TURKEY & EGYPT, 2008

"From the Sultans to the Pharaohs"
General Tours

GRUMBLE, GRUMBLE, Last year a visit to Jordan was included in the basic combination. I really wanted to see Petra. When I booked (early) for this year's trip, it wasn't included nor was an add-on available - I asked!!! Now, just before departure, and after my Houston-JFK air was already booked, I find out that there is now a 5-day Jordan add-on available. Why didn't they tell us! They probably did not so that I have to book another trip with them (such as Jordan/Petra tour + Istanbul-Kiev cruise next year).

This is actually two totally independent tours packaged and marketed as one by General Tours:
1) Turkiye, land of ancient ruins (Officially "Gems of Turkey") (Subcontracted - not General Tours)
2) Misr, land of Flies (Officially "River of the Pharaohs")

PART ONE: "Gems of Turkey"

Day 1, Monday, March 31 Board our Flight
No hassles - just get up at 3:45 and go. "Super Shuttle" to the airport - have to leave home about 5:05 AM. Nice start - the shuttle is right on time. Fly first to JFK airport in New York (Credit Card Points so it's "free") then use tour company reservations for the flight to Ankara. General Tours wouldn't book direct flights out of Houston so I have a split reservation - which I don't like. Unfortunately, no decent connection but instead a long layover. With "only" 5 hours on the front end, it won't be too bad of a problem, but coming back is much, much, much, much, much worse (longer - 14 hours).

Continental CO 818Houston - NY/JFK7:50 AM - 12:35 PM3:455:15

Very packed flight - cattle car. The flight I originally wanted at 10:20 was out of "free/credit card" seats so I have to take this earlier flight. At least there's no problem with making the next flight. I tried to use my Latehansa miles to upgrade to Business Class, but since they "stole" 35k from me a short while ago for not using them, I didn't have enough. (Latehansa & Egypt Air are miles partners so maybe I have enough next time - if they don't steal some more.)

Latehansa LH 411JFK - Munich 5:50 PM - 8:00 AM9:103:00

Day 2, Tuesday, April 1 Ankara, Turkey

Nice dinner on Latehansa, but it doesn't make up for being crammed in like sardines. Not quite 3 hours layover. I like the Munich airport - no customs/immigration hassle. Get off the plane, walk to the 3rd gate down, and wait. At least at this terminal, the airport is NOT busy. It's surely much nicer than having to go through Frankfurt. (note: no "jetways" anywhere except for the flight back from Cairo to New York - always a flight "bus")

Latehansa LH 3360Munich - Ankara11:00 AM - 2:50 PM2:5024:00

It's "April Fools Day" so it takes 24 hours to get to Ankara (but far worse getting home). I'm Tired! VISAS: Turkey: $20 on arrival (General DisasTours said $25 - wrong!). On arrival, getting our Visas is very easy - short line at that counter. Just pay our money, get the visa stamp in the passport and go. No forms to fill out.

Then the General Disastours part of the trip starts. There's no one here to meet us (4 of us today). The first person gets her luggage and looks and looks and looks and … nobody. She finally calls the local contact number and is told to get a cab. By then, I've gotten my luggage and finally someone shows up with a General Tours sign (was either very late or too busy talking to friends to bother to do his job - unknown since he didn't speak much English). Eventually the 4 of us are on a mini-bus heading to the hotel - assuming we survive the traffic. Normally we would get a nice intro to the city and/or the tour, but this time nothing. At the hotel, we're told "Morning 8:30" by the driver who speaks "no" English. We're just "dumped" (with no porterage of the luggage, no intros, no information, etc.) at the desk. At least they do have the reservations for us.

Security note: Both Turkey and Egypt are much more security oriented than even in Russia and China. Metal detectors are everywhere: all hotels, the Nile river boat, most restaurants and some of the highway rest/shop/eateries, museums, most of the temple / antiquities sites, and of course, airports. At least we didn't have to go through one to go to the "WC" - though we did have to pay (tips) the attendants almost everywhere, particularly if we needed toilet paper. Most times even though we are required to pass through the metal detectors, the "alarm" is ignored - except at some of the special historical sites where the screening is much more intensive. At the airports, almost always we would have to go through at least three metal detectors/luggage x-ray checks: 1) to just get into the airport, full check; 2) after getting boarding passes, another full check (usual just this one in the US); 3) check again at the gate before getting into the secondary waiting room before boarding the plane. A couple of times we were screened leaving the arrival area after flights. At the airports, passports were required at each of the three check points. Security police are everywhere. In Egypt, they are the "Tourism and Antiquities Police" (more military than police in appearance carrying not just heavy side-arms, but full automatic weapons). When we were in Cairo, we had an armed police officer with us at all times. At the historical sites, they were "everywhere". I can remember only 2 sites in Turkey where there was no security - and there was nothing there to take unless we broke off part of the building.

