UP CLOSE WITH HISTORY
Traveling in Egypt and Jordan with leading luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent not long ago, we explored unique qualities of the A&K experience through two diverse and unique countries. Along the way, we picked up a few tips and tricks that might help make your journey to this part of the world more enjoyable and take full advantage of your time at the destination.
People In Photos Are OK
Many of the attractions in Egypt are ginormous structures. If viewed/shot from afar, it is difficult to appreciate just how big they are in a photo. Including the image of teeny tiny human on the scene helps with that. My time in Egypt with Abercrombie & Kent, came at a time when there were few tourists which made capturing images of places without people not all that difficult. Still, adding people puts things in perspective.
Little Things Are Ok Too
While much of the focus when visiting Egypt is on those big iconic landmarks, tiny details at the site of those places can be interesting too. Of particular importance: places, object and people that mean something to you. Some time ago, Matt Long (@LandLopers) published and adds to an ongoing photo gallery of graffiti he has seen in his travels. I do that with doors, bicycles, cathedrals and other common elements of international travel, just for fun. Interestingly, graffiti at temples, landmarks and attractions in Egypt were of a more permanent nature than the spray painted tagging we see so often.
Don’t Be Afraid To Hold Up The Tour
Egypt is one of those lifetime-quality destinations you may never visit again for the rest of your life. If a certain attraction has particular significance to you, linger and enjoy it. The tour leader or other tour group members might hate you for it but who cares? Be a courteous driver, pleasant companion, good friend and/or generally nice person back home. Stop to smell the roses/pyramid. You will probably never see most of those people again for the rest of your life anyway.
Shoot In The Opposite Direction
If the tour guide/local/expert tells you a terrific photo opportunity is coming up, odds are 83,987,472 other people have captured that image. Find one better than yours with a quick Google search, skip the trip and take a photography class instead. Instead, find interesting angles or subjects to include in that shot or pull out the selfie stick and prove you were there. The image in my brain of the iconic Sphinx was a full frontal one. I can find a 83,456 of them on Google Images and thousands legally safe to share on Flickr. The image above I captured as we left the area, right after a clever vendor called after me to return and buy something from him “before I raise my prices!”.
Be Prepared To Haggle And Be Good At It
One of the numerous advantages of touring with an engaging guide are the personal recommendations they make along the way. We found that to be true in Vienna with our Viking River Cruise guide suggesting a cafe that was out of the way and not as busy as others during a Christmas Markets cruise. Along the way on this trip our Egyptologist suggested offering half what they ask for and go from there. Most often what seemed to work best was to play that game for a while then walk away. I guarantee you that if even a passing interest in something for sale was shown, they will follow along with a better offer…most of the time.
At more popular sites or on days when any given site is busier than normal, vendors have the advantage and are not as willing to negotiate prices. The camel bone jewelry above was $20 on the way to a site and $40 on the way back and the vendor did not budge on the price.
Don’t Drink The Water
I can’t recall brushing my teeth with bottled water ever in my lifetime. I did in Egypt though and eliminated the last possible contact with local water that apparently had an ancient Egyptian bacteria. I did not become ill but others in our group did. For me, the effect of Pharoah’s germs was a dizzy feeling when looking straight up on the inside of temples.
Unrelated but also a safe liquid to consume: canned soda like the Pepsi seen above.
Unusual: ring top cans
Heed The Advice Of Local Guides
Our Egyptologist Ibrahim warned us about drinking the local water, including advice to use bottled water for brushing our teeth. As noted above, doing so (finally, after three days of dizzy) eliminated the odd sensation I felt from time to time. Also suggested, look down when walking as surfaces are quite uneven. That’s a practice we learned on the cobblestone streets of European towns but the danger is magnified in Egypt where surfaces are even more uneven. Looking down when walking is also a good strategy for avoiding pesky vendors when entering and leaving archeological sites and attractions.
Wean Yourself Off Bacon Before Arriving
Pork and pork products are virtually non-existent in Egypt. Beef and Turkey bacon are poor substitutes as is beef sausage but this is Egypt and that’s the way it is. Get over it. Odds are that eliminating pork products will not cause adverse health effects. The unusual sensation felt by going cold turkey on bacon as blobs of fat encrusting arteries pass is akin to the future LSD trip baby boomers were warned might happen in 1969. Enjoy.
Speaking of drugs, the pipes we see all over the place here are actually used to smoke tobacco. Perhaps flavored but tobacco nonetheless. The faint marijuana odor one might think they detect from time to time is most likely their imagination as is the thought that popular North American beer is widely available. It isn’t and ‘Stella’ is the name of a popular Egyptian beer in a big glass bottle, not the one available at the grocery store back home.
Be Prepared: Desserts Are Amazing In Egypt
Who knew? When traveling internationally, I like to try the local fare and enjoy the universal translation of joy that good food brings. Sometimes that means one bite of something to educate my palate. On other occasions it translates to binge immersion in the local flavor. Case in point: the Gluhwein and sausages of Euro Christmas markets. It takes something pretty special to get this kid out of Florida in the winter. Those two items qualify.
