This was my 5 week sojourn into the history of ancient civilization, to see a country where old and new blend together, from the Pyramids to the ultra modern Opera House, from Camel rides to Diving in the Red Sea, Egypt has it all.
This was my first trip to Egypt, and it was truly memorable, I was more than a little apprehensive, travelling as a single woman alone to a distant land with so many unknowns. But my fears soon disappeared, the people are wonderful, warm and hospitable, crime is almost non-existent, all in all a place I felt safe traveling. I'm from Canada and was heading to Egypt to meet my Egyptian Partner and see all I could of Egypt for our future programs, I was not disappointed.
My transit through the airport was speedy, a greeter met me with a sign, took my passport to process my visa, and escorted me through customs to the baggage area, picked up my bags and had me through to my transfer van very quickly. I met up with my Egyptian Partner who was to be my own personal Guide. If traveling independently I suggest a personal guide as a must so you don't miss a thing. Most are experienced Egyptologists, able to answer any of your questions as you traverse the country, they seize every opportunity to show you the multiple faces of this country rich in History and Events, and mine was no exception.
I stayed in a small Hotel in Giza overlooking the Pyramids, the service was excellent and I loved the extra little touches, like a towel placed on my bed twisted in the shape of a serpent.
Cairo is amazing, I couldn't believe I was seeing donkeys and camels meandering among the modern cars racing the streets. A city rich in history, I visited Islamic Cairo with its Ancient Mosques, the Citadel, and the world famous Khan El Khalili Bazaar which lives up to all the expectations I had from seeing it in the Movies. If you like to bargain this is the place to do it.
We took time to visit an Islamic Artists house, it was interesting to see the way the Islamic houses were laid out. The internal courtyards offer privacy from the outside noise and dust, and the unique entrances, where the doors don't lead straight ahead, but into an entryway were you turn left or right for entry, again to protect the owners privacy from direct contact with the outside. Then the Mastabas, the best way I can describe them is they are a little like enclosed balconies with latticed windows, overlooking in most cases the inner courtyard. Those overlooking the street are a more enclosed and usually have peep holes for the residents to look out without being seen.
We drove past the City of the dead a unique experience to see houses where in these modern times the dead are now buried.
Of course I had to see Coptic(Christian) Cairo where I saw the streets walked upon thousands of years ago by Mary and Joseph, and the hanging church and some of the oldest Christian Churches in the world.
The Egyptian Museum, was a day all on its own, so much to see and take in. A trip through the different Kingdoms and time periods, and seeing the treasures of King Tuts' tomb, spectacular to say the least. Then to see the mummies preserved from thousands of years ago was a wonderful experience taking me back to another time and place.
On another day we visited the Pharaonic Village, a trip out by boat to an island, where the History of the Culture and Crafts of Egypt are laid out and described as you traverse by boat around the island. This is another Tour that could take up the whole day if you wanted. The Tour ends on the island, where there is a restaurant and we had free time to visit the Islamic Art museum, with some beautiful art works from olden times.
The Ancient Pyramids of Cheops and the Sphinx are much closer to the city than I had imagined, in the dessert on the outskirts of Cairo in Giza. I had pictured them to be way out in the dessert, but all the same they are truly a sight to behold. I didn't have time for a Camel ride that day, but would suggest allowing time as it is something that can't be repeated anywhere, to ride among the Pyramids as they did in ancient times on the back of a Camel. The light and sound show was spectacular, and is shown in a variety of different languages. (The great Pyramid of Cheops will be topped with a golden cap to celebrate the millenium on New Years' Eve).
Yet in among this ancient world is a Modern city with an ultra modern Opera House, one of the most beautiful in the world, the Cairo Tower, the largest concrete tower in the World and offering a spectacular view of the city especially at night. The World Trade Center, the indoor shopping malls and the numerous modern 5 star Hotels reflect a city which is right up to date with modern times.
I could have spent a month in Cairo alone without going to the same place twice, there is so much to see and do, and restaurants for all tastes.
Whilst staying in Cairo we traveled out of the city to Sakkara, to see the Step Pyramid the creation of Imhoteb the master builder. Even after all I've read and seen it is still unbelievable that this massive structure could have been built without the machinery we have today. Then it was on Memphis to see the gigantic statue of Ramses the II still in the same place it was discovered by accident. A lady crossing a muddy street tripped on what turned out to be the foot of this enormous statue, previously buried and probably downed by an earthquake. I was a miniature standing by the head of this massive statue.
On the way back we stopped at a carpet factory to see the children with their nimble fingers turning out beautiful carpets and wall tapestries. They encouraged me to sit and try, and had great fun when my fingers weren't able to tie the knots as nimbly as theirs. It was obvious they were thoroughly enjoying their craft and enjoyed meeting the visitors and showing off their talents, and of course I couldn't resist buying some souvenir wall hangings to bring home.
