A Travellerspoint blog

May 14 - Hatshepsut's Temple and Howard Carter's House

sunny 80 °F

Today we had a leisurely morning: slept in a bit, had some breakfast, and packed up for our flight this afternoon.

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We have hired a taxi driver to take us out to Hatshepsut’s Temple and Carter’s House on the West Bank before our 2:10 flight to Cairo. We were hoping to rent bikes and ride out to the West Bank using the local ferry but we can’t find an open rental shop. Darn it.

It’s an incredibly beautiful day - barely 75 degrees. Once the driver drops us off at the parking lot, we purchase our tickets and decide to walk up to the temple instead of taking the tram. I guess the tram makes sense on really hot days but it travels all of a couple hundred yards: from the parking lot/ticket office to the “visitor’s center”, a visitor’s center that is mostly made up of souvenir shops.

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Here in Luxor and in Aswan I have overheard a lot of people speaking German but Hatshepsut’s temple is the first place in Egypt I have run into an Australian tour group. They’re pretty funny. (Get your arse in here! Now take the bloody picture already! Haven't you got enough pictures? We’re heading to the pub next, right?)

The actual facts of Hatshepsut’s reign are few and far between; there have been many theories offered over the years that make for fun reading (palace intrigues, murder, and romantic love affairs between royals and commoners). We know that Hatshepsut lived 1473-1458 B.C. and was the daughter of Thutmosis I. She married her father’s son and heir, Thutmosis II (yes, that would mean she married her half-brother but the Egyptians did not make such distinctions). Thutmosis II died before she could provide him with an heir; one of Thutmosis II’s secondary wives gave birth to the heir, Thutmosis III. When Thutmosis II died, Hatshepsut did not step down but continued to reign as the king’s widow (technically a co-regency with Thutmosis III but he was too young to be bothered with such details.) A number of years later she had herself declared pharaoh.

The temple is amazing to see and it’s no wonder it is considered one of greatest architectural masterpieces of the world.

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Next up is a visit to Howard Carter’s house. It is located on the West Bank near the entrance to the Valley of the Kings; it has only been open as a museum for about eighteen months.

We should have purchased tickets at the main office a few miles down the road so our taxi driver will run over there to get our tickets while we relax on the grass at the entrance to the house. The grass is so green and lush – it looks like a golf course. And the weather is still wonderful. There’s a nice breeze blowing; it might be about 80 degrees.

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It is nice to see how Mr. Carter might have lived his daily life while excavating in the Valley of the Kings. None of the furniture is original but they have done a nice job fixing it up; it is obviously a labour of love. The highlight of the tour is a "visit" from Howard Carter himself. They have set up a presentation in the formal living room using a Pepper's Ghost effect. An actor portraying Howard Carter comes in and describes finding Tutankhamen's tomb. It's really cool! I enjoyed it immensely!

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During the renovation a café and patio were added to the back of the house – it’s very nice but unfortunately we don’t have time to enjoy it. We need to pick up our luggage and head for the Luxor airport for our flight back to Cairo.

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Posted by MeijiBlack 13:11 Archived in Egypt Tagged luxor hatshepsut's_temple west_bank valley_of_the_queens carter's_house Comments (0)

May 13 - Day Trip to Abydos

Cult Centre of Osiris

sunny 92 °F

We are now on our way to Abydos, the cult center of Osiris, 90 miles north of Luxor. It was originally built by Seti I, XIX Dynasty, New Kingdom, with additional work completed by his son, Ramses II. (When it came to legacies, Seti I was all about the quality of work while Ramses II was all about quantity.)

The outer courtyard and the second court were built by Ramses II. Originally the temple had seven doors leading up the aisles to the individual sanctuaries. Ramses II had all of the doors sealed up except the central doorway creating a familiar hypostyle hall. Ramses II also had the original reliefs in the outer hypostyle hall chiseled away to make room for his own. The reliefs in the remaining parts of the temple – inner hypostyle hall, sanctuaries, shrines, and Osiris chapel – belong to Seti I. The aisles lead into seven barrel-vaulted sanctuaries consecrated to Seti, Ptah, Re-Horachty, Amon, Osiris, Isis, and Horus.

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The right wall in the King’s Gallery features one of the few kings' lists. It is missing a few pharaohs considered at that time unimportant or illegitimate: Akhenaten, Tutankamen, Hatshepsut, Ay, and Horemheb.

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The passage perpendicular to the King’s Gallery contains reliefs by Ramses II. Ramses II and a young prince are shown lassoing and taming a wild bull.

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In back of the Abydos temple is the Oseirion, the alleged tomb of Osiris. Thought to be built by Seti I, Timothy is fascinated by this section of Abydos.

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Oh, and for all those "Chariots of the Gods" believers out there, here are hieroglyphs showing the helicopter and submarine. I think I see a plane and a space ship in there as well.

