Chapter 21 Egypt riddles in the sand.
The Sphinx was a mythical creature, and the only Sphinx left in Egypt is a stone statue, anyway. Fortunately, it doesn't ask tourists questions. But riddles do remain. How were Egypt's great monuments built? Why were they built? What was ancient Egypt really like? These are the riddles that continue to draw tourists today (and that provide a seemingly endless topic for cable TV networks ...).
Egypt is located in the northeast corner of the African continent. It's a large country-- about the size of California, Nevada, and Arizona combined. Yet most of the population lives in the narrow, fertile Nile River Valley. Depending on how you measure, the Nile may be the world's longest river. (The Amazon is the other possibility.) It flows south to north through the eastern portion of the country and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The country's capital, Cairo, is on the Nile in northern Egypt. Indeed, most of the destinations that tourists are interested in--Luxor, in the center of the country, and Aswan, in the south--are on the Nile. (Those who fly between cities will see an astonishing sight: a blue and green ribbon of a river cutting through the tan, dusty surface of Egypt.)
The "Lower" Nile is in the north of Egypt, the "Upper" Nile in the south.
Western Egypt, which makes up the bulk of the country, is desert and largely uninhabited. The nation's eastern border is marked by the Red Sea, which (with the Gulf of Suez to the west and the Gulf of Aqaba [ACK-ah-bah] to the east) helps form the border of the Sinai (Peninsula) desert. The famous Suez Canal lies to the north, between the Gulf of Suez and the Mediterranean. Arabic is the national language, but English is widely spoken by tourist personnel.
The answer, incidentally, to the Sphinx's riddle: "Man." For it's man who crawls on all fours during infancy, stands upright through the prime of life, and uses a cane in old age. The rest of Egypt's riddles are left for visitors to ponder on their own, during a fascinating journey to this faraway land.
How Travelers Get There
The national airline is Egyptair (MS), though other U.S. and foreign carriers also fly into the main gateway at Cairo International Airport (CAI). Flying times from the United States are long, usually with connections: 12 hours from New York, 15 hours from Chicago, and nearly 17 hours from Los Angeles.
Travelers may also reach Egypt following a stopover visit in Europe; it takes five hours to fly into the country from Paris, for example. It's also possible to arrive in Egypt via ship; Egypt is a frequent stop on Eastern Mediterranean cruise itineraries, usually out of Piraeus (Athens) or Istanbul. The main port in Egypt is Alexandria, in the center of the nation's northern coast. A secondary port is Port Said [sah-EED], on the Suez Canal.
FYI: FOR YOUR INFORMATION EGYPT CAPITAL: Cairo AREA (SQUARE MILES): 386,101 TIME ZONE: GMT 12 DRIVE ON: Right POPULATION: 69,500,000 RELIGION: Islam LANGUAGE: Arabic CURRENCY: 1 Egyptian pound 5 100 piastres ELECTRICITY: 220 volts, 50 cycles AC CAPSULE HISTORY: Upper and Lower Kingdoms united, 4000 B.C.; "Golden Age," sixteenth to thirteenth century B.C.; Alexander conquers Egypt, 332 B.C.; Rome takes over, 30 B.C.; Islam introduced, 641; Turks take over, 1517; Napoleonic occupation, 1798-1801; Suez Canal, 1869; British occupy, 1882; independence, 1922; monarchy ends, 1953; various Israeli-Egyptian wars, 1956-1973; fundamentalist unrest and acts of terrorism, 1993-1998. For reference sources, tourist bureaus, and suggested lengths of stay, see the Appendices. Tolls paid by cruise ships and freighters going through the Suez Canal are a major source of income for Egypt.
Most tourists to Egypt spend their time at destinations along the Nile, whose climate is far more comfortable than that of the Western and Sinai deserts. For example, the temperatures in Cairo during winter (the main tourist season) will reach only the 70s and cool down to as low as the upper 40s at night (see Figure 21-1). Late fall can be pleasant as well, reaching 80 degrees or more. Visitors should avoid the summer, however, unless they're willing to put up with intense heat and air pollution in order to take advantage of bargain rates; the average summer highs are in the mid-90s and it's dry (and it gets even hotter in southern Egypt). In addition, March through May is usually uncomfortable--not only because of shifting temperatures but also because of shifting sand; lung-searing winds (called the Khamsin) can occur during this time. Rain, though, is unlikely to dampen a visit; it rains, on average, only one day a month in Cairo and a little more than that along the northern coast, where Alexandria is located.
The pyramids were the tallest structures in the world until the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889.
The most popular way for tourists to get to their Egyptian destinations is on a Nile cruise. Sometimes they may also travel by plane; there are good connections between the major cities. Egypt also has adequate train and bus service. Travelers who decide to go by rail should take first class only; second class can be very uncomfortable. Ditto for the crowded buses that cross the country. (Those bus routes used predominately by tourists are OK.) And remind visitors that donkeys, horses, and, yes, camels are commonly used for getting around in certain areas (especially around the pyramids). Escorted tours are a popular alternative.
