Monday, April 4, 2011

April 4 2011: Valley of the Kings, Hatsheptsut, Medinat Habu, Colossi of Memnon

Our last morning on the ship dawned as pretty as all the other ones.  Something we're enjoying about Egypt:  the weather!  It's been so perfect--not too hot, always sunny.  Gotta love it!  A "cold" front came through the other day and all the Egyptians donned sweaters (we teased dear Mohammed about it) while the tourists were comfortable in short sleeves.  The guidebooks were right about this time of the year!

Today's agenda includes visits on the West Bank of Luxor:  Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut's Temple, my special request of Medinat Habu, and a stop at the Colossi of Memnon.

We started off with an 8am disembarcation.  We were sad to say goodbye to the Sonesta St. George I boat and her lovely staff.  Our three nights cruise was not long enough!

At the docking slip, our driver and Mohammed wrangled us into the minivan for the drive to our first stop--the Valley of the Kings.  The drive there was very picturesque.  We pulled up at the entrance and left everything, except for some water, in the car since cameras are not allowed.  Our plan was to see three tombs that were included on the entrance ticket and King Tut's tomb, for an extra 100LE per person.  After a short drive in a little open train thing, we arrived at the burial grounds of numerous pharoahs.

Mohammed selected Rameses IV, Rameses III and Merenptah for viewing.  They were all spectacular, especially Rameses IV.  What I most liked was how close all the brilliant color was to me.  In the Temples, due to the passage of time, exposure, erosion, vandalism, whatever, the color is mostly at the top of the columms or underneath the roof, far away.  In the tombs, it's in your face--so close you can breathe on it, study it and marvel at the artistry and dedication of the tomb builders.  The figures are so intricately carved and decorated; the colors, still so vivid and real.  It's incredible, really, especially considering the age of the tombs.  I marvelled in each one and lingered as long as I could.  The tomb of Merenptah involved a long hike down a steep-ish walkway to the center room which had a granite sarcophagus.  Hubby and bro got to look up under it and said it was carved inside, too.  Pretty neat.

We then went to see King Tut's tomb.  All of his treasures are in museums so what we saw were two small rooms.  One chamber had colorful walls decorated with baboon and a granite sarcophagus.  The other small chamber held a coffin with his mummy.  The tomb guard had a flashlight and shone it on the mummy's head and feet, which are uncovered.  So, I'm standing in Tut's burial chamber looking at his dead body--weird, cool, and creepy.  He was pretty tiny and all black and shrivelled up.  I really don't like looking at mummies; it's just not right, you know?

Back in the fresh air, I asked Mohammed about the Tomb of Seti I which is supposed to be spectacular (like Rameses IV's) but unfortunately that side of the Valley was closed "the military doesn't feel it's safe right now."  I guess it's another reason to come back!
This is how the Valley of the Kings looks

We then headed to our next stop:  Hatsheptsut's Temple.  It was built by Madam Hatshetpsut herself to elevate herself to pharoah and god.  Mohammed told us about how she changed her birth story to fit her being a god.  The temple is largerly reconstructed (by Polish workers) but what remains of the original structure is surprisingly colorful.  Her statues are huge (not Abu Simbel sized, though) and show her as the pharoah.  She was the only female pharoah and adopted the dress of men (so no covering on top).  Her temple is on three levels and the hiking was really hard.  It was worth it though.

Temple is on three levels, so lots of steps

It's carved out of the mountain-side, very pretty setting

Plenty of tourists about

Lots of color still remains

 We next headed out to Medinat Habu.  I had read that this was not as touristed as other sites but that it was spectacular, with incredibly deep carvings.  It turned out to be my favorite temple on the trip.  It's so spectacular.  Yes, I've said that about all of them but it really was (lol)!  There is a lot of color on the columms and walls and the carvings are so very deep.  Very special and unique.  Mohammed explained that the pharoahs learned that it was easier to erase your predecesor if the carvings were not deep--thus deep carving began.  I don't think anyone can erase the carvings at Medinat Habu!

Medinat Habu is perfectly symetrical so each side has the same carvings
like below

Amazing color on the ceiling posts

Amazing color in the super deep carvings

Spectacular.  I don't know why so few people visit this temple...

Our driver; he's from the West Bank

I was pretty tired at this point, so didn't even get out of the minivan at the neaby Colossi of Memnon.  Basically two giant statues that were the entry markers for a temple that is now in ruins.  It would have probably been like the biggest one around if the size of the Colossi are any indication.  Hubby and bro took a quick photo and we were off to check into the Old Winter Palace hotel in Luxor.

Our Luxor rep met us along the way and then checked us in to the Old Winter Palace Hotel.  It's a spectacular place--very old world, very dignified, very rich.  It just feels special.  We were our usual useless selves (sat in the comfy lobby while the rep did the work) until they gave us our keys and escorted us to our rooms.  Ahmed Hamed Yousif had delivered again! 

Beofre we left the US, I requested Ahmed change us from the Maritim Jolie Ville to the Pavilion Winter wing of the Old Winter Palace.  Well, the Pavilion Winter was still closed due to low tourist numbers and our room was in the Old Winter Palace proper facing the Nile!  The room (#140) was huge and tastefully decorated.  The bathroom could have been a little bigger (especially in comparison to the size of the room) but it was clean and functional.  I thought the room was a little under decorated but that's probably just in comparison to the gorgeous suite we had on the Sonesta St. George I boat.  I knew we'd be comfortable in this room for the four nights we would be in Luxor!

It was early enough to go exploring the grounds--so very, very beautiful--and have lunch at the pool restaurant (delicious!).  After a quick change into our swimsuits, we spent a little time in the gorgeous pool.  I thought it was the prettiest pool and grounds I have ever seen (perhaps except for the Bellagio in Las Vegas).  I did complain that the pool staff were not very attentive, but I sincerely wanted to stay at the pool for the foreseable future...
Front entrance of Old Winter Palace
Our large and kinda plain room
The entrance way to our room, I spent a lot of time at the desk...
Small but functional bathroom
Looking out the bedroom window to the front entrance and the Nile

Garden view of Old Winter Palace

We were picked up by Mohammed and our nice driver for the Karnak Sound and Light Show.  We watched the sun set on the terace at the Winter Palace then drove over to Karnak; 'twas spectacular!  Then we followed the lights as they led us through this magnificent temple complex in the dark.  Bro helped me navigate the dark walkways--we both had our little flashlights.  It was very interesting but sometimes hard to understand.  We all enjoyed seeing Karnak lit up!

Sunset from entrace terrace at Old Winter Palace

At Karnak waiting for the Sound and Light Show to begin

It was really dark

After the Karnak S&L, we stopped for snacks for the next day's long drive through the countryside.  We then headed back to the pool restaurant for a late dinner.  It was very good, the server was fun and engaging.  It was a lovely way to end our great day in Luxor.

Phil and Mohammed buying snacks under the watchful gaze of our galabiya clad driver


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