Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Good Bye Egypt

So, here is the thing about getting back to the airport..... the return transfers ARE NOT INCLUDED. They do however provide a few vans for you. The problem is if you don't have a flight that is close in time to when the vans run, you either have to wait at the airport or take a cab on your own expense.

I chose to take the van at 12"30am even though my flight was not until 6:00am. The next van wasn't leaving until the afternoon. There were a few people whose flights left at 2and3 in the morning, so that van worked out for them. I think they really try to accommodate everyone, but some people just get unlucky (me ), and they cant run a van for just one or two people. Sherif told me that there was a nice mall there and I could check my luggage and go to the mall. He was wrong....first of all, the mall does not open until 10:00 or somewhere close to that. And, secondly, the airlines ticket counters do not open until 2 hours before the flight and you are not even allowed past security until then. There is one restaurant outside of security and if you buy at least something to drink, they will let you sit in there for however long you like. I bought a soda, and waited. It felt like forever. I don't know if it would have been a better idea to just take a taxi on my own or if I made the right decision. One note, even if you are going at an hour where the mall is open (it is right across the street from the airport ) there is no where to leave your luggage while you are there. So, unless you are only carrying a little bit and don't mind dragging it through the mall, you're kinda S.O.L.

Check in, customs and security took only a few minutes and I had a ton of time before my flight. I had a ton of extra pounds and wanted to spend them, even if it was on tacky souvenirs. I over paid for a few scarves and key chains and things like that. It was a little irritating to know I could have bought these things at the market for alot less, but I just wanted to get rid of my Egyptian money. There is a nice duty free upstairs, but otherwise, not much. Also, there is no restaurant or snack shop to get something to eat on the plane, not even anywhere to buy a bottle of water.

I flew home on Air France connecting through Paris. The flight on the way to Paris, there was no one next to me so, I slept through the whole flight. I heard them serving breakfast, but didn't wake up for it, so I have no idea what it was. Connecting through Paris was fairly easy. The flight from Paris to New York was full and very uncomfortable. I was starting to feel sick and was not a happy camper on that flight. The last few days alot of our tour had the contiki cough and I think I was starting to get it.

I have so many fond memories of this trip. I debated for a long time before I finally booked it and went, and I am so glad I did. If you are even thinking of doing this trip....don't.....just book it, you will not regret it.

Day 8

This morning we went to see the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. This is said to be the oldest remaining pyramid. There was another tomb to go in here and about 6 of us stayed behind because Sherif said it was about the same as inside the pyramids….very close quarters. I guess you figured out that I don’t do well with confined spaces, if you are the same way, you may have the same problem I did. A couple of people didn’t go in just because they were tired of seeing tombs…there were a lot of them!!!

Later, we went to see 2 mosques. I found this to be 1 of the highlights of my trip. It was so beautiful inside and quite serene. During your trip, you will get used to hearing the daily call to prayer, even the one at 4am. But learning why they do this is a whole other thing. Sherif told us a bit about his religion and why they do certain things and was quite open with us, which I really appreciated. He also allowed for a few questions. We toured the Sultan Husan Mosque and at the end it affords really great views of downtown Cairo. Ladies, be aware, if you are wearing something they deem inappropriate, you will be required to wear a cape over your clothes. To avoid this, wear long sleeves, long pants, or a skirt past your knees. Its no big deal to wear the cape (everyone in there knows you are a tourist anyway ) but some people complained of it being dirty. Also, you will have to take your shoes off to enter.

Lunch was amazing. Probably the best yet. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the restaurant, but it was near Khan El Khalili. We sat at long tables made of hammered brass (?) or maybe copper (?). They brought out so many different things for us to try, all were really good, except I didn’t like the stuffed grape leaves….I had many volunteers to take them away from me, so I know others really liked them. The best was the cinnamon rice…..delicious!!!! You must try it.

Since we were about to have some free time, a few of us decided to go back to Khan El Khalili after lunch for more shopping and then take a taxi back. It was more of the same bargaining and shopping when we went back after lunch. If you are going to go back, make sure to ask Sherif how much a taxi should cost ( I cant remember) because I remember having to haggle with the taxi drivers when they wanted to charge us a fortune. Settle on the price before you get into the cab and if you can remember to take a card from the Oasis hotel the 1st day, it might help…a few drivers didn’t know where the hotel was. BTW, the taxi ride, is an adventure in itself. You’ll be driving down the road with what seems like a million other cars on a congested highway and you look to your left and there is a camel riding next to you….quite hilarious.

