A Travellerspoint blog

28: Coptic Cairo

sunny 19 °C
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Gosh the train journey was horrible! The train itself was nice enough but our driver seemed to feel the need to suddenly jerk the train to a stop and then just as suddenly let off the breaks! I felt like I was permanently sleeping in a massage chair on hard pummel all night! I swear that the only time I got some sleep was when the train was stopped at a station. Luckily this meant I had a few hours sleep because for whatever reason we were parked at a station for well over two hours last night, making our arrival into Cairo a few hours late…. Apparently that’s Egyptian luck, if the train is on time coming into your station then you are guaranteed to be late arriving at your final destination… late to arrive for pickup, on time or early to arrive for final destination!!

So we got into Cairo a few hours later than we wanted to meaning that we were a couple of hours late for our trip into the old part of Cairo. I have always associated the word ‘Coptic’ with Christian as in Coptic Christians.. I discovered today that Coptic actually is the word for Old Egyptian so Coptic Christian actually means Egyptian Christian (and these days it is its own orthodox denomination). Another anecdote worth mentioning is that the Christians live in fairly good harmony with the Islamic community… The couple of issues they have had here have been blown out of proportion by our western media and from what I’ve heard here there really aren’t that many issues… Of course I’ve heard all of this from Egyptian’s who are Muslim but they seem to be fair dinks and we definitely have a skewed view of the Islamic world…. I remember before I travelled to the Mid East I had so many people ask me why I was travelling into the Mid East… the questions/ comments normally went along the lines of ‘why do you want to go there?’ ‘aren’t you worried about your safety?’ ‘be careful, women aren’t treated the same there you know..’ etc etc. To be fair I haven’t had any issues here in the Mid East and wouldn’t really expect to have any issues here.. the people are friendly and like anywhere in the world, if you are careful you will have no issues!

We entered into Coptic Cairo meaning Old Cairo and started our journey by visiting the oldest Mosque in Egypt (circa 650 AD). The mosque isn’t one of the most beautiful I’ve seen on this trip but it was very serene and peaceful inside and the atmosphere allowed us to have a discussion with our guide (not Sam today we had a lady called Hind) about being a modern day woman in an Islamic country. I discovered today that the ladies wear the veil (Hijab) out of preference rather than requirement (well at least they do here in Egypt). It is a requirement according to the Koran that the women cover themselves to ensure that they don’t tempt other men. It is however a decision between the woman herself and Allah. Some modern day women in Egypt are choosing to not wear the Hijab or are choosing to wear the Hijab but to still wear western style clothes (which are probably more revealing then they probably should be). However it is a personal choice! (I will preface this comment with, it also does depend though on a woman’s family or husband.. they may require that their daughter/ wife dress differently if the family is more conservative!)

Hind also told us about the five pillars of Islam- There is one God and no other and that Mohammed is his prophet, Prayers to Allah are a daily ritual and must occur at five different times of the day, Ritual fasting during Ramadan, Charity for the poor and the Pilgrimage to Mecca. The pillars of Islam are just like the Christian Ten Commandants. They are the way that Muslim’s must live by to be considered good Muslims and therefore to go to Heaven when they die. Muslim’s also recognise the Old Testament and they recognise that Jesus was a prophet (but not the son of God) but of course Mohammed was the main prophet who delivered God’s message to the Islamic world. All in all, it was a good time in the Mosque because I came to realise that the religion is actually not that different to the Christian faith… I guess like everywhere the ‘nut jobs’ use religion as an excuse to commit their atrocities.. no different to the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazi’s… Another interesting anecdote about the Islamic faith is that there are actually still original copies of the teachings of Mohammed in Mecca that were written down during Mohammed’s lifetime!! Unlike the Christian faith where the Bible has been corrupted over the years by the leaders of the different Christian denominations..

