A September 2003 trip
to Egypt by Nosferatu
Quote: This was a three-week journey I took with my wife and old high school friend that completely immersed us in the Egyptian culture. We covered most of the country in the twenty days we spent there.
Virtually every part of Egypt was a highlight. However, I would highly suggest to spend a couple of days in Luxor. The grandest of all the temples, Karnak, resides in Luxor as well the Luxor Temple itself. On the east side of the Nile, you have the Valley of the Kings as well as Queen Hatsepshut's Temple.
Another not-to-miss area is Abu-Simbel. These are the temples built by King Ramses II for himself and his wife and are carved into the rocks just north of the Sudanese border. And of course, there are the Great Pyramids and the Sphynx in Giza.
This was certainly true of our 1-night stay at the Alexander Hotel in Siwa. Even though we had chosen this to be our place of respite for the night based on the reviews in the Rough Guides book, it seemed like we were almost forced into it as well once we disembarked from the bus.
My travelling partners and I were the only non-Egyptians on the bus from Alexandria to Siwa. Upon arrival at the Siwa bus station, the representative from the Alexander Hotel approached us and essentially grabbed our backpacks and told us to follow him since he had a good hotel for us. I told him I was looking for the Alexander Hotel, and he said that was a good thing since he was going there.
The person didn't look very friendly, and since I was travelling with two females, only one of them having any relation to me, we were looked upon with some suspicion as we walked down the street.
It was only a couple of minutes' walk to the hotel. Inside, the lounge area was small and cramped, with a couple of chairs and the table where the hotel manager checked in and out guests. As it turned out, the same person who met us at the bus station was the hotel manager. He had a worker there who helped with the tasks of taking our bags to the room.
We ended up getting just one room for the three of us, which the manager was not very happy with. Though I couldn't tell if it was because of the gender mix or since he wasn't getting any money out of an extra room. I believe it is the latter. The room itself was very basic. A third bed was brought in, and so the space was very tight. The bathroom was also very basic, but it was clean, and the hot water was somewhat tepid.
There was a small balcony where we could walk out and clearly see the ruins of Shali on the hill across from us. It was also nice to see the comings and goings of the people on the streets. Since there were no other motor vehicles, everyone was either walking or riding donkey carts.
We did our best to avoid the manager downstairs and did not see any other guests in the hotel that evening or the next morning when we checked out.
I suppose if you are staying here, the Alexander Hotel will suit your needs. With increasing tourism to this part of the country, the hotels, motels, and services will probably get better. In the meantime, tread lightly around the hotel manager.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 12, 2005
This is sailing the Nile like the ancient Egyptians did. The felucca boats are small, open wooden boats with a large triangular sail. We chose to sail on a felucca for a couple of days, instead of just one afternoon, to get a better experience of sailing and living on one of these boats.
In our boat, we were lucky enough to have a relatively young crowd. There were about 10 of us all together, in addition to the captain of the boat. Each of us brought along our bags and packed them away in the small holding chambers underneath the bow. There was one large foamy mattress area where we all sat, ate, and slept for the next two days as we sailed down the Nile river. The actual distance we sailed was not very far at all; in fact, I would be surprised if we disembarked more than 10 miles from Aswan. However, I would still recommend this mode of travel. It's a great way to break a hectic trip and relax for a couple of days.
We stopped the second night and found ourselves playing a game of soccer (football) with some local kids, which was a lot of fun. All in all, riding the felucca allows you to get closer to the environment that shaped Egypt's long history. And that is what it is really all about.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 15, 2005
Felucca Boat Ride
Nile River from Aswan
Attraction | "The Great Pyramids"
The pyramids have been described throughout antiquity and into the modern age with just about every superlative description that exists. Therefore, I won't make a lame attempt to outdo it. However, I will say that as amazing as these pyramids were to behold, my personal odyssey reached its zenith in the pharaoh's burial chamber.
