The Netherlands in February is cold and dreary, so when it came time to plan our February break, we wanted to go somewhere warm and sunny. We couldn’t think of a better place than one that we had all been wanting to visit for many years-Egypt!
When we arrived at night and walked out of the airport, we knew we had made a good choice because it was warm outside. We were taken to our hotel, and once we got into our rooms, we found that we had an amazing view of the Nile and the city.
The next morning, we woke to find that our alarm did not go off, so we jumped up and quickly got ready and ate something-not the best first meal because of the rush. But, we met our guide on time and headed to Memphis, a 5,000-year-old city that was an ancient capital of Egypt. Here, we saw a small sphinx, several different pieces with hieroglyphics and a mumification bed (where they would lay the body and drain bodily fluids).
And then, we saw the giant statue of Ramses II. The amount of detail on it was so impressive especially considering it was carved into a massive red granite block and made 3,200 years ago!
Our next stop was Saqqara where we toured the complex of the burial site and learned a lot about the features of such a complex such as the funerary temple, the mummification temple and the causeway. We saw the first step pyramid (built 4,600) years ago and went into the tomb of King Teti. The tomb is difficult to enter as you descend downward bent over because the ceiling is low. Inside the tomb, we saw the first burial texts (hieroglyphics) that were later featured in all tombs.
In another area of Saqqara, we saw the tomb of a member of nobility built as a mastaba-square tomb. The ornate and intricate carvings depicted so much, particularly scenes of daily life, and the detail was amazing. There was actually some color left in the carvings though they are 4,300 years old!
Next, we went to the Great Pyramids which are around 4,500 years old and are the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We walked around all three pyramids and learned a lot about them. It was interesting to see the size of the stones used to build them.
We made our way to a restaurant overlooking the pyramids for our lunch. We had some aish baladi bread that was being made on site by an older woman. The bread was very soft and chewy.
We also had some quinoa salad with hummus. The meal featured a pyramid shaped mound of rice with veggie tajine and moussaka tajine. We also tried some karkadeh tea which is made from hibiscus. We finished with some traditional rice pudding. Everything was really good and very filling.
After lunch, we went to see the Great Sphinx and went to the only surviving Valley Temple (mummification tomb) of ancient Egypt. We learned all about mummification and the Sphinx before returning to the hotel.
We tried a national dish of Egypt for dinner-koshary. They have restaurants that only serve koshary because the dish consists of many components and the best koshary comes from restaurants that specialize in only that because they can take the time to make all of the components well. The dish has pasta, lentils, chickpeas, a tomato-based sauce and fried onions. We had a fun demonstration from one of the workers on how to put the dish together. It was delicious! He also gave us some kind of chip to eat with our dinner, and we tried om ali (a very milky bread pudding) for dessert before heading back to the hotel for the night.
This morning, we had a more leisurely breakfast of ta’amiyya (falafel), foul medames (smashed and whole fava beans), an olive pastry and fiteer bread. Everything was pretty good.
We met up with our guide to head to the Citadel where we learned a lot about the Mamelukes (former slaves who ended up running the country) and Mohammed Ali (not the boxer, but rather an Egyptian ruler).
We toured the large mosque and saw the tomb of Mohammed Ali.
Then, we moved to the Mosque of Sultan Hassan. It had some really pretty design elements. We went into the mausoleum and there was a Sheikh inside who sang part of a prayer for us. It was really cool to hear in the room.
Next, we visited another mosque across from Sultan Hassan’s that was built by a woman. There were a lot of royal tombs inside including one for the last king of Egypt and the last Shah of Iran. Cairo is called the city of a thousand minarets referring to the number of mosques that they have. Indeed, there were so many more than what we saw, and they all come with their own design elements and style based on when they were constructed.
After the mosques, we went to lunch where we had stuffed vine leaves, bessara (fava bean dip), spicy cheese dip and tahini with bread. We also tried some lentil soup. The main dish was molokhiyya which is a soup made from jute leaves, okra tajine and spinach tajine. It was all very tasty.
