Travel Diaries

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In January 2024 we embarked on a sightseeing journey to Egypt. We were interested in seeing some of the major sites located along the banks of the Nile river, so felt this was best accomplished by booking a cruise. We started in Cairo which was our base for a couple of days and then flew on to Luxor where we boarded a boat to Aswan and back. This became our home for the next week. On returning to Luxor we spent a couple of days getting to know the city a little more before returning to the UK via Cairo.

Visiting some of the key pharaonic sites was high on our list. However we wanted this to be more than a history trip, as modern Egypt is as equally fascinating as its ancient past. The days were long and tiring but thankfully the temperature was fairly cool. I would not like to have completed this journey in high summer as the amount of walking would have been exhausting.

Hundreds of photos captured the full journey and reviewing them once we had returned to the UK became an exercise in culling the volume to make them more manageable. Two passes were made to reduce their total to a mere 350 capturing, what we felt, was the essence and magic of the trip. I took two cameras with me; My Leica X became my day to day ‘land’ camera while my Leica T was bound to a 55-135 zoom lens that was very useful when on the boat.

The images that accompany this travel diary have been collated to present a balanced representation of our journey. It would have been easy to have selected a large collection taken in places like the Valley of the Kings, Karnak or the Pyramids. Of equal interest to us were the bustling modern cities and quiet villages, therefore it felt important that we included impressions of them here.

