In January of 2023, two couples took a vacation to Egypt together. The Glasses (Richard and Judi) and the Zechiels (David and Jessica) arrived in Cairo on Sunday, January 15th.
Alex and Heather gave David, Jessica, Richard and Judi a ride to LAX for our vacation to Egypt. Our first leg is from Los Angeles to London (Heathrow). The flight was uneventful. Had to pass through security again, where they stripped search me and Richard. I put this down to anti-US and anti-masculine attitudes on the part of the Brits.
Flight to Cairo was uneventful. A taxi driver that Judi had hired was there to greet us. We got a ride to the hotel using the Cairo "freeway". Here, instead of using the breaks or steering, the preferred method of driving seems to be with the horn.
Driving around Cairo, one soon notices the complete lack of traffic lights, stop signs and cross walks. Car traffic, motorcycles and pedestrians all coexist on the streets at one time. The closest thing to traffic control is the frequent speed bump. Rather than steer the car or use the brakes, everyone (and I mean everyone) uses their horn! No exaggeration, you hear a horn beep on average of once per second.
Along the way I keep noticing an unusual structure. It's one or two tall domes, white in color, with many holes in it. You see these every mile or so. I pointed these out to the others, and Judi suggested that they are pigeon coops. Apparently pigeon is a delicacy in Egypt, so this explanation makes as much sense as any other. Someone should open a KFP franchise.
We met in the hotel lobby for breakfast. Very nice, with a guy playing piano. About $14.50 per head.
After a very nice breakfast, our guide, Ramadan from Trafalger, and driver met us (David, Jessica, Richard and Judi) to take us to NMEC (National Museum of Egyptian Civilization). This place is pretty new, well organized and put together. Security is tight (they confiscated Jessica's and my pen knifes, but said they would return them upon exit). The main floor has all manner of ancient Egyptian art and artifacts. It just goes on and on. The entire lower floor is done in black granite with subdued lighting, and has mummy after mummy, sarcophagus after sarcophagus, with nice plaques describing the various pharoahs. Really well done. On the way out we stopped in the gift shop to make the obligatory purchase of a refridgerator magnet and a bookmark.
After the museum we visited the big marketplace (an outdoor bazaar that stretches forever) starting at the Gates of Cairo. This shopping area (Al-Mu'izz Street) has someone at every stall to encourage you to step inside. We made a few purchases while walking at least a mile. I was able to get a new Lightning cable for Jessica's phone (50 Egyptian pounds, about $2.00).
Later in the afternoon we returned to the hotel to nap and get used to the time change (about 10 hours).
We met Richard and Judi for dinner at a pub restaurant that's part of the Ramses Hilton hotel. Jessica and I both had the fish and chips. Got back to hotel exhausted. I went to bed at 7:30p local time.
Up early the next morning. We have had the room in our names up to this time, but we need to transfer that to Trafalgar, our tour group, so it's downstairs to reception to have that task taken care of.
Next we meet Richard and Judi for breakfast at 6:15a. Another delightful meal. The breakfast buffet stretches forever, and includes fresh squeezed orange juice. Because of the room transfer, breakfast was now included by Trafalger.
We soon met our driver for the trip to Alexandria and were on the road with the honking traffic. The only vehicle that doesn't honk is the occasional horse drawn wagon. As we drive along what closely resembles a freeway, we pass row after row after row of older, 15 story apartment buildings. Each one is characterized by dozens of window mounted air conditioning units and dozens of TV satellite dishes.
We just passed the pyramids of Giza in the distance. We will tour those later on our vacation. I noticed when we were diving around Cairo that maybe 50% of the signage was in the western alphabet. But on our drive to Alexandria virtually all the signs are in Arabic. We have passed many mosques, both large and small. There are many plantations along the highway, growing sugarcane, alphalpha, wheat, date palms, and 60 different kinds of mango trees. Once outside of Cairo the traffic lightened and we were able to make good progress. And, the honking subsided to about once a minute!
We passed what appears to be a very large prison. Guard towers every few hundred feet. Big buildings in the distance, and lots and lots of trees. Before too long we passed another correction center, this one even bigger.
After about 90 minutes, our driver pulled into a rest stop to allow us to stretch our legs. I used the men's room, and upon entering, was met by the attendant with his hand out. I accidentally pulled a couple of singles out of my wallet and handed one to the guy. He reached for the second one, but I snatched it away. In the public restrooms in Egypt they do not stock toilet paper. Instead, there is someone there to hand you a few plys for a small price. The facility was clean, so I guess the guy did his job well. We are back on the road and I think we have another hour until our destination.
We got to Alexandria and picked up our guide, Dena. She seemed very nice. She gave us a history lesson about Egypt, Alexandria, Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Mark Antony and the Light House.
So, our first stop was the catacombs of Alexandria. Most impressive! From above, it doesn't look like much, but descending the spiral staircase takes you several levels deep into the earth, where the tunnels branch in every direction. Some lead to bulk burial crypts (stacked two high and stretching down long walls). Other rooms (for the more well to do) contain elaborate decorations of artwork and perhaps three large crypts. Sometimes the same crypt is decorated with Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods (hedging their bets in the afterlife). The place is enormous and very interesting.
Next stop was Pompey's Pillar. This collection of artifacts is marked by the super-tall pillar standing between twin sphinxes. There is also an underground portion of this place, but it pales compared to the catacombs.
Then it was onto the Roman Theater. This place has a huge outdoor amphitheater, the remains of the baths, and a gigantic room with an ornate mosaic floor. Impressive stuff everywhere you look.
Next up was the Quitbay Citadel. This place stands on the former site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Really large. A nice self tour.
Then we stopped for lunch at Branzino, a restaurant on the Mediterranean coast. They brought out pita bread, hummus and pickled vegetables for an appetizer. Then the main course of seabass arrived. Tasty, but with lots of little bones. This place has a wonderful view and was a good choice.
