“Mummies, mummies everywhere… where are all the kids?” – Krythya (my two and half year old)
Events leading up to Egypt
Egypt, a country known for its rich history and culture is a popular destination for all ages. Hence it was a good choice for a ten day family vacation that included grandparents and young kids. However, our journey to get there had as many twists as did the Romans probably. At the time of booking the flights and accommodation (for which we used the services provided by Thomas Cook), it was visa on arrival for all of us travelling. A few weeks before our travel date the laws were changed requiring us to process Visas before arrival. The process itself was not cumbersome but it was double the cost. All was in order for Krythya’s first summer vacation from school. A few hours before our flight, my husband got called in for work the next day. You can imagine the disappointment, but we had to explain it to the toddler who had made plans to ride a camel with him (which by the way she did not end up doing, because her Dada would miss out).
Fortunately the flight journey was smooth, she enjoyed sitting in her own seat and was quite amused by the color changing stars on the ceiling of the flight (a feature in Emirates).
First stop Cairo
We arrived in the morning and got through immigration quite smoothly. We had a pre-arranged minibus for the one hour ride to our hotel in Giza – Le Meridian Giza. By the time we got settled into the hotel, it was time for lunch. And off to a great start we tried and approved (by the toddler as well) the best Falafel ever at Felfela Restaurant which was located right next to the hotel. What was supposed to be a rest day quickly turned into pool time for mom and daughter. Can’t blame her, the heated pool with the backdrop of the pyramids of Giza was just perfect. That evening we headed for the light and sound show at the Pyramids. Apart from the cold breeze K didn’t enjoy it as much, as it was too scary according to her. Grandparents on the other hand were totally immersed in it. Back at the hotel we witnessed a local wedding with music, lights and very pretty dresses… that made up!
The next morning was Pyramids and Sphinx by day and much more to K’s comfort. She enjoyed the rugged terrain as well as the effort to pronounce “Suphinx” correctly. We did not choose to visit the burial chambers inside the pyramids as the path was said to be very narrow and claustrophobic. We then visited a perfume store, by perfume store I mean all things smell. Utilization of these naturally extracted oils goes anywhere from perfumes, massage oils to even home cleaning liquids. It was K’s first taste of hibiscus tea, which is most commonly offered as a welcome drink. She also had a whiff of pure eucalyptus oil, which probably cleared her sinuses… Lol.
Next up on the agenda was the famous Egyptian museum. Unfortunately we were able to cover only the ground floor as the elevators were not in working condition. Another let down was the children section that was said to have Legos and other activities was closed. The last stop for the day was Khan-el-khalili bazaar, tonnes of stuff to shop but we were too beat to actually buy anything other than a few souvenirs and an adorable Cleopatra style knitted head gear for K, which she wore for the remainder of the trip and very much enjoyed the attention she got from strangers calling her Cleo.
Next stop Alexandria
The day trip to Alexandria was in a prearranged minibus with a tour guide. Unless you are a history buff, the temples are only as good as the guide. And since daddy dearest, our history expert wasn’t there we were quite glad to have a guide.
The Catacombs! Located 100 stairs below ground, home to the discovery of over 700 mummies, only my brother, myself and K were able and willing to pay a visit. It was definitely a very spooky experience especially because we were the only ones down there at the time! Other highlights were, the spectacular ocean views, Pompey’s pillar and the Bibliotheque (library). On our way back we had the local version of a Pizza for dinner, double the calories I’m sure, but it made up for all the walking and carrying. K also met some llamas, ostriches and other farm animals on the property.
Arrived at Aswan by a short one hour flight – Nile Air and greeted by Egyptian summer. The hotel packed breakfast was the standard juice box and cheese sandwich, so the Indian snacks handed out by grandma came in very handy. After a drive by Aswan dam we hopped on a boat to Philae temple. As expected sang row row your boat all the way. Known for love and beauty, Goddess Isis’s temple was exactly that…Beautiful. There was an hour to spare before embarking the Nile cruise, where better to spend it than a spice market. Loaded up on dates, nuts and custom made spice rubs to take back home.
