Open air restaurant

Glutton in Egypt

Glutton in Egypt

Glutton in Egypt

I spent 2 days in Egypt with a tour group, visiting Giza and Cairo. Unlike Chinese tour groups, we were brought to local restaurants for our lunches (dinner was not included in the package).

I fell in love with Egyptian food when I took the first bite of a well seasoned barbeque meat at our first restaurant.

BBQ meat with bread and rice

BBQ meat with bread and rice

Egyptian bread is fluffy and has an empty air pocket in the middle. I love tearing off bits of bread and stuff them in my mouth. Mmmm.

Bread, beans, potato and beetroot

At one of the stops, we had vine leaves with something inside. I couldn’t remember what it was, it could have been meat but it might have been something else.

i also ate falafel for the first time in Eypt (yep, I didn’t have any in Paris or Dubai). It was nice but I do prefer my balls of food to contain meat.

Falafel and vine leaves

The honeydew that we were served at lunch was pure sugar.

Honeydew

Honeydew

The roast chicken that we had was delicious. Even though I was stuffed with bread and falafel, I tore through the well-seasoned poultry and gobbled its tender meat. (I’m very hungry just remembering it.)

Roast chicken in Egypt

Roast chicken in Egypt

Hibiscus tea

I first heard about this exotic drink on a Jamie Oliver cooking show. He was preparing a meal in under 20 minutes or so and whipped up a batch of bright red hibiscus tea from tea bags.

I bought a box of hibiscus tea when I found it on the shelves of an Egyptian Carrefour. The drink I made was really sour and I didn’t have that great of an impression.

Hibiscus tea

Hibiscus tea

When I was on the tour, I found out that hibiscus tea is served cold and sweetened. I love this formula.

The taste is a mix of sweet and sour. I overheard someone describe it as “cranberry juice” so you can imagine what it tastes like.

Other interesting observations

open air restaurant

The two of the restaurants that we went to were open air. Even though this made the location even more exotic, it’s kind of crazy sitting in the hot open air under the desert sun.

While meals were included in our package, we had to paid extra for drinks. (This was the same in Jordan.)

Bread ladies

Bread ladies

The two places that we went to had a section where ladies made bread. It was quite fun to watch them pound dough and bake bread but it felt more like a zoo which made me uncomfortable.

Coca Cola in Arabic

Coca Cola in Arabic

Not actually something very interesting but here’s a can of Coke in Arabic.

What is your favorite Egyptian food? Share them in the comments below!

You might have missed:

Glutton in Italy
Glutton eats with Florence Food Tour
Glutton on a cruise

Restaurant cat in Egypt

Start of Caturday: Mau in Giza, Egypt

I’ve never owned a cat because my mom hates the smell of cat poo so I like looking at pictures of cats on the internet.

Since travelling, I’ve taken pictures of the few cats I’ve seen. I never pet them because the doctor warned that even cats can spread rabies.

To celebrate the greatness of cats (and the weekends), I will start a segment called Caturday. This is in honor of the original Caturday.

Restaurant cat in Egypt

Restaurant cat in Egypt dislike your finger on its crown.

The first entry is a mau (Egyptian for cat) from a restaurant in Giza where my tour group had lunch.

The cat was actually cute and not as grouchy as he is in the photo.

Read more about Egypt:

Egyptian Museum

13th cruise day: Historical and commercial Egypt [YQrtw Day 24 May 1]

Location: Cairo, Egypt
Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 12]

Since we reached the hotel late last night, I only got the chance to take a good look a Mena House Hotel in the morning while I was rushing for breakfast.

The hotel was previously a palace for King Faruq. The wing we stayed in was newly built. The original wing, which was also where the check in counter and restaurants were, is really gorgeous.

Hotel Mena House

Outside of the entrance hung a huge oriental-looking chandelier. Inside the building, some of the walls were covered with cool marbles and reception area had many parts gilded in gold.

Breakfast itself was alright with the normal western food. I did drink three short glasses of hibiscus juice. When made right (meaning lots of sugar), hibiscus juice tastes like cranberry juice and even looks like it with its bright red color.

It’s a really rare chance for me to stay in a 5-star hotel while travelling on my own. I think it’s a combination of a drop in the number of tourists and being in a tour group that allowed me to live luxuriously for a night.

We left at 7:00am and headed straight to the Citadel of Salah Al-Din. From afar, the mosque reminded me of the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul. I didn’t dare voice that out loud in case it looked completely different and I look like a fool.

