26 February 2013

The last few days…

Mostly I have had a case of the common cold.  Spent most of the time holed up at the hotel watching movies kindly donated by Jane, one of the Expats in Luxor.  She is a lifesaver!  So the below is an amalgamation of things.

The 800 year old tower

The 800 year old tower

We went to the Mosque on top of the Luxor temple.  This is an interesting Mosque.  It is fairly plain but well done.  It does not need flashy gimmicks or anything.  The old tower was built about 800 years ago and was mud brick.  The new tower is only about 100 y/o.  As said it is built on the temple, at the original ground height, with the tops of the pillars being incorporated into the structure of the Mosque.

 

Stumpy pillars? No. Just the top of the normal Luxor temple pillars sticking through.

Stumpy pillars? No. Just the top of the normal Luxor temple pillars sticking through.

Apparently there was a bit of fuss when excavating the temple, as the archaeologists wanted the structure removed, and the local congragation (with fair right) wanted it to remain.  A compromise was met.  They would allow the tourists to come in and look as long as they got to keep it.  Some of the pillars have had the plaster removed to show original rock,and there is one section of the wall in the Mosque itself with all the carvings uncovered.  It is a peaceful serene place, and quite relaxing for a little visit.  You also get good views of the temple from the Mosque grounds.

The building is no where near finished, but the shops are trading already!

The building is no where near finished, but the shops are trading already!

We tried clothes shopping.  This is not that much fun in Egypt (or anywhere from my point of view!). It is almost impossible to find women’s shops, and all the jeans are skinny.  As this trend has been around for a few years world wide, we hope it is over soon.  The only things Anna found were either so badly made that they would fall appart within a week or two, or cut so badly that the only way she would be seen in them is if she was dead.  So this was a dead loss.  Still, we met Ahmed, and he tried his hardest to find something acceptable.  even though we didn’t end up buying anything, he made the process a lot easier.  Especially finding the shops.

Streetfood is not only sold on the street, but also prepared, washed chopped etc.

Streetfood is not only sold on the street, but also prepared, washed chopped etc.

Had a couple of nice meals…  Run from each place that says they will charge you “Egyptian Prices” as it is always at least double what it should be if not 5 or 10 times the price.  Get a straight answer on what it will cost before you consume!  Egypt does have some interesting foods, as long as you don’t mind occasionally ordering offal accidentally!  They do need to work on the veggies though.  A meal out in Egypt is meat bread and sauce.  (Although when you eat with the expats you can get fish and chips or vegetarian lasagne – without the veggies!

Little gems in Luxors backalleys

Little gems in Luxors backalleys

Watched a bit of TV and found they censor the words Bleep and Bleep on tv.  So I cannot order a Bleep and Eggs roll, or Bleep chop.  Then there are Sheep, Bleeps and Goats.  Thought that was a good one.  Anna wants to open up a petting zoo that has Bleeps, and the menu would be Bleep, Bleep with apple sauce, Bleep sausages, and Bleep with Bleep and Bleep.  If you haven’t got it yet it is Bleep.

 

A lot of talking about Egyptian men, customs and religion.  Our favourite from the Qur’an 2:42  “Cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when you know (what it is).”  Maybe the people here in Luxor need to take note of that.

The one carriage that parks at the sign..

The one carriage that parks at the sign..

Trivial Pursuit!  We met up with Stan again for a few beers before we went shopping, afterwards we ended up at the Local Pub/Hotel for Trivial Pursuit.  Thinking this was just trivia night, we rocked up, met a lot more of the Expat population here (a great bunch of personalities.  Almost makes me wish I had one!).  We almost fell off our chairs when the board came out!  It is the proper game.  2 sides of 8, and off we went.  It was kind of embarrassing when we got the only Australian question wrong.  What do the two Latin words that make up Nullabor mean?  Well, showing my bad memory (and spelling)  I assumed it was an Aboriginal word!  Oops.  Post if you know it! (NO USING WIKIPEADIA!)  Still it was great fun and amazing to see minds at work.  Art and Lit was the favourite topic, and by gosh, most of the answers were right.  Still, it was a great night, and we were very happy to be there.  Talking and listening to people without having to worry about mistranslations and a common cultural background.