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It’s been an exhausting day and we eat our box lunches on the way back to Luxor. I’m too tired to think about going out tonight so we decide to have dinner in our room. Tomorrow we are off to see the Valley of the Queens.

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Posted by MeijiBlack 16:44 Archived in Egypt Tagged abydos osiris Comments (0)

May 13 - Day Trip to Dendera

Temple of Hathor

sunny 89 °F

We are leaving this morning at seven thirty for a day trip to Dendera and Abydos but first we need to have a hearty breakfast: fried eggs, tahini, leavened bread, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, coffee, fuul, falafel, and cheese. This is the first time I have seen eggs for breakfast on this trip so I think they might be there just for us.

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There are six of us in the group plus the driver: Mohammed, our English-speaking Egyptian guide, and a German couple with their Egyptian guide who speaks German. I have borrowed a book from the Mara House “library” for this day trip: “Chasing Harry Winston” by Lauren Weisberger. It is a one hour drive to Dendera, then a two hour drive from Dendera to Abydos which means a three hour return drive to Mara House. This chick lit book will make the time go faster if it’s a good read.

Not five minutes drive outside of Luxor is farmland with mostly sugar cane and wheat grown these days. It's beautiful - donkey carts being driven everywhere and mud brick houses along the main roads and the canals. Here's a picture of the sugar cane train - small scale tracks that run along the canals past everyone's farms. They load their sugar cane stalks onto the cars and then the train cars are moved on the tracks to the Nile where they are transported by barge to the market and the sugar cane processing plant.

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Our first stop is Dendera, a large well-preserved Graeco-Roman temple dedicated to Hathor. The current temple was begun in the first century B.C. under the last of the Ptolemies and completed under Augustus (30 B.C. – 14 A.D.). Dendera was the chief seat of worship of Hathor and in Ptolemic times (probably earlier) there would be reciprocal festivals and pilgrimages every year between this Temple of Hathor and the Temple of Horus further south in Edfu (see my 5/XX/2011 entry in this blog for our visit to the Temple of Horus).

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One of the really cool aspects of this temple is the secret texts (previously only known by the priests of the temple) were enshrined as reliefs on the exterior and interior walls. Priests would still be needed to interpret the texts for ceremonies but the formerly secret texts could now be public knowledge if one knew how to read them.

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The ceilings in the Hypostyle Hall are currently being cleaned and they have left a portion of the ceiling (in the center of the hall) with the soot from centuries of fires to show the difference. There is still a lot of pigment on the ceilings and columns - very nice! But darn it! Hathor's face on each and every column has been chiseled off.

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My favorites are the walls of the eastern staircase leading to the roof chapels: there are life-size figures of priests on both walls walking up and down the staircase to and from the roof chapels. The staircase runs the length of the temple with a very shallow rise.

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Another cool feature of Dendera that you don’t find elsewhere are… crypts! Some of the crypts are beneath the temple and we get to crawl down into one that is open to visitors. The reliefs in this crypt are very nicely detailed and date back to Ptolemy XII (80-51 B.C.), some of the oldest reliefs found in the temple.

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Visiting this temple was not at the top of my list for this trip but I’m glad we’ve taken the time to visit Dendera. It is a fascinating and beautiful temple!

We are now on our way to Abydos and Timothy pulls out a small snack: sandwich creme cookies. At first I think it's a Nabisco cookie - a little "hello" from home. But no! It's not Nabisco, but ARABISCO. Brilliant!

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Posted by MeijiBlack 13:29 Archived in Egypt Tagged dendera temple_of_hathor Comments (0)

May 12 - Karnak Sound and Light Show

sunny 77 °F

Okay, I know what you're thinking: "Sound and Light Show, huh? Can there be anything more touristy?" I personally think these sound and light shows are hokey. And we have had a lot of people tell us which shows are the best and which shows aren't worth our time. Unfortunately, very few opinions agree: "See the Pyramids show only if you want to see the Pyramids at night."; "The Philae Temple complex show is the best one."; "The Luxor Temple show is..." - oh, wait, there is no Luxor Temple show.

There is a show at the Karnak Temple and that's the one we have time to see regardless of what anyone thinks of it. Timothy is looking forward to it and I think this is the only chance we will have to visit Karnak.

I will let the pictures below do the talking. And I although I found it boring I didn't fall asleep. (Sometimes that's all I can ask for.) Tomorrow we will be taking a day trip to Dendara and Abydos.