Forecast is for a high of 46F and rain today. It's cool and very breezy, but clearing (temporarily). Check-in at the centrally located hotel and join fellow travelers for a welcome cocktail and dinner at the hotel but there's Nothing. We don't have any information, no Tour Director, or anything. Normally there's a tour group intro meeting, but while wandering around the lobby about 6, I see 4 other people looking lost and a couple of them are wearing General Disastours name tags - they came in yesterday and are looking for the (non-existent) orientation meeting. There are now 8 of us with no information. Dinner is supposed to be included - but again a hassle. We booked with General Disastours, but they have no record of that - dinner (and the whole tour) is booked by the Turkish tour company "SerTek". Eventually, that's partially cleared up and we're allowed into the dining room by the staff, few of whom know any English at all. Then when we try to claim our "welcome cocktail" as part of dinner, there's more dispute. I don't know exactly how that was eventually handled - the staff was on the phone to the local tour office contact when I gave up and went to bed. Since I didn't have to pay to get out of the hotel the next morning, I guess it got settled. This is definitely looking like a 'disastour" so I'm about ready to cancel out and go home - and delete the 3 General Disastours from my 2009 tentative schedule. If things don't get better, .... Etap Altinel Hotel (D )

Day 3, Wednesday, April 2 Ankara - Cappadocia
Wow - we now actually have a tour director. Matin Engiz just finished another tour in Istanbul yesterday and didn't get here until 1AM this morning. He even cleared us to have breakfast. His late arrival is now understandable, but why didn't SerTek at least have an English-speaking local representative present on the bus or at the hotel to give us the basic information? VERY, VERY, VERY, VERY bad!!!

(Note - despite having orange, etc. groves all over Turkey, we never have orange juice for breakfast. Remember "Tang", that powdered Kool-Aide-like stuff? That's what we get - the dispenser even says "TANG." Of course in Muslim countries, we also never see ham or bacon for breakfast. We get "Vienna Sausages" meat (?) from a recent road-kill (?) but the cigarette smoke in the restaurant disguises any smell.)

There are now 8 of us (only 3 of whom will be going on to the Egypt part of the tour - 4 others will join us there.) Forecast this morning in Ankara is for 37F, overcast or light rain. We do have an excellent Tour Director now and at least for a while, things go very well - if we don't mind the left-over winter weather - which turns out to be far preferable to the extreme early summer we get in Egypt.

Our city tour of Ankara shows us Attaturk's Mausoleum (modern 20th Century building), the Roman ruins (fair), a lively bazaar (endless tourist trap - locals don't go there except to sell junk to fleece the tourists) and the Museum of Anatolian Civilization (excellent). Not much time spent here in Ankara. Next, we're off to the moon-like landscapes of Cappadocia, known for its unusual rock formations called "fairy chimneys" and ancient underground cities carved out of the soft volcanic rock. En-route we visit the Agzikarahan Caravanserai - a wonderfully preserved (partially renovated) 13th century Caravanserai (camel hotel), a rest stop for caravans traveling along the famous Silk Road. It's one of the two Turkish sites with no metal detectors. Dedeman Cappadocia Hotel for 2 nights (General Disastours is wrong again - we get the Peri Towers Hotel aka Hotel Awful. Nice from the outside, but … small rooms, troughs masquerading as beds, and the hotel staff thinks we all love extreme heat - they have the thermostat set on max (107F in the room). I cut it off, but it only gets down to 85 by the next morning. Then when we get back from the tour (tomorrow), it's on max again and 99F in the room. DON'T EVER SEND ANYONE TO THIS HOTEL! - (B,D)

