Archive for the ‘Egypt and the Middle East’ Category

40 things to do before you’re 40

Monday, November 18th, 2013

No. 39 Journey to Jerusalem and the beginning of history

The Dome of the Rock

The city of Jerusalem is, as we all probably know, pretty old. Understanding just how old is a bit more difficult to get your head round, however, and to say that the city has had a long and colourful history is akin to saying that the Pacific Ocean is vast, and a bit wet.

Trying to put it into perspective isn’t a lot easier. What, for example, does it mean to us to say that it’s been inhabited since the fourth millennium BC? How are we meant to imagine a city that has lived and breathed in its current location for over five thousand years, when most of us struggle to imagine what life was like before the internet? (The rest of you probably weren’t even around!) And what of the peoples that have lived there over the course of time?

We can try and think about the fact that the distance of time between the birth of the city and the death of Christ as longer than the time that’s passed since then and today, but even that can’t replace the palpable sense of history that emanates from every ancient temple or church and resonates in the plethora of alleyways when you take a stroll through modern Jerusalem for yourself.

And what also of the strong claim to be the world’s holiest place? How does one understand how a city, which at its core is nothing other than a collection of buildings, streets and dwellings, plays such a central role in three of the world’s largest religions by looking at it on a map or hearing about it in the news? But this will never fully capture the devotion of those who come to the Wailing Wall to pray; those who make the pilgrimage to visit the Dome of the Rock; or the people from all over the world that come and see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for themselves.

In short, you really need to visit Jerusalem in person to get a true sense of the sanctity of the city and what it means to so many of the world’s faithful.

The Western Wall and Temple Mount complex

The Western Wall and Temple Mount complex

The Western Wall

The Western Wall is an archaeological remnant of the Second Temple of Judaism that was destroyed by the Romans when they laid siege to the city in 70 BC. It lies within the contentious Temple Mount complex that is so important to all three religions – in part because it is believed to be where Abraham was a blade’s- width away from sacrificing his son Isaac (or Ishmael according to Muslims) – that it is considered the ‘most hotly contested piece of real estate in the world’. The destruction of the temple became hugely important in the history of Judaism as it came to symbolise the end of a Jewish state; a state that would not be recovered again until the 20th century. The Second Temple itself was built after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon and the 500 odd years between the temple’s construction and its demise would be known as the Second Temple period. The wall is also commonly known as the Wailing Wall in response to those that mourn the temple’s destruction and all that it symbolised for the Jewish religion as a whole.

In Jewish tradition, the presence of the divine never left, and if you visit the wall today the strength of that belief is almost tangible as many Jews arrive here from all over the world to silently pray or leave prayer notes in the crevices between the wall’s ancient stones.

The Dome of the Rock

Also situated within the Temple Mount complex is the stunning Dome of the Rock mosque. Its golden dome catching the sun and bright blue tiled facades make it one of the most recognisable structures in the city’s skyline. Built in 691 AD, it is considered to be the first piece of Islamic architecture and remains one of its most iconic examples to this day. It was built to mark the site where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Ishmael (not Isaac as in Jewish and Christian tradition). This, and the fact that it is believed to be the spot from which Mohammed ascended to heaven, makes the Dome of the Rock the third holiest site in Islam and a place of pilgrimage for Muslims from all over the world.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Although not within the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered the most sacred site in Christianity as it marks the place believed to be where Jesus was crucified. Within the church itself is also the tomb, or sepulchre, in which Jesus’ body was placed and from which he rose again two days later. The site itself is said to have been venerated by early Christians but it wasn’t until the fourth century that a church was built here under the Roman Emperor Constantine, who was responsible for making Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire.

The site is particularly significant to Catholic and Orthodox Christians and both faiths have a permanent presence in the church. Protestants, however, do not and many believe it not to be the location that Jesus was entombed at all.

You can visit these sites, and many of Jerusalem’s sites of religious significance, such as Mount Zion, the Mount of Olives and the  Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus walked carrying the cross, on one of several Topdeck trips that go to Israel.

40 things to do before you’re 40

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

No. 37 Souk it and see in Marrakech

Wares on show in the souks

Wares on show in the souks

Marrakech is a true North African treasure; a myriad of winding alleyways, snake charmers, Berber traditions, cluttered markets, crumbling terracotta walls and lavish gold palaces, oozing charm like no other place can even come close to rivalling. From the moment you arrive in this frenetic Moroccan city you’ll be hypnotised by its enchanting spell.

