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This was my 5 week sojourn into the history of ancient civilization, to see a country where old and new blend together, from the Pyramids to the ultra modern Opera House, from Camel rides to Diving in the Red Sea, Egypt has it all.

This was my first trip to Egypt, and it was truly memorable, I was more than a little apprehensive, travelling as a single woman alone to a distant land with so many unknowns. But my fears soon disappeared, the people are wonderful, warm and hospitable, crime is almost non-existent, all in all a place I felt safe traveling. I’m from Canada and was heading to Egypt to meet my Egyptian Partner and to see all I could of Egypt for our future programs, I was not disappointed. 

My transit through the airport was speedy, a greeter met me with a sign, took my passport to process my visa, and escorted me through customs to the baggage area, picked up my bags and had me through to my transfer van very quickly. I met up with my Egyptian Partner who was to be my own personal Guide. If traveling independently I suggest a personal guide as a must, so you don’t miss a thing. Most are experienced Egyptologists, able to answer any of your questions as you traverse the country, they seize every opportunity to show you the multiple faces of this country rich in History and Events, and mine was no exception.

I stayed in a small Hotel in Giza overlooking the Pyramids, the service was excellent and I loved the extra little touches, like a towel placed on my bed twisted in the shape of a serpent.

Cairo is amazing, I couldn’t believe I was seeing donkeys and camels meandering among the modern cars racing the streets. A city rich in history, I visited Islamic Cairo with its Ancient Mosques, the Citadel, and the world famous Khan El Khalili Bazaar which lives up to all the expectations I had from seeing it in the Movies. If you like to bargain this is the place to do it.

We took time to visit an Islamic Artists house, it was interesting to see the way the Islamic houses were laid out. The internal courtyards offer privacy from the outside noise and dust, and the unique entrances, where the doors don’t lead straight ahead, but into an entryway were you turn left or right for entry, again to protect the owners' privacy from direct contact with the outside. Then the Mastabas, the best way I can describe them is they are a little like enclosed balconies with latticed windows, overlooking in most cases the inner courtyard. Those overlooking the street are a more enclosed and usually have peep holes for the residents to look out without being seen.

We drove past the City of the dead a unique experience to see houses where in these modern times the dead are now buried. 

Of course I had to see Coptic (Christian) Cairo where I saw the streets walked upon thousands of years ago by Mary and Joseph, and the hanging church and some of the oldest Christian Churches in the world. 

The Egyptian Museum, was a day all on its own, so much to see and take in. A trip through the different Kingdoms and time periods, and seeing the treasures of King Tuts’ tomb, spectacular to say the least. Then to see the mummies preserved from thousands of years ago was a wonderful experience taking me back to another time and place.

On another day we visited the Pharaonic Village, a trip out by boat to an island, where the History of the Culture and Crafts of Egypt are laid out and described as you traverse by boat around the island. This is another Tour that could take up the whole day if you wanted. The Tour ends on the island, where there is a restaurant and we had free time to visit the Islamic Art museum, with some beautiful art works from olden times.

The Ancient Pyramids of Cheops and the Sphinx are much closer to the city than I had imagined, in the dessert on the outskirts of Cairo in Giza. I had pictured them to be way out in the dessert, but all the same they are truly a sight to behold. I didn't have time for a Camel ride that day, but would suggest allowing time as it is something that can't be repeated anywhere, to ride among the Pyramids as they did in ancient times on the back of a Camel. The light and sound show was spectacular, and is shown in a variety of different languages. 

Yet in among this ancient world is a Modern city with an ultra modern Opera House, one of the most beautiful in the world, the Cairo Tower, the largest concrete tower in the World and offering a spectacular view of the city especially at night. The World Trade Center, the indoor shopping malls and the numerous modern 5 star Hotels reflect a City which is right up to date with modern times.

I could have spent a month in Cairo alone without going to the same place twice, there is so much to see and do, and restaurants for all tastes. 

Whilst staying in Cairo we traveled out of the city to Sakkara, to see the Step Pyramid the creation of Imhoteb the master builder. Even after all I’ve read and seen it is still unbelievable that this massive structure could have been built without the machinery we have today.Then it was on Memphis to see the gigantic statue of Ramses the II still in the same place it was discovered by accident. A lady crossing a muddy street tripped on what turned out to be the foot of this enormous statue, previously buried and probably downed by an earthquake. I was a miniature standing by the head of this massive statue.

On the way back we stopped at a carpet factory to see the children with their nimble fingers turning out beautiful carpets and wall tapestries.They encouraged me to sit and try, and had great fun when my fingers weren't able to tie the knots as nimbly as theirs. It was obvious they were thoroughly enjoying their craft and enjoyed meeting the visitors and showing off their talents, and of course I couldn't resist buying some souvenir wall hangings to bring home.

Egypt has so much to offer, we journeyed out to Alexandria, the gem on the Mediterranean Sea, home of Cleopatra and Alexander, where a new unique library is being built to replace the one burnt in the days of Cleopatra and Alexander the Great. A library that was said to hold every book in the world. Alexandria is the home of the Catacombs, the Montazah Palace and gardens, a Greco-Roman Museum, a Roman Amphitheater, a Jewellery museum, and astonishingly beautiful Mosaic Art all along the main promenade, not to mention the Citadel where recent discoveries have found what may be the remains of Cleopatra's Palace. We took a walk through the Montazah Park and out to the famous lighthouse. We ate in a local seafood restaurant where you pick out the fish you want from a tank and they cook it for you. Alexandria was my favorite place, and becomes the favorite destination for Egyptians in the summer time.

