Tags Posts tagged with "Egypt"

Egypt

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If you’re anything like me, you prefer the freedom and ease of traveling solo. When you’re alone, there’s no one else’s agenda to consider but yours. But, no (wo)man is an island, and sometimes, it’s nice to hit the islands, or wherever else strikes your fancy, with a group of like-minded individuals. Here are a few reasons why:

Connecting with Cool People
While traveling solo is indeed a great way to meet new people, so is traveling on a group tour. And if you choose the tour according to your level of interest in the destinations or experiences offered, you are likely to meet at least one other person who you can vibe with. You never know, your new friend might turn into a regular travel buddy, business partner, or significant other. Group trips create incredible opportunities for networking and, yes, matchmaking! And if you do get annoyed with the group, you can always opt out of larger group activities and do your own thing.

Minimal Dull Moments
Traveling alone often means solitude, even if you’re amid the hustle of New York or the bustle of London. Friends have to work during the day and while it’s sometimes nice to keep certain experiences and discoveries to yourself, there’s also the more mundane aspects of solo travel that would be exponentially better if you weren’t alone. If anything, traveling with a group ensures that you’ve always got someone to wait in line, sit around the airport, or do those other banal endeavors with you.

Expanded Experiences
Cost and time are factors that always affect travel plans, but when you’re traveling by yourself, these parameters can be quite challenging to optimize. While a solo traveler to Paris might have to schlep out to the Palace of Versailles on the train and wander the grounds alone, a group can more easily arrange nonstop transportation, a private tour of the palace, and lunch at a nearby winery. Likewise, a Nile River Cruise in Egypt, calling at some of the world’s oldest and most striking temples and monuments, would be an otherwise prohibitively expensive proposition. Excursions to localities a bit farther afield are always easier, or at least cheaper, in groups.

Group Discounts
One constant in the travel industry is that traveling in a group lowers the individual cost of the trip, if only because tour operators, airlines, and other service providers offer discounts when multiple participants purchase their service. You can sometimes get discounts of up to half-off when you travel with a group.

Fly Photographs
Need I say more?

Luxury tour designers Up in the Air Life made this trip possible. FLY with them, won’t you?

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As it flows northward from Aswan to Edfu to Luxor, the Nile River remains quiet and unbothered by little more than the small vessels zipping across the glassy surface. Over the course of the Nile’s various ages, it is the sturdy, wind-powered felucca that remains the most evocative and romantic of the river’s watercraft.

The name felucca, Italian in origin, is said to have come from a Greek word for “boat”—epholkion—via the Arabic fulk and Spanish faluca. Constructed mainly of wood, with three triangular-shaped sails made of Egyptian cotton and called lateens, feluccas rely on the brisk desert winds to sail upriver and the steady current of the Nile to float downriver. Plying the 300 km stretch of the river between Aswan and Luxor, feluccas are more often rented out, these days, for social events and tourist excursions, leaving the freight traffic to barges and the passenger traffic to cruise liners.

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While the average felucca ferries the average tourist up and down the Nile, when Up in the Air Life takes to the river, the feluccas play host to some of the flyest adventurers on the planet. Champagne pours as a mix of live, traditional Egyptian music and modern-day jams keep the atmosphere lit and live. As other feluccas pass by, the less-energetic passengers crane their necks to see what’s happening over on the hypest boats, and the pair of young guys who paddle up to the side to serenade unsuspecting foreigners with Euro-pop get a surprise themselves when our intrepid explorers launch into an impromptu rendition of “Rapper’s Delight.”
And as the lingering sun sets to the west, the energy of the river remains, constant and unchanged, as the feluccas carry history and culture with them to every port.

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Luxury tour designers Up in the Air Life made this trip possible. FLY with them, won’t you?

