Sunday, March 8, 2020

Returning Home from Egypt

Our flight from Rome to New York was uneventful and actually fairly comfortable, largely due to the nearly empty flight.  Being so unaware of the impending problems with the rapidly spreading threat of COVID-19, we had no idea at the time why there were so few travelers from Rome to New York.
When we arrived at JFK in New York, we had to make the very long walk to get through customs.  Everyone was hustling to get through the process, and we guessed that we probably walked about a mile to get to customs.  When we got there, we saw a tremendous line of travelers entering the US and waiting to get through customs.  We saw the place for Global Entry card holders and diplomats.  There was no line at all.  We scanned our passports and had a biometric photo taken.  A slip printed out that we carried to the agent who asked if we had anything to declare, then stamped our passports and sent us on our way. The process took only seconds making us very happy that we opted to obtain Global Entry status, and this one trip made the $100 fee and the trip to the TSA facility worth it.
We had plenty of time at JFK to walk around and stretch before our short flight to Cincinnati.  We made our way to the correct terminal, found some recliners looking out over the gates and relaxed as we did our German lessons, checked email and made calls to home.  Text messages and emails from Cindy indicated that their travel wasn’t quite as trouble free as ours, but they arrived home safely and on time. 
The flight from JFK to Cincinnati was not as empty as the one from Rome to New York but certainly wasn’t full.  By that point we were just anxious to get back to our own beds and to get our biological clocks on Eastern Time which would change to Daylight Saving Time in just a few hours after we arrived home.
After deplaning in Cincinnati, we picked up our bags and walked the short distance to the pick-up point for the Hilton shuttle van taking us to get our car through the OneStopParking.  We called the Hilton to assure that the van was still making rounds, and the shuttle arrived to get us in less than 30 minutes returning us to our car.  As with many shuttle drivers we have had in the past, this driver was a character, telling us how ancient aliens assisted the ancient Egyptians and other cultures in the constructions of their cities.
Since we knew that we would be arriving in Cincinnati after 10 pm and that we would be exhausted from the flights, we had considered booking at room at the Hilton or other nearby hotel then returning home after a good night sleep.  However, because the flights weren’t terrible and we were both longing for our own bed, we opted to make the hour drive south on I-75 to Georgetown arriving home around midnight.
We slept well then started to learn about the dramatic changes that were taking place at home and all around the world because of the coronavirus.   We would be entering a time of “social distancing” and quarantines for an undetermined period of time.

When we travel, we like to make note of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that we visited.  On this trip we went the following four UNESCO World Heritage Sites:


Saturday, March 7, 2020

Leaving Egypt

We awoke at 12:30 am, showered, dressed and put the bags out before heading to the lobby of the Intercontinental Citystars Cairo Hotel to meet Mohammed for the short trip in the shuttle van to the Cairo airport. Mohammed gave us a breakfast bag from the hotel for us to eat at the airport. The van driver handed us over to the Road Scholar representative at the airport (also named Mohammed) who took us through the ticketing, bag check in and visa clearance processes, proving translations as necessary. We went through the heavy security at the Cairo airport without problems, at least no more than one would expect in the current times in that part of the world. Our wait for the Alitalia flight from Cairo to Rome wasn’t long, and we enjoyed the sandwiches of spiced feta cheese and processed meat on dense bread and the pastries.
The flight to Rome was fairly full, but it was only 90 minutes. We were fortunate that there was no one in the exit row seats near us, so we volunteered to move which gave the two of us a row of three seats with plenty of legroom. We napped and read on the short flight before landing in Rome.
We noted that we had changed time zones, so that rather than being 6 am as it was in Cairo, it was 5 am. We were fine with the time before we had to board the 12:10 pm flight to New York’s JFK airport. We walked around the airport to get some steps for our fitness bands. Once the need for caffeine kicked in, we stopped at a coffee shop where we saw airport workers getting breakfast, so we knew that it was probably a good place with reasonable prices. Most airport food is incredibly overpriced, especially in Europe so we were happy to find a place where we could get a couple of cups of tea for about 5 Euros (around $6) and would take a US credit card. While we enjoyed the tea, we finished the fruit from the hotel breakfast bag and checked email, did German lessons and talked about out trip. We had a text from Cindy and Mark that they had left Paris and were crammed into seats in a crowded jet for the long flight back.
Mary getting a shoulder rub at Leonardo da Vinci Airport
We did a few more laps in the airport then found the lounge chairs near gate 23. We like these seats because they are perfect for napping and have a nice view of the runways. We read some and napped some before taking one last walk at 10:30 prior to boarding our flight to the US.
