Egypt 2003 Travelogue
On to Egypt
July 19, 2003, Johannesburg, South Africa:
We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check in. Glen parked the car and Marlene, Glen and Mia came in with us. We checked in and checked our luggage. Then we all went upstairs to the airplane viewing deck and watched the airplanes land. Mia is entranced with airplanes and gets very excited when she sees them (she's 16 months old). We stayed up there for a while, but as it was getting a bit past her bedtime, and closer to our departure time, we all finally said our goodbyes. We had had an absolutely incredible time and it was wholly due to the hospitality of these wonderful people that we had just met! We encouraged them to come and visit us (as with have with practically EVERYone we've met...and MEANT it too!) and slowly made our way through passport control and to the gate.
Our flight this time around was through Lufthansa
. This would be our sixth carrier during our travels (United Airlines
, Air New Zealand
, Thai Airways
, Vietnam Airlines
, Singapore Airlines
). They originally had us in some bad seating, but at the gate were able to move us to better seats. We had a nine and a half hour flight ahead of us and were hoping for some good in-flight entertainment. Because THEN
, we actually had a five hour layover in Frankfurt and then another five hour flight to Cairo! Alas, we were disappointed. We had hoped for a inflight entertainment setup
similar to Singapore Airlines
(still the best airline we've flown by far, to-date). Unfortunately, not only did we have to watch a general movie, but there were only two scheduled - one we had seen before ("Just Married
" - and it wasn't very good) and the other, "Agent Cody Banks
", didn't sound very good. Good thing we both are reading books we are enjoying (Kirk is reading "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
" by JK Rowling and I'm reading "The Covenant
" by James Michener). Very good thing. The flight left around 7:30, and they didn't start the first movie until well after 10:30! At least they showed the Agent Cody Banks movie (the one we HADN'T seen) first...it was okay. After that, I went to sleep...or at least tried. I slept for about an hour or an hour and a half before Kirk woke me up to eat breakfast. Ouch, I was tired! It was about 3AM. We were served breakfast and then they took up the service items and we had about an hour before we landed at Frankfurt Airport
July 20, 2003, Frankfurt, Germany to Cairo, Egypt:
We didn't have to pick up our bags or go through immigration, which was nice. But we had a five hour layover and lots of time to kill before our next flight. We decided to try and find an Admiral's Club
. Ages ago, when I had a "real job", I became a lifetime member and now, I happen to be carrying my card. So, we went in search. We went to another terminal that claimed to have American Airlines gates. On the way through, we had to go through another security check and they gave us hard time about hand checking our cameras. They did it, eventually, by doing a chemical swipe on the cameras. We were, of course, clean. After all that, there was no Admiral's Club. There was another club there, though, and they told us the Admiral's Club was outside the passport control. Bummer!
So, we headed through passport control in search of the club. We found it. However, it was shortly after 6AM and they didn't open until seven. So, we wandered for a bit until they opened up. Ahhhh...the comforts of luxury. For a few hours at least! We walked in to the smell of freshly baked bread and freshly brewed coffee. After checking in at the front desk, we found a nice place to set up (Kirk in front of CNN and me in the corner where I could read) and we settled in for a few hours. I had some fresh bread and soft german cheese (yuuummmmmyyyyy) and cappuccino and orange juice.
Later on in the morning, we decided we had better head for the gate. Everything went fine at passport control, but when we hit security they absolutely refused to handcheck our film and cameras. We tried to explain to them that they had done it earlier and what they had done, but the guy there wouldn't even listen to us. He just kept demanding we put the film and cameras on the belt or stay and not go through security at all. He was terribly rude. Eventually, Kirk got frustrated and saw there was no reasoning with the guy. He just put the cameras on the belt and walked through.
We boarded our flight to Cairo. We had great seats...in an exit row with loads of leg room! We were also sitting next to a woman who was from Cairo but who now lives in Detroit, so both she and the flight attendant sitting in front of us during take-off gave us some tips about where to sightsee in Egypt. There was another truly mediocre movie for our five hour flight called "Bringing Down the House
" with Steve Martin and Queen Latifa.
We arrived in Cairo at around 3:30PM local time (one hour ahead of Frankfurt time, 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time). We breezed through immigration. We had decided to wait and get our visas here in Egypt as we'd heard from someone who had been here recently that the visas at the airport cost only US$15, while if we had gotten them in South Africa, it would have cost us over US$20 each (plus time and hassle). We waited forever for our bags at baggage claim (I guess when you have a five hour layover, it means your bags were probably first on the plane). When Kirk put mine on the cart, I noticed that the zipper on the lid of my backpack was partially open. I zipped it closed, assuming it had come partially unzipped during the loading and unloading process.
We cleared customs easily. Very easily. They hardly even glanced at us. The guy asked us why we were in Egypt. "Tourism". What was in the backpacks? "Clothes." He waved us on, fast. We were apparently boring. We headed outside and had to run the gauntlet of taxis and minibuses. It was a slight challenge, but not nearly as bad as Vietnam or India. We quickly found our way down to the car park area, from which the buses were supposed to leave. At first we couldn't find the buses, but one taxi driver after pestering us and finally realizing we really weren't going to take a taxi, directed us to the far end of the parking lot (about 500 meters away) where the bus terminal was.
We walked to the bus terminal and waited for our bus. It cost us a grand total of 5 Egyptian pounds (LE) to ride the bus downtown to the Egyptian Museum, which is where we wanted to find a hotel. The fare included two fares of 2 LE each plus an extra 50 piastres each for the bags. A taxi wanted upwards of 50 LE to take us downtown! Once downtown, we started hunting around for a hotel, which didn't take us long. We ended up at the New Sun Hotel, which is about a 5-10 minute walk from the Egyptian Museum. We got a double room with with fan and a shared bath for 40 LE per night; it includes a light breakfast (hard boiled egg, two rolls with butter and jam, and tea). The exchange rate here is 6 Egyptian Pounds (LE) per US Dollar.
We relaxed in the room for a bit and tried to adjust to the new heat. We had been away from the high temperatures for four weeks now. We were back to 30+ degrees C. It wasn't really all so bad, just an adjustment. It will be even hotter in Luxor.
Later in the evening, we decided to go out and find some food and check email. We end up at a place nearby called Cafe de Paris, which also has its own internet cafe. Afterwards, we headed back to our hotel and got some much needed sleep!
July 21, 2003, Cairo, Egypt:
Today, we decided to take a much-needed rest day! We woke up late, but in time to have our free breakfast (it's served from 7AM to 11AM). Then we hung out reading and journaling (Kirk read, I journaled) for most of the rest of the morning. However, Kirk made a startling discovery! Whenever we travel, he locks the zippered lid to his backpack with the little travel padlock that he carries. I lock the lower portion of my pack, rather than my lid (we have only two locks). Someone had actually CUT the cord off one of his zippers in order to open his lid! I had noticed yesterday that my lid was partially unzipped, but had assumed it was accidental. He immediately started to inventory the contents of the lid of his pack. Nothing appeared to be missing, so we assumed that it had been a legitimate security search. I went through my lid and also didn't find anything missing. But, a few minutes later, Kirk realized something WAS missing -- something we use almost daily! Our REI tripod
!! BUMMER!! I've had that since my good friend Jeff gave that to me years ago!! Well, we'd have to try and find some way to replace it...we use it way too often.
After splitting a chicken swarma for lunch, I continued journaling (I was on a mission to catch up today). Kirk went out to try and get our 7 rolls of film from South Africa (and some from Singapore) developed and to see what options we had to replace our tripod. He had luck with the film (he found some developing that was cheaper than Southeast Asia, even), but the tripod was proving to be difficult. Everything he found was metal and quite heavy. He went out again later and looked some more. He did eventually find one that was made of wire that looked like it might work, but it didn't have the velcro options that our REI tripod had. We have some extra velcro. Maybe we'll just have to try and attach some to it.
For dinner, we went out looking for another restaurant, but were largely unsuccessful. Somehow, we ended up at another mall and ended up splitting another swarma. We decided we'd better find some other form of food here fast or we'd get really sick of swarmas!
The Egyptian Museum
July 22, 2003, Cairo, Egypt:
We got up this morning and decided to tackle the Egyptian Museum
. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo
is the premiere museum in the country. With over 100,000 relics and antiquities on exhibit, it would take over 9 months to see everything if you spent a minute looking at every exhibit! We figured it would take us two days to see the highlights. We had our breakfast and then hightailed it over there. The security at the museum is quite tight. You have to go through two sets of metal detectors to even get in the door. The entry fee to get into the museum is 20 LE each, plus a camera fee of 10 LE. We only took one camera with us -- Kirk's. We didn't want to pay for two. Once inside, the size of the museum and the crowds are daunting. There is no time of day and simply no section of the museum that is not packed with people. And the tours are the worst
! Some of the tour guides have 30 people with them. When they show up at an exhibit, you have no hope of getting near whatever it is they are talking about. If there are two or three tours close to one another, you might as well move on to something else and come back later.
We decide to start on the first floor (top of the two floors) where the majority of the highlights are located. Some of the most magnificent treasures are in the Tutankhamun Galleries. The tomb and treasures of the pharaoh Tutankhamun
, who ruled for only nine years during the 14th century BC, were discovered by Howard Carter, an English archeologist, in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings. The reason it hadn't been discovered long ago was due to its placement below the more elaborate tomb of Ramses VI, which had been cleaned out by tombraiders years before. However, the magnificent contents of Tutankhamun's tomb makes one wonder what must have been looted from the tombs of the more wealthy pharaohs!
About 1700 items retrieved from Tutankhamun's tomb are spread throughout the first floor of the museum. There were two life-sized statues of the Pharaoh that were originally found in the antechamber of the tomb, serving as sentries to the burial chamber. One of my favorites was the Lion Throne of Tutankhamun
. It was a beautiful gilded chair with excellent detail and inlaid with glass and semi-precious stone, and supported by lions. On the back of the chair, a scene depicts the queen placing her hand on his shoulder under the rays of Aten (the sun). Kirk was particularly taken with the alabaster jars and vessels that were scattered everywhere. At one point, I saw one of the most elaborate alabaster carvings I have ever laid eyes on! Tutankhamun's three elaborate funerary couches are included in the collection, each supported by different deities. I think the Eyptians worshipped as many gods as the Hindus. One of the exhibits I found particularly interesting was the alabaster chest containing four Canopic jars
, with the heads of the stoppers in the form of Tutankhamun's head. They contain miniature coffins, which, in turn, contained the pharoah's internal organs. The chest and its contents are then placed into the Canopic shrine, in which four gilded goddesses protect the corners of the shrine. The alabaster chest is protected by the same goddesses.
