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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Birthdays Only Come Once a Year

October 7 - 9
Day 131 - 133

We were on our way to Cairo…finally! I had been in Egypt for almost 2 weeks and I still hadn’t see the capital city.  We had the option of going on first class which included dinner and breakfast and a bed but it was way more than I was willing to spend. So instead, we opted for the first class seating which didn’t include a bed or meals. We had met some guys at the local restaurant who said that they were going to be on the same train as us. We tried to look for them but couldn’t find them. We were a bit wary about the people that were sharing the car with us but managed to fall asleep without exchanging any words.

I managed to have decent sleep even though our chairs could not recline. I woke up the following morning and started to befriend our carriage neighbors. To be honest, they were quite entertaining; fighting over each others chairs and trying to catch our attention.  We had some pretty strange conversations with them; not sure if it was that it got lost in translation or if they were really that tactless to ask us the things they did. We laughed it off but it was a bit uncomfortable but at the same time interesting insight into their culture. They bought us coffee and took photos with us.

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 We were supposed to go straight into Cairo but realized that since I had booked a night at the Le Meridien, Pyramids Hotel an Spa with my points, we would hit Giza before Cairo. So, after discussing with our new friends, decided to get off there. It was a good thing because it saved us about an hour of backtracking.

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We arrived in Cairo almost two hours later than we had expected.  Unfortunately Lee couldn’t find his map of Cairo so we were a bit lost. We went into the tourist office which wasn’t too helpful but the police officer escorted us outside and found us a taxi that would bring us to our hotel for 20EGP ($3.60).  We were on our way when our taxi driver tried to pull a fast one on us and I threatened to leave him and find another taxi. I’m a no-nonsense kinda gal when it comes to these things.  He reluctantly agreed and said he would take us to our hotel.

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About 10 minutes later, it was a bit of a ways, we arrived at Le Meridien. I was so excited as this was the FIRST time in my trip (4 months) that I would be staying in a clean and luxurious place!  We were given an upgrade - thank you elite member status at Starwood! - and even though it was 10:00AM (check-in time is 3:00PM), we were shown to our room. It was a beautiful room overlooking all three pyramids! What more could the birthday girl ask for?!

Lee asked me how I wanted to spend my day…my answer, NOTHING! I just want to lie on this beautiful Egyptian cotton (I’m assuming), whatever thread count sheets, and lie here and do nothing!  Lee smiled and agreed that it was ‘my day’ and he wanted me to do what I wanted. In hindsight I guess it was a little selfish that I killed his entire day but he is too nice of a guy to have made an objection. 

We hadn’t really eaten - just the snacks that we had bought for the train ride - so we decided to splurge and get room service!  Yay! We ordered a club sandwich and because Lee had never had curry before, I wanted him to try it. The sandwich was decent but the curry…no…I was embarrassed that his first introduction to Indian cuisine was all wrong! He said it was good but I know better!  After a long relaxing lunch, we chilled and as I requested, laid around the room, lounging and doing absolutely nothing. It was great! Most of Egypt had been go-go-go, trying to see all the amazing sites that the country is known for that we had very little down time. It was nice to just sit in an air-conditioned room and watch cable TV!

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At around 4:00PM, I didn’t want to make my birthday a complete waste so I asked Lee if we could go out to Cairo - the city center, since I hadn’t seen it yet.  He agreed and we got ready.  While we were getting ready, there was a knock on our door…when I went to open it, a guy from room service stood in front of me bearing a big chocolate dream cake! AHHHHH! A birthday cake for my birthday?? Wow! It was fantastic! What an awesome surprise! This reminded me of my birthday two years ago when I was in India celebrating my 30th, I checked into the ITC Maurya Luxury Collection Hotel in New Delhi…same story, arrived early (like 7AM) offered breakfast and was presented a beautiful flower bouquet at check-in! ITC Maurya has got to be one of the best hotels I ever stayed in….I used my points that time too but if I had to pay the $350 that room cost, I would have gladly paid! It was worth every penny! My new thing now is to travel on my birthday and check-in to a 5-star hotel! Especially if you are alone, you’ll at least get two gifts, the room which is a gift to yourself and something from the hotel!

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We finally stepped out about 5:00PM after taking a few bites of the cake…because the taxis are super expensive from the hotel, we ventured out and tried to figure out where we were going.  We had wanted to take the metro in and not have to pay the taxi…we ended up stumbling upon an Egyptian amusement park. It was really small, definitely for kids, and there was a cover. Lee asked if I wanted to go and decided to treat me to the carnival for my birthday! Awwww, how sweet. We rode a few rides including the Ferris wheel and bumper cars and it really made my day! You know how on your birthday you want to feel like you’re the princess? Okay, well at least I do….Lee allowed me feel like I was the princess! It was nice! I got to go to the amusement park and not have to pay! Thanks Lee for a great birthday!

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These school girls helped tie my hijab

But the night wasn't hadn't even started...we were only a block away from our hotel!  After we had our fun at the amusement park, we decided that we needed to get to Cairo! It was already close to 7:00PM and it was getting late.  We walked out of the park but had no idea which direction to go and where the metro was.  The guy who took our money at the entrance gates, made a call to someone and within 5 minutes another guy who spoke English turned up and crossed the street with us to help us get onto a minibus.  It was weird that he was so nice to us and didn’t ask for anything in return. He did give us his business card though and told us he had a computer with internet and a perfume shop.

We rode in the minibus for a while and finally got dropped alongside the highway…then we had to walk down the exit ramp and about 1km to the metro station.  After getting to the metro station, we rode another 8 stops or so into Cairo. It probably took us about an hour to get to Cairo but we only spent less than a $1 getting there! 

Lee took me out to the bridge for a nice view of the Nile and the city.  Then we walked over to his old neighborhood where he stayed when he was in Egypt the first time (Lee was in Egypt for a week or so before coming up to Jordan via Israel).  We then went walking down the streets and had some ice cream which was okay. Lee then took me to eat koshary which is a popular traditional dish made up of rice, lentils, chickpeas, macaroni, garlic, fried onions and tomato sauce. It may not look too appealing but it’s quite good and pretty filling.  We ordered take-out and walked over to a statue in the middle of the road and decided to eat there and enjoy it.
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We were getting pretty tired (we didn’t do anything all day)! So after dinner, we decided to make the long journey back to Giza; first by metro and then by minibus.  It was a good day.  When we got back to the hotel, my final treat was a glass of the local beer that Lee bought from downstairs (that probably cost him $10 for two beers!).   
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All in all, my birthday was more than I could have ever imagined. I had great company and was treated like a princess all day…I even had a nice cake! I feel silly that just months before I was worried and stressed out about having to spend it alone.  In the end, I got to spend it with a random guy I met in Jordan only weeks before; but who ended up becoming a close friend in just a matter of weeks, touring around Egypt together when I thought we would only go into the country together and travel for a few days.  My birthday was another reminder that everything will work out and work out the way it’s supposed to.  Definitely nothing I could have ever dreamt about.  Too bad birthdays only come once a year…

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