Like all of the passengers, we had to go through a screening for coronavirus (COVID-19) before boarding the aircraft. We were surprised that this flight was nearly empty. We were on the right side of the main cabin and were the only passengers on that side. There were eight empty rows (two seats per row) in front of us and ten rows behind us with no passengers. That gave us plenty of room to stretch out and not have to fight for space in the overhead bins.
Our lunch choice was chicken curry with fruit salad, bread and ice cream. We had a glass of Bellini and a glass of white wine then hot tea. We watched the available streaming on the seat screens and did some reading. I watched the most recent Rambo movie, Last Blood then the latest Terminator movie, Dark Fate. I watched most of the Will Smith movie, Ali.  I spent a good deal of time working on the final installments of this travel journal and trying to not nap. I want to be ready for bed when we get home and hopefully back on our schedule soon. We don’t know how the travel across times zones and the “springing forward” to daylight saving time will affect us. We think that the sooner we get back to a normal schedule the happier we will be.
In hindsight we had no idea what changes were taking place in the US and across the world.  While in Egypt, we saw very little news and none from the US.  We had no idea that the coronavirus was having such an impact on life.  We heard about an especially virulent strain of flu that appeared to have originated at a wet market in the megacity of Wuhan in China’s Hubai Provence.  We had been to Wuhan in September and October 2018 and had probably visited the wet market in question, but we never thought that this virus would have such an impact of life around the world.  We were so happy that we did not go to China on this trip. 
That being said, we learned shortly after arriving back in the US, that Italy is an emerging hotspot for COVID-19 and could surpass China in deaths from the virus.  That explained the extensive health screening that we had by US health officials when leaving Rome for New York.  Neither did we know at that time, that New York City would be the most impacted US city by the virus.  We were happy that we returned to the US when we did.  Had we tried to leave Egypt a few days later, our return would have been a much more difficult and protracted process.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Philae Temple and Aswan High Dam

We awoke at 6 am for our last day of travel in Egypt with the Road Scholars Beyond the Pharaohs tour. This has been a fantastic trip, and we have learned so much. The group, Ramses family, has been a very close group; Eman has been an informative and patient leader; and, of course, we always appreciate the time that we get to spend with Mark and Cindy.
Hatshepsut's Unfinished Obelisk
Our luggage was out for the porters early since this was our last time on the Steigenberger Legacy. The early wake up call wasn’t a problem since we were up early as usual to greet the day. Like at home, the sunrise is the best part of the day, and we don’t like to miss it. We watched seagulls feeding on the leftover breads that the crew tossed overboard. There was an interesting mix of gulls, ducks and geese around the ship.
We started our day with breakfast in the ship’s dining area. I enjoyed the foul, a common Egyptian breakfast of fava beans, for the last time as well as other local breakfast items. We were pleased that the meals as part of this tour have been Egyptian foods. We can get familiar American foods once we are back home, but until we return to Egypt, we are unlikely to ever have an opportunity to have foods that people here have every day. We have especially enjoyed the breads and their toppings. On Eman’s suggestion, we would have the Egyptian pie (feteer), layers of phyllo and butter, with something sweet (honey or molasses) and something salty (feta cheese or tahini). We had pita at most or all meals and have enjoyed them a great deal especially since they have been freshly made for us.
Unfinished obelisk in Aswan's quarry
Once breakfast was finished, we congregated in the lobby of the Steigenberger Legacy for our last day of adventure in Egypt. We identified our bags outside the bus so they would follow us to Cairo and ultimately home. We then boarded the bus for our tour of attractions in the Aswan area. Our first stop was the unfinished obelisk that Hatshepsut had ordered to be carved from a single block of Aswan granite. At 138 feet tall, this was to be the largest obelisk ever to be erected, but during extraction, a fatal flaw in the granite was discovered that would prevent the obelisk from standing. Hatshepsut ordered that the unfinished monolith remain in the quarry where it lies to this day. Even after over 3500 years, the marks where the diorite tools carved the obelisk from the surrounding stone are still clearly visible. We watched a brief documentary film on the quarry, then boarded the bus to drive for our tour of the ruins of Philae Temple on an island in Lake Nassar. This temple was one of the ones moved when the rising levels of Lake Nassar threatened to cover the area after the construction of the Aswan High Dam. In fact, these ruins were mostly covered in water from Lake Nassar before preservations efforts could remove and reconstruct the temple a few hundred yards from the original site.
Philae Temple
We rode to the island on a small boat piloted by a group of Nubian men. These fellows were very pleasant and helpful. There were a few vendors onboard offering items made in Nubia as well as guides to identification of birds and plants of the surrounding desert. We bought a map of the Nile that included a lot of information about Egypt and the hieroglyphic alphabet for Peter.
