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My Trip to Egypt
London Heathrow to Cairo Egypt
The trip to Egypt was a romantic and educational vacation we tacked on to a transAtlantic journey to attend the funeral of my brother-in-law. The itinerary was tight: funeral in Birmingham on Friday, arrive Cairo early Sunday morning.
Having spent the better part of my sleeping hours in Birmingham since the funeral on Friday scouting for hotels in Cairo on the internet I read Travel Advisor Hotel Reviews over and over again; the ups and downs of Egyptian culture, foods, perfumes, bedbugs, mosquitoes, clean and dirty hotels.
As the deadline for travel drew near more and more properties became unavailable. Late, very late on the eve of departure, I opted for better safe than sorry, and finally settled on Cataract Pyramids Resort because it was an affordable five star, near to the Pyramids at Giza, and was endorsed by Opodo (the online booking company recommended by my wife’s niece).
Arrived British Airways from London Heathrow, in the wee hours of Monday morning but Egypt does not appear to go to sleep. The airport looked crowded and yet user friendly. You first negotiate the medical alert forms which they are now using to alert for swine flu in Egypt. The lady whom I handed mine to asked for a contact phone number, I told her I did not have one but I would be at Cataract Pyramids Resorts as indicated on the form. The overcrowded hallway in which we filled out this form should have been enough of a concern to the health authorities, I thought.
You then filed past two cameramen as you made your way to Immigration. On the left are windows where you may purchase your visa for US $15. We had some concern since we had received conflicting information about whether or not Jamaicans can travel to Egypt without a visa. The travel agent in Jamaica had assured us that we could purchase the entry visa upon arrival at Cairo; to our chagrin we had received a different story from a friend who managed the Northern Caribbean University’s Imagine Cup team which had just returned form participating that competition in Egypt. He said that they were advised to obtain visas from the Egyptian consulate based in Cuba, which they did.
For the record we had no problem obtaining our visas from the friendly officers at the Cairo Airport. At the same counter we also purchased Egyptian pounds at a rate near to 9 something Egyptian pounds for one pound sterling. You took the visa to Immigration where they pasted it into your passport and stamped it up.
The immigration lines moved ever so slowly. Each officer in white is supported by two clerks who processed information on computers. In most other countries one person sits at a computer and does the same job. Heading into a large hall, we were now looking for the tour packages we heard we could buy at airport. Sure enough a well dressed young man with a gentle simile suggested that he could help us with tour package. He steered us to Magdy at the Beach Tours desk, and the rest is history.
Cairo International Airport to Cataracts Pyramids Resorts
We were offered drinks and water. We opted for the safe route, Sprite, and were offered bottled water as well.
“How long are you in Egypt for?”
Magdy suggested that all we needed was one day in Cairo, that he could arrange a short Nile Cruise that we could afford. He assured us everything was paid for including the tips. Yeah right! If only someone had warned us about the culture of tipping like we dripped with wealth. Truth is we could have managed it easily if we had not overreached ourselves by throwing the entire cash allowance for the trip on the package. It left us with less than nothing for miscellaneous. I felt uncomfortable with feeling so exposed, but the deal was done.
We had one problem; we had pre-booked and paid Opodo.uk.com for 7 nights at Cataract Pyramids Resort. He dialled the hotel without any success. Then we tried to call Opodo; I should have known better; Opodo was closed for the weekend. Brimming with good humour, eastern politeness, and optimism, the resourceful Magdy suggested that the refund should be possible. If I could be assured of an early refund then I could use my credit card to rescue us somewhat.
One little concern with that though was that my Visa credit card was brand new and I had not had the opportunity to attend the offices of my bank to pin it with my personal ID yet in order to withdraw cash with it; I could only hope for a friendly merchant to facilitate me. Her serene majesty opposed the very idea.
Magdy was a great salesman. He accomplished the impossible by convincing her serene majesty to accept not just a 5 star package, but 5 star treatment all the way including overnight sleeper car to Aswan. I saw what he was doing. But I said, she deserves it anyway. And I agreed so long as the package covered everything since we were parting with practically all our cash in hand then and there.
After a speedy and very revealing ride to Cataract Pyramids Resort we finally went to bed at 5am. My first impressions of Cairo: busy, never sleeps, lots of street side activities (imagine persons of all ages sitting on the sidewalk of a bridge eating a la fresco at 4 in the a.m., architecture right out of Arabian Nights, and finally the hotel was modern, largest swimming pool in Cairo, and laid out with its Pharaonic palm lined footpath.
Boasting the largest swimming pool in Cairo, and possibly in Egypt the property is in El Haraneya on the Sakkara Road in Giza, 35 minutes from the Cairo International Airport, and about twenty minutes from the downtown area.
A porter transported us on the luggage trolley to our room. I had selected a garden view but was upgraded to a pool view. The room was clean but not sparkling clean, yet very comfortable; no mosquitoes (a can of spray and a plug in mat insecticide were provided just in case); no bed bugs; and the TV and hot water worked. Where was that prejudice against women I heard about? Everyone we met has been polite to me and my wife.
The structure, décor, and layout of Cataract Pyramids Resort should make it a proud five-star by any standard, but there seem to be a lack of ability to upkeep such properties. Maybe Egypt suffers from a shortage of janitorial chemicals and machinery, or lack of training. But the quality of the furniture and flooring deserved better cleaning and maintenance. The bathroom floor had build-up of dirt and grime that might need skill and maybe some sanitation chemicals to remove. Lesser hotels in Jamaica and North America have done it. Are the Egyptians saving money on specialised cleaning chemicals? Do they lack the know-how? So in reality a 3 star, at best 4 star.
We woke up on our first Cairo morning to a large buffet breakfast. Cantaloupe juicy for my morning. Would have preferred to see more fruits. We were warned by a travel agent in Britain to not drink any local beverage but I risked something red called karkade. There was something familiar about the colour and mellow yet tangy aftertaste. My wife tasted it and said it was sorrel, a popular Christmas time drink in Jamaica. Turned out she was right and it seems to be a staple in Egypt. In the street side markets you could see bags of the sun-dried fruit which is known to the wider English speaking world as the roselle plant of hibiscus genus.
But back to my first Egyptian breakfast. I usually warm up with fruits so I made a beeline for the fruit counter which offered me juicy cantaloupe. Boiled eggs, lots of custard, French toast, a few rolls plus an array of pastry. You bet I ate my money’s worth. My pesca-vegetarian darling dined on fried egg and croissant, melon, cantaloupe, cheese, and found the sorrel very much to her taste. She was restrained, I was tired, hungry, and warmed up, you know how Jamaicans are.
After breakfast I rushed to the front office to see if I could formalise the refund process. The polite and helpful front office clerk, Sara Hussein, assured me that the hotel usually received payment after they invoiced Opodo, and they would invoice Opodo for my amended booking. However the business end of the change was in the hands of Opodo. She even allowed us to print from the internet another copy of the confirmation from Opodo of the original booking.
I rang the UK sales office of Opodo only to realise that they were 2 hours behind and closed.
We returned to our room and quickly retrieved our bags, we were checking out because later that evening our sleeping arrangements would be the overnight sleeper car on the train to Aswan. Seeing our financial predicament we quickly wheeled our luggage to the reception area ourselves thereby saving some of the obligatory tips!