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Walking Over Haddon in The Peak District

I confess I'm a fair weather walker, which means I often want to walk on our holidays, but whether we go is always dependent on the weather. I have a Goretex jacket but it's like a talisman. I own it, but I don't want to wear it and I hope vainly that just by having spent so much on it an schlepping it with me that it's going to ward off the rain! As you can see my travel planning involves a good deal of "magical thinking!" In California our cultural exuberance (paired with low standards) means we shamelessly call anything a "hike"  - as if we've scaled Everest in an afternoon. Here in England I'm not sure I even qualify as a "walker" because that denotes a level of seriousness I've failed at previously. Minimally it means you're wearing boots  and have an Ordnance Survey map (and possibly a compass) in your back pocket. I guess I'm more of stroller to be honest and I've blogged about my strolls all over the world; m…

Egypt Entices - Dec 2014


Note : This trip report was originally written for the Fodor's Travel Forum.
As usual, I’m behind on my trip reports and trying desperately to finish them before the next trip commences. So it’s time to start talking about our December 2014 trip to Egypt. What can I say? We had a magnificent time, in every way the trip exceeded expectations, the monuments were extraordinary, there was a diversity to what we saw, the guides were great and we stayed in some fabulous hotels, including both historic and boutique options. The history, architecture, museums, decoration and the physical beauty (of both the Nile and the sites) was almost overwhelming. Five thousand years of history is hard to comprehend in 18 nights! I've been blogging about the trip too so you can see pictures all of my Egypt posts here.


Logistics:

Generally I plan trips myself but occasionally we use a local agency where it seems either advantageous, prudent or cost effective. In Egypt (given the kind of trip we wanted) it seemed to be the best way to go. Several different people and agencies were recommended and in all honesty I can say only two offered any sort of individualized response. We opted to go for Djed an Egyptian company with good reviews. Our decision was based on the response we received, cost,the fact that they own and operate their own dahabiyas and that they offer guaranteed departures, a significant point when tourism is down. Their website has lots more info, a great reading list and lots of vintage picture! 

I was dealing with the owner Mr. SImman and I was very impressed. Right from the beginning he sought to understand the experience we were looking for. His staff proved to be companionable, pleasant, intelligent and most importantly he seemed to have invested them with a degree of decision making which showed confidence and appreciation on both sides. All in all it was a win for us and we thought the trip was an outstanding value.

Flights. We flew from Dublin into Cairo on Lufthansa
, well we would have if they hadn’t been on strike! Lots of drama and a flight we almost missed via Heathrow on Egyptair but probably not too interesting here. I hate trip reports that document "and then we dropped off our bags…” - so enough said! Coming back we used 25,000 United miles (per person in economy) to fly from Aswan  to London, a great use of United miles for anyone who is interested. 

Itinerary: 
Here’s what we had planned. There were some compromises, I would have preferred an extra day in Alexandria and another day or two in Luxor- so we could have included Dendera Temple- but you can’t have everything. There are lots of wonderful museums and mosques in Cairo and I could certainly see spending more time there too, but it depends on your particular interest and your tolerance for the ghastly pollution. It worked well to stay two nights in Giza (at Mena House) and then to move into Islamic Cairo which we loved and would highly recommend. It’s a good way to minimize your exposure to the Cairo traffic which will certainly be a player in what ever drama Cairo throws at you! We wanted to see Pharaonic monuments but we also hoped to see the medieval Islamic monuments and to get a sense for the Coptic community too.

2 Cairo (Mena House)
1 Alexandria (Cecil Hotel)
3 Islamic Cairo (Le Riad)
Luxor (Pavillion Winter)
3 Luxor -West Bank (Al Mouidra) 
4 Dahabiya on the Nile (Louila) 
1 Abu Simbel (Eskaleh Nubian Lodge)
3 Aswan (Old Cataract Hotel)

Preparation Before We Went:

We usually do some reading before we go on a trip like this and certainly it helped in this case. The history is so long and so significant that it helped enormously to arrive in Egypt with a lets a broad sense of the dynastic periods. Together we took an online class The History of Ancient Egypt from the Great Courses, my husband read a history of Egypt and on the trip I picked up an anthropological study on Nubian Women of West Aswan. The dvd lectures from the Great Course was interesting and informative though fairly straightforward and undemanding. Without this background we would have had difficulty absorbing all the history that was about to be coming our way!

