By , March 27, 2013 10:30 am

The Southern Stretch of the Nile between Aswan and Luxor is filled with the single sailed, wind-powered craft called feluccas. They are silent, graceful, and a joy to watch. Most carry tourists like us, but we’ve also seen them loaded with various freight like live cattle. They are a working ship that’s still very much in use today.

The graceful felucca

Of course there are also a large number of ships much bigger than the felucca. Loud ships that spew thick black clouds of smelly exhaust. These, naturally are called luxury cruise ships. Their numbers are not to be underestimated.

Regardless of your chosen method of transportation, one thing is for certain. No trip to Egypt is complete without spending at least a little time afloat on the waters of the Nile. At least that’s the way we looked at it. And, as you can probably tell from my description above, we chose to indulge our river-faring ways aboard a felucca and left the more expensive cruise ships to everyone else.

Two of many luxury cruise ships

We booked a group tour through our hotel for 250£ Egyptian each (about $42 CAD) . The itinerary had us mingling with a boat full of other tourists as we set sail northward from Aswan over the course of three days. After breakfast on the third day, we were to meet up with our land-based transportation and make our way to the temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo. Afterwards we would complete our journey by land to Luxor where we would be dropped off at the hotel of our choosing. But, we were in Egypt so that’s not really how the tour went. Since we’ve written about this already, I’m not going to re-hash it. If you missed our negative piece on Egypt, here’s the link.

Aside from the tour not going entirely as planned, and us feeling a little bit “taken”, the time on the river was quite enjoyable. We cruised for about 6 hours a day, gently drifting from one bank, tacking, and drifting back. Except when the cruise ships were passing, it was quiet, calm, peaceful, and relaxing. This carried on until the sun went down, giving us a nightly sunset display that we watched from the deck of the felucca.

After dark, the captain and first mate would glide the ship over to the river bank and tie us off for the night. We wrapped ourselves up in a couple of blankets and slept on the deck in the same place where we’d been seated most of the day.

Sunset on the Nile

Sunset on the Nile

A Few Thoughts

  • The food was quite tasty. As advertised, it was mostly vegetarian (tuna salad was part of one lunch), which is exactly what we were after.
  • There is no bathroom on board. We regularly spent 4 hours sailing without shore break, which meant holding everything for at least 4 hours. Of course we could have relieved ourselves at anytime – somewhat publicly over the side of the boat – but it never came to that.  Of course, this meant no showers for the duration of the trip.
  • The deck of the felucca was covered with a thin mattress and a number of pillows. It was comfortable enough, and we spent most of the day sprawled in the same spots.
  • Above the deck was a cloth sun covering that seemed to keep the sun off of us well enough, though not 100% of the time. Neither of us sunburned.
  • It was cold at night, but there were plenty of blankets on board to make this a non-issue.
  • We had no trouble with mosquitoes or other bugs. We’ve since heard from other people that have done the same trip that the mosquitoes on their tour were terrible. Either we were lucky, or they were unlucky. It’s hard to say.
  • The staff didn’t speak more than two words of English. Not that they needed to.


Shore Stop

Enjoying the sailing

By , March 21, 2013 9:20 am

Aswan is located in the south of Egypt and is probably best known for it’s proximity to the famous temples of Abu Simbel. More or less, that’s why we made the journey this far south, so naturally we booked ourselves transportation out to see them.

As Ashley’s already discussed in her post describing why we didn’t like Egypt, this tour made the esteemed list entitled “tours that did not deliver what we paid for”. This could go without saying, as all of our tours in Egypt managed to make the list.

The Tour

Despite the proximity, Abu Simbel is still a 3 hour mini-van ride southward towards the Sudan border. Though I have no evidence to support it, I get the impression that this isn’t the safest drive to make on your own. That impression comes from the precautions taken. To put it simply, every tour operator providing transportation to Abu Simbel from Aswan, of which there are many, first sends their vehicles to a common meeting point in Aswan. Once everyone has arrived, an enormous caravan is formed. Probably close to 50 vans and buses hit the road at the exact same time and drive straight to Abu Simbel. The only stops made are for the multiple military checkpoints. Even then, the drivers are careful to keep the caravan together. Two hours after arriving at the exotic location of Abu Simbel, the whole caravan saddles up again and heads as a group back towards Aswan. This affair only happens one time per day.

