God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Magnificent Karnac and Colorful Luxor Temples

A Painting from an ancient Christian Church inside the
walls of the more ancient Luxor Temple

When exploring within ancient temples, there are always surprises. As in the less ancient Greek and Roman buildings which often transformed and morphed into many permutations over the centuries, so too the temples of pharaohs. 

Other than the halo you can't really see this, but it is a painting of the Virgin Mary 
on a pillar in Karnac.

Our last two cruise nights were spent docked at Luxor, the site of the very large ancient city of Thebes. It does seem strange but as the ship docked in such a way that our cabin faced the Nile, we had more time to enjoy its serenity and peace-particularly as there were not gaggles of other cruise ships parading by. We enjoyed leaving in the morning, visiting the huge Karnac temple complex and Luxor Temple, which is right in the city of Luxor, and then returning to the ship for a late lunch, relaxing on the sundeck with new friends and enjoying the galaibya party and dinner.

Because we had a private guide and were continuing on in Luxor for a few days, we had a more leisurely day than others who followed the cruise schedule. They did both temples in the morning, came back to the ship for lunch and then went to the Valley of the Kings in the afternoon. This would have been an exhausting itinerary, and, in fact, folks were dragging a little bit.

Anyone who has ever perused the National Geographic or watched the Discovery Channel or Planet Green knows of Karnac--the huge complex of three temples dedicated to the god Amun-Ra, the goddess Mut and the god Montu. Amun was the main divinity of Thebes. Through several dynasties, 13 centuries, this monumental complex was added to with small side temples, mortuary temples, statues, pillars, living areas and rooms and buildings of unknown purpose. Today we see it in bits and pieces, some parts more complete than others but nothing is whole. The massive pillars are impressively awesome in their rows and columns with colors, usually muted but occasionally bright, still showing in places; I found myself wondering what it was like when priests and royalty walked through their shadows.

Although both Mut and Montu have their own temples and precincts within the complex, visitors only see the "precinct of Amun-Ra" which is what we mostly think of when we reference Karnac and what most visuals show. The other two temple areas are still being uncovered and restored. You can see them but not go to them--disappointing. They are much older and go back to even more ancient gods of Thebes.

From Karnac, after buying an Anubis (the two headed jackel god of afterlife and mummification) statue for son Jeff--his one request of us. Of course, as with anything in Egypt, bargaining is the expectation so we needed to go through that exercise--which is not one of my favorite cultural experiences--anywhere, we moved on.

Our next and last stop for the day was Luxor Temple which sits among the streets and shops of Luxor. This temple and Karnac were connected via a two mile "parade route" which was used for ceremonial processions. It was lined on both sides with sphinx which are now being dug up and replaced along the ancient road. This is a slow process as existing buildings are needing to be torn down to do this.

It is thought that Luxor Temple was mostly a sanctuary dedicated to the celebration of the royal "ka" soul of the ruler which was passed from father to son. If so there would have been ceremonies to confirm the hereditary transfer of the king's sacred powers-Ka-to his son; however, much of this is still conjecture. There are many colossal statues here, including the greatly egotistical Ramses II and his favorite Nefertari who were the subjects at Abu Simbel. Like Karnac, it was constructed over a period of several dynasties. In time, the Romans converted chapels into servicing Roman gods, then Christians had churches within the walls and finally Islam entered the area.  At the entrance is a structure with triple religious heritage--ancient Egyptian temple, Christian church and finally, on top, a mosque in use today.

The bottom is ancient Egypt. If you look half way up, you will see reddish doors which were the Christian church (at the time it was built the Egyptian portion was underground) and on top you can see the mosque with a part of the minaret.

There is so much to tell about these temples and complexes but if you are interested, it will be much easier to click on the links which I have provided as the information is far more complete and intelligible than I can provide.

(Remember you can enlarge this to full screen)

And now....the final night and the galaibya party.  From what I gather these parties are traditional to Nile cruises. A galaibya is an Egyptian garment of a certain style; it should be full length but some people simply choose a shirt---while other people don't dress up at all. It really is a very casual, do whatever you want event.

