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14 Ways Egypt Surprised Me – Part 2

By alison - June 24, 2014 (Updated: November 2, 2016)

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Egypt.

14 Ways Egypt Surprised Me - Part 2

During my brief visit to Egypt, this diverse, historically and culturally rich country surprised me in a number of ways. Here is the second half of that story. (Be sure to read Part One of my Egypt assignment.)

Surprise #8 – Egyptian food is unique and delicious

Despite not being allowed to eat street food, I did find some true foodie gems in Cairo. You can read about them on USTOA’s blog. I’m still dreaming of the falafel.

I am still dreaming of these incredible falafels

I am still dreaming of these incredible falafels
Authentic Indian food in Cairo at the Mena House Hotel

Authentic Indian food in Cairo at the Mena House Hotel
Spit=roasted chicken and fresh bread at Andrea

Spit-roasted chicken and fresh bread at Andrea

Surprise #9 – Egypt reminded me of India

As I mentioned in the intro, I had visited Morocco not long before my Egypt trip, and I expected the two countries to have a lot on common. While there were a few similarities, on many more occasions, I found myself comparing Egypt to India. It’s difficult for me to articulate the similarities, but one obvious one was the traffic. It seemed like absolutely everything is on the road in Egypt – Much like India.

All of these photos were taken through our bus window while driving through Egypt:

You can see absolutely everything on the roads of Egypt.

You can see absolutely everything on the roads of Egypt.
The tiny shops and stalls catering to passing traffic are as interesting as the traffic itself.

The tiny shops and stalls catering to passing traffic are as interesting as the traffic itself.

Surprise #10 – The best attractions are the unknown ones

This actually shouldn’t be a surprise to me. We find this proven again and again around the world. While the pyramids are a must see, there are a few places we visited that aren’t on the typical tourist path.

The ancient capital of Egypt, Memphis, boasts the Mit Rahina Museum. We were virtually the only people on site to admire the enormous sculpture of Rameses II, carved from a single block of limestone. Even missing half of his legs, Rameses is over 13 m long.

The Giant Ramses carved from a single stone

The Giant Ramses carved from a single stone

We were also the only visitors at Egypt’s oldest known pyramid, the step-pyramid of King Zoser (or Djoser). The courtyard complex includes some incredible carvings inside the tombs and we didn’t have to share the space with anyone else.

Entryway to the the step-pyramid of King Zoser

Entryway to the the step-pyramid of King Zoser
The step-pyramid of King Zoser

The the step-pyramid of King Zoser

Surprise #11 – Sometimes a 3:30 am wake-up call is worth it.

My third and final day in Egypt was spent in Luxor. But to complete our jam-packed schedule we had an early morning flight. Very early. We left the hotel at 4:45 am to head for the airport. By 8 am, we were in Luxor.

Our first stop of the day was my favourite of my whirlwind trip – Karnak Temple.

The incredible Karnak Temple near Luxor

The incredible Karnak Temple near Luxor

I’ve used the words vast and huge several times in my descriptions of Egypt – but everything about this site is on an enormous scale. It was also one of the few sites busy with other tourists (but still not nearly as busy as it was before the revolution in 2011).

The section of Karnak open to the public, the Precinct of Amun-Re, is only part of this incredible temple complex. Over 30 pharaohs contributed to the expansion of this site, giving it endless decoration and complexity.

The details around the temple are striking

The details around the temple are striking

The most striking feature is the Great Hypostyle Hall, built around 1290-1224 BCE. The hall is 5,000 m2 (50,000 sq ft) and has 134 columns in 16 rows, which used to support the roof (now long gone). The two middle rows are taller than the others are and reach a staggering 24m (80 feet) high. They are covered in carvings, which once would have been richly (or garishly depending on your perspective) painted.

The pillars of the Great Hypostyle Hall

The pillars of the Great Hypostyle Hall

It’s impossible not to be awed while walking in the shadow of these huge pillars.

Surprise #12 – You could explore the Valley of the Kings and Queens for days

We had an afternoon to explore the tombs littered throughout the Valley of the Kings. For 500 years, Pharaohs and other powerful nobles were buried in tombs on the west bank of the Nile. 63 tombs have been discovered, but it’s believed many more are hidden here.