We left the mosque and headed further into the old quarter of Cairo to see some of the oldest Christian churches in the world. We made a stop at the Hanging Church. This church was built directly on top of Roman ruins and so as you enter inside the church you discover that the church is actually built over a huge hollowed out area that was once a Roman tower… The church literally hangs out over the tower! The architecture inside the church is really beautiful… you can see the Orthodox influence but in a totally Egyptian way! I have to say that the church really puts some of the great Anglican/ Catholic churches in the west to shame.. Its small, intimate, polished wooden beams, stained glass windows, Moorish arches and mosaics… honestly beautiful!

As we made our way deeper into the old part of Cairo we had to start meandering through little cobblestoned streets filled with salesmen selling jewellery and old photographs! I’m going to have to spend some of my extra time at the end of my trip back in this part of Cairo buying some old photographs!! At the end of one small street we came to another Christian church. This one was rebuilt in the 12th century but supposedly the Holy Family lived in the basement of this church when they visited Egypt! The basement is now closed off to tourists (due to rising water table) which is probably not a bad idea considering the number of pilgrims this church must get on an annual basis! The interior of this church isn’t as ornate as the Hanging Church but I guess has more significance for the Christian community than the Hanging Church!

We continued our wandering through the small cobblestoned streets and made our way to one of the old Jewish synagogues. The synagogue was a converted Christian church and you can feel the influence! Today it is a monument to marble! But unfortunately is no longer a working synagogue.. it is only used for the number of tourists who come every year to check out how the three religions have lived in harmony for the past couple of thousands of years!

Our plan was to go and see the Kan al Khalilli bazaar after lunch but we were all fairly shopped out so decided to forgo the experience and instead head back to the hotel to have a good rest because tomorrow we are all off to Mt Sinai and St Katherine’s monastery (a good five hour journey with another very early start to the day!). Sheila and I spent the remainder of the day having some tasty chicken for lunch before we did a bit of grocery shopping and emailing before heading into bed early!

Posted by weary_feet 03:39 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

27: Screaming Mummies

sunny 27 °C

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We managed a little sleep in this morning before we headed out to see Karnak temple. First stop for the day was at a place called Animal Care in Egypt (ACE). ACE is a charity that is supported by Intrepid and was set up by an English lady who wanted to improve the plight of the local donkeys and horses in Luxor. She came to Egypt on a group tour and was struck by how many donkeys had sores etc that could be easily treated. So ACE was born!

Today the charity can accept up to 30 equines and has a staff of three vets and numerous helpers. The charity helps out injured equines and also supports the local community with basic vet services for the numerous cats and dogs. We spent an enjoyable morning playing with cats and patting the injured horses and donkeys before we continued on to Karnak.

Karnak temple is the jewel in Luxor. The entry way to the temple alone is incredible! The entry is lined by sphinxes and then you enter through the portal into the inner court. The portal is meters thick and is of course carved! Inside are huge Ramses statues and another portal. Inside here, is the famous papyrus columns that must be at least a meter thick in diameter. The entire temple precinct is huge… the ruins stretch for hundreds of meters in every direction. As far as the eye can see is yellow sandstone blocks interspersed with statues and obelisks.. Amazing!

We did a stop to see the two large obelisks that are installed in the temple, one of them was erected by Hatshepsut the Pharaoh Queen.. This obelisk was later surrounded by other stones so that when you look at the obelisk you can see two distinctive colours; darker orange at the base (where it was built in) and a lighter shade up the top where it was open to the elements! I’m kind of glad that the obelisk was built in because the inscriptions at the base of the obelisk are very detailed making it nice to see inscriptions that haven’t been weathered over time.

We spent a good hour and half just wandering the complex taking snaps of the temple. The temp had again risen significantly making our wanderings short lived. After snapping as many photos as I thought I could handle I headed back to the front entry for a well deserved ice cream whilst I waited for the remainder of the group to finish their wanderings.

Straight after Karnak we headed for the Luxor Museum. I was reluctant to go to the museum because I was feeling poorly after being out in the sun for the past few hours but gave in when our tour guide highly recommended the museum. I’m really glad I made the effort because the Luxor museum is the knock out museum here in Egypt. The museum houses many of the best examples of Pharonic statues and mummies! As you enter the museum there is a closed vault off to the RHS of the entry way. Inside the vault is a dozen statues that are all in almost perfect order. All of these statues were discovered during excavations of Luxor Temple, and the really neat thing is that all of the statues are probably almost as good as they day they were produced! The detail in the carvings is truly incredible! Most of the statues are made of granite, but a couple are made of basalt and a couple of alabaster! Incredible.

