Category Archives: Attractions

Don’t Miss Dashour

TRAVEL THERE: THE INFANCY OF PYRAMID BUILDING

I’m worried about Egypt.  Tourism is their primary industry, but they aren’t exactly working hard to promote it.  Bill and I shook our heads in disbelief during most of the trip.  It’s almost as if they don’t want tourists.  The first thing I’d like to do is just give everything a good cleaning and add some trashcans.  Egyptians themselves are delightful and there are wonderful things to see, but you have to be serious about wanting to visit and you will encounter obstacles.  Let me explain.

Do You Know the Way to Dashour?

The Bent Pyramid at Dashour

Were Giza, Dashour and Saqqara in the US, they’d be owned by the National Park Service.  All three complexes would be surrounded by federal lands and you’d get a tour map that helped you navigate your way from one site to another.  All along the tour route, you’d see lovely hotels, a wide variety of restaurants and other attractions like miniature golf and water slides.  Each site would have interpretive signs, museums, exhibits and gift shops.  That’s not the way it goes in Egypt.  Where is UNESCO, by the way!

Nothing about the Giza site suggests that just a short drive away are two more fantastic historical sites.  You’re just supposed to know.  There’s not a single sign that points the way.  You head off down the road and wander along the side of a filthy canal.  Along most of the way, both sides of the road has development, but it’s residences, not fast food and hotels.  If you didn’t have a guide, I guarantee you wouldn’t find it.

While there, I discovered that you could ride horses between the sites.  You can google “pyramid horse tours” and find all kinds of vendors, but since I didn’t know about the tours, I didn’t know to research it.  You are now better informed than I was.

We eventually turned off the main road, but I didn’t see anything that said, “This way to Dashour.”  A rutted goat path took us to a military installation.  I don’t know any better way to describe it – white painted buildings, with guys in uniform carrying guns.  This was not the appropriate welcoming committee for your average American tourist.

I do love one thing about Egyptians – their creativity.  Wherever we went were folks who set up shop and went about their business without the accouterments Americans would demand.  

  • If neighbors want to get together and smoke sheesha, why let the absence of a park stop you.  Gather your chairs in the street and pass the hookah.  The cars will figure out a way to get around you.
  • Want to have a souvenir shop?  Then find a piece of pavement and start selling.  You can hang wire between signs to display your wares or use a cardboard crate.
  • Need an office.  Find a table and chair – any table and chair.

The guy in charge at the military installation had followed the examples above – right by the side of the goat path.  Both pieces of furniture looked like they’d been built in the 50’s, but for completely different purposes.  Sitting on the table was the ubiquitous glass for tea.  Who needs anything else?

Nothing!

Worth It for Me

It’s no wonder that our nephew couldn’t understand why we wanted to go to Dashour.  With the exception of a few pyramids in serious disrepair there is nothing there.  I mean nothing!

But those few pyramids were worth the trip for me.  While Zuzu hadn’t found much new ground to cover with me at Giza, he was invaluable at Dashour.

Obviously, the Bent Pyramid is bent, but hearing why and how it got that way, as I stood below it, was fascinating.  We climbed up another crumbling pyramid to see the shaft built down into it, where the pharaoh’s body would have been carried and imagined the day of the funeral.  How did they get him down all those steps?  Another pyramid was tall and skinny, almost like a Christmas tree.  How did these configurations develop into what we saw at the Giza Plateau?

I’d read right before I left for Egypt that they’d just found a new pyramid at Dashour – but where?  And why didn’t they offer to show it to me for $20 more.  I would have gladly coughed up the Jackson.

The whole thing begs for development.  In our heads we laid out the informational signage, chose refreshment stands, picked out costumes for the guides and decided where the museum and shop should be.  The Egyptians need tourists to spend more days in their country and with just a few bare necessities and a little signage, people would flock to see these wonders, but as it stands, Bill and I were the lone tourists.  We would never have found it on our own and even if we would have, I doubt we’re brave enough to confront the military authorities guarding it.  What a shame!

But our Pyramid tour was not over.  On to Saqqara.  Join us next week.

 

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A Little Ancient History

My first visit to the Pyramids

TRAVEL THERE: VISITING THE GIZA PLATEAU

No traveler can really claim to have visited Egypt unless they’ve been to the Pyramids.  It’s like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower.  I’ve had the privilege of visiting Egypt twice and both times we made the trip out to Giza.  You can’t really appreciate my second experience until you hear what happened the first time.

My First Visit to Giza

Just like my most recent trip to Egypt, family was the reason we visited Egypt in 1996.  The primary motivation was Sophie, Bill’s mom.  Some business needed to be taken care of in person, but it was also my first time to meet most of his family, including Sophie who was not well enough to travel to the States for our wedding.  We crammed a lot of tourism into our 19 day stay, but family issues dominated our time there.  Well, family issues coupled with luggage woes.

