We started our voyage out as we got onboard the plane to Amsterdam, and already we were in for an adventure. You see, poor Mom is, shall we say, allergic to flying... it's a phobia of hers that next to nothing has been able to reduce. In the end, we hit upon a desperate solution... if we could not cure her of her fear of flying, we would tranquilize her. Thus, she got her hands on some Atavan, a medical-strength painkiller that she had taken once before to get dental implants. Hoping that it would ease at least the worst of her fears, she took one before we got onboard the flight.
Well, the Atavan succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, in that Mom later revealed that she has absolutely no memory of the next three days. Oh, to be sure, she was walking and talking (somewhat, when she wasn't slumped over dozing), but she apparently was utterly checked out upstairs. Perhaps it should concern me that I didn't notice any difference. ;-) Well, that's not true, she was certainly providing a most interesting running commentary during the flight:
MOM: The stewardess is coming! Make sure to ask her about the bleeding!
ME: Come again?
MOM: Make sure not to mention the photo of Japan to Dad's friend Yasser!
ME: Wait, what photo?
MOM: (attempting to play the inflight Solitaire, which used only a directional pad and a single button) They're making these games too complicated these days!
ME: But... uh...
MOM: Pineapple juice!
At which point she then slid down to kneel on the ground, head on the seat cushion, and snore loudly until realizing she was utterly wedged between the narrow, uncomfortable seats. Once she rescued herself, she rewarded herself by making amorous advances towards Dad, ignoring my abject horror. Dad, for his part, seemed to enjoy it in an amused fashion, to the point of being too distracted to object when she insisted on having wine with her meal.
Wine + sedative. >.> Yeah, no wonder she couldn't remember the next three days.
Frankly, I think she had the better time of it. The flight to Amsterdam was utterly uncomfortable, with our knees up around our chests and our necks bent at ridiculous angles. If someone had come by and offered me super powerful painkillers that would knock me out for days, I'd be all over it like a dirty shirt.
Our stopover in Amsterdam was decently pleasant, as was the flight to Cairo, where we conked out in a hotel near the airport and tried to sleep.
It was in the morning that we encountered our first mistake; booking a tourguide to take us around all the various monuments in/near Cairo. I only say it was a mistake because who the heck is coherent and energetic after a horrible plane ride like that? Would have been better just to find the nearest flat surface and reach never-before seen states of unconsciousness. Still, the sights were worth it. ^^
Our tourguide was a man called Ahmed. Protip: in Egypt, every man is either called Ahmed or Yasser. Every single one of them. Don't let them tell you otherwise, they're just trying to trick you. >.> He picked us up at 9AM to drive us out to Memphis first. As it was Friday, the Muslim holy day, the roads were decently empty, and since Mom was still more doped than your average Woodstock groupie, there were no problems.
Our first stop was at the ancient capital of Memphis, which was the center of politics for much of Ancient Egypt. Sadly, very little of it remains, as it's either all sunk into the dirt or people used bits of it to build their homes (this was a common theme throughout our trip; one was half expecting to see pharonic beards poking out of random hovels). However, there was a very interesting little open-air museum with some statuary recovered from the area. The most striking one was the giant colossus of Ramses II.
Quick history lesson about Ramses II; he is probably one of the most famous pharaohs in history, and certainly one of the greatest. He was a superb military general, and was responsible for some of the most beautiful temples in Egyptian history. He was, generally, pretty darned awesome. Unfortunately... he knew this. He is, quite simply, one of the BIGGEST braggarts in all of history. He styled himself as an actual god, as opposed to the other pharaohs who were more gods-in-waiting (ie would become god after death). All of those temples and beautiful works are actually all him doing the pharonic equivalent of stroking his peen. I'm serious. Every temple inscription he wrote boils down to one of the following messages:
1) I'm Ramses, the best general the world has ever known. The Hittites? I kicked their asses. The Nubians? Pff, nubie, please. I am utterly undefeatable and all others should tremble at my feet. Aren't I awesome?
2) I'm Ramses, and I have built some of the most beautiful temples anywhere. Yep, wasn't the architects or the workers or the artists or the many many slaves that had to work day and night to build this glorious edifice. It was all me, baby. Hey gods, you should, like, totally give me a bonus for building you this awesome temple. Aren't I awesome?
3) I'm Ramses, and I have about a gazillion billion wives and concubines. I've fathered *100* sons, and I lost count of all my daughters. And I was doing that when I was 90, baby. My dick is indeed divine and awe inspiring, look how many kids it's produced. Aren't I awesome?
4) I'm Ramses, and based on all of the above, I am a god. No, I'm not just saying that in reference to how utterly awesome I am, I mean I *AM* a god. All shall love me and despair. Aren't I awesome?
