Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Egypt: Tourism vs.Terrorism

It wasn’t a question of whether we would visit Cairo, Egypt as it’s been on our bucket list for a long time.

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Luxor Temple - Spring 2015
It was simply a question of when. A question that surfaced more frequently after our cruise through the Middle East last spring gave us a appetizer-sized introduction of Egypt. That two-day snapshot whetted our appetites for a larger serving of this amazing country tucked into the northeast corner of the African continent.

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View of the Nile from our hotel room in Cairo
Your responses back in November to the news of our return to Egypt; specifically, Cairo, were a mixed bag: a surprising number told us of your own recent travels there and offered suggestions of things to do, places to see ~ others sent well-wishes to be safe.

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Tahrir Square - site of the 2011 Arab Spring - was a rather empty, non-descript area
As we booked the trip, I have to admit that visions of Pyramids and Antiquities competed with scenes of Tahrir Square during the 2011 Egyption Arab Spring revolution and the October 2015 Russian plane crash in Egypt’s Sinai – its cause, perhaps the result of an act of terrorism.

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Stepping into history - Pyramids at Giza
So, we could have kept Cairo on our ‘someday’ list. . .but in reality, when intrepid travelers reach their 60’s – even with good health and can-do  attitudes like us – they have to be honest with themselves. In our case that included asking: ‘How much longer do you wait to do those things you’ve always had on the bucket list? How long will you be able to climb those pyramids?’

And waiting until a destination is ‘safe’ these days, well, . . sadly, as daily headlines remind us, may be a very unrealistic approach.

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Downtown Cairo - 'Paris on the Nile'
So the adventure began Saturday before Christmas we were on an Egypt Air flight (less than two hours from Athens, ticket cost: $175 each)  from Athens bound for “Paris on the Nile”, as Cairo, Egypt was once known.

That same Khevide Isma’il (the one I introduced you to last week in the “palace” post) was so taken by Europe’s grand cities that he sought out a Parisean city planner, Baron Haussman, to lay the framework for this core district. It does have the feel of a European city’s layout.

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Street scenes taken while shopping in Cairo's core district 
With traffic circles and building facades, Cairo’s downtown definitely felt European but it also felt a bit crusty. Buildings are dirty and power-washing is long overdue. Smog from some eight million cars can do that to the best of buildings, I guess. While not the showstopper it could be with a bit of cleanup, we felt safe and comfortable everywhere we explored.
“Improving Egypt’s tourism sector depends on improving the view of the country’s domestic situation, as many countries believe that Egypt has no security or stability for the time being,” Elhamy el-Zayat, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, said last September in announcing a new marketing campaign. “The biggest challenge for Egypt is to shift this perspective, especially since Egypt is the heart of the Arab world, which has now become a source of news of violence in the world.” -

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Cairo Marriott and Omar Khayyam Casion on the Nile River
The bottom line is: we felt safe everywhere we went in Cairo, whether on foot, by taxi or by private transfer or tour.

Our Cairo Marriott Hotel’s location, on an island in the middle of the Nile River, put us in walking distance of the Egyptian Museum, Tahrir Square and the Cairo Tower. We used  taxis a couple of times to get to and from the downtown area, had a private car/driver/guide tour of the Pyramids, and arranged private transfers from the airport to hotel,and between the Marriott and the JWMarriott for our last night’s stay.
“I often get asked ‘is it safe to go to Egypt?’ and I say ‘a weekend in Paris isn’t exactly safe.’ . . . None of us can guarantee our safety on planet earth – it all has to be put into context.”  -- Professor Joanne Fletcher, BBC’s Chief Egyptologist, who has completed a four-part documentary on Egypt, now airing in England.
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 Cairo traffic - this roundabout to the bridge was a maze of merging cars
The Real Danger in Cairo

Frankly, the most danger we faced was in crossing the street. Cars don’t stop, nor are there pedestrian crossing lights.

Our Lonely Planet Egypt guidebook warned of the traffic and suggested that crossing a street with locals; having them act as a sort of buffer for you might be the best way to cross. “Never, ever hesitate or turn back once you’ve stepped off the sidewalk, and cross as if you own the road. But do it fast!” it advised.
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The calm Nile a contrast to the traffic next to it in Cairo
That sounded reasonable, until put to the test. We set out for Tahrir Square and strolled from our hotel along the serene Nile River to a point it became necessary to cross six lanes of traffic.  Twice I stepped off the curb, took a step or two, then hastily retreated back to its safety when I saw the cars barreling towards us, four lanes from the left and two from the right. (Might I add The Scout, was becoming somewhat frustrated with me at that point.)

