Thursday, 13 November 2014

Adventures in Egypt - Part One

Sphinxes at Karnak.

DD and I have just returned from our fabulous girls holiday to Egypt – it was the most perfect week in every way.

I won’t overwhelm you with a huge post but thought I’d write a few smaller ones to share some of the highlights with you.

We stayed in Hurghada, on the Red Sea coast. This is a reasonably new resort, created specifically for the tourist trade around an older fishing port. It was a nice place to be but I desperately craved some real culture and history. 

So, DD and I booked a trip to Luxor, approx 300km away. We had the choice of a coach trip (6 hours each way with lots of other tourists) or for a small amount more we could have our own private car and driver and our own guide for the day. This also cut the driving time down a bit. Having our own guide seemed like a worthwhile idea and so we went for this option. I am so glad we did!

The day started at 5am with the long drive to Luxor with our driver and our lovely guide, Ash. Ash studied Egyptology at Cairo University and became an archaeologist before leaving all that for the thrill of the tourist trade.

First stop the Egyptian equivalent of a motorway service station which was an experience. Expensive, useless items for sale, queues for the toilets, cheery staff, they had it all! Except pasties.

Our first visit on reaching Luxor was Karnak Temple which should correctly be called Temples as it’s a huge complex of different religious sites all together. Its earliest parts date from 2055BC which is pretty mind-blowing in itself. It covers over 200 acres and features statues, pillars, carvings, sphinxes.... all of it awesome and impressive. Two obelisks remain (most of Egypt’s obelisks have been relocated around the world eg London and Paris). Of these two, the tallest was erected by Queen Hatshepsut (more of her later) and stands 97ft/30m. The second one was erected by Tuthmosis I and stands 75ft/23m high.

The obelisks.

So many beautiful carvings!

The colours are still visible.

After a visit to a Papyrus Museum we went on to the Valley of the Kings. This was so exciting although cameras are strictly banned so sadly I have no photographs. This valley, which stretches beneath a natural pyramid shaped mountain, is the resting place of the New Kingdom Pharaohs, approx 1539 – 1075BC. After the showy pyramids of previous dynasties, these guys decided to hide their tombs away in a bid to defeat the tomb robbers. All to (mostly) no avail. The Valley’s most famous inhabitants include Seti I, Ramses II and, of course, Tutankhamun. Tut’s tomb was famously discovered intact by Howard Carter in 1922. The tomb itself is tiny but the discovery ensured Tutankhamun’s is the best known. However, in 2005, another undisturbed room was found, leading some to suspect there could be further tomb discoveries still to be made. Our ticket allowed us to visit just three tombs, they are super careful to ensure the tombs are not overexposed to humidity and dust from visitors. The wall carvings and paintings were just wonderful. The colours still bright, the pictures and hieroglyphs fascinating.

Following this visit we saw how traditional alabaster carving is still done and how beautiful it is compared to newer machined items. I bought a small vase to hold a candle and the light it gives off is worth every penny.

Next stop was also a big ‘wish’ on my list – the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut . This iconic place is built on three terraces and truly took my breath away. Hatshepsut was a rare female Pharaoh, ruling between 1503 – 1482BC (approx). She was regent for her stepson Tuthmosis III but took the power herself, adopting the dress and false beard to show her stature. After her death, he succeeded her and defaced all depictions of her, trying to erase her from history. An interesting discovery was made in 2007 when a box containing her liver was found to also contain a tooth. Through this tiny piece of evidence they were able to match the tooth to an unknown mummy discovered by Howard Carter in one of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Hatshepsut had been identified! It also revealed she had been obese and ill at the time of her death. It did, however, quash rumours that she had been murdered.
DD and the awesome temple of Hatshepsut

You can still see the paint on some of the statues!

Our final stop was a short cruise on the Nile – a perfect and relaxing way to finish the excitement of the visit. We saw so many birds, including ibis and kingfishers.
Ash had given us so much information and entertainment throughout the whole day – he was truly patient and lovely. It also helped that he was prepared to offer DD 500 camels for me. She turned him down. Mainly because she only had a 15kg limit on her luggage!

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