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Posts Tagged ‘Cairo’

Luxor in my opinion is by far the most breathtaking city in Egypt. This is an overnight trip from Cairo that we decided to make in first-class seater train (80 LE per ticket). A word of caution here – you would do well to book your tickets well in advance. We didn’t get return tickets and if it hadn’t been for our local guide pulling some strings we would have been stuck in Luxor the entire week!

 

Our first class cabin was anything but first class. It consisted of a closed area where the back-rests refused to recline. Instead, we discovered, quite by accident that we had to pull the seats in front – creating a rather uncomfortable semi-recliner. Worse still, our ten hour train journey was delayed by an additional 4 hours so by the time we reached we were grumpy, stiff and had lost at least 3 precious hours of the one day we were spending there!

 

However, one good thing we had done was fix our guide and car beforehand, so we did not end up wasting precious minutes trying to find or way around. Our hostel in Cairo had arranged to have someone meet us at the station and Friday (yes that was his name) whisked us off to this posh hotel where we freshened up before he handed us over to our guide* for the day – this really chic Egyptian dame called Marwa.

 

*Egypt trivia # 1: Did you know that you have to study for four years to become a certified guide in Egypt?! Phew! Now that’s a labour of love!

 

For those of you doing the short ‘n’ sweet round of Luxor – these four places are a must!

 

The Valley of the Kings was our first stop. Set in the middle of these huge rocky cliffs, it looks straight out of a set for McKenna’s Gold. Here you can find 62 underground tombs for the Pharaohs – all of them empty except for that of Tutankhamen’s which still holds his mummy. Only 11-12 tombs are open to the tourists and you can buy tickets depending on the number of tombs you want to visit. We paid 60 LE each for a three tomb package (Tut’s costs an extra 100 LE! Sob! Sob!) and visited the tombs or Ramses I, II and IV. The tombs are pretty similar to each other with detailed hieroglyphics depicting the Pharaoh’s journey from life to the after – life. One thing I did figure out was that ancient Egyptians were pretty obsessed with the concept of life after death. They even mummified their pets and servants and buried them alongside!

 

By the way, photography is NOT allowed inside these tombs and they are really really serious about this. So don’t even try to sneakily use your mobile cameras. I almost got locked up for trying that!

 

After that we were off to *Queen Hatshepsut’s Palace. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture…constructed in three levels with the final level cut into the surrounding rock.

 

Egypt trivia # 2– did you know that Queen H. was in fact the only Egyptian Queen to rule the country? Apparently Cleo of the gorgeous nose fame was Greek by origin! Had no clue bout that.

 

Here we spent a lot of time taking pics and staring at this chick who had turned up for the tour in a micro-mini skirt! J

 

Largest temple in the world - Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt

Largest temple in the world - Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt

Next up was Karnak temple – supposedly the largest temple in the world. It was built in parts by 6 pharaohs of Egypt including Queen H. and tho’ most of it is in ruins now there is still so much to see that even the hour and half we spent there was not enough. Beautiful obelisks, close to 200 pillars in the form of papyrus flowers, a sphinx alley that once stretched till the Luxor temple…you really have to see it to understand how breathtaking it is.

 

Luxor Temple at nite, Egypt

Luxor Temple at nite, Egypt

Our last stop was the Luxor temple. This was saved till the end coz it was the only one open after sunset…and this ultimately ended up being a blessing in disguise. Luxor temple by night, with its huge statues, courtyard flanked by pillars and intricate carvings – all bathed in soft golden lights – is easily one of my most cherished memories from Egypt. Of course, the fact that the sun isn’t beating relentlessly down on your head also helps you see the world in a kinder light at this point. But jokes apart, to all those who have plans of visiting – I would recommend seeing Luxor temple after sunset. It’s a whole different feeling.

 

Our dinner was some authentic Egyptian food at this small restaurant, where we tasted Koshery for the first time. With two hours to go for our train we decided to spend the time wandering the streets and accidentally came upon the Luxor market…and what a find that was! Really nice stuff for dirt cheap (something you realize when you compare it to the prices in Cairo markets – especially Khan-el-khalili). Hubby and I bought some adorable t-shirts, sand art bottles and a papyrus scroll that was a steal at 3 LE. Innovative sales lines just added to the fun – “how can I help you spend your money?” seemed to be their favourite approach!

 

We ended the day pretty satisfied – a great feeling considering how badly it had begun. On an even better note…the train back was far more spacious and comfortable than the one on the way here…and the icing on the cake – reached Cairo before time!

contributed by Payal

Aslo read

Part II: Alexandria, Egypt

https://greatescapesindia.wordpress.com/2008/12/26/part-ii-alexandria/

Part I: Cairo, Egypt

https://greatescapesindia.wordpress.com/2008/12/16/cairo-egypt-%e2%80%93-our-dream-destination-part-i/

The majestic temple of Queen Hatshepsud, Luxor, Egypt

The majestic temple of Queen Hatshepsud, Luxor, Egypt

Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt

Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt

The beautiful River Nile at Luxor, Egypt

The beautiful River Nile at Luxor, Egypt

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Alexandria, as I mentioned before, is a good place for you to start your sightseeing in Egypt. It does not have too many places that can be classified under ‘must-see’s’ and hence does not really warrant a trip back and forth from Cairo (where a lot of other flights land).

