Top Essentials Packing Checklist for a Nile Cruise

Top Essentials Packing Checklist for a Nile cruise

When people think about booking a cruise they usually picture massive cruise ships travelling to busy ports and packed beaches, but river cruises provide an equally excellent holiday option. And there are few rivers in the world that are more famous than the Nile. Who else’s banks hold the relics of one of the world’s most important ancient cultures, the Kingdom of Egypt? All Egyptian holidays are certain to be rewarding and fun, but a cruise down the Nile is an experience unlike any other. If you’re looking to plan your adventure on the Nile, here are a few essentials to bring along. You can also get more information on what to wear at Saga blog.

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Pack for Warm and Cool Weather

The summers in Egypt are extremely hot, reaching temperatures into the high thirties, but things can still cool off in the evenings, especially when you’re on the water. Be sure to pack clothing that is lightweight and will protect you from the sun, as well as warmer layers, like light cotton sweaters and long sleeve shirts for later into the night.

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Bring Plenty of Sun Block and a Hat

The Egyptian sun is incredibly strong, and if you’re wandering about archaeological sites like the Great Pyramid, or the Valley of the Kings, you are bound to be exposed to the rays. The best way to avoid getting burned is to limit your exposure by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and to coat yourself in plenty of sun block.

Purchase a Pair of Sturdy Walking Sandals

While you can get away with wearing flip-flops on the boat during your cruise of the Nile, walking over the rough terrain of many of Egypt’s ancient ruins will require sturdier footwear. The best option is walking sandals, which will provide you with both the breathability and support to comfortably explore large sites like the famous city of Luxor.

Snap Pics with Your Digital Camera

When going on any holiday you’ll want to bring a camera to document your experience, but when visiting a storied place like Egypt it will seem like every landscape is a once in a lifetime photo opportunity. Be sure to bring an extra memory card so you can save all your great pics.

Don’t Forget Insect Repellent

Hot climates and bodies of water always attract insects like mosquitos, and though you will certainly be spending time in museums like the Nubian Museum in Aswan, the majority of your time will most likely be spent at outdoor attractions, making insect repellent a must. With the high temperatures and strong sun, you may also want to bring a cooling version of insect repellent with you.

Wrap Up with a Pashmina

Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country, so female travellers should be sure to keep their shoulder covered when visiting cities and towns. One of the best ways to keep cool and covered is to carry a pashmina with you that you can wrap over your shoulders when necessary.

If spectacular landscapes and historical wonders are your idea of the perfect holiday, then a cruise down the Nile is one adventure you’re certain to enjoy.

Images by used Rick Manwaring and zoloakoma under Creative Commons license

Nostalgia for Muscat on a cold day

It´s getting nippy in my new Spanish hometown in Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca, so I went through my pictures of much warmer places and got all nostalgic when I looked at the ones from Oman.
And here is the story to go with them:

When preparing for my 5 day trip to Oman, I was surprised to read on several informative websites that ‘there is not much to see and do in Muscat itself’. This being the capital of Oman and knowing something about the country’s colorful history, I seriously doubted the validity of this statement and, sure enough, I was right. In fact, there is so much to see that I would have loved to have more than one day for Muscat alone.
History does not always mean ‘ancient history’. Technically, yesterday is already history and, from that point of view, just over 40 years certainly qualifies as history. You see, most of the sprawling city which unfolded before my eyes on the way from the airport to my hotel on the beach was built after 1970. The panorama documents the history of oil wealth in the Middle East.

Mind you, Oman is not a rags to riches story. Located on one of the most important trade routes and with one of the world’s biggest natural harbors, Oman has always been a wealthy country, particularly in the 17th century under the rule of the Ya’ruba dynasty.
The discovery of oil however has given the country an unprecedented economical boost and it is my very personal opinion that the wealthy past has determined that the billions of petro dollars have been put to brilliant use. There is absolutely nothing ‘nouveau riche’ about modern Muscat. The difference to nearby Dubai is striking. Muscat has only one high rise, the Hilton Hotel and that has only 14 stories. Otherwise the buildings have all been designed in traditional Omani style with round towers, huge walls, carved wooden doors and small windows to keep out the heat. The only colors in evidence are white and sand, no garish paint, no gold, no colorful tiles, no adornment other than stone arabesques carved into the mantels. The overall impression is of cool elegance and understated wealth. Very, very soothing on the eye and beautifully in harmony with the country.

