Straight from "Something New": Let Go, Let Flow. I'm letting go of: my career in BigLaw, fears, and excuses; I'm letting positive energy flow. Life is short, so following my dream to travel the world NOW. Excited for the people I will meet, adventures that await, learning, and soul searching/personal growth that is to be discovered. This blog is intended to document all of the above.
In Awe of Egypt (& My Thoughts on “FlashPack” Tour Travel)
I’ve wanted to go to Egypt since I was a child. FINALLY! This trip made so many dreams come true. I wasn’t sure about how Egypt would be as for solo female traveler, so decided to book a tour. (Note: completely safe, although, if you’re blonde you will get A TON of attention. Like, a ridiculous amount.) After seeing lots of ads on instagram about a travel company specifically designed for people in their 30s-40s, FlashPack sucked me in and I decided to give them a shot. More details below but bottom line: they attract great people (I left with a group of new, fabulous friends) and partner with the most wonderful local guides (at least for my Egypt tour), but the cost is way too high for what you get. Too many issues, insufficient customer service, and very little privacy (despite paying a premium). I’d advise booking elsewhere. But now to get to all the fabulous details of my Egyptian adventure!
Arrived to Cairo. The greeting at the airport by the FlashPack representative was impressive; they met me shortly after I deplaned, and helped escourt me through customs. I was then escorted to a van with a driver who took me to my hotel, which had a fabulous view. But that was the end of my initial honeymoon with FlashPack (actually, there was no honeymoon period; the process of booking the tour and confirmation of travel was a nightmare and they would go days on end without responding to emails). When I arrived at the hotel, thanks to FlashPack, the hotel had absolutely no idea who I was, and no record of a room for me or even my tour group. After the stress of that was sorted (which took hours, because the hotel kept telling every woman in our group that she was in my hotel room, which had only two beds, and not room for 3+ people), things began to work more smoothly. Home for the first few nights was at the Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa, which offered breathtaking views of the pyramids.
Much of the first day was spent relaxing, recovering from an entirely too early flight, and getting to know my roommate for the next 10 days, Stephanie (from the US). After a much needed nap, Stephanie and I had a super yummy lunch at a nearby restaurant, Felfela. Little did we know our tour guide, Walid, would be taking all of us to Felfela for dinner too. But hey, it was yummy enough that I didn’t mind eating there twice. That evening Stephanie and I met the rest of our awesome travel group: Simonas, from Lithuania but living in Germany; Sara, from the US but living in Germany; Liz, from the UK; Becky, from the UK; Janet, from Canada; and Shannon, from the US. This bad ass group included two doctors, two lawyers, an engineer, a cop, and two businesswomen (albiet, in totally different roles). Simonas was the only man in the group, and was such a dear! He dealt with all 7 of us women so well. It’s rather remarkable to have a group of 8 strangers get along together as well as all of us did, but I can definitely say that I wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip nearly as much without them.
We visited Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx. WOW! So much more impressive in person than on TV. But this was also my introduction to what the rest of the trip would be like: like India, I was a bit of an attraction for locals. Blondes are a rarity and spectacle here! But unlike India, I never once felt uncomfortable. Though I was asked at least 50 times (minimum) over the course of my trip to take photos, I never once felt uncomfortable. It was almost always school kids or mothers with their children, and people were so sweet about it. The fact that my hair is so obviously not naturally blonde didn’t seem to affect anyone’s interest.
The city of Giza is built up all around these historical sites.
After visiting these incredible historic sites, Sara, Stephanie, Simonas, and I broke away from the rest of the group to have lunch at Andrea (an awesome recommendation thanks to my dear Meedo!). Super yum! That afternoon the entire group headed to Medieval (Old Town) Cairo. We entered through the old city gates, visited a mosque, and spent an hour walking through the market. I had no intentions of buying anything, but found a wonderful gallery and my love for art won the day! Picked up a beautiful piece of Egyptian art. Finished the day with a great group dinner in the Old Town.
In the market we came across the creepiest manikins I’ve ever seen. Seriously, this could be a scene from any Steven King thriller. And the ones on the wall above/behind them, with plastic smothering their faces, just upped the creepy factor.
To avoid ending this series of photos on such a creepy end, here are a couple photos of sunset at the market, and one of the squares around the market all lit up at night.
