If you’ve read my stories in the past you probably know I am not a fan of Tour Packages.  But some years ago I found a tour I couldn’t refuse…actually a cruise which I hate as much as group tours.  Why did I succumb?  Well the itinerary was something I just couldn’t resist and couldn’t put together myself.  I’ve always obsessed about seeing the pyramids at Giza.  And visiting the Cairo museum, the Greek Islands, and maybe Jerusalem/Bethlehem are also highpoints I needed to see.  So I found this great cruise on a very small ship.

Here’s the list of places, or ports-of-call as they are known, that my wife and I found irresistible.  Athens, Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Cairo, Jerusalem, Ephesus. and Istanbul.  All in 7 days!  A typical whirlwind tour, but a great chance to get a quick glimpse of some awesome sites.  The ship was indeed small and held maybe 300 passengers. The rooms were quite nice, although the bar/lounge was tiny, the pool was kiddie size, and the dining room could never fit everyone at the same time.  In general it was a nice ship and I actually prefer smaller ones.  The food was adequate, but a bit touristy for our liking (somewhat bland and not very Greek).  In in all, tollerable.

But the whole point of this trip was the places we would see.  If you ever cruised you might know that every “shore excursion” is a-la-cart.   And not cheap.  But they got you and you simply have to do the excursion.  Unless some of the stops can be done independently…like the one at Santorini, we discovered. At this stop instead of paying the $100 each to stay with a group and ride a bus, we opted to pay a taxi guy for the afternoon.  Much, much cheaper.  Plus we could stop whenever a great view appeared, and when a winery was in site.  Willing to bet we were the only ones on the cruise that did some wine tasting along the way.  And besides, we eventually would up at the site of the Santorini ruins just before the tour group bus.  Nothing like being alone to get great pictures.

So why do I call this “Tour Bus Idiots”?  The Santorini tale above is not the reason.  The stop in Egypt is the reason, and so is the one in Jerusalem .  Here we had no choice since the port is about 2-3 hours ride (bus only) from the sites.  In Egypt the port of Alexandria is at least a 3 hour bus ride from Cairo.  Across some fairly dangerous looking countryside on a toll road.  So dangerous in fact that with our 4 buses we rode along staggered using both lanes so no other vehicles could cut us off.  And the guy riding the front seat of each bus wore a large coat under which was a large weapon…just in case.  Of what we didn’t know.  As we ride along it starts to get boring and many people sleep and complain.  Our first “idiots” were just behind us.  All they wanted to do in Cairo was to shop.  The heck with the museum and the pyramids.  And lunch seemed high on their agenda.

As we get close to Cairo center, our tour guide (who has been selling custom jewelry like mad) demands our attention concerning Cairo museum rules.  And particularly in regard to cameras.  They are OK but it’s mandatory to purchase, for merely $1, a voucher for each camera to show the guards.  She stresses this point at least 5 times.  Everyone seems to understand…except those “can’t wait to shop” idiots.  The bus pulls up at the museum to unload.  We will then proceed through metal detectors into the museum.  The bus leaves, hopefully to return to scoop us up later.  So guess who has a camera and no voucher?  You bet, the “idiots”.

Our tour guide, not very pleased, says we should wait outside while the “idiots” arrange for their cameras.  Not acceptable to me.  So I pull her off to the side and ask when the bus is expected back…my plan is to go in alone and be back at the appointed hour.  No way we could get lost.  She refuses to answer me…so I ask again, and again.  I’m pretty pushy.  Finally she tells me the time, and my wife and I go in.  The group waits.  Too bad.

For about an hour we cover the entire museum.  No crowds.  Great.  And I get some amazing pictures of the Tut mask and exhibit…with no people in them.  Awesome.  Since my wife loves tour books, she acts as my private guide.  All the information I could hope for, and no hoards of people pushing and shoving to see inside display cases.   As we look over the second floor balcony we spy our group, dutifully following the guide like lost sheep. At least we know they got in.  At the designated hour we head for the exit, rejoin the group, and get back on the bus.  Mission accomplished.

From the museum we ride to the pyramids…but with a stop at the local jewelry store to pick up the customized trinkets most people ordered on the bus.  Guess the “idiots” will be happy for a while.  But the jewelry stop takes longer than anticipated…excessive shopping probably.  So we arrive at the bus stop just below the Giza plateau.  We are presented with 2 options.  For a fee you can ride a camel up the hill and look really geeky, or you can continue up on the bus.  We decide on the bus, since I’ve never had an urgent need to ride on a hump.  Good choice.  Since the jewelry stop was too long we now only had maybe 15 minutes to see the pyramids.  And low and behold, the folks on the humps wasted most of that time getting up the hill.

Then next on to the Sphinx.  Well we’re so late that the visit inside the Sphinx area is about to close.  We can only take pictures from outside and marvel at this amazing antiquity.  I need to get a better angle so I decide to walk up a small side area for some additional photos.  Our friendly tour guide attempts to stop me.  Nice try.  I paid thousands of dollars to see this and some little tour girl will not get in my way.  She’s pretty perturbed, but hey I am tourist.  And possibly an “idiot” as well.

Written on November 21st, 2009 , Anicdotes

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