The best way to get under Marrakech’s contrasting skin is to simply wonder its labyrinth of souks (open-air marketplace or commercial quarters) and squares, which will envelope you with authentic Moroccan culture from every corner. Simply walking through the souks you’ll get face to face with the local folk who love nothing more than to stop and chat, invite you in for a mint tea or talk to you about their beloved family-run carpet shop. Once hours have passed talking carpets and silver treasure, you’ll find yourself getting lost in the city’s endless souk mazes, admiring brightly-coloured plates, sparkling jewels, rusty trinkets and endless trading outlets selling local spices, potions and produce. Be sure to set your watch to Marrakech time and remember you’re never in a hurry to get anywhere here.

The heart of the city’s action is centred around Djemaa el-Fna square which is home to endless stalls selling everything from lanterns to face creams that will turn you into a Moroccan supermodel. This square is most definitely not for the faint-hearted and is brimming with entertainers, snake charmers and street theatre goers who have all the time in the world to dazzle you in any possible way they can.

The charming chaos of the souk

The charming chaos of the souk

Once you’re done with exploring this unique city’s souks and squares the only thing to do is to kick-back at a rooftop café with some mouth-watering tagine and delicious mint tea and watch the sunset over the beautiful medina, listening to the chaotic city life from above.

Topdeck top tip #1: Head to one of the city’s many local hamams for some traditional scrub, massage or indulgent spa treatment at a very reasonable price. Bliss.

Topdeck top tip #2: Check out the magic of Marrakech for yourself on our 10 day Moroccan explorer trip. During your Moroccan adventure you’ll tour Marrakech by horse and by foot, checking out the oh-so-impressive Saadian Tombs, Bahia Palace’s lavish gardens, the local medina (the name given to the non-European quarters of any town in Morocco and other parts of North Africa); and the famous, bustling market in Djemaa el-fna square, and that’s just when you’re in Marrakech. This epic trip will showcase some other mighty-fine Moroccan beauties, including; Casablanca, Rabat, Fes, Errachidia, Merzouga and Dades Gorge too.

Casual Fridays are popular at the souk

Casual Fridays are popular at the souk

So, What are you waiting for? Get yourself to Morocco immediately on one of these other great Topdeck trips.

40 things to do before you’re 40 - number 30 cruise along the River Nile

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

The River Nile is the longest river in the world (all 6,400km / 3,976 miles of it) and runs all the way from the eastern cape of Africa to the sun-kissed Mediterranean shores!  This almighty river spans over eleven countries, including; Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt. It also is the primary water resource for two entire countries; Egypt and Sudan!

When you imagine this world-famous river you’d typically picture arid views and dusty pyramids, tombs and treasures galore.  Well you’d most definitely be on the right tracks! The Nile is home to a vast array of desert landscapes, dreamy oases, palm trees, open lakes as well as its riverbanks being home to a whole host of cultural and historical ancient Egyptian sites. The Nile is sure to impress you.

The ultimate way to explore the Nile is on a traditional Egyptian Felucca boat, a traditional wooden sailing boat which is still actively used in Egyptian cities like Aswan and Luxor which sit on the banks of the Nile. In our opinion this is the best way to get up close and personal with the river, admiring its off-shore cities, ancient ruins and incredible views as well as diving into its warm blue waters.

The sparkling city of Aswan is Egypt’s southernmost city and is smothered in authentic Egyptian charm. Its palm-fringed shores are dotted with an abundance of magnificent white-sailed Felucca boats and charming Nubian people. This popular tourist hotspot also is home to the ancient Abu ruins which are an open-air museum of ancient relics including the 4th-dynasty step pyramid and the partially reconstructed Temple of Khnum.  From Aswan you can also access nearby Elephantine Island (which means both elephant and ivory in ancient Egyptian), which was once famous for the island’s once important ivory trade. This spot was also the main cult centre of the ram-headed god Khnum (initially the first god of the inundation, and from the 18th dynasty he was worshipped as the creator of humankind on his potter’s wheel). Fascinating stuff!

