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Trip Report - Our Recent Egyptian Excursion, 12/27/09 to 1/7/10

Trip Report - Our Recent Egyptian Excursion, 12/27/09 to 1/7/10

Jan 17th, 2010, 08:39 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 44
Trip Report - Our Recent Egyptian Excursion, 12/27/09 to 1/7/10

Okay…so I have been procrastinating about writing my trip report...I do not write well and I know that mine will not be nearly as interesting as all of yours! I hope you will bare with me!

First of all, I want to thank all of you for helping to make our recent trip to Egypt truly unforgettable. You all contributed immensely to the success of our trip and I am forever indebted to you!

We are a family of three, my husband, our 21 year old son, and me. We live in the D.C. area and do not consider ourselves world travelers. We have traveled extensively in the States and have made about a dozen trips to England (my BF is from London and owns a flat in the Docklands area) but the only major sight-seeing trip we had made up until now was in 2003 when we spent five weeks in France and Italy, a trip which I planned totally on my own. We started in London, went over on the Chunnel, leased a car and drove from Calais, France to Rome, Italy, stopping all along the way.

The 2003 trip we made to Europe, when our son, Matt, was fourteen, was incredible! We loved that trip and it has blessed us with so many great memories. Matt and I still laugh about the times we spent in France driving round and round the roundabouts, in the middle of nowhere, trying to figure out which exit to take (we were on our own in France for the first part of the trip since my husband/his dad met us for the last two weeks in Italy…someone had to stay home and work to pay for the trip!). I wish I had known about Fodor’s then..I probably would have never gotten lost!

So……when we were trying to decide about our only child’s 21st birthday present, we decided to take another trip…we wanted more great memories…but where? I knew I would have to plan something during his winter break from college so that significantly narrowed down our choices. Caribbean cruise….maybe?

During the Labor Day week-end, I spent hours reading all the travel boards and Fodor’s in particular. Matt has always been fascinated with Egypt so I kept coming back to Egypt even though it was not a travel destination I had ever considered. The more I read, the more I was determined to go! I became enchanted with the thought of going there…you all made it sound so amazing! I felt that a trip to Egypt would provide us with a treasure trove of memories.

The next step, after I convinced my husband, was to start planning! Was I too late to plan a trip to Egypt? Did I have the time and energy to plan a trip of this magnitude while working fulltime? The simple answer…no! So, again, I turned to Fodor’s.

I read and re-read all the trip reports. Knowing that we were going to be on a VERY tight travel schedule, I decided not to go with a group tour even though I realize that they are very rewarding too. I wanted us to have a little more flexibility and the freedom to go at our own pace. I kept returning to three trip reports in particular:

http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...ependently.cfm

http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...rip---long.cfm

http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...amily-trip.cfm

I contacted two of the posters, thank you, and based on their high recommendations, I decided to hire Ahmed Hamed Yousif to organize our trip….best decision I could have made!

Ahmed Hamed Yousif organized our trip to perfection! I began email communication with him in early September and he was always professional and timely in his responses to me. I gave him a detailed list of what we wanted/expected and he delivered on every one of our requests and MANY times, his arrangements exceeded our expectations!!!!

Ahmed had an uncanny way of figuring us out and knowing what would interest us and was ALWAYS willing to change/alter our itinerary as we went along. The only surprises we had were the spectacular arrangements he made for us….pyramid views from our rooms in Cairo, Nile views from our rooms in Aswan, great rooms on our cruise boat, and Nile views from our rooms in Luxor! Everywhere we went we were met by representatives he had arranged for us…we were treated like royalty! We NEVER had to stress about anything…what a treat! He made sure that we were safe, healthy, and happy and checked in with us every day, several times a day, to make certain that everything was going according to our plan! We adore Ahmed and consider him one of our trusted friends! Thank you, Ahmed, for making our trip a HUGE success!!!!

