Felucca on the Nile

Travels in Egypt

Copyrighted  ©2016 by DRC

The following is my account of my trip to Egypt in 2016. I kept a travel journal and this appears below, with photographs. I had been in South Africa for a month before I went to Egypt.

From South Africa

8 September 2016, Thursday (in Johannesburg)

I got up at seven, brushed my teeth, and got dressed. I went down to the dining area. Breakfast is included (I checked first). I had an omelet with chilies and onions, a croissant, bacon, sausage, and lots of coffee.

I went back to my room and filled out my journal and typed some more. I took a shower and started packing again.

I checked-in my Etihad flights using their web page. Boarding passes were e-mailed to me. I went to the lobby desk and the desk staff said that they could print them out for me. I forwarded the e-mail to them and they handed me the printouts in seconds.

I have to wait several hours for my airport transfer so they gave me an executive pass to their executive lounge in the hotel. They have showers, beds, refreshments, internet, etc. With the pass, I get free food and drinks. Not so bad, better than waiting in the lobby which is what I'd have to do. I had a latte and caught up on my e-mails.

A little after four pm a bell hop came to the lounge and said that my ride had arrived. I went outside and I recognized my driver from when I arrived in Johannesburg almost a week ago. I told him what all I was doing. Traffic on the road to the airport was very slow, it was rush hour and there had been several accidents.

I got out at the A terminal (for international flights). I got through security very quickly, but the very long lines for exiting passport control slowed me down quite a bit. My first flight is on Etihad Airways to Abu Dhabi. I found my gate and re-organized my things after the security process. I also caught up on my journal.

It was dark when I boarded the plane, about 6:30 pm. I watched a couple of movies, the first was The Huntsman: Winter's War. The other was Hail Caesar with George Clooney. I had seen it before on a flight, but I hadn't seen all of it. I had a choice at dinner and received a tray full of food. I had chicken biryani and a roll. I didn't eat any of the other stuff. I had wine and water to drink.

I sat next to a Tamil lady originally from Sri Lanka, but now she lives in Sydney, Australia. All of her family were forced out of Sri Lanka during their civil war (Wikipedia entry) and now her family is scattered over six countries.

9 September 2016, Friday

Mine was an overnight flight and I actually sort of slept. We landed about 5:30 in Abu Dhabi. I had to go through security again and the lines were long. I walked to my new gate area and went to a French style bakery/café (chain I think). I had a sort of croissant-like thing, but found that it had chocolate pieces in it. I also had a café americano with milk.

I boarded my next Etihad flight and it took off about 9:30 am. I sat next to a young man about 35 years old. He worked in Abu Dhabi, but was from Cairo. He had a boy and two twin girls. He was very friendly and very proud of Egypt and Cairo. He told me about places to see and food to eat, especially koshary and foule. He wrote it all down for me in English and in Arabic.

I became sleepy and fell asleep, disregarding lunch, beverage, and movies. I woke up to see the Red Sea, the Nile, and the plateau between. I also saw several isolated pyramids, one of which was stepped.

We landed at Cairo (Wikipedia entry) and I was met by an Intrepid Travels (their website) representative before passport control. He helped me with the visa (thanks to Mary, I had the cash ready in dollars), and he filled out my arrival card. I went through passport and then met him again outside. He and a driver took me to the Barcelo Pyramid Hotel (their website) in Giza (Wikipedia entry). While with him, I booked two four-hour tours, one to Saqqara and Memphis, and the other, a walking tour of downtown Cairo.

I was in my room by one pm. I took a much needed shower. The temperature is in the upper eighties Fahrenheit and the air conditioning in my room, as far as I can tell, only blows warm air. I hand washed two shirts and a pair of socks, and took a pair of blue jeans to the lobby to have them laundered.

I am sweating as I walk through the hotel and I found a restaurant that serves beer, so I had a Sakara beer. I wanted to save the label but the waiter whisked the empty bottle away when I wasn't looking. I drank my beer and filled out my journal. The only pet peeve so far is that there is no free WiFi, you have to pay for it. In this day and age, that is a shame, so I give this hotel one big tick mark against it. While I was at the desk a fellow came up and complained that he paid for internet and that it didn't work. I finished my beer and explored the hotel a bit. There are several restaurants here and I'll probably eat here tonight. It's amazing what good service you get when you carry a notebook and photograph everything.

Today and for a few days there are Muslim religious holidays (Eid al-Adha, Wikipedia entry) related to the Hajj (Wikipedia entry). Stores and restaurants are open at unusual hours, if at all. Today is Friday, a special mosque day anyway (Friday Prayers, Wikipedia entry). Even traffic is very light this afternoon.

At 6:30 I went to a bar at the lobby and had a glass of Omar Khayem red wine while I waited for the big restaurant Horus (on the top floor) to open. At seven, the restaurant Horus is supposed to open. I went to the restaurant but no one was there. So I went to the balcony. I could see the Pyramids from the balcony here earlier, but there was so much dust in the air that one could barely make it out. However, at seven, it could not be seen, the sun had gone down and the pyramids were not lit up. I went back inside and called the desk and said that no one was there. They sent a couple of waiters up right away. I ordered a mixed starter platter (mezze, Wikipedia entry) and a mixed grill of meats for entre. I also ordered another glass of Egyptian wine, this time the Marquis. It was still very hot throughout the hotel. I opened a sliding glass door and sat at a table next to it and caught a very nice breeze (I don't think that there is a breeze at street level). I filled out my journal while waiting. They said that it would take at least twenty minutes. I assume that they make it elsewhere because there is no kitchen at this level of the hotel. Just now there is a call for prayer all over Cairo. Traffic is heavy and horns are honking. Now there is a duet call for prayer.

