Monday, December 18, 2017
After braving the early morning traffic in a smoggy Cairo, a 45 minute flight took us to Luxor (the drive of 400+ miles would have taken a bone-jarring 10 hours). The temperature was noticeably warmer (upper 70s) and the surroundings as we descended were clearly desert. During the 30 minute ride to our boat, we passed by many banana and sugar cane farms. These are irrigated by canals that were dug in the mid-20th century. Egypt is now a big exporter of both crops.
And then...finally. we climbed aboard the MS Tosca! (Although....we don't actually sail until Wednesday!).
The ship is quite lovely, and we were welcomed aboard by all the staff with cool towels and glasses of fresh lemonade.
Our room is incredible! Almost as big as the one at the Four Seasons! And two huge sliding glass doors to allow for great river views.
We quickly went down to the dining room for lunch, as we only had 1 hour until our tour of the Temple of Amun in the Karnak complex. It was a very nice buffet, and the staff patiently explained to us what each dish was. One of the choices was Nile River perch...probably just caught this morning. Yum!!!
Then a 20 minute bus ride over to the Temple of Amun at Karnak. This sprawling (over 200 acres) complex was first started about 2,200 BCE, and was enlarged many times over the next 2,000 years. (From Wayne...That is quite the Capital Campaign. "You can pledge $200 a year for the next ten years or a dollar a year for the next 2,000 years."). It actually was completely covered by desert sand until discovered in the mid-19th century.
The Hypostyle hall contains 134 massive columns, the largest such room of its type ever constructed. There are also several side chapels, including the Holy of Holies into which only the Pharaoh was allowed to enter.
Many of the columns and walls in the chapels still show colorful designs after over 4,000 years.There are also hundreds of hieroglyphs, some carved deep into the stone, others carved into plaster (applied to the walls) and still others in bas relief. We are learning how to read hieroglyphics. We even learned how to write/read our names. Not as difficult as Hebrew but challenging nonetheless.
It has many huge statues of gods and Pharaohs, including Ramses II. There are at least three huge granite obelisks still standing (there may have been more, but they have been lost to time and the rare earthquakes that hit this area). Amazingly, these obelisks are all carved from individual pieces of stone!
The obelisk erected by Queen Hatshepsut (1473 -1458 BC) is 97 feet tall and weighs approximately 320 - 700 tons. All of them were taken from a quarry over 120 miles away, sledged to the river, floated downstream, and then sledged to the site. But no one knows for sure exactly how they were finally erected (they only had one chance to get it right!). To read more, click here.
As it was nearing 5 pm (closing time), and the sun was setting, we headed back to the bus. We had a "welcome Reception" to meet all the staff, then our first dinner aboard the ship, and a long night of deep sleep.
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
We finally caught up on some sleep! The morning tour today, to drive 40 miles (but it takes 2 hours!), visit Dendara (another Pharonic temple), and then drive back, was scheduled to leave at 7 am, so we decided the night before to sleep in. Thus we had the whole morning free. The weather has been perfect so far (high today of 85), and we took advantage by spending a few hours on the ship-top sun deck. When the rest of our group returned most said that the ruins were very impressive, but the ride there and back (which apparently included several armed guard checkpoints and neck massages) was a killer.
After lunch, the group headed to the Luxor Papyrus Museum. There we saw a demo of how the Egyptians invented the first paper out of papyrus stalks (hence, the name). This was a major advance in being able to capture and store information. That is why many of the temple columns we have seen are crowned with either "open" or "closed" papyrus shaped tops.
The "museum" of course was really a store selling beautiful Egyptian scenes hand painted on papyrus. They ranged in size from about 4" x 6" to 4' x 6'! And prices from about $20 to several thousand. Much as in the many rug shops we have visited in the last few years, the tourists went crazy! The salesman did a semi-hard sell. (What was different here from other retail stops we've known and loved is that, once you expressed interest in a canvas, the salesman "curtained" you off so he could negotiate with you privately. Very funny. We found (and bought) a small one of Ramses II in action (no....he does not look like Yul Brynner). Typical fun tour stop.
Then a short ride to the Luxor temple. Our guide said it is best seen around and after sunset, when it is lit up and the crowds are smaller; he was right.
Like the Temple of Amun, this was also built by several pharaohs over several centuries. At the front is an 82-foot high pink granite obelisk weighing 120 tons.
There originally were two of them, but one was given by Mohammed Ali to the French and is now in the Place de la Concorde. Actually, he gave both of them to France, but once the French engineers had managed to move the first one from here to Paris, they sent word of "merci, mais uh non" on the second one.
This temple also features an incredible hypostyle hall, but this time there are only 32 columns. At various times in history, this temple was used by Alexander the Great and the Romans, who also made contributions to its size and decorations.
It is just mind boggling to realize that the sun has risen and set over 1,460,000 times since these monuments were built.
After that, it was back to the boat for tonight's special program: belly dancing and a Whirling Dervish. Totally kitschy but fun. The belly dancer (accompanied by drums and electric piano) danced for about 20 minutes.
Then, during the next dance she tried to get people to dance with her (only women, as our guide explained, belly-dancing is not to be done by men). Out of the dozen or so women in the room only 2 went up with her; you can probably guess who one of them was!!
There, it was more of a religious activity. This time it was purely for entertainment. As the music played, the Derv spun his very colorful "skirt"; it was whipping around like a hula hoop. While he was spinning, he also performed some kaleidoscopic maneuvers with 4 one-foot diameter cloth cushions.
He went on for about 15 minutes non-stop (how do they do that?). At one point he lifted one of his "skirts" over his head and spun around the room while spinning it over his head like a giant pizza! Alas....he did not solicit volunteers!!
After working up an appetite with the belly dancing and derving, we headed into dinner. It was very delicious (so far all the food on the boat has been excellent), but not picture worthy.
Another early start tomorrow as we head to the Valley of the Kings and then (finally!) set sail (set engine?).