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

An ethical horse ride by the Giza Pyramids

If, like me, you are disgusted and upset at the treatment of some horses (and camels) at the Giza Pyramids but you’d love to have the unique experience of seeing the pyramids on horseback then I think you’ll like this blog post! Last weekend myself and some friends booked a 2hr desert ride with Cairo Horse Riding School. My friends are regulars at the stables, they have weekly lessons there and even sponsor their own horse, AJ. It can be difficult to know which businesses are trustworthy and ethical but as they have been visiting these stables for a while they know Tamer is completely committed to rescuing horses and rehabilitating them.

Horse being rehabilitated

Tamer’s stables are located in Giza. The back gate of the property leads straight onto the desert South of the pyramids and catching a first glimpse of these ancient wonders was, as always, breathtaking. The stables house about 10 horses, the majority of which have been rescued from a terrible life giving rides at the pyramids in horrendous conditions. If you’ve been to Giza you will know many of the animals don’t receive adequate food and water, shade, rest or medicine. It’s hard not to see how emancipated they are, covered in sores and cuts from accidents and heavy handed owners. It’s beyond me why anybody with a conscience or any compassion would consider riding these poor things but I digress. Tamer also has a small menagerie of rabbits, sheep, dogs and a couple of donkeys! He’s more than happy for you to have a wander around while he gets the horses ready.

In need of some attention
The menagerie

Our horses were brought out to us and we were fitted with our riding hats. The stirrups and reigns were adjusted to our comfort and safety then we spent about 10 minutes walking around the paddock getting acquainted with our horses. Riley, my horse was a ‘feisty female’ I have no idea why Tamer thought her and I would be suited!

Getting our safety equipment set up
A trial walk around

Once we were all ready and comfortable we headed into the desert. The walk out took about 30 minutes and we could see the Pyramids very clearly. Tamer gave us instructions and advice throughout, checking on us often. He encouraged us to canter which was terrifying but exhilarating. You could tell the horses loved getting out into the breeze and having exercise.

And then out into the desert

Soon we arrived at a makeshift tent/cafe where we drank mint tea and sodas in the shade. The horses were tied up and given water although that didn’t stop them from sticking their heads under the tarpaulin to get to the dates and nuts we were eating. We sat with the view of the pyramids and the urban sprawl of Cairo before us then the Friday call to prayer rang out and it felt quite special.

Refreshment time for the horses
What an amazing view of the pyramids
Giza horse riding

After a rest we got back onto our four legged friends and took the same route back. It was amazing to be able to see Saqqara and Dahshur in the distance and really get a sense of the landscape. As soon as we arrived back at the stables we dismounted and the horses were given some time in the paddock, they threw themselves down, rolling in the sand to cool off.

As you can tell I loved my desert riding experience and it was made even better knowing that I was supporting a business which is committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of horses. My ride cost 400LE and this included all equipment, a drink in the cafe and supervision. Tamers Facebook page is called Cairo Horse Riding School here you can check out more photos, see the map showing the location and a price list for different services, there are also reviews on Trip Advisor. His English is excellent so if you have any questions you can contact him directly. Although I am really sore (I’m so unfit!) I really enjoyed my morning and seeing the pyramids from a different perspective.

*please note that this post was written in 2018*

A beginners guide to using Uber in Cairo

The recent news that Uber had been ‘banned’ in Egypt was discussed at length in the media, especially in the women’s groups I belong to. The common theme was ‘How will I get around now? Local taxis just aren’t safe’, ‘This is going to put women at the mercy of unregulated local taxis’ and ‘This is not going to help tourism!’. I feel privileged that I drive in Cairo; yes the roads are crazy but I’m too stubborn to relinquish my independence. However, for lots of people in Cairo, Uber is a fundamental part of their lives – it’s how they get to work, go shopping, meet up with friends and feel safe doing so. Luckily it doesn’t seem that the ban is imminent. It will go to through further judicial proceedings and it will be a drawn out process so, for the time being,  it continues to operate as normal and that’s a huge relief for people who rely on the service for a safe taxi ride. It is also important for tourists to know they can get an Uber rather than rely on less regulated services.

