Friday, February 4, 2011

A Day in Cairo

Well, it has taken me a while to write the last day of our trip for many reasons.  First, I hope my blog is somewhat entertaining and I felt like I was getting tired of writing and therefore just getting the facts down.  Second, this day in Cairo was not the most pleasant day on our trip so I think I had to give it a little distance to make the memories a little more humerous than I found them at the time.  And lastly, just plain laziness :-)  Life gets busy and it's hard to find a block of time to write.

Before I start though....with all of the turmoil currently going on in Egypt, my prayers are with the people of that country.  While visiting there, you can easily see the poverty and maybe that makes some of what happened to us there make a little more sense.  Even though I didn't enjoy this day as much as I had hoped, I'm glad we went because I'm not sure that we'd even think about going there again in the near future. we go....
Originally, we had a flight scheduled to leave Athens about 1:00 and land in Cairo around 3 pm.  The next flight to Jeddah wasn't until 11:30 pm which meant a long layover (but not really enough time to do anything) and getting into Jeddah very late.  So we decided to try to switch our flight to fly out the next day.  We got to the desk and before I checked in, I asked the woman at the desk if we could change our flight before we checked in.  She wasn't very helpful but told us we should check in and then change our flight.  Didn't make sense to me, but who am I to question....right?  They even ticketed our luggage which made me a little nervous.  As we were standing there, there were two young men standing behind us.  They heard that we were flying to Jeddah and asked if we were from KAUST.  They were students at KAUST, originally from Mexico, and we chatted a while and found out that we had a friend in common.

So once we we were all checked in, we moved down to another person that would help us switch our tickets.  I was not impressed at all with this guy's customer service!  After a while they said they could change the tickets, told us how much it would cost and we decided to go ahead.  Once that happened, we couldn't get any more information out of them.  How long will it take?  Will we miss our flight?  Will our luggage make the change also?  The answers...I'm not sure, probably not and most likely - how reassuring!  Well, after a LOOOOOONG time, we finally got our tickets in time to make our flight to Athens.

We arrived in Cairo after an uneventful flight and got through immigration.  We had no reservations or tour plans so we were quite unprepared.  It is Cairo's busy tourist season because it's not so hot at this time of year.  Mark soon found someone who directed us to a "Tourist Information" booth which we found out in Cairo is code for "I'll take my cut of your money".  The gentleman was very nice and worked with us to get a hotel room and possibly a tour booked for the next day.  Then he wanted us to pay cash for the hotel room.  Hmmmm....I'm starting to get a little nervous about this.  We pay him cash and he would give us a voucher for the hotel room.  Not sure I'm feeling the trust so we ask why can't we just pay by credit card at the hotel.  When I said we wanted to use our credit card because we didn't have enough cash, he pointed to an ATM machine....uhhhh, noooo....sorry.  So we took our laptop and luckily found a wireless connection in the airport and booked a room at the Marriott where we had stayed on our way into Athens. 

Next, we go to find a taxi to get all 7 of us and our luggage to the hotel.  Again, "taxi" is code word for "selling you a tour".  So we have a driver and another guy help us with our luggage and we're off to the Marriott.  The other guy is very nice and is trying to sell us the tour.  We decided to go ahead and do it.  We were told that $300 for the day would take care of everything, transportation, entry into the sights, etc.  We were expecting to spend about that with the 7 of us so we decided that would be okay.  We paid $50 up front and they would get the rest of the money after the tour.  The driver and tour guide would pick us up the next day at 8:30 am.  I was a little nervous that they wouldn't show but if they didn't, we were only out $50 - oh well.

A pretty view at the Marriott

We had a wonderful dinner in the Marriott Italian restaurant.  The kids ordered a cheese pizza that was so good that we all had to have a piece.  It was a very good meal and we turned in afterwards because we were all tired from travelling.  We got up in the morning and were eating some pastries from a little coffee shop in the restaurant when our tour guide showed up.  We hopped in the van soon afterwards and were off.  Now, I'm pretty used to Jeddah traffic now and for most of the ride, I didn't think that Cairo traffic was that bad.  Until we got closer to the pyramids - it was way worse.  Cars everywhere, people walking and crossing the streets, donkeys pulling carts.  Yikes!

Our first stop was the Cairo Papyrus Museum where they showed us how the ancient Egyptians used to make papyrus.  It was pretty cool and of course they were trying to sell things.  We did end up buying some things and spent a little more than we wanted, but it was ok - we liked what we had bought.  Funny thing was that we ran into the same two young men at the museum that we saw in the airport the day before.  We chatted with them while we were waiting for our purchases to be packaged up.

