Akuna Bay Cruising Club

Frank & Janet Gardner journey into the past

Monday 12 February, 2007

This is a journey we have wanted to undertake for years. One would question why plan to travel to places where the terrorists have been active in recent years? With attacks in Turkey and Egypt, the recent uprising in the Middle East, and the threat to airline travel, we certainly weighed up our options but decided to proceed while were both still reasonably agile. Frank would however, have to assist Janet on many occasions as she trod the path of the ancients!

Before we start on our adventure let us provide you with some background information. Frank was conceived in Cairo, born in Surrey, England, and lived in Cairo until the age of 9. He has a few memories of his life there but throughout his life, he heard his parents, especially his mother talk about their life in Egypt. Theirs was a privileged life with servants, membership of the exclusive Gezira Sporting Club, attendance at the court of King Fouad and later King Farouk, a summer residence in the port of Alexandria and other indulgences that were common those days (for people of their ilk) under the British stewardship of Egypt. Frank's maternal grandfather built a wonderful block of apartments (six in all ) on the island of Gezira in the Zamalek district Diplomatic belt of Cairo. Frank's mother grew up here spending her schooldays in England. At 18 she married Frank's father, Austin a doctor from Australia who was appointed Lecturer in Radiology at the Cairo Medical School and Honorary Radiologist. As Director of Radiology at the Kasr-el-Ainy Hospital for 14 years his father was knighted, receiving the Order of the Nile in 1926 and later on, on his retirement upgraded to Commander of the Nile in 1937. With the outbreak of war the British started leaving Egypt and Frank's parents came to Australia. His grandparents moved to Alexandria. His grandmother eventually moved to Australia.

Frank has always wanted to trace his 'Egyptian heritage' so this was the major reason we undertook this journey. We had always wanted to do the Greek Islands and as we were in the general area we decided to combine Greece and Egypt into a five week trip.

Armed with background information and updated family records assembled by Ruth, Frank's sister, the family archivist, we departed on 25 September flying to Athens via Heathrow. After three days in Athens visiting the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, Greek Archeological Museum, Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon and the famous Plaka District, we boarded the MS Perla at the Port of Piraeus (1,635 metres long with a passenger complement of 1,095) for our 9 day Greek Island cruise.

Our ports of call included: Istanbul, Mykonos, Kusadasi, Patmos, Rhodes, Lindos, Crete and Santorini. Some highlights were eg Istanbul: the Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, Hippodrome, Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. We particularly enjoyed Mykonos with its quaint alleyways, Little Venice seaside area, ancient windmills and picturesque tavernas. The spectacular topography of Santorini amazed us as we progressed by coach to the top of this volcanic island to visit the villages of Thira and Oia only to come down again by a short cable car ride. An amazing feat of construction! We found the Roman ruins of Ephesus truly amazing and a visit to the House of the Virgin Mary inspiring and uplifting. Rhodes and Crete again offered different scenery and cultural influences. All in all, the Greek islands that we visited allowed us to sample some of the history and culture of this ancient civilization and now modern society.The diversity of scenery, historical and geographical influences and way of life over the centuries is truly amazing. We trod in some of those steps and are humbled by the experience. By the way, the cabin on our ship was very small, but the food, entertainment and weather was spectacular.

Our first glimpse of Cairo, at the end of our flight from Athens, was a real surprise. Cairo alone has 20 million inhabitants and 94% of Egypt is desert. This was the largest city we had ever flown over and on our journey from the airport to the hotel we passed the Citadel, a medieval fortress dating from the 12th Century, and the aqueduct built by Saladdin, to name just a few of the historic spots we were to see time and time again. We were soon ensconced in the Four Seasons Hotel of the First Residence overlooking the Pyramids. However due to the pollution they were barely visible. We were to have three stays at this magnificent hotel during our 21 days in Egypt (on the 20th, 17th and 11th floors. The view of the Pyramids became clearer the lower down we were). The hotel was a real oasis in the polluted and overpopulated city of Cairo and a wonderful place to come home to after a hard day of sightseeing in the heat and dust and the traffic chaos.

We had booked the Cairo segment with the premium tour company Abercrombie & Kent. We had our own personal drivers, Egyptologists, and A&K representatives who handled all the details so magnificently. The behind the scenes organization and efficiency really impressed us both.

