A First Time Visit to Egypt

A First Time Visit to Egypt

I was lucky enough to take my mum with me on a recent work trip to Egypt. She had never been to Egypt before and here is what she had to say:

“I must admit that, after all I had heard and read in the media about Egypt, I was quite apprehensive leading up to our trip.  However, all concerns quickly disappeared, and I couldn’t have felt safer.  We were always accompanied by a guide or rep, transported everywhere and, at whichever temple or monument we visited, security was uppermost.

The Oberoi Philae is a luxurious cruiser, with about 27 cabins, so not too big that you feel anonymous and, from the moment we stepped on board, we were so well looked after and made to feel welcome by the staff and crew. The cabins were all you could wish for, the food was delicious and in abundance, facilities on board were great and nothing was too much trouble. We often dined on the top deck for lunch – I never imagined sitting having a 3-course lunch or lazing by or in the pool, whilst watching the banks of the Nile pass by on either side!

We were taken on excursions each day, always by boat, bus or carriage to all the significant temples and sights along the route. We had our own guide for the week, who had a wealth of knowledge about everything Egyptian past and present. It was a history lesson every day! The guide also knew exactly the best times for visiting the various sites to avoid crowds of tourists and high temperatures. We visited the Valley of the Kings very early in the morning and, as a result, we were often on our own, with just a guide, in the tombs. A vivid memory is of us driving towards the Valley of the Kings, as the sun was rising, and watching the hot air balloons, in the distance, flying over the valley. During our cruise, we visited the temples of Luxor, Karnak, Edfu, Komombo and Philae and then the Aswan Dam and each site had their own story to tell. Our last port of call was Aswan. We were sad to leave the Oberoi and the crew, who had looked after us so well and made us feel part of a family.

We then flew to visit the temples of Abu Simbel and words cannot describe how incredible they are. It is a visit not to be missed. Our final part of the trip took us to Cairo, where, again, we had our own very knowledgeable guide, who accompanied us throughout. We stayed at the incredible Mena House Hotel and from our balcony we could see the Pyramids of Giza. Whilst in Cairo, we went to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and even climbed down into the depths of the Pyramid of Dashur (an experience I will never forget!!). We also experienced the hustle and bustle of the market in Cairo.

The whole holiday to Egypt was a trip of a lifetime and one which I will never forget, and, thanks to Steppes, there were no worries at all”

 

For more information on a holiday to Egypt, speak to our travel experts Katie or Amy:

01285 880980

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Egypt | Client Reviews

Egypt – Luxor, Aswan and Cairo
Debbie House, April 2012

It was a holiday without any worries. You knew someone was always on hand who wanted to help. The ‘package holiday’ industry should take note of the service Steppes provide.
What made you decide to book your holiday with us? Friendliness of consultant, knowledge of the consultants, no sales pressure and you always felt like an individual.


Egypt, Birthday travels
Sean Farmer & William Mason, June 2011

We had a fantastic trip to Cairo, Alexandria and Hurghada. Everything went very smoothly, and the assistance of Ahmed, the quality of the guides, Dhalia and Mayada was excellent, not forgetting our driver Hossan who maintained a cool composure whilst driving through the centre of Cairo – an experience in itself!

We were very fortunate to see so many sites with so few people, we were the only people in the Great Pyramid and the solar boat museum, had the Tutankhamun treasure room to ourselves and were the only people at Dahshur, a unique opportunity for us, but hopefully things will recover for the people in Egypt in the not to distant future.

Many thanks for an excellent itinerary, Kate, we certainly made the most of it, also thanks for the organisation, everything ran exceptionally smoothly, we felt incredibly well looked after and very spoilt!

Please pass on our huge thanks to your Egypt team for making it a once in a lifetime experience!

We look forward to travelling with Steppes Travel again in the near future.


Egypt, post revolution
Alun Moreton & Sherry Holbrook, April 2011

We are now back after an excellent time away. Reality bites! Thanks very much for setting everything up for us – it was all really excellent. Thought we would drop you a few lines about how we found it.