Day 4, Thursday, April 3 Explore Cappadocia
Today, a full day of sightseeing including Goreme and it's open air museum (nice), the underground city of Kahmakli (wow! All carved out by hand - hard to imagine actually living like this in such a place - up to 8 stories down and some of the passages are so small that we almost have to crawl - and we do only the top 4 stories of the complex) and Pigeon's Valley (not like Piazza Pigeonne in Venice). The stone spires and formations are incredible - some of the most memorable scenery of the trip. For centuries, inhabitants have carved the soft volcanic rock to create underground dwellings, and early Christians carved elaborate churches out of the porous rock. Visit with the locals and enjoy a home-hosted tea party (apple tea). One of our tour members ordered lemon tea at lunch thinking it was hot tea with lemon - hot unsweetened lemonade - bright yellow color. Rug factory stop for shopping - I buy a small one and have it shipped home - too much to carry. Hotel Awful - (B,D )

The new Turkish money is the YTL - new Lira. They recently dropped 6 zeroes from their currency: 1,000,000 old Lira = 1 new YTL = USD$0.18 so 1 old Lira would have been about $.00000018. I tried to get one of the old bills, but couldn't find any.

Gasoline ranges from YTL2.85 (regular) - YTL3.48 (premium) per litre. That's 10.83 - 13.22 per gallon or up to $10.66 per gallon. No wonder we're crammed into a small van (I don't blame them - we don't need a 50 passenger bus for 10 people counting driver and tour guide!)

Day 5, Friday, April 4 Cappadocia - Konya - Antalya
Raining as we start. Drive over very bumpy roads from Cappadocia to Konya, a traditional caravan stop and home of the Whirling Dervishes. They have a great museum, but we didn't see the Dervishes. This religious sect is known for its ritual dance and haunting music. Here visit the Mevlana Museum, former monastery of the Dervishes, and the Karatay Medrese, a seminary constructed in 1251 (closed so we get a substitute - the 2nd place with no metal detectors). Then continue on to Antalya on the Mediterranean coast where it should be about 10-15 degrees warmer - occasionally. Hazy and frequent rain showers all day - can't see much that's very far from the road. Nice hotel with a partial view of the sea. Dedeman Hotel, Antalya for 2 nights - (B,D)

Day 6, Saturday, April 5 Antalya
Enjoy a full day in Antalya and pay a visit to the vast and impressive ruins at nearby Perge, including its stadium, one of the biggest and best-preserved from Roman times. It's huge! Reaching Aspendos, built in the 2nd century and considered the best-preserved Roman theater. The acoustics of the structure are still near-perfect, and even today concerts and plays are staged in this ancient 15,000 seat theater without microphones or amplifiers. Later return to Antalya to visit the Archeological Museum; the afternoon is free. We also have an unscheduled stop at the harbor for "tea" - courtesy of Matim's mother who lives here. Dedeman Hotel, Antalya - (B,D)

Day 7, Sunday, April 6 Antalya - Pamukkale - Kusadasi
Visit Pamukkale to see the remarkable Cotton Castle, a huge, white limestone formation of "frozen waterfalls" shaped over thousands of years by hot springs cascading down a mountainside. This part goes ok since we are down at "ground level" but we can see bad weather coming in. Visit the ruins at Hierapolis, a city founded in 190 BC that grew to become an important Roman thermal bath resort during the 2nd century. It's at the "top of the mountain" and by the time we get there, the storm front is here - during the walking tour my gauge clocked gusts at 63mph. Too dangerous to get near the edge of the cliff/overlook since the wind direction is toward the edge - could easily get blown off. As we walk away from that, the rain starts, so rather than walk 30 minutes in rain, we take a local shuttle (due in 5 minutes, but actually about 30). By the time it gets here, the rain is so heavy that we can't see anything as we drive through the historical area. Soaked even in the 20 yard dash from the shuttle to our van. This afternoon is literally a total wash-out. Hotel Korumar, Kusadasi - (B,D)

Day 8, Monday, April 7 Kusadasi - Excursion to Ephesus
A drive through the countryside brings us to the rebuilt ruins of Ephesus, one of the most important cities in antiquity. Here walk the wide marble avenues lined with once-great buildings and walk through the site of St. John's Basilica, where the Apostle is buried. Marvel at the imposing façade of the Library of Celsus, constructed in the 2nd century AD but it's not original - "recently" reconstructed, and see the Roman Amphitheater and the Temple of Hadrian. The last stop is the house where the Virgin Mary is said to have spent the last days of her life (if you believe that, I have a bridge for sale! After all, she would have been in her 50s at the supposed time, and it would have taken 15-18 months to walk from Jerusalem to Kusadasi area. Considering health standards and life expectancy, it doesn't make sense.). Hotel Korumar, Kusadasi - (B,D)

