Trip Report: Egypt

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Dec 19th, 2004, 06:54 PM
  #1
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Trip Report: Egypt

Just returned a week ago from 2 weeks in Egypt and had an absolutely fabulous time! I highly recommend traveling to Egypt to everyone at least once in their lifetime. As an American woman traveling, I felt totally safe the entire time I was there…actually felt safer than I have in a few of our cities here in the States. I’m still processing the entire experience as there was so much to see and do and absorb but will try to give the highlights of the trip.

Whenever I travel, I like to see the typical tourist sites but I also like to have as much contact with the locals as possible so I can really understand the culture first hand. On this trip, I was able to spend a little time with the locals but would like to return and get to know the Egyptians better. One of the things that struck me the most was the genuine generosity and kindness of the Egyptian people (very few people did I feel were being nice just to get a baksheesh out of me). Several times throughout the trip I had to personally rely on the kindness of strangers and was overcome by the kindness shown to me.

Normally I travel independently but this time, I traveled with 12 friends on a private tour and enjoyed having a plan and not being the one that had to plan everything (my usual role). Egypt has always been on my list of places to visit but didn’t think it would be a place I’d go by myself (admittedly I fell prey to the over-sensationalizing of the media regarding the Middle East and the perception of Americans) so when this opportunity knocked, I quickly opened the door! After having been to Egypt, I would have not reservations about recommending independent travel but would recommend having a guide.

A good guide makes all the difference. While we were in Lower (Northern) Egypt, we had the most amazing guide! He was very knowledgeable and also a lot of fun. With all the information there is to learn about each temple, mosque, tomb, pyramid, etc, a guide is really the best way to decipher the important stuff and spark questions for further discussion. The Egyptian Museum was completely overwhelming and our guide did a great job of pointing out the really important stuff and keeping us focused. Our guide in Upper (Southern) Egypt was not so great. His command of the English language was not so good and he didn’t seem to have much knowledge about the sites. He wasn’t able to read the group very well and didn’t seem to pick up on our boredom or lack of interest in what he was saying. Fortunately, the guide we had in Lower Egypt had provided us with a lot of info on the sites we’d see in Upper Egypt so I was able to piece things together and create a list of questions for him upon our return to Cairo. I was disappointed to know that if had paid a little more money, we could have had him with us the whole trip. I would recommend having one guide for the entire trip as the rapport you build helps so much in the entire experience.

There was so much that I learned on this trip about Egypt, its culture, its people, Islam, my traveling buddies and myself. Most of my international travel has been to Europe so going to Egypt was really an experience. One thing I learned the moment I checked into my hotel was the difference in star ratings between the US and Egypt. We had booked a 4 and 5 star tour and I’m really glad we did, as I couldn’t imagine staying in anything less than and Egyptian 4 star! While the hotels were all acceptable, they were not my idea of 4 or 5 star hotel (admittedly, I am a bit critical having spent 8 years in the hotel industry). I will say I was terribly disappointed with our Nile cruise accommodations – it was billed as a 4 star but on a good day, it would at best be a 2 star by US standard (FYI, we were on the M/S Rosetta).

I love a good deal and absolutely love to bargain so Egypt was a real treat for me! I think my favorite bargaining was with the taxis throughout the country. While every taxi in Egypt has a meter, none of them work so you have to negotiate the fare before you start the trip. It’s always a good idea to get a ballpark figure from the hotel and then go about 10 pounds lower when you start your negotiations with the driver or the taxi “pimp” (that’s what we started calling the guy that would actually hail the taxi and do the negotiating). Here’s a tip…stand firm on your offer (of course, be fair with the price) and if the driver won’t accept it, just say “thank you” and start to walk to your destination (if possible) and you can pretty much guarantee that the driver will accept your offer every time. Riding in a taxi is not for the faint of heart in Egypt as there are rarely any traffic lights, no lines in the road and drivers don’t use lights while driving at night as general rule. However, it is a lot fun, as you never know what to expect!

The best value I found in Egypt was at the Spa at the Ritz Carlton in Sharm. After dinner at a local Bedouin restaurant, Tam Tam (a definite must while in Sharm), a friend and I headed over to the Ritz for dessert and tea. While at the Ritz, we popped down to the Spa to see what services they offered in the off chance they would be affordable. Imagine our surprise when we discovered we could get a 2 ˝ hour spa treatment called Rameses’ Reign (2 scrubs and a massage) for only $90 – that’s right only $90…the price you pay for a massage alone in the States. Needless to say, we booked our appointments and it was fabulous!

