The ONE THING you MUST do in Aswan

What was the ultimate highlight of our Egypt trip? Probably the entire trip, but if you are in Aswan, there is one experience you cannot miss out on, it is too special.

Upon arrival in Aswan, we knew exactly how we wanted to spend our first afternoon – hire a ferlucca. Ferluccas are traditional small sailing boats which have no motors. Originally they would have been used for fishing but now they are geared towards tourism. You can hire a motorboat, but trust me – you want a ferlucca. All the tourists who were on motorboats were looking on at us with envy/wanting to take pictures of our boat.

We negotiated a price with a ferlucca captain, Iwa (sp?). He asked ‘Elephantine Island?’ We did want to go there later, but our destination was rather Soheil Island.

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I read in the Lonely Planet that this was a lovely destination for a longer ferlucca trip and a bit more  off-the-beaten-track. There, you can see hieroglyphic ruins of the famous seven year famine and there is also a Nubian village on the island – but that is a wonderful story which I will save for another post!

As we pushed away and meandered south towards Soheil, it became quieter and quieter until we were the only boat on the river. It was just us, the Nile and it was so quiet. It really was pure bliss. It took about half an hour to reach Soheil, but we were in no rush.

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J driving the ferlucca!

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Direction: Soheil

 

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Other ferluccas moored up

After spending over an hour on the island – we lost track of time, it really was such an interesting place and the people were equally interesting to talk to – we returned to the ferlucca for the journey back to the hotel.

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Leaving Soheil

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J. paddled his feet in the Nile water to cool himself down, all until we saw a dead dog floating passed us and the feet were briskly put back in the boat for the rest of the trip! We were going so slowly so it took a while to escape the dog on the river…

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hibiscus tea time!

We were going against the wind so it took well over an hour to get back. The boat meandered left to right, left to right, up the Nile. The sail changing direction each time. This was absolutely fine. We had timed the trip to perfection as the sun was setting and it was the most beautiful sunset of the trip.

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the cataracts on the Nile, swirling

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enjoying the sunset

 

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So yes, visit the pyramids, but make sure you hire a ferlucca in Aswan for a spectacular sunset!

Cairo: More than just the Pyramids

Cairo is a city of contrasts and it is so diverse. So different to anywhere in the world we have traveled before. I love how it is normal to see a 4×4, a donkey, a scooter, a camel and a horse and carriage – all in the same scene on a road. I really wish I had caught a photo of that when I had the chance!

As we spent an entire, wonderful day at Dahshur, Saqqara and Giza seeing the pyramids, we had a second full day in Cairo to see some more of its sites.

The first stop of the day was the Citadel where the Mohammed-Ali mosque is (no, not the boxer – as we were reassured several times). It was quiet here. The mosque was very pretty inside and out. The Citadel has a great vantage point over the city, but other than that, it was not a very exciting stop – we were there for only 30 minutes.

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A must-do is without a doubt the Egyptian Museum.

It is really worth hiring a guide to go inside with you as this museum is mad. There is very little information about any of the exhibits and there are many artifacts scattered around unlabelled, that you could miss some amazing treasures with an incredible story behind them. The quantity of artifacts is staggering, and this is only the few they have out on show, there are many, many more in storage!

Our guide gave us a choice of 1 hour, 2 hours or 3 hours. I wasn’t feeling very well (horrible cold) so, normally I would have said 3 hours, but I was struggling. J. said three hours though on our behalf and I didn’t feel I could go back. I wanted to make the most of the visit after all. Half-way through, we were both waning, and when I asked J. , he agreed he wanted to wind things up soon. Our guide sensed this and after two hours he called our driver to pick us up half an hour earlier. We were so lucky that we were able to do this. In the meantime J. carried my handbag around and looked very elegant.

We paid extra to go into the mummy rooms. J. asked – do you want to see the mummies? YES I do! These rooms are well labelled and you can meet so many of the famous kings and queens in here through the ages of Ancient Egypt. Some still have hair and jewellery on, it’s fascinating.

I was half expecting one to move and scare-jump me though. The Egyptians don’t really like the American film ‘The Mummy.’ Apparently Imhotep was a good guy and scarab beetles don’t eat you alive – actually, they are a sign of good luck and were a symbol of the sun-god Ra, as they would come out of the sand in the morning to greet the sun (so cute!).

Of course, the highlight of the Egyptian Museum is seeing all the artifacts from Tutankhamen’s tomb –  So. much. gold! We would later visit the actual tomb in the Valley of the Kings in a few days time. It was amazing how so much stuff fitted inside it!

