Alexandria’s Fantazy Land

Supposedly the worst amusement park on the planet and it looks it.

This next post is an entry aimed at those who may be a bit sadomasochistic when it comes to their vacations.  Fantazy Land, located in Alexandria, has been billed by many a website reviewer as the official worst amusement park in the world.  Once you’ve seen a few pictures of the place, that title becomes very easy to accept as fact.

Sure, Egypt may not be in the best shape right now to accept tourists, but the adventurous individual won’t let something small like a government transition hold them back.  The country has so much to see that it’s often well worth the risks involved.  Fantazy Land, in contrast, looks like it saw 90% of all the war and conflict of the country for the last 50 years or more.

The first thing you’ll notice when going to Fantazy Land (aside from the decaying sign) is that, if you are at tourist, the person at the gate will charge you 10 to 20 times more than they advertise for admission.  So, you’ll be dropping about the same as the price of a ticket to Disneyland.  Be prepared for that money to go straight down the toilet.

Inside the walls (or chain link fence, as it were) of Fantazy Land is a collection of run-down rides, many of which will not be working on any given day of the week.  Most of them are probably nowhere near passing any sort of safety inspection such as what we have here in the states, so each is a double thrill of life-and-death!  The space itself looks like it was once a war zone and when the battle stopped served as an impromptu garbage dump.

To be honest, most people could probably have more fun going down to their local park and to ride the slides and jump off the swings.  But if you really want to see the worst amusement park in the world, it’s right there in Alexandria waiting for you.  For photographers, it may be worth the $30 or $40 to get in and take some photos of this wasteland.  For the rest of you, enter at your own risk.

Egypt’s White Desert

One of the most amazingly beautiful yet barren places on the planet.

The White Desert of the Sahara, located in White Desert Park in Egypt, is a vast and barren landscape that, contrary to what one might expect from a desert, is a true wonder to behold.  This 3700 square foot piece of desert is located just southwest of Cairo and is a popular stop on many tours that visit several amazing locations in and around the area.  If you’re a fan of the unusual beauty of the Earth, White Desert is worth a stop.

The desert’s unique look comes from its origins as a sea bed.  As the water receded, the layers of the desert formed from the drying process.  It changed, over the centuries, from a water mass to a lush land teeming with animal and plant life to the seemingly lifeless place that it is today.  The wind worked its magic on the landscape’s remnants and eventually left it with some unusual formations (as well as a sizable deposit of fossils).  Many have described the White Desert as comparable to an alien world or an arctic imitation under the hot desert sun.

By far the most renowned of the features are the strangely shaped rocks that oftentimes appear to defy geological 

principles and the laws of physics.  They come in all shapes and sizes, from mushroom-looking to cones and tents and a nearly endless variety of others.  People have taken to giving them names based on their form and that list of names is far too long to list here.  In addition to the rocks, there is a desert of white sand (chalk fields) stretching out to all horizons.  White Desert has its fair share of caves and ruins as well, for those willing to hunt them down.

If you plan on visiting the desert, you’ll likely want to sign up for a preplanned tour.  The guides know all the best places in this very large land.  Most tours will even give you the chance to camp out, witnessing one of the other wonders of this desert, when the rocks change color and 

shape as the sun descends.  During dusk and dawn, the White Desert is a completely different place, the landscape shifting form and astounding the senses.

This is a great location for those that want an outdoors vacation as well as a nice stop-over if you just want to go out on a day excursion.  It’s also a very popular place for safari, so there’s plenty of touring options to choose from, most of them with several of the other great sites of the nearby region on their touring agenda, which can make a trip to the desert into a full vacation experience.

Baron Empain’s Palace

An almost forgotten, and possibly haunted, Hindu masterpiece in Cairo.

Baron Empain was not born in the country of Egypt, but moved there from Belgium when he fell in love with the culture.  Being a real estate investor, he bought up large areas of land and built a home for himself and his family in the middle of what he sought to make into a massive urban development project.  Though he would eventually leave and Empain’s Palace pass beyond his family’s hands, it still stands in Cairo as an amazing historical building with a unique Hindu design.  It is also rumored to be haunted by the spirits of Empain’s dead wife and daughter.

It took three years to build the palace, which consists of two floors, an underground chamber and a large tower built on a revolving base.  The exterior is covered in Hindu elements of design, including many carvings of things such as elephants, buddhas, snakes and dancers.  It is distinctively out of place in the city of Cairo and has, unfortunately, fallen into disrepair over the years.

The reported hauntings consist of lights going on and off in the backyard and in the house and voices that can be heard in the dead of night.  These are said to be caused by the baron’s wife, who fell to her death from one of the interior 

balconies, and his daughter, who was found dead for unknown reasons shortly after the death of her mother.  Caretakers and many passers-by have attested to the strange going-ons in the building, though none, to my knowledge, have fully investigated.

