Saturday, February 29, 2020

Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

We awoke to the alarm at 6:30 and got our showers before packing our bags for the bus ride back to Cairo. We put the checked bags outside the rooms at the Hilton Alexandria Corniche for the porters at 7:30 and went to the lower dining area for breakfast. Again, the front desk said that “my colleague” (Michael League) would pick the bags up.  We had more Egyptian and Lebanese favorites like feteer meshaltet (layered phyllo with butter) with alternating bites of salty feta cheese and sweet cane molasses. We also had pita bread with tahini, yogurt and cheeses. We had local guava and tangerine juice and hot tea to drink.
We were on the bus before 8:30 then Mary remembered that she had left some clothes in the closet of our ninth floor room of the Alexandria Hilton Corniche. She ran up and quickly retrieved her items, and we started back south toward Cairo for our visit to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.
We made a quick stop along the way at an oasis where many in our group purchased coffee and several bought snacks to share on the bus. One of the most popular was the feteer meshaltet, a pizza shaped pie that was layers of buttered phyllo. Someone else bought baklava and kataifi which were very good. We all have been enjoying the Lebanese pastries made with phyllo, honey, nuts and semolina.
Horse carts still travel in modern Cairo
Lunch was at a very elegant restaurant on the fourth floor of a Cairo building in the Cairo business district. Like several other meals in Northern Egypt, this was a Lebanese lunch. The appetizer was a selection of cold salads and fresh pita breads. The main course was moussaka over white rice and dessert was “the three sisters” of Lebanese pastry.
Mask of Yuya
Our bus released us outside the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, while Eman and our bodyguard got the tickets and camera permits for us. The museum is very much an “old school” museum with lots of artifacts crammed into a small space, with poorly labeled displays and with inadequare lighting. It reminded us of the museums we visited in the US as children. Of course, all of this will change in a few months when the new Grand Egyptian Museum opens in Giza.
We were amazed at the immaculate state of preservation of artifacts that were nearly 5000 years old. Schist carvings going back to 3000 BC were as polished as if they had just been produced in a modern factory. Our guide, Eman, did a great job of explaining the history of each item including things like the symbolism of position of hands. We saw examples of some of the first know hieroglyphics and statues of many pharaohs, kings and queens, as well as, servants and common people. The volume and significance of items displayed in that space was staggering.
Photographs were not permitted in three rooms: the King Tut room, the room with King Tut’s jewelry and the mummy room. The King Tut room contained each of the chambers that were taken from his tomb. Some were constructed of ebony with turquoise and ivory inlays; others were covered with layers of gold. The nesting caskets were like Russian babushka dolls with one ornate casket inside another. Many of the headdresses and other artifacts were also on display. The jewelry room had countless items ranging from necklaces and rings to ornate serpent crowns.
Mary with sarcophagus
The mummy room included twelve preserved remains of pharaohs, kings or high officials. The mummy that attracted the most attention was that of the pharaoh that is thought to be Ramses II, the pharaoh in power at the time that Moses led the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. The preservation was remarkable especially considering that these mummies are thousands of years old. The skins were blackened from the application of preserving oils, but the hair and facial features were remaining.
Cat on a panel at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

It was apparent that a major change was underway because many items were being prepared for removal from the museum to the new Grand Egyptian Museum scheduled to open in late 2020. This modern museum is directly across from the Steigenberger Hotel where we stayed in Giza. The new museum will be a little over a mile from the pyramids at Giza.  Not only does the new museum have many more square feet of display space, but it will include technology to immerse visitors in the history and culture of Egypt, ancient and modern. Egyptians officials hope to someday recover important artifacts, like the Rosetta Stone and treasures from tombs that are in London, Berlin and other cities, to put on display at the new museum. To support the state-of-the-art museum, a new airport is under construction near Giza that will eliminate the lengthy drive through terrible traffic from the existing airport in Heliopolis. A Chinese type bullet train is planned from New Cairo to the existing city center, and upgrades to the highway system are being planned.
