Sept. 9 – Sep. 20, 2008
Cairo, Nile River Cruise and Alexandria Egypt
Part 1: Cairo, Memphis, Saqqara, Giza, Luxor and Esna, Egypt
Part 2: Edfu, Kom Ombu, Aswan, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Philae, Alexandria and Cairo
The desire to see the Pyramids and walk in the temples and tombs of the pharaohs had been in my dreams for as long as I can remember. Due to various reasons, it didn’t seem that I would ever be able to bring these dreams to reality. Now that we are back, I still can’t believe what I have seen and experienced. It was just an amazing trip.
My dream became a possibility through our meeting Leland and Gherry Gustafson on a British Isles/Norwegian Fjords cruise in 2004. They were tour leaders for a group on that cruise. They set up a couple of tours a year and have a website at Link. We enjoyed our conversations with the Gustafsons and thought that we would enjoy going with them on a future trip. Last year when they let us know they were going to Egypt, we quickly decided that it was time to make this dream a reality. The tour we would be doing was through Amadeus Waterways (changed to AmaWaterways) (Link). Several months before this trip, Amadeus decided to pull its ships out of the Egypt market. As a result, they made arrangements with Sonesta Cruises to provide the Nile River portion of our trip.
Day 1&2 – Atlanta to Cairo
We flew to Atlanta the day before our departure so that we could meet and travel with the group. It turned out to be a very good move, because Hurricane Ike was rapidly approaching South Florida where we live. We were in the cone of probability at that time. The first leg of the long trip to Cairo was a short 2-hour flight to JFK. We had a scheduled 5-hour layover in New York before our 12-hour Delta flight to Cairo. Due to serious storms going through the area, our flight had a further two-hour delay. Since we didn’t leave until 6:00 PM and would be arriving around 10:30 AM the next day, I really needed to sleep. I had a busy day planned on my own for our first day in Cairo. After waiting over 14 months from the day we decided to take this trip, I was way too excited, so I took an Ambien to help me get to sleep on the flight.
When the plane reached Africa, we could see the Sahara Desert stretching out for as far as the eye could see. This was going to be a very different place from any others we had visited. As we flew over the Cairo outskirts, it was still incredibly sandy everywhere. Having studied everything I could find about Egypt for the last year, I recognized the Citadel and Mohammed Ali Mosque from the air. They would both be on tomorrow’s city tour.
As we got off the plane to ride the bus to the terminal, we felt the first blast of hot air that we would be experiencing for the next ten days. Even though it was hot, my excitement to see this amazing city was hotter. The $15 visa purchase, immigration and luggage processing went very smoothly. We were quickly loaded on to a bus for the 45-minute drive to our hotel. It was very exciting to see Egyptian monuments and many mosques on the drive; but it was quite sad to see how much poverty existed in this area and the filthy conditions in much of the city. We were visiting a very different environment than we were used to.
We arrived at our hotel for the next three days, the Sofitel El Gezirah (Link). This hotel was formerly one of the cylindrically constructed Sheraton Hotels. Sofitel did a significant upgrade when they took over this facility. It is now a lovely hotel and the rooms are very comfortable. Its most unique feature is its location on Gezirah Island in the middle of the Nile River. It is much quieter because there is less traffic and the view down the middle of the Nile is just awesome.
Our first afternoon in Cairo was designated as free time to settle in and see some places on our own. Since we were visiting Egypt during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, many of the museum and tourist sites would be closing early. I was concerned that on our scheduled tour, we would not get to spend as much time in the world famous Egyptian Museum, so I planned on getting a head start. I also couldn’t wait to visit the museum that I had dreamed of walking through all my life. It was a very short cab drive from our hotel. Since cameras are not allowed in the museum, I left mine at the hotel. It was probably just as well, since it would have slowed me down. We were going to have an Egyptologist give us a tour there tomorrow; but I was sure they wouldn’t cover the entire museum, so I wanted to at least go into every room.
As I had read, the museum has very poor signage on the precious treasures. Where there is any kind of label, it is normally a very old type written card at best, and sometimes hand written pieces of notebook paper. The display cases are antiques, but unfortunately they take away from the displays because they are dirty and in a need of an upgrade. Because the building itself was constructed 108 years ago with very little updating since then, the lighting is poor and there are only a few air-conditioned rooms. Even with these shortcomings, I was in heaven seeing the famous statues and treasures that are immediately recognized from seeing them in books, on websites and TV shows. It is an unbelievable experience to visit the museum; and will be an even better experience when the new Egyptian Museum is completed in the next several years.
I returned to the hotel to see if Carol wanted to go visit Khan El Khalili Bazaar. We had planned to visit there the first afternoon to order cartouches. A friend had told me about a shop in the bazaar that had very good quality ones at reasonable prices, Gouzlan Jewelers (Link). Cartouches are one of the most popular souvenirs from Egypt. It's a type of pendant worn on a chain and usually has your name in hieroglyphics.