Then it was onto Luxor by train, approx. 10 hours from Cairo. First class all the way, I would say equivalent to first class in a plane for space and comfort, and snacks and beverages where readily available from a trolley service. (This trip can be done by plane, and is cheaper when purchased with your international air flight) Of course Egypt wouldn't be Egypt without a visit to the Valley of the Kings and Tombs of the Kings, the Temple of Queen Hatshipsuit and the Valley of the Queens where the tomb of Nefertiti can be seen in all its original splendor, and color. 

We spent several days on the West Bank, and took time to visit the craftsmen at work up in the mountains at Gourna.They were carving Alabaster and stone work, and weaving handmade primitive carpets on homemade looms set up in holes dug in the mountainside, where many of the homes are built on the entryways to the Tombs of the Nobles.

Throughout Egypt I witnessed the ancient crafts still created today in the ancient way. Papyrus, Perfumeries, Alabaster and stone work, and Carpet Weaving to name but a few, and don't forget to check out the gold Cartouches beautifully engraved with your name in Hieroglyphics.

We visited the home of the Sheik who was chief digger for Wilf Carter during the excavation of the Tomb of King Tut. We ate lunch in the peaceful courtyard overlooking the fields of sugar cane and the Colossi of Memnon.The house is now a small Hotel frequented by artists, authors and artisans from around the world. A peaceful place to pursue their talents. 

Whilst in Luxor we visited the Karnak Temple and witnessed the light and sound show with the History of Akahnaten the Pharaoh King who changed the history of Egypt by claiming there was only one God, Ra,the Sun God.Throughout the ages Statutes of all the Kings(Gods) where everywhere but after Akahnaten's death all his statues were destroyed in an attempt to obliterate his memory and the country returned to the worship of the previous Gods.

We visited the Luxor Temple with its many statues and the avenue of Sphinxes.We took a horse carriage ride through the streets of this quaint seaside town, and visited the open air market to buy a Galabia for the Galabia Party onboard the Cruise Ship..

And next, an experience not to be missed a luxurious Cruise on the River Nile from Luxor to Aswan and back (can be done one way 3 or 4 days, either way).This was very relaxing, we traversed at a leisurely pace and stopped to see the Temples in Edfu and Kom Ombo. 

On reaching Aswan we took a Felucca (small sailboat) ride on the Nile out to Elephantine Island with its beautiful Botanical Garden.Then on the way back we stopped for a visit to a Nubian Village to see village life as it is today, little changed from that of thousands of years ago. We sampled the local homemade bread, and they had some great homemade crafts at low prices, I stocked up on some great gifts. The kids here were looking for Baksheesh, this is normal and not considered begging, but as souvenirs from foreign visitors.. I would suggest taking pens with names on them or some candy, small offerings, but the kids and adults love them. 

In the afternoon we took a trip to the Philae Temple of Isis, one of the most beautiful temples occupying a unique location on an island.Then onto the High Dam the greatest irrigation project that changed life in Egypt and influenced its history for a long time, economically and politically.On our return we stopped at a Papyrus factory to watch craftsmen making Papyrus paper the way it used to be made. 

From Aswan there is an optional trip to Abu Simbel, to see the great temple of Ramses the II, but unfortunately this was a last minute booking and we hadn't pre-booked and the flights were full, so where unable to get tickets this time..next time I won’t miss it. So instead we visited the new Nubian Museum, an extraordinarily beautiful Museum dedicated to the History and culture of the Nubian People.

On returning from Aswan to Luxor we traversed a series of Locks. If travelling in this direction allow a little extra time for arrival in Luxor as the Locks are based on a first come first served basis and can delay ships for a couple of hours if they are busy.

On leaving Luxor we traveled by van and stopped briefly in Hurghada a resort city on the Red Sea, famous for it water sports and diving. We took a city tour, but had little time to take in the seaside resort town. This would be the ideal spot for those wanting to relax for a few days on the beach and do some diving, but on this trip I had no time for this.

My trip ended all too quickly and it was time to return home to Canada to put together a series of Egyptian Tours based on the information I had learned. I still have to go back to see an Oasis, the Sinai, St. Catherine's and the Suez Canal and all the other places I didn’t have time to visit on this trip. 

Of course many of the activities I participated in could be condensed into shorter time frames, but I wanted to get a good feel for all these places. I could write many more pages on this wonderful trip, there was so much. There is no doubt that Egypt is the Queen of countries - a country rich in history and culture. Try it for yourself..you won't be sorry.

Avril Betts CHA
President A-Z Tours International


A FAMILY JOURNAL - EGYPT TRIP
  June 27- July 6, 2004 - Sunday, 6/27/04
Details below or click here for more information INQUIRY FORM


We left Houston, and after an hour layover in Chicago, flew for about 9 hours into London's Heathrow Airport for a 6-hour layover. After the 4-hour flight on another British Airliner, we landed in Cairo around midnight there. It was 4 pm Houston time.The pilot on the last leg did all announcements first in English, then in Arabic. 

