Last night we had a native dress party including our Jordanian guide and his wife. Today we had breakfast at a reasonable hour and headed out to Karnack. It is a very large temple complex and other than the Pyramids the largest we have visited. It is a series of pylon temples with the famous hypostyle hall composed of a large number of gigantic columns. No mater who a temple is dedicated to there are three deities, a father, wife and son. The amazing thing is that the ancient Egyptians put so much effort into such a useless thing. They are impressive especially considering the primitive tools available but a general waste of resources. After Karnack we visited --- which is very near the boat dock and is much larger in reality than the small area excavated. I say small but just in comparison to the other sites we have visited. We returned to the ship for lunch and I was greeted by toilet paper headed man and his two creators. After a lunch on the ship we headed out to the valley of the kings and the temple of the feamale pharos Hatshepsut. She was one of five female pharos and eventually killed by her son. This is near the valley of the kings on the west side of the Nile. I visited three tombs, the third of which was high up on a wall, deep and very hot. It was good to get outside and cool off. No pictures were allowed in the whole site. Tonight after supper we have a belly dance show and then have to get up at 3:45 am to catch a plane to Cairo. These early flights and the incessant and aggressive street vendors are the only negatives of this trip.
Friday, March 26, 2010
The ship MS Concerto motored overnight from Aswan to Kom Ombo. I lied in bed looking out my floor to ceiling and wall to wall window watching the lighted shore and boats pass in the night. Our wake up call was at 5:45 for breakfast with a very groggy group after our long day yesterday. We were the outside ship so to go to Kom Ombo which was next door our group had to cross through the reception hall of two other ships. Some of these reception halls were three stories high. It was a short walk to the Greek Ptolemaic temple (~200 BC) built on top of an earlier Egyptian one. The temple looked very Egyptian with a few subtle differences in columns and carvings. The temple was to both Horus and Sobek the crocodile god. Sobek was a rather nasty fellow while Horus was nice. It was also a hospital with carvings of medical instruments on the walls and reliefs on the floor of people waiting for treatment. The floor carvings included board games and other ways to pass the time. No magazines but otherwise not much different from today. As before our Egyptologist guide uses a whisperer device that transmits his voice to a receiver each of us wears. This avoids interference from other guides. When I got back to my cabin there was a camel on my bed.
We then left port on our way to Edfu which has the second largest pylon based temple. Again a very impressive edifice built by the Ptolemys which were Greek dynasties that came into poser after Alexander the Great invaded Egypt. Early Christians lived in the temple and defaced many of the carvings as they did in a number of other temples. It is interesting that the chiseled out the faces but left all the hieroglyphics. It was pretty hot so I went for a swim in the pool on the top deck of the ship. Afterwards we had tea and then another lecture on Egyptology in the lounge. Our ship negotiated a lock in the Nile with very little room to spare. As were leaving the lock I visited the pilot house and met the captain who drove the ship in a very comfortable position. I didn't see a GPS and there are almost no aids to navigation or channel buoys. A night I think that he navigates by the lights of minarets in the distance. After dinner there was a costume party where a number of us wore native dress. The picture is of me, our Jordanian guide and his wife.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
I am sitting next to the picture window of my stateroom watching the Nile go by on our way from Aswan to Luxor in Egypt. It is 900 pm local time so I see mainly the lights on shore and other cruise ships motoring past us in the opposite direction. The desert night is cool after a warm day. Across from the town of Aswan is a hill with ancient caves cut into the rock that is artfully lighted creating a spectacular view. The ship is four decks topped by an open air lounge area and swimming pool.
Today we got a wake up call at 2:00 am. After coffee and a box breakfast we boarded a bus for the airport to catch a 5:00 am flight from Cairo to Aswan. * (We are passing under a bridge with lighted suspension cables similar to the new one that crosses the Charles river in Boston. It looks something like an Egyptian headdress. It seems like every few minutes another lighted cruise ship passes us in the other direction. ) While on a major freeway driving toward the airport our bus stopped. Numerous attempts to get it restarted failed but another bus arrived and we transferred luggage and people from one to another. We made the airport, were rushed through security and made the one hour flight to Aswan.
On leaving the airport we crossed and viewed the Aswan high dam built by Russians at the request of Nasser. The Americans refused to build it at the time but the original Russian turbines have been replaced by more efficient American ones. This dam provides 80% of the electricity used in Egypt. The next stop was the temple of Isis that like Abu Simbel was rescued from the rising waters of lake Nasser. This large edifice was dissembled and moved to a nearby island. This temple has the classic form of two large pylons in front with additional pylons decreasing in size to the holy of holies.
