As the ship glided into the docking area, the warmth of the early morning sun promised another a beautiful day. After a hearty breakfast on board the Oberoi Philae Nile cruiser, we were setting out on a visit to the Temple of Horus in Edfu nearby. Edfu is a small city of about 60,000 people located near Aswan on the Nile river valley. A morning tour to the Temple of Horus meant we could return to the shelter of the ship before the sunshine turned fierce in the afternoon.
From the top deck, I could see a couple of men were sitting in a cafe by the side of the road near a cluster of caleches in which the drivers were busy playing on their mobile phones. As the ship pulled up beside the Nile bank, the caleche drivers sprang to life gathering in a (somewhat) orderly queue by the gate of the dock. The process was hardly soundless because nothing in Egypt is done quietly. The drivers were yelling, the passing cars were honking and even the bystanders had something to say. It looked like a taxi rank. And, indeed it was.
The Egyptian Ferrari Experience
I was delighted to find that we would be taking one of the caleches to visit the temple of Horus at Edfu. Nicknamed Egyptian Ferraris, caleches are limited to two passengers. My friend Emily and I found ourselves with one of the younger drivers, Abdullah, and his horse, Ceasar. Abdullah was chatty and let us take turns sitting beside him up on the driver’s perch.
Abdullah with his chariot of fire.
A frustrated F-1 driver, Abdullah negotiated the traffic clogged streets of Edfu expertly and quickly. Holding on tightly, we found the experience exhilarating. Nothing like the colourful chaos of Egyptian street life and traffic to clear away any morning sleepiness the double expresso had missed.
I’d hold on tight if there was anything to hold onto.
These guys are transporting cows in the back of a truck.
This horse cart is going down the wrong way on this street. NB this was a two way street but presumably the driver wanted to get to somewhere on this side of the street.
For a gallery of more street photography from Edfu, check out my Steller story.
The Temple of Horus in Edfu
Located only a few kilometres away from the Nile, the Temple of Horace in Edfu is not only the third biggest in Egypt but also the best preserved. The sands of time (literally) covered large parts of the temple so that only a small section at the top was left visible above ground. People used the above ground parts for shelter which is why the roof is covered in the soot of thousands of years of open fires.
You could see how high the rest of the city is in this photo. They dug thousands of years of sand away to get to the floor of the temple.
The carvings are well preserved because they were sheltered underground.
An outer courtyard where the Temple priests could perform ceremonies.
The ceiling and the top of the pillars are caked with soot and grime.
The holy relics were placed in this container when they were moved for ceremonies.
The temple is linear and rises at it goes towards the holy of holies in the back. The commoners in the front can’t see into the holy of holies section but the High Priest and the pharaoh can see down.
A Tourism Industry in Flux
Tourism in Egypt is down 75% from the previous year. Having been to Egypt last April, I noticed for myself the difference. Everyone relying on the tourist industry in Egypt is suffering from the vendors selling tourist trinkets to the hotels and restaurants. For locals in small towns such as Edfu, any visitor is an opportunity to make a sale. They don’t know when the next set of tourists will show up.
In the outskirts of the temple, we soon found ourselves surrounded by hawkers who were mostly called Mohammed. Our group negotiated our way through Mohammeds 1 through 4 to find the temple itself near empty.
As we were entering a gaggle of school kids on a field trip were leaving. Some of them shouted cheery hellos and then scampered away giggling. Others were too busy comparing their lunch boxes and trading their contents. The youngest of the children were dressed as princes with paper crowns and kohl-rimmed eyes. They asked if they could take photos with us. I can’t imagine why I would possibly be interesting for a photo but was happy to oblige.
Kids on a school trip to the Temple of Horus at Edfu
After the school children left, we had the gigantic Temple of Horus complex to ourselves. The decline in tourism has been a disaster for the economy, but it is a boon for tourists. Obviously, for the budget-conscious there are great deals to be had. Even better, in my opinion, though is a chance to enjoy Egypt’s treasures in tranquility.
A temple guard posing in front of the pillars. The bottom of the pillars are decorated with a symbolic carving of papyrus reeds.
It was an amazing experience to enjoy the grandiose carvings unmarred by the voices of a busloads tourists and their selfie sticks. I imagined the solitude was similar to how the early visitors would have found the monuments prior to the onset of mass tourism. You can stand around and examine details without someone in your way.
I know one of the major concerns with Egypt is safety. The Egyptian government seems to be on high alert in terms of security. We saw security teams everywhere. In addition, we were told about the out of sight security measures in place. For example, the city of Luxor has a security command centre with dozens of camera screens capturing life on the streets and the monuments.
