EGYPT: TOMBS, TEMPLES & TUTANKHAMUN

IMG_0236 2Our visit to Egypt was like a whirlwind. Three days in Cairo at Le Meridien to get acclimated, 12 days in the South Sinai Peninsula (Dahab) at the Red C Villas, 3 days in Luxor at Mara House and 3 final days in Cairo at Giza. Our Giza Airbnb dwelling was literally a few blocks away from and faced the pyramids! On our first day back in Cairo, we rode horses (even Grace had her own horse) around the pyramids and drank Bedouin tea at sunset marveling at the incredible desert landscape all arranged by our Airbnb host (Ashi) he even joined us on the ride. We hired 6 horses and there was a surprise guest a four month old colt. Nearing the end of the ride the girls asked the colt’s name and the owner said he hadn’t named it and would they like to chose a name.  The name chosen was Charlie after our friends’ Great Dane  they are about the same size. The girls had fun posing for photographs against the awesome pyramids in the background with our horseback guide who also joked that he was a ‘professional photographer’.

We spent three very full days with an excellent tour guide visiting the temples and tombs in and around Luxor. The tour guide was arranged thru Mara House where we stayed in Luxor (maraegypt@gmail.com). We met an interesting pair of fervent travelers from Melbourne, Australia that were also staying in the guesthouse (John and Nicole).  They are teachers on an extended summer vacation leave. We found them to be very pleasant and interesting people.  They also have a travel blog (a bit more polished than ours that you may want to check out (bontakstravels.com). We had many interesting conversations with John & Nicole enroute to our ancient destinations in and around Luxor which also included a relaxing evening short felucca (boat) trip on the Nile. The first day of the tour was to the Valley of Kings. A very desolate but strangely peaceful place where 64 tombs have been discovered to date, including the tomb of probably the best known pharaoh (at least to westerners) of Tutankahmun. This tomb was discovered with all of the pharaohs afterlife treasures intact. Our tour guide, Mohammed, explained that the tomb was actually dug into the rock below another tomb and went undiscovered by the looters who managed to plunder the treasures in most of the other tombs thru the ages.  The fascination maybe even obsession that the ancient Egyptians had with the afterlife is hard to put into words. The dedication to their task of recording every detail about their beloved pharoahs lives and preparation for the ‘afterlife’ in hieroglyphics meticulously carved into granite is certainly remarkable. Every surface of the massive stone columns and walls in the temples even the ceilings are covered with hieroglyphics. I asked our tour guide if he was able to ‘read’ hieroglyphics and he explained that it was indeed part of their extensive study to become a tour guide. I asked Mohammed if he worked any other jobs when he does not have any bookings for his services as a tour guide (I ask a lot of questions). He explained that working multiple jobs is strictly forbidden in Egypt. A tour guide can only be a tour guide. Opting for another career or occupation would require him to relinquish his license. Egypt has high unemployment and I assume this is the reason for such a draconian law.

One can certainly read about all of the enigmatic places in ancient Egypt and watch documentaries but they really are worth experiencing in person. As a structural engineer, I admit that I was awestruck at the sheer magnitude of these architectural works that have survived for over 4000 years and marvel at their construction. How did they quarry the massive stones from Aswan (some 200 kilometers away) and send them down the Nile? I am sure that they didn’t have carbide drill bits, diamond tipped bandsaws or dynamite which are commonly used in modern quarrying operations. Ok, somehow the massive blocks made it to the temple (or tomb) site. How did they stack, align and level the stones so precisely? I looked but could find virtually no gaps in the stone joints (and no mortar). I also couldn’t help but imagine just the logistical challenge of directing the craftsman who were charged with the arduous task of carving the thousands upon thousands of complicated hieroglyphics into the hard stone to complete the project.

 

I am certainly grateful to the people of Egypt who have become such good caretakers of their ancient archeological wonders. At the same time, I have to admit that it was a bit unnerving to see so many armed military personnel at practically every one of the sites that we visited in Luxor and Cairo.  There were armed guards at numerous check points on the roads and at every monument entrance. I was wondering if their presence was really to thwart any potential attacks on tourists or just to keep unruly tourists in line (I did not see any). I sensed that Egyptians are very much used to the overbearing military presence and consider it normal to their way of life in the 21st century.

I also did not understand the ban on cameras in many of the temples and tombs. These are 5000 year old carved stone edifices which I don’t think would be harmed in the least by a cellphone camera. I asked our tour guide about this policy, I did not receive a satisfactory answer.

I have had a long fascination with the pyramids that probably started when I first read the book ‘Pyramid Power’ (published in 1973). I was 20 when I read it along with several other books that were published shortly after. I built scale model pyramids out of glass, metal and wood so that I could do some of the ‘pyramid power experiments’ outlined in the book. I have always been interested in the esoteric subject of ‘sacred geometry’ and for me, the pyramids  belong in this category at well.

