Daily Life in Egypt

It’s loud. It’s crowded. It’s hot and cold. It’s full of history both old and new. It’s Egypt.

Egypt is probably the most misunderstood country in the world. With its rich history and diverse culture it is no wonder people don’t give it the full understanding it deserves.

The heart of the country, Cairo, is a mosaic of cultures and lifestyles clashing. With its twenty-two million inhabitants this city is the largest city in the Middle-East and the largest city on the continent of Africa. Situated on the mighty Nile River the city along with the entire country shares in the wealth and fertility that the river brings from lower Africa.

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Typical Sight In Traffic

Living in the city is not for the faint of heart. As if being in the Sahara desert wasn’t enough of a struggle, one must adapt to endless lines of traffic Cairo is notorious for, some of which can cause delays of upwards of two hours! The lack of driving laws or standards is the root cause of this catastrophe of traffic that in some rare cases allows the rider to have an unprecedented amount of fun while riding the streets of Cairo. Meaning that the poor enforcement of road laws allows for things to be seen that may not be seen elsewhere. Drifting down a highway while avoiding bricks in the road, hitting speed bumps (might as well be logs in the road), backing up on freeways, and driving down the wrong side of the road; all of which are in their own respects dangerous but somehow start to seem normal.

But life in the land of the Pharos is more than just traffic and congestion. Life here also moves slowly. Watching the locals move with sluggish pace and an attitude of relaxation is befitting of the people of Egypt. One can enjoy a nice spring day while sipping on one of my favourite parts of Egypt…the mango juice. Or… enjoying my favourite Egyptian food, Koshari.  Koshari is an Egyptian dish originally made in the 19th century, made of rice, macaroni and lentils mixed together, topped with tomato sauce and chickpeas.

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Koshari

As the summer comes and goes winter sets in. The desert spreads its frigid nighttime temperatures into the daytime providing a shocking reality to anyone visiting the country: IT DOES GET COLD HERE!!! The best thing to do when it gets cold though is to warm up through the risky but fun business of Arab trading at the world’s oldest market. The Khan el Khalil is Cairo’s one stop shop for just about anything a traveler could wish for. From clothes to food, jewelry to art, tea to souvenirs, and shisha to performers this place has it all, and the best part is there are no price tags. The market is known for its shrewd traders, some of the best in the world and always willing to find themselves an unlucky victim. But for the seasoned barterer the market is a playground in which the best deals can be found on some of the most unique items that truly represent Egypt.

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School play, Mother’s Day Crafts, Time Board Games, and Science Fair

My favourite part of Cairo, however, has to be my students.  There is never a dull day in my classroom.  It seems every day brings something new, we are always focusing on something new.  School has been busy with math challenges, cultural days, birthday parties, speech contests, science fairs, concerts, and many other.  At every event, I am always so proud of the effort and devotion my students put into their work. It is hard to believe there is only a month left of school!

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I will miss the many memories I have made with my students! One of my favourite is when they played a joke on me! I constantly have a broken phone (I’m not good at holding on to it) and my students brought me an empty Iphone7 box as a gift.  I have never seen them laugh so hard!

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Egyptian Cultural Day

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Ready for the Science Fair

Ramadan in Egypt starts on May 26 and lasts till June 24.  This will be a big change for school.  School during Ramadan lasts only until 2 pm, as classes are condensed.  As well, many of the students do not come to school due to fasting. Children, depending on their age, do not fast during all of Ramadan.  However, they are starting to fast, only during smaller time spans.
Egyptians like rest of the Muslims all over the world fast at the holy month of Ramadan.  It is the time when they all come close to each other and respect each other.  During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims endure a period of daily fasting where they do not let food or drink pass their lips from dawn to dusk.  Fasting is seen as a way to purify spiritually as well as physically – a time to detach from material pleasures and be closer to God. The act of fasting is also to remind them that others are less fortunate than themselves.
Visiting and living in this city and this country can be absolutely life changing if one immerses themselves into the unique lifestyle that is best described as controlled chaos. If you have ever thought of visiting, please let me know and I would be happy to show you around my new home!

