Tag Archives: Cairo Egypt

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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The Airport Adventure Continues

TRAVEL THERE: WHERE’S AYMAN?

Now that I’m home, I’ve tried to educate myself about the pilgrims who crowded into the Cairo Airport the same night I arrived.  I shared some of the answers last week, but I left Bill and I standing with our niece in a huge, noisy crowd.  At first there was the initial small talk of arrival, but soon it was apparent Mirette thought it was high time for Ayman to rescue us from our perch among the milling pilgrims.

Looking for Ayman

After a few minutes of chatting, Mirette began to scan the passing cars for her husband, with the international expression of, “where is he?”  Soon she was describing the car Ayman was driving to Bill.  Then they began to discuss how far away the car had been parked.  When they moved the conversation into Arabic, I got worried.

Then Ayman himself hurried up, but on foot, not in the car, which was perplexing in and of itself. He explained the crowds became too large, so the police shut down one of the roads. He’d found another parking spot as close as he could get, but we still had to walk some.

Midnight Rambles

Even though the time was nearing midnight, walking didn’t sound like a problem, as long as we had a cart for the luggage.  Then we came to a set of stairs and I wasn’t really happy about that. The collapsing handle on one of the bags quit working before we ever left Dallas and would have to be carried. The condition of the sidewalks and streets suggested rolling the checked bags would also be a challenge, but I saw no other alternative.

Each of the girls grabbed a carry-on bag, leaving the larger bags to the men. Then, at the bottom of the stairs, I found a cart!  Either someone had left it or God had deposited there for my benefit. Either way we were saved. We loaded up the new cart and continued on our way.

Ayman and Bill pushed the luggage-laden cart through the obstacle course.  A few feet along the sidewalk and then down a curb.  Then a good long haul through parking areas, weaving in-between cars when necessary.  Up a curb, over a sidewalk, down a curb, across a street, up a curb and finally we could see the car.

Halting the cart, each of the fellows picked up a bag to put in the trunk. While their backs were turned, the cart took off like a rocket. I shouted and ran after the careening cart, but my shouts were lost in the other noises around us. The cart skewed off the sidewalk, fell to its side and dumped the bags into the street.

A couple of pilgrims watched from afar. You’d have thought they were watching moss grow on a stone for all the reaction the cart and I got. Bill and Ayman looked at me as if the bags strewn in the middle of the street were somehow my fault. All I could think of was the bottles of scotch.  You do remember the scotch, don’t you? Would my suitcases be full of glass shards and alcohol-soaked clothes?

We’ll find out together. Come back next week for my first impressions of Cairo outside the airport.

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Lost in a Sea of Pilgrims

Will we ever make it out of the airport?

TRAVEL THERE: AIRPORT ANXIETY

So, we’ve landed at the Cairo Airport.  We’ve been through Customs and found all our luggage in baggage claim.  We should be fine right?  Well, I certainly would have guessed that to be true, but instead Bill and I are standing outside the terminal, in a huge crowd of people, many of whom look like they are dressed in togas.  I’m wondering where the riot squad is.  Were all my security fears going to come true in the first hour I was in Egypt?

Dismay and Distress

There Bill and I stood, trying to stay connected to each other and to our luggage cart, while being knocked about by the press of the crowd.  Part of me was worried about mundane things like pickpockets, but another part was trying to understand what was going on.  The toga-dressed people and their friends didn’t actually seem threatening, but I couldn’t understand a word they were saying.

What if we inadvertently angered someone?  Would the crowd turn on us?  And where were Mirette and Ayman?  Had Bill given them the right information and confirmed they’d be there?  Had something happened to prevent them coming?

Bill has a gift for appearing calm in a crisis, even when he’s exploding inside.  Like me he’d missed the crowd at first, but he’d continued to overlook it until we were in the middle of it.  Had I realized how worried he was, I would have been even more concerned.  Just when I was ready to hail a cab, our family members found us.

Instant Relief

I’m not quite sure where they came from but suddenly my niece and her husband were there. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so glad to see anyone, with the exception, perhaps, of Bill the two times he came home from Iraq. Once they had located us, Ayman headed off to get the car.  We were still being jostled, but we’d been found, so things didn’t seem quite so threatening.

