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Chaotic Cairo

Egypt - Cairo

sunny 25 °C
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For a long time I had wanted to visit Egypt. A land full of ancient wonders. However this part of the world has been through a lot since the Arab Spring, and it took until 2019 before I finally felt it was stable enough for a trip.

We would visit Cairo, Luxor and Aswan for a week in mid-March of 2020 - just in time to enjoy some summer sunshine before the summer would arrive at home. We had everything booked, and our suitcases packed.

But as the global pandemic was coming ever closer, lockdowns inevitable, and the thought of being stuck in Egypt unappealing, two days before our flights we cancelled. In hindsight it was right - what would have been 5 days into our week long trip, Egypt itself went into a partial lockdown, closing all the airports. And just two days after we intended to fly back home, the UK went into a full lockdown itself. We had managed to reopen our flight tickets, which could be used later in the year. No problems - we'll just postpone it all until October.

Two long years passed and in 2022, with the pandemic finally easing, maybe Egypt was back on the cards?
However I was now going to be going alone. And after three years of non-exotic travel, I decided to join a tour instead of attempting a visit alone. G Adventures (who I'd gone to Antarctica with a few years back) had a tour that covered near enough everything I'd wanted to do anyway, and so I booked one of the last slots on the tour running during the week I'd already booked off.

A few weeks later (and coincidently the 100th anniversary since Tutankhamun's tomb was opened, beginning the modern age of Egyptology), I was at Heathrow. There were flights with both British Airways and Egyptair available. Both similarly priced, but as BA classed the 5 hour flight to Cairo as short haul - hence no entertainment or food, I went with Egyptair.

Time to go!

Time to go!

Annoyingly, the flight was delayed by over an hour, so it meant getting to Cairo super late. The plane was pretty old and grim, meals were average and the entertainment was poor. There was also three separate sets of turbulence en route - one of the worst flights I'd ever had!

Eventually I arrived in Cairo, and after getting off the plane I walked towards immigration, where I was met by a representative from G Adventures, who was picking me up and taking me to the hotel. "Your flight was so late" she says - as if I didn't know. She was now behind as had another pickup, and so whizzed me through the airport. Immigration was instead done in a side room that I didn't even enter. Not that the jumping the queue made much difference - I now needed to collect my baggage, and this took ages. However she was so paranoid about the time that I didn't get chance to get to the cash point, instead watching the luggage belt like a hawk.

Whilst waiting, she had a call from the group leader, Saad. As I had missed the welcome meeting, he was updating me with the essentials. I'd be sharing with Erik, breakfast was at 6:30 tomorrow morning, and we would leave at 7:30.

Eventually my bag arrived. We then whizzed again through the airport. She chatted to the staff and I bypassed all the security checks. We then eventually headed out of the airport and into a taxi to head to the hotel. "Pharaohs [Hotel]?" she asked - I dunno, you tell me...?

I was then driven through the streets of Cairo. It wasn't quite India, but the lane markings were clearly guidance only. After an hour of chaotic road travel, I finally arrived at the hotel. Jumping out of the minibus, I whacked my knee on the door, making it super achy - but I didn't have time to worry about it. Reception gave me an overview of the basics - basically everything Saad had already told me, plus the WiFi codes. The porter then took my suitcase to the room, knocked on the door and then showed me in - despite Erik now being half asleep - bit awks...

After finally getting the porter to leave, I introduced myself to Erik, and we got to know each other a bit whilst I quickly tried to sort myself out ready for tomorrow's early start. It was now almost midnight and there was very little sleep achieved. The pillow was incredibly firm, and then the dawn prayer woke us up at 4:45.

Managing a few hours of sleep scattered through the night, as dawn broke I realised we had a balcony overlooking the Nile - not that we got to use it. I gathered my bits ready for the first day in the city, before we headed up to breakfast. I started to meet my travel companions - a lot of Canadians, a few Brits, and a scattering of others (Irish, Spanish and Swedish).

