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Escape to Egypt with a Journey to Jordan ~ Two weeks teleporting back in time ~

 

Karnak temple Luxor Egypt

    I am a history junkie; it is funny because back in school I was not all that interested in the past but seeing things in person is so much more exciting!

I love walking in the footsteps of the ancients and trying to picture what it would be like when everything was shiny and new.

Because of Covid I had to reschedule this adventure three times, but it was well worth the wait, one of my best trips ever!

     There is a small amount of “hoop jumping” one must do while traveling during Covid.

This was my fourth overseas adventure since the pandemic began so I was fairly accustomed to paperwork, but every country has its own peculiarity’s.

The requirements are constantly in flux, as of this writing (12/21/21) Egypt allows vaccinated travelers who have a certificate with a QR code on it to skip the testing requirement.

Unfortunately, US vaccine cards do not have a QR code, so testing is required for both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers.

The current rule, if flying from the US, is the test must be taken a maximum of 96 hours before departure to Egypt.

The result must be stamped by an accredited laboratory, or contain a QR code, and must indicate the type of sample taken.

The QR code again can be a bit of a problem as most US labs do not automatically generate that code.

However, once your results are in, a code can be generated and inserted on your result page that will take the viewer to the electronic verification.

At this time a traveler will also need to fill out online the health declaration form, this may not be required once Covid is under control.

Always check the latest up to date entry requirements two weeks prior to your departure and again three days before you leave.

I have set up a tool on my website called "Sherpa Covid Entry requirements" you will find it located on the main menu bar, enter your information and it will provide all of the up to date rules.

     I booked our trip with Avalon Waterways, they took care of our visas, an Egyptian visa is easy to get upon arrival, but not having to think about it is always a plus.

It was wonderful being met at the airport by their staff, we were whisked through customs and immigration and the visa process while other people stood in long lines.

I gladly gave our greeter and driver a nice tip, otherwise known as Baksheesh.

     Baksheesh is something engrained in the Egyptian culture, it is best to treat it as part of the cost of your trip and budget accordingly rather than get annoyed.

I lovingly referred to it as "everybody gets a dollar", that statement is not too much of an exaggeration.

If someone points you in the right direction, even if you were not looking for help, they expect Baksheesh.

Someone opens the door for you, get your tip money ready.

There are attendants in the bathrooms, they expect Baksheesh, if you wish to photograph someone they may expect a tip.

I found the easiest thing was to just bring $100 in one-dollar bills with me and dole them out at will.

American money is worth much more than Egyptian money and the happy look on the faces of the people I gave it to quite rewarding.

It is important to make sure in advance if your bank allows you to withdraw from an ATM in Egypt (or Jordan) mine did not so I needed to plan accordingly.

I brought some larger currency that I exchanged at the onsite bank at our hotel to have some local currency as well.

     My husband and I flew in two nights early, I always go in early for any trip.

Too many things can happen like misconnections or cancelled flights, plus I like to give myself time to adjust to the time zone.

There is also more that I want to explore that would not be on a standard itinerary so having a few extra days is necessary.

The cruise line really outdid themselves with hotel selections, our first property was the Marriott Mena house which literally is in the shade of the pyramids.

As we were going to be there for five nights I contacted the hotel directly and paid to upgrade us to a one-bedroom suite with a direct pyramid view.

It was not inexpensive, but I felt it was money well spent as having two full bathrooms was great after touring all day, we could each take showers without waiting, and the view was amazing!

Marriott Mena House Pyramid Suite ~ video

 

 

    Avalon really did a great job on the itinerary, it covered 90% of the things I wanted to see on this adventure at no additional cost.

I hired a private tour company to cross off the few missing items in Cairo that I was yearning to experience.

Whenever I am going somewhere I like to study up, to research what unique places I could explore that the average tourist would not visit.

Baron Palace caught my attention right away as it looks very much like Angkor Wat in Cambodia and several Hindu/Jain temples I had seen in India.

