Category Archives: Accommodations

where we’ve stayed

Pre-Wedding at the Fairmont

The American Contingency

Travel There: Photos, Metal Detectors and Machine Guns

So it was here, the reason we had come to Egypt.  My nephew Bassem is very dear to both of us and his wedding is just about the only thing that could have convinced Bill to go Egypt.  On the afternoon of the wedding, we left our room at the appointed hour and headed to the lobby for pictures.

Pictures at Four

Family members were told to be in the lobby at four for pictures, but it quickly became obvious that was 4 PM Egyptian time.  The American contingency was dutifully in the lobby by 4:15, but it was a very lonely lobby.  I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the time I spent visiting with the guys, Bill, Steven and John, but in spite of myself, I was wishing I’d had a little more time to solve the electrical emergency.  I had really wanted those tendrils.

All dressed up with somewhere to go.

About 4:45 the Egyptian contingency wandered into the lobby and we were a good-looking bunch.  When everyone was assembled we were marched out onto the lawn to be photographed.  There was a certain amount of frisson, but I blamed it on wedding jitters and a ticking clock.  What I didn’t know was that the bus to take us to the wedding hadn’t arrived yet and there were serious negotiations going on with the hotel about how many guards with machine guns would escort us to the wedding.

Yes, I Said Machine Guns

There was a certain amount of friction throughout the trip about the status of the people in our party.  We were visiting just days after the Palm Sunday bombings, so security was high.  Most of the members of the family were Egyptian, in origin if not in passport, but they considered themselves Egyptian.  Some of the exceptions were pint-sized kids born in the US to Egyptian parents, but they looked just like any kid born to an Egyptian – olive skin, dark curly hair and big brown eyes.  The other exceptions were Steven, John and myself.  We looked like tourists, plain and simple, and American tourists at that.

Even though most of the people in our party considered themselves Egyptian, that’s not how the other Egyptians saw us at all.  To them we were a bunch of foreigners.  The idea of 20 or 30 of theses foreigners traveling by bus from the Fairmont to a Coptic Church created fear and trembling to the hotel’s staff.  They intended to keep their name off the evening news by providing us with protection, and that protection was two guys with machine guns.

On the bus with the groom

To my Egyptians, the armed guards seemed like a red neon arrow pointing to us saying, “Blow this bus up!”  While the photographer tried to get pictures of the whole crew smiling at once, some very tense conversations were going on behind the scenes.  The bus arrived and a compromise was reached.  We’d have one armed guard and his machine gun would stay out of sight unless needed.

The machine gun guy did pretty good.  He looked just like most of the rest of the guys on the bus – dressed in a suit, headed to a wedding.  As we approached the church, he unbuttoned his coat and wrapped his fingers around the gun.  I can assure you that did not make me feel more secure.

Entering the church was just like entering a hotel, museum or other area.  You either put your purse on the table or cleaned out your pockets.  Then you entered the metal detector.  On the other side, someone would rifle through your belongings to be sure that tiny beaded bag didn’t have a weapon in it.  Perhaps they would frisk you for whatever reason they picked out, be it concern or just a random practice.  We stood around on the steps of the church for awhile and then it was showtime.

Come back next week and hear all about it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

My Ahhhhhh Day

TRAVEL THERE: TAKING IT EASY

After seeing off the guys, my first stop was the laundry.  I was wondering if they’d be able to press my dress and Bill’s suit for the wedding.  Nope, they were closed for the holiday.  That determined a lot of what I’d be doing for the day.

An Hour at the Spa

The spa was on the other side of the pool.  As soon as I exited the building, a nice lady wanted to help me out with my pool arrangements, but I didn’t want a towel, a chair or a cabana.  I was just passing through.

If you’re interested, the spa was quite nice.  I spent my hour on the treadmill,  I actually prefer a recumbent bike to a treadmill, but I wasn’t at home.  There was a nice variety of workout machines and stations, but no bikes, so I made do.  The gym area was neat, attractive and clean, not the cluttered mess of some hotel’s workout rooms and all the equipment worked!  They had bottled water, towels, magazines and other amenities to enjoy.  More than once an attendant checked on me to see I had everything I needed.  High points for the spa.

