Tbilisi-Baku-Zurich-Cyprus-Cairo 

JUNE - JULY 2006

 

THE DEALS: This six-week excursion blended five "deals" posted on www.flyertalk.com Mileage Run Forum.

 

1) MAY 2005: Best Western Montana Zurich $21/night

Booked three nights for Zurich Fiesta Caliente in June 2006, a year away!

2) OCT 2005: Sheraton Portland Maine $19/night


3) FEB 2006:
Sofitel Maadi Cairo $8.50/night

Booked 3 weeeks in June-July. Not sure if I could enjoy Cairo for 3 weeks. However, the rate was cancellable and I could decide later.

4) xxx 2006: Lufthansa Summer Sale: London to Tbilisi, Georgia $200

5) APR 2006: Alitalia Toronto to Cyprus - Business Class $33   

Bought 4 tickets during the 12 hours that it was bookable.

 

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 JUN 04 SUN:          TORONTO

AUS-YYZ: AA 25K miles +$60; Alitalia YYZ-LCA Business Class $167 total

AUS-ORD      AA# 2414               06:35-09:05

ORD-YYZ       AA# 1214               11:17-13:45

YYZ-MXP       AZ# 0653               17:05-07:25+1

Up at 4 AM for airport shuttle van. Toronto airport is unusually slow to get around, but I see they are building a new inter-terminal train. AlItalia didn't blink when I checked in on the $33 ticket. Two hours in the fine Maple Leaf Longe: a nice salad and Bailey's on the rocks, free internet, headlines on Toronto TV about their own "home-grown" terrorists. Quite comfortable flight to Milan.

 

JUN 05 MON:           MILAN

Arrive Milan, Bus to City Center $4, check heavy bag at train station $8, walk around and check-in Club Hotel $80, sleep all day.

Restaurant Idea: Da Oscar, Via Palazzi 4, Milan. Oscar runs his restaurant with a harsh tongue and sweaty brow. With a white tank top stretched over his midriff, Milan’s famously fascist restaurateur barks orders at staff (including his wife, who some say wears the trousers after the evening’s “show” is over) and insults at customers. Not for the easily offended or the weak-kneed: head here if you like the idea of dining in glaring light, at communal tables and in the company of a bust of Mussolini. Bring an Italian friend to translate if you’re curious about exactly what kind of insults Oscar is throwing your way. Food is tasty, though. Good bets are fried calamari, served on a plate over a paper napkin, and any pasta “al-Oscar”.

 

JUN 06 TUE:            MILAN

Store one bag with Club Hotel, Airport Bus back to MXP, fly to LHR on BA.

MXP-LHR-AMS: BA 10K miles + $95; LHR-TBS-LHR Lufthansa $226

MXP-LHR       BA# 0573     12:00-13:00

LHR-MUC       LH# 4759      17:10-19:55

MUC-TBS       LH# 3214      21:20-03:05+1

At Lufthansa check-in, they blocked the middle seat next to me, and gave me a LH Lounge invite. That Star Alliance Gold Card is paying off now ! On the flight to Tbilisi, I chatted with Alex, a Georgian student and business major in DC going home for a month. He had found the same $200 London-Tbilisi fare that I was using. He described his experience getting a driving license in USA:

Filling the application, he got to the part about ethnic background, and was thrilled to see a check-box for CAUCASIAN ! He excitedly thanked the clerk for providing a special form with him in mind, but the clerk said "Relax, Dude, almost everybody checks that box". He said it was a few weeks more until he understood the "Dude" slang, but still felt a little bit special, being an “original caucasian”.

Hi Mark, I forwarded on your story about the original caucasian to a bunch of my Peace Corps friends...they thought it was hilarious. I'll have to tell you the story sometime about the state of Georgia being discovered by Georgians...it's good times. Hope you're enjoying the adventure!   Best, Sonja

Also, heard back from Alex in October 2006:

Hi Mr. Halliday...how are you doing? still flying around the world? Nice..I liked your article about Georgia on your website.....If you don't remember me, let me remind you myself....my name is Alex..we met in the plain from Munich to Tbilisi...I hope you enjoyed your trip to Georgia and trust me my country is getting better and more beautiful every day....so you have to visit again...but try to match it with my trip so I will be your host :)))    Say hi to everybody I know and don't know....Cheers, Alex

 

JUN 07 WED:      TBILISI

             Arrived Tbilisi OK, Taxi $10 to Marriott Courtyard. After some discussion, they let me check in at 4:30 AM on today's res. Upgraded to top floor King room overlooking the plaza, although I was staying using points.

My plans for the week in Georgia were not really set. The following advice from Sonja, who had lived there for two years while in the Peace Corps, gave me ideas:

As for Batumi - yes, definitely! It's the most mediterranean and well-maintained resort town in Georgia. I lived in Poti, another port town on the Black Sea about 2 hours north of Batumi. I don't really recommend it since Poti is more of an industrial port town and not as beautiful as Batumi. One thing I do recommend though, if you're interested in swimming in the Black Sea, is taking a marshutka (mini-van) from Batumi to Sarpi. It's a tiny resort town on the Turkish/Georgian border and I do mean right on the border! The rock beach is literally within walking distance from the gates and you can see a mosque on a promitory from the beach. It's the most beautiful (and one of the cleanest looking) stretches of the sea in Georgia.

 

Hmm, come to think of it, I don't know how well-maintained Batumi still is since their dictator, Abashidze, was forced into exile. They had a lot of Russian funding which I'm sure has disappeared since Adjara (the region) reverted back to Sakashvili's power. If you'd like, I can ask a couple of my Peace Corps and Georgian friends who still live there what the situation is.

