Egypt Expedition - Page 2

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

 

Day 7 – Edfu, Kom Ombu and Aswan

This morning we awoke in the town of Edfu.   I was up early, so I figured it would be a good time to get some more photos of the ship while most people were still asleep.  I wanted to get some pictures of the unusual and pretty art objects.  I hadn’t taken them the day before because of improper lighting, and I was just too exhausted to fool with them. 

   

 

       

   

When I went to the upper deck I could see that we were right next to another river boat and  in the center of town.  As with every town we had seen, there were many lovely mosques and minarets.   Close to the ship some kids were taking a morning swim in the Nile. 

         

   

Then I saw what would be our transportation for the day, a horse drawn carriage was moving down the road in front of the ship.  Having previously seen these carriage rides on TV, it looked like it would be a fun experience.  Don’t believe everything you see on TV!

   

We met in the lobby at 8:00 A.M. to go to the Temple of Horus.  It was covered by sand for over 2,000 years, and is considered the best preserved temple in all of Egypt.  We climbed up the two levels of steps to street level to meet our carriages.  Egypt is not a good place to visit for someone with physical disabilities.  There were no ramps at any of the places we docked while on the cruise; and very few at any of the other sites we visited.  For that matter our ship didn’t have an elevator either, so it was not “Handicapped Accessible”. 

 

The horse drawn carriages are just like taxis.  You need to attract them to pick you up, as well as negotiate a price before you board.  Amadeus gave each group of four a 20 Egyptian pound bill (about $4.00) for the whole carriage and told us to only give it to the driver on the way back.  Otherwise he might not be there when you want to go back to the ship.  This meant we would have to find the same driver after our tour of the temple.  These carriages are made for smaller people, but we were to stuff four of us in each one.  Where’s a stretch horse carriage when you need it? 

   

Carol and Marie sat in the main carriage compartment facing forward, I sat in the rear facing seat and Richard sat up front with the driver.  My rear facing "seat" was really no more than a narrow board.  We proceeded to the temple with the driver snapping his whip at the malnourished horse.  At first, it was a nice way to travel with the sound of the horse hooves clomping along on the pavement. 

Then the driver started snapping the poor horse with his whip to make it pick up speed.  Slow was nice, fast wasn’t, since I wasn’t in a real secure position.   I really couldn’t see much in front of me due to my position and the restricted movement I had on the tiny bench seat. The girls seemed to be enjoying the ride, since they were laughing and having fun.  Unfortunately I think they were laughing at their two guys in our uncomfortable positions while we held on for our lives.  It took about ten minutes of pain to get to the temple.  I was so happy to be able to get out that carriage.  I don’t know who was in more distress, me or the poor animal.  We had written down the carriage number so we could find it on our return. 

   

Where we had been dropped off we could see the Temple of Horus in the background behind a large area of shops.  We knew that we would once again get to meet many of the local vendors.  We found that if you walk really fast and look straight ahead with no emotion, like a robot, they don’t bother you as much.  Then again vendors working together were trying to find ways to outflank us to get our attention.  Carol used her 3rd grade school teacher "stern look" to discourage them.  Since there were easier targets than us, we were able to quickly get to the ticket booth and enter the temple grounds. 

After listening to Robert tell us about the plans to see this temple we headed toward it.  We saw Leland standing in the shade with Gherry sitting down against a wall.  We went over to see if there was a problem and found out that Gherry had gotten very ill and needed to rest.  We were quite worried about her.  Gherry had been telling us earlier in the trip how she had never been sick on a trip before.  Leland told us that there was nothing we could do to help, so we continued on the tour and he stayed behind to comfort her.

   

   

This temple was indeed in very good shape.  The carvings were very clean and in excellent condition.  This was a beautiful temple.  At the entrance were the two statues of the falcon god Horus to whom the temple is dedicated.  Everyone has to get the required picture with Horus.  We were no exception. 

   

Walking through the entrance to the huge courtyard, I was surprised by how large this temple was.  The carvings on the walls and pillars were so clear and in such good condition.  This was one gorgeous place. 

   

 

 

At the back side of the courtyard we entered the enclosed hypostyle hall with huge pillars covered in hieroglyphics and carvings.  Seeing how much decoration was present in this temple made me wish I could have seen the temples of Luxor and Karnak when they were in this good condition.  It must have been some sight.

   

   

Going deeper into the enclosed temple, we marveled at the numerous paintings and carvings. 

