Exploring Egypt, Cyprus, Israel and Turkey
  • Day1

    Travel Day: Vancouver >Cairo

    January 9, 2019 in Egypt ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    The flight plan for this trip: Vancouver>Toronto>Frankfurt>Cairo on an Air Canada/Lufthansa combination. I've done the Vancouver-Toronto leg many times, but this would be a first stop into Frankfurt, and of course, Cairo itself. This trip also marks the first time I've flown with Lufthansa, though I've always wanted to try, it's just not worked out in the past.

    A bit of a bumpier than usual ride to Toronto, I take it as due to the weather. A Dreamliner over the Atlantic to Frankfurt, but I found the flight a little warm. One of the windows was also funny, glowing blue while the rest were dark, and then purple while the rest were blue. Didn't spot the pyramids on our descent into Cairo, but I didn't expect to.

    The visa on arrival process is very simple. Head to the counter next to the bank counter, put down $25USD to receive your sticker. Then take your sticker to immigration, where you should put it in your passport. My arrival transfer rep found me at this point, how they pick us out of the crowd, I will never know. I suppose there probably aren't too many foreigners coming off the plane, but still, it's a bit trippy.

    The rest of the arrival process was smooth and after a quick stamp at immigration, it was off to pick up my backpack. Traffic was inching along bumper to bumper and even at a standstill at certain times. It's "Friday night" in Egypt, as they take Friday and Saturday off, and I happened to arrive on Thursday night, aka 'Friday night' if you know what I mean. Despite the traffic, it's actually a good thing, but more on that later on.

    It took about an hour and a half to get to the hotel. There's a few sites to see along the way, but I nodded off here and there due to the travel. Jetlag wise, not bad, crashed at a normal hour and out like a lightbulb. My room was on the cold side, so i pulled out the extra blanket and slept in my hoodie and woolly socks, while scrunched up in a ball trying to keep warm. Outside, the horns are blaring, but somehow I'm able to tune them out.
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  • Day3

    Gezira

    January 11, 2019 in Egypt ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    With a few hours between my 2 Urban Adventures tours today, I headed nearby to the Cairo Tower on Gezira for a panoramic view of the city. Our driver was kind enough to drop my nearby, saving me precious time. The view was good, but the newly increased admission felt a bit high, though some would argue it's comparable to other buildings around the world.

    Next, off to the neighborhood of Zamalek, location on the north end of the island. It's been described as an area for more affluent folks, and several embassies, including Nigeria are you. You'll know it's an embassy if it's a really cool building you want a photo of, but the guards to wave you off. It's true, it happened twice today...maybe if I were quicker on the draw.

    There's a few streets of interest and exploration, one block some pretty neat mosaics. I also read about a skin care line named after Nefetari, but I didn't end up finding the store as it was time to start heading back to meet for my second tour. Maybe I'll come across it later.
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    Leona Heraty

    Love your photos, Rita! The view from the tower is amazing! :-)

    1/14/19Reply
     
  • Day5

    Giza Pyramids & Egyptian Museum

    January 13, 2019 in Egypt ⋅ 🌬 11 °C

    Off to the pyramids of Giza today! They're quite close to the city so it's a fairly short drive. There were a few busloads of tourists but nothing crazy. We got ample time to walk around and take our pyramid photos. The main one we're told is to pretend you're holding the top of the pyramid. At the Great Pyramid (Cheops). you can go inside for 360 LE, but there's nothing to see. For the experience of going in itself, we were advised better to save our money and pay 60LE at the second pyramid instead.

    The second pyramid belongs to the son of Cheops' son. According to tradition, he couldn't build a pyramid bigger than than his father's, so to compensate, he built his smaller pyramid on higher ground, so it you look at the pyramids in a line, it actually looks as tall as the first one. You can see the pyramids line up at a viewpoint, but it was quite dusty out, so it's a bit hard to see.

    After the pyramids, it was off to see the Sphinx on the side of the complex. The guardian of the burial area, it was really cool to see this man head on the body of a lion. There's a sound and light show in the evenings as well, and is supposed to be the best in the country.

    We had some free time in the afternoon, and most of us went to the Egyptian Museum. It is being relocated once the new building is built, but we still got to wander through a lot of exhibits of sarcophaguses, burial masks, perfume bottles, mummies and more.