Day 9, Tuesday, April 8 Kusadasi - Pergamum - Troy - Canakkale
This morning, travel to the impressive ruins of Pergamum from the days of Alexander, the Great - including the imposing (???_ Acropolis and the graceful Temple of Athena (only one column left standing - so what's so graceful). In order to save time tomorrow, we also cram in a stop at the remains of Troy. We get there just before they close the entry gates. Tour the ruins of the ancient city of Troy - famous for the legend of the Trojan Horse. There's a truly fake "replica" if the horse - plastic, with windows and a "house" built on it's back. The city of Troy figures in the tales of many of Western culture's most memorable heroes - Helen of Troy, Agamemnon, Ulysses and Achilles. On our visit, see the remains of this ancient city. It turns out to be my favorite stop in Turkey, maybe because I know a bit more about it than elsewhere. At least we had a day of good weather. Tusan Hotel Canakkale - (B,D) Nice little somewhat rustic hotel on the shore - lots of semi-wild rabbits and birds everywhere. One of my favorite hotels.

Day 10, Wednesday, April 9 Canakkale - Istanbul
After departing Canakkale, cross the Dardanelles by ferry en route to Istanbul. Since we cross from Canakkale, there's still a 4-hour drive up the European side of the Sea to Istanbul. Heavy traffic, and Osman gets a ticket for speeding (2 kph over the limit). Heavy thick haze so we can't see much. Basically a drive from point A in Asia to point B in Europe type day. Boring! No other meals except breakfast included. Hotel President, Istanbul - (B)

Day 11, Thursday, April 10 Istanbul
Renowned throughout the ages - first as Byzantium, then as Constantinople, and today as Istanbul, it's a marvelous city of stunning beauty and contrasts, and the only city in the world to sit astride two continents - Asia and Europe. Today's sightseeing tour includes the Roman Hippodrome (should say - where it once was - nothing to see now), the 17th century Blue Mosque and St. Sophia (both major stops, fantastic). In the afternoon, visit the Topkapi Palace's magnificent displays of porcelain, weapons and jewels (but better known for the movie "Topkapi" a few years ago - we do see the jeweled dagger), after which we are off to the Grand Bazaar (ultra tourist trap - as before, avoided by locals). Enjoy lunch (fair) at Konyali Restaurant on the Palace grounds before exploring the thousands of tiny shops in the colorful Grand Bazaar. Hotel President, Istanbul - (B,L)

Day 12, Friday, April 11Istanbul
Today is (a wasted day) free to explore Istanbul on our own - they want us to spend lots of money shopping. I spend most of the day wandering around the Bazaar (didn't bring any money along to be safe) and also check out the old Roman Cistern (huge and very interesting). Still, mostly a boring day. Enjoy a poor (as usual) farewell dinner (for this part of the trip - since 5 of the 8 are going elsewhere next) at a local restaurant. Hotel President, Istanbul - (B,D)


Day 13, Saturday, April 12 Istanbul - Cairo, Egypt
Our morning is at leisure. We do get our McCamel burgers (actually BurgerSultan) at the airport. It's 18.50YTL for burger, fries, drink. That's about USD$15. Rip-off.

EgyptAir MS 738Istanbul - Cairo3:10 PM - 4:25 PM2:15

This afternoon, bid farewell to ancient Turkey and transfer to the airport for a short flight to Cairo. Nice meal on the plane (could have saved that $15) and good leg room. Egypt Air makes Latehansa look like a third-world airline. Very long wait for luggage - must be a security procedure delay screening before we even see the luggage, then again as we leave the airport.

Long term forecast for Cairo is for temperatures about the same as Houston - but turns out worse. On arrival, a guide will be in the customs area to assist with the Egyptian Visa (no problems - as before, hand them money and they put the visa in the passport - no paperwork) and claiming our luggage. Outside of customs, we meet the local representative. He even has a large 1.5L bottle of water for each of us (new bottle each day, and 2 per day = 3L or just under a gallon, on the boat) so things are looking up. (Too bad it almost gets ruined at the end of the tour). It turns out that we do have optional excursions available (harbor/dinner cruise and light shows) but since General Disastours didn't tell us, we didn't budget for any so no takers.

