Cruising the Nile was a dream come true, what better to appreciate this magnificent river than on a luxurious boat with all the comforts of home and more. Four days of beautiful scenery, passing by towns where the call to prayer echoes out across the valley. Egyptians go about their business and children play on river bank waving out happily as you pass by.
I boarded my 4 story cruise boat in Aswan and sailed up the Nile to Luxor stopping along the way at temples and docking overnight at Edfu. It was an amazing four days of wonderful sights, fantastic service and beautiful meals.
Another way to cruise the Nile is by felucca, a cute sail boat that relies on the cool breeze of the Nile to push them along, zig zaging across the river to make the most of the wind. No plunge pool with bar service or day spa though but still quite lovely I am told. I was the only one in my tour group that took the upgrade and even though they sailed a day earlier my boat passed them within 30 minutes of leaving Aswan.
When you go to Egypt this is certainly one of the adventures that is a must, either by cruise boat or felucca it will be an incredible journey.
A trip to the Alexandria Library is well worth the visit, it is a magnificent building that has an amazing goal and purpose. While this new library may never be able to replace the knowledge lost when the Great Library was destroyed many centuries ago, they will certainly succeed in preserving knowledge for many centuries to come.
The goal of this place of knowledge is to house every single piece of literature ever publish, ambitious as it sounds they are accomplishing exactly that every day. Aside from rows of bookshelves and study cubicles, at the heart of the building large servers run 24/7 downloading and archiving new publications. Embracing the technology of today as well as the passion for knowledge, a fitting replacement for the Great Library that once stood near by.
Like any other library you will find students studying, locals wondering in to check out a book or browsing the catalogues and of course everyone is doing it quietly. It would have to be one of the most quiet places in Egypt. Believe me a quiet place in this country is very hard to find.
If you are ever lucky enough to visit Alexandria take some time to visit the Alexandria Library. The Library is not only for book lovers but for art lovers also, historic printing presses, contemporary art and sculptures are all on display. I’m quite sure my I.Q jumped up a few points after spending time amongst all that history and knowledge. Enjoy!
Next stop was a visit to Pompey’s Pillar, a giant roman pillar built on a rock terrace guarded by two sphinx and surrounded by Alexandria suburbia. While it may be named after Pompey a Roman general who fled Rome following a clash with Cesar it was not built for him. It was believed that the pillar marked the place of burial for Pompey who died in Egypt around 48 BC but the pillar was actually built centuries later for the Roman Emperor Diocletian as symbol of victory following a revolt in Alexandria around 300 AD. The downfall of the Ptolomaic dynasty led to Egypt being conquered and ruled by Rome until it was liberated by the Arabs around 640 AD. I use the term liberated because it was the Egyptian people who sort help from the Arabs to rid Egypt of the Romans.
Before the 30 meter granite pillar was built this place was actually a grand temple dedicated to the god Serapis. Known as the Serapeum or Alexandria acropolis it was destroyed by Christians in 391AD and what remains of it are the foundations and underground tunnels that were used to house the priests of the temple. The tunnels are open to visitors but there is not much to see, many of the artifacts that survived have been removed but an Apis bull is still in place in one of the underground tunnels.
I loved that this place sits in the heart of a residential area perhaps much like it would have been centuries ago but without the apartment buildings and satellite tv dishes. A typical Egyptian home is not complete with out the days washing hanging on the line outside the living room window and satellite dishes dotting the roofs. I feel like I was able to see into both past and present Egyptian living as I wondered around the foundations of what must have been an amazing place of worship.
In the past I have been quite happy to travel on my own but for the first time I decided to do a tour for the Egypt part of my travels. I’m so glad I did, not only did it provide me with an easy and safe way to travel through the country I also made some great friends who I am still in touch with today. We were a small group and met for the first time in a hotel lobby in Giza only 20 minutes before the start of our tour. When talking over lunch we discovered that each of us were worried that we would be stuck with weirdos however this was not the case for us as we all clicked right away and had the best time together.
