Life Unparalleled

Loving Life as a Foreign Service Family – Current Parallel 41° 23' N – Barcelona, Spain



Be advised, this will be a long post with many photos.  What a great vacation we had!  We decided that we wanted to start exploring some other countries.  We initially planned a roadtrip during the kids’ holiday break from school, to neighboring Benin, and possibly all the way to Ghana to visit my colleague from A-100 who is posted there.   We have had several friends who have really enjoyed a beach resort in Benin.  Unfortunately, many other people had a similar idea, apparently, and despite a few weeks of emails in my rusty french (Benin being a francophone country), we were firmly on a waiting list for multiple booked up hotels.   On a whim one night, we looked at flights to other places we’d like to visit (South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Morocco, several others), and found a reasonably good deal on flights to Egypt, so we made the plunge and bought 6 tickets.  Of course, Murphy’s Law being in full effect, the next day we got emails from 2 hotels in Benin saying they did in fact have room for us, but I guess that adventure will have to wait.  To Egypt we would go!  Until Christmas morning, we kept telling the kids that the roadtrip was on.  I nearly spilled the beans a couple of times, and I’m not sure how I kept it in, but I did.  Unfortunately, in order to get the good deal on the flights we got to enjoy a 5 hour flight East to Addis Ababa, and then a 4 hour flight North from there to Cairo, instead of the 5.5 hour direct flight.  We got in very late, about 2 or 3 in the morning by the time we made it to our hotel.  We got a great start the next morning.

Day 1: The Pyramids of Giza, The Sphynx, Saqqara, Papyrus Factory, Carpet School

Nice shot by Harrison!

The three great pyramids of Giza were built for 3 generations of pharohs.  The oldest and the newest each have three smaller pyramids next to them, for the pharoh’s mother, wife, and daughter.

The pyramid built by the Pharoh Kufu is open, for a small extra charge, to climb onto, and into.

It was quite a climb up a narrow passageway, and then through a large open gallery, to reach the burrial chamber.

After our journey into the pyramid, we went on a camel ride out into the nearby desert for some other views (and of course, the experience of the camel ride).

This ended up being Oliver’s favorite part of the trip!

You can see just a little of the city in the background of this shot.  I was shocked to see that the pyramids are basically right in town!  There is desert around them and on one side, just goes to show that camera angles can make things appear as they aren’t!

And, speaking of things that aren’t quite as they appear to be…


Aliens are taking them away! Or maybe there is antigravity in this area (which would make building gigantic pyramids out of very heavy stone blocks much easier…)

Next was a visit to the nearby Sphynx, which is believed to bear the (somewhat eroded) likeness of Kufu.




And here is how far I got before just being totally overwhelmed by trying to get all of these photos up and tell stories about them. Finally, after procrastinating this for weeks, I’m just going to do a photo dump, and hopefully go back and caption some of them at some point.  If you have questions about any of them, comment or email me.

Learning how papyrus is made.  We also purchased some beautiful papyruses (papyri?) to bring home from this shop.

Egyptian Mixed Grill.  So much food, and SO good.  We ate this almost every day we were there.

The step pyramid at Saqqara.

Day 2: Temple of Karnak, Temple of Luxor, Lotus Oil Factory, Sailing on the Nile

We got up early and drove to the airport for a short flight to Luxor.  At the airport we were met by the amazing Medhat.  Seriously, if you ever go to Luxor, hire this guide.  He was amazing.  He is an egyptologist, and clearly passionate about his country’s cultural heritage.  He would tell us the history of the various places we visited, mingled with Egyptian Mythology, assigning parts in each tale to each of the kids.  You should have seen them acting out treachery by Tutmoses the 4th against Hatchepsut, and other tales, under his instruction!

Temple of Karnak





This was our first glimpse of the brilliant color that is still found on many surfaces.  The interior of the temples would once have been filled with this.  We were amazed by how vivid the pigments still are, 4000 years later.




Temple of Luxor


This scene is literally below the seated form of a statue of Rameses the Great, (one of MANY of that pharoh).  The figures at the bottom, chained together by their necks, are bearded and intended to look European, signifying his power over those cultures. Just opposite this scene was another statue of Rameses the Great,  with a very similar scene below it.  That one had a series of figures with afros and big lips, to signify Africans, and pharoh’s power over those cultures as well.







