safety

21 Egypt Travel Tips

How to get a visa for Egypt, navigate a police state, exchange money, and be able to take photos in the temples and tombs. Oh, and why you need small bills to go to the bathroom.

Egypt is a trip of a lifetime — but you have to know what to expect. Here Duke and Wally are set to explore the Temple of Philae in Aswan, one of the best-preserved ancient sites

Egypt is a trip of a lifetime — but you have to know what to expect. Here Duke and Wally are set to explore the Temple of Philae in Aswan, one of the best-preserved ancient sites

Egypt isn’t an easy country to navigate — Cairo in particular. It just doesn’t have the sophisticated tourist infrastructure so common in other parts of the world. Plus, it’s essentially a military dictatorship. In many ways, it reminded us of traveling through India, just on a smaller scale.

That being said, Egypt has a mind-boggling amount of temples and tombs to explore. They’re some of the oldest structures on the planet and are remarkably well preserved, having been buried in the sand for thousands of years.

We watched temple guards grab the phones of people who hadn’t bought a photography pass and force them to delete their photos!

Here are 21 tips to help you prepare for a trip to Egypt.

1. If you learn one word, it should be “shokran,” thank you.

When you say this, some people will burst into a huge smile. “You speak Arabic?!” one man exclaimed, joking. It’s great that something so simple can bring so much pleasure. And it goes to show how few travelers — or should I say tourists? — take the time to even bother learning one simple word.

Here’s another easy word: Salaam. It means “peace,” and works as both a greeting and a farewell.

Do you dare wear short shorts? Yes, it’s hot in Egypt, but respect the culture

Do you dare wear short shorts? Yes, it’s hot in Egypt, but respect the culture

2. Follow the dress code.

It’s not mandatory (there aren’t any morality police like in Iran), but do you really want to be the tourist that disrespects the culture of the country you’re visiting?

For men, T-shirts are OK, and I suppose you can get away with wearing shorts, but why? You won’t see a single Egyptian wearing them. Just bring along a couple of pairs of lightweight pants. Maybe it’s time to invest in a pair of linen pants, which travel extremely well.

For women, you don’t have to wear a headscarf — in fact, plenty of local women forgo this. Just cover your shoulders and wear pants or long skirts and dresses, preferably to the ankle. Again, you can get away with less coverage — heavens knows Egyptians see all sorts of lack of modesty at tourist attractions — but why be that person?

3. Pack sunblock.

Cuz it’ll be sunny, dusty and hot. Very hot. It reached 100 while we were there in late April.

4. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t drink the water.

Always have bottles of water to stay hydrated and to brush your teeth. You may not think that you’re getting dehydrated, but trust us, this can happen swiftly, and heat exhaustion is no joke. Duke suffered a mild case of this which caused him to have prickly heat, lightheadedness and diarrhea, which is no fun when most of Egypt’s sites are in the blazing sun.

5. Upper Egypt is the south part of the country, and Lower Egypt is the north.

Yes, this is counterintuitive to the modern brain. But the River Nile flows northward, so the Ancient Egyptians’ perception of the world was the reverse of ours.

6. You have to stake your ground in lines.

If there are any gaps, people will weasel their way in and have no qualms about cutting in front of you. While waiting in line for customs, a woman behind us kept tapping my backpack to get me to move up, as if pressing into each other would make the line go faster. Eventually, Duke and I formed a line with an annoyed fellow American to block the path of anyone trying to barge past us.

This happens on planes, too. I’m not saying Americans are the models of decorum, but when it comes to disembarking from a plane, no one would ever consider rushing up the aisle. We very patiently wait our turn and let everyone sitting in front of us get off before us. Not so in other parts of the world, including the Middle East. You have to rush into the aisle to prevent fellow passengers behind you from rushing ahead.

7. Getting a visa upon arrival is ridiculously easy.

No paperwork. Just US$25 and you get a sticker.

For other countries we’ve traveled to, like Vietnam and Cambodia, we had to send out our passports to the embassies in Washington, D.C., putting our faith in the U.S. Postal Service. India’s was an even more-elaborate affair, requiring a picture to be taken.

But the visa for Egypt can be purchased at a bank kiosk to the right of the line for customs.