My mixed mezze came. There were eleven bowls and each one was excellent. I could only sample a little of everything because the main course was coming. The large mixed grill came and there were four kinds of meat I think. Two kabobs (chicken and beef), ground lamb, and a steak plus lots of grilled bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes. The rice had a very nice spice, cinnamon I think. I only ate about a third of this platter. I felt like a glutton. I called it quits, finished my wine, and charged my meal to my room.

I was back in my room by 8:30. I did my usual ablutions and pills. I filled out my journal and then went to bed. It is still hot in my room.

10 September 2016, Saturday

I got up at six and brushed my teeth. I went to the Sphinx Restaurant on the first floor which is where the included breakfast is served. I had rice pudding with sprinkles of dried fruit, crepe with honey, falafels of some type, yellow bun, and an eggplant-tomato dish, plus a pot of dark roasted coffee. There was much more available including a hot breakfast, all sorts of sweet rolls, etc. Everything I had was good. I have several days so I'll try more later.

I went to the lobby by 7:45 to wait for my tour. My guide was a young lady named Hend. She is about the age of my daughters so naturally I told her about them. Everyone is surprised that I have a daughter with an Egyptian name, Nora. I am the only person on the tour.

First we went to Saqqara (Wikipedia entry). We were the only tourists at first, but a handful of others filtered in later. Normally there would be long lines and crowds. It is because tourists are afraid to come to Egypt.

We first went to a diorama room that showed what the original compound of the Pyramid of Djoser step pyramid (Wikipedia entry), the first carved-stone pyramid in the world. We entered another pyramid, Pyramid of Unas (Wikipedia entry), and finally Princess Idut's mastaba. I noticed fossils in the white limestone blocks in the temple area.

We went back to the bus. The driver bought some dates and offered them to us. I really like fresh dates. I picked out about 12 from the large bag and thanked him. They will be my lunch. later. I asked Hend about popular cold drinks, and she said to ask for "lemon with mint." It is lime, not lemon.

In one area, there were lots of "Carpet Schools." Child labor is illegal, so carpet factories get around the law by calling their factories "schools."

We then went to Memphis (Wikipedia entry), the old capitol of Lower Egypt. There were a few assorted statues outside and one huge statue of Ramses II (Ramses Colossus). The statue was lying on the ground, it was broken at the ankles.

I was back at the hotel a little before noon. Hend went to the desk, and talked to them about the air conditioner. They said that the problem had been fixed, it was a hotel-wide problem last night. I went to my room and it was cooler and the temperature was dropping. I washed the dust off my dates and ate them for lunch. The cleaning ladies seemed to like the tip I left (I do this everywhere, every night). I took a quick shower.

I ate a golden delicious apple and then went to the lobby bar. I ordered a lemon with mint. It took awhile to prepare, but was very nice to drink. It was just slightly sweet (basically, our lemonade with a little mint, not carbonated). That went down quickly. I then ordered a tonic water to take back to my room. I took a nap for an hour or so and then got ready for the rest of the day.

I went to the lobby at 3:15. I sat next to another fellow and asked him if he had signed up for the walking tour and he said yes. He was Andrew from the South Island of New Zealand. He is 76. I introduced myself. Andrew's wife was too jet lagged to do the walking tour.

Hend walked in and we went out to the van. I told Hend that I would like to go to the Harley Davidson (I had mentioned it in the morning) on the way. She called the shop and they said that they closed at four. She begged them to stay open a few minutes later because that was my last opportunity. They agreed to stay open a little while. The shop was on an island between two branches of the Nile. We arrived at 4:10. I bought two t-shirts, both of which were new designs, one arriving just today. The lady waiting on me was very pleased that I picked one of her designs. I paid for my shirts and then we left. I didn't want to keep them any longer, so I didn't look at any of the bikes.

We then drove to a big bridge over the Nile. We got out and Hend told us about Egyptian history and the Qasr al-Nil bridge (Wikipedia entry), among other things. We walked across and looked at the fancy hotel in the garden district. We crossed numerous streets which appeared to be a dangerous sport. We saw the famous Tahrir Square (Wikipedia entry) where the first revolution occurred about five years ago (Wikipedia entry). I remembered the bridge we just crossed in many televisions news reports during the revolution. We also saw lots of graffiti painted during and after the revolution.

We also stopped at a famous koshary restaurant and had the koshary (Wikipedia entry) that I had wanted to try. It is a bowl of two kinds of pasta, rice, tomato sauce, grilled onions, lentils, and garbanzo beans. You add garlic infused vinegar and chili sauce to taste. It was good and filling.

We then went to a pastry bakery and had freshly made ice cream. I had the mango strawberry and it was quite good. We were then picked up and driven to our hotel. Andrew and I both signed up for the Muslim and Coptic Cairo tour tomorrow morning. I paid my tip to the driver, I had already paid my tip to Hend at the koshary restaurant.

I went to my room and took a quick shower. I went downstairs to the lobby bar and had a glass of wine while I filled out my journal. A fellow played music on a piano which was nice. He had all the sound effects to go with it which was interesting in its own right. I left when an aggressive mosquito kept attacking me. I'm still taking malaria pills, but I don't believe that is a problem here. I bought another bottle of tonic water to take to my room.

I typed out my journal and then did my evening ablutions and took my pills. I watched television for a few minutes and then went to bed.

11 September 2016, Sunday

I got up at 5:45, brushed my teeth and went down to breakfast. I had small amounts of couscous, falafel, foule (a broad bean sort of gravy, Wikipedia entry), somewhat sweet croissant, apple, honey dew, squash, date, ripe olives, cheese, salami, semi-sweet roll, and lots of coffee. I probably forgot a couple of items.

I went back to my room to get ready for the day. I hope my next hotel has working WiFi and free internet. I could have used my spare time sending out e-mails. I'm not spending twenty dollars for internet for one day. The staff of the hotel are all very friendly and I give them an A+. The hotel's location is a D. It is isolated in a sort of working class neighborhood with no shops and restaurants of interest to foreigners except for the hotel restaurants. What hotel food I've had seems good. But I do feel isolated here.