Another rather cool and funky Egyptian city is Luxor, also known as the world’s greatest open-air museum and is easily accessible by the River Nile. This Egyptian treasure trove has endless tombs, temples, magical Theban landscapes with an unparallel archaeological presence. Some of its ‘must dos’ include the almighty Temple of Karnak, Kom Ombo Temple, Luxor’s famous gold and silver markets as well as the Temple of Luxor.

Topdeck tip: to get up close with incredible Egypt, book onto our 15 day Pyramids and Beaches trip which takes in Cairo, Aswan, Felucca sailing, Luxor, Hurghada and Dahab!

Sunset on the River Nile

Sunset on the River Nile

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 27!

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

27. Spend a night in the Sahara

Picture this - endless amber vistas, Berber villages that ooze charm from every aged corner and roaring camp fires beneath glittering Saharan stars. Welcome to number 27 on our hotlist; spending a night in the Sahara.

The Sahara Desert is the world’s hottest dessert and is rather phenomenal, fact. Covering a whopping 9,400,000 square kilometres and covering most of North Africa, this African gem rivals the U-S of A and China in size! Its sandy savannahs are home to a heck of a lot of camels (every nomad’s vehicle of choice), addaxes (large white antelopes which alarmingly can survive a whole year in the desert without drinking!), African Wild Dog (not to be messed with) as well a whole host of spikey scrubs and Acacia trees.

This natural wonder is also home to the oh-so-friendly Berber folk who are the ethnic group indigenous to North Africa (west of the Nile Valley). These guys will undoubtedly welcome you proudly to their beloved Morocco and might even invite you round for a tagine and a round of mint tea if you’re lucky! Traditionally, the Berber men take care of livestock and focus their efforts on grazing cattle, creating shelter and producing an abundance of wool, cotton and plants which are used for dyeing and producing goods. The women on the other hand look after their family and handicrafts - first for their personal use, and secondly for sale in the local souks. The Berber life is a refreshingly simple one and will definitely open your eyes to their fascinating culture.

Famously in 1978, a year after a certain French motorcycle racer (Thierry Sabine) got lost in the depths of the desert and decided a year later that the Sahara would be a perfect spot to host a rally raid type of off-road race. Thierry’s crazy idea then morphed into the ‘Paris-Dakar’ rally that originally ran from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal. However nowadays, due to politics the mammoth rally (now known as ‘The Dakar’) has varied over the years and the 2013 rally went from Lima, Peru to Santiago, Chile.

Get yourself face to face with the Saharan way of life and make some Berber buddies along the road too on our 8 day Sahara Adventure. On this whirlwind Moroccan trip you’ll ski the sandy slopes of the immense Chegaga sand dunes,  dine under a sparkling symphony of stars at a desert camp where you’ll rest up in traditional Berber tents, visit Ouarzazate (also known as ‘Hollywood in the desert’) and follow in the tracks of the original Paris-Dakar Rally.

Well that’s the Sahara in a nutshell, so all that’s left to say, in the words of The Clash…is…rock the Kasbah!

Topdeck Top Tip: Don’t even think about venturing the Saharan alone, there is an extremely high chance you could vanish permanently.

Want to get up close with the legendary Sahara?

Tick this natural beauty off of your bucket-list and book onto Topdeck’s 8 day Sahara Adventure

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 2!

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

2. Visit the Pyramids of Giza

The year is 1310 AD. Italian poet Dante has just completed The Divine Comedy. The University of Cambridge recently turned 100 years old. The Notre Dame cathedral in Paris is nearly finished, showcasing cutting-edge European architecture. But it’s not the tallest building in the world – not even close. So what is?

The Great Pyramid of Giza

For well over 3500 years the 146m high tomb of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu held that title. It’s worth repeating – three thousand five hundred years! Think about it! Popes resign more frequently than that. It’s nearly as long as it feels like to sit through a Twilight movie.

This near-mythical structure is a bonafide jaw-dropper – of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the world, it is the only one which remains.

It sits on the Giza Plateau, adjacent to the Pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure and neighbouring Sphinx, while Cairo’s urban sprawl looms nearby creating a striking juxtaposition of ancient and modern Egypt.

The Pyramids are so vast that you can only discern their huge individual blocks up close – but even modern scholars have struggled to comprehend how the ancient Egyptians managed to build them given the technology at their disposal.

