Party Poolside Back at the Hotel

Touring Egypt’s museums, great mosques, and towering monuments of the pharaohs is a delight. And simply roaming the streets of Cairo day and night is a thrill and a joy for any traveler who likes his culture off the stage and in his face. But the typical American traveler to Cairo will need a refuge. While I like to think I’m a rugged traveler, to be honest, I’m able to thoroughly enjoy Cairo only because I have the refuge of a towering international-class hotel. Waiting a moment while the trained dogs sniff the tires of my taxi as it passes through the hotel gate is my pleasure.

In a towering international-class hotel, you hardly know where you are. And that can be a good thing.
In a towering international-class hotel, you hardly know where you are. And that can be a good thing.

There are plenty of high-rise hotels lining the Nile desperate for business (and offering $150 doubles). These provide the perfect way to toggle from the intensity of the streets to a peaceful poolside drink — chilling with shady diplomats, rich-world tourists, and wily local business tycoons and their favored brood. And there are plenty of excellent, eager-to-work local guides who understand a tourist’s needs and can provide for them.

It’s easier to enjoy Cairo when your hotel provides a refuge.
It’s easier to enjoy Cairo when your hotel provides a refuge.

The extreme contrast is invigorating — like jumping from hot to cold in a sauna. From the streets, we head back through the welcoming security check of our hotel with a soft-spoken, well-dressed “Welcome back, sir.” In the comfortable world of my hotel, the Egyptian money feels sweaty and grimy in my pocket. Immediately upon arrival back at hotel, I peel off the soot of a day on the streets of Cairo with a hotel shower.

 I’m traveling with the help of Egypt and Beyond Travel (http://egyptandbeyondtravel.com/), which has booked me great hotels, local guides each day, and a car with a reliable and trusty driver. Sure, it’s luxury travel. But it’s safe. I get the most experience and learning out of every hour. And it’s not much more expensive than slumming through London.
I’m traveling with the help of Egypt and Beyond Travel (http://egyptandbeyondtravel.com/), which has booked me great hotels, local guides each day, and a car with a reliable and trusty driver. Sure, it’s luxury travel. But it’s safe. I get the most experience and learning out of every hour. And it’s not much more expensive than slumming through London.

I am loving Cairo. But I’ve never loved a hotel as a refuge so much. With my local guide (who loaned me a mobile phone upon arrival), a minivan with a trusty driver a phone call away, and a towering first-world hotel as a home base, touring this city is one of the great travel thrills. While I never drink Coke elsewhere, here I find a can of Coca-Cola provides comfort. On the street, the “tourist-friendly” restaurant and toilet is a rarity. But that’s why I’m here rather than in Copenhagen.

By the way, many of my readers have commented, “No way… Egypt is too dangerous for me!” These people have read about isolated incidents where a woman is raped, a balloon falls out of the sky, a soccer riot ends in 70 deaths, and some Christians are killed. Yes, these are all tragic events. But in the USA, we have tragic events too, such as the recent bombing in Boston–and over a thousand people are killed on our streets every month by gun violence.

Egypt is a poor and struggling country with a baby democracy in a complex and troubled corner of our world. It has about a quarter our population. Particularly for the careful and well-funded American tourist, I suspect it’s no more dangerous than the USA. Besides, even if it is a bit on the dicey side, I’m having the time of my life this month, collecting lessons and experiences I’ll enjoy for the rest of my life.

Comments

11 Replies to “Party Poolside Back at the Hotel”

  1. Thank you for writing so sensitively about Egypt in this time when so many Americans are afraid of anything Muslim or Arab. I just came back from a month there, and I see many of our observations are the same (I kept a blog as well–inkymere dot blogspot dot com). I hope your blog will encourage many more people to consider visiting this amazing country which is seriously suffering from the massive downturn in tourism. Many Egyptians asked me why it was the US government and its people were abandoning them just as they are trying to become a democracy. They wonder why we don’t support their efforts with travel–instead their economy is sliding fast into deficit and poverty is growing as people cannot support themselves and their families. As a woman alone, who admittedly speaks some Arabic, I never once felt threatened or worried about my safety, even when I accidentally stayed out late one night on my own. As an American, I take precautions traveling in any US city–the same precautions are required in Cairo. Small, locally owned hotels are also respites and need business every bit as much as the large multi-national chains. I hope people traveling at every level will begin to travel to Egypt again.

  2. So so glad to follow your Egyptian travels. I will be there in Sept and can hardly wait. I feel you always travel anywhere, domestic or internationally, with common sense. Any town in America can be dangerous and all we hear from Cairo is the bad. This is sad the that the news media exploites these situations and forgets to give us the good. Anxious to meet the people, see their country. Thank you Rick for going beyond Europe.

  3. “Small, locally owned hotels are also respites and need business every bit as much as the large multi-national chains. ”

    Very true. I just got an email from a friend asking what had happened to Rick Steves that he was staying in lux hotels. This isn’t the Rick we used to follow.

  4. Glad that you really clarified how you have traveled to Egypt. It does seem really doable with a travel agency to lean on. Thanks again for forwarding this information. This would be something my husband and I really will consider.

  5. Yes, bad things happen to good people anywhere. But there are such things as the laws of probabilities.

  6. It might be hard to remember if you’ve been traveling to Europe since you were 14, but people who’ve never traveled abroad feel the same way about Rome or Paris — a new country where you don’t know the language and can use a refuge after a long day when just getting a sandwich can be a challenge. So maybe lighten up on travelers who don’t travel the Rick Steves way the first time out.

  7. Rick is smart to stay in an international-class hotel. Foreigners in troubled countries who do not speak the language or have friends to take care of them need to err on the side of caution. My husband and I traveled to Guatemala City several years ago as tourists. There were heavily armed guards in front of even beauty salons, not to mention banks. You quickly realize you don’t know enough about the local situation to stay out of harm’s way. And to avoid putting other people in harm’s way. I visited a well-known museum, realized I was the only one there, in a deserted location, and so enjoyed the museum much quicker than usual. It felt edgy the entire time. We stayed in an international-class hotel, were glad we did, and would do it again.

  8. Your travels are the most interesting things on TV and now on my computer! Thank you for sendidng them to everyone…and keep traveling…and do stay safe!

  9. I totally understand the comment about Coca-Cola. When I was in Egypt, after having spent a week in the Western Desert, our tour group happened upon a little shop in an oasis town. An elderly lady was selling bottles of Coca-Cola and never before has a soft drink tasted so good.

  10. “So maybe lighten up on travelers who don’t travel the Rick Steves way the first time out.”

    I wasn’t talking about travelers, I was talking about Rick.

    “Rick is smart to stay in an international-class hotel.”

    If you take a look at Lonely Planet’s Egypt discussion board you will find no shortage of travelers planning to visit Egypt, independently, and traveling on the ground, by local bus even. Only a couple are Americans. Back when I visited Syria in 2009 there were loads of tourists around, but hardly any were American. If the settlers had been this risk averse they’d never have made it to the New World, never mind across the Appalachians and the prairies. What happened?

  11. You’ve sold me! I’m booking a trip for after Christmas this year for myself and my 13 year old son! Thanks so much.

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