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Friday, 24 July 2009

I've been in Egypt, that's my excuse anyway!!!

It's true, I'm really pants at keeping this blog up to date and I have no real excuse, as I'm now unemployed!!! I left F5 on the 30th of June and I'm actively looking for a new job. There's stuff on the horizon, been to some really good interviews and I'm being put forward for a number of others via recruiters as well. Nothing solid yet, but then I've only been really working hard on it this week.

I was in Egypt last week, visiting my aunt and cousins, who have been in the Middle East for nearly 30 years now. I had an amazing time and best of all, as they are "locals", I got to see Egypt in a different light to perhaps the way the average tourist would! It was a whirlwind tour, but I've done a "little" diary below!!

I got to Heathrow after checking in online the night before, pre-booking my seat, for a good one that was out of the way (I like to be as alone as possible when I travel by myself). When I got to the bag drop for BMI, I was really pleased that I had done the online check-in, as the queue for normal check-in was huge! The agent took my passport and check-in details and said "Ah, you've pre-booked your seat as 37G?", which I said I had. I was about to launch into a tirade when she said that I'd been moved to 2H. However, before I could say anything, she said that I'd been bumped into business class as the flight was full!!!! I also had access to the business lounge, which I didn't go to, as there was only 45 minutes to boarding and I fancied a wander around. When we boarded, I was offered champagne, orange juice or water. As tempting as the champagne was, it was only 9:15am, perhaps a little early ;-). We were given menus to choose lunch from and informed that the chef would be round shortly after take off to take our orders! The seat were like first class and fully reclined into beds. In fact, from the experiences that I've heard from colleagues in the past, this was more like first class than business as BMI don't have a first class on their flights. After take off, the chef in his whites, came round and actually knelt in front of the passengers to take their order! There was a choice of starters and main courses, plus a selection of wines! A far cry from tin foil slop food and wine out of a carton that I've had before!! When I landed at Cairo airport, I got through to the immigration section quite quickly, but the signs aren't great to tell you that you need to buy a visa before you go to passport control... I eventually found it in the bank cubical. However, no Egyptian Pounds (LE), and it was 85LE for the visa. The one cash point didn't have any cash in it (?!) but eventually they gave me money through one of my credit cards and I entered Egypt! Suzanne and Natalie (aunt and cousin) had texted me to say that they were waiting in the arrivals hall for me. Grabbed my very small but quite heavy suitcase (full of Marmite, Branston Pickle, cayenne pepper and some herbal supplements for Suzanne) and met them in arrivals. This was quite an emotional meeting as I'm the first person to visit them out there from Suzanne's side of the family (she's my mum's sister), for over 20 years!!! They've been over to see us in the UK, but Hamdi's (Suzanne's husband) side of the family joked that she must be an orphan!! We left the airport and the heat hit me like a brick wall! I've been in hot countries before, but it was stinking hot and humid and I loved it!!! The airport is the other side of Cairo to where Amir (my other cousin) lives, so the journey took about an hour or so to cross Cairo. If you've ever been there, then you'll know how mad the traffic is, if you haven't, it's MENTAL!! There is only one rule, don't hit anyone!!

After we'd got to Maadi, where Amir lives, we dropped Suzanne at the Metro to get provisions, whilst Natalie and I went to Starbucks for a coffee. White chocolate mocha and it was heavenly! We picked Suzanne and the shopping up and then went to the flat, where we were met by Amir. I haven't seen Amir for 20 years, he was 9 when I last saw him (saw Suzanne in May and Natalie about 3 or 4 years ago). The flat in Cairo is an awful lot bigger than I'd imagined it and really nice. We then decided to go to Khan Khalili, which is one of the oldest souks in Egypt. It was a complete sensory overload, amazing smells, colours, people! You can buy all sorts of different trinkets, floor cushions, sheeshas, ceramics, fabrics, lighting, so much stuff!! We had a meal in a famous restuarant in Khan Khalili, I can't remember the name of it, sorry! I think I ate pigeon as well, and as I ate everything there and liked it, if there was pigeon, I liked it!! Afterwards we came out of the souk and sat outside Hussein Mosque in one of the cafes and had sheesha, or hubbly bubbly as it's also known. It's a first for me and I can say that I enjoyed it!! Apple flavour!! Amsterdam, Egyptian style almost!! Order it from the menu on the table...