 

I'm so glad you're going and a little envious too! I really miss Georgia - the food, the wine, the gorgeous mountains...

 

Please let me know if you have any questions at all, or want to see or do anything particular. I still keep in touch with friends there and can give some suggestions or ask for theirs about anything you're curious about.

 

Take good care and thanks for emailing!

 

Best, Sonja

 
               Batumi actually had a pretty good night life if you like clubs. Georgians love American pop and dancing and during the summer there are often shows or events taking place in the park there. It's probably the most beautiful and well kept park in Georgia and the university next to it is really pretty impressive. I don't recommend any of the guidebooks. I had two myself and I found them pretty out of date and incorrect for the most part. Travelling options - I probably don't need to give warning since you're a savvy traveler but, really, be careful. The only incidents (well, almost) that I ever had took place on public transportation. Don't take the buses - they have the most criminal activity and pickpockets. I'd recommend the train (which is mind-numbingly slow and a total sauna in the summer, but you can usually buy an entire compartment to yourself) or a marshutka or private car.
 
               I haven't been to Yerevan, but I have several friends who have - mainly by the marshutkas (minivans). You can also take the train. One thing that I really enjoyed however was Baku, Azerbajaan. You can take the train from the capital (ok, that really sucked - 16 hour train ride) but there are also options of private cars and faster trains if you're willing to pay more. I'll ask my friend Alice - she lives there now as the Administrative Officer
for Peace Corps, Azerbajaan. If you let me know what you're most interested in doing, I can give better suggestions for places and transport.
 
A few of my favorite things in Georgia...
 
               the turkish baths (specifically the ones in a mountain town called Abustumani)
               Kazbegi Mountain
               Sarpi
               Tblisi (Vake park, and the older sections)
               Sapara Monastery
               Batumi
               Borjomi region (the Romanov house in the Likani complex)
 
Hope everything works well with the visa to Baku. I tried to go before new years with friends my second year there, but the consulate was
drunk (a little pre-celebration) and delayed our visas for 3 days! Always an adventure, but Baku was worth the wait. Also - the Marriot
is really nice! They have a terrific breakfast/brunch and you're righton Rustaveli street near some great art stores and such.
 
Kargad iquavi (Be well) and gaumarjos (cheers)!  Sonja

             After a long sleep, wandered Rustaveli Street in the afternoon, checking out transport and hotel options. Turns out if I want to go to Baku the best option is to fly. I had considered to go to Baku by train, 15 hours and cheap at $22, but there are visa problems which go away if one arrives by air.

 

 

JUN 08 THU:       BAKU

             I decided to pay the $190 and fly to Baku today. Everyone I talk to says Baku is very nice, which was not anything I knew before. I read more in LP there are natural gas vents around the area which have been alight for centuries, got the zoroastrians excited. AND there are MUD Volcanoes about 25m south of Baku at Qubustan. LP kept saying just how "quirky" Azerbaijan is, so that had me interested.

Then I fly back to TBS next Monday at 4pm and stay at the "full" 5* Marriott, where Bush stayed when he was here. There is also a George Bush highway now.

Bought return ticket to Baku from travel agent in Marriott Lobby, $190 on Azerbaijan airlines. Taxi to airport, Russian Tupolev airplane, no cabin door, bad AC, nice view of Caucasus. Azerbaijan Visa is $40 on arrival.

I stayed at "Azerbaijan" hotel in Baku, the big ugly monster near Dom Soviet, some people also called it the Intourist hotel..paid $40 a night for a very big room with frig/TV on 15th floor, very nice view. Seemed to be best deal around in an expensive town.Taxi to Azerbaijan Hotel $10, room $40 per night, old Soviet style but great view over Caspian, and a TV and frig. Walked down along pedestrian mall, into Three Bears bar. Talked with Scottish oil workers heade home for 3 weeks after 3 weeks offshore.

 

 

JUN 09 FRI:        BAKU

While reading up for todays walkabout, I saw the term Bakunian. I like it. Sounds like a guest on a StarTrek program ! It is now noon, so I guess midnight there. It hadn't occured to me that going this far east put me half way around the world from Oregon.

By default I am staying another night at the Hotel Azerbaijan, i.e. I started walking and checking a few other hotel options, but it is now past checkout time anyway. The room I have there is actually huge, and with a fine view over the city from the 15th floor. Plus a fridge. Minus a TV. And the shower works fine, so I may stay there and not switch to Canub.

Walked along the Caspian seawall. A few things I read have said the Caspian is RISING, and sure enough, some older piers are no longer much above the water. That is surprising, but I guess it is the Aral Sea that is disappearing, not this one.

Had brunch in a cafe, now heading into the old city, where LP says just get lost, you will run into a wall eventually in any direction. First thing, I went searching for a better hotel. LP mentioned a floating hotel down on the Seashore, a parked rusting Russian ferry turned hotel. But it seemed to have moved on to wherever old Russian ferries go on the Caspian. Checked out a few other hotels, but being an oil boomtown, Baku hotels get pricey quick, and I decided to stay put at the Azerbaijan. The view from my 16th floor balcony could not be beat.

Walked along Caspian shore into Old Town. Ran into some persistent rug-sellers, but one took me into a building to watch a wedding festival in progress. Taking the subway back to my hotel, it was very impressive, a total flashback to Moscow or St Petersburg metro stations. Huge blast doors, elegant station architectures, and DEEP, like never seen outside the FSU. That old very functional Soviet tech lives on and on.

Worldcup at Camel Toe Bar, where a 2x1 beer special was offered during any game. Chatting with a locally-based BP manager, I learn that among Baku oil workers, there are English bars, and then there are Scottish bars. Best not to mix. Also how the BTC pipeline (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) pipeline has just been completed and delivered the first oil this month. It transports oil at $1.50 per bbl compared with $10+ per bbl for other pipeline routes in use from central Asia.

