November 12, 2022

Today we headed back to Cairo, so it was another day of sit and wait. The security at Luxor airport is very aggressive, so our guide told us to put all our liquids in our checked baggage.  They scanned us and our belongings at 3 different points at the airport. Luckily it wasn't too busy.

 At one point when we were waiting for our flight to board (we took off an hour late), we heard a commotion in the boarding area. Apparently the security team approached a woman who had passed through security about 15 minutes prior. They claimed she had a scissors in her bag and they wanted to take her bag. Why they didn't do any of this at the x-ray machine seemed odd, and we think the woman thought something nefarious was up as she wasn't going to give up her bag. It ended up in a shouting match. We're not sure how it ended up resolving, but the woman got on the plane.

By the time we got back to Cairo and got our bags it was 3:30 so we went directly to the Khan market in downtown. We spent an hour there walking around (it's huge and we barely touched the surface, sticking mostly to the parts that sell tourist trinkets), and Eli managed to pick up a battery for his dead selfie stick remote. It definitely felt like a wasted day.

We thought we had convinced our group leader to take us to a restaurant downtown for our final dinner after we checked into our hotel, but Cairo traffic vexed us again, and by the time we got to the hotel, everyone was tired and many didn't want to brave traffic to get back downtown. We settled on going to the same place across the street that we had gone to our first 2 nights in Cairo. It was nice, though, to have everyone there for the last dinner. We moved back to the hotel bar for drinks and chat, reminiscing about 80s music, ABBA, Kylie, and all sorts of things. We decided we'd all meet in 5 years in a location where none of us have been.  The only two reasonable places we could come up with were Madagascar or Bhutan. About half of us are continuing on to Jordan and will meet new group members there.

November 11, 2022

Today was Valley of the Kings. We'll reiterate here how having an organized tour has made all the difference. Our guide arranged for a boat to pick us up at the hotel and take us across the river where our van was waiting so that we didn't have to drive the 45 minutes out of the way to go over the bridge. And at least since we got out of Cairo, there haven't been many transportation fails. Eli asked our guide how he keeps everyone like our boat captain off of Egyptian time and on schedule and he was, like, "I call 30 minutes before, and I text 3 times on the way, and I tip extra if they run on time…" It's nice not having to deal with that ourselves.  

Your ticket to the Valley of the Kings includes entrance to up to three tombs. Plus we got entrance to Tutankhamen's tomb as an extra. You should skip it… it was the least impressive (just really small).  Our guide recommended Ramses III, Marneptah, and Setkhnat. We were amazed by all. There is quite a bit of polychrome left on the walls so you get a sense of what all Egyptian buildings would have looked like.  Like the pyramids, it was insanely crowded… to the point where we didn't want to (and really couldn't) linger in the tombs for very long. We shot some photos and then reviewed them on the bus. Even in the photos it was clearly very cool.

We then headed to Hatshepsut's temple. We were expecting to be blown away by this building, but it was just okay. It was interesting that they had some fluted columns without lotus flower capitals that we hadn't seen before. 

Between the two sites, we spent about 3 hours and then headed back to the hotel via van and boat again. Some of the group will be doing the sound and light show at Karnak temple tonight, but we thought it might be a little hokey, so we are skipping.

Since we didn't really have lunch, we headed out  to find a restaurant for early dinner (see our previous post). There were a few spots on a street about 5 minute's walk from the hotel, all of which had a mix of food (not just Egyptian). We looked over the menus on the street and decided on The Lantern. It's run by an Egyptian/British couple so that's the mix of food. We did the British side. Stephen had a 8 oz. tenderloin (for 8 bucks) and Eli had a fish curry that was nice and spicy.

November 10, 2022

We ate our last breakfast on the boat (good riddance) and then headed to Karnak Temples. This area of multiple buildings was connected to Luxor temple by an avenue of sphinxes.  As cool as Luxor temple was, Karnak is even more impressive. The columns rise even higher here and they have some areas where the original polychrome is still very visible on the columns. We don't think it came out as vivid in the pictures as it was in real life, unfortunately, though. The columns are actually granite encased in limestone as the limestone is easier to carve and paint than the granite.

