We arrived at Sheremetyevo (see link) airport in Moscow at 8.00 am in the morning on the 26th of December, full of excitement for our trip to Sharm El Sheikh (see link) in Egypt. Our flight time was to be at 10.40 am. The airport seemed fairly chaotic with about twenty unmanned check in desks. We waited, waited and waited. By 4.00 pm we were finally allowed to check in our luggage and proceeded to the departure lounge. Little did we know it was to be our home for the next 32 hours or so. The flight screens remained blank and there were no times, only the information that the flight was delayed. I asked a grumpy woman why and she said it was due to the weather.This was partly true but not fully true as we would later find out.
The departure screens eventually said that the departure time had changed to 10.00 pm that night so we thought hope was in sight and that we would get out of Russia and get to the sun and the sea. No such luck, this promised time came and went. The airport announcement girl kept saying all flights "is delaying". I could accept this bad English for the first few announcements but by the next afternoon, her announcements of the flight is delaying made me see red, if I had a gun I would have hunted her down in her airport office and at gunpoint forced her to make proper announcements in decent English. By this time I was functioning on auto pilot with red eyes and a screaming kid to look after, my wife chain smoked along with most other people in the departure lounge. Insanity was taking its grip on us all. People sat on the airport floor as there were not enough seats in the airport and it stank of cigarette smoke.We could see our plane from the departure lounge window as it was attached to the gate ramp. It sat there like a tantalizing chocolate cake in a patisserie shop window when you have no money in your pocket and are starving hungry.
No one slept and no information was given over the speaker system by the airline Aeroflot or as I call it 'Aerocrap'. That night, at the airport, passengers began drinking and singing karaoke on all the different departure lounge speaker systems. Fun fights broke out and the whole departure lounge was a sea of walking zombies, screaming kids and drunks. We did not sleep at all. By the next day of the 27th of December, our group in the departure lounge, all of which were Russian, were all fed up and rather drunk. A group of them, led by a fat man in a baseball cap, stormed the departure gate breaking it down and making a dash for the plane doors, maybe in an effort to fly us all there himself? He was promptly ejected by airport police. Other passengers all chanting "Egypt, Egypt, Egypt", all marched in unison to the Aeroflot office to demand an explanation, none was given, Police began to arrive with sticks and guns to control the angry passengers.
In the meantime, all the other flights were slowly taking off and landing and yet we had no information and no sign of a departure time for our doomed flight. Finally, at 6.30 in the evening on the 27th of December, the day after we arrived at the airport, we all boarded to plane to cheers of orgasmic delight. Russian passengers boarded the plane drunk or very drunk carrying plastic bags clanking with duty free booze. The plane filled up with bedraggled people and alcohol fumes filled the cabin and we finally took off for Egypt.
The family were so tired by that stage, that we could not sleep on the plane but we were so happy to be on the plane and in the air. Age restriction or beauty don't seem to be a requirement for Aeroflot female cabin staff, but they were nice enough and the food was good and the seats were soft and comfortable. No apology was given by the cabin crew or by the captain for the delay from hell.
Despite my original fears, I did not see any drunk Russians at our hotel apart from at the airport and they were all very funny and very entertaining, without them the time would have gone even slower. We were all in it together and they were fun to be with, even if we did not understand them all, although some spoke very good English, we made new friends. We lost one day and a night at our booked hotel, due to this delay that we had paid honest cash for. We hope to try and claim this back but Russian customer service and rights here are fairly non existent.
Sharm El Sheikh and the hotel
The hotel that we stayed was the Marriott (See link) its a five start resort. We booked it via a budget travel agency in Moscow for a very good price. The Marriott, is classy, although a bit tired round the edges. The rooms are large and the accommodation is on two floor levels, divided into accommodation blocks spread about the hotel grounds in well kept watered, palm tree gardens.
The rooms are marbled, big and peaceful. On a negative side, the water pressure on the baths and showers is weak and trickles out and the baths are too small. This is a strange design feature and an oversight by the Marriott chain, since they must have spent many millions on building the resort. I would think quality water pressure would be a basic essential at such a hotel.
The balcony railings are very low and dangerous for little kids and drunks as its possible to fall over them. The beds are big and comfy and all rooms have good air con. We moved rooms three times. The first room was next to another room, where they were drilling all day renovating it, as the previous occupants had set fire the bathroom. I don't really know how you can burn a bathroom down since its mostly made of tiles, but you live and learn, the second room was next to an all night New Years Eve disco and the third room was our final holiday room and faced the sea so we were happy. I do believe it pays to complain and I am the king of complainers.
The food at the Marriott is excellent and is a civilized help yourself buffet service, with chefs in those tall white chef hats waiting to serve you. At breakfast, you can have a full English, toast, fruit juices, made to order omelets, cereals, tea, coffee, and many different tasty breads and cakes to choose from. In the evening, the food is also excellent, meat dishes and salads and for desert there were many sticky cakes and chocolate cakes and other deserts to choose from. Lunch is the same quality. You will leave a lot fatter than when you arrived. The restaurant was busy and a bit of a food feeding trough at popular chow times but well worth waiting for.
Most of the Egyptian staff at the hotel are charming, smiling and very nice. Drinks are expensive and not included in the package. The are several pools but only one is heated so it gets crowed as the others are ice cold at this time of year. Deck chairs get taken early in the morning, by greedy invisible hands but you can get one on the beach and walk up the the pool. You can't swim in the sea due to Coral protection (although sadly most of it looked dead and swimming is unsafe due to stalking sharks) So the pools are your best, safest and only option.You can pay for diving trips but I think its a bit expensive and harmful to the natural environment.