   

   

Robert took us out a side entrance to show us the outside walls.  This was a good move, since it was warm and stuffy in the temple, whereas on the outside there was shade and a nice breeze.  Once again we were amazed by the beauty of walls that were covered with decorative carvings.  Robert told us the story of how Horus lost his eye, as depicted in the drawings.  This is a must see temple.

   

During our free time at the site, I went back into the enclosed temple to see the sanctuary at the very back.  There was a huge crowd of people trying to look into the sanctuary to see the Sacred Boat of Horus.  It was very dark in the sanctuary and quite a challenge to even be able to see the boat over all the people, but I was able to snap a few photos.  Thank goodness my camera is pretty good in low light conditions. 

   

It was time to head back to the ship.  We found Leland who was assisting Gherry out of the temple grounds.  She was still not well, but at least she was able walk slowly.  I am sure she wasn’t looking forward to the carriage ride.  Amazingly, after sleeping the rest of the day, Gherry was back to her bubbly self the next morning.

We found our carriage driver and this time I got to sit up front next to him.  It was much more comfortable but it also allowed me to witness the driver whipping his poor thin horse to make him go faster.  Every time he would whip him, the horse would jump and ram his legs into the front of the carriage.  The driver would laugh and was very proud of his whipping abilities.  We could not get him to ease up on this abused animal.  I presume this is how the driver proves how much power he has.   It was quite upsetting to all of us.   I hope all the drivers are not that abusive to their horses.  We did see later in Alexandria that the drivers treated their horses very well, so perhaps we just had a miserable person as a driver.

Since I was able to see ahead of me, I was able to take photos while I held onto the seat very tightly.  These carriages were not required to have seat belts; they really needed them on the driver’s seat I was sharing.  With him weaving through the crowded streets, I was being thrown around where I would have easily fallen off, had I not been able to get a good grip.  The temple was marvelous, but the town of Edfu was not one that I cared for.

   

   

As soon as we got back to the ship around 10:00 AM, it left the dock to head for Kom Ombo.  Once again, we were able to watch the beautiful contrast of lush plant life and desert pass by as we headed south up the Nile.  There were lots of Egyptians working their fields and fishing.  It was fascinating watching this totally different life style from what we are used to.

   

   

We arrived at Kom Ombo at 4:15 PM.  We were there to visit the Temple of Kom Ombo.  Due to its close proximity to the ship, we were able to walk through town to the temple, which sits up on a hill overlooking the Nile.  Carol and many others had decided to skip this excursion, since we had already seen many temples and it was a good time to relax.  I, on the other hand, am a glutton for punishment and didn’t want to miss a single opportunity to see the wonders of Egypt. 

   

It is a unique temple in that it was dedicated to two gods, Horus who is represented by a falcon and Sobek who is represented as a crocodile.  The temple is divided right down the middle with the left side to Horus and right to Sobek. 

 

    

 

   

Much of this temple had been destroyed; and although it was not in as good a condition as most of the other ones we had seen, it was still quite pretty.  There were some very nice paintings with lots of color that had lasted over 2,000 years.  Also many of the carvings were in very good shape and quite beautiful.  One of the unique things there are drawings that show surgical instruments. 

 

 

There are also pictures showing a queen in a birthing chair and even another one with the queen delivering a baby.

   

   

Another thing I hadn’t seen anywhere else was the large sacred well.  It has two staircases used to descend to the bottom of it.  The priests would use this well to determine the rate of taxes to charge, which were based on the depth of the Nile.  The deeper the water, the more crops they could grow and tax.

   

 

On the walk back to the ship, we were able to view a lovely sunset across the Nile.  The sand in the air does give the sky a lovely color.

That night on the ship was the traditional galabeya party.  These are the traditional tunics worn in Egypt.  Most tourists buy the heavily decorated ones for the event.  The shop owner on the ship, who we got to know very well with our frequent visits, told us that Egyptian men normally wear very plain ones and it is the women who shine in theirs.  I wasn’t going to get one, since this would probably be the only time I would wear it in my life.  Plus all the ones they had were a bit tight.  (Sizes must run smaller in Egypt.)  However, they did have a very nice linen one that did fit.  Being linen, it was like the ones that I had seen so many Egyptians wearing during the course of this trip.  Since it wasn’t that expensive, I was curious to see what it was like to wear one.  I had thought that they would be uncomfortably warm to wear; but it was just the opposite.  Air moved very well through the linen as well as through the open bottom.  This was very comfortable attire for this climate.  I guess that is why they wear them!