The new Grand Egyptian Museum will sit on 120 acres, will have nearly 500,000 square feet of display space and can accommodate up to 15,000 visitors per day.  The $800 million anticipated construct cost of the museum is not only borne by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.  Many nations including the US, Canada, Great Britain and France are providing funds to preserve and display ancient artifacts that are important to all of humanity.
View of Cairo across the Nile River
We took our coach to the Cairo Intercontinental Semiramis Hotel on the Nile River. Our sixth floor room had a great view of the Nile River. Because our hotel is in the embassy district security was very strict. We were not permitted to bring our binoculars onto the hotel property, so we left them with Emam, the bus driver. Whenever we entered the hotel, we had to go through multiple security checks.
Our rooms were very nice with comfortable beds, bathrooms that included ample showers and a bidet, and then, of course, the great Nile view from our balcony. We knew that we would be comfortable for our two nights here.
To get out before dinner, the four of us thought we would go for a walk along the Nile River. Joining us were Marcia and Jean from California and Bill and Nichole from Montreal. We walked to a bridge across the river then crossed and came back to the hotel in a loop. We all enjoyed the company and conversation as we worked up an appetite.
Sunset at Cairo
Dinner at the hotel buffet was very good. We had selections of Egyptian and Mediterranean dishes followed by the popular middle eastern desserts. The four of us ate with Bill and Nichole then our guide, Eman, joined us. We were looking forward to the trips for Sunday, so we made our way upstairs to visit with Mark and Cindy for a while then to go to bed.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Around Alexandria

We both slept very well at the Hilton Alexandria Corniche  and didn’t awaken until our alarm sounded at 6:30 am. It isn’t often that we sleep that late, but we both needed the sleep. After a shower, we went to the hotel’s breakfast area and enjoyed many traditional Mediterranean breakfast items as well as a pot of tea. We didn’t have to be on the bus until 8:30, which gave us a little time to prepare for the day.
Citadel of Qaitbay
 We drove through Alexandria toward the peninsula that had held the ancient Alexandria lighthouse. As we traveled we noted that, like Cairo, many buildings in the city appeared to be simultaneously being built and demolished. There were luxury buildings housing 21st century high tech companies then people on the street in front of the building with a donkey cart selling roasted corn over a wood fire.
Mark & Cindy at the Citadel of Qaitbay
The site, where the Alexandria lighthouse stood from 284 BC until 1323 AD, now holds the Citadel of Qaitbay. The citadel was built in 1477 and used many of the blocks of Aswan granite from the ruins of the lighthouse, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1323. We were happy to get to the citadel when we did because many families and groups of students come to the citadel to spend the day. Since the weekends in Egypt are Friday and Saturday, many Egyptians go out to local points of interest on Friday and Saturday. The citadel gets very busy later in the day but was not bad when we were there. We walked to the top of the fort and looked over the Alexandria Bay at the city, seeing the Alexandria Bibliotheca in the morning fog. The weather was just perfect with the warm sun, temperatures in the mid-70s and a light breeze. 
Tomb at Kom es Souqafa
Because we had such a full itinerary, we didn’t stay long at the citadel before moving on to the catacombs of Kom es-Souqafa. They were the burial spots for wealthy Egyptians in the 2nd Century AD. This area consists of tombs carved into the bedrock more than 100 feet under the city of Alexandria.
Catacombs at Kom es Souqafa
There were hundreds of bodies in the tombs, some with ornately carved stone sarcophagus and relief carvings on the area around the tomb. The tombs were largely unknown until early in the 20th Century when a donkey fell into a hole. That event led to the discovery of the shaft leading to the catacombs. Once our eyes adjusted to the low light level, we enjoyed seeing the ancient burial spots beneath the city.
