Archive for May, 2010

Luxor

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Had a nice morning chatting and farewelling the three people from the felucca gecko tour who had decided that feluccas weren’t for them. Robert left me a business card with instructions to contact him when I get to Munich, so I now officially know someone who lives in Europe! Guess I need to start booking stuff past London soon…
Karnak Temple is massive. It isn’t as intact as the one we visited yesterday, however the sheer scale and size of the thing more than makes up for it. Our tour leader (Hassan got someone else to show us around) was a little too talkative to start with, but after being given a ‘hurry up’ he improved and we got sometime to wander ourselves. Madeline, Carson, Rachael and myself ended up trying to find the façade facing Luxor itself, and ended up with someone who could have been a guard escorting us past the barriers to the front in exchange for a few pounds to snap some shots of the second to front one. Unfortunately the front façade itself is under restoration and had cranes and stuff all around it. In a sense I guess we bribed an official, however he was gesturing us along rather than us asking 😛
I’ll add captions to the photos of interesting stuff rather than talking about it all here.
Afterwards we took a horse and cart to the jewellery store endorsed by Gecko / Imaginative traveller – cheaper prices and quality guaranteed etc. I’ve been told by Bridget ‘no Egyptian souvenirs’ as a colleague of hers is Egyptian and she already has enough so after a bit of a browse, ended up watching a bad action movie and translating a few cartouches using the hieroglyphic alphabet while we waited for the purchases to finish. We then had a quick wander through the local market street,and I attempted to bargain for a Liverpool shirt. Started at 145, got him down to 50, but I was asking 20, so left it for the moment. In our free time tomorrow I’m hoping to head back to see if I can get one, as I have been wanting one for a while, and while i won’t be authentic, it’s close enough.
On the way back we passed the Luxor Temple. Just recently they discovered a row of sphinxes heading north, similar to the row heading south from Karnac. They are in a direct line and as excavations have begun it has become clear that the line likely is actually the same and runs between the two, well over a kilometre. Already over 400 houses have needed to be relocated to make way for excavations which are about 10 meters below current ground level, and many more will need to be moved to finish it. Just looking at it now is impressive and when the excavations are complete the dual complex of Karnac and Luxor will be even more massive. Given Luxor was the capital of Egypt for nearly 1000 years during pharonic times, the existence of such a large temple complex should not really be surprising. We are going to be heading to Luxor temple tomorrow to see the other end in more detail.
Back on the ship (after walking through, a grand total of 8 cruise ships lined up side by side to get to the Melodie – further than the length of our cruise ship out into the Nile!) for our final dinner, and the chef had prepared a special Melodie cake for us, and the dancing began again, together with some rather unnerving knife twirling. Now relaxing on top again writing up this entry before a hopefully early night, as tomorrow it’s up at 5.30 to take some donkeys to valley of the kings!

Cruising down the Nile

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

The first day of actual cruising we apparently left Aswan around 5am. I was asleep and it was quiet enough I didn’t even notice until I woke up and heard a strange rushing sound. Look out the window to see water rushing past. Our cabin is actually right at water level, so standing up in our cabin has the rivers water at about waist height. We were up at 8am to visit another temple, at a town we pulled up at around 9am. It’s terrible because even though this was earlier today I can’t even recall the name of the town.
The temple was a dual temple, with two final chambers, each dedicated to a different god. It was built during the greco-roman era, as there were a couple of pictures which had cleopatora, the last pharoh of egypt, depicted upon them. What was most fascinating however, was the ‘calendar’ of offerings. One wall, although partially missing, depicted each day in a row, with a list of which offerings should be left on that day of the year. One row might read, ‘day one of the 3rd month of the harvest season, leave this offering. The Egyptian calendar had 12 months in a year, in 3 seasons, flood, harvest, sowing.
Back on the Melodie, after a few games of chess with Robert, a german from another gecko tour on the boat with us, and we were off to another temple, a little further down the Nile at Kofu (spelling may be wrong?). This one is the best preserved temple in Egypt, because it was buried entirely in sand, so much so that over 400 houses had to be relocated to unbury it- they had literally been built over the top. I am now a little annoyed because I just went to check the photos from it… and my camera has mysteriously lost them =( I did upload some earlier today, but without internet access at the minute I can’t check if they ended up there or not. Fingers crossed, as seeing a fully intact temple facade, roof and everything was very impressive. Was also quite cute seeing a feral cat roaming around the temple with two little kittens trailing after it.
Later in the night we had a party in traditional egyptian robes. I had found mine at the bazaar in Aswan earlier, and probably paid way more than I should have. I bargained down from 140 to 70 pounds, but he did agree way too quickly. It didn’t even fit properly anyway 😛 After some games we ended up chilling on the roof with some drinks and some music till the small hours.
Sunday morning and no wake up call! Funnily enough I got up at around 830 anyway, and had some breakfast, then watched the ship go through one of the locks in a dam. Now just chilling on the roof again playing some uno and chatting away. Later today we’re off to Karnac temple, a collection of temples near Luxor.