View of the Nile

View of the Nile

Breakfast was bland - lots of bread, an omelette, boiled eggs, (frozen) butter and some juice. I had a bit and then headed down to reception to meet Saad properly. The Irish lady, Claire, was also down there as she had arrived on the slightly later BA flight last night (which had also been delayed).

It was now time to leave and start exploring the city. We began by heading to the iconic symbol of Egypt - the Pyramids. It was still early, but even now it was still warm enough for shorts! A welcome treat.

The complex was already very busy even early in the day. For anyone who isn't aware - the Pyramids are on the very edge of the city, and surrounded on all sides by developments or roads - but thankfully enough distance not to be fully consumed by it.

The Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramid

After some security checks, we entered the complex right outside the largest one - the Pyramid of Khofu. After a brief overview from Saad, we were then free to wander around and explore. I decided against heading inside the Pyramid, as I didn't want to overdo it too quickly, and knowing it would be a long sweaty experience. I did nevertheless walk on the Pyramid, which is made of huge limestone blocks piled to 140m tall.

On the Pyramids

On the Pyramids

I then went for a wander right around - there is an entire complex including mini pyramids for the Queens, tombs and buried artifacts.

We then headed back to our coach, to drive over the the other side of the complex for views over the area. From here there were beautiful views of the scale of the Pyramids, and somewhat benefitting from the haze over the city obscuring it from view.

Pyramids

Pyramids

The second (middle) pyramid appears bigger, but only because it is built on a mound slightly above the others. It does however still have a cap of the original casing stones.

After a while around here, and getting to know some of the travel companions a bit better, we headed over to the other side of the complex to visit the Sphinx.

Giza Pyramids and Sphinx

Giza Pyramids and Sphinx

The Sphinx sits as a guard to the complex from the city side entrance, and was unsurprisingly surrounded by tourists trying to grab a view. We walked through the Temple, seeing how huge the slabs used in the construction were, before getting close to the statue itself.

Huge blocks in the Temple

Huge blocks in the Temple

After eating some local food at a restaurant opposite the entrance, I finally managed to get some money out of the adjacent cashpoint. We then headed back into the centre of the city, to the Egyptian Museum in Tahir Square.

Egyptian Museum

Egyptian Museum

Thankfully, despite being "99% ready" since the Spring, the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza has not yet opened, and thus many of the famous artifacts have not yet been moved out of the Egyptian Museum - including the mask of Tutankhamun, allowing us to view them.

Tutankhamun's Treasures

Tutankhamun's Treasures

We were guided around the museum viewing many of the different sights, before being left to wander around ourselves. I took a look at the collection of Tutankhamun's treasures (the only thing left in his tomb in Luxor is his body and coffin), as well as the various statues and mummified pets.

Mummied Cats

Mummied Cats

After a good look around, I headed out to the gift shop at the exit, bought a souvenir, and then met the rest of the group in the café outside. It was then time to head back to our hotel to collect our baggage, before finally making it to a supermarket.

Hurray! finally I could stop rationing the water I had brought with me from London... It also gave me an opportunity to buy some snacks in case the next breakfasts were also bad. Along with some drinks, it equated to just £104EGP, (around £3.50) and helped break down my large notes. We then headed to the station. It was still a few hours before our train so we all sat at a café and got to know each other.

Eventually the train arrived and we boarded our cabins. The train was the best Egypt has - it wasn't too bad, but far from high quality. Erik and I were given dinner and then went for a bit of wander.

Our Cabin

Our Cabin

We joined our companions in the bar carriage before heading back and trying to get some sleep before we would arrive in Aswan the following morning.

Bar Carriage

Bar Carriage

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 18:46 Archived in Egypt Tagged food airport train city egypt pyramids pollution mummy covid Comments (0)

A Mooch in Antigua

Honeymoon - Antigua

sunny 28 °C
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As the Caribbean can be quite samey, we had made a conscious effort to explore different things in each place. However with a run of busy days and with none of the possible excursions really tickling our fancy, we decided to have a more chilled day today.

