One Week in Egypt
Our One Week in Egypt was part of the post covid tourism boom in Egypt. Tourism suffered from 2011 – 2018 as a result of the Arab Spring and then again for more than two years during covid. Our visit in March of 2023 marked the highest volumes of tourists our guide had ever seen in Egypt. The influx of tourists was great news for the Egyptian economy, but unfortunately it meant that all the popular destinations were jammed with tour groups from all over the world. An early morning trip to the pyramids in Cairo revealed more than 100 buses already parked at the site that morning. The contrast from our previous trip to rural Switzerland was overwhelming.
TWA Hotel at JFK
Our Gate1 Travel tour of Egypt required us to join the tour for a flight on Egypt Air from New York. We chose to stay at the TWA Hotel at Terminal 5 of JFK the night before, even though it’s pretty expensive. The TWA Hotel allows you to purchase a 4 hour late check out, which was a perfect match for our afternoon flight. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the TWA Hotel is more like a visit to a 1960s theme park than a hotel.
TWA Hotel Slide Show
The TWA Hotel uses the old TWA terminal with its gigantic foyer looking out over expansive glass windows on to a vintage 1958 Lockheed Constellation aircraft named “Connie”. The foyer plays 1960s music and also has retro items that include old airline uniforms, rotary phones and even collector cars at the entrance. In the evenings you are free to walk on board Connie and order a drink while you sit in the original TWA passenger seats.
Another nice perk for guests is the roof top heated swimming pool with a view of the JFK runways and a small restaurant with cold beer on tap. We loved the TWA Hotel at JFK more than our trip to Egypt!
TWA Hotel Foyer
One Week in Egypt – Pyramids
Egypt Air wouldn’t be my first choice for air travel, but they did get us safely from New York to Cairo on a 10.5 hour flight. The plane was older with remote controls tethered to the tv screen. My tray table was completely missing, so I ate meals from my lap. Hmmm. Gate1 Travel picked us up at the airport and took us to the Cairo Marriott, which was a nice hotel. Gate1 Travel has wonderful buses with wifi on board. After visiting a site, it’s always nice to return to the bus and post pictures.
Our first excursion, early the next morning, was a visit the the pyramids. The early morning crowds were shocking. I counted more than 100 tour buses and I couldn’t even see them all. Many tourists were paying the small fee to climb the narrow passage inside the great pyramid to see the burial chamber. All that remains in the chamber is one empty stone sarcophagus.
Next it was on to the far side of the pyramids where hundreds of camels were waiting to take tourists on a short camel ride to the classic viewpoint where the 3 pyramids line up nicely for photos. All I could think of was that I wished I’d chosen to go hiking in the solitude of Switzerland instead of the tourist carnival in Egypt.
Advice for Dealing with Vendors
The important thing to remember about vendors invading your personal space is that they are trying their best to make a living by selling you something. You can make eye contact with them and politely say no for starters. If you don’t look at the items for sale, they will quickly move on. But if you show interest in anything, they will immediately up the pressure on you. If you touch an item, you have indicated a willingness to bargain and it will become difficult to refuse to buy something at this point.
When someone offers to take your picture, they expect to be paid. Once they have your camera, they won’t give it back until you give them a tip. Often they will show “official” ID to make you feel more comfortable before you become indebted for a tip. Just remember that nothing is free. If you want a local to take your pic, negotiate the tip first and have fun!
Many items cost around $5 and statues may look authentic, but they are formed in plastic. A recent selling technique in Egypt is to offer everything for $1, but when you show interest, it turns out that’s the price to look or to take a picture of the item. Many tourists try to bargain hard for the best deal, but if you understand how badly they need the sale, you realize you are being kind if you don’t bargain hard. Enjoy the chaos and leave some money behind.
Camel Rides at the Great Pyramids in Cairo
One Week in Egypt – Sakkara
After lunch our tour bus headed outside the Cairo city limits to Sakkara, also written as Saqqara. Sakkara is an area of tombs and ruins that formed part of the ancient city of Memphis. The Djoser step pyramid at Sakkara is one of the earliest pyramids in Eqypt. The Pyramid of Djoser is built in layers, like a wedding cake. After this early pyramid, Egyptians learned so smooth the exterior into the classic pyramid shape that’s so familiar to everyone.
