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Published: April 2nd 2011
Michael and I are all safe in Cairo :-) Here’s a recap of our first trip here via Paris!
April 1st/April 2nd
At 3:43pm on April 1st, 2011 I had finally sent out my final work email, enabled my out-of-office reply, locked up the apartment, call Mom and Dad for some final farewells, hailed a taxi and officially embarked on the trip of a lifetime to Egypt. Michael and I had been planning this trip since November 2010 and, as you can imagine, there has been a roller coaster of uncertainties about the trip since then due to the spring revolutions. To do a final check and see our flight status remain ‘On Time’ was really a blessing considering our flight to Cairo was 2 days away from the March 28th suspended service to Cairo for Delta Airlines.
Our travel confirmation instructed us to check-in in terminal E for Delta. We checked into our exit row seats (required for anyone 6’8”) only to find our boarding pass indicated our gate was A6, which is on the complete opposite side of the airport. Each of the security personnel called it out to us as we passed through TSA and
stressed that we “might want to hustle”. So Michael and I hurried along, only to find out that it took us about 6 or 7 minutes to make the distance with our long legs. So we had hurried only to wait. Our rush, however, did allow us enough time to pick up some Chick-a-fila sandwiches with some refreshing lemonade. It really hit the spot. We also changed from our jeans into comfortable gym shorts in anticipation for some sleep and relaxation in the 7 hour flight from Philadelphia to Paris, France.
We boarded our flight and spread out in the vast space afforded to the exit row passengers. Michael had found a USA Today newspaper left on a bench in the airport and brought it onboard. He read it while I occasionally glanced over his shoulder at the headlines. Soon he reached the Travel section and low and behold there is a huge front page article on Egypt. What great timing! The article was similar to an article recently published in the WSJ that encouraged travelers to Egypt saying that it is the best time to go because prices are cheaper and crowds are non-existent. It featured a picture
of the pyramids in the morning and there was one lone pair of tourists riding camels through the desert. I hope we find that when we arrive!
Michael and I both watched the movie Black Swan to begin our flight. We’d heard great things and had been trying to get to the movie theatre to see it throughout my busy season at work, but it just never happened. Let me tell you, that movie is crazy. I had to work hard to follow. Even though the two movies are worlds apart, I saw a lot of similarities between The Sixth Sense and Black Swan. You’re constantly trying to differentiate the imagined from what is real. I would definitely recommend it. I can easily see why Natalie Portman was a shoe in for the Best Actress Oscar.
I tried to sleep after that, but it didn’t happen. The bathroom wasn’t too far from where we sat and every time someone used it there was so much noise and a bright overhead light that inevitably shined right on me. It was so bright that a blanket over my head did not help, so I just rested. It was a long
night, but eventually the crew was making preparations for landing in Paris around 7:15am. We had 6 hour layover until our flight to Cairo (which was originally 8 hours, but our flight from Cairo to Paris was bumped up). Michael and I agreed to head into the city. Michael had never been to Paris and I couldn’t think of anything better than wandering the City of Love with my love :-) I’m such a mush.
The trains we intended to take downtown were under construction, so there was an alternate shuttle bus-train combo running in its place. Unfortunately it took us about 30 minutes longer than the original train would have, but the good news is, we still got there. We exited at the Cathedral Notre Dame stop. We climbed the stairs to the ground and suddenly we were standing on a Parisian street in spring time :-) This extended layover was a very nice bonus to our trip. We marveled at the architecture, the Seine River, the cobble stone streets and even the pigeons as we made our way to the Cathedral. Heads tilted back we squinted into the sunlight trying to make out the gargoyles protecting the
cathedral from the towers. The detail is beautiful. We shuffled through the crowd at the door and inside to marvel at the sheer size of the grand hall. Michael pointed out that you could probably fit 2 football fields from the back of the church to the adjacent wall. He’s probably about right. Near the alter we stood admiring the HUGE stain glass windows filling the church in a sea of beautiful blues and purples. Identical patterns decorate the two walls perpendicular to the altar. The detailed carvings of the alter thrones were equally as awe inspiring. Once we appreciated as much of the Cathedral as we could given our time constraints and began making our way toward the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph to round out our list of hopeful destinations in Paris. We had to ask directions to make sure that we were heading in the correct direction, but miraculously the first 2 French pairs we stopped did not know what the Eiffel Tower was. They tried to figure out what we were talking about, but without any luck. How is that even possible?! We began walking hand in hand along the Seine River making our way
toward the Eiffel tower that was gradually getting bigger on the horizon. It was a combination of walking, skipping and jogging that eventually got us there. (I’d like to clarify so no one tries to take Michael’s man card that the skipping was entirely me.) We lost sight of the tower behind a few buildings for awhile and when we finally rounded the corner toward the architectural masterpiece it was imposingly close. We were standing together in front of the Eiffel tower – how cool is that?
As any good tourist would, we asked as many people as possible to take our picture for us in hopes that at least one would be great. We were lucky enough to stop this one French girl who was a fabulous photographer for us. She understood that we wanted the Eiffel Tower in the picture and not just a close-up of our faces and even went all out in kneeling on the ground to make sure she got the entire tower in the picture. (I never understand those other people. Why would someone standing in front of a world renowned structure desire a close-up picture of just them? Regardless of the simplicity
of the question, I can’t tell you how many close-up pictures I have of myself from my travels.)
