Egypt

Cruising Down the Nile

Since life in ancient Egypt depended on the Nile, that is where most of the ruins can be found.  Not a bad way to travel! 

First, our boat cruised down to Edfu.  The Temple of Edfu is dedicated to the falcon god Horus (Ryan’s second favorite god.  Don’t get him started on Imhotep...).  Inside, you can see the statue where Egyptians believed Horus lived.  Every year, Horus’s wife’s statue (a goddess named Hathor who had a cow head) was brought to him and they were left alone in the temple to consummate their marriage.

Unfortunately, many of the faces on the reliefs were defaced by the early Coptic Christians.

Next, we went to the Temple of Kom Ombo.  This temple is interesting because additions were made to it in the Roman period so it’s a mix of ancient Egyptian and Roman architecture.  Plus, it has a museum attached to it where you can see mummified crocodiles!

The next morning, we had a casual 3:30AM wakeup call to join the daily police convoy across the vast dessert to visit amazing Abu Simbel.  Yes, it was worth it.  These two gigantic rock temples are so precious that in 1968 they were relocated 200 meters stone-by-stone to save them from the rising Nile.

Later that day, we visited one more temple , which was one of our favorites: Philae Temple.  It’s located on an island and dedicated to love.  What more could you want?

Our last activity was one of the most fascinating: we sailed in a traditional felucca (Egyptian sailboat) to visit a Nubian village, meet their chief, and have tea in his home.  The sail was absolutely fabulous and the Nile glistened as the sunset.  Seeing a real Nubian village was incredible!  If a little awkward.  It was a delight to talk to locals and see their way of life.  Even if holding the pet crocodiles was a bit more than we bargained for!

Our Nile cruise ended and next we flew back up to Cairo for more sights (you didn’t think we were done did you?)!

That's What We Did on our Nile cruise.  Click Here to read What We Learned.

Luxor, Ancient Egypt's Masterpiece

Luxor, also known as Thebes, was one of the most important cities in ancient Egypt.  As such, it holds many of the most important temples and tombs.

First, a note on ancient Egyptian temples: Given their ancient construction, the history of these temples spans thousands of years with each generation influencing them.  The result is a wonderfully complex and diverse structure with architecture, stonework, and dedications from many different cultures and religions including Egyptian, Greek, French, Roman, Christian, and Muslim.  By walking through these structures, you walk through history.

Karnak Temple is one of the best examples of this.  Its construction spanned over 30 pharaohs who wanted to leave their mark, plus it has a temple inside the complex built by Alexander the Great.  We wandered around the colossal columns (with beams estimated to weigh 70 tons!) and our fantastic guide Aboudi brought this history to life.

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Next was Luxor Temple.  We opted to view Luxor temple at dusk and then stay to see it lit up at night.  This perspective somehow made the temple even more beautiful and mysterious, which is something we didn’t think was possible!

Luxor Temple is where many believe pharaohs would be crowned.   Alexander the Great even claimed to be crowned there!  Our favorite part was the mosque that sits on top of the ruins.  The mosque was built before excavations on the temple were complete and, once the temple was excavated, locals vehemently opposed tearing the mosque down.  Today, the mosque continues to operate and we listened to the evening call to prayer while studying a Ramses II statue by twilight!

The next day, we made a quick stop by the Colossi of Memnon—two enormous statues that stand as 3000-year-old sentinels for the ancient treasures of Luxor.  Next, we sped on to the Medinet Habu Temple.

Medinet Habu Temple, like many Ancient Egyptian temples, resembles a city more than a temple.  It also still has original colors preserved on its ceilings!  Along with architectural and sculptural beauties, it has a gorgeous relief of a battle of Ramses III.  It may have been the Egyptian heat, but when you stare at it, the characters seem to move!

Our next stop was one of our favorites:  The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.  Hatshepsut was the most powerful of ancient Egypt’s female pharaohs.  The temple is built into the cliff-side and it has gorgeous stone reliefs that explain stories even two Westerners can understand.  Unfortunately, many of the reliefs were destroyed by Hatshepsut’s stepson after her death.  Later, the temple was used for building materials for a Christian monastery.  To continue the tragic tale, this temple was also the site of the appalling massacre in 1997 where Islamic Extremists killed 67 people, mainly tourists, visiting the site.   Our talented guide, Aboudi, used the destroyed reliefs as a moving illustration for the useless and tragic destruction in which we humans continue to engage.

We then went to the famed Valley of the Kings.  After learning that pyramids were easy targets for tomb raiders, pharaohs of the New Kingdom opted to be buried in the desert valley in hidden tombs.  63 tombs have been excavated and we believe some haven’t been found yet.  These temples contain the earthly treasures of the pharaoh and provide clues as to daily life and rituals of the ancients. Even with modern technology, the discovery of tombs comes down to chance which leads to the assumption that there remain many unexcavated.  Modern scanning is no match for the limestone that encases these mysteries. 

We visited four tombs including that of King Tut.  King Tut’s tomb was broken into along with his neighbors, but his treasures remain untouched because of the ingenius hiding techniques of his tomb.  However, after excavation, his treasures were transported to the Egyptian Museum where, in the 2011 Revolution, looters sadly got away with a few of them.

Pictures weren't allowed so click the caption for the photo source!

The entrances were daunting but gorgeous.


Lastly, we visited an alabaster factory and learned how to tell the difference between authentic handmade products and machine made imitations (hold it up to the light—you should be able to see through it!).  We even tried our hand on the techniques! 

With our heads full of new knowledge, we left Luxor for our fantastic cruise down the Nile!  Details on that to come!  In the meantime, Click Here to read What We Learned in Cairo and Luxor.

