Epic Egypt

Epic Egypt

Can you see anything? It was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’ ~ Howard Carter, Tomb of Tuntankhamen.

We thought we’d have checked Egypt off our bucket list after our recent visit. It turns out we are going to keep it on, because it’s a destination worthy of a return. There is so much to see, so much to take in!

Here’s a glimpse into our adventure in January/February of 2017.

Day 1 – We arrived to Cairo late at night and our local partner’s handler and driver greeted us. It was an instant connection, one that grew into a friendship by the end of our ten-day adventure. Besides taking care of everything for us, they immediately made us feel as though we’d come home. While glued to the windows of our car the whole drive to the hotel, hoping for a glimpse of the Great Pyramids of Giza, we were briefed on the long and rich history of the city – the largest and most populated in the Arab world. We never did see the pyramids, before passing out on our comfy bed at the Four Seasons First Residence. But, we were tired from the long trip over and we couldn’t wait for our full day tour of ancient Cairo the next day.

Day 2 – We finally got our glimpse of the Great Pyramids (jaw dropping) as we drove past them to visit some even more ancient pyramids first; the Bent and Red Pyramids, and the complex and Pyramid of Saqqara. It may sound like a tease to work the tour this way, but trust us that this is the best way! Visiting these quieter and older sites first helped to put things into chronological and architectural order, it also allowed for the drama to build. After a delicious lunch, under the shadows of the Great Pyramids, at the historic Mena House Hotel (soon to be a JW Marriott), we finally descended on the grounds of the pyramids. Our knowledgeable guide walked us around the site and explained the usual details we’ve all learned about in world history class, but also enlightened us with facts that we’d not been privy to – until now. These monuments were the tallest man made buildings on earth until the erection of the Eiffel Tower, and contrary to popular history they were built by Egyptians who were honored to work on the projects, not slaves. We carried on with a visit to the pristinely preserved wooden Solar Boat, housed in a building at the foot of the Great Pyramid. Next, we met some friendly camels that gave us a ride around the complex and posed with us for a most memorable Instagram moment. Finally, we made our way to see the true beauty of the complex… The Sphinx! It’s hard not to be mesmerized by it’s thoughtful stature and gaze.

Day 3 – We departed Cairo and flew to Abu Simbel to see the impressive Temple of Ramses II and The Temple of Nefertari (his beloved wife). Do not miss this! These gorgeous temples were saved from drowning in 1968 when the Aswan Dam was built. Erected to impress the Nubian’s of Ramses’ might, they were relocated to their current site, nearly 100ft above where they once stood. We spent about an hour and a half marveling at them before we headed back to the airport for our flight to Aswan. Upon arrival and after a quick transfer from the airport, we checked into the grand dame of the city, the beautiful Old Cataract Hotel. What a great building, what great suites (with awesome views of the Nile), and what a great gym and spa! The perfect way to rest up before our big adventure started the next morning.

Day 4 – Thrilled to board the newly renovated and re-imagined Oberoi Philae, for our four night cruise down the Nile River. The ship is spectacular! Spacious, contemporary, well designed and thoughtfully planned to make the on-board experience elegant and relaxing. Our dreamy suite, the service and food for the next few days were the only things that could have possibly pulled us away from the amazing sights we were going to be visiting. Really, this is the best way to experience the Nile! First day was spent exploring the sites of and around Aswan itself; the old and new dams, a traditional Nubian village (alligators, camels, spices and all), and the gorgeously curate Nubian Museum. Next thing you know, we’re back on the Philae for cocktails, dinner and a great night sleep.