Official Uber Statement

However, in saying that I woke this morning to a series of tweets about a lady in Cairo who had been sexually harassed by an Uber Driver. Uber Egypt replied swiftly and have asked for further details but unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve heard people having unpleasant experiences with Uber. I was going to say ‘I’ve been lucky’ that it hasn’t happened to me, but I think that’s the wrong phrase. Luck shouldn’t come into feeling safe or not being sexually harassed. The main issues we’ve had with Uber have been;

  • The driver who decided to reverse for several hundred meters down Suez Road because he missed the turn.
  • The driver who, after many near misses and almost driving over a roundabout, pulled over and after a few minutes of searching pulled out his glasses.
  • The driver who drove the wrong way down a dual carriage way because ‘it was better’!

So, in the light of this news, the reports from customers and my own experiences I thought I’d write a quick guide to ensure a safer Uber ride, whether you’re a visitor to Cairo or a resident.

Check the drivers rating– when I order my Uber I usually check the drivers rating. For me, if anyone with a rating less than a 4 accepts my fare I cancel because it suggests to me there’s been issues previously.

I don’t set my location precisely where I live – the pin for my pick up location isn’t directly outside my house. For my security I drop it close by, but nobody picking me up would be able to tell which house I came from.

Check the driver matches the photo on the app – if I’m getting in by myself I always check that the Driver is the person shown on the app. Once Greg and I got into a car that we assumed was our Uber. It was only after he’d driven for a few minutes and asked where we were going we realized we’d been complacent and got into a random car and we quickly got out!!

Check the driver is using the app – it sounds obvious but a lot of drivers don’t like using the app because it uses data. Quite often they’ll turn the app off and ask for directions. If it’s somewhere I know I usually don’t mind and I’ll direct them, but if it’s not a place your familiar with insist they use the app. If they refuse, get out!.

Check the condition of the car – Cairo traffic is notorious and so too is the quality of driving and the condition of the cars. I have had many online conversations with Uber when cars have arrived with no working seatbelts. This is something for your judgement but we tend not to get in a car without working seatbelts especially if it’s a trip using a main road. If you report this to Uber you will be refunded. I asked Uber if cars have to be fitted with seatbelts in Egypt but they wouldn’t give me a definitive answer simply saying that cars have to ‘comply with local laws’.

Continue to use your own GPS – if I am going somewhere unfamiliar I always have Google Maps on ( it works offline too) so I can track where I am.

Learn and use basic Arabic– a few key words will definitely help with navigation. I don’t speak very much Arabic but when I Uber I do! Ones to know shimal (left), ya – meen (right), ala tul (straight), hena (here), shukran (thanks), ma salama ( goodbye). It’s also good to learn Arabic numbers so you can recognize car number plates.

Think about your conversation – again this is personal, you may be a naturally chatty person but sometimes this friendliness can be misinterpreted. If you don’t want to talk a quick ‘hi’ and then putting in headphones is usually works. However, I’ve had lovely drivers who want to chat and develop their English skills! A lot of drivers have Uber as a second job and many of them are genuinely interested in your Cairo experience.

Have the right change– if you’re paying cash make sure you have money similar to the quote you were given before booking the ride. It saves the hassle of not having change. I know some people don’t like to tip but if a driver has driven well, looks after his car and is professional I always tip, not a huge amount just a gesture. For example is a fare is 85LE I’ll give 100LE or if there’s 4 people and it’s 25LE give 40LE. If you pay by card have small tip 5/10LE ready for a short ride and 20LE + for a longer drive.

Be dropped off away from your home – similarly to when I get picked up I’ll get dropped off close to where I live but not directly at the door.