Warm and Welcoming

What happened next is an example of the warm and welcoming people we encountered in Cairo. As I was about to start whining, “I can’t do it!” a man hustled toward us through the traffic from across the street, and asked in perfect English, “Where do you want to go?” My rather lame answer, “Just across the street.” prompted him to motioned for us to follow him into the traffic – this time he stretched his arms in traffic guard fashion to slow the oncoming vehicles.  After he got us across the street he jogged back to his parked taxi where he’d apparently been watched our antics.

Tourism in Egypt has dropped from 17 million to 9 million,
according to Egypt’s Tourism Authority.

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Crowds? None - on this morning visit to the Pyramids

Our visit, the week before Christmas and during Prophet Mohammed’s December 23rd birthday holiday, usually ranks as the busiest tourist week of the year. But it wasn’t. Terrorism seems to have struck a harsh blow to the already dwindling number of visitors since Arab Spring. Even during this usually-busy week we found the ‘crowds’ sparce at key tourist attractions like the Pyramids and the famous Egyptian Museum. Good for us who enjoyed the space and freedom to roam, but definitely bad for Egypt’s economy. Those crowds, we’d read and heard about, simply were not there. The only large groups at the Pyramids and the Sphinx during our mid-morning weekday visit were bus loads of Egyptian school children.

And how glad were we as we photographed  from inches away King Tut's mask, stood transfixed at the Sphinx or stepped up onto the Pyramids that we hadn't let 'fear of possibility' keep us from visiting. How about you? Have you ever let the fear of possibility keep you from traveling somewhere?

You've told us that you want more about Cairo which is good because like Scheherazade, we do have more tales to tell. Hope you’ll be back for more of our adventures in this Land of the Pharaohs. . .


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A big Happy New Year and wishes for great adventures and safe travels to you and yours in the coming year ~ Our sincere thanks for being with us in 2015! A big welcome to those who’ve just happened upon TravelnWrite for the first time. Hope you'll stop by often~

Linking this week with

51 comments:

  1. Hello Jackie and Joel,
    How fabulous that you did not have to fight the crowds at the pyramids. Looks like a very good time to travel to Egypt. You are very brave to cross the road in such heavy traffic and how sweet of the taxi driver to come to your aid.
    Wishing you new year full of adventures and joy
    Helen xx

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    1. Oh Helen so nice to see a comment from you here. Happy New Year to you as well! Jackie xxx

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  2. Hi Jackie, what a wonderful trip you had,and, re fear, as you say, where, today, is safe?
    Has My traveling been hindered by fear? Yes! but not mine, and not the fear of terrorism, but my husband's fear of flying! He will not board a plane! Very limiting, travel-wise.
    Love the bit about the taxi driver, what a darling he was.
    Susan.x

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    1. You two might need to take a cruise! That way you could leave Athens and not need fly anywhere or even take a ferry to Italy or Croatia and link up with a cruise ship in those places - some of our favorite cruises are trans-Atlantics. Thanks much for the visit; I can't tell you how much I am enjoying your blog!!! hugs, Jackie

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  3. Fascinating. I don't believe I've ever seen a photo such as you took at the pyramids at Gaza. The close-up view of the size of the blocks that make up the pyramid make the construction even more amazing!
    Thanks for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2016/01/nosey-cat-yep.html

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    1. yes, close up the pyramids are more stunning than even those postcard shots you usually see of them. Thanks for hosting such a fun link up!

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  4. Your question of, "How much longer do you wait to do those things you’ve always had on the bucket list?" is a great one and is the big reason we decided to make travel our priority four years ago. "Someday" is fast passing us by and sadly, if we wait for "safe" that time may never be right either. Your post is prompting me to think about a visit to Egypt for possibly this year and I'll be looking forward to reading more of your stories. P.S. Love the idea of cruising down the Nile or climbing the pyramids!

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    1. Well, as we both know, situations can change in the blink of an eye, but as of now we are eager to return to Egypt (we did a round trip Cairo-Seattle-Cairo) in late March. Plan to expand our explorations to Alexandria. We are researching those Nile cruises right now! I'd say with your travel saavy and spirit, you two would thoroughly enjoy Egypt.

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  5. Jackie, after reading your wonderful post I have to wonder, 'What's scarier, the threat of terrorists or the terror of traffic in Cairo?'! In any event, one thing we can be sure of is that its people are certainly caring and friendly - how considerate of that taxi driver to actively assist you to safety! Undoubtedly, he is very aware of the dangerous deeds of his fellow drivers!