A guide (Ashrov) was waiting for us at the Cairo terminal holding a printed sign with our name on it. He helped us get luggage and ushered us to a Toyota minivan manned by Jimmy and Mohammed.They gave Ashrov a ride home on the way, then drove us the 40-45 minutes across Cairo to Hotel Sofitel. We were almost too exhausted to care, but too excited not to look.The whole drive was through big-city scenery, buildings and businesses, lights and people everywhere. Ashrov said Egyptians don't sleep at night, especially in summer. That seemed true. They were everywhere - carrying babies or packages, traipsing along the sidewalk or lounging in outdoor cafes, as if it were lunch hour.  

Cairo is huge, with population 16 million, according to Ashrov. There are lots of ornate and beautiful mosques. He said people go to them to pray five times every day, beginning at 4 am and ending at 9:30 pm. He also pointed out some palaces and lots of military establishments.Army is very important in Egypt, he said. There were a lot of soldiers at the airport, all dressed in black, with automatic weapons over their shoulders.  

We got settled into the hotel around 1 am, Teal next door to Ken and me. Our room was clean, but small and a little shabby, unlike the lobby, which looked modern and elegant. Our king-size bed was really two twins, individually made and pushed together, with mattresses having the resilience of packed cotton. Better than trying to nap on a hard chair at Heathrow. Our time from Houston had been about 24 hours, with virtually no sleep.

Monday, 6/28/04
We had a buffet breakfast at the hotel with crowds of  foreign tour groups, then met our guide Hamdan in the lobby at 9:15. Two other Americans joined us, a mother and daughter from New Jersey, Barbara and Cara Cooper. Barbara is a university professor specializing in the study of Muslim areas of Africa, and Cara is 12 years old.

We took a Toyota minivan up Pyramid Road to the Pyramids of Giza (the sister city of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile). We didn't realize it the night before, but the pyramids were actually within walking distance of our hotel. We had to exchange some dollars for Egyptian pounds with Barbara because we had not yet made exchanges at the hotel bank. Our 3 tickets for the pyramids cost 300 pounds (about $50.00). Hamdan, 28 years old, has a 5-year degree from Cairo University in ancient history. He fed us information continually about everything we were doing and seeing.

There were three large pyramids, almost sitting in a row on the desert sand. The Great Pyramid of Cheops (also known as Khufu) was the first and largest, the other two having been constructed as the burial places for his son and his grandson when they each became king. At Cheops pyramid, we climbed up the outside about 15 feet on the huge stones to enter the structure on the north side. After winding through what looked like rough cave passages, then climbing 45 degrees in a completely bent-forward position for about 120 feet in a claustrophobic tunnel, we came out in the Great Gallery, where the kings sarcophagus had been placed. Nothing is there now except the coffin-like stone casing and the seamless red granite blocks of the walls. There are dim lights strung inside for tourists, but the ancient Egyptians lighted the tunnels with mirrors. There were a couple of women sitting cross-legged on the floor in a meditative position with their eyes closed, so we tried that for a few minutes before leaving the gallery. When we came out, there were Egyptian beggars and hustlers everywhere and we lost some money to their wiles before Hamdan told us to say, La shukran (no, thank you).

We went inside a smaller outlying pyramid-shaped structure, with the same type passages to descend then ascend, bent over. It was one of the three queens pyramids, the tombs of Cheops wives or daughters. We took some photos from the top one of the queens pyramids, then went into a nearby air conditioned Solar Barque (boat) Museum, where a huge, ancient, cedar wood boat, supposed to transport the pharaoh to heaven, was restored. It was found in a pit in 1954, having been buried there around 2000 BC.

The middle large pyramid, for Cheops’ son, appears taller than the fathers, but that is because it sits on higher ground. Its top is white, like a snow cap, with limestone casing. All three of the great pyramids were once completely covered in this casing, until it was taken to build palaces and mosques over the centuries. We didn't go into the other two large pyramids. Instead, we drove up into the sandy hills above to take camel rides.  

Teal and I got on different camels, and Barbara and Cara each got on one, Cara’s being a small, young animal. Ken declined. The handlers slapped them on the neck and yelled to get the camels to kneel, front legs first, then the back, so we could mount. The camels bared their teeth and growled loudly. Getting upright was jerky and tilted, and the handlers called out, Hold on!as the camels rose, rear legs first. A 16-year old boy led us, all tethered together, up a sandy hill for some photos with the three Great Pyramids in the distance. Ken didn't want to ride, but the handler wrapped Kens head in an Arab scarf and got him to sit on one of the camels. Ken just shelled out more money, but still didn't ride.

After the camel rides, we went to lunch. We ate Egyptian buffet in a large outdoor pavilion with ceiling fans, overlooking the face of the Sphinx. It was grilled chicken and beef, pastel-colored yogurt dishes, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, watermelon, and their staple,pita bread.The bathroom cost 1 pound (about 15 cents), which we paid at the door. But it was clean and well supplied.

