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Trip Report Nine months to Egypt (but you should go now)

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I have spent the last few years reading trip reports on Fodors for advice and inspiration, and this year two trip reports really helped put together a trip to Egypt. So this is my way of paying it forward, these trip reports are really accurate and helpful and I want to tell readers what Egypt is like now in these last few months of 2016 and why they should visit it for sure. A huge thank you to welltraveledbrit & SelfPropelledTripod who had such a great time in Egypt and told us about it.

Firstly why Egypt? I’d grown up reading about the pharaoh’s and pyramids. The antiquity of Egyptian civilization is hard to wrap your head around, these massive structures were built when Rome, Athens and all didn’t even exist and no comparable large scale structures from civilizations of a similar time exist. The colour and yes even glamor that TV & Hollywood has bestowed on Egypt is hard to resist and from what I saw it seems justified. These are the reasons I can give.

But the question I was most asked by friends and well-wishers is a different why? Why go to a place which is unsafe, the middle east is in turmoil why visit it now? Yes some parts of the Middle East are facing violent conflict and war, do not visit Syria, Iraq and Yemen for sure. Think twice about visiting Lebanon if you will but Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and the other countries do not have any active conflicts and have good tourist infrastructure waiting for elusive visitors. Having said that, visits to Sinai and the western desert areas of Egypt are warned against by the travel advisories and visitors will do well to stick to the Nile Valley and red sea coast. Indeed due to this perception or fear of instability the tourism industries of these areas are at an all time low – with record low hotel occupancy and low number of tourists at major sites. That’s why this is a great time for really really good deals and wonderful pictures and being treated like kings in most places.

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    I have a confession to make here, I usually love to plan my travels to the smallest detail (and except for one impulsive trip to Nepal where except for the plane tickets I did not have anything else planned or booked) I always make sure I give myself enough time to plan things out. Here’s what happened with the Egypt trip. I read the wonderful trip reports of welltraveledbrit & SelfPropelledTripod in February 2016. It sounded so wonderful and adventurous (even romantic) I was hooked. I looked at tickets and Etihad had great prices for Cairo. So tickets were booked. Yes my impulsive side intervened. All indications were that the best time to visit was from October to February (winter) so since I did not have enough time to ponder and plan like I always do I settled on October rather than immediately setting off. Twelve days in Egypt nine months away, that sounded like enough time, images of the sphinx and pyramids floated in my vision and I relished the task ahead over the months to plan the perfect vacation aided as I was with wonderful trip reports and the vast trove of detail all over the net.

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    This is as much a story of the nine months that went before the actual trip to Egypt. Any other destination you book tickets plan a little visit and have a great time. Egypt was a special circumstance case. When I booked tickets way back in February the Metroject crash in October 2015 (a year ago from now) had happened, it was a terrorist thing, nothing else had happened after that though various airlines had canceled direct flights to the Sinai area and even to other cities. I had just reassured my self that this is a one off thing not going to happen again and then the Egyptair hijacking to Cyprus happened in March and the Egyptair crash into the Mediterranean happened in May. I’d also by this time planned my itinerary and booked flights from Cairo to Luxor and then from Aswan to Cairo. My carefully laid plans were about to go haywire. Was this an Egypt and Egyptair thing? Was there more to follow and should I just give up on this trip? I was undecided for months and random things just reiterated the safety aspect – anyone thinking of air travel and accidents would realize that content in our movies and TV has these topics rather prominently. The film ‘Sully’ comes to mind – did not watch it, then out of no where I switch on the TV and Meg Ryan in French Kiss is on air – and I was like that sounds like me, that’s how I feel about flying to Egypt, I have lots of examples of things which made me think twice of going on this trip. Add to this the fact that the very evil terror group I would not like to name was rooting around in Libya and parts of Sinai and I was thinking ‘this is what happens when you do impulsive things’, ‘why couldn’t I just go someplace safe like Japan.’ Some how Japan sounds solidly safe to me – don’t ask why.

    Now to the reassuring part obviously I have survived to write this report. Egyptair was as safe as any other airline and they do security checks at the airports – I just wish it was more consistent. Sometimes it was very thorough sometimes they would just wave you through – somewhat scary. But Egypt is safe. Never while on the ground did I feel unsafe at all, I did not even think of safety while visiting sites and travelling around so re-assuring was the whole tourist, travel thing. There is massive security at all destinations and even at some hotels. Soldiers with automatic rifles were present at the pyramids and less visibly armed soldiers at the Luxor temples, Egyptian Museum etc. In some sites like Kom Ombo the bag check machine was not working – wish the government would get it looked at soon. But on the ground normal Egyptians we met did not feel that they were under threat. Reading most news articles you would imagine there is a repressed revolution just waiting to happen. That may be the case for some people but what the country has gone through in 2011 and then again with the next president being ousted, the Egyptian people it looks like just want to get on with their lives and have the economy improve.

    The impact of all these fears for safety has been sad for the people of course, especially those in the tourism industry. At each site we visited there were shops with no visitors, just a bored shop keeper wondering when people will visit, hotels with may be 20-30% occupancy, empty restaurants and even the major sites had very few people. The pyramids at Giza may have had a hundred folks between the three of them, Karnak and Luxor temples may have had around ten to thirty people at most and sometime the whole site is empty (Edfu & Kom Ombo) and it’s just you walking around and taking pictures as you please. That’s why this is the best time to visit, the normal hordes of tourists are staying away, the market is low so you get good prices and every site is empty so awesome pictures are guaranteed.

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    Leo - I haven't been on Fodors much recently but I'm really delighted to see (and follow along) on your trip report. So chuffed to read that my TR along with SelfPropelledTripod's was inspiring :). Thanks very much for letting me know I really appreciate it.

    TR are always quite a task, I know I currently have one hanging over my head from Cuba! It really is extraordinary t have these amazing sites to oneself...looking forward to reading more!

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    Now to an important part of our trip, the tour operator. Both SelfPropelledTripod and Welltraveledbrit had travelled with Djed tours and I chose to do so as well. There are countries where you could just go and explore on your own somehow Egypt from what I read did not seem like one of them. Sure there are the brave folks who take buses and taxis on their own, read up in advance or take along a guide book, but they are awesome and that sort of travel was not for me at least not in Egypt. I’ve heard of tourists wasting time bargaining and arguing with taxi drivers who wanted to be paid only a certain amount and that too in dollars – not for me. I wrote to Djed in February as soon as I had my tickets and they replied promptly. I specified that I wanted to see Pharonic Egypt and nothing else. The Pyramids, Karnak, Hatshepsut’s temple in Luxor and Abu Simble down south. I was very particular about Abu Simble having heard about it when I was a child and seeing pictures of how UNESCO had the statues carefully cut and moved to another location, there was no way I could have missed Abu Simble. They reverted promptly asking if I’d like to visit in September as by then the summer heat would reduce, and with an itinerary which included all the sites I wanted to see as well as a few others that are considered important. I stuck to my earlier dates but enquired about taking a dahabiya down the Nile, a lot of folks had had a lovely time travelling the Nile by Dahabiya. They reverted with a different itinerary which had three days on the dahabiya – floating from temple to temple. Sounds lovely right? I thought it over a lot and then declined, its an enchanting idea but three days is too much time for me. I’d go crazy sitting in one place or even a boat for so long. If it was one day I’d have grabbed the chance. As it is they do a minimum of three days on the dahabiya where you are provided with meals and you disembark to visit temples like Edfu & Kom Ombo as you travel from Luxor to Aswan. I would actively recommend this to anyone, the Nile is a very beautiful, and relatively clean river. It is particularly nice on this stretch from Luxor to Aswan. Wide, blue and peaceful, just a little too peaceful for me perhaps. The price was not a big difference from that of the original itinerary and may be in some other time I could come back and try this as it still sounds enchanting.

    Djed books domestic flights in Egypt and hotels as well and they supposedly get better prices, but I always take care of these and I did for this trip as well. I find that the hotels you stay at are core to the experience you have during your vacation. Sure backpackers don’t stay at fancy places and still have an awesome time – but I’d like a nice place to rest and relax in once all the running around is done. That’s why I rarely take up home stays either. In Cairo I chose the wrong hotel . I wanted something close to the pyramids as one whole day of the itinerary was devoted to them, so something in Giza would have been ideal. The Mena house suggested itself – and was very tantalizing but we’d stayed at a Mercure earlier and we chose that as it would be familiar in a strange country. Suffice to say that it and the Le Meridian next door are primarily used for large tour groups. It did not have the kind of services and facilities we would have loved at our first stay in Cairo and in fact was most un-mercure like. I should have gone with the Mena house perhaps.
    As I had months to plan by July- August I’d added Petra in Jordan to this trip, so I reduced the time in Egypt from the 12 days first planned to 9 days which looked sufficient and now having lived those days I can say it’s a comfortable 9 days if you are some one who is used to 5- 6 hours of sight seeing in a day. If you need more leisure time the original 12 days will suit you.