Our ‘Pyramid and Sphinx’ day was spectacular. The weather was perfect, a dappled partly cloudy sky and very agreeable temperature. Our Airbnb host had just acquired his guide license’ a week ago and offered to arrange transportation and to accompany us this day. Fatma also accompanied us. (Tiffany and Scarlet first met Fatma last March on their previous mother-daughter trip to Egypt). We were unrushed and spent several hours at the pyramid. We all went inside the Kings Chamber (even Grace) in the largest pyramid at Giza (which requires an extra ticket in addition to the general entrance admission). (Although other rooms have been found, I think that the Kings Chamber is the only area accessible to the public.). If you are claustrophobic, I probably would not recommend this. We were fortunate enough to be in the Kings Chamber alone with our family and just one friendly security guard. I can’t say that I had any visions or other paranormal experience while in the solitude of the massive stone crypt but it was an amazing experience nonetheless.

IMG_0251We ended the day with a tour of the Sphinx. A very strange creature carved out of one gigantic block of sandstone that to me seems strangely out of place here. Our tour guide explained that the Sphinx is much older than the pyramids. (I have read that there is a no clear consensus by the ‘experts’ as to when the pyramids were built, much less as to how they were built.). 

We decided to leave our Airbnb early and spend the last day in a hotel nearer to the airport. Our next big trip is to Hong Kong and we wanted to get plenty of rest for the almost 13 hours of travel ahead! Stay tuned for more travel adventure updates.

A special thanks and mahalo to all of our dear friends and family and the new friends that we have made along the way that are keeping up with us on our journey.

Bernie & Tiffany

 

 

88 days in Europe

I started to write this post on the 88th day of our European adventure but Tiffany & I did not get to finish it until we were already 5 days into our Egypt trip. I am amazed at how quickly the first three months of our trip abroad has elapsed. In our ‘unplanning’ of this adventure before we left Maui, we had anticipated spending the allowed 90 days in the EU – Schengen Area with the normal visa. We booked our first destination on the Azores Island of Ponta Delgada in Portugal.  Practically every onward destination from there has been made without any premeditation or planning! In our 87 days, I estimate that we have traveled approximately 12750 miles (20400 km) by planes, trains, cars, subways, electric trams, taxi cabs, buses, tuk-tuks, cable cars and horse drawn carriages. I am not including the many hours (and distance) that we covered on foot exploring our surroundings whenever we landed in a new destination. I am pleased to report that there were relatively few complaints from our three girls (10,7,6) when we went on our many self-guided walking tours whether it was thru narrow city streets or nature trails. We often went on these walks with no particular agenda, purpose or map (not even ‘smartphones’!).  Our EU adventure included 5 countries (Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy and Malta). We stayed in Ponta Delgada (Azores Islands of Portugal), Lisbon (capital of Portugal), Sintra (Portugal), Porto (Portugal), Madrid (capital of Spain), Barcelona (capital of the Catelonia Region of Spain), Vallirana (Spain), Vilanova i la Geltru (Spain), Nuremburg (Germany), Rostal (Germany), Palermo (capital of Sicily, Italy) and the Island of Malta.

 

We have lived in 10 residences (houses and apartments) that we booked thru Airbnb or Booking.com for usually one to two week stints. The rent varied considerably from $47 per day to $167 per day. Occasionally we have also stayed in hotels for a few days usually on impromptu extracurricular adventures. We have rented cars in Portugal, Spain and Italy. The renting part is easy and fairly inexpensive. It’s the driving part that was occasionally very challenging! Some of us have shopped (of course!). Shopping for clothes and other must have ‘treasures’ (and sometimes homeschool supplies or art projects) requires creative repacking of the suitcases each time that we move on to the next destination. It has also required us to mail packages home in every country. This seemingly simple task has been challenging in some countries (and expensive). We have posted some of these stories in our blog. Since I have to work at my consulting structural engineering practice while traveling to pay for our life abroad this year, I rely on the internet to communicate with my clients (most of whom are located in Minnesota). The reliability of the internet and WiFi systems in the residences and even hotels where we have stayed has been very poor to very good.  We have become quite comfortable using local public transportation (buses, trains & subways). Deciphering the schedules has been challenging at times but we have managed to not get ‘too lost’. Since we have been living in houses and apartments, we have shopped in the local grocery stores and street markets (which seem to be everywhere in Europe). By and large, we have found that prices for food staples, cosmetics and toiletries are significantly less than in U.S. stores for similar or the same items (we are getting majorly ripped off in the states!) For example: Byly natural effective deodorant $15 US (amazon) €1.67 in Spain, Baguette  $4.99 (Whole Foods) €0 .65 any country we’ve been). The same can generally be said for normal restaurant prices across Europe. All in all, we have found Europe to be a relatively good bargain for international travel.