The bride arriving, wearing Red!

The bride arriving, wearing Red!

Just like the wedding we went to in Cairo. Lots of lights in the backstreets

Just like the wedding we went to in Cairo. Lots of lights in the backstreets

Luxor as a city is not that interesting.  There are too many people people in the tourist trade just happy to rip you off or insult you if you do not spend/give money to them.  Yet the attractions and expats make it worth while.  Also we have met really good Egyptians here as well.  They seem to be everywhere, but are out numbered 6.7×10(3K):1!

View from the roofterrace towards west bank

View from the roofterrace towards west bank

The west bank gets lit up at night along with Luxor and Karnak temples.  Quite a sight.

There was also a wedding in our back alley.  We were a bit worried about this.  Mainly that if we walked past we would be drawn into it!  So staying discreetly indoors we saw the bride and groom arrive, and listen to them party into the night.  Our best wishes for them.

‘Bout it.

AA

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22 February 2013

Tombs
Ramose
Userhet
Khaemet
Rekhmire
Sennofer
The Ramesseum
ex-pats at the Rest
dinner and beers

Our little tea place

Our little tea place

Back to west bank for some tombs. We taxi to the same cafe we had tea yesterday and again pull out our books. there are a lot of tombs of course, and we don’t have the time or the money to do all of them. Today we focus on the so called Tombs of the Nobles.

Some tombs are even signposted!

Some tombs are even signposted!

This area has more then 400 tombs belonging to nobles from the 6th dynasty to the Greaco-Roman period. Where as the royal tombs are supposed to be sombre and spiritual with passages for the book of the dead, these tombs depict a lot of detailed scenes from their everyday lives in vibrant colours.

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We decide to do two groups of tombs and later the nearby Ramesseum.
We have to buy all our tickets from the “central” ticket office as there is nothing set up near the tombs.
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Wailing women

Wailing women

Tomb1 : Tomb of Ramose, a governor under Amenhotep III and Akhenaten. We chose to do this one as it shows the two different styles of relief decoration between the two different rulers he served. The tomb is fairly big, but heavily restored. We are not even sure if the pillars are reconstructed or just brand new ones to keep the new (but already crumbling) concrete roof up. Our Egypt book from 1995 describes the carvings beautifully, but unfortunately little remains from the Akhenaten carvings. Horrible to think that these carvings might have been destroyed after 1995…
On one side is the famous “wailing wall”. A group scene of women and girls crying in what looks like the funeral procession. Most have two right hands symbolic of giving.
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Hunting scenes

Hunting scenes

Tomb2 : Tomb of Userhet, one of Amenhotep II’s royal scribes. The first area of this tomb is colourfully decorated with a great banquet scene. Not carved this time, but painted. Bread, fruit, flowers, meat and wine. In later years a Coptic hermit moved into this tomb and apparently found all the pictures of women a bit distracting, so he carved out their faces, but strangely left most of their bodies intact..
In the next room is an amazing hunting scene. Userhat himself on a chariot, hunting foxes, rabbits, deer and fowl. Not sure if this was done by the hermit again, but in between and drawn over these animals were some running dinosaurs.
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Boats trips

Boats trips

Tomb3 : Tomb of Khaemet, Amenhotep III’s royal inspector of the granaries. Here only patches of colour, but amazingly detailed carving. His position was a very high one and his tomb is a bit more serious. More about funeral rites and sacred offerings, than about parties and scantily clad women.. The detail in the clothing and especially the hair (wigs) is stunning. One wall is dedicated to his journey to Abydos by boat and again the detail of the rigging and oars is wonderful.
In the back room are six full sized seated statues depicting his family, wife and daughters.
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Workmen and artists at work

