Egypt: Luxor

Anobel & I had to kill 12 hours in Cairo after a misunderstanding with the train times, but getting to Luxor worked out fine in the end.

The train – not too bad. I think it cost around £175L.E., but you can pay double that and get a sleeping cabin which is meant to be pretty good – but yeah that is quite pricey for a 10 hour train ride in the middle east i think. Was a bit painful for me as usual (when it comes to travelling i hate being tall).

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For £20L.E. each we got a room at the Nubian Oasis (Bob Marley) hostel which is a couple of hundred metres from the train station on the ‘east bank’ of Luxor. Pretty cool place, nice folks working there and a rooftop that does a happy hour! Rooms are basic but for the price what else should you expect.

Luxor is a cool place, lots of touts in the centre but still a reasonable atmosphere.
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East bank
Closer to the river, maybe 1km from the Nubian Oasis, is the Luxor Temple. £50L.E. a ticket. This was my first true close up experience with Hieroglyphics and giant statues in the wild 🙂 Massive pylons/columns and court areas.

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A 10 minute horse & buggy ride north gets you to the Karnak Temple (or maybe the temples of Karnak). A gigantic site that is full of obelisks and columns, and one of the buildings still has a roof.
Many of the rooms/buildings still have colour on them!

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West Bank

The next day we took a tour to the west bank of Luxor to checkout ‘the valley of the kings’ and the other sites nearby.

The Valley of the Kings, whilst being extremely well preserved and easily accessible, is a bit of a sham i think. Firstly, you pay £60L.E. or so to get it, then £4L.E.for a little train that take you 500m up the road, then you can only get into 3 of the tombs. If you want to see more you have to pay more money, and you have to do this back at the entrance. I paid an extra £100L.E. to get into Tutankhamun’s tomb. Also, no photography is allowed. Why? I asked and they said that the flash photography ruins the artwork. That is fair enough, but I told them I wasn’t going to use my flash. Then they said that when the camera takes a photo if sucks the colour off the wall. 🙂 haha! what voodoo! You can’t take photos inside the tombs, yet there was a research team in King Tut’s tomb, who had a bunch of strobes going off. And, outside the tombs there are more touts selling photo sets of the inside of the tombs – where did these photos come from? Errrrrrrrrr!
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Temple Of Hatchepsute
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Ramses 3 Funerary Temple – a.k.a Medinat Habu
(I think that was the name of this place!)

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Colossi Of Memnon
(i think)
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Egypt: Cairo

Cairo is pumping. Whether midday or mignight, there are people everywhere, and most seem very friendly.
The mornings aren’t quite so hectic, which makes for a pleasant time to stroll around downtown, if that’s what your into.

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In between the trips to the pyramids of Giza, Saqqara and Dahshur, Anobel and I checked out the backstreets and souqs outside of the downtown area, with an arvo in the Old Muslim area. We went down a small street and met a man who took us for a visit to the local Egyptian medicine man. Initially his shop looked small, but through a crack in the wall we found ourselves in the room with all the drugs – similar to what you see in a chinese medicine store. Anobel asked about what they used for something like kidney stones, and the medicine man pushed on one of the shelves. It opened up to reveal a secret room with more drugs. It was very open sesame (but that’s Persia right?).

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The downtown area has some nice rooftop places, on top of hotels generally I think, but we did find a place (unfortunately no beer though) that overlooked one of the main streets.

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We ended up on top of one hotel with £13Egyptian Stellas and spent the night talking to a South African lady who was on holiday from taking people on holiday – she works in SA and eastern Africa as a tour guide. It was interesting to hear her say how she will never be considered African by the locals, despite her family being there for over 100 years.

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So yeah, Cairo is good, it wasn’t too scammy (except for the must see sights), you can get a nice place to stay for max £50Egyptian, and there are tons of coffee/tea/sheesha places everywhere.

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Egypt: Giza & The Pyramids

Leaving Lebanon was pretty funny. We were sitting in Zahle drinking a smooth bottle of Arak, and a genius idea popped up to get the next flight to Cairo. So next day, headed back to Beirut, jumped on the net, $200 later we had paid for a ticket to Cairo. Done & done.

But, when we got to the airport a few hours later if turned out that we didn’t have a ticket as the transaction hadn’t processed. Luckily the flight was only half full and we picked up a ticket (for $10 less too) and took off to Cairo with our good friends Egypt Air – along with a gigantic block of cadbury’s fruit & nut chocolate 😉

I hadn’t flown since landing into Sofia, Bulgaria, and that’s a small city. So the flight into Cairo was pretty amazing, the place is huuuuge!
Unfortunately I couldn’t get a night time glimpse of the pyramids.