The Luxor museum also houses two complete mummies. The first one I saw is the ‘screaming mummy’ and he is so named because he died with his jaw open! The amazing thing is that you can still see his hair on the top of his head, his finger nails, his skin…. Awesome! I did feel slightly sorry for the person who used to reside in this body though… I’m sure if they knew that three thousand or so years after they died they would be displayed for thousands of tourists to view they may not have agreed to becoming a mummified person!!!

Our day ended with us all having a late lunch before I whiled away my afternoon/ evening blogging and keeping Koreena company (as she had fallen sick and hadn’t come out with us for the day). 10pm saw us board the o’night train back to Cairo.. My cabin was nice and clean, I put in my ear plugs and face mask and just tuned out for the remaining hours of the evening! Finger’s crossed for no issues tonight on my train!!

Posted by weary_feet 02:30 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

26: West Bank Touring

sunny 27 °C
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Very early start this morning as we were going to spend the day on the west bank of the Nile checking out the temples and tombs from the Pharaohs. Our first stop was to the Colossus of Menmon. The Colossus is two very large statues that guarded a temple. The temple was ruined thousands of years ago leaving the two large statues insitu. Both statues are in fairly poor condition with huge cracks running through them which were caused by earthquakes and time.

From the Colossus we drove further into the west bank until we came to a small town where we hopped off the bus and boarded donkeys for a ride through some farms and homes that are at the entry way to the Valley of the Kings. Donkeys are surprisingly good travelling companions! My little donkey I nicknamed Henry and he was a good little donkey.. Tom had the funniest donkey… his little mate was just that.. little!! At first we all thought Tom had been given the wrong donkey because his feet were basically dragging along the ground, but apparently his donkey is the strongest and toughest which was why he was allocated to one of the men! Needless to say though, we gave Tom a hard time about his donkey!!

We arrived in the Valley of the King’s by 9am to find out that there is no photography (or camera’s for that matter) inside the complex… To say that I was disappointed would probably be an understatement!! Anyway, the valley itself is flanked by huge limestone cliffs and is pretty impressive when you drive up to the car park! After entering the complex we walked up the valley to see a couple of the tombs. The valley itself is home to 62 tombs of which 20 are the tombs of the kings. We entered four of the tombs (and I chose to not enter King Tut’s tomb so I didn’t see his mummy!). All four were pretty impressive. Amazing frescos are drawn on every inch of the tomb walls and roofs. The decoration mainly depicts gods and goddesses being offered ‘stuff’ by whichever pharaoh’s tomb it is. My favourite gods are Horus (falcon god) and Anubis (jackal god) and they are quite well depicted in the tombs so I got to see them up close! The tombs themselves are amazing in the fact that the colours are still as vivid today as they were thousands of year’s ago. The most impressive temple we entered was Ramses VI. The roof of his temple is decorated in blue and yellow scenes that depict night and day.. just beautiful.. the blue is such a vivid shade of blue, contrasted with the bright yellow…. I have no idea how the ancient Egyptian’s managed to create the beautiful colours.. what is more incredible is the fact that most of the frescos are in fantastic condition!

After wandering around the valley for most of the morning we headed to see Hatshepsut’s’ temple. She is the queen who stylised herself as a pharaoh. She was buried in the Valley of the King’s and had a temple erected in her honour on the other side of the valley walls. Her temple is open to the elements and by now the sun was baking down (well into the thirties) so it was probably not the most enjoyable experience! Only a couple of us entered this temple complex so we were on a fairly tight timetable to see the whole complex. The temple reminds me a bit of the Forbidden City in Beijing! The walk up to the temple is a large staircase flanked on either side by statues of Horus. The temple is colonnaded so on either side of the staircase are huge colonnades and statues of Hatshepsut. The actual inside of the temple is largely off limits so after seeing the exterior and some frescos we had to actually head back down to the bus and the rest of the group. To be honest, after seeing the incredible VoK frescos and the baking sun made this part of the day a definite lowlight, however I’m glad I’ve seen the temple just for the fact that it was always a place that I wanted to see!!

