Egypt · 7 Days · 31 Moments · March 2018

The Egyptian Experience


6 April 2018

Well my darling readers. Here I am sat at the station in Madrid, awaiting my train to Valencia. The end of my journey. I leave you with some photos of our farewell meal (and 19th Anniversary) at Le Deck by Laurent Peugeot. This is a fusion restauran, combining French and Asian cuisine and was a lovely rest from the falafel!! Goodbye for now my friends and as always, I end my blog with the following wish: May the road rise up to meet you and may the wind be always at your back!! All my love, Neil x
The last part of our day was a trip around old Cairo taking in the oldest Mosques and Madrasas of the walled city. There was an air of festivity and the streets were full of people enjoying their day off as it was Friday. There were actually very few tourists here and after buying one ticket for 100LE we walked along the narrow streets entering one after the other. Here, tipping or ‘backsheesh’ is very important and someone will always offer to show you around...at a small price, but once you get into the spirit of it it seems less stressful. From the old town we headed up finally to the Citadel and the Mosque of Mohamed Ali, better know as the ‘Alabaster Mosque’. This is actually an architectural recreation of the blue mosque in Istanbul. When the Egyptians gave the obelisk from Luxor to the French, they were given in return a clock tower for this mosque....which has never worked! The chandelier inside was also a gift. The view from the citadel out over the city is stunning.
I thought I’d dedicate a special little section to the treasures of King Tutankhamun!! I can only imagine how Howard Carter would have felt when he opened the treasure boxes in November 1922 and found all these wonderful things untouched for thousands of years. They say here he found it by accident when his horse put it’s foot in a hole. That sounds apocryphal to me, and maybe a way to discredit him in an age where there is much sensitivity about treasures stolen from other countries. I had been worried that the mask and the treasures would disappoint after having seen them in photographs all my life, but no! If anything, they are more beautiful than I could ever have imagined!! Such intricate detail and colours, when we were still in mud huts!! Incredible!!
Well readers, as I’m sitting on the plane ready to fly back to Spain, I will tell you about yesterday’s adventures in Cairo. We were without a tour guide today so we caught a taxi outside the hotel to head to the Egyptian Museum or the Museum of Cairo. After a little haggling with Abdul, the taxi driver, he agreed to stay with us for the day and take us round Cairo for 20€. Again, we will split the day into several parts to make them easier to chew. The museum costs 120LE for the museum and an extra 120LE to see the royal mummies. Tutankhamen treasures are open to both tickets. We have ourselves two and a half hours and that was just about enough for a general overview. Many of the items in the museum are unmarked and without explanation. More of a storeroom of antiquities than a museum. The important pieces are marked and there is quite a lot to see. Here are a few. The collection has been situated in many places over the years before finally coming the this building in 1907.

5 April 2018

Our last stop on the tour was to see the Mastabas of the old kingdom and enter into one of the older crumbling pyramids. The tomb we visited was of Kagemni, who was either a priest or judge from about 2350 BCE. The tomb is different from what we have seen before in Egypt as rather than depictions of the gods they show everyday people and activities, from farming to fishing and processions and celebrations. To think that the colours of these reliefs have survives 4500 years seems absolutely astounding to me. Lastly, we entered into one of the pyramids from about he same period, that of the pharaoh Teti or Titi. Another narrow (but shorter) passage into the Earth led to Teti’s sarcophagus. Here this god-king’s cartouche was everywhere on every piece of stone!! After a quiet afternoon we took a taxi into town to dine at an Egyptian restaurant called Felfela. However before that we managed to get taken by a small Egyptian man to a backstreet perfume shop!! Oh well!! There goes 2€!!!
Next it was a 20km drive to the ancient ruins of Memphis. This was the first capital of Egypt and was built over 5000 years ago. It survived for over 3500 years until it was abandoned in the 7th Century CE. To be honest, there is little left to mark such an important metropolis, which I found a little sad. Such greatness for so many years only to be lost to decay, destruction and to the desert! However, here two statues were found which truly are a marvel. One is still housed in the open air museum. The statue of Ramses II is a sculptural wonder. The power and detail of the muscles and face and the sheer fact it is in such good condition after 3200 years is incredible! Saqqara is just down the road and here we find the very first pyramid, built by Djoser, who was Khufu’s grandfather. Bored with the typical mastaba, his physician and architect, Imhotep (yes, the mummy in the movies) designed a step pyramid, and there began his legacy!!
Our next stop was to get a view of the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure, Khufu’s sons. Although Khafre was in fact more important than his father, he couldn’t build a bigger pyramid out of respect for him...so he built a slightly smaller one, but on a hill!! Next to each pyramid are various smaller pyramids built for the pharaoh’s wives. In the old kingdom these rulers were not really pharaohs; they were gods. The status of pharaoh was more a Middle Kingdom role after the revolts in between, when their power was reduced...slightly. From the hill behind the pyramids you get a wonderful view of all three, and is a popular place for taking photos. Next, we hopped back in the bus and drove round to the famous Sphinx!! Also build by Khafre as a guardian of the pyramid necropolis, the Sphinx represents wisdom with its human head and strength with its lion’s body, it also represents our friend Ra again! Our visit to the pyramids finished it was time to head to Memphis and Saqqara!!
Well, family, today has been a day I’ve been waiting for since I was a child and first heard of the pharaohs and their mysterious pyramids!! As a teacher, I know that every child loves the topic of the Ancient Egyptians and today I’ve been privileged enough to visit them for myself. Yes, it is super touristy my friends, but to be honest, that hasn’t detracted in any way the experience for me. I found everyone else melted into the background against the marvel of this site. The most famous pyramid of all the Great Pyramid of Khufu completed in the year 2560 BCE. We decided to pay the 300LE to go up to the burial chamber inside the great pyramid. You can enter the pyramid of Khufu or Menkaure, the ‘small’ pyramid. Thank goodness we chose the larger because it was claustrophobic enough and Jesus nearly didn’t make it!! Today, my lovelies, I’m going to have to split my day into sections as there is so much to show and tell!! I just wish you had been here with me to enjoy it!! X
Well good morning sweeties! Yes I’m back in the land of the living and feeling much better!! Just popping in for a second whilst hurtling in the minibus towards the pyramids at Giza. The hotel is stunning! Very ornate and quite posh! Maybe a little too much! The breakfast was everything you could want. The selection was so large you could spend hours there. We didn’t have hours of course because we were late because of Jesus as usual ;-) See you later, readers, after a full days sightseeing at some of the incredible places I’ve wanted to visit since childhood!! X