After finishing up our visit in about an hour and a half, we had the rest of the day free.  We decided we would try to scout out a local restaurant for lunch.  We consulted Lonely Planet and the restaurant Sofra was starred. A word about restaurants. We haven't had great luck in scouting restaurants so far in Egypt. Google isn't a great resource as many restaurants don't have listings, or they're only in Arabic. We've asked at hotels for recommendations but they tend to demure and only recommend the in-house options. When we have gone out, we've yet to be blown away by anything. Sofra was another example. The food was good, certainly the best we've had so far since arriving in Egypt (other than our home cooked meal), but we wouldn't call it special.  Eli had rabbit with molokhia and Stephen had a lamb dish with yoghurt. We started with Egyptian sambusas.  Eli's was the standout today. We've enjoyed everything we've had so far with molokhia (jute leaves that taste like spinach).  They do it with a super garlic-y  sauce that is really good. After we ordered, a couple of other members of our group walked in. Apparently they had a similar thought. They had stopped at another restaurant that had been recommended by our guide but didn't think it looked like what they were hoping for so they ended up at Sofra also.

From lunch we headed back to the hotel, got a beer, and hung out by the pool for a while. We headed back to the room to shower and then back down to the lounge for happy hour and dinner with the group. See paragraph above about restaurants, but the company, as always, was great.

November 9, 2022

We woke up late because we were not going to join the rest of the ship at Edfu temple. The report is that the horse carriages that you take from the port to the site do not treat their animals well. Two of our group members decided to walk to the site, which you can do in about 30 minutes, but they didn't go in because when they got there, the ticket office didn't open until 7 and there was a long line. We would recommend to Intrepid that they hire a van transport for the day so that we can visit the temple, or get the boat to say a little longer so it's more reasonable to walk as a group to the site.

We spent some time at breakfast running down the election results with some of the other North Americans in our group. Luckily it wasn't as bad as it could have been.  It was nice to not have to wait on baited breath as the polls close to not hear anything for the next four hours anyway. We pledge to be in another time zone for the next election as well.

The rest of the day today we spent cruising the river on the way to Luxor. With the breeze it's actually nice and cool on the top deck. We both remarked at how we were enjoying relaxing and watching the scenery go by. If we squinted our eyes (and ignored all the fights that broke out about lounge chairs) we could imagine ourselves at the turn of the 20th century on a paddle boat or steam ship cruising in luxury down the river. Not bad overall.

With that said, I think in the end we both agreed that we would probably skip the cruise. Instead, we would maybe take a felucca from Aswan to Kom Ombo, the first site we visited with the cruise, so you get experience of the scenery for a while and then use a van to visit the rest of the sites, staying in a hotel each night. 

We arrived in Luxor as the sun was setting, and we went to Luxor temple. These are much older than the temples we'd seen up to this point, mostly from the start of the New Kingdom period. The scale of the columns here is something we hadn't really experienced, even at the Parthenon. The height that they got was incredible. The capitals are supposed to resemble lotus flowers, either open or closed.  Can we be honest though and say the closed ones totally look like penises?!?! Originally we thought it had something to do with the phallus projecting authority of the Pharaoh.  We like that explanation better (even though it's not the right one).


There is a mosque built on top of the site, and when they did the excavation they left the mosque on top and excavated around it. It makes for a very interesting juxtaposition. Also, when the Romans occupied this area, they converted a few of the spaces within the site to Christian churches and placed classical frescoes over the hieroglyphics. They left those as well.

Tonight was the last night on the boat, docked in Luxor and then we transfer to a hotel.  They entertainment for the night was a belly dancer. We skipped it.

November 8, 2022

Today we could sleep in and just met the group for a one hour  felucca ride around the river. It was nice and peaceful and we would have been happy to go longer as it was a nice day… not too hot and the breeze was blowing. The first day we arrived we wouldn't have been able to do a ride because there wasn't enough wind to fill the sails. 

We then had free time to chill until the boat departed at 2pm.  We cruised until about 6. Most of us sat on the upper deck and visited. Our guide joined us. We had an interesting conversation about historical liberal Islamic thought (he was reading a famous book by Rami) and he shared some stories of crazy former group members, one of who tried finding some pot to smoke and ended up with jute leaves. We arrived at Kom Ombo temple and got off the boat.

