Date of visit July 2005
Post written by Laura
Time for another throwback Thursday post!
This is a day by day account of a week spent cruising Egypt’s River Nile, partly reproduced here just as I wrote it back then (copied directly from my trip notes) and partly adapted from my (hopefully) evolved and improved blog writing style!
I had booked this trip with a tour company called Libra, the first and only time I’ve travelled with them.
Day 1: arrive in Luxor
My companion and I landed at Luxor airport at around 7 pm local time just as the warm apricot coloured sun was beginning to set. As I had hoped it was wonderful to step off the plane and into that lovely feeling of heat – it felt like a large oven in over 30 degree’s.
We located our luggage, tour guide and coach and sat waiting to be delivered from the airport to the cruise boat. As we set off, the guide, Moushira gave us a running commentary as we were driven the short distance towards the River Nile. First impressions? Luxor was not as I expected it to be. Back then, not sure what exactly I had imagined having never been to Egypt… I thought as a city, Luxor would be large and modern full of bright lights and casino’s, but instead it seemed very dark, quiet and third world like.
We arrived on the banks of the Nile and to our surprise we began to board a boat called ‘DaVinci’. The reason soon became apparent! Several boats moor alongside each other and we crossed horizontally through this boat, then through another before coming to the Dominia Prestige, our floating home for the next week.
We were sent to the bar and given a drink of some kind of local dark red fruit juice while our luggage was delivered to our cabin. After a short briefing by the tour rep we collected the cabin key and feeling a deep sense of excitement and anticipation, hurried off to find it.
I had never been on a cruise of any kind either a river cruise or an ocean cruise and I was delighted to find the cabin was more like a hotel room! There was two beds, large patio windows, a television, classic dark wooden furniture, a fridge and even a mini bar! Not exactly what one would imagine a cabin to look like, i.e. no tiny bunk beds squashed up against the wall.
The dining room was on the first desk, so we made our way past the elaborate reception area, complete with a glittering expanse of a chandelier. We were shown to what was to be our set table for the week and introduced ourselves to Graham and Dorothy, a couple from Darlington and Joanne and Anna, mother and daughter from Hampshire.
Dinner was excellent with a tasty array of salads, hot food (rice, pasta, beef, chicken, fish etc), and desserts, the kind of which were similar to those served in all-inclusive hotel.
After dinner we set off to explore the ship. We located the door to the upper sun deck and were greeted by the intense heat as we stepped from the cool air-conditioned ship to the evening darkness. There was not many lights and nothing much to see or make out in the inky blackness.
We went back to the cabin and to bed, full of excitement about the following morning.
Day 2: Luxor and Karnak
After a fairly restless sleep, difficult due to the constant humming of the engine or generator in the background and the air conditioning of the cabin, the telephone awoke us abruptly at 8:00.
Following a pleasant breakfast, a choice of various breads, cheeses, hams, pastries and cooked food, we assembled in the reception foyer along with our fellow passengers. All looking slightly unsure and unfamiliar with what was to become a regular routine. Moushira, the guide suddenly yelled out ‘Libra’ and we all obediently made our way towards her. She led us back through the other two boats to our coach and we set of to the Luxor Temple, a short 10 minute drive away.
We stepped into the morning heat outside the temple, and made our way inside the gates. Moushira led us to a shaded spot and proceeded to describe in detail the history of the Luxor Temple. She explained about Queen Nefertiti, the most beautiful woman of ancient Egypt. Nefertiti was born in 1370 BCE in the Egyptian city of Thebes (now called Luxor).
This was a huge and impressive archeological site and massive columns made a central corridor through the temple. There was no roof, just brilliant blue sky, contrasting against the pale colour of the pillars. It was incredible to think we were standing in a structure that was constructed approximately 1400 BC.
We then boarded the coach, appreciating more than ever the invention of air conditioning, and drove the short distance to Karnak Temple. The bus also carried a continuous non-exhaustive stock of small bottles of water, essential in the 40+ degree mid summer heat of Egypt! (Back then I didn’t have my water-to-go… now I take this abroad with me to reduce waste in the form of single use plastic).
