Run like an Egyptian
After 8 days in Hotlanta, which was not very hot, we are now off to Cairo, Egypt to tour and run. I had heard about a cruise line called Uniworld that had cruises and tours of the area but by the time I was ready to pull the trigger the ship was sold out. I really did not have a plan B but I did go to marathonguide.com to see what races were being held in Europe and low and behold there was a marathon, half and 10k in Cairo on the days I was thinking of visiting there.
I do a lot of reviews for tripadvisor.com and use them for hotels, when there is not a Marriott and also for restaurants. They had a 7 day tour which included a cruise of the Nile at a very reasonable price and with great reviews. A few key strokes later, I had the entire 16 day trip organized and booked.
Originally my sister, Gwen and my sister-in-Law, Joan were going to join us but they ended up getting cold feet after reports of a bombing in the area. At my age and after all I have seen and done I do not really worry about things like that anymore. I flew planes for 37 years so now I have a tendency to take life events in stride. Along with having two major surgeries where I was told that there was a possibility I would not wake up.
In our 4 years of running all over the world we have been places that have had major events occur after we left the area. Istanbul and Nice come to mind. I do keep my head on a swivel everywhere we go and realize that in most places I stick out like a sore thumb.
There are a lot of moving parts involved with our vast travels and, knock on wood, we have always had a hotel room, rental car and airline flight on the dates and times required to get from point A to B. I must admit there has been some close calls along the way and this trip was no different. I still have to laugh at myself the time we tried to fly from Argentina to Brazil without a Visa. You can read about that fiasco here.
On this trip instead of flying on to Cairo in one very long day I had us overnight in Paris. I am really getting much to old to make those 36-48 our trips anymore. It is also very taxing for Catherine. Our Delta flight arrived a few minutes early and we got thru Customs without any problems. Since we did not check our bags, we had a very bad experience last March, we made the long trek to the hotel shuttle area well ahead of plan.
Right after we got there a Marriott van arrived and tried to depart without us. I actually had to chase him down. It was a bit cold outside so the warm van was very inviting. As we drove off something told me that something was amiss. The van had Marriott on the side along with Charles de Gaul and Poisey, which is the area near the airport but I remembered the hotel van previously being black.
We have stayed at the Marriott near the airport a half a dozen times over the years so maybe I was just mistaken. The route now seemed different to the hotel but I did not remember there being more than one Marriott in the area. As we pulled up on the hotel I knew I was not at the right hotel but I had a backup plan.
As I approached the front desk clerk I told her that I was probably at the wrong hotel but with my elite status I was pretty sure they would find me a room and then I was going to have them cancel my booking at the other hotel. She looked up my reservation and said that I was in the right place and that they had upgraded us to a suite.
Doing some research I did find the hotel I thought I had booked and it was merely a Marriott hotel whereas this one was a Courtyard Marriott. I have been in some cities where the are 6 different Marriott brands in the same complex. These two hotel are about 3 miles apart and must say I like the other one better. More choices of places to eat and there was a mall nearby the other hotel. No harm no foul.
When traveling to Europe it is always a challenge when it comes to sleep and this was no different. Our flight left ATL at 4pm and with the time change we arrived around 6 am, local.
Since it was still dark and neither of us got much, if any sleep on the plane, so to bed we went. Surprising we both got a good days sleep but when to sleep next was going to be an issue.
After a great meal we did try to go back to sleep since our flight departure was at 6am the next morning but we both only got a few hours each. No big deal since we arrive in Cairo at 4pm with our tour starting the next day.
The overnight news was that several small bombs had gone off at the London airport and train station. Just goes to show that in today’s modern world no telling where terror or natural disaster might strike but I refuse to let it stop me from running all over the world. At least for now. The tornados in Alabama was another example. In some cases it is not even safe to be in your own home.
Air France and Alitalia have a vey goofy seating arrangements for their first class cabin. All rows on the airplane are three across with limited leg room and they just don’t book anyone in the middle seat. I guess they can then just jam everybody in the plane on certain routes. Since it is only a two hour flight I can sit somewhat sideways and put my legs in front of the middle seat.
The arrival in Cairo was simple enough expect the fact that they did not give us our immigration card to fill out until you get off the plane. Also our guide was late so it took awhile for us to find each other. The first night we stayed at the airport hotel and suffice to say it was not a Marriott.
