Family vacations without kids anyone? When Mark and I first got married we took a couple of vacations together. However, the more kids we have, the less “couple’s” vacations we take. Wonder why? Lol! The main reason has been that we have always thought it more enriching to travel together with the children, sharing experiences, bonding, and making memories. However, whenever we were ready to travel without the kids, we have been fortunate to have a grandparent or aunt or another family member happy to babysit in our absence. Thank God for them! As our family has grown, there have been more times when we have had both grandparents or more than one adult with nanny available to cover all our bases and attend to the needs of each child accordingly. Family has always been a blessing to us in many ways. It was no different when we decided to squeeze in a last minute trip to Egypt. Mark was scheduled to travel to West Africa for work that December, and I was 6 months pregnant with our 4th child. The children were soon to be out of school for the holidays when I called an aunt to help watch the kids and we stole away for a 4day break that December.
Mark was no stranger to Cairo. He had lived there a couple years while his parents worked with the foreign service. He graduated from The American International School in Egypt where he spent most afternoons playing basketball after school. Over the years, he had shared with me stories around beautiful memories of scuba diving in the Red Sea and the infamous excursion he took with his father hiking up Mount Sinai. At the time of this trip, his mom was back in Egypt on assignment and his brother would also be visiting for the holidays. Without ever visiting Egypt my impressions of this North African country was limited. I could only imagine a place I had read of and learned about in school. We got into the Cairo International Airport that evening and with pre-arranged transportation, we met Mom at her apartment and settled in for the night. With Mom’s help our travel itinerary and tours were set. Even though I was tired from the 3 flights we took to get there, I was equally excited and ready to go.
The following morning, we all visited the Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha. This impressive structure is visible from most parts of the city with its twin minarets and was erected in memory of Tusun Pasha, Muhammad Ali’s son who died in 1816. The architecture is consistent with that of the Ottomans and the construction material used was mostly limestone and alabaster. On the interior, the cupola of the mosque is beautiful with hanging lamps which accentuate the depth of the mosque with two levels of domes. The walls are covered with beautiful motifs and floor is carpeted. You are required to take off your shoes as is the custom with most mosques. On the grounds surrounding the mosque, one can take in great views of the city. We were not quite prepared for the cooler weather in North Africa during the winter months in comparison to the Florida sun. I had only traveled with my winter jacket for transit through Europe but a light fall jacket or fleece at the time would have been perfect. Close to the mosque was the Salah-Al-Din-Al-Ayoubi Castle but in the interest of time, we did not visit the castle but left for Giza.
THE GREAT PYRAMIDS AND THE SPHINX
I rarely title a paragraph in my blog, but this Necropolis has a jaw dropping effect! Besides all the tourists swarming the area, the sheer size and architecture which has remained intact over centuries of these monuments is amazing. It is incredible how dry the area surrounding the pyramids is particularly because only 9 kilometers west of the pyramids, the River Nile runs through Giza. Having a reliable tour guide makes all the difference in navigating this plateau which does not only house the pyramids and the sphinx but there is a lot of activity in the vicinity with the remains of a worker’s village and cemeteries nearby. It is nice to have a guide who can take you through and highlight the details so you do not get lost in the crowds.
Once you get closer to the pyramids, there are “camel men” who can take you up close to the pyramids. I was six months pregnant at the time but once I was offered the chance to explore on camel’s back, I decided I would not pass up this lifetime opportunity to ride up close. With much assistance I mounted the camel and with our camel man holding the reigns and Mark on another camel by my side, we started to ride off in tandem. It took some getting used to but it seemed easier and smoother than any time I have ridden on horseback. After Giza, we headed home to rest. The next day we were scheduled to catch a morning flight from Cairo to Luxor.
We were met at the Luxor International Airport by our tour guide who had our itinerary set for the next two days. The city of Luxor is in Southern Egypt on the east side of the Nile River. Luxor sits on the site of the ancient Thebes which was the capital and was where the pharaoh’s ruled between 11-16B.C. From the airport, we got started with our tour of the Temple of Karnak and then the Luxor Temple. Our guide was informative as well as attentive to the possible needs for extra breaks, rest, and refreshments, which made all the difference having a private tour.
An hour before sunset, we boarded a small private sailboat and sailed along the Nile River in the company of our guide. The boat captain also prepared a fresh Mediterranean dinner on board with some fresh mint tea. Our guide gave us some geography and history lessons on Egypt. It was a great way to unwind and conclude an otherwise busy day. That evening we checked into our hotel for some well needed repose.
The Mecure Luxor Kanark hotel was exactly what we needed for a short stay in Luxor. The check in process was smooth and the staff hospitable. We were offered some refreshments and supper, but we were too fatigued to indulge. The next morning, we woke up to one of the most beautiful sunrises on the Nile in plain view from the balcony doors of the restaurant. The walls and pillars which were decorated in ancient hieroglyphics truly captured what could be imagined as a moment in the times of ancient Kings and Queens. The meal was delicious with a breakfast buffet made up of several options to include continental, Mediterranean and a made to order omelet stand.
First stop on the tour that day was the Luxor museum. The museum was smaller than the one in Cairo, but it displayed archeological pieces which were well spaced out and the rooms were less crowded allowing for visitors to take time to read the subtitles which were both in Arabic and English. On display were kingdom statues and the grave goods of pharaohs along with the two royal mummies of the pharaohs Ahmose I and Ramesses I.
From the museum we were driven to the Valley of the Kings west of the Nile River, which is an excavated site where pharaohs and kingdom nobles were buried in excavated rock between the 16th and 11th centuries B.C. It is also known as the Valley of the Gate of the Kings. There are small open trolleys that take you from one tomb to another and some tombs are open to the public while others are not. We then visited the mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut which was nearby. This grand structure was built for the 18th dynasty pharaoh after which it was named. It has multiple steps to the top but can be climbed with ease as the steps are shallow.
We made a quick stop at the colossi of Memnon which are giant statues of the pharaoh Amenotep III who reigned during the 18th dynasty. Our last stop of the day was at a local alabaster craft maker and the Tutmoses factory which was full of beautiful souvenirs made of alabaster. Once again, the day came to a close too soon and we were on the road to the airport and back to Cairo.
Our last day in Cairo, Mark took me around to the old familiar places he frequented as a kid. We stopped and had some street shawarma and local refreshments. Later that afternoon, we said our goodbyes to Mom and my brother-in-law before Mark and I both parted ways. He was heading on a flight to Cameroon through Addis Ababa and I was going back home through Munich.
It seemed surreal at the time. Now we both are glad in retrospect that we did not pass up the opportunity to step back into a time of Ancient Kings and Queens, pyramids, sphinx and mummies; when alabaster was used in buildings and making most things and civilizations sprouted along the longest river in Africa, the Nile.