    Tonight, it was off the train station for an overnight train to Aswan. There's something rustic about travelling by trains in this part of the world, giving us a feeling that we were travelling as folks did decades ago when they visited this exotic land.
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  • Day6

    Aswan Afternoon

    January 14, 2019 in Egypt ⋅ ☀️ 10 °C

    We arrived at Aswan train station this morning and headed to the lovely Isis Hotel, right on the Nile. Our rooms weren't ready yet, so we headed off to explore a bit. Not quite knowing where things were, we were keen to explore. There's a lot of boatmen and vendors calling out for his to hire feluccas as we walked by the water. A few are a bit persistent but most leave you alone when you say no thank you.

    Along the walk, we spotted what looked like a mosque atop a small hill. According to my map, it was the Nubian cataract. There weren't any other visitors there, except for us and an older couple. We were invited to have a look inside the mosque, I was admittedly a little nervous as the doors were all closed and they opened one to let us in. I know I shouldn't feel that way, but it's been a bit ingrained in us. My new friend from the door stepped inside, while I waited by the door just in case. The inside of the mosque though was quiet and beautiful.

    From there, we set off to find the market. The souk is long and lots of vendors vied for attention. No hassle, no charge to look echoed around us. People asked where we were from. The fruits and vegetables market for the locals was calmer as we could simply pass through.

    For lunch, we went to Aswan Moon, a restaurant along the river that I had found on Wikitravel. They didn't have a few options on the menu, but the grilled fish I ended up getting was quite tasty. The manager was from Sudan and we had some interesting conversations. He even wrote our names out in Arabic.

    After lunch, we set off to the Fryal Gardens, a serene section of green by the river. Admission is 10LE. There were families there as well, and you get a nice view of the Nile along with Elephantine Island. We did a fairly quick loop around before setting off to the Unfinished Obelisk.

    The route on the map took us into a poorer part of town where the streets were more sandy than road. Definitely a different side of Aswan that perhaps not too many see. When we got to the Obelisk, nobody was there. It was a bit eerie having this pile of rock all to ourselves and a few watchmen. As you stand high above the quarry, you can see the city beyond, as if behind a veil between ancient times and modern.

    With no other visitors nearby, there were no taxi's to take back to the hotel though we still had enough time to walk back to meet the group at 4pm for our motorboat tour and Nubian dinner. It was still a distance though so we ended up flagging down a tuk tuk. While a fun ride, perhaps not the best idea as the drivers don't appear to speak English even though they were fairly young. We thought we'd agreed on a price, but when they stopped to let us off (after attempting to drive in circles), the amount they wanted was 4 times what we'd agreed to. The driver was quiet, but his friend who'd hopped on to help with directions was the one who wanted more. We were close enough to our hotel at this point, and also stopped in front of a shop, where the shopkeeper came out to see what was going on.

    This is one prime example to always have small bills and be firm. We explained to him the situation. Funny enough, we had discussed leaving a tip above the agreed fare. After a few rounds, the shopkeeper decided to stay out of it. No need to fear though, we were in a safe area, and I held out the original amount plus the little. "Take it or we're leaving". The driver came around at this point, and accepted this. Whew.

    Tonight we visited a Nubian family on Elephantine Island, and had a nice walk around the village. One of the ladies had her birthday so they also had cake.
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  • Day7

    Abu Simbel & Philae

    January 15, 2019 in Egypt ⋅ ☁️ 11 °C

    5am call today for Abu Simbel, almost all of us signed up for this option, and piled onto a minibus to make the 3hr drive south. When we arrived, there was a lot of buses there making this site the busiest so far.

    Everyone stopped for the token photos of the temple before a brief talk and free time. The site itself was amazing, as was the hearing the efforts of the relocation itself to save and preserve it when they made Lake Nasser. To the right of the temple, Ramses II had a temple built for his wife, Queen Nefetari. You can visit inside both temples where the walls are covered with hieroglyphics.

    I recommend going to the temple for Nefetari first to avoid the crowds. When you come back to the main temple, you'll be able to get photos with smaller crowds if any.

    Back in town, we joined the rest of our group for yummy and cheap falafel sandwiches before rushing off to Philae, where a temple dedicated to the goddess Isis was relocated to an island. We'd originally wanted to visit it during the sound and light show at night, but the logistics of getting there and the possibility of cancellation if there were low numbers deterred us. We could've booked the package through our tour leader, but we opted not to.

