out from Gatwick on Britannia Airlines and were pleasantly surprised. Reasonably
comfortable and not too bad a flight (5hrs) despite a 30 minute delay before
take-off. Arrived in Luxor after
dark. Was worried about not having got visas in advance but in fact this proved
to be the best deal They cost £15 in the UK (with all the hassle of sending away
passports, registered post, postal orders) and £15 in Egypt. Except in Egypt you
also got some change (about £6) in Egyptian Pounds, which was handy. Handy for –
tipping everyone in sight! Managed eventually to get our cases onto our coach
(it cost us, of course!) Arrived at
MS Ra soon after. Nice ship, bigger than I expected. 11 years old – nicely
furnished although the bedrooms & shower rooms could do with a facelift.
Cabins quite spacious, balcony tiny but useful. Buffet dinner that night – large
dining room, friendly staff, good food. Wine list limited. On asking what wine
do you have, response was red, white or rosé. All same Egyptian brand. Cost £12
sterling. Champagne was 10 times as much, if I remember correctly! We gave
that a miss! Had long chat with jeweller on board – Mo(hammed) who also lives in
Sunderland, has jewellery shop in York and married to an English woman. He told
us all about the hieroglyphics and on hearing it was exactly 20yrs since our
first date, gave us a glass perfume bottle. Considering buying some cartouches
with our names on in hieroglyphs. Cruised to Esna and onwards during the night.
Lots of stopping & starting in the night – realised later this must have been
when we went through the lock.
Got up to find ship
had been decorated with Christmassy things overnight. A shame in a way as it
looked much classier without all the extras. Buffet breakfast – some strange
things – including a curry sauce! Chef on hand to cook omelettes etc if wanted.
Investigated deck – lots of loungers, in & out of the sun, 2 spa baths and a
small pool. Also a bar and tables & chairs. Very spacious. Very peaceful
cruising along the Nile, watching a scene out of biblical times. Went to book
extra trips – to Abu Simbel (flying from Aswan), and sound & light shows at
Philae & Karnak. Fancied a balloon flight but that meant a pre-dawn start on our
last day so didn’t bother.
Arrived at Edfu at
11.30 and disembarked for our first temple visit. Lots of hassle getting from
ship to coach – Jo got offered a date, and not the sort you eat. Temple is 2nd
largest in the country and the most intact. Mohammed, our Egyptologist guide,
was brilliant. He brought the history to life and played a major part in the
holiday, accompanying us on all the visits. About 45 Thomson guests, we were
split into 2 groups with a guide each. Very quiet – we must have picked the best
week of the entire year as there were only a couple of groups there. Sometimes
there are 2000 people! Visit lasted nearly 2 hrs, just right length of time.
Weather good, sunny & warm. That evening we ordered cartouche necklaces for Jo &
I and a ring for Sarah with her name on. Then it was time for the Captain’s
cocktail party. All very pleasant.
at 6.45 – lots of early starts! Had docked in Aswan overnight and then took
coach to a harbour from which we went in small boats across to Philae Temple
which is on an island. When the High Dam was built in Aswan in the 1960s, some
areas were flooded. Philae was one and the entire temple was moved to higher
ground – same thing happened to Abu Simbel. You’d never know though. Less
complete than Edfu but beautiful. Dedicated to Isis, wife of Osirus. Learned
lots of mythology. Busier than the day before but not bad. Warmer weather than
day before. Bought Haematite necklaces back on the small boat, from a Nubian who
boarded. Cost £3 each. Next stop the
High Dam. It’s building created Lake Nasser which stretches almost into the
Sudan. Not as impressive as I was expecting. Next stop the Papyrus Museum where
we saw a demo and were able to buy from a huge range of paintings on papyrus.
Bought 4. Warned about fakes being sold on the streets – they won't last.
to the Ra II for lunch then another trip – this time to Kitcheners island which
is a botanical garden. Beautiful, shady, quiet and full of sweet cats, mainly
kittens, as well as the loveliest trees etc. Hassled getting off and back on to
the small boats. Would sometimes like to look but if you show an interest n the
wares, you haven’t a hope of getting away! We also saw The Old Cataract Hotel
(pictured above right) where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile. In the
evening went back to Philae for the sound & light but wished we hadn’t booked
that one. You can’t beat a tour with an experienced guide. Any amount of sound &
light just isn’t as good. Nice atmosphere though and it looked very pretty. Late
dinner at 9pm followed by a Nubian dance evening but we elected for an early
night. A very busy day.
at 5.55am for our trip to Abu Simbel. Could have been worse, sometimes it leaves
much earlier. Left ship at 7am for Aswan airport. 50 seater plane for the 35 min
flight. It had seen better days but did the job. Flew over desert and Lake
Nasser. Desert very inhospitable. Saw temples from the air but the only way to
appreciate their scale is to stand right in front of them when you are totally
dwarfed. There are 2, cut into the mountainside, one for Ramses II who has to
have had the biggest ego ever! And one for his favourite wife, Nefertari.