Safety:
We felt safe, though I realize this is a very subjective thing. I’m not a nervous person and having read the British Foreign Office Advisory it seemed the only advice was to avoid the Sinai and to use some some basic/obvious smarts if you encountered a demonstration. Lots of friends remarked on us going to Egypt but having read the reports on TripAdvisor
 I could see people were going and having a great time. Ironically, nobody asked or worried about our subsequent trip to France and we were there during the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Because of people’s concerns and the subsequent drop in tourism, the sites were quiet and we experienced Egypt with no crowds, lines or inconvenience. We felt so badly for the Egyptian people, many of whom are suffering and/or unemployed because of the dramatic drop in tourism.
I hate crowds and the monuments in Egypt have attracted large numbers of tourists for over a century. This is where mass tourism was invented and we knew that for us this was the best time to go. We also tried to combine our trip with learning about contemporary Egyptian society, by meeting a friend of my brother-in law’s in Cairo, reading about the revolution and subsequent political tribulations, as well as seeing the fascinating documentary "The Square" which you can view on Netflix.

OK so lets get to the trip!

Cairo: 
Pyramids in lots of different forms! We’d read about the development of the pyramids and so we wanted to head out to Saqqara to see the Bent Pyramid, the Step Pyramid and the Red Pyramid before we headed to the famous site at Giza. This gives you an idea of the historical and architectural development of pyramid building. The drive to Saqqara took some time but it was fascinating stuff, markets, daily life, donkeys, people, chaos. But what was great was starting in the desert entirely on our own, the guide, a armed guard and the site (the bent pyramid) all to ourselves. This was an indication of what was to come later in our trip when we had the great site of Abu Simbel all to ourselves, but that is getting ahead of myself. 
I’ve blogged about our pyramid day, photos, history, recommendations etc. All I can add is that while the solar boat museum is fascinating, and highly recommended, the building itself is a monstrosity and I cannot believe it was allowed to be built right up against the Great Pyramid. The museum housed the reassembled solar ( or funerary) barge but for the pharaoh to make his symbolic journey across the river. The scale, condition and beauty of the boat is extraordinary.

Alexandria a Nostalgia Trip:
I guess this is the place where I tell you my parents lived in Egypt when I was a child….I’ll continue this later but for now here’ a blog post on our Alexandria excursion…

This part of the trip was pure nostalgia. My parents lived in Cairo and Alexandria for a few years around 1980 and while I was at school in the UK my brother and I spent four months a year in Egypt. Revisiting the Mena House was the beginning of the trip down memory lane as my parents had lived here for six months! While they've relocated the swimming pool (....why I wondered it was much nicer below the hotel where they now have a reflecting poo?l) much of the interior of the historic section was EXACTLY as I remembered, the wonderful breakfast room over looking the pyramids and the Indian restaurant, though they no longer have the small stage with a sitar player.

Anyway, we headed out to Alex on the desert road which worked well from Giza. The "desert road" is no longer desert with housing developments, US style business parks, agriculture including vineyards, a prison complex and lots and lots of building. Cairo is an enormous city and it's eating up the surrounding desert region.

We had a great trip and loved the driver a very companionable man called Mr. Ala. Along with us too was Tariq who the agency sent to make sure everything went well. I think they could do this because things were so quiet and they have extra people in the office. They really pulled out all the stops for us and I kept looking around at the minibus, the driver, Tariq and (when we got to Alex)the local guide thinking I don't think we've paid enough for all of this service. Egypt really is an amazing value. Tariq and Mr Ala were a comedy duo and we had a GREAT time, we learnt so much about contemporary Egypt from Tariq and he was a great addition. WE found out he is is a guide for the desert areas and we certainly hope to return and do that trip with them too. 

To make the most of the three plus hour drive we stopped at Wadi Natron where there is a very interesting complex of early Coptic monasteries. I recommend this stop (we went to and liked the Syrian monastery) as it gives you a sense for the religious and cultural diversity in Egypt. The monks are friendly and were happy to give us a tour. 

Alexandria is a fascinating city, it has always had an outward orientation and when I was a child it was common to meet people who spoke a variety of the languages of commerce, Italian, French, Greek, and Arabic. Today , like Cairo, it has expanded enormously and the traffic is horrendous but it still has a faded charm. I was sorry we hadn't planned on a couple of additional days. 

