The Camels.

Well; the Moulid has been and gone , and Yours Truly managed to miss the first and most traditional part!

I knew that the anticipation and excitement were growing, you could almost sense it, even from our flat up on the 4th floor. I took the camera down to the street, well before the procession was due to leave the old Mosque of Luxors patron saint, Abu El Haggag. You'll remember the story about how he became such an important figure for Luxor, and worthy of this Moulid in his honour don't you, Dear Reader? Just in case your memory is getting like mine, here it is again:

"When Shaikh Abu El Haggag came to Luxor, Islam at the time was not the major religion in Egypt; Coptic Christianity was the leading religion at the time. The city was a colony owned by a religious Coptic lady. She used to be called The Princess. Her soldiers saw Sheikh Abu El Haggag there and was immediately recognized as a foreigner, therefore he was taken to the Princess for questioning as they feared that he is a spy from a different tribe/region. He complained to her about the treatment he received and expressed that he wishes to become a local citizen. The lady was generous and offered him to stay as long as he wishes. He asked her to give him a land as big as a camel’s skin to sleep on it, she thought that would be maximum of 2 square meters, so she agreed as she was a generous Lady, he asked her to sign a contract confirming the deal which she agreed to.
At night, he took a camel’s skin and he cut it into a very thin line at the front of some local witnesses, something similar to a very thin washing line, he used it to border a big part of Luxor Temple. In the morning, soldiers saw this line and reported it to the Princess, and then she realised that he owns this bordered part of the temple as per their written agreement. As much as she was feeling deceived by his plan, they met few times afterwards, she was impressed by his knowledge and then she converted to Islam."
This thread of camel skin ran up Mustafa Kamel Street (Gold Street) and passed the end of our little alley, so we really are within the old boundaries of the town. The rest of what has become known as Luxor, isn't, really, they are just a conglomeration of villages which have been caught-up in the "urban spread"! 
Anyway, back to before the "ca-ran-aval". The direction of traffic-flow is reversed on Youseff Hassan Street and our section of Mustafa Kamel Street, due to half the town being inaccessible to motors, it seems very strange to see the "arabayas" coming up the street instead of down, and coming out of really bumpy side-streets as well!

Of course, not all the traffic has cottoned-on yet, It's Egypt, you know!

The main street was beginning to prepare for the grand parade, it's Luxors most exciting day, and almost everyone turns out to join in in some way. The lady and child on the left have come early to get a good viewing place. The gaily apparelled camels and horses were being shown off, up and down the street, like young girls being promenaded for slavering old slave traders!

Some of them are very big, even intimidating I would suggest. (Especially after reading in the MailOnline about the camel driver having his head bitten off by one of his annoyed beasts!!!) I also noticed that one or two if these had muzzles fitted; scary, or what?

I retired to the relative sanity of out flat for lunch, assured that there was plenty of time before I needed to attend with my camera. (Why oh why do I continue to trust the timings given by Egyptians? You'd think I'd never experienced "Egyptian Time" wouldn't you?)

Never mind, even though I missed the beginning of it, I was there for some of the more modern parts. (More of this in another posting!) And I did catch some camels in the actual parade:

What I didn't film was some (quite unnecessary, in my opinion) savage beating of the poor creatures. I suppose that when the riders have hired the animal, they feel entitled to treat it however their fancy takes them? I was astonished to find out that the cost of the day hire was 700le, with the biggest of the beasts costing 950le!!!

The owner hires a place just off Gold Street to stable the camels before they're needed, but straightaway after they're finished, they're taken back to their proper occupation in the sugar-cane fields, with the owner's pockets bulging with cash! Here they go:

I'll get around to posting some more in a while, insh'Allah! 


Extremes in Egypt?

Well, we awoke to terrible and tragic news this morning; another aeroplane falling out of the sky! EgyptAir's flight MS804 just disappeared from the radar, or so it seems. No doubt it will be decided that it was yet another terrorist atrocity, and another million or so prospective visitors to Egypt will change their plans. It's just awful!

Freda told me of the news as soon as I was awake, and when I went down to take a glass of tea to our elderly neighbour, Mr Mohamed (You remember? the English speaking guide, whose licence was number 9 in all of Egypt?) at 8 o'clock, he already knew about it and was calling the terrorists upside down! Everyone here is appalled at this latest attack (if, indeed, it proves to be the work of terrorists) and have been following the regular TV news reports about it.

