A Travellerspoint blog

The Red Sea, Egypt

A great way to relax

sunny 27 °C

Days. 19 - 24

Hurghada. The Arabia Azur resort was a bit daunting for us at first, quite a big change from the noise and bustle of Luxor, but after a day we settled in nicely enjoying the sun, sea and endless food.

Our days were pretty much the same:

Claim a beach sun bed with our towels
Breakfast buffet
To the beach to read, turn on the rotisserie every half hour, basting in sunscreen often.
As soon as I arrived my pool guy will bring me a cappuccino
Swim, snorkel
More baking and reading
Is it lunch time yet? Belly up to the buffet
More of the same again until 4PM,
nap time
Dinner buffet

We met lots of people, but conversations were mostly on the surface as many did not speak much english and we did not speak German which is what most of the guest were.

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The staff were excellent. 45 days on then one or two weeks off. Many lived in Luxor and came for work. They work very hard, 12 hour days and always have a smile on their face and love to joke. Everyone is made to feel like they are the most important guest there.

A lifeguard would visit me on the beach and practice his english, saying a word and I would give the explanations and then use it in a sentence. When he came to the word ‘stingy’ we used it in a sentence but I suggested he may not want to use that word when talking to tourists
He crossed it off his list.

One day we went on a boat tour to snorkel in a couple different spots. There were 12 of us on a fairly large boat and our first stop was to watch Nile dolphins playing in the water.
Three different stops to snorkel and a stop on a beach for an hour. I was not really impressed with it at all. The snorkelling in front of our hotel was better.

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Lots of pink jelly fish, but they didn’t seem to bother anyone thankfully.

We walked to the marina one afternoon, and one day when I was having my afternoon sleep Doug went off on an adventure into the old part of town and came back wth lots of stories to tell .

Days 25-30

We decided to split up the time between two different resorts on two different reefs.
The Serenity Makadi bay was more luxurious with beautiful grounds, two salt water and two fresh water pools, and a beach out front with plenty of sun beds, umbrellas and windscreens. Our room was large and on the ground floor facing one of the salt water pools. Unfortunately the pool was too cold to go in, I know because I tried one day and it took forever to warm up again. The sea was warmer.

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Our routine here was very similar as before. I read three books which was great. The food was so much better and my vegetarian needs were met, with the chef meeting me at each meal to point out dishes that did not have meat.

One young waiter would come at each meal and teach Doug and I a new Arabic phrase. He would pronounce it, give the meaning and we would repeat.
He would say it again and we would repeat
Inevitably he would shake his head and walk off frustrated with us as we would mispronounce it terribly.
All in good fun.

We arrived during a big wind storm and the red flag was flying, but the next day we were back to yellow and ventured into the water down a ladder at the end of the pier

It was outstanding. Many tropical fish, and the coral! It looked like beds of purple and green heather growing under the crystal clear water. This is the best place I have ever snorkelled and we went in twice day. The water temperature was on the cooler side so we could only stay in 30-40 minutes at a time. The Red Sea is so salty you can lay on the top and float with ease.

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We did go to a couple of shows but mostly we just had a late dinner than went back to our room to read. We met lots of people and conversations were a bit easier here as more people spoke English. Guests came from Germany but also lots from England, Egypt and other parts of Europe. There were people of all ages as well as many young family’s which is always great to be around young children , all who were so well behaved.

One afternoon I was approached by a man on the beach wanting to sell treatments at the attached spa, so I agreed to a needed colouring and haircut.

The outside of the Spa looked very promising but that’s where it ended. Inside was in great need of renovation and a good cleaning. I met my hairdresser in a small room with three chairs. Her english was minimal and I like to have a hairdresser who has a good cut herself, but of course I could not see her hair as she was in a full headscarf. I came armed with photos, haircuts with light color with lowlights.
“Just a trim.”
Ok ok she said

What was I thinking?

Two hours later my hair is very bleached, not sure what happened to the lowlights, and I am scalped.
I had memories of my dog, a Bichon frieze, when he would come home from the groomers with a really bad short haircut. He would hide under the bed in embarrassment for a few days.

I have had a couple of trips too many to the buffet to fit under the bed

My hair grows fast though, and I have a hat.

An ( expensive) lesson learned

This morning we sat with a couple from northern Russia for breakfast. They said that the snorkelling here is no where near as good as Sharm el sheik, north of here on the Sinai peninsula . Hmmmmm. We may make a trip back at some point to check that out

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Day 31

Our relaxing vacation came to an end too soon, we were really enjoying the time there so much. Today we flew back to Cairo for the last two nights in Egypt. Our hotel arranged an airport pick up for us and in an hour we were checking into our 2 star hotel. Well maybe 3. Great location though, right across from the museum and near all the expensive hotels on Tahrir square where the uprising (revolution) was a few years ago. We have a balcony over looking the very busy street with non stop honking. Quite a change from our quiet beach retreat.

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We went out for a late lunch/ early dinner at a restaurant in a nice hotel across the street and then wandered about for a few hours down back lanes and small streets. I lost my lipstick a couple of weeks ago and could not find any place in hurghada to buy some. I found a small shop here and bought two for under 6$. I feel human again with my short bleached hair and bright pink lips.

Doug wandered around again later on and I just hung out in our room

Day. 32

Our last full day in Egypt. Last night we arranged to have a guide pick us up this morning and take us on a walking tour of Islamic Cairo. He arrived at 8 AM and we drove to two large mosques, Hassan and Mohammed Ali. The later is from the 8th century and the Hassan from the 18th. Very impressive and beautiful with intricate art of marble and cedar inlaid with ebony and ivory.
In the Hassan mosque lies the mausoleum of the Shah of Iran and also king Faruok.

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Our next stop was the Islamic museum which was very well laid out with some beautiful pieces. A class room of university art students were scattered about drawing some of the artifacts

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A local Egyptian souk was our next stop, through a medieval area, the first walled area of Cairo.

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This is Egyptian cotton

We had a stop for some Turkish coffee and then onto the tourist bazaar

Our Egyptologist, Eman was a wealth of information about many subjects regarding old and current Egypt and I felt I could ask him many questions about religion politics and customs without problem. I was not so lucky a previous time here so I have learned to tread lightly now with my overly inquisitive mind and big mouth.

I bought some nice living room pillow cases in red and Doug got a small package of freshly roasted coffee that we will try at home . Oranges and bananas were also purchased as there isn’t any fruit at breakfast

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We were dropped off at 2:30PM and we were famished! We found an Egyptian restaurant near our hotel and were delighted to enjoy a delicious meal of falafel, roasted vegetables, tahini, foul ( a local vegetarian bean dish) and Doug also had barbecue chicken. This was all washed down with tasty cold lemon mint drinks

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After a sleep and rest in our room we walked the streets of Cairo for a few hours looking for a lamp Doug saw in the market but had decided not to buy.

Cairo has 20 million people. That is more than half the population of Canada living in this one city, so naturally it is very busy. The streets were very crowded with people walking about as we were.

The shopping is divided into areas, I have seen this in other cities as well. Blocks and blocks of shoe stores, nothing but shoes of every description for a mile or more

A block over were windshields and car parts as far as the eye can see.

Next block jewelry and on it goes.

But no lamps. We felt very comfortable walking everywhere, even down alleyways. Police presence is very high.

Muslim’s don’t drink alcohol so they socialize in coffee shops and sheesha shops. Sheesha is tobacco mixed with a flavour like apple or fruits and smoked with a large water pipe. There are many small shops everywhere full of mostly men. There are a number of larger outdoor ones that we found with young women in as well.

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We noticed that most Egyptian men also smoke regular cigarettes.

Day 33 and 34

Our transfer to the airport was at 7:30AM for our 10:30 flight to Athens. Being a Friday traffic was light and we arrived at 8. We decided to check both suitcases and then waited until boarding time. Security was different here. At the flight gate you had to go through a very thorough screening and pat down before getting on the plane. Makes sense really

In Hurghada and Cairo they allowed open food through security and water in my metal water bottle, they just asked that you take a drink or eat some of what you are carrying. Brilliant, I wish all airports did this. I had had same experience in Tanzania

We boarded our flight, settled in, taxied down the run way and we were then informed that we needed to return to the gate for a technical issue. We all deplaned and were bussed back to the waiting room where we waited for a couple of hours until we did it all again

I met a lovely woman my age from Santa Barbra California and we had a great conversation about Egypt and our experience here.

We didn’t have any real plans today so the delay was not the end of the world.

So we finally arrived at our hotel on the sea in a small town called Rafina which is around half hour from the Athens airport
Tomorrow we will just walk the sea boardwalk and prepare for our 16 hour flight home on Sunday, March 3 rd.

Rafina
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We had an amazing trip to Egypt and I am so happy we came. We are even talking about a return trip in the near future.
It will be great to be home and sleep in our own beds for now however. Thanks for following along. Until next time.

Posted by debbep 12:44 Archived in Egypt Comments (7)

Nile cruise and Luxor

It just keeps getting better

sunny 27 °C

Day. 11. Friday Feb. 8

At 9 am our transfer arrived at the hotel and we climbed into a van destined for our three day Nile cruise. Nick and Louise from England were already on board, two thirty something professionals, she originally from Sweden. We started chatted right away when we found ourselves in front of the Cataract Hotel where we were joined by Nick and Kara and Nick’s parents Dallas and Ingrid all from Huston. It took a half hour to get to the boat and the talking was non stop.

Our home for the next three nights is the Zekrayaat, a dahabiya or sailing river boat. Most of the Nile cruises are on large river boats that carry between 100 and two hundred passengers. Ours has six rooms and has a capacity for 12 people. Our Egyptologist Salah is around 40ish and very well travelled and educated in various parts of the world . He proves to be an amazing wealth of information, at times making it a lot of fun too.

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A cold drink of hibiscus tea is brought as we watch our final four passengers make their way across the field and onto the boat. Aimee and Natalie are two travelling friends in their late thirties I think.Aimee resides in Los Angeles and Natalie in Phoenix.

Daniel a paediatrician and his father Jose from Madrid arrive and make up our final 12 so we set off north on our journey to Luxor.

Our rooms are assigned , ours a double, and all have private bath. It is quite spacious for a boat and the windows open to see the banks of the Nile passing by.

Lunch is served on the deck, an assortment of many Egyptian dishes fragrant with cumin, coriander and spices that i am not yet familiar with.

The 12 of us toast to an amazing group of ship mates and all express how relieved and pleased we are with everyone on board. We all end up being fairly open minded so we’re able to talk about politics, religion and current events over the next thee days without much disagreement.

The Nile, life blood of Egypt, is the only river that flows south to north. For that reason upper Egypt is in the south and Lower egypt in the north which can be a bit confusing fo me a times.

Kom Obo is our first stop, temples with some beautiful color visible on the walls and columns.

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The wind is going in the opposite direction so most of the time we are pulled by a tug boat. The Nile is a bit choppy and very windy on the deck, but so smooth that you hardly know you are moving. The shade of the canopy over the upper deck combined with the wind makes it a bit chilly at times. I found a lounge chair that I moved into the sun and read my book, a novel on the life of Hatshepsut, a perfect book to read while cruising on the Nile.