   

   

Carol and the other girls who bought galabeyas looked just lovely playing Egyptian princesses.  It made for a fun evening.  But since, we had a 4:00 A.M. wake up call in the morning; it was a very early to bed evening for most people.

   

 

Day 8 –Aswan and Abu Simbel

This was going to be a big day.  One of the highlights of this trip was to be the visit to the famous temples at Abu Simbel.  Since it was about 250 miles to Abu Simbel, we had to catch a 6:30 A.M. plane to fly there.  During the night we had docked in the town of Aswan.  As we drove to the Aswan airport, we were amazed to see that this was a very pretty and well taken care of town.  It was relatively modern and clean.  We asked Robert why Aswan was so different from the other places we had visited.  He said that the governor of this province allocates funds to keep it looking good.  It was money well spent, because this was a very refreshing change from what we had been seeing.  The airport was also quite nice. 

It was only a short 45 minute flight to the site, which is only about 30 miles north of Sudan.  I was able to see the temples as we approached the Abu Simbel airport, but it was too far away to get a decent photo.  Abu Simbel was a temple that was buried under sand until it was discovered in the 1800’s.  It was in very good condition.

When the Aswan High Dam was being built, Abu Simbel was going to end up being under water.  In the 1960’s the temple was completely disassembled and moved to the higher location where it is today.  How they accomplished this relocation is an amazing story.  Thank goodness it was done, because these are very beautiful temples.

It was a short bus ride to the temples from the airport, but a fairly long walk around the back of the temple structure to get to the temple entrances.  It was only 8:00 A.M., but the temperature was rising quickly to what would be a high of 107 that day.  As we got to where we could see the lovely entrances to the temples, Robert and guides with other groups would search for one of the few shaded areas to tell the tourists about what we were about to see. 

   

   

Since the smaller Temple of Nefertari (Ramses II wife) was closer we visited it first.  After walking into so many temples recently, we were very impressed that these actually had wood floors installed rather than having to walk on the sand and rocks.  It made it much easier to walk around the gorgeous enclosed temple.  It was unfortunate that photos were not allowed inside, since it was so beautiful.  I guess that is why they sell souvenir books of Abu Simbel.  I know the photos in it are a lot better than I could have taken.

   

   

We then walked over to the magnificent Temple of Ramses II.  It was much larger than his wife’s.  The four sixty foot tall statues of Ramses II make one feel quite insignificant as you walk into the entrance of this temple.  Inside are more statues of Ramses on either side of the hall that leads further into the temple.  Once again there were beautiful paintings, carvings and hieroglyphs all over the walls, ceilings and columns.  I am so glad our tour offered this visit.  These temples are very special and it would have been a shame to miss them after coming so far.

   

   

   

   

On leaving the temple to walk back to the bus, I was able to appreciate the location of these temples along what is now Lake Nasser, but was just the Nile River when they were built.  The water looked so refreshing.  But I imagine that the sight of these temples left quite an impression on anyone who came up the Nile River 3,000 years ago.

   

I walked around the other side of the temples to head back to the concession area.  I wanted to see what the backs of these temples looked like from the other side.  I didn’t want to miss a thing. 

   

When I arrived at the concession area, the popular item was pre-packaged Magna ice cream bars.  Talk about refreshing!  Then we were ready to fly back to Aswan and board the ship.  We arrived back at noon, with some time to have lunch on board and a short rest before our 1:45 Aswan city tour. 

During lunch we sat with several people including Roger and Ann from our group.  We were discussing the incredible sights we had just seen at Abu Simbel, when Roger appeared to be having some problems.  Ann asked him if he was okay and he shook his head no.  He made a Heimlich Maneuver type motion, so I assumed that he was choking.  It had been years since I had CPR training and a brief explanation about the Heimlich Maneuver; but it was time to try to recall what to do.  Roger was sitting down and like me has a good sized stomach.  I was concerned about performing the maneuver too high on him and breaking a rib, but it wasn’t easy to tell where I should place my fist, so I just did it.  After a couple of pumps, whatever was there moved down his esophagus.  Roger was breathing fine.  I was more concerned that I might have broken a rib, but he said he was fine.  Roger, who is in the medical field, told me the next day that, for future reference, I was too high, but that it was okay since it worked.

The city tour began with a stop at a red granite quarry that contained an unfinished obelisk.  Construction of it stopped when it developed large cracks.  It would have been the largest obelisk ever constructed at 126 feet had it been completed.  Walking around this quarry was the most challenging excursion we had been on.  There was a lot of climbing in 107 degree heat.  With the hot red granite burning through my tennis shoes, I think it might have been even hotter there.  In some areas where it wasn't as dust covered, I could see that this really was red granite.  I was very glad to get back in the air conditioned bus.