Ahmed’s contact info is:
Ahmed Hamed Yousif
8, Al Nasr St., Behind “Auberge de Pyramides”
PO Box 12111 Pyramids - Cairo, Egypt
Tel. Home - 5869535
Mobile - 0101507268
Email - [email protected]


Day One: Arrival in Cairo
We flew non-stop on the Delta 84 flight out of JFK, arriving around 4:45pm in Cairo. We had each gotten between six and seven hours of sleep on the plane, thank goodness, but we still arrived exhausted and in a little bit of a haze! Ten hour flights are tough!

Ahmed had arranged for Rafiq, to meet us at the arrival hall. What a relief it was to walk into the arrival hall and see someone waiting with a sign for us! Rafiq directed us to the passport control line while he secured our visa stamps ($15USD each). Once through passport control, we found Rafiq waiting and ready to gather up our checked bags. Bags identified and gathered up, he quickly herded us out of the terminal, and loaded us into a waiting van, and our driver, Mahoud.

The hotel was a little over an hour away from the airport and we used this time to catch our breath. We kept pinching ourselves…it was hard to believe we were actually in Egypt! Matt kept saying, “it still hasn’t sunk in”! It was really hard to grasp, but we grounded ourselves and tried to focus on the passing scenery…even though it was dark. Mahoud was taking the ring road to the hotel and Ivey, my husband, said it looked as though we were driving in a big circle…everything initially looked the same.

After we crossed over the Nile, we hit the traffic and had our first introduction to the chaos that reigns over Cairo streets. It was the craziest thing we have ever seen! It was as though every driver was in a hurry to be first (like they were in a race and there was a prize to be had for first place) and were constantly trying to squeeze into any miniscule space that opened up! It reminded me of exiting vehicles after a concert or ballgame when everyone tries to feed through the entrance/exit gates at the same time. There were at least two lanes of vehicles more than there was space. Totally nuts! And the wildest thing is that the vehicles are not junks like you would think they would be. I expected all of them to be falling apart after countless bang ups but they aren’t! It’s a mystery how they all escape hitting each other! No marked lanes, no consistent headlights, no directional signs to speak of, no rules of the road, animals laden with heavy wagons navigating the roads along with the cars, pedestrians running across the streets, and vendors worming their way through stopped traffic selling goods….BUT it all works! Go figure! The only constant I remember was the horn honking…continuously! I have seen traffic in some of the larger cities in the States including; Washington, D.C., New York, NY, and overseas in London, UK, Rome, Italy, and Paris, France and I’ll tell you…..this is unlike anything I have ever seen or imagined! Whew! What an experience!

It was around 7pm by the time we arrived at the Mena House. Ahmed had phoned while we were in route to say that he had secured two pyramid view rooms for us and that he would call after we got in to make sure we were happy with them. He told us that Rafiq would do all the necessary checking in paperwork for us and would make sure we were taken care of before he left us.

Pulling into the drive at the Mena House was like diving into a cool, clear pool of water on a hot day! It was such a welcome respite from the chaos on the streets that exists just on the other side of the guarded gates to the hotel. My husband likened the entrance to the grounds of the Mena House to getting your name checked off a list and being admitted/transported onto a Hollywood movie set. After a long, tiring flight it was a VERY welcome sight and an absolute delight to behold…an oasis in the middle of a chaotic mess.

As promised, Rafiq directed us to some comfortable seats across from the check-in desk and encouraged us to relax while he jumped through all the check-in hoops for us. After checking in….he arranged to have our bags brought to the rooms…gave us all our instructions for the morning meet with Ahmed…answered any questions we had…turned us over to a hotel rep to be escorted to our rooms… and once satisfied that we were well taken care of, left.

We had gorgeous rooms at the Mena House….306 and 307. Not only were our rooms tastefully decorated and impeccably clean BUT they had the most amazing view! One of the great pyramids of Giza was clearly visible from our balconies! I cannot put into words the feeling that we got sitting on our balconies that first night looking at the pyramid! We were so awe-struck that we could not peel ourselves away from our view to go to dinner or to do anything! We all knew how lucky we were and that this would not last so we voluntarily sat on the balcony, nibbled on the cheese, crackers, and fruit I had brought from home, and drank in the view until we were too tired to keep our eyes open.

