|Your Hand in My Hand
Some Drinkies and Twinkies
We woke up with the sun rising and the sound of Mohammed preparing breakfast, mixing batter for pancakes and boiling some eggs.
We had a surprisingly good night's sleep. The blankets were super warm and the matress floor was soft and comfortable. Although after a whole day of lounging our limbs felt heavy and ready for a good stretch.
We were all in various stages of awakeness as we huddled around the wipe clean tablecloth for breakfast. The much anticipated pancakes were absolutely delicious and were all eaten in a flash. The boiled eggs however were less popular. In fact most were left over.
I ate two and had to stop myself from having a third. We had a long drive ahead of us this morning, in a minibus. Confined spaces and flatulence, escpecially egg induced wind were not good combinations.
Once we finished breakfast Sappiro set sail across the river to the East bank where our bus was waiting for us. We had only travelled 17 miles from Aswan so we still had most of the way to Luxor ahead of us. Hany estimated five hours.
We pulled up at a small dock. Much to Julie's relief we were able to step off the boat directly onto concrete steps, no planks involved. With our luggage safely loaded onto the minibus we thanked Sappiro and Mohammed for looking after us so well. By 7:30am we were on the road.
It was wonderful to watch daily life unfold as we rolled through the towns and villages along Highway 75, the Cairo - Aswan desert road.
It was for the most part a very agricultural scene with rusty old tractors and donkey drawn carts the most common mode of transport. Then came the American style pick-up truck which carried all sorts in the back. It wasn't an unusual sight to see people riding in the back but an actual cow? Tied up and standing? Now that was a first!
Not far away, on a bend in the river, was the temple of Kom Ombo, an impressive temple built during the Ptolemic dynasty in the 2nd century BC. Unfortunately we didn't have time for a detour.
We drove through the thriving town centre of Kom Ombo. A market was spilling onto the roadside. There was a real buzz about the place. It was noticable how more conservative the women dressed here. The traditional niqab veil was a common sight.
At the Northern edge of town we passed a large sugar cane processing plant with wagon loads of the raw material waiting to be turned into the sweet stuff. Black plumes of smoke billowed up from inside the sugar factory. I'm not sure if that was from the cooking of the sugar cane or was there a fire raging in there?
As we left Kom Ombo breaking news got most of us reaching for our phones. Russia had invaded the Ukraine. Tensions had been rising over the last couple of weeks but nobody expected that it would result in all full blown invasion.
Russia grabbed the Crimea in 2014 and got away with it. Today they were attacking the whole country. We were all shocked by the news. Some were concerned that NATO would respond triggering World War III. Troubling times indeed.
Anyway. we continued North through several towns and villages such as Salwah Qibli where we saw this fabulously dressed gentleman. He wore the traditional long tunic with a plain scarf wrapped around his head and another scarf, which looked more like a very decorative tablecloth, draped around his neck. It wouldn't have suprised me if he carried with him a ceremonial sword.
He looked so proud and rightly so.
After travelling for two hours we stopped at a roadside cafe in a town called El Radisia. It was more of a comfort break to stretch our legs and use their toilets. It didn't look like a place where you would dare to eat.
Half an hour later we reached the city of Edfu, or at least a district on the East Bank of the Nile. Most of the city was over the river on the West Bank. The train station was on this side, around which there was plenty of activity to keep us entertained.
Edfu, like Kom Ombo, had an impressive temple worth a visit but we didn't have the time to stop. We were still only half way to Luxor.
Another half an hour later and we came to the great walls of El Kab. They looked like cliffs but they were mud brick walls built on a colossal scale. I had never heard of them before.
The 12m thick walls were protecting anancient city known as Nekheb. The walls are thought to have been constructed during the 3rd century BC but inside are ruined temples that date bake to 2000BC.
Every so often we would pass these fascinating shelters on the side of the road with large jugs inside. Hany explained that they were filled with water for the weary traveller.
Onwards we travelled, North along the Cairo, Aswan Eastern Desert Highway enjoying the ever changing moments out the window. A flash of a Mo Salah graffiti murial, a man actually carrying a sword, or a very large man on a very small donkey, like a grown up on a kids bike. There was always something interesting to see!
It reminded me of when my father had recorded a three hour bus ride almost in its entirety! Our daughter Hannah sat through it all whilst my father fell asleep watching it.
Two hours after our previous comfort break we stopped again in a small town called El Sharawna, a few miles from the city of Esna. The roadside cafe was called Rest El Sharawna. For some reason I couldn't get the song "My Sherona" out of my head.
This time we were hungry enough to buy something to eat. They had some snacks and we picked a date bar, similar to a fig roll we have back home. A cylinder of sweet sticky fruit encased in a light biscuit. It was called a "By Luck" date bar and as luck would have it, it was very tasty.