Still, I did not anticipate the Egyptians would be fond of super-sweet Baklava and assorted versions of it which I normally associate with the Greeks. It is far more common when traveling internationally to encounter desserts that seem to have forgotten the sugar when measuring ingredients.
As I write this, we have moved on to Jordan on our Abercrombie & Kent Small Group Journey and have discovered a little delight Kunafa, basically a sugar-soaked pastry layered or filled with goat cheese, soaked in a sugar syrup flavored with rose or orange blossom water, and then topped with ground nuts like pistachios. Lovely.
Embrace The Call To Prayer
Most of the Islamic people here pray five times a day, beginning with a five am call to prayer that is broadcast over loudspeakers in every city. Early risers may be surprised by this apparent wailing the first time and wonder what it means. It is, basically, a reminder to pray…like a post-it that says “focus on good things.”
Personally, I think any religion that prays five times a day can’t be all bad unless those prayers include a wish for me to die. They don’t. Well, for the most part they don’t. Our Egyptologist Ibrahim put it all in perspective while visiting the mosques of Cairo.
Cliff notes version: ‘The ten commandments? Every religion embraces a version of those in what they preach. Islam does too. Where things get off track is when certain factions interpret Islamic beliefs to suit their own agenda’. Like if the Koran says “Someone should die when they do _____”, it is interpreted as “Someone should die”, cherry picking/manipulating the very good entire message there.
Inexpensive, Small Souvenirs
While it may be tempting to bring back a 4 foot hookah, odds are it will put you over the average 50 pound limit on checked luggage on that return flight home. Wonderful Egyptian spices as well as your part of the individual ticket for admission to every attraction make for great souvenirs that way nothing. Capturing an image of that ticket stub, required to buy before entering, also helps keep photos organized on your camera or smartphone. Saffron, a premium priced spice back home, was offered for a fraction of the price in Egypt where it grows like weeds. I have absolutely no idea what to make with it but will run my list of spices accumulated along the way by Facebook chef friends for advice.
Bonus tip: It’s just a good idea not to mention this acquisition to incoming Customs agents when returning home. 99% of the time it won’t be a problem (this is not a fresh product like fruit) but why take the chance?
There Is Going To Be A Lot Of Security Around: Get Over It
Initially, it can be a bit disconcerting to see police armed with assault rifles on every street corner. That the front two seats in every motor coach are reserved with signs that say ‘GUIDE’ and ‘GUARD’ can also be a bit unnerving. Add in the interesting scene of a machine gun mounted on the stern of your river cruise ship from time to time and one might wonder “What have I gotten myself into?”. After being in Egypt for 8 days, I got used to it and accepted presidential-level security as just part of the deal, much like the pesky vendors noted above. Still, even with high level security all around us, the takeaway was that traveling with top luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent brought an abundant amount of security that was appropriate for the part of the world that we were visiting.
Very Most Important Final Thought On This (and I won’t mention it again. Promise): Do not let concerns over personal safety keep you from visiting Egypt, right now. There is so much to be gained by visiting when crowds are few and far between, pricing is at an all time low and the tourism infrastructure is solid.
See More From Our Abercrombie & Kent Journey:
- Social Egypt And Jordan, A&K Style: Your Guide To Our Journey
- Our Luxury Small Group Journey: Detailed Itinerary
- Abercrombie & Kent Luxury: Arriving In Egypt
- Abercrombie & Kent Luxury: They Do Your Homework
- Abercrombie & Kent Luxury: They Can Turn On A Dime
- Abercrombie & Kent Luxury: Speaking Of Kings And Queens
- Abercrombie & Kent Luxury: And Then He Paused
- Abercrombie & Kent Luxury: Chris Wears A Dress
- Photo Album: A Day In Egypt With Abercrombie & Kent
- Photo Album: The Temple Of Luxor
- Photo Album: Favorite Images From Egypt
- Photo Album: The Temples Of Abu Simbel
- Photo Album: The Cairo Bazaar
- Mena House Hotel Cairo
- On The Streets Of Cairo
- Egyptian Museum Of Antiquities
- Lunch On The Nile
- Karnak Bazar
- Cairo Street Scenes
- Mit Rahina Museum
- Step Pyramid
- Tomb of Ka Gimni
- Carpet School
- Aboushakra Egyptian Lunch
- Giza Pyramids
- The Solar Boat
- A Camel Ride In Egypt
- The Iconic Sphinx
- Valley of the Kings
- Mena House Dinner
- Temple Of Karnak
- Sanctuary Resorts Sun Boat IV
- Seen On The Nile
- Sun Boat IV Culinary
- Egyptian Night
- Sunrise On The Nile
- Scenic Cruising On The Nile
- Luxor By Day
- Temple Of Goddess Hathor At Denderah
- Nile Dining On Deck
- Sundown On The Nile
- Luxor At Night