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Photo by Randy Klug

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Alexandria, Egypt - Cairo


Let me first say that our visit to Egypt was for us an “once-in-a-lifetime” trip.  I have been wanting to visit Egypt since I can’t remember when, but certainly since my late teens.  It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s when I was working in the then West Germany for the US Army that I actually got close enough to Egypt to even consider a trip there.  That was about as close as I thought I was ever going to get and I researched the possibilities.  Long story short it didn’t work out for several reasons and while I traveled quite a bit throughout Europe I never made it to Egypt.  Fast forward to 2017, with an aborted plan earlier in 2010, we finally made it to Egypt and its ancient wonders.

I will have to be honest up front and say if you really want to immerse yourself in ancient Egypt you probably ought to plan for an intense and probably expensive week to two week or longer trip.  You’re going to want to find an experienced and fully trained Egyptologist who is licensed by the state as a guide.  That’s my recommendation, but unfortunately we weren’t able to do that so we did what I would consider as the next best thing and that was a cruise with, by cruise standards, extended stays and visits to a few of the major sites.  What follows is my description with pictures of those sites we were able to visit.

Giza Plateau
That first glimpse of the pyramids from the bus was magical, a real “Oh my goodness” moment. Unfortunately could not get a picture from the bus, but we could see the tops of the pyramids on the necropolis over the city buildings.

We worked our way through Cairo and finally arrived at the plateau.  There they were the three pyramids of the Pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.  Wow!  What a sight, what a view! 

Entering the Giza Plateau

After we got our tickets and went through security we loaded back onto the bus to drive up to the pyramids. Our tour bus, a bit to my disappointment but it worked out fine, actually passed by the Great Pyramid of Khufu and parked in the lot next to Khafre’s pyramid which is the next largest of the three pyramids.  That gave us a chance to get quite up close and actually touch and sit on at least the lower casing stones of one of the pyramids with the Great Pyramid clearly in front of us.  To say they are massive would be an understatement.  I have been studying Ancient Egypt for years, and probably have a dozen or more books from college text to coffee table pictorials not to mention watching hours and hours of travel and history documentaries, and none of these actually prepared me for the scale and mass.  I might add that you are not allowed to climb on the pyramids, but as an experienced mountain climber climbing one of the pyramids would not be easy nor for the faint of heart. 

The Great Pyramid of Khufu
Known in ancient times as “The Horizon of Khufu”, Khufu’s pyramid is probably the best known and recognized pyramid in Egypt.  Khufu reigned from approximately 2589 to 2566 BC for somewhere between 23 and 32 years.  Records from the time are sparse and actually the best dating comes from the Turin Papyrus compiled some 1,400 years later which set the minimum rule as 23 years.  Modern archeologists lean more to a reign of 30-32 years, but personally I think some of that is based on the enormity of building the pyramid with its estimated 2,300,000 stones weighing an average of 2 ½ tons each.  Even with the longer reigns that meant Khufu’s builders had to set in place a stone every two to three minutes in a ten-hour day for almost every day of Khufu’s reign.  Obviously that leads us to today and a number of alternate historical theories of who, how, why, and what built the pyramids that I won’t even try to entertain here.  For those of you who are interested in more details about ancient Egyptian pyramids I’d recommend the easy to read and informative book by Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids (Thames and Hudson, 2008).

Khufu - the largest of all Egyptian pyramids

Khafre’s Pyramid
Khafre was Khufu’s son, but didn’t immediately take over the throne after Khufu’s death.  His older brother Djedefre (2566-2538 BC) succeeded Khufu and built his pyramid at Abu Roash, another hilltop near today’s Cairo, about five miles north of the Giza Plateau.  Djedefre’s pyramid is sometimes called The Lost Pyramid as today it is nothing more than a few casing stones having been pilfered for building materials starting during the Roman period and later.  After some now suspected court intrigue, including the possibility that Khafre assassinated his brother, Khafre took the throne in 2538 and reigned until 2532 BC.  Khafre returned to the Giza Plateau and built his pyramid near his father’s.  Not to be totally outdone Khafre’s pyramid is almost as large as his father’s and contains an estimated 2,100,000 blocks of stone.  He also picked a slightly higher outcropping of bedrock so his pyramid actually looks a little taller at some angles.

