“Walk Like an Egyptian” … DOH, I wasn’t going to say that…

I could not get that song (or to be precise, that line from the song) out of my head for much of the trip!!!

18th December 2010

See earlier post re our first go at trying to fly to Egypt.

22nd December 2010

Starting the trip in style (Club Class)

We were super-early to the airport as I knew of others who’d had trouble getting into the Terminal yesterday, but it was all smooth sailing… Because of the chaos, although we’d been given Club Class tickets, which usually means bag drop any time after 5am, we had to wait til 3 hours before “or your bags WILL get lost”, but once we got into Club Class – sheer bliss. I’ve been upgraded twice before and never realised that there was a lounge that goes with it… surely that’s the best bit of it. Nice & quiet, comfy seats, reading material, as much food/drink as you like… lovely! The flight out was straightforward, left on time, landed on time… (saw Made in Dagenham and most of ‘Tamara Drewe’ on the way out).

Cairo International arrivals is very unprepossessing, and I wasn’t too impressed to have my passport taken, then pushed out onto a shelf without checking who it was given back to, but still, through easily enough, a bit of a panic that GoBus wasn’t there, but then they arrived, took us to the Domestic Terminal and left us there til 4am (whilst we tried to use our £LE200 notes, not popular!), when they came back to check us in (Business Class again!)…

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23rd December 2010

A flight to Dahab, straightforward enough, and our bags eventually came out. Came out to meet another friendly rep from GoBus, who took us on the hour transfer to Dahab (which I particularly wanted to see, and definitely want to go back to!), pointing out various bits of Egyptian history! At the hotel, we were given one of many ‘Can you sit down for 5 minute?’ meetings?! I knew I wanted to scuba dive, and we both wanted to climb Mt Sinai, and the timetable (as St Catherine’s Monastry not open Friday or Sunday morning!) meant we needed to climb Friday night… so it was scuba diving 2 hours after arriving! I haven’t dived for 2.5 years, so a refresher dive was a must… After a paper test, and as Fiona was left to snorkel, I started underwater, panicked almost immediately, but excellent dive instructor (Bakr) was very calm, and eventually down I went (to 17 metres!)… I just love the underwater world!! Once Bakr was happy that I was all right underwater, he gave my camera back to me (I hadn’t managed to get a new housing for my current camera, but my Mum had posted me my old camera (broken catch/lens doesn’t open properly… give it a good bash, it opens!)…

I was so happy with my first dive that we went for a second at ‘The Canyon’ (one of the top 2 sites, the other being ‘Blue Hole’ which I’d like to go back and dive, probably need a bit more experience though!), and then, cold, and with a flooded camera, we headed back to the hotel. Quick shower, some junk food from the supermarket and time to pass out… Well, Fiona passed out.. I still couldn’t sleep so went for a walk through the shops – that’s HARD work, those Egyptians are famous hard-sellers. In one shop, I found my ‘sew on badges’ which is my souvenir of choice’, and he tried to charge me 400 Egyptian £ (LE) – that’s over £40 GBP! Got him down to 20LE (each), then he wouldn’t give change for a 50, so bought some postcards (following day, found same badges in another shop for 10 each!)…

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24th December 2010

Sleep in… then a morning reading a book by the pool (think I’m 2 books down already! quick dip in the pool – ice!), before an afternoon of snorkelling (with a disposable camera). We went off to get the camera processed, but not til tomorrow – and the shop owner isn’t too promising about the expected quality! Meantime, we go for dinner – it’s a challenge getting past all those over-keen Egyptian restaurant owners, who seem to remember who you are (although a load of them are taking a chance I think!). We liked the look of Shark (we hadn’t particularly done our research beforehand, had been given a list of ‘recommended’ but had left it in the hotel!), and it was a GREAT choice… lovely food (best Mango Juice I had all trip… in fact I had 2), and great service!! Back to the hotel to chill out and try and get some sleep before 11pm pick up for climb up Mt Sinai

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25th December 2010 (Christmas Day)

