Winter by the Red Sea….

February 19, 2019 in EGYPT | Comments (0)

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Yes, we escaped the snow and ice, and the sun shone every day. We snorkelled over coral, and wandered dazzled among flowers.

We marvelled at the treasures of Luxor and Karnak – and crossed the legendary Nile by boat.

Camel on the beach

We also had a camel on our hotel beach

It was a very pleasant and exciting holiday, but I wouldn’t go back in mid-winter. Though our days rose to 22/24 degrees C, the nights sunk to 10 or 12 – with chilly winds seemingly blowing off the Alps and over the Mediterranean. We were very grateful that we had left such a cold Sweden and thus taken down jackets with us, cosy in the damp chill of evenings in the open air.

Our new year’s dinner was a triumph, a show of colour and extravagance. All included – because everything was included in terms of food and drink.

The translucent brilliant turquoise waters of the Red Sea were swimmable, but not really warm; and even though I hired a wetsuit I was dismayed by feeling chilly water ooze into my ears and gave up – though my two beloveds snorkelled in their wetsuits with rewarding results. My son even had a school of dolphins jetting towards him and crossing under him at speed.

A frame of his underwater video clip as dolphins passed under him

Hurghada all-inclusive

Our hotel – Desert Rose

Mid winter flowers / not roses, but subtropical blooms

The hotel property stretches down to the Red Sea with its own pier, shallow lagoon ringed by rough sand beach, and a verdant garden festooned with bougainvillea and golden trumpet flowers, dotted with seemingly endless pools, bars, and restaurants. Along with all that is a rather nice spa, and a very active beauty salon where a nice young man mangled my feet during a pedicure with the painful insistence of a hygienist, to make them baby soft.

Pools and flowers

Desert Rose itself claims five stars but its guests rightfully vote four. Some of course vote less. All-inclusive is a good option when you have young teens and tweens as you don’t have to worry if they eat their food and waste your money. They love the freedom of choosing just what they want and actually start eating healthier despite the overkill of puddings and cakes – maybe because of that supersweet shock.

An entire wall of cakes and puddings

They love the adult feeling of wandering into “bars” at night to have a mocktail in what was a very pleasant unboozy astmosphere. There were no hordes of drunks making over-use of the all inclusive. Since you get drinks by the glass (bottled is extra) it could be they water drinks down when you show signs of inebriation. Maybe I looked in need of a pickup – I got the opposite sometimes – my cocktails hit me with a hammer – I wasn’t sure whether it was laced with some local spirits and fruit cordial  rather than the prescribed liqueurs.

Cafe betweeen lagoon and sea / coffee and pancakes all inclusive

The hotel had some 4 restaurants and 5 bars – they seemed to spread all over the place. Rose Bar was a pleasant and popular place for wifi and coffee or drink – with a smart contemporary décor and relaxed ambience. Our favourite was a café between the lagoon and the sea, with its own beach covered by beanbags, where you could have your coffee, cocktail or pancakes, sheltered from the wind.

We managed to book the a la carte Italian restaurant one lunchtime – too popular to get an evening booking. It was nice, if rather rich fare.

The buffets in the main restaurant were vast – am I exaggerating when I say a football field size hall with two wings divided into smaller dining rooms; and tables stretching many metres down the middle and sides loaded with food. Meat and fish were excellent (I don’t eat meat – I refer to the choice and the look). Breakfasts were piled with fruit and oh joy grapefruit and pomelo.  And joy for the tweens and teens: pancake station.  

A wall of breads

The New Year’s dinner was a triumph of colour and variety. One whole wall of the vast tent had a trestle table piled with cakes of every hue, ending with a celebration of fruit piled lusciously into mountains. Even the bread wall boasted pinks and reds. All sorts of salads and savoury mixtures lined another wall where food towers (sculptures?)  had been created to dramatize the festivity of the occasion. A disco was going and a band playing covers with gusto. We had heard them practicing all week. They put their heart and soul in it.

Winter snorkelling in the Red Sea

Our teen or tween was longing to snorkel but equally longing just to hang at the hotel with its sense of activity and promise, its bars and coffee bars where everything just flowed. But one day of filling yourself with sweet bubbly drinks and you are ready for adventure out there in the famously turquoise red sea.

So we let one of the touts that patrol the beach area sell us a snorkel tour that left from our pier. He sold us the advantages of his tour: in particular that you didn’t have to take a transfer to Hurghada marina or even further.  Its hard to know if you are paying the right amount – they refuse at first to tell you the price as they fish around to see how much they can charge while you try to bargain it down a bit. The snorkel tour we did later, booked via a tour operator in Sweden  – undeniably with higher quality facilities on board the  boat – cost 450 sek per person, quite a bit more than the hotel’s boat tour.

There was something slightly third world about our whole boat tour from Desert Rose, but with it came lots of charm and stunning beauty  – I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, even though the toilet floors of the boat Atena were disconcertingly wetly washed.

The trip was to so-called Paradise Island – a desert island, with a pale luminescence of dry sandstone which crumbles off to become golden beach, washed by sublimely turquoise water – luminously crystal clear. Simply gorgeous.

