1997 Red Sea Cruise

Tuesday 4th March

I was up at 3am, very excited as we leave for Egypt today. I packed my Micra & drove to Andrew’s house for 4.30am. then to Manchester airport, it’s a really wet windy nasty morning, but we will be in the sunshine soon!

Boarded at 9am and we are off at last the flight was late but uneventful. The plane stopped at Athens to re fuel, then flew on to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. There were coaches awaiting us to take us to the Aegean 1 - our home for the next 10 nights.

The ship was lit up with fairy lights and looked really pretty, we could see it all white and shining in the distance. We boarded at about 7pm, freshened up & went to find dinner, a buffet as the plane was late.

We decided to have a walk around the decks afterwards to explore the ship. There was a meeting in the lounge to tell us about tomorrow’s excursions, there are normally 2 - 4 per day, but of course we could only choose one, we booked the St. Catherine’s Monastery outing and went to bed….

Wednesday 5th March

At 6am. we have coffee & orange juice then it’s time to board the coach for a 2½ hour drive through the desert to Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the base of Mount Sinai.

The drive was exciting, our first trip into the desert - just one dusty road and the backdrop of the mountains, it’s really hot & humid. There are flocks of sheep & goats with their shepherds, and wild camels everywhere. We saw many Bedouin camps along the way, the Bedouins still live in tents, but several own Mercedes as well as camels.

The monastery stands on the site of the Burning Bush, & is where Moses received the 10 commandments. There is the Chapel of the Burning Bush dated 537. Saint Catherine’s Monastery dates back to 337 and is the smallest dioceses in the world and also the oldest Christian monastery still in existence.

Our guide, took us around St. Catherine’s. There is a rather grotesque room full of skulls. The main hall is stunning with ancient tapestries on the walls and about 20 massive crystal and gold chandeliers suspended from the ceiling. The monks invited us into the library, a rare treat, as it is usually closed to the public, this is still a working monastery and the monks home. The library contains some of the oldest Bibles in the world and a lot of other equally old books and manuscripts. The original Scripture of Mohamet is encased in glass on one wall, the writing is still clear.

There is also an Icon of Saint Catherine, showing how she was pierced with daggers on a wheel. She miraculously survived this, only to be beheaded later as a martyr - poor woman. Hence the Catherine wheel fireworks on 5th November.

The ship’s crew had provided us with a packed lunch so we sat in the ruins to eat, surrounded by lots of stray cats. We fed them chicken and watched them fighting over it.

Afterwards we went on a camel ride around the monastery grounds, Andrew’s camel was blowing bubbles and making weird noises, so I asked the man leading my camel why this was happening. Apparently it means he is on heat - this is supposed to be attractive to the female camels, he is looking for a wife. He asked me if I would like to see the baby camels - I’d love to so he took me on a detour to the babies pen, they are gorgeous little things, all fluff and huge eyes. One of them was only a day old - so sweet! The ride finished the camel knelt down to let me climb off, a bit dodgy when you are not used to it and have an Andrew filming you.

Part way back to the ship we stopped at a Bedouin camp, we could buy souvenirs from them if we want to, or just listen to the silence of the desert. This was difficult through the chatter of people. Andrew and I went for a wander behind the camp to film the wild camels.

We booked Petra for tomorrow - I can’t wait!

Dinner is a much more formal meal this evening, four courses and an excellent wine list, served by Bobbie our Greek waiter. After dinner we all attended the lifeboat drill {compulsory} then adjourned to the bar for a Metaxa. A stroll around the deck in the moonlight and then bed as we have another early start tomorrow.

Thursday 6th March

We sailed overnight to Jordan & docked in Aquaba. We rose at 6.30 & board the coach at 7.30. Petra is 60 miles from Aquaba so not a long drive today.

Dean Burgon wrote of Petra “Match me such a marvel save in Eastern clime, a rose red city half as old as time.”

The drive is through desert but flatter than yesterday, our guide chats about the local people, they have water in most places and children all have to be registered for schools now.

