Sunday, April 18, 2010

About this blog

This blog is basically a journal of the Trafalgar tour, called Egyptian Voyager, that we did to Egypt in 2010.  To navigate to each day, click on the links on the right hand side of this page.  For bigger images click on the photos.

Tour Round up

This tour exceeded our expectations. It was a busy tour, with a lot of early mornings, but we got to see all the main sights in 8 days, so it was well worth getting up early. My favourite part of the tour was definitely the Nile cruise, I’d have loved an extra day on the Nile.

Our tour group a.k.a Mashi Mashi

Where our tour took us:

The only negative in my opinion is that we didn’t get to know our tour-mates really well. We met a couple of very nice people and I’d have liked more time to chat to them. Part of the problem was obviously that this was a fairly short tour and also, we had to sit at the same table with the same people at every meal on the cruise, which made sense logistically, but it meant that we didn’t get a chance to chat to different people. We also didn’t have seat rotation on the bus – I enjoyed the seat rotation on the European tour as it meant that we got to chat to different people everyday while travelling.

Egypt was amazing. The mind just boggles at the fact that some of the buildings we saw have been around for more than 4000 years. Yes, the vendors are a pain and the tipping gets you down a bit, and we won’t mention the toilets, but it is all SO worth it in light of what you are seeing and the places you are visiting. I’d recommend this tour 100%

Cairo: * Ramses Hilton (3 nights) * Concorde El Salam Hotel

Nile Cruise: * MS Sapphire

Alexandria: * Helnan Palestine Hotel

Saturday, April 10, 2010

We left the hotel at 7:30am today. First stop was the Monastery of St Macarius the Great.

We had to be covered from wrist to ankle for the monastery visit. A monk took us on a tour of the 3 churches on the property. One of the churches houses the crypt and relics of St John the Baptist, which I found utterly amazing. Unfortuantely we didn't get a photo of that!

We then drove on to Giza, where we stopped at the Funky Brothers cotton shop. I was a bit disappointed with the shop, there was lots of stuff, but not much choice and it was very crowded. We bought some lunch at the take-away next door.

Final stop for the day was our hotel near the airport, it was really beautiful. We took a bit of a walk to stretch our legs before our flight. We rested a bit, finished packing up our things and had a lovely supper at the Italian restaurant at the hotel. Our last supper with Walter, although we hope to see him again soon at his home in Pietermaritzburg.

Our transfer to the airport picked us up at 9:30pm. No sooner had we got to the airport when we realised that our flight was delayed for at least 4 hours. If only we’d known before, we could have slept at the hotel for a few hours! We ended up sleeping on chairs at the Heineken pub in the airport.

Our flight that was supposed to leave at 11:45pm left at 04:45am! Aargh!! By that time we were so exhausted that we even managed to sleep for a few hours on the plane. Our flight from Jo’burg to Durban was also delayed, but only by about 45mins. We finally got home in time for supper on Sunday night.  Having had 3 hours sleep in the last 36 hours......

Friday, April 9, 2010

We had another early start today, up at 5:40am to have breakfast and leave at 7am.

We drove to Alexandria, stopping at a very nice roadside stop along the way, where my girls each bought their favourite things: shoes for Rox and a book for Paula.

As we drove to Alexandria Wael spoke to us about life in modern Egypt. He told us all about the school system, housing, the Muslim religion, married life etc etc. He gave us personal insights into his life, which I found so interesting.

On arrival at Alexandria we went directly to the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa.

Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed

Quite an extraordinary place, I found it a bit creepy. What I found even more creepy were the toilet facilities outside. Honestly, if you ever have the good fortune to be able to spend some time in Alexandria, find somewhere else to go to the loo! Trust me on this!

Then it was on to Pompey’s pillar – quite a nice place to take a walk around (and it has good loos!) but after the temples we had seen, this felt a little ho-hum!

We then headed off to the Roman Amphitheatre.

Again, it was quite impressive, but I always get to the point on a tour where I compare everything I am seeing to what went before. Had I seen this amphitheatre on Day 1, I would no doubt have been all “Wow! Awesome!” – I am ashamed to admit it, but today I found the little kitten that was strolling about way more interesting than the amphitheatre.

Rox in " Cleopatra's bath"

Next stop was the Alexandria Museum.

 I found the signage in this museum far better than at the Egyptian museum, it was also less crowded, so easier to get around. Dad was extremely clever and while we were browsing the museum he wandered off and found a bakery (apparently you exit the museum and turn left) where he bought us THE most delicious savoury nibbles.

Final stop was a beautiful mosque – this was a first for our family.

The mosque was in use at the time, so we had to be very quiet and unobtrusive, so as not to disturb the people who were praying and doing a type of religious dance. The men had to enter one side and the women another – we were able to see through into the men’s side from our side.  All very interesting.

Not my most gorgeous moment!

We finally drove to our hotel right on the Med. It’s a lovely hotel and all the rooms have very good views.

Some members of our tour were lucky enough to be allocated the presidential suite and a couple of the executive suites. Seeing as it’s Grant’s birthday I really feel we should have got one of those ;-) Walter has been given the Presidential Suite!

