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    Africa & The Middle East Travel

    The Magical History Tour

    A Bucket List After All – Jordan and More

    Location: Jordan & More

    The Magical History Tour, what a ride it has been. I never thought of myself as having a bucket list.  Mostly because I just want to see EVERYTHING and go EVERYWHERE. But I have realized over the past two months that I do have a bucket list, and I am slowly ticking things off that list, all while adding more to it.  And for the past ten weeks the Magical History Tour has taken us away.

    We’ve been very lucky to see incredible things in our travels.  Unimagineable things.  Without even really realizing it we have seen five of the present day Seven Wonders of the World, included on that list was Petra in Jordan where we visited this week.

    The Magical History Tour

    At Petra

    I saw a television program about ten years ago about Jordan and they interviewed Queen Noor standing in front of the incredible Treasury building at Petra.  I was smitten and knew I would visit there some day.  It was easy to add Jordan to our Egypt itinerary.  Now, having been in Jordan, I realize I could have added Egypt to my Jordan itinerary.  Jordan is extroardinary.  A cradle of ancient, biblical, Roman and natural history.  We did not allow enough time to see it all.

    During out time in Jordan we visited three main sites, two on my bucket list and one I wasn’t even aware of;

    1. Jerash – I had never heard of and yet we found this amazing ancient provincial Roman city more beautiful, interesting and preserved than Rome itself.  Jerash likely dates back to the time of Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BC.  It is an immense archeological site with only about 15% excavated.  Unfortunately it is not a UNESCO site, despite the antiquity masterpiece that it is.  Apparently one of UNESCO’s stipulations was for a music festival that is held here annually to be discontinued because of the damage it causes to the site.  Our guide told us that
      The Magical History Tour

      Jerash

      too many pockets are lined as a result of this music festival and the powers that be are not willing to give the festival up.  Very sad as this site was truly impressive and needs UNESCO’s preservation assistance.

    2. The Dead Sea – my “no bucket list” bucket list has include floating in the Dead Sea for a long time and here in Jordan we had that opportunity.  You can access the Dead Sea from Israel as well as Jordan, and in fact more of the Dead Sea is in Israel.  But Jordan has a portion of it at the south end.  It is truly amazing how salty it is and how buoyant you are when floating.  In fact all you can do is float.  You can barely walk or stand and swimming is out of the question because you just flip over and float.  It tasted horrible and you certainly don’t want to get it in your eyes.  But it was warm, clean, blue and a once in a lifetime event filled with lots of giggles.
    3. Petra – Of course here it is the main reason we came to Jordan to see Petra as part of our Magical History Tour. I can’t possibly do the vast history of Petra justice in this blog, nor were we able to see the entire site (you need two or three days), but in our five-hour visit we did and saw the most amazing highlights. Of course the Treasury (named thus because of
      The Magical History Tour

      The Dead Sea

      the Roman’s using it as such but originally it was a temple), is the most amazing of the antiquities in the site, the best preserved and most beautifully designed.  There are several other amazing temples, tombs, palaces and more throughout the 60 square km site. We spent an hour and a half with a guide and then three hours wandering on our own including hiking up high above the Treasury for that iconic photo shot.  We did not hike to the Monastery or the sacrificial site.  We would have needed much more time than we had.  I would love to come back here again some day – it is just so amazing, truly a wonder deserving its Seven Wonders status.

    So Jordan was a surprise,  and worth the effort to get here. We felt incredibly safe at all times. The people are friendly and helpful and speak excellent English.  I am so glad we came.

