Valley of the Kings...

Trip Start Oct 07, 2007
Trip End Oct 31, 2007

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Plan: Giddy recommends a donkey trek into the Valley of the Kings-- I think that takes up all day which would be a blast, but so far we have a little more planned than that: Hatshepsut's Temple, Valley of the Kings, Colosis of Memnon, & alabaster factory. There is nothing planned for the 27th though, so I think this day will be split in half...

So much for "split in half." We wanted, correction, I wanted to visit Abydos, so we had to get all of the West Bank into one day. All told, today we visited: 8 tombs, 1 site, and 4 temples-every bit of it worthwhile-although, with fear of sounding like a broken record, I would recommend against cramming it all into one day if avoidable, but I couldn't possibly advise on what to cut out if forced to...
The day started easy enough with our guided tour... We stopped by the Colossi of Memnon. I think these particular statues are an excellent example of how sometimes fixing something can cause more damage, than letting it be. I am not sure what their original name was, or whom they were built to resemble, but today's name actually comes from a Greek myth and was given to the statues long after they were damaged. According to myth, Achilles killed Memnon in the morning, and it is said that he gave one last sign to his mother, Eos or the dawn, before dying. When one of the statues was heard whistling, or "crying" in the mornings, ancient Greek travelers flocked to the location to witness the phenomenon. In 200 AD, the whistling statue was "restored", but it never "sighed" again-it did however, retain the name.
Next up was the Ramesseum: another site devoted to Ramses II, who was a prolific builder, it is believed that this would have competed with the grandeur of the temple in Abu Simbel had it survived. There was the remnants of the biggest statue that ever has been, had it survived. A photo of Ben is taken beside the feet, and yet it is still impossible to imagine the sheer size the statue would have been to fit them.
My favourite part was being able to wander around the whole place by ourselves, quite a change after the crowds at the Karnak and Luxor temples. It is something special to appreciate the spirituality of these places in quiet. It was early in the morning, early enough that we startled a guard who was sleeping against one of the walls.
After the peacefulness of the Ramesseum, we had to steel ourselves for the throngs we were prepared to walk through heading to the Valley of the Kings itself. Giddy will be sad to know that the villages that once surrounded the area have been largely destroyed. I think they have kept less than 10 percent as they hope to further develop the area for tourism. I had been told that a donkey trek through this area is not to miss, but there is very few that continue to inhabit the village, and the weather was to hot to allow it to be bearable.
After making our way through the entrance of the Valley and getting our tickets, I was surprised to find that they take you into the Valley itself on little trains-it was way more accessible than I expected. A typical ticket gives you access to 3 tombs, not counting the "best" ones like Tutankhamun, which are separate tickets. The real stunning tombs like Seti I and Nefertari are closed to all those who don't have thousands of dollars to spend on VIP entry. I understand they close the tombs to preserve them, but why not have some other way to determine worthiness to see them rather than money? An essay, or a lottery...? We spoke in length to Gill who managed to visit Nefertari's tomb when it was open for a short time, seems like luck rules in gaining entrance.
Before I go into too many details, photos are not allowed in all of the best placed in Egypt, and as respectful tourists, we took no elicit photos-the memories are stuck in our heads, or you can purchase lovely photo books from Chapters. 

We decided on visiting the tombs of Ramses IV, Tuthomus III & Ramses I. While they weren't as claustrophobic as the Red Pyramid, some of them were just as tight in places, and definitely as hot and stuffy. The first tomb was long and easy to enter, very colourful and impressive in the sheer amount of work to create such a spectacle. The second was the hardest to reach. We had to climb high into the hillside, and then descend three different flights of stairs to check out three separate chambers. This one was neat because it looked unfinished; one room was completely sketched out in stick figures. It made me think that it would show how the master artist would layout out the idea, and lesser artists filled in the templates-but some believe it was left that way intentionally. Finally, the last one we chose because it is renowned for its use of colour. It was definitely beautiful, but it was the smallest of the three we saw, and it seemed a little anti-climatic. No, we did not visit Tutankhamun. The tickets were highly priced, the line was long, and we were advised that there was nothing really to see as it is all in the museum now. (Since we have been back, they have removed the top of the sarcophagus, so you can actually see the mummy in situ, and that might make the ticket more attractive to some.) If you are interested in details, maps and photos from the Valley of the Kings, is a great website.

