From Cairo to Istanbul in 28 Days

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We flew from Bangkok to Cairo on the 21st of September.  On the first day, we tripped around to Giza and the City of the Dead.  Later that evening, we took the train to Aswan.  Along the way, we stopped at Abo Simbel, Luxor, Karnak, Philae, Deendeera, Abydos, Hurghada and finally flew to Alexandria.  We spent two days touring Alexandria.  Taking in the new Library of Alexandria and Fort Qutbay as well as the Greek and Roman Catacombs under the city.  We drove from Alex. back to Cairo where we toured the city in detail (Muhammad Ali Mosque, the Giza Plateau, Pyramids and Sphinx, Saladin’s Citadel, etc).  We also took in Sakkara and Memphis and viewed the Red and Bent Pyramids as well as the Alabaster Sphinx and the Statue of Ramses II along with the Ziggurat of Zoser and the surrounding pyramids.

Then we were off to Israel.  We spent about 5 days in Jerusalem viewing the old City and took day tours out to Nazareth, Akko (Acre), Ceaserea, the Dead Sea, the Jordan River and Masada.  We met an old friend (Mali) from my days in the MFO in the Sinai.  And we got the excellent airport treatment for which Tel Aviv is so famous.  But that’s a story for another day.

Finally, we were on to Turkey.  I wanted to see the Hagia Sofia.  Primarily.  That said, I was a bit anxious about Turkey.  I’ve been to quite a few Muslim countries and Islam hangs over them like a pall.  I don’t particularly care for it.  It’s quite heavy and puts a damper on things.  Israel did not have this except in the Palestinian areas of the Old City in Jerusalem.

We arrived in Turkey and I was quite pleasantly surprised.  Islam is an undercurrent in Istanbul.  They’re Muslim.  You know it.  They know it.  No one gives a damn.  I like that.  It’s how it should be with all religion and it’s how it is in most non-Muslim places.

It was refreshing.  I don’t think I saw but 10 Chadori/Hijab wearing women and they all seemed to be tourists.  Nothing oppressive in Turkey about religion.  They seem to all get along.  I met quite a few Nestorian Christians and they had the same attitude.  We’re Christians.  So what!  There’s none of the demand that their religion be respected at all cost.  I like that.

Turkey was clean as well.  That’s another thing about Muslim countries.  They’re dirty and run down.  Even newer places.  It’s as if Allah has declared that “thou shalt not do maintenance.”  lol  Cairo is the worst.  They built the city hundreds of years ago atop ruins.  They didn’t remove anything.  They cleared no land.  Just started building atop the rubble.  When those buildings started falling apart, they just built around them.  And the dirt and grime.  It’s everywhere.

Not so in Istanbul.  It’s a beautifully maintained city.  Clean streets.

And the people.  Everyone was so nice.  And they smiled.  Very few mean spirited folks or scammers around.  As a matter of fact, I can’t remember anyone even attempting a scam on us.  We asked directions when we were lost and we were simply given directions.

The food was great as well.  They had these pancakes with beef or veggies or jellies. Whatever you wanted.  AND THEY WERE DELICIOUS.  Of course, the Lamb Kabob was excellent.  I ate so much kabob, I thought I was going to explode.

The Hagia Sofia or Aya Sofia was wondrous.  Incredible.  Amazing.  It was gargantuan.  The famous religious depictions were beautiful.  Centuries old Art.

The Blue Mosque or Suleimein.  One of the most beautiful structures I have had the pleasure to visit.  More lovely inside than the Mohammad Ali Mosque in Cairo.  Insanely intricate and well maintained as well.  Simply beautiful.  Can’t say it enough.

We walked around the city several times. Stopped by a few museums.  The Istanbul Archaeological Museum was huge.  Relics from Troy, Persia, the Ottomans, the Greeks, the Romans, and everything in between.  It was amazing.

Then we went up the hill to the Topkapi Palace.  I didn’t know much about it.  I knew it was supposed to be gorgeous and historical.  I hadn’t researched it.  We almost didn’t go.  Huge mistake.  If you make it to Istanbul, you must go to the Topkapi Palace.   Aside from it’s beauty and historocity.  It has what are called “The Sacred Trusts.”

The Sacred Trusts are actual artifacts handed down (or stolen) from Empire to Empire from the time of Mohammad.  His clothing.  His water bowl.  The plates off of which he ate.  And not only Mohammad.  There are relics from Fatima and “the Companions.”

That is some serious history.

There are also pieces of the Kaba’a from Mekkah and old keys and locks to the Kaba’a and the Grand Mosque there in Mekkah.

Treasures all.

I could scarcely believe my eyes when I walked in this room.  When I laid my eyes upon the Sword of Mohammad, I thought I was seeing things.  I had to rub my eyes.  Take my glasses off and clean them and take a second to let it sink in.

