March 18, 2011

Ten days in Egypt

Prelude:
Again, am penning down this travel note after almost a year. There was so much to do in Egypt and so many experiences cherished : i always used to start writing something, then get digressed and then totally forget(not to mention the workload!). But, this is a sincere attempt in capturing some aspects of our travel to Egypt in Feb last year(when it was calm and peaceful with a amazingly beautiful weather).

After thinking a lot about possible destinations for our honeymoon, I zeroed in on Egypt - it had the right mix of Adventure, History and Food; and more than all this , it has a 'civilization' - i love countries like India, Egypt, South Americas which have a 'civilization' - there is so much to learn and experience in such nations.

Then started the decision process of whether we can do this on our own or have to necessarily go via a travel agent. After having researched for sometime, it was decided that a travel agent would be better, as the language was a barrier and we wanted to take it easy(read 'luxury holiday'). And hence after getting quotes from a few travel agents, finally decided on 'The Freelancers'. Unlike my other travels, this one had all hotels, buses, flights, cruises, taxis...almost everything booked in advance! :)

We started from Chennai in the evening and then went to Mumbai(stayed overnight in the airport) to catch the early morning flight to Cairo via EgyptAir.

DAY 1 Monday, February 08, 2010
Reached the Cairo airport at around 12pm and then we were transferred to Hotel Longchamps, a 3 Stars hotel, a  Standard room with  Bed and Breakfast in the heart of Egypt. The room ,though not large,  was clean and neat. Overnight in Cairo

DAY 2 Tuesday, February 09, 2010
A private sightseeing tour of Pyramids of Giza and Sakkara, the Sphinx and Memphis starting at 8am. We checked out of our room before we left for this sightseeing tour, as we had to leave for Luxor by evening and did not want to pay for the room for the day.


Spinx and the Three Pyramids

Sphinx

Not the 'original sphinx' :)

Ramses

In the evening  we boarded the Sleeping Train to Luxor. The train was to arrive at 7pm and was late by 30mins. Nevertheless, the compartment was clean and we were given a 2 berth private cabin with an attached toilet.

DAY 3 Wednesday, February 10, 2010
We reached Luxor around 6-7am in the morning and were then transfered to the Jetty to board the Nile Cruise. The Cruise is the place to get pampared; you almost get to do nothing. Just sit, eat, relax and travel, and Eating is one of the MOST important things. Our stay was to be in the cruise for the next 3 days(and I am sure that i would have gained atleast 5 kgs during this period).

The Cruise operates sight seeing tours, and they let you know of the plan when you board and also daily in the morning once and in the evening, if you have to wake up early. 




DAY 4 Thursday, February 11, 2010
ON the cruise, eating, relaxing and the sight seeing tours.

Cruises waiting on the Nile River

DAY 5 Friday, February 12, 2010
Again a day, when the cruise guide takes your around.



Hatshepsut

At Karnak Temple



made of alabastar


Saturday, DAY 6 February 13, 2010
Today was the last day in the cruise and we were to disembark at Aswan.

We started from Aswan at around 11am in our private car and reached Hurghada around 7pm in the night. The ride was wonderful and we survived a small accident, which would have been deadly if not for the promptness of the driver in applying the breaks. Not gory, but yea, definitely a chill in the spine for a new minutes.
In India, you would see cattles being loaded into trucks and other smaller vehicles, in Egypt, its the Ship of the Desert...everywhere!

A common sight - enroute Hurghada

We checked into our beautiful room at Hilton Hurghada Resort with a  Sea view. The room was spartan clean and the resort looked just amazing.

DAY 7 Sunday, February 14, 2010
Morning was the time to explore the ocean and the bluness of the sea was just too darn beautiful. The perfect sun coupled with the crystal clear skyblue ocean was a treat to watch. Did Kayaking for almost an hour and the post-lunch session was for a snorkeling session in the deep blue waters of the Red Sea.

Red Sea

The breakfast at the Hilton is one of the best i have ever had till date. The spread is amazing, and with a really heavy and late breakfast, you can almost skip your lunch and directly go on for a dinner :) (more weight gains!)

Evening was spent roaming around -a long walk along the length of the stretch of the road that covers all the resorts and shops in Hurghada.


