A Travellerspoint blog

Egypt

Egypt: Cairo: Go Taxi Go to the Go Bus!

May 12, 2011

sunny 88 °F

We got up today ready to get on a bus unfortunately our tour guide had different plans for us. Our driver was supposed to pick us up at 8am but when he didn’t show by 8:40am we hopped into a taxi to get us to the bus station as fast as possible! As our luck would have it, the bus had left already! The Go Bus employee called the next stop and had the bus wait for us there. The taxi raced us to the next stop and got there minutes before 9am. Taxi drivers in Egypt drive crazy to begin with but when given a sense of urgency (and a little more money) they’ll turn a half hour ride into a ten minute roller coaster!

Our bus ride back to Cairo was great, just six hours with no road blocks or burning tires this time. The cheesy Arabic action movies playing on the TV were a bit of a downer. Also, the guy in front of Ruby decided to recline ALL the way back practically putting his chair on Ruby’s nose . . . so this time it was Ruby complaining about legroom. As a plus, they did serve great guava juice and chocolate cake as a snack. The rest stop on the way back was also exceptionally nice with clean bathrooms. Given all of that, we’d recommend Go Bus over the local company we took on the way to Sharm.

It was a gorgeous day in Cairo and we were welcomed with the classic traffic jams common to the city. We had a few hours before our flight to Spain so Ruby “convinced” our tour company to give us a driver for the day since our driver didn’t show up in Sharm. Instead of taking us to the airport we told him to take us to the Khan el Khalili bazaar which is next to a beautiful mosque for some last minute shopping. Cheap stuff really is cheap in Egypt. Within one day of buying a pair of sunglasses and a watch, the sunglasses were cracked and the watch didn’t keep time! The driver did eventually get us to the airport with a few hours to spare—we caught up on the blog and grabbed some terrible airport food. At the beginning of our trip, Ruby probably would have sent the food back or refused to eat any of it but this trip has had made her a little more tolerant of bad food. I’m sure she’ll be back to her high standards once we’re back in NY.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:23 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Sharm el-Sheikh: Seeing Blue in the Red Sea

May 11, 2011

sunny 88 °F

At 8:30am the bus arrived to take us to the jetty. Just before that Ruby had left to go to the pharmacy about a 5 min walk away to buy some ibuprofen. She was surprised to see how aggressive the men could be when Tony wasn’t around. As she walked, they stopped, honked, stared, tried to pick her up, and even her a offered ride for “free”. Geez, who knew? Next time, Tony will be the one going to the pharmacy and let’s see how many honks he gets! :)

We arrived at the jetty and met our divemaster Darren who speaks perfect English with a cockney accent . . . but still very easy to understand. The boat was beautiful and the water was crystal clear. It looked amazing against the dry desert background. After about an hour ride we got to our first dive site: Jackson Reef. Suited up and ready to go we dropped down about 20meters along a wall covered in corals. It was a little tricky for us to get down at first because the Red Sea has more salt content than most of the places we’ve dived in the past. Once we got down, we swam against a strong current that made Ruby feel like she was swimming through molasses. The Red Sea has amazing visibility and we could see all the way to the very bottom about 40meters down. The highlight of this site was being encircled completely by crazy schools of blue colored fusilier wrasses. After resting for a bit our next site was Ras Gillman we got to see a creature we’ve been searching for in other oceans . . . blue spotted stingrays! We actually saw FOUR of them; they can be spotted hanging out underneath corals and rocks. . just a small current causes them to swim away. We also saw a stonefish hanging out on the sand, and a large grouper peeking his head out between some rocks. Towards the end of our dive we had to swim through a bloom of moon jellyfish! Luckily their stingers don’t affect humans because of our thick skin. There’s a reason they’re called jellyfish, when you touch them they feel sort of like a gummy bear! Not exactly what we expected, they had more substance and were firm but still squishy and slimy at the same time! We chatted with a Russian guy from Saint Petersburg named Alex and he was kind enough to offer to email us the dive photos since we couldn’t rent a camera today.