While we waited, I tried asking Mirette what was going on with all the white outfits. She said they were pilgrims on Hajj as if that explained everything, but it didn’t.  Even I knew the Hajj was taken to Mecca, which is in Saudi Arabia, not Egypt. Something was getting lost in translation.

Why would people on a plane from Saudi Arabia be coming TO Egypt for the Hajj at Easter time? No one could ever tell me.  They just kept patiently explaining the pilgrims were on Hajj, as if that was the definitive answer. Once I got home, I tried Google and Wikipedia, but could find no straight-forward answers.

I’m probably on some watch list by now.  Not only was I in Egypt while this pilgrimage was going on, I was also there for the Pope’s visit.  Since I got back, I’ve been googling every question I could think of to figure it all out.

I educated myself on traditional ihram clothing, which is the toga-like outfit worn by the pilgrims.  I satisfied myself April was not the date for Hajj this year or for any of the major Muslim holidays, for that matter.  I found out pilgrimages taken at times other than Hajj are something called Umrah and I finally found some Umrah locations in Egypt.  Most of what I found when I Googled were travel packages available for Hajj and Umrah, but all of them that I read sounded like a travelogue for people who already know why they are going.  Nothing there to explain exactly what was going on.

So come back next week and find out our other adventures at the Cairo Airport.  Since I’m here writing this blog post we obviously made it out, but not until after a little more craziness.

 

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Touchdown in Cairo

Niece Mirette and her husband, Ayman

TRAVEL THERE:  LET THE CRAZINESS BEGIN

It was a late night arrival in Cairo, so the activity inside the terminal was actually pretty calm.  A flight arrived from Saudi Arabia about the same time as ours, but otherwise customs and baggage claim was empty.  Preoccupied with my own arrival I wasn’t really focused on other passengers, but it was clear we were in the Middle East.  

What’s With the Guys Wearing Towels?

In the terminal, hajibs and galabeyas were more frequent than blue jeans and yoga pants, but one guy really got my attention.  To my uninformed eye, it looked as if he were dressed for a toga party.  His white garment came to about mid-calf and had been torn all the way around the bottom.  The texture was towel-like and it appeared one shoulder might be bare.  Something like a a shawl was pinned around his other shoulder. He was definitely wearing shower shoes, but whatever the reason for his outfit, staring would be rude, so I kept my eyes down.

Islamic Pilgrim Wear

If there had only been one guy like that, I might have forgotten about it in the hustle and bustle, but I began to realize there were a lot of men wearing variations of the same thing.  Some ‘togas’ were longer than others. Some men had both shoulders wrapped.  One hem would look freshly torn with ratty looking strings hanging around the bottom, while another hem would be so smooth I wondered whether it were torn at all.

There were also variations in the textures of the garments.  The first ‘toga’ I had spied looked like a laundry mistake.  If you’ve ever washed a few towels and then discovered them still in the washer several days later – damp, wrinkled and soured – then you know what I mean.  I didn’t get close enough to smell him, of course, but that’s what it looked like.  He was the anomaly in the crowd, but there were other subtle differences.  While some had the lush looped-terry of a luxury hotel’s complimentary robe, a few had the even more exclusive look of a waffle-woven linen hand-towel  No loops there.

Please understand, I’m making all these observations out of the corner of my eye or from under lowered eyelids.  I didn’t want to appear to be a gawking tourist, even if that was exactly what I was.  I started trying to figure out if this was totally a male thing and I was able to ascertain very quickly it was.  The women wore traditional galabeyas and hajibs, and most were of the gloved, head-to-toe, black variety  mentioned in my initial blog about this trip.  Days later, I would begin to realize there were women dressed in simple white variations of this head-to-toe manner, traveling with some of the men, but if they were at the airport I missed them.

I kept quiet and kept my eyes to myself as much as I could, but I couldn’t help but wonder what the deal was.  Did an entire group of conventioneers get their luggage stolen and this was the best the hotel could offer?  Your imagination does weird things in a vacuum of information.

