Sunday, January 31, 2010

Third Time's A Sharm

Our third and last leg of our journey takes us to Sharm El Sheikh which is a popular resort area on the Red Sea. We fly from Luxor to Cairo to Sharm and arrive in the early afternoon. What a great way to end off a sightseeing packed holiday with a couple of days relaxing on the beach.


Our resort, the Maritim Jolie Ville Resort & Casino. Walking towards the sea. There are some absolutely gorgeous resorts in this area, very popular with tourists from all over Europe.


The Red Sea. Renowned for it's excellent snorkeling and diving, we had brought our snorkel gear in anticipation and were thrilled to be able to snorkel there.


Naama Bay, Red Sea, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.


Sharm has great nightlife, with streets being closed to cars and lined with shopping, restaurants and shisha cafes, giving tourists the chance to try smoking shisha from hookah pipes. We had an absolutely fabulous meal at an Egyptian restaurant and then the group headed for a shisha bar for mint tea and a smoke. The whole area is carpeted with small carpets and cushions, so you are sitting pretty much on the floor. The servers brings a plastic end for each person for the pipe and everyone in the group shares the hookah. Being hard-fought ex-smokers, neither Terry nor I dared to try the shisha in case it should awaken the monster. Most others did though, and tried the apple flavour (shisha being tobacco, molasses and fruit flavour mixed together). We all agreed not to post people pictures smoking the pipe, in case anyone decides to run for President or something! The pipes are for sale everywhere but they are quite big, mostly glass and might prove difficult to explain to customs!



Ready to relax.


Part of our hotel's beach area. There was a fabulous boardwalk too, in between the beach and the hotel, lots of restaurants, ice cream stands, etc.


One of the streets (closed to traffic) in Sharm at night. This shot was taken from our outdoor third floor table at dinner the last night. It would have been nice to spend a day or two more in Sharm, but the following day we headed back to Cairo and before dawn the next day, started our long journey back to Toronto.

An amazing trip!


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Luxor

We start out our day at Luxor with a visit to the Colossi of Memnon, which are two (colossal!) statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III (who is the grandfather of King Tut). They were (somehow) moved 420 miles over land some 3,400 years ago. Each one weighs about 700 tons.

These statues are basically right beside each other. I was strangely fascinated by the fact that this statue was covered in birds (pigeons) and the other statue, right beside it, had not one bird on it.

The next stop was the Valley of the Kings, where most all of the tombs of the Pharaohs have been found, some sixty odd tombs so far. All of the royal mummies are in the Egyptian Museum, except for King Tutankhamen whose mummy is still in his own tomb at the Valley of the Kings, and which we saw there.

No cameras are allowed at the Valley of the Kings, so this below shot from the parking lot is all I could get. Basically, it is rough limestone mountains coming down into a valley, and the tombs tunnel under the mountains. Pharaohs were brought here to be buried in an attempt to foil tomb robbers but all the tombs were raided at some point over time. Four tombs are open for the public to enter. They are beautifully and elaborately decorated, the carvings on the walls and hieroglyphics are still painted as the paint lasted in the tombs underground. Preparations for a king's death were started as soon as he became king, beginning with digging out the tomb and then decorating the walls from the burial chamber outwards. This is why King Tut's tomb has little decoration beyond the burial chamber, as he died very young and unexpectedly, so his tomb was not finished.

Valley of the Kings in the distance. Just a tour bus or two in the parking lot!

Next to the Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple which is the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, one of the few female Pharaohs. She ruled Egypt for about 20 years.


Temple of Queen Hatshepsut


Statue of Queen Hatshepsut. It still shows the fake beard that all Pharaohs wore, female or not.


A painted wall carving in the Queen's Temple of the jackal-headed god Anubis, protector of the dead and god of mummification, with all his jars and canisters needed for the job.

Next to Karnak temple which is the largest temple complex ever built (247 acres, 60 or so of which are open to the public).


Entrance to Karnak temple with the rows of (ram-headed) Sphinxes on both sides.



If you look between the front legs of each Sphinx there is a little Pharaoh statue it is protecting.



Obelisks at Karnak Temple, even these are carved all the way up and down.


Statue of a Pharaoh and the little figure by his legs would be a statue of his wife. That is seen fairly commonly. Hmmm.

Luxor Temple is next, and we definitely saved the best for last, it was my favourite. In part because we were there when the sun went down and it was really beautiful. Both Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple were used by multiple Pharaohs, and Luxor Temple even has a mosque and a Christian Church in it. Often one would destroy or damage the images of the other.


Entrance to Luxor Temple.

The as-far-as-the-eye can see row of Pharaoh-headed lion sphinxes on both sides leading up the to entrance of Luxor Temple.

Columns as the sun is setting.

Bust of Ramses II, one of the best known Pharaohs, a warrior. The cobra that would normally be in the middle of his forehead is broken off.



Columns of the Luxor Temple as the sun has set and the lights go on.

One of the very few statutes of the boy king, King Tut and his young wife. At Luxor Temple.



Having never been to an Islamic country before, I had never experienced the "Call to Prayer" that rings out from all the mosques over loud speakers. This happens 5 times per day (5 a.m., 7 a.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.). It is really eerie, beautiful and spiritual all at the same time. You hear it everywhere; in busy Cairo and in the farm country we passed through on the Nile cruise, the Call to Prayer is heard. You can hear it in your hotel room with everything sealed shut. People don't stop on the spot and pray or anything like that, it's a reminder. I really loved hearing it. When we arrived at Luxor Temple the Call to Prayer was ringing out and is captured on this short video I took.





