Sunday, November 7, 2010


Egypt was somewhat of a different challenge than the previous countries that we had visited. For the first time on our trip we utilized the services of a travel company to coordinate our activities. We had been on some tours before during our travels but had not used a travel company for more than one day. Our travel agency, Ramsey's Tours, based out of Alexandria, Egypt, helped us package a tour that included time in Cairo, a Nile River cruise, Alexandria, and finally back to Cairo. We booked our tour before we left the US. I am glad we did this because I am not sure I would want to coordinate all the guides, trains, hotels, and cruise items on our own. Operating in Egypt is a little shady. I never really felt unsafe but as Alethea mentioned in a conversation it is definitely a place that I feel people will take advantage of you in a heart beat. You pretty much have to keep your guard up at all times out in public and be alert. It is not petty street crime like pickpocketing that you have to be aware of but people trying to take advantage of you in some way. Tipping is also much more common in Egypt plus people will flat out just ask you for money. If you haven't traveled outside the US much or never before I would recommend a competent travel agency to be your handler. I am not sure I would recommend ours completely since their communication was not great but things worked out in the end. Alethea kept up with the math on how much everything costs and we think we got a pretty good deal overall even though I am sure the travel agency paid less than the published prices we could see.

Giza Pyramids

I wrote this blog entry a little differently. I went into a little more detail when writing some of the daily log activities versus narrating a play by play of the trip paragraph by paragraph. I'll list some likes and dislikes followed by the links to the photo albums, and then the daily log. Overall I enjoyed Egypt. It is a place I always wanted to visit but wasn't sure I would be able to get there especially since they had an incident in Luxor back in 1997 where 27 tourists were shot dead by terrorists. We actually visited the place of the shooting . One of our tour guides referred to it as the tourist accident. Some accident. My favorite activity may have been going on a camel ride at the Giza Pyramids followed closely with walking inside the tombs of the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings exhibit in Luxor. I enjoyed the numerous temples too with probably the Temple of Karnak in Luxor being my favorite. We both enjoyed our three night Nile River cruise. It was a peaceful way to break up some of the touring between cities without having to travel anywhere other than our boat. I have never been on a cruise before but I could see this advantage of going on one now. Somehow we managed to score one of the two suites on the ship including our own private deck area. We didn't request it nor did we pay extra for it to our knowledge. 

Anyway, after finishing up Egypt we're headed off to Israel for a few nights before heading to Jordan. Everyone take care!

Rich history of the Egyptian civilization
Giza Pyramids
Camel rides
Overnight train from Cairo to Aswan (private cabin & bigger meal than we were expecting)
Nile River cruise – size of room, three buffet meals a day, nice break probably wouldn't want to do that much on own, very relaxing and comfortable
Aswan hotel room was large & nice.
Valley of the Kings – Tombs were nice and art work was intricate and superb
Karnack Temple – massive columns
Luxor Temple
Day room hotel room in Luxor arranged by travel company at not charge. Didn't want to have to wait at the train station for hours.
Weather was good. Little hot in Luxor during the day. It felt good cruising down the Nile even a little cool at night.

Us on our camels @ the Giza Pyramids

Tour Company (Ramsey's Tours in Alexandria) – Didn't received itinerary until several days into trip. We had a basic one in email which took multiple emails to get but we had nothing showing us times and durations of things we would be doing along the way. Each day or at the end of the previous day we would have to ask about the next day. Nothing bad happened but each day there were issue with timing, seeing things one day that were on our email itinerary for a different day, and other miscellaneous items. Communication was poor at first but got better. We also paid for our trip  when we arrived in Egypt (outside of our 10% deposit that we paid months ago) by handing our first guide the entire cost of the trip in cash on the first morning. Doesn't feel right but that is the common way to do things in Egypt.
Always have to keep your guard up for scams such as the papyrus museum incident in Cairo or the mosque imam incident in Luxor. If the first question is where are you from, then you're probably in trouble.
Couldn't take pictures inside the tombs at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.
Tips or demands for money.
Being run through the gauntlet of tourist shops on the way out of exhibit. People would be coming up to you quite often and putting things in your face.
Tour guides didn't know anything about us so we would have to explain it each day. Not a big deal but you would think they would know a little background info like our names and what country we were from before the day got started. I believe we had 6 tour guides.
Armed security guards. You think this would be a positive since they are everywhere but they often weren't paying attention. It was common to see them texting on their phone and I even caught one sleeping . Both had machine guns around their shoulders.
Overnight train from Luxor to Giza. It was a real rough ride which made it tough to sleep.

