Eric's visits to Egypt
Memories of Egypt
Egypt was my first non-western experience.
First visit was en route to Tanzania, 3rd January 1975. The visit was arranged by my PhD student Omar Salman, he was still in the UK but his brother-in-law Andrahman Nasser (professor of chemistry at Cairo Al-Azhar university) looked after me. My plane arrived, all the luggage was dumped on the tarmac, a crowd of folks swooped on it, leaving my case sitting alone. After customs Abdrahman missed me, so I took a taxi to the address Omar had written on a piece of paper. It was a tall block of flats, I slept on the floor the lifts. Abdrahman arrived early next morning to find me, and take me to his top floor flat. I had views over the adjoinging lower blocks, with families living on the roof. And ove a surburban railway, all trains had folks all over the outside. The newspaper boy delivering to the adjoining block of flats could fold the papers and throw them into balconbies several stories up. The flat was cold, no glass in the windows, but sunny 20 degrees in the day. Abdrahman brought me an orange each day as a vistamin C pill. Abdrahman's family fed me, and daught Soha bounced on my knee.
November 1979 Business visit to 10 Dec to Egypt, Cairo; University of Cairo Computing Centre. My job was to investigate the performance of their new ICL 2903. You could see the problem as soon as you walked into the computer room (look at the activity lights on the discs, one disc drive 100% active, the others idle, solution is to spread the load), but for politeness it must appear to take time to discover. I stayed at a flat in Garden City and walked 20 minutes across the Nile to the institute. The mains water was on only from 11 pm to 5 am; late or early showers. There was a very noisy funeral in a flat below me - much wailing by the women, the louder you wail the more it shows how sad you are - downstairs all one night & the next morning. Chatted with Saad Mohammed Abdul-Aziz doing an MSc, and gave him hints. He took me to his flat for a wonderful meal cooked by his wife and other women, who idn't attent the meal.
March 1981. To the University of Cairo "Institute of Statistical & Scientific Research (and contraception)". This trip's job was to connect their departmental CompSci Data General computer to the Computing Centre ICL 2903. I did all the necxessary software, but they couldn't find someone to put the wire in! The staff won't muck in and do it themselves (I would, we did at Nottingham when the PDP 11/70 arrived, the kids helped wire up 8 terminals over the weekend). I stayed in Dokki in a diplomat's flat, good hi-fi, played my "War of the Worlds" cassette, nice to hear a good English voice. A new mosque was being built a few yards away. I visited the Planetarium, all the Cairo folk I know had never been there. Lots of walking the back streets in the evenings, I got to know the shops better than staff at the institute. They'd ask me where to find a shop for particular things e.g. bikes.
March 1984 A trip to Kuwait, included here because it was orhanised by my Cairo friend Omar, and several of the staff here were from Cairo University, earning a lot mor here than the would in Cairo. I flew first class Kuwait Air, my only time ever in first class, caviar and no champagne since it was supposedly a dry airline! (But at the end of the flight when I wandered to the upstairs lounge for a look, there was a strong smell of alcohol) I had tried but failed to swap the ticket for economy class and pocket the difference but that was not permitted. I gave general seminars in University CompSci department, Omar, Ayse, Osman etc were all there on loan from Cairo. The females on the staff changed into western dress while on campus, back to muslim gear outside campus. Lots of folks invitied me to visit in the evenings, and almost everyone offered me whisky. I stayed at Holiday Inn, great luxury. The atrium had ordinary western seating plus cushions on the floor, preferred by the locals The mornignradio started with a religious programme very like thought for the day. Kuwait was a fairly boring concrete city apart from the traditional market = sook or souk. I drove with Omar to the Saudi border one day, another day was desert picnic by the sea. There are still Berbers living in huge tents in the desert, but now they have Range Rovers as well as their camels.