Straight after the temple we headed to a small town to have a bite to eat at an ex-intrepid tour leader’s house for lunch.. Good perk if you can get it!! Lunch was the usual huge banquet that all Egyptian’s seem to put on for us!! The highlight of the lunch was actually having some Kofta that wasn’t dried out and dead! It is the first (and probably last) time that I’ve found this food to actually be delicious (my other attempts have left me very disappointed). After enjoying the comforts of this house (the toilet made a noise like a chicken chirping.. so every time someone used the bathroom we would have a laugh!) we headed back out to see Medinet Habu temple.

This was easily the highlight of the day. This temple just blew me away. The temple is in excellent condition and the entry way is encased inside this huge wall. The wall is entirely carved in relief showing the pharaoh and gods hunting etc. Once inside, the forecourt is surrounded by huge statues of the pharaoh and large columns in the shape of an open papyrus stems. Again everything is carved sandstone with some of the walls being painted! Just amazing!! Jess and I found ourselves one of the guards who took us into some of the off limits areas so that we could have a real look at some of the nicer frescos.. Pretty awesome and worth our couple of bucks of baksheesh…..

After leaving the temple we headed out to do some shopping (papyrus and alabaster)… All of us came away with a papyrus (I think) and I spent my time inside the store arguing with our tour guide Sam about giving baksheesh to the guards at the temple.. His view point is that I shouldn’t have paid to see areas that are off limits to tourists because they are off limits to protect them.. My view point is that I couldn’t see how it is that different to paying someone (say my donkey dude) for taking me on a donkey trip.. Corruption is rife in this country so I’m really not that surprised that the guards get in on it! Sam and I had to agree to disagree.. my viewpoint was charge more to get in so that tourists can see the whole complex and pay the guards more so that they don’t look for baksheesh.. and manage the corruption! I think Sam agreed with me but he is also of the view point that we should as responsible tourists do our part…………….

From Papyrus we did a last stop at an Alabaster shop. I was looking for an alabaster bangle… no luck so I had to end up with two statues!!! (I’m not sure what I’m thinking because they weigh a tonne and I’ve still got a good few weeks left to carry these bloody things around………………)

By now it was well after dinner time and my group had set a new record with Sam at spending the most time on the west bank of the Nile ever!!! Most groups were back at the hotel by 3pm we got back after 7pm!!! Too much shopping and site seeing! I think though that today was the highlight of the trip so far!!

Before finishing the day I agreed to go ‘downtown’ with a couple of the girls from the tour as they needed to pick up some jewellery from a jeweller. We decided to go ‘the back way’ (which we had gone the night before in a taxi) because we wanted to avoid being hassled for horse rides/ crappy souvenirs. Great plan and we went well for a fair while before I decided that we needed to turn left to start to head towards the Luxor Temple….. Unfortunately I chose poorly on the street selection and after walking for what seemed for ever we ended right back where we had started.. our hotel! Damn!! So after setting out our whole trip time to get downtown was well more than double of what it should have been if we had of just taken the most direct route! I finally got us pointed in the right direction and we made it downtown! Dinner was a sombre affair of Filet O Fish t/o before we finally arrived back at the hotel very weary after such a long day.. Gosh I was kicking myself for choosing such a poor street!!!! Karnak temple tomorrow so here’s hoping for a good night’s sleep!

Posted by weary_feet 04:55 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

25: Sunsets

sunny 24 °C
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Early wake up this morning as the sun was pouring in the side of the Felucca.. As per the night before, the further the sun got up into the sky the more layers I could slowly shed! By 9am the Felucca had docked on the west bank of the Nile and we all hopped off to get ourselves onto a mini bus to continue our journey into Luxor. Our day and a half on board the Felucca had only managed to get us about 30km down the Nile (the Felucca’s aren’t known for their speed) so the first town we were driving thru was still the outskirts of Aswan!!! (very depressing to think you’ve been sailing for a day and half and only managed to make it to the outskirts of the city!)

