Back from Egypt and Jordan
From Andrea Fahnestock, New York, February 2009
“The trip was an amazing adventure and a perfect way to celebrate my 50th. 1959 doesn’t seem so long ago when compared with 2600 B.C. for the pyramids at Giza! Highlights were: the seven-day cruise up the Nile on the Oberoi Zahra, and all the wonderful staff on board; the temples at Abu Simbel south of Aswan, which was an optional trip offered by the Zahra, reached by a short flight; the Philae island complex off the shore of Aswan (relocated, incredibly, to the nearby island of Agilika by Unesco in the 1970s to protect it from the rising waters of the Nile), particularly here the little gem of Trajan’s kiosk; the fabulously painted Tombs of the Nobles on the west bank of Luxor (which weren’t all on the Zahra itinerary, but we convinced our very accommodating lady guide to take our little group of six to); and Petra, in Jordan, which wore us out with twelve hours of walking/climbing over two days, but the combined appeal of the surreal, swirling coloration of the rocks and remarkable carved structures was well worth the exertion.
Perhaps the most unexpected pleasure was our stay at the magical Adrere Amellal lodge and the treks into the gorgeous surrounding desert at the Siwa oasis. I adored this remote eco-lodge in the northwest corner of Egypt (my husband wasn’t so thrilled about the no heat and electricity part—he is a luxury travel kind of guy, and it was indeed quite cold in January—but I found it the perfect blend of an elemental kind of luxury and simplicity…with great, creative food). We should have flown both ways to Siwa to avoid the interminable ten-hour drive through dull terrain from Alexandria (with unnecessary police escort), but we only flew on the return. The plane was a brand spanking new Beechcraft King Air 350 with two super pilots, and the short flight was heaven compared with the drive. The landing strip is on a tiny military base about forty minutes from Adrere Amellal, and the lodge will pick you up and take you there (no charge). The pilot zoomed us down over the pyramids at Giza for a closer look as we approached Cairo, which was a thrill! Mounir, the lodge’s charming young manager and nephew of the owner, seems to know the right strings to pull to charter a plane quickly and at a relatively reasonable price, and he told us everyone books the flights directly through the lodge.
If we had it to plan over again, chief among things we wish we had managed to see is Abydos, which is on the itinerary of the Abercrombie Sun King IV boat, but not on the Oberoi’s. By all accounts, one of the most beautiful and significant temples, and we were sorry to miss it. The Oberoi Zahra also passes by the lovely temple at Esna without stopping, curiously. Also, we should have spent all our nights in Cairo at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza rather than some at the Mena House in Giza across the river. I was not to be dissuaded when we made our plans, however, since my great-grandmother had stayed there in 1910 and wrote about it in letters home, but the room was in a pretty sad state, and the great view of the pyramids has been marred by lower buildings, cell-phone towers, and other surrounding detritus. Another place she stayed on her journey, the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, of Agatha Christie fame, is now under renovation, so let’s hope they make it fabulous again.
Egypt and Jordan seemed utterly safe, and we sensed no anti-American or anti-Western sentiment at all, though it is possible that we were just shielded from it by having such tight “parental” control on us all the time in the form of our guides. As an unrelated but interesting sidebar, the local people we met when we did get out on our own all wanted to talk about Obama, Obama, Obama. This was true in all corners of Egypt and Jordan, particularly since we were there during the inauguration and the lead-up to it. I even got an unsolicited bear hug from a man in the Aswan souk when I acknowledged we had supported his campaign. They have placed such high hopes for peace in the region on him, hopes we all wish will be fulfilled.”
Read another member’s postcard on a family trip to Israel and Egypt
Read Melissa’s Why Go Now: Egypt
Read a member’s postcard on Off the Tourist Path in Egypt
Read an insider report on Cairo
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