Those Semi-Wrinkled Clothes

In spite of folding tissue paper in with our wedding clothes, as my mother had taught me to do, when I pulled them out of the suitcase in the wee hours of Saturday night, they looked like a wadded mess.  Late Monday morning all Bill’s suit needed was a little touching up, but my dress was still pretty pathetic looking.  The bodice with all the beads were fine, but that full skirt looked pretty bad and the sheer lace over-blouse was still a mess.  Since attacking it with an iron almost ensured I’d melt some of the sheer chiffon in the skirt, I tried the old traveler’s trick – a steamy bathroom.

I hung the dress and blouse up over the toilet, glad for the commode’s lid, and took a very long hot shower with the shower door open and the bathroom door closed.  By the end of the shower I had a lake on the floor and the room was pretty steamy, but the gown needed more.

I toweled down and put on the fluffy terry robe provided by the hotel.  I made the water from the shower even hotter than I could tolerate on my skin, opened up the hot water tap on the sink all the way and escaped from the bathroom, trying to leave as much steam as I could behind.  I gave it about 15 minutes and then checked on the progress.  The room was all steam, but the dress was still a little wrinkly.  I turned off the water, gave my outfit a good shaking out and then left everything in the steamy bathroom.

As the wrinkles melted, I caught up with my travel journal, spent some time on social media, read a little, did some crossword puzzles and entertained myself with various distractions.  I’d opened the window to the perfect weather outside and was glad the hotel actually had operable windows.  I enjoyed hearing cocks crow throughout the nearby neighborhood and I’m pretty sure I heard a peacock.  Some kind of black birds cackles dominated the sound track for a while, but they moved on.  I’m sure there were traffic noises, but thankfully, faint enough to ignore.  From time to time I’d hear the crash of a metal tray or the sound of something heavy being dropped.  It was pleasant.

A return to the bathroom revealed the steam had all dissipated.  The dress was fine. The over-blouse still needed some help.  The room had a very nice full-sized ironing board with a heavily padded cover which I wished I had at home.  The full-sized iron had markings in both English and Arabic.  I was in business.

The blouse took no time at all, but the suit actually ended up giving me some challenges.  I wished I had put it in the steamy bathroom after all, but now it was too late to start all over.  Just about the time I got it and Bill’s white shirt professional laundry perfect, in walked the man himself.  He was earlier than I anticipated.  Khan-il-Kalilli had been a big disappointment, a dearth of dealers because of the holiday and far too dirty to be enchanting.  They’d found a cafe and enjoyed some down time, too.

Now Bill was ready for a nap and it was time to start on my hair and makeup.  Comeback next week and see what happened next.

Leave a comment

Filed under Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Wedding Morning Breakfast at the Fairmont

Quiche at Le Marche

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT I DID ON THE DAY OF THE WEDDING

Waking up in my hotel room, my first thought was, “This is it.  Bassem and Mariam’s wedding day.”  My next thought was a sense of gratefulness that I hadn’t allowed Bill to talk me into a tour on the day of the wedding.  I planned to relax all day.

Back to Le Marche Cafe

When we headed out of the room on our second morning at the Fairmont, there was no question about where we’d have breakfast.   We were going to Le Marche, as much for the delicious food as for our friend, Ahmed. We were momentarily disappointed when Ahmed was not there to greet us, but when we asked for him, the other guy faded into the background and a wide-smiling Ahmed appeared to welcome us back.

We sat down to peruse the menu and enjoyed several chance encounters with family, who passed to and fro in the lobby.  The groom scooted by on an errand, then along came the bride and her mother with a trail of attendants.  The attendants were in charge of the luggage and a rolling rack which was transporting the wedding gown.  Don’t worry the gown was completely covered, so there was no peeking.  Double kisses all around!

Next to arrive were nephew Steven and his friend John.  They decided to join us for breakfast and enjoy the attentions of Ahmed, the new friend of the family.  The meal was delightful.  I ordered a scone and got a second one on the house.  Steven ordered a chocolate croissant and got a Danish to boot.  Bill was delighted by his generous slice of quiche.  John, however, did not have such great fortune with his selection.

