Sunday, March 01, 2009

Egypt!

Egypt

Carol, I, and some friends just returned from a fabulous eight days in Cairo and Luxor. We were all visiting some mutual friends, Cris and Alison, who work for the State Department and are living in Cairo. We really couldn't have done this without Cris and Alison who made sure everything went smoothly and who have an amazing amount of knowledge of Egypt and Cairo for only having been there a couple of years. They also arranged for a fantastic tour guide for our first few days in Cairo.

Both Cairo and Luxor were fascinating. There is more history and amazing sights than anywhere I've ever been. Americans like me get overwhelmed with how old things are when we go to Europe. Seeing temples and statues that are 5,000+ years old is almost incomprehensible.

I have to say, though, that of everything we saw, frequently it was the least-known things that impressed me the most. Alison had told us in advance that she preferred the pyramids at Dashour to the more popular ones at Giza, and I definitely agree. They were every bit as impressive and with far fewer crowds.

Similarly, the Coptic Christian district of Cairo was a favorite of both Carol's and mine. In particular, I thought the Coptic Museum was one of the best museums we saw in all of Egypt.

I also enjoyed walking through parts of the Islamic section of Old Cairo, mainly because in some places it retains its medieval look and feel. As you can undoubtedly tell from the pictures, my favorite thing in this part of the trip was Beit as-Suhaymi, a fully restored 17th century house. A few of the mosques were also quite impressive.

As for Luxor, it has some amazing, not-to-be-missed sights, but the town itself is overwhelmingly touristy and you can't walk more than half a block without half a dozen people trying to sell you things or give you a cab or carriage ride. Both the Karnak Temple of Amun and the temple at Mendat Habu were favorites of mine. As for the much ballyhooed Valley of the Kings, I think I preferred the 8 kilometer hike getting there to the tombs themselves. The peaks and rock formations overlooking the valley were far more amazing to me than the tombs it contained. But while it wasn't a favorite, seeing it did give me a new appreciation for the extent to which the pharaohs of the New Kingdom period went to hide their tombs from grave robbers and vandals.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures.

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