Friday, July 29, 2011

Luxor, Egypt: Part 3: How to live like a pharaoh

Luxor houses several important valleys of the VIPs before and during the antiquities.  It's less than an hour flight or several hours via train from Cairo.  This is a must visit in Egypt and recommended if you're inclined to know about pharaonic history.

The Avenue of the Sphinxes which connects Karnak and Luxor Temple.  They're trying to recover this whole stretch but only the side near the Luxor Temple has been recovered...for now.

first stop: Luxor Temple - it's worth visiting this place around 5 pm and stay until the sun goes down.  You can see the transformation of the place under the sun and under the dark sky.  There are no extra fee coming here at night.  And besides, Luxor weather is like hell between 12 pm - 3pm for the month of July.  You would feel how a chicken gets barbecued.

The colonnades in Luxor Temple.  See what i mean?

It's better to do one temple a day as it might be overwhelming and you might not be able to appreciate the succeeding sites.

We stayed in Nefertiti Hotel, a budget place situated in the Al Sahaby Lane.  No frills - clean bed, they changed sheets and towels everyday, very small tv, the shower is not luxurious but hot water worked pretty well and the air conditioning was superb, which had been our best friend during mid-day.  (we got the room for less than 20 euro a day)

the staff was also creative in making the bed.  Be surprised when suddenly there's a scarecrow on your bed wearing your shirt and eyeglasses.

The hotel also offers affordable tour around Luxor.  HT couple did their homework so we again said...La Shukran.

Another factor that convinced us to take this hotel, aside from the location and value (5 mins walk to Luxor Temple), is the overlooking view of Luxor Temple and Valley of the Kings (at the west bank).  Most hotels, including the one we stayed in, are at the east bank.
Valley of the Kings from the rooftop

Luxor Temple taken from the top

The following day, we decided to hit the west bank.  We were at the Valley of the Kings before 8 in the morning.  We don't have any photos of the place as cameras are not allowed.  Once you're inside the building, there is a wooden panel where there is a list of the tombs that are open.  The normal ticket allows you to go to 3 tombs.  So i suggest to plan ahead which of these tombs appeal to you.  There's also a computer available to look online about the details of the opened tombs (during our time, there were 10).  Oh, there's somebody hanging around in the building and was gladly to help you browse the computerWe grumped at him that we know how to use a computer.  Sorry, but after more than week, we tend to be suspicious and just ignore as much as possible.

King Tutankhamun's tomb is the most famous in pharaonic history.  He was not famous during his time but after discovering his tomb which was intact and full of wealth, it made history.  His tomb is not included in the regular ticket and you have to pay extra to see it (more expensive than the normal ticket of 3 tombs).  Most of the wealth is now in Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  We didn't go in as we followed Lonely Planet's advice that it's not as impressive as its famosity.

Each tombs has its own guard.  But don't look for a security guard uniform.  Be careful as well as these guards, started pointing to you stuffs in the tomb (pretending to be tour guides), gives you a fan or a flashlight...all these are not free.  Kindly say no several times, and they'll leave you to enjoy appreciating the tombs freely.

Also at the west bank, is the Valley of the Queens.  Do take short breaks under the waiting shed for a gulp of water or reading your lonely planet or rough guides before entering the tombs.

The famous Temple of Hatshepsut is a must see.  This is one of the hottest spots in Egypt so be here as early as you can.  There's not much shade as well so you can really have a good tan here.

Hatshepsut is one of the famous female pharaohs.  She built several landmarks including this huge complex. 

Hathor, the goddess of love can be portrayed as a cow or a female.  The head horns is the distinctive symbol.

Am i good enough to be a female pharaoh with my hat?

We also visited the Temple of the Nobles.  This is what you can see in the valley of the kings and queens except this is smaller and the colors were kept intact.  Those carvings and paintings on the wall depicted offering to gods or their celebrated festivals.

the only remains of Colossi of Memnon. (stop by and take a few pics - no entrance fee)

not only tourists stop by to check this out, the birds love to stay at its head.

It also pays to visit Karnak Temple (east bank) as early as 6 am.  It's like having a private tour.  You would spend about 2-3 hours as the place is really huge!

Just on the side, I decided to be in my Indiana Jones outfit in touring the temples.  :)

It's not necessary to be serious all the time when appreciating history.

goofed around to lighten up the mood.  I'm surrounded by 138 humongous colonnades.

this is how HT hubbie wanted his statues to be

love this papyrus colonnade peaking in one of the rooms of the temple.

you should really looked into every details on the wall

and posed like a model in the ancient ruins

Look above you when you're standing under the colonnades.  Look how the colors were maintained after thousands of years ago.  That symbol in the middle is an ankh which symbolizes eternal life.  During the ancient Egypt, the VIPs spent their lives in building tombs, temples for their after life which they believed is much important than their temporary current lives.  There were few cases wherein their tombs were not completely done yet but they have already passed away.

scarab beetle is a protector symbol during the ancient times.

