We spent seven days at sea after leaving Mumbai and by the time we reached Jordan even I was itching for some dry land. We’d booked ‘The Lost City of Petra’ tour before joining the ship and it was a full-day tour.
Everyone was on time, I think we may have even left a little bit early, and we were soon on the road and heading from Aqaba to Petra. It takes around 2 hours to get there and it’s quite a nice drive. We spotted several bedouins, numerous camels and passed through several towns that were alive with people going about their daily business. The nicest of all the towns was the one right next to Petra, I enjoyed the drive through there. It was full of hustle and bustle.
Petra was originally known as Raqmu and it lies on the slope of Jabal Al-Madbah in a basin among stunning mountains that form the eastern section of the Arabah Valley. It is believed that the are was settled from 9,000 BC, but possibly established as the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom as far back as the 4th century BC. The city was built on trading and it became very lucrative, so much so, the Greek dynasty attempted to ransack the city in 312 BC.
One of the things I found most incredible was when Petra’s importance declined and an earthquake destroyed many structures, it was virtually abandoned. Only a few nomads would graze their goats there and it would be 1812 before the ‘Lost City’ was reintroduced to the world, thanks to Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss geographer and traveller. Can you imagine that? A place so incredible, yet it just disappeared. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and it is also known as the Red Rose City due to the colour of the stone.
If you ever visit Jordan, please add Petra to your sightseeing list. All the images and video in the world can’t prepare you for your first view of the Treasury (Al Khazneh), which was built as a crypt and mausoleum at the beginning of the 1st century AD and also featured in the Indiana Jones movie ‘The Last Crusade’. The walk seemed to go on forever and then all of a sudden, there it was at the end of the siq. I was in absolute awe. It really is an incredible sight. The walk there wasn’t too bad, I was excited and intrigued, and it was on a downhill slope, but the walk back really did get me. I don’t know how far it is exactly, but it’s at least 1.4km from the visitor centre to the treasury. It was hot, humid, dusty and uphill – I was a mess! I was so pleased to get back to the top and drown myself in a freezing cold bottle of water. I wouldn’t advise anyone attempt the walk unless you are absolutely sure you can make it there and back. You can take a horseback ride or horse and cart, so don’t worry, you won’t miss out on anything, just please be prepared for the heat, humidity and a long trek.
We didn’t have time to explore everything that Petra boasts, but at least now I can say that I’ve seen some of the ‘Lost City’. It really was magical. Even the walk is unlike anything I’d ever seen or done before. I felt like I was in the middle of a movie set.
Black Watch sailed overnight and we woke up the following day in Sharm el Sheikh. This was another new port for me and my first time on Egyptian soil. I couldn’t wait to get out and explore.
There was a free shuttle bus service offered to the Old Market, so that’s where I went and where I decided to stay. There were numerous beach clubs on the short drive, but if I’d wanted a beach day I would have made the journey by cab to Na’ama Bay. I just wasn’t in the mood. Anyway, back to the Old Market. I instantly loved it. I jumped off the coach and off I went in search of a new adventure and (possibly) some new treasure. You could easily get caught up in the atmosphere in the Old Market and end up spending a fortune and that’s what I did. I enjoyed walking through all the little markets, down the side streets and then around the mosque.
The Sahaba Mosque is an Ottoman-style architectural masterpiece. It’s breathtaking. It was designed by Egyptian architect Fouad Tawfik Hafez and construction began in 2011 at a cost of 30 million Egyptian pounds. It sits right in the heart of the Old Market and it’s two 76 metre-long minarets are the first things you’ll see as you enter the area. I love the sound of the call to prayer and I was lucky enough to be right outside for one them. I sat and enjoyed the hypnotic sounds. The mosque is the second largest in Sharm el Sheikh and can accommodate 3,000 people.
After a busy day of exploring and shopping, I returned to Black Watch to get ready for the evening entertainment on the outer decks. A local group came aboard to give us a show and it was quite good. Not entirely what I’d expected, but I enjoyed the music and the atmosphere.
We left Sharm and made our way back into the Red Sea and then through the Suez Canal. What an experience that was! Completely unlike the Panama Canal and there was sand for as far as the eye could see. A few hours before we exited into the Mediterranean, we passed civilisation on the port and starboard side. I absolutely loved it. You could hear the children laughing and playing, and the call to prayer echoed all around us. It was magical.
The Suez Canal is a 120 mile-long artificial sea-level waterway that connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea and unlike the Panama Canal, it has no lock systems. It was constructed between 1859 and 1869, to offer a shorter journey between the North Atlantic and northern Indian oceans by avoiding the South Atlantic and southern Indian oceans. Essentially, the canal reduces the journey by approximately 4,300 miles and extends from Port Said to Port Tewfik.
It was touch and go for a few hours as to whether our call to Alexandria would be cancelled or not, but thankfully, it all went ahead. We docked in Alexandria and we were on our way to Cairo before 08:30. We were told that the drive to Cairo from Alexandria could take up to 3.5 hours but luckily for us, just 2 hours later, I got my first glimpse of the Pyramids of Giza. I was quite overwhelmed. I’ve been interested in Ancient Egypt for as long as I can remember and to finally be there was just something else.
Our first stop was for a panoramic photo opportunity of the 3 pyramids and it was amazing. I couldn’t believe that I was actually standing there looking at them with my own eyes. The Giza pyramid complex contains many different structures but ultimately, it’s the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, and the Sphinx that we all go there to see. The Great Pyramid is the Pyramid of Khufu and it is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids. We spent several minutes taking hundreds of pictures before moving on to the smallest of the pyramids, this one was Menkaure’s and we were given the opportunity to go inside. You have to walk down quite a steep ramp and you have to keep your knees and back bent – it is so cramped! Although it wasn’t the most comfortable experience and I have no idea how people actually worked down there, I can now say that I have been inside one of the pyramids! How lucky am I?
Our next stop was a little further down the valley, at the Sphinx. The Sphinx has the head of a man and the body of a lion and although its construction date is not certain, it is believed to bear the likeness of Pharaoh Khafra. It measures 73 metres long from paw to tail, 20.21 m high from the base to the top of the head and 19 metres wide at its rear haunches. It is the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt.
Also included on our day in Cairo was a visit to the Egyptian Museum, again somewhere I had wanted to visit for as long as I could remember. The ancient artifacts inside are absolutely mesmerizing. To think that I was standing right there, among so many ancient structures. Who knows what secrets they hold! We didn’t have enough time in the museum, I would have appreciated at least an additional hour, but we did get to see something I never thought I would – King Tutankhamun’s treasure room. Sadly, you couldn’t take pictures inside (so I borrowed the below) but the room housed his famous mask and sarcophagus and other treasures including jewellery and his canopic jars. I still can’t believe that I stood within just inches of these ancient pieces of history. I was face-to-face with King Tutankhamun’s gold mask.
We’ve had quite a few port days and I’ve been “trying” to make a start on my packing, so I’m a little behind on my blogs, but I’ll be back soon with updates on our Mediterranean ports.