At this point we are ready for our upcoming day and a half of R&R at the resort town of Sharm El Sheikh on the Red Sea. Templed-out, we are still sorry to have to leave our cruise boat behind, as well as our fabulous Egyptologist guide.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Another World

We sailed from Aswan to Kom Ombo and in the morning visited the Kom Ombo Temple, unique in that it's a temple for two gods, with two sides that mirror each other.



The top of the entrance to the temple, with the double suns with cobras on each side.




The right side of the temple is dedicated to the crocodile headed god, Sobek. People prayed to this god for protection from the Nile crocodile. There were very deep pits at this temple where crocodiles were kept and fed, so that they didn't need to attack people in the Nile. There are to this day still around 200 fatal crocodile attacks in the Nile every year.


The falcon headed god Haroeris, of the left side of the temple. Notice the "key" that three of the four figures are holding, a very common sight in any temple or tomb carvings, it is the "key of life".



Painted ceiling in the temple, of falcons with the blue background representing the sky.


Crocodiles and falcons.


An example of the carvings/hieroglyphics all over every surface in all the temples and tombs. I liked this one because of the birds (water bird and falcon) and the two (sight hound looking) dogs. Notice also the cobras in front of the dogs.


Stone coffins for animal mummies like crocodiles and baboons, etc. There were many of these.


A depiction of a woman giving birth, in the preferred squatting position.


Back on the boat for the sail to Edfu and a chance to see the countryside by day along the Nile.

Typical beautiful countryside on both sides of the Nile. When the animals want a drink, they just wander down to the water.



Sailboats.


Washing dishes in the Nile.


Washing clothes and bodies!


There were quite a few of these caves in the rock.


A farmer feeding his cattle, he has just dropped one pile and has another on his shoulder for the cow he is walking towards.


A farmer with his livestock. We saw some pretty primitive farming going on.

We arrive at Edfu and take a motorboat across and then a horse and buggy to get to the Edfu Temple, which is dedicated to the god Horus (son of Isis). He is represented as a falcon, since legend has it that he was saved from the jaws of a crocodile by being turned into a falcon and thus being able to fly away.




Entrance to the temple with the sun and two cobras over the doorway.


Baboons carved into the wall. A particularly revered animal in ancient Egypt.



Our buggy driver on the way back to the boat from the temple, in Edfu.



Edfu street scene. Smoking shisha from hookahs in an Edfu coffee shop. Shisha is a flavoured tobacco (tobacco mixed with molasses and fruit flavour, most commonly apple). Extremely popular in the Arab world and we had seen this on the streets in Cairo as well. Definitely makes the tourists do a double take! These water pipes are really elaborate.





Another street scene in Edfu from our buggy. Dorothy, you're not in Kansas anymore!


(Click on any picture for a full screen view)


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

De Nile

We arrive in Aswan for the start of our Nile cruise! The Nile isn't very wide so the "cruise ships" are mini versions, more like "cruise boats". We really, really enjoyed this. Having never been on a cruise and never particularly having the desire to do one, this three day cruise changed all that! It was great. A comfortable, pleasant way to travel and the food was exceptional. The top deck had lounge chairs, a pool and a bar area with tables.


The "Alyssa".

Unbeknownst to me, Terry had booked one of the two suites on board, what a fantastic cabin it was! Very spacious and comfortable. This is part of our cabin, the large panoramic window looks out on the Nile:


After just a couple of hours of sleep the night before and a very short nap, we are off again in Aswan.

We visited the unfinished Obelisk, the High Dam, a perfume factory and the Philae Temple.

Obelisks are the tall, 4 sided tapering monuments with a pyramidal top (think Washington Monument). These were important to the ancient Egyptians and there were usually at least two at each temple. Today, there are more Egyptian obelisks outside of Egypt than in it, having been hauled away by other countries over the years.

Most are made of granite as are many statues, etc. and much of this granite came from the granite quarry in Aswan. Although it looks sandy in colour here, it is actually the muted pink, grey and black granite. There are MANY kitchen countertops here! It's a vast sea of solid granite.

Aswan granite quarry.


The unfinished obelisk (people on the right for size perspective). These were carved right out of the ground on the ground. This one was abandoned after considerable work because of a big crack. These are huge structures weighing up to 400 tons. There was a lot of explanation about getting completed obelisks out, but really, a lot of speculation. The Nile isn't that close to float them down (even considering the logistics of that) and they still need to be moved across land at both ends to and from the Nile. The explanation for erecting them on completion was: thousands of people and ropes - pull! and quickly digging the sand out underneath the base by hand. Hmmm....strong enough rope 2,000 years B.C. is a bit of a stretch for me, along with the strength of even thousands of these very tiny people! We will never know for sure.


The High Dam at Aswan. It provides electricity and irrigation for all of Egypt and so is a very important infrastructure for them. The Nile crocodile was cut off here by the High Dam and no longer exists in the Nile from Aswan north to the Mediterranean Sea.



Philae Temple in honour of the goddess Isis, goddess of life. This temple is on an island and has to be reached by boat. The entire temple spent half a century underwater after the building of an earlier dam, and was relocated in its entirety to this nearby island during the building of the High Dam.


Approaching from the water, drawings on the side.


Trajan's kiosk, aka "Pharaoh's Bed". Original entrance to the temple from the water.


Entrance to the temple.


The entrances and anterooms leading to the altar. The heart of any temple. There are carved hieroglyphics and drawings from floor to ceiling and including all over the ceilings on most surfaces in all the temples. Incredible amounts of work and effort to build and decorate all the temples and tombs.


Sunset on the Nile River, Aswan, Egypt.