Saturday, April 9, 2011

April 9: Goodbye Cairo; Overnight in London

We used frequent flyer points for this trip and the somewhat convoluted route meant we had a long layover in London.

Our flight left at a reasonable time from Cairo, around 5pm, and Ahmed Hamed Yousif arranged for us to check out late of the Mena House Oberoi. We enjoyed a good breakfast, packed up everything except what we'd need in London, and strolled the grounds and hotel before our driver (along with a security guard) picked us up for the trip to the airport. Ahmed stopped by to say goodbye and we were glad to see him one last time. We do hope we can visit Egypt in his care again.

Beautiful lobby

There were loads of old photos adorning the hotel
Relaxing before we got picked up to go to the airport
Mena House bell captain.  The staff were all great!
One more view of the pyramids from the Mena House!
The security guard, on the right, was required because we're american 

Driving in Cairo is never dull


 So we arrived in London around 8pm.  Checked into our hotel at Terminal 4.  Were told by the concierge that it was a bit late to go into town by public transit( we might not make the last return train) so we hired a driver to go into old London.  We just wanted to find a nice pub to have a couple of beers, see some lit up important sights, then come back to the hotel to sleep before our departure at 11am the next day.

Unfortunately, all the pubs were closed by 11pm and the few open places were bars/dance places and super crowded.  We saw a few of the lit up sights but it was a disappointing night in London.

Our flight to Houston was smooth and easy--first class really does have its advantages.  Egypt was amazing and Ahmed HamYousif did a wonderful job planning the trip for us.  We look forward to going back one day!

Friday, April 8, 2011

"Free" day in Luxor; Thursday 7 April

As the title suggests, we had one free day in Luxor :) without a tour guide or driver.  We had previously decided that we'd visit the Luxor Museum, maybe do a little shopping, wander the town and relax by the gorgeous pool.

We made our way to breakfast around 9am.  It was quite a busier scene than we'd previously seen--many more tourists and much more staff.  The plates were actually cleared off the table while we went to get more things at the stocked buffet.  But, it took longer to get coffee and the items were not replenished as quickly.  It was a definite improvement but not even close to awesome (see, Mena House Oberoi!). 

We had made plans for "our" taxi driver Mohammed Ali to meet us around 10am for the short ride to the Luxor Museum.  He was on time and off we went.  Luxor was bustling; fun to see!  We got to the museum and he agreed to wait for us.  We walked down the very much under construction street to the museum entrance, paid the fee and were directed to the annex-like thing that included a cafe and gift shop.  The man there said there was a movie and we misunderstood what he meant so stood around like "duncof americans" for a little while before going in.  Glad we saw the short film--nice introduction to the museum collection.

We left the film area and walked a few feet to the entrance.  The museum is not huge but it has some great statues and two mummies and King Tut stuff, including a full carriage.  We wandered around for awhile and looked at everything with maybe 20 other tourists total while we were there.  It was well done and made me wish, again, that the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was renovated or redone already--so sad that those amazing treasures are so badly treated...

Outside the very nice Luxor Museum

Good to see the horse getting a little shade

Afterwards, we met our driver and stopped for some water on the way back to the Old Winter Palace. I was pretty ready for lunch (fruit in the room) and a relax by the pool, since it was our last chance to do that. Hubby and bro went to lunch poolside before a shopping stop. We all met up at the pool later on.

I love the pool area at the Old Winter Palace--it's absolutely gorgeous and you really feel like you're somewhere special. Still not totally impressed with the pool staff but that didn't at all detract from my enjoyment of the pool.

At Sunset, we headed back to the room to change for dinner. We decided on Sofra (again) because we enjoyed the food and loved the setting. Hubby had checked out the list of other recommended restaurants and felt they were all kinda strip-mall-y setting wise, so back to Sofra we went. It didn't disappoint!

After dinner, Mohammed Ali drove us back to the OWP where we had a nice nightcap in the Piano Bar. None of us wanted to go back to our rooms because we knew it was the end of our time in Luxor. And what a lovely time it had been!

Sunset on our last night in Luxor

Gorgeous sunset

Touring the Presidential Suite

The nice bellcap whoshowed us the Presidential Suite

April 8: Goodbye Luxor; One More Night in Cairo

After an early wake-up call, we were met by our driver to escort us to the Luxor airport for our trip to Cairo.  We had one more night in Egypt, at the Mena House Oberoi.

We didn't take a ride in a carriage but they were out there everyday

We loved the Winter Palace

On the way to the Luxor airport

It's a small airport but very modern and nice

Egypt really is all about the Nile river

Back in Cairo!

Mohammed and a driver met us at the Cairo Airport and escorted us to the Mena House Oberoi.  He checked us in to very nice rooms in the Pavillion wing.  The views of the pyramids were good but not great as at the beginning of our trip: we had to go to the balcony to see the pyramis, awww.

Nice room at Mena House Oberoi

Pyramids view!

Delicious birthday cake again, nice!

It was a beautiful clear day so we immediately went to the pool; had lunch and relaxed for awhile.  There were more people at the hotel than at the beginning of our trip, which was good to see.  We all hoped tourism in Egypt recovered from the Revolution because it sustains so many people.