We next drove to the gigantic unfinished stella resting in it's granite quarry and heard about the ancient techniques used to remove such large structures from the living rock. (The line of cruise ships passing us has ceased. It seems that they travel in herds). After the granite quary we drove along the Nile to Aswan and to our ship. They park three abreast with connections through the center of each ship so we enter one ship next to the dock and then keep going from ship to ship until we reach our vessel. After a couple of hours of free time that included a walk around town and some rest we had a talk on the area from a Yale Ph.D. Egyptologist who is accompanying us on this part of the trip. She is an excellent speaker and provides much human color to the history.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I missed the email yesterday as we arrived at the Movenpick Pyramids hotel in
Cairo after 10:00 pm local time. It is very close to Giza. In the morning we left Petra for a drive North to the Dead Sea with beautiful views of the valley than goes from the Dead Sea to Aquaba on the Red Sea. We were at 5,000 feet and descended to -1,500 feet at the Dead Sea down a very steep curvy road. I could smell the hot breaks on the bus. At the Dead Sea we stopped for lunch and a swim in the sea at a beautiful hotel. The salt level is so high and buoyancy so great that you can just stand up straight without touching the bottom.
We then drove to Amman and flew to Cairo going through a large number of passport checks. I should mention that in both Jordan and Egypt we have an armed guard on the bus. On the 23rd we visited the pyramids at Giza, the artifacts at Memphis and the first or Stepped Pyramid at Saqqara. The pyramids are really big and even though there were thousands of people visiting them there was plenty of room. One of my favorite things was the royal barge that had been excavated and was on display. There isn't much at Memphis but the Saqqara site is very impressive and contains a number of large pyramids including the first one. While the ruins were impressive, They were not presented very well except at Saqqara which had a good museum and explanatory video. We have two professional archeologists supporting the tour that make up for the poor explanatory facilities at the sites. Also, each of us has a radio receiver to listen to the archeologists at the sites which can be noisy. The system works rather well.
Tomorrow we get up at 2:00 am to catch a plane to Aswan in the South. They say that this is to ensure that we are first at the sites. Also, this is the high season and it is difficult to get plane seats to Aswan.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Today we experienced the >2,000 year old site of Petra in Jordan mostly on foot. The weather was cool so I started out with a jacket and a backpack. This ancient area was primarily built by an Arab civilization from 400 BC to 150 AD. It was a major stop on the caravan root from Arabia to the rest of the world. Petra is a very narrow long gully or wadi hundreds of feet deep. It is so narrow and deep that along much of its length my GPS could not see enough satellites to give an accurate position. When Petra is mentioned the "treasury" is usually shown. This is a very impressive tomb several stories high was carved into the native rock. However, it is only a small part of the total site. The natural erosion in this narrow channel is beautiful and impressive in its own right. One walks a couple of miles past ancient Nabataean, Greek and Roman structures. After this walk a couple of us continued on to the "monastery" which we were told required traversing 600 steps up the mountain. While there were 600 steps there were also extensive steep sections with no steps. It was a substantial climb with the reward of incredible views to the Sinai in the distance and cliffs dropping steeply hundreds of feet with nothing in the way of safety fences or restraints. It is no place for people with a fear of heights. On the way back I did a couple of miles on a camel. Although the camel is walking , it is sort of like riding a cantering horse with similar stresses on one's pelvis. Who know what pains tomorrow will bring. My muscles were treated by an hours immersion in a warm pool at the hotel with a little therapeutic wine. This is an amazing site that combines great natural beauty with amazing gigantic stone structures.
Tomorrow we go for a swim in the Dead Sea and take a flight to Egypt.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
I am now in Petra Jordan between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. Today we left Amman Jordan passing through the suburbs on our way south. For the whole trip I have seen nothing equivalent to the slums seen on trips to Bangladesh and Kenya. The whole area including Jordan seems relatively prosperous including Palestinian areas of Israel (I did not go to the Gaza strip) and Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan.
First we visited the Roman site of the Citadel with more impressive ruins of a major Roman town. Our second stop was Madaba Jordan where there 3,500 year old ceramic representations of people and a church with a mosaic map of ancient Palestine that has been used to identify previously un-located archeological sites. We then drove to Mt. Nebo where Moses looked across to the land of milk and hone but was not allowed to visit. The view was magnificent across the green Jordan valley with white Jericho in the distance. On clearer days high building in Jerusalem can be seen and some say that even the Mediterranean comes into view. The group visited a modern mosaic factory employing physically challenged people. One couple ordered a $1,000 mosaic table to be shipped back to the US. We then headed south with the topography becoming more and more arid. It was not a desert of sand dunes but a rolling plateau of brown with the occasional flock of sheep and camels. We descended from 5,000 feet to 3,400 feet by my GPS to Petra and a five star Crown Plaza hotel for the night. The temperature is still cool.
