Scotsabroad's Weblog

April 30, 2010

Year 1 Fieldtrip 2

Filed under: School,School trips — scotsabroad @ 7:53 am

A classroom without walls in year 1 at the moment as we ventured downtown to visit the Railway Museum. The children spent a wonderful hour exploring this treasure as part of their unit of inquiry about transport systems. Lucas had his best friend back and the pair of them climbed over everything, pulled every lever, turned every handle and left their fingerprints on every display case.

Lucas says, Yesterday we went to the Railway museum. We got to climb on trains. We saw a Ramadan train that had decorations on it. We rang a bell on the train. Me and Finn liked the black and white train best because you could move a lot of stuff and climb on it. We saw ancient Egyptians pulling a statue on logs. We saw a donkey and cart, a horse and cart, an aeroplane that you could see inside and a propellor. We saw a model train track with toy trains. I would give this trip 5 stars as well. The museum was fantastic.


April 25, 2010

Year 1 Fieldtrip

Filed under: School,School trips — scotsabroad @ 4:42 pm

Our internet connection is awful at the moment due to the telephone wiring in our building.

Year 1 had a good day at Wadi Environmental Science Centre last Tuesday, exploring the animal habitats of, the Egyptian tortoise, ants, worms and fish. The centre is 50 km out of Cairo on the Alexandria Road but well worth the journey.

Lucas recounts:

Well, we went to see the tortoises. They liked shade. They live to 102. Our group leader was called Ibrahim. He was a really good fisher. He caught some tadpoles and snails. He was brave on the stepping-stones. When we were so quiet loads of fish came up. We saw an ant carrying a leaf. We made a little ant house. An ant has six legs. We looked at worms through one of these magnifying things. They don’t have legs and when they move they squeeze and stretch. I would give the trip 5 stars.

April 15, 2010

Luxor Revisited

Filed under: Holidays — scotsabroad @ 1:00 pm

In the Rough Guide, it mentions that not every visitor to Luxor has been unequivocally impressed by its ancient monuments: during the filming of Death on the Nile, Hollywood icon Bette Davis famously remarked that,  “In my day we’d have built all this at the studio – and better.”

It goes on to say, In a sense she had a point (in 1978) the temple would have been half hidden by ramshackle bazaars and downtown was a mess.

The first time Shona and I visited Luxor was in December 1993. At the end of our stay, we couldn’t have agreed, or disagreed, with this description. Most of our time was spent lazing around the Movenpick Resort, with the odd journey to town, to shop in the bazaar and visit Karnak Temple. I have a photograph from back then showing the Karnak Temple skyline that includes a building crane. The crane, if not the same one, still shares the skyline. We even failed to visit Luxor Temple or cross the river to the West Bank. 

Changed days. Since returning to Egypt, I have run the marathon a couple of times and we have just returned from our third family holiday to Luxor. We have noticed significant changes to the East and West Banks on each of these visits, as well as hearing stronger, and more conflicting, opinions about these changes from local people. This visit was the first time we had actually noticed the incredible amount of tourists visiting the ancient monuments. Indeed, our visit to The Valley of the Kings was horrendous. Our ticket entitled us to visit three tombs but we eventually manged only two. Tourists in their thousands filled the valley and the narrow passageways, having queued outside in the heat for a long time. The odour inside the tombs was indescribable, the heat and the amount of people oppressive, as we all tried to descend into the small burial chambers. There is now a photography ban on the whole site – is this to speed up tourist traffic? Anthony Sattin (journalist, travel writer and author of The Pharoah’s Shadow, a great book) wrote in the Sunday Times back in 2007, that 8000 tourists a day are bused in from the Red Sea resorts alone. This does not include the thousands arriving on the multitude of cruise ships from Aswan, often quadruple-parking along the corniche, while constantly belching diesel fumes on to the town. A visit to Hatshepsut was abandoned as the busloads rumbled in.

In the past visitors were taken across the Nile the traditional way, but the ferries could not cope with the ever-increasing number of tourists. A bridge was built 10 miles out of town in 2005, allowing tour buses access to the West Bank. However, this just seems to have increased the number of tour buses crossing to the West Bank each day and it seems their itineraries are all very much the same. No one has the imagination to stagger visits and timings to each of the ancient monuments. A flyover under construction near the bridge, suggests the priority continues to be road access to the West Bank from the airport, luxury cruise ship docks and five-star hotels. What these tourists experience as they are bused around Luxor, what they get to see on route and how much they actually benefit the local population, is causing the most controversy.