Philippines

During spring break, I joined up with four teachers from my school to explore the Philippines.  We visited many cities and islands and here are the highlights from our trip.

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Cebu was the first stop of our vacation.  We spent the day lounging by the outdoor pool surrounded by palm trees.  Or in my case, burning by the pool no matter how much sunscreen I applied.

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We chose to fly to Cebu because it is close to an area where you can swim with whale sharks.  After a ridiculously early 4:30 am start we embarked on the 3 hour journey from Cebu to Oslob.  I’m not quite sure what I was expecting the whole thing to be like, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the place was quite quiet – a few other sleepy looking travellers and locals but nothing like the circus type affair that I feared might be the case.  We arrived and ate breakfast in a small hut located on the beach.  IMG_2833.jpg

After we finished breakfast, more tourists were starting to arrive.  We walked over to a building situated down the beach which was the entrance to where we would swim with the whale sharks.  By this time there were a lot of tourists and we needed to wait in line until it was our turn.  We went out in a small wooden outrigger paddle boat and headed about 20m offshore, where you had half and hour to spend with the whale sharks.  I spent the next half hour surrounded by about 5-8 whale sharks.

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Admittedly they weren’t fully grown, but these creatures are still massive yet incredibly agile in the water. Although one of the biggest rules was not to touch the whale sharks, clearly no one had informed the whale sharks themselves and they happily swam straight at me as I flapped around trying to avoid their fins.

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While in Oslob we also visited the Tumalog water falls.  We took a bus to the top of a hill, then there were motorbikes that you hired to take you down to the waterfall.  There was also a river that had little fish that ate the dead skin off the bottom of our feet.  In China, this is popular in spas, however we got to experience it for free.

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Tumalog Falls

Next, we took the flight to Puerto Princesa.  We chose this town because it is a van ride away from the Puerto Princesa underground river, which is one of the new 7 wonders of nature.  The Puerto Princesa Underground River is an 8.2km long underground river.  The van ride was a roller coaster, and our tour guide was super ready for it with his warnings and jokes!  Instead of catching up some sleep, I was awake during the whole 1.5-hour ride because it was impossible to doze off from all the bumps and wild turns.  Everything was handled by the tour guide.

IMG_3003.JPGDuring our wait for the Underground River Tour, we participated a side Mangrove Boat Tour.You will be taken on a tour of the mangrove forests by at least two volunteers from the organization running the tour. One volunteer would be paddling, while the other would be telling you stories about the mangrove forests of Palawan. During the tour, our guide told stories on the importance of mangroves in the environment. How they filter wastes and why the ecology in the area was diverse and their role to the environment.

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To get to the underground river, we took boats (above) to a beach.  From there we walked up to our waiting point, where we took another set of boats into the underground river.

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The government has set up guidelines for the tour, to ensure the river is an uninterrupted as possible by tourists.  In the boat, your guide does not speak, but instead you listen to an audio tape that tells you the history of the cave.

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Leaving the cave

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Bats lined the roof of the cave.  We were warned not to open our moth (bat poop)

Our next destination was El Nido! We again, got up at 4 to make it to El Nido for our next activity.  We spent the next two days island hoping on a small  boat with about 15 people.  We would take our boat to new islands, anchor and jump off to swim and snorkel.

IMG_3559.jpg At one bay, we anchored and kayaks were brought to the boat that we could rent.  Christine and I rented one and kayaked through Big Lagoon.  The water was clear and you could see the coral and creatures underneath.

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Snake Island

The last beach we visited was called snake island because it had a trail of sand connecting the two islands.  Our boat docked beside this island and we swam in to do the five minute hike to a viewpoint.  On the hike up the trail we ran into someone….

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Yawning or ready to eat us… You decide

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Watching the sunset from the boat

The boat provided meals and gave us the opportunity to sleep on the beach in tents we set up.  We even had a campfire on the beach.