I went to the lobby at 8:45 and met Andrew, his wife Linda, and another lady, Diane, also from New Zealand. Dahlia, our guide came shortly after. We crammed into a minivan and set out for our tour of the Muslim and Coptic parts of Cairo. First we went to the Citadel (Wikipedia entry), a walled structure on a rocky prominence over Cairo. It had been a limestone quarry in ancient times. The wall was built in stages but was first constructed as protection against the Crusaders in the 1180's. I noticed that the limestone was chock full of fossils of the protozoan foraminiferan, Nummulites (Wikipedia entry). They were called Nummulites because they were coin shaped and coin sized, large for a single-celled life form. I took photographs. We went inside the walls and took pictures of the Cairo panorama. One could barely make out the pyramids through the thick haze. We went into the Muhammad Ali Mosque (Wikipedia entry), sometimes called the Alabaster Mosque because of the beautiful alabaster in it. Muhammad Ali (Wikipedia entry) was the last Ottoman general to rule Egypt. He declared it independent during his reign. We went inside the mosque after taking our shoes off and Dahlia explained the five fundamentals of Islam.

We then got back on the van and went to the Coptic Cairo area (Wikipedia entry). Dahlia said the temperature was 39 degrees and it did feel pretty hot. Dahlia said that it was an unusual heat wave. We saw some Persian structures that were later modified by the Romans, and then we went to our first Coptic church called the Hanging Church (Wikipedia entry). It got this name because it hung over the Roman walls. Today is Sunday and the church was in session. We went to a second church, Greek Orthodox Church of St. George (Wikipedia entry) dedicated to St. George. They were preparing for a wedding. And then we went to the nearby Ben Ezra Synagogue (Wikipedia entry). Photos were not allowed even though it was no longer an active synagogue.

We stopped at a little coffee shop. I had a sediment coffee with milk, and then a lemon with mint.

We reboarded the van and went back to the hotel. I went to a nearby shop and bought a liter of bottled water. I went to the desk and asked about my laundry and they said that they would check on it. I went to the lobby bar and ordered two small bottles of tonic water and then went to my room. I took a shower and then a short nap. A little after three, my blue jeans were delivered to me.

At six we met in the lobby bar. I was the first attendee there and I asked the young lady if she were Hoda. She said yes. She is the guide for our Intrepid tour. Others filtered in, Andrew and wife Linda, and then Diane (all from New Zealand), then Kelly from Australia, and finally a young couple from Singapore, David and Jenny. Hoda talked about out trip, we filled out our insurance forms, and prepaid our tips for the entire trip (which Hoda will give out for us). Tomorrow we meet in the lobby for our tour at 8:30. After the meeting we divided into two groups, one going to the Horus Restaurant on the roof (I did that last night) and the other to the Italian restaurant, where I had pizza with anchovies and ripe olives.

After the dinner, an Egyptian wedding party began. It was very interesting. There was loud oboe and drum music, and beautiful young bridesmaids and grooms dancing. Video cameras were on. I even had my picture taken with some of the attendees. I did not have my camera unfortunately. While watching the wedding festivities, another fellow stood next to my table to watch. I scooted a chair out and motioned him to sit down. He did and we shook hands. He was from Saudi Arabia. I told him I was from Kentucky in the USA. He asked what airline flights I was taking to get home.

I went to my room by 9:30 and did my evening ablutions. I watched a little television while filling out my journal. I went to bed soon after.

12 September 2016, Monday

Eid Mubarak (sp)

I woke up at six, got up and brushed my teeth. During the night it came to me that the reason for being for this hotel is that it was a wedding hotel. I had stayed at one just like this the first time I went to Mumbai. It too, was fairly fancy, had good food, was isolated from tourists' interests, and was in a working class neighborhood.

I went to breakfast and had rice pudding, falafel, foule, Egyptian bread, honey, a bun with spices, a date, and lots of coffee. It is hot already.

I went to my room and took a shower. I also typed out my journal. In the elevator, a fellow in his religious clothing said "Eid Mubarak." I responded with the same and shook his hand. It means "Happy Eid (eed)."

I kept my big bottle of water in the little refrigerator in my room, but I noticed that the interior of the refrigerator was hotter than the room despite it being set to the coldest temperature. I'll just leave the water out in the room. Later, I learned that none of the refrigerators worked.

We met in the lobby at 8:15 and got on the small bus. We went to the Giza pyramid complex (Wikipedia entry), and, of course, I took lots of photographs. We went first to the Great Pyramid of Giza (Wikipedia entry). I also noted more nummulited limestones and called everyone's attention to the large single-celled fossils. Hoda explained a lot about ancient Egypt to us. We then went to the Khufu ship museum (Wikipedia entry). I bought a photo permit and took lots of photographs here as well. The museum is built over an ancient boat that had been buried next to the largest pyramid. It was buried disassembled and so curators had to reassemble it. It took years to do. It was also amazing that the boat was thousands of years old and was in such good condition.

I was also told that the alabaster slabs that once covered the pyramids had been robbed to make the Alabaster Mosque in the Citadel by the ruler Muhammad Ali (Wikipedia entry).

We then went to the Pyramid of Menkaure (Wikipedia entry) where the others bought a ticket to enter. I did not. The outside of that pyramid had been lined with red granite from the Aswan area. One of the Muslim leaders tried to destroy all of the pyramids and started with this one. His workers were only able to remove some of the granite and limestone blocks, but soon gave up, because it was too difficult. Thank goodness.

While waiting for the others, an aggressive vendor started talking to me. He grabbed my camera and tried to take a picture of me. He turned it on and then promptly dropped it in the sand and rocks. I tried to get it back, but he wanted to fix it, so he cleaned off the lens with his oily thumb. The sand had gotten into the outer barrel of the zoom lens and the lens would not retract, it was jammed by sand grains. I kept trying to get my camera back, but he wanted to fix it. He was really trying to manhandle it to get it to go back in. I was finally able to get my camera back and walked away. I was finally able to twist the lens back in, and he saw that, and asked for money, now that it worked. Do not ever talk to the vendors and don't let them touch your camera! We got back in the bus and the camera finally seemed to be functioning correctly.