Egypt has so much to offer, we journeyed out to Alexandria, the gem on the Mediterranean Sea, home of Cleopatra and Alexander, where a new unique library is being built to replace the one burnt in the days of Cleopatra and Alexander the Great. A library that was said to hold every book in the world. Alexandria is the home of the Catacombs, the Montazah Palace and gardens, a Greco-Roman Museum, a Roman Amphitheater, a Jewelry museum, and astonishingly beautiful Mosiac Art all along the main promenade, not to mention the Citadel where recent discoveries have found what may be the remains of Cleopatra's Palace. We took a walk through the Montazah Park and out to the famous lighthouse. We ate in a local seafood restaurant where you pick out the fish you want from a tank and they cook it for you. Alexandria was my favorite place, and becomes the favorite destination for Egyptians in the summer time.
Then it was onto Luxor by train, approx. 10 hours from Cairo. First class all the way, I would say equivalent to first class in a plane for space and comfort, and snacks and beverages where readily available from a trolley service. (This trip can be done by plane, and is cheaper when purchased with your international airflight) Of course Egypt wouldn't be Egypt without a visit to the Valley of the Kings and Tombs of the Kings, the Temple of Queen Hapshepsut and the Valley of the Queens where the tomb of Neferiti can be seen in all its original splendor, and color.
We spent several days on the West Bank, and took time to visit the craftsmen at work up in the mountains at Gourna. They were carving Alabaster and stone work, and weaving handmade primitive carpets on homemade looms set up in holes dug in the mountainside, where many of the homes are built on the entryways to the Tombs of the Nobles.
Throughout Egypt I witnessed the ancient crafts still created today in the ancient way. Papyrus, Perfumeries, Alabaster and stone work, and Carpet Weaving to name but a few, and don't forget to check out the gold Cartouches beautifully engraved with your name in Hieroglyphics.
We visited the home of the Sheik who was chief digger for Wilf Carter during the excavation of the Tomb of King Tut. We ate lunch in the peaceful courtyard overlooking the fields of sugar cane and the Colossi of Memnon. The house is now a small Hotel frequented by artists, authors and artisans from around the world. A peaceful place to pursue their talents.
Whilst in Luxor we visited the Karnak Temple and witnessed the light and sound show with the History of Akhenatun the Pharaoh King who changed the history of Egypt by claiming there was only one God... Ra...the Sun God. Throughout the ages Statutes of all the Kings(Gods) where everywhere but after Akhenatun's death all his statues were destroyed in an attempt to obliterate his memory and the country returned to the worship of the previous Gods.
We visited the Luxor Temple with its many statues and the avenue of Sphinx. We took a horse carriage ride through the streets of this quaint seaside town, and visited the open air market to buy a Galabia for the Galabia Party onboard the Cruise Ship..
And next...an experience not to be missed a luxurious Cruise on the River Nile from Luxor to Aswan and back (can be done one way 3 or 4 days, either way). This was very relaxing, we traversed at a leisurely pace and stopped to see the Temples in Edfu and Kom Ombo.
On reaching Aswan we took a Felucca(small sailboat) ride on the Nile out to Elephantine Island with its' beautiful Botanical Garden. Then on the way back we stopped for a visit to a Nubian Village to see village life as it is today, little changed from that of thousands of years ago. We sampled the local homemade bread, and they have some great homemade crafts at low prices, I stocked up on some great gifts. The kids here were looking for Baksheesh, this is normal and not considered begging, but as souvenirs from foreign visitors... I would suggest taking pens with names on them or some candy, small offerings, but the kids and adults love them.
In the afternoon we took a trip to the Philae Temple of Isis, one of the most beautiful temples occupying a unique location on an island. Then onto the High Dam the greatest irrigation project that changed life in Egypt and influenced its history for a long time, economically and politically. On our return we stopped at a Papyrus factory to watch craftsmen making Papyrus paper the way it used to be made.
From Aswan there is an optional trip to Abu Simbel, to see the great temple of Ramses the II, but unfortunately this was a last minute booking and we hadn't prebooked and the flights were full, so where unable to get tickets this time...next time I won't miss it. So instead we visited the new Nubian Museum, an extraordinarily beautiful Museum dedicated to the History and culture of the Nubian People.
On returning from Aswan to Luxor we traversed a series of Locks. If travelling in this direction allow a little extra time for arrival in Luxor as the Locks are based on a first come first served basis and can delay ships for a couple of hours if they are busy.
On leaving Luxor we traveled by van and stopped briefly in Hurghada a resort city on the Red Sea, famous for it water sports and diving. We took a city tour, but had little time to take in the seaside resort town. This would be the ideal spot for those wanting to relax for a few days on the beach and do some diving, but on this trip I had no time for this.
My trip ended all to quickly and it was time to return home to Canada to put together a series of Egyptian Tours based on the information I had learned. I still have to go back to see an Oasis, the Sinai, St. Catherines and the Suez Canal and all the other places I didn't have time to visit on this trip.
Of course many of the activities I participated in could be condensed into shorter time frames, but I wanted to get a good feel for all these places. I could write many more pages on this wonderful trip, there was so much. There is no doubt that Egypt is the Queen of countries - a country rich in history and culture. Try it for yourself...you won't be sorry.