King Tut's Death Mask
King Tut's Larger Sarcophagus
There are four gigantic wooden shrines, each practically taking up an entire room. Each was found fitting inside the other inside the tomb. At the center, was the sarcophagi of Tutankhamun. At last, we've reached one of the most famous areas of the museum, the one that includes the famous Death Mask of Tutenkhamun
, and two of his sarcophagi
. The Death Mask is made of solid gold, weighs 11 kilograms, has eyes of obsidian and quartz and is outlined with lapis lazuli. It was found covering the head of the mummy, where it lay inside a series of three sarcophagi. The sarcophagi are equally amazing. The outer most sarcophagus remains in place at the Valley of the Kings, but the inner two are here in the museum. The smallest coffin is also solid gold and is similar in style to the Death Mask. It weighs 110 kilograms. The larger sarcophagus is made of gilded wood.
Next, we try to escape some crowds and we duck into the exhibit from the Royal Tombs of Tanis
. Sadly, most of this exhibit seems to be closed off or neglected. Most of the room is darkened so that what is accessible to the public is largely impossible to see. We were quite disappointed, as the Tanis find of 1939 was really the most significant find after Tutankhamun's tomb.
Donna and one of the models
We zipped through several other exhibits, everything from portraits of Graeco-Roman period mummies to pharonic technology. We eventually flee to the museum cafe for lunch around 11:30AM. It's no less crowded when we came back to the museum about 40 minutes later! One of my favorite areas was two full rooms of miniature models recovered from the tomb of Meketre (an 11th dynasty chancellor) providing a portrait of everyday life in Egypt 4000 years ago. The detail work was amazing and they were quite life-like. There were models of fishing boats, slaughter houses, carpentry workships, a loom, model of Meketre's house, counting of cattle, etc. It was quite fascinating!
The final highlights on this floor were from the tomb of Yuya and Thuyu
, the single greatest discovery prior to Tutankhamun (they were his great-grandparents). This tomb, too, was mostly intact when discovered in 1905 in the Valley of the Kings
in Luxor. There were five ornate sarcophagi and two gilded death masks, a chariot, a bed, sandals -- all for two commoners who became royal in-laws. Lastly, we looked at a large-scale model of one of the Abu-Sir pyramids. It was kind of cool to see that before we headed out to Giza to see the pyramids.
Once we finished our highlights on the first floor, we decide to ante up and see the Royal Mummy Room. For this we pay a whopping 40 LE each!! And we can't even take our camera in. We paid (reluctantly, but we wanted to see), and went in to see the 11 mummies that they had in the room. The guide book warns not to take small children in, as it might give them nightmares for years to come. I wasn't quite sure why, as all the mummies I've ever seen before had been completely wrapped. Not these. The first one was saw had been unwrapped at the face, hands and feet. His hands were horribly twisted and gnarled and his face was sunken. His head seemed to be tilted forward as if he were looking at people as they walked into the door. It really was a grisly sight. He was perhaps the most frightening of the lot, but the others weren't much better. We spent about ten minutes walking around looking at the eleven mummies in the Royal Mummy Room, then we decided to head down to the ground floor.
There aren't as many highlights down there, so we hit those first. First, we saw the larger-than-life statue of Khafre (Chepren), a masterpiece of smooth, black, dioritic stone. Khafre built the second pyramid at Giza. In the Amarna Room, we examine the different artistic styles used by Akhenaten, who promoted the exclusive worship of Aten, the sun god.
The Narmer Palette
was quite interesting, particularly once its significance is known. It dates from around 3100 BC and depicts the pharaoh Narmer (Menes) wearing the crown of upper Egypt (Southern Egypt) on one side of the palette, and wearing the crown of lower Egypt (Northern Egypt) on the other side of the palette. It is the first time in history the two have been united under a single ruler. Egyptologists believe that this is the start of ancient Egyptian civilization.
It was after three, so we went back to the cafe and had an ice cream for additional sustenance. Then, we went back into the museum. Unbelievably, it was even more crowded than before! We continued browsing through the exhibits. We wandered through the atrium and ended up at the huge colossal statues of Amenhotep III and Tiy
(his wife) with their small daughters at their feet.
There were several granite sphinxes housed in the museum -- much smaller, of course, than the Sphinx of Giza fame. They were sculpted during the 12th dynasty (around 1850 BC) for the pharoaoh Amenemhat III and discovered in Tanis in 1863.
There were many other exhibits and rooms we visited, wandering to see what else there might be to investigate. Eventually, we decided we had had enough of the obscene crowds and fled back to the hostel. Now, when I use the word "obscene" to describe the crowds, I do so for two reasons, actually. The crowds absurdly large. You simply couldn't walk in any direction without bumping into someone, and generally, people would walk right by without apologize when they had nearly knocked you over. I find that quite rude. But, the crowds were obscene in another way. In Egyptian culture
, it is really inappropriate for women to wear suggestive or revealing clothing. There were many tourists at the museum who completely ignored Egyptian customs...to a point where I was embarrassed to be in the same room with them. I was relieved to leave the museum. We are just not used to be around so many people! Traveling independently as we have, we generally have been in places where there just aren't many people. It's been really nice, and I guess we are spoiled.
We headed back to the hotel, where we relaxed for a little while. Then, as I worked on my journal, Kirk went and picked up our photos. I was actually quite disappointed with the way the photos came out. We had used my camera almost exclusively to take our photos in Kruger, since it has a longer zoom. However, it appears that my camera is failing. The light meter, or something, is not functioning properly and many of the photos didn't come out properly or clearly. How disappointing!
We had dinner back at Cafe de Paris and did some more internet, starting our last post from South Africa (we've got some catching up to do).
July 23, 2003, Cairo, Egypt:
We woke up too late today to go to the Pyramids, so we tried to decide what to do. We decided to head over to Zamalek, which is where the Lufthansa office is and file a complaint about the break-in into Kirk's backpack. It would be a nice walk across the Nile, which we hadn't seen yet. Plus, Zamalek was reputed to be a nice little area of town. So, after breakfast, we got our bearings, located approximate area of the Lufthansa office on a map and headed out for Zamalek. It was getting warm already, but it was, indeed, a nice walk. The Nile
We actually found the Lufthansa office quite easily! But as we got closer, we saw a sign in the window "Closed"! Even closer - another sign read, "In observance of the holiday on July 23rd
, we will be closed. Sorry for any inconvenience." Holiday? Today?! REALLY?!
Yikes! And we didn't even realize! Some travellers WE are! Today is Revolution Day in Egypt, probably one of the most important holidays in the country. It marks the day when Egyptian forces rebelled and threw out the British, setting up a democracy, eliminating a feudalist society and attempting to bring to the country to a period of dignity, prosperity, freedom and independence which it had long lacked. Oh, well. We saw a little cafe across the street called Beano's. We went in and had some lunch and a cold drink. It was a bit more upscale than our normal fare, but that appears to be the whole of Zamalek and it was kind of nice. Kirk actually had a salad! While we were sitting there, we saw our waitress accidentally dump an entire cup of coffee all over the table next to us, drenching everything, including the occupants. I felt bad for all of them. The reactions were interesting to watch though, in this different culture. Particularly since the patrons were foreigners and the waitress was local. She was very quiet and retiscent. The foreigners were fairly gracious, all things considered (I was glad they weren't rude, like some of the people we've encountered on our travels).
When we had finished, we decided to head back to our side of town and try and get more work on our posts done. That's exactly what we did! We did try an new place to eat, Fatatri at-Tahrir. It's excellent! They serve fiteer
, which is sort of an Egyptian pizza, and they are actually one of the better places in town for it. It was wonderful!
July 24, 2003, Cairo to Giza and back:
Well, we got up early this morning, so we could get a nice early start for the Pyramids
. We had breakfast and then headed out to catch a bus to Giza. For 2 LE each, we could take an air-con bus the 18 kilometers or so to Giza, which is a much better deal than a taxi (which ranges from 30 to 150 LE, depending on how you hire one). The bus wasn't hard to find, although they often don't stop unless you flag them down. Luckily, Kirk was on the ball and when he saw it driving past as we were walking TO the bus station, it pulled over and picked us up.
The Great Pyramid of Khufu
We were pretty excited about going to see the Pyramids, the world's oldest tourist attraction. They are the only survivor of the original Seven Ancient Wonders of the World
. Built by father and son, they were already estimated to be 2500 years old when Christ walked the earth. My first glance of the Pyramids was over the suburbia of Giza. The town has crept into the desert and is right next to the plateau where the Pyramids sit.
Of course, the big mystery is how the Pyramids
were built. Many different theories have been put forth -- slaves, farmers working during the time when their fields were flooded, even aliens! However, the fact remains that at this point, no one is truly certain. We know only that the structures are truly awesome and quite amazing!
We had calculated what it was going to cost to do all the stuff at the Pyramids (it's not cheap). The Giza Plateau entrance fee is only 20 LE each. We were expecting to pay a 10 LE camera fee for each of our cameras, but apparently they had eliminated that recently (yay!). Then, we had to pay a 40 LE entrance fee for each of our tickets to get into the Great Pyramid. Some time ago, they had been running some sort of a program where the tickets to get into the Pyramids were limited, I think to limit the wear and tear on the interior. As a result, we were expecting some hassle and possibly, to either have to stand in line for a long time or not to get a ticket at all. According to our guide book, they had been issuing only 300 tickets per day to enter the Great Pyramid. Well, no such program was in place when we were there! There were tons of tour buses and just about EVERYONE seemed to be buying tickets to get in without a problem. We bought our tickets and decided to walk around outside while it was still cooler out, and head inside when it got a bit hotter.
Everywhere that you go at the Pyramids, there are hawkers trying to get your attention for one thing or another. Either they want you to take a camel ride or a horseback ride. The camel riding is quite a scam. They will often tell you it's free to get on, but then charge you a virtual fortune to get back off! And you can't just "hop off" a camel!! It's impossible! Many of the camels looked in terrible condition, as well. All of the tourist police in the area (there are regular police, and tourist police. If you are a tourist, you only talk to the tourist police) ride camels. We compared the police camels to the hawker camels and it was a pathetic comparison -- the hawker camels looked like they wouldn't make it across the street. Horseback riding is another issue! The horses here are malnourished and in horrible shape. Our guidebook received a letter from a veterinary surgeon who visited Egypt and complained that less than 30% of the horses he saw at the Pyramids were fit to be ridden -- most were lame or emaciate. What we saw confirmed his observations. Most of the rest of the hawkers are trying to sell you postcards, or other useless souveniers. Occasionally, someone would sell something useful -- like water.