John’s Egyptian fantasy meal was a plate of fresh dates and figs.  He arrived a day or two before we did and asked for this delicacy at every opportunity and though he continued his quest throughout the whole trip, I don’t think he found it anywhere.  So much for Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Ahmed was so disappointed to admit he couldn’t provide the plate of dates and figs, but he suggested fruit instead.

John wanted to know how the fruit was presented.  “Is it on a platter or in a bowl?” John asked.  “Whatever you like,” Ahmed assured him.  “Is it a fruit salad?” John asked.  “No,” Ahmed replied, “it is a salad in a bowl.”  That being settled, John decided to see what would appear.

Ahmed roamed back and forth between the kitchen and the table.  Beverages were the first to appear and for awhile it seemed that was about all we were going to get.  Then the orders dribbled out.  First the pastries.  Then a while later, Bill got his quiche.  We were all just about done, when we started making noise about the missing fruit.  Ahmed was contrite in his protestations and assured us the fruit was almost there.

Ahmed, you were a treasure, but the fruit bowl, salad or whatever was a disappointment!  I’m sure any American could have driven to the nearest Kroger, bought some grapes, apples and oranges, returned home to chop them up into a bowl and then delivered them to the family, faster than Ahmed delivered up the same boring bowl from somewhere in the bowels of the Fairmont.  Not even a pineapple slice, no melons, nothing.  Just grocery store fruit!

Going Separate Ways

Bill was still having a difficult time believing I did not want to fill up every moment of the trip with tours and museums, but I was truly new and improved.  When Steven and John suggested he join them for a trip to the Khan-il-Kalili, I had my fingers crossed he’d join them, so I could have some alone time.

The crossed fingers worked.  The guys headed off on their adventure and I created my own spa day.  Come back next week and see how it went.

Leave a comment

Filed under Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

A Word About Planning

The whole gang, bride and groom front and center

TRAVEL THERE: IT’S TOUGH TO PLAN FOR EGYPT ON YOUR OWN

The big wedding day we’d come to Egypt for had arrived, but I had no role in it until about four Egyptian time, which turned into more like 5:30 real time.  It’s taken me a while, but I am finally learning to pause when I travel.  Cruises force you to do that and I have noticed that I enjoy them immensely.  I had resisted Bill’s suggestion that we go on a tour on the day of the wedding, for which both of us ended up being very grateful.  While Bill and I slept late on the wedding day, let me tell you a little bit about the planning for this trip.

A Different Travel Planner

This trip was very different than most of our travels, because I didn’t plan it.  At first, I assumed planning would fall in my jurisdiction, but since I wanted to rely on a travel agent for a trip of this magnitude and my travel agent wanted to rely on third party packages, Bill ended up working it out himself.  He looked to me to assist by researching attractions, landmarks and museums I wanted to see, but he took over the rest.  In part, that’s because he wanted to be sure we got the Egyptian rate.

Egyptians don’t pay the same amount as tourists in Egypt for most things.  While Americans will be glad to know most Egyptian hotels are bargains compared to the same quality hotel elsewhere, Egyptians pay even less.  This is not true at the Fairmont, however.  Rates in Dallas are pretty much the same as in Cairo and while other hotels gladly gave Bill the Egyptian rate when he showed them his old Egyptian passport, the Fairmont was a little more persnickety, demanding he have a current passport and proof of residency.

While I’m talking about planning, let me say this.  Trying to use the internet to research travel in Egypt is an exercise in frustration.  Since this was my second trip to Egypt, I’d already seen the obvious, well-known attractions which have an inkling of how to communicate with potential visitors.  I had a vague idea of the other things I wanted to see, but with the exception of a few reviews on Trip Advisor, I was pretty much on my own.  Please ignore most of the Trip Advisor reviews on Egypt.  I’m not sure what these folks were expecting in Egypt, but it sounds as if they thought they were going to Disney, “Nothing here except some ruins.”  OH PLEASE!

 

Heres your best bet for travel in Egypt

The Family Travel Agent

Bill’s niece, Mirette, is married to Ayman, which sort of makes him my nephew, but it’s by marriage on both sides and I have a hard time figuring all that out.  Paternal this, twice removed that and great or grand?  These things always confuse me!

