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Trip Report Just returned from Egypt and Tanzania

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We've only been home two days, just long enough for jet lag to have subsided enough for me to type sensibly. (Anyone else have that feeling of just wanting to fall over?)

I want to thank publicly, the many unknown (plus a few known) subscribers to Fodors and Trip Advisor and for their invaluable help while planning this trip. Whilst I only asked a few questions I read many relevant queries and responses over many months and learned so many helpful tips.

I can only address my trip report in the form of the journal I wrote daily, so please excuse the rambling thoughts and possible tense issues.

Our trip (from Australia) started in Egypt and finished with a safari in Tanzania, so hopefully I can separate the two and post them in the relevant sites.

We dealt with Greece and Mediterranean Travel in Sydney, who sub contracted to South Sinai Travel in Cairo. Everything went exactly as planned, and our tour guides (read fixit men), especially Hisham in Cairo, were wonderful.

Good Earth Safaris and Tours could not be faulted for their planning and execution of our safari. If you have the opportunity, ask for Raphael ' a thoroughly professional, knowledgeable and personable guide. More on him later.

Fri 15 Feb 2008

An uneventful flight from Melbourne to Singapore with about 3 mins turbulence! Even slept for an hour or two. Terminal 3 is huge and everything works like clockwork and seemingly effortlessly. Quick (literally) drive to the Parkroyal on Beach Road to receive a surprise upgrade to a deluxe room because all the Superior rooms had gone due to Lunar New Year. And we only paid US$133 which was cheaper than last year because we did it on HotelTravel.com. Remember that one!

Sat 16 Feb 2008

Another easy flight - about 10 hours - from Singapore to Cairo. Airport wasn't as chaotic as we had been led to believe. Having a tour guide (transfer) meet you in Cairo is not only comforting but makes for an easy ride through customs etc. We had purchased our visas in Melbourne, but it would have been no trouble, and cheaper, at the airport. Hisham has all our relevant documentation. Transfer to Le Meridien in Heliopolis was relatively quick, but I wasn't watching the traffic. Dodgem cars, my husband said.

Hotel is OK for a stopover, and far better than going all the way into the city with bumper to bumper traffic so we discovered later. Large bathroom, twin beds (very firm, but not as firm as Singapore) and the largest and best magnifying makeup mirror you could ever hope to have. Later we discovered them almost everywhere. Bit of a surprise on arrival at the hotel to find that your luggage goes through an airport X-ray machine and we walked through a metal detector. Common it seems.





Sun 17 Feb 2008

Just a transfer flight today to Aswan and the Old Cataract Hotel, before boarding the Sun Goddess on Tuesday morning for our cruise. Most of our arrangements so far have been necessary to fit in with flights or the cruise. When we went back to the airport we saw the true magnitude of the place ' not to mention the building works for the new terminal. How anyone finds their own way in, around and out of this place is a miracle.
Flight was on a 78 seater ' two on each side and about 11/2 hours to Aswan. Views of the desert and what looked like dried river beds everywhere ' for when the Nile floods? Lots of guards/ men in uniforms standing around the airport. Frightful drive from the airport in terms of scenery. Very dusty, heaps of apartment buildings, but many in derelict form.

Outside the old Cataract were more guards and a boom gate. Fairly ordinary looking entrance ' all the action is obviously around the back. After formalities we were shown to our room ' 348 ' a double deluxe Nile View. (We will only ever do this once)

Nothing has ever grabbed me so much as the view from the (tiny) balcony. It was gobsmacking! I even started to tear up from the sheer magnificence (hard to find the proper describing word) of it all. Desert in the background, ruins, feluccas, ferries, gardens and the Nile. We've seen some fabulous views in our time but this seemed to top them at that moment. The first time for seeing anything new and wonderful is such a special feeling that can't be repeated, don't you think? And we've got the pyramids and a safari to go ' I'll need more superlatives.

We were just in time to see the sun go down behind the desert mountains as we had a drink at the famous Terrace Bar. A bit later we had to have another one when we discovered the Elephantine Bar, perched high on the rocks in an even more spectacular setting. The sky continued to turn a beautiful colour. Many photo opportunities!

We dressed for dinner (but not overly so) in the famous 1902 restaurant. Food was not too bad, considering the reviews we had read, and the prices reasonable (about $20 for a rack of lamb). The dining room was beautiful, and the staff were trying very hard, but there was no dining ambience. Virtually everyone arrived at 7.30pm. The staff were very efficient ' although not totally understanding of any English questions as you may expect. They had a job to do and they did it. It all felt a bit perfunctory.