Check your receipt – once, after a ride, the receipt was more than I’d expected. I looked at the timings and the ride had not been ended until 10 minutes after I’d actually been dropped off! I have no idea how this happened but I was refunded. Always check and only pay what is shown on the green screen. Tolls are included in the fare, you do not need to pay extra.

Don’t answer your phone – this may or may not be a coincidence but the nuisance calls I’ve had have often been after I’ve Ubered. My advice would be to answer and if the person constantly says ‘hello’ keep the call going but don’t respond. This costs the caller and they soon get sick of it. The longest I’ve had someone shout ‘hello’ down the phone for was 12 minutes. I just left the phone on whilst I gave a running commentary of the bechamel sauce I was making for dinner. They never called back………

Rate well – if a driver has been good rate them well. If they’ve been awful rate them badly. Eventually over time the good drivers will prevail ( I hope).

Report any issues with Uber – in my experience Uber is very good and responding to complaints and questions. You can do this via their website, app or using social media.

Uber complains form

This is by no means an exhaustive list and most of it is common sense,  if you have more to add please let me know. Personally I don’t think twice about using Uber  and I would always use Uber rather than a ‘normal taxi’ but there are so many scare stories and misinformation online I thought this practical advice might be useful. The vast majority of Uber drivers are kind, honest, hardworking people simply earning a living getting you to your destination safely. Please remember to report any incidents that do happen to Uber – by doing this you’re ensuring the safety of other customers.

Thanks for reading!

The Oberoi, Sahl Hasheesh

Over the years my views on holidays have changed. When I lived in the UK and only had the chance to go away for a couple of weeks a year all I was bothered about was that the sun would shine, the beach was nice and I could go a day trip or two. Now I’m much more interested in experiencing the places that I go to, living in ‘hot’ countries for the last 4 years, I’m not to fussed about lounging by a pool or beach. I love visiting historical sites and understanding local culture, I don’t even mind if it’s cold. But, now I’m going to completely contradict myself with this write-up of our stay at The Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh, where we did pretty much nothing other than lie by the pool – our own private pool!

Sahl Hasheesh is about 30 minutes south of Hurghada and the journey from New Cairo took us about 5 hours. After the long drive it was lovely to be warmly greeted by the security guard and shown to reception. The grounds of the hotel are absolutely beautiful, credit to the staff who maintain the grounds they were always immaculate and it’s clear they are expertly cared for. There was some grounds work going on, I assume they are getting it in tip-top shape for the main tourist season.

I think check in was the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. We were given cool towels, a refreshing glass of hibiscus juice and sat on comfortable chairs in the reception area while the paperwork was carried out discretely by Sami.

Once this was done we were taken on a brief tour of the main facilities and then given complimentary tea and coffee while we waited for confirmation our room was ready. We arrived at 11am and luckily our room was ready shortly after. The property sits on 48 acres of land so golf buggies are available 24hrs a day if required. After a short ride we arrived at our grand suite which was just beautiful. I had read so many glowing reviews of the hotel that I had very high expectations and it didn’t disappoint.

Our suite

The suite we booked was a grand suite and it aptly named. With a light and airy open floor plan, a spacious lounge led through to the king size bedroom, a walk in closet and stunning bathroom with rainfall shower and sunken bath. I really loved all the local touches such as the rugs, furniture, lights and artwork. The Egyptian linen was such excellent quality and many items in the room could also be purchased from the hotel boutique which I thought was a lovely idea. The lounge had a comfortable sofa, TV, fridge, mini bar and all of the windows were fitted with blinds so it was completely private. Each day we received complimentary fresh fruit and bottles of mineral water. Small cartons of milk are also provided free of charge from the mini bar so you can make your own tea and coffee.

The bed was extremely luxurious with feather pillows and duvet and each day it was made up and decorated with ‘towel art’.

The huge walk in closet ensured there was plenty of room for suitcases plus lots of hanging space, drawers, a full length mirror and a safe. We were also provided with slippers and robes. I loved the attention to detail such as proving electrical adaptors, a beach bag and insect repellent!

