Eat. Sleep. Repeat: An Update

June 2018

Greg and I sat in a beautiful restaurant in Greece and over a cold beer shook hands on a decision that would shape the next year of our lives. We decided to end our contract early and leave Egypt. In some ways it was the easiest decision to make, in other ways it was the hardest.

Santorini, Greece

I particularly had found Egypt very difficult. I can’t even put my finger on what I found challenging other than ‘everything’. It had all come to a head before the summer holidays when I sat with silent tears streaming down my face at the thought of staying another year to see out our contract. Greg would have stayed but he could not cope with how upset (and to be honest quite depressed) I was and we decided that at the end of the day our happiness is everything. When we returned to Cairo at the end of the summer we resigned our positions for the end of autumn term. It was like a weight had been lifted off our shoulders, but then came the big questions; What would we do? Where would we live? Would we survive the cold? Should I buy a onesie? What about the dog?

Milos, Greece

October 2018

We decided that Dyson would fly back to the UK before us and our family in Liverpool would care for him until we arrived. We threw him an amazing party (at which he dug himself a hole and laid in it all night ignoring everyone) then, with the help of a pet relocator, he flew from Cairo to Heathrow.

Dysons leaving party

November – December 2018

Over the next couple of months we tried to fit in as much sightseeing as we could, got ourselves organized and decided we wouldn’t look for a job with a January start. We chose instead to take some time out and travel, rest and enjoy life and look for something for September 2019. We held our leaving party on a private yacht and I wrote a blogged for what was to be last time until this post almost a year later. Greg activated his Search Associates account so he could keep an eye on jobs and I occasionally looked at TES but that’s as far as it went.

Djoser Pyramid, Cairo
Cristina Yacht, Cairo

December 2018

We arrived back in the UK just before Christmas after a delay of 8hrs, Egypt really didn’t want us to go! Us and our 8 bags were reunited with Dy in Liverpool where we also welcomed in the new year before we headed up to the North East to see my family.

Christmas Day 2018

January 2019

Greg signed up for the Search Associate job fair in London so we decided to make a holiday of it. The fair was very disappointing, there wasn’t really any management positions available for Greg so after just 1 day he withdrew. We decided we would stay in London and enjoy the tourist attractions and restaurants.

London
Brewdog, London
Tower of London
Launceston Place
Dishoom, Covent Garden
Plum and Spilt Milk

We stayed at the Travelodge in Covent Garden as we find the location really convenient and the prices for central London reasonable. They certainly aren’t the most luxurious of rooms but they are comfortable and clean. Out of the places we eat in London I’d really recommend Launceston Place and Dishoom, we both enjoyed both our meals there. I was disappointed with Plum and Spilt Milk a restaurant I have wanted to go to for ages. The service was quite ‘cold’ and the food didn’t live up to my expectations. It wasn’t a bad meal but I think I’d built it up in my mind to be so much more.

February 2019

We spent most of February up in the North East eating comfort food, going for wintry walks along the beach, taking advantage of pavements.

Winter beach walks
Never to cold for ice cream
Dyson loved being by the sea again

We spent a lovely weekend in York catching up with friends and I went to visit my brother and his family who I hadn’t seen for 4 years.

The view from the top of York Minister
Family time

Soon our attention turned to travel and we kept going back and forth with where we should go. First we chose Sri Lanka, then the USA then Europe. Eventually we decided on a train trip around Europe so we bought Euro Rail passes and started to plan out a rough route. Greg started to fill in some job applications and two schools really caught our attention – one in Lebanon and one in China. In all honesty I’d pretty much rejected China, I didn’t think it was somewhere I wanted to live and I’d heard less than wonderful reports about weather, pollution, traffic and schools. I kind of dismissed it but at the same time I had a gut feeling about that school in China….!

