Get me out of Egypt..!

I was so happy that the day I was leaving Egypt was finally here, but I was not ready though for the mission to get to Barcelona.  We had to catch a stinking bus from Alexandria to Cairo, which took, four hours.  We are damn lucky we made it to the bus on time as the taxi to the bus station got stuck in ridiculous traffic and Hubs and I were both stressing that we would miss our bus to Cairo, and hence miss our flight out of Egypt.  Nooooooooooooooo  don’t let me get stuck in Egypt!! I had a good time in Egypt but I’d had enough of the stinky sweaty dirty place. I needed to get back to Europe!! 

Anyway, when our taxi dropped us to the bus station 7 minutes after the bus’s departure time, the bus was pulling out of the dirt carpark that was the bus station. That is, it was pulling out until I stood in front of it!  I was desperate and determined to get out of Egypt and desperate times call for desperate measures.  There was no way the bus driver was going to run down a western tourist – or was he?  I wasn’t convinced I’d be safe, but I wasn’t moving.  Luckily, the rude bastard of a driver let us on – and as it turned out he couldn’t leave anyway for some reason and we were stationary for another 15 minutes.  This is the only time I’ve been grateful for Egyptian time (i.e. not doing anything on time!)  Phew.  We were on the bus and on our way to getting out of Egypt.

After a four hour bus ride, we went to the wrong terminal at Cairo airport and ended up trudging to two other terminals with all our stuff until we found the right one.  Upon check in with Iberian Airlines, I was told that there was a problem with my reservation. In my head I was thinking: Like shit there is!  You had better let me on that plane buddy or else…!!  My problem was resolved, without me ever knowing what the problem was, and we were on our way to Barcelona, via Madrid.  We flew all night and got no sleep.  At Madrid airport we had to wait four long hours before our flight to Barcelona. The shops were all shut and there were no seats without arms to lay down on and sleep.  We were Knackered.  Really.  Someone smart had pushed two rows of seats close together facing each other, providing a narrow space to lay day without being obstructed by the seat arms.  So that’s what i did – lay down and tried to sleep. What was I thinking?!  It was 100 per cent impossible to sleep – so uncomfortable.  I was tired and grumpy, and thirsty but had no water and no where to buy it from because shops were closed and I didn’t have any Euro coins to use the vending machine.

Poor Zorba – I called him on his birthday to wish him a happy birthday and I must’ve sounded terrible.  Happy Birthday future husband!

Anyway, by 6.30am, most of the shops were starting to open giving us something to occupy ourselves with.  Then our flight from Madrid to Barcelona was delayed by an hour, groan.   After a horrendous 17 hours of travel, we made it. A direct flight, had there been one, would have taken five hours.   Anyway, we were in Barcelona – hurrah!  The first thing I noticed is that everyone was wearing nice clothes, not galabeas (dress things that men in Egypt wear), no women had their heads or faces covered, and everything was new and clean.  Aaaaahhhh, back in the first world.  It was also lovely to be in cooler weather and not sweat every minute of the day!

I just knew I was going to relish every moment of being back in Spain.

 

Alexandria

Bye Bye Dahab, hello Alexandria!  This is the place where Hubs was born and where her family all live.  It is also the place where you can find the best seafood in Egypt, the best rice pudding in the world, and the best sheesha cafe in Egypt, according to Hubs.  I was looking forward to trying all those things.

Alexandria is in the north of the country and has beaches flanked by the Mediterranean Sea.  Don’t forget we are in a Muslim county, so the beaches are not like European or Australian beaches and not really the kind of places we would like to go.  There are some private beaches where you can wear swim suits and be normal, but that’s about the only places where you can go.

Settled by Alexander the Great (Greek), and the Romans, Alexandria has a lot of Greco-Roman influence, evidenced in the architecture. It was also predominately Christian. When Hubs’ mum, Madeline, grew up in Alexandria, she used to wear mini skirts and have her hair in the modern bee-hive style.  Not any more. The Arabs took over, the dress code dramatically changed and there are more Muslims here than Christians now.

Madeline’s flat is on the cornish (promenade), with views to the Mediterranean Sea.  Luckily she lives near an underpass so she doesn’t have to cross the 10-lane road!  Under her flat is a nice coffee shop where Hubs and I smoked sheesha and played dominoes.

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It was so lovely to be in a home again, rather than a hotel room.  On our first day, we washed all of our clothes in our backpacks – yay.  Madeline gave me some of her clothes to wear and we went to get a manicure and pedicure that cost A$6 each.  It was no where near as good as the manicure and pedicure I had in London, but for the price, ‘I no complaaaiin’.  In fact, the lady working on my hands drew blood in two places when cutting my cuticles.  Ooowwww! 

After getting our nails done, all three of us went to the hair salon to get our hair done.  I was so worried about letting an Egyptian loose on my precious locks.  I kept getting reassured by Madeline that he would do a good job – I wasn’t convinced so I kept a very close eye on everything he was doing.  We got to the salon for our appointment at 8pm, but there was a bride and the grooms’ family getting hair and make up done and we had to wait for them to finish.  At 10pm our hair started getting attention.  We left the salon at 1am.  Five hours in that little grubby salon – far too long.  But the result was worth it and it cost me A$40 for a base colour, highlights, cut and blow wave.  Salid the hair dresser blow dried my hair Farrah Fawcett style – hilarious!  The scary thing is that it kind of looked good!

After getting our hair done, Hubs and I were walking the dirty streets of Alexandria with great hair, wearing Madeline’s clothes.  We both had a good laugh at that!

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During our three days in Hubs’ home town, we had lunch with her gorgeous cousins Asraf and Mariam and their two boys David and Danny at Alexandria’s famous seafood restaurant Seagull.  This place is amazing.  It has animals there – like a fun park.  Camels, parrots, baby rabbits, pony rides for the kids.  There was also a little train, some swings and things for kids to climb on, ducks, flamingos, etc. It was pretty amazing!  The good thing is that the kids were occupied and had a great time playing while the adults could sit and enjoy a nice lunch.  The food was ok – the seafood soup was made with frozen seafood and not very good – disappointing.

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The other good thing about staying with a local is that they know where to get everything, and how to get anything home delivered.   We had “the world’s best rice pudding” home delivered at 11.30pm.  Hubs was oo-ing and aaah-ing as she ate her rice pudding, loving every minute of it.  It was nice – the sprinkled hazelnuts added a nice touch, but it had nothing on Gina’s rice pudding she used to make when I was a kid.  Sorry Hubs – it’s good, but not the world’s best.  The other thing we had home delivered was cooked fish.  Yep, you need to stay with a local.

Hubs, Mariam, the kids and I also took a trip to the beautiful jewellery museum that was once the palace where a princess once lived. The jewels of King Farouk, is wife, and other princes and princesses, were amazing.  So many diamonds!  A whole solid gold tea set, including tea strainer, a platinum and gold baby rattle, solid gold stationary sets, and even a solid gold ash tray!!  Just as impressive was the palace itself – amazing stained glass windows sporting Victorian era scenes, frescoes on the walls and ceilings and mosaic floors.  The bathroom was something else too.  It had a shower that was also a steam shower, a foot bath, a baby bath, a hand bath, and a full size bath.  It also had scenes of naked women bathing in a lake – all very tasteful, but hardly Arabic!   I found it hard to believe that the Arabs would leave scenes of such flesh on show, given their women cover up head to toe in public – and this palace was now a public building.  Well worth a visit.