Theories and myths add a rich layer of intrigue to the Pyramids – did Napoleon Bonaparte have a vision of destiny in the King’s Chamber? Are they a reflection of the astronomical Belt of Orion? Were they built by aliens to cover a subterranean city of lizard creatures who will one day rise to become our reptilian overlords? Who knows…

What we do know is that the Great Pyramid and its illustrious siblings are among the most incredible sights in the world. Visit them, gaze at their majesty… and be sure get a photo of yourself ‘walking like an Egyptian’!

Topdeck Top Tip: To get the perfect photo of you kissing the Sphinx or placing a finger on top of a Pyramid, make sure you stay still and get your photographer to move until you’re lined up properly. It’s much easier!

Have you seen the Pyramids of Giza?
Share your favourite Pyramids of Giza or Egypt memories with us!

Egypt: Beyond Expectations Part 3 - Abu Simbel

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

From riding camels and drinking tea with the locals in a Nubian village, Kara now uncovers the secrets of ancient Egypt with Topdeck Travel.


Our day began well before sunrise.

I won’t tell you how early for fear of scaring you off, but with strict visiting hours in place at Abu Simbel we had no choice but to stumble with heavy eyes onto the bus.

Great Temple of Ramesse II, Abu Simbel. Photo/K.Segedin

Great Temple of Ramesse II, Abu Simbel. Photo/K.Segedin

As soon as my bum hit my seat I was fast asleep. When I awoke we had arrived at our meeting point where dozens of coaches met to pick up their armed guards before joining the convoy to Abu Simbel near the Nubian boarder with Sudan.

After tucking into our packed breakfast boxes there was time for a little more beauty sleep before we arrived at our destination.

Abu Simbel is home to two of the most well-known ancient temples in Egypt. Built by Ramesses II to show the strength of his kingdom to the Nubian people, they are a must-see for any visitor to the country.

Walking down a curved path around the side of a steep hill, the Great Temple of Ramesse II gradually came into view.

Breathtaking is an expression used a lot in describing travel hotspots, but there really is no better word for it.

Four 20m high statues of the pharaoh decorate the outside of the temple towering over the flocks of people below.

Temple to Nefertari, Abu Simbel. Photo/K.Segedin

Temple to Nefertari, Abu Simbel. Photo/K.Segedin

A short walk from the main temple is the smaller temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses II’s chief consort, Nefertari. Surrounding the entrance are six 10m high statues of the king and his queen.

You’re free to wander through the inside of the two temples (no photos though!) where you could easily spend hours taking in all the ornate wall paintings and carvings.

It was early morning and already the temperature was climbing well into the 20s. Thankfully a refreshing cool breeze blew in off the Aswan Dam.

The still blue waters of the dam are a reminder that today the temples are actually 65m above their original location.

In the 1960s, 50 countries worked tirelessly to dismantle then rebuild Abu Simbel piece by piece to make way for the new dam.

I don’t know how long we spent taking photos, but by the end of the visit we each had hundreds of pictures on our cameras.

After heading back to the boat we took a tour of the nearby Kom Ombo temple.

Detailed carvings at Kom Ombo temple. Photo/K.Segedin

Detailed carvings at Kom Ombo temple. Photo/K.Segedin

Right on the banks of the Nile, Kom Ombo is unique in terms of Egyptian temples because it’s essential two separate ones stuck together. The southern half is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world while the northern part to the falcon god Haroeris.

One wall that grabbed my attention was covered pictures and hieroglyphs describing ancient Egyptian medical practices including some rather detailed ones depicting childbirth in the ancient world – ouch!

By mid-afternoon we were back relaxing onboard and sailing up the Nile towards Edfu and Luxor – this is the life!

Brightly colour original paint still covers the temple at Kom Ombo. Photo/K.Segedin

Brightly colour original paint still covers the temple at Kom Ombo. Photo/K.Segedin

After watching the sunset from the comforts of the ship deck, we settled in for a dip in the hot pool – perfect with the cool night breeze blowing from the Nile – and a couple of drinks with our group and Trip Leader.

This really is the best way to see Egypt!

Visit Egypt on one of Topdeck’s many trips including Budget and Nile Cruising options. Kara travelled on the 8 day Nile Discovery.

Egypt: Beyond Expectations Part 2 - Aswan & Nubia

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

After two crazy days in Cairo, Kara’s Egyptian adventure with Topdeck Travel heads south to the city of Aswan.


I’m not going to lie. Our overnight journey by coach from Cairo to Aswan was a little rough.

