Scotsabroad's Weblog

March 29, 2008

The Original King Tut’s Place

Filed under: Holidays — scotsabroad @ 8:04 pm

 ‘When I’m a grown up… I’m not going anywhere’.

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We have returned to Cairo having spent the last week in Luxor. We packed a great deal into our days and there were some moments when the boys showed genuine signs of travel fatigue. Cairo was also still not 100%. I don’t think we put undue stress on the boys by trying to do too much, but we do get inspired by visiting a new place and following the mostly reliable Rough Guide. The memorable quote above is from Lucas having endured the heat of Luxor Temple and the wrath of his mum because he had lost his hat.

We managed to get to the Valley of the Kings a few times, the Luxor Museum, Karnak’s sound and light show, Luxor Temple and Hatshepsut temple while still managing to swim and enjoy the warm weather after what has seemed to be a very long, cold winter in Cairo. We also seemed to be very lucky being in the right place at the right time, as we were often alone at major sites, and we met a wonderful family,  the Bishops, who were prepared to take the risk and come with us on a tour Shona had cleverly arranged with a rather eccentric  (but brilliant) Englishwoman called Jane Akshar living in Luxor.

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But, to begin: tomb number #62. On arrival at the Valley of the Kings there must have been what seemed like 100 buses parked at the main entrance. Having made our own way to the West Bank, negotiating taxi fares and using the National Ferry (2 LE return each), our hearts sank at just the amount of tourists, like us, who were there to visit the tombs. Entrance was pricey – 70 LE to view 3 tombs of your choice (if not closed or resting) and another 80 LE to get into King Tut. We opted for just the one. Although we had all read the Ladybird guide to his discovery and we should have been prepared for a very small space it was still a shock to descend down into a tomb the size of most people’s living room. We saw the mummified body – or rather his head and his feet as the rest of his mummy is covered in a linen cloth. We were told by Jane a few days later that he’s in such a bad state as he was broken and unceremoniously torn out of his sarcophagus by a grave robber (named Howard Carter) in the timeless quest for gold. This was a visit that needed to be done but not what I had imagined the tomb to be like since boyhood. The valley itself was very atmospheric, imposing and bone-dry.

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Next day we headed for the Luxor Museum. We had all been stunned by how impressive the museum was in Aswan but this one was equally impressive – if not better. Just enough to see and (it still astonishes me) touch. The Cachette Hall displaying the stash of statues found in 1987 under Luxor Temple was brilliant. Upstairs the artefacts from tombs were displayed in what looked like a shop window. Think Habitat (is that a magazine rack?) – furniture only three and a half thousand years old. I was almost expecting the price to be displayed somewhere.

The same evening we spent at Karnak Temple for the sound and light show – well, most of it. Cairo threw up over a sphinx while waiting to get in (probably causing a few thousand years of corrosion in one night) but was a real trooper staying for the tour. He threw in the towel at the Sacred Lake and went back to the hotel with Shona. Lucas and I carried on until seated in the grandstand overlooking the lake. He had brought his own torch and the walls of Karnak provided a splendid backdrop for the projected  silhouette of Thomas the Tank Engine. However, Lucas got bored with the commentary and music so we made our way down to be first out when the show finished. When we found out there was still a bit to go we were offered a torch-lit escort back to the main entrance. Since we had our own torches with us, our guide only led us back to the gigantic columns of the Great Hypostyle Hall and then pointed us towards the exit. Lucas and I were left in darkness in the Hall. With our torches we suddenly picked up a young fox sniffing around the floor among the massive pillars. A full moon added to this magical walk through Karnak Temple. I can only use one word to describe the decision by Lucas to leave the grandstand – genius.  The look of envy on the faces of the next two or three hundred to go in en masse as father and son strolled out …

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This is Jane Akshar who offers accommodation, tours and cruises in Luxor. Shona found her website while in Cairo and contacted her before leaving for Luxor. Jane said she would provide a tour that included a serial killer and some dressing up! We encouraged another family staying at our hotel to join us. John and Melanie have three lovely boys who were brilliant with Cairo and Lucas. Thank you Joe, Luke and Daniel Bishop. John seems to be quite famous back home. Click on his name in the Blogroll to find out for yourself (he is touring his comedy show in Scotland next month). Great fella, great family and great company. Cairo made us laugh the day before, having been told about the tour and the content, by asking us if we were finding out about the ‘breakfast killer’ that day. The serial killer turned out to be Ay, who bumped off a few on his way to the throne including, according to Jane, Tut, and we visited his tomb (#23) in a secluded part of the Western Valley. We were the only people inside – we even had to get the key holder to come up and open it for us. Incredible. We visited another couple of tombs (Roy and Shuroy) and the boys got to go into some catacombs carved in the rocks, disturbing bats and getting a glimpse of ancient mummified bodies lying side by side. Then it was on to the Temple of Seti the 1st and a bizarre enactment of something silly. Great fun. I think the school will be using Jane’s services in the future when we send groups down to Luxor. She certainly brought things to life and was full-on for the whole morning.