The sun started to really bear down on us, and we took a quick break in the shade before heading out of the Valley and to our next destination: Hapshepsut's Temple. This one easily recognizable in photos, although most aren't aware of its actual name: Deir el-Bahri. I was really looking forward to checking it out, but Ben was a little templed out and the beating sun didn't help. We did wander our way around, it looks much bigger from the outside than it seems once you are in it since the lower levels don't really go into the rock at all. There is a temple dedicated to Hathor, but we had seen quite a few of those. There is a lot of damage to the art of this temple because of her stepson, who I mentioned earlier when I was discussing the obelisks at Karnak Temple. Hapshepsut called her mortuary temple the "Splendour of Splendour's" and it seems really unique until you glance to the left and see that it is a bigger manifestation of a smaller temple that pre-dated hers.
We fit all that in, and it wasn't even lunchtime. We got our guide to drop us off at the Nile Valley hotel for lunch, were we would later meet Gill and John to join their afternoon itinerary. The hotel was nice, the drinks refreshing, the rooftop restaurant had an amazing view, but the lunch itself was hilarious. 

We both ordered club sandwiches, but didn't know what to make of what arrived. The "sandwiches" started with the thickest slice of bread I have ever seen, bigger than Texas toast! It then had a layer of meat, but not sliced deli meat, an actual piece that resembled a small steak, with lettuce and tomatoes. The middle, set between two pieces of bread, was a weird cheese that had the consistency of tofu and was as thick as the bread. The top layer was a chicken breast, fried egg, and more lettuce and tomatoes. It was so huge, I ended up breaking it into two separate sandwiches... but it wasn't very good. The friendly staff made up for it, and the price didn't set us back at all.

After a short while we met up with Gill and John and were introduced to their favourite local driver, his two adorable children and niece and nephew. Since it was Friday, their day off from school, the kids were along for the ride-and added some entertainment.
Our gracious hosts were set on showing us all the best of what we had missed, and their plan was tighter than our morning had been, but it was our only change to visit the West bank, and what they showed us ranked among the best we had seen all trip.
They wanted to show us some more tombs, those of the Nobles, and of the Workers. We went into Rekhmire's tomb first, awed by the detail of the daily life depicted in the art. You could visit this one tomb all day and never see everything. One corridor seemed to extend forever, growing in size and gaining more detail. Since light and cameras are not permitted, it was interesting to see how the guide fashioned reflective material to get light into the centre of the tomb. Amongst all the beauty, it was incredible that there was no one else around, no line ups, no pushing, no nudging along. We stood and stared that the murals while John explained some of the scenes and hieroglyphics. Sennofer's tomb had a stunning roof. In all the Pharaoh's tombs, they follow preset ideas and themes; their roofs show the Goddess Nut and are often covered in stars. Non-pharaohs had none of the same restrictions, and Sennofer had his roof covered his with a beautiful grape and vine motif. The colour put everything else we saw to shame.
The next tomb, Shuroy, a "Worker's" tomb, brought tears to my eyes. The art was so personal and it left me with a sense of the individual himself. I felt like I could relate to this man, like I ought to lament his passing. I was shocked at the flood of emotion that overcame me in this sacred place. The next tomb, Roy, was much the same. They were very small, but every inch covered in vivid colours that looked like they were painted yesterday. Finally we visited the Tomb of Anherkha, who had really interesting patterns on his roof, almost abstract, and very geometric. I would have passed up the morning in the Valley of the Kings to spend more time in these five tombs. People just don't know what they are missing! (But try not to let the secret out too much; part of the wonder is in its remoteness and solitude.)
Time was running out on us, but we still wanted to sneak in one last site. Medinet Habu was a site we simply did not have enough time to enjoy. Just a bit smaller than Karnak, it is better preserved, and makes it on my list of things to go back and see in more detail. My memories from here were more about rushing about to get it all in, that I don't fully remember or appreciate any single detail. 

Ahhh... photos in chronological order are so helpful! Now I remember... it had some very interesting carvings, not totally abandoning the typical scenes, but it definitely had some scenes we saw no where else. Some depicted massive hunting or fishing excursions, but one photo I have shows a solider being rewarded for his success in battle, they were paid for every right hand they brought back... 

After running John and Gill off their feet, we stopped to catch our breath and have a cold Coke before calling it a day and taking a ferry back across the Nile. We played with the kids, and discussed what we had seen and the impact it had on us. It was really neat to see that even after seen some things so many times, John and Gill still felt the thrill of history, and appreciated the art-I guess that is why they continue to return, there is just too much to see to ever believe you can fit it all in one trip. Ben and I met very few travelers who were in Egypt for the first time; most were there for a second, fifth or tenth time. When it was revealed we were Egypt rookies, the answer was always... "You'll be back."
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