Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

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Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by HEPZIBAH »

I've been trying to write something of a Trip Report since I returned from my holiday in Egypt. I've found this quite difficult because whilst in Luxor I really didn't do any of the normal tourist things you would expect of someone visiting 'the largest open air museum'. However, in the past, I have made no secret of the fact that I have no great interest in Tombs and Temples - I go for the living, not the dead! Thus the purpose of my visit was purely to visit many friends that I have made over the years, with perhaps a visit of a more cultural/educational purpose to somewhere if time allowed.

Perhaps, instead of a Trip Report I should share some observations, afterall it has been three years since my last visit to Luxor. So, the following is likely to be mishmash of it all.

I arrived on the direct Monday flight from London Heathrow. It was the first ever flight I've been on when I have been aware of an Air Marshall being present! On arrival in Luxor I was a bit alarmed when I heard the visa man telling people in front of me that the visa was £25 however, I was pleased to discover that he was giving change in LE. I know this doesn't always happen and for the first time ever (and against my more normal inclination) I was paying in USD - only because I had some.
Typically, I was stopped at customs. Thankfully I was able to avoid the bag search bit as the officer was more interested in what medicines I might be carrying. My limited and boring supply of paracetamol and diuretics did not excite him. I say thankfully not because I was carrying items I should not take in to the country, but because my cases were so carefully packed (with Christmas and friendship treats) and I could not have fitted so much as a feather into either. Having the rummage search and then trying to get things back in my cases and zipped up again would have been a nightmare.
The improvement in security was not particularly evident to me as an arriving tourist but it became more clear on departure, although from Luxor I took a domestic flight to Cairo.

Arrangements had already been made for a driver to meet me at the airport and take me to the Lotus hotel. As I've already commented on this hotel in Places Recommended I won't comment further on it here.

I was prepared for the city to look different, based on what I had read on line, but I didn't really notice a great change to my last visit. Yes, there did seem to be large areas of building taking place on the outskirts of the city but on the inside I just noticed it was dustier than I remembered. There was an overall air of depression that I remember from previous visits, and yet also that air of 'life goes on'. I did not notice heightened begging or hassle in the streets but that may be due to the fact that I did not walk about as much as I used to.

Taxi prices were a bit of a mystery to me. I had agreed prices with my regular driver, who usually will never quote prices to me but leaves me to pay him what I think is right - I'm sure we usually break even by the end of a visit. I was later advised by a friend who has lived in Luxor for many years what roughly the zones/prices were. It seemed that when I picked up a taxi on the street, for most central journeys that LE20, e.g. from the hotel to the Ferry, was expected. I have to say it was not always, in fact rarely, given! That being said, I only once had a driver argue with me once I'd handed my money over, and he had been the only on that had given me any blah blah during the journey too!

I was a bit shocked by how early the town closed down these days. It was fairly cold, but I have been there before in December when it has been quite cold, but I was still surprised how few people were around late in the evening. The ferry didn't seem to run as often as it used to at night, and one night I had to wait about 45 mins on the West Bank for it to come across. Thankfully, there were quite a few people also wanting to get across to the East Bank and we got there about 11pm. On Christmas Eve, as I left the Franciscan Church at about a quarter past midnight the streets were dead, not a sole to be seen other than those leaving the service and a couple of calleche drivers on the Emilio corner trying to get business. I really feared I was not going to be able to get a taxi back to the hotel, my regular driver being stuck at the airport waiting for a flight that was delayed. I decided I would walk towards the Nile and hopefully get a taxi in that area. Just before I got to the corner of Station St. a taxi did come along. I took it, but that proved to be a slightly nerve wracking journey. In previous years, that area has always been alive even on Christmas Eve and I've sometimes sat out having coffee with friends after the midnight mass.

