Sunday, November 09, 2008

What we did last summer

We still didn’t write about it yet and looking back, it looks like long ago even though the memories are still fresh in our minds. Way back in March we booked our summer holidays in Egypt and we couldn’t wait to get there. Now we’ve been back for three months and still struggle with the what and how to write about it. Egypt has made a massive impression on the both of us and one thing we know for sure: we would like to go back in two to three years. The country with its amazing culture is overwhelming. If you’re open to it, you can still feel the ancient dynasties of great kings and queens in everyday Egyptian life.

We took the flight from Zürich to Luxor and after 4,5 hours of flight we arrived in the scorching heat of 45° C in Egypt. We planned to have our holidays split up in two parts: a cultural Nile cruise to start off with and a relaxing beach holiday in Sharm El Sheikh to finish our holidays.

At the airport, we were welcomed by our tour guide who led us to a bus that would take us to our ship at the port of Luxor. After embarking and checking in, we met with 11 other travellers from Switzerland and our guide. As we hadn’t booked any pre-arranged excursions, we had a separate talk with our guide Ahmed and ended up taking the full package and some extra excursions. Ahmed warned us up front: ”the life of a tourist is unpleasant and difficult and it’s hard work”.

Meet Ahmed...

Our guide. The best one we ever had, but also the first one!

We soon found out what he meant with that quote. Our first week of holidays would consist of getting up early every day to participate to the excursions and actually this didn’t match our holiday expectation! Looking back I can only say every single trip we made was worth the short nights, the long bus rides and withstanding the scorching heat after sunrise. As a bonus, we had the chance to enjoy the company of our group sipping cocktails on the sundeck after dinner every evening.

Our first trip was on a Friday and took us to the Valley of the Kings. In this valley so far 66 graves of the former Kings of Egypt have been recovered. A visit to the grave of Tutankhamun was not included and could be booked as an extra. As we knew that King Tut wouldn’t be "home" anyway, as he was actually touring Europe and exactly that day in Zürich, we decided to skip that part. This left us with a visit to the graves of Ramses II, Ramses VI and Ramses VII. Ahmed told us the story of how the grave of Tutankhamun was discovered. Actually all a big coincidence as many people have tried to find Tut's grave while he has been right there all the time: directly under the grave of Ramses VI. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the graves so we can’t show you the beauty of the wall paintings, the hieroglyphs and the old treasures that have been kept there for thousands of years. The only pictures we took of the area before entering the valley you’ll find below.

After the visit to the tombs, we continued our trip to one of the many small places where craftsmen make sculptures of cats, scarabs and statues of the kings. It’s truly amazing to see what those young men produce with old tools and sandpaper. After their demonstration, we were shown around the store where we could buy our first souvenirs. After tough negotiations with the salesman, we found ourselves in the fortunate possession of two cats: a beautiful black cat made of alabaster and a more abstract cat carved out of wonderful onyx.
CS has found her new pet and please, don’t tell Dale. He might get envious even though the both of them leave each other in peace at home…

Time to hop on the bus again!! Darn, those two cats weigh about 20 kilos! How are we gonna bring those animals home?? We had some time to think about that during the ride to the temple of Hatshepsut, meaning the Foremost of Noble Ladies. Yup, that was our the next stop and that still on our first day…and enjoying the air conditioning in the bus before going out in the burning sun again…

The Hatshepsut temple is amazing. The pictures you find here say it all. The temple has been built off-site in a pretty desolated area. The Hatschepsut temple is the place that saldy was attacked by six heavily armed terrorist in 1997. During the attack 62 tourist were killed. It gave me the shivers when we entered the grounds of the temple and I thought back of the attack in 1997. Seeing the temple and being in that desolated corner, it was obvious that in case of an attack there would be no way out. Well, we survived and for that matter, I can only underline that there is a huge presence of military and police at all major tourist attractions. Also the city of Luxor is heavily guarded, which in the beginning of our journey called on some mixed feelings.

On our way back to the ship, we made a last stop at the colossi of Memnon. The impressive statues are 18 meters high and represent Amenhotep III. Of course, we had the chance to take a few shots of those impressive statues.

After we returned to the ship, we drove off to our next stop: Esna! When we arrived in Esna, our guide Ahmed, the best tour guide we have ever had in our lives (and the first!) invited us for a stroll through the town of Esna and an evening tea in a typical Egyptian café. We enjoyed sitting on the terrace in the warm evening glow and Ahmed offered me my first smoke from a water pipe. Thank you Ahmed!

We’ll be back with some more Egyptian stories and pictures. The pictures are breathtaking, the sunsets we saw were a dream and the land itself… absolutely fabulous! In the meantime we have cut down the number of pictures we took from 1500 to 1050 and edited every single one of them. That reminds me!! We still need to burn some DVDs and sent them to the our travel companions.

Like I said, there’ll more later. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures and have a good start of the week. Life is beautiful!