Because Carol didn’t sleep as much on the flight as I did, she didn’t have the energy to venture out. She told me to check the store out and we could go back tomorrow when we were scheduled to be in the bazaar on tour. I caught another cab, but this time the ride was quite exciting because we had to cross town. Traveling by car in Cairo is quite an experience. As I was told by a local, the lines on the road and the traffic lights are strictly there for decoration. Three lanes of traffic handle 5 lanes of constant weaving motion. I learned a lot about the Cairo drivers from my taxi driver, Sayed. He would inch close to people, toot his horn several times and squeeze into their lanes to move through the masses of cars. What I was surprised at was that rather than being stressed and getting mad at each other; they treated the driving more like a game. They were having fun out maneuvering each other. Sayed would talk and make jokes with drivers of cars that were just a few inches away. I was impressed with the Egyptian drivers and their attitudes.
When we got close to the bazaar, Sayed offered to help me find the cartouche shop I was looking for, since the bazaar is quite large and I didn’t know Arabic. I had enjoyed his company on the drive over; and he was quite friendly, so I took him up on it. He parked the car and we walked toward our location. In order to get over to the bazaar, we were going to have to walk across a street where there were no traffic lights, not that they would have helped. He expected me to cross this crazy mass of traffic. There was no way it could be done. The traffic was moving too fast on this street. He said it was no problem; just stay right next to him. It was then, that I learned to “Walk Like an Egyptian”. During the rest of the trip I would see it done many times by others, but this was the only time I got to experience it personally. I still don’t know how we were able to do it.
After walking around the narrow bazaar streets, we found Gouzlan Jewelers. The salesman showed me several different cartouche styles. I found one I liked, but he didn’t have the larger size that I was wanting in the store, so I didn’t know exactly what it would look like. I ordered one with Mike on one side and Carol on the other in hieroglyphics. He told me it would be ready tomorrow when we would be back in the area. I asked if he wanted a deposit and he said it was not necessary. I was pleasantly surprised.
Sayed got me back to the hotel with another exciting drive through the Cairo streets. There is no way I would ever attempt to drive a car in Cairo. Carol was glad to see that I was able to get back to her. I do think she was worried that I would have problems returning to the hotel. We went down to the hotel restaurant and enjoyed a delicious buffet of Egyptian food. It was very different and quite tasty.
When we got back to the room, we went out onto the balcony and took in the lovely night view from the center of the Nile. I then signed into the hotel’s free Internet connection to catch up email and news of Hurricane Ike.
It had been a very long and exciting day. We were exhausted, so we went to bed at 8:30 PM. We had a full day’s tour scheduled for tomorrow.
Day 3 – Cairo
We had slept like mummies on our first night in Egypt. Being on the 12th floor, on an island in the middle of the Nile, kept the noises of the city away from us. Some people in our group who were on a different side of the hotel told us that they had been disturbed by loud prayers that were coming from mosque sound systems.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink anything between 4:00 AM and 6:00 P.M., not even water. By 6:00 P.M., they are ready to feast; and some of the parties last late into the night. They awaken early to pray and have food and drink before the daily fast.
When we went out on the balcony to see what the morning view would be like, we were shocked to see that we were fogged in. At least I was hoping it was fog rather than smog.
The breakfast buffet was very good. There were quite a few things that I didn’t recognize on it, but I did enjoy the falafel, cheeses and rice pudding. Not our normal breakfast fare, but filling. We got loaded down with our cameras, hats, solar umbrellas and other supplies for the day and headed to the lobby to meet our 8:00 AM bus tour. Everyone was excited and ready to go on our first adventure. We were introduced to our Cruise Director for the trip, Uwe Nitschke from Austria. Even though most of this trip was not a cruise, he was more of an Amadeus representative provided to resolve any issues we might have. He proved to be a great asset and just a pleasant person to travel with. Plus he was always easy to find, since he was 6’ 7” tall and easy to spot in a crowd.
We loaded onto the two busses that we would be spending many hours on during the Cairo and Alexandria portions of this trip. We met our tour guide, Mostafa. What a great guy! He was to become our favorite Egyptian. He was so helpful and friendly, and had such a great attitude. We also met the two Egyptologists for our bus, the Red Bus, Nivene and Amal. We were in the half of the bus that would be with Nivene for the land portion of our trip.
Red Bus Egyptologists Amal and Nivene Blue Bus Egyptologists
Our first tour was at the Citadel, a walled enclosure now containing mainly mosques and museums on top of a hill. It was built in 1200 AD and is quite an impressive and large structure. I don’t know why we got there so early at 8:30 AM, since it didn’t open until 9:00 AM. Fortunately there was a canvas covered area to wait in, but waiting was uncomfortable because there wasn’t much of a breeze. Also the heavy fog only cleared off a little revealing that much of the fog was indeed smog.
As would be the routine for the rest of our trip, Nivene got the entrance tickets and passed them out to everyone. This worked out quite nicely and we were able to go right in at 9:00 AM. Our destination in the Citadel was the Mohammed Ali Mosque or Alabaster Mosque. This is the most ornate mosque in Cairo. In the middle of the huge courtyard in front of the mosque is an Alabaster drinking fountain.