Day 3: The Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Memnon,

Sunrise over the Nile as we ate breakfast.  We woke up to the sounds of the call to prayer coming from about 4 different directions.

There were no photos allowed inside the tombs at the valley of the kings, or even in the valley itself, unless we paid an extra fee.  We chose not to do that for a couple of reasons, but the primary is the damage to the colors which photography has caused over the years since the tombs’ unearthing.  This clear model shows the valley, and each of the tombs which has been discovered, in 3D.  It was pretty cool.  The tombs themselves shocked us with how colorful they were.  Our guide, Medhat, sat us down outside the tombs before we went in to give us some instruction about who was burried in the 3 tombs we saw, about the process by which they were carved and decorated, and about the stories and mythology represented on the walls therein.  The colors were absolutely breathtaking.

Queen Hatshepsut about to do battle with her stepson Tutmoses IV in front of the Temple of Hatshepsut.





This was inside the Temple of Hatshepsut (and taken with no flash).  Even this only barely begins to illustrate the colors, inside the tombs in the Valley of the Kings the artwork was much more intact and much more vivid.

This is part of the remains of a temple which was built in the floodplain of the Nile.  Obviously, erosion has had its impact, and had even thousands of years ago.  During the Ptolemaic period, these statues were renamed the Colossi of Memnon, after Agamemnon, who’s spirit supposedly inhabited them.

After a morning of sightseeing, we caught another flight back to Cairo, and had a few hours to unwind.  Our hotel in Cairo was great.  It’s nice having a brother-in-law who works for Marriott, as we get good deals, so we tend to stay in their properties.  This one was a bit out of the way, it was near the airport, but beautiful, and great service, and the food was very good.  We really liked the Renaissance Hotel Mirage City.

Day 4: The Citadel of Salah  ad-Din and the Cairo Museum

My inner medievalist is showing.  So cool to see this fortress, initially built by Salah ad-Din in the late 12th century to fortify against the Crusaders.

In equal parts to the amount that I was geeking out about this fortress, Harrison was livid.  So angry he couldn’t/wouldn’t even listen to our guide telling us about the history.  You see, much of the stone from which this fortress was built was taken from the outer casing of white alabaster limestone which once encased the great pyramids of Giza.  That kid loves ancient Egypt, and was not at all interested in hearing about Saladin.

Inside are 3 mosques, including the spectacular Muhammad Ali Mosque, built in the 1850s.

Cairo is apparently sometimes known as the city of 2000 minarets, because of the roughly 1000 mosques it contains, each with 2 towering minarets.

DyAnna loved this chandelier inside the mosque.

The view out over Cairo from the walls of the Citadel.  Note the Pyramids of Giza on the horizon about 1/6 of the way from the left of the photo (click for full size).

Our next stop was the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, home of about 120,000 artifacts from ancient Egypt on display, including the staggering treasure of Tutankaman.

Ancient Egyptians revered the lotus flower because (as you can see here) each night the buds fold up and withdraw down below the water, and each morning, they open and rise up above the water, reborn.  They also smell very nice.

The museum is on Tahrir Square, home of many protests during the Arab Spring.  Each of the guides we worked with commented on how much tourism is down since that time.  We found the country to be a fantastic place to visit.  There was a heavy state security presence at each of the major tourist landmarks, and we felt very safe.

Day 5: The Cave Church and Coptic Cairo

We spent our last day checking out some of the Coptic Christian sites in Cairo, including some that dated many hundreds of years old, and a relatively new church that is built into a large cave where the image of the Virgin Mary was found in a rock on the ceiling.  Many of the churches had artwork depicting the story of the Miracle of the Moving Mountain.




Many of the streets of Cairo looked much more like developed American streets, but some parts of town reminded us distinctly of Lagos.


An old roman tower, on which the “Hanging Church” (where the Coptic Patriach prayed in the story of the Miracle of the Moving Mountain) is constructed.  There was a plexiglass section of the floor through which we could look down and see 10-15 the ground meters below.




Another view of the roman tower.


Among the Coptic Churches we also found this beautiful synagogue.  So cool to see these faiths coexisting!






After many meals of egyptian mixed grill, the kids were getting tired of it, and then we spied the golden arches which don’t exist in Lagos, and so we got them their first McDonalds in 6 months.

This was truly a memorable vacation.  What an amazing country.  I can’t wait to come back.

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