Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Sunday, December 2, 2012


There is no way to get around Luxor. This is the old Thebes, the ancient capital of the New Kingdom and the birth place (and domicile) of the most important god Amun-Ra. On the East bank of the Nile, 700 km from Cairo and 300 from Aswan, the city is experiencing a resurgence under a determined new mayor. At least that is what the Lonely Planet guide says. I bought a voucher for a hotel for three nights - non refundable. After previous adventures with hotels in Egypt, nobody would be surprised to find out that we arrived three nights later than we were supposed to and the hotel accepted our voucher and upgraded us to a little apartment at no extra cost. They rated themselves as three stars, I would give them maximum two, but they were nice. Plus they had a framed letter from a secretary of a member of "The" Royal Family, thanking them for being good hosts during the 15 minutes break that her highness took in their lobby. Thirteen years ago.
Temple of Hatshepsut, Luxor

Supposedly we were located in the middle of the action, nearby all the touristic attractions. We were not. The only restaurant within walking distance was a KFC, we walked three kilometers to the Luxor Temple and I walked two to get some bread one day. So despite getting advice from everybody not to use a taxi or a calèsh we used them without any problem.

By contrast to Aswan - the dock for the cruise ships is far away from the city. My Egyptian brother send some representative to pick us up from the boat. He and the driver took us to the hotel, refused any payment and helped smooth out the check-in process. Like I said, I was late three nights and I needed all the help I could get. All they wanted was for us to accept a trip with them to the West Bank next day. They would provide the guide free, another present from my "brother." I said yes.

Next morning a nice looking, well mannered and well educated gentleman with a good command of English was waiting for us in the lobby. He had the body language and affected mannerism of a high class gay from Manhattan which made him very familiar and likeable. We took off toward the Valley of the Kings. He informed us of our schedule. We were supposed to be back at the hotel by noon after visiting "all the attractions." I said "no way!" and only then I realized my mistake. I should have arranged the schedule and the price the day before. We didn't want the classical circuit for the average tourists, we wanted much more. I pretended that I was a little upset and offended and even implied that we can cancel the whole trip. It almost seemed to me that he was trying to hide some of the treasures of the West Bank, but with the iPad in hand and the guidebooks open, I demanded a few extra places and refused to go to some of his tourist attractions. So in the van, carrying three way conversations with the boss of the local agency, the brother in Aswan and the guide in the car, we arranged for the schedule that I wanted, including paying for the guide's services and yesterday's free ride... You have to love Egypt.

My friends and coworkers from Elmira, Kathy and Tom, gave us a gift-card to have some fun activity on this trip. Tom recommended skydiving and I promised that I will do my best to do it. But we never got to the part of Nepal where I would have tried that, and in New Zealand the wind was against us. There were no other opportunities and most likely there will be no more by the end of this journey. So we used their gift to cover part of this day on the West Bank of the Nile. It was a great experience and we will always remember it! Thank you!

For some reason, life had to take place on the east bank - the west was for the dead. For several thousand years the pharaohs, the queens and princes, the nobles and many of those working for them had to be buried in special graves dug out in the hills. The classical trip includes three royal tombs, the temple of Hatshepsut and little else. Like I said, we got much more.

There is a "no picture" policy almost everywhere. In the Valley of the Kings they don't even let you take your camera out of the car! Apparently this is the only way they can be sure that tourists don't use flash. Some guys hanging around sell a set of postcards, the guides use them to give information outside the entrance and invite us to buy the set. And as usual, we don't. There are 63 tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the visitor center has an awesome tridimensional model that shows how the corridors pierce the mountains. Of these tombs only a few are open at any one time, only three can be visited on the entrance ticket (or so we're told) and a few extras have separate and more expensive tickets. The most famous is the tomb of Tutankhamun and for good reason. All of the tombs were looted in the ancient times. It might have been a sort of mafia that might have included the high priests that were supposed to guard the secret of the burial places. Anyhow, at some point two thousand years ago, with the secret out and realizing that the mummies of the pharaohs were not protected anymore, most of them were moved in a common burial place, rediscovered in the 19th century and moved to the Cairo museum or abroad. The riches from the tombs were long gone. But Tut had a different fate. Reigning for only nine years, his tomb was built in haste and a lot of riches from his father's time were put in there. Apparently, while digging for the entrance of a bigger tomb, Ramses VI, the material that was removed covered much deeper Tutankhamun's tomb. Even if it was partially robbed twice in antiquity, it riches far surpassed any imagination. A famous egyptologist looked for it for many years and when he found it in 1922 he became a hero. Howard Carter's house in the valley is still visited and pictures of him are everywhere. But the content of the tomb is now gone to the museums and there is no reason to visit the empty place here.

