Girlfriends on the Nile: Egypt for R&R - My Family Travels

After a few months of work in Baghdad, I was ready for a break and decided to visit Egypt with my friend Tina, who is the Baghdad Bureau Chief for the LA Times, and New York friend Linda.  

Linda then came into town before Tina, and Linda and I went around Cairo together for a few days. One of our favorite excursions was to the City of the Dead, the sprawling cemetery in northern Cairo which houses over 50,000 people, living in amongst the tombs. We drove in and around the streets, noting the satellite dishes on the roofs. Eventually we got out and walked around, and found a sweet old man who obligingly opened several of the tombs for us to look at.  

Cairo’s City of the Dead

There were men in the street spinning thread on mysterious machines which looked like a large bicycle wheel. We wandered through old Coptic Cairo with its beautiful old Coptic churches and the ancient Ben Ezra synagogue. We took a long walk through old Islamic Cairo, whose many mosques seemed to be under restoration and therefore unable to be visited. But we loved walking along the tentmakers street, full of people making applique tent cloths, tablecloths, fruit markets, while gaggles of giggling school girls followed us shouting ‘hello! How are you! Where you from? What’s your name?’ and just dissolving into hysterics if we actually answered them.  

The day before Tina arrived, Linda and I drove out to Saqqara, the site of the oldest pyramid in Egypt, the step pyramid. They recently uncovered a new tomb in this area, right now there is one which can be visited inside, with the bas reliefs and tomb decorations still visible.

Pyramids of Giza

When Tina finally got into town the three of us then proceeded down to Giza to see the pyramids, which Tina and I had both seen before, but were both delighted to see again. Our driver persuaded us to take a camel ride, which we all thought might be horribly cheesy. As it turned out, we LOVED the camel ride. 

It took almost three hours, and took us to parts of the site we could never had access to on foot. For most of the trip we were behind the pyramids in the desert, away from the crowds. There also was a minor sandstorm in progress, which made walking in the wind quite difficult, but up on the camels, less of an issue. Our camels had rather surprising names: Michael Jackson, Whiskey, and Moses.  

The sandstorm made the pyramids look eerily beautiful.             

That night we stayed in the famous Mena House hotel, which is very near the pyramids, it’s a former palace and full of old world charm, and of course, gorgeous views.  

The Red Sea & the Nile

From there we headed south. We flew down to the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, staying at an Oberoi Resort ( Very beautiful and, since run by an Indian company, had a delicious Indian restaurant (the Mena House is also Oberoi, so they had a great Indian restaurant too). We went snorkeling and relaxed by the pool or the beach, all of us grateful to have some serious down time doing nothing but reading, swimming and eating. 

We drove from Hurghada up to Luxor, to start our Nile Cruise. Our boat was also Oberoi (as you can see, we decided to just go with Oberoi for most of the trip). We arrived midday, had lunch, and then set off to view some sites in Luxor that afternoon.  

All of us were nervous about going on this cruise, being the adventure travel snobs that we are, none of us had done a cruise before, and so worried about the group travel experience, going to sites en masse, etc.  

As it turned out, we had a terrific time, and relaxed right into being herded around. The guides were all Egytologists; ours had a master’s in Egyptology and was passionately interested in his subject, very knowledgeable, funny, good story teller, just a trove of information. He was also funny and sarcastic about his own country, referring to Mubarak as Mubarak the First.

At last, Luxor

On the afternoon we arrived we went to Karnak and the Temple of Luxor. Photos ops included the Avenue of Sphinxes at Temple of Luxor and Karnak. 

Day two in Luxor was Valley of the Kings, visiting an alabaster factory (buying some beautiful alabaster most of which didn’t survive the trip as I discovered to my dismay when I unwrapped it all in Baghdad), and the Colossi of Memnon…  heavily damaged by an earthquake in 27AD, but still impressive. 

Luxor really was one of the more spectacular parts of the whole trip, and we all agreed we needed more time there. Sadly, the most spectacular stuff, the tombs in the Valley of Kings, cannot be photographed, so I have nothing to show aside from postcards of the ceiling in the tomb of Ramses VI, and tomb art in the tomb of Ramses IV.

I hadn’t known that the tombs had such spectacular vividly colored walls and ceilings, anything I had seen to that point had been sandstone, with maybe faint traces of color remaining. But these tombs, buried deep underground for centuries, are staggeringly beautiful, and with the explanations of the guides, we could even understand some of what we were looking at.  

In addition to seeing some of the tombs of the pharoahs, we also went to see the burial area of the artisans who had decorated the tombs — you can imagine how beautifully they decorated their own tombs.  

Sailing the Nile

We set sail that night, and the next day went to Edfu to see the Temple of Horus, the falcon headed god. I was particularly taken with the large statue of Horus in the inner courtyard.  

We sailed some more, and then went to Komombu, yet another magnificent temple.             

That night was the Egyptian dress up night. We had been told (requested) to dress in jalabiya’s, that there would be Egyptian food and music and dancing. Initially, of course, we thought, no way, but by this time, we were happily full blown tourists, and so…  you can see imagine we responded. Low key. 

The following day we made our way down (or up river technically) to Aswan. Along the way it was wonderful to sit up and deck and watch life on the Nile go by. Farmers, fishermen, fellucas (the traditional sailboats); it was verdant and beautiful.  

As we slowed down and approached the locks on the Nile, before getting into Aswan, a curious incident occurred. I had been resting in my room, when I heard a lot of shouting ‘hey lady’ outside. Curious to see what was happening, I opened my sliding door and went out to my tiny balcony. 


I jumped, startled, to see a jelabiya land at my feet, having been thrown up to my balcony by a fleet of floating dress sellers. For the next fifteen minutes until we made it into the lock, they were yelling at us and throwing shawls, dresses, etc. up to us. I threw the dress back (hitting the water of course but they retrieved it) only to be thrown a shawl, which I also threw back (and this time made it into their boat). If you bought something (which I didn’t, amazingly enough, I actually didn’t buy something), they then threw up a bag to put money in which you threw back at them. By this time I had run up to the top deck to watch the action, all of us were up there or on our balconies, enjoying the show.

In Aswan we visited the dam, the botanical gardens, another temple site on Philae, a small island near Aswan. After leaving the boat, the next morning we drove down to Abu Simbel, which is about 40 kilometers away from the Sudanese border. Many people do that as a day trip, but we decided to take our time and spend the night. We had arranged the car/driver through the boat, and then made our own hotel arrangements in Abu Simbel.

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel is very spectacular, and much less visited than other sites. It has two temples, one for Ramses III (one of the longest serving pharoahs) and the other for his favorite wife Nefertary. Carved out of the rock, it sits very close to the Nile, and in fact used to be right on the banks of the Nile, but the whole site was moved after the High Dam in Aswan was built. Once Lake Nasser started flooding, they saw that Abu Simbel would be submerged, so UNESCO and many nations contributed to a massive four year task of moving the whole carved mountain to higher ground.  

Abu Simbel and Luxor were my two favorite places, we were extremely happy to have made the extra effort to go to Abu Simbel. 

Back to Civilization: Cairo

Once we got back to Cairo, we went to the Egyptian Museum, with its amazing treasure trove, the glorious King Tut collection, the mummified animals, mummified royals, room after room of treasures, all of which we understood and appreciated much more, after having been on our wonderful, wonderful Nile trip. 

Linda left, and then on our last day, Tina and I had a day trip to Alexandria, which was also delightful. All in all, a fantastic trip so my advice is:  go if you can…. (in this economy not likely but…)

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