Wednesday, May 30, 2007

To kiss a...

Sphynx! In Cairo! Sorry, I'm being immature again, and getting ahead of myself...Let me start again...

The journey from Alexandria to Cairo was 3 hours, as was the journey from Safaga to Luxor, but the drive was more pleasant, not only because the coach was slightly nicer but because the outside air temperature, although still very hot, was a good 10 degrees cooler. Oh, and I brought food.
First stop, pyramids of Giza, all three of them. They're HUGE! You find yourself gazing up and saying "What were they THINKING!" when you see these things. I paid $5 to go into the Great Pyramid (the only one with a preserved, levelled and smooth upper point as you can see in this picture, apparently they'd have all looked like this but they were discovered covered in sand, and the post-excavation revealed only the 'bare bones' of the structures) but once I got down to the entrance, 4ft by 4ft, so-designed so you have to genuflect as you enter, the oppressive air and sheer volume of people gave me an attack of claustrophobia, and I had to chicken out. Apparently it didn't get better once you got inside either, and there was nothing much to see (but maybe people were just trying to make me feel better!)

Here I am, on one of the lower slabs, recovering, in between bouts of harrassment from locals with pyramid paper-weights and camels.

Wait, let's get a better sense of perspective, (and my friend Brandy, just checking I was okay!) That little boy on the left wouldn't go away, the whole time I sat there.

Our guide Zara said their are 110 excavated pyramids now in Egypt, but they could easily find more.

Our 2nd stop, still in the vicinity of the pyramids, was our camel-ride opportunity. What a debacle! We paid $5, and were shown to our camels, then as soon as Zara turned her back we were told they were NOT our camels (but the owners of those camels tried to demand money from us for our even presuming to attempt to mount their said-camels!) and led to different animals, all roped together one in front of the other, and put on to them two-by-two. Not really the "me, alone, like a nomad in the desert, riding a camel past the pyramids" Kodak moment we'd had in mind, but we were thrown into a den of thieves I now realise. Sorry, but it's true. All around us, daylight robbery ensued, for instance there were people who'd been led out into the desert, taken to somewhere they had no idea where they were and then conned into shelling out far more money just so they could get back to safety.

Reader, if you ever ride a camel, be warned, take the advice I was never given, LEAN BACK when they stand up! This is me, with my friend Carla, doing our best not to scream like, well, girls. Then we decided to get cocky about it. Camels smell. And they seem to be bad tempered, but then again so would I be if I were muzzled and forced to walk around the same old dunes all day carrying bewildered, short-changed mugs like us.

Back in the coach, and on to the Sphynx stop. More cuddly-camel sellers, more pyramid paperweight-pushers, but eventually once you've "Lalala"'d your way through and round a corner ("La" means "No" in Egyptian Arabic) you're up pretty close to this beautiful statue. Check out Eric's impersonation, nice! It's every bit as impressive as you want it to be, the hair has remnants even of the different colours of paint it used to be covered with. Um, so yes, I had to try and see how my profile measures up! Not great....
Back on the bus, our group decided to go with the "local Egyptian food" lunch option as opposed to eating at KFC and pizza hut (the two seem to be joined at the hip here, or should that be wing and breast) and we ate buffet-style with a great outdoor view ("see the pyramids across the pile"....of food, get it!). We suffered for it later, and I won't go into nasty details, but at the time it was nice.

Eric bought one of the head-coverings, a dish-dash, for $1 just so he wouldn't get hounded about buying one any more, I reckon it suits him.

I bought a Cartouche on this outing, I just had to. But see, I went with Rebecca instead of Becky, it looks far prettier, more letters, better value for money etc. and I got silver with gold letters. I really like it.
Next, after the jewellery pick-up and another papyrus factory (I'm getting to know the drill here, it's the whole "we help you, you help us" thing, like I need more papyrus!) we had all of 45 minutes in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, now home to all the lovely golden relics of Tutankhamun's tomb, including his mask. Needless to say, it was not enough time.

When we crossed the Nile, I saw the Hilton Hotel, here it is, and I think it's where my Granddad's barracks used to be.

It was really interesting to me how it seems the Greeks even took a leaf out of the Egyptian Book (cameras were not allowed in the museum so I have to describe this without pictoral evidence) because there were many mummies exhibitted, and coffins crafted after the Egyptian style but instead of Eyptian bearded, heavy-on-the-eyeliner masks to cover the faces, a portrait as seen in frescoes of the Renaissance period replaces it. It's like a hybrid mummy, very interesting and slightly bizarre. There are even Egyptian-style masks with very Greek-style features.

Alas, it was time to leave. I bought a book from the museum shop to learn more about my "fuzzy" Egyptian history, which will no doubt transpire throughout these posts, but at least I can say I tried!