    It was some negotiations with the taxi driver and boatman, but we seemed to do alright. The taxi driver took us to and from to the temple for 150LE (including the wait), while the boat was 200LE. Certainly if you had a bigger group, the cost is less per person. But still, it was only a little more than our other friends had previously gotten the day before. Funny thing, when we bought our tickets, they said they didn't have enough change, and we asked a local, and he said he had no change even though you could clearly see it. We were fresh out of small bills after paying for admission and resigned ourselves to the fact that we'd likely have to give the taxi driver 200LE instead. But he was good and got us there before ticket sales closed, so it was all fine and dandy.

    Back to Philae, the temple is also beautiful, looking out from the island. The ruins pose fantastic photo opportunities all around, and you could easily spend an hour or so just wandering and having a sit down. Definitely worth going to, and I'm glad we did end up getting to see it.

    For dinner, it was time to cross off another Egyptian dish off our list, "fiteer" or Egyptian pizza. It's folder over like a calzone, but still perfectly round, and the crust is flaky, almost like a croissant. I'd read about Pizza Biti near the train station and we set off there. Ordering take out, a medium cost 100LE and it was a near perfect portion, and we enjoyed it by the pool of the hotel. A fun inexpensive dinner with a view, and sort of a sound and light show. The Movenpick building across was lit up and changed colors, while a passing boat pumped out music.
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  • Day8

    Nile Sailing and a Nubian Homestay

    January 16, 2019 in Egypt ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Late start and lie in today. I got some camel pants from the market and tried to catch up on my blogging before we set sail on our felucca. I think I've been more successful than the previous trips and am fairly current =)

    So the felucca, an open boat that moves by wind power, though I think they have a small engine. There's a roof over the main area but it's otherwise open. Mats cover the floor and the crew's provided cushions, blankets and sleeping bags (for hire) for the day and a half trip.

    We had some good wind and sun today, so that made hanging out on the roof inviting, though we had to watch our heads when the captain shifted the sails. In the evening, we docked on the West Bank of the Nile to stay with a Nubian family for the night. It was a bit late when we arrived so we didn't see much in terms of the village. This was first homestay where we all stayed in the same house.

    Nubian houses here are rooms surrounding a large courtyard. We had three rooms to share where mattresses are lined up along the floor and then hung out in the main sitting/dining area where we had a lovely family style meal including soup, lamb sausage and vegetables. After dinner, we played clapping games with some of the children. It was a really nice change from the cultural shows at previous homestays. Tonight it almost felt like we were visiting and sleeping over at a friend's place.
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  • Day9

    A Day on the Nile

    January 17, 2019 in Egypt ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    This morning we awoke early and got some exercise in playing "piggy in the middle" with some local kids. The ball was a bit flat, but the joy of playing and the smiles on their faces really reminded us that the best things in life are very simple.

    Breakfast was delicious, falafels, pitas, eggs and french fries! And the we were back on our felucca. It was a windy and thus cold feeling day, but we didn't get far in our boat. Why? The wind was blowing the wrong way, and if the sails were up, we would've been back in Aswan. So we bobbed in the Nile, as fast or as slow as the current could carry us. We probably turned more in circles than we travelled downriver.

    The weather did get warmer for another hang out on the roof of the felucca, We'd hoped the weather would stay warm for the night since we'd be sleeping on board "under the stars". Not much luck there, but the crew wrapped cloth around the outside so it did cut some of the wind and the night wasn't too bad (though some people would probably disagree with me).

    I'd hoped to do some writing while we sailed, but alas, my brain wasn't in it. The trip is still young though and I'm still determined to get a few pages in.
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  • Day10

    Luxor Explorations

    January 18, 2019 in Egypt ⋅ ☀️ 4 °C

    We awoke to the sound of morning prayers this morning. The initial call was fairly nice and peaceful but soon the mass of different prayers echoed around us. Outside, the deck was strangely dry, no morning dew as I padded out in my wooly socks. If not for the temperature, I think it would've been very nice, not that it wasn't.

    Our crew provided another tasty breakfast, this time including pancakes as we drifted slightly further down river to a waiting van that would drive us the rest of the way to Luxor (4 hours given how little distance we'd covered the day before.

    The city itself is smaller than Cairo and Aswan and we found it quite pleasant to walk around until the hassling began. Luxor after all is the hassling capital of the world. Not to waste the day, we dropped our bags at the hotel and headed out to Karnak Temple, a stunning complex and stories that we'll remember even if the names require a little googling. We had some free time to explore, I wish we had a bit more time here.

    After that, back to town and a quick stop at the jewelry store for some silver. Debated getting something and then passed. (Only to wish the next day I'd gotten something and then thinking if and when I would actually wear it. Oh well, next time). We passed through the souk to get back to our hotel and the hassles arose. Pretty much every shop wanted you to look at their stuff. Even though we've gone through this at Aswan, this took it to the next level. We managed to escape unscathed, save for the bottle of sand art that I was wanting to get anyway.