They served a delicious lunch on the boat complete with babaganoush and lots of veggie dishes. We relaxed and did a little reading on our way back to the dock. We would definitely suggest Dolphin Divers and Darren Burt our divemaster to anyone interested in diving near Sharm. For dinner that night we ended up at the first sports bar we’ve ever been to that didn’t serve alcohol. We worked on the blog while suffering through sheesha smoke from all the Egyptians surrounding us. The town felt totally safe which is why on our walk home that night we were surprised to see a few street walkers and what we think was a drug dealer on the corner.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:05 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt:Sharm el-Sheikh: Odds Are 10 to 1 on a Good Dive Shop

May 10th, 2011

sunny 92 °F

There are some countries that are just known for breakfast foods; Belgian waffles, French crepes, American biscuits and gravy (Tony), but Egypt is definitely not known for anything having to do with breakfast! After our cold eggs and cheese we decided to take a break to lounge by the pool before meeting the driver that our tour company sent over to help move us to a beach hotel in Naama Bay instead of Hadaba. We arrived at the new beautiful hotel but just as we were about to check in our tour agency called back and told us it would cost an additional $65 for the move! They must have thought we would just pay it now that we had moved? After telling them we weren’t going to be up-sold on a room we hopped back in the car and moved our stuff back to the Sunset Hotel! Since we planned on scuba diving in the next few days we really needed to go back to where all the dive centers were. So we grabbed a minibus (1 Egyptian pound each) going over to the beach. We discovered that a lot of the dive shops in Sharm only use one dive master to every 10 divers, yes TEN divers! That is a bit out of the question for us because if you’re diver number 9 or 10 in line you may not see anything at all—all the cool creatures will get scared away!

We put that task on hold because our bellies were grumbling and went in search for spicy food. We must have been desperate because we stopped for lunch at a place called India House which also served Thai food, Chinese food, and sushi. BTW, it’s never a good idea to go to a place like that because they probably can’t do any of it well! After a little food in our bellies we were ready to find the perfect dive shop . . . we found it right next to the beach at Dolphin Divers. At first we were a little weary because the signs were mainly in Russian with a few in English but after talking to the owner for a while (a big Russian guy with impressive knowledge and confidence) we were convinced that this was the perfect place for us. Originally we had wanted to do Yolanda and Shark Reef in Ras Mohammed but unfortunately those sites are a bit more advanced and most of the other dive companies required at least one or two dives in the local sites first. Dolphin Divers didn’t but unfortunately they didn’t have a boat going that direction for the day we wanted to go. He even mentioned the sharks and gave us a breakdown of the recent attacks—don’t worry no divers have been attacked, just snorkelers. We signed up for two dives in Tiran Bay and filled out all the necessary paperwork. Afterwards we got sized for our equipment and realized it was Happy Hour!

We found a beach bar playing great music called Viva Beach. They had the most fantastic strawberry margaritas and we thoroughly enjoyed drinking on the beach. Tony asked for a local beer and they said “Stella?” and Tony said, “no a local beer”. This cycle repeated a few times before Tony figured out that there is an Egyptian Stella beer. We walked in the clear blue water and were horrified to seen tons of small, clear, white jellyfish. We were worried but it turns out that these ones don’t sting at all!

We ended up back in Old Town and had to walk by the vendors of colorful glass lanterns, hookah pipes and stuffed camels without buying anything because the diving cost more than we thought so no shopping for us! :( We ended up taking the minibus back to the hotel but walked in the wrong direction—it is extremely safe there even walking alone at night but if you ever need a taxi in Sharm, no worries because one will stop every other second to ask if you need a ride! We enjoyed our complimentary dinner at the hotel and tried to watch a movie but every DVD we own had a big scratch on it. They really need to invent a more durable medium for holding movies. We’re diving tomorrow so we had to call it an early night!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 02:18 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

Egypt:Sharm El-Sheikh:A Burning Desire to Reach the Red Sea

May 9th, 2011

sunny 83 °F

At 730am we woke to a nice toasty fire . . . of burning tires in the middle of the road. The road to Sharm el-Sheikh had been blocked off by protesters. It’s a little unclear but we think they were protesting in order to increase their wages at the oil refinery on the side of the road. Some of the protesters did have guns . . . never have we felt so grateful to be on a local bus with Egyptians who could clue us in on what was going on. Of course, a local bus is also a less-likely target than one full of American tourists. We nervously awaited what would happen since the locals on the bus told us everything would be fine once the military arrived. Once the military arrived about 45 minutes later some drivers tried to pass the protestors only to find that their windows were being broken by kids throwing rocks. After witnessing that our bus driver was very hesitant to go forward. . . so we waited a total of 3 hours until 20 armed soldiers finally moved the protestors and the burning tires off to the side of the road. Just then a few cars started to push their way through. We were next in line and our bus driver hesitated when he saw protestors running back into the middle of the road. We wanted to get out of there so Tony started yelling, just GO, GO, GO! The bus driver hit the gas . . . we did get hit by a rock or two but no windows were broken and we were on our way to the beautiful beach resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. We hope it’s worth it!