    Finally as October approached I’d gotten into this ‘what happens will happen’ mode and that’s how we made our way to Egypt, rumors of turmoil there may be but we will face what comes and if it’s just hype then we will have a grand time of it.

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    I’d quickly get to the trip itself now, writing a trip report is so much harder than I anticipated. We flew via Etihad with a stopover at Abu Dhabi, I’ll just say that the flight was very comfortable and that Abu Dhabi airport was built for smaller numbers. We eagerly watched as the red sea and the Sinai Peninsula flew by as we descended into Cairo. The city from the sky looks very brown and dusty, not too much color and rows and rows of similar houses and apartment blocks and of course there is the desert all around. Cairo Airport was not busy when we landed and passport control took just all of five minutes, the officer was a woman, a pleasant surprise in an Islamic country. She hardly glanced at our passports and stamped them, while another woman right next to her fed the details into a computer. The Djed representative in fact their Cairo manager met us near passport control and led us to the van that was to be our ride for the next day or so. The terminal we landed at (terminal 1) is the older one and a bit run down, it was virtually empty, the much newer terminal 3 is dedicated solely to Egypt air flights and they are just a short distance from each other. Djed asks for 20% of the payment to be wired to them in advance which I didn’t hesitate with as I’ve paid various tour groups earlier in a similar way, but I wish they’d get a credit card option soon. The first thing to notice in Cairo is that there are a lot of old cars, may be 10 and 15 year old Korean and Japanese cars. This was explained to us, apparently the newer cars have a higher tax rate compared to older cars hence the preference to buy older cars plus I am sure they are more economical. There is a complete lack of bikes of any sort, apparently Egyptians do not like them which is a huge contrast to Thailand or Vietnam where bikes are very popular. There were even a few tuk-tuks but very few comparatively. We were driven via the expressway to Giza which passes a very affluent neighborhood – large houses with lawns which is not the norm for most Egyptians. In around 45 minutes you are in Giza and beholding the Pyramids. It is still amazing that these huge iconic structures can just be there. We were mesmerized; our hotel with all its faults still had some views of the Pyramid. We ended the day with dinner at the Mena House. It’s a block away from where we were and the walk was easy despite fast moving traffic, someone came up to us and helped cross the road and immediately started telling us of his friends shop where we could get good deals on papyrus and perfume. The Pyramids are visible the whole length of the Giza road. Mena house is wonderful and relaxing a great way to ease your first few days in Egypt, and the Pyramid looks as though it is right over the wall, where as in fact there is a road and some open space between them. There is a lot of security at this point – an armored vehicle or a military truck at the entrance to the road which leads to Mena House and the Pyramids and cars are checked as they enter. That’s how we ended our first day in Cairo. The itinerary for the next two days was a visit to the pyramids at Giza & Saqqara on day one and then Islamic Cairo and the Egyptian Museum on day two.

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    Thanks again Tripplanner001 :)

    welltravelledbrit, Its so cool to hear from you after reading all about your Egypt trip - Cuba sounds like a very good idea, looking forward to reading about it.

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    Our first sightseeing day in Cairo – we were as excited as can be. Its still unimaginable that the Pyramids – the structures all of 4500 years old, wonders of the ancient world are just across the road. The whole area around the Pyramids or at least the area approaching the Pyramids is hotels, shops, houses and so on. It would have been desert some decades ago but the tourist industry has transformed this area. We were taken as scheduled from the hotel to the Pyramids. It’s like just 5 minutes away, through the security check and then up a surprising slope of sand and you are at the entrance. At 9.30 there were already tour buses and around a 100 folks scattered around the structures. Our guide very briefly spoke about how the Pyramids were built and who they were for…things we had read up on in advance. There is a separate fee of LE 100 for going inside the Pyramids which we did not opt for, having read that there is nothing to see inside (those who are interested – they only allow you inside at around 9 in the morning and noon) we were hesitant with all the crouching that was involved. You can climb some of the Pyramids and take tons of pictures. It sure is like a mountain suddenly planted in the desert, the second and third pyramids (of Khafre & Menkaure) which are somewhat smaller in size are behind the largest pyramid (Cheops) and we opted to be taken in the van (due to the ac, it was 97 degrees) to them. It’s just a 3 minute ride and perhaps a 5 minute walk. Here the guide prompted us to take a camel ride as there is a huge open space behind the three pyramids and it would be a good experience. Normally I do not like to take rides on animals as I think of it as exploitation and I’d already done a camel ride in Dubai which I did not enjoy (the camel having taken much longer than needed to complete its rise and descent making me hang on awkwardly). But we agreed to it as we did want to go into that open desert and click some pics and he assured us it would be a short ride. The camel owner supposedly was a genuine Bedouin and he asked for LE 150 per person which sounded on the higher side but the guide said was ok. The ride was better than the earlier one and the view of the Pyramids is spectacular – do try this if you can, it’s a long walk but I am not sure if cars can go into this area. When you type in “pyramids of Giza” on google – the images you get are all taken from this angle. The camel man or person who takes us around on a camel took some of the pictures and he very directly asked for baksheesh or a tip, this was the first time this was so directly put to us and he mentioned that the payment made for camels did not include the tips for him and his son (a boy of around 11 years) I gave him 30 pounds each which he indicated was on the lower side, but from what I read was around the right amount. This is a hard decision to make as LE 30 is not a very large amount and you hear from everyone that the tourist industry is down and they are not making any money, but you also don’t want to tip excessively especially if the service was not exceptional. It had gotten hot by now but I wanted to see the Ship Museum – this is a museum with an exhibit of a ship buried to carry the soul of the pharaoh in the afterlife. This cost LE 50 and was not part of our itinerary – the museum is right next to one of the Pyramids (amazing they could build so close) and it was nice to see such a huge well preserved ship. Apparently it was never assembled or used on actual water in real life. The museum has AC and restrooms which was another plus. From here we were bussed to the Sphinx, I always imagined the Sphinx was just next to the Pyramids and visiting them would mean stumbling over the iconic Sphinx.
    Its actually a few minutes’ drive away, the location has the pyramids in the background but it is not close. The Sphinx has its own temple and enclosure (one of the oldest temples in Egypt) and as the Nile flowed very close to the Sphinx (now dry) all the construction material was floated down here. This was the most crowded of all the locations in Egypt. The space opened to tourists is a platform on the left side of the Sphinx, a few feet away from it while it is at a lower level from the platform. So you have a lot of folks trying to get into the same spot to take pictures. There were around 60 people on this narrow platform so it got hectic. I just wanted to sit for a few minutes and take in this sight, the very mysterious Sphinx, so ancient that everyone who has been to Egypt has been here – for the last 2000 years at least!

    After that bit of excitement our guide whisked us off to our next stop the older necropolis at Sakkara. But first he added I’ll take you to an excellent place which is recognized by the government, very good papyrus and so on. Let me add here that we rarely like these stops where on a tour you are taken into a store and obliged to buy something. We hardly are shoppers and only look at thing very rarely buying. This was a surprise stop but we went along with it. Apparently or at least this was the sales pitch at the store, most vendors use banana leaf to make their papyrus which is supposedly cheaper to use and assuredly a lower kind of papyrus. Here he assured us only genuine papyrus is used and then he took us through the whole process starting from the raw product – a papyrus stalk I guess you would call it. This was interesting as was the end product, I can’t deny that the painting was beautiful and they covered every possible period. Pharaohs, Tutankhamen & Nefertiti, famous motifs like Tutankhamen seated or the eye of Horus as well as Arabic script, paintings of Islamic Cairo, Christian themes everything possible existed and also all sorts of sizes. He even took us into a room and switched off the lights to show how some papyrus had a underlying image which glowed, Pyramids when the lights are off and Nefertiti glowing in the dark all on the same papyrus. We were not looking for anything that glowed so we went with a midsized image of Maat the winged goddess of justice. We’d looked at papyrus at the stores in front of Mena house and these versions looked more appealing. I am not sure if I’d been charged more than normal as we’d paid the price he mentioned. I am terrible at bargaining and can never ever haggle for a better price, however I am very pleased with the papyrus, I’ve now had it nicely framed and it looks wonderful. Carrying these around is also easy as they wrap them into a light easy to carry pack.