In spite of our lack of luggage and our family business, Bill got me to the Pyramids within 48 hours of our arrival.  I was wearing the same outfit I wore on the plane, because it was the only one I had, but I was gleeful nonetheless.  Bill hired a car and driver for the day, but that was a very different prospect than having Ezzat on hand for our more recent visit.  Ezzat looked out for us, protected us and did everything he could to enhance our time in Egypt.  The anonymous driver we hired in 1996 treated us like tourists.

The Papyrus Museum and Perfume Factory

Yes, it happened to us.  Instead of enjoying a day at the most important tourist site in Egypt, we spent our morning at a Papyrus Museum (make that souvenir store) and before the day was over watched perfume bottles being blown and silver cartouches being poured against our will.  Bill may have thought he was a native, but to our driver he was just another gullible American tourist.

I won’t bore you with the papyrus shopping opportunity, but what happened next was important.  Our driver did not drive up to a big gate that said “The Pyramids” or buy any entry tickets.  He drove through a slum and parked in front of a hovel.  He and Bill had a significant conversation about it, but since I didn’t know what to expect I was not alarmed.  I probably should have been.

The driver had brought us here to be the reluctant guests of a local headman.  This guy, we’ll call him Ahab, had a great little industry going on.  Limo drivers brought him unsuspecting tourists and Ahab would convince them to open up their pocketbooks to benefit himself and his neighbors.  The driver may have misunderstood who Bill was, but by the end of the day, he and Ahab found out they hadn’t picked the right mark.

Initially, things seemed all right, unconventional, but entertaining.  Ahab’s “family” put me on a camel and Bill on a horse.  For awhile we rode down a street, then out into the desert and across a cemetery.  Suddenly, we were at the Pyramids.  We walked about for a bit, took a few pictures and then our “guides” arranged for us to go inside one of the Pyramids.  It was siesta time and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  My strongest memory was heading back to Ahab’s. For a moment, I sat atop my camel looking across the Nile to Cairo with it’s crosses and crescents kissing the horizon. 

Then things didn’t seem alright.  We were ready to return to the hotel, but we were in Ahab’s control and he wasn’t ready for us to leave.  Today, we would have used our phone to contact Uber, who would know where we were thanks to the magic of GPS.  In 1996 we just had to pray for things to turn out OK.

We sat forever in a perfume showroom chatting with Ahab.  This was where we were supposed to open up our pocketbooks.  Bill had paid for our unique transportation to the Pyramids, but now his pocketbook was shut tight.  On the surface everything appeared normal, but the air was thick with non-verbal confrontation.

When it became apparent that nothing short of a firearm was going to convince us to buy any perfume-filled bottles Ahab offered us the opportunity to buy some cartouches.  He even took us into the factory where they were made, but Bill wasn’t buying a cartouche either.  I was ready to buy all their perfume and cartouches – if they’d just let us leave, but not Bill.

I’m here to tell the tale, so obviously the limo drive did eventually return, but he wasn’t glad to see us.  No commission would be forthcoming.  On the very quiet ride back to the hotel, Bill told me to get out of the car and get to the room as soon as the car pulled to the curb.  I minded him with alacrity and I don’t think any of us really want to know how things went for that driver.

No animals were involved in our most recent visit to the Pyramids and that’s just part of the good news.  Come back next week and I’ll share the adventure with you.

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The Marvelous Mena House

TRAVEL THERE: AN AMAZING HOTEL

I was predisposed to love the Mena House.  I’d been hearing about it for years and it sounded like my kind of place.  It had historical significance and it was a luxury hotel Bill’s place of birth would make affordable.  Let me tell you about it.

Arriving in Style

 I will admit there is something posh about being delivered to your hotel by a private driver and car.  We pulled up to the security gate to be sniffed by dogs, checked by metal detectors and generally gone over with a fine tooth comb, but our driver handled it all while Bill and I marveled at the Pyramids looming over us.  I thought we’d have a view of them.  I didn’t realize we’d be next door.

The lobby was opulent and we were treated like dignitaries.  Being treated like dignitaries takes a little longer than just being tourists, but it was kind of fun.  We were whisked to our room on a golf cart by a servile employee of the hotel and escorted around our new digs as if they rooms of the old palace, instead of the very comfortable modern room we’d reserved.

A Delicious Meal

Our next stop was lunch.  We wandered across the grounds and found a nice patio restaurant which served food all day long.  The prices were reasonable, the service was attentive and the food was amazing.  The travel gods were shining on us.