We ate in the dining room downstairs for dinner as it was a bit cold. The boat pulled off to the side of the river for the night, something that the larger boats can’t do.
A very quiet night with almost no movement felt from the boat.

Day 12

Breakfast up top at 8 and then off to explore some tombs and then a rock quarry to see where and how they chiseled away the huge stones and then transported them onto the boats to sail up the Nile to Luxor and various other destinations.

Back on board we are passing so many of the larger ships, there seems to be a convoy of them. I am in the lounge chair enjoying my book and Turkish coffee with a hint of cardamom when i hear Salah, our Egyptologist, get a phone call and run down stairs.

The boat is steered by a huge rudder with large ropes attached. Mohammed is furiously pulling on the ropes and moving the rudder to cross the Nile, dancing between all the other larger boats with great skill. The boat is then attached to the shore with ropes tied onto metal spikes which are driven into the bank. The resident cows and donkeys try to come up the gang plank to have a visit. They are very curious and hilarious to watch.

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Salah jumps into he tug boat and they take off. Apparently Natalie and Aimee were left behind at the quarry. Thankfully she had her cell phone and called the office of the boat we were on. We felt bad that we didn't notice, but a lot of us were in our rooms showering or resting for a while so didn't think much of it.

The two hour wait was not a hardship at all. We chatted, read, English Nick went swimming, Daniel went ashore and found some fresh cut sugar cane that we all tried.
We were getting hungry though, but waited until they came back so we could all eat together.

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They apologized for making us wait, we apologized for not noticing they were missing. It was great as no one was stressed about the change in plan at all, we were all very relaxed about it.

We got to put the sails up for a bit which was great. It’s so peaceful watching fishermen and life on the Nile.

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Rami created another multi course lunch once again and was always very accommodating to my vegan and Louises’ gluten free needs.
There is always far too much food.

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Tonight after dinner the crew did a performance with music and singing and then pulled us up one at a time to do some dancing. Salah then did a little play to teach us about the different gods which was a fun way to learn. Doug was Horus. The god of all gods

Day 13

The boat was pulled over to a field at Edfu last night. I could hear the call to prayer at 4:30AM. It was soft and beautiful. At 5AM it got much louder and was completing with a few other mosques. It was an early morning for me.

After a breakfast, that included delicious crepes, yum, we disembarked and took a horse and buggy through the town to the temple of Horus, the god with the falcon head and one of the most important of the gods. This is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt and we found a number of other groups were there, Day trippers from Aswan.

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Sailing to our next stop of El Kab tombs cut into the cliffs. A number of children were selling some hand made baskets, which really were not that attractive, but they thought that Doug needed to buy a few. They mobbed him all the way back. This is a photo of him, he is almost hidden from the children surrounding him. We each bought one but ‘forgot ‘them on the boat when we left.

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Our last dinner as a group tonight, we exchanged e mails and hope to keep in touch possibly.

Day. 14 Monday February 11.

After breakfast we were all transported to our respective hotels in Luxor, a half hour drive from where we docked.

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Ours is the Nefertiti hotel, a bit shabby looking from the outside but has good reviews. As it is only 9 AM our room is not ready so we left our bags and grabbed a cab to Karnak Temple, one of the most important in the Luxor area.

Once again it took some time to buy our Luxor pass. One fellow starts the process, then calls another fellow, who leaves with the documents and our US dollars. He comes back and they do something else, then we are suggested to give him a tip and he disappears again for a while. There was an english couple who were also getting the pass and getting quite upset that they were taking so long and doing ours at the same time, as they arrived first.
Doug tried to quell the situation by chatting about other things. The couple were really quite miserable about how things are done in Egypt.

Karnak was a great site and we explored for a few hours. Our taxi driver Adam was there to take us back to the hotel where we checked into our room on the fourth ( really the fifth ) floor, no elevator, but thankfully two guys hefted our suitcases up for us. There is a large terrace by our room which is where we enjoyed the restaurant for dinner. Our room is quite nice.

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Day 15

Breakfast on the terrace allowed a view of a dozen or more hot air balloons floating over the Nile and towards the valley of the kings. Doug and I decided not to do this as we had a fantastic one in turkey and don’t feel we need to do it here.

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We arranged to have Adam’s cousin pick us up at 9 , as Adam was busy, and we set off to the West Bank to visit the Valley of the Queens. Queen Nefertari’s tomb was our first stop and it was magnificent. The tomb had been restored using the original methods of making the colors and applying them. Sweden France and USAid all seem to be a huge part in the ongoing restoration and archeology work in Egypt. We see a number of tents and workers at numerous sites. Many universities from around the world also play a huge part.

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We did visit a few other tombs as well and then had to ‘exit though the gift shop’ once again. This is not as popular site so there were only about a dozen vendors. At the first stall I told the fellow I would look at everyone’s stalls and then make my decision at the end. He said that was fine and yelled at all the other guys of my intentions. It worked. I couldn't believe it

They of course tried to convince me to buy from them but it was not as bad as other places. I think because it was a small area they all were friends. I made my choice at the end, a wall plaque of Nefertari and we were on our way to see Hatshepsut temple.

I was very excited about this one as the book I had just finished was the story of Hatshepsut and the building of her temple. She wanted it to blend in with the mountains, and it looks like it could have been made in today’s time. It was very crowded and very hot but I was happy to be here.

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We ran into Kara, Nick and Dallas again, we saw them at Karnak yesterday too. Crazy seeing as how many people are here that we have met up twice.

We stopped briefly at the valley of the Nobles on the way back but we were templed out by then and very hungry so didn't stay long.

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There is no fruit at breakfast so we asked the manager where we could buy some. He suggested he buy it for us as it will be much less expensive.

We came back to our room to find our pillows and towels made into an elephant with a fruit plate on top.

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Tonight we walked through the souk to go to dinner. Looks like some nice things in there that I don't need, but may have to come back and take a look later.

Day 16

The manager brought us a beautiful plate of sliced apples and mouth watering sweet strawberries this morning. He is so happy to help in any way

Adam was here at 8:30 AM to drive us to the Valley of the Kings, once again on the West Bank.

The crowds were not bad today and the temperature was perfect. The valleys have small trains that take you about a mile from the visitor centre to the first tomb. I bought an extra ticket to take photos for $24 and glad I did. The guards were on everyone who tried to take photos without the pass. Some would just take backesh but a few confiscated phones and deleted all the photos. One Russian woman was really mad and yelling and being very rude to the guards which they did not take well at all. One fellow got caught taking a photo with his I watch. Can’t pull anything over these guys.

Our first stop was Seti 1, which was outstanding but no photos here at all even with the pass.
Ramses 111, V and V1 were also very impressive . The colours are amazing, and the workmanship incredible.

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The workers who built the tombs and the temples were paid in gold and not many were slaves. Some however were killed after working on the tombs of the pharaohs so that they would not be able to tell anyone where the tombs were for fear of looting.

Pictures don’t do it justice, each tomb tells a different story and the restoration work is incredible.

King tuts tomb held only his mummy and one of his sarcophagus. Most of the treasures that were inside are in various museums.

Our last stop was the Medinat Habu temple of Ramses 111 and Hatshepsut . Another impressive temple.

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Late lunch, rest and then walking around the streets for a few hours tonight. We were pretty much the only tourists around this area walking at night. All the shops are very small and sell only a few goods . You wonder how they all make a living

We cut through the souk on the way back to the hotel and bought more peanuts and dates and a papyrus, much larger than I intended. These guys are so good, I started out choosing a small one first.
But then saw a larger one and before I knew it we were bargaining for both. I only got the one in the end which is all I wanted and I think we were both happy with the price.

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Day. 17 Valentine’s Day

Elementary school starts at 730AM. How do I know that? Because our hotel is beside the school and at 7:35 we hear marching music full blast over the loudspeaker. Someone is playing the organ and for 1/2 hour various marching tunes are played for morning exercise.
Then the teach says ( I imagine)
“ now who is the worst singer in the class, raise your hand “. And that person comes to the mike and sings comments for the next ten minutes

I asked the cook at our rooftop restaurant. “ school exercises?”

“ yes. E v e r y M o r n i n g “. He sighs.

It gets all of us up and moving too.

Our last full day in Luxor was planned to just stick close to the hotel. Outside Doug hired a horse and buggy driver he had been talking to the past few days and he arranged a price to take us to the Luxor museum. It went sideways unfortunately as he wanted us to do more, words were said and it didn’t end well

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The museum however was great, beautiful layout and very interesting artifacts

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We walked along the waterfront and stoped for lunch at a hotel where we ran into our Spanish boat mate Daniel so we chatted for a bit

Continuing our walk to the Luxor temple a young boy offered to shine Doug’s shoes for 20LE. That went sideways as well I’m afraid and in the end he asked for 200 to which we handed him 40 and words were said again . His shoes look great though

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Heading into the Luxor temple we realize we are instead entering the mosque attached. We turn to leave when a man says ,

“ no you are welcome, come in”

This was the only day I did not have my headscarf in my backpack but he leant me one and gave us a bit of a tour. He said that they help out 168 orphans in the area.

Doug said he would like to make a donation to the orphans and pulled out 200 (15$).

We made our way to the Luxor temple and looked around for a bit before returning to the hotel for a nap.

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Day 18

To the beach! A taxi to the Go Bus station for our three hour trip to Hurghada, which had many stops and took five hours. The seats very very cramped, like a cheap airline squished too close , but the the cost was only $8 each.

At 1PM we arrived and took a cab to our home for the next six nights, Arabia Azur Resort, an all inclusive on the beach. Our reservation was a bit screwed up but eventually we were given the right room, a sea view on the third floor. It is a huge room with balcony and quite an upgrade from the rooms we have been staying in.

There are no elevators and this is a huge resort where our room is quite far from the pool and food, but climbing the stairs and walking far may counteract all the food available from 6AM till 11PM that I am sure we will eat plenty of.

I am quite surprised that almost everyone is German. Some Russian and Scandinavian but the signs are in German and the staff speak German to us all the time, surprised when we speak English. We went into the library to get a novel to read and out of hundreds of books there was only one English one.

A young Swedish girl heard us talking and asked why we were here. She could not believe we came all this way.

There are no Arabic signs anywhere. We are having a bit of a culture shock, or a no culture shock. It reminded me of being on the cruise ship with everyone at the Buffett, packed to the rafters

There is a nice beach and the water is turquoise blue with a few reefs. We look forward to some swimming and snorkeling the next few days

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Posted by debbep 13:14 Archived in Egypt Tagged cruise. nile luxor. Comments (0)

Cairo and Aswan

sunny 28 °C

Day 7

Mohammed was our hired driver again to day . He was the one who picked us up from the airport. We set off at 9 and our first stop was Saqurra, which was a half hour or so drive from Giza. The landscape changed to more green and lush with many large date and palm trees. We drove though prosperous looking farming areas but there were still evidence of those who were struggling financial as well.

Lots of police presence everywhere, especially at and near the tourist sites. In full bullet proof vests and gear, machine guns and the police on the side of the road are standing behind metal shields about 4 feet high with a cut out for the gun to stick though. They are always friendly and approachable however. We ask them directions or for information when we are lost etc.