Before entering the mosque, everyone was required to take off their shoes or purchase shoe covers for a couple dollars. Additionally, for women who had on clothes that exposed too much of their bodies, a cape was provided to make them “properly attired” to enter this holy place. The inside of the mosque was indeed quite ornate and very large. Nivene had us sit on the carpeted floor while she talked about the history and things to look at in the mosque. I appreciate learning about the places we visit, but I prefer to see as much of them as I can rather than spending too much time on small details. During this trip, Nivene and our Egyptologist during the cruise portion seemed to spend way too much time talking about rather than showing us the beautiful sites we were visiting. What they said was interesting and educational, but in too much detail. Although I realize that my opinion was influenced by my desire to see as much as I could, several of my tour mates also expressed a similar opinion.
Our next stop was to the church of St. Sergius. This is believed to be where Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus found refuge for a month during their flight into Egypt. There is not much to see in this church but it is obviously very important historically. Photography of any sort is not permitted inside. What is strange is that there are “NO PHOTO” signs posted every few feet apart all over the church. One or two would do the job, and this really takes away from the visit. It was also quite uncomfortable sitting in the pews of this hot church listening to Nivene. They should have installed fans rather than all of the “NO PHOTO” signs.
Our next stop was to the Hanging Church. The name comes from it being constructed on top of a gate of the Babylon Fortress with part of the church suspended above a passage. The disadvantage of it being built on top of a gate is that we had to climb 29 steps to get to it. The walk was worth it though. It was a pretty church and there were some ceiling fans to make the visit a little more pleasant.
It was time to head to the Naguib Mahfouz Restaurant, where we would have lunch. It is named after Egypt’s best known novelist and winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for literature. The restaurant is located in the Khan el Khalili Bazaar. This bazaar or market is one of the largest in the Middle East. There are many narrow streets with vendors crowded along every available space. Fortunately the restaurant was close to where the bus stopped and Mostafa was able to lead us quickly to it. In reading about the Khan, as it is referred to locally, it seems that every tour group stops at this particular restaurant. The food was fine and it was a unique experience since the group was broken down into several private rooms. Because the rooms were enclosed, it didn’t allow for the air conditioning to be very effective. People were pulling out their hand and electric fans to cool off.
We were only going to be able to have about 45 minutes to shop in the Khan before our next tour. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find Gouzlan’s to pick up my cartouche. So when lunch was over, I told Carol that I was going to go by myself to find the store. I showed Mostafa the card with the address to see if he could tell me what direction to go to find it. We walked out of the restaurant and it was about four stores away. I couldn’t believe we were so close to it. I walked in and the owner, Safwat, greeted me. He showed me the cartouche, which was just perfect. I liked that it was thicker and heavier than some of the other styles I had seen, but was still quite reasonably priced based on my research. I paid him and walked a few doors down and ran into Carol just as she was leaving the restaurant. She couldn’t believe that I was already wearing the cartouche. We walked back over to the store to see if there was one that she wanted. She didn’t find one that she fell in love with. Since her name was also on my cartouche, she decided that this cartouche would have joint custody.
After doing some shopping, I went to a pharmacy to buy an antibiotic medicine called Antinal that is used to treat “Mummy Tummy”. This is a form of intestinal infection that many people get when visiting Egypt. We knew to only drink bottled water and not eat fresh fruits and vegetables, but it is still easy to pick up the bug. Since the medicine that targets this infection cannot be purchased in the USA, we had to wait until we were in Egypt to buy some. We had also asked Mostafa where we could get some and he also bought us a pack. It was a good thing we had two packs, because we needed them. This was the first time in all of our travels that, although we were very careful, we have gotten sick from a local bug.
The group then headed to Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Nivene took us to different spots in the museum and went into great detail about each thing we stopped at. We spent a lot of time in the King Tut section, which has the most spectacular displays in the museum. Unfortunately, with so much time spent on a few sections of the museum, we only had about 30 minutes on our own to check out the rest of the museum. We had less time than we should, because the museum closed early due to Ramadan.
I am so glad that I had gone the day before, since I would have missed so much. I had found the previous day that the museum bookstore was not very good, especially compared to the bookstore right across the street from the museum. Plus, the store across the street was air conditioned, which was quite welcomed after roaming the hot museum for two hours. We found some books and souvenirs to add to our luggage for the trip home.
We were very glad to return to the modern air-conditioned hotel. By the way, one of the most appreciated features of this hotel was the rain type showerhead that was mounted in the shower ceiling in addition to the regular showerhead. So refreshing!
Tonight was to be our welcome dinner for the tour. Once again we had a buffet with Egyptian cuisine in the hotel. I was starting to get familiar with Egyptian food, and it seemed like every meal had some of the same things. Fortunately there was plenty of variety to try different things, but I knew that this could get old after ten days. After dinner, Carol and I walked around the outside of the hotel and found an outside couch to sit on. There was a very refreshing cool breeze blowing and it was so nice to be able to just sit there with my wonderful wife, holding hands and taking in the nighttime beauty along the Nile. It was one of those special moments that we will always fondly remember about this trip.
