My trip to Egypt was the most awesome travel experience of my life. I’ll include more pictures in reply to my own post. The Cairo Marriott & Omar Khayyam was amazing, starting even before my trip when the Guest Relations Manager helped me arrange a flight tour to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings and Queens. The hotel is attached to a beautiful former palace and has numerous restaurants that cater to every taste. The palace itself was designed for Napoleon and his third wife Eugénie, whose portraits adorn the Saraya Gallery Restaurant. The food was amazing and the service excellent. But even better was the Ristorante Tuscany. In freshness and perfection, it rivaled the best restaurants I have eaten at in Italy.
But it was the trip itself that was so special. I studied ancient Egypt and Egyptology in college and am currently writing a book chapter about it. But as I soon learned, no book can possibly prepare you for the experience of Egypt.
The first day I took a private tour with Emo Tours, which had rave reviews on Tripadvisor, of Sakkara, Memphis, the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx (which they deserve). My only problem with the Marriott occurred here. Some of the people at the concierge desk are extraordinarily helpful; others are not. There are two lobby levels at the Cairo Marriott, and at the appointed time I could not find my guide and was running up and down. Since the elevators are far from the lobby, this wasn’t easy and neither the lower or upper level lobby concierge would help me when they found out it was not a Marriott-arranged tour. Fortunately, at the upper lobby I heard a woman saying my name into a house phone and found my guide.
The guide and my driver were delightful. We started at Sakkara, the necropolis of ancient Memphis. The highlight was one of the first great step pyramids, that of Djoser of the Third Dynasty. Pretty much the first stop of the first day blew me away – if you have seen pictures in books, the things you experience and see in Egypt will astound you – they’re just so much more impressive in person, which isn’t always the case. We went on to Memphis, the capital of Egypt in the Old Kingdom, founded in 3000 B.C. by Menes, who was the first pharaoh to unite Lower and Upper Egypt. There you will see colossal statues of the pharaohs.
My guide and I ate lunch at a local restaurant. The food was fantastic, with four different kinds of dipping appetizers and roast chicken. After lunch, we went to Giza, to the famous pyramids. They were stunning, but unfortunately tomb robbers have removed almost everything inside. Finally, the day ended with the Sphinx.
The next morning was my planned flight to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, so I had to get up at 4:30am. This was an American Express private tour set up by the hotel, which cost me all of $414 for hotel/airport transfers, flight, pickup and dropoff in Luxor, lunch, and what is considered an overday tour (more than 8 hours long).
If you go to Egypt and don’t go to Luxor and the Valley, you have missed the best. I wish Marriott had a hotel there, because there was so much to see and do. The guide, an Egyptologist, explained that the city east of the Nile was the city of the living, because during most of its history Egypt believed in the sun god, Amun Re, who went to sleep every night in the West. Hence, the area west of the Nile became the necropolis. We started at the Colossi of Memnon, 3400 years old. This area was the ancient city of Thebes, and the colossi were believed to have an association with the Trojan War. (The dog in the picture is not dead, just sleeping.) Strangely, it was a glorious day – a cool wind was blowing and it was about 65, whereas everyone had told me Luxor would be hot even in December.
We then went to the Valley of the Kings and Queens, which contains 62 pharaohs’ tombs -- the most unforgettable part of my trip. While tomb robbers stole the gold and any precious artifacts, they weren’t interested in the incredible wall paintings and hieroglyphs done in onyxite paint. Photography is absolutely forbidden, so I can’t include some of the best of what I saw. Nothing prepared me for the beauty. To say I was blown away doesn’t come close. We visited three tombs, those of Rameses III, IV and IX (I encourage all interested to do a google image search). That’s when I wished I was staying in Luxor rather than Cairo.
