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GnT Tours

"Just home from Egypt with Ted! Absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend the trip. Would do it again with Ted, in a heartbeat." Eve Oct 2023

Provisional Booking for the GnT Egypt Experience December 2024 tour is open – limited places

Includes a day at the Grand Egyptian Museum

GnT Tours

GnT Tours

"Just home from Egypt with Ted! Absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend the trip. Would do it again with Ted, in a heartbeat." Eve Oct 2023

Provisional Booking for the GnT Egypt Experience December 2024 tour is open – limited places

Includes a day at the Grand Egyptian Museum

The GNT EGYPT EXPERIENCE OCTOBER 2023

The October 2023 tour to Egypt was a great success, despite being overshadowed somewhat by the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Palestine. This ongoing conflict in no way affected the tour and everything went as planned in a completely safe environment. The only downside was a last minute cancellation by an American couple who, despite all sorts of assurances to the contrary, decided it was too dangerous to join us. What follows is an overview of each day’s activities.

Day One

We left Johannesburg on a, not packed but certainly noisy, flight to Cairo. For me the first successful return to Egypt; earlier attempts having been thwarted by the non-opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum. Even this time was endangered by events unfolding across the border in Israel and Gaza. A late cancellation impacted on costs but other people had booked and paid, and I needed to get back.
 
A safe arrival in Cairo saw us greeted by our guide for the day, laden with water and falafel sandwiches. As I have written before, the journey from Cairo International Airport to Saqqara has lost some of its charm by using the new ring road and avoiding the city centre.
First stop was Dashur and the Bent Pyramid although nobody felt up to attempting the challenging interior, however, we had a close up look at the casing stones and how they were incorporated into the main structure. A quick photo stop at the Red Pyramid and we were heading for the one time capital of Memphis. Very little remains of the white walled city, but it is still worth the visit, to see the magnificent Hatshepsut sphinx and, of course, the colossal supine statue of Rameses the Great in its own purpose-built museum.
 
Time to move to Saqqara and the pyramid of Teti I plus the two magnificent tombs of Mereruka and Kagemni. Mohammed, our guide, was fantastic and led us through all the rooms of both tombs explaining all that we saw. The tombs belong to high-ranking officials and this is clearly represented in the number of rooms in each tomb, as well as the different aspects of the owner’s life portrayed throughout the tomb.
Although the superstructure of the pyramid of Teti has collapsed, it is still worth a visit, as it is what’s underground that matters; the Teti buial chamber contains a fine example of the early pyramid texts.
 
The Serapeum will always carry an air of mystery about it, as explanations of these colossal sarcophagi seem to always fall short. The looks of astonishment on their first sighting of the vast stone sarcophagi from this tour’s group of travellers matched all those that had come before.
Next stop was the Step Pyramid itself. Mohammed’s explanations made me see the entrance colonnade in a new light, as I was made aware of just how experimental it actually was, being part of the first real stone monument. For the first time I saw the stone doors for what they were, a copy of wooden doors with a pivot point and floor clearance, but all in completely non-practical solid stone. The columns were not columns but reed bundles carved in stone, but as the builders lacked the experience of building columns from stone, they are not freestanding. The entrance colonnade brings you to the main heb sed court and so to the magnificent Step Pyramid. There were plenty of tourists, which, given the difficulties Egypt has suffered over the last ten years or so, can only be a good thing.
 
Our guide, had said he would save the best for last, and so he had. We made our way down past signs of ongoing work until we arrived at the final resting place of Mehu, Vizier and Chief Justice Mehu, another high-ranking official in the reigns of Unas and Teti. The state of this tomb is nothing short of magnificent, with vibrant colours bringing the relief carvings to life. This was not just paint on plaster but delicate high relief stonework overlaid with life-giving colour. One is so used to these kind of walls being damaged and almost unviewable, but this certainly isn’t the case here. Each section of wall is more breathtaking than the last. This is definitely one tomb I shall bring guests to, again and again.
 
