Recently we had a 15 hour layover in Cairo on our way from Torotnto to Nairobi. I had booked a one way ticket and going via Cairo served a couple of purposes:
- It was the least amount of stopping.
- The baggage allowance was awesome.
- Going to Egypt was on my bucket list.
My grandfather, like thousands of other ANZAC’s spent time in North Africa for training before they were sent on to fight in the Second World War. I remember seeing this old black and white photo with my grandfather standing in front of a pyramid. At that stage I didn’t know that he wasn’t in many photos because he was actually a photographer. I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt and this fueled that desire.
It was a bit tricky booking a flight on the Egypt Air website, especially since I found out that Westpac in Australia blocked me from making the booking. Apparently they thought it was fraudulent until I called them about it. One thing I did note is that they didn’t offer a gluten free option.
Egypt Air have their own tour company (Karnak). You can choose a variety of ready made tours, or like in our case, they got us into the things we really wanted to see. For $90 USD each they said they would take us on a 9 hour tour of the Sphinx, Giza Pyramid, Museum, boat ride on the Nile and the Mosque. It sounded good, but wasn’t sure how it would work out.
What happened is that we waited 90 minutes for a transit visa (free) that was organized on arrival. They told us that they were booking us into a hotel before the tour, which freaked me out because we didn’t have the funds for it. Considering women are pretty invisible there, the nicest customer service guy told me ‘Madam, we have to look after you, you are here for a very long time’. After a 5 minute walk we ended up at the Le Meridien, one of the flashiest hotels I’ve seen for a long time.
When we got to our room I kind of wished that we weren’t going on tour. After an overnight flight where we hardly slept, the bed felt so luxurious and clean. But, we didn’t have time to relax. After a quick shower we headed downstairs to a full on buffet breakfast – all taken care of by the airline. At 10am sharp, our driver picked us up just as we were told.
I had been forewarned about both the traffic and the dirtiness of Cairo – and it’s true. Both Pete and I agreed that we would never drive there. There’s no lanes, people weave in and out, and pretty much all the cars are dented. I never felt afraid, but I’m glad we were sitting in the back seat – if only my seatbelt worked!. After picking up our tour guide, as you do from the side of the road, we headed towards the pyramids. It was so cool when we approached the area which was full of security. Lots of people were walking in, which would’ve been faster. Unfortunately we didn’t get to touch the pyramids, which you can do. I think it was because there was nowhere for the car to park. Next we saw the sphinx, which was massive. I’m definitely going back there.
We also visited a couple of other stores. One was a perfume store where you could buy the real deal (apparently) of lots of oils. We only bought one, 100ml of oil for $50USD. Now, I kick myself as we should’ve bought more. Another reason to return.
Like other tour companies, I’m sure the guides get a kickback from sales at places. They insisted on us going to a papyrus picture store. While they paintings were a good price, there wasn’t anything I wanted in my house – which they were disappointed with.
The boat ride was so calm that Pete nodded off during it. It was 43 degrees outside which we didn’t mind but the cool breeze off the river was appreciated. There were two more stops on what would only be a 5 hour tour. The first was at the museum. This was where we spent a little bit too much time, but our guide was so knowledgeable on what was in there. You could take some photos but definitely not in the room where King Tut’s coffin was. There’s a new museum being built where a lot of the artifacts would be transferred to which is good because this one was pretty crowded.
The last stop was the mosque. We’ve done a few mosques in the past in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and this was the least glamourous. We did get a fantastic view of the city and when you understand how old the surrounding buildings are, it puts things into perspective. Egypt is 90% Muslim and 10% Christian. According to our tour guide there’s never any problems between the two faith groups. Interesting considering the latest report from Open Doors reports that Egypt is the 17th top country in the world that it is dangerous to be a Christian.
Once we were dropped off it was time for lunch. Even as it approached 2.30pm they allowed us to have buffet lunch. The great thing about the hotel is that we could check out just before we needed to be at the airport. This meant we could go for a swim if we wanted, or in our case, catch a few hours sleep.
The Cairo International Airport is nothing to rave about. Not that we needed food, but there isn’t much to choose from. One thing that does stick out is the smell of cigarette smoke. Sure, there are smoking rooms, but they keep the doors wide open – what’s the point?
Pretty much, that was our day in Cairo. I’d definitely go back again but travel down to Luxor or Alexandria. Our Egypt Air plane stayed in the sky, so that’s always good. Their service was great, the Cairo airport crappy but I’d do it all again.
What about you, what are your experiences with Egypt Air?