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Egypt


Pyramids of Gisa

Copyright Steve and Ramona Boone. We glided to a landing at Cairo International on Egypt Air full of anticipation. We couldn’t wait, as the 60’s song refrain goes, to finally “…see the Pyramids along the Nile.” We learned soon enough that the pictures we’d seen and descriptions we’d read could not prepare us for the awesome wonder that is Egypt. This country has been a ‘hot’ tourist destination for at least 3,600 years, as abundant graffiti on some of the ancient monuments confirms. The Greek historian Herodotus visited in the 5th century BC, writing that “Egypt has wonders more in number than those of any other land.” Over two thousand years later that opinion still rings true. The Pyramids of the Old Kingdom are the most famous attraction; however they represent only a fraction of the temples, tombs and monuments of ancient Egypt that can be visited today. Be sure to start your tour by staying at one of the ‘Pyramid view’ hotels – it’s magical to see the morning sun light the tops of the pyramids through the trees while having your first breakfast in Egypt. An excellent overview and first stop is the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to see its enormous collection of artifacts from throughout the country. You’ll marvel at objects many thousands of years old, including statues so lifelike that discovering excavators fled in terror thinking they were alive. The Tutankhamon display surprised us because we thought we’d seen so many articles and exhibits on tour over the years here in the US. However, most of these priceless items have never traveled outside of Egypt. For example, three gilded, room-size wooden boxes, the largest about 10 feet high by 12 feet wide by 15 feet deep, were nested one inside the other to hold the three, nested sarcophagi of King Tut – two of these were gilded and the innermost one is of solid gold! Viewing the room upon room of riches found in 1922 by Howard Carter in Tut’s small tomb, one can only wonder at the original size of plundered treasures in far larger tombs accompanying far more prominent Pharaohs into immortality.

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Pyramids


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Evening on the Nile

An old saying in this region is “…man fears time and time fears the pyramids.” The age of pyramid building lasted almost 400 years and began with the ‘step pyramid’ built by the architect, Imhotep, around 2700 BC for the Pharaoh Djoser. This innovative shape was also the world’s first large structure built entirely of stone. Check this out by heading directly to Giza for a close-up view of the step pyramid and the nearby Great Pyramid, built for Khufu (Cheops) about 2600 BC. This massive structure encompasses six million tons of stone and stands 180 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. When the Greeks compiled the ‘Wonders of the World’ list in the second century BC the Pyramids of Giza were already the oldest ‘wonder’ on the list, and they are the only one of the seven still in existence today! If you have no problem with close places, and can walk bent over for 50 yards or so, walk into one of the two Pyramids open for visits, through narrow, low-ceilinged four thousand-year-old stone passageways—well worth it. Don’t miss the adjacent Solar Boat museum, housing a large reassembled Pharonic vessel, discovered in 1954. It’s one of two that were buried next to the Great Pyramid to carry the Pharaoh in the afterlife. The second boat remains entombed in the desert to ensure that if something goes wrong with preservation of the boat in the museum there is another chance for future archeologists. Stand in front of the awe-inspiring silent Sphinx, knowing you’re standing where Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and Napoleon once stood. The nightly sound and light show highlighting the Pyramids and the Sphinx is also worthwhile, but depending on the season dress warmly against the evening chill.


Cruising the Nile

Take a riverboat cruise on the ‘Eternal Nile’ and step back in time. Cleopatra would have witnessed the same scenes: palm trees swaying in the breeze, farmers working in the fields with their donkeys, and fishermen casting their nets into the water. This is the world’s longest river, flowing from the heart of Africa. This 4000-mile river has shaped Egypt’s economy, political structure and culture, creating a 750- mile oasis in the middle of the desert that became the heart of Egypt. And it wasn’t until 1858 that John Speke traced the source to Lake Victoria in central Africa. The Nile’s annual floods, tamed by the Aswan Dam, are gone, but the river still supports a myriad of boatmen carrying goods, countless varieties of birds, fishes and tourists. Don’t worry, the famous Nile crocodile is only found upstream of the Aswan Dam these days. Aswan’s Lake Nasser is the largest man-made body of water in the world and its present contribution to increased agricultural production has enabled modern Egypt to sustain its rapidly growing population and to grow surplus foods for export.

