Before we started our RV travels, I enjoyed traveling around the world, as well as places here in the U.S. This page is a short history of my travels before our RV adventures began.
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than the ones you did do. So throw off the sail, away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover"
I truly believe that. Life is too short to do nothing more than dream. If we don't do, we will regret it when our life is over. My passion is being in a new place and learning about new cultures. Being able to photograph those new experiences are a bonus. I love my life, my family, my work, but if I wasn't able to travel, I would shrivel up. I'm happiest when I'm planning my next adventure.
EGYPT!! February, 2009
The Cairo Marriott, what little I could see, was spectacular! The palace has been here since 1869. It was built by Khedive Ismail Pasha to accommodate dignitaries attending the Suez Canal inauguration. Aquarium Garden. The hotel has 9 restaurants, including an Italian restaurant, a sushi bar as well as a steak house. It also houses a casino. The hotel is the largest in the Middle East. We were in the “Z” tower, facing the street and the Nile River. The view is not the most scenic, but who cares – it's the Nile!
Once I laid down for a couple of hours and rested, I felt fine. We had an introductory dinner at a place called “Egyptian Nights” It was a tent that was incredible. I felt like I was in Arabian Nights. They gave us a glass of wine and we sat at very luxurious tables. Dinner consisted of a salad with a questionable dressing, their flat bread that is served with everything, and the main course was good! Some kind of sausage – don't want to know what it was, a saffron rice and veggies. Dessert was incredible! Several different bites of stuff that were so good! At our table were a couple of ladies from Ohio who travel together. This was their 8th GC trip. Also a couple from Wisconsin, Rona and Glenn. We had a great time talking about pets, trips and such. Made the time go by really fast. Before I knew it, we were a few of the last ones there. Mom and I then walked around a little bit, looking at the old palace and the beautiful marble floors, the little shops and just the opulence of the hotel. It is ringed by two big towers and several smaller buildings. Each room has a balcony with a table and two wicker chairs. I don't see us using them because of the busy street, but it's a nice touch. After all the excitement, we figured we'd have trouble sleeping, but no such thing. Ｉslept like a log.
Day 3 Monday
When the alarm went off at 6, I had forgotten for a moment where we were. But once I remembered, I got all excited again. Showered in a nice bathroom, and headed down for breakfast. They had a separate room for GCT guests, which was kind of nice. Breakfast consisted of a buffet, western and eastern food. I had an omelet, some kind of strange potatoes and a glass of apple juice. Pretty good but kind of rich. Met up with Roma and Glenn again and sat with them. After breakfast, we went next door for our first briefing. They are very thorough, which I like. There are three Program Directors, Ahmed being ours. He is a post grad Geologist and led a discussion about the origins of Ancient Egypt. He was very easy to understand and funny. The group of 138 is divided up into three groups and three buses. We are in the yellow group. Makes it easier to keep up with everyone, I guess. And, just as I figured, I am the youngest one here. Oh well, who cares? I'm in Egypt.
Cairo is the capitol of Egypt and the largest city in the Middle East and Africa, with a population of over 18 million. It lies at the centre of all routes leading to and from three continents – Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It was founded in AD 969. But the city actually started more than 4000 years ago and has survived the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Turks. It has also held various names: Memphis, Heliopolis, Babylon-in-Egypt, Al-Fustat, Al-Qatael, Al-Askar and Al-Qahira.
Well, the traffic is interesting to say the least. Reminds me of China. Doesn't matter how many lanes are on the road, the drivers will make as many as they want. There is no understanding of traffic signals or signs. I found out that that there is no driving test in Egypt. You just need to be 18, grease some palms, and presto, you have a license. It seems like the only thing you need here are nerves of steel. Size really matters. If four vehicles are pulled up to a stop sign, the biggest will go first. Then maybe the newest and so on. I'm glad I'm in a bus!
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities has 107 halls and was a little disappointing. It was built in 1897 and opened in 1902 and was designed for about 10 visitors a day, not the 15,000 the museum averages today. The artifacts are not in any type of climate controlled environment, and the stones with the hieroglyphics are there for anyone to touch. Having said that, it was incredible to see the King Tut exhibit. His sarcophagus was placed like Russian dolls in boxes of gold, each one bigger than the last. He still lies in his tomb to this day. The same with the sarcophaguses. He also had chariots, gloves, jewelry. His face mask was incredible. The colors, the jewels were so vivid you would think that it had just been made last week, not thousands of years ago. What I found interesting was that Tut was a very minor king and they found over 280 pieces of jewelry wrapped up in his mummy linens. He had over 6000 articles buried with him, including furniture and the sarcophaguses of two fetuses. There was also the famous slate palette of King Narner (3200 BC), which is one of the first documents of Egyptian History. Upstairs is the famous Royal Mummy Room where you come face to face with some of the great rulers of Egypt. The Mummy Room houses 11 kings and queens, including Ramses II, the great Pharaoh who built the temples of Abydos and Abu Simbel and added to the temples of Karnak and Luxor. After a couple of hours, I was on museum overload.
Got to hear an American ex-pat speak about living in Egypt. Found out that families really do stay together, sometimes all occupying the same apartment building. She told us a lot of stuff about everyday life and how friendly the Egyptians are. And that seems true. IF you just look like you need help, there are half a dozen people there to help. Of course, that could be the baksheesh as well... She was interesting, though.
