The NEMES Group sojourned this year in Luxor and Cairo. The visit had a distinct Middle Kingdom (2025-1700bc) theme.
My plan was to introduce the group to as many Middle Kingdom treasures that time would permit. The Middle Kingdom, a little understood and possibly neglected period produced the treasures that today enrich many display cases at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. My hope was that the group would be astounded by the beauty and exquisite artistry of the master craftsmen of the XII Dynasty. I planned to take them on a difficult although rewarding field trip to Dahshur, Hawara and Illahun.
As always we stayed at the excellent Luxor Sheraton. It is always a pleasure to stay there, mostly, I must say, due to the staff. Some have worked there man and boy since the hotel opened eighteen years ago. Dawood (pronounced Daahyoud) I remember as a shoe shine boy. He has progressed to become a very efficient and proud bell boy. He is one of many employed by the hotel who welcomes me back as an old friend year after year. Little has changed since 1987. The hotel itself is feeling its age, however, I am reliably informed by my friend Hisham, (the ever helpful Night Manager) that it is due for refurbishment in mid 2005. We all hope the alterations will not change the ambience of this very popular and friendly hotel. Christine and Sheila say every time they return, "It's like putting on a pair of comfy slippers."
The views across the Nile are breathtaking, particularly the Theban Hills. When all the hectic daily exertions are completed, to sit on the mole (breakwater), watching the majestic Nile flow past on its inevitable journey north to Cairo and the Mediterranean is sheer bliss in itself. The pied kingfisher dives for fish after hovering above the current's swirls and eddies. The little white egrets prance around on the boulders by the water's edge - engrossed in their quest for a tasty meal from the abundant shoals of fish. Feluccas toss on their moorings from the wash of a tedious cruise ship as the ripples hit the shore. The breeze that comes off the Nile refreshes your weary limbs. Follow all this by relishing a Stella beer on the concourse - it doesn't get better than this.
This year the prices for entry to the monuments have risen sharply, the Valley of the Kings is now LE 70.00 for three tombs, (not many are open so selection is limited). Tutankhamun is LE 55.00 in addition to your normal ticket for three tombs.
I am personally of the belief the Valley of the Kings has lost its magic, in the 1970's and 80's I would regularly visit nine tombs in the Valley in a single day, marvelling at the craftsmanship of the ancient artisans. Now you are pestered by itinerant abusive beggars who don't leave you alone, even when threatened with the Tourist Police. Surely the whole idea of visiting the last resting places of the New Kingdom pharaohs, is to walk up toward the Valley allowing your imagination to work overtime, enhancing the excitement and expectation. Not to toddle up on a Thomas the Tank Engine, as is currently the experience. Is it me or is something lost? (Granted the elderly and infirm definitely need a leg up to get to the valley, but on Thomas the Tank Engine?)
The Middle Kingdom theme got underway during a three day visit to Cairo. We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel Towers and Casino. This was arranged by our good friends David and Diane Ireland. Thanks to David's perseverance he managed to put together an excellent and affordable package, flying from Luxor on the "red eye" 6.25 am flight on Tuesday 15 th February returning on the 23.35pm late flight Thursday 17 th February. His labours complete it was down to "yours truly" to maximise the time at our disposal. This I did with relish, one can have too much 18 th Dynasty, and I was champing at the bit. I was determined to show the group the Majesty of the Old Kingdom via the pyramids, tombs and the Egyptian museum. I thought to stir them to awe and wonder of the power and genius of the Amenemhet's and the Senwosret's of the Middle Epoch with a visit to Dahshur, Hawara and Illahun.
We duly arrived on the "red-eye" at Cairo International Airport. We were met by a charming (if not always on the ball) as we say up North, Egypto/Sudanese former air stewardess called Hanaa. She ushered us to our coach for the never disappointing drive through Cairo to our hotel. The traffic in Cairo is now almost seizing up with the pure volume of vehicles. It can take an age just to travel a few hundred yards, but as I have mentioned in the past, the locals are always good humoured if not a little eccentric with their manoeuvrings. Cairo is a hell of a city.
We checked into the hotel, to depart immediately for Dahshur and Saqqara, or at least I thought we were. First we had to inform the Tourist Police which sites we intend to visit. This would have been no great hardship in itself if and I mean "IF" our coach driver knew where he was going!