Mon 18 Feb 2008

Woke up early just in time to see the sun rise over the desert and the first stirrings on the Nile.
Brekky was in the same restaurant. We decided to walk down the Corniche, heading for the bazaar. We were 'invited' on numerous occasions to partake of a taxi, felucca or caleche ride. Saw many of the large cruise ships at their moorings. Finally found the souk and had a great time wandering through it, becoming 'friends' with many of the stall holders. It was amazing how many times we were asked if we were German. This market has been 'tarted up' for the tourist it seems, but if you wander away from the main streets it becomes more real.
Staggered back to the hotel after our first bout of walking for quite some time. Thought about catching a ferry ride to the museum on Elephantine Island but the wind was really up and it was becoming dusty. Had a small snooze instead. Back to the Terrace to watch the sunset, but it was really disappointing this time due to the wind and sand ' so glad we saw it last night. We try to plan more than one night in each place for just such eventualities.
Rugged up heavily to walk down the Corniche again, looking for a cheap, easy dinner. Read about a couple of places which made the looking easier, because everything was underneath where you were walking and you had no idea unless you went down the stairs. Mona Lisa looked really inviting from the top with an outside area of cushions and rugs. However, the restaurant was dark and dingy and nothing on the menu appealed. Further on we decided on the Aswan Moon regardless - and discovered it was a floating restaurant. Quite large, covered in colourful canvas, but only two other couples. Had a coke each and a yummy pizza, all for LE55 (about $11AUD)A really large party of Brits and their kids came in giving the place more noise and feeling. Walked it off on the way home and decided to chance part of the bazaar again to look for a scarf for my husband. Grossly overpriced, and after having heaps hung around his neck, we left to a really thunderous look from the stall holder. Even though it was 'no charge for looking'. Once or twice they really got in your personal space ' often taking you by surprise when you turned around ' but generally we felt safe, even at night.

Tue 19 Feb 2008

Wrote in my diary at 7am while watching the sun rise on the desert on the other side of the Nile ' all from bed (which BTW is the most comfortable I have ever slept in). This will be gone all too soon, but hopefully replaced by other, different experiences. The guard is still asleep in his chair in the garden. It must be incredibly cold overnight for him.

WOW! We were given an upgrade on the cruise ship. (Never had one in my life before, and now two!) The Senator Suite if you don't mind. Two TVs, our own lounge area, bathroom with full size bath, double bed and panorama windows at the pointy end. Have no idea why we have this. Who knows, who cares!

The downside was that the planned felucca ride was cancelled due to the strong wind and replaced by a half hour ferry ride which was relatively boring as we didn't go far. On the way back the boat was really struggling against the waves. Lunch on board was OK ' hope it changes daily. Afternoon tea was fairly miserly ' cake cut into wafer thin slices. We had the same table companions for every meal.

Because there was no touring that day, we felt a little like a captive market. We heard there will be some early morning calls. Lots of reading time before dinner. Because we had been going to bed relatively early most nights, we weren't too shocked by the 5.30am wake up suggested for the next day.

Wed 20 Feb 2008

It was freezing and two jackets was the only way to cope initially.

The organisation of who went with what guide was quite haphazard. We stood around for a while with everyone else until there was a smallish group left ' presumably all English speakers but definitely all nationalities.

The first stop was Philae Temple, which, along with Abu Simbel was cut into thousands of pieces and reassembled at another location to escape the flooding waters when the High Dam was constructed. Saw some great postcards of how it used to look when partly submerged.
To reach Philae you took a water ferry ' and there seemed like hundreds of them. For our first temple it seemed really good, but not special ' that was yet to come.

Visited the High Dam which was interesting only because we had heard about it so many years ago. And it was a mercifully brief visit.
The Unfinished Obelisk was quite amazing. Incredibly large when you get up close, but the story of how it was carved and would be raised made it a real engineering marvel way back then.
Back on board for our first sail to Kom Ombo. The countryside was pretty much as you thought it would be ' green for a short bit before turning to desert. The odd farmer, donkey, cow and house dotted the short landscape.
Kom Ombo was spectacular, perched high on a hill with a commanding view of the Nile. There were tinges of colour on the ceilings in some parts and it was revelational to learn that the entire complex was once brightly painted. One of the scenes depicted in the vast array of hieroglyphics was of a surgeon and his instruments, and another of a pregnant woman sitting on a birthing chair.

Accompanying all this amazing history was the ubiquitous market where you were expected to 'run the gauntlet' before returning to the ship. There were literally thousands of people in small groups crawling all over the temple, the market area and the 30-50 cruise ships that had berthed there during the day. Everybody did the same circuit, and because the ships were sometimes docked 5 abreast, it was an endless stream of movement. It was fabulous to watch from the sun deck as it was all laid out in front of you. Not the sort of thing you see at home.
The hawkers were a little more aggressive but if you approached it all with good humour and/or kept moving forward, then all was well. There was always someone behind you to catch their attention.
The sheer volume of cruise ships plying the Nile is staggering. Both directions in a constant stream, and all stopping at the same places.

What is all that pollution doing to the monuments and temples, not to mention the hawkers who breathe it everyday?

Captain's cocktail party at 7.30pm. Basically free drinks, (pre-prepared), couple of nibbles, photos with the staff and a welcome by the captain. Quite missable if you want. Clobber ranged from those who had brought along fine dining outfits, to those who tarted up casual wear with a scarf to those who didn't change at all. No problem!

Dinner that evening turned out to be a set menu with 2 or 3 choices for each of the 5 courses. Fine dining it is not, but the consensus at our table was that as long as it tastes OK and you don't get sick, then all is well. The fillet of beef was just under an inch thick and not too bad. Cheese was two minute slices of something indeterminate, but the fresh fruit was nice. It seemed there were no takers for the disco later that evening.

More to come...

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks evecolorado,

    Here's some more.

    Thu 21 Feb 2008

    Wake up call was 5.40am. Only one visit today – to Edfu temple which is the best preserved one in all of Egypt.

    It was incredibly large and intricately carved with hieroglyphics all over. Again, the sheer splendour of it when painted would be outstanding. We all seemed to think that the walls were carved. But in fact a plaster is rendered over the building and either high or low relief is carved into that – it still feels like stone however.