Just minutes after passing the protestors the road veered next to the Red Sea with its striking clear blue water against the desert background of Egypt. We finally arrive in Sharm about an hour a half later and needed to go eat ASAP! We checked into the Sunset Hotel which is not on the beach but still really nice. We asked around and got a local recommendation that lead us to Fares seafood restaurant in the Old Market. We enjoyed some delicious fresh prawns and fish while sharing a bottle of Chilean wine. We don’t smoke but afterwards we went to one of the ubiquitous sheesha lounges to catch up on the blog :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 16:11 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Luxor: These Buses Are Giving Me a Karnak Headache

May 8, 2011

sunny 106 °F

We had a wakeup call scheduled for 8am but actually awoke to the call to prayer at 6:00am from the mosque across the street! That motivated Ruby to get up so she started working on the blog for a bit before our guide arrived. We learned that the East side of the Nile River represents life and the West side of the Nile represents the afterlife. Since the Egyptians considered the afterlife far more important and long-standing than their temporary time here on earth they built gorgeous temples to last for an eternity on the West side, but their East bank homes didn’t get quite as much attention.

We drove on the dusty pavement passing holes dug up along the road for active excavations until we arrived at the huge temple complex at Karnak. Apparently it was over 63 acres and originally connected to the Luxor temple. It was built during the 30th and last dynasty and is possibly the largest temple in the world. It is also the only “joint” Egyptian temple—dedicated to more than one king. We walked across a paved courtyard to arrive at the imposing “Avenue of Rams” that marks the entrance. When you walk in you can see two huge statues of Ramses II and his favorite wife Nefertare at his feet. In death the arms were crossed across the chest and when alive the statues show Ramses II standing in “military pose” with left leg forward and hands at his sides.

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This is one of the most famous places in Egypt, yet right away we could tell that there were very few tourists. It wasn’t until we had the entire hypostyle hall to ourselves that we realized just how down tourism is in Egypt. This hall has 134 columns built started by King Seti I (1313 BC) and completed by his son Ramses II (1225 BC). The columns were meant to resemble a papyrus marsh. The first 12 columns are open papyrus flowers and the other 122 that were built by Ramses II have closed papyrus tops.

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There are lots of carvings showing how the kings kept slaves to help build their temples. You can see several walls dedicated to the slaves that “helped” build them. By the way, most of them are shown with bound together by their arms and that one of their hands was cut off. Walking inside these stone temples it is cool and dark but in order to have light the Egyptians built holes in the ceiling to allow natural light in or reflected light off of shiny metal such as silver or gold (like on the tops of obelisks in the past).

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After meandering through the hypostyle hall we came across two large obelisks, the first and smaller was for Thoutmosis the father of Queen Hatepshut and the second which is 30m tall was for Queen Hatepshut herself (Ruby’s favorite). There’s rumors that there may be something important buried underneath the obelisks but we’ll never know unless they topple over!

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At the far end of the complex in King Thoutmosis’ temple you can see evidence of the Roman Coptic religion in the form of saints with “halos” as well as some beautiful carvings showing some of the animals (antelope, birds) and plants he brought to Egypt. Royalty used to bathe in the huge green pool with stair entrances on all sides—it doesn’t look like it’s used very much today!

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After this we made the hike back through this huge complex and headed to the Temple at Luxor. This one was discovered under the sand in 1833. Much like Karnak, you are welcomed by a long avenue of statues—this time sphinxes at the entrance of this temple. Front and center Ramses II can be seen in the form of 6 different huge statues and although Abu Simbel remains his most famous structure, he had many more architectural projects. We thought we finally made it to a country without monkeys but we were wrong! At the base of the obelisk you can see 4 baboons dancing and facing the sunlight at the entrance. There was a 2nd obelisk but it was taken in 1836 to the Concord in France.

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As we said, this temple was found under the sand almost 200 years ago but not before a mosque had been built on top of it during the Islamic period! It’s great to see the combination of the old with the new since the Egyptians chose to preserve the mosque and now it sits on top of a portion of the temple at Luxor. We tried to take some funny pictures of the many huge statues of Ramses II inside. He has a set of three that depict him transforming from boy to man. There’s also a really aged statue of King Tut and his wife. In the very back you can see evidence of the Greco-Roman period with murals painted over hieroglyphics depicting scenes of saints. There's also a carved scene of a king collecting "power" from the fertility god Amun-Min, see if you can spot that one :) They even have an “open air museum” with relics such as column tops from other eras including the Greco-Roman period as well as some artist renditions of what hieroglyphics are supposed to look like when fragments are pieced together.