There are two sides to Saqurra. You really feel like you are in the desert out here, miles of sand with the pyramids and tombs the only thing on the landscape. Mohammed stayed in the car, he is a driver not a guide and his english is minimal. We had the Cairo pass so didn't need to pay again. $100 US gets us into all the sites in the area for five consecutive days.

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One of the ‘scams’ I figured out is that a fellow at the beginning of the area will ask to see your ticket again, completely unnecessary. Eventually i just said no, i don't need to show it again. They look at it and ask if you are on a tour. If you say no, they become your self appointed guide. They just walk with you and start telling you things. If you say no guide, they just don’t listen and you just end up having a guide most of the time. No is not an answer they understand. Ahmed did not have a great command of the english language, but he thought he did so i didn't have the heart to tell him I couldn’t understand pretty much anything he was saying. He took us around the site and showed us some tombs with great hieroglyphics with color still visible. It is amazing to think that these are 3,000 yeas old and still in perfect shape.

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In the end we gave him 200 Egypt pounds, ($15 CDN). There were very few tourists here, more guides and sales people than tourists. Tough life for them right now.

We then drove to the other side and dodged the “guides” and just looked around on our own. The hieroglyphics on this side were outstanding. A police man came up to us and asked if we were on a tour.
No, just us.
‘Follow me, I will show you some tombs’

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He took us to an area a bit way from everyone and unlocked some doors. He showed us four different locked tombs that were outstanding. He also let me take photos which was great. As this was something I had read about beforehand I knew that he expected ‘ backesh’ or a tip which we gave at the end. 40 Egypt pounds ($3) which he seemed to appreciate.

There was also a tomb, we had to climb down a very steep ramp hunched over as it is only 4 or 41/2 feet tall. Not much down there but you can appreciate what they were like.

Next stop Dahshur. I couldn’t remember much about it, but it was three pyramids you could go into. Only a handful of people here unlike the tombs at Giza pyramids.

Walking up 170, yes I counted them, uneven steps with handrails only available half way was daunting . Reaching the top I see that there is a very steep ramp going down into the pyramid 65 meters . It is very dark, we forgot our headlamps in the hotel, and thankfully there were rails on the ramp across the floor to keep you from sliding all the way to the bottom. Like the ones on ramps down to the docks. This entrance tunnel was even lower and by the time I reached the bottom it was hard to straighten up again. You reach a room where you can stand and then continue through another low tunnel to find another room you can stand upright in. What’s that I see ? Four flights of wooden stairs up. Well I’ve come this far, I am sure that there is a prize at the end.

The smell of ammonia is quite strong and there is not much air. At the top we were quite amazed at what was waiting for us
A big pit with large rocks.
Really?
I guess it’s a cool experience but in my humble opinion my knees and back could have done without it. Doug was amazed that I did it at al with my claustrophobia

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Last stop was Memphis, an open air museum. A couple of large statues of Ramses 2 that we’re very impressive
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A very full day for sure. It was a bit windy and quite warm today, hat and sunscreen kind of day. The locals find it cool, they are wearing down jackets and big coats. It is winter after all.

Day 8

I have never used Uber before but decided to try it in Egypt. All the trip reports said how cheap easy and reliable it is. I set it up before leaving home but my paypal did not like that I was in Egypt so couldn’t use it, had to resort to putting in one of my credit card info.

The first guy couldn’t find us for some reason but the second one was there a few minutes later. Traffic in Cairo is insane! Totally insane! Everyone constantly honks, a different kind of honk for what you are thing to convey.

A soft honk. “ I’m here “
Two honks, “ go ahead”
More aggressive honking is if someone’s getting too close

Everyone is constantly merging but there is no road rage or ill tempers at all. Just maybe a little more aggressive honking. They must have street valets because some of the side streets have cars parallel parked inches from each other three deep. It would be like a rubics cube if you wanted to get your car out so I assume you leave your keys with someone . This leaves a very narrow passage to drive down the road.

Even with a GPS the driver missed a lot of turns and got lost. I don’t think he had ever seen the Cairo museum, our destination, because at one point we passed it, I could see it and see it clearly marked on his GPS

“Museum?” I asked and pointed

He asked the car beside us where the museum was and the guy looked at him and pointed like
“Seriously, it’s right there, that huge pink building”

Traffic was stop and go, mostly stop, so we just said we will walk back from here. The trip took close to an hour and cost just over $6 Cdn with a tip

Just like in Bangkok we had two separate guys tell us the museum was closed for an hour, or the king tut exhibit has a one hour wait

“ come to my shop while you wait for the museum to open”

But not only did I look up the hours I could see people going in. Nice try. No thank you

We went through three separate security checks going in and one coming out. I could bring in my water however which was great. Our Cairo pass was scrutinized but he let us in. We were able to use it to see the mummy tomb as well.

The museum is moving to a new location in Giza but won’t be ready for a few years yet. The building is two floors and not well marked in my opinion as to where things were, but eventually we just decided to walk through the entire place. . The exhibits range from poor condition to almost perfect. It was incredible to see all of these sargofocus mummies and jewels from 3000 years ago. The king Tut mask and jewellery were very impressive

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We spent four hours there, had a bite to eat, and then called Uber again to pick us up. A bit of a mix up as to where we were and where he was but a lovely security guard called him for us and told us how to find him by cutting through the hotel.

A much faster drive home, about 40 minutes, again for $5 and after a rest in the room for a couple of hours we walked across the road to see the Sound and Light show

A bit cheezy but beautiful to see the pyramids and Sphinx all lit up with a a narration of the history of sorts

We decided to try the restaurant above or hostel and unfortunately it was very expensive and awful food. Not a great combination

Day 9

We are leaving the city that never sleeps, including me. Ironically the dogs stop barking and people stop yelling at 4am and that is when I am completely wide awake up. Go figure
Hopefully our next place will be a little quieter.

About the garbage. It seems that in the morning there is garbage strewn everywhere but shop keepers sweep it up and put into a big pile next to our hotel. Kids, and some older folks then pick through it to see what they can use. I saw a man with two donkeys pulling a cart who was lucky to find some discarded produce for his donkeys, or perhaps himself. Then the garbage pickup truck comes around 8AM and three men sort it out and take it away. Every morning starts off clean, but when we arrived at night it was quite shocking to see so much in the streets. My early morning entertainment watching the city clean up

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We hired Mohamed again to pick us up at nine and take us to Cairo for a few hours before our flight at 4.

I needed some money from the ATM beside our hostel and stood behind four women waiting. I am not sure how old they were, I imagine my age or younger, I can’t really gage it when they are covered head to toe in black. They smiled and we waited, and then a few more women came and stood in front of me and a couple other women. I made a polite fuss, but it didn’t seem to matter
They line up the way they drive, they just push in and get to the front, no one seems to mind.

Except me of course. I am used to order. I just couldn't take it after about 10 minutes when I am now 7th in line I left. Mumbling to myself, although they wouldn’t have understood me anyhow. They all just stared after me

“ what’s her problem?” I imagine them asking. Because they didn’t have a problem at all. I guess living with so many people you learn a lot of patience

Once again traffic is pure insanity and in an hour we are dropped off at the Coptic Christian area of Cairo. Security is high, we have to go through airport type scanners many times here as is the same in all of Egypt.

We wandered about and decided to hire a guide who found us and he helped us figure out what we were seeing. It’s a fascinating place with synaogues and churches side by side. This is where Mary and Joseph hid out for three years when Jesus was a baby as well as where Moses was floated down the river Nile. The Coptic museum had some beautiful artwork and items inside

This area is from 4th century and most buildings are still intact as original despite the big earthquake of 1992.

A side walk eatery was visited for a quick lunch and then off to the airport. I am glad we allowed an hour as it took an hour 15 to navigate the complete gridlock

Our Egyptair flight had us in Aswan in less than two hours . It is warmer, quieter and very clean and modern

Our arranged driver dropped us in front of our hotel and we are in awe. Located on the Nile river the hotel has a huge grand lobby with couches everywhere and a lovely garden and swimming pool

Doug and I are like school kids when we see our room.

“Look. Full size bath towels”
“ shampoo and soap in the bathroom”
“ a closet where you can hang up your clothes”

It’s the little things that are so exciting. It doesn’t take much to impress us. After our last hotel this was pure heaven.

We were hungry so we wandered out across the road and found a souk with many little alleyways of shops selling all sorts of clothes and goods. I thought I saw a cart of peanuts but I was wrong. The young man told me to taste one and I’m not sure what it was, some kind of fruit that I didn’t care for. He offered to take us through the souk and found us peanuts, dates and bottled water before leading us to a place to eat. Our self appointed guide was taking us to his uncles shops etc. But that was fine.

I really have let go of a lot of stuff here, like eating in cafes that are less than clean and eating stuff I have no idea what it is. They assure me it is vegetarian so I just go with it. We were the only tourists in this small hole in the wall and got lots of smiles and nods from the others

Egyptians eat huge portions, I can usually get through half if I am lucky. I tried a few new dishes that I quite enjoy.

A little bit of Arabic brings huge smiles to the local people. Many don’t speak any English at all, so we say thank you, no thank you and hello and good bye in Arabic. The big beaming smile we get in return is heartwarming

But now in Aswan there are a lot of Nubians here, people who were some of the earliest people here from Sudan and they have their own language.
So now we have to discern if they are Nubian or Egyptian and remember even more words. I’m sure we will screw up both languages a few times. But the fact that we even try is so appreciated

Day 10

The city has no water today. Something happened and everyone is without water. Must be a nightmare for hotel staff. Thankfully I had my shower last night.

A week ago I arranged a pick up at 5 am to go to Abu Simbel, a three hour drive south almost on the Sudan border. You have to submit copies of your passport and paperwork at least 48 hours in advance so they can clear it with the police. We were checked four times on route. The police always ask the driver where we are from, where are we going, ( in Arabic, but I can figure out what they are saying ). And then pop the trunk, look around and off we go.

Tourists can only be on this road between 5AM and 5 PM. I have heard different reasons why but I think it is for safety reasons to travel in the daylight in a group. The first part of our journey is in the dark but then the light slowly reveals the desert around us

The new two lane highway cuts through miles of sand, pink from the sunrise . We are following hydro wires the entire journey but nothing else is in sight. The road is straight and seems to go forever. You could watch your camel run away for days here it is so flat and straight.

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Half way there is a much appreciated bathroom break but the wind has come up suddenly and is whipping sand in our face and eyes. Back in the car on the road again the sand is swirling across the pavement in hypnotic waves of pink.

Finally at 8AM we arrived at Abu Simbel. The temple of Ramses 2 and the temple of Hathor are two of the most famous in Egypt. The parking lot confirmed that with many large tour buses and vans spilling out people into the entrance way to buy the $18 ticket

It’s already getting hot as we walk up the hill overlooking the huge blue lake Nasser.

And then there it is.

What an unforgettable sight, the four massive statues guarding the temple. Beyond is the temple of queen Nefertari which is equally amazing . Hathor was a female god that was more for women’s lives and featured in this one.