We next headed to the Great Sphinx of Giza complex (Wikipedia entry) where I was fortunately able to take photographs.

We boarded the bus and then headed out again. We stopped at a local take-out place that Hoda recommended. I had a pita-type sandwich filled with foule, a bean gravy or paste. It tastes just like refried beans, but is a little bit soupier. I was very thirsty in the heat and had a cold Sprite. I don't usually drink soft drinks.

After lunch we went to the Egyptian Museum (Wikipedia entry). I got a photo permit as well. This is a huge, multi-storied museum. Hoda took us to a few choice exhibits and explained them to us. Then we had time to explore it on our own. It is not air conditioned, but there are fans. The temperature is in the upper 30's C, so it's pretty hot.

We were all hot, tired, and sore at the end. At three, we got back on the bus and went back to our hotel.

I took a shower and washed out my shirt. I'm hoping it dries quickly, tomorrow is a travel day. I also filled out my journal. I found one packet of lens cleaner and cleaned the fingerprints off my camera lens.

At six, we met in the lobby and loaded onto the bus and headed back toward the Giza pyramids. We went to the Aboushakra Restaurant where the second-floor dining area was like a balcony view of the Sphinx and the Pyramids. In fact we had a great vantage point for the light show at the pyramids, and we got it for free. Hoda negotiated our meal and price. We had a set menu of many dishes including pita bread, baba ganoush, hummus, spinach-like puree, egg plant dish, okra dish, pickles, and bowls of something like moussaka. Then we got the main course of grilled minced mutton, steak, chicken, vegetables, and rice with cinnamon and other spices. I had water to drink. I think everyone enjoyed the meal.

We were taken back to the hotel. David, Jenny, and I walked to a tiny store and got several large jugs of drinking water (6-liter jugs). Back at the hotel, I checked out and paid my room charges to save time tomorrow.

I went back to my room and packed most things. I brushed my teeth, took my pills, and then filled out my journal. I watched a little television and then went to bed about nine. Tomorrow is an early travel day.

13 September 2016, Tuesday

I got up at 5:45, brushed my teeth and went down to breakfast. I had chicken sausage dish, falafels, foule, Egyptian bread, a bun with spices, croissant, dates, honey dew melon, freshly made strawberry yogurt, and lots of coffee. I was the first there, but Diane joined me a few minutes later.

After breakfast I took my pack, and bag to the lobby by 7:15. I also had my new six-liter container of drinking water. I will add my packet of Indian electrolytes to it later. They do not sell electrolytes here, so I am lucky to have a couple of packets from India. We loaded our gear onto the bus and started our drive to Alexandria on the Mediterranean.

We had a three-hour drive to Alexandria (Wikipedia entry). We made a comfort stop half-way through and I got a coffee for myself and an espresso for Hoda.

Our first stop in Alexandria was the Citadel of Qaibay (Wikipedia entry) at the old harbor (Wikipedia entry). This is the site where the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria (Wikipedia entry) once stood. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was brought down by earthquakes in the 12th century.

We also stopped at a royal garden with royal palaces for the Turkish rulers of Egypt during the 19th and 20th centuries. There are two very nice hotels, plus a presidential palace there now.

We stopped at an Azza ice cream shop. I had a bowl of vanilla and mango. Very nice.

We then stopped at a Greco-Roman burial catacomb (Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, Wikipedia entry). Photography was not allowed (I have no idea why). We climbed down hand-carved spiral steps to the catacombs. The rocks were cross-bedded sandstones and exhibited honey comb weathering in places. The tombs were decorated with Greek and Egyptian themes.

Next, we stopped at a take-away restaurant where Hoda took our orders, the options were falafel sandwiches or foule sandwiches. I didn't get anything because I had had a big serving of ice cream.

Our bus moved through incredibly busy and narrow streets filled with two-way traffic, pedestrians, and market stands. I don't see how they drive here (or walk).

We got to our hotel, Mediterranean Azur Hotel (their website), in the early afternoon. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. My room is right next to the swimming pool and just steps away from the beach. Most of the women are wearing full burkinis in the water, but the men are not. I'm not going to rant about that right now.

This is probably the busiest holiday week for the locals to vacation. It is like our 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas, all rolled into one. The beaches here are packed.

Anyway, I went to the desk and asked about Internet. Here, it costs about $5.50 for overnight, considerably cheaper than the last place, and it actually works here. You have to carry a modem to your room, and set it up. They give you a scratch-off card with your password on it. I finally got the modem all set up and was able to log onto the Internet. I sent out a bunch of e-mails. We're only here for one night and I don't know if we'll have Internet at the next place. I spent most of the afternoon typing. And I did take another shower and washed out a shirt.

About 5:30, I finished my typing and went to the roof-top bar. I sat with David and Jenny. I ordered wine, but that was not sold at that bar. I ordered Sakara beer. The waiter came back to tell me that it was in glass bottles and they couldn't serve it at that bar. But I could order a can of Stella or Heineken. I declined and went down to the lobby bar and had a glass of local Marquis red wine. It came with peanuts and potato chip snacks. I filled out my journal there.

I take this time to say that all of the Egyptian people that I've encountered so far have been very friendly and kind. They have all welcomed me to be there. Their economy is dependent upon tourism and tourism is at an extremely low level. Now is the time to visit Egypt. Everything, food, hotels, travel, is at a great value. There are no lines or crowds at any of the ancient sites.

We met in the lobby at 6:30 and walked to a good seafood restaurant. You pick your fish, shrimp, squid, etc., they weigh it, you tell them how you want it cooked, and they bring it to you. But before it comes out, you also get lots of dishes like baba ganoush, pickles, cooked beets, and many others. I picked sole and had it grilled. It was very good. I had water to drink.