We had a long list of things on our program but we decided to throw that out straight away, we were quite happy not to see the citadel etc. my main focus was seeing my childhood home. Our first stop was the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa which we loved, I highly recommend this site.

Here is some of what I put on my blog...

It's fascinating to find places that embody the intersection, overlaps and disruptions of our cultural and religious histories. Here, it's well worth the journey to see a single familial tomb combining classical Greco-Roman and Pharaonic imagery, here the pharaonic ritual of mummification combines with the Roman burial practice of the catacombs. More than any other place in Alexandria this tomb points to the role that the city has played in incorporating, absorbing and re-shaping foreign influences in Egypt. It was moment when, as E. M. Forster said his (1922) Alexandria: A History and Guide, " the old faiths began to merge and melt". I love how lyrically he puts it, though I'm not sure if it's the Roman's melting into the Egyptians or vice versa? Perhaps the point is that once it melts it doesn't matter.

If you are interested you can go to this blog  post to read more and/or see our photos -

The area around the Catacombs is typically old Alexandria, narrow roads, lots of street life, men playing dominos on the pavement and talking in the coffee shops, it all seemed very familiar. WE passed a beautiful fish and seafood stall where they fry and grill up fish for local residents and women we waiting to take their orders home for lunch. I really wanted a meal of fresh fish which I remembered so vividly so I asked the local guide and said I'd be happy to sit on the street and eat the fish." No", he tried to explain to me, "this is just for taking to go". But without understanding a word or each others language the owner and I had communicated, if we returned after the catacombs he would have a lunch ready. What serendipity! 

It's hard to explain how magical this experience was. The young owner used to work in a tourist restaurant kitchen but they fired everyone when the cruise ships stopped coming to Alexandria. So now he is selling fish on the street. When we arrived back he had set up a table in the back, behind the stall and there was a feast. grilled butterflied fish with peppers, small fried fish, rice with shrimp, baba ganoush and Tahini as well as a salad and vegetables. We were stunned, the local guide and Tariq couldn't believe it. In addition they brought cokes from the shop across the street, mint tea and a wonderful pomegranate juice served over crushed ice. It was one of the most memorable lunches we've eaten

In one moment I found all of the magic, hospitality and generosity I knew from my childhood. Here was the Egypt I remembered, filled with warmth, curiosity and welcome.


MORE ON ALEXANDRIA

We also saw Pompey's pillar and the ruins of the Serapeum but it wasn't a particularly compelling site and the guide didn't add much to the experience.

We stayed overnight at the wonderful Cecil Hotel. This place is a classic, when we moved to Alex, my grandfather came to visit and he remembered the Cecil because it's where they came to have a bath after fighting in the Western Desert! This was long before the monstrous new Four Seasons went in. Back in 1980 it was big news when a new Sheraton opened!

Anyway do check out the Cecil, it's in the center of town right on the corniche so you can walk around.Incidentally their breakfast was excellent. In the evening we took a stroll and ate at one of the small food carts nearby. Alexandria is famous for offal, and the stall owner and his clients were so friendly and wanted us to try small bits of everything including the famous Alexandrian liver. It was just great and we had to stop one young chap from trying to pay for our sandwiches!

The next day we were heading out to look for my old house (obviously this isn't going to be on most tourist itineraries!). We didn't live in the standard expatriate neighborhood and there was a question of whether the house had survived the massive expansion of the city. 

I was a woman on a mission. Neither my mother or brother could remember the address but we knew it was behind the prestigious Victoria College and my brother located what he though was the house on Google Map's satellite view. Tariq was skeptical, "Angela, the city has change a lot in more than thirty years," he admonished, " I don't think your house will still be there." My husband looked equally dubious, afraid perhaps of my disappointment, but I was undeterred.

As I turned the corner I caught sight of the street sign, "Rue Chiitty Bey" and I remembered it all. I laughed out loud to think we all had all forgotten such a memorable name! The street looked the same. The villa was still there though the surrounding apartment buildings were much higher than I remembered. The house remains an oasis of calm in the middle of a regular neighborhood of apartment dwellers. The surrounding wall had been built up and some additions made, but it was instantly recognizable. Unfortunately there were now four armed guards and despite Tariq's pleas nobody wanted to bother the owners to ask if we could look at the property from the garden. Apparently the people who live there now are very much more important than me!

