Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 7 (Top 10 tombs in Valley of the Kings)

Final morning walk in gardens, birdwatching, a lounge by the pool, huge lunch and taxi to airport, one of those old Peugeots that pipe exhaust fumes straight into the car. The stood in queue next to a family who used to live on a street next to ours in Brighton.

Top 10 tombs in Valley of the Kings

Seti 1

Amenhotep II

Rameses IX


Rameses VI


Rameses VII

Rameses I



Day 6 (Top 10 Aswan sights)

Day in the sun! Tennis at sunset. Then all 15 Brightonians went into town for a meal. Roll call: John, Ann, Jed, Phoebe, Ruby, Sean, Alan, Sarah, Rachael, Chloe, Dave, Mags, Ken, Gil and I. At one point the power failed and we all sang, rather sweetly, in the dark. Two sets of four took a calesh for the three kilometre ride back to the hotel. Great way to end a great holiday.

Top 10 Aswan sights

Abu Simbel


Aswan Dam

Elephantine Island


Nubian Museum

Granite Quarry

Aga Khan Mausoleum

Fellucca on Nile


All achievable in a very long day from Luxor by taxi or train.

Day 5 Luxor (Top 10 tired jokes told to tourists)

Walked the four kilometres into Luxor, and popped into Gaddis for a Book on Egyptian birds. I’m tired of failing to recognise the raptors and Nile birds I’m seeing through my bins. By chance we bumped into Judith and Colin, old friends from Brighton, who had just disembarked from a Nile Cruise. Then an afternoon birdwatching; seven kites picked off either fish or floating material from the Nile, bee-eaters nip on and off their perches for insects, swifts are on the wing all day long and a beautiful, brown buzzard flew in for a look around. Huge flocks of glossy ibis, with their curved beaks out front and long legs trailing behind fly up and down the Nile in V formation, especially at sunset.

What would Egypt have looked like in Pharonic times? Same birds, crocodiles along eth entire length of the Nile and hippos, even Lions and other cats in the desert, but no camels. No cotton, no tomatoes but more beer. A Nile with inundations, but a narrower arable strip, as the modern canals would not have existed, nor machine pumped water. Lots of scantily dressed people but fewer and fewer still of any real age. No electricity, therefore real darkness.

Into town for an excellent Pizza at Pizza Roma, owned by an Italian woman, and serving excellent wine (Sherezade) garlic bread, pizzas, pastas and home-made cake. The off for a drink with Judith and Colin, complete with chat to Sammy, the gay waiter, who arranged a cheap balloon trip for us all a couple of years back. Colin had a serious case of the flu on board and spent two days staring out of his window, sometimes almost hallucinating, as the Nile bank swept by.

Top 10tired jokes told to tourists

You like my Ferrarri?

Asda Price

Welcome to Alaska

How many camels for your daughter?

A tip for the horse?

I sell rubbish, but it’s very good rubbish

Enjoy the snow

Bloody Egyptians

I do you good price

No hassle, no hassle, really no hassle

Day 4 Lazy day (Top 10 obscure sites)

Day of reading while lying in the sun. Loot by Sharon Waxman is the story of the European appropriation of objects from ancient civilisations, a much more complex affair than one would imagine, loaded with political nuance. The Great Belzoni by Stanley Mayes is a more detailed account of a major player, whose ‘loot’ can be found in the statue hall of the British Museum. Egyptian Pharaohs by Martin Howard is a straight chronological account Pharaoh by Pharaoh.

This story is matched by the modern clash of East and West, as Egypt’s monuments succumb to a tsunami of tourism. The numbers and pace of development are frightening but not matched by the care of the monuments by the government. The monuments and tombs, an irreplaceable resource, is being worked to death and falling apart due to breath, sweat and the physical wear and tear. The guardians earn only 400 E£ per month and supplement their income by allowing illegal photography and access to places beyond the barriers. The Russians, we were told, were the worst, regularly ignoring the prohibition on photography, touching the walls and even climbing over the railings (we witnessed this in the Valley of the Kings). Then there’s the modern day looting and smuggling.