    And with our farewell to Jordan we say farewell to The Magical History Tour that began in August when

    The Magical History Tour

    Petra

    we left the USA. We have covered so much amazing history over the past ten and a half weeks traveling through and exploring eight countries.  Highlights of the Magical History Tour have included such bucket list items as;

     

    1. Northern Denmark – where we learned captivating medieval and WWII history. Read about it here.
    2. Brugge – the beautiful historic town and now one of my favorite medieval villages. Read about it here.
    3. Berlin – the beguilling and resilient city of Berlin and the Cold War era history and Berlin Wall. Read about it here.
    4. All of Poland – incredible medieval and more importantly the World War Two history in this country made it one of my long time bucket list goals and experiencing Auschwitz (Read about it here) will remain with me all my life. Read about Poland here. 
    5. Romania Castles – seeing the fortress cities and castles of Romania with their ancient history and stories (Dracula) was a long bucket list destination.  Read about it here.
    6. Greece – although we had visited Greece before we had wanted to return for years.  I suspect we will visit again too.  The ancient Greek history in this country combined with the sheer beauty of the Mediterranean will keep it on our travel destination list for years to come. Read about it here.
    7. Egypt – Of all the places we visited on the Magical History Tour, Egypt was the long-awaited
      The Magical History Tour

      Jerash

      destination for me.  And it did not disappoint.  Seeing the Valley of the Kings, the Nile River, the Sphinx, the Pyramids and so much more was a bucket list triumph.  I loved it all. And perhaps the friendliest people we have met.  Read about Cairo here. And about the Nile Cruise here.

    The Magical History Tour covered about 10,400 miles including 11 flights, 5 train rides, 12 ferry crossings, 6 airbnb’s, 11 hotels, one river cruise ship, and 72 days.  It was educational, insightful, fascinating, delicious and fun. But time to move on.

    Now we turn our attention to something new.  We will spend the next four weeks and four days in Portugal and Spain.  The first half of that time is focused on walking another Camino de Santiago.  We start on Sunday to walk 250km to Muxia Spain.  The Magical History Tour has kept us so occupied, we don’t really feel prepared either mentally or physically to tackle this next Camino. But nonetheless we will.  I’m sure we will fall into the rhythm quickly.

    We then spend another two weeks exploring Spain before flying on November 22nd to begin five and a

    The Magical History Tour

    Cairo

    half months in the Americas (Florida, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala, Dominican Republic). I suspect there will be a great deal of magical history there as well.

    As always we thank you for your continued support and interest in our travels and My Fab Fifties Life. Watch for posts from Portugal and the Camino coming soon!

    And Go. Be. Fabulous.

    Read about last year’s Camino adventures here.

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    Africa & The Middle East Travel

    Highlights of Cairo

    Ancient Egypt’s Most Famous City

    Location: Cairo Egypt

    Egypt gets a bad rap.  Sure there are some things you need to be wary of.  But this is true for anywhere you travel in the world.  We have wanted to go to Egypt for years, and Cairo (its largest and most famous city) was worth the wait. And so we want to share with you our highlights of Cairo.

    Something Old

    Highlights of Cairo

    Morning in Giza

    We saw many things on our Nile cruise that were so ancient it boggled the mind.  And then we come to Cairo and see things that are 1500-2000 years older.  Construction on the oldest pyramid in Giza started around 2589 BC.

    Highlights of Cairo

    Bucketlist

    When I was in fifth grade we studied Egypt.  It was as early as this, and even earlier, that I knew I had the travel bug.  My love for history and cultural studies began early.  And finally at age 58 I stood at, touched, climbed and admired these overwhelming structures.

    Highlights of Cairo

    Camels and the pyramids go together

    The best known pyramids in Egypt are the three in Giza, a suburb of Cairo.  The three Egyptian pyramids known as the Giza Pyramids are Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. Khufu is one of the largest structures ever built and is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence. Egyptologists believe the pyramid was built as a tomb for the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu.  There are a total of 138 pyramids throughout Egypt, most built as tombs.

    Highlights of Cairo

    Camel ride

    There was no city here when the pyramids were built.  The city has risen up and is now a congested metropolis of 30 million people (and nearly that many cars).  The city spreads far and wide and right up to the gates of the UNESCO site. Most photos don’t show the city because the pyramid site sits up on a hill.  But the city and its traffic are within a few hundred meters of the pyramids.