As previously stated, the purpose of my visit was to catch up with friends, and I certainly did that. It was sad, and a little depressing, to hear from each of my Egyptian friends how difficult things were for them at the moment. Those who had been in tourist related jobs and managed to leave them for 'government' jobs were just about managing, but those who had not been able to get other work were struggling. Nevertheless, everyone showed gave me a warm welcome and gave me great hospitality within the means that they had.
I had so many friends that I wanted to catch up with that I actually had to make an 'appointment' diary sometimes meeting some for coffee on the East Bank in the morning and then going to the West Bank and visiting two or three homes! I ended up with one day that I hadn't booked out and instead of going off and visiting a site - I had intended visiting St. Tawdros Monastery and/or the Coptic Cathedral - I sat in the hotel grounds, down by the Nile with my book and my camera. Despite the cold weather, I think it must be the first time I've ever got sunburn in Luxor. Whilst moving between the full bright sun and the freezing shade, I managed to doze over my book and woke to a very warm glow and more freckles than I've seen a long time.

Eating out was something that I didn't have to do often as I was so well looked after by friends. On Christmas Eve, I met up with a good friend, one of the first members of this forum to welcome me when I joined, for afternoon tea at the Old Winter Palace. That was an enjoyable experience, enhanced by staying on to listen to the Youth Choir of St. Mary's singing Christmas Carols, and indulging in the mulled wine which being served to guests. I was introduced to the Aboudi coffee shop which was a pleasant place to sit and chat with friends. I did make the mistake of going to Snack Time one morning (Aboudi's was closed) and was very disappointed with the whole set up there. I also had coffee in Cafe Latte and it seemed as popular as ever. I've already commented on my visits to Pizza Roma which, was a bit of a disappointment to me, but not so bad that I wouldn't go back again. Of the meals that I did partake outside of people's homes, I think the best has to be the one I had in the little Egyptian place by the locals souk, which I wrote about in Places Recommended.

What struck me about the people I came into contact with, either casually or those I knew well and spent time with, was their eternal optimism - something they would rather live by than depression.

When I left Luxor I flew up to Cairo where I was met by a driver to take me Alexandria. This was my first visit there, but again this was a trip to meet people not see sights - although I managed a bit of both. This was an opportunity for a Goddess and the Pink Elephant to finally meet. Goddess was one of the first people to welcome me to Luxor4U and although we have been in regular contact since then, we had never had the opportunity to meet. I'm delighted that is no longer the case. She arranged a three day plan to show me around a few choice spots in Alexandria and, together with her family, we had a lovely time getting to know each other better and exploring the Jewellery Museum, the area local to my hotel, Montazzah (?sp) Park, and some great coffee shops and eateries too. I made a big mistake in my choice of hotel there, and would have left immediately if I could have done, but that was not possible as Alexandria was very busy for the New Years Weekend. After a change of room from that originally shown, I had to make up my mind to make the most of a bad situation.
My stay in Alex was a bit of a culture shock after spending time in Luxor. Not all taxi's had meters, although many did, which was helpful. I was very impressed by the Kareem (sp?) car system, where you book a car through your phone and they send the nearest car to you, the price of the journey is then shown on the drivers phone at the end of the journey and you pay him but if you pay more you can have it credited to your account. I over paid one day thinking I was giving him a tip and he immediately said that he'd credited to my (Goddess's) account!
New Year's Eve in Alex is a lively affair. Hotels were full and the streets were full of people, the Cornich becoming a promenade in the full sense of the word, with people stopping at the little pop up stands selling grilled sweetcorn, thurmous (? those bright yellow bean type kernals) ice cream, and tea. Fireworks started quite early in the evening, but at midnight there were still plenty left to be lit and welcome 2017 with. No matter which direction I looked from my balcony there were fireworks lighting up the night sky and almost overshadowing the bright new moon and Venus.

