Where: Egypt - Cairo, Giza, Sinai
Who: Mr & Mrs Wanderlust
When: October 2017
What: Holy Land Expedition Blog Series (Part 1)
Welcome, and thanks again for visiting our site. This is the first of the 3-part travel blog series of our Holy Land Expedition of 2017 which includes the countries Egypt, Israel & Jordan.
And of course, we would like to mention that this special pilgrimage trip to the Holy Land was all arranged and organized by a tour agency. Everything from visas, to flights, accommodations, full board meals, guides, transport services and even tips to porters where arranged by Ephesus Travel & Tours. Special Thanks to Ms. Rose Galang & all the Ephesus staff for a wonderful & unforgettable trip.
Important Note: For Philippine passport holders, it is important that a visa for Egypt is secured to be allowed for a flight, so please contact the country's embassy / consulate office or have your tour agency assist you with the necessary documents. As for NON Philippine passport holders, please check with your country's local Egyptian embassy for the requirements/documents needed to secure a visa.
Flights to Egypt are available through middle eastern carriers like Etihad & Emirates which stops over first at Abu Dhabi & Dubai respectively.. It is more or less 6 hour flight from Manila to Dubai/AbuDhabi then a couple of hours ranging from 2 hours to 8 hours sometimes more for the waiting time while on a layover, then another 2 hour connecting flight to Cairo, Egypt.
Visa Notes: Like with any countries that require visas for Philippine passports, they would need the usual like bank statements, photos, ITR, tickets, visa fees etc. and all the usual requirements to make sure you don't overstay and work illegally. To avoid all the hassle, you may book for a tour via accredited tour operators. (more on that later.)
We had to stay at 2 different places for different our tour of Egypt, from Cairo, then Sinai.
Mr & Mrs Wanderlust's Review
Steigenberger Hotel, Cairo
+ Modern, clean, and comfortable rooms
+ Shopping, restaurant, and bars nearby (though we got no time with our busy schedules)
+ All the hotel staff were professional yet still friendly, from reception to housekeeping all good.
+ WiFi included
+ Breakfast buffet was nice, had cold cuts, omelette, breads and cheese selection, fruits etc. 5/5
- The toilet is clean but water tends to leak from the shower on to the whole bathroom floor
- Nice view of city, however sometimes noise from traffic can be heard from rooms.
Price: $$ 5-6,000PHP per night
Service: 5 star - Service & staff were very helpful, friendly and nice.
Facilities & Amenities: 4.5 star - nice rooms and has souvenir shop at lobby.
Restaurant (foods): 5 star -Loved their breakfast buffet, had everything we were looking for.
Bar: 4 - There is a bar/coffee shop on the lobby however it is open smoking area too.
Overall: 4.63 /5
St. Catherine Monastery
+ Guest house of the monastery, the rooms are truly simple
+ Basics, hot water, toilet, bed, lights, table, cabinet, fan/heater
+ Weather was cold & bed seems to be nice but we barely used it as we started to climb by midnight
+ Has food in cafeteria served with giant serving
+ Very quiet and cool place perfect for a spiritual retreat
+ Closest to the mountain compared to other places, so this is the best option if climbing.
- No TV or WiFi (but hubby actually liked it)
- Greek orthodox is the main language and only a few understand English.
- Bus loads of tourists come to tour around during the day
Price: $$ 2-3,000PHP per night
Service: 4.8 star - Service & staff were very helpful, friendly and nice, though hard to speak english
Facilities & Amenities: 5 star - Basic rooms, but complete with basics as a monastic life.
Restaurant (foods): 4.5 star -Love the foods but limited choices
Bar: 4 - There are no bars, but I think they serve beer/wine
Overall: 4.57 /5
**Special Note: The monastery offers bare basics, it does promise a monastic life. So if you are on a Christian Pilgrimage, this would be a brilliant place to get away from the plastic and mechanical modern world. A wonderful experience. Spiritually nourishing. However if you are so used to and cannot disconnect to the modern world, this might be a challenge for you.
1. Visit Egyptian Museum
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, or commonly known as Egyptian museum houses the most extensive collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities, treasures. No visit to Egypt would be complete without walking and seeing its galleries. Its collections ranges from stone age to Roman era, but the majority of its collection is mostly Pharaonic era. It also has a special hall/room that houses the preserved real mummified royal bodies from its different rulers.
Note: Photography - cameras & phone should be registered for an extra payment. We suggest to register at least one camera. Although some halls are totally restricted to have any picture taken despite the registration for camera rooms such as the treasures of Tutankhamun and the hall for the royal mummies.