Ahmed had truly outdone himself….he delivered beautiful rooms with an incredible view! Our first glimpse of the pyramids of Giza, while relaxing on our balconies, was so incredible that I told the guys that night that my trip, if it had ended right then and there, was complete! There is nothing I would give for that first night and our first sight of Giza!
Lollie14 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2010, 09:46 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 842
Keep the report coming. I too have hired Ahmed for our trip to Egypt/Jordan Sept-Oct . I also asked for Mena House per Foorites reccomondation-Thanks Chris
BeniciaChris is offline  
Jan 17th, 2010, 11:57 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2004
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YAY!!!! Your report is wonderful! I can't wait to read more!
abby97 is offline  
Jan 18th, 2010, 06:01 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 524
Lollie,

Can't wait to read more! Despite what you said in your first paragraph, you ARE a good writer and your trip report is very interesting and detailed. Your excitement shines through your words; what could be better than that?

How was that non-stop Delta flight from JFK to Cairo? I'm taking that same route in three weeks (actually, I'm flying open jaw--JFK to Amman, then Cairo back to JFK so that I can tour both Jordan and Egypt). How was the plane? It sounds like there are no personal video players in the seatbacks (coach class), and that there are just general movies shown throughout the main cabin. Do they just play one movie after another for the entire flight? How was the service from the flight attendants?
fluffnfold is offline  
Jan 19th, 2010, 04:48 AM
  #5  
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Thanks! I will try to find the time to post Day Two later today.

fluffnfold

We loved the Delta flight! It was a 767 and looked newer to us. The flight crew could not have been nicer!!!! They made you feel very welcome and worked hard to make everyone feel comfortable! I loved the seats on the plane...it was easy to get comfortable. I must admit, I don't know about the movies since we were focused on trying to get some sleep...sorry.

FYI - we flew business class with frequent flyer points, Ivey insisted (we are both in our 50s). We bought Matt's ticket which was just shy of $4,000...we probably should have put him in the back but I wanted him sitting with us. He's a lucky guy, don't you think!?! I have made many trips to England but this is the first time I have flown up front...what a treat...it will be hard to go back to the economy seats....but hey...I am willing to do anything to get to visit friends in London! A little bit of discomfort is worth the trip! Don't you agree?

One funny thing happened while we were loading...the captain was walking through, introducing himself to the passengers and talking about the length of the flight, etc. when an older woman exclaimed that she was on the wrong flight! We had to wait while she deplaned and they located her bags in the belly! We found it hard to believe that she could have gotten that far!
Lollie14 is offline  
Jan 19th, 2010, 09:14 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 79
What a good report; Lollie¡¡¡.
Your description of the chaotic traffic in Cairo is excellent and my impression was exactly the same you had.I'm still laughing about it. My kids now say "It's Cairo Traffic" when we find a traffic jam in Madrid or "It's a Cairo driver" when we see someone driving like crazy.
Tell your son Matt that his Blog was excellent and I enjoyed very much reading it and seeing all your beatiful pictures. We made almost the same itinerary as you and I was glad to meet Ahmed again in your pictures and also our Luxor-Aswan guide Mohamed who was a GREAT guide. I'm sure he made as good relation with Matt as he did with my kids.
Keep writing, please.
andonius is offline  
Jan 24th, 2010, 07:56 AM
  #7  
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Sorry...work has been hectic this past week.

Day Two: Cairo
Our first full day in Cairo began with a 7am wake up call. We learned early on that this was not going to be a trip to lie in…our days would start early and would be packed full from beginning to end. Rest up before you go…there is so much to see and the schedule can be very demanding.

