Hawkes Bay NZ Water trail

Friday, March 31, 2017

Elegance wasted on smokers at CDG M gates

This is a gorgeous vertical garden that complements both sides of a rest room in the terminal. Unfortunately, the one on the right is locked, while the one on the right (not shown) is for smokers. What a waste of resources to appease those who still don't get it. I am returning to the US with a bronchial infection caused by Egypt's smoking culture. Hotels stink, archeological resources stink, and the hookah bars are just nasty. It's a pity that smoking is ingrained as another example of Egyptian male bonding. Hookah bars for women aren't a strike for women's rights. Personally I prefer the disgusting opaque smokers' rooms that still fit airports outside the US. Stigmatizing smokers is an effective way to drive home the message that smoking is pollution and hurts everyone.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


We've been passing the same group of village ladies all week as we've come and gone from the guesthouse in Luxor. These kind women invited us for lunch. It's our last day here but this is a top 10 activity. Money can't buy it, only friendliness across a huge cultural and language divide. Thank you to the ladies of the village of Al-Awamiya. Shukran!

Dahibbiyya being towed upstream

Today, our last in Egypt, means we'll fly from Luxor to Cairo at 5:30pm and at 12:30am Friday (ye gods!) pick up a flight to Paris and then home to the US. The best thing to do is settle the bill at the guesthouse using a big wad of Egyptian pounds and some Euros, then hang out at the former Sheraton, now Achti Resort in the Nile. Our guesthouse's mudbrick walled garden adjoins the resort, so close we could hear 2 Egyptian buskers sawing away on traditional instruments for tips from departing resort guests.
So we're enjoying the view across the Nile towards the West Bank and Valleys of Kings, Queens and Nobles beyond. We also are watching tenders tow feluccas upstream. It's ferociously hot now at noon, in the lower 80s, and there is no wind. The sailboats will ride the current back to Luxor, with hoisted sails only for tourists.
I'm guessing that this splendid overnight cruiser is being repositioned to Aswan for a Nile Cruise. It would be a splendid, expensive way to see a bit of Egypt.
Perhaps on a return trip, when I'm older and much wealthier🙂

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Nefertari's tomb

Colossal Osiris Statues

On the upper terrace. This temple has been extensively restored by a Polish-Egyptian team. It was once buried under aeons of limestone rubble from the cliffs above.

Angry Bird

Maybe once upon a time

Hathor Chapel at Temple of Hatshepsut

Entrance to Nefertari's tomb in the Valley of the Queens

We paid an additional E£1,000 ($US 55.35) on top of the regular E£100 admission, for a 10-minute visit to this extraordinary tomb. A worthwhile visit but sadly, marred by the aggressive tomb "guard" who tried to bully us into paying baksheesh for the pleasure of having him stop following us around. The extra charge to enter the tomb is astronomical in Egyptian terms, marking us as rich Americans. I suspect he decided 2 women were fair game for a shake down.
He miscalculated. He did not expect both of us to shout back, calling his bluff. You want a piece o' me, punk, do ya?
Some days you just run out of patience with this crap.
However, after this downer on an otherwise fascinating trip, I think it's time to sign up for a self defense class. I want to learn kneeing any future bozos like this in the nuts. It's no wonder Luxor has a dubious reputation as "hassle capital" of Egypt. The desperate economic times is being used as an excuse to fleece tourists by whatever method works.
Too many touts are demanding money for absolutely no service beyond annoying us. We've been told that it's "only a dollar" and constantly met with whines of "Why you no buy?" The typical crap you face in countries where a woman saying no politely means so little. So I eventually stopped being polite and just told one guy that it was none of his business. I also wanted to tell him, for good measure, to go to hell, but I didn't. This is my vacation. I don't need to explain anything to intrusive men. You don't see them trying this tactic with the large tour groups of Chinese tourists. I guess the Chinese don't take kindly to touts, nor do many speak Chinese.
It's been great to have a traveling companion on this trip. Doing this trip as a solo woman traveler would've worn me out a lot faster. However two independent women travelers can tag team the irritant and neutralize him.

Sent from my iPhone

Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut

A big tourist draw and hot as hell.

