Around the World With the ArvaMonts
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We arrived in Cairo on a lovely clear evening, and then awoke to...
Cairo is a big city with a small town attitude. There are people on the streets at all hours and the traffic barely moves. When the call to prayer begins, you can hear it from multiple mosques all at once. It can be quite loud and discordant in a rather interesting way.
Fresh produce was everywhere
We took a trip to the Egyptian Museum, where photography is forbidden inside. It is filled to the brim with ancient treasures, they just haven't enough space for all of it! We did snap a few photos outside the museum... Read more.
We didn't photograph the heavily armed Tourist and Antiquities police (it's apparently illegal), which are everywhere. While they are there for our safety, it can make one quite uncomfortable - is it really so dangerous for tourists here? Some of these guys, however, are happy to assist you in "bending" the rules or even having a photo with them - it just takes a little baksheesh.
We decided it was time to step out and see some sights. The hotel offered organized tours for organized tour prices. We toyed with the idea, but we decided to just get in a taxi and see what we would see. This approach worked out well for us! We hired a taxi on the street for the day, which was amazingly affordable, and drove to Saqqara and then to Giza.
The first pyramid - built by King Zoser in Saqqara. It is called the Stepped Pyramid, built around 2650 BC. Intrigued? Read more.
Also in Saqqara are a series of tombs of ordinary people. We toured a couple. These were even more impressive than the Stepped Pyramid! In the tombs of ordinary folks were depicted scenes from their lives. It is like spying on someone who lived 4500 year ago! The first was a tomb of brothers who were manicurists to the king! One died young, so his side of the tomb is unfinished. The second tomb was of a butcher. Also fascinating. We were very pleasantly surprised with all that we saw and learned in Saqqara.
Going to see these pyramids was very high on my list of things to do this year, though I was strangely disappointed by our visit. Yannis was inspired photographically, but even he experienced a feeling of disappointment caused by all the harassment of the hawkers all around these wonderful pyramids. Read about my impressions.
A traditional photo (courtesy of some baksheesh). The pyramids butt right up to Cairo - a camel train with the city as a backdrop.
We stayed for the Sound and Light Show, which was as cheesy as we had anticipated! The ride home was amazing. Our taxi driver squeezed through a few spaces that were so tight he was brushing up against people as he cruised by!
From Cairo we flew to Nairobi via Khartoum and then on to Kilimanjaro, where we commenced our safari. Unfortunately, we missed our connection in Nairobi and ended up spending the day at the Nairobi airport waiting for the next flight (only 2 flights a day - morning and evening). Of course we had to stand in line for hours to get this all arranged.
After our two weeks in the bush our plan was to return to Cairo via Nairobi and Khartoum. Unfortunately, Kenya Air had other plans. This time they bumped us in Nairobi even though we were on time and had confirmed seats. No problem - you can take the next flight - it will arrive in Cairo tomorrow night. What?! Sure, they would put us up in a hotel, so what was our problem? (Of course they would not pay for the Kenyan visas! That would have cost us $80.) The main issue was that we had a cruise booked starting at noon tomorrow in Luxor. They finally agreed to rebook us, and found us flights through Addis Ababa and Khartoum, although only Tasha was confirmed all the way! The rest of us would be stand-by. And we would travel through the middle of the night with long layovers in both Addis and Khartoum. Oh, this sounded horrible, but that was the result of 2 hours of waiting with Kenya Air's transit desk. We retired to the lounge and started brain storming. Yannis found a better connection through Dubai. Only one stop over, still in the middle of the night, but we would arrive in Cairo much earlier at 6 a.m, and possibly still make it to Luxor by noon to attend our ship's tour of Luxor. So we waited in the Nairobi airport all day, again, then flew to Dubai. The Dubai airport may be the best place in the world to spend the early hours of the morning, if you have to be up and spending them somewhere!
Unfortunately, we could not get a flight out of Cairo to Luxor until 5 p.m., so we ended up spending the day in Cairo near the airport, and missing the cruise's group tour of Luxor and Karnak Temples. Our tour operator's local guys took the initiative and organized a private night time tour for us of Luxor Temple and a private before-the-crack-of-dawn tour of Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings, and the Temple of Hatshepsut all before the boat sailed! (Many thanks to the various Ahmeds from Travel Plus in Giza - you guys were wonderful!)
Luxor was the ancient capital of Upper Egypt known as Thebes, and thus has many ancient sites in close proximity.
The second obelisk guarding the doors of this temple was given as a gift to the French in 1819, and stands outside Place de la Concorde in Paris.
By the time we reached the Temple we had been traveling for 38 hours and had maybe 4 hours of sleep. Our pour tour guide (Ahmed)tried his hardest to engage us, but after the initial excitement of seeing this magnificent temple, we were all fading fast, which is too bad, because some of the stories are just amazing! This temple was begun by Amenhotep III around 1400 BC, but not completed by his son, as was the tradition. His son, Amenhotep IV was also know as Akhenaten, and he became a monotheist, thus saw no use in a temple dedicated to the Thebian gods Amun, Mut, his wife and the mistress of the heavens, and their son, Khonsu. The temple was worked on by Tutenkamen and Horemheb and completed by the great builder pharoah, Ramses II around 1250 BC.
