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Egypt – Pharoahs, Pyramids, Mummies, Tanks and Guns!

Tuesday 29th April

This morning I met most of the group…Kate, Nicky and Dan are from New Zealand, Kasa is from Australia and Karen from USA. There is one more guy joining us tomorrow.

We popped out in the minibus and went to Memphis and Saqqara for the morning. Memphis is a 5000 year old city which used to be the capital of old Egypt. We wandered around the open air museum taking in all the cool statues and sarcophagi that have been found in the area. The crowning glory is the huge statue or colossus of Rameses II that is lying down in a small building, it is so well-preserved and stunning.

We then went to Saqqara and saw the stepped pyramid which is supposed to be the first pyramid of Egypt. We wandered around the sandy grounds and caught our first sighting of donkeys and camels!

We then grabbed an egyptian sandwich for lunch on the way back to the hotel before having a free afternoon.

The afternoon saw me join Kate in a quest to find a proper supermarket close the hotel, she had found one on her map on her phone, so we set out in search of it.

We walked up over the Nile, found a HSBC so grabbed some cash and then crossed back over the nile onto the other side of the intersection to reach the supermarket.

We then found a shortcut on the way back and had a quick nap before heading out to a typical egyptian family restaurant for dinner. We all had koshari which is a traditional dish of pasta, rice, crispy onion, lentils, chickpeas and chopped tomatoes. Simple but tasty.

Afterwards we went to a rooftop bar for a few drinks before catching a taxi back to the hotel.

Wednesday 30th April

Met Martyn the final member of our group today, so the 7 of us jumped in the minibus at 8am and headed out to the Pyramids of Giza. Everyone expects the pyramids to be in the middle of the desert but in fact they are just off the Cairo ring road behind some highrise flats! Lol

We pulled up and took in the sight of these 3 huge pyramids before climbing up on the largest one for a view of the city. We then headed over to the 2nd pyramid and actually went inside! We wandered down a makeshift ladder ramp thing into the bowels of one of the pyramids of Giza! Immense! Unfortunately like most places in egypt you can’t take photos inside so you will just have to make do with my description!!! Lol

We wandered down through a very low tunnel into a small flat chamber before heading down another very low tunnel into the burial chamber which just contained a huge stone sarcopagus. Decoration wise it was pretty sparse, totally opposite to some of the tombs we would come to visit later in the trip.

After descending into the pharaohs final resting place we drove up onto a high point so we could get some amazing panoramic pictures of the 3 pyramids together. Then we drove 5 minutes over to the area where the sphinx is. Again the sphinx is not where you expect it to be…..most photos show it right by the pyramids but its set down lower than them and is surrounded by walkways and a pit rather than being set in the sandy desert!

We then grabbed some more tasty egyptian falafel sarnies for lunch on route to a papyrus workshop. They demonstrated how papyrus was made before trying to sell us some paintings!

After the papyrus workshop we headed to Tahrir Square area and rocked up at a heavily guarded Egyptian Museum! The road up the side of the museum was closed to traffic so we walked up it in between 10 or so tanks and armed police vehicles. Again, no photos allowed! Lol

We entered the grounds of the museum and could take pics of the statues in the garden area and the buildings that had been burned during the revolution. Cameras were not allowed inside the museum so again no pics for you. Waleed took us around some of the key pieces in the museum before letting us loose upstairs to take in all the pieces found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. I have never seen so much gold and so many treasures that came out of two small rooms! The main piece being the famous gold and blue funerary mask of Tutankhamun, I spent a good few minutes staring into the face of the legend himself! It has got to be one of the most beautiful pieces of antiquity in the world.

Slightly dazed we headed back to the hotel at about 5pm and got packed and ready for our overnight train to Aswan. It’s a 13 hour affair from Cairo to Aswan.

In comparison to indian trains, egyptian sleeper trains are positively luxurious! We had a small cabin with a 3 seater sofa, mini tables and a cupboard containing a sink, tap and mirror. We were served dinner in our room before our beds were folded down and made.

Thursday 1st May

We were woken in the morning to a huge breakfast of about 5 huge pastry items…croissant, pain au chocolate, cheese croissant, baklava and a roll with cheese! I took all the pastries with me and ate them over 2 days!!

I sat in bed watching the egyptian countryside fly by….sand dunes, lush green fields, palm trees, mud brick houses, the Nile and donkey carts and farmers both working the fields.

We pulled into Aswan station at 10.15ish and headed to the hotel. We had a quick freshen up before heading back out again to the beautiful Philae Temple. We were dropped off at the river bank and jumped on a small boat and were ferried across to the entrance of the temple. Again, another amazing sight….we wandered around the temple for an hour or so before sitting along the Nile sipping a cold coke and eating an ice cream!