Day 5 – The day began early, so we could be among the first to explore the Philae Temple, located on Agilkia Island. The Philae is another of the many temples saved from drowning by the dams. This one, a beautiful Greco Roman influenced Egyptian temple, was dedicated to Isis. We loved that our cruise provided guide was amicable in starting tours as early as possible. We’re always up early and ready to head out anyway and we find it’s the best way to avoid crowds, which means we have more time to savor the sights and to get the best photos! After the visit we head back to the boat for a the most delicious lunch… Hawawshi. OMG, this sandwich became a favorite of ours and we had plenty more during the trip. After lunch, the captain set sail for Kom Ombo. Upon arrival there we explored the twin temples which are unique in Egypt as they were built to honor both the crocodile god Sobek and the falcon god Horus. After a quick visit we head back to ship and get ready to set sail again, for a couple of hours, before docking for the night at Edfu.

Day 6 – Good morning Edfu! We were whisked off to the Temple of Edfu by horse drawn carriage. Upon arrival we were blown away by the near perfect condition of this temple honoring Horus. It was a surreal experience to walk through doorways and into perfectly preserved sanctuaries decorated in relief sculptures that seemed though they could have been carved only years ago, not millennia. Again, our guide was always along to beautifully connect stories with everything we were seeing and photographing. After a couple of hours exploring the site, we headed back to the boat to set sail for Luxor.

Luxor was going to be epic! The city known as Thebes and once capital of ancient Egypt was home to some of its most significant archeological sites in Egypt. We could hardly wait to set our eyes on them. Upon arrival and docking, we hurried over to the Luxor Temple and explored it at night. What a vision to see is so wonderfully lit by spotlights and stars! Dedicated to the god Amun, the temple is awesome in scale. Its dramatic Sphinx lined causeway is one of the coolest vantage points for a photo. But, inside the ancient sanctuaries and along the massive colonnades that draw you into them, is where you’ll feel the true greatness of the complex. After finishing our tour at the Luxor Temple we headed back for dinner and bedtime on the Philae. We had a pre-dawn hot air balloon to catch the next morning.

Day 7 – We jumped out of bed, layered on the clothes, grabbed our boxed breakfasts and were taken to our launching pad… Hot air ballooning over the Valley of the Queens and along the villages and fields of Luxor was beautiful. There’s nothing quite like the quiet glide of a balloon, and really no better way to get a good sense for the layout of a destination. Needless to say, we loved every bit of the ride. After landing, we were driven to a meeting spot to connect back with our guide to start our full day of touring. Today’s sights included the Valley of the Kings, the artisans village, Habu Temple and the Karnak Temple. A big day to say the least!

We started off at Habu Temple, where we found ourselves practically alone, except for a couple of guards, a couple of local tourists and a friendly dog that followed us throughout the complex. What was most striking about Habu Temple was the depth of reliefs and hieroglyphics. We learned that it was an attempt to save the mark of the pharaoh from being destroyed by a future one, making chiseling it away nearly impossible. Next, we headed across the West side of the Nile to the artisans village. The discovery of this village shares some insight to the lives of the ordinary citizens of ancient Egypt. Their homes, often two stories and comfortable in size, were part of a village that housed a temple, and their tombs. It was a cool and unique glimpse into the more ordinary citizens of the ancient civilization. Next we headed to see the pharaoh’s tombs at the Valley of the Kings. Of course we freaked out, because it’s… ah-mazing! We visited several tombs in the area, each unique in size, depth, number of rooms, and quality of wall relief and/or painting. We even saw a couple of sarcophagi en-situ (in their original place), which really brings home that fact that these impressive and beautifully decorated man made caves are royal tombs – designed to last for eternity. But, the highlight was definitely visiting the tomb of the boy king, King Tutankhamen! Next, we filled up on some delicious lunch and followed that by a visit to Karnak. The largest of all temple complexes, Karnak is an impressive sight. Monumental obelisks, statues, columns and spaces dwarf us humans. Exhausted by the end of this awesome day of exploring, we headed back to the boat for our final night on board.