Karnak is the largest temple in Egypt and the second largest in the world (after Angkor Wat in Cambodia). The site covers 250 acres and took approximately 2000 years to construct as bits were added with each new pharaoh. Karnak is also much older than the Luxor temple we had just visited. Massive columns all engraved with Egyptian gods and heiroglyfics.
Our final destination this morning was to a perfume factory. A bit gimmicky and touristy and obviously aimed at trying to sell us some perfume or oils. We all sat patiently and listened to the explanation of various kinds of perfume, in a very similar way to that experienced in the spice factory in Tangiers earlier that year.
At lunchtime, the coach drove us back to the boat. Even in the daylight, Luxor is completely different from how I imagined it would be. I’ve often flicked through glossy brochures, dreaming of visiting Egypt and Luxor, and I imagined it to be a new, modern city with glossy high rise hotels, neatly ‘sprinkled’ lawns, modern roads and cars. In contrast, it is old, tatty and undeveloped. (“I have this ‘modern’ image of Dubai too, I wonder what Dubai will be like, when I get there at some future point” (as it happened this turned out to be in 2013, 8 years later with Chris and again in 2017 with Zoe)
We were welcomed back to the ship where we were handed a wet flannel each and glass of refreshing lemonade (not the usual stuff, but a lovely tangy lemon drink). This pleasant greeting took place every time we arrived back following each excursion.
After lunch aboard the ship, we began to set sail for the first time at 14:30. This was very exciting. The boat was so smooth that it was difficult to tell we were moving. We were on the top sun deck when the boat began to set sail. We came down to the cabin during the afternoon and it was extremely relaxing to sit in the room on the bed, watching a large wall-sized moving mural of the greenery of the banks of the Nile gliding past.
The boat stopped during late afternoon and waited alongside several other boats. We had arrived at the point of the lock and for some reason were not going to be going through the lock until the early hours of tomorrow morning. (I assumed this is just the length of time it takes for each boat to transit through).
Following afternoon tea, the rest of the afternoon was spent booking up our trips for the week and purchasing our outfits for ‘Egyptian Evening’ the following day. During the evening we had a cocktail party before dinner and spent time chatting to our new friends.
Day 3: Edfu and Aswan
During the night we had passed through the lock as the boat made its way towards Edfu. After breakfast we left at 08:30 ready to explore Edfu and find out more about the Egyptian God ‘Horus’.
Built between 237 BC and 57 BC, into the reign of Cleopatra VII, Edfu Temple is dedicated to Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris. The roof is still intact making Edfu one of the best preserved temples. The temple is so vast the people looked tiny in comparison.
The reason Horus has the head of a falcon is because ancient Egyptians believed him to be the sky god! Pictures decorate walls showing Horus’s fierce battle against Seth his uncle.
From Edfu we were back on the boat at 10:30 and eating pizza on the deck an hour later. Next came lunch after which we sat in our air conditioned cabin for a bit, watching the constantly moving scenery outside as the boat had started to sail to the next destination.
Later that evening we docked at Aswan and tonight was Egyptian night! Everyone dressed up in the Egyptian clothes we had purchased and we enjoyed Egyptian food, music and entertainment.
After the onboard disco we went to the top sun deck with Graham and Dorothy to look at Aswan and from what we could see, first impressions were good and we all agreed that Aswan seemed much more modern than Luxor!
Day 4: Philae and Aswan
I slept much better last night having adjusted to the constant engine noise and woke up to an early morning call at 7 am. After breakfast we left the boat at 8 am by walking horizontally through a couple of other parallel parked boats to get to the shore.
We were on our way to Philae Temple a short coach drive away. To get to Philae we had to embark on a small boat as this temple is located on an island in previously flooded artificial Lake Aswan.
Philae, the Temple of Isis is dedicated to Isis, Osiris and Horus. The walls of the temple represent Egyptian mythology scenes of Isis giving birth to Horus.
Philae Temple had to be moved to higher ground and reconstructed to save it from the flooding as a result of the Aswan Dam. The temple was deconstructed into 75,000 pieces before being moved and reassembled in its new location.
From Philae we transferred by small boat back to the coach and were taken to a papyrus factory. The first writing paper in the world was made in ancient Egypt from a plant called papyrus. This was the royal plant of Egypt and was cultivated in the Nile delta region. We were shown how the core of the plant was cut into thin strips, pressed together, and dried to form a smooth thin writing surface.