8. It’s a good idea to get a data plan for your cell phone.

Not that we had great luck with Uber in Cairo (we thought we’d never escape from the Khan el-Khalili souk, after waiting for a couple of hours for various Uber drivers who never arrived). But we communicated with our guide service via email, and Wi-Fi was spotty at one of our hotels.

9. Prearrange pickup from the airport.

A mass of guys in navy blue jackets will call out, trying to get you to take their taxi. We like to have our hotels pick us up.

If you do need to get a cab, negotiate the price before you get in. When we returned to Cairo from Luxor, a charming man who played Western pop music took us to the Mena House for 400 Egyptian pounds, while the hotel was going to charge about 1,300 L.E.

Get used to seeing policemen and soldiers toting semi-automatic machine guns everywhere you go, including the gorgeous Dendera Temple

Get used to seeing policemen and soldiers toting semi-automatic machine guns everywhere you go, including the gorgeous Dendera Temple

10. There are machine guns and metal detectors everywhere you go.

You’ll see them at the numerous military checkpoints on the road and outside tourist locations. It’s unnerving to see the tip of a machine gun peeking out a window in a small square tower as you drive down the street or enter the grounds of a temple.

It certainly was the first time we had to go through metal detectors as we entered our hotels. You’ll probably set them off, but they’ll wave you through.

When you’re visiting a site, there’s usually a bin or flat surface to place your cell phone before you pass through. If you’re bringing a bag, expect to have it screened.

The machine guns it seems every police officer and military personnel carry are made of tarnished silver, like something from generations past. And despite their toy-like appearance, resembling what you would play at a shooting gallery on a beachside boardwalk or a traveling carnival, I don’t doubt their lethal power.

11. Don’t expect to get a lot of money out of ATMs.

They’re certainly not as common as in the States, which is to be expected. But the maximum amount you can withdraw is 3,000 Egyptian pounds, or about $175 at the time we visited.

Sometimes the ATM would reject this selection — maybe there wasn’t enough money left — so we’d try 2,000, which usually worked.

The Egyptian pound is abbreviated as L.E., from the French livre égyptienne.

Resist touching the walls: The oil from our skin darkens stone carvings, like these hieroglyphics

Resist touching the walls: The oil from our skin darkens stone carvings, like these hieroglyphics

12. As tempting as it may be, don’t touch the temple walls.

You can see the dark, shiny stains where people have touched certain spots too often. Our guide in Cairo, Ahmed, saw a guy touch the walls of a tomb, and he told him not to. “You’re breaking my heart,” he said, then grumbled to us, “They wouldn’t go to the Louvre and touch the paintings!” He did have a point. These structures have survived thousands of years and still sport their original paintings. Let’s help preserve them for another thousand years.

I know, I know. Wally’s not following his own advice — he’s touching the carvings!

I know, I know. Wally’s not following his own advice — he’s touching the carvings!

13. Get small denominations (especially 5 L.E. bills) cuz you’ll need ’em to go to the bathroom.

Almost every WC (as they’re usually marked, from the Britishism water closet), has someone out front collecting payment of 5 L.E.

Fives are also handy to tip small amounts to someone who helps you in a small way, like a bellboy.

Hopefully you’ll luck out with a friendly, knowledgable guide like Mamduh

Hopefully you’ll luck out with a friendly, knowledgable guide like Mamduh

14. Hire guides everywhere.

There are security checkpoints all over the country, where they record the license plate, telephone number and other information in a ledger. (We always heard the term “Amrikiya,” which I assume meant we were Americans.) These checkpoints are facilitated with a guide and driver. I’m not even sure you could get into sites without a guide.

Plus, you know, it’s nice to know what you’re actually looking at. By the time we had spent a week with Mamduh from Egypt Sunset Tours, Duke and I felt like minor Egyptologists.

Added bonus: The vendors might be a tad less pushy. If you don’t have a guide, I imagine you’d be picked apart like a vulture with carrion. As it is, you’ll still have to ignore endless entreaties from shopkeepers inviting you to their stand, hoping to make a sale.

