Egypt

Next stop: Cairo

March 26, 2011

After spending 12-hours night bus ride from Luxor, we reached Cairo.

Cairo, along with Alexandria, are old cities, much in contrast to Dubai. I  imagine how a century back, they were an envied bustling commercial hub in this Arab region. But it seemed to have stopped there. Our guide blamed bad (government) bureaucracy why this city seemed to have not further progressed.

Signs of antiquities were all over but of course, far not as old as the the Pyramids and Sphinx in Giza (dating back from 2560 BC).

We spared only a day for Cairo which was enough to see the Giza Pyramids, the Saladin Citadel and the Egyptian Museum. It was much hazy over the place (I did a little research but it points to smog. It was hazy/ foggy on a warm day even when the sun is on it's highest), and taking photos was challenging as we did not know how to manage it with our camera.

The Pyramids and the Museum
Understanding the ancient Egyptians' belief on afterlife is hugely interesting, largely explaining the existence of the pyramids as well as the many artifacts in the museum in Cairo.

The pyramids are architectural masterpieces.  There's more than seeing its 3D triangular shape, and THIS link provides  the impressive details.

We entered the pyramid of Menkaure and it's just amazing how BIG blocks of stones were closely put together. It makes me imagine a whole triangular prism that has linear cracks.

Khufu's Pyramid - made of 1,300,000 blocks of limestone. A big structure as a tomb for one king. How about that?

We were told it was believed that the sides of the pyramids were smoothed like the tip of Khafre's Pyramid above,
but they chipped out over time
The local youngsters approached and asked to take my photos with them in their phones.
I thought there's nothing wrong so ok I gladly obliged.
All together with the young Egyptians

The Sphinx that stands 65 feet tall
The Pyramid of Menkaure. We had to duck until we reached the bottom. Cameras were not allowed inside.

Next stop is the Egyptian Museum (in Cairo). Cameras are deposited at the gate. Lots of photos are online, although you dont get as much amazed than when you personally go there. Again, an Egyptologist explaining the artifacts helps a lot.

The museum houses over 120,000 antiquities, and the most amazing for me are the mummified people and animals dating back 5000 years.When mummified, the kings/ queens then are elaborately buried along with their things they are believed to keep them through in the afterlife, including their dogs, golden jewelries and weapons.
 
Photo credit


Outside of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo


 THE CITADEL

Then there's the Saladin Citadel.

"One of Cairo's most popular tourist attractions is the Citadel, located on a spur of limestone that had been detached from its parent Moqattam Hills by quarrying. The Citadel is one of the world's greatest monuments to medieval warfare, as well as a highly visible landmark on Cairo's eastern skyline. Particularly when viewed from the back side (from the north), the Citadel reveals a very medieval character." (you may read more about it here)
The Citadel as fortified by Saladin between 1176 and 1183 CE, to protect from the Crusaders
A closer look at the external walls

Inside the Citadel's mosque. Shoes have to be taken off.

From outside the Citadel, this older part of Cairo is a view

There's more to see of Cairo but I guess spending the night before in a bus has exhausted us already. With our backpacks, we were just too tired and at just past 3 pm, we were too eager to rest our tired bodies in a three hours train to Alexandria. I've saved here more of our Cairo photos.

Some links:

Our Luxor trip HERE
Ask Aladin's notes HERE

See you next in Alexandria.

Egypt

Backpackers from Dubai to Egypt - Luxor

March 23, 2011

Luxor, Egypt sits 12 hours by bus away from Cairo, and on its east is Libya.

People visit Luxor because it's known as the world's greatest open air musuem. The Nile's west bank is said to be the 'city of the dead' because it's where the ancient kings and queens took years to build their mummification temples and tombs. 'City of the living' is on the east bank with temples to adore their many gods.

People in Luxor are generally linked to "hassles" -- cunning to the un-assuming tourist, or rude to their unwilling prospect-client.

