Introduction. It was back in 1997 that we first decided to take a trip to Egypt. Early in the year we called Grand Circle Travel (GCT) and tried to book the trip for November, but they were already sold out. We decided we would sign up for the following November (1998) as soon as those dates became available. Then in the fall of 1997 there were two terrorist attacks against foreign tourists: one in September killed several German tourists near the Cairo Museum; the other in November killed 62 tourists at Luxor. (No GCT groups were involved, but that�s when we would have been there if the tour hadn�t been sold out.) We decided not to go until things quieted down in the Middle East.
In retrospect, 1998 probably would have been the safest time to visit Egypt because security was tightened up so much. As it was, we finally decided to go only after some of our close friends went in 2006 and gave us their first hand perspective. We chose April because the weather seemed moderate then, almost as good as November.
Saturday, 7 April. We left our home at Massanutten and drove to our son Randall�s house in Culpeper. He had arranged for his friend Mark to drive us to Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C. We got to the airport around 11:30 and checked in. For reasons known only to the TSA, after going through the usual passenger security screening we were taken to another section of the airport (led by a Muslim woman in a head scarf) and subjected to a rigorous 20-minute search of our persons and carry-ons.
Our 13:40 flight to New York�s JFK was uneventful and we were there by 15:00. We had to change terminals, which in the past had always been a nightmare at JFK. This time, though, using the new AirTrain for the first time, it was a snap. We had lunch in the terminal. We boarded at 17:15 for our 18:30 EgyptAir nonstop flight to Cairo. We were in the air at 19:00, and a hearty dinner was served an hour later. After that we tried to rest. We were thankful that EgyptAir has about three inches more leg room in coach than most other airlines.
Sunday, 8 April. We rested until about 8:30 (2:30 EDT). (Thanks only to my super-intelligent world time watch, we discovered that the time difference between New York and Cairo was only six hours, not seven as we had been led to believe.) A generous breakfast was served at 10:00, and we landed in Cairo at 11:20. Immigration processing was slow and the luggage handling (by GCT) was a fiasco. We stood a full two hours in the terminal, and it was very hard on Jane with her artificial knees. At least it gave me plenty of time to find an ATM and get some Egyptian money (US $1 = �5.70 or �1 = 17.5�). We finally left for the hotel on three buses at 13:30. Fortunately the weather in Cairo was very pleasant, in the mid-70s (10 F cooler than the day before).
From that point on, things went much more smoothly. We were at the Marriott Cairo Hotel at 14:00 and in our room at 14:30. Our room was in the Zamalek Tower and faced the Nile, but our main view was of the traffic ramps leading to the bridge. We cleaned up, then rested for a couple hours.
The hotel, technically the Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino, was very impressive. Built on Gezira Island in the Nile River right in downtown Cairo, it consists of two modern, high rise towers, one on either side of the former Al Gezira Palace (1869). The palace has housed many dignitaries, but perhaps it's greatest claim to fame is as the venue of the first performance of Verdi's opera Aida. Most of the hotel's public area and restaurants are in the old palace which has been restored to its former splendor.
The three Program Directors had arranged for a group dinner at 18:30 in the Marriott�s Egyptian Restaurant, even though our brochure said dinner tonight was "on your own." (Reparations, perhaps, for the fiasco at the airport?) This was an excellent and very welcome idea.
At the entrance to the restaurant there was a brick kiln where three women were making and baking flat bread. All the restaurant employees wore tradition Egyptian costumes, and all the food (and there was a lot of it) was traditional Egyptian food. The meal even included wine (needless to say, not an Egyptian tradition). We got back to our room about 20:30 and went right to bed.