders were closed that day and we were unable to enter. As our plans called for returning to Sharm from there we headed over to the hotel, again the Sheraton and they honored the internet rate we had and extended our stay. We were worried that we would get really taken over the coals being somewhat stranded but they were great.

We flew back to Cairo and stayed for 1 night before returning home.

You may wonder why so many Sheratons, simple answer, the rates. $69 was the most expensive night, Luxor was $43. and Sharm was $50. We also wanted the comfort of a western style hotel.

I will try and answer any specific questions you may have over the next few days.

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Nov 21st, 2005, 03:07 PM
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Very interesting report!

What hotel did you use in Alexandria?

Did you get your visa in Egypt at airport as posted on LP forum?

Did you consider taking the day train to Luxor?

Did you book your Nile cruise in Cairo or before leaving home?

Thanks,
Jane
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Nov 22nd, 2005, 09:42 AM
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In Alex we stayed in the Windsor Palace and I booked it using "sidestep.com" We got our visas here in the states, we had multiple entry visas and I sent them to the NY embassy, the turn around time was less then 7 days.

We never considered the day train to Luxor for various reasons, mostly people's post on line. It is a long journey and the scenery is not that great, however it was interesting from Aswan-Luxor.

I booked the cruise before we left, as some of the people on line said thigns were booking up. I used STI in NJ who had very competitive prices, took credit cards for the deposit and then provided a cash discount for the balance. This was booked 1 week before we left, 2 weeks before the cruise.
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Nov 22nd, 2005, 10:00 AM
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Thank you for answering all my questions. I've just begun the planning for our trip. We like to travel with a list of several options for all places we plan to visit--but we usually don't make many advance reservations. Usually it works out.
PS What was the weather like?
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Nov 22nd, 2005, 02:42 PM
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You said you sailed in the Sonesta. Was that the Moon Goddess. My wife and I are going on the Moon Goddess in December and are interested to get the input of someone that has been onthat cruise.
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Nov 23rd, 2005, 05:27 AM
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Jane the weather was ideal, warm when we first arrived in Cairo, mid 80's but no humidity so it ws ideal. Warmer in Luxor, hit 90's by day but cooled down at night which happens very quickly in the desert at this time of year.

This was the first time we had ever pre-booked all our hotels and it worked out fine. Usually we like to leave the time we spend open, but Egypt requires a little more forthought so we did plan out our days. Because we couldn't go to Petra we stayed longer on the Sinai then planned. It was very relaxing, the water was warm and the snorkeling the best in the world. We could just walk out onto the beach where we were.

lcdocv, we were in fact on the Moon Goddess. The ship is very nice, the food is okay, not great and not bad. The water is not potable at all on the ship so you need to have bottled water to brush your teeth. You can bring your water from meals, that is reasonably priced away with you and/or buy it and bring it aboard and to meals. On the streets 1.5 liters will never cost more than 3 EL. In the Sinai we bought 5 ltr. jugs for 5 EL.

Also, you can buy a bottle of wine and they will recork it and you can have it the next evening. The staff is very easy in that respect.

If you like massages, the young woman on the Goddess gives a superb massage and it is very inexpensive. A full hour was 260 EL with aromatic oils. It was just what I needed after the overnight train and the lack of sleep before starting a full day of touring.

We were a very small group on board, only 30 so there was never any problem getting resources from a lounge chair to shade. All the cabins are the same except for 2 suites, the only differences being whether you are on the east or west side. We sailed from Luxor to Aswan and were on the west side, but the views are equally fabulous.

If you have any speicfic questions let me know I will try and respond, from my point of view!
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Nov 23rd, 2005, 08:13 AM
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Thanks again. Any specific reason that you did not choose to go to Abu Simbel?
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Nov 23rd, 2005, 08:14 AM
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Spitz:

Thank you for your reply and yes, I have lots of questions.
1.Are the rooms quiet. I've heard that some cruises are kind of loud due to the engines going at night while traveling.
2.Is there room service and does it have an additional cost or is it included with the price and how is the menu.
3. Also I've read that in summer the tours from the cruises start at 6:00 a.m. to avoid the hot temperature of the day. Can you tell me if in the Moon Goddess the tours also start that early of at a more reasonable hour.
4. How its the night entertaiment.
5. How easy and safe it is to step out of the cruise at night to see the sights. I mean in esna and edfu, which I think is one of the overnight stop.

These are some of the ? I have so far, If I think of some more and you have the time to anwer them I'll Post them. Thanks a lot for the info
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Nov 23rd, 2005, 03:30 PM
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Your trip sounds wonderful and I can't wait for my own journey in March. I to, (with my 12 year old daughter)will be going for 27 days and we are doing it on our own. Can you reccomend any great souks to shop in? and what where your favorites?
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Nov 23rd, 2005, 06:20 PM
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Hi

since I just returned from Egypt last month ,perhaps I can help a little if spitz does not mind.

1. The engines on the cruise boat are not noisey..I never once heard the engines.

2.Re tours that start at 6 AM...you may wake up at 6 AM but you will not tour at 6 AM.
Yes, it is hot there and will probably be unbearable in the summer.

It was 109 F in Luxor one day( October 8th think).

One day in Aswan while walking around after breakfast...I said to my wife, "My goodness,it is 10 minutes after 9 AM and it is 92 F already.

