Showing posts with label Luxor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Luxor. 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, February 9, 2016

Egypt: A Journey as interesting as the Destination

Sometimes we’ve found the journey is every bit as interesting as the destination. That was certainly our experience during our introduction to Egypt . . .

Early morning arrivals had become the norm on that Magic Carpet Ride of a cruise we took from Bangkok through the Middle East to Istanbul last spring. As we approached Port Safaga, (Bur Safaga) an Egyptian port on the Red Sea, the early morning sun was illuminating the mountains surrounding it.

Port Safaga, Egypt
Mountains? In Egypt?  Those towering tan peaks were just the first of many things about Egypt that blew away many of my pre-conceived notions. Silly me, I thought Egypt was a flat, dry, sun-baked stretch of endless sand.

Port Safaga, Egypt

Unlike the working port where our Oceania Nautica would be docked next to local ferries for two days, Safaga, the resort town some 37 miles away, hosts snorkelers and divers drawn here from around the world for its stunning reefs and fish. In 1993 it was the site of the World Windsurfing Championships. Silly me, did I know that tourism promotions had billed the Red Sea here as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Underwater World”?

P1000995Cruise ships stop at this working Port Safaga because its location, about 230 kilometers or 143 miles, away from Luxor, the city built on the site of the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes. It is the gateway to that treasure trove of antiquities.

Frankly we find these working ports, teeming with frieghters, commerce, ferries and everyday life far more interesting than the beautifully landscaped cruise ship ports. But we didn’t have a lot of time to watch port activities because. . .

. . .we’d opted to visit Luxor on one of the ship-sponsored ‘big bus’ tours. We were new to Egypt and weren’t quite ready then to explore it on our own, as we recently did on our visit to Cairo. It wasn’t so much security concerns - and there are security considerations when traveling in Egypt - it was more a question of acquainting ourselves with the country in a short amount of time.

 (BTW, thanks to the world’s geopolitical situation, it could be said their are security concerns in going to your own local grocery store these days, so it isn’t fair to single out Egypt.)

PicMonkey Collage
Caravan loads and departs
Safety and security were taken seriously by ship’s staff. We were told we would travel in a caravan of buses, with an armed escort vehicle in the lead. And that the front two seats in each bus would be reserved for the armed escorts (actually, we didn’t have any in our bus, but others did report having them). In reality, our ‘caravan’ lasted until we hit the open road when the drivers took delight in passing each other and setting out on their own.

We didn’t have a sense of caravan on our return trip to the ship. However, the local tour guide assigned to our bus had us back aboard and out of Luxor by 6 p.m. because after that time vehicles weren’t allowed to leave the city and travel the route we were taking back to the ship.

The Journey to Luxor

So off we headed for Luxor on a near three-hour journey each direction; a journey that we quickly realized was as interesting as is the destination!

En route to Luxor
I have no idea what this sign says, but I can tell you that it was the first I saw as we left the city and I read it as, “Whoa! We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto!”

Vast long stretches of sand, helped keep my preconceived notions about the country alive, but still the topography was more varied than I had expected.

One of many guard stations in Egypt
Elevated check points stations randomly appearing along the route were reminders of heightened security. Armed officers were visible inside most and the height of the bus put us almost at eye level -  even this shutterbug wasn’t going to aim and shoot at them – I waited until I saw an empty window.

PicMonkey Collage
Views from the bus - every day people. . . doing everyday things
The best part of this journey was the chance to see ordinary people going about their everyday lives.  Viewing this unscripted spontenity of life makes up some of our favorite travel experiences. As we came to towns we could see the families tending their small herds, and the workers creating roadways and lining canals. We pondered how hot the woman dressed from head to toe in black must be considering the temperature was in the high 90’s F.

On the way to Luxor

As we neared the Nile River, the life giving impact of is tributaries was evident in the greening of the landscape - trees and agricultural fields lined our route.  This portion of the trip by far was the most fun because we had such an unexpected welcome:

An enthusiastic welcome to Egypt
Children along side the road greeted our parade of buses as if they were carrying rock stars. Waves, shouts and smiles. . .

And another group of enthusiastic greeters. . .
. . .this group jumped, shouted and high-fived each other when they made eye contact with those of us on the bus. . .

We'd reached agricultural land en route to Luxor
Irrigated fields stretched for miles along our route, giving us a glimpse of this agricultural part of the country.

Man and beast

Moving the crop
Everyday scenes creating long lasting memories. . .

Waiting to cross the road. . .
How could Luxor’s antiquities possibly top these scenes? In our next post we’ll focus on what we found in Luxor. . .  That’s it for this week. Thanks for the time you’ve spent with us. Happy and safe travels to you and your family ~

Linking this week:

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


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