After 55 years I am finally here!!
28.01.2019 - 03.03.2019 25 °C
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 dry eh?’ Same thing. Every time.
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
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.
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.
The Sphinx was at the end of our day and is not as big as you would think.
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.