Summer of 2010. I was officially commissioned to initially manage on-site a high profile work-related project in Cairo for ten days. I have chosen one of my diligent colleagues to accompany me and be the on-site project support for one month. Preparations went into high gear and in a week’s time I got my Egyptian business visa. I could not believe I was on my way to see the Pyramids of Giza, of which the Pyramid of Khufu is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one that remains largely intact.
I received a multiple entry visa valid for three months. This trip eventually became a trip of many firsts. This was my first overseas business trip in my entire information technology banking career. This was my first trip to the ironically impoverished but gold & diamond-rich African continent. This was my first trip to Egypt, located at Africa’s northeastern tip.
This was also my first time to take Egypt’s national carrier, Egyptair, and my first time as well to ride on a Boeing 777-300ER aircraft for the 4-hour flight from Dubai to Cairo. [The 7-hour Singapore-Dubai leg was on Singapore Airlines utilizing an older Boeing 777-300, but service was par excellence.]
DUSIT THANI LAKEVIEW CAIRO HOTEL (Part 1)
We were met at the chaotic Cairo airport by the company driver and we were whisked away to the remotely-located Dusit Thani Lakeview Cairo Hotel. The hotel had been built in the New Cairo district expected to cater to business travelers whose frequent destinations would be around the nearby technology park and not the city center. The hotel was still in its soft opening phase but it has already impressed guests with its fusion of Egyptian and Thai touches, spacious rooms and contemporary design.
After our quick check-in, my colleague and I went to our respective rooms with the usual TV message welcoming us and we rested for while. The room got an easy thumbs up for me.
It was a simple room with a not-so-large LCD TV (yes, I love huge TVs), study area, small sofa and a king size bed.
The tiny study area with a sleek glass desk and simple chair.
This is one of the few hotels that I have stayed in that has a bath tub separated by a transparent glass panel from the entire room making it possible for guests to watch the TV while dipping in the tub. The crisp piped in music completes the audio video luxury without the need of setting up another TV set inside the bathroom.
If you want privacy in the bath then you can just pull down the adjustable drape to close the glass panel.
The view from my hotel room balcony was the relaxing pool area.
THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA
After a quick rest, we took the hotel car to go to Giza as advised by the hotel front desk when we asked how we could visit the famed pyramids, Egypt’s greatest man-made attraction. We arrived in Giza in less than an hour but we were surprised when we were ushered into one of those scammers who did a hard sell on us of their merchandise such as oil and perfumes, obviously wasting our time. After I firmly told them we were not buying anything, we were offered the options to go near the pyramids by someone who’s possibly connected to the same hotel->store merchandise->pyramid tour scam link. The three riding options given were by a camel, by a bare horse and by a horse-drawn carriage. We finally chose the carriage to protect us from the scorching heat of the mid day sun.
And so, on we went to the pyramids.
Aboard the carriage, we passed by houses, stores and trash mountains inside the Village of Nazlet el-Samman to the main street leading to the entrance at the northern part of the pyramid complex.
The northern entrance near the ticket office where we entered is away from the main entrance at the eastern side for people who would only do a walking tour. Seeing the distance between pyramids, I was thankful that I needed not to walk under the blazing hot sun to move from one pyramid to the other and around the pyramid complex.
Our first stop was near the Pyramid of Khafre, the son of Khufu. It is the second largest of the 3 main pyramids in the complex.
Aboard the carriage that took us around the pyramids, we could view the Pyramid of Khufu (Khafre’s daddy), from the side of the Pyramid of Khafre. And yes, that’s me and my colleague, Marilou.
We got off the carriage and had our picture taken with the Pyramid of Khufu (the largest of the 3 pyramids) as background. This pyramid was believed to have been built as tomb for the 4th dynasty pharaoh, Khufu.
We also took pics with the nearer 136-m Pyramid of Khafre as background.
We were then offered to take on a camel ride with the pyramids serving as backdrop. It was absolutely not free but there was no reason and time for a lot of haggling as it was already a dream of a lifetime taking place! My overwhelming excitement to be in the famed pyramid complex easily crushed any sense of losing some hard-earned dollars.
It was pretty scary to be high on top of a camel but we had to take the ride because we paid for it and it was fun anyway.
Riding the camel, the view shifted to the third pyramid, the Pyramid of Menkaure, farther down the desert.
We did not go near the 65-m tall Pyramid of Menkaure anymore but just tried to touch its tip.
Then we proceeded to see the Pyramid of Khufu up close. Built in 2560 B.C., this was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years at 138 meters until the 160-m spire of the Lincoln Cathedral in England was finished in 1300 A.D.
The only remaining Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was right before our eyes. It’s a massive structure with a total mass of 5.9 million metric tons. We skipped the route of going inside the pyramid for a closer encounter with its interior.
After the tour of the pyramids, we moved eastward to the location of the Great Sphinx.
I definitely did not let the day pass without my picture with the Great Sphinx. It was indeed overwhelming!
Another shot with the Great Sphinx and the Pyramid of Khafre.
The Great Sphinx and the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure. This was my last shot on the pyramid complex and then we had to go back to the hotel.
We stopped by a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) outlet for a late lunch.
On our way to the hotel we passed by some of the massive houses of New Cairo being built. The area is indeed booming!
DUSIT THANI LAKEVIEW CAIRO HOTEL (Part 2)
When we reached the hotel it was already late afternoon and the hotel lobby’s impressive lighting was coming alive.
