Mercedes collection sent a letter saying my car should be ready around the 30th Sept - although this may change. The build date is the start of Sept so I am still hopeful it will be as originally planned in mid-Sept. They gave me details of flights, hotel accommodation and suggested routes back. I think I will upgrade the Chunnel crossing for £25 to allow me to take any train so that I am not tied to a particular crossing. Starting to get excited now :)
Monday, July 28, 2008
K and I have just returned from a week in Spain at my Mom's place - near Algorfa. We had perfect weather (very hot - even after Egypt) and spent a lot of time swimming. K's brother, his wife and my nephew also came with us - F likes swimming A LOT. Mom's place is a roomy villa with under build in a new community next to a golf course. She has a swimming pool, several sun terraces and great views - it really was excellent. We spent a couple of mornings on the beach swimming and snorkeling. We visited Alicante to meet a friend of K's. He later saved our skins after our car was locked in an underground car park by driving us the hour home - THANKS T! We also visited a zoo with a brilliant Dolphin show. All in all a busy yet relaxing week.
Monday, July 21, 2008
The council rejected out claim for compensation based on the fact that they cannot reasonably be responsible for all the road at all times - we are appealing! In the meantime we figured we should try and fix K's car. With some serious digging I found a part worn tyre of the same brand and a 2nd hand alloy wheel - should be arriving this week. We took it to a local tyre-shop and they re-aligned the tracking (pic) so at least the steering wheel points straight again. Hopefully, next weekend it'll be completely fixed. One interesting thing - whilst up on the ramp we noticed the Roadster has a flat undertray almost the entire length of the car - cool!
Friday, July 18, 2008
After considering how much time we spend hacking our garden to bits and how much stuff I have killed we figured it might be worth looking for a gardener. Well, we have just done a deal with James Howe that will maintain everything (excluding pruning of the trees) on a monthly basis. He starts in 2 weeks meaning I should only have one more grass cutting to do!
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
We awoke late - the transfer to the airport was not until 13:30. Breakfast was dispatched and we spent the morning lazing by the pool finishing our books. The drive to the airport was fun - the driver kept stopping so I could take photos. We checked in (only 800g overweight) and waited for the flight over a MacDonald's :)
We had really enjoyed Egypt - the first week was astounding, the best holiday ever. The M/S Darakum was more than we had hoped for - I wish we could have stayed longer. Sharm was perfect to relax in and we think we'll go again. Cairo was just another big city and now we have done the Pyramids and the museum I am not sure we'll return. We made a load of new friends and saw more temples and statues that we could have imagined. We never felt worried for our safety and only had occasional moments of aggravation with the locals. Neither K or I succumbed to stomach problems until the very last day when K felt a little odd - we put this down to constantly using the anti-bacterial hand gels after touching any money or before eating or drinking. Overall it was brilliant - I'd recommend it to anyone!
We met our guide at 09:00 after breakfast. She was a lively lady but most importantly we had her all to ourselves. The itinerary was ours to decide. We started with the Pyramids. The closer you get the bigger they get, Si had been spot on with this. She gave us a talk about the facts and figures and left us to explore. The usual array of beggars and vendors were around but I was not quite expecting the aggressiveness of this lot. They were rude, angry, pushy and we were very glad to escape them. These people are Egypt's biggest problem for tourism - we hated them.
We managed to evade most of them and headed for a walk around the pyramid. We saw 40m long pits dug for funerary boats and marvelled at how big each individual block was in the Pyramid. After the main one we went to the panorama to take pictures of all 3 together. Whilst here I met Charlie - a young and lively looking camel who, for LE30, was mine for a photo and a ride. Hey - when in Egypt!
I handed Charlie back and we head to the second pyramid. For a small fee you can enter this so K and I payed and queues up. Upon getting to the entrance it was obvious that the steep, long and 1.20m high tunnel was too small for K to be comfortable with. I bravely pressed ahead. The shaft ran down for many metres until it stopped at a higher hallway. Off this the lower chamber could be seen. I followed another small and narrow shaft up to the middle of the Pyramid. After 30m or so, maybe more I was there - the main chamber. It was vast with a pitched roof and a large sarcophagus to one end. I stayed for 5 mins taking the sight in before retracing my steps out. I have never been so hot and humid (and so cramped for space) in my entire life! What an experience though.
After the Pyramids we went to the Sphinx. We had been told it would be smaller than we expected by so many people that when we finally saw it it was much bigger than the smaller we had expected it to be :) After some photos we had time to kill so our guide took us to a small bazaar for a nose around. Lunch was on a boat on the Nile, it was mixed grill and included in the price for the guide. We watched a felucca sail past only to get in the wind shadow of one of the tall building and drift by again - he did this for nearly 45 mins.