Tip: It would be best to have a guide who also is an Official Egyptologist - meaning they graduated a course specialising on ancient Egypt and mostly everything about it. This means that you will be learning authentic and verified knowledge from a certified specialist, not just any guide who read a couple of books about Egypt. Our guide was Marwa, who was not only knowledgable but also a good story teller, but does not sound like a teacher. This was also provided for by our tour operator.
2. Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church then visit Cavern Church
The catholic population of Egypt is considerably small making up just less than 1% of its population. Meaning there are just a few catholic churches around. First church stop of our pilgrimage group was at St. Joseph Church in Cairo for a mass. Good thing that we had an "Abuna" (translates to 'our father') with us. Fr. Arlo Yap, SVD., was our pilgrimage chaplain and led our first mass in this church.
Coincidence or sign of blessing? As our chaplain, Fr. Arlo was doing mass, from the seats behind was a priest in charge of the church, who was later on introduced to us. He was a Capuchin priest named, Padre Pio. (and to give context to this, our 2nd born son was named Pio because we were praying/asking for a son at St. Pio chapel back in Manila) The priest, also happens to be a Capuchin priest. We just had to share that story because whether or not it was coincidence, this made us believe that this is a sign of blessing that we are on the right track for our pilgrimage mission.
A couple of minutes drive away from the city center Cairo where we had our first mass, our next stop was another church, but this time a religiously significant place.
Cavern Church also known as Abu Serga Church. Why significant you may ask...? Because, this was a place where the holy family of the catholic church, (Joseph, Mary and the, infant Jesus) rested at the end of their journey to Egypt. Now after thousands of years of being destroyed and built, it is now under ground level, located in a crypt below the church where it is still open for viewing to the public though flash photography is prohibited.
A few walks from the crypt's exit, you would also find the 'well from which the holy family drank water from' which is now preserved and kept sealed for display and viewing purposes only.
3. Dinner Cruise at the Nile River
If you heard about the Egyptian civilization in your history class or read about it in books (as if you read books! just kidding!) You have definitely heard about Nile river and its significance on the success of the ancient civilization. Since stone age it has been the lifeline of its people. Nile is regarded as the longest river in the world, spanning over 6,853 KM, and covers 11 countries, from Egypt, to other African countries (Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and a few more).
So when visiting Egypt, it is a must to at least see, and better yet, have a night cruise to see the nocturnal beauty of the modern city around it as well as feel the cool winds of the Nile hits you. You can also view the river on daytime, as most likely it is just a few blocks away from your hotel if you decide to stay in Tahrir area of Cairo, but considering the hot weather it is best to see it at night.
The cruise which is organized by the tour operator for our group has dinner buffet and entertainment included, like the traditional belly dancing, and tanoura or the spinning dance performance.
4. Gaze at the Pyramids of Giza
The first thing that comes to our minds when we mention Egypt. The most popular icon of the country, build by their ancestors a very long time ago. Located on the outskirts of Cairo is this archaeological site on the Giza plateau. These ancient monuments include three great pyramids, a massive sculpture also known as the Sphinx, and a couple smaller pyramids which serves as the tombs or cemeteries of the workers.
Getting there is easy via tour bus which brings you to the entrance, where the guide purchased our group's tickets (yes, there are tickets to view them and they cost around 80 Egyptian Pounds = US $10 as of 2017; there are also special tours inside the pyramids for another $12 or so, however according to our guide, it will not be worth it as the pyramids are just empty on the inside).
It is by far the oldest of the ancient Wonders and the only one still in existence. And to put things in perspective, the Pyramids of Giza were more ancient to the ancient Romans, than Rome is ancient to us.
Relevant information: 2560 BC: King Khufu completes the Great Pyramid of Giza. 126 A.D.: Hadrian completes the Pantheon in Rome. This means that The pyramids of Giza were 2686 years old to the Roman Pantheon, while the Roman Pantheon is only 1889 years old to us.
Tip: As expected, like any other tourist spots, place is littered with people selling souvenirs, offering rides and pose pictures on horses, camels etc. However you should always coordinate with your guide and let them talk directly for you first before talking to these peddlers, as sometimes tourist had their horror stories where they were promised $5 for a ride on the camel around the complex, bring you somewhere far away, then charge you another $50 going back.
5. Mt. Sinai
The next and final part of our pilgrimage tour in Egypt was going to the province of Sinai which was around 300km and took our bus a couple of hours 3-5 hours including an unexpected stop over for a mechanical problem, but since we are a group of high spirited people on a pilgrimage, it did not stop us from being happy and just danced zumba to the tone of lambada just like a scene from a flash mob movie. Even the locals were happy to see such feat that they even joined us, one was even a special kid, who would not leave with his parents and kept on dancing, so we pretended to stop dancing for a minute until he comes back with his parents.