We walked back to the hotel. There were two weddings going on, one on each side of the hotel. Four of us stopped at the lobby bar and had a glass of red wine. My path to my room was blocked by one of the wedding parties.

After the wedding dancing migrated down the hall, I went to my room and filled out my journal. I did my usual evening ablutions. I went to bed a little after ten.

14 September 2016, Wednesday

I got up at 6:15 and brushed my teeth. I went to breakfast in the dining area at 6:30. It doesn't open till seven. I sat down anyway and took some photographs. It is a lot more peaceful now than it was at night.

This is a sprawling hotel. It is never over three stories high, but there are linear buildings (one to two stories) separated by and ending with circular buildings (three stories high). There are at least four circular buildings. The compound could be larger, but that's all I could see. There are two swimming pools and one beach area. Waves are only a few inches high. All of the rooms appear to open toward the Mediterranean and the pools. Andy and Linda, and I are in a circular building, whereas the others are in one of the linear buildings.

For breakfast I had falafel with bean gravy (foule), sausage dish, mashed potatoes, Egyptian bread, molasses or molasses-like honey, shredded carrot salad, sliced cucumbers, small sweet roll,, yogurt, omelet with everything, cut fruit, and coffee. I sat with Andrew and Linda.

After breakfast, I sent out one last email and then took a shower. I repacked, because this is a travel day. I checked out at 10:30 and met the others in the lobby.

We loaded our stuff onto the bus and went to the new library, Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Wikipedia entry), a new version of the ancient Library of Alexandria (Wikipedia entry). Architecturally, this must be one of the finest libraries in the world. We had a tour through the library and wandered through several of the museums there. They have an impressive digital collection and project as well. I bought a pocket bird guide to Egypt and the Middle East in the gift shop.

At 12:30 we got back on the bus. Hoda had bought falafel sandwiches for all of us, and we ate them on the bus while traveling. We headed back to Cairo, making a comfort stop halfway there.

Because we made good time, we stopped at a papyrus shop. They served us hibiscus drink (made from hibiscus flowers soaked in water, sugar is added, and it's good for high-blood pressure) and then demonstrated how papyrus (Wikipedia entry) was made. It is incredibly strong and can be soaked in water, wrung out, and still be tough. Of course they wanted to sell us papyrus with Egyptian artwork on it. I bought a plain piece of papyrus because I was more interested in the technology.

We got back into the bus and went to a supermarket to get snacks for our train ride. I didn't get anything. We then stopped at our hotel as a comfort stop and to wait for our evening train.

At about seven we got back on the bus and drove to the train station. We are taking a sleeper train overnight to Aswan. We boarded the train about eight. We are in two-person cabins, but I am in one by myself. This is far nicer than the Trans Siberian train I was on last year. I have my own wash basin, mirror, electrical outlet, and it's air conditioned.

After about ten minutes, dinner was served to us in our cabins. It was a mutton stew, rice, green beans in tomato sauce, bun, tahini sauce, and dessert. I didn't eat the dessert. In a few minutes after eating the tray was taken away. The attendant asked if I would like anything to drink and I asked for tea. I paid him six Egyptian pounds for it. I filled out my journal while taking tea. It is an overnight train and it is dark, so there is nothing to see outside.

There are two toilets (marked W.C.) at one end of the car. I went in one and took a couple of photos. The floor was wet (so wear shoes). We seemed to hit the roughest patch of rail while I was trying to take aim. It was almost as if someone were watching for the most opportune time to lurch the train left and right. The sink did work and there was toilet paper.

I went back to my cabin and prepared for bed. It was nice to have my own little sink. I brushed my teeth and took my pills (using bottled water), and went to bed about 9:15.

15 September 2016, Thursday

I slept off and on all night, but it wasn't unpleasant at all. We made several stops, but the heavy curtains kept out all the light.

I got up a little before six and brushed my teeth. In this dusty climate, the windows are pretty dirty. I won't be taking any good photos through these windows. I filled out my journal and typed it up.

Hoda said that during the night, the train remained idle for at least an hour, so we will be arriving late in Aswan. She didn't know why the train stopped.

We have gone past fields of date palms, bananas, sugar cane, corn, alfalfa, and other smaller crops. The common birds are doves, egrets, crows, and I did see a Pied Kingfisher.

We arrived at Aswan (Wikipedia entry) a little after noon, three hours late. We loaded onto our little tour bus and drove a short distance to our hotel, the Philae Hotel Aswan. We were given a glass of freshly made lemonade (our kind, not carbonated), and then given our keys. I went to my room and Hoda brought me a container of koshary for lunch. I also put electrolytes in my six-liter container of water. I filled out my journal as well. It appears that they have free WiFi, the air conditioner works, and the little refrigerator also works. There is a safe in the room too. Many of the people here are much darker than in Cairo, they look more African.

I took a shower and got dressed. At 1:45 we met in the lobby and rode the bus to a boat dock. We took a boat a short distance to the island, Philae (Wikipedia entry), near the old Aswan Dam. The Isis temple has been reconstructed on a new island by UNESCO and other supporters, because the old temple was partly submerged by the new lake. The temple was built during the Ptolemaic dynasty, but was built by Egyptians. I took lots of photos. It was pretty hot because we missed out chance to visit here in the cooler morning.

We took the boat back and then the bus to the hotel. I took another shower and then met the others in the lobby. We walked down the street to another boat landing. We boarded the boat and went upstream on the Nile. I took photos of the Nilometer (Wikipedia entry) as we passed it on Elephantine island (Wikipedia entry). This used to be the First Cataracts of the Nile before the dam was built. There are still lots of rocks and swirling waters, but it is no longer dangerous. We went to a granitic island and were led up a rocky hill to a Nubian family's home. Granite from this area has been quarried for millennia.