At some point, we became aware that we had a bodyguard, carrying a huge automatic weapon under his jacket. He was with the Tourist Police, and had a badge identifying him as such. He was dressed in a suit and tie, and looked like a secret service agent. Hamdan said it was routine and Ken kept calling him Totin Joe. 

We walked along the ledge beside the Sphinx after lunch (with bodyguard trailing). The Sphinx was in the bottom of a stone quarry from which stones were cut for the middle pyramid. It was made from leftover limestone, carved into a mythical figure with pharaohs face and lions body. The nose was chipped off centuries ago, although some people claim that Napoleon did it.

We also went through the valley temple complex of the middle pyramid.These structures were once connected by a canal and the valley temple was the first place the pharaohs body was taken after being brought on the Nile. At this temple, the priests gave their blessings to the different body parts (opening of the mouth) and the body was prepared for burial. The organs were removed and placed in jars, including the brain, which was smashed up through the nose, then sucked out from there, and the body soaked in salt and preserved (mummified) by some unknown method.

The valley temple was also where flowers were processed for their aroma essences for use in burials. So when we left the pyramid area, we drove to a perfumery. Hamdan left us with a personable fellow who explained how they extracted pure essence from flowers, woods and stones and sold them to big companies all over the world to make perfumes such as Chanel No. 5" or Poison. While he talked and demonstrated fragrances on our hands and arms, we were served hibiscus juice, sweet red fruit-tasting drink that he said was relaxing. We ended up buying two jars of fragrance, one of lavender for Marji and one of lotus flower for Teal, and bargained for two little decorative perfume bottles to keep it in.  

Our last stop was the papyrus factory, where we were shown how ancient Egyptians sliced and pressed the stalk from papyrus flowers to make a parchment paper. The whole place was filled with papyrus artwork for sale, some of it shamelessly commercial (such as pictures of a crucified Jesus), and a stream of tourists, some of them looking almost as shameless in this modest, Muslim country, in braless tank tops and short shorts. We bought a picture of the ancient scene of justice and had Law Firm printed on it in hieroglyphics. Teal got a small picture of Isis, goddess of reproduction, and had it printed with Julie Teal in hieroglyphics.

We were supposed to go on a Nile dinner cruise that night, but we were so exhausted from a day of climbing, walking, sun, and accumulation of no sleep that we returned to the hotel without dinner and fell asleep. I awoke around 8:30 pm and sat on our balcony for a while, listening to a lone voice chanting a call to prayer over the sound of city traffic.

Tuesday, 6/29/04
We had breakfast buffet in the hotel, then met Hamdan in the lobby at 8:30. Barbara and Cara were already in the car. We had a different bodyguard today, who was dressed in suit and tie and carried a gun, like the other one. Hamdan told us that the Tourist Police require them, especially for Americans and English. 

The Egyptian Museum was a modern brick structure in downtown Cairo, barely air conditioned, and looming inside with huge ancient treasures along every nook, wall and surface.  Hamdan had to check our cameras, which were not allowed. He started describing the most well-known pieces from the most ancient forward, beginning with a replica of the Rosetta Stone (the original is in England), which contains three languages reciting the same passage, and thus opening the secrets of the ancient Egyptian language. He explained the Nrmer Palette from 3200 BC, commemorating Pharaoh Nrmer, who united upper and lower Egypt (which regions are represented by the lotus flower and papyrus, respectively).  The Nile River flows northward, and it was interesting that upper Egypt is considered the south and lower Egypt is north.

There were many statues, large and small of pharaohs, including a beautiful one of Chephren, who was buried in the middle pyramid in Giza, and whose likeness is the face of the Great Sphinx. The statues head is cradled from behind by the hawk god Horus. It was found at his valley temple. Several statues, including some of scribes, who were considered noblemen, had eyes inlaid with metal or precious stones that sparkled like they were alive when struck by light. Hamdan demonstrated with a flashlight he carried for pointing out details. Other statues were painted and looked lifelike, even after 4000-5000 years. The only surviving statue of Pharaoh Cheops, who built the Great Pyramid, is a tiny one about 3 inches tall, found headless during excavation in 1903. The missing head was found 3 weeks later.  

One of several sphinx statues (human face, animal body) had the features of Queen Hatshepsut from 1400 BC. She was the first woman to lead Egypt, and was considered very successful, even though she was portrayed with a false beard, mens clothes, and was referred to in historical accounts as he. One of the largest statues was of Akhenaten, whose features and those of his wife Nerfertiti were often portrayed with exaggerated full lips, bulbous head and large ears. That was apparently considered beautiful then.  

After the pyramids proved easily plundered, the burial places for pharaohs were changed to hidden tombs in the Valley of the Gods, near Luxor, a 6-8 hour drive south of Cairo, where 61 kings were buried. The only tomb found intact, and that reason alone made it famous, was that of the 18-year old pharaoh Tutankhamun (King Tut). He died suddenly after 8 years of rule, and may have been poisoned. Nearly the whole second floor of the Egyptian Museum contained items from his tomb, including an entire room of treasures of gold and precious gems. The tomb consisted of several rooms supplied with gold beds, thrones, chariots, chests, and piles of solid gold body coverings and jewelry. The last room in the museum was the mummy room, which cost an extra 40 pounds (about $6.00). We saw the shriveled, preserved bodies of Ramses II, Ramses VI and 6-8 other pharaohs.Their hands and faces were exposed, generally showing teeth and sometimes hair. The mummy of King Tut is at Luxor.

