Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Valley of the Kings and Queens

Khaled, our guide, picked us up early from our hotel - he was pretty excited because they had just opened up Horembeb's tomb for 15 days. This is a tomb from the 18th dynasty and he was going to show us tombs from 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties so we could see just how different they were. At the entrance to the Valley of the Kings you can buy a ticket for 80L.E. which gives you access to any three tombs. Derrick wanted to see Tutankhamen's as well and that cost an extra 100L.E.
So, you cannot take any photos within the tombs and you get bombarded with people trying to sell you postcards as a result.
After the Valley of the Kings we went to the Valley of the Queens, and Queen Hatshepsut's triple temple oversees everything. You can get up close and personal to the carvings and paintings - this is one I liked of her army (the paint is still so vibrant):

These are the steps leading up to the main temple - it faces east across the Nile and lines up with Karnak Temple - pretty imposing, eh?

The 'cafe' here has to pay an exorbitant rental, which of course is passed on to the consumer, for example, to buy 1.75l bottle of water cost 25L.E. the day we were there (less tourists). The same size bottle cost us 1.75L.E. at a little shop by the railway station! We took a backpack with a bladder and filled it everyday with cold water, plus had 2 smaller bottles filled with Gatorade - it was so hot, it was necessary to drink every 20-30 minutes.
Now this photo is of a cartouche at Medinet Habu Temple, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III - the engravings are very deep - guess he didn't want his memory erased to easily!

Later in the early evening we had a felucca ride on the Nile - here's a shot of the West Bank:

Things I would recommend: get a good guide - there's so much information, you can't read it all and decide what to visit and then enjoy it. If you have a preference discuss it with the guide first.
Find out the cost (including tips) for everything - there's always something else to visit, or ride a camel/horse and buggy, etc, that it seems like a scam - cause it's all family, too!
Even if your taxi driver doesn't speak much English, he sure as heck understands money.
Always check what currency you are negotiating with.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Couple of Days in Tombs and Temples - Egypt

Fortunately our train arrival in Luxor was an hour late - at 6:30am people were just starting to stir. We found our accommodation, showered and slept for a couple of hours. Later that morning we were having coffee and were offered 3-star accommodation for about 20 pounds more a night - not bad from zero to 3-star. Cleaner and a much better bathroom than the hostel we had been recommended. Our next tour was of Karnak Temple - we jumped on a mini-bus for 50 piastres each - where we picked up a guide - cost about 50 Egyptian pounds for 1.5 hours (that is about NZ$10.00).
This is a couple of the columns that once held a wooden roof:

Some original paintings!

and a small portion of one of Queen Hatshepsut's obelisks that remains standing:

I so wish that I had taken some metre-age of calico, tape and square crayons to do some rubbings - ooh! just think of the quilts I could make with the fabric!
We arranged with our guide, Khaled Helmy, to have a tour of the Valley of the Kings and Queens the next day. What I really liked about the man, was his knowledge (he is an Inspector of Egyptology and works on Seti I's site during the cooler months) and that he told us up front how much everything was going to cost. I guess New Zealanders are just not into tipping, or baksheesh, and this can get really annoying when travelling.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped in at El Souk and found a traditional handcraft and cotton shop - Habiba - owned and run by a lovely Australian lady, Linda. It was fantastic to be able to buy handcrafted goods, MADE IN EGYPT! She also only employs women in the shop.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An Amazing Journey continues ...

We flew into Cairo to find that Air Force One was parked up - the streets were almost empty and on the main thoroughfare we could see the secret service agents. We had someone meet us at the airport and deliver us to our Hotel (this was a blessing). A tour was arranged for the next day, and as much as it was expensive, it certainly made it very easy for us - so I'd recommend a guide for Cairo.
Here is a view of the Great Pyramid - bit different, eh?

Here's the travelling bear getting a really good posed picture in front of the 3 pyramids, Cairo in the background, on a very hot day.

We paid an extra entry fee to look at the Solar Boat, which has been beautifully restored, and was used the ferry one of the Pharaohs across the Nile to his final resting place. Made from Lebanese cedar.
And of course a visit to the Pyramids would not be complete without a photo of the Sphinx (I like this head shot best!)

We only had the one day in Cairo, so after the pyramid tour, did a little scouting around our hotel area. We were the only 'tourists' so enjoyed drinking tea on a street corner and watching all the comings and goings of the neighbourhood.
Later that evening we caught the overnight train to Luxor.
Recommendation: book your train ticket beforehand! and especially don't leave it to do on a Friday afternoon - the ticket office is closed. We didn't have a problem, but it was a close call.
Loved: the people are very friendly, greeting you with 'Welcome'.
Seeing the pyramids so close to the suburbs.
Crossing the 5-laned street!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jordan continued ....

We spent most of a day in Madaba, the "City of Mosaics". In this city you can see a 6th century mosaic map of Palestine and the Nile delta at the Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George. We took a wrong turning and ended up seeing unexpected parts of the city - here is a candyfloss seller carrying his wares:

This is a close-up of one of the mosaics in St George Basilica - such fine detail!

When we left Madaba, we drove via Mt Nebo, the mountain top where Moses was shown the Promised Land and where he died. The road was in great condition and consisted of a lot of switchbacks - it was not recommended at out hotel for us to drive over, but it was much more enjoyable than the main road into Amman, mainly because there was little traffic! Here is a Bedouin tent, one of a great many we saw throughout Jordan:

Although June is summer-time in Jordan, and I found it REALLY hot, I very much enjoyed being there. The people are very friendly and welcoming and I felt safe on the streets.
The exchange rate is not very favourable for New Zealanders (JD2.5 = NZ1.0) but the country is so poor because they do not have water - so I am reminded when it rains, yet again, just how lucky we are in this green country.
I can fully recommend Lonely Planet: Jordan as an excellent resource. The book is a great size to carry with you when travelling and not only gives THE places to see and stay, but also recommends places to eat (very helpful if you want to try the local food).