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“For, as Mr. Ferguson was saying at that minute in Luxor, it is not the past that matters but the future.”
–Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile

Ah, but the past informs the future, and with a past extending back four millennia, the lands and peoples and monuments of Nubia and Upper Egypt prove themselves as resilient as the very river that sustains them.
Exploring the shadowy colonnades and alcoves of the Temple at Luxor means stepping back into that past, when men-gods and women-goddesses commanded multitudes of builders, architects, artisans, and designers—many enslaved—and absorbing the energy of the ages, both light and dark. It is believed that many of the pharaohs of Egypt were crowned here, a monument to monarchy, unlike nearby temples dedicated to deities or deified rulers, and that even Alexander the Great claimed against all observable evidence, to be legitimized at what is now Luxor. Indeed, the French snagged a piece of Egyptian regalia, the obelisk at Place de la Concorde in Paris, leaving its companion to stand sole sentry over the entrance to the temple.

But to marvel at the intricate hieroglyphics—each symbol a story in itself—and the absolute size of a structure completed with ancient building technology only inspires the mind to wonder: what pasts, presents, and futures walk among the shadows and the sun of the Temple at Luxor on their way to greatness?

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Luxury tour designers Up in the Air Life made this trip possible. FLY with them, won’t you?

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Timeless: the only word that can adequately describe the Nile River as it courses smoothly through the ancient lands of Upper Egypt and storied Nubia. The boats that ply the great river like ants across stone are made from reed and wood and metal, their compositions mirroring the technological advances that seem to have only made it up the Nile in intermittent spurts—a satellite dish here, 3G wireless there.

It is on one of these boats—the Sun Boat IV, operated by Sanctuary Retreats—that I spent several days luxuriating in timelessness, exploring Egyptian temples to half-remembered gods built millennia ago and trading smiles and furtive conversation with the curious and friendly boat staff between ports of call. I can’t exactly remember how many days we journeyed through our stretch of the river, as the sun rose a golden disc in the east and set a golden disc in the west, the exact same sun every day without alteration, and every day one of relaxation and discovery.

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Thirty-six cabins, well-appointed and comfortable, provide guests a modern, Art Deco-inspired refuge from the desert heat and riverine humidity. Many of the cabins feature vistas of the fabled papyrus reeds along the river bank, earnest little feluccas with full sail raised, and the settlements and cities squeezed as close to the water’s edge as the river allows. Views from the spacious dining room and lounge reveal the true vastness of the river and the breezy rooftop terrace café and swimming pool attract guests in search of a more intimate relationship with the Nile.

Staff, attentive and anticipatory, make polite conversation while serving helpings of Western and Egyptian delectables in the public areas of the cruiser, while the on-board store provides ample opportunity to be decked out in traditional, timeless, Egyptian attire. What makes my particular trip so memorable—and timeless—was the perfect energy of the people who sailed with me, the people who came to Egypt to experience its timeless mysteries and its timeless gifts. The people who ventured to explore Egypt with that curator of timeless experiences, Up In the Air Life.

Find out more about my Egyptian Adventure with Up In the Air Life in the days ahead.

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Today, I joined the good folks at Up In the Air Life, luxury excursion planners extraordinaire, for a four-day cruise along the Upper Nile River from Luxor to Aswan amid some of Ancient Egypt’s most spectacular sites. Aboard the five-star Sun Boat IV, operated by Sanctuary Retreats, a group of 66 adventurous American travelers mix relaxation with exploration, tackling the striking Temple of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, the impactful Temple of Horus, while enjoying sumptuous meals, friendly service, and, yes, a DJ imported from New York. After the cruise, we’ll participate in a fabulous last-night all-white affair at Le Meridien Cairo’s elegant Sequoia Restaurant before returning to the States. Full disclosure: Up In the Air Life is covering my participation in the trip, but don’t think I can be easily swayed from writing the truth.

Be sure to follow my dispatches from the road—or rio, rather—here at Fly Brother and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

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This week, I’ll be heading east for an eclectic, exciting three-week sojourn to England, South Africa, and Egypt. The trip is ostensibly for work—I’ve got a media event happening in each place—but there’s obviously a bit of fun to be had as well. Here’s the rundown…

Transit Brunch in NYC with Oneika the Traveller
On Friday, I stop through the Big Apple en route from Miami to London just long enough to catch up with my girl Oneika the Traveller, who, probably against her better judgment, agreed to be a guest on the Fly Brother Radio Show. You can catch the episode this Saturday morning at 10AM Eastern on the Ndustry Entertainment Network.