    The ride from the ship was taken in a caliche – the ponies look very thin and are hit continually. My husband was handed the reins but he felt that the horse seemed to know his way! Just like the water ferry park, these are lined up waiting for your return.

    It was suggested that LE20 was a suitable tip (!) but when my husband tried to leave US$2 he was chased and argued with until he coughed up the rest. LOL.
    So far our guide makes sure that we don’t have heaps of time in the markets. Funny thing, though, some of the scarves and jewellery are exactly the same as we saw in Vietnam and Cambodia last year!!

    Spent the time since the ship sailed (about 9.30am) until lunch, just sitting on the sun deck chatting to another delightful American couple, mostly about their politics. It permeates everywhere!

    Lots of sugar cane around Edfu and barges transferring it along the Nile. Lots of scenes looking truly biblical – donkeys, flat roofed houses, simple fishing boats. Life along the Nile probably hasn’t changed much for many people.

    There was a remarkable scene viewed from the ship. Donkeys and carts, incredibly elaborate caleches and the best of all, a large group of women huddled around a small window waiting patiently for bread. Around the corner, however, was the men’s access – and this got unruly at times and the police were called.

    It had been quite windy on the sun deck and so a couple of afternoon teas and the day’s lunch were cancelled up there. Such a pity as it would have been very pleasurable. When the wind dies down you have such a peaceful and quiet sense of gliding. No noise.

    This day was spent mostly cruising with the Esna Lock still to be negotiated. By 11.30am it had felt such a long time since breakfast and there appeared to be nowhere to purchase snacks or snaffle any left over brekky pastries. But a hot chocolate did the trick.
    While we were out this morning the cruise ship manoeuvred itself back to the outside of three other vessels as we were first in last night and therefore needed to leave first today. So when we returned, it was our turn to walk through the other ships.
    Some look a little more or a little less worn than others. (You don’t get to walk through those that are a lot less worn!) There’s something for every budget.


    There has certainly been more ‘cruising’ than appeared in the itinerary and it’s just wonderful watching the locals in the fields or fishing as you glide by. Luxor to Aswan is 16knots and vice versa is 22 knots with the current. Hadn’t seen any other cruise ships since Edfu – they all seem to dock together, but sail separately.

    Arrived at the Esna lock at 1.00pm, sat around for 3 hours and finally passed through at 5pm.

    We gave the Galabeya party – dress ups and games – a miss, and had an early night because tomorrow was the big one - visiting the Temples of the East and West Bank of Luxor.

    Fri 22 Feb 2008

    In retrospect I wondered how I would ever describe such a big and fantastic day. There were so many little things, so many scenes we passed in the bus, so many details of the tombs and temples. It will, no doubt, be a jumble of thoughts.

    Early morning wake up call at 6.30am allowed us the opportunity to see about 10 hot air balloons over the West Bank. It was a little hazy but the next few days actually turned out to be worse.

    The half hour bus ride to the West Bank provided fabulous glimpses into the real life of those living by the banks of (the channels?) of the Nile. Mud brick homes, even a few made of dried sugar cane (making you instantly think of the three little pigs and the house of straw), animals under shelters, old men sitting around – one smoking a sheesha pipe - lots of bright green crops and people working in the fields. On every intersection, no matter how rural, there were always guards with machine guns. Who they were protecting or who they were protecting us from is unclear. Security, whilst a big very big issue here, is sometimes laughable. At every tourist site you go through metal detectors and they beep constantly. Some people just get waved through, sometimes the machines aren’t working.

    Couldn’t help but sing the tune from the Grand March (is that what it’s called?) from Aida as we walked up the centre ramp to Queen Hatshepsut’s temple. It’s set in such a natural amphitheatre that is quite majestic. You catch a little mini train from the bus park. Although we wandered around it, this is one temple probably best viewed from afar.
    The incredible feat of building these things – and particularly the tombs – boggles the mind.

    Next we went to the Valley of the Kings which was hidden in the depths of the mountains. The tour included a visit to three tombs, conveniently close together, but each quite different from the other. We saw Ramses 1, 3 and 9. One of them was very steep and gave you a real sense of the engineering involved. The walls of all of them are beautifully painted and vary in colour from the very pale to the brightest and most vivid. There are currently 62 tombs here and they vary in size from ones with many corridors and antechambers to simple ones just at the bottom of a flight of steps.

    A pattern begins to emerge when, in order to exit any tourist site, you need to walk through the market. If you don’t engage, there’s no problem. Any interest is an invitation to be hassled. Surprisingly, we made only one stop at an Alabaster factory. We had certainly expected more of these – perfume, jewellery, papyrus, rugs – but maybe I shouldn’t speak too soon!

    Lunch was late and short before we headed out to the Karnak complex of temples at 3pm.
    This is staggeringly large and quite spectacular. It’s a colossal collection of temples, courtyards, colonnades and ruins. There are 134 pillars that dwarf all who enter. (I think I copied that bit from a book!) We heard from friends who visited the Sound and Light show that it is really cheesy and very boring in spots because it is just ‘sound’ – the history of Egypt – for an hour. If you leave after the first half hour then you are right.

    Onto Luxor Temple. Not quite as impressive, but still very good, although we were really starting to tire after the long day of walking in giant gravel pits and along dusty paths. We know we will have plenty of time to explore it at our leisure if we desire, and also because it is on the street, you can see a lot of it just walking by. I’m sorry to appear to have glossed over these two in my report, but it’s hard to describe decorated ruins, you need to walk through them to absorb the atmosphere, and take photos to relive the experience.

