Egypt

Cairo    Aswan    Edfu    Luxor    Sharm el Sheikh    Travel Notes on Egypt

Flying Out

Wednesday-Thursday, January 30-31, 2019

Before I write about the day we left, and the rest of the trip, I want to make you, dear reader, aware that this is going to be one of those longer posts. There was so much that we saw and experienced on this tour of Egypt, it was difficult to pare it down into quick talking points. Because of this, I have set up links, at the top of the post, to each of the locations we visited. That way, if you choose, you can read about one and skip the others, or read about each one at different times. With that in mind, here then is our tour of Egypt.

We were packed up early for this trip, having started five days before. I purchased a Swiss backpack I have been wanting for years. It’s so roomy, yet small enough to be placed under the seat in front if me on the plane. Yay! No carry-ons that have to go in the overheads! What a difference.

Our flight to Boston was delayed by about 39 minutes, but since we have such a long layover there, it didn’t really affect us.

We arrived in Boston more than six hours ahead of our flight, but there were no ticket agents available because our flight was the on Turkish Air flight going out of Terminal E. So we found seats in the check in area and waited more than three hours.

The plane needed de-icing, and there were a few other issues, which made us an hour late getting off the ground. Once up though, everything went smoothly.

Our gate in Istanbul was easy to find and soon enough we were boarding for the final leg to Cairo. On this flight a doctor was requested for a minor medical emergency. We never found out why.

Cairo

We were met by Mohammed Fathy who helped us through the process of getting a visa and checking in through customs. Then we picked up our bags and got lift to our hotel. Along the way Mohammed went over our itinerary with us and told us we would be picked up at 7:30 the next morning. We went to bed exhausted, having been flying (or in layovers) for 24 hours.

Friday, February 1, 2019

We got about five hours of sleep before the alarm woke us at 5:30AM. We pulled ourselves together and went down for breakfast, went back up to our room to get our gear then out front to meet our driver, whose nickname was “Special”. We picked up our tour guide, Hannah, and then headed to Giza where we saw the Great Pyramids and the famous Sphinx.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex bordering what is now El Giza, Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. (cite: Wikipedia). This pyramid was built for King Cheops.

The Great Pyramid of Cheops (left) and the slightly smaller pyramid of Chephren (right).
Even though, from this viewpoint the smaller pyramid looks larger,
it is actually smaller than Cheops’.
Before the climb.

We had opted for the opportunity to enter the Great Pyramid (the largest one) and go into the center which has the original burial chamber. Getting there however, was quite a challenge. This journey is not for the claustrophobic, or the physically challenged. First we climbed up to the opening via winding steps on the outside of the Pyramid, then we entered and walked down a long narrow hall. So far so good, right? Well this is where things got interesting. We turned to our right and climbed up three metal rungs to a tiny platform of stone, turned to our left and then walked up a series of wooden slats bolted to the smooth stone floor for about thirty feet, at a forty-five degree angle, to another narrow level area. It was at this point that I began to worry; the next 100 feet was the same sort of stepping slats, but in a passage that measured only about three-and-a-half feet square with metal handrails on either side. The only way to navigate this tunnel was to crouch over, with your arms up on the rails, and crab-walk with your legs up the entire length of it. It was exhausting work. But wait, there’s more! From here we climbed up another set of metal rungs to where the place leveled out. The hall was still very small, but in a few places you could stand up straight and then bend right back over and continue the journey deeper into the Pyramid. At last, at the end of this long hall, we arrived at the burial chamber where the walls of the room were very tall. There was a tour attendant in the room who was very helpful to me – I was grateful, and he got a nice little tip before we left.

The narrow, short chute leading to the chamber inside the Great Pyramid.
This is not my photo. Cite: Annees de pelerinage.

The chamber measures about 20 x 20 feet with the outer burial box, made of black granite, at the far end. It was empty, but you could look inside of it, touch it, and walk all around it. For such a cool morning it was very warm in the center of the Pyramid. I would have thought, that being under all this stone it would be somewhat cool in temperature, but surprisingly it was not.

