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Travel & Holidays in later life


Winter cruising along the Nile Valley began in the 19th century, when Thomas Cook used Cairo as the gateway. Today, winter and summer, charter aircraft over-fly theColossal statue of Ramses II Egyptian capital and go direct to Luxor - now Egypt's favourite holiday resort, 420 miles further south.

Here the Pharaohs ruled for many centuries, building great temples on the fertile east bank of the Nile, and sumptuous tombs amid the barren hills of the west bank.

More recent building in Luxor has gone into first-class and luxury-grade hotels operated by international chains such as the Hilton and Sheraton. 

But there's also good choice of 3-star family-run properties.

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Visas cost 15 pounds sterling, obtainable from the Egyptian
, 2 Lowndes Street, London SW1X 9ET. Tel: 020 7235 9777.  Or at the airport on arrival.

The exchange rate  makes local prices seem very cheap, but bargaining is still part of the game.

Best buys: Egyptian cotton clothes, alabaster, carpets (fierce haggling required), jewellery, copper utensils, inlaid wooden boxes and chess sets, leather goods and papyrus prints.

What to wear: Light cottons during summer, with something warmer for winter and the cool evenings. Women should not wear revealing clothes in religious buildings.

Health: Egypt is free from endemic diseases. Drinking water is safe, but use bottled mineral water wherever possible. Chemists are well stocked, but pack a full supply of any medication you use.

More information: Egyptian State Tourist Office, Egyptian
House, 170 Piccadilly, London W1V 9EJ. 


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Luxor offers year-round dry air and clear skies. In a week or two there's time to make leisured exploration of the world's greatest record of ancient civilisation. 

The temples of Luxor or Karnak are within walking distance or a horse-carriage ride from your hotel entrance. Just across the river by public ferry, taxis, tour coaches and strings of donkeys are lined up for transport to the famed temples and tombs.

Paintings, carvings and sculptures open up an incredibly rich world that depicts in extraordinary detail the varied life-styles of gods, pharaohs, noblemen and ordinary folk. 

Felucca view of LuxorBut Luxor offers much more than culture-vulture sightseeing. Most visitors make time for relaxation - sun-bathing beside the hotel pool, sailing on the river, taking a traditional cruise, or strolling through the bazaars.

Just outside Luxor there's all the colourful life of rural Egypt, where many scenes haven't fundamentally changed over the past 5,000 years. There are palm groves, gardens with exotic flowers, and friendly people everywhere. 

Quite unforgettable is the Sound and Light Show at the Karnak Temples. In the cool evening you stroll among floodlit monuments accompanied by dramatic music and commentary. 

The 90-minute spectacular follows a guided tour through passages and corridors to which only priests and the pharaohs had access. Finally you take your seat beside the Sacred Lake, where the epic story, music and light-display continues.

A river cruise is the highlight of any holiday in Upper Egypt. Over 200 well-equipped boats are based at Luxor. They offer 2-night, 5-night and 7-night options.

A typical pattern is to start from Luxor, cruise downstream to visit the important temples of Abydos and Dendera; return for the Luxor sites; then continue to Aswan. That means 7 nights for the full package; 5 nights for Luxor- Aswan; or 2 nights for Luxor to Abydos and back.

These cruise packages can then be dove-tailed with hotel stays ashore in Luxor or Aswan.

Leisure is the keynote. Many mornings you'll be up and away early on a temple sightseeing before the sun gets too hot for comfort. Then you return to your floating hotel for lunch, siesta and sun-bathe. The pattern is soon established: cruise and relax; five o'clock tea and cake; 8 p.m. dinner; and then some kind of shipboard entertainment.

Re-boarding a cruise-boat after temple sightseeingCruise-boats are fitted to the standards of 3-star or 4-star hotels, with deck-top swimming pools, sun deck with sun beds, and canopied terrace with tables and chairs. 

Accommodation is in outside cabins, with full air-conditioning, large picture windows, shower and w.c. en suite, telephone (not ship to shore) and radio. Friendly staff are on hand round the clock. All meals are included, and you sign for drinks. The bar bill at the journey's end can be paid in cash, traveller cheques or plastic. 

Watching Egypt float by, you can enjoy a blissful riverside panorama. It's an unending stretch of greenery, dominated by waving palm trees. Tiny fields grow vegetables, rice, maize, and clover for animal feed. Elsewhere are plantations of bananas and other fruits, or sugar cane. Domestic animals graze peacefully. 

Villages of mud-brick houses are the same colour as the river banks, all formed from the same centuries'-old deposits of Nile silt. You can see hundreds of vignettes of village life - men and boys trotting along on donkeys, farmers labouring in the fields, women pounding clothes at the river bank, children returning from school. Cattle are brought to the river's edge for a paddle. An occasional camel lopes along, or a donkey cart. There is rich birdlife.  It's worth packing binoculars.

Old Cateract HotelAswan rates as a rival resort to Luxor. For the best introduction to Aswan, treat yourself to tea on The Terrace at the Old Cataract Hotel, the setting for scenes of Agatha Christie's "Death on the Nile". The Terrace offers a god's-eye view over 5000 years of Egyptian history. 

Just up-river was the awesome First Cataract - now tamed by the Aswan Dams - where the foaming waters marked the ancient boundary between Upper Egypt and Nubia. Priests declared that here dwelt the cataract god Khnum in his cavern, from where he arranged the annual flood that gave life to Egypt.

Everyone falls in love with Aswan. Go there to unravel the mystery of what made Egypt: the Nile floods, the cult of Isis, the quarries that helped build temples, colossal statues and obelisks. Or go there just to relax, laid-back beside a shaded pool in the grounds of a luxury hotel.

Some other suggestions on where to go in the Med region

CYPRUS - enjoy the off-season sunshine

GIBRALTAR - fortress into tourist resort

MALLORCA - Breakaway to the Spanish grandee rural life

MEDITERRANEAN CRUISING - get Insight into the ports of call

TUNISIA - the sandy-beach oasis.

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

"Lonely Planet: Egypt" by Andrew Humphreys and Siona Jenkins - Worth buying for all-Egypt coverage, but still worth having for its excellent chapters on the Luxor-Aswan region. 

"Understanding Hieroglyphs : A Complete Introductory Guide" by Hilary Wilson  -  A layman's guide into what is described by ancient Egyptian scribes.  

"People of the Pharaohs" by Hilary Wilson - Examines the life, work and beliefs of the  peasant farmer, the court official and the Pharaoh himself.

"The Nile Insight Guide"  - Contains hundreds of photos and seven maps, with chapters on history, culture, birdlife, and a visitor's guide to the sights of each region.

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