Last stop is the library at Alexandria. This is one big library. We toured the lower floors with Dena, then joined a guided tour in English offered by the library. This place is both large and impressive! 11 floors with a raked ceiling. Millions of books. And an online "learn hieroglyphics" system. Only one papyrus is left from the original library, and it is now in Vienna! They seemed to spare no expense when chasing their historical grandur.
We quickly dropped off our guide, Dena, and drove back to Cairo. The drive back is remarkable because of the heavy traffic and making a U-turn on the freeway, the number of pedestrians running through freeway traffic, the number of cars passing on the shoulder (when the shoulder really isn't there), the number of cars simply parked in a lane of traffic, and the number of vehicles traveling in the dark without lights. I can't believe the traffic fatalities are as low as they say, no matter whatever that number is.
Went to bed around 9:00p last night and slept pretty hard. Up at 5:45a this morning in order to be ready and breakfasted by 7:00a. We met Richard and Judi in the wonderful buffet. It seems with our travels today that there may not be time for lunch. So everyone is eating well this morning.
10 of us climbed onto a big bus and drove to the pyramids in Giza. First stop was the big pyramid of Cheops II. Pictures don't do it justice! They wanted about $5.00 to go inside, and we were told that it was cramped and claustrophobic. So, instead we opted to go inside the second biggest pyramid. We were told this one wasn't a problem. I'm glad I didn't go in the big one, because a large part of the smaller one involved kissing your toes, due to being hunched over and crab walking down a narrow staircase. However, the burial chamber inside was quite large, and came with a professional photographer. After wrestling your phone away, he took your picture, then gave you back your phone, said, "Thank you", and rubbed his fingers together in a "pay me" motion. Richard gave the guy $5.00 to cover everyone.
From there we went to the panorama vista where you can see all the pyramids at once, and take a camel ride. The story is that it costs $5.00 to get on the camel, and $20.00 to get off. We took several pictures here.
Next stop was the Sphinx! You walk past several dozen "shops" that all sell pretty much the same tchotchkes. Mini pyramids, cats, Egyptian books, etc, etc. Then you find yourself alongside the Sphinx, and it is impressive. More picture taking. Then walk back to the bus, running the sales pitch gauntlet again on the way out.
The next stop was a shop that sold all manner of linens, clothing, luggage, etc. The argument for stopping at this place is that it had very clean restrooms without the typical "fee". I'm guessing our guide gets $100 (or similar amount) for depositing a bus load of tourists in their shop. Both Jessica and Judi made purchases. I now own a t-shirt showing two Egyptian camels playing chess and smoking a hookah.
Then it was off to Memphis, with a stop for lunch along the way. El Ezba is the name of the restaurant. They started us off with fresh pita bread and all manner of dips. Then they brought out an assortment of traditional Egyptian cuisine, baba ghanoush, falafel, barbecued chicken and lamb. Then dessert. A delightful meal (but not cheap).
After lunch we drove to Memphis. Our guide, Ramadan, showed us the colossal statue of Ramses II, along with another Sphinx and all manner of carvings that had hieroglyphics.
Then it was on to the Step pyramid (made of bricks, rather than stone), the oldest stone structure on the planet. At one time it was completely surrounded by a tall stone wall (a portion of which still exists). The craftsmanship that went into this wall would still be considered outstanding some 5000 years later.
I finally realized why there are no traffic lights or stop signs in Cairo! Even if they existed, none of the drivers would obey them. The only effective way to slow the traffic down is to put these immense speed bumps everywhere. And this does seem to work. The #1 rule of driving in Cairo seems to be: "If there's six inches of available space in front of your car, you should pull forward into it."
On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a carpet manufacturer. They served tea and other drinks. They gave a discussion on how silk worms produce silk and how it is woven into carpets. Then the sales pitch started. It wasn't as aggressive as the one we witnessed in Istanbul, but you could tell they wanted to make a sale.
Traffic on the way back to the hotel was heavy. As we rolled along the freeway, one could see that the apartment buildings closest to us had been cut in half to make room for the freeway widening. The end of the buildings had been crudely patched so they could still be used to house people. In the US the entire building would have been demolished.
Coming along one street, the big bus we were in suddenly turned onto a very rough dirt road. We had to avoid oncoming traffic, including a cart pulled by a donky. We had to make turns I never thought the bus could negotiate. Eventually we ended back on a paved road. When I asked about the "shortcut" I was told that had we continued we would have encountered construction. Rush hour traffic here is bad enough, but rush hour traffic plus construction equals total gridlock.
We fly to Luxor early tomorrow. I don't know if we will have access to the Internet, so don't be too surprised if it's a few days before you hear from us again.
Set the alarm for 3:15a, as our bus to the airport leaves at 4:00a. I heard the alarm go off, and go off, and go off. After a full minute, Jessica managed to turn it off. I looked at my watch and saw that it was only 12:15a. The alarm was the hotel alarm clock that had somehow become set. Once we realized the situation we slowly managed to fall back asleep. After a while, my eyes open and I looked at my watch. It said 3:20a! We were already running late! I snapped on the light and looked again, this time it said 2:20a. Back to sleep. The next thing I know, Jessica is calling my name. Turns out she woke early and disabled the alarm.
We put out our big luggage. Our room is on the 30th floor (a spectacular view), and right at 3:30a I heard someone picking them up. We got dressed, and had a cup of coffee. Downstairs we met up with Richard and Judi and the other six or so members of our tour group. By 4:00a we were in a minibus on the road to Cairo International Airport for our flight to Luxor. They gave everyone a boxed breakfast prepared by the hotel. Lots of bread and some juice. Passing through security once again involved a full pat down for everybody.
