Romancing in Egypt


This feels like a dream come true – an Egyptian honeymoon. It has been a whirlwind scramble from across the globe to get to Cairo – I have been in Lake Tahoe, Chicago, Hong Kong and New Delhi the last 4 weekends – I am hoping this will be a relaxed outing as compared to the life changing events in the last few weeks. Since this is a travel blog, I will spare the readers the details – so back to Cairo.

We board Etihad from New Delhi – it is a 3+ hour flight to Abu Dhabi – a layover for another 3 hours, and a 3+ hour flight to Cairo. There are no direct flights which would have saved us a few hours. The flights themselves were uneventful – the airport at Abu Dhabi is a pleasure to sore and tired eyes though. The international terminal 1 is an excellent piece of interior design – the roof stand on a central pillar that rises from the ground and forms an enclosed structure like a shell – the shell is then divided into a lower and an upper foyer with ample large open spaces. Large hexagons are pained all across the pillars and roof – so they at once look like a part of the whole. The net result is that it is easy to navigate from one gate to another – without walking for miles to reach any other part of the airport.

The airport at Cairo is by all means a contrast to the one at Abu Dhabi. The immigration process is leisurely, the people are somewhat friendly, and the building is in a dilapidated condition and the maintenance leaves much to be desired – notwithstanding that Cairo is high on the tourist map and the second busiest airport in Africa (after South Africa). In the absence of walkways, planes are neatly parked planes on the tarmac – and we take a bus to the terminals.

We cant help notice that everyone around us is smoking – much to my chagrin indoors. This seems to be the favorite activity around and is not looked down upon by the locals. Our luggage arrives smoothly, and we are off to the city. Unlike as in the US, the luggage trolleys are free of charge – supported by ads.

It is Oct 6 and apparently it is a holiday in Egypt to commemorate the beginning of the 4th Arab-Israeli war in 1973 – the war lasted 20 days and restored pride in the Egyptians. After much deliberation in 1978 Israel returned the Sinai peninsula back to Egypt and the countries made peace.

A man comes up to us and addresses me as “Maharaja” or a king – I wonder if it has to do with my turban – which was once a symbol of royalty in India. He is quick to arrange for a ride to our hotel in Giza. Damage: 150 Egyptian Pounds(EP) or $30. Since it is a national holiday, the highways are deserted. It takes us about 40 minutes to get to the hotel – on a regular day the same ride would take about 2 hours. We check -in to the Le Meridian and are given a corner suite with an excellent view of the pyramids – well, only when the smog clears up!

First impressions:
1. Smog – too much of desert sand mixed with polluting cars blanket the entire city.
2. Cars – all brands, all makes, all years – anything goes as long as it has 4 tires. I can spot a Maruti 800, Alfa Romeo and Porches.
3. Tourist Police: Seems to be everywhere – we feel safe in spite of not knowing the language.
4. Language: Everyone seems to speak or understand a bit of English – so getting around is not a problem.

We are too tired to wander out of our hotel – so we just call it a day during mid afternoon.

We wake up to hunger at around 9PM  and are delighted to find that there is a nice marketplace nearby – we venture to savor some local Egyptian fare – falafals and kebabs! The eateries are open till late inthe night and offer a good sampling away from the modernist hotels. The marketplaces remind me of eateries in New Delhi and the like. At a nearby restaurant, we  sample some lentil soup, pita bread, falafals and kebabs, along with home made mango juice.  To a starving man, everything is just excellent – the  real test of food will start tomorrow and I am eagerly awaiting!

The day is off to a fantastic end!

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