Workmen and artists at work

Tomb4 : Tomb of Rekhmire, governor under Tutmosis III and Amenhotep II. In the first chamber are scenes of foreigners bringing gifts to Rekhmire. Panthers and giraffes from Nubia, Elephants from Africa, horses and chariots from Libya and vases from Crete. The second room is the most impressive though. It is one long narrow room with the ceiling slowly raising in hight up to about 8 metres. The walls are decorated with painting of workmen making everything from wine and bread to jewellery and sandals. It was fun the use the torch to light it all up and try to figure out what they were doing. Leather making and brick making, Pouring metal and statue carving. At the end the finished products are presented to Rekhmire for inspection. The opposite wall is decorated with another banquet/party scene complete with half naked girls entertaining the man with music.
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Wonky and wobbly!

Wonky and wobbly!

Tomb5 : Tomb of Sennofer, royal gardener for Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep II. This is our favourite tomb. The first one where we have to descent into the earth via a cramped steep staircase. The tomb is in great condition and extremely colourful. The painting are nowhere near as detailed or as well done as the other tombs, but they are great. This tomb was left fairly roughly carved out, the pillars are wonky and the ceiling wobbles. Every surface is covered in bright colours mostly of Sennofer and his women. (wife, daughters etc.) He is been given food and drink, decorated with jewellery and in one painting he seems to be getting a leg massage. The ceiling is covered in grape vines dripping down. Not sure if the man had a good life, but he seems determined to have a party in the afterlife!

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The Ramesseum

The Ramesseum

Done with the tombs, we have a little walk around the area. We have visited only a few of the many tombs here, but most are closed to the public anyway. You see them dotted around the mountains. There used to be a whole village here, but the people have been forcibly removed and their houses destroyed. Opinions about this differ. Some say it was necessary as the locals were selling items that they had found in their basements (the tombs), but others think that these people have lived there for a long time, and by removing them you also take away their ability to make an income from the tourist. (the little basements had run dry anyway) A lot of the walls and rubble still remains though, so it probably looks worse now then it did before.

The great fallen statue

The great fallen statue

A little break for lunch and over to the other side of the road for the Ramesseum. Built by Ramses II as part of his memorial temple. As said yesterday, it was partly plundered and not very much remains compared to some other sites. Still it was worth doing. It is most famous for the fallen remains of a great statue, the Colossus of Ramses.  It used to stand 17.5 metres tall made of granite and it still has bits of colour left on it. Later we found out that there are plans to resurrect this statue, but we think that would be a waste.

The painting of the avocado

The painting of the avocado

Only a few big pieces remain, and the rest would most likely then be built with concrete.. We are not going to write much about the complex. Again there are the pylons, the courts and the hypostyle hall. A few interesting carvings though. One depicting a god painting an apple/avocado. He is writing the Pharaohs name in it so that it will last for all eternity. (I think it worked!) And a lot of carvings from the 1800’s. You could basically call this graffiti with style. The tourists back then had time to carved their names in in very nice lettering. Stylish tagging, but disrespectful.

Another good day!

Another good day!

Around the main stone structures are many remains of mud built buildings. Store rooms, administrative buildings and even a school. We wandered into this area for a bit, but were shooed out. Apparently we were not suppose to explore this area.

Tired, we went over to the nearest cafe for a beer. Here we met Stan, Helen and friends, the local ex-pat community. A few beers, dinner at a river front cafe and more ex-pats, Jane, Roy, the teacher and the journalist. Too many beers, but a great night with good company. On the ferry back we remembered that our hotel has a midnight curfew and that we were not going to make it. Luckily the reception guy was not asleep yet and we could get back in. All in all a very good day!

AA

21 February 2012

Medinat Habu
WB67postpanonlie
WB76postpanocolossiWB77postpanoramsesToday we venture to the west bank for the first time. We try to make our way to the ferry, but the locals make in a challenge. Avoiding the carriage drivers, taxi drivers and the like is becoming a bit of a pain. At the riverside we get the offer to take a motorboat for the same price as the ferry. As the motorboats are supposed to be quicker we accept.