Seriously, whenever you see some art or architecture to do with Ramses, just mentally add an, "aren't I awesome?" after it and you get the idea. Still, he brags with such panache and swagger that you almost have to admire his sheer audacity. Not to mention... well, yeah, he's actually right in his claims of being a good general/building tons of amazing temples/fathering a hundred sons. Take away the whole, "I'm the god, woo hoo!" thing and he's actually pretty much on the money. And his bragging has given us awesome things like this statue. ^_^ Yaay!
So we squeed over the colossus for a bit (you can see how big it is compared to the tourists next to it), then headed outside, where we found a sphinx with the face of one of my other favorite Egyptian rulers: Queen Hatshepsut.
While Egypt had quite a few queens in positions of power (e.g. regents to princes not yet old enough to take the throne), Hatshepsut actually presented herself as a Pharaoh. She initially was the regent of the prince who would become Tuthmosis III, the son of her husband/brother (*cue Deliverance music*) and another concubine. However, before he hit his majority, Hatsheptsut decided that lacking cock and balls was no reason she couldn't have a swing at the whole king thing, so she slung Tuthmosis in a temple somewhere to rot and pranced around wearing false beards and crowns for a few decades. She actually did extremely well at it, engaging in lots of trading and expedition missions, until finally she died... legend said she was poisoned, but recent autopsies of her mummy suggest cancer was the cause. At any rate, Tuthmosis III came out of his temple pissed and expressed his anger maturely and fairly by running around destroying all Hatshepsut's statues and knocking her name off of monuments. Rather petty of him, but I suppose she did technically usurp him. Awww, poor baby had to sit around in a temple... wait, never mind, I've sat in some of those temples in 45 degree heat, my sympathy's with him.
There were a bunch of other statues/sarcophagi hanging around, so we took some pictures then ran off to Saqqara.
Saqqara is the site of the very first pyramid ever built in Egypt. It's rather different looking than the others, as you can see:
This is because, during the Old Kingdom (first "phase" of Ancient Egypt), as well as using burial pits, nobles and pharaohs would be buried in low squat structures known as mastaba, which were made of mud brick and had a shape similar to a gold bar or a chocolate bar. Thus, this pyramid is built of several stacked stone mastaba as a sort of "super tomb" for Pharaoh Djoser.
We approached the pyramid through a hypostyle hall (hall lined with columns) with columns shaped like palm stems; apparently they are the only extant examples of this kind in Egypt. Mom shook off her torpor long enough to squee over the dogs who, unlike us idiotic tourists, were reclining in the shade like sane creatures.
Beyond was a large court, where the pharaoh once used to engage in a series of athletic tests during his Jubilee festival in the 30th year of reign; apparently, it was supposed to prove he was still vital enough to rule, as well as rejuvinate his ka. There were a few interesting things to see, such as the "fake" burial pit which was symbolic... uh... somehow, but nothing really photogenic. So I ran around and took pictures of the pyramid itself. Ain't I sweet? ;-)
After that, Mom fell asleep in the minivan while Dad and I visited another tomb nearby, a mastaba dedicated to some noble lord whose name escapes me and shall henceforth be called That Guy. The tomb of That Guy was fascinating in that it had extremely well preserved frescoes from the Old Kingdom. Some of them even still had the original paint on them! Sadly, photography was forbidden, so I don't have any pictures of it. ;_;The theme was mostly of servants bringing various goods to the tomb of That Guy, and there were a lot of depictions of various game/farm animals, such as oxen and geese. My favorite aspect of the art was the way the wings of the geese looked, clutched brokenly in the hands of the servants; the detail on every single feather was incredible. Also of interest was the way certain members in the procession had been utterly chipped away; Dad and I debated whether or not these were people who had pissed off the artist, or who had fallen out of favor with the lord before his death. Ah, mystery! I was also intrigued by the ancient graffiti that seemed in here or there.. crudely drawn heiroglyphs seem so much CLASSIER than, "Dick and Jane were here."
After that, Dad went inside the pyramid of Teti (a minor pyramid), while I remained outside; claustrophobia and pyramids are not a good combination, considering the shafts leading inside require you to stoop. Then, back on the bus and off to...
The Pyramids of Giza (take 1)
Imagine that you're driving along through a... well, quite frankly, through a rather crappy city, when you suddenly round the corner and see THIS:
It was pretty darned dramatic, let me tell ya. =P This is the pyramid of Cheops, and the largest of the three pyramids (140m high, 230m square along its base, 2.3 million blocks).
We then drove on further to the panorama viewpoint from which you can see all three big pyramids as well as most of the rest of the complex (the pyramids belonging to the queens, etc). Contrary to popular belief, the Sphinx is not "right there" and is actually quite a ways away.
I really want to know what brainchild thought that running a paved road THROUGH the middle of the pyramids would be a good idea. Thank you for ruining my photos, jerks. >:(
My ugly mug:
Then we drove up closer to take a better look at the pyramids
The smallest of the three pyramids is the pyramid of Menkaure. Most people tend to kind of "ignore" it as, well, it's the smallest, but if it had been complete it would have easily been the nicest. That's because it was intended to be covered in granite blocks, which would have made it look really cool. XD Unfortunately, an earthquake put the kibosh on that, and even if not, I'm sure locals would have stolen the blocks for building houses like they did with other monuments.
