Tahrir, one year on

The header pictures on my travel blog are some of my favourite travel photos. One may look just like a group of lads playing football, but it’s the location that inspired me to upload it earlier this year…

It was taken in Tahrir Square, Cairo, in January 2010.

Football in Tahrir Square, Cairo (January 2010)

Tahrir Square was a very different place a year ago today, when it was the focal point of the Egyptian revolution which eventually toppled Hosni Mubarak.

Today the name is synonymous with memories of violent conflict, and the blood of many people guilty mostly of “just” believing in the future and demonstrating for positive change.

One year on, I simply wanted to remember my memories of a peaceful place. And my hope that positive change may one day arrive in a country that I very much enjoyed travelling in (more than I ever thought I would).

A calm Tahrir Square, Cairo (January 2010)

Last day – Cairo

So, after 3 full days and 2 nights in Luxor it was back to Cairo on the overnight train.

One final day in Cairo, to visit the Egyptian Museum (particularly to see the Tutankhamum exhibits), ride some more dangerously overcrowded mad buses, and sample the local street food…

….and draw your attention to behind the left-hand chef’s legs, where the little feral street cat has come to terms with his fate, and is clambering into the kebab wagon!

Finally, a wander off to do some haggling in the Khan-al-Khalili bazaar.

Then a late (overnight) flight back to Heathrow. I hit looong delays changing planes in Istanbul because of the weather in London…

…which was a bit of a contrast to the 20-something degrees warmer it had been in Cairo 14 hours earlier.

Final thought on Egypt? After crossing all those crazy roads, I came home and played an old emulator version of ‘Frogger’. Easy as pie, that road crossing lark ūüėČ

Lovely Luxor

DAY ONE: We took the night train from Giza to Luxor, arriving at breakfast time into a bustling throng of opportunistic locals. No chance, guys!

Of course, it was too early to get a room, but arriving at the Bob Marley hostel the friendly staff ushered Emmi, Gwen & Derreck (who we’d met at the hostel in Cairo) ¬†& I up to the roof terrace for coffee & fruit.

Bob Marley Hostel, Luxor

Amazing hospitality, and a cool chillout area. We didn’t want to leave, but there was so much to see…

So we wandered into the centre of Luxor, past Luxor temple, and then a couple of kilometres up the corniche of the Nile.

The Nile Corniche, Luxor

Walking rather than taking a caleche attracted lots of shouts & touts, but a leg-stretch was needed after the train, and Karnak was close. I had no idea how huge it was

Karnak Temple, Luxor

Later we headed back to the hostel for sunset on the roof terrrace. At 5.15 on the dot, ¬†all the muezzins start calling the faithful to prayer. From this height, it’s an absolutely amazing wall of sound, amplified from every direction.

Sunset over the rooftops of Luxor

DAY TWO: ¬†Up early to head to the Valley of The Kings (no photos, you’re not allowed cameras through the metal detectors as the flash damages the ancient paintings). The tombs we visited were:

  1. Tausert & Setnakht (the only couple buried together in the Valley)
  2. Seti II (with the most spectactular paintings)
  3. Siptah (interesting because unfinished, and also because some clumsy builders cutting KV32 a few years later managed to cut straight in and damage a large part!)

Then on to Deir-el-Bahri, also known as the temple of Queen Hatshepshut.


Bob Marley Hostel team shot at the Colossus of Memnon.

Colossus of Memnon, Luxor

DAY THREE: A proper visit to Luxor temple, rather than just passing by. Here’s one of the ubiquitous caleches (which, somewhat unfortunately, make Luxor smell of things that come out of a horse’s back end…).

Caleche, outside Luxor Temple

I can’t imagine something this big was ever lost, buried in the sand, but in the 13th century they built a mosque on top of part of Luxor temple?!

The mosque at Luxor Temple

…and then in c. 17th century the Christians painted over some of the carvings. Ironically, that actually helped to preserve it.

A Cartouche is an oblong with hieroglyphs inside, indicating royalty. This one probably just indicates marmalade…

Paddington at Luxor Temple

And this is just plain bloody stupid: 52-seater bus loads of Americans pulling up outside the new (only) McDonald’s opposite the temple to get their “fix”.

We spent our final evening cruising down the Nile (on a motor boat: not really windy enough for a felucca)

Cruising down the Nile

Our destination was Banana Island, then back to Luxor again watching a fabulous sunset:

Sunset on the Nile

Night plane to Cairo

I flew from London to Cairo, via Istanbul (meeting my friend Emmi there – she’d flown in from Helsinki).¬†Nothing to note except Turkish Airlines showing a nice documentary entitled ‘Cheese Slices’ about traditional English cheese making?!

Landing at 3am, despite pre-booking a car from our hostel, we had to deal with a Policeman a little keener on supplementing his income than doing any Police work (handy travel tip is ALWAYS carry photocopies of your passport so you NEVER have to let it out of your sight if corrupt officials want ID). If the driver had to pay him off it was incredibly discreet (unlikely, nothing else was!) and such a small amount that the hostel never asked us to cover it.

After a quick nap we were in exploring mode. Cairo traffic is crazy, and it doesn’t stop for anyone. Having quickly adopted the local way (saying ‘inshallah’, bowing, and just ducking in between the cars anyway). What followed was your usual meandering around downtown and getting oriented, but add an emo pharmacist (surely not a good idea giving over-emotive types such ready access to prescription drugs?!) and some VERY scary shop dummies (think the ‘Rose’ episode of Doctor Who) at every turn.

After a spot of lunch, we decided to head out to the Pyramids.¬†I’d been told they were right at the edge of the suburbs, but this close to a six-lane highway?

They have cops on camels, which must be unique?

At this point I should also introduce to you to ‘Travel Paddington’ (purchased from the bargain bin of Harrods in Heathrow T3 on the way out – I couldn’t leave him to the mercy of the posh people!) who may be sneaking into pics from time to time…

The proud Sphinx (I’d like to say I didn’t do the over-touristy ‘kiss the Sphinx’ photo, but actually my mate just got the angle wrong!)

By far the most amazing part came at the end of the day. We’d bought tickets to go inside the Great Pyramid, and left it until right before closing when the crowds had died down. Partly that, partly because my friend felt a little claustrophobic, I found myself being the only person inside the Great Pyramid. Climbing up the steep steps with little headroom, then the passage opening out into the Grand Gallery (that I’d seen so many times in documentaries and photographs) was breathtaking.

Standing alone inside something over four thousand years old. Just wow.