Friday, 26 March 2010

Egypt. Sharm El Sheikh. March 2010.

Breakfast was available from 05.00 today, unfortunately I find this far to early to eat any thing.
The tour rep from the elusive Marhaba Tours had left a message on the answer phone the previous day, asking us to meet him in the lobby at 05.30. His name was Mohammed, and he was waiting for us as planned. It is a very short journey from the 'Port' of Luxor, to Luxor Airport, it was 15 minutes at the most.
At the Airport Mohammed was really helpful, he got us through the security, took us to International Departures to check in for our Domestic flight....I wouldn't have done that!
He even escorted us to the Departure lounge.
We flew from Luxour to Sharm El Sheikh on an Egypt Air Embracer 170, it looked like it took about 80 passengers. The flight took 45 minutes, the plane looked new and was very clean. The cabin crew were the most miserable people I have ever encountered on an aeroplane. They did not do a lot,  as there was no safety demo, No checking of seat belts, seats upright ect, Actually, I don't know why the Cabin Crew were on board as they did nothing.
The best bit of the flight was that the door to the cockpit was open, so it was possible to see the Flight Deck and what they were up to......its been years since I saw that!
Sharm airport was easy, the baggage came off the plane very quickly and in no time we were on our way to the hotel. The Renaissance Sharm El Sheikh.
Now, if you have not been to Sharm before, don't go expecting long sandy beaches, if you do expect that, you will be disappointed.
Most of the hotels are built into the rocky shore line, and most of them have lots of steps. Our hotel had at least 184 steps, we counted them on the walk from our room to breakfast every day!
There is very little direct beach access to the sea, most of the resorts have jetty's like this. This is to protect the thing I go to Sharm for, The Coral. The jetty's provide walkways over the Coral, you can then go into the sea at the end of the walkway. Swimming in the Red Sea is like swimming in an extra large fish tank. It is spectacular. We saw lots of fish from large parrot fish to the smallest 'Nemo's', I was very exited to see a large blue Puffer Fish.
Sarah had a couple of dives with this Dive Master. Sharm is a really good place to learn to dive.

The sea was warm and we did not need our wet suites for snorkeling, and on the second day the land temperature was up to 30 degrees, and this was the second week of March.

The Hotel was very nice, and it was great to relax after our busy days on the Nile.
Far to soon it was time to pack away our diving gear and Fly to London Heathrow via Cairo, (with out the dramas this time!).
So now I am home, and thinking of my next holiday! But, it wont be till the end of the year, so apart from Air Emirates rotas and Galley Gossip, this blog may be a little quiet for a while.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Egypt.Luxor. 4 Night Nile Cruise. Day Four. March 2010.

The previous night our resident Tour Guide, Mohammed, had asked our small group if we wanted to get up at 04.30 and take a bus to the West Bank, or get up at 05.30 and get a boat across the river to meet the mini bus? Why was he asking us this question? Because the affirmative answer to the 05.30 crossing incurred a surcharge of 10 Egyptian £s. The majority vote won and at 06.00 we assembled in the lobby for a full day of sight seeing.
The small craft that transported us to the West Bank was decorated in a strange eclectic style. As soon as Sarah and Natalie saw this doll, they both whispered ‘Chucky’ to each other, and started giggling.
I concentrated on taking photos of the Nile Cruisers docked together, this shot explains why sometimes you can't see out of your cabin! (its a bit dark!). And the early morning balloon fights drifting over the Valley of the Kings.By crossing the river by boat it was only a very short drive to The Valley of the Kings. You are not allowed to take any type of camera into the Valley, this is to try to protect the Tombs from flashlight.

Our ticket entitle us to go into 3 tombs, we went into tomb number 34, this is the Tomb of Tuthmosis III. Ramesses IX and paid an extra fee to go into the tomb of Ramesses VI. It was worth the extra 50 E£ just to study the paintings of Nut on the ceiling.
We also visited the Valley of the Queens, again no cameras. So no photos of Tombs I am afraid...Ow well, you will just have to visit yourselves and see the wonders of the Pharoes!
Our next stop was the Tomb of Queen Hatshepsut. then the Colossi of Memnon.
We then had a visit to an ‘Alabaster Factory’, our one and only shopping stop on this tour, I was very grateful for that, as I can't stand being rushed at the sights and monuments in order to spend ages at the carpet shop, gold shop or a soap shop that I have no intrest in.
We had a short rest back on the Royal Lotus for lunch, then it was time to set of to the Temple of Karnak. The Temple complex of Karnak never fails to impress and Sarah just wandered round repeating to much used phrase ‘Awesome’, it is just that.

As is Luxor Temple itself, Awesome, just Awesome.
So, how many visits to the Ancient Sights of Egypt should you do in a life time? If you have the answer please comment?