From there, we drove to our home-hosted dinner. Our hostess was Rada, a divorced mother of 2 adult sons. She lives in the apartment across the hall from her parents. Her father is a renowned architect who had to retire a couple of years ago because his eyes are going. Rada works 6 days a week at a travel agency, spending a lot of time in a new city outside Cairo called October City. She is off on Fridays only, which is the holy day in Egypt, like our Sunday. Most people are off Friday and Saturday and work on Sunday. The apartment was spacious from what we could see and the food was delicious. Our bus was broken up into three groups with our group having about 14 people. We left about 9 pm and I'm tired and ready for bed.
DAY 4 – Monday Giza and Sakkara
Cairo has 18 million people in a city designed for 5 million.
They built 5 new cities outside, including 6th of October City, named for the 6 day war against Israel.
Homeless and poor people save up for years, buy a plot of land. Save up some more and build walls. Save up more and put on a roof. As their family gets bigger or they get more money, they keep adding floors. Plots of land and streets designed for 2 story apartments have 10 or 20 story apartments on them, making the city's infrastructure impossible to maintain.
Cairo is a very dirty city with trash everywhere. Interestingly enough, you will see people riding donkeys on the roads with the millions of cars! Today we saw flocks of sheep, in the middle of the city, standing by the side of the road. Nobody has their lights on at night to save the eyes of the people ahead of them.
Crossing the road is an experience in adventure. How anyone does it here is beyond me.
Giza was horrible. They have allowed building to go up to .4 mile from the pyramids! There are buildings and cars everywhere! Right next to the pyramids was a huge sand dune where they are preparing to build the new Museum, scheduled for completion in 2020. They have a long way to go.
The great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) was not only the first pyramid built at Giza, but also the largest. When completed, it stood some 480 ft tall and contained nearly 6.8 million tons of limestone. Nearby, 3 smaller pyramids were constructed for Khufu's queens. The second largest pyramid at Giza belonged to Khufu's son Khafre. Although Khafre's pyramid is shorter than his father's, it appears taller because it was constructed on higher ground. The pyramid of Menkaure is the smallest of the three main pyramids. Originally started by Menkaure, it was eventually finished by his son.
Some of our group went into the Great Pyramid. At some points you actually have to crawl on your hands and knees. While the people were in there this morning, the lights went out and they were trapped in there for 35 minutes. I could feel my claustrophobia kicking in and I wasn't even in there! Our PD said it had never happened with him before. Figures. There are 4 stops. The Giant Pyramid, the smaller pyramid, the panoramic view and the Solar Boat. I was looking forward to the panoramic view because that's the only place you can get a picture of all 3 pyramids together. It was a nightmare. Hawkers with their camels and little stores wouldn't let you close enough to take a picture! I finally managed to get a couple, but had to pay to do so. There are so many people there, that it's hard to get a decent shot. Mom got on a camel and I got some pics of her, but decided they were too nasty to get on. The Solar museum was interesting. It's not named for solar power. Seems that in ancient Egyptian times, they believed that the soul left in a boat and the soul is represented by the sun disc, therefore “Solar boat: It was found by an Egyptian Journalist who was horseback riding out there and tripped over it. The boat was in over 2000 pieces and the craftsmanship was incredible.
The Sphinx was carved from the bedrock of the Giza plateau. The most popular and current theory of the builder states that it was commissioned by the 4th dynasty King, Khafre, one of the sons of Khufu. Some say that the face of the Sphinx bears a far more striking resemblance to an older brother of Khafre, the Pharaoh Djedefre. Some believe that Khafre usurped the throne of Djedefre and then built his pyramid and Sphinx at Giza.
After lunch at Le Meridien, which was excellent, we headed to Sakkara. Sakkara is one section of the great necropolis of Memphis, and the Kings of the 1st Dynasty as well as the 2nd Dynasty are mostly buried in this section. Sakkara is best known for the stepped pyramid, and was built for King Djoser. It is over 4500 years old, and supposedly was the first building ever built in stone, but there is a lot of controversy about that. What is interesting is that the one next to it was built 600 years later and it fell apart. Makes you wonder about what the Egyptians knew about building. Sakkara is also known for its private Old Kingdom tombs, which contain beautiful and revealing scenes – men force feeding geese, cattle crossing a canal men dragging a statue on a sled to the tomb. The only thing left now of the ancient city are the palm trees. Otherwise, it looks just like any other Egyptian city. One interesting note is that there is a clear delineation between the oasis and the desert. The oasis is supported by canal irrigation. But that is absolutely horrible. The canals are filled with trash and we even saw a couple of dead animals in there! The thing I will remember most about Sakkara is the pack of dogs that are living at the ruins in the middle of a desert... how they survive is beyond me.
Had the obligatory visit to the carpet factory where we saw them make carpets – all kinds. Even there, the kids wanted you to take their pictures and pay them! An hour drive back to the hotel in rush hour traffic and my head is pounding. There is not enough money in the world that would get me to live in Cairo. The noise never stops!
Wed – Cairo
We hired a private guide, named Amira. She is 25 years old, single and lives with her parents. Our first stop was El Muallaqa - the Hanging Church – a Coptic Church built on top of an old Babylon fortress. The church was first built in the 3rd or 4th century. It became known as the Staircase Church because of its 29 steps that led to the entrance. Amira explained in great detail the meanings behind all the symbolism in the church.