Snack at Sharia-as-Souk

Kunafa, vermicelli-like pastry soaked in syrup(l) and also rolled and stuffed with nuts or clotted cream (r). Not as sweet as I'd expected.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Not an Egyptian

This dude belongs in ancient Persian or perhaps an orientalized place, like India or Africa.

Hathor in better days

Inside Dendara

The place is a strange mix of Roman pretending to be Egyptian. Much more color, busier fake Pharaonic carving with more sensuality in the figures, and entire walls of chipped out gods and pharaohs. Every column topped with Hathor has been vandalized.
It's easy to see that there was something corrupted going on here at the end of the golden ages of Egypt.

Temple of Hathor at Dendara

Another 90-minute "Mr Toad's Wild Ride" away, after spook city at The Tree of Life.

Weirdest lunch stop ever

After visiting Abydos we faced another 90-minute drive back to Dendara, and its Ptolemaic temple to Hathor. Not knowing if the return would be equally slow, we decided to find a quick lunch stop. Abydos is pretty much deserted, so choice of venue was limited to some dim hole in the wall cafes/sheesha (hookah) smoking venues. We'd passed The Tree of Life Hotel, a massage spa resort then newly finished, according to my Lonely Planet guide, printed in 2015.
Seems that the place spectacularly missed whatever tourism surge had been predicted, as one half of the place was "wind whistling through the hallways" unfinished, and already falling down. We went into a side building and worked out lunch with the desk manager. The hotel kitchen isn't operating, so they somehow sent out for the mezze we ordered, using the photos of previous meals saved on our phones. 35 minutes later we ate baba ganoush, falafel, vegetable tagen and vermicelli flecked rice in a large empty dining room. Here's the view from inside of a ghostly Moroccan style resort around an unused pool. It was an odd experience.

Lotus blossom offerings at Abydos

The artist has expertly captured the drape of the flowers. Under the heat of the sun, these cut flowers must have had a short shelf life.

3,290 year old Egyptian flip flop

Seti I's sports sandal is remarkably contemporary.

Hot as blazes and an archetypal experience as an independent traveler

We'd left Luxor at 6:45am and taken nearly 3 tiresome hours to reach Abydos, not the 1.5 hours optimistically volunteered by our guesthouse's manager. The road was bumpy and narrow with many obstructions: potholes, intersections by narrow gauge rails for sugarcane trains, donkey carts hauling enormous horizontal mounds of reeds, sanity-defying tuk tuk drivers, random traffic control barricades, dusty police checkpoints staffed by bored uniformed men holding rifles. Hassan, our designated driver, did the best he could, which we expected as we'd paid €45, or E£890 for the day's transport, easily twice as much as we might have done with a non-guesthouse-organized taxi. Still, as my guidebook wrote: "Because of the bargaining and hassle involved, some people find independent travel challenging at times..."
No s**t.
Local travel in 3rd world countries is an acquired taste, one that's definitely a bit difficult in Luxor. I suspect that our trip took an hour longer than needed because at police checkpoints Hassan insisted on telling every god-dammed passel of cops that he was taking 2 American women to Abydos. I don't need much command of Arabic to hear that loud and clear. Finally, after we told him we had to find a rest stop, (an ambulance station with 3rd world plumbing but you can't be choosy here), we did try to tell him to knock it off, showing him my Australian passport to underline the point. But we couldn't put that particular genie back in the bottle. I suspect that news of our approach spread via cell phone up the road all the way to Abydos, so he couldn't really correct the error.
Now, this is the crux of the issue about coming to an Islamic country during a time of widespread ignorance and political grandstanding. Barely a month ago, I was naively amused by reports of President Trump's rudeness to the Australian prime minister. The US media were delighted to ridicule this undiplomatic outburst against one of the US's staunchest allies. I know from experience that Australians can give it right back to boneheads, no matter how high and mighty they think they are. As far as I know, Australia doesn't receive US government aid for anything, and in general, Americans and Australians like each other a lot. However, for this trip, given the instability both at home and here, and the specious bans on travelers from 7, then 6 predominantly Muslim countries into the US, we'd agreed to travel with our alternate nationalities: British and Aussie, as well as stay out of obviously American-branded hotels, like Hilton or Sheraton.
This is our "abundance of caution" approach to adventure independent travel. It's what I do when I travel solo. It's wise not to deliberately draw attention to yourself in a place where some crazy f**k might suddenly decide to let it rip. It's not foolproof but every little helps. Still, let's face it, s**t can happen anyway. However,
I didn't count on Hassan's braggadocio. Now, he can't help it, being an Egyptian guy in a macho country, a place where local women must get permission from male relatives in order to travel. We represent sorely needed income in a very poor country. Definitely a WTF moment for this single older woman and a younger woman very happily married to a nice, educated western man. Fortunately, all it meant was that we were handed off from town to town for an unnecessary police escort by a van of young googly-eyed cops all trying to look into the back of the taxi to check out the pair of exotic moneybags riding inside. What they saw was a colorful headscarfed woman in a floppy straw hat wearing sunglasses, and a Chinese woman in a hospital issue face mask, also wearing a super large sunhat, one she usually reserves for hiking in Arizona.
From inside the taxi I got to see vignettes of rural life. I saw lots of men herding goats, cooking pita bread in clay ovens, cutting sugar cane with machetes, men selling pumpkins and loofah gourds, or clay oven proof cookware, called tagens, on the street. The best two were the young boy practicing gymnast moves on his saddled donkey, and the donkey-riding, turban-wearing guy carrying a petrol can into a gas station and pulling up to the pump.
Fill 'er up.

