A Travellerspoint blog

Egypt

Mummy Tummy Cures and Other Travel Tips for Egypt

overcast 18 °C

1) Use the metro in Cairo. It’s cheap, fast and gave us a perspective on Egyptian life that we didn’t experience anywhere else. (Like kindness, respect and generosity . . .)

2) If your itinerary allows, visit the Cairo Museum AFTER visiting Aswan and Luxor. It’s an inaccessible museum that – as presented - lacks context, and having been to the sites we were better able to appreciate content relevant to the places we had visited.

3) Don’t be concerned, as we were, that the travelling Tutankhamen Exhibition (currently at London’s O2) has borrowed too many of the key artifacts to leave the Cairo Museum lacking. We were able to see far more than we expected, including the gold (Funerary) face mask (etc)…

4) Be prepared for the expense of visiting the sites you will want to see: we spent somewhere around US$120 each on entry tickets, and that didn’t include more expensive options including Tutankhamen’s tomb in Valley of the Kings and the Royal Mummies’ exhibition at the Cairo Museum.

5) Be sure to take a balloon ride over Valley of the Kings (Luxor). The price has come down dramatically in the last twelve years. The going rate seemed to be around US$80 per person for a balloon that will hold sixteen or so passengers, but we were offered the same flight for US$50 so be prepared to haggle.

6) Don’t use Viator.com! Note that I pre-booked online and grossly overpaid at Viator.com which seems to think that 200% profit margins are reasonable. Don’t be fooled by their money-back guarantee (claims to guarantee a refund if you find the same service offered at a lower price locally), enforcement of which has turned into one of the most frustrating elements of the entire trip.

7) More on balloons. We couldn’t decide whether to go for a sunset balloon ride, or a shortly-after-sunrise balloon ride. In the end, and for no other reason than we thought we like to sleep late and get up at 5am rather than 4am (!), we went for the latter. There were a gazillion balloons out for the sunrise which meant that we were greeted with a beautiful sky filled with hot air balloons which – for me – was a wonderful sight to experience. I’m sure it was pretty awesome from the air too. Perhaps a benefit of the later ride was that – when we finally took off at about 7am – we were one of only three or four balloons.

8) Don’t miss Philae Light and Sound. It’s expensive at E£75 per person (about US$15), but it was awesome. To be fair, I haven’t been to the Karnak version which is also supposed to be quite good, but the opportunity to walk through Philae at night was unexpected and simply brilliant.

9) To get to Philae, you need to take a boat for a four minute ride. You should expect to pay about E£35 per couple, but we grouped up with three other groups to negotiate with a boat caption and ended up paying E£15 for the two of us!

10) Unless you follow my strategy and stop eating for the duration of your visit, the odds of a little Cairo Quickstep are not in your favour. Get ahead of the curve and buy ‘Antinol’ from any pharmacy as soon as you arrive. It’s an antiseptic solution (also available in tablets) that can be your fast track ticket to recovery. It worked for Lloyd!

Posted by jacquiedro 10:57 Archived in Egypt Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Aswan Agatha Christie Style

Officially Templed Out!

sunny 15 °C

After a wonderful morning at Abu Simbel, we arrived in Aswan to find that Roger had booked us into the rather decadent Old Cataract Hotel. A beautiful hotel, no doubt, but I just about had a coronary in the lobby when I found out the extent of the damage that our Nile view room would be doing to our bank account. It was a little bittersweet when, to make me feel better, Lloyd pointed out that this was (forthcoming wedding aside) the final hotel bill of our entire World Trip! It was a sad realization but at least we’re going out in style!

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Rog wasn’t feeling too good, so – after two consecutive 5am starts - Lloyd and I were tempted to skip our planned evening visit to the Sound and Light show at Philae Temple. To get there, we’d need a taxi AND a boat, and I think we were both discouraged by the prospect of the required negotiations. But we dragged ourselves out nonetheless. It's a very short boat ride to reach Philae - so short in fact that you could probably swim it - but we found ourselves in the midst of a throng of hard neogiations despite the fact that there were less than ten passengers and more than thirty boats.

And then a strange thing happened. The ten of us customers slowly came together as one group in an unplanned action that immediately strengthened our negotiating hand. The price per person fell dramatically and we all headed over to the show feeling that - finally - we'd got value for money in Egypt.