After getting our boarding passes and walking to the most distant Gate at this airport (G27) we settled down to wait for the flight. Jessica got both of us some coffee. They finally opened the gate, which means one more trip through security. This time it was the whole gamut. Take off your coat, your hat, your shoes, your belt, your watch, your phone, your glasses, empty your pockets, step through the metal detector and still get an intimate pat down from a complete stranger. The good news is, at least I feel safe. Waiting for our flight to board.
Boarding went smoothly. Ramadan, our tour guide, was seated next to me and Jessica. We ended up playing WordScapes for the short, one hour flight. The flight was uneventful, and the luggage was recovered easily. Everyone onto the bus for a trip to the Karnak Temple Museum.
This place, Luxor, is massive beyond belief! Supposedly there are 80,000 tourists here, but you wouldn't know it. It's crowded, but if you put that many people into Disneyland, you would hardly be able to move. There are columns and structures and obelisks galore, virtually all of them covered in hieroglyphics. We took a ton of pictures and were able to walk up close and personal with all the artifacts.
We left there and proceeded to the Luxor Museum. More and more ancient Egyptian artifacts, many of them in excellent condition (including two mummies). Lots and lots of statuary in every room.
So many pharoahs! Let's face it: Egypt has a corner on the ancient Egyptian antiquities market. Almost wants to make you learn to read hieroglyphics.
Back in the minibus, we are making our way to our Nile cruise ship. The good news: less crazy pedestrians; the bad news: more donkey drawn carts on the road. We arrived, and I must say they are well organized! They checked us in, gave us our cabin keys, gave us the Wi-Fi password, and had our luggage delivered to our cabin in record time.
At that moment it was time for the lunch buffet. There was a lot to choose from (I particularly liked the roast chicken). Jessica went nuts with all the salad options. Richard and Judi joined us at our table. After eating, Jessica and I came back to our cabin and I took a nap, while she took a shower. Jessica unpacked our bags. The drain plug in our sink went down, but wouldn't pop back up. A call to the desk and a guy was there to fix it in about a minute!
Judi invited Jessica and I to visit with her on the Sun Deck (the top deck of our ship, with lots of seating, a bar, and a pool). Since we have about an hour before our next visit to a museum we said, "Yes!" I grabbed a book from the ship's library and read about the British rule in Egypt during the 'teens and twenties.
At 5:15p it was time to attend the Karnak Temple Light show. This was similar in size to the place we visited earlier, but now it is dark and there are all kinds of artificial lighting, which exposes the relief of the artwork and hieroglyphics. There was even a large yard filled with miscellaneous pieces that had been dug up years earlier, and is waiting for a day when they can be reassembled. On the bus ride back we stopped at a bank and at a store to allow people to get money and groceries. The store was closed, as the guy who runs it had gone to the mosque for evening prayers.
We got back for dinner twenty minutes late. Dinner was underway, but because it was buffet style we just jumped on the end of the line, then joined the others on our tour at the table. Good food. I had the ratatouille, Jessica had the chicken.
We have an early call in the morning (must be on the road at 7:00a). Will probably go to bed early tonight, we have been up since 3:00a.
Both Luxor and Karnak are very large temples with hugh columns and buildings, all covered with heiroglyphics. At first I though we had visted the same place twice, it was difficult to believe the ancient Egyptians would create two, massive temples within walking distance of each other! They are connected by a road that has 750 sphinx statues lining each side (total 1500). They just go out of sight.
We had to get up at 5:15a to be breakfasted and ready to go by 7:00a. This is when I found out that you needed to be an Olympic gymnast to get in and out of our shower (Jessica had tried to warn me, but I didn't understand how serious she was). Got dressed and downstairs for breakfast just before 6:00a. This morning there was an omelet bar with fresh eggs. Very tasty! Richard and Judi showed after 15 minutes. They served hibiscus juice, something that Jessica assures me has curative powers.
At 7:00a everyone met in the lobby for our next excursion. Whenever we leave our boat, we have to cross through two other boats to get on shore. This morning, when we reached land, we looked behind us and saw the sky filled with hot air balloons! OK, everyone on the bus, and off we go. On our drive we passed over the Luxor bridge. Looking down on us from a watch tower was a guy with a rifle! Some sort of security.
Egypt, like Mexico, is the land of unfinished construction. Everywhere you look is a two story building with an unfinished third story. In some places this is for tax purposes, but apparently, in Egypt, this is to leave room for your son to live when he marries.
We arrive at "The Valley of the Kings". Our first stop is the Land of Aggressive Peddlers. We put to good use the first Egyptian expression we learned: "Shock ran", this translates to "[No,] thank you". In this location are massive statues called the Colossi of Memnon. In the distance you can see parts of the hill that are clearly occupied. We only stay there for about ten minutes, mostly talking pictures.
Next we drive to the valley proper. After passing through security we get on an electric cart for the trip to the tombs. We hear a lecture on the history of these tombs. There's a lot of them (at least 63). First tomb we visit: Ramses IV. This place is really impressive! A small entry into the mountain opens up into a large hall, which opens into an even larger burial chamber. There's even corridors beyond which are currently inaccessible.
We then got our picture taken in front of Tutankahmun's tomb. Then we went into the tomb of Ramses IX. This tomb is larger than Ramses IV, but parts of it are unfinished (he died before completion). Still impressive.
The last tomb we visited is that of Ramses III. It was larger still, and had a couple of bends in the passageway. At the end it broke into two levels and a large burial chamber. These tombs defy description. Whoever wanted them was expecting something special in the afterlife.
On the way out Jessica bought a book on Egypt. We joined our group and went to the Temple of Hatshepsut, the only female pharoah. When her husband died, rather than allow her step-son to ascend to the throne, she decided to be pharoah and kicked her step-son to the curb. When she died and the kid become pharoah, he did everything he could to erase her from history, including her name, image and temple. The only thing left was a papyrus showing what the temple looked like, and in 1960 they spent 43 years rebuilding it. That is what we visited. Once again, impressive!