February 1990.Visit to Cairo. I was told to look out for Omar's mum Mrs Salman, 36 El Khalifa El Mahmoun St, Manshiet el Bakri, Heliopolis, the only house with a mango tree in the garden on the airport road.The visit was organised by Omar Salman to the University of Cairo, Institute for Scientific & Statistical Research (and contraception!). His brother Ali (Deputy ambassador at the Egyptian Consulate, since deceased) arranged my visa over a cup of tea at the London consulate, avoiding long queues and waiting. He also took me afterwards to ,y only visit ever to a London men only club. "Would gentlemen please not russle their papers." I went to give a course on "Formal Specification using the Z language" to the Computer Science staff there. I know quite a few of them already. Osman (fat, good eater) renamed the Greek letter capital Xi "hamburger". I stayed at the University Faculty of Tourism Hotel (where they teach students to run hotels) behind the Meridian Hotel, cheap and grotty but at least it was walking distance from the city centre and from work. Not too far to walk to work The day I was leaving in the evening I sat by the Nile for a final snack. I was fed up with drinking coka-cola, and drank a glass of water. After I got home (luckily) my bowels and head exploded, a warning NEVER to trust dodgy water.
The last visit to Egypt was a holiday with Joy and Jean & Rory.
Sunday 3rd November 2002
Pickup by Pat (and Alicia) 08h00 or earlier. Depart BroadMarsh Bus Station 08h25. Arrive Heathrow 12h10, soon met Jean+Rory. Shopping, coffee. Checkin 15h25. More shopping (books, puzzles etc). Depart LHR BA0155 16h25 = 45 minutes late, Boeing 747-400. At the gate they said "Any more Foxleys?". Confusion over seats and possible upgrades. Arrive Cairo (flight duration 04h50 + 2 hours) 23h15. We were met by Nazih Gaber, and were very fast through getting a visa (quicker than the queue if you already had one). Minibus to the hotel, 45 minutes, half way out on the S of Pyramids Road. Jean+Rory were impressed with Egyptian driving, especially the donkey carts in the fast lane of the dual carriageway. Rooms 806 & 807. Bed 02h00 local time, the phone rang twice in the night but we ignored it.
Monday 4th November 2002
Up at 8, breakfast 08h45 (roll cheese marmalade, coffee, not thrilling) and pickup at 10h00. Driver Artif. Guide Dalia was a little late, she'd gone to the wrong hotel. First to the museum (the spare wheel dropped of the minibus on the way!), we paid an extra LE10 each for permission to use 2 cameras. Tut's things (sarcophagus and jewels) are always wonderful. Dalia had a lot to say, and gives good background. The museum was crowded with kids. Then on to Giza, first to the "Papyrus Museum" to see how they do it and to buy lots. Then behind the pyramids (good photo spot) and round, the police were shooing us off by then because they wanted to go home! Hotel for 17h00, leave at 18h00 to go to the Sound+Light show in English at 18h30 at the pyranids/sphinx. Good! Eat back at the hotel, kebab+kofta. Bed 22h00
Tuesday 5th November 2002
Slept like a log. Alarm 7 breakfast 8 pickup 9. First to Memphis (the old capital city, statues & pillars that have been found in wells hidden from later conquerors collected in a park, a very large Ramses 2, and Bes god of joy and sex). Then on to nearby Saqqara (tomb of important person Mere Tuka, lots of paintings of day-to-day life on the walls), then temple, Djoser's step pyramid (like lots LE10 for camera, we owe Dalia). Then Akenaton Carpet School (they educate girls half time, and make carpets to pay for the education the other half, all very much to be approved of) and bought lots (£517 VISA). Then into town to the Citadel & Mohammed Ali's (he was a Syrian) ("blue") mosque 12thC. Then hotel 16h30, pickup at 18h30 to the floating restaurant "Golden Pharaoh". Good food, belly dancer (no belly but silicone upstairs), and Sufi dancer (whirling Dervish, super). Home, coffee on 12th floor looking at the pyramids and Pyramids Road.