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Even Sultan Qaboos’ famous Grand Mosque, a massive structure which can accommodate 20.000 worshippers and was inaugurated in 2001, is made from Indian sandstone. The dome is gilded, but discreetly covered with white lattice, so that only the occasional ray of gold glitters through. The interior is another matter altogether, featuring the world’s second largest hand woven carpet made in Iran and an enormous chandelier made in Germany. Because I visited during Ramadan, I couldn’t see the interior of the mosque, that will be reserved for another visit.

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Already in love with the serene beauty of modern Muscat, my friend and I decided to visit the Muttrah souk, one of the oldest souks in all of the Middle East. During Ramadan, the souk is only open at night and, as Eid was approaching, people were out in droves to shop for clothes, jewelry and gifts in preparation for the festivities marking the end of the holy month. Two things held our attention: the ever present scent of frankincense which burns in every doorway and is one of the most important items on offer and the beautifully carved roof, reflecting the age old art of Omani wood carvings. In fact, so important is frankincense to Oman that a huge burner, high up on a hill is one of the most famous landmarks of Muscat.

The francinsense pot

The francinsense pot

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The next day we wanted to explore Muscat some more and also visit the part known as Old Muscat. To our disappointment, there is next to no public transport. We love to travel on local buses. But, at a price of 50cents for a liter of gas it doesn’t come as a surprise that everybody has at least one car. So, we took a taxi, passing by the modern, exquisite shopping complex in Ruwi on our way to the Sultan’s palace. It’s the only colorful building in blue and gold with nearly identical front and back which can be seen from the landside as well as from the water.
Flanked by two massive castles, Al Mirani and Al Jalali, the palace is surprisingly unguarded and you can approach right up to the gate. The two forts date back to the 15th century, when the Portuguese ruled over Oman and mark the entrance to Muscat bay. The best view is, again from the sea, as we found out when we embarked on not one but three boat trips.

The Sultan´s palace

The Sultan´s palace

The first took us out to sea to watch dolphins at play, the second along the breath taking coastline with alternating rock formations in white marble and black granite with tiny sand beaches in between. Boat trip #3 was dedicated to experiencing the coastline bathed in the rays of the sinking sun on board a traditional Oman dhow.

Living it up on a dhow

Living it up on a dhow

Although we missed the much praised fish market (again, due to Ramadan) we were lucky to discover Bait Al Zubair, a museum dedicated to the history of Omani art, crafts and folklore. Sadly, no photography is allowed inside, but admiring the fabulous silver jewelry and daggers, colorful clothes from all regions of the country as well as an explanation of the lineage of the current sultan caught our attention so much, that we forgot all about picture taking .But when I explained to the person in charge what I do for a living, they kindly sent me some images and gave me permission to use them.

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Belushi Dress - Bait Al Zubair Museum Collection 1
There are parks to wander in, narrow streets in Old Muscat to stroll through, some serious shopping to do in the souk as well as in the Ruwi shopping mall, more boat trips to enjoy, swimming in the Golf of Oman to be done, food to be sampled in the restaurants (again, all closed during Ramadan) that I really fail to see how anyone can say that there isn’t much to do and see in Muscat.

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My favorite boat trips

I love to travel by boat;  day trips, night trips, ferries all is welcome. I am not that fond of cruises though because after a while I feel trapped and bored, I even walked off one because I couldn´t stand it any longer, causing quite an uproar as you can imagine.
Therefore here is a selection of the best boat trips I have been on in very different countries.
Sunset trip Muscat/Oman
And the winner is…. Yes, this unforgettable sunset trip on a dhow, following the coastline of Muscat. It can´t be beaten for romantic, exotic and breath taking, white rocks alternating with black rocks, spits of sand in between and lounging on the cushions and carpets of the gently swaying dhow.

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Paddle steamer on the Chiemsee
Chiemsee is a lake in the south of Bavaria/Germany, surrounded by mountains and with two islands in the middle. Herrenchiemsee is the location of King Ludwig´s last dream castle and Fraueninsel holds a famous monastery. The paddle steamer of the Fessler Chiemsee fleet is sooo wonderfully old fashioned.

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Ferry Vigo to Islas Cies/Galicia
Vigo is a big port town on the Atlantic Ocean in Galicia/Spain. Located several miles off shore are the paradisic islas Cies, a nature reserve with the whitest and finest beaches, lush vegetation and an abundance of hiking paths when you are finished with sun bathing and swimming. The ferry ride is only about half an hour but it´s pretty to see the twin islands rising up out of the water.

