A Cook Abroad: in Egypt

Photo credit : BBC

Photo credit : BBC

At last ! A programme about Egypt to warm the heart – whet the appetite –  and hopefully encourage tourists to return.  On Monday evening BBC2 screened the first of six episodes in a new series called ‘A Cook Abroad’.

First up TV chef and one half of the Hairy Bikers travelled to Egypt to experience the nation’s culinary offerings, and explore a bit of its history.

Travelling from Cairo to Luxor via Fayoum by motorbike, and then on to Aswan aboard the steamship Sudan (the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile), Myers took time to visit many of the country’s historical sites along the way.

After sampling street food for breakfast in Cairo – a bean dish called ‘ful medames’ – Myers headed out to the pyramids at Giza to fulfil his boyhood dream of standing in their shadow.

But it was his trip to the ancient necropolis of Saqqara that really got him excited.  There, he enthused over the tomb wall paintings dating back more than 4,500 years depicting the baking of bread.  As Myers pointed out, this must surely count as the earliest recipe on record!

In the oasis of El Fayoum Myers enjoyed dates pulled freshly from the palm tree, then attempted (with little success but much hilarity) to emulate the skill of the fellahin’s wife in tossing her homemade bread atop an oven-dish that looked like a pizza pan, the idea being to make flat bread of pancake-like proportions.

In Luxor, Myers sampled a delicious-looking stuffed pigeon in a local restaurant before dressing up to board the steamship Sudan, where the chef taught him to make a local delicacy called um ali (a sweetened bread and butter pudding with hot milk).  But first, he visited the West Bank where he sampled shasmi bread with a local called Mahmoud.  He noted how the design Mahmoud’s wife baked into her bread was the same as on the loaves depicted in the ancient wall paintings in Deir el Medina, the Village of the Workers.  Great to see that some things haven’t been lost down the centuries.

To mark the end of his journey, Myers was invited by a family of Nubians for a feast to celebrate the end of Eid Al Adha, and help prepare a traditional meal to be shared with family, friends and neighbours.

For Myers, the star of the show was the home-baked Egyptian bread, in all its various forms.  For me, it was seeing the warm welcome he was given by all the Egyptian people he encountered.

All in all, it was a programme that left me longing to return.  I was even nostalgic for the haggling game, watching Myers enter some good-natured bartering with trinket sellers near the Colossi of Memnon.  I can only hope others watching the programme had their appetites similarly whetted.  Well done Dave Myers on showing us the delightful side of Egypt and its people.

Since Egyptian food in singularly absent from what’s on offer in the UK – as Myers pointed out,  “Where can you go for an ‘Egyptian’?” – the best bet is surely to visit the Land of the Pharaohs and sample it with the locals.

Fiona Deal – author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt – available in paperback on Amazon or to download from Amazon or all major ebook sellers.

BookCoverPreview.doBookCoverPreview.doHatshepsut's_Hideawa_Cover_for_KindleBookCoverPreview.doBookCoverPreview.doBookCoverPreview.do

Walking the Nile

Unknown

Photo Credit : Channel 4

Last night I watched the last episode of Channel 4’s documentary ‘Walking the Nile’.  This four-part series followed former soldier Levison Wood as he set out to walk along the longest river on earth, from its source in deepest Africa, to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt.  That’s 7 million steps and nine months of solid walking!

This was an impressive undertaking, given the heat, the distance and the painful foot blisters (shown in all their graphic glory!).

I found myself unexpectedly moved when Mr Wood – or ‘Lev’ as he introduced himself – reached the end of his epic journey and dived into the sea before an emotional reunion with his family.

I’ll be honest and say I haven’t watched all four episodes although I’ve seen bits of the previous ones, showing Levison travelling through Ethiopia and Sudan.  It was the final leg of his journey – through Egypt – that I wanted to see.  I’d hoped this might show Egypt in a light that would encourage tourists to return.  In this wish, I was disappointed.

