Showing posts with label Egyptian tours. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Egyptian tours. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Nile River Valley ~Tombs, Temples and Tourists

At the end of that 3.5-hour bus ride from the port city of Safaga where our cruise ship was docked we found ourselves in Luxor, Egypt crossing the Nile River . . . surrounded by some of the Ancient World’s most famed sites.

The Nile River at Luxor, Egypt

That visit to Luxor was one of the selling points of last spring's cruise - our Magic Carpet Ride - through the Middle East that departed Bangkok,Thailand and sailed to Istanbul, Turkey. Although, truth be told we didn’t know that much about Luxor before we’d boarded the ship, I can tell you now that a day was no where near long enough to explore the treasures of this extraordinary place.
Luxor came to importance nearly 4,000 mind-boggling years ago,during the Middle Kingdom period (2055 – 1650 BC) when the then Upper Kingdom and Lower Kingdoms were united into one. Luxor, or Thebes, as it was then known, became the capital. The city grew and the Arabs are said to have renamed it ‘Luxor’ or “City of Palaces” because of its palaces and huge edifices. It remained the seat of power from 2100 BC to 750 BC.
PicMonkey Collage
Modern highrise hotels like this one line the Nile River in Luxor, Egypt
Today’s Luxor provides tourists a kaleidoscope of contrasting scenes. Modern tourist hotels along the Nile are only a few blocks from the remains of the temples of Karnak and Luxor. Cross the Nile and you’ll find yourself among so many west bank tombs and temples, it is difficult to keep them all straight.

Colossi of Memnon near Luxor, Egypt
P1010065Because of the distance cruise ship tours must travel from the port to Luxor, one day tours don’t even begin until a hot afternoon sun is blistering the Valley of the Kings.  Even with tourism's downturn, awed visitors snake into and out of the tombs at such a measured, slow pace that long lines form under an unforgiving sun.

Cameras are not allowed (in fact, confiscated if used). That is a good thing because otherwise with the crush of people in those tiny little tomb entryways, we’d still be standing there while shutterbugs took aim at the ornately decorated walls.

A trip to this area requires both stamina to stand in the sun waiting a turn inside and an ability to walk some distances in the  intense heat.

To appease the camera-totting among us, we had brief ‘photo stops’ at Hatshpsut Temple and the Colossi of Memnon –  I can tell you that the afternoon heat was so intense that only the shutterbugs hopped off the bus. Many opted to stay inside its air-conditioned comfort.

Memnon was the legendary African king who was slain by Achilles during the Trojan War. The Colossi are in front of the main entrance to an enormous funerary temple, the remains of which are being brought to light, according to our trusty Lonely Planet’s guidebook.
Again, while we found the ‘sites’ to be fascinating, it was some of the ‘sights’ along the way that really caught our imaginations. Scenes along the Nile, where dozens of river boats sat idle had us wondering if it was because they didn’t come to life until evening or because tourism is at a record-low thanks to security concerns in the country.

River boats docked along the Nile River in Luxor, Egypt
Another ‘sight’ we would not only have loved to explore, but to have stayed at is the famous Winter Palace Hotel, built in 1886. Agatha Christie wrote her 1937 novel, “Death on the Nile” while staying here. These historic hotels are among our favorites and one day we do hope to return to this one.
The Winter Palace Hotel - Luxor, Egypt
The Winter Palace is quite near the Luxor Temple, where we ended our day-long whirlwind tour of the area. You may recall from last week’s post that we had to leave the city before 6 p.m. as we’d not be allowed out after that time for security reasons. We had an hour to wander among the temple’s wonders, so here’s an small sample of what we saw. . .

Luxor Temple Egypt

We felt small and insignificant walking between these columns.

For that matter, everything was so large, that we felt small and insignificant.

One of the most amazing stretches of history in Luxor, to my way of thinking, was the avenue of sphinxes, a three-kilometer alleyway that connected Luxor and Karnak – the old street is lined on both sides with sphinxes, many of which are still being excavated.

The Scribe and The Scout at the avenue of the Sphinxes 
(Note for travel fashionistas: Forget fashion! It is simply too hot.  I am wearing the loose cotton top I had purchased at a roadside stand in Thailand where we’d had our first introduction to the area’s intense heat. Cruise ship fashion went by the wayside in lieu of cool and billowing clothes. Sunglasses and hats are essential for travel in the Middle East – a heavy duty sunscreen and lots of bottles of water are far more important than extra photo cards and batteries).

Avenue of the Sphinxes excavation continues between Luxor and Karnak, Egypt
The setting sun signaled it was time to begin our journey back to the ship.

Luxor Temple 
But adventures were only beginning because -- move over Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones – our next stop was Jordan and its famous Wadi Rum. . .a vast desert where we skipped the ship’s tour and did our own – we’ll tell you about that next week.

Hello to our new subscribers, thanks much for joining in the journey! Happy and safe travels to you all~
Linking up this week with:
Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Wanders Among Cairo’s Ancient Wonders ~

"I bear witness of the will of Cheops, my father: to defy time, forever. I saw Anthony and Cleopatra pass. Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon paused at my feet. I saw ambitious dreams of conquerors whirling like dead leaves. As my motto, I chose an Arab saying: 'The world fears time, but time fears the Pyramids.'