Knowing this, we felt more or less resigned to booking a tour to get to Abu Simbel.  We booked a transportation-only tour for 100£ Egyptian each (Approximately $17 CAD) through our hotel. The tour was to leave from the hotel at 4:30AM, give us two hours at Abu Simbel, take us to the High Dam for 1 hour, Philae Temple for 1  hour, then the Unfinished Obelisk for 1 hour, before dropping us off back at our hotel.. Or, at least it was supposed to.

Abu Simbel

I can honestly say that Abu Simbel was my absolute favourite ancient Egyptian anything that I saw in Egypt. We received the full two hours that we were promised at the site, and it was about the right amount of time. Although I only have photos taken from outside (which looks impressive in itself), the inside was really what made it so amazing.  No cameras are permitted inside the temple in an effort to protect the colouring on the walls.

There are two temple complexes here, both of which you can wander around inside freely. Despite the fact that everyone visiting Abu Simbel arrives and leaves at the exact same time, the temples were large enough that they never really felt that crowded. The inside walls are adorned with coloured hieroglyphs depicting various scenes from wars to warship (hmm, alphabetically, that’s actually a fairly small range, but it seemed diverse…). The columns are carved to resemble human figures, and everything is in a really exceptional state of preservation.

Another thing making Abu Simbel appear even more impressive is the fact that it has been moved from its original location. Before the Nile was dammed, and Lake Nasser was flooded, the temple used to lie lower in the valley. Wanting to preserve this fantastic historical site from flooding and destruction, the international community came to the rescue and helped orchestrate the careful dissection, transportation, and re-assembly of the temple in its current location. The process was exceedingly manual. About 10,000 individual blocks were cut using handsaws. Each block was identified, measured, transported, and re-assembled after a series of painstakingly accurate measurements. The end result is that we couldn’t tell that the thing had ever been moved. It was reassembled perfectly, or near enough as to not matter.

Entrance 95£ ($16 CAD)

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel

The High Dam

Back at Aswan, the tour continued with a 10 minute view of the High Dam. As already explained, we opted not to see it.

Philae Temple

This temple was also impressive, though not quite as impressive as Abu Simbel. Again, it was not in its original position. It was moved onto the island where it resides today to protect it from higher water levels. This island location left us thoroughly frustrated between the time we purchased entry tickets (boat not included) for 50£ per person and managed to get a private boat captain to take us over to the island for another 10£ (a total of about $10 CAD each).

Philae Temple

Carvings inside Philae Temple

Philae Temple

Philae Temple

Unfinished Obelisk

Although officially a part of the transportation tour, it was not part of the tour. Neither was the ride back to out hotel, but that’s just the way things go in Egypt.

By , March 4, 2013 8:30 am

What we did in Cairo is pretty close to what everyone does in Cairo. See the national museum, see the pyramids, walk around town a bit.

The National Egyptian Museum

The National Museum was amazing. At least its contents were. The museum itself is in a very aged building with broken windows, disgusting washroom facilities, and a thick layer of grime on everything except, mysteriously, the artifacts. It’s located next to Tahrir Square which means you should probably check the news to make sure things are calm before going. Thankfully, as Ashley has already explained, the protests were non-violent during the time that we were there.

The museum.

Some of this old junk just gets left outside.

I wish I could show you the stuff inside.

Entry was 60£ Egyptian (about $10 CAD) to get in the door, and another 100£ Egyptian ($17 CAD) to see the mummy rooms. No cameras are allowed, so I have no inside photos to show you. As they say, you’ll have to use your imagination.

Walking inside feels a little bit like you are the first person to arrive at a big garage sale. The place is crammed full. That’s not to say it’s a small building, because it’s a huge two story building – there’s just that much stuff. Imagine row upon row upon row of statues, sarcophagi, inscribed tablets, mummified animals, boats, stone doorways, colossi, chariots, and on, and on, and on. Everything ancient Egyptian you’ve ever wanted to see is there, in bulk quantities. To see it all at a cursory glance would take days, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. We spent about 6 hours there and didn’t come close to seeing it all.

