Day 1: Arrival
We arrive at our hotel which is in Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, conveniently situated for the Pyramids.
Day 2: Giza
Early morning wake-up call, the first one of so many more to come! A small drive by coach to the Pyramids of Giza, their silhouettes looming on the horizon from afar:
The largest of the three, the Great Pyramid of Khufu, is the only survivor of the Seven Wonders of the World. It stands 137m/450ft high. Probably built around 2600 BCE, it comprises some 2.3 million blocks of sandstone. You can walk all around the Great Pyramid, in the sand, which I did. Some people prefer a camel ride. You can also go inside (steep, narrow tunnels lead to a funerary chamber).
The second one, the Pyramid of Khafre is smaller than the Great Pyramid, but resting on slightly higher ground, it appears taller.
The third one, the smallest pyramid, is called Menkaure.
The three pyramids, with the majestic Sphinx:
In Egyptian mythology, sphinxes were guardian deities. This sphinx (c. 2500 BCE) is 73m/240ft long and 20m/66ft high. It is made of limestone, thus prone to erosion. The nose is missing and has never been found. The beard is missing too, fragments of which are kept in the British Museum. I cannot help feeling a sense of reverential wonder in front of such an imposing monument.
Day 3: Cairo
First, the world-famous Egyptian Museum of Antiquities: we thought we would beat the crowds with an early morning arrival there—as if! Groups everywhere, a real lobster net. Still, well worth the visit.
The ground floor has been refurbished, and the first floor has a more traditional feel about it.
Ground floor: a selection of what drew my attention:
I like this representation of the ancestor of our backpack!
First floor: in old-fashioned cases, rows and rows of coffins and “mummified remains” though the Museum in Cairo still calls them mummies. So do our accompanying guide.
And then a separate room the magnificent golden mask of Tutankhamun is displayed, along with many artifacts from his tomb. No photos allowed.
The afternoon of day 3 is spent going to the Citadel:
The centerpiece of the Citadel is the beautiful Muhammad Ali Mosque, built 1824-1857, the largest mosque in the city. Muhammad Ali was the ruler of Egypt at the beginning of the 19th century, and is considered the founder of modern Egypt.
To wrap up the day, a tour of the atmospheric Khan al-Khalili bazaar. Be prepared to haggle!
Day 4: Alexandria
Early morning departure today for Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great on the Mediterranean coast in 322 BCE. It is situated 220 km / 137 miles north of Cairo.
There we visit first the Roman theater and the remains of the Villa of the Birds:
On to the magnificent ultra-modern Biblioteca Alexandrina, which opened in 2002. The ancient library of Alexandria with its wealth of manuscripts, founded at the time of Alexander the Great, had been damaged by several fires and was eventually destroyed in 640 CE. The new library is an immense open-shelf public library, with plenty of study areas.
And then the harbor where the entrance was once protected by the Pharos Lighthouse (built in 279 CE), one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It disappeared in a tsunami in 365 CE.
Day 5: The Nile
Leaving Cairo on a domestic flight to Luxor. About 96% of Egypt land is desert, but along the Nile, the plain is very fertile and lush.
Our ship, MS Nile Plaza, has 55 cabins, is well-appointed, and has character and style. The rest of the day is spent settling down on the ship and enjoying a magnificent sunset on the Nile.
Day 6: Karnak and Luxor
Today we visit 2 temples.
First the temple of Karnak (c. 2134 BCE). It is a massive temple complex, with soaring columns and obelisks, quite breathtaking with its avenue of ram-headed sphinxes:
Then the temple of Luxor (c.1350 BCE), with its single obelisk — the other one was gifted to France in 1831 and stands now on Place de la Concorde in Paris — and its wealth of columns covered in hieroglyphs:
Day 7: Along the Nile
Today we sail south towards Aswan. Complete relaxation on the sundeck, gliding down the Nile, utter bliss!
Day 8: Aswan
We are now moored in Aswan. A real treat awaits us: the Temple of Philae, which will prove to be my favorite of all temples. The creation of Lake Nasser following the controversial building of the Aswan High Dam (completed in 1970) meant that several monuments were going to be submerged. The Isis Temple of Philae was therefore removed stone by stone and recreated on an island 3 miles south of Aswan. The work was partly financed by UNESCO. The only access to the temple is thus by boat.
The temple was built in the 4th century BCE to honor the goddess Isis and her son Horus. Isis, on the left, is the goddess of fertility, represented wearing a crown of cow horns. She is the sister-wife of the god Osiris (god of the underworld and of resurrection). Hmm…sister-wife, sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it, with our Zeus and Hera. I wonder if those two Egyptian gods bickered just as much as our Zeus of the flashing lightning and his queenly sister-wife Hera in the Iliad.