Within Cairo, taxis are an inexpensive way to see the city. However, meters are often ignored; the cost of the ride should be firmly set at the beginning (and it often depends on the age, condition, and make of the vehicle!). Car rentals are widely available, but driving can be a nightmare of crowded streets and lonely desert roads. Many visitors hire a driver for the day; car rental companies and hotels can facilitate this. The jam-packed city buses should be avoided. There's an adequate subway system, and visitors can also travel through the city by boat along the Nile.
[FIGURE 21-1 OMITTED]
Several remarkable destinations are typically on the tourist agenda.
Located on the Nile, Cairo is a historic, bustling city (Africa's largest, by far). Visitors should be prepared for the squalor of certain sections of the area. Among Cairo's attractions are:
* The Egyptian Antiquities Museum, near the Ramses Hilton Hotel, with perhaps the world's greatest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, including the mummies of most of the great pharaohs and the dazzling treasures of King Tutankhamen. It's best to get there early and to go directly to King Tut's room on the second floor, then to the mummy room, and on to the rest of the collection.
* Great mosques, the most notable of which are the ancient Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the renowned Mosque of El-Azhar (near the old bazaar), and the colossal Sultan Hasan Mosque.
* The Citadel of Saladin, a walled, hilltop fort built in the twelfth century. Within it is the legendary Alabaster Mosque, the Citadel's central attraction.
* Cairo Tower, affording an excellent view of Old Cairo, New Cairo, and the pyramids (on a rare clear day).
* The Museum of Islamic Art, perhaps the finest exhibit of its kind in the world.
* The Coptic Quarter, with its old narrow streets, ancient Christian churches, and a museum. (The Coptic Church is an ancient Christian sect.)
* The Three Great Pyramids and the Sphinx--among the most renowned attractions anywhere--located in the town of Giza, just west of Cairo. The pyramids were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and they're the only one still in existence. The most famous is the pyramid of Cheops. The dramatic sound-and-light show (given on certain nights in English) is impressive. Early morning visits are good, too, since it's less hot and the crowds are still thin.
Many people expect small tips, called baksheesh, for favors that they've done; this includes letting their photographs be taken. Even museum guards may ask.
When setting up a camel ride, negotiate the price first and wait until the end to pay and tip. The same applies for trips in feluccas (small sail boats) and taxis. More than a million people live in structures within one of Cairo's cemeteries. It's called the "City of the Dead."
A short day trip from Cairo is to Sakkara. Remarkable underground tombs and 14 pyramids are here, including the Step Pyramid, the world's oldest intact stone structure. Nearby is Memphis, which in ancient days was the capital of Egypt; brooding monuments and a huge statue of Ramses II are the attractions that remain from this city, now largely gone.
Thebes was also the name of the ancient Greek city-state conquered by Alexander the Great.
Upriver (south) from Cairo, Luxor features some of the most remarkable ruins in all of Egypt. In ancient days this city was known as Thebes. It was in the Valley of the Kings-- across the river from Luxor--that King Tut's tomb was discovered. Other ancient pharaohs were buried here, as well. Though their tombs are now empty, the astonishing wall decorations remain. The area boasts two of the world's finest temple complexes: the Temple of Luxor and the nearby Temple of Karnak.
Farther upriver from Luxor, Aswan today is most recognized as home to one of the world's biggest structures: the Aswan High Dam. Nearby is the Temple of Kalabsha, which was relocated by German archaeologists to its present site. The outstanding temples on Philae [FIE-lee] Island provide the backdrop to a superb sound-and-light show. A number of excellent temples can be reached from Aswan; the best known is the towering Temple of Abu Simbel, where the figure of Ramses II is cut into a bluff. (The entire temple was cut into pieces--its original site was flooded when the Aswan Dam was built--and reassembled at its present location.)
Cruises can be taken in either direction (or both) but it's most efficient to fly south and then cruise north with the current. For those with plenty of time, the weeklong voyage from Aswan to Cairo is unforgettable. More common, however, is the shorter five-day trip between Aswan and Luxor. The ship will stop at such sites as Esna (with the Temple of Khnum) and Edfu (with the superbly preserved Temple of Horus). Passengers will also get a real feeling for everyday Egyptian life. Hotels operate most cruise ships; the cruise will include a cabin and most meals.
Even on the finest Nile cruise ships, stomach disorders are common.
Though these are the main destinations in Egypt, other areas draw tourists, including:
* The Sinai Desert, where many Biblical sites are found, including Mt. Horeb, which some believe to be Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the tablets of the Ten Commandments. St. Catherine's Monastery, at the presumed site of the Burning Bush, is nearby.