Built over 100 years ago, renovated by President Mubarak less than 5 years ago. Many artifacts inside from the Coptic churches. What amazes me is that a 90% Muslim country has done such a great job in preserving their Christian and Jewish heritage, which is where they came initially.
Ibn El Tulun Mosque
Completed in 879, it is the oldest intact mosque in the city. The huge structure, built of mud-brick and wood, covers 6 acres, but is simple in décor. It is a unique example in Cairo of classical Islamic architecture inspired by Iraqi models, having been built by Ibn Tulun, who was sent to rule Cairo by the Caliph of Baghdad. We put cloth bags over our shoes to protect the carpet. The unprotected courtyard has a small building in the middle. This is where Muslims go to wash themselves before prayers. The prayers are actually done in the3 sides of the mosque. The East side always has more rows than the others because it faces Mecca. According to the Koran, everyone must give away 2.5% of their acquired wealth every year to the poor, whether it's an organized charity or just someone who needs help. Amira did a great job in explaining the Islamic faith to us. We spent an hour sitting on the floor asking her questions. Then a call to prayer went out. There are actually two calls to prayer, 5 minutes apart, which serve as a warning to people that prayers are about to start. The longest prayer is on their holy day, Friday, at noon, which lasts about an hour. There are five calls a day. One at 4 am, one at noon, one at 3 pm, one at sunset, and one at 8 pm. In the summer, the hours move up one hour. Muslims are not required to pray during those 5 times. That is between them and their God. And the wearing of scarves for women in Egypt is strictly up to them. Those women who veil themselves mostly do it to emulate the times of Mohammed. During his life, his wives were veiled as a means of modesty and also to protect themselves because there were attempts on their lives and no one could see who they were in veils. The other reason is modesty and because they don't want to be seen by the public.
An Islamic man can, according to the Koran, take up to four wives, but he must be able to provide for them all. In these modern times, most men will only take one because they can't afford more. Arranged marriages are still very much in use. The woman has the right to say yes or no to the marriage. At the same time, so do her parents. If she finds a man that she wishes to marry, her parents can refuse to let her wed, by law, no matter how old she is.
Gayer Anderson Museum – (Baytel-Kritliyya) This was the home of an English Doctor to the royal family, who lived here from 1935-42. He restored 2 16th century houses, joined them together and filled them with exquisite decoration, furniture and oriental objects. The mashrabiyya-screened women's gallery overlooks the magnificent reception room with its central fountain, the finest in Cairo.
Cities of the Dead. In Egypt, people are buried in the ground without a coffin, although they are transported in one. Instead they are buried in the ground in tombs that look like large rooms. Today, people are moving to Cairo in large numbers, looking for jobs and can't afford housing. So they are moving into the tombs and living there. It's odd to see tombs with satellites on top of them.
Khan El Khalili Bazaar. Reminds me of silk alley in Beijing. It's like running a gauntlet of guys selling the same junk over and over. I never heard so many compliments in my life. The trick is to ask the price, start bargaining at 30% of that price and never go over 50%. Mom got her scarves and a T-shirt for Connor, and I got an outfit to wear to the costume party. BY the time it came to buying her a galabaya, I was exhausted from all the talking and we paid too much. I felt like I was a security guard, playing bad guy to her good guy. I was so glad to leave there.
One interesting note is the security everywhere. Everywhere that tourists and tourist buses go are blocked off by gates and armed police and soldiers. I never saw so many policemen in all my life. If you are a citizen of Cairo, and you want to drive down a street that has tourists, you are SOL. You will not be allowed to enter. Buses and vans carrying tourists only. The police at the gates stop every vehicle and register every bus and van going through there. They want to know what tour group you are with and who your armed guard is. If you are an American, you are not supposed to travel anywhere without an armed guard. Even at the entrance to our hotel, you are stopped and every vehicle is checked by a bomb dog before you ever get in the parking lot. Then, you cannot enter the hotel unless you are a guest or have legitimate business there. At the entrance are more police, metal detectors and screening machines. Just to get into the hotel! Once inside, though, you feel safe. The Marriott Cairo has three buildings that form a courtyard in the middle with an outdoor cafe that feels like an oasis. It's great to get away from the bustle going on outside the gates.
THURSDAY - Cairo
Another day with Amira. What a joy she's been. Our first stop was the Citadel. One of the world's greatest monuments to medieval warfare, the Citadel is located on a spur of limestone. It was first designed as “Dome of the Wind” in 810 as a pavilion for its view of Cairo. Between 1176 and 1183, it was used to protect against attacks by the Crusaders and since then it has never been without a military Garrison. In 1812, Sultan Al-Kamil moved his residence to the Citadel where he built his palace.
However, much of the Citadel actually dates back from the period when the Ottomans controlled Egypt. Muhammad Ali Pasha, one of the great builders of Modern Egypt, came into power in 1805, and was responsible for considerable alteration and rebuilding within the Citadel.
The most prominent building in the Citadel is the Ottoman Muhammad Ali Mosque, also called the Alabaster Mosque. It can be seen from every part of Cairo. Mohamed Ali was born in Greece and was of Albanian descent. He was a soldier in the troops that were sent to Egypt to free the country from Napoleon's occupation and took part in the land battle of Abou Kir on 7/25/1799. In 1808 he was the commander of the Albanian troops in Egypt.