It turned out that the mosque was indeed a copy of the Blue Mosque and was made by the same architect. [citation needed] We had to chance to take gorgeous photos of the mosque.

Persistently wrong souvenir seller

Citadel of Salah Al-Din

When I exited the mosque, I was approached by a souvenir seller. I waved my hand next to my face while saying, “No.”

Then the seller said, rather fiercely, “I know you are Japanese by the way you wave.”

I was kind of stunned. Is that how you determine nationality? By the waving of hands? I replied in Japanese and English that he was wrong.

He was persistent about his answer but guessed again, “China?”

I said, “No. Two dollars for answer.” I stretched out my hand for the money.

I suppose he was taken aback but he replied, “I don’t want your answer.”

“I don’t want your souvenirs neither,” I retorted and continued taking my photo.

A while later, he came back and said, “You ARE Japanese.” With a dramatic turn, he walked off which kind of reminds me of the crazy drunk in Paris.

The Old Papyrus Museum

Among our stops today was the Old Papyrus Museum which I loved.

Inside, we were shown how papyrus paper is made.

  1. Peel off green skin of papyrus for the flesh inside.
  2. Take strips of papyrus flesh and soak in water. After 7 days, you will get white strips. For darker strips, soak for 10 days. (Remember to change water everyday to remove the suagr).
  3. Line up de-sugared strips horizontally and vertically. Put the strips between two piece of cloth to soak up the water.
  4. Put the papyrus/cotton burger in a press to get rid of water.
  5. Change cotton burger everyday for 10 (?) days.
  6. The sugar and natural chemicals in papyrus will stick the strips together.
  7. Voila! You have papyrus paper.

The papyrus paper I touched was a lot thicker than regular paper. I heard that you can even wash the paper.

Papyrus shop

The shop also has “royal paper” which allows you to crumble up the paper but it will bounce back to normal. There are also caps and vests made from papyrus.

In the end, I bought a few souvenir papyrus drawings to use up my Egyptian pounds.

Egyptian Museum

Egyptian Museum

The highlight of today was the Egyptian Museum. We could not bring our cameras inside so I am not able to share with you the goodies.

The museum is only 2-storey high but it was packed with antiques. Rows and rows of mummy coffins; tiny pendants all in 15 rows (!), dried up mummies, wall carvings and so on.

The highlight of the museum is King Tutankhamun’s gold mask. It is so SHINEY! (Yes, I’m speechless and adjective-less.)

Many of the galleries featured wall carvings chiselled off ancient walls. Hieroglyphic is really cute.

On our way back, we were caught in a traffic jam. For a while, it seemed that we might miss our curfew to get back on the ship. Thank Amun-re that we made it on time in the end.

Great Pyramid of Giza

12th cruise day: Pyramids of Giza [YQrtw Day 23 Apr 30]

Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 12]
Location: Giza, Egypt

Once I had my data SIM card two days ago, I signed up with Memphis Tour, a local tour company, for an overnight trip to Cairo. I’ve overheard many others on the ship who have signed up with the same company.

Usually, I like to travel independently but I only had two days in Alexandria. It would be easier going with a group than figuring out how to head to Cairo by train on my own.

There was a hiccup during pick up. Many tour members got different timings: 6:00am, 7:00am and 8:30am. Mine was 7:00am so I was not too early or too late.

We did leave before 8:30am and zipped off to Giza. Along the highway, we passed many plantations with produce such as dates, oranges, grapes, wheat and olives (not that I could tell them from my seat on the bus).

I didn’t realize there would be so much plants as I thought it was like Jordan with its expanse of desert.

When our bus rolled into Giza, everyone was excited to see the tips of the pyramids peeping from the top of buildings and trees.

When we got close, I was stunned to find how humungous the Great Pyramid was. It’s HUGE!!! One block of stone was about the height of my waist.

Great Pyramid of Giza

We were given photo opportunities outside of the Great Pyramid but our guide told us not to go in because of the low ceiling and having nothing much to see there.

Beware of conmen around the Great Pyramid. No one can be trusted.

When we were going back to the bus, I witness one of the conmen outside the pyramids. He stuffed a blue chip into the hands of one of our passengers. When the passenger returned the chip, the conman asked him for money. He followed the poor passenger around until he was given money.

