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Trip Report Egypt Trip Report - April 2010

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I hope this trip is not considered too old to report. I recently posted my first trip report, and the positive responses encouraged me to post other trip reports, primarily from my logs written at the time. Please forgive my grammatical or spelling errors. Even though our trip occurred three years ago, the hotels and sights are still there, so I hope it will be of benefit or entertainment to someone out there.

Here is installment one:

Well here I am awake at 3am. Wide awake. Plane was delayed while they rerouted us over Morocco away from the ash. The hotel is considered 5 star here but so far seems typical of any Marriott in the U.S. We went to the Egyptian museum first. We try to stay awake that first day even though we become dead tired around 4 or so, so that we can get used to the time change. The Egyptian museum looks and feels like something out of Indiana Jones. A whole lot of artifacts piled around with old wooden glass-front cases for the smaller items. Very charming but short on explanations. We'll go again with an Egyptologist tomorrow. Our flight was changed from our originally planned 8::45pm to 12:30pm so it was awfully kind of our independent tour organizer, the famed Ahmed, to arrange car, driver, guide and a lovely dinner - as his gift (ugh- the gift we brought him was merely a NY baseball cap!?!).

Here are my initial thoughts after our first half day: It really feels like we are in a completely different part of the world here. It was evident deplaning as there was nothing but sand (and a couple of planes scattered) as far as the eye could see and made more evident as we drove past endless geometrically-shaped, neutral-toned buildings that seemed to run together, wall after wall of apartment building reminiscent of U.S. Public housing with missing windows, etc., urban areas with signs, for the most part (I'd have expected more), in Arabic. The architectural details, shapes of windows, profiles of buildings, domes and minarets, obvious age, and contrast of shelled out remains of not-so-recent wars with impressive modern glass buildings, is not something tourist publications prepare you for. The space between rich and poor here is vast and there may be, as our guide says, no middle class. There is deep beauty here. I already think I catch a glimpse of what those who come and then stay have seen. The reality of living here seems harsh to us and yet people seem joyful and generous. The hustle and bustle of a city of 20 million or so, contrasted with the peaceful and relaxed pace when watching the sunset from a point above the city, where many other Egyptians congregate to enjoy an aperitif (hot tomato juice with chick peas, salt, lemon, and cumin - surprisingly good) after a long day, with hazy views in the distance of the tops of two pyramids. Here cars constantly seem to be communicating with each other by the constant tooting of horns (just to say "I'm here" or trying to pass you-which is completely helpful since every 2 lane road is driven as a 3 lane - and sometimes 4 lane - road (did I mention how glad husband is not to be driving?)), the calls to prayer emitted from multiple mosques, the very charming guard who welcomed us to Egypt, the brusque visa issuer who, upon giving us the stamps, announced "finished!" and waved us away, the dogs who are walked around every car entering the palace hotel grounds, the metal detectors we went through to enter the hotel, the ever presence of military police on street corners, auto-weapon toting antiquities police playing with children on the museum grounds, the suit-clad and obviously "packing" security details hired to accompany large groups of tourists, the large poster of the country's leader prominently posted in a public area, all announce we are in a very different place.

Dinner was wonderful. The weather is perfect. We sat outside overlooking a non-native green lawn (this restaurant is in a park) with the illuminated fortress and grand mosque in the background. We had fresh squeezed papaya and guava juices and freshly baked pita with humus, tahina and a "salad" for dipping. Then lamb, beef and veal kabobs (or, since it was a nice restaurant, they were really ka-roberts per husband), french fries (??) and rice made with toasted almonds, raisins, a hint of cinnamon and other spices. Followed by flan. Delicious all around (we didn't eat the fries). Now its 4:15 and I will try to sleep a little more until morning.

Its now 4:30 and I'm back to getting some shut eye for the big day tomorrow.

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    Woke up at 5 this morning fully rested, a big improvement. Yesterday, after a wonderful buffet breakfast full of traditional european, middle eastern and american choices and fresh squeezed juices, we met with Ahmed the magnificent, the king of the guides, and began our egyptian museum/giza day. Everything he has planned for us so far has been in accordance with our plans and with a thoughtful eye toward alternating meal choices, obtaining pleasing room views (he moved us to nonsmoking rooms today because his rep didn't request them when he checked us in yesterday and we don't care for smoke), avoiding lines, giving helpful information and then stepping away respectfully to let us experience it ourselves (although I wish he'd have stepped in sooner in my interaction with the camel operator; he thought the operator had met his match in me I suppose-more on that later).

