11.05.2013 - 11.05.2013
France, Spain, Egypt, Jordan and UAE 2013
This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.
12.05.2013 - 12.05.2013 34 °C
This was essentially an 'at sea' day. We (apparently) entered the Canal at 1:00 a.m., but we were, of course, soundly asleep. I got out of bed at about 7:30 and watched the passing scenery (from our balcony :-) ) for a couple of hours, and took numerous photos. This was very anticlimactic after having gone through the Panama Canal. First, there are no locks, it is just a channel dredged from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. Second, the scenery is almost unrelievedly flat desert—and I think our side of the ship (starboard) was likely more interesting than the other side. And third, there was no running commentary, which we enjoyed and appreciated when going through the Panama Canal. I guess there was a lecture we could have attended the day before (there are at least one or two guest lecturers on the ship who provide 1/2 -3/4 hour talks the day before each port of call), but in this case, because we were off the ship on an excursion the day before, we were not able to attend the lectures on the Suez Canal (nor were we able to attend another one or two, since we were not on the ship). So we don't have much knowledge of what we were looking at. About half way through, we stopped for about an hour and a half in Great Bitter Lake, as we had to wait for the convoy coming north through the next part of the canal.
After watching the shore go by for a couple of hours, I headed up to the top deck (12) and walked my mile (5 laps). Then Mark and I played a couple of games of mini golf (nice course). Going back to our room we smelled barbecue and noted the pool deck was setting up for lunch of bbq'd ribs and chicken. We decided to indulge—Mark loves ribs....
About 3:00 pm we were clear of the Canal, and heading on to our next port, Safaga.
We inquired a few times and were rather unkindly rebuffed (the staff on this ship is definitely not like our NCL experiences), or told to watch in the daily newsletter, to find out about 2 for 1 drinks, as we had enjoyed our evening martinis on our last trip. Finally, this cruise has started offering half price drinks, but for one hour pre-dinner, and it seems to vary as to venue. So we keep our eyes on the flyer and have a drink with Val and Troi before dinner, when offered. Tonight was our free dinner at the specialty restaurant, Giovanni's. (It may seem like we harp on free or discounted stuff, but things that you have to buy on the ship are expensive. You may get a deal on your cruise, but there are no deals on the ship. They charge like a lounge or bar at home for drinks (or more) and even though your cruise price includes all your meals, to dine at a restaurant other than the main dining room, they charge a premium, from $20-30 PER PERSON. We fail to see the value in these premium charges, but it is just nice to dine in a different venue. So Free is good.). We had at least one of the same wait staff from our previous dinner here (not sure if the girl was the same) and they made our dinner very enjoyable.
I don't remember any more from this day....so, that's it. It would be nice to be telling you this stuff as soon as it happens, but so far, I am the laggard. I'm tired by the time I get 'home' at night, and each day there is just too much to occupy me....and sitting at a keyboard and writing stuff is too much like 'work', which I am on holiday to get away from. So, I hold Mark up, since we have been rotating days. Coming up, though, are very exciting days in Safaga (Luxor, Valley of the Kings) and Aqaba (Petra!).
SO glad we are here!
12.05.2013 - 12.05.2013
13.05.2013 - 13.05.2013 39 °C
Excursion: Luxor, Valley of the Kings
Mark and I decided this (like Cairo) was a BIG day with so much to say about it that we should probably each write our own observations. Here are mine, we'll see if Mark writes anything
To start off, this was another exceptional day, that far exceeded any expectations we may have had. Our guide for the day was named Assam, which he immediately told us was pronounced “Awesome”!
We got on our bus of 18 people (for a 35 or more seater bus, so, lots of room) at about 7:30 a.m. Again, we had a long drive from Safaga to Luxor, 2-3 hours. Luxor was at one time the ancient city of Thebes. It was just a village when Memphis was the capital of Egypt (during the time of the pyramids), but gradually increased in importance politically and geographically until it became the capital of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom.
