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

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

Old Mar 21st, 2015, 05:41 PM
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Love your account of Alexandria, Brit, and glad that you were able to see your childhood home. I too adopt a similar mindset when it comes to travel. I considered Iran for this year but the visa process was more complicated than I had time at the time. Uzbekistan is on my list too, as are the Caucasus.
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Old Mar 21st, 2015, 06:34 PM
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Thursdays, sharing a dahabiya would be great! We were on a half-empty small ship back in 1990 (or so).

enjoying your report, wtb.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2015, 12:39 PM
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Thanks for all the encouragement!

CAIRO

We loved Cairo in all its chaos. Yes, the traffic is unbearable, there are too many people and the pollution is horrendous but it has so much to offer. What I remembered of Cairo was for the most part irrelevant to our visit as tourists. I remembered Turkish delight from Groppis, the Sporting Club, the old pool at Mena House, wild wedding parties with belly dancers and the pizzeria at the old Nile Hilton. I remembered gazing onto the face of Ramses in the mummy room and wandering the bazaar but clearly I had missed most the historic and architectural aspects of the city!

Two days to see Cairo was not enough time. I don’t have the patience for a chronological retelling but here are a few highlights.

Of course the Egyptian Museum located off Tahir Square was fabulous. The building and the displays are out-of-date but the items are extraordinary. We arrived in the afternoon and opted to see the museum on our own which suited us well. I’m sure lots of others have written about it so I won’t go on but the museum is arranged chronologically with the Tutunkhamun room upstairs. Do make sure to see the next door Tanis silver room which houses a spectacular horde of grave goods including a silver sarcophagi.

We were lucky enough to be in the Tut exhibit on our own, with only the guard for company. I was so mesmerized by the collection that I kept going back into the room and waiting the other visitor out until I could have it all alone again in the silence. The jewelry, the famous death mask and the sandals were highlights.

We visited the Hanging Church and it was fascinating to learn a little more about the Coptic community in Egypt one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The Coptic Museum was in our program but we wanted to take things slowly so we decided to cut it out though this is somewhere I’d like to see on a future visit. We also went to the nearby Ben Ezra Synagogue which was previously a Coptic church. We’ve visited a lot of Jewish sites across the Middle East (including Morocco, Syria, and Iran) and it’s important to remember that Jews were a vibrant minority community in many of these parts of the world.

We liked our guide Hoda who was a serious, intelligent and thoughtful young woman. We very much enjoyed seeing several mosques with her including the Al Azhar Mosque (part of the university) which is a center of Islamic learning that has global influence and students from all over the world. What was great was that we were able to walk to the mosque from our hotel, Le Riad.

The neighborhood of Islamic Cairo is a fantastical warren of streets that are mostly too narrow for cars. here it’s all about people, mosques, madrassas, goods for sale and a chaotic street scene with neighbors sitting out and shop keepers calling out to those who are passing. We really enjoyed walking through these areas and took a walk with Hoda down to the tent makers street. Ideally we would have had a couple of extra days to explore on our own.

There are quite a number of restored house which you can visit, several just across from our hotel. Much like the roads you see in Morocco and the houses in Damascus and Aleppo these are lavish homes, built around inner facing courtyards, often with water fountains as a feature. They feature screens, and sometimes secret rooms behind which women could discreetly observe the visitors coming and going. We had hoped to see one house but found it closed until a wonderful woman (who turned out to be a camera woman for Egyptian tv) just waved us in with her. She was there setting up for a traditional music concert that was being broadcast that evening. We experienced this kind of luck and welcome all over Egypt.

In addition to Al Azhar mosque we saw so many gorgeous sites in the old city, including the famous Khan el-Khalili bazaar, the Sultan Hassan mosque and several of the Medieval city gates. But it was the street scenes that were so memorable, the sense and smell of daily like, the fruit sellers, hawker and the call to prayer.

WE also went to the Citadel which is a popular site for local visitors. There are a number of significant buildings and museums up here including the Mohammed Ali mosque, built in the familiar domed Turkish style. It’s all very monumental up here and I didn’t find it nearly as interesting as the earlier mosques such as the Ibn Tulun.