Way back when Mirette married Ayman, I was told he was the manager of the Thomas Cook offices in Sharm El Shiek, but that didn’t register with me as “travel agent”.   To me that sounded like a financial position, because all I knew about Thomas Cook was that they had traveler’s checks.  (Remember Traveler’s Checks?)  Well, duh!

This trip was so easy for Bill.  I did the research and Ayman did the booking.  I think Bill wanted to show off his expertise and plan even more – hence my need to say no and no and no and no.  I found out we just might be kin to the very best agent in Egypt.  If Sharm El Shiek is on you list – then fuggetaboutit!  Just call Ayman.  He’s the unofficial mayor of Sharm El Shiek and he knows everybody in town, but he can book anything in Egypt.

Seriously, if you’re going to Egypt, call Ayman.  He manages the Sharm El Sheik branch of Travel Choice (a Thomas Cook company).  His email is tcsharm@travelchoiceeg.com and his telephone number is +2(069)3601-808-9.  His English is impeccable.  He’s a nice guy and he has years of experience.  Tell him Bill and Jane Sadek sent you and you’ll be treated royally!  BTW, the website is www.travelchoiceegypt.com.

As incredible as his work for us was in Sharm, he’s also good outside of Sharm.  He knows all of Egypt very well.  He’s the one who hired our driver and guide for Cairo and Alexandria.  Both were perfect – competent, courteous and conscientious.  The driver especially.  On the way to Alexandria, there was a horrid traffic jam.  He took the next exit and drove around like a chase scene from The French Connection.  At first it looked as if he’d made one of those turns you never come home from, but before I even had time to worry, he squirmed through several tights situations and had us on the Corniche.

Bill’s family is Christian and while I am no Islamophobe, it was also nice to know I was being escorted around Egypt by people Christians trust.  Our driver was a Christian who had a cross hanging from his rear-view mirror and informative stories about Believers throughout the Middle East who visited Egypt.  Our guide was a Muslim with whom we enjoyed several intelligent conversations about the effects of religion on Egypt over the centuries.  Riding through backstreets of Alexandria in a cab, which had a radio spouting religious antipathy and a driver whose grimace suggested he was resentful our our presence, made me appreciate Ehab and Zahran even more.  (BTW, it wasn’t Ayman’s fault I was in that cab, Bill decided we’d do Alex on our own.  More to come!)

Next week I’ll tell you about the ways I enjoyed my quiet morning at the Fairmont, but I had to give a shout out to Ayman.  It’s not just family loyalty that caused me to recommend him.  If he hadn’t done a bang-up job for us, I might have just allowed you to think I’d done my own bookings, but because I care about you getting the best when you travel, I’m urging you to call Ayman.

Leave a comment

Filed under Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Good Morning Cairo

Hookah Anyone?

TRAVEL THERE: MY FAVORITE THING AT THE FAIRMONT HELIOPOLIS

My favorite thing at the Fairmont wasn’t a thing at all.  It was Ahmed, the waiter in the Le Marche Cafe.  Le Marche was my favorite place for breakfast during the whole trip.  Having to face down a buffet every morning actually gets pretty old.  Le Marche was a little a la carte cafe and while the food was good, Ahmed was marvelous!

Breakfast Not Included

Breakfast-included is kind of an Egyptian thing, but since the Fairmont is so Americanized, you could make breakfast-excluded reservations.  And this is a good place to tell you, it is very Americanized.  Except for a few decor items and the over-abundance of Arab-looking staff you could be in a hotel in Middle America for all you could tell from the interior surroundings.

For some folks that’s a recommendation, but not so much for me.  I love my American creature comforts, but I also like them to come in an exotic package if at all possible.  Our next hotel will do just that, but let’s get back to breakfast.

Before we headed downstairs, I dutifully perused one of those huge leather-covered tomes I’d hidden away from us the night before.  With it I got a feel for breakfast possibilities.  Here’s a rundown from the hotel’s website:

Dining choices at Fairmont Heliopolis are truly endless that varies from Lebanese favorites at Al Dabké, genuine Egyptian cuisine at Egyptian Night, authentic Thai delicacies at Lan Tania, modern Chinese specialties at Noble House, authentic Mexican cuisine and fantastic margarita’s at Maria’s, classic Italian cuisine with a modern twist at Leonardo, All-day dining at My Kind of Place, the freshest sushi and sashimi at Saki Sushi Lounge, Indian cuisine at Raj, chill-out outdoor venue at Pizza bar, contemporary international cuisine at Aqua E Luce, French patisserie at Le Marché, fast dining style at Marilyn and pool bar serving light snacks at Blue Lagoon Bar.  