We had the option of walking from the coach park or riding horses, no one fancied riding the beautiful white horse that we were told was frisky, so I volunteered and arrived first at the ravine, she could go!

From here we walked for a mile or so down the steep ravine called the Siq, the entrance to Petra. Suddenly around the corner there it was, our first glimpse of Petra. Al Khazneh Farun or Treasure of the Pharaoh, believed to be the tomb of King Harith IV 84-85BC. It is a huge building and almost perfectly preserved.

The Amphitheatre is amazing too originally built by the Nabataeans in 1AD, then enlarged by the Romans when the kingdom was annexed in 106AD. It has been recently discovered that it was cut to create seats for up to 8000 spectators in 33 concentric semicircles. In the silence you could almost imagine Daniel in the lions den and the crowds all roaring, John the Baptist is supposed to have stayed here. There are burial niches encased in the rocks high up in the hills above the theatre.

We stopped for a good buffet lunch at the bottom of the hill in the little restaurant in the main street, delicious couscous & chicken, then we explored on our own for a while as the guide had finished his talk.

The Silk Tomb is the most fantastic colours, bands of ribbon in every shade. It has to be seen to be believed - go there if you can, it is magical. Petra is a huge area, you could easily spend 2 - 3 days here to see all of it. I bought a head dress for Dad and Andrew bought me a beautiful book on Petra which I will treasure, the photo’s in it are in much more detail than you can capture from the ground, though I can’t wait to see the film Andrew has taken.

Indiana Jones Last Crusade was filmed in Petra.

I cannot describe how Petra made me feel, the incredible carved buildings, all the work that had gone into cutting an immense city out of the rock face. The wondrous colours are like walking into a rainbow, Petra is rose with red, lilac, gold, purple, blue all glistening in the sunlight, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen & a place that I will never forget, I hope that I will come back here one day.

We had time to shower & dress for dinner, Andrew disappeared and returned with the news that we can move to a cabin with a double bed – brilliant! A quick move is accomplished. Dinner as last night is really good. We booked the Valley of the Kings trip for tomorrow and went to bed….

Friday 7th March

The Aegean 1 sailed overnight again, the sea was calm as before and we were lulled to sleep by the waves. We woke this morning to find we had docked in Safaga, Egypt.

Breakfast, then a 3 hour drive to the Valley of the Kings. The countryside here is flat, palm trees are growing everywhere and most houses don’t have roofs, some don’t even have fronts.

The guide asks if we want to order any T shirts with names hand embroidered on in hieroglyphics {cartouche} We ordered some for my boys, our sisters & ourselves.

Andrew also ordered a bracelet for me in silver with his name in hieroglyphics in gold. They will all be ready this evening.

When we reached the Nile we crossed over on the ferry and Andrew haggled for a lovely djellabah in white Egyptian cotton with dark blue and gold embroidery, it has an overcoat to match, it’s so cool. On the other side we boarded yet another coach {Tat Travel}.

The Valley of the Kings is a wild and desolate place.

We went into Tut Ankh Amoun’s tomb first. Wonderful paintings on the walls and lots of hieroglyphics, the colours are amazingly well preserved and all in lovely pastel shades. The tombs are empty of course as the contents are in the Cairo museum. Next was the tomb of Rameses II, the only one that had contained a musical instrument - a harp. Rameses II tomb is large and the paintings and hieroglyphics are beautiful and more ornate than Tut’s. I have a lovely book on Egypt which contains pictures of these. The tomb of Rameses III was next, but it was so dark that we couldn’t see anything. All the tombs are similar, the sizes are different depending on how long the pharaoh lived and how much time they had to prepare it.

A mini cruise down the Nile followed, where we saw an incredible wooden boat being built.

We moored at the Isis hotel in Luxor for lunch This hotel was built by one of the Pharaoh’s cousin’s as a palace for a French princess, it’s a beautiful old building. We had a buffet lunch then boarded the coach for a tour of Luxor.

We stopped at an incredibly lovely modern looking building - Sekhamet’s Temple.

