A Travellerspoint blog

Pyramids, mosques and Coptic Cairo

Cairo

sunny 29 °C

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We arrived in Cairo, busy and bustling in a way we'd become unaccustomed to. Our first day we wandered down to the Islamic quarter to check out the area and a few of the mosques and sites. It was intense but interesting and we had a pretty nice day getting lost in the market and seeing the sites. We gave up pretty quickly trying to follow any map and just wandered and discovered where we were when we stumbled across one of the sites we wanted to see.
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The next day was devoted to pyramids. No, not the ones at Giza, we were headed for Dashur (Bent and red pyramid) and Saqqara (first pyramid). Dashur was amazing and well worth the visit. The bent pyramid was their first attempt to create the pyramids that are famous today with the smooth sides, they didn't quite get the angles right though so part way up they had to change to a shallower angle and thus we have the bend.
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The red pyramid was huge and part of the ticket meant we could go inside. It was a very long steep descent, which can feel a little claustrophobic. Thankfully at the bottom it opens out into a tall chamber and through to another large room and up a set of stairs to the burial chamber. Very cool.
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Saqqara boasted the first step pyramid (oldest pyramid in the world apparently). Unfortunately there was a lot of scaffolding on it. Again we got to descend into another smaller pyramid, this one with some brilliant reliefs. A nearby temple also had some great reliefs in particular of hippos and crocodiles which we loved.
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We visited the Egyptian museum after that. It was incredible seeing the collection of Tutankhamun's burial goods. Huge gilded wooden chambers for his sarcophagus, amazing jewellery of which the death mask is in some ways the least impressive, whole chariots, just incredible. Some amazing statues, jewellery, tools, thrones, everything Egyptian you can imagine all crammed in under one roof.
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We next headed into Coptic Cairo. In some ways a much more relaxed area than the old Islamic quarter. We saw a few churches and soaked up the atmosphere which was a very interesting contrast to the predominately Islamic Egypt.
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We wandered over to the Citadel and had a look at some other cool mosques and architecture and even bought ourselves some cushion covers.
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Finally we made our way out to Giza to see THE PYRAMIDS as they are so often described. Honestly though, they don't disappoint. We made our way out to Giza and there in the middle of the city, are these enormous pyramids and a Sphinx. It's a pretty amazing sight.
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We started at the Sphinx entrance and took our time checking out this incredible statue/structure. I'll let the photos do the talking here, because I'm finding it hard to describe the size and detail.
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We next wandered up to the pyramids themselves (constantly hassled by guides with camels or horses). The first we saw was actually the second largest, huge and impressive. We wandered over to the smallest and got some great perspective looking back over all three.
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We then made our way out to what was obviously meant to be a great viewing spot. It was pretty cool, you could see all three neatly lined up which was pretty cool. We finally made our way to the largest of the pyramids, skirting the back side of the second largest on our way. It's hard to describe the enormity and grandeur of the pyramids. They really are amazing.
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With Cairo done we headed back to Hurghada for some well deserved R&R for two days on the beach before heading home.

Posted by Addy21 02:49 Archived in Egypt Tagged pyramids saqqara dashur Comments (0)