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WB78postpanoglyphsWB79postpanohallIt is nice on the Nile in the morning, and it looks like it will be a clear and sunny day. On the other side we went for a wander along the water, this time trying to politely say no to the donkey rides and more taxi drivers. (Tuktuks and horse drawn carriages are not allowed on this side)
We decide to walk to the Colossi of Memnon, only a few kilometres from the ferry. A fairly easy walk, but not very interesting. The whole area is a lot more built up than we expected. After making it through New Gurna we are in the fields for a bit (at least on one side) In the distance we see the statues looming.

WB69postpanodesert
WB80postpanopillarWB81postpanoglyphs2The Colossi of Memnon were part of a great complex built by Amenhotep III. They are doing excavations around and are uncovering more of the temple complex, but these are so far the only major things left. Each cut from a single piece of stone and weighing more then 1000 tons, they were apparently too big even for the later Pharaohs to reuse.
The Greeks and Romans (the first tourist) believed that is was good luck to hear the whistling sounds emitted by the statues at sunrise. Unfortunately the cracks were repaired in the 3rd century BC and the statues no longer whistle. They are still impressive to see though and a good break along the walk. The workmen climbing over the statues (we think they were dusting them..?) give a sense of scale. Easy to see why they are called Colossi.

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A bit further we stop by a road side cafe for a tea. Further away we saw a temple and this is a good time to look through our books to see if we want to visit this one. (There is so much to see on the west bank, that we can possibly visit everything and we have come out totally unprepared.) It turns out to be Medinat Habu, Ramses III’s memorial temple. Sounds like it is worth doing.
On arriving we are told we cannot buy a ticket at the site, but have to get one from the central ticket office. ? Handy. We now have to walk another kilometre or so and back again and it is getting hot in the sun. Egyptian organisation…
we grumble a bit about it, but it all turns out to be worth it.
WB72postpanopylon
WB82postpanocarvingWB83postpanostatueMedinat Habu is a big site and one of the first places in Thebes associated with Amun, the local god. It is most famous for the memorial tempel of Ramses III but Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III also built part of it. It was all built ontop of an earlier temple and things were being built and altered by everybody, up to the Ptolemies. It is an hodgepodge of history.
Ramses III was inspired by the Ramesseum down the road when he built his shrine here. Apparently so inspired that he used stone blocks from the Ramesseum to built his own. All over the place there are blocks with hieroglyphs placed up side down or randomly. Newer walls but up in the middle of beautifully engraved old walls. Walking through we assumed this was all dodgy restoration work, but it might well have been done by the ancient rulers themselves.

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WB84postpanoglyphs3WB85postpanopillar2As parts were built by Hatshepsut and her son (the next ruler) did not like her, he had all reverences to her name carved out and replaced with his own cartouch. Ramses did not want this to happen to his name later on, so he carved it in deep. 8 inches deep! If you want to remove his cartouches, you  have to replace the whole pillar.

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Ramses III wanted to be remembered as a great warrior. A lot of battle scenes are depicted through out the complex with him of course always coming out victorious. Scenes of him fighting the Libyans and even scenes of the scribes tallying the number of slaughtered enemies by counting the chopped off right hands. (and for some reason chopped off penises)
The whole area is in good condition. The layout of the temple is similar to others we have seen, with a few courts and the hypostyle hall. Again this is the most impressive area. Bits of colour still remain and quite a few beheaded statues.
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Satisfied and tired we took a taxi to the ferry, to cross back to the east bank. Here we decided to have a cold beer in the most expensive place around, the Winter Palace. Last time Andrew was in Luxor he did the same, and the views over the Nile are still amazing from the balcony. A beautiful sunset.

AA

20 February 2013

Walk around Luxor
Luxor temple
Souk

We did not sleep much last night due to the noise outside, so we are taking an easy day, exploring Luxor.
There is not much charming about Egyptian cities, as there is not much old left and all the new buildings are mostly unfinished concrete monstrosities. But as Luxor is a major tourist destination we can walk around mostly undisturbed and it is a lot cleaner than the towns so far.

