Thursday, February 5, 2009


Part 2
The trip to Luxor was an experience of Egyptian rail that was interesting but hardly relaxing. The train was described as a "seater train" which meant that we were seated for the 9 hour trip. The seats were billed as recliners but only reclined about 5cm so there was little chance to stretch out to sleep.

The evening was enlivened by the sounds of two little girls playing cats up and down the corridor for several hours and the procession of smokers needing a cigarette break between cars throughout the night. Apart from the distractions we dozed fitfully until 6.00am when, with the dawn, we neared Luxor an event marked by a celebratory breaking out of the breakfast boxes provided by the Cairo Hotel.

Joy & Marilyn enjoying breakfast - Cairo to Luxor overnight.
After booking in at our hotel we set out to explore the Temple of Karnak - one of the biggest temple sites in the Nile valley. The 30 hectare site is still largely unexplored but what is apparent is impressive in its monumental splendour. Apparently the temple could cover at least half of Manhattan and contain the whole of Notre Dame Cathedral with ease.

At its hieght the temple employed over 81000 people - priests, guardians, peasants, workmen and other craftsmen- engaged in expanding and developing the complex. The impressive, 102 metre x 53 metre, hypostyle hall with its 134 23 metre high columns dominates the entry to the site making the rest of the buildings look, if that is possible, insignificant in their own grandeur.

The statues of the Pharoahs and their consorts that are scattered through the temple are as imposing now as they would have been 3000 years ago when the temples were built in their names to celebrate the gods whose presence gave power to Egypt.

From here we drove back to Luxor and a chance to view the smaller subsiduary Temple of Luxor before collapsing beside the Nile for a few idle hourswatching the feluccas drift by in the mid afternoon winds.
That evening we headed into Luxor, via horse & gig, to explore the souq and the atmosphere of the downtown. We discovered that Luxor has become a retirement centre for British gentlefolk whose influence can be seen in the number of English & Irish themed bars and restuarants along with the constant offering of a diet of British football league on big screen TV. Despite this we found the souq and its constant activity still retaining the flavour of an Egyptian market place with the local bakery busy distributing bread to a constant queue of locals who, on buying their supplies, stacked it on a tray and, placing it on their heads or shoulders, walked off through the crowds either to consume them-selves or sell further on in the market.
Charles, trying to buy an Egyptian themed chess set, ended up being chased through the souq by a stall keeper eager for a sale. Despite all his attempts the stall holder couldn't satisfy Charles' request for a particular size and metal set which left them both somewhat disappointed. However it added entertainment to the evening.

The next day saw us heading off to visit the Valleys of the Kings and Queens and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. The sites here are signalled by the balloons that fly over the valleys in the early morning offering dawn views of the tombs and temples of the area. The tombs in the two valleys are highly decorated and evocative of both the power the Pharoahs had and the relationships between them and their queens. We took the opportunity to explore several of the tombs, climbing down tunnels and along corridors to the burial chambers as we marvelled at the highly coloured wall paintings and inscriptions that lead us to the sacrophagus.
From the Valleys we travelled to the Temple of Hatshepsut where the 3rd Queen to rule Egypt had built her funerary monument. She was so powerful that she declared herself to be a Pharoah and wore full male dress to ensure there was no misunderstanding about her power.

We had several hours to kill on return before our next overnight experience on the "Seater train" so booked a two hour sail on the Nile on a felucca.

This was a pleasant relaxing experience complete with two little girls rowing like crazy at every felucca in range and begging for money. Their antics and industry (they'd give the Evers-Swindells a run for a medal) appeared to give them a good income... if our boat was any indication.

The trip back to Cairo was more comfortable... this time we had recliner seats!!!

Next morning we booked into our hotel and set out to explore the Khan el-Khalili markets where Joy set out to hone her bargaining skills to bring home an alabaster cat and a head of Nefereti. She was particularly pleased with herself in getting the Nefereti head for EGP40 from an initial asking price of EGP120 and the cat for EGP120 from a EGP250.

The next day Charles and I explored the area around our hotel - a warren of lanes, small shops, street stalls, dust covered parked cars, lines of dead taxis, all circa 1970 Fiats, undergoing restoration in the hands of 10 year old mechanics who were cannibalising and reassembling with great industry and families sitting, folded together, in any single island of greenery that was available. We ended up having to ask a local bill deliverer how to get back to our hotel as each new street or lane we turned up seemed to end in a wall for another dusty housing block or sheesh cafe.
The walk certainly gave us a different tourist view of the city other than the pyramids.

Tuesday evening we were homeward bound.

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