But what is even more impressive is that this temple, built in around 1240 BC, was moved in its entirety from its original site in the 70s before they built the high dam due to rising waters. Every ton of rock was moved perfectly to its new higher location . It was a huge undertaking with a few countries helping out.

These are photos of how close the river was before they moved it

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At 10:30 Doug and I are still wandering and marvelling at the sights when we notice we are almost alone. All the tour busses have left and we have the place pretty much to ourselves. People want to arrive here early to get the color on the statues from the rising sun, and from taking the same photo at 8:30 and again at 10:30 I do agree that the morning light is better.

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The downside of being the last person on the site is that you have to run the gauntlet of vendors on your own without the safety of other tourists to deflect from you. The vendors really do themselves a disservice as I would like to look but they make it so uncomfortable. I try to glance sideways behind my sunglasses, but if they see you look at anything they pounce

“ you like this madam, only 200 pounds, how many you like, I have more colours, how much do you want to pay?” All in one breath

Some were a bit assertive as well. Others use humour
“ you are breaking my heart madam”

And of course the ever present “Canada dry”. I asked one guy if he even knew what Canada Dry was and he had no idea. If they find out you are Canadian that is the response.

Our driver Hani was waiting in the cafe and we sat and enjoyed an ice cold sprite talking about his life in Egypt before making the three hour drive back.

We arrived back to our hotel at 3 to find we still don’t have water. We found a restaurant a few doors down on the Nile and had a late lunch/ early dinner while watching the sailboats, feluccas taking tourists out on the river. ,

It was quite muggy tonight but the temperature is pleasant.

Day 11

Water is back on which is a relief.

What a fantastic day we had today. We started to walk along the river after breakfast when a man approached and pretty much begged us to hire his horse and cart to take us to the museum we were walking to. We finally said yes and this poor horse had such a tough time pulling us up the hill I felt just awful.

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The ram is a mummy

The nubian museum was very interesting and we spent a couple hours there before going to the Cataract hotel, which is very famous here. It is the Empress hotel equivalent in Egypt. Many movies have been shot here as well as the setting for Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. Being non paying guests we were shown to a waiting room with a few other lookie loos until a man came in and explained we had to purchase a ticket to visit the hotel. This keeps the riff raff out I suppose. $300 EP per person, (25$) but you could put that towards drinks or lunch. I thought we might get a coffee and a bowl of peanuts for $50 but we were pleasantly surprised. The food was fantastic, beautifully presented and would have been at least double the price at the Empress. The setting on the water watching all the small sailboats go by was so peaceful and lovely. A family from Cairo were also on a day pass and we had a great conversation with them before we went for our meal.

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We walked back to the hotel and a young man we met this morning wanted to arrange a felluca ride for us . This is a small sailboat that you can go around the different islands on. We agreed to meet in an hour, after a much needed rest, and were led down the stairs in front of our hotel to get onto the boat. It takes a lot of skill and hard work to navigate these amongst the many other sail and motor boats on the river. There was a great wind so we were off in no time. It was so lovely, quiet and smooth sailing over to our first stop a small island with a botanical garden. He let us off and promised to come back for us in 40 minutes after we walked through the park. There were many families having picnics and an outing here. School is on a winter break at the moment so we see families everywhere during the day.

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Once again we are movie stars. Everyone wants to take our pictures with them so I decided to do the same . Here are some pictures of some of the wonderful ladies I met today. Everyone is so friendly and happy to meet and talk to a foreigner. If I look over and smile and say hi, well that just gives a green light to come over and talk. And then they thank us profusely for taking the time with them. This one picture they handed me the baby to have the photo.
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This is the Aga Kahn mausoleum
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Our captain did not forget us and we met up again to finish sailing around Elephantine island. We were gone for a total of 2 hours and agreed on a price of 300 for both of us ($25) but also gave the young man a tip of 50 EP, ($4).

Tonight we wandered through the souk again, to buy some spices and meet a lot of interesting people

Tomorrow morning we will be picked up at 9AM to sail on a small sailboat, ( 4 rooms) for the next three nights to Luxor.

I don’t imagine there will be wifi on the boat but I will continue when we arrive in Luxor.

Posted by debbep 11:06 Archived in Egypt Tagged abu cairo. saqurra. simbel. aswan. Comments (0)

EGYPT

After 55 years I am finally here!!

sunny 25 °C

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Egypt has been on my list since elementary school. I actually think it was the first thing on my list if I knew I had such a thing back then. But the political situation and my pre conceived ideas of what Egypt today was like kept me from going.

A few month ago Egypt kept showing up in my life by ways of advertisements, conversation and news articles. I decided I needed to look into it and after reading may other recent blogs and travel stories we decided to make it happen.

Our Itinerary:

Fly from Vancouver to Athens on KLM on January 28h
Three nights exploring Athens.
Feb 01. Fly Athens to Cairo
Four nights in Giza
Feb 5. Fly Cairo to Aswan.
Three nights in Aswan
Feb 8. Three night Nile Cruise on a Dahabiya ( sail boat)
Feb 11 Four nights in Luxor
Feb 15 12 nights in two different resorts on the Red Sea for snorkelling and relaxing
Feb 27 Fly to Cairo for two nights
March 1 Athens for two nights
March 3 Fly back to Vancouver.

Jan 28/29.
Day one and two. Flying to Athens.

After an overnight in Vancouver we boarded our KLM flight to Athens via a short stop in Amsterdam. The flight overall was quite pleasant although we had a hard time sleeping, par for the course and arrived very tired.

The Athens airport is an hour from town and the cab fare was 40 Euros, or $60 CDN which makes it expensive.

Our hotel , The Evripides, is walking distance to all the attractions we want to see, reasonably priced, $70Euros
incl breakfast and comfortable. The staff are very helpful and friendly. The hotel rooms are very basic, but does the trick. Athens is very noisy, someone would do well here opening a muffler shop. There are lots of cars, trucks and motorbikes who are in desperate need. Exhaust fumes, construction noise means that this is not a peaceful environment that is for sure.

Our goal for tonight was to stay awake until 9PM which we did by heading up to the rooftop bar for a light meal and leamonaid. The view of the Acropolis and Parthenon all lit up was magnificent.

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Day 3. Wednesday.
We were both wide awake at 5AM. Breakfast was at 7 and consisted of yogurt, unlike any yogurt we have seen for a long time. Thick and creamy and reminded me of my first visit to Greece in the 70s. Even though neither of us eats dairy, we had to have some. Mixed with dates honey and fruit it was amazing.

The Acropolis was a 25 minute walk, all up hill mind you, but through some great neighbourhoods of shops and sidewalk cafes. The weather held off for us, it was torrential last night with thunder and lightning keeping us awake at times. But today was sunny with a bit of cloud cover and the temperature was perfect.

The last part to the site consisted of a number of stairs and I was grateful to have packed my walking stick as the ground was very uneven and slippery from the rain. The crowds were not too bad today and the site is fantastic. There is a lot of restoration work going on, probably forever I would think, but overall it is in amazing condition.

Our walk back found us meandering though small streets and alleyways where we came upon a Greek restaurant, (go figure) and enjoyed some stuffed tomatoes, eggplant dish and Doug had a plate of fresh sardines which he was thrilled with.

After a three hour nap we went and wandered the streets again looking for dinner. It was amazing to us how many people were out on a Wednesday night. The streets were packed with young people drinking and eating in sidewalk cafes. I wonder what it is like on the weekends?

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Day 4. Thursday.

Awake early again. Today we walked the other directions to the archeological museum. It is two floors and has some pretty incredible artifacts, including a small Egyptian display.

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On our way back to the hotel we passed by a big bus full of riot police, looking like they were waiting for something to happen. We decided to go to another area.

20,000 steps on my Fitbit yesterday and 11,000 today for someone who has not been walking much because of my foot issues, I was done by 2PM. Doug continued on exploring the local market place and enjoyed some fresh grilled squid which he said was delicious.

Day 5. Friday, Feb 01.

Finally a full night sleep. Yahoo.

Fly day. EGYPT HERE WE COME!

We went to the airport early for our EgyptAir flight to Cairo at four. They were very diligent, checking our boarding passes four times before we actually got on the plane. I slept most of the two hour flight and woke to the descent into Cairo. You couldn’t actually see the city until you were very close, there was a thick blanket of brown smoke covering the area as far as you could see. It is a huge city with wall to wall buildings, apartments, 12 or 14 stores high, all various shades of brown and grey. Very little in the way of any greenery. Sand and concrete as far as the eye could see. They all looked like newer buildings, in neat rows, some in circular neighbourhoods.

Arrival was very easy, thankfully I had read many blogs and trip reports so knew that the little bank kiosks before passport control is where we purchase our visa. $25 USD, cash only and no Egyptian pounds. It seems that everywhere tourists must pay in USD. The local currency is only for tips and restaurants and small purchases.

After collecting our luggage we needed some Egyptian cash and found six ATMs in a row. Just as well we had to try all six until we found one that worked with our HSBC card. The bank said i could withdraw $400 a day but seems its only $150 which will be inconvenient, but none the less we were relived to get some local money.

Our arranged driver was waiting and we drove 45 minutes to our hostel in Giza. That old familiar smell in the car is coming from the green tree hanging from the rear view mirror.

I had heard about driving in Cairo, on par with India, but its been a while since we have been in India.

There are 12 lanes, but the lines are only a suggestion, and no one really pays attention to them. Cars are going in every direction and some are so close you know why so many have scrapes down the sides. A variety of tuc tucs, trucks cars and motorbikes share the road, all travelling at high speeds. I look into the other cars and many are texting or talking on their cells phones as they drive. Moms with babies on their laps in the front seat, no seat belts or car seats. There are many new late models cars but just as many from the 60s and 70s, banged up, dented and held together with duct tape. You wonder how some of them are still drivable. I do see a few cars at the side of the road in fresh accidents, drivers out exchanging information.

It is Friday and a holy day for Islamic religion. There are many weddings and people celebrating on the side of the road, especially on the bridge that goes over the Nile.

We finally reach Giza. The air is still thick and brown, reminiscent of summer fires in B.C. We are surprised at how big the town of Giza is, lots of small shops and restaurants line the street. There is also a lot of garbage on the roads. That dam plastic again. We are in a bit of a culture shock I must say, didn't quite expect this, but things always look worse at night.

Our hotel, or hostel, is a bit of a surprise to say the least. On booking.com it has great reviews but it was not what we expected. Two young men met us when we arrived and carried our suitcases up four flights of dirty rundown stairs. The lobby was a card table and chair. The young man who owns the place is lovely and could not have been nicer or more helpful. Our room is , well basic but it is clean. The smell of stale cigarette smoke and fragrant detergent permeates the room. We have a balcony and it faces the pyramids which we will see when we wake up, but it also faces the Main Street. Apparently Giza never sleeps. A lot of places are open 24 hours. Loud music, talking, traffic noise, camels, donkeys braying, horses. It’s all outside our widow. Thankfully I brought ear plugs.

We walked a few blocks up and down the street , everyone smiled and said

“Hello, where are you from?”

Little children ran to us to practice their English.

We never felt threatened in any way, until we tied to cross the street that is.