I knew this was a good ‘experience’ climb, but wasn’t expecting it to be quite such tough work! I thought with all my time in gym classes I was getting fitter & fitter but, Mt Sinai is a CHALLENGE! There was only Fiona & I in the group as GoBus arranged one specially (we had to pay for 4 people!), accompanied by a GoBus rep and our Bedouin guide Hemid… both good company and with lots to say… and it became a bit of a joke that I’ve only been in Egypt a couple of days and spent most of it holding hands with Egyptian men (my dive instructor, and both the guides helped me get up Mt Sinai)! Very good guides, left plenty of time to get to the top (I had warned them, I can keep going, but I might not be the fastest), and knew they had to go at the pace of the weakest link… so we stopped regularly! It was a brilliant moonlit night, so torches not really needed, and it was warm work. Our guide took us a ‘secret’ way (well, we only passed one other group) – from what I’ve heard there’s one ‘shallow’ way up which takes longer, or a steeper but quicker route… as nearly everyone else came up the other ‘popular/shallow’ route, I guess we went up the steep route – wasn’t that steep though…

Everyone, whichever route, has to do the last 700/750 steps created from pieces of stone, and those are quite high. Lots of swearing going on from people around… although I couldn’t believe the woman in heels! As we got towards the top (over 4000 metres above sea level), it definitely got pretty chilly! Ahmed got us a pretty good spot at the top of Mt Sinai (aside from the huffing & puffing American next to us – he wasn’t out of breath, he wanted lots of space to himself… tough luck mate!)… pretty chilly, but 7 layers about did it! So – what a way to see Christmas Day in – sunrise over Mt Sinai!

There was then, of course, the way down to encounter, but we awaited the crowds disappearing (and watched a huge Nigerian group hiking up and down the last few steps!), took more photos, then headed down. I again had my arm tucked into our Bedouin guide as I kept turning my ankle over on the rock! Way back down a lot faster, and we arrived just as St Catherine’s Monastry was opening (surrounded by rock caves where early Christians hid), and found ‘The Well’ and ‘The Burning Bush’.

Back to the hotel for a much needed wash, a chill out, and then off to face ‘the shops’, and a chance to watch the sun go down (we were too tired for more snorkelling), and then the choice of another restaurant, and settled for Ali Baba, recommended by our guides. Food was really nice, but thought the service was pretty poor (especially compared to Shark!). Final couple of drinks for the night were a wander down to ‘Dahab Divers‘ for a hot chocolate (highly highly recommended, tastes of cinnamon & coconut), and some white wine back at the hotel, after I’d picked up my snorkelling pics, and the shop had also managed to rescue my diving photos from the SD card (before it salted up). Bags all packed, ready for joining our tour tomorrow…

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26th December 2010

8am start, nice and easy to the airport. Straightforward plane journey and remembered to put my flight mode on my phone, so took a few photos from the plane! Back to the airport to meet Mohammed again, who asked if we wanted to go to the ‘Sound and Light Show’ at the Sphinx. Didn’t know what that was, but thought I would! Meantime, to the hotel, chill out in the rooms for half hour, before meeting a few of our fellow travellers (thought it was a small group, was only about 10 of us out of nearly 60!)… and heading off to the cheesiest evening ever (definitely not going to one of those again… the worst type of history, no wonder people think history is boring!)… remember to head for seats towards the front/to the right! Think it was worth it for seeing the Pyramids/Sphinx lit up at night, but there wasn’t a lot else to it, and it could definitely have done with being shorter! Bit disappointing that the coach transport turned out to be 105LE, whilst the entrance was only 70LE… that’s a lot for Egypt!

Back towards the hotel, and went for dinner with Lana. Had heard that Lamb Fattah was a meal not to miss, and had that, super tasty!! No way I could finish it though….!!

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27th December 2010

The day that we’ve all been waiting for… the Pyramids. We’re staying at Hotel Zayed… good night’s sleep but not the most amazing breakfast (but probably typical Egyptian style judging by what we got later in the trip!)… First it’s the Egyptian Museum, which is RATHER packed, and no cameras allowed! I decide not to go and see the Royal Mummies (seen loads in the Manchester Museum), but enjoy some stuff that’s a little different (once we’ve done our compulsory tour)… lots of super-decorated sarcophagi, and material that’s had interesting processes of restoration.Was following the tour guide out of the Museum when he disappeared, and then I couldn’t spot our bus… so was a bit late… as a previous tour leader myself I HATE that!!

