We visited Egypt for the first time in February this year and travelled as part of a tour arranged by Solos Holidays of the UK. We were really a group within the group, because two friends from the UK, one of whom instigated the journey had herself been to Egypt some 20 times earlier and knew just about everything there was to know about the ancient sites etc. When we arrived in Luxor via Cairo (with Egypt Air, excellent) we were met and welcomed by the tour guide Tamer Abdeen, who would later become known to all as "Tam". When the rest of the group arrived from the UK everyone transferred by coach to our boat, the Radamis II. We had cabins on the 4th level, just below the sun deck, the cabins were large and well equipped with everything that might be needed. All meals were included in the tour, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and all were served as a buffet. The food on board was delicious with a large variety of dishes, wine and beer was readily available. Contrary to what we had heard in advance we did not get sick while on board or in Egypt as a whole, we drank only bottled water and avoided salads and food that had not been cooked.
When we left Luxor and started on the journey down the Nile toward Aswan, relaxing on the sun deck was a gorgeous experience, seeing the landscape float by and in February the sun was not too hot. Nevertheless we did observe a very curious phenomenon on the sun deck; amongst our group of English ladies, a number of these had stretched out on the sun beds in bikinis. Our group were not the only ones on board however, and on this journey a number of Arab/Egyptian families were also travelling and so we were treated to the strange sight of ladies clad in bikinis while five feet away an Arab family would be sitting at a table, the wife of the family completely covered from head to foot in a black niqab with just eyes visible. The husband and kids in ordinary western clothes but the woman completely covered in black. That this was an extraordinary sight to put it mildly. Later we heard that there were so few western tourists travelling now, there were also some Italian and Spanish people on board, that also Egyptian families were travelling as this was a holiday period in Egypt. When we travelled back to Luxor on the return journey a large party from Hong Kong came on board, so the vessel was truly international!
When the Radamis II arrived at Aswan everyone went on a number of excursions, the Valley of the Kings, Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, Abu Simbel, a three hour drive through the desert either way, the Isis temple at Philae, the Nubian museum, the unfinished obelisk, the little temple on Elephant Island, we had also visited Kom Ombo on the way to Aswan and then Edfu on the return to Luxor. Aswan is such a lovely place, on the one afternoon we were free my partner and I hired one of the local boats and went on a tour around the waters, the bird life was incredible, the vegetation lush, everything was so peaceful, we would love to return to Aswan one day, highly recommended for anyone interested in bird watching!
Our lovely guide Tam shepherded the group safely from temple to temple, he was extremely knowledgeable with a keen sense of humour and entertained everyone with improbable stories about what the ancient Egyptians had been up to! Whenever he wanted attention he would shout out "Lovelies! Come to me!" Tam held a degree in Egyptology so he always had an answer to every question. We were probably something of a trial to him, as our own little group of four would frequently go off and do our own thing. One of our excursions was drinks and tea on the terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel at Aswan, fabulous! The view over Aswan was wonderful, the terrace plush and the drinks delicious and costing just as much as was expected in a hotel like this. Well worth it!
Back on the Radamis II, our room steward on deck 4 was the excellent Mohamed, he had an amazing talent for creating strange creatures out of cloths and towels (a graduate of the Aswan Hotel School our friend said!) one afternoon we came back, heard a shout from our friend's cabin, rushed in and found that Mohamed had created a whole figure of a person sitting in a chair out of a borrowed tunic from the shop, some pillows and towels. Mohamed was a lovely, sunny person who looked after us very well!
While in Luxor we visited the Karnak temple of course. A friend of mine in Oslo who is married to an Egyptian, travels frequently to Egypt, told me later that she and her husband were at the temples in 2009 and then there were so many tourists there it was almost impossible to move and very difficult to take photos. When we were there there were few tourists, we could wander around and enjoy/ marvel at what the ancient Egyptians had created, and just relax in the shade, when it all became a bit much.
When back in Luxor we moved into the Sofitel Karnak Luxor hotel just outside the city, which was our base for some more excursions. We hired a car to take us to the temples at Abydos and Dendera, Hathor's temple at Dendera is perhaps our favourite temple for the whole tour, it was wonderful! What was so extraordinary was that when we arrived there at about 11 in the morning, we were the only tourists there! Four people! So we had three or four local Egyptian guides/minders all to ourselves - in addition to our friend who knew more about the site than a couple of the local Egyptian guides. The guides were very friendly and we spent a lovely hot day at both sites. At the Abydos site there was even a local policeman/soldier there, actually carrying what looked like an automatic weapon (?) who escorted us round part of the time. Happily there were was no need for his services. So far I haven't mentioned "backsheesh" - or "a little extra payment" to take pictures etc at part of a site that might be closed at the time or take photos inside a museum where pictures were not allowed to be taken etc. Everyone at the temples and sites etc. from the doorkeeper to the guides, expect a little backsheesh. This always worked out without problems and my partner, who always travels with at least two large cameras, took over 500 photos on this journey and was extremely pleased.
While on the Radamis II we also had two evenings with belly dancing while the boat was at Aswan. This was fine but I really wished those in charge had brought on board local Saiidi dancers, these are men in long white robes who dance with wooden canes, the beat and the music is really great. This would have been perfect as this music and dance is indigenous to the area.
All the while we went on land from the Radamis for excursions etc. there were great many street sellers who would pester everyone in the group. We learned “La shukran” no thank you, very quickly but this didn't work at all. As Tam explained, during the last few years over 80% of the tourists had disappeared from Egypt. This made life very hard for the local people who were dependent on tourists for their livelihoods. As at the temple at Dendera, we were only four people there, great for us but a disaster for the local community. It was very sad too to see as we travelled along, obvious signs of hardship and how some people lived.
We loved our journey on the Radamis II and have no hesitation in recommending this boat to everyone. We had a wonderful time in Egypt and are longing to return, as soon as possible!