jump to navigation

VariousEgypt: Life of the Kings

On 21 November 2006 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

It was early in the morning of Friday 10 November 2006 when Arno and I boarded an LTU-flight from Düsseldorf to Sharm el-Sheikh. For both of us it would be the first time in Egypt, and aside from a hostel for the first nights, a trip to Mt Sinai and a 3-day diving liveaboard, nothing was booked. Package tours simply do not accommodate for the combination of Egyptian culture and a diving liveaboard. Backpacking and finding our way ourselves is much more fun anyway, and we are both used to it from our experiences in Australia.

The first Egyptian experience was climbing Mt Sinai, where Moses received the ten commandments. It required another early rise, as we were gonna watch the sunrise from Mt Sinai. Walking uphill (over 1000m altitude difference) for over 2 hours, in the dark, smelling camels: the sacrifices one makes for a good photo. But the views were spectacular, and afterwards we explored St Catherine’s Monastery.

Back in Sharm el-Sheikh, we were the first passengers to arrive for the 3-day diving liveaboard. The 25m yacht was very luxurious, and the 9 crew could cater for the wishes of 12 passengers. But once onboard, we discovered that we were the only passengers! Apparently no one else had booked the trip, and it was guaranteed departure. It truly was the luxury life of Kings: our equipment was taken care of, we could choose the diving spots (not that we had the knowledge, so we let the crew decide), and had a private divemaster on all dives. Altogether we made 10 dives in 3 days at all the great spots of the Northern Red Sea, including the Dunraven and the Thistlegorm.

After the diving trip, we had another day in Sharm el-Sheikh that we spend relaxing on the beach, snorkelling and shopping. After all, diving is quite exhausting. Pretty much all of the next day was spent in the bus to Cairo, that included the tunnel under the Suez Canal. In Cairo we had no problem finding a centrally located, affordable hostel.

In the morning of our first full day in Cairo we visited the pyramids of Giza. Being the only remaining ancient world wonder, their size and construction could not be more impressive. It was good to be on the site when it opened, because the pyramids are completely overrun by tourists. That was not the case for the sites we visited in the afternoon: Saqqara and Dahshur. We hired a taxi to bring us to these destinations, and in Dahshur we almost had the site to ourselves, while the pyramids there were only slightly less impressive than the ones at Giza. Altogether we climbed into the burial chamber of 3 large pyramids. This room deep inside the pyramid is where the mummified Kings enjoyed their afterlife.

The second full day in Cairo we explored the treasures of the Egyptian museum. The amount of ancient items it was stuffed with was simply unbelievable. Our last full day in Cairo was spent in the old Islamic centre of the city. We visited the Citadel and the Mohammed Ali mosque (not related to the fighter). On our way to the next mosque we managed to get lost in the small streets, but found our way eventually. And a visit to Cairo would not be complete without being ripped off at Ibn Tulun mosque, where we paid for the free access to the tower.

We took the night train to Luxor, and after checking in at the centrally located hostel we went to the Amun Temple in Karnak. This impressive site includes a great hall of huge columns, still standing tall. On our second day in Luxor we booked an organized trip to Thebes, visiting the Collossi of Memnon, Valley of the Queens, Valley of the Kings and Deir al-Bahri. Late afternoon we explored Luxor Temple, and returned there in the evening to make some nice night photos.

Because we had another full day in Luxor, and only visited 3 tombs in the Valley of the Kings, we returned to Thebes on our last day in Luxor. There we rented bikes and biked to the Valley of the Kings, Medinat Habu and Old Gurna, where the lesser known tombs of the Nobles are located. In these tombs we got a private tour from the tomb guardians, one even showing how the tombs could be lighted using mirrors reflecting the sunlight. Late afternoon we did a short camel ride along the river, our visit to Egypt would not be complete without one.

Most of the second last day was spent in the bus to Hurghada. This must have been one of the slowest bus trips I ever made. The 280km took over 6 hours! I guess the large number of stops did not help, including a long break in the middle of the desert. At the last day of the trip we spent a few hours on the beach of a Hurghada hotel, where we realized how good it was not to have booked a package trip. It would have been fairly impossible to have a more varied trip.

