Friday, September 21, 2012

Wonderful and Affordable Egypt





People told us we were crazy to go to Egypt at this time. They were wrong. Despite the fact that Egypt has been in the news lately; first with the Arab Spring and now with some protests about depictions of the Profet Mohammed, it is important to remember that these problems have not involved the major tourist areas of Giza, Aswan, Luxor and the Red Sea. Even in Cairo the few demonstrations that occurred since the Arab Spring have been in Tahir Square, a location that can easily be avoided if necessary.
Barring new developments, which are easily monitored on national trip advisory web sites and on current individual travel blogs, I wouldn’t hesitate to return with the assistance of a tour company.

Egypt is a lively, colourful place where modern day technology mixes with traditional ways. Where else does one see cars, trucks and motorcycles sharing a four lane highway with tuktuks, (small three wheeled taxis), donkey carts and camels? I enjoyed people/traffic watching as much as I enjoyed Egypt’s rich historical and cultural sites.

We always felt safe and comfortable on our recent two week visit in August. As a matter of fact, this was one of our most enjoyable trips. The best part was that we received amazing value on the Egypt portion of the trip with Memphis Tours. This was my first experience with this company and I have only good things to say about them.
I have no affiliation with any tour company but I strongly believe that when visiting a country that is so different than your own, it’s a good idea to go with a tour company that knows the ins and outs as well as the language. In our case, this was vital because our eldest son has life threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish.

My husband and I went to Trip Advisor and looked up the top three recommended customized tour operators in Egypt. We sent all three companies a list of everything we wanted to see in our two weeks. Memphis Tours had the best price and we were impressed with the patient, thorough and professional way that Yosri (the tour coordinator), answered our questions, dealt with my son’s dietary challenges and was flexible with our tour plans.

In Egypt, Memphis Tours consistently surpassed all our expectations for service, accommodations, meals and sight-seeing.

On arrival, Hussein Zakaria, our Cairo guest relations representative, met and expertly navigated our family of four through the airport to our waiting van and on to the gorgeous Oberoi Mena House Hotel and Resort. We loved staying in this hotel located at the base of the Giza pyramids. It was wonderful to go onto our private balcony and watch the sun rise over these amazing structures.

Throughout the trip, on most days Memphis Tours organized a private tour guide and driver for our family.
In Cairo, Maha Mahmoud El Halwagy was our English speaking tour guide. We loved her candor, humour and knowledge. She was a joy to work with, (and a great photographer).

We were surprised to even have our own body guard when we went to the Egyptian Museum, the Citadel, Coptic Cairo and the Market. Although I didn’t think we needed a guard, our tour company took no chances.

The charismatic Sayed Selim was our tour guide for Upper Egypt. He skilfully guided us through Abu Simbel, Aswan, the Temple of Philae, Komombo, Luxor, Karnak, the Valley of the Kings are more. Besides being knowledgeable, he was personable, a lot of fun and went out of his way to connect with all members of our family. He also partied with us on the cruise.
In Upper Egypt we stayed at the immaculate Movenpick Resort in Aswan and enjoyed a three day cruise on the luxurious Sonesta St. George cruise ship. The service on this ship went beyond our expectations. Not only was the staff fabulous but our suites were spacious, beautiful and comfortable. We even had a whirlpool tub with coloured lights in our washroom…and individually packaged natural loofah sponges.

Sayed always kept us well stocked with bottled water and saved the day when ironically, I suddenly had digestive issues (pharoah’s curse), during our tour of the Valley of the Kings... possibly brought on by eating salads or consuming ice cubes. This experience accentuated for me the importance of being with someone who knows where the clean bathrooms are when an occasion like that arises.

We next moved on to Hurghada where the capable Aziz Kotb was our guide. A true test of a tour company is how they react when a glitch arises. Aziz passed with flying colours. When our resort could only accommodate my son’s allergies for breakfast, Aziz went out of his way and quickly came up with a solution which worked for everyone. Realizing that our teenagers were missing their junky food, he ordered lunch to be delivered by cab from McDonald’s. The boys were ecstatic.

Our time in Egypt passed much too quickly and our family will always remember the wonderful sights, the hypnotic history and the wonderful, warm-hearted people.

Although we found Egypt to be safe to visit, tourism is still down as are the crowds and the prices. It is rare to receive the type of value for our money that we received by going to Egypt during the off season, (August and Ramadan) and travelling with Memphis Tours. If you ever dreamed of seeing this amazing destination, don’t wait. Jump at the deals that Egypt has to offer while they last.

For more details of our Egypt experience, check out our trip's daily posts on Travel Addict on a Budget.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Final Day of Amsterdam, Sunday, September 2, 2012

Final Day of Amsterdam, Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday morning and the streets were quiet. It was overcast but in the low 20’s as we walked over to Mike’s Bike Tours. Actually, great biking weather.

We decided to take a four hour bike tour into the Dutch countryside. The tour guides were quite funny. After making sure we could all ride and that we knew the rules, we were off.

We had to drive through the city first. Thank goodness that it was Sunday morning and very quiet.

We first stopped at a windmill before heading to a cheese farm that also makes wooden shoes. I bought a number of cheeses. They were so good.

