Going It Alone

30 Nov

Blog Petra Monastry

Doing Jordan without a guide or anyone holding our hand was very much our choice as Neil knew the country quite well. Amazingly enough, though, it all went to plan – with the exception of the sat nav. Could we get it to actually navigate the rush hour roads of Amman? Well, eventually but throughout the holiday it persisted on taking us on some very unlikely routes!

Whilst nothing like the sheer mayhem of Cairo, driving was, shall we say, a bit of an adventure. Amman particularly had us wound up and yelling at each other as my rather panicky, helpful comments weren’t always appreciated by the driver. However, I think touring Jordan this way meant we got a much more personal experience than if we’d continued with an escort. To be honest, it did come as something of a relief visit the tourist sites at times that suited us, spending as long as we liked there and simply being free to absorb the remarkable atmosphere without being lectured. Maybe we’d have found out more about the places we visited with a guide but a bit of research beforehand goes a long way. There’s always someone offering to guide anyone visiting independently if you want that extra – for a fee, of course.

Blog Jarash Arch

Special mention must go to the extraordinarily well preserved Roman city of Jerash. I was particularly blown away by the idea of walking down a Roman street, on the actual stones trodden on by those ancient people. I doubt there is anywhere quite like it in Europe.

Blog Jarash Street

Of course, everyone visiting Jordan heads for Petra. We again decided to do it our own way – very early and on foot. You could choose to ride a horse, camel or donkey (all seeming well treated and cared for, by the way) and I’m quite sure you would get something different from the experience. But not only is there something of an achievement it doing the entire site on Shank’s Pony but it also means, again, you do it all at your own pace particularly as every turn produces another vista, often looking like something from a movie set – but real! The Bedouin really do live in Petra and the surrounding desert landscape throughout Jordan in much the same way as they have through history. OK, we did spot a satellite dish in Petra but I suspect these particular Bedouin are doing pretty well out of the tourists!

Blog Petra Monastry Climb

You could go up to the Monastery by donkey.

Blog Petra Treasury Camels

Blog Petra Lion Triclinium

At this point I decided I’d give this particular offshoot of the main route a miss.

The other highlight was swimming – no just floating – in the Dead Sea. Actual swimming is out of the question – you do not want to get your face especially your eyes anywhere near the water! It really is a strange and, once you get used to it, relaxing experience. It was just what we needed to round off a genuine Bucket List holiday. 

Blog Dead Sea Floating

Blog Dead Sea Mud

Covering yourself in the mineral-rich mud is all part of the experience!

Blog Dead Sea Sunbeams

 

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Temples and Tombs

21 Nov

Blog Nile Cruise Legacy

Nile Cruise – DAYS 3 – 8

We’ve always been very sceptical about cruise ships largely based from seeing these huge floating hotels from our small sailing boat  constantly running their engines and pumping out fumes into the harbours of small towns. Periodically they would spew out numerous coach loads of tourists all heading to the same picturesque or historical sight. Why would you want to do that? Well, If you want to see Egypt It’s probably the best way.

Getting about isn’t easy. Driving, in Cairo in particular, would be unthinkable. Walking means constant hassle even if the weather is comfortable. Even hiring a taxi has it’s own concerns. But on a cruise you are escorted everywhere, transport is usually there and waiting for you when you are ready to return. And the big plus are the excellent tour guides (shout out for the wonderful Waleed)
which you definitely need if you are going to get the best out of what is probably a once in a lifetime experience.

Because everything is so well organised you get to see far more than would probably be possible if you were going it alone. Maybe the downside is that you don’t get chance to linger in local bars and restaurants but, quite frankly, I  wouldn’t want to. I can’t speak for all Nile boats , of course, but ours had a lovely top deck with pool and a comfortable bar to linger in during down time. The restaurant, although perhaps a bit regimented, was friendly and fun, the food varied and as good as can be expected for buffet style dining.

Internet access is not great hence why these blog entries will probably all come out at once. After a bit of frustration it was actually quite nice to just accept you’re not going to be able to post all your wonderful pictures on Facebook or whatever your personal obsession is (go on, admit it, we’ve all got one these days). They can wait.

So, at the risk of boring you rigid, these are now mine.

Tuesday Day 3

If I’m honest the Valley of the Kings wasn’t at all what I was expecting from the movies. For a start I didn’t expect a wally wagon to take us to the tombs! Somehow I don’t think Howard Carter used this particular mode of transport.

Blog VofK Wally Wagon

It was none the less awesome for that, though. The Pyramid shape of the mountain is why the Kings picked this site.

Blog VofK Cathy

Going inside the tombs, though, is what it’s all about, some of them with colours as rich as the day they were painted. You’re not allowed to take pictures inside without a licence so here’s an unattributed one off the internet to give the feel.