I'll leave the details of what to see in the place to the following links:
Some links:
Luxor on Wikipedia
Luxor on TourEgypt.net
More importantly, for an unbiased photoblog of Luxor, I guess Mr Tony's blog speaks most about the streets of Luxor. I suggest you check him here.
Now, I hope I recall it right some of our guide, Aladdin's remarks on Luxor:

  • Most houses are not properly roofed signifying they're not fully constructed and not subject to taxes. A finished house is taxed 40%
  • Arabic Valentine is celebrated every 4th of November
  • Tourists are stereotyped based on their nationalities. And jokingly he said the following are most likely seen with: Japanese - a camera and an umbrella, Canadian - a bag with a Canadian flag, tourist from Holland - beer and drugs (remember, said jokingly), Russian - naked and high-heeled. English - bottle of beer and a girl. We haven't seen a Filipino in Luxor so that explains why we were spared of a remark
  • Cruise boats along Nile River numbers around 300
  • The smokey sky is due to burning of the fields
  • Sugar is a staple among Luxor people, hence the vast sugar cane plantations
  • Sugar canes were banned to grow near the roads for security reasons -- terrorists can easily hide behind.
  • It rains in Luxor for two minutes every four years.
The tombs such as those in the Valley of Kings and Valley of Queens strictly do not allow taking photos and videos. It's said that the lights from the camera damage wall inscription colors. It's a shame but I'll share anyway: we were too stubborn and took a video using our mobile phone (took cue from an elder tourist we saw doing it). We got caught, and the tomb guard took from us EGP100 (USD 16.80).

Most reviews say hot air balloon rides are cheap in Luxor. We paid EGP 400 (USD 67.25) each via our hotel but we were told getting it directly from the operators could be some EGP 300.


The ancient Egyptians believe they attain salvation  after life through mummification, spending years to build their mummification temples. This is where Queen Hatshepsut got mummified.

Egyptians wrote their stories through hieroglyphics
Temple walls with colored sketches (that withstood centuries) mostly showing how the ancient kings and queens adored their gods.
Luxor boasts of alabaster craft. The above shop owner demonstrates how the alabaster design diffuses light (a lighted bulb has been put inside)

I think this is Amun, the god of fertility.

In Karnak temple. Notice the massive columns. There are 134 of these rising 10-21 meters high.

Firing up the balloon.

A view from the hot air balloon -- unfinished roofs as a form of tax avoidance.

Starting to carve/ shape the alabaster stone.

(if you intend to backpack from Dubai to Luxor, Egypt, you might want to read further)

Our Egypt trip last year came about when I received Flydubai's enticing newsletter giving 30% one-leg airfare discount (and Dubai - Luxor was under AED300). When I shared it, two friends exclaimed it's an inexpensive try. One spent AED 1500 per person for five days on Luxor and Cairo. Another spent AED 5000 per person for ten days Luxor/ Cairo/ Sharm Al Sheikh with five days four-star hotel stay in the latter.

It was AED 2500 each for me and my husband, for five days covering Luxor, Cairo and Alexandria. Nothing fancy in our hotels. We engaged tourist guides and had a hot air balloon ride. From Dubai, we arranged our Luxor and Cairo tours, airport pickup and hotels with Nefertiti Hotel and Alladin Tours which is a convenient option, I guess.

A third of our travel cost went to paying our tour guides, hot air balloon ride and entrance fees to the temples (yes, everything Egypt has to offer comes with a fee, more expensive than what's paid for tour guide fees).

It's worth paying for a tour guide. A good one, could spare the tourist from hassles, although the tourist should still remain discerning especially when the guide leads the group to a shop were he is said to have a huge cut of the price the tourist buys.

For Luxor backpackers, Nefertiti Hotel is good with nice staff, clean small rooms, buffet breakfast and roof top view overlooking the Nile River and the Luxor temple. We booked online via Hostels but on our first night, they guided us to Queens Valley hotel since they were full. Queens VAlley is a turn-off, it looks ok outside, but inside is like an unattended haunted and dirty place. We forced ourselves to eat their small serving of breakfast served on dirty utensils and unhygienic setup just as we were so hungry and our tour van was already waiting outside.

Our Egyptologist-guide Alladin's enthusiasm and knowledge got us awed at how the ancient Egyptians have left tales of their lives then, considering how crude things were.

Our fourth night saw us in a 12-hours bus ride from Luxor to Cairo. It was the holidays the previous week then, making all trains full. We would be going back home Dubai via Alexandria which is 15 hours away, leaving us no choice but take the bus. We realized that our itinerary should have been Dubai-Alexandria - Luxor - Dubai. Moreover, flights in Alexandria are always reaching and leaving at mid day, so our route only gave us half day light to explore the place, that's not a fair allocation to appreciate what it can offer.  

There's lots of walking, so a stamina investment prior to travel may be better. I noted that the comforts of city life is not found here. There was no shopping mall or huge hypermarket in the area.

For more photos, please do check here.

By the way, we visited Egypt in November last year before the unrest.

