I remember the first time I was in Egypt. I was thirteen years old, and was taken to see the pyramids at Giza. Then (as now) it was really hot there, and I’d probably not taken too much notice about staying hydrated. So when I was handed a bottle of Coca-Cola (one of the glass bottles) I downed it in one. Now, I’ve never been much a fan of fizzy drinks and I’ve always found them quite hard to drink. They don’t go down easily and they leave a really odd feeling in my stomach that makes me not want to eat for a while. This time was no exception, and as soon as the last drop hit my stomach I threw the whole lot back up in front of dozens of people on the Giza Plateau.
That was my first trip to Egypt, and I’ve not been back since. Tomorrow, that is all going to change. I’m going on a one week holiday to Sharm el-Sheik, and I don’t plan on drinking fizzy drinks, seeing pyramids or being sick.
I have no other real expectations for this trip. The plan is to have a nice relaxing holiday somewhere hot, and that fact that it happens to be Egypt is secondary. But I can’t forget that this is the country where my Grandparents met and married, and the country which I read so many books about during my ancient history phase.
I think it will be easy to forget though. I expect this trip to be high on relaxation and low on history and mythology, but at the same time I am looking forward to returning to a country that has changed so much politically and economically since the last time I was there.
The journey starts today, after a very strange day rattling around the house with no dog and no cats. I’m not sure what feels worse – sending the animals to their temporary home for a week or powering down my computer and network. I miss them both, but in very different ways.
I am also glad that Birmingham International Airport now has decent free wifi. Although I’m less glad that all the news stories seem to be about Egyptian unrest and people hacking the controls of aeroplanes.
The journey to Egypt was fairly uneventful. Sharm airport was basic, but perfectly functional, and there wasn’t too much evidence of the heightened security that is a feature of most of Egypt right now. It took a while for our bags to arrive, but once they did we were herded into a small bus, and within half an hour or so we were checking in to our hotel.
The hotel is lovely. It’s probably the nicest all-inclusive hotel I’ve ever stayed in, and very much feels like Egypt (specifically the Asian part of Egypt). The room is spacious and air conditioned, and there is plenty of storage space (including a safe and a fridge). I’ve taken a lot of photographs of the hotel and the room, both high-quality colour pictures, and a series of black and white art shots taken on my old iPhone (which I use as a watch, camera and music player when I’m travelling). I suspect a selection of these pictures will make it to somewhere on the internet at some point in the next couple of weeks.
I’m also really impressed that we were able to get dinner and drinks despite turning up at the exact minute the restaurant was meant to close. I have no idea what I actually ate (some sort of fish, some sort of bird and white rice I think), but it was delicious, and after 5 hours on a plane with nothing more than snack food it was very welcome.
One thing that did strike me about this room is that it’s not really geared for people travelling with multiple electrical devices (so people like us). We’re not just here for sand and sun – we’re here to take photographs, write, study, and do all the things we usually do but in a different physical location. The room didn’t have any spare plug sockets at all, but after realising that we can turn plug sockets on and off with the light switch, we managed to throw together a charging station that could deal with 4 USB powered devices and a laptop. Of course, we then switched the whole thing off again with the lights, but we won’t be making that mistake again.
After a few hours of sleep, the resort looked very different in the light, and is easily the largest such complex we have ever visited (with our hotel being one of three in the general vicinity). Exploring it is going to take a couple of days, and will result in many photographs. This is the day I took lot of black and white photographs as well, and it took me back to the days I would shoot everything in black and white because it looked more artistic. I’m now not sure it does look more artistic, but it is quite interesting to have a second set of pictures that capture the trip from a slightly different (and more blurry) angle.
We also got to experience more of the hotel food. I wasn’t as convinced by breakfast as the dinner last night, but I did really enjoy the coffee and cakes I had afterwards. It’s very hot here, and bottled water has also featured quite highly in my diet so far. I suspect this will be the case throughout the trip, although it amuses me that they serve the red wine at a much lower temperature than the bottled water. The wine isn’t actually bad, and is served in modest enough portions that a glass or two with lunch might just be an option.
When planning this trip I wasn’t sure if I had ever encountered a place this hot before. Now we’re here it doesn’t feel much hotter than Italy in the summer, but we have not encountered the heat at the middle of the day yet. Thankfully there is always an air conditioned room to retreat to, and I think that I will be spending the middle hours of the day reading, writing, and staying in the shade. I suspect that makes me a bad tourist, but I don’t really get too much satisfaction from lying in the sun and turning my skin an unattractive shade of red. Maybe I’ll feel differently by the end of the week, but for now I plan on using the good parts of this resort to the full and barely paying lip service to the rest.
One thing we did do today was to make reservations at three local restaurants that we get to eat at once each as part of our booking. So at some point this week there will be seafood, Lebanese and Japanese. We have spaced these out throughout the trip so that we get a night of hotel food and then a night of something nicer. This may be our only concession to things organised by the hotel or the tour guide, as generally we like to be left to our own devices.
Last night we spent a couple of hours in an outdoor bar, enjoying the slight drop in temperature after the sun had set. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sun, but it’s also pushing 40 degrees here and I’m really not used to that sort of heat for sustained periods of time. We also took many more photographs, including quite a few artistic ones. I suspect we may visit this bar again, as it was very pleasant.
Today has largely involved lounging around, reading, and drinking endless bottles of mineral water (and the occasional cup of coffee, although far less than in the UK). The area around the pool isn’t too crowded, and people seem to be fairly sensible about the sun, although they might also be avoiding the locals trying to sell various services that we’ve been warned not to accept. Everyone is pleasant enough, but it’s very obvious that they are here to sell things that we just don’t want to buy. None of this is a surprise though, as Egypt is notorious for this sort of thing.