After a three hour drive across the Western Desert we arrived in the Port of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea. This city has seen the likes of Cleopatra, Mark Antony and Alexander the Great. In three days we visited the Bilbliotheca Alexandria, the Catacombs of Kom El Shugafa (largest Roman burial site discovered in Egypt to date) National Museum, Egypt's only Roman Ampitheatre, and Qait Bay Fortress built on the site of Pharos, Alexandria's ancient lighthouse. We passed by Stanley Bay where Frank remembers swimming as a child and located the gravesite of Frank's grandfather who died in 1948. We then proceeded further west to El Alamein, the site of one of the most decisive battles of WW11. The museum and massive cemetery are moving tributes to those who made the supreme sacrifice. Along this northern coast are huge apartment complexes where wealthy Egyptians escape during the summer months. The turquoise blue of the Mediterranean is unbelievable.

After a day of rest upon our return to Cairo, we visited Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt then proceeded to Sakkara to see the world famous Step Pyramid of King Zoser, the oldest known of Egypt's 107 pyramids and the world's first freestanding stone structure. We then proceeded to the 4,500 year old Pyramids built for the Pharaohs Cheops, Chepren and Mycerinus on the Giza plateau and the legendary Sphinx. The Solar Boat Museum was opened in 1984 and houses the 141 foot long re-assembled funerary boat of King Cheops. Found in 1954 it has been hailed as the single most important archeological find in Egypt since King Tut's tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in the 1920's. We had lunch at the Mena House (built as a palace for the Empress Eugenie for her visit of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869).

The next day we visited the Cairo Museum (exhibiting over 120,000 objects including King Tutankhamun's treasures, and the fascinating Mummies Room). We both gained a Certificate stating that we had successfully completed An introduction to Hieroglyphic Language at the Egyptian Museum. We then proceeded to visit the Citadel, the Mosque and Tomb of the great Ottoman Ruler Mohamed Ali. After lunch we visited the Khan El-Khalili Bazaar founded in the 14th Century as a watering stop for the caravanserai. Frank really demonstrated his excellent bartering skills in this "shopper's paradise."

With a 2:00am start we departed for our 4:30am flight to Abu Simbel. Built by the great Ramses 11, two spectacular temples (the Great Temple of Ra-Harakhte and the Temple of Hathor dedicated to his wife Queen Nefertari) were moved to their current location when the creation of Lake Nasser threatened their existence. Our tour unfortunately coincided with a convoy of 30 coaches full of mostly European tourists (the convoy was under military protection). Throughout Egypt there are Tourist and Antiquities Police in abundance due to previous terrorist attacks on tourists. A military convoy was commonplace on much of our tour.

After a short flight to Aswan and we boarded our home for the next seven days, A&K's deluxe Nile cruise boat, Sun Boat 111, a 70 foot vessel with 35 passengers and 52 crew. In our cabin we found a four-poster bed but what to do with a very large suitcases? We managed, but getting our washing dry was to prove a challenge. The passengers comprised 2 Australians (us) 1 NZ lady ,15 Spaniards, 2 Mexicans. 2 Germans and 13 Americans. Each of these discrete groups had its own Egyptologist and driver whenever we stopped at an ancient site. We were paired with Maureen from NZ and enjoyed her company.

We now provide a brief edited snapshot of our cruise of Upper Egypt. However, during these sightseeing tours (in very high dry heat) we sampled very good Egyptian food and wine, wonderful scenery whilst cruising, and the plush surroundings of our Nile cruise boat especially atop the sun deck with its pool, tents and lounges. We also did a spot of shopping in the A&K shop onboard.

Day 1: We took a ride on a felucca, a typical Egyptian sail boat and then a tour of a traditional Nubian village together with a fake henna tattoo (only lasted a week).

Day 2: We visited the Aswan High Dam, a massive construction project (we were forbidden to take photographs), took a motorboat ride to the Philae Temple on the Island of Agilka, visited the Granite Quarries to view an unfinished obelisk and the Temple of Kom Ombo, dedicated to the crocodile God Sobek. This evening we enjoyed an Egyptian Night where we all dressed in galabeyyas (traditional Egyptian gear) and participated in a lavish Egyptian buffet, followed by a floorshow and dancing.