March 2019

I flew to the UAE for a week to finish my final stage of training to be a school inspector for British schools. It was a really interesting week and I loved being back the Middle East. Getting searched by security when I arrived back in Manchester wasn’t so much fun. Greg had inadvertently bought me flu medication which had a derivative of cocaine in it and the sniffer dogs did their jobs well! We had our Eurostar tickets booked for mid March and Greg was interviewed again for a position at the China school which went very well. The day before we caught the train to Bruges we both accepted jobs in Shenzhen so we went away knowing we had secured jobs for September. We had done quite a bit of research into Shenzhen and it seemed like a good fit for us. The tropical climate, proximity to the sea, lots of green space, good international airports, excellent transport infrastructure and its reputation as a young, tech center appealed to us. The package from the school was also excellent with proper work visas and HR support.

Shenzhen parks
Shenzhen light show
Shenzhen street life

March – May 2019

We spent 8 weeks traveling Europe by train; what an incredible experience. We didn’t really have a set itinerary or budget, just places we’d always wanted to go with places that sounded interesting thrown in. In the 8 weeks we traveled to Bruges, Antwerp, Dresden, Munich, Zurich, Vienna, Nice, Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, Seville *, Valencia and Paris.

Just before we set off to Bruges
Bruges really is so quaint
Antwerp train station
Dresden
Vienna Opera House
Dachau
Bernina Express UNESCO heritage railway
Sagrada Familia

Beautiful Toledo

The Louvre
Heading back to the UK

We both celebrated our birthdays when we were away, mine in Dresden and Greg in Monaco (Monte Carlo casino to be precise!). Our trip was like a mini retirement and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Our highlights were the Green Vault in Dresden which was just jaw droppingly beautiful, the somber bleakness of Dachau, the scenery of the Bernina Express, the stunning architecture of the Familia Sagrada and the fun vibe of Sitges. Not to forget the food. All the food!

Waffles in Bruges
Fries with Flemish stew, Antwerp
Belgian chocolates
Sausage with potato salad, Zurich

Pintxos in Sitges

Madrid food market
Paella in Valencia
The best pasta I’ve had….. in Valencia

Duck with potato, Paris

* Greg didn’t enjoy Seville quite as much. After complaining of stomach ache, which I dismissed and left him to go shopping, he was admitted to hospital and within 12hrs had his appendix removed. This slightly messed up our travel plans as we had to skip Granada and Benidorm whilst he recovered from his operation. Luckily our travel insurance covered everything and helped us with all our medical, hotel and transport arrangements. I think Greg was just pleased we hadn’t gone to Sri Lanka as we’d originally planned!

Greg post surgery

May 2019

When we arrived back to the UK our visas application process for China began in earnest. I am not going to exaggerate but getting this visa was so incredibly stressful and time consuming. If you’re planning on working in China start your application early and check everything, then check again. Photocopy everything and photocopy it again. Take photos of everything and photograph them again. Literally blood, sweat and tears went into those visa applications and bless Greg for being so organized and thorough for getting us both through the process. I don’t think when we started the application we expected to ‘milk’ blood from each other but hey, that’s what happened and it is as weird as it sounds.

So many needles and bruises for so little blood

June 2019

At this point the realization that we didn’t have long left in the UK hit home. We had a few weekends away visiting friends and catching up with people and 2 bigger holidays.

Aysgarth Falls

Whitby donuts are the best!

We had a lovely week in Cornwall with Greg’s family staying in a wonderful house right on the beach. I’ve never been to Cornwall before so it was nice to see the places that Greg told me about, the places he spent his holidays as a child.

The view from our place in Portscatho
St Ives

St Michaels Mount
Padstow

We also went over to the Lake District to stay at my sisters caravan for a couple of weeks. The weather was wonderful and we enjoyed walks, pubs and Greg’s recent obsession with tattoos!

Caravan life
Pooley Bridge
Windermere

July 2019

We started packing and sifting through all the various boxes of our belonging we have scattered across the country including visiting our storage container in Sheffield. When we left the UK for Qatar in 2014 we put the contents of our house which we had sold into storage. It has now been sat there for 5years and we really need to make a decision what to do with it! It was odd to discover we have had an ironing board in storage for the last 5 years when I don’t even remember owning an iron!! Seriously, the things we kept.