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Posted by MeijiBlack 15:14 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

May 12 - Back to Luxor

Valley of the Kings, Medinet Habu Temple, Colossi of Memnon

sunny 92 °F

We are up early and out of our hotel by 6:30 a.m. this morning: we have a seven o’clock train to catch for Luxor. Having tried three times in the last three days to purchase our tickets in advance, we are going to purchase our tickets on the train. We have read up about this – thank you seat61.com! – and the Egyptian government claims to only sell the sleeper train tickets to tourists (it’s safer they say). But there is a way around this. We get on our preferred train and sit in the class car we want to pay for: first, second, or third. After the train leaves the station, the conductor comes through and we purchase our tickets from him. There is a charge of about five Egyptian pounds per person for doing this so our total is 92 Egyptian pounds (about $15.33 USD) for two first-class tickets to Luxor. I walked through the first- and second-class cars and I can’t tell the difference between them on this train.

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We arrive in Luxor about ten thirty (on time as per the schedule!) and there is a taxi from our hotel waiting for us. Actually it’s not a hotel, it is a guesthouse called Mara House. It’s very nice and we are greeted by Mara herself. She orders coffee for three of us and we sit and chat for about an hour before going up to our room.

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We ask Mara for some advice on how much time it might take to visit a few of the sites this afternoon. We decide to hire a taxi driver and hit the Valley of the Kings (KV) and Medinat Habu with a quick stop at the Colossi of Memnon before heading back to Mara House.

It's warm today and we arrive at the Valley of the Kings about twelve o'clock. I'm hoping most of the visitors will decide it's too hot to visit in the middle of the day but there are several large groups. They say no cameras are allowed in the Valley of the Kings so we leave our camera in the taxi. There are "guards" everywhere in KV so if we were to sneak a camera in we would need to be discreet about taking any pictures.

The ticket office has a list of of tombs that are open this year. We had wanted to visit Seti I's tomb but it is closed. We can purchase a ticket to see three tombs of our choice but several tombs are not included on that ticket; Tut and Ramses VI are extra tickets. We purchase the three-tomb ticket for Merenptah (KV 8), Ramses I (KV 16), and Ramses III (KV 11); we also purchase the extra tickets for Tut (KV 62) and Ramses VI (KV 9). Then we hop on the tram (an additional 2 LE) that takes us up into the valley where the tombs are located.

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Turns out that it's a good idea to purchase the extra tickets: we are by ourselves in Tut's and Ramses VI's tombs. Excellent! Well, almost by ourselves. There are those guards who have the job of keeping an eye on us. They keep telling us (gesturing really) we can climb over the gates and fences in each of the tombs, for a price of course. We decline each time. The only guard who doesn't encourage us is the guard in Tut's tomb. He tells us the inspector has been visiting KV in recent days and the guard seems concerned about getting caught letting visitors in the forbidden areas of the tombs. Too bad - I would love to get closer to Tut's gold coffin inside the sarcophagus in the Burial Chamber.

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Except for Tut's, all of the tombs are so much bigger than I ever thought. (It's good to be king!) The pictures and documentaries I have seen don't do them justice. It is amazing to walk through the corridors leading down into the chambers. We spend about an hour and a half in KV and it's hot and bright thanks to the white rock throughout the valley. My sunglasses need sunglasses. KV seems very quiet today but I still try imagine what it must been like one hundred plus years ago when it was busy with people digging out recently discovered tombs and excavating for any signs of a new tomb (with undisturbed funerary treasures to be discovered inside it, of course).

Next on the agenda is Medinat Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramses III. It is huge and, according to the guide books, second only to Karnak in size. We have not yet visited Karnak so Medinat Habu is very impressive. Many of the reliefs in the second court still retain their original paint colors - it's beautiful. Also, many of the hieroglyphs were carved deep into the stone, some as deep as eight inches. One of the main theories for such deep carvings is that Ramses III had no intention of being usurped and losing his temple to a future pharaoh (taking his lead from Ramses II). Not uncommon for the new pharaoh to come along and chisel out the name of the old pharaoh replacing it with his own. Nice deep carvings might prevent someone from taking the trouble.

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We passed the Colossi of Memnon as we made our way onto the West Bank and now that we are headed back to the East Bank we stop to have a quick look at them. (I think this may be the only "free" ancient site to see in Luxor - no tickets to buy.) The Colossi of Memnon represent Amenhotep III and are all that's left of his mortuary temple, thought to have been the largest ever built in Egypt. The temple was gradually destroyed by the annual floods of the Nile and plundered for building material by later pharaohs.

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We are now headed back to Mara House for a rest and some dinner before heading out for this evening's entertainment: the Sound and Light show at Karnak.

Posted by MeijiBlack 13:06 Archived in Egypt Tagged train_travel valley_of_the_kings medinet_habu colossi_of_memnon king_tutanhkamen ramses_vi Comments (0)

May 11 - Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel, the McArabia, felucca sailing, Kitchener's Island Botanical Gardens

sunny 89 °F

We are up early and by four o'clock we are at a parking lot for the early caravan to Abu Simbel. There are two caravans a day to Abu Simbel: one at 4:00 a.m. and one at 11:00 a.m. The early caravan allows us about two and a half hours at Abu Simbel plus the advantage of it being nice and cool in the early morning hours. If we were to take the late morning caravan we would end up spending only about an hour and a half there and it can be really hot by that time.