    Thank you for a very informative and up-to-date post on this city by the Nile. I'm glad that you and Joel decided to explore its many jewels.

    Hugs,
    Poppy

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    1. Well thinking about getting across a street certainly takes your mind of the threat of potential terrorists lurking in the city. I actually read some of the other country's warnings to their citizens visiting the United States and found that we don't sound like such a safe place to visit either! Gotta keep it all in perspective!!!

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  6. Poor Egypt: So glad you went. Happy new year :)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Sophie! It is such a shame and such a magnificent place!!! Happy New Year and Happy Travels back at you~ Jackie

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  7. Interesting to hear your thoughts on travel and tourism. Egypt is always seen as a place to be cautious, so I was glad to read your insights about traveling here and being honest and informative. People talk themselves out of an opportunity like this, and we should be aware, but we also need to not freak ourselves out and enjoy life.
    http://passportcouture.com

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    1. We certainly heeded the warnings and didn't go out roaming alone at night (god help us getting across a street after dark) and our hotel concierge was good in assuring us in answer to our questions about places which were 'safe'. I am certain, just like New York, Miami and Los Angeles there are parts of Cairo that one shouldn't just happen upon. Thanks much for your visit and thoughtful comment Brooke.

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  8. Good on you for deciding to go. Can you actually climb the pyramids? I've crossed the road in Vietnam which was pretty scary but doable. Somehow Cairo sounds worse.

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    1. That photo of us was taken as we climbed a short climb up to the entry of the pyramid; thankfully they don't let tourists climb all over these somewhat fragile structures (in the sense that air pollution is so bad there). And I had read that guidebook warning and thought, "No sweat. We survived Bangkok, Myanmar and Mumbai traffic last spring. . ." Well, I've never seen anything like this one and thank goodness for the locals who cared enough to help!

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  9. I don't know why but I am surprised at all the modern and beautiful buildings there. I don't know what I expected...but it is a beautiful city.
    Going outside of Texas makes me a little nervous so I'd be a basket case traveling as you do...but then, I am such a titty baby. :) Love to you.

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    1. Oh BJ, I am still laughing and I told Joel the next time I show any hesitation about some place he is to call me a titty baby - been a long time since I heard that phrase. I've just started following Egypt's tourism page on FB and they did a post of 'when you think Cairo' and they had two photos; one the ancient pyramids they other a vibrant street night scene that could have been New York or Hollywood. We do get those images in our head don't we?

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  10. I am really happy that you guys decided to go. I went about 12 years ago, the same year when the United States invaded Irak. As a result, half of the original group dropped from the trip. We ended enjoying Europe and Egypt on a semi-private tour (at a bargain). That is a part of the world that is never (I think) going to be seen as safe to a lot of people. But, you know, it is a great place to visit. I still have warm feelings about it and wish to return one day.

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    1. Ruth, I so agree that there are many who will never experience the wonders of history just because this place has such a bad image right now. And it is so fascinating - as you know - and the people were charming!

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  11. Jackie, you must be having a great time in Egypt. I can absolutely relate to that story about crossing the street. It still happens to me all the time here in Greece. Not like in the States when they see you they slow down and let you pass. I will never get used to that. Enjoy your trip and be safe!!

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    1. Thanks much Mary. We are back in the States and I am afraid our drivers here(while fewer) still can't always be trusted to stop for pedestrians . . .thankfully though you need only dodge them coming at you from a couple directions. Thanks for taking a minute to comment!!

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  12. I was glued to your every word and photo, as Egypt is definitely on my bucket list. Like some other commenters, I was surprised about the modern buildings. The traffic reminded me of when we were in Naples. I wasn't worried about pickpockets, just crossing the street! It was great to read that you felt safe everywhere. Three years ago, we had a big trip to Israel planned, when just three weeks before, there were rockets being fired into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I really thought we would not be going, but we did, and like you, we felt safe everywhere. When we told people that, so many people said they never would have gone, and several friends cancelled trips that were six months away. It's scary, but things happen everywhere.

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    1. So true Amy. Watching headlines from back home while in Greece, I have to admit that the United States doesn't look particularly safe either with the likes of San Bernadino, the Oregon school campus, and the list could go on and on. . .You would love Egypt as it is so completely and totally different! Glad you did Israel and didn't let the 'fear of possibility' keep you from having a great experience.