Blog Kings Interior

Not far from the Valley of the Kings is the much restored Temple of Hatshepsut. Ruling Egypt in her own right she made the mistake of not finishing off the boy king she usurped. When he eventually succeeded her he was a bit miffed about it and erased every image of her he could find and effectively denying her an afterlife. Thankfully this image of her has been restored and copied onto the huge statues of the temple.

Blog Hatshepsut

Blog Hatshepsut Temple

Wednesday Day 4 – two temple day only spoiled by the site of maltreated horses used for pulling carriages to transport tourists to the temple at Edfu. Please don’t use them unless this improves.

Morning visit (by taxi) to the Temple of Horus at Edfu.

The Inner Sanctum where only the High Priest and the Pharaoh could enter

Blog Edfu Horus Temple Inner Sanctum

Sitting at the feet of the falcon god Horus

Blog Edfu Horus Couple

Then, after an afternoon sail, an evening visit to the Ptolemic Temple of Kom Ombo which was beautifully lit and very atmospheric.

Blog Kom Ombo

The carvings were incredibly intricate. Imagine them with the colours still intact!

Blog Kom Ombo Carving

Thursday Day 5 was spent in Aswan and included a visit to the Dam which I won’t bore you with because it doesn’t take a very interesting picture but hey, if Dams and engineering are your thing don’t let me put you off.

What was a bit special, though, was the boat ride on Lake Nasser – the vast reservoir created by the dam – to the Temple of Isis on Philae Island which was dismantled when the area was flooded by the dam and moved to a higher island near by.

Blog Philae Temple Boat

 

Blog Philae Island Boats

More boats in the evening with a short sail at sunset on a felucca  on the Nile itself

Blog Felucca Sunset

Friday Day 6 – 4:30am coach pick up for a 3 hour drive to Ramses II Temple of Abu Simbel and worth every minute. Simply stunning.

Blog Abu Simbel

The Pharaoh’s beautiful First Wife and Queen Nefertari. And me 🙂

Blog Abu Simbel Nefartari Cathy

Saturday Day 7  cruising back towards Karnak so a very welcome day at leisure on the boat.  It didn’t stop the salesmen trying their luck, mind.

Blog Nile Salesmen

Sunday Day 8 – another two temple day, this time two close together and joined by an avenue of sphinxes about 3 km long and still being excavated.

The largest of the two is Karnak a short coach trip from the dock at Luxor. Largely built for Ramses II, he of Abu Simbel fame, although started earlier, he very much dominates the temple along with the extraordinary rams head sphinxes.

Blog Karnac Rams Sphinxes

The masterpiece of the temple is the Hypostyle Hall and something that defies still photography. So impressive in its grandeur is it that it became the inspiration for Notre Dame in Paris.

Blog Karnak Hall Pillars

Ramses II and his Queen Nefertari are there again in Luxor Temple

Blog Luxor Ramises II

But there’s also another Pharaoh well known to modern visitors: Tutankhamun and his young Queen

Blog Luxor Tutankamun

 

To Luxor

16 Nov

Blog Cruise Deck

DAY 2

I could have kicked myself for missing the best  of the sunset lighting up the pyramid visible from the hotel pool. After the rave descriptions  I’d hoped to catch the sunrise which promised to be worth the early start.  As luck would have it, though, the humidity put an end to that idea. You could barely see an outline.

So our last view was as we sped past in the transfer car en route to the airport. The travel company wanted us there early for our flight to Luxor presumably because of the very real possibility of chaos on the manic roads. Fortunately, our only delay was caused by the  gun-touting plain clothes police (we assume!) checking the driver’s documentation on the road to the airport and getting visibly alarmed when he tried to get out of the car!

The airport proved to be very quiet and we were whisked through the formalities by the tour company rep before finding ourselves in the bleak no-man’s-land gateside. With one lousy sandwich bar and back-breaking chairs the tedious 3 hour wait seemed endless. And for the record I don’t need someone to help me wee so, no, you don’t get a tip every time you dole out the toilet roll!

Luxor came as a huge relief after Cairo. It seemed much cleaner, greener and far less manic. But having a tour company rep to escort us for the next few days made the most difference. Honestly, I can understand why some people prefer to do all their travelling via a tour company. Suddenly someone was in control of this alien environment, taking all responsibility off our shoulders. The excitement came flooding back as we walked onto our home for the next week. We were on the River Nile. Bucket List.

Let Loose In Cairo

12 Nov

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Day One

Cairo was never going to be the highlight of our holiday. Neil had been here before and knew first hand the difficulties while I’d read many reviews and blogs like this. But, you know, The Pyramids.

