Abdeen Palace, Cairo

Having lived in Cairo for almost a year we’ve ‘done’ the main tourist sites, so when we went into the city for a staycation we were a little bit lost for ideas! Greg suggested we went to Abdeen Palace but I was a little hesitant, the reviews on Trip Advisor were mixed and we couldn’t find too much information online. However, as it was only a 10 minute taxi ride from our hotel we thought we’d give it a try. As most of you will know traffic in Cairo is crazy and this ride was no exception as we maneuvered down narrow side roads passing cats, school children, rubbish collection trucks, and scooters to the background of incessant honking and the call to prayer. The driver pointed at a huge wall and gestured to us that it was the museum. Greg and I looked at each other because it was right in the middle of a residential area and didn’t look palatial at all! Regardless, we paid our 100LE each entrance fee and an additional 10LE for a ticket permitting photography, and after a quick bag check, we wandered out into the prettiest, most tranquil gardens. Completely unexpected!

After a couple of minutes of being surprised by how pretty it was, a gentleman in a suit came up to us. He seemed so happy we were visiting and pointed out to us the museums and declared we’d be ‘fascinated’ by the artifacts. But, before heading inside, we walked around the gardens. With only the sounds of birdsong it reminded us of Marrakesh when you walk into the peace of the riad after the chaos of the Medina.

The grounds were really well cared for, the flowers smelt lovely and we watched several fat cats stalking the pigeons! At the far right hand corner there was a bandstand built in 1921 and from this elevated position we could see more of the gardens.

After about 30 minutes of enjoying the outdoor space we headed into the museum. The palace dates from the 1800’s and now houses 5 museums, the upper floor is still used for visiting dignitaries. There is a clearly marked route taking you through each area and despite the renovation work, we managed to access most of them. Here’s a brief summary of each museum (the names of these museums differ depending on the information source you are reading from!)

Arms Museum

We probably spent the longest time here. The exhibits showcase how weaponry has developed through the ages. There is a huge selection of daggers, swords, knives and guns. It was really interesting to see how technology has changed and led to advancements but at the same time seeing the commonality of basic designs. There was some weird and wonderful exhibits here and everything was labeled in English and Arabic.

Peace Museum

We then went into the section where each countries medals were displayed. Some of these date back centuries and others are more recent. It shows the relationship between Egypt and other nations.

Presidential Gifts Museum

This was weirdly wonderful; a collection totally dedicated to gifts that Egyptian presidents have received over the years! From a huge portrait of Sisi made purely from thumb tacs to copies of the Quran, solid gold sail boats, paintings and football shirts. Some of them were mildly amusing in a ‘what were they thinking?!’ kind of way but it was interesting to see what world leaders send each other!!

Silver Museum

The final stop for us was to the silverware museum, there’s a lot of silver in that room believe me!! From huge serving plates, cutlery and drinking sets the workmanship on these items was incredible.

On leaving the silverware museum we stepped outside into the gardens. There is a small gift shop and a cafe selling refreshments.

We spent about 2hrs in the museums and grounds and enjoyed ourselves. All of the rooms had wheelchair/ push-chair access and there was ice cold a/c in every room. I noticed when we were leaving there were also wheelchairs to loan and an area to store bags and push-chairs. So, if like us you’ve seen most of the main sights, or you have an interest in military history, I’d recommend you set aside a couple of hours for a visit here. At the moment the museum isn’t particularly interactive, it is much more a ‘traditional’ museum with most artifacts behind glass cases. It will be interesting to see how the renovation works progress and the future developments that are made.

* When we visited the Documents Museum was closed

* I advise you to check directly with the museum for their opening times as these aren’t 100% clear!

From Qatar to Egypt – Highlights of 2017

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.

  1. 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!
  2. Try to avoid moving during Eid (especially when moving from and to a Muslim country).
  3. Make sure the Air B n B you’re going to stay in when you arrive actually exists.
  4. 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.
  5. Don’t cry in the car of an estate agent you’ve only just met.
  6. 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.

See you in 2018!

Four Seasons at San Stefano, Alexandria 

You may have read in my previous post that on our recent trip to Alexandria we stayed at the Four Seasons. I feel that the hotel was partly the reason why we enjoyed our holiday in Alexandria so much, as it brought a bit of luxury to our trip. So, here’s my write-up of our *almost* perfect stay.

The Good

As the saying goes location, location, location. Usually when I book a hotel  – because lets face it Greg doesn’t get too much of a say – my choice is based on the location. If it’s somewhere we haven’t been before I try to choose a central location close to the main sites, if it’s a place we’ve been several times I’ll book based on different factors. As this was our first visit I wanted to be close to the historic / tourist sites such as the catacombs, amphitheater and Citadel as I’d heard horror stories about the traffic and didn’t want to waste time sitting in jams. It turned out that the location was ideal, in normal traffic it took about 20 minutes to the main sites and just over that to the Citadel. The hotel is located right on the corniche and has fabulous views over the Mediterranean Sea.


On this occasion we didn’t book a sea view room but I would probably upgrade when we go again. I bet watching the sunset from one of the balconies is just wonderful!


