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Egypt’s Coffeehouses

Tea and shisha, a water pipe with flavored tobacco, are standard in Egyptian cafes.  Photograph by Pascal Meunier, Cosmos/Aurora

Source: National Geographic

 

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Tea and shisha, a water pipe with flavored tobacco, are standard in Egyptian cafes. Photograph by Pascal Meunier, Cosmos/Aurora

By Carl Hoffman

Writer Carl Hoffman traveled to Egypt in February 2011, a week after popular demonstrations led to the president’s resignation. These are his observations. 

The air was smoky but sweet, the sounds unmistakable: glasses clinking and dominoes and backgammon dice clacking, newspaper pages turning, and the constant low hum of voices.

In Egypt there is a coffee shop on every corner. Sometimes in the middle of the block, too, and even right next to another one. They’re all different and all similar—open to the street, often old, with feral cats prowling underfoot and ceiling fans slowly turning overhead. Men drink tea, smoke water pipes, play table games, and talk or read the newspaper. Some cafes are tiny holes in the wall; others are large and sprawling. Often they fill whole alleyways, especially at night.

Called ahwas, the shops are an Egyptian institution. Mostly you’ll find only men in them, though tourists are almost always welcome, and in parts of downtown Cairo, accompanied Egyptian women are seen.

As protesters and revelers moved in and out of Tahrir Square I took refuge from the action to slip inside an ahwa for a shisha and sweet tea.

The tea is always in glasses served on an aluminum tray and the shisha, or water pipe, comes with fresh, flavored tobacco topped by hot coals. The smoke is smooth and gentle, even to a non-smoker like me. Sit as long as you want; there’s never a hurry, and there’s always time to talk.

One afternoon I fell into conversation with Shady El Tawansy, 26, who gave me the lowdown on Egyptian dating.

“We don’t date,” he said, taking a long, slow drag on the hookah. “You go out in groups. To the mosque on Fridays. The parents and families are very involved in the process all along the way. It is very complicated.”

 

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Egypt Revisited

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Who hasn’t dreamt of going to Egypt?

We were recently in Seattle talking with the executives of Expedia.com and while all of them are well travelled and have been all over the world. When we told them they were going to Egypt next, they talked of how it was either their favourite destination or for those who hadn’t been there, their dream destination.

Everyone fantasizes about this ancient land.

We loved Egypt

It is filled with iconic landmarks and remarkable landscapes. It has a rich history and strong culture and it boasts world class diving, incredible beaches and exciting nightlife.

Egypt has it all.

In honour of our current trip to Cairo where we are speaking to the tourism industry about working with Travel Bloggers, we thought that we would revisit our favourite sites in Egypt. We spent a few weeks there before and during our cycling race from the top of Africa to the bottom of the continent and we are so excited to be going back to see more!

Pyramids of Giza

We hired a camel, a horse and a guide to take us to see the pyramids. Weaving through the back streets of Cairo on our trusted steeds, we entered what seemed like a shady opening to the grounds. Are we going to get anywhere near them? Well actually yes!

We road our camels through the desert right up to the massive structures. Our guide urged us to walk up the steps and we weren’t sure if we were allowed or not, but we graciously accepted.

After touring around the 3 main temples, they took us to a high dune overlooking the complex. Yes, we were being scammed and taken to the cleaners by the nice old man that kept layering us in robes and head dresses, but even though it cost us a bit of cash, we couldn’t put a price on securing this photo.

White Desert

We arranged a $15 a day tour to the White Desert through the Dahab Guesthouse in downtown Cairo. It ended up being an incredible trip. We were told, if there is one thing you should do in Cairo, it is see the White Desert. We listened and it didn’t disappoint.

Giant White structures jutted out of the desert landscape creating incredible formations. Brought on by erosion, these chalky mounds create the illusion of massive mushrooms, eagles and turkeys and even one that looks like a camel.

Experiencing a true Bedouin experience, we camped out under the stars. With just 3 walls made of blankets to blog the cold desert wind, we slept under thick sleeping bags and blankets grateful for the warm tea that our guides made us after our delicious Bedouin meal.

Abu Simbel

Located on Lake Nassar we caught a glimpse of this monument from our ferry to the Sudan.  The staff of the ferry told us to make sure we were out early in the morning to witness this wonder as we passed by.

Originally located on The Nile, Abu Simbel needed to be moved when the Egyptians created the Nile Dam project. It would have been engulfed by water never to be seen again until the government came to its rescue taking it apart piece by piece and rebuilding it high on the banks of the lake.

Built as a monument for Ramses the IV, this would definitely be enough to deter invaders from entering his kingdom.

Nile River Cruise

When in Cairo, you must book a dinner cruise on the Nile. It is here that you can sample Egyptian entertainment such as belly dancing and the Whirling Dervishes. Pass along the cityscape while you enjoy authentic Egyptian cuisine and imagine what legendary heroes and villains floated along these waters over the centuries.

Valley of the Kings

We were all fascinated with King Tut as children and it is here that you can visit his tomb. It is here that you can visit every King of the Pharoahs tombs. Ramses, I-V and everyone else in between were laid to rest here in extravagant tombs filled with riches and jewels.