When we got off the small boat, the usual slew of vendors were at the dock leading from the boat landing to the entrance to the Philae temple. There is a difference was in the attitudes of the Nubian merchants. They were the most friendly and polite people you would ever hope to meet. They didn’t pressure tourists the way that we have seen in other places in Egypt and other countries.
Philae Temple
They presented their products and deals and let the buyers decide. We appreciated the respect from the people at the bazaar.
Eman lead us on a tour through the ruins, told us about the history of the area, and directed us to some of the more significant hieroglyphs. She then gave us some free time for exploring and photography. Philae is one of the newer temples that we visited, constructed in the Hellenistic period, around the 6th Century BC, and abandoned shortly thereafter.  The beautiful temple, dedicated to the Goddess Isis, was nearly lost when Lake Nassar began flooding the area in the 1960.  In fact, the temple was frequently flooded following construction of the Aswan Low Dam in the early 1900s.
Cindy at Philae
We spent some time with our friends from Montreal, Bill and Nichole, then walked over to the bazaar inside the grounds where Eman said was the best place to buy spices. Unlike bazaars in most places in Egypt, the prices at here are fixed but are fairly priced. Mary was interested in buying some spices, especially saffron.  The vendor at Philae had several varieties of saffron of varying origin.  We learned that while the Egyptian saffron is good, the best is from Iran.  Mary bought a large bag of the Iranian saffron that, while pricey was still well below what it would cost in the US. In addition, this vendor sold several types of saffron and openly shared the differences in flavor, quality and price of each. She also bought a few bags of other spices without haggling, and the vendor gave her a discount and a complementary bag of honey and sesame coated peanuts. We were pleased to have met the fine people of Aswan and seen the significant historical attractions that the region has to offer.
Philae Temple
One thing that was the same throughout Egypt is the reliance on tips that border on bribes. When Bill was taking a photo of Mary and me, a local man in traditional garb, jumped into the photo with an expectation of a tip. I told him no, and Bill simultaneously put his camera down and shook his head then the man went away. A little later, a police officer carrying an AK-47 offered to take our photo with an interesting panel not otherwise available to the public for a fee. We declined, and he did not persist. The major difference here was that the people going for the tips were not rude or unpleasant, and we appreciate that. As a result, we spent more money here with vendors than we had in other areas of the country. On the walk back to the boat, I bought a nice Egyptian cotton shirt with King Tut’s cartouches embroidered into the pocket. This is a shirt that I will wear and recall fondly our visit to Nubia.
Aswan High Dam
We rode back to the bus on the same small motorized boat with the Nubian crew. They were pleasant and hard working to assure that we had a memorable visit to the area.
Once on the bus we drove over the Aswan Low Dam or British Dam that was built in the late 1800s then on to the Aswan High Dam. This engineering marvel supplies half of all electrical power to the entire nation, as well as, regulates the flow of the Nile to reduce the frequency and destruction of floods on the Nile. We got out and took a few photos of the dams and the Russian-Egyptian Peace Monument honoring the assistance provided to Egypt in the construction of the dam in the 1960s.  Before construction of the Aswan High Dam, annual flooding was a major impediment to development along the Nile River throughout Egypt.  Even after construction of the Low Dam, flooding continued to be a problem.  The Aswan High Dam permitted the level of the Nile River to be controlled but has a negative effect in stopping the deposition of nutrients from the Nile onto the fields on the river’s banks.
Russian-Egyptian Peace Monument
Our bus continued to the Aswan Airport, where we flew to Cairo for our stay at the Intercontinental Citystars Cairo Hotel. Thanks to our Cairo representative, Mohammed, check-in was smooth, and our rooms were beautiful. The porter delivered our bags to the room shortly after we arrived. Although we would only be in the rooms for a few hours, it was very helpful to have a comfortable place to rest before our long day of travel on Saturday. We had a chance to make a few Google Voice calls, send a few emails and shower before dinner.
The evening meal was very pleasant. While we were all looking forward to being back home to see family and friends, we would miss our Ramses family and especially our team leader, Eman. We had a toast to the great memories that we created of Egypt and each other and shared our appreciated with Eman. The meal was very nice with plenty of Egyptian and Mediterranean items. I especially enjoyed the salmon covered in spinach and wrapped in phyllo then baked. My evening was complete with the rice pudding that is so good in Egypt.
After dinner and saying our goodbyes, we went up to our fifth-floor room to finish packing for our return trip back home. Our wakeup call would be at 12:30 am, our bags needed to be outside of our room by 1 am, and we were to meet Mohammed at 1:15 to take the shuttle to the Cairo airport for our 4:15 flight to Rome. We were asleep a little after 9 pm.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Abu Simbel

Nubian boatman steering the felucca
After waking on the Steinberger Legacy, we had a nice breakfast with our Road Scholar Ramses family. Then we met Eman to walk the short distance to the dock where we boarded a felucca, a traditional Nile sailing boat that has been used in Egypt for thousands of years. 