The site at Sakkara also has an avenue of columns and an interesting tomb with painted hieroglyphics. The hieroglyphics are unprotected, so it’s up to the tourists to avoid touching them and wearing down the surfaces. Although Sakkara is interesting, it doesn’t make the same impression as the other better known ruins in Egypt such as the great pyramids, Luxor or the Valley of Kings.
Sakkara Slide Show
The Egyptian Museum
Egypt announced the opening of the the new Egyptian Museum with great fanfare more than a year before our visit, but in typical Egyptian fashion, the new museum wasn’t open. In fact, there is no timeframe on when it will open to the public. Meanwhile we visited the old Egyptian Museum site on Tahrir Square. Crowds were massive and it was difficult to move about the museum. Almost no one wore masks. Luckily we didn’t end up getting another round of covid on our trip to Egypt.
Our Gate1 Travel guide, Omar, did an excellent job of explaining all the major artifacts in the museum. He also laid an excellent foundation for our subsequent visits to locations where these treasure had come from. While I was disappointed not to see the new home for the Egyptian Museum, I wasn’t disappointed by our visit to the old location.
Egyptian Museum Slide Show
After our morning visit to the Egyptian Museum, our group headed to Sky Rim Restaurant. The Sky Rim lunch was delicious. The restaurant has fabulous views over Cairo, the Pyramids of Giza and even the step pyramid at Sakkara. After lunch we passed by the City of the Dead en route to Khan El-Khalili. The City of the Dead is an extensive cemetery, where the Egyptian government allows people to live among the tombs. The government even supplies power to the residents.
Khan El-Khalili was my favorite experience in Cairo on our One Week in Egypt, because we were the only tour group visiting. Our guide, Omar, knew the people there and we also had an armed security guard. So, we felt safe and enjoyed our time in an authentic way that you can’t experience on the main tourist circuits.
We entered the Khan El-Khalili street markets through the Bab al-Futuh Gate and started off by visiting the Al Hakim Mosque. Then we wandered past the shops and enjoyed the local atmosphere. Similar to our experience in Jordan, young girls asked to be photographed with my wife. They liked the blond hair and sun glasses. At the end of our visit to Khan El-Khalili our bus drove down an extremely narrow street full of pedestrians. Locals flowed around our bus as if it wasn’t even there. On our return route to the Marriott we also caught a view of the Suuq al Atba open air market, where the poorest people of Cairo make their purchases.
Khan El-Khalili Slide Show
One Week in Egypt – Karnak
On our third full day of our One Week in Egypt, we flew from Cairo to Luxor. Our Luxor tour bus then drove us directly to Karnak. Unfortunately lots of other tour groups were also visiting Luxor. On the way to this site, we passed by the Avenue of Sphinxes. The Avenue of Sphinxes is a mile long path between the Karnak Temple and the Luxor Temple. The path was once lined with more than 600 sphinx statues. An effort to find and reconstruct as many statues as possible was completed in 2021 after 7 decades of effort.
At the Karnak Temple, you enter the site through the Avenue of Rams. Karnak has an obelisk, large stone statue carvings and lots of hieroglyphics all set in the open air for all to see. The many gigantic columns are the most impressive part of Karnak. The columns are all set very close together and covered in painted hieroglyphics. You only have to walk a few steps among them to find your own spot of solitude in the tourist crowds. This is truly the best part of Karnak.
Karnak Temple Slide Show
Queen of Hansa
After our morning visit to Karnak, we headed to the Queen of Hansa for our 4 day Nile River Cruise. The Queen of Hansa was not very impressive. Meals were average – nothing to complain about but nothing to write home about either. Our suite was disappointing because of the engine noise. Although we paid for an upgraded room, the location at the back of the ship, near the engine made it one of the worst locations on the boat. The pictures on the wall rattled constantly and we had to take the shelves out of the mini fridge to stop them from vibrating. We requested an alternate room, but not were available.
During the day, we escaped from our suite to the top deck. The covered seating, pleasant Nile River breeze and the views were lovely. The failing Egyptian pound meant that cold beer was served for less than $3. The frigid water in the swimming pool was absolutely refreshing.
