Mid-Season Break in Luxor
We work 6 days a week, Saturday through Thursday. Friday is the holy day for both Muslims and Copts (Egyptian Christians). Often Dr. Adams (who we shall now call Matt) arranges a trip to a nearby site. Sometimes I go and sometimes I’d rather stay at home and relax, read, listen to an Arabic lesson, knit, catch up on e-mail or work on my blog. However, I’m more than ready to go to Luxor or Aswan during the mid-season break. This year on our 4 days and I decided to stay in Luxor.
The lab staff, including me, went to the site for breakfast and this season’s group portrait because three of our team were returning to the States after the break. We stopped work early on Thursday the 22nd, cleaned up, had lunch then climbed into cars for the, what should have been a 3 hour drive. Egypt is, especially in the villages, similar to Haines in that most things are jury-rigged together. My car jerked like it was about to run out of gas the entire way. Once in a while the driver of my car would get out and pound on something under the hood with a wrench. He took the wrong road a couple of times and later we had to wait a while for another car that was having trouble and went back to a city for a part. It seemed longer but actually only took 4 hours.
I stayed for the first time on the West Bank at a very nice hotel called the El Gezera Garden. I picked it because it had a bathtub. At our Abydos house, there are so many of us that we take “military” showers. Water is off when we shampoo or soap up. It’s actually a nice shower most of the time but I have taken cold showers when the hot water runs out faster than it can be heated. Most of the team looked forward to a long hot shower. I wanted to soak in a hot tub. There was almost enough hot water to fill the tub and it was very nice.
One of the other women, Diane, stayed at the same hotel. The first day we went back to the East Bank together to get some money and to have a special tour of the Luxor Temple. Hiroko is a conservator who works for the University of Chicago excavations and occasionally comes to Abydos to consult with our conservator. She invited us to see her work of the last 5 years. She has organized chunks of stone that used to be part of the temple structure, creating an exhibit of it, and has worked on the temple’s restoration. I’ve enjoyed meeting very interesting people here and being able to have some special tours of sites and seeing work that most people aren’t able to view. I’ve had other special tours and have learned about what is being done to preserve and/or restore several structures or sites and what these other people are learning from their work.
I was amazed at how much work has been done on the temple and the grounds since I saw it 3 years ago. A nice plaza was created just outside the temple grounds and in addition to Hiroko’s organization of the fragments of the building, a lot of restoration has been done. New material fills in gaps in the ancient fragments. A sketch that would not be confused with the original paintings allows us to see what was the original design. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera that day but Diane has generously shared her photographs with me.
After the temple, Diane and I decided to have a cold drink at McDonalds just across the street from the temple.
We ran into two other teammates, Mark and Patrick, and spent the rest of the day with them. We went back to the hotel complex where the men were staying and had lunch by the swimming pool. They stayed at the Pavilion in the Winter Palace complex. I used to stay at the New Winter Palace but it was torn down a few years ago so that the street could be beautified with a park. After lunch we took a cab to the Luxor Museum, then took a felucca (sailboat) ride on the Nile, and ended with an Italian meal at another hotel.
On Saturday, Diane and I, after consulting one another, found that we both wanted to just relax in the morning. Later we went Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III then walked over to the Ramesseum, the memorial temple of Ramesses II.
When I left for Egypt, I planned to treat myself to a stay at the fancy and prestigious Winter Palace, originally built in 1886, during our break. I’ve wanted to stay there for years but always changed my mind because of the expense. Early archeologists and other well-known people stayed there in its early days. Much of it has been updated but it still has the old colonial feeling and is beautiful. The price, however, that was almost double this year helped me decide to go with the West Bank hotel in order to save money. I thought it over for a couple of days and decided that I deserved one night in the beautiful Winter Palace, just in case this is my last trip to Egypt. I didn’t want to leave my young friend alone, so invited her to come with with me.
Checkout in our hotel was noon and we had a lunch date with the friends who were returning to the States after the break. So on Sunday morning we packed our bags and left them with the front desk while we visited the Valley of the Queens and a monastery. The Valley of the Queens is much like Valley of the Kings but smaller. Only 3 tombs are open each year in order to protect the paintings and other features from the humidity created by human breath, the dust stirred up, and light. I thought the monastery was an old site, and it did seem to be, but it is still in use. It wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. However, people were friendly and wanted to chat. We met a young woman who was there with a friend and her much smaller brother and 2 sisters. We talked for a while in her broken English and my very broken Arabic. I still can’t converse but I now have enough Arabic to communicate beyond a smile and “hello, how are you?” Our house staff is very proud of me.
We joined our friends at their hotel for a late lunch. It’s always sad to see people with whom I’ve been bonding leave early. It’s even harder when I’m the one leaving my old and new friends and not being a part of what is discovered and accomplished during the rest of the season. I’m very happy and grateful to be here the entire season this year. After lunch with our friends, we gathered up our things and moved to the East Bank and the Winter Palace. In the evening we joined Mark and Patrick for shopping in the suq (market) with the intent to meet the others from the West Bank. The others didn’t make it but the 4 of us had a nice dinner at my favorite Luxor restaurant, the Oasis Café. The owner is American and for several years a woman from Sudan managed it. Now a Canadian woman who is married to an Egyptian man runs it. The menu has changed but the food is still excellent.
The shopkeepers in the suq, as well as the shoe polishers, newspaper sellers, carriage and taxi drivers, and children selling packages of facial tissue on the streets have, for the most part, become more aggressive in their selling tactics. Egypt depends on the tourist trade and because of the revolution there are not many tourists. That’s nice for us who don’t have to face large crowds at the sites. However, it’s very bad for the people who make their living on the tourist trade. A few have reconciled with that and just chat, I think hoping being friendly will sell their service. I actually had some nice conversations. That has never happened before. However, most are almost desperate and are more obnoxious than usual. We all hear on the news some about demonstrations and kidnappings. We pay attention to our surroundings and we’re careful as always, and it seems to be safe. Take advantage of no crowds and make your visit to Egypt now.
On Monday morning, I had a delicious breakfast at the hotel with a small omelet to order, and lots of other good things. Most hotels furnish breakfast for their guests and both of my hotels had good breakfasts. Then I went to the fair trade store just outside the suq for souvenirs. I couldn’t bring myself to go into the suq again. Later I sat by the pool and had a quick lunch with Diane, Mark and Patrick. It took a little longer to get our food that we hoped, so we put it in boxes and rushed to get our bags and joined the others in front of the Winter Palace where we climbed into a small tourist bus for the trip back to Abydos. It was much more pleasant than the seemingly ready-to-breakdown-any-minute cars; and the driver actually knew the way.