Yad Vashem, Via Dolorosa and the Shabbat

Thursday morning dawned windy, rainy and cold. It was a great day to go to a museum so we headed to the Central Station to catch the Light Rail to Yad Vashem, the world renowned Holocaust museum – a must see when in Jerusalem. Apparently, all the other tourists had the same idea so the museum was quite crowded and even uncomfortable at times. However, it was fantastic! We spent over four hours there and could easily have doubled the time. The subject matter is of course very heavy and emotional so we actually felt quite exhausted by the time we left. The museum details the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party throughout the 30’s, the politics leading to the war and the subsequent discrimination, work camps and death camps where millions of Jews from all over Europe were slaughtered. There are video recorded testimonies from survivors and their struggle to put their lives back together after the war. All in all a heart wrenching few hours spent witnessing man’s inhumanity to man.

Because our shoes were soaked from walking from the train to the museum, we decided it was time to buy some new waterproof shoes to get us through the winter in Europe. Back on the train, we confidentially rode past our stop to the other side of the city to a North Face store. Unfortunately, the shop only had a dozen pair of shoes to choose from so Richard asked Google maps for outdoor shops nearby. Remember when I mentioned that there is very little English in Israel? So, store names come up in Hebrew and you blindly follow the little moving dot on the map hoping that it takes you somewhere useful. In this case it did. We each bought a new pair of shoes and we are all set for Europe. We managed to get ourselves back to our lodgings and being our last night in their home, our hosts took us out for a Middle Eastern dinner. The quantity of food was amazing and we certainly did not leave there hungry!

On Friday we reluctantly left Janice and Boaz’s home for our next adventure. We walked about 15 minutes to our new lodgings, dropped our bags and headed back to the old city. Our goal today was to take part in the weekly Via Dolorosa walk guided by the Franciscans. This walk through the old city relives the final steps of Jesus as he carried his cross towards his death by crucifixion. We had some extra time before the walk began so wandered around through the streets, stopping into various churches and interesting sites along the way. The weather was cool and drizzly so we were happy for our rain jackets and new shoes. After a bit of confusion as to where the walk actually started, we arrived at the Church of the Flagellation to join a number of people already assembled. Imagine everyone’s disappointment when the announcement was made that the walk had been cancelled for this week because it was so close to Christmas. Everyone milled around for a few minutes making sure it was actually cancelled, before finally moving off in separate directions. We realized that we should start heading for home and get some groceries for the next couple of days. Shops begin to close around noon on Friday in preparation for the Shabbat (Sabbath) and do not reopen until Saturday evening. Public transportation also shuts down and as we walked back to our BNB we noticed that there were very few people on the street. As Richard and I discussed this phenomenon, we realized that this is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it felt more like the beginning of a family holiday where you hunker in with your loved ones for a couple of days, leaving the outside world behind. We resolved to do this more often once we get back to Canada. In general, we stuff our lives full of things to do but miss the most important things of all – connecting with our friends and family. So, friends and family, be prepared for lots of loving and much sappiness on our return home!

PS. We managed to find a cheese shop that was still open and bought some beer, cheese, crackers and bread. There was also a gas station convenience store close by so we were able to top up our snacks to include some chips and chocolate. A feast for a King!

There are no pictures from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial.  The history and the atrocities are something each person needs to experience for themselves.  

The Church of Saint Anne, birthplace of the Virgin Mary.



Col lighting a candle at the Church of Saint Anne.



The place Jesus was kept prior to his crucifiction.



The Church of the Flagellation is traditionally known as the place where Jesus was condemned to death.  As Col mentioned earlier the Way of the Cross was not held on the Friday we were there because apparently they do not have the procession right after Christmas.  We intend to do it on our own this Sunday.  Pray for us that we may experience and appreciate fully the sacrifice that our Lord and Saviour went through for us.




My Aunt is a sister of St. Joseph so I thought I would throw this picture in from the Old City.  



And finally under the continuing topic of “You Don’t See This Every Day” I present the following picture.
















A Day in the Old City

We hoped to get an early start on the day but it was not meant to be. Richard forgot his knee brace the first time out and then we had to go back the second time for his wallet and phone. I knew he was rattled when he opened the closet door rather than the apartment door to head outside. It definitely gave us a good laugh and we were still giggling when we got to the bus stop. Even during the day, one of us would think of it and set off on another bout of laughter. Writing it now does not seem nearly as funny but you know what they say – you had to be there.