You won’t see the treasures in these tombs today, but you will see the paintings and heigroglyphics drawn on the walls of these massive chambers that are as big as a house.

The tombs are impressive but the valley itself is even more incredible. I can see why the ancient Egyptians chose this as the resting place of their most important leaders.

Temple of Hatshepsut

This impressive temple is dedicated to the female King Hatshepsut . Leader for 27 years, she has a monument to rival even the greatest of kings. Built between 1490-1460BC.

It is impossible to imagine that the Nile reached the grounds of this temple complex and that the area surrounding it was lush and green. Today the desert is dry, but the temple is no less impressive.

Felucca Ride in Luxor

So your Egypt holidays are going great.  You’ve done a Nile dinner cruise in Cairo, now its time to feel the wind in your hair on a sail boat in Luxor. We simply walked down to the river to find ourselves a boat for the afternoon. We walked along until we found a captain we felt comfortable with and negotiated a deal for him to take us out for a few hours.

Sailing along the fabled Nile, I wondered exactly what bank Moses was left on? I don’t know a lot about the bible, but I do know that he was sent floating down the Nile somewhere!

The sun was shining as we lazily drifted pass the cityscape. Camels and goats walked along the river banks and the day was silent as we fulfilled yet another one of our dreams.

Checking off the Bucket List

When visiting Egypt, you will  check of many of those items on your bucket list. For us it was Sleep in the Desert, Sail on the Nile, See the Pyramids and Visit King Tuts tomb. We did it all and what do you do when you’ve accomplished something?

Add to it of course.

We now have a new bucket list that is ever evolving.

This time in Egypt, we’ll actually make it inside the Egyptian museum and take a tour to Alexandria. Stay tuned for more coming from Egypt.

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A Dahab Christmas

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Dahab

I was awoken at 5am on Christmas day by the local Muezzin, giving Allah his dues. The last time I was up at 5am on Christmas day I was six years old and had peed myself with excitement.

This time I stayed dry and instead of rushing to the Christmas tree I headed to Cairo Gateway bus station to get a bus to Dahab in the Sinai.

I arrived shaken & stirred many hours later and headed to Dive-Urge where I had organised a room at last minute. The greeting was warm and I was given some Bedouin tea (with sage) and told that there would be a Christmas dinner on the beach in a couple of hours.

I skedaddled to the local bottle shop (imaginatively titled “Drinks”) and purchased some Stella [sans Artois]. Safely back on the beach, the food was slowly served up and honestly [sorry mom] it was the best Christmas meal ever. It was like the Egyptian chef had taken a Christmas dinner cooking course. Succulent turkey, red cabbage, stuffing, crunchalicious roast potatos, bread sauce… The works.

Spent a week in Dahab, which is as relaxed as it gets. Diving, sleeping, eating, sleeping, diving, repeat until done. Dive Urge is a fantastic place, highly recommended. But after this it was time to get on the road again.

 

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Castle Carter & Deir el-Bahri

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This morning the air felt much cooler as we had our morning coffee on the roof terrace and I noticed the haze that has been around since we arrived in Luxor seems to have finally cleared. Sam and I decided to drive over to the West Bank again.

  Once more crossing the bridge and turning right along the pretty tree-lined road towards the Gezira cross-roads, I noticed again the activity involved with the sugar cane harvest. Trucks, tractors and donkey carts trundled along the road piled high with canes. One interesting development I’ve noticed this year is the arrival of a new type of vehicle in the form of a motorcycle with a pick-up back, like a motorised donkey cart but much faster. I guess this progress is inevitable and I wondered how long it will take before we no longer see donkeys on the roads. Is this a good or a bad omen for the donkeys who will become redundant?

 

 

We stopped briefly at the Colossi of Memnon, the statues of Amenhotep III at the entrance to his Kom el-Hettan temple, because the sun was lighting them perfectly in the late morning. After mid-day the front of the statues are in shadow. A long screen has been erected in front of the excavation area so there was no chance of seeing any work in progress. We had a glimpse from the road of the statue of the king that has been re-erected in the temple area with its replica head. Knowing that visitors are quickly turned away, there was no point in stopping.

Sam drove along Monument Road again slowly so that we could see what has been going on excavation-wise. How lazy is that? But we were on our way to the Carter house, where the famous discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb had lived and worked.

 

 

 

I had expressed an interest in seeing the recently re-opened ‘Castle Carter’ last week.  I remember from my first excursions onto the West Bank years ago, several people told me that ‘Castle Carter’ was the domed building on the hill at the entrance to the road to the King’s Valley. I was even once taken inside part of this building, which was also a dig house. Later however, I learned that Carter’s house was at the foot of this hill and surrounded by overgrown trees that went a good way to hide it. The larger and more prominent house on the hill is in fact Stoppelaere House, built to a plan of Hasan Fathy in the 1950s as both a guest house for the Department of Antiquities and the headquarters and apartment of Dr. Alexander Stoppelaere who was the chief restorer of the Department at that time.

