Temples, and Toilets, and Tombs, Oh My — Part 9

I can imagine some friend reaching out to me: Fred, I’ve been reading your series of articles about Egypt, and you’ve gotten me all excited. I never thought about going to Egypt, but now I’m considering it. Trouble is, I can’t do it the way you’re doing it. You’re with a group and you’re spending enough time to see EVERYTHING there is to see. I’d just like to see some of the main attractions, and if I don’t get the same kind of detailed explanation that you’ve been getting, that’s OK too. It’s like going to a museum. You’re not going to see everything in one shot; that’s why some museums will point you to the highlights of their collections, and you’d be more than happy to stick to their suggestions. At least, I would. Anyway, which places are the ones, in your opinion, I DEFINITELY would have to go to?

I get the picture. In and out. No dawdling. No lounging by the pool. (And they have a nice one at the Steigenberger Nile Palace, where we’re staying, although no one had much time to use it.) So what should I tell this person, with little time and maybe less patience?

By the time he gets around to heading to the Nile, maybe (just maybe) the new Egyptian Museum will be open, and it will be (somebody had a good idea) in Giza, within shouting distance of the pyramids and the sphinx. So I would tell him to start there, and then get out of Cairo ASAP. If he has a LITTLE BIT of time, head down to Aswan and then further south to the temple at Abu Simbel; that would blow anybody’s mind. But if not, at least go to Luxor, which is a little more up-scale than either of the other places we stayed at. With minimum effort, you can get to the twin temples, the one in Luxor, where we had been in the cool, cool, cool of the evening the previous night, and Karnak, where we would be going on this Sunday morning, a little bit north of Luxor and connected to it by a long row of sphinxes. THAT is worth seeing, and they shouldn’t let you out of Egypt if you haven’t gone there.

Barbara had been there on her previous trip to the land of the Nile, but when I asked her if she remembered any more about the Karnak temple than I did, she was hard-pressed to think of anything of substance than I couldn’t come up with, both of us suffering from seemingly terminal cases of CRS (can’t remember ____). What we both recall is just how big this site is, and how there are columns here and statues there, and rooms some other place, and doors to who know what, which shouldn’t be that surprising, considering that the temple was a work-in-progress for 1000 years or more, with more Egyptian pharaohs not named Ramesses getting involved than you can shake a stick at. But as big as we thought the temple is, what neither of us realized is that only a small part of the site is now open to the public. Holy moly!

Both Migo and R/P Berman had plenty to say about what we were seeing, but did either of us remember much of what they told us? Not really. As is always the case when I’m on one of these trips, I’m listening with one ear and watching like a hawk with both eyes for something to photograph. Barbara is doing her best to hear what is being said with her whisper device – something I find more trouble than it’s worth – but there’s a limit. And even if you wanted to record what our guides were saying, you can’t do it from the earphones. One of our group, a seasoned journalist, spent her time with a notepad, taking copious notes. I’ll bet she remembers a lot more of what was said than both of us together. Maybe I should stop talking for a while and show a few pictures to give you an idea of where we were.

The unofficial greeting committee

This was Migo’s idea. Don’t ask me what the point was.

A crew of skilled women restoring and preserving the site

There’s much more to uncover

Through that portal is the Twilight Zone

Rabbi Berman reading from the Tanakh (that’s Barbara, lower right)

Migo doing his thing and showing off his tour guide t-shirt

So that’s it. The pyramids at Giza and the temples at Luxor, and I’m good? Those are the main sites I need to see?  I would remind this hypothetical friend that he was the one asking for a bare-bones list of places to visit. (In and out; no dawdling!) Let’s put it this way; you’ve seen the temples and you’ve probably been to your share of toilets. Maybe you should consider visiting a tomb or two (oh my!) while you’re in Egypt. It just so happens that right nearby, pretty much on the other side of the river, just a boat ride away, is the Valley of the Kings. It’s not as spectacular as the sites I’ve recommended, but you get a sense of the pharaonic obsession with the Next World. They keep finding more and more burial caves; I think it’s more than sixty right now, although only some of them are open to the public. What you will find in them is some well-preserved paintings on the walls – well worth your attention.

At any rate, it was worth our attention. We next took two boats across the Nile (remember that the temples – monuments to the living rulers – are on the east bank, and the tombs – where these same guys and many of their most important retinue would wind up – are on the west).

I kept wondering if it was the same throng of tourists following us from site to site, because wherever we went it was Times Square all over again. But with all the people milling around, only a certain number could fit into any of the burial caves at one time, and so I could photograph some of the frescoes to show the folks back home.

Tourists, tourists, everywhere (Note the electric carts in the background)

There was one added feature that was a pleasant surprise. Remember, we are in a third world country with a transportation system that’s a little behind the times (think Bush I and Saddam Hussein). But the little carts used to transport folks from the site entrance to the area where the tombs are – maybe a quarter of a mile – they’re electric, the latest technology! I guess the pollution from gas-powered vehicles would have done bad things to the frescoes deep under the ground. They’re not doing such good things to our lungs, but that’s another matter.

Well-preserved frescoes, hidden away for over 2,000 years

Once again, I assumed we were done. More than ready was I to head back to our hotel and get a little rest before dinner. Once again, I was wrong. We were going to stop at a workshop where artisans carved and shaped alabaster, and where, again, they just happened (happened!) to have a small selection of finished objects for sale at prices to fit one’s budget. To be fair, they were producing the real deal. Alabaster – real alabaster – is delicate and light weight, unlike the fake stuff being peddled for three dollars – maybe two for five – by the hawkers at all the sites we visited. Some of our group could not resist another opportunity to buy something, but Barbara and I had already spent $21 on items to bring back. That, we figured, was enough.

Alabaster craftsmen

We did finally leave and took the same boats back to the other side, where our hotel was. Our hypothetical friend would head to the airport, having concluded his whirlwind tour of the Nile. We, on the other hand, would have one more day on our itinerary with more to see. But that’s for next time.

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