To be continued on next post…
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Dec 19th, 2004, 06:55 PM
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A bit of advice I received from the travel clinic prior to leaving was to get my doctor to write a script for a basic antibiotic. My doctor gave me a 15-day supply of a standard (not Cipro) antibiotic and told me to start taking it two times a day everyday starting two days before my trip. I did as instructed and had absolutely no problems during the entire trip and I ate everything except leafy veggies on the trip. Unfortunately some of my travel buddies didn’t do the same and 6 of the 12 suffered from TD for a good portion of the trip. The others were not as adventurous with their eating which is probably why they didn’t have any problems. But my theory is…if you’re Egypt, why not eat as the Egyptians rather than going to McDonald’s, Hard Rock or other places you have at home.

Here’s a quick run down of the daily activities. If you want more info, just see my email at the bottom. Also if you’re interested in the tour company we used or the guide we had in Lower Egypt, just send me an email and I’ll forward you the contact info.

Day 1 – Cairo
Checked out the city, lunch at the foot of the Pyramids (restaurant at Mena House), played traffic frogger, picked up a stalker (harmless 15 year old boy that followed up for about an hour), saw a policeman through bricks at a kid (best guess -- he was trying to hone in on a tip the policeman was after…its all about tipping in Egypt), dinner on top of Hilton where we were entertained by the accordian player in the photos (his face tells the stories of many many years)
Day 2 – Cairo
Visited the pyramids, went inside Pyramid of Khafre, rode a camel, had world’s best pita, saw the Sphinx, went to Memphis and Saqqara, dinner at the Four Seasons (gotta love how cheap things are in Egypt!)
Day 3 – Cairo
Egyptian Museum, Alabaster Mosque (a.k.a. Mosque of Mohammed Ali), The Citadel Of Salaheldin, falafel and foul in a pita for lunch, shopping at the El Khahli Bazaar, quick stop at Mo’mem (Egyptian fast food restaurant) before boarding overnight train to Aswan
Day 4 - Aswan
Temple of Philae, Aswan High Dam (it’s a dam…’bout all you can say), local souk for some major bargaining, cookies and fresh sugar cane juice
Day 5 – Aswan
4:30 a.m. wake up call for 6:30 a.m. flight to Abu Simbel to see Temples of Rameses II and Nefertari, 10:00 a.m. flight back to Aswan (only on the ground in Abu Simbel for 2 hours), boarded Nile River Cruise for next 3 days, felucca ride on the Nile and visit to Kitchner Island, sailing on the Nile at sunset
Day 6 – Edfu & Esna
6:00 a.m. wake up call to visit Temple of Kom Omobo, back on boat to sail up to Edfu, Temple of Horus in Edfu, back on boat to sail up to Esna, held hostage on boat (guide didn’t tell us we only had a few hours to get off the boat in Esna before we queued up to go through the locks)
Day 7 – Luxor
Checked out the town, Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, sound and light show at Karnak Temple
Day 8 - Luxor
Disembarked river boat, Valley of the Kings, El Deir El Bahari of Hatshepsut, Colossi of Memnon, King Tut’s Tomb, dinner at restaurant overlooking Nile and Valley of the Kings, late night flight to Sharm
Day 9 – Sharm
Hung out at resort, massage (beware…they definitely do things differently in Egypt than we do in the States!), dinner at Tam Tam (Bedouin style dinning), tea and dessert at the Ritz Carlton
Day 10 – Sharm
White Canyon hiking/climbing, jeep safari, got stuck in middle of Sinai desert, lunch in Nuwebia, shopping and coffee in Dahab, dinner at Indian restaurant overlooking the Red Sea
Day 11 – Sharm
Lunch at Tam Tam (couldn’t help ourselves, it was so yummy), afternoon at the Spa at the Ritz Carlton (a girl has to pamper herself after all), back to Tam Tam for dinner (I told you it was yummy!), 11:00 p.m. checked out of hotel and took 3 hour drive to Mt. Catherine
Day 12 - Cairo
3:00 a.m. climb up Mt. Catherine for sunrise, 6K feet up the mountain then pulled a muscle, hung out by myself in a tea tent with camel drivers and couple from Finland, saw sunrise over Mt. Moses, hooked up with group again and headed down Mt. Catherine, St. Catherine’s Monastery, 6 hour drive back to Cairo
Day 13 – Cairo
6:00 a.m. wake up call for day trip to Alexandria, swarmed by a group of Egyptian schoolgirls at roadside stop, Roman Theatre, Catacombs, Pompey’s Pillar, Egyptian pizza (yum yum), Citadel of Quaitbay, dinner at Lebanese restaurant
Day 14 – Cairo
Departed Egypt and headed to Germany for a week of solo travel

