Sunday, November 27, 2016

Short Story: A journey Through the Land of Wonders - MICHAEL PORTILLO on Why Egypt is The Most Fascinating Place on Earth

Of all the places I’ve visited in my life, Egypt has been the most fascinating.

I’ve explored almost the whole country: Cairo and the Pyramids, Alexandria, the temples of Luxor and Karnak, the Valleys of the Kings and the Queens and the Nobles. I’ve travelled to Aswan and all the way down to Abu Simbel in the far south.

I’ve also been to Sharm-el-Sheik, and from there into the Sinai, where I visited St Catherine’s Monastery. Sadly, this area is currently off-limits to travellers as the Foreign Office warns against visits.

If, like me, you’re interested in history, Egypt is a place of wonders. It’s the land of many civilisations, including Greek, Roman, Christian and Muslim. So many ancient structures are still brilliantly intact; they invite you to understand a completely different way of looking at life

This was a civilisation that depended on renewals: the renewal of the day; the renewal of the harvest; the renewal of the river, which made the surrounding countryside fertile. It was a civilisation that was drawn towards the idea of reincarnation. There is so much to see, but many holidaymakers are worried about safety.

The Foreign Office’s principal source of anxiety is Sharm-el-Sheik airport – UK airlines are not currently flying there for security reasons. The area in and around Sharm-el-Sheik itself, however, is considered safe, as is Cairo, Luxor and the resort of Hurghada. As far as flying to Sharm-el-Sheik is concerned, the British position has not changed since last October, when a Russian passenger jet was brought down.

The positions of some other national authorities have altered, so you can fly there from Belgium, Germany and Turkey, for example, and British airlines seem to be lobbying to resume flights.

If you are a fan of my BBC series Great Continental Railway Journeys, you’ll probably not be surprised to learn that one of my great aspirations is to travel on Egypt’s railways. There are trains from Suez, Alexandria, Port Said and various point on the Nile Delta, allowing travellers to pass through Cairo and Luxor. It’s an obvious journey for us to do, particularly as Egypt is included in the 1913 guide used by George Bradshaw that we feature in our programme.

We’ve already been to what Bradshaw calls the Holy Land and we’ve also headed to Morocco. The British built the railways: Egypt was a very important place strategically because of the Suez Canal and its Mediterranean ports. And in 1913, the British would have been extremely worried about the growing alliance of Turkey and Germany, which gave rise to a very important theatre in the First World War. I can’t wait to get back to Egypt to film my journey.

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