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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Islamic Cairo, Egypt
COUNTRY FACTS Pop: 78,887,007 Area: 1,001,450 km2 Gov't: Republic Religion: Muslim 90% (mostly Sunni), Coptic Christian 9%. View Map
Khan el-Khalili Area , Cairo, Egypt, February 6, 2004  

Egypt Flag EGYPT


February 4. ATHENS - CAIRO  On our last day in Athens it rained, reaffirming our decision to go to Egypt until the weather got better.  The hotel gave us a late check out and then took a small bag to store for us while we were gone to Egypt and Jordan.   In the few free hours that we had before we needed to head to the airport we were able to check email and confirm our place to stay in Cairo.  That was reassuring since we would be getting in a 9pm.  

After some lunch and a coffee we collected our backpacks from the hotel and set out to catch the airport bus from Syntagma.  The bus made pretty good time and there were no problems checking in with Egypt Air.  There  was an extra layer of security getting on the airplane where they searched people's bags right on the boarding ramp.  Egypt hasn't had any problems with terrorists in recent years but they have maintained a tight level of security to stay off the the travel warning lists, just in case.  The plane was full of a large Japanese tour group and I found myself amazed at their ability to sleep on the flight.  In Japan the people always seemed able to catnap at will on trains, buses, and even the subway.  It never ceased to amaze me.  But, in this case, I was all the more impressed because our flight was bumpy.  It wasn't a long flight and landed in Alexandria before continuing on to Cairo so a chunk of the three hours were spent making that stop.  But there were rain clouds when we left Greece and both times when we landed in Egypt making the 737 bump around.  The steep take off and landings combined with the rather quick accelerationKhan el-Khalili Market, Cairo, Egypt and deceleration kept me alert.  But, all the time most of those Japanese people slept away, heads bombing through the turbulence and the landing.  Then they suddenly burst to life and departed at Alexandria.   It was only a jump in the air from Alexandria to Cairo.  I am certain that the flight was perfectly safe, even if it did make me nervous, and probably only noticed the more abrupt maneuvers because pilots back home are threatened with lawsuits if they startle their passengers in the slightest way.  

The service on Egypt Air was very prompt and attentive. They served us drinks, handed out our dinner, a plate of all meat with a side salad and cake, and made another drink round in less than two hours.  The attendants were very friendly as well.   When the plane landed in Cairo we were met by buses that transported us to the immigration area.  On the plane I hadn't noticed so many women with their heads covered but when we entered the airport I was immediately conscious of my naked head.  There were a couple of western tour groups that stood out as well.  Just inside the doors of the airport we were met with four or five money change booths, their attendants frantically waiving us their direction with their palms face down.  We were at a loss as to which one to choose and figured none would be offering fantastic rates anyway and ended up just gravitating to Thomas Cook.  The lines through immigration were slow and by the time we got to the luggage carousel our bags were some of the only ones left.  Mine had been thrown on the floor, one of the straps had been undone, and a small pocket in front was unzipped.  I had locks on the main openings of my pack and in the little pocket in front I just kept tissue packs and feminine items.  I am sure my bag's assailant was thrilled to have fondled panty liners!

A couple of tourist "helpers" approached us to see if we needed any help but the book warns of the plethora of touts at the airport, we'd seen them operating even behind the immigration lines, so we just told them we were fine, not actually knowing if they were official or not.  We sailed through customs, exited the building and found ourselves standing in front of a crowd of people behind a barricade, all waiting for people to come out of the airport.  We ran into one of our flight attendants and he directed us to the taxi area.  There was a large sign that said "taxi" but no queue.  It was dark and starting to rain. Finally we noticed the black and white cabs, a rather beat up lot, just inside the parking lot.  We'd been advised that a ride into Cairo would run 30-50 Egyptian pounds and we finally got one to agree to 40.  Afterwards the driver wanted to include an older Egyptian woman in our cab as well.  We weren't sure that was fair since we were paying for the cab but she was a very nice woman and just decided it didn't matter that much.  He promised to drop us off first anyway.  The woman spoke good English and we learned that she lived primarily in Connecticut but had just recently gotten a new place in Cairo.  Her head was covered in a white scarf, having just returned from the Hajj in Saudi Arabia.  She had several boxes with her and we were worried about them when the driver put them on the roof. She gave us a sheepish grin and said they were fine, one was just a microwave, another was a toaster oven, and there were also a few other electronic items that she had also picked up on her tKhan el-Khalili Market, Cairo, Egyptrip and adeptly skirted past customs.  We enjoyed chatting with her on the ride into Cairo.  

Our hotel, the Hotel Luna, was situated in central Cairo on Talat Haarb, a busy shopping street.  At night the area was bustling with people but the buildings were visibly run down and it wasn't very clean.  Our driver heartily wished us a nice trip in Egypt and even offered to help us with our bags when we arrived.  We thanked him but managed on our own.  The hotel entrance was down an alley off of the street, a yellow sign brightly showed us the way.  From the dark and dingy first floor we were faced with a very dodgy old elevator, an open metal shaft with a heavy green door on each floor and two narrow doors on the elevator with a soft floor.  The doors on the elevator are supposed to be shut before the elevator would engage but this one had been fiddled with and you could ride the whole way looking from iron gate to wide precarious opening to the iron gate on the next floor and another opening.  At least the thing wouldn't move until the outside green door was properly shut our it would have been a real menace.  When the elevator opened on the fifth floor to reveal and bright and clean entrance to the hotel we were pleasantly surprised, a relieved.  The place was very clean and neatly decorated with an Egyptian style lounge area in the front.  We were given a large room at the end of the hall with three beds and a sink, a quiet spot away from the social areas and bathrooms. 

The hotel introduced us to their "guest relations" person, Atef, who was supposedly tasked with giving us information on Egypt but, not surprisingly was just trying to sell us a tour.  While we drank the complimentary red tea that the hotel provided, we tried to listen patiently to his proposed an itinerary.  It was basically a site packed 10 days in Aswan and Luxor and then a week on the beach, all for $65/day per person, not including tickets and diving.  A ridiculous amount with little added value.  Hiding our irritation at having been subjected to a tout we told him we would "think" about it.  We had to get use to it.  This was the way things were done in Egypt.  There was little sense in getting angry and once lured into a situation it was better to just endure it until you could gracefully bow out.

The sales pitch took away from our relaxation time and we didn't end up in bed until past 1:00.  

GREECE Athens Jan 27-Feb 4

EGYPT Cairo Feb 4 Feb 5 Feb 6 Feb 7 Aswan Feb 8 Feb 9 Feb 10 Luxor Feb 11 Feb 12 Feb 13 Feb 14 Feb 15 Nuweiba Feb 16-17

JORDAN Petra Feb 18 Feb 19 Feb 20 Feb 21 Amman Feb 22 Feb 23-24 Feb 25 Feb 26 Feb 27 Feb 28 Feb 29-Mar 1 Dead Sea Mar 2 Mar 3

ISRAEL Eilat Mar 4

EGYPT Cairo Mar 5 Mar 6 Mar 7 Mar 8

GREECE Athens Mar 9 Santorini Mar 10 Mar 11 Mar 12-13 Crete Mar 14 Mar 15-16 Mar 17-21 Athens Mar 22