We got another discourse by Assam about the kings/Pharaohs of Egypt and the dynasties, etc. Much repetition of what we learned from Mohammed in Cairo. What we learned different here is that the Valley of the Kings is a place where there are the tombs of lots of kings—the pyramids were tombs as well, of course, but from an earlier period.. The kings buried here are from the “New Kingdom” (obviously the most recent period, 1570-1080 BC, 18-20th dynasties. The first of the pyramids, the 'step pyramid' dates from the third dynasty, about 2700 BC). Because the pyramids had not been able to prevent the robbing of the tombs, this site was chosen as an alternative. There are 62 tombs in the valley, the tomb of King Tut being the most recently excavated, in 1922 by Howard Carter. This valley was chosen for four reasons:
1. to avoid the flooding of the Nile
2. to avoid robbers
3. the natural limestone
4. the natural pyramid above the valley
The tombs were built by carving out the passage ways and various small side chambers, then the walls were smoothed, and where needed, gaps were filled in with plaster. For the most part the decoration was carved into the limestone, but sometimes they were carved on the plaster, so there are some sections missing as the plaster fell away. The drawings were made in a couple of stages, the first sketches were outlined in red paint, corrections made with black, and then the sketches were chiseled into the wall,and then they were painted.
We were able to walk down the entrances to the tombs of 3 kings. By paying extra money, we could have gone into the tomb of King Tutankhamen, but we chose not to do that. What we viewed in the 3 tombs we entered was incredible. Most of us have read stories or some kind of description of entering tombs, but actually being in one, 3000 years after it was built, was more than one could have envisioned. When the tombs were discovered, the entrances were excavated, and other than that, nothing has been done to them (other than some preservation work). Once opened, what we walk upon today is as it was made centuries ago. The hieroglyphics and drawings and their colours are all original, and amazingly still quite vibrant. It was incredible to look ahead of you in a rectangular tunnel about 12' wide and 15' high, covered with hieroglyphs in vertical rows from floor to ceiling on one side, and large drawings on the other side, and pictures on the ceiling as well. We were not allowed to take photographs in this area unfortunately (neither in the tombs,nor even outside). The explanation was that because of the crowds of tourists, everyone who stops to take a picture slows down the flow of traffic. So they just say “No” to photographs, period. Instead, we had to purchase postcards and books to get pictures of what we saw. In a way, that was ok, as you could just enjoy looking at the sights. Again, our time was limited, so we could not spend time studying the hieroglyphs, but our guide had spent time describing certain pictures and their meanings and told us where to look, so we could understand certain things we were looking at and see the repetition.
After the tombs, we drove to a shop to learn a little about alabaster. We were shown the rock in its raw/natural state, and how they shape it and finish it. It comes in several colours, and actually seems to be very much like marble. It seems almost indestructible as we were shown that one of the ways to tell real alabaster from the fakes was to throw it on the ground (in this case, hard tiled floor) and it would not break. Then, of course, we were guided into the shop and allowed time to browse and purchase.....we did not like this place as there were no posted prices. Instead, you gave the pieces you liked to one of the personnel and they placed them all together, and then you were to do the bargaining. We did not even bother with this, as, without a starting point, you have no idea what the approximate cost is. You might know what you want to pay for something, but that might be nowhere near its value. So, we brought home no alabaster.
For lunch, we went to the King Tut Restaurant and enjoyed a set menu which was meat tajin with vegetables. We were served a plate with a small halved potato that had been baked, and a formed round pile of rice. Separately, we received a very hot bowl (pottery of some sort, the “tajin”) that held the meat (we think beef) in a broth with vegetables. We were not told what to do, but it seemed logical to mix the stew with the rice. It was quite delicious.
Next on the itinerary was the Karnak temple complex, but on the way there we went by the Colossi of Memnon and the Luxor Temple. Three kilometres from the Luxor Temple, we reached the Karnak monuments. Here, we explored the remains for 1.5 hours in the 39 degree heat! I was really looking forward to the hypostyle hall, with all the pillars. The area is 132 m long by 53 m wide and there are 134 columns 23 m high. Our guide had our group stand around the base of one of the pillars, with our backs to the pillar, holding hands, stretching out our arms. There were 16 of us and I'm not sure that we managed to close the circle. I was just looking in the book I bought and it said that the tops of the pillars have a circumference of 15 m and are big enough for 50 people to stand on them. Anyway, it was pretty spectacular. There were a lot of other monuments to admire and learn about, but I saw what I wanted to see here!
Three days later, it is hard to recall everything we saw and I'm sure I've missed lots, but the pictures will remind us, eventually. After Karnak, it was essentially the 3 hour drive back to the ship. We were tired out so went to our room and bed pretty much right away, because the next day was to be another long day on excursions: Petra and the Dead Sea.