I went in there without my other travelling companions, since we were not allowed to bring any cameras or bags. After my crawl up the dimly lit shafts, I entered the burial chamber and immediately noticed how barren it was except for the open tomb of Khufu and a seismograph machine. After several minutes in this room, the other tourists left and I found myself completely alone for almost 10 minutes. In this solitary space, I could almost feel the history spanning back over 40 centuries. The feeling during this time was simply amazing. What was just as amazing is that as I wandered around this chamber and studied the stone blocks that were used to construct this room and could not find a single crack to even insert a penny. These are colossal structures indeed.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 15, 2005
Giza Pyramids and The Sphinx
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
National Museum of Egyptology
Attraction | "Temple of King Ramses II at Abu Simbel"
Unless you could really care less about temples, you will be totally floored by these temples. The statues on either side the entrance completely tower over you as you approach, their eyes staring off into infinity.
Inside of the temples are room after room of heiroglyphics painted onto the stone walls. Many of the scenes depict Ramses II and his military and political victories during his incredibly long reign as ruler of the Egyptian empire. There are also statues with the temples as one, several of them being of the Egyptian god Osiris.
Another interesting story about these temples is that they were both physically moved in the 1960s due to the creation of Lake Nasser that was formed after the High Aswan Dam was completed. This incredible engineering feet was accomplished by UNESCO, and the two temples were cut out and moved 200 feet above and 600 feet west of where they were originally located.
Visiting Abu Simbel is a definite must for anyone going to Egypt. After the pyramids, these temples symbolize the face of Egypt for the world.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 18, 2005
Temple of King Ramses II
Abu Simbel, Egypt
Attraction | "Night Bazaar in Aswan"
As a kid, I had read a number of stories from the book "1001 Arabian Nights". In several of them, they described street market scenes with row after row of merchants selling their wares on the streets. Oftentimes, there would be shouting as the merchants competed for the business of the shoppers. Walking through the business area at night on the streets of Aswan brought home these stories in an incredibly vivid and exotic way. There were very few foreigners that spoiled the ambience of the marketplace. All around us, for as far as the eye could see, narrow streets curved their way through the town, down side streets and even more narrow alleyways. Along every foot of this, there were shopkeepers sitting outside calling out to the passersby to look at their items.
I found the Egyptians here in Aswan to be incredibly polite people. Despite the large crowds and the attempts of the merchants to get your attention, the noise level was much lower than I would have expected. Mostly families and small groups of friends were seen doing their shopping in the cooler hours following sunset. We spent about three hours slowly making our way around the street market. We had dinner at a little kabob shop and talked to a number of merchants. Many were interested in talking to us about our life in the USA just as much as they were interested in selling us things to take back to our country. For a nice, relaxing evening, I would definitely recommend walking through the streets of Aswan after sunset. It will take you back to a much simpler time.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 22, 2005
Throughout the City Streets
Attraction | "Nubia Museum"
I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed my time at this museum. It was built by UNESCO and opened fairly recently, in 1997. This museum tells the story of the land of Nubia in southern Egypt and northern Sudan over the past several thousand years. With over 2,000 items exhibited in either excellent display cases or models of Nubian environments, this museum does a much better job of showing the history of Egypt than the National Museum in Cairo.
Usually I find myself glancing over a number of descriptions and information cards at museums, but I found that I read virtually everything in the 3+ hours I spent here. In fact, I still wanted to explore the grounds the museum sat on and had to almost run through it before the gates closed. Along with my wife and friend, we went to this museum during the evening hours. I would recommend going through the grounds first before entering the museum. We certainly did not anticipate to be in it for so long.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 22, 2005
Simply put, Karnak is the largest temple ever built in the history of the human race. The sheer size of the temple will astound virtually anybody. However, it needs to be recognized that what we see today as the Karnak temple is the result of 1,300 years of building on the temple grounds.
