Highlights of Egypt

Well, we finally did it, and I must say that there is not much of Egypt that we did not see! My husband and I, our son and daughter-in-law and our daughter and grandson started a 14-day independent tour of Egypt on June 24, ’04.

Our flights on Iberia Airlines were long, with very long airport layovers. In Madrid we had 10 hours, so we took the metro to the city and visited the Prado Museum. This was very easy to do, as our luggage had been forwarded to Cairo out of New York’s JFK and we stored our carry-ons in lockers provided outside the Madrid airport.

We arrived in Cairo late that evening and checked into our flat, beginning our touring the next day. We started with the Great Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre and, of course, the Sphinx. We bought the extra ticket to visit the Solar Barque Museum, where we saw the Pharaoh’s funerary boat (possibly the oldest boat in the world). That afternoon we “did” Old Cairo, with visits to the Citadel, the Hanging Church and the mosques.

The next day was a half-day visit to Saqqarah to visit the Step Pyramid (said to be the oldest pyramid in the world) and to stare into Zoser’s stone eyes in the eerie serdab (cellar). We went on to visit the famous Pyramid of Teti and the most wonderful tomb of all — the Mastaba of Ti — with its well-preserved reliefs of daily life in the Old Kingdom.

From Saqqarah we went to the tiny village of Memphis to visit the museum that is built around the fallen colossal limestone statue of Ramses II. After a quick lunch we spent the afternoon in the Egyptian Museum. We purchased the extra ticket to visit the Mummy Room, which was well worth it.

We then boarded the sleeper train to Luxor. The train is a very nice way to cover a long distance. The accommodations were clean and adequate and included dinner and breakfast.

We registered at Jolie Ville Mövenpick Luxor Resort on Crocodile Island (phone +20 952 374855, fax +20 952 374936, e-mail jolie.ville@movenpick-lxr.com.eg or visit www.moevenpick-hotels.com). The rate was $70/$170.

We then met our guide and began to see what was, for me, the real reason to travel to Egypt.

Out of Luxor we saw the most wonderful sites, beginning with the Temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu; Deir al-Madinah (tombs of the workers village); Abydos and Dendarah (a trip which required us to go in a convoy accompanied by armed tourist police); the Temple of Karnak (with a not-to-be-missed sound-and-light show); the Temple of Luxor; sunset while sailing on a felucca (with no wind and a tow for us, I might add); the Luxor Museum (a wonderful air-conditioned museum); the Valley of the Kings; the Valley of the Queens; Hatshepsut Temple, and, my favorite, the Tombs of the Nobles, where we visited four tombs that were totally awesome, especially the tombs of Sennufer and Rekhmire.

We even found time to purchase papyrus at the Nefertari Papyrus Institute and alabaster vases at a shop where we had a demonstration by local artisans.

There was finally some time for R&R when we boarded our 5-star Nile cruise ship, MS Giselle, for a trip down the Nile to Aswan. The cabins were quite large and the staff very attentive. The Giselle is one of four fine ships owned by Egypt Hotels Nile Cruises.

We waited our turn to go through the Esna Lock. Prior to entering, we experienced the creative marketing and sales techniques of the local residents, who would throw merchandise up to the deck.

In Edfu we met Abdo, who was to be our guide for the next two days. A pleasant and well-informed leader, he speaks English and can be reached for private guiding. He is 31 years old and his full name is Abdulrahem Hebashy (mobile phone 0105217426 or e-mail elrahem@yahoo.com or abdospider@hotmail.com). For up to four people and including car but not admission fees, he charges $70 for a full day.

We visited the Temple of Horus and then Kom Ombu before docking in Aswan. Among important sites to visit are the Shrine of Hathor (with its collection of mummified crocodiles) and the Birth House (with its wonderful reliefs and, on the far back wall, a scene depicting surgical instruments).

We disembarked in Aswan and checked into the hilltop, 4-star Basma Swiss Inn Hotel (El Fanadek St., Aswan, Egypt; phone 97-310901). It has rooms overlooking the Nile.

We started our visit in Aswan with a felucca ride (again the wind gods were not with us) to Kitchener’s Island and the Botanical Gardens. After a pleasant stroll, we took a 40-minute motorboat ride (we were getting smarter) to the remote island of Sehel, where we visited a Nubian village and met a family in their home. Each of us got a henna tattoo and purchased traditional baskets and pottery.

We had a 3:30 a.m. departure for our armed convoy transfer to Abu Simbel. It was long round trip, but having two hours at the site made up for the inconvenience. A “must see,” the temple site can be reached either by convoy from Aswan, by water on a Lake Nasser cruise or by EgyptAir.

That night we went to the sound-and-light show at the Philae Temple. I liked it better than the one at the Temple of Karnak. In the morning we toured Philae Temple with our guide and visited the old Aswan Dam (which was the largest of its kind in the world when the British built it) and the High Dam built by the Egyptian government.

The very knowledgeable guide we had in Aswan is also available for private hire. His name is Said Attia Said (Aswan Kima Elsaad Elally Building No. 40, Flat 2A, Elsaad Elally, Egypt; phone 0101315626 or 0020972267536 or e-mail royalprince_2003@hotmall.com). The government sets Said’s fee at 130 Egyptian pounds (near $21) per day. He says his specialty is Aswan and Luxor.

That evening we spent nearly two hours at the beautiful Nubian Museum and after dinner shopped the local bazaars.

We returned to Luxor by private van in another armed convoy for more shopping and the inevitable camel ride.

Our return to Cairo was in first class on the day train. We were met and accompanied to the airport by our Cairo guide and then flew back to the USA.

During our tour we felt welcomed and safe, with no incidents that were uncomfortable. We were prudent with food choices; drank and used only bottled water, and employed strict hygiene (with frequent hand washing with disposable wipes).

Would I do it again? Definitely, but not in this lifetime.

York Beach, ME