Egypt is alive with history – Pyramids, Temples, Sphinx. Get there soon before the entire world returns!
Imagine sipping a Gin & Tonic on the verandah overlooking the Nile, palm trees silhouetted by the setting sun.
This is my new happy place – the terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, where Agatha Christie was inspired to write “Death on the Nile” and where I dream about listening to the legendary Scheherazade, as she tells Middle Eastern folk tales to the sultan for 1001 nights, ultimately sparing her life. Oh, how quickly history comes alive in Egypt!
My Egyptian adventure begins in Cairo, an ancient city that has grown to 30 million inhabitants, where the smell of dust and diesel is forgotten as I gaze in awe at the Sphinx and Great Pyramids of Giza. As I crawl into a burial chamber, I feel the weight of a million blocks of carved limestone of the pyramid above me, and marvel at the stone sarcophagus and the wall-to-wall hieroglyphics that tell the story of this pharaoh. The entire ceiling of the tomb is covered in blue and golden stars… an eerie place, even more so since we are the only visitors.
Watching the sun rise over Luxor from a hot air balloon is an experience not to be missed. Floating over temples and statues, some half buried in the sand, some – like the Colossi of Memnon prominently rising out of the desert for the past 3,400 years – all telling the story of Ancient Egypt and her Pharaohs.
I cannot begin to grasp that the Karnak Temple complex was built over a period of 2,000 years and is connected to Luxor Temple by an avenue of Sphinxes, only recently discovered. Walking down this ancient road leaves me speechless, as I imagine the opulent parades and processions these Sphinxes have seen.
Another early morning is rewarded by seeing the sun awaken the ancient walls of Edfu Temple, dedicated to the falcon god Horus. The temple features a circular staircase mimicking the falcon’s ascent to the heavens in a thermal, and – on the other side of the shrine – a straight staircase, descending as the falcon comes in to land.
Nile Cruises are a popular way to travel between Luxor and Aswan, and although only a third of the fleet is currently operational, the Nile is a very busy waterway. Even though itineraries are very similar, it’s important to choose your ship wisely. Here my first-hand experience will serve you well, as one considers food safety, size and docking area.
In many places the cruisers are docked in five or more rows, each consisting of four to five ships tied up alongside each other. Since there is only one access gate to the river bank, every vendor in town is jostling for your coveted tourist dollar! And are they ever persistent!
“Shukraan, shukraan!” I say emphatically as I maneuver to a small café, order my tea and a Shisha pipe and watch the world go by. Horse drawn carriages, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, trucks, donkey carts… absolute chaos, but somehow it all works.
No visit to Egypt is complete without visiting the temple complex of Abu Simbel. Built into the side of a mountain and protected from sunlight, this is the most colourful of the temples I’ve seen. Artisans used a series of mirrors to reflect light into the dark hallways, as they carved beautiful images of gods, pharaohs and scenes of everyday life into the rock walls!
Ask me – I’ll get you there!
Which brings me back to Aswan – and dinner on the terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel. Memories of prominent men and women come to life here. Autographed photos of King Farouk, Queen Noor, Omar Sharif, even Winston Churchill amongst many others grace the hallways of this Grand Hotel. One day I will return to Aswan and be enthralled by more of Scheherazade’s stories of the Arabian Nights!