Egypt - The Nile

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20th Dec 2000

eg9.jpg (26405 bytes)Flew 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.

21st Dec

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.

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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.

 22nd Dec

eg4.jpg (30126 bytes)Up 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.

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Back 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.

23rd Dec

Wake up 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.

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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. eg14.jpg (20434 bytes)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).

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Then back & 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 clothes. 

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They 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!

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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!

24th Dec

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. 

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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 than expected!

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. 

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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!!

25th Dec

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.

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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 enormous.

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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 night. 

26th Dec

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 ;-)) 

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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 Christians.  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 J

27th Dec

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. 

Conclusions

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 natured.

 

LINKS

Color Tour of Egypt

Tour Egypt

Antiquities

Egypt Page

Egypt.com

Egyptian State Tourist Office

 

 

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