We were a little apprehensive about what we would find post revolution but without a doubt it was the best time to go. Tourism may be down as far as 95% so we had the luxury of actually being the only people at a few sites and others, often down to good timing on the guides part, had a hand full of people (until a cruise ship bus tour arrived, and it was usually just the one when we were leaving).  I’m sure seeing Tutankahmun’s area in the Egyptian museum with just a few other people is a rarity!

There was no tension anywhere we went, even Tahrir Square, and no obvious upped security other than an inconspicuous large army presence hidden away at the Square. The general mood is one of calm (maybe post Mubarak and revolution relief) plus excitement and trepidation over the coming elections. There also seems to be a change in attitude to tourism. We didn’t really feel hassled anywhere. It seems that with the revolution they are taking the time to reconsider how they interact with tourists and to be more relaxed and less pushy – in one place our guide showed us they were actually setting this out in a written ‘manifesto’.

The Oberoi Mena house in Cairo was excellent. Perfect room in terms of pyramids view. You were right it not being necessary to be in the old part. Great pool, excellent food (and G&Ts!).

Guides – Hany in Cairo was great. Talented chap who was good at forming a narrative. He took the time to take us to a great tea shop and buy us falafel in the bazaar which was really appreciated. Also very flexible as to what we fancied doing on the day. In Awsan we had a female guide called Hemat and she was fantastic. It was very interesting to see the difference between a male and female guide.

Nile Cruise – The Steam Ship Sudan was amazing. Just amazing. So glad we did this. Everything wonderful. We were very sad to say goodbye, as were all our fellow passengers. Bedroom amazing. Decks and terraces amazing. Sound of the paddles and movement of the boat charming and romantic. Service 5*.
So sad to disembark!

Aswan – The Movenpick, was obviously less characteful (but we had been spoiled). Generally the setting and Aswan itself with the bazaar were just great, and a really nice, charming way to end the trip.

All in all, an inspirational and memorable holiday.
Thanks again for all your work on it!


Egyptian Driving
Dr David Bradley, December 2010

Lanes have no meaning. In towns, just squeeze in anywhere and elsewhere, drive along the dotted line as this shows you where you are going.

The horn is to project your personality and there is a whole series of different ways of using it from the gentle ‘pip’ to the angry ‘paaaarp’.
Try to avoid being overtaken at all costs, and if overtaken, try to overtake back as soon as possible. If there is a gap, head for it. Headlights are not to illuminate your way, they are for flashing at other drivers. If you have to turn them on because it is completely dark, you are deprived of the ability to flash them, so avoid turning them on if at all possible. Traffic lights are to be ignored. Other drivers are in competition with you for the same bit of road, so compete back. If all else fails, you have a range of gestures at your command.

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Where’s the beach?

“Where’s the beach?” asked my three year old son as soon as we had arrived in Cairo. I ignored his lack of cultural curiosity and did not reply. After days of the question being repeated and days of it going unanswered, he decided to change tack, “Daddy, no more looking at things.” In spite of this we had the most wonderful family holiday in Egypt.

Why? In short, because it had something for everyone. We did not try to do much, we did not overload the sightseeing, we did not have to use the ‘ice cream’ bribe to keep flagging spirits going. We certainly got lots out of the adage ‘less is more’. In the mornings we would do a little sightseeing, in the afternoons we would invariably be by the poolside.

In Cairo we stayed at the wonderful Oberoi Mena House located right by the pyramids – with children location is all important – which meant that there was no wasted journey stuck in Cairo’s crippling congestion.
Aki, our guide, was the consummate professional. Rather than reeling off facts and figures he pitched everything to the children’s level and held their attention throughout. Rather than appreciating the pyramids for what they are, we began to see them for what they were, namely a timeless memorial not just for us but for the ancient Egyptians. In the reign of Tutankhamun the pyramids had already existed for a thousand years and were a source of pilgrimage. With understated aplomb he made us fully appreciate that the Nile used to flood to the very foot of the pyramids – graphically illustrated by photos we saw later that afternoon in the Mena House.