Then, there were the crooks. People who would try and sell you tickets for things that didn't require tickets. However, our guidebooks and other people had warned us about this. And people who offered to take photos for you and then demanded money. Things like this abound. The tourist police are cracking down, but there are WAY more touts, crooks, hawkers and unsuspecting tourists than there are police.
The Pyramid of Khafre
We walked around the Great Pyramid, which is actually called the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), and is actually the only one of the Pyramids that was one of the Ancient Wonders. We headed over to the next Pyramid over, the Pyramid of Khafre
(Chephren). Khafre was the son of Khufu. The Pyramid of Khafre is 136 meters high and still retains some of the limestone casing on the top that one originally covered all of the pyramids from top to bottom, before they were stripped of it in the 19th century. Unfortunately, the loss of this casing and subsequent exposure to the elements is largely responsible for the deterioration of the pyramids after so many years of survival. Had they remained intact, we might very well have seen them today as they were originally built -- virtually perfect in every way. Unfortunately, the interior of Khafre was closed to the public, so all we could do was look at it from the outside, which was still quite stunning. I thought the limestone cap actually gave perspective to the size of the Khafre's pyramid, whereas the immensity Great Pyramid was a bit harder to grasp.
As we made our way around the massive structure, we were followed by every manner of hawker. One man was actually polite. He was trying to talk us into taking a ride on his horses (he had three). He showed us photos of what we could see. He told us where we could find him or his sons later. He even gave us his name. All the while, as always, we said "no thank you."
The Pyramid of Menkaure
Next, we went to the smallest of the three great pyramids, the Pyramid of Menkaure
(Mycerinus). It stands only 62 meters tall. Menkaure, who ruled for at least 26 years, died before his furerary complex was completed, and parts of it were finished by his son Shepseskaf. There is a deep gash in the front of the pyramid, thanks to Malek Abdel Aziz (Saladin's son), who attempted to dismantle the pyramid in AD 1186, but gave up after having made little progress in 8 months. We purchased tickets to explore the interior of this pyramid for a mere 10 LE each, and headed into the interior of our first pyramid.
We descended into the pyramid down a long narrow passageway. We both had to stoop over to climb through. Occasionally there were sections where we could stand up for a moment. There were people climbing in and out, so we had to stop and let people pass as they climbed out, as the passageway was quite narrow. We got down to the bottom and were in the antechamber. From there, a room led off into a burial chamber and into the tomb. Cool! We tried to hang out, but had unfortunately arrived around the same time as a busload of tourists, so we ended up leaving rather quickly. Man, Egypt sure is crowded!! We thought it would be cooler inside the pyramids, but with all those people inside, it was actually cooler outside! After we climbed out, we walked around behind the Pyramid of Menkaure to see the Queen's Pyramids, three dilapidated pyramids that are situated to the south/southwest. One was in much better shape than the other two.
From there, we headed toward what we considered an eyesore. It was a large, spaceship looking building, situated right behind the Pyramid of Khufu. We weren't entirely sure what it was, but assumed it was what our guidebook called the Solar Barque Museum
. When we finally made it past all the touts and tricksters, we arrived to see that it was indeed the museum, but they had changed their name and upped their prices. It was now called the Boat Museum, which is appropriate, since a Solar Barque
is a boat, some believe meant to carry one's soul into the afterlife. But for the privilege of seeing this wooden relic, we had to pay another 25 LE each. We decided to pass.
Climbing the Steps
This room is >3500 years old!
It was time to go into the Great Pyramid of Khufu
! We had paid our fee already so we headed in. Actually as we headed up the stairs, it looked as if we might have hit it at a good time. It looked like a lot of the bus groups were leaving, and not a lot of people (in fact no one) seemed to be going inside. I wondered if they were shutting down for a while. When we first walked in, a couple of guys asked where we were from and instantly we had a guide. We went in a few feet and I whispered to Kirk "I don't WANT a guide." He didn't either. He turned to the man and nicely told him that we didn't want a guide; we'd rather go through the pyramid on our own. Surprisingly, the man relented with very little complaint. This was definitely NOT India!
We passed a couple of people on their way out of the pyramid. This time we were climbing UP the whole time, rather than down! No one seemed to be ahead of us going in. No one came in behind us. This was unREAL!! We were actually in the pyramid BY OURSELVES!! And we were actually there by ourselves the entire time. No one came in there, the whole time we were there!! We couldn't believe our blessings!!
The long climb takes you to a chamber at the top where the tomb was. It was one very very echoy chamber. Kirk spoke his name and it echoed for a full 10 seconds! We timed it! It was quite an interesting place! We hung out for a while, enjoying the fact that we were the ONLY tourists there, and then finally climbed down.
The Sphinx & Khafre Pyramid
Instead, we trekked down to see the Sphinx
. At the entrance to the Sphinx area, we had a couple of guys demanding to see our tickets, trying to convince us we needed extra tickets to get into this area. Of course, we knew we didn't and walked right in. When we got to the right area, the proper authorities asked to see our Giza Plateau tickets, which we showed them. It was the second time today someone had tried to pull the scam on us. I wondered how many tourists weren't savvy and actually paid for tickets they didn't really need.
The Sphinx is actually quite interesting, as no one knows its purpose. The pyramids are quite obviously funerary temples. But, the Sphinx has no obvious purpose and much controversy
surrounds its purpose and history. The feline man was called the Sphinx by the ancient Greeks because it resembled with mythical winged monster with a woman's head and a lion's body who set riddles and killed anyone unable to answer them. It was carved from natural bedrock at the bottom of the causeway to Khafre's temple and was most likely to have been carved during his reign. The nose of the Sphinx was hammered off sometime between the 11th and 15th centuries, although some still blame Napoleon for the deed. Part of the fallen beard was removed by 19th century adventurers and is now on display in the British Museum in London. The biggest problem for the Sphinx today is that it is suffering from the elements. A succession of restoration attempts have actually seemed to damage it more than helped.
After viewing the Sphinx we wandered a bit looking for a perfumery some friends of ours from Australia (that we met in Vietnam) told us about, but I had forgotten the map, so we decided we'd have to come back armed with the details another time. Most of the places are rip-offs.
We headed back across the plateau and caught a bus back into town. We decided to head straight for the train station, where we booked a train into Aswan tomorrow night. From there, we caught the metro back to the hotel, had dinner at Fatatri at-Tahrir again and then worked on our posts some more.
July 25, 2003, Cairo, Egypt:
An uneventful day. Breakfast, checked out of our hotel and then worked on our website. Next, we'll be in Aswan!
Upper Egypt Part 1
As of this post, we have great news: God has blessed us financially through Donna's Grandfather, so that we now have enough funds to complete our entire trip as originally planned! Hooray! Praise God! Thanks Grandpa! So that means, we will be heading to Europe for 4 weeks after Egypt, and arriving back in Los Angeles on September 8. We will be home soon!
By the way, Upper Egypt is the area of Nile Valley South of Cairo. It is called "Upper" because it is higher elevation than the "Lower" delta region including Cairo and Alexandria area. It can be kind of confusing because "Upper" Egypt is South of "Lower" Egypt!
Friday, July 25, 2003, Cairo to Aswan, Egypt:
After we finished with internet, we went back to our hotel, got our bags, and set off for the train station. We took the subway to get there. Cairo has a pretty good underground metro, but they have a bit of a flaky pricing system. According to our Lonely Planet, it should cost 50 piastres to go our 3 stop distance. There are 100 piastres per Egyptian Pound. However, a previous time the ticket man insisted it was 65 piastres, and this time he said it was 55 piastres to go the same distance. Since there are only 25 or 50 piastre notes, they were forcing you to pay extra. I gave the guy 2 one pound notes and he only gave me back one 50 piastre note! Arrghh. Oh well, it isn't much money anyway. (6.07 LE (Egyptian Pounds) = $1).
We got to the train station and found our way to our proper car and cabin easily. It was a nice 2 person cabin. The bunks were one above the other, perpendicular to the car. We had our own door and window, so we could have complete privacy if we wanted. The meals are eaten in your own cabin. There is even a sink and a little switch on the wall that allows you to play or turn off the piped in music (1970's and 80's pop).
When got to our cabin, we noticed that there were lots of people congregating around the cabin next door. They were a bit noisy, but we hoped they would be quiet when it came time to sleep. Later on, as we were waiting to leave, we had our interior light off and were watching out our window to the platform across the way. We noticed some Egyptian men staring into what we thought must be the cabin next door (the noisy one). Donna asked me if she should warn them, and I agreed. She did, and it was a single woman in there, who thanked her and shut her drapes. However, she was fully clothed and didn't seem to be doing anything untoward that would attract attention. We continued to watch outside, and the men were still gawking at the train. It must be the next cabin down. Donna asked the lady next door if she knew the passengers in that cabin and she did; her sons were staying there! Just then one of the sons came in laughing. Apparently, the other son had changed ALL his clothes in the cabin in full view of the window! Ooops!
Shortly after 8:30 PM, the train departed, and we were on our way to Aswan. They served dinner very soon thereafter. It wasn't that bad. Egyptian food, I think beef, chicken and several other dishes. Later, they set up the beds and we tried to sleep. The tracks in Egypt aren't as smooth as those in other countries, so it was a bit of a rough ride. It was not very easy to sleep.
Saturday, July 26, 2003, Aswan, Egypt, (104F/40C):
We woke up around 7:00 AM had breakfast and arrived at the station in Aswan around 8:30. We left the station and headed out searching for hotels with our Lonely Planet. We selected the Nubian Oasis Hotel, 234 Sharia as-Souq, tel 312-126, fax 312-124. We asked for an A/C room with bath, and the first one we got the A/C unit was very old and cut out a lot, so we changed to a fourth floor room (409) that had a much better A/C. This one kept the room nice and cool. We paid 25 LE for this room, including breakfast.