This one was built just after Philae, and is dedicated to Horus and the crocodile god Sobek. It's not in as good condition overall as Philae, and since we were visiting after sundown, it was lit up by floodlights. While interesting to view lit up that way, our pictures didn't come out as nice as the lights affected the color and shadows. They also have a museum of mummified crocodiles.

We spent about an hour and a half total off the boat and then got back on to have dinner. Again food was passable. Then a few of us went to the lounge because apparently they were going to do Egyptian music and dancing, but it ended up being a DJ playing Egyptian music and we were supposed to do the dancing.  That wasn't going to happen, really, since none of us know how to dance like an Egyptian (we did learn to walk like an Egyptian, however, from the Bangles). 

There is something going on with the plumbing on the boat because the bathrooms of all our group members smell like there is sewage that is uncapped somewhere, like when you're replacing a toilet and you haven't stuck a towel down in the waste pipe. We're not too happy. 

November 7, 2022

We were all up at the appointed hour and headed off to Abu Simbel. It's about a 3.5 hour drive and all of the tourist vans travel in a caravan style.  You can fly back and forth, and in fact Intrepid used to do this, but the timing between flights really only left you with about 30 minutes at the site before you would have to turn around and head back toward the plane, so instead they now drive. In reality, you don't save that much time anyway, as you'd have to arrive at the airport early,  it's about a 45 minute flight, and you'd still have a 20-30 minute drive from the airport to the site once you get to Abu Simbel.

And the site is really worth it. It is definitely monumental. It was built for Ramses II in the 13th century BCE. Originally it was carved into a rock face, but similarly to Philae temple, it had to be moved up after the dam was built. The temple was cut into blocks and moved, and they sort of recreated the sense that it was carved out of rock face by moving some of the surrounding cliffs with it so it now looks like mounds of rock instead of a cliff.  We stayed for about an hour (we think that was about the right amount of time)

 And then started the drive back. 

We checked into our boat for the Nile cruise and then had the afternoon and evening free. We picked up some local beer and wine on the way to have on the ship and then went up on deck to watch the sunset. The whole group ended up on the deck eventually. 

Our boat was probably quite stylish at the time it was built. From the furnishings and decor, it was the late 90s, early 2000s. They've done a partial remodel (new laminate flooring in the guestrooms) but it's definitely showing its wear. To get to the boat, we had to walk across a few other ships, a couple of which had been remodeled recently. Not sure of the price difference between the ships, but basically they all do the same route. They're also all around the same size, carrying roughly 100 passengers or so. Really, though, we are not spending much time in our rooms ever, so it's not a big deal.

The first day, we stay docked here in Aswan. And the 3rd night we stay docked in Luxor, so it's really just a 1.5-2 day cruise in total. Our group will not join the others when the boat stops in Edfu as you have to take a horse carriage to the temple and Intrepid believes that the horses are not treated humanely. 

Dinner this first night was fine, if bland. Food is served buffet style. 

November 6, 2022

The cabin on the train was relatively comfortable, but the rocking and jerking made it hard for Stephen to sleep. Eli did better. We arrived at 10 and by the time we got organized and to the van, it was close to 11. It was an interesting travel experience, and more eco friendly than flying, but if it were an overnighter that took maybe 8-10 hours, which is typical sleep time, it would have made sense. With wasting the evening in Cairo, and getting a late start in Aswan, we felt we missed valuable time.

From the train, we headed right to Philae temple. The temple was built mostly in the 3rd century BCE, with some Roman additions later. It's quite a bit different from the pyramids in style and construction. Abu Simbel, which we'll see tomorrow, is between the two in the timeline. There are bas reliefs all over, and a variety of column capitals which were really interesting. You can see how art nouveau and art deco may have gotten some inspiration from the the temple. Unfortunately, much of the carving was destroyed by early Byzantine Christians who chiseled out all the faces of the people and gods.