The bathroom gave us some serious interior design inspiration. I loved the wall of glass onto the small garden creating an ‘inside outside’ feel. The shower was very powerful and the sunken bath with candles was just lovely.

At times we did struggle to get hot water, we had to run the water for a while (which felt wasteful) but it did heat up eventually. The toiletries and towels were very good quality and it was always spotlessly clean. I have a real dislike of hair dryers which are hard-wired into the bathroom drawer so even though it was powerful, next time I’ll take my own because I hate drying my hair in the bathroom due to the bad combination of humid air and frizz! During our stay the housekeeping was superb. Each morning when we came back from breakfast our room had been made up and each evening the turn down service took place when we were having dinner. This discreet service was excellent, we didn’t need to wait around so they could carry out the service.

The garden

This for me was my favourite part of the suite, I have never stayed anywhere with my own private pool and this one has set a high precedent for future holidays. Leading off from the lounge a glass door opens onto a shaded patio area complete with a dining table and chairs. The sizeable pool takes up the majority of the rest of the garden and it’s just wonderful. It benefits from the sun all day with occasional shade provided by the palm trees.

There are also 2 sunbeds and a big umbrella. I loved only having to walk a few steps before plunging into the pool. It’s about 4ft deep but there is no shallow end; something to consider if you are staying with children. I have to say we spent the majority of our time by the pool and it was blissfully quiet (this is quite rare for Egypt) with only the occasional sound coming from the birds in the trees. If you order in room dining they set up the indoor or outdoor dining table so it feels like you’re still at home! On an evening the pool was lit up so you could enjoy a bit of night swimming and, if you’re staying in winter, the pool is heated.

Food

We really enjoyed the food during our stay, it wasn’t outstanding but it was consistently good from breakfast to dinner and in-room dining. Our stay included breakfast but all other food and drink we paid for separately. Breakfast is either served outside overlooking the pool or indoors with views across the sea.

Two options are available; an open buffet or you can order from an a la carte menu.

I can definitely recommend the crepes, French toast and eggs Benedict.

The hotel also caters for dietary requirements offering gluten-free, organic and low-fat options. You can also order breakfast to your room for no extra charge which we did on our last day as it was more convenient.

We ordered in room dining for lunch, and again the food was delicious. The pepperoni pizza in particular was very good as was the chicken shawarma. The in-room dining menu isn’t huge but there’s enough variety if you’re only staying for a few days, a children’s menu is also available.

Dinner is served either under the stars in the courtyard or indoors. Both have wonderful musicians playing traditional instruments which added to the atmosphere rather simply creating noise. It really is a lovely place to spend the evening and the service was good.

It is obvious the hotel prides itself on its menu, offering seasonal dishes and themed nights. I wasn’t aware that the menu changes daily so if you see something you fancy order it because it may not be available the next night!

The bar offers a variety of drinks and snacks. We became rather partial to a gin fizz cocktail, berry mojito and shisha while playing cards! A couple of times the chef came out to ask us about our meals which was a lovely touch.

The beach

To be fair we hardly made it to the beach but it is very pretty. Fine golden sand fringed with palm trees and crystal clear water. Like many places on the Red Sea there is a lot of coral which makes it ideal for diving and snorkeling but dangerous to walk on without shoes.

However, the hotel has this covered by providing shoes free of charge and also the option of going into the sea via a jetty to avoid walking on the coral reef. There are many sun-beds and umbrellas, plus staff are on hand regularly bringing over complimentary cold towels, drinks and suntan lotion!!

I imagine if you’re staying in one of the suites at the ‘top’ of the hill the walk to the beach in the summer could be quite a challenge. But, as I said, there are loads of golf buggies around so if you have mobility problems or you just don’t fancy the walk you can just grab a buggy back!