Onto the Pyramids, and after a bit of information, time for climbing the bottom of the pyramids, and taking daft photos. We went around the other side of the first Pyramid, thought we were at the coach park, but it was the wrong coach park, so 10 minutes late back to that coach. Past the 2nd Pyramid, and onto a viewing platform for all 3! Time for a camel ride – surprisingly scary.. and a little uncomfortable about giving my camera to the camel boy, but he took great pics & I got my pictures back (unlike Fiona’s pictures, but that appears to be a computer virus rather than the fault of the photographer!). Then it’s INTO the smallest pyramid … rather claustrophobic & airless…

On round to the Sphinx and a few more pictures before we head to the Papyrus shop for a demonstration of how ‘genuine’ papyrus is made! I already have a lovely papyrus that Nicky brought me back years ago, so I don’t want one, but a few others purchase! (Apparently the ones sold for $1 are made of banana skin and will fall apart 2 weeks later…). Super speedy through the showers (2 showers for 27 people in a couple of hours…) before we head for the train station. Train is about 35 minutes late (due 10pm), so plenty of time to buy junk food if we wish on the station… then into our ‘First Class Accommodation’… really, has to be seen to be believed.

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28th December 2010

14 hours later, rather stiff after not a lot of sleep, but a lot of dozing and shifting in the seats… and we arrive in Aswan! We head for the hotel (with a swimming pool, that wasn’t expected!) but our rooms aren’t ready… as soon as they are – dive in the pool – HOW COLD!!! Quickly out to catch the last of the sun, then chance to repack the bags and have a nap with a book before we head off for our ‘Nubian Dinner’, which was a fairly typical Egyptian dinner (Chicken Tagen!), before we made our way out to the courtyard for the promised dancing.. pretty impressive, a series of traditional dances, then a Whirling Dervish, then a chance to join in before the ‘Pantomime Horse’ comes on, and proceeds to ‘kiss’ all the women, and ‘whack’ the guys on the head. Back to the hotel in preparation for another super early start…

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29th December 2010

We have a 5.30am start (or was it even earlier <edit>it was earlier, 2am wake up call</edit>), in order to join the convoy of coaches to Abu Simbel (apparently too close to Sudan, danger of tourist kidnappings or something). Abu Simbel was pretty impressive from the start, and once we realised that it had been MOVED in the 1960s I was absolutely gobstruck (and spent far too much on a book on it), as it looks like it’s been there for thousands of years! Inside the Temples (no photos) was a lot of detail, but the exhibition detailing how Abu Simbel had been moved was amazing! Very specialised work – but if they hadn’t done it, we’d have needed to scuba dive to see them.

Back to the hotel for another quick series of showers before we get on the coach down to the waterfront, to get on our Felucca (a traditional sailing type boat – no toilets!). Surprisingly comfortable and roomy, and I decide to try a beer, but only if watered down with Sprite! Nice food on the Felucca, we don’t sail that far before we stop at a local Nubian village (clearly benefiting from being an ‘Adventure Tour stop’), where there’s 2 real toilets/showers, and have a chance to ‘chat’ to the villagers (and a chance to buy some jewellery!). Back to the boat for dinner, then back up to the village with an option for henna (not for me thanks), and Sheesha (I tried it, 2 puffs, and I knew it definitely wasn’t for me!). By this point feeling incredibly sick, so took some meds and some liquid on board… which didn’t enjoy at midnight when I realised I needed to leave the boat, the Nile was high, and there’s 2 narrow planks between me and the bank/bushes! 1am, I decide I have no choice, and just about make it across the planks, then manage to fall asleep…

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30th December 2010

Another day on the Felucca, we have breakfast (well, I don’t bother!), and then we set off. This is pretty terrifying as we keep tilting almost down into the water. A few minutes later we dock… and we all think that someone already wants the toilet, but no, the wind’s too dangerous, so we’re docked until the wind dies down… which it didn’t, until after the sunset (when all Feluccas have to be docked anyway), but to be honest it didn’t make that much difference, we just chilled (I read another book), with card games, sleeping, food, drink, etc.

In the evening it was time to go onto the bank where our boat crew entertained us with music (the more we danced, apparently, the longer they would go on for), before a chance to crash out on the Felucca, ready for an early start…

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31st December 2010

A busy day this one… the Felucca has drifted to the other side of the Nile overnight, we pack up, have breakfast, pay our tips, and get onto the coach to head towards Edfu/Luxor.

First stop, the Temple of Kom Ombo, then onto the Temple of Edfu (with time for an ice cream afterwards). We’re all pretty desperate for toilets/showers by this point, so happy to arrive at the hotel in Luxor (which is apparently ‘5 star’, definitely full of ‘cruise types’ but really…?!). Does have an on site restaurant (nice burger!), and 2 pools (didn’t notice the second and the first was ice cold!)… Just enjoy chilling out there before we join up for another temple – Luxor Temple (one of the few open at night),which is pretty spectacular… and one place that would be cool to go back to see in about 10 years, when they are likely to have dug up the 3km of Sphinx between Luxor and Karnak Temples.