Once back at the ship, we turned-tail and headed back out in time to catch this sunset.

We found this market on the pier, Eric as you can see was extremely happy at the prospect of more shopping. Carla tried on a Belly-dancing outfit and we danced for a while with the store-holder, but no purchase was made.

We met up with Mark, and once I'd bought a $4 shawl to make myself decent (while Mark casually talked with a man at the stall about how many camels one might get for Carla!) we headed on foot into downtown Alexandria in search of a Turkish coffee. We're lucky Mark showed up, Carla and I needed our own personal convoy in Alexandria after sundown!

At one point, Carla had her long blonde hair pulled out by a kid. Eric scared them (one boy visibly cowered) but I've never felt so much like an alien in all my life.

We stumbled upon this night-market. I aslo saw this amazing gold jewellery shop. As I told Stacey, one of the things I collect pictures of religiously but never seem to post, is pictures of cats. So, here's one in the night market!
Forget coffee if you're female and it's night time in Alexandria! All the coffee houses were patronised by men, smoking hookah pipes. Not a single woman sat out. I wouldn't have dared, not for all the tea in China....or should that be coffee in Turkey! It was an exerience, and I've done my Intrepid Traveller duty for today, let me tell you.

Monday, May 28, 2007

We COULD sail down the Suez canal, convoy and all!

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the Suez canal, also known as the famous Red-Med connection!
We entered the Suez canal at 6am in the morning, and our journey from the Gulf of Suez, through the Great Bitter Lake and onwards North, travelling the entire length of the canal, took just over 12 hours.

There’s Africa to our left, and Asia to our right. This piece of water is all that separates two continents. This photo was taken around midday. Later on, a shrubbery sign on the bank of the canal welcomed you to Egypt, but unfortunately I didn’t capture it.

Here are some rice-paddy fields, interestingly on the African, not the Asian side.
Apparently, today 14% of the world’s trade is transported down this canal, with over 100 ships passing through per day. It was blocked up in 1967, by Israelis who sank ships in order to block it during war. It reopened in 1975, and although many of today’s oil-tankers are too large to pass through, we were able to! I must mention this fact because my Granddad didn’t think we’d be able to get through in our 975 passenger cruise-ship. Look Granddad, I have photos to prove it!
This boat was carrying cars, but why it came so close to us I have no idea.
I was looking at a great photography book yesterday in the library called "A View from a Window" by Heather Angel. It inspired me so much, I think I'll start including window-views in all my posts. Here's today's photo from deck 5, a view from a bar called The Cove on port-side.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Egypt! Luxor, Valley of the Kings and more

This is going to be one long post! It was a 13 hour excursion, starting with a three hour drive, in a convoy (a well-suited silent man in the front of our bus carried a piece!), to Luxor from the port in Safaga. There were A LOT of tours going out today, look at all these buses. For the first two hours, our scenery was desert and basalt mountains, interspersed with the occasional checkpoint complete with armed guards (indeed, armed gurads were on every street corner, I'm not exaggerating) and camels. I'm going to keep words fairly brief, and concentrate on the pictures, which really do speak for themselves. Also, we recieved so much information on the various tombs, factories and temples we visitted, that unless I took notes I knew I'd never remember all of it, and some of my "facts" will be fuzzled a little. Another reason to keep my text to a minimum, then! The tour was awesome. This was our guide, Adel, who has been on the Discovery Channel previously, and has earnt the right, through 7 years of study, to call himself an Egyptologist. He rocked.
On the journey, Adel offered us his Cartouche service. Any of these designs, silver, gold, silver with gold etc. with your name in Hieroglyphs (this is the alphabet, I was dismayed to see that my name is comprised of a foot, 3 feathers and a basket, where as my friend Carla gets Horus the hawk God, a lion and an eye with her name. Needless to say, she had a Cartouche made, here it is, and I did not. I have to admit, useless though my name would look, I'm jealous I never got one!) made "while u tour" to pick up at the end of the day. I was convinced there must have been a man in the trunk of the bus, chiselling away on pieces of silver for us!

They also sold soft drinks. This is what a Sprite looks like to an Egyptian!

In Luxor, there are many donkeys. Adel told us the donkey cart was the Volkswagen of Egypt. Here are a few I managed to capture.

And here's another armed guard. I love this picture of children, who came running out to wave to us in Safaga.
This is the bridge we took (I love these Falcon, or maybe Horus-the-hawk-God statues) over, wait for it, THE NILE!

Our first stop was the Valley of the Kings. This is the house of Mr. Carter, who discovered King Tut's tomb, it's on the edge of the Valley. This is the map of all the tombs unearthed here. At the entrance, this group of men were genuflecting in unison. It was extremely hot outside, we got a bus up to where the tombs are located. We had tickets to go into three of them, this was the first one.

