February 13, 2003:
Breakfast in La Corniche with fresh waffles. A french
couple asked for tea and the waiter -- dressed formally,
even for breakfast service) pointed to the pot sitting
between them. I've never seen a man blush so thoroughly. The level of formality at the Old Winter Palace is very high -- very...well, British. To be expected, I guess, but you feel as if you should be overly formal, too, which is not something I do well on vacation. Excellent service from everyone, very elegant.
Met our guide, Jimmy (Gammel, actually, but he prefers Jimmy) and the local
tour manager, for our time today. Jimmy is very interesting,
and is obliviously enthusiastic about his work. Very,
very polite, to the point of being a little prudish
-- "There are statues of the god Amun who is
if-you-don't-mind-erect" and actually thanked
us for listening. He was used to large groups who
needed short descriptions and more "management"
than just the two of us. I'm glad that he felt it was a nice change of pace.
We stopped briefly at the Colossi of Memnon (pronounced,
apparently COL-oh-sigh). These things are huge. If
they fronted a temple, as it is believed they did,
the temple must have been acres and acres inside the walls. A
german group is excavating the possible temple there
(Amenemhet III). There is a lot of greek graffiti
carved into the statues. I had seen pictures of them before, but I never had a sense of just how large they really are. They are very, very damaged, however. I'm surprised they still remain standing.
Our next stop was Hatshepsut's temple, Deir el-Bahari It was the site of the 1997 massacre and the obvious security
is a bit daunting. Lots of guards, lots of pillboxes,
all the busses are stopped a kilometer from the site.
There are actually a number of temples here, but only
Hatshepsut's is open and still being investigated
by Polish archeologists. We walked down the long road
to the tiered courtyards. The gatehouse is now far from the temple itself, to avoid clumps of people that might be attractive to terrorists.
Our guide told us that Hatshepsut is the only woman
pharaoh -- I've since learned that is not quite true,
but she is the only one who took the trapping of a
man and ruled entirely alone. The word Pharaoh means
"white house" and describes the location
and organization of the temple, as well as the role of king. Hatshepsut made up a story (profusely
illustrated here at the temple) that she is the divine
daughter of Amun in order to legitimize her rule. Most of her representations in the
temple are completely defaced by Thutmose III when he took the throne.
With a little finagling by Jimmy, we were able to see the newly restored wing that contains
the story of Hatshepsut bringing her huge obelisks to Karnak in
Luxor from the quarries in Aswan. The colors are glorious.
Statues of Hatshepsut, which have been somewhat restored and line the terraces of the temple, are wide-eyed, almost asian
looking, and quite beautiful. Jimmy says that Nefertari
and Cleopatra are not quite so beautiful as the statues
We were continually accosted in the souk and finally
figured out the way to get the best price on things
-- simply keep saying NO politely and never take anything
that is handed to you. We went from 100 LE to 4 LE
for some statues. We refused, although we later wishes
that we had taken them. It's getting easier, but we're
still uncomfortable haggling. Everyone is very upbeat
and cheerful about it, though. No one is that pushy
or aggressive, although we noticed it here more than in some of the other sites we've been. Probably because there were more people here.
An Afternoon Off
We cleaned up and headed to a late lunch at the Marhaba
(Hello!) Restaurant. Very good kebab. It's close to the hotel, but our escort was going to wait to walk us
back to the hotel after lunch (but not join us!).
We said there was no need -- we could walk 1 block
on our own. They (the office manager, Mustafa, was
there, too) were still there and checked on us when
we were done. Very nervous to leave us alone, which
was kind of funny. They shadowed us back to the hotel,
we think. I can only wonder if the "overly protective-buffer" treatment is common for tours, or if they did it because we were alone.
Napped a bit. Mark bought a shirt and I a wool scarf
/throw for a total of $50. Amazing. At 6 we headed
off to the Sound an Light show at Karnak.
Pretty cheesy, but Karnak is truly stunning all it
up and the tourist police guy got us to the front
of every line and told us when to take the best pictures.
We tipped him well and thanked him profusely. It really
was nice of him and kept us out of the crowd.
No dinner. We ate too much at lunch, so we watched
a Bond movie and crashed I'm not surprised, usually bout half-way through a vacation, we have a few days where we fall asleep during dinner.