  

JUN 10 SAT:       ASHTEGAH FIRE TEMPLE

Walk to train station to try local train to xxxxx, site of Ashtegah Zoroastrian Flame temple ! The information counter tells me the next train is in 2.5 hours. But I look around some more, trying to understand the chaos. Walking out along one promising looking platform, I shout the name of my destination to the engineer, he nods and waves me in to a carriage. We depart, the ticket taker is so astounded to see a foreigner, he doesn't bother to collect the fare, but assigns the woman across from me the duty of making sure I get off at the correct station!

This she does well, and walks along with me to the Flame temple entrance. The large iron gate is locked, a few people gather around and explain it is closed ! Damn. I sit down under a tree, and 30 minutes later staff appear and open the museum, entry $10 with (cute) english speaking guide and photo permission. Took bus back to town, found the subway, but took wrong line and had to backtrack.

Once back at the hotel, I slept through the afternoon. About 8 PM, found a Scottish Bar to watch World Cup, where a nearby Scotsman is throwing money at the bartender rather quickly. He then spots me, grabs on, and practically spitting in my ear, starts a project to educate me about Laphroig Single Malt. I negotiate my exit when he starts yelling, "no problem, we'll back you up in Iraq as far as you want to go....absolutely no problem, we got your back" !

 

 

JUN 11 SUN:       BAKU

             Sleep late, Metro into town, walk through old city, climb Maiden Tower, great views and breeze ! Watch the World Cup back at Camel Toe Bar in evening.

 

 

JUN 12 MON:      QUBUSTAN

Hired taxi to Qubustan for Petroglyphs and Mud Volcanoes, $40 including drop at airport for afternoon flight. ......details here.................My 4 nights in Baku were fun, and added a new perspective to my knowledge of world oil centers. It did eliminate most of my time in Georgia, though.

             6 PM: arrive TBS, and taxi ($10) to Marriott Courtyard for 2 nights using 20K pts. Walked to "Hangers Bar", recommended by a BP employee on the Baku flight. Watched World Cup while chatting with UK Embassy staffers. Rebecca, the Irish-American bar owner, was interesting to chat with. She kept things lively and soon had a group of Germans singing nationalistic songs ! Nikolai the wild Russian started buying me drinks. I had to sneak out to get away from him, as I feared it might not end well ! 

 

JUN 13 TUE:        TBILISI

Enjoyed sleeping on Marriott's lovely bed ! Walked around Tbilisi old town, internet cafe here on Rustaveli, just down and across a bit from the fancier Marriott. Sleep at 6pm for 2 AM Taxi to airport.  

 Sonja Follett wrote: Hi Mark, Glad you enjoyed Baku - it's definitely one place I'd love to visit again! I thought about seeing the flame temple when I was there, but my friends and I were pretty much into just enjoying the hot showers, the irish bars and not being stared at for awhile. Did you go to the Maiden's Tower? It was right around the corner from the Intourist hotel that my friends and I stayed at when we were there (we had a pretty limited budget!).I totally remember that bar! I discovered it with some friends when we were going to a cameo artist's workshop in Old Tbilisi. The owner is a hoot and it was a big ex-pat hang out. They served their Kazbegi beer in frosted glasses - which made it a favorite my last few months in Georgia! The Marriot was known in our group as one of the best places to use the restroom in Tbilisi. We used to stop in there whenever we were in town to use the ATM, the bathroom, and occasionally get lunch.  This is definitely a trip down nostalgia lane for me!

 

JUN 14 WED        AMSTERDAM

 TBS-MUC              LH# 3215           04:05-06:00

 MUC-LHR              LH# 4750           07:45-08:45

 LHR-AMS              BA# 0438           13:25-15:35

4 AM Flight to Amsterdam via Munich and London. Check in to ETAP hotel near Schiphol airport. Train in to town, walk around in drizzle.

  

JUN 15 THU         AMSTERDAM

Watching World Cup in bar and chatting with Americans headed to Germany to watch Soccer. Watched TnT vs England- too bad TnT lost, good game until then.

 

 

JUN 16 FRI:        ZURICH

AMS-LHR-ZRH: BA 6K miles +$97

AMS-LHR               BA# 0427           09:50-10:10

LHR-ZRH               BA# 0714           11:55-14:35

Hotel Montana, Konradstrasse 39, CH-8005 Zurich

Check into Montana Hotel, just 2 blocks from the train station, no questions at all about the $21 rate.                   

ZURICH Fiesta Caliente  

Evete Sangalo show was cancelled, so walked around the “Mercado Mundial” street stalls at Helvetiaplatz for the evening. A large outdoor party with Caipirhinha stands and latins dancing in the streets. Had some tear-inducing Pad Thai for dinner!      

 

 

JUN 17 SAT:       ZURICH

Breakfast buffet, then Patrick calls as arranged and picks me up at hotel. We have a good visit at Kloten Airport viewing area coffee bar, until his flight to Helsinki is ready. Nap in the afternoon, about 8 PM to Fiesta Caliente, $40 entry, Olodum, Banda do Pelo, La Ley, and Bamboleo on main stage. Reggaeton DJs and  Colombian band in smaller Volkshaus rooms. Finishing at 4 AM, walk back to hotel along the ……strasse at first light.

 

 

JUN 18 SUN:       ZURICH

Hotel breakfast, then to sleep. Afternoon walk into Niederdorf for internet / skype, back to hotel and to sleep early for 7 am train !