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We also had lunch at Balbaa, the Hanna family’s favourite seafood restaurant.  You go there for amazing food, not for a dining experience.  There’s fresh fish, live prawns, crabs, pippies, etc on display, you choose what you want and they  bring it to you cooked – all at once!   There’s no such thing as waiting between courses – even waiting for one course to be finished before another one is brought out.  It was a little over whelming for me – there was food everywhere – so much of it, plates piled on top of other plates, arms reaching everywhere, plates being passed everywhere – it was full on!  The food was seriously good and FINALLY we had a fantastic delicious amazing seafood soup.  Hurrah!  I can see why the Hanna family loves this place.

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Hubs’ cousin Asraf is the family dominoes champion. He is the one who taught Hubs how to play and he has never ever lost a game.  Hubs, Asraf, Mariam and myself spent an evening in the downstairs cafe having sheesha and playing dominoes.  They are such a lovely couple and good company.   Playing dominoes with Asraf is nerve wrecking because he is so good.  But not good enough for the Bortoletto!  I WON!! I beat him by 3 points and Hubs and Mariam by more!  Hurrah! Hurrah!  Hurrah!!!  Asraf was a bit confused – how could he have lost?  He never loses! And a bit upset – probably upset with himself because I think he got a bit complacent and didn’t play his usual cunning strategies.  Who cares – I WON!! 

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Our time in Egypt was coming to an end, and I was glad.   I’d had enough of Egyptian food, dirty streets, getting ripped off, being in a Muslim country, having Hubs having to argue with everyone all the time (so we didn’t get ripped off) and the hot sweaty weather.  I was more than ready for a change and could not wait to be back in Europe. ESPANA!  Barcelona Spain was our next destination and we had a week there – yay!  Hubs’ lovely mum Madeline was coming with us to Barcelona.

Before I go, here are some Egyptian observations:

  • traffic lights have timers on them so you know how long you have left on a green light or a red light
  • the green man that tells you to cross the road is a green running cartoon in Cairo and Luxor – “hurry up run! you’ll get hit by a car!  run run run!” and it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in ages!
  • the Nile river is amazing – it is clean in Abu Simbel (and full of crocodiles on that side of the high dam) and filthy in Cairo
  • Cairo is a city better enjoyed at night when it looks beautiful
  • our cheapest meal was $A0.40 and most expensive was A$50.
  • only in Dahab and by the Red Sea can you wear whatever you want.  In other cities you really need to cover up
  • everyone stares at you in Egypt, no matter what you are wearing – which makes Hubs’ mum say ‘wear what ever you want!’
  • the tap water in Dahab is salty and disgusting
  • the historical sites are breathtaking and truly amazing – worth putting up with annoyances of the country
  • always book in some time to enjoy the Red Sea after tripping around the country – you need it to relax and unwind
  • the toilet paper in Dahab only lasts about 4 uses – so hide your rolls and get the hotel to give you new ones so you don’t run out in the middle of the night!
  • don’t trust anyone in Egypt
  • lanes marked on roads are in vain – drivers in Egypt make up their own lanes
  • taking a taxi in Cairo or Luxor is almost always a near death experience
  • no one wears seat belts, only the taxi drivers when going through a military check point
  • buy your own sheesha hose if you like to smoke sheesha – they are cheap and so much nicer than smoking through a plastic disposable hose
  • when in doubt what is safe to eat, turn to McDonalds – I ate maccas three times in three weeks, more times than I have eaten it in the last three years!!
  • stay in a five star hotel in Cairo – that city is crazy and you need a nice place to go home to
  • Friday in Egypt is like Sunday in Australia – no one works and many shops are shut.
  • Going to Egypt in August is hot, but it means that there are less tourists so no queuing up for anything which is great
  • don’t trust anyone in Egypt!!!!

Ma salema!  Good bye Egypt!

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Diving in Dahab

Waking up next to the Red Sea was lovely. Until Hubs woke up in a grump because I’d been snoring all night. Whoops!  I’m sick and obviously couldn’t help it.  Anyway, I felt bad that I’d kept her awake (I hate being kept awake by snoring), so I crept out of the room and let her sleep until checkout at 12pm.

We found another better hotel to stay in the for the next five days, the New Sphinx.  It had a pool with Red Sea views, and was closer to all the Dahab action, and cost us A$22 per night each.  Bargain.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon walking up and down the main drag checking out dive centres and tour operators.  The main drag is really lively – and a bit annoying. Every five metres you have a tout trying to sell you something, get you to come into their shop “I don’t know what you want but I have what you need”, get you to eat / drink at their restaurant, or take one of their tours.  It’s tiring always saying No. 

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We got jack of it after a couple of hours.  We hired push bikes for three hours, Hubs got a half decent looking mountain bike.  I rejected the first two bikes the kid tried to get me to hire and eventually agreed to an old cruddy looking ‘shopper’ style bike.  We hooned up and down the main drag and I booked myself into a refresher dive course with www.seadancerdivercentre.com – mainly because they are owned and run by a Brit, all the instructors spoke perfect English, and their equipment looked in good condition.  Yay I was doing at least one dive in the Red Sea!  We also booked a boat trip to a marine national park called Ras Mohamed, near Sharm.  And we did manage to get a good deal on a mask and snorkel set, $A20 for a silicon set, suitable for diving too. 

We rode our bikes to the lagoona and had a swim – it was nice, but too many Egyptians there.   Hubs was so disappointed in Dahab. It used to be a smaller laid back town, with hardly any Egyptians holidaying there – not anymore. It was highly developed, busy, and far from being laid back.  Dodging touts and holidaying with heaps of Egyptians was not my idea of laid back, nor Hubs’.

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For dinner we decided on Ali Baba after meeting a Polish girl at the lagoona who had a holiday house in Dahab and has been there five times.  Ali Baba was really nice.  There was hand sanitiser on the table, loads of brightly coloured cushions and lanterns hanging from the wall, and smiley friendly service from a guy called Ahmed.   Dinner was ok – not mind blowing fantastic, but not rubbish either.  When asked how our dinner was, Hubs was honest and said her seafood soup was ok, difficult to eat because all the seafood in it was still peeled – prawns had their shell on, the crab was in it’s shell, and the pippies were mostly closed (shells not open).  Ahmed didn’t really like the criticism and begged us to come back another night so he could make it up to us.  We said we would. 

Up early, I rushed to the Sea Dancer dive centre which is about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. I was so late for my refresher dive course.   My dive instructor was Spanish Elvira, a lovely lady who was excited to be re introducing me to diving.  I had done my homework and we went through my questionnaire and I got most of the questions correct.  We then got kitted up and headed to lighthouse for my introductory dive.  It was great, really great. I remembered everything clearly and it all felt really comfortable.  We didn’t go too deep, just 16 metres.  But we saw so much!  I found Nemo!  We saw heaps of clown fish, yellow tail tangs, parrot fish, angel fish, royal angel fish, giant clams!  It was so excellent!  When we got back to the dive shop I immediately booked myself in to go for a dive in the afternoon.  Who wouldn’t at A$38 per dive including equipment hire?!

I walked back to our hotel and met Hubs for lunch.  We had a crappy lunch at our hotel and I rushed back to Sea Dancer for my afternoon dive.   The afternoon dive as being lead by Paul from Nottingham.  My ears had not popped since my morning dive and I a little concerned about diving again so soon.   Paul arranged for dive master Danny (another Brit) to also come on the dive so if i had any problems or wanted to surface, he could take me back.  The two other novice divers were a young couple – she from Poland and he from Germany, although now they lived in the south of France. 

Our dive was to be in Eel Garden.  Again we got to 16 metres deep and saw, funnily enough, heaps of thin eels sticking their heads up out of the sand.  They looked like reeds at first.  We also saw heaps of tropical fish and it was really cool.  The other two novice divers were a bit annoying – they didn’t keep up with the dive instructor despite being told to do so in the briefing.  Still, I had a great dive.  One thing I’d noticed is that the coral isn’t very colourful – it’s mostly grey with only the odd coral being coloured.  I think the reef is almost dead.  It is a bit sad.