Mark & Cindy on the felucca
Because there was so little wind, our felucca was towed by a small motorized boat. We went along the cataracts of the Nile at Aswan, passing by the Elephantine Islands whose large boulders appeared like the body parts of elephants to the Egyptians. As we sailed, small children in canoes who would paddle up to our boat. They held squares of cardboard in their hands to use as paddles and could make their small boats move quickly. These canoes were hardly more than surfboards.
Nubian children coming to our felucca
Once alongside our felucca they would sing traditional Nubian songs, as well as songs that they thought we may know, asking for tips. The boatmen sang and danced with our group for tips then brought out items that were made in small Nubian villages for sale. Mary bought a pretty hematite necklace for herself and a carved wooden crocodile for Peter.
Performance of Nubian songs and dances
We came to shore near the historic Cataract Hotel where Agatha Christie lived while her husband was working as an archeologist. In this hotel she wrote her novel, Death on the Nile. We had watched the movie staring Peter Ustinov only a few days before leaving for this trip.  This is the area where there were rapids or cataracts in the Nile River required adjustments to river traffic before dams controlled the flow of the Nile River.
Outside the Seti Hotel
We boarded a bus that took us to the Aswan Airport, where we would fly to Abu Simbel. The aircraft was small, and our group of 16 comprised most of the passengers, so we had plenty of extra seat room. The flight took less than an hour and brought us into the heart of Nubia. As we flew, we noticed that there was nothing but extreme desert all around. We wondered how people could have colonized this barren area in ancient times.
Great Temple of Abu Simbel
A motor coach picked us up at the tiny Abu Simbel airport and took us to the Seti Hotel for lunch. This is a beautiful spot on Lake Nassar with carefully landscaped grounds and three inviting pools that look out over the lake. Our lunch was quite good and included foods prepared slightly differently that we have had them in other areas of Egypt.
Ramses II slaying his enemies
After our lunch we boarded the bus, and Eman told us how the temples of Abu Simbel, as well as several others, were threatened with flooding from the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s. An international effort was launched to save these precious artifacts. A problem was that much of Abu Simbel was monolithic, made from a single huge block of sandstone, and would be impossible to move in one unit. The solution that the team found was to cut the temple into blocks that could be moved by machinery and reconstruct the temple on higher ground that would not be flooded as Lake Nassar was formed.
Ramses II defeating his enemies
The Temple of Ramses II was constructed around 1244 BC and celebrates his victory over the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC.  The larger temple was dedicated to the Ra and deified Ramses II.  The smaller temple was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramses favorite wife, Nefertari. Her name translates to “beautiful companion,” and she was highly educated.
We checked in at the temple entrance, going through the usual security scan that is at the entrance to every attraction in Egypt. Because Abu Simbel is just so far south, just a few kilometers from the Sudan border, the temperature gets very hot. Even though it was an early March day, the temperature was nearly 100 degrees. While a nice breeze helped, the standing in the sun was very uncomfortable. Several in our group opted to take the golf cart from the parking lot to the temple, which was a great idea for those in our group who are less mobile.
Great Temple at Abu Simbel
The scale of the Ramses II Temple is unbelievable. Because this monument was carved into a cliff, the engineering to move the huge blocks of stone is impressive, but the construction of the artificial mountain housing the temple was even more astounding. Using multinational support from UNSECO, teams of archeologists were able to slice each element from the original temple in order to relocate where it would not be covered by rising Lake Nassar.  Between 1964 and 1968, following the construction of the Aswan High Dam, the 40-million-dollar project moved the entire complex to the present site at the edge of Lake Nassar, out of harm’s way.  An artificial mountain was created with an internal steel framework into which the giant stone sections of the temples were placed.  We found the place to be amazing, and it explains why Adu Simbel is one of the most visited places in Egypt, second only to the pyramids of Giza.
Sanctuary in the Great Temple at Abu Simbel
The Great Temple (Ramses) stands nearly 100 feet tall and over 100 feet wide with two colossi of Ramses on either side of the entrance.  Smaller statues depict Ramses defeating his enemies, the Hittites, Nubians and Libyans.  The temple is oriented to the east so the sun shines directly into the sanctuary of the Great Temple on February 21 and October 21 to illuminate the interior statues of Ra-Horakhty, Ramses and Amun-Ra.  A third statue of Ptah, god of the underworld, is never illuminated at any time and is kept in constant darkness.
Smaller Temple at Abu Simbel
From the Ramses II Temple, we walked the short distance to the Nefratari Temple. Although the temple was smaller than Ramses, the statures and hieroglyphs were similarly impressive. This temple is 40 feet high and nearly 100 feet wide.  Three colossi on either side of the door depict Ramses and Nefertari.  While three of the six colossi were of Ramses and three of his queen, Nefertari, it is important to note that statues of queens were almost always much smaller than those of the kings.  However, in this case, all colossi were 32 feet in height.