After having got up in our own time and had breakfast ("Two Apple juices?" said the waiter who by now knows what I want each day), we made our way down to the port to have an exploration.

P&O were quite good at having hand sanitizer stations everywhere, however their ID card printers are such poor quality that the hand sanitizer wipes away all the ink and leaves them unreadable. Instead of investing in good quality machines, or giving everyone plastic lanyards to keep their cards in (they charge £5 for these in the shop), the solution is to get the passengers to request a new card.

Having already had to ask for a new ID card just a few days into the cruise (as the one I was given initially was already half wiped off before I even picked it up), by now, day 10 on board, my card was getting pretty bad again. Still possible to read, but not ideal.

Getting down to the disembarkation area the lady looks at my card and says "you need a new card". Yes, I know - because your printers are awful, I think to myself. Then she just carries on looking at me. "What... now?" I ask. "Yes, now" she snaps back at me. Despite the fact the card is still readable, I now need to traipse all the way back up 3 decks to the reception and then wait around whilst yet another new card is printed. Thank God we didn't have an excursion booked or we would have missed it.

It was not impossible to speak to customers nicely, but clearly they've just employed anyone they can find even if they are rude to the passengers. Eventually after now having my third card in the space of a week I could traipse all the way back down and finally get off the ship.

Whilst most of the ports had not required any kind of Covid checks, Antigua was a bit tighter, and required us to do temperature checks on the jetty before we made it into the cruise terminal. Nevertheless, we had so far managed to dodge Covid and even the hot temperatures still gave us a normal reading, so we were allowed into St. John's.

Cruise Terminal

Cruise Terminal

The terminal was full of the usual shops and cafés, and we had a little look around before then heading out into St. John's proper and to the eponymously named cathedral that overlooks the town.

St. John's Cathedral

St. John's Cathedral

From the outside it looked a bit of a state - but inside it was completely unexpected - being completely panelled in wood.

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

Although it was undergoing some renovation, it was still lovely to see. We then headed south through the back streets of the town to the VC Bird Monument - dedicated to the first Antiguan President, but bizarrely painted like no monument should be.

VC Bird Monument

VC Bird Monument

Ironically, Antigua sells itself as the island of 365 beaches, and yet not one of them is a walkable distance from the port, and so after just under an hour or so, we were already back at the port. We had another wander around the terminal before re-boarding the ship.

We spent the afternoon once again lazing around the pool, before enjoying a sail away through Deepwater Harbour and past Fort James.

Fort James

Fort James

At tonight's dinner we once again picked up lots of the small plates of different foods and had our fill, before having a chilled evening watching some of the on demand entertainment.

Dinner

Dinner

Although when we had travelled northwards there had been a sea day between the Windwards and the Leeward Islands, on the return journey southwards we would have continuous port days. We therefore travelled on a relatively direct route, and this meant before bedtime we were passing very close to the island of Montserrat.

Montserrat

Montserrat

As we didn't have a balcony, I went out on deck to take a look - being able to see a silhouette of the volcanic island as we passed. After taking in the views, I then went for a quick wander around parts of the ship I'd not yet seen, before finally heading back to the cabin for the night.

Pool by Night

Pool by Night

Posted by kmmk17 17:18 Archived in Antigua and Barbuda Tagged food city island cathedral caribbean Comments (0)

The Fens

Fens

semi-overcast 22 °C
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It had been a long time since we had had a relaxing getaway, and so we booked ourselves a lodge with a hot tub in Norfolk, and went up with my brother and sister.

We travelled up after work on Friday, getting dinner en route, before dropping our bits off at the lodge, located in the Fens in Norfolk. The Fens were historically marshy underwater land that was drained in the 1600s. Very much like the Netherlands they are incredibly flat, and contain lots of straight roads and drains, and arable crops.

