Cairo — before and after a Nile cruise

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 72 of the January 2010 issue.
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View of the Nile and Cairo from the Cairo Sheraton Hotel. Photos: Keck

(Part 1 of 3 on Egypt) I had the opportunity to visit Egypt in September ’09 on a journey replicating the 12-day “Egypt Grand” tour offered by my host, Value World Tours (an advertiser in ITN), in concert with the Egyptian Tourist Authority and EgyptAir.

A split stay in exotic, ancient Cairo prior to and following a seven-day Nile cruise provided the opportunity for visits to the cornucopia of historic attractions for which this huge city of nearly 23 million is so famous.

Despite its size and pulsating heartbeat, I found Cairo’s reputation for being one of the friendliest and safest cities in the world to be well deserved. My first three days in Cairo, I was joined by a friend, Frank Robertson, with whom I enjoyed extensive evening walks among the throngs of engaging local youths who were celebrating the end of Ramadan along the riverfront.

My accommodation, Hotel Cairo Sheraton, was well situated directly on the Nile, providing, day and night, a kaleidoscope of sweeping views across the river to the east bank, which is the center of the thriving metropolis.

In addition, the property’s location, service and range of amenities, including a large pool and a fitness center/spa, rendered it user-friendly in all regards for my five-night split stay.

Value World’s local partner in Egypt, Golden Nile, seamlessly handled all of the ground arrangements for my visit.

Pre-cruise sightseeing

The mosque of Mohamed Ali in the citadel of Salah El-Din.

We began our explorations with an introductory tour of the city followed by a visit to the massive citadel of Salah El-Din, constructed on Al Mokattam Hill between AD 1176 and 1183. From its strategic lofty perch, the complex could be defended easily against attacking forces. Today it still provides expansive views of Cairo on clear days.

On site, the beautiful, well-preserved Alabaster Mosque, built by the early visionary Mohamed Ali (1804-1849), is an ideal place to sit for a while reflecting on the simplicities of life which have been so complicated and compromised by modern man. Its name refers to the massive amount of alabaster imported from Italy to use in its construction.

In the evening, dinner in the lounge at the private-members-only Capitol Club near the American Embassy provided the opportunity to savor the night lights of Cairo while enjoying fine dining. This experience is included in the “Egypt Grand” itinerary.

Pyramids of Giza

The following day, on the outskirts of Cairo, we visited the famous great pyramids of Giza, constructed by King Cheops beginning in 2560 BC. Despite the large number of visitors to be contended with at the site, we were able to get around easily to all the prime vantage points for the three main pyramids and the Sphinx.

I recommend arriving early in the day, as we did, to avoid the main thrust of the large crowds that visit daily and to complete your visit before the often-searing sun begins to bake the complex.

Later we traversed the countryside outside Cairo, finally arriving at the “one step” pyramid at Memphis, built 2630-2611 BC by the famous physician and architect Imhotep for the Pharaoh Zoser.

The wondrous architectural marvels experienced this day invoked, for me, as many questions as they provided answers for regarding the life and times of early Egyptian civilization.

Cairo, post-cruise

Returning to Cairo after a week-long cruise on the Nile seemed almost like coming home. The evening of my return, I was the beneficiary of a homehosted dinner as a guest of my original Cairo guide, Mohamed, and his wife and three beautiful children. Their lovely home is located in El Sharouk, a newly developing satellite city in the desert about an hour from the center of Cairo.

Their villa and the entire controlled-access community was heavily landscaped, and their serene, green backyard full of fruit trees and flowers had much the feel of a desert oasis.

In this relaxing, clear-sky setting, we were able to chat in detail about all facets of life in modern Cairo and Egypt. After being served a bountiful seafood feast, we set out for what ended up being about a two-mile stroll through the community.

Old Cairo beckons

It was my good fortune to have a terrific guide, Mohamed Ibrahim, for my first three days in Cairo.

