Why a Nile Cruise Should be on Your Bucket List!

Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile immortalised the Nile Cruise, but there is really something special about discovering Egypt by boat (and also watching the film and saying ‘I’ve been there!’)

In Cairo, we watched on as the banks of the Nile were polluted with all kinds of rubbish, dead animals, plastics…apparently this wasn’t the case 40 years ago. Further upstream between the southern cities of Luxor and Aswan, its riverbanks are nothing but lush green. Perhaps as tourism and agriculture along the Nile in this area is so important, the river is very well looked after.

What makes a Nile Cruise ‘unique’?

A Nile Cruise is not like any ordinary cruise. There is not much time for relaxing! Each morning we were up super early to make the most of the sights before it got unbearably hot. Luckily after a difficult early start each morning, we were re-compensated with free time in the afternoons to relax and make the most of the top-deck’s sun-loungers and small pool.

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The main purpose of the cruise though is to make the most of the historic sites generously dotted along the Nile’s banks between Luxor and Aswan. Most itineraries are 3 nights but you can opt for different ones which are longer.

Luxor to Aswan or Aswan to Luxor?

Entirely up to you. The itinerary is the same both ways just in a different order and the cruise takes the same amount of time. We chose Luxor as our starting point as we wanted to finish our trip in Aswan which didn’t disappoint – but more on that later! Cairo, Luxor and Aswan airports are all conencted with regular flights several times daily.

What did we see along the way?

Stay tuned for my next post on Day 1 of cruising the Nile!

Robyn

 

A Full-Day Itinerary of the Pyramids: Giza, Dahshur and Saqqara

Every traveller comes to Cairo for one thing: the Pyramids of Giza. You can easily visit them in a few hours in the morning and then explore the Egyptian Museum later that afternoon and Cairo is ticked off your bucket list, job done.

If you do your research though and and want to make the most of your trip then make sure you visit Dahshur and Saqqara too!

We asked our travel agent, Emma, to include Dahshur and Saqqara as well into our itinerary, and all of a sudden we had a full day of Pyramid exploring to look forward to and the following day to enjoy the sites in Cairo: Egyptian Museum, the Citadel and the Souk. Most tours don’t include all three pyramid sites in the itinerary as not everyone is obsessed with Ancient Egypt and one Pyramid may be enough for some people (???). I’m just trying to get my head around that…

Dahshur is the furthest afield of the three sites, so this is where we headed first. The roads are bumpy and less travelled. After a while, we made it to the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid – the first stops of the day.

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Much to our surprise, the area was empty. There was not a single other person in sight except a few guards keeping watch of the sites. So, with the Bent Pyramid to ourselves, we wandered around each side. It was the most surreal experience – how is no-one else here?! The pyramid was magnificent, albeit wonky! The first pyramid at Dahshur, so-named the ‘Bent Pyramid’ because it is bent – duh. The first pyramid that wasn’t a step-pyramid format, the original angle would have made the structure too high, so at about halfway through the building process, they gave in and made the angle less steep, so as to make it less tall. This pyramid was never used though, it was like a guinea-pig pyramid.

A two-minute drive away is the Red Pyramid which you can see in the distance from the Bent Pyramid. We took ALL the photos:

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Yes my jumping skills are rubbish. This was proven time and again on this day!

This one was built after the Bent Pyramid with better success. It is in good condition, and for a mere 20LE (less than £1), you can even go inside it – which we did.

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I wasn’t smiling 5 minutes after this was taken! The climb down was difficult…

It was amazing going inside a pyramid but it is no easy feat. We had to climb up to the pyramid to get to the entrance, then, it is a long, steep climb down which took me ages as I was quite scared and cautious! J. was much quicker. There is very little air inside and it is hot! The detail of the ceiling inside the pyramid is cool. Our guide said it is better than the one you can go inside at Giza – plus it is a fraction of the price and there is no queuing to get in and out! Climbing up and out of the pyramid was easier than getting in (thank goodness!) but I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t like small spaces and doing a lot of climbing!