    So we began at the Egyptian museum and took in Tut's treasures. We'd seen these on tour in L.A. and some items were out on loan, but apparently (and this makes sense) they keep the best of each item in their own museum. The jewelry was inlaid so meticulously and workmanship so fine that it is amazing to consider this art comes from 3300 years ago. It rivals anything created today without cost as a factor. His throne, death mask, alabaster canopic jars and chest, beds, shabti's of alabaster, clay, lapis, gold and silver, tombs enclosures (4 successively larger enclosures - the original petruska doll!). Then the jewelry and papyrus rooms at the museum. Our guide gave a good mix of reintroducing things we learned in the ancient history course from the teaching company and new information. Then we went to a papyrus demonstration and purchased a few pieces at reasonable prices and then on to Giza. The pyramids are so impressive up close. Each stone block is about 3 feet tall and we were told that our guide concurs with what we saw on the learning channel documentary showing the pyramids were built using ramps circling the outer edges. We saw camels and daughter got on one briefly for a picture, before being led against her will (and then charged for it). Upon retrieving my daughter the camel operator requested 20 and I gave him 20LE but he wanted $20 which was not going to happen, so I gave him 20LE more with finality and he acquiesced. Ahmed mentioned (after daughter got on the camel) that it would have been better to agree on a price in advance, but stated what I paid was fair and I felt $7 for taking a picture was tolerable. Neither the camel driver nor I was thrilled, so I guess it was a true negotiation. There are parts of western culture that Egyptians don't generally appreciate and this is one thing about Arab culture I didn't care for - the same way I don't like the process of haggling at the car dealer, and certainly wouldn't choose this activity while on vacation. To each his own.

    Then we saw the solar boat museum which was absolutely fascinating. This very old boat was held together by strategically placed ropes and it is amazing the wood and rope stayed for thousands of years. It is not believed to have been used extensively and may only have been used once, if at all, which, along with the way it was stored, helped it survive. Then on to the Sphinx which was equally impressive. Lots of people hawking trinkets. Same as NYC or most tourist spots. Then we headed to Caviar for lunch of sea bass, french fries, humus, eggplant, olives, brown rice and ice cream for dessert. Driving is always an adventure here. Walking too! Husband filmed it at length. Here, they say traffic signals are suggestions and there are no traffic cops per se, except to check registration, direct traffic in some areas and mediate accidents (everyone pays unless someone is able to convince the other party to admit responsibility (more negotiation?).

    We were dead tired by the time we got back through traffic to the hotel. Pizza for husband and daughter and asparagus soup for me at the hotel cafe and then dropping into bed. She is thrilled to have her own room (next to ours but not adjoining) while we are here in Cairo. Hazy mornings overlooking the Nile are peaceful despite the big city sounds below (blocked when slider is shut). Still love it here but no, I can unequivocally state we aren't moving. And although all of our other travel has been independent and a typical group tour would have been anathema to us, I don't think we'd have been near as happy without a guide and driver.
    Time for breakfast.

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    A few notes before continuing the log: upon further exploration, the hotel does offer amenities beyond the typical U.S. Marriott, like many restaurants, banking services, shops and ambient spaces inside and out with historic furnishings and painted ceilings (it was formerly a palace - the empress eugenie stayed here at length). It is more like a cruise ship than a hotel. And in addition to the security previously mentioned, it has cameras everywhere and armed security at every exit. Everything the western traveler needs to feel at home - an oasis away from the relative chaos (fun chaos) of Cairo streets outside.

    Forgot to mention fresh squeezed mango juice with chunks of fruit. Wonderful. Must try this at home.

    Why houses are in some state of construction, (not the ones in a state of destruction, the ones people live in) or look unfinished. Taxes of course. We are informed that property owners don't pay property taxes until building is complete, so they leave them unfinished, rebar sticking straight up from exterior walls, windows not installed, in a constant state of construction. The family owns the plot and builds a couple of levels, finishing one and leaving the other unfinished. Then when the kids grow up and need a place, additional levels are built, always leaving one unfinished. Many are six or seven levels high with extended family living throughout and being passed down through generations. I hear they look beautiful inside but wasn't able to verify....