Where are Mirette and Ayman?

Step-by-step we made it through customs and retrieved our luggage.  We were almost out of the terminal, but with the exception of professional drivers holding signs, we hadn’t seen anyone greeting our fellow arrivals.  Just outside the sidewalk was busy with people cuing up for cabs.

Have you ever looked around a place, trying to get your bearings and missed the most obvious thing.  I was looking so hard to find my niece or her husband, that I missed a wild cacophony right in front of me.  When I finally got my bearings, I started to wonder if I was about to get caught up in a riot.

On the other side of a thoroughfare filled with cabs was a huge crowd.  Many of the men had on the togas I had noticed inside the terminal.  Bill headed across the street and I followed him, wondering if he’d even noticed the rowdy crowd.  They weren’t rowdy in a soccer fan kind of way, it was more purposeful and less emotional, but nonetheless quite loud.  What a kaleidoscope of sight and sound to begin our sojourn in Egypt!

I’ll tell you about it next week.

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Egypt Here We Come

TRAVEL THERE: CAIRO, SHARM & ALEX

In less than a month we’ll be winging our way to Egypt for a family wedding.  While it’s primarily a family trip, you can rest assured that Museum Girl will be taking in the sights.  The itinerary is firming up and I thought I’d share a few highlights.

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

As excited as I am about the rest of the trip, the reason we’re going is to participate in Bassem and Mariam’s wedding.  We’re all agog with excitement.  Bill and I will arrive in Cairo late in the evening on a Saturday night and be whisked away to the Fairmont in Heliopolis.  On Sunday afternoon we’ll attend a luncheon for all the families at an “oriental” restaurant.  When I wondered why we were having Chinese food, I learned Egyptians call Middle Eastern food “oriental.”  I learn something new every day.

Monday is the day of the wedding, and it is also a national holiday, so I’m told I will see the residents of Cairo enjoying themselves in parks and other areas of leisure.  I’ll spend the day getting all gussied up for the wedding.  Egyptians know how to party and they expect guests, especially the couple’s families, to get all decked out.  I’ll be wearing a long formal gown bedazzled with crystal beads.  For the church ceremony I’ll wear a sheer over-blouse cinched by a jeweled belt, which will cover the spaghetti-strapped straight bodice of the full-skirted gown. Pictures to follow.

Let the Sightseeing Begin

On the day after the wedding we’ll be transported to the elegant Mena House Hotel, in the shadows of the pyramids.  Some folks tried to convince me to hire a guide for sightseeing for the day, but 8:30 AM was entirely too early to start a day of touring, especially after partying late into the night in the ballroom of the gorgeous Fairmont.

So instead, we’ve arranged to be transported mid-day and ease into the sightseeing.  We’ll enjoy the gardens of the Mena House, walk around with our mouths agape at the splendid architecture of the place, dine around the pool and then watch the Sound & Lightshow at the Pyramids from our room’s balcony. Who knows, there might even be time for a dip in the pool.  Personally, I plan to have at least one picture of me taken in the pool with the Pyramids behind me.

Then we’ll do the Pyramids.  Since we’ve already done the Giza Plateau, I plan to go further afield and check out the Step Pyramid at Saqqara and the Red Pyramid at Dahshour.  I’m also interested in the Meidum Pyramid, but I’ve been told it is too far out – drat.  Instead we’ll go back to Giza and see the Solar Boat Museum, something that’s been added since our last visit.

A Family Reunion Extraordinaire

After our second night at Mena House, we’ll head to the airport and make the short hop to Sharm el Sheikh.  Some of the family lives in the beautiful city by the Red Sea and others will have gone there when we headed to Giza.  We’ll have a family reunion of sorts for about five days along one of the most spectacular beaches in the world.

The diving and snorkeling are supposed to be awesome, but I’m not much of a guppy.  You’ll find me at the  Marriott Naama Bay Resort pool with an exotic cocktail of my choice somewhere near the waterfall.  Yes, the beach is beautiful, but no way am I going to smear sunscreen all over and then sit in the sand all day.  Not this girl’s idea of a good time.  I’ve been promised activities like a star-gazing visit to the desert, some shopping opportunities and other attractions.

