28.09.2010 - 30.09.2010 45 °C
While staying with Bernie and Estralita in Scotland, we decided to find out what excursions were available, highly desirable and within our limited budget. A week later we found ourselves on the way to Egypt for a week-long cruise on the Nile. We decided this would be a wonderful way to celebrate our 30 years of Wedded Bliss! We had to fly from Manchester airport with Thomson Tours, which entailed a rather chilly, pre-dawn 4-hour drive getting there, and parking the van at the airport for the week. We stopped overnight on the way down with Jamie and Simon's godparents, Sue and Kev Bracchi, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We had a wonderful evening catching up with them and their lovely sons, Matthew and Michael. There's not much that beats old friends!
We arrived in Luxor in the afternoon, and were greeted by the intense desert heat - quite a shock to the system after frosty Scottish weather. It remained between 40-45 degrees all week! Luxor is the modern name for the ancient city of Thebes.
We were greeted by a Thomson rep and escorted by coach through Luxor to our ship, the Crown Prince, which was berthed three abreast on the Nile. It was a relatively new experience being met and escorted everywhere, and we found it quite relaxing not to have to think too much for ourselves!
After settling into our simple, but air-conditioned cabin, with a large picture window out onto the Nile, we met for an introductory talk, followed by a buffet dinner.
The next morning we set off early [to beat as much of the heat as possible] to visit the temple of Hatshepsut on the West Bank. These houses are some of many in this area, which are being bought out and demolished to make way for archeological excavations, which are ongoing activities in these parts of Egypt.
Queen Hatshepsut ruled Egypt 1503-1482 BC, and was one of the earliest and most famous female pharaohs. The temple is built on three terraces, with the upper one being right up against the limestone cliffs. We hopped onto a trolley bus to take us up the long approach.
Our guide for the week was a fantastic erudite lady, Sahar, who has a Masters in Egyptology, and is in our opinion, a national treasure who should be cloned! She told us fascinating stories about the gods and pharaohs of ancient Egypt, as well as many insights into Egyptian culture and life today. Here she is showing us the remnant of a Myrrh tree, which Hatshepsut imported from the Land of Punt [Somalia], to provide shade on the terraces.
In order to legitimise her powerful reign, she had herself depicted with the pharaoh's kilt and beard, as seen in these statues.
After Hatshepsut's death, Tuthmosis III her step-son, became pharaoh. Perhaps fearing a challenge to his legitimacy as a successor, he immediately chiseled all images of Hatshepsut off temples, monuments and obelisks, consigning her remarkable reign to oblivion until its rediscovery by modern archaeologists.
In more recent history, tragedy struck in November 1997 when 58 tourists and four guards were killed by terrorists on the Middle Terrace. All the sites in Egypt are now heavily guarded with fences and security checkpoints, and there are Tourist Police with machine guns around every corner. Since that time there have been no further incidents, so it must be working, even though it is a bit eery.
Everywhere you go in Egypt people want tips for everything, and this man was no exception! He pointed out some murals and posed for pictures, then put his hand out. In spite of having to hand over constant tips, we enjoyed the quirky sense of humour of the Egyptians we met.
We then stopped at one of many alabaster factories to be found in the area.
After welcoming us to his establishment, the owner with his 4 workers, put on a very comedic demonstration of how the vases are carved out of solid alabaster rock. His assistants sung in unison like well-rehearsed parrots, which we found hilarious! Such consummate showmen.
The finished products are so thin they are translucent and highly prized. When Sahar told him about our anniversary, he presented us with a small scarab beetle each, which is really a good marketing tool to ensure that we buy [which we did!]. We just hope our delicate little green alabaster vase makes it home intact.
The next stop was at the famous Valley of the Kings. This valley is the one behind Hatshepsut's temple, and in fact her tomb was burrowed out beneath the mountain, and is aligned directly below her temple. The entrance to her tomb is in the Valley of the Kings, which means a feat of incredibly precise engineering. Tutankh-amen's tomb is the most famous tomb discovered in the valley, but the treasures it contained, we were to see later in the Egyptian Museum.
Unfortunately we had to leave our cameras on the bus, as photos were not allowed, so the following pictures are from postcards. We could choose three tombs to visit and explore. The first was that of Tausert and Setnakht. This large tomb was built by Queen Tausert in 1187BC for her own royal burial. For yet undiscovered reasons, Ramses lll decided to usurp the tomb and had his father Setnakht buried there. This is the decorated passage leading down to the first chamber.
To get into the tomb of Tuthmosis lll, we had to climb up a steep scaffold stairway to the entrance, where a "guide" offered us a well-used piece of cardboard to use as a fan because he said it was hot inside. We declined the "fan" as it would have meant another tip, but found that it was indeed suffocatingly hot inside. We had to climb down a steep narrow tunnel and through several chambers before finding the main sarcophagus. The walls were covered in painted carvings with the stone sarcophagus in the middle. By the time we made our way out again, we found the outside air, even at 45 degrees, refreshing! How the workers digging and sifting on the site cope with the intense heat each day is a testimony to their endurance because the heat is truly incapacitating - so much so that one chap in our group fainted!
The last tomb we chose was that of Ramses lX. He had also built the one next door with 150 burial chambers, for his many sons! On the roof of his burial chamber we found a beautiful painting of the goddess Nut, who is ruler of the sky, and who is displayed with her body in heaven and her feet and hands on earth.
On the way back to the ship for lunch, we stopped briefly at the Collossi of Memnon, which are 20m tall and weigh 1000 tons each. Amenhotep lll built a mortuary temple in Thebes that was guarded by these two gigantic statues on the outer gates. Due to an earthquake in 27 BC, these statues became known for a bell-like tone that usually occurred in the morning due to rising temperatures and humidity, and visitors came from miles around to hear the music. Thus they were equated by the early Greek travelers with the figure of Memnon, the son of Aurora, whose mother Eos, was the goddess of dawn. The Roman emperor Septimius Severus, seeking to repair the statues in 199 AD, inadvertently silenced them forever.
Later in the same week we heard that an important statue had just been unearthed in this vicinity. It is so exciting that archeological discoveries are still being made!