A couple in our group got to go up on the roof, which isn't supposed to happen . They didn't realize it was forbidden, and the guard offered them the opportunity to go up for an additional 150 pounds. Additionally the guy took their tickets and didn't return them after they got back down. Our guide thought the guard would try to resell the ticket so he called over the administrator. A little later on we saw the administrator (clearly trying to be in our view) yelling into the phone. We speculated there was no one on the other end (or maybe his wife) and he was yelling for our benefit. We think he was likely in on the scam too.

You have to take a boat to the temple. In fact, the island where the temple sits is not its original location. The entire temple was moved brick by brick to its current island from its former island which submerged after the new dam was built in the 1960s.  As we boarded our motorboat to the island, there were probably 50 boats waiting to take passengers. Stephen asked our guide if that's all that they do, and apparently that's the case. It can't be enough money to support a family.

That evening, we went to a home visit and dinner in the Nubian village. Aswan is the heart of the Nubian community in Egypt. Yup, like Aida, the opera and the musical. The woman who cooked dinner for us was the mother of 4 and the wife of a felucca captain. She graduated with a degree in Archaeology. works at a local college doing admin work in the Islamic history department. and she supplements the family income by hosting 2 meals a week. The community in the village is tight knit and they've been working with Intrepid for a long while. 

Throughout the evening we got peeks into their lives. Particularly interesting was the story of her and her husband's courtship and talk about marriage rituals. They each told a little bit of the story and it was fun to see which parts they each included, with a lot of good natured ribbing. They actually kept their courtship secret from their family for a while; most Nubian marriages are arranged. They live with their in laws for 40 days after the wedding; Nubian houses are designed with small 2 room apartments around a central room that facilitates this kind of arrangement. There was also something about eating a pigeon each night for 40 nights as well.

We met her children. Her oldest, a daughter, is in her last 2 years of high school and wants to be an engineer, although her mom was concerned about her not getting married if she chose this. Her younger children came out later and sang a song and drummed a rhythm for us. You'll see pictures of us dancing. Intrepid definitely does this kind of stuff well.

We all left relatively early, though, because we had a 4am morning call to take the drive to Abu Simbel.

November 5, 2022

We got to sleep in today, which was nice. We were scheduled to visit Al Montaza gardens, but it is under renovation. Like the New Museum, the gardens were supposed to be finished in 2021. 

Instead we headed directly to the Library at Alexandria, an homage to the former Great Library that was built during the 3rd century AD. The new library is very beautiful on its modern architecture while still having some references back to the design of the original library – the rectangular openings in the walls that held the scrolls, the lotus flower topped columns. They have a beautiful rotating collection of art, and are doing a lot of work in digitizing their collection to make it free and available to the world. At the end, though, it's kind of just like any other contemporary public library in any major city.  

It takes about 3 hours to get back to Cairo and we wanted to arrive a little early in case people wanted to eat before getting on the overnight train, so we left Alexandria. We would generally say it's not worth making the trip.

On our way, we stopped at a Carrefour market to pick up some snacks for the van ride and train. They had a spice desk and picked food desk the best that we've seen since we started traveling. A note, because we haven't talked about it yet, but Egypt has had some of the best fruit we've had on the trip so far. It's mostly at breakfast, which has been included in our hotel stays, so we haven't written about it. Our favorites have been the persimmons and the dates. The fresh dates are so sugary that we can only have one a piece.

We had been complaining a bit about spending so much time that we felt was wasted just sitting around and that our first few days were light on actual activities. Today we figured out why that might have been the case. You can't predict how long anything will take. On our way to Alexandria, it took us about 3 hours. The way back took us almost 6. Our train to Aswan tonight was supposed to leave at 8; it didn't arrive at the station until 8:30. It could take 12 hours to get there, it could take 15. It took us about 13.5.

November 4, 2022

We were on the road by 7am, traveling from Cairo to Alexandria down a 14 lane highway with maybe 3 cars on it. The US has this problem as well, and you see a lot of big building or infrastructure projects that start out very impressive, but then they are not maintained well, or it comes at the expense of services. Metrorail in Miami comes to mind where you've got this beautiful train, but they've had to cut bus service which serves more people because there isn't enough in the operating budget.

We arrived in Alexandria around 10:30 and headed straight to the catacombs. This was a burial ground for Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks in the first 3 centuries AD. It was interesting to see how the traditions of these three cultures melded together in the art and practices of this time. There were a couple of interesting tombs, but otherwise it was a bunch of big limestone boxes. 

