Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Walk on the Wild Side

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

We spent time in two of Jordan’s nature reserves — Dana Nature Reserve and Wadi Rum.  Both were spectacular, and furthered our affection for this great country.  I tell you, the wonders of this country are beyond what we ever expected.  This blog will cover Dana, and a later blog will cover Wadi Rum.

Dana, Jordan 283 Dana lies about an hour and one half south of Amman, and we stopped there en route to Petra.  Our original itinerary didn’t include Dana, but we leaped at the chance to hike in a park, and were glad we did.  The park is set up a little oddly, in that you park at the visitor center, and wait for a park ranger to accompany you on a shuttle bus down to the hiking departure area.  We definitely drew the short straw on the guide front, and got someone who didn’t seem to have a clue about what was up at the park.  So we knew we were on our own, sort of. 

Dana, Jordan 293 We ended up hiking with the park’s guide (clueless), our A&K guide (who was equally uninformed) and — for some reason — our driver, who seemed to field a steady stream of cell phone calls, and yak away in a very loud voice, either on the phone or to the other guides.  Subtle suggestions that we wanted a little peace and quiet in the park didn’t yield results, so we finally told them they either needed to be quiet or go back on their own.  When we arrived, the prior group was meeting their naturalist, who seemed on the ball, so it probably pays to try to line up the right naturalist in advance.

Amman by Gibson 218 Our hike got off with a big shock — Gibson turned over a rock, and turned up a Death-stalker Scorpion, among the most poisonous in the world.  Gibson got down low (probably way too low!) and took some extraordinary photos of the Death-stalker.  It sounds and even looks like a character from Star Wars, and we were thrilled to see it.  That said, we all recognized that we’d be camping out in a couple of nights in Wadi Rum, and hoped that this would be our last scorpion encounter!

Dana, Jordan 339 The rock formations in Dana were quite interesting, reminding me a bit of some of the great U.S. parks in Utah.  The colors were brilliant reds and oranges, with intricate patterns from erosion over the years.  Our trusty guide at one point informed us that, “These are rocks,” which definitely raised our understanding to a higher level.

Dana, Jordan 298 Mid-way through the hike, Sterling called out that she had sighted a Nubian Ibex, an endangered species.  This was quite a sighting, and we got great views down through the canyon for ten minutes or so.  at about minute nine, our guides figured out where it was, and agreed with identification.  They went on to say how lucky we were to see it, since they had been in the park many times and never seen an Ibex.  Big surprise there :-) .

We got some great Dana photos, which you can feel free to check out.

The Really Big D — Dubai!

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Dubai 006 We had one of our most fascinating country visits as we spent five days in Dubai, a large city and one of the seven members of the United Arab Emirates.  We could tell as soon as we landed in the Dubai Airport that this wasn’t a normal place.  It was the most astounding collision of ancient Arab traditions and the twenty-first century.  The airport itself is sparkling, modern, full of shopping locations, and people of all cultures.  Just seeing the wide range of clothing (from shorts and tank tops to traditonal and often gorgeous Arabic robes) was spell-binding.  I could have spent a full day just at the airport and never been bored.

Dubai 062 After a bit of a challenge checking into our hotel, we got on with our exploration of Dubai.  The place to start is the skyline, which now includes the world’s tallest building, Birj Dubai, which is a few months from completion.  It tops the building we saw earlier in the trip in Kuala Lumpur, and is already 630  meters high, visible from up to 60 miles away.  But that’s hardly Dubai’s only construction project.  Depending on the person you talk to, Dubai has some 24-33% of all of the world’s construction cranes, in an area smaller than Delaware!  There are still some remaining structures from the old Dubai, but for the most part, this is a modern Oz of a city, all constructed in the past ten years.