The next morning our guide, a different Mohammad was also late and then we spent the next 30 minutes going over what we were going to be doing the next few days and giving us the description and price of the optional tours. The original 7 day tour including a 4 night cruise was 1700 bucks which also included airfare to Lexor where the started and from Aswan where the cruise ended.
I ended up buying another 700 dollars worth of tours which included entrance fees. We had to buy the entrance tickets to the basic package which was another 100 bucks. I found that a bit weird but not a deal breaker.
Once we were on our way we got to see the Pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Mykerinus, and the Great Sphinx. We went inside Khafre’s complex, one of the Pyramids. I am glad I picked the smaller one since I had to bend way over to make it down and up the ramp to the chamber where the empty crypt was located. After a quick bite to eat we swung by the Hilton Hotel to pick up Michael and Nicole our new best friends for the next 4 days.
We then flew to Luxor where we met our third Mohammad for a tour of the Luxor Temple at sunset. By now I was starting to get use to sheer size and scale of the architectural feets’ involved in building these massive structures and understand no one really knows how they did it but Mohammad was able to tell us exactly when. So many facts and figures.
We boarded our ship, MS Miriam, in time for dinner but unfortunately they had the AC going full blast in our cabin. By now the outside temperature had dropped to the high 50’s and when I asked how to warm up our cabin, I was told to turn off the AC. I hate when that happens but that just something you have to deal with when you run all over the world.
We spent the night in Luxor so that we could visit the Colossi of Memnon, Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Valley of the Kings and the Karnak Temple. At the Karnak Temple there I was able to see two of the three, Obelisks. The original three were made in Aswan and transported by boat to this location in just 7 months. The third was recently moved to Paris where it took them 5 years to do so. They say the technology to make most of these magnificent structures has been lost forever.
Turns out there are over 250 cruise ships that travel the Nile each day between Luxor and Aswan. The Nile river is the second longest river in the world at 5000 miles, We had originally signed up for a three day cruise and that was to go from Aswan to Luxor but depending on day of the week they moved us to the 4 day cruise in the opposite direction for no additional cost.
After the tours were over we then headed for our next stop, Edfu. We were able to enjoy a beautiful sunset on one side of the ship and the glow of the sunset shinning off the Esta mountain range. That is when Catherine jokingly said that she never wants to retire from retirement. While there we visited the Ptolemaic Temple dedicated to Horus. We got there and back by horse drawn Carriage which was pretty cool.
After the tour there we then sailed to Kom Ombo to visit the Temple of Sobek dedicated to Sobek the crocodile god. In the Temple they had a cylinder that was used back in the day to track the water level of the Nile. The higher the water the higher the tax that had to be paid since it was figured everyone would be experiencing greater crops.
Right next door was the Crocodile museum where they had 20 mummified crocodiles on display. Getting to and from some of these sites you would have to go thru the gauntlet of sales folks and here they were the most aggressive, even using kids. Since I don’t usually buy anything Catherine came up with the idea that we pretend we could not hear of speak and would start using fake sign language as they approached us.
That evening we sailed on to Aswan. It was Egyptian night for dinner and also many that had bought a Galabia partied in the lounge. With another early start to our tour day in the morning so Catherine and I took a pass. The Egyptian food was good but the desserts were even better.
While in Aswan we visited the High and Low dam. The Russians helped finance the high dam and lovely structure was erected in their honor. From there we visited the Philae Temple. This Temple is located on an island so we had to ride in a motor boat to get there. This Temple was recently moved piece by piece since it’s original site was going to be underwater when they built the high dam.
We also got to see an unfinished Obelisk. They found a huge crack so they left it in the quarry. In the afternoon we visited a Nubian village. We were also transported there by motorboat. We toured a local school where we got to learn how to write our names in Arabic.
Tonight’s entertainment was a man doing a whirling dervish routine and a belly dancer. Once again an early departure the next morning so since we had seen both in Istanbul we took another pass. You can read about our Turkey adventure here.
Cairo was uneventful but I must say I was a bit concerned when I saw the plane we were flying in was a Boeing 737-800. The second 737 had just crashed in 5 months but it turns out they were the Max 8 models. Just another example of how fragile life is. I did find it very strange that the man at the security screening area wanted to log our passport information as we went thru security.
Once we were back in Cairo we visited the Cairo museum after we dropped off our bags at the Hilton hotel. First they said they only has smoking rooms but when we got back from the Museum they were able to find us a very nice non smoking suite.
