Welcome to my blog. I have started this blog to communicate with my friends and family as I travel to new places near and far. Enjoy the moment….
Welcome to my blog. I have started this blog to communicate with my friends and family as I travel to new places near and far. Enjoy the moment….
Nothing could be more exciting than sharing a summer solstice experience with my best friend Lannis.
I returned to Alaska to reconnect with friends and the natural beauty of the Alaska landscape in June. One of the trip’s highlights was visiting Spencer Glacier located between Portage and Seward Alaska; only accessible from the Alaska Railroad.
After mastering our double kayak out of the shallows of the lake we were able to paddle our way across the glacial lake that stretches from the face of the glacier. Our initial flailing paddling exercise resulted in us crashing into the beach before we course corrected after discovering that the kayak rudder was our friend. Fortunately our Montenegrin mountain man, Illyia, was able to coach us across the lake formed by the receding glacier and onto the face of the glacier. Illyia has a special place reserved for him in heaven. His enthusiasm for our adventure was contagious…..and he was so attentive to our cheechako skills of glacier walking.
There are few places in the world can you experience such amazing natural phenomenon so close to civilization. Lannis and I departed Anchorage’s Alaska Railroad depot at 6 AM. Illiya and Emily (Illiya’s assistant) joined us at Girdwood. We all hopped off at the Spencer Glacier whistle stop and enjoyed a transcendent day kayaking to and walking on the glacier itself. Mind the gap…wandering kayaks. This magical adventure took place all in one day!
The only way into the Spencer Glacier valley is on the Alaska Railroad. The railroad was built through the valley in the early 1900’s and pictures of that era show Spencer glacier over 300 feet higher in the valley. Illiya told us that in the fourteen years he has been guiding that the glacier has receded over 2 miles forming a daunting lake for novice kayakers.
Illyia exuberance was captured as he raced around the glacial lake capturing Emily’s swim. I thought he was more mountain goat than human. Using cramp-ons on the glacier is a talent that Illyia has mastered while mere mortals struggle.
I would recommend for the ultimate Alaska experience one should take a day trip with Chugach Adventures’ Illiya Pekich. Illiya is the spouse of my dear friend, Lisa, and for years she has recommended that I experience a Spencer glacier walk with Illiya. She was right….It was transcendent.
A magical solstice that could only be experienced in the incredible Alaskan landscape.
The poet, John O’Donohue, summed up our day in the following lines:
“May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven
around the heart of wonder.”
As the pandemic closed in last March I was blessed with the opportunity to absorb, appreciate and experience destinations close to my physical location on the planet.
We are living in unprecedented times which challenge our perceptions of community. I would normally have shared some of my overseas adventures this last year but as the curtain fell on one trip after the other I pivoted to local environs. I rediscovered the beauty of my local surroundings, dear friends and loving family. A universal unveiling during these times continues to be a humbling and enriching adventure.
In January 2020, before the pandemic overwhelmed the world, I visited my friend Peter in Houston to enjoy some grand opera as well as some Texas hospitality. I squeezed in a trip to Sargent to visit my cousin Carol and her husband in that whirlwind weekend.
Most of the year was spent sheltered on or near the Montana place. It was a joy to help my sister-in-law expand the flowerbeds and grounds of the Montana place during 2020’s growing season. I was able to eco-bath alongside the banks of Rock Creek all summer long. The nice thing about an eco-bath is that you can do it fully clothed….
Usually our family gathers over the 4th of July. We look forward to celebrating the holiday and discovering how each family member has flourished throughout the previous year.
This year was bittersweet.
Most of my grand nieces, grand nephews, nieces, nephews, siblings (and their spouses) could not make it to Montana, but my nephew, Jeremy, and his family were able to safely quarantine on the place and enjoy some of the great outdoors. It was such a blessing….
The Red Lodge parade and rodeo fell victim to the pandemic and our celebration was subdued. However the resilience of my great nieces and nephew were on full display throughout their stay on the Schuyler place.
