Dahab: ultimate relaxation

How to describe a place like Dahab? A diver’s paradise, seafood galore, meals on pillows surrounded by fairy lights, shisha smoking until dawn… It’s pretty blissful all round!

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Most of the days so far have been spent diving – both Lofty and I are completing our Advanced Divers course. We’ve seen the magnificent Blue Hole and the Canyon, two of the Red Sea’s best dives, with the help of our excellent instructor Ibrahim of Big Blue dive school.

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At night, it’s been seafood all the way. Dahab is a stunning town, with all the restaurants lining the waterfront and shops the other side. Here, unlike in Aswan or Luxor, there is very little hassle. Last night we celebrated the fourth (and final) birthday of the trip! We had the whole restaurant up and dancing, and the fun spilled out over onto the street. It was one of those perfect capsule evenings: great food, pretty lights, lots of dancing…

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And the best part is we get to do it all again tonight.

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An egyptian birthday… Not too shabby

Some birthdays are really special, and this one might top them all! This year in general has been crazy, and so much has happened it’s hard to sit back and take it all in. But a day like today has really capped off an amazing year and jump started a new one. I can’t wait to see what 26 will bring!

So far?

…woke up at 4am to watch the sun rise over the Valley of the Kings from a hot air balloon. Magic.

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…rode in a horse-drawn carriage to Karnak, and explored the biggest temple in Egypt. Amazing.

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…ended up in the luxurious resort town of Hurghada and ate my birthday dinner at the new harbour overlooking the Red Sea… Even better.

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A blessing from Thoth, god of writing… Sounds like a good idea to me!

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En route to Luxor: feluccas and temples

A day and night on the felucca was heavenly relaxation after a few intense days of temple-hopping – even if it was a bit of bush experience when nature called! The highlight was definitely dinner. We pulled up to shore at night and the felucca captain wrapped a blanket around the boat to keep out the wind and lit loads of candles as they laid out the food. Tres romantique! A bonfire on the shore followed, with lots of singing and drums, before we turned in for a chilly night under sleeping bags and blankets.

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We are in Egypt after all, so never too far from a temple! After waving goodbye to the felucca captain, we continued along the road to Luxor, stopping at Kom Ombo and Edfu temples along the way.

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When we reached Luxor, I was struck by how much more modern it feels – or at least how well it caters to tourists… but the hawkers here have been intense. Really, really intense. At Valley of the Kings, it wasn’t possible to move two steps without being surrounded. The tombs were as much an escape from the touts as anything else!

Ok, not really – the tombs were more amazing than I imagined. Actually, I’m not sure what I imagined, but not the colour and detail that I saw. We visited the tombs of Rameses 3, 4, 6 and 9. Rameses 6 topped them all, but each one had its own unique features. Shame we weren’t allowed to take any pictures! (note: the touts got me, and I bought some postcards instead of photos!)

Next we visited Queen Hachetsup’s (Hot Chicken Soup) temple. Finally, a female pharaoh doing it for the girls! This was high on the list as Lofty’s mum recommended it as a not-to-miss and we weren’t disappointed – well, except for one of the group who twisted his knee badly during a “jump” photo and had to be ambulanced away!

Luxor has a beautiful boardwalk by the Nile – a great place to sit, study (in Lofty’s case) or write (in mine) and watch the sun go down. Egypt has been a great source of inspiration and I’ve written loads since being away. Yay!

We capped off a brilliant day with a tour of Luxor temple at night. Gorgeous!

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Aswan Egypt: romance, majesty and culture

Aswan is just beautiful. The difference between here and Cairo is palpable: fewer cars, swaying palms, and our hotel is right on the banks of the Nile. It is also a lot hotter. Cairo was chilly most of the day, but Aswan is proper desert heat!

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The pace has been much more relaxing here. After a dip in the pool to shake off the train dust, we headed to the most romantic temple in Egypt, called Philae. It is situated on an island in Lake Nasser (it had to be moved after the dam flooded its original location) and is dedicated to the goddess of love and beauty – Isis. Wali, our guide, used the group members as actors to explain the relationship between the Egyptian gods. Lofty ended up as Horus – pictured in this temple as a big baby! Hehe. We had a couple of hours to explore the stunning temple, which felt really unique owing to its island setting. We also had the place pretty much to ourselves. Lack of tourism has really hit Egypt and its people hard, but for us it allows an unexpected peace amongst the normally bustling temples.

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A quick stroll through Aswan markets had us haggling for scarves and saffron, giving a few egyptian pounds to a persistent-but-charming Del Boy named Mohammed, but it was early to bed as we had a three am start to Abu Simbel. Where Philae was romantic and peaceful, Abu Simbel is majestic and awe-inspiring. In fact, as you come around the corner, the first temple you see is the temple dedicated to Ramses II’s wife, Nefeteri. There were many oohs and ahhs – until Ramses II himself’s temple came into view and all jaws dropped!

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The story of how they moved Abu Simbel is really fascinating, although a few people questioned why it the dam was built with such little regard for the safety or preservation of such ancient wonders. But modern life must go on – and without the high dam modern life in Egypt would be nigh on impossible. And so it was up to Unesco and the Egyptian people to ensure the temple could be restored in a different location.

We stopped off at the dam on the way home and after a chilled afternoon, we boarded a boat to a Nubian village, where we treated to a tour of a home – including their feisty pet crocs- and yummy traditional food.

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Tomorrow we are spending all day aboard a felucca, so more relaxation in store! It’s a hard Egyptian life…

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Egypt: pharaohs, perfume, pyramids and… Traffic.

Today we are in Aswan, after a long 14hr overnight train journey from Cairo. That’s now my third sleeper train journey in Africa (others being Nairobi to Mombassa and Harare to Vic Falls) and this was probably the nicest – although food was better in Kenya!

Our full day in Cairo had been hectic to say the least! After an early morning breakfast, we headed off toward the Egypt Museum. Cairo traffic (more on that later) meant we all had to hop off the bus for a quick stroll through the infamous Tahrir Square, where protestors were still camped out. The Egypt museum is just off the square, with the burnt out remains of the old regime’s offices looming behind.

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The Egypt museum definitely exceeded my expectations, and after gazing at all Tutankhamen’s tomb finery, I picked up a few ideas for my own khans in Oathbreaker! One of the most impressive items was a tiny statue of Cheops, the only visual representation of the great Pharaoh there is.

After lunch at Adelino’s perfume shop (and more delicious mint tea), we headed toward the Great Pyramids at Giza. After plenty of shots from a high viewpoint of the entire Giza complex, we all clambered aboard camels for a lift down to the third pyramid. It was a great ride, but not so long that it got really uncomfortable!

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We were luckily able to enter the third pyramid, which was quite eerie – even if there wasn’t that much to see inside. Just the thought of being in the tomb was enough to make my pulse race, and later standing next to the smallest pyramid of the three, you can’t help but be daunted by its massive size. Let alone its two big brothers.

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We watched the sunset over the Sphinx (no riddles were posed, much to my chagrin) and headed back to the hotel for showers and relax before our overnight train journey. At least, that was the plan. Cairo traffic had other ideas. In the event, we ended up racing along the platform at 8.01 (train was due to leave at 8), yelling at every train guard to let us on! Mercifully they took pity on us and we leapt on board, backpacks in tow, in the nick of time. Luck is on our side!

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