Putting Egypt’s pyramids into perspective

Bent Pyramid, Egypt

I’m not great with tunnels – I don’t like the idea of the weight above me. So I was pretty surprised that I was so keen to get into the Bent Pyramid, the earliest of Egypt’s smooth-sided pyramids, out in the deserts past Cairo.

The tunnel down into the heart of the pyramid is 79 metres long, double the distance of the tunnel in the Great Pyramid. It was so low that I actually scraped my spine, as I was so doubled over.

The pyramid was a practice run ordered by the pharoah Sneferu, father of Cheops (who went on to build the Great Pyramid in nearby Giza). It earned its sobriquet because the architect in charge of its construction realised that the calculations of a 55-degree angle for the pyramid was wrong, and changed it half-way through construction, for a rather wonky look, as you can see.

Still sporting much of the white stone cladding that would have let it shine in the desert, the Bent Pyramid recently reopened for the first time in 53 years, and with Saqqara and Giza, makes up what is known as the Memphis Necropolis, a royal burial ground for Egypt’s kings, queens and nobility (also, lots of sacred bulls, just FYI).

Click here to read about the three burial sites, and how they all link in, in my story published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers. Enjoy!

Airline review: Madrid to Cairo with Egyptair

Egyptair plane

Recently, I completed an epic trek from Cusco, near Macchu Pichu in Peru, to Cairo, Egypt.

Let me tell you, it took some serious, late-night internet hunting! I could have travelled via Sao Paulo, (Brazil) then across to Casablanca (Morocco) and on to Egypt, or from Sao Paulo via a 12-hour layover in Addas Ababa (Ethiopia) and on to Cairo. In the end, the best connections were flying from Lima (Peru) up to Madrid (with three hours cooling my heels in a secondary airport in Ecuador) with LATAM and from Madrid on to Cairo with Egyptair.

This is my review of the Egyptair flight – I’ve flown many times domestically and internationally with the national carrier – on the Madrid-Cairo route, a direct flight of 4 hours 40 minutes.

I’m going to paste my favourite para here, about the food on board:

Chicken or the beef? The beef arrives cubed in a sauce with spiral pasta, and is surprisingly comforting. It’s accompanied by a dried, tired salad, crackers, chocolate cake, a wholemeal dinner role, butter and a triangle of La vache qui rit (The Laughing Cow, incidentally, is the nickname of Egypt’s deposed military dictator, Hosny Mubarak). Because you needed to know that last fact : )

Published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age‘s Traveller section, you can read the full review here.

What to expect when visiting Cairo Airport’s Terminal 2

Cairo Airport review

Over the past decade, I’ve watched Cairo Airport change and grow – definitely for the better – from the raucous taxi chorus and decaying bathrooms of the old Terminal 1 to the snappy design of its newest expansion, Terminal 3.

If you’re coming through the Egyptian capital any time soon, here’s my take on Terminal 2, which sees the major Middle Eastern carriers, Etihad and Emirates, passing on through.

What to remember: security is paramount, and there are plenty of screening points. What to forget: Facebook, as wifi is but a beautiful dream.

Far better to grab a seat and watch the parade of fashions, from central African men in patterned jellibiyas (traditional robes) and matching kufis (caps) to women from the Gulf states in well-cut abayas and heels. You can identify the rare Antipodean by their khaki zip-off pants. If you want to hang with the locals, they’re in the smoking rooms.

Click here to read my full review, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section.

How to do Abu Dhabi with kids

Play Batman, colour in, or get cool in the pool – Abu Dhabi ticks all the boxes for travelling with kids.

I did a test-run with the 7-year-old in the United Arab Emirate, which is a natural stopover for Australians en route to Europe (or pretty much anywhere else in the world). With eight hours, three days (or even more) up your sleeve, there’s plenty to do in this super family-friendly town, even in the height of summer.

The highlights for us included the new Warner Bros Movie World, hot laps around the F1 circuit (for the teen in our gang), riding camels in the desert, and plenty of pool time at the five-star Saadiyat Rotana hotel.

If you’re after some pointers (or even a few tips for if travelling without kids), take a look at this feature I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age Traveller section, and enjoy!

http://www.traveller.com.au/abu-dhabi-childrens-edition-h1fii4

Game on: kids in business class

ETIHAD Uniforms

Business class is out of reach of most travellers, and I had to hit my third decade before experiencing the delicious sensation of turning left on the plane.Some, however, are far luckier.

Recently, my seven-year-old daughter put Etihad Airways’ business class to the test en route to Abu Dhabi.

We’ve flown Etihad many times before, we’ve been scarred by its kids meals, most notably a long-haul economy nightmare of reoccurring cheese macaroni and UHT banana milk that comprises the kids menu – with no water served with their meals. I’ve ranted about it in the past – why load children up with a tray full of sugar, then complain when they turn into sugar-fuelled screeching monsters?

This time, in business, it’s a whole different ball game…

To read the full story on the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller website, click here

The grand dame of Aswan: hotel review, Egypt

Aswan, Egypt

In Egypt’s deep south (aka ‘Upper Egypt, because it’s closer to the source of the south-north running Nile River), is the golden city of Aswan.