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The show itself did not disappoint and actually was one of the better Sound and Lights I've been to. Of course the commentary was hokey, with loud booming voices echoing around the ancient structures. But the story was told well and - as part of the show - we were walked around and inside some of the key Philae structures. It was - completely - different at night, with shadows from the spotlights highlighting the very deep and intricate carvings all around. Actually one of my favourite Egypt experiences overall and highly recommended!

The next morning, we hired a driver for half a day and headed past the old 'low' Aswan Dam to the new 'high' Aswan Dam. The old dam was completed in 1902 by the British who wanted to improve irrigation controls for cash crops, but had to be raised twice - from its original 54 metres - before it was decided that a new dam was needed to keep the Nile from flooding. So, the new High Dam was added about four miles upstream, opening in 1970 at a height of 111 metres.

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At the west end of the new Aswan Dam is a very large monument called the Lotus Flower celebrating the joint achievement of the Russians and Egyptians who cooperated on the Dam.

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With Lloyd speaking Russian, and Roger speaking Arabic, I thought this was a particularly appropriate picture!

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More fun, however, was had by Lloyd who teased the 'guard' on duty by pretending to press the elevator button. The ride to the top is closed to the public and - no joking aside - we tried really hard to bribe this guy to let us go up....

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After visiting the Aswan Dam and a driver-directed detour to Kalabsha Temple which simply magnified our templed-out state, we headed back to Philae to admire it in the daylight. It's impressive at any time of day, but I have to say that the daylight viewing paled in comparison to our experience the night before.

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We also managed to squeeze in a quick stop at the 1000 ton unfinished obelisk which was abandoned when it cracked during extraction. Pity, as this would have been one of the largest obelisks ever constructed if it had been completed. Still, the quarry revealed a tiny glimpse into the construction of many of the wonders we had seen.

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Posted by jacquiedro 14:12 Archived in Egypt Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Saved from the Nile!

Visiting Magnificent Abu Simbel

sunny 23 °C

With the gift of more time, we’d have stuck with tradition and travelled south from Luxor to Aswan via boat. I have nothing but fantastic memories of the trip I took twelve years ago on a traditional Egyptian sailboat called a felucca, but – next time – we’d splash out on one of the elegant cruise ships that make the trip in about four days. Today, however, we caught another inexpensive Egypt Air flight down to Aswan, and even managed to squeeze in a detour to magnificent Abu Simbel on the way.

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Abu Simbel on approach. The monument is such a tourist draw that it earned its own air strip. The alternative is a four to five hour drive from Aswan.

Abu Simbel is a massive temple that was built during Ramses II’s reign over 3300 years ago. Ramses intended the monument to intimidate neighbouring countries with its four statues each towering to twenty metres. Of interest, the monument was moved in 1960 after an international appeal to save a number of Egyptian treasures that would otherwise have been lost to Lake Nasser with the opening of the Aswan High Dam. It cost more than US$40 million to chop Abu Simbel up into hundreds of pieces and then re-erect it about 65 metres higher and 200 metres back, a debt that is allegedly still being repaid.

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Ramses II up close. You can see how the faces were cut off during the relocation.

Our flight to Abu Simbel was full of tour groups who we proceeded to race to the monument. Since there’s only one reason to fly to Abu Simbel, Egypt Air puts on a complimentary bus for the five minute drive which saved us the agonizing negotiation with a cab driver. On arrival, a helpful young man showed us a short cut that ensured we’d arrive at the ticket office ahead of the tour groups (he even declined ‘baksheesh’ for his services!), and with the first tickets of the session in hand we soon found ourselves through security and facing the back of the artificial hill created to house the monuments.

Lloyd spontaneously erupted into a brisk jog, which looked quite amusing as he was wheeling our overnight case (we have proper luggage again now!) through sand and stone in his haste. I understood immediately that he wanted to get there before the gaggle of groups and quickly caught up with him, leaving Roger some distance behind us and no doubt wondering what on earth we were doing exerting so much energy in the heat of the day.

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The effort was worth it! We practically had Abu Simbel to ourselves for a precious few minutes.

Though I had seen Abu Simbel previously in 1995, it’s the kind of place that remains shockingly impressive even on second viewing.

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On the right: Lloyd looking as if he’s planning on moving into Little Abu Simbel which is next door to the main attraction, and was also moved in 1960.

But new to me was the opportunity to experience the rooms behind the statues which were closed on my previous visit. While getting to Abu Simbel involved some additional expense and - even more precious - time, it was easily worth it. We'd recommend missing Abu Simbel at your peril!

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Posted by jacquiedro 10:51 Archived in Egypt Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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