On the way down we hung behind some young girls and just went at their pace. On the way back we were alone. Cars coming at every direction and they don't stop or slowdown. Finally one guy did stop. He look at us with great pity and let us cross, as did the van beside him.
In Asia it is a dance. The traffics moves around you, just don't stop walking. Not so in Egypt. Run for your life! They don’t tun on their lights and don’t slow down or try to go around you.

We found a wonderful bakery and bought a couple of delicious breads, one stuffed with dates and the other like a huge flat croissant. The smell in the bakery was heavenly. We weren’t hungry enough to have dinner but there is always room for fresh baked bread.

Now we hope to sleep though the party outside and enjoy our fist day in Egypt tomorrow.

Saturday, Feb 02. Day 6

Never sleptw. A bit grumpy this morning. Even with ear plugs and a sleeping pill I laid awake listening to the dogs fighting and the music blaring.

But opening the curtains to see the view of the pyramids made it all disappear.

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Wow. What a sight. Breakfast was served on the roof. Being the desert it is very cool in the morning and evenings. We see the garbage all being cleaned up. I think this is a daily occurrence with the tourists and garbage.

We had a bit of an ordeal getting our five day Cairo pass, but again with all the research i did ahead of time i expected it and you just have to go with it.

Although the entrance is right in front of our hotel, we negotiated a price for a car to take us to the other end of town to go to the main entrance to get our passes. It is crazy busy, with so many tour busses everywhere.
Eventually we had pass in hand and met our driver in the parking lot and asked him to drive us to the furthest pyramids. Temple of the queens. There were less people here and we marvelled at the sight for an hour, tying not to make eye contact with the many camel guys trying to sell you a camel ride, or offer to take your pictures.
Tourism is down right now and they are desperate to make a buck right now, but it was not as bad as some said it would be . Doug needs constant reminders not to engage in conversation however as he then can not get away because they think they have a sale.

‘Where are you from?’
‘Canada’
‘Canada dry eh?’ Same thing. Every time.
And.
How many camels do you want for your wife?

All in good fun.

We see lots of healthy looking gorgeous Arabian horses with men galloping across the sand at breakneck speed. Young teenage school girls squeeling and screaming in both excitement and terror as they sit upon a camel and are led by the camel drivers

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Si our driver took us to the third pyramid and we said good bye, much to his dismay. We said we would walk from here.

We spent five hours just wandering around and marvelling at the sites. Most of the tourists are Egyptian. Being a Saturday I guess that a a lot of families came for the day. We hardly saw any other pasty white red faced tourists like us.

As it turns out they all wanted to take pictures with us, selfies. Especially the kids and teenagers. Some adults too and they were not shy about asking. Many are from outside Cairo and tourist areas so don't see many westerners , we are quite the curiousity.

We wonder what the caption will be?

Young children came up to us regularity to say
‘hello, what is your name?’
They want to practise their english.

Many of the Egyptians smile and say ‘welcome’ when they walk by, and most smile and are very friendly and welcoming. You can see the women in complete cover smile under thier burkas.

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The pyramids are so close to Cairo it seems strange to see the huge city in the back ground.
Two young women befriended us in the small boat museum and we spent some time together. Beautiful 23 year old Muslim girls in their fourth year of civil engineering. They hope to be able to travel the world as well but say their family would not be happy with that.

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The Sphinx was at the end of our day and is not as big as you would think.

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After a great lunch we limped back to our hotel and had a nap for two hours. Not sure how I slept through the intense noise, but I did.

We have a car picking us up tomorrow to spend the day seeing some other pyramid and tomb sites.

Posted by debbep 12:17 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

New York City

A girls get away

sunny 18 °C

May 4th, 2018

Jane and I are off on another adventure, this time to New York! I have been to New York before with Doug around 8 years ago but this is Jane's first time

We booked Air Canada from Vancouver non stop to Newark and it was on time and a pleasant flight. We arranged Dial 7 to pick us up and so when we arrived we texted them we were here, they sent a text back with the drivers name, type of car and number and he would be there in a few minutes. He arrived shortly after and negotiated the very busy Friday night rush hour traffic to time square in just over an hour .

We realized we would have time to get to a play tonight so booked theatre tickets on the drive with ticketmaster on line

We checked into hotel Edison which was seamless and dropped our bags off in the room. We have a basic room with two queen beds, it is plain but clean and spacious. They have great pillows and towels and the location is 1/2 block off time square which is what we wanted. The only compliant was the internet which was terrible in the room but fine in the lobby.

We grabbed a quick bite next door at Pret a manger and made our way to see Kinky Boots, a 3 minute walk. This was the highlight of our trip so we were so glad our flight arrived on time and we could see this. I got tickets in row 6 for $129 with a ticketmaster discount code but I think almost any seat would have been fine. The music costumes and story was fantastic and it was hysterical. It ran from 8pm to around 1030.

We stopped on the way back at Juniors for some amazing New York cheesecake

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Day 2.

We decided to do the hop on hop off bus and Top View was outside our hotel so we used them There was so much construction in new York and a lot of buildings under scaffolding and netting it really took away from the tour. I have done this before and found it was not as good this time. We hopped off at little Italy and wandered around for a while and then spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get back to hop on again. We found some great little delis for pecorino cheese, fruit etc to eat for lunch as we moved about. We really didn't stop to have a sit down meal at all this entire trip which I know is sacrilegious to many but we really just didn't want to spend the time

After a rest in the room we went to see Lion King, which we bought tickets for months ago. We had first row balcony which gave a great view of the stage. The costumes and sets were amazing and we enjoyed it. ( But enjoyed Kinky Boots more)

On the way back I saw a bunch of people lined up outside a doorway, so stopped to ask why and they were waiting for Denzel Washington to come out to his waiting car after his show. Eventually he came out smiling but didn't stop, he had just done two shows that day so I am sure he was tired. It was exciting all the same and I got a decent picture

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Another cheesecake at juniors but this time we split it and then to an Irish pub for a drink and met some great young people

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Day 3

Our second day of the hop on hop off bus ( we bought a two day ticket) so we decided to take it to Central Park but couldn’t get on the first one as it was too full and the next one looked doubtful so we decided on plan b.

Tried to figure out the subway system which to us seemed very confusing and not very tourist friendly. We asked many people who were all willing to help but everyone gave different directions. I read somewhere that if a train pulls up and all the cars are crowded except one, don't get in that one. Well I forgot and quickly found out why. There were s couple of men down on their luck and in desperate need of a shower. We changed cars at the next stop

We went to Central Park to try to get onto a bike tour but there wasn't one until 1PM and it was now just after 10. There was also a big bike rally or something in the park so made arrangement for another tour tomorrow at 10AM. We went to the stop for the bus tour and had to wait for two busses but eventually got on and did the uptown route. I can't say i was very impressed. If I were to do it again I would rather hire a car, convertible preferably, and driver to take us around and go down some of the side streets as that seemed to be the most interesting places.

At the “Frick museum” we got off and spent a couple hours there . It is a beautiful donated home, mansion, that has a large private collection of art including Rembrandt Vermeer and Matisse to name a few. The decor and architecture was beautiful and it was nice and small, perfect for a short museum stop. I have been to the MOMO, Natural history and metropolitan before , all of which are amazing, so this was just perfect as a short visit.

We decided to forget the hop on bus and took the subway and made our way to the world trade centre memorial. When I was here last time it was still a big hole in the ground, it now it is a beautiful waterfall sculpture in the ground. We met a young woman who was employed by the memorial and she was a wealth of information. It is really well worth a visit for sure, very moving and so well done in my opinion.

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We headed to the mall across the street to a food fair, but with great food stalls, and had some lunch

Back on the subway to East Village and the Orpheum theatre to see “Stomp”. We sat in the balcony, front row which offered a great view but not for the faint of heart. A very steep climb up and steep pitch . Front row is not the best choice in the balcony as your knees are right up against a railing and I am not that tall. Second row would be better as the pitch is so steep you will see right over whom ever is in front of you

This was a very enjoyable show and unlike the other two we saw. It was like watching street performers inside, a very clever high energy show.

We didn't realize that there are no plays on broadway on Sunday or Monday evenings, theatres are dark on those days so we were happy to hear of this one.

Grabbed the subway back to time square where we walked about and people watched for a while which is always interesting

Day 4. Our last day in New York

This is going to be a busy day so we took the subway to the bike rental and were there an hour early. In hind sight we should have just rented bikes on our own for a couple of hours, but we waited for the tour. We used the bike rental associated with top view bus tours. The bikes were great, staff was good, but our guide was terrible.

He showed up late, was unorganized, took us to the park and told us to be sure to stay on the bike lane and not the walker/runner lane and yet he rode in the middle of that lane the entire time, there were only five women on the tour which was great, but he took a liking to this young single woman and rode beside her and pointed out all the sights as we rode, which the rest of us didn't hear.

The ride though the park itself was beautiful with all the spring flowers in bloom and not too crowded being a Monday. As I said, in hind sight I wish we had done our own thing. At the end he asked for a tip. Not likely. I will report on trip advisor as the company seems great, just a bad employee.

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Back to the subway , getting the hang of it now, and straight to Battery park for Ellis island. I stood in this very long line up while my friend went to buy tickets. We tried to buy on line but couldn't seem to get any after 1PM departure so decided to take our chances.

It was about an hours wait, it was quite warm out but not the 39 degrees of the previous week, it was quite pleasant.

The Statue of Liberty is still as breathtaking as the first time I saw it. We did not get off but continued on to Ellis Island as they closed at 4. We used the included headphones and I enjoyed it just as much as I did on my first visit. It is quite a moving place and very well done.

Making our way back to our hotel by subway, ( wow we are pros now!) we stopped to see grand central station on the way which is impressive There was a great street performer in the subway which was nice, I was surprised this was the only one I saw the time we were here

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A quick rest at the hotel, my feet are killing me, and then we grabbed a cab to Macy's on 34 th. for last minute shopping

We are from small towns so felt like kids in a candy store, three floors of women’s clothing. OH MY!!! My energy level seemed to come back up again ha ha

I found a few great items, all at 30./. Off which would compensate for the exchange rate from Cdn to Usd.

We shopped until the 10 pm closing time, and could have stayed longer but my Visa card was burning up already.

Last day.

Home to Vancouver via Toronto, a few hiccups with our flights but it all worked out and we had to overnight in Vancouver anyhow as the ferries to the island don't run late. We live on Vancouver Island.

Overall New York was a great little get away. Our highlight was Kinky Boots, which we were afraid wouldn't happen but grateful it did. Loved Central Park, the Frick, 911 memorial.

I was agonizing what to pack, we just brought small carry on luggage, but it seems anything goes here. There were people in the theatre in gowns next to people in t shirts and shorts. What ever you are comfortable in is just fine. Most folks in the street seemed to go for comfort.

Our costs from Vancouver to New York including air and four nights at the Hotel Edison with two beds was $1100 CDN each all in, booked on Expedia together which saved us money.

Posted by debbep 20:55 Archived in USA Tagged new york Comments (0)

Baja Mexico and Arizona

Family and friends

sunny 26 °C

January 24, 2018.
Originally we were going to drive down south from Vancouver but a couple of weeks prior decided to fly to Palm Springs instead. We picked up a car at the airport and spent a couple of nights with friends who were renting a home there.