Overall I think the Ibn Tulun mosque was my favorite building in the city. It doesn’t have the decorative detail or glamour of the later Al Azhar mosque but there’s power and grandeur in its stark simplicity. This maybe the earliest mosque in Cairo and it dates from 876, just over two hundred years after the prophet’s death. The minaret is unlike anything we’d ever seen with a staircase winding up the outside. It was great to climb up and look out over Cairo from this vantage point.

If you read the blog you may know I’m a great fan of small house museums and one of the joys of visiting the Ibn Tulun mosque was a visit to the adjacent Gayer-Anderson Museum. I love the idiosyncrasy of individual collections, the lost rhyme and reason for pairing the objects, the combinations of important and insignificant all together in a time capsule. The Gayer-Anderson Museum is a wonderful example of all this and is filled with antiquities, stone and sculptural fragments, rugs, furniture and curiosities.

Built right into the wall of the mosque this Ottoman (Turkish) house was occupied between 1935 and 1942 by the British Major, Gayer Anderson. The house became a repository for his collection of Oriental antiquities and passed to the Egyptian government before his death in 1945. It’s a charming place with warren like rooms, secret viewing areas, as well as several inner courtyards and terraces. The combination of the museum and adjacent mosque was a highlight of out trip.

After this we are on to Luxor....
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Old Mar 22nd, 2015, 05:40 PM
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WellTraveledBrit, your account of Cairo is an absolute joy to read. I love how you were able to dig into everyday Cairo that most tourists don't experience. I'm with you on house museums; it really gives you a glimpse of how some people in an area live in a particular moment in time.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2015, 06:21 PM
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Luxor is the center of the great Pharaonic sites in Egypt. On the West Bank are the grand monuments of the Theban necropolis, here you see the monuments to the dead; tombs including the Valley of the Kings and mortuary temples for Pharaohs like Ramses and Hatshepsut. On the East Bank is the town of Luxor, which houses the great temple of Karnak and Luxor temple built on the edge of the Nile.

By the time we got to Luxor I was already overwhelmed by history, this wasn’t good because there was lots more to absorb! We’d opted to spend one night in town and then move to the fabulous Al Moudira a boutique hotel on the West Bank. We stayed at the Pavillion Winter, essentially a modern wing of the historic Winter Palace Hotel. It’s a great value and you get access to all the facilities of the Winter Palace for a fraction of the cost. It was a great choice for us. If you want to stay in one of the old historic hotels I'd opt for the far more luxurious Old Cataracts in Aswan it’s a much better value than the unrenovated Winter Palace. More details and picture on my blog. I love having a glass of rose on the terrace overlooking the corniche. We were all alone until another couple came along.

http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2015/...lon-luxor.html

We arrived in from the airport and enjoyed a lovely lunch at Sofra a restaurant owned by the travel agent. It’s Egyptian food and we really liked the atmosphere. It was generous of them to host us. After lunch we headed to Karnak Temple with the guide, WOW. What can I say, I was entirely overwhelmed, it’s a temple complex rather than a single structure and I found it was just too much to take in, with structure after structure and more history than I could absorb. But is all beautiful in a ruinous way. The next day we relaxed and walked over to Luxor Temple on our own, this was the only time we had a negative interaction with an angry, rather desperate tout, very tedious. I really like Luxor Temple which is a very manageable size. The restoration of the avenue of sphinxes is lovely. WE were taking things easy and didn’t make it to the Luxor Museum though it was highly recommended.

On the West Bank there is just so much to see and I don’t know that cataloging it all is helpful. All I can do is give you some general recommendations. The tomb of Ramses V/VI is highly recommended as is the tomb of Ay in the Western Valley. We loved the tombs of the workers and the tombs of the nobles, buy extra tickets so you can see everything that’s open. The worker’s tombs were so interesting, though far simpler in their decoration they have a naive charm and give you a sense for everyday life. the excavated worker’s village is also interesting and had a charming Ptolemaic era temple.

