EgyptCairo and the Nile, 2009
Land of the Pharaohs

October, 2009

By Jack WelschClick on Thumbnail


We’d talked about a river cruise as a change of pace and started by looking at a wine cruise in Portugal.  When we read of Uniworld’s yet-to-be launched Tosca on the River Nile, however, we jumped at it.  While the Tosca never did work out for us, we had a great 2-week vacation in Egypt.  Near the end of the trip I got chatting with a young store clerk who asked me what I didn’t like about his country.  I had no answer.  Having reflected on it, I realized I’d overlooked one significant item; tourists are subject to a constant barrage of requests for money.  In Egypt, “La’, shokran” (“No, thank you”) is clearly the most important phrase in the traveler’s vocabulary.

Because he’d done so much traveling, I asked my friend Karl, from Düsseldorf for advice in Egypt.  He said he’d never been there so he and Gisela decided to meet us in Cairo and join the tour.

When we booked the trip almost a year ago, the river boat “River Tosca” was scheduled to be launched in April.  We booked our trip for May so as not to be guinea pigs.  We sent our passports out for Egyptian visas and, on the very day we got them back, were advised by Uniworld that the Tosca would not be ready in time for our May sailing!  Uniworld offered several options, including a trip in October with a reasonable rebate.  While we regretted the delay, we were told by many people that October was a better season anyway so we chose the October option.

Two days before we left home, however, we were advised that the Tosca was STILL not ready!  Uniworld offered more options including that of a further significant refund and a trip on one of their old ships.  They said that the ship would be completely re-furbished with all the appointments from the Tosca, that the crew would be the one from the Tosca and that service would be impeccable.  They lied!  The ship and its crew left a lot to be desired.  More on that to follow.

The very good news is that we had an absolutely superb tour director, Ossama and a very small tour group that became almost a family during out two weeks in Egypt.  Added to that is the magnificence of the country and the overwhelming friendliness of its people.  In spite of the trials over the ship, this will go down in history as one of our best trips ever.

I took over 3400 pictures on this trip and, even after I weeded out the bad ones, I still had nearly 2600! There are onlt a tiny portion of them here but you can find many more (plus a map) at

Friday, Oct. 2

New York

Given our scheduled late night departure from JFK, I worked until noon in order to clean up some last details.  Al Fox of Black Tie Limo picked us up at 4:00 for the trip to JFK.  Under other circumstances, I might have driven myself but the prospect of arriving from the return trip at 7:30 AM after a grueling flight and then enduring the drive home through rush-hour New York traffic was more than I could bear. 

Traffic across Staten Island was horrible but we nonetheless arrived at JFK at 7:30.  Check-in was a mess but security a breeze.  “Dinner” was at Chili’s. 

Boarding and takeoff were in time and the trip, though painfully long in a packed 757, was uneventful.

Saturday, Oct 3


CairoArrival in Cairo was at 3:30 PM local time. Much to my surprise, our 757 was parked far from the terminal and we walked down the stairs and were bussed to the terminal. As we entered the terminal building, we had to submit cards testifying as to our health, and, after we passed the first barrier, I saw that passengers were being scanned for body temperature. Security personnel were watching monitors on which were displayed a real-time video of passengers with their temperature in little boxes over their heads. High temperatures were in red boxes. Pretty nifty, I must admit! All this, of course, was related fears over the N1H1 virus.

Ramses IIHaving always been met after passing customs, I was shocked and delighted to see the Uniworld rep, Mohammed, as soon as we passed the health screening.

He directed us through the somewhat confusing immigration system. That process was a bit of a disaster and took about an hour. However, by the time we got to the belt, the bags were already there, as was Mohammed. He collected a contingent of 10 or 12 other Uniworld people but, as it happened, we were the only ones on our itinerary. Uniworld has three different Egypt itineraries and, as it happened, all of these people were all on another. Though the group was small, we were on a full-sized tour bus. We were to come to happily realize that this would be a pretty standard condition throughout our tour.

MosqueCairo is great! It is very different from home, of course, and much of it, including the odor, reminded me if India. I’m not sure exactly what that smell is.

It’s pungent but not unpleasant. Certainly reminded me that I wasn’t in the hills of Pennsylvania! The daytime population of Cairo is almost 20 million so traffic was interesting to say the least. Mohammed commented about the craziness of the drivers but, frankly, I think traffic in India was much crazier. I’d not dream of driving in either!

Nile from our balconyThe Marriott Cairo Hotel and Casino is on an island in the Nile. The ride took us perhaps 45 minutes and Mohammed kept up a commentary during much of it. The hotel itself is remarkable. The central part was build as a palace in which Empress Eugenia of France could stay when she visited Cairo during the building and dedication of the Suez Canal. To it has now been added two large towers containing, together, 1000 rooms. Check-in went quickly but, as usually happens there was a long wait for the bags to be delivered to the room.

The four of usOur friends from Düsseldorf, Karl & Gisela, have traveled extensively so when we started thinging about Egypt, I called Karl for advice. He said they had never ben there and asked if we'd mind if they joined us. We always enjoy their company so the deal was made. They had arrived in the wee hours so after a 2-hour nap, we met for dinner at the hotel’s outdoor “Egyptian Nights.” We had the wisdom to have the waiter choose our entire menu and it was great! Fresh bread? … there were ladies making in a clay oven at the restaurant’s entrance!