Also, make sure you eat a full breakfast before you start your day. The breakfast buffet at the Mena House was a real treat and had everything you can possibly imagine…pastries, eggs, meats, pancakes, several different bean dishes, cheeses, fresh juices, etc. There are plenty of choices for all ages.

Ahmed had told us to not only eat breakfast but to also bring along some snacks for the day since we would be having a late lunch. I had brought granola bars from home and we also took along some fruit every day. These snacks came in very handy during our long days of sight-seeing.

Ahmed met us in the lobby around 8am. It was great to finally meet him in person after countless emails going back and forth. We loved Ahmed from the very first minute! He made us feel very welcome and comfortable. He’s tall, about 6’1” to 6’2”, which is great because it’s easy to find him in a crowd! He has a very warm, friendly manner so you immediately feel a positive connection to him. AND…as a bonus…he has a wonderful sense of humor. Not only did he make our tour through his city interesting but he also made it fun!

Note: I had arranged for Ahmed to supply us with a Vodafone and pre-paid SIM card before we left for Egypt ($75.00). We found this a very useful, inexpensive way to stay in touch with all our reps while we were there. Ahmed had pre-programmed his number into the phone and we had each one of our reps do the same along the way…very useful. It was so convenient to be able to call Ahmed any time we needed anything. He was always available. If you already have an unlocked GMS cell phone…then you are good to go. If not, it’s easy to pick one up and then you have one for any future overseas trips!

Our first stop on the day’s schedule was the Egyptian Museum. We made our way through Cairo traffic and I must say the daylight did not make the traffic any less chaotic. Ahmed used the time in the van to go over all the basics we needed to know…Ahmed’s boot camp basics. He prepared us well…what to eat or not to eat, what to expect from the different sites he had planned for us, how to deal with the aggressive vendors we’d meet all along the way, to tip or not to tip for the bathroom, etc. Some of us listened better than others…..as you will see later in this posting!

The Egyptian Museum is huge…you could spend days looking at everything. We got there early since this was the high season for tourists and the crowds would get thicker as the day went on. Ahmed grabbed our tickets and led the way to the second floor, which houses King Tut’s exhibit…the one we had requested to see.

King Tut’s burial treasures are extraordinary! We enjoyed seeing his death mask, after seeing it in numerous pictures over the years. I was surprised at the level of security…you could walk right up to the exhibits encased in basic glass enclosures. After seeing all his treasure, it is hard to believe he only ruled for nine years until his early death at the age of 18/19. Wow….there is no telling what his bounty would have looked like if he had lived longer! His funeral accoutrement is so opulent and the handiwork is beautiful.

FYI – the Egyptian museum is old and dirty. You pass through a security gate at the entrance and there are a lot of “Antiquities” guards walking about with guns over their shoulders. You quickly become used to seeing them milling around and at some point you accept them as part of the scenery. I never once felt threatened by any of them…in fact…they look pretty harmless. BUT…they are there in the event anything bad happens.

We knew we had to keep going in order to be able to pack everything into our day…so we decided to forgo the mummy exhibit, which requires the purchase of an additional ticket, and opted for the animal mummy exhibit. This was really neat…they even have a crocodile mummy! It was interesting to see which animals were chosen to accompany their owners to the afterlife…..a crocodile????

Our next stop was the Golden Eagle Papyrus shop. We had a delightful Egyptian woman, Ola; demonstrate how papyrus is prepared for use as paper. The process is almost the same as it was thousands of years ago. About the only difference is the introduction of the use of a vise to squeeze the water out and to advance the drying of the papyrus. She also showed us how sturdy the papyrus is after it has dried…reminded me a little of the Bounty paper towel commercials...

While we were deciding about our purchases, we heard the call to prayer and noticed that several of the men in the shop walked out back to pray. The call for prayer is signaled at different times during the day…I loved hearing the call for prayer and got to the point where I found myself anticipating it just before it would ring out.

After a couple purchases, we loaded back up into the van and made our way across the Nile to Giza. Ahmed had purposely planned the trip to Giza for the afternoon, after the morning haze had burned off. This was a perfect plan because by the time we arrived just around 1pm…the morning haze had indeed burned off and the sky provided a beautiful backdrop for these incredible structures.