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  13. Hi Jackie, your post, specifically this question: How much longer do you wait to do those things you’ve always had on the bucket list? - is a sobering reminder to me, at least, that I should stop procrastinating. I have quite a few places on my list that I need to cross off. No point in waiting, is there?
    I totally agree with you as well, there's no point in waiting for the right time. Fortunate, for you, to be there at this time when you have the place almost to yourselves.
    Happy New Year to you and Joel and many happy travels in 2016!

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    1. Oh and the same wishes to you Marcia for a good year and fabulous travels along the way. And, I am now even more certain that we can't keep waiting for the 'right time' as it may never come. I had been nervous just because I had let those headlines scare me; I had forgotten that for every headline there are so many wonderful things out there and so many incredibly nice people.

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  14. So glad you made it to Cairo. Looking forward to reading more about your adventures!

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    1. And so are we - sometimes you just need to give yourselves that gentle little kick in the butt to get you off the undecided scale and into action. Happy New Year to you and look forward to your upcoming adventures! Hugs from us ~

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  15. I really enjoyed your photos of Cairo. For some reason I never, ever picture it with modern buildings, though of course it would have them. :-) I'm still stuck back in storybook visions of Cairo. :-)

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    1. Thanks so much - glad you liked them!!And I have to admit that I am not sure what I thought Cairo would look like, but it certain blew me away when I saw it!

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  16. I would LOVE to visit Egypt someday, but my husband isn't interested. He feels it's a "once in a lifetime" trip, and he already went as a kid. Perhaps someday I'll go solo or as a gals only trip. That photo of Luxor has me hooked. I'm glad that it was a positive experience for you and that it wasn't as scary as some people make it seem. Wishing you a good 2016.

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    1. You definitely need to visit Egypt!! We are already planning what more when can see on our return in March. (We've found it cheaper to buy our tickets to Greece by originating on that side of the ocean so we flew Cairo-Seattle-Cairo, which has another plus because we get to return and see more. Thinking Alexandria next time!

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  17. Hello, I am happy you decided to go and cross this city off your bucket list. The traffic does sound scary, maybe they need the tunnels under the street for people to walk, like London. Thanks for sharing your amazing photos, enjoy your week!

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    1. The sad thing is Eileen at least one major street (the once I described our antics on) has an underground tunnel but it is closed off with barbed wire rolls and concrete blocks - we can thank Arab Spring and terrorists for that I suspect. The underground entry to the metro has huge people and bag scanning devices.

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  18. Beautiful photos, thank you. It surely was an exciting and memorable experience.

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    1. Well, thank you for stopping by and taking time to comment. Hope you'll be back often! Happy week ahead!

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  19. Being on the Seven wonders of the World list I've always wanted to visit Egypt to see the pyramids!
    Love all your photos as always Jackie - thank you!

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    1. Oh so glad you enjoyed the photos -- I took a 'few' so will have more for you in the coming weeks! Thanks for stopping by!

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  20. What a fantastic post. I enjoyed all of the photos and the stories, especially the one about the guy who helped you cross the street. I do not let possibilities limit my travels either. There is too much to see in this world to stay put!

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    1. Sharon, it sounds like we think alike when it comes to travel. The possibilities for good are so much stronger than for bad, that you just can't let them dictate your life.

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  21. Beautiful tour of Egypt. Very exciting place.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Rajesh - as always, your visits are appreciated!

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    1. Margaret, it was an amazing trip - sometimes when you don't know what to expect, or you have no expectations at all, the trip becomes a magic carpet ride and that is exactly what happened in Egypt! Thanks much for commenting.

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  23. How exciting! You do know that many of us are living out some of our bucket list through your travels? The Luxor temple is awesome.

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    1. I have more photos coming of the Luxor temple which absolutely knocked our socks off. . .the place is magic!

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  24. Yes, the only thing that scared me about Cairo was the traffic. Well, that and those guys sauntering around with machines guns, who were there to protect the tourists! I would go back to Egypt in a minute!

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    1. You know, Nancie, I think everyone who visits Egypt has that same opinion. I have to admit the military presence and security were visible reminders that 'it' could happen but then 'it' seems to be happening all over the world without notice or forethought (except by the bad guys planning it).

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  25. An item on my bucket list is to see Egypt and the valley of the kings. Thank you for showing us your trip.

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    1. Oh, I still have a few more places to show you so please do come back! And thanks much for the visit today~ keep Egypt on your bucket list, it is well worth a visit!

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  26. Thanks for sharing with "Through my Lens"

    Mersad
    Mersad Donko Photography

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