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The fourth installment: Cairo

October 6th, 2009

The Osprey Brand Team, a group of ambassadors reporting from the field at consumer outdoor events across the country as well as reporting on adventures in their own neck of the woods, delivers the latest from new team member Aimee Cebulski who is on a 6-month world travel adventure. She’s taking an Osprey Sojourn 28 with her (from our new Travel Collection). This is her fourth update coming to you from Egypt…

We’ve now left Europe behind and are starting our African portion of our trip…We landed in Cairo, Egypt on October 1. We’ve been here for the last four days and there is just too much to say!

Neither Jeff nor I had ever been to Egypt and really didn’t know what to expect. We had heard everything from fears of harassment and constant scams, talk of unsafe neighborhoods and overflowing garbage and a general overall consensus that Cairo was best to “get in, see the sights on a tour, and get out…”

We were blown away at how wrong our perceptions were. From the moment we arrived in Cairo and met our driver from the hotel (the historic Windsor Hotel in downtown Cairo), we have been treated with respect, kindness and courtesy. Friendliness and chants of “hello” and “welcome to Cairo” followed us almost everywhere we went.

Like any big city, there have been the occasional moments of someone trying to sell us something, pollution, people cutting in line, etc. – But, we have just been floored at the positive energy of Cairo.

The Windsor Hotel is a turn-of-the century hotel with a famous bar and lounge, old-school gate elevator and even an old-fashioned punch style phone switchboard downstairs. It has the aura of a hotel that was once grand but now a little faded. It is in need of some repair and you can tell things might not work as well as an ultra-modern hotel, but we are loving it! Staff is unbelievably nice and helpful – In the mornings, they always make sure I have a take away for Jeff if I go down for breakfast early and he hasn’t faced the world yet…

The best experience with staff so far was 2 nights ago – I was sitting in the lounge doing some research and a nice gentleman was introducing himself \to everyone in the lounge, making sure they were enjoying themselves. He was the owner, Mr. Doss. I mentioned to him that Jeff & I were going to head out the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar later that night. Mr. Doss volunteered to personally drop us off there on his way home, even though it was out of his way! It was a comfortable ride in his Mercedes, but we were swallowed in a sea of crazy traffic as he pointed out facts about parts of the city we were driving through.

A word about Cairo traffic: Insanity. If you think you’ve seen bad traffic in LA, NY, London, Bangkok, wherever – You haven’t seen anything like this. Traffic lanes are merely suggestions, lights really don’t exist, you cross the street “Frogger” style (hopping from lane to lane) – However, we haven’t seen a single accident of any kind! Cairo drivers are either the best or the worst in the world!

In terms of attractions/activities, there are so many to mention. I’ll let the photos do the talking but I’ll post some highlights here:

(Night 1 – we arrived, went to hotel, enjoyed the lounge…)

Day 1: Over to Old Cairo, walked the maze of streets below the city, underground churches. We left the tourist area (you can easily see everywhere where the tour buses stop and how tourists are shuttled away, never to see the real Cairo)….We ended up walking for miles just checking out local neighborhoods, finding the old city walls, etc. I didn’t take many pictures as we didn’t want to intrude into people’s lives, just a few here…But we were greeted by so many smiles it was wonderful! We were the ONLY tourists we saw anywhere during our excursion; one little boy even said “cheese” and took my picture!

Night 2: We went to the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. Overwhelming! People, stalls, food, scents, sounds, a crazy mix and a fun way to spend a few hours. Got a few cool trinkets.

Day 2: Egyptian Museum in the morning – amazing collection, but it was a bit jumbled and disorganized (as much of Cairo is!) – Royal Mummies were cool but overpriced; favorite part was all the loot that was taken out of King Tut’s Tomb in 1922 – Over 5,000 pieces, including his sarcophagus and head piece!

Night 3: Relaxed at hotel for a bit, then went out over to The Nile Hotel (right on The Nile River) for their rooftop bar – fantastic views of the river, we enjoyed some food and drink and took in a football (soccer) match on TV.

Day 3: Pyramids!!! We started early, went around the grounds, into some smaller tombs – The only bummer was The Great Pyramid was not open to interior visits today due to restoration work, but we plan on going to tons of temples at Luxor so we were OK with that…Walked around the Sphinx, enjoyed cold drinks in the café looking out to the plateau…Obviously, pictures don’t do it justice.

We took our time, watching tour groups getting herded in and out in rapid succession. We even left the grounds for a while, explored a bit of the Giza neighborhood, had lunch at Pizza Hut (one right outside the gates has the BEST view in the world of the Sphinx and Pyramids)…

It’s a trip – The pyramids are right in a suburban neighborhood – you look over in your car and bam! There they are…We went back in, walked around some more, had another cool Coca Light and took it all in before heading back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

Later today, we are heading to Luxor via the night train and can’t wait to see more temples. Cairo has been an absolute blast and we are so glad we did things on our own, used the subway, walked around (and got lost on occasion, but had a great time) – It’s a shame more people don’t venture out of the cocoon of their tour groups and tourist hotel compounds – we feel like we saw a lot more than the average visitor and are leaving with a fantastic impression of the city and the Egyptian people.

My Sojourn continues to serve me well. I wheeled it around the Milan and Cairo airports easily and have found a few new nooks and crannies in the bag (the space behind the straps inside the zip-up portion makes a great space for storing dirty laundry!)

Sorry this is so long – there has just been so much to share! Signing off for now…

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