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Afterward, we stopped at a local bar for a cold beer and glass of wine before our long night bus to Sharm. We were in the mood for something a little different so Tony went next door to a McDs—now we can add Egyptian McDs. Our guide dropped us off to the bus stop. We were excited see a shiny new bus in the parking lot…but that one was not ours! We’re booked on the local bus (East Delta Travel) . . . needless to say it was a long night. The seats had minimal padding making them very uncomfortable but we got to get out of them often enough since the bus stopped every 30 min or so for the first 5 hours! Ruby sent Tony out to pick up a midnight snack . . . so what does he get? Disgusting twinkies from Egypt. .it’s hard to believe that they could be even worse than the ones made in the US. To make matters worse, we swear the driver must have been hard-of-hearing because they played Arabic music at a deafening level for most of the night. Just when we thought we could get some rest they decided to start an awful cheesy Arabic action movie. I think Ruby was bordering suicidal at this point so we made some makeshift earplugs and tried our best to pass out around 3am.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 12:22 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Luxor: Valley of the Kings and a Cross Dressing Queen

May 7, 2011

sunny 104 °F

We slept in today and got picked up around 11am to head to the Valley of Kings which came into existence during the Pharonic period. WOW! This is something we were really looking forward to because we’d read all about it back in school. We were really bummed that they didn’t allow cameras at all—and were really strict about it too! Luckily the NY Metropolitan Museum collaborated with Howard Carter when he discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922. That’s why the NY Met has a huge collection of Egyptian artifacts there that we can’t wait to see in person. This valley is really in the middle of nowhere and is super hot out with no natural shade. . . Thutmosis I (1528 to 1510) was the first king to choose this locale for his burial because it is a holy area and to ward off grave robbers. The hills are all limestone which is a softer stone that makes it much easier to carve out tombs. There are 62 tombs in total and we got to go inside 3 of them. Not all are open to the public because they’re not really safe to enter with hazards like breathing ancient dust and tripping over crumbling stones! The last tomb was discovered in 2005 and it’s actually only #62 of the approximately 415 kings that could have built tombs.

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The first tomb we visited was of Ramses IV, it was beautiful with tons of preserved colorful hieroglyphics on the walls. There was even some evidence of Coptic symbols near the entrance. Inside the tomb were extra rooms for the multiple statues of slaves that he had buried with him. You can see a beautiful blue background with yellow stars on the ceiling representing Nut the god of the sky. The colors on the walls came from natural pigments such as gypsum and calcium for white and red iron oxide. The next tomb was of Ramses IX, there was a gorgeous mural showing a trip to the afterlife on boats with Anubis (jackal) to lead the way. The third and final tomb we entered was of Ramses I. This tomb actually had the most colorful paintings on the wall. One of the best preserved is of Ramses I accompanied by Horus (falcon) and Anubis (jackal). All the tombs had surprisingly high ceilings . . . unlike the tombs in the pyramids. However, some were steeply angled downward. It was insane that sometimes we were the ONLY people inside the tombs!! We had them all to ourselves :) We found some pictures to put down below from our Valley of the Kings book :)

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Our guide asked us if we would like to stop and see some alabaster vases being made by hand—Luxor is famous for them. We said yes and before we knew it Tony was digging out a piece of alabaster with a metal tool and we had a new and fragile item to carry with us!large_IMG_7100.jpgIMG_7105.jpg Next was Queen Hatepshut’s temple which is just on the other side of the mountains. She was the ONLY queen to rule Egypt and she was also fond of cross dressing. . just kidding. She often wore men’s clothing and is often portrayed that way in statues. She probably did this to demonstrate her equal strength. She did a great many things for Egypt including bringing new species of trees and fish to the country. Her temple is 3 levels and you can see tons of colorful murals showing what she did for Egypt. A section of the temple is devoted to the fertility goddess Hatur (cow ears on a woman face). On the top level there are 8 large statues of her—all portrayed as a male (false beard and all).

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After all of this we stopped to look at two huge statues in pretty poor condition, these are known as the Colossi of Memnon and are of Pharaoh Amenhotep III.

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That was it in terms of temples for the day and we were starved! We walked past spice merchants and cell phone stores as we walked through modern day Luxor looking for a lunch place. We found a place with delicious mousaka (eggplant and tomato dish) and kebab and savored our meal.