After lunch, we visited the Egyptian Museum. Out front, they had a pretty display of papyrus and lotus, the two symbols representing Upper and Lower Egypt.
Inside, they had an amazing amount of 3,000-4,000-year-old artifacts. We saw some really amazing statues including a life like wooden one, a huge one and some strangely shaped ones. We also saw the mummies of some noble people.
And, the crème de la crème-the treasure of King Tut’s tomb including his death mask. It was really cool to see! We even got to see the box housing the vessels that contained his organs.
After the museum, we went to Ancient Cairo to walk through the Khan El Khalili Bazar where, luckily, the merchants were not too pushy. The bazar was a neat experience especially on the quiet streets with all the Islamic architecture as a backdrop. We walked the streets looking at mosques, various dwellings and water dispensaries. We loved seeing the kids on bikes and mopeds with giant wooden trays on their heads loaded with breads-a real feat in balance!
On the way back to the hotel, we drove by a huge daily market. The size was incredible considering it happens every day but Friday (weekend there).
We made our way to dinner where we had falafel, bessara, tahini, grape leaves and rice stuffed pigeon. Pigeon really has very little meat. We had another rice pudding and om ali for dessert.
After sleeping in a bit, we went down to breakfast where someone important must have been eating because there were secret service type agents all over the breakfast room. When we finished and were leaving the hotel, there was also a huge convoy of cars out front with special Egyptian forces escorts.
We made our way to the Civilizations Museum. The highlight there was about 21 royal mummies including Nefertari and Hatshepsut. The preservation after 3,000 years is unbelievable-some even have hair in good condition! We also saw some amazing artifacts including a 35,000-year-old skeleton. They had some nice Islamic architecture designs and a tent like case that was placed on camels’ backs and used to carry the curtains for Mecca that were made in Egypt.
Used to grind the eye makeup in the hole
In the afternoon, we flew to Luxor where we had another amazing view of the Nile.
The hotel had a Lebanese restaurant inside an open courtyard, so we ate there. While we at some hummus, muhmarra (pepper dip), tahini, samousek and grape vines, we watched some dance performers. After the main dish of spinach tajine and some fatteh, our son was invited to perform onstage with the dancers. That was fun!
After dinner, we walked to some artisan shops in our hotel and while it was a bit uncomfortable with the pressure to buy, the oil guy did give us some testers which smelled nice.
The next day, we woke up to a view of hot air balloons flying over Luxor.
We had some eggplant, bread and foul (fava beans) for breakfast before boarding a small boat on the Nile to take us to the other bank.
On the other side, we made our way to the Valley of the Kings. On the way, we drove through the agricultural area and saw these sun-dried tomatoes being dried.
We drove by the Valley of the Workers (the tombs of those that worked on the Kings’ tombs) before arriving at the Valley of the Kings.
We got to see three tombs while we were there- Ramses I, Ramses III and Ramses IV. They were so colorful and elaborate. It was really hard to remember that they were 3,000 years old.
Next, we went to the Temple of Hatshepsut who was a female pharaoh. She has a very interesting story, but basically, she ruled after her husband died by sending her stepson (the rightful heir) away to be educated. When he grew up and returned, he had her temple desecrated (she was already dead) because he realized she had taken the throne from him. This temple, which was simply used to mummify her body and is not her tomb, is what remains and it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like if it hadn’t been destroyed.
After leaving the temple, we stopped at an alabaster shop for a demonstration on how they turn the alabaster into various products.
Then, the Valley of the Queens where we saw the tombs of Queen Titi and her two sons that died at 14 and 16. There is also the mummified 6-month fetus that she was carrying when her sons died and lost due to the grief. Again, the colors and details were amazing.
We made a quick stop at the Colossi of Memnon which stand at the entrance to what was once another pharaoh’s mortuary temple. The temple and much of the other statues were destroyed in an ancient earthquake and the Greeks found these statues and named them this after the noises they make when the wind blows through them.