Thanks to the reclining chairs and my neck pillow I managed to get a few hours of shut eye, but I would compare it trying to sleep on an aeroplane – you either can or you can’t.

We were woken up around 7am and rubbing our tired eyes we were greeted by a lush green landscape so far removed from the dusty city of Cairo.

The whole group looked a little jaded, but salvation came in the form of delicious, fresh, homemade falafels and pitas our Trip Leader Rafik arranged for our breakfast – I have never eaten a better, or more appreciated, falafel in my life!

Feeling much more refreshed, we were back on the coach making our way to our home for the next three nights – our 5 star cruise boat.

I really didn’t know what to expect.

Five star is one thing, but in Egypt it could mean something different all together – how wrong was I!

Relaxing poolside on our Nile Cruise

Relaxing poolside on our Nile Cruise

Our boat was modern, clean and comfortable complete with a deck-top pool and bar. Flopping down on the bed I knew I would sleep like a log that night.

After a few hours of relaxing and exploring the boat, those of us who signed up for the optional trip to Philae Temple headed out for our excursion.

It was hard to leave the oh-so comfy cabin after such an early morning, but it was definitely worth it.

We were greeted by our guide for the day, a jolly, enthusiastic chap by the name of Nubi. On the boat ride over to the island, Nubi gave us a concise and lively history of the site.

The island temple of Philae was built to the goddess Isis by the ruling Greeks as a way of winning over the Egyptian people.

Detailed carvings cover Philae Temple

Detailed carvings cover Philae Temple

In the 1960s, the temple was moved piece by piece from its original location to Agilkia Island to avoid rising waters after the construction of Aswan Dam.

Beautifully intact, its island location only makes the temple more appealing.

After our first taste of an ancient temple we meet up with the rest of our group for a felucca ride past the Elephantine and Kitchener Islands.

Now came one of the activities I was most wary of and excited about at the same time – the camel ride.

I’d heard varied reports of how scary, smelly and fast the camels were and I can say none of them were true. Okay, they may have been right about the smelly part.

Camel convoy ready to go

Camel convoy ready to go

After learning the correct position for camel take-off (they stand up in the most seemingly unnatural way) it was an easy-going trot over sand and through villages.

We finished our ride in a Nubian Village where we visited the local school and learned about the Nubian language and culture before enjoying tea at the home of a Nubian family.

Inside a Nubian home

Inside a Nubian home

Nubians are the original inhabitants of a country called Nubia that is now divided between southern Egypt and northern Sudan

After the construction of the Aswan Dams the Nubian people were resettled on the western bank of the Nile and on Elephantine Island.

It was early evening when we finally made our way back to the cruise boat for a rather large dinner followed by drinks on deck.

There was no late night for us as day four would bring the earliest morning I’ve ever seen as we joined the convoy for Abu Simbel, but more on that next time!

Sunset on the River Nile

Sunset on the River Nile

Visit Egypt on one of Topdeck’s many trips including Budget and Nile Cruising options. Kara travelled on the 8 day Nile Discovery.

Egypt with Topdeck: A Traveller’s Letter

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Dear Topdeck,

I (Courtney from Australia) just want to write this letter describing how wonderful my trip was and how my expectations were exceeded.

Choosing to go to Egypt during a time of significant change and upheaval, even going with a tour at first seemed uneasy, but I can now say that it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Our Travellers: Katie and Courtney

Our Travellers: Katie and Courtney

It was my first time going overseas, so I was a little bit nervous as were my parents.

My best friend Katie and I booked the trip through our helpful travel agent Jill and going with the Topdeck tour was the best option.

The revolution was still going on before we left, but it was comforting knowing all our transport, accommodation and meals were already organised and that we were going to be in a group.

When we got to the airport there was a man waiting for us straight away and he chauffeured us to the Indiana hotel with no hassles.

Hamada, our tour leader was waiting for us at the hotel which was a nice and unexpected surprise because we arrived several days before the tour even began.

He made sure we were comfortable and arranged a whole bunch of activities we wanted to do in the days to come. Another surprise was that Hamada drove us around and gave us all the knowledge we needed in certain situations. For example, when we went to the pyramids, to not get on a camel unless we had a set price! He also educated us on the locals and the state of the country after the revolution.