 

 

JUN 19 MON:      TRAIN to MILAN

Zurich to Milan       Train #151          07:09-10:45

Nice train ride under the alps, upperclass Swiss-Guatemalan family seated near, headed to Rome, so I could practice my Spanish. Club Hotel $80 on Gallileo street near Milan central train station.

 

 

JUN 20 TUE

MXP-LCA               AZ #7706           13:30-17:55

Airport Bus to MXP, check-in, to Alitalia lounge for a few hours, no internet. Milan to Larnaca flight met flyertalker SEAUAKID. Arrive LCA 6pm, easy ATM, helpful tourist office books me into Petrou Bros Apartment, $45/night, $12 taxi, check in 7 pm, walk down to beach, then sleep early.

 

 

JUN 21WED:       TO CAIRO

Sleep late, internet, walk around Larnaca, fine laundry service $10 next door to hotel, paid extra half day to stay at hotel until 6 pm. Midnight flight Cyprus to Cairo for $260, arrived 1 AM.

 

 

JUN 22 THU:       CAIRO

Now starts my 3 weeks in Cairo. Maybe too long, but hopefully I can find interesting things below the chaos that Cairo is reputed to be. If not, the Sofitel will not be too painful ! JUN 20-30; JUL 02-15; $8.50 per night 4-star, incl. hot buffet breakfast.

Hotel Sofitel Maadi Towers, Corniche El Nile, Maadi, Cairo, Egypt

I had emailed Sofitel requesting airport transfer for $18. A snappily dressed fellow met me at arrival gate and whisked me through visa-immigration-customs stuff and into the hotel taxi within 10 minutes, i.e. arrive Sofitel about 2 AM.

Hotel is excellent, nice pool, King bed, (distant) view of Pyramids from balcony, great breakfast buffet, and machine-gun toting tourist police at front and back entrances. Outside hotel are lots of ATMs, pizza joints, internet shops, and more. Slept late, then a "dry run" to Cairo Train station via Metro (12 cents), to learn the Metro system and ticket-buying ropes.

Metro is fine, although people are a bit pushy. I made a classic error on the return ride, and boarded one of the front carriages which are reserved for women. According to LP this is a common newbie move! Anyway, rather than an angry crowd gathering to fit me in an orange jumpsuit, the carriage full of scarved women seemed to enjoy watching my reaction as the doors closed and I realized what was up. Simply moved back to the appropriate car at next stop.

External review: Sofitel Cairo Maadi Towers and Casino: Maadi is the expatriates’ dormitory town at the southern border of Cairo. The people think Maadi is Cairo’s green lung, which is not true, since many of the green areas have already been replaced by sterile, gray, concrete high rises. And they think it has no good hotel, which is not true, either. Juergen Stryjak tested the Sofitel Cairo Maadi Towers – and was surprised.

Even if a tourist has already visited Cairo once or twice, he probably won’t be familiar with the Cairo suburb of Maadi. This neglect of Maadi is quite understandable for tourists, as there are no sights, no nightlife, no decent hotels and Maadi is located far, far, away from the city center. This is, in part of the image of Maadi, but it doesn’t reflect the reality completely. Maadi has some advantages, which make it, in my opinion, interesting and convenient for tourists, too. Among these advantages is the Sofitel Cairo Maadi Towers and Casino, a Five-Star hotel, which surprised me, when I recently settled down there for one night. It belongs to the Accor group, which also operates some of the most famous historical hotels in Egypt, for example the Winter Palace in Luxor, the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan and the Sofitel Alexandria Cecil.

Don’t expect an architectural jewel. The Sofitel Cairo Maadi Towers are as plain and austere as many of the concrete piles in the neighborhood. Maadi is legendary as a green suburban oasis, with lots of villas and quiet little streets, therefore making it especially popular among expatriates and the Cairene upper class, but as it is with many legends, it survives because of its glorious past. Today, the big city has swallowed Maadi, and many of the villas have been displaced by gray high-rises. The Sofitel Cairo Maadi Towers and Casino is one of them, definitely not a landmark of architecture. Its real value which I discovered immediately after entering – and then at every turn: a very special friendliness, honest and welcoming, and much more than the usual routine kindness of such places.

 I had lunch at Little Italy, the house’s pizzeria at the lobby level. Despite a large number of guests, the waiters talked to me as to a friend, they wanted to know my origin, asked me for my opinion about Cairo, whether I felt comfortable here or uneasy – and if I would like to have some Parmesan cheese over my Lasagna. I agreed and the waiter returned with a cheese mill and covered my Lasagna with Parmesan, grated by hand. At the end, he invited me for a free espresso. I sat beneath the shining colored glass ceiling, watched the people passing by in the shopping arcade behind the restaurant’s arched windows and tried to remember when was the last time I felt so relaxed in a restaurant.

At night I had dinner at »El Rancho«, the newly opened tex-mex restaurant of the hotel, and I don’t want to repeat myself, but here again, I received the same attentiveness. As for the cuisine, I sampled a mixed grill plate, with pieces of strip steak, sirloin steak, t-bone steak, all together for LE 42 ($ 11), and it was mouth-watering. I ordered a non-alcoholic beer, and another guest, already slightly tipsy from his alcoholic beer, asked me, very seriously, if I have adequate health insurance, because non-alcoholic beer would be very harmful.

The waiter smiled and kept my plate filled with delicious fresh chips and cheddar sauce. The atmosphere is as cozy as the restaurant’s leather sofas and wooden saloon chairs. Next morning at the Maadi Café (24 hour service), where the breakfast buffet is arranged for the guests, I was hopelessly late, nearly one hour after the buffet closed. The waiter could have charged me for my breakfast à la carte, but he offered, instead, to bring me whatever I wanted from the buffet, which was still available in the kitchen.