* Alexandria, Egypt's main cruise port. Though attractions are rather limited, there are some fine museums, several palaces, and some ancient ruins. Divers have begun to find intriguing artifacts in Alexandria's harbor, some of which are on display.
* Resorts, most notably Mersa Matruh (on the Mediterranean, west of Alexandria), Sharm El Sheikh (at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula), and Hurghada (on the Red Sea), a fine snorkeling and diving site.
In ancient times, Alexandria's library was considered the world's best.
Deciding on the length of stay in Egypt depends not only on the destinations to be visited, but also on the mode of transportation. A good itinerary would be 10 days for first-time visitors. They would start in the area around Cairo and then fly to Aswan, where they'll take a ship down-river to Luxor, then return by air to Cairo. Experienced travelers may wish to take excursions to some of the lesser known sites, visit the Sinai Desert, take a longer cruise, or even spend some time at one of Egypt's fine resorts.
It's believed that Alexander the Great is buried somewhere under Alexandria. No one knows where. Obelisks were first erected in Egypt. The world's tallest contemporary one is the Washington Monument, in Washington, D.C.
Budget accommodations in Egypt can provide guests with unwelcome surprises. Very good lodging, though, is reasonably priced. Some fine first-class chains serve the country, the most popular of which are Oberoi, Le Meridien, and Sonesta. In addition, InterContinental offers deluxe lodging. There's also a wide selection of North American chains in Egypt, especially in Cairo. Perhaps the best hotel in Cairo is the Marriott, with a converted palace at its center. Most Cairo bars and nightclubs are in the hotels. Few good hotels can be found outside Cairo, Alexandria, and Luxor.
Most of Cairo's lodging clusters around the Egyptian Antiquities Museum and along the Nile. Quite a few hotels are also at the airport. For those planning to spend much time exploring the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx, you might recommend accommodations in Giza, where there are several hotels and resorts. (The best is the Mena House Oberoi.) For those taking a Nile cruise, the ship acts as the hotel; passengers stay onboard at night.
It's not uncommon for a visit to Egypt to be combined with a trip to its neighbor, Israel, and to nearby Jordan. Egypt is just across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia. Because of the great distance to Egypt from the United States, visitors often prefer to break up the flight by stopping over in Europe for a few days before continuing. The country can also be seen as part of a Mediterranean cruise.
Egypt's culture is different from what visitors are likely to be used to at home. This is most important to business travelers.
* The use of titles (for example, Doctor, Professor) is important when addressing people in Egypt. And dress is fairly formal and conservative.
* Parties, dinners, and other gatherings often don't start until 10 P.M. When staging a social gathering, have nonalcoholic beverages available for Moslem attendees.
* Building trust is important to Egyptians. As a result, visitors should be prepared to engage in extended conversation and coffee before starting a meeting. Even shopkeepers will offer customers a coffee or cola.
* It's quite acceptable to ask an Egyptian about his or her opinion. However, to ask for personal facts is rarely done, except among close friends.
* If visitors are invited to someone's home, it's polite to bring a gift, and good manners to leave some food on their plates. (It's a sign of abundance.)
* When exchanging an item (such as food or a gift) with another person, never use the left hand alone; it's considered ill mannered.
* Many businesses close on Friday, the Moslem day of rest. Workweeks begin on Saturday and run through Thursday. Some places close completely (or early) on Sunday.
The most famous bazaar to see in Cairo is the Khan El Khalili.
Factors That Motivate Visitors
Certain predictable reasons prompt people to visit Egypt:
* It has a unique and rich cultural history.
* Costs within the country are relatively low, and shopping is a bargain.
* The locals are friendly.
* It appeals to those who like cruises. Nile cruises are attractive to people who usually reject water travel because of seasickness; the Nile is quite calm.
* The weather is warm and pleasant during the winter.
A trip to Egypt is a unique experience. But it does generate concerns--some genuine, some unfounded:
* "Haven't there been crime and terrorism directed against tourists?" Serious but sporadic incidents by fundamentalists have occurred and have dramatically impacted tourism, but overall, Egypt is an astonishingly crime-free country.
* "The hostilities in the Middle East worry me." Egypt and Israel are no longer fighting with each other, and the wars in the Middle East are not affecting Egypt.
* "I've been told that the water is very bad." Drink bottled liquids instead, and be careful with fresh fruits and vegetables.
* "There's widespread disease there." Check with a physician before making the trip, and get any necessary shots.
* "It's blisteringly hot." Avoid Egypt during the summer; visit in the winter or late fall, when the weather is usually lovely.
* "The country is dirty and crowded." Book a first-class or deluxe hotel, or take an upscale package tour. Cairo's traffic, smog, and crowds are real, though; those with this concern should perhaps stay only briefly in Cairo and move on to other Egyptian areas.