We drove north to Twenty Nine Palms to spend the night and explore Joshua tree park . That evening we went into the park to see the sunset but ended up at the wrong place, but it was still beautiful.

The following day we made a stop to the museum and walked around the little trails there and then made our way through the park, stopping now and then for hikes and eventually ending up in Blythe California

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The following day we made our way to Phoenix where we drooped the car and overnighted near the airport to catch our flight in the morning to San Jose Mexico.

BAJA MEXICO.

Our flight arrived shortly before our friends and then we all went to the rental car area to pick up our small sedan for the next 6 days. We chose MexCar upon recommendations form trip advisor forums and the total was $228 USD including insurance.

Our hotel for the one night in San Jose was Marisol Boutique hotel which we really liked and would have loved to stay longer. 1924 MEX per night double private bath. There was a great restaurant next door for dinner and then we went to La Comer to do some grocery shopping.

Driving north the next day to Los Cerritos, the following 4 nights were spent at Olas De Cerritos in Los Cerritos near Todos Santos. A really cute small place, block to the beach, communal kitchen and great pool. Four nights was $288USD per couple. There were a number a good cafes close by, spent lots of time at the beach. The beach was known as safe swimming but I was uncomfortable with the undertow. Jacki went in and had a blast. There were lots of surfing lessons on this beach

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One night we went up to the big beautiful hotel on the hill and had dinner on the terrace. The food and service was great and prices were no more than anywhere else.

Todos Santos for a day and then exploring the area around it as well. Of course a leamonaid in the Hotel California was in order.

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On Feb 1st we made our way back to the airport to switch the car for a seven seater van with the same company. A big grocery shop at La Comer again and we checked into our home for the next eight nights, a five bedroom condo at Marina Del Sol in Cabo San Lucas. $3071USD for the eight nights. We have a large pool and a short walk to a swimming beach while being close to the nightlife and shopping as well.
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The guys went to pick up our grown kids at the airport while Jacki and I unpacked and did food prep for dinner. My two boys Taylor and Reese were joining us as well as Jacki's daughter Alexa and we were very excited.

The week was spent on the beach, basking under umbrellas and having a dip now and then, going into town for dancing a few times, karaoke, shopping and just hanging out.

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One night we went into San Jose for an art walk which was fun.

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A whale watching tour had been prearranged for us so we drove to La Paz one morning and spent the day snorkelling with sea lions and then we each had two swims, two or three of us at a time, with a young whale shark. She was around seventeen feet long. It was very exciting.

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All too soon our kids have to fly back, we switch the van back to a sedan, and head to the east coast to El Pescadero. A studio each for four nights at Olas De Cerritos for $288USD per couple. It was a great place, good food, nice small pool. We explored the area, went on a crazy road to find this amazing snorkel beach, had some great meals and did a bit of shopping.

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Feb 15th we drove back to the airport to drop off the car and wait for our flights, our friends returning to Vancouver and we were heading back to Phoenix.

Our flight was late, we were tired, but picked up our rental car to drive north to Flagstaff. The fellow at Budget rent a car said it was snowing in Flagstaff and the roads were terrible we had to have an SUV. I had looked at the roads, weather etc and said, no we will be fine. He convinced my husband to upgrade and I was too tired to argue. For a large sum of money we were off in a vehicle that we did not know how to drive. We had to ask someone how to turn it on even! These new vehicles are so easy now that they make they complicated for us older folk ha ha.

We arrived in Flagstaff late at night, (no snow or ice in sight) and checked into the Americas Best Value motel for only $42. I wasn't expecting much but it was clean and nice and included a typical American continental breakfast.

We drove north to Page the next morning but veered off to see Monument Valley which was spectacular.

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Arriving late in Page we checked into La Quinta suites and got a great deal on booking.com for two nights at $188USD . A massive breakfast was included too. The staff was wonderful.

Upper Antelope Canyon was pre booked, which is necessary , so the next morning we met at the office and were transported with about 10 others by truck to the site just out of the centre of town.

This was a very easy walk though the canyon, and very crowded. The upper one is narrow at the top and wider at the bottom which is the opposite of the lower one. It was stunning!

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A picnic lunch was grabbed at the grocery store and we headed off to Horseshoe Bend. It was hot out and the park was packed. It is a long weekend in the USA, Presidents Day, plus Chinese new year so a lot of large Chinese groups here.

This park is scary. Steep drop offs, kids running around, women in heels near the edge and no guard rails. You have to get to the edge to see the river. If a big wind came up over you would go. I belly crawled along the rocks to the edge to get this picture. It was a bit of a slog up the hill to get back to the parking lot. It had been a long but very satisfying day.

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Lower Canyon was seen the next day. For this one you drive yourself there, it is across the highway from the Upper Canyon. There are two company offices here, brother and sister, we chose Dixie Ellis. We had booked this well in advance as well and glad we did and they were turning people away.

Different from the Upper you climbed down stairs to get to the bottom and slowly climb stairs over different areas to make your way to the top. It was not very physically challenging. More so that it was a narrow walkway than the stairs really. It was different from the upper but just , if not more, beautiful. We are glad we did both.
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A quick lunch and then we headed south, veering off to see the Grand Canyon for a short time. We are glad we did, it was a great view point

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After sunset we made our way to Sedona and stayed at the Green Tree Inn for $95USD per night. It was a fine room with included American Continental breakfast.

After checking out the next morning we explored Sedona and went for a couple of short hikes in the area before making our way south to see friends in Tuscon. We spent three nights visiting them before heading to Mesa to spend time with friends there for a few days.

SEDONA
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Around Mesa we explored a fair amount taking in the local sights.

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Another great trip

Posted by debbep 19:56 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach baja Comments (0)

Ireland

And a couple of days in Scotland

rain 12 °C

Day 1 (in Ireland). Monday Sept 18, 2017

Doug arrived the day prior but I figured he would be jet lagged so I stayed in Italy and extra day. I arrived at the hotel in Dublin and waited in the room for him to return from exploring. I was so surprised how expensive Dublin was when looking at rooms to book. Holy cow. We ended up with The Ripley Court hotel, double private bath, for 240E two nights. It was just fine. It also included a large English breakfast.
We went out for Thai food at a restaurant close by after Doug returned. He was disappointed as he wanted to go to the Museum but it was closed on Mondays.

Day 2 we made our way back to the airport by bus to pick up our rental car. We chose Budget booked on Expedia, for $114 CDN for the week and used our insurance from our ICBC at home and also the VISA card insurance. Quite a bargain really.

Heading East on the highway was not very exciting, but we wanted to get to Spiddal for our first night. The weather was rainy and not great, but we arrived at the coastal town around 5PM. Our little BandB, An Caladh Gearr Thatch cottage was so cute. The owner was a very charming friendly and helpful woman. We were greeted with some delicious scones and tea before being shown to our room She wanted to know what we wanted to do and would help with advice as much as she could. Doug and I had not booked any more rooms for this week, we are just going to see where we end up, but she gave us some great ideas. 78 Euros a night and a massive breakfast included. Irish breakfast are huge. We saw this outdoor laundromat which we thought was unique.

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Day 3. We decided to head south now. Still a rainy windy day. We stopped at Dunguaire castle and also Poulnaborne Dolmen and the Cliffs of Moher.

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We made our way down to Kilkee where we found a cute little BnB for the night in the countryside

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Day 4

The cliffs around Kilkee rivalled Moher and we loved exploring this area. We took the ferry across to the Dingle Peninsula and found a BnB on the main drag for two nights. We really liked Dingle as well. There are more pubs than people here. The weather was great the first day so we explored the Dingle peninsula which was beautiful. At night we ate at the pubs, met some nice young people and listened to local Irish music.
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Day 5. A very wet and rainy day. We did a bit of exploring but glad we did our drive yesterday. A small museum was close by and we spent some time there

Day 6.
Today we headed to Killarney as Doug wanted to see Ross Castle, wondering if it might be part of his heritage, but turned out not to be. Muckross is just outside Killarney and I was lucky to secure a BnB for two nights at the Friar Glens by far our favourite place on this trip. It was right outside the park and the red deer were so big with massive antlers I was sure they must have been elk. The hosts were fantastic, an outstanding breakfast (baileys irish cream on our oatmeal) and the grounds were superb. I felt like I was in the Queens country get away.

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Day 8 and 9 were spent exploring Muckross. Across the road was the old abby which was amazing and then we walked along a country road to get to the park and explore the castle and grounds.

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I was so tired after a day of walking about that we hired this horse and carriage to take us back to the car. Money well spent.

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We did two drives out to Ladies View. We decided not to do the full Ring of Kerry as the Dingle peninsula was so gorgeous . They had a great little restaurant at the viewpoint where we had soup twice. We find that Ireland has wonderful soups, and all are vegetarian too.

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A BnB from the 1800s was our home tonight, Abby House, across the road from the Jerpoint Abby. For dinner we went into town of Jerpoint to a new Indian Restaurant which had amazing food. Our room was very old, quaint and charming.

Day 11

Doug had fresh caught trout for breakfast. The included breakfasts in Ireland are amazing. We explored the old mill on site and then walked across the street to the Abby. It was amazing. We are so glad we stumbled on this quite by accident. The best kind of travels.
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Our last stop in Ireland was in Aughrim, county Wicklow. A very old BNB called Clone House from the 1600s. The new owners are from the US and they are spending a lot of time and money renovating this gorgeous home.
We had been to Wicklow in the early 80s as a newly married couple and so it was exciting to see if how we remembered it was the same or not. The main attraction here is the ruins at Glendalough . We explore upon arrival which I am so glad we did as it was not raining and the weather was actually quite pleasant.

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Day 12. Miserable windy rainy day. The worst one yet. We just hung around in the living room reading for most of the morning and then ventured into town to find some lunch. A very low key day on our last one in Ireland.

SCOTLAND

Thursday September 28, 2017. Up early to drive to Dublin to drop off the car and fly to Edinburg. We arrived at 1:45PM and took the bus into the main part of Princess Street to our rented apartment Inner City Lets. We chose a two bedroom apartment right in the centre of everything. Edinburgh is incredibly expensive for us, 337 GBP for two nights seemed like a lot for what we got, and that was a good deal. Doug and I explored the streets and found a middle eastern restaurant for dinner. We realized it was the same one we ate at ten years earlier when we were there.

Reese flew in from Krakow Poland and arrived at midnight.

Day 14. Breakfast in the apartment and then out to join a walking tour of Edinburgh which was enjoyable. We had some wonderful vegetarian meals and did a lot of walking and sight seeing.

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Day 15, We spent the day walking around until our 6PM flight to Gatwick. Overnight at an airport hotel
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Day 16, Sunday October 1, 2017. Flew home on Air Transat after a wonderful holiday and great family memories.

Posted by debbep 18:57 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Italy

Travelling with my son.

sunny 25 °C

Day 1. London. September 10, 2017.

My son Reese and I decided to spend a week in Italy travelling from Vancouver to Gatwick on Air Transat . The flight was good and we spent time at the Yotel in the Gatwick airport for a few hours before our onward flight to Pisa. The Yotel was great, bunk room, tiny but dark and quiet and a great place for 40 winks to catch up on some missed sleep.