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    Fantastic reporting. I am a bit surprised at your mention of crowds at the Pyramids and at the Sphinx given that everything I've read discusses reduced visitor numbers. I can only imagine what these places were like prior to the Arab Spring.

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    Post this detour we drove down to Sakkara which is about an hour away from Giza. From what we could see Egypt is similar to some other countries without a (or perhaps a very efficient) functioning waste collection and disposal system. There was litter throughout the road. Not like heaps of it but sufficient enough to notice. We were also informed in our chats with the guide that most Egyptians learn English as a second language at school but they do not have any way to practice what they learn so forget it completely. A lot of people we met did not know English, especially at stores where we wanted to know what a specific item was; we made do with pointing at things and similar gestures. Those in the tourism industry however speak sufficient English and in some cases, German, Dutch and Chinese as well. Our driver in Cairo for example only understood what we were saying he could not speak English at all and depended on the guide. However our guide could speak very good English and apparently Dutch as well.
    It was mid-day by the time we got to Sakkara, we first stopped at the pyramid of Pharaoh Teti, its actually a small pyramid but important because it’s one of the earliest with engravings inside (The pyramids at Giza do not have any engravings what so ever). It looks more like a mound of sand now rather than a pyramid as the outer stone has fallen away and the insides were not built with stone. But the burial chamber underneath and the passage way to it were intact. The entrance was free, so we crouched through the initial passageway which is a slope downwards into the earth. Its may have been around 4 feet high and then we come to a small room which leads to another horizontal passageway which is leads to the burial chamber. Again crouch for a few meters and finally we could stand in the chamber itself. Here as we were told the wall was covered with inscriptions recording the life and doings of Teti of so long ago. What was amazing was the huge Sarcophagus which was still in place, though the mummy had long gone. How they moved this huge huge stone inside this chamber was a wonder in itself. We were now right below the Pyramid with tons of stone and sand brick on top of us – a great thing to be conscious of! The chamber itself was not small – and could easily hold around 30 people with comfort. But it sure was exciting to go deep inside a pyramid, we met three tourists going back to the entrance else this pyramid was completely deserted.
    Apparently the queens and family members and even ministers and noblemen would want to be buried around the king – as he was sacred and being near to him may rub of some of the magic on them. There are no visible tombs though around this pyramid except for something which looks like a temple of some sort. We were informed it was the tomb or Mastaba of a noble called Kagemni, and some amount of restoration had taken place. This was one of the few places we were told not to take pictures in all of Egypt. The tomb itself is very beautiful with excellent paintings of daily life – animals being fed, food stuffs and hunting scenes. Supposedly at this time in Egypt the nobles had become as powerful as or even richer than the king and hence could have really fancy tombs. Per our guide there are a lot of tombs and temples that could still be unearthed in and around Sakkara.
    Our last monument at Sakkara was the step pyramid – the first real pyramid in Egypt. Some of the outer temple and building leading up to the pyramid itself was restored in the nineteenth century. We had only 2 other people/tourists at the entire site. And a few camel, horse ride vendors. The pyramid itself is undergoing some sort of restoration and is currently surrounded by scaffolding. It’s a long walk from the entrance to the Pyramid and most of it was in the hot sun. The whole site seems to be right in the middle of the desert. Due to the heat and no shade available we stopped here very briefly and also did a quick look at the Imhotep museum also located at Sakkara. A small museum dedicated to the maverick engineer who came up with the idea of pyramids. Again a big plus was AC & washrooms. Before the day ended our guide enticed us to another store which he termed was a must see/buy in Cairo. Perfumes from another authorized vendor it turned out. This was something I was not very keen on yet we sat through the whole explanation & testing process and eventually bought two vials of 100 mg for $45 each just to get the whole thing finished, the fact that the salesman threw in another vial of 50 mg of a third perfume and a perfume bottle for free kind of makes me think we paid more for the 2 bottles. We eventually got back to our hotel (around 4pm) and had an early dinner at a restaurant called Felfela right next to Le Meridian on the pyramids road. I tried my first stuffed pigeon (not very delicious) and some local beans called Ful with various combinations of bread and sides. It was here while browsing Fodor’s I realized the store we bought the perfumes from was the same one Neo12 had warned about “Siwa” luckily for us when we checked the bottles later they were not diluted nor different from what was chosen.

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    Thanks BigSkyDave1, hope that was a wow in a good way :)

    Tripplaner001 thank you and I've heard of folks doing the Israel-Jordan-Egypt trip and just choosing to see the Pyramids in Egypt and nothing could be this and other reasons make these the most visited sites... before the arab spring per our guide there used to be long lines and huge really huge crowds, lots of cruises with hundreds of visitors each - he sounded understandably upset it was not the same now.

    please let me know if I am being too detailed - this is a first for me.

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    The second day was to be a mix of Islamic Cairo and the Egyptian museum with the treasures of Tutankhamen’s tomb. I’d originally not planned Islamic Cairo but since there was so much time left the second day we added a few sites. We started early at 8am and to really busy streets – cars moving slowly as far as the eyes could see. In such traffic we reached the Cairo Citadel a small hilltop fortification in an hour and that despite it being not too far from Giza. I have no knowledge of medieval Egyptian history so we completely depended on our guide, as per him this was built by Sultan Saladin who was not an Egyptian but was leading the war against the crusaders. He had eventually ruled over Egypt and this was his stronghold. All subsequent rulers till the last kings of Egypt in the early 1900’s lived and ruled from here. The Egyptian military still has a presence here as there is a military museum at the citadel. The main attraction so to speak here is the mosque of Muhammed Ali. I have visited very few mosques till now so wasn’t sure what to expect. This particular mosque was built some 200 years ago by the then ruler of Egypt and apparently he had wanted it built in a Turkish style. We had to remove our footwear and hand it over to a keeper who did not charge anything for this. The whole place was empty inside and outside with only a total of about 5 people and I weren’t sure if they were worshipers or caretakers. The highlight of this place is the roof or domes which are decorated and gilded and with inscriptions in Arabic as well as huge chandeliers. The courtyard to this place has a huge fountain which was not active when we went and a clock gifted by the French in exchange of the obelisk standing in Paris. Per our guide not many people come to pray here as they would need to buy an entry ticket. When we came out of the mosque post taking multiple pictures of the roof we had excellent views of the city – it is a citadel after all, and just below was the Mosque of Sultan Hassan our next destination. This building looks like a fortification, but is actually a structure of multiple functions – It apparently had two schools or that much maligned word “madrasas” though I am not sure what happened to them now. This is a much bigger structure than the mosque we had visited and it fit the mood of what a religious place should be. Architecturally also it is a very fine example of Islamic building, with huge arches, there is actually a very large open space inside the building and then after that is where the worshipers would offer prayers. The imam or priest has a small staircase with a door of its own leading to the pulpit with a very ornate door. The whole place was very well decorated in beautiful colors and geometric designs. What I can remember about the backstory is that this mosque was built around 700 years ago by the Mamluk’s a dynasty of slaves who rose to power and eventually ruled in the name of the Ottomans. I liked this mosque better than the earlier one, and again we had just 5 people here as well. Three of them tourists for sure who sat absorbing the peace and quiet at the open area. There is again military presence outside this mosque, with a small army truck and soldiers.