My visit to Alexandria was over all too quickly and it was time for my pre-booked driver to collect me from the hotel and take me back to Cairo airport. We took a slightly different route in to Cairo than we had leaving, and I can no longer say that I have never seen the pyramids. I got a glimpse of them showing through between all the high rise buildings surrounding the ring road! I still think the driver that made these airport runs was not Egyptian. He greeted me politely and then there was no conversation, no blah blah, he didn't smoke, both hands were on the wheel all the time, his phone didn't ring and he didn't make any calls either. He was calm. He used his indicators and hazard warning light when appropriate. I also observed him using using his rear view and ring mirrors. He did use the horn a couple of times but I would have probably used mine too under the same circumstances.

On arrival at Cairo airport my bags were grabbed by a trolley guy. What I didn't understand was that he went up to a lady sitting at a table and she tore out a 'ticket' from a book. He seemed to show it to security on the way in to the termial. Once I was in the departures area it was far too early to check in and I just wanted to go to the loo and then sit and enjoy a coffee. I had a bit of a struggle to keep the trolley and then he gave me a part of the ticket and demanded $1 from me. What's that all about? Do the guys have to pay to use the trolleys, or is that a way they record their payments.

The Egyptair flight back from Cairo to London was full. Interestingly there were two Air Marshalls visible on this flight. I'm pleased to say they had a quiet and uneventful journey. Thankfully, weather conditions were good (after a number of days of fog and flight delays I understand) and the flight ran to time.

The whole visit to Egypt seems quite a long time ago now, although it was 19th December - 3rd January. I had been thinking before and during the trip that this could well be my last visit to Luxor - for a number of reasons. However, I believe it is important to 'never say never'. Who knows what the future holds! For now I have caught up with many old friends, renewed and restored old friendships, and put other friendships on a different footing. Time will tell if I go back again, but now it's time to work and save and get on with my day to day life, and plans I have already made for this year.


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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by Horus »

Smashing write up Hepzibah and very interesting to read as you had a different slant on your visit to Egypt than the usual holiday report. :up
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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by HEPZIBAH »

A few things I forgot to add - small signs of tourism.

From the vantage point of my 5th floor balcony at the Lotus I was able to see the hot air balloons each morning. This has always been one of my joys when visiting Luxor (if only I could wake so bright and breezy during the course of a normal working week! ;-) ). Unfortunately, I was not able to take a flight myself this year because I find it too difficult to get out of the basket, but it was good to see so many balloons flying - 9 most mornings.

I also noticed that at least four cruise boats were sailing, and I understand they were quite full. I know in the great scheme of things four is nothing, but it is still good to hear of four full boats rather than almost empty ones doing the cruise route. One of my friends is a licensed guide, specialised in working with Spanish speaking groups. He had been guaranteed work for a couple of months, from Christmas on wards, mainly on cruise boats but also on land tours too. I understand that the groups he was working with were not from Spain but from one of the South American Spanish speaking countries. Again, two months work is not much but it was the longest period he'd had as a guide in a very long time.

A couple of times I witnessed a dahabiya berthed up by the Sonesta. Once seemed to be an overnight stop and another a lunch stop. I don't know if they were Sonesta boats or just using their facilities. Either way, it looked as though those on board were being well looked after and enjoying themselves.

The motor boats seemed to be busy crossing the Nile between the East Bank hotels and the West Bank. Also there were times when there seemed to be quite a few feluccas out on the water, although they did mostly need help from motor boats - sometimes in both directions!
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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by A-Four »

I have left this subject throughout today in hope that some one would have passed a comment on this excellent write up, but it seems others have been preoccupied with comments elsewhere.

In Hepzibah's first paragraph she inform us that her visits are to go and see the living, not the dead. I have to admit my first ever visits were, like so many others to visit the dead, and the living was way down my list of must do. Family connections already established on the WB, Luxor, made life easy for me, and certainly so when I came to live there. It is then that I begun to find local friends, that became true friends. I became involved in family lives, the birth, the marriages and inevitably the deaths. I will come back to this.