Check out the cartouche, hieroglyphs enclosed by an oval shape.  We don't know how to read hieroglyphs but we know that cartouches are very important to pharaohs to protect them before and after their lives.  Some have the names of the pharaohs (which i can't find) which helped the archaeologists to determine who built this temple or which pharaohs the tomb belonged to.  We made up stories and thought like pharaohs while looking at the cartouches.  HT couple's hieroglyphic way of reading involves donald duck and other cartoon figures. :D

This ends HT couple's adventure in Egypt.  High five for the DIY trip and for surviving Egypt!  (check out the guy with a kid on the left, he approached us as he wanted his kid to have a picture with HT hubbie.  It was deja vu as it happened as well in Jogjakarta.  HT hubbie almost asked baksheesh for that! :D)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cairo, Egypt: How to conquer the pyramids and the desert: Part 2

Never leave Egypt without these:
from left to right

Conquer the Great Pyramid of Giza of King Cheops - look how small i am in the pic and the shot was only half of the pryamid.  The Great Pyramid of Giza was inspired by the steps in Saqqara (which we didn't include in our trip as 3 pyramids are enough to look at :D).  The architect of the great pyramid slightly miscalculated the angle so you can see the difference after 20 steps, that the angle suddenly changed.  (this was informed to us by the tour guide, i'm not really the archaeologic type :D).  And looking at the pyramids, it's made of big blocks of stones (some in limestone). It's a bit boring if you don't imagine how it was built and how the blocks were carried here.  Do take note that this was 5000 years ago so technology doesn't exist.  Amazing, isn't it? :)  There are 2 more pyramids and what I remember is the 2nd biggest which belonged to King Chephren which made his pyramid shorter than his dad as a sign of respect. 

Have you sat on a camel's back before?  If not, do this in the Pyramids of Giza!  You would have a nice background of one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world with this cute beast.  But you might be disappointed that camels here only have 1 hump :(.  (i thought every camel has 2).  The camel sits when you're ready to board on his back (way too tall).  I was a bit scared so HT hubbie and I shared one.  Once you're ready, the camel stands by balancing you and you by leaning back or else, you'll be falling in no time.  (I felt like I was at the peak of the roller coaster and it's about to swoosh down). 
The ride was pretty smooth and our camel guide took a  lot of pictures for us and he kept on asking if we're having a good time (at some point i want just to put a big YES on my forehead).  When we were quite far from where we started, i suddenly realized those questions of having a good time has meaning in it.  He wanted baksheesh (this word shouldn't have been invented).  We gave him Egyptian pounds but he demanded for Euro (sneaky bastard).  I was irritated and told him that we were informed not to give (but we weren't ) and he got scared that his boss would came to know so he asked us to keep our money.  Ai yoh...anyways...

20 mins of a camel ride is enough.  Make sure to inform your camel guides that you want 20 mins going and coming back.  And be clear with how much you are paying.  Don't just say the amount but make it clear it's in Egyptian pounds (this applies for all money matters in Egypt).  So you won't be shocked that suddenly what he meant was British pounds. 

 Kiss the Sphinx!  If you can't beat them, join them.  Everyone was doing it so I did too!  This sphinx which has the head and image of King Chephren (who asked to build this) with a lion's body.  This signifies the intelligence of a man and the power of a lion.  Nah, I prefer HT hubbie's kiss :D.

Oh, i forgot, watch out for those guys holding shirts and trying to sell postcards.  They welcome you to Egypt (and you might think how nice of them) and after a few exchange of chats, they'll hand off tshirts to you as a sign of the Egyptian hospitality = Baksheesh.  Make sure to say no and don't take anything unless you wanted to return that hospitality in $$$. :D

Beware of taking pics of people on camesl.  They'll lift their arms and ask you to take picture of them.  And you know what's next....Baksheesh (again).  We went local so we also decided to ask for tip, but nobody bothered taking picture of us...hmph!

We can't get enough of the we decided to continue our trip to:

Black Desert - chunks of volcanic rock and you can imagine how big the eruption was.
White Desert - unique rock formation that nobody can explain why. 
Hot Spring - this is the least i wanted to do when i'm in the desert.  I don't get refreshed but dehydrated.
Crystal Mountain - those rocks are made of crystals!  I excavated and took a few pieces back home.

nice, isn't it? :D

rabbit rock formation in white desert

Make sure to walk like an Egyptian before leaving the country

This 4X4 was our savior driving around, to and from the desert

After a few fix here and there, ta-dah!  Here's our cozy spot for dinner with our ultimate Bedouin guy!  He's a good cook too!