There is a health spa but its not very good and a bit tired and dated. I had a massage but my back hurt more after the massage than before I had the massage, I dont think they are qualified masseurs. There is ping pong, snooker and live singing at night. The hotel had a mixed bag of nationalities, Dutch, German, Russian, Italian, English and there was one strange American family. The fat father wore a cowboy hat the whole time and his whole group took over two long tables in the restaurant each night. The chefs treated him like royalty. God only knows who he was? Boat trips are very expensive so we did not take one. I know I sound mean but I would not recommend it as they are over priced and not worth the money.
I don't know what it is about some Russian women by they can be spotted as Russian a mile away, even without hearing them speak. They dress very eccentrically. I saw one women at breakfast, she had black designer wellington boots with a white flower on the side of the boots, a black puffer boutique dress and Burberry patterned tights on, in 24 degrees of heat. She had a pair of D&G sunglasses balanced on her head and puffy collagen lips. These women seem to be almost like walking advertising boards for wealth and very bad taste.
If you go to this hotel, you will get fat as there is so much good food to choose from and its all delicious, although stay away from the salads as it may give you the shits, as it did me for two long days. There is a good safe fenced play area for kids but many steep steps and low walls around the hotel grounds, so you will have to be fit to climb them and you will have to keep an eye on your kids safety.
Along the road from the hotel, there is an 'old' and 'new' market as they are called. Don't think of it as a 'market' in the traditional sense, with stalls and hand made crafts, its more a collection of dilapidated shops all selling exactly the same crap. Goods such as Nargile smoking water pipes in various vulgar colours, fake designer hand bags and luggage (I bought a genuine copy of a 'Mont Blanc' travel bag, that fell to bits the first time I used it when back in Moscow) and T-shirts all saying the same thing. Every shop is exactly the same and smells of glue, plastic and sweet spices for the Nargile water pipes. The streets smell of toilets and sweet spices. Not worth seeing in my opinion, stay at your resort. Save your money, time and relax.
The Egyptian guys in every shop all say "hello where you from mate are you a cockney, come and see my shop, no pressure". They are hard salesmen and will charm you into buying anything in their shop, they bite your leg and won't let go like a terrier dog on heat till you leave with some crap from their shop. They are trying to make an honest living, selling what is basically tourist crap, mass produced in a factory but they are working in a competitive market so buy something from them, if only to help them out to make some money and to enjoy your freedom again.
The Koran and daily prays, dominate their lives and you will hear prayers blasting out from speakers in the shops and streets. I have never been to a Muslim country, if you exclude large parts of England, so it was a learning experience for me. They pray five times per day. Some even have prayers on their mobiles as ring tones or as message phone alerts. I will never understand how one religion can have such a hold on so many people and rules their lives from birth to death. I got the feeling that the real Muslims that I saw in Egypt, who are not fanatic killers, are decent, kind, good people, its a big pity a crazy bunch, (that seems to be growing daily around the world), spoils it for everyone else. Perhaps we should all follow some belief and the world would be a better place.
Many of the shop signs and menus are in Russian, I almost think Sharm El Sheikh is a Russian state but since its only a short flight away I suppose they are the main tourists there.The sea is warn and the sun shines and its worth visiting even if you only ever go once. I will not go back again.
The departure home
We were told the departure was to be at in the evening at 7.30 the next day. We ate dinner and went to bed, then at about 11.00 that night, the phone rang in our room, I was woken from my dreams of my return to Moscow by the Pegas holiday sales rep on the phone (Pegas is big in Egypt). She told me "sorry for disturbing" but.....and went on to say in broken English that our flight was to be at 7.30 the next morning and not in the evening and that the bus would collect us at 4.00 am in the morning. This meant we would lose a whole day at the hotel.
We angrily, got out of bed and packed our bags then went back to bed in our clothes getting up again at 3.00 am to get the damn bus to the airport. The bus came to collect us. We were the first to get on it. The bus drove at high speed over road bumps, shaking us all like peas in a tin. The bus toured the various hotels with names like 'The Golden Pyramid', 'The Spinx' all lit up in neon signs, that reminded me of Las Vegas. The bus filled up with Russians and the luggage rolled about on the bus smashing into the passengers on the bus, we were like cattle on a truck on our way to the airport to take the cattle plane home. Some of these hotels looked so bad, I would not even put my worst enemy in one. I guess they are cheap and to some peoples taste, if you like that kind of thing?
I have always been a closet snob or am I a man of taste? I think I am a man of taste! I have always avoided package holidays like this, like the plague, now I know why I did. Never again. The hotel was very nice and worth going to but the charter flight there and back and the whole process of getting to and from the airport was horrible and I would not recommend it to anyone. I was happy to get back to the mad smoked spaghetti of Moscow, not because I like Moscow, but just to be back at our temporary home base and in our temporary flat and back in one piece safe and sound.
I suspect the plane may have had technical problems as every other Aeroflot flight took off except ours. I may update you dear reader on our compliant success or failure. I think that airlines don't cancel flights or send passengers home becuase they would then be liable. Keep them all waiting and treat them like animals and there is no financial cost. Simple. We lost two days and one night due to flight problems. Passengers were given a food ticket when we were stuck in Moscow but it was only given out after midnight and it was not announced on the public speaker system. We only found out about it from another passenger, who was told this at the Aeroflot office in the airport. I saw a man working on the engine of the plane that we were supposed to take. The plane was parked at the terminal departure ramp and you could see it from the window. We may never know the full truth or reasons for the delays.
As a lover of all food, I would strongly recommend this hotel but not Aeroflot or Pegas (see link). Go to Egypt, if you live in Moscow and want a break from the cold its worth a visit but please be careful how you get there and where you stay.
The press reports
Here are some stories from the press either true or false, they provide a comparison to what we saw and experienced.