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An Escape from Winter, a Visit to Egypt

by Ron Meijer in Travel and weekendtrips , 03 maart 2004

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar


“Egypt, a gift from the Nile” was the way the Greek classic historian Herodotus described the mysterious land of Pharaohs and pyramids. The Nile was and still is the lifeline of Egypt. It can bring prosperity or famine. The yearly flood covers the land with fruitful Nile-silt. The Nile also destined the life of the ancient Egyptians; they studied and analysed the river.

Egypt is located in the north-east of the African continent and reaches north-east towards the Sinai in Asia. In the north, Egypt borders the Mediterranean Sea and the coastline is almost a thousand kilometres. In the north-east it borders the autonomous Palestinian regions of Israel and the Red Sea; in the south Egypt borders over 1300 kilometres with Sudan.



The capital Cairo populates more than sixteen-million people and is the biggest city of Africa, the Arabian world and the Middle East. Nowadays Egypt has become a popular holiday destination, also for gays, although homosexuality in general is still not accepted; not such a long time ago they arrested a group of gay men, who were having a party on a ship.

What every tourist needs to know

When you are visiting a tourist attraction, be aware of pickpockets! Don’t carry your money in your back pocket or backpack. Well-known brands of traveller’s cheques will be accepted at every bank. Traveller’s cheques in US dollars will give you the best rate of exchange. Most hotels (and some big stores) accept credit cards like Visa, American Express and Mastercard/Eurocard. These places display the appropriate signage at the front door. At the Banque Misr and at the Bank of Egypt your Visa and MasterCard can be used to obtain cash advances.



The service charge in restaurants and hotels is around twelve percents; a sales tax of five to seven percents is sometimes levied; additionally, you might find yourself paying one to four percents tax at mid and top range hotels. So there is a chance, you get a hotel bill on which they added twenty-three percents extra. (This is of course only for those travellers who booked directly; if you book your hotel at a travel agency, you’ve already paid for it, so you won’t have anymore expenses.)

Bargaining is a part of life in Egypt and virtually everything is open to negotiation. This includes your room for the night, your lunchtime roadside snack and the felucca you ride down the Nile in. The few rules to observe in the bazaars are these: never offer a price that you're not prepared to pay, get a feel for the real price before you begin haggling, take your time and enjoy “the sport of driving bargains”. You might get a cup of tea from the vendor. Most important to remember: If you don’t buy anything, you won't offend anyone.

Sharm El Sheikh

When you tell someone you’re having a holiday in the winter; most of the times they’ll think you will leave towards a jolly mountain village, to return home in plaster bandage after some days. Telling them you’re going to the sun, most of the people might assume you’ll visit the Canary Islands. Not a bad idea at all; though during the winter months the sun is not always guaranteed.



When you mention “Sharm El Sheikh” most of them will frown and say: “Never heard of it.” Until 3 January of course; when a plane filled with tourists went down faster than planned, it was a tragedy.
Sharm El Sheikh is a holiday resort located at the Red Sea, ideal for those who enjoy beautiful beaches, crystal-clear waters and diving. Especially during the winter months (during the summer it’s to hot) it’s possible to visit different kind of historical places.

How to get there

There are so many availabilities for booking, which makes it a tedious job to find out which one’s best. Best place to go is to your travel agent; although Google also can be helpful. You can get a non-stop four hours flight from Amsterdam.
Be aware it’s high season between October and May. The changes in temperature are between twenty and twenty-five degrees Celsius. That’s also the case for the water temperature. Sharm El Sheik is located in a desert area, so the nights can be cold.

In France you’ll find Monaco, in Spain you’ll find Puerto Banos and in Egypt you’ll find Sharm El Sheik; or even better to say: “you’ll find Naama Bay”. Sharm El Sheikh reaches over twelve kilometres of coast line; in the south is the village Sharm El Sheikh, more up north is Naama Bay, which is the big tourist centre. Sharm El Sheikh is known as one of the most beautiful places for scuba diving in the world. The marvellous under water world in a crystal clear sea, shows a variety of exotic fish and gorgeous reefs.