The Colossi of Mennon another stunning place, then on to some temples & buildings carved out of the hills, presently being excavated and not identified yet.

The magnificent statues of Rameses II was next, they are huge and stand a little apart as if they are pillars at the entrance to a city.

We had another ferry ride down the Nile to Karnak where the ram-headed Sphinx line the avenue to the temples and ruins. Andrew’s sunglasses were stolen here. There are avenues lined with statues of pharaohs too, it’s a vast and magnificent place. We lost our guide but a couple of Bedouin gentlemen offered to show us around, we accepted their offer and saw a good deal more of the area than the others on the official guided tour. We were taken up to the top of the buildings with amazing views over Karnak, the others walked around in the ruins instead.

I agreed to a young girl having her photo taken with me, she was fascinated by my red hair & white skin. All of a sudden I was surrounded by about 30 people all touching my arms, face and hair, all wanting a photo with me. Andrew was laughing and recording us, a guard came and moved them away from me and told me to stay away from the locals.

We went for a coffee then headed back to the coach, which was surrounded by a herd of little goats. We have a 5 hour drive back from here. The guide gave us our T shirts and my bracelet, which is gorgeous. We were wiped out and cranky by the time we got back, a buffet supper was served, then we went straight to bed. The ship had already weighed anchor while we ate.

Saturday 8th March

We are at sea 2 nights and 1 day to reach Suez City from Safaga.

Strolled around the decks then sunbathed for a while by the pool. We booked a trip into Cairo for tomorrow.

Tonight was the Captain’s cocktail party followed by the Captain’s formal dinner, a good evening, we are getting to know our dinner group better now, Clive & Amy are particularly nice, we chat to them a lot. Had a stroll in the moonlight, then went to the Belvedere suite on the top deck which is quiet and candlelit and has lovely windows to watch the sea. We had a cocktail and then some Metaxa. Time for bed as we have another early start tomorrow, I have enjoyed just lazing about today for a change.

Sunday 9th March

We docked at Port Tewfik, Suez City at about 6am, by 7am. the coach was boarded, we have an 84 mile drive to Cairo. The pyramids today - so exciting!

We drove through the desert into Cairo, we passed the City of the Dead originally a cemetery. People had built houses to stay in when they came to visit their ancestors, right next to the tombs. Now the homeless people of Cairo are squatting there, and the school bus stops outside in the morning. They say they have quiet and peaceful neighbours! Cairo is a place of such contradictions, I would really like to stay much more than one day.

The coach overtook a bus with children riding on the bumpers, they were all laughing and waved to us.

We passed the Pyramid Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. Our first stop was at the Mohammed Ali Mosque which is beautiful, it is high up on a hill, Cairo was spread out below us and we could see the Pyramids in the distance. We entered the Mosque, surprisingly we were allowed to use the camcorder in there. It is built as a rectangle with an inner hall with marble floors and a domed temple in the centre. It has a steeple on one side and a clock tower on another. In the inner sanctum the green ceilings are high domed and ornate, huge round lamps are suspended from the ceiling along with chandeliers, the whole effect is stunning.

Next we drove through Old Cairo, which is quite something. We saw some amazing architecture and some places so derelict that you wonder how people live in them, eventually we reached the Cairo Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, it holds all the caskets, treasures and the Death Mask of Tut Ankh Amoun, including a brilliant camp bed that folds on hinges. Apparently he had boomerangs too although we didn’t find them. A lot of the things we have seen here today are in my book, a lovely memento. We could really have done with spending a whole day here, but it was time to move on again.

Our next stop was for lunch at the Mena House hotel, a sit down meal with waiter service, live music and a pantomime horse dancing around us while we ate. A belly dancer entertained us while we had coffee. This hotel is really gorgeous with high ceilings, wall tapestries and a lovely little fountain in the entrance hall.

Lunch over it is finally time to go to the Pyramids & the Sphinx. The pyramids are not smooth as I’d expected from pictures I’d seen, as they have lost their outside cover, but climbing up them to look around is awesome. Again we didn’t spend enough time here, soon we were walking down to the Sphinx. She is being restored at present so has scaffolding up her back. I thought that she was very beautiful, such a serene face.