We received the news that our visa application had been successful and we booked our flights for the end of the month. We packed and unpacked. Wrote lists, ticked things off, started new lists and repacked. Greg had a parcel arrive from amazon everyday and then he repacked and repacked again when another parcel came. Then, with one week to go we headed back to Liverpool for Greg’s graduation. In the midst of all this madness for the last 3 years he had been studying for a Masters. Despite moving countries, jobs and schools he had succeeded in achieving an MA in Educational Leadership and we had a fantastic day celebrating his awesomeness.

Graduation at Edge Hill
Such an achievement 🥰

Then the day arrived. We squeezed the last of our bits and pieces into 8 cases, said goodbye to our families and on July 29th we flew to Shenzhen ready to start the next chapter of our lives.

Manchester airport
A reminder why we put ourselves through relocation stress!

What I wish I’d known before I moved to Egypt

I wrote this post in January 2019, shortly after leaving Cairo. It has sat in my drafts for ages as I couldn’t find a time when it felt right to publish but now seems like a good time.

1. Moving here will be one of the hardest things you will do and you will nearly book flights back to the UK on a monthly basis. In the next 18 months you will experience the highest highs and the lowest lows.

2. You won’t travel to Jordan and Lebanon as you plan, there is so much to see in Egypt you won’t need to leave. In the next 18 months you’ll visit Alexandria, Sahl Hasheesh, Luxor, Ain Sokhna and have many Cairo staycations.

Ain Sokhna

3. Kayaking down the Nile on a Friday morning is magical, but it’s a lot less work to hire a private yacht and do it in style.

Kayaking the Nile
Cristina Yacht hire

4. You will massively lose your shit and cause a huge scene at Cairo airport when a taxi driver tries to charge you 170LE to get from T1 to T2. Eventually you settle on 50LE which will still kill you a bit inside.

5. Despite being asked to sign your name 1,783 times in front of a CIB member of staff until it is perfect, the name on your bank card will still be spelt incorrectly.

6. You know that you definitely want a burial chamber with hieroglyphs inspired by ancient Egypt.

Egyptian hieroglyphics

7. You’ll learn a bit of Arabic and you will use it daily. The sense of achievement when you can read a car registration plate is a small victory!

8. Driving home one night you’ll hear a weird sound in the car, then you realise it’s your indicator which you haven’t used for so long you’ve forgotten what it sounds like.

9. Egyptian vodka is lethal.

Egyptian vodka should come with a warning

10. Nefertari mandarin body scrub is the best thing ever

11. You will be shocked at the severe poverty here – never take for granted how fortunate you are.

Zabbaleen ‘garbage city’

12. You will find a good kennels for Dyson and it isn’t the place you go to check out where they simply shut dogs in a cupboard, no exaggeration.

Dyson spent his holidays at Hounds Club

13. You’ll become a pro at using your horn. One quick beep means ‘I’m in your vicinity’ a longer beep means ‘I’m overtaking / right next to you’ and a long beep means ‘ we’re about to die’

14. The banking system here is designed to test every last bit of patience you have. You must psych yourself up before a visit and if it goes well you’ll be confused why it went well and assume you’ll need to go back a few days later.

15. Koshary is delicious, go to Abu Tarek frequently.

Koshary Abou Tarek

16. The Oberoi in Sahl Hasheesh will be one of the best hotels you’ll ever stay in.

The Oberoi, Sahl Hasheesh

17. You will get used to doing a Gourmet shop on a Friday morning and wait for them to tell you what they don’t have so you can then do a Dakakyan shop followed by a final Metro shop. Even then you probably won’t have what you need so you’ll Otlob a KFC and Nola.

Nola rainbow cake

18. You will fall in and out of love with Egypt on a daily basis.

Cairo Tower

19. You will find a good beauty salon (Josy), hairdresser (Christie) and dentist (Cairo smile).

20. The gym is a waste of money – don’t join. The 1hr class will last about 25 minutes by the time the instructor has arrived, greeted everyone and had a chat. Most people in the class will wander in late, answer their phone in the class and use the mirrors to apply their make up.