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Every day when walking down street in Egypt we hear “you’re a lucky man!” and today was no exception. Tony was offered over 100 million camels for Ruby—this is the highest bidder yet! Luckily we were having a good day . . . otherwise Tony might have been tempted! Back at our hotel located next to the Luxor Temple we took a nap in the air conditioning until just before sunset. We soon realized that the hotel was next to a mosque and the loud speaker was located about 10 feet from our window (that doesn’t really shut all the way)! After the evening call to prayer we headed to the rooftop deck for some sundowners. We were surprised to see that there’s still excavation going on outside the Luxor temple and right though the middle of town. Most of the original roads have been covered by buildings but work is still underway! We had a long day and took it easy for the rest of the night. Of course we called Joan for Mother’s Day before heading to bed.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11:25 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Edfu:Birthing Chairs, Surgeries, and a Water Elevator

May 6, 2011

sunny 108 °F

Tony never fails to surprise me . . . on the itinerary today is something called the Esna Lock and I say “what the heck is a lock”? Tony says matter-of-factly that it is like a “water elevator” and I start laughing out loud thinking he’s pulling my leg.... I guess we’ll see how that works out later. After checking out the schedule we hopped off the ship at 8am to walk over to the Kom Ombo Temple. It was a little bit of dodgeball again as we walked through the rows of vendors along the way to the temple, luckily it’s only a 5 minute walk from the boat! To our dismay there was no guide waiting for us so we thought we might have to interpret the hieroglyphics by ourselves!? Luckily we joined a group of English speakers with a guide and knew we would have to have a word with Khaled later. . .

The Kom Ombo Temple is gorgeous and rightfully so since it took 400 years to build. It is perched on top of a hill just West of the Nile and is a part of the Greek Roman period in the history of Egypt. Many of the blocks of stone were connected with wooden dovetail joints made of cedar—some of the cedar still remains today which we think is pretty insane. Ruby was super impressed when she learned that it was sort of an ancient hospital. The high priests of the time were experts in internal anatomy after having done lot of mummifications (they surgically removed the important internal organs). There are carvings of things like birthing chairs (which reminded Ruby of Kira), ancient surgical instruments (which reminded Ruby of Wikki) including sponges, curettes, a scale, forceps, catheters etc . . . . as well as a carving of an ancient prescription. . try carrying that to the pharmacy! It was interesting to find out that the ancient Egyptians also practiced circumcision for hygiene regions—not religious ones.

We learned that the ancient Egyptian calendar was based on the three seasons (flood, agriculture and harvest season), they had 10 days in a week and originally 360 days in a year. There’s a panel showing numbers and we had a chance to learn how to read the numbers (surprisingly Tony’s much better at interpreting hieroglyphics than Ruby is!). Maybe he should move to Egypt! LOL. We both loved the original colorful murals remaining on the ceiling depicting vultures which were symbolic of fresh air and protection from evil . . . thinking about painting those above our doorway in Brooklyn :)

We walked back to the boat and relaxed on the deck in the shade until we made a call to Khaled. He apologized and made sure we’d have a guide at the next temple a few hours up the Nile at Edfu. Ekrami our guide was wonderful and filled us in on all the details. It’s a long story but this temple was dedicated to the falcon god Horus ,son of Isis and Osiris (lord of the underworld). Horus killed his evil uncle Set as revenge for cutting up his dad Osiris into 14 pieces. The town is called Edfu similar to “Edbu” which means revenge. It also comes from the Greek-Roman period of Egyptian history. It is striking and may very well be the best-preserved temple in Egypt because it wasn’t discovered until 1869 hidden under a town and a layer of sand up to the ceilings! The structure is amazing and the interior was shaped like a pyramid with the widest point being the entrance leading to the narrowest part of the temple which was the holiest chamber. When the Christians found it, they defaced the faces and hands of the Egyptian gods but luckily they didn’t bother looking too deep under the sand and there are several layers where the original carvings remain untouched.

You can see lots of decorated columns in this temple—the tops are decorated with papyrus, lotus flowers, a combination of the two, or palm trees. This temple is unique since most temples in Egypt will only have one or the other. Back on the ship we happily went to our air-conditioned cabin to read and relax until we would come across the Esna Lock. As it turns out, a lock is literally what Tony said, a “water elevator” that lowers or raises the boat to the water level of the body of water it is about to enter (in our case, lower). Ruby indulged in an awesome facial and massage on the ship for the equivalent of $8. Afterwards we had yummy mousaka (eggplant and tomato dish) with baklava for dessert. It was our last night on the cruise so the crew celebrated with a Galabiya; everyone (except us) wore traditional Egyptian clothing for the party!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 14:40 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Aswan: Ramses the II’s 64th Wife

May 5, 2011

sunny 110 °F

I know this is supposed to be vacation but for some reason we were up well before the crack of dawn again . . . this time it was 2:30am to catch a ride to the Abu Simbel temple off Lake Nasser. When the driver picked us up he asked us for 50 EGP each, everything was pre-paidbut Ruby was too tired to argue at this hour. We didn’t know it but our minibus was actually joining an armed caravan . . . and up until that point we had been wondering where all the tourists were! We needed an armed caravan because we would only 70 km from the Sudanese border . . . so we were off on a long seemingly endless desert road (luckily smooth) for 3 hours. I think after the Danakil our concept of “rough roads” is a little skewed! We both napped and when we arrived Ruby came to her senses and told the driver to give us the 100 EGP back since we had pre-paid. With a little coercion from Tony and a call to Khaled we did get it back!