Back on the bus headed to the alabaster factory. To call it a factory is a little bit of an understatement. They do manufacture alabaster products, but their mainstay is selling. My guess is that a lot of this stuff is made in China. It just goes on and on. While sitting here, someone has turned the lights off then back on again about three times. The moment the lights go out someone starts to croak out "Happy birthday", but they don't get beyond the first two words. The notes they hit are particularly sour. OK: it turns out that some of the products are made of alabaster mixed with phosphorus, and they glow in the dark. This place is lousy with tourists. The owners must pay good money to the tour guides.
The last stop of the day was at a personal residence in Korna Village. We turned off the main road onto a series of smaller and smaller dirt roads and paths. When we walked up to the house the owner showed us how they make bread in their own oven. They served fresh bread and mint tea, all the while the call to prayers was broadcast over speakers in the neighborhood. The head guy described their lifestyle, which is communal. They seem to get along well and are quite self sufficient. They offered a tour of their house and farm (which did include camels, along with other livestock).
Back in the bus, heading to the boat. Once we arrived we tipped our driver and clambered aboard. We had a late lunch (once again the buffet). Our boat has finally left the dock and is moving upstream. The view out our window is very nice and relaxing. I spent some time on the sun deck reading and soaking up some rays. Every quarter hour or so we pass another riverboat going downstream.
So, Richard and I are in the sun deck when we hear all manner of shouting and voices coming up from over the side of the boat. Everyone looks over to see that two guys in a small motor boat have tied up to our riverboat (while it's motoring up-river) and are holding up linen tablecloths for sale. Two of the ship's company are trying to shoo them away. Everyone on the sun deck started laughing. Finally they cast off and were on their way.
Dinner is at 7:00p and not the buffet! They set the table with three forks, three knives, and one spoon. I got the steak, Jessica got the fish. I cleaned my plate. We should be passing through a lock going up-river this evening.
This morning we slept until 7:30a and feel pretty rested. After showers we headed down to breakfast at around 8:30a (breakfast stops serving at 9:00a). Another buffet with custom omelets. Richard and Judi met us there.
After breakfast we attended a Q&A on Egyptian life, given by our tour guide, Ramadan. This discussion covered all facets of Egyptian life, starting with the early Christians and Arabs, covering such topics as the Suez canal, and ending with the current relations with the US, and the current administration. He also covered the Egyptian marriage ritual and dowries. Be glad you live in the USA.
Later, we got some sun on the top deck, and played some cards. Lunch was served at 12:30p (buffet again) and was very tasty. After a little while we put into port.
Jessica has been struggling to keep her connection to the internet active. I finally instructed her phone to "forget" the network, and started the connection process fresh. That seemed to do the trick.
At 2:30p we joined our tour guide and walked a short distance to the Komobo Temple (crocodile god). We learned that the ancients were expert in many fields, especially medicine. Lots and lots of impressive hieroglyphics. Right next door to the temple is the crocodile museum. All manner of mummified crocodiles and crocodile statuary. On the walk back to our ship we had to run another gauntlet of Hyper Aggressive Peddlers. These guys made the ones at Valley of the Kings look like pikers. Both Jessica and Judi succumbed, making minor purchases.
Our boat is back underway. Jessica, Judi and I are in the top deck playing games and watching the sun set. Other river traffic continues to drift by. This is a very relaxing time of day.
It's now 5:30p. The sun has just set. The peace of the river had been interrupted by several different loudspeakers blaring the call to prayer (and not in unison). It almost seems like a competition to see who can out yodel who. Really loud! As we move upriver the ones behind us tend to fade, and the ones ahead become more prominent. Some of them are melodic, others are atonal.
I don't know just how many riverboats like ours are on this river, but it is a lot! While it's rare to pass or be passed by other boats moving upriver, boats moving down river seem to pass us every couple of minutes. They all to appear to be at least as big as our boat. I heard somewhere that tourism is the second largest industry in Egypt, and I think that must be true. Jessica said she heard that there are 300 tourist boats on the Nile.
Dinner this evening was "dress up" night. Many of the guests were in traditional Egyptian dress. Judi wore her Cleopatra head gear. The meal was traditional Egyptian fare. My falafel was very tasty! Everyone seemed to like the baklava. At the end of dinner a bunch of the waiters came in banging on drums and tambourines. This seemed to go on forever. They then broke into a rendition of "Happy birthday" for one of the guests. Then more drumming.
When we left we dropped by the lounge as there was music and dancing going on. We watched for a few minutes, but the music only seemed to get louder, so we retired to our cabin to prepare for tomorrow.
Went to bed last night intending to get up at 5:30a for breakfast. About 1:00a my phone exploded with four text messages from Valerie, Meg, and Lori. Something about an Alaskan cruise in July. Jessica insisted I mute my phone after that. Back to sleep.
Down for breakfast at 6:00a. They have crepes this morning! Very tasty. Richard and Judi soon showed up.
We met up with our group at 7:00a and walked to our bus. We are visiting Aswan ("The Market")! About a half hour bus ride brought us to the old dam (constructed about 120 years ago). We boarded a small motorboat for the trip to the island that the Temple of Philae was relocated to. Most impressive! Such large, imposing structures! The most beautiful hieroglyphics! This temple would be under water had it been left in place when the old dam was built. Our return boat ride came complete with a peddler. He was hawking maps of the Nile and descriptions of the pharoahs. Jessica bought gifts for our daughters-in-law.
Back on the bus we are headed to the papyrus museum. Well, not so much a museum, as this is really an expensive art gallery. The guy spent the first 20 minutes extolling the virtues of papyrus as an art medium. Apparently, regular paper will eventually grow old and brittle, but real papyrus will remain supple forever (and don't even consider fake papyrus [banana leaves]). They gave an extensive presentation on how it is grown, harvested, treated and combined to make a page. They even turned out the lights to show the artwork with hidden phosphorus glowing in the dark! Truly, there is a lot of very nice artwork here, I just don't know where we would hang any of it. I tried to take a picture of the gallery, but one of the worker bees shut me down. Jessica told a salesman that she wanted to make a purchase, but she couldn't while her husband was upset. Suddenly it was OK to take a photo. She purchased a double cartouche and had our names added.