Dubai 019 And the construction isn’t just on “Dubai” proper.  They are developing these offshore complexes that include newly formed land in some particular shape (palm trees, the universe), shopping areas, villas, and condominiums.  The scope of these projects is vast.  The smallest “palm” is a $60 billion development project.  A newer one (a bigger palm in shape) will have enough housing for 1.3 million people, the current size of Dubai!  It’s just absolutely staggering.  And we’re not talking “low cost housing”; these are plush luxury units, and to date all seem to be getting bought by someone.

While in Dubai, we had dinner with a great family (Jihad Fakhreddine, his wife Carla, and son Jamaal), who are long-time friends of our relatives Jim and Caroline in Seattle.  They are truly citizens of the world, having lived for 15 years in Silicon Valley, five years in Switzerland, and have been in Dubai now for three years.  Jamaal, age 14, speaks several languages, including English, Spanish, German, and Arabic.  Jihad is running a medical technology company here, and the entire family were incredibly nice, sharing lots of insight and context on this interesting part of the world. 

We learned so much about their lives, their school, Dubai, and the world, and really appreciate their hospitality.  I can hardly summarize a three hour dinner in a paragraph or two, but we learned that Dubai is largely ex-pats (80%), English is the dominant language, real estate is expensive and getting more expensive (to rent a decent house can cost $20,000 (U.S. dollars) per month!), and schools are expensive (in some cases, $20,000-$30,000 per year even for first graders).  

Our families spent a fair amount of time talking about U.S. politics.  I don’t know whether I’m excited or depressed when I meet people living thousands of miles from the U.S. that are more informed about our country and its politics than 99+% of U.S. citizens.  Maybe we should have a set of foreigners elect our next President :-) !  But their views on our current foreign policy, immigration policy, and the relative merits of the candidates were highly informed and spot on.

Dubai 008 Other things we did in Dubai, all really fun, included a local calligraphy demonstration, a meeting with someone who explained Dubai customs and culture, a quick look at the world’s largest indoor skiing center (we didn’t try it, but you can see it on the right), a great half day for the kids at Wild Wadi (an incredibly well done water park), shopping (many people spell Dubai “Do Buy”), a desert safari, and time in the pool or the Arabian Sea. 

Dubai 022 The mystery to me was, and to a large extent still is, what drives the Dubai economy.  By now, I’m sure you’ve concluded that Dubai must be the source of some big oil gushers.  Not true.  Only 6% of Dubai’s GDP comes from oil and gas.  Only one of the seven Emirates (Abu Dhabi) is a big oil producer.  They share much of that revenue with the other six emirates, but Dubai’s money is coming more from its development projects, and its role as a gateway for the Western world to the Middle East. 

Dubai 154 Dubai has an interesting form of government, at least if you’re Sheikh Mohammed.  The Sheikh controls, and to a large extent owns, all of Dubai (in photo on right is one of his private residences).  That’s hard to comprehend, given how much Dubai is worth.  But he seems to make all the decisions, owns all or part of the important companies (construction, airline, hotels, you name it), and cuts others a slice of ownership if and when he sees fit.  Years back, he made Dubai a tax-free zone, and is drawing to his country lots and lots of business activity from all over the world.  He is a BIG RISK TAKER, and now amount of money put up for a project seems too much.  And, in just a decade, he seems to have transformed a fairly barren desert region on the Arabian Sea into a bustling center of commerce that is rivaling Singapore in the Far East.

Dubai 163 Dubai is clearly currently benefiting from a real estate bubble of uncertain duration.  As more and more $1-50 million residences are built, they seem to be gobbled up by very rich people who spend almost no time in them.  One such buyer is, in the words of one of our guides, “Baaarrrrrrraadddd Beeeerrrrriiitttt.”  “Who, we said?  After several repetitions, we figured out that this person is Brad Pitt.)  Many of these purchases have to be pure real estate speculation, and we all know how that ultimately ends.   But almost everything developed in Dubai seems to be to a standard of excellence, and the place is emerging as a global center of commerce faster than you can start your Rolls Royce or Ferrari :-) .