The early morning start was well worth it—especially when we turned the corner and came upon the two rock temples carved from a sandstone cliff at Abu Simbel which was originally in ancient Nubia. The larger of the two temples was built for Ramses II and the smaller for his favorite wife Nefretari. Ramses II ruled during the 19th Dynasty (1279-1212 BC) in the New Kingdom. He was powerful and ambitious and constructed more monuments and temples than any other pharaoh; that’s probably why he’s one of the most well-known of the pharaohs. He also fathered 100+ children with his harem of wives (some estimate 60+). As we entered the temple, the guide warned Tony that Ramses II was looking for a new wife and Ruby might become his next! In the King’s temple there were tons of carvings inside, many depicting offerings to the gods. Unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures inside either of the temples—but we did sneak a couple from the doorway!

The second temple is smaller and built for Ramses’ II favorite wife Nefratari. However, he was so egomaniacal that four of the six large statues in the front of the temple are of him! Their 12 kids can be seen at their feet. Her temple was devoted to the fertility goddess Hatur who often takes the form of a cow, or woman with small cow ears.The neatest fact about these temples is that they were actually cut out of their original locations and moved painstakingly piece by piece to higher ground from their original sites. They had to be reconstructed elsewhere when the government built a new dam. The craziest part is that the hill was also completely rebuilt! This is an amazing feat and we could hardly tell. . . we hope our IKEA furniture goes back together as nicely when we get to New York! :)

Of course it wouldn’t be a true tourist destination without a gauntlet on vendors on the way out! Like playing dodge ball we zigged and zagged trying not to make eye contact with anyone. It was a successful exit; we made it out with just a 15 Egyptian pound can of Coke ($2.50). We met Vanessa and Kerry, an English couple from London who also recommended wagging our finger while saying “laa shukran” to get the vendors to stop pestering us. They’re both divers and gave us some recommendations for their fave dive sites in Sharm el-Sheikh. Back on the boat we relaxed and watched the sunset over the Nile that night.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 10:09 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Aswan: Cracked Obelisks and Dam Boats

May 4, 2011

sunny 105 °F

If you ever take a train in Egypt remember that they run on what is known as “Egypt Time”. So if they say it gets in at 9am that is anytime from 9:30-11am! The seats were fairly comfy but the train bathrooms looked pretty familiar—just like the ones in India. Our English speaking guide Ashrak met us on the train in Luxor and took the 4 hour ride to Aswan with us. We got into town around 11am and were pretty exhausted, dirty and dying for a shower after the night train. Unfortunately our stateroom in the cruise wouldn’t be ready for a few hours so we decided to go visit a couple of the major sites. We’re not sure if it was the exhaustion or what but we weren’t too impressed with either the Unfinished Obelisk or the High Dam in Aswan. Come to think of it. . . Ashrak our guide wasn’t that great either! Most of the obelisks in Egypt came from this site in Aswan. The ancient Egyptians would use basalt rocks to chip out the basic shape of the obelisk. It would later be moved on the Nile in boats to its final destination where the carving of hieroglyphics would be completed. This obelisk was never completed because it cracked in the center.

The highlight of Aswan was definitely the yummy lunch we had at a local spot. They brought out so much food: hummus, babganoush, sautéed okra, beans, salad, soup, and huge pieces of grilled chicken! The last of Ruby’s contact lenses were in her purse which was stolen so we had to go find some in town. This wasn’t as easy as being in LA or NY but luckily after driving around town we finally found a shop with just 2 lenses in the right prescription. Afterwards we hopped onto our Nile cruise ship Emilio—it was not the one that we were originally promised but it was still really nice and modern. The staff brought lunch up to our room immediately. We basked in the air conditioning after showering and enjoyed a relaxing evening on the cruise.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:59 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Giza: Camel Rugs, Camel Rides and Claustrophobia