Going back down was somewhat easier than the trip up, but now you had to contend with many more tourists on their way in, and passage in those very narrow, short halls caused a bit of congestion. Once back out into the cool morning air we made our way down to Hannah who asked what we thought about the experience. Alan replied, “it’s not really made for tall, fat people, is it?”.

Hannah continued to guide us around the Pyramid to see the other two large pyramids and three smaller pyramids. The second-largest pyramid belonged to Chephren, the son of King Cheops. This is the only pyramid known to exist with some of the original smooth facing still on it (near the top). The third pyramid belongs to Cheops’ queen. The three smaller pyramids were for his grandchildren.

Then we all piled into the car to drive up to the top of a mound from where we could see all the pyramids. Hannah tried really hard to talk us into a camel ride, but having done this in Australia, we decided against it.

From there we drove down to go see the Sphinx which was in a sad state of disrepair. Too many tourists over time had caused a lot of erosion. The sphinx was much smaller than I had expected too. For the reasons just mentioned, tourists are no longer allowed near this statue.

The Sphinx of Giza

We drove from there to the Memphis Museum where we saw a garden and statues/figures of King Ramesses II. The largest statue lies within an covered area along with several other figures. The stonework on this statue is amazing, the cartouches are what fascinated me the most. At the end of the garden is standing statue of Ramesses II.

Next we visited the Saqqara City archaeological site which has the oldest known pyramid; the stepped Pyramid of Djoser. We walked through the
roofed colonnade corridor leading into the complex, with stone pillars carved to imitate bundled plant stems, listening to Hannah tell us about its history.

Pyramid of Djoser
Colonnade Corridor

After all this running around we had a lunch of typical Egyptian food. The selections were very much like Mediterranean fare, with a few small differences. On the way into the outdoor eating area we saw some ladies making what looked like pita bread, but I later learned is called
Mahlab bread. We were greeted by the cacophony of an instrument that looked like a clarinet, but didn’t sound like one, and drums. We ate outside and enjoyed babaganoush, chicken livers, dourma, eggplant, konta, chicken over coals, tahini sauce, and rice with potatoes and tomato sauce. The delicious fresh Mahlab bread was used to dip most of it for eating.

The remains of the meal. It was all so very good.

Our first stop after lunch was a carpet school where rugs and carpets are handmade. Children as young as ten come to these schools to learn the trade.

There are three main types of hand-tied carpet: silk, silk with wool, and cotton. Then there are loomed rugs, usually of an an creative free style design. These are usually done with wool. We watched as a young man hand-tied a carpet, and another worked the loom. What skill they had!

The rug I got for our kitchen.

Later we were taken into the store area and shown a variety of designs. I picked something out for the kitchen, and Alan picked out a small rug to go on the wall.

The rest of the afternoon was spent shopping, but first we had to get through traffic, which was jammed up so bad that Hannah suggested we walk “not far” to our next destination. We estimate that we walked close to a mile. We never once put foot on a sidewalk, instead we followed her next to and in slowly moving traffic. It was crazy. Several times she grabbed my hand and pulled me along after her.

We stopped in at a jewelry shop where I got my name set in a pretty silver cartouche pendent. Then we walked to a cotton shop and picked out some gifts for folks back home.

My cartouche:
K=basket (enjoying life, collecting its fruits)
A= eagle (good taste, good personality)
R=mouth (telling the truth)
E=reed (justice)
N=water ripple (clean heart)

Lastly, we were taken to an authentic papyrus studio. They make their own papyrus paper in the same way it was made thousands of years ago and then artists paint it with either standard inks and paints, or use crushed precious stones mixed with egg whites and worked up into colorful paints – just like their ancient counterparts used. Here Alan got what he had been wanting as a souvenir – a papyrus design with the Judgment of the Dead.

Because our hotel was much farther away, we were dropped off at a nearby hotel to wait until our driver picked us up to go to the Sound and Light show at the Giza pyramids. It was an interesting display of lighting up the pyramids and telling the story of how they came to be.

