Journal: Sunday 10 January 2010
After a week of very bad snow and ice in Cornwall we decided that it would be better if I went to my friend Sam’s on Friday night instead of Saturday. We were flying to Cairo together on Sunday, due to leave at 2.00pm. I had been checking the flight status over the past couple of days and all flights were being delayed by several hours. By mid-day Saturday we were ready to leave. Sam lives at the bottom of a steep hill which was treacherous with compacted ice and the idea was for her son to tow us up the hill with his big 4×4. After three attempts and at the last engaging the services of a big tractor, we made it to the main road slipping and sliding all the way. I think that was the scariest journey I’ve ever made!
The rest of the journey to Heathrow couldn’t have been better, with the main roads fairly clear all the way and only the risk of ice that we couldn’t see. The weather was clear and bright and apart from the occasional short flurry of snow we made Heathrow in about five hours, stopping only once briefly at motorway services for a coffee and some diesel. Sam had booked us into the Renaissance Hotel at Heathrow, a huge hotel very close to terminal three and we could see planes taking off and landing on the runway opposite. We had a buffet dinner in the restaurant and a quick walk outside but it was too cold to stay out long and within a few minutes we were shivering. The temperature was around -2 degrees C – we’re just not used to cold weather where we live.
When we woke up we found that no more snow had fallen overnight and the planes were taking off on the runway opposite the hotel. Sam & I had a good breakfast and straight afterwards took the car to the Airport Parking and caught the shuttle to Terminal 3. When we arrived we checked in our bags and they were fast tracked through security because Sam has a silver EgyptAir card. To our great surprise our flight was scheduled to leave on time at 2.00pm and actually took off only a little late around 3.00pm, but took only 4 hours to Cairo arriving at 9.10pm local time. We got visas and were through passport control in no time at all and our bags were first off the plane – easier than I’ve ever known it. The new international terminal at Cairo airport is very nice and smooth. Taking a taxi we sped over the Sharia Rameses flyover to the Victoria Hotel where we’d booked rooms. It’s a strange feeling, although I haven’t been in Cairo for three years it feels so familiar, especially that distinctive smell, that is probably mostly traffic fumes. The noise was louder than I remember it. When we landed we were told that the temperature was 17 degrees C and it certainly feels a lot warmer than England.
We went to have a quick shower and change, noting that our rooms have been freshly painted and feel very spacious and airy. We have stayed at the Victoria Hotel on Sharia al-Gumhuriya several times before and I love it for it’s slightly worn old colonial atmosphere. By the time we went out Cairo seemed relatively quiet, with not much traffic and not many people out and about. We took a taxi downtown to a coffee shop we knew on the wide pedestrian street just off Tal’at Harb, stopping at a stall to buy sandwiches to eat, not wanting a proper meal. It felt amazing to sit outside at Midnight watching families with young children doing their shopping, after leaving the freezing weather behind us. We sat on the familiar multi-coloured plastic chairs at little metal tables in the coffee shop. Coloured lights festooned the streets and Ramadan lamps and occasional Christmas decorations were still hanging over the tables. Vendors selling leather belts, perfume and tissues wandered among the tables and every now and then I had a whiff of that lovely honey shisha smell that is so typically Egypt.
After all the expected problems today has gone surprisingly well and it’s so great to be back in Cairo, I can hardly believe I’m here.