From the book "Wonders of the Pyramids: The Sound and Light of Giza," introduced by Zahi Hawass. American University in Cairo Press (AUC Press, 2010)
Great Sphinx - Giza, Egypt
Sometimes we’ve been let down by a tourist destination; usually the kind where we’ve believed the hype and expected more than what we found. We wondered if our outing to Giza, the Cairo suburb where the Pyramids and Sphinx are located, would be one of those experiences.  Smog could obscure our views and suburbia has surrounded these centuries old desert delights, guidebooks warned.

Sphinx with suburbia as a neighbor - Giza, Egypt
On the flip side, sometimes we end up in such amazing places that we need to pause and allow ourselves to absorb the place; a mental ‘pinch’ you give yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming – the kind of moment in which you give thanks for being fortunate enough to be at that particular place on earth.

The latter is how we found ourselves on the morning we toured the Egyptian Pyramids and Sphinx. They didn’t disappoint! As imagined scenes we’d carried with us through the years came to life, we tried to comprehend the scope of  history to which we were bearing witness. Our brains were numbed by the size and the grandeur of these wonders from the Ancient World.

Wandering among Ancient Wonders - Giza, Egypt
The Sphinx (which means ‘strangler’) with the body of a lion and the head of a person, simply knocked our socks off - as proven by the number of photos of us we let the guide take of us with the Sphinx as a backdrop. 

But we almost needed a photo like the one above to assure us we hadn’t dreamt it all.  Yes, we really were standing at this amazing structure believed to have been built for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khafre during his reign, 2520-2494BC. (The date alone is mind-boggling!)

The Great Sphinx and Pyramid - Giza, Egypt
Egyptians built sphinxes, usually with the head sporting the likeness of a Pharaoh or god, to guard tombs and temples.  This one, the Great Sphinx of Giza is one of the oldest and largest statues in the world; its head believed to be the likeness of the Pharaoh Khafra. It faces to the east (sunrise) and guards the pyramid tombs to its rear.

At 241 feet long, 20 feet wide and 66 feet high, it is enormous. The eyes alone are 6 feet tall, the ears three feet and the nose - before it was knocked off - is believed to have been five feet long.

(About that missing nose:  for decades Napoleon and his men got the blame for the ‘nose job’ but other stories say it was Turkish soldiers and yet others say it was chiseled off by someone who considered the Sphinx as evil.)

Undated photo - source and attribution not available
I found this un-dated photo of the Sphinx covered with sand (source and attribution not available). which shows how erosion and weather have affected it in the last 4,500 years.  The Sphinx once had a beard which served to help support the head. A portion the beard is in the British Museum in London.  Beard or not – the Sphinx should be on your ‘must see’ list.

Sadly, pollution and rising ground water are now joining that blowing sand as threats to the Sphinx, which is said to have been carved from bedrock in an ancient causeway, and repair work is on-going.
The Giza Plateau

The Plateau is home to the Great Sphinx and the famous Pyramids, Wonders of the Ancient World.  What we hadn’t realized before our visit was the vast number of cemeteries and tombs – far less grand in size and design that are tucked into the hill along the causeways and that border the Pyramids.

Camel ride vendor rides among tombs - Giza Plateau, Egypt

Standing in the shadow of the first of the three Pyramids on a warm late December morning it was easy to understand why they are considered such wonders.  You can’t help but wonder how in the world they were ever built back in a time without computer-assisted-drafting and modern-day construction equipment.

Size as compared to modern day vehicles and buildings - Giza, Egypt
We’ve all seen photos of the Pyramids but until you are there, looking at their towering height and substantial girth and the size of the stones used to create them, you can’t quite get the feel of  just how enormous they are and the feat of their construction. Each stone weighs several tons and the number of them used in construction is mind-blowing: 2.3 million in the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) alone!

Humans carved and placed these stones - Giza, Egypt
I am not a fan of small places so we opted not to crawl/walk through the Pyramids. It can be done at an additional cost (not included in the entry ticket).  We opted to climb a bit of the stairway to the entrance – I am five feet tall to give you an idea of the size of stones put into place by the hands of human workers.

Camel ride, anyone? Giza Plateau, Egypt
You can also hire camels to get you from one viewing area to another, but we chose to be driven by our guide. The ‘crush’ of souvenir and camel ride touts didn’t materialize; we may have been approached by a few but they quickly left us alone when we indicated no interest in their products.  Tourism has tanked and those who make a living from those visitors are suffering.

Mystical, magical and somewhat smog-obscured Pyramids - Giza, Egypt
You could visit the Pyramids on your own, using public transportation or taxis to get there. We opted for a half-day private tour and selected a company, Ramasside Tours, that had been highly recommended by Tripadvisor users. We’d used the same company for our airport to hotel transfer and again for a transfer when it came time to leave Cairo. Our guide was knowlegeable and the driver had nerves of steel.

We hope you’ll join us next week when we head off to explore the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo. Thanks for the time you spent with us today. Happy and safe  travels to you and yours ~

Linking up today:
Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday Weekend Travel Inspiration


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