The pool

During our stay the hotel was operating at 40% occupancy and it was blissfully tranquil. The only time we really noticed the number of guests was at dinner when most the table were taken. As many people have their own pool and other guests use the beach the pool area was generally quiet. The pool is ideal for children as it has a shallow end and steps at each side.

The setting overlooking the sea is lovely. Even on an evening it was nice to sit by the pool watching the sun set.

Other services / facilities

There is a tennis court on site and all equipment can be loaned from the hotel. The court wasn’t busy when we were there but in high season you may need to book.

There is a gym (which I peered at through the window) which looked well equipped. I’m really annoyed that I never booked a spa treatment, next time I will for sure because based on the rest of the hotel I’m sure it’s superb. As mentioned earlier there is a Boutique selling beautiful fabrics, ornaments, jewelry and toiletries. This is a perfect place to pick up a souvenir as the quality was very good and the prices fairly reasonable. It was nice to be able to browse without being hassled! I loved the reading room which was styled like a gentlemen’s club and had lots of book about Egyptology. This was a quiet, relaxing place to sink down into a sofa and find out more about the history and culture of the country.

The hotel offers a daily program for children and adults such as cooking classes, games and activities. They also have selection of trips available such as a boat trip to Giftun Island, glass bottom boat trips, visits to a nearby monastery, quad biking and snorkeling. On leaving the hotel, within walking distance there are a few souvenir shops and further towards Hurghada there is a mall with a Spinney’s supermarket and KFC etc. Although there is no ATM in the hotel you can use your bank card at the front desk to get cash back, they charge 5% for this useful service.

Some other points

The hotel doesn’t encourage the use of mobile phones in the restaurants and this was actually quite refreshing. We didn’t have to endured listening to other people’s conversations, in-fact I rarely saw anyone with their phone out. This made it quite awkward for me trying to take photos of the food and rooms as I was definitely the odd one out!

The hotel discourages individual tips. They ask at the end of your stay to place a gratuity in an envelope which is distributed amongst all staff. I loved this, we didn’t have to try to find small bills each time we got a buggy or ordered food and drinks. However, I did write onto the envelope the name of our housekeeper who did an excellent job so I’m hoping he received his share.

Unlike our recent stay in Ain Sokhna the prices at the Oberoi do not include service charge and taxes but I personally much prefer having everything included. I’m not sure if this is hotel policy or all hotels in the Red Sea Governorate operate this way. It’s something to take into account if you’re on a budget, you need to add roughly 25% to each bill.

As you can probably tell we absolutely adored our time at the Oberoi. I don’t think I’ve had a stay where everything was so relaxed and the staff were so professional, we came home feeling totally refreshed. I can’t recommend the hotel more highly if you’re looking for a total escape and luxury. This all however comes at a price……..I’d say taking the room, food, drink, taxes, tips into account we probably paid about £400 a night. Was it worth it? Yes, we will always look back at our 5th wedding anniversary with very fond memories (especially considering we spent our honeymoon in a Premier Inn!). If you are considering making a booking I’d recommend you book directly with the hotel as you will get a better rate. If you do go, please let me know what you thought.

Now, I’m pretty sure Hani, one of the waiters, told me the Oberoi brand operates a luxury Nile cruiser between Aswan and Luxor so I’d best look into booking that……!

Thank you for reading, liking, sharing and commenting 🙂

Andiamo, Heliopolis

Tucked away behind an unassuming garden gate on a busy road in Heliopolis, Andiamo is easily missed. Luckily Greg had been a couple of weeks ago and knew where to go or we’d have been wandering around for ages, something we seem to do quite often in Cairo!

Andiamo, Heliopolis

Stepping into Andiamo you feel like you’ve walked into someone’s back garden. The compact, cosy space, cleverly manages to accommodate a fully stocked bar, a handful of tables, TV and a pizza oven. It’s very cute!