We arrive in this "exotic" city and transfer to our hotel near the Pyramids (not visible). Breakfasts are the only included meals for three days - but they have orange juice!!!!. Go hungry? General Tours is too cheap to provide us anything but breakfasts in Cairo, in fact anywhere in Egypt except on the river cruise. McCamel Burgers, anyone? VISAS: Egypt: $15 on arrival (General Tours said $25 - wrong. They are also wrong when they told us that there is a 40 pound weight limit on the Egyptian internal flights counting both checked and carry-on luggage - plan ahead to check as much as we can in Cairo. There's no such limit but they do have an excess baggage charge). Nile Hilton Hotel - (B)

PART TWO: River of the Pharaohs
(aka Egypt, land of the Flies - they are everywhere - hotel rooms, restaurants, on the airplanes, and of course, swarming all round us all the time)

Day 14, Sunday, April 13 Cairo
We luck out - excellent tour director - Ahmed. Begin the day with orange juice, than a visit to the Egyptian Antiquities Museum (very good), an excellent insight into the world of the Pharaohs, which we explore in more detail on our Nile cruise. Included in our guided museum tour are the golden treasures of Tutankhamen (wow!). After lunch, drive to the Citadel (fair) to enjoy a commanding view of the city and visit the impressive Mohammed Ali Mosque (more wow!), then tour Old Cairo (??) and see one of the Coptic Churches and the Synagogue of Bes Ezra (for tourists - only 36 people of the Jewish faith in Cairo). There's still time this afternoon to visit the colorful Khan el Khalil bazaar and search for "bargains" (no thanks) and McCamel burgers (or just skip a meal). Temperatures in the high 90s today - early summer heat wave - more like it would be in July. Nile Hilton Hotel - very nice but there are three permanently moored "night club" boats moored across the river - very noisy until early morning hours. (B)

Day 15, Monday, April 14 Cairo
This morning after sharing breakfast with the flies, travel to the edge of the western desert and visit Memphis, the site of Egypt's ancient capital. Here is the limestone colossus of Ramses II and the Alabaster Sphinx. Continuing to Sakkara, see Egypt's oldest standing stone structure, the Step Pyramid of King Zoser. Later, travel to the plains of Giza to see the Great Pyramids - marvels of human spirit and engineering. Somehow or other, they are a bit "disappointing" for me - I guess I had expected more. Five hundred feet southeast of the Great Pyramid is the famous Sphinx, a colossal carved figure of a recumbent lion with the head of a man. Also included in our visit is entrance to see the intriguing Solar Boat. The evening is free/boring so we can find more McCamel burgers or just try to recover from the extreme heat (and swat at flies). Nile Hilton Hotel (B)

TRIP SCHEDULE - General DisasTours don't really seem to know what's going on. The web site says one thing; documentation received has a different schedule (and the enclosed tickets have yet another one); none of which are what actually happened.

Day 16, Tuesday, April 15 Cairo - Luxor
Up very early - to beat the heat and the tourist crush. No sit-down breakfast, but we do get a very nice "box breakfast" to go.

EgyptAir MS 131Cairo - Luxor5:30 - 6:30 AM1:00

We get to Luxor early and of course our cabins on the boat aren't ready, but we can drop off our luggage, and go touring. It's actually a good idea to do the tours as early as possible to avoid the heat (which reaches 110 later today). Visit Luxor, a city built on the site of ancient Thebes, with its famous Valleys of the Kings and Queens. Sixty-four of Egypt's rulers were buried in ornate tombs here.

Our excursion is not far - the city has grown right up to the historic area - city / temple / desert -- to the Temple of Karnak with its beautiful Temple of Amun-Re and Hypostyle Hall, the largest hall of any temple in the world. Next continue to the excellently- preserved Temple of Luxor, an ancient wonder that was discovered under a hill of rubble. Karnak is huge, but I like the Temple of Luxor better. We can actually get a bit of a feel for the place due to its smaller size. Nile River Cruise Ship M/S Radamis II (B,L,D)

Nice boat (owned by Movenpick of Switzerland - hotels and ice cream - even an "ice cream corner" on the boat, but nobody is ever there to sell any). Cabin, complete with flies, is very nice on deck three with nice view window but the window might as well not be there: 1) we're not there in the morning; 2) too hot to open the drapes in the afternoon/evening - the a/c couldn't possibly 'keep up'; 3) wouldn't want to open at night since we're often sandwiched between other river boats at the docking area - another boat window 5 feet away. Very boring afternoon and evening.

