Let me preface this post with all the following warnings, so as to ward off any off-topic, derailing discussions that seem to happen in these posts: this is MY experience. I am speaking from what I've done, what I've seen, and what I've heard. Yes, there are government warnings against traveling to Egypt. Yes, you should read them. Yes, you should take them into consideration when planning your trip. No, if you feel unsafe, don't come. Trust your gut, not me. This is, after all, an anecdote, not data.
K. With that out of the way! This is going to be long, but I know that when I was deciding to come or not, these type of posts were immensely helpful to me, so I'm trying to return the favor a little bit.
Hello, all! I am writing this message from my balcony at Mena House--- staring off at the Great Pyramid which is directly in front of me, rising out of the vista. Amazing doesn't even begin to describe this marriage of modern (TripAdvisor) and ancient (the pyramids, of course).
As I've mentioned a few times throughout the forum, my friends and I have been planning this particular Egypt trip since November and it is our first. As political tensions rose around the 30th, we were scared and considered canceling our trip. Instead, I took a lot of time to read everything I could get my hands on-- these forums, Twitter, Tumbr, traditional media, blogs, and of course the government warnings. We waited and waited, eventually deciding we'd go for it against better judgement. And here we are now.
This is our third and final day in Cairo. Tomorrow, we ship off to Luxor to join what's likely to be an empty cruise for 7 nights, then we spend one more night in Cairo by the airport before jetting back off to the States.
We flew in via Lufthansa/ Egypt Air, leaving LAX Wednesday July 17 and arriving in Cairo at 7 PM on Thursday the 18th. We had prearranged all tours and transfers through Memphis Tours and their service thus far has been impeccable. They were right there at the airport, professionally dressed with a sign with my name. He helped us get our Visas, then we went though customs where the agent said to me, "Where are you from?" I answered the US, he smiled, and said, "Welcome to my country."
The drive to the Mena House was totally uneventful, though I can't describe just how amazing it is to catch your first glimpse of a pyramid off in the distance. Awesome in every sense of the word--- totally awe-inspiring.
Check-in was easy. I asked for a beautiful view and they delivered. For those familiar with the Mena House, we are in the new wing on the third floor, right where the two ends of the building meet (in the middle). We quite literally have a dead on view of the pyramid, which is freaking amazing.
Friday morning, we ate some delicious complimentary breakfast from the hotel, then Memphis Tours picked us up. We headed to Memphis and Sakkura, which we quite literally had completely to ourselves. Seriously, not a single other tourist. Just us. The guide told us the places used to be totally packed and you'd have to wait in line 45 minutes to get in, but we had run of the place without any interruption. Bad for Egypt, great for me.
We then headed to the pyramids where there were maybe 5 or so other tourists out on the panoramic view point. We got to take tons of unobstructed photos without feeling rushed or anything. Again, tourism being down is bad for Egypt, but it was great to be the one lone tourist. For what it's worth: we were heavily warned about the sellers, particularly at the pyramids, as they are getting desperate with so few tourists. Honestly, maybe they were just all tired from fasting, but we didn't experience too much hassling. There was a guy at Sakkura on a donkey who kept repeatedly asking if we wanted to take a picture of the Egyptian taxi, but he was jovial and totally non offensive. There were some little kids at the Sphinx who were kind of pushy, but that happens in a lot of places. Again, nothing notable or particularly trip ruining.
Two of our party wanted to go to the sound and light show at the pyramids last night (Friday), but we got a call from Memphis Tours at about 4 PM advising that was a bad idea, given the planned protests. So, they are set to go tonight while the other two of us hang out and enjoy the view. As far as protests go, when driving back around from the pyramids last night, we did see some folks assembling in the middle of the road on a grassy area--- maybe 40-50?-- they all seemed to be pro-Morsi (I mean, I don't speak Arabic, but the signs all had Morsi's face on it and it wasn't crossed out or defaced in any way). Later that night, around 9 or 10 PM, you could hear protesters off in the distance. Now, I suspect our room is a bit of an acoustic sweet spot due to the structure of the hotel because the sounds of the protest were REALLY loud in our room--- but you could barely hear them 5 rooms down in our other room. Anyway, we'd hear someone on some sort of megaphone/ sound system shout things, then the crowd shout, then at one point there were 4 big booms, but they were fireworks. We went to bed and slept through the night.
This morning, we went to the Coptic area, the Citadel, and the Egyptian museum. Coptic and Citadel were also totally devoid of tourists, while we saw the most tourists at the museum. Even then, outside the museum there were maybe 20 tourists milling about-- inside, we only ran into one rather large group of Chinese tourists (who felt it appropriate to take photos of everything, despite being repeatedly told not to).
The only truly notable thing from today that might make someone feel uneasy is the giant row of tanks lining both sides of the street in front of the museum. The soldiers were all sitting quietly, reading the Quran with their feet up on their tanks. Some even had flowers wrapped around their guns. A few nodded and smiled, a few said hello, a few even said, "Welcome to Egypt!" We went by Tahrir on our way out. Lots of tents, some people, but nothing bad was happening (at that moment that I could see, of course).
Anyway, to wrap this up, I just want to say that I am so happy that I came. I have not felt unsafe once, although it may have slightly rattled my American sensibilities when those protesters set off the fireworks last night (until I looked out, saw the burst of color reflecting into the sky, heard the after firework "sizzle" and realized what it was). Other than that though, the Egyptians in Cairo have been incredibly kind, accommodating, and all around wonderful. Every has asked if we feel ok, if we need anything, if we are uneasy. They understand how the situation looks from the outside in and appear to want to help make you feel at ease (and of course they do, their income depends on it!).
One last note: one of my travel companions said to our guide while at the Sphinx that she felt bad for the vendors who were suffering due to no tourism. She said, "It's ok to feel bad for them, but remember what we all remember: freedom isn't free." Then she added: "tourism gets sick, but it never dies."
If you have any questions, I'll be happy to answer them to the best of my ability. Other than that, I'll get to reviewing places in the next few days, as well as making a similar post with regards to my upcoming experience in Luxor.
Thanks you all for helping me make this trip! :)