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The caravan heads out in three groups: 4:15 a.m., 4:30 a.m. and 4:45 a.m. There are a couple of rules: a lead bus and an end bus are designated. All of the cars, buses or vans must stay with the caravan but they can’t pass the lead bus and they can’t lag behind the end bus. I had read the caravans were organized for security reasons because of past terrorist attacks. That may still be true but another big reason is the drive is about three hours and it is a desolate drive. If you broke down on the road you would be very miserable and it would be difficult to get help. Cell phone service is not available for the entire area.

Even with a nice comfortable car or van, it is a difficult and boring drive. There is no stopping along the way (there’s nothing to stop for) and there’s nothing to see except sand. For some reason the drivers still think it’s necessary to drive like they are in Cairo. Sometimes there are three cars driving abreast at 120 or 130 kilometers an hour, which can still make for a hair-raising adventure. That means at least one car is driving in the lane of oncoming traffic. There is very little oncoming traffic but still… the distant road shimmers in the heat and it can be difficult to see up ahead. I can’t sleep sitting up so that’s out of the question. I keep an eye on our driver to see if he’s feeling sleepy. Our guide from the boat, Ismail, is with us – he and Timothy seem to have no trouble sleeping. I watch the road and try to act casual as the front bumper of our car comes within inches (I’m not exaggerating here!) of the lead bus. Sometimes we pull up alongside the lead bus as if we are going to pass it but we never do.

We arrive at Abu Simbel about 7:30 a.m. Ismail has given us the history lecture in the car in the last half hour before we arrive. We hit the WC and then walk quickly towards the temples in hopes of getting a couple of photos before the crowds descend. Ismail tells us what to look for inside the temples (tour guides and cameras are not allowed in the temples) and then we are on our own to explore.

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Abu Simbel is probably the most crowded place we have been to in Egypt to date. Maybe because it has the most control when visiting. (You would need to decide at least a day in advance if you are going and then join one of the tour groups. The caravans need to know who’s going and what vehicle will be used: the military police keep records of our arrivals and departures at every point. Nothing fancy – this information is passed on to the police by the caravan drivers; we don’t need to show our passports.) With all the ships in Aswan, there are a lot of foreign tourists. In fact, this is the first time on this trip that I haven’t seen any women with their heads covered except with a hat. Egyptians don’t wear hats so we foreigners are easy to spot by our headgear. The temples are very beautiful and there is still a lot of the original paint on the walls.

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Abu Simbel is an amazing spot and I can’t help but think we are looking at two world wonders in one: the original temples themselves carved out of the mountain rock thousands of years ago and the second world wonder of moving these two temples to keep them from being submerged by the new High Dam completed in 1971. Timothy and I are both fascinated by the enormous job it would have taken to do this. Luckily the visitor’s center shows a documentary that includes film footage taken during the four-year project headed by UNESCO (also for sale in the visitor’s center). The guard obliges our request to play the DVD in the English language version and we spend a few minutes checking it out. It is an amazing mind-boggling job: Abu Simbel was moved 210 meters behind and 65 meters above their original location. Then a fake mountain dome was created to mimic the original mountain and avoid any possible stress damage in the future.

I am happy we went to the extra trouble and money of visiting Abu Simbel but Timothy and I are both wiped out by the time we arrive back in Aswan around 1:00 p.m. We aren’t good for much so we arrange to sail on a felucca around Elephantine Island and visit the botanical gardens on Kitchener’s Island. I also get to see the Old Cataract Hotel from our felucca. I would have liked to enjoy a G&T on the terrace at this hotel but it is unfortunately closed right now for renovation. (A little book and movie trivia: Agatha Christie stayed at this hotel and was inspired to write, “Death on the Nile” during one of her stays here in Aswan. And of course, the 1970s movie version of “Death on the Nile” was partially filmed at this hotel.)

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Prior to our felucca trip, we get a late lunch at one of the local eateries. Whenever we travel in another country, Timothy and I like to have one meal at McDonalds. It can be very interesting how the food of a popular American institution is translated to appeal to the local culture and tastes. So I give you... the McArabia! Two grilled 100% Kofta patties covered with tahina sauce, fresh lettuce, tomatoes and onions all wrapped in a savoury Arabic bread. Yummy! The fries were really good and I had a McRoyale with Cheese (just like in "Pulp Fiction"!). For some reason though the beef patties in the hamburgers were really salty.

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That pretty much does it for Aswan. I don’t think there’s much more we could do here… Wait, let me clarify that: I’m sure there is a lot more we could do but I don’t think we would be interested. I had thought Aswan was a much smaller place than it is. For some reason I had gotten the impression Aswan was a small town where people briefly stop to visit Abu Simbel; it is much more than that. Unfortunately, it is beginning to remind me of our trip to the Greek Islands. Remember that trip, John and Regina? Aswan is beginning to remind me of Poros. Can’t go into detail here but I think you get the idea.