Time for a late lunch consisting of exquisite lamb and chicken with a variety of Egyptian salads served with delicious flat bread. Too good.
And now, time to head for the airport and our evening flight home, er… I mean Luxor.
 
A simple flight and a late night drive brought us to the scene of where so much had taken place more than three years ago. What greetings from staff and personnel, that just reminded me what a special place this was and is. Welcome home, tomorrow is another day.

Day Two

A slow start for our travellers after yesterday’s exertions. I was up at a reasonable hour to make my way to the Valley of the Kings to obtain the all-important Luxor Pass which would allow us access to the archaeological sites in Luxor. Nothing is without adventure here in Luxor, as I had got about half way when we ran out of petrol. A brief wait and our Egyptian Ferrari was once more under way.

It was early at the Valley and the coach numbers hadn’t filled up yet. I walked to the office only to find that the man I needed to see hadn’t arrived yet. A quick phone call got things moving. The process was the quickest I have experienced it and soon I was heading back to the hotel clutching my “keys” to the archaeological city.

Rounding up the troops, we set off for the water’s edge and our rendez-vous with our trusty riverboat captain. A gentle ride across the Nile bought us safely to the steps up to the Corniche and the Luxor Museum.
I have written many times about just how perfect the Luxor Museum is and so will not bore you with more of the same. Needless to say, everything was just as good as it was last time; the displays are immaculate and the artefact notes full and informative.

A short walk from the museum along the revamped Corniche brings you to the Mummification Museum with its small but excellent collection. Mummification being such an integal part of the Ancient Egyptian way, one can not help but wonder why this great little museum doesn’t appear on any tours.
As today is designed as a catch-up day, that was it for the morning. A relaxed lunch and chance for a nap in the afternoon, before crossing the river once more to visit the Luxor Temple.

The crossing was easy; it is always good to be on the water. We appeared to have
arrived just as a pro-Palestinian demo was starting, right by the temple entrance. A policeman showed us the way through and soon we found ourselves in front of the first pylon.

Tall and majestic with the setting sun as a backlight is certainly the way to see this spectacular temple. A thought shared by several thousand others, as the buses emptied and the grounds filled up. Onwards and inwards.

We made our way to the Amenhotep colonnade and the Opet festival inscriptions. As always the delicacy and beauty of the 18th Dynasty work is highlighted by the crudeness and ugliness of the 19th.

Continuing through the temple we stopped for a rest in the Sun Court. Pretty as it is at sunset with the lights on, the whole effect was somewhat marred by the wave of selfie-snatching tourists that all but swamped the place.

We continued for a while longer but gave up at the Alexander the Great rooms. We left for the blockyard and eventually found ourselves back at the front of the building facing the Avenue of the Sphinxes.

I was happily surprised to see one of the Solar Barques from the Opening procession standing some way down the Avenue, almost as if it had been left from some thousands-of-years old festival.

The journey home, despite the ongoing demonstration, was eventless and we were all soon sitting round a table discussing the day and planning the next.
 

Day Three

Today we start in earnest, beginning in the south of the necropolis with the Valley of the Queens. Ta-Set- Neferu, the Place of Beauty, as it was known many years ago, is home to over 90 tombs but only a handful are open.

Our first port of call was the tomb of Khaemwaset, resting place of a son of Rameses III who predeceased his father. The tomb largely features scenes of the king presenting his son to the gods. This where the enjoyment begins for me, as most of our guests have not been in a royal tomb before. The looks of wonderment and incredulity are what keeps us coming back time after time.

Moving on to the next tomb, QV52 is home to Queen Tyti, wife of Rameses III, and probable mother to Khaemwaset and our third tomb owner Amunherkhepshef. The latter’s colours being splendidly preserved.