When in Cairo, we decided that we would do it all, so Casey and I bought our galaibya there and got really nice ones. Ken bought a cheapie on board which was just as well as I can't imagine that we will wear them again. Well, maybe Casey will have a reason at some point. He looked very impressive in his.

And this is the charming, beautiful couple from Hong Kong that were part of our table, Wayne and Iris

....this was the end of the cruise. The next morning we were packed and out of there by 9. Next stop: the famous, mystical Valley of the Kings and Christmas in Luxor. And then....PETRA

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Kom Ombo and Edfu Temples (& belly dancers)

OK--I must admit, one might think that if you've seen one temple, you've seen them all. And even more--at times it almost seemed that way. But...and there are always buts...it just isn't true. Each is different in its awe inspiring grandiose existence; each further underscores the admiration for the architects, builders, lowly laborers, dreamers, artists, carvers, technicians and scientists who so long ago created such megalithic  beauty. And yes, I do leave out the pharaohs and their consorts who commissioned such memorials to their time on earth and hoped for passage to the next. They are not the ones who left us these testimonials to the past. Well, actually, that isn't true, as if it were not for desires for immortality, none of this would have been done. So, yes, do include them, it is only right. Plus, they did build rather remarkable civilizations.

I do need to back up for a moment to last night--the great Belly Dancer/Whirling Dervish Show. I had been teasing Casey that he would not be allowed to see such depravity--much too young for witnessing the gyrating, sweaty female form shaking tassels and whatever. And..I was only half teasing as I remembered what Ken and I had seen in Istanbul. In my sometimes puritanical mind, it just wasn't kosher to take a child--yes, he is 13 but definitely a child--to a "girlie" show.

But, since this was a more-or-less family cruise, I figured it would be "va bene" (as we say in Italy.) As it was, I need not to have worried as this belly dancer was no more than could be seen at any middle school dance--which, now that I think about it, can be pretty raunchy sometimes. There was no belly on display and the shakes and shimmies were pretty pathetic. The kids, who were all sitting together acting grown up throwing peanut shells on the carpet, actually got pretty bored.

After the aged woman (I forgot to mention the age) came the whirling dervish who was quite entertaining and spectacular. He gave a good show with a costume that lit up with multi-colored lights as he twirled and whirled non-stop for 15-20 minutes. I am quite certain that the real dervishes in Turkey do not use colored lights--but then, they are not on cruise ships, either. We all enjoyed him--adults and kids. I am sorry, though, having just scoured all three cameras, it seems we took no pictures of these two. I would have loved to share this with you. Oops--here is the non-belly dancing belly dancer--or, actually, she did have a belly.

Back to two more amazing temples...Kom Ombo and Edfu-Temple of Horus.

The Temple of Kom Ombo was dedicated to two deitites--Sobek, the feared crocodile god and Horus, god of victory and war; he was also a doctor and healer. Sobek's wife was Hathor, usually depicted as a revered cow. She was the goddess of fertility and childbirth and the protector of female royalty along with many other things in Egyptian mythology. She was later equated with Venus and Aphrodite. It seems that the gods were very versatile in their benevolence and influence.

Kom Ombo is the only temple we visited which sits squarely on the banks of the Nile. It is a pretty impressive site as it magically materializes when you round a bend in the river--there it is just waiting to be explored.

View of Kom Ombo from the Ship

If you look closely, you will see important carvings  
of the medical tools used by physicians in Egypt .

Our next stop, after docking overnight at Edfu, was a buggy ride to the Temple of Horus at Edfu. As with all the temples, this one has something special that distinguishes it from the others. It is almost wholly intact--with roof, ceiling, complete walls and interior rooms. For the most part temples are skeletons of what they once were so it is is fascinating to see more completely what was.

Horus was the son of Isis and Osiris after Isis was able to revive Osiris who had been killed by his evil brother Set. Horus eventually was able to avenge his father's death and destroy Set. Osiris became the god of afterlife. (The truth is that these stories are very convoluted and complex with confusing twists and turns and so what I offer is super simplified.)