We very much enjoyed the following, you can see pictures and details on the blog
Ramusseum,
http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2015/03/ramusseum.html

Medinet Habu
http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2015/...inet-habu.html

and Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple at Deir el Bahri
http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2015/...-el-bahri.html

Every night we returned to the delightful Al Moudira. I can’t rave about this place enough, what charm. Run by a cultured Lebanese woman it’s tasteful, elegant and stylish. A sort of Arabian fantasy with good service! Our enormous room had beautiful domed ceiling, a separate sitting area and a four poster bed. At night we ate lovely meals. Unfortunately for them the entire place was empty, apart from a couple of guests at dinner we were the only ones there for four nights. It’s a travesty that such a beautiful place isn’t full. Check out the picture and you’ll see what I mean. There isn’t anything similar in Egypt and it was a delight. The travel agent must have secured an excellent rate.
http://www.moudira.com/hotel.php

One of the things we did while we were in Luxor was visit ACE Egypt (Animal Care in Egypt). This is a wonderful organization that offers free veterinary care to all animal, including dogs, cats, donkeys and horses. WE had read about them before we arrived and had brought a few items from their online wish list, it’s just so easy to throw a couple of things in your bag. Anyway they do incredible work and have a whole education program with the local schools. because tourism is down they are struggling with lower donations and of course because of the economic climate their work is more necessary than ever. It was fascinating to visit. We normally try to make contact with some sort of charity and normal pick something along the lines of, women, health or education but it was good to visit an animal charity too. Highly recommended and they are happy to have visitors anytime.

http://www.ace-egypt.org.uk

By the time we left Luxor I was really tired. It’s a demanding pace if you are really trying to learn and absorb what you are seeing. The though of the boat drifting down the Nile sounded perfect. Good job we’d booked a dahabiya. Well the big news was that we were the ONLY people on the boat, incredible!

http://www.nile-dahabiya.com

More to follow….
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Old Mar 23rd, 2015, 05:17 PM
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Well, the title rather optomistically promised you "Five Thousand Years in 19 days - Pyramids, Tombs, Camels and a River" and so far I've covered the pyramids and some tombs so I guess this is the river and camel section!

When we were planning the trip I knew I didn't want to travel on one of the standard cruisers. I looked into the high end options (there were excellent reductions on Sonesta) but they didn't appeal either, all a bit over the top luxurious without any local character. We aren't cruise people but we have taken a river boat journey on the Niger and a more luxurious one in India down the Bramaputra. The later trip was immortalized another time by dogster in what may remain the best every trip report on Fodors.

Anyway, when I looked into our options, the dahabiyas looked like the best way to go. The only questions was price. All of the websites were opaque, lots of lovely pictures but no details on when they sailed or how much they cost, very irritating. That was until I found Djed. Here's their site. Prices, dates, everything you need to plan your trip. One of my concerns was that we would book with a company and because there were no other guests they would put us on someone else's boat. This sort of thing is much more prevalent when things are quiet. I really wanted to avoid this by booking with an agency that runs their own boats. My thinking was that this would be a more reliable route.
http://www.nile-dahabiya.com

Well it certainly worked out. I just can't rave enough about the entire experience. It turns out that not only do they guarantee their departures but they guarantee them regardless of the number of guests. So the Dahabiya Louila was going with just D. and myself and we had been upgraded to the largest too with a lovely outdoor balcony at the back of the boat. AS my younger friends would say, "Sweeeet..."

Things just kept getting better on this trip!

Here is my blog post on the whole Dahabiya experience, with lots of pictures too, check out the charming bathroom and the four poster brass bed!

http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2015/...p-nile-in.html

As I mentioned earlier, by the time we arrived at the dahabiya we were exhausted. We had seen so much in Cairo, Alexandria and Luxor, perhaps too much! I was having trouble processing all the information about different dynasties, temples and pharaohs. It was the perfect time to slow down.

There is nothing "necessary" about these boat trips, you can see many of the major sites by road, though very few people seem to do it this way. However, there is something special about river journeys, getting onto the water in an unhurried way gives you a change to absorb what you are seeing. It reminds you to enjoy your holiday and to relax. It gave us a chance to absorb what we had seen and it reenergized us for Aswan, which is why I'd recommend putting the cruise in the middle of your program Because everything is planned for you, all you have to do is show up - which is why you have such great time!

What is so wonderful about being on a dahabiya is that in addition to visiting the larger temples (including Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo) you are able to stop at smaller sites along the Nile. We walked to small tombs where they hadn't seen visitors for days and had the opportunity to walk through some of the small riverside villages. We even stopped at the camel market in Daraw on the last day. Many of the camels are brought up from Sudan on a 40 day journey. What I couldn't believe I was seeing was a chap driving away with three camels in the back of his pick up truck. It was an interesting stop but probably not for the soft hearted animal lover.