I was so elated just to see the outside of the place that I didn't care what else we saw. 

But of course there was more to see. The local guide let us know that the nearby Royal Jewelry Museum had recently reopened and we headed over there. I had read about it a while ago on a design blog but hadn't expected it to be open as it was closed during the revolution. What an incredible place, if you like house museums this place should be on your list and it was a wonderful contrast to all the pharaonic and islamic monuments we were to see. The house itself id spectacular with incredible woodwork and painted tile. Because of security concerns they do not allow any photographs which is a pity. The jewelry is exquisite, everything from snuff boxes to tiaras, but even without the collection it would be worth it to see the house which is a stately mansion reflecting wealth, taste and the influence of European design and culture on the Egyptian royal family in the early Twentieth Century.

After this stop we went to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina or new Alexandrian Library. This is a good stop for architectural enthusiasts and the building is very impressive with a wonderful facade inscribed with a incredible variety of known alphabets. It's a very well used facility with many local teenagers studying here. There are also a variety of museums, anyone for a Sadat Museum? We went to the Antiquities museum downstairs, which requires a separate ticket and found lots of great stuff from the Pltolemiac era. Overall Alexandria is a great place to see the decline of Pharaonic power and the rise of the Greco-Roman culture in the Mediterranean.

After all this we headed back to Cairo. It was a crazy itinerary and I'd certainly recommend an extra day in Alexandria. Here's the link to some Alexandria pictures including the house!

RETURNING TO CAIRO

We'd divided up our hotels in Cairo and were now heading into the Islamic Quarter where we were staying(for three nights) in the lovely Le Riad. I'd looked at this place ages ago when it first opened and it was quite expensive but things have changed. IT's a small hotel and all the rooms are suites done in an individual"Arabian fantasy" style. The best thing about the hotel is the location, you are right in the middle of a pedestrian quarter in the heart of the medieval islamic city. 

I cannot emphasis enough how great this location is. it means you are seeing fabulous mosques, madrassahs and historic houses from the moment you get up every morning. Even better, many of them are lit up at night. We had thought about staying in Zamalak which has a leafy, bourgeois charm but I was so glad we opted for this part of the city which reminded us both of Damascus which we loved so much on our 2011 visit. There just so much energy and life on the street. The only drawback we could see was that the hotel doesn't have a restaurant and there are limited options in the area. Others had commented on this but we didn't find it a problem.

CAIRO

We loved Cairo in all its chaos. Yes, the traffic is unbearable, there are too many people and the pollution is horrendous but it has so much to offer. What I remembered of Cairo was for the most part irrelevant to our visit as tourists. I remembered Turkish delight from Groppis, the Sporting Club, the old pool at Mena House, wild wedding parties with belly dancers and the pizzeria at the old Nile Hilton. I remembered gazing onto the face of Ramses in the mummy room and wandering the bazaar but clearly I had missed most the historic and architectural aspects of the city!

Two days to see Cairo was not enough time. I don’t have the patience for a chronological retelling but here are a few highlights.

Of course the Egyptian Museum located off Tahir Square was fabulous. The building and the displays are out-of-date but the items are extraordinary. We arrived in the afternoon and opted to see the museum on our own which suited us well. I’m sure lots of others have written about it so I won’t go on but the museum is arranged chronologically with the Tutunkhamun room upstairs. Do make sure to see the next door Tanis silver room which houses a spectacular horde of grave goods including a silver sarcophagi. 

We were lucky enough to be in the Tut exhibit on our own, with only the guard for company. I was so mesmerized by the collection that I kept going back into the room and waiting the other visitor out until I could have it all alone again in the silence. The jewelry, the famous death mask and the sandals were highlights.

We visited the Hanging Church and it was fascinating to learn a little more about the Coptic community in Egypt one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The Coptic Museum was in our program but we wanted to take things slowly so we decided to cut it out though this is somewhere I’d like to see on a future visit. We also went to the nearby Ben Ezra Synagogue which was previously a Coptic church. We’ve visited a lot of Jewish sites across the Middle East (including Morocco, Syria, and Iran) and it’s important to remember that Jews were a vibrant minority community in many of these parts of the world.

We liked our guide Hoda who was a serious, intelligent and thoughtful young woman. We very much enjoyed seeing several mosques with her including the Al Azhar Mosque (part of the university) which is a center of Islamic learning that has global influence and students from all over the world. What was great was that we were able to walk to the mosque from our hotel, Le Riad.