The setting for our evening meal was absolutely gorgeous and the meal was lovely. Our tables were laid out alongside a pool, which was very beautiful, but it did get quite chilly.

 Jose’ and Alexandria announced their engagement over dinner, so that was very exciting. A great big cake was brought out for Grant’s birthday, and for the happy couple.

Walter invited up to his suite for a drink after supper. We had such fun seeing how the other half lives! We couldn’t find the glasses, so there we sat in the Presidential Suite, drinking Amarula out of toothbrush mugs! Walter decided he needed to record his moment of importance on video, so he planted himself behind the desk, assigned Dad as his Personal Assistant and began to dictate matters of national importance, in-between answering “phone calls” no doubt from heads of state, while Grant filmed the scene. I don’t know whether it had anything to do with the Egyptian wine (Omar Khayyam, nice!) we had with dinner, but we laughed till we cried.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

We got up extremely early today as bags had to be out by 5:15am, we had breakfast and left the boat at 5:45am.

We headed straight to the Valley of the Kings and ours was the first bus to get there, which was a very good thing as I gather it gets very crowded. (Cameras weren't allowed inside)

Valley of the Kings

We went into 3 tombs, an awesome experience. The setting is completely barren and mountainous. Nothing to see on the outside, but you enter the cave-like tombs and they are full of intricate carvings and paintings. Unlike the temples, the tombs have retained much of their colour, so it’s really beautiful.

We then went to Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple.

It’s a very different temple, built right into the side of a mountain.

This is the temple in which 63 people were murdered in 1997 in what was to become known as the Luxor massacre. Maybe it was just my overly sensitive nature coming into play, but I found the place had a melancholy atmosphere. Sad making.

On a lighter note, this is the place I had one of those experiences that sticks with you long after the holiday's over.  Picture the scene:  I needed the loo (with me it's always about the toilets!) so I headed off on my own and found the WC sign.  The loo was manned by an elderly Egyptian man, who was holding the ubiquitous roll of toilet paper, palm out for the necessary tip.  I put the money in the palm, grabbed my bit of bog roll and headed for the cubicle.  There I sat, behind one of those doors that is open top and bottom, while the elderly man perched on an upturned tin right outside, like a metre away and sang tunelessly in Arabic!!  Whether the loud singing was to drown out the noise of the flow, I don't know.  Funniest wee I've ever had!  Most entertaining too!

Finally we stopped at the Colossus of Memnon

It was very strange to see the 2 enormous statues right next to a wheat field in a very rural area. So very Egyptian, the mix of ancient and everyday.

The drive back to Luxor was very interesting as a lot of the time we were driving through small villages, seeing the people going about their business.

We then went to the airport and flew back to Cairo. Not the best landing ever, but I think Paula and I were the only ones to notice this.

This evening we went to the Sound and Light show. It was an incredible experience to see the pyramids and the sphinx all lit up at night. It was quite chilly out there at night, but so worth it!

Driving back to our hotel was very interesting. It was definitely wedding night, we saw at least 3 brides on the way back to our hotel.

Cairo is such a crazy, dirty, chaotic and yet vibrant city!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

We woke up in Edfu this morning. We had an early wake-up call and set off on the short bus ride to the temple before breakfast.

The temple at Edfu is particularly well-preserved, probably because it was buried under desert sand until 1860!

There were a series of friezes on a long wall depicting the battle between Horus and Seth which I really loved – as Wael said, it was probably the first cartoon!

After the tour of the temple we went to the nearby market where I bought a T-shirt and Paula a bag. Then it was back to the boat for breakfast.

We had a meeting mid-morning to discuss the itinerary for the next couple of days. The rest of the day was at leisure on the boat, as we sail to Luxor.

Again, there was so much to see as we cruised along the Nile:

During the morning we passed through the locks at Esna, which was quite an interesting experience.

We arrived in Luxor in the late afternoon.  Like most of Egypt, Luxor is a mix of ancient and modern.  It has some modern areas, but there are still lots of horse-drawn carts around. Quite a fascinating place.

On arrival at Luxor we immediately got on a bus bound for Karnak Temple.  Karnak temple is a huge, sprawling complex. We had a guided tour and were then free to wander around.

We had been told that it is lucky to walk 7 times around the statue of a scarab beetle, so the girls and I did just that, along with another family on tour with us, much to the amusement of Dad and Grant.  Hey, everyone could use a little luck, even if it comes from a dung beetle with a fancy name ;-)

We then went over to the market where Paula bargained for a necklace like a seasoned business woman. The vendor was a little too impressed with her and got a little too friendly for my liking.

We then drove to Luxor temple.  I loved Luxor temple, it was absolutley gorgeous.  As it was getting dark, the various features were lit up. So, so beautiful.

We got to see the obelisk, there were originally two, but the other one now stands in the centre of the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

An avenue of sphinxes extends towards Karnak, some of which are still in the process of being excavated – quite something to see. Unfortuantely, by this point it was really dark, so the photo didn't come out too well.

Once we had finished at the temple we drove to a Papyrus shop, where we were shown the process of making papyrus. Paula bought two lovely pictures.