They say to see the entire museum it could take 2 weeks but we did it in a little less than 2 hours. The place was full of kids and some were sitting on the floor drawing some of the most famous sculptures. I did not pay the extra fee for a photo pass but were able to sneak in a few shots.
That afternoon we went on an Islamic and Coptic tour. This included seeing the Citadel, military facility/mosque. The Coptic tour took us to where Jesus hung out for three months and the adjacent church.
The next day we toured and open air museum called Memphis and Saqqara which is the oldest cemetery in the region. We finished off the morning with a short visit of an Oriental carpet school. Students start there as young as 10. I don’t think they have many child labor laws here.
The evening was an highlight for me to see the hour long sound and light show in the area of the Pyramids. The narration gave you a complete history lesson of that time period. This tour included dinner where we enjoyed the local dish, Koshary and a rice pudding type dish for desert.
We had the following morning free with the plan to run by the expo to pick up our race numbers. Turns out the expo was only open 5 to 10 pm so instead we did a few miles on the treadmill and found our way to the start line. Turns out it was only 1.5 miles from our new hotel, Marriott.
They recently change there name to Marriott Bonvoy and rolled out an extra perk to their elite customers. Usually I will get upgrades when I showed up to check in but now you are given 10 upgrade nights to be used as you choose and the rest of the time it is done at checkin.
I was able to select 1 night in Paris, 4 in Cairo and another 3 in Amsterdam. About 5 days out I got a confirmation email for all 8 nights. The hotel in Cairo was incredible. It was like a city within a city. The executive lounge had full meals for both breakfast and dinner. They even had very nice waiters to fill your glass of wine or beer.
Our final evening of touring Cairo was topped off with another walking tour of an area called AL orzo street. This area was within the original walls of medieval Cairo going back 1050 years. This are is also where the locals come to buy just about anything you can think off. On our way there we passed numerous streets filled with makeshift carts for people to buy and sell their wears.
This tour once again finished up with dinner and this time it was at a local chain called Gad. There you could watch them toss the pizza like dough as they made their famous Egyptian pancakes. After dinner I had our guide drop us off at the packet pickup location and that was an experience.
Cairo runners put on this event and this was just their 4th year and the first year they ran the race in downtown Cairo. Early on it was hard to find any useful information concerning the race. Like where the packet pickup was located and where the start and finish and times for the different events. They had a Facebook page and as we got closer in to race day they would update the page.
Not much at the expo but the packet pickup and people jumping around to the very loud music playing. All your information was listed by your phone number so it did not take long to get in and out of there. Since the venue was only 1.5 miles away we elected to walk back to the hotel.
I must say we got our monies worth on all these tours and except for an hot air ballon ride in Luxor and a visit to Alexandria, which was a 3 hour car ride each way, we got to experience all that Egypt had to offer.
With a day of rest on Thursday all that there was left to do was to run 13.1 miles on Friday. One would think that early morning race start on a Friday that there would be minimal traffic, since it is Shabbat in this neck of the woods. The traffic might have been lighter but it was still an exhilarating experience to run amongst the vehicles like an Egyptian.
These folks don’t joke around when it comes to crossing streets. They do it anywhere and everywhere. They are fearless and relentless. The race itself was a unique experience. It started in a park across from the Opera House and they only allowed the runners plus one into the park after you went thru a medal detector. Speaking of which they have them everywhere. Hotels, malls, and all tour sites.
The marathon with 284 participants started at 6am with a 15 minute warmup to music in front of the stage. They then announced the pacers and one by one the filed off to the start line which was a Quarter mile away. The half was up next with a 6:30 start time and we did the same and by the time we got to the start line the race had just started so no waiting for the 2800 of us.
The 10k was behind us with a fun and family run shortly thereafter. There was not much fan support but the water stations were well stocked and the dates at each of them were very tasty. I never really noticed how high their curbs are until I had to jump up and down off of them during the race.
Their solution to runners crossing multiple intersections was like no other I had ever seen. They just threw 20 or so teenagers at each intersection. As you approached they would yell at approaching cars to slow down, swerve or sometimes even stop for a hot second. They were also yelling at you to quickly cross the street. It was controlled chaos. I had never seen anything like that before. At first it was a bit intimidating but after a few miles you got us to it.
