In a few days our group will be embarking on a voyage to the distant past as we pay a visit to of the Library of Alexandria! Ok, it's not the actual library but the beautiful new library built to commemorate the even more magnificent ancient counterpart is as close as you can get this day and age. Excited as I am, I feel almost spoiled to be packing up and heading out again, having just returned from a trip to Luxor and Hurghada in the south of Egypt (also known as Upper Egypt, confusingly named after the direction of the Nile, which flows South to North).
Luxor is thought of by some as a giant museum of Egyptian history -- it houses some of the most expansive and well-known memorials in the country, including the Valley of the Kings (our tour guide claimed that 80% of all Egyptian artifacts were found there, I'm not sure about the accuracy of this comment but it gives you an idea of how important it is!)
After a crash course in ancient Egyptian history and religious beliefs we found ourselves traipsing around multiple temples and tombs, face to face with the images and figures we had so recently confronted in the classroom. Each morning our alarms woke us between the hours of 4 and 5 AM and we were soon stumbling onto the tour bus for a day filled with history. These early risings, while painful at first, allowed us the unique opportunity to view iconic sites without the usual bustling crowd of visitors.
A few hours into our first day we realized that we were avoiding more than tourists; we were also trying to escape the frying-pan-like heat of the desert sun. While I'm always a proponent of a good dose of Vitamin D, after feeling like bacon during the day I treasured our evening tours of historic monuments. The most memorable of these was the Karnak Temple Complex, a sprawling structure fit only for a pharaoh -- the temple is near the Egyptian city Thebes, and was constructed mostly in the New Kingdom period.
In the waning afternoon light we explored the various alleyways and grand passages that cut through the middle of the temple. I frequently found myself craning my neck to examine a hieroglyphic, or bending down to inspect the giant feet of a statues, always trying to get a closer look at each detail of these amazing sites. Luckily, this small excursion to Upper Egypt gave us the chance to see history both up close and personal and at a distance.
The last morning of our time in Luxor found us waking up even earlier than the normal 5:00AM (many in our group felt that this bordered on cruel and unusual punishment) and walking across a thin gangplank onto several ferries. These quaint vessels, complete with complimentary coffee to combat the early hour, carried us across the Nile towards the main event: hot air balloons!
Our group had decided to splurge on this activity, which featured a sunrise ride over the Valley of the Kings and other nearby monuments of Luxor. It was worth every cent. The sun was just peeking out over the horizon as we clambered into a basket large enough for 20 people. and when we began our gentle ascent the landscape below came alive. Sprawled out below us were the various monuments and temples we had visited earlier, looking more like models than the giant structures they are in reality. Meanwhile, our height emphasized the contrast of the topography surrounding Nile, which, as in most of Egypt, moves abruptly from fertile farmland on the banks of the Nile to harsh, inhospitable desert.
The hot air balloon ride was definitely a high point (pun intended) of my time in Luxor, and a perfect way to bid goodbye to a region rich in history before moving on to Hurghada, on the Red Sea, for a brief beach stint complete with a day of snorkeling. Thus far Egypt has proved to offer new wonders with each passing day.