In late July I visited Hyattville, Wyoming and Medicine Lodge Archaeological site with some of my family. The Medicine Lodge site is a hidden oasis and home to large sandstone cliffs that display many Native American petroglyphs and pictographs along with some early 20th century graffiti.
A natural wonder near Medicine Lodge is the majestic Cloud Peak Wilderness area. It was as if we were observing what Scott Stillman describes in his book, Wilderness: Gateway to the Soul. The sheer magnitude of the Cloud Peak Wilderness was awe inspiring…
Red Lodge and the surrounding area abounds with lots of hiking trails and panoramic scenery. Enjoying hikes filled the summer days with lots of joy.
In August I returned to Luccock Park, a United Methodist church campground where I spent many summers singing around the campfire. My friends Jan, Gary, Deb, Karen, & Robin enhanced this memory lane adventure with a tasty picnic.
My friends Norm and Cecile visited from Logan, Utah in August and brought along “Hiking the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness“. We adventured south of Red Lodge on one of the highlighted trails along Rock Creek. It was a great way to absorb the pristine natural environment in a safe and distanced way.
In September I drove to northwest Colorado and visited my dear friend Lannis in Carbondale, Colorado. I enjoyed the spectacular western Rockies near Crested Butte, Snowmass, Paonia, and Aspen while celebrating the beginning of the fall season.
The balloons were in all their glory as we participated in a drive-in movie style pandemic viewing for the Snowmass Balloon Festival.
In was wonderful to enjoy harvest time in Paonia. Picking peaches and enjoying the wonderful warm fall weather while hiking near Lannis’s home in Carbondale enhanced my adventure.
In mid December we had a magical visit from some of our local elk population. A herd of young bulls descended from the Beartooth foothills to bed down less than four miles from the Schuyler place. I have never seen elk this near the place in my entire life. It was transcendent.
The pandemic taught me to slow down and appreciate life each and every day.
“Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening.
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm.
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.”
—John O’Donohue, To Bless this Space Between Us
“When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
If only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it” –
—Amanda Gorman, January 20, 2021
I apologize for not posting this Egyptian post for the last several months. The alluring summer weather in Montana drew me outside and away from my computer.
This final post is focused on the mysterious pyramids on the Giza plateau near Cairo. What can you say about the pyramids that has not already been written? They are the most iconic manmade objects on the planet.
The Giza pyramid complex, also called the Giza Necropolis, includes the Pyramid of Khufu (Great Pyramid of Giza), the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure as well as the mysterious Sphinx of Giza…all built during the Fourth Dynasty (2613 – 2494 BC.)
The Great Pyramid dominates the Giza plateau reaching to 481 feet. Evidence from the tombs indicate that a workforce of 10,000 laborers working in three-month shifts took around 30 years to build a pyramid!
The sides of all three of the Giza pyramids are astronomically oriented to the north–south and east–west within a small fraction of a degree. There is speculation that the arrangement of the Giza pyramids is a representation of the Orion constellation.
The Great Sphinx of Giza, is a limestone statue of a reclining sphinx, a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. Facing directly from west to east, it stands on the Giza plateau on the west bank of the Nile. The face of the Sphinx is generally believed to represent the Pharaoh Khafre.
In 2013 my group stayed at the Mena House where the Great Pyramids loomed outside our hotel balconies. My stay at this hotel was a major highlight of my 2013 Egyptian visit.
The Mena House has special significance in modern Egyptian history. In 1977 the governments of Egypt and Israel sat down together at the Mena House in a quest for a peace settlement (also attending were American and United Nations representatives). The results of the Mena House Conference led to the Camp David Accords.
The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), also known as the Giza Museum, was in the final stages of construction when I visited in October 2019. Described as the largest archaeological museum in the world, construction was set to be complete in the first quarter of 2020.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum is now not scheduled to open until early 2021. The main attraction will be the first exhibition of the full tomb collection of King Tutankhamun. The collection includes about 5000 items in total and will be relocated from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Other objects will be relocated from storages and museums in Luxor, Minya, Sohag, Assiut, Beni Suef, Fayoum, the Delta, and Alexandria. I hope to return to see this new museum in all its splendor.