    Group dinner out tonight at Al Sahaby Lane Restaurant, tried the camel burger and Oum Ali for dessert. The burger was good, but the dessert gets a pass. Also couldn't resist fried cauliflower and lemonade with mind =)
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  • Day11

    Valley of the Kings/Temple of Hatshepsut

    January 19, 2019 in Egypt ⋅ 🌫 4 °C

    Off to the West Bank today to visit the Valley of the Kings. Photos are very limited unless you buy the photo ticket for 300 LE. As our entry ticket only included 3 tombs, I opted out and spent 250 LE instead to visit the tomb of King Tut where his mummy lies in an environment controlled glass (or some other clear material) box. But let's save Tut for later.

    The valley was hidden for a long time from the general public back then to protect the tombs of the kings from looters, but these tombs required a lot of workers. So how was it kept a secret for so long? Well, we tossed around a few (and cruel) ideas, but it turns out the 1st king built a village on the far side of the valley for the artisans, workers and their families so that they could live there and never return to the East Bank to tell anyone.

    I think the Valley of the Kings has one of the best visitor centres. There's a full model showing the valley and the locations of the tombs underneath so you could see how deep and how long each was. Today, we would visit the tombs of Tausert/Setnakht, Ramses III and Merenptah. Each of these tombs had colored hieroglyphics in their tunnels and burial chambers, some still quite vivid. My favorite was that of Ramses III, there was just something about the decor in the tunnel leading down into the chamber.

    The story of Tausert and Setnakht is an interesting one. Long story short, Queen Tausert first rested there, and Setnakht was cutting his tomb somewhere else, when he ran into a problem where this tomb would break through the walls of another king, so he looked nearby and decided to take over that of Tausert. Merenptah would later cut his tomb from where Setnakht originally left off, but shifted the tunnel over as to not break the wall of another tomb. At least, that's what my memory recalls. Our guide also trained as an Egyptologist so he was full of information.

    Leaving the Valley of the Kings, we headed to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, another impressive complex where we had plenty of time to wander. Where we hadn't taken photos of colored hieroglyphics earlier, we certainly could here.
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    Leona Heraty

    Wow! Love your descriptions and lovely photos! :-)

    1/22/19Reply
    Leona Heraty

    Thanks for sharing! :-)

    1/22/19Reply
     
  • Day11

    Luxor Temple at Night

    January 19, 2019 in Egypt ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Returning from the West Bank, we were free to explore the rest of the day, and did we pack it in! I had a craving for McDonald's french fries, and then we browsed through Aboudi Bookshop next door which had a number of neat souvenirs and a great book selection.

    We then wandered down the corniche (path along the Nile) to the Winter Palace, popping into a few shops along the way. The hassles are constant annoyingly with guys offering feluccas or wanting to chat you up and follow you for a bit, but it's more manageable with two people than if one were wandering on their own.

    The Winter Palace is a fancy-ish old hotel, like the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. I'd read it was a great place to have a drink and watch the sunset. I think the writer was probably there at a different time of the year though as we checked out the view and sun appeared to be dipping behind some trees. With that, we skipped the drinks and headed right down to the corniche and found ourselves a spot to watch sunset and try a time lapse on the go pro. What we'd hoped would just be a peaceful viewing was interrupted by the constant conversation by one local man and then another. Imagine trying to invent a boyfriend and giving fake names to fend them off!

    As soon as the sun disappeared, we headed off to Luxor Temple. Our guide had mentioned the best time to go was around 5pm, just as natural light was disappearing and the artificial light was coming up. This way you could still see the details in natural light and appreciate the beauty of the night views. It took a little while to find the ticket office as it's tucked away just below street level and there was still a number of people streaming in and wandering about.

    We got a little addicted to the multitudes of columns and took many photos. For once, it was nice not to be on a time constraint and wander as long as we wanted. Some of the lights weren't on yet, so we turned on the flashlights and admired some of the hieroglyphics in two "alcoves", giving us a very different experience than all the previous temples. It felt like how early archaeologists must have felt when they first came across the temple and they had no light but that of candles or torches.

    By the time we left, much of the crowd was gone and more lights were turned on. Luxor Temple was a place we could have just continued to linger. I suspect given the opportunity, we would have liked to have done the same at all the other temples on this trip.
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