We left the museum and drove to Old Cairo to see the Coptic churches (Egyptian Christian). One of them had a crypt where Jesus and his parents allegedly hid when they fled to Egypt from the Greeks and Romans. Hamdan repeatedly called the family  the prophet Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Joseph the carpenter. The ceiling of the church was curved like the inside of a boat, with columns representing the apostles; and the crypt was through a dark stone stairwell under the floor. We then saw a synagogue built at the last place Moses prayed before he fled Egypt. Hamdan told us that the story of Moses is also in the Koran. We left the places of worship and walked back to the van through narrow stone alleyways as crowds of robed people flowed quietly past us toward a voice calling them to prayer.  

Lunch was at a restaurant called the Fish House, which sat at the intersection of the Nile River and its tributary. We overlooked a huge docked paddle boat and listened to strains of Way Down Upon the Suwanee River while we ate. It was also buffet.

After lunch, we toured several mosques, where we had to remove our shoes just to walk over the threshold to the pavilion-like inside. The last mosque was built by a Turkish soldier who became the Egyptian king Mohammed Aly. It was ornate, enclosed like a sanctuary, trimmed in deep green and gold, and featured two pulpits and a huge chandelier. We sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor while Hamdan explained the religion of Islam and the ceremonial ablutions. Nearby was the kings palace, which was not very ornate, but had a throne room. All these mosques and the palace were contained in a fortress called the Citadel, which sits high on the east end of Cairo. We were supposed to go to the bazaar next to buy souvenirs, but skipped it to take a nap before the light show.

We met at 8:00 in our lobby for the short drive to the pyramids in Giza. Outdoor stadium seats faced the pyramids and the Great Sphinx in front of them. A colorful band of men in ancient dress played bagpipes and drums and marched around before the show. Then a voice with English accent, assuming the role of the Great Sphinx, narrated a history of Egypt and the pyramids while colored lights and slide shows illuminated the structures. In the words of our travel book, it was cheesy, but fun. We went back to the hotel for a late dinner afterward.

Wednesday, 6/30/04
We met everyone at 7:15 am for the drive north to the coastal city of Alexandria. Driving through Cairo was a unique experience. Lots of American businesses were evident, including Pizza Hut and McDonalds (which Hamdan called the American embassy. There were mostly small Korean and Japanese cars, which shared the roadway with city buses, donkey carts, occasional herds of animals, and large numbers of pedestrians who walked between the cars with impunity, often lifting their robes to leap out of the path of some disregarding driver. No one ever used turn signals to indicate their intentions, they just honked. Everyone honked constantly. The marked lanes seemed mere suggestions as to where to drive, as cars wedged between others if the slightest gap opened. It had the feel of a go-cart race, even though I never saw anyone collide. We also noticed that at night, some drivers did not turn on their lights. They might flick them on when someone was pulling out in front of them, but turned them back off immediately after.

The housing in Cairo was generally apartments, huge stretches of crumbling brick structures, mostly windowless except for glass balcony doors, always with raw metal re-bar protruding from the top, as if the buildings weren't finished. The outsides often had fields of garbage and trash surrounding them and showed little life other than laundry hanging from the balconies. Hamdan said people make the interiors attractive, but don't do anything to the outside. Several miles outside Giza was an apartment subdivision called 6th October City,commemorating Egypts conquest of Sinai over Israel on 10/6/73. There were many military compounds and periodic green neighborhoods. We passed long stretches of dusty foliage and sand stretching to the horizon. The road outside Cairo was smooth, modern blacktop. Many houses in the country had pigeon towers that looked like tall clay teepees full of entry holes and roosting sticks. Hamdan said Egyptians eat pigeons, but not doves. We passed fields of banana trees, grape arbors, mounds of bougainvillea and oleander bushes. The closer we got to the coast, the more lush and colorful the flowers and trees. We stopped at a rest stop for drinks and bathroom. As everywhere else we had been, the bathrooms were attended by robed young girls doling out toilet paper for a tip of a pound or two.  

The city of Alexandria was built on the Mediterranean Sea by Alexander the Great in 331 BC and was the Greek/Roman capital of Egypt until 642 AD. Alexander died in India and was brought back to Alexandria for burial, supposedly in a tomb of splendid treasures, but it has never been found. We went first to the Roman Amphitheater, which was unearthed in 1961 by workers trying to build a soccer stadium. The alabaster marble stadium still serves as an outdoor theater for concerts. We took turns standing on an ancient stone in the center of the ground and speaking aloud, then practically jumping from the startling amplification of our voices from that spot of perfect acoustics. We drove through the city which, though clean and modernized with electric tram cars, is characterized by narrow marketplace streets and crowds of robed and sandaled pedestrians.   