Anyways, we finally got to the Old City. Now the Old City of Jerusalem consists of four quarters – Christian Quarter, Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter and the much smaller Armenian Quarter. Just for perspective, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is in the Christian Quarter, the Western (or Wailing) Wall is in the Jewish Quarter, The Dome of the Rock is in the Muslim Quarter and the Armenian Quarter has good Shawarmas!! (Arabic sandwiches) After wandering through a few narrow corridors that really led nowhere, Richard finally convinced me to consult Google Maps and try and find the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was very crowded as not only is it Christmas time for Christians but it is also school holiday time for everyone else in the world. We muscled our way through the crowds in order to see a couple of the holy sights but finally gave up and decided to move on. We stopped for a bite to eat (you guessed it, a shawarma) and then made our way towards the Western Wall. On our way there we passed through the Cardo which is an ancient Roman street that runs North to South through the Old City. This Cardo was discovered in the 1960’s when they were excavating within the Jewish Quarter. This street which is several meters down from current street level was operational during Roman and Byzantine times and sported a good number of markets. There are mosaics on the wall depicting the area as it would have looked at this time. As we learned in Egypt, as each new conqueror came to town, they just started to build on top of the existing city creating layers of history to be uncovered.

The Western Wall, or “Wailing Wall”, is the most religious site in the world for the Jewish people and is the western support wall of the Temple Mount. Millions of people journey to the wall every year to visit and recite prayers. The men’s section is separated from the women’s much smaller section by a shoulder height divider wall. This we found out later is actually a Jewish tradition within their synagogues as well. Once at the wall, we went our separate ways and stuffed our handwritten prayers into the cracks within the walls. We spent a few minutes absorbing the spiritual significance of the wall before it was time to move along.

Our next plan was to see the Mosque that currently sits on the Dome of the Rock. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the current occupant of The Rock but previously it has been home to the ancient Jewish temple. It is considered the most holy site in Jerusalem for Muslims and is the third holiest site in the Muslim world after Mecca and Medina.  We made our way to the entrance for Muslims only (at the time we did not realize it was for Muslims only) and not the tourist entrance so we were not allowed in. The lineup at the tourist entrance was much too long so decided that we did not need to see the mosque on this day. Instead, we followed the city wall up the hill towards the Zion Gate. The views along this pathway are breathtaking. You can see the entire city around you which of course includes the Mount of Olives and the Church of Ascension. The wall outside of Zion gate is full of bullet holes due to the years of this area being No Man’s Land between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Just past the wall is Mount Zion which is home to the Tomb of David,  the Room of the Last Supper, and the Church of the Dormition. The first two are fairly self explanatory and we explored them with awe. How amazing is this? However, neither compared to walking into the Church of Dormition which is where Jesus’ mother died and was ascended into Heaven. The church was so quiet and reverent compared to the noise and confusion just outside the doors. We sat there for a few minutes praying and restoring our souls in the silence.

As we felt that our day was complete, we walked back to our BNB (about 45 minutes) and had a glass of wine and a chat with Janice our hostess and her son Boaz. They are Jewish and have been living in Jerusalem for the past few years. Both are very knowledgeable about the history and the current political situation in Israel and it has been very interesting talking with them and learning about the culture here. We shared more wine and conversation over a homemade pasta meal compliments of Boaz and with much reluctance I tore myself away to get to work on the daily blog. I can never say it enough times – it is the people of this world that make it great. Thank you Janice and Boaz for confirming that yet again.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher courtyard and entrance.


Just inside the entrance to the church is the Stone of Anointing (also Stone of the Anointing or Stone of Unction), which tradition believes to be the spot where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea.


More from Inside the Church.



The tomb of Jesus is covered by a shrine (sometimes called the Edicule) located within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. According to legend, Helena, the mother of Roman emperor Constantine the Great (reign ca. 306-337), discovered the tomb around the year 327. Constantine legalized Christianity throughout the Roman Empire and supposedly converted to Christianity before he died. The legend says the Romans protected the tomb of Jesus by building a shrine over it as well as a church. This church has been destroyed, renovated and rebuilt several times over the past 1,700 years.  As you can see by the line of people encircling the tomb it is the most visited site in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


A Shawarma plate and a Shawarma sandwich. 


Some Archeology from the Old City.




Some cool pictures from the Jewish Quarter.




The Western Wall. 





Other than the picture below we do not have any pictures from the inside King David’s Tomb.  It is a place of prayer and whether or not pictures were allowed I did not take any out of respect for the people who praying.



We thought there might be a table or something else set up in the upper room of the Last Supper, but the room is completely empty so we had to use our imagination.




Our favourite stop of the day.  It is obviously not a big ticket item on many tourist’s agenda, but we loved it.  It was so peaceful that we just sat there as Col said and refreshed our souls.


Merry Christmas from Jerusalem

We arrived in Jerusalem later than expected on December 23rd. Flights were delayed in both Egypt and Jordan so we missed the train in Tel Aviv that runs into Jerusalem. That meant the harrowing experience of trying to find alternate transportation. The first thing that we noticed about Israel is the lack of English – even at the airport it was very fine print. We tried to haggle for a taxi ride but they were looking at $80 plus luggage fees so we decided that we could find another, cheaper mode of transport. We settled on the bus, and after asking a driver, a couple of bystanders and a call to our Air BNB hostess, we finally figured out which bus and what stop to get off. The final price? 32 shekels or about $12. A little stressful but we consider it a win. We arrived at our BNB around 10:30 PM and had a good chat with them and called it a night. We had a big day tomorrow!!

