It was Wednesday morning, the Nile cruise had properly started, it’s now a few weeks since our Egyptian adventure, I have started a new job, my boss flew over from the U.S. to spend a few days with me and I am excited, things feel great.
The Nile is very familiar, a friend that we have navigated twice before, cruise itineraries follow a gentle rhythm and only change if the lock at Esna is hit by too much traffic or the boat engine fails!
Our agenda took us south towards Aswan, the Nile river flows south to north, originating from two sources joining at Khartoum, the White Nile which starts in South Sudan and Blue Nile which has its origins in Ethiopia, currents can slow things up a bit if you don’t have propeller power! The river is 6,695KM long, arguably the longest in the world, although some support a different view that the Amazon is longer.
The routine at the city of Edfu is to get on a ‘Calèche’ from the boat mooring. Arranged by our guide, the calèche’s appeared from nowhere, he wrote the numbers of each carriage which we had to remember for the return journey. We were instructed not to give any money to our drivers as he had paid the fares and ‘baksheesh’, a tip given for pretty much anything, wages are low in Egypt so anything extra makes a difference.
It’s a lovely ride through the streets, watching the town getting into action first thing in the morning and five minutes or so later we were at our destination, where overhead shades keep the well looked after horses cool in between rides, and stalls and a café, our meeting point after the tour and free time.
The Temple of Edfu is the second largest temple in Egypt. Also known as the Temple of Horus (the falcon-headed God) it is said to be the most beautiful and well-preserved of all the Egyptian temples. A French archaeologist by the name of Auguste Mariette uncovered it from its deep sand burial in the 1860s, positioned between Luxor and Aswan on West Bank of the Nile river.
Perhaps the most striking features of the Temple of Horus are the massive pylons that stand at the entrance to the temple. They are 118 feet high, decorated with battle scenes of King Ptolemy VIII defeating his enemies for Horus. Inside the temple are several rooms, with walls covered in ancient writings.
The holiest place, the sanctuary, is accessed through the ante-chambers where Horus’s priests would have left offerings, sitting proudly is a polished granite shrine (above) where the gold statue of Horus would have stood, in front is a replica of the wooden barque used to carry the gold cult statue during festivals, the original is on display in The Louvre in France. There was definitely a ‘mystic’ feeling in the air.
The first visit was complete, a refreshing mint tea in the café was enjoyed before heading off back to the boat and a few hours cruising before our next stop Nubt, City of Gold. More about that later.
If you drink from the Nile you will keep coming back, so goes the saying. It’s our fourth trip, our 16 year old son’s first, he asked if we could come and I had booked it within 30 minutes!
It was day three and the short hop from Cairo to Luxor was over before it started, soon we were on the coach bound for our vessel for the week, M/S Tulip. We booked our adventure package with DISCOVER EGYPT they were very good. Two Cabins, one for the other half and junior opp, the second for me, I snore, loudly!
A lovely compact ship, not too big, not to small she was perfect. We had been briefly introduced to our guide Ahmad (and now very good friend) he was with us for the week, there was more to him than met the eye as were to find out later.
We were shown down to the restaurant for lunch, the afternoon was at leisure, to get used to where everything was, It was definitely hotter 1 hour south! The food was of very good quality with a variety of Soups each day, Salads, various Meat and Vegetarian courses, a live cooking station for Omelettes at breakfast, and assorted options for lunch and dinner there was something for everyone including ‘local’ food to try. Oh, and lots of sweet things!
Deir el-Bahari is famous the world over, the facade has been on so many TV programmes and magazine front pages, and unfortunately the scene of a horrific act on November 17th 1997. Security in Egypt is extremely tight, tourism is critical to the nations economy and it has not stopped us coming, we feel very safe here.
There are some historically significant paintings in one of the rooms at the ‘Temple of Hapshepsut’, depicting people from Africa. Robert Bauval a famous Belgian author and lecturer has written a book exploring the link between Egypt & Africa, Black Genesis: The Prehistoric Origins of Ancient Egypt (with Thomas Brophy PhD, April 2011), a copy was waiting for me on my return home, recommended by our guide Ahmad!
We were up early for breakfast and then onto the coach for a full days sightseeing, guided by the lovely Ahmad who was to bring our visits to life during the day, he definitely did that.
There is some evidence that Hatshepsuts physician was very skilled, using opium and other barbiturates to assist with curing a variety of ills, and also relieving pressure off the brain by making small incisions in the skull!
So, the ancient story about Pharaoh’s being entombed in/under a pyramid, if you look closely at the 1st picture below you will see the Pyramid shape at the top of the hill, overlooking the awe-inspiring valley we were to visit next, but not any old valley!
