Sunday, October 8, 2023

My Birthday with Pharaohs in Egypt

Trip date: December 2022 

Last year I finally was able to visit a country that had been on my list since I was a kid; Egypt! My friends and I went for my birthday, Christmas, and New Years. It was amazing!

I flew from Seattle to London on Virgin Atlantic. Virgin had had a points transfer deal which made my Chase points worth 30% more so I booked into their Upper Class which I had never flown and was excited about. Virgin shares the Delta Lounge at SeaTac, which is really a great lounge, so I had a lovely snack paired with champagne before boarding my overnight flight. 

I always love a layflat bed when flying but I have to say that the configuration of Virgin's B787 was not good. All the "pods" face into the aisle (instead of forward) and have their back to the window. This means you are facing everyone; so weird!

Service was very good, all my food was fine (the airplane salt & pepper shakers were a cute touch), goodie bag was basic, but the jammies were great! I wouldn't choose to fly this particular metal again but that is a first world problem, I am aware. 
In London I met my friend Caitlin at our terminal for our Egyptair flight to Cairo where we would be connecting on to Luxor. As we waited to board we found out that Egyptair is a dry airline, aka no alcohol served onboard due to their Muslim ownership, but you could BYOB! So I grabbed a couple of mini bottles of wine and away we went. 

I had booked my London-Cairo-Luxor flights using miles via Amex so was also in business class. The layflat seat was very comfy and there was a ton of room! I asked the flight attendant for a glass for my wine and had a very enjoyable flight. Unfortunately Egyptair is known for being delayed and our flight was 2 hours late getting into Cairo, meaning we had missed our connection to Luxor (with our friends Forest and Thibault on it!).

Egyptair was very helpful though and not only put us up in a hotel but let us choose the Marriott which was in the airport. Since I am Marriott Gold they gave Caitlin and I a huge room with a lovely big bathroom. We ordered up some room service and caught up, forgoing any actual sleep as we had a 4am wake up call for our rebooked 6am flight. TOO EARLY!

Our 1 hour flight to Luxor was uneventful, I was even served a good breakfast and coffee in nice china in business class. We landed at Luxor airport, picked up some gin in duty free, and grabbed a taxi to meet our friends at the Embrace Hotel on the west bank. 

Dec 22nd, my birthday, and boy did we hit the ground running! We got to the hotel at about 9am and our private guide picked us up at 10am for our day in the Valley of the Kings. Hiring a private guide, we used Gaber and booked thru Yalla Travel, meant that we had an Egyptologist and a driver for 3 days to show us around and more importantly to explain the over THREE THOUSAND YEAR OLD history of what we would be seeing. 

As soon as we were on the road heading west to the Valley, Gaber was pointing out excavation sites, ruined statues, and other tombs in the hills. It was absolutely surreal! All of the area is an excavation site basically. I was thrilled!!
There are 63 tombs in the valley and 11 are open to the public, but not all on the same day. We chose to visit 4 of them, including Tutankhamun's (did you know he was buried in Luxor?).

Our first tomb was KV14 which was originally built for Queen Twosret, who was the last ruler of the 19th dynasty of Egypt. She was buried here in 1189BC. The tomb was then reused and extended by Setnakhte, the first pharaoh of the 20th dynasty. It was very unusual for a tomb to be used like this and also makes it one of the largest tombs in the valley. For an idea of the the layout of these tombs this site is fascinating! 

Next we toured KV11 which is the tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses III. Setnakhte originally started this tomb but abandoned the project when they accidently broke into the tomb of Amenmesse! 

KV62 is everyone's favorite child pharoah, King Tutankhamun. Immediately upon entering you go down a set of stairs and through a small hall before entering a chamber where Tut's body is on display! This isn't the burial chamber, you continue just a bit to enter into that small but lavish room. It's just incredible that you can be that close to the 2000 year old mummy!

And finally KV6 the tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses IX. The walls of the entrance here are covered completely in hieroglyphics but as you continue on the decorations aren't complete. They think that maybe the had to rush the finish when the pharaoh died.

Nothing can prepare you for walking into these tombs. The fact that the colors on the walls are still so distinct is mind blowing. It would be very easy to spend the day here but we had more to see! 

A short distance away we stopped at the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, built into the base of the cliffs just outside of Luxor. It looks like a movie set!
Queen Hatshepsut was the wife of Pharaoh Thutmose II and reigned from 1479 BC until 1458 BC. She is remembered as one of Egypt's greatest rulers. 

This 3-level temple took 15 years to build and was like nothing else at the time. Originally there were rows of sphinxes guiding you to the 900 foot long building adorned with 22 Hathor columns. There are chapels dedicated to various gods and walls covered with reliefs of every known plant and animal in all of Egypt. It's truly a marvel.  

The entire complex was to be used as a place for people to worship Hatshepsut in her death and to remember her greatness. Unfortunately her stepson Thutmose III hated her. After her death he tried to erase her existence by removing her name from buildings, demolishing statues of her, monuments, etc. There's a lot of drama with these pharaohs! 

And all of this was before lunch!! Gaber took us to a restaurant with a nice terrace overlooking the nearby fields for some traditional Egyptian food. And then we were off again...

Next we visited Medinet Habu. There is so much history at this site! Originally Hatshepsut built this as a Temple to the god Amun in the early 18th Dynasty. 

Then Ramesses III had more construction done to make it his Mortuary Temple. It's a huge complex with courtyards, temples, storage rooms, a palace, etc. It was very cool seeing this after visiting his tomb earlier in the day.

When you visit these sites you will see security men keeping an eye on things in the ruins. They will also offer to show you areas and rooms not open to the public... for a fee. It's a good idea to keep 5 and 10 Egyptian Pounds (20-30 cents each) in your pockets for this. We were shown a few interesting spaces including the area where animal sacrifices were made. 

It was late in the day when we visited and the light was just beautiful! And we were the only people there by the time we left. Honestly, this site wasn't on our list but our guide Gaber recommended it and I'm so glad he did! It's his favorite as he grew up in the village next to it and he use to play in the ruins as a kid! Amazing!! 

We made a quick stop at the Colossi of Memnon on the way back to our hotel, which were built in 1350 BC as part of a massive temple that no longer stands. 
And then it was time to have a drink, get cleaned up, and go out for my birthday dinner! We went to Marsam which is inside a very cool hotel by the same name. The food was great, and the restaurant served wine (most don't since it's a Muslim country), and the company was even better!

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