Egypt – Cairo & The Red Sea Coast
Stella Di Mare Hotels & Resorts – Ain Sokhna
I chose to travel back to Egypt 2 years after my first visit to Hurghada in February 2007, because to see the Pyramids and Museums was on my ‘Bucket List’ but, this time I was alone and it was April 2009. In April the weather is ideal, about 28-30 degrees during the day and a little chilly in the evenings. For this trip I wanted to spend a couple of days in Cairo to get a feel of what it was like there and to visit the Pyramids of Giza, The Egyptian Museum, the Bazars (souks) etc. and also travel along the Red Sea Coast.
I had been thinking about buying property along the Red Sea Coast for some time so as to make an all-year-round Rental Business as many people holiday in Egypt in the winter months for winter beach holidays as well as in spring, autumn and summer.
From doing some online research I came across a company that were doing ‘Inspection Trips’ for a large 5* holiday complex project right on the beach along the Red Sea Coast in a place called Zafarana near Suez. For the visit they were offering discounted accommodation in a 5* resort called Stella Di Mare in Ain Soukhna and after looking at their website I was so excited about it I didn’t waste any time and booked my 5-day Inspection Trip with the 5* accommodation. This is one way of doing a ‘Budget Trip’ as you quite often get discounted accommodation plus other perks.
I pre-booked my female Egyptian Tour Guide (who knew a little English, so it wasn’t a problem), who’s number was given to me by an Egyptian family I met while they were on holiday in England.
My preferred choice of airline was British Airways as I find their seats are very comfy, the food and service are generally very good and a couple of times in the past I was lucky enough to be upgraded to Business Class which I enjoyed tremendously. Both times I had arrived late for checking in so I guess it must have something to do with the timing of the checking in process. I recall having an A-La-Carte-Menu and as much wine, tea and coffee as I wanted with Business Class though, on this trip I wasn’t so lucky.
On arrival at Cairo Airport, the Representative for the ‘Inspection Trip’ was there to greet and take me to the 5* Hotel where I would be staying along with the other people joining the Inspection Trip. The journey seemed fairly quick as the landscape was mostly desert and was around one and a half hours to the Resort.
After dinner all the guests who were there for the Inspection Trip met for a drink and we confirmed the plan for the following day. There was about 20 people in the group, some were couples and mostly we were from different countries. After the meeting I went for a walk around the resort to see where everything was. I particularly wanted to find the main outside swimming pool as it looked amazing from the website. In fact, everything looked amazing! It had a landscape of large rocks, plants, vibrant flowers and waterfalls surrounding it so I felt it would be the ideal place for some well-deserved relaxation. I was also looking forward to being pampered at the Resort Beauty Salon because at that time I had my own Beauty Business in the UK so I was the person giving the treatments and now I wanted to be on the receiving end for once! I discovered that all guests would all receive a 20% discount for the Beauty & Hair Salon during our stay so it wasn’t going to ‘break the bank.’
Stella Di Mare Hotels and Resorts
There are 3 Stella Di Mare Hotels and Resorts in Ain Soukhna; The Grand Hotel, Golf Hotel and the Sea Club Hotel. I stayed in the latter and would definitely recommend all of them. The Grand Hotel is very posh and expensive and there are a few choices of good quality Restaurants and Cuisines at the Resort so you can experience a different taste every night. And of course, as always you can book tours right from the Hotel. I even saw a white limousine in the driveway picking up some guests, so I guess this Hotel Resort has VIP’s staying from time to time, and I can see why.
The following day I joined the group for a visit to the project site in the morning and in the afternoon, I enjoyed sunbathing, swimming in the outside landscaped pool and a forty-five-minute Thai massage (which included a weird, but painful kind of scrub). I did feel quite refreshed afterwards though, so it did the job! During my stay I also relaxed while having a luxury manicure and pedicure which gave me the chance to sit still and let my nails dry while I went over the contract of the hotel room I was considering buying into (and yes, later I decided to make the purchase).
2 Day Adventure in Cairo
After enjoying my 5 day stay at Stella Di Mare Resort, and I was ready to depart for my 2 -day adventure in Cairo. I took a minibus which was arranged by the Hotel to take me and some other guests to Cairo where I stayed for the next 2 nights at a lovely, central, comfy place called City Hotel. Again, I booked this hotel because the price had been reduced so it was £50 cheaper and one of the closest to the Museum (though the Hostels are cheapest and some looked quite reasonable from the websites and their reviews) and only a few minutes within walking distance of the Egypt Museum (or Museum of Egyptian Antiquities) and Tahrir Square.
