WORK IN PROGRESS!
Day One – to Cairo
Swiss Air flight to Cairo via Zurich. I was so exhausted that I remember falling asleep on the runway at Heathrow and unfortunately when I woke up again we were still on the runway. Felt a little annoyed we were still there before I realised everyone was starting to get off the plane as we were actually already in Zurich! Went to catch the next flight and at the gate was told they were having to move me to a different seat, got on board the plane to find someone in my seat. Spoke to the air hostess, getting a little worried as the plane looked very full. They then upgraded a man to business and put me in his seat – guess that is what my travelling clothes do!! During the flight I noticed a girl sitting in the row in front reading some information about On the Go Tours and later at the airport discovered that she was indeed on my trip. Was told we would be met at the airport but could not believe they meant the minute we stepped off the plane! Very surprised at this as surely nobody else should be able to get that close to the plane if they are not actually flying, but grateful too as Cairo airport was all a little bit crazy and this was my first trip alone to a non-English speaking country. Taken to the hotel, quite plain, room was huge with three big double beds in it. Don’t remember where we went out for dinner, perhaps a place that was upstairs somewhere? We all had our photos taken for student cards for about £3 each – was great for huge reductions on the entry price to many sites and came in useful after the trip too, so sad when it got stolen in Barcelona! In the evening we went to see the light and sound show at the Pyramids – very touristy but now so excited about seeing it up close tomorrow. Remember being woken in the night by the call to prayer from the surrounding mosques, entranced by the calls as had never heard anything like this before.
Day Two – Cairo
Visit to the pyramids and Sphinx (Abu-al-Hol) – a massive 50 metre long & 22 metre high at the Giza Plateau. These are the sole survivors from the ancient Greek -listed Seven Wonders of the World. If I tell the truth I booked this trip one evening when I was a bit tipsy. I actually woke up the next morning recalling this dream I had had of booking a trip to Egypt, somewhere I had never even thought about going, then I checked my emails in the morning to discover I actually had! But standing in front of the pyramids was just amazing and was so glad! Standing on the stones to the pyramids you realise the massive scale of them, each stone alone was almost twice my height! Cheops (Khufu) is the largest of the three. Constructed from over 2.5 million limestone blocks weighing around 6000 tonnes and is thought to have taken more than 20 years to construct. Managed to get the obligatory fun shots! Then continued to necropolis of Saqqara to explore a myriad of sand-strewn tombs and temples including Zhoser’s step pyramid, constructed by Imhotep, the pharaoh’s chief architect in 2700BC (over 4500 years old!). Incredible – and still no closer to knowing how they do it! Going in to one of the pyramids I think I had kind of expected to enter a massive room and be able to look all the way up – they are nothing like that at all. For a start you walk down a very small tunnel which gets smaller and smaller until in the end I was bent right over, it was so claustrophobic and I was happy to finally reach the chamber and be able to stand up. Inside the chamber was a tomb and not much space and that was it. A bit of a disappointment really but then you realise all this just for one man! Then started to panic a little about how to get out again as didn’t really want to do that tunnel again! Was definitely a relief to get out in to some fresh air. Also went on my first ever camel ride – our tour leader tried to sell us for a good price!
In the evening we caught an overnight train to Aswan. We were in 1st class with recliner chairs that spun round – still meant no sleep though. Also a little perturbed by the armed guards at either end of our carriage but some parts of the journey in daylight I could see why it may have been for the best!
Day Three – Philae Temple & Aswan Dam
After leaving the train and checking in to the hotel we drove out to Aswan High Dam, absolutely massive and created the largest artificial lake in the world, Lake Nasser. In the afternoon took a boat trip to Agilika Island to see Philae Temple which is dedicated to the goddess Isis (the goddess of protection). Built on an island in the Ptolemaic era around 330BC. A beautiful place – but had to laugh at the “No Smouking” sign on board the boat. Market – jewellery box mother of pearl marquetry. Top tip – wear sunglasses so can look without sellers seeing you are looking! That evening returned to the hotel in Aswan to relax before a very very early morning flight in the morning.
Day Four – Abu Simbel
I cannot believe I had never heard of this place before! But when we were offered this optional tour and I saw the pictures I knew I had to go. It really lived up to the hype. 45 minute flight – rush to the left hand window seats. Built between 1274BC and 1244BC to intimdate visitors and enemies who entered Egypt from the south. Famous rock cut temple of King Ramses II. King Ramses II had his grand temple carefully angled and oriented in order that the suns rays would align twice a year on the date of his ascension to the throne (21st February) and on his birthday (21st October) and illuminate the inner sanctum of the temple. Provides a spectacular sight as the sun illuminates the 3 statues of the living world whilst the statue of Ptah, the god of darkness, remains in the shadows. The temple was re-located in a multi-million dollar operation in 1972 further up the shoreline of Lake Nasser. In the temples new position the sun now strikes a day later than Ramses had originally planned. Colossal statues of Ramses II guard the amazing temple to Amun.