After popping to the supermarket in Downham Market, we headed back to the lodge and made our first use of the hot tub, enjoying drinks and music in the soothing tub.

The following day we made use of being in this part of the world, by visiting the city of Ely. Ely was historically an island within the Fens, and although home to just 20,000 people is only of the most important places in the area.

After eventually finding a space to park we headed into the centre, walking down the High Street, before turning into the churchyard. Here the huge Ely Cathedral came into view. The cathedral has an iconic Octagonal tower, and dominates the skyline of the whole city.

Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

Admission was £8, and so for the four of us this would have been £32 - but as the pay point was just inside the church we went inside took a quick look across the barrier, went inside the gift shop and then left.

We then headed across the Green, past the canon captured from the Crimean War, before arriving outside the family home of Oliver Cromwell, the leader of England during the Republic after the civil war. Inside, the building also functions as the Tourist Information Centre, where we bought some souvenirs, before heading along the circular walk around town.

Oliver Cromwell's House

Oliver Cromwell's House

This walk heads to the south of the cathedral through gardens dedicated to the Queen's Golden Jubilee, before arriving along the banks of the River Great Ouse.

After making it back round to the car, we headed to the lodge, where after a bit of lunch we spent the rest of the day in and out of the hot tub, mixing it up with games and chats.

Hot Tub Fun

Hot Tub Fun

The following day was our last. We had a pretty lazy day, in and out of the hot tub, and only leaving it to go for a wander around the edge of the campsite. At late afternoon we then packed up our stuff and headed back home, once again getting dinner en route.

It was a lovely weekend, just being able to relax in a nice environment and have fun and games with my siblings.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:22 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged history city cathedral family lodge Comments (0)

A Day In The Cotswolds

Cotswolds

sunny 21 °C
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After the last 18 months of not getting to go very far, we managed to have a day out to the Cotswolds on one of the few nice summer's days of 2021.

With a lot of leave still to use, we'd taken the week off and spent much of it decorating the living room. But to give us a bit of a break from all the work on a 'week off', we decided to have a day out and picked the best one weather-wise in what had been a pretty miserable summer.

The first place we headed to was Bourton-on-the-Water, which involved driving across country. As we were almost there, the road we needed to take to cross over to Stow-on-the-Wold was closed, with the nearest diversion adding another 30mins to our journey. Feeling that this might be a bit excessive, we decided to try our luck and see how far down the road we could get before cutting around the road closure on country roads.

As we almost entered Stow-on-the-Wold, we cut off and diverted via a suburb to the south. However these tiny narrow lanes were not suitable for the huge cars ignorant people love to drive. Arriving at one bend where there were loads of parked cars, the developing trail of cars I was caught up in met another travelling the opposite way. A trail of three cars had already headed down what had become a de facto single lane highway which our larger trail was already on. As we had right of way, and also nowhere to go, the cars headed towards us had to reverse to allow us to pass. Some of them did so amicably, but one driver decided he would only reverse as far as possible for all our cars to mount the verge and squeeze past - despite him being able to reverse back slightly more and let us drive on the actual carriageway.

My blood was now boiling. How dare this ignorant man just sit there so obnoxiously expecting us to do something so unnecessary. So I sat there waiting for him to reverse further, but he would not. So, as I was forced to mount the verge passing him, I stopped adjacent to his window, wound mine down and absolutely lost it at him - shouting, screaming and swearing right in his face. He probably didn't care but it made me feel better anyway.

As we left the town we could see the huge traffic queue that had formed due to the closure of the important road. Thankfully we were missing it via our reroute, and around 10 minutes later we were in the middle of an extremely busy Bouton-on-the-Water. Despite being a weekday, probably due to the nice weather and the school holidays, it was full of people and we were lucky to get parked.

Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water

After a little walk we ended up on the main High Street of this beautiful village, where a small river runs just to the south creating an area of parkland where many families were picnicking. Crossing several of the bridges we started at the west end by the Motoring Museum, before heading into gift shops and ending outside the Model Village. It is quite simply the idealised English village.

But being a Cotswold village, there wasn't much to do, and so after picking up some souvenirs we then headed back to the car park and made our way to the nearby city of Gloucester.

Gloucester Cathedral

Gloucester Cathedral

Around half an hour later, and just outside the Cotswolds we arrived and parked in the shopping centre car park. We then went for a wander over to Gloucester Cathedral. This huge cathedral contains the tomb of Edward II, and also served as a filming location for the Harry Potter films.

Cloisters

Cloisters

There, they did the typical thing of providing 'free' entry, whilst in reality trying to force us to give them a donation. So we pretended to leave and then when no one was looking legged it across the vestry - we only wanted a quick look!

Edward II's Tomb

Edward II's Tomb

We went for a little wander into the cloisters and courtyard, before heading back to the exit via the tombs. We then headed back towards the centre, stopping for lunch, before making our way towards the Docks, located on the edge of the River Severn.

On driving into the town it dawned on me that this was also the city where Fred and Rose West had lived and murdered, and their house, where 9 bodies were found in 1994 was just a short walk away. So we decided to walk back via the site, which has since been knocked down and turned into a footpath.

We were now headed back towards home, but we also had another Cotswold village we wanted to stop by at - Bibury.

Bibury

Bibury

Much smaller than Bourton-on-the-Water, it was very scenic. However even at 4:30 on a weekday afternoon, we were lucky to get a space. After driving past the best parking spaces, we could see a learner driver was just getting into the car. After turning around, a stroke of luck, he was trying to pull out. So I let him go and then nabbed his spot.

We then went for a short walk around the village, before making our way back to the car, and a final drive home.

Bibury

Bibury

It may have only been one day, but it was a nice break from the normality of home, and it was very scenic. Would recommend.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 19:20 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged hills river scenery city cathedral quaint Comments (0)

Touring Tyne & Wear

Northumbria - Newcastle, Gateshead & Durham

semi-overcast 19 °C
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After two busy days, we decided to take our time a bit more today, and would spend it seeing the sights in Tyne & Wear without too much driving.
We began by heading to the centre of Gateshead, parking at the SAGE Centre, and going for a walk around the Tyne, crossing into Newcastle over the Millennium Bridge.

Tyneside

Tyneside

We then continued walking along the riverside under the Tyne Bridge before heading up to the Castle, which has been cut in half by a railway viaduct, somewhat ruining the image of how it would have been every few minutes!.

Newcastle Castle

Newcastle Castle

After heading back towards the car park we drove out of the city, stopping at the Angel of the North, which unlike most places was still full of tourists.

Angel of the North

Angel of the North

After a short stop, we headed to the furthest place on today's trip - Durham.

Covid had really affected Durham, and it felt particularly empty - especially around the old city. Much of the peninsular is taken up by the University - various halls and colleges, which were all empty. Even the souvenir shop was closed.

Durham

Durham

However as luck would have it, the cathedral had not been closed, and opened for the day just as we arrived. We had a quick look around, and then headed for a walk around the riverside.

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Our last stop for the day was to the Penshaw Monument, just outside Sunderland, where after climbing the steep hill to the top, there were scenic views to be had across the local area.

Penshaw Monument

Penshaw Monument

Normally we don't tend to spend an awful lot of time in each place anyway, but with a lot of places closed it meant we had whizzed around even quicker than normal, and after just a few hours we were already back!

We were however not done for the day. Being opposite a TGIs we decided to book ourselves a table, and so instead of grabbing a quick meal we went out to eat - the first time post lockdown. In a way it was nice to feel like getting back to normal, however at the same time we were constantly reminded due to the empty and roped off tables and one way system in place. Something to tell the kids in 20 years!

Posted by kmmk17 08:16 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged monument river bridge city hill Comments (0)

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