    More later....

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    I am a few days behind. No internet access unless we pay 86LE a day and typing on the blackberry is, well, not as fun. We visited Dashur, entering the red pyramid, which was no small task as the entrance involved climbing 1/4 up the pyramid and then shimmying backwards down an opening 3 1/2 feet tall that went downhill at a steady pace for 1200 feet and required some serious repetitive backwards motion to actually achieve. Once we reached the inside and could stand up, we saw amazing cantilevered chambers and the faint, stronger-the-longer-we-stayed scent of ammonia. This was snefru's second attempt at a pyramid. The first (the bent pyramid, an engineering miscalculation), was not open to visitors. We then went to the Memphis open air museum and awed over the monumental statue of Ramses II in repose and the alabaster sphynx. Then on to Saqquara and our first hypostule hall and Zoser's step pyramid, closed to entry - not sure we'd do that again if it was open.
    Exhausted, we fell asleep on the ride back to the hotel as our driver inched through honking cairo traffic. We went swimming in the hotel's idyllic pool and dined outside at the hotel's cafe, among alabaster globes, perfectly manicured lawns and bushes, the intricately scrolling architectural details of illuminated palace facades, and the equally exotic foreign diners who were people watching like us.

    The next day we visited the coptic and islamic areas of Cairo. Our first church, among the oldest in the world was suitably awe inspiring and well visited. The second was similar to medieval churches we've seen. The mosques were a new experience. The first was the oldest one, was in use upon arrival, and required the donning of huge kelly green robes by daughter and I. Thank goodness we brought our own scarves for our heads as the head portion looked a bit unclean. Daughter was disappointed that, on the one hand, we are told being covered is the woman's choice, but on the other, women can't enter their houses of worship without being covered, so it is seemed not to be a choice. Women are also completely shielded from view by 6 foot high panels so that they are facing these as they pray rather than the open air court and niche, as the men do. And finally, we had to enter by a women only door before meeting back up with our guide and husband.

    The second one required only green booties and had the most beautiful decorative filigree carvings extensively throughout. Lots of pictures. The third was the Muhammad Ali mosque in the citadel next to the old palace. The palace had burned down but the few remaining rooms show it must have been impressive. The mosque was beautifully painted with many domes, as beautiful inside as out. We then went to khan al kalil bazaar which was a completely new experience- narrow walkways with shiny pans, colorful scarves, gleaming plates and other wares from head to toe and the halkers calling. Something like walking through a gauntlet for the tourist but you have to experience it. We then headed for fast food, egyptian style (chicken with sour cream or yogurt sauce and lettuce and tomato all chopped up in a bun) and then to a local hotel for an hour or so before heading to the airport for our trip to Aswan.

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    We took off from the smoke free Cairo airport on time on a beautiful brand new plane for a 1 1/4 hour trip to Aswan. Upon arrival, we were met at the gate by Khaled, a representative hired by Ahmed to take us to our hotel, the Movenpick Elephantine Island. We instantly knew Aswan was very different than Cairo. The streets were quiet, paved and curbed with sidewalks almost throughout and the stores and houses were more finished. We passed many people congregating and walking in the cooler evening air. Only saw three unveiled woman our whole time here. We took our boat from the shore to our hotel on the island. We tipped five different people to move our luggage from airport to room: the porter from carousel to van, driver to unload at boat, boat operators to load and unload, and hotel porter to take it to the room. Khaled takes time to help us with our schedule the next day and we firm up plans for the next few days. Our room has windows on two walls overlooking gardens, pool and Nile. It is beautiful, almost like paradise. We order room service because we haven't eaten since our 3:30 fast food. Spaghetti, grilled cheese, chocolate ice cream and caramel ice cream. All were good. Did not eat the orange cole slaw.

    Next morning we enjoy a leisurely buffet breakfast (these western hotels have this breakfast for all nationalities thing down.) Not fresh squeezed oj like at marriott but good pineapple juice. Hotels have been providing several bottles of water each day and we order more at sites and restaurants. Can't have too much- it is very dry and hot. Still avoiding all tap water and uncooked or unpeeled things washed with it. Note to self: look forward to big huge fresh tossed salad when we return home.