21. Take advantage of Egyptian resident rates. The Hilton is Luxor is beautiful and you’ll get a HUGE discount.

The Hilton, Luxor

22. Don’t attempt Zumba, you will feel like the person who turned up sober at a party 3 hours late when everyone else is wasted.

23. You will get used to getting ready for work using a jug of tepid water between two of you because the water has been cut …….again.

24. You will meet a lovely bunch of people and make some awesome memories.

The Rehab 7

25. You can pay all your bills using Fawry at an ATM and online using the Fawry app (when the internet is working).

26. Bring ear plugs, Egypt is LOUD. A white noise app will become your best friend.

27. Fayoum is magical

Magic Lake

28. You’ll never feel as much disappointment at a restaurant closure than when you hear Sequoia has shut down!

Sequoia

29. Seeing Ramses IV tomb at the Valley of the Kings will blow your mind and make you a bit emotional.

Valley of the Kings

30. Never expect a tradesman to come with anything he needs to do his job. The painter will come without a bucket to mix his paint, the electrician will come without ladders and the guy who’s coming to measure for doors won’t have a tape measure

31. Stock up at Boots, especially tampons.

32. The BCA in Kattameya is good for a pie / fish & chip fixed every now and then.

BCA Kattameya

33. You will stop using the 4th exit of a roundabout. Like the locals you’ll learn to just do a U turn instead

34. Walking around a Christmas market listening to carols, eating sausages, drinking beer and making way for Mary riding her donkey feels surreal.

Christmas in Cairo

35. You’ll never find out what half the switches in your apartment are for, there’s a high probability you’re controlling next doors lights.

36. Don’t think that roundabouts are there to help the flow of traffic. They are for socialising, selling bananas, oranges, plants, rugs, fish, crabs and cuddly toys which make great gifts.

Dysons rescue birthday present

37. Bring warm clothes, December and January are fairly chilly, bizarrely it’s colder inside than out.

38. When you hear people talking about pyramids you don’t think of Giza, you think of their evolution and the poor bent one at Dahshur.

The bent pyramid

39. There will be far too many random experiences including your private driver bringing his mother in law and a picnic on your rode trip to Alexandria. Breaking down because the oil in the car engine was ‘too heavy’ and accidentally ending up in a high security water treatment plant

40. You’ll never regret the 18 months you spent in Egypt, professionally it was fantastic and personally there were some amazing highlights………..but you made the right choice to leave.

Our leaving party

Esca, Heliopolis (Iftar)

I was living in Doha during Ramadan in 2016 and 2017 so this year Ramadan, my first in Cairo, has been slightly different. I think it would be fair to say as a non-Muslim the holy month hasn’t affected my life as significantly as it did when I was in Qatar. Most shops are still open (all be it with slightly different hours), people are still working almost ‘normal’ hours, the radio is playing music and we aren’t restricted to eating and drinking behind a blacked out windows at school. We also haven’t been to as many Iftar / Suhoors as we have done previously, so on Friday we decided to try the set Iftar menu at ESCA, a restaurant I’ve wanted to go to for a while.

ESCA Iftar Menu

First off, I have to say how good the ESCA team are on social media. I made the reservation through their Facebook page and received almost immediate confirmation. Even when we arrived later than expected due to a combination of Uber cancellations and the craziest traffic, they didn’t seem to mind. The design of the restaurant is lovely. The tables are well spaced and several are divided up to give privacy, creating a more intimate feel. The floor to ceiling windows bring in natural light and the greenery allows for an outside/inside feel. Clever use of a mirrors on the ceiling reflects the lights and makes the restaurant feel spacious despite the dark furniture and fixings.