Next stop is the High Dam at Aswan. This place is an engineering marvel! They back up 10 years use of water behind this dam. 12 giant hydroelectric power generators. The lake (Nasser) behind the dam is so big that it necessitated the relocation of numerous temples and artifacts when it was constructed in the 1960s. And, apparently it is filled with crocodiles which were relocated there from the rest of the Nile. Special gates keep them from getting out when water is released.
We left there and drove to the unfinished obelisk. The first thing there is to attend a lecture given by an Omar Shariff lookalike on how obelisks were carved. This was to be the largest obelisk ever made, for Hatshepsut. It is thought that the carvers may have cracked it on purpose because they knew many lives would be lost transporting it to the temple (being so huge). It turns out they are always carved from a single block of granite. If the stone breaks (as the one here did) before it's complete, then it is abandoned. We climbed up, up, up to get above the unfinished obelisk, then down, down, down in order to run another gauntlet of shops filled with souvenirs. Both Jessica and Judi made token purchases (Judi picked up six of the hieroglyphics stencils to hand out at home).
One notices that many of the women here are dressed head to toe in black. Apparently this is the sign of a married woman. All men, married or not, dress however they want. Unmarried women are allowed to wear colors (it would seem so you know who's available). I think the concept of a wedding ring covers the same ground.
Lunch is served at 1:00p. We spent a few minutes in our cabin before eating again. The roast chicken was delicious! For dessert there were chocolate éclairs.
One of the upcoming trips required an additional fee, so we hunted the guy down and made the payment. Jessica and I then spent some time in our cabin until it was time to attend the felucca (sailboat) ride.
The weather was perfect and our group had a delightful time sailing up and down the Nile. Really a nice experience. Everything was fine until it was time to disembark. They slowly negotiated to the edge of the river near where our riverboat was moored. One of the guys jumped up and off to the river bank (which was a little higher than the boat deck) and used a rope to pull us snug. At this point they put down a very narrow plank, with no railing, from the boat deck to the shore (about ten feet in length and eight feet up). Everyone had to make like a tightrope walker to get ashore. From there it was a short walk back to our own river boat.
Dinner is at 7:30p this evening. We killed a little time playing games in the lounge. And, another delicious meal! The after dinner entertainment consisted of native music (two percussion instruments and a synth), a belly dancer (both Richard and Judi were asked to dance with her) , and a whirling dervish (this guy could spin around fast for ten minutes at a time and not fall over!). Altogether, a fun show!
Tomorrow we take a quick flight to see some special ruins. More to follow.
Up at 6:00a and ready for breakfast at 6:30a. As Richard and Judi are not joining us on our flight to Abu Simbel, they opted to skip the early breakfast. We are downstairs at 7:30a, ready to go. They have provided lunch bags for everyone, as our schedule will not permit us time for a sit-down lunch.
On the bus heading to Aswan International Airport (about a 30 minute drive). Our guide, Ramadan, is telling us all about our excursion. We are heading to Nubia. The original temple here (Abu Simbel) was carved out of solid rock (not built up in blocks like most). So, when the new dam was going to flood this site many different solutions were proposed to protect it, including building a colossal wall around the site to keep the water out. It was eventually decided to cut the solid mountain into pieces and rebuild the temple on higher ground. The final touch was to create an artificial mountain to give the illusion that it was still in one piece.
We arrive at the airport and pass through a security checkpoint right inside the door. Everything but the shoes comes off. We pick up our boarding passes and... pass through another security checkpoint! This time the watch, pockets, hat, even shoes, etc go through the scanner. On top of that they pat you down. Separate lines for men and women. The one thing they don't seem to mind is a full size bottle of water. Now at the gate to await boarding.
They called our gate. After flashing our boarding passes we stepped onto... a bus. After a wait the bus drove us about 100 yards out onto the tarmac where our plane, a 737, was sitting (it would have been faster to walk to the plane). We climb the movable staircase and easily find our seats. This airport seems to double as a military base. We can hear the fighters take off while we wait our turn.
The flight was uneventful. Once again we were bused the short distance between the plane and the terminal. Ramadan was there to guide us. We left the terminal and walked to our waiting bus. There are a lot more people on board than our small group.
We arrived at Abu Simbel. Got off the bus, received our tickets, and passed through security one more time. When you look up, you simply see the back of a colossal hill. Following the arrows takes you around to the far side where you catch the first glimpse of the large temple. Four huge statues, two of Ramses II, and two of his queen, Nefertari, stare out at you. It's the only place where the queen's statues are as large as the king's. All other statues have the queen only coming up to the knees of the king. These are "King" size! In the middle of the base is an opening. You enter a long hall that has passages to the left and right. More massive statues align the hall. Entering one of the passages show that it further opens into long rooms. There are six to eight of these rooms, and that doesn't count the "Holy of Hollies" at the end of the hall. Really impressive that this was originally carved out of solid rock. Statues and hieroglyphics everywhere!
Then it's on to the small temple of Nefertari (which can only be called small when compared to the large temple). It also has four statues outside, and a central doorway. The inside is noticeably smaller, a large hall, with a shrine at the end, lots of statues and hieroglyphics, but no extra rooms off the main hall. This temple is dedicated to the pharoah's wife, Nefertari. Apparently he had like 60 wives, but this was his favorite.
We continued walking around the mountain that all of this had been relocated to and found ourselves in the longest such bazaar we had yet to encounter. Each peddler explained that everything was "one dollar", except for the guy who said everything was "free". We both enjoyed a good laugh over that.
