From Greece to Egypt
The time has gone so quickly here in Greece but our 3 months are up and it's time to change country, and continent as we head off into Africa.
Our last morning in Kefalonia was a beautifully warm and sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky. We packed up the last of our belongings, cleaned the apartment and the boys had a last play with the puppies, cats and chickens they had come to love so much.
Our lovely hosts, Lynn and Nigel invited us for a delicious "bon voyage" lunch of spicy ginger and carrot soup with chilli, garlic potatoes. A wonderful way to say goodbye.
We drove down to the airport and as our rental car was going to be used by Nigel they joined us on the trip. It felt quite emotional saying goodbye, we really felt welcomed and like part of the family during our time here and I hope we get back for another visit in the future.
We made our way through passport control and security fairly quickly and found seats in the departure lounge. Kefalonia is a small airport and in this off season very few planes leave each day so we knew exactly which plane would be ours, when, to Kris' horror a small, island hopper propeller plane pulled up at our gate.
When I had booked the tickets I'd purposefully chosen to go on a bigger plane as Kris was very nervous of these smaller prop ones but fate had obviously decided that today was the day for him to face his fears.
As we got on the small plane, two seats each side and warnings not to move about too much in case it unbalanced the aircraft the boys were both really excited while Kris and I were just a teeny bit anxious. However the trip was quick and smooth and in less than an hour we had landed at Athens International airport.
The hotel we had booked for two nights included transport from the airport so before we knew it we were settling in for the night.
As we went to sleep we noticed that there was a weather warning for snow, but assumed that as we were in mainland Athens we would wake to a small dusting and were not too worried. We made plans to travel to the shopping mall a short drive away the next day and all settled in for a comfy night's sleep.
The next morning we woke to a little more than a light dusting! Heavy snow had fallen overnight and Athens had ground to a complete halt! It was the worse snow they had seen in 40 years and no one was coping very well. Planes grounded, schools and businesses closed, public transport all cancelled. There was no way we were going to the mall and we were worried about our flights the next day as we glumly watched Athens airport website show every plane, one after another, all cancelled.
That whole day was spent in our hotel room with just a couple of snowball fights thrown in for good luck. Kris did venture out though, through the bad weather to try and find us some food (we had breakfast included as part of our stay but with cafes and restaurants all shut we needed more). After walking for an hour in deep snow in just his trainers, finding two shops closed, helping a couple of cars that were stuck and finally finding a small corner shop open he returned with some fruit, crisps and bread. Not exactly a big hearty meal but we were not going to be hungry and so we were thankful for that.
Lots of films, TV shows, and computer games later we settled in for another night, hoping, by some miracle that the snow would have disappeared by morning.
Sadly, and obviously, that was not to be and the next day greeted us with even more snow, news that the city was still struggling to cope and even more flights cancelled.
Our pre-booked transport from the hotel contacted us to say they could no longer take us to the airport and that two private taxi companies they had asked had also said no. We were facing missing our flight and spending more time in Athens.
Checking the website for both airport and Egypt Airways obsessively through the morning I realised they were still aiming to get the flight off on time and so I decided we had to try and get to the airport. There was no way we could walk through the snow with kids and luggage and so I decided to try a couple more taxi companies before we gave up completely. By absolute blind luck the first one I tried told me he was venturing out to see what the roads were like and he would let us know in half an hour whether he could get through. We started packing our bags while keeping fingers and toes firmly crossed and then, 30 minutes later, our driver (Nikos from ATS - Athens Taxi Services) phoned to say he was pretty sure he could make it but we had to leave now as more snow was forecast and he would be outside our hotel in 10 minutes.
We've never left a place so quickly (the only thing left behind was electric toothbrush heads but we've concluded that was pretty good going!) and thanks to some excellent driving skills and sheer determination we arrived at the airport a few hours before our flight.
Getting through passport control was an experience. We were surrounded by tired, frustrated passengers all trying to rebook cancelled flights from the day before and tired, frustrated staff, some of who told us they had been on duty for 36 hours with barely a break. We were so thankful to them and tried to be super nice and show appreciation for their hard work.