A Tour of Crazy Cairo

Egypt is a magnificent mess.  With breathtaking landscape and a glorious history, it is a destination that everyone should visit in their lifetime.  Unfortunately, modern issues overshadow its past splendor.  The recent plane crash solidifies its tumultuous reputation and it will be years before tourism is back on track.  We’re thankful we were able to view these wonders and grateful to the many Egyptian people who kept us safe during our stay and infused us with enthusiasm for their remarkable country.

To try and see as much as possible safely, we enlisted the help of Encounters Travel who hooked us up with an itinerary of a lifetime!  Their thorough safety procedures sealed the deal for us and their local guides were knowledgeable, passionate, and brought a unique perspective to both modern and ancient Egypt.  Hold onto your hats and travel with us back through time. 

We arrived in Cairo and got settled into the Mena House Hotel.  What a history and what a view!  The hotel was originally a sultan’s palace and it looks the part!  If that doesn’t impress you, the view will.

We began our tour just outside Cairo in a city called Memphis.  This was an appropriate introduction because Memphis was the capital of the Old Kingdom (3000 BC) and today has an incredible open air museum that houses a gigantic statue of Ramses II (he’s arguably the most powerful of all the pharaohs ever.  So, a pretty big deal). 

Next, we headed northwest of Memphis to the home of the Saqqara necropolis, a National Park and the burial ground of the Old Kingdom.  We saw the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser, which is the oldest complete stone building complex in the world.  At Saqqara, we also visited our first tomb!  And WOW.  Covered in hieroglyphics from 5,000 years ago, it was humbling to see.

After a morning building up our early pyramid knowledge, we were ready to visit the Great Pyramids of Giza. Despite all of Egypt’s ancient treasures, these structures steal the show.  They are the only remaining Ancient Wonders of the World and left us speechless (no easy task).  How can stone be so gorgeous?

Next to the Great Pyramids is, you guessed it, the Great Sphinx.  Wowza.  There are many a sphinx in Egypt, but this one overshadows all others.  Its Arabic name translates to "The Terrifying One" and it stands as a monstrous guard to the Great Pyramids.  It is built out of a single piece of limestone and is the largest statue of this type in the world.  

We were exhausted and dusty after our whirlwind tour of Cairo, but there was no time to rest!  Next up, one of our favorite cities in Egypt.  Luxor! 

That's What We Did in Cairo.  Click Here to read What We Learned!

Cairo and Pharaohs

An ancient civilization on the front lines of the war on terror, Egypt is an extraordinary country to experience.  We began in Cairo to study pyramids, pharaohs, and life in the volatile land of the Nile.  Here are some things we learned:  

1.  Pyramid conspiracy theories suggest that the pyramids were built by aliens or angels.  Experts are able to prove the pyramids were built by nothing more or less than manpower, because we’ve found evidence of the “rough draft” pyramids all over Egypt.

This pyramid still has it's original Limestone cap!

2.  Also, the pyramids weren’t built by slaves.  Construction occurred during the annual Nile flood season when farming wasn’t possible and the river provided an easy way to transport the huge stones.  So the pyramids could be seen as a sort of civil employment system to farmers that otherwise would’ve spent half the year out of work.

The stone blocks are MASSIVE!

3.  Uniforms matter.  In order to protect tourists and citizens in Egypt, there are heavily armed soldiers and frequent security stops.  However, some of the soldiers don’t have on uniforms.  It’s incredibly unnerving to see a man with an assault rifle in street clothes.

4.  The Nile truly is the lifeblood of Egypt.  It cuts through the desert and Egyptian life, even today, couldn’t exist without it.

5.  In Ancient Egypt, yearly taxes depended on the level of the Nile Flood, because the flood was indicative of the productiveness of the harvest.  Most temples have a “Nile-o-meter” which indicated the flood level and thus taxes for the neighborhood.

Nileometer at the ancient temple of Komombo.

6.  Despite living and depending on the Nile, Egyptians are historically terrible sailors.  The wind blows one way and the current flows the other so there isn't much need for expertise.

7.  Because of the heavy pollution, one day spent in Cairo is the same as smoking one pack of cigarettes.

8.  King Tut, arguably the most well-known Pharaoh, was not exceptionally great or rich.  He's special because his tomb was the only one we’ve found that was not raided by tomb robbers.  The magnificent treasures were uncovered almost completely intact.  

9.  Despite surviving ancient robbers, a few of King Tut's priceless treasures were stollen from the Egyptian Museum in the 2011 uprising.  Good grief.  

10.  No one knows why The Great Sphinx is missing his nose.  Many blame Napoleon's soldiers though this is highly unlikely.  Napoleon was obsessed with Ancient Egypt and is responsible for cataloging and preserving many of the relics we enjoy today.  Our favorite "Missing Nose" theory is that, for thousands of years, the Sphinx was buried up to his neck in sand.  As people walked by, they would rub his nose for good luck.

Bonus Fact:  The 2011 Egyptian Revolution and increased terrorism in the Middle East has taken a gigantic toll on Egypt’s tourism and economy. The revenue from ancient monuments has fallen a whopping 95% since 2011.  One of the incomes saving tourism was resorts on the Red Sea.  The recent plane crash in Sharm el Sheikh (a resort town that was considered one of the safest places in Egypt), will further devastate the Egyptian people and economy.  We flew out of Sharm el Sehikh a few weeks before the crash and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the passengers.  Our thoughts are also with the millions of innocent Egyptians who will face the repercussions of these extremists.

That's What We Learned in Cairo.  Click Here to read What We Did.