The catacombs were underground tombs from the 2nd century, which were also discovered by accident in 1960 when a donkey pulling a cart fell partially through the main shaft of the stairwell entryway. There was one noblemans crypt in a separate ground level structure and another in the underground tombs. But they were mostly public tombs, with crypt-lined walls winding maze-like through many rooms and tunnels. We wandered around the tunnels with a bunch of friendly Japanese tourists who spoke a little English. We drove from there to the Citadel, a recently-renovated fortress from the 14th century. A magnificent lighthouse built by Ptolemy III once sat on the same place, and the lighthouse was considered one of the wonders of the world. It was lost centuries before the fortress was built, and only the stone base was found. Cleopatra also had a palace along the coast in the 1st century, remnants of which were found under water, but not the palace itself.

We had lunch at a seafood restaurant beside a beach and watched people gathering under umbrellas by the water. The men and children wore swim suits, but the women, even in the sun, wore full Muslim robes and head coverings, sometimes with even their faces covered. Inside the restaurant, we had to walk around a row of barefoot men in business suits who were kneeling and bowing against the wall for prayers. After lunch, we drove to the great Alexandria Library, built over the first one established in the 2nd century by Ptolemy III and destroyed over the centuries by war, fire and earthquakes. The new one, opened in 2002, was designed in the image of  the sun rising from the sea. We followed the coast of the Mediterranean through the city to the El Salamlek Palace, built by King Farouks grandfather and occupied by his descendants. It is now a summer home for President Mubarrak. We strolled around the park nearby and walked out on a private beach to touch the Mediterranean and get a souvenir rock.

Before leaving Alexandria, we went to a coffee house at the beach to just sit and people-watch. Teal and I got hibiscus juice, Ken got a diet Coke, and Hamdan ordered shisha, a large, ornate water bong that the waiter brought with a clean mouthpiece and set on the ground by the table for Hamdan to smoke. This is a favorite pastime at coffeehouses in Egypt.  We left Alexandria around 5:30 pm. All day, we had had a police car with four officers escorting our car, tapping their siren for short bursts to clear traffic for us. I found it a little bizarre, especially since we already had a bodyguard riding with us, but Hamdan just laughed and said it was something for them to do. They followed us out of town until sunset. We got back to the hotel around 9:00 pm, worn out. Barbara and Cara were leaving Cairo for a different tour, so we wouldn't see them again.

Thursday, 7/1/04
We were all sick all night. I suspected the ice in the hibiscus juice at the coffeehouse. However, we met Hamdan in the lobby at 8:30 for the half hour trip to the town of Sakkara to see the step pyramid. The drive was through a different area from Greater Cairo. There were farms of fruits and vegetables, interspersed with huge stone mansions, enclosed in brick walls overflowing with bougainvillea. Hamdan said very rich people and high government officials lived in the mansions. However, the most visible people were the poor farmers, driving their donkey carts and tethered cows down the highway. Women carried large containers or platforms on their heads, stacked with pita bread or clay jars. The poor housing consisted of clusters of clay huts connected by narrow, dusty alleys. Many of the fields were groves of palm trees, with clusters of ripe dates hanging from their tops. The greenery ended abruptly as we drove uphill to the pyramid, and we were surrounded by blinding stretches of sand.

The step pyramid was the first pyramid built, and it was designed by Imhotep, architect for King Djoser around 2870 BC. It is in a walled complex of polished granite and includes an arena, a ceremonial pavilion, two deep shafts where the king’s burial place and coptic jars for his organs were placed, and a meditation hut. The pyramid itself is badly deteriorated but still has the appearance of six stacked blocks of decreasing size. It was the forerunner of triangle pyramids. After touring the grounds, we drove through the town of Memphis to see the Alabaster Sphinx (which is unidentified but thought to be Queen Hatshepsut) and a huge partial statue of Ramses II. We had seen the mummy of Ramses II in the Egyptian Museum, and he had an incredibly large and hooked nose. But that statue in Memphis, as well as several others we had seen, all showed Ramses II with a smooth and attractive nose. Hamdan said the artists idealized the kings, which made me wonder if any of the statues we had seen resembled the real persons.  

We stopped at a carpet factory, where children from age 12 are trained in the craft and given a general education as well. There were many such schools in the area, and they ship beautiful carpets all over the world. We watched some of the young workers and saw the finished products in their gallery. Ken bought Teal a small carpet (12 inches x 18 inches) of Nefertiti made of silk thread, and had to bargain hard to get the price down to $200.00. Lunch was at a lovely country inn under a big shady pavilion overflowing with flowers and vines. None of us felt like eating much, even though the food was good, especially the watermelon, which was redder and sweeter in Egypt than any I have ever eaten.

We wanted to go to a gold shop, as Hamdan had cautioned us not to buy gold on the street. While Teal and I looked at the jewelry, Ken had a serious attack of dysentery and barely made it to the bathroom in the store. He soldiered on to the Khan el Khalili Bazaar for some souvenir shopping. Hamdan waited at a coffee shop, smoking shisha, while our bodyguard followed us through the winding alleyways, crammed with display racks and barking hustlers trying to get us into their little shops. The noise and crowds were circus-like, almost overwhelming, but we made several stops and bought things for friends and family. Teal wanted one of the Muslim head scarfs, and she found a pale green one she liked.  