Our drive was uncomfortable and one that I’m sure won’t stay in my memory!! We had a quick stretch stop (I was feeling particularly sore after spending a day and half reclining on a boat and then sitting up in a small cramped bus with our hand luggage on our laps!) which was amusing because we stopped inside one of the innumerable check points… The checkpoint is funny, cars all vie to get thru the check point quickly but there isn’t much checking going on so I am struggling with the whole point of continuous check points along the road!!! As my guide reminded me though, Egypt is a military state since the revolution so I guess lots of check points is probably in character…

We finally arrived into Luxor, grabbed a quick take away Fajita before we headed for our hotel and a very necessary shower and break. Later that afternoon we all headed into downtown Luxor to do some shopping and to check out the Luxor Temple. Silver jewellery was in hot demand as was beautiful scarfs and other Egyptian trinkets. Luxor has its own local bazaar which was devoid of any tourists only voracious sellers all wanting us to enter their shop to check out the same souvenirs we had seen everywhere else in Egypt. We finally got jack of the continual cat calls and decided it was beer o’clock so started looking for the exit to find ourselves a drink.. On our exit we found this cute cotton shop that was blessedly quiet and offered relaxing shopping.. Needless to say we all bought something in this shop purely because there were no hassles… I found myself a hair tie (which I’ve been hunting since I saw someone wearing one in Russia) and after we had finally extricated ourselves from this shop we went hunting a cool drink.

We decided to test out this bar we had seen down on the Nile. Thankfully, for us to get to the bar we needed to go passed the Luxor Temple… the sun was setting as we were walking passed the temple so I managed to snap a couple of great photos of the sun set over the temple. We made it down to the bar to discover that fruit smoothies were the only thing on offer… we are all fairly sick of drinking coke or a smoothie so we walked back into Luxor to a place where we had been assured we would be able to get ourselves a drink.. Again we were bitterly disappointed… the only drink that was on the menu was beer! Poor old Koreena had been hanging out for something other than beer or coke… Its probably the biggest issue with the drop in tourist numbers.. anywhere that did cater to foreign tourists has largely gone broke so they don’t hold any liquor for ‘just in case’.

Finished off our day by enjoying dinner at restaurant serving traditional Egyptian fare that had a beautiful view over the Luxor Temple. The temple was lit up by huge flood lights so the shadows and colour contrast was a really nice background for our dinner.

Posted by weary_feet 07:41 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

24: Sailing; Felucca Style!

sunny 24 °C

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Woke up to discover that I had lost the temp and was feeling immeasurably better… It’s amazing what a day of rest and a great night’s sleep will do for your body! Straight after breakfast, JJ came to the homestay to have a chat to us and some members of the group had traditional henna applied to their skins. Knowing I would be allergic to the stain I decided to forgo the pleasure of being temporarily tattooed and enjoyed my new found energy by wandering around the local village snapping pickies of the local kids!!

From the village, we re-boarded our Felucca for a whole day of R&R. We had actually changed Felucca’s yesterday afternoon, which meant we swapped from a smaller boat to a larger one, equipped with bathroom facilities… You’ve no idea how happy this has made the female population on the boat! (Finding a tree to hide behind yesterday was not an experience we wanted to continue if we could avoid it!!!)

We then spent our whole day lazying about the boat eating delicious food, consuming beverages, playing cards, reading books, taking photos, chatting and of course snoozing!! Highlight of the day was at sun set when we were able to get some pretty photos as the sun set with brilliant pinks and reds and the full moon rose a real orange colour before turning to pale gold! Just beautiful!

After dinner we continued our ongoing games of cards and as soon as that sun dropped the temp dropped right with it… By the time we were ready to go to bed I had every layer I had brought with me on and hopped into my sleep sheet and blanket wearing about 5 layers! Needless to say I had a crap sleep as all my layers weren’t enough!!!! Anyone that tells you that is always hot in Egypt is lying to you!

Posted by weary_feet 09:18 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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