Day 3:We explored the largest and most completely preserved Pharonic temple-the Temple of Horus at Edfu in the morning and in the afternoon visited the Greco-Roman Temple of Khnum at Esna.

Day 4: A tour of the East Bank of Luxor and the Temple of Luxor dedicated to the god Amun filled our morning. We then proceeded to the Temple of Karnak. The great "Hypostyle Hall" is an incredible forest of giant pillars, covering an area larger than the whole of Notre Dame Cathedral. We finished our day at the Luxor Museum.

Day 5: Our tour took us to the West Bank of the Nile past the Colossi of Memnon and into Valley of the Queens and the Kings (a vast city of the dead where tombs were carved into the desert rocks, decorated richly and filled with treasures for the afterlife by generations of Pharaohs). We visited the Temple of Queen Hatsheput (Ancient Egypt's only female Pharaoh) and three tombs including the Tomb of King Tutankhamun. By now we were able to decipher the hieroglyphics especially the frescoes and cartouches of the Pharaohs. After battling the heat and the long stairways into the tombs, we had to do battle with the many vendors eager to divest us of our Egyptian Pounds. Our suitcases were getting heavier and heavier with each site we visited!

Day 6: We cruised northwards to Nagaa Hammadi passing Qena which is off the beaten track. We passed beautiful scenery and witnessed village life along the Nile shores. We even managed to 'drive' the cruise boat. We visited the Temple of Abydos, the centre of a holy city dedicated to Osiris, Lord of the Netherworld.This was also the burial place for pre-dynastic kings and pharaohs dating back to the 4th Century. By now we were starting to make the connections that our Egyptologist was leading us into and better appreciating the artwork, hieroglyphics, frescoes and columns, and influences of Christianity on this civilization.

Day 7: We visited the almost intact Ptolemic Temple of the Goddess Hathor in Denderah. Hathor was the goddess of pleasure and of love.We then cruised back to Luxor for our flight back to Cairo the next morning.

Prior to our trip we had made contact with several Rotarian Presidents. We managed to meet them despite it being Ramadan. Through them we visited the Gezira Sporting Club, (where Frank had excelled in swimming at a very young age) and were helped to find Frank's grandfather's place (his original home). Unfortunately this magnificent residence has been neglected like so many buildings in Egypt. We were taken to lunch at an alfresco restaurant near the Pyramids by the President of the Rotary Club of Gezira and visited a perfume factory as well as a school for carpet making.

In the daytime on our last few days in Cairo, we relaxed by the huge pool at the hotel and spent our nights either at the revolving restaurant, the Sound and Light Show at the Pyramids and Sphinx or on the Nile Maxim, a floating restaurant with a whirling dervisher and a ravishing belly dancer.

This trip was a real adventure. One has seen some of the famous places in Egypt many times in books, TV and film but to be there was truly a memorable experience. Each day was a different adventure. We saw and did so much, soaking in the history and culture of this part of the world. We fortunately were able to do these things in comfort, at ease and with so much assistance from the very friendly Egyptians and the tour company.

It is very sad to see what has happened to this historic country. In the forties the Egyptians were replacing the British with Egyptian nationals. Once they got rid of the British and its influence the country was doomed.
It is unfortunate that the revolution of 1952 sent this country into a further downward spiral spin, possibly never to recover. Many Egyptians lost so much due to the military takeover and overthrow of the monarchy and the effects of this are still felt by many Egyptians and Europeans. Frank's family lost almost everything.

We apologize for this rather lengthy discourse but when one has experienced eg one of the remaining Seven Wonders of the world, an ancient and fascinating civilization, a thriving city of 20 million people, (many living in absolute poverty) and a country where for example the Romans, the Greeks and the British have been such a powerful and lasting influence one feels disposed to share these experiences. We are fortunate to be able to travel to exotic places such as this and having visited Greece, Turkey and Egypt on this particular trip we have certainly gained greater insight into this wonderful planet Earth, we call our home.

Wishing those of you who still choose to travel, safe journeys and lasting memories.

Janet and Frank Gardner