There was a time gap before we had to fly to Hurghada, on the Red Sea, so we drove around Cairo. The city was beautiful, with mosques everywhere. It's called the city of 1000 minarets. We stopped at Anwar Sadats burial place, which is a memorial on the site where he was assassinated. It was guarded by colorfully-dressed Egyptian soldiers, some in ancient costumes. We took pictures, then went to the airport to wait 2-1/2 hours for a plane that was delayed.  

After the short flight, we were met at the Hurghada airport by our guide Mohammed, who took us to the Mariott Hotel on the edge of the Red Sea. It was quite dark, but I could see from our room balcony that large boats were docked in the water below. The room was as modern as any American Mariott I've seen. We were all pretty sick to our stomachs.

Friday, 7/2/04
We all slept late. When I finally got up, Ken was still sick. I immediately got the front desk to call a doctor. The doctor came to the room in about an hour and examined all of us. He said the illness was caused by bacteria,possibly from the money. He gave Ken a shot and all of us antibiotic pills. We just took it easy all day. I read on the balcony, looking out over the variegated blues and greens of the Red Sea, with huge yachts moored all around our hotel. Later in the afternoon, I took a swim in the sea, which was cool and very salty, then read under a straw umbrella in a beach chair. Unlike Cairo, Hurghada  is a resort popular with many European tourists, especially Russians, so most of the women were in swim suits or skimpy beach wear. I saw several Muslim women dressed in traditional scarves and clothes under the umbrellas, but I saw only one woman in the water in full black Muslim robe and head scarf. She was with her husband and two sons and paddled around as though it was perfectly comfortable, but not in deep water.

Ken and I ate dinner in the hotel restaurant downstairs, while a troupe of dancers and musicians performed on the veranda in Egyptian costumes. They looked like Greek belly dancers and sword jugglers. We were both still not feeling well, especially Ken. Teal had gotten a massage but also did not feel well. She just got a sandwich at the internet cafe in the hotel.

Saturday, 7/3/04
Ken was still feeling sick, but Teal and I had breakfast in the hotel and met Mohammed in the lobby at 9:40. He took us to the Sinbad Resort a short drive away for a submarine ride through a coral reef. We took a big party boat out to a floating platform, where about 30 of us climbed down into the little submarine. It was a comfortable ride lasting about an hour. Each person had a large port hole and watched divers feed colorful schools of fish, while recorded piano music played tunes such as Moon River. Teal said some of the fish with brightly painted lips looked like Bette Midler.

Ken had lunch with us back at the hotel, but didn't feel up to the desert safari in the afternoon. We were picked up at the hotel by a driver named Saad at 2:30. He also picked up people at other hotels, so that we had a total of 7 passengers in our vehicle: a newlywed dentist and wife plus two single women, all from Yugoslavia, and a young woman from Germany. Later at our destination, a mother and two teenage daughters from Baharain joined our group, all of whom spoke English. Our Land Rover and three others, filled mostly with Russians, caravanned into the dessert. Saad led the way, driving 80 mph (or maybe kph, but still fast), like a madman, bouncing around and over sand dunes, windows open, with frantic Egyptian music blaring. We headed into the mountains, which rose like stark, jagged rocks out of the sand.

We stopped at a small Bedouin village beyond some mountains. There were about 35 people in this tribe, and their village consisted of stone huts and thatched shelters. We watched a woman in black Muslim face veil (denoting married status) make flatbread over a fire of animal dung, then we tasted her finished dish. The children were shy and beautiful, dressed colorfully. Teal coaxed a couple of them into her lap for pictures. We each mounted a camel for a short ride and photos, then we toured the village (bathroom, market, small open mosque, homes, animal shelters, and an herbal pharmacy).  At a loosely-covered outdoor well, which was about 60 feet deep, a man drew water in a bucket for his camel, which drank several gallons very quickly. We were told the water in the well is used up each day, but it fills back up at night. When it fails to fill, this tribe will move on. We climbed one of the rocky hills at sunset and could see more mountains and valleys of dessert continuing beyond us. While we were walking around, one of the Bedouin men offered Teal 12 camels to marry him. Ken told her later she should have held out for 15 camels.

After dark, we sat in a square formation on pillows on the sand while the Bedouins brought tables loaded with trays of food (chicken, rice, potatoes, noodles, shredded purple carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers, watermelon, some salad items that looked like green and pink yogurt with herbs, and pita bread). The food was delicious. After dinner, the Bedouin men sang and played drums for us. Saad dragged me and one Yugoslav woman into the middle to dance with him. Teal was taken to the line of singing men to clap.

We loaded up quickly to head back to Hurghada, stopping at some nearby rocks to feed the wild desert foxes our chicken bones. They came scrambling out of the rocks into the headlights, their huge fuzzy ears perked up, to get their treats. We stopped again later in the dark desert to get out of the vehicles and look at the stars. The sky looked bejeweled from horizon to horizon, and the moon was so vivid and orange that it looked like a Halloween prop. We got back to the hotel about 9:30 and found Ken in the internet café, playing on a computer.

Sunday, 7/4/04
We met Mohammed in the lobby to leave for the airport, but we had a frantic moment a few blocks away when we couldn't find Teals passport. Mohammed quickly called on his cell phone and found it had been left in the hotel room, so we went back for it. The flight from Hurghada followed the Red Sea, with beautiful layers of blue and green as vivid as spilled paint. A driver met us in Cairo and drove us back to the same Hotel Sofitel. We rested before meeting Hamdan at 6:30. He had told us that Muslim men do not touch women, although they might shake hands if the woman offers hers first. But we felt so glad to see him that we ran up and hugged him, American style.  