This man encouraged us to take his picture then asked for money.

Link to photo albums:

Daily Log

Friday October 29th
Arrived around 4 pm in Cairo.
Bathroom attendant tried to get me to pay him at the airport. We had not even made it to immigration or to an ATM. He was not in front of the bathroom. He was inside handing towels to people who had washed their hands. I didn't pay. He didn't seem too happy. I wasn't too surprised by the incident itself just that it happened within minutes of arriving and in an area where I wasn't expecting it.
Tried to go through immigration but didn't have visa stamp. We knew there was $15 USD visa charge but what we didn't know was that you have to purchase them from one of the bank kiosks before immigration. We thought they were just people withdrawing money. The bank people try to flag people down. I am sure they get a portion of the visa.
Found driver and drove to hotel.
After checking in we went out looking for a market and got scammed by what we thought was a some type of security guard who guided us to a papyrus making shop where we listened to sale's pitch for a while before walking out and back to our hotel where we ended up eating. It could have been worse. The guy who guided us to the papyrus shop even asked for money on the way back.
Found free wi-fi access in the lobby. Ethernet was going to be 3 EP per minute in the room!

Saturday October 30th
Tour guide for today met us in hotel lobby @ 9:30 am. We were told multiple times that we wouldn't have to be ready until 10 am. He didn't seem too happy but I didn't care. We went back to hotel room and packed up.
Withdrew remaining cash.
Paid tour guide in cash (EGP) for the remaining balance of our trip. Doesn't feel right doing this but this is apparently the way it is done in Egypt.
Toured Giza Pyramids. Basically got out and took pictures at a couple spots. You cannot or should not climb on them. One person tried to ask us for tickets for an area as a scam but were told we didn't need to show ours anymore by our tour guide. He was dressed in regular western style clothes and looked Egyptian.
Decided not to pay $20 per person to go into the pyramids. Heard it was disappointing just a dark room.
Did take a camel ride. We each had our own camels for a 30 minute ride on the back side of the Giza Pyramids. The ride isn't exactly smooth and when the camels stand up or sit down the angle is steep. You have to lean back quite a bit. The pictures will interesting. It cost $25 per person. We tipped the 12 year kid that guided our camels on his donkey. When we returned his dad wanted a tip but we didn't tip him since he didn't do anything. Our guide helped usher us away.
Drove down to the where the Great Sphinx is at. Took some pictures for about 15 minutes.
Drove 30 minutes to Egypt Museum. Toured museum which has tons of artifacts from the pyramids. All are originals except for copy of the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum which I've seen. He tried to get us to go to the Mummy Room which was extra but we passed. Highlight was seeing King Tut's stuff including his coffins and famous mummy mask. The bad thing was that we couldn't take our cameras inside. You have to check them outside although I saw some people taking pictures with their cell phones.
Went for lunch at local cheap Egyptian place. Total cost for all three of us was only $5 US.
Took 1 one hour felucca ride that lasted 45 minutes in a zig zag pattern over the Nile. The driver actually let Alethea steer and she actually parked it back at the dock. Our guide said it was the first time in ten years of doing this that he had seen a customer be allowed to dock the boat.
Went to grocery store then pharmacy store to get Alethea some contact solution. Her's leaked everywhere in her bag during the flight from Istanbul. I went to the ATM to pull out more cash. I had a voice mail from Visa security when I came back since I made three quick somewhat large ATM withdrawals within 24 hours. I called their automated numbered to approve the transaction.
Driver took us to train station where we paid for the day's activities and tipped our drivers.
Waited 2 hours at train station.
Train was 15 minutes late. Dinner served on train was bigger than I was expecting. Bigger than an airline meal.
We have a private bunk room on our overnight train which is a plus for me. Hopefully I'll sleep good. This is now the 5th overnight train that I have been on. Starting to get used it since I pretty much do not have that much difficulty going to sleep.