The “palace” was built by a Belgium businessman, Edward Louis Joseph Empain, who was given the title of Baron by the King of Belgium.

The building is quite impressive from the outside, but the inside is very small, not much larger than an average house.

The entry way and spiral staircase are dramatic but other than that I was a tad disappointed with the interior.

The exterior however was a work of art with apsara dancers, dragons, elephants, all types of characters!

The locals believe the palace is haunted, the Baron’s wife fell to her death from the tower and his daughter was found dead in the basement.

Lights are said to go on and off on their own in the abandoned property along with strange noises and shadows of someone walking about an empty home.

I don’t know that I would want to be around there after dark!

     Next up we headed over to another unknown site, Prince Muhammad Ali’s Palace, or Manial Palace. 

The ceramic tiles with gold leafing are simply gorgeous, room after room of fine detailing.

The quarters he kept for his mother sported a solid sterling silver bed, now that is devotion!

The grounds of the palace also boasted a extensive garden that had species retrieved from all over the world.

I rounded up my private explorations with a visit to the Madrasa and Mosque of Sultan Hassan. 

The Madrasa/Mosque complex is one of the largest buildings in Cairo, it was built over a period of 30 years starting in 1350.

Sultan Hussan allowed any man who wished to study the Islamic faith to come and live at the school for free.

They would be clothed and fed and even be paid a wage while there!

While visiting the Mosque building our guide spoke to the Imam and he sang some of the words from the Qur’an that adorned the walls for us.

He had an amazing voice; the experience was very special.

We ended the outing with a stop at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, I had one goal in mind, to see the mummies who had been on parade.

That was a fascinating stop, even more meaningful once we reached the Valley of the Kings and Queens later the trip- we could mentally match up tombs with mummies!

I did a similar thing in Vienna, visiting the Imperial Crypt before Schönbrunn Palace reflecting on the various royal bedrooms cross referencing them in my mind to their ornate caskets.

Hidden Treasures of Cairo ~ video 

 

     The next day the marathon began, this is not a trip for someone looking to relax, you WILL however get a lot of bang for your buck!

     We started off with a visit to the pyramids.

Standing at the base gazing up I felt the same sense of awe I did when stood before the Taj Mahal.

I was witnessing something greater than myself, and incredibly fortunate that I was able to be here. 

We were an intimate sized group, there were 13 of us in total, most elected to go inside the pyramid.

I already knew that it was going to be quite claustrophobic and that there were no hieroglyphics or anything to see so I decided to skip it.

Instead, I walked around with our bodyguard and took photos.

Yes, I said bodyguard, he was the sweetest man, an undercover police officer carrying a machine gun under his coat.

Of course, he was not very undercover, anytime someone would approach me to buy something, and I would say no thank you he would look at them and they would walk away.

I am not sure if the giveaway was that he was wearing a suit or that the gun hung below the jacket, but they knew not to press their luck.

Someone in our group said they were not sure what to think about us having an armed guard along, that didn’t bother me in the least.

I liked it, I knew in advance we would be escorted, I never felt in danger at any time during the trip.

     We checked out the Sphinx, which was smaller than I had imagined it would be and headed to Sakkara (Saqqara) where I had my first step inside a tomb, it was so exciting!

     Included in our package was the Sound and Light show at the pyramids that night.

I have to say that I was disappointed in it, maybe I was just tired, or maybe because I had seen an amazing sound and light show in India, this one didn’t compare.

I regretted that I didn’t skip it, I almost fell asleep, it was not a good use of my time.

     We were on the move at 8am the next morning, little did I know that this would be sleeping late…

We headed to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

I had been so disappointed that the Grand Egyptian Museum had not opened yet, to my surprise this museum was still quite enthralling.

Although a lot of King Tut’s items have been moved, his golden mask and chair and several other items are still present.

A word of warning about cameras, I knew in advance that I was going to have to pay a camera fee in various places if I wished to use my Nikon, using a phone is free.

Depending on the location the fee runs between 50 and 300 Egyptian pounds; I had no problem paying it when I wished to take photos.