We made it back to meet our guide with about ten minutes to spare and decided to eat the sack lunches that had been prepared for us on the boat. These lunches were heavy on bread items, but also included some fruits and vegetables.
Soon we were back at the airport. Our guide cautioned us not to get dressed after passing through the first security check point as, "the next one is only eight feet away." This was good advice, but the next check point was more like ten feet away. We just left all of our pocket contents, shoes, cellphones, belts, watches, etc in the first box that was pushed through the scanner and ran that same box through the next scanner. Then it was back on a bus for the stone's throw ride to the plane. We then took off and flew over the Sahara and Lake Nasser. Back to Aswan without incident.
We walked out of the airport to find our bus, but it wasn't where it was supposed to be. Fortunately, it appeared after a minute or so and we were on our way.
The drive back was typical. Rush hour traffic, crazy drivers, and honking. Back on the boat we found Richard and Judi on the sun deck. They had visited the Nubian Museum. We exchanged stories and images from our day. Jessica persuaded us to play Code Names while we killed time before the light and sound show.
At 5:30p we met with our Trafalger group to attend a sound and light show at Philae Temple (which we visited a couple of days ago). We again have to take a boat to the island. The place the boats launch from bears a striking resemblance to the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. The moon, Venus, and Saturn are all in the same part of the sky tonight. It's really dark out on the water, and I don't think we have any running lights. I just hope we don't meet somebody else similarly equipped.
Once back on shore, we are standing among the temples, statues, columns, etc at Philae. The lighting goes up and down to emphasize certain objects. The music rises and falls accordingly. Then there's the voice over: one voice is Isis, another is the Nile. There are several others. The program reminisces about the history of Philae. It lasts an hour and is pretty well done. They touch on everything from early dynasties, to the arrival of Napoleon, to the effort by contemporary scientists to preserve sites like this one.
When it was over we took the lightless boat back to shore, then met up with our bus for the ride back to our riverboat. We will arrive late for dinner.
Got to the dining room about 8:15p, it's still going strong. The veal was particularly good this evening. We were back in our room by 9:00p.
Slept until 7:15a. Down for breakfast by 8:00a, where we met Richard and Judi. Today is a visit to a Nubian village, which is supposed to include a motorboat ride. Nubia was a region between Egypt and Sudan, the seat of one of the earliest civilizations of Africa. When Lake Nasser was made, it displaced all the Nubians, whose region is now at the bottom of the lake.
We met downstairs at 9:15a. We walked a short distance along the river until we came to our motorboat. Everyone aboard and we started upriver. Our guest guide spent time identifying the various flora and fauna along the river bank. After a few minutes we pulled along side another boat in the middle of the Nile and transferred all of their passengers onto our boat in a maneuver that would never pass muster in the USA. We are now full. This boat ride is very reminiscent of Disneyland's Jungle Cruise. We are in a similar boat, on the Nile, and the pilot is constantly pointing out temples, plants and animals. The only thing missing are the bad jokes. If he offered to show us "the back side of water", I wouldn't be a bit surprised. We saw several breeds of very colorful birds, herons, cormorants, etc. We saw water buffaloes. There are dozens of islands in this part of the Nile, most of them are wildlife preserves. While this portion of the Nile is lush and filled with life, you can see on the right bank the edge of the Sahara with its fine sand. Virtually all of the boats on this river have a row of old automobile tires along their side that afford collision protection. Most of them are painted white.
We made port well upstream. We are going to visit a Nubian village. We have been cautioned not to patronize the locals, apparently it only encourages them. We walk up some steep steps and along dirt paths to a house, where we are invited in for tea. They have pets here, crocodiles! Some big ones, some smaller. Jessica held one of the smaller ones. We all collected in one large room and tea was served. They grow natural henna here and offered henna tattoos to anyone who wanted one. A couple of people took them up on their offer. The patriarch informed us that Nubians value girls because, after they marry, the girls and their husbands come to live with the parents, and are there to take care of them in their old age. The Egyptians value their sons, because they live with their parents after marriage. We were invited to visit the rest of the house, but it turns out that much of the "rest of the house" is, in fact, a colossal souvenir shop. The walls are all stocked with the same tchotchkes that we have seen elsewhere.
One thing I have learned: if you are on vacation, and someone offers you free tea, it is a prelude to a sales pitch.
We are pulling up stakes. I found Jessica buying things for the grandkids. We are walking back to the motorboat. A local woman photo bombed my picture, then chased me back to the boat asking for money. Everyone back on board, we are casting off. Richard ignored the advice not to patronize the locals, and got a good deal on some neclaces (and shared one with Jessica). The trip back to our riverboat is very relaxing and peaceful. A delightful time. Back on shore, it's a short walk back to the riverboat (and we didn't have to walk a plank this time).
Well, we got back in time to hear the rest of today's schedule, then Jessica and I decided to take a walk up and down the street that we are moored at. It was good exercise. Here is where you find out just how many taxi cabs there are in town. Every ten steps it was, "Taxi?" We got back just in time for lunch.
We were told to be back on board by 1:30p, as that's when we were supposed to leave port. It's now 2:15p and we are still docked. We finished lunch and adjourned to the sun deck to read and play cards. About 2:45p we pulled away from the dock and headed downriver. It is an absolutely gorgeous day! The wind is blowing gently and skies are clear. There are five riverboats right behind ours, and two in front. We look like a convoy heading down the Nile. There must be a speed limit on this river, as none of these boats is gaining or losing any ground on us.
Jessica wants to work on crossword puzzles. That kept us busy for awhile. Then she wanted to play games with Judi. Dinnertime arrived. It was Egyptian themed. After dinner both Jessica and I went to the lounge to watch the entertainment. I don't think the whirling dervish will be back. He wasn't. It was traditional Egyptian music, heavy on the percussion. We left after 20 minutes.