Sunday October 31st
Arrived from overnight train around 8:30 am.
Guide picked us up from train. Itinerary originally said we would check in at the hotel & have the rest of the day to ourselves. Instead our tour guide took us to the sites we were supposed to see the following day before boarding our boat for our Nile River cruise. We toured the Aswan dam which was pretty much getting out and seeing some water and hearing a 5 minute speech in which the tour guide said that the US and international community wouldn't help them build the damn but instead the Soviet Union did. We then went over to the Philae Temple which was moved due the flooding of the Nile when the Aswan damn was built. We were there for about a hour as our tour guide explained the temple. It was pretty good. He and his driver who said his name was George took us back to the hotel where we checked in around noon. We then talked him to call George back to take us into town and go to the alcohol shop and to get a quick bite to eat at a local cheap place. We then went back to the hotel, ate lunch, took showers, and then took naps. We then sat by the pool which is on the Nile for 1 hour as the sun set.
Ate dinner at hotel.
We have internet access so will spend this evening online while drinking a cold Egyptian beer at 10% alcohol. It actually didn't taste that well. The higher the alcohol content the sweeter the beer.
Not impressed with tour company. Nothing has been bad just tour guides not having correct information or no information. Alethea has fired off an email to the cruise operator.
Built tipping spreadsheet so we'll be in the same page and to estimate remaining tipping expenses.
Hand washed 2 pair underwear, 2 t-shirts, 1 pair of pants, & 1 pair of socks.
Weighed in on scale in hotel bathroom @ 81 kg or 178 lbs. When we started the trip on 7/31 I weighed 194 pounds. I weighed in on another scale a few days prior at 85 kgs but I had some more gear on my so I think the weight readings are accurate.

Monday November 1st
Ate breakfast at hotel. Pretty good.
Electricity at hotel room went out around 10 am. Front desk said it was an Aswan city utility issue and would be off for 1 hour. Electricity came back on about 2 hours later @ 11:55 am. Some things were on generator such as the internet.
Picked up from hotel @ 1:00 pm
Checked in @ boat around 1:20 pm. You have to walk through other boats to get to your own boat! Kind of crazy & potentially confusing
Alethea spent time on tour guides phone discussing issues with the cruise with a couple different tour officials.
Ate lunch around 2:00 pm.
After lunch bags were still in lobby. Bell hop carried them to our room. Our room turned out to be a suit that is about 3 times larger than I was expecting. Alethea mentioned it is larger than any room she has seen on a cruise ship. We didn't pay extra for this. We also have a private deck. Only two rooms have this with ours being one. Not sure how this happened but will not complain :-)
Boat left around 2:30. Spent the afternoon relaxing on our deck.
Docked around 5:40 pm at Kom Ombo temple. Tour guide named Samuel met us and toured the temple with us for about 45 minutes before returning to boat.
Convinced bar attendant to open one of the bottles of wine we smuggled aboard the boat. He didn't want to do this and walked to our room to open the bottle. He tried to get us to go to the bar to get something to drink.
Ate dinner @ 7:30. Talked to couple from England and woman traveling by herself from Tokyo, Japan.
Pretty good day. Impressed with accommodations on boat. I was expecting a room the size of the sleeper cabin on a train but not the luxurious room we ended up with.
Good pair of sunglasses broke (left hinge screw came out). Alethea fixed them as I held them in place.

Nile River from our deck

Tuesday November 2nd
Awaken by call to prayer at 4:30 am. There are at least two and I am sure more mosques right near where our boat was docked in Edfu. It was very loud. When we heard the call to prayer we thought it was more like 6 am. :-(.
Received wake up call at 6:10 am even though I had the travel alarm set for 6:15 am.
Met our tour guide in reception area of our boat around 6:50 am.
Took horse carriage ride to Temple of Horus or Edfu Temple (about 10 minutes away).
Toured temple for 1 hour. Bigger than previous temples we have visited. Tour guide did decent job explaining the different aspects of the temple. I like this one. It is pretty big. Took 182 years to build.
Purchased sunglasses in market outside of temple. I paid 80 EP or $14 USD. He started the negotiations at 250 EP. Still paid too much. Not that good at bargaining quite yet. He probably paid 10 EP or $2 for them.
Returned to boat around 9 am and ate breakfast.
Processed photos from this morning and read 48 page Israel tour guide summary .pdf that Alethea found on the internet. Pretty decent material. I feel pretty prepared for Israel. We'll see what actually happens. Expected boat to be under way by 9:30 am but as of 12:50 pm it still hasn't left yet.
Ate lunch @ 1:00 pm
Boat finally departed @ 1:45 pm. We were told we would be at the locks by 1 pm.
Took nap for about 90 minutes. Didn't sleep well the previous night.
Arrived at locks around 5:30 pm. We had to tie up for a little bit before going through. We were completely through around 6:55 pm.
Ate dinner @ 7:30 pm. Drank wine on deck with British couple & Japanese woman.
Watched belly dancer and some type of whirling male (clothed) dancer too.
Went to bed around 11 pm

