If someone had told me in December 2016 the following year we’d be living in a new country, with new jobs I don’t think I’d have quite believed them. At that point we weren’t sure if we were leaving Qatar and Egypt wasn’t even on our radar. So, here we are December 2017 and I’m writing this sat in my little garden in New Cairo, proof that you should always expect the unexpected……Looking back 2017 has been a funny, challenging, exciting, crazy year. If you ever want any tips on how you should relocate to a new country feel free to DM me but I’ll give you some tips.
Try not to move to a country which has cut diplomatic ties with the country you’re moving from. It means you, your husband, your dog and your shipping can’t get there directly!
Try to avoid moving during Eid (especially when moving from and to a Muslim country).
Make sure the Air B n B you’re going to stay in when you arrive actually exists.
Don’t put your dog on a flight with a connecting flight – you may panic when you’re told he missed his flight in Jordan.
Don’t cry in the car of an estate agent you’ve only just met.
Don’t let your dog meet the ‘friendly’ cat which repeatedly will attack him until he’s so scratched you have to put him in a T-shirt as you still haven’t found a vet.
Now the dust has settled and I can just about laugh at how stressful the move was, here are 2017’s highlights.
Once we knew we were leaving Qatar we decided to spend the Easter holidays there completing our bucket list. One of our most memorable parts of the holiday was our stay at Regency Sealine Camp about 1hr south of Doha. A luxury camp right on the seashore we loved how relaxing it was, the tents were incredibly comfortable and the sea was wonderfully clear. If you read my post you’ll know our last morning was a bit of a let down, but I would have loved to go back and stay there again. I definitely recommend a visit here, it’s family friendly too.
The second hotel stay to mention was my solo staycation at the Kempinski Royal Maxim Palace, New Cairo. I’d had a tough couple of weeks and my stay here gave me some much-needed ‘me time’. I loved the sleek design of my room and the huge pool, plus it does a great staycation rate. I recently went back for a massage and made use of the indoor spa facilities which were very good.
One thing I miss desperately about Doha is having so many bars, restaurants and cafes on our doorstep. Cairo has been better for our waistlines and wallets, but I have found it hard to find consistently good places. I miss having the Marriott Marquis literally over the road for breakfast at Quickbites and sliders at Champions. On reflection, one of my most memorable meals of 2017 was at New York Steakhouse’s during their ‘chocolate menu experience’ with this venison dish. Their Ramadan tent was fabulous too.
In Cairo I’m so happy to have found Kazoku. Offering modern Asian food we’ve been several times on a Friday afternoon and never been disappointed with the service or the food. If you haven’t been you’re definitely missing out!
We also found Casper & Gambini’s is consistent and offers a wide-ranging menu. We often pop into the one at Cairo Festival City for brunch.
Pub wise we like to go to the Tap East in New Cairo for food and drinks. I think we’ll make more of an effort to go and listen to some live music here next year.
My New Year resolution for 2017 was to get more exercise and I started by walking 10,000 steps every day. This was mostly done walking along the corniche every afternoon with my headphones in listening to podcasts. I love being by the water and every day I noticed something different and enjoyed watching the weather and landscape change. Since moving to Cairo I’ve joined Fibers Gym but some of the classes have been a bit disappointing, hopefully they’ll improve in 2018.
I have loved having a garden and seeing Dyson playing on the green spaces that we have where we live, it’s so pretty. He’s such a good dog and manages so well moving from country to country. After saying goodbye to his Doha dog friends he’s made a new friend, our neighbors dog Zoe!
One thing I will never forget was the first time we saw the pyramids. A couple of weeks after moving we were driving around on a mission and trying to work out which direction the pyramids were in. We thought they were miles away but, literally seconds after discussing it, we drove up a flyover and, as we turned a corner, they were there in front of us. I nearly crashed! On our official tour there recently we were blown away by how big the pyramids actually are and the skill and ingenuity that went into building them. I think what I love even more is that there are still so many unknowns and so much still to be discovered.
I enjoy being by the water and one evening I went on a boat trip along the Nile. It was so special sailing along, listening to the call to prayer, watching the sunset and the realization I live in Cairo! It’s a lovely way to spend an evening.
It’s strange looking back at 2017, it feels like we’ve lived two separate lives this year – the familiarity of Qatar and the brand new experiences of Egypt. For us 2018 is going to be an exciting year. I turn the big 40, we have an epic summer trip planned and we are looking forward to exploring more of Egypt and Africa. Thank you to everyone who had read my blog, followed me on social media, messaged me with advice and tips – it really is appreciated. I wish you all a wonderful holiday with family and family and friends.