Friday, March 19, 2010
I am now in Amman Jordan again surprised at the greenness of the land we traveled through. Only 8% of Jordan is arable land and we seem to have traveled through most of it. One hilly section is high enough to have a couple feet of snow in the winter. From now on as we head to Petra and then Egypt it will be a different thing with mainly arid land.
We left the Kibbutz in Capernaum in cool weather which continued all day. Our first stop was at Bethshean beside the Jordan creek that had extensive Roman ruins with bathhouses and all the usual stuff. The ruins were impressive but we didn't have enough time to see it all. There is a rather large hill or Tel next to the Roman city whose bottom layer dates to 4,500 BC. It seems that they just built one town after another in the same place.
We then spent two hours leaving Israel and entering Jordan by crossing the creek. We took our bus through an Israeli passport check then over to an area where we unloaded the bus and went through another passport check. Then the group loaded up on another bus after a long wait and drove ½ mile to Jordan security. We unloaded from that bus, went through another passport check and carried our luggage through a baggage check. Once through this we loaded our baggage and ourselves on the bus that would take us through Jordan. we also changed guides and I think that the new one will do better than the first.
After an hours trip through green hills and fields of wheat we arrived at an excellent lunch at about 2:00 in the afternoon. It was great middle eastern food with the ability to rent a hooka water pipe for $5.00 for an after lunch smoke. None of us took advantage of this opportunity although they must have had twenty of the things for rent so a fair number of people must use them.
We then stopped at the ruins of the city of Jerash which are immense. This Roman city is includes over two miles of collinated streets with a hippodrome for chariot races, an amphitheater theater and various temples. This was as good as anything I had seen in Greece but is not well known. We then drove through more green hills to Amman to stay at the excellent Amman Cham Palace Hotel where I have a small suite.
Tomorrow we head off for Mt. Nebo where Moses viewed the promised land in the south of Jordan ending up in Petra for the night.
Considering everything that is going on, it is good to be out of Israel.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Today we toured the sea of Galilee with its green hills and banana plantations. The Kibbutz we are staying at is about 650 ft below sea level and has a warm micro climate in general although today the temperatures were in the 70s. About thirty miles away at mt. Hermon in the Golan Heights there is a ski area. The hills are green and the valleys are filled with agriculture from olive and mango trees to wheat and vegetables. There is a lot of good grazing for horses but only a few to be found. The area is populated by Palestinians (Moslem and Christian) and Israelies with no walls between the areas as there is in the west bank.
We headed north around the sea of Galilee which seems about the size of the Quabin reservoir but with a more rounded shape. The Jordon river entering the sea is the size of a small stream. Even it's exit from the southern end isn't much bigger. It probably should be called the Jordon creek. Our first stop was at Capernaum a couple of miles north of our Kibbutz. We saw St. Peters home and the mount of the Beatitudes with their respective churches. The excavations at Capernaum provided a good feel of a tightly packed town of small stone houses with a large synagogue. It is all nicely done but the facilities are not as informative as those I encounter in Greece. Our guide just sort of recites the bible stories with little additional background so it is best to read up on your own before such a trip.
We continued around the sea of Galilee with the beautiful contrast between the green hills and blue sea. At the south end we visited the first Kibbutz which is about 100 years old. These were socialist communes but this one become more capitalist in the last 10 years with members responsible for most of their own finances. We had lunch at the Kibbutz which was consistent with dedicated suffering. Our next stop was the purported site of Christ's baptism by John the Baptist. A number of people (none from our group) took off their clothes and enter the water. The facility sold baptism robes but not all used them.
Nazareth was our next stop after another trip through the beautiful hills and valleys. The whole area is much nicer than I had expected. Nazareth was a very busy city and other than the church of the annunciation over what is purported to be Mary's home was just a crowed city. The church which is relatively new was beautiful with many nations providing impressive mosaics on the walls of the courtyard. It is built over the excavations of Mary's house with the lower level showing the excavations and the upper eve being an impressive church with a hole in the floor showing the excavations.