We were driven to Edfu in rather delipated, much used carriages..
but they got us there and back. Riding the streets was interesting.

Another reminder as to just how enormous these places are.
And, the people of Egypt were small people.

Temple of Horus at Edfu Facade

The Sanctuary of Horus and barge. Inside Edfu Temple

Horus and Us

I must give credit to Casey at this point as he is my guru in recognizing all these gods and creatures and their interconnectedness. He studied this in 6th grade and I am in awe of what he remembers and learned. 
He had a good teacher. Thank you, Mrs. Maier.

This was a good day--well, they all were--and we haven't even been to Karnac, Luxor and Petra, yet. So much in so little time.

Things were more or less quiet on-board this night. There was to be an "elegant" attire party with the ship's captain and other staff; however, elegant was not very elegant which was fortunate as I had no elegance with me. We had a quiet dinner with our table mates whom we had enjoyed--particularly Casey as Camille was at our table. She and her parents were from Singapore and then we also had a beautiful young couple from Hong Kong. It is so nice when you like the people you eat your meals with as there were assigned tables.

(If you can, enlarge to full screen.)

While sleeping we sailed onto Luxor where we awoke the next morning.

Next: Karnac, Luxor Temple, Hatshpsut, Valley of the Kings, and Christmas on the Nile.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Moon Goddess and Philae Temple

Flying from Abu Simbel to Aswan didn't take long at all--short hop. We were met at the airport by Mohamed who would be our guide throughout the cruise and the rest of our time in Egypt. It was nice to know that we would have that continuity through the various temples and places we would be the next few days. We had elected to have our personal guide rather than using the ship's guides as we wanted to set our pace a little and, theoretically, learn more. I say theoretically as we were very impressed with what we saw of the ship guides and their knowledge of ancient Egypt and sites. It was nice, though, to not be in groups.

Us with Mohamed

The Nile cruise is fairly unique as it travels only about 200 km (124 miles) which is an interesting feat when you are on a 4 night cruise. Actually, we were on board for 4 nights but the first night was spent in Aswan where we boarded and the last two were in Luxor where we ended. The one other night was in the Edfu Temple area. Our ship was the Moon Goddess which was quite nice--pretty laid back and comfortable.

This was another instance of how decimated tourism is right now. We were there at high season when normally there are hundreds (so I am told ) of cruise ships sailing the Nile. What we saw were untold ships tied up along the shore with curtains drawn and no sign of life. When we docked, there were only 6 or 7 other ships when normally there would be a long shore line of ships docked 6 deep. Even then, the Moon Goddess was less than half full. Some friends we made on board who had just traveled the opposite way from Luxor to Aswan told us there had only been 8 people on board then. We were glad that there were more going our direction--they were, too. It was more fun--particularly as they had a 13 year old daughter who became Casey's constant companion. Problem being that they are from Singapore. He always has these long distance interests, it seems.

For those of you who know Casey, it may make you smile that his friend's name is Camille

Of course having fewer ships plying the waterways made our cruise much nicer, having the river almost to ourselves. Rarely would we pass or see another ship. We could sit on our balcony watching the banks of the Nile pass by imaging we were seeing what Ramses or Cleopatra or Caesar had seen millenia ago. We could watch the fishermen in their tiny boats, beating the water trying to scare fish into their nets. Surely much like as has been done for centuries.

Shortly after boarding the ship, we had a felucca sail ride--a must do experience when on the Nile. It was relaxing and a nice quiet interlude after our several days of site-seeing. After the sail, Mohamed took us to downtown Aswan where we stopped for tea and he spent some time on a water pipe. I had thought I would try this but Casey adamantly did not want me to; in fact, he was nothing short of panicked about it. So...guess I will never know what that is like.