Roman auditorium in Alexandria
From the catacombs we went to the Roman auditorium in Alexandria. This space was hidden under Alexandria until the 1960s. Once excavation began, archaeologists found a well-preserved area for performances or public meetings that included space for a choir, a stage and audience seating for over 800 spectators. Just outside the auditorium were public baths and other structures built while the Romans occupied Alexandria. We enjoyed walking around the area and looking at the limestone, marble and granite blocks that made up the structures which were largely intact after these thousands of years. We especially like an area called the “bird room” where the  mosaics, dating back to the Roman occupation, are well preserved and retain their bright colors. One group of the mosaics showed  colorful birds that were common in the area at the time.
From the bird room of the ancient Roman Auditorium in Alexandria
After leaving the Roman theater, we drove to the Alexandria National Museum that houses artifacts from the pharaonic period as well as the Islamic periods. We saw well preserved statues of many Egyptian pharaohs and their contemporaries. There were stone and wooden carvings that represented the kings but also of the tasks of daily life. One floor of the small museum was of the Islamic period with artifacts from more recent Egyptian history while another floor had Egyptian textiles. Although the museum was small, it was well displayed, and we wished for more time to enjoy the artifacts and informational signage.
Queen Hatshepsut at the Alexandria National Museum
From the Alexandria National Museum, we drove back out on the peninsula to the Fish Market restaurant for lunch. We had a salad followed by light seafood soup then the main course of grilled sea bass and fried calamari. Dessert was a cup of mixed fruit with a scoop of fruit sorbet. Being on the shores of the Mediterranean, Alexandria is known for excellent seafood. The meal was well prepared and delicious. We had a good view of the Alexandria Bibliotheca since the morning fog had lifted. It was nearly 3 pm by the time we finished lunch, and we were ready to go back to the hotel and relax.
On the short ride back to the Alexandria Hilton, we gathered our strength and decided to go for a walk on the corniche along the Mediterranean in the opposite direction of last night’s walk. Two of the ladies from Southern California decided to come with us on the walk, and we were happy to have the company. We walked along the busy street for several miles past the large Four Seasons Hotel before stopping for a coffee and coming back in time for the evening speaker.
We went straight to the meeting room on level B1 of the hotel to hear a speaker from Alexandria Dive share his experiences finding ancient lost treasures in the Alexandria Bay. He said that most important finds have been in less than 20 meters of water and that artifacts from thousands of years ago, like Cleopatra’s boat, to more recent items, like World War II weapons, have been found in the shallow waters of the bay. We all enjoyed the talk very much.
After the speaker we went to the Hilton Alexandria Corniche’s Lebanese restaurant for dinner. We had a very good lentil soup with cumin and other spices. The main course was beef kofta with a light gravy, steamed vegetables and a pressed cake of brown rice. Dessert was a Lebanese semolina cake with honey and orange called namoura. It was all very good, and no one left hungry. By the time dinner was over, we were ready to wind down before going to bed.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Alexandria Bibliotheca

Neither of us slept especially well, probably too hot to sleep and the Cairo street noise was loud. We were awake by 2:30 am and tried to get back to sleep for over an hour but eventually gave up and busied ourselves in the room. After showering and cleaning up, we packed for the trip to Alexandria. We went to breakfast around 6:30 and ate with Bill and Nichole From Ontario. We went back up to our room in the Steigenberger Hotel to clear the safe and check out when we discovered that we were unable to get the room safe open. We got the hotel staff up to try the electronic pass key, but it didn’t work. They tried replacing the batteries in the keypad, again with no success. They ended up pulling the safe from the wall, knocking holes in the back of the safe and using a long screwdriver to take the door off. It was quite an ordeal. We tipped the workers, extracted our cash and passports from the safe and headed for the bus to meet the group who had been waiting for us. As in our other Cairo trips, a bodyguard was on the visits with us.  In addition, any time that we entered any hotel or attraction, there were security guards and metal detectors.  The hotels typically have dogs that sniff the bus before we can enter the grounds.
