Written on: 24/11/2010 by JLMiller (1 review written)
We are a retired couple, and for our 25th wedding anniversary we went on a cruise to the Mediterranean coast. We booked Holland America Line's 28-day "Grand Africa and Mediterranean Voyage" because it had our ideal destinations and the price seemed right. This was our second time going on a cruise and we were thrilled that one of our destinations would be Egypt, which was a country that we had always dreamed about visiting because of their incredible history and our fascination with Egyptian mummies. Because of this, we wanted to make sure we planned our shore excursion ahead of time so we could use our time wisely and visit as many places as possible. We first looked into booking our shore excursion through Holland America but decided not to because their excursion options were limited. A friend of our son and his family had just gotten back from Egypt and had great things to say about a Cairo-based tour company called Your Egypt Tours: www.youregypttours.com
We went to Your Egypt Tours website and found several shore excursion options. We contacted them directly through their live customer service chat, which, much to our surprise was fairly easy to use! We have to confess that neither my wife nor I are computer savvies. The customer service representative was so helpful, answered all our questions, and sent us via e-mail our different options along with prices, which were very reasonable, especially when we compared them to the shore excursions that Holland America offered. So we went ahead and booked our 2-day shore excursion through them. A few weeks before we left for our trip, we received via e-mail our 2-day itinerary for our excursion. We were also given the name of our guide along with his contact information just in case we wanted to reach him before we docked at Alexandria port. When we arrived in Alexandria, we had our driver, Mustafa, and our guide, Adel Abuelnaga, waiting for us. We will never forget the first time we met our guide, Adel, what a nice guy! He greeted us with a big smile and right away made us feel welcome, especially after his "greetings from the Pharaoh!" He has a great sense of humor!
Before heading out in our private van to Memphis/Sakkara, which took about 3 hours to get there, Adel went over a checklist of "things to bring" for the 2 days so we wouldn't forget things such as hats or sun block. During our way to this ancient site, we got to know our guide a little better. Adel is a young Egyptologist who has an incredible amount of knowledge of Egyptian history. My wife and I say that he is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to world history. We had many great discussions about the different ancient civilizations of the world. Adel's English is really good and easy to understand unlike other guides we've had in the past who also had English as their second language. He was also very patient with us, and talked about the things that we wanted to know more of such as safety in Egypt, which to our surprise has a very low crime rate. He also provided us with practical information on how to interact with the local people (greetings, and tipping, which is a must) and even taught us a few words in Egyptian Arabic such as shokran/Thank you! He also described Egypt's socio-political situation and also the customs and traditions of Egyptians. My wife and I were fascinated by such rich information about modern life in Egypt.
Our first stop was the necropolis of ancient Memphis where you find amazing monuments. We took pictures with the Alabaster Sphinx, our favorite one. Adel said that archaeological excavations are happening all over Egypt, and that there is still so much to be discovered. We then headed to Sakkara, an ancient burial ground. There, we went to the visitor center where they have a museum, and learned about the different kinds of pyramids Egypt has and their importance in ancient times. We then toured the Step Pyramid, which is the oldest pyramid built! We drove for about 25 minutes to the Bent and Red Pyramids which are just amazingly preserved. After that, we made a quick stop at a carpet school since Sakkara is known for their magnificent carpets. After much bargaining with the shop manager, we bought a one-of-a kind, hand-woven red carpet we now have in our living room. For lunch, Adel took us to one of the local restaurants where we were greeted by an Egyptian band and women baking fresh bread. It was both fun and delicious!
It was now time to head to Giza to see what we consider one of the greatest structures built by one of the greatest civilizations in the ancient world, the Pyramids. We were awed and amazed to realize that we were standing in front of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world! It was also great to learn how and why the pyramids were built. We decided not to go inside a pyramid because it was a hot day and it seemed steep and narrow. The sphinx was also an astonishing monument that we admired from far and up close. We got adventurous and decided to go on a camel ride! We have great pictures of us on our camels with the pyramids in the background. After about 2 hours in Giza, we headed to Cairo. Well, Cairo is a very busy city, lots of people, traffic, and lots of noise since drivers use their horns for everything. That was culture shock for us given that we are not used to the never-ending beeping car horns. Crossing the streets also seemed to be an adventure in itself! Once we got to our 5-star hotel (The Sheraton), we were pleased that we had a room with a view of the Nile River. We freshened up and got ready for a 2-hour dinner cruise on the Nile, which included a show. The dinner was descent, nothing fancy but good, and the show was very entertaining. As soon as we got back to our hotel, we went to sleep because we knew we had an early start the following day.
After a nice breakfast buffet, Adel came to pick us up and took us to the Citadel and the Muhammad Ali Mosque. When we got there, there were lots of children with their teachers on a school outing. The children were very friendly and seemed eager to practice their English with us, "Welcome to Egypt!" was their favorite phrase. As Adel narrated the history of the mosque in the Citadel, my wife and I admired the decoration and unique design of Islamic architecture. After this, we had a guided tour of the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities where we spent about 2 hours. There are so many things to see there since they have a great collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. We wished we had had more time there though. Our favorite exhibition was the one of King Tutankhamen, and the gold mask was just magnificent! We were also very excited to visit the Royal Mummy Room and got to see the newly discovered mummy of an Egyptian queen; we had recently watched a show about it on the Discovery channel. After the museum, Adel took us to a restaurant called "Farahat" where the specialty dish is rice-stuffed pigeon. This is something we would have never eaten back home so we went for it, and had no regrets because it was just delicious, a true delicacy! After lunch, we went to Coptic and Islamic Cairo for more sightseeing. Talk about history in both of these places, and magnificent architecture was everywhere! Our last stop before heading back to Alexandria was Khan el-Khalili, which is located in the Islamic district where the Al-Hussein Mosque is located. Khan el-Khalili is a huge market where you can find everything, from spices to papyrus paintings. Here is where we shopped for souvenirs and gifts to take back home. Adel was great at giving us a "bargaining 101" lesson because in Egypt you really need to know how to do it; otherwise, you can end up paying way more than what you are supposed to. Khan el-Khalili's plaza has many little restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat or just do people watching. After our shopping experience, we hopped in our van for the drive back to Alexandria port where we said good-bye to both Adel and Mustafa, our driver.
One thing that my wife and I learned during this trip is that Egyptians are very friendly and have great hospitality! We felt welcome everywhere we went. We were also so impressed with the excellent service we received from Adel and Your Egypt Tours that we felt compelled to share it with others who are planning their shore excursions from Alexandria. Adel took such good care of us, and made sure we did everything on our itinerary. Although our stay in Egypt was very short, we did a lot of things, which was great for the money! So we will never forget Egypt because of all the wonderful people we met, especially Adel who has encouraged us to go back to Egypt because "we have so much more to see in Luxor!" and we believe him. For now though, we want to share our experience with you all, and are planning another trip to Egypt in the near future.
James & Lorie