The neighborhood of Islamic Cairo is a fantastical warren of streets that are mostly too narrow for cars. here it’s all about people, mosques, madrassas, goods for sale and a chaotic street scene with neighbors sitting out and shop keepers calling out to those who are passing. We really enjoyed walking through these areas and took a walk with Hoda down to the tent makers street. Ideally we would have had a couple of extra days to explore on our own. 

There are quite a number of restored house which you can visit, several just across from our hotel. Much like the roads you see in Morocco and the houses in Damascus and Aleppo these are lavish homes, built around inner facing courtyards, often with water fountains as a feature. They feature screens, and sometimes secret rooms behind which women could discreetly observe the visitors coming and going. We had hoped to see one house but found it closed until a wonderful woman (who turned out to be a camera woman for Egyptian tv) just waved us in with her. She was there setting up for a traditional music concert that was being broadcast that evening. We experienced this kind of luck and welcome all over Egypt.

In addition to Al Azhar mosque we saw so many gorgeous sites in the old city, including the famous Khan el-Khalili bazaar, the Sultan Hassan mosque and several of the Medieval city gates. But it was the street scenes that were so memorable, the sense and smell of daily like, the fruit sellers, hawker and the call to prayer.

WE also went to the Citadel which is a popular site for local visitors. There are a number of significant buildings and museums up here including the Mohammed Ali mosque, built in the familiar domed Turkish style. It’s all very monumental up here and I didn’t find it nearly as interesting as the earlier mosques such as the Ibn Tulun. 

Overall I think the Ibn Tulun mosque was my favorite building in the city. It doesn’t have the decorative detail or glamour of the later Al Azhar mosque but there’s power and grandeur in its stark simplicity. This maybe the earliest mosque in Cairo and it dates from 876, just over two hundred years after the prophet’s death. The minaret is unlike anything we’d ever seen with a staircase winding up the outside. It was great to climb up and look out over Cairo from this vantage point. 

If you read the blog you may know I’m a great fan of small house museums and one of the joys of visiting the Ibn Tulun mosque was a visit to the adjacent Gayer-Anderson Museum. I love the idiosyncrasy of individual collections, the lost rhyme and reason for pairing the objects, the combinations of important and insignificant all together in a time capsule. The Gayer-Anderson Museum is a wonderful example of all this and is filled with antiquities, stone and sculptural fragments, rugs, furniture and curiosities. 

Built right into the wall of the mosque this Ottoman (Turkish) house was occupied between 1935 and 1942 by the British Major, Gayer Anderson. The house became a repository for his collection of Oriental antiquities and passed to the Egyptian government before his death in 1945. It’s a charming place with warren like rooms, secret viewing areas, as well as several inner courtyards and terraces. The combination of the museum and adjacent mosque was a highlight of out trip.

After this we are on to Luxor....

Luxor is the center of the great Pharaonic sites in Egypt. On the West Bank are the grand monuments of the Theban necropolis, here you see the monuments to the dead; tombs including the Valley of the Kings and mortuary temples for Pharaohs like Ramses and Hatshepsut. On the East Bank is the town of Luxor, which houses the great temple of Karnak and Luxor temple built on the edge of the Nile.

By the time we got to Luxor I was already overwhelmed by history, this wasn’t good because there was lots more to absorb! We’d opted to spend one night in town and then move to the fabulous Al Moudira a boutique hotel on the West Bank. We stayed at the Pavillion Winter, essentially a modern wing of the historic Winter Palace Hotel. It’s a great value and you get access to all the facilities of the Winter Palace for a fraction of the cost. It was a great choice for us. If you want to stay in one of the old historic hotels I'd opt for the far more luxurious Old Cataracts in Aswan it’s a much better value than the unrenovated Winter Palace. More details and picture on my blog. I love having a glass of rose on the terrace overlooking the corniche. We were all alone until another couple came along.

We arrived in from the airport and enjoyed a lovely lunch at Sofra a restaurant owned by the travel agent. It’s Egyptian food and we really liked the atmosphere. It was generous of them to host us. After lunch we headed to Karnak Temple with the guide, WOW. What can I say, I was entirely overwhelmed, it’s a temple complex rather than a single structure and I found it was just too much to take in, with structure after structure and more history than I could absorb. But is all beautiful in a ruinous way. The next day we relaxed and walked over to Luxor Temple on our own, this was the only time we had a negative interaction with an angry, rather desperate tout, very tedious. I really like Luxor Temple which is a very manageable size. The restoration of the avenue of sphinxes is lovely. WE were taking things easy and didn’t make it to the Luxor Museum though it was highly recommended.

