Hi everyone! I am back from a wonderful 2 weeks in Egypt and wanted to provide a quick trip report. I kept a blog while I traveled as well, so as soon as I get my pictures added to the blog, I'll post the link to that too for anyone who wants more details.
Arrived in Cairo about 7 pm on Saturday, Jan 26th. Was staying at the Hotel Longchamps and had arranged for a pickup from the airport. To my great relief, he was right there waiting for me, together with his son about 9 years old. Hotel Longchamps was ok. The area in Zamalek was nice but of all the hotels I stayed at while in Egypt, this was my least favorite. Because it was very chilly and wet when I arrived, my hotel room was freezing and there was no heat. Breakfast was ok. The free internet in the lobby didn't work the whole time I was there and I didn't find the staff overly friendly or helpful.
Anyway, Sunday I had arranged for a tour of Islamic Cairo and Coptic Cairo with Casual Cairo Detours (Debbie Senters). Debbie wasn't available to take me so her colleague Colin took me instead. Unfortunately, I felt like Colin really rushed through things and we didn't even go through any of Islamic Cairo besides the Citadel. While it was nice to have a driver to get around and to have someone guiding me my first day, I was a little disappointed in how the whole day went.
Monday was one of the highlights of my tour. I had arranged with a company called Empire Travel to do a day trip to Middle Egypt - Beni Hassan and Tell el Amarna. I chose this because it's off the beaten path and because I had read a bunch about Akhetaten and Nefertiti and really intrigued by the history of that area. I was picked up at 5:30 am from my hotel and during the 4+ hour drive down there, my guide Adel gave me a very thorough overview of Egyptian history going back to the first pharoahs. We visited 4 tombs in Beni Hassan and then went on to Tell al Amarna. Here I was a bit disappointed because Adel insisted there was nothing to see but one really good tomb, even though I had read in my Rough Guide that there was a lot more. After that, we stopped in the town of Mallawi for a late lunch and then stopped quickly at Tuna el-Gebel to see a couple more tombs before heading back to Cairo, arriving around 9:30 pm.
Tuesday was another day on my own before my tour started and I had arranged through the Hotel Longchamps for a guide to take me to Sakkara, Dahshour and Memphis. The weather was gross - cold, windy and rainy. But it was still enjoyable. I went inside the Red Pyramid at Dahshour and was pretty much by myself. And my guide, Amira, took me to some pretty cool tombs at Sakkara in addition to seeing the Step Pyramid. However, several things I had read about in my Rough Guide Amira said were closed. Memphis was just completely unimpressive and we didn't spend too much time there. Afterwards, Amira took me to Felfela for some Egyptian food. I just told her to order because I didn't have a clue. It was really nice and I found that I liked most everything!
Tuesday night I transferred to my hotel for my Gecko's tour - the Pharoahs Hotel in Dokki. This was definitely a step up from the Longchamps.
My tour really started Weds morning. I did the Gecko's Nile & Sinai Revealed tour. There were 14 in our group - I was the only American with 13 Aussies! Weds was the Egyptian Museum and then Giza. I found the Egyptian Museum way too crowded to really enjoy it. We were just constantly fighting through other tour groups to look at anything. I paid extra to see the Mummies Room and was glad I did, if only because it was less crowded!
I was pleasantly suprised by Giza. I had heard so many negative comments about how touristy it is and how much you get hassled but I didn't find it bad at all. Nothing worse than say the Coliseum in Rome or Eiffel Tower in Paris. I didn't pay extra to go inside one of the big pyramids since I had already gone in the one at Dahshour, but I did go down into a smaller tomb for Queen Hetepheres, the wife of King Snofru.
Weds night was the overnight train to Aswan. Again, my expectations were very low based on everything I had read, so I was pleasantly surprised by how decent it was. The toilets were still yucky, but not nearly as bad as I expected.
After arriving in Aswan on Thursday, we went to see the Temple of Philae. That was really nice. That night we hit the markets for the first time to try our hand at bargaining and had a lot of fun with it.
Friday morning was an early rise to go to Abu Simbel. Our bus in the convoy was FREEZING - literally our toes were frozen when we arrived. And it was still very chilly outside when we got there. The site itself though was amazing. My pictures definitely don't do it justice. Looking at the displays they had about how the whole move was done was even more incredible - it's still hard to fathom!
After Abu Simbel, we boarded our cruiseboat, the MS Sinbad. Most of the group went out on a felucca ride then, but I got my roommate to join me to go see the Tombs of the Nobles on the West Bank. We managed to find the local ferry and take that across and then had an awesome caretaker/guard take us through the tombs. That was one of the highlights of my trip for sure! We were like the only ones there and it was great to interact with the locals. After that it was back to the markets and some great fun with some of the vendors.
Saturday morning we got to do a camel ride to St Simeon's Monastery. That was awesome as well. I was a bit nervous at first, but once we got going, it was actually very relaxing just bouncing through the desert on the back of a camel.
We set sail Saturday afternoon and stopped at the Temple at Kom Ombo that evening. Later that evening was our "fancy dress" party on the boat and we ended up just staying up all night since we were scheduled to get up at 6 am anyway to visit the Temple at Edfu.
Sunday afternoon we ventured into Esna for a bit while we waited to go through the locks. We arrived in Luxor Sunday night and went into town, which I really liked. It felt so much cleaner than Aswan - somewhat European.
Monday we rose early to ride donkeys to the Valley of the Kings. I was more scared about the donkeys than the camels even though you're lower to the ground! Then we saw 3 tombs in the Valley - one of the Ramses kings, Tuthmosis III and Ramses I. Later that afternoon we took horse-drawn carriages to Karnak Temple. I loved Karnak - it was just amazing! was a bit tired of our tour guide at that point though - especially when he started telling us the myth of Osiris and Isis, which every other guide I'd had has told and somehow they all manage to tell it slightly differently.
That night we went to see Luxor Temple all lit up before heading to the train back to Cairo. This train overall was a bit cleaner than the train to Aswan but the toilets were much worse! Luckily, I met a nice Egyptian man who took me to the first class cabin so I could use one of those toilets, which were MUCH better.
Tuesday was a free day in Cairo and I ventured out on my own to see more of Islamic Cairo and Khan el Khalili. I got a bit scammed a couple times (see my blog for more details) and was feeling very frustrated but I tried not to let it bother me.
Wed was on to Sinai, where we stayed at a nice hotel/hostel complex near St Catherine's. Thursday we got up at 2 am to head to the base of Sinai to start our climb. We started at 3 and made it to the top about 5:30. Rented a blanket and ate a Snickers and waited for the sun to rise. It was freezing cold, but well worth it as the sunrise was amazing! Worked our way back down and then waited for the monastery to open. Then it was on to Dahab for some relaxation.
Thursday night we went out with our tour manager to watch the Egypt-Ivory Coast soccer game and got to experience some serious excitement as Egypt won!
Friday I had arranged to go with another company, Samar Tours, to the Coloured Canyon. That was awesome. We hiked through the Canyon for about an hour - a total obstacle course of rocks and boulders. Lots of fun. Then a CRAZY ride through the desert in a 4WD truck to an oasis for lunch before hiking into the White Canyon for another hour.
Saturday it was back to Cairo and then off to the airport about 1 a.m. for my flight back to the US.
Overall, it was an amazing trip! There are definitely things that took some getting used to and things I will not miss, but I am so glad I went and I would highly encourage anyone to go. I could easily see myself going back and spending some more time in Luxor and maybe checking out the Western Desert.
Sorry so long - like I said before, I'll post the link to my blog and pictures once theyre up.