Modern Egypt is in many ways disconnected with Ancient Egypt. Islamic education tends to dismiss everything before the 7th century AD and the polytheistic beliefs of Ancient Egypt are an anathema to modern Islamic thought. The contrast is stark when one sees women in burkas or headdresses visit tombs where nakedness among ancient men and women is commonplace. If anything, this position may be getting more common, as young people adopt a more hard-line Islamic identity.

Hawass spends a great deal of his time fruitfully educating Egyptians about the heritage but perhaps too much time fighting for the repatriation of 18th and 19th century objects, rather than preserving what Egypt already has.

Top 10 obscure sites


El Kab

Tod temple

Tiy’s Harbour

Mons Claudianus

Mons Porphyrus

Darian Temple at Kharga

Necropolis at Kharga

Desert rock paintings

Not for the feint hearted as many require long trips across and into deserts, but all wonderful and worthwhile.

Day 3 Cycling on West Bank (Top 10 temples from Luxor)

Taxi to the Winter palace, then local ferry (10p) to the West Bank where we hired spanking new bicycles for the day (£2.50). Off past the statues of Memnon, where some of the party swanned past us in two taxis, then bought tickets for Roy and Shroy tombs. These are quite far north and not often visited. In fact we were the only people there. The colour in Roy’s tomb was that fresh vibrant look you only get in the tombs of the Nobles, as if it had been painted yesterday (due to the fact that the paint is mineral based and not organic). The tomb itself, with its door and rock face behind were depicted, along with the stela that would have stood in front of the entrance, now in the niche at the back. She was buried with her baby, both hearts being weighed on the scales against two feathers, which suggests she died in childbirth.

Our first visit to the newly opened Carter’s House, which was a real treat. They really have done a good job here, with lots of original furniture in his study, meeting room, kitchen, dark room, bedroom (separate one for Lord Canarvon) and a lovely domed vestibule with arabesque corners, all set in a manicured green garden. There’s lots of old photographs, but it’s that 1920s feel and sense of place that matters.

The off up the road to the Valley of the Kings, the only cyclists on the hot road round into the valley. This is the way to enter the valley, as you get a real sense of how secluded the site was and the grandeur of the surrounding limestone mountains. First, Merneptah, 13th son of Rameses II, who came to the throne after outliving twelve of his brothers. Most notable were the scenes of decapitations and captives, as he had to deal with internal and external threats after the death of his warring father. At the far end of the valley is the tomb of Twosret and Setnakhte, Twosret was queen and ruled for only a year but her tomb was later used by Setnakhte. Then the tomb of Rameses IX, a typical Ramsean tomb with captives and decapitations. Cycled back to the ferry and caught the bus back to the Jolie Ville.

Dinner at La Fleur, a French restaurant in the grounds of the hotel. Our exertions eased by two bottles of Chateau de Reve, an OK bottle of Egyptian Cabernet Sauvignon, and sated by a full three courses of really fine food.

Top 10 temples from Luxor



Ramasseum at Abydos





El Kab

Kharga Oasis (2)

All of these are achieveable on day trips from Luxor. Simply hire a taxi and off you go. Abydos and Dendera takes a full day. Esna, Kom-ombo and Edfu another very full day. Tod, Edfu and El Kab a day. Kharga Pasis, a very full day.

Day 2 Birdwatching, tennis & West Bank party (Top 10 free things to do in Luxor)

Two fried eggs, made by the egg chef, sunny side up and eaten in the sun by the Nile (along with muesli, fresh fruit, pancakes, tomatoes and polished off with a chocolate croissant. Then off for some birdwatching, simply a walk around the island. It’s a birder’s dream with resident river birds (purple galungules, ibis, herons, kingfishers, plovers) and plenty of cover for green bee-eaters, doves, hoopoes and wagtails. Then the raptors, black-shouldered kites, two chasing off a much larger buzzard. Huge numbers of V-shaped migrant birds fly up and down the Nile, especially glossy ibis.

The hotel was quiet as lots of the rooms were out of action, due to renovations, so lunch by the pool and later, a game of tennis with Big Alan (chipped from a block of ice), his lovely daughter Rachael and the tennis coach. We were hampered by the mosquito spraying, so much that we could hardly see each other serve but once it cleared and the floodlights came on, we got into the zone i.e. Rachael and I playing second fiddle to the pros.