Once we went back to the boat it was time to dress for dinner (well, dress meant a clean pair of jeans and shirt) and go to the pre-dinner show which was pretty not good. Can't even remember what it was; however, I am certain it was better than the belly dancer the next night. Dinner was good and then it was time to relax with books before bedding down.

The next morning, we were trundled off by Mohamed and the driver to board the little boat to take us to the island of the ancient Temple of Philae--dedicated to Isis. This temple is similar to Abu Simbel in that it was moved from one location to another--from an island very close to where it now is. After the construction of the first Aswan dam at the beginning of the 20th century, the waters slowly took over Philae and for many years it was pretty well submerged. In the 1960's the effort began to move the temple, block by block, to where it is now--another marvel of 20th century know-how.

Philae, like all the temples, is impressive in size, carvings, doorways, pillars and stories spelled out in pictures and hyroplyphics. Again, no crowds, no people--strange places these days. In years gone by, only the gods and royalty could come here. That must have been somewhat like it is these days--except now gods and royalty have become rare tourists from far away places.

Pyramids, temples, tombs---these folks sure did things big. Next: Kom Ombo and Edfu. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Incredible Abu Simbel

Check out the man sitting at the temple doorway to get a feel for the
immense size of this achievement.

Ramses II can not be ignored nor his existence questioned. As our guide loved to say--he was The Pharaoh Who Loved Himself and who trumpeted himself as "loved by Amun."Abu Simbel clearly is the most definitive example of this; although, his visage and presence can be found everywhere in the Nubian region of Egypt.

Abu Simbel represents two remarkable human achievements. It was literally carved out of the mountainside, as opposed to being built from blocks of stone in a chosen location, in the 13th century BC--a long time ago. It is actually a complex composed of two temples--the one above which was his and a second one right next door for his favorite consort Queen Nefertari (not to be confused with the more famous Nefertiti.)

Temple of Hathor and Nefertari

Do note though that in Neferatri's facade, there are more representations of Ramses II than of her. Hathor was the "cow goddess of love" whom the queens of Egypt represented.

The carving of these temples out of the rock would be a phenomenal achievement in our century. To have it accomplished 34 or so centuries ago blows the mind.

The second testimony to the ingenuity of man is that it even exists today for new generations to marvel at and enjoy. When the man-made Lake Nasser reservoir was built as a result of the construction of the Aswan Dam across the Nile River, many temples were in danger of being submerged and lost forever under the waters. Through a massive effort on the part of 51 nations and UNESCO many of the temples were relocated either in Egypt or given as gifts to nations who had helped in the salvage.

The most remarkable of these efforts was the moving of the Abu Simbel complex 65 meters up the mountain. This entailed "building" a new mountain including a concrete dome to then be camouflaged to resemble the original hill. Today it appears as if these temples were always where they are now--it is truly an amazing feat of engineering and incredible vision of those who "knew" it could be done. Today the original location is completely submerged under the waters of Lake Nasser.

Backing up a little now:

We flew from Cairo to the small airport at Abu Simbel where we were met by Mustafa who became our driver and guide. He took us to our delightful one night accomodations, the Eskaleh Nubian Ecolodge which is quite unique and, in our mind, special (You might want to spend a minute or two on their website.) It's a far cry from luxury but it seems real. This is Nubian territory and so the attempt of this lodge is to give a flavor of what Nubian is. It also has its own sustainable farming program, growing the produce they use. We found it interesting to watch their farming process which is pretty inventive.

That night we went to the Sound and Light show which is said to be one of the best in Egypt. I can't vouch for that but we thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was well done. Again the dearth of visitors was apparent as the seating area is large enough for 100's of people--bus load--and yet there were only 7 of us. In fact, they normally do not do the show for fewer than 8 but somehow they took pity on us--maybe because they appreciate the fact that some people are not being deterred from coming.

The next morning we were up before dawn to be at the temples in time to see the sun rise on them. The colors change dramatically plus it is fascinating to see how the Ramses II temple was constructed so that the sun would shine directly into the temple--illuminating all the way to the back.

