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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

CAIRO, OLD AND NEW

 
Rooftop View
 


Minaret
 


Park
 
What about Cairo? Did I feel any danger there? In spite of the two revolutions and the pending elections at the time I was there, and the spate of unfavorable media coverage about Egypt, travel warnings from embassies, that has diminished their tourism by 90%, I felt absolutely no sense of danger. In fact, there was good security in place everywhere. And what impressed me so much was the people. I have never met such gracious, generous, friendly people anywhere before. Young, old, men, women and children approached me and my travel companions on the street with smiles. “Welcome! Where are you from? Welcome to Egypt!”  You know the saying “Walk like an Egyptian?” Now I know what it means. These are proud people, open and friendly, who walk with a noble stance, proud of their country and heritage and greet you with welcoming smiles.

Linda and some lovely young ladies in Old Cairo
 
The only real ‘danger’ I felt in Cairo was the traffic. They drive like maniacs, weaving in and out with no regard for lanes or right of way, always with their hands on the horns blaring their way through the chaos. I learned not to look out the front of the van window after several heart-stopping moments. Our driver, Magdi, was an expert and managed to get us everywhere safely. I’d highly recommend the services on land and river offered by the Escapade Travel who offer professional, friendly service.  www.escapadetravel.com.eg

Cairo is the capital of Egypt, and the largest city in the Middle East with a population of about 7 million people. Of course there are areas of the city that look run-down. One area in particular with blocks and blocks of half-finished apartments that we were told were part of the corruption, and built on land not designated to be developed for housing. And of course we didn’t see everything, just a glimpse.
 
River View

Cairo’s modern ‘downtown’ is on the east bank of the Nile. It was built under the influence of French architects and there are many beautiful mosques as well as Copic sights to see. There are other more affluent suburbs of the city. On the west bank of the river are the great Giza pyramids and farther south the archaeological sites of Memphis and Saqqara.
 
It isn’t a city that I, as a female solo traveler, would want to venture to although I recently met a Canadian woman who has been teaching there for seven years and loves it. I’d certainly not hesitate to return to this marvelous country in the company of a tour group. A couple of people in our group did go out exploring one night to Tahrir Square which was the focal point of the revolution against former president Hosni Mubarak, and today is the usual place for demonstrations. (Usually on Fridays, we were told by the Egyptologist, because that is a ‘day off’ in Egypt.)  They took a taxi and wandered around, went to a restaurant for dinner and back to the hotel. No problem.
Tahrir Square

My room at the Fairmont Nile City was on the 19th floor overlook the river so it was quite relaxing to enjoy the beautiful view and pleasant surroundings. There was a lot to do in the hotel including the relaxing lobby where you could order drinks and snacks and watch a large video screen of musicians playing that gave the feeling they were right there in person. The service at the hotel was superb and the staff most congenial and friendly.  There is a pool on the roof of the hotel where I spent one afternoon swimming and tanning.  There is also a spa and fitness centre, casino, exquisite dining rooms, bars, movies and shopping area.  www.fairmont.com
Sunset View from my 19th floor room
 
 
Very cozy accomodations
 

Treats left in my room

 
Relaxing before dinner
 
 
The music video in the lobby
 
 
Desserts!

A tastey seafood appetizer plate

All kinds of seafood

and desserts!
 

 
The chefs
Rooftop Pool
We were taken on several excursions while in Cairo. Of course the main interest for me was the Egyptian Museum located right near Tahrir Square.  This was the only place I really noted a big army presence but it was all very unobtrusive, parked on the little side street by the museum. During the revolution in 2011 people broke into the museum and stole some of the precious artifacts as well as damaging others. So there is a lot of security at the museum. It contains the world’s most extensive collection of paranoiac antiquities. I saw the King Tut exhibit when it was in Seattle but those treasurers were insignificant compared to what you will see on display here:  magnificent golden chariots, precious jewelry, and countless other incredible treasures as well as coffins, mummies and other artifacts from prehistoric through the Roman periods The museum houses approximately 160,00 objects in total.  We were told they plan to build a new museum so that more of the treasures can be displayed.



In Old Cairo we visited several churches including the oldest Greek Orthodox Church and the Ben Ezra Synagogue which dates from the 9th century and is the oldest Jewish place of worship in Egypt. We also visited the 4th century Hanging Church which is built on the bastions of the ancient Roman wall and ‘suspended’ above the level of the Nile.  In one of the oldest Coptic churches in Egypt we entered the crypt-like area below where there is a small room that is supposed to have been where Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus found shelter when they fled to Egypt.  Old Cairo also had an excellent bazaar for buying souvenirs, some very expensive and others modestly priced including furniture and jewelry.


Greek Orthodox Church



The Hanging Church
 




Jewish carving on door lintel
 

 Synagogue
 
 Bazaar

We stayed in Cairo for three days and visited several other important sites outside the city including Giza and the sphinx, Memphis and Saqqara.