We met the family and were taken to the roof terrace. It was still quite hot, but there was a nice (but hot) breeze. We were served homemade potato chips, a potato casserole, a cooked vegetable dish, lentil soup, Nubian bread, cucumber and bell pepper salad, fried chicken wings, and hot tea with mint. We talked to members of the family and were shown around the home. We said our goodbyes and caught the boat back to the hotel.

I went to my room and filled out my journal. I took my pills, brushed my teeth, and took a quick shower. I went to bed shortly after.

16 September 2016, Friday

I got up at six, brushed my teeth, and took a quick shower. I packed everything because this is another travel day.

I had breakfast with the others at seven. I had cut-fruit cup (bananas and honey dew), boiled egg, pita bread, falafel, cream cheese, jam, and instant coffee. At eight, we got on the bus and went to the airport. There we caught a plane to Abu Simbel (Wikipedia entry). Abu Simbel was an important archaeological site. It was erected as a temple for Ramses II and his chief wife, Nefertari. Its original locality was at what is now, the bottom of Lake Nasser. UNESCO and many other world agencies disassembled the temples and reconstructed them against a false mountain above the lake level. I remember when this happened in 1968, National Geographic and Life magazine covered this reconstruction. The temple is very impressive with four giant statues of Ramses II in the front. Inside there were very many famous painted bas reliefs that everyone has seen in photos and television. However, photographs were not allowed. The queen's temple was nearby as well.

The temperature is about 41 degrees C, so it is very hot. I had a Turkish coffee and then we caught the plane back to Aswan.

A bus took us to the cruise ship, M/S Nile Dolphin. Our luggage had already arrived.

First, we went to the dining area and had our late lunch. I had a thin, clear vegetable soup, and then a chicken dish with sauce, fish with sauce and sesame seeds, rice, carrots, aubergine salad (my favorite of the selection), buns, a date, honey dew slices, and a cold dessert gelatin of some sort.

I went to my cabin on the third deck. It has a large lake-view window. I unpacked a bit and then went to the bar to fill out my journal. I had a Stella beer. It was advertised as Stella Artois in the menu, but when they gave it to me, it was Stella Egyptian Lager Beer, and the text was in Arabic. It was not Stella Artois. It was an average beer.

To use the bathroom, there is one rule, no toilet paper in the toilet, at all. It must go into the rubbish bin. Reminds me of Guaymas, Mexico. The rooms are air conditioned, but on the sunny side, it struggles. The refrigerator is very moldy inside and possibly doesn't work (I didn't leave it open long enough to find out). There is a safe in the cabin, but somehow mine locked up before I got to use it. There is WiFi, but you have to pay for it. It is expensive, but you don't use all the minutes at once.

At 4:30 we met in the lobby, and walked to a felucca (Wikipedia entry) next our cruise ship. We boarded it and sailed upstream a mile or so to the Old Cataract Hotel (their website, Wikipedia entry). Cataract refers to the First Cataract of the Nile (Wikipedia entry), not eye disease. This is a very fancy hotel. Agatha Christie wrote one of her books here. Rooms used to be $1800 per night a few years ago, but because the tourism industry is so desperate, rooms are as cheap as $150 per night (I advise a room in the old building, not the new budget wing). We sat on the terrace and watched the sun go down. I had a gin and tonic and a couple of the others followed suit.

At about 6:45 we caught a couple of cabs back to our cruise ship. I took a quick shower and changed shirts.

At 7:30 we met in the dining room. We are all at one table and that is our table for the rest of the cruise. There were many other passengers belonging to different tour groups. I had cream of asparagus (?) soup, fried fish (good), beef(?) and gravy, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables (carrots and peas), aubergine salad, ripe tomato and cucumber salad, bread, and Obelisk red wine for drink. I didn't have dessert. We had a lot of interesting conversations.

I went back to my room and did my evening ablutions. I filled out my journal, and backed up my camera. I went to bed by 9:30.

17 September 2016, Saturday

I got up at 6:30, brushed my teeth, and took a quick shower. I went down to breakfast before seven and I waited till they opened. I had a two-egg omelet with onions and chilies, plus bread, croissant, slice of liverwurst, cheese, cucumber, corn flakes, and instant(?) coffee. I haven't seen anyone in my group.

I finished my breakfast and went to my cabin. By eight I still had not seen my group. I filled out my journal and did some typing.

At nine we got on the bus for a shopping excursion. We first went to an Egyptian clothing shop which sold shirts, pants, dresses, robes, Egyptian cotton sheets, etc. I sat in a chair close to several fans and had a nice little nap. We then went to an essence shop where they gave a demonstration about essences, essential oils, etc. It was interesting. They demonstrated sandalwood oil by giving me a back massage.

After that we went back to the boat. My room had been cleaned. I filled out my journal for a few minutes and then went to the bar and ordered a Stella beer at noon, and watched the feluccas sail by. From what I understand there is no longer a Nile cruise that traverses the length of the Nile in Egypt. This is for security reasons. Apparently there is a segment with a high population of Islamist supporters and there was some anti-tourist violence in the late 1990's. There has been no violence for many years.

We went to lunch at one. I had cream of onion soup, fried fish, scalloped potatoes, zucchini casserole, beef stew, bread, ripe tomato, aubergine salad, green olives, jelly (jello), Tropical-what-is-it (bananas and apricot nectar), and nothing to drink.
I went to my room at 1:30 and had my after-lunch contemplation time.

The cruise boat cast off around 1:30. I went up to the Sun Deck and sat under the canopy about 3:00. There was a nice strong breeze, but it was very hot air, much like a hair dryer. I watched as we passed the riverbank scenery, we were heading north, down river. The riverbank was lined either by reeds or date palms. Several hundred meters inland began the desert without any vegetation whatsoever.

By 4:00 a tea was set up. I had tea and some little cake. By then the others had come up to sit together. All but Kerry, there seems to be a stomach ailment going around our group.