We interviewed our girls Scarlet 10½, Eleanore 7, and Grace 6 to get their views on our travels thru Europe. Here are their words (mostly unedited):

Questions:

  • What was your favorite Airline?

Scarlet: Nile Air (fast service gave you food on a 40min flight)

Elle: WOW ( I like how it sounds, purple plane), Delta (Maui airport because it has a Starbucks)

Grace: Night Flights because its dark and you can see out the widows and it looks pretty

  • What has been your favorite place we have stayed?

Scarlet: Nuremburg Apartment…why? cozy, warm, good beds and good places to walk to (Hot Tacos)

Elle: Lisbon Apartment, Madrid Apartment (4bedroom), Le Meridien Hotel (Cairo, room service and a heated pool)

Grace: Sintra House (with the musty cups, because I could watch the trains go by) and our current villa in Dahab

side note: I find that small children tend to remember the most recent things best.  There fore including some things that were not technically part of Europe.

  • What was the thing you enjoyed most that we have done?

Scarlet: Shopping with family, Lion King in Madrid, Madrid Zoo

Eleanore: Bird Show at Madrid Zoo

Grace: Feeding the Cats in Sicily, being chased around by a little Spanish boy at the Airbnb in Vallirana, Spain, Lion King Madrid, Aquarium Malta, Esplora (Malta)*

*If you get a chance, Esplora in Malta is an incredible interactive children’s science museum and Planetarium. The best we’ve seen anywhere in Europe or even in the states!

  • What was the most boring thing that we have done so far?

Scarlet: Cleaning

Eleanore: Post Office

Grace: Prado Museum, Madrid

  • What was your favorite mode of Transportation?

Scarlet: U-bahn Germany (took only a few minutes to get somewhere)

Eleanore: Tuk Tuk, Portugal

Grace: U-Bahn (subway, big tunnels, underground, cool)

  • What was your favorite food experience?

Scarlet: Hot Pot, Madrid (where you cook your own food at the table in a boiling cauldron called a Hot Pot, we were hoping for familiar Chinese dishes and instead had platter and platters of uncooked unidentifiable food brought to us and had no idea what to do with it. Tiffany’s Comment)

Eleanore: Wendy’s pancakes in Minnesota (my mom’s best friend) “Wendy’s pancakes are so good”

Grace: All you can eat Sushi in Sintra, Portugal and 3 course menu in Spain

  • What was your worst food experience?

Scarlet: Hot Pot, Madrid “It was fun cooking it, but not fun eating it”

Eleanore: Popeye’s Village Hamburger, Malta

Grace: couldn’t come up with any

  • What was the best dessert you had on this trip?

Scarlet: anything chocolate

Eleanore: Plain Mango ice cream, Nuremburg

Grace: “I don’t know because there are so many to choose from.” Store bought Neapolitan   and Stracciatella Ice Cream, (Lidl Grocery, Sicily)

  • What was the worst dessert that you had on this trip?

Scarlet: Yogurt flavored ice cream, Madrid

Eleanore: Nutella Street Crepe, Dahab Egypt (again most recent not Europe)

Grace: Banana Street Crepe, Dahab Egypt

  • What was your favorite purchase?

Scarlet: “I like it all”

Eleanore: Stuffed Cat Steiff Germany

Grace: Snow Dog stuffed animal in Barcelona Airport and Penguin stuffed animal at Malta, Aquarium

  • What was your favorite animal encounter?

Scarlet: Pandas, Madrid Zoo

Eleanore: baby twin goats, streets of Dahab Egypt

Grace: Cats at the Baglio in Sicily

  • What was the best park that we played at?

Scarlet: German Park next to Norma Grocery Store

Eleanore: German Park next to Norma Grocery Store

Grace: Sea Park, Aquarium Malta

  • Where was your favorite place that we visited?

Scarlet: Germany the house, temperature (coming home to a warm house), people were nice and it was pretty

Eleanore: Minnesota (to see Wendy and Cash and the uncles John and Pete) North Dakota (to see Grandma Stroh and Zoe)

Grace: Minnesota (Wendy and Cash, good food, good pool, good waterslide), North Dakota

  • What was the most beautiful thing you saw in nature?

Scarlet: Falling leaves in Germany, Rocky formations in Sicily

Eleanore: São Miguel Island, Portugal, overlooking the Atlantic and  beautiful Islands

Grace: Porto Beaches

  • What  language have you heard that you are interested in learning?

Scarlet: Spanish, because I am already learning it

Eleanore: Germany

Grace: Gracias (Spanish)

And that’s all for now folks. Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter!

Tiffany & Bernie