    From here the famous Khan-El-Khalili market was not too far away. Five minutes in our mini bus and we were at one the entrances of the market. During all this travel around Cairo we were able to observe the attire of women, it being an Islamic country we were not sure if the head to toe covering was the rule. What we found is a majority of women only covered their head, in the not a strand of hair visible type of cover. A few did have the head to toe black cover and a few did not bother with any covering at all. They dressed in a modern way. Happier still was that women drove, women with hair covered drove as did women completely in black. Surprising given its neighbor Saudi Arabia still has to reach this far in women's rights. In the stores we had visited there had been a few female assistants especially in the perfumery. So some progress at last in Egypt.
    We had started at what our guide said was an old gate of Cairo, and this led to a street which eventually merged into the market. Along the way you had parks and open spaces, Mosques and old buildings. A lot of people taking walks or relaxing and gossiping. Old men and women. Young girls and children. It’s a good place to people watch and as we went along the street we found buildings of architectural interest as well. This street had a lot of buildings which were water dispensers or places people and travelers would come to collect water. I was not too favorable of our guide in a market with his inclination to take us on shopping detours. But he was hungry as we had started early and he bought snacks from the street stalls and offered us as well. First some fruits in a plastic cup, them some sugar cane juice in a plastic bag and finally some Ful (beans) with flat bread. It was like a eating stroll in the Egyptian market and thankfully we did not have any after effects. We spent an hour in the place. The actual market it self being full of every kind of merchandise, lots of plastic things for sure. Tons of Hukkah’s for tourists or locals I wonder. Spices, clothes and Egyptian (am sure made in China) souvenirs. The whole place is busy with lots of locals and very few tourists that I could see. Having roamed the market and seen all that we could we headed to our next destination – the Egyptian Museum.

    Our Guide thought two hours was more than enough for the Egyptian museum but I was not sure. Its right in the center of Cairo, at the heart of the famous Tahrir square where the Arab spring demonstrations went on for weeks. The museum tries to cover all periods of history starting from the earliest dynasties and ending with the Greek-Roman period. If you are not a museum person just head to the first floor where the treasures of the boy kings tomb are displayed. We did a brief tour of the early dynasties and then headed to the Tutankhamen rooms. It takes up quite a lot of the first floor. Out side you have the shrines in the tomb, the furniture and beds used by the king all gilded and so amazingly ancient. This is truly what a treasure is. The actual funerary mask which has become an iconic image is in a separate room which is temperature controlled and also displays jewelry that was also found. The museum allows for photography for I think LE 50. So I started clicking pictures of the huge golden sarcophagus the famous one where the king is holding the scepters in his hands which are crossed. Here the guard notified me that pictures were not allowed in this room, looking at the ticket I realized that was correct, King Tut’s room and the royal mummies were not open for pictures. Thankfully he did not delete what I had already clicked – something I have heard happening. The jewelry is out of this world beautiful. The face mask so realistic and yet exotic no wonder these items have captured the imagination of the world. There were a lot of things discovered in King Tut’s tomb – from gilded sandals to chairs and statues. There is also a display of items that were stolen during the revolution – some 40 items, mostly from the first floor. Some half of these have been recovered where as the remaining may be lost for ever. The recovered items are also somewhat damaged as the display showed before and after images.

    Next to the King Tut room is the Tanis Silver room again similar treasures from a different period but mostly in silver which apparently was more precious than gold in the olden times, you have two funerary masks in this room all in solid silver. On the same floor is the Royal Mummies room. To see the mummies there is a separate ticket of LE 100 which I bought, I think there are around 6 of them in the room and mostly from around the same period. Hatshepsut, Ramses 2 who built all the great monuments across Egypt and who has some hair left on his head (I thought Pharaoh’s shaved their head) I just wanted to see these god-kings whose names will be repeated time and again during our trip to Egypt. All of them were short – not sure if it is due to the process they undergo and most of them were realistic and looked capable of suddenly sitting up.

    Next to the royal mummies was the animal mummies, a much sadder story indeed. Some of the animals mummified like a cow – was revered during her life time (reminds me of india) others were not so lucky. Apparently a belief in ancient Egypt was that your prayers or wishes would come true if you offered a mummified animal that the god liked – so it could be a cat or a monkey or ducks. And the prayers will be in effect as long as the mummy survived or basically for ever. Unfortunately this gave rise to a business of breeding and selling animals for this purpose – very grisly.

    We spent another hour looking at huge statues, beautiful paintings and even whole shrines at the ground floor. I wish the Egyptian museum had an audio aid else we are dependent on what our guide wants to tell us. If you like ancient Egyptian history spend at least 2 hours here – it covers every period and has some very beautiful pieces. And it is true that the museum has two times more pieces in storage than on display due to lack of space. Outside there was art shop which had recreations of the furniture from King Tut’s tomb even a full sized bed – we didn’t wait to inquire but if you fancy a full sized gilded bed this is the place to come.

    We then got back to our hotel for yet another early dinner at Felfela – this time we tried their Shwarma’s which were delicious before we left for the airport and our next city – Luxor.

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    Thanks Welltraveledbrit & Thrill22

    Yes Thrill22 we were very happy with Djed, it was a hassle free trip which is what we wanted, any changes and modifications you want them to make on anything go ahead and ask they were quick to respond

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    We had the last flight from Cairo to Luxor and tipped our driver and guide goodbye, the way it works with Djed is that there is a city lead and he welcomes you and sees to your departure at the airport he does not accompany you on the actual site seeing which is done by the guide and driver only. The city lead for Cairo (a very polite man) accompanied us till after the security check (they let non passengers in apparently, but he showed his tourism credentials) and even explained where the gates were and no doubt would have accompanied us to them if they were not so far away. I was not sure if we were to tip him as well since it is a country that apparently runs on tips, but refrained thinking it would be a mistake. The tip for a driver is LE 50 per day per couple or person in larger groups and for guides it is LE 100 this is as per Djed it self. And this was when 1 dollar got you LE 8.8, since I’ve started this report the exchange rate has changed and now the dollar gets you more (LE 13). We tipped throughout a higher than the LE 50-100 guideline though our Cairo guide would have gotten some sort of cut from all the shopping we did.
    The much dreaded flight on Egyptair finally had come, the terminal for Egypt air is cleaner, newer and less crowded than the one used for other airlines and we had to wait a bit before we could board as we were early. Soon enough we had around 80 other folks – a small plane full of people, mostly tourists but a few locals as well. We had another round of checking – this time more thorough and got on the plane. Thankfully there was not even turbulence during the one hour or so flight, thankfully as I was already anxious on the safety record of this airline. I think overall they did well, it was clean. Obviously a small plane and short haul so nothing major even in-flight entertainment. We just got some fruit juices and biscuits I guess. Soon enough we were descending into Luxor, ancient Thebes which once had a thousand gates.
    We were met at the airport by the Djed city lead for Luxor who quickly led us to the mini bus and on our way to the hotel. We quickly reached and checked into our room. I always think the hotel you chose has a lot of influence on the kind of vacation you have, note that I say vacation. If you are busy running around from building to building and staying out till sun rise, you may not need a luxury hotel as you are hardly there. Having left Cairo I think the overall feeling just got lighter. Luxor is a smaller and less crowded city for one; it doesn’t have the miles and miles of traffic. Second our hotel was by the river and right next to the Luxor temple which was still illuminated as we arrived, so excellent location. The Sofitel Pavilion Winter which is the modern extension of the Winter Palace hotel is a very excellent place. What we loved most was that it has a lovely garden which it shares with the Winter Palace, just the sight of lots of lawns and trees has a calming relaxing effect I think.

    Our guide in Cairo loved to tell us that Egypt's population was 90 million of which 20 million was in Cairo (I wasn’t sure if he was shocked by that or proud of it) Luxor by contrast just has half a million people so it seems to be less weighed down. In keeping with this relaxed vibe our site seeing the next day was to start only at 3pm so we had the whole morning and afternoon to laze and relax which we always look forward to. The reason for this late start? The noon time heat at Luxor at least in October is not the best time to wander around among ruins so we were given a chance to start early and end before noon or start at 3pm and end by 6pm, we obviously chose the second as it gave us more rest, plus the temple of Luxor is lit up in the evenings and we wanted to experience it.

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    I am planning a possible trip to Egypt in January (yes, in two months). This is helpful. Did you take an overnight train on any of your legs or all flying?

    We are planning to stay Giza, fly/train Aswan, three day Nile cruise (not a felucca), Luxor, fly/train Cairo, day trip Alexandria or golf, fly home. Similar trip, less luxury. Private guides throughout. We only have 10 days and a tight budget. Yay for frequent flyer miles.

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    I agree the garden is very nice behind the Winter Palace in Luxor.
    We were trying to balance luxury with value and opted for the Winter Pavilion in Luxor. It was a great value and enabled us to afford the fabulous Sofitel in Aswan which I loved.

    Christabir - there's lots on Egypt on my blog which may be helpful. Personally I think Alexandria for a day would be exhausting. I love the city because my parents lived there for several years when I was a child but it's a long way to go for an overnight never mind a day trip. You'll get a lot of value in Egypt whether you opt for less luxury or not ;).

