First time travel on Austrian Air Lines proved so comfortable that Dickie lost his cell in the seatbed. Our passports say we visited Vienna, but only saw the inside of an international transfer holding area(at least it was the Business Class one.)
On to Egypt - Cairo is big (17 million) and dense, as the following cabin window photos attest:
Liz has escalated us to new levels of pamperedness. Paul is there (on the plane side of immigration) to meet us, find our luggage, purchase our visas and sweep us through Customs. We stand around with nothing to do, probably looking dumb. Once through Customs we are met by our wonderful guide and travel planner Ahmed Hamed Yousif (also known as Ahmed #1 - more about planning the trip with Ahmed later) and our equally wonderful driver Ahmed #2. Our three minders then whisk us into our private van, tips are palmed, checkpoints are cleared and we plunge into the chaos of Cairo traffic (more on Cairo traffic later).
Ahmed #2 displays Formula One skills navigating us cross metro Cairo to the Mena House Hotel next to the Pyramids in Giza. The airport waltz repeats itself at the hotel - Paul takes our passports, deluxe rooms are secured, Ahmed #1 fusses over us, Ahmed #2 handles security, Bellmen are dispatched, cold beers arrive - Liz and Dick stand around being useless!
It may take a village to raise a child, but it seems to take a small army to move Liz and Dick around Egypt!
A sidebar note about our Guide/Travel Planner Ahmed Hamed Yousif:
We would not have the wonderful time in Egypt (as you will read) without Ahmed. He worked with Liz for 7 months to set up every detail of every day...and then made changes when we got here and wanted to do different things. We joke about our "handlers" but they were wonderful. We zipped through security everywhere (of which there is a lot), rarely hauled luggage, meals were choices of food we loved served at interesting restaurants, the van dropped us off and picked us up at our convenience. It was great.
But the functionality of the experience was eclipsed by his humanity and professionalism. He has a deep knowledge of Egyptian culture (ancient and modern), plus speaks impeccable English and his guiding experience has made him very sensitive to the issues we Westerners are curious about. We loved talking with him. No issue appeared too provocative. We learned. We will never see the Evening News in the same way again.
He pampered us. He made us laugh....frequently. He eased our experience in dealing with a new culture without totally insulating us from it. But mostly we believe he became our friend.
We have been fortunate to work with many wonderful guides in Asia, Europe, Australasia and South America - Ahmed ranks with the best.
Back to the blog!
Liz has outdone herself - our room overlooks a lovely garden with Khufu's and Khafre's pyramids staring down on us night and day:
The hotel is a delightful medley of high tech (wi-fi, satellite TV). British/Egyptian monarchy history (a great bar, Indian restaurant) and Islamic design .... all flavoured with intense levels of service that manages to avoid obsequiousness. Liz and Dick immediately set up camp in the Lobby bar next to the pillar with a power outlet and great wi-fi access (great, but not cheap!).
Photos of hotel public rooms and facilities follow - definitely a top 10 for us of all the hotels we've ever stayed - first our tasteful room
Shots of the gardens.....
Opulent public spaces...
A post script on breakfast - we loved the breakfasts at Mena House (as we consistently loved breakfasts throughout Egypt and Jordan)
- omelets to order
- an amazing sweet bakery/pastry table
- Indian food
- Egyptian food
- multiple juices (Hibiscus!)
- yogourt variants
- fresh fruits/salads
- honey in numerous variants
- grilled tomatoes, potato croquettes, beans etc