    Highlights of Cairo

    Sunset behind the UNESCO site

    Highlights of Cairo

    Sphinx

    Because the pyramids are such a huge tourism draw, while visiting you are subjected to a lot of people trying to sell you, guide you or take you on a tour.  The government should do a better job controlling this – it takes away from the experience. Having our guide from Memphis Tours eliminated much of the hassle of dealing with the nuisance.

    Something New

    Highlights of Cairo

    Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

    However the government is working on some infrastructure to relieve congestion, as well as a brand new $550 million dollar Grand Egyptian Museum scheduled to open in 2019.  This spectacular museum will be home to all of the antiquities including the Tutankhamen relics (many of which have never been on
    display) and will replace the 100-year-old (and somewhat dowdy, disorganized, and not particularly clean) Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.

    This new museum alone is worth a return visit to Cairo.

    A Sphinx All To Myself

    Highlights of Cairo

    Alone at the Sphinx

    Our Cairo highlights tour also included the Sphinx of course, a fantastic antiquity in itself. The Great Sphinx built in approximately 2500 BC for the pharaoh Khafra, the builder of the Second Pyramid at Giza. The sphinx was carved into the bedrock of the plateau, which also served as a quarry for the stone for the pyramid. It is 70 meters long and 20 meters high.  Luckily we were there early and had the sphinx all to ourselves for our visit.  What a special treat that was.

     

    Cairo Life

    Highlights of Cairo

    Coptic Church

    We made a brief stop in the Coptic Cairo neighborhood, an ancient christian stronghold of Cairo before the Islamic era.

    Highlights of Cairo

    At the market

    A visit to Key of Life Papyrus Institute taught us the ancient Egyptian paper making process from papyrus (a reed-like plant), and gave us an opportunity to purchase a Christmas gift.

    We also visited a local market and had a delicious Egyptian lunch at Abu Shakra, a favorite of tour guides because of the remarkable view of he pyramids and the sphinx.

    Hire a Tour Guide

    Highlights of Cairo

    Paper making

    I highly recommend you hire a guide and driver if you are coming to Cairo (Memphis Tours was outstanding) to help you maneuver this congested city as well as help you mitigate the numerous people trying to sell to you and guide you.  It is well worth booking a guide service.

    Highlights of Cairo

    Thank you Egypt for a great time

    I would come here again in a heartbeat.  In fact I’d love to come back in five years and see the new museum and see if they have been able to make some improvements to the Giza area, which is in much need of some TLC.

    Thank you Egypt and Cairo for your outstanding hospitality.  We loved it all.  Next stop Jordan!

     

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    Africa & The Middle East Travel

    Cruising the Nile River

    Aboard Alexander the Great Nile River Cruise

    Our ten-day visit to the incredible countries of Egypt  and Jordan included four days on the Nile River, aboard the beautiful Alexander the Great river boat.  Spectacular, both boat and scenery, we are in awe of our surroundings. Here is how we spent our Nile River Cruise;

    Day One

    Nile River Cruise

    Our Ship Alexander the Great

    We left Cairo and flew an hour and twenty minutes south to Aswan where we met a representative of Memphis Tours, the company we have hired to manage our visit to Egypt.  I can’t say enough good things about Memphis Tours.  They do not miss a single detail.

    We were escorted to our boat, and our beautiful lodgings on board.  The ship can hold about 60 passengers, but since it is just the start of the tourism season here in Egypt, we were on board with only thirteen other people.  There were probably more staff than guests.  And the staff is incredible.

    After checking into our room we relaxed before enjoying a remarkable six-course lunch of Egyptian specialties.  After lunch our Memphis Tours guide Azab escorted us to four wonderful sites for the afternoon.

    Unfinished Obelisk 

    Nile River Cruise

    Unfinished Obelisk

    The unfinished obelisk dates to about 1500 BC is nearly one-third larger than any ancient Egyptian obelisk ever erected. It measures around 42 m (approximately 137 feet) and would have weighed nearly 1,090 metric tons (1,200 tons).

