That night, we crossed the Nile to have our "welcome dinner" at a floating restaurant.
The next morning, we boarded a bus and headed for the spectacular pyramids and Sphinx. The weather was perfect, except for some haze. After lunch at a nearby outdoor restaurant, we were rushed back to our hotel before the demonstration started.
Many guests gathered on a huge fourth-floor terrace that overlooked the Nile and the now famous Kasr Al Nile bridge, as demonstrators marched in small groups, chanting slogans, toward Tahrir Square. Hotel staff passed among the guests, offering fruit drinks. It was like watching a Memorial Day parade, except that the security police, with plastic shields and helmets, were out in force.
Suddenly, the peaceful atmosphere changed and the police, using tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets, forced the protesters back across the bridge. Thus began what the New York Times later referred to as "perhaps the most pivotal battle of the revolution."
From the relative safety of the hotel terrace, we photographed this historic event, tear gas wafting in the afternoon air. Eventually, the demonstrators fought their way back across the bridge into Tahrir Square and set fire to the building that housed the ruling party's headquarters. From the balcony of our hotel room, we had views of the burning building and the center of Tahrir Square.
Later that afternoon, the riot police disappeared from the scene, replaced by army tanks and troops. But by then, the demonstrators had massed in the square, where they, joined by others, remained until President Hosni Mubarak resigned two weeks later.
Following the astonishing events of the day, our group assembled for dinner in one of the hotel's second-floor restaurants. We were told not to leave the hotel, and the next day hotel operations ceased on the first three levels, as the demonstrations escalated.
Meanwhile, the regime pulled the plug on Internet service. Our tour operator in Massachusetts relayed messages to our anxious families back home and began to plan our exit from Egypt. On Sunday morning, Jan. 30, our group headed to the airport in a convoy of taxis, boarded an EgyptAir flight, and 12 hours later landed at JFK in New York. We broke into applause, signaling the end of our shortened but historic adventure.
Richard Bartholomew lives in Chestnut Hill.