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We spend a few more days in El Nido after the boat tour.  We rented scooters and drove around the island.  This gave us a chance to see the smaller villages, the beautiful views, and less popular beaches.

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After El Nido, we took a three hour ferry to a smaller island called Coron.  This island is known for the World War II ship that sank, that you are able to dive to.  While here we again rented scooters to explore the island.  IMG_5821.JPG

While on Coron, we also went on a firefly dinner.  A boat takes you to a floating building where you eat a buffet dinner.  Next, we went out in kayaks along a mangrove swamp.  We saw fireflies floating lighting up the trees and heard the sounds of birds and monkeys.  The most amazing part, was the water.  The water contained glow in the dark algae.  When you ran your hand through the water, or when the paddle went in the water, the water would glow.  When the man paddling would tap the boat, the water would vibrate and the water would glow.  It was my favourite part of the trip.

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One of the many amazing views from our dinner table

Overall, we had an amazing trip.  We saw amazing views, got a “tan” (burn), had crazy adventures and returned with memories that will last a lifetime.

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Spain

We began our Christmas break in Spain.  Christine and I spend eight days there, with the majority of our time in Madrid.  We stayed in a hotel located in the main town square where we were close to many shopping streets with street performers in the squares every night.

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Having lived in Egypt, we ate as much pork as possible in Spain.  We had many delicious meals including eating octopus for the first time, and having Spanish ham on eggs and french fries.  We tried churros and chocolate from the oldest shop in Spain.  We also tried hot chocolate. However, in Spain and Italy hot chocolate is very thick and is similar to drinking warm pudding.

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We loved exploring the markets and shopping streets in Madrid. There were many Christmas markets set up in the squares.  We went on two walking tours, one during the day and one during the night.  We learned about the history of Madrid and saw the historical areas of the city.  We also visited the Royal Palace (Picture below).

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Our tour guide invited us to her house for Christmas Eve.  We met a large group of men and women our age, who were also traveling to Spain for the holidays.  We enjoyed the opportunity to learn about different countries.  It gave us many new travel ideas.

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Our favourite part of Spain was visiting Ronda. We took a train from Madrid and stayed in the small town of Ronda.  Ronda is a town with two different parts on either side of a canyon, with a bridge that connects the two parts.  The Guadelvin River runs through the city, dividing it in two and carving out the steep, 100-plus-meter- deep El Tajo canyon upon which the city sits.  There are many smaller shopping streets to visit, as well as the opportunity to hike from the top of the bride, down to the water below.  We spend an entire exploring the hiking paths.  While in Ronda we also toured an old bull fighting arena.

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After our time in Spain, we headed to Italy for the final two weeks of our Christmas vacation.

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The Coopers Take On Egypt

In January my parents came to Egypt.  It was great to see them when they came to visit and I think they did get to see quite a bit while they were here. They visited the pyramids,  Khan el-Khalili, felucca ride on the Nile and Alexandria.

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Pyramid Visit 

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Khan el-Khalili

We vistited Khan el-Khalili.  Khan is the largest market in Egypt.  No visit to Cairo is Complete without a stop at the Khan El-Khalili bazaar. Shop owners calling you to their stalls, the scent of spices, the hustle and bustle of trade, and the many beautiful objects that can purchased will have you lost among alleys for hours. Put your haggling skills to the test when buying statuettes, spices, souvenirs, silver jewellery, t-shirts, galabiyyas, or handmade rugs and paintings.  My dad of course was an instant expert with haggling, as I am fairly certain he tries to haggle prices at Walmart back home.

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Felucca Ride 

 

I also took them to my favourite restaurants in Cairo.  They tried butter chicken, and coconut ice cream at my favourite Indian restaurant. We took them for Lebanese food, where they tried chicken shawarma hummus, fresh Egyptian bread, chicken fettah, and the traditional Egyptian meal of chicken swarma.  Shawarma is a meat preparation, where lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, or mixed meats are placed on a spit (commonly a vertical spit in restaurants), and may be grilled for as long as a day.  Shavings are cut off the block of meat for serving, and the remainder of the block of meat is kept heated on the rotating spit. They are served in a wrap.