Posted by MeijiBlack 15:42 Archived in Egypt Tagged aswan botanical_gardens abu_simbel elephantine_island kitchener's_island Comments (1)

May 10 - Our last day and night on the dahabeeyah

High Dam, Philae Temple complex, Unfinished Obelisk, Nubian Museum

sunny 90 °F

I woke up early this morning and am up to see the sunrise. Very beautiful but very noisy: birds and lots of them, donkeys, cows, crickets, and frogs. They all have something to say early in the morning.

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Another early day and we are on the road by eight o’clock this morning. Our first stop is the High Dam. With lots of military security, we get out of the van and go through a security checkpoint to see the dam. Despite a short lecture on the history of the dam it is as boring as I expected.

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We pile into the van and drive back the way we came. We have asked to stop and see the monument built by the Soviet Union to celebrate the completion of the High Dam. I didn’t know this (not that I would have known since I knew very little before our visit) but the Soviet Union played a very large role in planning and building the High Dam. As you can see from the pictures below, this monument is HUGE and is a wonderful interpretation of the relationship between the two countries during this project. We spend more time at this monument than we did at the High Dam. A large reflecting pool surrounds the monument but ironically there is no water in it. Hey Chris! I know you would enjoy seeing this monument so these pictures are for you.

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We are now on our way to the Philae Temple complex. This is one of the temples relocated to a higher elevation so the water from the new High Dam wouldn’t bury it completely. Philae Temple was actually partially covered by water before the Egyptian government requested UNESCO to help them save a large number of antiquities. We make our way to the ferry dock so we can visit the “new” Philae island.

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After the Philae Temple we return to the dahabeeyah for lunch and a siesta. We are on our own for the afternoon so the five of us decide to share a van and visit the Unfinished Obelisk and the Nubian Museum.

The Unfinished Obelisk quarry will close at four o’clock so we plan to leave the dahabeeyah at three. We climb around the quarry (amazing there aren’t more restrictions keeping people from hurting themselves at these sites) and make our way to the Unfinished Obelisk. It’s cool to see but I think it looks more impressive in the photos. We hang out for a few minutes but the guards are ready to quit for the day. At 3:45 they yell at us from the top of the quarry that they are leaving and we need to leave with them. They are nice about kicking us out even when I ask one of them if I could take his picture with him holding his Uzi machine gun. He says “no” but then changes his mind: I can have my picture if I give him a kiss. I tell him that’s too expensive a bargain but Colin wonders if he could make the same deal for a picture of the guard and his Uzi. Ha! You are too funny, Colin!

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I had read good things about the Nubian Museum and it does not disappoint. It is an amazing collection and the curators have done a great job compiling the history of Nubia and their relationship with Egypt over the millennia.

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Not to make fun of someone's translation but there was this funny sign in English advertising the cafe at the Nubia Museum. The funny part read "We are distinguished for a special way of preparing beverages, and nobody knows it." Well, that is irresistible. We had to have a coffee at the cafe after we had finished with the museum.

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Our day ends with a celebration dinner: it is the last night for all of us on the dahabeeyah. Timothy and I are leaving at 3:45 a.m. tomorrow morning for the early morning caravan to Abu Simbel. Colin, Gerry and Anna are leaving on the late morning Abu Simbel caravan so we will be saying our farewells tonight.

The chef has made a special dessert in our honor, a beautiful iced cake. The captain and crew then gather on the deck to lead us in singing and dancing. We have some cake and then we say good night and goodbye to Colin, Gerry, and Anna. I am sad to leave them as we have had a great time travelling with the three of them. They are a wonderful family that enjoys travelling together and they have some great stories to tell of their many, many adventures. We exchange email addresses and say good night.

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We have had such a great time on this cruise and I don’t want to leave the dahabeeyah.

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Posted by MeijiBlack 15:28 Archived in Egypt Tagged aswan philae_temple_complex high_dam unfinished_obelisk nubian_museum Comments (0)

May 9 - Nile cruise continues

Sail all day and arrive in Aswan

sunny 92 °F

Ahhh! Today was a perfect lazy day continuing to sail (and I mean sail this time) down the Nile. The weather is perfect, cooler than it has been in the last few days. Most of us are lying about reading our books, taking a nap or working on laptops. Add the backdrop of sailing down the Nile and I don't think I could ask for a more perfect place to be lazy.

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Lunch is light and delicious: sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, wheat bread, tahini, molasses, and a tuna salad. Who came up with the idea of drizzling molasses on tahini? It's brilliant! The molasses here is much lighter tasting and not as thick as the molasses we get in the US. It might have something to do with the fact that they are not "unsulfured" molasses. I don't know but I'm definitely going to do some research on this topic.