On the West Bank there is just so much to see and I don’t know that cataloging it all is helpful. All I can do is give you some general recommendations. The tomb of Ramses V/VI is highly recommended as is the tomb of Ay in the Western Valley. We loved the tombs of the workers and the tombs of the nobles, buy extra tickets so you can see everything that’s open. The worker’s tombs were so interesting, though far simpler in their decoration they have a naive charm and give you a sense for everyday life. the excavated worker’s village is also interesting and had a charming Ptolemaic era temple.

We very much enjoyed the following, you can see pictures and details on the blog Ramusseum, 
Medinet Habu and Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple at Deir el Bahri

Every night we returned to the delightful Al Moudira. I can’t rave about this place enough, what charm. Run by a cultured Lebanese woman it’s tasteful, elegant and stylish. A sort of Arabian fantasy with good service! Our enormous room had beautiful domed ceiling, a separate sitting area and a four poster bed. At night we ate lovely meals. Unfortunately for them the entire place was empty, apart from a couple of guests at dinner we were the only ones there for four nights. It’s a travesty that such a beautiful place isn’t full. Check out the picture and you’ll see what I mean. There isn’t anything similar in Egypt and it was a delight. The travel agent must have secured an excellent rate.


One of the things we did while we were in Luxor was visit ACE Egypt (Animal Care in Egypt). This is a wonderful organization that offers free veterinary care to all animal, including dogs, cats, donkeys and horses. WE had read about them before we arrived and had brought a few items from their online wish list, it’s just so easy to throw a couple of things in your bag. Anyway they do incredible work and have a whole education program with the local schools. because tourism is down they are struggling with lower donations and of course because of the economic climate their work is more necessary than ever. It was fascinating to visit. We normally try to make contact with some sort of charity and normal pick something along the lines of, women, health or education but it was good to visit an animal charity too. Highly recommended and they are happy to have visitors anytime.

Cruising Down the Nile in a Dahabiya


By the time we left Luxor I was really tired. It’s a demanding pace if you are really trying to learn and absorb what you are seeing. The though of the boat drifting down the Nile sounded perfect. Good job we’d booked a dahabiya. Well the big news was that we were the ONLY people on the boat, incredible! Well, the title rather optomistically promised you "Five Thousand Years in 19 days - Pyramids, Tombs, Camels and a River" and so far I've covered the pyramids and some tombs so I guess this is the river and camel section!

When we were planning the trip I knew I didn't want to travel on one of the standard cruisers. I looked into the high end options (there were excellent reductions on Sonesta) but they didn't appeal either, all a bit over the top luxurious without any local character. We aren't cruise people but we have taken a river boat journey on the Niger and a more luxurious one in India down the Bramaputra. The later trip was immortalized another time by dogster in what may remain the best every trip report on Fodors.

Anyway, when I looked into our options, the dahabiyas looked like the best way to go. The only questions was price. All of the websites were opaque, lots of lovely pictures but no details on when they sailed or how much they cost, very irritating. That was until I found Djed. Here's their site. Prices, dates, everything you need to plan your trip. One of my concerns was that we would book with a company and because there were no other guests they would put us on someone else's boat. This sort of thing is much more prevalent when things are quiet. I really wanted to avoid this by booking with an agency that runs their own boats. My thinking was that this would be a more reliable route. 

Well it certainly worked out. I just can't rave enough about the entire experience. It turns out that not only do they guarantee their departures but they guarantee them regardless of the number of guests. So the Dahabiya Louila was going with just D. and myself and we had been upgraded to the largest too with a lovely outdoor balcony at the back of the boat. AS my younger friends would say, "Sweeeet..."

Things just kept getting better on this trip! 

Here is my blog post on the whole Dahabiya experience, with lots of pictures too, check out the charming bathroom and the four poster brass bed!


As I mentioned earlier, by the time we arrived at the dahabiya we were exhausted. We had seen so much in Cairo, Alexandria and Luxor, perhaps too much! I was having trouble processing all the information about different dynasties, temples and pharaohs. It was the perfect time to slow down.