After leaving the Empain family, the building was neglected.  In 2005 the government of Egypt obtained control over it and began a slow restoration process.  They’ve only fixed up the gardens, where events are sometimes held, and the main building still remains a costly and unfulfilled project.  Despite being unable to explore the interior, Empain’s Palace is still a magnificent piece of architecture that most are unaware of.  If Egypt manages to fix the place up, they could have quite the tourist destination, particularly for those interested in the supernatural.

Adrere Amellal Desert Ecolodge

An electricity-free lodging that brings you into the middle of the Egyptian desert

The Adrere Amellal Desert Ecolodge is located at the edge of the Great Sand Sea, approximately eight hours from the city of Cairo and the nearest airport.  Its isolated location, despite being a hindrance to getting there, is one of the highlights of the lodge and the reason that many famous people have come here time and again to enjoy the peace and solitude.

There are around 40 rooms at the lodge and the buildings are all made up of mud and rock salt.  They are designed by locals in the indigenous style and their interiors are decorated with locally crafted furniture, art and rugs.  A spring-fed pool set among palms and olive groves tops-off the experience and gives Adrere Amellal the ambiance of something from out of the past.  The food at the lodge is made from all locally produced ingredients and is comprised of regional Egyptian recipes.

In addition to the solitude, there is plenty to do while staying at the lodge.  Jeep treks into the desert,

 horseback riding, dune surfing and checking out some of the ancient historic sites in the area are just a few things to keep one occupied.  One can also take a trip to the nearby hundreds-of-years-old village of Siwa and experience some local culture.

Adrere Amellal focuses on being both pristine and eco-friendly while retaining some degree of luxury.  There is, however, no electricity at the lodge.  Instead, rooms are lit at night by candles and oil lamps, coal braziers are used for heating during the winter and the paths around the lodge are lit by torches.

The one thing that might discourage you from visiting this amazing lodge is the price.  The rooms run about $400-$500 per night, but at least it’s all-inclusive, so food, drinks and whatever activities you want to do are effectively free.  If you can afford to pay, Adrere Amellal is a spectacular, isolated lodge where you can relax and shed the stress of the “real world.”

The Abu Simbel Festival

A 3000-year-old lightshow brings thousands of people from around the world

Near the Sudanese border of Egypt is one of its most remarkable archaeological and architectural wonders, the Sun Temple of King Ramses II. Built around 1250 BCE, it is considered by many to be the greatest achievement of the titular king’s legacy.  It was carved directly into the sandstone cliffs along the bank of the Nile River.  Two 100-foot tall statues of Ramses guard the entrance to the temple and more lay within.  The temples was constructed in such a way that on two specific days light floods into the main chamber and lights it up.  Twice a year, this famous location sees the coming of the Abu Simbel Festival to celebrate this natural phenomenon.

The two important dates are October the 22nd and February the 22nd.  These mark the anniversary of Ramses’ rise to the throne as well as his birthday.  People come from all over the world to witness the cleverly timed lighting of the interior statues of Ramses II and the Sun God.  A combination of natural elements and man-made precision, there 

is little like it elsewhere in the world.

Though the lighting of the temple is the highlight of the festival, afterwards is when the real festivities begin.  There is music, dancing, markets and plenty of food and drink.  All this is arranged by the locals and represents the best of what the region’s culture has to offer.

If you plan on going to Abu Simbel to see the light show, it’s best to get to the temple as early as possible.  Since so many people show up every year, it can get quite crowded and the best seats are taken hours before the actual event takes place.  The Abu Simbel Festival is a great way to experience both Egypt’s present culture and the remarkable achievements of its grand historical past.

The Pharaoh’s Rally of Egypt

Nearly 2000 miles of grueling off-road action

Fans of off-road racing may find the Pharaoh’s Rally in Egypt to be right up their alley.  It is one of the longest and most difficult rally courses in the world, second only to the famed Dakar Rally.  Some of the best drivers and teams in the world will gather in the city of Cairo, at the Pyramids of Giza, to try their hand at six days of intense racing that will take their endurance to the limit and beyond.

Pharaoh’s Rally was originally started by a French man who loved rally racing and had an equal fondness for the desert.  The first rally was an instant success, so he continued to organize the event each year.  Thirty years later, the race is still being held, even through the trials that the Egyptian government is facing today.  Pharaoh’s is now the second most important race on the rally circuit and this year holds the distinction of being the qualifier for the international finals.

Racers line up at the Pyramids of Giza, which acts as both starting point and finish line for the event.  More than 100 teams composed of 600 or more riders come together for the competition.  The total course stretches for more than 1800 miles, most of that desolate desert and sand.  Luckily, the sand in the region is the kind that won’t bog the drivers down too much, so there’s little chance that the race will end before it’s even quite begun.  Those who participate in the race are allowed to use a variety of vehicles to fit their preference.  Cars, trucks and motorcycles can all compete against each other. 