I wasn’t expecting too much from the room as it is their cheapest basic room. However, on arrival I was pleasantly surprised. Our city view room was very spacious, I liked the how light and airy it was and the classic design. There was lots of storage space, mini bar, complimentary water, kettle, coffee machine ( pods were extra) hairdryer, robes, slippers and a safe. I thought the in-room plug adapters were a thoughtful touch especially for international travelers. The best part of the room was the extremely comfortable bed with down pillows; it was difficult to get up on a morning after such a good nights sleep!

 


The roman style marble bathroom was a lovely place to relax after a busy day with a very deep bath and separate powerful shower. I loved the double doors that folded back to reveal full length mirrors and the mosaic feature tiles; which resulted in a really luxurious feel.

 


We didn’t make use of the balcony other than to dry our swimsuits as it was overlooked by the rooms directly opposite and wasn’t very private. To be fair, the view from the balcony wasn’t great as we could only really see the roof of the mall and a tiny glimpse of the sea. If you want a room with a pretty view I would recommend the sea view rooms at an extra cost.

 

Food 

We had breakfast included in our room rate and it helped set us up for the day. Each morning the staff greeted us and gave us a table with a wonderful view. Breakfast is served buffet style and there was the usual selection of pastries, fruit, deli items, hot dishes, waffles, pancakes and an egg station. Kala restaurant is nicely designed using a fresh blue and white theme and has lots of natural light,  it was lovely to start the day people watching and gazing at the sea.

One evening we ate at Stefano’s, the Italian restaurant within the hotel. We thought the food was very good and the service from Mina was exceptional – he really is a credit to the hotel. It was a shame that the restaurant was so quiet but the food was of a good standard and reasonably priced.


We also tried room service one evening when we were felt like a night in. Once again the food was very tasty and arrived within about 30 minutes.

Pool / Beach

The amenities within the hotel were also good and made for a relaxing stay. Despite the outdoor pool being a little chilly it was a great place to go back to after a busy morning sight-seeing. There were plenty of loungers and, by early afternoon, the terrace caught the sun.

In addition to the main pool there was also a Jacuzzi and a shaded kids pool.

Occasionally we were brought complimentary ice cream and fruit, which was a lovely touch.


The hotels wonderful, private beach can be safely and conveniently accessed via a corridor which goes from the hotel under the main road. At the beach there is a restaurant serving food, drinks and shisha which is perfect when you want a break from the beach but you don’t want to walk back up to the hotel.

There is a washroom with toilets and showers which were very clean and perfect for getting changed or for freshening up. The beach itself is well maintained and has sunbeds, chairs and umbrellas. We spent a few hours here catching a bit of sun, dipping our feet into the clear water and listening to the waves!


Why ‘almost’ perfect?

There were a couple of things that we felt could have been better and these were mostly down to communication. On our first day we had a lovely lunch by the pool however, there was a price discrepancy between the menu we ordered food from and the bill. It transpired that the outlet had 3 different menus showing completely different prices. We had been given the menu with the cheapest prices to order from but the bill had been calculated using the most expensive menu. We felt that this was unfair as we were charged the higher prices and we explained that we should have paid the price from the menu that we ordered from. The staff were very apologetic but we did have to pay the higher bill as they said it was an error on the menu. To be fair it was only about 150LE difference but for us it was the principal. Later when we went to the pool we were given a complimentary coffee but it didn’t leave a good impression.


Another disappointment was the closure of the indoor pool which we were not informed about on check in. The staff at the spa told us the steam room was still available but these were segregated and therefore we couldn’t use the indoor facilities as a couple, which was disappointing – especially as the outdoor pool was not heated.

So, being picky, our stay wasn’t 100% perfect but on the whole it was relaxing and we loved the location, our room, the pool and private beach. There was some inconsistent service and the indoor facilities weren’t fully functioning but this wasn’t too much of an issue overall. My plan is to return in a couple of months, book a sea view room and enjoy a winter break Alexandria style!

Sofitel, Cairo Nile El Gezirah

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.

View of Cairo Tower from the Sofitel

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.

Club Lounge, Sofitel Cairo

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.

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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.

View from 24th floor Sofitel Cairo

The luxury room was comfortable in fact it was quite spacious with a large bed, chaise lounge and a small desk.

Luxury Club Room, Sofitel Cairo
Luxury Club Room, Sofitel Cairo

We’d been left a handwritten note with a welcome tray with tasty sweet treats and a small banana milkshake.

Welcome note and tray, Sofitel Cairo

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.

Bathroom, luxury club room, Sofitel Cairo
Bathroom, luxury club room, Sofitel Cairo

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.

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​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?!

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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.

Muhammad Ali Mosque, Cairo
Muhammad Ali Mosque,Cairo

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!

Pool, Sofitel Cairo

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.

img_9148Feeling 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.

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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!

Can you see the pyramids yet? View from a ‘pyramid view room’ Sofitel Cairo

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.

Kebabgy, Cairo
Kebabgy, Sofitel Cairo

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.

Breakfast, Sofitel Cairo

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.

Nile, Cairo

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.

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Pizza

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.