Saturday, 27 August 2011

... Egypt: One Hump or Two?

Luxor claims to be the World's greatest open-air museum. In ancient times it was known as Thebes and became important during the Middle Kingdom period, eventually becoming the religious capital. Perhaps unsurprisingly the most recent statement made regarding Luxor is that the greatest threat to its archaeological heritage is tourism. One visitor alone is responsible for carbon dioxide, friction & humidity created by 2.8g of sweat and it is affecting reliefs and pigments of wall paintings. Oh and it looks nothing like Luxor in Vegas (thanks Sarah).

My hotel was situated across from the Nile with Luxor Temple just off to the left of it. The temple apparently has some wonderful architecture although even more spectacular is said to be the great hypostyle hall contained within the Temples of Karnak just to the northeast. To be honest by the time I got back yesterday lunch time from an already jam-packed morning of adventures (and let's face it, it was going to be hard to top being told by someone "you are lucky, you got the most handsome pilot") I was kind of templed out and turned down the chance to go. I also suspected that I had had enough of the heat too and so the idea of sitting in the shade with a nice cold glass of karkadai (made from hibiscus leaves) and a bite to eat sounded like a plan to me.

I don't think that plan originally included trying camel tagen (stew cooked in an earthenware pot). Anyone who knows me however will not be at all surprised by the fact that I did. As-Sahaby Lane is an outdoor restaurant that I'd actually had a great lentil soup & salad at the previous night. It had been highly recommended for it's great tasting and freshly prepared Egyptian dishes. A two minute walk from my hotel, it was also on the edges of the Souq. Having seen slaughtered camel hanging from a hook for sale in one of the villages I'd driven through I can't say it looked particularly appealing. However served in a bubbling tagen with a side order of aromatic couscous, it looked like one of the brisket stews Grandma would make and it smelt absolutely divine. Taste test? Well it was a little chewy but incredibly tender and it tasted so yummy. Yes, this coming from a pescatarian. And just to think that less than a week a go I was riding one of these around the Pyramids of Giza. Feeling refueled and rehydrated a nap seemed like a very good way to ease myself into the evening.

Luxor is known for a place to go if you want to be hassled. Can't say "oh and get hassled" is on my holiday list of things to do, however in the right context it can actually be kind of fun. "Surely this is crazy talk Nic?" Well under normal circumstances probably yes but when applied to the context of visiting a Souq it becomes a whole new ball game. Having visited the Souq's in both Cairo & Aswan, and actually partaking in some bartering at the latter walking away with some great bargains, I figured I was pretty prepared to deal with whatever Luxor could throw at me. During my first attempt on night one I think by the time I'd been asked, "Are you Japanese?" for the 3rd time ("Are you Alaskan?" being a close 2nd) I figured this might be a bit more exhausting than initially hoped. Venders were in your face, I was pushed & pulled and I walked away feeling kind of angry as a result of my experience. Sorry but invading my personal space is not on.

Thankfully not too deflated I went back my 2nd night to a totally different vibe and met some wonderful people as a result who genuinely wanted to show you their goods with no pressure to buy from Moses the jeweler (he truly is excellent) to the scarf seller. Instead of the deal/blind/mute approach it was nice to be able have conversations with the sellers and still walk away with a polite "No thank you" if you were not interested. Bartering is a fine art and should not be abused just because in a bid to avoid getting ripped off you then turn the tables and rip off your seller. There was some absolutely fantastic items for purchase throughout the Souq in amongst some absolute crap. But I walked away very very happy with a couple of items in Egyptian silver including a new beautiful silver ring with my name in hieroglyphs and a scarab carved from stone to add to my spices & mask purchased in Aswan.

As dinner time approached, what better way to end a wonderful trip in Egypt with one final night in... An Irish Bar! Good food, great company and some pretty awesome dance moves were a fantastic way to bid a fond farewell to what has been an amazing trip. And now with a long day of traveling ahead this morning I'm getting ready to head out to Luxor airport for a flight up to Cairo and the start of my journey home.

- Posted using BlogPress from Nic's iPad

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