Monastery of St. Bishoy
Mary and Cindy talked and played cribbage on the bus ride to Alexandria while Mark and I watched the passing landscape or snoozed along the way. Our first stop was at a Coptic Christian Monastery at Wadi El-Natron. This church was founded in the 4th century AD, and many of the church’s structures, artifacts and iconography are original to the church and are 1600 years old. Many worshipers come to the monastery to pray at the body of the church’s founder, St. Bishoy.
Worshipers at the body of St. Bishoy
The body is wrapped in an ornamental weaving and located in a place of prayer. A monk from the church gave us a tour of the facility and told us a great deal about the history and beliefs of the Coptic Christians. After we left the monastery, we walked around the bazaar just off the church grounds. A vendor had parrots and monkeys for sale, and one monkey took a liking to Mark and expressed interest in going home with him.
Mark with a friendly monkey
We boarded the bus and continued north to Alexandria where we stopped the Cecil Hotel, an elegant old hotel that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. We had a first course of crepes stuffed with cabbage and other vegetables. The main course was veal tips in a phyllo cup with ornately served mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables on the side. Dessert was a chocolate mousse with dark chocolate shavings on top.
Our next stop was the new Bibliotheca Alexandria. This beautiful new library opened in 2002 and is a state-of-the-art library that replaced the original library that the Ptolemies built thousands of years ago. Guides at the library took us through several of the displays and special exhibits. Everyone was impressed with the library and wished we could have stayed longer.
Alexandria Bibliotheca
Our hotel, the Alexandria Hilton Corniche, is very nice and conveniently located on the Mediterranean. Our ninth floor room has a nice water view, and the bed is comfortable. We were surprised that the rooms all have ash trays and matchbooks on the tables, which is something we hadn’t seen in a long time. We also noticed that each piece of permanent furniture had an arrow on top indicating the direction of Mecca. We saw a walkway along the sea across from our hotel so we went out for a long walk before dinner. We stayed out until nearly 7 pm when we went to the private room in the hotel’s Lebanese restaurant to eat with the group. Dinner was souvlakia, chicken on a skewer, with an assortment of breads and potatoes. Dessert was a plate of assorted traditional Egyptian desserts, many of which are made with honey and crushed nuts.
Mary & Cindy at sunset on the Mediterranean Sea
We are hoping to get a good night’s sleep. Mary and Cindy played cribbage in the room while I wrote the journal and did my German lessons. We are looking forward to going back out in Alexandria tomorrow to see some of the area’s attractions.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Necropolis of Saqqara

We awoke a little before our 6 am alarm and prepared for breakfast and the visits of the day. We met Cindy and Mark in the dining room of the Steigenberger Hotel. I enjoyed the assortment of middle eastern breads and condiments as well as the fresh local citrus and melon.
Entering the Pyramid of Teti
We boarded the bus at 8 am and drove to Dahshur, a major necropolis of the Old Kingdom. This area holds some of the oldest pyramids going back as far as 2600 BC. We first visited the Pyramid of Teti which is in the necropolis of Saqqara. The pyramid is believed to have been constructed in the 6th Dynasty and was about 172 feet tall. However, there has been a great deal of erosion giving the pyramid the appearance of a pile of rocks in the desert. We entered the pyramid by walking down a steep and narrow ramp that was less than four feet high. The ramp was about 70 feet long and was sharply sloped downward to the floor of the pyramid. 
Stars on the tomb ceiling
After entering we were in a small chamber that opened into the burial chamber that had a much higher ceiling with hundreds of stars. The empty sarcophagus was still in the room, but this solid stone box had been opened by grave robbers many years ago.  Although the exterior of the pyramid is in poor condition, the paintings and hieroglyphics are in excellent condition.
Well preserved hieroglyphs 
From there we went the short distance to a mastaba tomb that was a bench tomb mostly above ground.  This type of burial predated pyramids and was used in the Old Kingdom around 3000 BC.  There were many panels on the walls that depicted daily life in the area at that time. We were amazed at the number and quality of carvings on the walls; some of those panels were carved into the plaster that was coated on the rock walls. Especially impressive to us were the depictions of Nile animals. There were carvings of all manner of fish, hippos, crocodiles, birds and other life forms on the anime valley. We learned that the ancient Egyptians always made people look more perfect than in actual life. Stylized figures were all slim, muscular and fair featured. The carved figures in this tomb were so detailed that the muscles in the legs, detailed nails on hands and feet and hair or wigs. Many of the figures still had a great deal of the pigments that were originally applied when the tomb was constructed about 5000 years ago.