Abu Simbel

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

So up at 3.15am we got, hopped on a minibus to join up with a convoy leaving Aswan at 4am. Back in 1997 there used to be issues with attacks on tourists travelling to Abu Simbel, so since then all tourists have to travel as part of one of the convoys, with one leaving at 4am, one leaving at 10am. Off we went. It seemed that it was only a convoy for legal reasons though. Once we had left the area of Aswan, the convoy spread out significantly and for a while I don’t think I could even see another bus. To be fair I was (attempting) to sleep for most of the trip anyway.
Abu Simbel was originally carved out of a mountain, but when the High Dam was built in the 1970s it was going to be covered by the waters of Lake Nasa created by the dam. A huge international effort was put in to relocating the temple further up, to the top of the hill and an artificial hill built up on top of it. The image of the four statues of Ramses II, one with it’s face missing is an iconic symbol of Egypt and seeing it in person was amazing. Yet again we are not allowed cameras inside unfortunately.
The lake itself around Abu Simbel is quite impressive and would be worthy of a visit on it’s own. 500km long and 300km wide, the far side was barely visible from the edge. We left around 11 for another 3 hour drive back to Aswan.
Back in Aswan we were eventually convinced (well most of us) that a camel ride and a visit to a Nubian Village afterwards was the way to go. I had originally decided that as I’d ridden camels in Australia I wouldn’t go here. But after having gone into the desert it was definitely worth it. Most of us also continued on afterwards on a boat to a local Nubian village. A few locals from this village have been running the boats and camel rides for Gecko tours for some years now, but only occasionally have tourists visit. Their houses are still very poor by western standards, hand built from mud bricks and plaster, but painted in brilliant colours. They had built their own school, because they government wouldn’t fund one, and the entire village is somewhat football (soccer) obsessed. Hassaan had originally said we would be playing a game against them, but the girls on our tour were not so keen so he didn’t actually attempt to get us to play 😛
The man who had originally driven our boat to the island took us into his house and we had some hibiscus tea as his 3 year old son climbed over us showing us his ‘Enza Motors’ toy which looked a little like a power ranger. His wife also did some henna drawings on 3 of the girls – temporary tattoos drawn on with a strange dark substance a little like like piping icing on a cake.
The night ended with us getting on the cruise ship Melodie (yes, that’s the correct spelling) which was to be our home for the next 3 nights.

Felucca Dinner

Friday, May 28th, 2010

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Cairo to Aswan

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Dinner was average. Nice but nothing particularly interesting or spectacular – at least it’s included in the cost of the tour this one. Being a terrible name person I made a bit of effort to get a few more. So far I think I’ve got about half of them. My room mate is Tom, 40 something from Detroit. He’s got two kids in college and got divorced a year or two ago and has been doing a fair bit of travelling recently, with Egypt obviously being his next choice. Then there’s Susanne and Christine, two Australian women; Jess and Andrew who are brother and sister, and their partners, Sean and Andrew, all 4 also from Australia; Michelle and Charlie(?) from Canada and, two New Zealand women recently from Sydney, Azaria and
As I wrote the above I had a few blanks, hopefully by the time I actually post this I’ll have filled in the blanks 😀
We left the hotel on a bus to get to the train station. Further proof of the bad traffic our leader, Hassany, wanted to allow an hour to get there, even though it is only 3km from the hotel. The seats we have are similar to business class on the plane, quite spacious and leaning back a fair way. People were talkative for a bit but it’s gotten quiet fairly quickly as it has been a fairly long day.