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Miami River tour with Dr. George

Surprisingly, not that many visitors to Miami know that there is actually a broad river flowing into Biscayne bay. The Miami river comes from the Everglades, is regularly dredges do allow the traffic of container ships and the tour, offered by the Historical Museum of Southern Florida in Flagler Street, leads along historic landmarks, expertly explained by a historian only known as Dr. George.

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Getting (nearly) blown off Oman´s highest mountain

What I had in mind when setting off for a five day trip to Oman a few year ago , was a vacation of nothing more than relax, rest and luxury.

I planned on lounging on this fabulous, secluded, private beach of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Muscat, swimming in the crystalline waters of the Golf of Oman, enjoying the sights and sounds of Ramadan in a deeply religious Muslim country and living the Arabian drea

 

Sultan´s palace in Muscat

Sultan´s palace in Muscat

August in Oman with temperatures in the 100s, surrounded by my beloved Middle eastern culture seemed  just the thing to get back on my feet. Mind you, I did all the above, but, you know how it is. If the prospect of adventure comes calling, all ‘good’ intentions of doing nothing fly out the window. A true traveler suddenly feels no pain anymore, he/she just can’t resist  the temptation. Idly leafing through the brochures at reception, I came upon this trip and I quote: “..proceed to Wadi Gul (village of abandoned houses) and other remains. Al Hamara- an old oasis then proceed off road to Jabel Shams (mountain of the sun), the tallest peak in Oman, towering  to 3009m with spectacular scenery as you climb through winding mountain roads”.

Abandoned houses, off road travel, mountain peaks and spectacular views???? YESSSS! Who needs a beach if they can see that?.  This time I was traveling not on my own but with a friend who has the same interests and curiosity as I have and who can’t resist an enticing trip either. As it was Ramadan, there were very few guests in the hotel or visitors in general which meant that we had the brand new 4X4 and charming driver all to ourselves.

Our trip took us first to the formidable castle of Nizwa which was Oman’s first capital and then onwards and upwards into the mountains, all in all about 200km southwest of Muscat in the country proper.

Majestic Nizwa

Majestic Nizwa

Wadi Gul

Wadi Gul

 

Oman’s mountains are something to behold, steep, surprisingly green, cut through with wadis, sprinkled with oasis where the famous date palms grow and multi colored stone. Marble in sheer white and pink alternate with black granite.  As we climbed, we reached the abandoned houses of Wadi Gul, glued to the mountain side, some still inhabited, but the majority turned into a ghost town.

The higher we climbed, the more the temperature dropped and when we came to the turn off towards Jabel Shams, some seriously dark clouds were gathering overhead. Rain, in Oman? Certainly not?  Certainly yes!! Whilst we were still looking down into the dry wadis, the heavens started to open and a downpour a dramatic proportions filled them with water within minutes. We were glad to be in a 4X4, because suddenly the track was flooded, water splashed as high as the roof of the car and when we reached th summit, we could ahrly open the door because the wind was so strong and the rain was lashing our clothes. Within seconds we were soaked through, but it didn’t matter at all, because what awaited was a the view down a canyon and gorge which left our head spinning.

Clinging with one hand to a rickety steel rope which was the only protection from a fall  of about a 1000m and certain death, we laughed from the sheer exhilaration and the thrill of danger, taking pictures with the other hand.

Hanging on for dear life!

Hanging on for dear life!

One of the tents of Living Adventure

One of the tents of Living Adventure

 

There is a resort around Jabel Shams where you can live in an Arab tent or rent a room and indulge in all sort of mountains sports. It’s called Living Adventure and if you are the hiking and climbing type it’s certainly an experience worth considering. Not to my interest though, I was quite happy to teeter on the edge as it was and then climb back into our car and return to the wonders of Muscat and the comforts of the Crowne Plaza.

 

 

 

Where to go for your honeymoon?

The honeymoon trip is probably the most important vacation of your life. Wedding stress over, it`s a time to send your marriage off to a good start, to be remembered and cherished over the years, often to be repeated either to renew the vows or to rekindle romance when the marriage has hit the rocks. Get your decision of where to go wrong and it can have dire consequences not like any other trip where reality did not meet your expectations.

The choice of your destination depends (apart from the budget) entirely on the taste of the newly weds and their ability to agree. I have divided my suggestions in three ´themes´so to speak, Luxury and Glamour, Adventure and Romance. And I have added a forth, which, although often a favorite, can, in my very personal opinion lead to an early divorce.