After a cool shower and rest in the room, we decided to head out in search of the Nubian Museum. We tried to follow the poorly photocopied map in our Lonely Planet, and got there after a little bit of a round about fashion. It was VERY HOT, 104F/40C!
A Statue of Ramses II at the Nubian Museum
The Nubian Museum
, is great! (20 LE + 10LE Camera Fee). It holds many of the artifacts that they recovered from Nubia before its destruction by the creation of Lake Nasser, the world's largest artificial lake. Nubia is the area south of the Aswan Dam, along the banks of the nile. When they proposed the High Dam at Aswan in the early 1960's, UNESCO
, and the Egyptian government and other governments got together and launched a campaign
to save as many of the relics and temples and such that were going to be covered in the new Lake Nasser once the dam was complete. The Nubian Museum holds many of the smaller artifacts, and a very nice pictorial section showing the temples before the lake, how they actually moved many temples to higher ground, and other documentation of Nubia. It was a very nice museum and VERY well air-conditioned!
We left the museum at 1:00 PM as they were closing for the afternoon.
The Sculpture Garden
A Felucca on the Nile
Then we went across the street to the Basma Hotel
to have lunch. This hotel is WAY out of our price range, but the lobby was air-conditioned and they had pretty good food. This was a US$60-$150/night hotel. After lunch, we went out the front entrance to the Sculpture Garden
. This was cool! Every year, they have a sculpture contest next to this hotel, and they leave the sculptures there during the rest of the year for people to enjoy. Some were very interesting. It is free to view the sculptures. We like
On the way back to our hotel, we tried an internet place in a back alley. The connection was very poor dial-up, so we went on to our hotel. Donna stayed in the hotel and worked on her journal while I searched for an internet cafe that had a working CD-rom drive so that I could upload our new pictures. It was a long search. I must have gone to 5 different places. They either had no CD-roms, or the ones they had didn't work. I think the CD-rom drives don't last very long here since there is so much dust in the air. Finally I made it back to our hotel, and ended up using the computer there. Its CD worked OK, and it was the only computer, so I had the dialup connection all to myself!
At 6:00 PM, we went to dinner at El-Masry Restaurant
. They have set menus here. The food was good and we shared an order of the Kabob and Kofta. Kofta is spiced minced meat; the Kabob is skewered cooked meat. It comes with several other dishes, too. The restaurant was nice and cool; they had interesting ceiling fans built into the ceiling.
After dinner, we went back to the hotel and read and went to sleep around 10, as we were getting up early for our Abu Simbel trip the next day.
Sunday, July 27, 2003, Aswan to Abu Simbel, Egypt and back (105.8F/41C):
We got up at 3:00 AM today as they were going to pick us up at 4:00 AM! We went down and had our included breakfast of bread with cheese, jam, butter, and tea. At 4:00, the van came by and we hopped in. We then headed around town to the other hotels picking up other folks for the trip. Then, the van headed to the checkpoint behind the Nubian Museum. We had to wait there about 15 minutes until there were enough vehicles for our convoy. They only allow tourists to travel in convoys between towns in Upper Egypt. Once we had enough for the convoy and our police escort, we were on our way. The ride was about 2 1/2 hours and we arrived at Abu Simbel around 7:30 AM. It was parched desert all along the way.
Temple of Hathor
Inside of Temple of Hathor
At Abu Simbel
, we bought our tickets (30LE, no camera fee, but NO FLASH inside the temples). The temples at Abu Simbel were moved in the 1960's from another location next to the Nile to this current spot 60 meters higher and 210 meters further inland onto a mountain specially created for them. They did this since Lake Nasser would have flooded them when the dam was built. They painstakingly took apart the temples, and built a hill that mimicked their original location. They even aligned them so accurately that in the Ramses II temple, the sun shines on the holiest of holies on February 22 and October 22 of each year, only one day later than it used to happen.
The first temple we went to was the Temple of Hathor built by Ramses II. It has some big images of Nefertari on the outside. Inside are several inscriptions and paintings. It is well lit, and they have covered the floor with wood to prevent damage.
Temple of Ramses II
Close up of two of the statues
Store Room Number 2
Detail in the Great Hall
The next temple was built by and dedicated to Ramses II. It is just to the south of the other temple and at a bit of an angle to it. The statues on the outside are 20 meters high!
We didn't take many pictures inside the temples, but we got a few. We did get some excellent ones outside.
After the temples, it was a 2 hour drive back to the Aswan area. We went to the High Dam
next. This is the dam that was built in the 1960's and created Lake Nasser and thus destroyed Nubia. It brought control of the Nile and much needed hydro-electric power to the country. The cost to drive across the dam was 5 LE (you could walk across for 50 piastres) and was probably not worth it. You get to drive out onto the dam, and look at a view point. You can't see much, and never get to go inside and see the workings of the dam. Nothing at all like the tours at Hoover dam!
Temple of Philae, Gate of Ptolemy (from boat)
Gate of Ptolemy, First Pylon
Kiosk of Trajan
Our next stop was the Temple of Philae
. This temple was also moved from its previous home due to the new dam. Actually when the previous dam, the Aswan Dam, was in use, this temple would be submerged in a few feet of water for 6 months out of the year. In the 1960's they moved the temple to its new location on Agilika Island about 550 meters from its original location on Philae island. They even modified the island to be the same shape as the original island. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis. It cost a 20LE entry fee and a 2.50 LE ferry fee to get to the temple. There was no camera fee. We rode the ferry over and walked around the temple taking photos and reading the Lonely Planet description.
About ten minutes into our tour of this phenomenal temple, disaster struck...my camera died. This time, I think it is for good. It won't take pictures anymore, even though it has good batteries and film. I can't even get it to rewind the partially used roll! I'll have to get it removed at a camera shop. But that now means we are without a good camera! Bummer, we will look for a replacement camera in Cairo. We have essentially found that the little towns we have been in (in the meantime) do not have quality camera equipment. Ugh.
After touring the temple, we had some sandwiches at the little cafeteria. They were closing, but we begged them to make us something. So we paid for very overpriced cheese sandwiches and sodas. On the way back, the motor on our boat sputtered and died several times. We were the last ones back to our van.
The Unfinished Obelisk
The next stop was supposed to be the Unfinished Obelisk
, but the guide was trying to discourage us from going. We weren't sure, but when we came to the turnoff for it, we said yes, we wanted to see it. Fortunately a Korean couple in our van went in and saw it with us. This one cost 10LE each and there was no camera fee. The obelisk is in an old granite quarry, and if it hadn't had its fatal flaw, it would have been the largest single piece obelisk in the world. We climbed through the quarry and finally found it. It is quite big! We took our obligatory picture (with Donna's camera, which is also failing) and were out of there.
When we got back to the hotel, Donna worked on her journal (she is on book 6, by the way), and I continued working on the net putting up our pictures. At 6:00 PM, we went for dinner at Medina Restaurant. They, too, have a set menu. The food was pretty good.
Monday, July 28, 2003, Aswan Egypt, 107.6F/42C:
We got up, had our breakfast, and went out to look at the camera shops for a bit to see if we could find a replacement camera. They are all just film and developing places, so they didn't have anything suitable. We planned to finish out the roll we had in Donna's failing camera and then get some disposeable cameras until we could get to Cairo and look at a real camera shop.
Later in the morning, we took the ferry (50 piastres) to Elephantine Island
. This is a small island in the middle of the Nile directly across from Aswan. We took the northern ferry and thus landed at the north portion of the island. We walked south through the tiny "streets" toward the southern end where the museum and ruins of Yabu are. This area is VERY different than Aswan. The walls are mud brick with little mud brick houses all around. It was very interesting. As we approached the southern end, some kids directed us to the museum. They were playing in the Nile, and even had a tiny boat that could just barely fit two kids.
We paid our 10 LE entry fee for both the ruins and museum, and saw no notice of a camera fee. We attempted to go into the museum first, but they insisted on a camera fee, or surrender our camera to storage, so we just went back out and toured the ruins first. The ruins were in pretty sad shape. Nothing resembling anything near a complete structure that we were able to actually get into. There were a couple of interesting sections that looked great with some statues and great reconstruction, but they were blocked off to tourists. It was interesting to walk around though. We were able to find the two "Nile-o-meters" that they had. They used these to have an accurate measure of the Nile at various times of the year, so they could predict the extent of the floods and future harvests.
After a walk around the ruins, we headed into the museum. We decided to just store the cameras, since we rarely take pictures in museums. The main museum building had many small artifacts from the area, but was obviously very old and hadn't been improved in a long time. After the main building we retrieved our cameras, and went to the new annex next door. The attendant didn't take our cameras here, he just asked us not to use them. This annex was much better. It had a cooling system and the exhibits were much better presented. There was a lot of good information with the exhibits.
Us at the Aswan Moon
After the museum, we were both hot and getting hungry. We had originally planned to go on to Kitchener's Island
, but instead decided to take the ferry back and have some lunch. We took the ferry back across the river, and bought some bread, cheese, and sodas on the way back to the hotel. We ate lunch in our lovely air-conditioned room. After lunch, I worked on the computer again, and Donna did more journaling. We headed for dinner at 6:00 PM, and this time we ate at the Aswan Moon
. This restaurant is right on the Nile, and you sit on a barge floating on the water. We had a good pizza for dinner and had fun listening to the rowdy Aussies around us and looking out over the Nile.
On the way back to the hotel, we picked up a disposable camera to use for the next few days.
Tuesday, July 29, 2003, Aswan to somewhere on the Nile, Egypt, 107.6F/42C:
We got up around 8, had our breakfast, and went out to buy some water and more bread and cheese for our felucca trip we were taking. Love that Laughing Cow
We had signed up for a felucca trip through our hotel for 60LE per person for 3 days and 2 nights from Aswan to Edfu with the Jamaica Family. At 11:00 AM, 1/2 hour after they were supposed to pick us up, we found that they "didn't have enough people" for us on Jamaica Family, and had thus put us on a different felucca with another captain. Lonely Planet said this is common practice. We paid half our fee now, and were told to pay the remaining 60LE when we got to our destination.
They brought us down to our felucca, and we climbed aboard. Another couple, Christine and Jack, from France were there waiting. When we got on board we got a high pressure sales pitch to buy a 15LE van ride at the end of the trip to bring us to Edfu temple and on to Luxor. We agreed with this but didn't go for the other stuff he was selling. Our crew was Sala and Mohammed. It turns out we had to wait 2 more hours until Hangun, from South Korea, showed up. It wasn't his fault, they knew he was on an Abu Simbel tour and had scheduled him for this same felucca.