We were taken to a Papyrus shop next, where they demonstrated how papyrus is made. We wandered around their gallery fascinated by the lovely pictures. Andrew bought me “The Blessing of the Goddess of Love” the girl in the shop said that we obviously don’t need it!

We got “The Goddess of Love Receiving Gifts of Milk and Honey” for Andrew and a

“Tree of Life” which has the cartouche for health and happiness on it for Andrew’s parents.

The shop next door was amazing too, full of Mother of Pearl chairs, tables, chests etc.

A long coach trip back, then a wonderful dinner & excellent wine. We had a stroll in the moonlight then went up to the Belvedere suite again for Jazz, Metaxa & coffee before bed….

Monday 10th March

We were up early and out on deck by 7.30am as today is the transit of the Suez Canal. It was extremely cold & windy but we sat down at the front of the ship to watch our entrance into the Suez. Our ship was the first in a convoy of seven. We spent the day just watching the transit while sunbathing. We took loads of film of the Suez, in the afternoon we saw the roundabout where ships waited till our convoy had passed, to continue their journey to the Red Sea, as there is only width enough for one ship at a time. By tomorrow morning we will be in Israel.

We booked a trip to Masada & the Dead Sea, then changed for another formal dinner, it was fun we are enjoying the company of our dinner companions more as we get to know them.

Later strolling on the deck we heard that there were small Egyptian boats alongside the ship selling ornaments, clothes etc. We had heard of this happening, and decided to find them. They throw up a rope, then send stuff up in a basket for you to see, if you want it, you haggle, if you don’t you send it back down and try again. This was fun, we bought a djellabah for me, 3 stone pyramids, & a couple of bags.

Tuesday 11th March

We docked at Port Ashdad and were called to be checked out by the Israeli customs before leaving the ship. These are no nonsense ladies carrying large guns, they come aboard ship and requisition a room to check all the passengers. The visa for Israel is stamped on a separate piece of paper as we travel to Turkey next.

After we had the OK we boarded the coach for our trip to Masada. Our guide David said there had been a flash flood 2 days ago, this area of the desert was covered in flowers & grasses, it was so pretty.

Masada is on top of a mountain so we travelled up by cable car. They don’t recommend climbing up the Snake Path unless you start at around 4.30am due to the heat.

However we walked up the last 100 steps from the cable car to the summit.

King Herod built Masada to escape from the Romans, and it took them three years to build a ramp up here to batter the gates down. When they eventually got into Masada all the Jews had committed suicide, rather than become slaves.

There was a desert haze today so we couldn’t see much from the summit, usually you can see right across the Dead Sea all the way to Jordan.

King Herod’s temple is simply built and very lovely. His bath is huge, the servants had to carry the water halfway up the mountain from their water cisterns to fill it. His sauna is something else, it has a domed ceiling and a false wooden floor held in place by stone column supports underneath. Fires are lit below these and as they warm the room steam forms. As the steam rises to the ceiling it turns back into water again and runs from the ceiling down the walls, where benches surround the walls allowing you to sit underneath for a shower. How about that for technology? The kitchen area was huge, with walk in cold larders within the fortress walls, I can’t believe they did so much that we couldn’t manage till several hundred’s of years later, it is a fascinating place.

As we walked around a school trip of children of about 14 years old was in front of us, I was horrified to see that they all carried guns over their shoulders.

The coach then took us to the Dead Sea, where David told us we were 300 metres below sea level - the lowest point on earth. We had lunch at the Spa Resort, then got changed and off into the Dead Sea, this was unbelievably cool, you really do float. It’s a brilliant feeling, I had trouble trying to stand up, great fun. A man was lying in the sea with a knotted hankie on his head reading a newspaper.

