Sunday, 3 July 2011

My Cairo Experience

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Where to start?!

When I had a call asking me if I wanted to go to Cairo last weekend it was all systems go with just a few days to get my work up to date and pack, but this was an opportunity I couldn't turn down, and the promise of Business Class travel with Flybmi AND 5* treatment at a Four Seasons hotel was irresistible! I'm going to blog about my first time in business class and the luxury of the hotel in my next blog posts. What an amazing experience!

In the meantime, this is all about Cairo. With the offer of bringing a +1, I asked my friend and work colleague Nicky Getgood if she would like to go - and she said YES! We had 3 nights and two days in the city.

Our journey began at Digbeth coach station on a 5am coach to London Heathrow Airport.

By around 6pm that evening we had arrived in Cairo, and checked into our hotel suites that were to be our home for the next 3 nights, grabbed some dinner and a couple of drinks nearby and had a great nights sleep.

Day 1.

Getting lost!

We were on a mission! As part of the trip to Cairo I had said I would write a travel article for Flybmi. I chose an ancient street called El Moez Street housed in the ancient heart of the city. (You can read my piece on Flybmi's website)

We told the hotel concierge where we wanted to go, who in turn told the taxi driver. Sorted! Or so we thought. The taxi driver had other ideas! He decided that what we really needed was a tour of the city instead. With the language barrier, (we spoke no Arabic, and the taxi driver spoke limited English), we just managed to wave a map at him and repeated "El Moez Street!" to him. Eventually he pulled up the taxi. "Is this El Moez Street?" "Yes, yes. But it's miles away". Hmmm.... "Come on Nicky, let's just get out."

And so we stepped out into a narrow street and headed in the direction we thought we should go. It was total guess work at this point. We continued down the narrow street which was lined with market fare, fruit, vegetables, spices, herbs, meat, and live chickens, duck and rabbits.

As you can probably tell from the photographs, the sun was very strong. Me and Nicky had done our best to protect ourselves from the heat.

Buying my first maxi dress and a big floppy had was one of the best ideas I've had! Oh, and wearing factor 50 sun lotion! 

Nicky, cool in pink cotton!

But there is adventure in getting lost, and despite not being in the right street, it was certainly an experience. Being the only tourists on the street (well, I spotted two others who looked equally lost!), I felt we really got a taste of life in Cairo.

With the heat getting the better of us at around midday, we decided to head back to the hotel to cool down. We walked to a main road and stepped into the chaotic traffic.

We managed to flag down a taxi, who this time, took as straight to where we wanted to go.

I've got so much to tell you about the Four Seasons, but I want to save it deserves a separate blog post!

Nicky threw herself in the coolness of the pool and I joined her poolside for some time to chill out and relax.

A little nap in our beautiful rooms had us set for a night out in the city!

Nicky had managed to find a restaurant online. It's called the Estoril and gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor. A short taxi driver over the rivers Giza, and Nile and past Tahrir Square and we had arrived. (BTW, taxi's in Cairo are super cheap, but I would advise agreeing a price with the driver first).

We received such a warm welcome there. The staff were attentive, and there was a great choice on the menu. It was busy with music playing, but not too loudly.

I seeee you Nickyyyyy! ;)

Homous with lamb! Delicious.

After dinner we walked through the streets looking for a bar that Nicky had found online. I think it's called the Hoyeka Bar. We got a little lost but eventually Nicky spotted it. I just stared at the outside. It seemed all boarded up, but there was light coming from the inside. I peered through the cracks in the boarding. It was packed in there!

When we walked in we were guided to a couple of spare chairs and a little table. They only seem to sell beer (but I opted for water). It was hot, noisy, smokey with only a few ceiling fans acting as air conditioning. It was a real hang-out kinda place. Lots of animated chat. A real mix of people, from Cairo residents to tourists. It all got a bit too much for me! I was tired, hot and started to feel a bit closed in.

We met an English couple who were living in Cairo and we talked about life in the city, then we headed back to the calmness of the hotel and had a night cap in the Library Bar before a good night's sleep.

Day 2

The pyramids!

The night before we managed to book a tour of the pyramids online with Memphis Tours. Again, they got good reviews on Trip Advisor. We loved that they had a 'live chat' option, so we were able to ask a few questions before placing the booking online. It cost around £40 and included the pyramids and the Sphinx.