A pair of Feluccas on the Nile
Fixing the Mast
Soon, we were sailing. It is very nice and peaceful to sail down the Nile in a felucca. Although, we didn't sail for long. We stopped about 5:00 PM. We moored to the side of the Nile and we had dinner. It was a sort of soup, with lots of tomatoes, which Donna hates, and no meat. After dinner, we played palace a lot. We even taught Hangun and the crew. They left the canopy up this night, so we couldn't watch the stars. We didn't sleep very well, Donna tried to read by her flashlight, and there was a lot of chanting and singing from the mosques throughout the night.
Relaxing on the Felucca
Wednesday, July 30, 2003, Somewhere on the Nile to Kom Ombo, Egypt:
We got up around 7:00 AM, had our breakfast and then they untied at around 9:00 AM. They rowed us out into the middle of the river and we just drifted down the Nile. We drifted until about 11:30. We had caught up with another felucca filled with Aussies. We stopped at the side and tied up and had lunch.
Around noon, the winds picked up and we could have sailed. However, we stayed tied up and doing nothing. At one point, the wind had pushed our boat so it pulled the stake out of the sand and we were floating out to the river. Our entire crew was onshore at that time and the captain of the other boat had to jump in and swim out to us, then hoist the sails and sail us back to shore. At around 4:00 PM we set out and sailed some more. But again, not for very long. We soon stopped on the other side of the Nile at a little shop where we could buy cold drinks.
At this point, the French couple talked with the crew about a camel market they wanted to go to. Apparently, they thought it was near here. I think the crew said it was closed or something. Eventually, after about 20 or 30 minutes at this stop, we pushed off and sailed for 30 more minutes. We then tied up within sight of Kom Ombo. This would be our stop for the night. It wasn't even 7PM. As the crew made dinner, pasta with rice and more tomatoes! I think it is called Kushari. The French couple found out from the crew that the camel market had been very near where the drink stop was, and they could have gone. They were upset that the crew had told them it was closed.
This night they took the canopy down, so we could watch the stars at night. After dinner, they tied us up so we were a little ways from the shore. Unfortunately, they hadn't asked if any of us needed toilet facilities before they set us out in the water. Donna and I had to have them pull us all the way back in and set up the plank again so we could go use the facilities before bed. On a felucca, you sleep on a big platform in the middle that is covered with matresses. We all got blankets and pillows to sleep under. This night, it was fun watching the satellites and shooting stars in the sky overhead. You can see a ton of stars here! However, sleep was still a problem. We could hear more chanting from the mosques. Plus, cruise boats go up and down the Nile all night long and their wakes rock the felucca.
Thursday, July 31, 2003, Kom Ombo to Luxor, Egypt, 102.2F/39C:
At around 6:30 AM our crew rowed the felucca across the river and tied up on the Kom Ombo side. We had breakfast and then unloaded from the boat. I paid the captain our remaining 60 LE, but didn't give any baksheesh (tip) due to the fact that we hadn't sailed much and were supposed to have been to this temple the previous day, and other problems we had on the trip. Then we hauled our stuff out to the street by the Kom Ombo temple and waited for our van. The other member of the crew came up to me and asked about the money, he hadn't realized I already paid the captain. He then tried to beg for more baksheesh, to no avail. The van came shortly thereafter, and we loaded our stuff up and then went into the temple.
Kom Ombo Temple
Birds on the Ceiling
Column at Kom Ombo
The Temple of Kom-Ombo
cost 10LE and there was no camera fee. It has some really neat areas of painted carvings. We especially liked the blue birds. They have a small room with some mummified crocodiles too. The temple itself is interesting in that it is dedicated to two different gods, Sobek and Horus, so it is symetrical along its main axis.
After the temple we loaded up into the van and were off to Edfu. Our new van mates were the Aussies from the other felucca. It turns out they paid 120LE per person and were in fact with the Jamaica Family and had much better food and it sounds like a better crew. We also met a Swiss egyptologist on the van and a real nice guy from Taiwan.
Falcon Statue at Edfu Temple
The Temple of Horus at Edfu
was 20LE, no camera fee. This one was very well preserved and quite large. We walked around the temple, took pictures and read our Lonely Planet description.
The van then brought us to Luxor. They stopped at the Happyland Hotel where several of the riders stayed, but we wanted to go on to the Grand Hotel, (Much cheaper) so we stayed on and someone got on the van with us, who we thought was a tout. He tried to take us to the Grand Hotel, but we ditched him by going to an internet cafe and checking email. After that, we went on to the Grand and found that the only AC room they had was still in use. But the owner insisted on coming out and helping us find another hotel. Eventually he brought us to the Oasis Hotel just down the street where we got a room with A/C and in-room bath for 15LE per night. Breakfast was 3.50LE each. We rested for a bit, showered, and then went out to look for a book store and camera store.
After a futile search for books and cameras, we had dinner at Amoun Restaurant. We shared a mixed grill. We had to have meat after our no-meat felucca trip! The meal included kabob, kofta, chicken and steak, with fries. Very good! They also have pretty good lemon juice and we had some ice cream for dessert. After dinner, we bought another disposable camera on the way back to our hotel.
Upper Egypt Part 2
Friday, August 1, 2003, Luxor, Egypt, 105.8F/41C:
We got up around 7:00AM, had our breakfast, and met the minibus that was taking us on a tour of the West Bank today. The tour cost 75LE per person including entry fees. It covers 42LE in entry fees. On our mini bus, we met some Egyptology students from Toronto, Canada. We had previously met Gary at an internet cafe in Cairo, but this was the first time we had met Julianna, Katie, Sarena, Lynda, and Hajni. They had all finished two months of research in a little village, and were now touring the rest of Egypt before they head home. It was great to see the sights with real (almost) egyptologists. They taught us a lot, and pointed out many fallacies that the official guide was espousing!
Colossi of Memnon
Our first stop was the Colossi of Memnon
. (no tickets required) These are two 18 meter high statues by the side of the road as you approach the ticket office. They were built by Amenhotep III as his part of his funerary temple. Experts believe that this was once the largest complex on the West Bank, but now all that remains is these two statues.
Detail of Hatshepsut's Son In Law
Our next stop was the ticket office where the guide bought all our tickets. Then we went on to Deir al-Bahri, which contains Hatshepsut's Temple. This is a mortuary temple used for the 18th dynasty ruling Queen Hatshepsut. It is also the location where several tourists where killed in the 90's. Every tourist attraction you visit in Egypt is heavily guarded by police or military men with guns. The templed is terraced and built into a slope. Only the upper two levels are open to tourists. We could use our cameras for no charge, but without flash. It was fun walking around with the egyptologists. They could translate the Hieroglyphics and explain a lot. They also told us that the story that the guide told us about the pregnant hippo god representing evil is all wrong. In fact, the pregnant hippo is a goddess that protects women in childbirth (Taweret).
Our next stop was the Valley of the Kings
. This is where lots of the pharaohs tombs
were found including Tutankhamun's. When you get to the car park, they now have these trams to bring you up to the actual tomb area. They look a lot like the old trams in the Disney Land parking lots. The tram ride cost 2.5LE extra (not included in our tour price). When we got up to the tomb area itself, they check your tickets and you have to store all video cameras. Videos are not allowed at all. You can bring in still cameras for free, but you can only take pictures OUTSIDE of the tombs. No photography is allowed in the tombs at all.
Our first tomb was that of Ramses III, tomb #11
. This tomb is from the 20th dynasty. The tomb was originally started by Sethnakht, who abandoned it when he accidentally cut into another tomb. Ramses III changed the corridor to the right and now the tomb is 126 meters long. They had glass panels in front of the walls to protect them. The painting on the walls was pretty good. Since we couldn't take pictures, you will have to go to the linked website to see them. Donna was excited about seeing this tomb, as it was the one she most wanted to see.
Next was the tomb of Horemheb, tomb #57
. This tomb is from the 18th dynasty. Horemheb was the successor of Ay who was the successor of Tutankhamun. This one had many painted bas-reliefs. The colors, set on an amazing grey-blue background, are amazing in that they are over 3000 years old!
Our third and final tomb was that of Tuthmosis III, tomb 34
. This is also from the 18th dynasty. The painting in this tomb was much different than the others. Simpler with lots of stick like figures. The burial chamber itself is unusual in that it is oval-shaped. Like a cartouche, this is an oval with the hieroglyphic name of a god or pharaoh in it. There was also a cartouche-shaped sarcophagus in the burial chamber made from quartzite.
After the tombs, we made our way back to the van. On the way to the Valley of the Queens, we stopped at an alabaster shop and had some cool drinks and the obligatory pitch to buy alabaster trinkets. Donna and I didn't buy any, but we did get some drinks. Julianna told us she had bought some alabaster a few years ago when she had visited Egypt with her father and the stuff at this shop was way over-priced (and they wouldn't even negotiate...VERY un-Egyptian!).
The Valley of the Queens
is famous for the Nefertari
tomb. This tomb is said to be the most beautiful and pristine of all the tombs. It used to cost 100LE just to get in and they only allowed 150 guests per day. However, they have currently CLOSED Nefertari's tomb to everyone, supposedly forever. According to our guide, this is due to an altercation between some two different tour groups of different nationalities that were trying to get some of the precious 150 tickets and broke the ticket office window. I doubt it will be closed "forever"; Egypt needs the tourist cash too much.
We however did go to see three other tombs here. The tombs are not just of queens, but princes as well. No photography is allowed at all here, we had to give up our cameras to our guide who held them while we went in the tombs. So to see pictures of them, go to the links.
The first one we saw was #55, the tomb of Amenherkhepshef
a son of Ramses III. He died when he was around 15. This tomb also contained a mummy of another son who died at childbirth.
Lastly we went to #44, the tomb of Khaemwese
, another son of Ramses III. He died as a child and is shown in the paintings being presented to the gods of the afterlife by his father. One of his jobs was Fan Bearer to the Right of the King. He is often depicted on the walls holding a feather fan.
And that was it for our tour. The van brought us back to Luxor and we changed clothes and went swimming and had some cool sodas at the New Radwan Hotel where the Canadian egyptologists were staying (10 LE to swim for non-hotel guests). We decided that we would meet up with them again the next day to tour the temples at Karnak together.