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Coconut Ice Cream

My parents also came to the school and got to meet the students and stayed for the afternoon.  The kids were so excited to meet them and we had a question and answer period. As well, dad brought grain samples to show the class what we grow on our farm.

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I was also happy that mom brought over some items that we can’t get here – Kraft dinner (of course), vanilla, brown sugar, Valentine and St. Patrick’s day stickers and other  things for the students.

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Italy

On the second half of our Christmas break we visited Italy.  We travelled on a Contiki tour with a group of around 40 other people.  We took a bus between the major tourist destinations in Italy.  Here is a day to day view of our trip!

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We started our first day in Italy in Rome.  We had our first taste of Italian pasta and fell in love instantly! We visited Vatican City, a city-state surrounded by Rome, Italy, which is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s home to the Pope and we were able to see the balcony where he addresses the public. (Photo below) My favourite part was visiting the Sistine Chapel, famous for Michelangelo’s ceiling.

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On our second day we travelled from Rome to Sorrento making a stop in Pompeii.  Pompeii is an archaeological site of a once a thriving and sophisticated Roman city which was buried in meters of ash and pumice after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Today the site features excavated ruins that we were able to explore.

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Ampi Theatre in Pompeii

On the third day we travelled to Capri.   Capri is an island in Italy’s Bay of Naples. We took a boat from Sorrento to Capri.  This was actually one of the coldest days of the trip.  It was very windy, and would be better to visit on a warmer day.  However, it was still beautiful.  There are many shops and stores, however we were there during off season and very little was open.

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On day four and day five we travelled from Sorento to Florence.  The city was beautiful.  We explored different markets, tried gelato and admired the artwork including Michelangelo’s David.  We took a guided tour that showed us where David gifted Ponte Vecchio, the medici palace and other artworks, the Duomo, Basilica Santa Croce, and Giotto’s Bell Tower.  We also spend New Years Eve in Florence, where we celebrated by lighting off fireworks at midnight in the streets.

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On day six we travelled to Verona.  We wandered the streets of Verona, took a ride on a carousel, and even visited Juliet’s balcony.   It features the balcony, and in the small courtyard, a bronze statue of Juliet. It is one of the most visited sites in the town. The metal of its chest is worn bare due to a legend that if a person strokes the right breast of the statue, that person will have good fortune and luck in love. Many people write their names and the names of loves ones on the walls of the entrance, known as Juliet’s wall. Many believe that writing on that place will make their love everlasting. It is also a tradition to put small love letters on the walls .  Another tradition that occurs in Juliet’s courtyard is writing your name and that of your loved one on a lock and attaching it to a large ornamental gate in the back left. The gate is overwhelmed with locks that hold hope for lasting love. This tradition is seen throughout Europe on bridges and gates all over cities.

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On day seven we arrived at Venice! This was absolutely amazing! I LOVED Venice.  We wandered the canals, visited the small shops along the water, saw the bridge of Sighs, the Doge’s palace and St. Mark’s square, and rode in a gondola though the canals.  We also took a boat to Burano Island.  Every house on Burano island is painted in a vibrant colour! The inhabitants must have permission to which colour they can paint their house so that the colour of the house complements the others.

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Gondola Ride 

On day eight we visited Milan! Milan is the fashion capital of the world! Of course we went shopping…. however….. we were backpacking on this Europe trip so our shopping was very limited because of our small amount of space available. We also took our new Australian friend ice skating for the first time! The workers definitely did not expect a group of Canadians to come along who actually knew how to skate.

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Ice Skating 

On day nine we came to the most amazing part of the trip.  Cinque Terre is a string of centuries-old seaside villages on the Italian Riviera coastline. In each of the 5 towns, colorful houses and vineyards cling to steep terraces, and harbors are filled with fishing boats There are trains that take you between all five of the towns, as well as hiking trails that link the villages. We took one of these hiking trails and it had the most beautiful view of the towns.