The roads are much less crazy outside of Cairo, but you’ll still be sharing them with a variety of transportation, including donkey carts

The roads are much less crazy outside of Cairo, but you’ll still be sharing them with a variety of transportation, including donkey carts

15. Egypt is definitely one of those countries where driving is insane.

Horns honk nonstop and pedestrians walk in the street, crossing traffic without a care in the world. I watched a woman with two small children talking on her phone cross a busy street without even a glance at oncoming traffic.

In Cairo in particular, drivers act like they’re playing a real-life video game, narrowly dodging other cars, horse-drawn carts, auto rickshaws, trucks loaded with produce, donkeys and motorbikes, often with a woman on the back sitting sideways, a child in her arms.

Cars come from all directions, and there aren’t any lines on the road. Vehicles speed along, weaving between traffic, straddling two lanes, zooming along at an alarming clip. At night many don’t even use their headlights.

16. Most sites have an extra photography pass you can buy — though a lot of tour guides fail to mention this.

If you want photos, just ante up the 50 to 300 L.E. or so and get the pass. If you don’t, be warned that the guards can be ruthless. At Abu Simbel, for instance, we watched them take the phones of people who didn’t buy a pass and force them to delete their photos! Fortunately for us, our guide Mamduh always asked us prior to purchasing our tickets.

17. Just because you pay for a car for the day, doesn’t mean you get to go wherever you’d like.

The concierge at our hotel in Cairo said we had a driver and guide for the full day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. But we learned that unlike other places you travel to, you’re limited to their itinerary and can’t go off script.

Our guide, Ahmed, made our experience extremely unpleasant, rushing us through the sites of Giza and Saqqara, until we said we had come all this way and wanted to see everything we could. He refused to take us to the Mena House for lunch, telling us that it was ridiculously spendy (and even though we had discussed this with the concierge at the Kempinski the night before) or any other sites, even though we still had hours left.

What’s strange (I’m being sarcastic) is that he would have made the time to stop at the papyrus and perfume shops at Giza, or the carpet schools at Saqqara, if we had accepted his offer. Having suffered through these tourist traps, where guides get commission if you buy anything, we knew to avoid them like the 10 plagues.

18. They don’t believe in seatbelts in Cairo.

Very few drivers bother to wear them, and not many of the backseats have working seatbelts, especially in Cairo. There’s nothing you can do but pray to Osiris or Allah that you’ll safely reach your destination amidst the chaos of the roads.

Thankfully, the other parts of the country we visited, Aswan and Luxor, tended to have working seatbelts — though our driver only slipped his on when we reached military checkpoints.

19. You’ll see a lot of Egyptian men with dark circular marks on their foreheads.

At first we thought these gray smudges might be ash — we visited over Easter and figured it might be some Coptic Christian tradition — but after a while I realized it was the type of mark you’d get from repeatedly rubbing your forehead against something. I suspect it’s a mark from prostrating themselves and bowing their heads to the ground five times a day during their prayers. I imagine some wear it proudly as a public display of piety.

Duke learned this mark actually has a name: zebibah, or raisin. (Given its size, it’s actually more like a prune.)

The one downside to staying on the West Bank in Luxor were the ever-present flies

The one downside to staying on the West Bank in Luxor were the ever-present flies

20. Get used to flies.

They’re everywhere, especially in Luxor. We noticed a slew of small red bites on our lower legs the morning after our first night on the West Bank, and although we didn’t see any mosquitos, they were obviously there. So you might want to pack some bug spray, too. We used Repel 100, which kept those pests at bay.

21. Not to be rude, but you should expect to smell B.O. quite often.

It’s obviously most noticeable in confined spaces like an airplane or a car. This isn’t a dig at Arabs — I suffered through many a stinky bus or metro ride in Europe, believe me. –Wally

The Dangers of the Ubud Monkey Forest

The Monkey Forest is worth wandering, but perhaps not with children. It’s fitting that the Great Temple of Death lies within this sanctuary, where people get bitten by monkeys every day.

Gorgeous stonework and mischievous macaques abound in the Monkey Forest

Gorgeous stonework and mischievous macaques abound in the Monkey Forest

Things might have been much worse if we hadn’t had a somewhat scary encounter the night before we planned to visit the Monkey Sanctuary in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

We were wandering down Monkey Forest Road, right at the turn, near one of the entrances to the forest. A large macaque monkey scampered down a power line and stopped a few feet in front of Duke.

