Jan and I left early in the morning with Mohammed, our taxi driver, to join the 8:00 AM convoy, first north to Qena and then east to Port Safaga on the Red Sea. The landscape was total desert with rocky hills, really more of a ‘moonscape.’ When we got settled into our hotel, we walked on the beach collecting bits of washed up coral and enjoyed the water. That night we were treated to a full moon over the Red Sea that we could view from our hotel room.
The next day we spent at the sea, taking a glass-bottomed boat out to see the spectacular coral, walking the beach and resting. When it was time to join the convoy returning to Luxor in the evening, we agreed to let a man named Mustafa ride with us—he was returning to his job as a bellman in a hotel in Luxor. Mohammed drove quite dangerously, I thought, very fast in the convoy, tailgating all the way. The taxi didn’t seem very new and reliable either, and I didn’t want to even look at the condition of the tires before we set out. Well, we made it safely back to Luxor in the dark. I think the drive was riskier than the possible terrorist activity that this was supposed to guard against!
During the next couple of days in Luxor, we shopped, bought more perfume bottles and some oil-based perfume, bought puzzles for the grandkids and ate well. We also spent some time in the hotel pool. We enjoyed the ‘street scenes’ which were interesting, quite dramatic and different from what we experience at home! We visited the wonderful small Luxor Museum with its treasure trove of statues, furniture, pottery, relics, jewelry and stellae that come from the Karnak and Luxor temples as well as some of the tombs. There was a cow-goddess head from King Tut’s tomb as well as his funerary boats. And on and on and on!
Jan left for home on February 2nd after a great three weeks, seeing the highlights of Egypt. I got my visa extended, read some books, booked a flight back to Cairo, enjoyed the pool and relished the sight of the sunset over the Nile.
Since there was still lots more to see, I took a taxi back to the west bank and saw Medinat Habu, the Temple of Ramses III, the Tomb of Sinnedjem, who was the chief artist for many of these tombs, and the Tomb of Anedka; then I went on to the Tombs of the Nobles (six of them!) and then to see King Tutankhamun’s tomb, rather a small one for a boy-king that was not a very important ruler. The importance was that his tomb was never robbed by grave robbers as most others were, so given the riches that were in his tomb (now in the Cairo and other museums) think what grave goods would have been in the huge tombs of really important rulers like Ramses II! I remember my mother saying that she was teaching school in 1923 when this tomb was discovered. She said there was a craze of King Tut things—articles of clothing, house decorations, etc. that swept the country. She had a ‘King Tut’ purse! This tomb required buying a special ticket—it’s certainly the name that most people know the best of all the Pharaohs.
I flew back to Cairo the day that King Hussein of Jordan died (February 7, 1999). I watched much of the proceedings on TV. His son, Hamsa is now the crown prince who visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester along with his father a few years earlier. My high school friends, Jean and Hilary, have a son who is a physician there. He became acquainted with King Hussein and when they exchanged notes on their children—the king’s son, Hamsa, and the doctor’s daughter, Lynn, turned out to be the same age (18). King Hussein suggested that Hamsa call Lynn and so it happened—they went on a chauffeur-driven date in Rochester, MN! It also happened that my friends, Jean and Hilary, were visiting their son and family at the time, and so met Crown Prince Hamsa!
I continued to visit interesting places in Cairo including the Ibn Tulam mosque—Cairo’s oldest from 876 AD, and the 16th century Gayer-Anderson house. I bought some arts and crafts, which I mailed home, including a tambourine and small drum for the kiddies to play when they come to my house, and ate stuffed pigeon at the Felfela. Much of the fun was just walking around and observing the street scenes. I visited the Manial Palace Museum, built about 1900 for the royal family, and then the Mahmoud Khalil Museum—a 19th century collection of European artists (Rodin, Van Gogh, Monet, etc.).
I attended a performance of La Boheme at the beautiful new Opera House. The voices were pretty good—the orchestra and director were great—but Mimi and Rudolfo were MY age—grandparents falling in love—which works OK, I guess, unless you were expecting youth! Come to think of it, Why Not? I had lunch on the revolving top of the Cairo Tower—I could see the pyramids at Giza and also at Saqqara through the smog and filthy windows! The food was great—I’m really enjoying Middle Eastern delights, which I found were NOT at the Nile Hilton! More beautiful buildings—the Mosque-Madrassa Sultan Hassan (1363), supposedly the most beautiful Islamic building in the world (!), with his tomb across the street. I visited the Railway Museum—quite interesting! I sent my box of souvenirs home and then visited the Syrian and Jordanian embassies to get visas. I arranged for a camel market excursion, had my hair cut and colored at the Hilton (worked out OK!) and then ate at McDonalds! Yes, I did—the hamburger was definitely goat meat, which I like, but the Coca Cola was strange and undrinkable!
I’ll send this off, now—I’m looking forward to the camel market excursion tomorrow.