Monday, 15 March 2010

Egypt. Edfu to Luxor. 4 Night Nile Cruise. Day Three. March 2010.

Once again it was an early wake up call and early start to the Temple at Edfu.Along the dock were numerous Horse drawn buggies, and I thought we would be going to the Temple in one of these vehicles, but we went by more conventional means, driving through the town the small town of Edfu in an air-conditioned coach.
The Temple is dedicated to Horus.
Who is usually depicted as a falcon-headed man. The Temple is billed as the most completely preserved Temple in Egypt. The preservation had been attributed to the fact that , it was buried up to its lintels in sand, with homes built over the top, until it was excavated by Auguste Mariette in the 1860s. The sand protected the monument over the years, leaving it very well preserved today.It is a magnificent site, and the fact that the roof is still complete gives it a very different atmosphere than other temples.
All to soon we were back on the boat and setting sail for Luxor. We had to pass through the lock at Edfu, we had been informed that this could be a long drawn out process and may take hours. It took all of 10 minutes and happened whilst we were having lunch so I did not get any photos.
After a relaxing afternoon on the Sun Deck, enjoying afternoon tea (we only just had lunch!) we approached and arrived in Luxor.
Needing to find a Bank, we strolled along the riverside passing the Mummification Museum. This sparked Sarah’s interest, so once we had topped up our funds we paid the 50 E£ each and went in.
The museum was small, and at first I think Sarah was a little disappointed in the seemingly limited displays. But, once you took your time and took a closer look at what was in the museum, a mummified human, baboon, crocodile, ibis etc and the implements and methods used to achieve the results, it was very interesting. If you have an hour to spare I think it is a worthwhile visit.
After yet another dinner, it was time to enjoy a Belly Dancing Show. Both the Belly Dancer and Whirling Dervish that provided the entertainment were fantastic and I was pleased the whole boat managed to stay up to watch them, the bar did not do a lot of business though, with both the large groups of Americans drinking only water! Maybe it was the thought of the 04.30 wake up call in the morning, as we sank more of those delicious
G &Ts we seemed to have forgotten about that?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Egypt.March 2010. Aswan to Edfu. 4 Night Nile Cruise. Day Two.

We were woken at 05.30 by our wake up call, and by the time we assembled in the lobby at 07.30 were ready to go.
Even though we were a small group, a large 40 seater coach arrived to take us up to the Aswan High Dam. The Egyptian Russian Monument at Aswan High Dam.
It was a short ride on the bus to the boats taking us over to Philae Temple. Philae Temple was dismantled and reassembled, on Agilika Island about 550 meters from its original home on Philae Island. I think this happened as a result of the building of the Dam. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis, is in a beautiful setting which has been landscaped to match its original site. It's various shrines and sanctuaries, which include The Vestibule of Nectanebos which is used as the entrance to the island, the Temples of Emperor Hadrian, Hathor and Trajan. A Birth house and two pylons celebrate all the deities involved in the Isis and Osiris myth. I am so glad I had read parts of the book ‘Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt' by Robert A Armour prior to my trip, as it helped in my understanding of some of these carvings, and I like that myth.At night you can also visit the Sound and Light Show, it is billed as a ‘magical experience, with the floodlit buildings silhouetted against the volcanic rocks and water surrounding them’. Unfortunately we did not have time for this experience.
All to soon it was back on the bus for another short ride to the Unfinished Obelisk.
In the ancient times I should have think the workforce in the very hot and dusty quarry were a bit pissed off when a massive crack appeared in the massive obelisk whilst it was still in the ground in Aswan! The obelisk lies in the rock quarry where workers abandoned it when they discovered a crack that would have ruined the massive structure. If this one had been finished it would have been the largest obelisk ever. No one knows which pharaoh commissioned the obelisk because it was abandoned before any identifying hieroglyphics could be carved, but it was one of the most ambitious projects in the ancient world.
We went back to the boat for lunch and set sail for the Temple of Kom Ombo. The Temple known as Kom Ombo is actually two temples consisting of a Temple to Sobek and a Temple of Haroeris. In ancient times, sacred crocodiles basked in the sun on the river bank near here. The Temple has scant remains, but very interesting hieroglyphics. Unfortunately it was very busy, I think ever tourist on the Nile was visiting Kom Ombo at the same time, it was packed out like The Trafford Centre a week before Christmas. This reduced the ability to spend time studding the carvings some of which showed medical instruments, birthing chairs and slaves being beheaded!
As soon as were we back on board we set off again, we were headed to Edfu. For this evening though, there was a Gallabia Party.
We were told to dress up in local dress to enjoy the traditional Egyptian Buffet, and this we did. Every one in our group made a good effort. I am glad we were not sat at some of the other tables as many of the guests did not bother and I think you could have felt rather stupid being the only one in fancy dress, especially with these beads falling into my dinner.
After dinner a few people gathered to play some Gallabia Party games in the bar. The Gin & Tonic mixed and served by the bar staff were was a shame that the wake up call the next day was scheduled for 05.00, meaning that I had to restrict my alcohol intake.
PS. just before we left for Kom Ombo the rep from Marhaba Tours was on the boat looking for me. He was very sorry that he had missed me at the airport and reimbursed me my taxi fairs, he explained that with the late night he had had from trying to find us, the next day he had slept in, not waking till 10.00 and when he contacted the hotel he was told I had checked out of the hotel. I had, we were on the boat and I was just pleased the company did exist!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Egypt.Aswan. March 2010. 4 Night Nile Cruise. Day one.