Steve at Sea Dancer, the owner, was trying to talk me into going diving with them tomorrow to the Blue Hole, a famous dive spot in Dahab.  I said I had to check in with Hubs first as I wasn’t sure if she has made any plans for us.  When I got back to our hotel the New Sphinx, Hubs wasn’t there.  So i just hung out by the pool and she turned up about 45 minutes later.  Hubs had hired a scooter for three hours and was on an adrenalin rush when she back – she had a ball hooning around!  We decided that she would hire a scooter the next day and come and meet me at the Blue Hole for lunch (between dives) and do some snorkelling.  A good plan!

After a rest, I was knackered, we headed to Ali Baba again for dinner, to give Ahmed another chance to impress us with a good meal.  It didn’t really happen – the seafood soup contained peel prawns, fish, and calamari, but nothing else.  And we ordered two, yet only one came.  After some confusion we cancelled the other one and shared the one serve we had.  Then the second bowl came out – oh, it was all too hard.  Our fish we ordered, grilled, was a bit over cooked and dry, and the seasoning was not what it said on the menu…not so nice.  Oh well, we tried.  We got a free fruit platter which was the best part of the meal!

After dinner I sat by our hotel pool and had a sheesha – it was so nice lying on the pool lounges, looking at the stars, no one else around.  Aaahhh..

The diving the next day was good too – and I am happy to be alive to tell the tale! Our first dive, again with the young annoying couple and dive instructor Paul, was at the canyon.  We dived down a cliff face so to speak, and reached a depth of 30 metres. There were tons of fish, but again the coral was mostly grey.  Then we saw a big red octopus – two of them.  One swam from rock to rock and literally changed colour while swimming, landed on a rock, and changed colour all over to be the same colour as the rock, camouflaging itself.  It was something like a Hollywood movie special effect! I was totally blown away!

The second dive was at the blue hole.  We had to descend in a narrow hole surrounded by rock and coral.  That was pretty cool – but hard not to touch the coral.  Not that it really mattered I suppose – the coral was mostly grey.   Again, the fish were lovely – but not quite as nice as I had expected – everyone raved about the blue hole, so I was expecting to see more colour and more fish than the other dives.  We got to a depth of 30 metres again.   At about 26m under, I felt something around my hips – my weight belt had become loose and was just about to slip off.  Holy CRAP!  I grabbed it just in time and in my head I kept saying – I have to hang onto this – I must not let go of my weight belt.  The consequences of losing my weight belt could be catastrophic!! 

Dive Instructor Paul saw me with my weight belt and immediately swam to me to hold me steady while I put my weight belt back on.   Phew…. it was on and secure. I was ok.

After that incident I stuck so close to dive instructor Paul that he almost kicked me in the face a few times!  I tried hard to remain calm under water – but obviously I didn’t because I had chewed through my air.  At about 5m under, after doing our 3 minute safety stop, Paul pointed the way out for me and instructed me to go.  The young annoying couple and he stayed down for another 9 minutes. 

Hubs was snorkelling above us and when we weren’t too deep, she and I would wave to each other – pretty cool.  She had fun chasing and catching all my air bubbles!

That was a close call for me today –  it could have been a lot worse!  I still have no idea how the belt became loose…we did our buddy checks and it was on tight.  Oh well, I’m alive and happy to have a story to tell!  I also got another injury during that dive.   Hubs was trying to take a photo of me struggling to put my wet suit on – not a flattering photo at all – so I was telling her off, and as I was telling her off, I got my skin caught in the zipper of the wetsuit and I couldn’t move the zipper up or down – OOOUUUUUUCCCCHHHHH!!!  Far out that hurt!  Paul came to the rescue and just yanked the zipper down.  I was left with a lovely blood blister war wound to show.

We had had such a big day that for dinner we just had lentil soup at our hotel restaurant, smoked a sheesha, and went to bed.

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Four dives in the Red Sea was all I had time to do between flights and the boat trip to Ras Mohamed we had already booked.  We were picked up early – 7.45am, driven to Sharm (2 hours) and then waited about 1.5 hours before boating our boat, Tuna 2.  The harbour before boarding was so busy and we were treated like sheep – shuffled to one waiting area, then another, and another before finally boarding.  It was crap to say the least.  The boat wasn’t that busy, but lucky me happened to get a stinky Turk who sat behind me and his stench had Hubs and I gagging for the first hour of the trip.  HURRY UP and let’s snorkel – so this guy could at least get a wash!! 

Snorkelling was fun.  The idiot cruise leader, Sambl, taught me how to free dive – and I had a ball doing it!  Holding my breath and swimming vertically down, I reckon I got to about 7m deep.  It was great fun!  Hubs and I just swam away from the group despite Sambl’s attempt to keep everyone together – like sheep.  No chance. I told him we were Australian and had been snorkelling and swimming all our lives and we didn’t need to be taught how to swim or snorkel, not like the stinky Turks on the boat!

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We went to three different snorkelling spots at the Ras Mohamed national park.  We saw heaps of lovely fish, and the odd colourful coral.  Again, a lot of the coral was grey-ish.  

On the boat we met Ecuardorian Coco – he offered to show us around Quito when we get there in a few weeks – I think it was Hubs’ generosity feeding him cigarettes that did it!!  He speaks perfect English and would make a good guide if we end up meeting up with him.  We also found out from him that he paid about A$50 less than we did for the boat trip – making Hubs livid.  She hates to be ripped off – but more importantly, hates to be ripped off by Egyptians – and Christian Egyptians at that!! (like her).

After a big day snorkelling and swimming, we were starving and had dinner at Meya for Meya in Dahab – we promised Smiley we’d eat there one night and had to keep our promise.  Dinner was on cushions on the ground and it was tasty. I had bbq’d lamb – yum!  Hubs and I smoked a sheesha while I whipped her butt three times playing backgammon (tola).  Champion!

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Our last day in Dahab I spent relaxing.  I was knackered and just fancied a day by the pool.  Hubs went out for a couple of hours on a quad bike, but didn’t rave about the experience.

Next stop Alexandria!

 

The mission, to get to Dahab

We had a mammoth day of travel to get to Dahab.  We left our hotel in Aswan at 2pm and took a ferry, then a taxi to the train station.  We caught a 3pm train, first class, to Luxor, and that took three hours. It was the shittiest first class train I have ever been on.  We pay first class prices to be away from all the scum bags.  But the scum bags are all mates with the scuzzy train inspector, so they all get to sit in the empty seats.  Some of them smell like they have smoked 6000 cigarettes in the last hour and not washed their bodies or clothes for 4 years. Yeah, some of them stink.   And all of them stare.  The scum bag in front of us was not sitting in his seat, rather squatting on it, facing me and staring straight at my chest. I was trying to sleep so didn’t notice.  After a few minutes Hubs told him firmly but politely to sit down properly and turn around.  Icky.  To make things worse, I was getting sick. My throat was red raw, it hurt to swallow, and I was feeling as if I was downhill quickly.

Once at Luxor, we caught taxi from the train station to the lovely posh Winter Palace Hotel to kill some time.  This is one of the most expensive hotels in Egypt at something ridiculous like US$1200 per night.  Tony Blair, Princess Di and Dodi and Nicolas Cage are the type of people who have stayed there.  The door man took our rough looking back packs and we headed through the lobby, into the gardens and to the poolside restaurants.  Aaahhh, civilization at last.  We were the first people at the restaurant for dinner.  We both had lentil soup and a fish tagine that I couldn’t eat, my throat was too sore.  Boo hoo. 