For me, the highlights were the golden mask, sarcophagi, chairs, chariots, beds, and jewellery from Tutankhamen (King Tut’s) tomb; and the mummy exhibits. Some of the mummies were partially unwrapped allowing us to see their faces. And they weren’t just no-name mummies either. Many of them were movers and shakers, meaning that we were able to put a few faces to the names of the pharaohs who constructed tombs and temples that we visited in other parts of Egypt. That was pretty cool.

On the flip side, most of the artifacts were just displayed with little or no information. It would have been nice to learn a bit about the wars, beliefs, and daily life of the ancient Egyptians while I was looking at the artifacts. But alas, I should have done my research ahead of time.

The Pyramids

Despite being both an Ancient and Modern Wonder of the World, they made Ashley cry. We’ve already talked about that a bit here, so even though that’s my strongest memory of the pyramids, I’m not going to re-hash it. Otherwise, there’s not much to say. They look big and impressive, and they are very old. If you ever go, I urge you to wait until you get inside the gate (where prices are cheaper), then barter with a tout and rent either a horse or a camel for the duration of your visit. It will make life so much more bearable than being stubborn and saying no 1,000 times like we did. Because of the touts, I didn’t get anything more from my visit than I could have gotten from looking at photos online. I don’t think you could pay me to go again. Which is a shame. I normally love old ruined stuff.

A classic shot.

Taken from the other direction. The sphinx has a wonderful view of Cairo.

As much as I hated the horse touts at the time, the animals are photogenic.

A different perspective.

Walking Around

Arguably our favourite day in Cairo was spent walking around. Away from the hustlers near Tahrir Square and Giza, it was quite peaceful. Like in Alexandria, our street map sucked, but we made do. It was probably to our advantage as we unintentionally skirted around the edge of Old Islamic Cairo missing the bazaar. It was sometime later that we met others who had gone. They described the horror of the bazaar to us, and we realized how fortunate we were to have passed it by.

Food market at night

Islamic Cairo

Another food market

Coptic Cairo

The result of a high import tax on vehicles and a life in the desert.

By , February 20, 2013 9:01 am

We seriously considered making our first post about Egypt our last post.  It’s short, to the point, and keeps us from whining on and on about why Egypt was our least favourite country.  But, since this is our journal, we figured we owe it to ourselves to post about our Egypt experiences in a little more detail.

After careful re-consideration, I’ve found that there were indeed a few good things in Egypt that we can tell you about after all.  Let me present to you the icing of Egypt.


Before even arriving in Alexandria, I knew things were going to be good. Unlike when we tried to purchase tickets for the train to Aswan (I’m not giving details here, this is supposed to be a positive post), we were able to easily buy a second class return ticket each without having to resort to begging. We weren’t even charged any additional undocumented, unnamed, fees. Just the price printed on the ticket!

The train itself was roomy, and friendly. Over the lunch hour, our neighbours sitting across the aisle from us noticed that we hadn’t brought any food with us and freely shared a healthy portion of their meal with us:  sun-leavened bread and peanuts. A very kind and delicious gesture that reminded us of the hospitality we had seen in Turkey.

From there, the people of Alexandria kept winning us over. At the train station, we pulled out our cellphone photo we’d taken of a google map with directions to our hotel and started piecing together the roads we needed to take. To his credit, a taxi driver came to our aid and, after being dismissed only a single time, gave us the correct walking directions. After that, finding the hotel was a breeze.

Looking back on it, the hotel was actually pretty good compared to most of the places we stayed in Egypt. The breakfast portions were slightly larger than normal, they included an additional processed pastry in a sealed plastic bag, and the staff were friendly. They even installed a Christmas tree for us on Christmas day. It was a nice touch.

Merry Christmas! We also found some Santa Claus-shaped chocolates. Otherwise, we would have never known it was Christmas time back home.

Over the next three days, we explored Alex more or less on foot. We had a map, which we received from one of the tourist information offices, but it was woefully lack in details such as roads and street names. When we asked for directions to the Roman Catacombs, we were told that it couldn’t be explained using that map. The suggestion, of course, being that we should take a taxi.

Naturally, we ignored the advice and set out through the maze of winding streets on foot. Again, we were well looked after by the people of Alex. Everyone we encountered, whether we asked them for directions or not, pointed us in the proper direction. Half of them quit whatever it was that they were doing just to walk with us a block or two and show us the next turn. No one asked us for money.

