Monday, January 18, 2016

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Follow our current travels at our new blog:  The Quiet Voyage

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

38 Days in Egypt - Travel Egypt - Egyptian Travel Blog - Visiting Egypt on a Budget - Egypt off the Beaten Path - Cairo Dahab Luxor Siwa Alexandria Red Sea Sinai Peninsula

A video of our experience in Egypt. 

Welcome to 38 Days in Egypt: A Travelogue

My wife and I created this blog to create a travelogue of our visit in Egypt.  We wanted to have a way to remember the journey and share it with others who were interested in what Egypt is like.

We also built this site to show that, although Egypt is seen to many as a dangerous place to visit, that tourists have little to worry about when visiting Egypt.  Overall, for tourists, the country is quite safe.  The military and police to go extraordinary lengths to make sure that tourists are out of harms way.  There are huge penalties in place for assaulting a tourist and locals are very warm and caring for those.  While there is a great amount of hassle to tourists in Egypt, salespeople will generally help you out in the end, even if you do not purchase items from them.  As far as countries that I have visited, both of us would say that the people of Egypt have been some of the most friendly in the world.

Lastly, I created this website to help others who are visiting Egypt.  While there are a lot of good guidebooks available.  We used the The Rough Guide to Egypt and found that it was very helpful.  With that being said, sometimes guides do not have enough space to tell everything, and I wanted to answer some of the questions and show some of the places that the guide books do not have room to go into in great detail.  I would recommend this book, however, if you are planning on visiting Egypt. 

As students, we did not go to Egypt with a large budget.  One reason we visited Egypt was due to the low cost of traveling at the current time.  Egypt is considered a bargain right now, and flight prices from the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world are at an all time low.  Also, the Egyptian Pound (LE or EGP) is at a very favorable exchange rate at the moment.  With that being said, Egypt can still be a very expensive country to visit.  There are touts and unforeseen expenses here, just as there is anywhere.  As this blog was geared towards the budget traveler, I have taken the time to review hotels and hostels in various cities that cost around $10 a night and under. 

This blog is still a work in progress, and I have a lot to add in the coming weeks.  Thank you for reading. 

Here are some recent updates to this blog.  This post will stay on top for the time being so that readers can see what has been updated.

1.  Video of The Catacombs in Alexandria: July 3, 2013
2.  Video of the Blue Hole: July 3, 2013
3.  Map of our Travels: July 3, 2013
4.  Review of Sindbad Camp in Dahab: July 7, 2013

Interested in seeing where we are traveling now? Check out "Travels with Sephie."

Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 30th Protests in Cairo and Last Day in Egypt


Last night's protest was quite lively, to say the least.  We are on the side opposite of the building to the right of this picture, so as you can imagine, we can hear a lot of what is going on.  Throughout the evening, we could see at least one helicopter flying overhead, while below thousands marched along the streets.  We posted a video as well as some pictures of when we went out for dinner.

The video has gained quite a few views since being posted, and has gotten the attention of a news outfit in London, who has asked if they could use it.  I am not sure if they will, but we did grant them permission.

Later in the night, we heard fireworks and other loud banging sounds, which we suspect may have been gunfire.  Other noises included chanting and horns.  People rode scooters with the Egyptian flag on the streets below our 7th floor hostel room.  In alleyways, people gathered for tea and sheesha, in between protesting.  Then, around midnight, everything suddenly went quiet.  There were no sounds at all.  It was strange.

Upon awakening, there is little noise at all outside.  In fact, it sounds just the same as when we arrived in Cairo, over a month ago.  A big part of me is sad to leave -- as we leave tonight.  I have really enjoyed my time here, and at times I forgot I was just a traveler here.  I have gotten very used to Egypt, and that's one reason I enjoy taking such long trips -- I begin to feel as a local and feel at home in these places.  The longer I stay somewhere, the harder it is to leave.  I wonder when I will be back in Egypt.  It could be many years, or it could be never.  Perhaps that is what makes it hard to leave as well.

Tonight we will be going to the Cairo Airport and flying to Amsterdam before heading to New York.  It has been a great trip.  There will be more blog posts coming, including The Temple of Luxor, the Train from Luxor to Cairo, the Khan al-Khalili Market, more hotel and hostel reviews, and a few others.  This blog will also become an information source for those who are looking to travel to Egypt in the future.

Thank you for reading.

Egypt Revolution March to Tahrir Square, June 30, 2013



Pictures of the March



Anti-Obama banner


Revolution Day

We are currently three blocks away from Tahrir Square, but have only been by there via taxi last night.  We can hear what is going on from our room, which faces in that direction.

