Alphabet of Travel Snaps: E is for…

Alphabet of Travel Snaps: E is for…

EGYPT!

Some twelve years ago, my friend and I were heading off on holiday together and wanted a destination that was completely different to anywhere we’d gone before.

After tossing around ideas, we made up our minds and when other friends asked what we’d be doing whilst they got smashed in Magaluf, we arched a disapproving eyebrow above our monocles and replied that we would be, “…soaking up the culture in Cairo, darling…

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(Side note: I probably threw up more than they did… don’t drink even a drop of the water.)

I’ve had an interest in Egyptology since childhood. Part of it stems from the adventurer inside me, wanting to emulate fictional characters such as Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. Much of it comes down to my fascination with their ancient gods and goddesses, the associated myths and inevitable superstitions. And if you’ve ever worked in the British education system, you can pretty much guarantee that every child will study the pharaohs at some point before the age of ten!

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So, with a couple of days in the capital for pyramid spotting and then a week floating down the Nile, we set off on our North African Adventure!

Arriving at night in Cairo was not the most calming introduction to the country. I’m hoping in the last twelve years that drivers have discovered lights and lanes but I doubt it! As our transfer vehicle careened from one side of the road to the other, suddenly screeching to a halt as lights appeared out of nowhere (attached to a truck that opted to be in stealth mode), we clung to each other thinking those fish bowls in Magaluf sounded like a better idea…

However, once at the hotel we relaxed, refreshed and prepared for our early morning start to view the last of the remaining Seven Wonders of the (ancient) World.

We’d arranged back in Britain to have a private guide, a lovely lady, who was able to navigate the motor chaos with the back of her head whilst she talked to us in the rear seat. I must have looked like the whitest white girl ever.

Spending the morning at the Egyptian Museum, weย  viewed many of the fascinating artifacts collected from the ancient tombs, including Tutankhamen’s iconic death mask (it’s just a shame the photos didn’t survive). Our guide then took us to meet some friends for lunch, after which we whisked off to the pyramids at Giza.

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See, the Sphinx really isn’t much bigger than Emma!

My first thought was ‘wow’. My second that the Sphinx was tiny. My third: that Pizza Hut and KFC really ruin the atmosphere!

Yep, do a 180ยบ when facing the pyramids and you’ll find the fast food outlets only a few hundred metres away. The fact is, the site of the ancient monuments is right next to the city, literally on the edge of the road. Cities sprawl, monuments may crumble but seemingly everyone will always want pizza.

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How these great structures were created is incomprehensible when you stand next to them – for instance, Cheops (the Great Pyramid) is made up of 2.3 million limestone blocks, each as tall as me! And its smaller brother, Chefren, is the only one that still retains some of the smooth white, limestone cover, that would have once reflected the African sun like a beacon.

(Interestingly, for 4000 years Cheops was the tallest structure on Earth until a cathedral, only a short drive across the river from me, was built in Lincoln. Bank that for your pub quiz night!)

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But the one we entered was the smallest: Menkaure. A steep, narrow tunnel led down to the outer chambers that protected the burial room. It was an incredible feeling to think that thousands of years ago, a pharaoh had been transported down here in his sarcophagus en route to the afterlife.

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Once we’d climbed out, it was time for the obligatory ride on a ‘ship of the desert’. We were led off across the plateau but poor Emma was not made for camel riding and I remember her disappearing into the distance, bouncing uncontrollably like a ragdoll, as the animal took off with its owner in hot pursuit! I think the traffic system seemed calm after that!

The following day, we sat at the boarding gate with baskets of live chickens and goats (yes, you read that correctly) waiting for our transfer to Luxor for the cruise.

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LUXOR TEMPLE

We’d managed to get a great deal going in August, but we soon found out why it was so cheap – because it was hotter than the surface of Mercury. Which meant our days started about the time our friends living it large in the Balearics were just stumbling in!

But we soon got used to 4am wake-up calls to avoid the sunshine and there was something very satisfying about viewing these beautiful tributes to the great dynasties as the sun came up.

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KARNAK

The Hypostyle Hall at Karnak remains one of the best monuments I’ve ever visited, being up there with the Pantheon in Rome. The detail in the hieroglyphs was amazing and the fact that many of the colours have stood the test of time is incredible.

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I could have wandered around looking at the columns for hours – except looking upwards is not a great idea in a rubble-riddled ruin and I fell, almost breaking my ankle. SO embarrassing, especially as our resident Egyptologist, Hani, gallantly carried me back to the boat, where I was then fussed over for the next few days with ice packs and offers of being my personal Hodor!

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Seeing the edge of the Nubian desert, a serene trip on a traditional Felucca boat and watching some stunning sunsets are all fabulous memories. Running the gauntlet of vendors at the bizarre (especially when your friend is blonde and considered some kind of goddess), dodging the wares slung through your cabin window as the boat slowed for the lockย  at Esna and being asked to buy a child by a woman with a mouth full of gold teeth are all equally great, if weird (and somewhat troubling!)

But the highlight for me required an earlier than usual get-up and a skip across moored boats in the dead of night. Our dawn ride over the Valley of the Kings in a hot-air balloon!