Day 8 – Sadly, we had to leave the Oberoi Philae this morning. But, we were happy to be met by one of our local partner’s guides again to continue the exploration of the area before heading back to Cairo. We had arranged a very special tour today, one that included Nefertari’s tomb, King Seti I’s tomb, and The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Just recently the Egyptian government had allowed more affordable and abundant access to these two tombs, and we were not going to miss the opportunity to see these two gems, known as some of the finest in the land. And, they did not disappoint! Nefertari’s tomb literally brought tears to our eyes. They majesty and love expressed in the fine wall art was unlike any other tomb or temple we had seen to this point. It was delicate, it was colorful, it was detailed, and it was one of the most moving expressions of art we’d ever seen. What made it even more amazing was that we were the only one’s in there, and the tomb guard who escorted us in was expecting our experience to be as moving as it was. He’d seen it’s affect on visitors before. Seti I’s tomb was gorgeous too. It was especially interesting because archeologists inside were in the process of exploring a new chamber, and allowed us to stick our heads in to take a peak at the giant room they were slowly excavating. Our final stop was Hatshepsut’s Temple. It too blew us away. Though ancient, it’s design looks modern. An impressive funerary temple built by the Queen to show how great she truly was, even in the afterlife.

After seeing the three sites, we headed to the airport and flew to Cairo. Upon arrival to Cairo, we made a quick check-in to the Ritz-Carlton Cairo, took an even quicker shower and we were off to our local partner’s private home for a lovely night and delectable dinner made by his wife. Stuffed and happy to be surrounded by such welcoming friends we shared stories of our epic week and exchanged big hugs before heading back to the hotel. Heads on the pillows and dreaming of our next day…

Day 9 – Alexandria was a 3 hour drive from Cairo, but we had to do it. We had to see what this place was all about, so we headed out with our driver, guide and escort. It was a busy city on the Mediterranean Sea, it was founded by Alexander the Great, it was home to what was known as the greatest library in history, it was the sight of the lighthouse that was a wonder of the world, it was also home of the legendary tales of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The ancient sites are mainly of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. Not much of the ancient’s ancient archeological sites are visible. Today, it is a popular destination for Egyptians to hit the beach, to live it up in the Summer and to get there seafood fix. For visitors, it’s most interesting attractions are underwhelming compared to the rest of the sites. We were glad to have seen it, and what we saw was nice, but honestly not after comparing it to what we’d already seen in Egypt and what we’ve seen in Greece, Italy, Southern France or Spain. We did have a some great food along the way though, before heading back to Cairo.

Day 10 – Our last full day in Egypt… and we saved the city of Cairo and it’s best for last! After a fantastic breakfast at the hotel with lots of Egyptian deliciousness, including Foul (recipe below), we were off on our guided tour of the city’s highlights. First we hit the Egyptian Museum where we were overwhelmed by the number of objects and riches displayed. There is no shortage of ancient Egyptian artifacts. The place if full to the brim! So, it’s a great thing that they’re building the new GEM (Grand Egyptian Museum) at the foot of the pyramids to better house these gems. The highlight of the museum is of course the Treasures of King Tut. How lucky are we all that these treasures were discovered nearly in tact and available for all to marvel at today. They are simply stunning!

Next, we headed to see some of the Islamic monuments and sites of the city. We were transported through traffic and time to the spectacular Al Rifa’i Mosque and Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan. Both massive, both so elegantly covered in colored stone and carved stones with Koranic inscriptions and vegetal motifs. Yet, through this decoration and with carpets and lanterns, the spaces felt intimate and peaceful. We also visited the Royal tombs there, including that of the late Shah of Iran. Afterwards, we headed to the Islamic Quarter of Cairo. Behind it’s gorgeous gated walls we were amazed to find ourselves immersed in a city still looking and working as it had been for centuries. Spectacular Islamic architecture everywhere, bustling crowds, shopping, eating and vendors of all things… a feast for the senses. This was definitely a highlight of our time in Cairo! There we settled in for our last dinner in Egypt and savored every bite and memory of the trip.

Day 11 – This day came too soon, it was time to leave Egypt and head back home. We were not quite ready to leave our friends and felt like there was much more to discover in this beautiful country. They people made us feel at home and comfortable. Everyone was so welcoming and grateful that we had come to visit, despite the media’s narrow insights. We were glad we did and we’ll go back… there’s more ‘eden’ in Egypt to see!

