Egypt Travel Days
Wednesday/Thursday, 15-16 February 2017
Eldertreks runs two tours of Egypt every year in October/November and February/March. The last time I was here, I visited in January and loved how temperate the weather was for those two weeks. Egypt can get very hot in the south and I didn’t want to be limited by the heat. So, while the autumn tour wouldn’t be oppressively hot, I opted for the February tour.
Of course, going in February has its own challenges.
Not in Egypt. At home.
Or rather, getting out of the city.
I was scheduled to leave on Wednesday, Feb 15th on the 1:30 pm flight. I was going to fly to Toronto, stay the night and then take the overnight flight to London on Thursday and connect to the flight to Cairo there on Friday.
Around 4 a.m. on Tuesday, the snow started to fall and was whipped up by 100 kph gusts. The blizzard meant the planes couldn’t land, so all flights for Tuesday were cancelled.
However, an Air Canada travel alert wasn’t announced for Wednesday when the forecast came out on Monday, so even if I wanted to, I couldn’t reschedule my flight for Monday without incurring a fee. (Once a Travel Alert is issued by Air Canada, I can reschedule at no cost).
I should have rescheduled for Monday and paid the fee.
So, I woke up to the white out conditions on Tuesday morning and saw a travel alert was issued for Wednesday. The blizzard was forecast to continue until noon on Wednesday, so I knew that flight would be cancelled. So, I rescheduled for the 6 pm flight
It snowed all Tuesday, all Tuesday night and all Wednesday morning. By 10 am, the 1:30 flight was cancelled as expected. Just after noon, my 6 pm flight got cancelled. I called to reschedule and they put me on the 8 pm flight.
The snow ended by the middle of the afternoon and the 36 hour-long blizzard had dumped eighty centimetres on my lawn.
My flight was delayed but scheduled to leave after 9 pm. So, I went to the airport, checked in and headed up to the lounge where I bookmarked the page that follows aircraft in flight on flightaware. The plane I was scheduled to take to Toronto was on its way from Toronto, so I felt pretty certain it would land and we’d get out.
I watched it approach the island, do two loops over the city then turn around to go back to Toronto.
I admit that I felt bad for the people on the plane. They managed to do Toronto to Toronto in seven hours.
One can watch a lot of movies in seven hours.
When it became obvious my flight was going to be cancelled, I went down to the gate and the staff there were answering questions and telling everyone that they were waiting to find out what Air Canada was going to do – reschedule that flight, put on extra flights or fit everyone on existing flights on Thursday. Since I needed to catch my connection to London at 6:40 pm on Thursday evening, an afternoon flight would have been too late for me.
Then I glanced at the departure board and saw that the St. John’s to London direct flight was still listed as on time. I never book this flight since I hate that it leaves so late and is only 5 hours long. That means almost no time to sleep.
But at this particular moment in time, after three cancelled flights and a chance at missing my connections, I certainly wasn’t picky. I asked the agent at the gate if I could get on the London flight since I was ultimately headed there anyway.
I saw this twinkle in her eye that said, “ah, one less person to find a seat for tomorrow.”
She sent me down to the ticket counter and that agent had me call Air Canada Reservations while I was picking up my luggage from the cancelled flight.
Between the jigs and reels, they found me a seat and even moved up my flight to Cairo so that I would arrive a full day early.
My first thought was that I wanted to spend the night in London, but then I thought, ‘OMG…a full extra day in Cairo.’
Twist my rubber arm!
But that meant I needed a hotel there for the night, so as I was walking down the ramp for the London flight, I emailed Eldertreks from my phone and asked if they could get me my room a day earlier and get me a transfer.
After a full day of being stressed out over cancelled flights, clearing snow up to my chest in the driveway and not knowing what was going to happen, I slept for 3 hours on the flight. I slept so solidly, I missed breakfast.
We landed in London just after 9 am and there was an email waiting for me from Eldertreks that said they had a room and transfer all arranged. Given that they didn’t get the email until sometime at 10 pm their time, I was impressed that they were able to act so quickly. My travel agent then just gave them my credit card number to cover the cost of the extra night.
I hung around the London airport for four hours and boarded the Egyptair flight at 2 pm.
It took just over four hours to make the flight to Cairo and my transfer was waiting for me. He directed me to the bank kiosk first where I bought my visa ($25 USD) and then joined the line for passport control.
Now, here’s an important hint. Make sure you buy the visa first. If you go straight to passport control, they will just send you back for the visa and the passport line is long. The three bank kiosks were empty. (Yes, I watched a number of people turn around and trudge back with long faces).
The bank kiosks were just to my right as I walked towards the passport control line. Took about 30 seconds to buy the visa, so yes, it’s faster to get it at the airport than to get it from the embassy (if that’s even possible). But check the current regulations. Apparently, they want to go to a computerized visa service, which would make it even easier.
Once my passport was stamped, we picked up my luggage, sent it through the x-ray machine and headed out to the car. When I was here in 1994, the drive to Giza was through Cairo and took upwards of ninety minutes or more depending on traffic. Since then, they’ve built a ring road and the drive is about thirty minutes.
However, they still drive the same way. I wondered in 1994 why they even bothered to paint lines on the roads. They’d save a bundle because the lines are merely suggestions. A four lane highway could easily have six or seven lines of traffic.
Just like a cat – if the car fits, it sits.
I doubt texting and driving is a big problem. With cars going where ever they can fit, you need all your attention on the road at all times. And I doubt that collision avoidance systems would work or it would be applying the brake so often, it’d give you whiplash.
That being said, this kind of driving means the Egyptians are amazing drivers, squeaking by with millimetres to spare, but with enough respectful give-and-take on the part of the drivers to ensure that a smooth flow of traffic, however chaotic it appears to an outsider.
We got to the Le Meridien Hotel by about 10:30 and I was met by our guide, Abdul. He made sure everything was in order, got me checked in and arranged a day tour for my first free day. We settled on nine for a departure and I headed up to my room.
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