Step pyramid of Djoser
We then went to the nearby Pyramid of Djoser, a step pyramid which predated the traditional pyramids. Prior to the step pyramids, rulers were buried in simple above ground bench structures. Pharaoh Djoser instructed his architect, Imhotep to build a tomb that was unique and greater than the bench tombs. Imhotep proposed a series of six steps that would be a stairway to heaven for his spirit. This pyramid was constructed in 27th Century BC during the Old Kingdom, 3rd Dynasty.
Bent Pyramid of Sneferu
From there we went to the Bent Pyramid which, in 2600 BC, was the first attempt in constructing a pyramid with smooth sides in which the steps were covered. Pharaoh Sneferu wanted the sides of the pyramid to be at a 54-degree angle but when the pyramid was about half completed, the instability and developing structure damage was noticed. At that time, the rest of the pyramid was built at 44 degrees giving the structure a bent appearance. Because the pyramid wasn’t perfect, the king ordered another pyramid, the red pyramid, to be built nearby that has 44-degree sides throughout.
We had time to walk around these pyramids and take photos. Since there was nothing to see in any of these pyramids, we chose to not go into either pyramid. We had seen the interior and burial chambers of other pyramids with well-preserved arts and sarcophagus. There were not many tourists here since we were not at the height of the tourist season.
Road Scholars at Pyramid of Djoser
We finished the day by touring the Imhotep Museum which has only been open since 2006 showing artifacts that Imhotep influenced. We were so impressed with the state of preservation of the wooden and plaster items. Since there is so little rain and groundwater, things don’t tend to degrade like in most areas of the US. Imhotep was very skilled in many areas but is best known for his architecture and engineering.
Necropolis of Saqqara
We went to the Saqqara Necropolis which was built perfectly symmetrically. We walked down the entrance with 11 columns on each side to a large courtyard. The legend was that a new ruler had to enter the courtyard with a bull and run the bull down and capture it to prove his strength.
While in the courtyard Mary was taking my photograph when a flock of Egyptian men in traditional clothing jumped into the photo then insisted on a tip for having their picture taken. These people are very skilled at getting money from tourists.
We drove back toward the Steigenberger Hotel in Cairo and stopped for lunch at a small local restaurant, El Ezba. When we entered, we walked passed women making pita breads and singing in the traditional ululation style. The pita breads were inflated to the size of footballs and nicely toasted.
At the restaurant we had an appetizer of pita bread with tahini, baba ganoush and eggplant salad. The main course was a small charcoal grill with beef and chicken all nicely seasoned. There was also rice and small bowls of very good stewed vegetables. We had an assortment of traditional Egyptian confections for dessert.
Ululation and making pitas
A number of cats were around the restaurant that were looking for scraps of food. They looked pretty rough, like they seldom get a decent meal. There was also a small boy with a pony who was offering tourists to ride or take a photo with the pony for a tip. Like many public places, a child was in the restroom area offering toilet paper for a tip.
We got back to the hotel by about 3 pm so we went out for our usual afternoon walk. The main road was very noisy with auto traffic and motorists blowing horns. We decided to get off the main road and walk through the residential area which was a lot more pleasant. We saw a few people out walking or working in the yard. There were still a lot of feral dogs out in the streets. These dogs are not very friendly and often carry diseases. We didn’t approach any of the dogs, but when I pointed to one, he assumed a hostile posture and began barking.
After our walk, we cleaned up for the evening speaker and dinner. We went to a nice meeting room in the adjacent hotel and heard a teacher from one of the Cairo International Schools educating us on Islam. She did a nice job of explaining the origin of Islam and the fundamental beliefs. She closed by discussing the beliefs held by most Christians that Muslims do not respect women and are terrorists.