Katie and Courtney at the Pyramids

Katie and Courtney at the Pyramids

In the two days we were there by ourselves we did a number of activities by ourselves, of course with Hamada’s help, but when we were alone we felt completely safe. We even visited Tahrir square on the day of the soccer riots and stood on the outskirts of thousands of people protesting which was a surreal experience.

When the tour began everyone in the group was friendly and we seemed to gel pretty quickly.  Hamada also made sure we knew exactly what we were doing and when and also how much things would cost.

Even for a second time, the Pyramids and Sphinx were absolutely amazing and the museum was so much busier than the first day Katie and I went. It made us appreciate the day we went because having such an interest in the history of ancient Egypt, it was nice to look at the museum at our own pace, but then again it was brilliant having a guide who knew so much!

The train ride to Aswan turned out to be one of my funniest memories of the trip. After the long wait at the station due to protests further down the track, then the 12 hour ride with the smelliest toilet you’ve ever seen and what seemed like unhygienic conditions, not to mention persistent stares from the local men, all we could do was laugh. It was one of the most interesting and memorable trips I’ve ever had and we pretty much had to make the most of it at the time.

The Nubian village was fantastic with the gorgeous local children, delicious food and a look into quite a different way of life.

Courtney at Abu Simbel

Courtney at Abu Simbel

The following morning saw us waking up at 3 to start the journey to Abu Simbel, but Hamada was always there making jokes and lightening the mood when everyone was moaning because it was so early.

Abu Simbel was certainly a sight to see and the location overlooking Lake Nassir was beautiful. There were several sights we wanted to see and each one exceeded our expectations as we saw them up close.

We had such a good time on the felucca boat drinking and eating, and being plain lazy. The Nubian crew were so lovely and made sure we were fed and comfortable and one of the crew members even invited us into his humble abode for some tea and a look at all his stuffed animals.

As we were docked most of the day, Hamada always made sure we had things to do and often gave us options so we wouldn’t be bored. Having done the “old school” felucca sail I would definitely recommend it to future groups and this is after being in jumpers and sleeping bags the whole time.

The bus ride to Luxor from the felucca was fairly short and the guided tour of Kom Ombo temple was quite interesting before arriving at the hotel.

After being on the river Nile with surrounding riverbanks and sand dunes, it was going to be hard to beat, but Luxor was a beautiful place.

I can say that the guide for the Karnak temple and temple of Luxor was interesting and very knowledgeable, but it was hard to take it all in at times and we didn’t get a lot of free time to look around by ourselves. Both temples were stunning and it was nice seeing other wonders of Ancient Egypt that weren’t so well known.

The Valley of the Kings was a must do for Katie and I so we weren’t disappointed. One suggestion would be that we got more time to look around and to see more tombs, as we only saw three.

Tutankhamen’s tomb was on our ‘to do list before we die’ so we were more than happy we got a chance to visit him.

The Luxor markets were great and I loved bartering with the locals because I knew the price was too much. Initially I was under the impression the markets were a little bit unsafe from what people had told me, but once I was there, I was by myself running around most of the time.

The Topdeck Gang

The Topdeck Gang

We said our farewells to everyone that night and it came to just the six of us, plus Hamada. We were more intimate by this point and Hamada was just like a friend in the group except he could make everything happen for us and get us organised.

Hurghada was interesting as it was such a new town compared to what we had seen and Hamada even gave us a chance to go clubbing. That was a really fun night and being just the five of us that went out, Hamada looked after us and shouted us drinks most the night.

The driver did a good job at getting us to Dahab in no time and we ended up having the whole resort to ourselves which was nice. Again, Hamada gave us plenty of options for activities to do in the four days we were there and arranged everything necessary to make it happen.

The snorkelling was breath taking and I never knew Egypt held such an underwater wonderland.

Going on the trip, Katie and I just looked at the itinerary for the major places we wanted to visit, but after seeing Dahab I would definitely recommend future groups extend their trip if they could. We did a long bike ride one night which proved hard for those of us who didn’t have vespers, but it was worth it in the end and quad biking was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, even with a mouthful of dust. Most nights the whole group met and we had dinner or drinks, and Hamada knew all the nice places to eat in town. Dahab was a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Cairo and tourist attractions, so it was a relaxing way to end the trip.

On our way back to Cairo we got another sand storm and some rain, all thrown in for free!