Is that a plastic Barbie doll in the middle dressed up like an ancient Egyptian?

Is that a plastic Barbie doll in the middle dressed up like an ancient Egyptian?

First up we want to visit the souk. We have not visited a souk in Egypt yet, so are looking forward to the hustle and bustle.

How far do you have to walk to get a coffee?

How far do you have to walk to get a coffee?

The official Luxor souk is solely set up for tourist though. And where in other countries you can get a nice mix in the markets of souvenirs and local practice stalls (food, clothing, etc.) here it is only souvenirs. Stone scarabs, plaster Pharaoh heads, scarfs and sheesha’s. A bit monotonous and a bit too much hassle. We give up pretty quickly and go in search of a coffee. Off course we are now smack down in the tourist area and we have to go quite a way out to find a coffee for a normal price (anything under 10LE). But we do eventually find a nice place to chill.

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The main thing to see in town is the Luxor Temple. It was built by Amenhotep III and Ramses II and sits in the middle of town, so cannot be missed.

Not sure if these are the lotus pillars or the papyrus ones..

Not sure if these are the lotus pillars or the papyrus ones..

It is stunning with the papyrus and lotus pillars and hieroglyphs. For some reason there is a mosque built into the complex. This was built in the 14th century when most of the temple was still covered by sand and unexcavated. When they started digging out the temple, they decided to leave the mosque where it is but had to built some steps up to the doorway.
At the front is the 24 meter high first pylon, with a few remaining statues of Ramses II. He had this built and put statues of himself around..?.. A big ego.
One big granite obelisk is still here, the other is in Paris.
The temple is impressive, although not much remains but the pillars. The Romans built a big fort around the temple, but all of it is covered and now under Luxor city.

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Enough of that and out for a wander on the other side. Not much here, as we seem to be walking into the expensive tourist area.

Revolution artwork

Revolution artwork

We do come across a big collection of graffiti though. We have not heard anything of protests in this city, but a lot of the artwork seems to be revolution related. Some pieces are quite good. Some other work is in line with the old stuff in the tombs, portraying pregnant cows and slaughtered ones.
Overall Luxor doesn’t seem to be doing too badly. There are plenty of tourist around, but all the salesmen, horse drawn carriage drivers and fellucca sailors are crying poor. It must be a hard time for them, but we are happy that we are not visiting in top tourist time. It is busy enough for us. And besides the constant calls to get us in a carriage, boat, cafe or taxi, (or sell us hash, ganja, or anything else to get us high) Luxor is a relaxing place.

AA

19 February 2013

Easy day?
We want to walk.
Riverside
Karnak

We wanted an easy day today.  Just a quiet stroll around town.  See what there is to do, and not stress too much.  Luxor is sort of the right place to do this.  It is a city used to tourists, and the only thing we had to be mindful of are the touts.
K86pano2K91panov1K92panov2On exiting the hotel and making it to one of the main streets, we could see the railway station at one end and Luxor Temple at the other.  We started wandering down to the temple.  Almost instantly the cries of “Hello – You want Taxi? (insert horse drawn carriage, donkey, piggyback etc here)”  Followed by “Hello Rasta – You want some Hash!”  This last was never posed as a question.  It was as frequent as in Marrakesh, and considering the strong Anti-Drug laws in the country, somewhat surprising.

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K94panov4K93panov3Still, most of the time we could get away with a hello or nod in return.  The street was fairly busy, and there are many shops and stalls along it, however the footpaths are clear for metres at a time.  On arriving at the big square at the temple, there were all sorts of stalls set out, selling nuts, cigarettes, tea and renting little bikes for children.  It has almost a carnival air to it.  In a laid back way.