    The obelisk’s creators began to carve it directly out of bedrock but cracks appeared in the granite and the project was abandoned. The bottom side of the obelisk is still attached to the bedrock. Seeing this quarry and the unfinished obelisk was a window into the incredible stone work of the ancient Egyptians and their talent and craftsmanship.

    Aswan Dam 

    Usually referred to as the High Dam, this dam was built on the Nile beginning in 1960 and completed in 1970 and signified a turning point in Egypt’s modernization by providing electricity for industry and agriculture, it brought Egypt into the 20th century.  The dam was partially funded by the Soviet Union.

    Temple of Philae

    Nile River Cruise

    Temple of Philae

    This stunning temple served both as a worship site as well as a center of commerce. Originally on an island near the expansive first cataract of the upper Nile, the temple flooded when the first Aswan Dam was built in 1902.  It remained underwater until 1972 when conservations excavated and moved it to the current site as part of the UNESCO Nubia project.  Today it’s hard to imagine how anyone could flood this beautiful and stately temple which has seen thousands of years of history including pharaohs and kings, British rule, Christian disfigurement, and the ravages of the Nile River.

    Essence of Life Perfume Factory

    At first I really didn’t want to go here.  Because of my sinus issues I don’t wear fragrances and I can’t abide being around anyone who is too liberal with their perfume or cologne.  But I’m glad we made the visit.  We learned they create essense from the petals of many flowers as well as leaves, resin, and bark from trees.  Essence is an oil, which then perfume manufacturers mix with other ingredients (mainly alcohol) to create the highly lucrative perfumes for sale around the world.

    Nile River Cruise

    My little perfume bottle

    My favorite part of the tour was watching the artists hand blow the glass containers used for the essence.  I didn’t buy any perfume, but I’m bringing home a beautiful four-inch high perfume bottle.

    After our busy afternoon we were ready to get back to the ship for a cold drink, as the afternoon temperatures had soared to 98 degrees fahrenheit.  Dinner was served at 8pm and again, course after course was delicious and interesting.

    I slept like a mummy.

    Day Two

    Our ship stayed in port in Aswan until 4:00am when we began a slow cruise north to our first stop of the day:

    The Kom Ombo Temple

    Nile River Cruise

    Kom Ombo Tempte

    This temple is unique because it honors two gods.  Built from 180-47 BC the double temple also has courts, halls and sanctuaries.  One side of the temple is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world. The Northern half of the temple is dedicated to falcon god Horus.  The temple is atypical because everything is symmetrical.

    Croccodile Museum

    At first I thought we were going to a museum about crocodiles (similar to something I did in Vietnam) but I realized after visiting Kom Ombo Temple that the Crocodile museum is about Sobek the Crocodile God.  And more specifically it is about the mummified crocodiles that have been unearthed here.  The mummified crocodiles show how revered the animal was, as well as feared.  The crocodiles were given funerals and sent to heaven as a way for the crocodile god have the animals close.

    Nile River Cruise

    Kom Ombo Temple

    After just a couple of hours on shore we continued our cruise north for four hours.  We sat on deck under the shaded umbrellas and enjoyed the scenery.  It’s like a movie set.  I needed to keep reminding myself it was real.  Though the landscape is arid, brown and incredibly dry, along the river banks is an oasis of green and lush palms and tropical plants with people going about their daily lives on and in the river.

    After another amazing meal (I’m surely going to gain weight), we left the ship for our afternoon excursions;

    Edfu Temple

    Nile River Cruise

    Edfu Temple

    One of my favorite things we saw on our Nile Cruise was the Edfu Temple built around 237 BC to honor the god Horus. It is one of the best preserved shrines in Egypt. It is the second largest temple in Egypt. The inscriptions on its walls provide important information on language, myth and religion during the Hellenistic period in Egypt, as well as detail on construction, tools and techniques used.

    Day Three

    Nile River Cruise

    Sunrise balloons over the Nile

    We arrived in Luxor after cruising overnight and passing through locks on the Nile.  We had an early excursion so we were awake and looking out the window we discovered the sky full of beautiful hot air balloons at sunrise over the Nile.  A very special picture to wake to.  After breakfast on board, we took a small boat across the Nile to the East Bank where we met our driver and began our very busy tour of Luxor.

