Byline: SORAYA KHASHOGGI
I DID not expect a Nubian marriage proposal when I went into Thomas Cook for a holiday that was 'totally different'.
I asked specifically that there should be no mention of Florida, Spain or lying on a beach anywhere . . . and that I wanted to leave London immediately.
I found myself on a scheduled flight to Cairo the next day, chatting to a family of Australians taking their children around the world. They stayed on the plane during its stopover in Cairo, confessing they were uneasy after the massacre of 62 tourists by Islamic extremists in Luxor last year.
Japanese and American tourists were anxious about this too. Cautiously, most limited themselves to a few days in Cairo, visiting the Pyramids and the Sphinx, and the wonderful Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, where the only air conditioning is in the Treasures of Tutankhamen room (take bottled water everywhere). The museum is poorly lit, hot and crowded. Be prepared to pay extra to use your camera or camcorder.
I was told if you spent only 20 seconds in front of each exhibit, it would take three months to see everything.
The next day I set off for a half-day tour of Old Cairo where Christians, Muslims and Jews have lived peacefully together for centuries. We saw the hanging church built on columns over the site of the Roman fortress of Babylon and the impressive Citadel of Mohammed Ali, from within whose walls we can see the Alabaster Mosque.
I advise a visit to the famous Khan Khalil Bazaar, with its hundreds of shopkeepers who love to bargain. I also had my hands painted with henna (a beautiful lotus flower pattern). I sat in the crowded coffee shops sipping mint tea, next to locals smoking their hub-ble-bubble pipes as they played backgammon. No one minds how long you sit there if weary feet let you down.
My real adventure started with an hour's flight to Luxor to meet my boat The Royale, which was moored next to its sister ship The Regency.
It is clear that security has been heavily increased since the Luxor attack. A Welsh teacher and her fiance whom I met in Luxor booked a train journey to Cairo to find the police riding shotgun, and all buses that we took had to go in convoy, with a police escort.
For seven nights I sailed the waters of the River Nile enjoying glorious scenery from the comfort of my en-suite cabin complete with colour TV and full board.
It was startling to see that we had security police dressed in black and armed with Kalashnikovs on board as well as river police and soldiers. The huge picture window gave me an ever changing feeling that I was sailing through a Christmas card without the snow.
I only saw one McDonald's during the trip, unfortunately placed next to the highly recommended modern Luxor museum. Also enjoyable was the optional excursion to the Museum of Mummification. The guides then took us by coach to visit the great Temples of Karnak and Luxor built to the Amnu-Ra, King of the Gods. It is well worth visiting the son et lumiere show at Karnak.
WE WERE divided in the dining room into language groups, each group had an Egyptologist fluent in French, Spanish, Italian or English. We all became so close to our guide Hany that there were real tears as we said our goodbyes on the last night.
Fellow travellers can make or break a trip and dinner companions can be crucial. I was alone among couples and the first night, two British couples - who truly should never have left home - made my heart sink. One woman had …