Hepzibah goes on to tell us that the place seems to have become more dustier, this I find sad, it's always been known as 'dusty old Luxor', but a past regular visitor to say this, is problematic for me. I remember a few years ago writing a similar update to the one above, but as I remember walking down Station Street then, I commented on the newly planted trees, that I hoped one day would form a great green avenue. At the end where now a great new square is positioned before the Mosque of Abu Haggag, I discovered not palm trees, but Emperor palm trees. As I walked then, towards the Emillio Hotel, my only wish was although there was few tourists even then, almost three years ago, I hoped the city authorities would at least plant trees and wild green grass along the great ancient avenue to Karnack,.......I suspect we must still wait.

One thing that has puzzled me over the past couple of years not being in Luxor, is that the morning balloons seem to be as popular as when the city was in full swing. Hepzibah tells us here that on most days she saw at least nine. Often I read on here that such an event is very popular throughout the year. The question is, if there are no tourist in Luxor, how come this is so ? As I suspect, and wrote on here five years ago, Luxor has returned to being that 'three day event' period of true travellers. I noticed this two years ago, the reason why most people do not see them, is that they are up early, see the site all day long, dinner then early bed.

Finally, I return to birth, marriages and deaths. When I left Luxor, I returned for three six month winter visits, and rented a home, on each arrival, I would be informed who had died, each year I was finding this quite seriously effected me. A whole list, and to be told, if I thought that was all bad news, I would then be told,.......Oh your really old mate, this summer 'hit the bucket'. Upper Egyptian men have always found entertainment in informing others of bad news, especially death. Another thing I found most distasteful was seeing young men, I had watched grow up, now conning tourist who would become potential ex-pats being very seriously robbed, and each Egyptian knew that I could not, and would not say anything.

For the past five year I have been a tourist in Luxor, and staying at The Lotus, in all that period, I have been on the WB three times, and incognito, daft I know, but I suppose my life there is over, I certainly did not want to die there, Medicare in Luxor is a joke, especially for the over 55's, that is why most Upper Egyptian men are dead by this age. For me the WB now stand still, no more die, they are and will remain 'alive', well in my memory anyhow.

Hepzibah tells us that her recent visit may be her last, I am not certain but perhaps my next visit will be my last,.......though her's, I suspect for different reasons than myself.

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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by Winged Isis »

@ HEPZIBAH:

"I made a big mistake in my choice of hotel there, and would have left immediately if I could have done,....."

What was the problem? Someone I know takes their tourists there and recommends it. We stay, and take ours to, the Old Windsor Palace as we/they like the old fashioned décor and ambiance, unless a more modern place is requested. We've never had time to check out yours.
Carpe diem! :le:

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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by carrie »

Loved your report Hepzibah, I am glad to hear that you on the whole enjoyed your stay.
Luxor is much dustier than it used to be, probably due to all the digging going on all over the place because of the laying of the new gas lines. The poor street cleaners don't stand a chance.
I have never visited Alexandria but would to go, maybe next summer.

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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by HEPZIBAH »

Winged Isis wrote:@ HEPZIBAH:

"I made a big mistake in my choice of hotel there, and would have left immediately if I could have done,....."

What was the problem? Someone I know takes their tourists there and recommends it. We stay, and take ours to, the Old Windsor Palace as we/they like the old fashioned décor and ambiance, unless a more modern place is requested. We've never had time to check out yours.
I think you have misunderstood.
I stayed at the Lotus when I was in Luxor and have favourably reviewed it in Places Recommended.

It was the hotel in Alexandria that nearly brought me to tears.

As for the Old Winter Palace, Luxor, ...Alas! My budget does not allow me the luxury to stay there.
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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by Who2 »

Went to the 'dark side today with my guests shopping.
Both have been here innumerable times.
John t' Jock chilled as always...
Nick ranting at everyone as usual...
Such is life..... 8)
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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by HEPZIBAH »

carrie wrote: I have never visited Alexandria but would to go, maybe next summer.
There is certainly plenty there to see and do - as far as I'm aware.