He was looking up at another monkey on the roof of a shop and I snapped a photo. And then, in a flash, the monkey jumped onto Duke, grabbed his water bottle, hopped off of him and scurried down the road a bit. It all happened so quickly, Duke didn’t even have time to react.

The monkey opened its mouth and sank its teeth into the girl’s shoulder, before darting away.

The girl screamed and screamed, yet her banshee-like wails failed to draw the attention of any staffers.
The moment right before the monkey jumped onto Duke and stole his water bottle

The moment right before the monkey jumped onto Duke and stole his water bottle

We watched in astonishment as the monkey unscrewed the lid, poured some water out onto the street and scooped it up with its palms to drink.

As cool as it might be to get a selfie with a monkey, we can’t advise it

As cool as it might be to get a selfie with a monkey, we can’t advise it

The last time I visited Bali, 17 years ago, I let a monkey crawl onto my back, and that picture became a now-legendary Christmas card. I might have done so again — but this incident was enough to put the fear of God — or perhaps the fear of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god —  into me.

The statue by the Monkey Forest entrance hints at what could happen to unsuspecting tourists!

The statue by the Monkey Forest entrance hints at what could happen to unsuspecting tourists!

Entering the Monkey Forest: It All Starts Innocently Enough…

So it was with a newfound sense of caution (and, let’s face it, downright fear of these creatures) that Duke and I wandered into the Monkey Sanctuary. The setting is epic: a glen of primordial trees, bridges that criss-cross a ravine with a river below and not one, but two pura dalems, or temples of death.

The setting, with banyan roots, bizarre statues, lush foliage and wild monkeys, is quite epic

The setting, with banyan roots, bizarre statues, lush foliage and wild monkeys, is quite epic

We headed to the right, down a path that leads to one of the bridges that span the chasm below. There are a few landings here, with metal railings where monkeys like to hang out. This is a good spot for photos. The monkeys here seemed to know they’re models, and you can snap some shots at a safe distance.

Down the path to the right is a landing where monkeys strike a pose

Down the path to the right is a landing where monkeys strike a pose

Hindus, like those on Bali, revere monkeys, in part because one of their main gods, Hanuman, is simian

Hindus, like those on Bali, revere monkeys, in part because one of their main gods, Hanuman, is simian

According to the park, there are about 600 monkeys in the area!

According to the park, there are about 600 monkeys in the area!

A path winds along the rock face at the edge of the river. It’s narrow and crowded and ends abruptly without a payoff. You might as well skip it.

Banyan roots have taken over parts of the sanctuary

Banyan roots have taken over parts of the sanctuary

Wally, who was scared the entire time he was in the forest, thought these were real lizards at first

Wally, who was scared the entire time he was in the forest, thought these were real lizards at first

Following the main path takes you over another bridge and walkway above the ravine before leading you to a temple. Duke and I were delighted to notice the strange, monstrous statues out front. We had arrived at Pura Dalem Agung Pandangtegal, or the Padangtegal Great Temple of Death. Demonic sculptures, including those of the witch Rangda, adorn pura dalems.

The main temple of death in the forest is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva

The main temple of death in the forest is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva

Rangda personifies evil — and loves to eat babies

Rangda personifies evil — and loves to eat babies

What are these naughty babies doing?!

What are these naughty babies doing?!

Statues of demons surround the temple of death

Statues of demons surround the temple of death

A young macaque with a mohawk posed on a ledge near the temple’s entrance, nibbling on what appeared to be a yam. While we were taking some pictures, a big lug came up beside us and smiled. “Cute,” he said, before telling us that he had just been bitten on the arm by one of these critters. He was just standing there, and a young monkey jumped onto his shoulder, supposedly unbidden. Before he knew it, she had sunk her teeth into his arm.

This little macaque was hanging out on the temple entrance

This little macaque was hanging out on the temple entrance

I could tell by his accent that he was French, but I still spoke English to him. “You need to go to the doctor!” I told him. He just laughed, and I said, “I’m serious! You could get rabies! You could die!” But he just kept chuckling like I was telling him the funniest bit of nonsense he’s ever heard, before wandering away.