 

The real ‘Castle Carter’ was in fact Howard Carter’s second home on the West Bank, his first being near Medinet Habu. The one we visited today has been beautifully restored and we, the only visitors, were welcomed free of charge and shown around by a guide. A fantastic job has been done on the restoration of the house. It is an Egyptian traditional mudbrick house with a dome in the centre to keep it cool. Each room is furnished with lovely period pieces from the time when Carter lived there and even though I knew they were not original to the house they felt like they belonged there. It certainly captured my imagination. There are many copies of photographs and reproductions of some of Carter’s original handwritten notes and his drawings to add extra interest and the present Lady Carnarvon has done a beautiful job of designing posters and history boards with photographs of the two famous men.

 Howard Carter built this house shortly after beginning his association with his benefactor Lord Carnarvon of Highclere Castle in England, in 1910. He lived in Luxor for many years and it was his base while excavating in the Valley of the Kings and searching for Tutankhamun’s tomb. Carter’s story after his 1922 great discovery is well known and his last years are rather sad, but it was lovely to see the life this house must have had while he lived there.

The most interesting part for me was the darkroom, now lit with  the traditional red light and looking like Carter or his photographer Burton might step out at any moment. The walls were hung with black and white photographs and there is even a huge wooden plate camera on display. The restored house is surrounded by a newly-planted garden that will be very pretty when the plants grow and there are shady rest areas where visitors will be able to get refreshments. Outside there is a wonderful view of Thoth Hill, and with my long lens I was able to take a picture of the temple on it’s peak. I’ve never yet managed the two-hour trek to the top.

 

 

After leaving ‘Castle Carter’ Sam and I decided that Deir el-Bahri, where we were headed next, would still be too busy with the morning rush, so we went into the Ramesseum rest house for a drink to while away an hour or so. We finally arrived at Hatshepsut’s Temple around 2.00pm when most of the visitors had gone. Deir el-Bahri has also changed since my last visit and now has a big new visitor’s centre. We were told we were not allowed to walk up to the temple but had to go on the little taf-taf train. It’s becoming like Disneyland here. We bought our tickets (30 LE plus 2 LE for the taf-taf) and off we went.

 I visited each terrace in turn taking photographs of the walls. because many of the reliefs have been newly cleaned since I was last here. The right-hand second terrace is looking especially good and the shallow relief depicting the divine birth of Hatshepsut now shows up well. The Chapel of Anubis has also had a face-lift and the painted walls are now bright and colourful. I love to visit the little Chapel of Hathor with its lovely Hathor-headed columns and today with my zoom lens I got some good pictures of the adjacent Middle Kingdom Mentuhotep Temple from there. I also got some pictures of the old Metropolitan dig-house, a magnificent huge building to the south of the temple that for many years has been used by the Polish Mission working at Deir el-Bahri.

We left Deir el-Bahri when the temple closed at 5.00pm, making our way through the bazaar that is now the only exit. Sam had to park on the road because the enormous car park is now for coaches and taxis only. We drove back into Luxor in the crazy evening traffic, trying to work out why drivers mostly ignore the red traffic lights.

 

 

 

 

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For miles and Niles: Watching the sun rise while floating high above Egypt’s treasures

hatshepsut

By Rosa Monckton

Egypt has always held a fascination for me. I have travelled all over the Middle East, and to parts of Africa, but for some reason had never made it to Egypt.

So when we were deciding where to go for a family holiday, it seemed an obvious choice.

Discover Egypt organised the trip for us and were efficient and helpful, particularly as at the last minute we had to split up, two of us flying to Luxor and the other two flying straight to the Red Sea.

 

Everything was re-organised with the minimum of hassle and I caught my first glimpse of the Nile with my youngest daughter Domenica when we arrived at the Maritim Jolie Ville Luxor Island hotel.

The hotel is in a superb position, on the shore of the Nile, with a beautiful infinity pool looking over the river. A new reception area was being completed and I hope that the next bit of updating will be to the rooms, which are pretty basic.

We had breakfast on the terrace before the heat of the day, watching life on the river, including vast boats passing serenely in front of us. From there we drove across the desert to El Gouna, on the Red Sea, where we stayed in the Movenpick Resort and Spa.

 

 

This is a vast complex with several restaurants, swimming pools and beaches. It is overwhelming until you have worked out where everything is.

Then it is like being a part of the computer game The Sims, a virtual world where the player is in control of the people and the buildings – you make it exactly as you would want it.

In Movenpick everything interconnects and works like clockwork and the rooms are comfortable and well-thought-out. The food was exceptionally good, particularly the buffet lunch and at the fish restaurant.

The Movenpick is one of a series of hotels built around the lagoons of El Gouna, an artificial construction on a vast scale.

It is a hugely ambitious project and we spent a morning going through the lagoons in a boat to get a sense of its size.

Satellite masts are hidden in fake palm trees and everything is pristine and spanking new, which reinforces that computer-game feeling.

That evening I went with my eldest daughter Savannah to a Bedouin dinner in a strip of desert outside the main compound.

There were camel rides, an ostrich to look at and food served while we sat cross-legged on cushions in the sand.

The Moon was full and it was a lovely, if somewhat touristy, night, complete with whirling dervishes and plaintive Arab music.