After the Egyptian Museum, food was of priority. We made our way to the souk – Khan el-Khalili.

Khan el-Khalili – the souk (market)

Here our guide took us to an Egyptian falafel wrap place. I am not a massive fan of falafel, but he assured us that Egyptian falafel was different and better than any other kind of falafel (of course). In fairness to him, it was really good. We had a falafel wrap each and a chip wrap each. So. much. carb. He really made us eat local for the two days we were with him, and I’m glad for that. I was absolutely stuffed but we couldn’t just sit around, we had shopping to do!

We had about 45 minutes to ourselves to walk around and find some bargains. It was the one time in central Cairo when we were on our own and we felt totally safe. It might have been because the souk was so empty – we didn’t see any other tourists. I would have thought we would have been hassled more because of this, but no, not really. Most sellers tried to initiate conversation and get us to visit their shops, but they didn’t push us or make us uncomfortable.

My first purchase was a small wooden jewellery box which was pretty. I got it down from 750LE to 250LE. It was a hard bargain I was pleased with but it took a lot of negotiation. A lot of shops were selling identical items.

James bought some incense, an incense burner holder and an essence oil tealight burner. I also purchased some small perfume bottles to put my essence in from the day before. That was it. We wandered around and meandered through the little alleyways but not much else caught our eye that day.

I wanted a necklace with my name on in hieroglyphics – it’s inside a symbol called a ‘cartouche’ – our guide knew a guy. He called them and only an hour after arriving back at our hotel, he returned with it for me all finished. It was 12$ – I did get it checked and it is proper silver, not plated, so I am chuffed with that – although for the rest of the trip, if anyone could read hieroglyphics (you’d be surprised by how many!), they instantly knew my name…

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View from the Citadel

Visiting some extra little pockets of Cairo made the visit feel less rushed.

 

The No.1 Best Place to Stay in Cairo

When planning this trip, for us there was only one place to stay when we were here, and actually it was not actually in Cairo, but in Giza. Yes, we were staying by the Pyramids!

I just couldn’t wait to get my first glimpse of the Pyramids when I arrived in Cairo. Unfortunately I didn’t see them from the plane as it was nighttime when we landed, but I wouldn’t have to wait long to see them!

We stayed for three nights at the Mena House Hotel, which arguably has the best hotel location to see the Pyramids as well as being a beautiful hotel with historical value. We stayed in a Pyramid View room and upon arrival (after getting driven in the golf buggy to the room), I was clawing at the lock on the balcony door to get outside and see.  It was cloudy and the Pyramids are not lit up at night (disappointing), so all I could see was a faint outline of what may be a Pyramid. I made a wish that they would appear come morning.

I woke up early at 5am to get that amazing view and I was so excited for the day ahead!

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Luckily, I was able to leave the balcony and appreciate the view even more over breakfast:

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Even after three days, I was still mesmerised!20180330_123620.jpg

After breakfast on the first day, we had to leave the comfort of the hotel and the crazy pretty view for now. We were met by our guide, who would take us for a full-day (not half-day) of Pyramid sightseeing – the second part in making the most of our stay here!

Come back next Sunday to read about why a full-day, not half-day of Pyramid sightseeing is a must-do!

This post is not sponsored and is entirely made up of my personal experience and opinions.

3 Reasons Why NOW is the time to visit Egypt

 

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The Bent Pyramid, Dashur

No that is not a stock image above – that is a photo I took at The Bent Pyramid on our first sightseeing day in Egypt. What is missing? People. We were the only living souls there…

Egypt has been suffering from a serious dip in tourism ever since the Revolution in 2011. Speaking with Egyptians during our stay, they say that 2018 is better than 2017, which was better than 2016, with 2012-2013 being the worst years. Tourism numbers are ever-so slowly increasing, but they are nothing compared to ten years ago.

When I first booked the trip, all anyone asked was – but is it safe? Check your country’s travel advice, currently all but North Sinai are safe to visit for British nationals. Use common sense, do all the necessary research and have an amazing time!

Egypt is open for tourism and the locals, the hotels, the shopkeepers, the tour guides, they are all so eager for us to come. ‘Welcome to Egypt!’ ‘You must come again!’ ‘Next time to the Red Sea, it is beautiful there!’ Egyptians are extremely proud of their unique country and what it has to offer for those looking for an adventure through the ages.

The amount of hotels “closed for renovation” and half-empty cruise ships along the Nile (ours was only at 30% capacity), gives you a pang of sadness for what could be, what should be a bustling tourism economy.

Take advantage of this to be the time that you book your dream holiday to Egypt. 