In case you're wondering why I was taking tea to Mr Mohamed, it's because he is old and infirm and his family are struggling to take proper care of him. I don't do a great lot, only take him some tea and get a little falafel for him. Other than that Freda is doing some washing and I go and sit with him for a bit, he just needs a bit of company and a little kindness. Dr Jacoub's assistant, Girges, is also doing his best to help. Here's a snap I took of them both later on this morning, when Girges had helped him to sit outside where he could see the normal life of the street going on, instead of the four walls of his room.

The one on the left is Mr Edward, the assistant of Dr Abd El Mallach, the surgeon from our 1st floor. I've called these two all the names under the sun, at times (mostly Igor, as in Dr Frankenstein's assistant) but they're OK really, Girges has been a great help to Mr Mohamed.

Mohamed is hoping to feel well enough to get out into the main street tomorrow evening. It's the time of year for the Moulid, and the stick-dancing started tonight! Mohamed is keen to watch the proceedings, as I'm sure he thinks it will be his last opportunity, maybe he's right as he is 86, and well past the life expectancy of Egyptian males in general!

Obviously, I had to have a gander (Colloquialism; gander = look.) at the dancing before I toddled off to bed. (More properly, before I did this Blog, before toddling off to bed!)

Here are a couple of short videos to whet your appetite, the first is to give you an idea of the havoc caused by re-routing the traffic around the Mosque:

And the second is a very short introduction to Upper Egyptian stick-dancing/fighting for the uninitiated amongst you. We have it every year here in our little community, it has been organised by the forebears of one of our neighbours since time immemorial, and they are extremely proud to uphold the tradition. Enjoy:

I couldn't help but notice all the smiling faces. For the short few days which the Moulid lasts, the local people forget their collective worries as they fall back on the certainties of their religious and cultural heritage, even the horrific news of the fate of Flight MS804 couldn't impinge on their momentary joy.

Opposite extremes of emotion on the same day! God bless them all.

Pictures from our trip to Aswan.

Yes, I had taken more pictures than I showed you in the last Blog.
Here are a few more of the hotel itself, one or two views from the hotel and also a few short videos taken through the train windows on our return journey.
Here goes!

That's the "Nile Wing", the picture was taken from the pool. Those balconies are marvellous, very spacious and with astounding views. I just caught the corner of the Nile Wing in this first video, it's a panoramic view from our balcony, enjoy!

Although the hotel has been almost wholly re-designed, the designers wouldn't have dared to make much alteration to the fabulous Moorish flavour of the public interior areas:

Here's a view across the Nile to Elephantine Island and St Simeon's Monastery, away in the desert. It's a fascinating trip out there, we took camels across the scorching sand (it was a good few years ago) but you can walk, it's not all that far. Whichever way you choose, this place is well worth a visit, very interesting!

However, if you're more like we are now, the following picture shows us the Cataract library, where very few people seem to go. They have some lovely coffee-table type books, but also some interesting and amusing old books on the shelves. We could have spent many a comfortable hour in here.

The train journey home was as frustrating as it was interesting! Being daytime, there are so many fascinating sights to see from the train. The biggest problem is, though, that no matter how vigilant you are, for every point of interest you see on one side, you miss two on the other!!! The scenery is constantly changing; from village to mountains, from disjointed towns to ancient granite quarry or from a busy main road passing a large steelworks, to biblical farming vistas. I took a few videos, but they hardly give you a taste of what there is to tickle your fancy on such a journey.

Since we got back home, we haven't really accomplished much at all! Apart from cleaning, of course, and the odd bit of cooking and dish-washing, we've mainly lain around complaining about the heat! Now, I know (from a phone conversation with a friend in Derbyshire today) that it's really quite cold at our other home, but how could you manage with this temperature (taken in the shade, of course!) and it's still only May!

It's right what the Egyptians are fond of telling tourists, "It's a hard life here in Egypt!" But someone has to do it! Please take pity on us, and think kindly of us as we soldier on bringing little snippets of our Egyptian life for your delectation.

It's now time for bed, at 01.48, and it's still over 28C outside.