There supposedly haven’t been any cases of rabies from monkeys in the sanctuary, but I don’t think it’s worth the risk — especially since my doctor told me that rabies is 100% fatal. If you get bitten at the forest, don’t take any chances and get rabies shots at the Toya Medika Clinic down the street.

They might look innocent — but they’re not

They might look innocent — but they’re not

Reality Bites: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Bit

Not long after the French guy told us about how he been bitten, we saw a family allow a small monkey to crawl onto their young daughter for a photo op. It was like a train wreck — we couldn’t look away. When the girl wanted the monkey to get off of her, she tried to shake it off. Sure enough, the monkey opened its mouth and sank its teeth into the girl’s shoulder, before darting away.

The girl screamed and screamed, yet her banshee-like wails failed to draw the attention of any staffers.

We also saw a monkey grab a stack of cards from a woman’s open bag. The man with her literally pounced at the monkey and tried to retrieve the cards from it. We shook our heads in disbelief. It seemed wiser to let the monkey grow bored with its prize and drop it, once it realized it wasn’t edible.

Statues in the Monkey Forest tend to be grotesque — which Duke and Wally love

Statues in the Monkey Forest tend to be grotesque — which Duke and Wally love

It’s no exaggeration when I say that I was in a mild state of terror the entire time I was at the sanctuary. Any time we passed by a monkey, I’d freeze up and scooch past it as quickly as possible, my heart pounding through my chest.

Down from the temple is a bathing pool, and it was fun to watch the monkeys swing into the water and splash about — from a safe distance, of course.

Delightfully horrific statues pair nicely with the monkeys

Delightfully horrific statues pair nicely with the monkeys

Beyond this is a ring trail that’s more sparse. The trees aren’t as tall and I felt more exposed. We hurried along the path, horrified, when, at one point, we saw a monkey that had stolen a bottle of sunblock from some tourists. It unscrewed the top and was trying to drink the thick white liquid. The couple watching this were laughing, but we didn’t find it amusing.

At the end of the ring path, we saw a small building with a group of the sanctuary’s staff just hanging out smoking. We couldn’t help but think they should be in the more populated areas, stopping people from doing stupid things and attending to the kids who have been bitten.

You can skirt around the exterior of the pura dalem and admire the bas reliefs

You can skirt around the exterior of the pura dalem and admire the bas reliefs

Frieze frame

Frieze frame

We circled back to the Great Temple of Death, bummed that tourists aren’t allowed to enter the temple grounds. We skirted around the exterior, though, peeking over the wall to see the courtyard within.

The Great Temple of Death inside the Monkey Forest isn’t open to tourists

The Great Temple of Death inside the Monkey Forest isn’t open to tourists

Another trail leads away from the temple, and we followed this down to another area of the nature preserve.

En route, we passed a woman squatting down to allow a monkey to climb onto her lap. When it started tugging at her braid, we had to go. We weren’t in the mood to see yet another person get bitten.

When you’re ready for the monkey to get off you, it might not be — and if you force it to move, you’ll probably end up getting bitten

When you’re ready for the monkey to get off you, it might not be — and if you force it to move, you’ll probably end up getting bitten

We ended up walking through a creepy tunnel lit by an eerie purple and green light. I kept praying we wouldn’t encounter any primates in that dark expanse, and thankfully, we did not.

The entrances to the tunnel by the parking lot sport giant faces

The entrances to the tunnel by the parking lot sport giant faces

The tunnel led to a parking lot, so we had to double back and head through it again. We followed a sign that pointed to a cremation temple and found ourselves at another end of the sanctuary, wary of a pack of monkeys nearby but eager to explore the small pura dalem. We couldn’t enter this temple of death, either, but admired the demonic statuary, while keeping an eye out for roving macaques.

The cemetery near the smaller temple of death is where bodies remain before a mass cremation, which takes place every five years

The cemetery near the smaller temple of death is where bodies remain before a mass cremation, which takes place every five years

At this point, we figured we had seen everything we could and decided to leave the Monkey Forest the same way we had come. We were on the home stretch, the exit about 100 yards away, when a particularly brazen monkey made a jump for Duke’s tote bag. He turned away, clutching it tightly to his body. The monkey made some rude noises and gestures to show its displeasure. But we were safe at last, having emerged from this ordeal with a healthy fear of monkeys. –Wally

Monkey see, monkey do

Monkey see, monkey do

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Jalan Monkey Forest
Ubud, Kabupaten
Gianyar
Bali 80571, Indonesia

I was in a mild state of terror the entire time I was at the sanctuary.

