A taste of Egypt, and home for tea

It's a long way to go for hyst a few hours, but a day trip to Luxor from Bournemouth is proving popular. Cathy Packe joined a tour to find out why people want a whirlwind visit

Once a year, the people of the Dorset resort get the opportunity to go on the ultimate away-day. To Egypt.

Three in the morning is a terrible time to be at Bournemouth airport. But if you want a day trip to antiquity, that is the time and place you must start. Once a year, the people of the Dorset resort get the opportunity to go on the ultimate away-day. To Egypt.

As I drove through the night to the airport, I wondered who else would be on the trip. Couples celebrating anniversaries, perhaps? Or, as one friend suggested, people with more money than sense? It would doubtless be a small group, though; I couldn't imagine many people wanting to be at an airport at 3am out of choice.

So it was a surprise, when I reached the departure hall, to find that about 200 people had got there ahead of me. Only a couple of dozen people turned up later than I did. The queue whizzed along, because no one had any baggage to check in. But I still had time to find out why some of my fellow passengers had chosen to spend a day in Egypt, rather than, say, the New Forest.

"I don't know if I'd like Egypt enough to spend a week there," said one man. "But this way I can just have a taste of it." A woman travelling on her own admitted she had wanted to go for longer. "No one would come with me for a week, and I wouldn't want to go on my own," she said. "But I don't mind being on my own for a day."

We had all been told to bring a packed lunch, a selling point for some people. "I was worried about getting ill while I was there," several people told me, "but I knew I'd be all right if I could take my own food and drink."

In the departure lounge there were frequent exclamations of surprise as people bumped into friends they didn't know were coming.

We were called to order by Peter Bath, whose company, Palmair, was running the trip. Impressively for a company chairman, he always turns up to see the passengers off and wish them a good trip ­ however ungodly the hour. Palmair began running day trips nine years ago, to keep its single plane busy when it wasn't being used to ferry passengers to and from package holidays in the Med.

The first trip went to Quimper, in Brittany, in 1993. Since then a number of destinations have been added, including Venice, Krakow and Iceland. Last year Egypt was included in the programme for the first time, a day in Luxor and one in Cairo; they have been repeated this year, and Istanbul, another distant destination, has also been added.

The man who dreams up these trips is Rob Nichol, Palmair's tour and sales manager. He admits that taking so many people so far for such a short time is a challenge. Organising 222 people, showing them five different sights, and getting them back on schedule is a military-style operation. Once on the plane, we were given return boarding cards and told to sit in the same seats on the way back.

A group visa had been arranged for us, which minimised the time spent at passport control; and five air-conditioned coaches turned up to meet us and ferry us around for the day, each with its own local guide as well as a representative from Palmair.

Go back to the same coach after each stop, we were told, so that we can quickly find out if we have lost anyone. But no matter how good the organisation is, Luxor is still a long way to go for a day. How much would we actually see?

We set off for the West Bank of the Nile, the area known to the ancient pharaohs as the City of the Dead. Here we would visit the Valley of the Kings, burial place for many of the ancient Egyptian rulers, including Tutankhamun. During the 40-minute drive, our guide rattled off statistics: 90 per cent of Egypt is desert, and the country's population of 70 million people lives in the other 10 per cent ­ and that population increases by a million every 10 months. Egypt's unemployment rate is 10 per cent.

The drive across an almost biblical landscape was fascinating. Skinny donkeys carried bulky loads across the fields, past mudbrick houses. Minarets glistened in the bright sunshine. Eventually we were in the Valley of the Kings, chosen to house the tombs because they could be built into the hillsides, which it was believed ­ wrongly ­ would protect them from looters in search of buried treasure.

We visited the tombs of Rameses III and Rameses IV. One tripper summed up what many of us must have been thinking as we surveyed the detailed carvings and the impossibly bright colours of the paintings: "I am completely, totally gobsmacked." This near-disbelief at what we were seeing continued throughout the day, as we stopped briefly to photograph the magnificent Temple of Hatshepsut; the enormous Colossi of Memnon, the two statues that have been guarding the entrance to the West Bank since 1500bc; and the temple at Luxor, on the banks of the River Nile. Finally we spent an hour at the temple of Karnak, never completed although the building process continued for nearly 20 centuries. As one woman put it, "I can't believe we have seen all this, and tonight we shall be back in Bournemouth." Little did she know...

Despite the best efforts of Palmair to make sure everything went smoothly, the plane broke down. The battery had gone flat: maybe the pilot had left the lights on after the outbound flight.

It had already been a long day and no one wanted to spend too long in an under-equipped airport lounge; we were ready to go home. That wasn't going to happen for several hours: a new battery had been found in Mancheste. It and a pair of engineers were brought over on a plane diverted on its way to Goa, disrupting the travels of hundreds of India-bound holidaymakers.

We didn't mind though. Our air-conditioned coaches returned, and took us back into Luxor for dinner and a night's sleep in a five-star hotel on the banks of the Nile. We even got to see the illuminations at Luxor temple, a treat not to be missed.

We finally touched down 14 hours late. Did everyone think our "day trip" had been worth it? Despite the delay, the verdict was unanimous: "It was everything I hoped for and more. It's good to do something mad from time to time." But perhaps if you spend £300 on a day trip to Africa, you would say that, wouldn't you?



The five highlights



Colossi of Memnon

This pair of giant statues are the first things that most visitors see on the West Bank. They have been on guard for 3,500 years and are in poor condition ­ which is perhaps why there are no controls about visiting them.

Valley of the Kings

So far, 62 tombs have been discovered in this barren spot, although it is believed there are many more. Work would begin at the start of a pharaoh's reign and continue until his death; finishing it while he was still alive was considered a bad omen. Most famous is the tomb of Tutankhamun, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. Unlike most of the others, which had been emptied by the time they were excavated, this one contained all the treasures placed in it at the time of the pharaoh's burial; these are now on display at the Cairo museum. Entrance costs LE20 (£3.50), and tickets are available from the office next to the Colossi of Memnon. These will give you entrance to three tombs; if you want to visit more, buy an extra ticket. Entrance to the tomb of Tutankhamun is LE40 (£7) extra.

Temple of Hatshepsut

This vast mortuary temple commemorates Hatshepsut, daughter of Tuthmosis I, and the first woman to declare herself pharaoh, which meant that she reigned as king. On the death of her father there was a struggle for the succession, and she finally took control in preference to her stepson, who eventually became Tuthmosis III. Such was the animosity between them that he removed all traces of her image and her name after her death.

Luxor temple

Unlike the monuments on the West Bank, which were built for the dead, those on the East Bank of the Nile were built to accommodate the rituals of daily life. This riverside temple was built by Amenophis III, and was once linked to the temple at Karnak by an avenue of sphinxes, some of which have been excavated along the route. The granite obelisk in front of the pylon, or main entrance gate, was one of a pair; the other now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Karnak temple

This magnificent building is best known for its sacred lake, and its hypostyle hall, whose 134 columns give a forest-like appearance. It was built over centuries: every pharaoh wanted to leave his mark on the temple that was once the most important place of worship in ancient Thebes. An impressive son et lumière show is held at the temple every night. Entrance to the temple costs LE20 (£3.50).

All monuments are usually open from 6am-6.30pm (5.30pm in winter)

Cathy Packe travelled as a guest of Palmair, which charges £299 for the day trip. Take your own sandwiches. For details of its day-trip programme, call 01202 200700 or visit www.bathtravel.com

Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

    £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - major leisure brand

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Partner

    £25000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Partner is required to ...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003