The countryside was very flat and green. There were all kinds of sheep, horses, cows, geese and more. We drove past the Olympic stadium. We also drove through the city’s main park, Vondel Park. It was packed with people. Since living spaces are small here and not many gardens, people spend more time in public parks and squares. Apparently, after dark it is legal to have sex in the park…who’d have thought?

After the tour we walked around Amsterdam, ate and dropped the kids off at the apartment.

We poured ourselves a couple glasses of wine and sat out beside our canal, saying our goodbyes to Amsterdam.

My legs and hips feel like they should be in a body cast…am I really that out of shape?

Our flight to Canada leaves at 8:30am tomorrow.




Saturday, September 1, 2012

Saturday in Amsterdam, September 1, 2012

The sun was shining, it was warm. It seems everyone in Amsterdam was out on the streets, biking or soaking up some sun in a sidewalk café.

We spent the whole day walking around the city, along the canals and through the markets.

It seems that lots of markets pop up on Saturday morning in Amsterdam. If you close your eyes, you can practically tell where you are, be it flower market, fish market, or walking past a coffee shop.

We are trying to find out what the XXX means on Amsterdam souvenirs or flags. If any one knows, please email me.

The bicyclists were out in full force, many with there families. There all seemed to be a number of stag parties, hen parties or frosh week events going on since there were a number of crazy characters around.

Did I mention that parking spots for bikes can be difficult? This afternoon, an older couple tried to park their bikes in a busy area. You could see the man’s face fall when first his, then his wife’s bike, then bike after bike after bike went down. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap….. just like a long row of dominoes. Poor couple, as we continued to walk on they were trying to right each bike, one at a time.

People were partying down the canals as well. Often boats would pass with large groups of people singing or in strange costumes. At one point, a boat shaped like a beer barrel zoomed past.

In our neighbourhood, the streets were blocked off and there was a big food festival going on.

The boys were tired, so we dropped them off at the apartment, and my other half and I went out for a boat tour of the canals. It was quite funny when the tour leader said that the canals are made of one metre mud, one metre stolen bikes and the rest water.

We got thai food at the food festival and ate it while sitting beside the canal. The boys went out for pizza. The boys decided to still stay in so we walked around Amsterdam at night. It really comes alive at night.




What a fabulous city.

I am feeling a little bummed that tomorrow is our last day in Amsterdam. We head back home to Canada on Monday.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Amsterdam, August 31, 2012


The last day of August and the day started out being dull, drizzly and 16 degrees. Yikes.

This morning we were at the Ann Frank House by 10:00am. It opened at 9:30am and we had to wait in line about 10 minutes to get in.

The museum is really well done, clear, concise and really brings the story home. I was glad that I had read the diary before hand. Also, with seeing many other holocaust sites/museums/locations in the past (ie Auschwitz, Berlin memorial, Washington Museum etc), this added another human piece to this very ugly puzzle.

When we left the museum over an hour later, the line was much longer. I am glad I took my friend Sheila’s advice and went early.

Despite my boys protests, we next took a slight detour to the Mephisto shop which (miracle of all miracles), was actually open and I found a choice of two colours in my size. I did show restraint and only bought one pair. I always buy my Mephistos in Europe because they are half the price of what I would end up paying in Ontario.

We next wondered around, in a few different directions (my husband checking the map and changing course a few times) before eventually arriving at the Rijksmuseum. I have learned not to ask directions when my other half is following the map because it makes him think that I do not have faith in his navigational abilities.

The Rijkmuseum is under renovation but they still had a very good tour of their dutch masterpieces. Actually it was fabulous with a large collection
of Rembrandts, but I have to say, my favourites were still the Vermeers. The museum took about an hour and a half to see. When not under renovation, the collection would be bigger.

In an art frame of mind, we moved on to the Van Gough museum. I loved this museum, not only did they have the largest collection of Van Goughs but they also had a paintings by a number of the artists who he was inspired by. (I especially enjoyed the Pissaro pieces).

The museum did a really good job of taking you through his life and art by different periods, and places he lived. It was really beneficial to have gone to some of Van Gough’s different important locations (ie Montmatre in Paris, Arles, St Remy and the hospital he was in in the south of France).

We then just explored the city, especially enjoying the flower market.

I could just sit and watch the bicyclists all day. They come in all ages and sizes. When it rains, many of them hold an umbrella in one hand while steering with the other. Bikes are all over, not only zipping past you on the streets (they have their own lanes), but parked everywhere you look. Cool.





After making a supper at the apartment, my husband and I let the boys stay back while we walked around Amsterdam at night.

I think tomorrow, we might take the big plunge and rent bikes.

Gent to Amsterdam, Thursday, August 30, 2012





Before we left our hotel in Gent, I had to take a picture of the vending machine that sells Belgium Beer along with the coke.

On our way to Amsterdam we stopped at Kinderdijk which is a town in the Netherlands that has a 19 windmills in one small area. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.

We spent a few hours there. We all toured one of the windmills (ok, I panicked and didn’t do the whole thing because the steps were steep).