ESCA, Heliopolis
ESCA, Heliopolis

After a few minutes we were brought a ‘Ramadan’ drink which was fruit based and extremely sweet, a bottle of water and the Iftar set menu. As usual I had pretty much decided on what I was going to have as soon as I booked the table, so it didn’t take long for us to place our order. We confirmed our main courses – chicken and beef – but we weren’t asked about our soup choice. When we mentioned this we were told it was tomato, the soup of the day,  so it wasn’t actually a choice. Shortly after ordering the shared appetizers arrived, I really liked the small serving dishes and the portion size was generous. However, as we started to tucked into the appetisers our soup arrived. This was a bit odd as some of the starters were hot so we could either eat the hot soup and leave the starters, eat the starters and leave the soup, or eat both at the same time which wasn’t really practical. We chose to eat the soup and pushed our starters aside.

Iftar, ESCA

The soup was good. It tasted of fresh, earthy tomatoes with a hint of spice and had a lovely gooey ball of buffalo mozzarella dropped into it which added a creamy texture. It also a sensible sized portion keeping in mind this was one of 4 courses.

Iftar, ESCA

We then returned to the starters, I think it is fair to say we enjoyed some more than others. I loved the salty, cheesy, crunchy feta croquettes and single handedly I ate them all despite the lack of fig chutney. Greg really enjoyed the hawashi which he said was just the right side of spicy for him. We dipped fresh bread into hummus, tahini and aubergine, these were nice but nothing out of the ordinary. The arugula, tomato and onion salad could have been better, the arugula (actually spinach) was tough and several leaves were past their best with holes and yellow tinges to them. Also, neither of us like liver so we didn’t try the chicken liver with walnuts although it did look good!

Iftar, ESCA

Bizarrely, while we were in the middle of our starters our mains arrived. By now we had been in the restaurant for less than 30 minutes and it was starting to feel a little rushed. I am not sure why this happened, the staff were watching closely as we were the only people there and they could quite clearly see we hadn’t finished. We sent the main courses back but we were aware they were probably just being kept warm. Once we were ready to move onto our mains both dishes definite had the ‘wow’ factor, they were very nicely presented other than the fact the flowers had wilted and the gravy for the chicken had started to congeel as they had been kept warming in the kitchen. As we tucked in to the food these small issues faded away. Both dishes were excellent. My steak was cooked perfectly ( medium) and the sprinkle of sea salt helped bring out the flavour of the beef. The accompanying crunchy, buttery potato dauphinoise were moreish and the sweet baby carrots added a freshness to the dish.

Iftar, ESCA

Greg loved the roast chicken on a bed of risotto, the chicken stock gravy brought all the flavours together. The skin was crispy and again the contrast of textures worked well. By now we were getting full and I was defeated by the size of the steak!

Iftar, ESCA

Once again as soon as we had finished our main course the sharing dessert was brought out, it would have been nice to have a rest between courses but this didn’t seem to be the case. I am not sure if it was because we arrived ‘late’, they were closing soon ( it was just before 8pm) or if this is the usually serving style at the restaurant but for us it felt too rushed. The desserts were a bit hit and miss. We both really enjoyed the sobya semi freddo – creamy, fruity mousse encased in a white chocolate shell on a bed of kunafa, it was just sweet enough without being sickly. The dense date cake with meringue was just a bit too heavy after the previous courses but tasted nice. We really enjoyed the rich, creamy rice pudding but the menu said it was cranberry and cardamom and there was no evidence of either, it was plain creamed rice. Unfortunately the apricot tart was far too sweet for both us but if you like sugary, fruity dessert you’ll love it!

Iftar, ESCA

Overall it was a rather mixed experience. We really enjoyed some of the dishes, namely the feta croquettes, hawashi, both of the main courses and the sobya semifreddo but for us it just felt that the meal was over too quickly. By the time we had finished dessert we had only been in the restaurant an hour. I know that Iftar usually only runs for a couple of hours at the most, but to have been served 4 courses in under an hour seemed odd. The service was friendly and we loved the setting so we would definitely go back and try their regular menu after Ramadan. Do I recommend it? On the whole I would say yes. I think for 40OLE each (ignore the printed price on the menu, it isn’t 500LE) it is good value for money and if you maybe ask for more time between courses I think it would be a very tasty way to break your fast or just enjoy a nice meal.