Eventually, we crashed and burned!

Sunday, October 4


Our wakeup call was at 6:00 (ugh!!) and we were in Omer’s Café by 6:45.  Included in our tour package was their very extensive international buffet breakfast.  Available was everything from made-to-order omelets to sushi.  Karl & Gisela joined us as we ate on the terrace.

We met the group at 8:00 in the lobby and were led by Mohammed to the Egyptian Nights for orientation.  After an overview, he introduced Ossama, our tour director, teacher, advocate, and friend for the next two weeks.  There were only 10 of us on our itinerary so our full-sized tour bus carried only the driver, Ossama, an armed guard and us.  Lots of room to rattle around!  Our group included Linda and John from Alaska, Phyllis and Curt from Northern California, Marilyn and her mother, Helen, from Southern California, Karl and Gisela from Germany, and Linda and me from Pennsylvania.

CitadelOur first stop was at the Citadel of Salah al-Din and, within it, the Mosque of Muhammed Ali.  Construction of the Citadel was initiated by Saladin in 1176 in order to defend the city.  Some of the stones are said to have been taken from the Great Pyramid.    Mohammed Ali MosqueThe last king who lived there was Mohammed Ali who initiated construction of the mosque in 1824.  After an informative tour narrated by Ossama, we had 25 minutes to just wander around.  Ossama had said that if the air was clear enough, we’d be able to see the pyramids at Giza when we exited the mosque but that pictures would probably be worthless.  He was right on both counts but it was nonetheless a thrill to see the pyramids for the first time.

Back on the bus, we were quickly at the Egyptian Museum.  It was here that we truly began to appreciate not only Ossama’s encyclopedic knowledge but also his passion for Egyptology and his country in general.  As I’d heard before we left home, this museum does not begin to do justice to the unfathomable treasures it holds. In fact, it looks more like a disorderly warehouse than a museum. However, Ossama used its collection to build the knowledge foundation on which he would build for the remainder of our trip.  Of course, the treasures of Tutankhamen, including the magnificent mask, are the highlight of the museum but there is so much more including the awesome Royal Mummies!  Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside the museum so we have only our memories.

Marriott TerraceHot, dry and exhausted, we returned to the hotel and the 4 of us has a snack at the “Bakery”.  Predictably, Lin rested while I spent some time at the hotel’s magnificent pool.  As the sun went down, the flies drove me inside to prepare for dinner.

Hossam & LindaIn the meantime, we’d made arrangements to meet Hossam, who I’d “met” though at 6:00.  Hossam lives in Giza and graciously offered to spend some time with us while we were here.  Karl & Gisela joined us and the 5 of us ate again in the Egyptian nights.  This time we got Hossam to do the ordering and again the meal was great.  We never got around to ordering a main course, just kept at the appetizers.  Best by far was the beef Shawarma.  The best part of any trip is conversing with local people and conversation with Hossam was great.  After a final drink in the Piano Bar, we headed for bed in anticipation of another early morning start.

Monday, Oct. 5


 Wake-up call was for an unbelievable 3:30! Neither of us slept well at all and we were up at 3:15 anyway.  We were in the restaurant at 4:00 and on the bus to the airport at 4:45.  Mohammed was with us and we stopped along the way to pick up Ossama.  Mohammed took care of getting the boarding passes but we had to check in our own baggage due to airline regulations.  The flight and arrival at the very pleasant Luxor airport were, fortunately, unremarkable.


Karnak TempleAll we had to do upon arrival in Luxor was to identify the bags and they were whisked away to be taken to the ship while we visited the magnificent Temple of Karnak.  Here we were joined by 4 people from Insight Tours who would share the week with us.  Among them were Val and Ian from Perth, Australia and Celia and Pete from California. 

Karnak TempleThe very extensive temple complex at Karnak was created and expanded over a period of some 1300 years by subsequent pharoahs each adding to it to show their gratitude to the gods for their victories.  As might be expected, it is absolutely awesome!  Once again Ossama was fascinating and we learned that he’s an archeologist.  That was really no great surprise given his knowledge and passion.

MS MiriamBy noon we were on the ship.  Given that we were already aware that it was not going to be the Tosca, our anxiety level was pretty high getting onto the MS Miriam.  While it was not a total disaster, neither was it as promised.  This is an OLD girl and, if there had been any refurbishing, it certainly didn’t bring her to a very high standard.  That said, it was clean and, I suppose the kindest word is “quaint”in a “Death on the Nile” sort of way.  As soon as we were under way towards Dendera, we went on deck and Lin realized she’d left her sunglasses in the room.  When I went for them I realized that, though we’d specifically requested a cabin in the bow, ours was in the stern and the engine noise was enough to loosen ones teeth.  Along the NileFortunately, they had exactly one in the bow that had a double bed so we quickly moved. For the cruise portion of the tour, we were joined by the group part of which we’d met at the airport on the first day.  Their 19 added to our 14 made for a total of 33 passengers on a boat equipped for 110 so we had LOTS of room!  The forks from the other group were primarily from San Antonio and at least for the most part, were traveling together.