We passed by the museum construction on the way to the Giza Pyramids. The museum is sited on 120 acres of land approximately a mile from the Giza pyramids and is part of a new master plan for the plateau…a fitting tribute for the ancient civilization of Egypt.
As I traveled during the Arab Spring in 2013 and when I returned to Egypt in 2019 there were marked differences. However, there were also heart breaking similarities in the local living conditions and political environment.
Since 2011 the modern state of Egypt has endured wide unrest and is now ruled by a general of the Egyptian military, el-Sisi. He was elected with 96% of a widely questioned vote in 2014 and continues to rule the Egyptian state at this time. During my two trips to Egypt some societal changes have occurred but most Egyptian people are still mired in poverty which was evident throughout Cairo.
The Step tomb is one of the oldest pyramids in Egypt built in the 27th century BC for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser. The pyramid originally stood 205 ft tall, with a base 358 ft × 397 ft, and was clad in polished white limestone. This tomb is located in Saqqara. Saqqara is a vast, ancient burial ground, serving as the necropolis for the ancient Memphis and is located some 19 miles south of modern-day Cairo.
Exploring the pyramids has changed a bit since Mark Twain visited them 150 years ago in 1867.
In Innocents Abroad, Twain describes his pyramid adventure: At the end of the levee we left the mules and went in a sailboat across an arm of the Nile….A laborious walk in the flaming sun brought us to the foot of the great pyramid of Cheops…Of course we were besieged by a rabble of muscular Egyptians who wanted the contract of dragging us to the top–all tourists are… Of course we contracted with them, paid them, were delivered to the hands of the draggers, dragged up the pyramids, and harried and bedeviled for baksheesh from the foundation clear to the summit.
I can assure you that I did not climb the pyramids with or without the assistance of muscular Egyptians!…and we took an air conditioned bus to the base.
A poem by Isaac McLellan, a nineteenth century poet, helped me appreciate these ancient wonders.
Yet pilgrims from enlightened climes
Come, o’er departed pomp to muse;
To trace their glories, — and their strange
Dim hieroglyphics to peruse;
To wipe the drifting sands away,
And ope their treasures to the day.
Great Cheops! on the topmost stone
I’ve stood, of thy vast pyramid;
And by the blazing torch-light read
The secrets in thy caverns hid;
And scanned those blackened walls with dread,
Reared to enclose thy kingly dead.
How thrilled the soul with crowding thought,
As far the eye the desert viewed,
Tracing Sycara’s massive piles,
Soar o’er the boundless solitude,
Uprearing their dark steps on high,
As if to prop the bending sky.
Beneath, the fertilizing Nile
Poured its full flood o’er smiling plains;
Changeless as when Sesostris led
The myriads of his wide domains,
And here encamped, or reared the mound
Of the tall pyramid from the ground.
During both of my trips to Egypt I was delighted to add a journey to Alexandria. However in 1867 it was the only port of entry into mysterious Egypt. Aboard the steam ship Quaker City Mark Twain was recording his five month journey throughout Europe, the Holy Land and Egypt.
After arriving in Alexandria Twain would travel the 140 miles to Cairo via train. Twain’s acerbic observations of the 19th century American tourist in Egypt were brilliant:
“In the morning the lost tribes of America came ashore and infested the hotels and took possession of all the donkeys…I believe I would rather ride a donkey than any beast in the world. He goes briskly, he puts on no airs, he is docile, though opinionated. Satan himself could not scare him, and he is convenient–very convenient. When you are tired riding you can rest your feet on the ground and let him gallop from under you.”
Twain mailed over 50 letters back to the US during his voyage as well as keeping detailed journals that resulted in his book, “The Innocents Abroad aka The New Pilgrims’ Progress.” This book, published in 1869, became one of the most popular books in 19th century America. Parker Brothers even made it into a board game.