We had lunch at a nearby restaurant that served hummus, muhamarra, lentil soup and vegetable tajine along with some guava juice.
After lunch, we visited the Temple of Karnak which was just so huge and impressive with hieroglyphics everywhere. Again, we were just amazed at the level of preservation after 3,000 years.
We stopped at a papyrus shop for a demonstration of how papyrus paper is made which was interesting, and we looked around at the different art they make on papyrus.
Our final stop was the Temple of Luxor which was also huge. We saw the Avenue of Sphinxes and many interesting statues and carvings.
Back at the hotel, we took in the views of the sun setting on the Nile while enjoying some juice drinks like strawberry juice and lemon juice.
Back in our room, we sat on the balcony and watched a bunch of bats flying around which was fun.
Our day was mostly spent flying from Luxor back to Cairo and then from Cairo to Sharm-el-Sheikh. We then drove for an hour or so through the Sinai Desert on our way to Dahab. Our day never really ended because at 11:30pm, we were picked up by our guide to head to Mt. Sinai.
The day began at 11:30pm the day before as we drove through the desert toward Mt. Sinai. We reached the mountain (also referred to as Moses Mountain) at about 1am and began hiking at 1:30am. That’s right-we hiked up the mountain all night with a Bedouin guide. It took us about three and a half hours with frequent breaks to climb up the rocky sand slopes and the 750 steep rock steps to reach the summit which was about a 6-mile hike.
Most of the journey we were by ourselves as the majority of people rode camels to the bottom of the steps. One of the best parts was resting on a rocky wall and looking up to the ridge above us where the camel silhouettes could be made out against the dark, starry sky. It’s a shame we couldn’t get a picture.
Once we made it to the steps, everyone was together, and most people had to take frequent breaks to rest. We made it to the summit about an hour before sunrise, and very few people were there at that point. It was very cold, but one of the Bedouins was nice enough to let us sit in his tent to stay warm. We made a little conversation, and it was much appreciated shelter. Close to sunrise, we left the tent to see the area where Moses’s cave is and where he received the Ten Commandments. Then, we watched the sun appear on the horizon and make its rapid ascent up to the skyline.
After the sun was up, it was time to tackle the descent which was a bit of a killer on the knees. The rocks and sand were actually quite slippery, so you had to be very careful. I may have ended up on my backside one time, but we saw someone else really wipe out closer to the bottom. Once we made it to the bottom, we had a quick stop to learn about the monastery that houses the descendent of the burning bush as well as other artifacts. Unfortunately, the monastery was closed on this day, so we couldn’t go in.
After this, we made our way back to Dahab where we got on a private boat to go diving and snorkeling. While my husband and daughter dove twice, my son and I snorkeled the reef. There were many colorful fish and lots of coral. We even saw a clam with a blue inside. They served us lunch on the boat of rice and vegetables. The ride back to the harbor was very peaceful and the water was pretty. We really enjoyed soaking up the sun!
Back at the hotel, we cleaned up and went to a buffet dinner where we had various grains and vegetables and a rather large assortment of Egyptian desserts which were very good.
After all we had done over the last few days, this day was for pure relaxation. We had breakfast of foul, cheese spreads, bread and vegetables before heading to the pool where we stayed for the whole day.
There were really nice views of the Red Sea.
We ate lunch by the pool, as well, where we had hummus, tahini and mutable (eggplant dip) with bread. After finally extracting our son from the pool and getting cleaned up, we went to dinner where we again had rice and an assortment of vegetables. There were again some Egyptian desserts including some little cookies and phyllo triangles in honey which were nice.
After a final day of flying, we arrived back home. Our trip was just what we wanted-amazing history, famous landmarks, some adventure and relaxation under the sun and warmth (writing this as the snow comes down in the Netherlands, I might be crying a little). We feel really lucky to have been able to make this trip, and I’m sure we will all remember it for the rest of our lives.