Egypt has been a popular destination for visitors in the past and, no doubt, will be so again. I was delighted to have this window of opportunity to experience Egypt without hordes of tourists.
I travelled to Egypt as a guest of Cyplon Holidays. Four day cruises of the Nile River on the Oberoi Philae include visits to the temples with an Egyptologist and full board. Flights to Luxor and returning from Aswan can be booked via EgyptAir. For more information on Egypt, visit the Egyptian Tourism Authority’s website.
This post is linked up with City Tripping, Pierced Wonderings, Travel Photo Thursday, The Weekly Postcard, Weekend Wanderlust and Weekend Travel Inspiration.
The red and orange Tokyo Tower stands like a beacon in the city skyline. In a cityscape of very tall skyscrapers, the colours and shape make it instantly recognisable. Similar to its French counterpart, the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo Tower is a beloved symbol of the city.
10 Facts About Tokyo Tower
Here are ten cool facts about Tokyo Tower.
- Tokyo Tower is the second tallest building in Japan (after the Tokyo Skytree).
- It’s painted white and orange to comply with international air safety regulations.
- It’s a major tourist attraction with approximately 3 million visitors annually.
- More than 150 million visitors have visited Tokyo Tower since it opened in 1958.
- Tokyo Tower gets repainted every 5 years with about 7500 gallons of paint.
- The two main purposes of the tower is broadcasting and tourism.
- Tokyo Tower changes colours for special events like Christmas.
- On a clear day, you can see as far as Mt. Fuji in the distance.
- Tokyo Tower is actually the 13 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower.
- Although Tokyo Tower is taller than the Eiffel Tower, the advances in steel technology make it almost 1/2 its weight.
The Tokyo Tower is super-popular with Japanese couples for date night. It’s deliberately taller than the Eiffel Tower it was modelled on (after all what would be the point otherwise?).
Tokyo Tower is also exciting for children to visit. There is a glass floor that you can lie on top of (or peer down from). I found it dizzying but the kids liked it. When we went at Halloween, there was a whole dress-up area and scenes they could pose in front of.
A Photo Gallery of Tokyo Tower
The view form the observatory as dusk falls over Tokyo.
The view over Tokyo Harbor with Rainbow Bridge in the distance. I’m not sure why it’s called Rainbow Bridge since it’s not very multi-coloured.
The busy streets of Tokyo as seen from above.
Bright Lights Big City
Tokyo Tower lit up at night.
The children waving up at visitors looking down from the observatory deck.
The view from the top at night.
Visiting Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower has two different observation decks (one at 150 meters and another at 250 meters). You can even climb the 600 stairs to the first observatory if you feel the elevator is for wimps! No, that wasn’t us – in case from your wondering.
The views from the top are astounding because you can see how far Tokyo stretches and its building density. You also appreciate the little pockets of green as well as the traditional architecture tucked in between the modern buildings.
For example, from one side of Tokyo Tower if you look straight down you will see the centuries old temple, Zoji-ji, the most important building of the Japanese Pure Land Buddhist sect. In fact, the main building of Zoji-ji is the oldest wooden building in Tokyo from 1622. I love this aspect of Tokyo – a replica Eiffel Tower from 1958 cheek by jowl with a historic temple.
Obviously, this Japanese tourist attraction has a ginormous shop and lots of Tokyo Tower branded goods. It’s a Japanese tradition to bring back omiyage (souvenirs for friends and family) when you visit somewhere.
It may be a tourist trap but Tokyo Tower is definitely worth visiting. It’s open year-round from 9 AM to 11 PM. There are reduced rates for students and children under the age of 4 are free.
This post is linked with Pierced Wonderings and Travel Photo Thursday.
Welcome to the show notes for the eighth episode of the Just Go Places Podcast. Episode Eight is a look at all the cool family-friendly activities there are in the Rockefeller Center area of Manhattan.
Rockefeller Center is located in quite a compact area but contains many things to do – entertainment, culture, art, shops and food. In winter, of course, it’s got the famous Christmas Tree which makes the whole area magical. Any time of the year, Rockefeller Center is great fun to visit.
The famous statue of Atlas which has been associated with both fascism and libertarianism.
Listen to Episode 8 Below
As Mentioned in the Podcast
The official website for Rockefeller Center is very informative.
Public art to edify the masses
The Radio City Music Hall website allows you to buy tickets to shows as well as arrange for tours of the building.