Nothing we had ever read or seen about the great pyramids adequately prepared us for the awe we felt standing in the shadows of these incredible man-made structures. It really is hard to grasp that these were made by men without the advantage of modern day machinery. It is easy to understand why the pyramids at Giza are considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World!

A funny thing happened to Matt as we were walking from Khufu’s pyramid (the oldest and largest) to Khafre’s pyramid. He was lagging behind us, taking pictures, and was approached by men selling souvenirs. They walked up to him trying to get his attention. Being polite, he stopped and as soon as he stopped, they placed a scarf and band on his head…he looked like an Arab sheik…and told him it was a gift. Then they tried to sell him something and literally cornered him until he convinced them that he had no money…which was true. They weren’t happy with him at all!!! By the time we realized Matt was not following along directly behind us, we back-tracked until he caught up with us and told us what had happened. He blamed us for not waiting up for him. Ahmed told him in the future to just keep walking and not heed their cries for his attention, especially if you are lagging behind the group. Lesson number 2….

Matt opted to go down inside Khafre’s pyramid…Ivey and I passed. Matt had to crouch for about 100 yards because the ceiling height is about 4 feet. Once in the burial chamber, he said the temperature rose dramatically and got to the point of being uncomfortable. Needless to say, he didn’t last long. He said that the best thing about going down inside the pyramid was listening to all the different languages being spoken while he stood in the burial chamber. He also thought it was neat to be able to say he had gone inside a pyramid. However, Ivey and I did not regret our decision not to venture down!

After walking around the pyramids and a lot of picture taking…we rode over to where all the camels hang out just beyond the pyramids with the Bedouins. After negotiating the price, the three of us climbed aboard our camels and took a ride in the midst of the pyramids…SO MUCH FUN! We prompted the owner for the names of our steads and he yelled out…Mickey Mouse and Charlie Brown…we think they were named on the spot. We really enjoyed our camel ride!

Our last sight-seeing stop for the afternoon was the famous Sphinx. Again…nothing really prepares you for seeing this up close and personal. The crowd was much thicker here than at the other sights and you had to push yourself into the stone hallway that feeds into the open area around the Sphinx. At one point, Matt had to tell his dad to “claim his space”! Once out in the open, there was plenty of room to enjoy the view and we sat for a long time just letting it sink in.

On our way out, Matt noticed a Kentucky Fried Chicken place just outside the gates. He said something to Ahmed, who chuckled and said “oh….Kentucky Fried Camel”. It seemed so out of place with its’ blaring red sign!

By the time we stopped for lunch at 3:30pm, we were starved. Ahmed took us to a restaurant called Caviar, just across the street from the Mena House. The food was delicious…we loved the Sea Bass! While we were sitting there, Ahmed pointed out our hotel across the busy street. I couldn’t believe it was the Mena House…the street noise was awful! Thank goodness we had him make sure we were not given any of those rooms.

We lingered over lunch for a long time. We thoroughly enjoyed listening to Ahmed tell us more about living in Cairo. For us, this was one of the big bonuses of having Ahmed with us and only us! We loved seeing all the famous sights but we really treasured our time with Ahmed! We did not want to leave but we knew we needed to rest…we were exhausted! We had reached our saturation level and needed a little break.

Ahmed and Mahoud dropped us off at the Mena House so that we could rest for about an hour before the Giza Light Show at 6pm. After a short respite, we met Ahmed in the lobby, and climbed into the van for a quick ride through the neighborhood behind the hotel. It was a short drive but it was neat to drive down these narrow streets and witness the evening neighborhood activity. My only regret is that we didn’t have the energy or time to do more investigating…next trip!

Note…the nights are much cooler! We noticed people carrying blankets in… We had bundled up in layers and wind breakers and were still a little chilly! But, we enjoyed the show anyway. It is a little dated but it was neat to see the Sphinx lit up with laser lights.