Cruising the Nile
Krythya’s first Cruise! I was glad she was as excited as I was. I’ve always loved cruises although this was my first river cruise – The Steigenberger Minerva. At first it was strange seeing land on both sides, but the contrasting landscapes were awe-inspiring. Sunrise over the sandy desert bank and sunset over the lush greens and palm trees. The plus side of a river cruise is there is no motion sickness. On the minus side the restaurant is very limited in terms of timing. On a regular cruise its usually food in abundance and availability round the clock. On this cruise however meal times are set, aside from which the restaurant remained closed. So we stocked up on snacks like dry fruits, nuts etc and bottled water while on shore. We chose rooms with a large window rather than a balcony as its safer with a toddler especially one who likes to climb any chance she gets!
She was one of three kids on board and the youngest. By the end of our 3 day cruise almost all of the crew knew her. Especially the pasta counter chef and the housekeeping staff who made the most creative towel animals we have ever seen. Places covered on the cruise were – Kom Ombo, where we visited a crocodile museum (which had mummified crocs as well), Edfu, where we took what looked like a 100 year old cab as opposed to the horse carriage as it was not advisable for the grandparents, and finally arrived in Luxor. One place covered on most other cruises that we missed out was Abu Simbel, as it was more important finding a cruise that suited the quality of rooms and food that I was looking for.
Last stop Luxor
We visited the Karnak temple, to describe this temple is beyond words. Something I’ve wanted to see since the movie Mummy returns. The grandeur and process of building such high structures was impressive. With a sand crazy kiddo we spent time doing some digging and building ourselves.
While the family did some shopping at the papyrus factory, K was busy trying to make papyrus herself and spotting alphabets and their corresponding pictures in heliographic script. At which time I found a word that best described our passion – “Reisend” meaning travelling everywhere. The Luxor temple was close to the dock so we visited that toward the end of the day. The cruise remained docked at Luxor as the checkout was the following morning. However we missed going to any of the temples during late evening/night when they are lit-up.
The last day of our trip and probably the hottest. We visited Hatshepsut, one of the very few female pharaohs of Egypt. There was a fun train buggy ride as well. Then we witnessed how carvings are made from alabaster stones. K got a chance at grinding one (of course for a tip). As it was getting too hot we skipped the Valley of kings and headed back to the hotel for the last night – Steigenberger. The pool by the river was irresistible and so we spent the rest of the evening doing just that.
Next morning was our flight back home via Cairo. We had a long lay over with not much to do in the airport we decided to go to the nearest mall. On a Friday afternoon at prayer time not many stores were open so we spent our time devouring a traditional meal at Abou El Sid.
Things to know before you go
Since we planned to cover more than one city, layers of clothing was key. As it was the beginning of April which was the onset of summer but still pretty cold in Cairo and very warm in other parts of Egypt.
Comfortable walking shoes (as well as flip flops/crocs for kids). K would complain after a while that her feet were sweaty and switch to crocs.
Diapers. Even though K was potty trained by then, the availability and hygiene of restrooms sometimes made a diaper to use and throw the only way to go.
As far as strollers go, don’t bother. No stroller can take the sand and stone terrain of the ruins.
The baby carrier is a life saver, since there is a lot of walking we put it to good use whenever she got tired or simply decided it was “carry me” time.
Sunscreen is a must to avoid sunburn as most of the day is outdoors. Even on cooler days the sun was quite strong and hotter days even more so. Neutrogena kids roll on stick was super easy to carry and use even by herself (As we were in the phase of “I can do it myself”).
Hydration (or re-hydration) was something we were prepared for but did not face the need. Carrying ORS sachets is recommended.
A fly bat/squatter… nope not kidding. We are used to houseflies in India but there were quite a few in all the places we visited, could have been a seasonal thing but we did a lot of shoo-ing.
First cry Intellikit activity packs were easy to carry and keep her busy during downtime during travel or in the hotel room.
Tipping is quite high and almost expected everywhere (Min 5 USD per person). Not sure if it is correlated but the guides were very friendly, sometimes too friendly. K was given more than her fair share of ice creams and sugar cane juice by many of them.
Most common word – “Mesh” meaning All Ok. Which best describes our exploration of Egypt! A big shout out to my brother who was our sole luggage mule, Maama (uncle) on call, and basically Man of the trip!
Other places to see if time permits – A Nubian village, where one can witness the life and culture of the local people as well as real crocodiles! The Red Sea, (a 2 hour drive from Cairo) where the places of interest would be Sham El-Sheik or Hurghada or simply snorkeling in the sea itself.. We chose the Nile Cruise as those are date specific, so hope to get a taste of the seas whenever we visit Jordan.
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