Then it was a case of sitting and waiting. There was still light snowfall at times but we could see that at least two runways were clear and although flights to other parts of Greece and Northern Europe were still being cancelled ours doggedly stayed on the board.
A few hours later we made it safely on to the plane and were taking off over a city of white on our way to a very different place. We felt so thankful to be on the journey and although tired were excited about what was to come.
A small side note to say Egpyt Airways are one of the best airlines we've been on. Super friendly staff, great food and smooth flight. Plus the most beautiful and artistic safety video we've ever seen! We landed at Cairo bang on time still feeling very relieved.
As we got off the plane and onto a waiting bus to ferry us to the terminal Jake realised his phone was not in his pocket - he dashed back off the bus to run up the steps of the plane. A little shocked we waited for him to reappear as the bus slowly filled with other passengers. As Kris stood with bags by the door and Dexter and I sat on a spare seat a few rows away I realised our bus was full and with no sign of Jake returning I shouted across to Kris to get off of the bus so that Jake was not left alone. Kris nodded but didn't move, still hopeful Jake would reappear. I shouted again, a little louder this time, "babe, please get off the bus", still no movement. The doors started to close, I screamed "get off of the bus" and he jumped off between the closing doors. A few passengers laughed and a kind man told me not to worry about Jake's backpack that had now been abandoned, he was guarding it and he comically announced to everyone else not to try and touch it.
Dexter and I arrived at the terminal and then had to wait a few more minutes for a second bus to arrive, thankfully carrying Kris, Jake and the missing phone (it had fallen out of his pocket between the seats of the plane!).
After that drama we made our way up through the terminal towards passport control. It was busy. Really busy, and loud and hot and we joined a queue not really knowing if we were in the right place or not! Thankfully, our guide had arranged for someone to meet us at the airport and as we waited along with dozens of others we saw a man standing to one side with our surname on a card gesturing wildly to us. We found our British sense of strictly observing queues challenged as he beckoned us to cut in front of the other passengers.
We sheepishly left the queue, walking past everyone else to meet our helper. He told us his name was Ahmed and after a brief word with the lady checking Covid procedures were being followed, we swept past the growing queue, straight to passport control before picking up our baggage and heading for the exit to the airport before we knew what was happening.
Safely in our ride from airport to hotel we had a chance to catch our breath and chat with Ahmed who was telling us about meeting our guide the next day and giving us some advice on where to get food etc.
Our first impressions of Cairo as we drove through the evening darkness was that it was colder than we had imagined, and much busier too. There were people and cars everywhere! Two lane roads had 3 or 4 lines of traffic. People walked out to cross the street, using only trust that nothing would hit them (we would get used to this way of crossing the street by the end of our time here!) and every time the car stopped someone was trying to sell us things through the car windows (usually travel packs of tissues or bottles of water).
We approached the hotel Cleopatra which is located slap bang in the middle of Cairo, opposite the Egyptian Museum with the Nile on one side and Tahrir Square on the other and with a few more hints from Ahmed who got us all checked in we were shown up to our room.
We knew we had booked a suite with a Nile view but we had no idea the view would be so extraordinary! Maybe it was the long travel day, the stress of the snow drama in Greece or the shock of Cairo but the lights twinkling over the water of the Nile felt utterly magical and I just knew this was going to be an amazing part of our adventure.
We set down our bags and headed out to find some dinner. Walking up and down a few very busy streets feeling very out of our depth we finally found somewhere that advertised vegetarian food and made our way in. That first meal in Egpyt was so good, we had lentil soup, pickles, fried aubergine, salads and the first of very very many falafel! The meal was huge and cost less than GBP £10.
With our bellies full and our heads swimming we went back to the hotel and settled in for the night. We hoped the endless noise from the traffic wouldn't bother us too much as we had an early morning alarm to be ready to meet our guide for our first full day in Cairo and luckily it wasn't long before we were all fast asleep and dreaming of the Egyptian adventures ahead.