We enjoyed learning about the various gods of Egypt, and the forms that they favored. Learning about the movement of the sun, including being pushed through the earth at night by the scarab beetle, was interesting. We also learned that the early Egyptians used baboons to tell time. Apparently, they urinate hourly, and this was a way to measure the passage of time. I have always wondered why we have 24 hours in a day, hum...
During the early Roman period, when Coptic Christians were not permitted to build their own churches, they took over many of the ancient temples for use as churches. There is a section of this temple that was clearly thusly used! There is also a mosque built on this site.
The columns in this temple and many others are uniquely Egyptian in their layout. We all learned about ionic, doric and Corinthian columns in school - but I never learned about the lotus and the papyrus columns.
Karnak Temple complex is large! In its day it was connected to the Luxor Temple by the Avenue of Ram-headed Sphinxes and by a canal. It is dedicated to the same three Thebian gods, and was built over an even longer period - 1300 years!
The sheer number of columns and walls still standing in amazing. Of course, the policy of the Egyptians is that everything should be maintained as it was found. Thus, if a wall was standing when a temple was uncovered from the sands, then that wall will continue standing, even if it requires re-enforcement and plaster fill ins.
Every wall and every column is covered head to foot with pictures of pharaohs and gods engaged in important usually symbolic activity and then surrounded by hieroglyphs. It is clear why people wanted so badly to be able to read hieroglyphs. They are everywhere.
The Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings is where many pharaohs were buried. There was a belief that burial should be on the west side of the Nile - the side of the setting sun. It is thought that they chose this valley because of the natural pyramid on the top of the tallest hill. A pyramid would help their spirits escape the tomb.
The Temple of Hatchepsut
Apparently the Pharoah Hatchepsut was an interesting character. She decided to become the pharaoh. Since pharaohs were always men, she decided to become a man. She had herself depicted in her statues and carvings as a man, including the traditional pharaohic beard.
Along the Nile
The view along the Nile is captivating. There is a swath of green with trees and grass along the river and then nothing but dry desert, though some of that desert is quite mountainous!
Early morning along the Nile.
At the Esna Locks
It takes hours to get through the locks of Esna. There are many boats and they all must queue. The Egyptians seem to be born hawkers, and this is just another opportunity to sell sell sell! Welcome to the Esna Locks Floating Market!
Here they all come. Some attached themselves to our boat while we were still cruising (giving them an early advantage), but most just rowed up once we were stopped. You first notice them by their shouts of "Ola!" and "Hello" - trying to get someone's attention.
So how does it work? The salesmen have their goods carefully wrapped in plastic bags, along with a receipt in an envelope to indicate the price of the article. These articles could be blouses or full length galabia with embroidery, or T-shirts or table clothes. Any soft goods, really. They row up to the boat, and toss their goods up on to the deck, which is 2 or 3 stories up! Someone on the deck looks at them and either puts money in the envelop in the bag and tosses it back, or just tosses the whole bag back. The more adventurous try to negotiate over the side of the ship.
This may seem straightforward, but how do you know who tossed a certain bag up? As you can see there are many salesmen, on both sides of the boat. And who do you throw a bag back to? What happens to the bags that land in the water or in the wrong boat? What about the bag that landed up on the deck in the swimming pool? We're sure they have a system in place, but we didn't have a closer look.
Edfu and the Temple of Horus
The Edfu Temple is a very complete, but then again, it was built during the rule of the Ptolomies beginning in 237 BC and as such is much younger than the temples we had seen thus far. It also remained safely buried until 1903. It was built to honor the sky god Horus, son of Isis, who battled and defeated his evil uncle, Set.
Kom Ombo and the Temple of Sobek and Horus
This is a temple dedicate to two gods, which is apparently quite unusual. Sobek is the crocodile god and Kom Ombo was quite a crocodile haven before the Aswan dam was built. Horus is the god responsible for medical treatment.
The Unfinished Obelisk
Well, here you can see one that they abandoned. It is assumed that this obelisk, which was 3/4 cut was abandoned because it cracked. (I don't understand why it wasn't used for something else.) They cut these by drilling lots of holes, filling them with cedar and then soaking the cedar so that it expands, thus cracking the granite. Wow.
The Temple of Philae
This is one of several ancient site that were moved out of the waters of Lake Nasser after the building of the Aswan Dam. This one sits on an island just above the low dam.
This is where Ramses II, the great builder pharaoh, "built" a temple to himself and one to his favorite wife, Nefertari. "Built" is not, strictly speaking, the correct verb - these temples were carved out of the side of a mountain. He had Nefertari's temple built first, they say as practice on this new technique! It is also the only temple built for a woman (since Hatchepsut's Temple was built for the male pharaoh she became.) In order to justify this, he had her declared a goddess. Inside the temple you can see her depicted as such, carrying the key to life. He had 50 wives and 150 children, I wonder why he chose her? He was egotistical to the nth degree! On the outside of her temple, there are six colossal statues, 4 of Ramses II and two of Nefertari. (He is the same pharaoh who had the cartouches of other pharaoh's etched out and then had his own name carved deeply on top of them.)
Temple of Nefertari
Mid-day lighting Morning lighting (Yannis went back the next morning @ sunrise)
Temple of Ramses II
From Abu Simbel we flew back to Cairo and from there on to Istanbul.
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