On virtually every other cruise we’ve ever taken, deck chairs are at a premium.  Not here!  For whatever reason, the upper deck was nearly deserted all afternoon and only a few of us used the pool.  Cruising the Nile was absolutely fantastic and I took countless pictures.  I tried to read but the scenery was so distracting, I made little progress.  So much of what we saw must have looked the same 2000 years ago. Of note, however, was that among the donkey-drawn carts and people manually working the fields were mud huts… with satellite dishes!  Whenever we’d pass even a small settlement, the shouts from the kids on shore would draw attention to their waving arms and smiling faces.  What a treat! To say this was peaceful is an incredible understatement. 

As would happen each day, tea was served on deck at 4:00.


Sunset at DenderaThe sun set shortly after we docked in Dendera and the world was suddenly filled with the voices of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer from countless minarets.

We had dinner with Marilyn, Helen, Karl & Gisela.  My dinner was filet and shrimp and I must confess that it was wonderful!  As it often happens on ships, our table was the last to leave the dining room.

Tuesday, Oct 6


Dendara TempleWakeup was at a slightly less painful 6:00 and after a quick breakfast we were on the bus at 7:00.  Ossama had explained that we’d normally be starting early each day to avoid both the crowds and the mid-day heat. 

Hathor columnsGiven that there were only 33 passengers on the ship, I naturally assumed that they would combine the two groups onto one tour bus.  Happily, that was not the case; though we went to the same sites on the same schedule, each group (out 14 and their 19) retained its own bus and tour director.

Cleopatra's on the leftThe ride to the temple at Dendera was a short one and we were the first group to arrive, allowing for some excellent photos of the temple free of people.  This temple, dedicated to the goddess Hathor, was built during the first century BC and its Greco-Roman influence is evident in its columns.  On the rear wall of the temple is the only relief in Egypt depicting Cleopatra VII. Beside her is her son Caesarian

MS MiriamHaving been up so early, we were back on the boat for a 10:00 departure.  Given the number of tour boats on the Nile and the relative shortage of dock space, it is typical for many boats to tie up together.  The first ties to the dock, a second to it, a third to the second and so on so that sometimes six or more boats use a single dock space.  Each boat has a door in each side and all are in the same position so one may have to walk through the lobbies of several boats to get to ones own.  This makes it interesting when one of the “inner” boats prepared to leave and in this case three boats had to pull away for us to depart.  The boat immediately forward of us was departing as well and several boats were tied up to it so the river was an absolute zoo.  Coordinating all of this must take some doing!

After a mid-morning tea, Ossama called us together in the lounge for an 11:00 lecture.  It was intriguing and Ossama’s delivery is enticing but, due to lack of sleep, I must confess to a little trouble staying awake.  Ossama has obviously spent some time as a teacher and I definitely felt like I was in class most of the time.  He would even quiz us from time to time on things he’d told us earlier.  By the end of the tour we were joking about fearing the final exam.  My major regret is that I’ve retained so little of the knowledge he distributed so effectively. 

The afternoon was spent on deck as we sailed back to Luxor.  Once again, the scenery along the Nile made it difficult to look away.  


Luxor TempleIn Luxor once again, we were off at 4:30 for a sunset visit to its temple.  The golden lighting makes the hour or so before sunset my favorite time of the day and it made the visit to this magnificent temple extra special.  The temple was tastefully lighted as darkness fell so even the pictures taken after dark are great. To the left of the entrance through the first pylon stands a single obelik built by Ramses II.  Its mate, which once stood to the right, is the one now found in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, a gift of King Mohammed Ali.  Luxor TempleAccording to what Ossama was to tell us on the following day, the presence of a statue of King Tut in this temple inspired Howard Carter to search so diligently for his tomb across the river in the Valley of the Kings. 

Upon departing the temple we visited a papyrus institute where we were given a demonstration of how papyrus is made.  If course we bought some things to adorn our living room and the homes of each of our kids.

Wednesday, Oct 7


Colossi of MemnonThis time we were up at 5:00 for 6:00 departure to the west bank.  Our first stop was at the huge Colossi of Memnon, At one time they guarded the magnificent mortuary temple of Amenophis II.  Unfortunately, little but rubble and these restored statues remain. 

Temple of Queen HapshepsutAt Deir El-Bahari is the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshupsut, dedicated to the sun god, Amun-Ra.  According to legend, Queen Hatshupsut was the daughter of Amun-Ra himself.  Unfortunately, as we were passing through security, Linda noticed that we were without our hats, having left them on the bus.  Temple of Queen HapshepsutAfter the terrible experience last year as a result of spending time in Italy without a hat, both of us were quite nervous and, after Ossama’s lecture, we trimmed our free time a bit short.  As it was, Linda was getting impatient at my holding out for “one more picture”.

The only disappointment at the Valley of the Kings is that cameras were totally prohibited, not only in the tombs but in the valley itself.  My overpowering memory of the visit, though, is that it was HOT!  Though it was still short of 10:00, the sun was blazing and the confines of the valley precluded any cooling breeze.  A shuttle carried us from the parking lot to the entrance gate.  Our admission ticket included the right to visit 3 tombs and we paid an additional 100 Egyptian pounds (~$20) each to add a visit to the tomb of King Tutankhamen.  Since guides are not allowed to accompany their “charges” into the tombs, we walked a considerable way through this totally barren valley as Ossama pointed out to us the tombs he recommended we visit on our way back down.  Foolishly, I neglected to note the names of two of the pharaohs whose tombs we visited but each was interesting in its own way.  In the tomb of Ramses IX, the extensive hieroglyphics were brightly colored and highly detailed.  I’d kill to have been able to take photos of them.  In addition to the hieroglyphics were countless scenes depicting the pharaoh’s lives and predicting events in their life after death.  WOW!