Next we went to the old dam and then the high dam, which created Lake Nasser, the largest man-made lake in the world. From there we visited the unfinished obelisk which is 3,500 years old. Apparently it wasn’t finished due to flaws however if it had been it would have been the largest in the world.
Today was super hot and temperatures reached 49 degrees. It was a delight to arrive back on the boat where again we were greeted with cold wet flannels and very refreshing Egyptian lemonade.
Later that afternoon we had signed up for a bird spotting boat trip along the Nile. We left at 5 pm climbing aboard a small motor boat which had moored next to our river cruise boat. This trip lasted for nearly 3 hours as we were shown a variety of the birdlife of the river.
Tonight, after dinner we spent a short time watching a belly dancer but went to bed early in preparation for our early start the next day.
Day 5: Abu Simbel
Our early morning call was at 3:15 am and it was still dark when we set off for the 3.5 hour coach journey south to Abu Simbel which is close to the border with Sudan. Everyone was given a pillow and a breakfast box to ensure a comfortable journey. The time passed fairly quickly as we watched the sun rise over the desert. Oh and the police escorted us through there!
Thankfully as we arrived at Abu Simbel at 7:30 am the sun wasn’t yet too hot. We went inside Abu Simbel with its impressive hieroglyphic drawings and statues but were not permitted to take any photos. Abu Simbel is awe-inspiring on different levels.
Firstly Abu Simbel has two enormous temples which were carved into the rocks in 1244 BC during the reign of Pharaoh Ramasses II and Queen Nefertari. They had been hidden, buried in sand for many centuries until they were discovered at the beginning of the 19th century.
Pharaoh Ramasses II and Queen Nefertari are buried in the temples.
Abu Simbel was originally located in the soon-to-be flooded basin of Lake Nasser and in the 1960’s was dismantled piece by piece and moved to the higher ground of where it currently stands. This significant project was funded by several countries from around the world.
We left Abu Simbel at 9:45 and the coach returned to the boat about 3 hours later in time for lunch.
Later in the afternoon we participated in a felucca boat trip where we were taken to Aswan botanical gardens. A felucca is a traditional wooden Egyptian boat with a sail.
Tonight after dinner we watched another belly dancer and then sat up on the top deck with Graham and Dorothy drinking wine, whisky and vodka until 2 am!
Day 6: Kom Ombo
We were up early and after breakfast departed for Kom Ombo Temple at 8 am.
The temple of Kom Ombo was dedicated to Sobek, a crocodile headed god and Horus the Elder! As such everything on the archeological site was duplicated.
Parts of Kom Ombo were destroyed over thousands of years but much of it has been reconstructed.
The River Nile was previously teaming with crocodiles which scared ancient Egyptians however they believed that if they worshipped crocodiles, they would leave them alone and not attack them!
The ship left Kom Ombo at 10 am and we relaxed in our cabin where I had one eye on the constantly changing view gently streaming past through the large picture window. I spent this time looking on my laptop as I sorted out my photos and typed my hand-written notes, re-living a recent backpacking trip through Austria.
The boat had sailed towards a bridge where we had to stop and wait in a queue of other boats. After a couple of hours as we were sitting on the top sun deck the crew began to wind down the sun canopy and we all had to move. The bridge would be too low for the boat to go underneath with the sun canopy fully extended.
From the low bridge the sun canopy was raised again and we sailed towards the lock at Esna – the Esna Barrage. We arrived at the lock at approximately 7:15 pm and as it was still just about light we could see the lock itself.
We were stationary for a couple of hours and after dinner we stood on the deck and watched with interest as we passed through the lock at around 10 pm. This was followed by an early night as we had another early start the following morning…
Day 7: Balloon ride, Temple of Ay, Valley of the Queens, Valley of the Kings
We had an early morning call at 5 am ready for our balloon ride! I was really excited to be going up in a hot air balloon for the first time. We were collected in a mini bus and taken to a motor boat where we crossed the Nile to the other side. (And given a cup of mint tea on the boat). Here we got into another minibus and were driven past some poor and tatty looking village houses to the balloon location.