Reason 1: Low tourist numbers? Lower prices!

We splurged on a luxury holiday which would probably have been way out of our budget if Egypt wasn’t begging for tourists. Yes, we still spent a lot, but many hotels and tours have slashed their prices to be more accommodating to travelers.

You can get a great bargain at markets and shops – some of the shops and market stalls we bargained with, they probably didn’t have another customer that day, which meant they were very keen to agree on a sale with us. It’s all about getting a great deal, but making sure you are giving enough for what the item is worth to support the seller.

Reason 2: No crowds

The more I travel, the more I want to go ‘more off the beaten track.’ Crowds of people really put me off enjoying places and it is difficult to get a nice photo when you’re fighting with the group next to you for the perfect spot.

In Egypt, this was not an issue (see the picture of the Bent Pyramid!). Even at the Pyramids of Giza, which is THE MOST famous and popular sight in Egypt, it was by no means busy. It really was astounding to experience my first pyramid on my own – it felt so special and personal. At the Red Pyramid at Dashur, we also were able to go inside the Pyramid alone – no queues to get up or down, we could take our time, it was incredible.

Reason 3: Where Else?

Where else are you going to see incredible temples, tombs and pyramids by the Ancient Egyptians? See beautiful original paintings about the afterlife in tombs from 4,000 years ago that are still there? Marvel at giant obelisks laboriously carved out of a single granite stone? Sip hibiscus tea while watching the gorgeous sunsets on the Nile? Experience the generous hospitality of the locals who are so happy you have chosen Egypt as your destination?

Look out for new posts on Sundays for more about my trip to Egypt.

I have so many amazing stories and travel ideas to share! It was without a doubt, the best holiday I have ever experienced. Everywhere that follows, you have some serious competition!

 

Snow in Spring

The snow storm ‘Beast from the East’ made its way here on Tuesday night. We had dinner at Pizza Express and the snow starting falling…and well, it didn’t stop!

Result? 1.5 days off work so far (fingers crossed Friday too)! It was nice to turn off my alarm this morning when I heard the news and get some extra ZZZs.

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I do feel bad that I am off work when for most people it is ‘business as usual,’ but it was quite (read: very) chaotic with the kids yesterday!

I spent all day yesterday marking and planning on the sofa, so I am finally feeling on top of things. However, this was gladly interrupted when my housemates came home and the snowball fight with everyone on the road commenced!

Today has been a chilled day; lie-in, watching day-time TV, finally hoovering my room and doing some exercise videos (no way am I driving to the gym in this!).

Hope my UK-based readers stay warm and safe while we ride out the storm!

Robyn

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Winter Walks: Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire

I was amazed by the beauty of the changing landscapes and the variety of wildlife on my walk around Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire. What truly perplexes me is how I have been living in the area for quite a while, yet I had not heard of the place until recently.

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A wave of my bright orange National Trust card at the park gate gave me free access to a huge expanse of woodland – 3,800 acres to be exact. The guy at the park entrance said ‘park wherever you want’ but there are designated car parks dotted around to use as well. The ‘free-for-all’ parking is great though as you can park in the perfect spot if you want to jump out for a photo. The park is so extensive, so there is no way you can see it all in one day.

There was once a country house on-site, which has since been demolished, but there remains many traces of its existence thanks to the Gothic-style chapel and walled kitchen gardens which you can visit.

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The chapel in the background

Despite receiving a map and some basic directions to the main Visitors’ Centre, I admit I did get a bit lost, but all roads loop around thankfully. After getting some help from a helpful walker, I managed to find where I wanted to go. I parked up near the walled kitchen garden as I wanted to take a peek in there first of all, before I made my way to the chapel and lake.

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Walled Kitchen Garden

I decided to do the Lakeside Circular Walk, which is roughly 4 miles (6km). Navigating the walk is easy as it is one large loop of the lake, but it did take me longer than expected (possibly due to all the photo opportunities!). It is a quite a big lake.

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The Lakeside Circular Walk © AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

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It is an accessible walk and all paths are signposted. I did it easily in trainers, but others were suited up in wellies or walking boots. There is the option to hire bikes near the Visitors’ Centre if that is something you like – I may do that next time. It was a cold, overcast day in January but many families were out walking their dogs and out with kids.

 

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The Low-Down:

Cost: See the National Trust website for opening times and prices for entry to the park

Don’t forget: your camera for some great snaps of the countryside and wildlife

 

Clumber Park: photo slideshow

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Hiking up to Machu Picchu

This was the one thing I was dreading on the trip. The possibility I would have to hike up to Machu Picchu again. I remember just how long it took me and how difficult it was four years ago. And then, no break, having to then climb even more steps for two hours as we had a guided tour of Machu Picchu!

