Egypt Journal - 4th Feb 2001 - 18th Feb 2001

The following is a transcript of the notebook I kept during our trip to Egypt. The purpose of the journal was to keep track of my photographs, and to help make sense of where we had been and what we had seen later. I started off making notes in the evenings of what happened that day, but rapidly discovered that there was too much going on to be able to keep track of things that way. So I started taking the notebook with me and making notes first on the tour bus, and then while at actual sites. Consequently the entries get longer, but also more disjointed and incomprehensible, as they go on. Elizabeth made some corrections, and added some notes. Otherwise I've left them as they were, as much as possible, rather than trying to amend them make them more comprehensible.

Our tour was sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America, and was organized by Museum Tours. We would recommend both very highly to anyone thinking about a tour in Egypt.

4th Feb 2001


Bagels for breakfast once more. We packed in the morning and left our bags at the hotel. We walked down Madison Ave., but most places were closed. Walked back through Central Park. Then 5th Ave. as far as Saks. Early dinner of pizza at Angelo's. Then back to hotel to get bags and taxi to airport. Left bag with NY clothes at hotel to collect on way back.

5th Feb 2001

NYC to Cairo

JFK airport seemed more like a third-world airport than a US airport. Still things went smoothly. Flight was uneventful. The plane managed to seem old even though it was a new 777. We had an excellent view of the pyramids as we landed in Cairo. Long bus ride, including president's home, airforce club, mosques, huge "graveyard", goats, etc. Vehicles and pedestrians seem oblivious to one another - it's a wonder that anyone survives to puberty.

Mena House Hotel is very grand and impressive. Several restaurants and bars with musicians. A casino and golf course, etc. It's at the base of the Great Pyramid in Giza. We're in the newer wing of the hotel, so no view of the pyramids, but still very plush.

6th Feb 2001

Cairo, Giza Plateau

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Had to get up early - bus left at 7:30 to be first in line for tickets for the great pyramid. Waited a while to get to Giza Plateau. After getting tickets saw tombs of Qar and Idu (head scribes). Went into the Great Pyramid - had to walk on heels, bent-over double for some time to get to two rather boring rooms with one sarcophagus.

Bus then took us to viewing point for Pink Floyd photograph. Stood for group photo. Then to Sphinx and Valley Temple of Chephren. Lunch at local fish restaurant (Peace). Returned to hotel for half an hour. Were going to go on walking tour of Giza Plateau with group, but missed bus. So we walked back up to the pyramids and around for a while. Many people offered to let us photograph them for "no money" and several wanted to sell us a camel, but we said our cat wouldn't get on with one.

7th Feb 2001

Mena House Hotel, Cairo

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In the morning we had a lecture by Zahi Hawass (director for Giza Plateau, ...). Got to see more of the hotel, which was remarkable. We were awed by some of the halls which we assumed were original but were then told were only 12 years old.

Lecture was very good. I realized the lecturer was same person who wrote article in in-flight magazine. Talked about the Valley of the Golden Mummies, recently found tomb of governor of Bahariya, how pyramids were built, dealing with silly theories, etc.

Bus route went through farming country along canal. Saw many water buffalo, palm trees and fields.

Sakkara. Saw tomb of the Royal Manicurists (twins). Pyramid of Unus, which we got special permission to go inside, but were not allowed to take photos. This was first pyramid in which hieroglyphs were found (amazing). Saw Step Pyramid of Zoser too, plus Pyramid of Teti (more hieroglyphs), tomb of Mereruka (amazing spirit door, with statue).

Lunch at Sakkara Palm Club. Then Memphis open air museum. Screwed up loading film in Memphis and had no more, so no more photos for today.

Tour of carpet factory. They made a point of saying that the child labourers were also educated. We bought a rug for CC. Bargained down to thee quarters the price without really trying. We could probably have done better ir we'd tried.

Then back to Cairo. Dinner of spaghetti at Movenpick hotel. Then to airport for flight to Luxor.

8th Feb 2001


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Staying at the New Winter Palace hotel,  which is extremely plush, and is next door to the Luxor Temple.

Karnak: Entrance lined with crio-sphinxes. Many free-standing columns with hieroglyphs. Note Ramses II cartouches and honey bees, which stood for Lower Egypt. Paint on underside of cross-bars still visible. Ramses II making offerings to god of fertility, Amun-Min. Wall described battle of Kadesh - somewhat fictitious; actually Ramses lost. The four obelisks were here: two still stand, one broken, and one is the Place de Concorde, Paris.

Then went to Luxor Museum. Superb statue of Amenhotop III and Cow Goddess' golden head taken from tomb of Tutankhamun. Took photos but probably won't come out.

The museum was one of the best I've ever seen. Small, but the items they had were superb, and very well laid out.

After the museum we forewent the bus and walked back to the hotel. The walk was pleasant along the Nile, and we saw the boat we will be sailing in.