From there we headed to the Museum of Alexandria, which had a nice mix of Egyptian, Greek and Roman, and Islamic art. It wasn't too large either, so could be viewed in about an hour. We then headed to lunch at the fish market, which had a beautiful view of the harbor and citadel. 

By this time it was 4pm and we headed to the hotel to check in. We hoped the WiFi at this place would be better, but it wasn't. We're glad we got the SIM card for Stephen's old phone. We're writing all our blog posts on the phone, and will have to copy them to the website when we get to a place that has strong WiFi. (Update: Nowhere here has strong WiFi.  Everything here runs off of cellular.  We're posting these after we returned to the States).

Sunset was coming soon and so we headed out to the Stanley bridge near our hotel to meet up with some others from the tour and watch and take photos.  There were lots of young people out taking Instagram selfies.  There was a couple taking wedding shots, and lots of people hanging out at the small beach down in the cove. The beach has Victorian style cabañas/changing rooms on three tiers leading down from the road up above to the beach. It was an interesting look.

After sunset, we looked for somewhere else to walk to or see that might be interesting that would have been open at that hour, but not finding anything really on the map, we all decided to head back to the bar at the hotel for happy hour. Eventually everyone in our group made it down to chat and have drinks. Again it was nice to share time with people who have a similar outlook on life and travel. 

We left the bar at around 8 and just decided to order a snack via room service before hitting the sack with a nice view of the harbor from our hotel room.

November 3, 2022

While we like traveling with a group so far, there are some disadvantages, like having to keep to a standardized schedule. While it probably benefited us to be up and leaving the hotel at 7:30 to get to the Pyramids, we would have wanted to sleep in a bit more.

The pyramids are quite imposing as we caught glimpses of them as we drove to the entrance. Our guide, Mohammad, told us a little about the series of pharaoh dynasties that built them (khufu and sons) in the middle of the old kingdom period. Interestingly, they were rediscovered in the 19th century having basically been buried under the sand with only a little sliver of one of the pyramids standing above. That's the only place you still see the original smooth limestone giving you a feeling of how they would have looked at the time. 

We chose to go into khufu's tomb for an extra 13 bucks. You have to crouch down like you're doing a vogue duck walk most of the way and it's a climb up the original built passage ways. There isn't much to see as the walls aren't decorated or anything, but you do get a sense of the mass of the construction, and the tomb's granite walls are still really well preserved. It took us about 25 minutes in all to get in and out. We walked around the pyramids for another half hour (we probably would have wanted an additional half hour). Then we headed to the panorama to get a view of all 3 pyramids from afar. After that, we went to the Sphinx.

While not as big as you might expect, it's still pretty massive. But to get a sense of how big it really is, you have to peer down into the excavation because you're standing at basically the middle of the carving. They've done some restoration so you can see what it would have looked like clad in smooth limestone bricks (just like the top of the one pyramid).

In between moments, we're getting to chat with our tour mates. While not on a long term plan like we are, exactly, they all love to travel and have been lots of places. It's fun being in a community of like-minded people.

We had some of the best falafel we've ever had for lunch courtesy of our guide, and then headed to see how they make papyrus. Luckily it was a short demonstration. The end product feels a little like really thin wood veneer and it does have some interesting properties.

We headed to the Egypt Museum (the old one, they still haven't opened the new one). Still, though, most of the important works are still in the old space and haven't been transferred yet.

There was lots of cool stuff there. Tutankhamen's tomb finds are still here. It made them look all the more impressive in context. They had lots of mummies; some of the most odd were from the Greco-Roman period that had more classically natural faces painted on them. Lots of monumental pieces also. While we fretted when we visited the British museum about having removed all those treasures from Egypt without asking (and we still think that was a problem), there is clearly a lot to go around.

The other thing that we saw at this museum that we hadn't really seen anywhere else were more daily objects that people would have used, mostly made up of organic materials. There were some musical instruments and farming tools (mostly from the new kingdom period and later).  One critique of the museum as it is right now, is that it's missing labeling and descriptions on most of the pieces. While our guide showed us and talked to is about some things, when he left us to explore on our own, there wasn't a lot of context for what we were seeing.