Wasn’t much of a sleep though, the train driver appeared to have a habit of randomly stomping on the break for half a second, jolting everyone awake. Got dribs and drabs though before waking up around 7 to eat a prepacked breakfast on the train, having to spread jam egg and cheese without a knife is always good fun 😀
We got into Aswan around 9.30 and went to the Nile Hotel, which actually has quite a nice view of the Nile funnily enough. They even appear to have Wifi which I’ll have to hunt down reception about to figure out how to connect to it. Hassany gave us a few choices of what to do.
He recommended we go to the Philae Temple, and funnily enough, all 12 of us went it his recommendation. The Philae temple was on an island which has since been drowned by the lake created when the old Aswan Dam was built in the 1800s (might have been 1890s i can’t recall). In 1971 the island was dammed, the water pumped out, and the entire temple was dismantled and moved 40 meters up, and 120 meters across to the nearest island,and reconstructed. Unfortunately the new island was not quite big enough so adjustments had to be made, but the majority of is there, and it is my highlight of the trip so far. This was helped by the guide who took us there, who told us a bit about the history of the three gods the temple was originally for.
In the time since it was built during the Ptomely era, it has been used not just by the Egyptians, but was re-purposed during the Greco-roman era and received a few additions, and later after it fell into disuse by the general public it was used as a refuge by Coptic Christians from the Romans. Each group left their unique stamp on things and the contrast is quite striking at times. In some cases parts of the original Egyptian art was destroyed by the Christians and the Muslims. You can tell the Muslim damage because they specifically destroy the faces hands and legs of the images, as they believe you should not create an image of (a) god.

Tonight, again at Hassany’s recommendation, we are going on a Felucca ride and going to have some dinner on it. I originally wanted to do the cruise part of my tour on a felucca, however the one I’ve ended up going with turned out to be significantly cheaper despite the fact we will be going down the Nile on a cruise ship instead. And tomorrow we get up at 4am to go to Abu Simbel!

Cairo – Pyramids!

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Just made it to a net cafe, so two updates today, previous one just posted.
Up at 7 am today for some breakfast then off to the Giza Pyramids. Luckily just before we left I tried turning on my camera to discover it was flat somehow (it was full when I left) – so get 10 minutes of charge in it which was enough to take 50 odd photos for the day!
Got a ticket in to the great pyramid for half price for having a youth card. The shaft up to the chamber inside it was actually more interesting than the chamber itself which was rather boring. Wandered around a bit, took some photos then went to the sphinx. I was tempted by some little pyramids from some of the hawkers, but I had zero change, and didn’t feel like handing over a 50 pound note to them as getting that much change can be problematic.
Our guide was quite knowledgeable and gave us a talk about stuff while we were on the mini bus to the locations we were going then let us do our own thing somewhat which worked well. We did go to a papyrus museum though and the twelve of us on the tour got bored rather quickly and she was absorbed in conversation with one of the staff with her back to us. As soon as we let her know we were on our way though.
Lunch was great – a buffet just near the pyramids for only 35 pounds – less than $10 – drinks were extra though. We’ve been warned to not drink the tap water here because we’re not used to it. Luckily bottled water is MUCH cheaper here than in Australia – from the right place as cheap as 1 pound 80 (50c) for 1.5 Litres. You DO have to find the right place though – otherwise up to 4 times as much as that.
After lunch was off to the Egyptian museum. Our tour guide was allowed to show us through most of it except for Tutankamun’s burial chamber stuff. The mask and sarcophagi are near solid gold and still very colourful, very impressive. Unfortunately no cameras allowed in 🙁
Some huge statues they’ve moved there as well were quite impressive – along with one they were actually in the process of reconstructing from peices as I watched.

Looking forward to dinner tonight in half an hour or so because until now we haven’t even really had time to get to know each others names – when I arrived yesterday there was a meeting which half the group didn’t even know about and I arrived in the middle of, and just been on the go all day today, and lunch was split between two tables. We’re catching an overnight 13 hour train to Aswan or Luxor tonight (can’t remember which) so that should hopefully be time to get to know each other a bit better as well. Apparently there are 12 of us doing the first 9 days, then 4 of us continuing on to Mt Sinai afterwards for the next 9.

Photos are up by the way!
http://psykar.com/blog/photos

More next time I can find a net cafe (5 pounds an hour is quite cheap though!)