Dubai 013 We stayed at a hotel owned by . . .  Sheikh Mohammed.  We didn’t stay or even visit Dubai’s seven-star hotel, the world’s only seven star place.  Guests are delivered to the hotel either in a gold-plated Rolls Royce, or by helicopter landing on the saucer shape at the top of this structure.   But if you have a spare $5,000 you want to get rid of in a hurry, book one night at this hotel, and you’ll soon be parted from your money. 

Dubai 104 As we left Dubai, our airport experience said a lot about the area.  Our flight was scheduled to depart at 4:40 a.m. (meaning a 2:00 a.m. hotel pick-up — Ugh!!), and the airport operates 24 hours a day.  As we walked to our gate, we passed through some of the best shopping areas in the world.  We had tried unsuccessfully to buy a very specialized camera battery, but found and purchased it at 3:20 a.m. in the Dubai airport!  The airport is modern and efficient, the planes the latest and best, and the staff highly professional and courteous. 

Dubai 024 I never like to use the word unique, which is misunderstood and overused.  But Dubai is unique.  The climate is dry and scorching hot in the summer.  The ocean is nice enough, but not something you’d call uniquely beautiful.  The air quality is lousy due to all the construction.  There’s little culture at night.  Yet it’s a bustling, world-class city, attracting all sorts of new people and new money.  The people seem quite happy with the Sheikh’s rule.  There’s no unemployment and almost no crime (we learned that if a tourist is caught making an obscene gesture, they are likely to spend three years in jail!).   If I were doing a Ph.D. in Economics (again!), I might well focus on the hyper-rapid development of the Dubai economy.  And for any of you traveling in this part of the world, make Dubai a place you visit.

Feel free to check out our Dubai photos, which aren’t the most beautiful of the trip, but give you a feel for modern Dubai.

Down and Dirty on the Dead Sea

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Jordan Gibson 020 We concluded our time in Jordan with a couple of relaxing days on the Dead Sea.  There’s not a lot to do here, other than float in the Dead Sea, cover yourself in mud, and have fun.  We probably could have spent more time investigating some of the historical artifacts and significance of this region, but “hanging out” won out.  But that made for a great two days.

Jordan Gibson 025 The Dead Sea is seven times saltier than normal seawater.  You can’t sink in the Dead Sea, no matter how hard you try.  But don’t get any seawater in your eyes or mouth, or you’re in big trouble.  One ritual of Dead Sea visitors is to cake themselves in resident mud, let it bake in the sun, and then jump into the Dead Sea to wash off the mud.  We couldn’t pass on this activity, although none of us experienced a magical transformation in skin properties.  And this process did have added educational benefits, as the barrage of mud gave each of us a chance to relate to what any politician running against the Clintons must feel like.

Wadi Rum 297 So much for Jordan, one of the real surprises of our trip.  We don’t have many Dead Sea photos, but feel free to check them out.

A Million Star Hotel

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Wadi Rum 185 We explored the desert of Wadi Rum, camping in a “million star hotel” there.  Million stars?  Well, at night, in the desert of Jordan, you really could see a million stars overhead.  “Wadi” means river valley or gulch, and “Rum” means high or elevated.  It lies in the south of Jordan, covers some 400 sq. miles, and is largely the territory of the Bedouins, the native nomadic tribe of the Middle East.  The movie Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here, and must have won an Academy Award for Cinematography!

Wadi Rum 167 We arrived mid afternoon to Wadi Rum, and roamed all over the place in a four-wheel drive jeep.  The main thing to take in was the geology, since this area isn’t big on wildlife.  But the geology was stunning.  When you think of “desert,” you think of sand.  But Wadi Rum is far more than sand, since the rock structures are so interesting.  They rise straight out of the sand, have surfaces that can be sheer or intricate, and have color that changes with the angle of the sun.