After lunch we went to the Cairo museum. No cameras allowed :( Our guide gave us an hours walk thorough before leaving us to explore. Tut-ankh-amon's gold mask and coffin were unbelievable. Over 100 kg of pure gold and looking as new as the day it was made. After the museum we went to the famous market - Khan el-Khalili. It was like a film set. We got the usual hassle from the vendors and they liked my hat - "... you lost your horse Cowboy!" was heard more than once :)
In the evening we met B and S, the couple from Heathrow and exchanged stories. After than we met Mona, a work friend of K's who lives in Cairo but is about to move to Australia. She was a fascinating lady with lots to talk about. We ate Tex Mex and retired to bed - our last night in Egypt.
We awoke at 05:00 - an early flight today. I hobbled with K to reception were we got a breakfast box and awaited our transfer. The flight was on time and short (40 mins). Before we knew it we were in the hustle and bustle of Cairo. The city smelt funny, a smog covered most of it. It was very humid. Our transfer to the hotel, Le Meridien Pyramids, would take 45 mins - quicker than usual as Friday is the equivalent weekend here. En route we passed the famous mosque at the citadel and the President's residence.
The hotel was....well, not as nice as we thought. An Irish couple on the boat said that it was the best hotel they had ever stayed at - I wonder if they meant another Le Meridien Pyramids???! Anyway, only here for 2.5 days and only really interested in the pyramids and museum. The place had a pool (half a pool, the other half was in a construction site) so we hung out there reading and relaxing. Enjoying our last few days of sun.
The reason we chose this hotel was the Pyramids. From our room and the pool you could see them and they were HUGE. On our way from the hotel we had booked a private guide for the next day - we were looking forward to it.
I'm not entirely sure how it all happened. We had got up late and gone to the beach right after breakfast. I had gone snorkeling twice with my camera and sat on the beach reading for the rest of the time. It was early afternoon and we decided to go for lunch. I was about to step over a low wall when my flip-flop caught and I tripped. With my hands full of cameras, etc my leg hit first along the sharp corner of the stone wall-top. It sliced it clean to the bone for 3 inches of my shin. At first it didn't hurt - I was surprised by the amount of blood. "Think I might need a plaster", I said to K. She scooted off for one whilst I found some shade to stand in - crikey it was getting hot. Soon enough K and a member of beach staff came running round with the medical box. He took one look and started with iodine and Cotton wool. Now it was really hot and it was starting to hurt. I thought I'd sit down - take the pressure off my leg.
"...Rich...Rich, are you awake....", annoyed I opened my eyes. I had been dreaming about the book I was reading, having a nice sleep. Reality dawned - I wasn't on the sun lounger, I hadn't dosed off - I'd passed out! Crikey - I hadn't expected that. Within seconds a buggy arrived and within minutes I was in the medical centre. The wound did not look nice at all. The doctor was pleasant and whilst I waited gave me local anaesthetic and put 4 neat stitches in my leg - it stung (picture). With a bag of meds and dressings we left an hour later. No problems - except no swimming for me. We ate lunch and then slept most of the afternoon. K hung out by the pool. Too much excitement for one day!
Today is our wedding anniversary - 4 years and no one is dead yet - impressive. Nearly as impressive as our hotel. This place is BIG. We spent the morning on the beach - I got some use from my underwater camera. At 12 we went to meet the Kuoni rep - a nice chap full of information. He suggested where to go for lobster later that night. On the way back to the beach I noticed the water slide. Water slide, waterproof camera that does video.... well, that was me sorted for the next hour. K went to the beach. In the afternoon we swam, ate and drank. In the evening we went to Naama Bay to eat lobster.
Saf Safa was a small restaurant but had come recommended - just across from the Hard Rock Cafe. The lobster was fresh and the jumbo prawns were JUMBO. We had 3 power cuts during the meal, each time the lights would die, 30 seconds later Japanese girls would scream as the exhaust from the generator near their table belched black smoke as it started - it was just as funny to watch each time. After the meal we walked around before finding the Camel Bar on one of the rooftops. We grabbed a cold beer and watched the world go by. A short taxi ride later we were back at the hotel before getting a late night cocktail each before bed. A lovely day.