   

 

All during this trip we were able to buy bottled water from the bus driver at a price of $1 for two bottles, which was comparatively quite reasonable.  With the high temperature today, he must have been having record sales.   We then took a ride across the old Aswan Dam to get to the road to take us to the newer Aswan High Dam.  As we crossed we could look across the lake and see the last temple we would visit on this trip, the Philae Temple.

   

In about 15 minutes we were on the top of the High Dam and looking over the side.  It is very large and it holds back the 2nd largest man made lake in the world, Lake Nasser; even so, it isn’t much to look at.  Unlike Hoover Dam, which is very high and relatively narrow, this dam is high, but doesn’t look like it because it is very wide with a gradual slope.   On the other side of the road was the 300 mile long Lake Nasser.

   

   

We then headed to what we thought would be our final destination of the day.  The Temple of Isis at Philae is one of the newer temples with construction of it covering the period from 300 BC to 500 AD.  Most of the construction was done during the Roman Period. This temple was relocated from the Island of Philae, a few hundred yards away, to where it is now.  The below photo is taken from the temple.  All that is showing above the water of Philae Island is the small grassy mound in the center of the photo.

To visit this island and temple we had to take a boat.  It was a very pretty ride passing by small rocky islands and cliffs. 

   

   

   

The temple was constructed similar to the others we had seen with the large entrance, courtyard and enclosed temple.  Many of the carvings had been damaged intentionally.  The figures on the right side of the entrance are very smooth, while the ones on the left are very rough in appearance.  This was an attempt to cover them up that was never completed.

 

   

Once again, this temple had the wood floors like the ones at Abu Simbel.  It really makes a difference and just looks good.  This temple had many beautiful wall carvings and decorated pillars.  There was graffiti on the walls that was left by Napoleonic troops.  It also had a lot of water damage from when it was on the lower Philae Island and was under water after the high dam was built.

   

   

   

   

To the side of the main temple is Trajan’s Kiosk.  This is the remains of a church built in the 6th century AD. 

   

Although this was a nice temple to visit in a quite scenic location, it didn’t have the same feel to me as the older ones we had been visiting.  Either I had just seen too many temples or I was becoming an older temple snob.  Either way, I had seen enough temples for a while.  It was 5:30 and I was ready to get back to the ship.  Unfortunately we had a surprise.  We were going to stop at a perfume factory.  I won’t spend time discussing it, except to say it was a waste of time and we didn’t get back to the ship until 6:30 P.M.  The group was not happy about this stop, especially since everyone was exhausted and ready to get back.

Tonight the ship had a Nubian Show.  Aswan was a part of the ancient region of Nubia, most of which was in the Sudan.  The music and dancing were very good.  When what was supposed to be a funny witch doctor type person got up to have fun with the audience, I decided it was time to get back to the cabin to download pictures.  We would be heading for Alexandria tomorrow.

   

 

Day 9 – Aswan to Cairo and Alexandria

Today we would be leaving the cruise portion of the trip to fly back to Cairo for a bus ride to Alexandria.  We were all supposed to be on a 2:30 P.M. flight, but Egypt Air had changed 17 people’s tickets to an earlier 12:30 P.M. flight without notifying Amadeus or anyone else.  Fortunately for us, Amadeus found out about it a few days earlier when confirming flights, so other arrangements could be made.

Since most of the morning was free, a felucca ride on the Nile was scheduled.  Aswan is in a very photographic part of the Nile, and it was a great place for felucca rides and pictures.  The ride was enjoyable, but there wasn’t much wind and because of the heat, it didn’t compare well to the great one we had in Cairo in the cooler night air. 

 

The highlight of the ride was when a couple of kids came rowing up to the side of our felucca in a tiny rickety row boat.  One boy was rowing while the other was baling out water from the boat.   I do hope they knew how to swim.  They sang some American songs and got a few tips before moving over to another boat. 

   

Of course there was a vendor on the felucca who first sang and tried to get everyone to dance before throwing wood crocodiles and other stuff on the floor that he wanted to sell to us.  Vendors everywhere.