There’d been a forced change of plan after our flight timings were altered. We’d originally booked a guide for the day but with the tour starting at 8:30 and us not getting to the hotel until after breakfast started we’d cancelled it. After all, the website said you could see the Pyramids from the hotel so how difficult could it be to just go there, right?

What we hadn’t realised was just how fiendishly difficult they make it to get in. You’d expect to pay to enter the site of course; that wasn’t the problem. But finding the entrance, well, let’s just say that there’s a lot of people making a living from it not being obvious.

So, Tip number 1 for doing it yourself: get a taxi to the entrance. They’ll rip you off but they’re still cheap.

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Tip number 2: everybody, and I do mean EVERYBODY, you come into contact with will be out to make as much money as possible from you. Accept it. Don’t let it ruin your day or spoil the experience. Whatever you give them will not be enough and they’ll do their absolute best to make you feel like a cheapskate and a heel. You’re not.

Tip number 3: you do not need to take a camel, a horse and carriage or even a guide. It is perfectly doable to just walk around yourself. Mind you, you’ll have done a lot better than us if you manage it. You will be reminded constantly that this is a special holiday for you and don’t you want to make the most of it? Only you can decide what’s best for you. All I can say is that the day only became special for me when we just wandered on our own feet. It was only then that I could take a moment and appreciate it. I’m in Egypt and that’s the actual Sphinx.

Blog Cairo Sphynx

 

Something Different

7 Nov

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When we decided in the Spring that we wanted to do something extra this Autumn rather than heading straight for Spain, we mulled over lots of options.Visiting friends in Abu Dhabi, exploring more of the Far East, a trip to Australia, New Zealand, South or Central America, an American road trip etc, etc were all discussed. When Neil mentioned a Nile Cruise, however, a plan was born. We would combine a week in Egypt with another in Jordan. 

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I’ve dreamed of going to Egypt since the Tutankhamun Exhibition came to London. Not that I went to see it, a twelve year old growing up in deepest Stoke-on-Trent just didn’t do that back then. But the coverage and images penetrated beyond the Watford Gap and I was lucky enough to have an inspirational​ teacher (bless you, Miss Kane) who had a passion for history. She didn’t have much time for the Romans or even the Ancient Greeks, regarding them as just evolving the original – the Egyptians​.

Neil spent a year working in Jordan, loving his time there, and has often said he would show me the country so suddenly it all made sense. We booked the cruise through a tour company so that was easy enough, all flights and transfers sorted for us. Neil quickly mapped out the basic structure for the Jordan week, knowing exactly where he wanted us to go and how long to stay at each place. The graft came in booking hotels, a hire car, excursions and so on, resulting in a mountain of paperwork being printed. Finally it all came together. Just the packing now! 

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More Lefkas

19 Oct

Yes, we’re still in Lefkas so the only thing to add is a few more photos. This will probably be the last post from Greece until next sailing season but, never fear (I knew you were worried), the blog will continue.

Blog Lefkas Bike Cat

As is typical in Greece there are lots of cats about, many of them street urchins and some very much the worse for wear. This little one is understandably nervous.

Blog Lefkas Canal Tables

An attractive spot overlooking the lagoon to eat out. There are even flamingos to spot (too distant for me to get a decent photo) but you might not recognise them without their familiar pink plumage.

Blog Lefkas Small Square

Most of the small squares in the old part of town tend to be utilised for parking and this is the only exception we’ve spotted.

Blog Lefkas Street Towels

Above: The narrow streets of the old town are very much a community and not just geared up for tourists.

Below: I’m often drawn to the rather picturesque quality of wooden boat left to “return to nature.”

Blog Lefkas Rotting Boats

Lefkas Castle

11 Oct

Blog Lefkas Castle

In all the times we’ve been to Lefkas we’ve never been into the castle. Despite several attempts the gates were always well and truly locked. This is probably because we haven’t been here this late into the season before and so had likely turned up too early in the day – I certainly wouldn’t have fancied traipsing around it during the heat of summer. 

 

But today it was perfect. The sun shone along with a very pleasant breeze as we crossed the floating bridge to the mainland to check it out. Aladdin must have been ​around because, lo and behold, the gates stood open. So, a few pictures: 

Blog Lefkas Castle Neil View

Views in every direction

Blog Lefkas Castle Marina View

Towards the port and marina

Blog Lefkas Castle Sunken Boat

Old wooden boat left to the sea

Blog Lefkas Castle Old Bridge Entrance

Intriguing openings

Blog Lefkas Castle Old Bridge

The remnants of the old bridge to the castle

You can read more about the castle if you’re interested here