Wednesday 6th November 2002
Wrote a batch of postcards. Walk to shopping at the Metro Supermarket near the hotel. Swam in the cold hotel pool. Cleared the room for 17h00. Depart 18h00 for the train station, we had to wait for police permission. Near the station was a huge meeting for the start of Ramadan addressed by Sheikh Mohammed Gabriel, famous Imam / orator. We were held up with police guard in the crowd for an hour. Eventually carried our luggage into the station, train left on time at 20h15. Two cabins with connecting door. Airline type grot meal. Bunk bed down 22h00.
Thursday 7th November 2002
Didn't sleep too well. Woke to palm trees going past the window, passed Edfu station. Breakfast on a tray, fairly grot. Arrive Aswan, and met by (Omar?) Sherif and a car, nice fountains in the square. Off to the Basma hotel (very posh), the rooms 410 & 412 weren't ready till later. Tour of the hotel gardens by the gardener. Wonderful views of the cataract from our balcony. Sherif persuaded us to book for the Philae Sound & Light tomorrow, glad he did! Swim & slob. Evening meal on the terrace, very nice!
Friday 8th November 2002
Alarm at 3, depart hotel 03h30, dark drive to the High Dam docks. Walked through the dark of a junk apparently disused dockyard down steps across planks to the hydrofoil (a girl following fell into the filthy oily water) and waiting. It wouldn't start. Eventually 08h30 we were taxied to the airport, and flew "Air Memphis" CD-9 on a blank boarding card (very hard landing) to Abu Simbel. Good visit, it's very impressive. Flew back (hadn't lost any time), fast taxi with Sherif and our luggage to the cruise boat. Hurried lunch on the boat, then bus with guide Mohsen to the unfinished obelisk, then the High Dam, then back and small boat to "Kitchener's Island" = "Botanic Island". Lots of unusual plants collected by Kitchener. Boat back during the sunset. Bus to Sound & Light at Philae, taken to the island by boat with Hassoun. Super, the best sound & light. Hassoun was the fastest boat back. Late meal laid on for us 21h30. Bed early & knackered.
Saturday 9th November 2002
Eric up 06h00, sat on the top deck to watch the sunrise and the boat departure. Breakfast 07h30, boat stopped at 08h30. All walked to Kom Ombo (= "Mount of Gold") temple. Tour 90 minutes with Mohsen. Temple overlooks the river, Greco-Roman, mummified crocodiles (3 on show, they have 2000) (crocodile = tim saeh), Nileometer, mortise & tenon stone blocks, engravings of doctor's tools and botanic garden. Depart 10h00 (lots of sales people hassled us!), on 2 hours to Edfu (sat on deck enjoying the view), bog lunch. Edfu is a huge and very complete temple, dark inside, lots of lovely columns. Nice Horus falcons out the front. Depart 16h00, tea, showers, park overnight at Esna. Ordered T-shirts on the boat. Evening meal, the galabeya party! Jean nearly won the "pass the bottle".
Sunday 10th November 2002
I was up at 6 on the top deck, watching Esna wake up. Depart 07h00, and had to wait at the swing bridge by the old (British) barrage, then slowly through the lock at the new barrage. Lots of sales people throwing thing up onto the boat as we waited. Lunch before stopping at Luxor, the onto a small boat (via its roof, I slipped climbing down the ladder, twisted my ankle) to across the river to Thebes. Colossi of Memnon, Valley of the Kings (toy train, hot, we went in 3 tombs), Alabaster factory (Jean bought some cats), and Queen Hatshepsut's temple (wonderful). Then our bus went back over the new bridge south of Luxor. Jokey waiters, amazing towel origami. Long chat to Hoffman family.