Camel ride with view of pyramids

Camel ride with view of pyramids

Next stop was our camel ride through the desert. I paid US$10 for it but it was worth 2 times the money. It’s a fun ride from the top of a dune to about 2km way where our bus picked us up. I did smell like camel poop afterwards though.

We headed to the Sphinx near the pyramids. I was very disappointed that the Sphinx wasn’t as big as I imagined. I sound like a spoilt tourist, don’t I?

A quick summary of happened between pyramids and evening Nile dinner cruise: Lunch, another pyramid which we can go in to gawk at the carvings in the tomb, some other pyramid with view of other pyramids, check into hotel (previously a palace

Nile dinner cruise

Only two other travelers from our tour group went with me to the Nile dinner cruise. We had the chance to be in a small car and in the crazy Cairo-Giza traffic. I think that alone was worth the trip.

We got on a boat and sat in the airconditioned dining room. The food was “tourist food” which meant few spices, although the rice pudding was nice.

While we ate, two singers sang. The man sang Arabic songs while the women sang French songs.

After a long wait, the belly dance lady finally arrived.

Egyptian belly dance

The belly dance lady was very nimble but the highlight was the whirling dervish. Live, the man with long skirt twirled so fast that I became dizzy. The colors of the skirt merged into almost one (I kept thinking if he wore the colors of the rainbow and if that would turn into white when he twirls.)

Whirling dervish

Our journey back from Cairo to Giza was pleasant. I saw mosque with lighted towers like Christmas trees, something I don’t see in Malaysia or Singapore.

Suez Canal entrance

11th cruise day: Through Suez Canal [YQrtw Day 22 Apr 29]

Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 11]
Location: Suez Canal, Egypt

I set my alarm for 2:05am to prepare for the cruise ship’s entry into Suez Canal. When the alarm rang, I shut it off and dozed a little.

A little of snooze turned into 3:34am. Thinking that I might have missed the entry, I put on something warm to go out and see which part of the canal we were at.

Turns out, it was still really dark and we were still in the Gulf of Suez. It wasn’t until 6:00am that the ship started driving toward the canal entrance. By that time, I was bored out of my brains.

Suez Canal entrance

Suez Canal entrance

After the entrance, I went back to my room at 7:00am to rest a little. Same as in the morning, “a little” turned into 11:00am. Gulp!

I had lunch at the Windjammer Cafe which had a view of the canal.

Then I headed upstairs to the open deck to take photos of the canal. The canal was a pretty blue green when we sailed on it. Beside the blue, we had plenty of sand.

Suez Canal

Suez Canal

Landmarks which we passed include the Egypt-Japan Friendship Bridge. The pillars are obelisk-shaped which I thought was a nice touch.

The journey through the canal was quite long. It took 9 hours for us to finally cross from south to north.

While the ship sailed through the canal, I managed to go online on my laptop by using the Egyptian mobile data. I felt rather smug when the other passengers asked me if I was using the ship’s Wi-Fi.

Naama Bay

10th cruise day: First time in Egypt [YQrtw Day 21 Apr 28]

Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 10]
Location: Sharma El Sheik; Na’ama Bay, Egypt

After a day of R&R on the ship, I was ready to conquer Egypt, or at least the tourist town of Na’ama Bay.

Naama Bay

Naama Bay

I booked a shuttle transfer from the ship to Naama Bay since I desperately needed to buy a 3G SIM and a razor.

Na’ama Bay is a tourist town, meaning the streets were lined with shops that have English signs. It also meant that stall owners prey on the tourists.

While walking around in the hot sun, I was called out by stall owners. I usually use my umbrella to shield myself physically and visually from them.

One man shouted at me after I shook my head when he invited me to see his wares. I made a loud noise as well. I’m not sure if that managed to scare him off or not.

Another tout shouted at me when he saw me approaching the square. I stopped in my tracks and turned around. He stopped as well. I had to return to the square because it led me to Carrefour, the tout walked to me, saying something loudly. I shielded my eyes with my umbrella and went on to Carrefour.

At Carrefour, I was very happy. I got the thing I need and other groceries. I found mini face loofahs and a natural hair remover. I also bought a box of hibiscus tea.

Groceries from Egyptian supermarket

Groceries from Egyptian supermarket

[I am not kidding about the women’s razor. It’s unique selling point is that it’s small enough for women’s hands. Whaaat.]