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For the first half of the journey, I was so terrified that I plastered myself on the bottom of the basket, unable to stand. Eventually, with courage back intact, I was able to witness the sunrise as we flew over the famous archeologist Howard Carter’s house and the ancient cemetery of pharaohs with the only sound an occasional blast from the gas. Bliss!

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At the time of visiting, Egypt was becoming mainstream popular with package deals to the Red Sea and although, due to recent troubles, it may have seen a dip in tourism, I think it’s a shame that many people I know who’ve been only experience the commercial, beach resorts of the country and forgo the history . I’d rather pass on the cocktails and all-night party scene – instead, I’ll be in the corner, dusting off a gilded scarab beetle!


Image Credits: All mine (with thanks to Emma for taking some), so please be sweet and ask before sharing. ๐Ÿ™‚

These were all taken on a less than great, old-school 35mm camera (before I semi-knew what I was doing) and scanned, so clarity isn’t wonderful but c’est la vie!

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13 thoughts on “Alphabet of Travel Snaps: E is for…

  1. What a lovely post to read, it was wonderful to go down memory lane with you and brought back memories of my own trip to Egypt 26 years ago.

    We went to Egypt in the midst of the first Gulf War, in October 1990. The place was pretty much deserted, which was great for us, because we didn’t encounter lengthy queues, but sad for the people living there, as they were struggling financially with the massive drop in tourism that year.

    Everywhere we went the stall holders were literally dragging us off to their stalls in a bid to sell us something, but our guide wouldn’t stand for it and ran around hitting them with his walking stick, to get them off. It was pretty scary at times but we still had a brilliant holiday.

    The history, the sunsets, even the grime and the chaos added to this incredible experience.

    We did a similar trip to you but started our journey in Luxor, staying for a couple of nights in a hotel and then cruised for 7 days before travelling up to Cairo and then back down to Luxor by train to fly back home.

    The cruise went up as far as Dendera and the Temple of Hathor and as far south as Aswan, stopping at various historical and cultural sights on our way. From Aswan we went to Philai, travelling by felucca and then flew to Abu Simbel further south.

    We never thought about doing a hot air balloon journey, how wonderful! That would have definitely been the highlight of our trip too, if we’d had foresight to book such a trip. Lucky you. We did pay extra to fly down to Abu Simbel which was another incredible place to visit, the sheer size of these structures in Egypt are just unbelievable. After visiting Abu Simbel we flew back to Aswan to rejoin our group on the cruise, going back up to Luxor.

    We then flew from Luxor to Cairo and stayed up there a few days, doing the same things you did, including the obligatory camel ride haha . I have to say, I absolutely loved the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo, I wish we could have had longer there.

    Going back to your post, the bit about being ill, I also remember the dreaded ‘gippy tummy’, everyone on our tour suffered with it. The situation was made worse when you saw some of the bathrooms at the major sites in those days. Ewwww!.

    The visitors toilets in the Valley of the Kings were particularly grim back then. A few makeshift traps with filthy toilets, the doors barely covered you and the guys selling the loo roll and sorting out the queues also had the unenviable job of holding the doors shut while each person ‘went’. You could hear everything going off while queuing. *shakes head* hahaha.

    The doors were so short the guys holding them could see straight in. It was an absolute nightmare for everyone concerned. As each person finished, the attendants had to go in to the stalls with a bucket of water to clean the toilets. The whole situation made even worse by the unseasonable hot weather and the millions of flies.

    Thank you so much for writing this, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading it and writing my incredibly lengthy comment. Sorry about that! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gosh, don’t apologise at all! So lovely to hear all your memories too ๐Ÿ˜Š Wow, 26 years ago – I struggled to remember some parts from when I went!
      I know what you mean about the toilets, I think we managed to hang on until we got back to the boat. And I would have loved to go to Abu Simbel, it looked incredible but after paying for the balloon ride, it was unfortunately outside our budget.
      So glad it brought back great memories for you, thanks for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How wonderful. I have a fantastic B&W photo of my grandad against a backdrop of the pyramids taken during the Second World War. I’ve always wanted to visit and follow in his footsteps.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s sounds like a great photo – always better when there’s some personal family history attached ๐Ÿ™‚ Hopefully, you’ll get to visit one day.

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  3. I, too, have always been fascinated by Egypt. On my first visit to the British Museum, my fascination started with those mummies of cats!! I just love the way you tell it as it is in this travelogue–the beauty, the scariness, and the banal all existing side by side in Egypt. Question: how did you remember all of this twelve years later? Did you have notes you took?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post Carol! I have some of the memories in a diary and the photos were in an album I’d annotated. Other than that, I guess my long-term memory is much better than my short!

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  4. Pizza Hut and KFC are everywhere. When we were in China, we ate in lots of great restaurants, but we also hit up Pizza Hut in Nanjing, and KFC in Suzhou. (And McDonalds in Nanjing and Guangzhou. I admit it.)

    That picture of the hot air balloon is great!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, it’s probably one of my favourite images I’ve ever taken, even though it was on a dodgy, old-school camera. You get a good view of it when you’re laying on the basket floor petrified!!
      There’s something comforting about the familiarity and ease of McD’s / Pizza Hut – we’ve done the same when we’ve been away… Just wish they’d at least covered it in hieroglyphics!!

      Liked by 1 person

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