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On our tenth day we visited the famous leaning tower of Pisa! Finally crossed it off the bucket list.

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On our very last days we toured Rome.  We visited the many attractions including the Roman Colosseum, the Tivoli fountain and the Spanish Steps.

The Colosseum is a massive stone amphitheater built around A.D. 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty as a gift to the Roman people. In A.D. 80, Vespasian’s son Titus opened the Colosseum with games, including gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights. After four centuries of active use, the magnificent arena fell into neglect, and up until the 18th century it was used as a source of building materials. Today two-thirds of the original Colosseum has been destroyed over time.

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Roman Colosseum 

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Fun Fact: An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day.  The money is distributed to the needy in Rome.

This is a short version of our very busy and detailed tour! It does not include the amazing meals (squid risotto that turns your teeth black and way to much pizza), all the photos (hundreds) and stories that we have.  It was an amazing trip and I am glad I had a wonderful group of friends to travel with.

Desert Camping

Have you ever been caught in a sand storm? After desert camping…. I can successfully say I have.  I am pretty sure I am still finding sand in my hair.

Our first stop was the black desert.  A little to the North of the White Desert, the Black Desert is approximately 50 km to the South of Bawiti. The mountains have eroded to coat the desert with a layer of black powder and rocks giving it its name. Towards the end of the Black Desert are black volcanic hills that ages ago erupted a dark volcanic material called dolerite, which is what the black rocks are made of.

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Black Desert

Next we headed to Crystal Mountain, which is the gateway to the white desert.  The entire mountain looks as if it is made of crystals, hence the name. This is what geologists call an exhumed cave , a cave complete with stalagmites and stalactites that has been thrust upwards by earth movement and with time has lost its roof to erosion and has almost weathered away. The calcite crystal developed in paleo caves of khoman chalk.  As you can see by the photo of my feet, the wind is just beginning to blow.  This was the calm before the sandstorm.

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We travelled further into the white desert to giant sand dunes where we learned to sand surf.  You use a board similar to a snowboard, and wax, to surf the giant sand dunes.

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Our next stop was a National Park which contained wind blown rock formations.  Many of the formations are given descriptive names – sculpted by the harsh desert winds into weird shapes which constantly change over time. There are ‘monoliths’ and ‘mushrooms’, ‘ice cream cones’, ‘tents’ and ‘crickets’,  to name but a few of the formations.  In the past, the White Desert was a sea-bed, the sedimentary layers of rock formed by fauna when the ocean dried up. Later a habitat for many roaming herds of elephant, giraffe, gazelle and other animals, the desert would have been a savannah with lush green areas and lakes full of fish, an ideal hunting ground for pre-historic man. The landscape we see today was formed  by the plateau breaking down, leaving harder rock shapes standing while the softer parts are eroded away by wind and sand.

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This national park is where we set up camp for the night.  We camped directly underneath one of these weird formations, that looked exactly like a rabbit.  We had a team of 6 men who set up camp and cooked food.  We slept in a giant tent under the stars.  We ate traditional Egyptian food for supper, including chicken and vegetables they cooked over the fire for us.  Later that night, we sat around a campfire under the stars, and listened to the men sing Egyptian songs, using homemade instruments such as pots and pans for drums.  We even set off paper lanterns.  In typical Egyptian style they had holes, and we had to attempt to use cigarette rolling paper to patch our lanterns.  I am sad to report my lantern did not leave the ground.

The men woke us up at 5 in the morning to warn us about the sand storm.  We woke up to find our tents completely full of sand. You could barely see our blankets under the layers of sand.  No surprise since our tent had holes in it (photo below).  We were directly in the middle of the storm and needed to leave immediately.   The main road to Cairo was closed because of the storm.  We had to wait out the storm, and finally reached Cairo at 8 clock at night.  Driving in a sand storm is similar to snow storms in Canada.  You cannot see anything in front of you, or beside the road.

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In the end, even though our trip was cut short, we were able to explore an amazing area in Egypt and I am excited to go back again one day.