At about 5:00, our boat tied up at Kom Ombo to see the Kom Ombo Temple (Wikipedia entry). We left the boat and Hoda led us around telling us about the significance of the temple. The first temple was largely focused on medicine and shared by devotees of two gods, Horus the Elder and Tasenetnofret. The second area was dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek, and, at a nearby museum, we saw crocodile mummies. There were more tourists at this temple complex because many river cruise ships had tied up here.

We re-boarded our ship about dark. I took a shower and filled out my journal while listening to a little Allman Brothers on my computer.

At 7:30 I joined the others in the dining room. I had roasted chicken, fish, red rice, dolma, bread, tahini sauce, and a series of Egyptian pastry desserts like baklava. I had Obelisk red wine for drink. And, as usual, we talked for a long time.

I went back to my room at 8:30. I did my evening ablutions and went to bed about 9:00. We get up early tomorrow.

18 September 2016, Sunday

I got up at six, I also had a wake-up call at six. I dressed and brushed my teeth. I got ready for our shore excursion. We are docked at Edfu (Wikipedia entry).

At 6:30 we left the boat and got on three horse-and-buggies. I was with David and Jenny, but I sat with the driver. We rode about ten minutes till we got to Edfu Temple (Wikipedia entry). This temple was completed during the Ptolemaic dynasty but may have begun earlier. Hoda took us around different parts of the temple explaining the story behind it and the significance of the images. There was still paint preserved in the upper parts of interior walls. The temple celebrated the conquest of Seth, the warrior god, by the falcon god, Horus.

We rode out buggy back to the boat by 8:30, and immediately had breakfast. I had scrambled eggs, potato casserole, foule (I used plenty of hot sauce on all three), bread, and instant coffee.

After breakfast, I went to my room and took a shower. My room hadn't been cleaned yet, so I went to the Sun Deck, sat under the canopy, and filled out my journal. There was a pleasant breeze, and it was very relaxing.

At about noon, we passed through a set of locks. Boatmen tried to sell us souvenirs as we went through.

At 1:30 I went down to lunch. I had fried fish, potato casserole, cooked carrots, ripe olives, sour cream, bread, gelatin-type desserts, and nothing to drink.

I went back to my room at 2:30 to type out my journal. It is hot on the Sun Deck. After awhile I did go up to the Sun Deck and there was a nice breeze. We tied up at Luxor (Wikipedia entry) at 4:30. It is on the east bank of the Nile.

At five we exited the boat and walked around Luxor a bit. There is a Luxor temple complex (Wikipedia entry) here and we walked around it, but didn't go in. I was only gone 30 minutes and then returned to the boat.

At 7:30 we went to dinner. I had chicken rosemary, potatoes, carrots and peas, potato and pea salad, roasted aubergine and pepper salad, bread, and Obelisk red wine for drink. I had "Goodbye" cake for dessert.

At 8:30 we went to the bar/lounge. A beautiful belly dancer did two dance routines and then a whirling dervish did two dance routines. It was all very entertaining and the musicians were good as well.

At nine, I paid my room charges. I went to my cabin and packed. I brushed my teeth, took my pills, and then filled out my journal. I went to bed at 10:15. Tomorrow is an early day.

19 September 2016, Monday

I got up a little before my wake-up call at 5:30. I brushed my teeth, and took a shower. I went down to breakfast at 5:45 and had an omelet with everything, bread, cereal with powdered milk, and instant coffee.

After breakfast, I carried my things to our bus and we set off to the west bank to see the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Kings. In the Valley of the Queens (Wikipedia entry), we went to the Hotshepsut temple (Wikipedia entry). It is called the Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple. We got there early to avoid the heat, but it was plenty hot even in the early morning. We saw many beautiful bas reliefs, some with the original paint, three thousand years old. Photos were allowed here, so I took many.

Then we took the bus a short distance to the Valley of the Kings (Wikipedia entry). There are many tombs (64) here and for a general ticket, one can pick three tombs. Most of us went to the tombs of Ramses IV (Wikipedia entry), Ramses VII (Wikipedia entry), and Tuthmosis III (Wikipedia entry).The Tuthmosis tomb had more artistic line drawings of the various Books of the Dead. It was very hot. I also purchased a ticket to see Tutankhamen's tomb (Wikipedia entry), which was much smaller than I thought. Photos were not allowed at the Valley of the Kings. These tombs have many colored paintings, some on plaster and some directly onto the bas reliefs.

We got back onto the bus and went to one of many alabaster carving shops where they demonstrate how they chipped away at the stone and how they used bow drills to drill voids into the stone vases. However, this is how they did it two hundred years ago. This is a show for tourists and this is not how they do it now despite what they tell you. While we were in the shops, we were served drinks, I had unsweetened hot tea. Hoda had ordered us falafel sandwiches and we had those for lunch.

We hopped back onto the bus and went to our new hotel in Luxor, the Eatabe Luxor Hotel (their website), very close to the Nile. I think that this is the nicest hotel we've stayed at on this tour. It has free WiFi in the lobby, and there are a series of shops, restaurants, cafes, bar, swimming pool, etc. I was in my room by 1:30 and I took a shower. I went down to the bar and had a Sakara beer while I filled out my journal. The roasted peanuts were good too.

I went back to my room to get my new laptop in order to send out emails. However, I could not get it started. I plugged it in to the outlet to recharge it for a couple of hours and it still would not start. I will give it another couple of hours to recharge before I give up on it altogether. It will be unfortunate, because I have typed out a lot of my journal on it. All of that will be lost. I assume that there were power surges on the river boat.

At six we met in the lobby and walked to the Jamboree Restaurant. It was on the second floor overlooking local activity in the market area. Most of us had a tagen, I had a chicken tagen (like a chicken stew with vegetables), rice with orzo, and a Sprite.