    We meet Khaled at the dock and he introduces us to Mohamed, our upper Egypt guide. Mohamed is 25, just engaged and has a good sense of humor. We head to the unfinished obelisk and Mohamed gives us detailed and insightful narrative before we view it. It is interesting to see a huge obelisk on its side still in the quarry, abandoned due to multiple cracks. We proceeded to Philae Temple. This is our first temple here and is huge; colonades on both sides and talls walls on either side of the gate with huge figures. The interior art is amazing and we learn that the art is created by spreading a thick coat of wet plaster and then drawing, carving and pressing the artwork onto the plaster while the plaster is wet - much easier than sculpting them into stone which is what I previously thought. This explains the marvelous detail, hundreds of feathers in the clothing and line after line of heiroglyph. Tons of pictures. We saw the Nileometer shaped like stairs and used to measure the Nile's flood each year in order to tax accordingly in ancient days. If the water level was too low or too high for an optimal crop, taxes were reduced or eliminated accordingly. The people were taxed on what they should have been able to produce, not on what they actually produced, which one would think would result in industrious people. And based on Egypts reputation for having plenty of excess crops to trade with other countries and her healthy army and public works paid for by the government, something was working for them even three and four thousand hears ago. I wonder how that taxation system would work if applied to our country today. (I'm an accountant, so mulling tax questions is normal for me.)

    We decided against climbing to the nobles tombs here due to the heat. Instead we had a delightful lunch with the everpresent tahina, eggplant, pita and rice with ramen type noodles. The rice was accompanied this time by crocks of baked tomato based stew with beef, chicken or fish. We each selected one and tried each other's and couldn't decide which was best. A fourth communal bowl contained the same tomato base with potatos. A tasty stew. We were served bananas to finish. Went on a felucca ride afterwards and really enjoyed the cool breeze over the water. The felucca had a cloth covering to shield us from the sun.

    As a side note, there seems to be a wide gap between generations here. Our felucca operator was I'd guess to be in his 60s, had one of his top teeth remaining, and spoke no English. Our guide spoke better English than I hear in the states - haven't checked his teeth yet. Things are different here.

    Our felucca dropped us at the hotel and we took naps. Its crazy but the intense heat just wipes us out. Later our driver and rep dropped us at the Nubian museum where we learned we were short on LE funds and that's all they took. We hiked up aways to a hotel and exchanged $ for LE. Momentary panic but Aswan is a city I would consider returning to unguided. It seems manageable if we could learn enough Arabic to communicate our needs, unlike Cairo which seems another world completely. The Nubian museum contains pottery, tools, jewelry and other artifacts dating from before 10000 BC all well presented chronologically. Egyptian and Nubian civilizations were far ahead of the rest of the world. Nubians and Egyptians have intersected over thousands of years but ultimately Egyptian civilization prevailed, a sensitive subject to todays Nubian descendants whose most recent injury was the creation of the Aswan dam, which drowned all of their historic lands and homes. Although the people were moved and many nations stepped in to assist in moving many of the historic temples and sites (abu simbel and philae among them) there were whole villages and subterranean towns with arched walkways and newly discovered historic structures that were not saved; a tragedy that is documented in this museum with the only thing left of these places: photographs, journals and scientific expedition notes by those who saw these places before their demise. We discussed the price of progress with our guide, who had just met us at the museum.

    We walked with our guide through the bustling streets of Aswan to a small pizzeria (a break from egyptian food) and we talked about our lives and homes. He thought we were pulling his leg about the giant sequoia trees until husband googled them to show him they really are as wide as a car. He didn't think the crockpot idea was appetizing. His fiance is in college in Alexandria learning accounting. Later we walked along the Nile and stopped for ice cream. All of Aswan's residents were walking, socializing and enjoying the breezy relative cool of the evening. Until tomorrow.

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    Today we began with another leisurely breakfast buffet and met Mohamed at 10:30 for the escorted convoy to Abu Simbel, home of the transplanted Temples of Ramses II and his queen Nefertari, and as close to Sudan as I ever want to be (less than 50 kilometres away). One cannot drive to abu simbel unaccompanied. The convoy requirement raises fees and as a way to prevent crime against tourists. Comforting. Our driver and guide knew all the ropes and we had a 2 1/2 hour drive with just us which was very comfortable.