Onto the airport we went and caught a flight from Luxor to Sharm el Sheikh – one hour and 15 minutes. We arrived at Sharm at 12.30am. Hubs then fought with a few taxi drivers to get one to drive us 1.5 hours to Dahab.  We got a good driver who charged us $A50.  It was more than the trip was worth, but at that hour of the night, I didn’t care.  I just wanted to get to a hotel and get to bed, I was feeling shattered.

We got to Dahab and went to a hotel that Hubs has stayed in before.  The staff had all changed in the two years since Hubs’ been there and the greedy ‘gypo on reception wanted way too much for a room for a night.  Well, it wasn’t even actually a night, more like 10 hours since it was already 2am.  Our ace taxi driver was still in town when he saw us trudging up the street with all our luggage.  He had to buy takeaway dinner and cigarette for the police guards at the security check point or he would have run into problems.  Corruption exists at every level in this country, which is why Egypt will always be part of the third world..  A shame.  

Our driver said he would take us to other hotels to help us find a room.  We tried two hotels, no go.  Finally we found a hotel for about $A40 per night. It was basic and pretty ordinary, but I didn’t care. I just needed a bed. 

I was hoping my antibiotics I’d brought with me from Australia were going to work and make me feel better by the morning.  Night!

Abu Simbel

Hubs and I caught a 10.30am flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel.  From the airport, a free bus shuttled us to the site of this amazing temple.  Ramesses II had the temple carved into the cliffs of the Nile Valley in 13th Century BC – yes BC!  More than 14,000 years ago. 

When the high dam was built in Aswan in 1972, there was a risk that Abu Simbel would be flooded.  A team of engineers from all over the world moved the temple by cutting it into 1000 pieces, some weighing 15 tons, and replicated the cliff in higher land.  The temple was put back together and this took about 2 years to complete and it was completed perfectly.  Truly an engineering marvel.

How impressive is Abu Simbel?  Seriously.  When Hubs and I arrived, we were first off the shuttle bus and walked around to the temple and we were the only people there.  How MAGIC.  Well, it was magic for ten minutes until the sleepy security guards woke up from under a tree and walked to the temple to check we weren’t taking photos inside! 

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The columns stand at more than 20m and the statues of Ramesses II are so imposing.  The temple was built so he could assert his power as well as celebrate his ‘said’ victory of the battle of Qadesh against the Hittites in Syria.  This is the only temple where I have seen war scenes and carvings of stabbings and people getting killed. 

There are two temples at Abu Simbel – one that Ramesses II built for himself, and one he dedicated to his first and favourite wife, Nefertari.  The unusual thing about Abu Simbel is that at his wife’s temple, she stands almost to equal height to her husband Ramesses. This is very unusual – when depicted in statues, the wife of pharaohs usually stand about knee height to their husbands.  This goes to show how much he loved Nefertari.  Some say she was the only human being he actually loved.   Funny that, some historians believe Ramesses II had up to 100 wives and over 200 children, and four of his wives were his daughters.  WRONG!  This could explain why some Egyptians are a beer short of a six pack if they are descendants of the ancient pharaohs!

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The temples are massive – huge – just ginormous.  You can’t imagine how imposing they are until you are standing in front of it.  How on earth did those ancient Egyptians build something so colossal 14,000 years ago?  Just think, the car hasn’t even been invented for 200 years.  There were no power tools, machinery, trucks, or anything mechanical.  Just chisels, slaves, and millions of man hours too construct these ever lasting monuments. 

It was hot, but Hubs and I were both prepared for the heat – her with a wet hat, and me with a wet cotton scarf, and we managed fine. 

I was so impressed and so was Hubs even though she has been there three times. It was certainly worth paying A$200 for a return flight and going at this time of year meant we were able to really enjoy the site without thousands of tourists around.  Sensational.  The only thing that could have made it better would be to have Mohamed with us interpreting the carvings and feeding us the history as we walked around.  I’d read his papers, so I passed on what I could to Hubs.

The boys Sam and Ayman didn’t come to Abu Simbel with us. We met up with them later for our last night travelling together in Egypt.  Their next stop is Lebanon to see Ayman’s mum.   We decided to follow Mohamed’s tip of going to Sunset for drinks and sheesha.  We caught a taxi to Sunset and we were all so disappointed to see that there was no view!  No, Mohamed didn’t give us a bum steer, the wind was strong, causing sand storms in the distance.  So it was windy, everything was covered in a film of dirt and no sunset.  What a shame!  We stayed for one sheesha and a quick game of dominoes and left.

We caught a taxi back to the Nile banks and found a restaurant that Hubs ate at 450 years ago when she was last in Aswan called Aswan moon.  This was a restaurant floating on the Nile on a docked barge.  The setting was a lot cooler with the breeze coming off the river.  At sunset it felt like we were sitting in front of hot hair dryer the wind was so warm.  Dinner was delicious.  Beautiful lentil soup, and chicken kebab and salad.  We moved to an area at the end of the barge and had a sheesha and great talks about family, life, the afterlife, our beliefs, etc.  It was a really great night. I’m going to miss travelling with Sam and Ayman.   They have been great company.

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Next stop, Hubs and I head to Sinai for 5 days in Dahab.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aswan

Mahmud, the assistant manager of the cruise, gave us a tour of the ship as we were approaching Aswan.  He had taken a shine to us and made sure we were always looked after. He also lived in Italy for eight years and spoke near perfect Italian.  He showed us that in the kitchen they use mineral water to wash all the fruit and vegetables, have separate fridges for meat, fish, and veg, and introduced us to the head chef.  For a small ship’s kitchen, it sure pumped out a stack of food.

When we got to the bridge, Mahmud asked if we wanted to ‘drive’ the boat.  Of course cyclone Sam jumped in the hot seat and was every excited to be steering the ship.  Then Sam was told by the captain to park the ship alongside the bank of the Nile, by a big jetty.  Hubs and I both looked at each other with slightly worried expressions, and a question – WHY would you let Sam dock the ship?  Under the careful and close guidance of the captain, Sam parked the ship and spent the rest of the day telling the world about it!  Well done Sam!  Parked without sinking it.

Our cruise arrived in Aswan and our favourite guide Mohamed met us in the morning and off we went for our excursions that day.  First stop was the unfinished obelisk that Queen Hepshepsut ordered about 3500 years ago during her reign – if it had been successfully completed, it would have been the largest obelisk in all of Egypt at 40m tall.   Carved out of pink granite, the Queen was being tight and put a rookie in charge of making this huge monument.  The inexperienced rookie placed his chisel in the wrong spot and hit a natural fault line, splitting the obelisk length ways.  Needless to say, that rookie probably didn’t live til a ripe old age….  There is over 200 acres of pink granite in Aswan. It is very valuable and when polished, beautiful.  It’s also so hard.  I have no idea how those ancient ‘gypos were able to carve pink granite…

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Next stop was the high dam built in 1972 to ‘save Egypt’.  The high dam is an engineering marvel – as Donna would say.  The base is 900m wide – nearly a kilometre – and the top is 41 wide.   There are several military check points there, essentially because if the high dam was destroyed , the river water would be released and it would wipe out 90% of the population, three times over!  90% of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile.  Amazing.

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The Nile also used to have a large population of crocodiles – the ancient Egyptians actually worshipped a crocodile God.   After the dam was built, about 4000 crocodiles were moved to the other side of the high dam wall, away from the bulk of the population.  If you follow the Nile River south, you will end up in Sudan.  Mohamed told us that they had to increase the crocodile population to 70,000 just to eat all the dead bodies floating in the Nile as a result of the civil war in Sudan.  Millions were killed, how awful is that.