We had been walking by French bakeries all morning, smelling the coffee and admiring the pastries through the window. Our next order of business was to get espresso, French baguettes and sample some of those beautiful pastries. We stopped into a place called Bistrot Brasseie a few blocks from the Eiffel tower. Disappointingly, we ordered everything to go because we were running short on time. It was already 11am and our flight to Cairo leaves at 1:35pm. We each got a ham, mozzarella and tomato baguette as well as an espresso. Michael picked out a chocolate pastry dessert labeled ‘Royale’ while I went with the Almond Croissant. We brought our purchases back toward the Eiffel tower and claimed a bench facing the tower to sit and eat at. We ate in the most beautiful of silence. There were tulips blooming, birds chirping, couples walking by hand-in-hand stealing kisses at every opportunity. The beauty all around us that spoke so much more eloquently than any words Michael or I could have conceived.
Once we were finished we cleaned up the bench
of our wrappers and tried to find a gelato shop nearby to no avail. As if the wonders of the Louvre, the mystery of a Parisian night and the remaining history we overlooked were not enough, we would definitely have to make a trip back to enjoy the French version of gelato that I remember so fondly.
We found the taxi cab line and taxi drivers face lit up when we communicated our destination of the airport. Haha, a much better payday than a trip over to the Louvre, I suppose. Now, you’re not going to believe me, but this was quite the cab ride. Not just because Paris is notorious for their crazy driving (that’s going to be nothing compared to what I expect in Cairo), but because our cab driver was the most erratic man I’ve ever met. First, he started off by sharing his life story with us. He and his wife became accidentally pregnant with their son at the age of 19 and as any good Catholic, he and her were wed. They had a daughter 2 years later and so, he explains that he really did not choose his family. Then he goes on
to explain that his daughter and her husband have been married for 12 years now and he is very disappointed to not be a grandfather. This is a point that he mentioned multiple times during our cab ride, and my heart really went out to him. Our sympathies and kind words inspired him to start referring to me as his granddaughter. He proceeded then to interrogate Michael on whether he was rich enough to date his granddaughter; an interrogation that both Michael and I ignored. That coupled with the laughter that was reminiscent of the Joker in Batman definitely had Michael and me exchanging looks. Nevertheless, Francis was nice enough to take us a few blocks out of the way to circle the Arc de Triumph which we did not have time to walk to. He circled it a few times for us and we admired the detail from the comfort of the taxi cab. Honestly, that was perfect.
We made it to the airport and boarded our flight to Cairo with plenty of time to spare. The plane was definitely not full and Michael and I had the luxury of enjoying an entire row to ourselves. I fell
right to sleep, I was so tired from not sleeping on the previous flight and all the running around I was doing in Paris. My always food-aware boyfriend was looking out for me and made sure that I was awake to receive my in flight meal. As thanks, I offered him my blueberry muffin and mini pizza. I’m glad I have him around.
From reading blogs and advice from friends that have traveled to Egypt, it was suggested that Michael and I just explain that we are a married couple. We just didn’t want to run into any problems with people hitting on me, not providing a hotel room, etc. We took it to another level by buying some $8 rings at Kohl’s for some fun. I find the situation very useful where we have minor disagreements. For instance, we needed to decide if we would go to our boarding gate and then get food or get food and then go to our boarding gate. I choose the first to be conservative about making our flight, and when Michael disagreed I just explained, “Now if we were really married, who would win this?” and it was settled. Brilliant! (I can
just picture my mom sighing reading this going “Poor Michael” :-))
Eventually, we landed in Cairo. We filled out the required customs forms during the final leg of the flight. As I looked out the window all I could see was sand. Lots and lots of sand! We definitely weren’t in Paris anymore. As we entered arrivals our hired airport transfer was standing there with a sign with my name. I felt so important. This airport transfer, Mohammed, is awesome. We hired from South Sunai Travel through Viator.com. The transfer was more fairly priced than the hotel and Mohammed not only assisted with our bags, but also brought us to the front of the VISA line and past the line at border patrol. We wheeled right through customs as he waved to the customs officials, no one even asked Michael or I a thing. It was pretty cool. Then we got in our private van and as we drove the 30 minutes to the Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino (where we’re staying), Mohammed gave us a tour. He pointed out the palaces as we past and provided the history for each. We saw Mubarak’s palace, which is
still being protected for him as well as a small Indian palace that Mubarak’s wife bought for 10 million dollars during the period of his regime. As Mohammed spoke, Michael and I really noticed two things: happiness to see tourists returning and pride for the current state of Egypt. It’s contagious to get caught up in the positive perspectives and the feeling that anything can be possible.
We arrived at the Marriott Hotel. This place is absolutely gorgeous. It is the old Gezira Palace which was built in 1860s to accommodate the Empress Eugenie of France (wife of Napoleon III) during the inauguration ceremony of the Suez Canal in 1869. It was decorated beautifully and is now the largest hotel in the Middle East. I’m staying using my Marriott rewards points and since I am a Gold member from all the traveling I do for work, we got a complementary upgrade to a balcony room overlooking the city on the executive level. The room is gorgeous.
We stood on our balcony admiring the skyline of Cairo. Michael and I noticed two things right away. First, the city does not have many lights. There are so few lights that
The Nile at night
From Marriott Hotel
it is actually very easy to see the stars at night. This definitely isn’t something we’re used to in Philadelphia. Second, there is a consistent honking of car horns. It’s 10,000 times worst than New York City. I can’t tell if it’s because the city has 22 million people or that there aren’t traffic police. While there technically are traffic laws, no one enforces them. Cars don’t need inspections and some look totaled in our standards. There is traffic going everywhere we look out our window. It really is surprising that we weren’t stuck in any on our trip from the airport.
We have some sleep to catch up on, especially considering we plan to see the pyramids tomorrow. We’re both so excited that we just keep turning to each other and saying, “We’re IN Egypt”.
Tomorrow night we will be on a sleeper train from Cairo to Aswan, therefore we will not have access to the internet. Please don’t be concerned if there are no updates to my blog during that time. I love you all, have a great night!
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