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Luxor and the Sinai Peninsula...


View 11 months around the world on geldere's travel map.

Our overnight train from Cairo to Luxor was one of the fancier modes of transportation we’ve taken. We got a private sleeping cabin for two with dinner and breakfast included - not too shabby. We arrived in Luxor just before 7 am and walked to our hostel and crashed for a bit before heading out to the sights. We haven’t eaten American fast food in months, so our first stop was lunch at McDonald’s. The burgers, fries and supersized, fountain sodas were amazing! We even had a view from our table over the Luxor Temple.
IMG_8176.jpgThe best located McDonald's I've ever seen- amazing view!
Luxor is best known for its temples and monuments. Egypt, and Luxor in particular, really hit the jackpot with all of this stuff. After indulging at McDonalds, we visited the Luxor Temple which is situated on the east bank of the Nile. The temple was built over several hundred years by multiple pharaohs - even Alexander the Great left his Roman mark. It is especially known for its two enormous obelisks (one of which is now found in the Place de la Concorde in Paris). Afterwards, we headed out to Karnak, an enormous complex of temples, pylons, and sanctuaries. The site was completed over a period of 1500 years and has what is considered to be the largest religious building ever built. The Great Hypostyle Hall was really impressive- the hall is made up of 134 huge stone pillars that make you feel pretty small. Both the Luxor Temple and Karnak are UNESCO World Heritage sites and the fact they are still in decent shape after 2000+ years is amazing.
IMG_8195.jpg The entrance to Luxor Temple
IMG_8216.jpgSome heiroglyphics in Luxor
IMG_8250.jpg Scuplture in Karnak Temple
IMG_8289.jpgJeff taking in the Hypostyle Hall
On our second day in Luxor, we visited the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. These royal necropolises are buried in the mountains (literally) on the west bank of the Nile. Through excavations in the valleys, they have unearthed hundreds of tombs. Some tombs are better preserved than others, but many of them are still covered with painted and carved hieroglyphics. Sadly, they do not let you take pictures inside of the tombs. To see one of the best preserved tombs, the Tomb of Queen Nefratate, costs 20,000 Egyptian pounds (roughly 3,000 USD) - we skipped that one. We also explored the Funerary Temple of Hatshepsut, which is built into a mountainside. Funerary temples were used during the 70-day mummification period between death and burial. The sites were certainly impressive, but it was so so so hot that day (upwards of 95 degrees and blazing sun) that I was excited to get back to our hostel. The terrain here is unforgiving.
IMG_8314.jpg The Temple of Hatshepsut
IMG_8351.jpg Colored heiroglyphics from Hatshepsut Temple
Probably one of the cooler things we did while in Luxor was take a hot air balloon ride above the monuments and sites. It was by far the cheapest place we’ve found to do it (50 USD each), so we decided to take advantage. The 4:40 am pick-up time was rough, but it was awesome to watch the balloons get filled up in the pre-dawn light. How the flame doesn’t ignite the balloon is totally beyond me. Hot air ballooning was far more relaxing than I thought it would be and watching the sunrise from the air was really beautiful.
IMG_8392.jpg Pre-dawn
IMG_8402.jpgGetting ready to take off
IMG_8446.jpgOne of the ancient temples seen from the air
IMG_8471.jpgTaking in the sunrise
After Luxor, our next stop was the town of Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula, an overnight bus ride away. Egyptian buses are not horrible, but 16-hours in any bus is enough to make you go nuts. At 4:00am, we had to get off the bus with our bags and have a dog sniff them to ensure we weren’t carrying any bombs- we all passed and continued on our way. We arrived in Dahab early in the morning, took a taxi to our hostel and crashed (pattern forming here?).
Dahab is a little slice of heaven on the Red Sea. It’s a Bedouin village bordering on a resort town. Though it lacks a true beach, the water is crystal clear, literally. It is crazy that when you are eating or lounging by the sea, you can see Saudi Arabia across the water. Sometimes I forget where I am.
With its crystal clear water, Dahab is well known for diving, so we signed up for a single dive of a site called “The Islands”, a National Geographic worthy dive. The reef is fairly close to shore so we were able to walk most of the way out to it, a nice change from boat diving. It really was beautiful - an enormous amount of coral and colorful fish. We even saw a school of barracuda and three lion fish.
IMG_8550.jpgGetting our gear ready
IMG_8570.jpgView from the beach
IMG_8585.jpgThe small beach town of Dahab
Aside from diving and relaxing by the water, we also took a day trip (or should I say night trip) to climb Mt. Sinai and visit St. Katherine’s Monastery. Mt. Sinai is the supposed site where Moses received the Ten Commandments from the Big Man in the sky. As with most mountain excursions, the best time to climb is before sunrise- so again, I found myself climbing a mountain at 3 am (our hotel pickup was at 11 pm). Shockingly we were not alone as there were hundreds of other crazy people on the mountain. The climb wasn’t too bad, but we were surprisingly cold on the summit. After watching a lovely sunrise, we headed back down to the Monastery. St. Katherine’s is the oldest Monastery in the world and has the second largest collection of early religious texts, second only to the Vatican. It is also the supposed site of the burning bush, the location where Moses was appointed by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Egypt is chalk full of history. Given the 11 pm departure time, everyone was open-mouthed-head-bobbing on the ride back to Dahab.
IMG_8631.jpgSunrise on Mt. Sinai
IMG_8638.jpgThe parade coming back down the mountain
IMG_8650.jpgA view of St. Katherine's Monastery on the way back down the mountain
IMG_8660.jpgA view from inside the Monastery
After two great weeks in Egypt, we are now headed to Jordan. We’ll write more soon! Thanks for reading!

Posted by geldere 11:54 Archived in Egypt

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