For dinner we went to the Al-Hussein Restaurant. This is right next door to Amoun. We ordered their mixed grill, but it was smaller in size, and not as good as the one from Amoun.
Saturday, August 2, 2003, Luxor, Egypt, 105.8F/41C:
After breakfast in our hotel, we met with our Canadian friends at their hotel around 7:30 AM. I bought us a some more cold water while we were waiting. It turns out that Gary wouldn't join us today as he had been out late the night before and wasn't feeling well. So it was me, Donna, and the 5 Canadian girls. We caught a minibus to Karnak for 50 piastres each, right at the traffic circle by their hotel.
Sphinxes at Karnak Temple
Hypostyle Hall at Karnak
Julianna, Lynda, Serena, Hajni, Katie, Donna, and Kirk
(click for full size)
The Temples at Karnak
charge 20 LE admission, and cameras are free. The temple complex was originally joined with the Temple at Luxor by a 3km avenue lined with sphinxes. Bits and pieces of this ancient road are still visible in places. The best sections are right at the temples. This time we had no guide, but we didn't need one. We walked around with some of the egyptologists and learned lots from them. The temple complex was quite large with lots of columns, statues and obelisks. It actually contains many temples built by many different pharaohs over a period of about 1500 years. They had three "garages" where they stored barques (boats) that they brought to the Luxor temple and back during ceremonies. There are matching "garages" at the Luxor temple. After a thorough exploration, we caught another minibus and told the driver to take us to the Luxor Museum, but he must not have heard us right. He dropped us off at the Luxor Temple
. We just walked from there to the museum.
The Luxor Museum
cost 30LE and there was no camera fee, but you aren't allowed to use a flash. It is a very well done museum. It is fairly new, not crowded with objects, has good explanations, and excellent AIR CONDITIONING. They have several items from the Tutankhamun cache; the rest are at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. I particularly liked the statue of Tuthmosis III
on the first floor.
After that we all walked back to Amoun restaurant for lunch. I got a few comments about my harem as we walked in. They also had remembered Donna and I from two nights before. After lunch, we all split up. Their group was parting ways in the next few days with some going home soon and others staying on in Egypt for more touring.
Deir el-Medina Temple
Donna and I went back to our hotel and decided to hire the hotel manager's cousin to take us back over to the West Bank to see a few more of the sites we wanted to see that afternoon. Our first stop was Deir el-Medina
(12 LE). This was the village of the workmen who built all the tombs at valleys of the Kings and Queens. The entire village has been excavated and many tombs have been found, too.
First we walked through the village area and an impromptu guide brought us to the Temple of Hathor
. It was built atop many other temples, and itself was modified by the Romans when they came through. Inside you could still see some of the paintings. We knew we weren't allowed to take pictures with flash, but the guide even offered to allow us to do it. We refused. I guess he wanted to earn a bit more baksheesh.
Next, we went to the tombs of Sennedjem and Inherkhau. These are two of the workmen. The tombs were small and basic, but the painting on the walls was very well preserved, much better than many of those in Valley of the Kings.
Our next stop was Valley of the Nobles
. The tombs here are mixed in amongst the village that lives here. The tombs here are different because they have lots of scenes of everyday life, rather than gods and royalty found on the king and queen tombs. It was a little difficult to find the tombs, but with my compass and the Lonely Planet map we did fine. If that failed, there were two little girls willing to show us where they were, for a little baksheesh of course! Even if we didn't want help, they followed us around, taunting us, telling us we were going the wrong way (even if we weren't)!
First, we went to the tomb of Ramose, #55
. Ramose was governor of Thebes during Amenhoetep IV's reign. The tomb had many big columns and was quite big inside. It was never finished as Ramose moved before his death.
Next was the tomb of Khaemhet, #57
. Who was a scribe and granary inspector. It has many scenes of harvesting, boats, and cattle.
Then we went to the tomb of Userhet, #56
, who was a royal scribe. He had lots of hunting scenes.
Our next set was a bit up the hill from the others. We went to Rekhmire's tomb, #100
first. This one was neat in that it had a big procession of tributes being brought to the king, including giraffes and other beasts from other parts of Africa.
And finally we went to the tomb of Sennofer, #96
. This one was pretty big, and the neat thing it had was the wavy ceiling that was painted to resemble grape vines on it. The waviness added to the effect. At all of these tombs, the local guards ask you for baksheesh upon exiting. Especially if they do something for you like turn on lights or give you a piece of cardboard for a fan. It seems 50 piastres to one pound is enough for them.
On the way out we stopped at the Sennofer restaurant which is right next to the tomb and had some sodas. These were the tiny little 196ml bottles that we paid 1 LE before at another tourist place, but this guy charges 3 LE! We got back to the taxi, and asked him to take us to the Tomb of Ay, in the West Valley, next to the Valley of the Kings. He didn't want to go as it was 4:15 and they close at 5:00 PM, but we insisted. He drove us there and we got there by 4:33PM, and they had already closed the gate. I got out and pointed out that it wasn't 5 yet and lots of people refused us, but there was some arguing still going on. Eventually they motioned me over to the ticket office and they sold us our tickets to the Tomb of Ay for 12LE each. I got back in the van with our new tickets, and they let us through the gates. Next, we drove up the dirt road to the house where the tomb keeper stays. He had already gone in for the night. Eventually he came down and got in he tried to refuse us as well. We got up to the Tomb of Ay
at 4:45. The tomb is just a one room deal, so he started the generator, and we went down in. It was nice. One big room with very well preserved paintings. An interesting yellow background that you don't see much of. It is also famous because of the pictures of the baboons on the walls. It didn't take us long to visit it, and we headed out and I had the guy stop along the way to take a picture of the valley that the tomb was in. We continued on and the guards from below came up in their truck. They had been sent in to escort us out! We exited the gate at the bottom at 5:02. Not bad! We had our driver drop us off at the Luxor Temple instead of the hotel, since we wanted to see that, too. As I paid him, I was trying to give him a 15LE tip on a 75LE taxi ride, but he even wanted more! Wow.
Luxor Temple Sphinxes
Kirk & the Two Ramses Statues
At the Temple of Luxor
, they charge 20LE admission. Cameras are free, but there is a fee for tripods. This temple is right in the center of Luxor, so it always seems to have lots of crowds. This time was no exception! This temple was built by Ramses II and Amenhotep III and was used for the many festivals of the time. It is at the other end of the 3KM sphinx avenue from the Karnak temples. There are a corresponding three garages for the barques that were used in the festivals. There are also several statues of Ramses II. (He really liked to make statues of himself)! We toured the temple, avoiding the crowds and tour groups as much as we could. Eventually we got hungry and it was time for dinner.
On our way to dinner, we got information on the bus to Hurghada. It departs at 6:30 AM! We had dinner at our favorite Luxor restaurant, Amoun. This time we had spaghetti bolognaise. Then, it was back to the hotel to pack and sleep as it would be an early morning.
Sunday, August 3, 2003, Luxor, Egypt, 107.6F/42C:
We got up early today. Our hotel had pre-made our breakfast and gave it to us in a bag -- that way we could eat it on the bus. We made our way to the Upper Egypt bus station, got our ticket to Hurghada for 24LE each, and got on board. The bus left at 6:36 AM. At around 9:30 AM somewhere out in the desert, they pulled over to a roadside cafe/toilet stop type of place, and the driver got out and others got out. We stayed on board thinking it was a toilet stop and we didn't have to go. After about 45 minutes, I went out and asked how much longer it would be and the driver said it would be 10 more minutes. After another 30 minutes, we got out of the bus and waited outside where it was cooler. Eventually we found out that the bus had broken down and we were waiting for a replacement bus. The second bus finally came after more than a 2 hour wait. This bus was quite a bit less comfortable as it only had seats for the front half of the bus. The back was just bare floor. We had to sit on the floor in the back the rest of the trip. We finally arrived in Hurghada, Egypt on the Red Sea at around 2:30 PM. Since this is no longer Upper Egypt, but near Sinai, you will have to wait untll the next post to find out what happened next!
Sunday, August 3, 2003, Hurghada, Egypt, 100.4F/38C:
After we got off the bus in Hurghada, we were accosted by taxi drivers and hotel touts. One of them mentioned the hotel we happened to want to go to, the Four Seasons, so we looked went with him. A free ride to the hotel would be nice. We hopped in and along the way, mentioned we wanted to take the ferry to Sinai the next day. They said they could help us with that, so they stopped at the Sea Waves hotel where we got tickets on the Red Sea Jet ferries for $30 (US Dollars) The other ferry is $40. Then they brought us to the Four Seasons. At this point we found that our hotel ride, in fact was NOT free. Oops. I didn't want to hassle with it, so I paid the guy the 20 LE. The Four Seasons didn't have any AC rooms, a requirement at this point, so we went on looking for others. We went to several hotels and didn't found any that had rooms with A/C available. Eventually, we ended up back at the Sea Wave (065-545-071, Owner +2 012 468-8741). (We didn't remember the name of the place from when we bought the ferry tickets, but remembered it by the building). They had an very clean A/C Room for us with bath and breakfast for 35LE. They weren't in our guidebook, but they should be. They were excellent!
We had dinner at Norhan's Restaurant. We split a Chicken Pane Gambo (Gambo means Jumbo) It was basically a big fried chicken sandwich. Surprisingly delicious.
After dinner, we went back to the hotel, rested, ordered a taxi for the morning, and Donna worked on the journal.
Lunch in Dahab
Monday, August 4, 2003, Hurghada to Dahab, Egypt:
It was another early morning. We got up at 3:45 AM, packed, and had our breakfast at 4:00 AM. The taxi showed up at 4:30 AM, and brought us to the ferry docks for 10LE. We had to have all the bags X-rayed as we boarded. The bag guy demanded baksheesh when I put the bag on the big cart. It turns out, you can just carry your bag yourself to the boat if you don't want to pay the baksheesh. The boat left at 5:30 AM, and it was a bumpy two hour boat ride to Sharm el-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula. When we got off the boat, they had to X-ray our bags a second time! Then we took a taxi for 10LE to the bus station where we caught the 9:00 AM bus to Dahab for 11LE each. We got into Dahab at around 10:30 AM and took a pickup for 5LE into town. The pickup driver pitched Diver's House to us. He wanted to force us to do a special $25 checkout dive in addition to two $20 dives. We wanted to walk around and get more prices of dives and accommodation. He had us walk down the beachfront looking for places, but this turned out to be the wrong thing to do. We went back onto the main street and eventually got to Deep Blue Divers. We chatted with them about dives
, they agreed with $20 each for two dives, and they also had accommodation that was brand new. They had just opened 2 months ago. We got a room with bath and fan for 35 LE thinking it would be cool enough here on the Red Sea coast.