 

Luxor

Luxor, Egypt, or as it’s better known, The city of Kings. Luxor is situated in the southern part of Egypt along the mighty Nile river above Nasr lake. Though it is not the hustle and bustle of Cairo the city still captures the attention of tourists and historians alike. The draw of the 3000 plus year old monuments and burials is incredible.

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Karnak Temple.  Endless columns full of hieroglyphics.

In the center of the city are the two temples the Karnak temple in which each Pharaoh added his mark makes an excellent day tour. The main sight to see of this temple is the room which houses 135 massive stone pillars each hand carved and over 40 feet tall .  They are a true representation of ancient architecture and ingenuity. The room leads the traveler into an obelisk which shares a twin in Paris, France. The obelisk which is hand carved of one piece of stone is topped with a golden plate to reflect the sunlight signifying the start and finish of the day. The temple is connected by a 3km straight path to the Ramses temple on the other side of town. This walk has been lined with hand carved lions with man heads (mini sphinx’s) at intervals of 3 meters. Upon entering the Ramses temple you are greeted by the marvellous carving of Ramses and his wives plus an obelisk for himself. This temple has been converted into a Roman Catholic Church and Mosque, truly showing how world influences can affect the splendour of ancient Egypt.

The Karnack Temple was the greatest example of worship in history and was dedicated to the God Amon, his wife Mut and their son Khonsu. It was constructed from the beginning of the Middle Kingdom to the Graeco Roman Kingdom.

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Coloured hieroglyphics painted on the roof of the Karnack Temple.

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View from the inside of Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple. It was built by Amunhotep III in 18th Dynasty in the New Kingdom and it was completed by Ramesses II during the 19th Dynasty. King Ramses II was the most famous king in the 19th Dynasty. He ruled Egypt for about 67 years. It was dedicated to the great god Amun-Ra, his wife Mut and their son Khonsu. Together they represent the Theban triad.

But the real view of the temple and the surrounding valley of the kings is best seen from the above the mountains and in the sky. Taking a hot air balloon ride above the city of kings is by far the highlight of the trip. The ride begins before the sunrise and gives the most unique perspective of this unique city. The ride travels above the mountains and gives the most incredible birds eye views of the Nile river valley and the Sahara desert.

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Upon landing we took a ride along the Nile in a fallucca boat, which was the perfect way to see the temples from a third perspective. The temples can be seen from the boat and gives a whole new sight as they rise above the modern city skyline showing the true splendor of their construction.

A picturesque view of Luxor can be found at the temple of Nefertiti, in which the body of the newly passed pharoh was prepared for mummification and burial. This process took 60 days.  The temple itself is carved into the mountain and is accessible by climbing a few sets of grand stone staircases. Known as a sun temple because it caught the morning sunrise.The pillars of the temple are held up by statues of ancient Egyptian figures and the ceiling of the temple is painted to perfection with a royal blue sky and thousands of gold stars, making for a sight that rivals the night sky itself.

The Temple of Nefertiti, which was built by Queen Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmosis I, who ruled Egypt about 20 years during the 18th Dynasty (approximately from 1490 to 1469 B.C) The only pharaonic woman who reigned ancient Egypt.

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Finally and most impressively, the last place we visited was the Valley of the Kings. The resting place for the kings of the city. The sacred burial grounds of 42 kings each with a magnificent chamber that plunges deep into the mountainside. Although many are under repair those that can be visited are a testament to the ancient earth movers. Arguably the most famous tomb, that of king Tutankhamen, is a shallow tomb with a small chamber holding the original casket and body of the boy king. The condition of chamber is impeccable, having only been unearthed in the last century it takes the visitor back in time to when the king was sealed into his final resting place. The valley is truly a tranquil and impressive burial ground that gives new appreciation to the empire that was ancient Egypt.

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Hot Air Balloon over the Valley of the Kings

The trip to Luxor is one well worth the voyage. The small city feel with the rich history and beautiful scenery ensures that anyone who walks the streets, rides the balloons or boats will forget the moment in time they live and be transported to 3000 B.C.

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