I’m noticing more and more how many of my blogs have links to music – it’s not intentional I promise! The song ‘Walk like an Egyptian’ will forever be linked to my time in Dubai. One of our Year 2 topics was Ancient Egypt and we always had an Egyptian day where the children wore an Egyptian outfit (hopefully) homemade and we would head up to the playground and parade along the catwalk whilst listening to the Bangles classic. Take a moment to picture it, even splitting the Year group into two groups, that’s still seven class, around 196 children…so about an hour’s worth of catwalk and goodness knows how many repeats of that one song!! But it was fun and I will always have fond memories of those days.
What’s that got to do with anything I hear you ask? Well, this is my first “travel” blog. Travelling has always been something that intrigued me; discovering new countries, new cultures, meeting new people ands creating memories just has such an appeal to me. Although I have been incredibly lucky from a young age to travel to many parts of the world, Dubai enabled me to fulfil even more of my travel dreams. I’ve never been afraid to embark on trips alone, using tour groups and setting off on a new adventure yet Dubai also allowed me to find like-minded people who also wanted to travel which worked out perfectly.
This is always a risk – being friends with someone and travelling with a friend are two different things to some extent. You can be friends with someone and love them to pieces but travelling with a friend means they will be with you for almost 24 hours a day for the duration of the trip and in this time you will discover things you never knew about that person before…which can be a good or bad thing!
Our year group in Dubai was a unique one. We were a power house, a real team. We supported each other, had fun, socialised, made sure our main aim was the children and stuck to our guns when it came to what we believed in. She will hate me for saying it, but the main reason for this was our APC (assistant phase co-ordinator), Sharon. In my first year we didn’t become friends until half way through but from day one I knew we would get on; we are very similar in so many ways, she’s fiery, you wouldn’t want to mess with her but she’s loyal to a fault and I am so very glad to call her my friend.
In 2015, February half term seemed to come round really quickly and Sharon and I decided quite last-minute that we should go away and both said how we would love to explore Egypt. At the time I hadn’t quite realised the degree of possible danger in Egypt and mum only let me know of her fear when I was back safely! We were lucky to know many Egyptian families at school who gave us advice and helped to plan our little trip.
I’m not sure about Sharon but I was a little nervous about going away together – Sharon is very confident and out going in many ways and I didn’t want to be that boring friend that was always conscious of being cautious! Carly, who had travelled with Sharon before gave me two tips which I adhered to…thank goodness! 1) ALWAYS carry snacks and 2) ALWAYS carry something to keep her warm! Hangry, cold Sharon is not a good combination but we avoided that for the entirety of the trip and we are still friends now so our travels clearly made our friendship rather than breaking it!
Travelling with Sharon was a new experience for me. I am quite often the person in charge of organising things, being OCD about booking, checking, re checking and setting things in motion but in this case, Sharon did the majority of organising the trip and I actually quite enjoyed it. It was refreshing to take a back seat, I think it was because I trusted her..until we landed at the airport and saw the car we were being collected in! No seat belts, a bit rickety and similar driving to Dubai, let’s just say I was slightly terrified but after a few days and realising that hardly any car in Egypt had seat belts, I relaxed and went with the flow! We laughed, a lot. I learnt very quickly to just let go and enjoy it. It was a trip like nothing I’d experienced before.
We turned up to our hostel in Cairo and I must admit my heart sank a little! There were cats outside and inside the building – I assumed all stray – and to get up to our little hostel in the block, there was an old-fashioned lift where you pulled across the metal grating, a bit like those you see in Titanic! We let the kind man take our cases in while we took the stairs – we didn’t risk that lift once! The hostel was basic but so lovely. The people who ran it were so friendly and helped us to plan some of the next bits of our trip, sorted taxis and tour guides and provided us with nice breakfasts!
I was not too excited about going to Cairo initially. After watching ‘An Idiot Abroad’ I was dubious about what the pyramid experience would be like but I have to say, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. When we arrived outside, it was as described by many, very touristy with a KFC and people trying to sell over priced camel rides and tacky souvenirs. However, once you walk through the entrance, it’s like you’ve entered another world. It was oddly quiet and the space was vast with pyramids of all sizes stretched out before us. Quite quickly a little boy named Hassan took us under his wing. He wasn’t pushy like some of the unofficial tour guides in the compound and maybe because we are suckers for children, he guided us around for the duration of our visit. He reeled off facts and figures about the pyramids and the sphinx and enjoyed taking selfies with us. As we walked towards the exit we decided to tip Hassan – he had neither asked nor expected it, I think he had just enjoyed spending time with us rather than spending his day being shooed away by other tourists. I will never forget his face when he took the money we gave him, our only hope is that he got to keep it and spend it on himself.