We headed back to the hotel after the museum to relax by the pool and pack our bags. It's going to be an early morning again tomorrow.

November 1 and 2, 2022

Egypt and Jordan for us were our postponed bucket list destinations, postponed from Stephen's 50th birthday. For a variety of reasons, we decided we would do this section as an organized tour. We went with Intrepid, who Stephen had traveled with 25 years ago when he went to Thailand and Cambodia. They do small group (4-16 people) tours and have a focus on sustainable and person to person kinds of activities. We arrived at Cairo airport and were met before passport control by an Intrepid guide and shepherded all the way through the process of getting our visas, picking up our luggage, and getting to our transfer vehicle to the hotel. Not that we couldn't have figured everything out ourselves, but it was nice to have that velvet glove touch. We stopped by the ATM at the airport, though, to get money right away so that we could start paying tips. 

 Once we experienced some of the chaotic energy of Cairo, we're glad we decided to do it on an organized tour. It'll be one thing that is easy and that we don't have to think about as far as navigating the chaos.

And although we might describe it as chaos, there is still definitely a rhythm to it, and there are obviously rules to it as well. Take traffic. There are no lanes, but traffic moves somehow. There is clearly a language of honks, and we've taken two Uber rides so far and only had one near miss. Egyptian pedestrians cross the street (sometimes across 4 or six "lanes") by just weaving through the traffic as cars continue to come. On our way to the music shops (continue reading below), we even learned to cross the street as the Egyptians do. Most of the time, though, we cheated and looked for a group that was getting ready to cross and just staying on the other side of the from the oncoming traffic. That seemed to work well.

Internet service has been tough for us. Eli got an eSIM through Airalo again for Egypt, but he couldn't figure out why his speeds were so slow. Stephen was having a similar problem with his phone, and the WiFi at the hotel gets barely 1mbps and goes out more frequently than it's on. We had brought with us an old android phone we had in case we needed to get a local SIM and that's what we did so that we have some reliable speedy data for basic necessities of travel while we're here. Hopefully we can get the issues with our main devices solved so we don't have to carry the extra phone.

Today we ventured into downtown Cairo from the hotel to go shopping for a tabla, which is a traditional Arabic drum.  There's an area there that we found on the map that has a number of stores that sell traditional musical instruments. Before we started traveling full time, we would pick up a traditional folk instrument from each of the places we visited.  Even though we didn't do that in any of our stops this year (and, believe us, we were tempted) we felt like we wanted to do that for Egypt.  We ubered to the Giza metro station and then took that into downtown. The metro felt nice because it felt like travel in any other city and a sea of relative calm compared to the streets. It wouldn't have been that much more expensive to take the Uber all the way there, but it was good to take another transport option. We could have taken a microbus to get to the station, but that was just a little too much to figure out on our own.

The area where the shops are is filled with all kinds of cell phone accessory stores and furniture shops, some of which make their own furniture. Occasionally we would see a horse and cart pass by (we actually saw this on one of the boulevards as well weaving in and out of traffic just like the cars). There were a number of stalls making fresh bread, and there were people with trays of mezes moving down the street bringing lunch to groups of shop workers.  We wandered around a bit and then headed to the stores we wanted to see.

We found a couple tablas we liked, asked prices, and started to haggle, but apparently at these stores it is a direct price. We picked one and were able to make the purchase with a credit card. We then hunted down a DHL shop so we could send it home. Given the weight and the shape, though, it's going to cost us 3x as much to ship it than what we paid for it. We're okay with that, though. We totally forgot to get a picture of it before we boxed it up, so you'll have to trust us that it's beautiful. We've included a photo here of some different ones so you get the idea.

We came back to the hotel to rest before our 6pm meeting with the others on our tour and out guide. We met a few of the other couples on the tour out for dinner at a restaurant recommended by our guide. It was a mix of European and Egyptian food in a lounge setting (we sat on sofas next to low tables). Eli ordered a tagine of chicken and molokhia (jute leaves) and Stephen had two stuffed pigeons (and could have survived on just one). We spent 23 dollars for the whole meal.