The Mosque is built in the Ottoman Baroque style that imitated the great Mosques of Istanbul. It has a dome and 2 minarets. The mosque was decorated with stone from the ruined cathedral of Acre. Just off the courtyard is the vast prayer hall with an ottoman style dome.
At the mosque, we also ran into Emad, who checked on us to make sure that we were enjoying our guide.
Dhashour – About 2 miles from Sakkara are the five pyramids of Dashour, three built of stone and of brick.The most southerly are the pyramids of Amon-Emhat II and III. The former, built of stone, had a fantastic collection of jewels.
We also had lunch at a little cafe overlooking the Giza pyramids. So much food! It was the first time I saw Baba Ganoush. Not to my liking at all. Afterwards, Amira and the driver drove down so many little side alleys that I was afraid we were going to get our throats slit! But she took us to a little apartment where they make cartouches. Mom bought one and actually got to see it being made. Afterwards, she took us to a government perfume factory where they buy the flowers and make them into essential oils.
I fell in love with the Lotus flower oil. Mom loved Lily of the Valley and the base of Shalimar perfume. We also bought some jasmine for Nicole and they gave us some beautiful perfume bottles.
We then dropped off Amira and went back to the hotel. Sat at the outdoor cafe and had a little dinner. Went upstairs and packed and went to bed early.
FRIDAY - Aswan
Had to get up at 2:30 and be on the bus by 4:30 Left at 5 and were at the airport before 6. I have to say that I wasn't comfortable with the lack of security at the airport, considering how it was everywhere else.. Our flight to Aswan took just over an hour.
Once we landed in Aswan, got back on buses and took off for the High Dam of Aswan. Built originally by President Nasser to preserve the amount of water Egypt gets from the River Nile, it almost started a war between the US and Russia. IN the middle of it was the Suez Canal conflict that involved the British and French. It led to the Russians having troops in Egypt until Anwar Sadat took over as President and gave them 24 hours to leave the country. The dam is fascinating. The third largest dam in the world, it covers hundreds of miles. There are many crocodiles in Lake Nasser, killing many farm animals as well as small children. The crocodiles are a protected animal here in Egypt and there is a lot of protesting to take them off that list and be able to kill them to protect the farmers that live on the lake's edge.
Aswan is Egypt's sunniest southern city and ancient frontier town. Its ancient Egyptian name was Syene and has a definite African atmosphere. In Aswan, the Nile is at its most beautiful, flowing through amber desert and granite rocks and islands covered in palm groves. The city lies on the east bank of the Nile. One of the most beautiful sites is Elephantine Island, which has artifacts dating from pre-dynastic times onward. Just beyond Elephantine is Kitchener's Island. It was named after the British General Horatio Kitchener who was sent to Egypt in 1883 to reorganize the Egyptian Army, which he then led against the Sudanese Mahdi. Upriver is the tomb of Mohammed Shah Aga Khan, who died in 1957. Known as the tomb of the Aga Khan, it is beautiful in its simplicity. Aga Khan was famous for having married Rita Hayworth. His last wife, Miss France, was over 30 years younger than him. But it was a true love story. When he died, she had him buried here in his tomb and spent the next 40 years putting a red rose on his grave EVERY MORNING until her death. We saw the island and the tomb when we went on our felucca ride. Our guide was a bossy little ten year old boy who was very cute but way too serious for a boy his age. If we didn't sit exactly where he wanted us to, he let us know. The felucca ride was fun, but cheesy. It was a very calm day, too calm for the sails, so at the beginning, we were towed by a power boat. After the tomb of Aga Khan, the wind picked up and we used the sails. It would have been nice if we hadn't been crowded 44 people in a boat. Still. It was fun to imagine the Egyptians, sailing down the Nile in their feluccas, going about their daily business.
Situated between Edfu and Aswan, Kom Ombro is the ancient city of Pa-Sebek, the crocodile god. Kom Ombro has the remains of a temple of a somewhat unusual style. It is a double temple, made by joining two temples along one side. The right hand temple is the one consecrated to the God Sebek, the God of fertility, and the left hand temple is dedicated to the god Horus the Great, the solar god of war. The two temples were surrounded by a large outer wall which opened into the Nile via two gates.
Let me talk for a few minutes about the hawkers, or vendors. They are rampant wherever you go – Cairo, Aswan, Abu Simbal. They remind me a little of the vendors in China, except that they're even more pushy. You can't walk down the street without half a dozen people, including children, pushing you to buy something. They'll do anything to engage you in conversation, because then they've baited the hook. Forget browsing through a shop – you'll never get past the entrance. Whenever a ship lands, or a tour bus arrives at a tourist destination, the hawkers will swarm you like locusts. It gets claustrophobic in a way. I've gotten to where I ignore them and have made most of my purchases on board ship just to avoid the hassle. And if you can't bargain and haggle, for God's sake, stay away or you'll pay $50 for a crappy T-shirt that was made in China and will shrink with the first washing. But if you enjoy that stuff, have fun!