Some five hours after getting off the felucca this morning we finally rolled into Luxor, The city is often called the "world's largest open-air museum" and we saw that for ourselves as we drove past the Temple of Luxor right in the heart of the city.
After a slight detour towards the train station, past Twinky and Drinkies, a cake shop and an off-licence then around all the houses, we finally arrived at our hotel for the night, It would be fair to say that Hotel Emiio had seen better days but the staff welcomed us as warmly as if it was The Ritz, such was their gracious Egyptian hospitality.
Our rooms were ready for us. We had an hour an a half to grab lunch and a quick shower before our next excursion. First lunch.
There was a choice of where to eat so we decided to head for the rooftop terrace. It was quite a surprise to see a rather large swimming pool up there. It really was unexpected.
Rebecca and Marilyn joined us for lunch. I had ordered falafel, which were the more familiar round type, and some french fries with a tahini sauce. Julie went for chicken and fries.
A waiter brought them up in the elevator one tray at a time, first the Stella (not Artois) beers, then my falafel, then Julie's chicken. Then Rebecca and Marilyn ordered. We tipped him well.
It was a little windy up on the roof but it did have a great view down the "Avenue of Sphinxes" towards the Temple of Luxor. The avenue had only been ceremonially opened to the public last November. They had restored the road lined with sphinxes (is that actually the plural?) which stretched almost 3km to the Karnak temple complex.
Back in our room we were greeted by a rather stiff swan folded towel on our bed. I never know why this towel origami is so popular? It just look stupid and to achive it they have to use a lot of starch!
Anyway, an attempt at having a shower failed as the water was too cold. We freshened up as best as we could and returned down to the foyer for our 2:30pm rendevouz with the rest of the gang.
We all piled into the minibus to travel the short distance to Karnak temple. It was only a mile and a half away in a straight line but felt much further by road.
When we arrived Hany was pleased that the car park wasn't that busy. The Karnak Temple Complex is the second most visited historical site in Egypt behind the Pyramids of Giza. Apparently it was in between waves, the Nile cruisers would have left and the day trippers from Hurgadah on the Red Sea coast hadn't arrived yet, after visiting the Valley of the Kings.
We followed Hany through the ticket office and across a vast open space in front of the temple entrance.
As we approached the first pylon I must admit in not being impressed by them, the pylon of Philae temple had raised the bar. They were the last parts of Karnak to be built, during the 4th century BC, only they didn't finish building them.
The nearer we got the more impressed I became. There was a concentration of ram-headed sphinxes, a dramatic conclusion of the avenue. Although the main purpose of avenue was for the annual Opet Festival when a lavish procession would leave Karnak towards Luxor. So technically, this was not the end of the avenue but the begining.
Anway, we entered Karnak through the first pylon and came to the forecourt.
We were effectively stepping back in time. The columns that created the courtyard were added around the 9th century BC enclosing some even older structures.
Karnak was not built by one Pharaoh but constructed over the course of a thousand years, each one expanding, or even demolishing parts as they saw fit. Although the vast majority of what we were about to see was built during the New Kingdom.(15th - 10th century BC)
Also the temple complex here was not one large temple but a collection of temples. Whilst most of what's open to the public was collectively known as the Temple of Amun-Re, there was also the precinct of Mut and the precinct of Khonsu all yet to be restored.
In the corner of the forecourt was a small temple of Seti II, also called his Boat Shrine. There were three doorways leading to rooms dedicated the same triad of gods, Mut, Amun and Khonsu. We followed Hany through the middle door where he continued to be the most informative of guides.
Moments before I glazed over with data overload we moved on, walking through the second pylon, continuing our journey towards the sanctuary, following the path out of the forecourt, flanked by two colossal statues of Rameses II.
The path cut through a forest of columns, 134 of them, some towered 24 metres high, covered head to toe with hieroglyph reliefs and topped with a papyrus shaped capitol. The Great Hypostyle Hall was truly a sight to behold.
It would originally have held up a roof, all of which had collapsed, although stone lintels still lay across the top of many of the columns, but none of that detracted from its awesome beauty.
We turned right into the Southern half . It was an oddly familiar sight having recently watched two popular films to feature the columns, Death on the Nile (1978) and James Bond in the Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
Hany imparted all he knew about the Hypostyle Hall and it was a lot. Despite keeping myself within earshot I wasn't listening to a word he was saying. I was completely distracted by the spectacular detail. His voice became background noise.
Many of the columns still had the original colour pigment which was mind boggling to comprehend. They were three thousand years old, left out in the open air yet they were still holding on to their colour. Simply unbelievable.