We drove to downtown Cairo to a big cruise ship on the Nile for dinner and entertainment. Walking to the dock, children swarmed around us begging. Ken didn't have any one-pound notes, so he gave a little boy 10 pounds. The ship had a buffet dinner and a small clearing for the band and entertainers. A man and very western-looking  blond woman sang wailing, vibrato Egyptian tunes that we couldn't understand, then a belly dancer came out in a blue sequined bra and sarong. She bumped and gyrated, and I noticed that even the black Muslim-robed women seemed to be enjoying her act and taking pictures. She came back for a second act in an even skimpier white costume later. She went from table to table and even got some of the men to go up and dance with her. Hamdan took Ken by the hand to dance with her and we got some pictures.

After the belly dancer, a man Hamdan called a dervish came out in a Cossack-looking costume with layers of skirts. He started to twirl with the skirts in different positions, eventually shedding all the skirts but one, which he continued to twirl, then raised it over his head. He went from table to table, chatting and posing for pictures, still twirling this skirt over his head. He came to our table, took our photo with our camera, bent a fork with one hand, and chatted in English - still twirling. He was amazing.

When the ship docked and we got off, kids came from everywhere. Word of Kens 10 pounds had spread. Hamdan tried to chase them off, but they just yelled at him and swarmed around us, begging. We had to run for the car.

Monday, 7/5/04
We met Hamdan in the lobby around 9:00, even though our phone was broken and we didn't get our wake-up call. We drove to the modern Cairo Opera House, where a young lady with their public relations department gave us a tour of the three theaters it contains, a music library where all sorts of traditional Islamic music is collected, and an art museum of black and white photos of artwork and antiquities (the Palace of Arts). Hamdan noted that she was Coptic (Christian) because of her name, Christine, and a cross around her neck.  

Leaving the Opera House, we drove onto a land mass in downtown Cairo called Gazira Island, around which the Nile splits and then reunites. It has the tallest structure in Cairo, the Cairo Tower, which has an observation deck on the 16th (top) floor. Looking down, there were several public swimming pools, one of which was full of Muslim-robed women, looking much like floating nuns. We took pictures and sat in the snack area for a while for drinks.  

We needed to spend our Egyptian pounds because it was hard to exchange them back to dollars. Ken vetoed the jewelry story we had visited before, but we went to another store, where we bought a crocodile wallet for Tommy and Teal got a little alabaster jar. Then we went to see some famous Egyptian cotton goods. There were some friendly Muslim girls there who showed Teal how to cover her hair with a beautiful red scarf. We bought the scarf and took a picture of Teal with them. We also got some beach towels, t-shirts, and some souvenir gifts. We ate lunch at a nearby downtown buffet restaurant that looked out over the Great Pyramid.

Our last stop was the Pharaonic Village, which started with a boat trip along the Nile. We sat in rows of chairs on a small canopied boat while an English tape played as we passed scenes along the riverbank. There were replica statues of the ancient kings and gods, then a succession of scenes of Egyptian history enacted by people in authentic costumes.  They showed the baby Moses being found in the reeds by the Pharaohs daughter, ancient brick making, fishing, carpentry, sculpture, farming, wheat grinding, perfume making, glass blowing, weaving, weapon making, and mummifying the dead. After the boat ride, we toured a replica of a wealthy ancient Egyptians house and went through small museums about the history of Islam and President Nasser. 

Our last stop in the Pharaonic Village was a replica of King Tuts tomb. We had seen the actual items in the Egyptian Museum, but these replicas were laid out room to room, just as the American who discovered the tomb had found them. We could walk all around and over the different areas, the treasure room, the 4 nestled golden room-sized crates in which the 3 layers of coffins held the kings body. There was even a replica of the mummy, which Hamdan said looked exactly like the real mummy in Luxor. King Tut had kind of prominent, youthful teeth, which showed through a partially open mouth. We got some pictures before leaving to return to the hotel around 4:30. This was our last day in Egypt.

Tuesday, 7/6/04
Hamdan arrived at our hotel at about 3:45 am. He was afraid we would miss our wake up call because our phone had been broken the day before. He said he just did not go to bed the night before. He had the hotel prepare boxed breakfasts for us, and we were on the road for the 40-minute drive to the airport by 4:30 am, even though our flight wasn't until 8:00. It was sad to leave Hamdan, and Ken got him to promise that he will try and get to Europe if we go there next year. It is practically impossible for him to get into the United States, even though he has a girlfriend in California that he met when she was in Egypt. The airport wait went fast, and the flight to London was uneventful. Our layover in London this time was only an hour. None of us slept on the long flight back to Chicago, where we had to change airlines for the flight to Houston. We arrived home about 9 pm Tuesday night, having regained the 8 hours we lost to time zones between Houston and Cairo. However, it had been nearly 27 hours since we had last slept a few hours.   

ARABIC PHRASES:

thank you..............shukran               no..............la             yes..............nam

bathroom..............hammaam              hello..........salam alai kum

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