Day 4 – Cairo, Memphis, Saqqara and Giza
Today was the day I have waited all my life for. Today we would visit the pyramids. Since we had so much to see, our tour started at 7:30 AM. Even though Giza, where the pyramids are located is just outside Cairo on the western side of the Nile, we were going to go to Memphis and Saqqara first. The drive out of Cairo passed us through more of the poor and dirtier parts of the city. Nivene had told us yesterday that Cairo has 18 million residents and that it is growing by 100,000 per month or 1.2 million per year. Very unfortunate.
It was good to finally be able to travel outside of Cairo to see what the countryside was like. It was nice to get out of the heavy traffic and over crowded conditions and into an area with farms growing dates. The many palm trees reminded us of south Florida.
Our first stop was at Memphis, the former capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom. The main attractions there are the great colossus of Ramses II and the alabaster Sphinx of Memphis. The Ramses II statue is lying down in a covered pavilion that allows tourists to be able to view it from many angles. It is quite a beautiful statue and very well preserved.
In addition to the lovely 80-ton sphinx, there are also statues of Ramses on the grounds.
We got back on the bus and headed west toward Saqqara. This is where the palm tree forest ends and the Sahara Desert begins. There is a very clear-cut distinction between the two. One side of the road is green, and the other side is desert.
Within sight of the forest is the location of the desert plateau where the Pharaoh Djoser built the first pyramid, which is known as the Step Pyramid. I had seen many pictures of this pyramid, but had not realized that a very modern looking building was also part of the funeral complex. The stones are cut so precisely that there is no space between them and the finish is incredibly smooth. Quite amazing, considering the primitive tools that were used 4,700 years ago to build this structure. It is considered the world’s oldest monument built of stone rather than brick. I was also very impressed with the long hallway of columns that led toward the Step Pyramid. This was an unexpected treat.
The Step Pyramid itself was larger and more impressive than I was anticipating. I guess so much attention is put on the pyramids at Giza, that this one is usually not even visited by most tourists. It is a shame, because this group of buildings is well worth the time to visit.
This is also the first place we were seriously hounded by vendors. They were everywhere trying to sell most of the same things we would see during the rest of the trip. They were very persistent, but they would leave you alone if you told them to go away. They also had pleasant personalities and made funny jokes. They knew how to get tourists to laugh so they would buy something. One of the attractions there was to have your picture taken with a camel or a burro (for a fee, of course). This was not on my list of priorities.
We thought we were now going to get to go to Giza to see the Sphinx and Pyramids; but we had another distraction to go to first, a carpet store. They gave us a short demonstration of how they weaved the carpets and then tried to sell them to us. Since this was also a school, there were children making the carpets as well as master weavers. We had seen a much better demonstration last year in Turkey that had also shown us how they converted the silkworm cocoons into the silk thread, so for us, it was a total waste of an hour.
After the last person had agreed to a price and made their purchase, we finally headed to Giza. The drive was interesting, since there were lots of date palm trees and farms to look at. We also passed several donkey powered carts with colorful vegetables piled high.
It was exciting to get glimpses of the tops of the pyramids as we got closer. The town of Giza goes right up to the Pyramid grounds. It is a crowded dirty city and takes away from being in the presence of these famous structures. We were told we would be eating at a restaurant that overlooks the Sphinx and Pyramids, which sounded just awesome; but it was an open-air restaurant. I couldn’t imagine eating outside in this intense heat. Due to some security issues, we had to walk a few blocks from the bus to the restaurant in the hot sun and dirty, dusty streets. Thank goodness the tables were covered by a large canvas structure to protect us from the sun. Additionally, most of the time there was a very nice breeze that made the temperature relatively comfortable. We definitely had a table with a view. This would be a lunch to remember.
Uwe had told us on the way there that we could come back that night to see the Pyramid Sound and Light Show if we chose to. I was quite excited about doing this, since it wasn’t on the original itinerary. While we were eating lunch, Uwe found out that an individual had rented the grounds for the night and was putting on their own party with the sound and light show. That is why a stage and additional sound equipment had been set up in front of the Sphinx. That was very disappointing. However, we did get to hear the sound system while they were testing it for the upcoming party; which was quite impressive, if somewhat ear splitting.
After lunch we had some free time to see the Sphinx before the bus ride up to the Pyramids. We were told not to take too long since we would come back later. I took a few photos of the area and was returning to the restaurant when Leland asked if we had gone up to the Sphinx through the tunnels. I didn’t know what he was talking about, so he showed several of us how to get through the building next to the Sphinx to be able to get the unobstructed view that we were hoping to see. The pigeons were enjoying resting in the shade of the Sphinx's face. We took longer than we were supposed to at the Sphinx, but it didn’t delay us much and I was thrilled with what we had seen.
The bus drove us up the hill to a location between the Great Pyramid of Cheops, which is the largest one, and the second largest, the Pyramid of Cephren, who was Cheops’ son. Cephren’s is the one with a portion of the original smooth surface still covering the top. It appears larger because it is on higher terrain. I walked over to each of the pyramids trying to get photos from various angles. I am glad I had an ultra wide lens, since they are huge. I also had to touch each of them to prove to myself that I was actually there. They were just marvelous.