Wadi Rum 175 That night, we camped at a Bedouin campsite.  With the scorpion we found in Dana in mind, we were thrilled ( :-) ) to see that our tent was wide open at the bottom, and our beds were sitting on the ground.  The good news is that there were very few sheets where a scorpion could hide — like one per bed!  And the layer of protective sand thoughtfully coating every sheet surface seemed perfect to ward off stray insects :-)

Wadi Rum 200 While our campsite and food were quite basic, the experience was anything but.  We loved being in this desert, and were able to explore lots of local nooks and crannies.  But the feeling of being out in the wilderness, miles from anything, with the clear, starry sky overhead was fabulous. 

I just love Jordan!  Feel free to check out our pictures of Wadi Rum.

Pa-Wow Petra!

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Petra 062 Imagine going on a hike in one of the most beautiful geological spots in the world.  Imagine seeing some of the most exquisite archeological remains of a rather astounding village, with stunning temples carved right into the face of mountains.  And imagine one of the world’s most pleasant climates.  Well, take them all together and you have one of the world’s great wonders — Petra!

Petra 204 Petra is often referred to as one of the wonders of the world, and with good reason.  We were just blown away by what we saw here.  The beauty of the temples and monasteries, all carved out of sandstone cliffs and mountains is impossible to describe in words, so I’m hoping my pictures carry the load.  There is structure after structure that just takes your breath away.  Petra’s prime was from the second Century B.C. through about 600 A.D.  It was discovered again by the Western world in 1812 by a Swiss explorer.  The history of this amazing site is worth checking out.

Petra 078 Our guide told us that just 2% of the structures of archeological merit have been excavated at Petra.  I wouldn’t bet the ranch on that estimate, but it did have the sense of a vast town, and had been covered with sand some 20+ feet over the years.  We saw many partially excavated buildings where the top of the door frame was well below today’s level of the earth. 

Petra 007 Many of the houses in Petra seemed like the Flintstone’s Bedrock, a place right out of history.  We made that comment among ourselves, and later saw a vendor selling all sorts of things, with their little area featuring a Fred Flintstone banner.  So we’re not all that creative in our observations . . .

Petra 044 Much of the excitement of Petra lies in the approach.  You enter the site and have a decent walk through the canyon before you get to the most astounding structures.  The walk is through a gorgeous canyon, with a fairly narrow valley walled off by vertical cliffs of a height I’d estimate to vary between 100-300 feet high.  What’s so interesting geologically is that, from time to time, the rock had sheared off, leaving an exposed face that was essentially a plane.  The Horites, a tribe of cave-dwellers living in the region, used these exposed planes as the start point for the buildings they literally carved into the face of it.

Petra 138 After about an hour of hiking, we got our first glimpse through the canyon of just how spectacular Petra can be.  As you come into a small clearing, the first major temple opens up in front of you, and it’s really quite magnificent.  After spending a half hour or so taking it in, we then continued hiking further, eventually reaching an impressive monastery at the top of a long and winding hike.  The kids and Elizabeth took the easy way up (donkeys) and I walked it.

We’ve been to many amazing places on our trip, but Petra is as spectacular as any place we’ve seen.  Our great stay in Jordan just got that much more engaging.  Feel free to check out our Petra photos.

The Quiet House

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

Jordan is often described as a quiet house in a very noisy neighborhood. Its neighbors are Syria to the north, Iraq to the east, Saudi Arabia to the south, and Israel to the west. Sound like a tough neighborhood?!?!

Jerash 044 We had a relaxing and generally interesting time in Amman, Jordan, highlighted by our visit to nearby Jerash. We ended up spending five days in Amman; if our only goal was to see the most important local sites, we could have condensed our stay into a couple of days. But it was a great time for us as a family to enjoy the capital of Jordan on a relaxed basis.

Jerash is the location of one of the oldest surviving ruins of a Greco-Roman city. The location was inhabited as far back as the Bronze Age (3200 to 1200 B.C.), but was at its peak in the first Century A.D. The Persian invasion in 614 A.D., though, put an end to Jerash’s better days.