We next drove to the Amsterdam airport and dropped off our rental car before taking the city transit train to central station where we walked to our apartment.


Our apartment is in the middle of everything and is in a 200 or 300 year old building. It is small and quite quirky with floors that slope in many directions.

My husband and I walked a half hour to a Mephisto Store only to find out that it had closed at 5pm. I saw the pair of shoes I wanted to in the window.

There are bikes parked EVERYWHERE. I’ve never seen so many bikes.
Amsterdam is gorgeous however the bike traffic is crazy, its like Cairo on bikes. We even see families riding bikes, people with baby seats and wind screens in front of them and baby seats behind them. It is quite common to see one person riding and one person looking quite relaxed sitting on the back. When it started raining, people would be riding with one hand, holding an umbrella with the other. Of course, there are a lot of people biking and talking on their cell phones. You can tell that people here are practically born on wheels. I think its great.

Many of the old buildings actually lean on an angle because they are so old…quirky but gorgeous buildings.

It is raining out a lot tonight and is supposed to be cool (16degrees) tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vimy Ridge and the Somme, Wednesday, August 29, 2012


How can you describe this day. It was not just the sites, but a veiled glimpse into the



realities of war.

We crossed the border into France and visited the Canadian Memorial at Vimy. You could see the memorial from miles away. At shortly after 9:00am, the day was sunny and we had the memorial practically to ourselves except for some hawks that hovered nearby.

It was peaceful…so peaceful. As were almost all the sites we visited today it was quiet with the only sound coming from the breeze in the trees or (at other sites) in the cornfields.

We next drove a short distance to the visitors centre. This war site and memorial are fully staffed by Canadians.

The now grassy area was pockmarked with shell and mine craters. Most cratered parts are fenced off due to concerns of undetinated explosives. Herds of sheep graze in these areas…the sheep are not large enough to set anything off and they keep the grass short.

There were a few more people at the visitors centre and we took a guided tour through the Tunnels and trenches. The Canadian University students that work at the memorials are part of a Canadian government program; FSWE (Federal Student Work Exchange). They work for a 3 or 4 month period.

We were surprised at how close the Allied and German front lines were, about only 30 feet between the scout trenches at the Vimy Ridge area.

In Vimy we visited Mont-Saint-Eloi (a shelled church on the back lines), Cabaret Rouge Cemetery, La Targette Cemetery, The German Cemetery, Zivy Crater Cemetery Theius Cemetery, the Canadian Artillery Memorial, The French Memorial at Notre Dame de Lorette Church and many other cemeteries and memorials.

There are over 1000 cemeteries dotting Belgium and France. You can tell the British Commonwealth, French and German burial grounds by the grave markers. So many graves marked only as “A soldier of the Great War”. Most of the inhabitants of graves identified with names and ages were in their 20s. Some were as young as 14 and 16 because they lied about their ages to become soldiers (you were supposed to be 18). They thought this war would last a summer. It seemed like a big adventure.

Some of the burial sites were small but others were so vast that you couldn’t see the end. Most Canadian graves had a maple leaf emblem on them. We found the grave where the body of Canada’s unknown soldier had lain, (he now lies in Ottawa).

In WWI Canada lost over 66,000 soldiers.

That’s a big number. You can learn the facts and numbers of this war and read the books, but when you stand in these cemeteries you realize that each of those markers represents at least one person that was a child, a sibling, a friend or a parent. Many families lost all their sons. I do not want to even imagine how much horror, pain and suffering these soldiers and their families endured. Many of the bodies were never found; covered where they fell.

We spent the later part of the afternoon exploring The Somme. We went to the Canadian War Memorial and Cemeteries at Beaumont-Hamel. At wartime, Newfoundland was not part of Canada and they chose to fight with the British. Out of the 801 Newfoundlanders that left the trenches on the morning of July 1, 1916 only 69 returned, the rest were dead, wounded or missing.

We were the only ones on our guided tour at this site. We were also the last tour of the day.

The Caribou stag is the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and is the monument for this soldiers. The Caribou stag is also the emblem on their graves.

We visited more burial sites, the Ulster tower monument and the dramatic Theivpal monument and burial sites. As we walked through the markers, the town church clock struck 7pm. It was time to go back to our hotel.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Brugge, Tuesday, August 28, 2012


We finally made it into Brugge, despite having to change our course a few times due to road construction.

We started out in a gorgeous square. The architecture is just so gorgeous.

We first went into the Basilica of the Holy Blood. We watched a short service where they took out the holy relic.

We next visited the town hall which had a museum. The museum mostly consisted of a beautiful gothic style hall and paintings.

We explored the streets a bit and decided to look for my Mephisto Store (that I had found on the internet). Sure enough, we found it and miracle of all miracles; it was open. Unfortunately they didn’t have my size in any colour of the pair I wanted. I am now pinning my hopes on a store in Amsterdam.

We mostly spent the day exploring the streets, alleys and gardens of Brugge. It is a fabulous walking town. We went into a number of churches, including the Church of Our Lady before walking around the Lake of Love and going on a brewery tour.

We ended our day in Brugge with a meal of mussels. Ok, the boys had hot dogs and waffles.