Tombs, temples and the Valley of the Kings

Luxor

sunny 30 °C

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We came to feel at home in Luxor moreso than anywhere else in Egypt. We found a great hotel (Oasis), in a great location and stayed for a week. Our first foray out was to see the Temples of Luxor and Karnak.
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Luxor was a great temple, a little different from those we'd seen to date. As with many of these temples it was used by the local people way back when. They even built a mosque, which is still in operation today.
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When then decided to walk to Karnak. Originally, the two temples were connected by an avenue of sphinxes which the Egyptian Government is currently excavating. We followed the route (though still mostly unexcavated) and discovered a fantastic felafel place. It was owned by a local Luxor man and his mum (who even invited us for tea). We seemed to be a bit of an attraction as we sat out front chowing down on some delicious felafel, beans and for Matt, pickles.
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Well fed, we went to Karnak which was enormous. It was originally the main temple complex to the Theban triad and was enormous. We decided to go to some of the less visited areas first before checking out the main event. We wondered over to the much smaller temple of Khonsu. A guard waved us in and for a little Baksheesh took us up top to a great view over the complex.
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Then into the most amazingly preserved room with beautifully painted pictures of Gods and Goddess. The colours were incredible. We made our way around the rest of the complex with some impressive obelisks and a veritable forest of columns. It was a spectacular site.
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Our next adventure was across the Nile to the west bank, we got the local ferry and organised a taxi to drop us off at the main ticket office. We had decided to split the West Bank into two days, so on our first day we focused on the temple of Ramses III, the Tombs of the Nobles and the Ramesseum. The temple to Ramses III is apparently what the Ramesseum would have looked like if it had survived better. It was an incredible structure. Massive and beautifully laid out. There was still some paint preserved in the inner courtyard.
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The Ramesseum was a lot less intact than the temple of Ramses III. A lot of the statues and original gateways had fallen down. It was still pretty impressive though. Despite being on its side it had one of the largest statues of Ramses sitting down. Even on its side the head was taller than Matt. It was a peaceful spot too, so we braked for lunch before tackling the tombs.
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The Tombs of the Nobles were brilliant. We bought tickets to see eight. Each was different, but all worth it. They depicted fantastic scenes of hunting, harvesting, metalwork, winemaking etc. It was incredible being able to follow the processes so clearly mapped out on the wall. Unfortunately, we couldn't take any photos inside, but several of the tombs were amazingly well preserved and the painting on the walls looked like it could have been completed only a few months ago, not thousands of years. Truly amazing.
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With a few days break in between to relax, we made our way back to the West Bank to see the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut's temple. The king's tombs were incredible. We saw four (Thutmosis III, Ramses IX, Ramses VI and Ramses III) Ramses IX and VI stood out to me. They were beautifully preserved. Ramses IX was painted virtually all the way with even the hieroglyphs painted. We spent ages pouring over it really. The guard even tried to hurry us along. Ramses VI though stole the show for me with an absolutely amazing ceiling of Nut encompassing the Book of the Day and Book of the Night. I could have stared at it for hours. It was incredibly beautiful.
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We had hoped to walk over the mountain to get to Hatshepsut's temple, but they had closed the paths. We're not sure if it's just because there were so few tourists or if they've closed it permanently. We made our way back and haggled for a taxi to take us to Hatshepsut's temple instead. It really looked like a modern structure, which was quite amazing, though made it less exciting to see in some ways. It still had some beautifully preserved paintings and great scene of sea life.
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The lack of tourists meant that tours to Abydos and Dendarra weren't running. We went to Sohag on the advice of the guy at the tourist office to try to organise a taxi but discovered on arrival that it was going to be prohibitively expensive. The train to Sohag was awkward because it was basically booked out and as tourists we couldn't book seats so Matt played musical chairs while I awkwardly occupied a man's seat next to his wife on his insistence. Finding a hotel was also difficult. It was clear several places had rooms but on seeing on our passports that we weren't married insisted they were full. We paid way too much for a hotel that didn't mind so much, but did have a brilliant dinner. Not being used to tourists they didn't try to rip us off, so we picked at all sorts of lovely things for a pittance.
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From Sohag we found a coach to take us to Cairo and off we went.

Posted by Addy21 01:27 Archived in Egypt Tagged temple luxor tombes nobles west_bank ramesseum Comments (0)

Floating in a Felucca

Aswan to Edfu

sunny 30 °C

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I'm writing this post as we drift lazily down the Nile on day three of our four day Felucca cruise. At the moment there is no wind so we are barely moving. Matt and our Captain Abdullah are playing Backgammon. Abdullah is winning, hands down (in a twist of fate, Matt actually won that game). We have already decided to buy ourselves a little Backgammon board to take with us in the van.
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The Felucca is a beautiful 10 metre long single sail ship. The deck is laid out with mattresses for lazing and sleeping and there is a canopy above us to stop the sun. At night Abudullah or his first mate, Salim, pull a long piece of striped red cloth all around the sides to create a cosy little cubby house for sleeping. It was the most peaceful and relaxing travelling I have ever done. This is definitely the way to travel.
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The first day, we arrived at the dock around 10am to set out on the Felucca and in true Egyptian style didn't set out for over an hour, but it didn't matter. We just relaxed on the deck and chatted to an English couple who were joining us for the first night. As always seems to happen on these trips they were a couple we'd already met. They were on our flight and stayed in the same hotel in Hurghada.
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Becs and Tom were great fun and it only took a couple of minutes for Matt and I to decide splurge a little a get a case of beer to share on the Nile.