NEXT: Giza and the Magnificent Sphinx.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

ENJOYING THE RED SEA COAST


 

The Red Sea got its name from the red coral reefs that lie off-shore. The sea itself is a brilliant turquoise, with warm water and sandy shores, with shallows stretching out far from the beaches.  To really get a close-up of the coral reefs we went on a glass-bottom boat tour in Soma Bay.

Lynda and I enjoying the cruise
I love those glass-bottom boat trips. I went on one at Zakynthos, Greece last summer to see the caretta-caretta sea turtles.  The trip I made on the Red Sea was just as spectacular with schools of brightly-coloured fish everywhere.  As we passed over the beds of red coral you could see clearly all the sea-life below: fish, anemones, and crustaceans. We even spotted a couple of scuba divers exploring the reefs.
Diver
Because of the reefs, diving is a popular sport on the Red Sea coast and from Hurghada north there are many dive schools offering gear and lessons for those who want to try.  The area is a prime location of scuba diving and fast becoming a popular resort area as well. The beaches are some of the purest, most unspoiled in the world! The area is known as the Red Sea Riviera.
Most of the resorts have dive schools and instructors for those who want to try snorkeling or scuba diving. As well, they offer other water sports such as kite surfing, wind surfing, jet-skiing, sailing and fishing.  Or, like we did, you can take a cruise on a glass-bottom boat and survey the wonders of the sea from above.
 
 Kite Surfing
After a day at sea or on the beach you can relax in the beautiful, fully-equipped spas that these resorts offer to their guests.

 



Before leaving our Soma Bay Resort area to board a plane back to Cairo at Hurghada, we stopped to visit another luxury resort, The Steigenberger Aqua Magic.  This is one of the most vibrant family-oriented resorts on the Red Sea. This resort was definitely geared for families with children and an entire area is devoted to a Disney-like theme park for kids to enjoy with water slides, pirate ships.

 A special program called Magic Tots Club for young guests includes fun and educational activities so parents can enjoy some leisure time on their own. There are lots of teen activities too including a games room, electronic games play station room, billiards, table tennis and a soft drinks bar. 
 



 For adults there are all the amenities you could wish for on a Riviera holiday including a 9-hole golf course, a dive centre, a shopping and leisure promenade where guests can shop and dine,  The accommodations were posh, beautifully decorated with a congeal staff who showed us around. And when we checked the prices they were amazingly reasonable: €160 a day all inclusive for double occupancy. www.steigenbergeraquamagic.com
 

Spa
 

After our tour we drove to Hurghada for our flight.  I was sorry to say goodbye the Red Sea and would love to think I might visit again some day. 


NEXT:  Cairo, the Old and the New
 

 

 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

EXPLORING THE NIGHT LIFE OF HURGHADA


 



The evening after we arrived at the posh Kempinski Hotel at Soma Bay,  Markos suggested we should go into the nearby city of Hurghada to have a look around.  Hurghada is the area’s best known resort area with lots of dive shops and other amenities. This was a kind of ‘secret’ get-away so only Linda, Markos and I set off by van for the 45 km drive north of the Soma Bay Resorts. The others had gone for a long spa treatment, which I had turned down in favor of the Hurghada adventure because I knew I’d be too tired. Yves was, and that’s why he didn’t accompany us.

 



 


Hurgada started out as a small fishing village but because of the investments made along the Red Sea coast it has become a busy town with lots of watersports and nightlife.  The hot, dry climate make it popular with Europeans who often spend their holidays there. Today Hurghada has 248,000 inhabitants.
We were met in the town by a tourist rep who escorted us on a walking tour down Hurghada’s busy main street.  Just as in other Mediterranean resorts the town comes alive at night when things have cooled down a bit.  There were plenty of people on the streets including families with children. 
 
The main street has a variety of shops. Linda and I bought some souvenirs in one shop and that’s where I met my little mascot, Abdul the Camel.  I couldn’t resist him and from that evening on he accompanied me on all my Egyptian adventures. 


Meet Abdul the Camel


There is a busy yacht harbour along the sea and an amusement park area.  But what intrigued me most were the little cafes, some of them resembling tents with people sitting on comfy chairs and couches around low tables. 


 
We found one that was an Italian cafe, and I ordered lasagna that was one of the best I’ve ever tasted with a little tomato on top carved like a rose.
 
  Markos ordered a shisha pipe and we sat under the canopy smoking apple-flavored tobacco, as we sipped Egyptian wine and  dined on our delicious meal. That was one of the most fun evenings, just the three of us and the tour guide enjoying some leisure time together.  

Linda, me and Markos having fun! 
 




NEXT:  Another Spa Tour and the Red Coral Reefs