Those of you who know Greg will confirm he isn’t the most patient of people but, when on the first night of a two night staycation, he asks to speak to the duty manager it means he’s really pissed off. There wasn’t a major incident that lead to him doing this, just a series of inconsistencies and frustrations that really shouldn’t happen when staying in a hotel by such a well-regarded brand as Accor. Due to the Islamic New Year we had a long weekend and decided to head into Cairo for a couple of nights. I chose the Sofitel, Cairo due to its location right on the Nile, the fact it was ‘buy a night get one free’ using an Entertainer but mainly because we’ve previously had such a good time at the Sofitel Abu Dhabi,Sofitel Palm Dubai and the Mercure Bloomsbury. London which is part of the same hotel group. Booking was very efficient, I made an enquiry through the Entertainer app and received a quote of $303 for 1 night in a luxury club room. Although I felt this price was pretty high I believed it would be value for money as the food in Sofitel club lounges is usually excellent and the general ‘Sofitel experience’ is good. Due to crazy Cairo traffic we were late arriving and on our confirmation email it said to call or our room may not be held. We rung a few times but nobody answered, luckily when we arrived our room was still available. We were checked in at the Club Lounge on floor 16 and we decided to stay here for drinks and a snack before going to our room.
Located at the southern tip of Zamalek in downtown Cairo, the views from the lounge are impressive. To one side the sprawling city is clearly visible and, to the other, Cairo tower dominates the skyline.
We felt the club lounge wasn’t as relaxing as other lounges I have been in, it definitely lacked comfort and atmosphere. The colours were very harsh and the table and chair set up felt too formal and not very ‘loungey’. The staff however were friendly and welcoming but they didn’t try to chat or engage with us as they were often behind the desk on their mobile phones.
As we only had an hour left to make use of the complimentary drinks and food we ordered a beer and whiskey and went to get snacks. Unlike other club lounges the food offering was quite limited. For hot food there were thinly sliced chicken fillets and fish goujons but nothing to accompany them such as veg, rice, breads or salads. There were also some sandwiches which were a little dry. Those with a sweet tooth fared better with a selection of cakes, tasty donuts, dried fruits and nuts.
After a couple of drinks and feeling a bit underwhelmed, we headed to our luxury club room on the 24th floor. The view from our balcony was fantastic, we could see right across the Nile and over the city.
The luxury room was comfortable in fact it was quite spacious with a large bed, chaise lounge and a small desk.
We’d been left a handwritten note with a welcome tray with tasty sweet treats and a small banana milkshake.
The bathroom, despite being compact, was very clean and although there was no separate shower the rainfall shower head over the bath looked great. We also had robes and slippers. Next to the bed was a pillow menu and a choice of scents for the turn down service.
We rung the club lounge to ask for fresh milk as they only had powdered milk which is disgusting in tea. We rung a couple of times but there was no answer, so in the end we called room service and within minutes a jug of fresh milk was delivered to our room. After a lovely cup of tea taking in the view from our balcony we slept soundly.
The room was very quiet and the bed was so comfortable it was hard to get up the next morning! Unfortunately when we woke it was a little hazy and we couldn’t see the pyramids from our room, so we went for breakfast hoping the sun would burn off the haze. We decided to have breakfast buffet in the main restaurant which has a lovely view over the Nile and the hotel gardens. We gave our room number and we were offered a table inside or on the terrace, we opted for inside. I was surprised we weren’t shown to a table, simply pointed in the direction of the dining room. It’s was quite difficult to know which tables were occupied so after a couple of circuits of the room we ended up asking which table was free. We ordered tea with cold milk and headed off to check out the buffet offering. There was quite a good selection from cold meats and cheeses, fresh fruit and yoghurt, cereals, pastries, hot items such as mushrooms and sausages, GF and organic options plus a live station cooking eggs.
Greg ordered an omelette with everything except chili and I ordered my favourite Arabic dish – shakshuka. I was encouraged by one of the staff to try some of the Egyptian dishes such as ful medames and I agreed, unfortunately despite waiting the dishes never appeared. When we got to our table we’d been given hot milk and Greg’s omelette was full of chili. My shakshuka didn’t resemble any shakshuka I’d had before, it was much more like scrambled egg. It was pretty disappointing and was left uneaten. Maybe Egyptian shakshuka is different?!
After a rather lackluster breakfast we headed to our room (we still couldn’t see the pyramids) and got ready for our morning trip to Muhammad Ali Mosque which is definitely worth a visit. It is such an interesting place with incredible views and only a 15 minute taxi ride from the hotel.
On returning to our room we found that it had been made up, but the table I’d left pulled out and away from the wall so the tea and coffee stains could be removed, had simply been pushed back and the stains still there! The room still didn’t have Lanvin products as specified in the room information. The rainfall shower flooded the floor as the shower screen didn’t provide enough cover and, as the hairdryer was hard-wired into the bathroom, I couldn’t use it as the bathroom was so damp. I think after paying a $400 deposit a regular, stand alone hairdryer isn’t too much to ask for! We decided to relax by spending a couple of hours by the pool and when we arrived at midday there were no umbrellas available. The friendly member of staff set up a small cabana for us and said that once an umbrella became free we could move. Unfortunately he didn’t communicate this to his colleagues as shortly afterwards other people were given loungers and umbrellas before us!
Not to worry, the cabana was comfortable and the views from the pool across the Nile were stunning. The pool area isn’t very large but the temperature of the water and the design of the pool was good.
Feeling a little peckish we decided to order lunch. Greg really enjoyed his club sandwich but my Caesar salad was not very good. The lettuce had been almost shredded and bound in a thick mayonnaise rather than garlic. It was also missing anchovies which were listed on the menu, I didn’t eat much of it.