Water sports are a theme in El Gouna so I persuaded my husband Dominic and Savannah

to have a go at parasailing. We were driven to the Old Marina, which is an isolated spit of sand with a hut and an incongruously placed sofa on the beach.

 

Just seeing Dominic and Savannah’s faces as they were strapped into their double harness on the parachute before they had even taken off made the whole trip worthwhile.

Savannah has a certificate from her school on the kitchen wall at home for the dubious accolade of ‘probably attending the least number of PE lessons in her year group’.

And Dominic hates all ‘unnecessary’ movement. To see the two of them suspended high above us, attempting – as they told me later – to have a normal conversation to disguise their fear, was a sight to behold.

When they were reeled in they had a ceremonial dunking in the sea. I asked Dominic what it had been like and he replied that he would like a ‘gin and catatonic, please’.

One night we went to dinner by the harbour in El Gouna. It was a balmy night and the harbour was busy – one had a sense of being in some recently constructed Mediterranean port.

In a few years, when everything has mellowed, it will be a very different, vibrant place. As it stands, its very newness is somewhat disconcerting.

 

Savannah and I spent a morning snorkelling along the reef, seeing all manner of brightly coloured fishes, and then we set off across the desert plains to return to Luxor for our last two days.

Dominic and I got up at dawn, were driven to the Nile, crossed over in the dark, and emerged on the west bank to a surreal landscape of billowing hot-air balloons.

We clambered into a corner compartment of the basket of a huge balloon, and – very slowly – we rose majestically above the Nile to watch the sunrise.

It was stunningly beautiful, eerily quiet and one of those dawns and sunrises that one will never forget. There were muted colours and stirrings of life and then the sudden explosion of light shattering across the desert landscape and shafting on to the temples.

We landed abruptly in the middle of a smallholding, with ancient, inscrutable men in traditional robes rushing forward to help us alight. From there we went to the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, built on three terraced levels.

She was one of the rare female pharaohs, and in order to legitimise her position, she depicted herself wearing a pharaoh’s kilt and a beard. This temple is an extraordinary monument to the first known reigning queen.

 

The advantage of going to the temple so early in the morning is that it was completely empty. By the time we got to the Valley of the Kings the crowds had appeared, and that, coupled with the intense heat, makes the viewing conditions of the tombs very difficult.

 

You feel as if you are on a conveyor belt and, just as you are beginning to understand a particular piece of wall painting, you are pushed forward. I would recommend going out of season if you are serious about Egyptology.

 

The scale of the tombs and the extraordinary sophistication and elaborate detail overwhelmed me. All this was achieved at a time when in Britain we were rushing around in loincloths and living in caves.

 

The following morning I went to the temple of Karnak, with an informative and charming guide, and from there went to the temple of Luxor.

There is work going on to uncover the sphinx road that connects the two, so in various places in the hustle of Luxor you come across destroyed buildings, and, emerging from the rubble, sphinxes that have somehow survived unscathed throughout the centuries.

The temple of Luxor has traces of so many different civilisations, from the ancient Egyptians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Christians and the Muslims. The original temple was completely buried for hundreds of years and was re-discovered when a mosque was built on top of it.

The mosque is now an integral part of the site. We spent a last afternoon visiting the Winter Palace Hotel, which used to be the Winter Palace of King Farouk. I had a family interest in visiting this, as my grandfather had been King Farouk’s lawyer, and wrote his abdication speech.

It is now a very grand Sofitel, and requires a king’s ransom to stay there. From there, we took a boat meandering down the Nile back to the hotel to watch the sunset from the water. On one bank of the river, nothing appears to have changed since biblical times.

You see children playing in the water, women swaying through the fields as they carry their shopping home on their heads, and donkeys carrying their loads.

Yet, on the other bank is all the bustle of modern-day Luxor. It was a perfect end to the trip – a contrast between the ancient and the modern, with a glorious sunset to end it all.

 

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Touring and Diving Post-Revolutionary Egypt

Blue O Two staff in front of Blue Horizon and Blue Fin

From Red Sea Dive News

 

“Touring and Diving Post-Revolutionary Egypt” by David Hartman

 

April 20th marks the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The event is one to forget for tourism in Florida and the Florida Keys because overblown and exaggerated news reports kept travelers away for months while no oil affected most parts of South and East Coast Florida. I witnessed the frustration of tourism industry first hand as a resident and local dive instructor in Key Largo, Florida. A year later, I am witness again first hand to frustration of a tourism industry but this time the country is Egypt. The recent revolution in Egypt that ended the President’s 30 year reign was dramatic, poignant and indeed a landmark event in world history. Egypt’s revolution was quick, decisive and officially over a month ago with resignation of Hosni Mubarak. The protests in late January and February that filled Tahrir Square captivated the world for weeks but were also limited to a small part of Cairo. Most of the day to day affairs of Cairo and the rest Egypt, especially in the Red Sea resort areas, were amazingly unaffected by the protests in Tahrir Square. There are parallels of the Gulf Oil Spill’s affect on Florida Tourism and the Revolution in Cairo’s affect on Egyptian tourism. Both events cost a tourism industry billions of dollar in lost revenue, were portrayed to affect areas that were unaffected and continued inaccurate and misguided reporting by media kept travelers away long after the extent of area affected was long determined. Tourists are beginning to return to Egypt with numbers growing everyday but the state of Florida is an example where recovering from major events that affect tourism may be a long road.