Tonight is our farewell dinner. It was at the buffet restaurant in the Oasis hotel. The food was just o.k. , but it was kind of sad saying good bye to new found friends. After dinner, we sat by the pool and had drinks and chatted (mostly laughed) about all the things that had happened on our trip. Sherif joined us and ordered some Sheesha for those who wanted to try it. We got copies of every ones email addresses and said our good-byes. Some people were leaving in an hour (ME) and had to pack, others were not leaving until tomorrow morning or even some in the afternoon.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Day 7

Make sure you get up a few minutes early today, because the breakfast at the Meridian hotel is amazing. They have everything you could want…. Fresh fruit, pastries, hot items and even a guy making your own omelettes or Belgian waffles. I thought it would be pretty much the same of what we had the other days and didn’t bother coming down that early, I wish I did, because I had to scarf down my plate….but it was delicious.

We took the bus to the Luxor airport where we boarded our plane. This was more civilized than the charter in Aswan. You had to go through security and check your bags. Sherif took all our passports and got seats and boarding passes for us. There is no changing this once it is done and they will not take individual requests for aisle or window, it would take to long. You can however, change with a friend. Some people did get stuck in middle seats, but the flight is only about 45 minutes to an hour long. The airport had a little restaurant and some duty free shops, but if I remember correctly, they were not such a great deal.

When we got to Cairo, we went straight to Khan El Khalili souq. This is the market and is much bigger and had more variety than the one is Aswan. Be prepared to do major bargaining here. They start out ridiculously high and you have to almost fight with them to get your price. They are nice though, and funny too…they know they are starting out way to high. I don’t think there is any kind of trick to it, but I’d say niceness helps, but be firm too. Be prepared to walk away and if they want your business, they will come back after you. Some, however will yell at you if you have gone too low on your price. One guy told me to get the F%@K out of his store and never come back!!!! I just laughed. Most people bought statues of Egyptian gods, sheesha pipes, glass perfume vials, jewelry, stuffed camels and other trinkets. By the way, if you are looking to buy spices, buy them in Aswan. The spice market in Cairo is not in the same area where the bus drops you off. I thought I’d wait until Cairo, so I wouldn’t have to carry around spices and was disappointed when Sherif told me I would have a hard time finding them here. We broke up into groups of about 3 or 4, because waking around this market is impossible to do with 20+ people. My only complaint is that we didn’t have much time, we were only given about 1 _ hours. I know that seems like more than enough, but when you have to spend so much time bargaining with them, it goes by quickly.

The rest of the day was set aside to …pretty much….do errands, on a big tour bus. We had to go to the Papyrus factory to pick up the art for those who bought it. Then we had to get the cartouches ( which were purchased by Sherif on the Nile Cruise…they came out really nice!!!) and then we stopped at a factory for Egyptian cotton, so if you wanted to buy sheets or any thing well, cotton. I did not think there was anything here that I couldn't’t get at home, plus the prices were pretty steep, no real bargain. The place was mobbed with tour buses and NO LOCALS, so you know the tour guides are getting kickbacks for bringing people here. Then we made a quick stop for fast food lunch. There was a supermarket around the corner, so if you wanted healthier, you could go there. I went into the supermarket just to see what they have. I always find it interesting when I am in other countries to see what local products they have in the grocery. The food was so good in Egypt, that I was never craving anything “American” like a cheeseburger and fries, but as soon as I bit into the one from McDonalds, I was in heaven. Most people stopped in McDo, but there was also a KFC and Hardee’s. The people who didn’t go to the grocery were able to eat inside the restaurant, but we didn’t have enough time, so we had to eat on the bus.

We were back at the Oasis hotel. It was a bit surreal coming back into that lobby. It felt a bit as if we were coming back home. I can’t believe that just a few days ago, we all met here and were just trying to learn each others names. that we had just toured all around Egypt and done so many fascinating things. We stayed in the lobby for a bit and Sherif handed out our purchases (the cartouches and the papyrus).