After lunch went to Luxor Temple with Maryann and Bill to take photographs. This was free period in schedule. The temple was scheduled for that night, but we wanted an opportunity to photograph it. It was nice enough, but not that  impressive after Karnak. Afterwards I realized I would run out of film so bought more.

For dinner we went across the river by boat to the Tutankhamun restaurant, which served Egyptian food and was very good. Then went to see Luxor Temple. It was more impressive lit up at night. Several of the women in the group were impressed by the relief picture of the god Min.

9th Feb 2001


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Got up early to leave at 7 a.m. in order to try to get tickets for Nefertari's tomb (limitted to 150 people per day). Boat across Nile to bus saved us 45 minutes. Sold out so try again tomorrow.

Deir el Medina: workers village. Tombs of Pashedu - really good paintings - slow exposures, may not come out. Anherkhu - Tom said description was from books of dead.

Hike to Valley of the Kings: many vendors followed us on the way up. Prices got lower as we got further. Bought some scarabs, cat statue, etc. Great views of VotK. Tomb of Amenhotep II: took photos but very low light.

Tomb of Ramses VI. Impressive tunnel to tomb, and fantastic ceilint. 12 gates symbolizing hours of night. Ceiling showed goddess Nut swallowing the sun and giving birth to it. Couldn't photograph due to light/crowds/no where to rest camera. Went into Tomb of Tutankhamun. Small with only one wall painted, but sarcofigus was impressive. Skipped tomb of Ramses IX. Lunch catered by chef from Tutankhamun at VofK cafeteria.  Also free sermon from local imam.

Temple of Deir el Bahri. Being restored by Polish Arch. Inst. Looks magnificent from outside. Set into side of mountain. Palm tree stumps from trees imported from Sudan. Walls were badly defaced in parts but still nice. Very nice painted vultures in corners. Temple of Hathor.

Bus + boat back to hotel. In the evening Bill gave a lecture on New Kingdom history. Then dinner in old part of Winter Palace.

10th Feb 2001


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Got up at 4:30 a.m. to try to get tickets for Nefetari's tomb. There was a delay waiting for the boat to sail, so there were already about 100 people waiting when we got to the ticket office, but we got the tickets. Then back to the hotel for breakfast.

Valley of the Queens. First Tomb of Nefertari. 10 minutes only and no photos. Tom talked about what was on the walls before we went in. Various chapters of book of the dead.

Tomb was incredible. Each hieroglyph symbol was a work of art. Bird wings were wonderful. Different earrings/jewellery on each Nefertari. Bought slides.

Tomb of Khaem-waset, 4th son of Ramses III. Died very young. Also lovely, but not as spectacular. Colours more faded, and not so much detail. Casual Lion. Hieroglyphs carved with block colours. Glass in front of walls - so no photos.

Ramesseum (Temple of Ramses II). Many colosi. Inspired Shelley's Ozymandias, which Bill quoted.

Medinat Habu Temple. Relief of Ramses II counting penises to get numbers of Hitites/Egyptians dead (non-circumsized vs. circumsized). Ancient rest-room.

Stopped at alabaster works. Bought canopic jar + two gods.

Stopped at Colossi of Memnon (actually Amenhotop III). Built in flood plain so features worn.

Back to Luxor. Lunch on boat.

Our boat is spectacular. It's called The King of Thebes. There are marble pillars and gold everywhere in the foyer and restaurant. It's like a high-end Paris hotel, only with low ceilings.

This afternoon we went shopping in Luxor. We were looking for a pharmacist, but ended up getting a T-shirt for me and clothes and earrings for E. I found the Prisse d'Avennes print I was looking for, plus two more for my office.

In the evening we rejoined the group and went for a visit to papyrus factory. Went by horse-drawn cart. Bought a Judgment-Day scene for us, and a scene of Nut eating sun (from Ramses VI tomb) for parents.

11th Feb 2001

On-board The King of Thebes

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Leisurely day. Got up late. Cruising down the Nile, we watched the scenery pass by on the banks. Marleen (one of the doctoral students) gave a talk on interpretting tomb paintings in the morning. Tom gave a talk on Ancient Egyptian religion/cosmology in the afternoon. Much of the afternoon was spent waiting in a queue to go through lock. Various vendors in small rowing boats came alongside while we were waiting, and offered to sell us things.

12th Feb 2001

On-board The King of Thebes

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Edfu, Temple of Horus. The boat stopped and we dissembarked at 9 a.m. Horse-drawn carriages took us to the temple. At the temple it was a total mob-scene. All the boats had unloaded at the same time, and would leave at the same time. Still an interesting temple. This was made in the Greco-Roman period so style was different - noticeable that reliefs had pronounced breasts and belly-buttons. There was a nice statue of Horus-as-falcon that everyone had their photos taken with. Most of the reliefs had been defaced by the Copts, though a few were still intact.