Because they had to be moved, new mountains had to be created! Considered to be
the 8th wonder of the Ancient World.
Much hotter here, not far from Sudanese border. Very interesting, smaller
than the other temples - they all have their own individual charm. More
colour remaining due to being covered. Back on board for lunch and then headed
back North towards Luxor with a stop at Kom Ombo in the early evening. Spent
afternoon on deck catching some rays & stacking some zzzzs and doing some
reading. Bit chilly due to wind but we started looking a healthier colour. Had
to cross through 2 other ships to get ashore at Kom Ombo. A nice place, more
people selling but they weren’t as pushy as in some other places. Hard to resist
the tiny boy who stretched out his arms in front of us – they were covered in
necklaces. Sarah would have bought him to take home, given the chance. Also a
snake charmer but we kept well away! The Temple is beautiful and was lit up. Saw
a Nileometer and a mummified crocodile. Temple dedicated to two Gods – Sobek
(crocodile) and Harreris (senior Horus). Lovely, really enjoyed the visit.
Succumbed to temptation on the way back to the ship, buying 4 brightly coloured
Nubian shawls for £12. Wished we’d brought a supply of biros, everyone wanted
them, even the police (who are everywhere, armed too).
& time for the Egyptian evening. We hired our galabeyas on the ship. Went mad
with the Egyptian style make-up. In reception the staff band was in full swing
and everyone got roped into dancing. Jo & Sarah were horrified. After a while we
realised they had scarpered and found them changing back into their normal
didn’t like this one little bit. Dinner was an Egyptian buffet – I preferred it
and would have liked to eat like this all week. Then it was party time with lots
of silly games. I managed to win the first, which involved dancing around and
then forming groups when the music stopped – the host calling out a number for
how many per group. It ended up with 1 man, me and another woman, rather
embarrassing dancing on your own like that. The final call was 2, they paired up
– and that meant I was the winner. Won a drink which I really needed by then!
The photos above show
one of the very silly games and one of our tour group, with our guide relaxing
in the front :-) Back in our cabins, the staff had been having fun. They had
made birds from our spare blankets and dressed them in our sunglasses and
jewellery we left lying around!
Skipped the early
morning trip to Esna Temple. It was very early to enable us to get through the
lock in good time. Delays are notorious – some weeks before they were there for
over 30 hrs!! Quite an interesting time – whilst we were negotiating the locks,
a number of men were trying to sell things to us from small boats alongside us!
They threw us a blanket which I felt obliged to catch rather than letting it
fall in the river. Returned it though but succumbed to a tablecloth for a fiver.
They threw it up, we threw the money back down! Got through on time and went off
to Luxor - what a lovely morning it was, just cruising past the banks of the
Nile. Very relaxing, never boring.
The afternoon was
spent visiting Karnak & Luxor Temples. Karnak is vast, consisting of a number of
temples – I just couldn’t believe the 134 enormous columns that once held up the
roof. Amazing scale. Then Luxor temple, which is much smaller but still lovely.
Sarah definitely suffering from temple fatigue by now but Jo bearing up better
Ra II belongs to
Estmar, a company that’s been cruising for 50 years and they have their own
docking area which meant we didn’t have to dock against a load of other ships.
Some were docked 4 abreast and it must be worse in busier seasons.
Dinner was waiter
service for the first time and was called “A Special Christmas Dinner with One
Glass of Wine”! At least, that’s what the menu said and yes, we did get a “free”
glass each. Far too much food of course……. That evening there was a belly dancer but she wasn’t very
good. For a start, she had her belly covered. We later found out it was because
it was still Ramadan. Better was the man that whirled around for ages without
falling over……. And the camel…… That night Martyn gave me my cartouche and a
surprise, a lovely gold ring with tiny diamonds, very pretty. Mo did well out of
us – Jo’s & Sarah’s pieces also beautiful. We’d left our pillows in a pyramid
for the staff, following last night’s offering. On arriving back, we found that
they had made a far better one!!
Wake up call at 6am on
Christmas Day for trip to Valley of the Kings. All tombs are on the West bank –
the West representing the afterlife as that’s where the sun sets. Our ticket
enabled us to visit 3 tombs – the first was of Ramses IV and we did this one
with Mohammed. Tombs were cut into the mountains in a bid to hide them from tomb
robbers. Didn’t work, of course. Only one discovered so far intact was
Tutankamun’s in 1922. Contents now in Cairo Museum. Ramses tomb was lovely, the
colours are so much brighter than in the temples as no sunlight has spoilt them.