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Giza. The metro ride out to Giza was probably the most excited i have been since getting some lovin’ months ago! £1EGP pound for the metro and £1.25EGP for the mini bus later there I was, standing in front of the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza!!!!

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Woah! I spent most of the day with my jaw dragging around on the sand and taking hundreds of photos of the same thing 🙂

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£60EGP entry fee to the area around the pyramids and sphinx, then £100EGP to get inside the Great Pyramid (a.k.a Cheops/Kufu). Unfortunately my camera was taken off me so couldn’t sneak any photos in, but Anobel managed to sneak his whole DSLR and tripod in and gave some entrepreneur inside some backsheesh to get a few shots off.
It was an amazing feeling to be in the King’s Chamber. Not the hieroglyphics i was expecting, but blackness and an empty granite sarcophagus and a whole lot of headroom.

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I managed to get bitten on the back of the head by a camel after it’s dickhead of an owner tried to force £10 out of me. Yes, there are a lot of people to want you on their camel or themselves in one of your photo for a little backsheeh.
The guards and folks running the place are really friendly and helpful. Go Cairo!

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Did I mention construction was completed in 2560BC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I would love to have seen these monsters back in their hay day!

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[flickr album=72157616632757532 num=30 size=Square]
MORE… here.

Tomorrow, The Egyptian museum.

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Lebanon: Beirut, Tripoli, Zahle & Baalbek

Lebanon is terrific.

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After Syria and Iran making it to a place like Beiruit is a bit of a step into the future and the western world.
Fancy cars, beautiful women, coffee shops, bars, facebook, WIFI access and an overall super friendly bunch of people.
What more could you want?
How’s about tanks and soldiers? Got em too!

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The city is very modern but still has a lot of building littered with bullet holes from fighting is years gone by.

I only spent a few days there but I could have easily stuck around for much longer.

We headed up to Tripoli for a night and then to Zahle for some wine tasting and then to Balbek to check out the amazing ruins. A definite must see.

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Next… Cairo.

Syria: Palmyra & Dier Ez-Zur

After being in Damascus for almost 2 weeks I was glad to jump a bus and carve through the desert to Palmyra – the ancient Assyrian/Greek/Roman city 200kms from Damascus. We arrived late in the afternoon to Palmyra but found a place to sleep at the Sun Hotel. Palmyra, at least the area where all the foreigners hang out, doesn’t have a whole lot to do except a restaurant or 2 and a shitty internet cafe (3 peecees at dialup speed). So what to do that night? Go to the local Syrian barber on the corner and get a trim, what else?

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Palmyra (Arabic: Tadmor) was in ancient times an important city of central Syria, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus[1] and 120 km southwest of the Euphrates. It has long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert and was known as the Bride of the Desert. The earliest documented reference to the city by its Semitic name Tadmor, Tadmur or Tudmur (which means “the town that repels” in Amorite and “the indomitable town” in Aramaic.[2]) is recorded in Babylonian tablets found in Mari.[3]

Though the ancient site fell into disuse after the 16th century, it is still known as Tadmor in Arabic, and there is a newer town next to the ruins of the same name. The Palmyrenes constructed a series of large-scale monuments containing funerary art such as limestone slabs with human busts representing the deceased.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmyra</a>

The next day, with my new highspeed haircut, I was ready to hit Palmyra. First off we somehow managed to get into and around the site, twice, without paying, so perhaps it is free? Once in we were straight down to the Grand Colannade, then across the valley of the tombs to sit on top of a hill and see the giant view before us.

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It is massive. Besides Angkor Wat and Pompei I don’t think I have been to such a large site. I think we walked about 6kms (according to my iPhone) around the site and I am pretty sure we didn’t cover it all.

The walk down the main street (Decumanus) out to the valley of tombs is breathtaking (probably because i was excited and decided to run around and climb on top of the ruins).

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We left Palmyra for Dier Ez-Zur, a city that finds itself on the Euphrates river. Not a whole to see as far as I know, but worth the quick dip in the Euphrates river and a day puffing on nargela!

Anobel has some supremo photos on his blog and he tells the story 10 times better!

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Syria: Al Hasakah – Assyrian New Year & Machine Gun Man

After Dier Ez-Zur Anobel and I caught a bus to Hasakah, a town in north eastern Syria 50kms or so from the Iraq border.


