Monthly Archives: January 2019

A Day in Turin


In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day five.

Screen Shot 2019-01-29 at 21.00.17

Friday, 29 January 1869
4 a.m. all very tired and excited, some saying they would never do that pass again
[see yesterday’s entry] – had coffee at our Hotel Trombetta. Went to bed for a few hours – down to breakfast at 10 o’clock – to the Palazza Reale [above], formerly the residence of Charles Albert – now unoccupied; rooms fine, floors inlaid wood – a great deal of gilding – portraits principally of the Savoy family – a chapel attached principally black marble. An old castle the only antiquity in Turin with polygonal tower in the Piazza Castello. Many squares in Turin and Colonnades. Snowing today. Fortunate we are to be on this side of Mont Cenis – had there been more snow could not have passed; what would we have done. Our party make a great increase at this hotel, an amusing set. I am exploding with laughter. At 2 o’clock accompanied Mr. Cook to station to claim our luggage, and all heavy luggage was booked on to Brindisi. Kept our small packages. At hotel eat long pieces of thin rolled paste baked lightly, called Grisli after the makers name.

Screen Shot 2019-01-29 at 21.01.05

Seems odd that a tour group heading for Egypt with a day to kill in Turin wouldn’t visit the city’s Museum of Antiquities. This had one of the world’s finest collections of Egyptian antiquities, including the 5,268 pieces bought from the French consul-general to Egypt Bernadino Drovetti. Too busy, perhaps, having a laugh at the hotel. That’s tour groups for you. I wonder if the snacks she calls Grisli are actually breadsticks, known in Italy as Grissini, and supposedly invented in a small town outside of Turin.

1 Comment

Filed under Nile steamers, Travellers' tales

Crossing the Alps


In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day four.


Thursday, 28 January 1869
Stopped at Dijon 3 a.m., took soup. Remained a short time at Macon and Culoz – from thence diverged to Chambery – passed all that beautiful lake by Aix-les-Bains which I saw last year with the Garrets. Getting dark and raining quite approaching the splendid mountains – cleared off by the time we arrived at St. Jean de Maurienne, situated in the mountains before entering the Mont Cenis pass. St. Jean a tolerable sized village. A monastery and nunnery there – nuns walking about.

Our party had increased to 27 in number which made a considerable diference in the railway cars – great delay – extra carriages hauled up and put on. Mr. Cook went on the first carriage. I waited for the last. I was fortunate for the sliding door at the end of the car being open, could command the entire wonderful grand view of the ascent. Wonderful beyond description, the snowy range becoming deeper and deeper, and the shadows and bright lights of the glorious moon. Great excitement and fear owing to the difficulty the engine had in working us up the winding and precipitous incline, sometimes stopping entirely and gasping dreadfully. Fear lest we should all go backwards. One of these stoppages occurred in the tunnel; felt almost suffocated with smoke. On issuing out of the tunnel we arrived at the summit and Mont Cenis was before us, conical in form, the moon full and lovely.


There may have been a very good reason that Thomas Cook waited until 1869 to launch his first guided tour to Egypt. It was only in 1868 that the British completed the missing gap in the rail link connecting Calais on the north coast of France, opposite England, with Brindisi on the heel of Italy, departure point for ships to Alexandria, Egypt. This was the Mont Cenis railway over the Alps. (Why were the British so keen to link England with Egypt? To speed up the mail to India.)

The Mont Cenis Pass Railway was the first mountain railway in the world and had been operating just over six months when the Cook party used it to travel from southeast France to northwest Italy. It would only operate until 1871, after which it was superseded by a new tunnel railway.

1 Comment

Filed under Nile steamers, Travellers' tales

Miss Riggs visits the Louvre


In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day three.

Wednesday, 27 January 1869
Went to the Louvre with Miss Porter – pleased with Murillo’s Holy Family = lost our way, just back in time for table d’hote. Broke blue parasol – had it mended in arcade close by. This hotel a few minutes from the Madeleine through Rue du Havre and Rue Tronchet – hotel in place du Havre. Table d’hote at six – much going on to make our grand start. Several more of our party arrived. Took large omnibus 1 fr. each – and started at 8 for terminus – luggage weighed. Mr Cook guaranteed 60 lb weight, the rest extra. Mine a little over on account of saddle. Left Paris 10.15 –.


Yesterday Miss Riggs arrived in Paris, today she leaves. That’s some tight schedule. But then this is a tour of Egypt and the Holy Land that she signed up for and Paris is just an overnight halt between trains. Happily the hotel is very central (marked in red on the map above), so she does manage a little sightseeing. Below is the Murillo painting that ‘pleased’ her.


I don’t think Miss Riggs and I would get along when it comes to art. As well as being a tyrant on time, the tour leader Mr Thomas Cook is similarly severe when it comes to baggage. His party is allowed just 60lbs per person, which is just under 30kg. That is nothing. Most holidaymakers these days travel with that for a week in Marbella, and Miss Riggs and her colleagues are heading overland across Europe and to Egypt and back, a journey that is advertised to take three months. Although why she would want to drag a saddle with her all that way is a mystery.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Nile steamers, Travellers' tales

Miss Riggs arrives in Paris


Following on from yesterday’s post, here’s what Miss Riggs wrote in her diary the day after leaving London.

