So! - off to a new continent! – Pablo Bazzaco dropped us off at Cornuda train station – just down the road from Pederroba. Quite funny really, we sussed we needed platform 2 – on the other side of the tracks – and I was searching for the inevitable underpass or bridge, only to realise you just walk across the tracks! We looked both ways before crossing.
Then an enjoyable journey to Padova, an hour away. One thing struck me, well, two- EVERY, and I mean every, every house has a wood store (for their fire/BBQ) and every single spare bit of land is used for growing what we think is Maize – for polenta. After that we got the high speed train to Milan, then a bus to the airport. Note: was a bit odd when we left Italy, all the train tracks have been sprayed with something white – no idea, and the sky was really grey for the first time – it felt like getting a train in Zermatt.
Two flights later, after stopping in Athens, we landed in Cairo. One thing struck us as we flew over Cairo – how HUGE it is. You may laugh, but we both had stereotypical images of Cairo being like something out of an Indiana Jones movie – you know, dusty streets with bazaars and horse drawn carts. Such muppets! – it turns out they have a population of 20 million! Over twice that of London.
We met our rep, a nice guy called Mohamed , who I gave far too much money for our Visas in all he confusion at 3 in the morning, and we jumped in our taxi to the hotel. Not any ordinary hotel. We did a search on the web to check reviews – we’ve booked a package so it is all pre ordained anyhow. The reviews are the worst I have ever seen! – such quotes as “Even if you have paid in advance, cancel , lose your money, and go elsewhere – you will thank me!”
As it turns out, on initial inspection, it’s just fine for £40 a night, and they have the biggest pool in the world. We were immediately introduced to the world of “backsheesh” – i.e. tipping for anything and everything. The barman was more friendly than possible, then his friend drove us round the complex (at 4.30am) – opportunity for another backsheesh. I think we’ll get the hang of it.
Day 2: I got my hair cut today – another learning experience! – This time, after the usual “cut throat” trimming, he got a pair of closed scissors, wrapped cotton tightly round the tip and sprayed alcohol on the cotton. I thought he was going to de-wax my ears, but oh no, he, then set it on fire – and proceeded to burn off the hairs on my ears – Bloody hot it was! Very effective though. Then, he got a roll of cotton and formed a little “cradle” of thread in his hands, and used the cotton to pluck the hairs from inside and outside my ears – kind of like in a scissor motion. Very painful indeed but I have been assured my hairs won’t grow back for 2 months now. He even trimmed my nasal hairs.
I was offered a shave too but the cut throat makes me nervous so I declined, though feeling how baby soft my ears are now I think I’ll go for a full shave soon…
So far the Egyptians are proving to be very welcoming and friendly. Also, we can see the great pyramids of Gisa from out hotel roof – a taste of things to come. We’ve got our tour “pre briefing / welcome meeting” in an hour followed by a Nile dinner cruise. Tomorrow we go and see the great pyramids, then it’s an overnight train to Aswan where we pick up our boat for 3 nights (our Nile cruise only actually consists of 4 days on water.. )
(You can see the pyramids from our hotel roof bar)
.. Well, the “Nile dinner cruise” was the con we thought it would be, but good fun none the less, and more importantly it gave us a chance to meet the rest of our group – who are pretty much all 20-something Australians, and a nice crowd too. Dinner was so-so, the wine was a rip off and gave me a dreadful hangover but they had some good dancing – one particular bit where a chap spun around in a circular “dress”, much like a spinning top, for a good 10 minutes without stopping, was the most impressive bit. Time for a good sleep after that.
The next morning we set off in a coach to the pyramids.. at last! – our first stop was the stepped pyramid – though to be the oldest pyramid in existence. When you see it on the Discovery Channel it looks small. When you approach it, it looks small, when you walk up to it, it’s HUGE! – very impressive.
…A bit of history for you – at first they buried their royalty in tombs underground (waiting for their resurrection), but people robbed the tombs, so they build a large square slab of stones over the tombs to protect them. The problem often though, was that the construction was finished before the “owner” had died, and with his new “house” ready, the Kings would have him killed so he could “move in” so to speak. So one owner got clever and told his construction team to keep working, and add another layer on top of the first “slab” – a smaller one this time. Still he was not ready to die, so another slab added, and so on – and you end up with a stepped pyramid.