Aki fielded questions about what the ancient Egyptians ate, he answered questions about why the little boy looking after the camels was not at school. For me, one of the joys of travel is understanding – understanding, appreciating and embracing the variety of our world – and I was very interested to see Isabel, my elder daughter, begin to take stock of the fact that life for many in Cairo is very hard. But it was not all about trying to teach them something about the world around them and I was amused to see my children swapping jokes with Aki, arguably one of Egypt’s most accomplished of guides. Aki was patient, he was accommodating, he made it interesting and thus made our stay in Cairo.

Flying into Luxor, we saw the stark truth of the aphorism that ‘Egypt is the gift of the Nile’.  From above it is all too clear that the Nile, albeit a shadow of its former self given the shackles of dams upriver, is the lifeblood of the country. Either side of its silvery path that its snakes through the desert is a verdant tapestry of fields and crops (cruelly being constrained by the ever encroaching flood of populace and in its wake construction).

The cartouches of Karnak and the hieroglyphs in the tombs of the Valley of the Kings thrilled both of my girls who had been studying Ancient Egypt in school. In the afternoons we would retreat to the idyll of the Hilton Luxor. Excellent value for money, the staff were brilliant – very friendly and always at hand to be of service – and the pool provided not only hours of fun but a chance to relax as we looked out over the Nile.

The Red Sea and in particular Hurghada was our final stop. The boom in hotels had transformed the once quiet fishing village I had first visited some twenty years ago but thankfully we were able to find tranquillity in the sanctuary of Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh. It was wonderful end to what had been an amazing family holiday.

On the flight home, I asked my girls what they thought was the best bit of their holiday, fearing that they might say “the chips” but thinking it would be “the swimming pools”. I was pleasantly surprised when they replied “the pyramids” and “Luxor museum”. There is hope for them culturally even if not for my son.

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Winter Sun in Egypt

Less than four and a half hours took me from London Heathrow over the snowy Alps of Europe to land in the delicious warmth of Cairo and my luxury hotel for the next three nights, the Mena House Oberoi. A short transfer later and I had shed my coat – and thoughts of winter – in the balmy evening air of Cairo.

Drawing back the curtains the following morning I was rewarded with my first stunning views of the world famous pyramids. More treats were to follow at Giza and the lesser known sites of Sakkara and Dahshour. I had expected to be amazed by these wondrous pyramids, but nothing can prepare you for the sheer size, scale and construction – let alone their ancient history. My incredibly knowledgeable guide Omar brought tales of the past to life so vividly – and history buzzing back to life!

With totally clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid 20′s I am wishing I had brought more summer clothes – what bliss!

After an early start this morning I took the short flight from Cairo arriving just under an hour later in Hurghada – and the Red Sea! The nearby Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh is a “suite” only hotel, with immaculate service and wonderfully luxurious surroundings. I may not have time to swim or snorkel, but at least I have pool very nearby!

After an absolutely delicious dinner cooked by their resident Indian chef, it was time to leave just before dawn the following morning after an all too brief stay at the Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh. Looking back towards the Red Sea as the sun rose, the colours were just spectacular – truly magical. We began our drive through the Desert Mountains towards Luxor.

Some four hours later we reached Luxor – and the hustle and bustle of donkeys pulling carts laden with fresh fruit and vegetables, bikes,
motorbikes and vehicles of every description laden with people – so full you could not count – and vendors selling anything you could want from the side of the road – or even on the road! Delightful chaos and quite a change from the peace and tranquillity of Hurghada! You need sharp eyes not to run something – or someone – over. Luxor and Aswan being the two main departure points for Nile cruises, this was my chance to visit as many different vessels as I could before joining a cruise myself, and it was fascinating!

Now on board the Sanctuary MS Nile Adventurer I am making new friends and getting used to this amazing adventure!

A Nile cruiser. What a fantastic experience! The vessel is furnished and equipped to the highest possible standard with immaculate service from friendly and attentive staff – who seem to know what you want before you do! How do they manage this I wonder?

We have also been sightseeing at Karnak and Luxor Temple with our own Egyptologist, whose incredibly knowledge has made these historic visits fascinating – and brought Egyptian history to life again.

On board the M/S Nile Adventurer the day is divided between sightseeing, enjoying the sun deck and pool and absorbing the scenery whilst we cruise gently past.

