The term “bucket list” is almost a cliché, but whether you call it that or not, most of us have a list of things we want to do before we die.
It has become such a common phrase that a movie was made about it with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman—a buddy film about two dying men who wanted to go out with a flourish.
Not everyone has ideas so grand, and even though I didn’t have an official bucket list, there was one place I absolutely wanted to see before it was too late: the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Many bucket list items involve travel. We all reach a point where we will never win an Oscar or play in the World Series, but travel is available to anyone—as long as we take the time and make the commitment to do it.
I lived in Orange County for 40 years. In 2019, my wife (then girlfriend) and I left Newport Beach and became full time traveling nomads. I was also a staff writer for the Indy and now occasionally share stories and tips about our travels. Recently we spent 41 days between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and even though you do not need to commit that much time to hit all three, I wanted to share how you can cross off all three places that might be on your bucket list in just 12 days.
From Albania, our current home, it was most practical to fly to Tel Aviv, Israel, which is a large enough hub that you can get direct flights from many large cities. In my opinion Tel Aviv had nothing special to offer, though it is a beautiful seaside location right on the Mediterranean. It is quite modern, yet they still honor their past and have a few historical sites.
But in Israel, the real history is in Jerusalem, just a 35-minute train ride from Tel Aviv. Israel offers a comprehensive metro card (the Rav-Kav) which you can get at the airport, and your prepaid card will get you on the train as well as buses and metros.
Jerusalem is like stepping into another world. As you exit a very contemporary, very modern train station and exit up three extraordinarily long sets of escalators, you finally walk out you will feel like you are in another era, with many of the people dressed in very conservative garb, and men wearing a shtreimel (a round fur hat), or more likely, a yarmulke, the more common head covering worn by Jewish men worldwide.
The Old City is an overwhelming experience and truly a walk through time and history. Significant in the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian worlds, the gated city holds the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and scores of less well known, but still significant parts of history.
Though I am not usually a user of tours, a day trip to Masada, the ancient fortress that was the last stand and ultimate site of mass suicide of 1,000 Jews who would rather die than be taken as slaves by the Roman army, is a worthwhile tour, along with a stop at the Dead Sea, the lowest elevation on the planet at 1400 feet below sea level. Who doesn’t want to effortlessly float on top of the water (33 percent salt!), and smear the mud all over your body?
If you do the Israel/Jerusalem leg, I suggest three days, and try to avoid a Friday-Saturday visit since most of the town is closed due to their Shabbat.
A trip to Jordan is a must, if only to visit Petra, as we did. While pre-planning we looked at all the options, and rather than take a specific flight into Jordan, we opted for a two-day tour from Jerusalem. That involved sleeping overnight at a Bedouin camp, followed by half the next day in Petra.
If we were to do it over, I would have made our Jordan trip three days and two nights, which would allow more usable time in Petra.
That leaves six days for Egypt, and believe it or not, it is enough to get the flavor of the country and see the most significant ruins.
On to Giza and Luxor
We flew from Tel Aviv to Cairo and stayed three nights in Giza, which is about 45 minutes from Cairo. Some stay in Cairo, but even though the museums are in town, the pyramids are around Giza.
We stayed at an inexpensive hotel with a full view of the Great Giza Pyramid, along with the two smaller sidekicks of Khafre and Menkaure.
Again, we took a tour since time and inside information was critical. The actual visit to Giza pyramids can take days or in our case just a few hours. Even so, we had a camel ride, along with a mule-driven carriage, and saw what we needed to see. Bucket list box checked.
Our tour allowed us to visit Saqqara, the original step pyramid, along with the Dahshur complex which holds it, along with several others. The two must-see museums are the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which houses King Tut and all his royal relatives, and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilizations, which contain the largest collection of mummies in the world, including one of the most significant pharaohs, King Ramses II. Overall, Cairo and the area around it was a rush of activity, yet we still had time to relax after our tour.
Now we’re down to three days left of our 12-day itinerary, and it’s back to the airport for a flight to Luxor, about one hour away. From the chaos and noise of one of the largest cities in the world, we arrived to a much more laid back and almost rural community, intermingled with some of the most amazing historical sites in the world.
Luxor is bisected by the Nile River, and we stayed on the east side, which is very chill, and houses the Valley of the Kings, the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, and one we were not familiar with called Medinet Habu. The West Side includes the Temple of Karnak and the actual “city” of Luxor, and is a fun walk.
Having seen most of Luxor, we had time for a hot air balloon ride. There are two in the morning, one at sunrise and one about an hour later, and the price we paid was just $50 per person, a steal, especially compared to American prices.
The idea of visiting the three countries may seem impossible or require more time than you can take, but as an experienced traveler I can tell you that in less than two weeks you can cross not just one, but possibly three items off your bucket list, and then move on to the next!
Norm Bour has been a writer for 20 years and formerly worked at the Newport Beach Independent from 2013 till he left Orange County in 2019 for life on the road. He tries to stay in different places for six weeks at a time, and has written two books about his experiences and lessons he learned along the way. Even at age 68, he and his wife, Kat, age 70, travel like the younger generation and share their experiences at the web site and Facebook blog called www.TravelYounger.com. He is an avid motorcycle rider and is planning tours to escort enthusiasts on bike trips, tours through Egypt, and a safari. Contact Norm Bour at [email protected] for information.