Alexandria is said to be the greatest historical city with the least to show. Founded by Alexander the Great, the city gave rise to the last great Pharaonic dynasty (the Ptolemies), provided the entry into Egypt for the Romans and nurtured early Christianity before rapidly fading into near obscurity when Islam invaded the country (8th century AD).
Alexandria continued to decline throughout the years of Muslim rule but enjoyed a renaissance upon Napoleon’s invasion in 1798. It became one of the Mediterranean’s busiest ports from that point forward.
Ancient Alexandria is almost as intangible to us as Atlantis. It is a place of legendary status that connects to half remembered tales of Cleopatra, the Seven Wonders of the World and the great library. It borders on the mythological.
The Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa are an interesting site to visit when in Alexandria. They are the the largest Roman burial site in Egypt and considered on of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. It seems every age has its list of world wonders…
The Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa consist of three tiers of tombs and chambers cut out of rock to a depth of about 35 meters. The catacombs merge Roman, Greek and Egyptian culture; some statues are Egyptian in style, yet bear Roman clothes and hair style while other features share a similar style. It is estimated that over 300 souls were buried in these catacombs…may they Rest in Peace.
Alexander the Great is allegedly buried in his namesake city but the location of the tomb is still unknown…another mysterious dimension to this ancient and modern city.
The most inspiring site in Alexandria is the modern library fashioned after the ancient library of Alexander and completed in 2002. The library is a result of an initiative by the Egyptian government, UNESCO, and Alexandria University and was undertaken “with the aim of re-establishing Alexandria as one of the great intellectual and cultural centers of the twenty-first century”.
The original library was founded by the first Ptolemy pharaoh in late 3rd century BC and eventually housed over 750,000 texts. It became one of the greatest of all classical institutions stimulating Euclid to develop geometry and where Aristarchus discovered that the earth revolves around the sun. And don’t forget that Julius Caesar put a torch to the great library in 48 BC while pursuing Pompey.
The dimensions of the project are vast: the library has shelf space for eight million books,with the main reading room covering 20,000 square metres (220,000 sq ft) on eleven cascading levels. The complex also houses a conference center; specialized libraries for maps, multimedia, the blind and visually impaired, young people, and for children; four museums; four art galleries for temporary exhibitions; 15 permanent exhibitions; a planetarium and a manuscript restoration laboratory.
The library’s architecture is equally striking. The main reading room stands beneath a 32-meter-high glass-panelled roof, tilted out toward the sea like a sundial, and measuring some 160 m in diameter. The walls are of gray Aswan granite, carved with characters from 120 different human scripts.
In the era of self quarantine the Ghandi inscription takes on new meaning. “But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”
Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a modern wonder of our world…From knowledge to wisdom.
Pompey’s Pillar, a massive 30 meter hit pink granite column looms over the debris of the glorious ancient settlement of Rhakoti, the original village on the site where Alexandria was founded in 331 BC. The column was given its name by travelers who remembered the murder for the Roman general Pompey by Cleopatra’s brother even though historians have indicated that this pillar was built 200 years after his murder.
Another interesting site is Fort Qaitby (15th century AD), located in the east harbor of Alexandria. The fort sits on the remains of the ancient Pharos lighthouse.
Pharos, the 300 foot high lighthouse built in 280 BC, was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the tallest building in antiquity besides the Great Pyramid. The lighthouse survived into the 1300s but earthquakes and tsunamis finally destroyed the structure.
Some stones of the Pharos lighthouse are integrated into Fort Qaitby but other fragments of the ancient lighthouse can be found on the floor of the Mediterranean surrounding the fort today.
Nicholas Michell, a 19th century poet, captures the magic of Alexandria:
One city yet, and Nile’s time-hallowed shore
Our fondly-lingering step detains no more.