A few weeks before our visit, the Egyptian government completed new security around the pyramids that was designed to keep out the hordes of vendors from bothering the tourists. I don’t know what it was like before, but there were way too many aggressive vendors there. Plus the security police kept hassling me to try to take my picture, so they could get a tip. It really takes away from a visit to this incredible place.
Everyone then got back on the bus to drive over to a panoramic view of all three pyramids. Quite a sight! I was in a very hot "heaven". This is also where those that wanted to could ride a camel. I had no desire to, but many took the $10 camel rides and had an experience they will never forget.
Smaller Pyramid of Mykernius Pyramids of Cheops and Cephran
We got back on the bus to head back to the Sphinx, so that those who had not been able to get the unobstructed view would be able to. Our guides had been told that the Sphinx would be closing early, due to Ramadan, at 4:30 PM. We got there about 3:15 PM. As those who wanted to get the close up view started to go in, they were told that it was closing at 3:30 PM and no one else could go in. There were some upset people.
Before we were to go back to our hotel, we stopped at a jewelry/souvenir store so anyone that wanted to could order a cartouche. These would be delivered when we returned from the cruise and visited Alexandria. The prices at this store were much higher than in the bazaar in Cairo. I am so glad that I had been given good advice on where to go to get a better deal on a cartouche. Next door to the store was a papyrus factory. There we saw a demonstration of how the first paper was made. It was very interesting and gave us an appreciation for the product. The papyrus pictures there were more expensive than what we had seen, but we did find a small one we liked and got it for a souvenir.
Once again we dragged back into the hotel thoroughly exhausted. The wonderful shower reinvigorated us for what was to be a fun night. Since dinner was not included in our package that night, Leland and Gherry organized a trip over to the Cairo Hard Rock Café for dinner and a felucca ride on the Nile after. This was a great idea. We got a bunch of taxis that cost about $3 for each taxi load to get us there. We were ready for a hamburger, fries and a big glass of iced tea. It really hit the spot. The Cairo Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts were popular. Carol couldn't resist taking a photo of a sign on the inside of restroom.
The highlight of the night was the felucca ride on the Nile. Leland had arranged for both the felucca ride and taxi fare back to the hotel for $2 per person. Quite a deal! We got the group of about 40 people into three of the large sailboats. The view from the boat was really pretty with all the lights glowing along the river. There was a nice breeze and it was cool, refreshing and so relaxing. Everyone was really enjoying the ride. This was Carol’s fondest memory of the trip.
The Felucca captain, who couldn’t speak a word of English, appointed me first mate and his assistant, since I was sitting in a good position next to the rudder. When he had to do something with the sails, he would go to the bow and try to communicate with me in sign language which way to move the rudder or to hold it steady. I had no problem with this, but when he wanted me to bring the felucca back into the dock, I started to worry. He stood on the bow and grunted orders waved his hands insanely to me. I guess I did OK, since we came in fine; but it was a different kind of experience. Unfortunately, Carol was laughing so hard that she forgot to take a picture of my maritime adventure.
What a great way to cap off an awesome day of touring. It had been a day and night to remember.
Day 5 – Cairo to Luxor
Today we would finally be able to start our cruise along the Nile River. I was going to miss the wonderful Sofitel Hotel. Everything about it had been first class, especially the service. They have a great staff and facility. I hoped that we would have nice accommodations on the Sun Goddess, but knew that they couldn’t compare to the comfort of the Sofitel.
Unfortunately, we were all on a 2:10 PM flight to Luxor rather than the originally planned 8:00 AM flight. This meant that we would be getting a late start to tour the temples of Luxor and Karnak. Since the flight is one hour, we would be arriving 6 hours later than shown on the original itinerary. I was disappointed that we wouldn’t get as much time as we had planned at the famous temples. However, shortly after awakening my mind became occupied with more pressing issues. I started to have symptoms of intestinal tract distress. I immediately popped an Antinal. My stress level was up. I didn’t want to miss anything on this trip due to illness.
Since we had most of the morning free due to the late flight, we had a leisurely breakfast. When we went down to meet for the bus to take us to lunch near the airport, we talked to a few other people that were taking various medicines, including Imodium and Cipro to counteract the early symptoms of Mummy Tummy. It seemed like the most likely places we could have picked something up was at lunch at the Pyramids. We had ice in the tea at the Hard Rock, but since it is in the Grand Hyatt, we didn’t think it would be an issue there.
We took the long bus ride to the airport area and stopped at the Novotel Hotel for a light buffet lunch. During this trip, I had found that I realy enjoyed the Sakara Beer. Probably because it had the step pyramid on it. I was surprised at how many ways the name of the city of Saqqara was spelled. Perhaps this is caused by the translation from Arabic. This would also be frustrating in the Valley of the Kings, where they spelled the Pharaoh Ramses name as Rameses.
Once we got to the airport, we had to go through a couple of different security screenings to make sure that we had no metal objects. Both Carol and I had forgotten to pack our little pocket knives. To keep us from losing them, Uwe put several knives from the group in his brief case and checked it. We were quite grateful to him for coming up with the idea.