Ship Side Cotton Sales
The most entertaining thing to do on the top deck was to watch the vendors who paddled out to intercept our boat in order to sell cotton goods. The vendors lashed their boat to the side of our ship. Then they bundled cotton goods in plastic bags weighted down with an extra table cloth. The bag of cotton goods was then expertly thrown all the way up onto the top deck. Tourists screamed excitedly as the packages landed among them like artillery shells on a battle field.
To make payment, you put your money into the plastic bag with the weighted table cloth. Then the vendors below pulled their boat tight against the ship and gave instructions on when to drop the return package. Many sales were made and a good time was had by all. The vendors then paddled to another Nile Cruise Ship heading the opposite direction and continued their sales.
One Week in Egypt – Temple of Luxor
Our Nile Cruise ship stayed in Luxor the first night, so we were able to walk to the Temple of Luxor at sunset for a tour. The temperature drops quickly at night in the desert, so a light jacket was in order despite the extreme heat earlier in the day. We had a chance to walk along a small portion of the Avenue of Sphinxes where one of the 3 boats built for the 2021 dedication ceremony is still on display. The columns of the Temple of Luxor were beautifully lit at night. Many of us were beginning to tire of all the temples though and we still had several temples left on the itinerary over the next few days.
Luxor Temple Slide Show
One Week in Egypt – Valley of the Kings
Early on the morning of our 4th full day, we set out from Luxor by bus to see the Valley of the Kings. The Valley of the Kings wasn’t at all what I expected and it certainly was a highlight of the trip. The Kings (or Pharoahs) of the New Kingdom came up with a new plan for tombs. Instead of pyramids that could be easily found and plundered, the tombs in the Valley of Kings were dug into the hillsides and covered over to leave no trace. So, the valley has no temples, no statues and no signs of the tombs. However, once a tomb was found, the hillsides were subsequently scarred with dugout areas left by those searching for the more tombs. And many tombs were found in a very small area.
The entry fee to Valley of the Kings allows you to see 3 tombs. You pay an extra $12 to see the tombs of King Tut and Rameses V & VI. The additional fee is a bargain as most tourists don’t bother to see these and they are quite fabulous. The entrance to these two tombs are only a few feet apart. Rameses V & VI are buried together in a very large tomb with intricate paintings and hieroglyphics on the walls and ceilings. The expansive size of the tomb was truly a highlight of our One Week in Egypt.
Rameses V & VI Tomb, Valley of the Kings
The tomb of King Tut is very interesting. King Tut was a very minor king who ruled for only 9 years, however the discovery of his tomb is the most significant in Egyptology. His tomb is the only one in Egypt that was discovered intact. Grave robbers plundered all the nearby tombs prior to their rediscovery. King Tutankhamun’s jewelry, gold statues, gold throne, multiple gold caskets, canopic jars and intricate gold face mask are all on display at the Egyptian Museum. The mummy of King Tutankhamon has been returned to its tomb in the Valley of Kings for all to see.
Egyptologists found a staggering amount of gold in the tomb of King Tut. Other better known kings would have buried even greater treasures. We are lucky that King Tut’s treasures survived to show us what was commonplace for all the tombs of the Valley of the Kings.
Valley of the Queens
After the Valley of the Kings, we also visited the Valley of the Queens, which is the site of the Temple of Hatshepsut. The Temple of Hatshepsut seems out of place. The structure looks like a modern 3 story stone building. I fully expected it to be a modern museum and not an Egyptian temple. In recent times, workers have restored much of the temple, which serves to create its modern appearance. The Temple of Hatshepsut in the Valley of Queens wasn’t worth the visit in my opinion. Afterward we returned to the Queen of Hansa and set sail for Edfu.
Valley of the Kings Slide Show
One Week in Egypt – Temple of Edfu
Our visit to Edfu was a blast, but that was mainly due to the carriage ride we took from the cruise ship to the ruins. Each carriage took two of us on an adventure through the tuk-tuks, carriages and vehicles in a maze of traffic with lots of honking and yelling. On the way to the ruins I turned down our drivers offer to take pictures and to let met drive. These are standard offers that increase the expected tip, but I waited until the return ride to let him extend his earnings.