Camels are everywhere!
First up close view of Khafre
The top of Khafre
The base of Khafre
Carey in front of Khafre
Randy - up close you finally realize just how large the pyramid is; books and pictures don't prepare you for the scale!
Khafre and Khufu
Looking back at Khafre
Khafre and Khufu

Menkaure’s Pyramid
Menkaure reigned from 2532 to 2503 BC.  His pyramid is the smallest of the three Giza Plateau pyramids.  That may have been partially driven by a lack of space and probably a shift in the emphasis to temples and chapels.  He may have also gone for more granite than his predecessors which is heavy, more expensive, and harder to transport.  Menkaure’s pyramid complex consists of a valley temple, a causeway, a mortuary temple, and the king’s pyramid.  There are also three subsidiary pyramids which are “queen’s pyramids”.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to get close to Menkaure’s pyramid and could only view it from a distance.  One of the downsides of a cruise and somewhat limited tours is that there is just not enough time to see everything.  Personally given a little lunch, some water, and time I could have spent hours and hours if not days wandering around the Giza Plateau visiting the numerous additional burial sites connected to the pyramids. 



GIza Plateau
So we were back on the bus and taken up to an observation area where we could see all three pyramids. What a view! And to see how the city is so close, nearly expanded right up to the Giza necropolis and the plateau. After a few pictures Carey decided she would get a picture with a camel for our friend's benefit. Not a ride, just a picture beside one. I lived in Morocco as a teenager and am familiar with the beasts - nasty, smelly, spit at you, bite, and will even try to pee on you! I was not going to get near one, but let Carey be brave!

Our guide negotiated with the camel herder for $3 USD. Very fair price. So Carey went over and stood next to the camel. Next thing I knew she was head down as the camel stood up and off they went! Needless to say she had a few things to say about that, until she was laughing her head off. So she rode a camel after all!

Giza Plateau - view of all three
Camel Ride
This was NOT supposed to be a ride!!
For DL
CK RK Camel
Okay - so I did it!!
Randy and Carey with the camel driver

And then back on the bus to drive over to the Sphinx!

The Great Sphinx
It’s really hard not to say “wow”, “holy moly”, and so on when you first see The Great Sphinx up close and personal.  What a rush!   Like the various and numerous alternate histories about the pyramids there’s a great deal of discussion about the how, who, what, and when the Sphinx came to be.  I personally subscribe to the traditional history so bear with me.  The Sphinx is most closely associated with Khafre and his pyramid, the second of the great pyramids at Giza.  Most archeologists believe Khafre had the Sphinx carved as part of his funeral complex.  Why is it where it is?  Why did Khafre angle his causeway from his pyramid to his temple around the Sphinx.  Well to me standing there looking at the Sphinx and looking at Khafre’s pyramid behind it the Sphinx was simply in the way.  He could have flattened out the area that was probably an outcropping of rock or he could have carved a monument.  He went monument and today we have the Great Sphinx.  Interesting to note, and a picture below, is that there was a dock in front of the Sphinx.  In ancient times there was apparently a canal that ran from the Nile River to a harbor in front of the Sphinx.  That allowed for and explains the transportation of much of the granite included in the pyramids and temples that had to come from the Aswan area in the upper Nile.  The presence of the harbor has been verified by drilling in front of the Sphinx that shows river sediment some 20-30 feet below today’s ground level. 

Sphinx Boat Docl
The Boat Dock in front of the Sphinx
Entering through the Sphinx Temple
Fitted Blocks
Detail view of the fitted blocks
First full view of the Sphinx
Sphinx by RK
Randy's perfect picture!
Closer view of the head of the Sphinx
Sphinx and Khufu
View of the Sphinx and Khufu
Buggies available at Sphinx site

One of the fun things tourists do these days is take "selfies" or pictures with the Sphinx. Carey had seen these on Facebook. Well there were numerous folks there connected with our guide who were ready to take the pictures and knew how to line them up. While we ended up paying probably a little more than we should, we did get some fun photos.