We walked back through the ever present bazaar outside of tourist attractions and to the bus.  A few of our group bought things, but most of us had become skilled in rejecting the vendors.  We learned to avoid eye contact, never point at item that is for sale and to haggle with persistence, not hesitating to walk away.  As we saw earlier, the vendors in Nubia are far less pushy than those in lower Egypt in the Cairo and Alexandria areas.
Mary & Cincy in the Nubian Desert
Rather than flying back to Aswan, we rode our coach north through the desert. The terrain looked like we expected Egypt to look, flat with sand dunes everywhere. This scope and desolation of the area amazed us.  We stopped at an oasis in the desert to get drinks or snacks then to continue north toward Aswan. While stopped, we took the opportunity to walk out in the desert and look around.
We arrived at our ship, the Steigenberger Legacy, around 7:30 pm and made our way to the last dinner onboard the ship. The meal of Egyptian food was very good as always. There was a show of traditional Nubian music and dance in the bar area, but Mary and I elected to shower and turn in since we were very tired from the travel and heat. We also needed to pack for our departure from the ship and have our bags outside the door by 7 am.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Edfu and Kom Ombo

Towel crocodile
We generally slept well on the Steigenberger Legacy last night, although we were awakened a little after 3 am when the ship went through on the locks on the Nile. We managed to get back to sleep, but I don’t think restfully. We were awake well before our 6 am wake up call.  We were still chuckling over the towel figurine of a crocodile left on our bed by the ship’s housekeeping team.
Carriage ride to Edfu
We were expected to depart the ship at 7:30 to explore the Edfu Temple, but the ship was delayed at the locks and was only able to moor after 8 am. Unlike our outings in Cairo and Alexandria, we did not have a bodyguard with us at Edfu.  We walked down the gangway off the ship and up the bank to meet the carriage drivers who would transport us to the temple by horse. Our driver kept the horse at a gallop and made very good time getting to the site from the ship. He even agreed to take a few photos for a small gratuity. We met with the rest of our team outside the temple grounds then walked through the ever-present vendors at the bazaars outside the temple on our way to the pylon.
Pylon at Edfu
This temple to the falcon god, Horus, is a nearly complete temple that was constructed during the Hellenistic Period of Egyptian history. This is when Alexander the Great’s rule extended into Egypt.  The Temple at Edfu is believed to have been completed in 57 BC, relatively recently when compared to other sites we visited.  
Over the centuries the temple was nearly completely covered with drifting desert sand and silt until it was discovered in 1798 by French explorers.  Only a small tip of the giant wall stuck up from the accumulated silt, sand and homes that had been built directly on top of the temple. Nearly 40 feet of sand accumulated between the homes and the ruins. Excavation began to uncover the temple in the 1860s.  After many years of excavation, archeologists learned that the accumulated, wind-blown sediment had protected the temple from weathering, which makes this one of the best preserved ancient Egyptian sites.  Edfu has only become a major tourist attraction in the last 15 years or so, and research continues to make the site more historically significant.
Hypostyle at Edfu
Because this temple was constructed by the Egyptians during the Ptolemaic Period, the figures are far less detailed or accurate There wasn’t much color, whether the pigments hadn’t yet been applied or if they had weathered away. 
Most of the damage to the temple was done when the Coptic Christians came to the temple in 391 AD and attempted to remove any figures of the pagan religions. The heads of Isis, Osiris and Horace have been defaced and even removed in some cases. Panels that are higher on the pylons and walls escaped much of the intentional destruction.  A number of panels tell stories of Egyptian mythology, which shed great insight into the beliefs of the Egyptians of the time.
Barque at Edfu
Perhaps one of the most interesting things at Edfu was a replica of the nearly intact solar boat that was found in the “Room of the Gods.”  The original boat (barque) is now in the Louvre in Paris.  Like Khufu’s solar boat that we saw in Giza, this vessel would have been to carry the pharaoh’s spirit into the afterlife.  We spent about an hour at the site and took a lot of photos.
Statue of Horus at Edfu
We were happy that we went to Edfu early in the morning since the temperature got to the mid 90s by the time we left. We are in the south of Egypt where the temperatures stay very hot all year long. We left the site around 10:30 and got our horse drivers to take us back to the ship. There was a tour by the captain of the ship’s bridge and galley, but we elected to sit up on the observation deck. 
