A Journey Through Time
Our Tour Egypt Visit to Egypt, Part II
by Jimmy Dunn
When I was a bit younger and in somewhat better health, I would travel to Egypt straight through from Texas, which no matter what I did, ended up being a 24 hour trip including layovers. I just can't do that any more, so I lay over in New York for a night these days coming and going, and recommend that arrangement to anyone traveling from the US Midwest. The flight from New York to Cairo and visa versa, takes between ten and one half to eleven hours, which is actually not so bad in and of itself. But traveling for another five or ten hours, including layovers, is just too hard for many people. Most Europeans do not have this problem.
So when I was asked to arrange a visit for some of Tour Egypt's personnel, I made similar arrangements. The problem is that, without the layover in New York on the way in, many people are just too tired to hit the ground running, and many tours start up right away. In fact, I arranged for a Dinner Cruise our first night in Cairo. Then on the way back, after the eleven hour flight from Cairo to New York, carrying baggage through various terminals and connections within the US is difficult, and a rest in New York once again helps.
Usually, when I layover in New York, I don't do much sightseeing, but having my wife and a group of friends with me, we did our best to look about during the short period we were there, and then the next day it was off to Cairo. Not all of our group laid over in New York. Several of the younger members came in from Florida directly, while another drove in from nearby. I had met most of them, but not the two from Florida, even though Alan Boyles is our sales manager in that region. Meeting him was a delight, and with him was the youngest member of the tour, his cousin Rachael Gustafson, who of course I had also not met. She flew in from Albuquerque.
The other members of the tour included myself and my wife, Joanie, one of our regulars on the BBS conference center, Ann Marie Terra, one of our directors, Darrell Young and his wife Rita, my first assistant and partner in Tour Egypt, Rhonda Oates and her husband, Billy, his brother and sister-in-law, James and Kathy Oates and finally, Rhonda's brother, James, who unfortunately did not have the time to take the whole tour with us. They represented a wide range of ages and energy levels, from Rachel, who could best be described as a young female version of Tigger the tiger, able to jump furniture, small buildings and cultural limits, to James Oates, the oldest member who had only recently received a hip replacement and made his way through the tour using a cane. I, my wife and Ann Marie were the only ones who had visited Egypt prior to this tour.
We traveled aboard Egypt Air in coach, as this tour was really arranged as a budget tour, but that was not too bad going because coach was relatively un-crowded. In fact, my wife was able to find four empty seats together and make a bed of them, but this is a reservation that must be made early during the flight or others will beat you to it. This flight I also took along a couple of quality pairs of noise canceling headphones, which I would recommend to anyone. They not only cut down on the noise, but also provide much better sound for the two or three movies that Egypt Air usually shows during the flights. The ones Egypt Air hands out are rather cheap affairs, and the noise canceling feature really helps the sound clarity.
All in all, I enjoy traveling on Egypt Air for, as I have said many times before, its sort of like getting an early taste of the country. I frequently meet some nice Egyptians and have even been invited for dinner by a few. Otherwise, the food is decent even in coach, and the staff have always been kind, though I like to see the older stewards because they seem to be a little more helpful than the younger ones.
It never fails that, upon landing in Cairo, a round of applause goes up through the plane. This seems to be a tradition based on the long flight rather than any safety concerns. No matter how tired I am, the Cairo air always seems to enliven me, and admittedly I feel joy at touching Egyptian soil once more. On this trip, for the first time, I lead a tour down the stairway and was immediately met in the terminal by several Misr Travel representatives with a sign held high for the "Dunn Group". This is probably the second most important transfer of any tour, the first most important being the one back to the airport for the ride home. No problems here, however, as Misr Travel guided my group through the process, helping with their luggage and making sure everyone found their way onto the waiting bus. They were also flexible enough to allow one last stop at the Tax Free shop before exiting the terminal.
Egypt is notably careful with their tourists. Frankly, I have never visited any other country so concerned for traveler safety, and so it was no surprise that we had a ten minute delay, actually hardly long enough for our baggage to be loaded upon the Misr Travel Bus, while our tourist police escort arrived. I personally don't worry about security in Egypt, knowing the high values and friendliness of Egyptians, but I think that having one policeman onboard the bus, with a police escort car following us, was probably reassuring to my American companions. It is actually interesting to note that some members of the tour were told by people prior to leaving, unfamiliar with Egypt, to tell people in Egypt that they were Canadians if asked about their nationality. However, even on the first day, everyone felt comfortable enough to reveal their real homeland. No one ever felt threatened, and to the contrary, most Egyptians like meeting Americans and are enthusiastic about learning more about our culture.
From the airport, the tour really started immediately. Our guide was already on the bus, and after introductions were made, we began our forty-five minute ride to the Movenpick Pyramids Hotel in Giza (Cairo). While I normally enjoy staying in Zamalek, I will say that the drive to the Movenpick, with the Pyramids in easy view, passed by lots of sites along the way. So Soha Sabbour, an Egyptologist and our guide, provided a short orientation while pointing out various landmarks. Soha was really a remarkable guide who soon found her way into the hearts of most of our tour group. Most of the time when I have visited Egypt with groups, different guides were provided in different regions, but it was nice to have Soha all the way on this one.