All rooms at the Sofitel Cairo Maadi Towers and Casino are air-conditioned, tastefully decorated with warm colors, expensive looking wooden furniture, color televisions with satellite reception and other amenities, common to Five-star hotels. Each room has its own balcony, the higher the better, overlooking the Nile, with the pyramid of Saqqara on the horizon, the oldest freestanding man-made structure in the world. Particularly romantic is watching the sunset by the pool on the third floor terrace, above all because you can’t see the heavy traffic rushing along the Corniche in front of the hotel. You can watch the sun going down over the Nile, a very peaceful moment.

Beside the above-mentioned restaurants, the hotel features a French restaurant, »Le Clovis«, also »Darna«, a typical Egyptian farmhouse restaurant, »Ali Baba«, which is a romantic open air cafeteria, a Casino as well as the »Pullman Bar« – and not to forget: »French Corner«, the hotel’s bakery featuring the best cake in town, if we follow the Egyptian Chefs Organization’s recent decision to grant the hotel’s chef Mourad El Bery a gold medal for Best Pastry Chef. His colleagues Tarek Shaaban and Fathi Mohamed won the bronze medal for the Best Wedding Cake.

Despite Maadi’s image as a remote neighborhood, the distances to important places are shorter than one may think. Due to the new Moneib Bridge and the Ring Road, it is possible to reach the Pyramids of Giza within only a few minutes, depending on how boldly your taxi driver hits the gas pedal. The metro, a fast, cheap, clean, safe connection between Maadi and the city centre, stops at some important sightseeing places like Coptic Cairo (Station Mar Girgis), the Egyptian Museum at Tahrir Square as well as the downtown shopping area (both Sadat Station), Islamic Cairo (Station Al-Ataba) or the Cairo Opera (Station Opera) – the latter two after switching to the second metro line at Sadat Station.

Maadi itself is very American, due to thousands of Americans, which live here, among other foreigners. This leads to a large number of Western-style shops, German bakeries, fast-food outlets and modern shopping malls. Just beside the hotel, you will find the multi-story Alfa Market, which offers nearly everything that the tourist may have left at home.

 

 

JUN 23 FRI:

             I went to Alexandria for the day, 8 AM First Class train, excellent A/C and meal service available. This fast train across the Nile Delta (220 km) only takes 2.5 hours, $7. The new (3 year old) Alexandria Library was really a pleasure to visit. The ancient library was destroyed (by Arabs or Romans?). A Scandinavian architect won the right to design the library, and Scandinavian aid money brought it back to life, and has become a tourist magnet. I hope they rebuild the Pharos (Faro-Lighthouse), another wonder of ancient world, also destroyed (by earthquake). Some discussion of underwater archeology park in harbor.

             Walked along the Corniche back to the center, confirmed reservation for next weekend at the Union Hotel. Having a beer at one of the rare pubs, chatted with a young traveller from South Africa heading south to Sudan and Kenya. The route had been closed for 20 years, but apparently is open again. I advised him to work carefully on the Visa, or he will end up flying to Khartoum as David and Katrina were forced to do 23 years ago ! I still remember my amazement when our Sudanese Visa approvals were found at the embassy here after they looked through some old book for an hour. 7:30 PM train back to Cairo. Interesting chat with US Embassy employees from Malawi, Afgjanistan, and Calcutta sitting across from me.

 

 

JUN 24 SAT:       SOFITEL

Spent the day at Sofitel, started reading Justine by Durrell. Found nearby SAMS internet cafe ($1/hr), best AC in town !!

 

 

JUN 25 SUN:       EGYPTIAN MUSEUM

             Started Cairo tourist stuff with 2 hours in Egyptian Museum. The Animal Mummy room was very interesting; a mummified Nile Croc with a baby in its mouth when originally unwrapped ! I leaned birds represent the soul. The King Tut room is the most popular, of course, both for the amazing display, but also I suspect for the best AC of any room in the museum ! A refreshing continuous arctic blast.

Walked around downtown trying to avoid the annoying touts. Egypt is a functioning democracy. And those 50 or so large trucks full of Riot Police stationed all over downtown Cairo wan't you to agree !

 

 

JUN 26 MON:      SOFITEL

             just stayed at the hotel, swimming and reading guidebooks about possible trips:

             -Bubastis day trip by train to Zagazig

             -Suez day trip by bus

             -Nile Barrages by day boat trip to Qanatir

             -Mahfouz literary walking tour

             -Old Cairo, Coptic Museum, Citadel, Khan market, etc.

 

 

JUN 27 TUE:        BELLY DANCE FESTIVAL

             Went to Cairo train station, bought tix for Alex next weekend, and checked on schedule for Zagazig to visit nearby Bubastis. Walked through back neighborhoods down to the Nile. Shouting the code word "Giza-Haram", caught a crowded hot microbus to Giza City, which is now built right up to Pyramids base. Walked to Oberoi Mena House near Pyramids, where a giggling gaggle of 5 Japanese girls asked me to photograph them in their nice outfits.

Two $5 beers at the MENA House bar, watching Brazil kick Ghana around in Germany Worldcup, with a dozen Brazilian girls waving their flag around and screaming encouragement.

It was Belly Dance festival opening night, but $60 for dinner, and crowded, so passed. There was some fine belly dancing and live music outside in front, with the Pyramids behind, shot about 12 minutes of video. Found the right AC bus from Pyramids back to Tahrir. When I asked one fellow passenger where to get off the bus, it started an animated discussion among five people all trying to determine the best route back to the Metro for the foreigner.

 

 

JUN 28 WED:      ZEMELEK

             Walking from Nassar station down 26 July street and across the Nile to Zemelek.. but getting too hot...dove.into an internet cafe but no good AC, had nice Korean Barbecue dinner ($13), then a beer at Pub 28. Cruised the Marriott, then taxi to Sadat Metro and "home" to Maadi.