Christmas Eve dawned cloudy and cool and it seemed that our moods matched the weather. Both of us are not sleeping particularly well, we have been sick and not eating properly and we miss our families terribly at this time of year. We spent the morning shopping for some gloves and hats for the midnight service in Bethlehem square, and after getting lost a couple of times (Richard’s phone died when we were minutes from our lodgings), we caught a taxi back (at an exorbitant rate), and got ready for our tour of Jerusalem and midnight mass in Bethlehem.

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about Jerusalem as we intend to revisit most of the sights during our time here. However, one thing that I must mention is that when we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we heard some beautiful singing from the sepulchre itself. We made our way down and listened to a five voice ensemble sing a few hymns within the magnificent acoustics of the tomb. It definitely moved me to tears and gave me that Christmas spirit that I had lacked for most of the day. I was now ready for Bethlehem.

I can’t explain the anticipation that both of us have had for this event. It has been marked on our itinerary since the middle of October and we have considered it to be one of the highlights of our entire trip. I mean, think of it – this is the birthplace of Jesus Christ, our Saviour. This is our pilgrimage to where it all began. Our tour guide also instilled the importance of our privilege of being here. He related stories of how other guests have felt moved by this journey. I think that the entire bus was excited about what was to come. As Bethlehem is in Palestine, we had to pass through a security checkpoint. Rather than check our passports as we had anticipated,  a couple of Santas came on board the bus and handed out bags of chocolate. Awesome!! We also noticed as we crossed into Palestine that there were many Christmas decorations and lights that had been missing in Jerusalem. Our first stop once in Bethlehem was the obligatory souvenir shop which, I have to admit, we did partake. Small tokens, keepsakes, that we can easily carry home. Next stop – The Shepherds’ Field Chapel. This is the name given to the Catholic church that is in the area of Beit Sahur southeast of Bethlehem in the West Bank in Palestine. The chapel marks the place where the angels first announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds as they watched their flocks by night.  Under the chapel, there are a number of original shepherd’s caves. We were unable to enter the church or the caves as there were masses taking place in all of them. From there, on to Manger Square, the Church of the Nativity and midnight mass. After parking the bus, agreeing on a rendez-vous time and place, going for a quick late night supper, we were free to go to The Square. We were advised by our tour guide to go out the back door from the restaurant for better viewing opportunities. However, we came across a number of armed guards demanding tickets and were forced back into the restaurant. We luckily fell in with another group and guide who had an inside track and he led us straight to the old Nativity church.  Though the actual service was taking place in the larger church next door, we spent 15 minutes inside this church, admiring the mosaics on the walls and floors that dated back to 565 AD. Many of the group descended into the cave under the altar in which Jesus was said to have been born. It was another awe inspiring moment and one that we will not forget very soon. Once outside the church, we made a circuitous route to Manger Square (aka Bethlehem Square). I was expecting something much more reverent but Richard was not surprised to see the party atmosphere that prevailed there. We stood for a few minutes watching the large screen of the service that was taking place inside, took some pictures and regrettably noticed that it was time to make our way back to the bus. We arrived back at our lodgings safe and sound about 2 AM and tucked in for a much needed sleep.

Today is Christmas Day. There is no snow and the weather is delightful at a warm 16 degrees. There are no church bells ringing and it is business as usual in Jerusalem. We have stocked up on snacks for the day – hummus and crackers (no sour cream for chips and dip), a bottle of wine and some beer. We are missing our family, friends, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. Know that we are thinking of you all and miss you very much. Have a very Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year!!

A couple pics of Jerusalem.  More to come as we do more serious tours of the Old City later this week.



We arbitrarily wandered down a staircase in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and this is what we came upon. 


The Shepherd’s Field Chapel.


The Church of The Nativity.  The last picture is the entrance to the cave beneath the Altar which is supposed to be where Jesus was born.  I am sorry, but the skeptic in me says this may not be the exact location, but it is great for tourism.  This is Richard by the way, not Col.  She has no doubt in her mind whatsoever.


Manger Square in Bethlehem, not Manager Square as I had put on Facebook. 


The Red Sea and Goodbye.

Col and I spent a quiet day at our resort along the Red Sea enjoying the sun and catching up on the blog.  It was unfortunate that we were not able to take full advantage of all inclusiveness of the resort as we ended up having our first case of gastrointestinal issues since we started our trip.   On the bright side the worst of it only lasted one evening and part of the night.  By the evening I was pretty much back to  normal and Col was well on her way.  We made it down to the lobby with our back packs at 5:15 AM December 22 ready for our return bus trip to Cairo.

After a five and a half hour bus ride we arrived at the Cairo’s Egyptian National Museum for a fairly quick tour of this national treasure.  The highlight had to be the King Tut exhibition which as far as we know has all the gold artifacts that were found in his tomb.  Along with that there was also an original Egyptian chariot which we  both thought was really cool.  From there we were back on the bus and headed to the local market or bizarre for some shopping and bargaining. As we are traveling with only back packs and do not have room for souvenirs we made a quick walk through part of the market and then joined Peter our tour guide for tea and coffee.

