Monday, March 24, 2008

Weather forecast: Temperatures ranging from 0-6 degrees with wintery showers. and winds of 50mph. Rug up as the wind will make it feel more like -5 degrees.
To translate - we headed to the Isle of Wight knowing that it was going to be a bumpy ferry crossing and it was probably going to snow but if not we would certainly see some sleet/slush showers.
As one of the locals put it - a storm only takes 5min to cross the entire island.

Storm front just before it hit
Rainbow a few minutes later

When we arrived at Portsmouth ready to catch the boat to Ryde we found out that the fastcat was cancelled due to the weather. Luckily a sturdier boat was found and we made the slow journey across. At Ryde we then found out that the train couldn't make it to the last stop because the water was too high and breaking over the lines. When we were walking along the lines, the water was about 10cm below the jetty.

No train today!

The island is covered with walking/cycling and bridle tracks but considering the forecast we didn't venture too far from our base of Shanklin unless on the bus. The coastline is quite amazing and in the space of a few miles goes from cliff face to bush to beach to suburbia. We did see one lady knocked over with the force of the wind and we even struggled to maintain a straight line at times.

Claire's attempt at creative photography...
Steve's attempt at creative photography...
The Needles. The windiest part of the island.

Make a wish...

I wonder what's behind this door?

Osbourne House. Home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Field of Daffodils

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Visiting Egypt has always been on our 'must do' list. In hindsight, one week wasn't quite long enough. Cairo is an amazing city, and the starting point for our journey. With 17 million people it's the largest in Africa. Understandably there are people absolutely everywhere. Crossing the road is an adventure in itself and don't even think about driving anywhere (unless you're a local). There are apparently some road rules (i.e. drive predominantly on the right) however driving in your lane is optional. Basically a normal 3 lane road in the UK or Australia, equates to at least 5 Egyptian lanes. There is the constant sound of honking horns. Each time you pass a car (or person, or camel, or donkey...) you honk your horn. Crazy stuff...

First tourist stop was a visit to the Pyramids at Giza and Sphinx. In the words of our guide: "Ladies and Gentlemen, time to get excited." There are 3 pyramids with the oldest and grandest being Great Pyramid of Cheops. There was a gold apex but this was stolen (as are most gold items of ancient egypt). We crawled into the second pyramid, built for Cheop's son Chephren. This pyramid is slightly smaller and better preserved. Nothing much inside, other than being quite crampt and smelly. The pharoah (after death) would travel to the pyramid from the Valley Temple at the edge of the Nile up the Causeway to the Funery Temple before entering the Pyramid itself. The Sphinx sits just infront of the Valley Temple and you can still make out the path to Chephren's Pyramid. In ancient times the Nile would have flowed past the Sphinx. The Pyramid of Mycerinus is the final and smallest pyramid of Giza and for Cheops grandson.

When in Egypt.....
Interesting fact #1 - apparently soldiers used to use the nose of the Sphinx for target practice

Sphinx and Pyramid of Cheops
Not content with the 3 pyramids of Giza we headed to Saqqara to see the original pyramid: King Zoser's Step Pyramid. This was the first burial chamber built of stone.

After a busy day recapping on ancient Egyptian history we boarded the overnight train to Aswan. Surprisingly, the seats were spacious and quite comfy. The toilets, not so much... well lets just say most people held on for as long as possible.

The next day, after a quick look at the Aswan High Dam, which was built to stop the Nile flooding (and provide water for all of Egypt), we jumped on a ferry to visit the Philae Temple dedicated to Isis. On the gentle trip out to the island one of the local kids sold all the girls some bracelets. Good value at only 50p each! When the High Dam was originally built the temple was on Philae Island but due to flooding was moved to the neighbouring Agilkia Island. An incredible feat as you can't see any cuts or joins in the stone work.

Hieroglyphics at Philae Temple
The next day we took a flight to Abu Simbel, another Temple that has been moved due to flooding. Check-in was a little more relaxed for this flight. So relaxed, that as long as you have got a boarding pass (i.e. any boarding pass) you'll be fine. (We boarded the flight as Mrs & Mrs). Abu Simbel is on the edge of Lake Nasser and unlike the Philae Temple was dug into a hill. It is difficult to comprehend the logistics of the move, but the temple itself was cut out and moved and then a fake hill built around it. Nevertheless it is very impressive and dedicated to Ramesses II. The four statues at the entrance are 21m high. Twice a year the sun reaches 60m inside the temple to light up the gods on the back wall. It appears the angles were slightly off during the move as this now happens a day later then it used to!! Ramesses built a second temple dedicated to his favourite wife Nefetari next door. Still, of the 6 statues at its entrance, 4 are of himself...

