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Just returned: 2 Weeks in Egypt w/Egypt Highlights; Trip Report, in short, AMAZING!

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Sep 28th, 2005, 04:29 AM
  #1
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Just returned: 2 Weeks in Egypt w/Egypt Highlights; Trip Report, in short, AMAZING!

With mucho thanks to all who helped me plan this great adventure, I would like to begin my preliminary trip report, jetlag be darned! For this first post, I will put overall impressions and tips, but will delve deeper on subsequent posts for those interested.
First all all, after much controvery on this board, Egypt Highlights did a fantastic job of "being there" every step of the way, from the minute our KLM flight landed (2 hours late, BTW) Magdy was at the airport waiting to shepherd us though customs and wisk us to our favorite hotel, the Sheraton Royal Gardens in Giza.
We had brought my husbands mobile phone (T-Mobile) and were able to communicate by texting a lot, every day Magdy sent us a text message to find out how things were and give us a pick up time for the next day . The in country provider for T Mobile is Vodafone and the only place it didn't work was smack dab in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
Tips: When you get to a bank machine be sure to get a LOT of money, because you can't count on ATM's being there for you, nor can you count on banks having ATM's, usually they only exchange money. Remember a LOT of Egyptian money isn't all that much (for most Europeans or US cit.) 2,000 EP is about $350 US. more or less.
If you are sensitive to air quality bring plenty of aspirin the smog in Cairo makes Los Angeles look like the Rocky Mountains.
Learn a little Arabic and you will amaze and astound EVERYONE. Before we left I got Pimsleurs Egyptian Arabic quick and easy CD's and only got through the first 3 CD's but it was enough to blow everyone away. Also Egyptian Arabic is way different from other Arabic so be specific.
No matter how much sunscreen you think you need, bring more.
When purchasing things in a market, be sure you don't end up paying the visitors price.. either that, just shrug and don't let it bother you.. often times if we went to a market and say, water was priced at 3 EP when we got to the register they would charge us 5 EP.. ok so it's an extra 60 cents.. to some people this is unacceptable.. it's up to you, most times if you politely asked, they would change the price back to the one on the bottle.
If visiting any oasis or desert... there is NO place to get money period. Once you are outside of Cairo or in places close to the Nile. BE sure to get cash in town before you leave.
Also, good idea to bring a really comprehensive guide book with you to suppliment the information given to you by guides at the sites. We lucked out in Cairo as our guide Samir was AMAZING we could ask him anything and he was always able to respond no matter what. Outside of Cairo, the guide, Mustapha was pretty good when he stuck to his usual info routine, but if we had questions out side of that he usually couldn't respond. Also guides are simple not allowed in some places (inside Abu Simbel for example) a comprehensive book will come in handy. We had National Geographic's Traveler Explore Egypt and found it very informative.

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Sep 28th, 2005, 04:59 AM
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Welcome Back. It sounds like you had a wonderful time. We go in 3 months counting the days.
Did you have any issue with your stomach? Thanks for tip on the money. Can't wait to hear about the rest of your trip. What sights did you see in Cario? We have several days with nothing planned. Trying to figure out some off the beaten track places. How much time did you spend at the Egyptian museum as was it enough? We just went last weekend to the LA Country Museum of Art to see the King Tut Exhibit. It was so impressive. Can't wait to see more.