    Luxor was generally dusty – it lingered in the air rather than blowing at you – so some more time could be very useful in case the weather is not kind.

    More to come…

    ***************************************************************************
    Sat 23 Feb 2008

    A bit of a sleep in! Woken at 7am to have the bags out by 8am prior to our transfer to our hotel for an extra night. This morning was incredibly hazy but warm enough to be in a T-shirt by 8.30am. The mountains completely disappeared and the dust/haze looked ready to cross the Nile and envelope us. The weather in Luxor was extremely nice and warm. No icy wind as in Aswan. At about 12noon it was 27 degrees.

    I know the cruise ship didn’t sway or rock, but I constantly had the feeling that I was falling over. There was a slight lean in our room I’m sure, so maybe that’s responsible. It took many days after the cruise before the feeling disappeared. Went for a long walk along the Nile for about an hour or more while waiting for the transfer. There was no sense of hassle at all by caleche and felucca drivers – more some happy banter. Had a really nice cafe latte at the hotel – first one since Singapore and very welcome. Coffee on board was the hot plate variety we called ‘American’ coffee.

    This morning at breakfast the waiter spilt coffee over my husband’s placemat and plate but there was no sense that he should do anything about it. No apology, probably just a shrug. When a similar thing happened with my tea, I received a smiling ‘sorry’, but any mess etc was obviously my problem to deal with. Our waiters were trying very hard and had only received very basic training. Mind you, it must be very difficult with so many nationalities to deal with at the same time.

    Negotiated a 10LE ride (down from 30LE) on a caleche to the main ferry area. It costs 1LE for the large local ferry or 5LE (for 2) for a decorated motor boat complete with tout who knows everyone, has a relative who can do anything and basically didn’t stop trying to sell something. Even when we got off, he continued with us because he could show us a ‘shortcut’ to where we wanted to go. Yeah, right!

    We found an old English couple who actually lived down the road and they showed us where we wanted to go. It was a great local hotel with loads of atmosphere, but no view which was what we were really after. So we wandered 50 metres back to the Blue Sky rooftop restaurant with the perfect view over Luxor temple, the Old Winter Palace and scores of cruise boats and feluccas. Stayed safe again (but we hadn’t been sick yet!) and had a pizza – which was excellent –thin and crispy and absolutely worth 15LE.(about $3!)

    You realise how overgoverned we are in Australia. OH&S rules don’t exist anywhere. We saw guys walking around the dome of a new mosque being built, holes in the ground were not cordoned off and electricity worked hanging from lines they were working on. Even getting off the motor boats might entail a walk across another one or two, balancing on a thin platform to cross something else, stepping onto rocks at the edge of the Nile, and then negotiating steep steps up the side. Mind you, there is always a friendly Egyptian to take your hand through all of these.

    Finally caught a felucca back from the restaurant, but there was only a tiny bit of wind so we were rowed part of the way, but when it sprang up just before we docked, it was a wonderful feeling. We hope to try it again. These guys are certainly skilled.

    Had a drink at the Terrace Bar of the Winter Palace – another iconic Egyptian hotel in the style of the Old Cataract, but certainly grander. The shop underneath is brilliant – no hassle, browse away. Another caleche ride back to our hotel as we were really tired by now – 15LE this time. For a standard room, but with a Nile view, this is certainly OK. We are in room 317 at the Steigenberger Nile Palace. It’s even got a king sized bed. Next door is the Sonesta St George which was our original request, but was booked out.
    Squashed in between these two however, was the small Hotel Luxor (I think that was the name) which looked interesting.

    Decided to wander locally for dinner after a 2 hour nap, (turning right) even though this hotel has plenty of eating outlets – Lebanese, Italian, Arabian room out the back complete with bright canvas covers and a couple of others. Most of the restaurants overlook a courtyard where they have entertainment.
    Lots of English pub type restaurants, an Indian one and a Chinese/Korean one. We finally took a punt on a place called Jem’s Restaurant. Up some stairs and then into an almost empty, really kitsch place with bright Cleopatra style paintings on the wall, a shrine type display like the Blue sky, but an interesting feel.
    Turned out brilliantly. Had an Egyptian mezza plate (35LE) between us – baba ganoush, labne, Egyptian salad (very fresh and yummy) hoummus, tabouleh, foul, felafel (one each) and chicken wings (one each),and the best wholemeal Egyptian flat bread.
    2 glasses of ordinary red wine and a cappuccino afterwards concluded a fabulous meal, all whilst looking down at the action below outside. It’s amazing the number of very small children out on the streets at night.
    Still plenty of ‘No charge for looking’, ‘Why you no look?’ and ‘No hassle’ on the way home. Saw a great T-shirt – ‘I came to Egypt to see the pyramids. So leave me alone’.
    Says it all really!

    Fell into bed after one of the best days yet. Lovely long sleep until 8.30am, fabulous powerful shower and equally fabulous brekky.

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    Hi mazj - great trip report!

    We did a similar trip in January (on the Oberoi Philae) - our guide called the barriers and checkpoints - "SSP" - "Silly Security Procedures"!

    Boy you got up early - we did all the same things but our starts weren't that early - not sure it would have added anything to our visit - do you feel it was good?

