22 March 2007
I'm back home in blighty after a very thrilling, varied and tiring 23 day tour in Egypt. Egypt is a land of contrasts, surprises and wonderment and it's really hard to convey the experience, but I'll do my very best and hope you find it interesting and not too wordy! I am writing a full journal which contains much more detail and references to the history behind the places I visited, but for the blog I'll aim to keep it bite sized and jovial! If you are a glutten for punishment and want the full unabridged version then drop me a line on email and I'll be sure to send you a copy (PDF or Word doc.) when finished - I warn you, that I'm only on day three and already at 4,500 words! (My email address is gkirsty @hotmail.com by the way) Let me begin my report with a review of the actual trip: NILE & BEYOND with Tour Operator: EXPLORE! www.explore.com 2400 Egyptian miles travelled over land, mountains, sea, river & desert Week One: Cairo, Pyramids,, Sphinx, Eyptian Museum, The Islamic Quarter, Suez, Mount Sinai, Dahab, Ras Mohammed, Red Sea Snorkelling. Week Two: Luxor, Valley of the Kings, Aswan, Lake Nasser & the High Dam, Philae, Abu Simbel, 3 days Sailing on the Nile, Hot Air Balloon, Luxor Museum, Valley of the Workers. Week Three: Western Desert, Kharga Oasis, Dakhla Oasis, Farafra Oasis, Bahariya Oasis including Camel Trek to Bedouin Camp, Off Road tour of the White Desert and overnight Camp, return to Cairo. DAY ONE - FRIDAY FEB 23rd So, on Friday February 23rd I set off for Heathrow with help from my good friend Debbie who dropped me at the airport. At midnight I arrived at Cairo airport and my fears about the hassle I might face getting a visa, making it through immigration and collecting my baggage were unfounded as the tour company had arranged for me to be met and transported to the hotel. I travelled alone but met up with another Brit in the arrivals hall- a nice man called Wayne - who was on a different Explore tour but had a free day on Saturday like me so we arranged to meet in the morning and explore the city together. On arrival at my hotel - The Caroline Carillion Hotel, Mohandessin, Cairo - I was greeted with a glass of orange (a nice custom) I was excited to be in Cairo, and amazed to have survived the taxi ride! (Cairo has to be one of the scariest places to drive). After taking in the panoramic view and absorbing the atmosphere, lights, sounds and smells of this 24 hour city, I was ready to sleep. The noise from car horns did keep me awake most of the night however and before too long it was 7am and time to get dressed to meet Wayne. We spent an enjoyable day visiting the Islamic Cairo including The Citadel, Mohamed Ali Mosque and the Khan Al Khalili market. The citadel was built on high ground in the 13th century as a massive fortification against Crusaders. the Mohamed Ali Mosque is the largest building here and a landmark of the city dating from the 19th Century - built using the limestone outer layer (now obviously missing) from the Great Pyramid it is also known for its alabaster ceiling. The Khan Al Khalili market is everything you expect from a Souk - spices, cottons, souvenirs, tacky rubbish, silver and gold with plenty of 'pro-active sales techniques' (otherwise known as hassle) from the traders. I didn't buy anything! It was quite tiring so a brief stop for tea allowed time to watch the people go by before saying farewell and returning to our hotels. That night I met our tour leader called Wael, and 2 travelling companions - Tim from Melbourne and Ed from Calgary. the three of us had supper locally and an early night before a busy day at Giza on Sunday. DAY TWO SATURDAY FEB 25TH Early breakfast with the rest of our group (16 in total). Jan & Alan, Dereck, Celie & John, Chas & Sue, Mark & Karen, Katherine, Anna, Pam & Alan. Plus me, Tim & Ed. A mini bus took us to Giza, west of Cairo collecting our guide for the day en route. His name was Tariq and his enthusiasm for Egyptology was infectious. He gave us a good background to ancient Egypt before showing us around the pyramids and sphinx at Giza and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo itself. There is so much to learn and I find it all fascinating! The Pyramids at Giza. Brief intro - Built between 2600 BC and 2400 there are 3 main pyramids at Giza - the biggest is the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) which stand 137m high containing 2.5 million blocks of limestone - the tallest structure in the world until the Eiffel Tower. It's the only remaining wonder of the ancient world still standing - despite the outer casing of limestone