Here is our travel video, so you can see a little bit of why it’s so epic:  EGYPT

Foul Beans – a most delicious staple in Egyptian cuisine. Great on it’s own or along side many other Mediterranean or Latin/Mexican dishes. It’s less carbs and calories than black or pinto beans to boot!

  • 16oz can of small Fava beans (ful medames)
  • 1 small red onion
  • garlic
  • salt, pepper, chili pepper flakes
  • parsley
  • green pepper
  • tomato
  • lemon
  • olive oil

Chop the onion and add it to a pot with some olive oil (save a bit for garnish later). Saute until translucent, then add the garlic and toss for another minute or two (do not brown). Add the whole can of beans, liquid and all to the pot. As it begins to heat, mash it with a potato masher until nearly all of the beans are macerated. Add salt, pepper and chili flakes to taste. Add in some lemon juice to taste. Transfer the beans to a serving bowl and top with a bit of olive oil and garnish with chopped green peppers, tomatoes, and parsley as you like. Enjoy!

Let’s begin planning your journey to Egypt. We’ll make sure you choose the best time of year to visit, design a custom itinerary that will fit your interests, choose the perfect guides and hotels and organize all the details so that all it’s epic! Contact your Eden For Your World advisor to begin planning your visit: info@edenforyourworld.com

Photos and media are all by Eden For Your World, and are only for us to use, unless otherwise permitted. Thank you! #EdenFYW

 

The Galapagos

[The traveler] may feel assured, he will meet with no difficulties or dangers, excepting in rare cases, nearly so bad as he beforehand anticipates. In a moral point of view, the effect ought to be, to teach him good-humored patience, freedom from selfishness, the habit of acting for himself, and of making the best of every occurrence. . . Traveling ought also to teach him distrust; but at the same time he will discover, how many truly kind-hearted people there are, with whom he never before had, or ever again will have any further communication, who yet are ready to offer him the most disinterested assistance. ~ Charles Darwin

Eden For Your World does the Galapagos – but, not the blog. Please enjoy the following guest blog post from our dear guest Mrs. Josephine M., who accompanied us, along with her family, to experience the magic of the islands!

I have been fortunate to travel to many places in the world with trips planned by Eden for Your World. They have arranged travels to Asia, Europe, South America, and the South Pacific. I can assure you that as outstanding and memorable each of those trips have been, I have truly never experienced anything like the trip we took to the Galapagos.

It all started about two years ago… John and Kasra, at Eden For Your World, thought, wouldn’t it be fun to gather a small group of people and not just book them on a trip but lead the excursion…to the Galapagos! Along with their partners in Ecuador, they designed a trip of a lifetime! They sent out a feeler email to see if anyone was interested. I saw the email and before a minute had passed my entire family was on board. We responded immediately. Our quick reaction paid off – John and Kasra were inundated with responses. Seems everyone was anxious to explore the world with the two of them. From then on it was in their hands and it was a breeze. We were given details, updates, and payment timelines. They communicated with us via email, phone and social media. They sent pictures and relevant articles to spark our imagination. They sent guidelines on what to pack, how to tip, and local customs to ease our minds. They even arranged a wonderful reception at their home so that we could meet all of our travel companions and had representatives to answer all of our specific questions. You know the pressing questions like: What is the exchange rate? (None – the Ecuadorians use the US dollar), is their WIFI? (only some places). And the ever important question; do you have ice-cream on board? (asked by my daughter and yes, they do).

We started our trip in Quito, the capital and largest city in Ecuador. We stayed at Plaza Grande Hotel in the colonial section of Quito. The hotel is full of old world charm with the benefits of all the modern day conveniences you want. The central, historic, part of the city is quite spectacular. It is a UNESCO World Heritage city, because of it’s well preserved Spanish Colonial architecture.