We took a mid morning bus into Luxor today in search of something to do until our late night flight. We had no guide today so had to figure it out ourselves. We headed first to the Luxor museum where we found, amongst other things, our first mummies. From the museum we headed to the various markets. In one bazaar we stopped to look at some clothes and before you know it were surrounded by air-con and being treated like family - until we haggled on the price. The chap had clearly got Egyptian and English pounds mixed up - we left. Another street took us into the souks. We made it, unknowingly, into the locals' one first. It was full of fish, onions, spices, clothing - an array of wares. No one hassled us even though we were clearly the only foreigners there. After some time we crossed a street to what was obviously the tourist end and before you know it everyone was my friend, wanting to know where I was from and if I would like special prices! We left.
We took lunch in the Winter Palace - a very nice hotel in the middle of Luxor. Here we sipped a cold beer and ate pizza whilst waiting for our ferry boat to take us back to out hotel. The ride back was nice and relaxing - our hotel being the only one offering it. Once back we wasted the last hour or so in the bar overlooking the Nile before picking up our transfer to the airport.
The flight was late, about 30 mins and short (about 30 mins). As such we were landing in Sharm el Sheik before we knew it. Sharm was completely different from Luxor - very loud, bright and tourist oriented. Our hotel was a 30 min drive from the airport and we made our room around midnight. The room was huge and just up from the beach. The hotel resort (Hyatt Regency) was even bigger, we were taken to our room by golf cart. We ordered some room service and went to sleep.
Another lazy morning and the last on the boat. Lunch was at 12:30, we said our goodbyes and left for our next hotel. A one night stop in Karnak at the Sofitel before heading to Sharm el Sheik tomorrow. It was sad leaving the good friends we had made during the week but exciting to embark on the next chapter of our adventure.
The staff at the Sofitel were less than 100% helpful. The room was a little tired. The pool was a bit busy and had terrible music. The food was bland - everything came with chips. In short we missed the boat - A LOT. I can't help thinking that we had been spoilt and nothing would actually measure up for the rest of the week. We found a quiet corner overlooking the river, sat in the sun and read our books. The 'relaxing' part of the holiday had just begun.
This morning was an early start as we headed to the Colossi of Memnon to see the statues and pick up those that had been early-morning ballooning. From there we head to the Valley of the Queens where Marco gave us a talk about how and why these were built. I would have listened more but there was a shifty looking guy who came to sit next to me with a sub-machine gun in his belt loop. Security is pretty tight here.
Our first tomb was astonishing - cut into the rock with several rooms and inscriptions all over. There were more tombs but several were closed for restoration or to try and halt their decay.
Our next stop was Hatshepsut's Temple - a 3 tiered series of columns that at first sight I thought was modern. This temple was big and we took some time climbing around it. Whilst in this valley the temperature reached 52C - gosh it was hot!
We then skirted around the hills to the Valley of the Kings. K, L, M and I purchased extra tickets to go into Ramses V/VI tomb. This was HUGE. The main room was 5m high and 10m across. The roof painted with stars, the walls with spells and other carvings. In the middle were two massive alabaster sarcophagi. It was truly breath-taking. We had 3 other tombs to visit and we took Marco's advice and went for Ramses 1, 3 and 4. Number 3 was so steep and humid I wandered if we would ever get out.
We headed back to the boat for lunch after which 4 of us decided to go to Dendara Temple. This could only be reached via Police escort. Let me tell you, this was a lot of fun. We had armoured guards and at every road junction there were locals with guns stopping traffic to let us through. This is what it must feel like to be a president! Dendara was great - a copy of Edfu Temple but not in as good condition. Marco introduced it as '...another bloody temple!' (he meant to say 'lovely temple') which had us all laughing. As there were only 4 of us Marco showed us the crypts (we had to squeeze through a 1m tall opening to go underground - very Indiana Jones!) and also the roof buildings. It was brilliant.
A 90 minute Police escort later and we were back in Luxor. Dinner on board had a little surprise - Marco has figured out our wedding anniversary was the day after tomorrow and he arranged a cake with singing and drum beating for us. Later that evening we had belly-dancing (she liked K) and a Whirling Dervish dancer on the back deck. I sipped a G&T and contemplated the week we had just had...
Today was a day off - a day to relax and enjoy the cruise and the sun. We had breakfast in our room, sleep in late and then spent most of the day snoozing on the top deck in the sun. We slipped through the locks at Esna and sailed for Luxor, arriving late evening. The relaxation was well worth it - the last few days had been hectic...
Still in Aswan, today was going to be busy. We left early and headed (with our life jackets) to the ancient granite quarry to see the unfinished obelisk. It had been nearly completed when it cracked and as such was abandoned. After this we were bussed over the 'British' damn to the new High Damn that created lake Nasser. K and I quite fancy a cruise on the lake next time! This damn is very important for Egypt as it produces 40% of their energy - as such there was strict security.