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On the last day we returned to the Valley of the Kings which turned out to be something special. We bought the 3 tomb ticket but only managed two. The first was awesome. Ramses VI (#9) was very long and beautifully painted. Again we were the only people in the tomb. We then headed further up the valley to one of the oldest tombs, that of Tuthmosis III (#34). This was like a film set accessed by a very steep staircase and then descending down into a very hot tomb. The pictures above show Lucas (much happier) before going in, the boys climbing up and Lucas climbing out having taken off his shirt due to the heat. We also got quite dusty. I took a photograph while inside the tomb (perhaps wrongly) of a beautiful panel showing the Book of the Dead. Brilliant.

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Finally – I watched the sun come up over Luxor from the air. I woke at 4:30 am to fly over the Nile and view the Valley of the Kings. Even at a great height I could hear a donkey bray and smell cooking. I was back for breakfast at 7:30. When I’m an old grown up..

March 15, 2008

Zamalek 0 Ahli 2

Filed under: sport — scotsabroad @ 5:11 am

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Glasgow can’t boast about being the setting for the most emotionally charged derby in world football. If there was a way of measuring fanaticism I think the supporters of these two teams would be off the scale. Such is the intensity of the game and the importance attached to the result a foreign referee is brought in to avoid accusations of official bias. Ahmed, a lovely young man who works at the school managed to secure (at black-market prices) tickets for last nights game. I already have experience of Cairo’s traffic congestion so decided to book a school minibus to take us there. I was informed by transport office that to be sure of being in the ground for kick-off at 7:30 pm we would have to leave at 4 pm. Ahmed, myself and Cairo, Sherif and Nasser were sitting in the ground with 2 hours to go before the game was meant to start. Thousands had already been in the stadium for an hour. The atmosphere was just incredible. Singing, dancing, fireworks, drums and flags popping out of a crowd squashed into sections where a ticket does not guarantee you a seat. I’ve tried to capture it on camera but it just doesn’t do the whole spectacle justice. Cairo handled it brilliantly as he is struggling with a tummy bug. There is always a risk going to these events but at no time did we feel unsafe. Indeed it was refreshing to experience such fanaticism that was exuberant without being alcohol-fuelled or nasty.

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March 6, 2008

Sometimes there are no words.

Filed under: School — scotsabroad @ 3:26 pm

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March 1, 2008

Birqesh Camel Market

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 6:39 pm

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On Friday morning we got up early to travel 60km north of the city to the camel market at Birqesh. The Rough Guide to Egypt describes the market as a, ‘feast of drama and cruelty’ and that just about sums it up. Hundreds, if not thousands, of camels are transported up from Sudan, one leg tied up to prevent them from running away, and are then bargained for (and battered with large sticks) until a sale is made. Ironically, if bought for butchering the camel is only then relieved of being struck as this causes the flesh to become bruised. I found it hard to comprehend the abuse especially when the buyers and sellers hit the camels on the face. Watching them load the camels on to pick-ups and small lorries was also gruesome. Throughout it all the camels had tremendous dignity and I think they must have agreed long ago not to show fear or distress amongst uncivilised humans. Gulliver’s Travels came to mind. The boys watched the spectacle without distress.

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Following this we stopped off at a Reptile House near Giza. The animals, as you can now guess, were kept in appalling conditions. The house was owned by a very famous Egyptian snake and reptile hunter/collector. Shona found the conditions hard to take. The boys once again took it in their stride. They were given some snakeskin to take home which will be taken to school for show-and-tell no doubt this week. The most memorable moment was watching the owner’s son work with an Egyptian cobra (Cleopatra’s poison of choice) eventually hypnotising it and being able to kiss it behind the head. He then asked the children over. We were not surprised that Lucas ran over almost standing on the poor creature and had no problem getting the snake draped over his neck. Cairo, not wanting to lose face, had the courage to get the same done to him. Shona and I were both delighted that he went for it. At the end of the morning an American couple who were with us on the trip made a point of telling us we had two lovely boys. We know, but it was still great to get a second opinion. 

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