That moment shows how the group was true to our objective on our pilgrimage which is to be thankful, happy and friendly, despite a few challenges or obstacles along the way, no one was out there complaining and everyone was in a good mood. Seeing that happen was was really nice and refreshing.
Going back on the road, we passed by Suez Canal, which was a man made canal that allows ships from Europe to pass by on a shorter route to Middle east, to south asia, onwards to east, without having to circle the whole African continent.
Upon arriving at St. Catherine Monastery, we were also being briefed about climbing Mt. Sinai, and to do exactly what Moses from the Bible's old testament to see the sunrise on the summit of the incredible and historically significant mountain where it is also where the 10 commandments was given to Moses.
Quoting our post from facebook:
It was midnight when we started our journey from St. Catherine Monastery going to the top of Mt. Sinai to see and walk where Moses did to follow God according to the Book of Exodus.
It was a long 7km walk on a dark night around giant granite rocks and trail guided by local Bedouin, and a good man, Jamal along with a few camels to help those who have hard time with the climb. Then another 2km steep climb about 700 steps, where camels cant go further.
Just in time for the sunrise, we reached the top for a glorious and fulfilling view of the lands below. Able to touch the same boulders where Moses got the tablets of the 10 commandments.
"When you offer your miseries to your loved ones it become sacrifices. But when you complain about the miseries it becomes a curse.
Grace is when god give us good things we dont deserve
Mercy is when god spares us from bad things we deserve
Blessing is when god is generous with both grace and mercy"
Assorted Photos from Egypt
Assorted pics above starting with the view of The Nile, Cairo city stops like the Papyrus factory & Oil perfume factory, then the Ras Sedr Springs with the view of Suez Canal on the horizon then bus stops to Sinai, then finally near Israel border passing by a nice panoramic view of Red Sea in a cove at Eliat near Taba border
(At the time of writing Oct. 2017):
$100 USD / 5,100 PHP = 1764 Egyptian Pounds
Daily Food Cost = 100 Egyptian Pounds ($6)
Bottled Water per Day = 4 Egyptian Pounds (less than $1)
Ticket Prices Museum - per head = 100 Egyptian Pounds ($6) + 50 (camera fee) ($3)
Giza Pyramid Complex Entrance = 80 Egyptian Pounds ($5)
Accommodation - Mid range per night = ~1500 Egyptian Pounds ($80 - $100)
Accommodation - High end per night = 1800 above++ Egyptian Pounds ($150 above)
Transport - Taxi - 20 Egyptian Pounds ($2)
Souvenir - ref magnet, keychain, shirt (the usuals) - 200 Egyptian Pounds ($10)
Souvenir - Papyrus - depends on size & detail quality, ranges from $20 to $500
Note: There are cheap papyrus in the market, but can be just also from cheap materials, and questionable quality. While the ones recommended for our group was from the Papyrus Institute which is authentic and sure about its quality, and pretty sure it will also last forever.
And finally, as we have experienced, and also as our guide asked us to spread the word; The news always have something bad to say about the countries in the middle east being terrorist hotspots and always scary. However, we would like to personally testify about the place being peaceful, including its people who were all nice. We tried walking alone out of the hotel for an evening stroll, and everything seems to be in order.
Tourism is where the large revenue of Egypt relies, and since the arab spring, and political revolution in Tahrir square in its capital city, a significant drop on its tourism has affected lives and income of the people relying on tourists. So we honestly want to tell the world, and our kababayans who would like to do a Pilgrimage to go ahead, don't be scared and book it. :) You will learn a lot, from history, to culture, and most of all spirituality that you will bring back home.
For more info about our tour operator: From the Chaplain for the pilgrimage who was really knowledgeable and acted as our shepherd, the well chosen tour guides (we even have 1 security/police personnel on the bus all the time with us to feel safe, though we didn't actually need as it was all smooth and peaceful). All the accommodation where we can clearly see that they did NOT scrimp or economize on our travel just to earn. (as compared to other pilgrimage program of other tour agency). Most of all, they are registered with the Department of Tourism (Philippines) and even part of Israel's Chamber of Commerce, so you know that your tour is by a legitimate agency.
They basically organized everything, so all you have to do is sit back, relax, pray, travel and enjoy.
Website: Ephesus Travel. - http://www.ephesustravelmanila.com/
Stay tuned for the next part of our Holy Land Expedition 2017 travel blog series!
Credits & Special Thanks
Music: Hanini - "Arabia"
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