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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

In de Nile

Well OK maybe not in the Nile (too many crocodiles) but on the Nile. Yes that is where I have just spent the last 7 days. I have to say that when I booked it I was a little unsure... I always thought I was a little young for cruising. But no, trust me, on this trip the more youthful you are, the better it will be. Less of a holiday and more of an expedition is how I would describe it, and an excellent one at that.

If I wasn't a designer, I would have liked to have been an explorer (although I do have a slight problem with leeches!) and so this trip allowed me to pretend to some degree that I was pursuing this dream. We visited tombs and temples that were so vast you could lose yourself within the ornately carved columns and believe for a moment (until another tourist had the same idea) that you were the first to stumble upon this incredible place.

I worried that I might get a little blase about hieroglyphs and obelisks etc, but not so. Every place we visited took my breath away (and no it wasn't just the heat). In some places the colour was so vibrant I felt like it could still be wet and the artist had just nipped out for a smoke. It truly was amazing.
In the valley of the kings I even indulged in a little shoe scuffing to see if I could unearth some hidden treasure. You may not believe me, but I did just that, well I doubt it was undiscovered, rather disgarded,  and I really don't think it was anything important, but there were definite, deliberate marks carved into a rock my scuffing unearthed. What a place, and no, I didn't steal it (I didn't have my backpack with me...).

The days not spent visiting temples and the like, we were cruising sedately down the Nile, with views to die for and catching glimpses of the Egypt I have been imagining since I was a child. For those of you interested in wildlife, as we are, we saw a huge amount of birds: kingfishers, bee eaters, spoonbill, cranes, hoopoe as well as a vast array of birds of prey: lanner falcons, kites, Egyptian vultures and more, so do remember to look up occasionally on your cruise, you never know what might be soaring above you.

Some tips
I felt it my duty to share a little about the Nile cruise so that the rest of you, if you fancy it, can be prepared.

1. Very important! Pick your time of year carefully, the heat is a big issue and although your friendly Egyptologist will try to get you up and out early (and I mean early) and have you back in the cool comfort of your boat before the midday sun hits, it is still very hot. So choose the time of year to suit your heat tolerance.

2. Be prepared for early mornings. The earliest start we had was 3am, but if you plan for a balloon ride over the valley of the kings, you may be required to be up and out before that. However, your boat will provide a free alarm call, so no need to pack an alarm clock.

3. Don't rely on your trusty communication devices working, even texts and voice mail doesn't get through. You should imagine yourself uncontactable for the time you are there.

4. Our boat sported WiFi, but it was non-existent from the moment we boarded to the moment we got off. There does appear to be genuine WiFi at the airport in Luxor, but don't expect anything speedy.

5. You will be accosted by beggars and hawkers at every opportunity and so it is a good idea to carry things like pens and pencils for the kids, sweets go down well too, but the former is probably more useful to them.

6. Take hand sanitiser, it is invaluable as you will find yourself handling Egyptian money (renowned for it's bacteria) and in situations where a sink is not to hand. If you value your stomach and want to make the most out of your trip, then this really is a must.

7. Take more memory cards than you think you will need, there are more photo opportunities here than you can ever imagine.

8. If you can, take a drinks bottle, the bottles of water that you will get from your boat tend to be huge and a little cumbersome, so it's handy to have a smaller capacity bottle for the shorter trips.

9. When picking your boat, the itineraries are much of a muchness, but the boat facilities will vary. The boat sizes tend to be fairly standard although you will find that there are some very small, plush boats that offer luxurious cruising. If you can find one with a hygiene award it can be reassuring.

10. All of the tour guides seem to advise that you take US Dollars, but you will find that you will get a much better deal if you change a little into Egyptian currency at the airport. It will also allow you to buy in smaller denominations as the Dollar tends to be rounded up.

Above all else, enjoy your exploration and make sure you stock up on your sleep before you go, trust me you will want to stay awake while you are there, as there is so much to see.

Topical, random facts:
• There is a difference between sunlight in the morning and the afternoon, you can have a sensitivity to one and not the other...
• You can now get suntan lotion that incorporates an insect repellent – why did someone not think of this earlier?
• Horse hospitals in Egypt are free. But strangely many Egyptians don't or won't use them.

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