Got up at 3:30 this morning to get ready for our trip to Abu Simbel. Left at 5 am. The nice thing was watching the sun come up in the desert. That was an experience I won't soon forget. The desert was stark and beautiful. The only thing that marred the beauty was the black soot that covered all the sand and the dunes. But that seems to be rampant here everywhere. We drove 180 miles south – 30 miles north of the Sudanese border- to what seemed like a little outpost in the middle of nowhere. The people here must make their living catering to the tourists because there is nothing else here. Even the little airstrip is barely used any more.
Abu Simbel was built by Ramses II. It marked the border between Egypt and the Nubians. There are two temples, originally built into a rock face. The Great Temple is dedicated to RA, the Sun God, and also really to Ramses himself. The smaller temple is dedicated to the Cow Goddess Hathor and also to Ramses' favorite wife, Nefertari.
The main temple is dominated by the 4 seated statues of Ramses each seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The smaller temple has 4 statues of Ramses and 2 of Nefertari. An ancient earthquake damaged the statues and demolished one from the waist up.
On Feb 21 and Oct 21 each year, the dawn light is aligned to light the entire length of the temple, lighting up three of the four statues, but never touching that of Ptah, the God of darkness.
Between the legs and on each of their sides stand smaller statues of members of the Royal Family. Within the temple itself, a series of chambers become increasingly smaller as the floors of the rooms rise, showing the rise to creation.
The building of the High Dam at Aswan meant that the original site of Abu Simbel would be flooded, and the temples lost under the waters of Lake Nasser. The colossal statues were dismantled and relocated by hand in 1968 on the desert plateau, 200 feet above and 600 feet west of their original location. This undertaking was funded by countries around the world, which forgot politics for a while and focused on preserving such a unique world heritage site.
We finally left Aswan and sailed for Edfu. 65 miles north of Aswan, Edfu , which has 274,000 inhabitants, produces sugar and pottery.
Edfu's main attraction is the Temple of Horus, which is considered to be the best preserved temple in Egypt. According to Egyptian myths, this was the place where the falcon-headed god Horus avenged the murder of his father Osiris by killing Seth.
The construction of the temple began in 237 BC by King Ptolemy 3 but finished 180 years later by the father of Cleopatra. The temple has an abundance of inscriptions on every surface, and these show the religious ceremonies of that time, as well as the usual tales of bravery, wisdom and might of the Pharaoh. What makes this temple so unique, though, is it shows the layout of how temples started. If you look down at a temple, you will see that it's made to look like a human being, laying flat on his back. The outer temple walls represent the soles of the feet. Another unique feature is that, just like the human being, everything on the left side is larger than that on the right. The first courtyard, which is open to the sun and the sun god Ra, for the masses, is meant to represent the legs.
The first inner courtyard, meant for nobles, is meant to represent the “Garden of Eden” or the pelvic area – the sexual organs. Egyptologists believe that the Garden of Eden is not a place, but rather our own sexual organs, which allow us to continue God's creation by creating life.
The second courtyard represents the lower abdomen – the womb. The columns show that by bulging slightly in the middle to show pregnancy. There are outer doors here to represent the arms.
The next, the holy of Holies, represents the heart – our conscience. This is where the altar is. Although it looks like this is the end of the temple, it is not. A door to the side of the altar leads to more rooms above the “heart”. These rooms are meant to represent the head. This is where the boat would lie with the Scrolls of Wisdom in them, like our Ark of the Covenant.
All temples are based on this layout.
Our lecture today was on Hieroglyphics and Arabic. Hieroglyphic writing first began about 5000 years ago. Egyptians first wrote this way up to about 400 AD. After that, they wrote in a short hand cursive style called demotic.
We are able to decipher hieroglyphics thanks to the Rosetta stone. In 1799, a soldier found a large black stone with 3 different types of writing on it. The writing was a message about Ptolemy V. Because the message was written during the time when Greeks ruled Egypt, one of the languages was Greek. The other two were demotic and hieroglyphic. The 3 languages on the Rosetta Stone said the same thing. And even though people could read Greek, they couldn't match up the Greek words with hieroglyphics. For years, no one was able to understand. Finally, in 1822, a French Egyptologist, Jean Francois Champollion figured out how to decipher the writing. He realized that the hieroglyphs that spelled Ptolemy were enclosed in a cartouche, so he was able to match it up to the Greek spelling. This discovery enabled him to equate the hieroglyphs with familiar Greek words and to translate the entire message.
Like our writing, hieroglyphs could be written from left to right. But also right to left or even up to down. You can tell which way they are supposed to be read by looking at the people, plants and animals. If they face left, start reading at the left. If they face right, start reading at the right. Egyptians didn't just write one hieroglyph after the other, like letters in a word. They arranged them neatly in rows and columns to look nice.
VALLEY OF THE KINGS
I didn't make it to the Valley of the Kings because of Pharaoh’s revenge that ravaged for 32 hours, so here is the report from a friend: On the mountainside behind Thebes are many small valleys, known as the Valley of the Kings. The history of the valleys began with Pharaoh Tutmose I. who wanted to build his tomb not only away from the funerary temple, but also hidden away. The architect, Ineni, excavated a tomb in an isolated valley and then carved out of rock a steep stairway leading down to the burial chamber, thus setting a precedent that was followed by all successive pharaohs. The history of the Valley of the Kings is one long story of pillaging, plundering and night time robberies. Not only were thieves moving among these tombs, but religious leaders also moved their sovereigns to different places, knowing that they were not safe from thieves. Ramses II was buried three times.
Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Gurnah made a living from plundering the tombs. This style of life was passed down from father to son from the 13th Century, BC onwards. The family of Abdul Rasul was the guardian of a great secret: the sarcophagi of 36 pharaohs were gathered together in a single anonymous burial place. The secret came to light in 1881 after a long interrogation of a amily member. The Deputy Director of the Cairo Museum, Emil Bey, was then taken to the mouth of the pit. It’s hard to imagine what he must have felt when the light of his torch revealed the remains of the great pharaohs of the ancient world all jumbled together. They included Amosis I, Tutmose III and Ramses the Great. A week later, 200 men packed up the mummies and carried them down the valley to a waiting boat to transport them to the Cairo museum, where they are now on display.
The Valley of the Kings is home to the most well known Pharoah. Discovered in 1922, the tomb of Tutankhamen King Tut died when he was only 18 years old and historically, was an insignificant pharaoh. What made him famous were the riches found inhis burial chamber. Untouched by grave robbers, the tomb contained thousands of priceless items, including three mummy cases.
VALLEY OF THE QUEENS
About a kilometer from The Valley of the Kings is the Valley of the Queens. In the region, 80 tombs have been discovered so far. The Pharaohs children were also buried in the Valley of the Queens.
What can I say? Karnak was incredible. Karnak is the most ancient of the four temples at Thebes. It is the temple dedicated to Amon. It is the largest temple supported by columns in the world and is so vast that it could easily contain the whole of Notre Dame and would cover half of Manhattan. These columns rising so high with such beautiful hieroglyphics still on them. Ahmed, our guide, did a great job in explaining how they were raised and carved. They would lay the stones 6 feet high, and carve them until they were completely round. Once they finished 6 feet, they would fill in the temple floor with fill dirt up to 6 feet and add the next 6 feet of columns. Once that section was completed, they would fill in another 6 feet and keep going up until they wer4e finished. At that point, they dug out all the fill dirt until they were back to ground level. Then, someone would climb to the top of the column with a rope and with someone at the bottom, they would do plumb lines all around the column until they had perfectly square grids. These grids were then painted by artists according to the design from the architect that he had done, grid by grid, on papyrus. Once the painting was done to the pharaoh’s satisfaction, the carvers would start carving where the painters had painted. Many years later, voila, you have the beautiful hieroglyphics. One interesting fact is that at Karnak, Ramses the Great, made the carvers carve deeper than they ever had before. This was so that future pharaohs could not erase his images and drawings without hurting the columns. The Obelisks were also great. It's still so hard to believe that I have finally seen them in person.
As we left Karnak we were privileged to see a Muslim funeral. Unlike Christians, Muslims do not put their dead into a coffin. They wrap the body tightly with white cloth, and that is how they are buried. Part of the funeral ceremony is the procession. Friends and family take turns carrying the body on a platform to the ceremony. Women are not invited to the actual funeral.
This evening we had our farewell dinner and cocktails on the ship. It was a bittersweet time, saying goodbye to the ship's staff that we had gotten to know so well.
We left the next morning back to Cairo. I must say that the Luxor airport is much nicer than the Cairo airport, well laid out and sunny and clean. The only thing that drives me bonkers about flights in Egypt is when they start boarding; there is no rhyme or reason, like starting at the back. Everyone shoves their way onto the bus to get on the plane. Doesn't matter if you're first class or economy. It's first come first serve. After an hour long flight, back to the chaos of Cairo. That evening we had farewell cocktails at the Marriott where we got to say goodbye to our program guides and those new friends who were flying home and not on to Jordan.
Let me talk about our Program Guides for a minute. We had three, one for each bus and although all three were excellent, I think we were lucky to get Ahmed. His English is great because he's spent quite a bit of time in the states, so he is able to compare the two countries and tell us things that we didn't know. He was extremely knowledgeable about Egyptian history and religious philosophy and has even written a book that he's trying to get published as we speak. Ahmed does two and three week tours during the high season and spends the summers doing research for his job. That is dedication. It was so obvious that he loves to teach about his country. I could have listened to him for days. Anyone who gets Ahmed as a Program Director is lucky indeed.
While I'm reviewing, I'll go ahead and review Grand Circle as well. About 40% of the 138 people on our tour are repeat customers, many of them having gone on 5, 8 or more Grand Circle Tours. I asked many of them why they keep traveling with Grand Circle, and with no hesitation, they all say it's because they are so well taken care of. Everything is arranged. When we left a city, we left our luggage outside our room where it was collected. It was taken to the airport, put on the plane and then delivered to our next destination. If there is a problem, they will not stop until it's taken care of. I have to say, that after looking at some of the other cruise boats on the Nile, Grand Circle definitely has one of the best. Every day, our Program Directors lay out what will happen the next day. When we got tired of the hawkers, our PD even arranged for us to get post cards at Abu Simbel without having to face the gauntlet. At the Alabaster shop, my mother forgot her money and Ahmed was quick in giving her what she needed until she could pay him back. The thought of having 138 people on our tour was daunting, but I never felt crowded. They kept the three groups pretty separate, with the buses even leaving on staggered schedules so we never landed at the same place at the same time. I truly felt like I was on a tour with 44 people, except when we were on the ship during meals. I can understand why people recommend them so highly. Yes, the tours are set up for an older crowd, with me being the youngest and the average age seemed to be in the 60s. The oldest was 88! But there were no children allowed, which drew me to this tour. Without going too far ahead, our Jordan PD, Jafar, has offered his cell phone to everyone there to call home to the states, and he was serious. If I was to do another tour, I would probably do Grand Circle.