 

 

JUN 29 THU:       SOFITEL

             I have settled into a routine: downstairs for breakfast, Lots of juices, fruits, yoghurts, rolls, cheeses, crepes, omelettes made to order, everything you could expect in a hotel buffet, and reading today's english Egyptian Gazette. The man at the omelette counter now knows me....immediately cooks 3 eggs up, which he puts on top of the potatoes and bacon I dish up. Tomorrow I will fool him and order an omelette with everything. After breakfast, maybe I watch one of the 2 movie channels, or catch up with CNN.

Then to the pool, trying to finish Justine. It is thick going, one of those books where you read along and suddenly realize nothing in the last 3 paragraphs registered. But the last 1/4 was really an amazing finish, and I was ready for Alexandria. Swimming between chapters, I watch feluccas and barges on the Nile, then switch to LP or Cadogan guidebook and review options for the coming Cairo days.

 

 

JUN 30 FRI:        ALEXANDRIA

             Noon train to Alex. Had bought wrong ticket, for 6 pm. Tourist policeman tries to convince me to give him my "wothless" ticket for this evening, but I just found an empty first class seat on the noon train, andf the conductor didn't even look twice at my ticket.

Checked in to Union Hotel about 3pm, side room, microbus out to Fort Quatbey, but closed at 4 pm. Walk back along Corniche. Visit Scuba Center: 2 dives= $90 +$20 equipment. Watch World Cup at Spitfire Bar chatting with Polish Father and Son sailors from Gdansk, working on a container ship Alex-Port Said.

 

 

JUL 01 SAT:        ALEXANDRIA

             Breakfast, talk with Floridian man living in Siwa Oasis, taxi to Pompey Pillar, Serapeum, and catacombs. Chat with 2 girls from Taiwan travelling independently. Back to hotel, watch BBC, attempt LP "Literary Walk" in PM, Cavafy House closed, but Pastroudis cafe re-opened just 3 weeks before, excellent ice cold beer, and friendly, informative bartender.

9 PM to Portuguese Club by Taxi, hard to find even with helpful directions in Arabic from Cecil hotel front desk. $2 entry, seafood spaghetti $7, 5 Sakkara $10, chatting with Chris from Yorkshire, works all over ME, likes Doha. Portugal beats Brazil, Brazilians cry....taxi back to Union Hotel 1 AM.

Note to Self: COLD ONE IN ALEX: movie I watched back in Austin preparing for this trip.

 

JUL 02 SUN:        ALEXANDRIA

             Sleep late, check out Union Hotel, 2 nights with Breakfast $23. Tram to East, San Stefano Mall, Spicy Beef and noodles $5, walk along Corniche but too hot, into nice AC Internet spot 4-5 pm. Tram back but get off too early, taxi to hotel, delayed getting passport out of hotel safe, but made the 7 pm train to Cairo OK.

Chat with Mother-Daughter from California across from me. Check back into Sofitel, King Bed but not Nile View. Tried the Casino, but boring as I was the only customer. Put $5 into the 25c slots, took $5 back out.

 

 

JUL 03 MON:       SOFITEL

             Slept late, breakfast, then spent day by pool. Read first half of Midaq Alley by Nobel-winning Egyptian author Mahfouz. Set in Pre-WW2 Egypt, required reading for the LP Cairo Literary Walk. This book was adapted into a 1995 Mexican Movie "Callejon de Los Milagros" with Selma Hayak.

  

JUL 04 TUE:        CAIRO DOWNTOWN

             Somehow I had missed that the hotel offers a ride into town, but only at 9:30 am and 7 pm. It is nice microbus with AC, more comfortable than subway, and drops in front of Egyptian museum.

I walked to Talat Harb looking for Emeco travel, as I had heard tickets in Cairo are especially cheap. It turns out to not be so true,although at one time RTW tickets were unusually cheap if starting from here.

I did see a sight that looked familiar to me, the Tulip Hotel where Isabelle and I stayed in 1982 waiting for the Exodus overland truck to Nairobi.

Along the way a street tout-vermin attached itself to me, a man in a coat who could speak English well enough. I made the fatal mistake of eye-contact, then shaking his hand and telling him my name.I know very well one I must ignore, or say "go away" loud and mean! Having penetrated my shield, followed me everywhere, in each shop saying we were old friends for years !! As I escape into the metro he predictably starts whining about how he helped me and I should give him money. Same shit as 24 years ago.

Into Intercontinental Hotel for a cool-down and map check. Walk across Nile bridge to Sheraton, then up to Dokki station and metro back to Maadi. Sams Internet, then reading Midaq Alley by pool till 6pm. Good Skype with Mom and Dad who narrated the shuttle launch for me. Back to Sofitel and watch Italy beat Germany in overtime. What a stalemate until then !!

 

 

JUL 05 WED:       Khan-Khalili

             Hotel shuttle into town, walk Nile shore, locate the boats for Qanatir. Into Hilton Ramses for toilet, cool down, and map consultation. Taxi $1 (codeword "El-Hussein") to Khan-Khalili market area.

Walk the LP Mahfouz literary walk. Got off the track many times, but people eventually got me back. Enjoyed looking at the various pieces of the HubblyBubblies they make here in small shops. Finally found the original Midaq Alley after many wtrong turns.

Midaq Alley is about various shopkeepers, a young engaged but avaricious arab girl guided into prostitution by a rich sleazebag, a dentist who robs graves, and many more characters who live in the alley (which I walked through yesterday)...Oh My !