The hall was enclosed by a massive wall, as tall as the columns, on which were carved many scenes celebrating the war against the Hittites during the reign of Ramses II. Construction of the Great Hypostyle Hall was started by Seti I and much of the Northern half is decorated in his honour but he died before it was completed. His son, Rameses II continued the work on the Southern half.
We left the hall and next came to a pair of obelisks, tall thin stone needles cut out of a single piece of pink granite. The larger one was inscribed with the name of Queen Hatsheput, stood over 30 metres tall and weighed an estimated 320 tonnes!
How on earth did they do it? Not only cut it from one piece of rock, but then transport it from the quarries near Aswan and then lift it into position to stand for three thousand years. Miraculous.
They were the first ones we had seen on this trip. Apparently only nine still stand erect in Egypt which I found unbelievable. Many were sold to museums, stolen for private collectors or even gifted by the ruling Ottoman Empire of the time to other countries as gifts of diplomacy. Hundreds more lay in ruin, fragments strewn, waiting to be restored.
The slightly smaller one to the right, built by King Thutmose I was recently restored after collapsing during an earthquake sometime in antiquity.
We then followed Hany turning away from the path South towards the Sacred Lake, a large resevoir within the temple complex. We came across a large stone scarab set on a pedestal originally found in the ruined temple of Amenhotep III here in Karnak.
Hany told us about this tradition that if you walk around the scarab multiple times your dreams will come true. He even recounted a list, three times around to get rich, five times to always have good luck, six times to make someone fall in love with you, seven times to have a baby and wish for a boy.
But immediately, within the same breath, he told us it was absolute rubbish. It wasn't even based on any myth or legend. It was just an invention to amuse the tourists and their guides.
This concluded his guided tour and we arrange to meet up back at the minibus at 5pm. That gave us an hour to explore more of the temple compex,
We began our self-guided wanderings by completing the West-East axis path to the sanctuary. This should have been the oldest part of the Temple of Amun-Re .
It was getting busier by the minute. Hany was right in that we arrived in between the waves. They were now flooding in.
Something I haven't mentioned much but is worthy of a mention is that throughout this entire trip we've been wearing face masks because of the Covid pandemic. Sometimes, like on the minibus it's been a matter of being courteous towards our fellow travellers but here with the crowds it felt like a necessity, as it did in Abu Simbel. As inconvenient as it was, we were just so glad for the opportunity to travel again.
After reaching the sanctuary we returned to the great hypostyle hall for another walk around. We could have explored other parts but I wanted to spend longer amongst the columns. It was by far the highlight of Karnak. They really were spectacular.
Given the amount of people filling the central path it was surprsingly quiet in the hall. There were moments when we were alone.
With more time on our hands we walked up and down most of the Southern side of the hall, taking it all in. What we found surprising was how many lintels were still intact. Several tonnes of stone suspended above our heads on milenia old columns.
I zoomed in on one of the lintels above our heads.The colours of the painted hieroglyphs were as bright and vivid as they were when the artist's brush first soaked the stone. We were amazed once again.
The hall never ceased to amaze us. Everywhere we looked there was something worth looking at, Another new angle, a flash of ancient colour, a realisation how colossal it was, the writting the wall. We could have stayed in the hall for the remainder of our time in Karnak but I needed to leave.
We left the hall to go looking for the public conveniances. There were no signs anywhere as we increasingly became desperate for the toilet. We walked across the forecourt, back out through the first pylon towards the row of ram-headed sphinxes. Still no sign.
"Toilets?" we asked a member of staff who was sat having a break nearby. He directed us back inside, to find a gateway to the left towards the Open Air Museum.
Someone was checking tickets on the way back in, so I had to rummage around my pockets to find proof we had paid to enter. Luckily I found the tickets otherwise I would have faced arrest for urinating on a National Treasure.
We marched across the forecourt, almost breaking into a trot. Once through the gateway in the corner we found, much to my relief, the toilets straight away.
Once we relieved ourselves we walked around the open air museum. Basically it was row upon row of stone fragments from the site. Pieces for which they hadn't found a home yet. Restoration is still ongoing.
We walked around briefly trying to find a standout artefact, a piece that was more interesting than the rest but we didn't find one. They were all of equal mediocracy.
It was now more or less time to leave the Karnak temple complex so we headed out past the ram-headed guard of honour. Technically known a criosphinx it was a representation of the god Amun.
It was only now I noticed it held between its front legs, in its protection, was supposed to be an image the Pharaoh. Most of them had been damaged or removed but there was one in almost perfect condition.
We returned to the mini-bus where Hany was waiting for us. We weren't the first back nor the last and by 5pm we were all together and ready to leave.
