Sailing the Nile on a Victorian Dahabeeyah

One of the things I enjoy about writing a fiction series is deciding how to keep my characters moving forward across several books.  For the first three books in my series following Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt, starting with Carter’s Conundrums, my main character was on a tourist holiday, staying at the Jolie Ville hotel, situated on its own island in the Nile in Luxor.

IMG_4738As the series developed, I needed to find a way for the central British characters to remain in Egypt.  They needed to progress from tourist visas to working visas, and find somewhere permanent to live.  And so the idea of having them own and run a restored Victorian dahabeeyah was born.  In Farouk’s Fancies they are setting up in business offering luxury Nile cruises to discerning travellers.

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From the 1850s through into late Victorian times, the dahabeeyah was the standard way to travel up and down the Nile.  ‘Dahabeeyah’ means ‘golden boat’ in Arabic.  The prototype for the Victorian version can be found on tomb and temple walls in Egypt and has changed little in design since pharaonic times when the royals and nobles painted their boats gold.  Amenhotep III had a Nile sail barge called ‘Aten Gleams’.

images-5The dahabeeyah started to lose popularity when Thomas Cook, a pioneer in travel, who single-handedly invented modern tourism in Egypt, introduced the Nile steam boat.  The steam boats significantly reduced the journey time along the Nile.  Where the dahabeeyah took a traveller on a grand voyage of discovery, the steam boats introduced the idea of a shorter sight-seeing trip.  These were popular with late nineteenth century travellers.

As tourism became available to the masses during the twentieth century, the Nile cruise boats adapted to the increased demand, becoming the large floating hotels we are used to today.

images-6But in recent years there has been a resurgence in those seeking out a more traditional way to journey along the Nile.  There are those drawn to Egypt by the lure of nostalgia for the pioneering days of archaeology, as well as the antiquity to be found along the Nile.  A number of restored dahabeeyahs became available for hire during the early years of this century. It’s into this niche market that my characters have stepped.

Sadly the political situation in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East has put tourists off the Nile as a holiday destination.  So my characters must struggle to see if they can get their new business venture afloat.  Otherwise I may have to dream up another way of keeping them in Egypt so they can continue their adventures.

Fiona Deal

Author of Carter’s Conundrums, Tutankhamun’s Triumph, Hatshepsut’s Hideaway, Farouk’s Fancies and Akhenaten’s Alibi.  Available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and all other Amazon sites.

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Places to stay in Egypt – great book locations

Jolie Ville Kings Island

Jolie Ville Kings Island (Photo credit: iifu)

I have now completed three novels set in Egypt and am approximately two-thirds of the way through the fourth.  My central character, Merry, is a tourist to Egypt and starts her series of madcap adventures in Carter’s Conundrums while staying at the Jolie Ville hotel, which is situated on Kings Island, just outside Luxor.  I’ve been lucky enough to stay at the delightful Joilie Ville twice, in 2009 and 2011.  The sunsets looking across the Nile are the most spectacular I’ve seen anywhere in the world.IMG_2749

IMG_4496Merry also gets the chance to stay in two of Egypt’s finest old hotels – both world class – both dating from Victorian times.  The first is the Mena House, once a Khedive hunting lodge built at Giza, a stone’s throw from the foot of the pyramid plateau.  Here’s a snap of me taken in 2008 in the Mena House garden, with the pyramids in the background.  It was a hazy day, but you get the general idea of how close they are.

IMG_4557The second of these grand Victorian hostelries is the impressive Winter Palace in Luxor.  This is where Lord Carnarvon stayed during the heady days of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by his excavator, Howard Carter.  I don’t imagine it’s changed much since then.  It makes a wonderful setting for a novel.  I’m also setting chunks of my latest novel, Farouk’s Fancies there – to be published this summer.  It’s no coincidence that King Farouk, the last sovereign of Egypt – who was deposed in the 1950’s an exiled to Europe – once used The Winter Palace as his home in Luxor.