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Sep 28th, 2005, 05:35 AM
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Thanks so much for the information. You hit on some things I hadn't seen before. Since we go in two months, I need all the help I can get.
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Sep 28th, 2005, 04:38 PM
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Thyra - so glad you and your husband enjoyed this long-planned trip! When you have decompressed (!), we'd love some more details. Were you able to get small bills in Egyptian money for tips - how did that work. Also interested in the food and your desert experiences. We are getting quite excited; we leave in 5 weeks!
Connie
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Sep 29th, 2005, 05:23 AM
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This trip was so overwhelming it may take a while to process. To stare up at the great pyramid of Giza takes ones breath away, literally! Some of the top highlights of our trip included a sunrise camel ride out to the Giza plateau to watch the sun come up over the pyramides just being on a camel as the call to prayer echoes over the city is enough to bend the mind. We had paid for this in advance through Egypt Highlights so didn't have to worry about the "take you there, but won't take you back experience.." it was just myself, my husband and a camel driver...(oh and the smelly camels, of course I am so glad we did this!
Our first day incountry we had nothing planned since we got in at 2 AM. So I had booked a day tour with Debbie Senters at Casual Cairo day tours, just to get a feel for the country and cover a few things not included in the EH package. This turned out wonderfully, Debbie was able to assist us with cultural acclimation and some tips on haggling as well as take us to some places definatly NOT on the tourist map.
For the record, we didn't experience so much as TD or Mummy tummy, but we were extremely careful, no uncooked veggies, brushing teeth with bottled water and well cooked meats, this made for a very NON Atkins diet of much starch, but at least we didn't have so much as a moment of discomfort. I found the food in Egypt to be quite good, in the desert they cook these plump chickens for you right over an open fire that are to die for.. also a local dish called koshiri that is lentils, pasta onions and hot sauce which we sampled on the cruise ship. One word of caution, Egyptians like A LOT OF SUGAR in their tea and coffee, I mean, we are talking like 10 tablespoons.. unless this is your thing, be sure to let them know not to douse your drink with a pound of sugar.
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Sep 29th, 2005, 05:35 AM
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We had opted to take an overnight train from Cairo to Aswan and back again from Luxor.. we paid extra for the sleeper compartment. This is an experience not to be missed for sure. Tip: Be sure to eat a nice meal before you board the train and bring a few snacks for b-fest.. honestly the trainfood, made airplane food look like it deserved a Michalin star.. I've never seen grey meat before and hope never too again.. But the porters on the train are all very nice and it's a fun experience.
As far as security goes, I would reckon that more people in Egypt are employed as guards then any other profession. They have guards on everything, our cruise ship, fast food restaurants (when was the last time you saw 3 armed guards outside of a Mcd's)
Freeway onramps, museums you name it, they guard it. I didn't feel threatened at all.. well except for the fact that not one car has seat belts, it's best not too look out the window if you are skittish.. it's worth noting that the drivers hired by EH were all top notch.. but I can't speak for the rest of the drivers out there.
In the desert.. be careful of your shoes.. Both my husband's and my shoes were partially consumed by desert foxes.. no joke.. though it is pretty funny! Just be sure to keep your shoes close...at hand. Don't miss the museum at Luxor, it is really good... as for the Egyptians, they are wonderful people known, rightfully so, for their saucy sense of humor.. everyone we met went out of their way to tell us how much they loved American's, the service everywhere is top notch... I am so glad we did this trip, everything from the unbeatable sights to the warm hearted people exceeded our expectations!
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Sep 29th, 2005, 06:00 AM
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Glad to hear you had a great adventure! I leave for Egypt on Oct 4th and am so excited that I can't keep my mind on work. Thanks for your tips! I do have one question. Where is the best place to buy things to bring home. I have read several answers to this question and all are different. Do you recommend buying in Cairo or in Aswan or Luxor. We are interested in textiles and jewelery. Thank you again for your tips!
Fodor's forum is a Great source of information!
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Sep 29th, 2005, 07:19 AM
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Bobbi: We took the advice of our tour guide and waited to shop in Luxor and Aswan. I bought 13 scarves (silk as well as wool blend) for Holiday and Birthday gifts in Aswan at a small shop at the entrance to the Bazaar. We saw the same scarves everywhere and prices changed constantly. However, the best price of all was at this shop -- 20 LE each (about $4 US). I liked this shop because the owner promised "no hassle" and the prices were posted.....very rare indeed. A member of our group paid 40 LE for one scarf elsewhere and another was thrilled to bargain a vendor down to 80 LE for the same one. Of course, if you buy multiple items at one place, the price comes down again.

Gold and silver is weighed, but can still be negotiated. Make sure the pieces have the government stamp.

Bottom line, as our Tour Guide said on the first day....."Buy it because you like it". I would add to that...."and because the price is what you consider to be fair".