I am proud to be one of the first Americans to visit the new Egypt. As the dive travel specialist and marketing consultant for Learning Through Travel (LTT), a New York based destination tour operator for Egypt travel, I have both the enjoyment and challenge on educating tour group leaders and travel professionals on how to sell dive travel to Egypt and the Red Sea. Learning Through Travel had a previously scheduled familiarization (FAM) trip for March 5-19, 2011 that was in jeopardy of cancellation due to the recent events in Cairo but was put back on schedule once affairs in Cairo stabilized after the resignation of President Mubarak. After in depth analysis of the post revolution status of Cairo, Afifi El Shimy, Head of Egypt Operations and Cairo Office Manager, assured the safety of our FAM trip travelers and approved moving forward with the trip. One of our FAM trip travelers, American dive shop owner and PADI Course Director, David Valaika of Indian Valley SCUBA in Harleysville, Pennsylvania was committed to make the trip to Egypt in lieu of a group trip he had booked with LTT for April of 2012. I planned to meet Afifi and David Valaika in Cairo and see for my own eyes the status of post revolution Egypt and why travel warnings were still in effect.

 

My trip began March 4th on a direct flight from JFK airport in New York City to Cairo on Egypt Air. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a wonderful Egyptian tour guide on the flight who was returning from promoting Egypt tourism for a Cairo based tour operator. The American based tour groups the woman presented to were hesitant but receptive to traveling to Egypt. I enjoyed sharing stories with the tour guide and we both found a common ground in our passion for travel to Egypt and our frustration with continued bias news coverage and unneeded government travel warnings. My delightful experience on my flight to Cairo was a precursor to a similar theme I would experience throughout my week in Egypt.

 

Upon arrival in Cairo, my mood was both positive and curious. I had questions and concerns but none involved safety. The LTT FAM trip was my fourth visit to Egypt and safety was never a concern and I know Afifi always takes good care of our customers. (100% escorted travel is the only way to effectively navigate Egypt). My concerns were mostly about tourism in the country. Were tourist sites open? Had travelers returned to Egypt and in what numbers? Were sectors of the government critical to tourism still operational under the new military interim government? The answers to all my questions were quickly apparent as affairs in Cairo operated normally just as my last visit in September 2008 only now there was a calmer mood and a more aggressive attitude by all Egyptians to make tourists feel welcome. Tourist sites were open including the Pyramids of Giza and the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities but low attendance at these sites made touring a breeze. The military has a stronger presence in Cairo but on only few occasions was army personnel visible during our tours of the city. Life in Cairo was moving along on its everyday fast paced including the usual snarls of Cairo automobile traffic. With first impressions of Cairo in hand, I headed toward my hotel to start the everyday obligation to our followers on Facebook who eagerly awaited updates on travel to Egypt and the Red Sea.

 

I arrived at the Le Meridian Pyramids Hotel in the early afternoon on Saturday March 5th. I immediately ran into a couple of nice ladies who I met in the Egypt Air check in line at JFK airport. The two women just booked a trip to Egypt on Monday to return to one of their favorite countries and to support the Egyptian people who they love so much. We discussed the future of Egyptian tourism over a couple of cocktails at the pool bar and we were all concerned but optimistic. David Valaika arrived on a later flight in the early evening which gave me a chance to set my theme for the trip on Facebook and our blog. The goal was to have fun with this trip and to show interested travelers and even naysayers that travel to Egypt is fun and the people are warm and welcoming especially to American tourists. I took some nice photo opportunities by our pool overlooking the Pyramids and announced to all of our followers that I was in Egypt safe and sound and ready to tell the real story on the post revolution Egypt.

David Valaika arrived in the evening and it was time to welcome him to Egypt the appropriate way with a few Egyptian beers at the hotel bar. David V. was excited for the trip, his first time in Egypt, and to check out the legendary diving in the Red Sea. An early start on Sunday morning brought us to the foot of Pyramids of Giza to tour the most famous antiquities of ancient Egypt. David V. was riding a camel in front of the Great Pyramid before our tour guide Manal could brief David V. on how to handle the local merchants and camel tenders and their aggressive sales tactics. I have been to the Pyramids of Giza twice previously and each time the immense structures appear more impressive. My task on the LTT FAM trip was to take numerous pictures and video of David V. enjoying his travels in Egypt and to discover new experiences myself. My third trip back to the Pyramids brought me to the South side of the Great Pyramid which provides an entire different perspective on the last remaining ancient wonder of the world including the granite floor of the now missing mortuary temple and a chance to enter and view the Solar Boat of Cheops Museum.

