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Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

Chicago, Illinois
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Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

Hi everyone! I am back from a wonderful 2 weeks in Egypt and wanted to provide a quick trip report. I kept a blog while I traveled as well, so as soon as I get my pictures added to the blog, I'll post the link to that too for anyone who wants more details.

Arrived in Cairo about 7 pm on Saturday, Jan 26th. Was staying at the Hotel Longchamps and had arranged for a pickup from the airport. To my great relief, he was right there waiting for me, together with his son about 9 years old. Hotel Longchamps was ok. The area in Zamalek was nice but of all the hotels I stayed at while in Egypt, this was my least favorite. Because it was very chilly and wet when I arrived, my hotel room was freezing and there was no heat. Breakfast was ok. The free internet in the lobby didn't work the whole time I was there and I didn't find the staff overly friendly or helpful.

Anyway, Sunday I had arranged for a tour of Islamic Cairo and Coptic Cairo with Casual Cairo Detours (Debbie Senters). Debbie wasn't available to take me so her colleague Colin took me instead. Unfortunately, I felt like Colin really rushed through things and we didn't even go through any of Islamic Cairo besides the Citadel. While it was nice to have a driver to get around and to have someone guiding me my first day, I was a little disappointed in how the whole day went.

Monday was one of the highlights of my tour. I had arranged with a company called Empire Travel to do a day trip to Middle Egypt - Beni Hassan and Tell el Amarna. I chose this because it's off the beaten path and because I had read a bunch about Akhetaten and Nefertiti and really intrigued by the history of that area. I was picked up at 5:30 am from my hotel and during the 4+ hour drive down there, my guide Adel gave me a very thorough overview of Egyptian history going back to the first pharoahs. We visited 4 tombs in Beni Hassan and then went on to Tell al Amarna. Here I was a bit disappointed because Adel insisted there was nothing to see but one really good tomb, even though I had read in my Rough Guide that there was a lot more. After that, we stopped in the town of Mallawi for a late lunch and then stopped quickly at Tuna el-Gebel to see a couple more tombs before heading back to Cairo, arriving around 9:30 pm.

Tuesday was another day on my own before my tour started and I had arranged through the Hotel Longchamps for a guide to take me to Sakkara, Dahshour and Memphis. The weather was gross - cold, windy and rainy. But it was still enjoyable. I went inside the Red Pyramid at Dahshour and was pretty much by myself. And my guide, Amira, took me to some pretty cool tombs at Sakkara in addition to seeing the Step Pyramid. However, several things I had read about in my Rough Guide Amira said were closed. Memphis was just completely unimpressive and we didn't spend too much time there. Afterwards, Amira took me to Felfela for some Egyptian food. I just told her to order because I didn't have a clue. It was really nice and I found that I liked most everything!

Tuesday night I transferred to my hotel for my Gecko's tour - the Pharoahs Hotel in Dokki. This was definitely a step up from the Longchamps.

My tour really started Weds morning. I did the Gecko's Nile & Sinai Revealed tour. There were 14 in our group - I was the only American with 13 Aussies! Weds was the Egyptian Museum and then Giza. I found the Egyptian Museum way too crowded to really enjoy it. We were just constantly fighting through other tour groups to look at anything. I paid extra to see the Mummies Room and was glad I did, if only because it was less crowded!

I was pleasantly suprised by Giza. I had heard so many negative comments about how touristy it is and how much you get hassled but I didn't find it bad at all. Nothing worse than say the Coliseum in Rome or Eiffel Tower in Paris. I didn't pay extra to go inside one of the big pyramids since I had already gone in the one at Dahshour, but I did go down into a smaller tomb for Queen Hetepheres, the wife of King Snofru.

Weds night was the overnight train to Aswan. Again, my expectations were very low based on everything I had read, so I was pleasantly surprised by how decent it was. The toilets were still yucky, but not nearly as bad as I expected.

After arriving in Aswan on Thursday, we went to see the Temple of Philae. That was really nice. That night we hit the markets for the first time to try our hand at bargaining and had a lot of fun with it.

Friday morning was an early rise to go to Abu Simbel. Our bus in the convoy was FREEZING - literally our toes were frozen when we arrived. And it was still very chilly outside when we got there. The site itself though was amazing. My pictures definitely don't do it justice. Looking at the displays they had about how the whole move was done was even more incredible - it's still hard to fathom!

After Abu Simbel, we boarded our cruiseboat, the MS Sinbad. Most of the group went out on a felucca ride then, but I got my roommate to join me to go see the Tombs of the Nobles on the West Bank. We managed to find the local ferry and take that across and then had an awesome caretaker/guard take us through the tombs. That was one of the highlights of my trip for sure! We were like the only ones there and it was great to interact with the locals. After that it was back to the markets and some great fun with some of the vendors.

