Cairo, Day 1, Part 1 of 3: the Alabaster Mosque of Muhammad Ali (no, not THAT one)

Cairo, Day 1; Part 2 of 3: The (old) Cairo Museum, not far from Tahrir Square. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the room with everything recovered from King Tutankhamen’s tomb. I was awed to stand directly in front of the famous bust of King Tut with the inlaid stones and gold and alabaster surfaces.

Cairo, Day 1; Part 3 of 3: Khan el Khalili Market

Cairo, Day 2; Part 1 of 3: the grounds of the Step Pyramid. Be sure to read the captions.

Cairo, Day 2; Part 2 of 3: visiting the carpet school

Cairo, Day 2; Part 3 of 3: visiting the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx

Egypt Day 3: Luxor (1 of 2; Karnak Temple)

The day began with a 5am wake up call so we could get some coffee and a bite to eat before heading to the airport for a 50 minute flight south to Luxor.

We left our luggage at the carousel, after verifying that all had arrived, for the cruise folks to deliver to our state rooms. We then headed off to the first of two ancient temple sites, which it turns out are connected by a 2 mile long boulevard lined with 1,054 sphinxes. It took them 70 years to excavate the entire path and just last year celebrated its completion. More on this in the next post.

The Karnak Temple (I kept expecting Johnny Carson to show up) is one of the largest complexes of its kind. It was largely rubble when first discovered and has been carefully reconstructed with work continuing.

There is SO MUCH history I can’t keep it all straight. This temple was begun by Seti I, and later expanded by Ramses III, and has temples to Amenhotep III and other gods. It’s all about celebrating Amon-Ra the Sun God. There are a few captions but I’ll just let you enjoy the images and marvel at the scale of columns, the hieroglyphs, and the amazing reconstruction work.

Egypt Day 3: Luxor (2 of 2: Luxor Temple)

As you saw from the Karnak Temple photos there was bright sun and no wind. It was about 96°, not much shade to escape to, and the pavement radiated heat. Brutal!!!

So it was nice to be delivered to our brand new (this is its maiden voyage) cruise ship, the Viking Osiris for lunch and a nap in air conditioned staterooms.

Then at 5:30 in the evening, when the temperature was now 106°, we took a 10-minute bus ride to the Luxor Temple. This one is more to do with Ramses II, and again has been reconstructed from rubble and vandalism.

Egypt, Day 4: Dendera Temple

Opting not to do the hot air balloon ride, which required a 3:00am wake up and cost $$$ extra, we had a wonderful sleep and leisurely morning.

Once that group was safely back on board (reporting that the experience had been wonderful) we began cruising for the first time heading north for an hour or so. The destination was a small town called Qena where buses were ready to drive us to the Dendera Temple.

While the Karnak and Luxor Temples were amazing, I was even more taken with this experience! Dating from a later period, the Greco-Roman era (332BC-364AD), this temple is more intact and the floors and ceilings, also covered with hieroglyphs, are revealed in a more complete and colorful way. This is in part due to the fact that it is an out-of-the-way place so it was not as ransacked or pillaged to use the rocks for other purposes as the other temples had been.

I’m not sure the photos will give the sense of how impressed I was, nor can I repeat all the stories of the gods represented. But it is interesting to know that Cleopatra VII (yes, the Elizabeth Taylor one) is honored here.

Begun under a prior ruler the temple was completed by Ptolemy, one of Cleopatra’s early husbands. It is a shrine to the goddess Hathor who was the wife of Horas. Horus has his own temple at Edfu, but it was believed that every year they would have a “happy reunion” which was the start of the flood season on the Nile.

Anyway, it is where the resurrection of the god Osiris was celebrated and contains a large map of the sky including the Zodiac of Dendera.

Once again I’ve included many captions to help guide the tour.

Egypt, Day 5: Valley of the Kings

Well, today was a big day on the itinerary.

I was somewhat surprised to have noticed some hills set back beyond the fertile zones on either side of the river as we sailed yesterday. This morning at 8:00 we loaded onto buses for a 45 minute drive to the west side, down and around to the back of one of these hills. It is fascinating how abruptly the landscape changes once you pass beyond the “green zone.”

Now very arid and starkly pale yellow, with absolutely nothing growing, we drove up and through this moonscape to a parking area tucked back in a seemingly undiscoverable place. But it turns out that from the beginning of the era of digging into the sandstone hillsides to create burial chambers for the pharaohs and their families, the locals knew what was here. The looting of the tombs has gone on from the start. In fact some famines built houses on top of the tomb entrances to protect themselves from other vandals as they dug down in search of riches.

It was another 108° day so we were grateful that the visitor center/entrance was air conditioned as we viewed the clever scale model of the valley which labels the 63 tomb entrances and then shows, on the under side, where, in what direction it was dug, and the size of each tomb complex. These are also to scale.

My bus group went first to the tomb of Ramses III. I was surprised at how broad and high the entry passageway was.