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Nubian Spices


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Karnak

Karnak

Travel south on the Nile to visit Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, where at least 28 Pharaoh’s tombs were built over 420 years. The Valley is as isolated and barren today as it must have been in 1492 B.C when it’s first resident, Thutmose I, was interred here. Only one narrow road leads into the seven-acre valley, doubtless selected with security uppermost in mind. Tomb robbers had been a big problem throughout early Egyptian history – the pyramids had already been emptied and Egyptian Pharaohs were looking for an isolated location for a peaceful, unplundered rest. Visiting the tombs, one is impressed with the reliefs, paintings and drawings, many of the paintings bright with colors that look like they were applied yesterday. Even though the tomb is small, we couldn’t resist a visit to see King Tut, as this Pharaoh’s remains are still there in his sarcophagus. While we were there, and only a few yards away, yet another tomb was being excavated for the first time. More discoveries in the Valley of the Kings undoubtedly remain to be made; the tomb of at least one Pharaoh, Ramses VIII, is still unaccounted for. Another must see at the city of Luxor is the Temple of Amen at Karnak, called by the ancient Egyptians ‘ the most perfect of places’. It began with a modest temple around 2000 BC and was expanded by numerous pharaohs over time. It contains two long rows of sphinxes guarding the avenue to the entrance, 134 imposing columns that are 33 feet in circumference and 69 feet high, a 100-foot tall pink granite obelisk, and numerous structures covered with hieroglyphics. The temple was the most massively constructed of all time, eventually covering 250 acres. Many of the original colors of blue, red and yellow can still be seem, amazing to behold after thousands of years. In ancient times Sphinxes completely flanked the long avenue between Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple, which holds many statues of the greatest Pharaoh of all time, Ramses II. Next stop south is the bustling city of Aswan, site of the famous Aswan High Dam. In addition, of course, many temples and monuments surround this modern Egyptian resort city. The original Cataract Hotel terrace is the perfect place to enjoy the magnificent views of the Nile River and the surrounding desert. Sit back and enjoy the same scenes that inspired Agatha Christie as she wrote Death on the Nile in this very place! And close to Aswan is Philae Island, with an enchanting sound and light show highlighting the Temples of Isis and Hathor. Even the Roman Emperors built on this site - Diocletian, Augustus, Trajan, and


Aswan

Next stop south is the bustling city of Aswan, site of the famous Aswan High Dam. In addition, of course, many temples and monuments surround this modern Egyptian resort city. The original Cataract Hotel terrace is the perfect place to enjoy the magnificent views of the Nile River and the surrounding desert. Sit back and enjoy the same scenes that inspired Agatha Christie as she wrote Death on the Nile in this very place! And close to Aswan is Philae Island, with an enchanting sound and light show highlighting the Temples of Isis and Hathor. Even the Roman Emperors built on this site - Diocletian, Augustus, Trajan, and Hadrian – who built a gate with the last hieroglyphics inscribed in Egypt, on 24 August, 394 A.D. Another not-to-be-missed stop along the Nile, a quick 40-minute flight south of Aswan, is Abu Simbel, a temple dedicated to Ramses II, ‘the Great,’ and guarded by four mighty seated colossi, each over 66 feet tall. The sight of them must have struck terror in the hearts of early travelers heading north into Egypt along the Nile. And the adjoining temple to Nefertari, his favorite wife, is a bonus for the visitor. Both temples contain beautiful drawings, statues and hieroglyphics that fill the interior rooms. It’s hard to imagine that these temples were moved from their original site to avoid submergence when the Aswan Dam started filling Lake Nasser. We have almost as much admiration for the flawless engineering and execution of the relocation project as for the original construction under the direction of Ramses II.

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Aswan


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Peacock

Cairo Zoo

While in Cairo, take the ‘road less traveled’ and visit the Cairo Zoo - second oldest in the world. The entrance fee is less than 25 cents. The collection and number of animals is magnificent. For example, we saw more Bengal tigers here than in any of the 41 zoos we have visited throughout the world. You will be solicited for baksheesh (a small tip) to see animals ‘behind the scenes,’ and the experience will be unique and revealing. Friendly security guards and smiling youngsters accompanied us through most of our Zoo visit. To get us there and to tour other parts of Cairo for the day, we booked a driver and car through our hotel for only $40 - what a bargain! We had a wonderful time visiting Egypt and highly recommend it to everyone interested in ancient history and an unsurpassed experience among friendly, welcoming people. Think you can armchair travel to Egypt? Listen to a comment penned by early Egyptologist, Ludwig Borchardt, while looking at a bust of Nefertiti: “…description futile, must be seen.” Join the adventure! Call Overseas Adventure Travel at 1-800-873-5628