Tuesday, 26 January 1869
Arrived in Paris at 5pm – all took an omnibus to Cook’s Tourist Hotel the London & New York – proprietor Monsieur Chardon – he had once an hotel at Milan. Charge 7/- per day all included. Table d’hote at 6 – salon small – left a dress with Madame Chardon.

She set off yesterday from London Bridge train station at 5.30pm and almost exactly 24 hours later she has arrived in Paris. Last year I had to travel from London to Paris at too short notice to get a ticket on the Eurostar train. Instead I had to go by coach down to the south coast of England, transfer to the rail freight service, then back on to the road at Calais and onwards to Paris. It took ten hours, so for Miss Riggs’ party to make the same journey in under a day – remember, this is 150 years earlier – seems pretty good going.

Screen Shot 2019-01-26 at 20.13.08

The postcard above shows her hotel, the London & New York, which stands across from the Gare St Lazare – although, obviously, with a street full of motor cars this image must date from about 50 years after Miss Riggs’ visit. I say the hotel “stands” because it’s still there today, although no longer looking anywhere near as grand.

More tomorrow.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Nile steamers, Travellers' tales

Happy anniversary, Miss Riggs


Late afternoon of 25 January 1869, Miss Riggs, of Hampstead in north London, left her home and made her way across the city to London Bridge station. There, she met up with eleven others and, together, the party caught the 6:45pm train for Newhaven on the coast, where they boarded a ferry for Dieppe in France.

So begins my book On the Nile. Did you catch the significance of that date? It is exactly 150 years ago today. And the significance of Miss Riggs’s journey is that one of the eleven fellow travellers she met at London Bridge was Thomas Cook – the Thomas Cook – and their destination together was Egypt. This was the very first organized trip to Egypt led by Cook. Within just a few years, the name of Thomas Cook would come to dominate tourism in Egypt, and continue to do so for the best part of a century.

Thomas Cook entered the excursion business in 1841 with a short train trip in the English Midlands. For a few years, trips to the north of Britain were the mainstay of his business, but in 1851 there was money to be made ferrying tourists down to London for the Great Exhibition, the first of the World’s Fairs that were to become so popular in the second half of the nineteenth century. He made his first forays across the English Channel to mainland Europe in 1855 and, in 1861, led his first proper trip to Paris. In June 1863, he took his first party to Switzerland, pushing on into Italy in July 1864, and crossing the Atlantic to America in the spring of 1866.

Screen Shot 2019-01-25 at 20.51.31

A man of deeply religious convictions, it’s no surprise that Cook would eventually turn his attention to Egypt and neighbouring Palestine. In autumn 1868 he set out solo for Constantinople, Beirut, Jaffa, Alexandria and Cairo to investigate transport arrangements, assess hotels, and estimate costs. He judged that the region was suitable for Western tour parties and advertised just such an expedition in the Cook company newsletter.


Which brings us back to Miss Riggs, who, along with her fellow travellers, had responded to Cook’s advertisements and signed up for his historic inaugural trip. The reason I single her out is that she kept a detailed diary of the historic trip. Her pocket notebook [above] crammed with spiky script, complete with ruled footnotes and marginal additions, survives until today in the Cook company archives and I got to spend time examining it a few years ago. She documents her journey day by day. At one point I hoped to celebrate the anniversary of her journey by following in her footsteps but unfortunately that has not been possible. Nevertheless, over the coming weeks I am going to keep readers of this blog abreast of her progress in a series of posts. Tomorrow we reach Paris.

Thank you to Paul Smith of the Thomas Cook archives for the diary scans.


Filed under Nile steamers, Travellers' tales

Egyptian Museum original drawings

From the online archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the original watercolour designs for Cairo’s Egyptian Museum by French architect Marcel-Lazare Dourgnon – also responsible for the Egyptian pavilion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, which I blogged about a couple of months back (here). Click to enlarge.





Leave a Comment

Filed under Egyptologists and Egyptology

Vintage Cairo from the BnF

Ryder Kouba, a colleague working at AUC, recently pointed me to the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. I wish I had known about it when I was putting together Grand Hotels. It has some excellent vintage images of Cairo and Egypt that I would have loved to have included in the book. Malish, maybe if we do a second, updated edition. Meanwhile, see if you can identify the places below – captions at the end.














The pics are Emad ed-Din Street; the main entrance of the Savoy Hotel on Qasr el-Nil Street; Boulaq Bridge, looking toward Zamalek, since replaced by the 26th of July Flyover; the Heliopolis Palace Hotel under construction (now the presidential palace); Shepheard’s Hotel, burned down in 1952; Ataba Square, looking west; Bab al-Hadid Station, now Ramses Square; Opera Square; Rondpont Suleiman Pasha, now Midan Talaat Harb, dominated by the Savoy Hotel; the Hotel d’ Angleterre, next to the Hashamayim synagogue on what’s now Adly Street; Shepheard’s street-side terrace; rue Suleiman Pasha, now Talaat Harb; the Boulaq bridge.

1 Comment

Filed under Grand hotels, Hotels then and now, Lost Egypt, Shepheard's