Slept poorly. For whatever reason there was all kinds of noise all night long. Up around 7:45a did breakfast. Richard and Judi beat us there.
Most of today is a "river" day with the boat moving downstream to Luxor. At 10:00a we joined Ramadan for a discussion of our final days on the tour. We learned that marriges are arranged many times by the parents. The prospective groom must pay a dowrey. Much haggling goes on over the amount. Tonight is our last on the boat. We will be going back to the hotel in Cairo for the last couple of days.
We were relaxing in the lounge when we heard a large thump. Peddlers in a rowboat have attached themselves to our boat and are trying to make sales by having us open the window. These guys are persistent!
We just passed through a lock. I was on the top deck and the water level was lowered so gently that the only way I could detect it was to fix on distant objects and watch them slowly move. The peddlers took their rowboat into the lock and went down and back up with the cruise ships.
Lunch was served at 1:00p. The fare is good, but mostly unchanging.
People who are attending the sound and light show in Luxor (that's us) have an early dinner this evening. Jessica and I are back in the lounge watching the river roll by. Worked crossword puzzles. Now up on the sundeck with the Glasses sharing a bottle of wine.
Dinner was at 6:00p for those attending the sound and light show. Good meal. Waiter service. Meeting up to go to the Luxor sound and light show. Amun-Ra, Mut, and Khonsu are the major deities mentioned tonight.
Achmed is our guide to Karnak this evening. A young man who clearly loves his country. Very knowledgeable. We got to the site, and we learn that the first lady of Egypt (who was attending the show before ours) is still there, and no one will be admitted until she leaves. Our bus is driving around in circles. We are running about a half hour late, but, it does appear that the first lady has finally left.
We were taken inside and proceeded to the first station. This is similar to the previous sound and light show we saw, but the voices are simple narrators and they tell of the lives and accomplishments of the more important pharoahs and Egyptian gods. There were two more standing stations, then you took a seat for the last half. When it was time to leave there was about a mile walk to the exit. It was well presented. Apparently there are six sites in Egypt that put on similar presentations.
Everyone back on the bus for our last night on the riverboat. We got back and settled our tab. Then went upstairs to pack everything up. We need to put out our bags by 6:30a.
Jessica up at 5:00a. I slept until 5:45a. We finished packing. Double checked everything. Put our bags out for pick up. Joined the others for our last breakfast on the boat. Crepes again! Very tasty. We are now waiting to depart.
We are in a minibus on our way to Dandara Temple. Along the way we pass several checkpoints where soldiers inspect the driver's license. It's also possible that they are looking for contraband. We parallel the Nile for much of this trip. We are barreling along at a pretty good clip, passing virtually everyone else on the road. Once again we witness the land of unfinished construction. At least 50% of the single family dwellings here have unfinished construction on top. To see a building with a flat, finished roof on it just looks weird. A lot of the intersections we encountered along the way are controlled by speed bumps. We would have to slow just before the intersection or risk ruining the car's suspension. But we also had to go over a speed bump as we left the intersection. At first I could not figure out why they wanted to slow you down after you were already through. Then it dawned on me: the second set of speed bumps were there to keep drivers from moving into oncoming traffic and blowing through the intersection (which I'm certain they would do).
After 90 minutes or so we arrive. We passed through "security" but even though we all "beeped", nobody tried to stop us. This is the home of the Cleopatra. Once again, it's big. And lousy with hieroglyphics. After seeing Cleopatra's bath (should be called Cleopatra's Olympic size swimming pool) we saw her engraving on the side of the temple. We walked up several flights of stairs and emerged on the upper level. This is where some of the best preserved carvings are. Undamaged, and fresh with color. You could spend a long time just visiting this temple alone.
Now driving back to Luxor to get lunch. This is a lunch we have paid for, so it should be good. The return drive took about 90 minutes. We pulled up outside the restaurant. Up a flight of stairs to a table waiting by the window. Lentil soup, vegetables, pita bread and hummus, chicken, beef, rice and french fries. Very tasty. Outside the restaurant some kids approached trying to sell Egyptian themed bookmarks at 10 for a dollar. When I continued to say "No", the kid must have felt sorry for me because he gave me one bookmark for free.
Now we are driving to the Luxor airport for the flight back to Cairo. Enter the building, go through security. Check in at the counter and get a boarding pass. Then go through super-security where everything comes off and they still frisk you. In addition, everyone has to register their passport by hand in a book I'm sure they will just throw away. Now waiting by the gate for our flight. Everyone aboard! This plane is filling up. Flight was completely uneventful.
Had to wait at baggage claim forever. Mine was the last bag to show up. Jessica's was next to last. A little bit of a walk and we are on the bus to the hotel. On our ride I saw a motorcyclist wearing a helmet! This was the first instance of that for me.
Arrived back at the Ramses Hilton. The Trafalger people expedited our check-in. We are in room 902 (Judi and Richard are in 930). We lugged our luggage to the room (the bell hop would do this, but it takes longer and you gotta tip him). We met Richard and Judi in the lobby and walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The same waitress that served us 10 days ago called us out by name! Richard and Judi both had pizza. Jessica had a burger, I had a club sandwich.
We just found out that Alex and Heather are unable to pick us up at LAX on Saturday, so we have been scrambling to find a replacement. It looks like John will act as chauffeur.
Back in our room trying to unpack for a short stay.
Up at 6:30a. We need to be breakfasted and ready to go by 8:00a. Richard and Judi joined us in the dining room for breakfast. Jessica had me go back to the buffet and pick up the makings of a sandwich for lunch.
The $1.00 bill goes a long way in Egypt. When passing vendors everywhere they call out "One dollar! One dollar!", no matter what it is they are selling. US currency is accepted pretty much everywhere. You want a Coke? One dollar! Gotta tip someone? They take dollars. Souvenirs? Get out your dollars. If you will be visiting Egypt I suggest you bring 100 singles with you.