There is nothing "necessary" about these boat trips, you can see many of the major sites by road, though very few people seem to do it this way. However, there is something special about river journeys, getting onto the water in an unhurried way gives you a change to absorb what you are seeing. It reminds you to enjoy your holiday and to relax. It gave us a chance to absorb what we had seen and it reenergized us for Aswan, which is why I'd recommend putting the cruise in the middle of your program Because everything is planned for you, all you have to do is show up - which is why you have such great time!

What is so wonderful about being on a dahabiya is that in addition to visiting the larger temples (including Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo) you are able to stop at smaller sites along the Nile. We walked to small tombs where they hadn't seen visitors for days and had the opportunity to walk through some of the small riverside villages. We even stopped at the camel market in Daraw on the last day. Many of the camels are brought up from Sudan on a 40 day journey. What I couldn't believe I was seeing was a chap driving away with three camels in the back of his pick up truck. It was an interesting stop but probably not for the soft hearted animal lover.

Everything about the cruise was well thought out, well paced and well done. The guide Abdullah was one of the best guides we've had and he suited us very well. Intelligent, insightful and knowledgable he really wanted us to learn about ancient and contemporary Egyptian life. Getting to see something of rural Egypt in the company of an excellent guide was fantastic, doing it on a private boat was even better. There's lots of time to sit and read and we even saw a meteor shower late one evening as we moored on the riverbank.

Well, if that wasn't enough our next stop was Abu Simbel...


ABU SIMBEL
Abu Simbel was a wonder and for us it was well worth the hassle of the three hour trip there and back

We were sorry to leave the dahabiya as we’d had such a wonderfully relaxing time but we were revived and ready to see/learn lots more. The cars to Abu Simbel leave Aswan in a convey several times a day in what seems to be an ongoing security measure. We opted for the noon convey which mean we had time to see the Nubian Museum before heading out for the drive through the desert. I

highly recommend the museum which give you a wonderful sense for the history, culture and art of the Nubian people. My only disappointment was that one of the key elements in Nubian history was the forced displacement of 100,000’s of Nubians during the construction of the Aswan Dam. As usual the story in the museum focused on the “engineering marvels” and the successful relocation of artifacts and temples, Abu Simbel included. It seemed inconceivable to me that incredible sacrifice of the Nubians should not have been highlighted in their museum but then the museum is about the government’s story.

When gathered for the convey there were only a few cars and the armed Egyptian Army guard could see our minivan was the most comfortable. Up he hopped into the front seat and promptly fell asleep with his machine gun on his knee. Through out Egypt we saw and passed through army and police check points. In Tahir Sq we were stopped in a car with an Egyptian friend but waved through fairly quickly. The Egyptian military has considerable influence through many layers of the economy whether they are currently (officially) running the country or not. 

Most people who stay overnight opt to see Abu Simbel at sunrise when the sun shines directly on the face of the temple. However, there is very little that will get me up before dawn, maybe a flight to somewhere interesting but if I’m honest not will do it. I won’t queue for brunch either! 

So, after a quick refresh at the lovely small hotel where we stayed ( Eskaleh Nubian Lodge ) we opted to head straight to the temple. As we arrived we passed a couple of small groups leaving and by the time we turned the corner to see the temples ahead of us we were the only tourists there. I couldn’t believe it. This is one of the great wonders of the ancient world and we had it all to ourselves, no jostling, noisy compatriots just calm and quiet. 

We were in a sort of gleeful shock as it became apparent that not only were we the only people but that no one else would be joining us. It wasn’t that we had it to ourselves for a few minutes, the way we had enjoyed the Tutenkhamun room at the Egyptian Museum, it was that none else was coming between the time we arrived and when the site closed, incredible. This was one of my all time travel highlights and it says everything about why you should go to Egypt now. D. tipped the temple guard as we had done throughout the trip and then even the guard left, yes we were truly there on our own! I was somewhat surprised by Abu Simbel. It’s one stop shopping, but the images I’d seen were all about the facade, while in fact what mesmerized us was the interior walls, statues and decoration. here once again Ramses declares his status across thousands of years and we can still see how important and powerful he was.
Initially we'd opted to have guide in Abu Simbel but we changed our mind on the boat and decided to see it alone. I was really glad we made this change. We couldn't have liked our guide Abdullah more, and we would be catching up with him in Aswan, but it was great to have some time to see things entirely on our own. It's a delicate balance between alone time and the knowledge, insight and companionship a good guide can bring.