As we prepared to set off, Abdullah gave us all a job to help get the ship under sail (more for our enjoyment than for any real practical help). It was great fun, and we were off.... very, very slowly.
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We stopped for lunch on our first day at a small island in the middle of the Nile with Aswan still in site. Did I mention it's a slow way to travel? : )
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We cracked our first beers and decided to brave the cold of the Nile for a swim. The days are incredibly hot, even though it's winter and while the Nile is definitely chilly, it was a lot of fun. We set out again after a dip and spent the afternoon having a few beers and asking Abudullah far too often to pull in for a wee stop (oh, yeah, there are no bathroom facilities on the boat). We spent the afternoon dipping in the water and chatting and having a few drinks. It was a great start to our little cruise.
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Tom and Becs were only there for one night but we made the most of our time with them. We all found that even though we'd done nothing all day, it had been a very exhausting nothing, and were all fast asleep by 8:30pm/9pm.
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We were up around 7am and decided on an invigorating morning swim. Which in reality was us inching our way into the water tiny step by tiny step until we got used to it. We set out again towards Kom Ombo and the temple of Sobek and Haroeris (Horus the elder). Becs convinced Abdullah to take us right up to the temple rather than stop further upstream where we'd have to get a taxi. We didn't understand his reluctance until we discovered there was a good chance he would get charged 300EP to wait for us at the temple. Thankfully it was Friday and the controller wasn't there.
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We had a really lovely lazy morning sailing along, we stopped for a wee break dodging some goats and cattle to make it to the few scattered trees. The ever-indulgent Abdullah let us go for a final swim as a group. So we jumped in the water and shared a last beer with our British friends around Midday and had a lovely time swimming and sipping beer on the banks of the Nile. Matt and Tom opted for the dive, Matt arcing in from the boat and Tom jumping from the bank, Abdullah even joined in!
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We had some lunch on the boat and arrived at Kom Ombo temple around 3pm or 4pm. The temple was beautiful, some of the columns and outer areas still had some of their paint and the huge lines of columns inside the temple were impressive by anyone's standards. It was here we realised just how hot it really was when you couldn't take a dip every few hours. While we'd only spent a couple of days with Tom and Becs it had felt much longer due to the lovely lazy pace. We agreed to meet up again in London and said our goodbyes.
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Matt and I hopped back on the boat and made a nice quiet trip down the Nile. While we only had a couple of hours of daylight left it felt gloriously long. We pulled out Abdullah's Backgammon board and muddled our way through a game, though we're pretty sure we got some of the rules wrong (it's ok, Abdullah is teaching Matt the proper rules again as I write this).
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We stopped slightly earlier in the evening and enjoyed sunset and dusk which was truly magical.
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Again I was exhausted and ready for bed about 8pm (I really cannot come up with a reason why). Matt enjoyed Abdullah and Salim's company on the beach with a fire for a little while before also crashing out quite early.
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We lazed about in the morning and didn't get up until around 8am. We went for another morning dip (these really are dips, inch in, plunge down to your shoulders quickly and then make for the shore and the sun!) and had a lovely breakfast before setting off.
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This morning we've been watching the lovely scenery slowly slip by, Matt's been reading up on a spare lonely planet Tom and Becs left us and I've been catching up on this blog. Intermittently, we pause to take some photos or to stare for a while at a particularly beautiful setting for a while. I expect our day will continue very much in this vein with some swims and perhaps some beers later. This is definitely the way travelling should be.
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….I'm back. Our final afternoon on the boat we barely moved. There was no wind and so we stalled. Ultimately Abdubllah and Salim turned the gang plank and pole used in shallow water into makeshift paddles, to get us to the bank so we could swim and chill out. Of course within 30 minutes of making the beach the wind picked up again. Still they didn't hassle us to get going and Abdullah even headed up the road to grab some fresh chicken and some delicious sweet (like nougat only flakier). We did a bit more sailing that afternoon right up until the last rays of the sun to make the most of the returning wind.
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The next morning we were up bright and early for a final swim. It was sad to say goodbye. Abdullah offered to take us on the way back for a fraction of the cost, but it would have meant missing the temple at Edfu that day. We really should have taken him up on it. We had a few spare days in the calendar and it wouldn't have been hard to catch the train to Edfu and go from there. So silly. Anyway, we turned him down and spent a few hours sailing up the Nile for the last time. We were speeding along. The wind was the best it had been. We stopped relatively early and Abdullah arranged for a taxi to pick us up to take us to the temple. It was about a 30 minute drive. I'm sure if we'd pushed he would have taken us up further but after the previous day's becalming we realised how quickly the money we paid could not be worth the trip if Abdullah and Salim got stuck like that for a few days, particularly with the current heading in the wrong direction. Half an hour's drive was likely to be a couple of hours on the Felucca and given the great wind would make a much bigger difference to their trip home than to our final day.
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We road in the back of a closed in pickup truck which worked a bit like a micro in this area of Egypt, usually crammed full of Egyptians who got picked up wherever on the side of the road. We had it to ourselves however as we'd hired the guy to take us to the temple, wait and take us back to the train station.
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The temple was absolutely huge! It was really cool. This was the main cult temple dedicated to Horus. There were staircases that headed to blocked off roof sections and just room after room of hieroglyphs and reliefs. There was a giant open courtyard when you entered with huge columns and statues. It was just an amazing temple.