Monday 11th November 2002
Pack and suitcases out before breakfast at 07h00. Tour 08h00 to Karnak then Luxor. Karnak is huge, very impressive, huge site. Back 11h30, collected by Saleh of Champion tours, and taken to the Meridien. Wow, 5-start luxury, fantastic pool and service. All thanks to Dalia! Slob by the pool. Pickup 18h00 for Sound & light at Karnak at 18h30, we walked as it went. It finished 19h45 (the next S&L had already started at the entrance), back to the hotel for 20h00. We eat in their Lebanese restaurant, great. The waiter showed off spinning trays with glasses upside-down. Tabuleh. The singer in the courtyard had a radio mike and wandered around.
Tuesday 12th November 2002
Slob by pool all day. I swam and read and had Turkish coffee. 16h00 pack and clear room, 17h00 eat at the Italian. Check, pickup 18h45 (we had to pay for an extra day of room use) £8 x 2), airport depart 19h45, about half an hour to Sham el Sheikh. There was a Movenpick minibus to take us to the hotel. Amazing! Huge! Semicircular building. Drinks on the terrace watching fairly sludge singer with a bloke and keyboard operated by a floppy disc. Bed 23h30.
Wednesday 13th November 2002
Dawn photos at 06h00. Wonderful breakfast buffet, foul, falafel and all sorts. Lots of sparrows eating the leftover bits. Slobby day, swimming round the swimming track twice (15 minutes per lap), lots of other pools to look at, and a salt pool with a jacuzzi. Down to the Red Sea, snorkelling (Rory rented a snorkel and was thrilled). Wonderful fish in the sea. I finished the book "Enigma". Evening buffet expensive but good, the scheduled belly dancer didn't turn up. Otherwise the same singers as last night.
Thursday 14th November 2002
Slob & swim morning, Joy & I went down the slides in the pool 4 times each! Jean+Rory went to the sea for more snorkelling. Clear rooms. 12h00 pickup was at 14h30, by Sabri of Champion tours. He'd been mending the minibus. Hurried driving up the coast and inland through the mountains to St Catherine's. He was in a hurry, and there was lots of rubble on the roads from a recent but very rare downpour & flash floods. The hotel, although 4 starts, is pretty Spartan. Heating needed, it's cold up here among the mountains. Grot evening meal, no choice at all!
Friday 15th November 2002
Up 01h00, minibus 01h30, meet Bedouin guide Mohammed 01h45 (his fee is about £5) to start walking. Joy fell fairly early on, no harm done. Joy found it hard work. Huts selling drinks & chocolate every now and them. The occasional camel passed us. We used one "composting" loo, a good job it was dark! We reached the top after much audible groaning from Joy and wheezing from me at 05h30, the sky was just lightening. We bought hot chocolates and rented a blanket. Wonderful sunrise, a gang of Ukrainians sang a song. Hard work going down too, but back at Sabri for 08h30, and off to the hotel for breakfast. Depart 01h00 with Sabri, along to the W coast and up the Gulf of Suez. Stopped at Moses Wells (and to see a hot well nearby), and to look at the Suez Canal (no photos). Arrive Cairo "Les 3 Pyramids" at 17h30, rooms 706, 707. Evening meal (kebab and kofta) 12th floor watching the Sound & Light at the Pyramids.
Saturday 16th November 2002
Breakfast 8, pickup 09h00, Sabri driving, Dalia guiding. First the old city, Coptic churches and the like. Then a jewellers (there was a lady & clay oven baking bread outside) to order some gold pendants with names in hieroglyphics to be made before we get back. Then the Sadat memorial (great, an open pyramid). Then to Khan-el-Khalili bazaar, Joy really in her element! Lots of shopping, and some coffee & mango drinks (Dalia didn't drink) to finish. Then off to collect the jewellery (the most expensive shopping of the holiday), all looking good. Back 16h30, meal on the 12th floor again.