 

The winner in the Alexandria ‘must-visit’ list is the airport! Yep, you heard right. This quaint little single block building is probably only a little bit bigger than your neighbourhood McDonald’s and definitely old-world. (though the exterior has been spruced up). Manual checking of luggage seems all the rage while the single luggage X-ray track is largely ignored by the Egyptians and is only availed of by us ‘foreigners’. With a single flight landing and taking off in a day – the funniest part was watching all the airport officials pack up and leave for the day once we were done with our immigration formalities.

 

Again – be very careful about getting duped by the cabs standing near the airport. Our cab guy asked for about 250 LE (Egyptian Pound) for a trip from the airport – catacombs – city railway station with an hours wait at the catacombs. We brought it down to 180 or so and were off on our way feeling really proud of our bargaining skills. Little did we know that we had ended up paying about 100 LE extra!

 

The Catacombs lie in the district of Karmouz to the east of Alexandria and are a maze of underground burial chambers with the main chamber containing three sarcophagi. The cemetery dates back to the 1st century A.D and consists of levels cut into the rock containing a staircase, a banquet hall (where relatives of the dead supposedly met for feasts!), a vestibule, an antechamber and the burial chamber with three recesses in it. Though most of the chambers look like holes in the wall, the main chamber is an interesting visit with its carvings of the Sun God (Amon-Ra –you’l here a lot about this dude in my next post) as well as the Anubis – a famous Egyptian figure that is half man and half jackal (Remember them from The Mummy Returns?). You don’t really need a guide for this. If you are very keen on knowing the nitty-gritties then just hover within hearing distance of some of the other groups who have guides and shamelessly eavesdrop (the key being to look rather disinterested in what they are saying).

 

After a brief visit we stopped for our very first sip of authentic Arabian ‘chai’, hot and sweet, at this roadside café appropriately painted with Pharaoh images. You will get to see identical such cafes peppering all the roads of Egypt – with small wooden tables and chairs, lots and lots of sheesha and men who seem to have all the time in the world!

A typical cafe in Alexandria, Egypt

A typical cafe in Alexandria, Egypt

For those who want to linger…my friends have recommended a visit to the ancient library. Once the largest library in the ancient world – today only a modern emulation of it can be found near the original site. We however, took off for the station…on our way to Cairo (more about that in my fourth and final post)

Contributed by Payal

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This blog has been due for a while. But you know how it is…you start on something and then you get lazy and just keep pushing it to tomorrow.


But I decided I’d better pen some lines on my dream trip while the memories of gorgeous Egypt is still fresh in my mind. My husband and I had gone there for our first wedding anniversary and I intend to go back again to really explore the place!

For the convenience of the readers I’m gonna divide this blog in to 4 parts. In this entry I will be talking about a general overview of the country – how to get there, how to get around, the moolah required, food you can try out and so on…

We took Air Arabia and landed in Alexandria via Sharjah. If you have the money to spare you can look at Emirates or Oman Air…those land in Cairo directly. But I wouldn’t recommend those because for one, I think the money is better spent on sightseeing (and believe me entry fees in Egypt are rather steep) and for another…you get to spend half a day seeing Alexandria instead of having to travel there from Cairo and back again.

Getting around in Egypt is not a problem. Alexandria is connected to Cairo by local trains that leave every 2 hours and you reach Cairo in 3 hours max – and once there getting around is a ball! The entire city is criss-crossed by a huge network of metros and if you’re willing to leg it a little to and fro the stations then you can get from anywhere to anywhere in the city in just 1 LE!

(*LE – Egyptian Pound – 1 LE = Rs 10)

If you have the time and the energy to haggle with the cabs and trudge thru city traffic – well then cabs are a plenty! But the country makes its living from tourists and someone is always trying to rip you off! So before you hire anything make sure you ask them the price and then quote like 1/4th of that. Better still – catch hold of some friendly local and ask him the costs before approaching cabbies/shops/guides or anything remotely connected to tourism!

Food’s not a problem if you’re not fussy. I’m a die hard non-vegetarian and believe it or not…I spent most of my time tripping on this yumm veggie dish called Koshery. Made out of noodles, rice, pasta, humus, peas, lentils and a spicy tomato puree – this is supposed to be the original Egyptian fast food! Other than that this is a nation obsessed with bread –they have bread for breakfast, bread for lunch and surprise surprise – bread for dinner! It’s not as bad as it sounds though. The bread comes in interesting variations, different stuffing’s and of course some unpronounceable names! But all worth trying out!

Their other obsession is with Amitabh Bachhan! Yup you got it right! When you’re in Egypt you will be called by one of these two names – ‘India’ or AB’. They even sell his old movie DVD’s on the streets! Very amusing that!

The weather when we went there (mid Nov) was great. Sunny mornings with a nice breeze and pleasantly cool evenings just added to the charm of the trip.

We didn’t take a package tour as most of us traveling to that part of the world would, instead we decided to explore on our own. Trust me, there are pages and pages of information on the net and all you need to do is put them together including train schedules, fares, site seeing spots and much more. Infact, we booked this hotel called King Tut’s Hostel thru the net and it was one of the best things to happen to us.

Well, I’m pretty much done with the first part. Do look out for my next post on Alexandria and Luxor.

Part II: Alexandria

Contributed by Payal

King Tut's Hostel in Downtown, Cairo

King Tut's Hostel in Downtown, Cairo

Khane El Khalili Market in Cairo & Sand Art

Khane El Khalili Market in Cairo & Sand Art

Egyptian fast food called Koshery.. yummy

Egyptian fast food called Koshery.. yummy

The great Pyramids n Sphinx at Giza

The great Pyramids n Sphinx at Giza

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