For those who are interested, there is a site here that is running live coverage of the protests:

http://newsblogged.com/live-streaming-video-protests-cairo-egypt-tahrir-square

I will post more on this in the future.

Live Streaming of Tahrir Square Protests in Cairo Egypt
Watch live streaming video from ontveglive at livestream.com

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Luxor Bazaar - Egypt Shopping - Egyptian Bazaars - Prices in Luxor - Luxor Guide - What to do in Luxor Egypt

While in Luxor, we went to the market at least a couple of times. I thought therefore, that it was appropriate to have an entire post devoted to the market itself.

The Luxor Bazaar is located near the Luxor Temple in the central area of the city.  The market is much smaller than the market in Cairo, but it is still a decent size, with many shops inside.  However, I found that the vendors here are more ruthless about getting you into their shops than in Khan al-Khalili market in Cairo.  Also, I should note that the prices here are also much higher.

Outside of the market is a small falafel stand where you can buy cheap sandwiches for 2 LE each.  This is a good idea if you are hungry.  They sell falafel, fuul (sometimes spelled "foul" but pronounced as fool), mashed potatoes, and eggplant.  All of these are vegetarian.

Vendors in the Luxor Bazaar

Shawl and Scarf Vendor:  While in the market we stopped at a scarf and shawl vendor, who sold us a couple of shawls.  An intricate and very pretty shawl cost us 25 LE, originally quoted at 35 LE.  Some were quoted at 45 LE.  This all depends on the quality, and there are many to choose from.  We went back later on and purchased 3 more for 60 LE total.  One was quoted at 15, and the others were similar to the first one we purchased at 25 LE the day before.




Spice Vendor:  Why we stopped at a spice vendor inside of the tourist market instead of stopping at one where the locals shop is a question that I later asked myself.  This guy was quite a character though, and was very pushy with selling us spices.  He really wanted us to buy coriander and cumin, both of which we have ample supply of home.  He also wanted us to buy Saffron, which is really Safflower in Egypt.  He said that the ground saffron (which looked and smelled like Tumeric) was from Iran (implying that it was better than wherever we get ours).  We told him over and over we didn't want it, but he packaged it up and began to weigh it for us.  We were firm and did not purchase it.  We did, however, purchase some mango tea, for 10 LE for about an ounce.

The spice man said that all spices were sold by the gram, and that the mango tea was 50 Piastres per gram.  We doubted this, and he filled a small bag and tried to sell it to us for 35 LE.  We said no and he said "fine, 20."  We said "no" and he filled it with more tea.  We said "10" and he said, "fine, 10" but started emptying the tea back into the container.  We acted like we were going to walk away due to this tactic, but he stopped emptying it really quickly and we purchased the small bag for 10 LE.  We were probably ripped off here.  Lesson: don't buy spices in a tourist market when the locals buy them for much cheaper outside in non-tourist markets.

Egyptian textile pattern
Textile Thief:  This was where we were ripped off the worst.  We wanted to purchase an Egyptian/Arabian style textile fabric.  It has colorful designs on it.  Anyway, we were immediately quoted 380 LE for four meters.  This comes out to be around $50.  We told him "no" and that we were thinking closer to 20 LE per meter.  He said "are you JOKING?" in a tone which made him seem offended.  We said "no, in the US, we buy thicker and more intricate fabric than this for around the same price."  As we drank the tea he gave us, we haggled further.  He went down to 280 and then to 200, but we still did not budge.  Eventually, we said 30 LE a meter, which was still too high (we should have never went near that number).  As we finished our tea and were about to leave, he went down to 30 for 3 meters.  At this point, Beverly did not want to buy it and said "let's just go."  But, I had agreed on 30 and was compelled to stick with the offer I made, as is the custom here.  We purchased this fabric for 90 LE total (close to $14) and left.  We later found similar fabric in Cairo for 8.5 LE a meter without haggling.


Egyptian-style Shirt (Kurti) Salesman:  Beverly was interested in buying a shirt with silk designs on the outside, and the shopkeeper quoted us, before entering the shop, 10 pounds (not sure if he meant Egyptian or British).  This got Beverly into the store.  She found a burgundy shirt that she liked with silk embroidery near the neck and she asked if it was 10 LE.  He said, "no, this one is 690 LE."  That's over $100 for a shirt that was, honestly, worth only a few dollars.  We were stunned.  After haggling for a while, we got the price down to $4 US dollars and 10 LE.  We still think we were overcharged.  The idea of paying $100 for such a thing was more than ludicrous.