Day 17, Wednesday, April 16 Luxor - cruise - Esna Locks - Edfu
Off to the Valley of the Kings (and flies) and Valley of the Queens. We tour the Colossi of Memnon - huge twin statues, each 63 feet high and hewn from a single piece of rock. Next is the Valley of the Queens (my favorite of today's tours), then the Deir El Bahari funerary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (looks very modern, but original, not a re-construction). The tour continues to the Valley of the Kings (go into the tombs of Ramses III and Ramses IV). We return to the ship for lunch. The afternoon and evening are free (ho, hum - too hot to go up on the upper deck). Continue our Nile journey via Esna and cruise toward Edfu for the night. I do go up for a bit to watch us go through the locks, but due to a 2-hour wait until we are allowed, don't stay long. Then when we do get permission, the lock-master spends almost another hour trying to squeeze a 3rd river boat into the lock with us - but finally has to give up and tell it to back out. Much wasted time. Egyptian Buffet dinner tonight - fair. Dress-up party tonight, but it's scheduled for late, so I skip it. Mostly another boring afternoon and evening. Not much to do except swat at flies. Nile River Cruise Ship - (B,L,D)

Day 18, Thursday, April 17 Edfu - Komo Ombo - Aswan
At Edfu, travelling via horse and buggy ride (escorted by a bunch of flies) to get there, visit the Temple of Horus - the best preserved Greco-Roman style temple. As a Sun-God, Horus' temple had a daily importance to the ancient Egyptians; this is reflected in the attention to detail in the design and construction found here. After lunch on the ship, sail onward to Kom Ombo where we stop and visit a unique temple from the Ptolemic period. Symmetry has always been a key element of Egyptian architecture; here the temple is divided between two separate gods - Sobek and Haruar - the local crocodile-god and the falcon-headed sky-god respectively. Egyptian Belly Dancer tonight - all two of her - she needs about 6 months (at least) of Nutrisystem dieting. One of the other passengers (young lady) does a much better dance. Wasted evening, mostly. Nile River Cruise Ship - (B,L,D)

Day 19, Friday, April 18 Aswan
This morning, see an achievement that belongs to modern Egypt - the remarkable High Dam at Aswan. We wanted to get off early to beat the heat, but the local driver showed up almost an hour late. We also see the Philae Temple (small boat ride back and forth to the temple) and the unfinished Obelisk near the dam. This temple (Philae) was, for a while, completely submerged when the new Aswan dam was built. The island it was sitting on was too low. The engineers built a double coffer-dam, drained the inside, cut the temple into 38,000 blocks, stored them to dry, found a new island, prepared it, then rebuilt the temple - one of my 'favorite' temple stops. Stop at a "cotton shop" on the way back for shopping - I get two nice t-shirts.

This afternoon we enjoy a sail on the Nile by Felucca (nice breeze keeping the flies away) around various islands in the harbor - ho hum. One note - small boys in very small hand-made "boat" (hardly more than an 'inner-tube' in size, paddle out to catch the side of our boat and "serenade" us with various songs trying for money hand-outs. During the boat ride, buy some Nubian souvenirs for gifts.

Day 20, Saturday, April 19 Aswan - Abu Simbel - Aswan - Cairo
Sardine flight and flies love sardines:

EgyptAir MS 245Aswan - Abu Simbel6:20 AM - 6:55 AM 0:35

After rushed early breakfast, (up at 4, bag out at 4:30) drive (very fast ignoring stop lights) to the airport for a flight to visit the ancient temples of Abu Simbel (Spelled Abu "Simple" in the General Disastours documentation we are given). Due to the early flight, we arrive about 7:30 - finished by 9:15. Here, ancient Egyptians carved four figures of King Ramses II 67 feet high out of solid rock. . When the backwaters of the Aswan Dam began to threaten the temples, the government of Egypt undertook a massive project to move the temples stone by stone to higher ground, 200 feet higher and 700 feet further "inland". After touring these remarkable temples, fly to back to Aswan and onwards to Cairo. Another of my favorite stops. Nice deal … but gads, 3 infernal flights in one day!!! With the Abu Simbel tour over at 9:15 - it's time to "count down" to eventually getting home. 9:15 AM (2:15 AM Saturday, Houston time) until 10AM Monday, Houston time = 48:45 hours to get home!)