After the show we met our driver and walked to a restaurant nearby for dinner.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

We had an 8:30am pick up this morning, having had breakfast at the hotel. We drove downtown and met Hannah at the Egyptian Museum where we spent part of our morning. We could have spent all day there exploring, and possibly  second day. Unfortunately all we had was a couple of hours. We saw a room of well preserved mummies including the most well preserved of all, Ramesses II. He even still had hair! We saw Tu ten kámen’s treasures, including the burial boxes that were originally nested one inside the other, and his solid gold mask for which he is well known. We saw statues and treasures from different eras, alabaster jars where mummy’s internal organs were stored for use in the afterlife. We learned about Ra, Anubus, Osiris, Isis and other gods. We learned about Queen Hatshepsut, one of only a handful of women who ruled Egypt. We saw lots of hieroglyphs and cartouches, statues, papyrus, furniture and more. And this was only a small part of the museum.

We left the museum and went to the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar so I could pick up a few more gift items.

After the Bazaar we visited the Muhammad Ali Mosque, an alabaster mosque and replica of the Blue Mosque of Istanbul, only a little smaller. Then we visited the Hanging Church, a Greek Orthodox church which is built over the gatehouse of Babylon Fortress, the Roman fortress in Coptic (old) Cairo; its nave is suspended over a passage which you can look into through a glass floor.

We stopped for lunch and had similar dishes as the day before. Delicious! After that we had the rest of the afternoon to rest and pack. Dinner was on our own at the hotel.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Aswan

We were picked up at 4:30AM and taken to the airport for the trip to Aswan.

In Aswan we were met by a new tour organizer, Kareem. He had his hands full with a group of about six people from China, and us. Eventually he hooked us up with Hassan who would be our guide for the first part if our time in Aswan.

Our first stop was the Aswan High Dam, built across the Nile in Aswan, Egypt, between 1960 and 1970. It is a very long (1.2 kilometers**) dam and quit tall too. It holds back one of the largest man-made lakes/reservoirs in the world, Nasser Lake, named for Egypt’s first president.

Next was Philae Temple, a temple built to the gods Isis and Hathor, situated on Agilkia Island in the Nile River. But first we had to hire a boat to the island. This was like Cairo traffic; ferry boats jammed together, knocking against each other in an alarming fashion, jockeying for a front position in order to be the first to take on a passenger or group. We managed to get a boat for ourselves and took it to the island without incident.

Being there was like stepping back into history, and for me, it was like a dream. When I was younger I was fascinated by Egyptian ancient history. This huge temple was full of chambers, statues and hieroglyphs. We walked as Hassan told us about the history of the place, then he let us loose to walk on our own and take pictures. We stayed for as long as we could, reluctantly meeting up with him for the boat ride back.

On the way back to Aswan we stopped to see the Unfinished Obelisk, the largest of its kind ordered by Hatshepsut. This is in an ancient pink granite quarry where the beginnings of an obelisk could be seen in the ground. The obelisk was never completed though because it broke before it could be separated from the ground.

We hiked to the top of the quarry and looked out over the northern area of Aswan before heading to the dock and little ferry that would take us to our hotel.

The ferry to our hotel, situated on an island in the middle of the Nile River.

The ferry was a simple boat about twenty feet in length, with a single outboard motor, bench seats on both sides, and a metal canopy roof. Our bags were loaded and we joined several other people for the fifteen-minute ride to the hotel.

After resting for a few hours we took the ferry back to meet up with Akmed (another tour leader) so we could see the Light and Sound Show at Philae Temple.

The boat hire to get to Philae island this time was an adventure all in itself. The boat driver had trouble getting the motor started. He would wind a rope around the starter, pull, mumble something, glance back at us and smile sheepishly before repeating the whole performance again. This went on for several minutes before the motor finally caught and held.

Once we arrived at the island our boat could not get up close to the dock, so we had to hop from one boat to another in order to get onto the dock. It was kind if fun.

I must say we were very impressed by the light show because this one involved the audience. It took us from one part of the temple to another as the show progressed. The story the show told was about Isis, Horus and the Nile.

Alan doing his best Indiana Kratz impression.