As we’d been told, King Tut’s tomb itself is relatively small and unremarkable.  What IS remarkable, though, is that he is still there!!!  His mummy, with face, hands and feet exposed, lies in a glass box a few feet from visitors.  To gaze at that boyish face was a moving experience that I will always cherish.

Arrival of the ToscaIt’s worth touching here on the ongoing saga of the ill-fated ship Tosca.  On the Miriam with us were several high-level managers from Uniworld in Austria.  Sharing a common native language, Karl had struck up a relationship with several of them and learned that the Tosca had gone aground and been missing for several weeks!!  At this point, though, it had been found and was due to pass us as we were at the dock at Luxor.  ToscaCrew and passengers alike were on deck to witness the passage of the Tosca and as it proceeded upriver past us, horns were blown, instruments were played and crewmembers and managers alike sang to celebrate the event.  We were told that Uniworld’s hope was that she would be ready for a group set to arrive on Monday.  Given the Tosca’s appearance and the fact that it was enroute to dry-dock for repair of a hole in the hull, moist of us were betting heavily against it.


Falucca on the NileAt mid-day, the ship was underway again, this time towards Aswan.  Ossama scheduled a lecture in the lounge for 5:00 and said that we’d be passing through the lock at Esna shortly thereafter.  He warned that as we approached the lock we’d be surrounded by small boats loaded with people trying to sell us things.  As he described it, they would “open fire”, throwing stuff up on deck.  Sure enough, he had not finished his lecture when there were shouts from outside.  The lecture abandoned, we ran on deck to witness the event.  They await to "attack"Shouts from every side enticed us to buy all kinds of wares and occasionally packages would land at ones feet.  We all simply ignored them.  If one really wanted to buy something, I can’t imagine how the transaction would be carried out; throw money down in the hope that it would be caught or land in a boat??

Chaos reins!This was the night of the much-heralded galabeya party where most of us made fools of ourselves by dressing in these traditional Arab garments.  We’d bought them (at ridiculously low prices) in the ship’s gist shop for the occasion.  We looked like idiots but it was fun as was all the dancing on deck.

Thursday, Oct 8


We had docked during the night in Kom Ombo and Ossama had scheduled a wake-up call for 6:00 in anticipation of a 7:00 departure for a tour of the temple there.  However, we were starting to drag so, along with many others, told him we’d be sleeping in and cancelled the wake-up call.  Consequently, the ship was already underway when we awoke at 9:30.  We’d been told that if we slept late and missed breakfast, we could have a continental breakfast in the lounge. When we arrived, Karl and Gisela were already there and had been told we could have any breakfast we wanted.  Cool!

The Nile is much narrower near Aswan as is the band of vegetation along each shore.  It was noon when we approached the city.  There were many boats crowded along the shore and a lot of activity as boats arranged themselves.  Several pulled away to make room for us at the dock and then tied up outside of us.  My assumption is that they wanted to be able to leave before us with minimal fuss. I would have like to have watched the whole operation but needed to get changed for lunch since we were heading out thereafter.

AswanThis was the first time we headed out after lunch and it was HOT!  Our first stop was at a granite quarry to see the unfinished obelisk.  Since it was so incredibly hot, we spent very little time there but we did visit a nice bookshop to buy a book recommended by Ossama.

Below Aswan damNext we drove across the (older) Aswan Dam and then the (newer) Aswan High Dam. I distinctly remember the worldwide furor caused by the building of this monster in the mid-sixties. Aswan High DamThe fact that it destroyed countless archeological sites and displaced hundreds of thousands of Nubians made it a hot topic indeed.  We stopped at the center of the dam for some pictures, then headed back towards Aswan. 

Enroute to PhilaeNext stop was Philae temple.  This temple once stood upon the island of Philae, which was covered by the waters of Lake Nasser created by the High Dam.  It was moved by UNESCO, stone by stone to its new home on the nearby island of Agilkia.  The main temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis, her husband, Osiris and her son, Horus.  Getting to the island is a bit of a treat.  Philae TempleFrom a parking lot, the people proceed down a crowded ramp to the waters of the lake.  Along the ramp are ranged countless boats with people all clamoring for passengers.  Has we been alone, I’d have been hopelessly confused but Ossama quickly had us all situated in a boat and we were off.  I must say I was amazed that, though the boatmen were apparently competing for passengers, they seemed to collaborate effectively in getting them loaded. The temple was great, of course, but we’ve come to expect that!  As always, we had time to ourselves after Ossama’s narration was complete.

Philae TempleUpon leaving Philae, we experienced the most aggressive attacks by people trying to separate us from our money.  While we’d gotten pretty used to “running the gauntlet” of hawkers between attraction and bus, most could be eventually discouraged by repeated cried of “La’, shokran” (“No, Thank you”).  Atr Philae, they were relentless and several of them surrounded octogenarians Curt and Phyllis, totally terrorizing them to the point of even grabbing their arms!  I waded in with my cries of “La’, Shokran and physically wedged myself between these guys and our friends.  Eventually they backed away but it really was unpleasant.