We enjoyed a personally guided day tour of this enchanting city and the surrounding areas. This is a city of cobblestone streets and breath-taking churches. We started our tour at La Basilica, a Gothic church renowned for its soaring buttresses and rose windows. Unique to Ecuadorian architecture the stained glass windows feature orchids in the designs and instead of gargoyles native animals serve to protect the edifice.

We were then off to the Intinan Museum at the middle of the world. Yes, the EXACT middle of the Earth. This outdoor museum showed how native Ecuadorians lived, which was enough to make it worthwhile but the real excitement came when we stood on the Equator. We were always taught that this is an imaginary line that separates the Northern from the Southern Hemisphere. It is so much more than that. It is the place where the magnetic forces of the poles cancel each other out. Did you know that it is really hard to walk directly on the Equator? The best part of this museum was that it gave everyone in the group a chance to learn and laugh together. It was a great bonding experience that made the rest of our trip even more memorable.

Then it was back into the city with a visit to Capilla de los Milagros, a small 16th century chapel. While this chapel had all of the charm that one would hope for and expect it was what followed that truly took our breath away. We exited the church into a dazzling enclosed courtyard. Whitewashed walls -hand laid stone terraces and a bell tower that reached to an impossibly blue sky. In the shade of a small group of trees a table for 18 was set as traditional music played in the background and women dressed in authentic costumes handed us traditional refreshments. It was like walking onto a movie set. We feasted on four courses of authentic Ecuadorian cuisine while enjoying traditional dances from brightly clothed dancers. And of course Eden For Your World had worked their usual magic and surprised one of our young travelers who is a budding chef with the privilege of cooking along side the chef.

Not to be outdone we were off to another grand church, the Iglesia de la Compania. This one’s interior was entirely covered in gold leaf and is home to a most spectacular altar. We then rounded out the afternoon with a stroll through the quaint plazas that dot the old part of the city to window shop (and souvenir shop) authentic handcrafts for which Ecuador is famous.

That evening EdenFYW gave all of us a spectacular treat. They hosted a dinner at Casa Gangotena for all of us. Casa Gangotena is a spectacular hotel two plazas over from our hotel. So that evening under old-fashioned lamplight we strolled through town to Casa Gangotena. This grand hotel was once home to an old aristocratic family. We walked into the marble hall and made our way to the solarium where we enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail. Then off to a gilded dining room for dinner. Ecuadorians enjoy colorful, playful food and enjoy a varied palate. This was evidence from the very start. We were served bread. Then out came a platter with eight tiny bowls lined up; eight varied and intriguing dipping sauces for the bread. My favorite was a beet and horseradish combination. The food was glorious, the atmosphere joyous and the conversation, marvelous. It was if the 18 of us had known each other all of our lives and had always traveled together. Then another leisurely stroll back to our hotel and a welcomed night sleep in a very comfortable bed.

The following day we set off for the Galapagos Islands. The organized transfer, flights and VIP arrival at the Baltra airport could not have been easier…

Then we saw her. The M/Y Grace (I refer to her as the Grace. M/Y is her official title as she is a motor yacht. At the time she was commissioned motor yachts were not as common as they are today. )

She had all of the style, glamour and old world grace we had hoped for (pun intended). The furnishings are classic yet comfortable. This was a yacht that was designed for the comfort of her guests without a lot of the trappings and space conserving mis-steps you see in more modern vessels. The outdoor space is designed to allow cooling breezes and warm sun when you want them and shade and respite from the wind when you need it.

There were 18 of us on board and a staff of 15. I could go on for pages on the virtues of the staff, individually and as a group, but suffice to say that they take their jobs very seriously and our comfort and safety were of paramount importance to them. They were warm and kind and very knowledgeable.

What many people do not know about the Galapagos is that tourism is very well controlled and restricted. The Ecuadorians want tourists to enjoy this natural wonder but respect it enough to keep numbers of people in check so that we do not disturb the natural order of the islands. Because of this the schedule that we had was dictated by the National Park. We were given windows of times to be at certain islands then we were required to pull up anchor and move on. Here lies the biggest benefit for traveling with Eden For Your World and the Quasar Group (which owns the Grace). Because there were only 18 of us we had the flexibility to make changes within our set time frames to take full advantage of opportunities as they arose. I will get to that in a bit.