The show lasts about an hour. There are several shows each night in different languages. I was relieved that the English speaking show was first since we were tired and ready to make it an early night. We had a full day planned for Day 3.

We returned to the hotel, put our feet up, and enjoyed our view from the balcony. We had had a very successful day of sight-seeing and were looking forward to one more day in Cairo!
Lollie14 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2010, 09:03 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 290
GREAT report, Lollie! Makes me want to go back!
abby97 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2010, 09:16 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2010
Posts: 7
What happened to Matt's "gift" scarf at the pyramids? Did he manage to keep it? I was often offered such "gifts" and wondered what would happen if I just took them and said thanks and kept walking.
Mr_Abby97 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2010, 01:23 PM
  #10  
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Mr_Abby97
It was so funny to finally find him walking up to us wearing the head scarf and band...yes, he did keep it. He went right along with the whole charade knowing full well that he had no funds. He said that the guys who cornered him where not happy with him at all but he escaped unharmed....maybe you just didn't look broke enough!
Lollie14 is offline  
Jan 27th, 2010, 12:47 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 79
Something similar to what happened to Matt with the scarf, happened to one of my sons at Gizah.
When we were walking a guy approached him and put something like a scarf in his hand. He then insisted hard to be paid for it. Ahmed (who was walking ahead with the rest of us) just turned back, took the scarf and very calmed gave it back to the guy without saying a single word. He then advised us just to ignore this guys.
Also at Cairo airport, when we arrived and were pulling our luggage chariot to the van, another guy came and tried to take one of them to a taxi that was there. The Agent, who was with us all the time, started yelling at him. I don't know what he said, but it was effective, he inmediatly left the luggage and a policeman that was near approached us and stayed there until we put all our luggage in the van.
In most places, like Khan el Khalili or Aswan market, walking with our guide was just enough to keep pushy vendors away from us.
But if they approached, we quickly learnt just to ignore them and don't even look at their merchandise. It works.
andonius is offline  
Jan 27th, 2010, 08:35 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 493
We will be in Cairo in early May. Can you give me a rough figure of what Ahmed charged for his services? Thanks.

Jinx Hoover
_jinx_ is offline  
Jan 29th, 2010, 05:57 PM
  #13  
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Jinx

Feel free to email me at [email protected] for particulars about cost. I am sure that there are lots of factors into computing total costs...time of year ( we went during the busiest time), hotels ( we had three people traveling...our son often had his own room at a single rate), cruise ships, etc. but I will be happy to tell you about our experience.
Lollie14 is offline  
Jan 29th, 2010, 10:53 PM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 3,902
Great trip report... and you said you wouldn't do a good job.. well, you're wrong! It's fabulous! Keep writing, I am waiting for the next instalment.
MissGreen is offline  
Jan 31st, 2010, 09:32 AM
  #15  
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Posts: 44
Thank you for hanging in there with me….. Sorry, they are so stretched out. I will try to find the time to be more consistent.

Day Three – Cairo

Our first stop for the day was Coptic Cairo where we saw Saint Sargius Catholic Church, Ben Ezra Synagogue, and the monastery and church of St. George, “the hanging church”.

The old street is one level below the current street level and as we walked through the narrow alleyways, we couldn’t help but wonder what else is covered up by sand waiting to be discovered. Coptic Cairo looks and feels very old, obviously since these houses of worship are the oldest in Cairo, but we were struck by the “seasoned” look of everything…most notably the doorways to individual establishments. Most of the old, battered wooden doors are surrounded by interesting carved stone detail and many are topped with a curved archway. Matt noticed the wooden balconies above our heads, they looked ancient and probably not a safe place to stand and watch the crowds. We marveled that they still had the strength to remain attached and suspended in air. We kept a slow pace through the cobbled streets and tried to get a sense of what life must have been like thousands of years ago.