Karnak is actually a complex of three separate temples built for three different gods: Amun, Mut, and Montu. The most impressive part of the the temple complex is the Hypostyle Hall. This shows up soon after entering through the main doors and then passing through the Second Pylon. This hall is comprised of 7 rows of columns that are 42 feet high. Each row contains 9 columns apiece. Standing in the center of it and looking up makes you feel like Gulliver in the land of Giants. Just this one hall, which is a small part of the Karnak complex, is bigger than several of the large cathedrals in Europe combined. Along many of the walls around Karnak are hieroglyphs depicting scenes of politics, war, and religion with the appropriate pharaohs who had them built during their reigns. There are a number of smaller temple buildings scattered around the complex dedicated to many other gods than the three main ones. There is also a large lake on the grounds that was believed to be sacred and is called the Sacred Lake. This is a sight that is not to be missed.
We actually went to Karnak twice, once for the tour itself and then again for the laser and light show at night. Although the laser show was interesting, the one at the Great Pyramid in Giza was far better. I actually enjoyed touring the temple complex during the day much better. I was able to take in the sheer magnitude of the temple while at the same time marvel at the details carved on the reliefs throughout the complex.
North Luxor on Corniche Ave
Attraction | "Mount Sinai"
We hitched a ride from our hostel in the coastal town of Dahab on the Sinai peninsula around 11pm at night. After picking up a few more passengers, it took us about 90 minutes to reach St. Catherine's Monastery, where the trail begins to the summit of Mount Sinai. We began climbing just before 1am under a near full moon, which provided enough light to keep us from having to use our flashlights.
For the most part, the climbing was fairly easy during the first 5km of the trail. It was wide enough for several people to walk abreast, since it was also used by the camels to carry visitors up the trail. Also along the way there were a few small stalls selling breakfast items, coffee, tea, and other trinkets. We did not stop at any of these and continued our way up to the summit.
About 3.5 hours into our climb, as we neared the summit, the camel trail stopped as we hit the Stairs of Repentance. These are the final 750 steps that must be climbed to get to the top. This climb was more strenuous and slow-going than the trail due to the rough and random placement of these rocks. A flashlight was definitely needed here, and it took us almost an hour of climbing and resting to reach our goal.
The view from the summit is raw and quite surreal. The land around us feels ancient. The landscape of the surrounding peaks and valleys is full of jagged peaks, sharp rocks, and dry desert floors and is quite inhospitable. We arrived at the top about 30 minutes before sunrise and remained at the summit for about an hour. There is a small makeshift Christian church and a Muslim mosque near the summit that is an interesting focal point against the barren background.
Our climb back down to St Catherine's Monastery took us another 3.5 hours and was fairly uneventful. Even though it was only 9am by the time we were loaded onto our minibus, the day was already quite hot. I can't imagine trying to climb Mt. Sinai under the noon Egyptian sun. All in all, I would highly recommend this trek. It is not technical at all, and anyone who is reasonably fit can make it to the summit. It will certainly be one of the highlights to your trip to Egypt--for better or for worse.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 27, 2005
St. Catherine's Monastery (Santa Katarina)
Foot of Mount Sinai
Saint Catherine, Egypt
This was our last major activity we did in Egypt before heading home. It was also one of the most serene experiences I've ever had. Without a doubt, the Sahara desert is one of the cruelest and rawest environments on this planet. There are stories of entire armies being sucked in by the desert on their campaigns, never to be heard from again. And yet, this desert is also one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, though I would probably change my mind if I had to actually travel through it. But the two days we spent there were the climax of our trip.
Just to the west of Siwa, the Great Western Desert begins and spans the breadth of the African continent almost out to the Atlantic Ocean. In our travel there, we just barely entered into its domain, but we were immediately surrounded by its vastness, its emptiness, and its grandeur. We drove in a Land Cruiser and went up and down sand dunes at least 100 feet high. We swam in an oasis surrounded by date palms and hibiscus plants that were used to make the popular karkaday tea. Even though we were no more than 1 hour away from Siwa, there were absolutely no signs of civilization anywhere: no other people, vehicles, electrical poles, nothing. As evening fell and we set up our camp, the stars came out like nothing I have ever seen before, even in the north Arctic, where the air is clear and cold. The wind blew sand into everything I had either on my person or in my bag and equipment. The night also grew chilly, and I found myself creeping further into my sleeping bag as I slept under the stars.