A world away from the smoke and insanity of Cairo, the city on the banks of the Nile is famous for its granite quarries that helped build the monuments of the ancient kingdoms, and its laid-back inhabitants, Nubians who seem more connected with the African continent than the Arabian north.

It’s also the home of one of the continent’s best grand hotels, and finally I got to visit the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract. 

The terrace, where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile.
Photo: Belle Jackson

Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile on its terrace, and I wrote my hotel review for Fairfax Media’s Traveller section (the question is, of course: which will have greater longevity? :))

With an unsurpassed setting, smooth service and the undoubtedly fabulous
history, I rate it this of my top historic stays around the world. Armchair travellers should binge on Secret of the Nile (2016), which is the first Egyptian series on Netflix. The subtitled murder
mystery was filmed in the hotel, which is the undoubted star of the show.

You can read my story, published on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website, here 

Walking in Palestine: make hummus, not war

The turn of each year always calls for contemplation, and looking back at last year’s travel, Palestine definitely wins as the most dramatic of the destinations I visited in 2017, which included Jaipur (India), Bali (Indonesia), Egypt, Greece, a brief fling in Qatar and plenty of lovely Australian destinations.

 

Upload FilesIt’s been a while since I entered a country with such trepidation and so many questions (Will they stamp my visa on a piece of paper? (Yes) Will I find beauty? (Yes) Will I starve (An emphatic no) Will I cross borders easily? (No bother until I departed Tel Aviv airport at the end) and, most importantly, Will I be safe? (A resounding yes to feeling safe in Palestine, especially compared with the state-sponsored gun-fest that was, for me, Jerusalem).

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On my week-long hiking tour through Palestine’s West Bank, I walked with just one other hiker – another woman – and our guide, the fabulously patient, deeply knowledgeable and supremely courteous Anwar. Just the three of us, wandering remote valleys and sunbaked hilltops.

We slept in Bedouin camps, in people’s houses and in small, family-run hotels, drinking an inordinate amount of sweet, thyme-scented tea and eye-poppingly strong coffee, while eating our bodyweight in fresh dates that melt on the tongue like brown sugar.

Highlights include adding our own Banksy-designed graffiti onto the towering concrete walls that separate the West Bank from Israel, wandering ancient markets buying spices and baklava, and visiting remote monasteries hidden in the ravines and valleys that mark the countryside.

DISCLAIMER: In Palestine, I was a guest of Crooked Compass tours, and would recommend them thoroughly for their wildly adventurous destinations and experiences.

New groove in ancient Athens

A magnet around which the city revolves, this is the view of the Acropolis from the top floor of my hotel, New Hotel in Athens.

It’s ironic that the more I travel, the less I post on my poor blog. I’m just back from nearly two months in the Middle East, working from my base in Cairo.

Cairo’s my second home: I’ve lived here, and return most years to watch it race toward change – some good, some absolutely dire. This year, I also took a walking tour through Palestine’s West Bank and a brief island hop in Athens and the beautiful island of Hydra, about 90 minutes by ferry from the main port of Piraeus.

I got a lot of love from the @Traveller instagram account, and just spotted this clip in the weekend papers of my shot of the Acropolis, which I took from the top floor of New Hotel, Athens, a chi-chi little design hotel.

Sure, you can book the penthouse to soak it up, but the breakfast room is also currently on the top level, so we can all enjoy one of the world’s great landmarks.

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Of pharaohs and heroes: Journey to Egypt

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The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt.Photo: Belinda Jackson

I am so pleased to publish this blog about my recent article in Luxury Travel magazine. This is the first story I’ve written for a mainstream publication about Egypt since its revolution, back in 2011. The feature had the invaluable support of Abercrombie & Kent, which maintains its Cairo office, staffed by charming, knowledgeable Cairenes.

While other countries affected by civil unrest and terrorism events have slipped back onto the travel pages within weeks of the events, I feel Egypt – where I have lived and continue to return to every year – has been punished too harshly, and it suffers deeply the loss of one of its key sources of income.

The people lean heavily on tourism with good reason: their undeniable treasures include the Pyramids of Giza, the colossi at Abu Simbel, the gracious and eternal Nile. And they’re just three of its riches.

Egyptians say that once you’ve drunk from the Nile, you’ll always return. Maybe you’re not up for a cup of river water, hopefully this article will inspire you to visit -or to return.

We come to visit the gods. Stern of face, empty of eye, they stare. Blank, sightless eyes see nothing, yet see everything in the future and back to the ancient world. The colossal sculptures of Abu Simbel are in Egypt’s deep south, touching on the border with Sudan, and are the jewel of the appropriately named Nile in Style journey with Abercrombie & Kent.

“Nowhere are there so many marvellous things, nor in the whole world beside are there to be seen so many works of unspeakable greatness,” wrote Herodotus of Egypt in the fifth century BC. Fifteen centuries later, he’s still on the money.

Click here to read on about my journey down the Nile.