We arrived at the Oasis hotel around 6:00 PM, checked in and headed for our last group meeting around the pool at 7:00 PM where Peter gave us our airport transfer times for the following day.  We filled out our tour surveys, exchanged email addresses, twitter accounts, snap chat etc, etc…  and were surprised with a going away cake from our tour company which we all able to share. After some pictures and hugs a few of us had one final meal together and talked about what was next on our life’s journey.  Our tour group was quite large (31) so it was difficult to get to know everyone at the same level, but as per normal you always tend to gravitate towards certain individuals or couples and we have made some good friends which I am sure we will stay in contact with for years to come.

Final thoughts on Egypt.  We are very happy we decided to come to Egypt.  As Col had mentioned earlier in the blog it was not on our original list due to fact that the Canadian government website suggested no unnecessary travel to Egypt, but after some of our own research and being so close we could not resist.  Overall we felt very safe especially as we were in a group environment for the most part.  Even the times we did some exploring on our own we never felt threatened or afraid.  I would give the food a 6 out of ten.  It was good, but nothing to write home about, but the major sites, now that was something to write home about.  Col and I both agreed that the highlights for us were the Valley of the Kings and the Pyramids and Sphinx of Giza.  Definitely pinch me moments.  Our tour of Egypt was nine days, but I think we could have seen all the major sites in four of five days easily.  All in all it was a great experience and we would highly recommend Egypt and definitely do not stay away because you think you would not be safe.

See you in Israel…….

Yup, that is us with our feet in the Red Sea and the view from our balcony.



The Museum.


Doesn’t the basket below look like that one that Moses was placed in from the Ten Commandments movie.




Kings Tut’s chair and the alabaster jars where his organs were kept after he was mummified.  Unfortunately we were  not allowed to take pictures of the gold exhibit that was taken from his tomb, but to stand a couple of feet away and stare at the iconic gold mask that is so famous was awe inspiring.


Here is a copy of King Tut’s mask for those of you who cannot recall what it looks like.  Eleven kilograms of solid gold.

Burial mask of Tutankhamun

Some pictures of our travel buddies.  We not able to get a group picture, but we did mange to click a few.


And of course our Awesome tour guide Peter.  Doesn’t he look like Dave Chappelle?




Kings, Queens and Family Drama

We docked our cruise ship in Luxor, formerly the ancient city of Thebes, on the east bank of the Nile at about 5:30 Wednesday evening. We hopped on a bus and drove a couple of minutes over to Luxor Temple. Another beautiful temple that was built by Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) but completed by Tutankhamun (1336-27 BC) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) and then added to by Rameses II (1279-13 BC). Toward the rear is a granite shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great (332-305 BC). What distinguishes this temple from the others is that this temple has been in almost continuous use as a place of worship right up to the present day. During the Christian era, the temple’s hypostyle hall was converted into a Christian church. Then for thousands of years, the temple was buried beneath the streets and houses of Luxor. Eventually the mosque of Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was built over it. This mosque was carefully preserved when the temple was uncovered and forms an integral part of the site today. It is interesting to note that the original entrance to the mosque is many feet above where we stand in the temple today. Hard to believe that until a few hundred years ago, people did not know it existed.

The next morning we were up bright and early and on the bus to the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile. During Egypt’s New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.), the valley became a royal burial ground for pharaohs such as Tutankhamun, Seti I, and Ramses II, as well as queens, high priests, and other elites of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties. There have been 64 tombs discovered to date but only a few are open to the public. With our admission ticket we were allowed to go inside three tombs. We chose Ramses IV, Ramses IX and Meremptah. We did not enter King Tut’s tomb as it was a seperate entrance fee and our tour guide said that there was nothing to see there as all the artifacts have been removed to the Egyptian museum. Each tomb was similar but also very different. Merenptah was the largest and we had to walk a fair ways down into the ground to reach the burial chamber. (I don’t think that you would have liked this Mom). Ramses IX had brilliant colors, well preserving the hieroglyphics on the walls and ceiling. Ramses IV was similar but also had some Coptic Christian graffiti on the walls. Again, the details in the workmanship in all the tombs was magnificent!

Our next stop was the Hatshepsut Temple. A daughter of King Thutmose I, Hatshepsut became queen of Egypt when she married her half-brother, Thutmose II, around the age of 12. Upon his death, she began acting as regent for her stepson, the infant Thutmose III, but later took on the full powers of a pharaoh, becoming co-ruler of Egypt around 1473 B.C. Built in a half circle of cliffs, this memorial temple marks the entrance to the Valley of the Kings and was a marvel of ancient architecture. It boasts three levels and from the third level you can see across the Nile to the Karnak Temple obelisk. Once Thutmose III became an adult, he resented his stepmother (also his aunt) for being on the throne. Once he came to power, he ordered all of her statues destroyed and built a wall in front of the obelisk at Karnak Temple so that it was no longer visible from her temple. Not a happy camper, that one!!