We went to the mud baths next, excellent fun covering each other in mud and behaving like kids! When we were both completely black, we took photo’s of each other. Later we had a sulphur shower to rinse off the mud, this stings like hell when it gets in your eyes,keep the eyes shut. We went back into the spa for a long soak in the hot sulphur bath - we floated in that too, it’s so relaxing. Andrew said that my face lit up in there, must have been the glow from the sulphur.

We meandered around the gift shop & bought a camel for Riz & mud toiletries for my Mum.

We travelled back through Jerusalem a lovely looking city, I would have liked to spend some time here too, but wouldn’t have missed today’s trip instead.

On the way back to the ship we stopped at the Elvis Inn, complete with an Elvis statue outside – amazing!

Wednesday 12th March

This is our last day spent at sea as we cruise from Israel to Port Kusadasi in Turkey. We had a lie in this morning, then sunbathed by the pool, a buffet lunch then a siesta.

We watched a beautiful sunset on the way to the dining room, dinner was lovely as usual.

Later we went to the Cabaret show as Bobbie had told us that the waiters, including himself, were all doing Zorba’s dance for us tonight. The usual acts were all on first, we hadn’t watched them before as cabaret is not really our thing, but it was fun and the waiters danced beautifully for us.

Thursday 13th March

We went to explore Kusadasi & found a leather shop,and were immediately brought some Turkish apple tea, it’s delicious. Andrew was ensconced in an armchair while I was given leather jackets of every colour and type to try on, we eventually chose a beautiful lamb’s leather one it is unbelievably soft and very warm.

My turn to recline as Andrew tried on jackets, we decided on a lovely suede bomber type jacket as he looks really cute in it. After some friendly haggling a price for both was decided. It’s a lovely relaxing way of shopping, I wish they did this in Britain.

Next we went to a jeweller’s, and chose a lovely gold ingot necklace in a Cartier design for Alison’s birthday. We went back to the ship to drop off the shopping and had a buffet lunch.

We strolled back into town and walked around the harbour. Later we found another jeweller’s selling amber so we bought a pendant for Carole. They advertised making & repairing jewellery, so Andrew asked them to look at my great aunt’s engagement ring {now mine} as I had lost a ruby from it. The man brought some rubies over and we found a perfect match, he repaired and cleaned it and offered to clean and polish my milk opal too, they both look like new.

While we waited we looked around and saw a fabulous oval black opal. Andrew asked the jeweller if he could make it into a ring for me. Of course he could, it will be unique, we chose a very delicate setting for the opal with two sapphires and a diamond set on each side of it, it is stunningly beautiful & absolutely perfect, the loveliest thing that Andrew has ever bought me. When the ring was ready Andrew put it on my left hand - it would seem that I am now permanently attached to Andrew!

We wandered some more and bought Turkish delight, saffron and apple tea to take home. We found a gorgeous tapestry Gladstone bag with leather lining so we bought it to put all the other shopping in. Andrew took everything but my ring {which I am constantly flashing in the sunlight, and intend never to remove from my finger} back to our cabin, then we walked to Bird Island, a pretty little place with lovely gardens, some ruins and lots of friendly little stray cats which we stopped to play with.

We arrived for dinner to find that Tony had already ordered three bottles of wine for our last evening together. Babs suddenly noticed my ring, everyone admired it, Tony then ordered yet more wine, so a very noisy and happy evening followed. Dinner was excellent, after the main course the lights went out and all the waiters strode in each carrying flaming baked Alaska’s for desert! We all went our separate ways to finish packing, having arranged to meet up at the Belvedere suite for brandy later.

Friday 14th March

The ship docked in Heraklion in Crete this morning, we went out on deck to watch the sun rise as we were awake so early, then hailed a taxi to go and explore. Our driver was very friendly and took us on a tour pointing out all the local scenery, we stopped at a lovely little church, then went on to Knossos. We had a coffee at the cafe, then had a long walk around Knossos, it was more ruined than I’d expected, but very lovely. We sat on the thrones and took photo’s of each other.

Later our flight back took 4 hours, we found the car & drove home in time to pick up a curry for dinner. A pretty good end to the loveliest holiday that I have ever had.

The Pictures