We waited at the train station for over an hour but we had a pretty good idea of where we were going when we got to Luxor so we weren't too worried.
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Posted by Addy21 03:38 Archived in Egypt Tagged temple sailing felucca edfu Comments (0)

Walk like an Egyptian

Hurghada to Aswan

sunny 30 °C

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We flew into Hurghada because it was so much cheaper and as I was still getting over my cold we spent a day taking it easy before looking to head off for our adventure. It proved harder than we thought, with tourists getting a bit of the raw end of the deal with any government run service in Egypt. They won't let you book a seat in advance so you are basically hoping that the bus or train won't be too full. Good luck! We finally figured out that the coach services would allow booking in advance and after 5 frustrating hours we grabbed the other 9 tourists in our boat and finally got a bus out!
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We arrived at Luxor too late to get to Aswan that night (particularly because we hadn't booked anywhere) so we spent the night in a cheap hotel near the train station. We tried to get tickets at the train station for the morning train but after waiting for a ridiculously long time for the short queue were once again told we had to buy them on the train. I had flashes of another horror day trying to negotiate our way to Aswan but this time it proved to be straightforward and we hopped the train to Aswan at 9am and were able to keep our seats all the way.
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Finding accommodation in Aswan proved trickier than expected as it was Egyptian school holidays and Aswan was a popular destination. We went to over 10 hotels all which said they were full and ultimately paid much more than we wanted for what we discovered later (talking to some poor Americans in the same boat we were) was the last room in the hotel. It was a horrible hotel (Nubian Oases), the sink was broken and the toilet didn't flush, but at least we had a bed. We set about trying to organise getting to Abu Simbel the next day, which proved impossible as all the seats on the convoy (yes, you could only go with the police convoy) were taken for the next day. We did have the great fortune to meat Abdullah, however. Abdullah was the captain of a Felucca called Nubian Moon. Even though we had made no promises to sail with him he organised to get us on the convoy for the day after for a better price than anyone else had found and organised a similarly cheaply priced tour for us to go to Philae Island and the temple of Isis the next day. .
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Philae was beautiful and our first proper site after 4 days already in Egypt. We stopped first at the High Dam which seemed very popular with the locals but wasn't all that exciting really. If we'd realised before arriving we were expected to pay for the pleasure of looking out over the water we wouldn't have bothered.
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Philae was great though. The temple was moved by UNESCO back in the 60s when they first built the dam and flooded the area that is now Lake Nasser and covering the original island of the temple. We had to negotiate to get a boat across and as usual the guy was trying to rip us off. We teamed up with two Brazilians and two Egyptians who were about the only others not on an organised tour and got it down to a reasonable price.
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The temple was beautiful. It's incredible to think that it was built and carved so long ago. The hieroglyphs and reliefs were so clear. Inside the temple there were carvings everywhere. It really was amazing. This was also our first experience of our celebrity in Egypt. It seems middle class Egyptians, particularly girls, but whole families too, love having their picture taken with foreigners. At different points we had a little queue waiting their turn to get in a photo with us.
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The trip to Abu Simbel was not much fun, but the temple was amazing. Again it had had to be moved when they flooded Lake Nasser, so unfortunately the setting was not quite as beautiful as described in ancient texts. The temple itself though as awe inspiring, which I believe was their point when building it, so a job well done. The four huge seated pharoahs were just amazing. Inside many of the reliefs were still painted and the main entrance was lined with massive statues of their own.
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There was a huge battle scene depicted on one wall and you could almost read the story it was so cleverly done. There really are no words to describe the majesty and beauty of these sites and our photos just don't cut it. There was another smaller temple to Hathor there too which was incredibly beautiful in its own right. We avoided the big tour groups and did that first, so we had the whole temple to ourselves. It was amazing.
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We chilled out that afternoon, too tired to do much else and relaxed before setting out on our Felucca the next day.
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Posted by Addy21 03:23 Archived in Egypt Tagged aswan abu_simbel Comments (0)

London calling...

Pit stop no 2

overcast 9 °C

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We had four days in London this time and after our last eventful stopover I was expecting another whirlwind. It was Australia Day when we arrived but we were too exhausted to do more than have a few pints in its honour at the little pub below our hostel. We took a day to do some planning, get our washing done and just sort out a few bits and pieces that needed sorting. The next day we spent the whole day at the British Museum. We did two of their free tours which were fantastic and decided quite early on to focus on Greco Roman and Egyptian areas only on this trip. There was just too much to see otherwise. The exhibits with huge sections of the Parthenon friezes, Rosetta stone, giant Egyptian statues and beautiful sarcophagi were brilliant. We wandered around until we could absorb no more and made our way back to the hostel for a quiet night.
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I unfortunately chose this time to become sick, so the next day I spent almost the entire day in bed while Matt did more planning and organising. Our final day wandered up to Stamford Bridge to see if there were any tickets left to the midweek game, but had no such luck, so we took a few photos of Matt out the front and Matt watched the game at the pub.
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The next stop was Egypt!

Posted by Addy21 06:44 Archived in England Tagged london british_museum Comments (0)

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