Next stop, a bit further up the canyon was King Tut’s tomb. Because of the millennia of looting this particular tomb is such a big deal because when it was found in 1922, it was still intact. The original colors of the paintings and hieroglyphs are present. Everything about the excavation was well documented by Howard Carter and his team. While most of the contents of the tomb are now in a special room (with low lighting) in the Cairo Museum, King Tut’s actual scull and feet bones are displayed here!

Then we drove down and around to the Valley of the Queens where we visited the grand, reconstructed terraced entrance to Hatshepsut’s tomb. She was one of the most powerful female pharaohs, ruling for 21 years, and claimed her authority by wearing men’s clothing, including the ceremonial beard that was tied by a string to the heads of the pharaohs.

Finally the big climactic moment (as if we hadn’t had many already) was the tomb of Nefartiri (not Nefartiti), the favorite of Ramses II’s 24 wives. The name Nefartiri means “the most beautiful of all time.”

This tomb was discovered in the mid 20th century and it too has incredibly vibrant paintings. In fact when it was realized that the presence of tourists bringing humidity and CO2 into the tomb was affecting the paintings the tomb was closed in 1995. Later, the Getty Foundation came in and used a 3% polymer solution to coat the walls to protect them. Thanks to this work in recent years it has reopened. However the number of visitors is extremely limited. It is a big deal that Viking is the only cruise line to secure tickets for their guests.

If you scroll to the bottom you’ll see how our day ended.

Egypt, Day 6: Esna

During dinner last evening the boat left Luxor and began heading south (upstream) eventually going through a lock and then docking on the west bank at Esna.

Our shore excursion today was stepping off the boat directly onto the street at 8:00am (while the temperature was still in the mid-90s) and walking inland for one long block to the Temple of Esna. It is much smaller but has some similarities to the grand temple at Dendera.

By 9:00 our guided tour was complete so I had an hour to roam the streets before the boat departed, exactly at 10:00am, heading further south to Aswan. Sailing the rest of the day, after lunch activities included a falafel cooking demonstration, a presentation on medicine in Ancient Egypt, and a class on hieroglyphics.

Egypt, Day 7; Aswan (1 of 2): Spice Market

Egypt, Day 7 (2 of 2): Aswan outings

You’ve seen my first post from today detailing all the colors of the spice market. On our way there we first drove across the old Aswan Dam on our way to see the new one; the Aswan High Dam. It includes a memorial celebrating the cooperation of the USSR and Egypt in building the dam.

Next was the spice market after which we rode in a felucca—the local, single mast sailboat—back to our cruise ship.

In the evening we went to the sound-and-light show at the Philae Temple. This show was disappointing (I’ve been to some really good ones so jumped at the chance to sign up for this optional excursion) but I’ve included some pics for the color. More on this temple tomorrow as everyone will be given a guided tour during the day.

Egypt, Day 8: (Part 1 of 2) Morning Excursion

The day began with an excursion to see three very different sites unique to Aswan.

We first boarded motor boats for a ride that seemed very reminiscent of the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland on our way to visit a Nubian Village.

Busses met us there to deliver us to the Philae Temple for a more detailed tour than we had gotten during the Sound-and-Light show last night.

From there we visited the Papyrus Institute for a demonstration and shopping opportunity before retiring to the ship for a rest as we cruised to yet another temple ruins.

Egypt, Day 8 (2 of 2): Pon Ombo Temple

After returning to the ship at 1:30 we had time to rest while we cruised north to Pon Ombo. In this case we docked directly in front of the temple site. We stepped off the boat, climbed a few stairs, and immediately began our tour. Good thing we were close to the ship as it was 109°. In fact one of our elderly shipmates nearly fainted and had to be helped back to the boat by the guards that always follow us.

Everyone is getting templed-out. I began posting silly memes because when I get tired the filters go away.

But I’m glad I went because the tour ended with the museum of mummified crocodiles, perhaps the highlight of the day.

Egypt, Day 9: Temple of Edfu

It was our final day aboard the Viking Osiris. Tomorrow we fly back to Cairo where there will be a visit to the Natl. Museum of Egyptian Civilization before our final dinner with the group. I’ll probably post once more, but today is the end of the cruise.

We had sailed from Pon Ombo to Edfu last evening. Our day began with a new form of transportation; horse and buggy rides from the boat about 1.5 miles through the city on unpaved streets to the temple site.

Egypt, Day 10: Cairo Museum

Our final day with the group began with a flight from Luxor back to Cairo followed by lunch at our hotel, this time near the airport.

We truly got our mummies worth in a visit to the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC). The large complex opened two years ago and is not fully occupied yet. We were told that only three of seven galleries are in use at this point. The main gallery offered many riches, however, starting from prehistoric times and included contemporary art as well archeological finds.

But the big draw is the exhibition of 20 mummified bodies including that of Ramses II. Like the room displaying all of King Tut’s belongings at the Cairo Museum of Antiquities, this exhibit was darkened and photos were not allowed. So you’ll have to trust my reporting that it was fascinating to see that these people were not as short as I had expected and many had good teeth. Surprisingly many had hair still attached to the skull, in some cases dyed with henna or with hair extensions. The mummy display is a subterranean series of passageways reminiscent of entering the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.