Abu Simbel - Temple of Ramesses

Dedicated to Nefertari
That afternoon we started one of the highlights of the trip. 2 nights on a Felucca. These are very basic boats (ie no bathrooms or any rooms for that matter) that only use wind to sail. We had a 'captain' and a 'chef' per boat and they looked after us very well. Claire was even allowed to steer the boat in for landing on one occasion. The deck is covered with a mattress and cushions and that was home for a day and a half. At night the captains enclosed the deck similar to a tent. Still quite drafty and cold though. The first evening's entertainment was spent at a traditional Nubian House (after making record time to our landing point) where most of the girls got a henna tattoo. The second evening we docked with another tour group at a cafe (apparently for the toilets) but we decided the bushes were more hygenic!

Felluca sailing on the Nile

After the relaxing float down the Nile it was a bit of a shock to head back into town to see some more temples.

First stop: Kom-Ombo where the temple is dedicated to 2 gods - Horus the Elder and the crocodile god Sobek. The carvings here were still in quite good condition with a few retaining their colour and we could also see one of the earliest known calenders. In the courtyard there is a separate chapel containing 2 mummified crocodiles.

Interesting fact #2 - taxes were determined by the water level of the Nile. A Nilometer (deep shaft) was in the courtyard to measure the water level.

When we left Kom-Ombo we had our first experience of the police convoy. We thought that it would be a slow process but our driver thought it was a race, and was determined to pass as many buses as possible. We were near the front on arrival at Edfu and the Temple of Horus

Inner sanctuary of Edfu
Arriving in Luxor earlier that afternoon, after a much needed shower, we visited the Luxor temple at night. This temple was built by Amenhotep III and expanded by Ramesses II. This temple was connected to Karnak temple by a 3km long Avenue of Sphinxes. Around 100m of this remains at the entrance to Luxor. Sadly we left the camera at the hotel.
The next morning we went Hot Air Ballooning. It is much cheaper to do it in Egypt than in London or Brisbane. Sunrise was amazing to see and we were one of the first balloons in the air so had an opportunity to get some great photos. Our entire group was in the same balloon and it was incredibly stable. We were expecting it to swing around a bit but the only evidence of movement was the noise of the gas. Slight bump on landing but definitely something to remember.

Getting fired up...
Lots of balloons! Amazing contrast between the desert and greenery
Aerial photo of some Egyptian houses. Roofs are optional it seems.

Sunrise over the Nile
Following the balloon ride we headed nearby to the Valley of the Kings. We entered 3 of the tombs Ramsesses III, IV, and IX. It is hard to describe them. Obviously the treasures have been removed but the colour of the heiroglyphics is still very vibrant. It gave us an idea of what all the temples would have looked like, as very little colour remains in any of the temples. No cameras were allowed inside so no photos. There are 64 confirmed tombs in the Valley of the Kings and none of them intersect with each other. Excavations are ongoing, as they think there is still one King's tomb missing.

Our guide liked to use 'Role play' to explain the ancient history and more importantly who was related to who. Claire's turn came at the Temple of Hatshepsut when she was made Queen Hatshepsut (commonly known as Queen Hot Chicken Soup). Interestingly she then married her brother - keeping it in the family!

Temple of Hatshepsut
Claire & her brother/husbandClaire taking her place in lineA quick trip into the Valley of the Queens to visit a single tomb containing the mummified remains of a baby. These tombs were not as lavishly decorated and are much smaller. The tomb of Nefertari is the main drawcard here but the authorities have closed it for 10years to help preserve it.

We ended our time in Luxor with a trip to Karnak Temple which had been continually expanded by successive pharoahs. As a result it is a very confusing place to wander around.

Karnak TempleAfter another overnight train trip, we arrived back in Cairo where we finished our holiday with a trip to the Egyptian Museum. There were people everwhere but the Tutankhamun exhibit was well worth it. The gold is incredibly bright and the detail is so fine. For a boy king, he certainly went out in extravagent style.

The vast number of people made it tough to explore so we headed instead for the Khan al Khalil market. After earlier experiences with the markets in Aswan (where the traders are quite pushy and in-your-face), we approached with caution but it was a much tamer. Surprisingly, no comments such as 'You have a very beatuful daughter', 'I'll give you two camels for her', or even 'You mean lady tourist, why you no smile at me'

So to finish this post here are a few random shots from driving around the place. Anyone thinking of a trip to Egypt - GO.