Walls are covered with the Books of The Dead. Had choice for next 2 tombs and
chose the most “difficult” hoping they’d not be so busy. The first was
Merneptah’s and meant a long wall down steps into the tomb. Quite hard work but
worth it – the corridor led to a large chamber containing a huge sarcophagus.
Very eerie atmosphere.
The second really was
a challenge - that of Tuthmosis III
and meant climbing a steep ladder up the mountainside, (see right hand photo)
then going down steep steps into a chamber then yet more into the
cartouche-shaped burial chamber. We got lumbered with a man wanting to guide us
which was irritating. Very hot and stuffy, very crowded but an amazing place.
Then all those stairs back up again…….. and down again. Next stop,
the alabaster workshop we were we were treated to a demo and opportunities to
buy but we resisted this time. The hand made alabaster is very fine, light and
almost translucent compared to the heavy stuff which is factory made. Quite a
show was put on and there were jokes about them having “Asda price” etc.
Then onto Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. Very familiar sight from postcards and
books, cut into the mountain. Being restored so couldn’t see it all. It’s built
on 3 terraces and is most impressive. Yet more steps. Very hot, little shade.
Then a last stop for photos of the Colossi of Memnon. Not in great condition but
Back on ship feeling
very tired. Had we been delayed, all that would have been done on the same day
as Luxor & Karnak – not sure we’d have coped too well with that.
Spent afternoon on deck and then evening went back to Karnak for the sound &
light. Again. Wished we hadn’t booked. OK if you haven’t already had a good
tour. Tended to be a repeat of what we’d already heard. Crowded too. Early
Today it was off to
Dendera by road – in an armed convoy, the Nile being too low for travel that far
North. Fair bit of hanging around while all the vehicles arrived but once going,
only took an hour or so. Temple dedicated to Hathor, goddess of music, love and
generally enjoying yourself ;-))
Wonderful place, and
the only one to have a carving of Cleopatra VII (the only Cleo to rule Egypt) on
the walls, she being more interested in war than having temples built for her
glory! (photo on the right). Very well preserved place although like many
others, lots of the carvings had their faces chiseled out by the Coptic
Some of the rooms were only discovered in 19th C though and
must have been silted up as they were still unspoilt and had retained many of
their colours. 2 highlights here – the roof and the crypt. The crypt was reached
by a steep staircase and meant crawling under a low rock. It’s basically a
corridor but what a place. The walls are still smooth and the carvings and
colours lovely (see centre photo above). The roof is the only one on any of the
temples we visited and gave us views across the land. More steps! My legs really
ached by the next day. Lowlight – the loo, the procedure being if you really
can’t wait till you get back to the ship, you approach the person standing
outside them. He gives you a couple of sheets of paper and you wait till it’s
free. Then you brace yourself, go in & hope you can manage under difficult
circumstances! Then you escape, have to tip for the privilege and if you’re
lucky, may get an extra sheet to dry your hands on (if there’s any running
water!!) In fact this was better than some……. Then back to the ship in
convoy. Spent rest of the day relaxing. There was a quiz in the late afternoon –
reckon the team that marked our team’s paper cheated though as I’m sure we got
more than the team whose paper we marked, yet we managed to come 5th
(yes, out of 5 teams!) More bellydancing in the evening, still same
dress…… My poor daughters got grabbed and lead onto the dancefloor by the dancer
but one escaped and the other flatly refused to do as she was told. Martyn & I
escaped to bed and left them in the bar. This evening there was a crocodile on
our beds! Made up of blankets, and reading a book
Last day, which we
spent on deck, topping up the tans. Didn’t have to leave till 4pm but decided
against doing anything in Luxor. Drove to the airport and saw how the Muslims
celebrate the end of Ramadan. They were having a great time, we realised how
quiet it had been beforehand. There were street vendors selling food & drinks
all over the place and everyone was looking really happy & festive. Got into the
airport without too much hassle. Not a big place and the announcement system
consist of a man on a chair shouting Manchester or Gatwick. Everything on time
and a good flight home. Temperature we left must have been at least 25C – drove
home in temps as low as –5C! Soon after our arrival, it snowed.
A wonderful trip,
perfect way to escape the hype and rush back home. Would highly recommend it.
Some people were staying on in Luxor for a week, others were going on to the Red
Sea. I was actually glad to be going home, although I guess the Red Sea would be
nice. Luxor didn’t hold any great attractions for me although it would have been
good to see the museums, had time permitted. We felt we’d have longer than a
week, probably because we didn’t waste time sleeping late and got such a lot
done as well as having plenty of relaxation time. Would love to go back to see
Cairo and certainly enjoyed the cruising experience. The people were lovely
despite the hassling which is due to such acute poverty. It was all very good
Color Tour of Egypt
Egyptian State Tourist Office