Saturday, November 29, 2008

EGYPT - the Cruise

We started the cruise portion of our trip by flying from Cairo to Luxor where we boarded the MS Giselle. We spent the next 7 days cruising the Nile River and stopping in several cities to visit the temples and ruins. It was my first cruise and I loved that it was a small ship that held 150 passengers. With 75 employees catering to my every need, I truly felt like a Queen. On board we feasted on 3 meals a day, including many special Egyptian vegetables, salads and desserts. I can't begin to write about everything we saw in the 7 days, so I'll hit some of the highlights of the Cruise. We took the Wonders of Egypt Trip guided by Trafalgar Tours. First, we visited the gigantic temple complex of Karnak which is the largest temple complex ever built by man. It was so exciting to walk down the Avenue of the Sphinx above which once stretched for more than 2 miles between the Temples of Karnak and Luxor.

That afternoon we rode by horse-drawn carriage to the Temple of Luxor (below) which largely dominates the town and was built parallel with the Nile. It has been used almost continuously (and still is) as a house of worship since it was built by King Amenhotep III, completed by Tutankhamun and added to by Ramses II.

On the 3rd day of our cruise, we visited the West Bank and Valley of the Kings. It seemed like every day I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was really there in Egypt, actually walking over such historical grounds and in temples built thousands of years ago.

The sacredness of the Valley of the Kings created a spiritual cloud that enveloped me as I walked through the area, which was the most moving ruin sight for me. I have no personal pictures of the area as we were not allowed to take pictures there. We did go down into King Tut's tomb. Our tour guide, Sammy, warned us that it was a rip off -- not worth the $20 additional fee to go in it; but hey, how could I have gone to Egypt and not seen King Tut's tomb. (and it wasn't worth the money as it's quite small and all the artifacts are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo)

As of 2008, there are 62 tombs and chambers in the Valley of the Kings, ranging in size from a simple pit to a complex tomb with over 120 chambers. The tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues to the beliefs and funerary rituals of the period. While all of the tombs have been opened and appear to have been robbed, it is still fascinating to actually go down into the tombs and just imagine what life was like for the Pharaohs and kings. We went into 4 tombs and my favorite was King Seti II with its numerous rooms, hieroglyphics and colors still so vivid on the walls in the tomb. (see stock photo below)
I would have loved to have spent more time exploring the tombs, but that's one of the drawbacks of being on a guided tour because our time in the Valley of the Kings was limited to 2 hours. But it's still the safest way to travel in Egypt and to maximize the number of Temples and sights you can visit in a few weeks.

We also visited the breathtaking Deir el-Bahri, Queen Hatshepsut's impressive temple. I found the story of Queen Hatshepsut really interesting because she was one of the original feminists. She had run-ins with the Kings and other high rulers, so she decided to dress like a man as she wanted to be taken more seriously. That's Sue and I in front of her temple. Unfortunately, her Temple was also the site of a massive attack in November 1997 which left 71 people dead, which further why you need the securityof traveling with a group when in Egypt.
Everywhere you go in Egypt, the locals will try to sell you something. It gets very tiresome and you have to be firm with your "NOs" for them to stop bothering you. But, by far, the wildest approach in shown in the pictures below. While waiting in the Esna lock on the way to Edfu the tourists are a captive audience so the locals come by ship to try and sell their wares. It is just a riot, as they literally throw bags with everything from dress to shoes to carpets up on the top deck of the ship. Then the tourists yell down to them what they are willing to pay. Once the negotiated price is agreed upon, the tourist puts the money in another bag and throws it down to the ship.

I'd highly recommend an Egyptian Tour that includes cruising because it's just such a relaxing way to go. We'd usually sightsee in the morning; have lunch and then cruise to the next town. Every afternoon at 4 pm, they would serve high tea on the top deck.

Again, if you plan a trip to Egypt, go in late winter/early spring to avoid the high temperatures. Egypt was everything I expected and more -- so for me it truly was a dream come true!!
(There we are below with Sammy, our tour guide, on the top deck of our cruise ship.)

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