After the show was over we got back on our hired boat and once again, as the boat drifted helplessly away from the island, we got a longer repeat performance of an engine no-go. It was dark outside and the rest of the boats were leaving us behind. However, with a little help from Akmed, the engine started, albeit reluctantly, and barely kept going on the trip back. Since ours was the last boat back, we found ourselves hopping boats again.

We got a very late dinner at the hotel before retiring for the night.

Monday, February 4, 2019

We checked out of our hotel and made our way down to the dock where we were to board the ferry boat. Because it was 4:00AM and dark, Alan didn’t see the last step getting into the boat and he took a spill and hurt his bad knee. He shook it off and took his seat, concerned about repercussions later on.

Having been deposited back on the mainland we waited for our driver, who showed up exactly on time with a new tour guide, Ramy. Ramy’s accent was thick, so we had to concentrate hard while he told us about our next destination: the Abu Simbel temples.

The drive there was a little over three hours and, since Alan and I are the quiet type, and it was dark out still, we all rode in silence. Soon, as Alan dozed off and I read, I heard some gentle snoring coming from the vicinity of Ramy’s seat up front. I chuckled to myself and we rode like this for about an hour.

Upon arrival at the temples Ramy told us that if we wanted to take photos inside the temples there was a photo pass fee. Naturally we paid it.

The Abu Simbel temples are approached on foot from behind making the impression that much greater when you come around and see the temple front for the first time. And “impressive” barely touches an accurate description of the Ramesses II temple at Abu Simbel. It is massive in size, rising up an easy five or six stories, and the four statues of Ramesses on the front facade are at least two or three stories high. The inner temple is carved out of a mountain of sandstone and has three main inner chambers, a Holy of Holies room, and several smaller rooms or chambers attached to the main chambers. Nearly every square foot of the walls and supporting columns are etched with beautifully detailed figures and hieroglyphs telling stories of Ramesses and his conquests, and the gods he worshiped.

The second temple is smaller but just as impressive. It is dedicated to Ramesses’ favorite wife, Nefertari. It too has multiple chambers and rooms, as well as plentiful wall decorations.

At the end of the the three-hour drive back to Aswan we were driven down a little alley to a nice little restaurant for lunch. We had barbecue chicken. Barbecue in Egypt is simply meat cooked over coals, or grilled; there is no sauce or special seasonings.

After lunch we were taken to the Nile to meet up with Hassan and board the boat we would be on for the next few days – the Crown Jubelee. The ship set sail and we relaxed for a few hours.

A view of the little market at the pier where our boat docked.

Before dinner, the ship docked at Kom Ombo where we walked down river to the Temple of Kom Ombo, a temple with courts, halls, sanctuaries and rooms duplicated for two sets of gods; the crocodile god Sobek, and the falcon god Haeroris. The historical building has lots of mummified crocodiles on display. Hassan told us about the friezes and hieroglyphs then let us go and explore on our own for another half-hour before walking back to the ship for dinner.

We were assigned a table (meals would all be buffet style) with another couple of Americans with Memphis Tours, Eric and Kim. They are from Kentucky and just getting started on traveling. A very nice young couple.

With full bellies, we said our good-nights and went back to our cabin. We fell asleep before our heads hit the pillow.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Edfu

The wake up called startled us at 5:25AM. I was already awake but Alan was sound asleep. We dragged ourselves up, got dressed and met Hassan, Eric and Kim up in the lobby for our next adventure; a pre-sunrise horse-drawn buggy ride to the Horus Temple at Edfu, the best preserved cult temple in Egypt.

Horus is the falcon god and is thought to be the son of Isis and Osiris, and is considered a god of kingship and the sky. The temple has loads of chambers and anterooms. The friezes are incredibly detailed, and, even after thousands of years, there are still colors that can be seen on many of them! What makes this temple even more unique is that it was never dedicated to any king. It was built with the intention, but never finished.

Outside the temple we ran the usual gauntlet of shop merchants trying hard to get you to buy their made-in-China wares. We’ve been told to say no thank you and/or ignore them. Their wares/souvenirs are not Egyptian-made and, in our guides’ opinions, not worth the cost.

We found our buggies and hopped aboard for the ride back to the ship for breakfast.