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Solo Female Traveler shares her experience of climbing Mt. Sinai

View from Mt. Sinai

Solo Female Traveler wrote on July 26, 2011:

“In Egypt, the land of awesome ancient wonders, by far my most tremendous experience has been climbing Mount Sinai. The thrill of this outweighed even walking amongst the jaw dropping pyramids of Giza in 2009…

St. Catherine Monastery

St. Catherine Monastery, Sinai, Egypt

Along the way, we came across many huts where drinks and snacks were served. If I had walked up this mountain during regular waking hours during a time of year when the heat would not kill, I wouldn’t have bothered to stop at any of these rest areas. However, since it was the middle of the night it was a relief to take a break every once in a while…

Although people are advised to take flashlights for the nighttime walk up Mt. Sinai, the moon was so bright this particular night that it lit our path. The view coming back down the mountain, though, with the sun beginning its daytime blaze, was entirely awe inspiring…

View from Mt. Sinai

View from Mt. Sinai

We climbed back aboard the van and once inside I only woke up long enough to notice everyone else was sound asleep. I certainly wasn’t regretting my lack of rest. What’s a silly little night’s sleep worth, when you could be climbing Mount Sinai instead?”

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The unforgettable 18 days of the year 2011

Egyptahotep, one of the great creative minds that follow us on Youtube, sent us this inspiring video about the 25 January Egyptian Revolution.

We thank him and invite all other users to send us any video, image, audio file that represent their vision of Egypt or particular aspects of the country that others might not know about.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Wg06zi6sSc

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Expected memoir by Wael Ghonim: proceeds will go to charity

Wael-Ghonim-Google

Published by CBSnews

Wael Ghonim’s highly anticipated memoir about the uprising in Egypt has been acquired by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, reports AP today.

The publisher announced Monday that ex-Google executive’s “Revolution 2.0″ would come out in January.

Before leaving Google last month, Ghonim was in charge of Google’s marketing in the Middle East and Africa. He helped inspire the revolt through a Facebook page he started in honor of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old businessman who died in June at the hands of undercover police, a hated institution for many Egyptians.

Ghonim announced his sabbatical from Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. last month to write the book. Proceeds will go toward a charity that Ghonim founded to fight poverty and encourage education.

(Source: AP)

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A peaceful visit in Egypt

John holds up the revolutionary T-shirt he got from Tahrir Square

By Starla Pointer, Of the News-Register, April 20 2011

Caye Poe and John Francis of Dayton like to travel off the beaten path, taking spur-of-the-moment trips to places more conventional tourists might not consider — in fact, may never have heard of. They tend to skip the fancy restaurants and A-list sites in favor of street food and interaction with locals, giving them better insight into everyday life.

So it was unusual for them to join a tour group bound for Egypt at the end of March.

Poe was reading a newspaper story about the big downturn Egyptian tourism had taken in the aftermath of the February revolution. She suggested to her husband that they seize the opportunity.

“It took John about five seconds to say, ‘Let’s go!’” she recalled.

Joining a tour group was the quickest, most convenient way to arrange travel to the country, still unstable following the breakup of the Hosni Mubarak regime. Less then two weeks after signing up, they found themselves in Cairo.

It turned out to be the perfect time to visit the land of the pyramids: The weather was mild, prices were down and there were no crowds anywhere.

[...]

John holds up the "revolutionary" t-shirt he got from Tahrir Square

They expected to face some anti-American sentiment, but experienced nothing of the sort.

Egyptians welcomed them everywhere. And they seemed as interested in life in Dayton as Poe and Francis were about life in Cairo.

Souvenirs of the revolution were being hawked everywhere they went. Flags, T-shirts and books were particularly prevalent.

“They’re marketing the revolution,” Francis said. “They’re making an omelet from broken eggs.”

He and his wife spent time in Tahrir Square, the heart of the protests in Cairo. The “square” actually consists of several large open areas in the center of the city, flanked by shops and government buildings.

Demonstrations were still taking place there while the Dayton couple were on scene, and erupted into violence again shortly after they left. But while their tour leader cautioned them to stay together at their hotel at night, they encountered no threats

It was obvious the Egyptian economy was hurting, Francis said. “Ours was the only tour bus at the pyramids,” he said, noting, “The lot is usually full.”

 

They also had ancient temples and the Valley of the Kings almost to themselves.

[...]

The valley is filled with tombs built to hold the remains of Egyptian royalty, including King Tut. There is typically nothing visible above ground, but as soon as you go below, you begin to encounter elaborate carvings, they said.

Caye Poe and John Francis at the Pyramids in Giza

It was amazing to visit sites built and erected hundreds of years before modern machinery, Francis said. “It’s a funny feeling to touch the same walls someone touched 3,000 or 5,000 years ago,” he said.

He had a different type of funny feeling when their group embarked on a camel ride. It’s easier to ride a camel than a horse, he said, and the animals move with a rolling motion reminiscent of a ship.

Francis and his wife spent time in Luxor and Alexandria as well. And they traveled by boat along the wide, green Nile, passing through a series of locks, each with its inevitable contingent of vendors offering food, clothing and souvenirs.

Their floating journey ended at the mighty Aswan Dam.

They couldn’t get as close they’d hoped, however, due to the military unit posted there. “I’d hoped to go to the bottom and look up, so I could compare it to the Hoover Dam,” he said.

[...]

In the narrow, twisting streets of central Cairo, they visited a number of interesting shops.