The Egypt Air flight was in a large roomy Airbus plane. We were not expecting such comfort, so it was a pleasant surprise. Flying from Cairo to Luxor shows just how important the Nile River is to Egypt. Looking down from the plane, the Nile appears like a long green snake. Along most parts there is a small lush area right next to the water, and then it dramatically turns into desert sand. I would get a better appreciation for this during the cruise part of the trip.
To maximize our time, we were going to go directly from the airport to a tour of the Temple of Karnak, while our luggage was being transferred to the ship. We got to the temple around 4:30 PM. The Luxor area and all along the path of the cruise is about 10 degrees hotter than Cairo. So where Cairo had been in the mid 90’s, it would be around 105 here. It was very hot as we approached the Temple of Karnak. Carol and I had both ordered UV umbrellas online to protect against the hot sun (Link). We knew we wouldn't be needing an umbrella for rain in Luxor. Our guide had told us that it hadn't rained here in three years, and then it was only a brief shower. We had used these wonderful umbrellas some in Cairo, but their value was proven in the hotter climate of Luxor. With the sun beating down on us as we walked up to the temple, the little umbrellas made a huge difference, an excellent investment.
At the entrance to the Temple of Karnak, walking between the rows of ram headed sphinxes as we approached the massive walls just blew me away. I knew that this was the biggest temple we would see, but everything was much bigger than I expected. The hieroglyphics and carvings were everywhere, and they looked so fresh rather than thousands of years old. It was just unbelievable. One benefit of it being late in the day and having the huge walls was that most areas of the temple were shaded. This didn’t help for photos, but it made it more comfortable. We had four new Egyptologists for our group during the cruise. The one we went with was named Robert. He was a very nice young man with a great knowledge of Egypt and a wonderful attitude; but like Nivene, he spent way too much time on details rather than showing us more of the sites.
I had seen so many pictures of the 134 huge columns in the hypostyle hall, but I couldn’t believe that we were actually walking in that hall looking at them. They were so beautiful with all their carvings. There were even areas that still had the original paint on them.
A colorized version of Karnack's columns are shown in the introduction to the main feature at Muvico Theaters. Because of that, I could easily look at them and imagine how they must have appeared when they were new.
I have always been fascinated with the huge obelisks from Egypt. We have seen them at different places all over the world, but it was much better to see them there in their natural environment where they were intended to be.
We spent an hour visiting the lovely temple, which was not enough; but I booked the Karnak Sound and Light show for later that night, so I could spend some more time there. Carol was exhausted and knew better than to try to come back.
I was surprised to see a statue of a scarab. This is a beetle that I had seen in hieroglyphics and on amulets; but not as a statue. I would later buy a gold and lapis one for my necklace. It seems like a strange object for a necklace, but it is quite pretty.
We headed for our ship the Sonesta Sun Goddess (Link). It would be our home for the next four nights. With so many cruise ships on the Nile, there is not enough dock space for all of them. As a result, several ships will park right next to the others and you walk through those ships to get to yours. Kind of strange, but it works well. The ship by the dock we walked through was the Sonesta Moon Goddess. They do look like floating hotels.
We had a brief orientation program after we boarded the ship and then went to our cabins to get ready for dinner. We had to hurry and eat, because I was going on the Luxor tour that started at 7:15 P.M., followed by the 9:15 P.M. Karnak Sound and Light Show. Even though we needed to hurry, we wanted to make time for a shower. The shower would not maintain a constant temperature. It would get scalding hot, then very cold. It was very difficult to use. I assumed that it was caused by so many people using the showers at the same time. Bad assumption!
I was disappointed that we wouldn’t see the Luxor Temple in the daylight; but as we approached it, I was thrilled. The temple was just gorgeous. It was all lit up and I realized that it was a much better way to experience the beautiful temple. Along with Carol, several other people in the group decided to skip going to the Luxor Temple or Karnak Sound and Light show. It was really a shame, because to me, Luxor was the prettiest of all the temples we would see on the trip. Plus, with it being at night, the cooler temperatures made for a more enjoyable tour.
Once again we were walking among massive statues, obelisks and hieroglyphic covered walls. With the lights highlighting the beauty of the temple, it was just an awesome experience. We even had a full moon shining over the obelisk.
In the 15th century, a mosque was built in one of the courtyards of the temple. It is a nice contrast to the pharaonic architecture.
There was so much beauty to see in the temple. We got to spend about an hour there, and I could have stayed a lot longer. It would have been nice to see it in the day also; but if I had a choice, nighttime was the best way to see the Temple of Luxor.