The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza.

On my final full day in Egypt I met my new guide, Asmaa, for a tour of Old Cairo, with a focus on several important churches related to the early Christian history of the city. As an Egyptian Muslim woman, Asmaa was a breath of fresh air with her feminine insight and perspective. We toured the historic Abu Serga and Al Moallaka churches and the Ben Ezra Synagogue.

To my good fortune, we had the time and opportunity to discuss Muslim philosophy at length, including not only the stressing of religious tolerance but the incumbent high level of respect for all religions. Several Egyptians I met during my journey were adamant about the fact that those who engage in extremism and, particularly, terrorist activities are doing so in complete defiance of true Muslim beliefs and dictates.

To gain an accurate understanding of this subject, Asmaa encourages all Westerners to read an English copy of the Koran.

After lunch we visited the huge El Khalili Bazaar, where prices on all manner of souvenirs may be aggressively negotiated. The bazaar was colorful, good fun and certainly a souvenir-shopper’s panacea.

My final evening in Cairo was spent blissfully cruising the Nile on the Grand Hyatt’s private dining yacht, which featured more than enough traditional Egyptian entertainment and an excellent buffet. On my final night in Egypt, this river of life was precisely where I desired to be.

Before you go

For Egypt river cruises, I recommend Value World Tours (Fountain Valley, CA; phone 800/795-1633, e-mail cruise@valuecruises.net or visit www.valuecruises.net).

For Egypt brochures and questions, contact the Egyptian Tourist Authority (New York, NY; phone 877/773-4978 or 212/332-2570, e-mail info.us@Egypt.travel or visit www.egypt.travel).

For air travel to Egypt, contact EgyptAir (800/334-6787, www.egyptair.com).

Keck's Beyond the Garden Wall

❝How shall future historians judge the dilemma of modern Cairo? One hopes they shall be able to testify that the youthful exuberance of its population was able to overcome decades of staid governance.❞
— Randy reflecting on the challenging prospectus for Cairo.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
View of the Nile and Cairo from the Cairo Sheraton Hotel. Photos: Keck

(Part 1 of 3 on Egypt) I had the opportunity to visit Egypt in September ’09 on a journey replicating the 12-day “Egypt Grand” tour offered by my host, Value World Tours (an advertiser in ITN), in concert with the Egyptian Tourist Authority and EgyptAir.

A split stay in exotic, ancient Cairo prior to and following a seven-day Nile cruise provided the opportunity for visits to the cornucopia of historic attractions for which this huge city of nearly 23 million is so famous.

Despite its size and pulsating heartbeat, I found Cairo’s reputation for being one of the friendliest and safest cities in the world to be well deserved. My first three days in Cairo, I was joined by a friend, Frank Robertson, with whom I enjoyed extensive evening walks among the throngs of engaging local youths who were celebrating the end of Ramadan along the riverfront.

My accommodation, Hotel Cairo Sheraton, was well situated directly on the Nile, providing, day and night, a kaleidoscope of sweeping views across the river to the east bank, which is the center of the thriving metropolis.

In addition, the property’s location, service and range of amenities, including a large pool and a fitness center/spa, rendered it user-friendly in all regards for my five-night split stay.

Value World’s local partner in Egypt, Golden Nile, seamlessly handled all of the ground arrangements for my visit.

Pre-cruise sightseeing

The mosque of Mohamed Ali in the citadel of Salah El-Din.

We began our explorations with an introductory tour of the city followed by a visit to the massive citadel of Salah El-Din, constructed on Al Mokattam Hill between AD 1176 and 1183. From its strategic lofty perch, the complex could be defended easily against attacking forces. Today it still provides expansive views of Cairo on clear days.

On site, the beautiful, well-preserved Alabaster Mosque, built by the early visionary Mohamed Ali (1804-1849), is an ideal place to sit for a while reflecting on the simplicities of life which have been so complicated and compromised by modern man. Its name refers to the massive amount of alabaster imported from Italy to use in its construction.