Imagine finding the sword of Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great.  Imagine finding the actual clothing that Jesus wore or the actual cup and plate from the last supper.

I’m no believer in any of these religions, but, I have a keen interest in history.  As a personality from an earlier age and a great historical interest, I have much respect for Mohammad.  He built an empire from nothing.  He created a religion and a culture which has lasted for over 1300 years.  It’s not his fault that his religion and his culture has been hi-jacked by complete asses like Osama bin Laden, the House of Saud and the followers of al Wahhab.  That’s not to mention the Iranian fools.  And, still yet, it doesn’t take into account the idiotic Apologists in Europe and America who sell their lies to an ignorant populace.

At any rate, it was a singular experience for me to be able to gaze upon the Swords that Mohammad and his companions used to rise up out of the desert and plant the seed that created one of the worlds greatest empires.

I was awe stricken.

After Istanbul, it was on to Ephesus to see the Greek Ruins, the House of Mary where Jesus’ Mother supposedly lived out her last days and the Temple of Artemis.  Next day it was on to Pammakule.   These places are so full of history and culture that there is no possible way for me to do them justice.  The Temple of Artemis is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

In this trip, we’d been fortunate enough to visit 3 of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.  The Temple of Artemis, The Pharos of Alexandria (Fort Qutbay) and the Pyramids at Giza.

In my estimation, Abo Simbel is a great worthy of this acclamation as well.  Abo Simbel is a wonder of any age much less to marvel that it was built thousands of years ago.  But then again, Egypt is full of wonders that defy description, dazzle the eye and boggle the mind.

From Cairo to Istanbul in 28 Days.  This was a great trip and we all very much enjoyed ourselves.

Hope you enjoy the pictures…Dave

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(some of the pics in the slideshow are from earlier trips to Paris, Rome, Athens, Santorini, etc)

 

 

Bedouin Freestyle in Sakkara

On the way back to Cairo from Saqqara, we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant.  When you enter, a group of musicians playing local instruments play music.  I assume to announce your entrance.  Becca, Shaimaa and I sat and ate.  Of course, I finished eating first.  I walked to the front to have a smoke. When I came near to the musicians, an Egyptian guy called me over.  I walked up and they started showing me their instruments and asking me if I could play.  I didn’t even attempt the horn.  One of them handed me the drum/tambourine combo and they started playing.  So I went along with them and started cutting up with them a bit. Hey!  I played drums from 6th to 9th grade.  I can still play a bit after all of these years.  lol  it was a fun time. While I was jamming with my sadikkis, Shaimaa was recording me.  And apparently, laughing herself silly.

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All in good fun.  All in good fun. Later on.  Down in Luxor, we jammed out to some Celine Dion on the way back from Karnak.  Apparently, our driver was a big fan of Celine.  He played that song 3 times in 20 minutes or less.  Either that or all Celine Dion songs really do sound the same.

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This is the Pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara.

Egypt — Who says you can’t go back?

I was stationed in Egypt from 1997 to 1998 with the U.S. Army. It was my first foray into the Middle East. My unit was actually in El Gorah in the Sinai. I was part of the Multinational Force and Observers committed to patrolling the Sinai to ensure that neither Egypt nor Israel broke their treaty and placed military forces in the Sinai. It is a peacekeeping missions. One of the few of which I am aware that is successful.

The guys at El Gorah are probably on lock down right now. Poor Bastards! Nothing to do there but drink, surf the web, watch movies and hit the gym. It’s a pretty small camp. A run around the perimeter will get you your two mile run but most of that is wasteland used for the firing range, an obstacle course and a small runway and heli-pad.

While I was there, we were locked down completely for about a month. Most of the time we were allowed to take weekends in Israel or Egypt. A four hour drive West and across the Suez Canal would place you in Cairo. A four hour drive East and past Gaza would put you in Tel Aviv.

I preferred Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is like New York on the Mediterranean. Shopping malls. Green Grass. People going about their business much like we do in America. The city of Tel Aviv is a mix of America and Europe. The city was light and airy. A beach runs from Jaffa [Joppa of Bibilcal Jonah and the Whale fame] almost all the way to Haifa. Miles and miles of beautiful beach and sunny Mediterranean Sea.

And the women…my God. The women were beautiful. Half the city looked like models out of Fredericks of Hollywood or Victoria’s Secret.

Cairo was a different setting. Different but still amazing. Cairo is an eclectic mix of Modern and Ancient. Modern day Hotels and The 73 War Panorama and the Cairo Museum set amidst the Giza Pyramids, the Mohammad Ali Mosque. Ride a camel around the desert and come at the pyramids from the rear. Walk from the pyramids to the Sphinx. Right across the street. Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC. That was a bit surreal to me.

Cairo has the city of the dead. A giant cemetery. Ancient monuments to families and individuals both great and small. People living inside the cemetery. The poorest of the poor.