    Thrill 22 & Julies -we loved our trip!

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    Thanks Tripplanner001 Julies, Marija & welltraveledbrit - your encouragement goes a long way.

    Christabir - overnight trains are best between Luxor and Aswan or Cairo & Luxor, we flew all times to save on travel time. You can take an overnight train as other commentators have done - they seem to be clean and on time.

    I agree with welltraveledbrit that including Alexandria may be exhausting - the sites there are lesser compared to Cairo, Luxor etc hence we did not include it in our itinerary

    Egypt with the current currency devaluation and low number of tourists is excellent in terms of price, you can mix in luxury and yet stay within budget.

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    We got up really late the next day – the first time in Egypt and had Lunch at the pool, it is surrounded by palm trees so looks very exotic and under the Hot Egyptian sun the pool looks oh so very tempting. Promptly at 3pm our Luxor guide and driver turned up. We drove down to the Karnak temple which is the largest temple space in Egypt and was once upon a time the most sacred place in these lands for over a thousand years. So sacred was this temple that normal folks did not have entry to most of it and only priests and aristocrats could visit some of it and the holies of the holies were only for the high priests and the king. Our guide informed us that so sacred were the images of Egyptian gods and goddesses carved on the wall that when aristocrats were allowed in to some spaces, the priests would cover these images with a cloth in a frame nailed onto the wall so that their common eyes did not defile the images. The visitor center at the beginning of the temple has pictures of how Karnak looked over a 100 years ago, a lot of what we see is restored. A lot of things have also been removed, either to museums or private collections, so there are also gaps in what exists. The Hipostyle hall for example had been severely damaged in an earth quake with the pillars having toppled over and they have been painstakingly put back in place. Years of flooding had also deposited layers of silt at the site which has now been removed but this helped in some cases in preserving the carvings it covered. The site starts with Pylons or gates – the size of these are amazing and the guide explained that they were built with the help of a huge mud brick scaffold some of which was never removed from the base of the Pylons. Immediately after the Pylons are a row of ram headed sphinx still mostly intact they were earlier more in number but over successive years one of the kings had built some other structure over some of them. This site has been built, remodeled and rebuilt by at least 30 kings over a long period of time each one trying to leave her or his imprint on the sacred temple. All around this area are small side temples and shrines dedicated by some King or other to the sun god, this whole area is dedicated to the worship of this god. On the walls of all of these temples are kings being blessed by gods or offering things to goddesses. There is a second Pylon post which is the huge Hipostyle hall with over 160 huge pillars soaring skyhigh, each so wide that only nine or more people hand to hand could form a circle around them. After this is a smaller court yard where the Obelisk built by Hatshepsut is located, originally there were four of these but only one stands now. Lastly is the oldest part of the temple, the alter of Amun where the gods image was kept year round, apparently it was placed on a model of a barge/boat and during a specific time of the year the boat of Amun along with that of his wife and son would be carried in great ceremony by high priests out of Karnak to Luxor temple where he would reside for around 3 weeks. This was one of the big festivals of the temple and had huge crowds of celebrants which included the king. I could imagine this as the guide described it, a huge golden barge with the gods image being carried by chanting white robed priests among cheering and awestruck crowds, heading from among the incense filled pillars towards the row of sphinx which led to Luxor temple. Imagine my surprise when I learnt that originally this whole temple also had paintings over the carved images and heliographics. The whole structure would be spectacular with all those painted deities. The paint is still visible at the top of the pillars and the roof where ever it still exits. This whole structure is an open air museum with so many carvings. Some folks compare this with Angkor Wat which I have also visited and think is an unfair comparison. Angkor is newer and one solid building built by one king where as Karnak is thousands of years older and built by multiple people and scattered all over. Only the areas dedicated to the sun god are open to tourists, there are smaller areas to two other gods/goddesses which are closed. We spent around two hours taking pictures, looking at all the carvings, there would have been around 30-40 tourist all over the site. It never felt crowded, the Hipostyle hall had more people naturally but they moved on and it was soon empty for people who wanted to take pictures and just sit among the pillars. From here we went to the Luxor temple next which was besides the Winter Palace. This is the temple where the images of Amun and his wife were carried to in ancient times, to the side of the entrance is the avenue of sphinx which stretches all the way to Karnak. There are huge statues of Ramses 2 at the entrance right in front of the Pylon or massive gate to the temple. There is also one Obelisk though the second one has been removed to Paris I guess. There is a huge pillared corridor which leads again to the main temple, multiple shrines exist again with the stories the pharaohs carved onto them. One common story our guide pointed out was how the king would show that his father was the sun god Amun, there being carvings of his mother and the sun god besides each other then followed by a carving of the king being born and then lastly an image of the king being fed by a goddess symbolizing he was among the gods. A lot of carvings also centered on war, the ancient Egyptians what ever else they did (like playing harps, singing songs, painting and building pyramids) were also a warlike kingdom, they survived and thrived by being able to protect themselves and also attacking neighbor states. Every king wanted to show off how he had defeated enemies and images of kings holding captives ready to strike them with a sickle are common. The enemies in this case being Syrians (bearded) and Nubians (thick lips) - ancient cases of racial profiling. One practice we noticed on the walls was the amputation of the right arm of captured prisoners – a count of right arms in each war was kept apparently and it also served the purpose that the captive would not be able to fight again with his sword hand gone. These were all propaganda carvings – meant to impress on the common folk and aristocracy the message that the king was divine and all powerful – winning great wars against enemies in far off places. There were numerous shrines at the end of the temple one for Alexander the great who conquered Egypt but never made it this far south. Also statues and a shine made by the romans later when they had appeared on the scene. Apparently they had fortified this temple and disallowed Egyptian worship replacing it with their own gods etc. Later on there apparently was even a Coptic church in the temple. A lot of the carvings and statues had been defaced – by intolerant Copts in the later ages. One striking feature of the Luxor temple is the mosque right after the entrance Pylon. As stated earlier the ground of the temple was covered with silt so the mosque is on the first floor – appearing suddenly half way up the temple with no ground floor (it is on top of the ancient structure) with a minaret etc. In the nineteenth century the whole temple had been occupied by houses and shops built over the silt. The government had managed to clear all other residents from the area before clearing the silt. All except for the mosque which may need a lot of political will to move.

    As dusk approached the lights came on, the authorities have very cleverly lit the pillars and statues from the floor up. The many halls and pillars all look beautifully golden in the light as do the statues of Ramses. The tourists from Karnak also transfer to Luxor temple now and the place fills up (around 50 people when we were there). It is really a very beautiful sight and one that is visible from the road. Luxor temple has many halls with numerous pillars and they are all lit up to look golden in the night.

    We walked back to the winter palace now – just a five minute walk. We had room service as strangely all the restaurants at the Winter palace save one is closed for the night (they are mostly functional at lunch time). I kept ordering what was supposed to be a staple food of the Egyptians – chicken or lamb done three ways, a kebab, a meat ball or kofta and grilled. This came with a side of steamed rice, vegetables and surprisingly French fries. We also loved the breakfasts we had had so far – especially the dates; the ones we had been used to so far were the dried or sticky types. What we got at breakfast was a not so sticky nor dry version of the dates, moist, yet slightly dry and very delicious. We also had fresh dates – I had no idea they were so sweet when not dried. Another favorite was the hibiscus drink – basically sugar water with hibiscus flavoring, it tasted good and sounded exotic. The service at the winter palace was way better than the earlier hotel – thankfully. At the Mercure I could have turned up all dressed up as Tutunkhamen’s grandmother and no one would bat an eye lid nor would they lift a finger to help in anyways – no help no matter who or what you are. Here if I got a hoop the staff would have proceeded to jump through it if I so wished. May be even in formation like Olympic synchronized swimmers. They just fell over each other to fulfill any wish, this made for a very pleasant change for sure.

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    Thank you for your detailed descriptions of your experiences to Luxor and Karnak temples. These are the types of places that I would very much enjoy. Until I make it there someday, you helped bring it to life for me.