My reading told me we’d end up at Le Marche, but we were having a lazy, late morning, so I wasn’t opposed to browsing the lobby.  We walked past Le Marche and saw My Kind of Place, which had a sign announcing, “Breakfast Performing Here.”  I certainly wasn’t looking for dancing eggs and the sight of a buffet didn’t seem tempting.  Price being one barrier and the number of upcoming breakfast buffets being the next.

Marilyn’s was a Marilyn-Monroe-Themed cafe, but it looked closed right then.  We saw the Thai restaurant, the Mexican Restaurant, the Italian Place and some of the others, all waiting for dinner time.  Continuing through the lobby we happened on Aqua E Luce on the Towers side of the hotel.  They didn’t have a sign telling us breakfast was performing, but there was a buffet, which by the way did seem a little more inviting than the one over in My Kind of Place, if you are ever interested.

We kept on walking and found the Towers Pool.  It had a Pizza Bar and lots of hookah equipment.  Before I left Egypt, I also discovered it was the location for their Egyptian Night, but that story is for another day.  We began to re-trace our steps and found our way to Le Marche, just as I had anticipated, but I hadn’t imagined there would be an Ahmed!

Le Marche – ask for Ahmed!

Le Marche Cafe

Le Marche has a pastry counter filled with delectable treats and we were salivating over them when we were approached by Ahmed.  We confessed to be overwhelmed by our breakfast choices and Bill asked him if there was a menu.  Ahmed and Bill were soon swapping stories in Arabic as I drooled on my own.  Ahmed ushered us to a seat and continued his banter with Bill.

Bill suggested we share one of the croissant sandwiches with turkey and while I really wanted one of those humongous pastries, I acquiesced and asked for the bonus of a Coke Zero.  Bill isn’t much of buying beverages in restaurants, but we had come down without our water bottle, so I got my Coke Zero.  This was treat, not only because it was a splurge to get a restaurant soda, but because most of Egypt has Diet Coke, not Coke Zero and while I’d prefer a Diet Dr Pepper, I prefer Coke Zero to Diet Coke.

Ahmed was polite, solicitous and not at all inappropriate, but he should have just set down at our table.  He and Bill became fast friends in about two minutes.  The two of them chatted throughout the meal.  When we got the croissant sandwich it was delicious and plenty for two.  The conversation was so friendly I was concerned that I might be sitting most of the day.

The Rest of the Hotel

When breakfast was over, we headed out to check out the balance of the hotel.  We found the gift shop, laundry and offices.  Then we found out way out to the primary pool complex, which was extensive.  There were a number of pools, a hookah cafe, indoor squash court and clay tennis courts.  We found a pretty nice playground and gave the fitness center and spa a thorough inspection.  High marks on all counts, including the friendly staff.

We looked at our watches and realized time was flying.  Bill contacted the groom, who was in the salon getting a mani/pedi.  He was about to head over to his bride’s home to transport her to the hotel, but he offered to drop us off at his sister’s place.  That sounded good to me, because I was ready to quit carrying around gifts and start delivering them.

Come back next week for the fun!

2 Comments

Filed under Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Getting Settled in the Fairmont Heliopolis

The Newer Side of the Fairmont

TRAVEL THERE: ALL I NEED IS A DRAWER!

So by now we’re into the wee hours of the morning, but we’re so wired there’s no hope of sleep, so I start trying to organize the room for our stay.

So How Was It?

To tell the truth, I was a little disappointed.  I expected more from the Fairmont.  Except for the size, it looked good.  Nice carpet and tile.  The furniture and other appointments throughout the room were elegant, but it was a very tight room – like a cabin on a boat.  Holiday Inn Express rooms are more comfortable.