When returned to Aswan picked up Egyptian vodka before starting on 2 night felucca journey downstream on the River Nile – the longest river in the world. (some sensible people upgraded to a 5 star luxury Nile Cruise!) Felucca – 7-12 people – deck strewn with cushions & rugs & canopy for shade. Craft reliant on wind power. Sleep on deck itself. Nubian house. Egyptian vodka! Deep black sky blanket millions of stars. Did we visit Kom Ombo on our journey or at the end?
Day Five – Nile Cruise
3pm – wet hair – then docked – locals bathing their cattle – dressing as mummies in white loo paper – toilet – lit-up! No more alcohol! Apparently stops made en route at local villages? Boys – to the bushes but not alone. Girls – dug pit, stool with no seat over & surrounded on 4 sides by windbreaks. Torch not such a good idea! Swimming stops where at minimum risk of contracting bilharzias! Gliding past people working the picturesque countryside using centuries old techniques as well as thousands of ancient Egyptian tombs and temples.
Day Six – Kom Ombo, Edfu & Luxor
Disembark near Kom Ombo, dedicated to Sobek the crocodile headed god. The to the Temple of Horus at Edfu a huge complex that began construction in 237BC, then drove north to 4000 year old Luxor. Then to the hotel and the very welcome site of a toilet and bathroom! Spent the afternoon by the pool then in the early evening headed by rickshaw to the Temple of Luxor – is this Karnak Temple of do we also go there or did we go there another day? Karnak – spectacular complex of sanctuaries, pylons and obelisks. It is Egypt’s largest Pharaonic monument after the Pyramids and known to the ancients as Ipet-Isut “the most esteemed of places”. During the height of Theban power, Karnak was the most important place of worship. Remember starting to feel a little daunted by the number of temples on the itinerary but each one is so different. Luxor was the place where we saw lines of statues that led somewhere – no longer all the way there but got to the other place an same the same line of statues – which ones were these? Was this the night we went out to an Irish Bar (photo in the hotel room?)
Day Seven – Valley of the Kings & Valley of the Queens
Started early in the morning to the Valley of the Kings, a massive Theban necropolis some dating back to 2100BC and including the tomb of King Tutankhamen discovered in 1922 – studded with highly decorated tombs constructed to once house the regal sarcophagi enclosed mummies of the might pharaohs awaiting passage into the after-life. Temperatures were hitting 50 degrees and for the Valley of the Queens I just could not leave the coach, slept instead. Also saw Colossi of Memnon – massive pair of statues against an historic backdrop (Platty took a kangaroo photo here), they are the remains of the temple of Amenophis III?; Temple of Queen Hatshepsut – scene of a tourist massacre a few years earlier. – limestone colonnaded and Hatshepsut was one of only 3 Egyptian ruling queens. Strict ban on photography inside the tombs as constant flash use can fade & damage ancient paintwork. Can easily buy cheap postcards here.
Day Eight – Dahab
Most of the day was spent travelling to Dahab – this was the town that was bombed only a few weeks before, the night before I had been to the Egyptian embassy in London to get my visa! Mum phone call! Several coaches had to travel altogether by armed escort to the area of the Red Sea Riviera. In 1989 Red Sea was proclaimed one of the 7 Underwater Wonders of the World. 1930km long & in excess of 1000 marine species. Stopped in one area on route for a rest break and small market, camels just walking across the road. Stopped again at a view point where could see 3 countries? – which were? Then stopped again in Hurghada – very happy we are not staying here as just looks like some cheap Spanish tourist resort which is fine if I just wanted a week in the sun but not somewhere I want when I’m travelling. Then on to Dahab – security checks were very high along the main roads. Then arrived at hotel – so good to cool off in the pool. Later we went on an orientation walk of the small town, largely used for those wanting to learn scuba diving. As we walked the streets we were applauded and thanked as we were the first tour group back through since the bombings. Our tour guide was actually there at the time and two of his group had been blown into the sea from the waterside restaurant they were sat in. I was surprise at how quickly everything had already been reconstructed.
Day Nine – Dahab & Mount Sinai
This morning we went snorkelling – not sure where but a drive away – Blue Hole. To get to the snorkelling area I actually had to put my head and snorkel all the way under the water so I was pretty impressed with myself!
Rested around the pool in the afternoon as tonight would be long.
Went out for dinner, had a few drinks which may have been a mistake as at midnight we set up to start climbing up Mount Sinai. Climb takes about 3 hours and needs good fitness. Pack your thermals for the top! Need a local Bedouin guide. Could see nothing and that was probably for the best. Camels can be hired at point 700 stairs commence – but don’t (single females especially advised not to do this), check travel insurance!!!! Picked up mattresses at hut and warmed up with a hot chocolate. Tour guide said trust me and jump – rock stack!