Poe was particularly taken with a centuries-old spice shop, remarking, “oh, the smells!” She also visited a shop that traded in traditional papyrus and another offering inlaid boxes.

Nestled among the shops were numerous small cafes, all equipped with hookahs, Francis said.

For the Dayton residents, travel is mostly about people — about connecting with others and learning how people react to situations. They’ve experienced the differences and similarities of people in Sri Lanka, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Andaman Islands, India and other places.

[...]

“I hadn’t expected the friendliness,” Francis said. “We’d expected some anti-U.S. feeling, but there was none.”

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Egyptian artists tell their 25 Jan Revolution Story

After the glorious events of our revolution, many people have stories to share.

Everyone’s impressions about the events of January 25th.

Many Egyptian artists took the initiative and shared their story through this animation.

This is an invitation for you also to join and share the stories you have.

Egypt is free

Share freedom
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=al4GqFVGpLg

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American students studying in Cairo refuse to leave

Shiho Fukada for The International Herald Tribune

Extract from “The Global Campus – Study Abroad in Hot Spots”, By CECILIA CAPUZZI SIMON, The New York Times

[...]

(Shiho Fukada for The International Herald Tribune)

The American University in Cairo suspended its program after the State Department advisory in February against non-essential travel to Egypt. But many of the 325 Americans studying abroad there relished their front seat to history and didn’t want to leave, says the university president, Lisa Anderson. She says fall programs are under discussion, and if the advisory is lifted, she expects a “bumper crop” of students.

Most study-abroad sponsors base their decisions to suspend programs on the State Department warnings; advisories can trip insurance policies, leaving little choice but to evacuate students. (Federal aid for study abroad cannot be used in countries where there is an advisory.)

Dr. Anderson advises parents and students to attach to a “robust” institution, one that will assess a country’s risk level and put in place emergency procedures, including seemingly simple things like transportation to an airport or arranging to have belongings shipped home.

[...]

The Global Campus

Study Abroad in Hot Spots

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Charming Sharm, why it is recommended to go to Egypt now

Beach in Sharm el SHeikh

By “bemused”, Trifter, April 5, 2011

Beach in Sharm el SHeikh

I just recently came back from a 2 week break in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. I have to say I wasn’t expecting much but it was amazing! I paid less than £500 per person for 2 weeks at an all inclusive resort. Our resort was called the Hauza Beach Resort located  in Nabq Bay.

We booked back in October 2010 before any shark attacks happened and before the revolution kicked off. When everything started happening I debated over cancelling and going elsewhere but decided that they would need all the tourism they could at the moment.

I was not wrong. When we arrived it was so quiet. The hotel was at about 30% capacity and it was mostly British people there. The Russians still have not started coming back so if you look at that in a positive light, then now would definitely be the time to go! I however, would not have been bothered if there had been Russian tourists there but some Brits do not get on with them very well.

Emperor fish

The Hauza Beach resort was lovely. There were 2 private beaches with kind of lagoons which made for safe and excellent snorkeling. The variety of fish in the shallows was surprising and amazing. There were at least a hundred different types of fish just in the lagoons. There were sail fish, parrot fish of several kinds, little puffers, trevallies, butterfly fish, threadfins and needle fish to name just a few. For the braver snorkelers, you could jump off the jetty into the deep blue and see beautiful coral and even more stunning fish including the resident hump head wrasse called Boris. At about a meter long he does make you jump when he swims up to you for a better look! There is also a lifeguard on duty to keep an eye out for you.

The resort itself was lovely, with a set of ‘jungle pools’. These were a group of about 13 pools on different levels with slides and waterfalls. The main pool was also very pleasant. There were flamingos resident at the resort and also two giant tortoises.

The restaurant and food was very nice indeed which did surprise us somewhat. There were always fresh cakes and desserts on offer at every meal and all the meat and fish dishes were cooked right in front of you. The staff and people that we met in Sharm were genuinely friendly and worked very hard to make sure our experience was special.

We took a day trip to Cairo by air and have to say that it was worth every penny. If you go now, the Pyramids, Egyptian Museum and the Sphinx are very quiet. We had 5 people on our tour and only paid £125 each. We also had a three course meal in a floating TGI Fridays on the Nile!

Since the revolution, tourist numbers have fallen dramatically so the people of Egypt really need us tourists to start coming back. You can get great bargains at the moment and everywhere is lovely and quiet- no queuing for sun beds, food or anything in fact. You can get great deals over there too on your shopping as they really need to sell to start making some money back.

I would seriously recommend to anyone to visit Egypt as soon as you can to take full advantage of the lack of tourists but also to give the Egyptian economy a bit of a well needed boost.

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Herald Scotland: The Tide Has Turned in Egypt

Luxor---hot-air-balloon-over-the-western-bank-of-the-nile

By Ciaran Donnelly, Herald Scotland

A country in the throes of revolution isn’t the most obvious destination for a relaxing break, but what do you do if the holiday’s already bought and paid for? […] Back in Scotland, we had booked our Nile cruise and trip to Cairo two months before the trouble began and, as our departure date neared, our hopes of enjoying a relaxing holiday began to fade faster than a winter holiday tan.

