It would be a travel-weary soul indeed who failed to be impressed by the spectacles of Giza, the only survivors of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It took teams of 10,000 workers they have non-farming months of 20 years to build each pyramid and they are awesome. Although climbing the pyramids is no longer permitted, you can walk right around them, take a camel ride between them and even go inside to the main chambers (providing you don’t suffer from claustrophobia as the entry tunnela are narrow, steep and hot). By contrast, the nearby Sphinx is, as English playwright Alan Bennett observed, like meeting someone famous who turns out to be smaller than you might have imagined from seeing them on TV or in photographs.
You could spend a month in this vast, fusty and cavernous museum and barely scratch the surface. Highlights include the Tutankhamun Galleries with everything from clothes, funerary couches, golden sarcophagi and statues to canopic jars containing the boy king’s internal organs. Tut’s death mask, 11kg of solid gold with details in lapis lazuli, obsidian and quartz, completes the sensory overload. Don’t miss the royal mummy room with 11 of Egypt’s most celebrated rulers laid out for the passing parade, or the animal mummy exhibit where royal pets from cats and dogs to crocodiles are preserved. The ancient Egyptian jewellery room is also astonishing, particularly for the inspiration it has provided modern jewellers with lots of seashell and star?sh motifs.
The history of the Coptic Church is tied to the history of Christian monasticism. The ancient tradition of monasticism continues to be practiced in Egypt and offers a great opportunity to visit Coptic monasteries, such as the monastery of St Simeon in Aswan, St Anthony and St Paul Monasteries in the Red Sea mountains, and Deir Al-Kashef Monastery, an early Coptic monastery in the Western Desert. Some of Egypt’s churches also rank among the oldest Christian landmarks in the world, such as the church of the virgin in Asyut and the Coptic Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria.Several churches and monasteries also mark the Holy Family Journey trail as described in the Bible. Take an angle’s advice and “Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt.”
Cairo’s bustling central market since the 14th century, it meanders across countless alleys. In the midst of all the touts and tat, this is a great place to pick up souvenirs as long as you’re prepared to bargain. Take a break at Fishawi’s Cofee house, which claims not to have shut in 200 years except in the mornings during Ramadan when everyone is fasting. And try fateer from the stall that has “Egyptian pancakes” written on the wall.
A felucca ride on the Nile is the best way to escape the hustle on land. We took a two-hour sunset cruise in Luxor, but there are full-day and even week-long cruises on these time-honoured Nile sailing boats. Longer cruises usually head up-river from Aswan — the strong current keeps you moving even when the wind drops.
6 Luxor Museum If Cairo’s museum is old-school, the Luxor Museum is new age, with multi- media presentations and well-documented exhibits. There are mummies (including one thought to be the mummy of Rameses I) and statues aplenty, but we delighted in the everyday objects including sandals, a quiver of arrows and even a slingshot from Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Allow at least a couple of days to explore the temples and tombs of Luxor . Anything less and you’ll end up with pharaonic fatigue not able to tell a sphinx from a scarab. Karnak and Luxor temples are the highlights of the East Bank in the actual city of Luxor, while on the West Bank you can visit the underground tombs of The Valley of the Kings (including Rameses II and Tutankhamun), the temple of Hatshepsut, the queen who ruled ?rst as regent and then as pharaoh, even to the extent of dressing as a man, the twin pillars of the Colossi of Memnon and the tombs of the Valley of the Queens. It gets very hot in these parts, so start early, wear sunscreen and take plenty of water.
8 Alexandria’s waterfront walk A stroll along the Corniche in Alexandria, two hour’s drive north of Cairo, provides a pleasant respite from antiquity overload. The fishing boats place you firmly on the Mediterranean and the Alexandrian Bibliotheca (library) is a modern architectural wonder worth visiting. Stroll down the seafront to see the Hotel Cecil where Lawrence Durrell stayed when he came to Alexandria in 1942 and later immortalised in the Alexandria Quartet. Somewhat incongruously, it’s now a Sofitel.
9 Oriental cuisine
From dips such as baba ganouj and homous to salads including tabbouleh and fattoush and chickpea-based felafel, it’s almost impossible to eat badly in Egypt. We fell in love with fattah, a slow-roasted lamb dish with a rich tomato sauce, and hamam, pigeon stu?ed with spiced rice. Sweet-tooths are well catered for, with honey-sodden pastries ?avoured with rosewater and pistachios, pinenuts, almonds and cashews. Though most Egyptians don’t drink alcohol, beer is easy to come by (a bit harder during Ramadan). Egypt also has an emerging wine industry producing creditable wines under licence to French winemakers. Wine and spirits are mainly available in the tourist hotels. There’s also an astonishing array of juices, from limoon (lemon) and rumman (pomegranate) to karkadai (hibiscus flower).
10 A dip in the Red Sea
The Red Sea is justifiably famous for the spectacular coral reefs and more than 1000 species of making it a diving and snorkeling paradise. Many Egyptians and tourists base themselves in the resort town of Sharm el Sheikh on the point of the Sinai Peninsula and explore Ras Mohammed National Park, 20km to the west.