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As we finish lunch we sail beneath a large modern bridge which means we are entering Aswan. We will tie up in Aswan within the hour. Can't say I'm thrilled about that: it means our cruise is almost over and I'm not ready to leave our dahabeeyah.

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We will be going into Aswan to visit the souk after dinner. In the meantime Gerry and I are taking advantage of the first bit of free WiFi available in days. It means we need to sit at the very back of the dahabeeyah but that's okay with us. Thank you, Iberotel Aswan!

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Dinner is another great meal and finally, koshari is on the menu. Yummy! Along with beef simmered in tomatoes, spaghetti, lentils, and rice. Egypt has a nice light tasting beer, Stella. Very good with tonight's dinner.

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After dinner we take a van to the Aswan market. And lucky us - there is a giant pylon at the entrance that says "Aswan Tourist Market". Okay, I was hoping this was going to be a market that the locals shop at but that does not appear to be the case. There are lots of locals hanging out but they don't appear to be buying anything. The guide books say this market has a great selection of spices. Ismail lives here in Aswan when he is not working and he takes us to the spice shop where he shops for his spices.

We all stop at a pharmacy so Colin can purchase some cold medicine (his cold symptoms started yesterday; my cold symptoms are showing up as we walk through the market though I don't know it yet) then we split up after Ismail tells us when, where and what time we will meet up later.

Lots of vendors yelling at us as we walk by: "I don't know what you want but I'm sure I have it."; "Please, my friend, come and take a look at my shop. Just for a minute."; "No charge for looking."; "What are you looking for?"; "You are looking for a [select an item: scarf/scarab/t-shirt]?"; "I can help you spend your money." The list is endless. And it is exhausting to work our way through several people at once. They don't listen to anything we say and if we don't say anything we are asked "Why are you so angry?". The one that seems to work some of the time is when I say "no money". Once when I said this to a ten-year-old boy trying to sell me scarab bracelets, he responded "No money, no honey." and walked away in search for his next sale.

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Posted by MeijiBlack 15:53 Archived in Egypt Tagged aswan aswan_spice_market Comments (2)

May 8 - Nile cruise continues

Horemheb Temple, Silsila Quarry and Kom Ombo Temple

sunny 92 °F

Another great night being rocked to sleep by the boat. We are up early and having breakfast at 7:30 a.m. so we have some time to explore the temple and quarry. On the boat Ismail gives us a short lecture about the history of Silsila then we are off to explore. All of the granite used in the temples in Luxor and Cairo was cut and brought up the Nile from Aswan.

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During the early afternoon we tie up along side the shore and we go swimming in the Nile. Well, I just go wading because I forgot to pack my bathing suit. But Tim goes for a swim and he has a great time.

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We arrive at Kom Ombo (48 kilometers south of Edfu) late in the afternoon and have time to visit the temple before dinner. Kom Ombo is a double temple dedicated to two separate divine triads: Horus the Elder and Sobek, the crocodile god. Lots of crocodiles in this area so it was important they give offerings regularly to Sobek. Everyone loved Horus but the Temple of Edfu, dedicated to Horus, was just up the Nile. What to do? They "made up" Horus the Elder so they could worship their beloved Horus close by.

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This Greco-Roman temple was begun and mostly completed under the Ptolemies. The reliefs in the courtyards and the outer walls were carved under the Romans. Inscriptions name Tiberius (14-37 A.D.), Domitian (81-96 A.D.), Trajan (98-17 A.D.), and finally Macrinus (217-218 A.D.). A lot of the reliefs were deliberately damaged once Justinian, 6th century Byzantine emperor, took over and decreed that all of the temples were to be converted to Christianity. Part of the conversion work would included chiseling out the parts of the reliefs that showed skin - faces, arms, hands, legs and feet - leaving only the body that was covered by the tunic and the crown.

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After our visit to Kom Ombo we continue sailing down the Nile where we tie up at a small island and have a barbeque dinner on the island. This is the last night for our Austrian shipmates so after dinner the crew treats us to a medley of Egyptian songs and music.

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Posted by MeijiBlack 15:24 Archived in Egypt Tagged kom_ombo temple_of_horemheb silsia_quarry Comments (0)

May 7 - Nile Cruise continues: Edfu Temple

sunny 94 °F

Held off as long as I could and finally went to bed about 10:00 p.m. last night. Slept great! We tied up about 40 km north of Edfu last night. This morning we will continue on and arrive in Edfu about 10-10:30 a.m.

Once we arrive in Edfu we hire a calèche (horse drawn carriage) to take us to the Edfu Temple or Temple of Horus. I check out the horse and he doesn’t look bad. I had heard that the horses used for the carriages are badly mistreated and emaciated but I’m not seeing any horses with sores on their backs or looking malnourished. I tell the driver not to use a whip on the horse and I see that he doesn’t have a whip. He agrees with me, “no whip”. And he’s right, he does not use a whip. What he does have is a rope with a few knots tied onto the end of it. When he wants the horse to go faster he swings the rope around and slaps the rope on the underside the horse. He only does it twice to the horse on our trip: once each way. I would rather walk or take a cab than see a horse whipped or mistreated.