Domes, minarets, their spiry heads that rear,
Mocking with gaudy hues the ruins near;
Dim crumbling colonnades, and marble walls,
Rich columns, broken statues, roofless halls;
Beauty, deformity, together thrown,
A maze of ruins, date, design unknown, —
Such is the scene — the conquest Time hath won —
Such the famed city built by Philip’s son.
Ah, me! ‘mid tottering towers, and regal tombs,
Tall sculptured columns, echoing catacombs,
How Turkish piles, and works of modern art,
Chafe with romance, and bid high dreams depart!…
I will continue my posts about my Egyptian travels as the corona virus engulfs our world. The pandemic highlights to me the need to enjoy every moment as you travel and savor each experience as we continue to live our lives–even after coronavirus. I hope you enjoy my Egyptian travel reflections.
In 2013 I had the opportunity to to visit the ancient site of Abu Simbel, located around 175 miles south of Aswan along the shores of Lake Nasser. It is about a 3 hour bus ride, under armed guard, from Aswan to Abu Simbel and one of the few ways to get to this mysterious temple.
The armed guard escort added an extra dimension to my trip but I was comforted to know that we would likely not be hijacked on our way to or from this site. You may recall that in 2013 Egypt was under the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood and there was unrest throughout the country.
Abu Simbel’s twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside in the 13th century BC, during the 19th dynasty reign of the Pharaoh Ramesses II. They serve as a lasting monument to the king and his queen Nefertari.
Abu Simbel, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was moved to avoid being flooded during the construction of the High Aswan Dam.
Between 1964 and 1968 the entire site was carefully cut into large blocks (up to 30 tons), dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 meters higher and 200 meters back from the river, in one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering in history. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I have vivid memories of reading about Abu Simbel’s relocation in my 6th grade Weekly Reader but never imagined that I would witness this amazing accomplishment in person 50 years later. It was breathtaking!
Lake Nasser was created as a result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile. This construction of the dam occurred between 1958 and 1970. The resulting lake was named after Gamal Abdel Nasser, one of the leaders of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.
The lake is 298 mile long and 10 miles across at its widest point. It covers a total surface area of 5,250 km2 (2,030 sq mi) and has a storage capacity of some 132 km3 (32 cu mi) of water, one of world’s largest man-made lakes. 25% of the lake extends into the country of Sudan.
I will end this blog with a poem by John Bruce Norton (1815 – 1883) about Abu Simbel:
His is the shrine of Silence, sunk and hewn
Deep in the solid rock: its pillars rise
From floor to roof, like giants, with fixed eyes
And palms crossed on their breasts; e’en at mid-noon
A dim light falls around, as though the moon
Were peering at the temple from the skies.
The foot falls soundless on the sand, that lies
A carpet by long centuries thick-strewn.
The mighty shapes that guard the solemn pile,
Unburied, after ages, from the tomb
Heaped on them by the blast of the simoom,
Sit at the portal, gazing, night and day,
O’er the lone desert, stretching far away,
And on the eternal flood of Father Nile.
Since the late 1800’s France and the United Kingdom have played roles in governing Egypt. Napoleon was present in the early 19th century and Egypt was an English protectorate from 1883 until 1953. In 1953 Egypt became an independent republic with notable leaders like Nasser and Mubarak who brought many aspects of modern society to the people of Egypt. One of the major projects built in modern times was the Aswan High Dam.
The Aswan High Dam built between 1960 and 1970 captures floodwater during rainy seasons and releases the water during times of drought. The dam generates enormous amounts of electric power — more than 10 billion kilowatt-hours every year.
We were shuttled to the site of Philae, another ancient Egyptian religious site.
Ancient Egyptian religion was a complex system of polytheistic beliefs and rituals that formed an integral part of ancient Egyptian society. It centered on the Egyptians’ interactions with many gods believed to be present in, and in control of, the world. Rituals such as prayer and offerings were provided to the gods to gain their favor.
