Just Back: Historic Egypt

Egypt's rich history, warm people and vibrant life left quite an impression on Kendra Thornton.

For a trip that has it all; sun, sand, sailing, culture, art, and an incredibly deep history, look no further than the majestic country of Egypt. Kendra Thornton, president of Royal Travel & Tours, a Signature Travel Network agency, recently got back from a whirlwind long weekend trip to Egypt with a group of close girlfriends, and it is one she says they will never forget. Here is her report.

After a long day of travel, we arrived into Cairo late afternoon and were met by an airport representative who escorted us to the VIP lounge. While we waited for our passports to be checked and stamped, we relaxed and enjoyed some beverages and light snacks. Shortly after, we grabbed our luggage and met our Abercrombie & Kent tour coordinator who took us to our hotel, the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza.  

At the hotel, we checked in and freshened up before heading out to the Sound and Light Show at the pyramids. Around 7 p.m., just after sunset, we sat waiting eagerly at the foot of the pyramids to see them come alive with lights and music while listening to the Sphinx tell tales of centuries past and the glory of the Pharaohs. It was such an incredible, awe-inspiring 40-minute show.  

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Following the light show at the pyramids, we headed back to Cairo and climbed aboard a traditional Nile sailing boat, called a felucca. Aboard the felucca, we dined on traditional Egyptian fare while cruising the Nile and admiring the sights and sounds of Cairo at night. We had a wonderful time enjoying this unique Egyptian experience. 

We were up bright and early the next morning for a full day tour to see what Cairo has to offer. We started off with the Pyramids and the Sphinx. We learned that the Great Pyramids of Giza are the only present-day survivors of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, built about 4,500 years ago, as giant tombs for the mummies of the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, who were father, son and grandson. It was amazing to see how truly monumental the pyramids are in scale, with the largest being made of over two million blocks! Contrary to what many people believe, the pyramids were not built by slaves but by Egyptian peasants who paid their taxes to the Pharaoh through this labor, and were fed, clothed and housed by him.

Following the pyramids, we headed to see the Sphinx, who has the body of a lion and the face of a man wearing a royal head cloth. We were told the story that about a thousand years after the Sphinx was built it was covered in sand until a young prince had a dream in which the Sphinx told him that if he cleared the sand away, he would become Pharaoh. This story is told on the “Dream Stele” that was placed between the Sphinx’s paws by King Thutmose IV.

After a morning spent exploring the ancient pyramids and the Sphinx, the girls and I had a delightful lunch at 139 Restaurant overlooking the pyramids. We enjoyed delicious international cuisine as we discussed everything we saw earlier in the day. It was a great way to refuel and get our energy before heading to the Egyptian Museum.

Kendra Thornton exploring the Khan El-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo.

Anyone who loves museums and history would be blown away by the Egyptian Museum. We toured 7,000 years of history, including the treasures of King Tutankhamun’s gold mask, solid gold sarcophagus and his beautiful throne, amongst so many other incredible works of ancient Egyptian art. The museum is currently undergoing a $1 billion renovation which will become the largest museum devoted to a single civilization. 

Our full day of touring did not end there. After a quick refresh at our hotel, we headed to the Khan El-Khalili Bazaar, which used to be in the heart of the old walled city of Cairo. We meandered through the maze-like ancient thoroughfares bargaining for everyday items and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of things such as the spice markets, magical powders, black-swathed women and brightly painted donkey-carts overflowing with watermelons and mangos. We felt like we were getting a glimpse into what life was like centuries ago. One thing that stood out to me was the small stretch of buildings from the fortified Fotouh Gate to the Zuweila gate that contains more buildings per meter than any other street is the world. It is simply mind-blowing. To end our incredible, fun-filled, history-packed day, we sat down to an exquisite set-menu at Naguib Mahfouz Restaurant, which is named after the Nobel-prize-winning Egyptian author. We then headed back to the hotel to get some much-needed sleep because we had an early morning the next day our last day in Egypt. 

We woke up before the sun to catch our short flight to Luxor. We were met by our tour coordinator and private local guide who would take us around for the day. Luxor is known for their secret tombs at Thebes, today’s West Bank of Luxor. These secret buried tombs were the ancient Egyptians’ answer to the thieves who were stealing treasures from inside the pyramid’s royal tombs. 

Our day in Luxor started off in the Valley of the Kings where New Kingdom Pharaohs were buried in the hidden tombs. These tombs have maintained the brightly painted hues and treasures for use in the afterlife. We also visited King Tut & Seti I tombs. A visit to the Valley of the Kings would not be complete without a visit to the nearby Valley of the Queens, where lies the tomb of queen Nefertari, along with other pharaohs’ wives and children. 

Next stop in Luxor was the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut where white terraces of the temple merge with the sheer limestone cliffs that surround it. I can see why it is considered one of the greatest Egyptian architectural achievements, it is truly spectacular. This temple was an important religious and funerary site. We then enjoyed a brief stop at the famed Colossi of Memnon, which are two massive stone statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III. This became a popular resort spot during Roman period where many travelers left their own graffiti carved into the sandstone. 

For an unforgettable lunch, we boarded a traditional felucca and dined while sailing on the Nile admiring the sights of Luxor as we crossed the river from West to East Bank. Once we docked on the East Bank, we toured the Karnak Temple. This 62-acre temple was built over 2,000 years by generations of pharaohs, which was dedicated to God Amun. We were able to see some of the main highlights such as the great “Hypostyle Hall” and the “Sacred Lake”. It would take days to explore all of the pylons, obelisks and smaller temples within, and unfortunately we only had one day in Luxor.  

In Luxor, above, the group visits the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.

Luxor is such a magnificent city and I am grateful to have been able to spend even a short amount of time there. After a full day of touring both the West and East Bank, we headed back to the Luxor airport to catch our flight back to Cairo. Once we landed in Cairo, we were escorted to our hotel and enjoyed one last dinner together. The girls and I reminisced about our short, but sweet, time spent in one of the most mesmerizing countries before retiring to our rooms and heading home the next morning. 

This trip was the first time I have been back to Egypt since the 90s. It still continues to amaze me with its rich history, warm people and vibrant life. I encourage anyone who loves to explore and experience something bigger than life itself to take a trip to Egypt. You will leave a changed person. Our group departed Egypt with hearts full for our next stop Morocco. We found those two countries in North Africa to be a great combination for a week-long tour.

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