Of course, it was a little difficult for the group to completely concentrate on Soha's orientation, because the first thing one notices about Egypt, with few exceptions, is the traffic. What I have almost come to ignore I think was quite a shock to those who had never been to Egypt, and so their first Egyptian adventure was simply making it to the hotel. I will not go into detail too much about the Movenpick Pyramids Hotel at this point, as we will be doing a complete review of this facility, but I do believe everyone was impressed with the garden like atmosphere and the hotel's friendly staff. Of course, the Misr Travel staff assisted us with our check in and remained at the hotel long enough to make sure everyone was situated in their rooms.
That night, Hebba from the Hotel Longchamps, a dear friend of mine, had arranged a dinner cruise for us aboard one of the Oberoi dinner boats. I had intended on hailing three or four taxis, but Misr Travel instead arranged a bus to take us and pick us up at no additional charge, even though this was not part of our original itinerary. So after a little rest, admittedly too little for a few of our group, we headed off once more.
To me, a dinner cruise is a must for anyone visiting Egypt. I have been on many of these, but my wife had not, and I had always wanted to take her on one. Neither had any of the rest of our group, and so while everyone was a bit tired out from our long flight, this was a chance to relax and enjoy their first entertainment in Egypt. Nile dinner cruises are actually somewhat like a nightclub experience. There is usually an elaborate buffet, with a good variety of food and lots of deserts, but the real focus of the evening is the entertainment and the beautiful view of the Nile skyline of Cairo. A good one, as this one was, will usually include a belly dancer accompanied by a full oriental band, a whirling dervish act, and a singing duet, usually performing mainstream western music. At some point in each act, the entertainers will mix among the diners allowing photo opportunities, and may even invite various guests on stage. Its a good show, and one that just about every tourist enjoys.
However, these dinner cruises usually last between an hour and a half to two hours, and if a break is needed, or one simply wishes to enjoy the skyline, most provide an upper viewing deck, a nice retreat from the entertainment below. This was also the first chance for most of our tour to experience their first meal in Egypt. Many of them were somewhat concerned about finding food that they would like in Egypt, but most facilities that cater to tourists usually have a good variety of dishes, as did the Oberoi boat. Certainly there were oriental dishes, but there was also some Italian food and various meats, and by the end of our visit to Egypt, even the picky eaters had put on a few pounds. One must also remember that Egypt is not only famous for their Pyramids, but also for the fabulous array of deserts served at just about every meal.
Thus, our first day in Egypt ended with a well deserved rest at the Movenpick Pyramids Hotel. The wake up call the next morning was not too very early for most, though I had to start a bit earlier. I was to meet the new Chairman of the Egyptian Tourist Authority, Ahmed El Khadem, while everyone else went to the Giza Plateau to visit the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. They had a good time climbing around the pyramids, riding camels and, of course, making a stop at a carpet factory, which must almost always happen when one travels through Egypt with a guide.
I had purposely kept the itinerary light, making independent plans for the afternoon. I had a great visit with the ETA Chairman, an enthusiastic and very intelligent man and afterwards, I joined up with the rest of the group in Zamalek at La Bodega, an upscale restaurant on 26th of July Street that I frequent on most every trip to Egypt. We had been invited by Hebba for a dinner at the Hotel Longchamps in their new restaurant that evening. Unfortunately, several of our older members who had visited Giza climbed their way into the Pyramid of Menkaure, which was a bit too much for them. They returned to the hotel while I showed the rest of the group around my home neighborhood in Egypt near the Longchamps, where we visited a number of shops and walked about. This is a nice neighborhood, with a large contingent of Egypt's foreign embassies. Hence, the stores shops are very upscale and the whole area is very secure.
That evening, the dinner at the Hotel Longchamps was, for much of our group one of the true high points of the tour. Our manager in Egypt, Ahmad Antar, was there, along with Karen Phillips, one of our Egyptomaniacs living in Egypt and working as a tour consultant. This was more than a nice chance for the group to visit my base in Egypt. It was also a belated birthday party (surprise) for Darrell Young, one of our Directors, and for Billy Oates, the husband of Rhonda, one of my partners in Tour Egypt. Unfortunately, Rhonda was one of the ones who over did things at the Pyramids and she and her husband were unable to attend the gala affair. Nevertheless, it was a grand, relaxing moment with good food and good company. The Hotel Longchamps is often referred to as an oasis of tranquility in what is otherwise the hustle and bustle of Cairo, and its hard to exactly nail down the reason, but I can always walk into this home of mine away from home and feel the any tension drain away. And while Hebba is an excellent host, the rest of her staff is like family to me. In fact, so impressed was Darrell Young, one of our Tour Egypt directors, with Hebba and the Longchamps that he has insisted on writing a follow up review of the facility personally.
That night we returned to the comfortable Movenpick for an early wakeup call the next morning and our flight to Aswan. There were many more Egyptian adventures ahead of us, but those will have to wait for the next part of this series.
Last Updated: May 23rd, 2011