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imageI’m travelling to Berlin next week. I’m taking carry-on luggage only.

Waiting at the baggage carousel for my case to appear is a major stress factor for me. Like a deranged whacko  I break out in a cold sweat as soon as I hear the motors cranking up, shaking inside I cling to my better half to prevent hyperventilation. My neurosis is well founded. On a trip to Egypt some years ago, I  waited and waited at the carousel in Luxor airport but no case appeared. I still remember the horror of it, the trauma still fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

As a present for a significant birthday, my husband booked a trip to Egypt, a luxury river cruise along the Nile from Luxor to Aswan. Visiting many wonderful sights along the way, Philae Temple, Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Karnak Temples, it promised to be a memorable trip. It was of course memorable but for all the wrong reasons.

imageAnticipating opulent old colonial chic I purchased a large new suitcase to accommodate my Nile wardrobe.  New swimwear, expensive sun creams, day dresses, deck shoes, ‘going out’ dresses, my diamonte earrings for sipping Pimms at 6pm (conventional wisdom dictates that one should never wear diamonds before the cocktail hour). You name it, it went in the case. A girl has standards and I had to look the part on my grand tour. We were booked onto a boat called ‘The Romance’ , described as having a sophisticated relaxed ambiance. What could be more perfect. We’re talking classy, none of your tacky cruise cabaret here.  A packed itinerary would ensure I got to show off even my floral tea dresses (afternoon tea would be served on deck at 4pm daily). I had the correct attire for any occasion even if like Agetha Christy I was called upon to solve the odd murder.

The case, way too heavy was placed to one side by the check-in lady with a big ‘HEAVY’ sticker plastered on top, beside the turquoise ribbon tied to the handle for easy identification. Off I skipped to the duty free, happy to unencumbered by a huge case.

I was beside myself at the other end, when no case was forthcoming. I anxiously searched as each person picked out their luggage, growing more agitated by the second, until finally the conveyer belt creaked to a halt. No turquoise ribbon in sight. The coach to bring us to the boat was waiting outside, while all tried locating my treasure chest. Eventually, after much form filling, I boarded the bus to glowering stares by the other passengers who were kept waiting.

imageWe arrived to the boat late at night ready to set sail at 10am the following morning. The next morning I put back on my crumpled clothes I’d worn travelling the day before. My shoes were not suitable for any grand tour. I looked around the boat, bereft at the sight of a pool on deck and me with not a bikini or swimming togs to my name. Baba, one of the porters working on deck felt sorry for me and insisted on taking be shopping before the boat sailed. I was about to hit the high street in Luxor. Suddenly feeling more optimistic, “I’ll pick up a bikini and flip flops as well as a couple of dresses”.

Well, not exactly, the city centre was crammed with tuk tuks flying about the busy streets. All women wore full black burka’s. Baba took me to his cousin’s shop called ‘Santa Clause’, the only shop selling Western clothes. On the one rail of available non burka clothes, I chose a couple of pairs of linen trousers, and 4 tee shirts. The trousers didn’t fit and the tee-shirts made from industrial strength thick cotton. The thickness of the cotton designed to protect my modesty.  Still, beggars can’t be choosers. No bikini’s, no kaftans, no sun hats, not a flip flop in sight. ‘Santa Clause’ wasn’t exactly baring gifts. No sun glasses, no makeup… I could go on.

Next stop, a shoe shop and Baba’s other cousin. Not really a shoe shop more of a plastic sandal shop. Cheap plastic bejewelled sandals that cost two pounds.

‘She needs knickers’, my esteemed companion whispered to Baba. This is not a simple matter. Nether garments must be kept under wraps, modesty prevents shops displaying such shameful items. I was taken down an alleyway to the side entrance of a dark shop. More cloak and dagger whispering, then many many boxes produced. The first box, peach frilly nylon was all that was on offer but that clearly wouldn’t do. As each box was opened, the same peach frills appeared. Despite the appearance of choice, there was none. So peach nylon it was. ‘7 pairs please’.

I returned to the boat with my purchases (which set me back a total of 28 quid).

For the next 7 days I traipsed around every Egyptian monument and temple in my plastic footwear, I belly danced in my cotton tee-shirts and in spite of everything, had an absolutely wonderful holiday. Actually, it was kind of liberating not to have to care about dressing up.

I would not want to repeat the underwear experience. The nylon was stiff and scratchy, and had tiny leg holes. I clearly remember suffering pins and needles when the blood supply to my legs was cut off, telephoning home and my sisters laughing themselves sick at my predicament. On the last day, I committed a crime. I’m ashamed to say I littered the Nile, throwing my horrible peach knickers overboard to float away forever.