The most famous of these tombs is that of Tutankhamun. Little remains inside the tomb. After seeing an entire wing of the Egyptian Museum dedicated to its contents, it’s incredible to stand in the tiny space that once housed so much opulence.

The Valleys of the Kings and Queens are dotted with tombs

The Valleys of the Kings and Queens are dotted with tombs

Photos aren’t permitted inside any of the tombs and entrance is limited to protect the brightly coloured paintings that decorate the interiors. Some are so richly decorated they must have taken years to carve and paint.

Hatshepsut's temple at Djeser-Djeseru

Hatshepsut’s temple at Djeser-Djeseru

The Valley of the Queens is located nearby. In addition to housing the burial sites of the Pharaohs’ wives, it was also used for princes, princesses and other nobility. The most striking of these is Hatshepsut’s temple at Djeser-Djeseru. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to enter this temple, but even its exterior is stunning.

Surprise #13 – The Nile is a fantastic place to watch the sunset.

One of the highlights of A&K’s tour of Egypt is a cruise down the Nile on the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV. I was fortunate to spend my final hours in Luxor on the ship’s deck, watching the sun sink quickly to the horizon. My first (and only) moment of relaxation included a comfortable lounge chair and a gin and tonic in my hand.

Sunset on the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV

Sunset on the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV

All too soon, I was whisked downstairs to eat a quick supper before being driven to the airport for my flight back to Cairo. There, I had a few short hours in a hotel, before my dawn drive back to the airport and my flight home to Brussels.

Surprise #14 – I want to go back to Egypt.

Despite my whirlwind tour, and several wonderful trips elsewhere since, I find my memories of Egypt coming back to me at strange times. I haven’t been able to shake it, and I find myself wanting to return. I feel I barely scratched the surface of this historically and culturally rich country. I want to experience the hospitality and curiosity first hand and next time I’m definitely going to seek out the street food.

You can see all of my Egypt highlights for AFAR in my Wanderlist 4 Magical Days in Egypt.

While in Egypt, I was on assignment for AFAR and USTOA. I was a guest of Abercrombie & Kent tours and Experience Egypt. All opinions expressed here are, as always, my own. 

During my brief visit to Egypt, this diverse, historically and culturally rich country surprised me in a number of ways. Here is the second half of that story.

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Series: Egypt

Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu. She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison
Cheese + Goats = My personal heaven. We discover an oasis in the cheese desert. https://t.co/Os8U86UEiX - 8 hours ago

6 comments

  1. Comment by Michelle - Very Hungry Explorer

    Michelle - Very Hungry Explorer June 24, 2014 at 23:56

    Great posts Alison. I loved Luxor and was absolutely awestruck by the light show we show in the evening at Karnak Temple. Hatshepsut is just as impressive on the inside and when you go back you should definitely check out Luxor Temple as well.

    I really want to go back to Egypt as well – I’ll definitely check out Cairo next time.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison June 25, 2014 at 14:46

      Thanks Michelle! I definitely want to spend more time in Luxor. It seems much more laid back than Cairo. I think you could spend weeks exploring those tombs. As for Cairo, it’s crazy but fascinating. Plus, I’d go back just for the falafel 🙂

  2. Comment by Finla

    Finla June 27, 2014 at 02:40

    The best surprise is No.14 🙂 I would like to do that too. I loved it when I went to Egypt which was ofcourse a couple of years back. I always say when we talk about falafel that we had the best one just for a 1 eyptian pound in the streets.
    My daughter is going to Luxor in in middle if june for 2 months. We didn’t take the cruise ship from Aswan we took a faluka for three days.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison June 27, 2014 at 09:02

      Agreed Finla! I am itching to try a real street falafel! Yum! Luxor was fabulous and I really want to go and spend more time exploring the area. There’s so much to discover.

  3. Comment by Emma

    Emma July 8, 2014 at 21:18

    This travel sounds amazing. I must admit that Egypt had been on my “to see” list for years, but with the “situation” those last years, it was not so much anymore… But thanks to your article, now it’s definitely back on my list ! Especially the cruise on the Nile ! 😉

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison July 8, 2014 at 21:36

      Yes! I don’t know how easy solo travel would be but it’s definitely a destination worth visiting with a reputable company. I would LOVE to do the cruise too. Next time!

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