This day began with kayaking on Nile River. Walid sent us > 200 photos from kayaking that day (I wish I was kidding, but the insane amount of storage used on my phone doesn’t lie). While it was fun, I think two photos is enough for here. Ha!
After our workout on the Nile, I was HUNGRY. Lucky for me, lunch was the carb-heavy, delicious mess of a dish that my waist is glad I don’t have access to outside of Egypt. We ate at Abou Tarek, featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. It’s a mix of pasta, rice, and chickpeas, topped with a marinara(ish) tomato sauce, and I added lots of hot sauce, seasoning mix, and vinegar-lime-garlic juice. Sooooo good! Highly recommend!
Following the heaviest lunch ever, we headed to the Egyptian Museum, which was amazing. You could easily spend a full day exploring all the artifacts dating back to the Old Kingdom, all the way up to the New Kingdom and the super famous King Tutankhamen’s tomb (and all of the artifacts found within, including the infamous mask)! The museum also has a separate exhibit you can pay for (worth it!) to see mummies of many of the famous kings and queens, including Rameses! I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the museum (that also cost $ and I decided it wasn’t worth it) but did snap one just before leaving; it’s a massive statue of King Tut’s grandfather (the Pharaoh) and grandmother. Walid informed us that this was the first statue ever in Egyptian history where the Pharaoh and Queen were represented as equal size.
We then took a walk around downtown Cairo and visited Tahrir Square, which most westerners know from the protests and Arab Spring.
This is the only remaining graffiti from the protests in Cairo.
Dinner was supposed to be a sunset river cruise, but sadly we missed sunset. But still had the evening dinner cruise. Though again, it showed FlashPack’s hiccups; for us vegetarians (literally, half of the group) our main course was a plate of soggy, steamed vegetables. It looked (and tasted) like what you’d get out of a frozen bag of “mixed vegetables” from your local grocery store. Thankfully, we were able to fill up on salads and dips. But just another example of how much room for improvement this travel company has.
Egypt is a Muslim country, which means most places do not serve alcohol. Including our boat cruise. That didn’t stop Sara and Stephanie from pulling out their inner rock stars during karaoke. Yes ladies, this was so awesome and entertaining it made my blog. #sorrynotsorry
We had a painfully early 3:45am wake up call, in order to catch a 7am flight to Aswan. But totally worth it. Home in Aswan was Movenpick Aswan. After arriving in Aswan we headed straight to Angelika Island to see a Temple that blew my mind. Built by Greco Romans to honor the local Nubians living in the area, the Temple was covered under water for years before it was recovered, moved to its current site, and restored.
It is also home to the last known Egyptian hyerogliphics written anywhere in Egypt.
Then we had lunch at this tiny and super popular falafel place, where I had pita stuffed with falafel, eggplant, and baba ghanoush for 5EGP (that’s about $0.29). And holy sh!+ it was good!! Falafel made with favs beans instead of chickpeas and it was so tasty!! Best falafel I’ve had in the world is in Egypt. The name of this place is in Arabic and I don’t think anyone working there speaks English (Walid has to order for us) so unfortunately I don’t have a proper name to be able to recommend it. Aswan is known for its perfumes and essential oils, much in the same way Morocco is known for its Argon Oil. And similarly, it’s important to go to a certified shop or you’ll be buying something mixed with crap. So after the yummy lunch we made a stop at Essence of Life Al Fayed. In addition to smelling various oils, we saw how the glass was blown and made into ornate vases, and we also got a massage (to try out sandalwood essential oil)! And while they hope you buy something, no obligation. (I had NO intention of purchasing anything, but a couple of the essential oils smelled identical to Coco Chanel and Chanel Madmoiselle, and at less than 1/3 of the price, I couldn’t help myself!) Below is a time lapse video of one of the artisans making the beautiful glass containers they use for the oils and perfumes.
For dinner, we took a boat into a nearby Nubian village and had dinner at the home of a local family. It was truly a feast, and the family who hosted us were so lovely.
