Tag Archives: The Mena House

Observed at the Breakfast Buffet

The Mena House

Waiting for Izzat

TRAVEL THERE: MORNING AT THE MENA HOUSE

After the wedding, four of us went to the Mena House, while everyone else went to Sharm el Shiek, a beach town on the Red Sea.    Our nephew and his friend had headed to Sharm as I repacked our luggage the night before and Izzat would be picking us up to take us to the airport.  I regretted leaving the Mena House.  There was so much more of it I wanted to enjoy.  I wanted to laze around the gorgeous pool, enjoy my patio and continue to eat marvelous meals.  We had one more meal to enjoy at their remarkable buffet.

Breakfast at the Mena House

I won’t bore you with the details of yet another breakfast buffet.  I actually got tired of them while I was there.  Morning after morning each hotel had a massive spread of food and I had to walk the not-so-fine line between satisfying my hunger and becoming a practicing gourmand.  I will share an odd situation I observed, however.  On our first morning at the Mena House, Bill remarked on a woman who had piled a plate high with carbs.  He assumed she was gathering her own breakfast and in his opinion she needed to modify her diet.  On the second morning, she was back and I watched her, because I doubted anyone could actually eat the mound of pastries she had gathered up.

Come to find out, she wasn’t serving herself at all.  She gathered up several plates heaping with food on a table and had a bus boy deliver it to her room for her on a large tray.  Of course, I’m wondering all kinds of things, like why doesn’t her family just come down and get their own food, but most of all I felt sorry for her.  I even speculated that her husband was one of the towel wearing pilgrims I’d seen at the airport and wondered if his pilgrim status kept him from making the trip to the buffet.  Whatever the reason, she didn’t have the demeanor of someone who was enjoying their role.  She seemed huddled and secretive.  Her posture suggested she expected to be berated for her performance.  I realize I was imposing my own western ideas on her, but it was not the fact that she was performing this task for her family that bothered me, it was how burdensome the job seemed to be.

I’ve filled a tray at a breakfast buffet for Bill before and taken it back to the room.  It wasn’t a mound of pastries, but I certainly didn’t mind doing it.  I even enjoyed it, smiling as I thought of ways to make the meal more attractive.  When we’re at a buffet together we take turns serving each other.  Each of us will fill our own plate and then if we head back for beverage refills or to get a missed condiment, we always check to see if the other needs something.  Sometimes when we go back for the refill we’ll spot an item that we think the other must have missed and carry it back for their enjoyment.

My silent observation at the Mena caused me to watch for similar situations in the other places we traveled.  I did not see an exact replication of the circumstances with the huddled woman, but I did see echoes of it.  In Sharm I would see tables full of men loudly enjoying their breakfasts.  On the table were large stacks of pastries like the one prepared by the woman in Giza.  Meanwhile the women scurried around preparing individual plates for the men and for the children. Over several mornings I watched one woman and I don’t think she ever got the chance to eat.

I’m all about different strokes for different folks, but one thing really bugged me and it was those huge mounds of pastries.  Each plate seemed to have about 20 pastries carefully stacked on it and there were several plates scattered on the tables.  When the families would leave the table it seemed as if all 20 pastries were still there.  I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to those mounds of pastries.  American hygiene would demand they be thrown away, but I saw so much poverty and want through out the country that I couldn’t help but wish these gorgeous tidbits were in some way passed on to people who needed them.  I couldn’t help but think that they might be taken to the kitchen for recycling on the buffet – so I pretty much stayed away from the pastries.

The red one is mine and the silver one is Bills. Farewell Mena House!

Farewell Mena House

From the buffet we made our way to the lobby and settled our bill.  Our luggage was already waiting for us.  Before long, Izzat pulled under the portico and our next adventure began – and once again it was at the airport!  Come back next week and laugh with me about Egyptian security measures.

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Step Up to Saqqara

TRAVEL THERE: VISITING THE STEP PYRAMID

The Egyptians didn’t wake up one morning and have the perfect formula for pyramid building.  They had hundreds of years of practice before the elegant examples at Giza were built.  (There’s a nick in the Ancient Alien theory!)  At Dashour we saw pyramids of various shapes and sizes.  Their most successful attempts led them to give step pyramids a try and the best example of these Step Pyramids is up the road a bit from Dashour and down the road a bit from Giza at Saqqara. 

Getting There

When we departed Dashour, our military friends didn’t seem quite so intimidating.  They barely glanced at us as we passed by.  Izzat got back on the main road, the one with the dirty canals in the middle, and headed back north.  Zuzu continued to regale us with the history lesson and before long we were at another military installation.  This one was not quite as intimidating, but to a certain extent a little more scary.  The soldiers at Saqqara were a little less serious, but also a lot more careless.  They all carried guns and seemed to be having several different conversations, and in each the guns were being casually waved about as if they were extensions of the gesticulating soldiers’ arms.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if someone’s finger slipped a bit.

If you don’t count the threat of wayward bullets, the site seems more tourist-friendly.  In Dashour everything was a street and a parking lot because it was just wide open spaces for as far as you could see.  At Saqqara, there were actual gravel-covered parking lots and roads that looked regularly traveled. 

The Museum

Another tourist- friendly feature was a small museum.  There’s actually a lovely promenade from the parking lot to the museum that looks as if it could accommodate a gift shop, a concession stand and perhaps even a small cafe, but everything was closed down tight and no signs indicated that any of it had ever been anything.  I wondered if there had been more there once or whether they were presently developing it, but Zuzu did not provide that kind of information.  He looked at me as if I’d suddenly begun to speak a language he didn’t understand and shrugged his shoulders.

We grabbed a few pictures and headed inside.  This had to be a recent development, because the interior looked like something you might see in other countries.  It was clean and neat.  The items were advantageously displayed in glass cases and lo and behold, there were placards there to identify the pieces and give a little history.  Pictures were not allowed or I would be glad to show you the lovely facility.  The museum was not large, but I liked it very much.

Wandering the Ruins

Saqqara is a significant archaeological site.  They have found a number of ruins dating to a variety of periods.  Some have been restored.  Some look as if they were once available for viewing, but have been closed up. Some areas are currently under renovation.  Even though the ruins come from different eras they are all very close together.  You can see everything without having to walk very far.

I’d say of the three Pyramid sites, Saqqara was my favorite – not more important than Giza, but more enjoyable.  Each is worth a visit.  If you can convince your guide to do them in chronological order, then kudos to you.  I think that would be an interesting progression, but that guide would not be Zuzu.  He’s going to do Giza first, no matter what.

A Little Entertainment

As if to prove they’d gotten the tourist thing figured out a Saqqara, they actually had a cultural performance!  A toupe of dancers, both male and female, performed energetic renditions of folk dances, brandishing swords, swaying their hips and stomping their feet.  The colors were a little too Hollywood to be traditional, but I appreciated the effort.

The drive back to the Mena house was daunting.  It was five o’clock traffic Egyptian style.  I was appreciating Izzat more and more.  Back at the hotel we did a little exploration, wandering around at will.  We’d been on the official tour and they encouraged us to wander the hotel – so we did.  We also had another fantastic meal, this time at the Khan-il-Khalili restaurant which specialized in Egyptian cuisine.  Back at the room I packed up.  In the morning Izzat would be there fairly early to take us to the airport for the next phase of our adventure.

 

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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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