We travelled for 2 weeks together and had a fantastic time, it was great to be able to visit incredible places and share the experience with one another. I remember traveling through Cambodia and standing in front of Ankgor Watt in complete awe and not having anyone to turn to tell them how much I loved that I was in this amazing place. Where ever we went each of us would just look at each other and smile in amazement at the magnificent places we were lucky enough to visit. It was great to be able to converse about the history and culture with each other, we were learning and best of all having so much fun together. Our guide Mohamed always referred to a family and it certainly felt that way.
On reflection I think we connected so well because as we got to know each other better it was apparent that we were all starting new chapters in lives. This trip represented a mile stone for each of us and the beginning of something new. I was blessed to meet these exceptionally kind and fun people and will make sure I will always stay in touch.
My trip to Alexandria was on my second day in Egypt, my first day was spent resting up by the pool with a fantastic view of the pyramids to help me bounce back from my 14 hour journey from Hong Kong via Amman, Jordan. I arrived in Cairo a few days earlier so that I could fit Alexandria into my trip. Named after Alexander The Great this port city of Egypt is famous for it’s grand library, magnificent light house and the legendary romance between Cesar, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. You would be missing out if you came to Egypt and didn’t visit this interesting and historic city on the Mediterranean Sea.
The rest day was a good move as I would be up bright and early to meet my guide in the hotel lobby for the 3 hour drive to Alexandria. This would also be my first introduction to life on the road in Egypt which is another experience all together. I think if you can drive in Egypt and survive with out a dent in your car then you could probably drive anywhere in the world. The road to Alexandria seemed to be one long strait highway, wide enough for two or three lanes however lacking the white lines and order we have here on New Zealand roads. No one seems to use indicators they just seem to drift off into another lane tooting their horns to let other cars know they are coming. Absolute chaos but somehow it works!
On the way we passed a military base that seemed to go on forever and a large prison that no one would want to be a guest at. My guide Mohamed mentioned that he had been in the army as it is compulsory but the length depended on your education. The maximum time you had to serve was four years but he had attended university so only had to stay in for one year, high school level would stay in for two years, limited high school the full four. During his time in the army he had trained in the air force as para jumper, which is basically learning to jump out of a plane and fire a gun. Now he makes his living as a tour guide and is a qualified Egyptologist, such a contrast to a military life.
Our first stop in Alexandria was the the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa an ancient cemetery dating back to 1st century AD which was discovered by accident in 1900 by a wayward donkey. The donkey had fallen into a ditch in his distress had urinated which washed away sand reveling some steps. Further excavation would uncover the entrance and a spiral stair case leading down into the catacombs that had lain undisturbed for centuries. There are three levels but only access to the first and second is possible because the third is underwater. It is thought that this catacomb was originally a private tomb but at some stage was opened up to the public and in use until the 4th century A.D. Over 100 mummies were found inside and have since been removed so they can be properly preserved, they were even able to identify all of the deceased which is quite remarkable.
The spiral stair case surrounds a huge shaft which would have been used to lower the bodies into the catacombs, holes cut into the sides of shaft provides natural sunlight to give some visibility as you descend to the lower levels. Once inside the lower levels there are a number of different chambers. One chamber is referred to as the banquets hall which is where people would have gathered when visiting or placing their loved ones in the catacombs. The main chambers were beautiful with murals showing the goddess Isis, Horus and the Apis bull, the Greek goddess Medusa even makes an appearance along with images of the cobra and the winged sun disks that is ever present in all things ancient Egyptian. I think the most interesting thing was seeing representation of Roman, Greek and Egyptian in the artistry of the chambers. The clothing of depicted looked Egyptian but the hair and face would be Roman style. Medusa is from Greek mythology who could turn you stone just by looking into her eyes, perhaps her presence here was to act as some kind of guardian.
I thought it would feel creepy visiting this place considering that so many had been laid to rest here but it was just so interesting exploring the chambers and admiring the ancient art work. It is amazing that this place was able to survive over the centuries especially considering the flooding and earthquakes. Well worth a visit and as it was the low season I was lucky enough to have the place basically to myself and my guide Mohamed.