JORDAN March 2009
SATURDAY, March 15 - JORDAN
We flew into Amman at about 7pm this evening. Once our luggage was collected and put on the bus, we left for the hotel. Our Program Guide, Jafar, was there and introduced himself and talked briefly about Amman as we drove through. It was too dark to really see anything, but the first thing I noticed was the absence of horns honking and crazy drivers everywhere. Jafar warned us that our hotel, the Geneva was not as fancy as the Cairo Marriott and boy, was he right! The rooms were tiny and the one restaurant was not anything I'd write home about. Went to bed and turned on the air for some cool air as well as white noise because our room overlooked a very busy street. Well, the rooms are not individually climate controlled, so we got hot air! We then had no choice but to open the windows and stay awake all night and listen to the traffic below. Fell asleep about 4 and was woken up shortly thereafter by the muezzin and call to prayer. What a night!
Breakfast was not much better than dinner. There was not enough of it and every time I set a coffee cup down and went to get breakfast, they would take it! Making a long story short, we got another room this evening that is actually a mini suite and is a little quieter although still hot.
We were welcomed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Jordan is in the heart of the Middle East, northwest of Saudi Arabia, south of Syria, southwest of Iraq and east of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.
I was surprised by all the hills. I found out that Amman was originally built on 7 hills. Today, the population of Amman is close to 11/2 million, swelled by refugees from the 1948 Palestinian conflict, the 6 day war in 1967, and the Gulf War, as well as the Iraqi war. Nearly half the population of Jordan lives in Amman, including King Abdullah and his family.
Amman was besieged and captured by King David and later, by the Egyptian King Ptolemy and was also occupied by the Byzantine Empire and Christian Crusaders.
We drove up Citadel Hill, where we saw a tomb from the Bronze Age, a Byzantine Church, as well as a Roman Temple dedicated to Hercules. It was raining and freezing cold and none of us were prepared for that. We went inside the Archeological museum, which was so fascinating. Inside were artifacts dating back to the Bronze Age, some of the Dead Sea scrolls and all the way up to modern times.
Got back on the bus and went downtown where we stopped at an art gallery and then a Roman Amphitheater. We had to cross a very busy street and this is where it came in very handy to have a policeman on board. Ahmed stopped the traffic for us to cross. After a short visit to the museum there, we left for the Dead Sea.
Finds at Jerash indicate that this site has been occupied since Neolithic times. In the days of Alexander the Great in 332 BC, the city grew. IN 63 BC, the Roman Emperor Pompey conquered the region. In its heyday, Jerash is thought to have had a population of as many as 20,000 people. They spoke mostly greek, but used Latin for commercial and legal transactions. The buildings that can be viewed today made up the administrative and commercial center of the city. Jerash reminds me of Pompeii. The buildings can still be seen clearly, the roads made for chariots. The Temple of Zeus is located on the southwestern hill between the Roman theater and the Oval Plaza. Excavations show that before this temple was built, an even more ancient temple was located on this site. Jerash also hosts a Temple to Artemis, the illegitimate daughter of Zeus, and the Goddess of fertility and generosity. The temple was built between 138-174 AD.
In 1184 Izz Usama, built a small fortress on Jabal Beni Auf. The fortress dominated a wide stretch of the northern Jordan Valley and protected the trade and transportation routes between south Jordan and Syria. It was built to control the iron mines of the Ajlun. The castle was enlarged in 1214 AD, and in 1260, the Mongols destroyed sections of the castle, including its battlement. Later, the castle was used as a storehouse for crops and provisions. Two major earthquakes struck the castle – one in 1837 and one in 1927.
The drive down over 3000 feet to get to the Dead Sea meant traveling through the Jordan Valley, a verdant valley where most of Jordan's agriculture is grown. The drive was a little harrowing, but on the way, Jafar brought us a snack of Pita bread and falafel to eat on the bus.
Jafar told us that over 700,000 Iraqis have fled to Jordan over the last four years. At first, they boosted the economy with their saved money, but now they're taking jobs away away from Jordanians. Other Iraqis are very wealthy and that has raised the Jordanian inflation rate, making it harder for them to live. The average wage in Jordan is $800 a month.
The Dead Sea is disappearing at a rate of 3 feet a year. Jordan has teamed up with Israel to do a feasibility study called the Dead-Red project, which will pump water from the red Sea 120 miles down to the Dead Sea.
At 1360 feet below sea level, this is the lowest point on earth. As the name implies, there is no life in the Dead Sea because of high concentrations of salt and minerals. These minerals are the source of the famous curative powers and its mud – powers that were first recognized by King Herod the Great.
Even though it was cold, Mom and a few other brave souls put on their bathing suits and floated in the water.
Mt Nebo is where Moses is presumed to have died and been buried, although no one knows where he’s actually buried. A small church was built on this spot and it soon became a part of the pilgrimage route. Most notable of all the artifacts at Mt Nebo is a cross near the altar of the church, which marked the spot where the death of Moses was commemorated.
