Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Travel update number three

Just to update people as to where we’ve gone now since finshing our cross-Europe trip, here’s a very quick sum up:

After our very busy two days back in cold and rainy London we travelled to Cairo via Zurich. We spent a manic day walking around Cairo, before our 2 week tour started the next morning with a visit to the Saqqara and Giza Pyramids. Something Carly had been waiting to see close up for years – and so there we were finally standing at the base of these wonders of the world.

The tour then took an overnight train trip south to Aswan to visit the first of many temples and sites we are planning on seeing in the south of the country. We spent a few days in the Aswan area, seeing the nearby temples and other sites, taking a relaxing sailing cruise on the Nile, and taking a very long day trip south towards the Sudan border to the stunning Abu Simbel temples. A definite highlight!

We then travelled back up to Luxor stopping at two different but amazing temples on the way. The temples in Egypt were like nothing we’ve ever seen anywhere – the Egyptians paid so much attention to detail, and the walls and walls of murals and scenes, plus endless colums of hierglyphics are all like something out of a school history textbook. We are simply amazed at each one we visit, and no two are anywhere near the same which is great! At Luxor we visited the two Temples in the city – the larger one being the largest temple site of its kind in Egypt and had some amazing columns and etched artwork. These two temples were previously the home of the obelisks that now sit in Paris, and the other in Istanbul – and we’ve seen them both!!

Just for something different we took a dawn hot air balloon flight over the Valley of the Kings right on sunrise so we could see the sunlight as it hit the Nile Valley and the mountain range to the west of Luxor. The view was spectacular, and hopefully the photos almost as good. I felt like Yann Arthus-Bertrand for an hour pointing my camera and long lens at the world below! It was something we’ll never forget.. After we landed we toured the Valley of the Kings and the best of the underground tombs there – these were brilliant! What still remains there of the tombs is mind-blowing – all hidden until recently in this beautiful desert valley. I had a look around the very touristy town of Luxor, and with camera in hand got away from the tourist strip and got some great photos in the locals market and shopping streets, followed all the time by either inquisitive local kids or harassing hawkers. Not the nicest town despite the sights around it.

So from Luxor we headed to the coast, and then after a break embarked on a gruelling overnight bus trip across/under the Suez Canal, then through the very barren Sinai Peninsula, through the Taba Heights, to the beachside town of Dahab. Because of our intention to visit Syria and Jordan, we only had a short day and night there, before we traveled to Damascus. A shame really as we liked it more than we thought we would – we’ll have to come back with Dive tickets and see why the Red Sea diving is so renowned.

So we were driven from Dahab, to a boat leaving Taba from Egypt to Aquaba in Jordan at the top of the Red Sea gulf, before continuing through Jordan to Amman, then from Amman to Damascus. On the way we had a short stop at the Roman city ruins at Jeresh – very impressive although because of transport delays we had nowhere near enough time to see enough of it. We then crossed into Syria with ease and onto the bustling city of Damascus.

Our first full day there and we headed off very early to the north-east, parallel with the Iraqi border to Palmyra in the north of the country. According to some eerie road signs we got as close as 150km to the Iraqi border which was pretty exciting. Palmyra itself just blew us away. It is a massive ruined city with Roman origins and Islamic and Christian influence, set on a huge date palm-covered oasis in the desert, and previously a strategic location on the old Silk trade route between east and west. We visited some impressive stone towers that were used as tombs for whole families in a cemetery-like area just outside the town, like nothing we’d seen anywhere. And even better is that there is absolutely no-one else around compared to the crowds of Egypt, so you virtually have the sites to yourself.. there are very few tourists in Syria at the moment - the guides and drivers say it has something to do with some 'crazy Bush' fellow... We got back to Damascus after sunset. We’ve done so much driving, the distances are just huge and the road conditions and traffic don't help. Both of us are pretty exhausted given the schedule we are on to see what we can in the given time. We spent the next day in Damascus, touring the old town and its very interesting buzzing markets, and then though the huge city mosque. We also visited a stunning old palace with Islamic carvings and decorations, and amazing ceiling paintings and carvings. At the end of the day we traveled back over the border to Amman in Jordan where we are tonight.

We still have left in the rest of the week a day at the Rose City of Petra, a visit to the Dead Sea, and an overnight camping in the desert at Wadi Rum. All this before a long bus trip back to Cairo and a visit to more inner-city sights there. We get back to London on Sunday night, and begin finishing off the last few things in London before we leave for Brisbane.

We’ll need a holiday after all this!!!

-shane

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