On the way back, I stopped at an ATM and was finally able to get some cash. I had tried at two other ATMs today and they would not allow the transactions.

I got back to my room by 8:30. I tried to start my computer again to no avail. I filled out my journal, brushed my teeth, and took my pills. I went to bed by nine.

20 September 2016, Tuesday

I woke up at six, brushed my teeth, and got ready for the day. I tested my computer and it still did not work, so I packed it away. I will take it home and dissect it to see what is wrong. I went down to breakfast at 6:30 and had omelet with everything, toast, honey, kofta, and lots of coffee.

We met in the lobby at 7:30 and loaded onto our bus. We drove a short distance to Karnak Temple (Wikipedia entry), the largest temple complex in Egypt. It was a temple dedicated to Amon Ra and was active during the reigns of many pharaohs. Photography was allowed so I took lots of photographs.

We got back onto the bus and went to ACE (Animal Care in Egypt, their webite), a foundation to take care of animals in Luxor. They provide veterinarian care and also have an educational component.

We headed back to the hotel. On the way back we picked up some fruit and falafel sandwiches. Back in my room I had a very good yellow mango (I ate skin and all), three small bananas, and a falafel sandwich. I drank my bottled water (I had put tea bags in it earlier). After lunch, I took a nice refreshing shower. I had time to kill, so I got my computer out, and, low and behold, it started! I took it to the bar lounge, ordered a Sakara beer and sent out a rash of emails while it still worked.

W met at six and took a van to a restaurant that specialized in pizzas and a pizza-like dinners. We all had something called a savory pie, like a pizza with a pastry cover. I had one with anchovies, ripe olives, and chili peppers.

We returned to the hotel. I paid my room charges and packed. Tomorrow we get up vey early. I went to bed at 8:15 after doing my evening ablutions and filling out my journal.

21 September 2016, Wednesday

I got up at 3:50, my wake-up knock on the door was at 4:00. I took a shower and brushed my teeth. I finished packing and went down to the lobby by 4:15. They had bag breakfast, but I decided not to take mine. I did have a cup of coffee.

We loaded onto the bus at 4:30 and drove to the Luxor airport. The others ate their breakfast in the gate area. We boarded our flight to Cairo at six.

We landed in Cairo at seven. It's about 30 degrees C this early, it will get much hotter. We loaded onto another bus. We went to the bazaar area. We first walked to the Al-Azhar Mosque (Wikipedia entry) that was over a thousand years old. We went through some narrow streets of the bazaar to a coffee and tea shop. I had Egyptian tea with mint. After our refreshments, we walked through many of the narrow alleys and streets including the Khan al Khalili bazaar (Wikipedia entry). Linda bought a tiny belly dancing outfit for her young granddaughter. We saw jewelry, fabric, herbs, and other shops.

We got back onto the bus and went to our hotel, the Barcelo Pyramid Cairo, the same hotel we stayed at before. I went to my room and noticed that the door had been propped open. I thought that was odd. I went in and it was a spacious suite. I went into the bathroom and it was trashed, water everywhere and muddy boot prints. I had passed a painter down the hall. He was using my room for his private lounge and bathroom. And he obviously had a key. I went back to the desk and got another room, smaller, but clean.

I took a cold-water shower, there was no warm water, but I got used to it.

At noon a group of us met in the Italian café in the hotel. Three of us shared a four cheese pizza and a vegetarian pizza. It was good and filling. After that, I felt like taking a nap. I'll need it later. After a bit, I used the computer in the business office to check-in for my flights tomorrow. I cannot send emails from that computer however.

At six, we met in the lobby. We loaded onto the van and drove for about an hour to Felfela Restaurant. I was still full from lunch, so I just ordered grilled vegetables and a Sakara beer. Kerry was our spokesman and she gave a very nice series of comments about how well Hoda had taken care of us. We gave her our tips in an envelope. I had given her an additional tip previously as well.

We then returned by van, arriving at the hotel about 9:30. I brushed my teeth, took my pills, and filled out my journal. I also packed. Tomorrow is a very early day again.

22 September 2016, Thursday

I got up at 3:00, brushed my teeth, and took a shower. I was down in the lobby with my pack by 3:15. My breakfast bag was supposed to be ready for me, but it wasn't there.

The driver picked me up around 3:30. At the airport I went through security, got my boarding passes, went through passport control, and then another line of security before I got to my gate area by about 4:50. I filled out my journal and typed it out.

I boarded the Air France flight to Paris. A lady wearing the full hijab and niqab with gloves and a little slit to see from, sat her 2-year old boy next to me and she and her other baby sat on the other side of the boy. The boy immediately started screaming and kicking and this lasted the entire flight of four or five hours. He stood in his seat, kicked me, grabbed my clothes, punched my arms, threw food on me and the floor and it never ceased. The mother did nothing to calm or comfort him. The fellow who sat in front of me reclined his seat all the way back, even during lunch. I asked him to raise it during lunch, but it was a point of honor to him, and he kept it reclined.

We finally landed in Paris, and I went through another round of security. I got to my gate area and ordered a Starbucks coffee. I had WiFi and sent a quick email out about where I was. I walked in the gate area as much as I could because I have another long flight.

I boarded my next plane, an Air France to Atlanta. We were served two meals, a breakfast, and later, a pizza dinner. I watched a few movies not worth mentioning and slept a few minutes here and there. We landed in Atlanta in the afternoon and I went through passport control and then through a very slow security area. I walked to my next terminal and gate area. This airport has free WiFi throughout so I took advantage of it and sent out some e-mails. I also filled out my journal.

My flight to Lexington took off at about 9:30 pm and I arrived in Lexington about 11:00. Anne was waiting for me and drove me home telling about news and the family. I arrived at home and Mary was doing homework. Even my dog missed me. This was one long day. I had spent about 26 hours traveling. It was good to be home. And I was glad that the time I had spent to learn some Egyptian Arabic was well worth it.

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