On the way to the Valley of the Kings we visited an Alabaster factory, this is standard for most of the trips to Egypt where a Nile cruise is involved, you get to see skilled craftsmen make some beautiful objects using natural and unique materials, and by buying something put some money back into the local economy.
We had purchased a very nice vase in 2000 on our first trip, which got destroyed when our house was flooded in 2007 so an opportunity to replace it with something was an opportunity not to be missed. They supply refreshments free of charge at the factories and have clean toilet facilities which are usually very welcome!
The Valley of The Kings had changed considerably since our last visit. Previously you would have to walk up the road in intense heat to reach the numerous tombs, they now have electric carts, although you can walk if you want! Not us, I remember the heat as the sun reflected off the side of the hills from before, it’s a hot barren place.
The valley is known to contain 63 tombs but that’s just what has been discovered so far. I have been fortunate to enter 13 from memory, over the 4 trips. They rotate those open to the public each year, the entry ticket includes three visits and optional tombs are available for a few extra Egyptian Pounds.
They tombs are all completely different, unique and beautiful. We saw the tombs of Sety I, Rameses I, Rameses V/VI and of course Tut-Ankh-Amun the only tomb with the preserved remains on view in an atmospheric controlled cabinet.
Unlike before, no extra paid ticket is required to take photos with your smartphone, in fact, I had a Leica D-Lux 7 medium sized digital camera with me, and was not questioned by the wardens as I snapped away, trying to capture the essence of the atmosphere which cannot be described!
The easier tombs are just short(ish) tunnels, King Tut-Ankh-Amun is just some stairs and you are in, medium look to 50m – 100m and steeper entry the most difficult up to 250m!
In the ticket office there is a very clever model showing the Valley and tunnels, tombs in a 3D model which gives you an impression of the magnificence of the whole area, how they managed to work in scorching conditions and create all the tombs with their stunning work is beyond belief, and still amazes me when I visit, junior opp was totally blown away by the place!
Ah, the Colossi Of Memnon, Amenhotep III in fact, standing since 1350BC so doing quite well in the open air despite an earthquake which destroyed the mortuary temple which stood behind. If you look closely at the picture on the right you can see graffiti, from circa AD 121.
This was our last stop before heading back to the boat and relaxing for the evening, having some great food and chatting with the other guests.
We are stepping back in time again today, day two of our Egyptian adventure to approximately 2600 BC and the time of the great Pharaoh Sneferu, a 4th Dynasty (Golden Age) Pharaoh who reigned for approximately 24 years and was responsible for building at least 4 pyramids, we were starting with the ‘Bent’ and ‘Red’ Pyramids at Dahshur necropolis.
The ‘Bent Pyramid’ is believed to be an experiment, the 2nd Pyramid built by Sneferu and likely transitional from a design perspective from step, to smooth sided (like the Red Pyramid constructed after), the angle of the top section changed due to visible instability during construction.
It was known in ancient times as ‘The Shinning South Pyramid’, most likely due to the way the sun reflected off the Limestone casing which is still quite intact. Despite being relatively early it was hot, the intense sun amplified by the barren stone surroundings.
Khufu was Sneferu’s son and heir, famous for his construction on the Giza Plateau, these historic monuments which were a precursor to the Giza structures are still nothing short of unbelievable. How on earth……..!
Our lovely guide Ali explained some of the history behind the mammoth structures we explored, both externally and internally, in the case of the Red Pyramid which was extremely hot, cramped, stuffy and mystical. How did they manage to construct such a massive structure, so long ago, with primitive tools, but such perfect work, it certainly gets you thinking!
The drive down to Dashur was as exciting as the previous days travelling, lots of honking horns, close misses, cars turning or getting in the way at the last second it was exciting to say the least. Although a Sunday, the roads were busy and people out and about working as Sunday is a normal day for the Muslim community.
The Red Pyramid is the third largest in Egypt, after Khufu and Khafre at the Giza Plateau, probably the 1st smooth sided pyramid and known locally as el-heram el-watwaat meaning the ‘Bat’ Pyramid. Its location is approximately 1km from the Bent pyramid as seen in the photo above top left. Typically of archaeologists, there is conjecture over the time to construct this massive structure but the suggestion of 10 – 11 years seems to be the most discussed.
We decided to take a look inside! A passage 3ft high and 4ft wide, 61 metres long was hard work in the heat as seen in the middle picture above, it lead to three chambers, the final being the resting place for the original sarcophagus, and seemingly broken up by robbers looking for treasure.
