Becoming an Egyptian 6-14 January 2011

Trip Start Sep 09, 2010
Trip End May 28, 2011

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Where I stayed
Ali Baba Palace Hurghada
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of Egypt  , Red Sea and Sinai,
Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thursday 6th January 2011

Today we leave Hurghada. We check out and then spend a little time with Jay, Ellie and Claire over at the Aladdin hotel, typical at the end of the hols we discover it has a nice heated pool that is more suitable for Ellie. It is probably the hottest day since we arrived but we need to get off early to avoid driving the desert road back to Luxor in the dark. We aim to leave around 2pm. We say our goodbyes, Alaa is quiet he later told me that he nearly cried when he left Jay, Claire and Elli- ah bless him. We all got on so well and I was sad to leave them too, it was good that Ellie got on so well with Alaa, she is now at the age when some men scare her…I'm sure it won’t last! I will see them in all a few months time when I return to the UK as it coincides with the Justin Bieber (Ellie’s boyfriend she plans to marry him she tells me..) world tour, and luckily the Birmingham date is whilst I am home, so I have treated Ellie for her 5th birthday.

Alaa takes ages getting the car as I sit waiting in the hotel lobby, I sense something must be wrong. It is. Some Egyptian taxi driver had taken the exhaust (decorative) cover off of Alaa’s car and fitted it on this own (blimin cheek)…but instead of doing that and then driving off , thus getting away with it, rather stupidly he stayed where he was in the hotel car park and Alaa found him…. and after a few strong words I am told got it back. But it put us behind schedule so we didn’t leave Hurghada till about 3pm. We eventually got to Luxor around 7pm. All I can say is it is a pretty scary experience driving on Egyptian country roads in the dark. You have to try and avoid donkeys and carts, push bikes, as well as people, the roads have very little lighting. I am just glad we made it in one piece.

Friday 7th January 2011

I spent about 4 hours in the internet cafe. I have lots of lovely birthday messages on FB…how times have changed. No more text messages and fewer cards, its now e-cards and FB, and lovely to know that people care when I'm thousands of miles away!

Had  some bad news. Nick left me a message late last night to say that an old friend from our days in Northampton has been struck down with swine flu. She is in hospital on a ventilator. She is only 44 and has 2 teenager daughters. I’m not one for praying but have said a prayer for Tracey and I have been thinking about her a lot since I found out. As Nick said life really can be too short, far too short I think to put off what you really want to do. Don’t wait until next year, five years, if you can, do it now. In my philosophy you can only regret what you didn’t do, never regret what you did do. Those choices, which may not have turned out well, are all about life.

I'm glad that I made the decision to go travelling and having a year off. Life really is too short, it goes by in a flash - it only feels like yesterday that I was getting ready to embark on my first ever trip to Australia where I lived for 6 months, not 20 years. I personally believe you can only regret what you haven’t done. So go for it and learn that language you’ve been meaning to do for years, leave the job you hate and take a gamble, save up for that holiday of a lifetime don’t leave it until you are retired…I’m afraid to say some of us won’t be lucky enough to make it that far. We really don’t know what life has install for us so make the most of it every day.

Saturday 8th January

We enjoyed the quad biking so much in Hurghada that we decided to go again this time we went in Luxor. A bit different to Hurghada, firstly it was just me and Alaa. Secondly we were out for about an hour and a half in a very dusty, windy desert terrain with the Valley of the Kings as our backdrop. It was pretty bumpy and very rocky. A few times I hit a rock and thought I was going to be flung off my bike…imagines and headlines of the accidents Ozzy Osbourne and Rik Mayall had on their quad bikes come flooding into my mind…I didn’t want to die I’ve only just turned 40! I know Alaa wanted to go faster but I was literally hanging on for dear life. We went up some high sand dunes, and back down steep slopes I pulled the breaks and closed my eyes! Actually it was great fun, but that’s enough quad biking for me this lifetime I think!

I get a text from Nick, some good news about Tracey there are signs of a slight improvement. Christina who is married to Alaa's friend Mohamed, has just told me that I don’t actually need to go to Cairo to get my visa extension I can get it done in Luxor (wish she‘d told me earlier, save all the worrying). So we will try and do that tomorrow but I still want to take Alaa to Cairo to see the Pyramids so we may still go next week I think.

We ate in Africa Garden, West Bank, it is very good quality food and value for money, much better than Africa Restaurant which is opposite on the main street and half the price. We have a massive portion of fried fish, rice, vegetables, pitta bread, salad and chips and two drinks each for just over 12 between us. It lacks atmosphere we tend to be the only guests but recommend a visit if you are in the West Bank anytime soon.

Sunday 9th January 2011

I need a new handbag, the one I brought for about 2.50 in Bolivia is falling apart. Alaa takes me to this fab shop in downtown Luxor that has a plethora of bags…nothing particularly Egyptian or traditional but the type I could use at home. I can’t choose so buy 2 for the equivalent of 10. The shop also sells make up, another of my bad habits as you know. I buy some eyeliners and lipsticks, which back in the UK would probably have set me back 20+ all for the bargain price of 3. I’ll be going back for more before I leave that’s for sure.

We have lunch in Sinbad’s….this is our favourite watering hole and where we usually end up in an evening, cheapest beer in town at 8 LE - 1. But it is going to be demolished in April to make way for the Winter Palace Hotel extension we think although no-one really knows  (this is a very famous colonial hotel on the banks of the Nile built in the late 1890s and was frequented by the Egyptologist Howard Carter who discovered Tutankhamen's tomb and more recently it’s where French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni honeymooned). All I know for certain is the next time I come back to Egypt it won’t be here anymore L It will be a sad day when Sinbad goes.