At some point, we walked past a man making pitas. We stopped to watch and a few short seconds later found ourselves the proud owners of two pitas fresh from the oven. We chowed them down gushing about how good they were, and were promptly served two more. Naturally, we offered to pay, but he would have none of it.

We absolutely love Egyptian pitas. Thank you!

Our stay in Alexandria basically carried on in this way. When we went into a store, the prices we were given were fair, not über inflated white guy prices. Public transportation likewise charged us the same as everyone else in the mini-van. Our marriage (or fertility, there was a bit of a language barrier) was even blessed by one of our fellow travellers.

In short, Alexandria was good. If you are from Alexandria, give yourself a pat on the back. Thank you!

The Sites:

Fort Qaitbey

This smooth stone fortress looks flawless. Every stone looks like it was just carved yesterday, making me wonder if it was actually used at all. In either case, it looks cool. Admission 20£ or $3.20 CAD each.

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

These underground catacombs originally housed some 300 mummies dating from Roman times. There is a sort of fusion burial system going on here, with both Greek/Roman style statues and sarcophagi mixed with Egyptian hieroglyphs and burial rites. The whole thing spirals down three levels. The bottom level is flooded, adding to the mood. There are planks and raised walk ways to help you get around. No photos allowed, sorry. Admission 35£ or $5.60 CAD each.

Montazah Palace Gardens

These gardens are easily accessed by taking one of the many mini-vans that traverse the coastal road. The gardens are huge, quiet, and well manicured. A great place for a walk, and to escape the noise of the city. Admission 6£ or $0.96 CAD each.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Ancient Alexandria was famed for its library. That library was destroyed. This is the modern replacement, and surprisingly to me at least, the biggest tourist attraction in Alexandria. We walked around the outside and came to the conclusion that it was a modern style library that charged admission. We didn’t go in, but I’m sure it’s lovely. Admission $???.


What do you think of my new travel company?

By , February 14, 2013 8:56 am

There’s no point in beating around the bush. Turkey has been one of our favourite countries. So much so that it’s a very strong contender for THE favourite country of the entire trip. It felt both European and Eastern. I suppose that’s to say that it felt familiar, comfortable, organized and yet was strange, exotic, and welcoming.

There’s plenty of culture to experience, beautiful landscapes to see, and the people are amazing. Turkey was really easy for us to travel around on our own, as it is highly developed. English was well spoken at all of the hotels and travel companies that we used. Avoiding the pre-packaged tours meant that we could also avoid the famously aggressive carpet salesmen and other tourist market touts which so often give Turkey a bad rap amongst tour package travellers.

We would go back in a heartbeat – especially to experience Eastern Turkey.


Length of Stay:   46 days
Average Cost per Day for Two People:  $42.44
Places Visited:  9 + Lycian Way
Distance Traveled: 200 km by foot and 3518 km in 20 buses
Days Sick:  We had a common cold for about a week each.
Biggest Tourist Traps:  Carpet Stores
Exchange Rate:  $1 CAD =1.80 Turkish Lira

For more great stats, check out our statistics page!

Our Route

Istanbul – Göreme (Cappadocia) – Antalya – Lycian Way [walking from Fethiye to Kaş]  – Demre – Olympos – Pamukkale – Ephesus – Istanbul



  • The friendliest of people. We were constantly given free meals, teas, Turkish coffees, and were entertained for hours just because our hosts genuinely wanted us to feel welcome in their country.
  • Mayhem and The Lycian Way. We’ve written about this extensively.
  • They have many impressive mosques and…
  • Dervishes that spin.
  • Lets not forget the amazing rock carved hoodoos and underground cities of Cappadocia.
  • Roman/Greek/Lycian ruins.
  • Wild pomegranates… the reddest and most delicious I’ve ever tasted.
  • Turkish breakfasts included with every room – fresh bread, honey, jam, yogurt, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, and lots and lots of olives.