Wednesday November 3rd
Actually was not awaken by the call to prayer this morning. Appears we docked in area with no mosques close by.
Ate breakfast @ 8:00
Met Mohammed our tour guide for the day in reception on our boat @ 8:45
Drove for about thirty minutes to Valley of the Kings on the west bank. Unfortunately you cannot take your camera into this area so there will be no pictures. I thought it was pretty good. We walked into the 3 tombs (Ramsey IV, IX, & XIII). All three appeared to be in good condition. There are plenty of interesting markings and drawings including a sarcophagus in the first tomb. The tombs went back underground about 100 meters or so. Each was longer than the last. The third tomb of Ramsey's XIII was interesting because it was not finished. It was not finished because the pharaoh died before it was finished. The first part & first few chambers were finished then the remaining rooms were sort of carved out but not decorated or finished off. It takes 40 days for the mummification process and once the 40 days were up the pharaoh was buried in completed section of the tomb. We also could have paid an extra 100 Egyptian Pounds per person (~$20 USD) to enter King Tut's tomb. His body is actually in the tomb now but most of his stuff is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
We then went to Al-Dier Al-Bahari Temple about 15 minutes away. It was for a female ruler who called herself a king. She was a queen first. This is where the terrorist shooting in 1997 took place in which I believe 27 tourist were killed per our tour guide. We stayed for about 30 minutes taking pictures.
We then drove a few minuets to the Colossi of Memnon and took pictures for 5 minutes. They are two big statues marking the entrances to a former temple for one of the Ramsey kings I believe.
We then drove back to our boat for lunch.
Ate lunch & took nap for 1 hour.
Met our guide at our boat around 15:45.
Drove into the city of Luxor which is about 5 km away.
Toured Temple of Karnack. Very big complex. The columns there are massive. I believed there were 124. There were some obelisks. Karnack is actually 24 temples. Each ruler would add on to the temple. Stayed there for about a hour.
Toured Temple of Luxor which is only 2 km away from Karnack. They used to be connected and the city is in the process of recreating the connection between the two. Toured Karnack for about 45 minutes. Tipped our driver 30 EP & our tour guide for the day 100 EP.
Went around and into a 11th century mosque that was built inside the Luxor Temple. A person started speaking English to us although he was dressed in more native attire. We pretty much knew he was going to guide us. We tried to walk or go where we wanted but he kept following us. As we were leaving he introduced me to the Imam and said that tourist give him money for the children who stay in this one room that don't have any mother or father that he showed us earlier. Of course that door was closed and you couldn't see inside it. He repeating his request for money but I walked away. As we were making our way to the exit he then demanded that I give the Imam money and another old guy came over and started to ask where are you from. I ignored him even though he was saying why do you not say where you are from. The other original person was still demanding I give money to the Imam. He started to follow us out of the mosque but left us alone once we got back into the square. I think they were afraid of drawing the attention of the tourist police. First time I've been scammed or demanded to give money to someone in a religious building before. I wasn't too happy about the whole experience but I wasn't too surprised and quickly put it behind.
Waited for Ihab by an ATM which was in front of another mosque for a few minutes before meeting him. He took us back to the boat and advised us of our schedule for the next day plus told us how much to tip our wait staff and how to do it when we check out the next day.

