Each year, I return to Egypt for so many reasons – family, kunafa, fresh, chunky mango juice and a hit of history.
This year, I teamed up with Ahmed Aziz, an Egyptologist with tour company Abercrombie & Kent, who I’ve been working with for years in Egypt. Ahmed’s been a guide through Egypt’s sites for 16 years, and together, we delved into the newly opened Bent Pyramid in Dahshour, about an hour from Cairo.
He shared some excellent advice for visitors to the Memphis necropolis, which includes the Pyramids of Giza, Saqqara and the lesser-known, little visited Dahshour, including the best places to stay, when to visit and keeping a stash of small notes to tip the haras (the temple guardians, who are drawn from the neighbouring villages).
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!
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 : )
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.
I’ve been poking around the back alleys and the big-ticket drawcards of Cairo for a decade now (How did that happen? One minute I was setting up this blog on a tiny little Juliet balcony in a pensione in downtown Cairo, the next minute, it’s 10 years later!)
In that time, Cairo’s fortunes have flowed, ebbed, and are now flowing again, after revolutions, currency flotations, elections and a whole vortex of world events that have shaped the old traditions and new fashions in this maniacal city of 20 million (give or take a few million).
It still blows me away, every time I visit. There’s the City of the Dead, which may be home to as many as a million undocumented (living) souls, the rock-carved cathedrals of Mokattam, the wild nights of horseriding around the Pyramids beneath a full moon, and the Nile. There’s always the Nile.
It scratches only the surface, but here are 10 of my tips on visiting the City that Sleeps In Shifts, published in this weekend’s Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.
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? :))
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.
Lined with palaces, mosques, merchant’s mansions and markets, Cairo’s Al-Muizz is a contender for the Middle East’s most beautiful street.
It’s the ancient thoroughfare of medieval Cairo, the lifeblood of a dozen centuries: every time I return to Cairo, I find myself walking the length of Al-Muizz li-Din-Allah. Like most before me, I’m lured by the street’s imposing palaces and caravanserais, its dusty mosques and vivid markets.
I’ve walked this street countless times over a decade, and each time, I make a new discovery. A forgotten tomb. A synagogue. Cool, dark water cisterns that plunge deep underground or a merchants’ mansion, instructive in the ways of generations of traders, aristocrats, craftsmen and families who filled the streets of Islamic Cairo when it was established by the Shi’ite Fatamid regime in 969AD.
In case you haven’t twigged, Egypt is back on the tourism trail after seven years languishing in the doldrums after its revolution in 2011, which overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak, who’d run the country as his personal fiefdom for 30 years. They’ve now got another army brass running the country – plus ça change, plus c’est la même.
|Cairo’s Citadel, which overlooks the city. Photo: Belle Jackson|
But finally, with stability and growth taking place around the country (think, highways remade, new airports open, Nile cruise boats dusted off), it’s fabulous to see the return of one of Egypt’s major industries.
Cairo often gets but a cursory glance while everyone rushes to the Pyramids then down to Luxor, but spend the turn of the day in El Muizz for what I think is one of the world’s most beautiful streets.
Thanks to Vacations & Travel for again going ahead of the trend and publishing my feature on this beloved street.
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.
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.