Down the Nile in Style!
There's hardly a corner of the world that Atlas Travel International vacation specialist Susan Johansen has not visited. The Galapagos was a favorite, as were Viet Nam and China, and then there was cruising throughout Europe, South America, Asia, the Caribbean and South Pacific. Her most recent adventure, however, transported Susan and her husband to Egypt with Abercrombie & Kent.
“This is one of the most extraordinary trips I've ever taken,” said Susan. “We spent seven days there and it just wasn't enough time. The hotels were magnificent, the river cruise was relaxing and opulent, and the history and relics were beyond your wildest dreams.”
First stop: Cairo
After flying into Cairo, Susan's party enjoyed three nights at the Four Seasons at The First Residence hotel, where she glimpsed her first Hookah Bar on the roof of the hotel, adding an authentic Arabian touch to the setting. The Four Seasons at The First Residence sits on the Giza side of the Nile with the majestic pyramids sprawling in the distance and amazing views out of every window. True to its name, the hotel is in a residential district, away from the exhausting thick of bustling Cairo.
The next morning, they met their Egyptologist (Zeinab) who would prove to be an elegant and knowledgeable guide to all the culture they were to experience. The first stop was the world-famous Egyptian Museum of Antiquities. The Museum's remarkable collection (including the famous treasures of Tutankhamen and the Mummy Room) is an excellent introduction to Egypt.
“The one thing that was both jarring and reassuring was the presence of tourist police everywhere we went,” Susan shared. “They wear white, carry guns and provide security for both travelers and the Egyptian sites. We were there right before President Obama, so there was a real energy about the city and locals were always asking us if we liked Obama.”
According to Susan, visits to mosques and bazaars were frequent and provided a true feeling of the culture. Another highlight was a day in the city of Memphis, the capital of the old kingdom and one of ancient Egypt's most important cities. Its splendor has been destroyed, but the Alabaster Sphinx built in the 18th Dynasty still remains, as does a beautifully carved statue of Ramses II. In nearby Sakkara, the vast necropolis of Memphis, the group enjoyed touring 14 surviving pyramids including the ancient Step Pyramid of Zoser I, built in 2686 BC: the world's oldest stone structure.
“It was incredible to see the discoveries from inside the pyramids,” said Susan. “We visited the Solar Boat Museum, which contains Cheops' 142-foot-long funerary boat, a full-size vessel that was buried with him to carry him to the next world.”
A flight south took them to Aswan, long a trade center and gateway to the south, which offered an intriguing blend of African and Oriental influences. Then a second flight took them to the site of the magnificent temple of Ramses II.
Susan enthusiastically remembers this leg of trip, “The face of the great temple is dominated by four enormous statues of the Pharaoh Ramses II, each over 60 feet high. It is so impressive to begin with and then even more so when you learn that it was raised up the hillside when threatened by floodwaters from Lake Nasser and the High Dam project. This was only one of the great temples we visited and one was more awe-inspiring than the next.”
All this and a cruise too!
After returning to Aswan, Susan's party boarded the ‘Sun Boat IV', a luxurious “Nile yacht” and home for the next three nights.
“I've been on river cruises before,” said Susan, “but this was really different. To go up the Nile on this boat and see pyramids, temples, local villages…it was truly surreal. We stopped and took wonderful sightseeing tours and then on board we enjoyed cooking classes with a local chef, a gracious array of white sofas for lounging on the deck and a dining area canopied in Arabian fabrics. If you've taken a river cruise before, you can't imagine how different this feels.”
Aboard the Sun Boat IV, one evening is Egyptian Night and guests have the chance to dress up in traditional Egyptian “galabeyyas.” Dinner that night was a lavish buffet of Egyptian specialties, followed by Arabic music and dancing for everyone.
The following morning, the party enjoyed docking in Luxor, known to the ancient Egyptians as “Thebes.” Once there, they toured the West Bank - the Necropolis of Thebes - the burial ground of the Great Pharaohs of the New Kingdom. They visited the Valley of the Kings & Queens, where so far 64 tombs have been discovered, including the Tomb of the famous “Boy King” Tutankhamen and the temple of Egypt's first female pharaoh.
“The enormity of the structures really overwhelms you,” said Susan. “The Great Hypostyle Hall at the Karnak Temple, which was the seat of Amun, the Imperial God, covers 50,000 square feet, larger than the whole of Notre Dame Cathedral. There are 134 great columns that support one roof. You wonder how this could have been engineered and constructed in the 12th century B.C.”
Once the cruise came to a close, the group returned to Cairo for their final day, where they visited the Coptic Museum, housing many fine examples of pagan and Christian art. The final night was spent at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza, even more beautiful that The First Residence that began their trip.
“It was so interesting to see ancient synagogues, churches, mosques…all with such beautiful artwork, gold, and carvings,” said Susan. “The cartouche inside the pyramids with their hieroglyphics, the “Hanging Church,” where it is said that Jesus, Joseph and Mary sought refuge when they fled Palestine, the temples that seem impossible to construct. This was definitely one of the most wonderful trips I've ever taken and I would love to help others plan their adventure to Egypt. I highly recommend it!”
If you have questions about river cruising or about other travel topics, please contact me at:
781-879-1856 fax 781-879-1876