The Saint Sargius Church is one of the oldest Christian churches in Egypt. It is small and dark but houses an incredible story. When Herrod ordered all the first born sons to be murdered, the holy family fled to Egypt and sought refuge in a crypt in Cairo. It is believed that this church was built on top of this crypt, which exists at the back of the church behind the altar. We stood at the top of the stairs which lead down into the crypt; it is currently closed for renovation, and let the story come to life...a remarkable feeling.

The Ben Ezra synagogue is the oldest in Egypt and has a beautifully carved wood pulpit. It also has the most amazing carved wood walls with mother of pearl inlay.

We walked by some of the original walls of the Roman fort on our way to the hanging church. Sometime after the 6th century, the Romans built this fortress and the hanging church was built on the fortress walls. The church sits high and is flooded with light. It has some beautiful stained glass windows and the most amazing carved wood walls inlaid with mother of pearl, similar to the ones we saw in the synagogue. Hanging on the walls above the wood inlay are beautifully colored icons painted on metallic gold backgrounds and standing against the walls are glass enclosures holding relics, with the most famous being the relics of St. George.

After visiting the hanging church, we climbed back into the van for a short drive to the oldest mosque in Egypt, built 1400 years ago. On the way in, we were asked to remove our shoes and I was given a lovely Kelly green hooded robe to wear. The guys nicknamed me Obie One Kenobi.

The mosque is HUGE and we spent a lot of time walking around. The red carpet is marked with thousands of rectangular shapes representing space for one person to knell, facing Mecca, while they pray. There is an open area in the center, with a beautiful marble floor and a communal basin for washing. Located throughout the perimeter of the mosque are avenues of beautifully carved wood arches held by marble columns. Other than a custodian and a handful of people milling about, we were the only ones there so it was hard to imagine what it must be like when it is full but it must be pretty spectacular given its immense size.

We rode through Cairo traffic to our next stop, the Khan El-Khalili bazaar. While we were riding, we noticed that a lot of the buildings are unfinished; the top floors have rebar shooting out the top and stairways that lead to nowhere. Ahmed told us they are houses and that the owners leave them unfinished for two reasons; taxes and for the next generation to build their home after they marry. He explained that many homeowners establish their place of business on the ground level and build their home on the next level. As their children marry, they build their homes on the upper levels. He warned us not to be fooled by the exteriors…they are quite finished on the inside and that we would be surprised how beautiful and even opulent some of them are.

The Khan El-Khalili marketplace is a bee-hive of activity with scores of shopkeepers selling tunics, scarves, shoes, jewelry, wooden boxes, etc., almost anything you can imagine. The colors of all the tunics hanging outside the shops are vibrant, and wash the bazaar in a kaleidoscope of bright colors. It was hard not to get distracted by all the colors as we followed Ahmed through the maze of narrow alleyways.

After a little shopping, we stopped at El Fishawy café, the most famous tea house in Cairo. It sits right in the middle of all the hubbub of the market and serves drinks, especially known for its’ mint tea, and sheesha. The waiter told us that it has been there for over two hundred years and is open every day except during Ramadan when it doesn’t open until sunset. It is obviously a very popular place and was packed with tourists and locals alike. It was fun to sit and watch the world go by.

Our afternoon was spent in the Sakkara countryside, our first chance to travel outside Cairo. The Step pyramid, designed by an architect named Imhotep, is the oldest of all the pyramids in Egypt and is located in Sakkara. It was a gorgeous day so we spent a lot of time walking around the pyramid and just enjoying the open air of the countryside.

We made one stop on our way to lunch at Oriental Rugs. We were shown how they make silk and wool rugs. Matt and I were given the opportunity to sit at a large loom and make a couple stitches to a rug that a young Egyptian girl was working on. There are about one thousand stitches per cubic centimeter in a silk rug and it takes one person about six months at eight hours a day to make one 4’x6’ silk rug…can you believe it? I do after making a couple stitches myself.