4 April 2018

Our next stop before heading to Aswan airport was a perfume house. Being so close to the Sudan, traditionally the pharaohs imported rich spices and perfumes from their neighbours. Today there is huge economy in selling essences and perfumes. Very similar in set up to the Berber apothecaries in Marrakesh, you are sat down, plied with mint tea, given a massage and then listen to a talk about the perfume industry. At the end you undoubtably buy more than you wanted and everyone is happy!! The glass perfume bottles are beautiful and definitely reminiscent of 1001 Nights. Next it was back to pick up our luggage and off to the airport. The airport was quite deserted and the flight fine. However at the other end was a different matter. The traffic in and around Cairo is bestial. It took us four hours, yes FOUR HOURS, to get from the airport to the hotel. All the time with my fever rising and my stomach churning!! Well, I feel like crap... but the hotel is absolutely incredible!! X
Good morning lovely readers! I say good morning, I’ve had a temperature all night and the morning welcomed me with sickness. Therefore, I was less than enthusiastic at rising at 6.30 to head between the old and new dams to the Temple of Philae. Located on and island, this temple too had to be relocated when it was covered by the Nile waters. It was moved a short distance in 1965 to a similar island. This is also a well preserved Ptolemaic temple and was actually the last place in Egypt to celebrate the pagan gods right up to 400 CE. The temple has a similar form to the temple at Edfu, however this was dedicated to the goddess Isis, the goddess of love amongst other things. The emperor Trajan added to the temple and built a new entrance, locally known as the pharaoh’s bed. I sat quietly in the shade whilst Jesus did the rounds.