Fragrance ShopOn the way back from Philae, Ossama asked whether some people were interested in stopping at a fragrance shop.  Those who were not were returned to the ship while the rest of us first saw a demonstration of the blowing of some very delicate flasks, then heard an explanation of the extracts available for sale.  Touristy, yes, but interesting.

Dinner was veal scaloppini and it was outstanding. At 9 we were hustled upstairs for a show but by the time we got there it had already started. A dervish was spinning in a way that would make anyone sick and he did it for a loooong time.  He was really spectacular.  The belly dancer was less so but still entertaining and she dragged Lin and me onto the floor to make fools of ourselves.

A group of us drank and danced in the lounge for a while but then were asked to move to the top deck where the music would not disturb the cabins.   We ended up quitting some time after 11.

Friday, Oct 9

Abu Simbel

Abu SimbelOf the recollections I have of the uproar over the creation of Lake Nasser, the most vivid was the one over the threatened inundation of the temples of Ramses II and Nefertari at Abu Simbel.  The more famous, the temple of Ramses II, is most notable for its four huge statues of that pharaoh adorning its entrance.  Temple of Ramses IIThese temples, like the one at Philae, were saved do to the Herculean efforts of UNESCO.  It must be noted, however, that, though these and other temples were saved, an estimated 85% of the archeological sites in the area were lost, presumably forever, to the waters of Lake Nasser.  That tragedy, combined with the much more personal one of the upheaval to the lives of the Nubians calls into question the relative value of the High Dam. Sometimes the price of “progress” is unacceptably high.

In any case, Karl and Gisela convinced us that a trip to Abu Simbel was not to be missed so, along with them and Val, Ian, Linda, and John, we signed up for an optional excursion to see it.  The wake-up was for 7 for an 8:00 departure but we were up by 6:15.  Our flight was Air Memphis 1203 and the ticket said departure was at 9:30.  However, at theTemple of Nefertari gate we learned that it was 1207 that left then at 9:30; ours flight was at 10:00.  Confusion reigned   Ramses IIThe airplane was an absolutely ancient DC-9.  I should have checked the identification plate that’s in the doorway of these planes for the details but I’m pretty certain this ones serial number was pretty close to 001! 

At Abu Simbel there was a lot more confusion until we were loaded onto an ancient Tata school bus for the ride to the temple.  The town of Abu Simbel itself actually seemed rather picturesque as we passed through. 

The gangThe two temples are absolutely magnificent and well worth the cost and effort of the trip.  In addition to the famous statues of Ramses II, there were countless beautiful works on the walls of the temples and the gold storage rooms along the sides of the nave.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside of either temple.  As at the Valley of the Kings, tour guides are not allowed inside so Ossama armed us with all kinds of instructions as to what to look for once inside.  Unfortunately, much of this great information was forgotten before we could put it to use.   As it was mid-day and we were close to the Sudanese border, it was oppressively hot and the trek back to the parking lot was a difficult one. 

We left for the airport at 12:55 and endured total chaos as zillions of people tried to get through security.  By the time we made it through, they were boarding the flight and it took of LONG before the advertised 2:00.  In fact,   we touched down in Aswan at 1:59! 


Toujours Mickey D's!We barely had time to choke down lunch before meeting at 3:30 to depart for the next adventure, which I admit was a major disappointment.  We were supposed to have a felucca cruise and then high tea at the Mövenpick on Elephantine Island.  As a sailor, the felucca ride was something I was REALLY looking forward to.  What we boarded was a motor launch that was to take us to a felucca that was moored up-river, across from the Mövenpick.  However, Ossama explained that due to the light winds, the launch would have to tow us!  AswanThat, combined with the fact that Helen, Phyllis and Curt would never be able to transfer caused us to skip the felucca completely. I had to admit I’d rather skip it than be towed but what a bummer!

Tea was at the 13th floor of the Mövenpick.  The panoramas in all directions were fantastic and we stayed to see the sunset.  Next on te agenda was a light show at Philae but we skipped it as did most of the others with only Marilyn, John and Linda attending.

Karl learns some new moves!After dinner there was a Nubian show on the top deck.  We had not yet had dessert so we asked the staff to deliver it there and they complied.  The show was quite entertaining and there was a lot of audience involvement.  It was probably after 11 when we finally headed down.

Saturday, Oct 10


Nubian girlToday was to start with a visit to a Nubian village.  We were up well before the 7:30 wakeup and met Dia, our Nubian guide, at 8:30 for a short walk to a motor launch.   Dia is an ornithologist as well as an Egyptologist so first order of business was to cross directly to the very rural west bank for a closer look at the birds.  It was probably a 45 minute ride to the Nubian village where debarkation was over a very narrow plank from the boat to a rock on shore.  Though there was some nervousness among the older of our group, all went without mishap and more quickly than I would have thought. Making bricksA short walk brought us to and through the very interesting village to a private home.  Along the way we were stared at and in some cases approached by these beautiful people.  The kids were all smiles and, of course, we were as well.  Our visit to the private home was a special treat and, I suspect, provides a nice supplement to the family’s income.  We were welcomed warmly and enjoyed some delicious peppermint tea. Nubian homeSome handmade trinkets were available for sale and most of us, I think, bought at least something.  Kids were constantly around us, sometimes holding out their hands as if asking for something.  Dia explained that they were not seeking money but rather small gifts such as pencils, crayons, etc. We regretted deeply that no one had told us of this in advance; we’d have absolutely have loved to have had something to give.  Linda from Alaska was more fortunate.  Crocodile jackShe’d come on the trip armed with many small pins commemorating Alaska and had, in fact, given one to each of us.  She still had some with her and handed them out to the smiling kids. During much of the time in the village we were followed silently by a teen-aged girl who was selling small, colorfully-painted figures made of clay.  Though not overbearing, she was determined to make a sale and eventually I bought one piece for 5 LE (~$1).  Undeterred, she continued to follow us, asking me quietly to buy something else.  I should have bought them all!!She even waded into the water as we boarded the boat. I sure wish we had sales people with that persistence!  In retrospect, though, I wish I’d bought a lot more from her.  Damn.