Thursday November 4th
Started morning with wake up call at 7 am even though we didn't ask for one.
Received another call at approx 7:30 am that said, “breakfast now”. Breakfast had been at 8:00 am on the previous days. I suspect they were calling the rooms of people who were checking out for wake up calls and to let them know that the breakfast was being served.
Checked out at 8:30. Left tip of 50 EGP in a white envelope.
Walked to road and waited until 9:00 for Ihab to pick us up.
We drove around the city of Luxor for a hour. We went really sure what we were doing because it was a little confusing on our itinerary. We weren't sure if we had seen everything or not. Ihab drove us around different streets in downtown Luxor. We stopped at a market and briefly walked around. We like stopping at markets just to check them out no matter what country we are in. We then walked to a food street vendor. Ihab bought us some felafel sandwiches.
He then drove us to our day hotel that he had arranged for us to stay at until he picked us up later in the evening.
Picked up ~ 18:50 from hotel and driven to train station. Ihab walked us to the platform, waited for the train, and helped carry bags to our train cabin. He got a 50 pound tip for his services.
Train left about 19:35 about 5 minutes late (this would never happen in Japan). :-)
Ate dinner within a 30 minutes of getting on train.
Alethea went to bed around 9 pm since she wasn't feeling well. I read for about 90 minutes all together a book from the day use hotel. The book is the story of the man hunt for Pablo Escobar.

Friday November 5th
Alarm went off @ 4:45 am.
Had coffee but took our breakfast to go. Left train @ 5:30 am.
Met greeter who led us to driver.
Drove 3 hours to Alexandria. Stopped once for a restroom break. Went to bathroom which had an attendant to tip. Gave a 5 expecting change back. He kept the whole bill so I argued with him. He gave me back 2.50. It should have been only 1 pound. Not a big deal just another minor example how you have to keep your guard up in Egpyt.
Met our tour guide Heba in Alexandria. She was nice and the first & only female we had out of our 6 tour guides.
Toured sites of Alexandria for next 4 hours. Included the last king of Egypt's Alexandria palace, Citadel, Catacombs, & 3 mosques downtown.
Had two hours to kill after morning session. Went to mall in Alexandria. I ate McArabia Kofta sandwich @ McDonalds. Tried to pay with a 200 pound bill but person @ McDonald's refused to accept it so I paid with a smaller bill. I was trying to break the smaller bill for future tips.
Went to Carrefour to buy some toiletries such as wipes, dental floss, & crackers since we had the use of a car.
Walked around mall for another 15 minutes. The US based stores I remember were Nike, Timberland, Reebok, H&M, McDonald's. KFC, Hardes, & Baskin Robbins.
Drove over & toured the Library of Alexandria. Took about 45 minutes. It is a new (less than 10 years old) modern 11 story library. The original ancient one is believed to be 300 meters to the west in the Mediterranean Sea.
Stopped at pharmacy on way to hotel & bought two sticks of Lamisil for athlete's foot. Mine has started to flare up again after getting much better plus Alethea has minor bit of it too.
Checked in at the hotel. Mediterranean Azure hotel pretty nice.
Had dinner at hotel. Bill had a 10% service charge plus 12% sales tax plus the waiter rounded to give himself two extra pounds on the tip which is sort of common in Europe.

Saturday November 6th
Woke up with case of diarrhea. Alethea had it yesterday but hers started the night before with headaches and she had stomach cramping which I don't have at this time. I am attributing mine to something I ate. It could have been the McArabia Kofta from yesterday. Whenever I eat McDonalds's which is about 1 to 2 times a year if that then I sometimes get sick from what I remember.
I am glad we didn't go to take the day trip into Cairo because neither one of us is 100%. I think a day of rest would be best.
Checked out of hotel @ 11:45
Arrived in Cairo ~15:00
Tipped driver $150 EGP. He did a pretty job.
Rested next to pool for about 45 minutes and ate some crackers and continued to drink plenty of water.
Ate dinner & went to bed around 9:30 pm.

Sunday November 7th
Woke up @ 5:15 with Alethea's alarm.
Left for airport around 5:45 am.
Flight was scheduled to leave at 9:00 but we didn't board the plan until 9:15. The plan to Israel was a white unmarked plane. We also had to identify our bags before they loaded them on to the plane. There was no announcements made but we didn't take off until 10:50 and landed around noon.

This how close our hotel room was to the Giza Pyramids