Next to blog: Cairo and Alexandria.

Thinking Out Loud

That feeling of an earthquake around and What Matters

March 19, 2011

Some three weeks back, my colleague answered "Are you ok?", as I suddenly kneeled by her desk and asked "Is there an earthquake?". I thought there was a mild tremor as I swayed a little. Later in the restroom, I got scared when my head was like ready to hit the floor when I stooped. I remembered my granny who lost consciousness in the restroom due to stroke.

This was the second since the first experience I had late last year. These happened in the times my husband knows it's futile calling me during the day, but just at least to make sure I have my dinner unless I promise to be home early to join him and the Gremlin.

Oh well, ok, I have to go slow from here. This blog post is just a reminder for me to re-assess where I am heading.

"I've been passionate, and selfishness is the least I want in return"

What matters:

The Gremlin laughs at the most unfunny sounds, at least

Tired Gremlin

What makes gremlins think fried chicken is yummy?

Sleepy Gremlin on the way to the desert

Road Trips

Desert driving

March 12, 2011

It took me more than six years here in desert land to experience dune bashing (a.k.a. desert safari)  desert driving in a Fortuner 2.7. And riskily -- without the golden rules! We drove alone, no shovels, no compressor, no tow ropes, and no experience in sand maneuvering and gaining momentum.

I say risky and I emphasize Fortuner 2.7 because this car is supposed to be a heavy and less powered SUV, which is normally not apt for dune bashing (not enough torque to pull itself through loose sand). But since the Falaj Al Moalla dunes are low and not really tricky (within the tracks), we made to cross it. My husband doesn't really call our drive dune bashing, just plain desert  driving :)

At the middle of the desert's wilderness, we relied heavily on our Explorer book.  No other car trudged the tracks at the time we were there, so at some points, it was heart pounding. We have to follow the book dot-by-dot, and the car's odometer has been into use. Twice, we went back to our last origin restarting the odometer when we realized we entered the wrong fork (where the sand track branches to two directions). And yes -- we did got stuck, when the wheels were just spinning in place and shoveling sand out to the air. Thankfully our dear Driver knew how to rely on his momentum equation.



Falaj Al Moalla

The drive has these distances according to the UAE Off-road Explorer:  50kms from Dubai to start of route, 30.8 km paved and 25.7 km unpaved route, 99kms end of route to Dubai. From Dubai, we started from E311, exited E55, then entered Biyatah. As soon as we reached the highway, we decided to head back home (there's a second route after crossing the highway).

Apart from getting us to pray we'll make it out well, the drive isnt at all plain, with the animals and ghaf trees seen along the way. I even saw a green bird near the farm, which frustrated me so much not having a zoom lens.

Cows and donkeys along the way

One of the markers - where to enter

Common sight along the route -- Ghaf trees

In this farm is overflowing water into a tank
Another landmark -- a line of ghaf trees
What the Gremlin loves most of the trip - scooping the sand
Just as we were to exit to the highway, the car was unable to pass these loose sand  and luckily it was able to turn back until we found another exit.

We were alongside this camel, I was glad it didn't stoop down my open window.

You may click HERE  for more photos.

Thinking Out Loud

Rango

March 10, 2011

"It's the deed that makes the man," and so the Spirit of the West grumbled to the lizard of no name, err, Rango.

We just watched Rango (dubbed by Johnny Depp) on the big screen. A cinema date with a kid must always be a rated G.  Rango though, with gun firing, slapping, spitting and some adult comments, is not the Barney/ Little Einsteins type that confines the kid to wholesome takes. From time to time we'd whisper to the Gremlin "...but that is not good", most of which he was heartily and loudly laughing at. I don't really endorse it for kids, but yes,  the storyline and the settings are entertaining for adults. I consider it an animated PG 15 movie.

Feel Good 

I was "low" lately, and to lift my spirits, I went for a haircut (had the other one almost a year back), I asked for a movie, and I asked to go on a long drive (the husband is now reading through for options).

Oh well, i think my feeling "low" was aggravated by my "period" (this monthly-womanly-mood-swings thing is just annoying). It's frustrating when others misunderstand your passion and motivation, and acts too personal. Anyhow, I have recollected myself and had my self-motivation back. I said, first, I'm doing it for my family and second, will not take anything personal unless it genuinely compromises my motivation. (Hehe, I'm ranting here when I promised not to. Let' see if I'm gonna delete this later)

More importantly, it's just so nice to come home everyday with lots-a warm hugs.

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