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Linda-Marie Singer is...THE LIVEWIRE

Linda-Marie Singer - Click to Enlarge

Egypt:

Get Thee to a Mummery!

Click to Enlarge By Linda-Marie Singer

CAIRO, EGYPT: You might say I’ve wanted to see Egypt from the time my geography teacher showed pictures of the Pyramids along the Nile. But when she held up that photograph of The Sphinx, a lionWill you be the one to guess the riddle of The Sphinx? with the Pharaoh’s head, I was really hooked. Somehow one day I would see Egypt if for no other reason than to get close to The Sphinx, and see for myself what the ancient riddle was all about. (Note: Click on any image to see larger version.)

Unable to solve the enigma, I found the people much easier to grasp. Likable and congenial, Egyptians appear unaffected by all the amazing sites surrounding them. It’s the tourists who can’t get enough of the overpowering attractions:

  • The 67-foot statues of Ramesses I facing the Nile at Abu Simbel Marvel at the 3,200-year-old temple showing four 67-foot statues of Ramesses II facing the Nile

  • Mummies of the Pharaohs and Queens

  • The Temple of Karnak with colonnades, obelisks, statues, and ornate wall murals

  • The magnificent Valley of the Kings and Queens at Luxor

Then there are those picturebook Pyramids!

Unlike other lands where ancient sites seem to be located all in one area, in Egypt everything blends in. One moment you can be galloping through the sandy desert on a camel; the next, you can be sailing languidly along the Nile. No matter the choice, you’ll find the country amazingly affordable.

Could Elizabeth Taylor match this?For instance, quality costume jewelry starts at only $5. Spend double and you can dab on King Tutankhamun perfume oil, or the lotus essence used by Cleopatra to mesmerize Mark Antony and Julius Caesar. In a hurry? The best all-inclusive place to shop is the Khan-el-Khalili Bazaar in the heart of Cairo. Bargain away and you’ll take home famous Egyptian cotton, carpets, linens, ornate perfume bottles, spices, jewelry, leather goods, and of course pure gold Cartouches with your name designed in hieroglyphics.

A Relaxing Cruise

But don’t be fooled. Egypt is the Nile and the Nile is Egypt, and one of the most relaxing and yet enlightening things to do is to take a cruise down its placid waters. Sonesta Nile Goddess is the Nile’s most decorated cruise shipI chose the Sonesta Nile Goddess as I have stayed in Sonesta’s international hotels and know of the company’s quality and reputation. I wasn’t disappointed. The Sonesta Nile Goddess, built in 1989, offers 68 junior suites, superb dining in The Magnolia Restaurant, an outdoor pool, sun deck with fitness equipment, plus a congenial staff who polish and clean the ship continuously. For an extra special treat, check into one of the two Presidential Suites with your own private deck -- a taste of the good life plus the envy of the other passengers.

Once you leave the serenity of the ship, you’ll be spending time in Cairo, the largest city in the Mid-East with a population topping 9 million.9 million people can’t be wrong You’ll swear they’re all on the roads at the same time, for in the country’s capital, a traffic jam can take place at four in the morning. The philosophy seems to be - you get there when you get there. This includes donkeys. So many people rely on this form of transport that it’s not unusual to see the animal plodding along a busy street, while someone next to it is zooming by in a shiny Mercedes.

But this isn’t the only incongruity. Opulent jewelry showrooms are located next to crumbling buildings; mud-brick huts are within striking distance of sumptuous homes. The contrasts are so idiosyncratic that you’ll wonder how everyone manages to get along, smile, and enjoy life. My inside scoop is that in order to understand all this, you’ll either have to be reborn an Egyptian, or imagine yourself among the Pharaohs with a 20th century twist.

The bark of Ra being pulled into the Netherworld

Puckering up for Baksheesh!Art of Hospitality

Whatever the year, Egyptians have mastered the eternal secret to attracting visitors: Hospitality. Everyone from hotel clerks to street vendors will want to know how you like it there. Before you can reply, the smiles come out. This hit me right away when we landed in the Cairo airport and were met by Ahmed Tewfik, our bubbly guide from Tours & Travel Dimensions, Inc. who called out: Welcome Kings and Queens! Corny as it may seem, the warm welcome gets to you.