A rest in Aswan at the Old Cataract Hotel.

Yes, Dear Reader, our hectic life in Luxor has driven us to take refuge and a rest in Aswan, where we aren't generally known and would pretend to be just tourists.
We've stayed at the Old Cataract before, but that was in 1997, when the hotel, like Egypt (and indeed, the rest of the world) was a very different place. Back then, the Cataract was classed, along with the Winter Palace in Luxor and the Mena House in Cairo, as one of the three best hotels in Egypt. We also stayed, on that occasion, at the Winter Palace and we visited the Mena House, where we had a guided tour of the hotel in order to check it out. All three were wonderful. Time doesn't stand still in the world of tourism, though, and the Cataract was closed for about 3 years for a complete renovation. I cannot imagine any other hotel in Egypt now topping this one, honestly!
The tower block which had been the New Cataract (not unlike the New Winter Palace, a cheap "pack 'em in" place) has been upgraded to "fabulous", whereas the New Winter Palace was just demolished! We'd asked to have a tour of the rooms there when we went to the Cataract for tea while on out last Nile cruise, but every room was booked out, so we couldn't.
Never mind, though, Freda spent three weeks emailing and cajoling the booking lady at the Cataract, and ended up with a great three for two deal, a seasonal discount and a celebratory upgrade (her birthday) and booked a beautiful Nile view suite in the old building. Job done!
We travelled down to Aswan by train, it was the new VIP train and the tickets were 60le for 2nd class. It was very nice, not too many people and very comfortable, and clean as well! The journey was only 2 hours and 55 minutes, and very picturesque being through the day.

The suite was fabulous, here are a few pics for you to drool over, Dear Reader. Firstly, a view from outside. That's our balcony, it has a table with two chairs and a sun lounger:

Strangely enough, the suite was right next door to the room we had on our first visit 19 years ago!

Next, the view from the entrance into the living area:

The entrance hall leads straight into the living area, and there are also doors from it into the bath/shower room and separate W.C.

Here's a shot from the bedroom end:

The desk was a handy touch, although the (free) WiFi didn't work at all on our laptop. (We'd taken our Etisalat dongle thingy, just in case.) There was a coffee making machine and a kettle with tea and coffee provided, and topped up every day along with daily bottles of mineral water. (Just like Our Luxor, then!) The large TV was augmented by a second TV for watching whilst in bed, that's it on the right, on a wheeled stand. 
Here's another couple of pictures of the room, for good measure:

The bath/shower room was great too, with an enormous bath, twin hand basins, and a very good shower with a rainfall head and a hand held one also. (Again, just like Our Luxor!)

The Hermes shower gel, which I squeezed under the running bath tap, was a bit more potent than I had imagined:

I felt like Doris Day!

The floor space of suite number 1122 was a little over 70 square metres, it being the largest (or so I was led to believe) of the Palace Cataract Suites. 

As you can see, the "Rack Rate" for our suite, including breakfasts and taxes amounts to a very reasonable $1255.83 per night. (At $33 each, we might have had to make do with just one breakfast between us!)

To give you an indication of just how much we enjoyed out stay at the Old Cataract, I can tell you that we extended our little three night holiday to five nights, and we only left the hotel once during that time. It was a real treat!

Although the hotel was busy, we did manage to sneak a peek at a couple of the suites in the drastically re-arranged "Nile Wing". WOW! What a surprise. The quality of the accommodation is reflected in the prices which are shown on the tariff picture above. ("Palace" refers to suites in the old building and "Nile" to those in the Nile Wing.) The view is even better than the views from the old building. I was amazed.

Another point worth mentioning, is that the large Nile Wing balconies are out of the direct sun during the afternoons, the hottest part of the day. Which makes them ideal for lazing around and reading, or whatever.

We were royally looked after by Mr Hossam at Front of House, but, actually all the staff we encountered couldn't have been more professional or helpful. Their reply to our, sometimes awkward, requests was always the same, that they aimed to do exactly as we required; and they meant it!

We took our meals inside, outside, on the Terrace and in our suite. In every case the food was delivered in a timely fashion and cooked and presented to perfection. What more could anyone want? The breakfast buffet was the most comprehensive I've ever seen, simply wonderful!

This has become my very favourite hotel! 


