DAY ONE : An Unmitigated Disaster An eagerly awaited week in the Egyptian sunshine looking out over azure sea…what a treat. The day finally arrives and Gatwick is shrouded – just Gatwick mind you – in impenetrable mist. But no delays (probably something to do with the fact that planes don’t actually need human pilots) so we Thomson holiday packagers tottered like penguins down the aisle of the plane and squeezed into our seats. Ours were in row 30 and ideally positioned to hear the four loos flushing and inhale the fragrances that blew our way every time one of the doors unlatched. The steward, barely able to raise a smile, robotically went through the emergency spiel, telling us to brace if there was an emergency. As he brushed past I asked him how we were supposed to do this as there simply isn’t enough space to bend forward with the seat in front being so close. “Just do the best you can” he advised helpfully. Halfway through our flight I felt peckish only to discover that my Pret a Manger super fruit bowl had leaked. And the oily dressing for the prawn salad had leaked. Then my fizzy water exploded and I sat for the rest of the flight with soaking wet jeans.
We landed at tiny Taba airport in the evening and it was disappointingly cold and windy and dark and… our taxi transfer didn’t turn up. So we sat and shivered for forty minutes until another driver appeared to take us to the hotel. With huge relief, we finally arrived at the 5* Intercontinental resort (much lower altitude than airport, so much warmer). Relief that lasted all of thirty seconds until we were asked to wear a grey plastic bracelet to denote we were ‘all inclusive’… we refused as it had a definite look of a criminal’s electronic tag about it! On a more positive note, our rooms were very spacious and clean – but saying that, we lay, exhausted, on our foam pillows (yuk) listening to the insistent sound of the Birdie Song being played somewhere in the hotel and planning to call the airport to find out the time of the next plane home.
DAY TWO: Absolutely Love It Here Woke up refreshed and finally after three abortive attempts got something that resembled a life affirming latte. All uphill after that. Chatted to Thomson rep, a bubbly Glaswegian, who could not have been more helpful. We soaked up the blissful sun from a peaceful spot on the beach with fabulous views across the sea to Jordan and Saudia Arabia; had reflexology, a campari, Japanese teppan lobster at a nearby Sofitel, then plonked ourselves down on cushions in a Bedouin tent and puffed contentedly on a shisha (me pretending it was apple water to fool myself that I wasn’t smoking tobacco).
DAY THREE: Coffee After being scrubbed with fresh coconut in the spa, had a formal chat with the F&B manager about how difficult it was to get real coffee in this five (three by UK standards) star hotel. After another hard day at the beach, went back to room to discover a bottle of wine, a large plate of sweet pastries and a silver bowl of fruit. Manager must be worried we’ll be on Trip Advisor when (and if) we finally manage to get hooked up to the hotel’s erratic wifi connection. Another Campari, another Jap, another bong.
DAY FOUR: The Best Laid Plans… Delighted to report that coffee now in abundant supply. One lovely guest, Jacqui, who happens to be a yoga teacher, kindly offered to give a free daily class – this was music to my ears and her class was wonderful. Tabbouleh for lunch and a few pages of Jane Juska on the beach. Spent ages researching a trip to Jerusalem – not easy as valid information hard to come by. Seems the hotel and Thomson want you to join their tours, but we were determined to go it alone.
DAYS FIVE & SIX: Off to the Holy Land Foam pillows now taking their toll, so well and truly dead on my feet when got up at 5am. Taxi to Egyptian border (7 passport checks), quick walk through no mans land then 6 more passport checks at Israeli border. Shekels purchased, took taxi to Eilat bus station…it was closed. Airport closed. No train station in Eilat. So we sat, rather dejectedly, sipping cappuccino at the one place that wasn’t shut because it was Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. Decided to bite the bullet and take a taxi to Jerusalem. 340kms later having driven on an empty road (thanks to Shabbat) past palm tree plantations, desert and the Dead Sea, we got our first glimpse of the holiest city in the world which appeared like a white mirage on the hills. Checked in at our hotel and walked to the souk where we ate hummus with toasted pine nuts and sipped freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. Got bit lost at Jaffa Gate then ate ‘biblical cuisine” (with biblical prices) that evening – when will I EVER learn not to trust hotel concierge recommendations. Collapsed into bed for wonderful night’s rest on the most beautiful, crisply white, fragrant, soft feather pillows.
After traditional pancakes with white cheese, we went to Holocaust Museum – Yad Vashem – which, you won’t be surprised to hear was harrowing, especially the video testimonials from survivors. After lunch we checked out the Mount of Olives with its view of the Temple Mount (supposedly where a UFO popped by a couple of years ago). The church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial was very moving, not because I am religious but because it obviously meant so much to those visitors who were. We dashed back through the bustling bazaar (I noticed one stall was selling thorn crowns – gets my vote for top of the most tasteless souvenirs) to the Wailing Wall (ladies only side) where, like thousands of people before me, I scribbled a wish on a scrap of paper and found a crevice in the rock to squeeze it into. We only narrowly made the 5pm bus back to Eilat. If you’ve never been to Jerusalem, I highly recommend this vibrant, bustling, colourful city – there’s so much to see.Grace x