We didn’t want to do Luxor temple just yet, and were content to walk around it to get to the Nile on the other side.  Here the carriage drivers were a bit more insistent with their approaches, and at times it was very hard to shake people off.  Everyone wanted promises that if we did not do a ride with them now, we would promise to do so this afternoon, or tomorrow.  Walking was not acceptable.  Making it to the far side, we then started getting offers for Taxi rides on the West Bank, or Fallukas to take us up and down the Nile.
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The stretch of land between the temple and Nile is completely filled with these people.  There are masses of small motorboats moored on the bank, with large luxury cruise ships flanking them on either side.  We did pass the main ferry that would take you over to the other side for a pound each, and marked it on our mental maps for later.
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Walking along the road above the Nile, we passed the museum, and then the area opened up a bit with a boulavard that made for a pleasant stroll along the river.  There were even seats occasionally where you could sit, relax and soak in the view of the river with a thin line of green trees and the sandy yellow mountains rising up behind.  The mountains provide a stunning vista with sheer cliffs and rocky outcrops.  There was hardly any haze today so it was quite clear.  The boulevard finished, but by now we were past the main tourist drop off points, and could walk without hassle along the road.  We had decided to head north today, and in this way we made it to Karnak Temple.
K95panov5K96panov6Having not planned on doing much today, but finding ourselves there, we thought Why not? Paying the entrance fee (65LE each) and waving off the guide.  When we were asked why we didn’t want him to guide us.  We told him that the tickets were too expensive.  “Its not expensive you pay more than that where you come from!”  Yes.  The Australian National Museum charges a fortune for specific high profile exhibitions (Not sure how much, but probably around $10) but the museum itself is free.  The same with most other sites in Oz (except WA.  It is $10 to see a beach there!)  This coupled with the notion that Egyptian average wage is anywhere between 500 and 1500LE a month… Oh wait, they don’t pay entrance fees.  It is only the rich tourists that do.  This went straight over his head, and we moved on.  I don’t want to bitch about it any more, but why isn’t there a Luxor Card.  Even the French have come to grips with that idea with the Paris Museum Card.
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Ram headed sphinx

Ram headed sphinx

O.K.  We will not write that much about the temple.  Now was the time to visit though.  There were a fair few people there, but a lot of these disappeared quickly.  We were happy to be their ourselves and not on a tour, as it took us 10 minutes to get past the entrance photos during the old excavations.  Then the Avenue of the Sphinxes.  The Sphinxes here are in pretty good condition (or restored) and on a few you can see the rams heads in their glory, looking out onto one another and down on the passers by.  This small section of the Avenue lead directly to the First Pylon, or, by another name the Bloody big entrance gate.  Large niches for the flags, now bare and foreboding.  Just inside you start to see the wonder of the temple.  The area covers 2 sq km and the main structure, the temple of Amun, is the largest religious building ever built. It was the most important place of worship in the New Kingdom and was built onto and restored for over nearly 1500 years.

They sure knew how to build big

They sure knew how to build big

Standing in the Great Court after the first pylon. To the left are the chapels of Amun, his wife Mut and their son Khonsu. Checking these out, we took a while trying to interpret what is carved onto the walls.  This is a bit of fun, especially if you do not take it too seriously.  We saw many gods holding pipes, and looking at how the artist was hallucinating, we thought they must be peace pipes.  They were probably incense burners, but hay, with the amount of weed apparently in the city, I would not be surprised if everyone back then were stoned off their heads as well.  People nowadays just chip off some of the rock to smoke!  Sneaking around the back of the three small rooms we got a good view of more sphinxes and the colossal pillars.  Most are closed up in one fashion while the rest are blooming.  Not sure if the closed one is Papyrus, and the open Lotus, or the other way around.  Either way they represent upper and lower Egypt.  They really are massive.  The back wall was impressive as well.
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Who else but Ramses

Who else but Ramses

In front of the second pylon are two great granite statues of (of course) Ramses II.
Then the Great Hypostyle hall with 134 papyrus shaped stone pillars. Stunning.  We could walk you all through the complex, but will spare you the boring details.  Needless to say it was fantastic.  Especially as we could take our time.  We had not hit the 2nd pylon before the tour group that came in with us had departed!  As we travelled through time, there were less and less people there, and by the end we had almost the whole complex to ourselves.
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Very bright clear colours