At this museum we didn’t really care about taking photos, so we just kept our cameras in our backpacks.

All backpacks are scanned whenever you enter a building, and we were told we would have to pay the 50 pounds regardless of if we kept them inside the backpack.

The ticket place was outside the museum, so we had to go back out there and locate it on our own and buy the tickets.

The other option would be to allow them to hold the cameras and hope that we would get them back, but that is not something I would consider.

50 Egyptian pounds is only around $3.18 USD, so it is not an issue of money, I didn't like having to go back outside on my own to buy the ticket.

Had I known in advance that it could not stay in my backpack I would have left the camera at the hotel that day.

We visited the Citadel and the Alabaster Mosque, which reminded me a lot of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, followed by Coptic Cairo and the Hanging Church.

     Our wake-up call for the flight to Luxor came well before sunrise!

     I am not a morning person, especially a very early in the morning person, but for this adventure I learned to adapt.

We all managed to make it to the minibus and board our flight to Luxor.

Upon arrival our luggage was strapped to the roof of a minivan reminiscent of The Flintstones and we headed off to explore Karnak Temple. 

I had thought seeing the pyramids was an awesome experience, well they were a just a small appetizer for what came next, - it was simply jaw dropping!

My sleepiness quickly disappeared, I felt dwarfed by the colossal statues!

There was so much to see in this former city, I could have spent hours exploring!

We were on a time line however, and at the appointed hour we headed to our Nile Cruise ship to check in and have lunch.

After a brief respite we headed back out to the other side of Ram’s Road to the Luxor temple. 

Workers were putting the finishing touches on the famed pathway for the inaugural celebration of reopening the road between the two temples.

Sadly, I missed the party by just a week.. 

Although Luxor temple is smaller it still had lots of interesting treasures to discover, it is just wild being among the towering statues.

Walking along I tried imagining everything when all the paint was still in place, it must have been just magnificent walking through there!

     My favorite day of the trip came next, it was jam packed with drama!

     We visited the Valley of the Kings which is another place that one could spend an entire day, really several days.

There are 62 tombs in all, we were each given tickets that allowed us to select independently three tombs that we would like to visit plus King Tut’s tomb.

All the mummies, except Tut, have been removed, I saw them at the National Museum in Cairo, Tut lays in a glass case in his tomb.

Entering the tombs is very dramatic, I can’t imagine the excitement for the archaeologists who found them!

There were people actively digging and working while we were there as it is certain there are more to be discovered.

My husband and I looked at the map of tombs trying to remember history and the mummies we saw at the museum in Cairo.

Carefully we selected our three, I think we made good choices as they all had great paintings inside.

     It was quite the experience walking down further underground and looking around seeing even the ceiling was decorated.

King Tut’s tomb was much smaller than the others, his mummy is encased in glass on one side of the room.

On the other is a golden wall and a stone box with the Eye of Horus on it which had a cracked lid.

I wish they had put replica treasures in there just so we could get the experience of what it would have been like 99 years ago when it was discovered.

A peek inside King Tut's tomb ~ video 

    

We visited Queen Hatshepsut’s massive mortuary temple which looks quite modern, almost like an office building built into the cliffs.

A stop at the huge Colossi of Memnon stirred my imagination, I could picture the massive guardians coming to life, getting up from their seats and walking the valley.

I am sure that is the effect they were meant to project on any would be grave robbers.

     Early the next morning I took an optional excursion that was fantastic, we boarded a plane and flew over to Abu Simbel.

This gigantic dual temple complex had to be disassembled and moved to higher ground to avoid being submerged when the Aswan dam was built.

The great temple was reassembled with such precision that the sun still illuminates the statues in the inner most sanctuary twice a year on February 22nd and October 22nd.

The significance of the dates are Pharaoh Ramses II birthday and coronation date.

It is mind boggling when you think of it that thousands of years ago they could align these massive statues to the sun’s rays without any modern surveying equipment.