Flags everywhere


  • Carpet salesmen. Easy enough to avoid, they stick pretty close to their stores. If they bother you, just walk away.
  • Night buses. The price was fair, the seats were comfortable and the staff came around regularly with complementary tea and coffee service. Unfortunately, the buses don’t have bathrooms on board. As a result, there is a lights-on-stop every few hours leaving little to no chance for anyone to actually sleep during the night.
  • Taxi drivers. We managed to only take a taxi twice in Turkey. Both times I felt that I had paid far too much. Fortunately, I believed that the driver would cause me to be seriously maimed in a deadly accident before we arrived at our destination only one of the times.


  • Call to prayer can be heard everywhere. Cities, towns, mountains, valleys, and beaches. Five times a day, seven days a week. It’s a live performance every day, it’s full of emotion, and it’s something I grew to appreciate in a totally non-religious sort of way. Believe it or not, I actually missed the call to prayers after leaving Turkey.
  • Even though both my parents are diabetic, I was still able to eat several pounds of sugar-saturated dough in a single sitting without triggering my own pancreas to fail.
  • You can’t eat raw olives off of the tree. Too bitter.  Trust me, I tried over and over again.

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t go for a long multi-day hike in new boots (unless your name is Mike, in which case it’s fine).
  • Firefighters really do rescue kittens from high places


Where Did We Spend Our Time?

Istanbul – 9 days
Göreme (Cappadocia) – 5 days
Antalya- 2 days
Lycian Way [Fethiye to Kaş] – 14 days
Demre (Myra) – 1 day
Olympos – 9 days
Pamukkale – 2 days
Ephesus – 4 days

By , February 10, 2013 9:31 am

It was stunning photos like this that brought us to Pamukkale, which literally means “cotton castle” in Turkish.

Terraces of Pamukkale

This giant white terraced hill has been built up bit by bit since early times made from a mineral deposit called travertine which is deposited from the ever-flowing hot spring. At the top lies the ancient ruins of Hierapolis, a city founded in the 2nd century BC.

The closest city to the site is Denizli. From there, it is a 20 minute (free) shuttle ride to the tourist village of Pamukkale where the streets are packed full of hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, tourist agents, and little else. We were there in the cool off-season. An important fact that I’ll refer to in just a minute. For now, just keep in mind that the ambient temperature was about 5°C during the hot part of the day, and a bit cooler at night.

From our hotel in Denizli, it was a quick walk to the entrance gate where we paid 30 Lira each, ($15 CAD). The entrance is more or less at the base of the terraces, and the only way up is to walk. It’s not really a steep walk, but is still difficult for one reason. You have to do it barefoot (to protect the UNESCO site).

Despite it’s fluffy snowy complexion, this deposited travertine is anything but soft. It’s hard and prickly. Not sharp enough to cut open our well-callused hiking feet, but sharp enough to cause some pain and discomfort. In truth though, the surface wasn’t really that bad to walk on. The cold was.

Not Exactly Smooth; Hard as Rock

Looks Cold Doesn’t It?

Remember how I said that the ambient temperature was just a handful of degrees above freezing? The water flowing around our feet was just a little bit colder than that by the time it reached the bottom. It was kind of a mixed blessing – on one hand, it served to numb the pain from the sharp textured surface.  On the other, it was cool enough that we had to do double time up the hill for fear of losing a toe or two to near-frostbite. Fortunately, once we hit about the halfway point, the true colours of the hot spring started to show through and the water began to warm.

Starting to Warm Up?

That was the terraces. After climbing them, there really wasn’t much to do but snap a few photos. We were not allowed to swim in any of the terraced pools, like the photos we’d seen in the travel agencies. I’m not sure if they are permanently closed, or if it’s just for off season restoration. Instead, there was an indoor pool filled with hot spring water. But it too was off-limits, unless you were willing to pay an additional 40 lira! ($20 CAD!) for the privilege of swimming, which incidentally nobody was. For once we didn’t feel like the only cheapskates around!


That brings us to the ruins on the top. To say the least, they were impressive. It’s a large site, with a lot of buildings, roads, and a sewer system. There was also a large necropolis with the largest collection of Lycian sarcophagi that we saw in any one place. It’s probably best showcased with a few photos.


By , February 6, 2013 9:15 am

Olympos was, in my opinion, the ultimate place-to-chillax-and-catch-up-on-the-blog that we’ve seen. There are two qualifications to be made here however.