Temple of Kom Ombo. We walked to the temple from the boat in the evening. This was a late Ptolemaic period temple dedicated to Sobek (crocodile god) and Haroeris (Horus the healer). It was night and the temple was lit, but not enough light for photos. I took a few flash-photos of reliefs. Reliefs had more pronounced musculature, nipples, etc. than those on earlier temples. Also saw Cleopatra's bath tub.

13th Feb 2001


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Elephantine Island. The boat was pulled-up when we awoke. After breakfast we took a felucca to Elephantine Island. Saw one of the wells that Eratosthenes used to measure the circumference of Earth. Aswan Museum - some interesting small items + curious marriage contract.

Temples of Satit andKhnum. Built by Queen/King Hatshepsut (Satit). Many layers of temples.

Kitchener's Island/Botanical Island. Very peaceful. Many cats.

More sailing on the felucca, and then to our hotel for lunch. The hotel was as plush on the inside as it is ugly on the outside.

In the afternoon we visited the Rock Tombs on the West Bank. This time we took a motor boat. Tombs involved climbing some steep steps, though not as many as we'd been led to expect. Tombs were of various noblemen. Saw letter from Pharaoh to Harkhuf concerning a pygmy he had found and was bringing back to Egypt. Tomb of Sirenput II had some particularly nice paintings with very vivid colours.

Took a boat to Old Cataract for afternoon tea on the terrace. Tea was a bit disappointing, though view was good. I suspect it's much better for actual residents. Afterwards we had a look around the hotel. The 1912 restaurant looked magnificent.

14th Feb 2001

Aswan to Abu Simbel

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To get to Abu Simbel took ferry from hotel, then bus, then plane. Aswan airport was nice and new, with replica artifacts to decorate. Most seats on left of plane were taken, so no view of temple from the air.

King Ramses II Temple: Dedicated to Ra-Harakhte. Colossi were indeed colossal. Nice statues inside. Very nice relief of chariot-mounted archer, but low-light and many crowds.

Temple of Nefertari: Smaller but very nice. Combined Nefertari with Hathor (cow goddess). Had paintings of Ramses making offerings to Nefertari.

Got back about 3 p.m., tired and hungry.

In evening took ferry across to bazaar. Then went to Egyptian restaurant (Aswan Moon) on water front. Later Elizabeth had her hand hennaed by person in hotel shop we bought bag from.

15th Feb 2001


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Ancient quarry, Unfinished Obelisk. Was started for Hatshepsut, but they found a crack in it and gave up. Not very exciting, but it was interesting to wonder how they freed it from the rock and moved it.

Nubian Museum. A nice new museum with very pleasant architecture and grounds. Some very lovely statues and figures inside. Unfortunately poorly lit. Also visit was a bit too short to see everything properly.

Temple of Isis at Philas. Temple on island - had to take boat. Temple had been moved because of Nasser's High Dam. The French had left graffiti (typical). Very nice columns with varying designs. Some bits of decorations seemed unfinished. Some very recent (340 AD) hieroglyphs.

In the evening Elizabeth and I hired a felucca from Captain Karim and sailed around the island.

Dinner was at Italian restaurant in hotel and had an ersatz Whirling Dervish and a belly dancer.

16th Feb 2001

Aswan to Cairo

Lie-in  and late breakfast. Flight to Cairo at 12:30 p.m. When we arrived bus took us to El Hati restaurant in Cairo for lunch. Then checked into Nile Hilton.

In the evening we went to the bazaar and then to Egyptian restaurant (Naguib Mahfouz Cafe) at the bazaar for dinner. When we got back to the hotel we stopped for coffee in the foyer. We were interuppted by a wedding that would have made Mrs. Ellman green with envy. There was a bagpiper (not a good one, but I suppose they're hard to find in Egypt), and about two dozen musicians - mostly percussion so it was very loud. Also four dancing girls in flashy costumes. There were eight bridesmaids, each wearing a white tutu covered in glitter, and holding a long, glitter-covered wand with a candle on the end. The bride had a white dress with a cathedral-length train (~14 ft.). The whole affair was quite deafening.

17th Feb 2001


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The Citadel, Mosque of Mohammed Ali/Alabaster Mosque. The rain during the night had cleared the smog, so you could see the pyramids from the Citadel.

Coptic Church-- Abu Sarga (St. Sergius), and Ben-Ezra Synagogue.  No photos.

We then went to the Cairo Museum. Moustafa gave us a two-hour tour, starting at the contents of the tomb of Tutankhamun. It's difficult to imagine how all that could have fitted in such a small tomb, or how, even with disassembly, they could have got some of the pieces down the passage way. Didn't take photos since it was crowded and poorly lit.

After the tour we wandered the museum by ourselves for a bit. We saw the royal mummies and the ancient Egyptian jewelry room. Then we went looking for a coffee shop for lunch, but didn't find it. Later we went to the American University in Cairo book store and found Prisse d'Avennes book.

Went to dinner at Egyptian restaurant (Felfela) that E knew from her last trip.