We headed to Edfu for the Temple of Horus dedicated to the Falcon God and then on to Kom Ombo a twin temple.

The right side is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek-Ra, while the left side is dedicated to the falcon god Horus. 

     Then at dinner I made a rookie mistake… I had ice in my drink.

Normally I am so good when I travel, I take every precaution.

I even asked the bartender if the ice was made with bottled water and he said yes, but in the back of my mind I was questioning it.

I started feeling a bit ill after a few hours and took some Pepto and Imodium.

     The next morning, I had terrible diarrhea and general malaise, I had a Z-pak so I started taking that but decided I was not going to do the excursions.

Fortunately, there was a physician in our group who told me that the antibiotic I had would not work, she diverted the bus and got me the proper medication.

I spent the day sleeping on the bus and by the next day I was feeling much better.

Do not be like Ann- never have ice in your drink in a country that the water is unsafe even in a good hotel or cruise ship (or an airplane for that matter)!

Other things to avoid are fruits you can’t peel, salad, any street food, buffets in general are not a good idea but if you must eat at one make sure the food is hot.

     We flew back to Cairo and explored the Khan al Khali Souk bazaar, which was fantastic for people watching.

My husband and I had a special dinner at the Lebanese restaurant at the Hilton Heliopolis Cairo the food was amazing, and I recommend it highly.

Egypt and the Nile River ~ video 

    

     The rest of the group headed home, and my husband and I got ready to embark on the second part of this adventure our “Journey to Jordan.”

We flew from Cairo to Amman and were met and escorted through the visa process quite painlessly just like in Cairo, we didn’t have to stand in any lines or answer questions.

We were very spoiled to have a private tour, our driver was hilarious, he used to drive for the royal family, everyone knew him wherever we went, we got the VIP treatment.

Our tour guide was a walking encyclopedia but not in a boring way, he told us facts but in a very engaging manner.

I did not zone out like I tend to when someone is giving me too much information, he gave us unique insight on what it is like to live in Jordan.

     After a good night’s sleep we started out with a tour of Amman, it is one of the oldest cities in the world.

I learned that water is at a premium in Jordan, the government only supplies tap water twice a week.

If you want more than that you need to purchase back up containers privately.

There are white storage tanks on the roofs of all of the buildings, like big marshmallows taking over as much space as possible.

The water is not used for cooking, bottled water is purchased for that, but rather for things like flushing toilets, bathing etc.

Most of the water is trucked in from the middle of the desert.

     We visited the citadel which has the remains of a Roman temple.

There once was a huge Hercules statue that stood in the center, a few pieces such as his elbow and fingers were excavated.

It must have been magnificent to see given the size of the fingers.

The citadel is still in the process of being excavated, we could see a new line of wall that was recently discovered.

In the Muslim section of the citadel, I found it interesting to see how old columns were repurposed for the huge cistern that was made to hold water for the entire population.

     After a visit to the Roman theater, we headed out of Amman to Mt. Nebo which is the alleged burial site of Moses.

According to our guide, Moses wandered the desert for 40 years until his followers finally listened to him and cooperated, allowing him to see the signs leading to the mountain.

From the top he pointed out the promise land and sometime after died at the age of 125.

It is said that God buried his body somewhere on the mountain or valleys below, but no one knows exactly where.

On a clear day you can see Israel from the mountain, it is just 3 hours away.

The Franciscan monks purchased all of the land and maintain it along with a shrine and church.

     Inside the church are several mosaics that were hidden for years, one is quite interesting.

The first row shows men fighting against animals depicting man vs. beast.

The next row man is beginning to mature as he is now riding a horse fighting an animal, - learning cooperation.

The third and fourth rows depict after the birth of Christianity, man watching the animals eating fruit, and leading the animals on a leash like a pet.

In the fourth row it is significant that the dark-skinned man and light skinned man are standing next to each other showing they are equal, harmony is restored.

     We had a long drive to Petra and went to bed shortly after dinner as our big moment was the next morning.