Having spent a few hours by the pool we went back to our room to get ready for the evening. I was so happy to see a very faint outline of the pyramids from our room ………if I squinted really hard!
Again we rung for fresh milk and tea bags as they hadn’t been replaced when our room was made up. We called room service as we had the night before and I asked for 2 tea bags and a small jug of fresh milk. A few minutes later room service arrived with a pot of tea for 2, hot milk and a large glass of cold milk ……and a bill. I explained this was not what we’d asked for and he told me my problem was that we’d called room service not housekeeping. We politely explained back we only did what we had done the night before with no problems. He was very nice about it but clearly there was a communication issue. We then went to get a shower to discover our toiletries (still not Lanvin) had not been replaced. Sigh. We went up for drinks to the club lounge and again we were disappointed with the food on offer. I *think* there were small chicken drumsticks and maybe small lamb skewers plus the same sparse selection of sandwiches, pastries and fruit. This is definitely not consistent with other Sofitel club lounges where the food is more substantial. They did serve a very generous whiskey however!
As we were still hungry we decided to go to Kebabgy, the oriental restaurant in the hotel. I’m not going to go to lots of detail other than to say the location was very nice, the restaurant well styled and the food, although tasty, was not very filling as the portion sizes were small. The photo is of the mixed grill for 1 person and 1 serving of shish kebab both served together.
Whilst having dinner we were chatting about the hotel and I brought up the hotel website to check out the rooms on offer. It was then I read we were meant to have access to a butler – this was the first we’d heard about it! Also, I couldn’t find a price for a luxury club room anywhere near the $300 we’d been charged either on the Sofitel website or comparison sites……..maybe the holiday had hugely increased the cost of a room? On the way back to our room we decided to stop by reception and ask for a late check out the following day. The receptionist told us we should ask our butler – we told him we knew nothing about a butler this as we hadn’t been told. about this service. He said we should have been calling our butler if we needed anything during our stay! On return to our room we found we hadn’t had a turn down service (again) and had no fresh towels, toiletries or water. We rung the butler twice – he didn’t answer. We rung reception and we were cut off. We rung again and Greg, whilst trying to explain, was constantly interrupted. It was at this point Greg went to speak to the duty manager. He listened to Greg’s concerns and agreed these issues were not portraying the hotel in a good light. He assured us the manager would be notified about our concerns when he was back at work on Sunday. At 11pm that evening we received teabags, towels and toiletries!
The next morning we went to the club lounge for breakfast. There was a small buffet and items could also be chosen from the a la carte menu. Greg ordered a pepper omelette and a side of veal sausage, I ordered cheese omelette with sautéed potato and veal sausage. What we got wasn’t quite what we asked for – Greg got a mushroom, sausage and chili omelette with turkey and veal sausages on the side. I received a cheese omelette with veal and turkey sausage. I never received the potatoes. We were the only table in the lounge, how could they get this mixed up?! By now I was kind of losing the will to live, it was becoming a bit of a farce. The pastry basket was nice.
In the hope of getting an umbrella we headed to the pool early. As soon as we arrived Greg ordered a juice, which after 90 minutes still hadn’t arrived. To be honest we weren’t entirely surprised. Again, the pool and views were delightful.
We decided to have lunch by the pool and I chose a dish I thought they couldn’t possibly get wrong – Greek salad (I asked for it minus the olives). Greg ordered pizza. I was being far too optimistic. The salad was wrong, very wrong. It was listed as having; cucumber, tomato, onion, red, green and yellow pepper, mint, feta and lemon dressing. What I actually got was; cucumber, tomato and white cheese – not even feta. No mint, no dressing. Oh, actually I also got lettuce which wasnt meant to be included. I did consider only paying 1/3 of the bill as I only received 1/3 of the ingredients but we thought it would be better leaving this until we talked to the manager on Sunday – you know, when we were told he would call. …………………….I left the salad but the birds seemed to enjoy it.
By now we were ready to leave. Our supposed ‘stress free relaxing weekend at a 5* hotel’ had turned into 2 days of poor communication, less than average food and numerous inconsistencies. I am so glad we had 241 on this room as even paying $300 for 2 nights (plus food/drinks) was not worth it. I actually apologized to Greg for booking the Sofitel as it fell well below our expectations. I don’t feel I can recommend this hotel to anyone unless maybe you get a rock bottom price and chose not to eat there. Although the staff were very friendly and apologetic when things went wrong I just don’t feel this was 5* service. I think the final straw was when we were asked on check out how our stay was I explained we’d ‘had some issues’ and we’d spoken to the duty manager. The member of staff just looked really uncomfortable and responded with ‘have a good flight’!!!!
On a more positive note I’m a huge fan of the Entertainer. I have saved thousands of £’s using it over the last 3 years. I thought when I left Qatar it would be redundant but no, we can still get 241 stays on hotels worldwide. So, even if you are in a country where you can’t use the Entertainer for services, it’s still worth buying as you can make quite a lot of savings on hotel stays. Here’s a screenshot of countries where hotels have signed up to the Entertainer. Any questions please just ask in the comments section below.