The village of Gurna,  near the Valley of the Kings, was demolished. The reason given was water seepage from the village damaging surrounding tombs. Other homes have been bulldozed, considered eyesores. The Times of Malta puts forward another reason saying, already the bazzar has been cleared out, thousands of homes have been demolished in a push to transform the site of the ancient capital Thebes into a huge open air museum. The Grand Plan for 2030 is one of golf courses, five star hotels and a marina. The figurehead behind the changes, if not the plan,  is Samir Farig, a former Egyptian General and manager of the Cairo Opera House, who now heads the billion dollar plan to reinvent Luxor. We experienced his influence first hand, as our felucca was ordered in to the bank by the river police, as the man’s dahabiyya sailed past – pulled by a tug. According to the Malta Times he says, we have just cleaned the houses, cleaned the streets. You’ll never find a clean city like Luxor now in Egypt. 

One of the biggest projects is recovering the whole 2.7 km long Avenue of Sphinxes that once linked Luxor and Karnak Temples. In the few thousand years since, just a few roads, buildings and livelihoods have been built on top. “So stirs a mini-life amid the debris of a life that was far grander” wrote Flaubert. This project has the backing, manpower and funding from UNESCO but the enormous progress already made has, perhaps, been the work of bulldozers and a disregard for anything historically non-pharonic. Officials are quoted as saying, the houses are not historically significant and uprooted owners are compensated  from between 75000 and 500000 EGP – or a free flat out of town. When the French wanted to remove (yes, remove) an obelisk , and archeologists excavate the temple  in the nineteenth century, they had to pay compensation for the demolition of scores of homes, writes the Rough Guide. The sphinxes are there under the ground they say. Others argue many of the 600 or so sphinxes are beyond restoration.

Back on the West Bank, a lot of work was being carried out, and statues erected, behind the Colossi of Memnon in what was the mortuary  temple of Amenophis III. An archeological park in the making.

Sanctuary from the crowds came from familiar places such as Medinet Habu, the Temple of Ramses III, and Deir el-Medina, the workers village. However, lets not be too hasty in condemning the Egyptian authorities. Anyone who has visited Luxor, since Napoleon’s troops first got a glimpse of Luxor Temple in 1799, responding to the sheer magnitude of the place by spontaneously presenting arms, has been responsible for, and contributes towards, the current changes. So what if I use the National Ferry and stay in a family run hotel on the West Bank. Most visitors come to experience the ancient monuments. The authorities are trying to juggle massive numbers of visitors like us, local people, security – while in the world’s spotlight and with 85% of the town’s income coming from tourism.

Turath – Egypt’s Heritage Review magazine (issue 6) says, Looks like Luxor, Egypt may soon feel about as genuine as Luxor, Las Vegas. The city has been losing its non-pharonic heritage left, right and center. The concern is about the destruction of colonial houses along the East Bank waterfront. Like Las Vegas, Luxor (Egypt) is a holiday destination where visitors often want to suspend reality. There has been little mention in all of this controversy, of the big sex tourism trade in Luxor, that meets the needs of lonely women and homosexual men. Indeed, everything can be bought in Luxor, from a genuine ancient artefact to a finger of hashish, offered to us just off the corniche. Supply and demand.

The Egyptian authorities might get a lot of things wrong. The French and the British made some awful mistakes in the past – not to mention theft on a grand scale from Luxor itself. If the rest of the world in their glass houses want to throw stones – some countries need to replace the ones  they  plundered from Luxor in the past. Or maybe the argument that stolen artefacts are for the whole world to share in their present location will continue. Then, who cares what happens to Luxor when so much of its ancient heritage has been displaced? There does not seem to be the same international outcry about Cairo, as the city’s own Belle Epoque and Mamluke architecture slowly disintegrates, and the Pyramid site is altered significantly.

Maybe Bette Davis, if she could return to Luxor now, would approve of the Grand Plan as an attempt to create a huge open air pharaonic film set and Hollywood standard facilities for its stars. Luxor does have a habit of mixing up reality and make-believe. You get the feeling the place, and the people, will survive. Will the crane still be there on our next visit?

