Egypt 2019: Part One of Four

My wife & I made this trip to Egypt in October/November 2019. I’m going to split the blog in to four parts.

Part One, This preamble (pre-ramble?) background and planning.

Part Two, Luxor for seven nights.

Part Three, The Nile Cruise for five nights.

Part Four, Aswan & Cairo, two nights each.

 

Hopefully it will be suitably interesting to everyone, not just people travelling who have a disability, although it will have occasional additional information that a person with disabilities specifically may find useful.

 

When I told people I was coming to Egypt, I was frequently met with the response of “is it safe?” Of course, what they really wanted to ask is;

aren’t there crazy people, who have such a warped view of the world that they believe their version of a god thinks murdering people is a good thing?

But they settle for “is it safe?

Some years ago, I read a study about ‘relative perception’. Part of it, they asked people in the UK to rate the quality of driving in Britain, where ten out of ten was ‘best in the world’ & one out of ten was ‘worst in the world’. Elsewhere in the questionnaire, apparently unrelated, they asked respondents about their travel experience. They found that people who rated the standard of driving as ‘low’ had rarely travelled abroad, while those people who rated British driving as ‘high’ had travelled most widely.

Is Egypt safe? Well the standard of driving is a bit scary that’s for sure!

You are much, MUCH more likely to have a road traffic accident on your way to and from the airport than be the victim of a nutter hell bent on murdering people in the name of a god. And besides, there have been more nutters committing murder for their god in London, Paris & Manchester in recent years than have been committed in Egypt.

Is Egypt safe? If you think London, Paris or Manchester are safe, then yes, Egypt is safe… and every person who we met was warm, friendly & welcoming.

But I would advise against driving!

Seriously, it is incredibly safe almost everywhere. There are a few areas where at the time of writing, the Foreign Office advise against travelling to but they are a long way from the Nile area and there are some ‘odd’ ‘safety‘ laws, such as foreigners not being allowed to take day time trains, only overnight sleepers, which was a shame, as it was my original plan to travel by rail for part of the trip. I still don’t fully understand why this is so?

The map below is from the Foreign & Commonwealth Advise website 17th November 2019

You should always check the site before travelling for changes & updates, but also remember context.

This was my wife’s ‘bucket list’ trip, she had always wanted to visit Egypt. To be perfectly honest, before I came, I really wasn’t that fussed one way or another and if it wasn’t for Elaine, I wouldn’t have bothered. Boy! Would that have been a mistake! It is one of the best countries that I’ve visited and I certainly intend to return. Possibly in part due to my previous lack of interest, I was also very ignorant of Egyptian geography. Until very recently I thought that ‘The Valley of the Kings’ was next to The Great Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, rather than a few  hundred miles away!

Planning this trip began by watching TV programmes on Channel 5 (UK). It was presented by Bettany Hughes, an historian whose enthusiasm reaches out from the TV and draws you in. In her tour of historical sites in Egypt, she travelled for part of the time on The Nile in a dahabiya boat.

Dahabiya Under Sail

 A dahabiya is a traditional, twin sailed, Egyptian boat. The single sailed boats on The Nile are feluccas. You can sail in these too, but they are much more basic, with no toilet or bed…

…better for an hour than a week! A dahabiya is luxurious. 

These delightful, traditional twin sailed boats travel from Luxor to Aswan. Bettany’s boat looked beautiful. I was watching with my laptop on my knees. When I saw the name of the vessel, I paused the programme and made note of it, then began researching. Using Trip Advisor I found a very highly recommended company that had four dahabiyas. This was to be the very start of falling on love with Egypt, I just didn’t know it yet.

I contacted Miguel at Noir el Nil a company with outstanding Trip Advisor reviews. I told him I wanted to book for the 29th October, my wife’s birthday. Unfortunately they were full, but there was a new boat, not yet completed. It had one room for the following week. I booked this and told Miguel that we would still come for my wife’s celebration but stay in Cairo for the week, then come down to Luxor to meet the boat. Miguel advised me that Luxor was a much more interesting place to visit than Cairo so I took his advice. That proved to be a good decision. A week in Luxor, then five nights on The Nile… it was the start of a plan.

By now, I was learning about the geography a bit more, as well as the location of key sites. The river cruise finished in Aswan, so I added two nights there. But we still needed to see the Great Pyramids, so I decided upon an internal flight to Cairo and two more nights.