I’m sure much of the challenge for Levison Wood was to be seen to walk through parts of the world that might be described as ‘trouble spots’.  He’s a battle-hardened man, who’s made a name for himself trekking across war zones.  But, to me, it was disappointing to see Egypt given this treatment.

I’m not so naive as to think everything in the garden is rosy in Egypt.  The News reports over the weekend of clashes in Cairo marking the 4-year anniversary of the Revolution to topple Hosni Mubarak – which have left 18 people dead – are testament enough to the on-going political unrest.  But I thought the Walking the Nile documentary was overly skewed towards portraying a country apparently rife with gun smugglers, where the atmosphere is one of tension and mistrust of foreigners.

In my 11 visits to Egypt (including trips in each of the last four years 2011-14), I have never experienced this sense of unease at all.  Admittedly, I have been a visitor to Luxor, not to any of the towns previously strongholds for the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.  Even so, I thought Egypt was misrepresented in last night’s programme.

Levison Wood paused briefly to enjoy the hospitality of the famous Old Cataract hotel in Aswan.  Previously host to Sir Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie, the hotel was conspicuously devoid of guests.  He also made short stops at some of the temples along Lake Nasser (although we weren’t shown him visiting Abu Simbel, despite the promise of the opening titles) and in Luxor.  But the jaw-dropping history and archaeological sites of Egypt were given scant air time, brushed over in favour of scenes of Mr Wood being followed by the police.  In this, too, I felt the Egyptian authorities were done a disservice.  It seemed clear to me the police officers concerned were good natured and concerned for Mr Wood’s safety whilst in their country, nothing more sinister than that.

I’m not sure what it will take for tourists to venture back to Egypt.  To be fair, the purpose of Channel 4’s documentary was not to be a travelogue.  Nevertheless I thought it a shame that such a spectacular country, one with so much to offer its visitors, was represented as a war zone.

I applaud Levison Wood for his courageous journey.  What a remarkable achievement.  Nevertheless, I hope I will be believed when I say Egypt remains a fabulous destination for a holiday.  I hope to go again during 2015, and make it a fifth consecutive year for a visit.  True, I may not have Cairo on my itinerary – and I will certainly avoid the Sinai Peninsula.  But Luxor is a treasure not to be missed.  I hope even Levison Wood would agree with that !

Fiona Deal

Author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt – a series of mystery/adventure novels set in Luxor.  Available on Amazon.

BookCoverPreview.doBookCoverPreview.doHatshepsut's_Hideawa_Cover_for_KindleBookCoverPreview.doBookCoverPreview.doBookCoverPreview.do

On location – the Nile

There are many wonderful places to visit along the Nile.  The standard Nile cruise itineraries take visitors to the sites on both banks of the Nile at Luxor, then head south towards Aswan.

I’ve put together a short video showing my favourites on the journey between Luxor and Aswan: Efdu, Kom Ombo, Philae – all of which date from the Greaco-Roman period.  Also the Unfinished Obelisk still lying in its granite quarry in Aswan where Queen-Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s workmen were forced to leave it when a huge crack appeared in the rock.  If it had been finished it would have stood one third taller than any other obelisk in Egypt.  And, of course, the magnificent Abu Simbel on Lake Nasser.  This is a feat of both ancient and modern engineering.  UNESCO re-sited it in the 1960s to rescue it from the rising waters of Lake Nasser.  Most cruises give the option to either drive or fly down to see it – and it’s not to be missed – despite the early start!

Merry and Adam go on a Nile cruise in the third book in my series following Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt – Hatshepsut’s Hideaway.  They visit Edfu and Kom Ombo – with incidents in both of course!  It wouldn’t be a story otherwise!

If you’re interested in seeing a similar video on the sites of Luxor, check out my link: On Location in Luxor.

Fiona Deal

A good time to visit Egypt as a tourist?