5 Delicious Dishes at Casper & Gambini’s

I sometimes feel that people look down on chain restaurants under the belief that they offer mass-produced, substandard food. For me, as long as the food is good, I don’t mind the name above the door. For people who are new to a town, city or even a country, a chain restaurant can provide some familiarity and comfort. I remember when I traveled to India several years ago almost 3 weeks into my trip, I snuck off to McDonald’s as I just wanted a break from Indian food! Also, in countries where there is a language barrier, such as when we went to China, a universal menu at a chain restaurant is sometimes a good idea!

Chinese Street Food, Beijing


A week or so after we moved to Cairo we needed to have the dreaded trip to Ikea, so we thought we’d fuel ourselves up before buying half of the store. I looked on El Menus and Cairo 360 for decent places to eat at CFC and the chain restaurant Casper and Gambini’s was recommended. The chain started Northern Italy just after WWII and it now has restaurants in 10 cities across the Middle East and Africa – for us it was our first visit.

Casper & Gambini’s Cairo Festival City


Since that first visit we’ve been back several times for the following reasons;

* We usually go on a Friday morning and it’s really easy to get a table. We have been sitting indoors but now the weather is cooler there’s a large outside terrace.

Casper & Gambini’s Cairo Festival City


* The staff are very friendly and the service is consistently good. On one occasion I poured half the salt-cellar over my food and, without any fuss, it was quickly replaced.

* The menu has lots of choice. They serve breakfast, light lunches, main meals and desserts – there’s something for everyone.

* The prices are reasonable for example Pancakes are 62LE, Lasagna is 91LE the House Burger is 85LE and Chocolate Fondant 49LE.

* You get a delicious basket of focaccia with dip to nibble on whilst waiting for your food to arrive.

Bread at Casper and Gambini’s


* They serve really nice iced tea, but my favourite drink is ‘sweet roots’ with fresh pomegranate, beetroot and orange.

Casper and Gambini’s Cairo


The 5 dishes I would recommend to try here are;

Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich (96LE)

Philly Cheesesteak, Casper &Gambini’s


Poached eggs with avocado on pumpernickel (44LE)

Poached eggs, Casper & Gambini’s


Terriyaki salmon with squid ink pasta (159LE)

Terriyaki Salmon, Casper & Gambini’s


Cobb Salad (86LE)

Cobb Salad, Casper & Gambini’s


Salmon with basmati rice and aubergine (185LE)

Salmon with aubergine, Casper & Gambini’s


So, next time you’re at CFC and you get hungry I’d recommend you try Casper and Gambini’s. They also have branches at the Mall of Arabia, Towers Mall, Point 90 Mall, Maadi and City Stars.

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.

Sakura, Rehab City

One thing that I could never get used to in the Middle East is how late people go out and stay out, especially on a ‘school night’. Being up at 5.30am for my full-time job simply means I can’t go for dinner at 9pm as at that time I’m usually crawling into bed. I have often excused myself from events it’s getting too late or, in some cases declined invites when the party started at 11pm – this must make me sound really old but unless I get a good 8hrs sleep I just can’t function (I have no idea how parents are up with children throughout the night and arrive in work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!). I have lost count of the times I’ve arrived for dinner at 7pm to an empty restaurant only for it to be packed by the time I’m leaving at 9pm and, from what I’ve seen so far, Egypt is no exception to this love of nocturnal living. When we arrived for dinner at Sakura I received a ‘are you sure we’re in the right place?’ look from Greg and I reminded him it was only 6.30pm – but at least we had the pick of the tables! Located in City Square, Sakura is a Japanese restaurant with a large outdoor terrace and inside seating with a live cooking station. We chose to sit outside and we were brought the menus which is mostly made up of sushi, sashimi and teppanyaki.

Sakura, City Square, Rehab City

We decided to share a few plates of sushi and a beef teppanyaki with rice. Our order was taken quickly and Hani our server had a quick chat with us about where we were from and told us a little about the restaurant. He was really friendly and throughout our meal the service was good.
All of our dishes arrived within a few minutes of each other which was fine with us and the food was well presented. The Ebi Tempura was an absolute winner for us, the Tempura batter was very light and crispy and the prawns were big and juicy. 