April 13, 2010

Zoser’s Place

Filed under: pyramids,visits — scotsabroad @ 6:10 pm

Cairo’s birthday today results in a road trip to Saqqara. His choice, so we drive 32 km out of Cairo from Giza. We have been to the site a few times, being the finish for the Pharaonic Run, but we have never visited the biggest archeological site in Egypt. The step pyramid’s picture also adorns each bottle of Sakara Gold I drink, so this paying of respect is well overdue. Took us a while to get there, as we missed the turn-off and went by a more scenic route, stopping at Abu Sir to ask directions from the sleeping guides and promising to return.

We wanted to visit the Imhotep Museum, named after the architect who started the whole pyramid building craze by designing the step pyramid for Pharaoh Zoser back in 2650 BC or thereabouts. He is often called the father of architecture. The museum does not disappoint. The first stone frieze, of magnificent cobras, the first stone archway and an architects sketch done on stone. A magnificent wooden painted head, the oldest mummy and a cosmetic stone vessel in the shape of a Nile carp. A goldfish carved over 4000 years ago.  Beautifully designed and the incredible artefacts brilliantly displayed. In to the car and we drive, climbing up to North Saqqara. Instead of turning to the car park we head for the Serapeum to find out if it is open. Under the dirt road is a buried avenue of sphinxes.

The Serapeum is closed for restoration, a couple of months we are told. We pass a semi-circle concrete slab ( like a Hellenistic bus shelter), underneath a group of broken statues called the Philosophers circle. Plato or Homer is anyone’s guess, but Ramses is not one as a policeman suggests, they are slowly being neglected as the sand and rubbish encroaches. We park and walk to the Mastaba of Ti. The boys delight in climbing down in to the burial chamber encouraging Shona to follow. We drive over to the main car park and walk around the funerary complex and up close to the pyramid. Something amazing about this site requiring some more visits.

April 12, 2010

Arab Music Institute

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 2:35 pm

The lads set off this morning wanting to visit the home of Saad Zaghoul but found it closed. We jumped back on the metro for a couple of more stops, to Nassar, hoping that we would find the Arab Music Institute open for visitors. It wasn’t, but the boys worked a superb charm offensive on the staff and the place was unlocked and illuminated. Walking in to the foyer was an experience. Once through the beautiful wooden doors you stand on a cool,  geometrically designed stone floor and look up at the green glass chandeliers and painted dome. Doors and passageways lead off in all directions. King Fuad built the place in 1923 to honor the music and musicians of the Middle East. It was neglected in the 70s and 80s but it has been beautifully restored. We are taken up a winding staircase to the Abd-Al Wahab Museum. A famous Egyptian composer and philosopher it seems. The main thing that makes man happy is to find love inside his house and respect outside it. The boys enjoyed the museum. We were hurried somewhat through the rooms by an ever-present key holder, but had time to look at various musical instruments used in the Orient and the Middle East and personal artefacts from Abd-Al Wahab’s life. A nice touch was having switches beside the instrument cases. When pressed, some music, using this instrument, was played. Bizarrely, there was even a set of bagpipes in a case but the music was a wee bit tame and muted. It did lead to a question from the guide, discovering that we were from Scotland, Do you know William Wallace? We don’t know Mel Gibson personally, was all I could say. In Abd-Al Wahab’s room we get a glimpse of what his home would have been like. Favourite ties,  a platinum disc from EMI, glasses,  a turquoise telephone, a desk and a clock. He died in the rocking chair next to his favourite piano. Lesley Lababidi says, his wife did not change the clock or  the calendar after his passing… twelve o’clock on May 3rd 1991. The clock was a few minutes slow. The Rough Guide describes as the man who composed the music for Egypt’s National anthem, ‘Biladi, Biladi’ and linked to the birth of the Egyptian film industry in the 1930s.

Finally we are led downstairs as the doors are locked and lights switched off. That’s it we think. Not bad for 5LE. However, we are led to what looks like a backstage theatre area and are invited to walk out on to the stage of the music theatre. They can’t be bothered to put the lights on for us but we walk around the aisles, still able to see the opulence and imagine patrons, finely dressed, the smell of tobacco smoke, all enjoying a performance and sneaking a look at the royal boxes on either side of the stage, one for him and one for her. Then we are asked to leave. 

April 11, 2010

Uncle Gordon’s Visit

Filed under: visits — scotsabroad @ 9:21 am

We said farewell to Gordon last night. We hope he had a great time visiting us despite his food poisoning.