Jerash 098 We walked around the ruins, and could see what an entire village used to look like. It has two performing amphitheaters (still in use to this day!), the Greco-Roman version of a shopping mall, and various areas for living space and worship. Jordan is slowly restoring the the ruins, and it’s the location of a summer music festival each year. They also have somewhat tacky daily performances in the Jerash’s old coliseum, featuring Roman soldiers, gladiators, and chariots.

Jerash 117 Our walk through the ruins had an unexpected highlight when we spotted a Red Whip Snake among the ruins at the Temple of Artemis. The poor snake tried to hide under a big concrete block, but we were able to flush it out. A local vendor came to our rescue and caught the snake, and we were able to visit a bit with this harmless reptile. Take a look at our video of this snake upon release, and you’ll see why we’re glad to have caught up with him.

Jerash 162 We also explored some of Amman, including the desert castles of Qusair Amra. It was about an hour and a quarter from downtown Amman, but only marginally interesting. Our experience that day was colored by the unjustified arrest of Elizabeth, Sterling, and Gibson (left behind bars in their stark jail cell!), who were put behind bars for unruly behaviour. Fortunately, I was able to post bail and get them back on the touring road! On a different day, we went to Mount Nebo, where Moses died, and to the spot on the Jordan River, where historians think St. John baptized Jesus.

Jerash 141 We spent a half day with a local K-12 school in Amman, the Mashrek International School. This private school is just eight years old, and was started by a Jordanian family. We met many of the students and teachers, and the school was just humming with energy. Classes are taught in both English and Arabic, so all students are bilingual. We were quite impressed with how much progress this family could make in less than a decade with their school. Tuition, for those who track these things, ranges from $2,500 to $5,000 per year, depending on the grade.

We also got together one night for dinner with friends once-removed. Good friends of ours in Boston, Hendon and Kate Pingeon, introduced us to Hendon’s brother, Robert, who lives in Jordan with his wife, Emily Lodge. They were fascinating to meet, and we had a great time at their house. Bob is a consultant doing lots of work in Iraq, primarily Kurdistan. And Emily is an author, with a lifetime of experience in political circles. Her grandfather ran for Vice President of the U.S. in 1960! And her father ran for Senate in Massachusetts. They were very kind to host us for an evening, and really made our visit to Amman special. And it was my first home-cooked meal since Christmas Day!

While in Amman, I read Queen Noor’s book, A Leap of Faith, which was a great book to take in during our stay in Jordan. The queen is a woman, born in the U.S. but of Arabic descent, who met King Hussein when she was 26, and shortly thereafter became his bride and, in the process, the queen of Jordan. She is quite articulate in describing the history of conflict in the Middle East from Jordan’s perspective, and the role the U.S. has played. And she does a great job of discussing modern life here. She makes a case that much of what we see and hear in the U.S. is colored heavily by the U.S. press, and doesn’t accurately reflect the issues and history here. A Leap of Faith was a great book for this part of our trip.

Feel free to check out our Amman and Jerash photos.

Dear Egypt

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Dear Egypt:

We just spent two weeks touring your country.  What are you thinking?  You have such an astounding history, much of it still more or less intact.  And you treat it so dreadfully.  Egypt, here are a few suggestions:

1.  Your country has 84 million people with an unemployment rate estimated in the 30-40 percent range.  Put some of these people to work cleaning up the trash all around your pyramids, tombs, museums, and city sidewalks.  After two weeks in Egypt, we’re convinced that the word in Egyptian for “trash can” is “any public space, especially one of great historical significance.”

2.  Get the corruption out of your police force.  Everywhere we went, there were “tourist police.”  As best we can tell, they spend their entire day standing around, smoking cigarettes, and trying to extract money from tourists.  We saw some egregious tourist actions at sites we visited, and the tourist police did nothing to stop it, probably because the perpetrator slipped them a five pound note ($1 U.S.).  BTW, is it out of the question that these “tourist police” might actually keep the place looking halfway presentable?