Ancient (?) Greek graffiti at Abydos

Hopefully it's not simply an obscenity. Many Egyptian temple carvings have been chipped and chiseled away by angry and/or clueless boneheads, both foreign and domestic.

On the portico at Abydos

Many of the figures of Phaorah Seti making offerings retain their original colors. The formulaic dress of the ancient Egyptians is echoed here by my daughter's very intelligent decision to "be an Egyptian girl for a week" and use a scarf I'd packed for situations like this. I'd brought it to use when visiting mosques. Here, in Luxor, its use is transformative. It cuts down harassment by trinket wielding touts by at least 75%. And even when they walk uncomfortably close (for Westerners), invading our personal space, they are so much less aggressive and so more easily waved away. Likely they're stymied by the sight of an obviously foreign woman dressed like a convert. And with me, with my Asian ancestry, as the older, related woman, well it's great. It makes manageable the getting around in this place with its expectations of haggling for every last stupid thing.
Shock and awe, women travelers out there! Shock and awe!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Great Temple of Seti I in Abydos

Very impressive within its wide desert surroundings, the exterior of the limestone Cenotaph of Seti I (1294-1279 BC) would work nicely as a post modernist library on a university campus. Inside, its hypostyle halls are packed with sandstone papyrus shaped columns in darkness lit with shafts of sunlight streaming from square holes in the roof. Sadly, despite the no smoking signs at the entrance, several guards and their hangers-on were puffing away on the particularly nasty smelling cigarettes sold in Egypt. This tobacco makes my eyes water and stirs up upper respiratory congestion. This is another temple in which you have to resort to a surgical face mask if you want to stay inside and study the engravings.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

No photos?

A randomly enforced rule around here. Cell phones without flash don't damage the wall paintings but this sign refers to a technology that is less relevant these days.

Tomb of Menna

We had practically no company all day. A big contrast to the mob scene at the Valley of the Kings a few miles further up the road.

Banquet preparations

We took turns reading the walls on both sides using our American University of Cairo-published guidebook. Along with a pair of binoculars, a headlamp and a small flashlight, we were well prepared.

Walled terraced garden with central pond and orchards

A detail from the tomb of Rekhmire

Inside Rekhmire's tomb

The central chamber of this cruciform tomb slopes upwards towards a false door. If you sit on the step of false door, this is what you see when you look back to the entrance.

Tombs of the Nobles

There are at least 400 tombs here. Tickets are sold in various groupings and various prices, ranging from E£20 to 40.

Relief at Luxor Temple

In the cult sanctuary of Amun.

Double row of columns with lotus bud capitals

In the Great Court of Ramses II at Luxor Temple.

