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Published: October 22nd 2019
We arrived in Cairo exhausted but excited. It was hotter than we had hoped, hotter than expected for late September.
The drive to the hotel was exciting. Cairo is such a mixture of modern and old, western architecture and ancient looking alleyways. It promised tantalizing views of what lay ahead.
The hotel, The Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino, is across the Nile in the Zamalek district on Gezira Island so we had our first look at the Nile fairly quickly after landing. The hotel features two towers and a central building called The Palace. The name became apparent once we looked through some of the luxurious rooms it features. It has several restaurants and, my favorite, an open air promenade café that served several delicious Egyptian wines, as we found out later that evening.
Through TripAdvisor and an agency called Let's Explore Egypt, we had booked a Sunset Camel Ride with Bedouin Dinner for that evening, which helped with keeping us excited enough to not be tempted to take a nap. The pick up time was 4 PM, so we had some time to settle in, freshen up, change clothes, and get acquainted with the layout
of the hotel. Our tour director, Amr Hassan, was very helpful in that respect, showing us where everything pertinent to our stay was located, like the breakfast restaurant and bank for currency exchange.
Promptly before 4 PM we proceeded outside to wait for our pick up. Unfortunately, I had without knowing caused a huge misunderstanding as to where we were staying and where we were supposed to be picked up. I texted our contact, Ali, that we were staying at the Gezira Tower, meaning the Gezira Tower at the Marriott. I was unaware at the time that there is a Gezira Tower in the same area where Ali then believed we were staying.
So, at 4 PM he's looking for us and we're looking for him to no avail, with many exchanges of where are you texts through WhatsApp.
In the meantime, we were fending off an endless number of cars who were determined to be our rides. One amusing aspect was that they would ask if we wanted Uber, I would say no and then they would ask if we wanted a taxi. LOL! They were willing to be whatever we needed.
We were on
the verge of getting one of the doormen to call Ali and explain where we were when he showed up, much out of breath but without giving up on us.
The hotel in Cairo had the same securities in place as the hotels in India and Nepal. There was a barricade at the entrance where cars had to check in. All the hotels had metal detectors on the door, and luggage scan machines that suitcases and bags went through. The room floors were also inaccessible without a key. Very reassuring.
Anyway, much relieved that we were found and feeling sorry for the inconvenience we had unwittingly caused, we set out on our adventure.
The driving in Cairo is just as wild as the driving I saw in India. Three lanes become six lanes with cars wearing in an out of lanes, and cutting in and out of traffic. So, this was the first part of the experience, to actually drive in one of those wearing cars while our driver exchanged curses and insults with another driver at one point while several soldiers in an open truck in front of us were killing themselves laughing at the exchange.
We drove near the new Grand Museum building which will, hopefully, open next year. A very impressive and huge building closer to Giza and the pyramids. I wish it had been open while we were there. The new exhibits are going to include objects that have been in storage for many years for lack of space. It's going to be magnificent.
Our drive took us to a neighborhood that faced the back of the pyramids, not where the tourist area is. A dirt road took us to the area where the stables were, and we waited on an open air little patio for our rides, two very well behaved and fancily decorated camels. Mine I called squeaky, and my friend's was grunt. Those were the sounds they made.
Anyway, we headed out through the street and, at first, I thought it was a little disappointing to be riding on a regular street, past a couple of clubs, etc., but then we came out onto an open area that looked over the desert, with the beautiful sun setting in one direction, and the pyramids visible at the other end. Wow! I think they had to shorten
At the Marriott
I had to buy a Galabeya.
our ride because of the half hour delay, but it was still a nice experience.
It seems that all the guides you encounter are excellent photographers, experts in the best angles to use, and soon we had quite a collection of breathtaking camels and sunset photos to brag about. It was a good thing, because with the holding on and the waving of the camel gait, I could not even think of photos. Getting on and off the camels proved to be a teeth clenching experience for me. After I almost pitched forward over the camel's head the first time, I learned to hold on tightly and lean back. It was still a little nerve wrecking every time!
Then we were ready to dismount and enjoy our dinner.
There were two things we overlooked and we missed. First, some hand sanitizer or wet wipes. The food is eaten with the hands and I was a little doubtful to put my hands that had just been holding on to the pummel of the saddle on the food I was about to eat. Then, second, a bottle of water. We were served some delicious Egyptian tea that was made
over a fire they built a few yards away, but not before we started eating so we could have used the water before then.
The food had been precooked, which makes sense or it might have taken a long time, or maybe it was because we were late starting. It consisted of the most delicious grilled chicken I had on the entire trip, and some of the best bread too, so light it was almost translucent. You use the bread to wrap the meat, Kofta, and dip it in the Tahini sauce. They had some salad too. There was more food than we could possibly eat, and it was really good.
It was very relaxing to watch the sun going down and the lights come on in the distant city.
In the dark we mounted our camels and rode back to the stables for our ride back to the hotel.
Two things that impressed me very favorably happened then. Once again, I caused a bit of inconvenience when I realized, after driving a few blocks away, that my phone was missing. Needless to say I was horrified. I pictured having lost it somewhere in the desert
This lovely coffee area turned into the Arabian Nights after a certain time, with shisha pipes and the works.
during our ride back, and was already imagining a whole vacation without it. However, the moment we pulled up at the stables the guide had it in his hand. What a relief! Naturally, I added some baksheesh (tip) to what I had already given. It is a must. It's part of Egyptian culture and is expected. But I didn't begrudge it. I was grateful to get my phone back.
The second thing that happened was that my friend was asking about the tea. It really had been delicious. So, Ali stopped the car in front of a store and asked if we minded if he got something. He came back with a box of tea that he handed my friend, and refused to get paid for it. The Egyptians may expect baksheesh, but they can also be generous as I found out throughout the trip.
By the time we got back to the hotel we were feeling grungy and tired, but still didn't want to go to bed too early and wanted to acclimate ourselves to the time there, so we stopped at the Promenade Café and had some wine. We had a Viognier wine and it was
At the Marriott
a very pleasant surprise.
Afterward, exhausted but looking forward to our visit to the Giza Plateau and the pyramids the next day, we went back to our room, showered and fell in bed.
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