Get ready for illegal photo number one! Actually, I am outside the tomb here, and it forbidden to take pictures actually IN the tombs. That is, unless, you pay the guard a couple of dollars to look away, as I discovered in the second tomb we visited, another Ramses, (Ramses was the name of our tour, I yelled "Ramses!" to register my presence in the group throughout the day. Well, I didn't want to get lost amongst the collumns now did I!) where I got these pictures. I love them, especially this one, the story goes that a scarab beetle pushes the sun to these two women deities, one spits out the sun, and the other ingests it, to give birth to it every morning. Again, forgive me, my details are fuzzy, but that's the general idea!

Only one of the three tombs we saw contained an actual coffin. I have to admit, I was amazed at the clarity and seeming newness of the tombs. It literally looked like the plaster had just been laid, like plaster of paris, and the paint could still be wet, not thousands of years old! Some of the tombs date from 3000BC, some are even older.

We didn't go into King Tut's tomb, that required an extra $18, or £5 (yes, Egyptians have Egyptian pounds!) and we are told that all the interesting artefacts are in the museum in Cairo (which we'll visit soon) but I have to admit I'm slightly disappointed I didn't see it.

Adel next took us to an alabaster factory. We were shown a demonstration of how the alabaster is ground, with various tools, into a hollowed shape and then sanded by these men, (check out how it's placed between his feet!) into bowls or vases. We went into the factory shop and were served excellent mint tea (but told that men should not have too much mint, it is bad for their virility, better to have more lettuce, but Roque didn't seem too bothered) where I bought a white alabaster bowl similar to the one this man is holding, for $35, and I'm very pleased with it. It isn't good for holding water as it's not glazed, but I want to put light or candles inside it eventually and it's beautiful.

I was even given these freebie alabaster rocks from the artists outside, and tipped them a few bucks for their workmanship. Ah look, Fido definitely had a bit too much of the old Hookah pipe!

Back on the bus, Adel gave us blue scarab beetles. All of these items are welcome additions to the Hybrid Shrine, which I will photograph soon, in all it's glory!

We did a photo-stop at the Colossi of Memnon. They're huge, look, that's Eric down there! The temple they guarded was destroyed by an earthquake in 27BC, imagine how huge it must've been. They are so-called because when the Greeks came over, in maybe 300BC they saw these images, already ancient relics you understand, thought they bore a resemblance to the Ethiopian hero Memnon, and the wind blowing through them scared them into thinking the spirit of Memnon (killed by Achiles in the Trojan war) was within them. Apparently the noise was coming from one of the damaged statues, and once it was built up with blocks of stone, under Septimus Severus, the noises ceased.

We next went to KFC and the adjoining pizza hut for lunch. Afterwards, Eric and I went on a wander, and found an English carvery restaurant. We stopped for coffee, talking to a waitor in an England football shirt who had lived in Croydon, and saw this on the cocktail menu. Oh, SO English.

The first of the temples we went to was Karnack temple. It's massive. There are 134 collumns here, the paint is still visible in some parts. They were filming a documentary too, what a naughty picture I took of them, mid-take! I'll just post some pictures now.

This is one of the four obelisks discovered.
The reason people seem to be crowding this scarab beetle is that it's good luck if you walk around it seven times anti-clockwise. I had to do it.
Luxor temple was slightly smaller, but equally as interesting. It reminded me of the Acropolis in Athens. This graffitti dated from the 1880s, some Roman graffitti was also evident, and even better, look, Christian frescoes painted right on top of hieroglyphs! Amazing, I can just imagine the folks in maybe 1300 AD saying "Ah, nobody believes in any of that now, let's paint over it, make it better!" Back in the inner chambers, here's the Sun God Amon're, er, really very pleased!
This window and door, built much MUCH later on top of the temple (pre-excavation maybe, I'm speculating!) looks Jewish to me, it's about 20 ft up though now.
Our last stop was to a papyrus paper-making factory. We saw another demo -Eric was pleased that he got to bash a piece of papyrus until the sugar and water was beaten out of it thus making it plyable- about how they soak the papyrus strips (a papyrus stem looks very much like a huge Dandylion flower) and lay them on top of one another, horizontal and vertical to make the paper. The way to spot fake papyrus is a) with banana-paper fakes, there will be no horizontal lines and b) they don't interlace the papyrus strips in authentic paper, pieces are literally laid on top of each other. I bought two blank pieces of paper, and was very thankful when offered this strong Turkish coffee to perk me up after all this energetic sightseeing.
I slept on the long journey home, the band were late for shows, and all was well.