     We arrived at Petra around 8:30 am and hiked for about five hours and still didn’t see everything.

You could easily spend several days there.

The walk down is beautiful through massive caverns with ever changing colored rocks.

There is a really interesting rock formation about halfway down, when you look at it from the front it looks like an elephant but from the side I saw an angel fish.

The reveal to the Treasury is quite dramatic through a break in the narrow cavern walls.

This is the building the most people think of when they imagine Petra, but the site is much more than one building, it was an entire city.

It is a pity many people turn around after seeing the Treasury, if the continued on there is SO much more!

The name "Treasury" is quite misleading, when the local Bedouins first discovered the building, they thought the urn at the top is where Egyptians had hidden gold coins.

There are bullet holes in the urn where people tried to crash it for the hidden coins.

The urns actually are what dead babies were kept in.

There are several other indications that this was a tomb including the many skeletons that were unearthed.

The whole site is full of tombs, anywhere you see what looks like staircases carved into the mountain that indicates there is a tomb below.

The stairs indicate ascending to the next life.

Departing Petra, we had a very picturesque drive to our hotel on the Dead Sea.

     The Dead Sea is a lake not a sea, the rocks on the shore are covered in salt crystals.

There is so much salt in this body of water nothing can survive (hence the name) and everything floats.

How salty is it you ask?

The Dead Sea has a salinity of 280 parts per thousand (ppt) the average ocean is around 35 ppt!

It is the lowest place on the planet clocking in at 1380 below sea level.

I noticed my ears popping when we drove to Jerash which is not particularly mountainous, however is at 1980 feet above sea level a big altitude difference!

I regret that it was too chilly for me to go in the sea, as I would have loved to try floating in it.

I did see people in there, but I have a rule about water temperature and to me it was much too chilly.

Something to note, if you do go in the water, it is a good idea to not shave for a day before hand, not your legs or your underarms.

The salt will get into your open pours and feel like little knifes cutting you!

     Our last adventure in Jordan was to Jerash.

How is it that an Italian girl like myself had never heard of Jerash prior to this trip?!

When my guide told me that it would blow Pompeii away, I laughed at him, after all I have been in the shadow of Vesuvius several times.

Well, let me tell you he was correct!

The site dates all the way back to 7500 BC, however, the current Greco Roman ruins are “newer” from 63 BC.

So much of the city is still intact it was easy to imagine myself walking the streets with everything bustling with chariots and vendors.

These are the largest Greco-Roman ruins outside of Italy and as I have been to most of them, I can honestly say this is well worth a visit!

You have to check out the massive gate built for Emperor Hadrian's visit back in AD129, it was like putting out nice guest towels for company on a grander scale.

Plus there were no crowds, we had the place nearly to ourselves!

     The Jordan extension went by very quick, I had one last hurrah that I built in before my return home.

Petra and Jerash Jordan ~ video 

     We were due to fly out of Jordan at 2:40am with a stop in Frankfurt before heading to Boston.

I decided to book two nights in Frankfurt at the airport Sheraton, we would arrive at 6:30am and be able to go right to sleep for a while.

Once we awoke, we took the train to the Frankfurt Christmas Markets, it was very festive and a lovely way to end our adventure.

I have built in stopovers in Frankfurt before, it is a direct 15-20 min train ride from the airport to old town.

In the morning it is super easy as the hotel is attached to the airport.

     I have to say that Avalon Waterways gives you an awful lot of touring for your dollar.

We were constantly on the go and they included VIP entry to everything you can think of.

The only excursion I had to pay for was Abu Simbel which was well worth the expense.

I am so glad we included Jordan, if I was to do it again, I might add on a few extra nights there as I would love to spend more time in that country.

I will just have to return!

     If you would like to talk about planning an Egyptian or Jordanian adventure, you can reach me at 413-552-8941 or via email at ydreamvacation@charter.net

Frankfurt Christmas Markets ~ video 

(221 Reviews)
99% Recommended

Ann Castagna Morin

Southampton, MA
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