My first ever blog, so bear with me. The story starts in the early hours at Heathrow Airport.
Silly o’clock in an airport. Not a combination likely to lighten the mood. Check-in was slow and tedious. We were an hour late leaving because one of the other passengers lost their passport. We were to journey via Rome and both planes (Airbus A321's) were falling to bits. Trev's seat reclined of its own accord and my tray table kept collapsing – eventually solved by using the supplied headsets to support it! . On arrival at Cairo we were kept sitting on the tarmac still in the plane for 45 minutes because there was no room to put us!
Eventually however, we were allowed off and made our way to passport control were we were told to buy a visa from the bank concession adjacent. A quick glance to the left revealed no less than six banks but we found the one selling the visas at the third attempt! Shortly after though, with baggage claimed we were on the coach and on our way to the hotel in Cairo.
The journey on the bus was interesting. Egyptians like to make full use of the road and don't let little things like lanes, no entry signs or traffic lights impede their progress. However about 50 hair-raising minutes later we arrived at hotel miraculously still in one piece!
A friend from the States was joining us for the trip. We met up with Vic for a very pleasant dinner, then had an early night.
Day 2 and another early start though thankfully a little later than yesterday and no airports to negotiate.
The main event of the day was the morning visit to the pyramids at Giza, and what an incredible experience. You just cannot comprehend the size of them or how they managed to build them all those thousands of years ago. Dealing with the gift sellers and camel ride merchants was also an experience though far less enjoyable. You learn to say no. A lot.
We stopped for lunch at a traditional Egyptian er, petrol station then passed up on the visit to the museum in favour of a much needed afternoon siesta.
Treated Vic to dinner in the 'Sherlock Holmes' pub at the hotel to celebrate his birthday. The food was good but the price of a beer meant that it was likely to be a dry old week.
Yet another early start (6.45am on the coach!) so a hurried breakfast but did meet an American family – namely a mother and three siblings one of which was born in Cambridge – his father was in the US Air Force years ago and they all know Cambridge quite well.
Then it was time to leave Cairo and the Hilton and to travel to the airport for our flight south to Aswan. The plane was an ageing but serviceable (and comfortable) Boeing 737-500 and ideal for the 90 minute flight south. Shortly after our arrival at Aswan we were on the coach to our first sight of the day – the High Dam.
The High Dam, built in the late 50's was funded by Egypt's' nationalisation of the Suez Canal. It's construction provides Egypt with much of it's drinking water as well as a significant portion of it's electricity requirements.
Then it was on to visit the temple of Isis on the island of Philae via a traditional Egyptian rowing boat but with a Yamaha outboard stuck on the back!
At last we then headed to the town of Aswan to board the boat for our 3 night cruise down the Nile, but more importantly to get some lunch!
A short while later we were on the water again, this time in a 'felucca' – a traditional Egyptian sailing boat for an afternoon trip around elephantine island.
Dinner was very good with a nice variety of food via a buffet – all very casual and laid back.
A couple of (expensive) beers, then time for bed.
A lie in this morning! Well it was for those of us that decided not to go on the optional tour to Abu Simbel that left at 5.00am! The boat was not scheduled to leave Aswan until lunchtime so we enjoyed a quiet morning sunbathing and generally chilling out. You have to be aware though. The gentle breeze that blows disguises but does not lessen the power of the sun in this part of the world – it's very easy to get seriously sun burnt very quickly indeed.
Lunch was the usual buffet but very agreeable then it was time to depart for Kom Ombo.
The boats dock side by side in rows of 3 or 4 so there is some maneuvering involved when the one adjacent the shore needs to leave first (us!) What followed in the next 45 minutes was like something out of a carry-on film! The two boats next to us slipped their moorings and moved out of the way supposedly allowing us to turn and head north. Instead, after a couple of half pirouettes we ended up with the bow buried in the sandy shoreline opposite! Severe remonstrating and admonishing could be heard from the bridge below us as it seemed everyone was blaming everyone else!
After a while though and some rather disturbing noises from the engines we were heading the right way – north to Kom Ombo and our first stop later in the afternoon.
Kom Ombo is home to the temple of Sobek, the Crocodile God – yes you read it right! A rather laborious though entertaining docking procedure followed and we were on shore once again dodging the scarf/gown/hat/postcard/film/cuddly toy/fondue set (?) sellers.
A fascinating tour followed. Pictures do not do this place justice, it is simply amazing. How they managed to build these places all those thousands of years ago, and the fact that they are still standing today is incredible.
A short while later though, it was back on board and time to sail north to Edfu.