3.  Change the way you staff these sites.  Everywhere we went, we were met at Egypt’s historic sites by chain-smoking scuzzy-looking guys whose job was to take tickets.  These guys were of no help whatsoever.  They seemed to thrive on polluting tight, closed-in spaces with volumes of cigarette smoke.  Occasionally, they’d grab your camera and make the oh-so-familiar Egyptian hand motion of rubbing their fingers against their thumb — meaning “give me money.”  Egypt, you can do soooo much better than that!

4.  Your sites really are fragile.  If you let millions of tourists a year climb all over them, chip away at rocks, rub their hands all over 3,000 year old carvings, well . . .  THEY AREN’T GOING TO LAST!   And if things like your great pyramids are located in a city with horrendous air pollution, that won’t help.  Make sure these great monuments last another 3,000 years!  Your future depends on it.

5.  The rest of the tourism infrastructure in Egypt is also in need of help.  For instance, your restaurants generally have surly waitstaff, mediocre food, and two sections — smoking, and heavy smoking.  You have to be starving to death before eating in an Egyptian restaurant begins to have any appeal.  

Egypt, you have no oil.  Only 4% of your land is inhabitable.  You have meager natural resources.  But you have the world’s greatest man-made treasures.  Ancient Egypt was an amazing civilization.  Modern Egypt needs to keep pace.  If you have any hope of lifting your country up, you need to treasure your treasures, not treat them as the country’s garbage dump.

Sincerely,

Our Family

Down the Nile!

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Nile River 023 Our best several days in Egypt came as we explored the Nile Valley and all of the ruins along its path.  We covered many astounding sites, and found ourselves constantly amazed at what this civilization had accomplished over three thousand years ago.   To put things into perspective, the Egyptian temples were largely built 2,500 to 3,500 years ago.  Other things we’ve seen on this trip include the Great Wall (5th to 16th Century B.C.), Machu Picchu (1450 A.D.), and Angkor Wat (12th Century A.D.).  So the Egyptians were really way ahead of their time.

Nile River 029 We left Cairo before daybreak, taking an early (6:30 a.m.) small plane south to the site of Abu Simbel, site of the temple of Ramses II.  This place is incredibly remote, and positively jaw-dropping.  It’s a site that was nearly destroyed as Egypt constructed the Aswan dam, but a massive (well, by Egypt standards massive — $40 million) fund-raising effort was able to entirely re-locate the ruins, and preserve them for future generations.  So you land at a remote airport (few people actually stay here) and take a short drive to see . . .  the most amazing tomb entrance Nile River 044 imaginable.  I can’t describe it adequately in words, but a few pictures help.  The face of the temple is dominated by four enormous (almost 20 meters tall) statues of the Pharaoh Ramses II.  They surround the entrance to a tomb, and its interior is also stunning.  There’s a second tomb at the site which, in its own right an amazing accomplishment, built in honor of Ramses II’s favorite queen, Queen Nefetari.

At this point, it was beginning to sink in just how advanced the Egyptian civilization was.  They had a written language, advanced engineering and math, great organization skills, and real science expertise.  It’s somewhat silly to compare some of these ruins to modern construction projects, but you sure wish the Egyptians of 3500 B.C. had been running Boston’s Big Dig project :-)

Nile River 078 We then took a quick flight to Aswan, where we saw Aswan’s High Dam, which is 1,500 feet long, and has transformed Egypt.  Prior to the construction of this dam, the Nile would flood periodically, or go through drought years.  Egypt was very challenged agriculturally, and a more stable river line has helped food production.  Also, the dam generates a significant amount of the oil-poor country’s electricity requirements.

Nile River 100 In Aswan, we took a short boat ride to the Temple of Philae on the island of Agilika.  This site was also recently relocated to avoid flooding from the dam.  Those darn dams!  This temple was dedicated to Isis, and is decorated with the image of her alter-ego, Hathor.  We also saw the granite quarries in Aswan, including the very sizable unfinished obelisk, which has a length of some 39 meters (??), but abandoned in situ due to cracking.

