Friday, September 02, 2005

Back from Egypt

I arrived home on Friday evening after 50 hours of traveling. It's now Tuesday, and I think I'm finally over jetlag! I think I can finally write a little bit about my experiences from the past three weeks.

Most frequently asked questions about my trip:

Q) What were you doing in Egypt?
A) Family holiday! No, really! My grandmother has been wanting to take us for years, and everything finally fell into place this year. We went in August because of scheduling conflicts with my aunts and cousins. The gang: Grandma Shirley Bridges, John and Fran Bridges (my parents), Margaret Bridges and Hartmut Karl Moerschel (aunt and partner), Jennifer Tauchert-Bridges (aunt), Charles, Lucinda and Sophie Tauchert (cousins), and Christine Bolton (friend and witness to Bridges Family Drama).

Q) What is Egypt like in August?
A) Warmish. It averaged 40-45 Celsius while we were there, a night-time low of 35, and a Sahara high of 52 in the Valley of the Kings. I believe that's about 128 Fahrenheit. Avoid going to Egypt in August. One of the benefits of this time of year is that it's low tourist season (heightened by the terrorist attacks last month)...that means you get star treatment in the markets. Not enough having one shop owner follow you several blocks asking you to come into his shisha store? Try ten shop owners! You're just that popular.

Q) What's a shisha?
A) A water pipe that cuts out the nicotine from flavoured tobacco. When I saw these shishas table-side at the lounge in our first hotel, I thought I'd walked into an opium den. Not that I would know what opium dens looked like either... I may just be completely naive, because apparently there are some of these shops in the UK. Oh, and my grandmother was persuaded to go into one (that sells, not smokes) in the marketplace in Luxor, with Christine and I in tow...

Q) Did you get coerced into going into any shops?
A) Why, yes! Most are perfectly fine, and most people are very honest. Then there are the taxi drivers that drop you off at a shop you think you've asked to go to. "Big bazaar! Lots to buy!" The second you're in the shop, they close the door behind you, get you a drink (hospitality on their part, guilt-trip on ours), and you're there for at least half an hour. I think we were in the shisha shop for a good hour, but it was mostly spent getting together little odds and ends of the pipe, plus nine packs of tobacco, for the one Shirley bought for her dining room table in England, which we all know will never ever be used and will only come out if Christine is there to put it together for her!!

Q) How was it traveling with your family?
A) Next question. Actually, it was fine. There really was a lot of drama, but Christine and I figured it was mostly due to everyone being a strong individual. Too many chefs in the big Egyptian kitchen. I have many stories, but perhaps an internet blog site is not the most appropriate avenue for them.

Q) Did you see the pyramids? The Sphinx?
A) Yes, quite early on. The three pyramids at Giza are quite spectacular. I was blown away, but looking back, it was the least impressive thing on my trip. I don't mean to lessen the experience at all. I still can't believe I was able to touch the Great Pyramid with my own two hands, to sit on the first meter-high step (and smile for the camera like the millions of tourists before me). I didn't care though! I was there! I couldn't believe how lucky I was.

Q) Did you get to ride a camel?
A) Yes! Right at the sphinx itself. The process was a little adventure itself. I must admit, I was a little nervous as we started riding into the Sahara, but we didn't really get that far. Luckily, my grandmother had left her purse with our cousins, as had Christine, so we really didn't have any money. We said we couldn't pay him the amount the guide wanted (a lot), and that our money was back with our family who were waiting for us. He then asked me to go find my family and bring back the money while Shirley and Christine waited with him. I said no way. Finally, he ended up going back with us (sans camels), and once we found the rest of our family and our day tour guide, he ended up leaving with a fair amount of money, instead of the extortion he originally wanted. The camel was fun though. Didn't spit.

Q) What was your favourite thing in Egypt?
A) You mean besides the curse of the Pharaoh? (I spent our first free day in Cairo laid up in bed...I "slept" for about 17 hours that night/day.) Anyway, the pyramids were great, but Luxor (further south, thus hotter) was even more impressive. We toured Karnak (a grand complex of temples built by successive pharaohs), Luxor Temple, the Valley of the Kings (ridiculously hot, and worse within the tombs themselves), and the temple of Hatchet-Soup...uh, Hatshepsut (the former was a pneumnonic device devised by Christine).
The highlight of my trip was our day trip to Abu Simbel and seeing the temples of Nefertari and Ramses II. Nefertari was Ramses' most famous queen and most beloved of his dozens of wives. (Disturbing fact: he also had nearly two hundred children...many supposedly deformed at birth because of his marrying his daughters and granddaughters.) The two temples have the most incredible paintings inside. The colours are so vivid, even thousands of years later.

Q) Did you see the places in Sharm 'El Sheikh where the bombings occurred?
A) Not really. We stayed at the Sheraton Sharm just outside the city, and security was tight going in. No taxis, and they checked the underside of shuttle vehicles entering the grounds. We went into town a couple times, and we passed the hotel that had been burned to the ground. They were rebuilding already.

Q) How was the food?!
A) Most of us were cautious in our food choices...especially after "the curse" hit the majority of the group. We went to one fabulous Egyptian restaurant in Cairo. I need a bumper sticker that says I (heart) Falafel. For the rest of the time we ate mainly Western food, but don't think I'm scared of's just that adventure was what probably gave me "the curse".

Q) Did you swim in the Red Sea? The Nile?
A) Went snorkeling in the Red Sea, but I chose not to get worms by swimming in the Nile. Sorry, I'm sure that sounds disgusting. It is. We did go on a river cruise however, and we also went on a felucca (river boat) for a short sunset ride. The Red Sea was amazing. The coral reefs were spectacular and the water was very warm.

All in all, it was an amazing trip. It was great to spend time getting to know my now-adult cousins and long-lost traveling companion Christine. We saw so many historical landmarks I never imagined I'd be lucky enough to see in my lifetime. Of course there wasn't time to see everything; I missed out on Alexandria and Mt. Sinai, but I'll catch them on the next trip...:)

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