In the Valley of the Kings we visited the tombs of Ramses IV and VII and Merenptah (the 13th son of Ramses II, and the one who followed him). The tombs were dug deep into the mountains, sometime hundreds of meters away from the entrance. The corridors were painted vividly and the colors are still visible in most places. The themes varied, religious and serious for the pharaohs in contrast to the secular, relaxed, funny ones for the nobles. The pharaohs took the journey into the other world very seriously.
Glass model of the Valley of the Kings, the empty space is the mountain, you see how the tomb goes

We spent a lot of time at the Temple of Hatshepsut. From afar it is a beautiful construction. Close by, there is little left. The monument suffered a lot through the centuries. Hatshepsut, the best known female pharaoh, did some good things, but her stepson and follower really hated her. Tuthmosis III did his best to remove any sign of her from everywhere. At last the Christians came, and as usual they put the most effort in destroying all the pagan reliefs. It is a pity because this could have been one of the best sites of antiquity. A Polish team has been working on some restoration program for some thirty years, and if all goes well they might finish before the sun dies.
Polish archeologist restoring the temple with the help of locals

It's just us again, visiting the tombs of some nobles

We requested to see some tombs of the Nobles and from several packages we chose the tombs of Ramose, Userhet and Khaemwet. I also specifically asked to see the temple of Madinat Habu, not included on most tours. Built by Ramses III (1182-1151 BC), it is one of the best preserved in Egypt, it is immense but well proportioned and designed, the best example of the "classical" temple architecture. Not surprisingly, from all we saw, I liked it best.
Madinat Habu

Colossi of Memnon, great story...

This was actually the second day in Luxor, since we arrived at the hotel at ten in the morning we also had a first one. I wanted to see the Luxor Museum. The hours listed were 8-13 and 17-21. Nobody knew if there are new hours, even though it was likely that they were changed after the revolution because of lack of visitors. So we took our time, walked for hours through the city, had lunch at McDonalds right by the Luxor Temple. It was nice to see the temple from high up, but we were not interested to go in, just yet. We were approached many times by calèsh drivers offering to take us for a tour for 5 pounds per hour. One, more insistent, harassed us for a while. Since I already said NO once I stopped any further communication with him. He parked himself in front of McDonalds, spotted us on the third floor and waited for us. After about an hour I went downstairs, I told him NO a second time and he gave up. We walked to the train station to buy tickets for Cairo, returned to the entrance of the Luxor temple and the beggining of the alley of sphinxes that took in the ancient times to the Karnak temple. The new mayor decided to restore the splendor of the past and demolished all the ramshackle houses built in the last hundred years. They are digging a few feet to get to the sphinxes, but since there was nobody working on the project in the perfect weather on Wednesday afternoon, I suspect that this will also take a long time to be completed.
The alley of sphinxes

We then passed through the traditional souk, bought postcards and stamps. I was offered beer, under the counter, this is a muslim country after all, the price was $4 for a small can. I explained to the owner that in my country it costs 50 cents for a bigger bottle and I can wait to get there. We arrived at the museum a few minutes before 5 pm. The museum was closing! A calèsh driver, who figured out where we were going, told us it's closed and followed us to show that he told us the truth. He offered to take us to the hotel for 20 pounds, four times more than the others asked for a full tour of the city. I took the offer since it was appropriate and joining him on the bench we started some discussion about how the others scam people.

It was dark already and we passed by the illuminated Luxor temple, we saw the other lateral and that would be fine for us all, the time planned for this visit will be used to see the Luxor Museum on the third day.
Luxor Temple

We started with the visit to the Karnak temple, the biggest and most famous in Egypt and definitely one of the greatest in the world. Get a book to read some basics about this and still nothing could prepare you for the experience on the ground. All the superlatives could be applied to one part or another part of this massive complex. Numbers can tell us the total surface (2 sq. km), how many grand European cathedrals could fit inside (10!), records can tell us how many people the priests at the main temple had working for them (81,000!), and still you would be awed in Karnak. To me the most relevant information was that they worked for 1500 years to built this temple. One thousand five hundred years, pharaoh after pharaoh worked to complete the plans of his predecessors and came up with his own. One pylon after another, one courtyard, one pillar, one statue here, one obelisk here and there, temple after temple, following each other. The most amazing is the great hypostyle hall, a forest of immense papyrus-like pillars sculpted all around and all the way up. Designed by Ramses I, it was completed during the reign of Seti I and Ramses II.
Karnak temple

Exhausted by the long row of main temples, only Ioan and I had the energy and interest to get to the last one, the temple of Konshu, the god of the moon. There wasn't anybody around so we enjoyed it even more. This was built by Ramses III, the same as in Madinat Habu, it must be that he'll become my favorite temple architect!

Gate to the temple of Konshu
We left. We could have stayed more, we should have come back, we just couldn't see everything. But we were satisfied with what we saw in the four hours or so spent here, it wasn't just duty, we really had a great time.

We went to the Luxor Museum. Clean, neatly organized, a modern building with some fabulous exhibits, this is a medium size museum that should not be missed. We were not allowed to take pictures, I cannot show what we saw, but believe me it is great. A new hall has about 20 statues discovered in 1989 that are in perfect shape. If they would have been done 50 years ago they might have seem older!
Luxor Museum
For the second night in a row we had dinner at KFC. It is not fast food in Egypt, they made the food "freshly for us", so it took longer than a regular restaurant. But since the hotel had outrageous prices and nothing else was available for miles around, we were happy, checked that box, another day when we are able to feed ourselves. Who cares about food or anything else after he's seen Karnak?

Saturday morning we packed, took a cab and got to the train station. We are going home! There will be few more stops but we know them and it's all a straight line from here...

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