3G data shopping

After the satisfying grocery trip, I stumbled upon a Vodafone shop and bought my data SIM. I tell you, buying that SIM is the best thing that has happened to me that day.

The shop assistant, Mohammad, said there was a cheap 3G package. For 60 Egyptian pound, I could get 4GB of Internet. I almost foamed at my mouth when I heard that. That is about S$10 for 4GB! (I later found out that it’s actually 4.5GB. Hurray!)

I happily Whatsapp and called my mom with my SIM. While I was happy with my data plan, one of the text messages from the mobile operator mentioned 500MB. I got paranoid and thought the sales person might have accidentally signed me up for a wrong package. I had to go back and ask again. (In the end, I found out online that the package was correct.)

With my groceries and 3G SIM card, I hopped on the shuttle bus back to the ship. The rest of the day was tame, compared to my 3G SIM card. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get signal out in the sea.

At dinner, I was reminded that we will reach the Suez Canal at 2:00am. I retired early, setting my alarm to 2:05am, so I can catch our entry into the canal.

Birthday on a ship

9th cruise day: Birthday onboard [YQrtw Day 20 Apr 27]

Location: Legend of the Seas [Day 9]
Location: Safaga, Egypt [Didn’t visit]

Today was my birthday. Happy birthday to myself! (I’m 27–if you are curious–which is my lucky number.)

Birthday on the ship

Birthday on the ship

After a tiring day at Jordan, I decided that I would stay on board for the day and skip the Valley of the Kings. (Yes, I can hear you gasp.)

OK OK… I decided to skip the day on shore because I want to save money. Besides, being on board is less boring than you think.

The day passed with a lot of reading and sitting in social sessions. I like the reading part but forced myself to do more social things.

In the evening, there was a theater screening of Les Miserables which made the day even better than it was.

Les Mis blurred looks very much like a zombie flick.

Les Mis blurred looks very much like a zombie flick.

At night, I gave rock climbing another try. The first time I tried rock climbing, I gave up halfway. This time, I was sent to the beginner’s lane.

About 2 squares before the bell, I wanted to give up but a lady I met cheered me on. I didn’t want to embarrass myself any more so I pulled up the few rungs and rang the bell with much gusto.

Before we leave, here is a badly stitched up photo of Safaga port.

Safaga, Egypt

Safaga, Egypt

Old timey cruise

YQrtw: Why a repositioning cruise

We’re sort of back on schedule with my daily round-the-world (RTW) posts.

Today, we are talking about my 15-night repositioning cruise from Dubai to Europe.

Old timey cruise

Old timey cruise


Image credit: Australian National Maritime Museum

The cruise was the first booking I made for my RTW. After paying the deposit, I felt that the RTW was going to come true. It also helped with choosing travelling dates for the rest of my trip.

I planned to cross either the Atlantic or Pacific ocean on a cargo ship but the price wasn’t cheap enough.

In the end, I found out about repositioning cruises which are ships that travel during off-peak season back to popular starting points.

Pros and cons of a repositioning cruise

Pros

  • Cheaper per night than the usual cruise
  • Long sailing period (so much water! and sunsets on the ocean)
  • One-way (so I do not need to backtrack)
  • Full of retirees (so I don’t have to see party animals)
  • Unlimited food (vs cargos with three meals)
  • Stops at a few important locations (one-day excursion!)

Cons

  • Large one-time payment
  • Long sailing period (with few stops at shores)
  • Full of retirees (who have the time to travel on a long stretch of time)
  • Expensive (not the usual price of a budget flight and not recommended if you are on a round-trip journey)
  • High single surcharge (vs budget flights)
  • Short stays at shore

Cost of repositioning cruise

When I made the booking for the cruise from Dubai to Italy, my booking charge was around S$2,000. I felt it was a reasonable price since it included transportation and lodging.

I paid the final fees in early February. However, I was shocked when I did a search and found out that the type of room I booked for was going at an even cheaper rate.

My friend advised me to call up the cruise company and tell them that I am upset about the price difference. I did make and call and was surprised when the operator told me they would refund the difference.

The refund turned out to be S$599.75 which is a really hefty sum and could help me with many nights in a cheap location.

I still need to pay about S$200 of tips for the whole trip but I haven’t made the payment yet.

While I’m very excited about the cruise, two of my friends who have been on cruises told me that it is actually really really boring. Gulp! I guess I’ll have to find out myself.

Have you been on a cruise? How was the experience? Will I be bored out of my mind?