From there we went to Hatshepsut’s Tomb (from the 15th C. B.C.). She was considered the most successful female pharaoh, who ruled for 22 years, partially as a co-regent, but with the real power. Her successor, Thutmose III, who some said was the rightful pharaoh, was off at war during much of her reign. After her death he systematically scratched out all images of her. The pavilion includes beautiful wall paintings (minus H.) Lunch was a glorious buffet at the Sonesta hotel.
Our final stops of the day were at Luxor Temple, which was exactly 180 degrees from Hatshepsut’s tomb (she designed it that way) and Karnak Temple (though by then I was almost ready to drop dead even though I was on the living side of the Nile). Finally, my guide left me off at the Sonesta, where I sat in the bar overlooking the Nile drinking wine and watching sailboats and tour boats. It turned out as I watched photographers and large numbers of beautifully dressed women enter the hotel a bit later that the first lady, Mrs. Mubarak (who I glimpsed) was holding a conference on human trafficking that was meeting at the hotel.
The last two days in Cairo I was planning to visit Old Cairo, Islamic Cairo and Coptic Cairo, but was done in. Plus the weather had turned cold along with a sandstorm. Fortunately, the hotel itself was worth a good exploration.
One thing to mention. You will always hear that in Egypt everyone expects baksheesh (tips) for even the smallest thing (average annual Egyptian income is $1900). I knew this in advance and I’m a very good tipper, so I had no problems. Plus the first day, with a female tour guide, she brushed everyone off (my male guide the day in Luxor told me that’s an advantage for women guides since anyone who touched them could end up in jail for six months). I had also learned two Arabic words (more was really difficult), transliterated as shukran (thank you) and salaam (hello and goodbye). Whenever I used the words, people’s faces lit up. The most memorable was a very poor old woman in a ladies’ room who gave me paper towels. I said shukran, salaam, and she gave me one of the most beatific smiles I have ever seen.
I will go back to Egypt in a minute given the opportunity. It was the most spectacular experience of my travelling life. It is also daunting, because when your tour guides drive through the back streets of Cairo or even Luxor, you will see extreme poverty, with mules pulling goods through the streets and people barely subsisting. I won’t go into the traffic around Cairo, except to say that without any noticeable stoplights anywhere, about 6 lanes of cars jam into 3-4 lanes. Don’t drive!
Thank-you for sharing this most interesting experience. I was watching a show on Travel Channel this week that mirrored your trip. While I have never had a desire to go to Egypt, your report has given me a reason to consider going.
Professor, the details of this trip and others are really invaluable for travelers. Please keep sharing these with all of us!
Go, go, go! Now that I'm on to 'Bucket Lists' and now that my arthritis is reaching critical mass, I realize more than ever that I must do the things I've always wanted to do. I know I'll still be able to do the short, easy trips to France and Italy, but these long trips are more taxing. But for me to have studied, taught and even written about Egypt, Greece, and Turkey, it seemed to me that I needed to see at least a small glimpse of each. There are more such places I need to see, but it's a good start.
For anyone who is waiting, use your points, use your miles. I consider myself an optimistic fatalist, so I needed to see these places. Although in Turkey I think I saw most of what I wanted (a great trip), there is still much more in Greece and especially Egypt. And if Marriott doesn't put a hotel in Luxor, I'll book at the Sonesta next time.
I feel I owe it not only to myself -- I worked hard to get where I am -- but to my students. Until you've been to a place, you can't ever communicate the same passion as you've felt once you have been.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. The pictures are incredible. I am so glad you've shared so many of your travel stories and started your bucket list. Mine has been growing for several years. I retire at the end of this school year (after 39 years) and I'm having trouble deciding which trip to put at the top of my bucket list. I haven't had the opportunity to travel much for my job; however, we've made the most of school holidays. I encourage all of my colleagues who are around my age to do the same.
What an Incredible Trip--It was as if I was reading an article in National Geographic! Excellent descriptions and photos too.
Plus, now we are Green, really Green with Envy! Egypt is now officially on our bucket list. Thanks for sharing--you have my vote for the contest too.