Have a wonderful time....we did!
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Sep 29th, 2005, 11:04 AM
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In terms of buying things: The best advice I can give you is to wait a few days until you have become aclimated to the country and the style of shopping, before purchasing anything. We did find some nice shops in Luxor which had prices posted (a rarity) and didn't hassle you too much. We actually didn't shop until the very last two days because we didn't want to lug anything around with us. I did by my Mother in Law a very nice 18K stamped cartouch with her name in heiroglypics, from a good shop that posted prices this was in Cairo. Have a wonderful trip!
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Sep 29th, 2005, 12:06 PM
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Thyra: Just a question regarding Baksheesh. Did you find this an irritant or did you even encounter this? In China they loved American dollars, but was wondering about Egypt, if we should just give EP or take 100 US dollars for baksheesh along the way. Did you guides give you any tips/instructions?

Thanks for all the info. We leave Nov. 6
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Sep 29th, 2005, 01:01 PM
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Baksheesh didn't irritate me at all, I was all mentally ready for it.
I would recommend tipping in Egyptian pounds rather then dollars. I actually had gotten about 100 US dollars in 1 $$ bills before I left and ended up exchanging them for local currency. Particularly when you get to Aswan/Luxor Valley of Kings, Abu Simbel.. it's much easier for the locals to have their own currency to exchange.
Also, someone had posted that they were hassled for failing to tip.. this didn't happen to us at all even though sometimes when a doorman would spend 15 seconds lifting our bags to the van, we forgot to tip.. ( I still feel badly about that).