    Hotel reminds me of a hotel in La Quinta with village style stucco huts, bouganvilla everywhere, and cobblestone walkways, ambient globes lighting the way to a 2 story pool, all overlooking bright blue lake Nassar with hills behind. Every bit as picturesque as it sounds. We headed to Abu Simbel and our guide asked us not to look until he told us, reminding us how we described the tree and then it was a huge surprise to him to actually see it, and so we waited to look until our guide got us to the optimal view (it was very hard-we caught husband peeking we think) and it was so much more majestic in person. The interior artwork, boats, gods, offerings, chariots, horses, scenes of fighting, along with much original color, was awesome. The exteriors were resplendent illuminated at night.

    Much interest has been shown in our young blond daughter. She has been approached, stared at, and one man discussed an arranged marriage with his 15 year old son (he was joking...I think). We have decided to make sure one of us is always at her side, even at the buffets, which is where the last approach occurred. When she informed the young man she was 13, she says he left quickly, but we aren't taking any chances. We aren't scared-just cautious. Everyone here has been charming, kind, and polite.

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    Today we returned via convoy to aswan and visited Aswan Dam and Kallabsha, another site relocated due to the dam, containing temples to the god Mandulis and another Ramses temple, which contained full color original carvings. We checked into our boat, had lunch and then visited a Nubian village: classroom where we were taught numbers in arabic and nubian, and the arabic alphabet along with our names in arabic. Then we visited a primary classroom full of the same colorful posters ours have, provinces, body parts, alphabet (english and arabic). We also held baby crocodiles at one nubian home. Passed another market, this time full of spices in different vibrant colors, cones of bright giotto blue, browns, reds, mustard color, yellows, and the smell of incense permeated the air. Curious that spices were being sold by dozens of merchants ostensibly to tourists, who are prohibited from bringing them home by ag quarantines.

    Dinner on the boat was ok. The boat engines started at 4am and husband opened the curtains at 6 to peaceful agrarian shoreline scenes. Breakfast was ok and we departed the boat on a very short walk to kom ombo temple. This temple had gorgeous tall corinthian columns and lots of painted plaster remaining on the wall art. Recurrent themes are the vesting of authority and immortality in the king, the king overcoming his enemies, offerings being made to the gods. One new thing at this site are the calendar of festivals with the year broken into 3 seasons: flood, planting and harvest. Each season broken into 4 months with 30 days, and each day required a different offering festival. Offering types were: liquid (like wine), gas (perfume), solid (food). Another new thing is the picture of isis and nephtes in the best childbirth position, squatting) along with medicines, a stethoscope, and medical tools like a saw, knife, forceps, and other medical technologies of the ancient egyptians. Another nile-o-meter for measuring flooding and tax rates and an intact ceiling of multiple sets of painted volture wings, representing upper egypt, behind 2 cobras, representing lower egypt, and the sun, representing Ra, the sun god.

    We returned to the ship and sat on the sun deck on sofas (there are many groups of like seating areas) under canvas shades and watched the banks of the nile as we floated by, the breeze coming off the water a welcome respite from the heat. Scenes of children swimming, men fishing, homes with farming implements and camels in the yard, wetlands with birds, cows grazing, desert sand dunes in the background behind palm and date trees with the lush greenery of the nile banks in the foreground. This is the most exotic place we've ever been.

    After lunch we headed for Edfu temple. This is the largest egyptian temple according to our guide. It is typical in its two huge towers, hypostile hall, courtyard, nileometer, scenes of action, offerings to the gods, and vesting of authority. There was a more original paint than we've seen previously. Painted vultures and horus and nephtes and isis and ra and anubis.

    Later we went through the locks at Esna.

    Last night there was a Galabeya (the white robe or dress commonly worn by men all over this country) party. No, we did not purchase galabeyas for the occasion. In fact, we were exhausted so we went to bed right after dinner. The group of spaniards was dressed up at dinner but the group of chinese was not. We are the only english speaking guests on the boat.

