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Chaotic Cairo

Egypt - Cairo

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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 casual 15 mile walk...

The Indian Experience - Delhi

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In the run up to my Indian holiday I had discovered that contrary to my knowledge, Beijing was not the most polluted city in the world - it was in fact Delhi. Great! However, after two freezing cold nights I was still looking forward to getting out of Nepal and in to Delhi where at least there would be power!

Waking up in Kathmandu and making it to the airport, unfortunately the smog in both capitals meant that my plane was delayed by several hours, and after security checks at every stage, I eventually made it on to the plane headed for India. Avoiding the under-cooked meat on the plane, I soon arrived in Delhi and was picked up to take me to the hotel.

A western toilet!

A western toilet!

When travelling I usually don't go for a particularly luxurious hotel, however as Indian prices were not the most expensive, as well as preparing myself for a bad case of diarrhoea, and thus wanting a western styled toilet, as well as a safe refuge from the dirty outside world I chose a rather nice hotel a few minutes walk from the central station, where I would need to leave early from on Friday. What I found quite early on is that nice hotels have their own door staff sitting there all day in the winter cold (again, India much like Nepal never got very warm the entire time I was there) just opening the doors for guests!

After checking in, and having already missed four hours of my planned day of sightseeing I cracked on quickly deciding to visit Old Delhi, leaving the rest of the city for the following day. Making my way across to the metro station I was instantly hit by the full force of Indian grime. Not only did I have to avoid the tuktuk drivers' insistence that they take me wherever I needed to go, but also having to avoid the constant spitting that every Indian seems compelled to do. Mix that together with the dirt, beggars and constant smell of urine and excrement you can imagine the pleasure of a gentle stroll around the Indian capital.

Red Fort

Red Fort

Eventually finding the entrance to the metro, I made my way to Chandri Chowk, and the Red Fort. However not wanting to look even more like a tourist than I did already, I first ended up going the wrong way, and thus had to end up walking back on myself in a race against time to reach the Red Fort before nightfall.

Eventually arriving, the full scale of the smoggy haze affecting the city was soon clear, as the fort could barely be seen just 100 metres away. Deciding not to explore further, as I would visit the very similarly designed fort in Agra in just two days time, I continued down the road towards the Jama Masjid, finding that the easiest and fastest way to walk is actually on the road, behind the tuktuks.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid

By this stage, it had already got dark that my western face was now no longer so evident, and I found to my surprise I was no longer hassled as I looked no different to a local! I then walked back through Old Delhi towards the McDonalds just up from my hotel and after a casual 5 mile walk I was done for the day. Time to get some sleep for a long busy day exploring the rest of the city tomorrow.

Connaught Place

Connaught Place

After taking breakfast in the hotel in the following morning, I then made my way out towards Connaught Place, the heart of New Delhi. Walking past the colonial buildings and a "Burger Singh", I saw the huge Indian Flag in the middle of the square, before making my way to the first attraction, the Jantar Mantar - an eighteenth century observatory.

Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar

Like most attractions in India (and Nepal), locals are charged a pittance (₹5, £0.05) compared to foreign tourists (₹100, £1). Although as this was still cheap compared to rates in Europe it was nothing to complain about. Especially as it became a haven from the rush and hassle of the city. After taking a detour via one of the government owned fixed-price shops to buy a Ganesh souvenir, I headed down to the Safdarjung Tomb - a Mughal tomb that being much less frequently visited, was a real respite from the city and allowed me to explore the architecture thoroughly.

Safdarjung's Tomb

Safdarjung's Tomb


Gandhi Smriti

Gandhi Smriti

Heading north through the suburbs of New Delhi, I arrived at the Gandhi Smriti, where Gandhi himself spent the last few days of his life before being assassinated in the garden. The house includes many artefacts from his life, including his famous glasses, and it was a really peaceful experience.

Gandhi's Glasses

Gandhi's Glasses


High Pressure Pipeline

High Pressure Pipeline

Continuing towards Rajpath, and the governmental buildings, it struck me just how nice these parts were. Luxurious houses (with their permanent security presence), and wide, plant filled pavements. Although the constant signs of "High Pressure Gas Pipelines" next to dodgy excavations did make me a little uneasy given the nature of my job back at home! Arriving at Rajpath I took a little walk around the government buildings before attempting to view the India Gate, which with the smog meant it was completely unseen.

Smog covering Rajpath

Smog covering Rajpath

With the India Day celebrations taking place in around a week's time, setting up the seating areas was already in full swing, and thus Rajpath itself was close, so a small diversion was made to actually get to the India Gate.

India Gate

India Gate


Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb

After arriving at another closed site, I decided to take the metro a little bit of the way to the next site - the Humayun Tomb. However getting to where the Metro was supposed to be, I was unable to find it, and so instead ended up walking the whole way.

Architecture inside the tombs

Architecture inside the tombs

Getting to the tomb, I found this was much more popular than the Safdarjung one earlier in the day, although it was still a nice place to explore. I then made my way south towards the Lotus Temple. This temple is shaped like a lotus, and after removing your shoes you are allowed in to make a prayer or just sit in silent thought.

Lotus Temple

Lotus Temple


Akshardham

Akshardham

My final destination for the day was to view the Akshardham tomb, although as actually visiting involved a lot of rigmarole regarding allowed items I figured I would just view it from the nearby metro station. Again this involved a race against time to view it before sunset, which was successful, just about through the thick smog. And I then made my way back towards McDonalds for tonight's dinner - not wanting to risk getting ill on local stuff, and having my handwash in tow.

Beautiful India

Beautiful India

Knowing there was one in Connaught Place, but being unable to find it, I ended up walking back from the central square via the station, going the completely wrong way! After eating and coming back to my hotel my legs were truly aching by now. I felt as though it must have been about a 10km walk today. I later found to my horror it was nearer 24 (15 miles!)

At least tomorrow's visit to the Taj Mahal was guided and would involve a lot less walking!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in India Tagged temple fort tomb capital parliament shrine gate pollution indianexperience Comments (0)

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