The Movenpick Hotel in Aswan is located on Elephantine Island. We had crossed the Nile to the hotel in the hotels shuttle boat the previous night. The room we were give was clean and comfortable. In the morning this was the stunning view of the river from the hotel room. The hotel had beautiful grounds and I was sad we did not have longer to experience the truly picturesque surroundings.
According to the voucher I had, our pick up time and transfer to our Nile Cruiser was 08.00. so at the allotted time we waited in the lobby. After 15 minutes or so I asked the reception staff if they had any idea where the rep might meet us, they suggested that the travel reps don’t cross the river but wait on the other side, so I checked out, crossed the river to wait again. I knew the name of our Nile Boat, but not the sailing times, so at 08.45 was getting concerned that I was still at the hotel waiting. I hailed a taxi, negotiated a price and it was a quick taxi ride to the new Aswan Port and our Cruiser.As it turned out I need not have rushed as we were not due to sail until the next day! I was very glad that the staff on the boat let us check in, and had heard of the seemingly elusive Marhaba Tours.
I had opted for the Royal Lotus as it fitted in with my time scale, being a 4 night, 5 day tour.

I have not known the boat was so well equipped. The moment I stepped on board I relaxed, boat was just right. It has 60 cabins, our room was on the third deck next to a fully equipped Gymnasium, I did not use these facilities! Although if you wanted to you could have kept fit with a spectacular view of the Nile from the large window in the gym. Our cabin had an en suite bathroom with a bath, a TV, again not used (who comes to the River Nile to watch TV????). The restaurant was on the lower deck, the bar on the same deck as the lobby.
Best of all was the top deck, known as the Sun Deck. This was where we were to be found when not visiting the antiquities. This area had a plunge pool and a Jacuzzi. There were also three furnished areas; tables and chairs in the shade of a canopy, sun loungers around the pool and a choice of Bedouin style low seating and huge comfortable sofas, just great for reading all those books I had in my case. Due to my panic about getting to the boat, we were the first arrivals, and immediately made use of the Sun Deck facilities. It was about 11.00 when the rest of the guests started to come aboard and at 13.00 we had our first meal in the Restaurant, a delicious four course buffet. A real contrast to my normal life, where I am lucky if I manage to get a cheese sandwich any time between 12.00 and 16.00!
There were two large groups of Americans on board, most of the tables in the dining room were designated with name cards for ‘Viking Tours’ and ‘Pilgrim Tours’ there did not seen to be many people like Sazzle and myself, ungrouped? We were given a table for two by the window, not boats were moored along side us at that moment so we could see out. Immediately after lunch we were asked to attend a briefing in the Bar, here we met the rest of our small group and our guide Mohammed. He outlined the schedule for the rest of the trip, advising us to meet in the lobby at 16.00 for a Felucca on the Nile around Kitchener Island. So as instructed at 16.00 we assembled, the group was very international and so very interesting. Like Saz and me there was another Mother and Daughter this time from Lebanon, two Auzzies from Perth, two English sisters, and American couple from Chicago, an American couple from Massachusetts and four ladies from the Indian sub continent.
We enjoyed our Felucca trip, and once back on the boat did not have a lot of time before our ‘Welcome Reception Cocktail’ and Al a Cart Dinner.......I was still stuffed from lunch, in fact it was to be over 6 days before I felt hunger again!

Egypt. Cairo to Aswan. March 2010. Beware of the smiling Travel Agent.