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    Hi Elizabeth,

    I think maybe it has do with whether you go Aswan to Luxor or the other way. I know it makes a big difference when you start in Luxor because you do the East Bank and West Bank on different days.

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    We went Aswan to Luxor too - 4 nights - glad I didn't have to get up that early! Looking forward to the rest of your trip report - starting to think about a safari in the next year or so.

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    Sun 24 Feb 2008

    It had to happen eventually! Caught a caleche to the market and the driver, quite convincingly, told us that the main bazaar (souk) was closed on Sunday but there was a better one – an original one for Egyptians – that was only open on Sunday. It was in a very sus part of town and was just a building that had a few floors – not the street stall idea we were after. So we promptly left him, much to his disgust, and just started walking around.

    The further away from the Corniche you go, the more real it becomes. Traffic was chaotic and we found a small local bazaar to wander through. A couple of young teenage kids selling scarves really got in my face. But apart from that it was a thoroughly interesting experience. Then we found a more touristy bazaar and I did buy a gold ring and a silver necklace that I liked. We bargained, but probably not aggressively enough. Also bought an alabaster vase for home ( one of the really light, hand made ones) to put with our other souvenirs. Still haven’t found a mask for our collection yet, but possibly that is best left for Tanzania where we go next.

    Did love the way some people referred to my husband as ‘moustache’. ‘Hey, moustache, you want a caleche?’, and the doorman, “Good evening again, moustache’. Tickled our fancy.

    Went back to the Winter Palace because I thought I had left my sunglasses case there, but no joy. I did notice (and here’s one for the trivia/TV buffs!) that when the phone rang, it was exactly the same sound as CTU in ‘24’.
    Had lunch at the ‘Metropolitan’ (advertised everywhere) overlooking the Nile. Only a fair club sandwich, but great outlook. What really spoils all views are the cruise ships – at least 20 long and usually 3 deep. There is a throbbing noise the whole time – even those berthed outside hotels have their engines running and are belching smoke the whole time. Not enormous amounts but enough to cause significant pollution over time you would think.

    As we were leaving at about 4pm the wind sprang up and the feluccas really moved along for the first time in days. Beautiful weather in Luxor, T-shirts every day. We’re going to have some washing for the Marriott in Cairo – hope it’s not expensive. Prices on the ship were quite reasonable. HINT – pack less and get your laundry done as often as you need. Even if it’s $10 every week, then it’s worth it.

    Quick flight back to Cairo to meet with Hisham again. He makes things flow easily. Flight landed at 6.40pm and we were in the Marriott by 8pm.
    The trip was a real eye opener. Bumper to bumper traffic for a while, dodgem cars the whole time (lanes and lights are merely suggestions), flying through a narrow and windy tunnel with only two lanes at 80kph when the signs said 50 and then bursting out into Down Town (spelt Donw Tonw on one sign!) which was teeming with night shoppers. At one stage we passed about 4 or 5 shoe shops beside each other, all very brightly lit. Arriving at the Marriott we didn’t have the bomb check mirror because we were with a tourist guide. First impressions – this may be a former palace, but it’s noisy, bustling and very impersonal. It seems far more business like than anywhere else we’ve stayed. (We did change our minds later)

    Our room overlooks the garden, which is nice, but for some reason we think we have the designated ‘handicapped’ room. We’re on the ground floor, the bathroom is extremely ordinary, with a pedestal basin and no counter top and there are more hand rails than usual.
    (Later when we returned after our safari we had a totally different room, leading us to think our first impression was correct).
    Had a brief look around and settled on the Saraya café for a small dinner – fresh pasta and any sauce you wanted and a little pitcher of wine each. Came to LE180, but, as with everything here, there are always extra charges and taxes, this time amounting to LE40. And an extra 2% if you charge it to your room. (Can’t let you go without tipping!!) This is an exquisite dining area, the ceilings and Moorish chandeliers exactly as they were for the opening of the Suez Canal. You would be hard pressed to find a nicer dining room anywhere – except people are constantly walking through it to get to another part of the hotel. Spend your time looking up and you won’t notice!

    After dinner we wandered around the palace salons. Stunningly gorgeous and large reception rooms, with a grand staircase, large paintings, beautiful chandeliers and oversized furniture, as well as gloriously decorated ceilings. Certainly lives up to their motto – ‘Authentically Palatial’.

    The pyramids to come…

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    Mon 25 Feb 2008

    Woke with a sore throat from all of the dust of Luxor and the pollution of Cairo – but still very excited. Hisham introduced us to Dina who was to be our guide (Egyptologist). First stop after about 40 mins of driving was the Giza plateau. Don’t know about you, but I never really stopped to think about the word plateau, so why it came as a surprise that there was this enormous raised area with pyramids on top, is beyond me.

    All the hotels that are supposedly close to the pyramids are miles from anything else and surrounded by the same choking, bumper to bumper traffic directly outside their front doors.

    We couldn’t contain our excitement while seated in the minivan as Dina gave us the background history to the wonders we were about to experience.
    Then finally - out to photograph, touch, climb a little and otherwise just stand in awe at the sheer magnificence. After reading Seafun’s report (Trip Advisor link) I now realise that we had a really light day in terms of tourists and how incredibly lucky we were. Turn around, and there is Cairo, right at the feet of the pyramids, but lower down, giving some sense of the importance to the plateau. When we could be recalled (might still be there, who knows) we were taken to the area for panorama shots of the 3 pyramids. We declined the camel ride and photo then went on to check each pyramid more closely. My husband has this love affair with old things you can touch (unlike say Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus) knowing that thousands of years ago, someone probably touched the same spot. (He has a point, doesn’t he?)The step pyramid at Saqqara filled him with awe as the oldest stone building in the world.