World Travel Market in London
From Saturday til Tuesday, I’ll be hanging out in Londontowne at the biggest B2B travel fair on the planet, World Travel Market. There will be hobnobbing and schmoozing with tourism bureaus and travel companies from around the world, but also with journalists, bloggers, travelers, and the bartenders and waitstaff, too. It’s a great place for interaction and networking with decision makers in the travel industry, and the event is free.

Victoria Dock by Bill Tyne via Flickr
Victoria Dock from ExCeL London by Bill Tyne via Flickr

Essence Fest in Durban
After WTM and a few afternoons connecting with England-based friends, I’ll head down to the city of the Southern sun, Durban. The first international edition of the Essence Music Festival is happening there next week, which I’ll be covering for the Fly Brother Radio Show. Still, Durbs has other charms, including an intense culinary scene centered around Indian cuisine and a lengthy history as the center of Zulu culture. Quietly, sun-splashed Durban is one of my favorite cities in Africa.

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Central Durban by Ernest White II

Nile River Cruise from Luxor to Aswan
Finally, I head due north to Luxor, site of the historic Egyptian city of Thebes and home to some of the greatest preserved temples and monuments of Ancient Egypt. From there, I’ll sail into Upper Egypt with a group of fly folks on a multiday Nile River cruise organized by travel collective Up in the Air Life, covering the trip in words and images here at FLY, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The cruise ends with a stop in the venerable market town of Aswan before I continue on to chaotic Cairo and home.

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Temple of Luxor by VasenkaPhotography via Flickr

Be sure to follow along on all the social medias! Have you ever been to any of these places?

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Mohamed and Ahmed

Back when I was in Cairo a few months ago, I had taken a taxi into the Old City to catch a free performance of the Whirling Dervishes (in Turkey, which has higher-profile dervishes, they charge admission). As soon as I got out of the cab near the market, a loquacious peddler named Ahmed approached me and asked me if I needed some help finding something. I told him I was looking for the Dervishes and he said he’d show me where they perform. We walked into the market, down a bustling and colorful alley, to a cathedral-like structure where the show would start in another hour. He invited me to see his papyrus shop to kill time, promising that I had no obligation to buy. What the hell? (By the way, papyrus is the ancient precursor to paper, a writing surface made from the dried reeds of the papyrus plant that grows along the Nile).

After climbing up fluorescent-lit concrete stairwell, with nary an inclination as to any malice on Ahmed’s part (either I’m especially sensitive to the underlying goodness of people or I’m a damn gullible fool), I entered the secluded, second-floor gallery. There stood Mohamed, Ahmed’s Nigerian business partner, who spoke to me about the Egyptian art of papyrus painting. Despite the quesionable location of the shop, Mohamed came off as an expert in his vocation, Ahmed shining equally as a consummate salesman (“Your mother is best mother in the world after my mother, she deserve something from the gallery”). I bought a beautiful $25 papyrus scroll for my mom, but I also got some interesting footage of Mohamed describing the art and craft of papyrus painting.

When you’re in Cairo, make sure you say “hi” to Ahmed and Mohamed (and buy something, too):

Alghouri Papyrus Art Centre
28 Ahmam El Mosbagha St. (beside Wokela Sultan)
Alghouri, Al Azhar, Cairo, Egypt
Tel. 2512-5859, Cell 0106695899
www.alghouriartcentre.com

Cairo, in a word: golden.

In many words: dusty, chaotic, crowded, teeming, wondrous, exhilarating, wild, urbane, sophisticated, whimsical, modern, historic, pious, hedonistic, tumultuous, sprawling, polluted, noisy, friendly, witty, serious, civilized, golden.