In the evening, dinner in the lounge at the private-members-only Capitol Club near the American Embassy provided the opportunity to savor the night lights of Cairo while enjoying fine dining. This experience is included in the “Egypt Grand” itinerary.

Pyramids of Giza

The following day, on the outskirts of Cairo, we visited the famous great pyramids of Giza, constructed by King Cheops beginning in 2560 BC. Despite the large number of visitors to be contended with at the site, we were able to get around easily to all the prime vantage points for the three main pyramids and the Sphinx.

I recommend arriving early in the day, as we did, to avoid the main thrust of the large crowds that visit daily and to complete your visit before the often-searing sun begins to bake the complex.

Later we traversed the countryside outside Cairo, finally arriving at the “one step” pyramid at Memphis, built 2630-2611 BC by the famous physician and architect Imhotep for the Pharaoh Zoser.

The wondrous architectural marvels experienced this day invoked, for me, as many questions as they provided answers for regarding the life and times of early Egyptian civilization.

Cairo, post-cruise

Returning to Cairo after a week-long cruise on the Nile seemed almost like coming home. The evening of my return, I was the beneficiary of a homehosted dinner as a guest of my original Cairo guide, Mohamed, and his wife and three beautiful children. Their lovely home is located in El Sharouk, a newly developing satellite city in the desert about an hour from the center of Cairo.

Their villa and the entire controlled-access community was heavily landscaped, and their serene, green backyard full of fruit trees and flowers had much the feel of a desert oasis.

In this relaxing, clear-sky setting, we were able to chat in detail about all facets of life in modern Cairo and Egypt. After being served a bountiful seafood feast, we set out for what ended up being about a two-mile stroll through the community.

Old Cairo beckons

It was my good fortune to have a terrific guide, Mohamed Ibrahim, for my first three days in Cairo.

The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza.

On my final full day in Egypt I met my new guide, Asmaa, for a tour of Old Cairo, with a focus on several important churches related to the early Christian history of the city. As an Egyptian Muslim woman, Asmaa was a breath of fresh air with her feminine insight and perspective. We toured the historic Abu Serga and Al Moallaka churches and the Ben Ezra Synagogue.

To my good fortune, we had the time and opportunity to discuss Muslim philosophy at length, including not only the stressing of religious tolerance but the incumbent high level of respect for all religions. Several Egyptians I met during my journey were adamant about the fact that those who engage in extremism and, particularly, terrorist activities are doing so in complete defiance of true Muslim beliefs and dictates.

To gain an accurate understanding of this subject, Asmaa encourages all Westerners to read an English copy of the Koran.

After lunch we visited the huge El Khalili Bazaar, where prices on all manner of souvenirs may be aggressively negotiated. The bazaar was colorful, good fun and certainly a souvenir-shopper’s panacea.

My final evening in Cairo was spent blissfully cruising the Nile on the Grand Hyatt’s private dining yacht, which featured more than enough traditional Egyptian entertainment and an excellent buffet. On my final night in Egypt, this river of life was precisely where I desired to be.

Before you go

For Egypt river cruises, I recommend Value World Tours (Fountain Valley, CA; phone 800/795-1633, e-mail cruise@valuecruises.net or visit www.valuecruises.net).

For Egypt brochures and questions, contact the Egyptian Tourist Authority (New York, NY; phone 877/773-4978 or 212/332-2570, e-mail info.us@Egypt.travel or visit www.egypt.travel).

For air travel to Egypt, contact EgyptAir (800/334-6787, www.egyptair.com).

Keck's Beyond the Garden Wall

❝How shall future historians judge the dilemma of modern Cairo? One hopes they shall be able to testify that the youthful exuberance of its population was able to overcome decades of staid governance.❞
— Randy reflecting on the challenging prospectus for Cairo.