The famous Radio City sign
My kids first celebrity selfie with Derek Hough
By the way, the Top of the Rock admission is included in the New York CityPass. You have to choose between the Top of the Rock or the Guggenheim Museum. If you want to do the Guggenheim Museum, you still get the Manhattan skyline view from the Empire State Building.
FDNY Fire Zone makes it fun to learn about fire safety.
Sadly Kenneth from 30 Rock won’t give you a tour but I’m sure the NBC Studios tour will be fun nonetheless.
It’s self-proclaimed gaming paradise at Nintendo World and a world made out of little bricks at Lego World.
Entranced at Nintendo World
The cool Lego replica of Rockefeller Center inside the Lego Store.
After all this sightseeing, you deserve a treat from Magnolia Bakery.
For a swanky dinner with a view to die for, it’s got to be the Rainbow Room.
After all that overindulgence, take a moment for quiet reflection at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Saks Fifth Avenue has gorgeous store windows that reflect the beautiful items for sale inside.
American Girl Place shows that Disney isn’t the only place where dreams can come true.
You know the American Girl Place stylist is thinking “I went to beauty school for this??!”
Reviews and Subscriptions
(And, a final thanks!)
I’d really appreciate if you could leave reviews for the Just Go Places podcast on iTunes. You can find the episodes by clicking this link to which takes you to iTunes.
These reviews are extremely helpful feedback to me so that I an fine-tune the show to what people would like. In addition, they help increase the rankings of this podcast which after all is just a newbie show. I really appreciate and read each review!
Oh yeah, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes to get automatic updates. Thanks so much!
This post is part of the Weekend Wanderlust and Weekend Travel Inspiration link ups.
Some things you hear about so much that they are never going to live up to your expectations. The pyramids at Giza were even better than I could have imagined from photographs or scenes from movies. The Great Sphinx of Giza, on the other hand, we found oddly disappointing.
It had nothing to do with the hordes of souvenir touts or the fact that the Great Sphinx monument is in poor condition.
The pyramids’ size relative to the Sphinx
Having seen the Disney movie Aladdin, I knew that the Sphinx lost his nose when Aladdin and Jasmine flew by on their magic carpet. No surprises there.
So why exactly did I find the Great Sphinx of Giza disappointing? After all, the Great Sphinx of Giza is one of the world’s oldest and largest monuments.
- The Sphinx itself is not that big. I assumed it was huge but it is dwarfed by the pyramids. The photographs I have seen clearly used a wide angle lens.
- The area around the Sphinx itself is closed off to prevent further deterioration. So the viewing platform area is swarming with tourists. You don’t actually feel any sense of majesty when tourists are climbing all over each other to take selfies.
- It’s hard to visualise how the Sphinx would have looked in its heyday. Disney lied!! It was only supposed to be the tip of the nose that was missing.
That’s more than the tip of the nose gone!
- The front of the Sphinx is cordoned off with seats for the nightly light and sound show. It felt Disneyesque to me. See point 2 about missing some undefinable air of majesty or mystery.
- Taking up valuable space, there is a mini-market leading up to the Sphinx. The stalls are selling the usual made in China tourist tat. More visual clutter.
- The Sphinx faces pretty much straight onto American fast food restaurants and souvenir stores.
Image: Mitch Altman
I can summarise my disappointment down to one key fact. I don’t believe this monument is getting the space it needs to appreciate it.
So, there you have it. I expect the Sphinx were he alive would be sorely disappointed by the position he finds himself in today. Never mind, what pharaoh Khafra whose face is supposed to be on the Sphinx would have thought. I’d be mightily annoyed that having built a monument to myself proclaiming my power for all eternity, my view was not of awe-struck plebs but a Pizza Hut.
Have you been to see the Great Sphinx of Giza? What was your opinion?
Think you know about the Egyptian pyramids? Think again. My children who had studied ancient Egypt in school were desperate to visit the pyramids. Having spoken to enough people to gauge safety issues, I decided a day trip to visit the pyramids at Giza would work.
Here are some cool facts that you can trot out to impress your kids (or tour guide). We had a private guide to take us to the pyramids in Giza as well as around Cairo.
Our tour guide only knew the history he had memorised so it was helpful that we had learned some stuff ourselves beforehand. The tourist industry in Egypt has taken a hit with recent events and I expect there are a lot of guides out there of varying quality.
Egyptian Pyramids Generally
Each pyramid took decades to build. Pharoahs would start building their pyramid and other funeral preparations as soon as they ascended the throne.
A pharaoh’s priests told them where it was auspicious to build the pyramid. There are about 140 pyramids scattered throughout Egypt. From the pyramids at Giza, on a clear day you can see some of the older pyramids in the distance.
