November always seems to be a great month to get away from Europe´s grey weather and catch some sun! And so we were off to Egypt for a Nile cruise and a couple of days at the beach. We enjoyed 8 days of great FOOD, great COMPANY and great HISTORY. Nice sunny weather made it a great Autumn escape and the temples on the river Nile banks are really something one should see at some point!
When: November 2008
Visited: Hurghada, Luxor, Esna, Edfu, Aswan, Lake Nasser, Abu Simbel, Marsa Alam
How: bus, boat, feluka, private cars
Stayed in: hotels, cruise ship, apartments
We chose to fly to Hurghada because it was the most convenient way, but we had to take a longer BUS RIDE TO LUXOR where we border our BOAT. You can stay at different kind of boats – a very luxurious one, a normal one, a sailing boat, a traditional FELUKA – whatever you like. The only bad side of the cruise is that all the other boats with many tourists seem to HAVE THE SAME SCEDULES, which means all the boats stop approximately at same times at the temples and it does get very crowded because of that. You will have to take a BUS, a TAXI or a HORSE CARRIAGE from the boat to some temples – sometimes there is not much time before the boat takes off again, so the less time you spend getting to a temple, the more time you have at the temple. At the time of our visit we often drove with the bus in a CONVOY and there were check points. At the end of the cruise we took a bus from ASWAN to MARSA ALAM at the coast and returned by bus to Hurghada on the last day.
In Hurghada and Marsa Alam we stayed in BIG HOTELS hotels where we had an AI PACKAGE because there was literally no other option and we had to take it. No need to mention the rooms there were great and we had higher standard then we would usually have on our travels in general. On our CRUISE SHIP we had double rooms with private bathroom and a big window which was more than great. We planned it a few months in advance and reserved everything because at that time Nile cruise trips were very popular and ships were quickly booked out, but I guess nowadays this is not the case.
if you only eat in hotels you will just get a small taste of the real Egyptian cuisine, so it´s better to skip a hotel dinner here and there and find a local restaurant or just grab a bite to eat on a LOCAL MARKET. BREAD seems to be an important part of the meal, as well as BEANS, LENTILS, RICE, FALAFEL, MEAT, EGGPLANTS, PIGEON, SESAME PASTE and FISH. Of coarse everything comes with aromatic SPICES! ALCOHOL is not widely accessible, but they have many sweets and sweet drinks on offer ;). A great refreshing drink is a HIBISCUS ICED TEA.
It seems impossible not to buy anything – you will be faced with locals selling jewellery, clothing, cosmetics, stones, papyrus, culinary products or similar on every corner. Especially because when you travel with a boat or by bus you come to a place usually in a group of people and you are an easy target. So, if you intend to buy something you will have to BARGAIN and if not – don´t even make an eye contact ;).
The biggest danger is the HEAT, so have in mind that it´s better to be active early in the morning and late in the afternoon, the time in between is best used for lunch, resting or transport to another place. If you have problems with being in tiny dark places, reconsider the visit of the TOMBS. Many have problems with the FOOD – we did not have any and we ate everything so we really had no bad experiences, but you can stick to the old rule about not drinking tap water. If your stomach is more sensitive, you can skip eating salads, ice cream, certain fruits and drinks with ice cubes. Be aware that at buying anything at the markets or shops the sellers expect you to BARGAIN and you should really do so, otherwise you will pay way to much. Take care of your belongings and don´t be LATE if you don´t want the ship to leave the port without you, everything else will be just fine!
WHAT WE SAW AND DID
Until just a few years ago this was a small FISHING VILLAGE village, but since the 1980´s it has developed into one of Egypt`s MAJOR TOURIST DESTINATIONS, with hotels stretching as far as 36 kilometres along the RED SEA COAST. Hurghada is known to be one of the best spots for DIVING, SNORKELLING, SAILING and SIMILAR. The weather is nice all year around which makes this a great place to catch some sun in the cold European winter. Many visitors come for a week or two and stay in one of the many all-inclusive hotels – we chose differently and only spend there 2 nights before departing towards the Nile for our cruise.
After the first night sleep in one of those big hotels where we ate so much for dinner we almost couldn´t move, we were off to discover the UNDERWATER WORLD. We were to Egypt before, so we knew there is much to see and the Red Sea really has ONE OF THE BEST CORAL REEFS IN THE WORLD. It´s easy to book a one day tour with a boat which will take you out to a few different spots, lunch included. It´s a very touristy thing to do and I guess every one does it there, but even though – it´s really worth doing it!
Even though we usually choose different types of hotels (smaller, cheaper, more private), I won´t lie – we had a very nice stay in this rather LUXURIOUS HOTEL. Not sure if I could stand a week in it, but for 2 nights it was great ;).
ON THE WAY TO LUXOR
We had a long day ahead of us, setting off at 5AM. The bus took us to Luxor and we had many CHECK POINTS along the way. Not quite sure how the situation looks like today, but we did have to drive in a CONVOY from time to time back then. We were all quite excited to see the Nile for the first time and the lush green vegetation surrounding the river banks, after starring at the desert through the bus window for hours.
Once in Luxor, the SECOND BIGGEST EGYPTIAN CITY, we found our boat and left our baggage in the rooms, had a refreshing drink and relaxed a bit. We had a lovely room with big windows and a bathroom, which was great and very convenient.
RIVER NILE is the major north-flowing African river, which runs through 11 COUNTRIES and represents the main water source of Egypt and Sudan. Most of the population and Egyptian cities are dotted along the river north of Aswan and this is basically also the area where you will find all the important historical sights of ancient Egypt. Taking a Nile cruise is therefore a great choice if you want to visit most of these sight and observe the everyday life on the RIVERBANKS without having to bother with long bus rides.