A Free Historical Tour

As we lazed about enjoying the view our nephew Steven and his friend John arrived.  They’d fallen for the 8:30 sight-seeing tour I’d rejected.  While they regretted waking up early, they were very happy with their day.  We decided to meet up again soon and see the free historical tour of the hotel I’d seen advertised in the lobby.  The parade of celebrities who have stayed at the Mena House is pretty interesting, but not anything compared to the amount of history that has occurred since it was built in the 1800’s as a lodge for royalty.

The Rest of the Stay

The only problem we had with our stay at the Mena House is that it was too short.  We loved hanging out in our room and enjoying the patio with the great view of the pyramids.  We loved wandering around the hotel and grounds, photographing all the beauty both natural and man-planned.  The service was amazing.  The food was great – whether we were enjoying the free breakfast buffet, having lunch with a view or enjoying a Middle Eastern feast at the Khan il Khalili restaurant (named after the famous Cairo bazaar).

I have a fantasy of returning to Giza some day to see the wonderful museum being built to replace the Cairo Museum and the Mena House would be the perfect place to stay – but I doubt I could ever get Mr. Bill back to Egypt.  The place he has fond memories of growing up in doesn’t exist anymore.

If you’re still hungry for more about the Mena House, watch this video.  If you want to know about visiting the Pyramids, then come back next week.

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A Plethora of Pyramids

Saqqara’s Step Pyramid

TRAVEL THERE: DON’T LET GIZA BE YOUR ONLY PYRAMID EXPERIENCE

If you go to Egypt, you’ve got to see the Pyramids, but don’t stay in some Cairo hotel and take a day trip to the Giza Plateau.  Get out of the city and stay at the Mena House.  Someday, hopefully, they’ll finish the new museum that is supposed to replace the antiquated Cairo Museum and doing it this way will make even more sense.  But even if they never finish the museum (a distinct possibility given the tomorrow/bokrah mentality) you don’t want to be just another tourist.  There’s more to the Pyramids than you see at Giza.

Dusk at the Pyramids

A Tourist Trap to Avoid

Before I go into what you should see, let me steer you away from the Light and Sound Show.  I had been warned, but back in 1996, the Luxor Temple Sound and Light Show was one of the highlights of my trip.  The stunning display was interesting and entertaining.  Chances are that in 1996 the Pyramid Sound & Light Show was pretty amazing, too, but it’s not anymore.

There’s a huge outdoor theater which would seat hundreds of people, suggesting the show was once a really popular attraction, but I’d be surprised if there were 50 people at the performance we attended.  What’s more, the parking lot and entry were right next to a spot used as a toilet by the local camel population.  You need to be careful where you step and the smell will bowl you over.

I had threatened to enjoy the performance from my balcony at the Mena House, but wasn’t sure if I could see it from there.  It really doesn’t matter whether I could see it or not.  The balcony would have been a better choice.

The obligatory Sphinx and Pyramid picture

You Will Go to Giza First – and You WILL Like It or ELSE

Egyptians don’t see their country the way we do.  I had great difficulty convincing my nephew that I really did want him to schedule our guide to visit Dashour and Saquara.  Having already seen Giza, I really didn’t want to waste my time there, but skipping it altogether was not to be allowed.  What’s more my excellent guide, Zuzu insisted we had to start the day there.

My nephew and his friend had toured with Zuzu the day before and warned us that he was a little, shall we say, stubborn.  With Steven and John, the main problem was that he was going to give them all the information they paid for whether they wanted it or not.  I didn’t see that being a problem for me.  I challenge any guide to tell me more than I wanted to know about what I’m seeing.  However, Zuzu was a little stubborn in other ways, too.

When we got in the car to begin our day, I explained how I had already been to Giza before and I preferred to start at Dashour.  Zuzu said we would get to Dashour, but we’d start at Giza.  I tried several approaches to convince him I was the customer and he should do it my way, but whatever tack I used, he wasn’t going for it.  I didn’t want to be that Ugly American, so content in the knowledge we would get to all three pyramid locations, I decided to sit back and enjoy the tour.

Solar Boat Shoes

The Solar Boat Museum

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to the Giza Plateau at all, because my previous unorthodox tour had not included the Solar Boat Museum and I wanted to see it.  I just didn’t want to waste time stomping around the Pyramids and the Sphinx, if it meant I’d miss out on Dashour and Saqqara.

Well, we did stomp around the Pyramids and the Sphinx.  And guess what, they looked just like they did last time we were there.  Granted Zuzu provided more background information than I got from Ahab’s guides, but after a lifetime of watching shows about Egyptian archaeology, Zuzu didn’t have much to add that I hadn’t already learned from Zahi Hawass and Giorgio A. Tsoukalos .