Even on the last night of the tour we all met up and Hamada got us some authentic Egyptian cuisine, which was yum. After saying goodbye to everyone, Katie and I were there for another night after the tour. Hamada went out with us for dinner in his own time and it was great hanging out with him as a friend. He drove us to a roof top pub which played American music and had delicious food and then had drinks with us after. He also drove us to the airport the next day and made sure we got all our baggage through the crowd. For that I’m very thankful because he went above and beyond what he had to do as a tour leader. I can easily say our trip wouldn’t have been as memorable and the whole trip before, during and after wouldn’t have been the same without Hamada.

So, after telling you almost everything about the trip, I just wanted to say you guys are a great company to tour with. Being my first overseas trip, I felt comfortable that everything was organised and that we were going to get to see everything we came for. I also felt safe in a country that has negative affiliations due to the media back home and being in the group turned out to be way better than I thought.

The majority of people in Egypt were lovely, the guides were great, the driver was fantastic and a laugh, Hamada did a wonderful job and I don’t have any real complaints, except the state of some of the toilets and the staring! I say this in jest because it was all part of the experience in the end.

Thank you for making my trip more than worthwhile.

Kind Regards,

Courtney Heinjus.

Courtney travelled on Topdeck’s 15 day Pyramids & Beaches trip. For more adventures in Egypt checkout our website.

Egypt: Beyond Expectations Part I - Cairo

Friday, February 17th, 2012

by Kara Segedin

It’s hard to say just when the culture shock set in.

It could have been coming into land at Cairo Airport watching the desert below turn into the biggest, most sprawling city I’ve ever seen.

The view from the roof of our hotel - wow!

View from the roof of our hotel - wow!

Or maybe it was the chaotic roads where you’re as likely to see horse drawn carts and people walking on motorways as cars and you really can say a lot with flashing lights and beeping horns.

Whether it was the farm animals, the hawkers, the security checks, or simply the incredible sights and welcoming people Egypt is a destination like no other!

Before we’d even made it to passport control we were greeted by our Topdeck Representative.

An energetic young local, he helped us buy our landing visas (approximately $10 US dollars each) and walked us through to luggage claim where we met a few of our fellow travellers – two bubbly Brits, a Canadian, a Columbian and a group of Antipodean travellers.

From there we were whisked to the waiting Topdeck van and driven to our hotels.

My first journey to a non-English speaking or European country, there was no doubt in my mind that this trip to Egypt was going to be a real eye opener.

We approached our hotel to find inner city streets lined with goats, cows and the occasional horse.

The animals seemed oblivious to the vehicles whizzing past and swerving to miss them.

We soon learned we were in town on the eve of the Muslim feast Eid al-Adha and the animals roaming outside our hotel would shortly find themselves on family dinner tables!

Once settled into our hotel it was time for the meet and greet with our Trip Leader Rafik.

A native of Cairo, from here on in Rafik was going to take care of everything including buying tickets, meal times, accommodation and transport leaving us to sit back, relax and enjoy our holiday.

Me & my amazing Topdeck trip mates!

Me & my amazing Topdeck trip mates!

We were up bright and early for the first day of our trip – Egyptian Museum here we come!

It soon became obvious we were a novelty to the locals with many surprised stares and cries of “Welcome to Egypt!” whenever we were out and about.

One thing that’s certain – Egyptians are very proud of their homeland.

Since the revolution in January 2011 there has been a lot of upheaval in the country, but the Egyptian people are enthusiastic and optimistic about their country’s future.

The museum holds an impressive collection of over 120,000 ancient artefacts and our guide for the day, Medo, gave us a quick run through of the key exhibits before leaving us to explore on our own.

Thanks to my love of all things morbid and creepy I had only one destination in mind - the Royal Mummy Room! The room contains nine royal mummies including Ramses II and III and Queen Hatshepsut and for 100 Egyptian Pounds (approximately £10) it’s well worth the extra charge.

After our little history lesson it was time to get out into the field as we made our way to one of the World’s Seven Wonders - the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Conquering the Pyramid

Conquering the Pyramid

Words can’t describe the first time you lay eyes on these magnificent ancient tombs. You’ve seen them all your life in books, on TV, in films and suddenly here they are right in front of you!

Putting our explorer hats on several of us headed deep into the heart of the second pyramid, Khafre (25 Egyptian Pounds). The passage to the burial chamber gets pretty tight at points and there was plenty of ducking involved, but despite being hot and sweaty after our journey nothing beats being able to say you’ve actually been inside one of the Great Pyramids!