I downloaded a lot of books before I left. I’m getting through them at about 2 a day, but even at that rate I won’t run out. I may very well make a decent dent in my list of things to read though. I may also start to make a dent in the cocktail menu, although some of them sound quite odd. I will try and remember to take a picture of the menu before I head home.
We are not doing any day trips this year (they are all quite expensive, and none of them appeal), but I don’t feel I’m missing anything, and I’m very glad of the chance to stay in and around this beautiful resort for a week and catch up on reading, writing, and everything I do that isn’t part of my day job and doesn’t require the internet.
Which reminds me, last night we did check out the free wifi room at the resort. The connection was really slow, but I was online long enough to catch up on the news and read my personal email. I have no burning desire to spend lots of time on the internet, but it is good to know that the facility exists in case of emergencies. I think that’s one of the big things about those of us who spend every waking minute online – when we’re disconnected from the internet we feel disconnected from everything, as if the world is going to crash and burn without us to monitor and record every event that occurs.
One further thing that strikes me about this resort is the total lack of cats. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere before where I’ve not seen at least one cat, and I really do think our cats would love it here, as there is plenty of sun, a wide array of interesting looking birds (who are very tame, and therefore very trusting) and an endless supply of other food that doesn’t need killing before consumption. I wonder if it’s the climate that drives them away, or if the resort owners have just scared them off. I know other parts of Egypt have cats, and I’m mildly curious as to why I’ve not seen any so far.
We’re going to a seafood restaurant tonight. That’s something else the cats would love.
And as if by magic we saw a cat last night.
I also have a wonderful new cat figurine (only my 4th in over 20 years, but I do love them). Cats in Egypt are meant to bring luck, but the one we saw just bought us the first bit of bad customer service of the whole trip, and a distinct lack of understanding of what did and didn’t count as nuts (for the record, almonds are nuts, always). Thankfully it was also followed by some very good customer service, a large plate of fruit and a booking in a posh French restaurant for a complementary meal.
Last night’s movie was Gone Girl. I really enjoyed it, although I suspect it bled into a rather restless night.
Yesterday we spent a large part of the day on the beach. As a result I’m a little more brown (and red) than I was, but we do have many wonderful photographs of fish, snakes, crabs and assorted other sea life. When the tide is low it’s possible to wander in the shallow water and see a wide variety of wildlife, and when the tide is high there are even more things to see with the aid of a snorkel.
We also discovered that the large “rock” we can see from the beach was actually a grounded ship. You can’t see it with the naked eye, but with the zoom on the camera it’s possible to see it quite well. I have a few good pictures of it, plus a few of other ships and helicopters (some of which may have been military) that passed us as we sat there.
In the evening we went out for drinks and dinner. By the time we ate I wasn’t too hungry, but what I did eat was lovely (as was the wine, which was far better than the local bars), and they let us take a big plate of fruit back to our room.
Today saw another trip to the beach for more photography, followed by coffee, lunch and a brief siesta. Dinner tonight will involve a short trip to a Lebanese restaurant which is part of the next hotel across from ours, and tonight’s movie will be either Black Swan or The Brothers Grimm.
Tomorrow is Friday, and therefore a day of rest in Egypt. I suspect there will be no resting here though, as the guests at the hotel are a mix of German, Russian, Ukrainian and British people – most of whom probably don’t observe the Muslim day of rest.
Last night we had our first truly great meal of the holiday. I’ve not tried Lebanese food before, but found it to be delicious, and to contain a lot of meat and a lot of salads and dips that remind me of both Greek and Turkish food. The service was great too, and we ended up leaving them a tip (in US dollars, like all our tips have been). What struck me about this place is that the staff obviously had a great deal of pride in their establishment and the food they served there. That came across in both the quality of the food and the service, and it’s certainly something that the fish restaurant from earlier in the week could have learned.
Today we saw our first camel of the trip, as well as a lot more fish. The camel was on the beach, having a snooze, and it was very odd seeing a creature I associate wih dry desert conditions so close to the sea. I suspect seeing a camel ticks a box somewhere, although we still don’t intend on seeing any pyramids.
We also received two bits of mail – an invitation to cocktails tonight (which turned out to be a photo opportunity for the holiday company) and details of our departure, which is the day after tomorrow. In some ways I’m looking forward to being home again, but at the same time I’m going to miss this place and could very much get used to both the weather and the very relaxed lifestyle.
One more full day to go, after which comes my least favourite part of any trip – packing, checking out and the return flight. I generally see the journey to a place as part of the adventure, but the return journey always feels like going over old ground, and it can never end soon enough for me.
I spent most of yesterday feeling a bit rough, and last night I didn’t really want to do much more than lie in bed and drink water. This is something that happens to a lot of people in Egypt, and I’m glad it’s come near the end of the trip when I’ve already seen and done most things I wanted to. I suspect today is going to be a quiet day on the beach (or by the pool), but I am hopefully I’ll have regained some of my appetite in time for dinner tonight (which should be Japanese, a cuisine I’ve always loved).
One thing that strikes me today is that the shift to digital film has made it much easier to document holidays. 20 years ago I would have to buy reels of film, and could not see my pictures until a week or so after I got home. Now I have a camera, laptop and memory stick with copies of the same 734 photographs, and can look through them this morning to check if there is anything we have not recorded. I dread to think what it would cost to take and develop 734 photos now, but I suspect it is more than the price of my camera.
Time to go home. I will miss being here, but I am looking forward to seeing my dog and my cats.