Time for some TEMPLES! The easiest way to get to them from our boat seemed to be the horse carriage. There were so many of them waiting to take the tourists over to the temples and even though we usually would never have done it, we did it there. On the same day we visited KARNAK and LUXOR TEMPLE.
On the way we stopped at one of the PAPYRUS MAKING SHOPS, where we saw the whole process – from the plant to a painting, which was very interesting. If you wish to buy some of those, have in mind that the real ones are quite expensive.
Finally, we got to visit Karnak temple, first of the many following. The whole complex is sort of an OPEN AIR MUSEUM and also the SECOND LARGEST ANCIENT RELIGIOUS SITE IN THE WORLD (also under UNESCO World Heritage Site), just after Angkor Wat in Cambodia. There is only a part of it opened to the public, the PRECINT OF AMUN-RA. One of the most famous aspects of Karnak is the Hypostyle Hal with 134 COLUMNS arranged in 16 rows, which are over 10 metres high. The temple is also known for its OBELISKS.
This temple complex is also situated on the EAST NILE BANK, but more in the city centre of Luxor (ancient THEBES). What makes this one interesting is the fact that it was probably the place where many kings of Egypt were CROWNED at. We were there just when it was already getting dark so we got the chance to enjoy the enlightened complex.
New day, new temple! Just before you reach the famous VALLEY OF THE KINGS on the WEST BANK of the Nile, you come across the mortuary temple of QUEEN HATSHEPSUT. The temple is dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra and consists of a long colonnaded terrace – all together there are 3 LAYERED TERRACES, which are connected with ramps. Because of these features the temple is considered the closest to Classical architecture from all the Egyptian temples.
VALLEY OF THE KINGS
On the same day, we continued towards the most famous valley in the whole country is locate don the west bank of the Nile, where many TOMBS were constructed for the PHARAOS and other important persons of Ancient Egypt for around 500 years, from 16th to 11th century BC. One of the most important discoveries in the valley was the discovery of the TOMB OF TUTANKHAMUN. Exploration and excavation is still very much present in the valley. Visitors CAN VISIT SOME TOMBS and admire the decorations with scenes form Egyptian mythology and every day life. Visiting the tombs can be a bit of a challenge if you get claustrophobic, besides this the air inside is not the best – nonetheless going inside is very exciting and special. We visited the TOMBS OF RAMZES I, IV ans IX. Don´t forget it is NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE PICTURES INSIDE!
Basically everywhere you go to in this part of Egypt you will find some ALABASTER products. Either you will see them in people´s homes or on the markets and shops, if you are more interested in the production process you can visit one of the workshops.
After a long day visiting the temples we returned to our boat, where we had a late lunch while we also left Luxor port and were headed south, to ESNA. We spend a nice afternoon and evening simply on the boat deck, observing the river banks, drinking and playing cards.
Also on the west bank of the Nile, in the city of Edfu you can visit ONE OF THE BEST PRESERVED TEMPLES IN THE COUNTRY, which is dedicated to the falcon god, Horus. There are lots of well preserved INSCRIPTIONS on the walls and pillars – it is good if you have a guide here who can explain more about their meaning. The temple was our goal first thing after the breakfast the next day and once again we took the carriage from the boat to the temple, as almost everybody else.
KOM OMBO TEMPLE
Back on our ship we continued the drive for a little while until we reached another temple, Kom Ombo. It was already SUNSET time, so we saw the temple enlightened with lights. Here you can also see a MUMIFFIED CROCODILE.
The day was over and we were back having DINNER ON THE BOAT after we visited the town MARKET. Many evenings there will be some kind of SHOW on the boats, after dinner. And at one point we could not avoid it so we went and got to see a dance show which was not even bad, even though it was the most authentic thing you can watch.
The night was short and we set of already at 4AM – we had to take a bus ride for about 300 kilometres down to the SOUTHERN MOST TEMPLES, in Abu Simbel. The complex is under UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Nubian Monuments. The temples became even more known when THEY WERE MOVED TO ANOTHER LOCATION in 1968, because otherwise they would be submerged by the waters of the new ARTIFICIAL LAKE, Lake Nasser.
On the way back we stopped at the lake and saw the famous ASWAN HIGH DAM. The dam is of great importance to Egyptian economy and industrialization, because it helps to control floods and providing the water for irrigation. This is also one of the largest artificial lakes in the world, stretching over 500 KILOMETRES IN LENGHT and is around 35 kilometres wide.
Once back in Aswan we took a shorter FELUKA (a special sailing boat) to BOTANICAL GARDENS and cruised around ELEPHANTINE ISLAND island on the river. We also stopped at a traditional NUBIAN VILLAGE and had dinner there, where we tried some typical food and did some SHOPPING.
In the evening we went out to explore the city centre and we found some great MARKETS with almost no tourists and restaurants serving LOCAL FOOD.
The night was short again as we had to get up before 7AM and leave the boat. We took another 5 hrs LONG BUS DRIVE, to the coastal town Marsa Alam, which is around 300 kilometres south of Hurghada. Ever since the opening of an international airport in 2003 the town is expanding and new hotels are being built. The most famous beach is the ABU DABAB where one can also spot TURTLES in the sea, besides all the fish and CORALS.
8 days have gone by quicker than we expected and our trip was coming to an end. On our last day, we took a three hour long bus ride to Hurghada and FLEW BACK HOME with lots of new great memories!
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