    When we’d had our fill, we drove down to the sphinx. He looks smaller that maybe you’d imagine and the area designated for tourists to get up close and personal is spoiled by cheap, trinket laden hawkers, whose only role seems to be to take up valuable viewing space. Nevertheless, more gawking and snapping away and getting fellow tourists to photograph you in between the pyramid and the sphinx. We stayed for ages. Had a coffee at the new area behind the Sound and Light seating, which was a surprisingly nice area, relishing more time to just sit, stare and try to burn the image into your brain, knowing that we probably won’t come back here again.

    We were unprepared for a visit to a papyrus factory, where, more surprisingly, we purchased one depicting the Egyptian calendar. That is so clever. (The calendar, not the papyrus making)
    And they have nice loos – more important than you think.

    The drive to Memphis changed from the insane, but oddly relatively calm, bumper to bumper traffic, to more agricultural and rural scenes. Lunch was a buffet (fair at best) at a tourist trap but at least we sat overlooking some smaller pyramids.
    The canal (not too sure what) servicing this area is used as a rubbish dump by the locals and looks disgusting. The area is very poor, very dusty and very run down. There were still some wonderful rural scenes along the way – plenty of donkeys and carts, field workers, mud brick houses and small villages.

    Just after lunch it started to rain and the wind sprang up into a mini dust storm. We dodged some of it while looking at the magnificent statue of Ramses and the Alabaster sphinx, but it was a strange combination of weather occurrences. To think that statue was lying face down in the mud for so long reminded us of the Terracotta Warriors in Xian. There was a similar story to its finding.

    Next stop, Saqqara and the Step Pyramid which was really amazing and a complete surprise because it was a complex of buildings and tombs rather than one lonely pyramid in the desert which was what we had pictured. We spent considerable time wandering around and touching the stones.

    An unexpected (it shouldn’t have been) carpet factory stop was exceedingly brief on the way home. It took us nearly 2 hours. I’m still fascinated by the way the traffic works –and it does – lanes merge, cars cross each other’s paths, people walk through (including children selling stuff) and you just sit back because you know that’s how it is. Living it though, would be untenable.

    King Tut tomorrow!

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    Tues 26 Feb 2008

    Funny thing happened at breakfast this morning. A waiter dropped a milk jug and it broke into pieces on the floor. He looked at it for a while, then picked up one piece and walked off. Two more suited managers in turn, looked hard at the pieces and then also walked off. It’s fascinating watching those sort of occurrences in another country because it does give an insight into their way of doing things. It seemed very much to us like it’s a ‘it’s not my problem’ thing, but it may just be that certain people have certain jobs and that’s that.
    It was a beautiful day, no smog and a real sense of anticipation about our visit to the Egyptian Museum at 12. Only a 15 minute drive there and then a very informative talk by Dina outside. Seems the love affair with King Tutankhamen is to do with the fact that he was found with his treasures intact, nothing to do with anything he accomplished in (his short) life.

    Our first viewing was the incredibly important Rosetta Stone – one of those things you had heard about but had no sense of its appearance. Once the three languages carved into its surface were explained, you could then visualise how this revolutionised the study of hieroglyphics. (It’s very sad that this is only a copy.)
    We then visited the exhibition of what the Australians are uncovering in their excavations. It really makes you think that there is still so much out in the desert that just hasn’t even been discovered yet. Wandered through some other statues and artefacts with Dina providing valuable insights into their place in history.

    Despite the overwhelming array of artefacts here, we were just bursting to see the King Tut room, holding his glorious and well documented mask, the two sarcophagi as well as his jewellery and vast personal adornment collection. We were so lucky when we viewed it – at 1.30pm – there were very few people in the room.
    It is staggeringly gorgeous. His innermost sarcophagus was pure gold and intricately patterned. His mask has pride of place in the centre of the room and is like a magnet to all who enter. To be able to walk around it numerous times and view it from every angle is one of those memories that will last a lifetime. I suppose it’s akin to looking at the Eiffel Tower for the first time – everyone knows what it looks like, but to be there is person is an entirely different feeling. The room also contained a jewellery and adornment collection that was completely unexpected in its magnificence and size.


    Astoundingly, his sandals were thongs (flip flops to the Americans) – and it is patently obvious where the idea for this sort of footwear came from. His camping bed and folding stool were exactly the same as would be used today and he even had a collection of boomerangs. Nowhere else in the world have boomerangs been found, except Australia!
    Equally amazing was the set of four outer containers, each covered in gold leaf, which housed his sarcophagus. The largest was about 12’x12’x12’ (best guess) and the other three all fitted inside like Russian dolls. The rest of his collection is better viewed, than described. He was buried with the most enormous collection of items, including the surgeon’s table so that his organs could be replaced for life on the ‘other side’. It’s a real ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ sort of place!
    I can only hope to give a sense of our wonder, rather than a description of the room which can be found in numerous places.

    To do this museum without a guide, or a decent guide book (which is not the same) would be near impossible. There are so many rich stories associated with so many of the pieces and the majority of them are completely unlabelled. In fact the whole museum looks and feels completely unchanged since it was built. This of course, adds to the charm – you could say that the museum was a museum in itself. It is truly an amazing place to walk around and all too soon did we have to leave, but even this small experience will leave a lasting impression and a reason, maybe, to return when the new one is completed and so many more treasures will be able to be displayed.