After lunch, we did a little internet at one of the many satellite internet providers here, and then picked up an underwater camera for our dives. We found one right next door to Deep Blue, and it is reuseable and goes down to 28 meters! When we got back to our room we dropped off our clothes to be washed. We hadn't washed clothes since Pretoria, South Africa!
My Beautiful Mermaid!
At around 3:00 our dive master came by and we got fitted with our dive gear and went for our first dive. We went to a place called the Islands
. A collection of colorful coral pinnacles just south of Dahab before the lagoon. There were tons of fish. He had us do a few check out drills, clear your mask, lose your regulator, etc. And then we swam around. It was great to be diving again!
After the dive, we washed our dive gear and put it away for our dive the next day. We had a wonderful dinner at King Chicken Bedouin Restaurant. After dinner we went back to the room, and made some notes of our travels, so I can update the website without using Donna's journal. (We were both a bit behind). There was a nice little kitten that lives at the hotel, and she would come in our room, insisting to be petted. We couldn't keep her away since the window and door were open. She was very cute. We went to bed a bit early as we had had a long day and were very tired.
Tuesday, August 5, 2003, Dahab to Mount Sinai, Egypt:
We got up and had breakfast at the Karnak Restaurant a few doors down from Deep Blue Divers. Donna had the English breakfast (eggs with sausage), and I had the American breakfast (Spanish Omlette). It turned out Donna's "sausage" was really a hot dog, ewwww!
At 9:30, when we were supposed to meet our divemaster, we found out that he had to go to Cairo for something, and they wanted to switch us to another group. This was going to be two dives, one at Bell's and the Blue Hole, and another one at the Canyon. We had only planned on one additional dive, so they gave us the second one for $15 instead of $20. We piled our stuff in the jeep and went off to the other Deep Blue Divers location to pick up the other divers. They added a trailer to the jeep to hold our gear, and the divers and divemasters rode in the jeep. We had two divemasters, and 6 divers total. The ride out to Canyon was a bit long on a dirt road along the beach. As we drove by the police check points, the driver and front seat passenger would hold their seatbelts in place (not hooking them up mind you) and then take the seatbelts off as we pass by. They say "Seatbelts aren't needed in Egypt". Yeah, right. The whole time one of the Egyptian divemasters was chatting away with one of the female divers. It was quite obvious he was trying to pick her up. She even had her boyfriend on the dive with us!
Your Intrepid Travellers
Kirk & Fish
The dive at the Canyon
, was very nice. Since Donna is having trouble with her back and this is a beach dive, the divemaster and I floated/carried her BC and tank out until we got to the drop in point and then put it on her out there. We swam along the reef, past a wall of coral to the edge of the Canyon, and into a cavern under the sea bed. It was very cool! Lots more fish, at times it is like swimming in a tropical aquarium.
After that we piled back in the jeep and drove on to the Bells/Blue Hole area. They have lots of restaurants set up along the beach here, and we rested and had lunch here. The places are basically a bunch of pillows and low tables set under a canopy right on the rocky beach. After a couple of hours, we got our gear on and then walked along the shore to the north up to Bell's
. When we got out to the dive site, one of the other divers found she had forgotten her mask. A snorkeler volunteered to go back and get it for her.
This site has kind of like a chute that you can drop right down into a hole in the coral. Quite an easy entry. We carried Donna's tank and put it on her right at the hole. The coral was fantastic, and we saw lots of fish including a great big sea turtle! I snapped a picture of him! This dive is basically a drift dive. You float along the side of a coral reef until we got to the Saddle, which we swam over and arrived at the Blue Hole
. This is an 80m deep hole only a few meters from shore. It is very popular with snorkelers, and is pretty good for divers, too. No, we didn't go to 80 meters! There is nothing to see down there, anyway. The exit from Blue Hole is VERY easy. They have a wooden ramp with hand rails! It is kind of like a boat dive exit. We went down to 22m on that dive. It wasn't as clear as the Canyon was.
As we were making our way back to Dahab, our jeep was stopped many times, waiting for camel convoys to go by or get out of the way. It was pretty funny! As we rounded a corner into Dahab, there was a jeep on the side of the road that had obviously just been rolled over. It turns out the divemasters knew the owner of that jeep. No one was in it, so they probably got out ok, but that shoots their theory of seatbelts and Egypt! At the hotel, we took showers and cleaned up. We had a great time diving!
We had dinner at King Chicken Bedouin Restaurant again. This time we had egyptian pizza. It was very good. They use a flaky pastry like crust here. After dinner, we used the internet for a bit, and then got ready for our trip to Mt. Sinai. They were going to pick us up at 11:00 PM.
At around 11:00 we went out and waited for our van to Mt. Sinai. The trip out there and back cost us 30LE each. They arrived a little later and we went around to the other hotels picking up other people. It was about a 2 hour drive out to St. Katherine's Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. We got out and found that the driver would wait for us there, and we had to be back by 10:00 AM the next day and we could tour the monastery at 9:00 in the morning.
Waiting for the Sun
View from the Top
The Group of Asian Singers
Kirk at Mt Sinai
The hike up Mt. Sinai was long and slow, but very crowded. There were tons of people here! We hiked up with a couple from the Netherlands that we had met on our van. We were happy we brought our flashlights (torches here) as it was dark and there were many rocks on the trail. We took the "Camel Trail
" up as it was easier than the "Steps of Repentance
". About every 500 meters there is someone with a camel offering to sell you a ride up the hill on his camel, then about every 750 meters is a kiosk selling cool drinks, tea, and goodies. It's not really like it was in Moses' day! As we got within about 500 meters from the top, we rented two mattresses and a blanket to lay on while we waited for the sun to come up (5 LE per item). Then it was the final climb to the top. Boy was it crowded! It was tough to find a spot big enough to even set down the mattresses! There is an old orthodox church and a mosque built right on the peak of Mt. Sinai that everybody congregates around and waits for the sunrise.
Wednesday, August 6, 2003, Mt. Sinai to Dahab, Egypt:
The sunrise was pretty good, but not specatcular. The sky was just too clear. There weren't enough clouds and stuff for the sunlight to play off of. But it was great to see the surrounding area after walking up here in the dark. A short while after sunrise, people started going back down and we noticed a group of Asians on the other side of the peak had gathered and were singing Christian worship songs. I knew some of the tunes, but none of the words. I know they sang "How Great Thou Art" among others. Eventually, Donna and I headed down, too. We dropped off our mattresses and blanket with the guy we rented them from and continued on down the trail. The camel guys were still at it offering rides on the way down now. They were also selling agates, stones with fossils, and other polished stones on the way down.
Inside St Katherine's Monastery
At the bottom, we arrived at St. Katherine's Monastery
at about 8:30 AM. It didn't open until 9, so we waited in what little shade we could find. They didn't open the doors until 9:15, and the crowd surrounding them was a little upset about this. Eventually, we decided to brave the huge crowd and go on in. The monastery was very crowded inside, but we made our way into the main chapel. They were turning away the many tourists who were inappropriately dressed. We had already zipped the legs onto our convertible pants and had our shoulders covered, so we were fine. The church is beautiful! Lots of hanging chandeliers and paintings. It was definitely worth braving the crowd to get in! After the chapel, we tried to view the museum, but they were charging 20LE, and it was getting late, so we decided to pass on that, and we made our way out to our van. It was tough finding our van; they are all white and all have roof racks on top! Eventually, we found it by the passengers we recognized. I got us some cool drinks for the ride back and we had to wait a bit for one more of our riders, and then we were off.
On the ride back we got to see the countryside leading out to Mt. Sinai. If this is what it was like in the Israelites time, boy did they have to trust God! There is nothing out here! Just rocks and sand! There is hardly any vegetation at all. If God hadn't provided the manna, they would have starved.
We got back to our hotel around 12:30 PM, and switched to an A/C room. It had just been too hot to sleep in the fan room. This one cost us 55LE but it was worth it! It had very good, brand new A/C! It is so much easier to sleep when the room is cool! We took a nap that afternoon, and then went to dinner at the King Chicken Bedouin Restaurant again, our favorite. It is located directly across the street from the Nessima Resort. We had the chicken pizza, NO TOMATOES! After dinner, we did an email check, and then Donna went back to work on the journal, while I continued working on a post. We went to bed around 10:00 PM.
Thursday, August 7, 2003, Dahab to Alexandria, Egypt:
We got up at 6:30 AM, and boy did we sleep well. A/C is a wonderful invention! We packed our gear and had breakfast next door at the Karnak Restaurant. This time, Donna had the omellette (no Tomatoes of course) and I had cornflakes. They have a really big cat at the restaurant that likes to be petted and begs for food. In fact, there are a lot of cats all over Egypt! You see them everywhere! There are many more cats than dogs. But they don't treat their animals very well. We saw lots of cats and dogs kicked or have rocks thrown at them. It is very sad. Anyway, we checked out around 8:15 and caught a pickup truck to take us to the bus station for 5 LE. The bus to Cairo was 62LE each and left around 8:40 AM (scheduled 8:30). This was an AC bus and we found good seats near the rear entry door that had a little table in front of them to play cards on. Unfortunately, later on, we found out that the bus had assigned seats and these weren't our seats and we had to move. We offered to give our assigned seats to the new passengers, but they refused. (They had a family of four and had gotten four seats across from each other). After an Egyptian show, they showed Broken Arrow
on the bus. This was the first English language movie we had seen in Egypt!
The Suez Canal
When we got to the Suez Canal, we all had to get off the bus, and take our bags out from underneath, too. Then a guard inspected the contents of our bags. We were going to go under the canal in a tunnel, so I guess they didn't want any bombs on board to destroy the tunnel and canal! I was last in line, and I opened up Donna's bag for him to inspect since it was the easiest to get into, and after inspecting it, he just turned and left. He didn't bother checking my bag. Mine is very stuffed and hard to get into.
