Of all the gin joints, in all the world #ileftmyheartin Cairo

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

– Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

The dingy, overcrowded and dark hotel bar at the Havana Hotel in Cairo is probably not the first choice of bar to meet up with a friend. Long and rectangular with just enough room between the lounges and seats to squeeze past, during a week in October 2009 it became my regular haunt.

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

With time off between the summer and winter seasons in Europe, but not enough to do things independently I decided to jump on board an overland truck from Cairo to Nairobi. First things first however, visas and welcome letters had to be arranged. It was at the Australian Embassy waiting to get a letter confirming my Australian passport was real for Sudan that I met Chris. After reading an inch thick travel advice, and followed by the question, “So you still want to go to Sudan?” we had our government stamped confirmation letters and we were on our way.

Over the next few days Chris and I spent the days rummaging through Cairo’s souks, hopping between the Ethiopian Embassy and generally exploring Cairo. Throughout we met several other travellers who would be accompanying us on our adventure south. Every night we would return to the Hotel Havana, where most people were staying before the trip, to have a few beers, catch up and get to know each other.

Chris had spent some time in Dahab before arriving in Cairo to sort visas. During his time there he had met a British girl who would be joining our trip. As Chris put it, “Natalie is a really cool chick”. As the week progressed the odd assortment of intrepid adventures travelling with us filtered into the hotel, but no Natalie.

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

One evening, several days before the trip, the band of merry adventurers had assembled in the bar. A thick smoke wafted up towards the ceiling from the various shisha pipes scattered throughout the bar and the heavy scent of apple tea hung in the air. In the background Arabic dance music rang out from an old CD player behind the counter and the low drum of hushed conversation would be broken by raucous laughter from one group to the next.

The rusty old metal detector at the front door would occasionally beep as a new guest entered but the fully armed security guard would only ever give a disinterested glance. I think the security was more there to make us feel safer but I had a feeling if something did happen they would be the first ones out the door!

It was at that point my life changed forever.

Against this backdrop of curling shisha smoke and apple tea the door from the hotel opened. A stream of bright iridescent light streamed into the bar followed by a ghostly silhouette. As the door creaked closed the beaming smiled Natalie replaced the silhouette. “That’s Natalie, the chick I met in Dahab”, Chris exclaimed. I don’t know how and I don’t know why but the moment I saw Natalie I knew I was going to marry her! Little did we both know, it was on that summery night in the smoke hazed hotel bar in Cairo The Smart Way Round was born.

It must have been love...

It must have been love…

That was six years ago. Our adventures have taken us all across the world, five continents and numerous countries. November sees the one-year anniversary of The Smart Way Round but the adventure started years ago. That’s the thing about travel, you never know who you are going to meet. I am always reminded of a comment a guest made on one of my first ever trips around Europe, “You make friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime”. Well in Cairo in 2009 it was definitely the latter and it is the city #ileftmyheartin.

– Dean

The Smart Way Round was born!

The Smart Way Round was born!

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Why now is the perfect time to visit Egypt

For many people Egypt conjures up some incredible imagery. The rolling sand dunes of the Sahara desert, the enormous temple ruins of Luxor and Karnak, and of course the pyramids, arguably some of the most recognisable structures in the world. Sadly in recent years most people think of the violence and protests associated with the Arab Spring and the power vacuum left behind in its wake. Thankfully however things are improving and many countries have altered their travel advice and warnings over the past few months. With Egypt being given the ‘green light’ so to speak for many nationalities to return and with several big named travel operators resuming their tours, now is one of the best times to visit or start planning a trip to Egypt.

THE photo everyone wants

THE photo everyone wants

While there are still travel warnings for some areas of Egypt, such as the northern Sinai area (which has always been quite hostile) and the western deserts towards Libya (sadly one of our favourite areas), the main regions for international tourism such as along the Nile and the southern areas of the Sinai peninsula such as Sharm-el-Sheikh and Dahab are classified as safe by the British Foreign Office.

The sun setting over the alluring Nile River

The sun setting over the alluring Nile River

The so-called Arab Spring had a devastating effect upon Egyptian tourism, but for visitors venturing there now that can have a number of advantages. The thought of wandering around the famous ruins, temples and tombs without the huge throngs of tourists is massively appealing. I love old ruins, and could easily spend days wandering around the crumbling columns, the row upon row of sphinx and the hieroglyph engraved walls. In fact I normally get fed up with the crowds well before being overwhelmed by yet another temple. With fewer crowds (there will still be some) there is a greater sense of adventure and discovery, so it may be time to dust off the fedora and leather jacket and start exploring Indiana Jones style.

Imagine exploring temples and ruins without the masses

Imagine exploring temples and ruins without the masses

For many visitors a large amount of time is spent in the souks or markets, particularly in Luxor and Aswan trying to grab a bargain. In the boom periods you could guarantee that prices were massively inflated, the hard sell was a certainty and begrudgingly you would agree to a purchase price over a glass of apple tea. The huge drop in tourism has had a flow on effect into the markets, prices are more reasonable, the hard sell has disappeared (to a degree) and you don’t mind (so much) paying a little extra, knowing it is helping people get back on their feet. Many of the main tourist frequented souks are deserted, save for the scent of apple tea or the waft of the shisha smoke, so get out there and support the local economy.