Back at the hotel, with the water fixed, we showered and chilled in our room for a while.
We sat out on our balcony, with a view of Luxor Temple and the Nile in the distance. The sun had set bringing a purple haze to the sky. On the rooftop of the building opposite a striking black dog prowled its enclosure looking very much the part of Anubis, the god of underworld.
At 6pm we all gathered in the foyer to head out for some supper.
On the bus this morning Julie and I discussed breaking free from the group and heading out on our own to find somewhere to eat. We did some research, settling on Restaurant Al-Sahaby, it had great reiews on Tripadvisor and many recomended the fateer, a stuffed savoury pastry the size of a pizza. It was one dish I hadn't tried yet.
Then Hany announced that we would be eating at Al-Sahaby tonight. Bang went our spontaneity but I was so looking forward to the fateer.
We crossed the road from the hotel to the entrance of the tourist market. It was an exciting Aladin's cave of treasures and tat. We rushed through following Hany as the traders called out to catch our attention.
Restaurant Al-Shababy was just short alley away from the centre of all this market banter,
We sat outside in the alleyway and browsed their menu. Julie ordered the chicken shawarma whilst I didn't need to look at the menu, I'd been thinking about a spinach and cheese filled fateer all day!
The dips we ordered were a bit hit and miss with the muhamara delicious but the baba ganoush missing some flavour. Julie found her main dish also disappointing. "It tastes more like a Chinese stir-fry" she said, rather than glorious Lebanese inspired spices she expected.
I loved my fateer. It was exactly what I wanted. A doughy flatbread filled with spinach and a cheese similar to feta. I suppose it was no different to a flattened burek but it was a beautiful thing of comfort and joy.
This was going to be our last supper together. Tomorrow was going to be spent on the overnight train again. Everyone was in good spirits. Hany was great company. He talked a lot about how he met his wife, which was a result of some family matchmaking. He showed us his wedding photo. They made a beautiful couple. "You did good" remarked Rebecca. Hany's wife was striking.
"Have you put weight on?" asked Doris. (He clearly had!) Hany laughed it off and blamed the past two years of the pandemic.
He also talked about his family, his two children. You could see how immensely proud he was of them. He continued to talk about how (in general, not himself personally) the wife would get the house if they divorced until the children were 18 years old, which then the husband could claim the house back. "This is why families extend their houses upwards, for returning sons from all the failed marriages!"
After supper we moved on, walking past a mosque near to the Luxor temple, following Hany towards a jeweller's shop. He used the pretence that "some of you have asked where to buy jewellery" to take us all to see Moses and his store of finest jewellery.
Julie's not the biggest wearer of rings or bracelets but even she found something in there to buy. It was a pretty silver ring with a large green stone, obviously just costume jewellery for the price of 250 lei .
Maralyn had her eye on a few silver bangles. They were over $100 in total and Julie persuaded her she only needed one. The shopkeeper was displeased. Julile also cost him a sale when Michelle was buying several pendants and was unsure about the chains. "Just buy the pendant" suggested Julie.
We decided to leave before Julie was thrown out!
Near to the train station was a patisserie called Twinky. We wanted something for dessert and found the perfect place. They had traditional sweet pastries but also a vast choice of fancy cakes.
We browsed the refridgerated shelves and found our favourite, a chocolate eclair. Although these were even fancier with a salted caramel topping. They were carefully placed in a box for us to carry back to our hotel room where we could enjoy them in private.
Also near to the train station was an off-licence called Drinkies. We popped inside and bought ourselves a bottle of sparkling Omar Khayam. They put it in a discreet black carrier bag for us.
We left the train station area and headed back towards the hotel. The shortest route was through the tourist market. Walking through the tunnel of traders was like playing an arcade game. They came at us fast and furious as we batted them away with a polite "No thank you". We kept on walking no matter what, no matter their amusing banter. No sooner did one trader leave us he was replaced by another trying his luck.
It was a constant battle but to be fair they were all very courteous
We almost stopped when one noticed our black carrier bag "What have you got in your bag from Drinkies?" he asked.
Another asked where we were from? "Wales" I replied, without breaking my stride. "Ah,yes, Wales, Scotland, Ireland." He then added "The Scottish are buggers!" which made us roar with laughter and almost made to stop.
Back in the hotel room we sat on the balcony, popped the cork on the surprisingly decent wine and devoured our stunningly delicious salted caramel eclairs. They really were amazing!
After a few minutes we returned to the room as it was too noisy outside with a swirling echoing wall of car horn noise. It wasn't much better inside with the patio doors shut. Thankfully after 10pm it all went quiet. I don't know if there was a curfew on car horns or not? But it came to a sudden stop.
We slept well.Next Day >>>
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