During our bus ride we listened to more music on our CD player and another sermon from our church. We also played cards and games on our visors. We got in to Cairo around 5:15 PM. I was able to get us tickets on a Super Jet bus to Alexandria that was leaving at 6:15. We bought some cheese sandwiches and sodas and waited. The bus left around 6:20 PM. This time we didn't get the good seats either, but we figured out what they are. If you want seats with a nice table and no one in front of you, select 1 & 2, or 3 & 4, or 31 & 32. We started playing cards as usual, and this time the stewardess came by and forbid us from playing cards! What a bummer! We weren't gambling which is probably forbidden to muslims, but that was hard to explain. So we respected their request and played games on our visors instead. They had a really annoying noisy Egyptian movie on this bus. They always seem to play the television shows VERY loud on the buses (except the one English movie they showed).
We got into Alexandria around 10:30 PM. After some wandering and asking around we found the tram that goes along the coast here. It is North of the bus station on the other side of the train station and a street. We took the tram to the area we wanted to look for a hotel. Boy, was it crowded! Apparently, we had arrived at the peak of high season here in Alexandria. The streets were filled with people at this late hour! Our first choice, Union Hotel was full, so we ended up at Normandy a little ways away. We were tired and wanted to sleep so we got a room with no fan for only 25LE. We figured it would be okay, because there's a nice cool breeze coming off the ocean in Alexandria.
Before we went to bed, I went out and got us some cool drinks and bread and cheese for the next day. Unfortunately, we discovered that the minute we shut the door to our room, the breeze stopped and the room was stifling. There was a transom, but it had about 50 years worth of paint over it and there was no way we were going to be able to get it open. So, using a couple of wood screws and a blanket, we made a make shift door over the lower half of the doorway and slept with the door open, our clothes on and the bed under the window to catch the maximum airflow. It was tough to sleep, but it was the best we could manage at after midnight and we did get some sleep. We'd work something else out tomorrow.
Alexandria and Cairo, Good Bye Egypt!
Friday, August 8, 2003, Alexandria, Egypt, 86F/30C:
We got up around 9:00 AM and had our breakfast of bread, cheese, and water right there in the hotel room. Then, we went out and found a room at the Crillion Hotel that was much better. It cost 73 LE, but included a shower in the room, a fan, an ocean view and breakfast. A bit expensive, but this was high season on the Mediterranean! We rested a bit this morning and eventually went out and had lunch at Mohammed Ahmed. We didn't do too well ordering. It seems it was a vegetarian place and we ordered foul (beans), bread and fried cheese (feta). Not the best lunch we have had in Egypt. After lunch, we did an email check and then put our film in to be developed.
Then we made our way to the Graeco Roman Museum
. It cost 16LE and had a camera fee that I didn't pay since I rarely take pictures in museums anyway. The museum was pretty good. They had lots of the statues from the Graeco Roman era, of course, but these were interesting in that they were a melding of Greek gods with the Pharoenic Egyptian gods. Since nearly all of ancient Alexandria has been destroyed, the few bits of it that they have found are in this museum.
After the museum, we found a place to buy some Fuji 400 film (our favorite) and Donna went back to work on the journal while I tried to catch up with our posts on the internet. At around 7:15 PM, we had dinner at the great chicken place across the street from the internet cafe. I don't know the name since it was all in Arabic! We ordered by pointing and gesturing and had a great dinner of chicken and rice and sodas! It was actually too much food, so we had them package up the leftovers to take home, but instead we planned to give them to a poor boy on the streets we had seen earlier. He slept in a stairwell nearby. We walked up and down and around the area that we had seen him before but couldn't find him. Eventually while waiting for him to come by I gave the leftovers to a one legged boy that came by begging.
This was when we met Hamed Ali and his wife Doa'a and their two girls Toa'a and Maya. They were sitting on the wall with us enjoying the night air and struck up a conversation with us. Hamed apparently has a travel agent type of business in Cairo (012 235 8073). They invited us over to Doa'a's parent's place, where they were staying, for tea and conversation. We were a bit wary (our Dutch friends had told us a horror story of something that had happened to them in Upper Egypt when they were there), but we accepted and went along with them. We had a great time chatting and with them and learning a little bit about Egyptian life. This had been the first time we were in an Egyptian home. We headed back around 10:30PM and tried to pick up our film and CDs. The CD's weren't ready yet, but we were able to pick up the pictures. We slept in our nice new room with the fan on and window open!
Saturday, August 9, 2003, Alexandria, Egypt, 86F/30C:
We got up around 8:30 AM and had our breakfast in the hotel. They seem to have a feta fetish here in Egypt. We get it all the time! Breakfast was feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, pita bread, butter, jam, white cheese, and tea. No eggs! After breakfast, I checked on the CDs and they weren't ready yet. Oh well.
Mural near Fort Qaitbey
Then we walked along the corniche (waterfront road) to Fort Qaitbey
. It is a pretty long walk from our hotel, but the view and walk was very nice. There sure are a lot of waterfront view apartments here! Along the way we passed the very beautiful Busseri Mosque and the Mosque of Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi
. We got a nice picture or two of the fishing boats in the harbor near the fort, too.
cost 12LE and had no camera fee. The fort was built on top of one of the ruins of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the tower of Pharos
. Apparently it was an amazing 125 meters high and was one of the first lighthouses in the world. They say some of the stones used in the fort may have been from the tower. We went in and they did their obligatory metal detection as we go in. The gaurds always ask me if I have a bomb, so I just answer "No, not today". We walked around the walls on the outer part of the fort first. There was an annoying guard up here who tried to bar our way to an obvious open section, and wanted backsheesh for letting us in. Very annoying. We kept on going, ignoring him (despite the fact that he followed us part of the way around, yelling at us, demanding baksheesh). We continued on around looking at the great views, eventually we went inside and looked around there, too. The fort is basically empty and seems to have been recently restored.
We started walking back along the inner street that the tram goes down and had lunch at another chicken place along the way. It was an interesting place since they were constructing a building across the street and we could watch the workmen. The proprieter of the restaurant didn't know English but he did know German, so Donna ordered our Egyptian lunch in German! After lunch, we went back to the corniche and walked back to the photo shop. The CDs were finally done! Yay!
Then, we went to the internet shop and did an email check. I got some bad news. My dad had been brought to the hospital for some tests. Apparently his Alzheimers is getting bad now and he can't always form the sentences he wants to, now. There is not much more that they can do for him. He is back home from the hospital now, but please keep him in your prayers. They think he is suffering from TIA, as well.
We bought a phone card and called my Dad. That was good. Then we headed back to the hotel to rest and on the way we gave our lunch leftovers to the street kid that we had planned to give the ones from the day before to. We rested in the hotel, and had some cool drinks. Later, we went out to buy some more calling cards so we could call home some more. The 20LE cards only last for 5 minutes!
We had dinner a pepperoni and mushroom pizza at Little Caesars for dinner. And then tried to call back my Dad and he had already been discharged from the hospital. So we called my sister and mom instead. Then, we went back to the hotel and I labeled our new pictures for a while and Donna journaled. I paid for our room and then we we packed and went to bed.
Sunday, August 10, 2003, Alexandria to Cairo, Egypt, 93.2F/34C:
We were up at 5:45 and out the door at 6:15 AM. We caught a taxi to Mahat Masr Train station. I told him the Mahat Masr train station twice very clearly and instead he took us to the bus station near Sidi Gabor train station! I couldn't believe it! I told him he should have taken us to the correct train station. I paid him the 3LE that we had agreed on for the Mahat Masr station, despite the fact that he wanted more.
After a bit of a difficulty in figuring out which line to stand in to get our train ticket, we got a ticket for the 8:20 AM train to Cairo, 1st Class for 30LE each. The train was pretty nice, with plenty of legroom and nice cushy seats and good A/C. When we got to Cairo, we found that while we were gone, they had officially raised the subway price to 0.75 LE (75 piastres). So we got our tickets and made our way to Sadat station. We then walked to the Luna Hotel, which had been recommended to us by Gary, one of the Egyptology students from Toronto. We paid 70LE for an A/C room with shared bath and breakfast. We had to wait a bit for the room to be cleaned, but it was an nice big room with good A/C.
We had chicken shwarmas for lunch at the mall across the street and then took the bus from the Egyptian Museum out to Giza. We were going to the perfumery that Donna had been recommended to by our aussie friends, Kean and Linda. It was quite a walk from where the bus lets you off around to the perfumery which was by the entrance to the pyramids near the sphinx. It was nice though to go through an Egyptian neighborhood. We were definitely out of place and many people offered to direct us along the way.
After asking a few other perfumery owners, we were finally able to find the perfumery, it is called Lotus Flower, I think. The owner/salesman was pretty good. He gave us his demo, and we ended up buying 4 different scents 50ml each and he gave us the "special" price of 2LE/ml. This is the pure essence. No alcohol or oil. Donna also got a pretty bottle to put it in, too.
We walked back through the town, and then caught the bus back to Cairo (2LE). We did a little internet and then had dinner at the mall again. Donna went up to work on the journal and I worked on the internet posts before going to bed.
Monday, August 11, 2003, Cairo, Egypt:
Today was our last day in Egypt! We got up and had breakfast in the hotel around 9, and then took the subway to Ataba station to check out the book mart mentioned in the Lonely Planet. We wanted to get a guidebook for Europe and sell back some books we had. The book mart is right near the exit of the Ataba station. It seemed pretty extensive, but nearly all the books were in Arabic. There were a few stalls that had English books, and only one with travel books, but unfortunately nothing for Europe. We did sell them our South Africa book, though. We only got 5 LE for it, but it was a copy, and we only paid $3 for it in Vietnam. We made our way back to the hotel via the subway again, and checked out of the hotel.
Then, we went to the internet shop for another email check till 1:00 PM. Our flight wasn't until 4:15, so we thought an hour was plenty of time to get to the airport. We were wrong. We found our bus to the airport just fine, #356 behind the Egyptian Museum for 2LE, but the ride out to the airport took forever! Traffic was horrendous. We finally did make it to the airport at around 2:50 PM.
At the check in counter, the lady noticed that we had changed the dates on our tickets. She thought we should pay a fee for that. We insisted we didn't, but she insisted on checking. She made us stand around waiting for a while, and then finally let us go without confirming that it was free. She probably just wanted more baksheesh! Then we changed our money into Euros and we were able to sell one of our unused phone cards back to the guy at the money exchange. He gave us US dollars for that, so we spent those on cool drinks before boarding our flight. We were on Austrian Airlines this time.
The flight took off on time and we were on our way to Vienna! Good bye Egypt!
If you are reading chronologically, click here.