We arrive at the Edfu Temple and it is amazing! One of the best preserved temples it is the Ptolemaic cult Temple of Horus. Prior to its excavation, it was covered in mud and silt with houses built on top of it.

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We then set sail again and head for Silsila, an ancient quarry that is located between Edfu and Kom Ombu. The quarry can be found on either side of the Nile but we park the boat along the west bank immediately below the Temple of Horemheb, a temple carved into the sandstone. We have arrived after dark and the temple is lit up for security (to keep looters from trying to take pieces of the carved walls) with a couple of guards on duty. It is quite spectacular to have our dinner on the upper deck with the lit temple behind us.

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Tomorrow morning we will do some exploring after breakfast before heading south to Kom Ombo.

Posted by MeijiBlack 15:16 Archived in Egypt Tagged edfu temple_of_edfu Comments (1)

May 6 - the Amoura dahabeeyah for our Nile cruise

sunny 98 °F

We have arrived at our boat, the Amoura dahabeeyah), and it’s wonderful! We have the Owner’s Suite, which runs along the back of the boat and includes a balcony where we can relax privately.

There are six cabins plus one suite; so a full boat could have up to fifteen people (if three people are in the suite). There are seven of us sailing: the two of us, the three Canadians we met at the train station (Colin, Gerry, and Anna) and two Austrians (husband and wife). The Austrians only speak German so other than “good morning” and “good night” we don’t speak with them much. There are two guides on board: Ismail is an English-speaking Egyptian guide for the five of us and there is another Egyptian gentleman who speaks German as guide for the Austrians.

We are shown to our cabins with instructions to freshen up: lunch to be served in half an hour. We “set sail” immediately because we need to be 60 kilometers south of Esna before we tie up for the night. I say 'set sail' but there is not enough wind to sail the entire distance in five plus days. We have a tugboat that will travel with us and pull us for part of the trip. Not an ideal situation but the trip is only five days and we need to travel a total of 228 km from Esna to Aswan. We will reach the halfway mark on our trip tomorrow, Saturday, at Edfu. There’s not much to see between Esna and Edfu (well, nothing that is conveniently located close to the Nile).

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It seems cooler here in Esna on the boat although the weather report indicated it will get hotter the further south we traveled.

We will be having more traditional Egyptian cuisine for our meals on board the dahabeeyah. One difference is the food is prepared European-style so we (hopefully) don't fall victim to the "Pharoah's curse". Here's a picture of lunch: Egyptian wheat pita (served at every meal), white beans, a cucumber/tomato/parsley salad, tahini with molasses, and rice. Yummy!

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If the weather allows it we will have all of our meals on the upper deck. There is a lounge below deck with a dining table but it is a bit dark in there. The lounge also has a bar, television with satellite and a DVD player. I don't plan to spend any time in the lounge.

Here are a few photos Timothy took after lunch while we were relaxing on our balcony. It is bliss!

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Posted by MeijiBlack 16:11 Archived in Egypt Tagged nile_cruise dahabeeyah esna egyptian_cuisine Comments (1)

May 6 - Arriving in Luxor

sunny 103 °F

4:45 a.m.
I don’t think I slept at all last night. Train was a bit noisy. Timothy and I are awake and ready by 5:00 a.m. Breakfast is another exciting culinary adventure: after a sleepless night, it’s just what I need to put me to sleep: bread, bread, and more bread. The problem is I have no place to sleep until we board our boat about 3:30 this afternoon.

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Fortunately there is a “left luggage” office where we can stow our luggage until it’s time to meet the host for our cruise.

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We agree to find some breakfast where we can get some protein; eggs would be good – we need the energy. We have about seven hours to kill before we need to show up at the Iberhotel here in Luxor. What to do? Luxor Temple is across the street so that will be our first stop.

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Here's Timothy enjoying one of his favorite pastimes this morning: sitting in the shade.

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Next stop is someplace with air conditioning and the Luxor Museum fits the bill. The Luxor Museum has some very nice pieces in their collection but no cameras allowed. One of the administrative staff (?) at the museum is casually carrying an Uzi machine gun as he goes about his business at the museum. He’s not dressed as tourist police or military police – he’s wearing a yellow button down shirt, linen trousers and dress shoes. Not going to take a chance on being caught with my camera out in this museum.

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1:00 p.m.
Ah, finally! We head to the hotel to meet the rest of our party for the cruise. We have a little lunch and lucky for us everyone shows up early. We pile in the van and take off for Esna, which is about 45 minutes south of Luxor. I discover the reason we don’t board the boat in Luxor: there is a series of locks in Esna and it takes too much time for the boat to pass through the locks especially when there are a lot of the tourist boats and ships lining up to pass through to Aswan.