Very bright clear colours

The best part was when we were in the temple of Khonsu, a small complex off to the side under renovation.  Here we thought we had picked up a guide.  He was very insistent, and we were almost rude in saying back off.  He wouldn’t take no for an answer and took us back past the renovations, and unlocked a side room.  We were allowed into this small dark room for about 30 seconds.  There was a bit of illumination from the doorway (not much as this only lead to another dark room) and a tiny hole in the roof.
It was stunning.  The colours and decorations were superb.  I don’t care if they are original or reconstructed, as the place was whitewashed with garish reds, yellows blues and greens.  It was a true indicator of the kitschy colour sceme.  We tried to imagine what this entire complex would have looked like if every inch was decorated in this way.  You wouldn’t need much light, as it would hurt your eyes.  Thanking him and feeling like complete heals, we headed out.  Our day at Karnak well and truly completed.
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It is one of the best days we have had in Egypt, with another high light of taking the back streets to the hotel and sitting there talking to the falafel guy that had just sold us two of the best sandwiches we have eaten here as well.

the day was just what we needed.

AA

18 February 2013

17th : Leaving Mallawi
Train to Sohag
Hotel issues
Meeting Iad

18th : Train to luxor
Yes, it took all day…

Not the best photo, but Bakr is the best of Mallawi!

Not the best photo, but Bakr is the best of Mallawi!

17th : Leaving Mallawi today. We do leave here with some good memories. The hotel was ok, Tuna el-Gebel was good and we met some very nice people.
We are trying the train again today, but have decided to go first class. Hopefully it will be less smelly and we might get a place to sit. We are skipping Asyut and going straight to Sohag. There is not much to see around Sohag, but our friendly guy from Cairo, Ali, was from here and said his hometown was a nice place. There are two monasteries in the area, so we are planning one full day and two nights there.
On arriving at the station a police officer was waiting for us. Not sure how he knew we would be coming, but the hotel did make a phone call when we left..
He escorted us to the platform and waited with us for the train. A seat was easily found, as people got up to let us sit down together. Enough legroom to keep our bags with us and still not be too uncomfortable. The officer had told us before we left “Asyut and then Sohag”, which made us think the train only stopped twice along the way. (His English was very limited) The train actually stopped almost at every station, and Asyut turned out to be the last stop. Now we had to transfer to another train heading south. Making it to Sohag was not a problem, it just took a bit longer then expected.
Exiting the station we ran the gauntlet passed the taxi drivers (and locals telling us to leave..?) for the nearest cafe. This is our strategy at arriving at every new town : Ignore all the people yelling out, find a quite place for a tea or coffee and find out about a hotel there.

"Do not trust foreigners to share a room"

“Do not trust foreigners to share a room”

Our waiter pointed down the street to Hotel Salaam as a nice cheap place, cheaper then the two on the other side of the train tracks.
We made our way there, but were disappointed with the room to say the least. It was dirty and not maintained. Upon hearing the price, we had no choice but to burst out laughing. For the worst room so far in Egypt he wanted to charge us 150 pounds! When we made to leave, he dropped is price to 120, but as we have so far not paid more then 90 for far better quality rooms, we kept laughing and walking.
So then to try the two hotels on the other side. The first one was a beauty. Great double room and spotlessly clean. Ok, still not cheap, but worth it for a 100LE. The problems started when we gave them our passports to check in. Suddenly it was an issue that we were not from the same country even though we had already mentioned this. And suddenly there was a “hotel policy” that foreigners have to show a marriage certificate to be able to share a room. We have not come across this at all before in Egypt, Jordan or Morocco. We know it is sometimes asked for with a mixed couple (muslim and non-muslim), but for us, two obliviously non-muslim people, it has never been a problem.

