Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Egypt Adventure Part Two - In which I narrowly avoid drowning.

Dolphins just out of shot.

Today’s post is all about being brave and trying something new. As regular readers will know, this is something I try to do every now and then but I had the opportunity in Egypt to push this to new heights (or depths)!

So, I will fess up at this point and say I don’t actually like water that much. Not huge expanses of water anyway. I like the sea from the shore; I could sit and look at it for hours. But I don’t like going in it. Not really. So it was with huge amounts of trepidation that I agreed to book on a dolphin/coral reef snorkelling trip with DD in Egypt. She loves the water and swims like, well, like a fish and this was her idea of heaven. But anyway, the man at the hotel did a really good selling job and described the day in glowing terms and so we found ourselves at 6.30am the next morning heading off to the marina.


The marina - our yacht wasn't quite as impressive.

We were in a group with mostly Germans on a fairly large yacht with a friendly and experienced crew. I did try to explain that I had never snorkelled before and would this be a problem? I had lots of smiles and thumbs up in reply which I took as a good sign!


We set off into the sea, looking for the dolphins which we found fairly quickly. Much excitement as they were spotted in the bay and lots of pointing and turning of the boat as we followed them. Then there was a mad rush as we were all piled onto a tiny dinghy off the back of the yacht, flippers and snorkels at the ready. I could feel the fear growing…. Not helped as most people happily threw themselves backwards off the boat and into the sea. I clambered more sedately into the water then realised that I couldn’t touch the bottom. D’oh. Panic! Then I realised that the very nature of the snorkel meant that I couldn’t breathe through my nose. More panic. The guide was brilliant but clearly torn between helping Mrs Theatrical Drowning and the rest of the group who were there to snorkel with dolphins. I decided in the interests of everyone I would get back into the dinghy (not the most dignified entry) and just observe proceedings from there. The driver (do you drive boats?) looked at me with the air of one who has seen it all before. In fairness I did get a spectacular view of the dolphins from the boat, close enough to touch and all very magical if you could ignore the exhaust fumes.


Once the dolphins had had their fill of performing for the humans we all got back on the yacht. I kept my eyes down with embarrassment. DD was full of it, dolphins gliding past her face, baby ones, big ones, real, live, wild dolphins. Bah, I could see them from the boat! Her only complaint was that our specially bought underwater cameras had leaked and stopped working after one shot.

From here we took a leisurely cruise to a coral reef. This rose up before us in the middle of nowhere like some barely submerged island. I had never seen an actual coral reef before and so I guess I wasn’t sure what to expect. We moored and everyone got kitted up again. The guide came to chat to me, to plead with me to have a go. It was wonderful he said - I would be fine. Just take it easy and relax. I would love it. I listened and decided I would love it more on the boat watching everyone else loving it in the water.

Which is what I did. Relaxing in the sun and seeing everyone else swimming about and loving the views.


DD selfie with me sunning myself under a towel behind her.

In fairness, DD did play down how fabulous it had been when she finally emerged from the water. “It was ok” she said with the biggest grin ever. “Lots of fish and wonderful colours. You can’t really see that from up here”.

The coral reef - much more spectacular from underwater.
After lunch on board we moved off to the third and final reef stop on the trip. After much soul searching I decided that maybe I should give it one more try in the calmer waters. DD promised to be with me every flip of the way and that if I decided I really didn’t like it then I could get straight back on the boat. Well, I am SO glad that I was brave and made that choice. I snorkelled for about 15 minutes, never far from the boat but what I saw totally made up for the fear. It was beautiful, a whole underwater world, so many fish and other weird sea things. The colours were wonderful. For a few moments I would forget the snorkel and just enjoy the experience. Then I would remember that my breathing was compromised and I would have to stop and relax again.

I can’t say that I enjoyed snorkelling, I am still too scared of the water to fully like the experience. But I appreciate why people do this kind of thing as a hobby – and I am so proud of myself for taking that opportunity. What an experience!

PS all photos in this post courtesy of DD as I didn't have my camera on that day!

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!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Introducing Edgar

Halloween Pumpkin  for effect!

Have you ever met a person before that shares so many interests and things in common that it’s actually a bit spooky? Well, I have such a friend – in fact I work with her. My friend Kathy understands the love of a button tin, the excitement of a bizarre collection, the thrill of a weird thing found at a charity shop... We are like two peas from a very strange pod!

Kathy and I went to London some months ago to take part in a taxidermy class – you may recall a post on this adventure. We came away with rats which we were most proud of. Now, taxidermy is not something I have mentioned much on my blog as I know it’s a subject which divides people. But I do appreciate the art and have a fair collection ranging from rather good to frankly Frankensteinesque. (As in his monster).

We had talked about taking part in another class when we discovered a very talented taxidermist lives not very far from Kathy’s house – how convenient. This lovely lady, Kate Latimer, now runs classes and so this is how, last Sunday, Kathy and I found ourselves stuffing birds!

Edgar - I still have to finish off the display/stand.

The first thing we learnt was that our previous foray into the art was not proper taxidermy – we were about to discover how to start by making detailed drawings and measurements, how to make proper body forms from wood wool, how to wire and position, how to..... well, I won’t go into details!

The specimens are all ethically sourced and Kate has a huge respect for all the creatures that she transforms. She is also a patient and gifted tutor who guides you through the whole process. Even when you are confronted with wires and wood wool, wings and legs which you cannot possibly imagine will turn back into anything vaguely bird shaped, she is there to twist and coax, helping to create a piece of art.

I was thrilled with my crow – even after I had done something strange to his wing which meant it would not sit flat, Kate managed to help me sort it out. So, in honour of the season, here is Edgar Allan Crow in all his glory!

Spooky Edgar!

I’m off on holiday now – I promise the next post will be ‘stuffed’ full of new adventures! (see what I did there?)