3 April 2018

After leaving the house we headed to the local madrasa where we were taught the Arabic alphabet and the Nubian numbers by a rather darling old school teacher, who had us writing our own names in Arabic. Then it was a short walk back down to the docks avoiding the thousands of souvenir stalls. I think our guide Mohammad realised we had had enough by now. The boat ride back was simply wonderful. Our captain put the ladder up so we climbed onto the roof, laid back and watched the river go by! We passed the Old Catarata Hotel where Agatha Christie wrote Murder On The Nile and soon arrived back at our mooring. A long day but totally worth it! It’s our last night on board this evening and we are up and out early to see some more sights and fly back up to Cairo for a few days. I can honesty say I’m going to miss the Blue Shadow!! Goodnight my lovelies! X
Well I’ve been up for nearly 15 hours now and haven’t even had a nap so this afternoon was a rest for us from temple spotting. We decided to take a boat trip up the Nile towards the Aswan Dam. We started off in a felluca, the ancient Nile sailing boats along the coast of Aswan. However, as we needed to go upstream we switched to a motor boat to head towards the Nubian villages. We stopped off at a small beach where the Nile meets the desert sand. Although it looked very enticing we decided to forego a plunge and just have a little paddle. I know I’m on a Spanish tour but paddling always seems so quintessentially British! ‘I want fun....just not too much’. To our surprise our next mode of transport to get to the Nubian village was by CAMEL!! Now I’ve never been on a camel before and to be honest...I never will be again! On arriving at the village we were taken to the town leaders house for some tea and to meet a live crocodile! This sounds better than the tourist trap it was ;-)
Well I survived my darling readers!! Hooray! It was totally worth it!! We arrived as the sun rose over Lake Nasser at 5.30am and the site was deserted! The colossal statues of Ramses II glowing orange in the early morning sun. Greeting the sun as it does every day, there were two special days when the sun entered the inner sanctum at the right moment. One was Ramses II’s coronation day and the other on his birthday. The light would gradually hit three of the four god statues in the sanctum. Ra-Horakhty, Amun and Ramses II himself. It did not touch the last of the four as that was of Ptah, the god of darkness. The whole site is Ramses putting himself on a par with the gods and deifying himself with his own image dominating the temples. The second temple is actually for his wife Nefertari but he appears there even more than her too!!! The whole site was moved from the rising waters of Lake Nasser in 1963-1968 with the help of 50 different countries working together!! Hooray again!!!
Well family, (FAMILY is a phrase used by our guide frequently and quite often wrongly in every sentence), here I am. It’s 3.30am and we have already been up an hour and a half. We are currently on a coach driving through the desert to Abu Simbel. The coach is in darkness and all are sleeping, but there is a certain hypnotic wonder in watching the dark landscape fly past the window. We have our breakfast bags and Jesus has brought his pillow from the bedroom. I, of course, have travelled many times with groups of kids so have prepared myself with an inflatable neck cushion. What are these things made of‽ They are terribly unpleasant to the touch! Well, see you at the other end of the journey...family.

2 April 2018

How are you my lovelies? Fine? Good. Our second temple of the day was in the town of Ombo near Aswan. The temple of Kom Ombo (meaning Hill of Gold) was built by Ptolemy VI and rather strangely is a double temple! It has two inner sanctums, one dedicated to Horus and the other to the crocodile god Sobek! Sobek is another incarnation and the son of the evil Seth we met at Edfu. Interesting things about his temple are the depiction of the Egyptian calendar, the oldest known, and the carvings of medical and embalming tools which are still recognisable today. There is a small echo chamber where, from the inner sanctum, the high priest could pretend to be the god’s voice booming out to the populace! Some things never change! The priest then scarpered down into the crypt with the offerings and out a secret side gate!! That’s all for this evening as we are up at 2am (yes that wasn’t a typo!) to drive overland to the famous Abu Simbel temple to see the dawn!! It’d better be good!
Interlude. Shhhh. Don’t mind me. Pretend I’m not here! Back on the wonderful Nile!! We have had the most restful afternoon as we head up river to Kom Ombo! The deck was almost deserted and the water cool and refreshing in the African sun! See you later x
When last we spoke my darlings we were speeding on a carriage towards the Temple of Edfu. The temple is beautifully conserved, but incredibly it was buried under 12ft of desert sand until it was excavated by Mariette in 1870. The two pylons are imposing and powerful as you walk towards the entrance. Dedicated to Horus the temple depicts the age old battle between Horus and his uncle Seth. The carvings and hieroglyphs around the outer wall tell this story, while inside they tell the story of the temple’s construction and consecration by Ptolemy III. Unfortunately, many of the figures were chiselled away by early Christians as pagan symbols. The central chambers are blackened by the fires of the same Christians. This is quite a late temple compared to those we saw yesterday. By now the Ptolemaic pharaohs lived in Alexandria. The temple was a show of power and something of a bribe to the people of Upper Egypt. It works even today! Now time to pop back and sunbathe for a bit. Ciao.
Well, my gorgeous friends, Day 2 has arrived and as a little aside let me tell you about Edfu. Edfu has an amazing temple built by Ptolemy III but unfortunately...that’s about it. The town itself is quite ugly and tourism is a quick way to earn money so you are bombarded from the moment you leave the boat to the moment you return. We caught a horse drawn carriage like everyone else to the ruins. There are millions and you gallop down the streets like you were in the fifth race at Newmarket! The carriage was dirty and dusty, however, it was actually quite amusing as you held on for dear life!!! When you arrive at the ruins you are surrounded by sellers enticing you to their shop and offering you gifts. There is NO such thing as a gift here! Once you push your way through the hustle and bustle you arrive to the relative tranquility of being inside the temple grounds, but THAT is for the next chapter!!