We then caught a small boat and went to the Philae Temple – it was moved from Aswan to an island on the Nile near Aswan piece by piece and is in a beautiful setting. It was built to honour the Goddess Isis, mother of Horus and dates back to the 4th Century BC.  The Romans took it over as a coptic church and added carved crosses to it.   It also had a birthing chamber and there are inscriptions of Isis holding her new born baby Horus (falcon God).  Another impressive ancient temple.

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Our boat then took us to Botanical Gardens of Aswan.  They are ok, but not really worth going out of your way to visit.  It was nice to see some Australian flora in the mix.

By then it was time to feed Sam – he was getting edgy.  We thanked Mohamed profusely and tipped him 100 LE (Egyptian Pounds) and i gave him an extra 20LE because he was so good at answering all my questions.  Hubs and I asked him if he could come to Abu Simbel with us the next day, but unfortunately he has a cousins wedding to go to.  He did give us a tip of where to go for sunset drinks – a bar called Sunset, where apparently we would have a beautiful view over Aswan at sunset.

After a nap, we were heading to the dining room and to our surprise, saw our favourite guide Mohamed in reception. He had returned to the ship to drop off two papers for us that he had written on Abu Simbel and Egypt – titled ‘Egypt for Dummies’, which was clearly us!  HOW SWEET!  So lovely of him to make that effort.  I read what he gave us cover to cover.  He had a huge impact on my trip to Egypt and I learned so much from him.

It was our last night one the boat and all of us were feeling a little sad.  We all enjoyed the cruise.  It was great not having to hunt for safe food to eat.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all huge buffets at certain times of the day, and the food was generally pretty good.  We ended the cruise with the last round of the world’s longest game of dominoes. I didn’t win…

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Cruising to ancient temples

I was up at 4.40am to do a balloon ride over Luxor. My first balloon ride ever!  None of the others wanted to come so I did it alone with a bunch of other people. It was awesome – we saw Queen Hepshepsut’s temple, and views for miles of the Nile River.  I was surprised to see so much farmland – acres and acres of sugar cane and corn farms.  We also saw a pretty amazing sun rise.  I was getting a little nervous towards landing time – there were powerlines everywhere.  And not much space.  As it turned out, our talented pilot landed the balloon smoothly, softly, in a space that was just two metres from a corn farm, without collecting a powerline!  I got a free crappy t-shirt and an even crappier certificated.  A great experience though.

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All of us then went to the Valley of Kings were we saw the tombs of Tutankhamun, Ramesses III and Ramesses IV.  They were all pretty amazing and we were grateful that the hot weather had kept the usual massive crowds of tourists away, so we didn’t have to queue to get into any of them.  the tombs were all dug into the side of the mountain and contained ancient hieroglyphics, in colour, and carvings.  The colours were all still visible.  So amazing!  Tutankhamun’s 2000 year old mummy was on display in a glass case – pretty amazing it is still intact. He was a shortie and died at the age of 19, having become pharoh at the age of 9.  He didn’t rule for long, nor did he really do anything of note, but his tomb was found unopened and full of treasure in 1922 – all of it displayed at the Cairo Museum, that’s why he is so famous.

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Next was the temple of Queen Hepshepsut and then the Valley of the Queens.  We had the Valley of the Queens all to ourselves and that was pretty cool.   By then it was after 11am and reaching 45 degrees, so we didn’t stay too long.  Our guide tried to talk us into going to the Luxor Museum but all of us just wanted to go back to the boat and relax.   He also mentioned of going to an alabaster factory (it’s like marble) and Sam’s ears pricked up – ‘what shopping?  maybe I can buy something in alabaster’.  I was the one who cracked it this time, being hot, tired, and just needing a cool space to relax in.  So I asked Sam, “What are you going to buy made in alabaster?  And how are you going to carry something made out of alabaster?!!?”  Sam pondered the question and started to say, ‘yeah, maybe something, I wouldn’t mind having a look,’ when I cut in and said through gritted teeth, “Forget it!  BUILD A BRIDGE SAM! We are not going there!”  It was pretty funny – no one else wanted to go there – we were all hot and tired.

The sunset from the top deck was just amazing and I couldn’t help myself and took about a thousand photos of it. 

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The food on the cruise was ok.  A huge buffet with a wide variety of choices – from traditional Egyptian dishes to badly imitated foreign dishes, such as pasta.  The soups were always a hit and I was also a fan of dessert – the traditional desserts were really sweet.  We had manners, where as the others on the cruise would barge their way past people to get to the food, so so so RUDE!  The restaurant staff noticed this too, and with Hubs making remarks in Arabic to the staff, it made us their favourite customers.

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On the boat that night there was a ‘galibeya’ party.  A galibeya is one of the Egyptian dresses worn by both men and women, of course though they have different designs.  We knew it was just a ploy to get guests to spend money in the ship’s shop, so instead  I spent just A$4 on a jingly belt thing, and the boys wore their Dubai scarves and Hubs didn’t get dressed up at all.  The party was a bit naff, but we tried to get into the spirit of it anyway, buying raffle tickets and attending. 

When the raffle was drawn Hubs and I won two things – A galibeya Egyptian dress was the first prize.  Hubs would not go up to collect it with me, so I went alone, dreading what would happen next.  I knew these ‘gypos were going to make me dance in front of everyone after collecting my prize.  Oh well, if you can’t beat it, join it.  So me and Mohamed or whatever his name was did a jig to Arabic music in front of the whole ship in celebration of me winning the dress.  Later on, we won sheesha pipe! Hubs and the boys were so excited that all four of us were called up to the dance floor to dance around. 

On closer inspection, we discovered the sheesha was a cheap one and not worth the effort carrying around the rest of Egypt.  We decided to give it to an Australian-Syrian man who was on honeymoon with his Syrian wife as a wedding present.  They were so thrilled with the gesture it made us both feel good. 

The next morning was an early start again.  We had a different guide this time and his name was Mohamed. By horse and carriage, he took us to the Edfu Temple (between Luxor and Aswan).  The horse looked so skinny and sick – it broke my heart sitting there on the carriage. Each time the child driver whipped the horse, tears flowed down my cheeks.  I couldn’t stand it.  Neither could Hubba.  It was just plain disturbing.  So as soon as we got off I told Mohamed that he had to organise a taxi back because I refuse to take another ride on a horse and carriage and can not and will not support these businesses when the animals are treated so badly.  He understood.

It was stinking hot, about 43 degrees by 10.30am.  Before leaving the boat, I spent A$2 on a white cotton scarf from the shop on board and it was the best investment ever.  Wetting the scarf and wrapping it around my head or neck kept me so cool, it was amazing the difference it made.  Aaahhh.  Some relief at least!

With alternate transport back sorted, we focussed on where were – and all of us were blown away with Edfu Temple.  It is Egypt’s second largest temple and the best preserved.  Edfu dates back to 237BC, over 2200 years old, and is a dedication to the God of Pharoh’s, Horus, represented by the falcon.  The main entrance gate is still intact and stands 36m tall and 80m wide. It is massive. 

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Our guide Mohamed was fantastic.  He is an Egyptologist and has been studying for 12 years.  He’s going to Japan and USA soon to deliver lectures about ancient Egypt and has a scholarship to do his PhD in London.  His English was perfect and he was so smart and knowledgeable.  He said that one section of a wall would have taken about 25 years to build and the hieroglyphics would have taken 50 years to carve into the rock.  That’s just one section of one wall!  Just amazing.  Mohamed knew everything and he was the best guide ever.  We asked him heaps of questions and he knew all the answers. He showed us an area that was under excavation, uncovering a temple that dates back 17,000 years!  So amazing.

