RUPA Pass Travel Report Setpember 2020
Captain Pat Palazzolo
Employee Travel Center (ETC) – +1 (877) 825-3729
firstname.lastname@example.org or Help Hub on Flying Together
Exploring the land of the pharaohs
Hello fellow aviators,
If you’re eager to explore and witness thousands of years of history and you can handle traveling in a very third world country, then Egypt may be an option for you. Egypt is generally not a pretty place. The infrastructure and amenities that you may be used to are far different. A dirt poor standard of living is apparent almost everywhere. Those you come into contact with as a tourist depend more on your tips than what they are paid in order to survive. OK, enough of the sugar-coating.
Overview: Tourists tend to go to one of two places in Egypt, the Nile River Valley with its historic sites or eastern Egypt with its Red Sea resorts. If you want to do the resort thing, it’s much easier just to go to Hawaii. But if you’re interested in seeing history as it was thousands of years ago, then the Nile River Valley may be what you’re looking for
The Nile River flows northward from sub-Sahara Africa and empties into the Mediterranean. Along its route it irrigates miles of arable farm land that has fed Egyptians for thousands of years. Outside of the Nile River Valley is desert.
Four main population centers are found along the Nile. From the north, Alexandria which lies at the Nile delta along the Mediterranean. Next further south, Cairo, which will likely be your point of entry. Cairo is 30 minutes by car to the pyramids of Giza.
Further south is Luxor, the cultural center of ancient Egypt, located next to the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens where the tombs of the ancient royalty are located. Luxor also contains more monuments than any other city in the world.
Further south is Aswan, Egypt, home of the dark skinned Nubian people (who also live further south into Sudan) who are descendants of several Nubian royalty.
Located just south of Aswan is the town of Abu Simbel, the site of Ramses II Temple.
The nuts and bolts of visiting Egypt: A visa is required to enter Egypt and for passport holders of the US and other countries they can be purchased at the airport.
We receive Medium ZED fares on Egypt Air. Egypt Air flies to Cairo from JFK as well as many European cities in including Frankfurt, Munich, London and Paris. Since I live on the west coast I found connections in Frankfurt the best option for me. Lufthansa also flies to Cairo from FRA and MUC.
Within Egypt you can either use a ZED ticket on Egypt Air between cities, or pay full fare on a couple of low-cost carriers. When traveling in Egypt my best advice is: be patient! It’s not what you’re used to so please don’t expect it to be.
Unlike in the US, tickets purchased in Egypt are refundable with a small surcharge like $12. But things always change, so if you go that route, check the booking site you’re using to make sure!
Because travel in Egypt may be more unpredictable than other countries, you may want to take advantage of the hotel deals offered through the Accor Hotels on Flying Together. Most of the Accor Hotels (such as Novotel and Mercure) will give you same day cancellation, usually as late as 6PM.
What to see: The only reason to visit Cairo is to go to the nearby pyramids, and Sphinx, and to visit the amazing Eqyptian Museum. An entire floor contains the gilded contents of King Tut’s Tomb.
I would recommend that women not walk alone in Cairo, and I would urge everyone to exercise situational awareness around them at all times that they would normally expect to do in any third world country. If tourists encounter crime, it is most likely to be crimes of property.
When I arrived in Cairo I learned that the Uber pick up spot is in the airport parking lot at a certain location. As I waited two cars drove up separately and told me they were my Uber driver. Neither of them had the license plate number that showed on the app. The second one to try this told me there was a change of plans and he was supposed to pick me up. I asked him what my name is (it’s on the app). He looked at his phone and then said, “John.” “Nice try.” I told him.
If you’re going to visit the pyramids and sphinx, go to Trip Advisor and sign up for a half day tour. Most tours include about a 20 minute ride on a camel, a photo of which you may want to include in your next holiday letter.