Andiamo, Heliopolis
Andiamo, Heliopolis

There’s no chance of poor service here, it’s so small the staff only have to walk a few meters – in fact you can probably just call out your order! The food menu is simple; its pizza. There are several varieties to choose from, all are thin crust with crispy bases and topped with good quality, fresh ingredients. I think our food arrived after about 15 minutes cooked to order in the pizza oven. The drinks menu is more substantial, from soft drinks to beer and sangria, cocktails to spirits.

Andiamo, Heliopolis
Andiamo, Heliopolis

We ordered two pizzas to share, one with smoked ham and mushroom the other with merguez sausage. They were so delicious with generous toppings and a perfect ratio of tomato sauce to cheese, plenty for 2 hungry people. Washed down with a few Desperados, it made for a very relaxing Saturday afternoon.

Andiamo, Heliopolis
Andiamo, Heliopolis

If you like authentic pizza in a relaxing setting with good service Andiamo is the place to go. We both said how much it reminded us of the small pizza places we visited in Venice and Florence a few years ago. For me there is nothing better than a movie night with pjs and a chicken ranch pizza from Papa Johns, but, for a more refined pizza experience Andiamo is a must!

Andiamo, Heliopolis

We paid just over 900LE for 2 pizzas and 6 beers including taxes and service. When we arrived just after lunchtime it was fairly quiet but I would recommend you make a reservation for weekend evenings.

Movenpick, Ain Sokhna

Going to the seaside in January may sound like a crazy idea but I assured myself that in Egypt it hardly ever rains so I went ahead and clicked ‘reserve room’. I was soon proven completely wrong……

Movenpick Ain Sokhna

Ain Sokhna is about a 90 minute drive east of Cairo and is a popular seaside destination for those wanting to escape the city. We had a long weekend and, after much research, opted for the Movenpick located right between the mountains and Red Sea.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna

We arrived after a pretty daunting journey (I’m sure we weren’t traveling on an official road for some it) at about 8pm and, after checking in, arrived at our room – except it wasn’t the room we booked. It didn’t have a sofa, bath or a double bed so after a quick call to reception, apparently they thought we’d like this room better, we were told we could move rooms after dinner. Not quite the relaxing start we’d hoped for. We booked our room on a half board basis so our rate included breakfast and dinner* with both served in the Cataplana restaurant. This is the hotels main restaurant and has several ‘overspill rooms’ a conservatory, terrace plus the primary dining area. Throughout our stay the restaurant was extremely busy, the staff were efficient at clearing spaces and replenishing cutlery but it was a bit of a scrum at times especially at breakfast. However, this was understandable due to the adverse weather which meant the outdoor terrace couldn’t be used.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna

After dinner we went to reception and we were allocated our new room, a deluxe double with garden views. The room was a decent size with lots of storage space, fridge, tea/coffee facilities, safe, large bathroom and a lovely balcony overlooking the grounds. It was fairly obvious the room wasn’t ready to be occupied. It was quite dusty, there was an empty water bottle in the drawer and the safe wasn’t working. However, we were tired and we decided to report these issues the next morning.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna room
Movenpick Ain Sokhna bathroom

We awoke to a stunning view of the mountains and sea, the landscaping of the hotel has been very well thought out; it was lovely. The less said about the weather the better!

About 9am we headed down for breakfast and it was packed! Each of the ‘overspill’ rooms were in use but the staff quickly found us a table and we enjoyed cooked to order omelette, fresh fruit, muesli and pastries. We then wandered through the grounds to check out the beach and other facilities.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna breakfast

Inside the main building there are a couple of shops selling clothes, jewelry and souvenirs and an ATM. Also, just across from reception, there is a bar with TV screens, pool table, comfy sofas and huge windows allowing in lots of natural light. Steps lead to lower ground floor which is where the spa well equipped Gym is located.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna Zen Lounge
Movenpick Ain Sokhna gym

My favourite part of the hotel were the grounds, credit to the staff for keeping them immaculate. The little river meanders from the hotel to the beach ending in a small lake and is cross-crossed with small bridges and a paved walkway. If you want direct access to the grounds I suggest you book a room on the ground floor with a terrace.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna gardens