Shortly after visiting the stepped pyramid (note to self: must add macro in Word to type “Pyramid”) we went to a rather shabby one that is almost unique in that it has hieroglyphics inside the tomb. You aren’t allowed to take pictures, which of course I did. It was a cramped and steep climb down, then lots of stooping, but nothing compared to the tunnels in Vietnam.
(so old, like 3000BC)
All very fascinating – by the way, the hawkers are as persistent as we’d heard they would be, but we have the knack of looking thoroughly disinterested by now after 10 months of it. I am however tiring of “where you from?”, “London”, “Ahhh! You like David Beckham!?!”. “no – don’t know what you are talking about”. I’ve tried replying, “Austria”, but they know how to say hello in just about every language of the World.
After a lunch break it was off to the Greta Pyramids themselves. Small problem. As we got off the coach I realised I had left my smokes behind and skipped back to the coach, and went for the stairs, only to fall over…. Some advice – and I don’t have much to give. NEVER run up stairs.
I fell forward, put my hands out, and I remember, as I made contact, thinking “Oh my god, my finger is going to snap off backwards!” – it bent back that far. Just in time, my other hand took the weight off but I was in pain, but at the same time relieved as I didn’t hear a snapping sound (I snapped a toe in England and I know the sound well). Then I noticed the blood. A lot of blood.
I turned my hand over to find a cut that ran from one side to the other on the upper segment of my ring finger on my right hand, and it was bleeding like hell. I pulled the slit open to be greeted by the sight of fat and “insidy stuff”. At first I through it was bone and I’d snapped my finger and pushed the bone through (there was nothing sharp on the steps at all) but after some pulling and prodding we ascertained I’d probably not broken it. By now my hands were covered in blood and a crowd was forming.
Fortunately , one of our “gang” is a first aider and before I could blink he had rubber gloves on and was cleaning the wound with salt solution etc. He cleaned it up and put a plaster on – stopping the kind bus driver from trying to clean it with his own tissues. As the gash was (is) on the inside of my finder it is quite easy to stop the bleeding by simply curling my finder inwards. So, happy that it was clean, and knowing not a lot could be done there, we carried onto the pyramids. I didn’t take any pictures. Two of the girls in the group nearly fell over when they saw it open! I doubt you’d want to see. Definitely a stitch job under normal circumstances, but we figured we could deal with it. Healing is healing, and the thing is to keep it clean.
We cleaned it with Iodine (ouch!) and applied a few “butterfly stitches” from a sterile kit we have and put a plaster over the top to hold it all in place, and then bandaged it to keep it clean. I’m on day three now and there is no sign of infection, though I have no idea what infection looks like, other than from films! – no smell and no ganky stuff, and no bleeding so we are hoping it heals in time for swimming in a week or so, though I have my doubts. We’ll see. I really thought I’d lost a finger for a short while! If it looks at all odd we’ll see a doctor, though we are on such a tight schedule with the tour it’s hard to know when that will be possible. (You may notice me holding my hand up in a lot of pyramid photos – now you know why – to stop the bleeding lol!)
Back to pointy things…
(One of the great pyramids)
A spectacular place, if not surrounded by the city itself.
After walking around the great pyramids we opted for the ubiquitous camel rides :- )
(Pretty cool hey!?!)
(yep – that’s me, on a camel, smoking a camel light – oh the irony)
(Something Kirstin has always wanted to do)
It was great fun, we even had a bit of a “camel canter” – tricky with only one hand available, but then it made me ride “western style”!
Pushing on (you have no idea how much they rush you on a tour) we went to see the Sphynx..
All fantastic stuff and a real dream realised.
Getting tired now and still more to do! – it was time for the tour group special of the day, you know, the bit where they take you to some shop and fleece you with tat to take home as gifts. On this occasion it was a perfumery, where they have bottles of flower oil, which they claim is the base to all perfumes. Funnily all their oils were supposed to be the base for all the famous expensive brands. Odd that. Especially when they told us that the big companies just add alcohol and sell it for 10 times more. Seems to simple to me… Still a lot of shopping ensued and the rest of the group loved it.
The host was very entertaining. We didn’t buy anything, but it was enjoyable all the same.
At last, some rest for three hours, then we hit the train station for our overnight “First class” train.
Not too bad – a 14 hour journey in what are basically old fashioned business class plane seats. We got sporadic sleep and marvelled at the scenery – mostly desert and very, very basic stone huts and very, very poor communities. No pics I’m afraid as experience has taught me that pics from moving trains/cars though glass just don’t work.