The next day was a lazy get up as it's hot in Cairo at the moment, it's summer, so most things are best done either very early morn
ing, or late evening. We got to bed about 1:30-2am the night before, so a nice long lay in!! We'd decided to go to the Egyptian Museum to see the Tutankhamun exhibition as I didn't see it when it was in London. Quite eerie in the museum, there's quite a few mummies in there and the tomb/coffin of Tutankhamun looks like he could actually be in there! Maybe I've watched to many movies, eh? After that we got a taxi to the Sofitel El Gizerah, which is on the Nile. Five star hotel that's just been done up and it's amazing! Amir used to work in there, doing all the IT, but he's got his own business now. We sat on what's called the Smoking
e and had coffee whilst waiting for Amir and it was cool and breezy, watching the boats and falukas going past. We went home and had some lunch and then went off to the pyramids horse riding. As I write this blog a week later, I have only just recovered!! I haven't ridden a horse in 8 years and I hurt like hell! The pace across the desert was mostly gallop and not used to riding in trainers, when I jammed my feet into the stirrups (I know I should have been heels down) to stop me from losing my stirrups, the tongue of my trainers got stuck in them! Anyway, I enjoyed it, but was a little bit nervous!! Next time I'll do it on a quad bike :) That evening was a quiet one, we went to an American burger place called Lucille's in Maadi and it was great! 131LE (approx £13) for a meal for the four of us!! We then went back and called it a night.

On the Thursday, we didn't plan to do much as Natalie and I were going to see Amir DJ at the Purple Club on the Imperial on the Nile and then drive up to Alexandria after, during the night. Amir went to work and the remaining three of us decided to find a second hand bookshop that Suzanne had been recommended to go to. Well, let's just say we got a little lost looking for Road 7.... And had a little bump in the car... Everyone was fine, it really was a little bump, but the guy who's car we hit was an American, working for Schlumberger one of F5 customers, and it was a brand new company car. He called later to say it was all ok, his insurance would pay for the damage!! Result!! We had a look around some of the shops and then went down to Starbucks for a coffee. Suzanne cooked an amazing risotto for dinner and then Natalie had a sleep as she was going to be doing the driving later and Amir went to Purple to set up with Shahir, the other half of Masters at Funk (http://www.mastersatfunk.com).
Suzanne and I watched Sweet Home Alabama and then Natalie and I went out at just before 12 to the boat. We got there about 12:30-1ish and it was just getting going. Amir and Shahir are really, really good, they worked the crowd, adjusted to the mood and it was rolling when we left about an hour or so later. Then we drove to Alex... It was about 2:30am when we set off and got there in around 2 hours. We took the Desert Road, but it was dark, so didn't see much of the desert! There's another road, the Agricultural Road, as well between Alex and Cairo. The house at Alex is on the 14th floor and what we'd call a maisonette, but oh so much grander!! There are photos on Facebook, too many to put on here!! You can see the Mediterranean from the terrace!!

The next morning, Natalie took me to Costa in her car, she's customised rag rugs for seat covers and they are
amazing, not sure if you can see them in the photo here... Amir arrived from Cairo and we went to Balbaa, which is a seafood place. As it was Friday afternoon, after prayer, it was packed, but we managed to get a table quite quickly. I've never seen so much seafood and fish on one table! The food was amazing! (Thank you Uncle Hamdi!!). Natalie met some of her friends at Carrefour, the big supermarket (yes, same ones as in France) and Suzanne and I did the shopping and then she took me to see the "little arab house" at King Marriott. Suzanne bought this land and the house sometime ago and has finally relented to Hamdi to have it knocked down and a villa built there. The plans show that it's going to be an amazing place. The photos just don't do it justice, but when it's up, it will look spectacular! It's an area that's going through heavy development at the moment and some of the villas that have already been finished are beautiful. Uncle Hamdi and Suzanne have other land there as well, which they are hoping to develop as well, which lots of villas to rent and sell. Then Suzanne took me to her local souk and I got my hair done in her salon, which is a far cry from Luiji and Carlo's, but they did a fantastic job and I've never been to such a friendly place. It was a really lovely experience and I felt like a princess with all the attention!! We also visited the butcher, the local "corner shop" and what I can only really describe as the yogurt shop!! We went back and I called David and then Natalie came home. We had a fairly early night, at just gone 1am...

The next day I was really excited about, we were going to the North Coast to Rowad. I went with Suzanne to her country club first though and met Lady Alison, Louise, Marlise and Samir, Suzanne's friends and then Natalie and Amir came to pick me up. It wasn't that far, but OMG!!!! The water is turquoise and the sand is white.
This is NOT how I remember the Med at all!! It was a brilliant afternoon, all hanging out on the sand and then Natalie cooked prawn creamy pasta for everyone, that is 17 people!! Vodka pineapple cocktails that didn't freeze the night before were put in a teapot and it was passed around for everyone to swig out of!! I will always have fantastic memories of this afternoon, great people, great food, good times!!! :) We then travelled back to Abu Talet and to the family house there, where I met Hamdi's family and I had such an amazing reception! These people had never met any of Suzanne's side of the family and welcomed me so warmly! I must admit that I didn't understand a lot of what was being said, but I know that it was all good!!!

The next day, Amir drove me back to Cairo and the airport and we got into the airport and my flight was delayed 2 hours... I'm not going to dwell on that, as the rest of the holiday was amazing and I can't wait to go back!! Missing them all already!!

Diet, crap, have an upset stomach now, had for 2 days, which I think is a bug, probably picked up at Tesco... More later, off to watch the Beach, as we're pining for Thailand right now!!! :)

Soon peeps, I'll be back soon!!! xxxxx