Of course, everything pales into insignificance when compared to the tomb of the Great Royal Wife of Rameses II, Nefertari. A lot of monitoring of potentially harmful things like moisture levels was going on which meant some areas where not accessible, but no matter, what there was, was outstanding. This tomb is not called the Sistine Chapel of Egypt for nothing.

Moving on from the Valley of the Queens to the other end of the social scale, and the village of the workers. Deir el-Medina has provided an incredible snapshot of life at the time, over a period of around 400 years.

As the home of the craftsmen who were responsible for the incredible interiors of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, their own tombs are masterpieces in their own right.

Filled with spells to ensure their life in the hereafter, each tomb reflects aspects of its owner and his life. Our travellers were astounded by the condition and vibrancy of each one. We also spent some time in the Ptolemaic temple, only to look at, and explain, the large depiction of the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. No other reason!

After lunch it was time for our first mortuary temple, that of Rameses III, known as Medinet Habu, and home to the Harem Conspiracy that led to the death of the king.

The temple, nearly 500 feet long, is in a generally good state of repair. The impressive migdol inspired gateway leads one to the first pylon and on into the temple proper. The small 18th Dynasty Hatshepsut Tuthmose III built temple is still closed, although we were “offered” the chance to go in.
The main temple has much to look at and many rooms to explore, as well as the external walls and the great depiction of the battle against the Sea People; this kept everyone busy for quite a while until it was time to head for home.

Day Four

Having now visited either end of the Ancient Egyptian it is now time to take a look at the nobility. The best way to do this is through the Tombs of the Nobles, our starting point for day four.

Our driver dropped us in the parking area and we began the uphill path to the tomb of Sennefer, high up on the Qurna hillside. One of the few actual burial chambers open to visitors. Sennefer’s tomb is most probably famous for its ceiling. The uneven roof surface has been cleverly painted to give the visitor the impression of standing in a vineyard with large bunches of grapes hanging overhead.

Next was Rekhmire, this long and high tomb is currently undergoing restoration but that didn’t stop us having a good look. For me, one of the points of interest is the depiction of a tree-lined pool which clearly demonstrates the ideas behind Egyptian imagery and how, maybe, art is the wrong term to use. This is visual description, not a pretty picture to look at; rather it attempts to paint its picture in the mind of the viewer. It is actually a very clever way of conveying information. Noteworthy are the scenes of tribute from foreign peoples including Punt and Crete.

Menna’s tomb shows all to clearly his importance as Overseer in the agricultural set up under Tuthmose IV and Amenhotep III, while not leaving out his temple duties as Scribe. The fabulously painted scenes of Menna overseeing the ploughing and harvesting are executed in incredible detail even down to tiny eggs in the birds nests in the trees.

Although seemingly not a high-placed official, Nakht’s tomb has fine examples of the ploughing/harvesting process.

Our last tomb for this morning was that of Ramose. The recent restortaion work to the roof has taken away some of the atmosphere of this incredible tomb. Apart from the exquisite offering processsion, the timing of the tomb, lying as it does between Amenhotep III and his successor Akhenaten, the two disctinct art forms standing next to each other is fascinating. This tomb was always my personal favourite, apart from one, but more on that in another post.

I do have one complaint. During this morning and on the previous day at the Valley of the Queens, there were microlights flying overhead. Their noisy engines totally ruined the ambience of being in these special places, and I think we should remember and be aware of the fact that these were once and maybe still are sacred places and should be treated with respect. I hope something is done to restrict these inconsiderate people. Time for lunch.

Lunch was delicious, as always. It must be said that all the restaurants I use on the west bank serve up the most incredible food, and mountains of it. One always retires, defeated by quality and quantity.

Our second morturay temple was up next. Just a short walk from our lunch venue lies the House of Millions of Years of Usermaatre Setepenre, the Ramesseum, mortuary temple of Rameses the Great. Although not as complete as Medinet Habu, it is still a fine example of 19th Dynasty workmanship and, again, the existing colours at the top of columns have to be seen to be believed. Dominating all is the fallen statue of the king, immortalised by Percy Bysshe Shelly in his poem “Ozymandias”. It was two engineers in the service of Napoleon who mistakenly identified the Ramesseum with the Palace of Memnon. 