Tomorrow we head for Jordon.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Things were tense in Jerusalem but they opened up the wailing wall at the temple so that was back on our schedule. It was our first stop before leaving Jerusalem for the Mediterranean coast. There were guards all over with machine guns but I wearing a complementary yarmulke made it to the wall to pay my respects. We then hoped on the bus and headed out of town to the west. As one leaves Jerusalem in the central mountains the land gets better and greener. In general this is a green time of year in Israel. It is obvious to me that the Canaanites and Philistines on the coast had much better land than the Israelites in the hills. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin who had Jerusalem south had the worst land. The other tribes who were north of Jerusalem had much better land even if it was in the hills. Our first stop was at Caesarea where Harrod the great built a very advanced port city and palace. It included a race track where I was able to practice my chariot driving. We then drove to the very beautiful Haifa on the sea and had lunch at a restaurant high on a hill overlooking the harbor. It is the best place in Israel to live. After lunch we traveled to Akko also on the coast to visit an extensive fort that was the headquarters for the Knights Templar and the Hospitaliers during the crusades. Our guide took us through a bunch of vendors in an alley where a portly native American lady in our group purchased a belly dancing outfit. I hope she doesn't feel inclined to model it. Later I encountered an Arabian horse that is the only one I have seen in Israel. Then we headed back across Israel through the green Karmiel valley with mountains on either side. We descended to the sea of Gaililee to the Nof Ginosar Kibbutz near the city of Tiberias. The Kibbutz is 670 feet below sea level per my Garmin Oregon 300 GPS. I knew that the dead sea was below sea level but didn't realize that the upstream sea of Galilee was also so far below sea level. This means that it is warmer here than in Jerusalem.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Today in the morning we were to see the wailing wall and the Al Aqsa Mosque where the temple once stood in the old city. However, Jerusalem is in lock down, especially the religious sites. I have heard that this is because of the issues with the new settlement in the West Bank announced during the vice president's visit and a new synagogue in the west bank that was to be dedicated. I haven't heard of any trouble so I assume they are just being careful. Therefore, we went with plan B, a trip to Bethlehem that was not on the original agenda. Bethlehem is less than 7 miles from Jerusalem and is totally enclosed with a 9 meter wall. You go through security similar to a border crossing and it is very difficult for Palestinians to get out. As a result there are few jobs and many empty shops. In general Israel is taking the West Bank area piece by piece (through settlements which are all over the place and very large) and squeezing out the Palestinians. We had a talk by a liberal Israeli who explained the strategy. It is like there would be a 9 meter (~27 ft) wall around Groton MA and one would have to go through security to get to Ayer MA next door. Also, for example, if you weren't Irish it would be very difficult to leave Groton.
We visited the church over the accepted birthplace of Christ and visited another church where the sheppards attended their flocks in the nativity story. They were singing Christmas carols (holy night) in a newer section of the church. The area though hilly does have some green grass growing. I have been impressed with the cleanliness of all the areas we have visited both Israeli and Palestinian. We had lunch in a Palestinian restaurant that included a talk on Israeli politics which is complex to say the least. The speaker was originally from the US and had to return to marry his Israeli bride because the conservative Jewish groups wouldn't approve his marriage because he and his parents were reform Jews in the US. There is no such thing as a civil marriage in Israel. The conservative groups have to approve each one. The population of Jerusalem is actually decreasing as many of the more secular people both Jewish and Palestinian are leaving resulting in a concentration of the radial right of both ethnic groups in the city. Also, it is a rather expensive place to live.
After the talk and lunch we went to the holocaust museum outside the western edge of Jerusalem. The west side of Jerusalem is very different with treed hills and much less exposed rock. The museum was very impressive and packed, perhaps because so much of the rest of Jerusalem was closed.
Our guide had more trouble keeping us together exclaiming that we are the worst group he has ever guided, young or old.
Tomorrow we go to Caesarea and the sea of Galilee.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Today we did our first tour which included the Mount of Olives, the Dolo Rosa in the old city and then the Israel Museum on the other side of town. This is a city of thin natives on motor scooters and fat tourists on in buses.
Our guide got rather exasperated trying to keep the group together. We did loose one or two ladies in the mornig who turned up later in the day. He has to realize that this is an old group that doesn't see or hear well. One guy has a hearing aid with a transmitter that he hangs around his neck. He stuck the transmitter in his wife's pocket and could hear everything going on around her. Fortunately she didn't say anything bad about him.
The Mount of Olives gives you a view across the Kidron valley to old walled Jerusalem providing a great perspective of the area. While there I took a short ride on a camel for $5. The camel seems to eat and work at the same time. We and a few million other people slowly walked through the narrow streets of old Jerusalem on the supposed path of Christ to his crucifixion. The group ended up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which also encloses Golgotha. Golgotha is much smaller than I expected. There would hardly have been room for three crosses on top. We had an excellent lunch at an Armenian restaurant in the old city and left for the Israel museum on the other side of the city. In addition to the dead sea scrolls on the inside; the outside had 1/50 scale model of Jerusalem at the time of Christ. It is about half the size of a football field and would be a great place for a model train. The natural stone display was something that provided a great perspective on the area and time. Tonight we have a lecture on the Palestinian view of things and the next night one from the Jewish perspective.