After our lesson, we were taken upstairs to the gallery of finished rugs and the obligatory sales pitch dance. We were directed to seats and were brought out refreshments as rug after rug was brought over for our scrutiny. I noticed that the guys became scarcer as the negotiations for a small prayer size rug ensued. At one point, I saw them standing in the stairwell, shaking at the knees, looking for a quick get-away. After a slew of counter-offers, I even think Ahmed was a little amused, the price was agreed upon and we left with a beautiful “Tree of Life” small silk rug.

Next, Ahmed took us to a delightful country restaurant. I had been looking forward to this lunch ever since I saw Liz and Richard’s, (fellow posters), pictures from their visit. As soon as we walked down the steps to the restaurant, two women summoned us over to the stone oven where they were baking pita bread. They gave us each a piece of puffed pita bread…which was delicious, fresh out of the oven. We had our pics taken with them then moved over to the table where we ate fabulous food; baba ganoush, tahini, marinated veggies, shish kabobs, and more.

The day was getting late when we left the restaurant so we had to start making our way to the airport for our flight to Aswan. Traffic was horrendous and it took almost two hours to get to the airport. Ahmed called Abby97 while we were in route…she and MrAbby97 were a few days ahead of us. It was great to hear her voice and to find out how she was doing…plus she had great tips which we found very useful! Thanks Abby97! We dropped Ahmed off at his parents along the way and were very sad to say goodbye. We knew we were going to miss his fantastic companionship and wealth of information. Hopefully we would get another chance to see him at the end of our trip.

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our flight…in fact, more than enough time since our flight was delayed, for no apparent reason, for about an hour and a half. Like Ahmed says…”Egyptian Time”. Evidentally, this happens fairly frequently with the flights in country so be prepared. Whenever anyone in the waiting area inquired, they were told we would be loading soon and that was all. Eventually we made it to Aswan, about two hours later than scheduled.

Our Aswan handler, Khalid met us at the airport, grabbed our bags and led us out to a waiting van to be transported to our hotel, Movenpick. The hotel is located on a small island, called Elephantine Island, named so because it was a major ivory trading center in ancient times. A ferry services access to the island and we jumped on board around midnight.

Khalid rode over with us and checked us into the hotel and by the time our heads finally hit our pillows, it was well after one am. We were absolutely exhausted and knew we needed to grab as much sleep as possible in order to be ready for our first day in Aswan, and our first meet with our delightful Upper Egypt guide, Muhamed.
Lollie14 is offline  
Feb 8th, 2010, 09:33 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 37
Enjoyed reading your trip report. How do i find the thread for your report on Aswan?
Pawan is offline  
Feb 9th, 2010, 09:36 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 842
Lollie-do you remember the room you had a Movenpick aswan?? Ahmed has us staying there 2 nights-then to Abu Simbel & back to there before our Nile Cruise. I like a quiet room with a nice view and comfy beds. I'm not asking for much?LOL Looking forward to hearing about hearing about your guide in Upper Egypt. Thanks Chris
BeniciaChris is offline  
Feb 10th, 2010, 04:11 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 79
BeniciaChris:
If it helps, our rooms at the Movenpick in August (also arranged by Ahmed)were numbers 462 and 464. I found them very comfortable, with excellent Nile views, very comfortable beds and air conditioning and very big. They were very quiet and I remember sitting in the balcony at night hearing the sounds from the hotel gardens and the river while watching the beautiful mountain with the tombs of the nobles in front of me. I Wish I was there!!!
I think all rooms in that wing are similar in size and commodities. As the hotel is in the middle of an island you will not be disturbed by noise and your main choose is between Aswan or Mountain view. I prefer Mountain view, facing green Kitchener Island and the sandy mountains in the back, but the Aswan view is also very nice.
The Movenpick was my kids preferred hotel in Egypt;they liked very much the pool and the brakfast buffet.
Don't miss the view from the bar at the top of the hotel Tower. It's a must.
You can have more information of the hotel, Aswan and Abu Simbel at my trip report in that forum.
andonius is offline  

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