On the road to Alexandria

We just flew from Luxor to Cairo and are on a motorcoach for the 3 and a half hour trip to Alexandria, the Bride of the Mediterranean, founded 332 BC by Alexander the Great, the capital during the Greco-Roman period, and today the 2nd largest city in Egypt, where I expect to be able to tap into some wi-fi.

We spent 4 nights cruising down the Nile – remember, it flows south to north – from Aswan to Luxor. It was so beautiful! So amazing! To be on the river, looking at palm trees and banana trees and sugar cane and cows and donkeys and sheep and fishermen and cities and THE SAHARA all at once is such a surreal experience.

We visited temples at Komumbo and Edfu, toured a Nubian village, went on a birdwatching excursion on a motorboat and also got to shop around at a bustling spice market.

One thing I must correct is that the Nubians worshipped Isis the goddess of love and magic until the 6th century AD. 641 AD is the year that Islam came to Egypt. Oh and btw the Egyptians call Egypt “Misr,” pronounced like MIZ-ruh.

Yesterday was the most incredible day as far as the things we saw. We were in Luxor, which was ancient Thebes, and we left the boat at 6am and returned at 7pm, stopping only for lunch. We spent the morning in the west bank and the afternoon in the east bank. First we went to the Valley of Kings, which was my very very very favorite. We went into the tombs of Rameses IV, Rameses V & VI, Rameses IX and Tutmosis III. For a couple of hours I was Indiana Jones! Then we went to the temple of Hatshepsut, which I have no idea how to spell but just say Hot Cheap Suit all together in a lovely Egyptian accent and you’ve got it. Hatshepsut was a woman and the first ruler of Egypt to take the title of Pharoah. Until then there had been Kings and a couple of Queens. (There have only been 3 Presidents!) Then we went to the Valley of Queens and saw a couple of tombs there, but the most amazing one, for Queen Nefertari, the most beloved wife of King Rameses II, who had around 50 wives and 100 children, that tomb is only opened for people paying 20,000 Egyptian pounds, or about 4,000 dollars.

After lunch we went to Karnak. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’d never heard of it either. Karnak is a series of 18 temples on 60 acres built over a period of 1,800 years and all dedicated to the god Amon during a long period of monotheism from around 2000 BC to 200 BC. It was absolutely breathtaking and my 2nd favorite site of the whole trip so far. There was a big scarab statue, and people were walking around it in a big group. Our guide Nora said that you are supposed to walk counterclockwise – 3 times means divorce but 7 times means great fertility and lots of children and I just stayed away from the big scarab. We stayed there until the sun had set – Karnak closes at 5:45pm. Because we are so close to the equator, sunrise is at 5:50am and sunset is 5:40pm!

Afterwards we went to the Temple of Luxor. It was getting dark and all of the columns and carvings and pylons were uplit and it was a beautiful evening and all in all a spectacular experience.

Karnak and the Temple of Luxor are connected by the avenue of Sphinxes. We saw it! 3 kilometers long, 370 sphinxes on either side. It had been covered by the road and things had been built on top but the Department of Antiquities is currently working on its recovery and the avenue will eventually be something like a pedestrian mall.

You would not believe how many awesome ancient things have just been buried by sand or flooded or built on top of. Even King Tut Ankh Amon’s tomb in the Valley of Kings has another tomb right on top of it. This is probably the reason, however, for the fact the he was not hit by tomb robbers.

Nora said that the accepted estimate is that only about 60% of the monuments from ancient Egypt have been recovered, and of the remaining 40% about 3/5 should be in the Luxor area.

When we were flying back into Cairo this morning, the Great Pyramid of Cheops and the Step Pyramid of Zoeser or Jesr depending on who is saying it – monuments we visited on our 2nd day here- were right outside my window, along with the Nile and the Sahara and farmland and skyscrapers.

Tourism is the #1 industry in Egypt. Our amazing guide, Nora, is almost 30 and she knew even when she was a little girl that she wanted to be a tour director. In a family of doctors and engineers – even her mother and sister are doctors – she was born to be a rebel. Nora has a 4-year degree in Egyptian history and she is pursuing a PhD, researching the connections between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. She has been fantastic and this trip would not have been the same without her.

We have seen cats everywhere. In fact, our second night on Lake Nasser we docked at Cat Island, which seemed only to be populated by cats. There were so many of them! Cats in the temples, cats on the downtown streets… In Luxor, though, I saw sheep everywhere right in town eating garbage like dogs.

McDonald’s in Egypt supposedly has the highest quality beef of any other location in the world.

We haven’t had any pork at all because Islam forbids it. Surprisingly, I am not craving bacon but I do want a Big Mac.

Pomegranates and persimmons in Egypt are the most delicious decadence – I wish I could bring them back with me.

Almost all of the camels I have seen are strictly for the tourists; we haven’t come across any Bedouin.

Starbucks is NOT yet in Egypt, but I do have concerns about Nestle, which seems to be positioning itself to take over the (Third) World.

Here’s a fun Arabic expression for you that I will spell phonetically: fill MEESH meesh, ha BEE bee. It means: “In your dreams, darling.”

We are staying by the Mediterranean at the Helnan Palestine hotel for two nights. It was built in the 1960s for the kings and presidents to stay in while they attended the meeting of the Arab League. It definitely should not suck.

I’ll be home late Tuesday night, in’sh’allah, around midnight, but will turn my BlackBerry on as soon as I land at JFK midafternoon!

Also craving a Hershey bar…

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