After the damn we headed to a perfumery shop. Here they taught us all about how their 'essences' are made and how they are shipped all over the world to make perfumes. The most interesting bit was that if you mentioned any western perfume, Hugo Boss, Chanel 5, etc, this guy would bring over a bottle which matched it perfectly. K and I got carried away and spent nearly £200 on lots of different smells.
We left the perfumery and headed to the river where we (life jackets donned) boarded a small boat to take us to Philae Temple. Marco guided us around the site then left us some free time to explore. This was another site that had been moved to save it from the flooding of the damn - this time the entire island was moved!
After Philae we took a felucca ride back to the boat - there was something lovely about lazily sailing across the Nile, every now and then tacking and watching the afternoon draw to a close.
Once back on board the now nearly empty M/S Darakum set sail north. An few hours later we were at Kom Ombo - a temple for the crocodile god. We were shown around with highlights being evidence of ancient medical tools and some mummified crocodiles. They also had a well with 17 markings on it to show the height of the river. In ancient times this was used to tax the farmers - if the water was too high or low the crops would not grow as well so taxes were dropped - genius.
That evening we set sail for Esna and, due to the numbers of us, dinner was served in the back lower deck - sipping wine as the Nile drifted pass in the night - perfect!
A 07:00 start this morning - a luxury! For most people it was a free day to explore Aswan - for a few selected elite it was a morning flight to Abu Simbel - the furthest south we would go on the holiday. We buddied up with M&L from Dublin (hi guys!) and headed for the airport. Once there we were asked for our names and the guide came back with our boarding passes. None of the names matched. I was travelling under the name of Relard and K as Khristing/Mr! Still, no one seemed to mind and our guide kept everyone amused/annoyed with this bizarre bird sound he kept doing - it was impressive...the first time!
Abu Simbel is shocking. The scale of it. The fact it was all moved 63m up the hill. We mossied around inside in awe and managed to take a few candid photos (no cameras allowed - god knows how they let my huge SLR in!). Not only was this cut from solid rock but on two days of the year the rising sun illuminates 3 of the 4 statues in the inner sanctum - astonishing!
We returned to Aswan under more made-up names and headed back to the boat. A group of us had organised a Nubian village trip which we duly departed for. The 'Bird-Man of Aswan' and also village cheif was our guide as we sailed slowly southwards on the Nile, he pointing out every make and model of bird en-route. We stopped on a nearby island where fresh mangoes were purchased from a local. Eventually we arrived the the village shores to be greeted with MANY Spanish on camels. We skirted by them and headed to this chap's house. Here the greatest moments of the holiday happened - I was handed a real, live, sharp-teethed Nile crocodile to hold!!!! For about 3 minutes it lay in my hands motionless, eyes gleaming. Then it squirmed so hard I nearly dropped it. FANTASTIC! We sat for some mint tea and M managed to order a shisha whilst L went for a henna tattoo. We sailed back slowly enjoying the setting sun over the hills. At one point nearly having to rescue a stranded felucca. This was the most relaxing and special part of the trip so far - an excellent afternoon out. Once back in the boat I had the chef clean my fruit and then ate fresh mangoes which tasted utterly fantastic.
That evening, over dinner, we found that the entire Spanish party were disembarking the following morning leaving JUST us on board. Nearly 5 to 1 in guest to staff ratio and an entire boat to ourselves! This really was turning out to be 5 star!
After dinner a few of us boarded a small boat for Philae temple to watch the evening sound and light show. This lasted an hour or so and was so-so. The best bit was when they turned all the lights off - wall to wall stars and the silhouette of the temple - breathtaking.
Today we go to Edfu - one of the best preserved temples alive today. Our bus collected us and drove us the short distance to the temple. Upon arrival we ran the gauntlet of the local shops trying to sell you everything you don't need. Edfu is mind blowing - it gives you a real idea of how these things would have looked - huge! It is actually a grecco-roman temple but was constructed in the same style as the Egyptian ones. Its carvings are still sharp and in places even the original colour exists. Unusual for these old temples the entire hypostyle hall is intact after the 27BC earthquake that toppled so many. At the very back there is the inner sanctum with a small statue taking pride of place - this part was so busy it took me 5 mins to queue and get a photo. Lots of Spanish and Italians on holiday here.