    Although it was only a short trip back to the hotel, at least 10mins of it was spent in a traffic snarl travelling a few hundred metres from one end of the Marriott to the other. Had lunch in the delightful Garden Promenade Café – but when I needed to send something back to be reheated, there was an enormous kerfuffle as to who should actually perform this task. ‘Not my problem!’ or ‘Afraid of the chef!’
    Had an interesting wander around the local area and a coffee at Abou ElSeid restaurant which came highly recommended as being very authentic, from people we met, our guide and good folk on travel forums. Didn’t get around to eating there, but it has a great atmosphere.
    The last 1 1/2 hours before pick up to the airport was spent writing postcards and having a lovely hot chocolate in the lobby bar. It’s still noisy, but we have grown very fond of our home away from home.

    Took 50 mins to get to the airport in appalling traffic. International departure lounge is fairly basic and you wouldn’t want to spend a few hours more than necessary here. Plane was delayed an hour and the entire trip to Nairobi was interrupted with announcements.

    Our Egyptian odyssey was over and we then journeyed on to the entirely different and unpredictable experience of an African safari. We returned to Cairo prior to our flight to Singapore and then Melbourne.

    10 Mar 2008 – After the safari

    Nice lie in and slow brekky. We had a relatively quick trip from the airport back to the Marriott last night, taking only one hour from touch down to check-in.
    Brian’s big plan is to attack the Khan El Khalili today. He doesn’t want to buy – just absorb the atmosphere. As usual, he wants to get in a taxi and be part of the mayhem – not my cup of tea at all.

    He has great tales to tell. He negotiated a taxi ride home with a very smart looking fellow who assured him he was a good driver, then had him (the driver) replaced at the last minute and realising that it wasn’t a taxi he jumped out very quickly. LOL
    He walked up and down laneways into a dead end and felt a little vulnerable, had a coffee at Fishwari’s, sat on a lounge chair watching business men chat and was offered a wallet for $40 by a guy who followed him for ages. When the same guy offered this wallet again for $10 at the coffee shop, he suddenly recognised Brian (who saw him coming and was trying to look inconspicuous) and broke into a large grin saying - ‘Ah - $40!’
    He found an old mosque which he ventured into and embarrassingly revealed a hole in his sock when he removed his shoes. (Can’t take him anywhere, really!)

    Having negotiated a price for the taxi ride home, he found that it was to be renegotiated during the trip. My fears were apparently realistic, for his driver smoked, spat and counted his money as he drove!

    Went to LAubergine for dinner which is only a few hundred metres from the Zamelek Tower exit. It’s a vegetarian place with a non-vege menu as well. Food was exceptionally nice, service friendly and it has a modern interior and a very cosmopolitan crowd. Still can’t get used to people smoking in restaurants though.

    11 Mar 2008

    Check out today, transfer to the airport at 8.30pm and flight at 12.30am. We tried to fill in the time hanging around the hotel and wandering up the street. It wasn’t quite so busy when we went out to dinner last night. Today, however, was insane - the noise, the grit in your eyes, the sheer amount of people. Can’t say I love it or hate it – it’s just different.

    There were people hanging out of buses, school children running around and playing soccer on the footpath, taxi drivers touting for business and cars tripled parked bumper to bumper filling every nook and cranny. Walking inside the Marriott was like entering a different world. Caught up with some reading and wanted to give the Saraya café one last visit as it was so beautiful, but the air-conditioning made it a bit chilly, so we opted for the garden café again. This proved to be an equally memorable last night with all the fairy lights providing a new element to the atmosphere – and it was warmer.

    Hung around the airport for the last couple of hours and didn’t notice much of the 10 hour flight back to Singapore. Jet lag started to kick in and we felt appalling – fragile, wobbly, tired. This feeling increased after the flight to Melbourne and took a few days to subside. But would we do it all again – in a heartbeat!


    Thanks again for reading and for your supportive comments. Any help I can give to another traveller would be a delight, as I received so much assistance from this site.

    Safari report is at
    http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35116395&start=0&dirtyBit=1
    (titled It’s hard NOT to love Africa (except for some bits)

    And

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g293747-i9226-k1819895-It_s_hard_NOT_to_love_Africa_except_for_some_bits-Tanzania.html

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    Loved your report! Thanks so much. My daughter and I are going to Egypt in October. Don't have the details nailed down yet, but I've been looking at the Sun Goddess. Could you provide a little more detail about the ship? Did you see any of the basic rooms (how lucky for you to get upgraded!)? Were they clean?

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    althom1122,

    During room cleaning times when the doors were open, we sneaked a peak at a few and they looked very good. We would have been happy with one of those. Our bathroom was spacious and I'm sure the others would have been too. Have you checked out their website?

    We were very happy with our ship (except for the meals on the sundeck which didn't eventuate due to wind - but that could happen anywhere!)It would have added to the experience we thought.

    It was clean and comfortable and a reasonable price. There were two evening buffets - the Middle Eastern one being the standout - and two set menus with a choice of dishes. You were placed on a table for the duration of the cruise and we met some lovely people through this.