At 8:00a on the dot we were boarding the bus. Fortunately, this is part of a holiday in Egypt, so the traffic should be lighter than usual. We are headed to the mosque of Mohammad Ali Bashir (also called "The Alabaster Mosque") at the Salah El-Din Citadel. It was very windy that day. The citadel was built in 1160 AD as protection for Cairo. The mosque was added in 1835. The peddlers are everywhere, but are pleasant to deal with. You need to wear plastic booties inside the mosques.
We are back on the bus, headed to another, bigger mosque. This is Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan. We got a talk on the five pillars of Islam. We saw the burial place of the sons of Hassan (apparently his body was lost in battle). Once again, a really big building.
Back on the bus we are headed to the Hanging Church, a Coptic Christian church. This is called the "Hanging Church" because it was built on top of a citadel and there are openings in the floor that allow you to look several floors below. The place is filled with artifacts and relics of the saints. The pulpit is held up by thirteen stone columns, once for Christ, and the other twelve for the disciples. Three of the columns are of dark stone, to signify the three black disciples. St Mark, came from Ethopia and brought Christianity to Egypt.
Along the way we passed an outdoor bird market. Birds of all size, caged and uncaged, were being bought and sold.
Back in the bus, we are headed to the Egyptian Museum. This place was the preeminent museum for all things Egyptian until the new museum was built a few years ago. While they have had many artifacts moved to the new location, they still have many of the finest examples still on display, including all of the stuff found in King Tutkanhamen's tomb. Many, many statues, from miniscule to enormous are found here. Papyrus scrolls line every wall. One quickly loses count of the number of sarcophagi. Virtually all of the standing statues have the left foot forward. The statue of Ramses II is particularly impressive. While you can take a picture of the entrance of King Tutkanhamen's hall, there's a guy in there who's sole responsibility is to shout "No photos!" about once a minute (Jessica snuck one anyways). He has this down to a science. This is a shame, since it's one of the places you really want to remember. I suspect it's an effort to sell more books. The exit (for which you must pass through security again) leads you through the largest gift shop seen so far. The good news is that there's no one trying to sell you something.
Getting on the bus, Richard broke down and bought a papyrus image from one of the vendors. We took the short ride back to the hotel (eating our makeshift lunch) and said "Goodbye" to Ramadan. He has been a super tour guide and will recieve our highest recommendation in the future. Everyone in our tour group stopped to have pictures taken with him.
We got back to our room about 2:40p and noticed that the room had not yet been made up. By coincidence, seconds later the was a tap at the door, it was housekeeping. We left to sit in the elevator alcove while they made up the room. They finished quickly. Jessica and I relaxed in our room waiting for dinner time.
We tried to use the American Airlines app to do online check-in, but it seems our first flight is with British Airways and it wouldn't work. We'll try again later. Downloaded the British Airways app and jumped through all the hoops. I have no idea if this did any good.
Richard and Judi came by to go to dinner. We are at the same restaurant, "Breezes". We are becoming old friends with the waitress. I ordered the grilled chicken. It was the best meal I have had on this trip.
Back to the room. We have to be on the road to the airport at 3:30a! We need to pack and be ready to go.
We set our alarm for 2:30a (and a second alarm for 2:35a, just in case). Showered, finished packing, gave the room the once over, and were downstairs in the lobby to meet the Glasses by 3:15a. The ride to the airport showed up a couple of minutes later and we were on our way. The ride has a driver and a guide. I think the guide will walk us into the airport to ensure all goes smoothly.
At this hour of the morning traffic is light. They still honk a lot, but only when necessary. The ride to the airport went smoothly. The Trafalger agent helped us manage our bags, walked us through the first round of security, and up to the British Airways counter to get our boarding passes. He said "Goodbye" and pointed us to passport control. We filled out the necessary documents and got through there easily. Then it was through a document check station (probably unnecessary) then super-security. Everything off, empty pockets, shoes, belt, hat, pat down, etc. Even then they went through our carry-ons with a fine toothed comb. We followed the signs to Gate E07 and found a Starbucks right next door. Time for coffee.
We waited about an hour outside the gate until we heard them call our flight. It was time to pass through security again! I was frisked and my carry-on was investigated one more time. So far I think I have shown my passport to about six different people on the way to the plane. They waived Jessica and Richard straight through (apparently they don't look like a terrorists). Judi got the full treatment.
They are boarding the plane from the back (which makes sense). Everyone is aboard by 7:05a (for a 7:12a flight). We pushed back on time and are in the air on our way to London. Flight was uneventful. We landed safely at Heathrow. Took the bus to Terminal 3. Going through security it was Jessica's turn to be singled out for extra scrutiny. Continued to Terminal 3. Our gate has not yet been announced, so we stopped for lunch at Spuntino, presumably a genuine British restaurant. Jessica got a Reuben sandwich. I got the fish and chips. Very tasty!
Our gate is #31. It seems like we walked a half mile to get here. This is one big airport. They started loading the plane right at 1:00p, 50 minutes before takeoff. Fortunately, Jessica and I are in the front row of our class with lots of leg room. Took off on time. We may be running slightly ahead of schedule. Dinner was shrimp and rice, not too bad for airline food. Richard loaned me a Jack Reacher book to read in Cairo. I finished it on the plane.
We have been flying for what seems like forever (actually 10.5 hours). Sleeping very little. As nice as these seats are, they are less than comfortable. Less than an hour to touchdown. I should be in my own bed in a couple of hours.
Uneventful flight. On the ground right on time. Our seats allowed us off the plane quickly. Passed easily through customs using Global Entry. Had to wait for our baggage. All the signs said carousel 6. We waited and waited and waited. Finally a voice said "AA135 is carousel 4". Our luggage had been available for a half hour.
John was there with the Glass's van and drove everyone home safely. So nice to sleep in our own beds!