The seat of one of earth’s oldest civilizations has survived into the modern era as the largest city in Africa and the Arab World. And what a city. Riding astraddle the “Lower” Nile, Cairo houses over fourteen million people in an otherwise inhospitable desert. Sand hangs suspended in windless air, coated with the exhaust of a gazillion late model cars, trucks, and vans snaking like Miss Cleo’s asp throughout the whole shebang. And as the gilded disk of the sun arcs through the beautifully apocalyptic haze, it becomes evident that late afternoons belong to Egypt.

With pharaonic heat cooking the city for most of the day, folks don’t start stirring until after 4pm. Greek restaurants and sheesha bars and ice cream parlors and shops selling sparkly hijabs to Egyptians and glittery papyrus art to non-Egyptians stay open until after midnight. Party boats and shopping barges replete with TGI Friday’s bob up and down the Nile while friends and young couples stroll arm-in-arm watching the sunset from the Corniche. The afternoon call to prayer wafts smoothly through the air from muffled speakers in soothing Egyptian Arabic as the whirling dervishes (yes, I saw them for free in Cairo; the ones in Istanbul charged admission) prepare for their religious fervor under a crescent moon.

Spending most of my mornings writing, I barely got out of the house before afternoon myself, stepping out for a shawerma or two to fill my stomach. When I did get out into the city, I felt the familiar buzz of organized chaos that makes me know I’m going to like a place (ou seja, in many ways, Cairo’s like a dry Sampa). Traffic rumbled past ancient landmarks, souks (those world-famous city-sized bazaars) popped with commerce, and I was alternately taken as local and foreigner, and never without the percussively benevolent “Well Come to Egypt.”

Conversations with everyday Cairenes often mean sifting through endearingly unrefined English grammar and in-eloquent pronunciation to reach a breadth of witty observations and humorous anecdotes (like the tale of the poor stray goat being chased in the middle of rush hour traffic by several working stiffs hellbent on bringing home the mutton). And with a religious mix of Christians, Jews, atheists, and a Muslim majority ranging in its orthodoxic* intensity, more than a few of those conversations were with women. That is not to say that the society isn’t segregated—it is, and most of the women do cover themselves completely except for the face and hands and will stand demurely and wait for a man to realize he’s blocking a path as opposed to even intimating he get out of the way—but there seems to be more freedom for Lady Cairenes to determine what they want to wear than in other parts of the region. Still, I couldn’t even imagine what it must be like to have religious and community pressures telling you to look one way and a bombardment of Western media and beauty products selling a competing idea of “modernity and style.” Talk about an identity crisis!

Not only is Cairo a primary gateway into the intriguing Islamic culture, it’s also the center of a youthful, energetic society that I find appealing. With its Venusian skies and Martian landscapes, easy smiles and dreamy eyes, balmy nights and golden afternoons, the Egyptian capital has just hit Fly Brother’s top cities list.

*Yes, I made that word up.

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Since Flickr is blocked here in the United Arab Emirates (among other sites such as X-Tube), I’ve decided to post another of my “road movies.” This time, watch as I approach the Pyramids at Giza, literally right across the street from a joint Pizza Hut/KFC, via an elevated expressway from Downtown Cairo. No camels were injured during the making of this film.

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With a romantically crumbling 19th-century air, the famous Egyptian port city of Alexandria (dubbed Alex by locals and Cairenes) basks in the Mediterranean sun along a narrow strip of land between the sea and the marshy Nile Delta. The wondrous lighthouse may no longer exist, but the renowned library of old lives on in the form of a brand-new structure opened in 2002. Sixties-era Ladas and Fiats zip past couples and friends strolling arm-in-arm along the palm-lined Corniche. If it weren’t for all the robes and head coverings, I could have been in Havana. The bustling, dusty train station is total Bond meets Death on the Nile, and the friendliness of the people has been unmatched by any nationality I’ve encountered thus far in my travels. I’ve never been “Welcome[d] home!” before so much in my life. It’s especially nice to be back in a place where the people identify with me and my “Egyptian face.”