  • Cairo
    After a very sleepless night caused by our luggage almost flying directly to Luxor without us, we began our stay in Cairo by visiting the archaeological museum. Needless to say it was incredibly busy. But for a few seconds the crowds outside of the museum entrance cleared to allow me to take this picture that makes the place appear deserted. The old museum is vast so it was important we compiled a list of what we intended to see to save time and help reduce ‘museum fatigue’.
  • Cairo
    High on out list of ‘must sees’ in Cairo museum were the treasures that Howard Carter unearthed in celebrity boy-king `Tutankhamen’s tomb. Photographing most of the exhibits was off-limits but his throne was in an area where photography was permitted. This image shows some of the detail found on one side the throne that was covered in gold leaf and inlaid lapis lazuli and turquoise. The detail was exquisite and the state of preservation simply mind-boggling.
  • Cairo
    Of course at trip to Cairo would not be complete without stopping by the pyramid complex on the outskirts of Giza. The only surviving example of the ancient world’s seven wonders, it continues to draw enormous crowds. Our visit coincided with a national holiday, making the place exceptionally busy. I wanted to capture an image of the site that was a little different from how it is usually portrayed. It took me a little while, along with a camel ride, to eventually settle on this composition that maintained some originality when converted to monochrome.
  • Karnak Temple
    After a very early flight from Cairo to Luxor, the days highlight was Karnak Temple, an enormous ancient religious edifice that sits at the northern end of the modern city. It is joined to the equally impressive Luxor Temple by the 2.7 kilometre long Avenue of Sphinxes. Staying with the monochromatic theme, high contrast treatment helped reveal detail found on the underside of the temple lintels.
  • Karnak Temple
    Low afternoon sunlight at Karnak Temple enhanced the beautiful details and hieroglyphs found on the temple columns. Harsh overhead light would have caused me serious exposure problems so I was very pleased that I arrived here at a time where the light worked with me, emphasising the mystery of a long vanished civilisation.
  • Luxor Temple
    By the time we reached Luxor Temple daylight was transforming into a mesmerising sunset shot through with hues of purple and pink. It was a fine time to live in the moment, put down the camera and simply observe the city as it prepared for the evening. This image means a lot to me due to my interest in Greek History. The cartouche that the mobile phone is pointing at is that of Alexander the Great, carved into one of the walls of the temple’s inner sanctum. The fact that Alexander was crowned Pharaoh of Egypt underscores the impact his campaigns made on Egypt, Persia and beyond.
  • Valley of Kings
    Early morning and an already crowded Valley of Kings.
  • Tomb of Merenptah
    Our first stop at the Valley of the Kings was the tomb of Merenptah, 11th son of King Ramses II. We chose to visit this as it contained stunning murals and paintings whose remarkable preservation belied the fact they had been created by human hand more than three thousand years ago.
  • Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
    From the Valley of the Kings we made the short drive to the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. A sprawling site baking on the side of a mountain, it was hard not to be impressed by architecture that had been buried for millennia beneath sand. This image is the scene from a darkened corner of one of the rooms. Here, away from direct sunlight and several feet above my head, the surviving colours were as vibrant as if they were painted today.
  • Luxor
    A visit to an alabaster factory on the outskirts of Luxor provided an interesting distraction. These artisans used centuries old techniques to craft exquisite tat that proved irresistible to us. After a tour of the premises we left with a bag full of scarab beetles, cats, alabaster lamps and an enormous relief that would prove a bit of a challenge to get home. It was a good job we were travelling in a private mini bus and not an excursion coach.
  • Nile
    Sailing along the Nile on a cruise boat is idyllic, but it should be pointed out that there are dozens of similar boats operating similar itineraries all travelling in an enormous flotilla. Watching them dock from the top deck is fascinating. The downside of this is that several ferries dock side by side meaning that unless you are very lucky and have a cabin on the starboard side of the outermost boat, your wonderful view of the Nile will be completely obscured by the side of the adjacent boat. If you are very unlucky, your large cabin window will line up precisely with another, affording views into a stranger’s berth that you may find interesting or not. This was what happening with us most nights.
  • Nile
    Ensconcing oneself on the boat’s open top deck with a large coffee, telephoto lens and binoculars is a great way to spend the hours travelling up and down the Nile. Large tracts of lush vegetation give way to occasional hamlets and towns. It is interesting to note just how narrow the band of countryside is along the river. This image shows the starkness of the mountains that lie just beyond, a reminder that approximately 96% of Egypt is desert.
  • Nile
    Another view over the Nile looking across the ‘habitat zone’ to the arid escarpment of the desert.
  • Nile
    A monochrome rendering of the Nile complete with small fishing boat.
  • Edfu temple
    I am sure that academics will curse me, but as I am ignorant in the art of hieroglyphic translation, I couldn’t help thinking this extract carved into a wall at Edfu temple was advertising an ancient version of Frappe.
  • Kom Ombo
    We arrived at the town of Kom Ombo late in the afternoon and at a perfect time for a look around the remains of the temple that is situated on the river bank. The sun was very low on the horizon which cast a beautiful warm light across the ruins and gave the sky a magenta cast. Of all the ancient sites we visited on this trip, Kom Ombo remains my favourite due to it being stunningly picturesque and very atmospheric. I took several images that illustrate the beautiful warm tones of the evening. However I selected a monochrome representation for this diary as it provided an unusual additional depth of beauty that was hidden in the colour versions.
  • Aswan
    We travelled south to Aswan overnight and were up early for a trip to Aswan High Dam. Behind the huge embankment lies Lake Nasser, an enormous body of water almost 300 miles long. This is a view off the walled embankment looking towards Nubia.
  • Lake Nasser