We then boarded the boat and headed back over to the mainland where hoards of men trying to sell us stuff were lurking! I managed to fend them all off but one of them who upon me refusing to buy his stuff asked me out on a date! I hasten to add I declined that offer as well but not before he banged on the window of the minibus and asked me to call him and blew me a kiss! Hideous!

We then popped back to the hotel before heading out again for a 30 minute felucca ride along the Nile to a small Nubian village for dinner. The felucca ride was so peaceful with no engine chugging away, unfortunately we had to jump in a motorboat for the last 5 minutes of the journey as we had to get to the nubian village area.

We walked from the river to the village, passing an archaeological area containing rock art then we wandered through the maze of streets containing mud brick houses, donkeys, sheep and goats until we came out at a large opening where children and teens were playing football. We had a brief tour around an old mud brick house before we went to a more modern house for dinner. We sat on the floor of the roof of the house, surrounded by murals eating chicken, rice, salad and bread. Amazing food.

Not long after sunset we left and headed back to the hotel as we had a very early start coming!

Friday 2nd May

Wake up call at 3am, now that is the middle of the bloody night! Left hotel at 3.30am and headed for a random car park to meet the rest of our convoy for travelling through the desert to Abu Simbel! I think all the tourists in Egypt met that morning, I think there was a coach load of germans and a few minibuses of others. We all registered with the tourist police and then were provided with armed vehicles for the front and back of the convoy!

The reason behind this is that there is one dusty road that stretches out through the desert to Abu Simbel and due to the risk of kidnap we must be escorted through together!

So at 4.15 the tourist convoy left from Aswan and headed of on a 3 hour drive through the desert! Most people in our group slept but I managed to stay awake and watch the sunrise over the endless dunes and scrubland.

When we arrived at Abu Simbel there was a small hoard of tourists to begin with but everyone soon separated out and we managed to get pictures of Abu Simbel with no one there, we had it to ourselves for a good 15 minutes! Again, no pictures inside but amazing artwork and hieroglyphics everywhere!

At 10am the convoy mobilised and we all headed back together. About 2.5 hours in the coach broke down and we all had to stop and stay together until it was fixed. Our driver, in a moment of sheer brilliance, decided to tell the police that we had a plane to catch and couldn’t wait! So we ditched the convoy and the germans and did the last 30-40 mins of the journey alone, luckily it was uneventful and I am coming to you from a hotel room and not a dank cave in the Sahara desert filled with kidnappers!

Upon our return to Aswan we boarded our cruise ship which was to be home for the next 3 nights! It’s a 5 star ship and looks somewhat like the titanic on the inside! Its got 4 floors, basement is the restaurant, ground floor is the reception with water fountain and lounge areas, first floor is shopping area and rooms, second floor is bar and rooms and the top deck contains a pool and sunbeds!

Our room was cool, nice patio doors with view out to feluccas and boats on the Nile.

We had lunch then all crashed out for a few hours before waking at 6pm to take a walk around the market in Aswan. After which we had tea and went back to bed for good nights sleep!

Saturday 3rd May

Our ship left Aswan at 6am and set sail towards Luxor, I woke at 7.15am and opened the curtains to watch the Nile glide by!

Had breakfast at 8am and at 9am we met in reception to disembark the ship and go to the Kom Ombo temple. The temple was amazing and still had bits of colour on some of the columns even though it’s over 3000 years old! We then went to the museum to see some of the hundreds of mummified crocodiles found at the temple!

Upon wandering back to the ship I was asked by an old man if I was married…so I dug Keith back out and said yes only for the man to say ‘its ok you can have a second husband as I a, Nubian’! Not sure how that makes a difference, but declined his offer anyway!

Back on board we went up to the sundeck and lay watching the egyptian countryside float past whilst listening to music! There was music on deck but it was appalling so I donned my headphones and listened to my own! I think at one point Celine Dion’s song from Titanic came on the loudspeaker which I thought highly entertaining given that we were on a cruise ship!

We had lunch followed by a nap and then met at 3pm to disembark and visit the Edfu temple, we had to jump on pony and carts from the boat to the temple as it was a 10 minute ride. Our pony was somewhat emaciated looking which was sad to see! 😞

The temple was amazing and we spent time with Waleed as he explained the temple to us before we had free time to just sit and take it all in.

Afterwards we headed back to the boat in the emaciated pony pulled cart and went back up on sundeck to catch the last of the rays and watch the sunset.

We had dinner at 8pm and then about 8.40 we headed up onto the sundeck to watch the ship going through 2 locks! Glad I did as although I have been through locks before on a boat, I have never felt like I am part of the movie Captain Phillips!