This spirited reception may seem too much for some tourists who don’t want to be asked every moment if they’d like to buy alabaster “gods,” papyrus bookmarks, mummy statues, and plastic pyramids. You can run but you can never hide from these enterprising merchants who are not menacing -- just persistent. Try to keep in mind that the most common call is not to Allah five times a day, but rather the call for “Baksheeh.” Tips.

King Tut - the Boy King, obscure but for his astounding treasuresTake what happened when I toured the 5,000-year-old Cheop’s Pyramid, one of the 7 wonders of the natural world. A stranger asked if I wanted my picture in front of the great monument. I handed him my camera. Click. We both beamed, until I realized that he wanted a little something: “Baksheesh.” He was so charming and had an Omar Sharif-like smile. This smile led to having our photo together and a then a camel ride.

Apart from the colorful bargaining, the Egyptian Museum is a place to learn all about the culture and civilization of this glorified ancient world. It shouldn’t be news that the King Tut exhibit is one of the most popular treasures there, but whatever you do, get thee to a Mummery!, or rather to the nearby Mummy Room. For an extra $13, the display is worth it just to see the great Ramesses I, the mightiest Pharaoh who fathered hundreds of children and lived to be in his 90s. (Other images - click to see Ramses II Smiting Enemies or check out how he looks now, mummified - both pictures located at the Egyptian Museum Web site.)

Boy, do those Eygptians know how to frug!Evidently, there was a connection between longevity and hair color. Unlike Samson, Ramesses has only a few wisps left, but they’re all still strawberry blond! Well, the Egyptians did invent henna after all. Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that the Pharaoh’s dye hasn’t faded even after thousands of years, proving that they don’t make things like they used to. Including Egypt.

-- Linda-Marie Singer


How To Get There

It’s important to get into the swing of things right away, so EgyptAir should be your carrier of choice, though you can choose from many other airlines as well. I found the staff of EgyptAir friendly yet businesslike, and the food above the typical airline fare. EgyptAir departs from JFK close to midnight. This means that you sleep in comfort all the way to Cairo!

Where to Stay

Giza: Forte Grand Pyramids. Comfortable accommodations with remarkable room service and food. But the view! Imagine opening your blinds and waking up to one of the most famous sites in the world -- the Pyramids!

Cairo: El Salam Hotel. Once a palace and now a palace of a hotel. The grounds are impeccable and fit for a Pharaoh or Queen.

Aswan: Old Cataract luxury hotel was built in 1899. Distinguished visitors have included Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill. Now how about you?

Nile Cruise: Sonesta is a reputable and popular company with hotels around the world. Their Sonesta Nile Goddess and Sonesta Sun Goddess are two of the finest ships cruising the Nile with outstanding food, fine accommodations and amenities. For information call: 1-800-SONESTA.

Choosing the Right Tour Operator:

Tours & Travel Dimensions, Inc (US: 212-268-9691; Fax: 212-268-9697) is run by Egyptian Zaki Tewfik out of New York City. His Egyptian know-how is all you’ll need to assure reliability and good judgment. Zaki’s brother Ahmed lives and works in Cairo and is a highly personable guide. This choice is strongly recommended over a Yellow Pages travel office specializing in Hawaii or Mexico.

Tours & Travel Dimensions works with Cameron Tours out of McLean, Virginia (US: 1-800-648-4635; Fax: 703-538-7124; E-mail: camerntour@aol.com). They’ll handle all the important details of air, visas, deluxe hotels, Nile cruise, plus a top Egyptologist to interpret the country’s historic sites.
Next tour:
"Pharaohs and Pyramids.”
February 27-March 10, 1998. Price: $2,995 per person from JKF with assistance for flights from your home city. Single supplement runs $560.

Staying "Hooked Up":

The International Electronic Center (or IEC) in Cairo has a well designed and sophisticated Web site. If you are staying more than a week or two, you may want to visit the site's general chat room, where you can get tips on how and where to connect to the Internet from throughout the area. Standard subscriptions start for 1 month. IEP, 88 El Marghany St., Heliopolis, Cairo, tel. (202) 4161400 Fax: (202) 4182601

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Linda-Marie Singer "The LIVEWIRE" for Travel Watch. Former President of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association, and created the national writers conference, "The Days of Wine & Proses." She is a travel and entertainment reporter living in the San Francisco Bay Area. (More about this writer.)

Email: lindamari@aol.com - Web: http://www.i.am/lindamarie  

 

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