In the distance you can see the steppe pyramids from an era even older than the Giza pyramids.
Egyptian pyramids were built on the West bank of the Nile. Generally, the East bank of the Nile was for maintaining life and the West bank was for death.
The Pyramids of Giza
The Pyramids of Giza, built about 4500 years ago, were a wonder in the ancient world and are a phenomenon still today. In fact, the Great Pyramid is the only wonder of the ancient world that is still in existence today.
The pyramids of Giza were built with granite on the inside carted from miles away near Luxor. They were covered in polished limestone. Shining in the bright Egyptian sun, they could be seen as far away as Israel!
The pyramids in Giza held up so well through they years because of the mortar used to hold the blocks together. To this day, however, no one knows what this mortar contains.
You can climb up the pyramids on the outside to a certain extent. Each ‘brick’ is gigantic in size.
A large portion of the limestone covering of the Giza pyramids was ‘recycled’ by Saladdin to create his citadel in Cairo. In the photo below, you can see some of the smoother remaining limestone.
The pyramids at Giza are precisely aligned with the constellation of Orion. This placement was deliberate because Orion was associated with Osiris, the Ancient Egyptian god of the dead.
The Great Pyramid of Giza (the pyramid of Khufu) was the tallest structure in the world for nearly 4000 years. Created with approximately 2.3 million blocks, some of these blocks weigh as much as 50 tons. In total, this pyramid weighs 5.9 million tons.
The second of the Giza pyramids, that of Khufu’s son, Khafre, was built on higher ground so that it looked from a distance to be as impressive as the pyramid of Khufu. Khafre didn’t have the money to build a larger pyramid and so used this illusion. Clever!
The tunnel inside the pyramid was only large enough to carry the sarcophagus inside. Everything else the pharaoh needed for his afterlife such as beds and chariots were assembled inside the pyramid.
Our guide was careful to point out that slaves were NOT used in the building of the pyramids. Basically, a pharaoh would start on his pyramid as soon as he ascended the throne. If you consider that they thought of the afterlife as a continuation of their current life, it’s not as macabre as it seems. During the non-farming seasons (because cultivation along the Nile could only follow the Nile flooding patterns), the farmers were paid to work on the Pharaoh’s pyramid during their downtime. They were paid in food and goods to tide their families over until the next harvest season.
Visiting the Pyramids
Here are my top tips for a family visit to the Giza pyramids.
Having read about Gary Arndt’s visit to the pyramids, I was prepared for the hassle. We had a better experience than Gary because of our guide. Of course, even the guide tried to get extra money out of us but I feel we came out better than if we had been on our own. I don’t have the patience for large tours and so that was not even an option.
In Egypt, everyone is trying to get money from you. Everything, even a visit to the bathroom, requires a tip to the attendant. We did the obligatory camel ride (negotiated, and I use the term loosely) between the guide and his trusted camel ride provider.
The camel guy was a pro at taking tourist photographs. Can you believe the pyramids were swarming with tourists but there aren’t any in the photos? I was seriously impressed.
Here, we look like we are in the middle of the desert. Nope. The pyramids are surrounding by residential buildings, hotels, and tourist stores on several sides.
The guide did keep most of the souvenir touts away from us much to their fury. I am thankful because I find it difficult to manage the children with people sticking merchandise in front of their faces. After our experience in the souks of Marrakech, my children knew better than to take anything from anyone even if it was thrust into their hands.
Our guide also recommended going into Khafre’s pyramid instead of Khufu’s. I would definitely suggest that as well. The tunnel in Khafre’s pyramid is about a 1/3 shorter to navigate which is a blessing when you are hunched over going up and down steps.
My daughter (who is a little over 4 feet) was the only one of us who did not have to bend down to walk. By the way, there is only one tunnel to go in and out. So that narrow passage has to accommodate two lanes of traffic.
I spoke to people from our hotel who chose not to go inside the pyramids. They did not miss much because there is very little to see inside. You go inside the pyramid just to say you have been inside a pyramid.
The Sphinx statue is located a bit further away from the pyramids at Giza but in its general vicinity. The temple area near the Sphinx is where the pharaoh’s body was prepared for embalmment and burial by his priests. Most people drive down to the Sphinx area as opposed to walking in the oppressive heat followed by souvenir vendors.
Some top tips for a visit to the Giza Pyramids.
Overall, our family visit to the pyramids of Giza was an amazing experience and I would highly recommend it. You really get no sense of the scale of the structures until you are up close and personal beside it.