The ancient Egyptian pyramids, enigmatic Sphinx, magnificent temples and other man-made monuments earn a place on many a person’s Travel Bucket List.
Ancient Greeks and Romans started the trend, coming to goggle at the long catalog of architectural treasures. Later, Napoleon showed up and looted artifacts that were transported back to France.
During a two-week itinerary that my wife Fyllis and I took with Overseas Adventure Travel, we returned home with the same sense of awe at Egypt’s iconic attractions. In addition, we earned a well-deserved appreciation for the Egyptian people and their fascinating lifestyle and culture, which added other dimensions to our visit to Egypt.
Egypt Straddles the Past, Present and Future
We encountered a multi-layered society that accords equal respect to both ancient and modern and stored up enduring memories of its people and their way of life. The lesson began immediately, during our ride from the airport to our hotel in Cairo, Egypt.
Our first impression was: Big city. Cars and motorcycles battled for space in the traffic, their horns raising a constant din. Lighted for McDonald’s, Burger King and other well-known fast-food restaurants vied for attention with billboards touting trendy women’s fashions.
Gradually, less familiar touches of Egypt began to catch our attention. Street vendors maneuvered pushcarts laden with foods that we recognized, as well as some that were new to our eye and, we later learned, to our palates.
Graceful towering minarets rising from the rooftops of mosques pierced the Egyptian skyline. Ramshackle apartment buildings festooned with laundry drying in the sun stood next to modern high-rise hotels.
Egyptian Coins and Coffins, Kings and Queens at Museums in Cairo
In Cairo, two museums provided us with an introduction to the wealth of wonders that awaited us during our sojourn throughout the country. Displays at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities range from coins and bits of papyrus that display Greek, Latin, Arabic and other languages to life-size statues and sarcophagi, the outside containers of coffins.
Speaking of coffins, the main attraction at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization is a collection of 22 mummies that have been recovered from their original resting places and put on display. They include 18 kings and four queens, whose preserved bodies rest in repose. Gazing at these once-powerful rulers, my imagination pictured them coming to life after the museum closes at night to recall their days as leaders of great civilizations.
This museum also houses treasured collections gathered from other institutions, which tell the story of civilization in the region from prehistoric times to the present.
Learning and Discovery in Egypt with Overseas Adventure Travel
Following this introduction to the physical aspect of Egypt, we were immersed in aspects of its captivating culture. This was due in large part to the fact that the Overseas Adventure Travel tour company makes “Learning and Discovery” an integral part of its tours, and that manifested itself repeatedly.
For example, our knowledgeable guide Hussien went out of his way to establish ad hoc encounters with everyday Egyptians. Several times, as we walked along the streets, he approached locals, asked if they would be willing to speak with visitors from the United States, and served as an interpreter for the conversations.
Among the results of those chance meetings, we gleaned information about a variety of topics ranging from education (we chatted with young people whose accomplishments and aspirations speak well for Egypt’s future), women’s rights (they are gradually improving) and religious tolerance (which also is on the upswing).
Egypt has the largest Muslim population in the Arab world and the biggest Christian (Coptic) population in North Africa and the Middle East. What we learned suggests that Muslims, Coptic Christians and Jews for the most part appear to coexist in tranquility.
We spent one fascinating day with a family in a typical small village perched on the bank of the Nile River. The experience demonstrated that while Egypt in many ways is leapfrogging toward the future, rural life continues much as it has for centuries.
Change also is taking place in the attire, especially of women. While public modesty continues to be valued, we saw few women wearing a burka, which covers the entire body and face. Many more sported a hijab cloth wrapped around their head and neck, and when asked why they gave a variety of reasons for doing so.
These ranged from religious respect to the need to satisfy other members of their family. We didn’t have an opportunity to question one woman we spotted whose traditional head scarf was topped by a New York Yankees baseball cap.
The world-famous relics remaining from Egypt’s historic heyday, along with its rich history, provide more than enough reasons to visit that country. Experiencing the local lifestyle and centuries-old routines in ancient villages adds much to its allure.
If you go, Egypt generally is safe for visitors, who often are greeted by passers-by with a smile and nod. One reason may be that it has been attracting sightseers since the ancient Greeks and Romans dropped by.
While temperatures during summer can reach 100 degrees and even warmer, we were comfortable because of the low humidity. In winter, overnight lows in places drop into the 50s and comfortable daytime highs are about 80.
Our visit to Egypt with Overseas Adventure Travel, the self-styled “Leader in small groups on the road less traveled,” enabled us to pack as many experiences as possible into every hour of every day. From interactions with locals, including a home-hosted dinner and farm family visit, to having most tips included, from discussions of “controversial topics” to sailing along the Nile River on the company’s own private boat and internal flights by charter plane, every detail enhanced the enjoyment.
If You Go
Overseas Adventure Travel offers “Small group adventures on the road less traveled” to 80 countries around the world.
For information about Overseas Adventure Travel call (800) 221-0814 or log onto oattravel.com. For information about Egypt log onto the Egyptian Tourism Authority.
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