Today we had an even earlier wake up call at 3:30am; we left our hotel at 4am to head to Abu Simbel. A historic site in the south of Egypt, just a few km north of Sudan. This is probably one of the most well known and photographed sites in all of Egypt, and it did not disappoint. After the pyramids and Sphinx it was hard to imagine anything could be more impressive, but as it turns out, with every new site we visited I was even more blown away than the prior place. The grandiosity of Egyptian sites is just mind blowing. The sites are not just ENORMOUS, but every inch was designed so precisely and with such detail. And THE COLORS!! There are colors more than 4,500 years old that are so vibrant they look as though they could have been painted 20 years ago. Extraordinary. Tip: you do have to pay to take photos inside Abu Simbel. If you wait until the first wave of morning visitors leaves (by about 10am) you’ll get amazing photos inside without anyone in your shot! Also, our group decided to split the costs and only bought one photo ticket. While I was the primary person who took photos, I also shared the ticket with others in my group who wanted to take their own photos; we just make sure that the only person taking photos at any given moment had the ticket. (Walid told us that was totally ok.) That is, until I made friends with the guys doing security to check for camera tickets; once they got to know me (selfie with one of the sweet guys below) I just gave the ticket to Becky to use because I knew they were no longer worried about checking it for me.
That evening we hit up the local markets, and Walid took us to yet another local (and AMAZING) falafel place. Following that we went for sweets at this incredible local place, and picked up 2kg (4.4lbs!) of home cooked sweets for around $5USD!! So much good food!
After a couple of incredibly early mornings and long days, today was a much needed chill day. We all got to sleep in, and around 12:30pm we boarded a feluca (traditional Egyptian boat) and spent the day cruising on the Nile. Really a fantastic day. And seriously, Sara is just about the most fun person ever, and also the BEST to have pose in photos. Evidence below!
Goodbye Aswan. Today we had another early morning (though not 3am wakeup early) as we loaded into the van for a 4(ish) hour drive to Luxor, our final stop in Egypt. Home in Luxor was the Sonesta St. George, the least impressive of the three hotels we stayed in. (Travel Tip: Luxor is incredibly affordable! You can find hotel rooms for $25/night or less. The Sonesta was not nice enough to justify paying double that.) After arriving to Luxor and checking into our hotel, we headed to Karnak. This was probably my favorite of all the days of viewing historic sites. Just jaw dropping, astoundingly impressive. When you arrive, you’re greeted by Sphnix Avenue, a entire row of these statues lining the road leading up to the temple. And then when you walk inside you see this massive area with literally more than 100 MASSIVE columns, all geometrically identical in terms of the alignment of rows of hieroglyphics, many of which are still so legible. And again, so many areas with brilliant colors that have survived thousands of years! I so often found myself wondering if all of this could be real. I now understand how so many people believe aliens built these structures, because it’s hard to fathom how human beings, prior to the invention of modern technology, could accomplish such things. Really, really incredible.
You can watch this video (https://youtu.be/8ODYROPbWS8) to see a couple minutes of my walk through of Karnak columns to get a better idea of how massive and impressive they were.
That evening, we visited Luxor Temple just before sunset. Seeing this temple at night, all lit up, was another beautiful sight to behold.
Today was our last full day on the tour, and we certainly made the most of it. We first stopped at Deir El-Bahari Temples (Mentuhopte, Queen Hatshepsut).
Our final stop of the day was to the Valley of the Kings, where so many Egyptian Pharaohs are buried. Our entry ticket permitted us access to three tombs. I thought I had seen vibrant colors in prior sites, but standing inside the tomb of Ramses IV was something else. It was unreal! We also visited the tombs of Ramses IX and King Tutankhamun. Standing inside the tomb of King Tut, who I had learned about almost as much as any historical figure, felt, well, I had to pinch myself. Again.
That evening was our final farewell to Egypt as a group. Sadly, our dear Janet got sick and missed this day and dinner, but the group shot shows how fond we all were of each other. I genuinely enjoyed my time with this crew.
The last 2 days. Most of the group had left before breakfast, so it was just Walid, Sara, Stephanie, and me for the final day. And by the night, it was down to just Stephanie and me… just like our first day in Egypt. Though I won’t be using FlashPack again anytime soon (unless they cut prices in half), I had a really wonderful trip overall and am so very glad I finally made it to Egypt.
Up next: following the path of Moses, I too left Egypt for Israel. I definitely crammed in as much history as possible during this portion of my travels!