PISA
Arriving in Pisa we took the train into town and then lined up for a taxi which took quite a while. We had a map but found it quite confusing so decided to take the cab. Neither of us were in the mood to get lost, especially with suitcases.

Our little hotel is a block away from the Leaning tower and suits our needs. Casa San Tomasso was 69 Euros a nite for two beds and private bath. After dropping off our bags we walked around looking for somewhere to eat , getting lost in the twisting alleyways, but eventually finding a small family run pizza cafe crammed full of locals out for their Sunday evening meal. The Pizza was not bad but the atmosphere was great. We were the only tourists.

Day 2. A mediocre breakfast was included but before that we walked down to the Leaning Tower of Pisa to beat the crowds and get some of the iconic tourist photos.

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After breakfast we checked out and made our way to the bus stop and then the train back to the airport for our rental car pick up. A cute little Fiat will be perfect for these narrow roads.
We had a great system where I drove in the morning and Reese in the afternoon so that we both got a chance to see the scenery. Not long after leaving the airport we were pulled over by the police at a large round a bout
They asked for our ID and thankfully we both bought international drivers licences, as I am sure that is what they were looking for. A quick glance and they waved us on. Otherwise we would have been faced with a hefty fine.
Trying to get back into the fast paced traffic at this traffic circle was a real challenge but eventually we were on our way again.

First stop San Gimignano. Doug and I were here a few years ago and loved it. After parking the car outside the walls, (parking is always an exercise in patience in these walled cities) we walked the streets looking in shops and eventually sitting at an outdoor cafe for a great lunch.

This was followed by the best gelato either of us had ever had! None compared for the rest of the trip, and we tried many others.

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TUSCANY

Our destination was San Quirico d"Orcia, south of Siena, a small walled medieval town that Doug and I stayed at a couple of years ago and loved it. We rented a two bedroom apartment on the main drag ( walking road) above a restaurant. We agreed to meet the owners there at 5PM. We booked Casa Del Bernini on booking.com and the rate was 150 Euros for two nights.

It was a very old building that had been remodelled. But they tried to make it very modern and in my opinion it really lost a lot of its charm in doing so. A lot of the decor looked like it was from the 80s with brass fixtures and retro furnishings and you could tell they did a lot of the work themselves. They were very proud of it however and showed it off with pride. It was huge! Way more than we needed. A large living room kitchen and dining room as well as bathroom with laundry downstairs and bedrooms and another bathroom up stairs.

He showed me the bedroom with large queen bed and then looked like he was ready to go. I said " the other bedroom?" He looked confused. I said, we booked two bedrooms. He said, " there are only two people"
Yes, but this is my son and he's not going to sleep with me.
I guess there was some confusion with the booking. But in the end he graciously opened up the second bedroom for us. We loved the location and having the large space for the two days.

A great restaurant that we went to before was across the street and we enjoyed a delicious meal. I think Reese is a little shocked by the prices in Italy.

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Days 3 and 4 were spent exploring the area by car and some of the little towns nearby. We both loved Tuscany. One of my favourite memories is when we were driving past this building on the hill and Reese stopped to take a photo. A car drove up the driveway and we realized it was a winery so we went up to look around.
I bought a bottle of red wine, we stopped at a little cheese store beside our apartment and got some Pecorino ( sheep cheese), fresh bread from the bakery and olives from the deli both beside our apartment.

We sat in the kitchen, on our devices, not talking but enjoying the amazing feast before us. We both agree it is one of the best days.

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Day 5. We checked out and headed to Siena, stopping there for a pizza to go (yuck) and then sat to have a coffee beside the Duomo. It was very crowded and Siena is not my favourite. I prefer the smaller towns, but wanted Reese to see it.

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We took the scenic route to Florence and passed by some amazing wineries and wonderful scenery. Our GPS took us through a back way to get to the airport in Florence. I remember now. The signage for the car rental drop off in Florence is horrible. We drove around and around, the GPS taking us back to the airport terminal all the time. I knew it was off site, and there were tiny signs but they just kept disappearing. Reese was getting very frustrated, as he was driving.

Finally we saw a transfer van for the rental companies and we followed it. Yeah. We waited for a bus to take us into Florence and got dropped off near the Duomo.

I had booked a stay in a monastery, the Borgo Pinto which was a couple of blocks from the Duomo and so a short walk everywhere. Our rooms were on the same floor but opposite sides , (boys one side, girls the other) We could have shared a room but it was the same price for our own singles. Doug and I had a double in a monastery in Venice. This is a great way to save a lot of money and stay close to the centre. It is also a really unique experience. The rooms are very basic but just fine for us.

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FLORENCE

Days 6 and 7 were spent exploring Florence and seeing the Uffuzi museum as well as the inside of the Duomo and museum next door. Some great meals were had, shopping done, and a lot of walking. Florence is a great city

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VENICE

Day 8 we grabbed a cab to the train station for our 930AM train to Venice. We arrived at 11:30 and took the vaperato into the centre getting off at the Rialto bridge. Our hotel is Hotel Ala Fava who sent great instructions how to get there and we arrived without getting lost!!! A major accomplishment .

Our room is small but twin beds and private bath in a great location for 308 Euros for two nights. A great breakfast was included. We wandered about Venice visiting all the major sights but there was around four cruise ships in and it was so crowded. We decided to get off the beaten track and explore outside the main area and come back in the evening when most of the cruisers had left.

One night we went to a concert of Vivaldi by people dressed in period clothes which was fun. Music Veneziani . The weather was very warm and dry and we enjoyed some great meals in Venice.

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Day 10, September 18.

Reese flew to Budapest and I flew to Ireland to meet up with Doug.

Posted by debbep 20:42 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Dancing around the world part two

My second video of dancing with some amazing people and having so much fun

A video of me dancing in various countries.

click here for video

Posted by debbep 11:01 Comments (0)

Bai Tu Long Bay, Ninh Binh and Mai Chau

Getting better all the time

sunny 28 °C

Bai tu Long Bay

Day 16

At 7:45 a luxury van picked us up from our hotel and we joined four others for a three and a half hour journey to Halong Bay.
Our ship mates are a young couple from Colorado and a couple perhaps early 50s from Lyon France. The French couple do not speak a great deal of English but as the journey progressed they got more confident.

We wonder, is this our ship?
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Our junk is the Indochina Prince 2 and has four cabins, but one will be vacant. Duc, who is known as "handsome duc" is around 30 something and is a fantastic host with a wonderful sense of humour.
Our cabins are very tight quarters but we have a lovely sun deck and outdoor as well as indoor dining room to spend most of our time aboard.
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We see a lot of big ships go by with 50 or more passengers and are glad we choose this small one. We all seem to get along very well and are laid back and enjoying the outdoors.

The view is spectacular with karst mountains jutting out of the water as we cruise slowly from the harbour.

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The sceanery is getting more and more beautiful
A five course lunch is served, incredible what can be prepared in a tiny kitchen. Full and happy we lounged on the sun deck for an hour until we reached our point of anchor in a sheltered bay. Double kayaks were brought out and we set off to paddle around a couple of islands. No instruction to speak of. The French couple had never been in a kayak I don't think but no one seemed concerned.

We are the only group in kayaks here and it is great. A few other larger boats are coming in to anchor for the night as well and perhaps they will kayak later but for now we have the waters to ourselves

There was a ban on kayaking last month. One day the government said " no more kayaking in Halong bay" and that was that. Too many boats, too many kayaks and no instruction or safety measures in place. It seems anyone can put a boat in the water and take passengers

The ban was just lifted a couple of days ago so we are lucky. There are supposed to be stricter rules now.
Ha long bay is apparently very busy with hundreds of boats. We chose the longer trip to Bali Tu Long because it was quieter, cleaner and less traffic and pollution.

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Duck took us into a little bay where we sat and drifted while he told us about the monkeys and pythons on this little island and how they swim from place to place. Poachers come to grab them when they are swimming to sell to china for meat. The government is trying to stop it and there are rangers in the area to keep an eye on things. Duc says that it is because the tourists don't like to see that kind of thing, not that the Vietnamese think here is anything wrong with it. Vietnamese don't have a big animal rights concern. The last of the rhino was killed a few years ago, just for the horn, and elephants are still killed for the ivory.

We see large birds in tiny cages everywhere, watching as other birds get to fly free while they are a prisoner their entire lives behind bars in the small space. It is good luck for the Vietnamese. Not for the bird. .

Dogs are chained up as well, and most look cute but are nasty. In the city dogs are loved as pets more than the country. We hear thy eat them as well.

But I digress
Back to kayaking. Paddling back to the boat the young American couple went to pass their camera to Duc and leaned a bit too far out and over they went.
There are no hatch covers so the kayak filled with water quickly and it was difficult for them to get back in.

We see the kayaking is sinking so Jane Andy paddle quickly back to the boat to get help. Somehow the ranger found out and sent over a small junk to pick up the swimmers and tow the kayak back to our boat.

After a rest we are treated to a seven course dinner on deck, white tablecloths sprinkled with little red flowers and candlelight. Far too much food! They are catering to my vegetarian needs and I find out that Duc is a vegan which is very unusual for Vietnam. Because the people were starving for years under communist rule and rarely had meat to eat, it is now considered that you are poor if you don't eat meat.

He talked to us about communist rule and what life was like not that long ago and how far they have come in a short time. But is is every many woman and child for themselves. There is no government pension or healthcare here.

All the cars are new new use it has only been the past seven years that they have really been introduced here. A car is the same price as a lot of houses.

The homes here are all very tall and narrow because land is expensive so they build up. Duc lives with his wife and two children, his parents and grandparents all in the same house and that is normal

Bed was at 9PM and we slept like logs.

Day 17

Cruising

The boat was so still last night. At one point ( well maybe a few times actually) I woke to use the bathroom and looked out the porthole to see the water was like a mirror.

Jane and I were first up on on the deck at 7AM to have our coffee and enjoy the morning.

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At 8AM the boat sets off and we are served our breakfast on deck . The itinerary will be changed slightly and we will kayak first to avoid the crowds

I hear a commotion in the kitchen and see a very large white duck quacking and fluffing. Hmmmm

Is this dinner? I ask Duc and he assures me no.

Kayaking was again very peaceful and we were the only ones in the water. At one point we went into a small cave and were told how the fishermen get rainwater from the hanging rock formations

Duc gave us a lot of information about how the " boat people" live here in this part of Vietnam. They fish and trade and basically have no need for money. If one family is lucky with fishing one day they will share with everyone else, there is no jealousy. Some will catch fresh fish or seafood and trade the big freighters for fuel, or the cruise ships for water rice and vegetables. If they do make any money they put it away for their children for when they need to have their own boat to live on and raise a family. The children do not go to school and live their entire lives on the boats , only seeking shelter in caves when there is a storm or typhoon.

It is a a simple life, no tv, newspapers or internet. They are happy
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We kayaked to a sandy beach and went for a swim. The water is a great temperature and very salty. The crew has come ashore in the tender and set up our table and chairs complete with white tablecloths and we are served an 8 course lunch. Most of the food was prepared on a barbecue
I enjoyed many courses or different types of vegetables, far too much food.

