Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

Rich Arabian nights and delicious jasmine days…it’s easy for a Diva to find solace in an Egyptian palace at the foot of the Great Pyramids.

As the round, burnt-orange sun falls behind the rolling Egyptian sands, palm trees glow with the reflection of the day’s heat. It is 2004, and the same sun that set on the pharaohs is casting its last rays of heat on me. I stare in wonder at the pyramids, admiring the work of the thousands of agonized workers who erected the monuments centuries ago. The sun finally disappears, and I step back into my room at the Oberoi Mena House Hotel.

I am staying in the Winston Churchill Suite. The Prime Minister frequented the hotel during his political tenure; my room was his favorite. I take a deep breath, turn, and marvel at the room’s details. The walls of the suite are decorated with silk tapestries depicting scenes from the Koran. Hand-stitched tableaus of men on horseback, of animals, and of journeys to Mecca cover the walls. I sit on a chair brimming with silk pillows and rest my bare feet on a handmade silk rug. Looking up, I admire the mahogany trim adorning the ceiling. I have been told that the carvings are quotes from the Prophet Mohammed. The hotel is more than one hundred years old, and its halls echo with history.

During the Second World War, plans for Operation Overlord (the naval part of the Normandy invasion) required that Churchill and Roosevelt meet in person. Developments in Southeast Asia necessitated the participation of General Chiang Kai-Shek as well. Churchill chose the Mena House for this important meeting, known as the Big Three Conference. The Mena House was a place where he found much-needed solitude and where he could rest comfortably in the safety of the pyramids’ shadows.

During his stay at the Mena House, Churchill slept with the curtains open. The windows overlooked the fragrant gardens and the Great Pyramids. The sweet, warm smell of jasmine and the rising sun awoke him at dawn. Once he had shaved and showered in the white-marble bathroom, the Prime Minister entered the living room of his suite to find fresh coffee, warm pastries, and chilled fruit.

Over sixty years later, I too am greeted by fragrant jasmine breeze and morning delights. After breakfast, the prime minister liked to disappear for an hour to enjoy a leisurely stroll around the Mena House gardens. While exploring the hotel grounds, he contemplated the future of the British Empire. After my lovely breakfast I slather my body with sunscreen and trot to the pool via the same sandstone path the prime minister once walked. Fortunately, unlike Churchill, I don’t need to worry about the welfare of my country on this trip.

Seven decades ago, Churchill greeted Roosevelt and Chiang in the grand foyer of the Mena House’s old palace section. The foyer is dressed in mother-of-pearl and trimmed in delicate gold foil that shimmers in the muted sunlight. Impressive carved chandeliers hover overhead, and their reflections dance, twirl, and shine on the polished marble floors. Churchill chose the Mena House for its opulent beauty, dedication to service, and exotic location; we chose it for the same reasons.

The English Prime Minister, the US President, and the Chinese General spent a week within the walls of the Mena House discussing world peace, plans to overthrow Hitler, and strategies to minimize casualties. I on the other hand sipped champagne, swam in pools near the foot of the Pyramids, and delighted in sleeping in the same room Churchill once occupied. But unlike Churchill, at night I drew the thick curtains tightly closed and rose hours after the sun.

Things to do when visiting Cairo:

• Ride a purebred Arabian stallion across the desert.

• Take in the nighttime Sound and Light Show at the Sphinx

• Crawl through the Great Pyramid up to the pharaoh’s sarcophagus

• Take a river cruise on the Nile

• Visit the museums—with a guide and a driver

• Take a day trip (via plane) to Luxor

**NOTE: Tango Diva does not recommend that women travel solo to Egypt.**

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