It was Jed’s 22nd birthday so his dad, John, had arranged a river boat to pick us all up at 7.30 to go downstream to one of our old haunts Tutankhamen’s Restaurant on the West Bank (a fiver a head with soft drink thrown in – no alcohol). We walked the plank on to the Horus II, and set off down the black Nile, with Jed on the rudder. They serve superb spicy vegetable dishes such as spinach, green beans/potatoes, aubergines/courgettes, as well as a chicken/coconut/banana curry and roast chicken on rice. Dessert was the fantastically sweet om-aly. The whole lot was polished off by an ravenous set of travellers. The boat trip back was a hoot– Happy Birthday had to be sung, Phoebe (thesbian through and through) danced on the deck to Usher (to the amazement of our two boatmen) and Egyptian jokes were told. The winner, by Rachael, was, “Why do Egyptians not succumb to psychotherapy? Because they’re in denial!”

Top 10 free things to do in Luxor

Deir el-Medina - superb site

Mummification Museum Lectures - academic and free

Avenue of Sphinxes walk from Luxor Temple to Karnac

Monastery in desert on West Bank - unusual

Birdwatching on King’s Island - twitcher's paradise

Souk - hassle but fun

Television Street walk - real Egypt

Walk through West Bank villages - real rural Egypt

Coptic Church - calm and under siege

Mosques - cool, quiet and often beautiful interiors

It really is very safe to walk in and around Luxor and tehre's lots to see of you go off the beaten track.

Day 1 Luxor (Top 10 Luxor)

First haggle of the holiday at Luxor Airport, for a taxi;

40 - no 100

50 and that’s it - no my friend is very far

walk away and look for another driver

OK 70 - no 50

I have to pay the police 10 – 60

60 -done!

Suitcase unsecured on the roof and off we go to the Jolie Ville round the back of Luxor, along the canal at dusk, through the village with its donkeys, huge haunches of meat hanging on hooks, dimply lit alleys and pipe smokers in cafes.

Dinner on the terrace overlooking the Nile under a starry sky as the fifteen people from Brighton trickle in. There’s three of us and another dozen from Brighton. We’ve all been here before, some of us many times in the fantastic Jolie Ville, a hotel set on a garden island in the middle of the Nile. It's peaceful, beautiful well-run and a fantastic base for seeing Egypt.

Top 10 things to do in Luxor

Karnak - huge temple, mindblowing

Luxor Temple - New Kingdom to Roman in centre of town

Valley of the Kings - descend into huge magnificent tombs

Medinet habu - superb Rameses III temple

Workers’ Village - insight into people who built the tombs

Tombs of the Nobles - intimate and stunning

Luxor Museum - truly exquisite collection

Valley of the Queens - more beautiful tombs

Mummification Museum - gruesome but fascinating

Ramesseum - magnificent ruin

Best way to see all of these? Start at Luxor temple then walk along the Avenue of the Sphinxes all the way to Karnac through the backstreets of Luxor, following the original processional way. Everything else, apart from the two Museums, is on the West Bank, and by far the best way of seeing theses is to cross by local ferry (10p), hire a bike (£1-£2.50 per day) and cycle round. It's safe and fun.

Qatar Doha: WISE Summit

My second trip to Doha, this time for a summit on Education. This picture sums up my feelings about these gulf states. It's an uneasy clash between the modern and medieval worlds. A seventh century theological mindset in a 20th century oil-created state. No matter how sophisticated the image, the photographer is not free to be seen. To be fair there seems to be a genuine attempt at modernity, with Al Jazeera, a well-planned capital and successful World Cup bid. Qatar does seem to be trying to create an outward looking state, participating in the wider world. In this case, with the WISE summit, they are generous, sophisticated and participative.

Limousine from the airport to the 'W' hotel, which tries hard to be a celebrity come boutique sort of place, but falls between tacky and wacky. Rooms were nice though, and I was told I had Zinadine Zidane's suite on the 15th floor.

I've blogged at length on the summit itself on PlanB, needless to say, it was sunny, but as I was in largely in hotels, cars, restaurants and bars, not much to report on the travel front.