In the evening, look for me along the boardwalk.  It’s one of my favorite memories of our last journey to Egypt.  Every evening the tourists come out in all their sunburned glory to stroll along and enjoy the wide variety of entertainment available on every side. On our last visit the Macarena was all the rage.  I  wonder what earworm will bite me this time.

On to Alex!

We’ll fly back to Cairo and then have a driver take us to Alexandria where we’ll be in the center of the action at the Cecil Hotel.  This elegant old dame gives a nod to Alexandria’s heyday with plenty of modern updates.  What’s more, I’m supposed to be within walking distance of many of the sites I want to see – that is if I can ever cross the street.  I remember the traffic being deadly in Cairo and Alexandria is supposed to be more of the same.  Pedestrians don’t have the right of way and stoplights are merely suggestions.  I’ll be right across the street from the beach, but may never actually get to the sand!

My wish list for Alexandria is long and includes a visit to a Coptic monastery on the way back to Cairo.  Once back to Cairo, we’ll visit Old Cairo and seeing the famous churches there, something I never got to during our other visit.  I think we’ll spend our final nights at the Fairmont.  We have to be to the airport bright and early for our return.  Then it’s back to the grindstone!

That’s it so far for Egypt.  Keep dropping by.  I’m not sure what I’ll be up to in the weeks to come, but I promise not to disappear.

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Coming Attractions

happy-new-year-sms-message-card_nyztjrgTRAVEL THERE: WHAT’S NEXT!

Just about the time I start to fret and wonder if I’m about to become the unwilling hostage of my pond, the travel gods smile on me and give me a peek into my travel future.  Here’s what 2017 holds for me – so far.

Wichita Falls, Here I Come!

OK, so Wichita Falls in March isn’t all that exciting, but Beth Moore is.  I’ve been enjoying her Bible Studies for almost as long as they’ve been available on video.  Confession, I watched the first one, A Woman’s Heart – God’s Dwelling Place, on VHS.

Perhaps you remember I finally saw the Bible Study Superstar in person in Wichita, Kansas in 2015, on a little road trip with my bestie.  Beth is compelling on video.  In person she’s riveting.  Her road show is called Living Proof Live and this time around I’m upping the ante and will also attend her You Lead training.  I’m about to get Beth-inized!

Bestie is coming along this time too, but I’ll also have a number of my Buffalo Gals Bible Study girls with me.  Road Trip!  Girl’s Trip!  Look out Wichita Falls!

My first visit to the Pyramids

My first visit to the Pyramids

The Big Trip

So, a few months back our nephew, Bassem, proposed to a lovely girl in Egypt.  Hubby made it very clear from the moment the engagement was announced that we would NOT be attending the wedding.  I complied obediently, because I knew the secret weapon was coming to visit in December.  Who could resist Bassem?  He’s as subtle as a freight train and as relentless as a Doberman Pincer, but also completely earnest.

Within 24 hours of his arrival, Bassem had Bill doing a 180 and I’m now researching round-trip airfare to Cairo in April.  I’ll see my first Coptic wedding and attend the reception at one of the famed Fairmonts in Cairo.  The schedule is still being hammered out, but a celebratory family trip to beautiful Sharm El Shiek is on the must-do list, while we juggle other possibilities like a short cruise on the Nile, a day trip to Alexandria and maybe a night at the luxurious Mena House Hotel in the shadow of the Pyramids.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about this trip.  I was in love with Egypt long before I fell in love with my Egyptian.  I’ve only been there one time before, but it was marvelous.  To return is a dream come true that I never dared to dream.

The Crazy Possibility

That should be enough excitement for anyone, but there is one more little possibility on the horizon.  I may actually have an opportunity to go to the Holy Land in the coming year.  It’s related to the ministry I volunteer with and a zillion things would have to fall into place for it to happen, but it is being discussed and I am keeping my calendar open.  Cross your fingers for me.

So that’s what’s up for 2017.  I have a couple of small trips from 2016 to cover in the next few weeks, but get ready to strap on your seat belt, because this plane is about to take off!

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