Is It Safe to Travel to Egypt?

Turns out it might actually be the best time to visit the temples and pyramids at Karnak, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Tourism has suffered — which makes for less crowds.

Margaret riding a camel at the Pyramids of Giza

Visiting Egypt has always been a dream for us. In fact, little Duke created a set a laminated cards to teach people about Egyptian gods and games.

He pretended the lean-to in the backyard was a pyramid.

He even pickled dead birds (naming them all Birda) and wrapped them in tin foil as an attempt to mummify them.

And when his family visited Toronto, Canada, Duke wanted nothing more than to see the King Tut exhibit.

There’s an embarrassment of riches. Everywhere we turned, there was something amazing that had been built two or three or four thousand years ago.

I was lucky enough to see it in Seattle, Washington, where I grew up.

But Duke’s parents thought the tickets were too expensive. A kind museum guard took pity on the heartbroken little boy and let Duke watch his monitor as the security cameras switched from room to room. In this way, Duke sort of got to see the Tutankhamun exhibit.

Entrance to the main temple at Abu Simbel

The two of us have traveled some places that could be considered dangerous (there was a café bombing in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square in Marrakech, Morocco, the year before we visited, for example). But for some reason, both of us are intimidated by Egypt. I had such high hopes for the Arab Spring, but the world just seems such a mess now.

So I’m always happy to hear about people who have gone somewhere we’ve avoided, like my friend and coworker Margaret. She was astounded by the sights in Egypt — and enjoyed how empty many of the tourist sites were (though she felt sorry for the locals who are dependent upon tourism).

Moral of the story: There’s only one place where a Wonder of the Ancient World still stands. And there’s no reason not to go.

Here’s Margaret’s interview about her trip, accompanied by her father David’s amazing photography. –Wally

Carriages are an alternative to camels when visiting the pyramids

What made you go to Egypt?

I visited Egypt in the spring of 2016 because my cousin was living there at the time. She was teaching at a school in Cairo, but after nearly five years in Egypt, she was preparing to move on. So it was basically my last chance to visit with a built-in guide. I traveled with my dad, who had always dreamed of visiting the pyramids, along with my uncle, another cousin and a family friend.

A colorful fruit stand in downtown Cairo

What was your itinerary?

We made Cairo our home base, spending most of our time there. But we did travel to Upper Egypt (which, confusingly, is the southern part of the country) to visit Luxor and Aswan.

In Luxor we visited Luxor Temple, the Valley of the Kings (which houses 60-some tombs including King Tut’s), Karnak Temple and the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.

Our intrepid adventurer in the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, the only female pharaoh

While we were in Upper Egypt, we took a military convoy to visit Abu Simbel, which are absolutely awe-inspiring temples carved into the mountain around 1257 BCE.

 

With all the turmoil going on, were you nervous at all?

I wasn’t particularly nervous, no. My cousin and several family members had visited Cairo over the last few years and never encountered any problems.

I was a little concerned about being hassled or harassed in the streets, especially after reading all the warnings in guidebooks. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much people left us alone.

 

Did you ever feel in danger?

No, I never felt like I was in danger. There is a military/police presence everywhere, and an intense focus on protecting foreigners.

It was a little disarming to pass through metal detectors to go in and out of hotels or museums, but at the same time, it gave you the perception that there was a lot of security.

That said, there were a few instances that reminded us that we were visiting what most consider a military dictatorship. For example, one night we had drinks at sunset at a decaying restaurant/bar built into the Mokattam Hills surrounding Cairo. It was beautiful looking down at the city as thousands of green minarets lit up with the call to prayer, and we were taking lots of photos. The staff warned us not to take any photos to our right, as we were situated over a military facility. It was sobering to imagine what might be happening down there, but as tourists, we clearly weren’t at any direct risk at all.

Margaret’s father, who took all of these photos, jokes that this guy was searching for Pokémon on his phone

What was the best part of your trip?