The course was flat as a pancake and I noticed that Catherine was the only female wearing shorts. As a matter of fact I did not see another female in shorts the entire time we were there. It was fun to watch all the little kids coming into the finish area as we were leaving.
The weather was perfect and if that running the race itself was not enough between the 1.5 miles to and from the hotel we put in another 7 miles of walking after the race. Since we are in training for a full in May, I thought it would be a good idea to get in as many miles as possible.
After a day of rest we made it to our 4:30 am flight to Rome and on to Amsterdam. We did have a bit of a snafu on the way to the airport but all is well that ends well. With only 200 Egyptian pounds left I elected to us Uber back to the airport. After checking out I saw there were a few cars in the area near the hotel so I requested one.
I got the usual meet your driver message but no car. I replied I am here and got a message back in Arabic. I typed in my name and asked them to answer in English. At that time a car pulled up and the driver rolled down the window and I called out my name. He nodded his head yes and off we went.
I had decided I was not going to give this guy a 5 star since he almost ran a guy off the road while on the phone. When we arrived he started asking me for money. Looking puzzled he looked down at his phone and started what sounded like curse words in Arabic. Turns out he had picked up the wrong fare and we had gotten into the wrong car.
How did I know since he was the only car there and even asked me what terminal I was going to. By then he started rattling off figures of how much he wanted and I kept telling him how much I had. His figure was up to about 500 pounds when I showed him that if I got a ride from the airport to the hotel it was only around 180 pounds. I gave him the 200 and he went on his way.
Maybe that was a scam they use there or just dumb luck on both our parts. I will be much more careful in the future. Speaking of which, I see they were exchanging fire in Jerusalem, where I was this time of year last year and someone shot up a mosque in Australia where I also ran a race last year.
Low and behold Uber charged me a 10 pound or a 57 cent cancellation fee which they refunded when I asked them to with my Uber app. I will be sure to verify the license plate number from now on.
We will be in Amsterdam for three nights to help with the transition back to the states. That flight departure is a bit more reasonable, at 1 pm. We only spend one night in ATL then on to Connecticut for my 48th state that I have run a least a half marathon. 38 of them have been full marathons and I should be done by the end of April. Then we move on to getting some more of Catherine’s marathons done with Colorado in May and Wyoming in June. Then she will only have three marathons left to do.
My overall impression of Egypt was very positive. They really like to hustle/hassle you when it comes to selling you something/anything. They don’t actually have beggars. Everyone asking for money is trying to sell you something. The most popular was small packages of Kleenex.
Traffic lines a purely decorative. People usually drive like a snake in a out of traffic and constantly blowing there horns. They either blow it to tell someone to move over or to let someone they are next to them and not to come over. They also blow their horns at the pedestrians dodging traffic.
Taxis and small private vans used for public transportation also blow their horns to get your attention, like asking if you want a ride. I will not miss the constant sound of those horns. There are few street signs or traffic lights so they have people at intersections trying their best to semi control the flow of traffic which there is a lot of. Some streets they have a guy with a gun on his belt controlling who comes and goes down that street. Like Mexico they also have a multitude of speed bumps to slow traffic down.
They take security very seriously around all the tourist sites and certain buildings. On top of metal detectors they register every vehicle that comes in the area and in some cases that includes bomb sniffing dogs. There are armed guards everywhere. Some are behind barricades and some sitting on tanks.
A few final thoughts about Cairo. Parts of it are very dirty with garbage piles everywhere and other places there are numerous people sweeping the streets by the curb. You can walk down the street and pass a herd of goats or get passed up by a horse or donkey drawn cart. There are cars broken down everywhere and people hail cabs and vans on the side of the highway.
They call Cairo the city of 1000 minorities and it is very easy to see why. It truly is a melting pot. Some men have a dark spot on their foreheads’ and it turns out those folks take the praying 5 times a day very seriously. The more verses you are able to recite the longer each prayer takes and more occasions for your forehead to hit the carpet they are kneeling on.
This was our 76 country to visit and our 32nd to run a race in so I must say I have seen just about everything but two things I have never seen before is the sheer number of stray cats and dogs. They both seem very scared of humans. I am not going to speculate why. The second being that they charge a 12% service charge on everything. It does make it easier when eating out but a bit ridiculous when it comes to your hotel bill.
I am very glad we went to Egypt but doubt seriously that I would ever go back. Now time to start working on a plan to visit India and the Fiji islands. I might be able to do both this year but if not definitely next year.