   

   

   

When we got back to the Sun Goddess, I put out our luggage and waited for the bus to the airport.  When we got to the Aswan airport we killed time finding some more souvenirs.  There is always room for a few more.  When our flight landed in Cairo everyone was so happy to see Mostafa again.  It was like a reunion, even though we had just known him a few days.  Our tour guides Nivene and Amal were also there.  They would all be with us throughout the rest of the trip.

We went to lunch at the same Novotel Hotel we had lunch at previously on the way to Luxor.  We would wait there for the larger group that was flying in at 3:30 P.M.  When they arrived at the Novotel around 5:00 P.M., we all boarded the busses for the long bus ride.  The highway to Alexandria is a very bumpy road.  I don’t know if it was constructed that way or it was damaged, but it was incredibly bumpy.  Adding to this, our bus did not have very good shock absorbers.  It was a very long 3.5 hour drive.  We really had to hold on to keep from being knocked out of our seats in some parts of it.  Carol said that it was like riding a mechanical bull.  Even drinking water took major hand and eye coordination efforts.  I just couldn’t believe we were stuck in a situation like this.  It did get somewhat smoother when we got further away from Cairo. 

Another problem was that the pollution level increased as we crossed the city of Cairo in rush hour traffic.  During Ramadan, the Muslims begin their celebrations at 6:00 P.M.  We had witnessed these several times and were very impressed with the love and affection everyone was sharing at their group dinners.  It was quite eye opening.  Unfortunately, in the parts of the city we were crossing, many celebrants were cooking on open fires, so it was quite smoky.  This smoke added to the already polluted atmosphere made the air uncomfortable to breathe, even inside the bus. 

Since we had read reports about Cairo’s polluted air, Carol had planned ahead for something just like this by purchasing some inexpensive carbon masks for traveling in the polluted areas.  But since we hadn’t needed them the first part of the trip when we were in Cairo, they were packed in the luggage to be checked in rather than being in the carry-on luggage we had with us on the bus.  Carol had more difficulty than I did, so she rode with a cloth over her nose and mouth.  This was a bus ride we want to forget.  I am still amazed that no one got openly sick.  Thank goodness.  We had a half hour stop midway to Alexandria around 7:30 P.M.  Those folks that had been on the later flight had eaten lunch at 11:30 before going to the airport, and they were starving.  The time at the pit stop was well utilized. 

We finally got to Alexandria and our hotel, the Sofitel Cecil Alexandria (Link) around 9:30 P.M.  It is a very pretty historic hotel that has had many famous people of the past stay there.  Because it was so historic, they still used the two small old style elevators that required opening and closing two sets of gates.  It was a very nice touch, but also very slow.  The check in process and luggage movement process were not well organized and took a long time.  We didn’t get to our room until after 10:15 P.M.  We were worn out.  The room was OK and quite “historic” looking.  When I sat on the rock hard bed, I was concerned that my back might not make it through the night.  I must say that I was very surprised how well I slept in the bed and how my back felt better the next morning than it had during the whole trip.  The shower stayed the same temperature the whole time and the air conditioner worked fine, so I was happy with the Cecil.  We slept great.

   

 

Day 10 – Alexandria

Our tour didn’t begin until 9:00 A.M., so we could take our time this morning.  With the Cecil being right across from the Mediterranean Sea, some of the rooms must have fantastic views.  I opened the shutters in our room to see the wall of a building a few feet from us.  But when I looked left I could get a view of the park across from the front of the hotel.  Oh well, we didn’t come here to spend a lot of time in the hotel room. 

We went down to breakfast.  With the lobby area not being crowded like it was last night with a bunch of tourists anxious to get to their rooms, the hotel looked rather spiffy.  The elevators were indeed very pretty and charming.  We couldn’t get over how quiet they were.  It was a nice experience.  The restaurant also had that historic hotel look.  The hotel was old, but it was clean and had character.

   

   

   

We met up with our guides on the bus and began our 6.5 hour city tour and lunch.  Alexandria was a much cleaner city than Cairo; and because it is on the Mediterranean, the ocean breezes blow any pollution away and into the desert.  Our first stop was to the Serapeum. It was the main temple in Alexandria.  All that remains of the temple is the one 90 foot pink granite column called Pompey’s Pillar and two sphinxes. 

   

 

Nivene took us to the side of the open area in a shady spot and told us about the site.  The main things to see were the underground small library and the sanctuary.  At one time the small library contained many rolls of papyrus.  It was fascinating to see the ancient tunnels with large openings for the storage of papyrus rolls, which is similar to how the Great Library of Alexandria kept their documents during ancient times. 