The view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking. We saw Jericho and Jersualem, only 28 miles, but a lifetime away. The Dead Sea was below and I can just imagine Moses standing on the mountain and looking out at the promised land.
We stopped at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Madaba, where we saw a mosaic map of the Biblical Lands. Unearthed in 1884 and preserved in the church that was rebuilt in 1897, the mosaic has a special place amongst the artistic and cultural treasures of Jordan.
I could probably write a book about Petra, but let me just say that it was truly a life changing event. Although much has been written about Petra, nothing really prepares you for this amazing place. It has to be seen to be believed.
Often described as the eighth wonder of the ancient world, it is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
Entrance to the city is through the Siq, a narrow gorge, over 1 kilometre in length, which is flanked on either side by soaring, 80 meters high cliffs. Just walking through the Siq is an experience in itself. The colors and formations of the rocks are dazzling. As you reach the end of the Siq you will catch your first glimpse of Al-Khazneh (Treasury).
This is an awe-inspiring experience. A massive façade, 30m wide and 43m high, carved out of the sheer, dusky pink, rock-face and dwarfing everything around it. It was carved in the early 1st century as the tomb of an important Nabataean king and represents the engineering genius of these ancient people.
The Crusaders constructed a fort there in the 12th century, but soon withdrew, leaving Petra to the local people until the early 19th century, when it was rediscovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.
We spent an entire day walking through this amazing place, marveling at the tombs and the other relics that make you believe that the Nabateans are still living there. The only thing that detracted from the wonder of the place were the hawkers, trying to sell you rides on their camels or donkeys. I realize that they are a necessary evil, but it’s hard to focus on the majesty of the place. I was also disturbed by the large number of children who were selling things. Although Jordan has a mandatory education law up to age 16, it doesn’t seem to matter here. It broke my heart to know that these children would continue this cycle of ignorance.
The next morning, we got back on the buses very early and headed to Wadi Rum, about an hour and a half from Petra. Geologists believe that Wadi Rum was formed from a great earthquake which shattered mammoth pieces of granite and sandstone ridges from the mountains of the Afro-Arabian Shield. Some of the ridges are over 1000 feet high and are topped with domes worn smooth by desert winds. Archeologists believe that Wadi Rum was inhabited in the prehistoric times, mainly in the Neolithic Period between the 8th and 6th Century BC.
Wadi Rum is also known for the film Lawrence of Arabia. Today, Wadi Rum is inhabited by the Bedouins and is a favorite place for King Abdullah to get away from his duties. Wadi Rum is a tourist mecca for those who crave a “true” Bedouin experience of camping out. The new Visitors Center is host to many tour companies, eager to provide that experience.
We piled into the back of trucks and headed off into the desert. It didn’t take long before we felt that we had left civilization behind. The desert, flanked by the giant monoliths, were awe inspiring and made me feel like we were on another planet. We stopped to look at the ancient inscriptions on the rocks and we also saw some baby camels at a nearby camp. We also climbed a giant sand dune to see an incredible view of the distant mountains.
We then stopped at a Bedouin camp and had tea and a snack. Inside the tent was a mother with her two infant children. They were adorable and terribly shy. The inside of the tent was very sparse, with some mattresses stacked up and mats on the floor to sit on. Outside was a fireplace where they made bread. The women were veiled and the men wore traditional arab dress. It looked like what I’m sure Bedouin camps looked like hundreds of years ago. Being cynical, I, of course, wondered where they hid the satellite dish. We then did some more sand duning and headed back to the bus. I was sorry to see this adventure end. It was probably one of my favorite experiences.
The Trip Home
We quickly headed back to the buses and headed for Amman and the airport. After a bus drive of several hours, we made it to the Amman airport. The airport was a new experience for me. Security lines were segregated by sex and we were frisked by a couple of Jordanian women. We got upstairs and had to wait in a waiting room until the gate opened. Then we were segregated again through another screening area before we headed for the gate. Got on the plane, and were back in Cairo after a quick hour flight. BY the time we got our luggage and got to the airport hotel, it was close to 11 pm. We grabbed some room service and repacked our bags for the flight home. Even so, it was after 1 am before we got to sleep. Wake Up call was at 3:30 am. We left for the airport at 4:30, even though we could have walked to it. Our flight did not leave until 9 am so, again, a lot of hurry up and wait. The flight back to JFK was uneventful, and I was happy to see that we still had the original seats assigned to us by Egypt Air. Once we got to JFK, we spent the night there and headed home the next morning. I was very glad to be back in an American airport with some semblance of order when we boarded, I have to admit.
What did I learn? I learned that the Islamic faith is nothing like I had thought. My only experience with Muslims had been in Saudi Arabia and I learned that their particular kind of fundamentalism is not practiced throughout all of the Middle East. Women are not subjugated to the whims of man everywhere and have a chance to build their own lives. They have the right to choose their own husbands, they have the right to divorce them, also. Muslims are a peace loving people who would give you the shirts off their back. They are gracious and warm and loving. They are intelligent and knowledgeable of what is going on in the world. What is not important to them is the superficial way of life we have, where status is judged by what we own. In Islam, a man is judged by what he does, not what he has.
My three weeks there were incredible and overwhelming. In one way, I was happy to come home to our version of “civilization”. In another, I will miss the history of the countries we visited and the charm of the people we met. Either way, I will never forget Egypt and Jordan.
Montana Nearly Busted!