Many of the once thriving souks geared towards tourists are now near empty. Great when searching for a bargain

Many of the once thriving souks geared towards tourists are now near empty. Great when searching for a bargain

Not only has shopping  become cheaper but there are some amazing bargains to be had when it comes to accommodation. Why not splurge and stay in one of the most famous hotels in Egypt, The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan? This is the hotel where Agatha Christie wrote ‘Death on the Nile’ and for such a famous residence, rates are reasonably priced. If cruising down the Nile is more your thing then there are also some great bargains to be had on river cruises. A word to the wise though, with numbers down the amount of boats is nowhere near as many as before the revolution so plan ahead.

Sailing down the Nile, Agatha Christie style

Sailing down the Nile, Agatha Christie style

Egypt relies heavily upon tourism and so do many of the citizens of the bigger more frequented cities. Local guides (or as they’d rather be known, ‘Egyptologists’) spend years of university education attaining the qualifications to guide in Egypt and the sudden down turn in tourism has probably hit them the hardest. Whether visiting the Temples of Karnak and Luxor, the Valley of the Kings or the rescued temple of Abu Simbel we highly recommend  employing the services of a local guide. Walking around these awe-inspiring sites without one is like watching the television with the sound off, you don’t quite know what is going on.

Abu Simbel, before the hordes return

Abu Simbel, before the hordes return

Visiting Egypt is an experience you will never forget, the hair stands on the back of my neck every time I see the pyramids for the first time or walk amongst the enormous stone columns of Karnak Temple. Best of all, visiting now will give you the knowledge that through tourism you are helping a country heal and get back on its feet. Your visit is helping people return to some semblance of a normal life. If you ask me, that is the best reason of all…

– Dean

Keep an eye out on Facebook as we celebrate ‘Egypt Week’ with some of our favourite photos!

The two of us at the Hatshepsut

The two of us at the Hatshepsut

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

– Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

The dingy, overcrowded and dark hotel bar at the Havana Hotel in Cairo is probably not the first choice of bar to meet up with a friend. Long and rectangular with just enough room between the lounges and seats to squeeze past, during a week in October 2009 it became my regular haunt.

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

With time off between the summer and winter seasons in Europe, but not enough to do things independently I decided to jump on board an overland truck from Cairo to Nairobi. First things first however, visas and welcome letters had to be arranged. It was at the Australian Embassy waiting to get a letter confirming my Australian passport was real for Sudan that I met Chris. After reading an inch thick travel advice, and followed by the question, “So you still want to go to Sudan?” we had our government stamped confirmation letters and we were on our way.

Over the next few days Chris and I spent the days rummaging through Cairo’s souks, hopping between the Ethiopian Embassy and generally exploring Cairo. Throughout we met several other travellers who would be accompanying us on our adventure south. Every night we would return to the Hotel Havana, where most people were staying before the trip, to have a few beers, catch up and get to know each other.

Chris had spent some time in Dahab before arriving in Cairo to sort visas. During his time there he had met a British girl who would be joining our trip. As Chris put it, “Natalie is a really cool chick”. As the week progressed the odd assortment of intrepid adventures travelling with us filtered into the hotel, but no Natalie.

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

One evening, several days before the trip, the band of merry adventurers had assembled in the bar. A thick smoke wafted up towards the ceiling from the various shisha pipes scattered throughout the bar and the heavy scent of apple tea hung in the air. In the background Arabic dance music rang out from an old CD player behind the counter and the low drum of hushed conversation would be broken by raucous laughter from one group to the next.

The rusty old metal detector at the front door would occasionally beep as a new guest entered but the fully armed security guard would only ever give a disinterested glance. I think the security was more there to make us feel safer but I had a feeling if something did happen they would be the first ones out the door!

It was at that point my life changed forever.

Against this backdrop of curling shisha smoke and apple tea the door from the hotel opened. A stream of bright iridescent light streamed into the bar followed by a ghostly silhouette. As the door creaked closed the beaming smiled Natalie replaced the silhouette. “That’s Natalie, the chick I met in Dahab”, Chris exclaimed. I don’t know how and I don’t know why but the moment I saw Natalie I knew I was going to marry her! Little did we both know, it was on that summery night in the smoke hazed hotel bar in Cairo The Smart Way Round was born.

It must have been love...

It must have been love…

That was five years ago. Our adventures have taken us all across the world, five continents and numerous countries. November sees the one-year anniversary of The Smart Way Round but the adventure started years ago. That’s the thing about travel, you never know who you are going to meet. I am always reminded of a comment a guest made on one of my first ever trips around Europe, “You make friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime”. Well in Cairo in 2009 it was definitely the latter….

– Dean

The Smart Way Round was born!

The Smart Way Round was born!