When we were in the first small lock a load of small wooden boats pulled up next to ours and men got out and walked onto our ship and tied rope around railings and then jumped back into their boats. Upon leaving the lock they were trailing along the side of our boat shouting up to us trying to sell t-shirts, bedspreads, scarves etc.

They literally threw stuff up in the air and tried to get it to land on deck 4 floors up, sometimes they missed and the stuff fell back down into the Nile and the guys in the boat behind tried to fish the stuff out of the water, sometimes they were successful and planted one on deck….they then told us how much it was before we threw them back down! Some of us missed and the stuff landed in the water, some of us were successful in getting the stuff back in their boats! This ridiculous method of selling carried on for about 15 minutes until we entered the next lock! After which they had disengaged from our ship and buggered off to fish out all their wares from the nile! I wonder which unlucky person is going to buy a t-shirt at some point which has been rinsed in the nile!
After all that we headed to bed only to be met with the most ridiculous towel arrangement on my bed! It’s very artistic but really!

Sunday 4th May
Woke up to find the boat moored in Luxor, had breakfast and met group at 9.30am. We were moored 6 boats away from the side so we had to walk through 5 boats to get to the shore! We then jumped into horse carts to go to Karnak temple. It was the one place that was heaving with tourists, primarily russians who spent the whole time photobombing us or posing in a ridiculous fashion for their own photos!

Anyway the temple is absolutely huge and has some areas which are still spectacularly coloured even after all these 1000s of years! We spent 2 hours wandering around before heading back to the boat for lunch.

After lunch I had a nap followed by a couple of hours reading in the bar before meeting the group at 6pm for a stroll past Luxor temple followed by a walk round the market.

Back at the ship we had dinner and then hit the bar for egyptian entertainment! We had a really good male sufi dancer who was similar to whirling dervishes and then a female belly dancer who looked more like a prostitute than a dancer! Lol

Monday 5th May

Up at 6am and left at 7am for the Valley of the Kings! Excited…..

We saw 5 tombs, Rameses III, Rameses IV and Merenptah followed by Tutankhamun and Rameses V & VI. All the tombs were amazing, every inch of wall and ceiling was covered in pictures and hieroglyphics most still with colours in near perfect condition! Again,no cameras allowed so I have no pictures to show you!

The tomb of King Tut is different to the others, as he died suddenly and at a young age he was thrown in a tomb meant for a high priest so its tiny in comparison to the others, only 2 rooms. Hardly any pictures or hieroglyphics the major pull to his tomb is his mummy which is laid out in a glass box for all to see and his gold coffin. Also the wealth of stuff found in his tomb which we saw at the museum previously!

We stood for a while staring into the mummified face of King Tut, who is soooo small it makes you realise how young he was and what he dealt with at such a young age. He was only 19 when he died after having ruled the county for 10 years! Insane!

In the tomb of Rameses V & VI we were the only people in there and just as we were about to leave the burial chamber the power went out and plunged us into total darkness! We had come so far down from ground level that no real light was coming from the entrance and we were left totally blind! We took this as a sign that Rameses wanted us to leave, so we started fumbling up the stairs with the help of a torch before the power eventually came back on and we got outta there quick! Lol

After Valley of the Kings we headed to the funerary temple of Hapshepsut which is where 25 tourists were gunned down in 1997. Bit surreal to be there after having seen it on the news all those years ago!

We then checked into our hotel in Luxor which we only had for freshening up purposes! We had some lunch in darkness as there was a power cut and then sat in the hotel room chatting and using the shit wifi for a few hours! At one point Nicky and I went for a walk to a supermarket for something to do.

A bit later Waleed and Dan popped out and bumped into a Muslim Brotherhood protest! Like you do!

About 10pm we jumped in the minibus and headed to the train station for our train back to Cairo. Same type of train and same massive carb overload breakfast which I was still eating this morning! Lol

Tuesday 6th May

Woke at 7am, got brought breakfast and arrived at about 9am into Cairo station. Headed to hotel for a quick change before popping out to see the Citadel, mosques and old Cairo. Old Cairo was cool, loads of narrow streets bustling with action! The rest of the group wandered around the market for 45 minutes but I decided to not bother and sat with Waleed in a lovely square having a drink and thrashing him at Backgammon or Tawla as its called here!

After thrashing Waleed twice we went for lunch which was a typical egyptian thing…..pancake type calzone thing!! It was really filling so most of my leftovers went to the cats! The rest of our leftovers went to a young girl who came begging for food, she filled a carrier bag with our leftovers and sprinted off to have a feast with her siblings probably!