Formal religious practice centered on the pharaohs, the rulers of Egypt, believed to possess divine powers by virtue of their positions. They acted as intermediaries between their people and the gods, and were obligated to sustain the gods through rituals and offerings so that they could maintain Ma’at, the order of the cosmos. The state dedicated enormous resources to religious rituals and to the construction of temples, like Philae.
Philae, like many other religious sites, became places where early Christians worshipped during Roman times.
Partially flooded by the Aswan lower dam’s construction in 1902, the Philae temple complex was dismantled and relocated to Agilkia island, as part of a wider UNESCO project related to the 1960s construction of the Aswan High Dam.
We were able to enjoy other tours around the Aswan area including a felucca trip to a Nubian village as well enjoying an afternoon at the local perfume factory.
We visited the site of an ancient quarry where we viewed the unfinished obelisk, the largest known ancient obelisk. Its creation was ordered by Hatshepsut (1508–1458 BC). The unfinished obelisk is nearly one-third larger than any ancient Egyptian obelisk ever erected.
If finished it would have measured around 42 metres (138 ft) and would have weighed nearly 1,200 tons. Other ancient Egyptian obelisks have been transported to Rome and Paris. A weighty souvenir…..
I conclude this blog with excerpts from a poem, “At Philae“, by British poet, Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley. Rawnsley (1851-1920) was an Anglican priest, poet, local politician and conservationist. He became nationally and internationally known as one of the three founders of the National Trust in the 1890s. He captures the magic of the moment at Philae:
“Above the palms uprose a temple fair
The Grecian monarch for Osiris made,
You well might think that down the water stair
Would throng the priests, or fill the colonnade,……
I stepped to land, I passed the towered gate
Where the fierce Ptolemy lifts his axe of might,
Saw thro’ the gloom the chapel walls relate
Of Horus born to slay the dark by light,
And heard the parable of song made plain,
That tames the hand and bids it sow the grain….”
My journey from Luxor to Aswan continued via a Nile riverboat which is like staying in a luxury hotel on water. As the countryside flowed by our river boat, I reflected on more Egyptian history.
In my last blog I described the 3,000 years of Pharaonic rule of Egypt that ended when Octavian (the future Roman emperor Augustus), defeated Mark Antony, and deposed Cleopatra in 30 BC.
Egypt became a Roman province and continued under Roman rule as part of Byzantium until the Muslims conquered Egypt in 640 AD.
After 640 AD Egypt became a part of various Muslim dynasties and caliphates and was ultimately absorbed into the Ottoman empire in the 16th century.
One of the first stops along the Nile after we departed Luxor was the ancient city of Edfu. This is where we experienced the rambunctious transport mode of horse and buggy which took us to and from the Temple of Horus.
The town of Edfu is known best for the major Ptolemaic temple, Temple of Horus, that was built between 237 BC and 57 BC.
We navigated two sets of locks on the Nile to the south of Luxor.
As our journey continued up the Nile we docked near the entrance to the Temple of Kom Ombo. It was within walking distance of our riverboat and an unusual double temple.
The temple was constructed during the Ptolemaic dynasty, 180–47 BC. The building is unique because its ‘double’ design meant that there were courts, halls, sanctuaries and rooms duplicated for two sets of gods.
The southern half of the temple was dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world. Meanwhile, the northern part of the temple was dedicated to the falcon god (“Horus the Elder”).
Nineteenth century poet Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley, who was an Anglican priest, poet, and conservationist, made this observation of ancient Egypt in his poem entitled “At Kom Ombo”:
There lies a bank of yellow-golden sand
Where from a tower falls crumbling to the tide,
Above, half hid, two sanctuaries stand.
Twin temples side by side.
In one was evil honored, in one Good,
Hymns to Light there, and here to Dark were raised,
In both that subtle dragon of the flood.
The crocodile, was praised.
Ancient recorded history reaches back over 5,000 years in Egypt and tracks 39 Pharaonic dynasties. This period extends from the 32nd century BC, when Upper and Lower Egypt were unified, to 30 BC (over 3,000 years)!
