I've Moved!

My new blog is called Reflections from a Global Nomad, in order to acknowledge that we no longer live in Maadi and that we are, in fact, global nomads, not staying in one place longer than two or three years. Please join me at http://DeborahReflections.blogspot.com

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sharm el Sheikh

Toward the end of February, Jeff and I took a mini-vacation and spent a long weekend in Sharm el Sheikh. (I know, I've taken my sweet time writing about it, but what else is new?) Some friends were spending a week there to dive, and we decided to join them for the last part of their vacation. We arrived on a Wednesday evening and flew back to Cairo that Saturday.

Because our friends were diving, we knew that they were both getting up and going to bed early. When we arrived Wednesday night, they very well may have been asleep already. So we checked in, unpacked a little, then went in search of the restaurant we had chosen for dinner: El Kababgy, the Oriental restaurant on the resort. (Here in Egypt, what we would call "Middle Eastern" is labeled "Oriental," in accordance with the way the word was used before Europeans became aware of the Far East. So an Oriental restaurant is not Chinese or Japanese, but local, often serving Lebanese and/or Egyptian food.) We got a little lost on the way, but that was due to the darkness and our own exhaustion more than anything else, I think. It was worth the effort to find the place--the hummus, shish tawook, and kofta all were delicious.

After dinner, we headed back to our room for some sleep. On the way, though, I stopped to take a couple of photographs. The lights of Sharm across the bay from our resort were beautiful, although I couldn't get any pictures of that to turn out well. I also was fascinated by the traditional lamps that were used to provide the (sparse) lighting on the stairs and walkways.

The next morning, Jeff and I slept late. Then we found our way to the main restaurant (I forget the name) where the breakfast buffet was held. There we found an omelet station, a fruit bar, a bread bar, an Oriental corner (which boasted fuul and some other local breakfast dishes), and a variety of egg and sausage dishes (not pork sausage; that's very unusual in Egypt). Most importantly to me, there also were the usual fresh, delicious juices--orange, apple, and hibiscus. After enjoying a leisurely breakfast, Jeff and I took a walk around the resort to see what was available. Then we headed to the pool, where we spent most of the day relaxing and reading.

That evening, we met up with our friends for dinner. Their dive team had told them about a good steak restaurant in Na'ama Bay, an area not too far from the resort, and we were up for anything. We took a couple of the hotel taxis to the area where they'd been told to go, but we had issues finding the exact restaurant that had been mentioned. We were able, however, to find another steak place that was very good. The best part about the restaurant was the atmosphere--it looked like a jungle in there. There seemed to be trees growing inside the restaurant. The lighting was dim, mostly candlelight. The music was unfortunately loud, but it didn't detract too much. After a very nice dinner, we rolled ourselves out of our seats and began heading back.

I must say, it was interesting watching our friends--who are living outside of the U.S. but not in Egypt--negotiate a taxi fare. There was quite a bit of discussion about exactly which taxi we would be getting into, as it wasn't the drivers who were negotiating. There was a long line at the taxi stand, and those drivers at the front of the line wanted outrageous prices because they had had to wait so long to get to the front of the line. It was set up so that once a driver was in the line, they couldn't pull out, so the order in which they received passengers was fixed. Passengers who didn't want to pay the large prices could negotiate with representatives of other drivers, who may be parked across the divided highway, a long walk down the road, or who may not be parked at all--they may just cruise by and illegally stop to pick us up. I'm not sure how many taxis were rejected for fear of crossing the busy road. It was a new situation even for Jeff and me, since nothing is that organized in Cairo; we just flag down a taxi and negotiate right there on the street, no matter how many horns are honking behind us.

The next day, the group all met for breakfast. Our friends weren't diving that day, as they were flying the next and needed a day between diving and flying for safety reasons. We decided to spend the morning relaxing by the pool. While the others headed there, I grabbed my camera and made another round of the resort. There were just too many beautiful sights that I hadn't captured yet. After my detour, I rejoined the others and spent the morning reading and relaxing.

