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.