In 526 BC the Persians invaded Egypt and reigned until the country fell to Alexander the Great in 332 BC. The Greek Ptolemaic Kingdom formed in the aftermath of Alexander’s death, ruled Egypt until 30 BC, when, under Cleopatra, it fell to the Roman Empire and became a Roman province.
It is hard to appreciate the ancient history of Egypt and the impact its culture has had on western civilization. However my Nile riverboat cruise offered me an opportunity to observe how ancient and modern Egyptian societies have adapted to the landscape over the millennia. The concept of deep time was on full display throughout my Egyptian journey and many times I felt like a time traveler stealing a peek into a bygone mystical era.
In 2013 my Nile riverboat cruise began in Luxor and sailed south (or up) the Nile to Aswan. In 2019 I started in Aswan and sailed north (or down) the Nile to Luxor. For this narrative I will begin my Nile cruise at Luxor.
Luxor, or Thebes as it was known in ancient times, was the ceremonial capital of ancient Egypt and is 315 air miles south of Cairo. Luxor has frequently been characterized as the “world’s greatest open-air museum,” as the ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the modern city. Across the River Nile are the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.
One of our first destinations was the Luxor Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Unlike the other temples in Luxor, Luxor temple is not dedicated to a cult god or a deified version of the pharaoh in death. Instead, Luxor temple is dedicated to the rejuvenation of kingship; it may have been where many of the pharaohs of Egypt were crowned in reality or conceptually (as in the case of Alexander the Great, who claimed he was crowned at Luxor but may never have traveled south of Memphis, near modern Cairo).
Between 2013 and 2019 three statues of Ramses II had been restored to the facade of the Luxor Temple. It was a positive sign that the Egyptian government is paying attention to their priceless historic sites and continuing to restore them.
Another famous ancient site located within the modern city of Luxor was the Karnak Temple complex.
The Karnak Temple complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the length of time over which it was developed and used. Construction of the Karnak temples started in around 2000 BC and continued through 30 BC.
Approximately thirty pharaohs, including Ramses II and Tutankhamen, contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. Few of the individual features of Karnak are unique, but the size and number of features are overwhelming.
The tour of Luxor included some time whiplash. After we visited the ancient sites scattered throughout Luxor we were privileged to visit a modern elementary school in Luxor. Egypt provides free compulsory education for children ages 6 – 14.
Our reception by the Franciscan Primary School students and staff was overwhelming…the joy of learning was present and inspiring….
We traveled around 18 miles from Luxor to the Valley of the Kings. Rock cut tombs were excavated for the pharaohs in this valley from the 16th to the 11th century BC (nearly 500 years).
The intact tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamen was discovered in 1922 by British archeologist Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings. The 4,000 articles found in King Tut’s tomb occupy an entire wing of the Cairo museum.
The most splendid architectural find was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin, which was made out of solid gold, was the mummy of the boy-king Tutankhamen, preserved for more than 3,000 years. Most of these treasures are now housed in the Cairo Museum.
During my 2013 trip in Luxor some of our group, including my friend Kent’s 90-year old mother, embarked on an early morning hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings.
I will never forget how excited she became when she shared her hot air balloon ride story….It was her adventure of a life time.
I have been to Egypt twice – February 2013 and October 2019. I will attempt to combine pictures and experiences from both trips to give you a sense of this ancient land that continues to evolve today.
Each of my trips to Egypt began in Israel. Unlike Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, I did not flee to Egypt to escape Herod, nor travel via steam ship like Mark Twain did in 1867… I flew on an airplane from Tel Aviv to Cairo.
Both of my trips began and ended in Cairo. Cairo is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in Egypt, Africa, the Middle East, and is the 15th largest metropolitan area in the world with a population of over 20 million. The ruins of Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt, are engulfed by modern day Cairo. Cairo dates from the 10th century AD and was established by the Tunisian Fatimids.