This plan worked out quite well. A week in Luxor was ideal. There are still important sites that we did not get to, including the night show at Karnak Temple and the Luxor Museum and our ‘biggest miss’, The Valley of the Queens. But that was largely because we kept getting up in the morning before sunrise! To find out why, you’ll have to wait for the next blog!

The cruise was… …well, you’ll have to wait for that instalment too!

I could have done with an extra day in Aswan. We didn’t visit Abu Simble. In part, that was more ignorance, it simply didn’t come up on my radar until we were well in to the trip and also simply not wanting to immediately go travelling further, we were happy to just chill locally. And besides, by this point we’d both said we’d like to return to Egypt, so we can leave that for next time! That said, if you are going, I would recommend staying over night at Abu Simbel. The fellow travellers on our boat all went there. Eight of them travelled as a group straight from the boat and stayed over night. They said the evening light show was excellent and the sunrise to reveal Abu Simbel was apparently spectacular. The other couple did a very early morning start to drive there for the day, then a long drive back to Aswan. They enjoyed it but were tired and didn’t see it at its best. If you can only do a day trip, you’ll enjoy it, but we will be doing an overnight when we come back.

My planned itinerary becoming more solid, I set about looking for flights. I couldn’t find direct flights from Manchester to Luxor, only from Heathrow. At this point travel dates remained quite fluid, as long as we were there in time to start the cruise and Elaine’s birthday. By happy ‘coincidence’, as so often happens… purely coincidentally you’ll understand… Morecambe Football Club were playing at Stevenage, just outside London. So that decided it, go down to Heathrow on the Friday, watch Stevenage v Morecambe on the Saturday, then fly to Egypt soon after.

Talking of football, Mo Salla’s image is everywhere, from a cheap ‘nodding Salla’ in market stalls, to smiling Salla advertising jewellery & banks. Everyone in Egypt is a Salla fan. I’m not sure they are Liverpool fans or even football fans, but Salla fans for sure. If you support another Premiership side, they may not have even heard of you, my wife is a Burnley fan, mid-table Premiership, and mentioning Burnley drew blanks everywhere. But the day after Liverpool beat Man City and Salla had scored, Egyptians everywhere were telling us about the game, simply because they were happy and we were British, so must be happy too. While we were in Cairo, Egypt had a fantastic result in the African Nations Under-21 competition, scoring twice in the last couple of minutes to win their crucial game. I was told this by a Canadian in our hotel. No Egyptian I spoke to even knew the game had been played, because their young, modern pharaoh, Salla wasn’t playing.

If you support any other team, just smile and be happy for them.

If you support Everton or Man Utd… well… Morocco is nice!

Now my plan was really taking shape. I decided though that if we were going all that way, we really should see the very best artefacts Egypt has to offer…

…a visit to the British Museum!

The Rosetta Stone was the Key to Understanding Hieroglyphics.

Rosetta Stone
There is a copy of the Rosetta Stone in the Cairo Museum…

Whenever I visit the British Museum I’m struck by two competing emotions.

Firstly utter pride that such a small country could have once been so dominant in the world. But also, shear embarrassment that Britain could have plundered so much from the countries we subjugated.

I didn’t mind so much that we had the Rosetta Stone…

we stole that from the French!

Napoleon’s troops first uncovered the Rosetta Stone. When the British army defeated Napoleon in Egypt, the Stone was taken in to British possession.
Fun fact! While it is common knowledge that there are three languages written on the Rosetta Stone, there are actually four.

On the underside, a British soldier has written; “Property of the British Empire“.

Egyptian Artifacts
Egyptian Treasures in the British Museum. Shouldn’t they be in Egypt?

Now the plan was really forming.

Friday 25th October: Ferry to Heysham then drive down to Heathrow.
Stay at Travelodge Heathrow Airport for three nights.

Saturday 26th October: Stevenage v Morecambe (less said, the better).

Sunday 27th October: British Museum (and arranged to meet with my London based cousin & his family which was a nice bonus)

Monday 28th October: Fly to Luxor.

Family Catch-up at The British Museum.

As a wheelchair user, driving down was simply easier, it meant I could take everything that I needed without any hassle. Obviously, it would have been cheaper and quicker to fly Isle of Man to Gatwick, but the thought of then crossing London put me off. Also, carrying additional weight on the local flight would have added to cost. And we needed transport in & around London too, so ferry & car was preferable, then a few nights in a London hotel.

The Sunday night was Divali, the Hindu celebration of the God of Light, so there were firework displays all around us (‘chasing away the darkness’), just to give us a send off with a bang!