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    Today we woke up at 5am so we could breakfast at 6am and depart for the Valley of the Kings at 6:30am. We drove through Luxor which at first glance seems a cross between Cairo and Aswan, and it is located beteen the two also. It is busy but not overly so, more high density, and less war torn than Cairo, not as european feeling as Aswan. Our guide took very good care of us, getting us tickets to the little train up to the Kings Valley. He recommended we see the tombs of Ramses I, III, and IX. We also purchased the extra ticket for Tut's tomb and Ramses V/VI.

    The first tomb was Ramses I and it is long with lots of color and intricate artwork. We saw the multicolored leopard skin worn as an indication of a high priest. We saw two headed gods and all the other gods, snakes, birds, tons of lines of heiroglyphs. The we descended five stories or so into Ramses III's tomb, and saw the best bees (part of the coronation cartouche giving the king's coronation name). The kings had 5 names-birth name signified by a duck and the sun above the cartouche, coronation name signified by the bee and the eye above the cartouche, the secret name which no one ever saw but old papyris explained this is so, horus name which is their name from the god horus, and the 5th I can't remember. We then visited Ramses IX tomb which had even more impressive colors: reds, blues, yellows, greens, muted and sharp colors and contrasts. Then on to Tut's tomb with its lack of decoration except for the gold walls and baboons. His mummy is displayed there which seems somewhat undignified for him. The robed caretaker offered his flashlight to illuminate the sparkling, smiling mummy.

    We then visited the other special ticket tomb of Ramses V/VI. Ceilings filled with yellow stars on a deep navy background. Kings and gods, food of every kind, boats and animals and heiroglyphs and cartouches, filled with color and covering virtually every wall of the entrance and chambers. It was here that my friendly husband chatted with a heavily guarded man who was delighted to hear we were from the U.S. Upon exiting the tomb our guide pointed out the old king Farouk's son who was the same gentleman. Mixing with royalty, dead or alive - the new family motto. I so wish we were allowed a camera in kings valley. Of all places. Oh well, Kent Weeks has documented these tombs with pictures, though not as many have been published as I would have taken.

    We enjoyed the tombs so much that we purchased a ticket to visit 3 more: sapitah, tauser and seti II. In tauser we saw the priest mummification ritual on the walls and Seti II was incomplete so we were able to see the tomb process from gridlines, to outlines, to corrections, base paint layer, subseqeunt color additions and finished panels.

    Then we visited an alabaster shop looking for a chess set. After an interesting demonstration and a heavy negotiation phase (price of air conditioned respite from the heat) we walked away from the $600 chess set that was last being offered at $350.

    Hatchepsut's temple was next which was an architectural oddity and fits nicely into its mountain niche. Very very hot by now (11am and over 110). Less distinct carvings and paint than necessary to qualify for unesco heritage status but it has the hatchepsut mystique of one of the rare female egyptian rulers and the only successful one, ruling for 21 years and sending trading expeditions to punt (modern day somalia) bringing back fish, trees and other plants.

    We returned to the ship thoroughly exhausted and napped until dinner, followed by the whirling dervish and belly dancers. Daughter was pulled uo to belly dance against her protests and the whirler was very colorful (think a spinning top in human form for 15 minutes.)

    Tomorrow it is the valley of the queens, madinet habu and the villages and tombs of the workers at deir el madina.

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    Habu Temple (Madinet Habu) was built by Ramses II along with an adjoining palace that was more ruined and more interesting. It contained the master bedroom of Ramses II with shower platform and separate toilet room with drain (3300 years ago!). Each childs bedroom also had an ante chamber/servant room, bedroom, storage room and toilet room with drain. The walls of the temple contained the news of the day: king is given authority, makes offerings, and triumphs over the many enemies of egypt. That vestiges of original color have survived 3300 years still amazes me and the color was everywhere. These temples must have been quite a site when new.

    We went to deir al madina, the workers village and tombs. The two tombs were small but one of them had no damage and the color and drawings were intact and perfect.
    We then went to the Valley of the Queens to see the 3 tombs open there. We wanted to see Nefertari's tomb which has the best preserved colors and scenes but it has been closed to conserve it and costs $4000 american to see. Not on this trip.

    Then visited the Luxor Museum containing much of the art pulled from local sites and a special exhibit of a dozen statues found in a cache hidden near Luxor Temple.