City Hotel offers complimentary breakfast, free wi-fi, 24-hour front desk and a restaurant that serves regional cuisine. It also offers airport shuttle and tea/coffee making in the room which I always expect and want. I agree with the review which shows that this accommodation is rated as an 8.0 for solo travellers. Be prepared to give tips to the hotel porter, even if you only have a small case like I did, they still insist they take it and show you to your room, and of course they want a tip. Tips are expected most of the time everywhere in Egypt so try and be prepared with a stack of small change. They don’t even mind having foreign currency for tips!
My room was quiet, comfortable and I slept well. After breakfast I walked to the Museum where I met with my guide at 10.00 am for the day. I had already purchased the book about the Egypt Museum so I knew which areas I wanted to see the most. It was so interesting inside and I would have liked to stay there longer but my Guide seemed to want just a few minutes at specific places of interest. No photography was allowed inside the Museum but not a problem as there were photos of the most importance in the book.
After an hour and half in the Museum, we went to look around the Souk. It was a busy place with stall holders calling out what they have on offer. I was interested in the Spices, lanterns, scarves and jewellery. I recall, as well as the hustle and bustle, there was a fabulous smell of spices everywhere as I walked around slowly being careful not to miss anything. Eventually I bought a mixed bag of around 5 different spices, a hand embroidered bag and some silver earrings. By this time, I was gasping for a coffee and noticed what looked like a quality coffee shop called Naguib Mahfouz so in we went.
We had lunch soon after coffee, right next door at a delightful Traditional Restaurant called Khan El khalili, situated in a long and busy narrow street lined with wild cats sitting outside the shops. My guide suggested that I try a traditional lunch speciality which, from where I was sitting, looked very appealing and I recall the aroma wafting around the room was adorable too. No sooner than we had finished our lunch we were on our feet again to our next place of interest. We were heading to Sultan Hassan Al Rifai Mosque but, in order to get there, we had to cross a very busy wide road, which didn’t appear to have a pedestrian crossing or traffic lanes! The cars were coming at all angles and every driver honking his horn!
There was a Traffic Policeman standing on a slightly raised platform blowing his whistle and was attempting to direct the traffic but it didn’t look to be very effective. We looked at him hoping that he could somehow stop the traffic for us to cross but he just shrugged his shoulders and carried on. So, we had to make a dash for it. My guide grabbed my arm, I kicked my shoes off and we ran across the road weaving in and out of the traffic praying that we could cross without being run down. We made it unscathed thankfully and headed to our destination.
Everyone had to leave their shoes outside and women whose arms, legs and head weren’t covered had to wear scarves to cover those areas before entering. The view inside the mosque was incredible and I was amazed at the beauty of the design and with such colourful detail. We spent around 30 minutes inside looking around and I recall sitting on the carpet for at least 10 minutes taking shots of the colourful ceiling. Once outside, I bought a book which told the history of the Mosque and showed photos of other parts which weren’t on view for tourists. The Mosque was on higher level ground and at some areas on this part of ground you could see quite a distance over the city. Tall and short buildings, a few mosques here and there all built close together, and in heat of the glorious hot afternoon sun there was a widespread dusty haze covering the area. After taking some photos we parted as it was the end of day 1. My guide went home and I took a taxi back to my hotel to relax a while before heading out to dinner.
Inside the Mosque
I was thrilled with the local sights though, I was however, disappointed with the lack of decent restaurants in the close vicinity. There was only one restaurant, a famous oriental restaurant called Felfela and the rest were just fast-food outlets, which I tend to steer clear of generally. I obviously chose the oriental place to eat and was satisfied with the food and service, though the following day I encountered a very bad stomach upset. Needless to say, I didn’t want to go back there the following night so I looked around for something else but couldn’t find anything.
Usually, when asking someone to direct you to a local traditional restaurant they would be able to suggest something sensible to you but, the man I asked directions from suggested that he could help me if I came into his shop (he spoke a little English). He ushered me in and pointed to an upholstered arm chair for me to sit in and I waited for his directions. No map of the town or drawn directions came, just bottles of perfume he wanted me to try. I told him I was very hungry and needed to find a restaurant and wasn’t interested in buying perfumes at that time. I stood up and went to the door but it was locked! I couldn’t get out! “I just want to find a restaurant” I said loudly. But the man ushered me back to the perfumes, “try this” he said, “and this, after you buy, I will tell you restaurant.” Great! I thought.