May 3, 2011

sunny 101 °F

The Nile was central to the lives of the ancient Egyptians and the majority of temples were built to have easy access to this river. As we leave Cairo our tour guide Hana stops to give us our first look at the Nile that cuts straight through the center of Cairo . . . and sadly it is polluted! As we drove towards Giza, Hana kept saying that we should be able to see the pyramids by now but unfortunately the air was so polluted that they were hidden behind a thick cover of smog!? We didn’t expect this at all and told her to take us to Sakkara in the hopes that this area would clear up later. Sakkara is the site of the first step pyramid; it has six steps leading to the 7th level (heaven). Sakkara was built by Djoser around 2667–2648 BC. It is situated the exact position between upper and lower Egypt near Memphis (the original capital of Egypt). Sakkara is in the process of being restored so we had the opportunity to watch some of the local workers mining stones from the area to reinforce and rebuild parts that are falling down. Later, the first actual classically shaped pyramid was built in Dashor. Next we went to a museum in Memphis and saw two HUGE statues of Ramses II as well as a sphinx. This sphinx has the body of a lion for physical strength and the head of the only woman to ever rule Egypt: Queen Hatepshut. She preferred to be portrayed as a man to show her strength and to be thought of as equal to the kings. She even had a false beard in most of her images—it turns out that the false beard was really false. Kings (and this Queen) did not actually have beards. They were added to statues to strengthen the neck region of statues to prevent them from cracking at the neck joint so the statue would be preserved for the afterlife.

We’d seen signs for something called “carpet colleges” and Hana asked us if we would like to visit. This is a school for learning how to hand-knot carpets. Anyhow, long story short—Tony has another carry-on because Ruby had to buy a hand-knotted camel hair rug to remind her of the trip . . . and I think she’s missing our “toddler” a little bit! Only our hardcore blog readers will understand that reference :)

As we pulled up to the parking lot of the pyramids we could not believe just how massive they are. There are actually a total of 9 pyramids at Giza. They were mostly built during the 4th Dynasty (circa 2550 B.C). We stand here in awe of these amazing monuments in disbelief of the fact that they were built using nothing more than basic hand tools and manpower. The Great Pyramid for King Khufu was 488 ft high (now 455ft high with an iron rod to show its original height) and consists of over 2.5-3million stones, some weighing as much as 30-50 tons each! These huge stones were brought over from Aswan and Luxor on boats along the Nile. You can tell which one is the 2nd pyramid (King Khafre’s) by its nice polished limestone top. This used to cover all three of the pyramids, but most was stolen over time to use on other construction in Egypt. We indulged in a camel ride to the three Great Pyramids after an impromptu photo shoot at the lookout point of the pyramids. That was fun, hilarious—and as Aunt Lillian says a “rickety rockety ride” that everyone should do at least once. By the way, the largest pyramid is not the one in the middle (that’s the second with the polished limestone top). The second was situated on a hill which makes it look bigger from some angles. After our camel ride we had the opportunity to go inside Hatep-Heres pyramid; we had seen the contents of her tomb at the Egyptian museum yesterday. Ruby is a bit claustrophobic—if any of you are—we do not recommend attempting to enter any pyramids because you have to crouch down into a narrow opening only to arrive at a dimly lit, unventilated space! Khafe’s son Menkaure’s pyramid is the smallest of the 3 Great Pyramids. We explored the area around the Great Sphinx as well.

Afterwards we went to grab a quick dinner and relax before the light and sound show. The show was amazing and gave us an opportunity to review everything we had learned over the last few days. The photos can’t do it any justice but they actually lit up all the pyramids and put a face on the sphinx. It was a little cheesy but educational at the same time. We definitely recommend doing this. In true Tony and Ruby style . . . we booked a night train for Aswan immediately after this crazy day.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11:41 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Cairo: Ancient Egyptian History 101

May 2, 2011

sunny 98 °F

All the Egyptians we’ve meet have been very friendly and more than happy to help, sometimes. . . for a little “baksheesh” or tip. We got the news today that Osama Bin Laden has been killed while we’re here in a Muslim country. We were definitely a bit nervous about the backlash but so far there has been none. Some people have asked our opinions on the whole thing and we keep our answers pretty vague :) We had a good idea about where to go in Egypt thanks to Tony’s Aunt Pat and Sonia’s help. We just decided to walk around Cairo and talk to a few travel agencies about what we’d like to book. Our third try was Khaled at Othman tours and he put together an 11 day package for the two of us for a total cost of $820 including a Nile cruise, all transport, most meals, and personal tour guides for the ancient sites!?! The only thing it didn’t include was admission fees to the sites and alcohol. You know what they say things about when things seem too good to be true so we’ll all see how it works out :)