   

   

The next series of tunnels led to a sanctuary room that contains a reproduction of the Egyptian bull god Apis.  Since these tunnels are fascinating to see, I am surprised that most tourist information only refers to the above ground obelisk and sphinxes.

   

After leaving the tunnels, I went over to take some closer photos of the pillar and sphinxes.  After taking these, a security guard motioned to me to come to him.  Had I done something wrong?  He pointed down to the bottom of some stairs cut into the rock with a door at the end.  Was I being thrown into an Egyptian jail?  But, since he was smiling I felt pretty comfortable.  He went down to the door and punched in some codes to open the door.  He motioned for me to follow him and then made a motion like taking photos.  Ahh, he wanted to show me something that I would like to take a photo of.  I knew that he would expect a tip, but since I was the only one getting to see whatever it was he wanted to show me, I was most interested.  There were more tunnels to walk through that weren’t lighted as well as the others I had just visited.  We stopped at what looked like wells going to the surface.  He tried to explain what they were used for but I didn’t understand him.  He thought they were important.  They might have been used for ventilation or to use as dumb waiters for all I know, but it was interesting.  I was glad that I had been given this private tour of whatever it was.

   

We got back on the bus and headed for the Roman Amphitheater.  It is a small theater only seating 800 people, that was built in the 4th century AD and connected to a palace.   It doesn’t compare to the ones in Rome, but is quite special because it is a Roman theater in Egypt.

   

Also at this site were statues that had been recovered in harbor excavations.  Many people were having fun with the headless sphinx and a busty headless statue.

 

We loaded back into the bus and headed to the New Library of Alexandria.  The new library has been built close to where one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, the Old Library of Alexandria once stood, which was destroyed 2,000 years ago.  The new one is a massive library that was opened in 2002.  It has state of the art computer systems with data bases that are accessible though the Internet.  The demonstrations provided to us by library guides were most impressive.  The architecture of this structure is also quite unique.  The windows on the roof are called eyebrows because of the way they are constructed to prevent any direct sunlight from entering the library through them. 

   

   

   

I really liked the gray granite walls that are carved with hieroglyphics and symbols from every know alphabet worldwide.  The use of water around the library really set off the lovely building.

   

   

 

Our next stop was to the Qaitbay Citadel in Alexandria.  It was built around 1480 A.D. on the exact site of one of the other original Seven Wonders of the World, the Lighthouse of Alexandria.  The Citadel is impressive, but most people were watching the large waves of the Mediterranean crashing into the rocks.  The breeze was refreshing, which coupled with the milder Alexandria temperatures convinced me that Alexandria is the place to live if you are moving to Egypt.  There is certainly plenty of poverty in Alexandria, but we saw much less of it here than in Cairo.

   

   

We were running late.  It was almost 2:00 P.M. and we were just now heading for lunch.  We had gotten used to not counting on eating at any regular time, but we were hungry.  On the way to the restaurant we passed the Monument of the Unknown Soldier.  The guards were marching in the front of it, so while we waited at a traffic light, we were able to enjoy the show. 

   

There were other interesting sites to look at on the bus ride.  Our lunch destination was Athineos Restaurant.  When we walked in I was disappointed that it was not air conditioned.  But when we sat at the table, the cool breeze coming through the windows made for a very pleasant environment.  The restaurant is recognized as a fine seafood restaurant, so when we were given a choice of seafood or beef, it was easy to select the seafood.  The meal was sea bass; and it was so delicious that even Carol, who doesn't like fish, enjoyed it. 

 

We had our fill of touring for the day and were ready to get back to the hotel.  After resting for a while, I went out to get some photos of the hotel and the Saad Zaglool Square right next to it.

 

That night a group of us got together to go down to the Stanley Bridge area to sightsee and find a restaurant.  We talked with a bunch of local people on the bridge to see if they could recommend a place to eat.  As I had found all during our trip, I was so pleased to see that the Egyptian people were very friendly and helpful.  We found a nice open air place called View Café. Everyone got pizzas and was very pleased.  The View Café was kind of like a singles bar; but since Muslims don’t drink alcohol, they smoked water pipes after dinner instead.  The smell of the burning apples that they smoke was quite pleasant; but I was glad that the restaurant was open air, or it could have been overpowering.