Luxury and glamour

My favorite for that category is Miami in Florida. You can´t beat the glitz and glamour of South Beach, the plethora of clubs for entertainment at night and the fabulous shopping in Lincoln´s Road by day.

There is no shortage of 5 star hotels for the vacation of a lifetime in South Beach either, although my favorite remains the time honored Delano. There are less expensive hotels too , all along Ocean Drive with the added advantage that some of them are located in the famed art deco buildings.

When you have enough of lounging on the beach or dancing the night away, you may want to head for Downtown Miami, polish up on history at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida in Flagler Street, visit the Bayside Market of the Mary Brickell Village and have the best  (biggest and cheapest) steak in Miami´s oldest pub: Tobacco Road near the Miami River.

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Talking about that, many visitors to Miami do not realize that there actually is  a river, a big and busy one at that. You can take a boat trip along the river and learn more about Miami history along the way.

Another trip not to be missed is  a ride on an airboat in the Everglades. And if you want to venture further afield, drive across the bridges with stunning views all the way to watch the sunset in Key West.

Adventure

The choice for adventure trips is huge, you could actually honeymoon all year long to catch them all. Few will have this luxury, so my suggestion is Jordan.

Not to be missed is a visit to Petra, the rose colored ancient city discovered by chance. Arrive early in the morning before the tourist buses descend, make your way on foot or horseback along the narrow gouge and alight with an ‘ohhh’ of admiration on your lips when you catch the first glimpse of the stunning treasury.

Petra

Petra

But there is more to Jordan than Petra. Rent a car and venture out on the highway leading through the desert, but watch out for wild camels which cross the road at their leisure. Visit the best Roman ancient site  and temples outside Italy in Jerrash and the castle of Ayun.

Temple in Jerrash

Temple in Jerrash

Dip your toes and cover yourself in healing mud at Amman Beach, a Dead Sea resort, or relive the stories of the bible by a trip to Mount Nabo where Moses first caught sight of the Holy Land.

Amman beach resort

Amman beach resort

If you want truly adventure, book a trip to Wadi Rum. This is something you cannot do on your own as guides and 4x4s are required to reach the wild, wild destination where you will camp and sleep under the stars. As you can see, a touch of romance is added to the adventure.

Romance

Why not head for Europe if you chosen honeymoon  theme is romance? In particular to Salzburg in Austria, city of Mozart and Sachertorte. Maybe my association with romance and Salzburg results from the fact that on my fist visit I happened upon a lavish wedding in one of the many parks, complete with sunshine and horse drawn carriage.

Wedding in Salzburg

Wedding in Salzburg

Salzburg invites to leisurely strolls through the old part of town rather than physical exhaustion unless  you decide to make your way to the impressive Festung Salzburg on foot. You can easily take the cable car and enjoy the view from the top.

And then of course, there is the world famous Café Sacher and the chocolate cake called Sachertorte. Sit  and look at the wall of fame and the river Salzach which flows at your feet.

Cafe Sacher

Cafe Sacher

Visit Mozart´s birth house and the museum and if you don´t happen to be there at the time of the Festspiele you can still listen to concerts  year around.

If you feel like an excursion, you might take the train to Munich or the Chiemsee to look at King Ludwig´s last (and unfinished) castle Herrenchiemsee.

The people of Salzburg have a soft spot for honeymooners. Just mention the fact and you´ll find that you´ll  get even better treatment  including a few extras than you would get anyway.

 The danger choice: cruises

I know that what I have to say about cruises will probably invite controversy. However, I am only expressing my personal experience and what I thought of this choice as a honeymoon destination at the time.

It sounds fabulous, gliding across the sea on a swimming palace, never to have to deal with luggage, food no end and at any time of day or night and your every whim catered for by countless  stewards and maids.

This is of course all true, but…..after two days I started to feel claustrophobic. By then you have explored every nook and cranny of the boat and there is nowhere else to go. Your ability to live together as a married couple is tested to the limit. The same applies to your co-passengers. It´s always the same people you happen upon, whether you like them or not. You share the same table  unless you opt to eat a la carte or use the self service facilities , gym space and deck space is also limited.

Sure, there are land excursions  but unless you decide to go off on your own, as I did, it´s guided tours and, again, the same people all the time.

Cruise ship in St. Thomas

Cruise ship in St. Thomas

From start to finish you are tagged and processed, there is little room for individual freedom and all of this may put a strain on a brand new marriage and, in the worst of cases, lead to an early divorce!

I´ll be interested to hear your opinion if and how I am wrong.