Kiss the Sphinx!
Rather bright out here! How about some sunglasses?
The Klugs touch the top of the pyramids!
Khufu and Sphinx - linked by the Klugs!


An Observation
As an aside there was one really dismaying and distracting aspect of visiting the Giza Plateau, and as it turned out a couple of other sites in Egypt and Petra in Jordan, was the almost non-stop harassment by locals trying to sell you all sorts of cheap souvenirs or donkey, horse, and camel rides.  It was endless and the animals left shall we say less than pleasant piles of dung all over these ancient sites.  I’m a purist I guess and in my perfect world these sites would be clean, pristine, and void of any commercial enterprise.  Probably not very realistic and I understand they’re trying to make a living and also understand tourism is one of the major sources of income in Egypt.  It doesn’t help that tourism in general for Egypt has not recovered from the sharp turndown following the Arab Spring that started in Egypt in 2011 and ran through at least mid-2013. 


Our tour brochure and itinerary
Scenes through Alexandria
Scenes through Alexandria
Scenes through Alexandria
Entrance Tickets
Our entrance tickets
Traveling the desert to Cairo
Mena House
Mena House with view of Great Pyramid
Selfie from the Mena House after lunch


Museum of Egyptian Antiquities - Cairo

The museum was an interesting visit. We were not allowed to take photos without a camera pass. We decided we would rather take time to view the exhibits, rather than to line up photos. The most interesting exhibits, Tutankhmen and the Royal Mummies, were blocked from photography anyway.

The museum is quite old and is a series of cavernous halls across two floors. There are so many relics, monuments, glass cases of items everywhere. It would take days to really look at all the artifacts they have assembled. A new museum, Grand Egyptian Museum, is under construction nearby.

Since we have no pictures to share, recommend one of the books from the museum.

After touring the museum we headed next door (by bus though) to the Ritz Carlton Cairo. This is a beautiful hotel overlooking the museum and the Nile RIver. Unfortunately the property is surrounded by a high solid fence and many guards. Outside the fence is one view of the city and inside is a completely different world, one of luxury. After dinner with the group we went up to our room for much needed sleep before the early start the next morning. We must say the room was spectacular and the bathroom extraordinary. Definitely meets the 5 star rating. It is pricey though. Drinks in the bar when we arrived ended up a real shocker. Over $100 USD for two drinks! Really pay for that export of gin!


Museum from side
Museum from front gate
Nile River
RItz Carlton Cairo Mementos
Lighted River Boats on the Nile across from the Ritz Carlton


Old Cairo

On the second day of our overnight land tour we had a quick breakfast at the hotel and then back on the bus to go to the Alabaster Mosque and Old Cairo.

We first went to the "Alabaster Mosque", or more properly named the Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha. From Wikipedia - " The mosque was built on the site of old Mamluk buildings in Cairo's Citadel between 1830 and 1848, although not completed until the reign of Said Pasha in 1857. The architect was Yusuf Bushnak from Istanbul and its model was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in that city. The ground on which the mosque was erected was built with debris from the earlier buildings of the Citadel. Before completion of the mosque, the alabastered panels from the upper walls were taken away and used for the palaces of Abbas I. The stripped walls were clad with wood painted to look like marble. In 1899 the mosque showed signs of cracking and some inadequate repairs were undertaken. But the condition of the mosque became so dangerous that a complete scheme of restoration was ordered by King Fuad in 1931 and was finally completed under King Farouk in 1939. Muhammad Ali Pasha was buried in a tomb carved from Carrara marble, in the courtyard of the mosque. His body was transferred here from Hawsh al-Basha in 1857."

In reading more about the mosque, we learned that the brass clock tower in the middle of the northwestern riwak, had been presented to Muhammad Ali by King Louis Philippe of France in 1845. In turn Muhammad Ali sent the obelisk of Luxor which now stands in Place de la Concorde in Paris instead of with its match at the Luxor Temple!