We start the day with an incredible breakfast buffet with fresh fruits of every description beautifully peeled and chopped, a wide variety of breads and rolls freshly made for us, as well as yoghurts, me usli, porridge and a selection of hot dishes such as eggs, bacon and sausages. Coffee’s, tea’s and freshly squeezed fruit juices are also there to awaken the taste buds – as are a selection of cheeses for anyone still hungry!

The sun deck is also a constantly changing and delightful source of colour and amusement as we watch local life unfold on the banks of the Nile. It pays to have your camera ready at all times!

Sometimes transport is arranged to take us all to major sites such as the Valley of the Kings – sometimes it is possible to walk to sites such as we did to Esna Temple earlier today. Either way meeting local people and also hawkers, desperate to get your attention and sell you something is inevitable. If taken in good part they will probably make you smile. Yesterday I met “Bob Marley”. In fact “Mohamed Ali” was also there! A few of us bought “bargains” and were delighted; others in the group were not interested. Insha Allah.

Today is another absolutely perfect day with the temperature about 26 degrees – which means we will be having a barbeque lunch on deck whilst cruising on to Edfu. There we will explore the largest and most completely preserved temple – the extraordinary Temple of Horus.

Back on board there will be another fabulous gourmet dinner this evening, followed by dancing. Tomorrow we continue our journey south towards Aswan.

“Oh, to be in England…………………” I think not.

For more information about Belinda’s trip to Egypt or for further advice about planning a holiday to Egypt, please call 01285 880 980.

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Cruising the Nile

I love Egypt and I have to say, this came as a wonderful surprise to me as I had prepared myself to dislike various aspects of the country yet I now often find myself struggling to narrow down my highlights!

It is normal to hear many reports of the constant hassles and crowds and yes, there is no doubt that both of these exist in abundance but I guess that is inevitable in a country so rich in history yet with so many of its people so poor. This said neither of the above can diminish the amazing sites and temples and there are many ways to get away from the crowds.

Cruising down the Nile as Agatha Christie once did is on most peoples list of ‘things to do’ & I have to say that this is a wonderful way to experience this beautiful river and the amazing history that lies on her shores. The river is calmer and more beautiful than I expected and watching Nile life drift by with the people of the countryside fishing at dawn, kids & families playing and cooling off in the shallows and the wonderful variety of birdlife it really is extremely relaxing. This coupled with the excellent food and wonderful service of the staff onboard the Oberoi Philae, on which I sailed, makes for a special experience.

In stark contrast to the well trodden route of the Nile & her sites, I also embarked on a long but worthwhile journey into the western desert and the oasis of Siwa. Just 65km’s from the border with Libya, Siwa is located on the edge of the sea of sand, a barren but extremely beautiful land which forms a natural barrier between Egypt & Libya & stretches some 600km’s from north to south. Siwa oasis itself is charming and is made up of palm lined, dusty streets where the main mode of transport is the donkey, salt lakes reflecting the surrounding mountains & over 280 thermal springs where the local boys & men bathe daily.

The people of this area are gentle and friendly and still abide by many ancient traditions as well as speaking their own language, derived from the Berber people. I enjoyed a wonderful evening by one of the many salt lakes with the great sand sea in the background, watching the sunset as flamingos flew low across the lake and we broke the fast (it was the month of Ramadan) with a Bedouin tea and dates picked freshly from the trees we were sitting under.

The accommodation here offers an Eco experience with buildings made from local materials, decorated with handmade artifacts from local craftsmen and often lit only by candles. One of my favourite meals of the trip (for all of £3) was enjoyed on the candle-lit roof terrace of the Shali Lodge with the evenings call to prayer resounding all around me, interspersed with the occasional bray of a donkey!

I left Siwa wishing I had longer to spend there and planning a return visit with time to camp out in the desert, swim in a desert lake, visit an almost unvisited village nearby and many other things…..From Siwa I embarked on a 7 hour journey across the desert to another Oasis – Bahariya………

I could go on as I have not mentioned my night of luxury on the red sea at the Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh or the picturesque city of Aswan but what I can say is that Egypt is a fascinating country with an absolutely incredible history that really needs to be seen to be believed. There are not many countries where one can enjoy such rich culture & history plus beautiful scenery, wonderful diving and wintersun all in one holiday!