This evening was party night. Traditional Egyptian dress was encouraged so we headed to the gift shop to see what they had to offer.
I chose black (of course) and so did Trev. The resulting effect though was less traditional Egyptian and more fetish gothic! (in my case anyway!) I should point out that nothing is worn under these “galabeyas” save for briefs to protect ones modesty. It's the nearest we have ever got to (or ever likely to get to!) cross dressing! However, everyone got into the spirit of things and a great night was had by all.
First stop is Edfu and another ancient relic (as if there is not enough on the bus already – it's like being in the Rottingdean Club!). Lunchtime we pass through the Esna lock and again the captain manages a mini pirouette before eventually pointing the boat in the right direction and entering the lock. The usual sellers were at the side of the dock flinging rugs, towels and scarves up to the sun deck of the boat in the hope that we would buy something. One particular rug did not quite make it and fell back into the river. The seller promptly removed his gabelia and jumped in after it, narrowly missing the boats propellers.!
An hour or so later we docked at Luxor and this was effectively the end of our Nile cruise although were not not leaving the boat until the next day.
This afternoons tour was to Luxor temple, however the journey to the temple was also the start of “flightgate”!
The original itinerary was to fly back from Luxor to Cairo late afternoon the following day returning to the Hilton in time for dinner. However it was announced on the coach that three people from our group would be flying back later, arriving back at Cairo in the early hours. It will come as no surprise to any that the names read out were Easy, Webdale & (Vic) Mealy! On arrival at the temple we had a word with the tour guide and suggested that it was not fair to expect an old man to do that (no, not Trevor but Vic!) He said he would speak to head office and see what could be done. Needless to say, Vic was not a happy man.
The temple was fascinating and awe inspiring as they all have been, however the most memorable experience - in my mind – followed at dusk as we waited for the rest of the group to assemble prior to returning to the boat.
Egypt is now 90% Muslim, so you are never far away from a Mosque and the accompanying Minaret or tower from which followers are called to prayer five times a day. At about 5.00pm the not quite singing but not quite wailing started first from one tower, then another, then another. An incredibly powerful and intoxicating experience even for heathens like me and really does send shivers down your spine.
Dinner was as per usual followed by a belly dancer show which was good if you like that sort of thing.
Another early alarm call – not that they need bother – you can here the sunrise call to prayer from the Minarets even on the boat, then first stop the Valley of the Kings, burial place of Tutankhamen amongst others. The burial chambers are incredible, the walls decorated with hieroglyphics and some still retaining their original colours from many thousands of years ago.
Over 60 former Kings of ancient Egypt are buried here.
Then it was off to another temple – in honour of a queen this time (no laughing at the back please!), one Queen Hatshepsut, however the best part of this was the news that they had managed to get Vic on an earlier flight back to Cairo. We were still on the late flight but they have arranged rooms for us and some people from the other coach) and have thrown in dinner as well, which we thought was very fair.
Lunch was back on board the boat then it was off to the Karnak temple for the final tour of the day. It's impossible to describe this amazing place, however if you have seen “Death on The Nile” or the Indiana Jones film then you would have recognised the large courtyard with 134 huge columns arranged in lines – absolutely stunning! However the temperature was climbing rapidly so we headed back to the air-con comfort of the coach!
Dinner later than we headed to the airport for the one hour flight to Cairo, finally crashing out in the Hilton at 1.30am! Thankfully its a later start tomorrow!
A late start today! The bus didn't leave until 9.30am so plenty of time for a long hot shower then breakfast.
A long drive up to Alexandria today, stopping at an ancient monastery on the way. Then in maid afternoon we reached the city and our first glimpse of the sea since leaving home. Alexandria is Egypt’s gateway to the world being its main port on the Mediterranean. Founded by Alexandria the Great in 322 BC and is reputed to be the birthplace of Cleopatra.
Arrived in the town late afternoon and had a nice drive along the seafront to the hotel – which was fabulous – beautiful sea views from the balcony of a wonderful room. Once again though it’s expensive if you’re a drinker!
Meal at a nearby hotel then got talking to a lovely Indian family, now residing in Rhode Island, New York but having previously lived in London and Ireland. The father was a cardiologist and the mother a GP, so there was plenty to discuss.
Sightseeing around Alexandria this morning and the last proper day of our trip.
The first sight was a Mosque and was glad to be able to go inside and have a look around – after shoes off of course, and some protests from the women in the group who were not allowed in.
Next stop was the catacombs which took us through some of the rougher parts of town and was a real eye opener. Then onto the Roman Amphitheatre before finishing at the National Museum. Then it was time for the long journey back to Cairo and our final night.