Happy August! Now that summer is winding down, we’re thinking about back-to-school—and specifically, to college. This month, we’re talking about a new trend we’ve been seeing lately: Families taking special trips with their college-bound kids. And speaking of bonding travel, we’re also highlighting our recent retreat in Puerto Rico—including our top hosting tips. And finally, rounding out this edition is a great Q&A with Qatar Airways, which was recently honored with the distinction of “World’s Best Airline.” We hope the rest of your summer is fun and relaxing!
Erika Reategui and Fernando Gonzalez
We knew it had to be special: three generations, 5 grandchildren aged 5 to 8, 4 marvelous daughters and sons-in-law plus 50 years of marriage: this trip has to be memorable and meticulously planned!
What better start than Cairo, the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx. Prepping for the sights meant children’s books, puzzles and King Tut, museum visits, a dateline for the Valley of the Kings. We wanted to make it as engaging as Ninjago, Star Wars and Super Heroes. And National Geographic offered young reader books on King Tut and Mummies. Bingo! Young imaginations can be ignited with stirring questions like “Does the Sphinx have a beard?”
Coordinating 3 New York grandchildren with 2 London grandchildren’s school vacations meant that July and August, the hottest months in Egypt and Jordan, presented our only opportunity. London was the perfect introduction with a visit to the British Museum, the Rosetta Stone and part of the Sphinx’s former beard.
Flights into Cairo tend to arrive late in the evening but a beautiful international airport welcomes and wonderful hotel choices abound. The Pyramids were a distant view from our hotel rooms. We began with the Sound and Light show at the Pyramids and next day at day break, when it is cooler, climbed the largest into the tomb chamber. Camel rides followed with brave adults aloft on each camel with the children. A new onsite Solar Boat museum built around an ancient wooden boat that designed to transfer a pharaoh’s body to the Pyramids is a must see.
Our third day was spent in old Cairo with a visit to the unairconditioned but grand Egyptian Museum. King Tut’s magnificent gold throne heralded our arrival. The museum is in the process of transferring artifacts to its new home in Giza but there were plenty of mummies still. Next, the grandchildren had their first lesson in bargaining, an afternoon at the famed Khalil Kali bazaar. With one dollar equivalent in Egyptian pounds each child set out to find the souvenir of their dreams.
Transfer to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings was facilitated by the modern, domestic airport and a short ontime flight. Within walking distance of Karnak and a short ride to Luxor’s temple ruins, the Winter Palace offers the weight of millennia within easy reach. It has a large lovely swimming pool, a few pavilions for shade, gorgeous grounds, and a dining room little changed from the time of Agatha Christie. The poolside thermometer measured both 44 degrees centigrade and 108 fahrenheit with dry desert air.
A visit to the Valley of the Kings began with a three dimensional exhibit of tomb locations in a welcome center and a small trolley to tomb sites. Ticketed entry to a select number of tombs, which are rotated to control the effect of humidity underground, means three are always open. We luckily explored King Tut’s tomb.
Off to Jordan, impeccable connections via Cairo, and another modern international airport in Amman, a welcoming capital. After a visit to the city, we started off for Petra, a three hour drive. Lodged at the mouth of the ravine opening down to the monuments meant that the children could experience what centuries of travelers saw as they walked into the canyon. Spectacular Petra did not disappoint. Dinner that evening on the hotel roof top as the sun set and signs of life echoed from hill to hill reinforced the sense of magic over the centuries.
We returned to Amman and thence to Jerash, a beautifully preserved Roman city 30 kilometers from the Syrian border. Jerash is spectacular, revealing itself immediately spread over village hills. The grandchildren were primed with books on Romans and their habits. The 7 year old asked why the Romans were in Jerash when they are supposed to be in Italy. The children loved clambering over the ruins and the scale exhausted even the 8 year old. Back in Amman we celebrated the 6 year old’s birthday replete with balloons and a special cake.
While we were concerned about our timing as July/August is not the coolest time to visit the Middle East, we decided there are many advantages including few tourists, uncrowded archeological sites, and lower prices. We returned from Amman via London delivering all of us tired, but enriched and fulfilled.
Ann J. Charters, former international journalist and a happy First in Service client