During lunch our ship went through some locks on the Nile. It was strange to watch from the dining room as the walls got higher and higher, it gave us the sensation of a sinking ship.

Luxor

Later in the day Eric, Kim, Alan and I went with Hassan on a horse-drawn carriage tour of Luxor. It was a pleasant evening as we rode, two to a carriage, through the streets and alleys. All along the way little children, wanting to practice their English, waved to us calling out “hello!”. We almost felt like celebrities.

There were several different types of tuk-tuks, trucks, cars, vans, buses, donkeys, horses, people and motorcycles all sharing the roads. What looked like chaos to us had its own rhythm to the people who live here.

While Luxor is a smaller city than Cairo, they share some of the same grittiness; a hard boiled edge clings to the streets. There is sand and dirt everywhere – in the streets, on the buildings and cars – and there is trash scattered about like fall leaves. In much of the city life does not look easy, but despite this the people here persevere and are good and kind. They are ready to help their friends, their family, and even a stranger from somewhere on the other side of the globe with a smile.

We stopped for some tea, and Kim and I tried a shisha (it looks like a hooka). It had a mild pleasant flavor (apple) and a hint of the steely taste of tobacco. Oddly enough, it didn’t make us cough.

We joked about having a case of the munchies when Kim said she wanted to shop for some snacks, but it was a good idea and we all loaded up on Egyptianized American junk food. Doritos, Oreos and an Oreo ice cream sandwich were in our bag. I lost track of what Kim and Eric picked up.

Later, as we prepared for bed, I experienced that massive headache and had no doubt it was payback for wicked habits (the shisha) that will never be repeated. I later learned from Kim that she experienced the same headache.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

After a good night’s sleep we were up and out to visit the Valley of the Kings. This is a valley wedged between mountains where sixty-two pharaohs have been buried in individual tombs. Archaeologists are searching and finding more every year.

A portion of the Valley of the Kings.

The first tomb we visited was Tu ten kámen; also known as King Tut, or the Boy King. This is the one tomb in the valley where they do not allow cameras. Inside the hieroglyphs and engravings were still colorful after thousands of years. It took our breath away. We stood at the end of the shaft where Tu ten kámen’s mummy lay, absorbing the great history all around us.

When Tu ten kámen’s tomb was discovered, quite by accident, they found all his treasures still in place along with his sarcophagus. The reason for this was that grave robbers, when looting another tomb, had no idea that Tu ten kámen’s tomb was hidden just below. His tomb was discovered in 1922 when one of archaeologist Carter’s workers spilled some water on the ground and it disappear through a small hole. Curious, they dug around the hole and discovered the Boy King’s tomb.

Next we visited the tombs of Ramesses III and Ramesses IV.

And last, and the most impressive, Ramesses IX.

Every inch of the walls and ceilings were covered in hieroglyphs and friezes, all painted in brilliant colors. The paints used back then were made of precious stones ground to a fine powder then mixed with egg yolk. Once applied and dried the paint was coated in beeswax to preserve the colors. We were told that the reason the colors were still vibrant was that the tombs had been enclosed and kept from sand storms, sun and people.

We left the Valley of the Kings and visited the temple at Al-Deir Al-Bahari, sometimes referred to as the Valley of the Queen. This temple was originally created for Queen Hatshepsut, which movies buffs might recognize from Hollywood movies, and the TV show Expedition Unknown with Josh Gates.

We had a bit of fun on the jitney “train” from the parking lot to the temple – Alan and I were invited to sit with the driver and the driver let Alan take the wheel for the drive up.

Queen Hatshepsut took on the mantel of a king in order to rule Egypt, but being a woman, she could not fight in battles. Instead she became known for trading with the lands now known as Somalia.

After her death, her brother, Thutmose, out of jealousy, did his best to remove all references to her at the temple, removing all her cartouches, missing only one.

On the way back to the ship we stopped at an alabaster artisans’ workshop and were educated about the process of creating alabaster jars. Then, of course, we shopped.