Monday 10th January 2011

West Bank again today, on the way we have a very close call in the car. I’m not quite sure what the right of  way on the roads is in this country, but all I know is we are driving along and a mini van comes from the left and cuts directly in front of us and we miss a stationary man and his motor bike on the right by the side of the road by inches. I’m glad the brakes worked and Alaa is a good driver otherwise it could have been very messy.

I had my passport photo taken for the visa and believe it or not got airbrushed at the same time. The photographer digitally enhanced the image so I have no lines on my face but I think I look like a waxwork dummy.  I realise that I actually quite like the lines of age, it makes me who I am remove them and its not me…(see the photo and decide yourself!!!)

Tuesday 11th January

Today I officially become a resident of Egypt! No I have not married…All tourists visiting Egypt automatically get a 30 day visa upon entry. We get them at the airport and they cost 10. It was so easy . I had to give them a passport photo, fill in a very straightforward form, with hardly any detail all I said was I wanted to extend my stay to be with Alaa and hey presto if I wanted to I could now stay here until December 2011 without being an illegal immigrant. So officially I am now a temporary Egyptian resident, although I need to get another visa to let me out again, hopefully they let me return to the UK????

Wednesday 12th January

We go to West Bank and I suggest we go for a drive around the Valley of the Kings…it is dusk. We visit a friend of Alaa’s who owns one of the many alabaster shops nestled amongst the Valley of the Nobles and the desert landscape just before you enter the Valley of the Kings. Almost all the families who lived here have been moved on in the last year or so, to the newly created city of New Qurna, just a short distance away. Families had lived here for many years,  Alaa’s friend was born here likewise his grandfather before him. But the homes were on top of undiscovered tombs and needless to say some of the locals found antiquities and sold them to the highest bidder. I am told there is a trade in ancient Egyptian artifacts. In fact Alaa’s friend showed me two really ancient limestone statues that he had found amongst the tombs. Anyway the Government told the people to move on and now there are just a scattering of homes that remain, but the new city is clean and had good facilities a brand new school, shops and Alaa’s friend say most people are happy . He will have to move his business there in the future. We sit and have some tea and then drive around the new city, not before witnessing an amazing sunset over the Valley. It was the reddest of reds and utterly beautiful, stunning what can I say.  However it seems to have lost some life since the villagers were moved on. The Valley is now lit up so that from Luxor and the banks of the Nile you can see the outline of the valley at night, it's very atmospheric but they have also lit up individual tombs. I think this is wrong, let them rest in piece. The new city is very quiet compared to the West Bank by the Nile and Luxor, but as Alaa’s friend put it so well here we are in the land of the dead (The Valleys are the cemeteries of the pharaohs….Luxor was/and still is where the life is.

Thursday 13th January

We drive to West Bank and visit Howard Carter’s house. He was the famous Egyptologist who discovered Tutankamen’s tombs nearly 90 years ago. I’ve read a little about his life and his backer Lord Caernarvon. For 20 LE or 2LE if you are local you can look around a re-creation of what his home would have looked like 100 years ago and also have a coffee in the gardens. The house actually has a really lovely feel to it, light, open and spacious and apparently for $10,000.…you can hire it and spend the night there - a bit out of my budget.

We visit Alaa’s family again, all the women are sitting outside by a campfire…I go and sit with them and the children to warm my feet, it has been a cloudy day (looked like it might even rain) but didn’t and a cold night. Alaa has 5 nieces and nephews I have now met all his family. The younger ones are very cute and everyone is very friendly to me, even if we can’t speak each others language. Obviously the winter here isn’t anywhere near as cold as it is in  Europe but it is certainly much colder than in the summer months, it makes you want to crawl into bed and hibernate!

It’s Twinky time again on the way home. This is a shop just opposite Luxor Train station which has the best cakes in town, and anywhere else for that matter. They make the best Om Ali, a tradition Egyptian pudding made of milk, almonds and corn flakes that I am addicted to. Today we get a tray full of a variety of cakes - yum, yum.

We go to Luxor Train station to see about tickets to Cairo. They are 230 LE each a tad over 20 for an overnight sleeper carriage one way. I thought this was expensive but on looking back at the info I had printed off realise this is the going rate. Not sure whether to go for that or a 1st  class seat…will compare the price difference and see which is best value? Hope to go by end of the week, as I now only have 2 weeks left in Luxor.  I think I will find it very hard, and strange, to leave Alaa after so long together.

Friday 14th January

We discover that we can actually get the bus to Cairo and it is more than half the price at 85LE. We decide that we will go for this option…so it’s a return to overnight bus journeys for me, I wonder how it will compare to South America. My only concern is the accident and safety record in Egypt on its roads is I think one of the worst in the World…..anyway I have Alaa with me so hopefully we’ll be ok. We will go tomorrow night.

The owner next door to the apartment we are staying in is building 3  new flats above his current property. We went and had a look he said it could be a really good investment. I look with some reservation, but actually am pleasantly surprised. We look at all the flats but the one that I would be most interested in is the 3-bed flat with views from the lounge and 2 bedrooms of the Nile. These kind of properties are really rare and this is a lovely sized flat. You know when you walk into somewhere and immediately imagine yourself living there. Well that’s kind of how I felt. The price is ridiculously cheap, compared to UK prices. It is going for 180,000 LE, that’s about 20,000. But the building is not finished and not sure what state the flat would be in, I think we would need to fit electricity, plumbing, do the plastering, etc, so need to look into it more as what potentially looks a bargain could then turn into a real gas guzzler on the old purse strings. And I don’t actually have a spare 20,000 so would have to try and barter him down. But I’m already dreaming of owning a holiday home by the Nile…well we can all have our pipedreams eh!
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