Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt's Attractions

This clearly is not the time to visit, but Egypt is a country everyone should see at least once. Its monumental attractions--the Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel--and many, many others are well-known, but equally impressive is the friendliness of the people. Admittedly much of that friendliness is motivated by a desire to make a sale, but Egypt is the only country I have visited where virtually everyone you meet who can speak English will say "Welcome to Egypt."
Egypt was the first country I visited once I had seen much of Europe, and I've returned several times. On that first trip I travelled alone, with only a reservation at the stately if down-at-heel Hotel Semiramis right on the Nile. The sight of the river from my balcony that first morning is one I'll always remember. The Semiramis is no more, but there is no lack of interesting, inexpensive places to stay in Cairo. A quick internet search uncovered several thatlook nice and are very modestly priced--the Arabian Nights Hotel downtown near Al Azhar Unviersity has rooms with breakfast and bath for only $20, while near the Pyramids at Giza the Horizon Pyramids charges $42 for a room with the same amenities.
The wonderful Mena House right beside the Pyramids is a worthwhile splurge. And a Nile cruise is not to be missed, although access to many tombs is restricted now because of the deleterious effect of too many tourists on ancient frescoes. On my first trip I was able to book a cruise on an old-fashioned boat (think Death on the Nile) after I arrived, but to be sure of getting a berth it is better to reserve ahead.
Egypt is not an easy country for travellers, but there are few places in the world with equal historic riches. We can all hope that the riches survive the present unrest, and that order is soon restored in a way that will meet at least some of the popular demands. The long-suffering Egyptian people deserve that.

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