DAY 8 Monday, February 15, 2010
Day was spent mostly along the beach and in the evening we boarded our flight to Cairo.

View from Hilton

Reached Cairo airport and then moved to our room in Horus House. This hotel is in the same building as Longchamps but on a lower level than it. Overnight was spent in the hotel after a  sauntering in the streets for sometime.

Tuesday, DAY 9 February 16, 2010
We  had this day as buffer and used to explore the City of Cairo. We managed to learn the Arabic numerals and managed to roam around the city the whole day on our own. Language is not a BIG problem in the Cairo city, as you might stumble on someone who knows English and can help you out.

We first went to the Museum and then onto the Khalili Bazaar.

The Museum is one of the biggest i have ever seen. I was always enthusiastic about them, and was as excited as a kid who wants to visit a circus for the first time :) There was a long queue to enter and then we managed to get the first view of the ancient rocks and other statues that should have been centuries old. Room after room was filled with ancient relics and remnants of the great civilization. It is a treat to watch the broken sphinxs, the bust of Tutenkhamum, the small pyramids, the statues of Pharoahs, priests, their servants and maids, the empty caverns and the caskets. This is an experience that you have to have, and cannot be explained in words.

And then we roamed around in the streets of Cairo near the Museum and had a quick snack with our broken english in one of the hotels by the street. I forgot what we ordered, but it was different and good...and cheap. Then we took a taxi and reached the Khalili  bazaar. Almost the whole of evening was spent in roaming around this bazaar trying to bargain and buy some souvenirs. If you want to buy an souvenirs for the loved ones back home, then this is the place.I could not find a big difference in price between India and Cairo, but 'Egypt' specific souvenirs(like small pyramids, papyrus etc ) were cheap. You need to bargain a LOT! For eg. if the seller says 100EGP, ask for 10EGP - i am not joking, but the seller agrees most of the times :)

Souvenirs in Khan-e-Khalili Bazaar
Overnight at the same hotel(Horus House).

DAY 10 Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Day was spent roaming around the neighboring streets.

Harley Davidson showroom in Cairo

And then, like all good things, this tour came to an end and we boarded our flight back home.

Expenses (for two) :
  • Mumbai - Cairo by EgyptAir : 40,000
  • Package Cost of 10 days tour: 1,02,000
  • Food: 10,000
  • Miscellaneous : 5,000
  • Sports : 10,000
  •  
Verdict:
  • A must visit place for any traveller
  • You need to bargain a LOT in the market.
  • Do not go during the summer months, prefer oct-feb.
  • Do visit Hurghada - its a really nice place and the stay at Hilton is cheaper than a stay at Leela in Bangalore. Red sea is clean and is the best place for snorkeling/diving.
  • Cairo is a nice place to walk around on your own. Its safe too. I wish they had walking tours!
  • Try out the local cuisine - we liked this dish called Koshary and my wifey makes it even now :)
  •  Cruise is not a must, but if you want to relax, then its a good bet. You eat the best and also the sight seeing tours are nice. Recommended.
  • For those who like History/Civilization, try to read up stuff before you go there - helps a lot
  • Almost all the hotels where we stayed were nice and were value for money. Would recommend Longchamps and Horus House.
  • Travelling in the Sleeping train is also nice and a must. (I love trains!)
  • We didnt do Abu Simbel and Alexandria - For Abu Simbel you need to catch the early morning caravan and almost have to reserve 2 days for this, and also costs a bit. Do this if you have the time and dough.
  • You might be interested in the hotel air balloon  - we did not do this; its quiet expensive but i think its one of its kind of an experience(which i miss now). Floating over the pyramids and ruins should be a great experience indeed.
  • And one more important thing : Egypt is a Tips nation,  i.e, you have to tip/baksheesh almost everywhere. So if you are taking a bus from the cruise which takes you around and bring you back, you have to tip the driver, you have to tip the taxiwala, you have to tip the guide(on top of his service-a charge which you pay for the cruise); if you are taking a taxi from airport to the hotel, then you pay the charge and top of it a tip!!! sigh! I think this is totally upto you. I did not tip much. So carry suitable change, if you like leaving tips :)
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