However, this time I would know what to expect, I had James who would drag me up if necessary and I was not concerned about getting up for sunrise – not the end of the world if I didn’t make it.

We left at 3:45am from our hostel, plenty of time for a leisurely 30 minute walk to the park entrance – yep, you have to walk for half an hour before you even start the ascent! It was pitch-black, so my head-torch came in handy, but it wasn’t cold at all! I ended up just wearing a t-shirt and leggings – my jacket stuffed in my bag. It may have just been because I had acclimatised to the colder weather in Bolivia, as everyone else was wrapped up warm!

The gate doesn’t open until 5am, but when we arrived a little after 4am, we were already standing in a long queue! Queuing to hike up?! This isn’t something I remember from my first trip. After waiting around a while, an official checked our tickets and passports – make sure you have these otherwise you will be denied entry! Then we started moving. It wasn’t long until we were all slowly but surely climbing the steps.

After ten minutes, the line started to break up with people going further ahead while other people were taking it slower. I tried to keep a steady pace and for the first half of the ascent I did well.

After the first half was completed, the buses started to leave and get to the top of the mountain. It was around here that my stops were becoming longer and I was starting to struggle. J. wasn’t having it and was having to pep talk me all the way up after that – even though he was the one wearing the backpack and carrying all the water!

Eventually, we got to the top, somehow, and in record time! It took me 90-minutes last time. Our hostel receptionist said that it would take an hour – but this time we did it in 50 minutes which was amazing!

When we got to the top, it was all quite hectic, with bus groups arriving, people queuing to get in for sunrise, so we joined them.

I had wanted to change in the toilets into a new outfit as I was so sweaty and gross and didn’t want to look that way when I got in. Not the case, due to all the craziness, but I found somewhere nearby to change my t-shirt and put some make-up on. J. said it made me look like ‘I hadn’t just climbed a million steps’ which was the look I was ideally going for, so that was good!

We bumped into a few people we had met in Cusco and on the Sacred Valley tour – they had all got the bus but had arrived later than us – this was good, it means that we were very speedy!! They were impressed by our commitment to not spend a ridiculous amount on the bus…

Unfortunately the mist covered the mountains but it did make the views very atmospheric. It wasn’t long for the mist to lift and the sun flooded the Inca city. As we had arrived so early, the site was still very quiet and in some places we didn’t come across other people!

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After taking plenty of photos and making the most of covering the entire place, we were getting hungry. There are no facilities for food/bathrooms once inside Machu Picchu – so it was time to leave.

There is a café and a restaurant by the entrance. We didn’t need a lot, but we had our eye on a massive slice of over-priced chocolate brownie which was the perfect reward for all that hard work!

Before we left we made sure we stamped our passports with the Machu Picchu stamp. We overheard a girl say there was one you could stamp in the Bolivian Salt Flats. J. flared his nostrils at me, as it was something we didn’t realise when we went there – oh well, next time?!

We were originally going to hike up and bus down, but we were feeling good, and the hike down wouldn’t be as difficult as the hike up, right? Plus it’s 12$ we could save. The hike was fine; it took us an hour, this was longer than the way up but we really took our time as we were in no rush, plus we had the sun beating down on us. Not many people hiked down with us.

The main issue we had was when we got to the bottom as we then had to hike the 45 mins back to Aguas Calientes. This was downhill on the way in, but it was now uphill on the way back – by this point we were so exhausted, it was hot, my feet were hurting and it was a struggle. I was tempted to beg the empty coaches going past to pick us up!

Anyway, we made it back, feeling rough, and a tasty, cold jug of lemonade was required, lunch and then sleep on the train.

However, sleep was not an option on the journey back to Cusco as it turned into the most exciting train journey imaginable – our train conductors treated us to a traditional dance show – of course I was the only one who was dragged into the aisle to join in the lively dance – very difficult to dance in walking boots, I learned that day.. and they also had to put on a fashion show, bless them.

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Exhausted, we made it to Poroy station, and all I had to do was haggle for a 25 minute taxi back to Cusco before I could go to sleep! Very thankful I had paid extra to go there instead of Ollantaytambo which would have been another long, bumpy 1h30 mini-van journey.

We enjoyed two final lazy days in Cusco – lots of good food, an Inca massage which was the most painful massage I have ever had – but it stopped all my muscles from aching and meant I could walk up and down stairs normally again! The final day involved lots of bargain hunting in the markets!

Next and final stop….Lima.