Nile River 233 We boarded a boat, the Sun Boat IV run by Abercrombie and Kent, and prepared to head down the Nile.  Gibson and I tried to get in some last-minute baseball catch on the sidewalk by the boarding point for the boat.  Ever alert, the Egyptian military realized that our game of toss represented a serious threat to Egypt’s nation-state, and rushed out to stop us (I wish I were kidding, but I’m not).  A bunch of soldiers with nothing to do with their time stepped in and kept Egypt safe from the threat of a thrown baseball!

Nile River 239 The boat surprised us in being both wireless-less and smoke-full.  The A&K boat on our Antarctica trip offered decent wireless access on board, but the Sun Boat didn’t seem too aware of this technological breakthrough.  But they did manage to put ashtrays everywhere on the ship, making sure you couldn’t do much of anything on deck without inhaling some of that great Egyptian tobacco smoke.  At least the boat didn’t offer wall to wall hookahs, and didn’t have ashtrays in the swimming pool.

Nile River 205 On our first full day on the boat, we made two stops at temples as we worked out way north on the river.  The first was the Kom Ombo Temple, returned to the boat for lunch, and that afternoon took in the Edfu Temple.  These temples seemed somewhat interesting at the time, but have long since blurred into a sea of ruins that prevent me from recalling anything specific about either.  We also bought for the kids some Egyptian wear for a dinner on the boat that night.  Sterling looked fabulous in her outfit, and is already contemplating using it for next October’s Halloween costume.

Nile River 260 We slept like logs on the boat each night, and spent the next day docked at Luxor, known to the ancient Egyptians as “Thebes.”  Luxor, along with Abu Simbel and the pyramids around Cairo, were the “can’t miss” locations of our Egypt stay.  The highlights of Luxor include the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the Temple or Luxor, and  the Temple of Karnak.  We also went to the Temple of the Nobles (very missable), Hatshepsut Temple (moderately interesting),  the Colossi of Memnon (brief but interesting), and blew off Dendara and Abydos.  And there was even an “Egyptian Night” on the boat, where many of the passengers attempted to look like Egyptians of yore. 

Nile River 287 The Valley of the Kings is a location not too far from Luxor where some sixty-four tombs have been discovered, including the tomb of Tutankhamun.  The tomb of King Tut was discoved by Howard Carter in 1922, and it was largely (some say entirely) in tact.  To walk through this tomb, after seeing so many of its contents on display in Cairo, was really powerful.  What really made me think was the trace of history from thousands of years B.C., to less than 100 years ago when this tomb was first discovered by modern man, to today when you can walk through the tomb.  And work continues to this day on the site, as new tombs lay scattered throughout the area awaiting discovery.  Amazing!

Nile River 313 We couldn’t take pictures inside the tombs, but they shared many common characteristics.  We’d generally go down a long corridor, with pictures and hieroglyphics carved on the walls, and often the ceilings.   Some were quite elaborate and beautiful, others more crude.  Some were simply carvings, others were painted and, in some cases, vivid colors survive to this day.  Further into the tomb, the walkway would level out into an inner sanctum with higher ceilings, more drawings, and some smaller side rooms. 

Nile River 334 The Temple at Luxor was one of my favorite places in Egypt.  It was hard to take in the magnitude of the structure, and what must have been required to build it so long ago.  It was built by Amenophis III, Tutankhamon, Haremhab, and Ramses II during their respective reigns, and includes spectacular columns, statues, and inner sanctums.  Luxor is also the site of the Temple of Karnak, a huge complex that took 2,000 years to construct.  It was originally connected to the Temple at Luxor by an alleyway lined with sphinxes, which must have been quite a site.

By now, we were fully “templed” out, and spent an afternoon reading and hanging out at our hotel in Luxor, preparing to depart for our next country, Jordan.

You can check out our photos of what we saw along the Nile.