We then headed back over to the Temple of Karnak for the Sound and Light Show. We got there just before it started. The show began with everyone standing outside of the temple, with a recording of a deep voiced narrator telling about the history of the temple. The lights came up on various parts of the temple as the voice talked about them. Since there was a large crowd there it was hard to see much. After about 10 minutes, the voice stopped and the crowd was allowed to move into the front part of the temple and the voice began talking again. Once again, lights came on at different parts of the temple. I had enjoyed the Temple of Luxor a lot more with all the lights on at one time and no booming voice. Once again this went on for about 10 minutes and we were allowed to then move further into the temple. Because there were so many people I was with a large group to one side and couldn’t even see the lights that were highlighting what the voice was talking about. This was not for people who didn’t like crowds or didn’t like to stand for long periods of time in a hot place. This went on for two more 10-minute cycles before everyone had to climb stairs to get into stands to sit and watch the same thing from bleacher seats for 30 more minutes. I saw an older lady tourist who had fallen down on the stairs. I am surprised more people didn’t fall, except that there were so many people crammed in that you wouldn’t have hit the ground if you had fallen.
Between the stands and the temple was a nice sized lake. Everyone kept expecting there to be some type of light show other than just turning spotlights on and off. It looked like a good place for fireworks, but all that kept happening was the booming voice and on and off spotlights. It was incredibly boring and I saw some people sleeping during the show. I almost dozed off myself. The Karnak Sound and Light Show was a terrible waste of time and money.
When I got back to the boat, Carol was rested and she had gotten the cabin set up. She had also sent out a bunch of clothes to be washed. The prices on the ship were very reasonable and by knowing we could get them washed, it had allowed us pack with fewer clothes. The good news was that the Antinal seemed to be keeping my system working okay; but the bad news was that Carol had started having to take it also.
Day 6 – Luxor, Esna and Edfu
The next morning we had a 5:00 A.M. wake up call, so everyone would be ready for the 6:00 A.M. excursion to the Valley of the Kings. It is an excursion that needs to be done as early as possible to hopefully avoid the higher temperatures later in the day. When we headed down to meet the group, we found that several folks were going to miss the excursion due to Mummy Tummy. Leland had gotten several boxes of Antinal the night before and was passing it out to those in need. It was a shame that someone who had come so far would miss visiting the tombs of the pharaohs. While we were waiting to leave the ship, we could see the hot air balloons lifting off to fly over the area. It was a beautiful sight.
Instead of heading for busses, we were going to take a couple of small open boats across the Nile to meet up with our busses on the west bank. This made it faster to get to the Valley of the Kings; but to get over to the boats, we had a treacherous climb over another boat to get to ours. This was a terrible way to start a tour. I was very concerned about some of the older members of our group being able to maneuver through the boats without hurting themselves, but they made it.
As we pulled away from the dock, we got a full view of the Sun Goddess. The west bank was more interesting with the sand dunes and mountains behind the palm trees lining the Nile.
After the short ride across the Nile, we packed on to the busses to head for the Valley of the Kings. It was only a ten-minute drive to the entrance. The terrain on the west side of the Nile was very different from the east side. It was a very rocky and mountainous area. That is why it was chosen for the tombs. The pharaohs wanted to be buried in higher ground and less likely to be affected by the annual Nile flooding.
As had been the system at our visits to other sites, Robert purchased the tickets for our entry into the Valley. This time, however, there were hundreds of people trying to get through the single entrance in the fence. There was only one person collecting the tickets. Not good! We used the techniques we had learned from watching the Cairo taxi drivers and squeezed and changed lanes frequently to get to the ticket taker. We finally made it to the welcome center where there was a plastic model of the valley showing all of the tombs. There were certainly lots of them. Before the trip I thrilled to find out about the website www.thebanmappingproject.com. Luxor and the Valley of the Kings are in the area that was previously called Thebes. This website showed pictures and layouts of each tomb; as well as detailed descriptions. There is a wealth of information about this whole area on this site.
We then waited for one of the many trams to take us into the valley. Thank goodness they had these, since it would not be a pleasant walk, especially later in the day when the sun would be beating down on us.
When we got off the tram, we listened to Robert tell us about the tombs we would be visiting. He also pointed out that the mountain at the end of the valley was shaped like a pyramid with a pointed top. Then Carol and I got in the short line to enter KV11, the tomb of Ramses III. It was a relatively easy tomb to visit. There were a few ramps we had to go down, but they were hardly noticed with all the pictures to look at on the walls and ceilings. I was amazed at how large the passage into the tomb was. I had been expecting something narrower with lower ceilings, kind of like in Indiana Jones. This was a much better experience. I wish we could have brought cameras into the tombs, but I do understand why not. Not only would it hurt the experience and slow down the lines through the tombs; but there is no way the camera can capture the beauty of these special places.
The next tomb I went in was KV16, the tomb of Ramses I. It had a very long line waiting to get in. I was sure glad I had my UV umbrella to protect me from the intense sun. Since this tomb had many steps and there were even a lot of steps down to the entrance, I suggested to Carol that she skip it. It pays to research before you go, since this was a difficult tomb to visit. That thought would be confirmed, when the ticket taker handed everyone a piece of cardboard to use as a fan. The main attraction of this tomb was that there was a sarcophagus in the burial chamber. It was not nearly as pretty as the first tomb we saw, and it was not worth the physical effort and having to deal with the heat. Unfortunately, we were only able to visit the tombs that were open that day.