Ramadan lanterns

Ramadan lanterns

On to the next one. But the last hotel had called ahead, and we could barely say hello, before we were told that the hotel was full. The same thing with hotel number three.. Sohag is not turning out well. By now we had dragged our bags around for over an hour, and were getting fed up. Back to the train station then for a train south. This time we thought we would just get the first train out and made it into a local one. Again the penetrating stench of unclean bathrooms and the crowdedness. Anna changed her mind and we got out, planning to wait for the next first class train to come. But unfortunately, the local guys would not leave us alone. we had thought the police presence at the stations was a bit much, but now with no police around we understand why they were there. We had people talking to us in Arabic, turning into yelling, and the whole thing did not sound very nice. We felt uncomfortable surrounded by this group of 20somethings and left. We are not feeling welcome in this town at all.
We went back to the cafe for a tea and a think. What are we going to do if we can’t get a hotel room in this town and can’t get a train out? Our waiter was shocked when he heard what the first hotel wanted to charge us.

Cats love garbage

Cats love garbage

We saw some police walk passed and asked them for help. They did not speak any English, but luckily a young man, Iad, helped us out. We were now planning to go to the town near Abydos, but apparently this town has no hotels. That would mean we have to go all the way to Luxor, but it is getting too late for that. Iad has a friend that works at an hotel in a different part of town and made some phone calls to make sure we could stay there. (and to check the price). Everything good and the room would be 80LE. Perfect, and we can then leave first thing in the morning.
The hotel turned out to be 240LE a night though (80 for Egyptians, 240LE for foreigners. That’s what you call tourist tax..) As we had no other options and it was getting dark, we haggled him down to 160LE and paid up. The room was not worth it..
Iad turned out to be great though, and took us on a walk around Sohag. Walking with him was good and most people left us alone. Sohag is by no means a small town. It is a big city of over a million people with the noise, lights and shopping to go with it. It was interesting to talk with Iad as he is in the Egyptian army at the moment and his English was pretty good. Although not as good as his Russian or Polish, which he studied in Uni for a career in tourism.
We were pretty tired from the stress full day and headed back to the hotel fairly early.

18th : At the train station at about 10.00. We lined up to buy a ticket, but they refused to sell us one to Luxor. We were told that we had to buy a ticket to Aswan, and then get off the train at Luxor. That did not make sense to us, so once again we asked the police for help. He took us to the tourist police who pulled out some chairs at the platform next to his booth and we were told to wait for 10 minutes.

Comfortable in first class..

Comfortable in first class..

To make a long story short, we ended up waiting for more then 4 hours. Every time we tried to get some info on what was going on, we were told to wait for 10 minutes. This country is impossible! At about 13.00 we were finally told that the train was going to come at 14.30 and we were allowed to leave to get something to eat. On returning we were escorted by a undercover officer to the train. He would also be coming with us to Luxor. A bit excessive, but if this is the way they want it here..
As we still had not been allowed to buy tickets, we got on the train without any. Also without our assigned escort, as he had disappeared earlier. We tried our luck in second class and found a seat, only to be kicked out five minutes later by the people that had the tickets to these seats. The seats in first and second class are numbered and as both carriages are full, we find a standing place in the dining car.
Now our undercover cop shows up again and orders us to take our bags into first class. Here he tells the people to get up and out, so the three of us have two seats. We are soooooo not happy. We had wanted to buy tickets before hand to make sure this would not happen. Now Egyptians that have bought tickets are being kicked out of the seats they are entitled to, so we can sit. Well, we can’t even sit that well, as the police take one seat and thinks it’s ok for us to share one.

Finally! A beer! We have been dying for one!

Finally! A beer! We have been dying for one!

Luxor is quite far away, and although Andrew doesn’t weigh much, I still don’t want him on my lap for the whole way.. We are told how much the first class tickets are and protest that we have to pay for two seats if we only have one. Our officer gets grumpy and leaves, so Andrew can sit down. With our tickets purchased we sit back and try to relax, but now Andrew has to leave his seat again as the women that has the numbered ticket shows up… Eventually we make it to Luxor. It is dark and we are tired, so we end up doing what we have vowed never to do again and follow a tout to his hostel. It turns out to be a good choice. Clean with comfortable beds. After check in we quickly pop out for a take away meal and some beers. There are up sides to being in a touristy city!

AA