Egypt. Land of the Faroes.
Honestly, when Chaos told me we’d be visiting the land of the Faroes, I packed duffle coats, scarves and wooly hats yet to my surprise it turned out to be sand, sun and pyramids. Only joking. Chaos and I had actually both visited the country years ago, during an earlier dynasty when we were young and didn’t even know each other, but this was our first trip together.
Really what is there to say. Everyone from Herodotus to Napoleon to Howard Carter to Claude van Damme have already been here and marveled over the country and its treasures, so my observations are just noise. Blah, blah, blah, cradle of civilization, home of the gods, monuments so complex they must have been built by aliens, ourselves, we’re actually staying at the Sofitel Hotel in Cairo, which I thought was a French chain, though I’m not really qualified to judge such architectural disputes.
Anyway, its really cute and we have spectatcular views of both the Nile and the afternoon nibbles and drinks bar at the pool which is at river level, just hope its not the same water. Cairo is a chaotic but amazing city. We head off to the iconic museum, where we’ll be amongst some of the last visitors before they move to their spanking new place. Frankly, I love the old building, really so much character, which is ample compensation for the rather busy interior of the museum. You can easily lose yourself for a whole day here, there really is so much to see, to enjoy and admire. There are pieces from many dynasties and periods which together are a humbling reminder of our own temporal insignificance. A properly great day out.
We have an early dinner at the hotels restaurant where they have tables along the river. It’s all beautifully lit. The food is okay, though I suppose after the day we’ve had, anything contemporary is going to be anticlimactic. Tonight, we are going to the Son et Lumière at nearby Giza. Not sure how far it actually is, you know crows, or I suppose Ibises in Egypt, flying and everything, but because of the traffic it takes hours and we arrive just as the performance is starting. Seen it before, but still breathtaking.
Anyway, makes me think of the James Bond movie that has a scene set at the very same spot. Tonight we didn’t have any spy-stuff, espionage or killings at our performance but it was still amazing. The lighting, the narration, the atmosphere, everything is outstanding. You simply want to congratulate everyone involved in putting on such a show, including Hemiunu or the aliens if it really was them.
The next morning we return to pyramids in daylight. It’s just as emotional. History in capitals. A feat of engineering so remarkable, so extraordinary it beggars belief.We try to avoid all the clichéd shots where with the right angles you can look as though you’ve got the pyramid or the sphinx in the palm of your hand. Yawn. That old Hollywood adage about never working with children or animals….or camels is totally true as ours were totally uncooperative and wouldn’t look at the camera. We’ve been inside the Cheops Great Pyramid before so avoided the tour this time. The literature attached to the history of the chambers and the air shafts is fascinating, as on certain days of the year the shafts align with star constellations. Amazing. Also, read one book that presented the argument that the positions of the entire pyramid complex replicates the Orion constellation with the Nile as the Milky Way as though the architects used the heavens as their blueprints. Amazing story. Sorry, I’m using rather a lot of amazings.
The next day we visit the old bazaar Khan el-Khalili in the old town. Yes, still some interesting and beautiful pieces to browse through, though much of the stuff seems to be from China whilst the apparel of the vendors is definitely fifty-fifth Old Trafford or Bernabeu dynasty football shirts. Does anyone still do old-worldly gear? Does make you worry that if there’s a Howard Carter figure in the 55th century excavating tombs of the rich and famous from the 2000’s, will he be so ecstatic when he finds them dressed in nylon sports clothing with their collection of Ratners signet rings and gold chains, rather than Tutankhamun’s resplendent funeral treasures.
The next morning we head off to the stunning Al-Azhar Mosque in the historic Islamic center of the city. Really stunning, though eerily we are the only people here.
More relaxing times in the pool on the edge of the Nile and candlelit dinners by the water before we head off to Luxor and Karnak. Do everything, visit everywhere. Walk from the Temple of Luxor along the Avenue of the Sphinxes, and imagine to yourself what the ram headed statues have witnessed in their lifetimes. The colours are primary and intense, changing their hues in obedience to the sun whose incarnate god once ruled the country.
The Temple of Karnak is breathtaking, though the interior designers of the Great Hypostyle Hall really went over-the-top with the ornate column theme, leaving -in my opinion- little space for comfy sofa areas. It’s all overwhelming, especially as you try to absorb all the informations of gods, personifications, sacred animals, battles and floods. Your eye is caught by a thousand remarkable, fascinating ingravings, or perspectives. Overwhelming, but definitely good overwhelming.
Off to the Valley of the Kings. The are dozens of subterranean tombs so use a guide to direct you to half a dozen of the best ones. The carvings and paintings are often sublime and makes me hope that when my time comes, Chaos will treat me to an equally elaborate burial, rather than her present idea where she’ll bury me in the back garden in a black-bin liner next to the puppies. Whilst at the nearby Temple of Hatshepsut, the government announced that they had discovered a further hundred-odd sarcophagi in the region which were on display in a specially built area. This is living history
We’re staying at Le Meridien where the common areas open onto the Nile and provide the most spectacular sunsets and torch-lit dinners.
We drive down towards Aswan and visit the temples at Edfu, Esna and Kom Ombo on the way. The drive is on occasion beautiful, with glimpses of Nile through lush vegetation that the river has magnanimously given life to. Tiny villages and settlements appears and disappear along the route. The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan is wonderful, its setting testament to some people’s commitment to aesthetics as the hotel and its dinning areas afford the most majestic views of the river. Take a felucca out for the day and explore the area, the traffic on the river is quieter and of much less volume than on the roads.
We can’t get flights so we have our driver ready to take us to Abu Simbel all the way down towards the Sudanese border. He recommends the insanely early departure of 5am so that we can avoid the intense heat around midday. Reasonably solid advice, though has certain drawbacks; (i) we miss breakfast. (ii) it would mean getting up at an obscene hour. Instead, we tell him we’ll meet him at 9am outside the hotel. The drive is about three hours and by the time we’re getting close to the site we see dozens of coaches returning from their morning visit and already returning to Aswan. We really have dodged a bullet on this one, as it means a gazillion tourists won’t be in the background of our shots.
Anyway, by the time we arrive in Abu Simbel, the heat is incredible, but there is virtually no one else there. I think the guide says it was built as a Gordon Ramsey restaurant, or maybe it was Ramesses II to commemorate his heroic leadership at the Battle of Kadesh, I’ll re-check the brochure as it was difficult to understand the guys pronounciation.
Anyway, in the ultimate model of enlightened government and genius use of taxpayer money, in 1968 it was deconstructed and moved 200 meters to avoid being submerged by the rising waters of the Nile due to construction of the Aswan Dam. These monuments belong to all people, through all ages, so we should be grateful that UNESCO is run by good people, rather than ISIS or the Taliban who alternatively blow up the gifts and legacies of our earlier teachers and visionaries.