 

 

Day 11 – Alexandria and Cairo

We had the morning free since we weren’t leaving for our bus trip back to Cairo until noon.  In my research I had read about the Kom El-Shukafa Catacombs.  They are listed as one of the modern day wonders of the world, so it sounded like a good place to visit if I had the time.  I figured if I got an early start I could beat the heavy traffic, see the catacombs and get back with plenty of time to spare before we had to have our luggage out at 11:00 A.M.  The catacombs were supposed to open at 9:00 A.M.  I caught a taxi that cost about $3.  It got me to the gates of the catacombs ten minutes before they were supposed to open.  The ticket seller let me in early and took my camera because photography is not allowed inside the catacombs.

   

I was the only tourist there.  I walked over to the entrance and an old man who checked tickets to enter the catacomb started taking me on a tour.  He couldn’t speak much English, but he was able to communicate about where rich people were buried and poor people, as well as where Egyptians or Greeks were buried.  The catacombs are a three story underground cemetery that was constructed in the 1st century A.D.  The lowest level can’t be reached because it is partially flooded.  The catacombs were fascinating and my tour guide was running me around trying to show me all the important sites.  Even though we were pretty far underground and were the only people in them, it was pretty warm for it being so early in the day. 

It would not be the place to visit in the afternoon.  I came back to the surface and looked around at some of the sarcophaguses and statues that were on display.  As I left, the ticket seller gave me back my camera and motioned that I could take photos of the outside area.  I appreciated her letting me do that.  This was a beautiful underground city of the dead.  I am so glad I had been able to visit it.  As I was leaving a bus load of tourists drove up.  I am so glad I went early.  It is not a site that lends itself to a large crowd in it.  This is what Nivene had told me when I asked her why it wasn't on our scheduled tour.  Now I understood, and I couldn’t agree more.

   

I found a cab to take me back to the hotel.  I was surprised to find an old woman in the front seat with the driver.  By the way they were constantly talking; I assumed that she was his mother.  I asked him “Mama”?  He nodded yes, very proudly.  It was very sweet.

I did get back to the hotel with plenty of time to put out the baggage.  We weren’t looking forward to a repeat performance of our bus ride to Alexandria.  It was a bumpy ride and Carol had gotten out her carbon masks in case we needed them, but the pollution was much better on our return trip earlier in the afternoon.  Perhaps we had toughened up from our first ride, but this one didn’t seem as bad.  Perhaps it was better because it was daytime and we were able to look at the passing countryside.  I was fascinated with the large cone shaped objects that we kept passing.  Nivene told us that they were pigeon houses.  I guess that pigeons are good eating in Egypt.  I hope we didn’t have pigeon on any of the many buffets we ate.  Sometimes it is good not to know what you are eating.

   

   

By popular request, we were going to make a half hour stop at a linen store.  I wasn’t very excited about doing this.  But I was excited about it when I saw that it was close enough to the Pyramids at Giza to provide a wonderful sight.  You never get too many views of these marvels.  When we got into the store, I was also pleased to see that they had many other items other than just linen.  There were hats, t-shirts, souvenirs and ties.  In fact, the whole trip I had been looking for an Egyptian souvenir tie, but no one had them.  I try to collect a tie from every place we visit.  I was thrilled to find them there, so this turned into a great shopping stop for me.

After the shopping was over we headed to our last hotel in Egypt, Le Passage Hotel in Heliopolis.  The hotel is right at the Cairo airport and would make it very easy to be transferred to our flights the next day.  I had read negative reviews about the hotel before we left, but I had hoped that the reviewers were just very picky.  As we entered the facility, I was pleased that it was quite nice looking.  The lobby was crowded and the hotel was very busy.  Our keys were passed out to us and we took our carry on luggage to the room.  The room was nicely appointed and looked very comfortable. 

I turned down the AC so it would get a little cooler.  Since we were only one floor above the lobby, I decide to go down and get our large bags rather than waiting for them to be brought to our room.  That night we were going on a dinner cruise on the Nile; and by having our luggage, we could shower and get ready for the evening events.  I walked out of the hotel to pick up our bags and I didn’t see any porters picking any of them up.  All the bags were just sitting out in the open on the sidewalk with no one watching them.  Since we had four bags, I decided it might be a good idea to take two trips and get everything safely to our room.  I found out later from a few people I talked to that they had waited for their luggage and finally gave up.  They had to come down and pick it up themselves.  This was not a good example of the level of service one expects a hotel should display. 

