Imagine Egypt without political unrest, a time where you could safely travel there as a visitor and be able to enjoy the unique historical sites this intriguing country has to offer. Mind you, I am not saying an ideal time, just a less complicated one, for us visitors at least.
That is when I had the good fortune to visit Egypt. I was barely eighteen and I flew there with my aunt and uncle, a couple of their friends (who were also my friends by then) and business associates, and a largish group from all over Italy that was part of a promotional tour involving my uncle’s business. It was only for one week, but it was beautifully organized, and we had a blast. None of us got much sleep, not even our guide, Aisha, but we did see just about everything there was to see.
We started off in Cairo, where we stayed at the most exquisite hotel, more a palace really, that had originally been built to host a princess, or so I was told. It is now the Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino. From there we visited the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, the Saladin Citadel with the beautiful Alabaster Mosque of Mohammed Ali, Memphis and the nearby Pyramid of Djoser and Bent Pyramid in Saqqara, and the Giza plateau, with the Sphinx and the famous Pyramids, of course. It felt a little tight climbing through the tunnels, but I did go inside the Great Pyramid, all the way to the alleged “king’s chamber”, otherwise known as the empty, absolutely unadorned room with a human-sized granite box in it.
From Cairo we flew to Karnak. We stayed at a hotel near the Luxor temple – I forget which one, other than the fact that it had a pool into which I insisted on swimming despite the fact that the water was freezing. Did I mention this was March? And that, dashing all my expectations of warm weather – this being Egypt and all – that year they were experiencing the coldest March in decades? Yes, well, still in the water I plunged, surprising most of all myself.
But the magic happened at the Luxor temple, which we visited first by day, and then by night, when we joined the Sound and Light show. A spine-tingling experience, the Karnak Sound and Light show highlights the dramatic history of ancient Thebes as visitors walk through the temple accompanied by haunting music and spirits of pharaohs past returned to tell the story. I still remember this as if it were yesterday. An experience I highly recommend. On the days we were there, the only shows available were either in English or German. We opted for English, and I ended up walking around the temple with my own personal entourage, that is, a group of about ten or twelve who huddled close in order to catch my whispered translation.
Post temple magic, we gathered back at the hotel for a rather late dinner. After that is when some middle-of-the-night shenanigans happened. You see, my friend and roommate was really into this handsome fellow within our group, who also was into her in a big way. That night they decided to do the deed, and she tiptoed off to his room, abandoning me to my own devices. Except the handsome fellow also had a roommate of his own, who was evicted from his room and ended up falling asleep in mine, around three am, on my escapee-friend’s bed, after we got tired of playing cards and eating chocolates while waiting for either of the two lovers to return. They didn’t, and we only saw them bleary-eyed at breakfast. I just remembered this part of the story as I typed, and I thought it was too cute not to share.
At dawn the next day we gathered with the rest of the group for our next adventure. Total sleep time: two and a half hours. You wouldn’t believe the yawns, sleepy eyes, and espresso shots that went down; not to mention the surreptitious looks. Or maybe you would. But the Valley of the Kings was not to be missed, sleep or no sleep, as that was where we were headed that day. Another experience not to be missed.
From Karnak we headed south on a bus, stopping to visit the Temple of Khnum in Esna, and the Temple of Horus at Edfu before arriving at Aswan, where these photos were taken. A few of us were able to stay at the legendary Old Cataract Hotel, a 19th-century Victorian palace right on the banks of the Nile, which featured in the movie Death on the Nile, based on the famous Agatha Christie novel, and featuring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot.
Alas, most of us, myself included, stayed at the New Cataract, the more modern (and more boring) structure just across from the old. The good part was that we could go back and forth between the two buildings at will, so all we did in ours was sleep. We had a glorious time.
From Aswan, some of our group hopped on a small plane and went to visit the Temple of Abu Simbel, located further south on the shores of Lake Aswan. I don’t know why I didn’t. I did however join in two boat rides on the Nile, the most magical of which was a leisurely sunset sail with no particular destination, where our group was divided into a number of feluccas – the traditional wooden sailing boats of this area.
That is when I took these photographs, the one at the top being first, of course, given the light. I waited until the shifting mast moved in front of the sun before clicking. The camera was a Voigtlander Vito B, with a fixed 35mm lens that could not be changed, and of course with all manual settings. No tripod, no filters, just good judgement. I still have it of course, though right now I don’t remember if I have it here, in storage with everything else, or if it is back in Italy. I will soon find out.
Both these images are scans from film, the only two I scanned from the lot.
After that we flew back to Cairo, where we stayed for one more celebratory night at the JW Marriott Hotel, if I remember correctly. I do remember that it was stunning, and I still see the beautiful pavilion in which our dinner+show+dance goodbye party took place. I just had a flash of the dress I wore that night: a very 1920s pale blue silk dress complete with sash.
We all headed home the next day.
It was a trip of a lifetime, one that I doubt will be repeated, not in this one anyway.
As to my friend and her handsome fellow: after we returned home, they had a hot romance for a while, taking turns in driving back and forth given that they lived about five-hundred kilometers from each other.
I did not return to Egypt until two lifetimes later, when my then boyfriend and I needed a rest from post-Holidays restaurant work. We headed to Sharm El Sheikh, on the Red Sea, aka the Egyptian riviera. Located on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula, it is essentially a strip of land along the sea where resort hotel follows resort hotel, and where along the promenade you encounter one harassing vendor after another. Ideal for scuba divers, as the Red Sea is renown for that, for us it was just a place to rest & rejuvenate, on the beach or by the pool. Had we not been so tired, we might have been inspired to explore Sinai and St. Catherine.
If you are still reading, I want to thank you for sticking with me to the end, and for allowing me to time travel for a while. I hope you have enjoyed it, and maybe you are inspired to explore this part of the world, politics permitting. Unless, of course, you have already been to Egypt. In that case…. What did you see? Where did you go? What was your experience like?
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