The Nile is a very different river than when we were on it yesterday. We are above a couple of locks. We believe that the river is cleaner, and the Nile Valley is much more narrow than in Lower Egypt. We saw several flocks of geese and many wading birds such as herons, egrets, and ibis. Cindy and Mary played cribbage while Mark and I watched the bank and occasionally snoozed. Local fishermen on small boats waved as we passed, and we watched farmers moving cattle to fields along the river.  Because we had been so busy the day before, we welcomed a more relaxed day.  Our outing to the Valley of the Kings had been quite a day, so we appreciated the time on the ship to discuss what we had seen and consider our observations in the context of Egypt at the time.
Cobras at Kom Ombo
We went to lunch at 1 pm in the ship’s dining room then returned to the observation deck where Mary, Cindy and Nichole played Mexican Train Dominos. Mark and I watched television until it was time to prepare for our afternoon outing to the Temple of Kom Ombo
Our ship was still behind schedule because of the wait at the locks last night, so we waited until the ship docked along the Nile River at the small Nubian town of Kom Ombo.  We disembarked for the short walk to the temple dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile god, which is best known for the display of crocodile mummies. 
As we walked to the temple, the usual street vendors were pushing their wares. This spot seemed to have more children working to sell the items of clothing, books and cheap Chinese made jewelry. There was even a man with a couple of cobras. For a tip he would let visitors take a photo of the snakes. For a larger tip you could hold the snake for photos. The snakes almost certainly had their fangs removed.  While at Kom Ombo and throughout Nubia, we did not have nor did we feel the need for a bodyguard.
Kom Ombo Temple
The temple is small but attractive. It suffered damage in recent earthquakes, one of which took a large section of roof down. Like the Temple of Edfu, Kom Ombo is a more modern structure that was built in the Hellenistic Period, probably from 332 BC to 47 BC.  Additions to the temple were made as late as 395 AD to honor the falcon god, Horus.  There were many carvings of Sobek, Horus and other prominent Egyptian gods. The site was very busy with visitors, and areas got crowded as the evening waned. Eman pointed out panels showing the surgical tools that were in use in the Aswan area over 2000 years ago. There were even panels telling proper procedures for surgery.
Horus and Sobek at Kom Ombo
As the sun was setting, we went to the Nilometer that measures the volume of the Nile River and determined the tax that farmers paid for the use of the water by the farms. The Nilometer looked like a large deep stone-lined well. We walked by the roof sections that had fallen to see the hieroglyphs and ornamentation up close
We made it to the crocodile mummy museum after dark and walked around mummified crocodiles of all sizes. The museum only permitted cell phone photography; we were only there a short time since the museum was very small.
Crocodile mummies at Kom Ombo
We walked back through the gauntlet of vendors. Both Mary and Cindy bought a few Egyptian scarves from the street vendors for prices ranging from $4 to $10. Once at the ship we prepared for dinner in Egyptian costumes. Mary had on a nice pair of slacks and a middle eastern looking shirt. I had a black galabayya with gold trim that I bought for $10 from the canoe sellers as we traveled up the Nile . I also had one of the nice El Gazela scarves that I bought and a turban from one of Cindy’s scarves. I looked like Johnny Carson as Karnak the Magnificent.
Mary & Steve on the Steigenberger Legacy
Dinner was a middle eastern meal, and many on the ship were dresses in some sort of Egyptian attire. We decided to pass on the after party in favor of going up on the observation deck so Mary and Cindy could play cribbage. The 90 degree day had cooled down nicely, which made for a pleasant close to the day. I was happy to get out of the Egyptian clothing and back into shorts and tennis shoes.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Valley of the Kings

We were up early because we knew hot air balloons would be launching on the West Bank of the Nile in Luxor. We were up on the observation deck by 5:30 am and watched as 12 balloons of all colors and designs rose up and drifted down the Nile River. We saw a thick layer of smog over the fields on the western side of the river. The air was cool, which caused fog to rise over the warm water coming from equatorial areas in Africa. This fog met with the smoke from the sugar cane fields that were being burned in preparation for replanting to create the thick smog. We watched with binoculars for about 30 minutes then came inside to shower and prepare for breakfast and our trip to the Valley of the Kings.
Road Scholars Ramses Family at Hatshepsut;s Temple
We have come to enjoy a couple of Egyptian favorites for breakfast.  In addition to the feteer, we have developed a taste for the seasoned soft cheeses that are eaten on wedges of fresh pita.  We also came to enjoy the foul or ful (pronounced fool) that is very reminiscent of Mexican refried beans.  Locals mix a variety of spices and garnishes on this dish of mashed fava beans for any meal, but it is especially enjoyed at breakfast.
Valley of the Kings
After breakfast, we were in the lobby of the Steigenberger Legacy by 7:15 am and had water bottles, cameras and binoculars ready. Along the 40 minute drive Eman told us about the burial sites at the Valley of the Kings. The tombs are only open a few days a month to reduce the impact of visitors on the hieroglyphs and to assure that the air quality in the chambers is healthy for visitors.  The tombs that were open each day rotate to allow visitors who wish to see all of the tombs an opportunity to do so with a multiday visit.
