Category Archives: Accommodations

where we’ve stayed

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Welcome to the Fairmont Heliopolis

Crystal Chandeliers in the Fairmont Lobby

TRAVEL THERE: MY LUXURY VACATION BEGINS

If you read this blog with any regularity then you’re well aware that I don’t spend a lot of time in swanky hotels.  I’m more the quaint bed & breakfast type, when I can find it, or I’m bragging about the huge discount I found on Expedia.  However, on this trip we were in top hotels all the way.  In Cairo, we checked into the Fairmont Heliopolis.

Leaving the Airport

One of the things I remembered from my previous trip to Egypt was the wide open spaces between the airport and Heliopolis.  Once we had dealt with the absence of our luggage on that trip, I’d sat the backseat of a car wondering just how far we were going to drive before we got to anything.

It’s not that way anymore.  It’s like the stretch of LBJ between I-35 and DFW Airport.  While it used to be out in the middle of nowhere, it’s now chock-a-block with restaurants, hotels and other buildings.  Outside the Cairo Airport was the same thing.  What’s more, I barely blinked before we were entering the main thoroughfare of Heliopolis and almost immediately we arrived at the Fairmont. So the first thing you might want to know about the Fairmont is that it’s close to the airport.

Between two lobbies

The Security Routine

Here’s the drill for most hotel properties in Egypt.  (The Cecil in Alexandria and the Dahab Paradise were exceptions to the rule, but pretty much anyplace else put you through this.)  The properties are all fenced and gated.  You pull up to a guard house with a barrier across the driveway.  Your car is thoroughly checked.

First they get the ID of the driver and question him.  Then he has to fill in a log.  Then they do a physical check of the exterior of the car which includes looking under it with a mirror.  Some places also had sniffer dogs.  The driver opens the trunk and the dogs and/or metal detectors are used to check out the contents.  There are usually a group of guards and after they’ve conferred with one another, the barrier is lifted and you drive through.  Someone is usually standing nearby with a machine gun.  Some kind of welcome, huh?

Ayman, our niece’s husband, assumed we were in the newer part of the hotel and drove through the older portico to deliver us to the Towers.  Only we weren’t in the Towers.  The bags were pulled out by the bell staff and Ayman drove away, but once inside we were directed across the way to the original part of the lobby.  It was late and I was ready for bed.

Now the reason we were staying at the Fairmont is that we were part of the wedding party and that’s where they were staying.  We like to keep our accommodations in two digits if we can, but we were splurging.  I have to confess that I was glad we stayed in the older part of the hotel.  The new part had that edgy clean look, but I’m a sucker for crystal chandeliers and other gaudy looking hotel lobby decor, like the replica of a pharaonic boat in the Fairmont lobby.

The check-in hasn’t even begun, but I’ve already run out of words, so come back next week to see how we liked our room.

 

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Grateful for the Yawn Factor

Picture from aa.com

TRAVEL THERE: BLISSFULLY BORING FLIGHTS

I’m of the opinion that travel is more interesting if there are problems.  “Everything was perfect,” might make for a great vacation, but you could bore your friends to death with that kind of travelogue.  Lost luggage, crazy GPS instructions and rude hotel clerks make better copy.  Hopefully, I won’t put you to sleep today, but our travel to Egypt was without incident.  That all changed once we got to Cairo, but that’s for later.

I Flew on American and I Liked It

This may not be a newsworthy item for you, but it was for me.  I’ve sort of hated American for a long time.  For years, every travel horror story I lived through began with, “I was on an American flight…”  I carried that anti-American chip on my shoulder for a long time, but in recent years I noticed that other airlines were doing their part to be as awful as I thought American was.

Most recently that was Lufthansa.  I’d always counted them on my favorites list, but then I flew them to Frankfurt.  The plane rattled so much I thought it was made out of Tinker-Toys.  Bill claims the flight wasn’t that bad, but if I hadn’t been sitting next to him, I would think he must have been on another plane.  Bottom line, I could no longer say my worst flights were American.

My other problem with American had to do with Love Field and the Wright Amendment.  As a Dallasite, I love Southwest Airlines and Love Field.  The Wright Amendment tied the hands and feet of both, in favor of DFW, and I didn’t like it.  I also loved Legend Air, which was a Love Field underdog that I maintain was run out of business by American.  I’m always for the underdog.  I go out of my way to avoid Walmart.  I won’t buy anything on Amazon.  I hate most chain restaurants, too.

This American flight snuck up on me.  (Yes, I know snuck isn’t really a word, but I like it better than sneaked.)  I wasn’t the one to make the reservations and I thought we were flying British Airways.  It wasn’t until a few days before the flight, when I was researching baggage allowances, that I realized my British Airways flight was going to be on American.  By then it was too late to do anything about it and I knew Bill was tired of hearing American Airlines Hysteria.  I just lived with the revelation.

A Brand Spanking New 777

So we got to the airport, parked our car, rode the shuttle to the terminal and checked our luggage curbside.  It was easy.  It was a late-night flight, so the airport was pretty boring.  We had a nice chat with a lady in the L’Occitane En Provence store.  In fact, she sensed my concern and we actually prayed together.  Finally it was time to board.

Let me tell you, our plane was so new I think it just rolled off the assembly line.  Nothing rattled.  Everything was pristine.  There were bells and whistles I hadn’t even thought to wish for – and we were in economy.  Even the food was decent.  I watched a couple of movies.  I was even able to sleep!