    Ate lunch at McDonalds. Must check out the international differences of course. Here the female workers wear bright red hijabs under their little hat to coordinate with Ronalds colors. All meat here must be cooked and then over cooked just to be sure it seems. Ham is replaced with cured beef everywhere. Even in chicken cordon bleu the ham is replaced with beef. Pastries are good. Most sweets are drenched in honey.

    Checked into Steigenberger Nile Palace Hotel. Beautiful view of the Nile on large balcony. Ahmed got a very nice room for us. He continues to check in and make sure everything is fine. Something disagreed with tummies so spent next day (today) handling it. Very very hot outside. Husband having 2nd thoughts on wishing for heat from chilly Stockton. Keep thinking of son serving in Iraq and living in this heat for a whole year. Maybe take him to Antarctica intead of Alaska when he gets back?

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    This next installment is written by my 13yo daughter. (My hands were tired of typing on the little blackberry).

    After our day of rest, we decided to resume our sightseing. Today we went to Karnak and Luxor temples.

    Karnak temple is the biggest temple complex in Egypt-nearly 60 acres. Massive columns everywhere, towering over us as we learned about a new god (new to us) called Amun-Min, the god of fertility. He was shown with only his right arm and left leg and with protruding privates signifying his fertility-basically porn on a religious temple's walls. It came as quite a surprise. He appears with only one arm and one leg because when all the Egyptian men left for war, they came back to find all of their women pregnant (obviously Amun-Min's fault) so they cut off his right arm-we all agreed that that was not the right part to cut off. Later the men left again and returned to find their women pregnant again. So they cut off his left leg-they still got the wrong part.

    Anyways, the temple had many fun nooks and crannies and was cool to explore. After we had our fill with Karnak temple, we went to Luxor temple.

    Luxor temple is like a mini-Karnak. Breathtaking but small. What stood out at this temple were the different types of rock used in construction. There was basalt, granite, marble, and alabaster for different things-for example, the walls were carved from granite and doorways from basalt. It was the first time we've seen something like that here.

    After we finished our tour for the day and the heat was setting in we went back to our hotel and rested-a good chance to catch up on emails and grab some "civilized" pizza from Pizza Hut (Egyptian food has lost its appeal at this point). We three ate two famously delicious Margherita pizzas and a slice of mediocre lasagne. It feels strange to sit in our hotel like this as we never did this on our European vacations. Normally we use every minute we have and the hotel is simply a place to drop at night but here in the heat and (no offense) plain filth we are glad to spend the time in the hotel room.

    The constant touts at times threaten to overshadow the lovely things about being here. We go through metal detectors to enter all hotels and tourist sights. Most of these simply either sound their alarms, and are backround noise to machine gun laden security guards, or they aren't turned on. Dad has decided that the alarms are doorbells announcing that we have arrived. We found one today that wasn't even plugged in. Hmmmm.

    Now we go down for amazing carmelita ice cream imported from Switzerland.

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    Final log. We departed at 6:30am to visit the west bank again and saw tombs of nobles sennefer and rehkmire which were fully painted tombs. Outside we encountered 4 delightful little girls trying to sell homemade dolls. They were quite charming and also persistent. Amazing and a little sad that they spoke just like the adult touts. We told them we'd think about it. Sennefer's tomb had vines covering the ceiling. Each tomb depicted daily life: raising livestock, planting and harvesting crops, brick making, building homes and monuments, boat making, and scenes with family, including the wife of Rehkmire massaging him. Children are shown nude with a sidelock of hair. The couples are shown making offerings to gods and being honored by the king. Priests are signified by the leopard skin they wear. On the way out, we purchased little dolls from the little girls. Mohamed said that girls in this part of egypt do not go to school. This prompted us to ask how their english was so good and we learned that our guide had previously worked at a bazaar and had learned all the numbers and the words needed to engage and respond to potential buyers in Japanese, Spanish, Italian, German, English and French. The girls parents taught them what they needed to know to sell, and their fathers and brothers were the ones selling the books and scarabs outside the tombs.

    Over our 10 days with Mohamed, we discussed education, politics, economics, laws, living conditions and social customs with our guide. We avoided discussions of war and religion. He seemed slightly surprised that our family values, ethics and standards of education and behavior were similar in many ways to arab values under islam. Women have a long way to go here to be seen as equal to men by men, despite this being a progressive arab country. It is considered to be most secular of the arab countries, although the word secular doesn't come to mind among the frequent calls to prayer and lack of unveiled women. No wonder they are wary of U.S. culture. Their impression of the U.S. is Baywatch, The Hills and 90210, which are played ad nauseum on the "American Channel".