Back on the road we stopped for a quick photo of two giant statues known as the Colossi of Memnon. These are two massive stone statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III, who reigned in Egypt during the Dynasty XVIII.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

This morning we visited the temple at Karnak, the ultimate temple built to the god Amun Ra, the god of gods, the sun god.

Karnak is a huge place, bigger than any we have yet seen. It has, a long pathway lined with sphinxes, pillars, obelisks, statues and temples. Much of the temple is crumbling and in the process of restoration. There are no pieces that are untouched by erosion, earthquakes, or man. The complex is a vast open site and consists of four main parts, of which only the largest is currently open to the general public. The sheer scope of this place just boggles the mind.

The Luxor Temple was our final stop. When compared to Karnak, it is definitely smaller, but in the same state of ruin. Despite this it is still grand with a Sphinx-lined road that stretches for several kilometers.

We wandered about for twenty minutes before rejoining our group and heading into town.

At 10:30 AM, with fond farewells to Eric and Kim, Hassan dropped us at the St. George Hotel in the center of town, helping to secure our bags, where we would wait for a driver to pick us up at 3:00 PM. Parting was sad as I really liked him, we had become Facebook friends too. With a kiss on each cheek, we said our goodbyes.

The flights to Cairo and then to Sharm el Sheikh (a.k.a. Sharm) were easy and uneventful. We were picked up and taken to the Jolie Ville resort and spa, a sprawling place replete with its own set of restaurants, pool, golf course, doctor, and villas, and for some reason we were upgraded to an “executive suite” (no argument from us). A golf cart fetched us and our luggage and deposited us in our villa. It is huge, and blissfully quiet. Except for the cricket in our room, we slept well.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Sharm El Sheikh

Up early and ready for our day, we joined another couple on a Memphis Tours to head to the Red Sea where we would be scuba diving (big bucket list item) with Easy Diver. The other couple, Mike and Stacy, would be snorkeling.

We boarded the boat, the Pearl, and headed out to sea. The day was clear and the sea was calm. Having already provided our suit and shoe sizes, our gear was waiting for us on the diving deck of the two-decker boat.

Getting me into my dive suit was, shall we say, a bit of a challenge. They had gotten me a ladies XL instead of a men’s XL or XXL as I had instructed. But they were determined and stuffed my “petite” bod in like pork into a sausage casing. It was tight, but it worked.

Our dive master was Mena, a patient man, about half our age. He has been diving for six years, and has more than 3,000 dives in. Needless to say we felt comfortable with him leading us on our dives.

We had been told by other divers, and articles we had read, we had to dive the Red Sea and now we understood why. The water clarity rivaled anything we had experienced before, and currents were easy. The colors if the coral jumped out at us, and we saw so many new and beautiful sea life, it was simply incredible.

The dive location was the Ras Mohammed Marine Park. On the two dives, we saw crocodile fish, tuna, barracuda, a turtle, clams galore, a blue spotted sting ray, rock fish, angel fish, lionfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish, and a myriad of others we have yet to identify. We also saw some Red Sea anemone/clown fish who aggressively protected their little patch of anemones by attacking my thumb. Mena had a camera and caught much of this digitally for us.

We finished our two dives, had lunch and opted out of snorkeling – we were just too beat.

Back at the hotel we collapsed on the bed. Alan was not feeling well again, and I was starting to feel pretty “off” too. Alan had not been doing well for several days, and now I was catching up to him. After dinner he started running a fever again, so we decided to stay put the whole of the next day and give our bodies some time to heal.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The cricket was quiet until 6:00 AM. Alan’s fever continued. We took the day off from anything travel. At around 10:30 AM Alan’s fever broke and he was feeling a bit better. We sat out on the front patio watching birds and enjoying the fresh air.

When he felt up to it we walked over to the on-site pharmacy. The pharmacist behind the counter asked questions then sold us two medications with instructions.

We watched the beautiful sunset from the porch, had our dinner and went to bed for the second day in a row without having to set our alarm for the morning. Bliss.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

At 12:30 PM we were picked up and driven to the airport to say goodbye to Egypt and board our flight to Ammon, Jordan.