The tourist bazaar at Naama Bay is the most outrageous expensive one, consisting of jeweller’s shops, souvenir shops, pharmacists and super markets; and they seem to be open for twenty-four hours. All the four and five stars hotels are in a maximum of ten minutes reach, every hotel owns a private beach. Prices at Naama Bay are two times as high comparing towards the rest of Egypt. Comparing to Europe it’s still cheap.

Beaches

There are different kinds of popular tourist centres south of the Sinai-desert in Egypt. The well known are Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab and Nuweiba. Dahab is a low-budget hippie destination, very popular among grass smokers and world reformers. Sharm El Sheikh is the direct opposite; the chance to meet a backpacker here is as rare as meeting a policeman in Dahab. At every destination you can be sure of having clear blue skies, a hot sun, no rain and a beautiful sea.

Egypt is a big country, because of the long distances an excursion towards the famous pyramids or to Cairo can’t be done, unless you take a plane. So you are at a beach resort, the hinterland is a desert with rocks; it has to be your cup of tea. Most tourists come here for a beach holiday; some individuals will come for the desert. Of course you can make the most marvellous tours trough the desert during the winter; it’s not only sand, there are also mountains.



The summer is too hot for touring through the desert. Best time to tour is before the end of April; although end of April the temperature can also easily reach thirty degrees Celsius. It’s a real desert climate: Hot during the day and cold at night. Some nights can be frosty in the desert.

The Sinai-desert

The Sinai Peninsula is a beautiful desert with impressive mountains, canyons, valleys and oases. The peninsula is 61.000 square kilometres and is connecting Africa with Asia. With a Bedouin guide, a tent and a camel for your luggage, you will find yourself in “Lawrence of Arabia”. In the cool season (winter) you can make the most marvellous tours through this area. During the Exodus, Moses received the ten commitments on top of the Gebel Musa.

After the fourth century thousands of Christians travelled towards the Sinai Mountains, following in the footsteps of the “Desert-Fathers” In the desert valleys you’ll find the old pilgrim routes from Jerusalem towards Moses’ Mountain. The peninsula was occupied by the Israeli during the Arab-Israeli War in 1967. After the peace convention in 1979 it was returned to Egypt. Most beaches of the Sinai date back to the Israeli period, when soldiers and kibbutz labourers used to spend their holiday there.

Places of interest

The north of the peninsula is a sandy plain, slowly getting steeper until it reaches a height of a thousand metres. Mainly in the south you’ll find places of interest. Here are the mountains located, also the highest top of Egypt: the Moses’ Mountain 2642 metres. The Crusaders and Pilgrim routes between Nuweiba and the Moses’ Mountain lead via a lonely mass of rock, known by the name “Rock of Inscriptions” because it’s covered with inscriptions dating from the Byzantium and Roman time periods. The Inscriptions made by the first pilgrims are still very clear. Ein Kuhdra, a small but beautiful oasis, is supposed to be the place of rest for the Children of Israel.



At the plateau of Nawamis, which means ‘to fly’, there are prehistorically tombs; these are characteristically for this central part of the peninsula. These round shaped buildings with doorways towards the west are dating from the Copper Age and Bronze Age.
There is still enough to do; even if you don’t like the beach and the water. Also for underwater sport we can recommend Sharm El Sheikh.
Even though the recent tragedy with the plane crash; Egypt is a totally different destination and therefore still worth the trip, especially when you would like to escape the cold and grey winter months in these low lands.

Last but not Least

Passport: A Dutch passport needs to be valid for at least another six months after your trip.
Visa: A visa is required. You will get your visa when you arrive at the airport of Cairo. A visa will cost approximately twenty US Dollars per person; you need to pay this amount cash (in US Dollars)
Vaccination: For the most correct information and advise contact the GG & GD (Gemeentelijke Gezondheidsdienst) or the KLM Travel Clinic tel.: 0900-1091096 (€ 0,45 p.m.)
Airport tax: The airport tax has to be paid before you leave. This tax is added on top of the passage price, so you pay it with your ticket.
Embassy: Badhuisstraat 92, 2587 LC Den Haag, tel.: (070) 3542000



 







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