Cairo says,  It was a lot of fun having Gordon here. We played Subbuteo and Monopoly. We all went to Luxor and we saw some tombs. We went to Luxor Temple and Gordon had a guide. Me and Gordon went up in a balloon together. It was scary but fun in the end. Thanks for taking me.

Lucas says,  We took Uncle Gordon to the nice restaurant in Luxor that they are about to knock it down. Me and Cairo are annoyed because you get big milkshakes there. We played volleyball in the pool with Gordon and we got to stand on his shoulders, and then he threw us into the water. We took him to Muhammad Ali Mosque and we saw some swords and the first ever machine gun. Thank you for coming in the pool with us.


It was lovely to have my brother in Egypt. Gordon is good company and despite there being very few Roman ruins or artefacts to look at, he relaxed a lot. Thanks for coming over Gordon.  Here is a list of what you did and saw: Valley of the Kings (Tuthmosis III and Siptay’s tombs); Habu Temple; Colossi of Menon; Luxor Temple; Luxor souk; felucca on the Nile; Ibn Tulun mosque; the Citadel and Muhammad Ali’s mosque.


April 10, 2010

The Citadel

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 6:10 pm

Successful today getting to the Citadel. We managed to park under a flyover just off Salah Salem street and hoped the car would not get clamped or damaged. Incredible to think that the site does not allow anyone with their own car access to the Citadel car park. This seems to be exclusively for tour buses, taxis, limousines and minibuses containing foreign tourists. We walked to the entrance along with hundreds of Egyptian students and their teachers. Don’t know where their buses had to park. Huge crowds at the entrance did not bode well for a pleasant visit but we got in quickly enough.

The foreign tourists were directed straight to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali and nothing else it seemed. The colourful children headed for the National Military Museum and the Northern Enclosure. This was where the boys wanted to go with Gordon and the area filled up with hundreds, if not thousands, of brightly coloured, exuberant children being kept in order by harassed teachers and assistants, blowing whistles and shouting, to feel in control.

While they jostled inside the museum, Shona and I found tranquility just around the corner. Walking along the side of the building we found ourselves alone in a large open area with beautiful gardens. A quick visit to the carriage museum was interesting but the area outside was reward enough. That was, until, we were invited in to the Mosque of Sulyman Pasha. Having separated, I only knew Shona was in the mosque by recognising her sandals on the entrance steps. The mosque dates from 1528 but the painted designs and patterns were splendid. A miniature courtyard had all the traditional features. However, the guide unlocked a door that led to Mamluk family tombs and one of an important sheikh. Again the walls are painted in beautiful faded colours but it is the Ottoman tombs that are the most interesting, displaying different turbans for male and female members. A rather drab pyramid-shaped tomb, we were led to believe, contained thirty out of the 480 Mamluks slaughtered by Muhammad Ali in 1811 inside the Citadel. In such a huge tourist site and with thousands of people just around the corner, this was one of those memorable experiences. We headed back to the crowds, visited the big mosque briefly and what was left of (and accessible without tips) of the Gawhara Palace. The air pollution was horrendous today but the trip itself turned out to be special.

April 9, 2010

Downtown Friday

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 9:34 am

This morning Gordon agreed to look after the boys, allowing us to take the bikes downtown. We have always wanted to do this as early as possible on a Friday morning and the experience was well worth the early start. Instead of risking our lives in the traffic we were able to cycle on deserted streets from the Khan, past the Islamic Art Museum, Bab Zuweila, Abdin Palace, down to the lions on Qasr el-Nil Bridge and back by the Mosque of Ibn Tulan and El- Qalaa Square – the most congested places in the city during the day. We were able to cycle up one-way streets and alleyways stopping to look at the magnificent architecture and experience the city wakening up for the day. Thanks Gordon. 

Then it was one extreme to the other. We all intended to drive to the Citadel but found parking a nightmare. We ended up in a traffic jam in the streets off Salah Salem Road, by the aqueduct, as the Friday prayers ended and the whole of Cairo got in their cars parked (abandoned) three abreast. Eventually we parked at the mosque of Ibn Tulun. The oldest mosque in Cairo proper, we were delighted to find on this visit the minaret door unlocked.  A bit precarious and open at the top but some wonderful views of the city.  Also a wonderful gift shop outside specialising in Egyptian craft from all over Egypt, called Khan Misr Tulun.


The majority of downtown Egyptians doing their laundry today.

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