View Larger Map

Why? To spend a few days exploring the Assyrian villages around Hasaka and experience all that is the Assyrian new year.

As our minibus got closer to Hasaka we were stopped a few times for ID/Passport checks. I hadn’t had a mid journey ID check in Syria so I guess it ust have had something to do with being close to Iraq.

This time we stopped at a checkpoint and our passports were given to a beedy-eyed fellow with a mounted machine gun in the back of his ute.
We got our passports back and the bus continued on its way only this time were were being followed, by the Machine Gun Man!

We arrived in Hasaka a little while later and were picked up by George, an assyrian mate of Anobel’s. A minute after getting into George’s car we were stopped by Machine Gun Man and poor George copped an interrogation. Why were these foreigners here, what were they doing, how do you know them, where are they from??? etc….

Anyway, for the rest of our time in Hasaka Mr MGM followed us around like a bad smell.

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Anobel has a funny write up of our experience with MGM.

The trips out to the villages were interesting and the people were super friendly. Everyone had an interesting story of how they came to be there, many came after the massacre of Simele and farmed land outside Hasaka.

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The Assyrian new year was a great day spent out in the hills bout 25km from Hasaka. A bit of drinking (Arak), lots of food and the longest chain of people holding hands and dancing 🙂
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Syria: Damascus

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I finally pulled my camera out to get some snaps in Damascus.

There is so much going on in this city – you could spend weeks just in the old city i think.

I’ve been pretty busy working with Anobel going around shooting interviews and cutting the clips as we go. So there is my excuse for not having a great deals of photos.
The stories we hear from the Iraqi refugees each day are heavy to say the least. I won’t go into any details just yet, but everyday I go back to my hostel in awe of the atrocities that these people went through and I think I have a new found respect for the society I grew up in.

Today I was walking through the old city on the way to Bab Touma to get a van to Jaramana when I walked past a camel meat shop – run by some young guys – from the photos on the wall that it is a business that’s been in the family for quite some time!
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The healthy chef & team running the restaurant near Anobel’s place in Jaramana:

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Syria: Qala’at Samaan, Serjilla & Al Bara

I am really enjoying Syria so far. Just had 2 busy days checking out the countryside north and south of Aleppo (a.k.a Halab)

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Last night I met Anobel – a cool Doctor to be from San Francisco. Anobel is in Syria for 6 weeks as part of his Medical Studies – he is working with Iraqi refugees who are living in Damascus and a town out in the east of Syria. As part of his project here in Syria he is taking great photos and will be presenting them when he’s back in San Fran. Check out his blog to see more of his great work.

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I joined Anobel for a trip about 45 minutes north of Aleppo to a place called Qala’at Samaan, a.k.a Basilica of St Simeon, where apparently in AD 423 a crazy christian guy, by the name of Simeon, sat himself on top of a bunch of pillars for 30+ years. Crazy people. The site is impressive – it all seems fairly intact considering its age. The octagonal yard surrounded by giant arches is pretty cool. Worth the short excursion if you are in Aleppo. We got around to the sites with lifts from passers by so it was super cheap 🙂

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Back in Aleppo we tried to get into the Citadel buy unfortunately missed it again (shuts at 4pm) so wandered around and checked out more of the Souqs and had a look in the Christian area and spent a few hours puffing on sheesha/qalyan.

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The next day we headed south to the ruins of Serjilla & Al Bara once again hitchhiking our way there. Both sites are incredible but I think I enjoyed Serjilla more – maybe it was easier to walk over and take in the size of what is there. Al Bara us HUGE but is covered by Olive trees and farmland so is a little hard to take in what is there besides the Pyramid-type roofs on some buildings and just the size of the place.

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It seems there are so many ancient ruins littered all over the countryside. Between the sites documented in the Lonely Planet book are other ruins in the paddocks and yards of what looked to be peoples’ backyards and some people live in them.

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Along the road we saw a guy walking out of a paddock holding what looked like a dead lamb – all covered in blood. When he reached the road he put the lamb on the ground and it started to walk around and then we realised it had just been born!
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I am sure that without the linguistic skills of Anobel I would have had a fair bit of difficulty making it to these places. Seeing Anobel speak Arabic (he said he took some lessons back in San Fran) has convinced me to get some lessons myself when I get to Damascus!

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2 terrific days! What a great start to the adventures in Syria!