We hop back in the van and off we go towards the pyramids.  We end up in this section of town where you can hire camels and horses to ride to view the pyramids.  So we get out of the van here and they shuffle all 7 of us into this little area that's really stinky from all the animals and then start telling us about going into view the pyramids and asking us whether we wanted to ride a horse or a camel.  So our new "friend" (this is not our tour guide who is waiting outside), is telling us there are 3 tours, a short, medium and long one and then he announces the prices.  I think he started at like $500 but I can't remember exactly.  Now, you may remember yesterday, when the tour guide told us everything was included....well, I sure did and I was starting to get a little mad.  Also, if you know me fairly well, you probably know that riding a horse or a camel is not at the top of my list of things to do.  You might also know that I have a few 9 year olds and possibly a 12 year old that will probably not want to do this either.  Nevertheless, our "friend" is selling hard and is bargaining with Mark.  I think he comes down to like $300 for all 7 of which I still think is outrageous.  At this point, I stand up from my not so comfy, and very aromatic seat and I'm getting even more mad.  So I basically tell Mark that I don't want to do this and I don't want to spend any more money (the guides are always willing to tell us there is ATM close by).  Now our "friend" starts trying to convince me....we want to make you much is your budget...ummmm...nope.  So I told Mark and our guide that I was done and wanted to go to the airport.  I was not spending any more money because we were told that everything was included.  They spent another 10 or so minutes trying to convince me but I was not going to give them a penny more.  Finally, our tour guide asked me what I wanted to do.  I told him I wanted to drive to the pyramids and walk around or I wanted to go back to the airport.  Well, he did as he was asked but immediately the "charm" was turned off because he wasn't getting his camel kick-back.

So, again, we hope back into the van and head off to the pryamids again. 

A view on our way to the pyramids.

We arrived and our tour guide purchased the tickets and we headed in.  We walked a little bit and our tour guide gave us some advice about handling the vendors at the pyramids.  He basically said that everyone is trying to get money from you.  Don't get engaged in conversation, they will continue to try to sell you something.  If a vendor wants to show you something or give you a gift, they will expect money in return.  Don't let anyone take your picture, they will want money (even the police that are guarding the pyramid).  At this point, the tour guide kept using the words free and cheap to describe everything - I think he was mad that I didn't want to pay for the camels...oh well :-)

Waiting for our tickets

Heading into the Pyramids at Giza - this was the largest of the three big ones.

The size of the stones are just amazing!

The 2nd largest pyramid.

You can see horses and camels all over the place.

Our tour guide gave us half an our to walk around the largest pyramid which was enough time.  Up on the hill above us, someone or something (possibly a horse or donkey) had fallen in a hole and there were a ton of people trying to get it out.  We also had a bunch of young arab girls come over and try to shake Lizzie's hand and touch her hair.  There seemed to be a lot of groups of teenage students - maybe they were on winter break, but there were a lot of kids around.  Lastly, we witnessed a little bit of a scuffle between some police, some men and a horse.  They were beating the horse pretty bad and we were a little afraid that the horse would bolt down to where we were standing so we didn't know whether to stop or keep going.  Finally, the horse and his driver rode off.  We think it may have been a turf war of some time but who knows...just a little disturbing.

When we were done, we got back in the van and headed up to a vantage point where we could see all of the 3 main pyramids.  There were lots of vendors there which we didn't stop to look at.  Our tour guide took some pictures for us and then tooks us over to place where you could sit on a camel. 

Alex and Spencer

Mark and Rachel

We then rode down to the Sphinx but the tour guide only let us get out of the van for about 30 seconds to let us take a picture.  He was done being pleasant and at this point, I didn't really care either. 

The Sphinx is much smaller than I imagined it would be.

So we headed out of the area and we decided it was just time to head to the airport.  About half way back to our airport, the driver stops and our tour guide gets out (we had paid him as we were leaving the pyramids).  We actually stopped on the highway and just let him out.  There were lots of people along the side of the road so I guess that this is not that odd.  Our driver got us to the airport where we had lunch and did a little shopping before we got on our flight back to Jeddah.

We arrived back to Jeddah after a huge storm.  Our friend Alex picked us up at the airport and took us back to his house where our car was parked.  We had to travel through flooded streets and there were a ton of trees down also before we got back to his home.  We then switched cars and drove the hour or so back to KAUST.

All in all, we really enjoyed our first trip.  We loved Athens and all it had to offer.  Cairo, obviously, was not my favorite but I'm glad we got to visit.  Next trip....Paris in 58 days!

Thanks for reading!


  1. so it looks like there was a camel ride afterall? How did you squeeze that in? Did they charge you extra for it? What did you think of all that was going on in Egypt...did you get a sense of what was happening in your short time there or was it no big deal?

  2. Crazy!! but So true, everything is about money in Egypt.
    I'm glad you saw the pyramids though, like you said who knows what is going to happen there tomorrow.
    I do hope and pray things get better soon.

  3. As i read your blog i couldn't help but laugh, yes Egypt is foreigner = money. That is one of the things that pisses me the hell off living in this country. They will rob you blind or even dead!!!! Most days I leave a vendor swearing because it's just plain robbery. I am a teacher here my last year inshallah after 2 years!! I have had enough of this "paradise".

    I am happy that i came across your blog. As I too will be moving to Saudi Arabia and working at KAUST from August inshallah. Which i'm sure youv'e gotten used to by now. It would be nice to meet you and your family. I am from the Caribbean Trinidad and Tobago,

    Oh you guys should consider Turkey as well for hols wonderful place full of attractions i'm sure the kids will love, from Troy, Phaselis, Cappodocia to Istanbul you all would love it.

    Love your blog, hope to read more soon :-)

  4. @mahmoud4577611 - Thank you for your comments! We have enjoyed living at KAUST this year. It has been a nice place to live and learn. Will you be teaching in the elementary or secondary schools? Or at the University. Turkey is definitely on our list of places to visit! The only downside is there isn't enough time or money to visit all the places we would like to go ;-)