We clambered into the basket of the balloon and before long with the gas being fired up inside, we gently started to lift off the ground. Watching the fields below us become smaller and smaller as we sailed up into the sky.
That morning conditions were good and there were were several other balloons as well as ours. The balloon could only travel in the direction of the wind and atmospheric condiditions so we were at the mercy of the elements!
After an incredible balloon experience with amazing views of Luxor and the Nile we landed in the middle of nowhere in a field! Well – it felt like the middle of nowhere but it wasn’t long before a whole bunch of local kids suddenly appeared through the hedges asking us for money. We walked a short distance to the mini bus which had followed our progress and was waiting to take us on our reverse journey back to the cruise boat.
A few years later in 2013, a tragic accident occurred when a similar Luxor balloon crashed resulting in the deaths of all 21 people on board including 19 tourists. This was caused by the basket catching fire which caused the balloon to deflate and crash. Sadly there have been other incidents of similar balloon accidents in Luxor.
Back to the boat but before long we boarded a minibus to the Tomb of Ay! The minibus took us along a dirt road for almost 2 km through the valley of huge rock faces.
The Tomb of Ay was the final resting place of the Paraoh Ay of the Eighteenth Dynasty – this was meant to be for Tutankhamun but they switched tombs as a result of the Tutankhamun’s early death.
Next up was the Valley of Queens where the wives of Pharoh’s were buried including the magnificant Tomb of Queen Nefertari decorated in vivid colours. Somebody called Schiaparelli discovered the tombs in 1904 and while the decorations were there, sadly the treasures and personal belongings had all gone.
Our busy day continued with a visit next to the nearby Valley of the Kings one of Egypt’s best known sites. Between the 16th to 11th century BC this was where pharaohs were buried, placed in tombs cut out of the rocks. Of 60 tombs one of the most famous belongs to pharaoh Tutankhamun which was discovered in 1922. You explore each of the tombs via a series of steps and you will see the amazing hieroglyphic paintings and colours of well preserved walls.
Day 8: camel ride
We woke up at 7 am and got ready for a camel trip we had booked earlier in the week. I had never been on a camel before so this was a new experience for me. A motor boat was moored next to the river cruise boat and this small motor boat sped us along the Nile to the camel place.
Upon arrival we were each given a camel and had to cling on tightly as it stood up!
The camel ride took us away from the village and into the countryside.
Upon return the camel owner took us back into his humble little house and gave everyone mint tea. His kitchen had a floor made of mud. There was some basic cane furniture for us to sit on as we drank our tea. And there were beds everywhere. About 15 members of the family lived in that tiny house and they had nothing. No books or ornaments or microwave or gadgets. Just empty rooms with beds. Even beds in the ‘hall’.
This had a major impact on me. As we left and sped back on the motor boat I began to question my own life. A complete shift in my mindset happened on that short boat ride. Not long after that I had got rid of many of my possessions and spent a few months back then living in a caravan commuting to my job in London from various sites around Hertfordshire and Essex! And my minimalist way of thinking has been embedded ever since.
The trip ended back in Luxor where we packed and checked out of the room. As we had lunch in the air conditioned restaurant of the boat I suffered the usual mild depression of the thought of going home. Other than looking forward to seeing my children who had spent the week with their Dad, I eased my sombre feelings by planning future trips. As I do. I was dreaming about saving hard for 18 months, giving up work and spending 6 months travelling in a campervan touring the corners of Europe and even beyond. With the kids. (Although logistically that wouldn’t have worked exactly).
But a bonus was in store! Our flight had been delayed from the UK by 24 hours meaning we were put up in a hotel for another night in Luxor – hurrah!
And in 3 weeks’ time, I would be taking my children, James and Zoe off to Crete for a week – hurrah again!
This was a fantastic week of Nile cruising and I would highly recommend anyone to participate in something similar if you have not done this before! A trip packed full of fascinating ancient Egyptian history and as most of these sites are all located on the banks of the Nile they are easy to get to from the lovely luxury river boat. And with a relatively small boat and close proximity to the sites the logistics are far easier (and less faff) that what you have to deal with to explore the ports of call when on a huge ocean cruise!