By the time we returned, our friends from the other itinerary had returned to Cairo and been replaced by only 4 people who had spent the first part of the week on Lake Nasser.  It must be said that these were not the friendliest people on earth. They were very much impressed with themselves and spent most of the time in their suites.  As it happened, that self-imposed seclusion was fine with us.  The contrast with the original group was remarkable and disappointing.

Kom Ombo

Kom OmboWe were back aboard by noon and underway shortly thereafter.  Though we’d stopped at Kom Ombo on the way up river, we did so again so the “new” people could visit it.  They declined to do so, however, so all of us just sat on the ship at the dock.  Since the temple was virtually at the dock and we’d skipped it on the way up, I briefly considered walking over there myself but the afternoon heat won out and I, too, stayed aboard.  After what I suppose were 2 or 3 hours, we were underway again.


EdfuBy the time we finished dinner, we found ourselves docked at Edfu.  I found Karl and he and I took a little walk in town, having a lot of fun talking to the locals.  They definitely wanted our money though, and any number of guys with horse-drawn carts wanted to take us to the souk for a tiny fee.  I suspected that the fee TO the souk might be small but the ride BACK would be another matter entirely.  Ossama later confirmed that my assumption was correct!

Sunday, Oct 11


Are they cute or what??We were up early again and off to our last temple, the one at Edfu.  While not the most magnificent, this was by far the best in terms of hieroglyphics.  The extent of the carvings and hieroglyphics was absolutely amazing.  Not quite as bad as at Philae, the hawkers here were also very aggressive and put a bit of a damper on the visit.  Ossama said that the tour operators have tried and tried to convince these people that if they’d back off and let people look, their sales would increase.  As it is, all people can think of is reaching their bus in safety.  It’s sad; everyone looses.  We were underway by 9:00.


Old and newThe crew set up lunch up deck, presumably because we'd be at the Esna locks during lunchtime.  There were a lot of boats waiting to enter the locks and consequently some wait but it was not horrible.  I’d expected to be once again besieged by boats full of vendors as we approached the locks but there were none.  There were some below the locks but by that time we were picking up speed and were ignored. 

I tried to do some reading but it was difficult not to just watch the scenery.  Once again I think I was the only one to use the pool.  Now that I reflect back, I think that, other than on the first day, I might have been the only person to use the pool at all.  Incredible! 


Luxor sunsetWe finally went down to pack at about 4:30.  At 5:20 I was about to shower when I remembered the sunset so ran up for my last chance to get some good pix of sunset on the Nile.

For the 6 of us who were going to the light show at Karnak, dinner was at 6 and pickup was at 7. Only Ian, Val, Karl, Gisela and we went.  Rather then Ossama, a Spring Tours (the people who handle things for Uniworld in Egypt) rep named Adam took us and got the tickets.  Karnak TempleAdam didn’t come in but was waiting for us when we hit the parking lot and gave us a short tour of Luxor before returning us to the ship. The 6 of us had drinks in the lounge before quitting.  We’d become especially fond of Val and Ian and were sorry that our paths were now to separate.  We’d be spending time in Cairo as they went on to Alexandria. Parting is often difficult but, alas, is part of life.

Monday, Oct 12


Wakeup was at 4:30 for 5:30 departure to the airport.  The airport was a zoo but Mohammed got our tickets and took us to a special line to check the luggage.  Our flight was by Egypt Air in a brand new 737-800. 


As it happened, the original itinerary for today was simply to get from Luxor to Cairo and then attend the lightshow in the evening.  However departure from Luxor was to have been much later in the day.  Due to seat availability, we’d had to take an earlier than normal flight.  Consequently, the visits to Memphis and the step pyramid, scheduled for tomorrow, were moved to today. 

Ramses IIWe arrived in Cairo by about 8:30 and boarded the bus for Memphis. We took a ring road around Cairo to Memphis but for a very long time, traffic was at a virtual standstill.  It eventually turned out that a water main break had flooded the road, totally crippling traffic.  Ugh!

Carpet SchoolIan had said there was little to see in Memphis and 15 minutes would do it.  The huge Ramses statue and alabaster sphinx were both worth seeing but 15 or 20 minutes did the trick. 

Pyramid of ZozerSecond stop was a carpet school where kids are taught the craft of making carpets as well as receiving a normal education education.  We bought a small silk carpet and spent a long time talking to “Hany” while waiting for Marilyn to buy a huge carpet.

Last stop was the step pyramid of Zoser.  This was the first pyramid and, though smaller than those that would follow, it was nonetheless impressive.  