Saturday morning we got to do a camel ride to St Simeon's Monastery. That was awesome as well. I was a bit nervous at first, but once we got going, it was actually very relaxing just bouncing through the desert on the back of a camel.

We set sail Saturday afternoon and stopped at the Temple at Kom Ombo that evening. Later that evening was our "fancy dress" party on the boat and we ended up just staying up all night since we were scheduled to get up at 6 am anyway to visit the Temple at Edfu.

Sunday afternoon we ventured into Esna for a bit while we waited to go through the locks. We arrived in Luxor Sunday night and went into town, which I really liked. It felt so much cleaner than Aswan - somewhat European.

Monday we rose early to ride donkeys to the Valley of the Kings. I was more scared about the donkeys than the camels even though you're lower to the ground! Then we saw 3 tombs in the Valley - one of the Ramses kings, Tuthmosis III and Ramses I. Later that afternoon we took horse-drawn carriages to Karnak Temple. I loved Karnak - it was just amazing! was a bit tired of our tour guide at that point though - especially when he started telling us the myth of Osiris and Isis, which every other guide I'd had has told and somehow they all manage to tell it slightly differently.

That night we went to see Luxor Temple all lit up before heading to the train back to Cairo. This train overall was a bit cleaner than the train to Aswan but the toilets were much worse! Luckily, I met a nice Egyptian man who took me to the first class cabin so I could use one of those toilets, which were MUCH better.

Tuesday was a free day in Cairo and I ventured out on my own to see more of Islamic Cairo and Khan el Khalili. I got a bit scammed a couple times (see my blog for more details) and was feeling very frustrated but I tried not to let it bother me.

Wed was on to Sinai, where we stayed at a nice hotel/hostel complex near St Catherine's. Thursday we got up at 2 am to head to the base of Sinai to start our climb. We started at 3 and made it to the top about 5:30. Rented a blanket and ate a Snickers and waited for the sun to rise. It was freezing cold, but well worth it as the sunrise was amazing! Worked our way back down and then waited for the monastery to open. Then it was on to Dahab for some relaxation.

Thursday night we went out with our tour manager to watch the Egypt-Ivory Coast soccer game and got to experience some serious excitement as Egypt won!

Friday I had arranged to go with another company, Samar Tours, to the Coloured Canyon. That was awesome. We hiked through the Canyon for about an hour - a total obstacle course of rocks and boulders. Lots of fun. Then a CRAZY ride through the desert in a 4WD truck to an oasis for lunch before hiking into the White Canyon for another hour.

Saturday it was back to Cairo and then off to the airport about 1 a.m. for my flight back to the US.

Overall, it was an amazing trip! There are definitely things that took some getting used to and things I will not miss, but I am so glad I went and I would highly encourage anyone to go. I could easily see myself going back and spending some more time in Luxor and maybe checking out the Western Desert.

Sorry so long - like I said before, I'll post the link to my blog and pictures once theyre up.

london
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1. Re: Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

Very interesting report.

If you go to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in the afternoon, it may be almost deserted. All the tour groups go in the mornings.

Chicago, Illinois
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2. Re: Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

Interesting about the Egyptian Museum. Guess I'll have to go back on my own in another trip to Egypt! I really would've liked to have seen more but the crowds were just unbearable.

As promised, I have my blog completed and pictures up - anyone interested can check it out at www.mytb.org/minniegirl.

Massachusetts
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3. Re: Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

Hi minniegirl -

Thanks for the trip report before I left myself. I found you on the Paris forum as well looking for something to do during your layover. We're in the same boat - taking Air France over with a 7 hour layover. I guess we'll wait and see if we're up for doing anything. We might head over to the Ecouen Chateau.

Anyways - was the Longchamps really that disappointing? I thought I read somewhere that they had space heaters in the room if it got cold. Is that not the case? Also - what time does breakfast start at the Longchamps. We're getting picked up at 8am on both days. I'm assuming that will give us time to eat . Please let me know if that's not the case.

Also - which tour did you sign up for through Casual Cairo Detours? It sounded like a combination of Cairo and Coptic (Tours 3 & 4). We're doing Tour #4 with Debbie in less than a week. Please tell me it was just a matter of trying to fit in too much and that's why you left feeling disappointed!

Chicago, Illinois
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4. Re: Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

MAWondering -

I ended up finding a flight that only had a 4 1/2 hour layover in Paris and so just slept in the airport by the gate in between flights.

I think the Longchamps was disappointing mainly because I had read so many incredibly positive reviews that I was expecting a lot more. My room was a very nice size and I had a large king bed which was great. They also had a refrigerator in the room, which was nice even though it smelled really funny. The bathroom was ok - very small shower with a shower curtain that wouldn't pull all the way around so water inevitably ended up everywhere and the bathroom floor was not completely dry for the next 3 days I was there. I didn't even think to ask about getting a space heater - wish I had.