Then off to a ‘buffet restaurant’… not really great quality, would rather have paid more for somewhere a bit nicer. Was probably good value for what we paid… The Egyptian waiters obviously thinks that all foreign tourists drink madly, tried a Bloody Mary, but they’d ‘treated’ us to double alcohol – it was disgusting! Fortunately as I left it, they let me swap it for a glass of Egyptian red wine – very drinkable!! Also an opportunity to buy silver… quite like a bracelet but it’s “£100”!!!!!

We nip back to the hotel (a lot of people been feeling NOT good today, post-Felucca!) before heading out to Murphy’s Irish Bar for dancing (not really what I’d choose, but it was a group vote… the other option was too expensive unless everyone did it… and enjoyed it once there!)! Another glass of red, a chat upstairs until the dance floor opens downstairs – very heavy dance music. 2 minutes to midnight we hear 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. Happy New Year, and then the dance music continues.. (we all agreed it was early), so 12.01, headed back to the hotel as have a 4.30am start for the Hot Air Balloon!

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1st January 2010 (New Year’s Day)

4.30am, wake up call… only takes me 3 minutes to get dressed, so reset alarm and doze off… Just before 5am, Fiona can hear the toilet cistern going and asks me to twist a tap… unfortunately a couple of twists and it comes off in my hand, with high pressure water behind it. This is bad timing for my 5am hot air balloon (to see the sunrise)… so Fiona still has to get out of bed, ring downstairs, and then I leave her holding the tap on to stop the bathroom flooding whilst I head downstairs. I talk to reception, no one’s done anything until I say it’s in danger of flooding, and then they’re pretty quick….

Off in the bus, then we hang around for ages before we cross the Nile (good sleeping time people!), then into a minibus to our launching site. Pretty chilly at this time in the morning, but beautiful seeing these domes emerging out of the darkness, and then as the flames start roaring, absolutely picturesque. There’s 6 balloons being inflated (much better than Australian Red Centre – one balloon, looking over extremely barren landscape!) – we’re the last up, and we think we’re heading away from the Valley of the Kings and straight towards Luxor, but we have a good pilot who goes low, catches another wind thing (someone turn that into technical terminology), and takes us back towards – and then pretty high! Sun comes up, and this is all pretty amazing. Just over 40 minutes later we land… and go to join the rest of the group.

We head for the Valley of the Kings. No cameras allowed here (officially it was no flash, but people kept using them, so it’s now, no cameras – bit annoying!)… huge fines if caught! So, I buy a book about Valley of the Kings, get it for 20LE (50LE starting price) – no one else could get it any lower so pretty pleased with that! Didn’t bother with Tutankhamen’s tomb (all the stuff is pretty much in the Egyptian Museum), as thought nothing much was going to equate with the first tomb (Rameses VI?!). 2 of the other tombs we wanted to see (can see 3) were closed…

Off to Queen Hatshepsut’s Mortuary complex before heading off to the Temple of Karnak after a brief interlude back at the hotel! That was all very impressive, but we’re all a bit ‘Templed’ out by this point… Back to the hotel for the afternoon. None of us seemed to know this is what we were doing, so didn’t have the right stuff out of our bags… but found my bathers, and the heated pool, then an opp to grab a sun lounger and read a bit more. Back to Murphy’s for dinner with Glen & Rebecca (sea bass and homemade chips – lovely)… but unfortunately here it becomes clear that I’ve picked up the bug… Once safely back at the hotel, more meds, and lie on the sofa reading a book whilst others disappear off for dinner, drinks, etc. Earlier in the day I had managed to buy some papyrus in the hotel, much cheaper than at the shop we were taken to (in fact a certain amount of miffed-ness that 350 was paid for one at the other shop, this guy was offering for 100LE). I only wanted postcard sized ones (which the other shop hadn’t done), and got 3 for 90LE (all of Egyptian women – one that looks like a piece of art that I did for GCSE art (I got a C!).