After Edfu we made our way back to the boat before sailing south once more. We stopped mid afternoon at Kom Ombo where the Spanish (who we found out would not be returning with us went ashore to look). We lazed on the top deck watching the Nile around us. Whilst K was in the sun I went to the shop and looked at some jewelry. Finding something I liked I agreed a price and then went to get my wallet - as I turned I caught the glass cabinet door and smashed it right off - oops. The owner was very apologetic and as such I did buy the rather expensive piece to try and make it up a little. Mid-afternoon we were invited on a ships tour as we headed south again towards Aswan. We were shown the bridge and the kitchens were they took a lot of time to tell us how careful they were with the food preparation and how it was externally audited by Chrystal - good to know.
We moored up in Aswan by evening but no rest for us - tonight was 'dress like and Egyptian' night. We all donned galabeyas and had Egyptian food. Afterwards there was dancing and merriment until the wee hours - my 'Egyptian football' is as bad as my English!
An early start this morning - the telephone waking us at 06:00. We would get used to this - the tours are all done in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. We waited in the lobby until our bus was ready to go. First stop was the temple at Karnak, followed by a Papyrus Institute and then the temple in Luxor itself.
Karnak was impressive - it's huge pylons flanked by two rows of sphinxes - it must have been incredible when in use. Marco walked us through the various parts and showed us specific inscriptions and statues. Some of the most incredible items were the obelisks - they were huge and fully covered with inscriptions. We were then given free time to explore. It was during this time that we were introduced to the way Egyptians pursue their tips (baksheesh). You would walk into a room and a local looking chap would usher you to the best place to take a picture - once done he would demand money. Even the official uniformed guards did it. You soon learnt to simply ignore them even though it felt decidedly awkward.
After Karnak we headed to the Papyrus Institute where we were shown how it is made and decorated. We were given drinks and browsed around - I bought a small piece with the soundings for the various hieroglyphics on it - in the hope I would be able to sound out the cartouches later - it wouldn't work!
Luxor Temple was equally impressive - in the centre of Luxor itself it is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There is a very long and famous avenue of sphinxes leading up to it - so long that some of them are buried under houses. The temple itself used to be half covered in sand and was used as a mosque - you can see the entrance door 6 metres up one of the walls still :) Since then it has also been used by the Romans and today there is a modern mosque in it too. When you look at the front of the temple it appears that the left obelisk is leaning - actually it is straight and true - the pylon behind it is slowly subsiding. There is an American mission trying to save it but our guide reckons that it will collapse within a few years.
We returned to the boat in time for lunch - being greeted with a hot towel and some lemon drink - very refreshing! As we ate and then sun bathed later the boat began its journey south. The M/S Darakum has 5 decks and 44 cabins with 85 staff. The lower deck holds the restaurant and a couple of small bars. The lobby and rooms occupy the whole 2nd deck. The 3rd has rooms, suites, a shop and a gym. On the 4th there are further rooms and the main bar and lower deck cover more than half of the boat. The 5th deck covers 75% of the boat and has a pool, a seating area next to a bar and lots of sun decks.
Towards the end of the day we arrived at Esna locks where the boat was besieged by small boats offering to sell clothes and trinkets. They would wrap the items in bags and hurl then 5 stories up to the top deck - if you liked them you threw money down, if not you returned the item. However, we were warned that many items are used and it is not uncommon for them to be crawling with fleas and ticks! We stayed away from them :) Dinner that night found us on a Kuoni table with 3 other couples. There were around 16 other English guests and maybe double that of Spanish - the Spanish were LOUD!
It can get cold in the evenings in the desert... so we packed a couple of warm tops just in case. M dropped us off at LHR (thanks) and after K's bag was searched for explosives we made our way to do some shopping. I bought a waterproof digital camera, K bought some perfume (no stereotypical behaviour there then). In the bar I was standing behind a man waiting for drinks, we got chatting and it turns out that K had chosen a table next to his (new) wife. We chatted some more and then realised we were both on the same flight to Luxor with Kuoni - bizzare!
Our flight was on time and we landed in Luxor late evening on the Monday with one of the smoothest landing I have ever experienced. We already had our visas so were waved through security. It was hot - very hot. Our bags were taken to the bus where we were swamped with baggage handlers wanting tips (we would learn to get used to this). We drove through Luxor dropping other at various hotels before getting to our boat south of the town. The M/S Darakum was impressive. The cabins were fantastic and the whole boat had a art-deco style to it. Our guide for the week (aptly named Mr. Marco) came and introduced himself and explained the 06:00 start for the next morning! We then unpacked and headed to the top deck for a G&T before bed. Turns out the jumpers would not be needed - at 00:30 the temperature was still in the high 30s and it was far from chilly. Even K was warm!