While having dinner, there were small foxes who weren't shy.  In the middle of the sumptuous supper, we were surrounded by 20.

We also had Bedouin entertainment and HT hubbie can't stop shaking his booty that night. 

See what i mean? :D

Then off we snooze...yes, in the desert.
It's even more traditional than the usual camping with tent.  We were just given thin mattresses and blankets...that's it.  It was difficult to sleep as the moon was shining so bright and I imagined being attacked by those small foxes or snakes crawling on us (thanks to the Bedouin guy who mentioned that before we hit the sack).  It can be pretty cold in the middle of the night so blankets are life savers...even in the desert.

this was the most luxurious toilet we had.  You can choose your own rock where you can hide and pee.  You can even have two or more toilets for a night.  We decided to share one. 

It was a great experience.  But, i'll never do it again...HT hubbie agreed.

Ok, i'm taking back what i've said of not going to the hot spring.  On our way back to Cairo, i just have to take a dip as spending a day and night in the desert with no water to wash yourselves with, hot spring was heaven!  We just drank litres of water to replenish our body fluid.

Ah!  Back in Cairo...suddenly our not-so-5-star-hotel gave us the feeling of a 6-star.  Water, water, water for a good shower, air conditioned room, thick bed was a good way to end our desert and Cairo tour. 

My envisioned of's like Manila with older aura.  Traffic is the same and the drivers have the same crazy way on the street.  The Manilenos will be able to adapt easily in this city.

Whether you're at the desert or at the Red Sea, watching how the sun sets will tell you that tomorrow is another day of exploration in the land...where it all begins.

Part we come! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cairo,EGYPT Hurghada, EGYPT: How to survive and enjoy : WHERE IT ALL BEGINS Part 1

If you have seen the tourism commercial and ads of won't miss out this phrase "Where It All Begins".  It's up to your wildest imagination : ancient civilization, political chaos, baksheesh (i'll talk about this later) or the dishes that are available in Arab and Meditterenean countries: ...Curious?  Go visit Egypt! :)

Egypt is a country wherein you have to study, research and understand before doing your first step  unless you're booking your holiday via travel agencies and just follow those flags or umbrellas of your tour guide.  In HT couple's opinion, if you don't know the language, prepare thoroughly.  The only Arabic phrase i learned was Thank you (Shukran) and No, thank you (La Shukran).  And learning these were essential.

Where to start:

Start by looking out of the window of the plane.  Desert, Red Sea, Desert..oh and Nile river...that comprises Egypt :) I haven't flown above this continent, so this was something unique.  It was my first time not to fall asleep during landing (I usually fall asleep during take offs and's like sleeping pills to me)

If you're a dive enthusiast, do visit the Red Sea together with your dive gears and excitement. 
The Red Sea is known for it's abundant water species and it didn't failed me!  I was so happy that Red Sea is very comparable to the dive sites in South East Asia (Indonesia and Philippines being my favorites).  During summer, wearing 3mm dive suit (same as in Asia), is good enough and diving from September onwards, a thicker (5mm) dive suit might be handy (especially if  your freezing tolerance level is as weak as mine).

Take liveaboards!  I can't remember when was the last time i dive via land.  I just enjoyed staying in the boat, sleeping there for a week while being rocked by the sea waves (with seasickness pill) and of course, the unlimited food!!! HT hubbie booked BlueOTwo for our dive trip to the Red Sea.  It was the best liveaboard that we've been's why...

We had spacious, clean room (and our own tv with media player...beat that!) and private bathroom (which was wide enough and for the first time, i didn't get bruised while taking showers), good dive deck, 2 huge saloons where you can read a book, watch a movie or play games (rummikub!) with the other divers.

wide selection of books, huge sunbathing deck (be careful being friendly with the sun in Egypt, it's atrocious!), unlimited snacks (cookies, breadsticks, chocolates and softdrinks!) and those bean bags where I sat on was addictive.  I was supposed to study some dutch in between dives, but with this beanbag seat, snoozing is inevitable.  Sleep, Eat, Dive, Eat, Sleep, Dive...yes this is what i called a getaway!

This boat fed us pretty well.  I had all types of Egyptian food prepared just like they do at home (It was the best Egyptian dishes I had in the whole Egypt trip), plus, there was one dinner wherein we had a huge roasted turkey with gravy!  Our room was beside the kitchen so i've sneaked out this photo of this big bird before it was served.  In this boat, you don't have to be considerate to others as they have more than enough food for everyone and there was a point that we were all shouting for mercy to stop OVER feeding us.