* "Aren't there aggressive salespeople and beggars everywhere?" Much of this is a sort of game that locals play to make a meager living. Everyday Egyptians are among the most friendly, hospitable, and helpful people in the world.
Many of ancient Egypt's statues and carvings were hacked away by early Christians and, later, Moslems. At Cairo's Egyptian Antiquities Museum, you can actually look upon the face of Ramses II (mummified, of course), who may have been the pharaoh referred to in the story of Moses.
What's the most obvious way to enhance a trip to Egypt? By booking a memory-of-alifetime Nile cruise. An escorted tour is a good choice for those who feel a certain hesitancy about their visit. Because the flight to Egypt from the United States is so long, stopovers in Europe will break up the voyage. A trip to Egypt goes well with a visit to Israel or Kenya. Further, because many budget hotels can be unpleasant, better hotels are advisable. Cruises are a grand way to maximize profits from a person's trip.
NAME -- DATE --
MAP ACTIVITY [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] A traveler wants to visit the places listed below. Which number represents each on the map? Place/Attraction In/Near Which City? Number on Map A. The Temple of Karnak A. -- A. -- B. Cheops Pyramid B. -- B. -- C. Mosque of El-Azhar C. -- C. -- D. Abu Simbel is usually visited from here D. -- D. -- E. A Red Sea resort E. -- E. -- F. The Valley of the Kings F. -- F. -- G. The Citadel of Saladin G. -- G. -- H. The Egyptian Antiquities Museum H. -- H. -- I. The Sphinx I. -- I. -- J. The Aswan High Dam J. -- J. --
NAME -- DATE --
CASE STUDY Elizabeth and John Apicella enjoy the region around the Mediterranean. They've been to Italy and Israel and have cruised the Greek Isles, but they've yet to visit Egypt. This year, at last, they plan to go for 11 days. Circle the answer that best suits their needs: (1) The Apicellas enjoy cruises. Which of the following do you suggest they take as a trip? Aswan to Luxor Cairo to Aswan The Dead Sea The Eastern Mediterranean Why? (2) While staying in Cairo, they want to see pyramids. To what town would you direct them? Uxmal Giza Rhodes Gaza Why? (3) Which of the following tips would not be a good idea to pass along to the Apicellas? Many businesses are closed on Fridays. Pass gifts with the left hand only. Remove shoes before entering mosques. Carry a lot of spare change. Why? (4) Which month would you suggest they go? May June November August Why?
NAME -- DATE --
CREATIVE ACTIVITY Using only the Internet, see if you can find the answers to the following. Give the answer and the address of the Web site where you found it. (1) Name three companies that operate cruises on the Nile. (2) Is it possible to take trips into western Egypt's Sahara? How would you do it? (3) Who was the architect of the Sakkara Pyramid, and what else was he known--and venerated--for? (4) You live in Los Angeles and want to fly to Cairo. Connecting flights are all right, but you want toremain on the same airline all the way. Name three airlines you could use and in which cities you would connect. (5) Do you need a visa to visit Egypt? TRAVEL TRIVIA The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World * The Pyramids (Giza, Egypt) * The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (near Baghdad, Iraq) * The Statue of Zeus at Olympia (Greece) * The Temple of Diana at Ephesus (Turkey) * The Mausoleum (Helicarnassus, Turkey) * The Colossus (Rhodes) * The Pharos Lighthouse (Alexandria, Egypt)
Marc Mancini, PhD
Department of Travel
West Los Angeles College
Figure 21-2 Qualifying the Traveler Egypt APPEAL FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT HIGH MEDIUM LOW Historical and * Cultural Attractions Beaches and Water Sports * Skiing Opportunities * Lots of Nightlife * Family Activities * Familiar Cultural Experience * Exotic Cultural * Experience Safety and Low Crime * Bargain Travel * Impressive Scenery * Peace and Quiet * Shopping Opportunities * To Do Business * FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT REMARKS Historical and Legendary sights Cultural Attractions Beaches and Water Sports Seacoast resorts; Red Sea diving Skiing Opportunities None Lots of Nightlife In Cairo, especially in hotels Family Activities Primarily sightseeing Familiar Cultural Experience Exotic Cultural Experience Safety and Low Crime Bargain Travel After airfare, can be inexpensive Impressive Scenery The Nile and desert Peace and Quiet Cairo very noisy; rest of country is quieter Shopping Opportunities Pottery, handicrafts, false antiquities, cotton items To Do Business Must understand the culture
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|Title Annotation:||PART V Africa and the Middle East Savannahs and Sand|
|Publication:||Selling Destinations, Geography for the Travel Professional, 4th ed.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2004|
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|Next Article:||Chapter 22 Israel, Palestine, and Jordan the holy lands.|