Flying into and out of Cairo can be quite daunting but it pales in comparison to negotiating Cairo traffic.
A visit to the Egyptian Museum is like entering into a vast storehouse where someone has left all the exhibits in disarray. There is an entire floor of items removed from King Tutankhamun’s tomb, the most famous Egyptian pharaoh (18th dynasty) reigning from 1334 – 1325 BC.
In 2013 we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the museum. However, in 2019 you could pay a camera fee or take cell phone photos for free.
A unique item in the Egyptian museum is the Narmer Palette. This siltstone artifact is over 5,000 years old, is called “the first historical document in the world” and depicts, in hieroglyphics, the merging of Upper and Lower Egypt–the beginning of the rule of the Pharoahs that would last over 3,000 years!
In 2020 Egypt plans to open the Grand Egyptian Museum located near Giza. Many of the artifacts that I saw in the Egyptian Museum will be relocated to this location.
Another site we visited in Cairo was the Citadel. It was the seat of government in Egypt and the residence of its Islamic rulers for nearly 700 years from the 13th to the 19th centuries.
The Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha is found inside the Citadel grounds. This mosque was built in the early 19th century and is one of the most famous landmarks within the city of Cairo.
No visit to Cairo would be complete without a visit to a bazaar to collect souvenirs and tour the narrow streets of Old Cairo.
As I explore Egypt in the next few blogs I am reminded of a Mark Twain quote from his book The Innocents Abroad that is as relevant today as it was 150 years ago:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness….”
We concluded the final few days of our Israel trip visiting the Church of Holy Sepulchre, exploring the ancient City of David, and hiking the ramparts and bell towers of Jerusalem.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built around what is believed to be the site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Matthew 27: 27-66, Matthew 28: 1-10
The first basilica was built by Roman emperor Constantine between 326 and 335 AD at the suggestion of his mother St. Helena. The current complex church structure has existed at this site for over 1,000 years having survived earthquakes, fires and regime changes.
Medieval European maps showed Jerusalem as the center of the world (omphalos) and more specifically the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Fierce disputes, lasting centuries, between Christian creeds over ownership of the church were largely resolved by an Ottoman decree issued in 1852. Still in force and known as the Status Quo, it divides custody among Armenians, Greeks, Copts, Roman Catholics, Ethiopians and Syrians. Every day the church is ironically unlocked by a Muslim key holder acting as a “neutral” intermediary.
South of the Old City is the oldest part of Jerusalem, the City of David. There is evidence that the Jebusites, a Canaanite people, lived there over 3,000 years ago. David supposedly conquered the city and made it his capital in about 1,000 BC. Samuel 5: 6-17
One of our adventures in the City of David was to don our water shoes and slosh through thigh deep water flowing from Gihon springs through a 2,000 foot subterranean tunnel built by King Hezekiah in the 7th century BC. King Hezekiah built the tunnel to conceal the water supply for Jerusalem from the Assyrian invasion. 2 Kings 20:20
Not for the faint of heart or claustrophobes…..
Vaughn and I decided to climb the 177 steps of the bell tower of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer to view Old Jerusalem. After climbing a narrow winding staircase we were rewarded with amazing views….and the bells luckily did not ring while we were in the stairs.
No Jerusalem tour would be complete without walking the ramparts of the old city. As we walked along the southern rampart we encountered many pilgrims reciting biblical texts in German.
A prominent site on the southern rampart is the Church of the Dormition. This Neo-Romanesque church dominates Mt. Zion and stands on the site where the Virgin Mary is said to have fallen into an “eternal sleep” or dormition. The current church on this site was built in the early 20th century for German Kaiser Wilhelm II and may explain why there were so many German pilgrims on the rampart.
Gaylene was an amazing guide for our travels and I wish her safe and blessed travels with her future tours.
It has been a joy to share some of my adventures experienced in this holy land. Some of my favorite memories include meeting local people enjoying life each day and learning from them not to fear the other…a lesson I need to relearn every day.
May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground.
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us