Another sardine flight and more flies, of course. These flights are simply to "shuttle the cattle" (and flies) back and forth between Aswan and Abu Simbel - big money makers for EgyptAir so pack them in a many as possible. I wonder if they charge all the flies for the flights?

EgyptAir MS 248Abu Simbel - Aswan10:30 AM - 11:100:403:20

Long wait at the airport - very poor (bad, in fact), overpriced slice of pizza for lunch - $10 for slice and soft drink. Later fly back to Cairo to hunt for more McCamel burgers - but we get stuck at the airport hotel so no luck.

EgyptAir MS 250Aswan - Cairo 2:30 PM - 3:45 PM1:155:15

During the flight, we can look out and see the Nile with a narrow strip of green on each side, then nothing but desert. Approximately 99% of Egypt's population live on 4.5% of the nation's land.

Upon arrival we transfer to our hotel, located conveniently (for General Tours, but not for us) near the airport so we can make a quick escape the next morning. Our evening is free to hunt for more McCamel Burgers but being an airport hotel, there's absolutely nothing nearby to see or do. Our rooms are on the first floor right by the pool - and it's Saturday night with lots of kids on one end and a wedding on the other so LOTS of noise until about 3AM, and we have to get up at 4.

Earlier I had mentioned a "bad" ending to the trip: when we had arrived in Cairo, the GT representative had taken our flight vouchers - understandable since they were wrong. Now it seems that Ahmed had returned the flight vouchers (E-Ticket type) to one of the very elderly couples on the tour - saying that they were not important - just souvenirs … so the couple, being inexperienced in travel, took him at his word and threw them (all of ours, not just theirs) in the trash. Bad deal. When we get to the airport in Cairo to fly home, … remember all those security checks … each time, since we don't have the "tickets", they have to pull out printed passenger lists and verify out names and identity. This adds up to over an hour in the check-in time and plenty of hassle from the security people - just another General Disastours foul-up. This, combined with the real mess on arrival in Ankara, has left quite a poor/negative feeling towards General Tours. Of course, other than that, the Egypt part of the tour has been very well done, so it's quite a mixed feeling. Le Passage Heliopolis - (B)


Day 21, Sunday, April 20 Cairo - fly out
Our program finishes after breakfast which we are lucky to get since the hotel is set up for passengers flying out - breakfast is available at 4AM. Transfer to the airport for our flight home. Split reservations again - General Tours reservations to JFK Airport, then credit card points reservations from Kennedy to Houston. (B)

EgyptAir MS 985Cairo - JFK9:15 AM - 3:15 PM12:0014:15

Ouch! A 12-hour flight. At least it's a new Boeing 777 and EgyptAir gives us plenty of nice leg room, unlike Latehansa. But that's still almost as bad as trans-Pacific. Unfortunately, Continental cancelled the flights I was going to use to get home from JFK airport - the only other one leaving after I arrive gives only 50 minutes to get through Customs, re-check-in etc. So I'm STUCK with 14 hours sitting around the JFK airport until an early morning flight. At least there's no problem about getting to the next flight - but can I check my luggage "today" or do I have to haul it around overnight? (Answer: no, check the big bag for $8 - well worth it). I checked hotel costs for one night - best available was $169 plus taxes so probably about $195. Since I would have to get up by about 3AM, no thanks. JFK Airport for 1 night miserable night.

Day 22, Monday, April 21 FINALLY home
Growl, grumble. (Not) sleeping on airport benches for 14 hours is NO fun.

Continental CO 1027JFK - Houston 5:30 AM - 8:15 AM3:4530:00

Home, eventually, about 10AM. I'm tired: no wonder - I've been up since 4AM Sunday (9PM Saturday, Houston time) so it's been 37 hours just for this part of the trip.


Comments: I liked Turkey more than Egypt. The places were different and we got to see more. Maybe also it was the heat and flies in Egypt. As for General Tours, the first part of the trip (Turkey) wasn't really a GT trip. My impression of them from the 2nd part (Egypt) is much better. I'm still not sure about next year, however.

Would I travel with General Tours again? Probably, as long as it's actually a GT trip and not something like the Turkish TekSer group.