EH gave guidelines for what is the average for guides/drivers etc. We didn't feel badly at all giving a smaller tip for a lesser level of service, but we were extremely generous when we felt it was warranted. Our Cairo guide was so completely perfect, a real Egyptologist who could respond to anything.. needless to say, he got a hearty tip, as did our driver, who spent 8 hours at a stretch getting us to the oasis and back. Our Aswan/Luxor guide was simply ok, and got a very average tip.
The only thing that got a bit on the annoying side was the pushy vendors.. there is only one way to deal with them.. totally, completely ignore them..I mean completely, like the don't exist , look right through them. We found that even if you said "no thank you" in english OR Arabic.. they would come back with "where you from?" etc. etc. etc.
Just give them the 100 mile stare (which takes some practice, at first). But you will be happy you did in the long run.
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Sep 29th, 2005, 01:10 PM
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Oh, here is something I forgot to mention. But I think it may be of value. At one of the stops on our cruise route, Edfu , transportation to the temple was in the form of a horse drawn carriage.. now, while this may sound rather romantic, the condition of the majority of carriage horses was, in a word, appalling! Skin and bones with sores.. trotting along in 110 heat while the drivers whip the crap out of them.. I had to shut my eyes to keep from crying. I realize that in many cultures a beast of burden is just that.. but even our Egyptian guide commented on it. For me it really spoiled the experience.
In Luxor there are also a bunch of horses and carriages but there is also a veterinary clinic that treated the horses for free and the condition of the majority of horses was substantially improved. Many had flesh on their bones and looked a lot more well cared for. If I had known in advance I would have opted not to take the carriage ride in Edfu but might have considered one in Luxor.
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Sep 29th, 2005, 03:15 PM
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Thanks, Thyra, really appreciate the reply...!
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Sep 29th, 2005, 03:41 PM
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Thyra, thanks for the continuing info. Other than the Edfu transportation, did you enjoy the Nile cruise? Which ship were you on?
Also, did you camp out at the oasis - any comments on that?
I have lots of questions but I imagine you will be posting more so I will wait a bit!
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Sep 29th, 2005, 06:11 PM
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the information you are sharing is fantastic! The 100 mile stare I have down ( am married lol)All I have to do now is figure out how much money I am going to have left after I have visited the camel market and saved all the camels and then I see I have horses to buy!hmmm wonder if there is farm land for sale in Egypt!
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Sep 30th, 2005, 02:56 AM
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NancyU, good one, a married person will have no problems at all!
As far as the Oasis goes actually we didn't camp at the Oasis, it's really just a staging point for forays into the Western Desert. Every thing that Walaa sent me in advance said "don't expect luxury at the Oasis, it's very Poor in facitilites" that is poor with a capital P. If you are staying where we did, you get a mattress on concrete, a ceiling fan and a toilet, no towels! Also, be aware that once in the Oasis you won't be able to get cash, asprin, film.. in fact all you will be able to get is bottled water and soft drinks, period.
There are also mosquitos in the Oasis so bring repellant.
The Oasis like many rural areas seemed more conservative to us, with every woman we saw wearing the full "burka" which is not the case any other place we visited in Egypt. Also, English speaking is pretty much non existant.
We were happy to leave the Oasis for the desert camp. We were with an international party (Japanese, French, Slovakian) and caravaned in two antique Toyota land cruisers neither of which ran 100% so it was lucky there were two vehicles.
To be honest, the closest I've been to camping was backpacking through europe in the 80s so I guess I am a city girl at heart.. the desert kind of freaked me out.
There is one road ( I think it goes all the way to Libya) no crossroads, gas stations, rest stops, call boxes, cell phone reception,,, NOTHING. The only thing they have plenty of is checkpoints, every 100 miles or so, you pass a military/police checkpoint where they inspect your car and ask many probing questions of your driver. All that being said.. I am so glad we did this, sleeping under stars like you've never seen was the experience of a lifetime, but rest assured it is "adventure" tourism.. not like a Nile cruise.
It made the swim up bar at the Sheraton in Giza that much better when we got back to town!
We were on a cruise ship called the MS Salacia.. (you will find that everytime someone drops you off at anyplace in Egypt they will add a statement something to the effect of "you will like this, 5 stars"
Well 5 Egyptian Stars and 5 US stars are vastly different, but it's not a problem at all if you know that going in.
We grew to love the Salacia.. which had very lavish woodwork and a tiny but completely delicious swimming pool (it was really HOT in Aswan). The best of all, is that this cruise ship was meant to fit 150 passengers and there were exactly 6 of us.. so it was like chartering a private yacht (all be it a VERY large one) . No it didn't have a fitness center, or data port, and the staterooms were itsy bitsy.. but the staff was just so sweet, I felt bad for them sailing at what must have been a finacial loss. Everyone in the dining room/housekeeping reception was a true doll.. well they out-numberd us 5 to one! We were very happy with the Salacia. Didn't get sick at all on the food and one of my stand out memories, was sunset over the Nile on the way to Esna.. I had the entire top deck to myself.. as a hot breeze blew through my hair, you can hear cows and donkeys from the shore.. I swear Cleopatra must have experienced the same thing when she went down the Nile al those years ago..
It was one of those "wow" moments that stick in your throat and lead you to travel in the first place.
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Sep 30th, 2005, 05:32 AM
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Thanks again, Thyra! I've been printing your comments and leaving them on the computer desk - every time my husband comes by, he asks if you have posted any more! The desert trip sounds as Walaa described, but I have heard it is not to be missed. We originally were going to do that in our last days, but moved it to sooner so we will be in Alexandria for the last 2 days - probably a good thing.
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Sep 30th, 2005, 08:04 AM
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I am planning a trip to Egypt.
I found the "Egpyt Highlights" web sight.
Which tour did you take? The nine or ten day tours seem great. What price did you pay? Did you fly or drive to Abu Simbel?
Thanks
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Sep 30th, 2005, 08:40 AM
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Conlet, I think youl will be happy that you have an extra few days to relax following the desert, I think you made a good choice.

J747: we actually started out with the 12 day Desert Magic, but upgraded to a cruise (from 3 days on a felucca, and to 4 star hotels) We did fly to Abu Simbel which was OK except that our outbound flight was late about 30 minutes and then we had to scramble back to the airport for the return flight which was late for an hour.. or as our guide said " Egypt air runs on Egyptian time". Fortunately we felt like we were able to fully absorb the temple (it is very hot inside the temple, so unless you are really into it, it's hard to stay for hours and hours)Abu Simbel easily the most impressive temple and I would not have missed it. If you are concerned about time then you might consider travelling by motor.. though given the state of most vehicles... you run a risk either way.
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Sep 30th, 2005, 08:44 AM
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Be sure to take that desert trip. It really is wonderful. And so quiet. There are some desert hotels which have better amenities than the one Thyra described. There also are tiny, hidden drugstores where you can pick up ibuprofen, stuff for your upset stomach, etc. Just don't expect familiar brands or English.
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