We had to see what all the fuss was about at Karnak Temple so crossed back over the Nile on a motorboat, had some lunch at a dockside restaurant and went to check it out. 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 temples started in the Middle Kingdom and continued into Ptolemaic times. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere.One famous aspect of Karnak is the Hypostyle Hall with 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows. 122 of these columns are 10 meters tall, and the other 12 are 21 meters tall with a diameter of over three meters. Though most of Karnak is in ruins, these pillars still stand mostly in one piece. There are also two obelisks that are mostly intact and another that is lying horizontal giving us a closeup view of the carvings and workmanship of this artifact. We wandered around this temple for an hour or so and it wasn’t until this point that I actually made the connection between Ramses II (who built much of this temple) and Moses. Was this one of the temples that Moses was overseeing construction on? Did he walk on this ground? Much food for thought and another “pinch me” moment.  

Back on the bus we headed to The Three Corners Sunny Beach Resort at Hurghada along the Red Sea. We arrived at 8 PM, grabbed some supper and headed to our room. We freshened up, headed down to the pool area and had a couple of drinks and lots of laughs with some of our new friends from this tour group – Elvis and Lise from Estonia, Ellen, Ben and Vicki from Australia, Wojek and Abey from the US, Trudy from London, Ont and our tour guide Peter. Again, the people are always the highlights of our journey.

Looking forward to a day of R&R by the Red Sea and an opportunity to absorb all of the sights that we have experienced. Only a couple more days in Egypt and we head to Jerusalem for Christmas. Time is flying by!!

The Luxor Temple, the pictures were at night so they did not come out that great.


The Mosque that was built on top of the original temple.  As you can see they are not able to use the original door anymore.


The picture below may be of interest to some of you.  It is a statue of King Tut and his wife.


The valley of the Kings.  As Col said, we visited three tombs and I have put a picture that was at the entrance of each tomb to differentiate and identify the tomb pictures from each other.




Notice the sarcophagus just below the ceiling.


More Coptic Christian graffiti.  In hindsight I guess they didn’t realize they were defacing wonderful historical sites.


Hatshepsut Temple.



For those of you who are muppet fans you will notice that Sam the Eagle showed up at Hatshepsut Temple.


Karnak Temple.


The bug from the Mummy Movie which would burrow into your skin and then travel up to your brain.  Apparently that was just a Hollywood trick as it never happened in real life and yes it was worshipped as a minor god.


Now I know where they got the idea for Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode 1.






Temples, Temples, Temples

Tuesday, December 18 – We are cruising on the Nile. We spent the previous night on the boat and early in the AM most of our group went on an optional tour to Abu Simbel Temple. Even though this was a  “must see” event, we opted out. We had told ourselves at the beginning of this trip that we did not want this to become the Amazing Race. Rather than just racing from site to site, we want to concentrate on the experiences. So instead, we spent an hour or so walking around the town and then we relaxed on the upper sun deck of the Grand Sun. By 2:30 PM the rest of the groups were back and the boat was underway. The riverbanks boasted palm trees and other greenery while the desert sand dunes stood quietly behind them. We came upon a few small herds of cattle and horses that were grazing along the bank or herded towards the water by boys and men. The afternoon was surreal. Can we really be on the Nile sharing the history of Egyptian kings and queens,  Moses and Jesus, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony? Somedays, we cannot believe it ourselves.

We docked just after 5 PM at Kom-Ombo. We left the boat to visit the Temple and the crocodile museum. This particular temple (aptly named the Kom-Ombo Temple) is one of the only temples that was dedicated for two gods rather than just one – the falcon god Horus and the crocodile god Sobek. Again, the carvings and hieroglyphics were amazing. This is the first time we have visited a temple at night so it gave us a different perspective as well. From there, we walked a few meters to the crocodile museum to see the mummified crocodiles. It is amazing how well preserved these crocs really are. These ancient Egyptians thought of everything!!

Just a side note on this experience – since we have arrived in Egypt, we have been bombarded with people trying to sell us something, take us somewhere or pretend to just have a conversation. I say pretend because we have been caught a couple of times by folks who ask where we are from, how do we like the pyramids (temples, boat, horse, etc), offer us a free gift “just for you, my friend”. Then once we have the “gift” in our hands they now ask for a cup of coffee, or 10 American dollars, or 20 Egyptian pounds. We are getting more savvy in the ways of the Egyptians but Richard learned another lesson at the temple last night. There is a large military presence in Egypt. Everywhere you see armed guards, tanks, men in flak jackets or standing behind fortified steel shields. The temples and museums are no exception. One of the guards approached Richard as he was taking some pictures and started up a conversation. The guard told him that he could show him something else and that Richard should follow him. I questioned the sanity of following a man with a gun, but it seemed legit. That is until the guard led us through the temple to the other side and proceeded down a dark, deserted tunnel. Not sure what the original objective was, but we weren’t waiting around to find out and hightailed it out of there. It made for a good story around the dinner table that evening but it also made us aware of how careful we need to be.