Conclusion:  The Luxor market is a fun place to visit, but be prepared to haggle hardcore.  You will probably be overcharged and you will literally be pulled into shops.  I found that prices here are originally quoted much higher than in Cairo, and you will still probably pay more after haggling.  In a future post, I will talk about the Khan al-Khalili market in Cairo and the prices for goods that we paid there.

Also, there are many characters in the market.  One man yelled "buy one get one freeeeee!!!" as we were leaving.  Others will say "everyone inside 1 pound."  This is clearly not true, and I try to stay away from places that make such claims.  In fact, I found myself often going into the stores where we were not pulled into.  I know better than to go into a store where one tries to physically get you to go in.  Sometimes you are blocked from leaving stores until you buy or say "no" a few hundred times.  When shopping you can not take it too seriously, as it can really bother some people after a while.  I have heard stories of people crying because it is all too much.  The best advice is to be prepared and realize that these people make a living off of what they do, and many probably don't make that much money as some do not own the shops themselves, but merely help run them.

As of the time of this writing, the exchange rate is between 6.5 to 7 LE to the dollar, although vendors will quote you 7.5 LE to the dollar.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Going from Dahab to Luxor Egypt via Bus - Local Transportation - Getting Around Egypt

The central square of Luxor, near the Luxor Temple.
After spending around a week and a half in Dahab, we decided that we would like to see Luxor before leaving Egypt.  We purchased a ticket through King Safari Dahab Tours, as we did not want to bother with getting a taxi to and from the bus station in order to purchase a ticket.  The bus station is not in the same area of Dahab as the hotels are.  In fact, it is in a separate and more quiet residential area that is separated from the tourist area.  There is an extra commission for getting the ticket through a tour agency, but they also gave us a ride to the bus station right before the bus left.

The bus only had a few people on it when it left the station.  There were a couple of other tourists with us, a pair of Asian girls, and they were the only other tourists we had ridden a bus with in Egypt on our entire journey.  The ride itself was pretty nice.  I was very sad to leave Sinai and had gotten pretty attached to spending time in Dahab.  At first I was not sure of what I thought of it, but as the days went on, it began to feel like a type of home in many ways.  After visiting the Blue Hole a couple of times, we did not want to leave, but we realized that it was time to move on if we wanted to see Luxor, which we did.

The bus route took us south to Sharm el Sheikh, where the bus filled with more passengers, and then north to El Tor.  It was around El Tor that the sun was setting.  It was a spectacular sight over the water to the west.  Far in the distance the flames from refineries danced with the reds of the sun's descent.  Shortly after we were both asleep and awoke a couple hours later to a military personnel telling us to get off the bus.  Dazedly,we gathered ourselves and realized that nobody else was on the bus.

As we stepped outside, we saw that everyone was gathering their luggage and putting it in a line.  We took our bags from under the bus and put them near the front.  At this point a dog was used to sniff the bags for contraband.  The guards took an extra look in our bags and checked our passports before we continued across (under) the Suez canal and towards the city of Suez.

It took a while to get through Suez, as it was quite busy at this time of night.  Even though it was midnight, the city was well alive (more so than when we passed through in the middle of the day on the way to Sinai).  We stopped at the bus station to pick up some more passengers, which filled up the bus.  There we used the restrooms, which had seen much better days.  In Egypt, most bus stations and other places charge 2 LE for the restroom.  This usually pays for an attendant to clean them (which is done at some places better than others).  Here, there was no charge, thus you can imagine what the restrooms may have looked like.

As we passed through Suez, we witnessed huge lines at the gas stations due to restrictions and shortages on gas.  This is one reason why many Egyptians are quite upset.  Leaving Suez, we made our way south on the side opposite of Sinai along the Red Sea.  This is where we both fell asleep again, to wake up the next day outside of Hurghada, a popular tourist resort town on the Red Sea.

After Hurghada, we made our way through the Red Sea mountains towards Luxor.  This is where the journey really slowed down.  The route through the mountains is windy and some parts of the road are not paved.  There is a lot of traffic as well.  We made a stop at a rest area here for a few minutes before heading to the town of Qena, which is on the Nile, north of Luxor.  We spent much time in Qena, as the bus had to be refueled.  Many passengers disembarked here and we made our way through the backstreets of the city, which was much larger than I expected it to be.  After about an hour here we were off to Luxor.

Along the Nile
It took another hour or so to get to Luxor.  Our bus left Dahab at 4:00 pm and arrived in Luxor at 11:00 am.   It was a journey of about 19 hours.