By the time we got to the Marriott it was almost 4 and we were shot so agreed to forego the light show at Giza and had a light late lunch on the terrace.  Slept for a while, then showered and dressed for dinner.  Karl and Gisela had gone with Ossama to a shop for inlaid work and were late getting back.  When they returned, however, we went with them to “Egyptian Nights” for dinner.  Our initial waiter was clueless; after we asked for a bottle of Chenin Blanc asked whether we wanted red or white.  We asked for another waiter who was apparently unaware that they had Chenin Blanc by the bottle even when we gave him the bin number.  We started walking out and the manager was all over us and convinced us to sit back down, this time at a different table. Service was suddenly very attentive but still a bit on the inept side.  We did, however get complimentary fruit and coffee.  Unfortunately, Karl and Gisela had a 10:30 pickup for the airport and had to leave us before the coffee arrived.  Fortunately, we plan to see them again next year in France.     

Tuesday, Oct 13


The Great PyramidWakeup was at 7:00, breakfast was at Omer’s once again and the pickup was at 8:00 for the pyramids.  Traffic was nuts once again but we didn’t have yesterday’s tie-up.

Making the same mistake I made years ago when estimating out time at the Grand Canyon, I figured time at the pyramids would be relatively short.  I was wrong; we made 4 stops with considerable time at each.  First stop was great pyramid. What a thrill!!!!Ossama delivered a significant history lesson on the bus then we had 45 minutes to walk around and even climb a bit on the pyramid.  There was a fair bit of hassling but it was not as bad as I’d heard and feared.  Our next stop was at the pyramid of Chephren. We'd been told that going into the pyramid was not a great idea; nothing to see, the passage cramped and the air hot and stale.  Marilyn was the only one in our group to buy a ticket to enter and she only went in a few feet before retreating.  The Great SphinxThird stop was for panoramic view and this was right out on the Sahara which was a treat in itself!  Lots of people were getting camel rides but not us!

The last pyramid stop was in front of Sphinx.  I was the only one of our group to approach the sphinx and I had to fight through crowds in the temple.  However, getting as close as I did was worth the time and effort.  Fantastic!!!

Our last stop of the day and of the organized tour was at a cotton shop owned by a friend of Ossama.  We bought a few small things. 


Well, that was the end of our time as a group.  Karl and Gisela had already left and the others would do so within hours while we’d be staying on to decompress.  Originally, we’d planned on simply adding a day.  However, because we were traveling on Delta and they have a flight only every two days, we had to add two.  In retrospect, it would have been far better had we left with all the others.

We said goodbye to Phyllis & Curt in the lobby, had a farewell chat with Ossama and the others.  In a gesture that would have monumental consequences for us, Ossama generously provided his mobile number and asked that we call him if we needed help of any kind.  Given that his responsibility to us had been fulfilled and that he now had some free days to spend with the family that he’s missed for the last two weeks, that was a generous offer indeed.  He said that he felt, that we’d become friends.  Truthfully, we felt the same way about him.

On our own now for the first time in almost two weeks, we headed out for a walk in the area around the hotel.  Though we were near a large international hotel, we noticed no other tourists; we were lost in a sea of locals and that’s exactly what I love.  As elsewhere, we found people to be generally friendly and we gave and got lots of smiles.  I’d asked Ossama for recommendations of Egyptian music CD’s and we stopped and bought several in a store he recommended. 

For a change of pace, lunch was in Roy's Country Kitchen at the hotel.  This was a bit of a kick; a country-western motif complete with Egyptian staff in checked shirts and overalls.  Afterwards, we just chilled in the room with Lin taking a nap while I wrote.  Dinner was at "Tuscany", also in the hotel.  We both had veal in a fig-balsamic reduction. It was fantastic!

On the way back to the room, we checked out the show lounge and made reservations for tomorrow night’s show.

Wednesday, Oct 14


Finally, a day without a wake-up call!!  We slept ‘til 8:45 and had breakfast at Omer's, then sat at the pool.  Though we'd stopped at the reception earlier as requested, to make sure our room was squared away, we had a problem at the pool. When we went to sign the check, they said room 1215 had checked out!  I had a fit and eventually the snack bar manager and I had to go to reception to straighten it out.  Ugh!

Lin wasn’t feeling all that well so we hung in the room for a while.  Eventually we decided to do a little walking so this time went out the main entrance and headed south along the river.  It’s a pretty area but mostly residential.  Returning to the hotel, we did a little shopping at the hotel then chilled in the room, eventually taking a nap.

Lin in front of the MarriottWoke about 7:30 and debated whether to cancel our plans for the show and just go to dinner but we ended up having a snack on the terrace, then took a walk on the streets again.  Given that it was now dark, things of course looked different but it was still crowded with people.  Before heading back we stopped in a candy shop to buy some chocolates.

Along the NileOur dinner reservation was at 10:30 and we knew the belly dancer was on at 12:30 so we took it very slowly starting with a Sancerre.   We both had tomato soup and salmon, then shared a crème brulée.  Initial entertainment was a small combo doing, doing what I imagine were contemporary hits.  At 12:15 they broke down and the stage was set for a rather large orchestra.  I could not see some guys in the corner but I'm guessing 10-12 pieces.  The only instrument I recognized was an accordion.  The belly dancer was absolutely great. She worked for almost an hour, changing outfits several times.  Long before she was finished he was absolutely drenched in sweat.  It was almost 2:00 when we crashed.

