December 5, 2020
2017 / Egypt / x

Egypt (October 2017)

On October 21, we boarded our flights to Cairo, Egypt, where we met up with Jenny, Tom and the boys. This was the start of a vacation to countries we never thought we would visit.

From the airport, we went to our hotel, Om Kolthoom Hotel, located in the Zamalek neighborhood on an island in the Nile River. This hotel is located on the site of the villa belonging to Om Kolthoom, who “was an internationally renowned Egyptian singer, songwriter, and film actress active from the 1920s to the 1970s.”

Highlights of Cairo:

    • A night cruise and dinner on a felucca with some of Tom’s friends – this was a special evening where we shared local foods while cruising down the Nile.
  • Al Azahar Park and Lakeside Cafe – we arrived at this park through a miscommunication with a taxi driver. It turns out, it was a good mistake, as we thoroughly enjoyed our time here, including dinner overlooking several mosques. The park was filled with people of all ages. We tried for a geocache but park bench was in use all evening.
  • Great Pyramids at Giza – I booked a tour through Tours by Locals – specifically, a tour led by Mina, He was excellent. He is a certified Egyptologist and an archaeologist who has done work with the government around the country. His enthusiasm was obvious. Not only did he take us to the Great Pyramids, but included Saqqara, and the Golden Eagle Papyrus Factory.
  • The Step Pyramid at Saqqara– this site is where our guide, Mina, recently worked on  a newly discovered tomb. We first entered the tomb of Kagemni, an advisor to King Teti (2323-2291 BC) in the 6th Dynasty. This tomb is an example of a mastaba tomb, a flat rectangular building made of mud bricks.

    We then went to the funerary complex of Teti, just a short distance away, where we had to go down into the pyramid (or what was left of it). As you can see, the entrance was claustrophobic for those of us that get uncomfortable in such situations. I’m one of those and was very happy to return to the surface.

    After exiting this tomb, we then walked to the complex around the Step Pyramid, a pyramid designed by Imhotep to honor King Djoser (2667-2648 BC). This is thought to be the oldest stone building still standing in the world.

  • Golden Eagle Papyrus Factory – we stopped to learn about papyrus production. Papyrus is a very durable product that was used in ancient Egypt like we now use paper. In fact, the word “paper” comes from the word “papyrus”.
  • Old Cairo, Khan el-Khalili Souk and Naguib Mahfouz Cafe – Pat and I started the day by going to the Khan el-Khalili Souk (bazaar), as it was recommended in our Lonely Planet book. This area is a warren of alleys and streets with lots of stalls selling all manner of goods, from spices to gold jewelry, with many souvenirs to choose from. We covered a lot of territory and finally stopped for a late lunch. Little did we know we would return to the same restaurant for dinner, later that evening.

    Our son-in-law, Tom, had a friend in Cairo who wanted to give us a tour of Old Cairo and have dinner with us all. Shenouda picked us up at our hotel and drove to the start of our tour.The tour of Old Cairo (a.k.a, Coptic Cairo) started by passing through the Al Futah gate and walking down Al Moez Ldin Allah Al Fatmi street. The gate is one of only 3 still remaining and the street is one that saw many celebrations and parades throughout its history.

    We were given lots of local information and explanations of the many beautiful sites. What a great tour.

    We then went to Nauib Mahfouz Cafe for dinner. With Shenouda’s help explaining some of the menu items, we had a really good meal. Thank you, Shenouda!

    After dinner, part of our group headed back to the hotel, while Shenouda, Pat and I continued the tour. We headed to the southern gate, sometimes known as the “hanging gate”. Then we went to the tent-making area, not far from this gate, and visited a vendor who made wall hangings.

  • From Cairo, we flew to Aswan, where we had reserved a 3-night Nile River cruise to Luxor, on the MS Royal Princess Nile cruise. We were picked up at the airport by our guide for the cruise, Hani (sounded like “Honey”).Before boarding the MS Royal Princess, we went to the Aswan High Dam and visited Philae Island and the Temple of Isis.

    After our first night on the ship, we boarded a felucca, then transferred to a motorboat to visit a Nubian village near the rapids below the old Aswan dam. The felucca is a sailboat and does not have the maneuverability needed to navigate the rapids; therefore, the transfer to the motorboat was necessary.

    When we arrived at the Nubian village, Pat and Drew were talked into taking a camel ride. The camel was named Fernando Alonzo, after the F1 driver. The ride was neither as fast as an F1 car, nor as smooth, but they survived and enjoyed the ride.

    Back on the ship, we left Aswan and stopped at Kum Ombo, a temple dedicated to Sobek (crocodile) and Horus (falcon). This is not a typical temple in that it is dedicated to two gods, where most temples only honor a single god. Then it was off to the Crocodile Museum to see mummified crocodiles!

    The next day we took horse-drawn carriages to Edfu Temple, honoring Horus.

    Back on our ship, we headed to Luxor, passing through a set of locks, just before lunch and getting to Luxor.

    At Luxor, we walked to Luxor Temple, which was practically across the street from where we were docked. What a sight, especially as the night got darker and the shadows longer!

    The next morning, Pat, Jenny and Drew, were up early for a 4 AM pickup to go hot-air ballooning over the Valley of the Kings and other sites on the west bank of the Nile.

    Our cruise include a tour of Karnak Temple. Maybe we were hitting a limit on the number of temples we could cram into our minds, but Karnak Temple was our least favorite of them all. This feeling could also have been because of the shear size of this complex. It was immense.

    Next was a visit to the Valley of Kings. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside the Valley. However, just outside, we got a group photo.

    Hani, our guide, then took us to a nice restaurant at the Nour El Gourna Hotel, very close to the Valley of Kings. This was one of those restaurants we were glad to have someone who knew the language.

    We were then dropped off at the Nile Compound, across the Nile from the city of Luxor. We relaxed here for a couple of days, before taking an overnight train back to Cairo. Since we were there for Halloween, Jenny and Tom made sure the boys got to celebrate.

    The boys went "trick-of-treating" in Luxor at the Nile Compound
    The boys went “trick-of-treating” in Luxor at the Nile Compound
    On the over-night train to Cairo
    On the over-night train to Cairo

    Once in Cairo, we hung out at the Left Bank restaurant until we needed to head to the airport, where Tom returned to the U.S.A. and the rest of us headed to Jordan.

Impressions of Egypt
  • Cairo was very dirty and dusty, primarily because of its location near the desert.
  • Magnificent sites (Pyramids, Temples, the Nile)
  • Friendly people.
  • Touts (street sales people, including taxi drivers) are generally obnoxious. Don’t take “No” or “Not interested” as a valid response.
  • Trash is everywhere (but that is the case even in the U.S.).
  • Trains still dump waste directly from the WCs onto the tracks.
  • Cairo traffic is terrible – fumes burn the eyes and horns assault the ears – not many drivers stay in lanes (although lane markings are not common).
  • Food is good.
  • Coffee is often instant Nescafe.

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