So, American Airlines, I know you weren’t losing any sleep over my grudge against you, but I want you to know it’s over now.  I can easily say my best flight ever was on American.  Singapore Air still holds my best-food-on-an-airline award, but the shepherd’s pie on American’s return flight was pretty decent.  (BTW Sing Air, I liked your old paint job better.  This new one is boring.)

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And She’s Back

In the Fairmont Heliopolis

TRAVEL THERE: AN EXTRAORDINARY EGYPTIAN ADVENTURE

I just got back from Egypt and I want you to visit this amazing country.  You’re not going to believe some of the exciting adventures I had while I was there.  I hope that as you read my blog in the coming months, you’ll start planning your own trip in your head.  As much as I want you to go, I have always been totally honest with you – sharing the good and the bad.  So it is only fair that I start this series by warning you that Egypt is not an easy country to visit.  You have to overlook a lot to see what is valuable, but there is great value.  In the coming weeks I will rave about spectacular hotels and jaw-dropping sites, but I have to start here, with the not-so-pleasant reality of Egypt today.

Apartment Buildings

Then and Now

This was my second trip to Egypt.  The first was in 1996 when terrorism was an occasional, rather than a daily, thing and the only terror incident associated with Egypt was an attack on a busload of tourists in 1990.  The world has changed a lot since then.  Days before I was scheduled to leave for this trip, bombs went off in two different Coptic Churches.  It didn’t stop us from going, but it did give us pause.  It shouldn’t stop you from going either, but you need to know what you’re getting into.

The imminent threat of violence was the most obvious difference between this trip and the one we enjoyed twenty years ago.  Security was a pervasive presence, everywhere we went – whether we were visiting a museum, an airport or a church.  Every time we entered our hotel we had to put all our belongings through a scanner and ourselves through a metal detector.  I was glad for the security, but saddened by the need for it.

It was the same thing pretty much everywhere we went and you just got tired of it.  Take a romantic walk on the beach and come back to the hotel for a thorough search.  By the time you prove you have a right to be there and you don’t have any WMD’s, the romance has dissipated.  This adds to the stress of travel and distracts from your ability to really relax.

One evening we accompanied a niece and her husband to a hotel where they stayed on their honeymoon.  They wanted to take a walk down memory lane.  Our taxi went through one inspection at the gate to the property and we were put through a thorough search at the front door.  Then as we headed out to the pool to look around, we were stopped because we were not actually guests at the hotel.  We had to go to the front desk, explain ourselves, show them our room keys to a sister property in town and give them a passport to hold before we were allowed into the pool area.  By the time we actually made it down there, we had more thoughts about the intrusion of security than we did Maggie and Shady’s honeymoon.

Forget Lowe’s or Home Depot, Shop for Home Improvements Streetside

Related Changes

The threat of terrorism has devastated the country.  Tourism has been at the center of Egypt’s economy for a very long time, but  they have nothing to take its place and little with which to woo the tourists who actually show up.  Yes, they have some of the most splendid sights in the world, like The Pyramids, Luxor Temple, The Valley of the Kings and such, but the hassle associated with visiting them is challenging.

I thought Egypt was the dirtiest place I had ever visited the last time I went.  Well, now it is beyond dirty.  It’s down right filthy and much of it has been abandoned.  Whole blocks of Cairo and Alexandria’s city centers are just empty graffiti-covered buildings, surrounded by piles of trash.  Everywhere we went, unfinished new construction showed signs of being abandoned years ago, when their hope of an Arab Spring turned into a nightmare.  Don’t plan on wearing the same clothes over and over.  A day of touring will render you and everything you are wearing disgusting.  You either need to pack more or plan on a budget for laundry.

An Egyptian Family on a Motorcycle

And Then There’s the People

Egyptians, as a whole, are wonderful.  They are happy people who want to get to know you and they love pleasing you.  They want you to love their country the way they do, but right now they are a little embarrassed – as if you caught them between working in the yard and getting a shower.  They’ll point you towards the freshly planted flowers, hoping you won’t notice how dirty and sweaty they are.

However, they are also frustrated and tired.  At almost every hotel we observed someone having a meltdown in the lobby and it was usually an Egyptian guest.  Life is hard.  The economy is impossible.  Traffic is horrendous.  Everything is harder to do than it should be and after a ten minute walk your white shirt just isn’t white anymore.  Still, given the chance, most of them will bend over backwards to accommodate you and try to create a smile.

At the same time, we noticed there is also a trend that distances the female population from visitors.  There was a greater number of women completely covered from head to toe.  During our last visit, most women dressed very conservatively and the majority covered their heads, often with a bright colorful scarf.  Many would be sharply dressed, while sporting a more conservative hijab.  There were some who wore the more old-fashioned gallabeya  and hijab, but only a rare woman was covered and veiled in black.

This time gallabeyas and hijabs were the norm.  Young women wore leggings or jeans with a tunic, but the hijabs were everywhere and they were not brightly colored scarves, but solid blocks of neutral colors.  However, women covered from head to toe in black were no longer rare and I noticed most of them also wore black gloves.  They were moving shadows with just a sliver of their eyes showing – distant, aloof, unapproachable.

In the Cairo Museum we saw a young couple taking a selfie.  The woman was completely covered in black.  We wondered at the incongruity of hiding yourself and then taking a selfie.  The young man’s outfit was standard casual fare, but she was covered in plain black without even a bit of embroidery.  A lot of mixed messages there.

So I will tell you the story of our trip.  I’ll remind you of the difficulties from time to time, but I’ll leave it to you to remember that everything was dirty, inconvenient and noisy, whether I mention it or not.  Come back next week and we’ll hit the road.

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