Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Luxor

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Luxor seemed to have arrays of objects, whether that was bikes, chairs, statues or columns.

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Luxor, the modern city sits on the site of the ancient city of Thebes, and the area is rife with antiquity.  We reached Luxor around noon, and Mudi arranged an early check-in for all of us, which was welcome, as none of us had showered since the previous day, having slept on a felucca overnight.  After we were human again, we visited Karnak around 2 in the afternoon; it was hot and windy, much like a convection oven.  However, it was also amazing.  We particularly enjoyed their roped off dog column, below. 
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Ok, this dog, like all the Egyptian dogs we saw, were shade seeking missiles.  We saw them lie down in the shade a group of tourists created, then get up, and follow along in the shade again as the group moved.


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The Karnak complex is sprawling; it was actively used and expanded for roughly 2,000 years.  Only one of the four major sections is open to the public, and just that section was much larger than we could explore in a day.  That section is largely dedicated to the worship of Amun-Re.  The columns above and below are about 30 feet tall, and 9 feet in diameter, and they’re all topped with massive (70 ton) stones that tie each column to the next.

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This is the Karnak side of the Avenue of Sphinxes, which runs between Luxor Temple and Karnak.

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In the evening, we visited Luxor temple.  The wind and heat had both died down, and it was a short walk to Luxor temple from our hotel, which overlooked the ruins.

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The temple was buried and the modern city built over it, including the mosque pictured above.  When the temple was restored, the mosque was retained, and is still active today.  In the 360 video below, you can hear the call to prayer from it, as well as Mudi, describing the area to us.
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The deepening twilight was very pretty against the lit columns of the temple.  Below is the Luxor side of the Avenue of Sphinxes, looking towards Karnak.

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The next morning, we had the option to ride donkeys.  Lana wisely opted out, but David decided to add another mode of conveyance to his list.  Getting on seemed a little challenging for most of the group, since the saddle was a blanket that was only marginally strapped to the donkey.  However, they weren’t that tall, and David ended up just swinging his leg over like he was crossing a fence—his feet barely cleared the ground once he was seated.

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It was mostly fun, though precarious, with no stirrups.  At least David could only tip a little before pushing off the ground with his toes.  The only exciting bit was that David’s donkey and Cat’s donkey (she is in turquoise, above) had a fierce rivalry (or was it love?  It’s hard to tell with some animals.) that we only discovered once they got side by side on the road, and proceeded to bite and shove one another.  We survived the encounter, and made sure we kept a few other animals between us afterwards.

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After half an hour, we rejoined Lana (as well as Chris and Dell, who also opted for safer transit), and piled into the back of a pickup taxi. We felt nostalgic--we hadn’t seen one since Thailand.  It was our mode of transportation to the Valley of Kings.

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Group selfie, thanks to Wendy’s GoPro.
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The Valley of the Kings was wonderful; unfortunately, photography is completely prohibited, so the only photo we have is of the acrylic relief map of the valley, which on the underside, shows the tunnels leading to each tomb.  In at least one case, a new tunnel intersected an older tomb, and the direction had to be altered.  We visited the tombs of Ramesses the 3rd, 4th, and 9th.  It was stunning to be inside the tombs we’d all read about.  Most of the interior surfaces of the tunnels are painted, and the tombs are carved and then detailed further with painting.  Due to the dry air, and no sunlight in the tunnels, the paint was very vivid.  It was hard to believe it was 3,000 years old.  It’s hard to describe how it felt to be there, but it was absolutely a highlight of our time in Egypt.

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We continued on to Deir Al-Bahari, a temple commissioned by queen Hatshepsut, who is the only woman with a lengthy rule in ancient Egypt.  She reigned for 20 years, which is notable among pharaohs in general, let alone women.  We were able to photograph here, and found some areas that were nearly as pristine as the painting we’d seen in the Valley of Kings.

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For lunch, we ate another home-cooked meal prepared by a local Egyptian family in Luxor.  The highlight of the visit (aside from the food, which was plentiful and delicious) was interacting with the children of the household.

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As you can see, like all children we met, they’re curious about photos of themselves, and taking photos of themselves. The two girls in the center of the above photo were in a heated rivalry over our friend Wendy’s attentions and affections—to the point where the smaller one was shoving the larger one (in the pink and white dress) off the chair they were sharing.  Below is a photo we took with the whole family and our G Adventures group.  As you can see, the girls in the house didn’t want to let Wendy (behind them) go!
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Fruit vendor in Luxor
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On our last night in Luxor we were due to head back to Cairo on the overnight train, and so we all packed up our bags for a very late check-out and went up on the roof to have one last drink and watch the sun set over Luxor. While the view of the temples and the hills of the Valley of the Kings in the distance was beautiful. However, ever unsatisfied with just a beautiful view, our attention was drawn to the tops of the buildings that we could look down on from the roof of our hotel. They seemed to be a spot used for broken furniture and junk. And, if you look carefully, a sleeping dog. We are sure it was sleeping.  We saw it move.  We promise.

After our drink we headed to dinner (Bedouin-style pigeon, stuffed with grains—delicious) and then on to the train station to catch our overnight train back down the river, for Cairo Part Deux…