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Hubs and I used water to cool us down in the heat. She would wet her hat, and I would wet my A$2 cotton scarf I bought.  At the temple, Hubs offered to take a photo of the newly weds together.  She passed Sam her hat to hold and of course it was all wet.  He shrieked the girly-est shriek ever really loud, “eeeewwwwwwwwww!!!” It was the funniest thing ever and had us all doubled over in laughter.

Later in the day after cruising down the Nile, Mohamed took us to the Kom Ombo temple.  Kom Ombo is dedicated to two Gods equally – Horus the falcon God, and Sobek the crocodile God.  There used to be thousands of crocodiles in the Nile River (and there still are but over the otherside of the high dam in Aswan) and the ancient Egyptians revered their strength and patience.  Kom Ombo has hieroglyphics that explain that it was a medical centre and treated a man for low sperm count.  It is amazing that the shape of a sperm is engraved into the stone wall – without them ever being able to see one – they didn’t have microscopes back then.  Mohamed did not have an explanation as to how they would have known this.  They also used to be able to tell the sex of a baby in a pregnant woman. They would take some of her water from her womb and drop some seeds into it.  If the seeds grew, it was a boy. If they didn’t grow, then it was girl.  Modern science has proven that there are different enzymes in the water, depending on the baby’s sex, and these enzymes are what made the seed grow or not grow.  Pretty amazing given we are talking about over 2200 years ago.   They were so advanced for such an ancient civilization.

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We loved having Mohamed as a guide and looked forward to seeing him the next day in Aswan.

Back on the boat after dinner, we continued our game of dominoes.  I was in the lead and quite happy about that.  Ayman wanted to start a new game because he was so far behind, and Hubs and Sam reminded him of the deal that on the boat we would be playing one continuous game and the person in front after four days would be the winner.  So we continued. As it turned out, Ayman had the most amazing round and was almost catching up to me!  We boycotted the boat Nubian party that night and played dominoes instead.

Next stop, Aswan.

Luxor – cruising to Aswan on the Nile

After the craziness of Cairo,we were all bracing ourselves for an even crazier time in Luxor.  Hubs said about a hundred times that Luxor was bad for touts in your face trying to sell things.  And it was hotter than Cairo too.  Oh joy.  Remind me again why we are going there..?

Our hotel, the Iberitol, was ok for a cheap 4-star hotel.  It worked out at A$43 pp per night, including breakfast. The pool was nice, right over the Nile River.  Our first night we arrived into Luxor late.  We were all hungry but had no energy to go out to eat, so we ordered off the bar menu at the hotel.  The bar was smoke-filled and full of scuzzy looking old tattooed Germans getting drunk and a guy playing keyboards and singing old cheesy songs at about 670 decibels.  Seriously loud and seriously annoying.  The drunkards seemed to enjoy it and were slurring the words to the songs between puffs of cigarettes. It was pretty grim.  We would have moved outside except that it was still 39 degrees at 11pm and we were all over the heat.  Anyway, I smiled sweetly at the singer and politely asked him to turn it down as I had a head ache.  It worked.

Sam is so funny – he gets all grumpy and agitated when he doesn’t eat every 3 to 4 hours. Given it had been about six hours between meals, he was at his most annoying.  As he was eating the worst club sandwich in the world, you could literally see his blood sugar levels rise and life come back to his face.  He rarely speaks when eating (or shovelling as the case was that night), he’s too busy concentrating on his food.  As his last mouthful was swallowed, he turns to us and shouts in his wog-boy accent, “Don’t starve me like that ever again!  That sandwich tasted like dog shit but I had to eat it anyway!”  His facial expressions and tone of that statement had us all doubled over in hysterical laughter.  He was right! The sandwich did taste like dog shit!!!  It was just too grim in that bar to stay too long, so we aborted our game of dominoes and called it a night.

The next day, Sam, Ayman, Hubs and I stayed pool side all morning.  All of us were too afraid to eat anything outside the hotel as we all had tender tummies and I was on antibiotics for my Cairo tummy.  Hubs did the only thing she could.  She called McDonalds for home delivery (or hotel delivery).  I haven’t eaten Maccas for at least 18 months, but I was so so so looking forward to this lunch.  Delivered to our hotel, my two cheese burgers did the trick and stopped the hunger pangs. It was also important we got some food into Sam before he became too annoying!

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In the evening we went to the Karnak Temple for the sound and light show.  Hubs being a local ‘gypo with an ID card paid about A$1.50, and we all had to pay about $A20.  She was loving it!   The Karnak Temple is seriously amazing and dated back to 2100 BC – over 4000 years old! . It’s is Egypt’s biggest temple spanning more than 3sq km with an impressive rams-head sphinx avenue leading into it, gates that are over 30m tall, and huge stone statues dedicated to Ramesses II and III.  Although it’s hard to tell because every pharaoh used to chip off the names of the previous pharaoh and add theirs instead, effectively ‘stealing’ a statue for themselves.  This also has two of the obelisks that Queen Hepshepsut had made up during her reign (she was the fat ugly one that thought she was a man), including Egypt’s tallest obelisk standing at 30m tall and made of pink granite.  The Temple has a small lake that was used for purification.  I was captivated and really enjoyed it.

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Dinner was in a small place around the corner from our hotel and recommended by a poolside Brit earlier in the day.  Given that Liverpool isn’t famous for culinary delights, I took her recommendation with slight scepticism.  When we discovered we could smoke sheesha there too, we all agreed to stop and have dinner.  After dinner we trekked into the centre to stock up on supplies – phone recharge cards for the boys, 2 cases of water and 1 case of coke a cola for our cruise.  Everyone we have spoken to said that drinks on the cruises are ridiculously expensive, so we were prepared. The next day my back pack was incredibly heavy and Ayman offered to carry it 500m in exchange for me wheeling one of his suitcases – deal! 

Crown Jubilee was the name of cruiser and where we would spend the next four nights.   All of us had the same reaction:  it looked a lot bigger on the internet. But really, the rooms were like a small hotel room, the bathrooms all had bath and weren’t that pokey, so for ship, it was pretty good. There was a pretty small pool on the upper deck.   The cruise included excursions and entry costs, breakfast, lunch and dinner, all buffet.   Also on board was a rude bunch of Spanish on a tour, a big rowdy bunch of old Portuguese, a handful of Frenchies, and us. 

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Our first excursion was just the four of us and a private guide to the Karnak Temple at 3pm.  It was stinking hot, at least 43 degrees, and going to a place full of stone with stone paving meant we got the heat radiating off everything to make us feel even hotter.  Our guide was a bit shifty and asked the Lebanese boys and Hubs for their IDs so they were charged the local Egyptian price.  As far as the cruise goes, we were all foreigners so really they would have been allocated foreigner tickets at the higher price…and someone was pocketing the difference.  None of us liked this, particularly not Hubs and Sam. Ayman really just wanted to keep the peace and not make a big deal about it.  Besides that karfuffle that resulted in our crap guide being on the phone for about half the time we were at the temple, the Karnak Temple by day was just as amazing as it was at night.

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When we returned to the cruise, Hubs and Sam spoke to the Assistant Manager and the Manager and complained that it wasn’t right that their passports and IDs were being used to get local priced tickets into the attractions and someone was pocketing the difference, which is very significant.  Both managers agreed and the tour operator was called in and he too conceded (he was the dodgy one).  From then on, all Lebs and Gypos would be treated as foreigners which is what they paid the cruise as, as foreigners.  Ok, that was sorted.  The other result was that both managers treated us like star guests from that moment on.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Continuing in Cairo

Our second day in Cairo was a relax and recharge day.  Hubs’ friends Sam (Syrian but Lebanese when feels like it!) and Ayman (Lebanese) were due to arrive about 8pm and our next ten days would be spent with them, sightseeing.  As Hubs said, it would be useful to have men with us in Egypt and she was right. 