Around noon, we decided to leave the resort for lunch. Our friends confessed that every day as they traveled to and from the dock, they had been eying the McDonald's down the road with longing--it's funny the things you start to yearn for when you live in a country where they aren't available. We were going to take a taxi there, but the hotel taxis were inflexible in their pricing, and they were going to charge us as much for a 2-minute drive as it would have been for a 15-minute drive, so we decided to walk. It really wasn't that far, and we thought of it as a preemptive strike on the calories we were about to consume. So we walked to McDonald's and thoroughly enjoyed the absolute glee with which our friends attacked their burgers. Afterward, a few of us walked two doors down to Starbucks (mmm, Frappuccino!), while a couple more went to the nearby convenience store to stock up on snacks for the next day's plane ride. Unfortunately, one of our number started feeling badly--I think she's allergic to wheat and unknowingly had consumed some in her yogurt--so we postponed the shopping we were going to do and headed back to the resort instead. We all agreed that we were ready for our afternoon naps anyway :-)

A couple of hours later, four of us went out to do our shopping. We went back to Na'ama Bay and allowed the shopkeepers to lure us in, although we disappointed most of them. We did a lot of looking and very little buying. Our friends were looking for t-shirts to commemorate one of the dives they had taken--Thistlegorm, I think, a wreck site that's a really big deal to divers, and justifiably so, from the pictures they took. They also wanted some cartouches, but Jeff and I cautioned them against anyone who would be able to customize them in the time they had left--tourists have been known to discover that the characters were glued on. It also seemed that the vendors were offering lower quality for higher prices than what we've seen, so we offered to simply order the cartouches from our favorite jeweler and ship them. (We still haven't done that, but we plan to do it this weekend, promise!) Then we started looking for "typical Egyptian" souvenirs, and I admit that I had a hard time coming up with something that is typical Egyptian other than cartouches, papyrus, alabaster, and distinctive lamps or mashrabeyya (there's a picture of what I mean here), the last two of which are common throughout the Middle East. We did eventually find a shop that had a variety of authentic--rather than touristy--Egyptian items, some of which even had tags from one of my favorite charity vendors here in Cairo. Better yet, they even had clearly labeled prices, which were reasonable, considering that it was located in a very touristy area. And, when I spoke with the shopkeeper in Arabic and he was curious as to why I was able to do so, I told him that Jeff and I live in Cairo. He shook his head, said "I wish you hadn't told me that," and dropped the prices on the items we purchased by about 10%.

After making our purchases, we headed back to the resort (more fun with taxis!). Later that evening, we met at El Kobabgy for dinner. Jeff and I were the first ones there, so we waited outside for the others. While we waited, we watched a woman baking bread in the traditional oven located just outside the restaurant. She saw us watching and gave us a sample of flatbread fresh from the oven--so delicious! Eventually the others showed up and we all went in to enjoy our last evening in Sharm.

The next day, we all left at different times, some very early, others not until late afternoon. Jeff and I enjoyed a late breakfast, then checked out of the hotel. We got back to Cairo in the early afternoon and had some time to get settled back in at home. I quickly discovered, while catching up on Facebook and with friends' blogs, that we had missed the event of a decade in Cairo--a genuine hail and rain storm, a true deluge! I'm glad that we didn't have to put up with the headaches that our friends here reported--such as stranded metro riders, parking lot roads, and water up to the 12-inch curbs--but I couldn't help but be a little miffed that Cairo finally got real rain, and we missed it. Oh, well, maybe next year ... but probably not.

(Side note for anyone who may want to visit Sharm: we stayed at the Sofitel resort in Na'ama Bay. It was beautiful--all of the pictures throughout this post were taken on the grounds; this last one is of a pattern that was on the ceiling of the reception area. The rooms were clean and mostly comfortable. Our air conditioner didn't seem to be functioning as well as we would prefer; it got hot during the day, even when we left it on all day, but it cooled off quickly in the evening when we opened the main door and the door to our balcony to let a breeze come through. The service and food at all three restaurants that we tried was very good--El Kababgy, the main one, and another outdoor cafe where we had lunch on Thursday. Overall, I would recommend it as a great place to go for a weekend getaway. I don't think I'd want to stay longer than a weekend unless I was diving or had other activities planned, though. Oh, and a word of warning for American prudes like me--there were guests from all over the world, so pool-side attire ranged all the way from niqab to topless bikinis.)


  1. Its a very well written travel experience and gives a good feel for the reader as if he is really experiencing the things that you did. Just a request a few more photos with all the happening action could add spice for eg ; a pic of the woman baking bread in the traditional oven located just outside the restaurant. Otherwise keep up with the great writing...

  2. Wonderful travel post! One question -- with beaches like those, why stay at the pool??? It looks so beautiful.....


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