She said that the Quran dictates the equal rights of women and the ability of own and inherit property, to choose a mate and to become educated and employed. She said that some Muslim cultures take measures that go beyond the stipulations of church law. For example, the Quran instructs women to dress modestly. The women who wear the veils are trying to exceed the requirements of the church law and to hopefully get a better place in heaven. Like many religions, women are required to wear a head covering when entering a mosque or other holy place.
She cited verses in the Quran that run counter to many preconceptions about terrorism indicating that ISIS and other extremists are not following the Quran’s commands to treat all cultures as valuable and to not kill another human. It was all very informative. The Q & A following the talk started to drag, so we excused ourselves to dinner and had a nice meal from the buffet consisting of Egyptian meals. We wanted to get to bed early since we needed to have our luggage our for the porters before 6:30 am. We will be leaving the Steigenberger Hotel in Cairo and heading toward Alexandria.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Great Pyramids of Giza

We both slept well but could have slept even later had we not set an alarm on my cell phone. After getting so little sleep on Sunday night we were happy to get a full night on Monday.  The seven hour difference in time between Cairo and Eastern US time made it challenge for us to adjust.
When we looked out of the window of our room at the Steigenberger Hotel, we were surprised to have a balcony looking out over the Pyramids of Giza. We didn’t realize how close our hotel is to the pyramids.
We met Mark and Cindy in the dining area of the hotel. There was a good mix of traditional Egyptian and western breakfast items. We enjoyed the cooked cereal grains and fresh fruits for breakfast. We had only a few minutes to come back to the room to get ready for our outing for the day. We were to meet our guide, Eman, before 8 am to hold a preliminary group discussion before we board the bus. We thought we were going to have to have the hotel open the guest room safe for us, but we managed to enter our code and retrieve our cash for the day. When I asked the clerk at the front desk about the safe, I thought she said that “Michael League” would be up to check on it.  It was only later in the week when another hotel employee said that Michael League would be up to get our luggage that I figured out that they were saying “my colleague” would be doing something.
We had a short meeting with the trip leader to learn more about the plans and expectations and to meet the other participants in our group. There were four clusters of people: a group of seven from the Albany, NY area, the four of us, three ladies from Southern California and a couple from Montreal. Everyone seems very nice, although like some other trips we have taken, we are the youngest people on the tour. We ran to an ATM at the hotel to change some US dollars into Egyptian pounds as soon as the meeting was over.
We boarded the bus at 9 am and met our bodyguard for the trip. We took the short ride to the area of the three large pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx of Giza. Eman purchased our passes, and we passed through security to enter the grounds of the pyramids. We heard about the history of the pyramids, the pharaohs and the people who built them. We learned that the builders were not slaves but were well paid and had benefits. We saw evidence of the mud ramps that may have been constructed to allow the large stone blocks to be transported up the pyramids.
We were able to go up to the pyramids and even climb up on them a short distance. The close tolerance of the individual blocks was impressive since each huge stone was individually carved to fit a certain spot in the pyramid. We learned that there were four areas of a pyramid complex: the ramp, embalming area, the funerary area and the burial pyramid. The ancient Egyptians didn’t believe in death but that the body and spirit would be temporarily separated until the spirit returned to the body and restored it. Since Eman was educated in archeology and was a former student of Dr. Zahi Hawass, the well-known Egyptologist and former Egyptian minister of antiquities, she was well versed to educate us on the history of the area.
We walked around several areas of the pyramids and took a lot of photographs. We found a few places where we could stand and have great views of the Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure.  There were a lot of vendors trying to persuade us to buy trinkets, books or other items. Others tried to get us to take pictures for a tip of few dollars. Eman advised us to not purchase anything from street vendors but to get mementos from reputable shops that have items that may cost a little more but will be made in Egypt rather than China.