Everything about the cruise was well thought out, well paced and well done. The guide Abdullah was one of the best guides we've had and he suited us very well. Intelligent, insightful and knowledgable he really wanted us to learn about ancient and contemporary Egyptian life. Getting to see something of rural Egypt in the company of an excellent guide was fantastic, doing it on a private boat was even better. There's lots of time to sit and read and we even saw a meteor shower late one evening as we moored on the riverbank.

Well, if that wasn't enough our next stop was Abu Simbel...
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Old Mar 23rd, 2015, 05:34 PM
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Looks wonderful!

BTW, have you read Elizabeth Peter's mysteries set in Egypt in the early 1900s?
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Old Mar 23rd, 2015, 05:51 PM
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I haven't read them but they looked like fun.

I did look at her non fiction work on everyday life in Ancient Egypt "Red Land, Black Land" written as Barbara Mertz
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Old Mar 24th, 2015, 03:46 PM
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SIDENOTE Opinion on Luxor Hotels

When we were in Luxor we stayed at the Pavillon Winter which is a modern wing of the historic Winter Palace located near the Luxor Temple on the corniche. Essentially it's a lot cheaper and shared the same amenities. Once renovated, the Winter Palace will be unbeatable but at the current rates the Old Cataract in Aswan is a better place to flash your cash.
For picture and a discussion of why i think the Pavillion Winter is a great value see

http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2015/...lon-luxor.html
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Old Mar 26th, 2015, 09:57 AM
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ABU SIMBEL

Abu Simbel was a wonder and for us it was well worth the hassle of the three hour trip there and back
http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2015/03/abu-simbel.html

We were sorry to leave the dahabiya as we’d had such a wonderfully relaxing time but we were revived and ready to see/learn lots more. The cars to Abu Simbel leave Aswan in a convey several times a day in what seems to be an ongoing security measure. We opted for the noon convey which mean we had time to see the Nubian Museum before heading out for the drive through the desert. I

highly recommend the museum which give you a wonderful sense for the history, culture and art of the Nubian people. My only disappointment was that one of the key elements in Nubian history was the forced displacement of 100,000’s of Nubians during the construction of the Aswan Dam. As usual the story in the museum focused on the “engineering marvels” and the successful relocation of artifacts and temples, Abu Simbel included. It seemed inconceivable to me that incredible sacrifice of the Nubians should not have been highlighted in their museum but then the museum is about the government’s story.

When gathered for the convey there were only a few cars and the armed Egyptian Army guard could see our minivan was the most comfortable. Up he hopped into the front seat and promptly fell asleep with his machine gun on his knee. Through out Egypt we saw and passed through army and police check points. In Tahir Sq we were stopped in a car with an Egyptian friend but waved through fairly quickly. The Egyptian military has considerable influence through many layers of the economy whether they are currently (officially) running the country or not.

Most people who stay overnight opt to see Abu Simbel at sunrise when the sun shines directly on the face of the temple. However, there is very little that will get me up before dawn, maybe a flight to somewhere interesting but if I’m honest not will do it. I won’t queue for brunch either!

So, after a quick refresh at the lovely small hotel where we stayed ( Eskaleh Nubian Lodge ) we opted to head straight to the temple. As we arrived we passed a couple of small groups leaving and by the time we turned the corner to see the temples ahead of us we were the only tourists there. I couldn’t believe it. This is one of the great wonders of the ancient world and we had it all to ourselves, no jostling, noisy compatriots just calm and quiet.

We were in a sort of gleeful shock as it became apparent that not only were we the only people but that no one else would be joining us. It wasn’t that we had it to ourselves for a few minutes, the way we had enjoyed the Tutenkhamun room at the Egyptian Museum, it was that none else was coming between the time we arrived and when the site closed, incredible. This was one of my all time travel highlights and it says everything about why you should go to Egypt now. D. tipped the temple guard as we had done throughout the trip and then even the guard left, yes we were truly there on our own! I was somewhat surprised by Abu Simbel. It’s one stop shopping, but the images I’d seen were all about the facade, while in fact what mesmerized us was the interior walls, statues and decoration. here once again Ramses declares his status across thousands of years and we can still see how important and powerful he was.
Initially we'd opted to have guide in Abu Simbel but we changed our mind on the boat and decided to see it alone. I was really glad we made this change. We couldn't have liked our guide Abdullah more, and we would be catching up with him in Aswan, but it was great to have some time to see things entirely on our own. It's a delicate balance between alone time and the knowledge, insight and companionship a good guide can bring.