NOTES on EGYPT

Exchange Rate (as of Feb. 2019)

The current exchange rate in Egypt is $17.65 Egyptian pounds to one American dollar. This makes Egypt phenomenally cheap to visit. We had a lovely lunch of pasta and a couple of drinks for less than $20, including tip, for the both of us. Quality souvenirs were unbelievably inexpensive too.

Speaking of quality items – unless you really don’t care, stay away from the sidewalk vendors that will try to entice you with great prices on their wares, 99% of which is made in China. Look to a good guide to take you to workshops/business/schools for items such as carpets, alabaster, jewelry, cotten (scarves, pashminas), papyrus, and perfumes. Haggle heavily with the sales person – it us fully expected and part of the culture. Even if they offer you a bit of a discount, haggle, haggle, haggle.

Tipping

Tipping is expected for nearly every service rendered. Failure to tip is considered rude as it is so much a part of the culture here. From restaurant service to bellmen, drivers, and even the Egyptian trying to “help” you by pointing out aspects of a tourist attraction – if you find anything he did helpful, tip. Keep lots of Egyptian dollar coins, or five pound notes on you because you will be tipping people daily. Especially in the wash rooms.

Public Bathrooms

While not mandatory, tipping is expected, and often insisted upon, in order to use a public restroom, many of which do not have toilet paper – a small wad may be given to you once you have dropped a pound or two. Also, do not put toilet paper down the toilets, use the bin in the stall. I recommend keeping a small supply of tissues with you, just in case it is unavailable, and hand sanitizer, of course.

Traffic & Driving

If you have the slightest tendency toward carsickness, bring some Dramamine with you. Traffic in Egypt has its own rules, few, if any, traffic lights, and unfathomable traffic patterns that only the drivers seem to understand. The horn is the most essential piece of equipment on the car. Drivers weave in and out of traffic at an alarming rate tooting their horns to let someone know they are going to turn, you are in their way, hello, etc. You are sharing the road with trucks, cars, buses, horses, tuk-tuks, donkey carts, horse buggies, and people. To keep my blood pressure from skyrocketing I found it best to just ignore everything and chat with whomever else was in the vehicle.

Photography

First a caution: taking pictures of police/military is strictly forbidden, you can easily get arrested for it. Pay attention to signage at landmarks, some forbid photos inside while others require a ticket/fee to use a camera. Most locations we visited did not have these limitations. For example, the tombs inside the Valley of the Kings require a pass, but you cannot take photos in Tut En Kahman’s tomb. Be a good tourist and abide by the rules and you’ll be fine.

Food

Egyptian food is very similar to Mediterranean fare. Sesame sauce, vegetables, hummus, olives, lentils, yogurt, pitas – these are all common. BBQ is any meat cooked over a grill, don’t expect something drenched in sauce. Flavoring is done with mild spices and lemon. Usually salt and pepper are on the table if you want, but I recommend trying a taste first. Meats are always overcooked, but fish, at least what I had, is moist and tasty. When ordering off the menu, point to what you want to avoid any communication problems.

Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt

The Nile River runs from the south to the north,  therefore Upper Egypt, represent by the lotus flower, is in the south and Lower Egypt, represented by the papyrus plant, is in the north.

Recommended Packing: What to Bring

Washcloth. There was not a single hotel that supplied a small face cloth in the restroom. If this is an important part of your bathing ritual, bring a few in some ziploc bags. Use a clean one while the other is drying.

OTC Medications. Tylenol, Advil, aspirin for pain. Imodium for problems of that sort. Dayquil in case the need arises. Seasick pills, ginger gum, etc. for motion sickness. There is no need to bring the boxes these come in, just be sure the blister pack is labeled and toss those in with your other necessities.

Hat. No matter what time of year it is, the sun is intense here. A simple ballcap or foldable sunhat is a good idea.

Good walking shoes. You will be on your feet a lot when touring the various sites. Make sure you’re comfortable. Unless you are in the habit of impressing people, leave your fancy shoes at home.

Sweater, jacket or pullover. The nights are typically cool, and in the winter months they can get downright cold. Having something on hand to throw on when the temperature drops is a smart idea.