I'm sharing my travel experiences, candid opinions and what's on my mind. If you think it's inappropriate for a travel writer to stir up discussion on his blog with political observations and insights gained from traveling abroad, you may not want to read any further. — Rick
For ancient Egyptians, the Nile — which flows from south to north — divided their world into two logical halves. They lived on the east bank where the sun rose each morning and they buried their dead on the west bank, where the sun also died each evening. And, as nearly all the ancient art tourists travel to see is funerary, nearly all the sights (for example, the 60 or so pyramids) are, logically, on the West Bank.
For five centuries in the second millennium BC, Luxor was the capital of Egypt. And its West Bank is famous for its hidden tombs (buried deep in the mountains to be sure they weren’t looted) and for high-profile temples (scattered prominently to be sure dead pharaohs weren’t forgotten). Here are some thoughts from the mortuary temple of a rare female ruler, Queen Hatshepsut (and why she had to wear a beard).
When we film a dinner in a restaurant, I like to eat there the night before to make friends with the wait staff, learn the rhythm and quirks of the place, reserve the best table for the cameraman’s needs, and learn which dishes we’d like to feature in the show — while actually enjoying a meal there. Then, the next night, we return with our gear, create the lighting we need, be sure those dining around us are ok with us filming them, and make it happen. There are so many complicated little dimensions of filming a great meal, but we do our best to include one in each show.
While filming a meal is never relaxing, it almost always looks that way. Here’s a candid little moment as we set up to film dinner at a fish joint in Alexandria. Although we were eating before many other diners arrived, we peopled the place with the entourage that accompanies us everywhere we go: driver, security, and local officials excited to get a photo with us.
As we set out to produce our hour-long public television special on Egypt, I was determined to balance the ancient treasures of the pharaohs with vivid slices of modern Egyptian life. While our security escort didn’t allow us to film a poor village outside of Luxor, we did capture the festival of daily life in the colorful market streets of old Cairo and the characteristic west end of Alexandria. This action in the streets of Alexandria exceeded my wildest dreams for our show. Here’s a quick peek.
Our final stop on our Egypt TV shoot was the dramatic Temple of Abu Simbel: the southern-most point of our travels, a half-hour flight south of Aswan. Being here, you marvel at how the temple was relocated to save it from being submerged and lost forever with the damming of the Nile at Aswan in 1968. You also are reminded how the United Nations (through UNESCO in this case) takes on projects — even expensive ones like this — that matter to all of humanity when no other organization can or will.
Paging through the “Best of Egypt” photo books in a tourist gift shop, I noticed we have visited and filmed about 80% of the featured attractions here — and incorporated them into our upcoming hour-long Egypt TV special. It’s pretty predictable: Cairo with its great museum and pyramids, Alexandria with its sweeping Art Deco harbor-front, Luxor with its tombs and temples, Aswan with Abu Simbel, and cruises along the Nile. For safety reasons, there’s almost no tourism on the Nile north of Luxor. But the stretch of Nile between Luxor south (upstream) to Aswan is a busy parade of touristic river boats. Typically, tourists take a multi-day cruise from Luxor — as we did in our shoot.
The riverboats are all basically the same. They have all the features of a big cruise ship, in miniature: about 60 comfortable staterooms with wonderful plumbing, a bar for culture shows, a single dining room where everyone sits at the same table for each meal (three meals a day are served, and you feel stuffed all the time), and a top deck for relaxing (with a bar, little pool, lounge chairs and people standing by to rub your feet). The boats are blocky — like a four-story hotel sitting on a barge. Looking at a boat sailing toward you, the captain — who stands at the wheel looking out a simple window — looks like he’s piloting a subway train under the streets of Paris.
For me, the highlights were enjoying a drink on the deck at magic hour (that peaceful last hour before sunset when colors are warm and even the herons and cows seem relaxed), as we glide past timeless scenes of the sparsely populated riverbank. Here are a few thoughts from my top-deck perch… sailing south, up the Nile at sunset.