We had gotten a personal recommendation for lunch so we headed to Felfela for delicious chicken schwarmas. We were the only non-Egyptians in the place! Ruby was politely reminded by a young girl in a hijab that her t-shirt was riding up in the back when she sat down—that was a first! We thought of our friend Loz and her aversion to rotating meats. . . Egypt may not be the place for her! :)

After getting all of that sorted out we were off to the Egyptian museum in Cairo which is housed in a striking pink colored building with ruins on the outside as well as inside. Tony got us an awesome guide, Assam, who was totally thorough in explaining so much of the history. Sadly they don’t allow cameras inside :( We got to see a replica of the Rosetta Stone; the real one is in England. They say Herodotus the Greek wrote the history of Egypt so some of the names are different from what we remember learning in school. He reminded us about the different periods of history in Egypt: the Old, Middle and New Kingdom separated into dynasties 1-30) as well as the Greco-Roman Period followed by the Islamic period.

For mummification the ancient Egyptians would take out the stomach intestines, liver, kidneys and brain and place them into canopic jars. They would leave the heart in because it would be weighed against a feather in the afterlife to determine if the person had been good or bad in life. If it was a heavy heart the person would be sent to the equivalent of hell. They also had a whole exhibit on mummified animals including cats, a crocodile over 18 feet long and even baboons. . .you don’t think we’d make it without seeing monkeys in this country right?! We saw tons of statues of famous pharaohs; one of our faves was the tiniest statue (9cm) of King Khufu for whom the Great Pyramid in Giza was built. This is the only known image/carving of Khufu since his tomb has yet to be discovered. We also checked out the contents of Hatep-Heres’ (mom of King Khafre of the 2nd pyramid) tomb including tons of funerary furniture for her afterlife. It was so uncomfortable looking you’d have to be dead to enjoy it! We didn’t know it but we would actually go INSIDE her pyramid where these things were found.

The highlight though was the contents of King Tutankhamen’s (Tut’s) tomb! He was the youngest king at the age of 9 and died early and suddenly at the age of 19. His is one of the only tombs that had any valuables remaining inside it because normally thieves would loot the tombs. Luckily, King Tut’s tomb was under another tomb and wasn’t ever discovered by thieves. That is until 1922 when it was accidentally discovered. The museum has a collection of his burial masks, nesting sarcophagi, jewelry, and so much more. Everything was gorgeous and so intricately detailed it’s unbelievable. Ruby wishes she could have some of those pieces made for herself . . . too bad she’d have to wait until death to wear them!

After the long day we headed over to El Gad (another local rec) for some of the BEST falafel and hummus ever. It looks like France is not the only country that eats pigeons—add Egypt to the list! We didn’t try it again though :) Afterwards we loved walking through the Khan el-Khalili market, it was really colorful and the shop owners were friendly. By the way, there are definitely mosquitoes that bite out here . . . and Ruby is tasty to them!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11:31 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

Egypt: Cairo: Taxi to Tahrir Square

May 1, 2011

sunny 30 °F

Our flight was at 2pm so we just lounged around Sharon’s place until it was time to head to the airport. Sharon is a total sweetie and dropped us off to the tube. We were finally on our way. On the flight Ruby LOVED the movie True Grit. The little girl in the movie is one tough cookie :) We had picked out the Egyptian Night Hotel for $25/night in downtown right across the street from the Egyptian museum. The air was warm and distinctively smelled of spices as we walked out of the airport, Ruby liked it right away. We negotiated the taxi price down from 150 to 90 Egyptian pounds and told him where to go; he said he knew exactly where it was. On the 30 min drive we were struck by how modern Cairo is; not what we were expecting at all. There are freeways with overpasses, huge billboards with ads for American brands, and just about every store we have in the U.S. The driver took us into downtown and tried to drop us off in the middle of Tahrir Square saying this was downtown. Of course we were more than a little nervous because this was the epicenter of the protests against Mubarak a few months back. We refused to get out of the taxi until he took us to our hotel so he had to find someone who spoke better English and that guy hopped in the taxi and directed the driver to our hotel.

At first we were a little sketched out by the appearance of the hotel, it’s in a dark alley and you have to go up to the 5th floor to reception. We also saw this in Mumbai and Thailand so we just decided to check it out. We actually had a suite with a balcony, it was beautiful and clean, no complaints except for the traffic noise since we were in the middle of downtown and Egyptians love to honk! :) The staff was super helpful and even gave us a travel book for Egypt and another for Europe (our next destinations). We hadn’t prebooked anything and figured we would get a good night’s rest and figured it out in the morning.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:25 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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