Walking around downtown. I distinctly remember the smell of kerosene. I couldn’t figure out why. When I asked I was told that they used kerosene to burn the human waste in the public bathrooms. A bad smell turned disgusting.

I really didn’t meet any Egyptian women in Cairo. I was hanging out with friends. After days full of sightseeing and climbing pyramids and exploring catacombs, we were pretty tired. I remember crawling down to the burial chamber of Nefertiti. The tunnel got smaller and smaller until i had to bend to make it through. At the bottom, my buddy Humberto and I took turns climbing into the sarcophagus to take pictures. Not much inside the chamber anymore. It’s all been removed by grave robbers of the antiquities authorities and placed in museums. So we spent only a few moments inside and made good our escape. Back up the tunnel to the light and fresh air. It’s an odd feeling knowing that you are under those huge pyramids.

Rolling around Cairo in a taxi cab is an adventure. I don’t think there are any rules out there. Buses have the right of way and they will take it. When a bus starts pulling over into your lane, you have no choice but to find a way to get out of it’s way. Horns are constantly blaring. A three lane road turns into 5 or 6 or 8 lanes. Drivers pay no attention to road markings. The traffic circles are chaos. Driving there makes Paris look calm and orderly.

Cairo, or al Qahira in Arabic, was an adventure for me. I can’t wait to get back and do it again. This time, I’ll be going down South. When I was there last time, I was in the Army. We were restricted from going South to Aswan and Luxor because of the terrorist activity. This time. Nothing will stop me.

Insha’allah, I will be seeing Egypt again 1-10 August 2008. Almost ten years exactly from the date that I last visited.

DAY 1: CAIRO

Arrival at Cairo airport, where our representative will be waiting for you. He will then meet and assist you through airport formalities and escort you to your hotel in Cairo, situated at the pyramids’ area. Check in and overnight at hotel in Cairo.

DAY 2: CAIRO

Today we visit the great Pyramids of Giza and their guardian Sphinx and then head to the Cairo Museum. Overnight at hotel in Cairo.

DAY 3: CAIRO – ASWAN (Cruise)

This morning we are transferred to Cairo Airport for our flight to Aswan. Then we will be escorted to embark on the Nile cruise ship-our floating hotel for the next five days. After lunch, we sail by ‘felucca’ a traditional Nile sailing boat, to view Kitcheners Island and the Agha Khan Mausoleum. Overnight in Aswan.

Optional: Abu Simbel excursion in the morning

DAY 4: ASWAN – KOMOMBO – EDFU (Cruise)

Today we visit the impressive Aswan High Dam and its huge lake, and the Temple of Philae. Then we cruise to Kom Ombo to visit the Temple shared by the Gods Sobek & Haroeris. Tonight we enjoy a special costume party featuring Native Egyptian and pharaonic style. Overnight in Edfu

DAY 5: EDFU – ESNA – LUXOR (Cruise)

This morning we explore the Temple of Horus, the falcon god. Then we sail to Esna and continue sailing to Luxor. Overnight in Luxor.

DAY 6: LUXOR (Cruise)

Today we explore the Necropolis of Thebes, the wondrous Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut’s Temple, and the Colossi of Memnon. In the evening, we visit the Karnak and Luxor Temple. Overnight in Luxor.

DAY 7: LUXOR – CAIRO

Today we will be transferred to Luxor airport for our flight back to Cairo where we will be met and escorted to the hotel. The balance of the day is free for shopping. Overnight at hotel in Cairo.

DAY 8: CAIRO

The tour ends

We’ll have two more days in Egypt to do as we please. I’m thinking Alexandria would be a great palce to hit before we depart for home.

I did “meet” one woman in Cairo. My buddy Humberto and I were at the bar of the Moevinpick Hotel near the Airport on our first night in Cairo. We were drinking a few beers together and planning the rest of our weekend. This beautiful Egyptian girl walks past our table. I’m talking beauty. She kinda glances our way and gives us a twinkling of a smile. Humberto and I were impressed. We had heard that there were some remarkable beauties in Cairo. This girl definitely seemed to fit the bill. But as luck would have it, she was with a man. Humberto and I finished our beers and decided to cruise downtown to check out the Cairo nightlife. On the way out the door, we checked out our girl one last time. Her beau had walked away leaving us an opening. I waved at her, smiled and said; “Salaam!” She smiled at us and revealed the blackest set of teeth that I’ve seen outside of a Halloween costume party. lol I was taken aback. It was a bit difficult to recover but I managed to smile back and keep moving.

Later, I learned that many Egyptians have this discoloration problem because of the water. Lack of chlorine and such. It’s pretty shocking if you are surprised by it when trying to get all Rico Sauve on some girl in al Qahira. haha I know I was shocked.