Day Ten – St Katherine’s Monastery and Burning Bush
Woke an hour later to see where we were sleeping and froze with fear but the most amazing place to watch a sunrise. Walking back down there is not way I would have climbed it knowing what steep drops were to the sides of us – camel remains.
St Katherine’s Monastery – founded in the 4th century AD and still functions as monastery – cannot visit Friday & Saturday or religious holidays – entrance fee at time of visit was US$3
Back to hotel to relax around the pool again and shopping in the afternoon – watched young boys catching the most beautiful coloured fish – is this allowed?!!!
Dinner then a belly dancing/ shisha bar.
Day Eleven – to Jordan, Wadi Rum
Said goodbye to most of the group who were heading back to Cairo and one girl who was staying in Dahab for a week to learn scuba diving – boarded a ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba. We didn’t stay very long here – just a quick drive round – my main memory is goats head hanging up outside a butchers. And the tour guide we did not like!
Amazed at how great the roads were and how quickly we could therefore get around, very different from Egypt.
Then travelled to Wadi Rum – a vast silent landscape of pastel coloured sketches of sandy desert punctuated by amazing rock formations known as jebel. Lawrence of Arabia. 4×4 desert safari. Sand surfing/ bodyboarding – tough to climb. Dinner and stay at desert camp. Beautiful stars – group of rowdy men and I have to say that with no locks on a tent I was a little scared. As a group of 5 the couple were offered one “room in the tent” the two guys another one and me another one, ended up sleeping in with the boys either side of me as they had three beds in their compartment.
Day Twelve – to Petra!
Travel through the breathtaking ‘secret road’ of Al Madras to Petra – did we? When arrived desperately wanted to explore but instead went for a swim at a local hotel (or was that the next day?) – then for something to eat before heading into Petra for Petra by night – a candlelit walk through the Siq as far as the Treasury – this was an extra excursion. Magical.
Day Thirteen – Rose City of Petra
Couldn’t sleep was far too excited to see this place. It was even more breath-taking than I could imagine – just wish I had had more time there – tour leader took us in the morning – walked down the Siq, enjoyed his history but we just wanted the main event – he took us slowly round a few places then left us at lunchtime so I became tour guide barbie and we ran around various other sites but still did not see everything – but also so hot! When come out of the Siq the rocks give way to reveal the most amazing sight – the beautiful Treasury. Ancient Nabatean tombs, Roman carved streets lined with temples, royal tombs, staircases, arched gates and public buildings. Possible donkey ride up to something but we walked – donkey penis! Gigantic amphitheatre originally held 3000 spectators though Romans increased this to 7000. Horse ride back down the Siq as one way is included in ticket price?! The owner of my horse was trying to persuade me to have a picnic with him that evening up in the mountains!
Day Fourteen – Mount Nebo and the Dead Sea
This morning travel to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the earth’s surface for a chance to bob around in the buoyant mineral rich waters and smother ourselves in mud -then bake and wash off. Then lunch at the hotel. Next stop is holy Mount Nebo – the singular most important biblical site in Jordan. Having led the Israelites for 40 years through the wilderness, it is from this panoramic vantage point that Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land. Here now is the Moses Memorial Church. Enjoyed excellent views over the Jordan River Valley, the northern shore of the Dead Sea, Jericho and on a clear day Jerusalem. Also went to some sort of church thing with mosaics – where was this
Current itinerary says we then go to Madaba to spend the night – did we just go back to Amman and get the ferry? Madaba is known for its Byzantine mosaics and where you can view the remains of the mosaic showing the 6th map of the Holy Land in St George’s church.
Returned to Cairo this night or did we spend another night in Dahab? Think we did
Returned to Cairo overnight – 7 hour drive back – difficult to persuade them to let us take an extra person too as officially she had signed off the trip the week before. Had to go with an armed guide and were told this was the reason we had no room for an extra person – told it was a legal requirement – turned up at police station and waited for armed guard but one was not available so after waiting for 2 hours we just had to start our overnight journey back to Cairo!
Now I get the dodgy stomach – not sure how I made it through the flight back and lost 1 stone weight in the week that followed! Great for fitting in that new dress!
When papyrus emporium? Don’t buy papyrus on the streets as could be banana leaves!
When white stone emporium?
When go to perfume place?
Photography without flash permitted at most ancient sites.
Back in Cairo – did not go to Museum of Egyptian Antiquities – really do not remember the reason why – which had as could have seen all the Egyptian treasures such as the King Tutankhamen solid gold funerary mask (although it is often on your around the world). Remember going to a market though. Was this the Khan-al-Khalili bazaar or is that a night thing only? – think went here. Wish had had more time to explore all the narrow winding streets of Islamic and Coptic Cairo with mosques and hanging churches, although I was much less well-travelled at the time and not sure I could have done this on my own.
Egypt for next time:
Alexandria – Catacombs of Kom ash-Shuqqafa
Jordan for next time:
Karak Crusader castle