IMG_1094While Carter’s Conundrums and Tutankhamun’s Triumph are both set at the Jolie Ville hotel, the third book, Hatshepsut’s Hideaway, takes Merry on a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan and back for her latest adventure.  I chose as my setting the wonderful steamship SS Misr, which dates from 1918 and was lovingly restored by Jules Verne.  SS Misr was also once owned by King Farouk, who hosted lavish parties on board.  I took a Nile cruise on the Misr in 2008 -a superb trip.

IIMG_0775f you’re travelling to Egypt – and I heartily recommend it despite the political situation – you’re spoilt for choice for wonderful places to stay.  My personal favourite has to be The Jolie Ville.  How can you beat a hotel that comes complete with its own star attraction – Ramses the camel offering rides to all and sundry?  Nothing comes close to the experience of sipping a cocktail while watching the fiery sun slowly slipping beyond the Theban Hills on the West Bank of the Nile.  Enjoy!

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Cruising the Nile


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The palm trees nod politely to each other along the riverbank.  Black and white kingfishers dart in and out of the shallows, playing a game of hide and seek among the reeds that line the waters edge.  The great river Nile surges underneath the boat, making its journey from Ethiopia to spill into the Mediterranean, thousands of miles away.  This is Egypt.

To cruise the Nile is to sail through a timeless landscape.  Ok, so the electricity pylons compete with the ancient stone-built pylons (or gateways) of the ancient temples.  We’re not so much sailing under the gigantic sails of a Victorian dahabeeyah as being propelled through the water by diesel, no doubt leaving choking fumes in our wake.

But this is still Egypt.  Exotic, timeless, romantic and just slightly scary.  The sun beats from a hard, hot sky, demanding submission in much the same way I imagine the ancient Pharaohs once did.  The locals hassle incessantly, citing the delights of caleche rides (horse and carriage) and trips out on a felucca at sunset.  Baksheesh is a way of life.  The price they suggest is never actually what they mean, or what you’ll end up paying if you’re unwary.  But the people are friendly, welcoming and eager to share the delights of their country and way of life.

I don’t think there’s anywhere quite like it on the planet.  Ancient and modern juxtaposed in a way that makes you wonder which is more deserving of its position.

This is the setting for my series of books following Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.  Through her, I get to spend all my leisure time in the fabled land of the Pharaohs.  There’s nowhere I’d rather be, whether it’s for real or the opportunity to travel along the banks of the Nile in my imagination.

Here’s a short video I made showing typical river scenes from the deck of a Nile cruiser.  I hope it brings a little slice of Egypt to wherever you are right now.

Fiona

The most romantic sunsets on earth …

The Egyptian sunsets are spectacular … possibly as a result of all the sand in the atmosphere.  The heroine in my books, Merry Pink, has a fair bit to say about the mystery and magic of an Egyptian evening.  And she has just cause …

Here’s a short film I put together of views of the Nile at twilight and sunset – all taken from the wonderful Jolie Ville hotel, which features as the setting for Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt.

The felucca’s glide by, alongside the occasional cruise boat – and fishermen go about their business in the same way they’ve done for centuries.  There’s a timelessness about it that never fails to cast its spell.

Like Merry, I’ve spent many happy hours with a drink in hand enjoying the spectacle of the most romantic sunset on earth.  Egypt has its troubles, to be sure.  But there’s nowhere I’d rather be as dusk falls on a hot, tropical night …

A ride on Ramses the camel…

Ramses the camel features in the first two of my novels following Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt.  No … Ramses (the camel) is not a figment of my imagination.  Here I am, enjoying a ride on him with his keeper Mohammed, in March 2011, around the beautiful grounds of the Jolie Ville hotel in Luxor.

As you can see, the waters of the Nile lap against the hotel gardens.  It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.

The Jolie Ville is the setting for the whole trilogy of Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt, starting with Carter’s Conundrums.

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.

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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.

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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 !

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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