Sunday 17th November 2002
Pack. Breakfast 07h30 depart 08h30 with Sabri. Desert road N towards the coast W of Alex. Irrigation & farming or building all the way to Alex. Brief coffee stop. Turn L (west) at the coast, past 100 miles of holiday villages along the coast. Stop at El Alamain for the Military Museum. 1 hour there. On near the coast to Mersah Metrouh, turn L into the desert. Stop for sunset, then on to Siwa arrive 19h10. "Simple" hotel. The hotel didn't serve food. Phone calls to Gaidaa at Champion Tours confirming we want only 2 nights here. Drove with Sabri to a restaurant "Kebooz Siwa" or Kenooz run by Ali Abdullah. Mud building, we eat among the tops of the date palms. Wonderful meal, best yet, tajin, mixed veg in an earthenware casserole. Joy had fig shake to drink. Bed 22h00.
Monday 18th November 2002
Jean+Rory slept badly with mosquitoes, we kept the fan going and were OK. Fairly grot breakfast in the Hotel (omelette and little else), meet Sabri 09h00 & guide Abu Bakhr. To all the local sights, Cleopatra's Well (deep, round, bubbling, cold), "Alexander's Oracle" and temple, Hill of the Dead (a man let us into the tombs, real dead bodies), then to old Shale Town (a hill of mud houses on top of each other 8 stories high). Then to see the sunset at the western lake past more wells. To Ali Abdullah's (he's been on the Discovery Channel on a series "The hottest places in the world") restaurant again, super again! Then he took us to his shop afterwards and showed photos of the Discovery team!
Tuesday 19th November 2002
Breakfast 07h30, depart Siwa 08h30. 300 km N to the coast, one brief stop. Coffee stop with disgusting loos, just after Marsa Matruh. All afternoon along the coast road to Alex, past endless building of seaside holiday villages. Arrive Alex 16h30, along by the sea, stayed at nice Hotel Plaza near the other (E) end of the Corniche, floor 10 overlooking the sea (rooms 1007, 907). Quick walk along the front before it got dark. Tried for a drink in the bar before eating, but no alcohol for Ramadan. Eat in hotel restaurant (and alcoholic drinks were available with the meal, but they were out of gin+tonic!), shish kebab. Nice to have a more luxurious hotel!
Wednesday 20th November 2002
Good sleep! Up 06h30 to see the moonset! Breakfast 08h00, our guide Amel met us at 09h00. Off to Coptic Museum (lots of lovely Greco-Roman artefacts), Catacombs (a first for me), Jewellery Museum (King Farouk + wife + predecessors jewellery, lots of money, no taste), and a palace. 13h30 head off back to Cairo, 1 stop (fed the monkeys), arrived back at Les 3 Pyramids yet again 17h00, beginning to feel like home, rooms 706 705 this time. Taxi to Dalia's for coffee & snack with her and hubbie Tarek. Heard but didn't see the kids. Home later than I thought.
Thursday 21st November 2002
Khan-el-Khalili bazaar again in the morning in a 4x4 with Abdul, he collected us at 12h30 in a no waiting area. Slob at the hotel pool in the afternoon, a cold dip for Rory & Joy. Taxi to Abdrahman's in 15h30 to arrive for 16h45, in time to break fast at sunset with him and family. Wife Aida (Omar's sister), daughter Soha and husband and kids, son Ahmed, and lots of others. Fantastic nosh!
Friday 22nd November 2002
Alarm 05h15, depart hotel 05h55 with Sabri and Nazih in a larger bus. The airport terminal looked VERY crowded, but it didn't affect us. Plenty of time for shopping and coffee. Depart Cairo on time BA0154 08h55, Boeing 747, flight duration 05h25 - 2 hours, arrive LHR 12h20, no, we were early. Beryl+Ken were there to meet Jean+Rory, we were in plenty of time for our bus departs 13h33, but bad traffic. Bad traffic. Nottingham 18h15, 45 minutes late. Unpack!
The main history page is here. This copy edited Friday 09-Oct-2020