Website Update 2006

On 24 April 2006 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

The last widely published update of claessen.ca dates back to June 2002, almost 4 years ago! In the meantime I have also created “oz.claessen.ca: Guido’s Down Under Experiences” for my trip to Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. This site consisted basically of a blog (pMachine) and photo gallery (Gallery). This is the way to go, as static websites are just too inconvenient to update. But it also caused my website to become split in my ordinary website (static & photo gallery) and my Down Under website (blog & photo gallery). This became even worse when I started to test Gallery2 (the ultimate photo gallery script), and uploaded new photos there.

So here we go now, a brand new website, based on the following scripts:

These version numbers are the current state of web technology. It will be interesting to see how things develop from now on. In my opinion open source technologies have really matured, resulting in less frequent releases with more new features that have been tested more thoroughly. Gallery for sure has come a long way since I discovered it in 2001.

VariousUkraine 2: L’viv

On 19 April 2006 from L’viv, Ukraine | comments closed

The initial plan of my 1-week trip to Ukraine consisted of Kiev with a daytrip to Chernobyl, and L’viv with a daytrip into the mountains. The first was too popular during the time I was there, the second too unpopular. It was basically too early in the season to go into the mountains, as everything would be too muddy. So I had over 2,5 days to spend in L’viv, which left me enough time to wander aimlessly around the city, and enjoy the nice weather from a park bench. L’viv is a much smaller city than Kiev, but it is loved by Ukrainians for its charm. The comparison with Krakow is pushing it though.

Having enough time to spend, I visited pretty much all interesting places: Rynok Square, Castle Hill, Lychakivsky Cemetery, Museum of Folk Architecture & Life, and of course the obligatory church and cathedral. In terms of nightlife, L’viv is definitely not the place to go (unlike Kiev). It does make for some nice daytime exploring for a day and a half. And having a 30 USD/night room in the beautiful George Hotel in the middle of the city is a luxury not enjoyed for that price in Kiev.

VariousUkraine 1: Kiev

On 16 April 2006 from Kiev, Ukraine | comments closed

Early 2006 I found myself with the luxury problem of having over 15.000 Miles & More frequent flyer miles, the majority of which were expiring 30 April 2006. Not wanting them to go sour, I figured they would be most valuable on the most expensive regular flights. Since Lufthansa does not fly to Reykjavik (Iceland), and both Moscow and Saint Petersburg require expensive and time consuming visa procedures, that only left Ukraine in my opinion. The president of this former Soviet-state has a Dutch wive, and therefore Dutchmen do not require a visa anymore.

That is how I ended up boarding a small plane with mainly business travellers going from Düsseldorf to Kiev. There I managed to find my way with public transport to a small hostel, and needed all my Russian skills to get the right train ticket to L’viv. (Un)fortunately I already found out before the trip that it was not possible to book a daytrip to Chernobyl. Yes, there are daytrips to the radioactive wasteland surrounding the exploded nuclear reactor. It is deemed safe enough for a day, as long as you stay on the roads of the deserted towns and countryside, where the radiation has washed away. Wandering around in the bush is not recommended. However, since the meltdown happened on 26 April 1986, all the daytrips were sold out to journalists wanting to write the story of “Chernobyl, 20 years later”.

Not having my daytrip to Chernobyl left me over 3 full days to explore Kiev, which is more than enough. I went to all the highlights of the city: the large monastery complex of Pecherska Lavra, the tanks and other military equipment of the Great Patriotic War Museum, St Michael’s Monastery, St Sophia’s Cathedral, various city parks, the huge arch of the Friendship of Nations Monument, and Independance Square. The last is the center of the city where the orange revolution took place. It is also the place where I met up with some students and alumni of ESTIEM local group Kiev. That is the good thing about being an member of an European student organisation: knowing people in most major European cities. I went to have a drink with them one evening, and explored Kiev one afternoon together with Lena.

Overall Kiev was a lot more modern than I expected. The Lada’s so commonly seen in Moscow and Saint Petersburg were a rarity (it may also have to do with the fact that the last time I was in Russia was in 2003). Nevertheless, those two cities are the ones that come closest to my impression of Kiev. The metro system is very efficient and very deep (the fast escalators of one metro station needed 5 minutes to bring me up), just like Saint Petersburg. In one thing Kiev seems to beat the Russian cities though: the percentage of women wearing stiletto heels, I have never seen so many as in Kiev.