We didn't get too much sleep on the sleeping train - it moved back and forth a lot, was noisy, and light found its way through the curtains so we were all pretty tired by the time we arrived in Luxor
. Although we were very tired, we still signed up for a trip to the West Bank leaving within two hours of arriving with our hotel, The Nefertiti Hotel
, which is highly recommended. It is pleasantly situated just off the pedestrian only walkway, near the shops but not taking in any of the noises. Our breakfast on the rooftop terrace with a view of the Nile River alone was worth it! We were with a tour group and had a funny guide. We visited the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens
, and Deir al-Bahri (Temple of Hatshepsut)
. All the tombs in the valleys are empty, except for King Tut, whose mummy remains encased in glass in his tomb. Because the children of queens were often buried with their mothers, the childrens' tombs are very decorative, with the tomb of Amunherkhepshef being the most colorful - after more than 3,000 years!
In the Valley of the Kings, we were only allowed to go to certain tombs. The weather was quite pleasant in December - probably in the 80s during the day and 60s at night - beginning of the peak tourist season. Some of the King's tombs were grand, some went very long and deep while others were shallow and plain. It cost an extra $9 to see King Tut himself so Russ and I waited while Bekah and Laura did. (I saw the mummy in his tomb later on TV - not worth it). Next we went to Deir al-Bahri (Temple of Hatshepsut) then back to town. In the evening we strolled down the pedestrian only boulevard/shopping street pushing aside the annoying, and sometimes aggressive, salesmen who drop their prices by half as soon as you turn your back to leave.
The following day (December 7) we took a horse buggy to Karnak Temple
. We wandered around this massive temple for hours, losing Russ only once. If you're an Egyptian history buff I would recommend visiting this temple. By mid-day it was getting hot so we ate some lunch then visited the new Luxor Museum
. The museum is modern and very well organized with labels descriptions. There are even a few mummies to view at no extra cost. I would highly recommend this museum if traveling to Luxor. As evening approached we visited one last temple right in the heart of Luxor and can be seen from our hotel, the Luxor Temple
. It is a little smaller than the Karnak Temple, but still very large. The Karnak and Luxor Temples were once connected by a 3 mile road lined with hundreds of carved sphinxes, a few of which remain outside each temple. At night, lights are turned on to give the temple a yellow glow. That evening we enjoyed some local dishes and shopped in the pedestrian only aisle crowded with aggressive merchandise sellers.
The next day we took it easy and slept in. We bought train tickets, shopped, and ate. That evening Laura and Bekah took a train to Aswan as Russ and I took an overnight train back to Cairo.
Russ and I arrived in Cairo early in the morning and decided to save money by walking to our hotel, Windsor Hotel
, reserved by my mother months in advance (thank you, Rick Steves
). We stayed there for 4 nights at about $50/night. The room was spacious but the wooden floor creaked and it was always cold. The shower was hot 24/7, though, which I couldn't say about other hotels in Egypt. We booked a tour with our hotel for the following day to see the Mosque of Ibn Tulun
, the oldest intact, functioning mosque in Egypt and the Giza Pyramids
. After booking and napping, we went to Coptic Cairo
and toured ancient churches as well as the Coptic Cairo Museum, which is a piece of art in its own right. When the sun sets, Cairo comes alive. Thousands of people line the streets to eat and shop. We had an interesting dining experience at a restaurant called GAD.
The next morning we got into our tour minibus along with two Canadians and went to the mosque. It was a very big mosque designed after Mosque of Samarra in Iraq. We had to put woven booties over our shoes as not to dirty the rugs. Our guide showed us to the top of the tower for a good view of the city, only the city was clouded by lots of smog. We then made our way to the Giza Pyramids in the town of Giza, south of Cairo. It was a busy town with lots of construction delaying our arrival. But first we stopped at a papyrus paper making place where I got roped into buying a beautiful piece of artwork. Then we headed to the pyramids where our guide dropped us off and would meet us in 2.5 hours. It was so amazing to see the Great Pyramids in person. The first thing we looked at was the Sphinx, whose paws seem much larger in proportion than the rest of its body. We then walked around the three pyramids as well as many other smaller pyramids built for queens along the great pyramids, outlined in the following map
As we walked along the outside of the pyramids, it cost extra money to actually go inside one (and the pyramids are empty because everything that was inside is now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), we were bothered by camel herders wanting us to ride a camel for money. After following us for half an hour, I told one that we would tell the tourist police he was making our trip unpleasant and he quickly turned the other way. Egypt relies heavily on tourists so there are special tourist police everywhere we went to insure the safety and well-being of visitors everywhere - and the locals who hustle foreingers are afraid of them. I understand why the Great Pyramids of Giza are one of the world's seven wonders. The rocks used to build them were enormous and the pyramids themselves, so tall. Just amazing. We went back to Cairo with our tour and I snapped one last picture of the pyramids from the highway.
The following day we met up with Bekah and Laura again, back from their brief adventures in Aswan and Abu-Simbel, and then went to the Egyptian Museum
. We spent many hours admiring the great treasures gathered from all the tombs and displayed for everyone to see. The most amazing exhibit was King Tutankhamun's
tomb items. Because his tomb remained untouched until Howard Carter discovered it in 1922, all the items in the chambers were not removed/stolen, but are displayed in the museum.
The next day, Russ fell ill, so us girls decided to go to the Khan al-Khalili market by ourselves. We went down tourist isle and bought a few trinkets for our families for Christmas. As Russ and I were leaving the following morning, we said good-bye to Laura and Bekah and headed back to our respective hotels, after some ice cream, of course.
On the morning of 13 December, we left Africa at 7:30 am. It was a long few days getting to Hawaii. Our itenerary: Cairo to Paris (4.5 hours), Paris to Los Angeles (11 hours), Los Angeles to Honolulu (4.5 hours) stopping only for at most two hours in each airport. Jet lag took a week to get over once home.
At home, I have gone through a little reverse culture shock. Most notably, drinking clean water from the sink that actually has running water, getting way out of the way when cars go by, and how much garbage is produced in a single day. I didn't let myself drive for a week just to get used to riding on the right side and reminding myself of all the rules. I'm not sure how long we'll stay with my parents in Hawaii or what the future holds for us but we're slowing figuring things out. This is the last blog entry I will post. I would be happy to answer any questions - my email is to the right. I hoped you enjoyed reading about my adventures. Kwa heri.