We went to an area near the pyramids and took a ride on camels out to the pyramids. The Dromedary (one hump) camels kneeled for us to mount using a single stirrup. The camels raise their hind legs first followed by the forelegs. It is a very unsteady feeling, especially when the animal is tilted very far forward before the forelimbs have raised. My camel, Casanova, was very well behaved and took my commands well. The camel livery man didn’t have me stay in the string of camels but allowed Casanova and mw to ride around a bit. The camel herders took photos of us on our camels then started us back to the rental area. The four of us really enjoyed the camel ride, although many people in our group were anxious over being on such a large animal. I didn’t get the feeling that anyone else in our group had ever ridden a horse before.
After we returned the camels, we took the bus the short distance to the solar boat museum that housed the 143 foot long boat that was constructed to carry pharaoh Khufu into the afterlife. Actually, this is one of five identical boats for that purpose. Five were built so there would be backup boats in case some were discovered or destroyed. This boat is built entirely of cedar wood imported from Lebanon over 4500 years ago. Many of the cedar planks are gigantic in both length and width. The boat was discovered in 1954 in a stone enclosure that was covered with 22 large stones forming a cap to the container. The boat was remarkably well preserved with all of the wooden pieces intact and reassembled. Even the ropes made of twisted grass fibers that hold the oars in place were in good shape. Only one of the 12 huge oars was damaged. Most wooden and rope components look as though they could be made seaworthy easily. Not bad after being buried for over 4500 years. Like most places we visited in Egypt, we had to pass through security including a metal detector and x-rays of our bags.  However, we also had to wear large canvas overshoes to prevent marring the floor of the museum.  We found wearing the oversized shoes to be comical making us look rather duck-like.
We then drove to the Sphinx of Giza. The area around the Sphinx was the quarry where stone was cut for the construction of the pyramids. While the Sphinx appeared small when compared to the Pyramid of Khufu, it is actually 66 feet tall and 240 feet long facing directly west to east. Because the limestone of the Sphinx is not very durable, it has been badly weathered. In addition, there has been damage from vandals and robbers for thousands of years. Like many of the other features of the area, the Great Sphinx was built around 2500 BC.  We walked around and took photos before boarding the bus back to the Steigenberger Hotel.
We had a nice lunch at a private area on a sunny deck at the hotel. We had fresh flatbread with tahini and other spreads, grilled chicken, shish-kebab beef and seasoned ground beef called kofta. For dessert we had a large cup of diced local fresh fruits topped with ice cream.
We feared that we would just fall asleep if we went back to the room, so we went out for a walk near the hotel. The main highway was very noisy with motorists constantly blowing horns. There were all sorts of cars, trucks, donkey carts and all other means of conveyance that made the walk deafening. Because of the noise we cut our walk short and came back to the room where Mary and Cindy played cribbage until time for our evening speaker.
The speaker was in the meeting room space next to our hotel. He a geology professor at American University at Cairo who is an authority on the Nile River. His shared his knowledge on the history of the river and the importance of the river to the economy, history and culture of Egypt. He also discussed the changes that came as a result of the Aswan High Dam and other methods to control flooding of the Nile. He was a very interesting speaker, but we were so tired that we didn’t get to be as attentive to his talk as we otherwise should have been.
We got to dinner a little before 7:30 and had a good assortment of Egyptian meal items and good tea before heading into bed.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Arriving in Cairo

As we were preparing for landing in Rome, Cindy was digging in a little used part of her carry-on bag and found her phone and wallet. We guess that the battery was dead before she missed it since we called it several times while in the JFK airport the evening before. In any case, she was happy that she didn’t have to cancel credit cards and get her driver’s license and Global Entry cards replaced.
We arrived in Rome on time and found our way to our concourse for our flight to Cairo. They do not post the departure gate until 75 minutes prior to departure, so we waited in the general area after going for a walk around the airport. Our flight loaded quickly and made a departure only slightly later than scheduled. The small airplane was full and the seats were not as roomy as the larger aircraft that we took to Rome, but since the flight was less than 4 hours we didn’t mind much. The lunch that was served onboard was very good with a selection of soft cheeses on breads, fruit cups and sweet treats. They offered Italian wine that served a large tumbler at no additional charge.