Early this morning, we docked on the west bank of the Nile at Edfu in order to see the Edfu Temple. This temple is dedicated to the falcon god Horus and is considered to be one of the most beautiful and preserved Temples in Egypt. This Ptolemaic temple, built between 237 and 57 BC, was covered in sand until it was discovered in the 18th century by a French explorer. Though the temple was beautiful and the carvings mostly intact, I had a hard time enjoying it. This was because, once off the ship, the only way to the temple was by horse and carriage. Apparently, this is a monopoly and no other transport is offered. Our tour guide put us four per carriage and I was heartbroken to see these little, skinny horses being whipped by their driver to bring us up to the temple. I realize that this is a livelihood for both horse and driver but it did not make it any easier for me. I am upset that I did not speak up or refuse the ride. In the end, that would only have made me feel better as there would have been someone to gladly take my place and it would not have helped the horse. There were at least a dozen tour boats lined up at the dock to see this temple and more than 100 horse and carriages to take them there.  Once back on the boat, I had a good cry, looked up some previous comments from TripAdvisor about the horses and will add my own comments to our final review of this excursion.

The rest of today will be spent cruising and we should dock this evening in Luxor – home of the Valley of the Kings. Tomorrow is the big day!!

Kom-Ombo Temple.

Cruising on the Nile.

Edfu Temple, the Temple of the god Horus, the falcon god.


Apparently this next picture is unique in that it is the only temple in Egypt with the actual blueprint for the temple that is part of the temple.  How do we know this?  Well, again our tour guide told us it is so….


The original wall that surrounded the temple.  Most of the wall has been reconstructed, but this we are told is the real thing.  How do we know?  Well, you know the story.


Cobras.  Over every door leading into a temple, pyramid or special place in ancient Egypt you will find two cobras protecting the premises.  


Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman architecture:  You can tell the difference between ancient Egyptian architecture and Greco-Roman by the tops of the pillars.  The ancient Egyptian pillars have lotus flowers on the tops while the Greco-Roman pillars have just Greco-Roman stuff on them.  Sorry, that is the best I can do.  On the left is the Egyptian lotus pillars.

Making a living.  While we were anchored this boat attached itself and was dragged for two hours or more along the Nile trying to sell items to people on the sun deck.  They would toss up rugs, blankets, etc but I am not sure if the people on the boat sent any money down.  It was quite the site to see.


Leaving Cairo

Editor’s note:  Colleen normally writes all the blog posts as you all know, but she has decided to take a day off, so I have been given the responsibility for this installment and for this I ask  your forgiveness in advance.

The alarm chimed at 3:45 AM, we jumped out of bed already awake as sleep does not come  readily to the Wileman / Chevrefils travel club. With eyes wide open, hearts aglow we headed to the lobby to catch our 4:30 AM bus to the airport in order to board our flight to Aswan located on the Nile, south of Cairo.  The flight was a hassle free hour and a half and we arrived at our Nile cruise ship around 10:00 AM. We were able to settle into our room at 11:00 AM. After freshening up, powdering our noses (mine took longer) and a buffet lunch we heading out for our tours of the day – the High Dam of Aswan and the Philae Temple.

The High Dam:  It’s a dam that holds back the water in order to make hydro electric power and protect the area from flooding. Lake Nassar was created from this dam. Nuff said. We have an abundance of these in Manitoba so we were wondering why we paid to see this one.  If you ever make the trip to Aswan you can scratch the High Dam off of your list as it is not worth paying to see it. My TripAdvisor tip of the day free of charge.

Philae Temple:  Now this was worth the cost of admission which by the way has gone up from our initial correspondence with our tour agency.  Hmmmmm……. Always an angle, isn’t there?

The temple was built in the 4th century BC and was dedicated to the goddess Isis which became a major religious pilgrimage site for the Egyptians.  If you think how Muslims in modern days will make a pilgrimage to Mecca or Christians will go to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage that is how it can be compared to that time period for the Egyptians.  As dams were built along the Nile river which changed the water levels, the island on which the temple was located became flooded which created quite a conundrum for the Egyptian government. It was decided to dismantle the temple one block at a time and move it to a nearby Island where people could once again visit these ruins.  Work began in 1972 and was completed in 1980 with the cooperation of Unesco and the Egyptian Antiquities Organization. Each block was numbered as it was removed and recorded so it could be placed back in the exact position from which it was taken. Some of the art work is still in very good condition and the hieroglyphics could easily be read if one was able to.  One of the more interesting parts of the temple is a rather large round stone which has the last known hieroglyphics ever recorded in Egypt. How do we know this? I dunna know, but that is what we were told. Another interesting aspect of the temple was a picture of the goddess Isis breastfeeding Pharaoh Ptolemy. As Ptolemy was Greek (Alexander the Great’s general who took over Egypt after Alexander’s death) and not Egyptian they wanted to show in the art that the Egyptian gods favoured him even though he was not Egyptian.  Also which is of interest is that the early Christians removed the face of Isis so she would not be confused with the Virgin Mary.


