Elizabeth enjoys studying the ancients. Elizabeth's 7th grade curriculum included an Independent Research Project. Her choice of topic was "How the Nile affected Culture in Ancient Egypt." We decided to surprise Elizabeth with a trip to Egypt over the 2002/2003 Christmas Holidays. It was a once in a lifetime event for the entire family, although I'm sure we'd go again if given the opportunity. After all, Egypt is the oldest tourist destination on Earth!
We had the idea for the trip early in the 2002 school year. About that time, the Bush administration was rattling sabers over Iraq. It didn't seem like an ideal time for Middle East travel, but Elizabeth independent study project couldn't wait. We scheduled the trip with some fear and trepidation, but were thankful to return home before hostilities broke-out. We felt safe the entire trip, although we did take prudent precautions.
One precaution was planning the trip with a tour guide. It's definitely the way to go. We chose private tour because largest part of the cost was the airfare and our schedule wasn't flexible. We used The Egyptian Connection because they had an office in the USA and they could accommodate a customized private tour. Numerous other guides and tour packages are available and easily found on a web search. For example, there's a syndicate of tour companies and tons of useful information at TourEgypt.net. Once we booked the trip, we registered our itinerary with the American Embassy in Egypt.
Elizabeth's birthday is just before Christmas, so we purchased some travel guides as gifts that announced the big trip. In the mean time, Elizabeth was already listening to some Teaching Company lectures on tape by Dr. Bob Brier called, "The History of Ancient Egypt." We consider Dr. Brier's lectures an enlightening prerequisite to the antiquities of Egypt. Although lengthy and detailed, Dr. Brier's lectures are spell-binding, entertaining, and motivating. His lectures helped us fully appreciate the legacy of ancient Egypt. We'd recommend Dr. Brier's lectures as an accompaniment for any Egyptian journey.
"Culture Shock" by Susan Wilson was also helpful. Being on a private tour, we found ourselves in a cocoon, so we actually didn't need Ms. Wilson's book. Still, it helped explain what we observed and how we should behave. It put us at ease with the Egyptian culture by painting a broad view. The book is packed with gems of insight. For example, in the West we say, "if you touch, you buy." Ms Wilson warns us of eye contact protocol in Egypt: "if you look, you want to buy!" Believe me, it's so true! She also warns us that we must carry small bills (there are no coins) for baksheesh and tipping. For example, if you want toilet paper in a public bathroom, be prepared to shell out a tip. Or, be prepared to tip the Tourist Police for helping you take a picture. She also tells us about crazy driving procedures, like driving at night without lights to save batteries or zigg-zagging to miss donkey carts. And, she provides a nice overview of common phrases that one might hear on the street, like Inshallah (God Willing). It's a great read on the plane trip to Egypt.
The Lonely Planet and Eyewitness Travel Guides to Egypt were also handy. They give nice overviews, provide maps of cities and provide a menu of things to see. The Lonely Planet guide has more volume, while the Eyewitness Guide is more colorful. Given that our tour was planned and structured, we didn't actually need these guides, although they were great fun to read as we approached each of our destinations.
Of course, we did plenty of web surfing before we departed, and after we came home. Sites like Egy.com and the various web ring sites like Pharaonic Egypt provide endless surfing.
Thanks to the advice of a few friends, we decided on an itinerary that included the Pyramids, a Nile Cruise, and a visit to the Sinai peninsula. The route is illustrated below:
First, we flew from Florida to New York. Then from New York to Cairo via Egypt Air. After a full day in Cairo, we traveled to Aswan. From Aswan, we took a 3-day Nile Cruise to Luxor, visiting a number of places along the way. From Luxor, we flew to Sharm El Sheikh on the Sinai peninsula. Then, we returned to Cairo for another day of touring. Finally, we traced our tracks back to Florida. Our trip was 9-days long, with 7 full days touring Egypt. Our only regret is that we couldn't spend a few more days. We probably should have scheduled at least 2 weeks.
Click below to join us on our tour!