Our tour guide took us on many pit stops that day – one stop was to a papyrus shop which in hind sight we were majorly conned by! It was fascinating watching how papyrus paper is made and we both spent money on our own “original” papyrus art! We were both thrilled but later realised we had been total suckers for a nice guy! Our favourite thing in Cairo though was the Khan el Khlalili night market. It was like something out of Aladdin; little stalls everywhere, friendly faces, lamps, spices, scarves – it was wonderful. The Egyptian people were consistently friendly and welcoming and that night a shop keeper invited us in and sent his son to buy us a shawarma and can of coke! We sat and chatted and had a lovely time, he didn’t pressure us once to buy anything and we bid farewell after a nice dinner!
It was in Cairo that I first witnessed Sharon’s immense bartering skills and picked up on some of her Arabic. The bargains we ended up with were fab and I came away with life skills from that holiday that will last a life time! The citadel was also a cultural experience I would highly recommend along with going into some mosques. We laughed so much when we donned the bright green robes they gave us to respectfully cover us – I hadn’t taken off my back pack so I just looked like a turtle walking round which amused Sharon greatly! The rest of our time in Cairo we spent simply walking around, exploring real Egypt and finding off the road places that we otherwise wouldn’t have discovered. Our final night in Cairo found us on a little cruise with a traditional Egyptian menu. What we realised quite quickly though was that we were also extra guests at a wedding! It was one of the most bizarre nights of my life!
We then moved on to Aswan where we stayed in a Nubian village. Sharon and I both said this was a place to stay for anyone who wants to have a traditional, once in a life time experience. The house we stayed in was colourful, beautiful and so peaceful. It was off the beaten track but the owners were once again faultless. Just a walk away from our accommodation was a little market where we bought fabric and Sharon held a crocodile in the Crocodile House!
We spent one afternoon at the Philae Temple which again, wasn’t busy and was so interesting to spend time at. Seeing hieroglyphics carved into bricks first hand was exciting and we couldn’t wait to show the children! We spent a while taking silly photos but then we stopped and sat, had a drink and ate some snacks and whiled away an hour or so just talking. We did go to the Aswan dam but to be honest, it was a let down and I wouldn’t recommend it.
One night in Aswan we went to a Nubian party which we were expecting other tourists to be at yet it became obvious very quickly that we were the only ones staying in the village so we spent the night dancing, listening to music, drinking Arabic coffee and smoking shisha with the Nubian people – again, an experience I will never forget! The other night we stayed in our little haven and were provided with the most incredible meal. It was just such a serene place and I’d go back in a heart beat.
We had then organised to be picked up for an overnight felluca cruise on The River Nile. This would probably rank in my top five travelling things ever. Our little crew were so friendly and we just had such a laugh. Until sunset we listened to music, talked and chilled out. We stopped to take in sunset over the Nile and then shored up. There was no toilet on the felluca so whilst two of the crew made us dinner, one walked us through fields to a little Nubian house which I have to admit was slightly dodgy! We sat and had some shish, well Sharon did, tied scarves on our heads to stop getting cold and laughed at the absurdity of the situation we were in. That night on the felluca was sooooo cold and I discovered over that day/night that I have not mastered the art of going to the loo in the bushes!!
Sunrise on the Nile was stunning and our home-made breakfast, although very old, was lovely. We cruised on a little more before shoring up and being collected for the next leg of our trip. Our driver then took us to Luxor. It seemed that we attracted random men who wanted to show us round and this night we met Ahmed who became our little tour guide for the evening. It was another wonderful place to explore but unfortunately there was a power cut as we headed back. We sat and talked to Ahmed for a while but it was when he invited us back to his home that I started to get Daily Mail headlines flashing through my mind of two careless travellers who went home with a stranger to be found murdered the next day! It would have probably been fine but that night I became cautious Hannah and made Sharon come back with me to our hotel!
It was in Luxor that we spent the day at The Valley of the Kings. Wow. What a day. It was very hot but such an awe-inspiring experience. I think because we’d taught so much about Tutankhamun, it just seemed surreal that we were in his tomb, in his chamber. The other tombs and chambers were also incredible and we had to soak it all in because no photography was allowed as the flashes, over time, would destroy the hieroglyphics. It was quite steep in the chambers and we definitely hit our 10,000 steps that day! It was of course the busiest place we visited in Egypt but we had expected that, having said that, it wasn’t bustling and we saw everything we wanted to with ease.
Our only regret of the holiday was that we didn’t get up early and take the trip to Abu Simbel but that just means we might have to go back one day! I honestly would recommend going to Egypt. I know it isn’t the safest place to go now, but when, hopefully things settle it’s a place more people should visit. We didn’t venture anywhere near Sharm El Sheikh although I would like to go one day but I think because we lived in Dubai, we wanted something different to pools and sand and desert safaris. Getting to see proper Egypt was the best decision we could have made, if you get the opportunity – go.