To the right is represented the son of Isis and Osiris, Horus, the falcon-headed sun god and King of the Earth.
Horus is my favorite personage in the Pantheon of Egyptian gods. I like his imposing and stern composure.
The Romans continued the cult of Isis at Philae, with the kiosk of Emperor Trajan (98–117 BCE), close to the water:
Return to the shore by boat, then a brief visit to the Aswan High Dam, with views over Lake Nasser:
And now the imposing Nubia Museum, opened in 1997. The region south of Aswan down to the border with Sudan is called Nubia. The Nubians have a separate cultural identity of which they are quite proud.
After such a busy morning, we have a Felucca ride programmed for the afternoon, to our delight.
Day 9: Abu Simbel
Departure at 4 am this morning! To Abu Simbel, right down in the south, practically on the border with Sudan. It takes just under 4 hours on the coach through desert landscape.
We get there a bit before 8am. Other groups have had the same idea obviously! But the area is vast, and does not feel too crowded. Abu Simbel is the jewel in the crown, consisting of two temples: the Temple of Ramesses II and a smaller one, the Temple of Queen Nefertari, his consort. The Pharaoh had them built in the 13th century BCE. These temples were first hewn into the cliffs of the Nile Valley, but as with Philae, they were threatened with submersion following the construction of the dam and the creation of Lake Nasser. So the temples were removed to a safer setting and an artificial cliffside was created on higher ground.
*The temple of Ramesses II:
Ramesses II making offerings to the gods:
A beautiful carving of Horus:
The Temple of Nefertari:
Nefertari is holding the ankh (= the key of life, representative of eternal life in Ancient Egypt):
Back to our ship in Aswan after another 4 hours’ drive. But the wonderful temple complex of Abu Simbel had really been worth it.
Time for a rest, as tonight there is another treat in store for us: we are going back to the Temple of Philae but this time for a sound and light show. I am going to see my beloved god Horus again!
Crossing the water in the dark, and landing on the island all lit up is enchanting. It is also a very warm, balmy evening. No comparison with the chilly mornings and evenings we had in Cairo. Aswan is after all about 850 km / 528 miles south of Cairo.
Day 10: Kom Ombo and Edfu
This morning we are sailing back up north towards Kom Ombo. We visit the temple there:
…and the adjacent crocodile museum. The Egyptians revered crocodiles, and mummified them. Before the construction of the Aswan dam, thousands of crocodiles lived in the Nile. Now they can only be found in Lake Nasser.
Back to the ship, for more sailing back up north to Edfu. This afternoon, we visit the Temple of Edfu, a very large temple and one of the best preserved. As we arrive, we witness a sandstorm, but it will soon die down.
The temple is dedicated to Horus, and a granite statue representing him as a falcon guards the temple entrance. He looks so severe, taking his function seriously!
Beautiful columns, cartouches, hieroglyphs everywhere:
We return back to the ship, for more sailing up north, as far as Luxor.
Day 11: Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens
Today is our last day in Egypt and we have a full program again! From Luxor where we are now moored, we are heading to the West Bank of the Nile to see the tombs of the Pharaohs.
First the Valley of the Kings. The tomb of Tutankhamun (discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter). I had left Tut behind, or rather his golden mask, at the museum in Cairo, and there he was, in front of me, so close. What an emotion. His head and feet look charred because, according to our guide, they had problems removing the golden mask and toe-caps which adhered to the skin. The skin was thus torn off. After so many years he is still recognizable as a very young man (18 years of age).
His tomb is actually quite small and sparsely decorated compared to other tombs:
The tomb of Ramesses IX; some of the tombs can be very deep:
The tomb of Ramesses I:
The tomb of Ramesses III, my favorite one; it is vast and has beautiful frescoes:
There are other tombs but those four were recommended by our guide.
On to the Valley of the Queens, with the tomb of Queen Titi. Titi or Tyti was an ancient Egyptian queen, wife and sister of Ramesses III.
It contains beautiful frescoes:
Day 12: Departure
Leaving for Luxor Airport for our flight back to Heathrow. My last photo: Dawn in Luxor, with sadness in my heart.
Over the many days of our trip, I have come to appreciate not only the country but also its people. The Egyptians are kind, hospitable, cheerful, with a good sense of humor. Once, getting off the coach in baking sunshine, we were greeted by the locals with a “Welcome to Alaska”! And they are good at languages.
The splendors of their pharaonic past must not make us forget those who experienced difficulties and poverty both in their past and present. I wonder what Horus would make of us today. Probably add another frown to his brow, guarding fiercely the entrance to his fascinating country.
All information regarding the sites and temples was gathered thanks to the explanations of our accompanying guide and the information panels in situ.
All photographs were taken by the author.
Claudie Cox is a member of Kosmos Society