From here, we made our way to Saqqara – the first step pyramid, older than the ones at Dahshur. This site is interesting as it is not just a pyramid here, but a scattering of hundreds of tombs in the area that you can go inside and explore. The pyramid is having conservation work done on it, so it has scaffolding on it, partially I think to also keep it up!

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We spent quite a while at Saqqara as there is a lot of see.

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Oh look…more terrible jumping!

Our guide stopped off and picked up some sugarcane juice (unusual but good) and koshary – Egyptian street food dish. It has everything in it – macaroni, pasta, tomato sauce, onions, black lentils. It was very tasty but what I wasn’t prepared for was eating in the car…while we were moving! The roads were so bumpy and full of pot-holes, it was difficult to eat, digest and also not spill all the tomato sauce on my white top! I didn’t manage to eat all mine, but J. was more than obliging to help me out as he was starving!

Our final stop was the Pyramids of Giza. We arrived early afternoon. There was still a good number of people here but it wasn’t crowded at all which was still a little surprising due to the importance of this site. I think the morning would have been much busier though.

Our guide ushered us to one side of the Pyramid where no one was, it was like a secret spot. I didn’t know why we were going there, but when I turned around, I could see all of the pyramids in view! So we have a little photoshoot. He made us do lots of jumping pictures all day and all it confirmed was that I am rubbish at them and J. is amazing. The height difference makes it even worse…

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The Sphinx was the most crowded place – smallest area to view it

I’d love to know what really happened to the Sphinx’s nose…

We decided not to ride a camel which is an option at the Pyramids of Giza. There are loads of camels at Giza. But J. and I have both been on a camel before and we were not overly fussed.

Luckily, our hotel was just around the corner from the Pyramids so it wasn’t long until today’s tour was over.

Highlight: Going to Dahshur – having the Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid all to ourselves was so special! This day in general was just perfect though…

Lowlight: eating what would have been a nice lunch in the car on the bumpy roads. My stomach did not appreciate it!

 

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!

 

Upcoming travels: Shetland

May is fast approaching and with it, a very welcomed week off work! J. and I have been talking about visiting Shetland for a few years as he has family who live there. He went to Shetland back when he was still at school but this will be my first trip to islands. After calling his uncle on Christmas Day who asked him ‘so, when are you coming up to visit us in Shetland?’ it prompted us to make a move on and do it in 2018.

We would have loved to have gone for Up Helly Aa, an annual festival held at the end of January in Shetland, but due to me being a teacher and not much (any) leeway in my holiday dates, I don’t know if this will ever happen. The great thing about May though, is that I have been promised I will see puffins!


Getting there

There are two ways to get to Shetland: ferry or fly.

The flight from Aberdeen only takes 1-hour but the flight times and prices were not convenient for us, so we settled on the overnight ferry. As soon as we knew our dates, we booked the ferry to secure our transport there.

The ferry leaves late afternoon from Aberdeen to Lerwick, so it’s easy to get a train up in the morning and head straight for the ferry upon arrival. However, it would be a bit of a shame to not look around what Aberdeen has to offer. We decided we would include a 1-night stay in Aberdeen to break up the journey, see a bit of the city and because I am dying to see Dunnottar Castle, a short train journey away outside of Stonehaven.


We are spending four days, three nights in Shetland, and I am really looking forward to seeing the wildlife, the scenery and exploring the ‘last untamed corner of the UK’

Have you visited Scotland, Shetland or any of the Scottish Isles? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

Robyn

A Sneak-Peek at my 9-day Egypt Itinerary 

Cairo – 3 nights

We start in Cairo, staying at the iconic Mena House Hotel; I cannot wait to see the Pyramids from my bedroom window when we arrive. I don’t think there is a better way to start our trip.

We were originally going to do a half-day tour to visit the Pyramids, but me being me, a girl with a fascination for all things Ancient Egypt since the age of seven, this was swiftly altered to a full-day tour, to include Saqqara and Dahshur.

Our final day will see us spend the morning at the Egyptian Museum and explore the city sites.