The Temple of Edfu was quite pleasant, as the ruins offered shelter from the heat and interesting hieroglyphic wall carvings. The site also didn’t have as many tourists as we had encountered on previous days. On the way back to the ship, I decided it was time to let our driver earn a better tip. I took the reins and we took lots of pictures. When he discovered I was capable of driving, he let me continue through town and back to the cruise ship.
I did have one problem negotiating a traffic circle. My horse followed a left turning vehicle instead of continuing straight ahead. Then I over corrected to the right and the horse thought I wanted to do a 180. The driver straightened things out, but he clearly wondered what part of straight involved me making left and right turns.
When we arrived back at the ship, I gave the driver 4 times the suggested tip. I’d had so much fun on the carriage ride that the tip seemed still barely significant. What a fun day!
Carriage Ride in Edfu through wild traffic.
Our Nile River Cruise stopped at the Temple of Kom Ombo after sunset on the same day that we previously visited Edfu. Kom Ombo is just a few steps away from the cruise ship docks. The Kom Ombo Temple was small and well lighted, but there were lots of tourists from the many cruise ships continuously arriving.
The Temple of Kom Ombo offered a couple of unique experiences as part of yet another Egyptian temple visit. A nilometer has survived at Kom Ombo. Priests used the nilometer to measure the height of the Nile at the temple. They used the water level to assess taxes, since a higher water level meant a better prospect for successful crops. Embalmed crocodiles are another unique surprise at Kom Ombo. A small museum has preserved quite the collection of ancient Egyptian embalmed crocodiles. Very bizarre!
Kom Ombo Slide Show
One Week in Egypt – Abu Simbel
We left from Aswan before 6 am, but it still took more than 3 hours to reach Abu Simbel. At an Egyptian safety checkpoint, inspectors took almost an hour to allow all the tourist buses to continue their journey. I’d expected to see nothing but desert sands along the way, but that wasn’t the case. Power lines run alongside most of the route and the widening of the highway made for extensive views of construction camps and equipment. At the halfway point, a large agricultural area created by water from the Aswan High Dam appears. Despite the advantage of coffee, pastry and a washroom on our Gate1 Travel bus, we still ended up with more than 20 buses ahead of us when we reached Abu Simbel.
A huge international undertaking by UNESCO preserved the Great Temple and the Temple of Nefertari at Abu Simbel from the threat of flooding by the Aswan High Dam. Engineers directed the cutting of stones at Abu Simbel for transport to a higher location and reassembly. You can’t even tell that the temples were moved. An earthquake previously destroyed one of the Great Temple statues, but UNESCO decided to leave the statue as it appeared after the earthquake instead of restoring it to an earlier time.
Rameses II at Abu Simbel
Rameses II was the most vain of all the Egyptian Kings. Large statues and carvings of him appear all over Egypt. At the Abu Simbel Great Temple, all 4 gigantic statues are of Rameses II. Even the adjacent smaller Temple of Nefertari has only two statues of his Queen Nefertari wedged among 4 stone statues of Rameses II. Both temples have extensive interiors, but the lighting is very poor. You need to rely on phone pics to get a clear understanding of what you saw.
Abu Simbel was my ultimate goal of a trip to Egypt, but it didn’t meet my expectations. I much preferred the Valley of the Kings and Karnak.
One Week in Egypt – Philae Temple
The Philae Temple was our last attraction on our One Week in Egypt. The visit involved a very short bus ride over the Aswan dam and then a short boat ride to the island site of the temple. The relocation for the Philae Temple by UNESCO is equally as remarkable as the relocation of Abu Simbel. Lake Nasser had completely submerged the Philae Temple. Engineers built a coffer dam in order to pump the lake water out. Finally, masons cut the temple into pieces and reassembled in it current location above the lake level.
Philae Temple Slide Show
The Philae Temple is a pleasant location. The stone hieroglyphics are interesting because they show Roman, Greek and Christian influences. After our last temple visit, we flew back to Cairo. We enjoyed a wonderful meal as well as the spacious and fabulous decor of the Hilton Cairo Heliopolis. This hotel was an amazing way to spend our last night in Egypt.
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