Some Mothers do 'ave 'em!

I often wonder just what my poor old Mother did to deserve three children like us! For instance, here I am, messing about, 3000 miles (or so) away from her in "The Land That time Forgot", while my sister and brother (and I mustn't forget my wonderful B-I-Law) have taken on my share of seeing to the things which she just cannot quite manage herself.

But we're a queer crowd! I know that my siblings won't be upset at me saying this, as we published a proper hard-back book a couple of years ago entitled "Far from Normal", and written by the three of us. Not as you might imagine, in collaboration, but in spite of each other. It was a book recalling our personal memories from childhood, and some of the same incidents came out of our memories very differently! I was truly amazed that the other two recollected certain things entirely differently to me, how could that be?

Tonight I was brought up very sharply, when I looked at my feet! It was the beginning of my realising just how these things can come about.

Now then, I don't know whether I've told you about my bunions, Dear Reader, but suffice it to say that they aren't very nice. Neither to look at or to have! When they were first forming, they were very painful, I didn't want my footwear to touch them at all, if possible. After my doctor advised me to see a podiatrist (which I had to pay for) who would offer help and advice and possibly some special shoes (which I would also have to shell out for!) the solution I eventually conjured up was some cheap and nasty, pretend, Crocs! You've seen them, lots of tourists wear them, in particular Japanese tourists here in Luxor. But these are the real cheap and nasty version! The first pair I ever had were put out on the rood terrace to dry (after being in the washing machine) and they shrank about three sizes!!!!

Anyway, I now buy them in a size 10, even though I'm really an 8 and 1/2. They're so much wider, you see, and don't rub against the protruding bone. They're also nice and soft under foot, even though they're a good inch or so too long. I look rather like an Egyptian. (Now don't tell me that you haven't noticed that many Egyptians look as if they've put on someone else's ship-ships [sandals] by mistake, either because their heels are hanging over the back edge or they're slopping about in them like model boats in the bath!)

Well, I've paid as little a £4.99 at Aldi for them, and the last pair were (I think) £9.99 at Tesco. They're all pretty much of a muchness (Colloquialism: much of a muchness = very similar, nothing to choose between them.) but come in a variety of colours. I've currently got two black pairs and a darkish blue pair here with me in Luxor. I've left two pairs at home in Windy Nook as well. They just throw in the washing machine, the shoe-shine boys don't bother me as I roam around the streets here, and I just sling them in the rubbish when I start to feel the gravel through the sole. Great!

Except today, Dear Friend!

After spending a long long time getting to sleep last night, I had a lie-in this morning, but I was determined to get out and about today.
Never mind, we were snoozing on the bed, this afternoon, when a loud bang brought us to our senses! It was an electrical loud bang, I'm sure you know what I mean by that, like the main cables in the nearby electrical junction box had been flashed together......BANG! The power went off.

Now then, it was showing 44,6 degrees of that Centigrade heat, out on the terrace, and we knew that inside would soon be up to that temperature as well! It was obviously time to de-camp to somewhere with good air-conditioning. The Nile Palace beckoned.

I had a quick shave, with minimal water (no electric water pump) and poor lighting (obvious!) while Freda got dressed, and off we toddled.

The Nile Palace was heaving! There was yet another conference sort of thing on, it's maybe just as well that tourist numbers are down!!!!! There were also some very obvious "security" men wandering about; eyes everywhere, looking furtive and, if I'm entirely honest, a bit sinister. As we approached the seating area where we usually plant ourselves, we came across the security men's charges. It was Luxors young Governor and his family, here to dine at the Thai restaurant. We only mix with the best, you know, no hoy-poloy when we're about. Lots of the staff made a point of stopping to speak to us, managers, the head chef, head waiter, as we haven't been frequenting there as much as usual. I don't care what anyone thinks, it's nice to feel that you're important to someone and that you really are welcome!

We had a lovely time there, and then went shopping via our caleche mate and then home. It wasn't till much later that I noticed this:

Yes Dear Reader, I'd been swanning about like Lord Muck, all afternoon, with two odd plastic shoes on!!!!! And there's my Mother sometimes wondering if she's losing her mind when she cannot finish the Daily Mail crossword?

I ask again, what did she do to deserve children like this?