This neatly led us to our last spot of the day, the Colossi of Memnon.
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Shelley
 

Day Five

We are going somewhere hot today; this is really the high point of the Theban necropolis and is, of course, the Valley of the Kings. With our Luxor Passes we can get in any tomb that is open, including the ones you have to pay extra for.

So, that is where we started, the most well-known, right in the middle, KV62, the final resting place of Tutankhamun. Even at 8 o’clock the place was filling up; the revamped rest house already doing a steady trade. We sorted out the standard GnT Tours KV62 pic and then headed down those famous steps. There was already a group of people crowding the barrier to the burial chamber, so we waited, although that was not good enough for one lady who seemed to take affront at the fact that we were in her personal tour space. I have to admit to laughing out loud when I overheard her “tour guide” explaining the west wall to her, “you can tell he was a child, that’s why they painted cuddly animals on the wall”. This was said with all sincerity and the angry lady accepted it as fact. You have 5 minutes to stop laughing!

Next, the deepest and longest, KV17, the tomb of Seti I, just across the valley. A fantastic tomb and one you could spend many hours in. The joint tomb of Rameses V and VI followed, and is always a good photo opportunity.

To get away from the crowds, after a short rest, we headed to the top of the valley to take in the other joint tomb of Setnakhte and Twosert, whose granite sarcophagus we had seen in the Luxor Museum only days earlier. Siptah next, then the walk back to the centre, then up past KV17 to the newly reopened KV43, the tomb of Tuthmose IV. Fabulous tomb and good to get another open 18th Dynasty tomb in the valley. Last on the list was KV2, Rameses IV.

Lunch was next on the menu, and yet another delectable cornucopia of food. We have to walk as much as possible to counteract the volume of food we keep getting given.

Lunch done, we elected to go to Carter’s House. I am not sure if I like what has been done in terms of the refurbishment. It all seems a bit too museum-y, if I can coin a word. Still, very interesting.

The Luxor Mob, as the group had named themselves, wanted to go to the souk, so we left the west bank and headed across the water for some good and some not so good bargaining. No hassle!

Day Six

The last day of west bank sites sees us head north to the seldom visited temple of Seti I. Located near the village of New Qurna, this temple is worth a visit. Built by Seti I to honour his father, Rameses I, and finished by his son, Rameses the Great. It is always nice to have a temple entirely to oneself with just the hot air balloons occasionally breaking the quiet. You can get up on top of the mud brick enclosure wall at the rear of the temple.

Next stop was Dra Abu el-Naga, just a short drive away. 5 tombs to do here. We began with the Ramesside tomb of Shuroy, brazier carrier of Amun, which title caused a degree of confusion among some of us. I’ll leave it to you to work it out. The tomb of Roy may be small, but it is beautifully decorated and that was our next stop. Much bigger is TT148, the tomb of Amenempet. The tomb begins with a courtyard, followed by a transverse section with statue groups at either end. The long hall, partially blocked by the granite sarcophagus of the tomb owner which was left where it stands in 1817, after having been removed from the burial chamber. Further down the hall are openings to the burial chambers.

There were two extra tombs now open since I was last here. That of Djehuty and of Hery. Djehuty was Overseer of Treasury and of Works, and Overseer of the Cattle of Amun, during the reign of Hatshepsut. A T-shaped tomb with a large courtyard, it is quite striking once you go inside. The resting place of Hery is from the very beginning of the 18th Dynasty, Hery was Overseer of the Granaries of the King’s Mother and Royal Wife Ahotep.