CItadel and Mosque
At the Citadel and first view of the mosque
Carved Tree
Alabaster Mosque
Steps are very worn up to the hill top and the mosque
Alabaster Mosque
Courtyard (sahn) and the clock tower
First look inside
The ceiling
Muhammad Ali's crypt
Pano Inside Mosque
Sunlight through windows
A panoramic view
Light shining through the stained glass windows
Light shining through the stained glass windows
Outside the mosque - leaving from the side
Randy at the Citadel
Carey at the Citadel


Back on the bus and off to "Old Cairo". From Wikipedia - "Old Cairo contains the remnants of those cities which were capitals before al-Qahira, such as Fustat, al-Askar and al-Qatta'i. These are the location of the Mosque of Amr and the Mosque of ibn Tulun, though little else remains today. This area also encompasses Coptic Cairo and its many old churches and ruins of Roman fortifications. Modern tourists visit locations such as the Coptic Museum, the Babylon Fortress, the Hanging Church and other Coptic churches, the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As. Fort Babylon is a Roman fortress around which many of the Egyptian Christians' oldest churches were built." Okay, so this let's me know we are "modern tourists" !

Within the walls of the actual old city are all religions that lived in Cairo - Jewish Synagogue, a Mosque, and the Coptic Church. We visited the church and the synagogue, both have very interesting histories.

As we walked down the street we were caught between the old world and the new. The wall surrounding Old Cairo is ancient, actually the wall of the Roman fortress. Across the street, a highly modern metro station for the underground stop in the area. Old Cairo pre-dates Cairo which was founded in 969 CE. The metro station was constructed just a few years ago. Passing the wall on our left are stairs down to a lower level of the city. Our first stop was to view the Roman tower, Babylon Fortress. The fortress was erected near the commencement of the Pharaonic Canal (also called Ptolemy's Canal and Trajan's Canal), from the Nile to the Red Sea. It was at the boundary between Lower and Middle Egypt. The construction is dated back to 525 BC. Within the former walls of the fortress are the churches and synagogues of later times. Thus Saint Virgin Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church is also known as the "Hanging Church". The church is one of the oldest churches in Egypt, built over the top of the fortress in the 3rd century AD.

The Hanging, or sometimes called the Suspended Church, is named for its location above a gatehouse of the fortress; its nave is suspended over a passage. The church is approached by twenty-nine steps and thus early travelers to Cairo dubbed it "the Staircase Church." The ground has risen over time so much so that the tower is mostly buried below ground. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside the church, however there are a few from outside below in our photos.

You can go to Coptic Cairo website to learn more about the church, see pictures of the icons, and nave and also the other churches and the fortress. It is a very good site.

After we visited the church we walked back and then went down the steps to the lower part of the city and visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue. The story is this synagogue was founded on the site where Moses was found in the Nile river. The synagogue is purely a tourist attraction now and no longer active, but they still would not let us take any pictures. After a quick break we were back on the bus and headed to Alexandria to re-board the ship before the 2 pm sailing.

Upon our return to the pier we were greeted by a number of the butlers and staff with a "Welcome Home" banner and even a table of refreshing nibbles from our butler Yi. What a pleasant way to return to the ship and prepare to head to the Suez Canal (pictures of the transit are on the "Ship" page.

Old Cairo
Map of Old Cairo
Approaching Old Cairo
"Old Cairo" Metro Station
Approaching the Roman Fortress and the tower
Babylon Tower
Babylon Tower
The "Babylon Tower"
Official plaque - "Roman Tower"
Babylon Tower
Hanging Church
The "Babylon Tower"
Entering the "Hanging Church" from street
Returning to ship
Carving of Mary and Joseph in lower level of Old Cairo
Welcome Home!
Welcome Home
Welcome Home decorations




Pre-cruise Post

Our second port of call on the cruise is a Big One! Alexandria, Egypt - port to reach Cairo, the Giza Plateau, and the Sphinx. We've decided the run out to the plateau and run back to the ship in the same day would not give us the time we want to spend visiting these treasures. So we have opted for the overnight land tour since the ship stays docked until 2 pm on the 20th.