I will talk more about Luxor in a future post, but for now I will say that it was by far the hassle capital of Egypt.  Immediately, before even getting off the bus, a hotel tout got on the bus and tried to get us to go to a specific hotel.  We told him we already had a place booked and he tried to still get us to go to his.  We said no thanks and he helped us get a taxi upon exiting the bus.  We were probably overcharged for the ride, and I am sure the tout got some of it, but we were just happy to be in Luxor after such a long bus ride.  The bus let us off in the main city, even though the guide book states that the bus leaves you near the airport.  We paid 20 LE for the taxi, but it really should have been no more than 10 LE.  



We went to the Fontana hotel, which has air conditioning and full bathtubs, which is rare with budget hotels in Egypt.  We met the owner's son when we arrived and he told us about the city and about the hotel.  He said that he had just finished studying in Cairo but was sent home due to the revolution that was to happen on the 30th of June.  We told him that we would be in Cairo on this date.  We drank tea and then went to our room.  At first we were told it would be 95 LE, per night, for the room with the bath, but later he realized that he was mistaken and it was 75 LE.  Even with that said, on Hostelworld, the room is quoted at 60 LE with bathroom and 50 LE for a room with shared bath.  All rooms have A/C.  So, keep that in mind if you stay at the Fontana, in Luxor.

Later, after showering and resting for a while, we made our way back downstairs and were offered a tour of The Valley of the Kings, The Colossi of Memnon, the Temple of Hatsheput, and the Hebu Temple.  The price that we were quoted was 380 LE per person, which was quite high.  We told him that we were students with ISIC cards, and he said 280 would be the price.  We still thought this was high, and we told him we would think about it.   We discussed it, and eventually we said 200 LE would work.  We should have went lower, as the guide book states that the cost is between 140-200 LE for students.  Obviously we got it at the high end.  We asked him where some good food was and he pointed us to a Koshary restaurant a few blocks away.  We made our way to the restaurant and both got a bowl of Koshary for 10 LE total (one small and one medium).

Luxor alleyways
After getting Koshary, we went back to our room to rest and later on headed back out to see the Temple and Luxor market around sunset.  This is where we began to realize the hassle that Luxor entails.  Earlier I wrote about the Pyramids of Giza and the touts and camel guides that constantly harass tourists.  The entire downtown area of Luxor is like this, and possibly worse.

The Fontana hotel is in an area called Television street, which is where many of the local businesses and apartment buildings are located.  This area is pretty much hassle free, even though it is loaded with people.  It is when you get to the train station, where the road makes a junction towards the Luxor Temple and the tourist bazaar that the hassle begins.  We went to see if we could get a train ticket and were unable to for Friday, as the trains were all sold out.  In Luxor, there are only four trains a day heading towards Cairo that tourists can ride.  These trains have armed guards on them.  We were told the next train we could take would be on a Saturday.  We wanted to be in Cairo before the weekend, so we figured that we would maybe take a bus.  After leaving the train station, we made our way to Luxor temple.  

The Luxor train station
Upon getting close to the temple we were approached by a man that operated a caleche, which is a horse drawn carriage.  These men are as stubborn as the camel touts at Giza.  They will not take "no" for an answer.  Many will follow you and block your way from crossing the street for as long as possible.  There are dozens of these caleche operators near the Temple, and with few tourists, we were the target of pretty much every single one of them.

When one would eventually leave, another would take his place.  Sometimes two would be asking us at the same time.  One of the drivers was a young boy, perhaps 10 years of age.  We spent nearly 20 minutes with one man who wanted to take us to a Egyptian market that was around for "one day only."  As we spent more days in Luxor, we would realize that this market was around for "just one day" every day, just as we suspected.



Luxor Temple
When one says "no" to the caleche drivers, the operator will say "do you know how much?"  They then quote about 5-10 LE.  If you say "no" again, they continue to tell you how much it is or lower it a bit.  It is quite an annoyance, but one that the Luxor visitor must get used to.  If you walk along the Nile, you get approached by both the caleche driver and the felucca boatmen.  The felucca is an Egyptian sailboat that travels along the Nile.  Being harassed by everyone is quite annoying to be honest.

We eventually ate some dinner at a falafel stand and got some juice, which came out to be around 10-15 LE total for two sandwiches and two glasses of juice.  We then went into the Luxor bazaar, which was pretty empty of tourists.  That made us a huge target.  At first, we were not bothered too much, but upon reaching the end and turning back, many shop owners converged on us.  We will write a post about the market itself later, so I will leave it at that for now.

We eventually made our way back to the hotel, as it was getting late.  Overall, it was a very long and eventful day.