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    The next day was to be the heaviest in terms of site seeing. We had agreed before the guide left us at the hotel to start early so by 8am we were at the entrance. We wanted to look at the river and walk around a bit as we waited so we tried to cross the road (almost empty) and the hotel guard came over to see if we were ok and needed any help. We assured him we were waiting for our guide and just wanted to look at the river – he still took down our room number and stood near by till the guide arrived. We were crossing the river today to the necropolis or tombs which were always on the west bank, the temples and dwelling including the now vanished palaces were all on this side of the Nile. The Egyptians clearly separated the living side from the side for the dead. We crossed over by motor boat as the mini bus would have taken 45 minutes and the guide wanted to get there before the crowds appeared. It was a short interesting ride, the whole river now visible had huge cruise ships – some of them in disuse and just moored to the river bank till busier days arrived. The water was lovely – bluer and cleaner looking than it had been in Cairo. Our mini bus was already on the other side and we were at the visitor center for the valley of the Kings in 5 minutes. There is a small train which takes visitors into the valley from the visitor center. The guide explained to us that there are only 3 tombs that a person could see in a day. Apart from the three we could pay extra for Tutankhamen’s tomb and also for Ramses 5 & 6’s combined tomb. Our guide suggested the tombs of Merneptah, Horemheb and Ramses 4, since my research on what tombs to see also suggested Horemheb and Ramses 4 we agreed. The tiny train took us into the valley where we could see a hill shaped like a pyramid – supposedly the reason this spot was chosen as burial place of the kings. The mapping of the valley of the kings is still being carried out today and the visitor center had a Japanese built model of the valley showing the various tombs and how deep they went into the hillside like rabbit burrows. After you get off the train the tickets are checked and there is a waiting area which is shaded and tourists sat here for a while before setting off to the tombs. Some of these tombs are further away from the entrance and it is a good walk in the hot sun to reach them. The guide told us about the tombs here as he would not be accompanying us as the guides are not allowed into the tombs. He also warned us not to take any pictures as there is a no pictures policy, even if the tomb guard offered to take them for us as this was a scam and the guard would later demand money or delete the pictures if he was dissatisfied with what was offered. The tombs go down into the ground, some of them at a very steep angle. The authorities have provided each tomb with wooden stairs and railings for people to hold onto. But they can’t really reduce the steepness of the way down. These tombs contained huge shafts to confuse robbers and collect water also false doors again to confuse the robbers. Some of these tombs had levels – you climb down to a level where either there was a rain shaft or a false door and then there would be a side stair leading down to another level where the burial chamber was. At the entrance of each tomb is a map showing how the tomb was arranged and if it had different levels, rooms etc . The guard for the tomb some times sat at the entrance or sometimes was in the stairway, he hardly checked our tickets just smiled and said welcome to Egypt. Going down was easy enough but coming back up was the hard part. The tomb of Merneptah was not so heavily decorated but it was deep inside the ground and he had a huge sarcophagus – it is a marvel they could bring it down that small passageway at such a steep angle. He was the successor of Ramses 2 who had died after a very long reign and after a lot of his sons had already died before him, so he was not a probable king until all those before him had died. The tombs of Horemheb and Ramses 4 were more heavily decorated. Horemhebs tomb is a study in how the painting was done, with scenes in various states of completion we could see how the drawing was done first, and then corrections made and then carving done followed by painting. Apparently Horemheb had died sooner than planned and they had no option to go ahead with a half completed tomb. Most tourists are brought to this tomb as it shows the progress of the paintings. Ramses 4’s tomb was very heavily decorated and very beautifully too. Apparently it has been open and visited for the last 2000 years by tourists and was a sort of guest house for some of them and even a place for monks to stay in the middle ages. Ramses 4 is supposed to be the inspiration behind the movie “the mummy returns” as he was murdered and his killers were put on trial and punished. There were places where graffiti by Copts and Greeks was visible over the paintings. The figures were from the book of the dead and other funerary texts of the Egyptians- scenes of the heart being weighed against a feather, the gods deciding on the fate of the person, the food and offerings the king was taking with him to the afterlife – on the roof were painted stars and the sky goddess stretching to show the arc of the sun as it rose and set every day. This was a very beautiful tomb very airy and well decorated. Since the tomb of Ramses 5 & 6 was also similar as per our guide we decided to get tickets for that tomb as well – so a short ride back to the visitor center and back again. If anything this tomb is a more wider with similarly painted roof and walls. In each tomb there had been around 4 to 5 other people mostly panting as they made their way back to the surface. Most people would collect at the waiting area which had close to a hundred people by now. This was the only place I saw babies and children of all ages as their parents had brought them along to visit the beautifully painted tombs. As one tired Swedish woman told me “It is a once in a life experience so it is worth it (the strenuous exercise)”. There was even an elderly man in a wheelchair at Ramses 5&6 tomb, the tombs are in no way friendly for a wheelchair, some of them have ramps but all of them have steps. The man had brought along men with him who lifted the whole wheelchair over the steps as needed so he could move ahead and see the tomb. The tombs themselves were not hot as they did not have too many people but the sun outside was hot and there is no shade other than the waiting area. We gave the tomb of Tutankhamen a miss – what ever we had read said it was too small and was not as well decorated, but for those who are interested the mummy of the king is still inside the tomb as it was too damaged to be moved. Ramses 5 apparently had a very short reign and his successor Ramses 6 took over his tomb and used it for himself hence it is called the tomb of both the kings as both their names are visible among the paintings. However only the sarcophagus of Ramses the 6 is in the tomb. These tombs are surely one the must see wonders of Egypt. We spent a lot of time relaxing after climbing out of each tomb so we did not feel exhausted in any way and we had carried along lots of water which was quickly finished. Water is a essential commodity in Egypt, surprisingly it was not provided in the hotels. All the hotels suggested against drinking tap water as it was not safe so you are heavily dependent on bottled water, which is not complimentary. I wish the hotels had provided water bottles in rooms even if they were chargeable – the price of bottles fluctuated wildly, someplace we would pay LE 5 other vendors would charge LE 10 and other places even LE 20 – highway robbery for sure and it would have been better if the hotels just provided this service.

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    I've just discovered your very encouraging report, Leo_A. Egypt was one of the very first places I wanted to visit as a young adult and I've managed to never do it. Maybe a blessing as now seems possibly the perfect time. I ordered a new guidebook a couple of days ago as the one I had became almost as ancient as the temple sites while I dithered. I'm now considering going in March for my birthday. Many thanks for your story.

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    Thanks Tripplanner011 - hope you make it to Egypt soon, I am very surprised that any one is even reading this, my apologies for all the grammatical and spelling mistakes, I have been trying to get this done soon so have not been able to re-check or edit anything.

    MmePerdu - thank you and hope you are soon able to celebrate your birthday in Egypt, it is indeed worth a visit especially if you have considered it for a while

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    Once we had done with the Valley of the Kings we were headed to the other side of this hill, where the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut was located. Before I move on to that site I might mention here that though we had around a hundred folks at the valley of the kings (babies and children included) the crowds before 2011 were more numerous. We were told that there were earlier long lines outside each tomb – something that definitely was not the case now and the passageways and stairs would be crowded with people jostling to see the paintings. In fact some of the tombs have been closed as a result of too many humans breathing inside the passageways which had damaged some of the paint. Some of these tombs are now being reopened to entice visitors. A lot of folks who are on cruises to Hurghada on the red sea would do a day trip to Luxor hence with the reduction of red sea cruises the numbers of tourists have also fallen. One interesting development has been the boom of Chinese tourists to Luxor, there are a lot of news reports on how after the visit of President XI Jinping to Egypt earlier this year Chinese tourists have started including Luxor and Cairo as must visit travel destinations giving a boost to the otherwise falling visitor numbers. We got to see a lot of Chinese tourists in Luxor for sure. Apart from the valley of Kings there is also a valley of Queens and tombs of nobles where queens and nobles are buried. Due to a very packed schedule we did not visit these sites though the tombs of nobles were an option in our itinerary.