Eventually you arrive at the sea-shore. The beach is to the right, a long strip of golden sand with sun beds and umbrellas. From here you can also book pedlos, kayaks and go on inflatable rides. The entertainment team were also organizing beach volley ball and yoga here. The water is a lovely turquoise, very clear and perfect for snorkeling and diving in warmer months.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna beach
Movenpick Ain Sokhna beach

The pool is also well designed, it’s a really good size and surrounded by sun beds and umbrellas. The pool is not heated though and it was freezing so we weren’t able to use it!

Movenpick Ain Sokhna pool
Movenpick Ain Sokhna pool

To the left there is a El Gezirah cafe with a large terrace overlooking the beach. Admittedly there is also a view of the industrial site from this side which isn’t quite so picturesque but growing up in Teesside it was a reminder of home! The cafe serves alcohol and non alcoholic drinks, food, shisha and ice cream. There’s also a couple of hammocks to lounge around in.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna grounds

We had a quick chat at reception to ask them to fix our safe and give the room a thorough clean. Within minutes maintenance arrived to reset the safe but unfortunately during our stay the room wasn’t particularly well cleaned. I know that tourism numbers are down and if hotels aren’t bringing in revenue then it’s difficult to upgrade items but small things can be fixed. For example the wardrobe door needed fixing, the hinge on the mini bar was broken, the bath needed a proper clean, the glass on the outside table wasn’t attached to the table – all of these little things could be addressed through a maintenance program. I wouldn’t say that these things particularly effected our stay but it just gives a general poor impression.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna deluxe room

Dinner each night was fairly good. A selection of hot and cold buffet items, an outside barbecue, desserts and cheeses. The roast on the last night was particularly tasty and the staff were helpful and friendly.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna restaurant
Movenpick Ain Sokhna buffet

The hotel is definitely family friendly with an entertainment team putting on activities and shows. There is also a children’s playground and outdoor table tennis.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna childrens area

On an evening the children’s entertainment took place in the bar, so unfortunately there was nowhere for us to relax after dinner and have a couple of drinks although I guess normally these activities would be outside. The ‘over 18’ rule was not applied to the bar. Throughout the day there were children in there unsupervised which was a bit frustrating, but I guess if you have children and you want a drink it would be fine. It was also, like many places in Egypt, very smoky. Nevertheless we enjoyed sitting here, playing pool and cards with friends.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna bar
Movenpick Ain Sokhna Zen lounge
Movenpick Ain Sokhna bar

The room service we ordered was fast and sensibly priced, the burger came within about 20 minutes and was priced at 90LE. I was hugely impressed that they brought me fresh milk for tea with no fuss and no charge, small things that matter but which are overlooked! The food in Zen bar again was good although the menu is quite limited. I felt the pricing of drinks and shisha was very reasonable for a hotel with soft drinks costing about 25LE and beer about 70LE. I also liked the fact that all priced included tax so what you saw was what you paid.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna bar food
Movenpick Ain Sokhna room service

On our last day the sun eventually shone, it was beautiful. We managed to go for a paddle and have one last drink before heading back to Cairo.

Movenpick Ain Sokhna beach

So overall I’d go to the Movenpick for;

  • Beautiful scenery and lovely grounds
  • Spacious, well equipped room
  • Range of activities especially for families
  • Clear sea water and large pool / beach
  • Friendly, helpful staff

I think our stay could be even better if;

  • Rooms were maintained better
  • The over 18 policy was enforced in Zen bar

Would we go back? To Sokhna – Yes! To the Movenpick- probably! We know what to expect and it would be even more enjoyable in nice weather. If you book this thinking of a usual seaside hotel property in Egypt / Turkey you won’t be disappointed.

Have you been to Sokhna or the Movenpick? What did you think?

*no drinks at all are included at dinner, only food. Tea/coffee and juice is included at breakfast*