Our next stop was Saqqara, the location of the Pyramid of Djoser, the ‘Step Pyramid’ and close to the 1st capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, Memphis. It’s situated on a massive complex or Necropolis, an ancient burial complex which is this case, contains another 16 pyramids in various states of preservation.
Djoser is the oldest known complete stone building complex and was constructed in the 3rd Dynasty (2686 BCE – 2613 BCE, the Bronze Age), a long time ago.
Since our last visit over 20 years ago, a lot more work has been done to both uncover and preserve the ancient monuments and bring the site to life even more. It’s an impressive place to visit and deserves a lot more time to explore the various buildings, nooks and crannies. We had been lucky so far in missing other tourists, but, it was obvious at Saqqara that time was catching up with us as we noticed some coaches, and ‘people’!
Our last stop before returning to the Giza Plateau, our hotel and amazing view of the Pyramids was Memphis or Men-nefer, the capital during the Old Kingdom. There is an open air museum where the history of the city is explained, and many monuments and statues are displayed for all to see, it’s another impressive site for sure.
In the main building by the entrance is a massive (10 metre length), statue of Rameses II, carved out of limestone, it is just stunning and another ‘how the @£$% did they manage to do that, all those years ago’ moment!
It was time to return home, lunch was planned but my other half was back at the hotel suffering with bad knees and had stayed behind to rest them, so we skipped that part of the trip and headed back. We booked this and the Giza Plateau half day tours with GEM Explore Egypt on Tripadvisor, they are a London backed licensed operator and they were extremely good.
It only seems a few days ago that I was in the Northern Hemisphere, Norway, Finland and briefly Sweden, enjoying (massive understatement) the delights of Tromsø, Kilpisjärvi and Sørvågen on Lofoten with its stunning snowbound waterfall, and the fantastic Holmen Lofoten where I had spent an unbelievable few days with some like minded adventurers, having the time of our lives at ‘Kitchen On The Edge Of the World’.
The familiarity of Heathrow Terminal 2 was unmistakable, security had not changed since the previous week, the new high tech scanner lane that does not require liquid visibility, iPad withdrawal and the usual invasive activity was not open, but the officers on charge were polite and efficient, I don’t begrudge the activity to provide an extra layer of security, however mundane and troublesome it may seem.
Unlike my trip the week before, our family flight to Cairo, capital of Egypt was scheduled later in the day, so many of the sustenance outlets, unlike the previous week were open, yipeeeeee! There are the usual high street options, but I really fancied trying Monsier Blutmenthals’ ‘The Perfectionists Café’, so, after the standard perusal of duty free, not really intent on buying anything we headed over to the restaurant, and with no queue were guided to a table immediately.
‘Hestons Gaff’! sits on the same floor as security towards, the front right of the terminal affording a ‘window shopping’ view of goings on, if you are seated in the right place, it’s great for people watching if that’s your thing. The terminal wasn’t manic but, I guess lively would be an apt description, it was 11:45 and I wanted to wait for the 12:00 bell when breakfast became lunch, and the menus changed to include different options. You can just see the location in the top right of the picture above.
Junior opp wasn’t hungry, the boss went for a Cheese Burger, apparently very nice indeed, I was the awkward bugger, so looking closely at the menu I found an interesting selection of ‘Snacks’ nestled away in the bottom right hand corner of the menu, almost hidden, please don’t choose us type of vibe.
That’s for me my brain whispered, I was too excited for a ‘big’ meal but something was telling me to think Tapas, were they, could they, are they.
So, with the waitress expectantly waiting off I went, Flats Breads, Nduja, yes please, Sweet and Sour Chicken Bites, yep, oh, and Blanchbait and Garlic Mayo, erm yes, ohh, mmmmm, Ragu Croquettes sound the business, yep, I think that’s it!
I can only say it hit the spot and I managed most of it, the truth being since I had returned from Norway I had hardly eaten anything at all so I was actually quite hungry, with a 4 hour 50 minute flight, and Ramadan under way so I was not sure what, or when we might get some refreshments, a decent fill was probably a good idea.
Getting onto the plane was ‘interesting’, my wife having some knee issues we usually manage to get some assistance, it’s never asked for as there are other people more ‘needy’ (no pun intended) but when offered, we will usually accept, if nothing else to help ‘human traffic flow’.
For some reason as we got to the plane with the other ‘challenged’ folk, the heavens opened and apparently water was getting into the plane so they decided to close the door! We then had to reverse, essentially being at the back of a queue of several hundred people as we filed to the other side of the plane, had to show our already shown boarding cards and eventually settled down for take off, amusing and frustrating simultaneously.