    Another view of Lake Nasser looking south along its length. From this perspective it looks more like an inland sea. This image was taken atop the Soviet-Egyptian Friendship Monument, created to commemorate the relationship between the two countries. Russia were a key partner in creating the Aswan Dam, providing financial and construction assistance. The monument stands more than 230 feet high, providing superb 360 degree views of the lake, desert and Aswan.
  • Philae Temple
    The Nile from Philae Temple, one of many that were moved due to the flooding caused by the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
  • Felucca
    Felucca, Aswan. The traditional wooden vessel that can still be seen in abundance along the Nile.
  • Felucca
    The view from a Felucca that took us across to Kitchener’s Island, now a peaceful botanical garden.
  • Aswan
    Desert encroaching on the Nile, Aswan. This was taken from Kitchener’s island and underscores how dependant Egypt is on the waters of the Nile. In many places, desert reaches down to within a few meters of the water’s edge…a narrow green ribbon amongst an ocean of sand.
  • Nubian village near Aswan
    Nubian village near Aswan. The construction of the Aswan High Dam and subsequent flooding of Nubian land when Lake Nasser was created, caused the displacement of many Nubian villagers. Some moved to the banks of the Nile and are fascinating places to visit today. The hospitality of the Nubian people is well known and was demonstrated to us by being invited for coffee at traditional houses.
  • Aswan city
    Street scene, Aswan City. A wonderful mix of ancient and modern that I would like to have spent more time exploring.
  • Old Cataract Hotel
    A visit to Aswan would not be complete without afternoon tea at the Old Cataract Hotel. Constructed in the 19th century, this opulent edifice has seen Royal and famous faces through its doors. The splendour off the public rooms begs exploration, but a brew outside on the terrace overlooking Elephantine Island is wonderfully cathartic.
  • Old Cataract Hotel
    The gardens of the Old Cataract Hotel.
  • Nile
    Tenacious Pampas Grass clinging to the edge of the Nile.
  • Aswan
    I was drawn to the beautiful colours of this Nubian building. It contrasted well with the light tones of the desert and darker palette of water.
  • Aswan
    My 55-135mm lens had just enough reach to isolate this camel and its rider picking their way down the steep desert slope.
  • Nubian village
    Using the longest end of my telephoto zoom allowed me to compress the perspective of this Nubian village. The vibrant colours give the composition a lot of punch.
  • Nubian village
    An hours felucca ride away from Aswan city lay a fantastically colourful Nubian village that saw me take dozens and dozens of images. Every turn of a corner revealed a scene worthy of a photo. We spent a morning here drinking coffee with locals, buying souvenirs and spices, and visiting the local school.
  • Nubian village
    A similar image to the previous one but zoomed in a little closer. The monochromatic treatment of the lady sat in the sun draws the viewers attention to her. A vignette was added to the top of the image, leading the viewer’s eye.
  • Nubian village
    What could be considered the main street through this village.
  • Nubian village
    The courtyard of one of the Nubian houses we visited. We were surprised to find Nile Alligators in enclosures as we walked around this place. The little ones were gorgeous but there were a couple of adults that we kept our distance from.
  • Nubian village
    A fine place for a coffee break. I could have sat here most off the day watching thew world go by on the street below. Had I brought my 90-280mm zoom along on this journey, I think it would have seen a lot of use here. The coffee was excellent.
  • Nubian village
    One of several irresistible spice stalls. We ended up spending far more than anticipated on several spices we are fond of. Saffron was high on our list and high grade produce can be found for a fraction of UK prices.
  • Portrait of very young driver
    A portrait of our very young driver who, for a small fee, drove us in his tuk-tuk style motorbike thingy to the top of a nearby hill overlooking the Nile. Its was a white knuckle ride and our driver revelled in our terror. The view was worth it though.
  • Nile
    One of many Nile sunsets I photographed. The combination of high cloud, palm trees and warm colours creates an air of romance.
  • Esna Lock
    Passing through Esna Lock was an unexpected highlight of our journey. Not only is the engineering something to marvel at, but the local people’s tenacity in getting tourists to part with their money was equally fascinating. This image shows two traders alongside our boat engaged in a haggling session for a couple of towels. When the price was agreed, they were put in a plastic bag and thrown onto deck. The money was thrown down to the traders in a similar style.
  • Esna Lock
    A view from the stern of the boat as we exited Esna lock.
  • Luxor
    Arriving back in Luxor after a week afloat, we transferred to the Sonesta St. George Hotel for a couple of nights. Not wanting to waste any time, we booked a sunrise balloon flight over the Valley of the Kings. As we had paid to see the sunrise, we were the first in the air. The experience was magical and I was pleased to be located near the burners to keep the early morning chill away.
  • Hot air balloon
    One of our ‘balloon neighbours’.
  • Hot air balloon
    After hearing many horror stories about balloon landings, and fearing for the delicate nature of my back, these guys dispelled any reservations I had. Singing while they pulled us in, it was difficult to tell when the basket touched down.
  • Luxor Temple
    Luxor Temple revisited. As we had previously explored it at night, we had a second wander around before heading for coffee. Not shown on this picture is a small excavation off to the left. I wondered how, in a city with so much history, anything more can have survived centuries of plunder and archeological digging.
  • Winter Palace Hotel
    The iconic Winter Palace Hotel was the venue for the days coffee stop. Unlike the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, there was no admission fee for non-residents. This is a view of one of the many rooms we were allowed to look around. Sitting in one of the large leather armchairs with coffee and biscuits felt so civilised.
  • Winter Palace Hotel
    The Grand Staircase in the Winter Palace Hotel. It was from here that Howard Carter announced to the world his discovery of King Tutankhamen’s Tomb. I got a real buzz standing in this space…layer upon layer of history that could almost be touched.
  • Luxor
    Our final walk around Luxor before heading home took in some of the city’s suburbs. This street scene caught my eye as it was a world away from anything we would see in the UK.