    A mortuary temple is a temple built in the memory of a specific king/queen and the next site we visited was the temple built in honor of the hard to pronounce Hatshepsut a queen who ruled before all the Ramesses and Tutankhamen’s came onto the scene. These temples would have their own priests who would continue to pray and offer sacrifices/offerings long after the king has died. In some cases with time the temples would fall into disuse or in cases like Ramses 2 who was famous long after his death the future kings and people would continue to patronize these temples and continue to contribute offerings in memory of the great ruler of long ago. There were cults of famous kings like Seti 1 which went on for years after his death and these temples were the centers for these cults. Unfortunately for Hatshepsut, her mortuary temple would have fallen into disuse and neglect soon after her death. The story was that Hatshepsut was passed over in favor of her step brother at the time of her father’s death Hatshepsut married the step brother as per Egyptian tradition but when he died early and his son by another wife was to inherit the throne Hatshepsut stepped in, first as regent then as defacto ruler, portrayed as a man in carvings and statues even with a false beard. She was not the first female ruler in Egyptian history but she did rule more successfully and for longer than the rest (some 20 odd years). The story actually gets more interesting here, she had very cordial relations with her step son who was the general of her armies and finally he succeeded her when she died. But later in his reign another 20 years on suddenly all mention of her was erased; her figures were removed and destroyed. It’s as if the step son suddenly remembered her taking over what was his and decided to take revenge 20 years after. For many years historians were not aware of her existence and it’s only relatively recently that they have been able to figure out her story. The site is also famous architecturally as it uses the classical style of building much before it became popular with the Greeks. Symmetrical terraces and columns are the feature of this temple. A lot of restoration has happened here with a special team from Poland having helped with it in the last century. There used to apparently be a line of sphinxes (all gone now) as well as a garden (there are no trees in the entire site) there are shrines to Hathor the cow featured goddess and to the queen on the sides of the central walkway which leads to the last level, some of these have the paintings preserved (very beautiful but a small number, there are also figures showing the expedition to Punt (Somalia) which was carried out during her reign, but overall throughout the structure all images of Hatshepsut have been chiseled out. At the very last level is a row of statues of Osiris – only a few of which are completely intact. By the time we reached this temple it was close to 11 and the sun was right over head. There were a good number of tourists here (many had come over from the valley of kings) and it had become crowded. Climbing and exploring the various levels in the sun had gotten a bit tiring and we were glad to rest for a while at the restaurant near the entrance and drink overpriced milkshakes. Like the Valley of the Kings this temple (Dier el Bahari or northern monastery, there apparently was a Coptic monastery here once) has a small train that carries visitors from the visitor center to near the monument. The whole structure is built into the side of the hill (a massive barren hill with many caves and tomb entrances on both sides) and like the valley of kings some amount of physical activity is to be expected. It was hard to forget that in 1997 there was an attack here which resulted in around 60 tourist’s death but there is reassuring amount of security in place now. It’s a visit to a fascinating building built by a fascinating and ambitious queen.

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    Thanks for sharing the photographs to go along with your report. I am surprised at the vivid colors of some of the interiors in your pictures. I guess I expected the colors to have faded with time, as is the case with ancient sites I've visited in other parts of the world.

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    Fun to see your photos ;).

    Trip planner 001Some of it may be retouched I think the desert climate and the lack of moisture makes things quite different in Egypt, certainly in some of the tombs. Also, many of the sites were completely covered in sand for more than a millennia. If you see some of the 19th century engravings they show the very top of the temples at the ground level and many were dug out so to speak...

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    What a great trip report Leo_A! I can't wait until 2017 when we will visit. I also enjoyed your blog welltraveledbrit. Thank you both for taking the time and effort to write such detailed trip reports.

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    Hi Friends, Leo,

    Memphis Tours in Egypt offers a private 3 day land tour in Cairo and a 4 night Nile cruise which covers Luxor, Asman and Alexandria. All are 5* accomodations. Cruise is Farah Nile Cruise company.

    But this is pricey. $1,300 per person. Is it worth it or can I do it on my own for a lot less I presume ?

    Or go with Djed ?


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    Thanks Tripplanner001, welltravelledbrit and trill22

    Tripplanner001 I agree with welltravelledbrit that the paintings are preserved due to the unique climatic conditions and from the structures being buried for a very long time - most of what has survived is only 5 to 10% of the original paintings, few ceilings and walls the majority have faded.

    Golfdude while I did see some vans from Memphis tours at different sites I cannot comment on their service (they have good reviews on TripAdvisor) I would suggest getting an estimate from Djed as well as 2 other well known tours for the same iteneraries and hotels - They will respond within a day or two for you to make a decision.

    I would not suggest going on your own unless you are ok with putting aside time to deal with hassle from vendors, taxi drivers, security guards etc - there is a language problem and many people will engage you to get you to buy stuff etc which will not happen when with a tour - the whole hassle of lines and asking around for stuff also just doesn't exist

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    Thrill22 - glad the blog was useful.

    Leo- fun to think about on our Egypt trip through your thread - particularly as we are following Pharaonic history in our upcoming trip to Sudan in Jan 2017- which will be looking at the Nubian kingdoms, including the ones who conquered Egypt.

    Golfdude - you can certainly do the whole thing on your own but as Loe points out if you want it to be a relaxing experience and have someone focused on the logistics you'll want to use an agent. Frankly the agents can get better rates at some of the hotels too. I really wanted to stay at a couple of boutique places and Djed offered me better rates than I could get on my own particularly for the Al Moudira in Luxor.

    MmePerdu - lots of pics and perspectives on Egypt on my blog

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    Sorry for not completing this but I have been travelling for work last few weeks...

    Welltraveledbrit - I've never thought of Sudan as I am not sure how the tourism infrastructure is in that country, but yes they do share a common history for some time and they have their own pyramids. I will gladly read your trip report once you are done visiting it. You may also want to consider Ethiopia which has a very rich history and stunning scenery - I have it on my to visit list.

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    Our last site to see in Luxor was the mortuary temple of Ramses 3, it is also known by its Arabic name Medinat Hebu. This is in my opinion one of the must see sights in Luxor, if you like ancient structures and paintings. I think it was as awesome as Karnak & Luxor temples. First of all a lot of it is preserved and the paintings (what’s left of them) are very clear and look like they were done 300 years ago instead of 3000 years ago. The temple was built by Ramses 3 who apparently ruled during some tough times for Egypt. There had been years of famine during his reign and the first ever recorded strike by workers had taken place due to shortage of grain. He also had to fight off an invasion from a group of foreigners known as the “sea peoples” who eventually settled in Egyptian controlled Israel/Gaza. The visible signs of these turbulent times are a huge mud brick wall that surrounds the temple part of which is still standing now. To think that the Pharaoh needed to build a wall in his capital city to protect his temple shows how unstable the kingdom was at the time. It is perhaps due to this wall that the temple is relatively well preserved. The Entrance Pylons show the king smiting his enemies, the open courtyard and hypostyle hall have carvings and at higher levels especially the ceiling the paint is still visible, the gods and their stories all colorfully decorated on the walls and pillars. Similarly the inner sanctum is also well preserved. We spent a lot of time taking pictures of all the columns and paintings at the higher levels. To the right of the temple is the Pharaohs residence when he was at the temple – rather only the foundations of it exist the rest is gone. Our guide showed us what would have been the royal bath and also the area people were granted an audience with the Pharaoh. There are also artifacts and carvings displayed in an open area out in the open and you can just walk around and look at them. It would have been nice to see the Pharaohs residence but unfortunately all that remains are ruins, it’s the same for the royal palaces in Luxor. As they were built with mud brick rather than stone there is nothing left of them, luckily the temples and tombs were built with stone and they have survived to this time. The guide actually mentioned that compared to similar civilizations in Mesopotamia which built with brick much more of ancient Egypt has survived to today and there is very less to show of the other civilizations. The Egyptians of today should be grateful to their ancestors for this as the stone monuments sure have helped the country and its tourism. By this time we were feeling exhausted it was almost 1.30pm and the heat was also oppressive. We wanted to head back to the hotel though our itinerary also listed the tombs of the nobles. Perhaps another day we could go back and cover what we missed. There are other sites in Luxor as well which are famous like the Mortuary temple of Ramses 2 and I personally feel you need more than 2 days if you really want to see these other sites as well and have a relaxed time. On our way back we briefly stopped at the Colossi of Memnon, the seated statues of Amenhotep 2. These statues were built at the entrance of a temple similar to Luxor temple where Ramses 2 guards the entrance.

    Unfortunately here only the statues remain and the rest of the temple has vanished due to an earthquake and the stones being plundered by other Pharaohs for their buildings. Archeologists are digging what little is left of the temple but it is not open to public and one day it may be one of the major sites of Luxor. The colossi are so named because the visiting ancient Greeks thought these were statues of one of the heroes of greek mythology. Apparently in Greek times one of the statues had cracked in the middle and strong winds caused a loud musical sound which the greeks assumed was the statue of the mythical hero singing. The crack was repaired by one of the later kings and there is no musical sound at this time unfortunately but the pair remain very famous. These statues are a quick place to take selfies or pictures not more than 10 to 15 minutes and as they are barricaded from the viewing area you cannot walk upto them and pose next to them etc, we had an entire bus load of tourists at the site when we visited and hence we departed within 10 minutes, at the Ramses 3 temple we were the only ones exploring the site which was strange given it is better preserved than other temples, but we enjoyed being the only ones in the large structure.