Shop touts becoming a pest, jumping in front of me as I walk along: WHERE YOU FROM ?? ....FRIEND, SEE MY SHOP !! No, not shopping today.... now please get out of the way. BUT SEE MY SHOP !! ...OK, you speak English, so what did I just say to you? Can't say? ....well..... Move out of the WAY !! Taxi back to Attaba station, Metro to Maadi and Sams Internet. Sofitel Pool and finish Midaq Alley. Done with the Literary stuff !

 

 

JUL 06 THU:        COPTIC MUSEUM

             Three eggs, one side, that's right. 9:30 bus to town, walk to Maspero River Bus terminal, catch boat upriver for about 2 KM, 10 cents. Walk over bridge to Roda Island, visit 1200 year old Nilometer, entry $1.

then through Old Cairo, also known as Babylon. Coptic Museum for 2 hours, entry $7, very nice newly renovated and just reopened. Fascinating old textiles, texts, and freizes from Egypt's christian period, i.e. 1500 years ago. Most noteworthy were Ostracon, flat pieces of limestone with messages or pictures on them. One had coptic text saying this rock represented a debt of 2 bags of camel fodder. Another was a stick-figure picture of a man falling out of a palm tree.

Metro from Mar Gingis station back to Maadi, bought 8 tall cans at the Heinekin shop $10, internet $2. Watch Schwarzenegger on Movie Channel.

 

 

JUL 07 FRI:         NILE BARRAGES

             Three eggs, one side, that's right. 9:30 bus to town, the roads are clear as it is the weekend, not the traffic jam I have seen every other day. Hotel bus driver drops me at River Buis terminal near Ramses Hilton, and I catch the 10 AM government-run boat ($2 return) to Qanatir- i.e. the Nile Barrages. LP was right on target, listing this as one of the best day trips out of Cairo, especially on a Friday.

A DJ set up speakers on the air-conditioned boat: music blaring, young people dancing vigorously in the aisles. But the men dance with men, and women with women! Arriving Qanatir, three armed soldiers pulled me aside! They said if I needed anything, a carriage, a restaurant suggestion, whatever, they were there to help me ! They had radios and were keeping track of me, the only foreigner in the area, so I had an armed guard looking after me as I walked around for 3 hours.

The "Barrage" is a long low dam with many spillways. I assume it ponds up the Nile behind it, improving navigation, and is somehow involved in the splitting of the Nile into its two branches headed to the Mediterranean.

At 3 PM, walking back to boat, the head soldier escorted me and did ask for a "tip". I gave him about $1, and he seemed happy enough, I think that was about equal to a day's wages. This is the ONLY "Baksheesh" I have paid so far in 2 weeks in Egypt, and it seemed worthwhile. Such security might cost $50 in Mexico, and it would be more of an extraction than a request. But probably much more necessary in Mexico than here!

However, it is worth remembering that more tourists have been killed in Egypt than almost any other place in the last 10 years. Anyway, the return boat trip was fun, but less dancing,. An interesting experience when we pass under the rail bridge with only 1-2 feet clearance ! Back on the Nile Corniche, I walk to Hilton and catch the 5:30 Sofitel bus just in time, so had a very convenient ride "home". Back at the hotel watch "Aviator" then off to the internet to Skype Mom and Dad.

 

 

JUL 08 SAT:        ZEMELEK

             Sleep late, Omelette for breakfast, chef looks confused. Watch Sixth Sense on movie Channel, Skype with Mom at 3 PM. 7 PM hotel bus to Zemelek on Gazirah Island. Since Gezirah means "island" in Arabic, this naming on the maps means "Island island".

Walk around, go to Hardees for exotic Egyptian dish they call "combo" in Arabic, consisting of bizarre North African ingredients like "Swiss Burger", "Chile Fries", and "Pepsi Lite".

Walk all along West bank of Island Island down to Opera, across Nile bridge with great evening breeze, chat with local walking by who had lived in Philly. Sadat metro to Maadi, buy 5 tall cans at Heinekin shop $6, then Sams Internet until midnight closing.

 

 

JUL 09 SUN:        BUBASTIS DAY TRIP

             Three eggs, one side, that's right. I think the omelette chef is now bored with my daily indecision. 9:30 hotel bus to metro, then 11:30 train to Zagazig, arrive 1:30 pm. Taxi to Bubastis $2, City of ancient Cat-God "Bastet", where more than 700,000 revellers would gather and sing, dance, consume great quantities of wine, and offer sacrifices to the goddess, according to Herodotus). They had some wild parties a few millenia ago, says LP….(insert text here). Entry $2, Baksheesh $2 to tourist policemen who radio my name and hotel details to supervisor, then accompany me around the ruins. Cat cemetery disappointing, couldn't really see into the little locked houses that now cover them..

Private Taxi direct to Shubra station in Cairo $15, back in Maadi by 5 pm, Sams internet. Back in hotel room with LARGE BUCKET OF ICE, watch Italy beat France in World Cup final.

 

 

JUL 10 MON:       MAADI

             Three eggs, one side, that's right. Reading magazines at pool, 5 PM taxi to Red Onion pub, Maadi, had trouble finding the address, one beer and calamari $9, walk back through New Maadi. Two cars smash into each other on the road next to me. I can see coming, and leap away, although wasn't actually in danger. Watch American Beauty on Moviechannel

 

JUL 11 TUE

             9:30 am Hotel Bus to Metro, Microbus from Midan Uyali to Ismailiya $1.50, had to pronounce it is-may-LEE-uh to find the right bus. Taxi to center 60 cents, Stella at George Restaurant $3.50, walk along Sweetwater canal to Museum, quite nice and photos permitted inside.