Temple of Luxor

Lovely papyrus shaped columns

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ramses II's big right foot

Nice C13th BC pedicure

Avenue of Sphinxes at Luxor Temple

Designed for the annual Opet festival, when the Nile would flood the area. Extraordinary at night.

Felucca at dusk

6pm docking at the Hilton hotel. The tell tails on the mainsail are orange pompon-like tufts.

All hail, Ra!

You travel through the skies in a boat, sinking down into the underworld each night before re-emerging at dawn to bring light.


Felucca on the Nile

This is the view from the pool deck of the Hilton Resort. Having lunch here gave us the chance to take a dip in the Nile-facing infinity pool. In the background is the Valley of the Kings.

El Hilton Luxor for lunch

Just like the Luxor in Vegas, except far fewer guests.

Courtyard at La Maison

Something like this is a wonderful and necessary antidote to the world on the other side of the wall. I've succumbed to a bad cold turned bronchial infection that's draining me of energy here in Egypt. It's disastrous. You need a lot of energy to deal with the challenges of getting around and seeing what you wish to see without being overwhelmed by people who, understandably, can't fathom how a couple of women can manage here without any men to "help" or "guide" or "manage" them. It's great. My daughter and I are getting the best smiles and truly genuine greetings from the veiled women sitting on their stoops in the alley outside our guesthouse. Foreigners come up this alley frequently enough, but an English-speaking mom/daughter duo is noteworthy. The street urchins like us too, especially when we tricked them by kicking the soccer ball in the evening street game. I expect we'll be dealing with invitations to play for the rest of our stay. Be careful what you wish for.

Better than any guide

Published by the American University in Cairo, this is our guide to the a archeological treasures hereabouts. About $20, used, from Amazon.

Tomb of Ramses VI

Scenes from The Book of the Earth decorate the burial chamber. Ramses's tomb was ransacked 20 years after completion, ca. 1116BC, but no one placed value on the wall paintings. The supreme irony is that the tomb raiders were so busy in here, they managed to overlook King Tutankhamen's tomb next door.

Egyptian Breakfast

We asked our guesthouse crew to swap out the "European" breakfast for something fresh and much much tastier. So we got to try fuul, which is similar to refried beans, with falafel, pita and salad.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Late lunch after my trip

A lemon and a melon fruit drink at a very superior Egyptian restaurant in Luxor. So welcome after the blazing heat in the Valley of the Kings. It's so hard to drink enough water, so such a pleasure to find these.

Valley of the Kings

What lies beneath these locked doors is quite remarkable and worth the effort. However, the poorly paid guards are desperate for tips and get up to all sorts of antics. The last thing I answer is: "Hello hello lady where are you from?" If you do 10 Egyptian pounds turns quickly into 10 US dollars. I bring my own flashlight and consult a guidebook when examining some of the extravagant tomb wall paintings. This means I won't be paying bakheesh for "guiding". Such preparation is unwelcome. I dealt with an aggressive verbal assault by a tomb "guard" who thought he could intimidate a woman tourist. Raising one's voice to someone who's lived in New York is not smart.
Nil mish mish. In your dreams.

Pay to Play

Several tombs are off limits to tickets buyers who choose to travel independently, read a guidebook and simply buy a ticket at the gate. I wonder how much several "adventure archaeology travel" companies are paying to who knows whom to restrict access, and thus justify the expense of their trips.
It's a dubious practice in a poor country with an economy in tatters. This is Egypt's cultural heritage and should not be sold to the highest bidder.

Authorized photo in the Valley of the Kings

Enroute to the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank in Luxor

"My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings, look on my works ye mighty, and despair."

Give me back my face!

Souvenirs from Karnac have been hot sellers for some time.

Horus heads stepping out

Highly effective response to intrusive kids and touts trolling for baksheesh

Several ram headed sphinxes at Karnac.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

No eternal life for you

Someone really hated Hapshetsut and when she died they tried to wipe her off the pages of history. Here an unusual shower of protective ank symbols covers a chiseled out silhouette. Guess who? Didn't work, did it, but you can feel the bitterness in this act of vandalism.