Egypt – where time and tide wait

By Svetlana Baghawan

Egypt is a timeless diva. She bedazzles her visitors with her moods: Sedate in Luxor, playful in Hurghada, opulent in Cairo, glamorous in Alexandria, or ever-mysterious and smiling as the Nile. In Cairo you can explore the treasures of the national museum, shop for perfumes, spices, jewelry or artifacts at the winding Khan-el-Khalili Souk, sip thick Turkish coffee at the famous El-Fishawi Café (cafe of mirrors) and sip gurgling shisha and sample local delicacies like vine-covered minced rolls, or stuffed doves, or explore the Pyramids of Cheops at Giza.

The overnight sleeper train from Cairo is comfortable and takes you to Aswan in 12 hours. In Aswan, you can visit the ancient granite quarries that supplied granite to all of Egypt in ancient times, be a guest at a Nubian village on the Nile bank, where the crocodiles are revered and kept as house pets, drive down the winding flowering roads to Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser, or visit the stunning Temple of Phillae by boat.

You can begin the Nile cruise on a luxury boat from Aswan visiting Kom-om-Bo, Edfu to Luxor. Spend the days on the Nile, sunbathing, relaxing or watching the bank from the sun-deck and the evenings are usually filled with in-house parties, belly-dancing or swirling dervish dances. Luxor temple and Karnak temple are the most important tourist attractions of Luxor. You can try hot-air ballooning in Luxor and also visit the Valley of the Kings on the left bank of the Nile.

Hurghada by the Red Sea is an upcoming, upscale resort town. It is a five-hour drive across the stunningly beautiful stony desert from Luxor and lots of private taxis are available. You can choose from a number of beautiful beach resorts. You can try water-sports like para-sailing, para-gliding, kite-boarding or explore small islands on glass-bottom boats, and play with the colorful corals and fishes of the Red Sea on scuba diving or deep sea diving expeditions. Deep-sea angling is also very popular.

There are numerous desert safaris, desert star-watching through telescopes, camel safaris, desert ATV safaris, and Bedouin camping for the evenings. Or you can simply laze in the sun by the sea or relax at the beautiful marina and watch the gorgeous boats. A 50-minute flight takes you back to Cairo from where you can take a three-hour taxi ride to Alexandria, the second biggest city in Egypt founded by Alexander the Great.

Alexandria is a delightful Greco-Roman Egyptian city by the Mediterranean. It is a cultural hotseat for politics, culture and history. You can visit the Roman Amphitheatre, Catacombs of Kom-el-Shoqafa, Pompei's Pillars, Alexandria Library (one of the wonders of the ancient world), site of the Alexandria Lighthouse. You can scuba-dive to explore the inundated ruins of Cleopatra VII.

Alexandria is famous for its fresh fish delicacies and the sidewalk restaurant beside Abu-L-Mosque is one of the best. Choose from the fresh catch of fish, crab, mussel, oyster, lobster and also the style of cooking. A side-portion of spicy rice and old cheese mezze complete the feast. Fuul and Falafel which are the most popular street food in Egypt are unbelievably cheap, good and tasty. It is advisable to visit Egypt from Oct-Apr and sunglasses, sun-hats, sunblocks and loose covered cotton clothing are highly recommended. Only bottled mineral water is advised for consumption. Bargaining is a must everywhere in Egypt except for big stores for even soft drink cans. Overzealous street hawkers are a bit of a problem. Everybody wants baksheesh even to take a picture with you. So it is better to ask other tourists for help. Tipping is mandatory. The transportation system is quite comfortable and tourist-friendly and there is no dearth of money-changers and ATMs. Wherever you go in this enthralling country, you will definitely come back with beautiful memories.

Alexandria — the teacher

They say great poets and philosophers live their lives in oblivion till they meet their dream or inspiration, which change them forever and pull them into immortality. Though being neither, I was blessed by a discovery trail of my soul in Alexandria.

Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great around a small Pharaonic town, this delightful Greco-Roman Egyptian city laces along the blue Mediterranean and is home to many happy Italians, Greeks and Egyptians. Beautiful, cultured, proud Alexandria is a hotbed of politics and education. Throughout time, cities have often been compared with famous personalities.

Alexandria reminded me of Scarlet O'Hara — enchanting, dutiful, stubborn and willful. They say that this historically steeped treasure house holds many wonders of different ages of the world and entrances her vulnerable visitors into a trip to self-discovery.

I don't know whether it was amidst the pristine, white ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre, trying not to go into the minds of the gladiators before the bloody fights staged there, or at the steps of the stunning new Alexandria Library (one of the wonders of the ancient world), which humbled me with her timelessness, or while I was enjoying my good Falafel lunch by the Mediterranean, that I met Humility and Gratitude.

The azure sky was cloudless, the air like warm honey and the sun golden. As I sat, looking into the eternity of the Mediterranean, feeling the salt spray on my face, listening to the gulls and sharing my lunch with a bunch of stray cats, with new Alexandria bustling by, I wondered if Alexander was also here like me captivated by the same sight the way it captivated me. I realized I was living the dream and seeing through the eyes of this mighty Macedonian conqueror. A very surreal moment of glory, but so completely intimate and so completely mine.

I closed my eyes and said a word of prayer.

Svetlana BaghawanSvetlana Baghawan

SVETLANA BAGHAWAN worked for 13 years as a flight attendant, a job that gave her the opportunity to travel and explore places close to her heart and of her dreams. Now blessed with a four-year-old daughter, she runs a beauty salon and spa in Kolkata but her restless traveler's spirit never leaves her alone. Thanks to her supportive husband and family, she backpacks as a single woman traveler all over the world at least four times a year, mostly with her four-year-old budding traveler in tow.