We flew each leg with Egypt Air. Heathrow to Luxor was an old aircraft that had clearly seen better days. I had briefly contemplated upgrades for the flights. I’m really pleased that I didn’t once I got onboard as ‘Business Class’ was ‘Cattle Class’ with a slightly bigger seat but in a 1970’s beige. Not even a seat back TV on this aircraft. The internal flight from Aswan to Cairo was on a shiny aircraft. The pilot said that it was new and that another twelve were on order. I wondered if they may soon be using the new craft on Heathrow to Luxor? The new aircraft also don’t have seat-back TV’s but they had USB chargers, so you can bring your own entertainment. From Cairo to London was a larger, newish plane. In short, it is a basic airline company, but the crew & staff were all very friendly. Food was actually okay too.

I was travelling with a Batec, electric wheel attachment for my wheelchair.

Wheelchair With Batec, Electric Wheel at the Colossi of Memnon

This has a ‘flight safe’ battery that can be carried on as hand luggage. Batec’s are quite rare. Removable, flight safe batteries are not seen often.

If travelling with one, allow extra time and don’t get flustered when it is questioned and you are initially told that it can not be taken on board.

I had already contacted Egypt Air regarding the battery and ‘special assistance’. After a ping-pong of emails, they confirmed it was acceptable, so I ultimately had that to fall back upon, but at each security check, it would be questioned and checked. I also carried a copy of the certificate of airworthiness that Batec have produced which explains which regulations it complies with. The certificate helps and a couple of times staff have even taken a photocopy.

Just smile and let the staff satisfy themselves that it is all okay, but allow an extra ten to fifteen minutes for this to happen.

On the internal flight from Aswan to Cairo, security wanted to take the battery charger off me as it was in hand luggage. An argument broke out between two security officers, in Arabic, the other one telling me “it is fine” then returning to the argument. I was a bit concerned about this as having a rechargeable battery but no charger would have been just as useless as not having it at all! In the end, the security officer let it through but confiscated two bungee chords that were in the bag too. I’m pretty sure they are not outlawed, but we both felt he was saving face by having ‘something’. I didn’t argue and the charger next flew in my suitcase.

Monday 28th October we left Heathrow for Luxor. 

Heathrow Airport. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I’m not that great when it comes to airports. Manchester Airport is bloody awful for victims unfortunate enough to fly from there who have a disability and I didn’t have a great experience at Newark, New Jersey either. Heathrow was ‘generally’ fine. My only grumble was with the Long Stay Parking. There are only about eight accessible parking spaces in a car park of about 2,000 places. These were all full. Fortunately, my wife was able to park the car for me after we’d unloaded the luggage, but had I been travelling alone, I’d have been snookered. Beyond that, the experience was fine. The transfer buses were frequent and their drivers friendly & helpful in both directions. Heathrow itself was easy to navigate as a wheelchair user. The Egypt Air check in staff were concerned about the battery, as already mentioned, but were friendly and apologetic for the delay they were causing. The ‘flight side’ was easy to get around. Other than being a pain to get to from the Isle of Man, I’d be happy to fly from there again in the future. Perhaps Manchester could second some staff down there to learn how to run an airport? 

We stayed at ‘Travelodge London Heathrow Central‘ for three nights. This was perfect for the airport, literally ten minutes drive to the Long Stay Parking. There is a courtesy bus. Blue Badge holders can park for free on production of the badge at reception. It was good value (£113 for three nights). The staff were really friendly. For example, we arrived after a long drive, and missed ‘Happy Hour’ by about ten minutes. I commented to my wife that we’d just missed it as I ordered two pints of Stella. The barman said, “that’s okay, I’ll put them through as Happy Hour“… …”in that case, I’ll have four pints please.” “No problem, if you keep the receipt, I’ll pour the other two when you want them“. It was just a little thing, but it makes the difference to how you perceive a place. I’d definitely stay there again if I was flying from Heathrow. Like I said at the start, perceptions matter!

Next Stop, Egypt.

Egypt Part Two: Luxor. 

 

One comment on “Egypt 2019: Part One of Four

  • Ian Horn , Direct link to comment

    Got to say, you’re really selling Egypt to me Keith. A colleague has been a few times now but, although she evidently likes it, she doesn’t have the same enthusiasm about the place as you do!
    Gobsmacked at the travelodge prices too; 3 nights in Southport (for the airshow) cost me well over double that!! Robbing buggers!

    Looking forward to the next instalement aleady.

    Ian

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