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    Mazj,
    Thanks - we're usually pretty much budget travelers, so I expect we'll think it's just fine!
    Regarding the tours - you mentioned you hung back and got with a small group. Did you stay with that group the entire time, or did you just get teamed up as you came off the boat each time? Were the groups generally fairly large? I've considered hiring our own guide, at least for the day in Aswan. I'm not crazy about large group tours and, to be blunt, don't have a lot of patience for long-winded guides. On the other hand, is it worth the cost, or did you feel like you had a pretty good guided experience? And lastly, if you wanted to hire your own guide to meet you when you came off the boat, would that be doable or did the boat "keep tabs" on you such that you couldn't go off on your own?
    Thanks so much. It's great having someone who just went on the same ship we're thinking about (and I probably better get busy booking it!).
    Karen

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    Karen,

    It wasn't so much that we hung back, but more that we didn't know what was going on. Apparently someone (but we didn't see who) was organising people who spoke the same language to go with a ship's guide who also spoke that language.

    There were times when we were unable to leave the ship because it may have been leaving in an hour or two and they didn't want to go looking or wait for people.

    Our cruise was booked through our travel agent at home, and all site seeing from the ship was included. Because we had stayed an extra 2 nights in Aswan before the cruise started, we were able to wander around and look at things ourselves. I personally don't think a guide is necessary in Aswan - it's fairly small and most things you would want to see would be in walking distance.

    As for the group size, it seemed to vary. The first time we went out there were 30 people. The guide was very knowledgeable and helpful at filling in all the stories associated with what we were seeing. It was easy, however, to just wander off on your own after the guided bit as he always said where and when he would meet us. Sometimes I just took photos and didn't really listen and then hurried to catch up! Easy done.

    At other times when we went out there were fewer that 20 people as some decided not to come. It was different each time, and yes, personally we felt the guide from the ship was good value. Not really long-winded, but very informative.

    I'm sure it would be fine if you had your own guide, but as far as I know, the site seeing is included.


    Ask anything. Happy to help, because I was helped so much by others.
    Maz

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    Thank you mazj for such an interesting report.

    My husband & I are in the very early stages of planning a trip to Egypt and have a few questions.

    We are thinking of taking the Nile cruise as you did and wondering if you felt it was worthwhile or better to arrange guided tours to these areas. Our thinking is the cruise may be more relaxing.

    There are so many differing opinions on the accommodations and food on these boats. We are looking at the 5 star deluxe on either the Sun Goddess, Moon Goddess or Oberai. All of these are offered through Viking Tours a company which my husband used 7 years ago to visit Cairo and was very happy with their services.

    Also, is there anything you would change about your itinerary?

    Thank you for your reply.

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    Royal,

    The most important, and best thing we did was to arrange two nights in Aswan prior to the cruise and a night in Luxor after it (which amounted to two full days because of our flight schedule.) This allows you to see more of these places and get a real feel for them - like taking yourself on a felucca for lunch over to the West Bank in Luxor. The Sun Goddess was very nice, but certainly not 5* deluxe by our standards - more like 4. We figured if the food didn't make you sick, then it was OK, but they are catering to a large group of likes and dislikes, so not everyone will be happy. We were fine with it.

    The tours on the cruise were very good, the only area of concern was doing the West Bank and the East Bank of Luxor in one day. That was too much. The cruises which leave Luxor, do these on separate days. Check out as many companies on the web as you can, because you will also see their itineraries. We also gave things like the Nubian Show and the Galabaya party a miss.

    The Moon Goddess has 48 cabins, whereas ours had 60 I think. The Star Goddess has fewer, and I think is the newer of the Sonestas - and claims a a-la-carte restaurant service if that is important to you. The Moon Goddess has a-la-carte dinners and I think we walked through this one and it looked a bit better - at least from our view of the lobby. We ended up getting the ship the fitted in with our flights so maybe organise the ship first.

    As for Cairo, we had a guide for the Pyramids, Saqqara and the museum (also as part of the whole tour) and would recommend that. Lots of people organise private ones and it seems easy according to this site.
    Happy to keep answering.

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    Thank you so much for your informative answers to my questions.

    This was exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for and will help us greatly in organizing this trip.

    Will definitely plan to start our cruise in Luxor as you suggested.

    Appreciate your taking the time to answer me so promptly.

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    Hi, we'll be in Egypt in April. Just wondering what type of clothing and shoes you wore. Being a female, I'm in a quandry as what to take. I want to honor their customs, but yet don't want to be sweltering in long pants.... We'll be in Cairo, Luxor, Nile Cruise, Abu Simbel and Aswan.

    Any guidance you can offer would be appreciated.

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    Hi SWD,

    From what we see of weather reports for Cairo right now - it's very hot!
    I had T-shirts and 3/4 pants for everywhere, but then the temperature was low to high 20sC and extremely pleasant. I had travel sandals (because we also did a safari)and casual trainers that did not need socks, for street wear, rather than site seeing. On cruises you can wear swimming costumes and shorts etc on the sundeck without any problems. Even when I look at other people's photos I see lots of shorts on females when out looking at temples etc. It does get very hot in Aswan and Luxor I hear.

    You might get better responses if you start a new thread that relates to April travel. Hope you have a wonderful time.

    And Royal, always check out what someone says, just in case things have changed.(like starting in Luxor to get two days to do the touring)

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    SWD - It does get quite hot. I usually found that lightweight/loose fitting cotton pants (NOT jeans) or long flow-y skirts were the most comfortable. Keeps the sun off your skin but still cool and comfy.

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