The Foreign Office was advising against all travel to Egypt outside of Sharm El-Sheikh, the tourist-heavy Red Sea resort where sun, sand and safety would be all but guaranteed. We kicked ourselves that we hadn’t booked a five-star all-inclusive hotel there, and kept our fingers crossed that our potentially dangerous trip would be cancelled and a refund issued.

On February 24, four days before we were due to board the plane, the Foreign Office’s advice changed. […] So, just days later, my wife and I found ourselves on the first Egyptair flight out of London Heathrow for a month.

We landed in Luxor, on the Nile, where we boarded our huge floating hotel. And we couldn’t have been more welcomed. Since January the Egyptian tourist industry had not merely suffered; it had collapsed. At the time of our trip only 2% of all available holiday cruise places were occupied, according to the travel industry. Of the 350 cruise ships available, only 35 were taking holidaymakers, and even they were like ghost ships.

As we walked into our boat’s almost empty dining room for the first time, the maitre’s smiled and shouted: “Welcome to post-revolution Egypt! We are so pleased to see you.” And in all the towns we visited along the Nile, people greeted us with the same mix of excitement and relief. For more than a month these towns, totally dependent on tourists, hadn’t seen a single one.

Despite feeling welcome, we saw constant reminders that violence and fighting could break out at any time. Tanks sat on street corners and armed police stood at tourist sites. Anti-aircraft guns were all too visible. But speaking to the locals, it was clear that change had been needed. For 30 years, Mubarak’s regime had deprived its people of the freedom of assembly and organisation and in the worst cases had imprisoned tortured and killed dissidents.

In some ways now is the best time to visit this gateway into ancient civilisations. Historic sites such as the Valley of the Kings, the pyramids and the Egyptian Museum, once overrun, are deserted; at no time in the last 30 years has Egypt, or at least its tourist attractions, been more peaceful.

When we visited the Valley of the Kings, our guide Osama Petro said to us: “In all my 20 years as a guide, I have never come here and seen less than 150 tourist buses. Today there are three. Where are all the tourists? Egypt is perfectly safe, and always has been for foreigners. Please tell everyone to come and see us.”

 

Bespoke Egypt holidays and Nile Cruises are available from Barrhead Travel (www.barrheadtravel.co.uk), Thomas Cook (www.thomascook.com) and Thomsons Holidays (www.thomson.co.uk).
It’s not for everyone, but if you can cope with a little uncertainty there is a wealth of good-value holidays in North Africa in countries that rely heavily on tourism.
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Egypt During A Coup? No Problem, Corona del Mar Couple Says

egypt-300x257

 

Source: coronadelmartoday.com, March 20th, 2011

A Corona del Mar couple’s tenth church visit to Egypt in the past dozen years put them in the center of a storm now being called the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

But Monica Moore and Dave Fish said they never feared for their safety as they watched events unfold just a few days after their arrival.

“We were afraid for the people in the streets,” Moore said. “I’d never say I was worried about myself.”

Moore and Fish have been visiting Egypt since 1999 as part of a mission organized through the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach. Their work focuses on supporting their partner church, the Ibrahimia Evangelical Church of Alexandria and a sister church in a village an hour away, as well as buying supplies and helping needy children who are attending camps run by the Stephen’s Children organization.

This year, they arrived on Jan. 20, spent a day sightseeing and then headed to work at the camp, they said in a recent interview in their Corona del Mar home.

The uprising began the next week.

“It was going on three days before we heard there were demonstrations,” Moore said. They heard only when the camp staff said they were shutting the camp in order to keep the children safe at home.

To Fish and Moore, the protests were not a complete surprise; they’d seen the poverty up close over their many visits.

“I think it was building slowly,” Fish said. “The cost of living had been climbing. A doctor might make $65 a month, but prices for basics like beans and rice had gotten so high, they couldn’t afford it.”

On Friday Jan. 27, the couple stayed in their hotel, ten minutes away from the protesters. They were able to walk to a local market, to watch television, to use the telephone in their room to make calls.

When curfews began at 4 p.m., they said they watched young men show up on the streets to set up neighborhood watch points.

“There was a check point one building away from our hotel that stopped cars to check for looting and weapons,” Moore wrote in her journal. “Most of the night it was very quiet with no cars and no car horns, which is quite unusual for Cairo. We personally did not feel in danger but we worried and prayed for the young people demonstrating in the streets.”

The couple said they had flights out of Egypt the next Monday — which was smart because others who crowded to the Cairo airport had to camp out and wait.

“We were packed in like sardines, waiting,” Moore said. “But I made so many new friends from around the world. I felt useful, and I felt calm.”

The experience, they said, was amazing, and they continue to hope for peace and prosperity in the country they’ve grown to love.

“All our friends there see hope,” Fish said. “It just sort of takes your breath away.”

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The vibrant hommage of Khaled Nabawi to the Martyrs of the 25Jan Revolution

Khaled-Nabawi

Khaled Nabawi gives a “thank you” speech at the Cinema for Peace Gala 2011 in Berlin and shows an inspiring footage about the Jan 25 Revolution in Egypt.

 

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