My favorite of the three pyramids is that of Chephren. Like the pyramid of Cheops, it was originally covered in limestone, but unlike Cheops, it actually retains a little of the limestone still... hence the weird "cap" at the top of it. It's a very elegant and attractive pyramid, and probably the nicest situated.
With Mom once again dozing in the back of the car and the guide leaving us to free time, Dad and I took a stroll around the giant pyramid of Cheops. This took about half an hour, to give you an idea of how large the base is. This picture gives you an idea of how big the blocks alone are compared to a person:
Unfortunately, the stroll was marred by those darned totes. One of them run up to us and gave us some little scarab sculptures, then proceeded to try "guiding" us towards his son who was riding a camel. "Only five dolla picture!" he burbled merrily. In the end, Dad snapped and told him to clear off, and when he tried whining about the scarabs, found them handed back firmly but politely. We were soon beset with other replacements, of course, with camel handlers, souvenir sellers and waterboys accosting us every five steps. And god forbid we might have gotten any in the frame of our pictures, that would have been ten Egyptian points right there. -_- Still, it was very dramatic to see the sheer size of the pyramid close up, and to see the sun shining over its peak.
We then had to drive a little ways in order to reach the Sphinx. Mom's first glance of it turned her off, and she proclaimed in a loud voice that it was, "much smaller than she'd been expecting." Apparently, Atavan and perspective do not mix. >.>
I left her parked at the cafe nearby along with Dad taking care of her, and soldiered on with the tourguide.
For those that don't know, the Sphinx of Giza was built by Chephren, the same pharaoh who built the second pyramid, and has his features as its human face. Unfortunately, the day I was there, a host of pigeons had taken up residence on his facial structure, and as a result left poor Chephren looking like he was suffering from a severe case of pigeon zits.
Having said that, once you're close up to the Sphinx, it's very dramatic. I was surprised to see how well preserved the lower part of the Sphinx was in comparison to the rest of it; I suppose being buried in sand and not being subjected to random tourist mountineers and French troop target practice helps. (Fun Fact: the often repeated story of the Sphinx's nose being shot off by Napoleon's troops is apparently an urban legend, as there are pictures dated earlier that show the Sphinx without a nose). People are no longer allowed to go up right next to the Sphinx, probably because some morons wouldn't be able to restrain themselves from climbing all over it and carving their initials into its paw. But it was still a beautiful sight, and well worth the trip.
After that, we were all dead tired, and the tour guide had absolutely no plans of what to do with us next. After deliberation, we asked to be taken to Le Meridien, which would be our hotel on our way *back* through Cairo at the end of our trip; we thought we could at least crash in the lobby on their couches. Sure enough, they were more than obliging, and we were able to snooze there until it was time to uproot again and rush off to the train station.
By this point, the traffic had become a little more terrifying, and I distinctly remember burying my face in my hat and making muffled noises of terror. Dad held on in grim silence. However, thanks to the miracle of Atavan, Mom was as happy as a clam and relaxed through the entire drive. As we got out, shaky-legged, at the station, she told the driver that he was wonderful and drove extremely well. Days later, when we told her what she had said, she went pale and swore off Atavan forever.
We struggled along the station platform to wait for our sleeping car train. While we waited, several local trains passed by, filled with rugged looking locals hanging out the windows and open car doors with cigarettes in hand. I thought of having to travel in such a car all the way to Luxor and shuddered, but was assured that our car would be air conditioned and well appointed. We met a very nice man from Virginia there who was, no lie, the spitting image of a 90 year old Indiana Jones, complete with fedora. I wanted to offer him a whip or ask which tomb he was there to swing around. >.>
Our train arrived and we boarded without difficulty. We had booked first class compartments, but I confess that "first class" conjured up a rather different image in my mind... something old and richly appointed, like the Orient express or something. Instead, we each got a rather small cabin, about the size of a bathroom, with a row of seats that converted into a bunk bed. Frankly, I didn't mind in the least, and neither did my parents; at that point, a horizontal plank would have done the job. We were fed some odd meal involving something vaguely hamburgerish, rice, and a piece of fish that only I liked. Then we slept... or attempted to sleep. As the train had a habit of lurching, bumping, zooming around then stopping suddenly, I spent a good chunk of the night holding on for dear life as we hurtled towards Luxor...
... and the next entry in my journal. ;-)
Wow, that took a while. >.> Between the writeup and sorting through my gazillion photos, this could get timeconsuming. Ah well. ;-) Hope everyone enjoyed it somewhat, at least! Don't know when the next one will be, have to stagger through all the pictures of Luxor first. >.> Also, it's taking me a while to figure out exactly how to run iPhoto... >.> Hence as a result, I'm sure every single one of these pictures is at different exposures/tints/etc. XD I suppose as long as you can see what it is, mission accomplished? ;D