Thursday, Oct 15


This was supposed to be our last day and if had not been for incredible stupidity on our part, should have been a peaceful end to a great trip.  As it happened, however, it turned out to be a day from Hell!

From our balconyWe slept ‘til 9:00 and woke to what was only the second cloudy day since we’d arrived in Egypt.  We had breakfast at the Promenade Café and, having had our fill of buffet breakfasts, made our terrible error.  Though we’d spent two weeks hypersensitive to everything that passed our lips, we chose eggs Benedict for breakfast.  Two weeks of no ice, no salad, no brushing of teeth or even rinsing of toothbrush with tap water and we eat something containing raw eggs!  In retrospect, it was so stupid it’s embarrassing to recount.

Ignorant of the reaction that was already brewing, we sat at the pool just reading and relaxing.  At about 3:00 we discussed what to do about lunch.  I suggested we just get something right there at the pool and Lin suggested ice cream.  We'd gotten a menu and Lin suddenly said she'd rather eat in the air conditioned hotel.  By the time I returned the menu and took a quick dip to cool off she said she didn't feel well and wanted to go to the room.  I said, “Now that you mention it, I don't feel well either.”  Within a few minutes of reaching the room, I threw up and then Linda did. 

We spent the next several hours taking turns in the bathroom and eventually, with both of us sicker than we’d ever been in our lives, I called Ossama for help.  Ossama was a lifesaver!  He sent a doctor but, given the traffic, it took him over an hour to arrive.  The doc spent a LOT of time with us, giving us each two injections as wll as a number of medications to take later.  Ossama told us later that the doctor told him he was shocked at our condition!  I talked to my assistant, Charlene; our travel agent, Suzanne and the insurance company about changing flights since we were in no condition to leave the room, let alone fly home and it was approaching time to leave for the airport!  Ossama had already taken care of canceling our ground transportation.  Of course, given Delta’s schedule, a 24 hour delay was impossible; if we stayed with them, we’d be stuck in Cairo for another 48 hours. After much consternation, we eventually switched our flights to EgyptAir 985 on Saturday morning. We spent a horrible night made infinitely worse by fears of what might happen if we had to go to a hospital. 

Friday, Oct 16


Last night in EgyptWe woke to the realization that we should be already winging our way home and feeling marginally better than we had.  Nauseated at the thought of fod but with the knowledge that we had to start the recovery process, we just had tea and rolls from room-service for breakfast.  For lunch we went down to the Saraya Café for some cappellini.  By dinner, we ventured to Harry's Pub for a bit of real food.  Ugh, what a day!

Saturday, Oct 17


Wake-up was at 4:30 for a 6:00 pickup.  We were on the bus with a group from Insight.  Because we had added the extra days, Uniworld was not responsible for our airport transfer.  We had the option of arranging transfer with the concierge or of booking something with Spring Tours, the people who handle Uniworld in Egypt.  Thank God we opted to do the transfer with Spring since I had no written confirmation of our flight.  The airport security guy did not want to let us through with only my hand-written note and an explanation of what happened.  The Spring rep showed his ID, explained the situation and we were through.  Whew, that might have been a disaster!  The rep suggested we try the kiosk check-in.  We got through most of the process and had even changed our seat assignments but, at the end of the process, got a message saying that the kiosk could not process our request, we must see an agent.  The line was Loooong and it took well over an hour to get to up to the agent.  When I gave him our identification, he was very confused and I was starting to get the impression we were in trouble.  Eventually he said that we were not in the system…  had we checked in on a kiosk?!  It turns out that that process HAD worked, even to the point of changing our seats! 

Once through emigration, we discussed breakfast but I suggested (foolishly, as it turned out) that we first locate the gate, then return to the food court to eat.  When we reached the gate, there was a line to get through its security so I assumed we were loading.  When we were inside, however, we learned that our plane would be delayed but we had no hard data.  Eventually we learned we’d leave at 10:30 rather than 9:15 but by that time, we didn’t want to go back outside to eat.  Of course, 10:30 came and went with us still on the ground.  We’d remarked about the fog when we awoke and learned that our aircraft, which had come from Tokyo, was delayed into Cairo and thus late leaving.  I tried to send an e-mail to Al Fox to tell him we’d be late but there was no data service.  He’d told us, though, that he’d check with the airline before even leaving home and would be aware of any delay without ay input from me.  Consequently, I didn’t feel the need to call his cell in what would be for him the middle of the night.

New York

Already very late, we lost even more time in the air and were about 2 hours late landing at JFK.  From there, things got even worse.  We were told we’d need our passports as we exited the plane.  It took forever for the first passenger to get off of this huge 777 and the exodus proceeded at a crawl.  When it finally came our turn, we found out the reason.  As we entered the jetway, we found it blocked by two huge border patrol guys.  They were VERY carefully examining each passport and comparing it against a short printed list.  They obviously had a tip that some bad guys were trying to get in.  All in all, we were about 3 hours late meeting Al for the ride home.  To add insult to injury, his call to the airline got him a recorded message saying we’d be in a few minutes early so he’d been cooling his heels for hours! 

The ride home was painful after the long flight and, though we were already late, we had to ask Al to stop for dinner since we were starving.  It was just short of 10:30 when we arrived home.

The Bottom Line

In spite of the disappointment over the ship, our horrible sickness and the frustrating trip home, this will go down in our personal history as one of the best trips ever!