One more tomb before a trip to the shops and lunch. Again, I won’t bore you with my opinion of 18th Dynasty inscriptions compared to the 19th, but if you want exquisite, then Kheruef is where to go. We drove onto the sight where the project manager of the Spanish Mission’s Vizier Amen-Hotep Huy Project very kindly found the guardian for us, Mil gracias!

The tomb of Kheruef, like TT55, is of interest as it spans the change from Amenhotep III to his son and, of course, raises more questions than answers about that murky period in Ancient Egyptian history. I love this tomb, from the fascinating Amenhotep IV entrance to the beautiful inscriptions that highlight the second heb sed of Amenhotep III. I could spend hours here, but it was time to visit the shops of two good friends, luckily just across the road and next door to each other, and then lunch.

After lunch it was back in the van where we made our way back to Deir el-Bahari and the magnificent Hatshepsut Temple. There were plenty of tourists which made our run through the gauntlet of shops somewhat easier. The temple building is always impressive, whether it is your first time or your 100th. We started at the Hathor Chapel, followed by the Punt Expedition, although the time of day made it quite difficult to see what was what. After the Anubis Chapel, up the ramp to the upper level, which was more crowded. I am sorry to say that some of the guardians were offering entrance to roped-off areas and then getting unpleasant if one refused.

Our day wasn’t done yet as we had an appointment with our river taxi captain. Our hotel had made us a big koshari meal to take on the boat. We headed upstream as the sun began to sink. Pulled into the bank in the gathering gloom and enjoyed a fabulous meal of this famous Egyptian street food. A fabulous way to end our west bank adventures. Tomorrow, the Most Select of Places, the Throne of the Two Lands.
 

Day Seven

The Most Select of Places, the Throne of the Two Lands. The Karnak Temple Complex was our target for this morning. We met our trusty river boatman and set off downriver to a landing point close to the entrance of one of the largest religious complexes ever built. A great river ride downstream, rather than crossing and getting a taxi, or worse, a caleche, to our destination.

Tickets bought, as our Luxor Passes had expired, we waited for our guide for the morning. Soon we set off for the first pylon and our journey back in time, step by step to the middle kingdom. The place was heaving with tourists from all corners of the earth, many of them Red Sea day-visitors. One can’t help feeling some sympathy for these groups where all of you are bussed in, then dragged around at such a speed it is impossible to take anything in.

The second pylon takes you to the Hypostyle Hall, always impressive. The northern columns are being cleaned and so there was a fair bit of scaffolding. The columns that have been cleaned are something special. Despite having visited Karnak many times, and even spending 3 ½ days walking the complex a few years ago, there are still things that are new to me and areas that I have never looked at properly. This was my first time of seeing the now upright broken Hatshepsut obelisk.

The coffee shop/refreshment centre by the Nilometer seemed a good place to have a break. I had booked our guide for two 1-hour slots with a gap in the middle. Those not resting, including our guide, headed to the open-air museum; a much neglected-by-tourists area. On the way we paused at the northern exterior wall of the Hypostyle Hall to look at Seti I’s return from fighting the Sashu, but I have to say it is getting harder and harder to make things out. Start at the canal and work back towards the east to find the forts on the Way of Horus leading to the fortress of Zarw. The open-air museum has been tidied up and is looking good.

Time to rejoin the rest of the Luxor Mob by the sacred lake. Once we were all together again, we set off eastward and re-entered the complex by the Rameses II Temple of the Hearing Ear at the Eastern end. We made our way through the Tuthmose III Botanical Garden to the Akh-menu, where the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has installed a replica of the Karnak King List in its original location at the southwest corner.
The centre section, and site of the original Middle Kingdom Karnak, takes us back to the Holy of Holies and from there we were back on the main east-west axis of the complex. Having some time to spare with our guide we elected to head south through pylons 7 to 10 and from there to the Temple of Khonsu which is also under restoration. From here it was a short walk to the entrance in the 1st pylon and soon we were enjoying a drink at one of the many café/restaurants near the ticket office.