Workers digging at the Valley of the Kings
We learned that kings had placed their bodies in conspicuous pyramids for several dynasties but came to realize that thieves would break into the tombs soon and would steal all of the items with any value. In fact, most of the burial chambers in the pyramids were robbed within a few years of burial. Therefore, in the 1500s BC. - 18th Dynasty, Pharaoh Amenhotep I decided to have his burial chamber hidden in an obscure mountain region. His advisors pointed out that the isolated mountain was a natural pyramid and that little had to be done to dig tunnels deep into the mountain to prepare chambers for burial and the accompanying artifacts to carry the king into the afterlife.  Since the underlying mudstone was easy to dig and provided an excellent cover for the tombs the area was used for burial of many pharaohs and nobles from the 16th to the 11th Century BC.
Inside the burial chamber of Ramses IV
The guides are not typically permitted in the burial chambers since they tend to hold people longer as they explain the hieroglyphs and discuss their meaning and history, The guards only allow a small number of visitors to enter the tombs at any time and frequently evacuate the burial chambers when the air quality diminishes. The carbon dioxide detectors in each of the burial chambers let the security guards know when to move people out.  When air quality dips, the guards clap as a signal to move out of the tomb.
Mary at the tomb of Ramses IV
Eman took us to the tomb of Ramses IV, where she talked with us outside the tomb, letting us know which hieroglyphs to especially notice. I had purchased a photography pass for an additional fee which, permitted use of a camera in most areas of the Valley of the Kings. We walked down a long ramp deep into the tomb and viewed the symbols on the walls then walked around the sarcophagus of Ramses IV before having to exit when the air quality fell below allowable levels. Some of the paint on the walls was still very vivid and in good condition. There was surprisingly little vandalism in this tomb.
Cindy & Mark inTausert & Setnakht tomb with a local photobombing for a tip
From there, our group split up based on preference and level of  exertion to enter the tombs. Our passes allowed us to enter three tombs, and we purchased a separate ticket for the tomb of King Tut. We elected to go to the deepest and furthest burial chambers of two rulers, Tausert (a queen who ruled from 1191-1189 BC) and Setnakht (1189-1186 BC). Setnakht is believed to have initiated the construction of the Karnak Temple, which was completed by his son, Ramses III.  The narrow, winding tunnel led down over 500 feet into the mountain to the two burial chambers. This is believed to have occurred when Setnakht usurped the tomb of Tausert and extended it to include his own burial chamber.  These areas have some of the best painting on any site we have seen. Because the entrance to the tomb was so far up the mountain from the visitor center and the tunnel down from the entrance to the burial chamber was so long, few visitors choose this to visit. Although this tomb has been known since antiquity, it was not excavated until the mid 1980s.
Inside the tomb of Ramses III
Our last tomb, before we went to King Tut, was for Ramses III who ruled from 1217-1155 BC. This tomb was much like the tomb of Ramses IV with many of same scenes and about the same quality of preservation. There was a moderate amount of walking, not nearly as much as the two queens but more than Ramses IV. The temperature outside today was approaching 90 degrees, but the inside of the tomb seemed even hotter since there was no air moving and people had been going in and out all morning.
Tomb of King Tutankhamun
Out final visit was to King Tutankhamun’s tomb. This was the smallest tomb that we visited with the shortest passageway. All artifacts, jewelry and furniture, as well as, the sarcophagus have been removed. Most are in the Egyptian Museum, but some items tour the world visiting many museums. King Tut ruled as pharaoh for 19 years until his death at 19 years of age in 1324 BC.
Walls in King Tut's tomb
Because this tomb wasn’t discovered and opened by Howard Carter until 1922, the quality of the artwork and artifacts was pristine. Tut’s mummy was laid out showing the resemblance to his father, Akhenaten who had very feminine features. We were not allowed to photograph the mummy. Even though photographs were prohibited in the tomb, we were able to bribe the security guard to let us take photos in the tomb although not of the mummy.
Tomb of King Tut
Because the discovery of King Tut’s tomb was in modern times, there is a lot of folklore surrounding the tomb.  Howard Carter’s sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, visited the tomb after Carter’s discovery then died shortly thereafter.  This has led to the “curse of the mummy” myths that anyone who enters a pharaoh’s burial chamber will die.  There was also a belief that Tut was murdered by priests who didn’t agree with the religious beliefs of his father.  Current thought is that the hole in the back of Tut’s head was made during the mummification process rather than as evidence for foul play.
Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
We reconvened with the group and boarded the bus to drive past the tombs of priests and workers as well as the Valley of the Queens to the Temple of Hatshepsut. This three level temple was a shallow temple built into the face of the mountain. Because the stepson of Hatshepsut became ruler after her death, he had much of her temple destroyed. Eman took us around and pointed out significant features. We saw the remains of henna trees that Hatshepsut brought back to Egypt from Punt (now Somalia) in the 15th Century BC. There were several panels documenting her trip to Punt to trade for rare items to bring back to Egypt. Eman is very knowledgeable about Hatshepsut and her importance to the country.
Henna brought to Egypt from Somalia
Across the road from Hatshepsut’s temple was the complex where the archeology team from Poland lived and worked in the 1940s when much of the work in the area was being done. Their working conditions were difficult, but the 1940s were good years to be out of Poland. They made remarkable accomplishments during the time they were there, and really set the process of restoration and preservation into motion.
Colossi of Memnon
We got back on the bus and rode the short distance to the Colossi of Memnon, two giant statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III standing at the edge of the dessert. These 60 foot tall statues of Amenhotep III are believed to have been erected about 1350 BC.  These two huge sandstone figures are believed to have been quarried near Cairo and brought over 600 kilometers up the Nile to their present location near Luxor.  We were amazed that the huge stones could be moved that far with the technology of the day over 3000 years ago.  A lot of art and hieroglyphics covered the bases of the figures, but we didn’t stay long and got back on the bus for the drive to the University of Chicago Oriental Institute and Epigraphy
Speaker from Chicago's Oriental Institute
This group has had a presence in the Luxor Valley for nearly 100 years recording, photographing and documenting the ruins in the Luxor area. A faculty member told us how they photograph the art then an artist adds lines on the features of the art to deemphasize distracting features. The line drawings clearly show the characters in each panel, even better that having a photograph. The nonprofit center publishes their results online in pdf format for free download. We had a walk around the grounds and viewed the wide variety of Egyptian and imported trees. After we had all of our questions answered, we started for the return drive to the ship.
Panel of Anubis from Hapshepsut's Temple
Because we knew that our morning would be long, we packed some fruit from the breakfast bar for a snack. We also had the bottles of water from the bus, as well as, one from our room on the ship. We arrived back on the ship around 2:30 pm and set sail shortly heading south up the Nile toward Edfu and Kom Ombo Temples. Lunch was the standard fare that we have come to expect on the ship. It is tasty and well prepared Egyptian and middle eastern food.
We had some free time after lunch as the ship sailed up the Nile so Mary, Cindy and a member of our group from Montreal played Mexican train dominoes. Mark and I chatted with the three ladies from California and enjoyed the moving air on the sun deck of the ship. Although the temperatures were in the 90s, the movement of the ship up the Nile made the dry desert air seem cooler.  We relaxed and chatted for most of the afternoon, occasionally spotting a bird or something interesting on the shore through binoculars.
Before dinner, we went to the captain’s greeting and cocktails. We were introduced to the staff of the Steigenberger Legacy and given some information about the ship. We were served complementary cocktails, but most of them were completely undrinkable. Some were absolutely nasty. I don’t believe that anyone finished their drink, so Eman had the ship’s bar prepare rum and cola for us which was a little better. We went to dinner at 7:30 and sat with our usual friends from New York, Montreal and California.
Steve in a galabayya
By the time we finished dinner, there were vendors outside our ship. These local businessmen fill canoes with shirts, towels, tablecloths and galabayya or jellabiya to sell. After tying their canoes to the ship, they show an item then pitch it up on the fifth floor sun deck from their canoes that are being towed by the ship. If anyone is interested in an item, they put money in a plastic bag and drop it back down to the awaiting vendors. I was looking for a locally made Egyptian scarf and an inexpensive Egyptian men’s galabayya, so the guys were throwing clothes into Mark and Cindy’s fourth floor cabin window with remarkable accuracy. I bought some scarves that I liked and a cheap galabayya, but they kept throwing things in until I closed the window and pulled the blinds. From up on the observation deck, I watched them selling to other passengers. All of these vendors speak perfect English, German, Spanish and Italian. They are very persistent in selling their items, but they are willing to negotiate. The two scarves that I wanted started at 900 Egyptian pounds (about $57) but came down to $30, about 450 Egyptian pounds. The money was worth it, if for nothing but the entertainment value. While the galabayya is cheap, the scarves are Gazelle brand, which are made from high quality Egyptian wool and are worn by many local men.  I figured after the party on Wednesday night I would bring the galabayya home to offer to Ian for a costume.  If he can’t use it, then I will give it to church for one of the wise men for the City of Bethlehem show at Christmas time.
The ship was waiting in line to go through the first lock on the Nile, so we went to our stateroom and turned in for the night.