1) It was low season. And low season in Turkey means low season. There’s next to no one there. To give you an idea, our hostel alone had somewhere over 300 beds, but the whole time we were there, less than a dozen of them were occupied on any one night. That’s even more impressive when you consider that our hostel was the only one of about 20 hostels that was still open. During the summer, this would not be a chillax place, it would be a wild crowded party town. I’m sure of it.

2) Even though it ranks supreme on our list of places to catch up on the blog, I actually did very little work on the blog. Instead I wasted away my time learning a new software program called blender that is used for 3D rendering. It was kind of fun, but a huge time sink. Now (a month and a half later) I’m still writing about Turkey, and kind of wish I hadn’t wasted all that time.

Feel free to make this your desktop background. The Earth made using blender.

Feel free to make this your desktop background. The Earth made using blender.

Why It Was So Awesome

The Hostel

I don’t normally name drop, but the hostel we stayed at was a big part of what made Olympos what it was for us. So I’ll tell you. We stayed at Bayrams Tree Hostel. Now the treehouses were not what you are thinking. They are just simple buildings without foundations. Not really anything to do with trees at all. But they had perks!

  • All you can eat oranges. They are just growing all around you. Pick what you can eat, and few more for the beach.
  • Free Tea and Coffee. All day long.
  • Comfortable tables with access to wi-fi and electricity.
  • Wood space heater, to keep you cozy
  • Buffet Style breakfast and supper. Both of which are delicious, and suitable for both vegetarians (like us) and meat eaters too.

It all adds up to a workstation that you never have to leave. You don’t have to shop for groceries, you don’t need to cook, you don’t need to do anything but drink your free coffee, eat two meals a day, and work in the cozy warm silence.

The Work Station

The Sights

Although we did spend our fair share of time just chilling and working playing on the computer, we didn’t spend all of our time inside. There are three main attractions within walking distance.

The Ruins:

Olympos was a prominent Lycian city. Around 100 BC it was invaded and occupied by Cilician Pirates until 78 AD where it was captured by Rome. Today it’s pretty much in ruins. Still remaining are several burial tombs, some stone sarcophagi, a theatre, and a lot of stone walls.

There is an entry fee to get into the ruins, but it’s fairly minimal. You can buy a 10 pack of entries for 7.50 Lira ($4 CAD).  The posted price is 5 lira for a single entry (which is also required to access the beach), so make sure you buy the unadvertised 10 pack.

On your first walk through the site can seem small. Especially if you are just following the path towards the beach. But, there is a lot more there. Walk a little ways into the wooded areas (along paths) on either side to get a feel for how big the site truly is. A lot of it has been cleared, and many buildings are undergoing active digging and preservation. When we were there, the biggest area of cleared and restored buildings was roped off to the public from the main path, but following a side path, we ended up walking through it anyways. None of the workers seemed to mind much.

Olympos Ruins

The river runs through the ruins to the beach

The Beach:

To get to the beach, you need to walk through the ruins and pay the minimal entry fee.

Clear waters, sandy beach, impressive towering cliffs crested with castle ruins, and a view of Mount Olympos (one of only 20 mountains to go by that name in Classic World). Do I need to say much more?

Mount Olympos Above the Clouds

Castle Crowned Cliff

The Eternal Flames (Chimaera):

The Chimaera Flames are the birthplace of the legends of the Chimaera. The flames are naturally occurring and have been burning for at least thousands of years. If the name is accurate, I suspect they will continue to burn for eternity.

You can get there by following the Lycian Way, or the road. Taking the road took us an hour and a half to get to the entrance. After paying the fee of 4 lira ($2 CAD) each we were free to walk up the hill following the not-so-groomed path to the ruins and lower flames.

Don’t expect huge, knock-your-socks-off flames, because you’ll be disappointed.  Do think about their history and how long they’ve been there and you’ll be impressed.  We thought they were pretty damn cool.  You can even roast marshmallows on them if you want (you’ll have to plan ahead and bring some, but they have some cheap German-style marshmallow-like things for sale in most of the convenience stores around the hostels).

The Chimaera Flames

This was our 10-years-together anniversary. The Eternal Flames seemed a fitting symbol of our love.

We carried on the path up a little higher and found the upper flames. We didn’t finish there though, we carried on climbing until we had  summitted a couple of nearby peaks to check out the views.

The Climbers

The View

The View