I think a visit in the summer would be good, in as much as the air is likely to be better than that of Luxor, but of course it is also likely to be swamped with visitors escaping to the coast! How they manage to cross that 8 lane highway is beyond me. I managed once and that was enough.

You are much more used to travelling around Egpyt than I am, but if you do decide to go, make sure you've really sorted your transport options first. Don't do what I did, book my flight thinking I had plenty of options open to me, only to find that things were not as easy as they first seem. That being said, once I'd booked a car and driver from Cairo aiport to Alex that was a load off my mind and it went very smoothly.
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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by newcastle »

I went to Alexandria about 8-9 years ago. It was in April but, as luck would have it, it started to rain as I boarded the train in Cairo....and didn't stop until I was on my way back - 3 days later :(

Stayed at the Hilton Green Plaza...comfortable but expensive.

Alex reminded me a little of Brighton....seaside shabby...but it is an attractive city (despite the rain!). The sea was crashing over the promenade. I do remember scoffing sweet corn and sweet potato from the roadside vendors.

Did the library (of course) but didn't see much of the rest on account of the weather. Took in a couple of recent releases at the cinema!

As you say...it gets manic in the summer. Must give it another look soon :wi

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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by HEPZIBAH »

newcastle wrote:
Alex reminded me a little of Brighton....seaside shabby...but it is an attractive city (despite the rain!). The sea was crashing over the promenade. I do remember scoffing sweet corn and sweet potato from the roadside vendors.
You are not the only one to have compared Alex to Brighton. :)

I like your expression 'seaside shabby' - that describes it perfectly - and it is a special kind of shabby you only find at the seaside.

There were some buildings that must have been absolutely stunning in their day. As always, you needed to look up to see the best of the architecture.
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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by BENNU »

Alexandria really appears Mediterranean, I think. Familiar and exotic at the same time.

A woman from Marseille could not believe how similar it was to her hometown.

I don't know what I was expecting the first time I went there, but that was the image that I had of Algiers.

You are inspiring me to visit Alexandria, Hepzibah. It has been too long.

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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by HEPZIBAH »

BENNU wrote:Alexandria really appears Mediterranean, I think. Familiar and exotic at the same time.

A woman from Marseille could not believe how similar it was to her hometown.

I don't know what I was expecting the first time I went there, but that was the image that I had of Algiers.

You are inspiring me to visit Alexandria, Hepzibah. It has been too long.
:tk I'd quite like to go back and visit Algiers. It was way back last century that I was there, and I was really only passing through, and quickly as it wasn't a sensible place to be at the time.

Bennu, I see you more as a Tangiers woman than an Algiers one. :)
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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by Winged Isis »

HEPZIBAH wrote:
Winged Isis wrote:@ HEPZIBAH:

"I made a big mistake in my choice of hotel there, and would have left immediately if I could have done,....."

What was the problem? Someone I know takes their tourists there and recommends it. We stay, and take ours to, the Old Windsor Palace as we/they like the old fashioned décor and ambiance, unless a more modern place is requested. We've never had time to check out yours.
I think you have misunderstood.
I stayed at the Lotus when I was in Luxor and have favourably reviewed it in Places Recommended.

It was the hotel in Alexandria that nearly brought me to tears.

As for the Old Winter Palace, Luxor, ...Alas! My budget does not allow me the luxury to stay there.

No, I didn't misunderstand, it was your hotel in Alexandria to which I was referring. I'm guessing the Montazzah, since you were in Montazzah Park? That's the one recommended to me to which I was referring.

And if you re-read my post, I was talking about the Old Windsor (Alex) not Old Winter (Luxor), straight after talking about Alex. Quite clear, I thought.

What have you been tippling my dear?! Or just mislaid your spectacles ;)
Carpe diem! :le:

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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by HEPZIBAH »

Winged Isis wrote:
HEPZIBAH wrote:
Winged Isis wrote:@ HEPZIBAH:

"I made a big mistake in my choice of hotel there, and would have left immediately if I could have done,....."