The Solar Boat Museum is fascinating, but they make you wear these awful shoe covers and pictures are not allowed.  The boat was buried in the sand somewhere around 2500 BC.  It had been disassembled before burial and the pieces were intact when it was found in 1954.  It was painstakingly reconstructed over a number of years and then in 1985, the Egyptians built the museum to show off the treasure.  Don’t miss it if you visit the Pyramids.

My Giza duties fulfilled, Zuzu let Izzat take us to Dashour.  Come back next week and enjoy that part of our day.  In the meantime, here’s a video of our visit to the Pyramids.

 

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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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Bouncing Around North Texas

Zennias at DABS

TRAVEL HERE: THE METROPLEX AND POINTS BEYOND

Memorial Day Weekend is the official beginning of summer and I kicked off my summer with a vengeance.  I abandoned my computer and headed into the streets for some fun.  Come along with me.

Why Not Start Early!

My little sister, Susan, was having a birthday on the Friday before Memorial Day.  There are five years between us and we are very different, so our lives don’t naturally intersect.  However, that’s no reason to miss out on an opportunity to celebrate.  My mother turned every event into a celebration and while Christmas got top billing, birthdays played an important supporting role throughout the year, with cameo appearances by every other event to which she could attach a gift or meal.

Mom loved the Dallas Arboretum, almost as much as she loved creating celebrations, so it was only natural for Susan and I to make a visit there for her birthday lunch.  It was a perfect picture of what draws us together and how different we are.  We both wanted to make the visit.  We both ordered the salad trio with a glass of Pinot Grigio and we shared a piece of chocolate cake.  However, while Susan was happy to sit inside and benefit from the a/c, I was longingly gazing out towards the patio, wishing I was out there.   I would have also loved to spend a couple of hours wandering the gardens, but walking in the heat was not high on Susan’s list, especially when she was limping from a recent tumble.  So we stopped in at the gift shop and headed towards other adventures.

Susan’s hard to fit, so I dare not buy her any clothes without her being there.  To to find her birthday present, I took her to the Galleria and checked out the petite departments at Belk’s and Talbot’s.  A new handbag, a pair of shorts and two tops later, she was a happy birthday girl.

Bestie at the Festie

Lavender Ridge Farms

My bestie usually has dance lessons on Saturdays, so I have to find other ways to entertain myself.  However, her dance teachers (Yes, she has two and a personal trainer.  She’s very serious about it.) were out of town, so we were able to plan a play date.  Some of her office buddies were going to a Lavender Festival in Gainesville and I was invited along.  We were on the road shortly after 8 and made it to the festival by 9:30.  Good thing, because there was already a crowd.

Quaint is the word I would use for this festival.  While it was the event’s ninth year and wildly popular, it was overly quaint for me.  I think I would have loved visiting on a Saturday afternoon sans the festival, but the festival sort of gummed up the works in a higgledy piggledy sort of way.

The event was enriched by antiques, artisans and wine tastings, but the various booths seemed to have been set up without any discernible pattern.  Regular readers know I’m a little on the OCD side (OK a lot) but trying to figure out an orderly way to visit all the booths was beyond my keen.   There was a lavender garden, but forget pictures of Provence with lavender in bloom.  Deb admitted the lavender plant in her yard had a more spectacular look to it than the whole Lavender Ridge garden.

There was a gift shop, but it was so overwhelmed by festival goers you had to wait in line to enter and once in you saw the store by waiting in the line that snaked around between the displays.  There was a cafe, also overwhelmed by patrons.  The only place we found that wasn’t overwhelmed was a small zoo, but I can’t tell you what animals they had, because there were no signs.

By 10:30 AM we were festivaled out and weren’t quite ready for wine tasting, which was supposed to be the next stop on the tour.  We opted for the Half-Off Sale at the Cabi Outlet in Allen.  That’s when the higgledy piggledy really kicked in.  Deb dropped me off at the potty stop on the way in, so I hadn’t seen the parking lot.  Random is the only way I can describe their parking system.  They could have doubled their capacity (and this is about to become important) if they’d just been a little more organized in the way they parked cars.  As we picked our way through the resulting maze of higgledy piggledy cars, I realized there was a huge petting farm with sheep, goats and chickens that we had missed completely, because it was on the other side of the parking lot from everything else.

I’m telling you, visit this place any time except their festival.  We made our way out of the property and headed back to Dallas. Two roads fed into the entrance and there were cars lined up as far as we could see in both directions.  I can’t tell you how far back one of the lines went, but we had to drive past the other on our return and it was at least two miles long and more cars were arriving.  I’m thinking some of those people sat in line for hours and who knows if they ever made it to the entrance.

Come back next week and have more fun with us girls.

 

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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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