With the advent of Christianity and the founding of the Coptic Church in Egypt by Saint Mark, the temple began to be used as a Church for Christian worship.  As you walk through the temple you will notice crosses mixed in with Egyptian religious symbols along with an altar and niche used for early Christian services where the Eucharist was celebrated.  Colleen and I thoroughly enjoyed this excursion and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Aswan.

Colleen’s notes – Richard was much better equipped to write this excerpt of the blog because of his knowledge of Egyptian history. All I can add is that, once again, the architecture and hieroglyphics were amazing and awe inspiring. It was great to just walk around the structures and drink it all in. Tomorrow we cruise down the Nile and stop to see another couple of temples. Day Five we arrive at the Valley of Kings. Creme de la creme!!


The stone with the last known Hieroglyphics written in Egypt.


Cross with Coptic writing beneath it.


The goddess Isis feeding Pharaoh Ptolemy.  Notice how her face was removed by the early Christians so she would not be confused with the Virgin Mary. 


Altar inside the temple used by the early Coptic Christians after it was turned into a Church.


The Pyramids, The Camel and The Sphinx

Today was the day of dreams coming true.  Since we were both young children, Richard and I have dreamed of the day that we would see these great wonders of the world. Egypt almost did not make the cut for the trip as the Canadian website had warned against travel to this region. However, we checked with some tours and they assured us that it was completely safe. So, that is how we actually ended up in Egypt and to this day of days.

Our first stop of the day was at the Saqqara Archaeological Site and Imhotep Museum, also known as the Step Pyramid of Djoser. The earliest colossal stone building in Egypt, it was built in the 27th century BC during the Third Dynasty for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser by his vizier, Imhotep. You may remember Imhotep from the movie The Mummy with Brendan Fraser. Imhotep was never a king but he was christened the god of Medicine and Architecture for his work during this era. We entered the colonnade from the east entrance of the structure and once through this magnificent work of architecture, came into the large courtyard that served as the Sed Festival or rejuvenation ceremony area. Now a festival does sound a little morbid considering that a pyramid is actually a place of burial. However, it was believed that the festival was meant to allow Djoser to continue benefiting from the ritual even in the afterlife. This pyramid is also different from the Great Pyramids of Giza as Djoser decided to stack six mastabas, (bench of mud) each of a decreasing size, on top of each other, thus producing the Step Pyramid. The site is still an active excavation site which most of the pyramid sites are so it looks a bit like a construction site with mounds of rock and sand everywhere. We also were able to descend into an actual tomb here. Much like the catacombs that we saw in Alexandria but much larger. It just gets better and better!!

And then off to the great pyramids of Giza. These are the ones that you see in all the photos and they did not disappoint. The largest of the three was built in the 2550 to 2490 BC by the Pharaoh Khufu. The second largest was built by his son and the smallest of the three by his grandson. It was a definite “pinch me” moment to actually see these great structures up close. We climbed part of the way up and were amazed by the size of the stones. How did these people with no modern technology build this? Were slaves actually used? If not, then where did the manpower come from? There had to be thousands of men to do this work. Unbelievable. Like the Taj Mahal, we just sat for a few minutes and drank it all in.

And….I rode a camel! I wasn’t sure whether this was the ethical thing to do but I decided that I would probably not get another chance to ride a camel in the desert – especially around the pyramids. It was pretty cool but I don’t think that I would want to sit in one of those saddles for a long day of riding!!  Richard has signed up also for the Camel ride, but when he saw what was required to get up on the Camel he did not want to chance damaging his knee that has been very good to  him so far, so I went solo.

The Grande Finale – The Sphinx, constructed from a large block of bedrock with the head of a man and the body of a lion, sits in front of the second pyramid. The detail is amazing!! The paws. The tail. And so large! Another sit and stare moment.

An Egyptian lunch buffet. An educational trip to a perfume factory. Back to our hotel. And our second day in Egypt is already over. Tomorrow we catch a short flight to Aswan and get on board our cruise ship on the Nile. Three days of cruising and touring. Life is good!!

The Step Pyramid.


The Pyramids of Giza.  Someone Pinch Me….


Mr. Sphinx.

Ride em Cowgirl…



Our first day trip in Egypt was to the ancient city of Alexandria. This was a 3 hour bus trip from Cairo through much traffic and extreme fog. Though it does not even come close to Delhi standards of traffic, there is definitely more vehicles on the road than Muscat. Through the fog I could get the occasional glimpse of the landscape that we were passing by. Most was buildings and construction but then evidence of the Nile delta came into view. Crops of oranges and tomatoes, vineyards of grapes and olives, fields of sugar cane revealed a sharp contrast to the sand colored soil. We passed by pickup trucks and horse drawn carts laden with this wonderful looking produce heading into Alexandria markets. By 10:00 we reached the city. From a distance it looked massive, stretching for miles along the Mediterranean. In actual fact, it stretches 100 kms along the sea and is the second largest city in Egypt after Cairo with 5.2 million people. Alexander the Great, a Macedonian by birth, conquered all of Greece, then crossed the Mediterranean to Egypt and built the city of Alexandria around 331 BC.  The city has been a major trading port ever since. 