being nicked by Mohamed Ali to build his Mosque!. The second biggest is the Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren) which still retains some of the limestone covering on it's cap (it looks bigger than the others because it stands on higher ground). The third is the Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus) which has 3 well preserved Pyramids for his Queens on one side. There are many, many other burial tombs and smaller pyramids on the site and we didn't have time to explore them all. I took the opportunity along with the group to visit INSIDE the Pyramid of Khafre to the inner burial chamber of the Pharaoh. although his bdy was not found, it contains the red granite sarchophagus of the King - whcih strangely is too large for the tunnels you crawl through to get to it - so how exactly did they get it there? I don't know! The journey into the burial chamber is tricky and not very pleasant - you shuffle sideways with your body bent double at the waist and head bowed down a stuffy, dark tunnel which descends at 45 degrees nose to bum in a line of tourists. You then come into a short corridoor with a higher ceiling before entering another claustrophobic and cramped tunnel which this time goes up at 45degrees! At the end of this is a short corridoor again which leads into the burial chamber. At this point I was relieved to stand up straight and walk around although the air was incredibly stale, sweaty and sickly to breathe in. The only feature was the sarcophagus - the walls were blank except for 'Giovanni Belzoni March 2 1881' an inscription to mark the discovery of the chamber by the italian archeologist - left there by himself. I spent only a few mninutes inside, and it was hard to imagine the vast weight of stone above and around you, and the conditions the workers endured by candle light with no modern machinery to build this tomb and bring the King to this place. The return to daylight and fresh air was a big relief but I was very pleased to have made the journey. After taking some scenic landscape photos of the pyramids we headed to the Sphinx. This famous statue is part of the Pyramid complex for Pharaoh Khafre. The head is allegedly the image of Khafre it was carved from a block of stone left after limestone was quarried for the building of his adjacent Valley Temple - and all connected to the Pyramid by the Causeway. The Valley Temple is where the King would have been mummified after being brought here by boat from the Nile nearby (thhe river was much closer in those days) before his journey into his burial chamber inside the pyramid. This temple is made of red granite from Aswan - and I was able to visit the quarry later in my tour. The pyramids and sphinx are better than I was led to believe. The area is not as commercial as some might say, and the overall atmosphere on that day was perfect - if a little crowded. I can recommend it for a visit! We had a brief stop at a nearby papyrus museum and shop with a packed lunch of falafel before heading back into Cairo for the Egyptian Museum. This was a highlight for me as I was itching to see the treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Like many people I have long been fascinated by the story of Howard Carter and recently learned more about the discovery and life of the boy king. I was not disappointed! Our guide Tariq did an excellent job of showing us the key exhibits inside and left us to roam by ourselves. I paid the extra money to see the mummies of some of the most famous Pharoahs including Ramses II - another King I had become more familiar with before my trip. Well worth the small expense, but left me feeling slightly ill at ease that these ancient bodies had been removed from their sacred tombs to this very undignified place under lights inside a glass case - gawped at by tourists from every corner of the globe. It seemed wrong. The Tutankhamen wing was fabulous - the gold treasures leave you speechless and the quantity and size of the vast array of different possessions buried with him is hard to believe - just how did they get it all inside his small tomb? I understand that some of this collection is coming to London this summer - BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW!!! you won't be disappointed! We returned to our hotel and later had a group dinner in the Islamic area near where I had lunch and afternoon tea - the menu was Egyptian pancakes! Not bad at all. After that we wandered the Souk again and stopped for drinks in a small bar where I tried my first sheesha pipe! This was a brilliant day and a fantastic start to my trip.