HOTELS:
Day 2: Ankara, Turkey -- Etap Altinel Hotel. Situated next to the Ataturk's Mausoleum, the Etap Altinel Hotel is a perfect niche of tranquility after a day exploring the many sights of the city. All 172 guest rooms are equipped with air-conditioning, cable TV. Additionally, guests can access the café, wireless internet, and medical center.

Day 3-4: Cappadocia -- Dedeman Cappadocia Hotel . The Dedeman Cappadocia Hotel is conveniently General Tours info is wrong again. We get the Peri Tower hotel….worst on the trip.

Day 5-6: Antalya -- Dedeman Hotel, Antalya. Situated in the middle of the Anatolian plateau, the Dedeman Hotel is minutes from sightseeing and cultural experiences. Guests can relax in rooms equipped with telephone, mini-bar, internet, TV, and air-conditioning.

Day 7-8: Kusadasi -- Hotel Korumar, Kusadasi. Hotel Korumar Kusadasi with its own private beach offers a unique view on Kusadasi commands the most beautiful sea view and presents a combination of style, high-quality accommodations and a wide range of modern facilities. With 250 rooms available, the hotel offers swimming pool, beach, two main restaurants and one a la carte restaurant, wide screen TV-Room, etc.

Day 9: Canakkale -- Tusan Hotel Canakkale. This family run hotel with private beach is situated within a pine forest, looking across the Dardanelles. The Hotel Tusan is a short drive from Çanakkale on the highway to Izmir and near the ruins of the ancient civilization the Helen of Troy. The hotel features an indoor/outdoor restaurant, English pub, Air Conditioning, television, and telephone. Rooms have either a sea view or forest view.

Day 10-12: Istanbul -- Hotel President, Istanbul. Best Western The President Hotel Istanbul Beyazit overlooking the Marmara Sea, offers marvelous views of the city's skyline with its minarets and steeples. The Grand Bazaar and historical sights such as the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, St. Sophia, Topkapi Palace and the Underground Cistern are within walking distance. The hotel has 204 modern rooms, outstanding restaurants and bars, and each room contains air conditioning, satellite TV, etc.

Day 13-15: Cairo, Egypt -- Nile Hilton Hotel. Watch the lights come up over Cairo as we dine at the riverfront Nile Hilton hotel's Rotisserie Belvedere. Forty minutes from the airport and close to the Pyramids, the hotel offers a gym, pool and tennis. Hilton Guest Rooms at the Nile Hilton hotel have city or river views. The property is close to nearby attractions including the Sphinx and Pyramids at Giza and offers 11 dining choices, from French fare at Rotisserie Belvedere to specialty cocktails or snacks at Latex bar.

Day 16-19: On the Nile -- Nile River Cruise Ship. The MS Radamis II features a dining room, lounge and three bars. The open air section of the fourth deck is partly covered with an awning. The open sundeck includes a small pool, from where we can enjoy sunbathing while watching the panoramic view of the Nile Valley. The ship has a water purification system.

Day 20: Cairo -- Le Passage Heliopolis . Located in Heliopolis, the most elegant business and residential district of Cairo, Le Passage heliopolis offers an idyllic location for business or leisure. Surrounded by lush landscaped gardens, the hotel boasts 7 restaurants and bars, childrens playground, tennis courts and swimming pools.

Day 21: New York -- JFK airport. 14 hours of misery. . I checked hotel costs for one night - best available was $169 plus taxes so probably about $185-190 - about $20 per hour. No thanks.
AIRLINES:
1Continental CO 818Houston - NY/JFK7:50 AM - 12:35PM3:455:15
2LateHansa LH 411JFK - Munich5:50 PM - 8:00 AM9:103:00
3LateHansa LH3360Munich - Ankara11:00 AM - 2:50 PM2:5024:00
4EgyptAir MS 738Istanbul - Cairo3:10 PM - 4:25 PM2:15--
5EgyptAir MS 131Cairo - Luxor5:30 AM - 6:30 AM1:00--
6EgyptAir MS 245Aswan - Abu Simbel6:20 AM - 6:550:35--
7EgyptAir MS 248Abu Simbel - Aswan10:30 AM - 11:10 0:403:20
8EgyptAir MS 250Aswan - Cairo2:30 PM - 3:45 PM1:155:15
9Egypt Air MS 985Cairo - JFK9:15 AM - 3:15 PM12:0014:15
10Continental CO 1027JFK - Houston5:30 AM - 8:15 AM3:4530:00