We were up with the dawn and tore down our camp to make it back to Siwa for our return to Cairo. I wish I could have stayed in the desert for another couple of days. This is definitely something I will need to do again. Without a doubt, this is an activity you should allow yourself time to do.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 29, 2005
Camping in the Sahara Desert
Great Western Desert
Attraction | "Town of Siwa"
Siwa is a destination that takes some commitment. First of all, it is nowhere near the Nile river. In fact, it is about as far as you can get from the Nile without leaving the country.
To get there, we took a long 7-hour bus ride from the main Alexandria bus station. The ride there begins by tracking its route along the Mediterranean shore, but then heads inland through barren desert and small towns. The road conditions gradually become worse and the roadside amenities few and far between. Travelling through the desert for that many hours does begin to play tricks on the eyes. In fact, you might even believe you are seeing a mirage when first encountering Siwa. It seems like it almost comes out of nowhere, and before you know it, you are in a town of about 20,000 inhabitants. Also by this point, you are not too far from the Libyan border.
Siwa's existence relies solely on its oasis, aptly known as Siwa Oasis. It continues to supply all of the water the town needs as it has for several thousand years now. Walking around Siwa feels like stepping back in time. Even for a Muslim country, Siwa is quite conservative. The only men and women you see together on the streets are the tourists. Most modes of transportation are by donkey cart or just plain walking. The Siwans don't even speak the national Arabic language, but rather a local Berber tongue that is uniquely their own.
Near the center of town lie the ruins of the ancient community of Shali. These ruins are very accessible and are fascinating to walk around in. We toured the ruins early in the morning and encountered only one other tourist there. From the top of the ruins, which are built on and around a hill, all of Siwa can be easily seen as well as a wonderful view of the desert as it extends to the west. Given the time, a two or three day trip to Siwa and the surrounding desert should be seriously considered. The ride to and from Siwa is tiring and pretty boring. But the town of Siwa is a fascinating look at a part of the world very few people ever get to see.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 29, 2005
Between Qattara Depression and Egyptian Sand Sea
Attraction | "Coptic Cairo"
However, the Christian history of Egypt is significant in its own right, and a trip to Coptic Cairo helps to put a lot of it into perspective. For example, I didn't know that the Copts had their own pope that began with Saint Mark back in the first century AD.
Even though we only spent about 3 hours in Coptic Cairo, it was still plenty of time to get a good handle on the area and walk around the streets and visit the churches. Although this place is pretty recent by comparison to the Pharaonic sites, the fact that it is still a living, breathing place makes it just as remarkable as anything else. The walkways inside the enclosed area are narrow and crooked. The houses are squeezed together and are of irregular shapes.
The centerpiece of Coptic Cairo is the Hanging Church, also known as the Church of the Virgin Mary. It is built into the walls of the Roman Fortress and was originally constructed in the 4th century. It is reached by climbing 29 steps, which then steps out into an open court. The church is captivating to look at and explore despite the serious and conservative atmosphere that permeates the place.
There are several other churches in Coptic Cairo, including the Church of St. George and the Church of St. Sergius. The latter one has historical significance since it is thought that the Holy Family rested in this location on their flight from Herod. Naturally, there was no church there at the time, but it is an important landmark.
All in all, I really liked the time I spent here in Coptic Cairo. I was fascinated by the simple livelihoods of the people who live here. I spent a lot of time on the narrow walkways and streets taking pictures and videos. It is certainly worth taking an afternoon to explore it.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 12, 2005
Coptic Cairo Sights & Attractions
Throughout Old Cairo