The others had skewers of grilled prawns. Then chicken, pork, fish, rice, salad, squid and finally watermelon.

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Duc tells us how as a child the government would not allow any foreign ,especially American, tv in Vietnam. They could have Animal planet however and they thought that North Americans, anyone with white skin especially, were incredibly stupid. For example,they would watch as a woman would find a snake or alligator in her back yard and scream and run away. He was taught as a child that if he found any animal to scream and everyone would come running to kill it for dinner. And then the lady would,even pay someone to take it away and set it free! How stupid is that ?
They would have bets as kids if people would eat the animals or not.

Back on the boat for a rest while we travel slowly for a few hours to a small island that indochina junk owns and has set up a beach area with kayaks. This is used by those on the one night cruise. It is very busy with lots of big boats and so many people. We are at the end of the day and see most leaving as we arrive.

I heard the duck quacking loudly and see him leaving on a small boat? My friend, where are you going? I ask if he is being given to fishermen in exchange for seafood. I am assured he is go to stay with the men on this island as he will have more room than on the boat. I will never know.

We are here to walk up some stairs into a cave and that goes across the little island. This is where the fishermen come to escape storms

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When Indochina junk bought the island the fisherman were very upset ,(naturally) , but after s bit they all worked it out and now they are allowed to go there in a storm and the company also gives them water and rice every week as a trade off.

Dinner tonight was another 7 courses and this time the chef, who looks about 12, came out do do a cooking demonstration of drunken prawns and presented amazing vegetable carvings from pumpkins and radish.
The last one was of our ship, sails made of thin carrots. Duc came back with tiny little carrot kayaks to put beside it. Then he put one on its side and said " this one tip over " which brought great laughter

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I can hardly keep my eyes open again at 9PM so it's off the bed early

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Day18

Fishing village and Ninh Binh

After breakfast we arrived at a small floating fishing village and went "ashore" . These people used to live on the small fishing boats but now have this little village of floating houses. When the parents go out fishing the children can stay behind and go to school. They only go for three years and with great objection from the parents. They never went to school and are doing just fine.

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But the kids learn basic English, math and writing here. For them however is is mostly about socializing and it is hard for the volunteer teachers to keep any order.

The company we are with have started a initiative to help cleanup the garbage in the bay. They pay the people to pick up floating plastic etc and then every couple a weeks a barge comes and pays them by the kilo for garbage. What a great system. The tour company also helps with the school and some income from the tourists help.

These women were ready to take us around the bay for s little tour. At the end we tip her 50,000 dong per couple ($2.50)

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We learned more about life on the water and fishing. For shopping the supermarket comes to you, twice a day in case you need anything

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Our last stop was a pearl factory where they showed us how they make cultured pearls. Some from Vietnam , some from Tahiti, south seas which were huge. Of course they had a gift store attached to buy pearl earrings and necklaces, but none of us were interested.

As we made our way back to the boat the skies opened and it rained hard. Torrential for the rest of the morning. After a light lunch we arrived back at the harbour and made our way to a waiting room. The other four were heading backwards to Hanoi and Jane and I arranged for our tour to collect us here at the harbour.

We said our goodbyes and got into a small Toyota with our driver and tour guide, a young woman from Sapa named Ngoc.

The rain was relentless for out boring five hour drive to ninh binh. There are many large modern cities on the way and they seem very prosperous . Some of the roads are under a great deal of water already. I feel badly for the motorcyclists.
We slept part way and were glad to finally arrive at 5PM.

We are in a home stay in Yen Mo village and it is very modern and nice. We are hoping the rain lets up for tomorrow

Ethnic travel is who we booked with and they have their name monogrammed on everything possible. A bit of overkill.

There are nine young people here from France Germany and Austria. We are all helping to prepare dinner making spring rolls, some veggie and some pork.
Our dinner once again is many courses and far too much food. We shared some stories and had great conversation.
Another early night

Day 19

This morning I watch as a small toddler runs to his dad carrying a huge sharp cleaver. When we reaches his dad he runs his finger across the sharp end to make sure its sharp enough before handing it to his dad. Such a difference in how children here are raised from home

The rain has stopped and we had a dry day. Yeah! The young French couple joined us on a hike around rice paddies which was very beautiful. Finally I saw rice almost ready for harvest and can see how it is done. It looks like wheat. In two weeks the fields will be bright yellow and then brown when it is ready. Most family's cut by hand but some have some machinery.

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I have a waterfall pouring off my forehead again. It is so hot and humid and I just can't seem to take the heat anymore for some reason. It was wonderful when a breeze came up and the clouds came in.

At the end of the hike we arrive at a river and women row us for about an hour and a half at a leisurely pace ( for us, we are not doing anything) they row with thier feet. We go through two caves and at the end the big guns come out. They have a bag of goods to sell. Talk about a captive audience. They didn't look they were going to move until we bought. It was crappy Chinese stuff too, not even hand made Vietnamese goods. I finally bought one little purse she wanted a fortune for, but I had paid 50,000 for it before so,that is all I gave her. Then she is after Jane, who stood firm with her no. I need to be more like Jane. I am so weak

The French couple were in thier boat getting harassed as well. It was really uncomfortable and kind of ruined it for us a bit. Finally I just said very firmly " we go now!!!" And we did
I think she was trying to put the boat through the cave to bump Jane's head on the rocks hanging down cos she didn't buy

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Now it is lunch time at another home stay and we are joined by two more French young people. They are doing a day trip from Hanoi

Now it is time to bike and eight mountain bikes are brought out. They are all men's bikes and somehow I ended up with a huge one that was not great. Jane switched with me for the last half hour which was great. She said it was a crappybike so I was happy that it was not just my imagination.

The biking was on a variety of paths and roads, some good, some not so good but the sceanery was wonderful through rice paddies farms and small towns. We went much longer than planned and then she asked if anyone wanted to climb 600 stairs up a mountain to see the view. It was already 3:30pm so there was no way I had the energy. Jane and I stayed back with the guide and walked around the park a bit and waited for 45 minutes while the French couple did it.

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Riding through the small towns and farms we find that everyone says hi, waves and smiles at us. They are all so friendly and welcoming here.

The ride back was on the highway for the most part but very little car traffic which was nice.

The car ride back to,the home stay we see a motorbike and the fellow has a big blue plastic bag. It fell off into the road and huge red fish fell out and was still alive and flopping all over the highway. I hope the fellow was able to catch it again.

It was 6 PM by the time we got back and only time for a shower before dinner.

I am sitting in our room now at 9:30pm but can't go to sleep even though I am bagged. Across the ally is a wedding. Kareoke on stop , full blast, and really really bad. We were told it would finish at 10PM so we are hopeful as we have another full day tomorrow.

Day 20

Mai Chau

A four hour drive though the country side from Ninh binh to Mai Chau was so picturesque with the rice paddies turning yellow and ready for harvest. The further we went the more the rice turned yellow. We saw women in the fields chopping it down and harvesting the rice. We stopped to take pictures and waved, they smiled and waved back. Everyone we met had a big smile and said hello to us today, they are so friendly and happy.

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On the side of the road we see people selling goats for sale. Cooked ones. They are complete in every way except the fur and are kneeling down and looking quite peaceful. The things vegetarians are made from

The rice is harvested and then dried on the pavement as it is hot and makes it a faster process. Cars and trucks just drive around it. In some areas there was miles of rice drying on the side of the road. Each family has their own plot or plots and harvests for their own family use, not to sell. They are also growing corn, peanuts and pumpkins.

We stopped to look at this sugar cane and Ngoc bought some for us to try. I had tried before but this was a little different. You chew it and get the sweet juice out, like gum, and then spit out the sugar cane.

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This guy is bringing home the bacon

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It was starting to sprinkle as we arrived in Mai Chau and the sky was getting darker. We stopped at a homestay for lunch and the rain started pouring down. Within 10 minutes the road was under a foot of water and flooding. We were eating in the garage , covered outdoor area of the home and the water was running through the room onto the road. Very loud thunder overhead as well.

We had planned on hiking up the mountain to get to our home stay, but I guess that is out. Wow.

We had to move so hunkered down in the living room until the rain subsided . We decided just to head to the home stay as it will be too muddy and slippery to climb the mountain.

Before long the roads are almost dry, you would hardly know it rained. We passed a farm area and Ngoc asked if we want to walk for an hour and a half which we did. We walked down small paths past little farms and rice paddies. The water buffalo would stop and stare at us, and sniff. We smell differently because we wear lotions and deodorant. Then they would run away afraid. Maybe my deodorant ran out, I was pretty sweaty.

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Every turn the scenery was better and better. It is so beautiful out here and the green fields are glowing because of all the rain. Women are cutting the rice and putting them in baskets on their backs.

I watched as one woman was picking huge English cucumbers from her garden. She saw me and came up and gave me one, and tried to give jane one as well, but one was enough. So nice.
Ngoc picked some berries and asked us to taste them. Then she stuck out her tongue and started to laugh, we all had bright blue tongues. She is quite the joker. It was blue only temporarily of course

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This bridge was very scary for me. It was about 30 feet up and no handrails and parts of the bottom was missing. But I did it.

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What a wonderful walk. Our driver picked us up and we had a 10 minute drive to the home stay.
It is a stilted house of a family of the white Thai minority. It looks quite new, Jane and I have our own room and we share two bathrooms with the guide and driver. We are facing a beautiful rice paddie field and there are lots of young children playing in the yard because it is the only one that has a big flat area to play.

Later we sat on the floor and had dinner with the husband and wife who own the home. Our last few meals have been non fried food at our request which is very much appreciated. They had some of their own peanuts which were delicious.

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After dinner I showed Ngoc a couple of pictures on my iPad which the wife found very interesting. She does not speak any English so Ngoc
had to translate for us.

She brought out her embroidery to show us which is lovely and a pair of prescription sunglasses that someone gave her to see better for her embroidering. We all looked at them and they were terrible. She reached over and took my readers and her face lit up

" I can see!"

She was now embroidering like a maniac. Unfortunately they are my good glasses and I have already broken two other pair on this trip so can't part with them.

Jane ran upstairs and found her second pair, we are going home in a day anyhow, but unfortunately they have a crack in the frame. She explained to glue that part. She was so happy and appreciative

I found another pair that I brought I can give her tomorrow too,
What a great day.

Day 21. Our last day in Vietnam

At 7AM I went down to relax in the hammock and just absorb the beautiful scenery. I watch men and women drive the cattle up the hill through the jungle. It is so peaceful here.

The day was spent doing another hike though the countryside and then a bike ride for a couple of hours.

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After lunch in a family home we make our way back to Hanoi. The driving is slow so it takes four hours to go 200 K

At 4:30 PM we arrived back to the Hanoi Guest House and say our goodbyes to our driver and Ngoc.

The shower was very welcome and after an amazing East Indian dinner we are packing up and gettin ready for our 5AM transfer to the airport to come home

Vietnam was beautiful and very interesting but the people here really made this trip, they are so genuinely friendly and happy to see you.

Posted by debbep 03:51 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

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