Cairo – arrival

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Flying into Cairo was quite bizzare. Flying over the desert was quite amazing, endless expanse of yellow in all directions was quite surreal, and Cairo itself was quite bizzare, high rises everywhere then desert, no urban sprawl single level houses going out for kilometers, just high rise lego blocks then blank yellow. Wish I could have had a seat on the other side to see the pyramids from the air though.
Trying to find a taxi from the airport is… interesting. Straight past customs ten million people asking if you want one. Then you get outside…. and can’t find a taxi rank. Wandered over to the drop off area to find taxi’s dropping people off. I hail a white one (which I’m told are the ones which have meters) he picks me up drives a little way, then jumps out takes his keys and says i’ll be back in a minute. Presumably he went to get another fare with me, screw that, I jump out again and finally spot a ‘taxi’ sign right over the far side of the carpark. Wander over, and low and behold there are some official looking taxis parked there! Hella difficult to find though. I paid 100 LE (~AU$25 – agreed on beforehand), which is slightly above average I’m told but it did have aircon and power windows and didn’t break down in the middle of the road like my roomate for the tour’s did. He paid 70. The driving itself an experience, but no doubt some towns in Europe will be similar. Lane markings might as well not exist and the horn is used in leiu of an indicator 9 times out of 10. Get to the Doki area where the hotel is, and the taxi driver starts pulling up and asking random people where the street is. Quite amusing, he did find it though! I was however late to the meeting with the tour leader, but I apparently made quite good time from the airport considering – most had already been here for a day or more.

Tour leader was quite good in giving us a little map of the hotels area, with a few supermarkets, net cafes and eateries. Being I hadn’t had dinner yet I went for a wander after the meeting to the felafal bar he recommended. Little bit intimidating when you can’t even see any letters or numbers you recognise though. While I’ll make it there again before I leave I ended up chickening out and having KFC (no pun intended) However this was a ‘community benefit’ KFC, staffed exclusively by the deaf, meaning ordering is a combination of sign language and simple pointing. Got an equivalent of a Twister for 9 LE – or AU$2.50 – not bad at all, and on my way back to the hotel got complimented on ‘walking like an egyptian’ – which basically means throwing yourself into traffic.
Bed time no so this will be posted next time I get time to find a net cafe or wifi – Egypt, unsuprisingly doesn’t have all that much in the way of free wifi.

Doha!

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010
Apparently I’m too used to budget flying. Either that or Qatar is quite exceptional. Hot towels, sweets, free beer, nearly 200 movies to pick from, arcade games, a music collection which had half of my iphones collection already on it… quite impressive.
Attempted to stay up until around 9pm Qatar time on the plane to assist in avoiding jetlag. Currently it’s 8am at Doha international and I feel OK so guess we’ll see how I go. I have a lovely 5 hours ahead of me before my connection to Cairo.
Did a bit of reading about Doha on the plane, apparently they are in the process of buiding a new airport at the moment, and now I’m here you can see why. The terminal itself is spacious enough but the majority of the planes are parked a good 20 minute bus ride from said terminal, just sitting on the tarmac. There IS an awesome ‘quiet room’ at the terminal though – with reclined seats, lights of and no announcements. Did have a quick kip as we got in at 6am, but awake enough now and wanted to have a look around. There is a large variety of ‘free public wifi’ or some variation broadcasting around here, however neither my laptop or my phone can get a router address when connecting to these. After a bit of wandering finally found this bizzare cubicle for laptops and the like, to discover it’s full. Luckily there are a few seats outside which access the wifi just fine. Vaguely recall something saying taking photos in public places in Qatar is prohibited, but imagine an information desk, but with frosted windows with internet explorer icons pasted over it. Quite bizzare.
Time to facebook it up while I wait 🙂

More plans

Friday, May 21st, 2010

My grandparents where kind enough to email me some information about the Chisholm family history. Apparently my Great x4 Grandfather Andrew Chisholm is from Lauder in Berwickshire, 45 minutes away from Edinburgh. Andrew and his wife Margaret had 13 children, and apparently many of them are buried in Lauder itself. So I’m catching an overnight bus up to Edinburgh on June 13th, and hopefully will find time to cruise on down there. Current hostel plans are Caledonian Backpackers.

From there, onwards for another 10 hour overnight bus ride to London, and another 2 hour ride to Portsmouth. Can’t complain about the 1 pound fare for the Portsmouth bus! Conveniently my Grandmother’s family, the Vollers, are originally from Portsmouth, in the Portsea area. Her great grandfather and grandmother were married in Ebenezer Chapel in Castle Road, Portsea. Sadly it was demolished in 1979 and now the area is simply housing.

My original reason for going to Portsmouth is to catch the ferry to Jersey. Unfortunately, I’ve had trouble finding accomodation: there are no hostels to speak of, and the only B&B which has rooms over the weekend I want to stay charges a bit more than I’d like. So, I’ve taken some advice and had a look at couchsurfing.org. Was a little dubious, but when people write up a decent profile about themselves it’s a little more comforting. If worst comes to it I can just pay the extra I suppose, or spend a few nights less in Scotland, as I’d prefer not to eat into my 2 month Eurail pass, which I’m wasting if I don’t start using it until after June 25! I guess we’ll see.

New Camera means photos!

Monday, May 17th, 2010

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