Luxor – 1 night

A short flight will take us to Luxor for a brief 1-night stay at the Hilton before boarding our Nile Cruise to Aswan. J. had wanted to take the overnight train from Cairo which he had done before, but we were advised against this form of travel by the agency over safety concerns. I am happy with the short flight that is roughly the same price as the train ticket.


Nile Cruise – 3 nights

The itinerary looks action-packed with an early start each day. We will visit Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kinds and Queens, Edfu Temple, Kom Ombo Temple and Temple of Philae – lots of temples! I can already see J. getting worn out by temple-overload after a day or two but this is the kind of travel I love.


Aswan – 2 nights

We will be staying at the Old Cataract Hotel – the hotel that J. was extremely keen to stay at. There were no rooms available for the night we had originally planned, so the agency changed the itinerary of the trip especially, to work around staying at this hotel. The original plan was to stay 1 night, but due to the changes, we were given a complimentary extra night and in an upgraded Nile-view luxury room – wow. This will be a lovely way to end our trip, before flying back to London via Cairo.


 

Although it will be a cultural trip, the fact that all transport, tours and accommodation are all sorted means it will, fingers-crossed, be less stressful than say doing a DIY version.

This is the most luxurious trip we have taken. I’m more used to backpacking my way around, but I am sure I will adapt!

Have you been to Egypt before? Let me know any tips and ‘must-do’s’ in the comments!

Robyn

Escape to Andalucía: One day in Córdoba

One Day in_Córdoba

Back in October-November 2017 I spent my half term wandering around the streets of Madrid, which I blogged about here and here. I seized at the opportunity to get out of the capital and spend a day in a very different city I had yet to visit.

The greatest part about Madrid is how it sits smack bang in the centre of Spain and has excellent rail connections to most parts of the county. In only an hour and a half after boarding the train at Atocha station, I was walking the streets of Córdoba in the balmy heat of your average Andalucian Autumnal morning.

Córdoba is a small city, so a gentle 25-minute walk from the station will find you at its historic centre, where you will find plenty to fill your 1-day itinerary.

Most visitors come to marvel at its iconic Mezquita. You can book tickets in advance online and you should! I had read many reports that the Mezquita is never too crowded and it is easy to get a ticket on the day. How misinformed I was. Usually I book these things in advance just in case things go wrong; but I had been in Spain a few days and already I was super relaxed about everything.

The Mezquita had a massive queue when I arrived, but it closed for several hours in the afternoon when I came back for another try, and only reopened a little before I had to catch my train back to Madrid. Before heading back to the station, there was the most ridiculous queue of people waiting at the entrance to get inside. It was disappointing, so I will know next time not to leave these things to chance.

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Outside the Mezquita

Despite not being able to visit the main site in the city, Córdoba had a few other places of interest which I may not have had the chance to see otherwise!

Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos

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Not far from the Mezquita is the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, or Palace of the Christian Kings. The gardens were enjoyable to look around and you can see inside some of the original buildings. It is very different to the Alcazares of Sevilla and Granada as this one seems less grand and much smaller, but for a couple of euros it is a must-do when in Córdoba.

Roman Bridge

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Opposite the Mezquita you can walk along the Roman Bridge. This is a famous film set too for Game of Thrones as the ‘Long Bridge of Volantis.’ As a fan, I appreciated this.

Jewish Quarter

Córdoba has a small but rich Jewish heritage in its historic centre. Visit the small but informative Casa de Sefarad to get an idea of what life was like for Jews in the city prior to C15th. Around the corner is a Synagogue, built in the 14th century which still has some beautiful and intricate carvings on the walls.

Celleja de las Flores

Be prepared to be patient if you are heading to this next spot and wanting a picture-perfect shot of the tiny street adorned with flowers, as everyone else is trying to do the same thing! Look past the crowds and enjoy the beauty in this small place.

The best part about Córdoba is wandering its narrow streets, stumbling upon beautiful buildings, and being lost in another time. It was particularly good to stock up on some Vitamin D as this was the last time for a while that I felt the suns rays before I returned to the cold of winter in England!

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