It’s pretty hard to put the whole trip into words (though I am working on putting together a few short stories) so if there's anything in particular you want to know about, just shoot me an email at [email protected]. Here's the link to some of the pictures that made the cut (just warning you now, there's a lot of them and this is only about 1/2 of the total pics). If you have any trouble with the link, just shoot me an email and I’ll send you an invite to the site. http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/lesaun...QpHPCBMAfQ701D

Happy Travels!
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Dec 19th, 2004, 11:22 PM
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Glad to hear you had a great time in Egypt and thanks for writing back here with your report - it's a very interesting read.
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Dec 20th, 2004, 04:42 AM
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Thanks for your report and photos. Brings back my trip a few years ago. Looks like you had some real chilly mornings, especially at Abu Simbel, and wow the crowds. We never did get to Sinai or Sharm (we did Jorda instead), but there's always another reason to travel back to Egypt and other Middle East countries. Welcome home and thanks for sharing.
 
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Dec 20th, 2004, 07:33 AM
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Glad you enjoyed the read and pics. It was a really great trip. And yes, we did have some cold days in Abu Simbel and Sharm (esp. the Mt. Catherine climb...I think they said the night time low was around 25F) which was a welcome change for me coming from South Carolina.

Many thanks to everyone who has posted suggestions on this board...it was very helpful to me on my travels.
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Dec 22nd, 2004, 03:43 AM
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Wonderful pictures !
I particularly loved "the attack of the Nubian salesmen"!!!!
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Dec 22nd, 2004, 12:47 PM
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Is it safe for Americans to travel to Cairo? Really want to go but keep hearing its not safe. How long ago did you go?

Any help would be appreciated
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Dec 22nd, 2004, 04:23 PM
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Literally just returned from Egypt -- I was there 20 Nov - 3 Dec. I felt perfectly safe the entire time I was there. While visiting the Sphinx, a friend and I were actually interviewed by a US reporter doing a story about the very subject.

With tourism being the country's main industry, I believe they go above and beyond to make sure it is safe for all. Any time I told people I was from America they were so thrilled to welcome me and make sure I was happy and enjoying myself. I was swarmed by a group of 13 - 15 year old girls from the country when we stopped en route to Alexandria. They were so excited to meet an American...even wanted to have their pictures taken with me and my friend. It was so fun to talk with them and get caught up in their excitement.

The Egyptian people are very gracious and generous...granted you do have those that are looking for a baksheesh (tip) but 9 out of 10 are geniune with their hospitality. The last night we were in Cairo a friend and I went to the Lebanese restaurant recommended in Fodor's (Papillon) which is not in the tourist. We weren't sure if we'd easily be able to find a taxi and one that would know where I hotel was. Imagine our surprise and delight when we came out of the restaurant, our original taxi driver was there waiting for us...we had not asked him to wait and he did not ask for money for waiting for us. We ended up giving him all the money we had which ended up being about a 15 pound tip (not much by our standards but a good deal to an Egyptian). As an FYI, I would not recommend the restaurant...average food and less than average service.

As I mentioned in my trip report, I hung out in a tea tent on the side of Mt. Catherine in the middle of the night by myself with 3 camel drivers and the owner and had a wonderful time. As a woman, I was a little concerned prior to my arrival but now have no reservations recommending travel to Egypt (don't by into the media hype).

While tourists are not expected to follow the local customs of dress, I do think that out of respect for the people and their culture it is the appropriate thing to do. I generally wore long pants (kakhis or jeans)and long sleeve (or 3/4 sleeve) shirts every day. This is very important if you do into a mosque. I asked my guide if I needed to cover my hair when we went in and he said no but again, out of respect I think it is a nice gesture to do so. Everyone entering a mosque does have to remove their shoes (FYI, we were told by our guide to place the shoes with the soles touching against the wall).

If you're like me and most of your international travel has been to Europe, you need to have a completely open mind when traveling to Egypt. It is a very different world with different customs and a trip you will not soon forget.

There is so much to say about Egypt but don't want to give information overload Please feel free to email me at [email protected] if you want to ask any specific questions.
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Dec 23rd, 2004, 01:13 PM
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Thanks so much "travelgirl". Now I have to talk my husband into going. Your message was very informative and appreciate the time you took in writing it. Have a Happy Holiday!
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