In view of the tragedy that unfolded in Paris yesterday, I thought it was a good time to brush the dust of this, one of my first posts about Egypt.  The Foreign Office is advising visitors to Paris to exercise extra care.  It just goes to show you can be anywhere in the world when terrorism or tragedy strikes.  Just look at the Boston marathon a couple of years back, the Mumbai and London bombings, etc.

Egypt is a nation that has experienced perhaps more than its fair share of upheaval – much of it political in recent years.  The Foreign Office still advises against all but essential travel to certain parts of the country (not including the prime tourist locations around the Red Sea and in Cairo and Luxor.  So, should tourists continue to stay away?

As someone who has visited Egypt almost every year for more than a decade, I would say GO.  The sites are quiet, the people welcoming and the weather fabulous !  Of course, be careful … but sadly that seems to be the case everywhere in the world.  Here in the UK the terror threat remains ‘severe’.  So… Egypt …

I first visited Egypt in 1983, a scant two years after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.  We were there in October, staying near the Pyramids in the Jolie Ville hotel.  Shortly after we left it was razed to the ground in demonstrations.  I have to say I don’t remember why!  If anyone can enlighten me I’d be grateful.

img236

Here I am – back in Egypt – this time in July 1996.  This picture was taken in the Valley of the Kings.  It was the year before the awful massacre of tourists at Hatshepsut’s temple.  I remember how shocked and horrified I was when I saw it on the News and thought how recently I’d been there.

scan0053

I was back in 2002, just months after 9/11. Tourists were staying away.  Holiday prices were cheap.  The locals were as friendly and welcoming as ever – despite the usual call for baksheesh !

scan0064

The next visit was 2004.  A fantastic trip.  One week on the Nile, cruising between Luxor and Aswan.  Then a week in Luxor, followed by a week at a Red Sea resort in El Quesir.  2004 was the year of the Sinai bombings, followed in 2005 with attacks in Sharm el Shiekh.  Yes, I was back in 2005 !  Just a short 1-week visit to Luxor.

IMG_4480

In 2008 I cruised down Lake Nasser to the awe inspiring temples at Abu Simbel.  The trip also took in a few days in Cairo and a 1-week cruise down the Nile on the splendid SS Misr (used as a location in Hatshepsut’s Hideaway). Just two years previously in 2006 Egypt suffered the Dahab bombings.

IMG_0183

Here I am with Ramses the camel at the Jolie Ville hotel in Luxor in 2009.  (Ramses features in both Carter’s Conundrums and Tutankhamun’s Triumph).  2009 saw the Khan el Khalili bombing in Cairo.

IMG_2867_2

Back in 2011 – here I am at the Ramesseum on the West Bank in Luxor.  It was March, just a couple of weeks after the Revolution of the Arab Spring.  We had most of the tourist sites completely to ourselves.  It was an amazing experience.

IMG_0439

My next trip was January 2012 – pictured here at the Avenue of Sphinxes at Luxor temple.  Demonstrations took place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in June following Mubarak’s trial.

 

IMG_2007Then April 2013.  President Morsi was running the show, but it was an uneasy kind of calm before the storm of the coup d’etat that removed him from office in early July.

IMG_4730My last visit was in July 2014, a quiet break to the Jolie Ville hotel in Luxor (a beautiful retreat set on its own island in the Nile).  Tragically, I was one of only 24 guests – tourism still reeling from the recent political events.

Reading this post, I guess you might conclude there’s never a good time to visit Egypt as a tourist.  I’d have to disagree.  I think it’s possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time anywhere in the world.  I don’t court trouble, and I’d steer clear of the Sinai Peninsular at the moment – but Egypt’s been my favourite holiday destination for the last decade.  Modern Egypt is unsettled for sure.  But historical and archaeological Egypt is not to be missed.  And the sun always shines!

Fiona Deal – Jan 2015 (updated from blog originally posted Feb 2013)

Author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt, available to download or in paperback on Amazon.

BookCoverPreview.doBookCoverPreview.doHatshepsut's_Hideawa_Cover_for_KindleBookCoverPreview.doBookCoverPreview.doBookCoverPreview.do