Posted by MeijiBlack 13:50 Archived in Egypt Tagged luxor temple_of_luxor luxor_museum Comments (0)

May 5 & 6 - Cairo to Luxor on the Sleeper Train

When it’s really hot and you’ve been out sightseeing in this hot weather, a cool gin and tonic sounds really good, doesn’t it? Especially about three o’clock in the afternoon. We’re on vacation so it doesn’t seem too early for a G&T. Oh but it is, especially when you are visiting a Muslim country. We went to Shepheard’s Hotel but the bar doesn’t open until five o’clock. Argh!

Back to our hotel to collect our luggage and then we are off to the train station for the overnight sleeper train. Turns out we do not get on the train at the Ramses station but need to go to the Giza station. We arrive about seven o’clock in the evening but our train does not leave until 8:30. Eight thirty comes and goes.

We met a few other English-speaking people who are also looking for confirmation that we haven’t all missed our train. Hmmm… it’s possible we are all taking the same boat for our Nile cruise. Our tour operator mentioned to me that there were three Canadians and two Austrians on our dahabheeya boat. And here are three Canadians: Colin, Gerry, and Anna.

Finally the train trundles in about nine o’clock, everyone jumps on, finds their seat and we take off about five minutes later. The train may be late (it often runs behind schedule) but it doesn’t waste any time getting out of the station.

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Dinner and breakfast are served on the overnight train but we are not expecting anything fancy. It’s a good thing our expectations are low.

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We’re not sure if it’s beef and chicken or beef and fish. There’s no wine list and no bar car either. What did you expect for sixty dollars per person?

By nine thirty our dinner trays have been whisked away and the steward has returned to make up our beds. Timothy will take the upper bunk; I get the lower bunk and plan to work on my blog. The steward tells us he will wake us at five o’clock tomorrow morning so we can have our breakfast before we disembark at six in Luxor. The train will continue on to Aswan.

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Posted by MeijiBlack 15:31 Archived in Egypt Tagged overnight_sleeper_train Comments (0)

May 5 - Coptic Cairo via the Metro

sunny 100 °F

Today we decided to check out Coptic Cairo and took the Metro to get there. I don't think we were there during rush hour but the trains were crowded.

We get out at the Mar Girgis station and the Coptic Museum is right there. No pictures allowed but it is an incredible museum. Beautifully curated with lots and lots of intricate woodwork in a modern building.

We wander down the street and visit the Hanging Church (suspended above the Water Gate), the Church of St. George and the Greek Orthodox cemetery.

It's now 12:30 p.m. and about 100 degrees. Definitely time for a break. We decide to stop at a cafe and great news! they serve fuul and koshari. These are two of the dishes we have wanted to try. Fuul is a paste of mashed black-eyed beans flavored with garlic and olive oil. Koshari is a mix of brown rice, lentils and macaroni topped with fried onions, a spicy tomato sauce, and chick peas. Here's a picture of our lunch along with a guest who invited himself once the food showed up:

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Posted by MeijiBlack 13:30 Archived in Egypt Tagged metro old_cairo mar_girgis_station Comments (0)

May 4 - Egyptian Antiquities Museum

semi-overcast 94 °F

Yeah! Today we are off to visit the Egyptian Museum. If we were to doing nothing else in Cairo, the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum are “can’t miss” destinations for me.

Let me just start by saying that the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities is the most wonderful, fascinating, frustrating, fun, exasperating, beautiful MESS. I know some of those words are redundant but I could go on. The place is an antiquity itself. Stuffed full of artifacts (and there is still much more in storage) I’m careful about where I turn because I might knock something onto the floor. Or a display case might collapse. Pieces have vague descriptive placards, sometimes in English, sometimes in French, sometimes in Arabic, sometimes in all three languages; sometimes there isn’t a placard at all. And often the English descriptions are misspelled.

Now the pictures I have attached below give you an idea of what I’m talking about but these are not actual pictures of the inside of the museum. You may see someone in these pictures that looks like me but that may be just a coincidence. Cameras are forbidden in the museum and this is a strict rule. We turned our Canon camera into the “camera check room” just like they instructed us. I hope everyone understands what I’m saying here without me having to put it in writing.

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We took a break and had a soda at the outdoor café. The café is on the plaza between the museum and the government building. A nice tall burned out government building that recently was under attack during some protests back in January. Yes, that protest. When we first arrived earlier this week, I asked a few people about the “revolution in January” but no one refers to it as a revolution. They refer to it as “January 25th” in the same way we say “Fourth of July”. Good to know.

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Fortunately, the museum itself did not burn at all. There is a small building separate from the museum that is used as storage. This building burned but nothing valuable was stored there so no major damage for the museum.

Posted by MeijiBlack 13:24 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

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