Ebi Tempura, Sakura, Rehab City

Our sushi order consisted of Crispy California Rolls and Salmon Skin Maki. I found the California Rolls to be a little bland and I’d look to order something different next time but the Salmon Skin Maki was a great mix of textures. From the soft rice to crunchy skin and a good kick of heat from the spicy sauce.

Crispy California and Salmon Skin Maki, Sakura, Rehab City

The beef teppanyaki was rather forgettable. The meat was tender but it wasn’t particularly warm or flavoursome. Again, I probably wouldn’t order this again. There was nothing wrong with it but I’d stick to the sushi.

Beef Teppanyaki, Sakura, Rehab City

After finishing these dishes we asked for another look at the menu as we felt we could manage a little more sushi. Having really enjoyed the Ebi Tempura we chose the Shrimp Tempura Roll  which was a great decision. Crunchy Tempura and soft juicy shrimp with creamy avocado, they disappeared from the plate very quickly!

Shrimp Tempura Rolls, Sakura, Rehab City

As predicted as we were finishing our meal it was starting to get busier, we asked for the bill and headed off next door to Costa for coffee and cakeaway to have at home in our pjs!

The damage

Our meal cost just over 450LE which was reasonable value, the teppanyaki was significantly pricier than the sushi. We’ll definitely come back and I know we’ll be ordering the Ebi Tempura and Tempura Shrimp Roll.

The Tap East, New Cairo

Having lived in West Bay for 3 years surrounded by bars, cafes and restaurants moving to Rehab has been a big change. I definitely think we’ve made the right choice but I do miss being able to walk across the road to Quickbites or next door to Prime! In a search for a new ‘local’ Greg found The Tap East, marketed as a ‘Neighbourhood Bar’ we thought we’d go and check it out and I reserved a table through their website which was very efficient. It was fairly quiet when we arrived but we immediately felt welcome.

I would describe the decor as industrial meets American Diner. The exposed brick walls have small recessed TVs and there’s a variety of red leather booths, steel tables and stools with a large central bar displaying their ‘towers of beer’. Wall murals of Audrey Hepburn and Jim Morrison provide a backdrop to the area by the mixing decks and stage (there is live music most nights). There’s also a large outside terrace which will be great when it’s cooler. The menu was pretty good too, a wide selection of bar snacks and main meals. I was pleasantly surprised to see imported drinks too such as Newcastle Brown Ale! ​

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​We decided to share the nachos as an appetiser and I ordered the buffalo chicken salad for my main with Greg choosing the boneless BBQ rib sandwich along with a couple of bottles of Desparados. As we waited for our food we spent most of the time shazaming the soundtrack which was excellent and create a cool, laid back atmosphere. Mustafa, member of staff, also came over for a quick chat to find out where were from and what we thought of the bar – everyone was really friendly. Soon our nachos arrived and they were a good portion size for sharing. There was a good balance of melted cheese to nacho with a splattering of beef chili and sides of salsa and sour cream. Unfortunately shortly after we started tucking in to them our main courses were brought out. I find this a bit frustrating especially when we specified we wanted an appetiser followed by mains. 

My buffalo chicken salad was really tasty and just on the right side of spicy for my taste. I did think there was a little too much lettuce but that’s probably because I don’t particularly like it! The salad was nicely presented and the vegetables were crunchy and fresh.

Greg really enjoyed his rib sandwich. Again there was a generous portion of tender beef in a fresh bun with a tangy BBQ sauce served with crunchy fries and creamy coleslaw. Overall the food was good, solid bar food.

After a couple more drinks we asked for the bill and left very happy that we’d found a new ‘local’ and of course, survived our first month in Cairo!

​We paid just under 700LE in total for our food and drinks which was reasonable value. I’d like to go back again when it’s a bit busier, maybe when there’s a band on. Overall we enjoyed our night.

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