That night was the sound and light show, another optional excursion. Unlike most of the others, not everyone did this one. Maybe about 10 or 11 of us did it. The others just stayed at the hotel and had drinks and hung out by the pool. It is hard for me to say whether I would recommend this excursion, because I liked it, but I thought it would be more. I guess, if you are on a really tight budget and $25.00 would be a big expense, then don’t do it. If you are able to be a bit more lenient with your money, then, by all means, go. If you decide to go, when you are being brought in, they will try to sit you up by the bar, which is good if you plan on drinking ( overpriced, bad drinks), but if you want to see the show better, keep walking down towards the Sphinx. The show is pretty much what it sounds like…they show the pyramids and the Sphinx in different colors and tell a story of how and why the pyramids came to be. It was quite interesting, but I guess I just expected a little bit more. I am glad I did it though. I can’t believe that tomorrow is our last day….

Day 6

Well, what a surprise…another very early start to our day. Those choosing to do the hot air balloon had to get up at the crack of dawn, if I remember correctly it was about 4 am. I did not do this tour because of my fear of heights, so I got to sleep in a little bit. Those who did it liked it a lot. I had breakfast and really enjoyed it as it was our last on the cruise. We headed out to the Valley of the Kings bright and early. We picked up the rest of the tour who did do the balloon ride and then took a tram up to Queen Hatshepsut’s temple. We climbed the steps and took a few photos, but we were all waiting for the main event….King Tut’s tomb.

It was so hot that day and in the middle of the desert there is no shade to hide under for refuge. We walked to a few tombs, I can’t remember which ones, and got to go inside. It was amazing to see how the Egyptians built these tombs and how well some of them are preserved. There was one where you had to climb up a lot of steps and then back down in order to even reach the entrance of the tomb. I did all the climbing but as soon as I entered, I had flashbacks of what happened at the pyramids, so I turned around and never entered. I wish I had because everyone who went in said it wasn’t half as bad as the pyramids. A few people never went into any of them, which is such a shame... If you can, at least try to go into one of them. A couple of people had upset stomachs and could not bear the heat inside the tombs and one girl was too hung-over from the night before. By the way, if you have a small hand-held fan….bring it!!!! As you can imagine, there is no photo taking in any of the tombs. They are very serious about this. A few people tried to sneak pics, and nearly got their cameras taken away from them. One guard wanted to open up a guy’s camera to take out the film and when he realized it was a digital camera, he wanted to break it on the ground. King Tut’s tomb was extra…..of course, but in my opinion it was a small price to pay. He is the only one out of all the tombs that still lays inside his coffin. There are long lines for this and those who choose not to do it must wait for all the others to come out before moving on to the next “free” tomb.

After this we went to lunch in Luxor. It was a great meal once again for very little money. After lunch, we checked into our hotel….Le Meridian. It was very nice, much nicer than the Oasis. The rooms were very comfortable with large bathrooms and a nice balcony. Most of us sat out by the beautiful pool, a few napped and a few others went to find the internet cafĂ©.

Later that evening we went to see the temple of Karnak. I am sorry to say that I don’t have much info on this temple, as I only stayed for about 10 minutes of it. I had seen so many temples already that they were starting to run into one another, plus it was so hot and crowded that myself and a couple of others decided to leave and use the internet, get something to drink and then wait in the bus. I don’t feel like I missed all that much, but I’m sure I did. Each temple was unique in their own way and this was supposed to be one of the best, but I just couldn’t take it anymore.

After Karnak we did the camel ride through the Nubian Village. It was just o.k. I believe everyone on our tour did it, and I am glad I did, but it is not something I would do again. It is pretty self explanatory, they took you on a camel ride for about 30 minutes. The guides barely spoke English and once in a while pointed out things like sugar cane. The most interesting was riding through where people actually live. You got to see inside a few peoples homes and that was pretty neat for me. After we went to some guys house where they had tea and cookies for us, but after the camel ride we all felt so dirty and smelly no one was in the mood to eat. He gave us a quick tour of his house, and unless you are at the front of the pack, you can barely hear what he is saying. BTW, it is a good idea to wear long pants and bug spray. The camels, as you can imagine, stink and there are bugs all around them.