    We then visited the Ramesseum, a large temple complex built by Ramses and Seti II. We returned to the hotel at 9:30am and really regretted not bringing games with us. We have never had so much time on our hands on a vacation. Can you say bored to tears? Too hot outside to want to spend more time outside, we aren't sun worshipers so pool was out, read every book, finished 2 Suduko books, watched a movie, surfed the web, and then dared the gauntlet of taxi drivers, carriage drivers, jewelry store owners, souvenir store owners, shoe shiners and others wanting to help part us from our money to walk 300 yards to pizza hut again - for, as they say, "civilized pizza." Passed the gauntlet again on our way back to the hotel. Sorry to complain - it does form a negative impression of an otherwise very lovely trip. Our travels aren't meant to be a vacation, but an education, meant to take us out of our comfort zone, and we just stretched ourselves a little more than usual this time.

    We were picked up at 6pm to see the sound and light show at Karnak. The show is a bit hokey in my opinion, but the opportunity to see the monuments lit at night is worth it. Back to hotel for ice cream in fresh hand made cones. Yum.

    Woke up at 5am for an early departure to Abydos and Dendara. Three hour drive to Abydos then an hour to Dendara and three hours back. On our drive we pass many scenes of rural life. A boy propped on top of a huge sack of grain on top of a donkey (and another and another). Donkeys laden with sugar cane and tied in front of every other residence. Men riding donkeys bareback. Friday and Saturday are the weekend here so children are playing outside and small groups of people sit together in front of homes. Men fixing cars, trucks overloaded with bananas and cotton, propane tanks and old glass pepsi bottles, multiple checkpoints, three on a bike-toddler, dad, and son, no helmet law, kids and teens pile into the beds of trucks and hang off the end of the enclosed-beds of the trucks painted in rainbow stripes that serve as local transport, grass topped rooves, pastel colored homes mixed with brick in geometric designs, domes and minarets, herd of sheep with boys, cows roaming the road and lounging by the river, children playing in the river, a woman washing clothes in it, many colorful laundry lines stretched across unfinished balconies of buildings with rebar sticking out and up from the sides like pippi's braids, lush greenery near the river with dry desert sands and hills in the background. The Nile supports all facets of life here. What looks like poverty to us is simply a different way of life, simpler, with many differences in the details, but also striking similarities and common goals, happy and healthy families, good communities, prosperity from hard work.

    Highlights of the trip were the zodiac and cleopatra VII on the walls of Dendara and the fully color walls and ceilings of the temple at Abydos. Abydos had more color than we've seen outside a tomb and was a wonderful finale to our sightseeing. The egyptian temples were resplendent with vivid colors from top to bottom and all the walls tell a story. One unique story on one wall of Abydos was the cartouches of every king from beginning to Ramses II (except hatchepsut the female "usurper", ahkenaten the heretic king, tut the boy king, an insignificant short timer in between, and of course, the unknown kings of the intermediary periods that were, for the most part, marked by foreign occupation). Loved Abydos.

    This was our last time seeing Mohamed and we reiterated our invitation to contact us and stay with us if he makes it to the States. He had tears in his eyes as he bade each of us goodbye. After a good night of sleep, we lazed around this morning, sleeping in, taking breakfast late, packing, surfing the net, (found sudaku online), watched another movie, got a late checkout. The hotel is especially solicitous, housekeeping pops by twice a day and the front desk calls to see if we are enjoying our stay. That first night we couldn't finish half of dinner and they knocked on the door to make sure it was alright, offering to remake it if we hadn't liked it. Then, that person's supervisor did the same thing half an hour later. And another higher up called a little later. They care a great deal about their service. We have noticed that in so many ways here. There are a great many people who care deeply about doing their best at everything they do.

    We are on our way to Cairo for overnight and our morning trip back to the States. We have gotten lots of sun, taken almost 4,000 pictures, met some lovely people, seen some amazing sites, learned a ton about another country and its history, and yet, traveling never fails to heighten our appreciation of home.

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