It is a 3 hour minium drive from Aleaxndria to Cairo. So best case scenario for a 12 hour tour is that you spend 6 hours in the bus. While 6 hours may seem like a lot of time, we've heard from other cruisers that you end up with 30 minutes here, 30 minutes there... and really no time to see anything, just move along. That's not how we want to see the pyramids!

So here's the tour we've already booked! (Text from Silversea website)

Pharaoh’s Legacy

An overnight visit to Cairo provides the opportunity to immerse yourself into the rich cultural scenario of ancient and modern Egypt. The programme begins with a 3-hour drive toward Cairo.  En-route, stop to gaze upon the Great Pyramids of Giza.  The view from atop a plateau reveals the pyramids as well as the enigmatic Sphinx.  Then feast your eyes on the splendid relics of antiquities during your visit to the famed Egyptian Museum. At the end of your visit, a short drive will take you to the Four Seasons Nile Plaza for check-in and dinner.

The following morning, Medieval Cairo awaits.  Visits to the Citadel of Saladin and the Mohammed Ali Mosque will acquaint you with the fascinating civic and religious monuments left for generations afterwards to admire. Then return to Alexandria where you will have a late lunch onboard the vessel.  

DAY ONE – Alexandria / Cairo

Disembark the ship and begin with an approximate 3-hours journey to Cairo. Upon your arrival into Giza, your first stop will be the Great Pyramids of Giza standing as reminders of a glorious past. They have intrigued the world for centuries whilst surviving the rise and fall of great dynasties. The pyramids are the only structures left from the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The entire area between Giza and Dahshur, known as ‘Pyramid Fields’, has been designated a World Heritage Site. The most famous are the three Great Pyramids built by the pharaoh Cheops, his son Chephren and Chephren’s son Mykiernus to ensure continuation in the afterlife. After a walk around these silent sentinels, the coach takes you to the top of the Western Plateau for an overview and photo opportunities before continuing on to the enigmatic Sphinx.

Steeped in legends and superstition, the Sphinx was believed to have been created as a monument either to the sun god Ra or the pharaoh Chephren. Carved out of solid rock around 2650 BC, it features the head of a man and the body of a feline. Next to the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx is the most famous monument in Egypt.

After the visit , rejoin your coach to enjoy a late lunch at the legendary Mena House Hotel.

Following lunch continue your drive to Cairo’s landmark museum, the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities. Contained in the museum is the world’s largest depository of Egyptian antiquities. After passing a security check, your guide will introduce you to Egypt’s ancient past during a 1.5-hour guided tour of the museum’s most outstanding exhibits. Covering two floors, the immense collection includes the splendid treasures of Tutankhamen and the celebrated Royal Mummies.  

Afterward, rejoin your coach for the drive to the Four Seasons Hotel .Check-in at the hotel, located in the elegant "Garden City" district and overlooking the Nile. Dinner is at the hotel.  

Overnight at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza Hotel (or similar) – Cairo.

DAY TWO – Cairo / Alexandria

After breakfast and check out, depart the hotel and begin your sightseeing of this bustling metropolis with a drive to Medieval Cairo, where a visit is made to the Citadel of Saladin.

The highly-visible landmark is situated on a spur of limestone atop Moqattam Hill. A walk up an incline takes you inside the walled area of the Citadel, one of the world’s greatest monuments to medieval warfare. This imposing fortress also served as home to Egypt’s rulers during a 700-year period.

The Mohammed Ali Mosque, also known as the ‘Alabaster Mosque’, dominates the Southern Enclosure of the Citadel complex. Built in Ottoman Baroque style, the Mohammed Ali Mosque resembles the great mosques of Istanbul.

At the end of your visit, rejoin your coach and head to conclude your journey into Egypt’s fascinating past with an approximate 3-hour drive to Alexandria.

We are so excited for this tour!


Mena House
Mean House 1900

Mena House circa 1900



If you'd like to look for your own cruise click here -Silversea






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