A Travellerspoint blog

Egypt

Luxor and the Sinai Peninsula...


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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 Comments (0)

Touched down in Egypt and the Middle East….


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Cairo was our first stop in the Middle East and was definitely a sensory overload. For starters, the traffic is insane and the drivers even more so. Crossing the street here is a sport as you have to dodge and weave in and around the traffic. After finally making it across a street feeding into Tahrir Square (the center of most of the 2010 revolution protests), we spent our first full day in Cairo enjoying the Egyptian Museum. The museum houses over 100,000 relics and antiquities from all periods of Egyptian history (some items are upwards of 4000 years old). Similar to the Louvre in Paris, if you spent one minute on every item, it would take you nine months to see the whole museum. It’s stuffy and poorly labeled, but it has some of the most amazing pieces of history I’ve ever seen (no photos were allowed inside). We spent time seeing the highlights, including the royal mummy rooms (it is amazing to see 3500 year old bodies) and the Tutankhamun collection (King Tut as most people know him). What’s amazing about King Tut is that he was a fairly young and insignificant ruler, but his tomb someone how escaped grave robbers for thousands of years. So, when it was rediscovered in 1922, it harbored some of the most amazing artifacts ever found in Egypt. King Tut and the rest of the 100+ pharaohs believed in the afterlife, so they had items placed in their tombs that they believed they would need: mummified animals for food and as pets, weapons, jewels, figurines of servants to take care of them, chariots, boats, etc. The King Tut collection is so impressive; one can only imagine the stuff that more prominent pharaohs would have been buried with.
IMG_7849.jpg Outside the Egyptian Museum
IMG_7854.jpg In front of the museum
IMG_8164.jpgA view of the street from our hotel

We set out on day two with a driver to view what Egypt is probably best known for, the Pyramids. We started with the Pyramids of Giza as they are the largest and most famous. They are the only surviving wonder of the ancient world and are approximately 4,000 years old. They were the tallest man-made structures in the world until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889. That’s crazy - they were built thousands of years ago and no one else built anything bigger until 140 years ago? Blows my mind. Anyway, there are three main Pyramids (Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure), all built with the sole purpose of holding the sarcophagus of the abovementioned pharaohs. In short, they are extremely elaborate tombstones that were designed to take pharaohs into the afterlife. The site of Giza also houses the Sphinx which was carved almost entirely from one huge piece of limestone.
IMG_7883.jpg In front of the Sphinx
IMG_7893.jpg The Sphinx and one of the 3 Pyramids of Giza
Before arriving in Egypt, I thought Giza was it for pyramids, but it turns out there are more, dozens more. So we also visited the sites of Saqqara, which has the Step Pyramid of Zoser (the world’s oldest pyramid/stone monument), and Dahshur, which has the Red Pyramid. You can walk down into the Red Pyramid via a 120-foot long, narrow tunnel. I got halfway down and decided that it was far enough for me (I am not obsessively claustrophobic, but the tunnel was making me insane) and let Jeff continue the rest of the way. We rounded out the day with a stop at Felfela, a restaurant specializing in Egyptian food. After dinner, I tried a cup of the “local Egyptian coffee” which was reminiscent of chewing on a coffee bean and could really put some hair on your chest.
IMG_7968.jpgThe Step Pyramid of Zoser
IMG_8006.jpgInside the Red Pyramid- a bit freaky for me!

On day three, we decided to take a day trip to Alexandria, a city about two hours north of Cairo located on the Mediterranean. It was founded by Alexander the Great around 332 BC and boasts some amazing sights and history as well. We stopped at the Roman Amphitheatre (the only one in Egypt), Pompey’s Pillar (a Roman monument), the Catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa (which date back to the 2nd Century AD - no pictures allowed in the catacombs), and the Citadel (a fort protecting the harbor). We also visited the impressive and modern Alexandria Library. The city of Alexandria use to house the “Library of Alexandria”, another wonder of the ancient world, but it was supposedly dismantled and destroyed by the ravages of time and war. The ancient library now has a near mythical quality, but the modern library is a seemingly fitting replacement. We recently read the Alexandria Link, a fictional book about the ancient library and Israel if anyone is looking for something good to read - very appropriate for this phase of our trip.
IMG_8040.jpgThe Roman Amphitheatre
IMG_8056.jpgA Tea Street Vendor
IMG_8073.jpgPompey's Pillar
IMG_8100.jpgThe new library
IMG_8097.jpgJeff absorbing all that knowledge

We spent our last day in Cairo exploring the Citadel, a collection of three fortified mosques from the 12th century. It is also a popular spot for locals to spend the day. We turned out to be a huge attraction for the local children who wanted to practice their English and have their photos taken with the blonde haired people. The kids would say “Hello, what is your name” and then run away - it was cute. My favorite photo of the day was when a woman came over and asked if I would take a picture with her baby. I was happy to oblige, but no one asked the child if he wanted to have his photo taken. Jeff got a good photo of the child’s reaction.
IMG_8138.jpgInside of of the Mosques
IMG_8147.jpgOh, this picture makes me laugh- total despair on the kid's face :)
IMG_8157.jpgA view of one of the mosques in the Citadel
IMG_8160.jpgThese girls asked to take a photo with us- they were so sweet

It is definitely interesting to be in a country that is in the midst of a revolution. The government was thrown out in 2010 and the military is now in charge. This November, a new legislature is set to be elected, but there is no date for the presidential election yet. While we were in Cairo, there were small protests most nights and a large protest that shut down Tahrir Square on October 6th, a national holiday. For most people, it is business as usual, but everyone is looking forward to electing a new government.
The other thing that surprised me was that everyone smokes. Almost everyone chain smokes anywhere and everywhere – buses, taxis, restaurants, hostel lobbies, etc. My favorite was a guy who was smoking and using his inhaler - I wanted to let him know it was counterproductive, but the lesson seemed futile.
We are heading out of Cairo on an overnight train bound for Luxor. We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 00:11 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

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