How the hell can I get out of here without buying something I don’t want! Well, of course, I had to buy some perfume as it was clear he wasn’t going to let me out until I did! I bought some beautiful Lily Perfume Oil and haggled well for my pain, then he unlocked the door and said Falfela and pointed in the direction of the same restaurant that I had told him I didn’t want to go back to. He then said there wasn’t any others nearby unless I take a taxi and go elsewhere. So, all that time in the perfume shop was wasting my time and cost me money! Therefore, the lesson I learnt was….. don’t ask for directions outside of the Hotel!
Day 2. After breakfast I met my Guide at 10.00am for the rest of my tour. We were heading out to see the Pyramids of Giza. The journey was about half an hour from my hotel and along the route we passed a place called The City of the Dead. I felt a little uneasy as we passed by as it looked like a dark Ghost Town. It really did look Dead! Apparently, The City of The Dead, or Cairo Necropolis, (Qarafa, el-Arafa) is an Islamic necropolis and cemetary, below the Mokattam Hills in Southeastern Cairo. It is a 4-miles long (north-south) dense grid of tomb and mausoleum structures, where over half a million Egyptians live and work among the dead. Not somewhere I’d like to live mind!
On arrival at Giza just after 10.30am, it was already feeling very hot, and being out in the open space in the desert you should make sure you have plenty of water, a hat, sunglasses for eye protection and comfortable shoes for walking around in. It was such an amazing sight and very interesting to see inside the tombs, some of which were small and very awkward to enter because you had to walk down some steps backwards as it was steep and narrow, while others were a larger and you could walk around and see the paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphics on the walls and ceilings.
You may come across an Egyptain man inside some of the Tombs who will want you to pay him to tell you about the paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphics, though he probably won’t speak English, he will just point to things of importance. My guide had explained the stories behind each Tomb and warned me about the man so when I entered, I didn’t make eye contact and just ignored him. The Great Pyramid of Egypt (also known as Khufu’s Pyramid) is the oldest and the largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex bordering what is now El Giza, Egypt. The other 2 Pyramids are Khafre’s and Menkaure’s. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. It truly is an amazing feeling standing so close to something so precious and it’s so sad to see that the outer casing is now almost completely gone.
Khufu’s, Khafre’s and Menkaure’s Pyramids.
Approximately 2.3 million blocks of stone were cut, transported and assembled to create the 5.75 million-ton structure, which is a masterpiece of technical skill and engineering ability. The internal walls as well as those few outer-casing stones that still remain in place show finer joints than any other masonry constructed in Ancient Egypt. To the south of the Great Pyramid near Khafre’s Valley Temple lies the Great . Sphinx. Carved out of limestone, the Sphinx has the facial features of a man but the body of a recumbent lion.
Next up was The Solar Boat Museum. The solar boats of ancient Egyptians were large ships that were made out of cedar wood. They were used in religious rituals during Pharaonic times. Most likely, these boats were manufactured to be used in funerary rituals 0f the King and maybe used for some of his royal family members.
After a well needed lunch-break we took a taxi to The Oriental Carpet School where the modern-day Egyptians strive to keep alive the fast dying tradition, which is almost 1,500 years old – the legendary art of weaving ‘magic’ carpets. But, because of the population explosion, the schools can’t handle the quantity and run 2 sessions per day. So, the children go to school for half the day and the other half they learn a craft such as weaving. There are more than 200 carpet schools and each of them training around 40 school children this ancient art. It would be such a shame if this traditional art died. Their work is so beautiful and so much time and effort spent weaving one carpet. They truly are works of art!
I saw a very disturbing sight on the way back to my hotel as we crossed over a river. I noticed there were a few men fishing along the river bank but there was something large floating in the river too. As we passed over and came nearer to it, I could see it was a dead sheep and there was a lot of rubbish floating in the river too. I couldn’t believe they were fishing in such a disgusting and polluted river! They obviously don’t think that the fish could be unhealthy to eat and it put me right off the thought of ordering fish at a restaurant in Egypt. Apart from this everything else was a wonderful experience.
I enjoyed the Museums, Carpet School and Pyramids of Giza & Sakkara tour very much and I recommend that everyone who comes to Cairo should put them on their list of places to visit. I’m now very much looking forward to returning to see the Pyramids of Giza again in January 2019 as I’ll be taking a 9-day Adventure Tour with a company called Egyptoria. Check out the Tour and if you’d also like to join me on this amazing adventure please get in touch. http://bit.ly/9DayAdventure
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