After watching this, we went inside both temples to see the drawings and hieroglyphics from long ago--still brilliant in their colors with battle scenes and story lines easy to decipher. Normally there are lines to go in here--but---it was just we 3, having all the time we wanted to look and explore the little rooms. I did take some pictures (without flash) even though it is now frowned upon. The truth is picture taking has just recently been stopped due to people ignoring the requests not to use flash so, I felt I was not being really bad.

After the morning excursion, we went back to Eskaleh and had a very good breakfast on the veranda looking down to Lake Nasser.

We had a short time to explore the farming process before packing up again and heading to the airport to fly to Aswan and the beginning of the legendary Nile Cruise.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Coptic Cairo, Old Cairo, Casey and Horses

Our time in Cairo was much too short and I would love to go back someday and see more of it; although, with so much of the world unexplored, I suspect that won't happen. Anyway, we had just two days there, plus the first night. This wasn't very much time at all.

The second full day we headed back into the Islamic center of Cairo to the historical Khan el Kahlili souk (bazaar) which goes back to the 14th century. Originally it was a caravan rest stop along the trade route and established what is now Egypt as a major player in the trade business. Today it is a fascinating warren of shops and stalls selling all types of things--much of it aimed at the tourists; however, Egyptians still frequent and shop here. I would have liked more exploration time than we had except for the hawking that is endemic to Egypt.

We did take a rest break at the El Fishawy tea house sandwiched between shops and stalls. We had a good time just sipping mint tea and watching the activity around us.

Us with THE Ultimate Trip Planner Ahmed

From here we went to Old Coptic Cairo which has been a Jewish/Christian center since the time of Jesus. Under the oldest Coptic Church, which was having a service while we were there, it is said there is a cave used by the Holy Family when they fled Jerusalem to escape the massacre of boys by Herod.  We were not allowed to take pictures inside so the outside must do.

We also saw the old Jewish synagogue which is meticulously maintained. As with all synagogues we have visited in our travels, it was necessary to go through a security check in order to enter.

Later we drove into the countryside to the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. This was the first pyramid and, though the largest structure of its time, much smaller than the pyramids of Giza. Originally there was a wall surrounding with a large courtyard and entrance with huge niches for various statues and offerings. Today only a small part remains although archeological digs are exposing more. There is stabilizing work being done, making it difficult to recognize how awesome it would be to see it just rising up out of the desert.

 Once we walked through the entrance hall, Casey spotted horses and convinced us that the camel ride of the day before really wasn't enough. He wanted, really wanted to ride a horse. For a long time his dreams have been a city boy's dreams--to if not own a horse, to at least ride.  Of course, the little jaunt here, being led by the horse's owner, doesn't truly qualify as riding but for him it was fun.

As with so much of what we did in Egypt, there were few people there except for the Egyptians and their horses and camels. The reminders are constant as to the economic hardships those who are dependent on tourists are facing.

On our return to Cairo, we stopped at a little roadside restaurants for a good lunch. Clearly it is meant for tourists as at the stairs leading down, men were playing music--but it was fun. Women, as we saw throughout Egypt, were at the outside ovens making bread.

On a leisurely return to Cairo, it was nice to not be in traffic, we enjoyed the villages and small towns along the way--watching daily life go on around us. We were however, appalled by the dirt and filth along the roadway and the canal that ran along side the road. At one point, we really thought our eyes were deceiving us when we saw three dead horses lying in the water. Ahmed explained that the canal and roadside are cleaned twice a week. There is a current project which covers up the canal and makes very pretty and nice green parkways along the way. It had been finished as we got closer to Cairo and will be a big improvement once it is totally completed. But, one of our take away visuals along with all the wonders we saw is that Cairo is a dirty city inspite of its charms and intrique.

And..that is our brief but memorable time in Cairo--a place in the spotlight these days. We saw such a small glimpse of it that it seems we were hardly there. Maybe a return some day--as I said above.