In ancient times the Egyptians worshiped those they loved and creatures they feared, that is why on the shores of the Nile you will find a temple dedicated to crocodile god Sobek and Haroeris a form of the falcon headed god Horus. This temple is unique in that it’s design was duplicated to accommodate a place of worship for both gods. It’s like it was a place where good and evil coexisted side by side to balance each other out, the right side dedicated to Sobek and the left to Haroeris. Damaged by earthquakes, Nile floods and time parts of it have been lost forever however strong columns, beautiful hieroglyphics and evidences of it’s innovative design still stand today.
This part of the Nile was known for a great place for crocodiles to hang out and sun themselves on the river banks while terrorizing locals at the same time. To foster good relationships with these fearsome creatures of river the temple of Kom Ombo was built in their honor during the reign of Ptolomey VI. Over 300 mummified crocodiles were found buried around the temple and some are on display at the museum next door. Just in case you are wondering there are no more crocodiles in this part of the Nile, they are all living happily behind the High Dam. This was one of my first questions I asked my very amused guide, same goes for the hippopotamus.
It would seem the temple priests were not the most honest and this temple is a fine example of how crafty they were. The design of the temple enabled the priests to be able to see clearly into the courtyard while they were nicely concealed in the shadows of the inner sanctuaries. When a wealthy noble was seen entering the temple he would be invited into the inner sanctuary where he could make a personal offering to the gods. Once inside this person would hear the voice of a god speak to him with promises of wonderful things, only one catch, it all depended on how abundant his offering was. Unknown to the wealthy noble was that a priest would be hidden in a secret chamber in the walls of the sanctuary, scamming him the whole time. This secret chamber also had a hidden passage that lead to the outer walls of the temple, a perfect escape route. By the time the noble emerged from the temple after his divine encounter the priest were well shot of the sanctuary, providing them a perfect alibi, they must have made a killing.
When exploring the walls of the temple my guide pointed out a section and asked me to guess what I thought the inscriptions represented, to my surprise I found myself looking at what seemed to be surgical tools. To his surprise also as not many people guess correctly. It was the forceps and blades that gave it away but on closer inspection I could also make out what looked like a drill. Is it possible that brain surgery was also attempted back in ancient times? It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest after all the Egyptians built the pyramids, great temples and had the mummification process down, so why not brain surgery.
This temple was one of the first stops on my Nile cruise, we left Aswan around lunchtime and arrived just before sunset. The Nile would have to be one of the best places in the world to watch the sun go down. While this temple is not as well preserved as others it is still worth a visit, especially at sunset. Stories of crooked priests, crocodiles and gods are all here amongst broken ruins bathed in golden sunlight on the banks of the Nile.
I read a great to do list today that someone had kindly shared,
Let go of what I can’t change and things you can’t control
Listen to my intuition
Be productive and calm
All are fantastic actions to live by but for me the most relevant to how I am feeling at the moment is No. 3 letting go of what I can’t change and things you can’t control. A bit about me to ponder is I lean more to fight side of the flight or fight scenario, perhaps it’s the Taurus in me, a stubborn bull who finds it hard to budge. To add to the situation I may also be a little bit of a control freak but only little.
Have I lost the battle if I let it go, perhaps what I should be asking myself is if it was a cause worth fighting for. My intuition tells me no, my heart tells me yes. Dam heart. Now I have the theme song from Frozen in my head.
As I read through these actions it occurs to me that they are more powerful when checked off in an order that is conducive to where you want to go and feel.
Be grateful – Always, I have a great life filled with wonderful people in it.
Listen to my intuition – I know whats best for me and what is not.
Be kind – Be kind to myself, you tried and it’s not about losing a battle it’s about conceding honorably.
Be productive but calm – Better out than in , write it down and get it out of your system.
BREATH – Relax
Let go of what I can’t control or change – Done!
Felling so much lighter now, will rinse and repeat for the next few days just to be sure.