I want to say breakfast starts at 7 - it definitely starts before 8am because I got picked up at 8am on 2 occasions and had breakfast beforehand.

As far as my tour with Casual Cairo Detours - yes, it was supposed to be a combo of the Coptic Cairo tour and the City of the Dead/Islamic Cairo/Citadel tour. Debbie had told me it would be a long day but we were also supposed to cut out Khan el Khalili because I would have time to go there later in my trip and I was going on a Sunday when a lot of the stalls would be closed anyway. I was picked up at 8 am by Debbie's colleague Colin. We went first to the City of the Dead, but basically just to see the mosque of Qaitbey and then out again. The description on her website had given me the impression that more time would be spent actually walking through the area but I know that there are questions about whether tour guides are even supposed to take tourists in there anymore, so that may be why.

Next we went to the Citadel where we visited 3 mosques, but no museums (according to the tour description we would see a couple museums of my choice). I wish I had the description with me because I didn't realize I was supposed to see more there until after I got back. Next, according to the tour description, we were supposed to walk from the Citadel down to Bab Zuweila and the tentmakers bazaar but we didn't do that. Colin even commented to me "well, you've pretty much seen Islamic Cairo now" as we left the Citadel.

We spent about an hour seeing the main sites in Coptic Cairo - don't think I missed anything there. We were done with all of that in just a few hours - probably by noon or so, while Debbie had told me it would be a full 8 or 9 hours. After Coptic Cairo, Colin said we would go to Khan el Khalili (which I had told Debbie I didn't want to do). But since the day was only half done, I just went along with it. As we went through the market, I really felt like Colin was just trying to take me to the places where he and Debbie would get a commission even though he kept telling me he was not doing that, he was taking me to where I'd get the best deals. Regardless, it was my first day in Cairo and I had no interest in doing any shopping. I would've much rather seen more sights, but unfortunately I didn't know what else to ask to see. So part of it is my own fault I think for not having the tour description with me and not being more informed about what to see, and for not being more assertive with Colin about what I wanted.

Hope that helps. I still am glad I did it, and Colin was very helpful in providing cultural tips and other useful information which was great to have my first day in Egypt. Even took me to the pharmacy to pick up some Antinal in case I got sick on my trip. Guess I was just expecting more overall for what I was paying.

Liverpool, United...
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5. Re: Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

Hello Minniegirl,

I almost missed seeing this, another member told me to look on the Egypt forum. Could you please post it on the Cairo forum, I think a lot more people would see it there, thanks.

Sounds like you had a very good trip, camels, donkeys, jeeps ! you have done things that I have not done !!

You were rather unlucky with the weather, you caught the end of the cold weather, I always tell people that it can be cold, my home is terrible, we just wear more, and that solves it.

Think that all the advice you got on the forums helped to prepare you for a lot of things, especially the trains, glad that it was ok for you.

Shame about your Islamic Cairo day, it is so very interesting, don't know what went wrong there ?

Please take a look at a new page I wrote, you may find it interesting :

tripadvisor.com/Travel-g294201-c84731/Cairo:…

I had a great day out, was on my own (as usual...) but got some nice pictures and shopping of course.

On another visit to Cairo you may want to do some walks on you own, that is what I have always done, and inside Cairo it is not difficult to do as long as you read up on things, to know what you want to see and how to manage it.

Well done for having such a great trip.

Regards

Wendy

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6. Re: Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

Minniegirl -

Thanks for the great advice. I'm going to firm up my itinerary with Debbie right now as I see that it is a bit vague.

Liverpool, United...
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7. Re: Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

Hello MAwondering,

Agree with you, make sure that the schedule will be followed, I was not happy to read minniegirls experience, it really seems on that day she did not get what was promised - it could have been a lot better, perhaps there was a reason for all this from the tour guides side, but as their tours are expensive compared with the local guides, you really need to be sure that you will get what has been scheduled. Perhaps it was just one bad day.

Wendy

Massachusetts
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8. Re: Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

Wendy -

I just sent you a private note. I've never done that before so heopefully it's made it's way to you. After asking about my itinerary, Debbie told me that the City of the Dead is closed to tours. I had read that here on the forum but since she never told me about it herself (and it makes up quite a bit of the tour I booked w/ her), I thought my group was small enough to get in. Anyways - if you have any thought on the my personal note to you, I'd appreciate it.

Liverpool, United...
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9. Re: Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

Hello MAwondering,

I have sent you a full reply by PM with my detailed suggestions for your Islamic Cairo day, I am sure you will all have a great time, and there is a lot to see so you will all be worn out by the end, but believe it will be a very memorable day.

Regards

Wendy

10. Re: Trip report on 2 weeks in Egypt! (LONG!)

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