I need to give kudos to the wonderful Ahmed Hamed Yousif who planned our entire trip, Egypt and Jordan. I can not sing his praises enough. We had several plane flights, a cruise, hotels, guides and other arrangements and all was perfection. Plus Ahmed was our personal guide in Cairo. I highly recommend him to any and all.

Next Up: Incredible Abu Simbel

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Cairo, Camels and Chaos--and Ahmed

After a brief time at the hotel, time to freshen up a little, explore a little, and rest a very little, Mohammed and Mohammed picked us up for a quick drive into Cairo to the Al Ahzar park where we were to have dinner--a gift from Ahmed, whom we still had not met. We were, of course, tired (very) and so did not wander around this huge park area with dancers, strollers, lovers (inconspicuous as this is an Islamic country) as much as we would have liked. We did enjoy dinner at the restaurant at the top of the park with amazing views and then after a quick stroll, back to the hotel--to sleep!! Ah, yes. Except first we went to a Sound and Light Show at the pyramids--a great introduction for the rest of our trip. It was quite good as the lights played on the Sphinx and pyramids--and quite informative. A good history lesson.

Arrival Night

The most amazing eye-opener about that first drive and all subsequent ones was the mind-boggling, incredible, frightful, crazy, bizarre traffic behaviors. The streets are a mix of vehicles of all types and vintages--trucks-piled high with boxes and "stuff", cars, taxis, vans, buses, donkey carts, an occasional camel, horses, push carts and thousands upon thousands of pedestrians crossing and darting where ever and whenever, oblivious to the traffic and near misses. There are no such thing as lanes, or at least ones that are adhered to. Nor are there many lights or signals. When there are, often there is a policeman causing more consternation than if he had not been there. Definitely paying attention to lights is not in the psyche. Vehicles of all kinds try to enter from side streets with no order or means of doing so. Having been in Naples, Palermo, China and other places notorious for traffic nightmares, we still were not prepared for Cairo. Nothing, nothing nothing at all comes close to the 5* chaos there. A true testimony to the skills of our driver Mohammed, we always felt safe and with a master in control--amazing. Oh, as cars pass within milimeters of each other, no vehicle has an intact side.

After a surprisingly good sleep in very comfortable beds, we opened the drapes to gaze, transfixed on the huge Cheops pyramid--a site that always seemed millions of miles away from wherever we were. Now, we could reach out and touch..well, almost.

After breakfast, we were picked up by driver Mohammed and, finally, got our hugs from Ahmed whom we had been corresponding with for months. He has a smile that is warm, friendly and says that you are in for a good time.

Ahmed and Mohammed

After greetings, we trundled into our van, Mohammed motored our way through the streets and we ended in Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Museum. Quiet prevailed. There were no lines at the museum where we were first in. One of the many amazing experiences we had on this trip was being in the room with the riches of King Tut exhibits totally to ourselves--just to wander at will, taking as long as we wanted, soaking it all in. Usually there are snaking lines through this area with no time to absorb.

During the January revolution, Ahmed had been one of the men protecting the museum from looters. He told us the story of guarding the Tut area when he heard a noise from above. Someone was entering from the window at the top of the museum--the floor with King Tut. When Ahmed and others cornered this guy, he told them he was just looking for a bathroom. Funny story.

That night when we turned on CNN, we discovered that later in the day there had been a bloody demonstration in Tahrir Square but, as we soon learned, demonstrations are very localized and the rest of society goes on as usual. We had no clue there had been a problem in the very peaceful place we had visited that morning.

After lunch, we headed back to Giza and to the pyramids. When you look at the slide show to follow at sometime, do notice how uncrowded they were. Tourist are truly staying away from Egypt which is really too bad as so much of the population relies on tourism and, at least in our experience, it is quite safe.

After climbing on Cheops for a while and looking out over Cairo, we drove around to the back where there were even fewer people. It was more desolate (more like you think the pyramids will be) with colorful camels and drivers awaiting the few tourists who might show up--us. Although I had no intention of climbing on a camel, I somehow found myself hooked up with Moses and the three of us were off on an unexpected jaunt. It was an experience--probably one to have as it is so quintessential Egypt--but once is enough for sure.