There is something I find interesting about food on flights, delivered in trays with more accessories than Batman carries in his utility belt this one was actually quite nice, but served hurriedly just over 1 hour 30 minutes before landing, Ramadan seemed to have jinxed the liquid refreshments and no coffee/tea was served, water was available if you pushed the ‘service’ button enough times, my record was 5!
Did I tell you my wife and I LOVE Egypt, I don’t believe so, this was our fourth trip, but the first taking our son, he had asked to go and I was more than happy to book something not having been since about 2003. We have done the usual Cairo/Nile cruise twice, but also the the very quiet Lake Nasser, all the monuments have been chopped into blocks, moved and put back together like a massive puzzle, they are all UNESCO sights, fascinating and if you get the Egypt bug like we have, well worth visiting.
Getting INTO Egypt was a doddle, don’t believe all the tales you hear about customs and visas etc., if you follow the guidance on the forthcoming website to the letter, it’s not difficult. If you browse to Egypt Visa (as of April 2023), fill in the form making sure you copy EXACTLY the details from your passport and pay the fee.
If you make a mistake, you still get charged and have to do it again. I managed 2 out of 3 so had to do my wife’s a second time as I missed a letter! On arrival, if you have done it correctly and got your confirmation email and PDF certificate they have you in their systems, just queue up and show your passport, as of writing its mentions diplomatic and something above the correct queue line, EGYPTIANS ONLY is to the left, and CREW to the right, it took us about 7 minutes to get to the baggage collection hall, result.
We met the local team ‘on the ground’ as they sometimes say, holding big signs and looking expectantly for lost tourists that are in their party, to be transported off to hotels all over Cairo but have actually forgotten who they had booked with, and end up in the wrong bus and at the wrong destination!
Baggage took a while but we soon connected with our driver and 24/7 contact, if we needed anything he was a WhatsApp call away. Off we drove and 45 minutes later, after the maddest ‘whacky races’ you have ever seen, we where at our hotel in Giza, a stones thrown from the majestic Pyramids and the new Museum just over the road, the driving is hilarious if you have not experienced it before, 8-10 lanes and no traffic rules at all.
Our son was in hysterics and so was I, so comforting to be back in Egypt, in Cairo, one of my happy places..And we could see the Pyramids from our Balcony.
I couldn’t sleep, to be honest I was still buzzing from Norway and now had the added emotions of Cairo and Giza to deal with so I ordered some wine on room service and watched the Battle of Narvik which I had downloaded on Netflix to my iPad. I had headphones on so the family could try and sleep. It was a fascinating historical film covering some courageous action during WWII in the Nordics with a whole bunch of countries involved. I finally got to sleep about 03:15!
It was sunny and already 12 degrees when we rose from our slumber, it was going to be nice and warm today. Breakfast was calling and I had booked a private tour to the Giza Plateau, to take the pressure of having to join an big coach with unknown travellers from who knows where, I wanted us to control the pace and make it special for everyone.
Being an (very) eccentric foodie, I don’t travel 2197 miles to another country, with different customs and culture to eat a british fry up, it drives me nuts, I want to try local food, experience what the locals eat, so breakfast was Ful Medames for me, rich, hearty, tasty and nutritious. It’s a bean based dish with ‘toppings’ if you like, Olive Oil, Chopped Onions, Cumin Powder, Chilli Powder and Lemon Juice it was very tasty and served with fresh local bread made the same day, yummy. For dessert! I had some Sesame Seed Halva, and Honey and of course lots of tea!
Ali, our guide and Farouk, our driver had already sent messages early to confirm pickup time and location, it was going to be a great day. We were soon on the Giza Plateau, getting some education about the history and dynamics of an ancient world, steeped in mystery, who, how, exactly when it was fascinating (as always).
I had picked up a book written by Toby Wilkinson, an eminent Egyptologist before we left the UK called ‘The Nile – Travelling Downriver Through Egypts Present and Past’, I have quite a few books on the history of Egypt but this one seemed different, approaches things from a different point of view, and within the first 6 pages I have already learnt so much, it’s a captivating book.
Ali was brilliant, asking our son (and the rest of us), questions about all things Giza Pyramids and it drew our son into the mystery even more, he loved it, fantastic I thought.
This afternoon is relax time, well for the rest of the family, I have been writing this post and thinking back across the last 24 hours and the adventure that stands before us. Tomorrow we are with Ali and Farouk again, off to Saqqara and Memphis, to see some older structures. More about that another day.