Not only 1 but 6!  We were pretty lucky but i heard the week before we went diving, other divers saw 50+!  It was mating season so they're all over the sea.  The dive crew was very helpful.  They don't speak English but sign languages worked well.

BlueOTwo is a British dive company therefore, it's not surprising that majority of the divers and instructors were British.  I haven't been to the UK nor dealt with a group of British before but it was nice to hear your name being pronounced correctly (Trivia: my mom chose a british name for me, but she removed one of the R's so that my name will still be unique and my grandmother of chinese heritage wouldn't have more difficulty in pronouncing the R's.  One is complicated enough so why make it 2? :D).  And every morning, they would ask me  "How did you sleep, ?", with an accent that sounded like a royalty and I was so tempted to reply "very well, sir" with a good curtsy (no worries friends!  I decided not to, as I don't want them to think that Filipinos are not in their right state of mind :D)

We would definitely be diving with them again...the only concern is where...but we'll take a break for now. :)

In Cairo...
from left to right: Don't miss the Egyptian Museum and be amazed of the artifacts.  Go early as the group tours are quite irritating as they blocked your way.  There are freelance tour guides standing outside the museum, who can be friendly with you by asking " where are you from? , etc" and later on convincing you to get their tour guide service.  Don't pretend that you don't know English as most of them are multi-lingual.  (I heard they don't have much chinese or japanese tour we Asians can pretend if they started to be annoying...and believe me, they are). To shoo them away, just say " La Shukran".  No cameras inside.  The Royal mummies are recommended if you want some few goosebumps here and there.

Visit the Coptic or Old Cairo.  This showcased catholic churches and a synagogue bringing you to old times when majority of the citizens are Christians.

Coptic Christians don't have statues of saints.  They have pictures of saints and I saw the locals kissing portraits or hand-sewed image on carpets.

Visit Citadel where the mosque of Mohammed Ali lies.  They asked us to remove our shoes and go barefoot.  Check out how i have lifted my toes.  There's a vendor who's selling throw away socks but I was stingy to buy a pair.  I had wet ones with me so I cleaned my feet before wearing my shoes again. :)

 We were in one of the main roads in Cairo. Only in Egypt!  These camels are cute!

Stroll along Khan El Khalili Bazaars.  I love seeing herbs and spices being sold as well as bread being carried by vendors around.

There are a lot of vendors trying to sell you herbs, souvenirs and even revolution shirts...and if you don't want any...just say 'La Shukran' or if you want to buy something, put in mind that they see you as a cow that they can milk so during bargaining, it's reasonable to bring it to 1/3 of the price.  You'll still get ripped off, but at least not much :).  And if you have space in your luggage, take home one of the seeshas.

Take some Iced Karkadai (hibiscus tea drink) at Fishawy in Khan El Khalili while watching the tourists and locals passing by.

While sitted in Fishawy, lots of vendors are going around and trying to sell items.  There's one guy who wanted to sell sunglasses to HT hubbie and even if he had said no several times, he was really pushy up to the point of annoying.  As a good loving HT wife, I told the guy nicely 'La, Shukran' but i was shouted and informed that he doesn't talk to women only to men.  Fine!  Then why bother reacting to me then?  I was irritated but decided not to stoop down to his level and just accepted that that is their culture. 

A local told us that they're a bit disappointed with the backward attitude of some of their citizens which drives away tourists.  There was a guy who tried to pull my arms to draw to his stall and I told him not to touch me and he said something in Arabic but definitely not a sorry.  A local also mentioned that it's safer to be with guides especially if the group is all ladies to avoid this situation.  They still have this notion that women are not equal to men.  And as tourists, you have a big dollar or euro sign on your forehead to some of the vendors and taxi drivers so beware.  Make sure you have enough small change with you as drivers always pretend they don't have change for you.  Don't be scared to ask a local to exchange money so you can give the driver the exact amount.

Here's a taxi fare guide from our hotel.  We stayed in Zamalek area and not downtown in Cairo, due to the political instability.  We wouldn't want to get stuck in riots and protests so Zamalek was a good choice for a quieter, peaceful and a few minutes away from downtown.

Baksheesh - tips you give in restaurants or to the people who helped you out.  What's irritating is, they see you as a baksheesh giver before they help you.  No baksheesh, no help.  A guy helped us crossing the street without asking for help and we thought there's still hope in this country until he started asking us " Where are we from" and followed us.  We just ignored him and he got tired anyway.  So much for the hope. 

There can be a lot of touts.  You just need to be aware and be cautious.  Make sure that at the end of the day, you're on vacation, have fun and don't let touting ruin your holiday.

Part 2...up next!