We headed back to the Eskaleh Nubian Lodge where we were staying and took a lovely walk down by Lake Nasser. The owner is a lovely man and a well known musician who spent time in France and it was interesting to hear how he came to build the lodge. They have lovely gardens and a cheeky young donkey who you can see eating my handbag on the blog! We were the only people staying there and they upgraded us to a larger room which was simple but quite lovely. We had a nice meal overlooking the lake and left at about 10am the next day. I wouldn’t have done the day trip with two three plus hour drives each was but the overnight worked well for us.

Aswan

I'm very glad we ended our trip in Aswan because it's a leisurely pleasant town. We stayed at the Old Cataract which I highly recommend. What a charming hotel, minus the ghastly Christmas decorations, I'm sure the interior decorator who designed the place would have a fit if they could see them! Anyway, all the rest is very well done, it's a sensitive renovation that still gives a sense for the historic bones of the hotel. The situation is superb and the views over the Nile magnificent. The public spaces are elegant and comfortablr.

We stayed in a lot of lovely properties on this trip but this was the place I thought I'd like to return to most. I could see why people come here for a week or two of winter sun, it's relaxing luxurious and elegant.

We'd opted for a regular room which was both large and luxurious, but I really wanted a Nile view. One of the things to know about the property is that the regular rooms in the historic wing are all garden views and you have to go up to a Cataract Suite to get the view I wanted. When we arrived we spoke to the front desk, viewed a couple of rooms, agreed on the price and we were installed in a beautiful ground floor suite with a small terrace overlooking the Nile. it was worth every penny.

The service at the hotel was very good and they were very accommodating. We even had the cheek to ask if we could bring a bottle of duty free champagne into their high end French restaurant and they said no problem along with a $25 corkage fee, which, given the cost of the champagnes on their list seemed a bargain.

There are lots of photos and lots more thoughts/opinion/details about the hotel on the blog. Check out the river views and the pool, it really is gorgeous.
Aswan was a great place to end our trip and we enjoyed the sites. Philae is a very lovely later era temple with a wonderfully romantic settling, but we also loved Kalabsha which is on the other side of the High Dam in Lake Nasser. It's much less visited and very charming too, thanks to Mr Simman at Djed for recommending this. 

The Nobles tombs in Aswan are highly recommended and not much visited. I was very glad I added these to our program. You climb up to the tombs which overlook the Nile. The situations is spectacular and there are some very old tombs here including several beautifully decorate toms from the Old Kingdom. It is very moving to walk into a tomb over 5,000 years old, incredible!


Aswan is quite different from much of the rest of Egypt and we enjoyed visiting this part of Nubia. I'd have loved to visit the arrow steep pyramids that can be found on the Sudanese side of the border but we will have to wait for another trip.

Taking a felucca on the Nile was a very memorable way to spend a day and it made a welcome break from all the sightseeing. Overall we found Aswan a relaxing low key place to end our trip.
In summary
We had a fantastic trip to Egypt, I highly recommend Djed who did a great job organizing the whole thing and the dahabiya experience was fantastic in both pace, interest and comfort. 
I'm not sure I would have enjoyed myself with all the crowds so for us it was a great time to visit Egypt. There is so much history but also a lot of variety, pharonic sites, islamic sites, interesting crafts, historic hotels, boats, walking etc. There is a lot of learn and see in Egypt and we had a great experience. This was a different Egypt than my childhood, but the sense of hospitality, welcome and charm remains.


You can see my Top Ten Tips for Visiting Egypt on the  blogWell I'm finally finishing up the Egypt posts on the blog and it has been only four months since we got home, lol. Anyway my last post is entitled "Six Reasons to Go To Egypt Now".


I'm hoping the trip report and the blog, have conveyed the sheer joy and delight we felt exploring Egypt. I know we are very lucky to be able to travel as much as we do and I felt privileged to revisit Egypt. This was one of our favorite trips and we loved the variety you get along the way; desert, city, Nubia, Islam, river journey, ancient sites, historic hotels etc.. I'm happy to answer any questions anyone has, but for now I'm heading over to the Europe board where I'm talking about a current trip to London!

I really hope this helps anyone who is considering an Egyptian trip or anyone we would enjoy an armchair visit!

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