    Valley of the Kings

    One of the most significant sites in all of Egypt is the Valley of the Kings, where 62 tombs, including that of of Tutankhamen, are located.  Many of the tombs were looted in ancient times, others only discovered in the last few centuries.  Many of the artifacts, such as tombs, sarcophagi, and mummies, can now be seen in museums around the world.

    Nile River Cruise

    Inside the tombs

    So visiting Valley of the Kings is to see the actual tombs, which are dug from the soft limestone deep into the earth.  We visited three tombs; Ramses II, III and IV.  We did not visit Tutankhamen, which requires another ticket.  However my husband and I have seen the treasures of Tutankhamen twice when it has visited Seattle, and we will see this again when we return back to Cairo.

    The tombs we went to were very fascinating.  I am astounded at how they could dig these remarkable tunnels into the earth so deep without modern tools.  The tunnels are lined with fantastic artwork, well-preserved and still retaining much of its original color (unlike most of the outdoor temples).  We loved seeing this.

    Stone Workers Factory

    Nile River Cruise

    Craftsman

    Because so many people try to sell imitation stone work in the markets and on the street, the Egyptian government maintains some authentic factories.  Here you can visit to see how the work is done, still today, using the ancient tools and colors (and after the tour buy something to take home – of course I did!).

    Temple of Hatshepsut

    Nile River Cruise

    Hatshepsut Temple

    This temple honors Hatshepsut, “Foremost of Noble Ladies”, who was the second historically-confirmed female pharaoh. She also was one of the longest reigning and most successful pharaohs.  This incredible temple was unknown and buried under the sand and lost for thousands of years.  The temple is an example of perfect symmetry predating the Parthenon.  After Hatshepsut chose this site for her mortuary temple, the nearby valley became a favored site for tombs that we now call the Valley of the Kings.  Hatshepsut also commissioned two obelisks constructed to mark her 16th year on the throne.  One of those is the uncompleted broken obelisk mentioned above on day one. This was one of my favorite sites.

    We returned to the ship for our lunch and an afternoon rest and then continued on the West Bank of the Nile in Luxor where there are two significant temples:

    Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple

    Nile River Cruise

    Columns at Karnak

    Karnak is the largest temple in Egypt and the second most visited site in this country.  It is a marvel.  The two temples (Karnak and Luxor) were once connected by a 3km road (some still visible) lined with innumerable sphinx statues.  Karnak was a sacred site, and it’s easy to see why.  Only partly restored, the towering pillars and cavernous spaces are remarkable.  There are 122 columns over 10 meters tall and 12 columns that are 21 meters tall.  Decorative architraves sit on top of these columns, each estimate to weigh 70 tons. It is so incredible to imagine how these were constructed and positioned; archeologists and physicists have marveled and studied this question for generations.

    The Luxor Temple built around 1400 BC was also buried for ages.  Partially reconstructed, with work ongoing, this religious site has been used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptian Christians and of course is a revered site in today’s Islamic Egypt.  A Christian church was built on the site before the rest of the temple was discovered buried below.  Today after excavation, the church door is 20 feet above ground, and serves as a mosque.

    These two temples are both within sight of the Nile River and in the center of modern-day Luxor.  Their historic significance as part of the cradle of civilization is mind-boggling.

    Nile River Cruise

    Luxor Temple

    Back to the ship we went for our final dinner and night on board.  The crew of Alexander the Great sang to us at dinner and we all danced and sang along.  We have enjoyed our time on board so much, and highly recommend this boat as well as Memphis Tours.

    We now return to Cairo, where we will spend a full day at the pyramids, sphinx, and Egyptian museum before continuing on to Jordan.

    If you have ever hesitated about visiting Egypt please stop.  It is truly remarkable, beautiful and fascinating.  With our guides we have felt safe constantly.  And the people could not be any friendlier. I am so glad we came.

    More soon from Cairo.  Fabulous! رائع

     

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