The tourist police see me and once again radio in their discovery of a loose tourist. Walked to Mercure hotel, look around at beach and watch a ship go by seemingly floating through the sand. Taxi back to Metromarket, buy water, 15 cents, group of young men along street all very curious asking where am I from, why am I in Ismaliya.

2 hours internet 40 cents, Stella at King George Pub $2, shared taxi back to New El Marg Metro station in Cairo $2.50 for BOTH front seats. Driver and others ask where I am from, then comment: Americans GOOD, Clinton GOOD, Carter GOOD, George Bush BAD. Back at Sofitel by 8:30 pm

ISMAILIA, Egypt (CNN) -- Thousands of years ago, when Egypt was still ruled by the Pharaohs, ostriches used to roam this northeastern region. Today, in modern-day Egypt, ostrich farming has gone hi-tech and ostrich meat is making its way into Cairo's finer restaurants and onto the dinner table. Ostrich farming is tackled in a scientific way: eggs are imported from Namibia at a price of $125 per egg. The eggs then go into a temperature-controlled rotating incubator -- and once they hatch, the baby ostriches are weighed, inoculated and inserted with a microchip to track their genealogy and growth. Once the ostriches are full-grown they become a featured attraction -- not at the zoo but on the dinner table. Ostrich meat, like beef, is red but has less fat, less cholesterol and more protein. And Cairo's finer restaurants say they are willing to give it a try. Ostrich skin also makes good leather, feathers will be used as furniture dusters and the feet make good table legs.

 

JUL 12 WED

             Three eggs, one side, hoping that will make him smile. Nope. Day at pool, started reading Michener's The Drifters, based in 1968, a time when the church was AGAINST war. Packed bags and to sleep early after internet and Skype.

 

 JUL 13 THU

             4 AM Taxi to Cairo Airport $9, fly to Larnaca. Bus to downtown Larnaca $2, Harry's Inn $25 double room, bath in hall, and Harold Pinter characters in residence. Eman bus to Agia Napa $11 RT, about 40km from Larnaca, walk around old church and tourist areas. When I ask one tour operator about advertised cruise to Beirut, agent looks stunned, says something happened in Beirut last night.... Walk along beach areas, rented a lounge and umbrella $6, first and only swim in the Mediterreneun of the whole trip. Nice, with rows of topless bathing Scandinavians.

 

 

JUL 14 FRI

 LCA-MXP              AZ# 7707           09:40-12:35

6 AM Taxi to LCA airport $11, good eats in CY Lounge, having coffee and sandwiches, free internet. CNN says Beirut airport closed after being hit ! Apparently flights were diverted here.

Sure enough, three MEA planes parked on the apron, escaping Israeli BEY airport bombing. Nice flight Cyprus to Milan, seafood and champagne, 2 PM Bus to Milan station $13/3 trips.

Taxi strike ! I had to carry my heavy bag maybe a half mile to walk to Hotel Sempione $50. Small room, no english language TV channels or ice available.

Walk around in PM, internet near Central Station. although I had the Portland Sheraton in my schedule originally, I removed it as I was sure after 6 weeeks I would just want to go straight home. But the last day in MXP I couldn't stand it, and instead of conceling the Sheraton at $19, booked a rental car in Boston.

 

 

JUL 15 SAT:        PORTLAND, MAINE

MXP-BOS               AZ# 0618           10:30-13:05

BOS-YYZ               AA# 4610           15:55-17:45 (discarded)

             Milan to Boston, very fun Alitalia crew and three movies, better food and service than outbound flight six weeks ago. Arrived BOS fine, Hertz Rental Car via Hotwire, $154 for 6 days prepaid. Hertz gave me a nice Solara instead of the reserved economy. Drove 100 miles north on I-95 to Portland, Maine (the OTHER Portland). Checked in OK for $19/night South Portland Sheraton Room 620. The hotel has a free internet in lobby, 30 minutes a session, but no headset, so no Skype.

Return to AUS confirmed on 18th, but hope to move that to 21st. Maybe day trip to Acadia, or Penobscot whitewater raft trip. Wow, Lebanon is defintely getting shot to pieces. I am surprised. In his speech to the Islamic Conference, Iran President Ahmadinejad says the solution to the Middle East crisis is to destroy Israel.

 

 

JUL 16 SUN:        PORTLAND

             Woke up at 5 am, looked around and didn't see any lobsters yet. Maybe I have to go over near the ocean.

BK Breakfast, drive into downtown Portland, walk around wharves, tourist shops, check out harbor cruise options. Back to Maine Mall, then to sleep early.

 

 

JUL 17 MON

KENNEBEC WHITEWATER RAFT TRIP: 5AM depart hotel, drive 150 miles via RT 201 to West Forks. Talk to Andy at Riverdrivers, join Kennebec whitewater raft trip $60, 14 miles, 5000cfs. On River 11AM to 2PM, nice steak lunch afterwards, back in Portland at 6PM.

River trip was excellent, and I didn't fall out. But it was 300 miles of driving, and I am tired, with all the waves and sun. Success changing Boston-Austin flight to 19th. Watch Cramer and then sleep.

 

JUL 18 TUE:        PORTLAND

BK Breakfast, buy shoes and denim jacket at Big&Tall. Check-out and re check-in around noon. Changed towers, and now have a nice side view of Sears/JC Penny instead of Best Buy at Maine Mall. Back to room to read the morning paper. Downtown in evening for harbor sunset cruise, $12. Buy remote control mouse for Karen's cats.

 

 

JUL 19 WED:       TO AUSTIN

Drive to Boston along coast route, Kennebunkport, return car, $50 credit for leak….

 BOS-ORD ....AA #.......................long delay in BOS due ORD wx.

 ORD-AUS ....AA #

arrive home 2AM via Supershuttle!!