This is the time of year when it suites me to take my ‘main’ holiday of the year. This year the destination was to be India, or to be more precise Goa. The independent travellers dream, 2 weeks backpacking around Goa, and hopefully getting time to see Mumbai as well. I had done my research and was ready for the challenge. My eldest daughter questioned my choice of destination, she doubted that her parents fitted the profile of visitors to this part of India, informing me that I was far to old to visit Goa, ‘Its the sex and drugs capitol of India, only young people go there’. This was not the reason why I did not go to India. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to change my plans and my visit to the land she described was not to be (well not in 2010 anyway).
In the first few months of 2010 I have been very busy at work, not busy with practical, hands on work. But busy with office work, preparing for a very important assessment. So having spent hours on a PC at work I did not really want to do the same once I got home. I was being very lazy and I did something I haven’t done in ages, used a travel agent to book a 10 day holiday to Egypt. I wanted to take my youngest daughter to the River Nile and to Sharm-el-Sheikh.(if you want to know who the TA was please PM me).
Because I had used a travel agent, and was so busy at work, I did not check the fine details of my planned trip......this was a mistake.
So here is my Trip Report.
I flew from London Heathrow (LHR) to Cairo on BMI flight MS9231. This left LHR at 09.15. it was an Airbus A321, it looked a bit old, but the seats weren’t bad, leg room and IFE OK and the flight was short, just over 4 hours. We arrived at 16.15 local time. Now this next bit I had questioned with the travel agent, as I felt the timing was a bit tight, I had been assured that there was nothing to worried warned!
Our connecting flight to Aswan was due out at 17.20.
It took ages to get through customs, then an age to collect our small cases. We left the International Arrivals and quickly found the Domestic Departures and went thought the security checks. This is a very odd and laboriously slow procedure, as you have to show the police officer your passport and e ticket, have you bags put through the scanner all before you get to the check in desk. At the Air Egypt check in desk I was told. ‘You are lucky, you have just made it in time’, relived I put the case onto the scales. A man behind the desk shouted over in Arabic to the man checking us in. I was then told ‘you have missed the flight, go to see him’ pointing to the end of the counter. Here I was again told, ‘you missed the flight, come back at 20.45, maybe you can go on that one’. I questioned the availability of seats on the later flight, with a shrug of his shoulders, he again said ‘back at 20.45. it happens everyday, it is BMI!’
Problem number one; security (the Police) would not let us back out into the Arrivals hall, so we sat on the hard chairs in the domestic departure check in area to wait. A second security officer informed me that it was not allowed to wait in this area,
Security; ‘you must check in’,
Me; ‘I can’t check in’,
Security; ‘so you must go out’,
Me; ‘you won’t let me out!’
Security; ‘ow !? you have e ticket? you miss plane? you go out to Cairo? Go to Cairo now! PASSPORT? PASSPORT?’
After over ½ hour of this he let us back into the main airport area.
Problem Number two; I went over to the Air Egypt desk and asked when the next flight to Aswan was, it was at 21.15. so a quick calculation....I was not happy to be checking in at 20.45 as I felt that was a little late, a little like a standby ticket? I asked what the expected load was on the later flight.......I was told that it was over booked, but if I wanted I could purchased a ticket, as my ticket was no longer valid as I had ‘missed the flight’. I moved from the Air Egypt ticket office to the ‘Customer Relations Desk’. Once again asking about the flight. I was told as I had missed the flight, and that it was a problem of my own making, my ticked was no longer valid. I was advised to get a new ticket.
Me; ‘how do I do that?’.
Customer Relations Man; ‘you by it from me!’
Me; ‘I already have a ticket and don’t have money to by another one’. This conversation went on for a very long time. I acted totally daft and just kept saying I needed a new ticket. In the end I must have ground him down with my blank looks, slow speech and general stupidity, he made a phone call, then advised me to go back to the check in at 19.15 and wrote in Arabic all over my e ticket (I hate to think what it says! but I bet it is not complementary).
So! At 19.00, back to the security, who wont let me in as I missed the flight and my ticket is not valid, act daft again. He let me in at 19.30. the check in desk looks at the ticket, ‘this is the wrong ticket, you missed your flight, ect, ect’. Act daft, don’t move, just keep saying ‘yes! I am checking in!’, at 19.55, he relents makes a phone call to the Customer Relations Desk, I hear shouting in Arabic on the phone. Our boarding cards are issued at 20.00.
By this time I trust no one, I check the codes on my boarding pass, its a ‘Y’, full economy fare, I relax a little.
We leave Cairo at 21.30 on a packed Air Egypt Embracer 170, arriving in Aswan at about 23.00.
Because we have a travel agent, we should be picked up by the Marhaba Tours Rep. As we are late, = no rep. I look at the vast amount of papers I have been sent for a local contact number....guess what, there is not one!
I wiz over to the Lockwood Rep and ask if he knows who Marhaba Tours are, he has never heard of them, nor has any one else in the airport, but he does tell me not to pay more that 50 Egyptian Pounds for a taxi. The Taxi driver wants 200, but I haggle him down, and arrive at our hotel in Aswan after midnight.
I ask the reception desk if they know who the local Marhaba Tours rep is, again they say they have never heard of the company, but, if I want to see Aswan he has a brother who can take me to the sites tomorrow. Sick of it all and very tried by now, I decline his kind offer and we retire to our hotel room for the night, after all tomorrow is another day!