Again we had a nap prior to final dinner as a whole group! We went back to the Kochari place and had a quick bite there before hitting the rooftop bar for a couple of drinks.

Wednesday 7th May

I was up early again today, although not the middle of the night! I was collected at 7am by my driver and chauffeured in a minibus to Alexandria! It was just under a 4 hour drive each way due to the awful traffic! We rocked up in Alexandria just after 10.30am and picked up my tour guide from her house. We then drove to the new Alexandria library which is an amazing building in the waterfront! It was built as the previous library which was a wonder of the world was destroyed! The new one was designed by the same company who designed the Sydney Opera House apparently!

We then went to the Citadel which is the position for the Pharos of Alexandria which was an ancient wonder of the world! One of the 7 in fact! Pieces of the original pharos have been used in the making of the citadel!

After spending almost 45 minutes driving down narrow streets selling fruit and veg we arrived at the catacombs.

These dates from the Greco-Roman era of Alexandria and were originally for a high status family but over the years the catacombs were extended to cater for the general public.

You can only go down 2 floors but it’s absolutely amazing. You spiral down the staircase around the orignal shaft where the bodies were lowered and the first floor contains rooms where family members would have sat and feasted with the dead?! Then the second floor drops down to a crypt which wouldn’t look out-of-place on the set of Harry Potter! Carved out of the stone there is an entrance covered in carvings or half egyptian half greek origin with 2 totally amazing statues of the husband and wife the catacombs were originally for, the statues are 2 of the most amazing I have ever seen. The detail is immense and the guy’s face was beautiful he had the most amazing cheekbones! I will google the catacombs and if I can find a picture of it I will add it to mine as again no cameras allowed.

The 3 sarcophagi were carved and surround by wall carvings again. Half greek half egyptian! Amazing!

After the catacombs we attempted to drive to the museum! The traffic was awful and it took nearly 45 minutes again! It’s literally quicker to walk!

We did, however, get stuck beside 3 funeral processions heading to the islamic cemetery and then stuck due to a heavily overloaded timber lorry trying to squeeze down between the market stalls and the funeral processions!

The lorry was so overloaded it was stuck on the overhead power cables! There was a man walking in front of the lorry with a wooden ladder lifting up each section of the power cables so the lorry could pass underneath! Ridiculous!

In the meantime we are parked up literally in the market stalls which meant everyone was attempting to sell me crap through the window! The worst thing for sale had to be second-hand bras!

Finally we made it to the museum and I had a quick wander round the 3 floors which I pretty much had to myself like everything in Alexandria! The highlight of the museum has got to be the section containing items found under the water in the harbour of Alexandria! It is said most of the ancient city is under the water. The statues found so far are breathtaking. Huge colossus of Isis which is absolutely beautiful, made even better by the fact it was accompanied by a large photo of how it looked when found in the seabed. Amazing! Again, no photos! Bummer!

We then drove from the museum to a place for falafel sarnies! Drove down streets containing car parts, when I say car parts I don’t mean just lights and tyres, I mean actual half cars! Front and rears of cars stacked up on the pavements still with number plates attached! Apparently you can just buy them and repair your car! Must happen a lot in Egypt given the number of half cars available and the terrible driving! Lol

I must admit I spotted a few english plated cars cut in half and wondered to myself whether they are stolen! How else would an english car end up on a pavement in Alexandria sliced in 2! Note to self… to police upon return to UK and potentially be rewarded for busting underground egyptian car theft cartel! Lol

We eventually made it back to Cairo at 6.30pm and met with remnants of the group for dinner in a local restaurant. Some of the guys ordered grilled pigeon and indulged in the local delicacy of pigeon head (complete with eyes, brain and skull!)

Thursday 8th May
Today has seen me have a lazy day and potter around. I woke at 9.15ish and headed out at 10am for a walk to the ATM and shop for rations for the day! Got back about 11.30am and started to write this! Had snacks for lunch then a quick nap before finishing my blog and uploading my pics.

Tonight will see me head down to the hotel restaurant for dinner before packing my rucksack ready for tomorrow mornings flight to Santorini.

Egypt has been immense….a geeks paradise!

The people are amazingly warm and friendly but desperation has set in as the tourist industry is non-existent and the majority of them rely on it for work! It was amazing to literally have the treasures of egypt to ourselves but I hope for the people’s sake that the tourist industry picks up again and more and more people come to stare into the face of King Tut and descend into the bowels of a pyramid at one of the remaining 7 wonders of the ancient world!

As much as we were surrounded by tanks and guns I have never felt safer and hope people are not deterred by this added layer of protection!

For egypt without the hoards and a personal one on one with King Tut…go now…..

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