What was the problem? Someone I know takes their tourists there and recommends it. We stay, and take ours to, the Old Windsor Palace as we/they like the old fashioned décor and ambiance, unless a more modern place is requested. We've never had time to check out yours.
I think you have misunderstood.
I stayed at the Lotus when I was in Luxor and have favourably reviewed it in Places Recommended.

It was the hotel in Alexandria that nearly brought me to tears.

As for the Old Winter Palace, Luxor, ...Alas! My budget does not allow me the luxury to stay there.

No, I didn't misunderstand, it was your hotel in Alexandria to which I was referring. I'm guessing the Montazzah, since you were in Montazzah Park? That's the one recommended to me to which I was referring.

And if you re-read my post, I was talking about the Old Windsor (Alex) not Old Winter (Luxor), straight after talking about Alex. Quite clear, I thought.

What have you been tippling my dear?! Or just mislaid your spectacles ;)
:a17: :a2: I must learn not to read posts on my phone... and respond without reading again on a real screen. To be fair, it was your comment 'What was the problem? Someone I know takes their tourists there and recommends it.' that really threw me because I don't think I've mentioned which hotel I stayed in whilst in Alex. Thus I couldn't understand how you could know someone who takes tourists there.
The hotel I had booked was not the Montazzah (I'll have to look that one up), but the [allegedly] 3* Semiramis. If I gave it a 1* I'd be being generous!
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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by Winged Isis »

No, you didn't mention it, I was guessing as you mentioned where you were. Plus I know a few people who take tourists to Alex and use various hotels. I'm always interested to hear about them.

I, and I'm sure some others, would be interested in what was so bad about the Semiramis for future reference. I was very surprised you didn't give details, just mentioned it and left it to our imaginations. Reminds me of someone else, two someones actually. :a21:
Carpe diem! :le:

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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by HEPZIBAH »

Winged Isis wrote:
I, and I'm sure some others, would be interested in what was so bad about the Semiramis for future reference. I was very surprised you didn't give details, just mentioned it and left it to our imaginations.
:urm: Perhaps not posting details about this hotel was my way of helping erase a bad memory from my mind.

I searched on line for a hotel. I read lots of mixed reviews (normal for most hotels to be fair). Booked the Semiramis. I made a mistake. It was a dump - obvious the moment I stepped through the door and got worse, much worse when I saw the room. The only good thing about it was the sea view.
Alternatve room, which I had little choice but to accept, was only marginally better.

So, Lotus In Luxor exceeded my expectations whilst the Semiramis in Alexandria fell way, way below my expectations. I live and learn.
Image Experience is not what happens to you;
it is what you do with what happens to you.
-Aldous Huxley

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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by MARIO »

Thank you. A joy to read.

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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by Kaiserbernese »

Thank you so much Hepzibah for writing that very different type of review. It was very interesting to hear about your experience with taxis!

I will be travelling around Egypt in three weeks time and I was wondering how the devaluation of the Egyptian pound had affected prices for visitors. Some people have said that they have doubled, in line with the fact we Brits get twice as much with the new exchange rate. Did you experience that?

I ask because it would help to know how work out how much to bring. Having said that, this is possibly my last trip for a while, due to a health issue, so I'm making this a trip to remember!

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Re: Observations/Comments Dec16/Jan17

Post by Bombay »

Kaiserbernese wrote:Thank you so much Hepzibah for writing that very different type of review. It was very interesting to hear about your experience with taxis!

I will be travelling around Egypt in three weeks time and I was wondering how the devaluation of the Egyptian pound had affected prices for visitors. Some people have said that they have doubled, in line with the fact we Brits get twice as much with the new exchange rate. Did you experience that?

I ask because it would help to know how work out how much to bring. Having said that, this is possibly my last trip for a while, due to a health issue, so I'm making this a trip to remember!
Well bring what you normally would and you may take some back.

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