There was barely enough room to walk between the bed and the dresser.  Since Bill and I are thinner than most people, that means it was tight.   A stuffed chair, a desk and an upholstered rolling chair cluttered the rest of the room.  Since we had four pieces of luggage – two full size bags and two carry-ons – what space there was disappeared.

One thing I can brag on was the closet.  It was certainly ample, with a full size iron and ironing board inside.  However, there was virtually no other storage place.  No drawers for your drawers, if you know what I mean.  The dresser was filled with a mini-bar, supplies for the coffee machine and a safe.

Most people would probably think the bathroom was top notch with a bidet and a walk-in shower, but I’m not the walk-in shower type.  I’m a bubble bath type.  So while I could wash my privates with ease, a privilege overlooked at most American hotels, I would have preferred to soak them in a deep tub.

Overcoming Claustrophobia

Once the bellman was gone, I had a moment of, “I can’t stay in this tiny room for three nights!”  I immediately settled myself down and set to making the room manageable.  The first thing I did was banish the overwhelming clutter of reading material the Fairmont had spread across the room.  The leather covered binders and folders were huge and there was a selection of magazines.  There were paper tents to explain my pillow choices, door hangers for room-service breakfasts.  Even the tv remote had a leather cover!  All nice, but perhaps they should modify the size of them to jive with the room.  I’m sure all that stuff looked just right in an expansive suite, but in my small corner of the hotel, they only emphasized the clutter.

The first thing I did was find a corner in which to hide the carry-ons.  They didn’t have any of our stuff in them, only gifts.  I’d need them soon, but not when I woke up.  Next I opened the largest suitcase which the bellman had put on the luggage rack and pulled out the toiletry bags to stow them away in the bathroom.  That portion of the room was more adequately-sized than the rest of the space.  I think one person with a single bag could stay comfortably in the room, but we were a little bigger than it was.

On this trip there was no his-suitcase and my-suitcase.  When they’d lost our luggage before, some of the bags were returned a few days later, but not the ones with my clothes or the gifts.  (This was back in the day when you got two checked bags.)  That’s why the gifts were in the carry-on and we each had half our clothes in both suitcases.  While that proved to be an unnecessary precaution this time around, I sure wish I’d done it last time I was in Egypt.

In the bathroom I found perks I liked.  There were two huge terry robes and two pairs of slippers.  Usually the hotel-provided slippers are uncomfortable-looking contraptions that my feet reject, without even slipping them on.  These were elegant little jobs with the Fairmont logo on them.  I’ve never been clear on whether those slippers are an amenity I’m supposed to take with me or leave behind.  I liked these so well that I brought them home with me and I didn’t even feel guilty, but it helped to find this article.

There were other nice touches.  Sure there was the usual shampoo, conditioner and shower gel, but it didn’t stop there.  Toothpaste, toothbrushes, sewing kit, shower cap, cotton swabs – even a nail file.  I’m proud to report they even had  a razor, which I discovered I needed.  As I write this, I still haven’t found where I misplaced mine when I was fighting the battle of the luggage scale.

One Luggage Rack!

Allowing the wrinkles to hang out of our clothes was my next concern.  That’s when I remembered the carry-ons actually had our evening clothes in them, so I had to retrieve them from the corner and pull out my sequined gown, Bill’s suit and the accouterments.  Yep they were really wrinkled, but we had a couple of days before we’d be wearing them.  I hung them up.

Next I pulled out the clothes I’d need over the next few days, which meant I had to open the other large bag.  Only one luggage rack was provided, so I had to get creative and reorganized the room.  There was a small, but sturdy looking side table for the easy chair in a corner.  I moved the chair to the corner and put my suitcase on the table between the desk and the easy chair.  Finally, I reclaimed some floor space.

Then I pulled out my wardrobe list (something I prepare for every trip, so I don’t have the what-am-I-supposed-to-wear-this-morning moment).  There were a couple of small drawers inside the closet, so I was able to get almost everything I needed for our Cairo stay into the closet and started on making Bill’s life easier.  That’s when the whole drawer for our drawers thing became a challenge.

So, I reorganized the contents of the suitcases.  Turning the suitcase on the luggage rack into Bill’s gave him easy access to what he needed and I moved the balance of my clothes into the other suitcase to be out of the way.  Finally, I could think about sleep – and I did.  Come back next week and see how the next morning went.