Our ticket only allowed for three tomb visits. Our third one was KV2, the tomb of Ramses IV. It was the easiest of the tombs to visit, so Carol joined me. There was just a short line to enter it. We had saved the best one for last. It was the prettiest one with the most paintings, and there was a sarcophagus in the burial chamber. As we left the tomb, I couldn’t believe how long the line had grown. It was stretching out to the main path through the valley. What a difference a few minutes made. It was only 8:20 AM and many busses were arriving with tourists anxious see the marvelous tombs. It definitely paid to arrive early.
While we were waiting for our group to gather for our return tram ride, we talked to a few people who had gone to KV16 first, the tomb with a lot of steps. Since it had worn them out, they decided not to try either of the other two tombs. We told them that the other two were much easier and more beautiful; but they didn’t have the time or energy to do them. It is a shame they hadn’t looked at their handouts, since it did warn them that KV16 had a lot of steps. They had missed seeing some of the best sites of the trip.
Our next destination was the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. It is a very modern looking structure that is built up against a mountain with many steps to climb. We had to park the bus a long distance from the temple, and I was concerned that there would be a long walk in the very hot sun. After we walked through the vendor area and fought off a few of the more aggressive ones, I was thrilled to see that there was a tram that would take us closer to the steps. The steps didn’t look that steep on TV. I knew it would be some heavy exercise to climb to the top in the heat, but I was there and I had to do it. It was a beautiful structure and I didn’t want to miss seeing anything in the land of the pharaohs.
I am glad I made the climb. I was tired, but the excitement of walking among those beautiful statues and looking at the paintings and carvings was a great reward for the effort. Also the view from the top of the temple is quite lovely, with the stark contrast of the desert sands against the irrigated green fields in the distance. This was another great excursion stop and it was only 10:00 AM, with a lot more to see today. After the climb down the steps, I stopped at the refreshment area and got a Fanta orange drink. I rarely drink them, but for some reason I was craving one. I had been drinking lots of water all day, but that orange drink really hit the spot. It is amazing what your body will crave when you are almost at the point of heat exhaustion.
Although this was an awesome stop, I was glad that Carol and a lot of others waited in the air-conditioned bus. It is a difficult temple to climb and see, and it is a site that would be much more enjoyable during cooler weather.
Our next stop was to the Valley of the Queens. It is a less visited area and the tombs for the queens are much smaller. That made them much easier to visit since there were almost no lines and they didn’t take long to see. This is where Queen Nefertari is buried. Unfortunately, that tomb is not open. We went to a couple of others. They were prettier than I expected, but not very big.
Our last stop before going back to the ship was a short photo stop to see the Colossi of Memnon. These are two 54-foot high statues of Pharaoh Amenophis III, which once flanked the doors of his mortuary temple. They are all that is left of what was the most magnificent mortuary temple that ever existed. Since they have been heavily damaged, they aren’t that pretty anymore, but they are quite magnificent. I was more awed by them than I was expecting. I can’t imagine what they were like before the earthquake in 27 BC that damaged them so severely.
It was now time to return to the boat and begin the cruise down the Nile River. We had already had a full day’s touring and all we wanted to do was watch out the windows and observe life on the Nile. We were looking forward to relaxing on the ship the rest of the day. As soon as we boarded, the Sun Goddess left the dock. Within a few minutes we were passing by the Temple of Luxor, and we were able to see what it looked like in the daylight. I was already enjoying our first river cruise.
It was really enjoyable to watch the world go by from the cabin window. I understood why cruising the Nile is so popular. It is so beautiful passing by the palm tree groves and lush green farms with the sandy dunes and mountains right behind them.
We would pass by farm animals, people fishing, kids swimming and people in row boats. There was always something to observe. The Nile is Egypt’s lifeblood. Without it, the whole country would be sand.
Since this was the first time I had some free time on the ship, I walked around to get some photos. The Sun Goddess is a small ship for us, with only 62 cabins on four levels. The ship was okay for a short Nile cruise, but I would not want to go on her again. The food was good and the cabin was comfortable, but the problems with the showers that everyone was experiencing and the state of repair the ship was in did make it less enjoyable than it could have been. These ships take a beating from the weather and the frequent passenger turnovers. It also would have been nice if the crew had a better understanding of English, since this was supposed to be a cruise for English speaking passengers only.
As we approached the Esna Locks, the vendors in rowboats approached the Sun Goddess. These vendors are sometimes referred to as the “Crocodiles of the Nile” because of the way they surround the riverboats. They holler up to the cruisers to get their attention and then throw up their wares for the potential buyer to look at. It is a fascinating process to watch. Several ladies in our group bought galabeyas from the vendors. I felt sorry for the guys that had to row the boats to keep up when the ships moved away.
While we were waiting to enter the locks, we had a lovely sunset. The passage through the locks went much faster than expected because a second lock was recently opened. I had read about ships previously having to wait many hours when traffic was heavy. After we passed through, it was time for us to get ready for the Captain’s Welcome Reception in the lounge followed by a seated dinner. The dinner was very good, but the highlight was Black Forest Ice Cream Cake. We had not had ice cream since we came to Egypt due to our concerns with potential Mummy Tummy. It was so delicious.