1 April 2018

After a decent lunch (Yes the food has got considerably better!!), the evening was spent on deck watching the beautiful scenery of the Nile go by! I won’t bore you with too many but here are a few to give you an idea. We passed through the lock a Esna where the water level changes as we go upstream towards the south, always a fascinating thing to watch whether in Camden or on the Nile!
Back on our super cool bus for our next stop...the Funerary Temple of Hatshepsut!! When her stepson Thutmose III was too young to become Pharaoh, she became queen herself for over twenty-one years. A powerful and popular leader she wore a beard like a pharaoh and triumphed both politically and economically. She was said to have been murdered by her step son when he returned from military service because she was too powerful, although recent findings may suggest she poisoned herself with her own beauty products!! I know THAT feeling!!! This site is impressive. It looks out of the rock with dignity and power. It is important to note that Hatshepsut was buried in The Valley of the Kings and NOT the Queens! Proto-feminism all those years ago! On the way back to the cruise we made two stops. One at an alabaster workshop and the other at the Memnon Colossi. The workshop was hilarious with the artisans really faking it up for us with singing and pretend work. The colossi were just Ok! )
Next it was a quick hop across the great Nile River! I’ve fallen in love with this majestic aquatic artery around which an entire civilisation was constructed! Anuket was the goddess of the Nile and she has certainly made her presence felt today. There are many more Nile photos coming up! It was now time to head to the west bank of the Nile to the famous Valley of the Kings and the tombs of the pharaohs. After the ransacking of the pyramid tombs the pharaohs thought it may be a better idea to hide there tombs rather than advertise them so they came here! We visited three of the most important tombs and the detail and colour took my breath away. Apart from one sneaky shot you’ll have to take my word for it because you’re not allowed to take photos inside anymore with out paying a tax (which none of our group did). The reason Tutankhamen’s tomb had not been emptied long before was that another tomb was on top so it was saved! The find by Carter was incredible, King Tut wasn’t!
The next temple we visited was the Temple of Luxor itself in the town which the Greeks named Thebes. Interesting aside, darlings, many of the names we know are actually Greek and not Egyptian names as we could read Greek!! The Egyptian name was Waset. This temple also dedicated to the three local God’s was begun in 1400BCE and was finished by Tutankhamen (yes that one!!). The entrance itself would just be enough with it’s great statues of Rameses II and one of two enormous obelisks. The other was given as a gift to the French and sits proudly in Paris. These was a mosque built on the site which is still there and they had no idea that there was an ancient temple underneath. The Coptic Christians also used the site as a church. Here Alexander the Great built the inner sanctum and his cartouche still adorns the walls, along with the fertility god!
Well our first trip this morning was to The Karnak Temple Complex. The biggest religious building ever constructed! We avoided the crowds being there’s so early and, my goodness, it was worth it!! Watching the sun rise over the walls and between the columns was breathtaking! Colours changing from red to yellow to white, casting long shadows through the great Hypostyle Hall. Watching painted hieroglyphs burst into life from three thousand years ago! The complex is actually a collection of temples built over two thousand years to honour the Theban gods Amun, Mut and Khonsu. The complex also contains two obelisks the tallest of which is dedicated to Hatshepsut! Her murderous stepson tried to block its view by building a wall around it, blocking her cartouche. However more of her later! Now it was on the the Temple of Luxor!
Well hello my lovelies. Well as I said last night we had to get up at 5.30am for breakfast!! Needless to say when we went down for breakfast we looked like crap!! Breakfast was interesting to say the least! Some of the dishes seemed to have been created by Klingons! I definitely recognised GAGH!!
Just a quick postscript on today!! Arrived safe and sound and very very tired to our rather lovely boat. The Blue Shadow is quite swish and the rooms seem quite comfortable with a good bathroom. We have been left a few dried up sandwiches to tide us over and I’ve had to put on an extra layer of Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Oil because we are up in four hours to start our first tour!!! Night night my darlings!!

31 March 2018

Well, my dear readers, here we are again!! This time we’re off to explore the mysteries of ancient (and to some extent modern) Egypt! Yes indeed! We have booked a whistle stop tour around some of the most famous landmarks in history! We have joined a pre-arranged package deal tour with other lazy Indiana Jones wannabes like us! So be prepared for the hustle and bustle of travelling around hot deserts with total strangers, most of whom we will come to hate or love on our journey I’m sure! Jesus and I have quite a lot of travelling to do today! First, the Ave high-speed train to Madrid. Then, a four hour flight to Cairo before catching a final connecting flight to Luxor! We don’t arrive at our cruise ship, the Blue Shadow, until about midnight!! So, let’s get this show on the road and head off to the country which founded the longest surviving continuous civilisation in history! From ancient tombs to emblematic pyramids, labyrinthine souks to a modern day city metropolis!