We spent 8 days on the boat. The days started with a wake-up call and either a hike on an island or a snorkel. Then back to the boat for breakfast. After breakfast we would head out for another hike or snorkel followed by lunch and an afternoon hike or snorkel and or cruise to a new island. Follow that by wrap of the day’s events and with slide show of the highlights of the day (another of John’s many talents) and finally dinner under the stars.

Let me take a minute to tell you that the food on board was ridiculously good. They joked that the chef was going to try to put weight on us while the guides would try to work it off of us. I think the chef won. Every meal featured fresh fruits and vegetables, soups and salads main dishes and dessert. Yes, we had dessert twice a day every day. Correction, we had fabulous, decadent, handmade desserts, twice a day, every day.

Now, onto the good stuff. What you’ve been waiting to hear. Is the Galapagos as good as you hear? No, it is so much better. It is truly better than you can imagine. On our first day, our first excursion we landed on a beach with 30+ sea lions that were basking in the sand. Was it roped off? NO! We were there within feet (sometimes inches) of these animals. Now, they do have rules. You may not touch the wild life – and they are serious about that. But if the wildlife touches you, that is okay. One sea lion walked up to a member of our party and brushed its whiskers against her leg (that is how they explore).

The two naturalists we had with us knew absolutely EVERYTHING about everything that had to do with the islands. They knew each animal, plant, rock, bird, and all of the history of these wonderful islands and they were funny and interesting to boot. They made sure that all of us no matter our age or ability truly enjoyed our experience. They were able to custom tailor each experience because there were two of them.

I will now list for you all of the animals we saw – up close.

  • Sea lions (they love to swim with people)
  • White tipped sharks (yes, we did swim with them too)
  • Penguins
  • Land iguanas
  • Sea iguanas (little known fact that they are the only ones that swim in the world. They are black prehistoric looking and a little disconcerting when they slither through the water using only their tails
  • Sea turtles (we swam with them too)
  • Sea stars, sea anemones, huge schools of fish
  • Hammer head sharks
  • Jelly fish
  • Sea horses
  • Rays
  • Dozens of species of birds, including of course the famous blue footed boobies
  • Crabs – lots and lots of crabs
  • Giant tortoise

Wow! That is amazing. Is that all you saw? Why no, it’s not. Remember I told you about the ability of this group to take advantage of opportunities when they arose. One day before the morning snorkel, someone spotted a killer whale off the bow. Yes that is right, a killer whale. Down went to pangas (little boats that shuttle you from ship to shore), and off everyone went. Now, it would be dangerous to swim with them but the pangas got within 20 feet of the whale that breached several times. The next day, a pod of dolphins was sited – down went the pangas filled with passengers/snorkelers (kids still in the PJs). It was thrilling and wonderful.

The days were filled with so many wonderful, astonishing, memorable moments. It was truly a life changing experience. What a great “family” we had become over our week on board together.

Upon our return some of us headed back to the States, while others headed out to Mashpi Lodge, and eco-resort in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. [Please see next blog post]

If this trip sounds like a trip of a lifetime and I assure it was. The thing is every trip that EdenFYW has planned for us is a trip of a lifetime. The thought that they put into every detail is unsurpassed in the industry. They leave nothing to chance. They are always just a phone call away if you ever need them. But to have John and Kasra actually with us made the trip all the more special.

Here is our Galapagos travel video, so you can see a why you must go: The Galapagos

Enjoy more photos on our Facebook, Galapagos, album: Galapagos 2015

Contact your Eden For Your World advisor to begin planning your visit to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands: info@edenforyourworld.com

Photos and media are all by Eden For Your World, and are only for us to use, unless otherwise permitted. Thank you! #EdenFYW