We decided to make the most of our five star oasis and enjoy some time by the lovely pool.  While we were deciding on a restaurant to eat at that night, we met Greek Australians Chris and his little sister Nikki, both from Adelaide, who heard our Australian accents.  Chris and Nikki just flew into Cairo that day from Australia and had ten days ahead of them with a guide showing them around Egypt.   They were both really nice and friendly, so we invited them to join us for dinner after we have a sheesha by the pool – rendezvous poolside 6.30pm, smoke sheesha while we wait for Sam and Ayman.

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This is the day that Hubs taught me to play Egyptian dominoes – you start with a double, then the next four dominoes played are in a cross formation around the middle and ends of the double, then the objective is to make a move so the external numbers together to get a total number that is divisible by 5, eg. 10 (2 points), 15 (3 points), 20 (4 points) etc.  The person who reaches 51 first is the winner.  Takes several games to get to 51.  I turned out to be a natural at this game, all thanks to level 1 maths at school :) .

The afternoon was spent jumping in and out of the pool, between games of dominoes and of course a late afternoon siesta.  The beds at the Semiramis hotel were so deluxe, so going to bed at night or during day was something I really looked forward to!

Hubs discovered that the hotel had billed her credit card $A200 for incidentals – mini bar etc, ‘just in case we used them’.  She was livid and stormed down stairs to reception and gave the duty manager a piece of her mind, in fiery Hubba style.  All I can say is that I was glad I was in the shower and missed it!   Anyway, to cut a long story short, she played bad cop, and I played good cop. I went down later on to speak to the duty manager, to explain to him calmly why Hubs was so upset, that we have stayed in hotels all over the world and never before have any of them charged us for ‘the mini bar we might have’ in advance. It was ludicrous.  Mr nice duty manager apologised profusely, said it was standard practice at his hotel but their mistake was not telling Hubs of this practice.     Anyway, I managed to get a free dinner for two out of it, and not in the buffet restaurant like he suggested, but in the best restaurant of the five restaurants in the hotel, The Grill.  Yay!  Hubs also got a refund for $A200.  Result!  Sorted.

Sheesha by the pool was sensational – the sun was setting over the Nile River and Cairo transformed itself from a dusty ordinary looking city into a pretty city full of lights reflecting off the world’s second largest river.  It was lovely.  The sunset was beautiful – helped along by all the haze and pollution in the air.

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Chris and Nikki were introduced to Egyptian Dominoes and we passed a few pleasant hours smoking apple tobacco through pretty looking sheeshas – Hubs complained because they used plastic disposable hoses – a symptom of the recent swine flu epidemic. 

The boys finally arrived, late, and frazzled.  Sam just had his beloved WRX written-off by his P-plater nephew who was lending it in Sydney, his cat was killed by a neighbours dog, and their Emirates flight to Cairo was overbooked so they were delayed and had to fly Egypt Air! 

Dinner was at Abu al-Sid, (157 Shari’ 26 Yulyu (July), Zamalek), a great restaurant recommended by both Hub’s and my books on Egypt. The restaurant was really awesome -  packed full which was a good sign.  Hubs ordered a selection of dishes for us to all share and it was sensational!  Mezze of tahini (like hommous), babaganoush, salad, grilled quail, chicken kebabs, Egyptian meatballs, molokhia – an Egyptian green soup that was really tasty, and stuffed vine leaves (a bit like dolmades).  A feast!  Only the boys had a beer – all the girls drank water.  Although Hubs had her ‘beer’ which is coca cola.  All the new arrivals left at midnight and Hubs and I stayed for sheesha.   It was a really fun night.

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The next day we went to Al-Azhar Mosque, one of the oldest and biggest mosques in Cairo. Hubs chose the cruddiest, oldest, most fallen apart taxi in Cairo for us to go in. This was worse than the taxi we caught from the airport. This old Peugeot looked like it had competed in every Dakar Safari Rally for the past 45 years without seeing a panel beater or a car wash.  The poor car sounded sick too.   The driver had to keep revving it when we stopped to prevent it from stalling.  He didn’t succeed and the car stalled on a narrow road with traffic banked up behind, unable to overtake.  The nervous driver tried to kick it over, but nothing. Just a sick sounding engine that was on its last breath.  He turned the key again, nothing.  Hubs started patting the dash board, coaxing the car to come to life (in Arabic), which made us all laugh and finally after several more attempts, the taxi started, we cheered ‘hurrah!’, and off we went.   The car horns behind us finally stopped honking too.  It was very funny.

At the mosque, Hubs and I had to put these flannelette dress things on with hoods – oh the joy of that in 43 degree heat!  Man, we were sweltering under those!  The mosque was quite nice. but pretty plain inside.  I have the say that the Catholics decorated their old churches much more ornately than any mosque I have seen. But then again, I am so biased towards Rome and it’s treasures that no one can say a bad word about that city!

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After the mosque we decided to tackle the heat and wander through Khan el-Khalili markets – the big crazy Cairo markets.  The boys were not typical boys at all and took forever to choose what kind of sheesha to buy.  We went about 5 different sheesha stalls and it was all getting too much, even for me, someone who loves shopping!  Hubs sorted them out and helped them buy three lovely sheeshas and the best thing of all, Hubs and I got two free hoses!  Yay!  So we don’t have to smoke sheesha through plastic disposable hoses anymore!  I also bought a nice mid-size backgammon set – only because Hubs said she would carry it! Yay!

We endured a couple of hours wandering the markets then took solace in the Nagib Mahfouz Cafe, named after one of Egypt’s famous writers.  Aaahhh, air con….aaahhhh, fresh lemon juice….finally I was starting to cool down.   Back to the oasis for a swim and siesta.  Dinner was in hotel’s best restaurant, The Grill and it was lovely. Hubs chose the best and I think enjoyed her meal the most.  My Cairo tummy was really starting to get me down – i spent as much time in the ladies’ room as I did at the dinner table.  Boo hoo.

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Up early and ready to go 30 mins after the agreed time of 8.30am – those boys are good fun but man they are slow slow slow! Always waiting!  We caught a cab to the pyramids – an interesting and near death experience once again.  On our way there the taxi driver kept trying to sell us camel rides, horse rides, etc etc at the pyramids.  Despite us (the boys and Hubs who speak Arabic) saying a polite but firm ‘no’, the driver kept going on and on about it. In the end Hubs told him to stop talking.  Approaching the pyramids, the scum bags who have the malnutritioned horses and camels kept leaping out IN FRONT of the taxi to stop us to sell us a ride.  It was bloody frightening and our knob taxi driver just had to swerve to miss them.

We had an awesome few hours checking out the three pyramids of Giza.  We went inside the ‘second’ pyramid and climbed down down down until we reached an empty chamber.  I went inside a pyramid that is about 5000 years old!!!! How COOL! 

We took a closer look at the sphinx too, the one with no nose because Napoleon shot it off when France invaded Egypt.  What a tosser!! Too many of Egypt’s ancient treasures have been vandalised – but as our favourite guide said, at the time it made sense for the invaders to do that.   By 11.30am it felt like it was 450 degrees, so we went back to the Oasis to cool off in the pool, and have a siesta. 

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Our last dinner in Cairo was to be a local fast food specialty, Koshary, a mix of pasta, noodles, rice, lentils, chickpeas, crispy fried onion, tomato salsa.  A strange combo.  Koshary means ‘to mix together’ and it is a famous peasant dish, street food.  Surprisingly, it was really tasty and satisfying.  At $A2 each, there were no complaints… not until the next morning anyway…!