The rest of the first day was spent at a papyrus place getting a wall decoration for Casey and a jewelry shop as Casey's really wanted a cartouche necklace. I should say, we had to ask Ahmed to take us these places as he does not like to take his clients shopping--rare with tour guides.  Oh yes, we also bought galabeyas for the cruise--you'll see these a couple entries from now.

That night we ate at the very excellent Indian cuisine restaurant at the hotel. It was very good; although Casey's spicy chicken was hotter than he anticipated--much hotter. Amazingly, he kept ploughing through it as the steam poured from his ears. We still hear about it.

And..now you've traveled our first day with us. Camels and all. Tomorrow--Day 2 in Cairo and a slide show.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Cairo, Camels and Chaos--But First the Background

December 26, 2010--we were hit by a lightening stroke of total brillance--why not go to Egypt and Jordan for Christmas 2011? After all, Casey had been mesmerized by Egypt in 6th grade when a teacher brought it alive for him. Ken and I had fantasized about someday seeing this "far away" place ever  since our first encounters with the National Geographic. Thus, in our rather unorthodox minds, it made sense to spend Christmas vacation in these ancient Biblical lands--the lands of Moses and Exodus and pharaohs.

January 18, 2011--having talked with a friend who recommended a great resource in Cairo who would plan our trip for us, having then checked with other people who had used his services and exchanged a convoluted series of e-mails with Ahmed Hamed Yousif we sent a rather hefty deposit via a bank transfer.

January 25, 2011--the Egyptian Revolution erupted in full measure, no little preparatory events leading up to it--suddenly it was just there. People were desperately trying to get out of Egypt, the US State Department was evacuating staff and families, airports were not functioning due to demands, pictures on the internet were intimidating and frightening, camels were being driven through the streets, people were dying. It was a time of confusion.

Our first thought was to cancel our plans so I contacted Ahmed about returning our deposit which could be done by reversing the transfer--I had checked that with our bank. Ahmed returned with a 15 page e-mail (he likes to write) telling us how actually things in Cairo were not unsafe--only in the area of demonstration--Tahrir Square, and that life in general was just moving on as normal. He assured us that there was no reason to cancel at that time and encouraged us to just to wait and see. So....we gulped large and decided to "just wait and see" although it seemed rather difficult to believe what Ahmed was saying.

THE Ahmed 
Can you believe this scene? Where is everybody?

We then made our business class (it is a long ride from San Diego to Los Angles to New York to Egypt) plane reservations using award points. If we decided not to go, we could redeposit the miles (for a fee, of course.) As we would not need to give anymore money to Ahmed until we arrived in Cairo, the most we could lose would be the deposit--so we decided to gamble a while longer. Of course, by now the possibility of trip insurance was nil.

As the months moved on, we had frequent discussions about the wisdom of going--sometimes we were sure we would while other times we were pretty well convinced that it wasn't going to happen.  Ahmed was always encouraging while friends, for the most part, thought we were crazy. Each time there was a new outbreak of violence, the second guessing would renew; however, there was never a time when it seemed appropriate to throw in the towel. The US State Department was just advising to be careful and stay away from demonstrations--well, yeah! If they had ever said not to go, we would have listened.

The upshot of all of this was that we boarded our first plane at 6:41 am on Thursday, December 15 and arrived in Cairo  19 hours later at 11:45  am on Friday, December 16. The flights were easy, Egypt Air business had flat beds so we slept, the food was actually good and the attendants were the best we have experienced in years--harkening back to when it was fun to fly. We were ready to explore and experience.

Mohammed and Mohammed met us at the airport, loaded our luggage into a beautiful air-conditioned, comfortable van and we headed out to Giza and our first hotel The Oberoi Mena House.  We were somehow upgraded to a suite in the old palace part of the hotel--nice! And..this is what we saw from our window...

Breathtaking and surreal.

Next: Cairo, Camels and Chaos and We Finally Meet Ahmed