Pendant lights magnificently adorned the grand hotel lobby .
Yes, hundreds of pendant lights.
At the center of the hotel lobby was the watery theme.
This is another view of the hotel lobby at night.
Just right after passing by the hotel lobby is the pool area that sizzles romantically at night, with the illuminated palm trees, pool and fountains.
At night the view of the pool area from my hotel room balcony becomes magical.
This is the bar in the hotel lobby adjacent to the lobby restaurant.
MALLING TIME ON OUR OWN
After one of those hard day’s work, I was all set to go to the mall in Cairo for the first time.
On our way to the mall, the afternoon sky was indeed reddish & hellish!
Our destination was the massive and contemporary Stars Shopping Centre, 45 minutes away from New Cairo.
Stars is one of Cairo’s biggest shopping complex. With over 600 stores, it has a 6,000-sq. m. theme park and 16 cinemas.
The mall also has the largest hypermart in Egypt, Spinney’s.
We passed by Starbucks and T.G.I. Friday’s…..
….Chili’s and Macaroni Grill……and many more well-known Western restaurants, bars and coffee shops….
but I decided to taste once again Al Baik chicken. This was my favorite chicken fast food chain in Saudi Arabia in the late 90s when I was working there and it would only be this time that I would be able to taste it again after 13 years. It’s garlic sauce is simply out of this world. After the meal, we roamed around the huge mall until we got tired.
ROAMING ‘ROUND CAIRO
It was a fine weekday after office when our gracious Egyptian lady host, Yasmine, took us out. This turned out to be one of my memorable nights in Cairo.
Yasmine first brought us to the famous Fish Market along the river Nile for a sumptuous dinner.
We were about to feast on fresh seafood.
It’s me by the Nile River waiting for our entree and my beer. It would be the night the river fed my soul.
The usual threesome, Yasmine (with head scarf), Marilou and myself. First we had salad and soup.
Oh, the bouillabaisse tasted heavenly!
For the main course, we had the really huge seabass, calamari, buttered prawn and paella.
We really needed this Turkish tea as we really felt bloated at the end of the meal!
Taking a few steps from the fish market, we strolled inside the beautiful First Mall just adjacent to the Four Seasons Hotel.
After half an hour, we rode by the glistening Cairo Tower and the Mogamma building in Tahrir Square.
We passed by banks such as Alex and mosques with towering, beautiful minarets.
We finally arrived at our last destination for the night, an area for reasonably-priced Egyptian souvenirs and a packed place to mingle with the middle class of Cairo.
There were a lot of souvenir items to choose from: pyramids, Cleopatras, pharaohs, cats, donkeys, key chains and many more.
Choices, choices and they were inexpensive.
This was one of the souvenir items I bought, a small relic of the Egyptian Pharaoh, King Tut.
Adjacent to the souvenir stores was a cool place to hangout where Egyptians were happily relaxing, sipping tea, smoking shisha, singing, laughing or just plain chatting. They’re a nocturnal bunch of people just like our friend and host, Yasmine.
Yasmine, Marilou and myself relaxed a bit and had some tea. Then we left the place and headed back to tour hotel.
On our way back to our hotel, Yasmine suggested that we take the very good sugarcane juice from a juice stand she knows very well.
The sugarcane juice was indeed very good and I finished it fast.
MY LAST FAB MEAL IN CAIRO
During my last business night in Cairo, our gracious friend, business client and host, Yasmine, took us to another unforgettable dining experience at Taboula (www.taboula-eg.com). Although essentially it is a Lebanese restaurant, it is considered by some as Cairo’s best.
The restaurant is located at the basement of the building at 1 Latin American Street in Garden City near the well-fortified American Embassy.
As usual I was with the two fantastic ladies….Yasmine & Marilou.
Yasmine was one heck of a gracious host and friend. I could not have thanked her enough.
For appetizers, we had homos and shanklish (sour goat cheese mixed salad).
Stuffed leaves and salad with fried bread were served next…..
then fried cheese…
and then chicken liver with french fries.
For my main course I ordered the succulent lamb chops and I definitely had no regrets! I have always loved lamb meat!
For the last part of the meal we had milk pudding and tea; and then we left.
On our way back to the hotel we passed by the Hard Rock Cafe. I bought the usual shot glass I’m collecting.
And that was it. Ancient pyramids, exquisite food, great people, fascinating hotel and of course my work all rolled into one, made the trip one of my most memorable. And oh, lastly I have to mention Egyptian music which has been an integral part of Egyptian culture since ancient times.
Our dear friend, Yasmine, gave us a CD of Egyptian contemporary singing hearthrob, Houssam Habib. We were constantly listening to his music every time we were in Yasmine’s car and yes I was captivated by the catchy tunes. When she knew I was into Houssam’s music she gave me and Marilou a CD each. Indeed, Egypt is still the mecca of Arabian music and arts.
Other places I wished I had the time to visit are the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, the twin cities by the Nile, Luxor & Aswan and the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheik. Hopefully in the near future, God will be kind enough to give me another chance to visit the land of the Pharaohs. With the recent ouster of Mubarak and with the ongoing protests, no one is certain if things will going to be the same again. For now, seeing the pyramids of Giza and experiencing Egyptian culture were more than enough for me to be continually grateful to my God for the wonderful blessing.