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Our flight to Luxor wasn’t until 6.30pm, so we checked out of the oasis, cry cry, spent the afternoon in the amazing Cairo Museum.  OH. MY. GOD.  It was phenomenal and so interesting.  I so wished we got a guide to take us around, but all of us were being tight and also sick of haggling and fighting with the locals trying to rip us off that we brushed away all offers of guides through the museum.  A mistake.  But still, it was so fabulously amazing.  We saw the giant stone statues dating back 5000 years, Tutankhamun’s burial coffins – one made out of pure gold and weighs 170kg,  the famous and magnificent gold pharaoh mask and all of the treasures he was buried with.  We saw heaps of mummies – of those of note,  the mummies of Ramesses  II, Ramesses III, Queen Hatshepsut (known as the ugly fat one who thought she was a man), and Tuthmosis III – these mummies are over 2500 years old!  I loved the Cairo museum and it made me want to be an Egyptologist. 

The boys Sam and Ayman were very nervous taking the flight from Cairo to Luxor because their luggage had expanded and gained kilos, not only from shopping in Dubai, but from Cairo – no surprise really given they bought between them 3 large sheeshas, 1 large backgammon set, 1 large religious wooden plaque, and a lantern.  At the airport the crooked security officer at customs tried to bribe them saying taking whisky in your checked-in luggage was not allowed, but the problem would go away if he was given some money.  Hubs took charge and agreed, suggesting that he call his boss down so we could discuss altogether what the amount of money should be.  The rotten corrupt guard shut up quickly and let everyone through.  We were flying domestically too.  So wrong.

Bye bye crazy Cairo!  Next stop, the even crazier Luxor.

Egypt – Cairo

Welcome to crazy Cairo! It was 33 degrees at 2am when I landed, British Airways being late AGAIN. That’s 2 flights late from 2 flights taken on BA – a disgrace.

Hubs met me at the airport and she was a little frazzled because her taxi driver started taking her to the Suez Canal instead of the airport.  Anyway, we met up without too much incident and the adventure of Egypt was about to begin.  Outside the airport Hubs went to grab a cab – but before getting in she spoke to the driver to find out how much it is going to cost – whether we can negotiate a fixed price of if they are going to use the meter.  I’ve since learned that most taxis in Egypt have meters that don’t work.  She tells the first taxi driver to go away and goes to the next one to go through the same ritual.  Nah, she’s cracked it with him and tells me he’s a crook and walks away.  We walk away, with all my luggage, away from the entrance of the airport.  She waves down the oldest, cruddiest, crappiest looking taxi I have ever seen (and I have been to Sri Lanka) and then motions me to get in.  It looked like a bashed around Peugeot rally car from the 1960s, one that had never seen a service, let alone a wash.

What? This? I’m not getting in that,” I tell her, “it’ll never get to the city – look how crappy it is!” 

Yes mate, trust me, this is fine,” Hubs says and jumps in.  What choice did I have?  We were in the taxi and I was trying not to freak out that there weren’t any seat belts.  I noticed the lock button didn’t work, the windows didn’t wind up, and the seats were made of vinyl, funnily enough they were intact without rips.

The taxi driver has obviously taken driving lesson from the Starsky and Hutch stunt driver – he was swerving all over the road, dodging cars, motorcyclists sans helmet, and trucks.  Hairy to say the least.

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Then we arrived at our five star oasis in the middle the Cairo craziness, Hotel Semiramis on the banks of the Nile.  After a hiccup getting into the hotel – I had to hand over my weapon of mass destruction, the Swiss Army Knife, I checked in.  Hubba tried to explain to the beefy security guard that it would take all day to kill someone with that little knife, but he stood firm.  Best not to mess with a man carrying a gun, so we complied and I let him take my pocket knife. 

Our room was lovely, 2 king size single beds that were firm with soft and fluffy bedding and the best quality Egyptian cotton sheets, white bathrobes for each of us, slippers too, L’occitaine bathroom products, ah it was just joy.  Zzzzzzzzzz

We slept in and made to the huge breakfast buffet selection before it closed at 11am.  I love it when there is a chef making omelettes to order!  The coffee was too disgusting for words, resulting in a decision that I shall only drink tea in Egypt.  Here I was thinking that in Egypt I’d lose weight, melt it all off, get rid of that Italian excess baggage I picked up in the mother country over six weeks.  Not if breakfast was anything to go by…

Hubs and I caught a taxi, another fight with another three drivers before she found one who was ripping us off the least, and we went to the Citadel and the mosque of ex Egyptian ruler, Mohamed Ali. It was beautiful and over 1000 years old.  The Citadel had magnificent views of the city, but with all the haze and smog in the air we couldn’t see the pyramids.   Oh well.  We caught another taxi (another three fights for Hubba) to a huge modern shopping mall – yes, airconditioning!!  Aaahhhh. This mall is as big as some of the malls in Dubai and it has all the big brands – loads of Italian brands too.  After a couple of hours, we were both weary and walked out to get another taxi, sigh.  Hard work.

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It was stinking hot outside and we were both sweltering and it a joy to return to the oasis, the Hotel Semiramis, for a rest and a relax by the pool.  Just what the doctor ordered!

At 7pm we again tackled the taxi drivers until Hubs found one with a reasonable price and went out to Giza, to the pyramids, to watch the sound and light show.  For an hour we were wow’d as the three pyramids were lit up with different lights and scenes as the history of Egypt was explained. It was something special and I left there with my head in historical cloud-9 land, very happy and excited with what else we would be seeing.

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Cairo really is a city best at night in the summer.  It’s still hot but not as bad as during the day, and everything looks so much better lit up.  During the day you really see the haze in the sky, the dirty buildings, and just how poor so many people here are. 

Hub’s theory on Egypt:  100 million people, 80% of them scum bags, 20% are great nice lovely educated people.  Taxi drivers mostly fall into the 80% group.   There are a lot of the 80% group in Cairo.

We weren’t quite ready to retire, being only 9.30pm, so we went to downtown Cairo.  We had a bit of a walk around, and I didn’t enjoy that.  Although I was covered up completely, I was the subject of stares and some comments that I couldn’t quite hear or understand.  My coping mechanism was to avoid eye contact with all people at every available opportunity. In fact, that was pretty easy to do given I really had to watch my step as the pavement was never smooth – cracked, broken and a sprained ankle waiting to happen.

I cracked up laughing when we came to a set of traffic lights.  Firstly, there’s a count down clock to tell the drivers how many seconds left on the red / green light.  The drivers, the worst in the world I have seen anywhere, all rev their engines like they are on the F1 starting grid and let the engines rip once that light goes green.  Unlike in Roma where drivers will slow down or stop for a pedestrian (as long as you don’t hesitate), in Cairo they speed up and then swerve to not hit you.  Crossing a road in Cairo sucked!!!  I hated it!!!  Crossing 4 or 5 lanes of mad ass traffic with no lights…an experience I can live without!

The few pedestrian traffic lights there are, are hilarious!  When the green man comes on, he moves in a running motion – like a little green running man cartoon.  To me this says “Run!!! Hurry up!! Run and get across the road before you get killed!!!”  Every time I saw that I cracked up laughing!

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Hubba and I eventually found a sheesha place on the top level of a not so smart shopping mall. It was quiet, there were other women in there smoking, and I didn’t feel every eye on me.  We had a fresh mango juice and played backgammon whilst enjoying the apple tobacco through the sheesha.  Our bill was 30 Egyptian pounds, or A$6. 

I dug deep, found some courage and with Hubs crossed a 7 lane crazy round about road to get back to our oasis.  Laying down on those gorgeous five star beds is something I’ll dream about for a long long time. So so so lovely.  Zzzzzzzz 

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