    We had bought some chips and sodas at a local store on the way as we were hungry and as our guide did all the talking we paid only a fraction of what we would have usually paid – there is definitely a tourist price and a local price for everything 

    We had to relax the rest of the day in the comfort of our hotel, for dinner we headed out to a McDonald’s we had observed behind the Luxor temple. We had wanted a change from the regular menu in the hotel. It was a short distance and we decided to walk. Unfortunately we faced a lot of people who came upto us asking us to buy something or the other. The horse carriage guy followed us for a while asking persistently that we take a one hour ride around the city. All of them were persistent, selling small trinkets. A “La Shukran” no thank you in Arabic deterred some of them but others kept following us for a while. We’d never faced this when with our guide and it was some amount of hassle. With our guide we’d have a few vendors approach us but they would not be that persistent, in fact some of the stores at the temples of Hatshepsut and Valley of kings had really good merchandise – very colorful galebeya’s or full length coats that Egyptians wear with Egyptian images embroidered onto them but the shopkeepers there would only call out once for us to look at the merchandise and definitely not follow us to our van.

    We eventually made it to the McDonalds and ordered a burger each, the flavors are similar but with a little bit of spice added to cater for Egyptian tastes. The folks at the counter didn’t speak any English but we pointed to what we wanted and they understood. The place was full of Egyptian teenagers and children and Chinese tourists. Having accomplished our objective we made our way back to the hotel. The Luxor temple was lit up beautifully and we watched it as we walked back, we had only one vendor approach us on the way back. We’d totally exhausted ourselves during the day in the hot sun and our plan to go to the Luxor museum in the evening didn’t happen as well, we were just happy to fall asleep and look forward to the journey ahead of us the next day.

    We had chosen to travel to Aswan our final destination by road and it was a journey of 140 odd miles, we’d decided with our guide that we’d start at 9am and stop at the temples of Edfu and Kum Umbo on the way, the total travel time with the visits to the temples would be 6 to 7 hours so we’d only reach Aswan at 4pm.

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    Leo, I just discovered this and am enjoying it immensely.

    Trip reports can be exhausting to write. I hope you continue. If you do, perhaps a shorter description of each day would suffice and allow you to finish, and we the grateful readers could follow up with any questions. Also breaking up the paragraphs into smaller ones would be helpful.

    Did Djed organize the Petra tour too?

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    Thanks dcd for reminding me of this trip report, this was my first trip report so I think I got carried away with trying to put down everything I saw and felt.

    Am in the middle of planning an island hopping vacation in Indonesia right now so not sure if i can complete this.... Egypt was a magical vacation and I still have fond memories of it.

    I wonder if all the folks that wanted to get to Egypt, made the trip in the end? Thrill22, Julies and MmePerdu - I hope they did :) and Welltravelledbrit i hope she got to visit nubian remains in the Sudan.

    No we used another tour operator in Jordan, It was called Petra Night tours and they were very good, with quick responses and really helpful. We used them mostly to get around Jordan in the short time we had. Petra - Jaresh - Amman - Dead Sea - Baptism site.

    In my opinion Egypt tops Jordan - Petra though fascinating is in a ruinous state and not completely excavated and needs you to be really fit to walk and climb all over it. Still it is a must visit site and I hope you enjoy it.

    I will leave you with the pictures from the end of my Egypt trip which I had intended to upload.

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    Leo_A, not yet. I did some preliminary looking, didn't seem to be making progress and ended up spending a month in southern Mexico, in Oaxaca, just returned. But it's not the end and I certainly hope to go to Egypt before too long, must go before too long (while still ambulatory!). Thanks for the pictures.

    I, too, have a question, about Luxor. I'm fond of staying put for a while on trips and in looking at Egypt as a destination it's unclear to me where I might like to be. Cairo seems chaotic, though I realize there may be parts of the city more conducive to hanging out. But it's been suggested to me that Luxor is a pleasant city. What were your impressions of the city of Luxor and the surrounding area?

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    MmePerdu - nice to hear from you. Both Cairo and Luxor have numerous sights you would want to see so you may want to stay in each city for a while and take your time visiting the sites.
    Cairo is a large city and with that comes lots of traffic and crowds but it has more choices of hotels which are oasis of calm and rest (Mena house for example) which would let you relax and also do your tour as you wish. Luxor is a smaller city with a slower pace and lesser traffic - again you could easily base your self in one of the good hotels which are totally cut away from the outside world and set your own pace. Luxor is quieter and smaller hence preferable to Cairo if one wants to relax.
    Egypt being what it is you may still need some regular transport and may be a guide so that you save time on logistics which ever city you decide on.

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    Reading this is bittersweet since we really want to go for Christmas 2017, have the money and 2 weeks, but flights from MSP are all marathons with 3 flights via Europe or an overnight in a hotel at JFK each way to catch the Egyptair nonstops. Unfortunately Egyptair won't ticket from MSP, and fellow Star Alliance airlines United and Air Canada won't ticket from MSP to either the Toronto or JFK nonstops on Egyptair to Cairo. And no Gulf airlines serve MSP. Really tried to get it to work, maybe once Egypt is swamped with tourists again it will work better☹️.

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    Leo you wondered if
    "Welltravelledbrit i hope she got to visit nubian remains in the Sudan".

    Yes I did make it to Sudan this January and we had a great time. I'm still hoping to make it around to my trip report!

    MmePerdu - Personally I'd love a couple of weeks in Cairo but I can see it might not be for everyone. Luxor is quite a popular "winter sun" destination for Brits and plenty of people still go for a couple of weeks or more. It is very reasonably priced, particularly on packages from Europe. Personally for a longer stay I'd preferred Aswan because it's less touristy.

    Hope that helps!

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    Thanks for the information, wtb, very useful. It's always good to have "information" confirmed from independent sources.

    The "less-touristy" assessment is interesting. I went to southern Mexico in October '15 during a month with few tourists, thinking that would suit me better. And if I traveled with a companion that might very well have been true. I went back this winter during the "touristy" season, because it just worked out and because someone I knew would be there, too. I discovered, contrary to how I think of myself, that I had a much better time with people there I knew and had the opportunity to meet.

    However, while Oaxaca has an expat community and more come in winter, many Canadians as well as Americans, the city never seems overrun. It takes a bit of doing to get there and I suspect the beachier places siphon off a good number of the snowbirds. My point, I'd be interested in visiting both Luxor & Aswan, to have a good look and see if a similar mechanism is at work there, too.

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    Mme Perdu - interested to read your comments re meeting people in Oaxaca. Its certainly true that in some places the visitors contribute to the sense of atmosphere.We were in Mexico City for a week last year and loved it we're thinking of a trip to southern Mexico later in the year. We're been to Merida and the Ruta Puuc but would like to visit Oaxaca and perhaps Palenque.

    We only stayed two nights in Luxor and then headed out to a boutiquey hotel on the West Bank near the Valley of the Kings. Luxor was the only place we experienced real aggression from a tout during our entire stay in Egypt and its a place that has been very hard hit by the decline in the tourist dollar. When we were there we found a desperation - or at least that's my explanation for the hostility we encountered. or perhaps it was just one angry individual.

    Given the situation in Egypt I don't think you'll find anywhere swamped with people right now and that why for us it was a good time to go when we did.

    I loved the physical position of Aswan and we stayed at a beautiful hotel so it just spoke to me a little more than Luxor. Aswan is somewhere I'd go for "winter sun" and we almost added on five days back there at the end of our Sudanese trip . Of course the ancient sites in Luxor are unparalleled.

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    Leo..thank you for this great trip report! Next February, we will be heading to Kenya for a week and then on to Cairo for an 8 day tour with Memphis, visiting many of the same spots you did. Reading your report was a great way to prepare. Thank you.

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    I bought my flights today - November in Egypt. I'm so excited. It's been 45 years since I first tried to put a trip together, and while I haven't been short of places to go, I'm so glad this one is on the horizon. Now the fun part, planning my moves. Thanks all for the encouragement.

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