At last we arrived at Aswan.
By now we are knackered! And the fun continues! – No time for rest – more sight seeing. First up was the Aswan Great Dam.
Not that interesting to be honest, although it is the second largest dam in the world apparently.
Onwards and it was the Philae temple next – located on an island. We took a small motor boat to the island.
Really fascinating again. The temple was actually moved about 50 meters to a new island when the dam was built, else it would be underwater (which it was for a while). The project was started just after I was born. A lot of the carvings have been mutilated – they don’t know by whom, but the assumption is that it was the Christians, who viewed the Egyptian religion as Pagan. A crying shame, but as I said to Kirstin, if it were not for religion, the temples would not have been built in the first place…
No time for rest – next stop was out “Nubian dinner”. The Nubians (translates to People of Gold) are darker than Egyptians and are pretty close to African. We caught a boat to one of their villages up the Nile at night time. A boat, by the way, that could not cope with the currents. The engine conked out and we drifted backwards in currents that I have never witnessed so strong before. There were whirlpools forming!. We had to all move to the back of the boat. We made it in the end.
We walked though dusty streets and entered a Nubian restaurant. Clearly a tourist trap, but on a scale of one to ten in authenticity, it scored a good 8. I think stepping over goat dung added 2 points to that score.
We had a good “Nubian” feast, lots of people including K got Henna tattoos (Don’t worry they come off!), and then it was a boozy sail back with local music and dancing, though the Australians managed to turn it into a very long “She’ll be coming round the mountains when she comes..”. A great laugh.
We checked into our cruise ship. It’s actually great – we have a mini “suite” with living room, bedroom and bathroom, TV, fridge, Air con etc. The priced are steep of course – so when we were in the Nubian village I did a deal and bought 10 beers for 1 UKP each, instead of the 2.8 UKP on the boat. Our fridge is stocked! (we had to smuggle them on :- ) ).
The staff are hilarious. Everyone is on a con. In the restaurant the staff discount your drinks if you pay cash, instead of putting them on the bill, and our young barman explained in very hushed tones that he will run us a private tab and give us “very big discount” at the end of the trip…. We are keeping a diary of all our expenditure! Even the young bell boys blew Kirstin a kiss, and then dumped our bags when we gave them only 10 pence as a tip. So much fun.
I was shattered this morning so I slept in while K visited our first port of call – a temple of some sort, but here is a picture of it from our balcony…
After that, time for relaxing…
Onwards we go… more temples incoming….
… well well well. An interesting 24 hours… First the best bits – we sailed for 3 hours ….
(Take a good look – that’s the last you’ll see of the Nile.. more on that later)
At one stage we sailed past a large village at prayer time and the sound of loads of mosques all chanting their “call to prayer” was really haunting, and loud. I’ve recorded it but by the time I get to upload this blog update I don’t think I’ll have time for video.
Then we hit Edfu temple – really amazing – the best so far. Wall to wall carvings and all on such a great scale. We visited it at night time, which panned out well as all the artificial lighting really highlights the carvings.
Once the temple was done with we haggled some cheapo outfits for the “fancy dress party” on the boat – something my Mum warned me to avoid – but what can you do? Yep, it was crap! – we stayed for 10 minutes ! I accessorised my outfit with two bed covers – looked quite the part.
It really was crap so we all abandoned the party and went on the top deck , froze to death, but drank until 3am.
Part of our motivation to go up top was to see what we could see of the Nile – the reason?... a large Indian contingent on the boat had pre-arranged for us to sail to Luxor (our final destination on the boat) overnight – so they could have an extra day at Luxor. What’s the problem with that you ask? Well.. one big problem… our “Nile cruise” – we did it in the dark! – I’m typing this sitting on the deck, moored to three other ships, a stench of diesel in the air, and our bedroom faces another ship – so it’s pitch black. This was supposed to be our beautiful day on the deck viewing the passing scenery.
We have had in total, three hours cruising in daylight – we have basically totally missed the “Nile cruise” element! Cheeky feckers! The rest of our group is less than amused, and the guide has done a runner. You get what you pay for I guess, but it’s criminal, who is going to get another chance to cruise the Nile?
(That was our view for 99% of the cuise)
We are now officially at war. The next time our guide tries to rush us off a site to go to a parchment/gold/perfume shop we’ll be telling him to take a hike. Oh the fun :- )