The tour was scheduled from 8.30 to 1.30 and we were to be picked up from the Four Seasons. I was expecting a coach with about 20 other tourists on board so I was delighted and surprised when we met our tour guide Tarek and a driver in a large car. It was just going to be me and Nicky with our tour guide! 

It took around an hour, maybe less, to get to the Pyramids. Although, with hindsight, you could just get a taxi to the pyramids and pay the entry fee (about £5 I think), it was a real bonus to have Tarek with us. He gave us hints and tips, dissuaded the keen postcard sellers and camel riding people and of course gave us a full run down on the history and stories of the pyramids. Plus we had the air conditioned car to travel between the pyramids. It was SO hot there and I would not have relished the walk (or camel ride!) between the pyramids.

It was well worth the visit and I'm so happy I got to see these iconic structures!

With Tarek, our tour guide

Me and Nicky

Obligatory tourist shot! ;)

After our tour Tarek took us to a few shops, so I took the chance to make a video.

We arrived back to the hotel at around 1.30, and promptly had a couple of hours snoozing! I can't tell you how comfortable the bed was. Heaven!

The Street - Attempt Number Two!

I still had to get to El Moez Street after our failed attempt the day before. This time I left nothing to chance. The concierge at the Four Seasons were so helpful. They printed off a map and wrote instructions in Arabic for the taxi driver. The door man made sure the driver knew that where we must go and that we MUST get there!

The drive took about an hour. Now is a good time to mention the traffic in Cairo. It's something else!

Nicky sums it up really well in this tweet.

I was struck by the lack of lane discipline that we are so used to in the UK. The cars get so close to one another. There is a constant sound of horns sounding. Each horn sound has a different meaning: get out of the way, after you, I'm coming through!

I made this short video to give you a little taster of typical Cairo traffic.

We finally made it to El Moez Street! It was nearing sunset, and it was still lively and busy. The stall holders were vying for our attention and engaging us in conversation. El Moez is based in the ancient heart of Cairo and as well as selling things like rugs, gold and silver jewellery, clothes, hookah pipes, bags, is lined with mosques

After walking along the market street for a while we decided to go into a mosque. As we were taking our shoes off we were greet by a little old man. He was pointing up to the roof and asking for fifty Egyptian pounds. Now it IS free to go into any mosque. You do not have to pay. However, I was too tired to argue with him and a little curious about the pointing finger! We were escorted through a little wooden door and immediately faced a narrow flight of stairs. Up and up we went until (a little out of breath) we reached the roof top.

It was SO worth it. Stepping out of the bustling city and onto the serenity that the rooftop offered, it just felt so special. The sun was setting over the 360 view we had of Cairo.

It's one of my favourite moments from my Cairo experience. Enjoy the video!

In the evening we arranged to meet Noha Atef for dinner. Noah is studying at Birmingham City University and lives in Cairo and she will be returning to Birmingham next month. We first made contact earlier this year when she asked me to speak at her We Are What We Tweet Event which I wasn't able to attend unfortunately.

We met Noha at the reception of the hotel and we took a walk along the main street and arrived at a restaurant. I wish I had taken some photographs of us! I can't believe I didn't get my camera out. I really enjoyed Noha's company and she shared with us stories about life in Cairo. Thank you for a wonderful evening Noha!

After such a full day, we were ready for sleep. I had a little night cap and had another great night's sleep. Me and Nicky agreed to just enjoy a lesuirely morning at the hotel before our flight back to Birmingham in the afternoon.

We allowed ourselves a lie in, and a long, hearty breakfast. We explored the hotel and took some more photographs.

Then it was time to check out and say our goodbyes. Just as the hotel had picked us up from the airport, we had a driver for our return journey.

I was feeling quite sad at leaving the city and didn't feel quite ready to go home. There was still so much of the city to explore and although we packed a lot into a couple of day, I felt I only just scratched the surface. 

Thank you to Flybmi, Four Seasons and Cairo! And thank you to Nicky for being such a great travel companion!

My next blog posts wil be about my first busines class flight and the luxury of the hotel! :)

Say hello on Twitter! @karenstrunks

1 comment:

Nicky Getgood said...

Thanks Karen, for an awesome holiday experience! I've yet to blog it but it was an amazing break in an incredible city - the place and people so different to the UK!! I loved it yet found it head-spinning at the same time. :)

Nicky x

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