My car arrived at the hotel promptly at 9:00AM with a young female guide and her friend who did the driving. She knew where to go and what to share with me about the history of what we were seeing. There are small entrance fees to visit these monuments. Except for the Great Pyramid. That one will set you back $40 to enter. And if you do you’ll follow a byzantine path of tunnels, stairs and even ladders. You’ll eventually crouch through a narrow tunnel and when you’re finally able to stand up you’ll realize you’re standing in the burial chamber of King Cheops and you’ll be staring at his sarcophagus across the dimly lit room. His body was stolen thousands of years ago by thieves.
If you’re efficient you can have your guide drop you off after lunch at the Egyptian Museum for the rest of the day. Just tell them in the morning what you want to accomplish and they’ll try to accommodate you. The contents of Tut’s tomb is a sight to behold.
Other than Cairo, the other cities are much more tame and tourist friendly.
Further down the Nile is Luxor, the ancient capitol of Egypt and home to hundreds of monuments and temples. The Valleys of the Kings and Queens are a must especially if you want to walk down inside the magnificently painted and ornate tombs.
And even further south is the city of Aswan, the center of Egypt’s Nubian culture. The dark skinned Nubians occupy southern Egypt and much of Sudan. If you are looking for some time to relax with beautiful Nile views and excellent food and hospitality, you came to the right place. Here the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel built in 1902, has catered to some of the world’s most renowned people of history. You can walk down the halls and stroll through Winston Churchill’s suite, or Agatha Christie’s room where she wrote “Death on the Nile” and where an old typewriter still sits on her desk. Staying at the Old Cataract were quite a relaxing and beautiful few days during our trips.
The Old Cataract Hotel is a part of the Accor group and as such we get a terrific discount. In high season it’s pretty good and in low season (summer) it’s terrific (but also quite hot in Egypt)! Go to Flying together and under Discounts, search for Accor. And if you do travel and stay at a lot of Accor hotels, download the Accor app. After you sign up for an Accor account on Flying Together, and then sign in on the app, it will know you’re eligible for the United discount and you won’t even have to go through Flying Together any longer to reserve with a discount.
After you’ve stayed a couple of days or so at the Old Cataract, go to Trip Advisor and purchase a one day tour to Ramses Temple in Abu Simbel. The iconic temple Ramses II made for himself (see photo) and a neighboring one for his Nubian wife Nefertiti, are awesome to walk through.
Nile Cruises: Lots of tourists like to take Nile Cruises between Aswan and Luxor (they go in either direction). There are too many to count. I’ve been twice and the first one I took in 1995 was terrific. The second one in January not so good.
The purpose of the cruises are not to take a cruise, but to take you up the river to stop at historic sites along the way. Be aware that when they say “three nights and four days, depending on the operator, two of the three nights are in port either at Aswan or Luxor.
The second cruise I took was disappointing because many of the excursions left the boat before the sun came up or after dark. The first cruise had only daytime excursions. So before you plunk down the money: 1. Read the reviews for this company on Trip Advisor, 2) call the company and ask for not just the itinerary, but the times of departure and arrival at the different excursions on the itinerary. If they’re too vague for your liking, find someone else. And by the way, the cruise I reserved for January had a great photo of a sleek, modern cruise ship. But when we arrived at the dock it was a tired old boat.
I don’t remember much about the food on the first cruise but on the second one I would describe as “dorm food with a flair.”
One last bit of advice, don’t go for the cheapest. And make sure there are lots of good reviews and don’t forget to call them to find out what the time schedule is, not just the itinerary.
A word about tips. In Egypt, those you come into contact with subsist on your tips. Everyone from drivers, folks who help with baggage, everyone on a cruise boat, etc. The pay they get from anyone who hires them (if they get paid at all) is tiny. If you ask your guide or concierge at the hotel what is typical or expected, they will usually be honest with you.
Final item: United has a new Flying Together app that is getting fairly good reviews. However retirees weren’t eligible to use it when it first came out but the company has told me it will be available for retirees in September. You must download it from Flying Together, not from the Apple App Store or the Google Store.