We weren’t finished at Giza just yet as we joined the crowds at the Great Sphinx. Again, I really struggle to describe how it feels to see these majestic sights up close.

Me & the Great Sphinx

Me & the Great Sphinx

I thought I had an idea of what Cairo would be like, but my expectations didn’t even come close to reality!

It’s louder, busier, more colourful, vibrant and full of history than I ever imagined.

And this was only the start of my Egyptian adventure.

Visit Egypt on one of Topdeck’s many trips including Budget and Nile Cruising options. Kara travelled on the 8 day Nile Discovery. Follow the adventure to Aswan and Nubia.

Egyptian Adventures

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Guest travel blogger Emma Flynn shares her recent journey to Egypt with Topdeck.

I’ve been so excited about visiting Egypt for a very long time. In fact its been about 11 years or so of dreaming! Finally, At the beginning of May, after three false starts over the past 11 years, I finally realised my dreams and travelled to this amazing country.

We’ve all seen the news reports on Egypt and the revolution. I had followed the news intently, praying everything would settle down so I could travel. It did and at the beginning of April, Topdeck started operating in Egypt again after a 2 month break. I was so happy. I figured that if Topdeck were operating their trips, it was safe to travel again.

We arrived a couple of days before our tour started, and on our first day we ventured out into Cairo by ourselves. It was certainly a culture shock. Jumping into a taxi and out into the Cairo rush hour traffic was an eye opening (or tightly closed!) experience in itself. As we wandered around in the controlled chaos of Cairo, nervousness and apprehension soon melted away as we came across numerous friendly people in the street, and even walked through Tahrir Square (the scene of the January revolution), which was full of people going about their daily lives.

Our next day we were up early (the first of what would become a recurring theme!) to take the Topdeck optional excursion to Alexandria. On arrival we met our passionately Egyptian guide, Jimmy, who showed us the key sites, including the site of the famous lighthouse, the catacombs, and the new library.

Having met our trip leader the night before after returning from Alexandria, the tour began. The Egyptian museum in Cairo gave us our first taste of the ancient civilization. Most of the relics found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb are now here in the museum. It was amazing to see the jewels and possessions of the boy king. Things range from his leather shoes, jewellery, beds, under ware and even and ancient form of contraception so only his royal wife would bare him a child! The other highlight was the mummy room. In my opinion, it was well worth the additional 100 LE just to see 3000 year old people still with hair, teeth, eyelashes and fingernails!

After the museum we headed out to the last remaining wonder of the Ancient world, the Giza pyramids. We were lucky enough to be able to go inside the small pyramid. This experience alone was worth going to Egypt for!

From Cairo we headed south to Aswan to meet our boat to cruise to Luxor.

Egypt wasn’t all about the tombs and temples however. In Aswan we did get to relax by taking a felucca down the Nile, sailing past Elephantine and Kitchener islands on our way to a Nubian Village, including a stop for a dip in the Nile! We didn’t sail straight to the village, but stopped about 20-30 minutes away to climb on to a camel to take us in the rest of the way. Being on the Nile was so peaceful and relaxing, and we got to spend 3 nights aboard a 4-star cruiser. So in between all the sites we could take a dip in the pool on the sun deck, or if we were still feeling energetic, a game of ping pong.

There were a few early mornings… We were up early to visit Abu Simbel, up early to take a hot air balloon over the Valley of the Kings, up early to miss the heat of the sun! So many early mornings, but so very worth it!

My favourite day was probably also the busiest day! We visited the Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple, Karnak and Luxor temples. We were very lucky to have visited at a time when there were not many other tourists around. It felt sometimes like we were the only people in the temple. Our Egyptologist for the day was a local called Sam. Sam seemed to have an undying love for the Ancient Egyptians. While most of us melted in the 40 something degree heat, Sam scribbled away on his clip board explaining to us the meaning of the Heiroglyphs we were looking at and drawing us a family tree of the Pharaoh’s, so we knew who’s tombs we were looking at.

Egypt was mind blowing. Never had I been on a holiday where everything was bigger and better than I had imagined. We visited (almost) every major tomb and temple across the country, but for me there were some places that stood out more than others, however the experiences will stay with me forever.