This year, Pharaoh’s Rally will take place from September 29th to October 6th.  Considering how much else there is to see around the region of Cairo, fans of racing can double up and make this a worthwhile Egyptian vacation in addition to watching the races.  Though if you want to put your neck on the line and join in the race, you’ll have to prove yourself on the rally circuit, because Pharaoh’s isn’t for amateurs.

So..night life in Aswan ?

Depends what you consider life.

While many people think of nightlife as bumping clubs, light displays, and a DJ busy at the table working his magic while drinks flow and the mood is electric, others look to a calmer approach, one to actually absorb and drink in their atmosphere. Tired of the wild nights found in the resort towns of Egypt? Why not call it a nice night off in Aswan.

While Aswan is usually a major stop for vacationers exploring the Nile it's not something really considered for it's “ club scene” and in that I believe is where the magic is. While the music may not be hard, you are more likely to find a beautiful coffee house of European, Arabic, or African cultural roots ( and trust me, they all do coffee and the act of enjoying coffee in ways you would never know until you try it yourself) There is perfect time to relax, sit back and take a trip to a local park and watch the sun finish it's journey for the day

 

 

If that is not enough there is also a wonderful opportunity to catch live performances through different cultural centers ranging from traditional Egyptian arts, down through traditions of the Nubian empire. Fine dining is much the same offering a wide range. While Aswan may not be the entertainment superstar compared to places like Cairo, it's an ideal spot to wind down, and great for families, or individuals just looking for that moment of sanctuary from their active trip.

 

SO...MUCH... SAND

trying to not take the sands home?

One thing everybody thinks about when they think about Egypt is sand. Lots and lots of sand. Well, Yes There is lots of sand. It's one of the iconic things about Egypt. Lets face it however, not everbody wants to take the sands home with them. Or atleast if they do it's because they want a momento thats symbolic.

Having it in their clothes, shoes, backpacks or whatever is a different matter. Dressing to beat the sands however is a tall order. When it comes to shoes there are a few options a visitor can go with. Sandals are one, being open as such it's easy to just kick the sand off. Some will still stick to the bottoms of your feet due to body oil and persperation anyway, but atleast your not collecting it. Boots are a good option. By this I'm more talking about riding, or tall combat boots, as anything shorter will still collect sand as you walk. Anything like running or basketball shoes will just catch anything you cick up and have countless ways for sand to work it's way in.

 

There is also a pretty common sense rule when it comes to clothing in general. The more nooks and crannies, the more you will collect. This will become clear when you check your pockets and pull out a handfull of the stuff, or seperate the folded seams in your wear and notice the line of sand trapped there. Loose flowing clothes and t-shirts are a good way to go. Though if you are feeling up to it taking a page and wearing the more traditional loose flowing gowns or tunics my help leave the ancient sands where they properly belong.

Tourism takes a nose dive

dont worry they have a plan.

Recent reports from top Egyptian officials suggest that tourism to the area have dropped by almost 30% in Janurary, and suggest that this trend may continue if not taken care of. Samy Mahmoud, whom is the head of the international tourism department said rates had really declined from Russia, Israel, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

 

While may are weary of recent events in Egypt over the past year, and security concerns become a major issue Egyptian officials are already looking ahead to restore the tourism trade. Some of the plans include shows and performances through out the country. Be it in local squares, churches or performance centers. The aim is to reassure those visiting that Egypt can and will continue to promote a peaceful, and kind atmosphere.

 

Tourism is a fickle business in any situation. Unrest, natural disasters, lack of anything new or iconic- all these things can play a big part in a nations appeal to the greater community. Time will only tell however how many places deal with their own failing numbers- Egypt however is a treasure to humanity as a whole given it's history. While the immediate economic impacts may sting, It's my opinion that it would never be truly lasting simply because it is Egypt, an iconic wonder of our past. That is where they find a lucky break, I think that as long as the pyramids stand and the Sphinx gazes to the horizon people will flock to behold the ancient wonders.

I can't believe you just did that

a little advice to the cliché tourist

the comical image of the cliché tourist is one we all know too well; loud Hawaiian print shirts, socks pulled to the knee in too short of shorts, several cameras, over sized purse or fanny pack- saying and doing obnoxious and socially awkward things to the horror of the locals. What is sad is that such an individual is more the norm to a degree than not.

When planning a vacation it's always vital to understand your destination. It does not matter if your headed to Egypt, England, or just a quick trip to Disneyland. Every portion of the world carries with it unique traits. To utterly avoid looking like an ignorant spaz one should take time to research a little about their trip first. Understand the culture, social trends, local etiquette. It may not always be noticeable to the individual, but how they carry themselves plays a big part on an over all opinion of other tourists and can even effect the quality of the trip.

 

Playing up stereotypes is also not always the most wise idea. The super cowboy, Urban Thug, back woods redneck... All of these are far too often played up on vacation in a “ look at me I'm taking the time to visit you!” sort of attention grabbing way- and again creates an image of how all other visitors from your region will be seen. Take the time, learn your location, and simple be- there is no need to go above and beyond to have a memorable trip.

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