We drove through a few narrow streets to our first stop – Kom al-Shoqafa – The Catacombs. Though only discovered in 1902 when a donkey accidentally fell into the access shaft, they actually date back as early as the second century AD. We descended underground via a circular staircase which opened into a number of tomb rooms. A high ranking official usually had a room of his own whereas people of less importance had to share their room with many others. All the mummified bodies from these burial chambers have now been removed and placed in various museums around the country.   

We travelled further into the city to Pompey’s Pillar, a Roman triumphal column and the largest of its type constructed outside the imperial capitals of Rome and Constantinople. This is also the sight of one of the ancient libraries. Unfortunately, all evidence of the library is now gone but the excavation site has a number of hieroglyphics stones from as early as Ramses II. 

Our last stop before lunch was the Qaitbay Citadel, a 14th century fortress built along the sea for protection from enemy forces. With a mosque as the centre showpiece, the lookout ports are high above on the fort walls. It is majestic and the clear blue water of the Mediterranean frame the structure perfectly.

Lunch was local fish served in its entirety. I know that you all will find this hard to believe but I opted for the chicken. Richard had the fish and said that it was just fine. Maybe I’ll be braver next time. LOL

Our last stop of the day was the Alexandria Public Library. Now you wouldn’t think that a library would be a tourist attraction but it is a world renowned library and it was pretty amazing.  What also makes this library special is that the original one was built by Ptolemy who was a general of Alexander the Great and became the ruler of Egypt upon Alexander’s death. The Library became the center of knowledge for the ancient world but was unfortunately destroyed completely when Julius Caesar and Pompey were fighting it out for control of the Roman Empire.  As the library burnt to the ground all the accumulated knowledge from the known world at that time was lost to antiquity. It was decided to rebuild the library in 1995 and governments, businesses and philanthropists from around the world answered the call to help out. The tour guide rattled off many statistics but if you are truly interested you can check them out on their website www.bibalex.org. We spent an hour or so there wandering through the archives, artifacts and books. Not nearly enough time!!

We headed back to Cairo and the trip seemed to take much less time than the outbound journey. We had a meeting with our tour guide in the evening where he explained the rest of the tour and got us pumped up to see the pyramids. Can’t wait!!   

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside the catacombs, so you will just have to take our word we were there.

Pompey’s Pillar.

The Citadel.


Statue of Ptolemy outside the Library of Alexandria.  Apparently it was discovered at the Pillar of Pompey archaeological site.


Muscat to Cairo

We spent a quiet last day in Muscat. We walked about 10 kms to a discount sports store looking for some waterproof shoes and rain pants for Israel and Europe. We did not find anything that we liked so took a taxi back to the condo. At 4 PM we all piled into the car and went to Elena’s Christmas concert. It was the first time that the hotel venue had been used so it was a bit confusing. However, the kids did great and even though it was a French school concert, we got to hear some carols in English as well. After the concert, Lionel and Martina took us out to a Lebanese restaurant for our last meal together. Back at the house, we read the last story to the children before putting them to bed, had our last drink with Lio and Martina, said our final goodbyes and headed to bed ourselves. We had about three hours to sleep before we had to get up for our flight to Cairo.

The 4:30 AM flight took off about 15 minutes late and even though Richard and I rarely are able to sleep on the plane, we both were able to get a couple of hours sleep in flight. When I woke up, the sun was shining and the vista below was pure sand. It was amazing!! As far as I could see, only desert. At first, it was rippling sand, then more pronounced dunes until I was actually able to see a pyramid in the distance. Another “pinch me” moment. Are we really here?

We were met at the airport by a porter who fast tracked us through the immigration process. Once we got our bags, he turned us over to a driver who then took us off to our hotel. While we were in Muscat we had a hard time getting a sense of all the history there because even though it is a very old city, everything has been rebuilt and everything is new. This is not the case in Cairo.  Where Muscat is bright, clean and new, Cairo is dull, drab and old. Muscat shows its wealth with opulent mosques, extravagant apartment complexes, shopping malls and spacious roadways. Cairo is a city of apartment buildings and store fronts. Most along the route to the hotel are old, poorly maintained and shabby. Even so, here, you can still get a feel for the history. Steeples of churches poke out from behind the apartment buildings. The pyramids show themselves in the distance. Old brick walls line the streets. The Nile river runs through the middle of it all. Who doesn’t think of the pharaohs and Cleopatra when you imagine Egypt? All I know is that we are super excited to be here and can’t wait for our tour to start tomorrow.

The Christmas concert.  That is one thing for sure that I did not think we would be attending, especially in a State run Muslim country. However, the country of Oman is very tolerant and the people are very free to follow their own customs and traditions. As a whole they are following the lead of the Sultan who is very progressive, much loved and respected.


I hope we did not come to the wrong hotel in Cairo.  Notice the name of the Restaurant above the Lobby.  Hmmmmmm……