To get from the dive boat to the island we had to get onto a small boat – and as it rocked I got thrown with my back against a sharp edge.  Then they filled the small boat to overflowing as our ebullient tour leader light-heartedly commanded that younger ones crowd up onto the prow – finally the entire contingent of snorkellers was seated or standing as we laughed about being boat refugees.

When we arrived at the beach they placed a small ladder beside the prow. When I stepped onto it, the boat took a leap sideways and whacked and scratched my calf. Our leader then took us to a patch of beach where we were commanded to sit or swim (not wander off on the island). I was happy to sit staring at the dreamy beach, soothed by these radiant pastel seas.

But suddenly I saw a red dog nosing at me. Hello I said, what do you want? He showed me by lifting his leg and peeing on me.

My family roared with laughter.

They were very pleased with the snorkelling from Atena – among Napoleon fish and manta rays (I had given up because of the cold).

Frame from the film by Atena cameraman showing my son diving down
The water is irresistible / until you get into it (so at this moment I am on the boat

Here is the film the tour company made – my darlings feature for a short spell.

Our second snorkel tour to Dolphin House El Gouna was smoother and more professional – the boat less crowded – and the toilets a little less iffy.  The lunch too was better.  There was boring time given to hotel pickups along the road to El Gouna (10km?).

We tied up to a buoy at the reef called Dolphin House and as they (almost) promise, we saw passing Dolphins threading in and out of the water. At this protected spot no swimming is allowed so as not to harass the dolphins. Good show Egypt! They explained rightly or wrongly that dolphins sleep on one side of the brain and were sleeping as they passed us while the other side controlled their swimming. They did have a mesmerizing pace.

Later we tied to a different buoy where you are allowed to swim and you could see clouds of fish through the clear water from the boat. Afterwards the cold swimmers and warm me ate lunch. Suddenly a school of dolphins were seen heading towards us, and my son had the magnificent good fortune or quick reflexes to jump into the water with movie camera and catch dolphins heading right at him, diving under him, and then heading off into the free sea.

frame from his video clip

El Gouna is a millionaire stronghold, with expensive villas built along canals and golf course. Most are simply holiday homes for Europeans, Germans in particular. We sat in a cute café with Arabic mood and liked it.

On a sand bank a short swim from reefs – private glassbottom boat tour from the pier

The third snorkelling tour was a short private tour on our last day. Hoping to see turtles – but not succeeding. It was a glass bottom boat tour and the thrill there was that my son chose to free dive under the boat so we could see him under water through the glass bottom among the fishes.

Hotel review Desert Rose

Palms and a glimpse inland to the arid jagged mountains
Laden with natural gold

I felt trepidation before arrival, thinking of over 800 rooms and crowds in peak season. Actually it never felt crowded as the rooms with only 3 storeys were spaced out through the beautiful garden, and there were no queues at meals. The staff were numerous and full of easy friendliness. There were little machines where you could report your feelings about your stay and the service and recommend staff. A little odd but maybe it works.

We enjoyed ourselves in this bright and carefree environment on the verge of the dazzling Red Sea despite what comes next. The faults.

Shelter from the chilly winds on the beach of our favourite cafe after a pancake and cappuccino

The room: neat, modest size with a lovely pool view – but since the balcony remained shady we did not use it. We had no hot water in our marble bathroom despite its generous toiletry amenities. The water was tepid. I am a hot water maniac so I missed that. We finally got round to complaining and a technician tinkered around so it became gently warm, not hot.

The food: As I said earlier very generous on meat and fresh caught fish. There were plenty of salads and some hot vegetarian options too – though not a lot of choice. The breads were astounding – a big choice but…. how could a baker that produces such nice Arabic breads produce such floury Western style breads? The cheese was a challenge. Was there any resemblance to cheddar in the so-called cheddar offered or was it just the colour? Feta worked though. Finally the desserts. A massive choice but a bit oozy and sweet – no problem for sweet toothed souls.

The Desert Rose cocktail in one of its manifestations – all included

The drinks: I liked the Desert Rose cocktail the first time I tried it – but different bars mixed it differently till it became a pungent knockout or a fizzy cool drink. I also tried a margarita which came from a barman’s impulse rather than a recipe book. The coffee likewise. They had proper Illy machines. I think you were meant to pay for Illy but sometimes the barmen got kind and you got a gorgeous Illy cappuccino.  Other times they seemed to use a cappuccino powder mix – as our café did in Luxor.

Incident: I decided to tip the cleaner having being intimidated by Americans’ instructions on the internet about leaving an envelope every day. After I tipped him half way through the scene disintegrated. He took my transparent zipped bag and made off with my digestive biscuits and chips for the return journey and my sugar free bars that I keep for emergency. We reported it and the hotel took it seriously, if a little angrily – wanting to look in the safe to see if my bars were there. In the end I asked simply for a 2 euro credit to buy new biscuits at their shop. Since I would not be able to replace my bars at the hotel there was no point in giving me money for them.

Best part of our trip – the dolphins, the desert island and most of all – Luxor & Karnak…

The magic of ancient symbols in gigantic ancient columns

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