Ballooning Over Luxor (But Do Not Forget Karnack!)

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Sunrise Hotel & Nile Cruises

Flag of Egypt  , Red Sea and Sinai,
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

11.11.09               Ballooning Over Luxor (But Don't Forget Karnack!)

Ok, we are truly crazy.  We were up at 5:00am this morning, despite our sleep-deprived states – but it was for a great reason – we took a hot-air balloon ride over Thebes on the west bank of the Nile!  The ballooning bus picked us up at hotel at 5:45am, and took us to a small boat, where we had tea, coffee, and a little snack while floating on the Nile and learning the ins and outs of ballooning.  As we were having this small breakfast, it approached sunrise and we could see several other balloons in the air across the Nile from us. 

It was a gorgeous morning – the mountains were pink and glowing.  After our ferry took us across the Nile, we took another bus to the ballooning site – a large field near the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.  The large ground crew was busy unrolling and inflating our hot-air balloon and attaching it to our 25-person basket!  Sometime after 7:00am, we all jumped in the balloon and took off. 

Murray and I each had been on one balloon ride before – a ride over Canberra when we were in Australia in March 2009.  This ride turned out to be even better!  From the air, we saw all the major sites – the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Memnon, the outside temples of Ramses II and Ramses III, the Valley of the Workers… All of the hot spots of Luxor and Thebes!  We watched the sun break over the horizon and light up the mountains and surrounding fields – it was truly spectacular.  

In addition, for the last several minutes of the ride, the pilot steered the balloon to fly really low, which was so much fun!  We grazed the tops of palm trees as we just barely skimmed over residential rooftops, famers in their fields, flocks of sheep grazing on nearby hillsides.  It was such an interesting view of life from above – and it also felt a bit invasive at times!

As our pilot explained to us, there are three types of balloon landings in Egypt – (1) an American landing, which bumps bumps bumps along before coming to a halt (hahaha); (2) an English landing, where the basket drags along the ground for a long period before finally stopping; and (3) and Egyptian landing – which, of course, is as soft as its cotton!  Fortunately, we got our Egyptian landing.  As we got to the ground, the extensive ground crew was there to hold down our basket and help us disembark.  As soon as the balloon was deflated and folded by the crew, the tambourines and drums came out and the singing and dancing began!  We had a huge party in the middle of some random farmer’s field, with two shepherds and their flocks of sheep displaced by our festive interruption!  It was a great ending to a great ride. 

After our ferry and bus rides back to our hotel, we enjoyed another luxury hotel buffet breakfast – and before we knew it, we were back on the bus to tour the Temple of Karnack on the east bank of Nile. 

More than a temple, Karnack is an extraordinary complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons, and obelisks dedicated to the Theban gods and the greater glory of pharaohs.  It also was the most important place of worship in Egypt during the New Kingdom. 

Everything in Karnack is on a gigantic scale – the site covers over two square kilometers, while its main structure, the Temple of Amun, is the largest religious building ever built!  This was where the god Amun lived on earth, surrounded by the houses of his wife Mur and their son Khonsu, two other huge temple complexes on this site.

Wandering through this enormous complex was a huge highlight of our trip to Egypt.  The site was magnificent, and elicited that "gosh, I’m so small in comparison" feeling within me.  From a humongous plaza, we walked through the (again) scorching sun to large areas of columns, statutes, carvings, cartouches, and archways.  It’s hard to describe the enormity of this place, and its impact.  Suffice to say, it definitely was a crash course in ancient Egyptian gods (ask me sometime about that god of fertility whom we encountered!), goddesses, architecture, and art! 

At Karnack, we also viewed the Sacred Lake, the Great Hypostyle Hall (one of greatest religious monuments ever built), and countless other halls, monuments, temples, sanctuaries, courts, plazas, and areas too numerous to name.  And, at Romani’s urging, we viewed the sacred monument and walked around its base three times each for good luck (if you want to get pregnant, you must walk around it seven times!  Don’t think anyone in our group did the seven times…).

After the Temple of Karnack, we drove the short distance to Luxor Temple, which also was beautiful and massive (yet seemed small in comparison to Karnack!).  Largely built by the pharaohs Amenhotep III (1380-1352 BC) and Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), the Temple of Luxor is a striking monument in the heart of Luxor proper.  The structure was further added to over the centuries by King Tut, Ramses II, Alexander the Great, and even various Romans.

Again, we toured this temple’s many colonnades, courts, antechambers, shrines, halls, and chapels.  Also, in front of the temple is the beginning of the avenue of sphinxes, which at one time ran all the way to the Temples of Karnack, 3km to the north!

From Karnack and Luxor Temples, Romani brought us to Al Fayed Palace, which is not a historical palace but a factory for essential oils, an important Egyptian industry!  We were given a brief hand-blown glass demonstration, where the glassblower made delicate perfume bottles.  Afterward, we went inside for refreshments and an essential oils demonstration.  The first part of the demo covered perfumes, including the oils behind Chanel No. 5 (named “Five Secrets” at Al Fayed, and containing gardenia, rose, jasmine, sweet pea, lavender) and  Hugo Boss (called “Tut-Ankh-Amon” – orange, lemon, lavender). 

During the second part of the demo, we covered flower essences – pure peppermint oil for flu, sinuses, and colds, for example.  During the last part of the demo, we learned about spice scents, such as using sandalwood for dry skin, age spots, wrinkles; musk on the temples for headaches; and frankincense (fresh, clean scent) for calming and sleep.  It was a very interesting experience to learn more about pure, natural essential oils, undiluted by alcohol or manufactured scents!  I learned a lot, and even bought some peppermint oil for my sinuses.

As we left Al Fayed Palace for lunch across the street, we were hounded – literally badgered to near death (joke) – by papyrus-selling kids (which were actually paintings made on the cheaper and more readily-available banana leaves).  It was pretty unbelievable, and hard to take.  You have the dual feelings of wanting to help people who are living in extreme poverty – at the same time getting incredibly irritated (and even scared) by all the hounding!

Anyway.  We had a nice lunch across street from Al Fayed, and today’s lunch was a variation on the theme: starting with tomato soup, pita and dips, eggplant, marinated pickles and jalapenos, and potato and squash in a tomato-based sauce side dish – grilled chicken and rice for mains – and ending with a dessert of honey-soaked sweet corn cake.  After lunch, we did make a quick stop at a local alabaster factory – but I stayed on bus for a much-needed little nap!

After that, it was onward and upward for our three and a half hour bus ride to Hurghada, Egypt.  We arrived, tired and hungry, at our hotel sometime after 7pm – this time a beautiful beach resort on the coast of the Red Sea!  Similar to the rest of our Egypt hotel welcomes, we enjoyed our hibiscus juice welcome toast, and cold (not hot!) soothing towels to wipe off our faces after the bus journey. 

Dinner was two floors of buffets in the hotel dining room – we went for the International buffet, which happened to be Italian (I guess we all wanted a break from baba ghanoush – haha).  I was feeling a little off at that point, so I was back in the room by 9:00pm, ready to hit the hay early tonight.  However, our leaking hotel room toilet had other plans for us, so we didn’t turn in until after 11pm.  AHHHHHHH!  It will be another early start tomorrow morning (6:30am!).  I don’t know if I can keep up this tough pace… but again, what would I have left out?!

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Dave on

That baloon ride looks like one of those "the whole trip would have been worth it if we just did this" moments. Wow.

Sherry on

AnnaLisa and Murray,
I hope you have gotten some much needed rest in London. It is sooo fun to read your journal of yOUR brings tears to my eyes to see all the pictures and read your commentary...precious! Keep up the excellent travel journal.

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