We had a 5pm appointment with a representative of Gouzlan Group Jewellers to deliver our cartouches.  He was late and lost but our dear Ahmed Hamed Yousif was able to track him down and direct him to us.  We walked around the beautiful hotel taking pictures until he arrived.

I wanted a ride...

Great day to view the pyramids!
 We enjoyed the sunset views and a last wonderful dinner in the Moghul Room: Superb Indian food and a great ambiance!  We went to bed happy (but sad that our vacation in Egypt was all but over).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Luxor: More tombs, please

Luxor: West Bank: Tombs of Nobles and Workers, Valley of the Queens and Carter House

Our room at the Old Winter Palace is really very nice. I have been able to sleep pretty well as the traffic noises quiet down around 10-10:30pm. We have enjoyed the view and the sunsets have been lovely. Today’s breakfast experience was the same as the previous day--no clearing of the dirty plates, hardly any server presence. Not a lot of people in the dining room at 7:15 am. Mohammed is coming for us at 8am.

Mohammed and our driver (same one from previous days, a very nice man) were on time as usual. We discussed the plan for sightseeing. We have the Ramesseum on the list but since it’s another temple, we changed it and added the Valley of the Queens. Mohammed cautioned us that the tombs there are not great compared to the Valley of the Kings but we decided to see ‘em anyway. We also added the Carter House (20LE to enter).

Our first stop was the Tombs of the Workers. We toured a small temple that had lovely painted walls. We got to see the amazing Final Judgement which was spectacular! After that we went into two tombs Seneghen and En Hr Khaa (I think). Both very interesting because they were so colorful and the scenes were different from the Kings’ tombs. Small spaces but well lit so no claustrophobia.

He sold us the fly "shooer"

Little "temple" with the Final Judgement scene

The Worker's Village--ruins of the house where they lived
 Next we moved on to the Valley of the Queens. I had made Mohammed chuckle earlier when I asked to see Queen Nefertari’s tomb not realizing that it cost $4000 plus a 100LE entry ticket. Obviously, we missed that one! From the photos in the Weeks book, it is spectacular. Mohammed teased us that putting even our hands on the rope barring the walkway to the tomb cost $1000! I think he finally realizes that we are really dumcof americans, as we have warned him!

We toured three tombs in the VOQ: two sons of Rameses II (both died as children, names were something like Khanwasp and Amonherkhepsheph) and wife Titi. The first tomb was the best but all three were interesting. We are starting to recognize some of the things Mohammed has pointed out (like how the hairstyle designates age). The setting of these tombs is lovely and very like the VOK.

Next we went to the Tombs of the Nobles and saw two there, Rekhmera, at the bottom of the hill, and Sennefer, up a hill, over an incline and down a long stairway with a rocky ceiling (hubby managed to hit his head!). These were also fascinating. The scenes of daily life were particularly interesting to see since the King and Queens tombs were more idealized--gods and goddesses stuff. In the gorgeous Sennefer tomb, the grapes and grapevines on the ceiling were lovely and so well preserved. I was glad I made it down there (but I was really tired afterwards…)

The guards at the Tombs of the Nobles were very nice and hubby asked how long they’d been working there. There were three guards and had worked there 30, 25 and 20 years. Amazing. They seemed pleased at our enjoyment of “their” tombs…

Hubby and bro have continued to contribute to the local economy by buying souvenirs (a fly shooer, a scarf, little statues, books, and a wall hanging). The sellers are really struggling since tourism is so down and these sights are not the big popular ones anyway. It’s too bad they’re so pushy though since we’d likely buy more if they were more low key. Part of the experience of being in Egypt!

They have guarded these tombs 20, 25, and 30 years respectively

 Afterwards was the Carter House. It’s where Howard Carter lived when he finally discovered the intact tomb of King Tutankhamen in the 1920’s. It is well worth the price of admission--there was a good show of him describing finding the tomb, his furnishings and photos were still displayed as when he lived there. Very interesting. Beautiful setting. There’s a very quiet cafĂ© on premises that would be a great setting for a tea break.

Howard Carter's desk. 

This was the end of our touring with Mohammed so we sadly said goodbye to him and our driver at the Old Winter Palace. He heads back home to Aswan. We enjoyed our time with Mohammed and wish him the best in his future--maybe we’ll see him again on our next trip to Egypt!

I've enjoyed the towel sculptures each day when we get back to the room.

It was late lunch time so the guys went to the pool restaurant and had burgers while I stayed in the room. I met them there later to hang by the pool. I absolutely adore the pool area--it’s just beautiful, like the rest of the grounds. It closes down at sunset and they set up the alfresco dining (Italian and Egyptian menus). We ate there our first night and it was very good.

Tonight we decided to try Jewel of the Nile. We found “our” cab driver (Mohammed Ali) and off we went. The restaurant is on a side street in a busy neighborhood. It had delicious food, very fresh and tasty. I liked that the food was not as highly seasoned or as garlicky as what I had at Sofra. The service was perfect. It is really a shame that such great food is found in such a strip mall like restaurant--it deserves an incredible location!

We had to wait a little while for cab driver to return but it was nice hanging outside with the sheesha smokers and friendly cat. It was a quick drive back to the hotel. Another beautiful day in Egypt was done. Just a couple more to go, sadly.