This was our final day in Luxor, and we headed back to the hotel for a late lunch and to pack.

Our flight from Luxor to Cairo was delayed by an hour, which meant we arrived in Cairo well after midnight. We had a taxi service booked so that should have been all ok. But it wasn’t.

Our driver got lost despite using a GPS system on his phone. This necessitated phoning the hotel several times, who were also waiting for us. We visited parts of Cairo that no-one needs to visit, where it seemed even the residents were warning us to turn around and go back. It was all a little hairy at times as our driver kept ignoring the GPS directions and we were treated to the joys of Cairo traffic in the early hours.

Sitting in the front of the vehicle I could not help but search desperately for pedals that weren’t there, as we skimmed what seemed to be certain death at times. The Luxor Mob were remarkably still in good cheer. Eventually down a dusty dirt road we found the hotel. Not the actual building that I had booked online, but it was now 2:30 in the morning and we had a planned 7am breakfast.

It does say it’ll be an adventure you’ll never forget. Last day tomorrow… er, I mean today.

Day Eight

Our last day in Egypt. After last night’s escapades, it took some effort for everyone to drag themselves to a 7am rooftop breakfast, where we were greeted by a haze which completely hid the view of the Giza Pyramids. Breakfast was interesting as the waiter person had less English than we had Arabic, but eventually we were all fuelled for the coming day.

Our guide and driver were due to fetch us at 8, so packed, fed, and now wide awake, we headed downstairs to wait. Unfortunately, our driver had the address of the place I had originally booked which necessitated some frantic phone calls. Sitting on the curb outside the hotel we managed to witness what seemed like the entire Giza collection of camels come thundering past us, along with horses and the odd tuk-tuk going in the opposite direction. Chaos!

After some rerouting due to the GEM roadworks, we arrived at the ticket office. Two of the Luxor Mob had decided they would do the interior of the Great Pyramid. I know it is not the easiest of things to do, so, well done to them.

I have to say that the area in front of the Great Pyramid is much cleaner than it has been in the past, and the number of hawkers was really at a minimum and didn’t bother us at all. It was also good to see the police getting strict with people climbing onto the monuments for photos.
Once our intrepid two had returned, we set off for the observation point, but elected to get out of the minibus about halfway and walk back to the Menkaure Pyramid. A nice little walk and fabulous views of the Khafre and Menkaure edifices. Again, people climbing the side of the pyramid was an issue until officials got involved.

Our driver and guide collected us, and we made our way to the Sphinx area. This now involves driving round to the far side of the Sound and Light seating and approaching through a small run of shops to the south of the famous statue. As always, the Valley Temple was full of tourists and the viewing point by the Sphinx even more so. Good to be back here.

Next stop was lunch. A Syrian street food restaurant that I definitely want to go back to. It will be on the next tour as a definite lunch stop.
Everyone full to bursting, we made our way to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. A lot of work going on in the gardens, but all hidden behind hoardings. The use of a guide microphone and earpieces works really well and does much to keep the noise levels down inside the museum, although it does mean you have to keep up with your guide.

The museum is looking much better with its recent paint job, some better lighting, as well as a lot more information cards. To all those people who are saying that the museum has been emptied, I would like to say that they are very wrong, there is still much to see including a lot of the Tutankhamun collection, especially the jewellery and the funerary mask. The golden throne is still there as well as many other artefacts. Also, really nice to see the Yuya and Thuyu items beautifully displayed. The Menkaure triads are also well represented. So much to see, so little time.

Do not put off going to Egypt because the GEM is not yet open, the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir has more than enough to look at, and of course there is also the NMEC. Spoilt for choice.

Time to go, saying farewell to our guide, we began the trip back to Cairo International and our flight home.
A great tour, and on a personal level, a fantastic opportunity to return and say thank you to all those people who were so magnificent to us in 2020. I won’t name names, but you know who you are. Thank you, Egypt.
 
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