We headed back to the Eskaleh Nubian Lodge where we were staying and took a lovely walk down by Lake Nasser. The owner is a lovely man and a well known musician who spent time in France and it was interesting to hear how he came to build the lodge. They have lovely gardens and a cheeky young donkey who you can see eating my handbag on the blog! We were the only people staying there and they upgraded us to a larger room which was simple but quite lovely. We had a nice meal overlooking the lake and left at about 10am the next day. I wouldn’t have done the day trip with two three plus hour drives each was but the overnight worked well for us.
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Old Mar 26th, 2015, 11:18 AM
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Sounds great! When I visited Abu Simbel in 2000 we flew in and out on the same day, and there was a Japanese tour group that ALL had to have their photos taken in front of the temple... (Plus I had to get up early to make the flight, lol.)
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Old Mar 26th, 2015, 11:55 AM
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Thanks for the encouragement my enthusiasm is starting to flag. Here I am writing and blogging about Egypt when I'm meant to be packing for the UK!
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Old Mar 26th, 2015, 12:35 PM
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I'm still here and enjoying.
I went to Abu Simbel 2 years ago and similarly had it almost to myself... there were 4 of us there. We too did the drive through the desert before it got light and had the dawn there. It was wonderful; lack of other tourists certainly added enchantment. I am old enough to remember its relocation in 1968 or thereabouts.
Likewise Karnak. I don't know which of the 2 impressed me most. It is fantastic to be able to stand among all that ancient history and not be told to KEEP OUT or be surrounded by crowds of other people and loud guides.
We got a felucca on the Nile for just an overnight. 6 of us this time and we slept on the deck.
Your TR is bringing back all kinds of nice memories. Also of the G&T at the Winter Palace.
Enjoy your UK trip. I think I am headed there in June!
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Old Mar 26th, 2015, 12:58 PM
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Anyone in the UK in late Aug early Sept?
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Old Mar 26th, 2015, 01:29 PM
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Unfortunately I'll be gone by August.

We'll be in London April 1- June 30th. I have a flight to Helsinki July 1st and then one back to SFO from Berlin on July 14th.

Gertie, the felucca sounds fun. I enjoyed Karnak but it was a little busier and I found it overwhelming. It's such a large site that I found it much harder to grasp, perhaps because we were a little tapped out after all we had seen in Cairo.. If you'd like to meet up you can contact me on my blog, I see we both have Yemen on our wish lists!
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Old Mar 26th, 2015, 02:08 PM
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Have wanted to go to Yemen ever since I read Freya Stark and Tim Mackintosh-Smith. And the Bradt Guide! However I'm not sure this is the best time after the events of this past week or so. Likewise Iraq: I was all set to go in 2011 and should have. Something happened and I put it off. Things are less auspicious now. Living in the US it's hard to know how much negative stuff to believe. I'm always more optimistic in the UK.
I arrive in LHR 24 June but will only be in London 2 days before I shoot off to Wales.
Then back in London 22 July-4 Aug, then back to IAH.
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Old Mar 26th, 2015, 02:22 PM
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I agree not really the best time for Yemen or Iraq. Yemen does sound fascinating we looked into it years ago when I was looking at an Ethiopis/ERitra scenario. Flying between the two involved flying via a third country and Sanaa was a possibility. IT was one of those trips that never happened, no matter how much we travel there are a lot of trips that don't quite come to be.

Nice to hear the UK makes you more optimistic, I'm an optimist by nature but perhaps it will help my husband!
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Old Mar 26th, 2015, 03:13 PM
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Thanks for your account of Abu Simbel. Seems like it is one of those places that you have to see it to fully appreciate it.
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Old Mar 26th, 2015, 03:40 PM
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'I'm always more optimistic in the UK."

I always make sure to read the UK FCO travel advisories as a corrective to the US ones!
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Old Mar 28th, 2015, 06:45 AM
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FYI on Egyptian visas and tourism: http://news.liveandinvestoverseas.co...ving-in-egypt/
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