Jordan a country in the Middle East with a big heart is how I would sum up this little piece of desert paradise. When speaking with people who had traveled to Jordan before they always led the discussion with stories about how wonderful and friendly the people are. This was to become the theme for my story after spending four days in this lovely country, which begins with my arrival at Queen Alia airport.
After making my way through the security checks I was greeted by my guest supervisor from United Travel. With a big smile he welcomed me to Jordan and asked if I had already obtained my tourist visa. ” No I haven’t, where do I get it from? Was I supposed to get before I came? My travel said I could get it when I got here” as I rambled on and on he looked me with a big smile and just said ” Relax, no worries I will get you one for free”. “Free? really? wow!”, instantly relaxed and pleasantly surprised. A few moments later I had a free tourist visa for Jordan and another friendly welcome from the customs officer who stamped my passport and wished me a pleasant stay. After collecting my luggage I was introduced to my driver Maher, who I call the Amazing Maher of Jordan.
The Amazing Maher was my driver during my stay in Jordan and kept me entertained with funny stories and was so kind, especially when I was injured and unable to complete my day trip to Jaresh. When we were driving to the Dead Sea on my last day he received a phone call from his mechanic, however it was not about the car, his mechanic was calling to see how his client (me) was doing after injuring myself. Maher had serviced the car the day before and mentioned that I had hurt myself during my trip to Petra so of course this mechanic whom I had never met wanted to call and check if I was feeling much better. A great courtesy that Jordanians extend to those who are guests in their homeland.
The Amazing Maher looks after all his clients like they are family and during my time in Jordan I would learn all about his and even meet one of his sons. A clever young man named Mohammed who is on the precipice of success with a brilliant product he developed and launched. Maher of course is a very proud farther of three sons and two daughters and I’m sure a wonderful husband too.
One of the many stories that Maher told me that made me laugh was about how his daughters came home from school crying one day. When he asked what was wrong they explained that a man had been outside their school and was saying horrible things to them. The next day he picked up one of his sons and drove to his daughters school, sure enough this disturbed individual was there. Now Maher is over 6ft tall and so is his son, you can imagine what happened next. After an exchange of words his son picked up this man and put him in the boot of Maher’s car. Crying and pleading to be let out he promised never to come near the school again. To the delight of many school girls who were watching the drama unfold and laughing at this man who had harassed them. He was never seen again and Maher’s son become the hero of many school girls that day.
Maher’s family originated from a small village in Palestine called Wallaja and relocated to Jordan in the 1940s. Like so many other Palestinian families they were forced to make the difficult decision to leave their land. How heartbreaking it must have been for his ancestors to leave everything they loved behind to form a new life in a new country. They have never been back but perhaps one day they will be able to, one can only hope.
Jordan is a remarkable country not just because of wonderful places like Petra and the Dead Sea. It’s a country that helps others in need by taking them under their wing when people need shelter. This country has taken in over 600,000 Syrian refugees not to mention many Palestinian people who began to flee their country in the first part of the 19th century. It has a big heart that puts others to shame.
From the air the Jordan landscape looked so flat with endless desert as far as the eye can see. However this is not the case, Amman reminded me so much of my home town Wellington. Anything but flat, with hills covered with houses and narrow streets that would wind up, down and all around. Driving out of the city on one of the main highways really showcased the diversity of the Jordan landscape. From hills covered with houses and the busy city, to a landscape so flat with fertile fields changing to barren desert, then mountainous valleys.
Diversity also exists within the people of Jordan and the lives they lead from those in the city and small towns to the bedouin people who lead a nomadic life living off the land and their goats. The population of Jordan is 7 million with 4 million of those living in Amman, that’s pretty much all of New Zealand. The people of Jordan are so friendly and laid back just like their royal family who you can apparently bump into at family restaurant or out and about in Amman just like everyday people.
I think one of the best things about traveling solo is that you have the luxury of connecting with people easily. When you are in a group situation you tend to hang with the group, they become your social hub and not often do you venture out of it. I was lucky to have such a great driver who I now call a friend and still keep in touch with. Jordan will be a country I will visit again sooner rather than later as there is still so much to see and I know I will be welcomed back warmly as that is how this country rolls.