Flooding in the streets of Cairo
On arriving in Cairo we were checked by the Egyptian Quarantine Team for the coronavirus. We had to fill out forms on our health history and where we have traveled recently. After passing through that we were met by the greeter from Road Scholars who took us through the process to purchase Egyptian travel visas. We picked up our bags quickly and made our way to the van that would take us on the 90-minute drive from the airport in Heliopolis to the Steigenberger Hotel on the west of Cairo. However, the rain and traffic in Cairo required a change in plans. Each year, Cairo gets 10 centimeters of rain. Seven centimeters of that rain fell in a three-hour period today. While traffic in Cairo is always a mess, being out during rush hour on a Monday when most streets were flooded was impossible. Cars and scooters were submerged, stalled and incapacitated making the problems even worse. Everyone constantly blows horns and weaves in and out of traffic with no regard for safety. Several times, pedestrians, donkey carts or scooters darted right in front of our van. It was amazing the police were mostly ignored and no one was moving.  We spent a lot of time just sitting in traffic or moving a less than five miles per hour. The 90 minute drive to the hotel in the Giza region of Cairo took well over four hours.
View from our hotel room
Upon arriving at the Steigenberger Hotel we were met by Eman Elmaleh, the trip director and Mohammad, the Cairo contact for Road Scholars. Both were very welcoming and helpful making sure that we were prepared for the days ahead. After getting into our rooms. we had dinner in the hotel dining room. The food was mostly Egyptian items, and we all found things that suited us. We were pleased that the buffet had a good variety and was well prepared but wasn’t obscene like some of the places we visited in China or Germany on other trips.  We chatted briefly with three ladies from Southern California who had also arrived late and were eating a late dinner in the Steigenberger dining area.
We turned in as soon as we got to the room and slept well since neither of us had much sleep the night before. We were very much looking forward to tomorrow when we will be visiting the pyramids and the Sphinx here in Giza.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Leaving for Egypt

We left home around 9:30 am to make the hour drive up I-75 to the Cincinnati airport. We parked at our usual source OneStopParking at the Hilton off Turfway since we can park for about $5 per day and the free shuttle is reliable. Our drive was uneventful, and the short trip to the airport from the Hilton was pleasant since we rode with two pilots how shared interesting stories of some of their pleasure travels.
The Global Entry pass was great since we went straight through airport security with no line then didn’t have to take shoes or jackets off. We also didn’t have to take anything out of our carry-on bags. We had some time in the airport before our 2 pm flight departed so we ate the lunch we packed and walked around between the concourses until our flight to New York.
We got to JFK airport a little ahead of schedule and waited for Mark & Cindy to arrive. They had come to New York a few days earlier and had taken time to visit a few sites including the memorial at the site of the World Trade Center. They met us at our gate then we went to one of the airport vendors for dinner, Mary & I had salads then split a sandwich. Mark & Cindy were not very hungry because they had eaten a large lunch while sightseeing earlier, so they just had a snack.
After leaving the airport food court and returning to our departure gate, Cindy realized that she had lost her wallet and cell phone. She and Mark ran back to the food court and bathroom to search for the missing items with no success. The wallet had her credit and debit cards, driver’s license, Global Entry ID and several hundred dollars in cash. She was pretty disappointed to have lost them but was glad that she had put her passport in her carry-on bag and could board our red-eye flight that was leaving at 7 pm.
Our flight was uneventful with Mark and Cindy in the seats behind us on the flight. The seats were fairly comfortable, but neither of us had much success in getting much sleep. I watched “The Current Wars” and a little of the animated “Addams Family” movie. Mary watched “Maleficent 2” and Amazing Grace, the Aretha Franklin documentary which she enjoyed.  We tried to sleep some but without much success.