Back at our room, we had taken showers and the room was not cooling down.  We heard some commotion outside the door and saw the maintenance men with a ladder.  We tried to communicate to them that our AC was not working well.  They came in, took out the ceiling tile and spent a few minutes doing something in the ceiling.  They checked the thermostat, put their hand in front of the AC vent and acknowledged that everything was fine now.  I put my hand up to the vent and it wasn’t getting colder.  The air was cool, but it wasn’t blowing out enough volume of air to cool the room.  The maintenance guys said we would have to wait 10 minutes for it to cool down.  I didn’t have much faith, but we didn’t have much choice. 

Fifteen minutes later nothing had changed.  I went out to the hall to see if others were having the same problem, and I saw the same maintenance guys.  I tried to tell them that we still weren’t getting cooler.  Communication wasn’t working.  He called someone who could speak English.  I explained the problem; and she said that the AC was working like it is supposed to work, and that we needed to wait 20 minutes for it to cool down.   She suggested turning off the lights to make it cooler.  Just what I wanted to hear.  We needed to head down to the lobby to catch the bus to our dinner, so we just hoped that by the time we returned it would have cooled down enough where we could sleep through the night.  When we got down to the lobby everyone was complaining about their air conditioning too.  Not good. 

The bus drive to the dinner boat was going to take an hour.  The ride gave us a last chance to see the Ramadan celebrations.  We really loved how the mosques were decorated with what appeared to be Christmas lights.  It made the skyline really pretty.   Another thing about Ramadan that fascinated me was how people would set up tables in many locations with large urns of what I was told was hibiscus juice.  As we drove down the highway to the dock, I saw more of these urns set up.  People would just pull off the highway to stop and get a drink.  It seemed like everyone must be friendly this time of year.

   

       

When we got to the dinner cruise ship dock there was a large crowd waiting to board our boat, the Nile Crystal.  We had arrived at 8:30 P.M., but couldn’t board until 9:00 PM.  Fortunately it was a lovely night on the Nile and the wait wasn’t that bad except for having to stand that long.  When we got on the boat it looked pretty nice.  Dinner was okay.   The entertainment started with some Egyptian dancers.  The music was nice and the dancers did a pretty good job.  The highlight of the show was the whirling dervish.  He came out and started spinning to the music.  He would lift up his clothes to spin with him.  It was rather entertaining.  It was certainly very colorful.

   

   

   

The next act was a female singer.  She wasn’t that bad but the sound system was turned up very loud to make her sound "better".  It didn’t help.  It was amusing to watch her manager try to get people to get up to dance or start clapping along with her.  He was getting very frustrated and mad as people kept getting up and leaving to get relief from the loud noise.  Most people that left went outside on the back of the ship where it was much quieter and they could enjoy the city lights along the Nile.  After the show was over we headed back to the hotel.  We were worried that our room was still hot.  Fortunately it had cooled down enough where we could go to sleep, but certainly not as cool as we wanted it to be. 

 

Day 12 – Cairo to Atlanta

We had heard some music in the distance when we went to bed, but it wasn’t close to our room.  In the morning many people were complaining that the people that were partying went on till 3:00 AM.  The party was just outside the rooms of many in our group.  Uwe made a formal complaint to the Le Passage hotel; but reading reviews about the hotel after we got back, I found out that this happens all the time, not just during Ramadan. 

We were quite happy to check out of this hotel and head for our flight home.  The vacation was over and we were ready to get back to an environment that we were used to.  We had some wonderful adventures and saw some incredible sights, but there is no place like home.

 

Recap

This had been a trip that I had dreamed of all my life.  It was an amazing adventure and one that I will think about regularly.  If I were to do it again, I would definitely go during a cooler time of year.  It is a high activity level trip and the extreme heat can be dangerous, particularly to older tourists and the handicapped.  Even though it was very hot, it didn’t bother me nearly as much as it bothered Carol; but I was so psyched and excited to be in the land of the Pharaohs that I was too awed by what I was experiencing for it to bother me most of the time.

I gained a real appreciation for the people of Egypt and a better understanding of the Muslim religion.  They are very loving, caring and friendly people.  Both Carol and I felt very safe while we toured Egypt.  It certainly seemed safer than the streets of many communities here in South Florida.  So many people pass on vacations to Egypt from fear of terrorism.  They are missing out on an experience of a lifetime.

I still can’t believe that I have been to Egypt.  It was real and I walked in the footsteps of the Pharaohs.  I couldn’t be happier.

 

Below is a link to the Shutterfly albums with other photos from the vacations:
Shutterfly Albums

Photographic Equipment Used in Review:

Canon 40D digital SLR camera
Canon 17-85 IS lens
Canon 10-22 ultra-wide lens
Canon 70-300 IS telephoto lens

Canon SD800

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