We took a water taxi back to our hotel and had dinner at the Italian restaurant…the food was just o.k. If you can get a group of people to go outside the hotel for dinner, I am sure there are better places to eat. Maybe even a different restaurant inside the hotel (there are many). Everyone from my group ate here, so I did too. I would normally not go somewhere, just because everyone else is, but I didn’t know where else to go, and being a single girl, didn’t feel comfortable anyways. There was a little belly dancing show in the courtyard of the hotel and a few of us sat watching that for a little while. Well, the end is nearing and I am sad but excited to start the next day……

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Day 5

Today was the most leisurely of all the days so far. We were up early, as is the norm on this trip, to see Horus' temple. The story of Isis, Horus and Osiris is very interesting, and to see it told in hieroglyphics is amazing. We weren't there to long because the ship was about to set sail for Luxor today. The rest of the day was at leisure to enjoy the pool or just sit out and watch the Nile go by.

At night we went to Luxor temple. We were taken there by horse drawn carriage and it was excellent. It was nice to see the temple at night, gave it a different perspective than all the other temples. But, wear bug spray that night!!!! For some reason we all got bit to pieces by mosquitos.

It was our last night on the ship, and it happened to be my birthday!!!! At dinner they brought me out a cake and sang to me in Arabic, I also had to dance around with the waiters. It was quite fun. Some called it an early night because if you were taking part in the hot air balloon you had to get up extra early the next day.....

Day 4

This morning was the earliest wake up because we were going to Abu Simbel. The ride to the airport was only about 15 minutes on bus, but there were so many tour groups going on this charter flight that it was a bit chaotic in the airport and since seats are first come first serve, there was a bit of pandemonium once on the flight. It was about a 30-45 minute flight and if you can get a window seat on the left side of the plane you will get a great ariel view of the temples.

When we got to Abu Simbel, we sat for a while with Sherif and he explained the history of both temples and how they moved it up river.....I did tell you what a great guide he was, right??!!?? Even in the blazing hot sun, it was extremely interesting to listen to him speak. After he was done talking we were able to have some free time to explore King Ramses and Queen Nefertari's temples. You are not allowed to take photos inside the temples, but a few people were trying to anyway. Beware, if you have a guard take a photo for you, they will want a tip...that goes for any temple or monument. Then it was a quick flight back to Aswan to join our cruise. By the way even though this is an optional tour, and a pricey one at that....YOU HAVE TO DO THIS!!!!! It was amazing, definitely a highlight of my trip.

We cruised for a little bit and had lunch on board the ship. We stopped at Kom Ombo temple. This was one of my favorites, although I'm not quite sure why. Maybe the balance of good and evil? Sherif tells a short history of the sight and leads you through the temple. After, you can stay as long as you want, you just have to make it back before the cruise sets sail. The ship stays overnight in Edfu.

Tonight is the belly dancing show. After dinner we all got dressed up in our costumes for the party. Some people got more dressed up than others. It was a lot of fun with all kinds of games and music. There was a DJ playing some American type music, but it was pretty bad. They brought a belly dancer in, but I was there over Ramadan so she had to cover up. They also had a whirling dervish, he was cool to watch, better than the belly dancer, but maybe because she couldn't shake her hips or wear her normal costume it took away from the whole experience. After the party a few people went up to the top deck for some drinks and to relax by the pool. Sorry to say I was so tired from this day, that I just went to bed early and dreamt of the next day......

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Day 3

After arriving in Aswan we drove via bus straight to the unfinished obelisk. There is not really too much to write about this, it was in a granite quarry that was sweltering hot, we hiked up to see it, took a photo and climbed back down. Not very exciting. After, we drove to the High Dam and stopped to take a few photos here also.

We checked into our Nile Cruise mid-afternoon. The ship looks nice. The rooms are comfortable, the bathroom is a bit small, but not unbearable. The food was surprisingly good. It was all included ( except drinks ) and was always buffet. After a little time to ourselves ( most of us showered because of the long day yesterday and then the train ride) we rode on a felucca. We stopped at a sand dune and climbed up it ( well, halfway at least) . That was really cool, partly because I didn't expect it. It was surreal being in the Sahara Desert overlooking the Nile River. We went to the market that night, if you wanted to buy something for the belly dancing the next day, here was where to do that. That night we set sail.