Then it was back onto the coach, off to the train station, for that ‘First Class’ train ride! The train was EARLY this time – murphy’s law, I was down the platform, on the hunt for salt & vinegar Pringles (didn’t get, just as well, didn’t need!)… so bit of a scramble to get on – carriages not as well sorted this time, but ended up with Sarah & Picky in a small carriage for 3! They were pretty much organised, but once I turned up, didn’t take long to get organised, feet up on the suitcase, inflatable pillow, eye mask (an essential – can’t do ear plugs or would have done those too), small bag up out of the way. Sarah fell straight asleep, Picky & I looked at each other “hmm, not tired”… and that’s the last thing either of us remembers for 9 hours!! Pretty good going!!

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2nd January 2010

The train is 1 hour and 50 minutes late into Cairo… by Egyptian standards this isn’t late (2 hours is once it’s considered late!). Straight to the Hotel Zayed, where they let us check in straight away (brilliant!) and again we dive for the showers…

We then meet again in the lobby – a few of the group have gone off independently but the rest of us are paying 20LE to go to a Perfumery (oh yes, that’s just cos we have to…), and then onto the big market (which we understand is used by the locals so isn’t as hideously touristy as other markets…).

Perfumery – well, that’s an eye opener. We get given ‘Breakfast’ (it’s gone lunchtime by this point!) of 2 x Falafel (spicy but beautiful), and a soft drink before the owner, starts talking. He’s hilarious, this is worth 20LE (£2.20!) on it’s own. He has funny (yes, bit saucy) names for many of the perfumes, which are ‘extracted from flowers’, and form the base of most perfumes… you could name any perfume, he’d open a bottle, and there it was. This is the perfume base, can be used as is… Perfume bought in the UK is apparently 1 drop of base to 10 of alcohol, Eau de Toilette is 1 to 20. From a bunch of us not planning on buying anything, about 3/4 of us do, including me. Variety of bottle sizes, but we all go for the smallest (about £23 for 100ml) (also possible to buy the exotic looking perfume bottles). I get some Hugo Deep Red (£50 for 50ml perfume) and a bottle to decant into..

Onto the market… we get caught up in demonstrations on the street re the bombing of the Coptic Christians in Alexandria (I was deliberately avoiding the news, so had missed most of that), so have to take a big detour to the market. The market is still heaving, mostly with tourists – I wonder if, because it’s a Sunday, there’s a lot of closed shops, if a lot of the locals don’t bother at the weekend… which means it’s all the touristy shops… Wasn’t planning on a pashmina, but as Fiona and Katrina were looking, I decided I quite liked one – we got one each for about £16… apparently cashmere (who knows?), but I like it (purple with black flowers)… not into this “got to get it for the lowest possible price” if it seems a reasonable price – although I don’t want to be ripped off!! Then onto t-shirts for nieces/nephews – tried to buy for the same price as I’d bought one in Dahab… but couldn’t quite get the old guy down to that – probably would have round the corner. It’s definitely a case of when you’re not particularly interested you can get stuff for not a lot, but that I didn’t want to look again (we didn’t have much time!).

Back to the hotel, and decide to go to the same restaurant for Lamb Fattah again. Was as good as last time, but the service was TERRIBLE, our starters didn’t come out until AFTER the mains, and Fiona’s food was cold – which they then just bunged in the microwave. Time for a quick nip to the supermarket to try and find some sweets to take into work… lots of stuff from Saudi Arabia, takes a while to find anything from Egypt! To bed for the last night in a hotel… feels like we’ve largely wasted our hotels as we’ve had so many early starts…

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3rd January 2010

A seriously early start, 4.30am Egyptian time (that’s 2.30am UK time!)… but we’d prepared well the night before and we were ready in lots of time… although of course everything else ran on ‘Egyptian time’… At Cairo airport we were dropped at the door of International Departures and left to fend for ourselves (something we really hadn’t had to do for 2 weeks!!), very straightforward, but a bit of a different experience from the way out as we were down in ‘World Traveller’ (not even ‘World Traveller Plus’… what’s the difference? 5 inches and first choice on the menu?)…

A straightforward flight backwards, and I finally got a chance to watch ‘The Social Network’ (thought it was well paced), plus a bit of dozing! We landed early, our bags came straight through and I said goodbye to Fiona by 12, strolled confidently over to National Express to get home with my open-return… to find it was a busy day and the first coach was 5.15pm. I thought about getting the train into London, etc. but that was an extra £40, plus yoiking my bag up and down the Tube, to save maybe 3 hours!! So, a bit of enforced rest… I found a couple of magazines, a seat in ‘Giraffe’, some lunch, and chilled out til the coach left (late!), then treated myself to a taxi home, forced myself to unpack… then fell asleep… (for 19 hours!).

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