This is hard, as it was truly a trip of a lifetime. In Luxor, we visited 3,000-year-old statues that were only discovered several years ago, our guide informed us. And the famous avenue of sphinxes at Luxor Temple is only partially uncovered — they simply haven’t been able to dig them all up yet.

That kind of sums up the embarrassment of riches. It felt like everywhere we turned, there was something amazing that had been built two or three or four thousand years ago.

The pyramids, of course, rise to the top. They are much bigger and more impressive than you could have imagined.

I was also shocked by the gorgeous carvings and paintings in the tombs in Luxor. Miraculously, their paint is still bright red, blue and yellow, some thousands of years after they were created.

 

What was the worst part?

Tourism used to make up a good share of Egypt’s economy, but it has taken a steep decline in the last few years. As a result, we did face a lot of attention from vendors at the tourist sites and museums trying to sell us their products or get us to take a picture with them and their camels (for a tip).

It was a little frustrating constantly getting hassled at these sites and in markets or souks, but at the same time, I understood why they were doing it. As several people explained to us, they were struggling to make ends meet for their families, given the lack of tourists.

 

What was the food like?

We ate a lot of familiar Middle Eastern staples like hummus, tabbouleh, lentils, grilled meats and bread. Because of the lush Nile delta, the fruits are really fresh and delicious.

There are very few bars in Cairo, given its conservative Muslim majority, but my cousin did take us to some wonderful places that felt stuck in time, and in those dark, fading establishments, we drank Sakara beer and ate fava beans.

Ahoy! The captain of a felucca on the Nile River

One afternoon, we picked up Egyptian potato chips to bring with us on a felucca sailboat ride on the Nile, sharing them with our boat captain, who stood at the stern and pushed us along with a long wooden stick.

Take a felucca sailboat ride to see the grandeur of the Nile

Another day, we stopped for tea in the famous Khan El-Khalili, sitting in carved wooden chairs amid the bustle of the market, which sells ornate lanterns, carvings of all kinds and antiquities both fake and real.

All this to say for me, as someone obsessed with food of all kinds, the joy of eating in Egypt was more about the experience than the food itself.

 

How were the people?

They were friendly, open, curious and funny.

We were lucky enough to hire Egyptian guides and drivers to show us around the various sites, all of whom were generous with their time and knowledge about their culture. I loved seeing their pride and enthusiasm about the truly remarkable feats of their ancestors.

Everyone was happy to see Americans visiting again, since there has been such a steep dropoff in tourism, and they were incredibly accommodating to us wherever we went.

I did get a fair amount of stares and a few marriage proposals, but it never bothered me too much. And so many people wanted to get their pictures taken with us, which made me feel like a celebrity. For some reason, lots of mothers gave their babies to my very tall dad to hold, apparently to bring them luck? I never did fully understand that, but I loved their openness.

I did get a fair amount of stares and a few marriage proposals, but it never bothered me too much.

How Europe Recovers From Terrorist Attacks

Life returns to normal astonishingly quickly for Europe — and Brussels was no exception

Life returns to normal astonishingly quickly for Europe — and Brussels was no exception

AN UPDATE FROM A TRAVELER IN BELGIUM THE DAY AFTER THREE BOMBINGS KILLED OVER 30 PEOPLE.

 

Here’s a special report from Belgium the day after the terrorist bombings at the airport and train station killed more than three dozen people and wounded hundreds more.

 

I'm in Brussels right now at the train station. As a train passenger, I can tell that it is amazing how quickly the Europeans get back to their normal schedules after such deplorable events.

Even some jokes have been exchanged about the event.
It’s never “too soon.”

Apart from the military personnel on the quais, today is a travel day like any other. The train from Amsterdam was relatively full — no noticeable security enhancements either. We just boarded as always with our luggage.

People were calm, smiling and doing what they do on any other day. Even some jokes have been exchanged with colleagues, train and hotel personnel and fellow passengers about the event. It's never “too soon,” as the attitude is to move forward and carry on as before without letting anything disrupt normal behavior. Humor is never irreverent but a simple act of defiance to the recent attacks.

In short, life goes on…immediately. –Kent

 

MORE FROM KENT: American Expats Tell What’s It’s Really Like to Live in Paris