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Trip Report Five Thousand Years in 19 days - Pyramids, Tombs, Camels and a River

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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 at

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.

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)
1 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!

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!

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…

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