Yes, it is very safe off the cruise boat to go walking around anywhere.
Thereis no mugging,no shooting and no rapes.

I woke up at 5 Am to watch and take pictures as we went through the locks at Esna.

spitz is correct about the time interval to get through the locks..but we were the only boat going through at the time.

The food on the cruise boat I was on was good, you cannot eat everything anyway....Ihad no complaints.

NancyU

About souks( shopping markets)

I am sure you will want to visit the Khan El Khalil Bazaar in Cairo.
To miss this one, is to miss the best one of the lot.

Next,when you are in Aswan...then right where most of the boats dock ,you just get off the boat and cross the street and there is the Aswan Market (Souk).

It is an experience visiting these places to say the least.

Next,I want to add that I found everything in Egypt,Luxor and Aswan to be cheap...no matter what you bargain for , and what you finally pay,it is much cheaper than back home.

spitz gave you some good advice about bottled water.

Don't worry about the water if and when you have to buy it ...it is cheap anywhere.

JaneB:

I do not know why spitz did not go to Abu Simble..maybe time schedule or something.

But of all the temples I visited in Egypt,Luxor,Aswan,Edfu etc......I can say that Abu Simble was the highlight of all the Temples.

I also went to Alexandria and saw almost everyplace I had on my list..great place along the Mediterranean Sea.

Sorry for hikacking your posting spitz..
I very much enjoyed your report.

Percy





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Nov 28th, 2005, 07:04 AM
  #11
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Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, I was off line for the long weekend. We didn't go to Abu Simbal as we were going to Petra, which due to circumstances beyond our control didn't happen.

As for noise on the ships, there wasn't any. Sonesta does start their groups early for sightseeing but the benefit is you have the places to your self and they aren't crowded. You also get back to the ship early enough to relax and enjoy the Nile.

As for shopping, hands down Cairo is the best. Aside from Khan el Khali we bought some long embroidered cotton robes for our college age girls in a store where locals shop. They are beautifully made and were 65 E pounds a piece. As for the other shopping we did, we bought silver in the Khan at a store where they didn't solicite us and we bought some ivory, camel bone and ebony at a very small store in the heart of the Khan. The store is run by a prof. of mechanical engineering who received his PhD from McMaster U on Canada. I would be happy to give you the store names iof you want. He has pre 80's ivory if you are interested, and is also laid back. The truth is we didn't buy a lot, I bought 10 small perfume bottles as gifts for 20 E pounds and 3 silk/cotton scarfs for 60 E pounds.

As for room service, we didn't use it so I can't give you any great advise. As for stepping off the boat, yes you can do it at night and we did, and while it is extremely safe in Egypt you will get hassled to buy stuff and to take a cab or carriage ride. At the locks in Esna, they do not get a lot of tourists so you will be bombarded with people selling stuff. We witnessed a fight in the small boats that they come out in to meet the ships. In Edfu there is a shopping area right across from where the boat is tied up but again you will be mombed. In Aswan, it is a plesant 20 minute walk from Sonesta's dock to the market place.

The one thing I will offer is that all the markets and souks pretty much carry the same merchandise. There is not much variation from place to place. When purchasing cotton clothes check the seams, some are finished very well and they aren't priced any higher then others. There is jelwery, t-shirts, spices, inlaid work (which is not always finished very well) and the general souveniers.

The entertainment on the boat, well they will have a belly dancing night and a Nubian night and 2 dress up nights. The cocktail reception is a big disappointment if you have ever taken a regular cruise. There are fruit drinks and 1 hors devours per person. As for the liveliness this depends on how many people are on board when you sail. We didn't spend a lot of time in the lounge due to the smoking issues. We did however sit topside and enjoy the evening. It will be cold at night! You will get satellite TV in your room and we did watch a movie one night.

Let me know if I missed anything.
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Nov 28th, 2005, 07:53 AM
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Thanks spitz for all your great info. Please do provide the store names in the Khan. We will be leaving for Egypt in early December and are interested in checking out good stores.
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Nov 28th, 2005, 04:16 PM
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Thanks a lot for the info. Hope we enjoy the trip as much as you did.
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Nov 30th, 2005, 06:06 AM
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I will bring the business cards in tomorrow and post the info, sorry for the delay, I was busy at work.
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Dec 1st, 2005, 05:37 AM
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I shoppped at the following stores, all took amex, I am their poster child, and all gave us discounts without asking. Onix for Silver 592-5526 and Ivory-Ebony 590-6168. Both are closest to the mosque side of the Khan and the ivory store is really on a small off alley.

Also, for those who need to change money, Egypt is by far the easiest place to do it. All the hotels will have at least 1 bank in them. The SHeratons have atm's, cirrus network and the fee was about $1.00. Also, the rate is the same everywhere so you don't need to shop around. They do have a "stamp Fee" for each travellor's check so you are better off with large denominations.
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Dec 1st, 2005, 11:20 AM
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Thanks so much for the info spitz. We're counting down the days till we leave -- 10 to go!!!
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Dec 2nd, 2005, 08:49 AM
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Have a great trip, Travelaw. We'll be looking forward to your post.
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Dec 5th, 2005, 04:01 AM
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Travelaw, Have a great trip, I know you will. Look forward to your return and your postings.
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