Leave a comment

Filed under Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

The Complimentary Cookie

Fairmont Heliopolis Lobby

TRAVEL THERE: SWANKY HOTEL, BUT NOT A SIZABLE ROOM

As long as we were in the lobby, I loved the Fairmont.  The place was beautiful.  The service was great. We were Mr.- and- Mrs.- Sadek-ed to death.  What’s not to like?

Gracious Service and Simple Perks

After check-in, we were escorted to our room. By then it was the middle of the night, but our courteous bellman showed us around our room as if we’d arrived midday. It wasn’t really necessary since the room was quite small, but he behaved as if he was showing us the Taj Mahal. Moments later the luggage arrived and we figured out just how small.

A nice touch was a plate of cookies hermetically sealed on a plate for our snacking pleasure. They also generously provided a bottle of water for each of us, each day of our stay. Bottled water is important in Egypt. You cannot drink what comes out of the tap, even if the best hotels. You’re not even supposed to wash your mouth out when you brush your teeth. You’ll find yourself searching out the ubiquitous little street-side kiosks, which sell beverages and snacks, but the daily bottle from the good hotels is helpful.

My handsome traveling companions, Bill, John and Steven

It’s Complimentary!

So now I have to tell you about my nephew Steven, who had a language-challenged introduction to his room. He’s American, like me, and he traveled from California with a buddy for the wedding.  His very blonde wife, with two small, active blonde boys, just couldn’t see facing the risk of Egypt in these dangerous times, especially when their rambunctious boys are both too young to really appreciate what they are seeing.  Steven’s very close to the groom, so there was no way he was missing the wedding.  You’ll be seeing a lot of Steven and his friend, John, in our pictures.

Upon arrival they’d been presented with the hermetically sealed cookies provided by the Fairmont – round tubes of dough with a stuffing.  At first glance you’re not sure if what you’re looking at is savory or sweet.  The bellman handed the plate to Steven with a flourish, saying, “With our compliments.”

Steven asked, “What is it?”

The answer? “They’re free.”

“I understand,” Steven replied, “but what is it?”

“They’re complimentary. They are free.  You don’t have to pay for them,” the bellman explained, wondering why this American didn’t understand his own language. Steven realized he wasn’t going to get the answer he was looking for, so he gave up.

The Language Barrier

I’d like to make a little disclaimer here. English is my only language and I speak it with such a Texas drawl that some people in the US can’t even understand me and Brits are baffled.  Twenty-three years with an Egyptian husband and I recognize maybe 10 words of Arabic.  At least five of those words mean OK, but I’m still unsure which one you use for what.

There’s something that sounds like “mish” and another that sounds like “tamim” and a selection of others which indicate to me, when I hear them, that the conversation is progressing in the right direction.  “Urubbie” is an exclamation like “WOW” and if you want to emphasis something you add “owie,” which means very – but you don’t say “owie urubbie,” even if that’s what you’re thinking.  “Shay” is tea, “shokrun” is thank you and “masalama” is good-bye.  I tried to conquer the phrase for “you’re welcome” this time, but could never nail it.  Thank goodness for nods and smiles. 

In the Egyptian hospitality world, everyone from the manager of the hotel to the maid speaks multiple languages and they’re pretty darned good at it.  Arabic, English, French, Russian – you name it and they’ll chat away. They may not have all the idioms down 100%, but they usually understand what you want and they can give you an answer. While I’m in awe of their command of languages, it’s still fun to enjoy the outtakes.

Steven is not an adventurous eater, so he didn’t try his complimentary treat until he’d checked with his uncle to find out what it was. You can understand his concern. It might have had a vegetable in it or something, right? 🙂

I didn’t have a cookie at all, but not in fear of vegetables. In spite of all the temptations, I avoided gratuitous calories and focused my intake on the magnificent meals offered at every turn. I still came home with an extra five pounds, but it could have easily been ten or fifteen.  (BTW,I was a good girl and the extra pounds were gone in a week.)

In spite of the cookies and immaculate hospitality, I can’t say the Fairmont was my favorite hotel.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you why – at least part of the reason.

1 Comment

Filed under Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL