egypt blog
Day 1-2, December 7-8, Friday-Saturday:

After flying to New York, we found our way to Egypt Air and right away things looked different. For one thing, we were directed to a different counter from the one for pilgrims going to Mecca. For another, our rather tattered Boeing 777 did not inspire much confidence. Fortunately, we had interesting seatmates as neither the sound system nor the reading lights worked and the trip was long. Luckily, the essential mechanics of the plane were in better shape than the amenities, and we landed safely at Cairo International Airport about noon, luggage intact, and $15 visas easily available in the airport as promised.

We headed out with our 11 new best friends and guide through Heliopolis, the Bel Air of Cairo, to Mena House Oberoi, a grande dame of hotels on 40 acres of gardens with a view of the Pyramids. The drive through city traffic jams gave us a chance to catch glimpses of our first minarets on the city's many mosques and we heard our first call to prayer, a sound that came to symbolize Egypt for us.

Hanaa, our guide, is a handsome woman with a beautiful speaking voice who is a trained Egyptologist. She has promised to try to add us to the optional Abu Simbel trip and to help us find an oud (Egyptian lute) for Andrea who has requested same.

Our first dinner was a sumptuous buffet at the hotel. I especially liked the Lebanese chicken made with spinach and chick peas. All meals are in the Khedive Room which is graced with a wall-sized painting of the Taj Mahal. No pork is served so we settle for beef bacon, but wine is available though expensive and not very good. At breakfast the fruits served include mango, figs and pomegranate seeds plus English breakfast choices (broiled tomato, sausage, eggs), sweet rolls with pistachios, croissants, cereals, filtered coffee, and Egyptian semolina with vegetables--which turns out to be the most flavorful choice.

Mena House Oberoi is an extraordinary hotel with a history of celebrity guests. Evelyn Waugh describes it as follows on his visit in 1929: "The Pyramids were a quarter mile away, impressive by sheer bulk and reputation; it felt odd to be living at such close quarters with anything quite so famous—it was like having the Prince of Wales at the next table in a restaurant; one kept pretending not to notice, while all the time glancing furtively to see if they were still there."

Day 3, December 9, Sunday:

After a good night's sleep, we gathered at 11 am to go to lunch in Cairo. I only tasted as it seemed a bit soon after breakfast, but everything was good: a sort of chicken tandoori plus many eggplant, yoghurt and other side dishes with fruit for dessert. Today's main attraction was the famed Egyptian Museum that houses a fabulous collection, including the treasures of the King Tut excavation, in an old building (1902), unfortunately with out-dated displays poorly lit. But all this will change in 2015 when the new museum opens near the pyramids.

Before entering the museum, we had to pass the formidable security that we soon began to take for granted but that initially caused some unease. The museum area at Midan al-Tahrir square near the Nile is barricaded and swarming with police carrying machine guns or pistols, some with body-sized shields. Tourism is a significant though variable part of the Egyptian economy, well behind the $2 billion in revenues collected from the Suez Canal, the gold mines in the Eastern Desert, and industry. Still, each million of tourists produces 200,000 jobs so the government is highly motivated to protect foreigners in this region of political unrest.

Among the highlights of the Egyptian Museum are the displays regarding the pharaoh Akhenaten (who ruled 1353-1333 B.C.), whose life is familiar to us from the Phillip Glass opera of the same name and whose wife was the beautiful Nerfertiti. Akhenaten moved the capitol from Thebes (now Luxor) to Al Amarna to escape the polytheist temples and old bureaucracy and to build a new city and temples in honor of a new heretical monotheism honoring the sun god Aten, a move abandoned by his son, the young King Tutankhamen. A new artistic style arose in this period, more graceful and lyrical, and the unfinished stone head of Nefertiti that we saw in the Akhenaten displays is exquisite in its sensitivity and strikingly like the colorful bust of her now in Berlin. Statues of him with elongated head and pigeon chest are said to reveal that he had Marfan's disease.

Other rooms contain wonderfully preserved papyrus scrolls and, of course, royal mummies and colossal statues. We also found a room of model musical instruments and a toilet seat not much different from one today. Of course, the Tut treasures are memorable, partly because so many of them are so familiar from having traveled the world. The three gold coffins are here with the innermost one of solid gold with truly remarkable, detailed workmanship. The famous mask is here also, though the display is in a very dark and crowded room.

The return trip to Mena House was endless because of Cairo's unremitting traffic jams, but we had a quick meal and packed up for our 3:45 am wakeup call before the flight to Luxor.

Day 4, December 10, Monday:

Since we are still a bit jet-lagged, the morning call was not unwelcome and everyone was chatty over the usual elaborate breakfast, this time with hibiscus juice or tea --something we found to be a common welcoming beverage when we arrived at a hotel or shop. The flight to Luxor, again on Egypt Air, was short and we were soon speeding along the Nile toward the temples at Karnak. As we go, we are shedding layers of sweaters because we are 650 kms. south of Cairo and the days are warmer though the nights still cool. There are palm trees everywhere but the desert is near, just beyond huge cliffs.

The Karnak ruins are extensive and awe-inspiring, especially the Great Hypostyle Hall with its forest of massive columns with lotus or palm capitals and carvings and hieroglyphics. Some of the stories pictured are becoming familiar as we begin to recognize the characteristic cobra and vulture symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt. There are also the two obelisks of Hatshepsut, the queen who reigned 75 years before Akhenaten. Tuthmosis III tried to eradicate all signs of his stepmother when he came to power so carvings of her and her name are chipped out everywhere. Later we were to find that Christians who used the temples as churches chipped out the faces of the gods pictured in the beautiful carvings.

From Karnak we drove to a convent school founded by Italian nuns, one of whom is still there and from Malta (and she commented on the parallels between Maltese and Arabic, a fact we were surprised to learn on our trip to Malta several years ago). She said there are 700 female students in the school, including 24 "orphans" (some with one parent living). We met three little ones about ages 4 and 5, very friendly and adorable in their little school uniforms. The sister was proud that they are educating so many girls who would otherwise receive no schooling, especially those living in villages. We noted that the place was a palace compared to the orphanage we visited in Tibet where even the basics were scarce. I left two picture books: one on how to make shadow puppets and one about the hungry caterpillar.

We then checked into the Winter Palace Hotel where we had a swim and then dressed for our trip to the Luxor temples. These temples are just a short stroll from the hotel and we saw them in the beautiful light of late afternoon, perfect for Jack with his new camera. Compared to Karnak, this complex is small enough to see easily in a few hours without feeling rushed, and I loved the papyrus columns shaped like papyrus stalks with deep ridges and tapered top and bottom.

A stop at a jewelry store gave us a chance to order cartouches in silver for the girls with their names in hieroglyphics. After dinner, walking along the Nile in front of the hotel on the paved promenade, we happened upon a wedding scene with perhaps a dozen drummers and a natural trumpet playing insistent rhythmic patterns to which various members of the party danced--sometimes women, sometimes men, sometimes the couple. Following a walk by the Luxor Temple, beautifully illuminated at night, we came across a second wedding celebration with more or less the same very noisy music. The women in the party were in hijab (robed and scarved) but the bride was in a bare-shouldered gown. Odd.

Day 5, December 11, Tuesday:

Today was another early rise in the dark, this time to board motor boats to cross the Nile for a "farm" breakfast which turned out to be an outdoor buffet for both OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) groups seated at low tables on the banks of the river with windbreaks of colorful cloths. The sunrise was lovely, the fishing boats picturesque. There was a large bearded man with a rifle on guard in addition to our regular guard who seems to follow us everywhere.

After breakfast we filed along to the house of our host where the extended family lives in very limited and primitive spaces next to the animal pen. One daughter had left her husband and returned home and we wondered how this was accepted in this culture. Children followed us as we left, asking for money, even the very little ones.

We continued by our small bus to the Valley of the Kings, a rocky, barren area that is the site of so many ancient tombs chiseled into the cliffs, including that of Ramses VI that has graffiti from the 2nd century B.C., wonderful paintings on walls and ceilings, that of Ramses III with pictures of everyday life including two harpists (giving this tomb its name, "The Harpists"). Next we drove to the Valley of the Queens (a misnomer as there are tombs of males too) where we climbed down in the tomb of Amunhekhepshep, son of Ramses III, who died at age 9 and is shown being groomed to be pharaoh by his father. The fetus lost by his grief-stricken mother is buried with him.

On the way to lunch we stopped to gaze up at the Colossi of Memnon, two huge statues that are all that is left of a temple. Later we boarded a felucca for a lovely cocktail sail on the Nile and then a long and leisurely evening carriage ride by the Luxor and Karnak temples and through back streets and markets ending with ginger tea in a café and a short walk home.

Day 6, December 12, Wednesday:

This morning we breakfasted on the terrace of the hotel restaurant facing their extensive gardens before boarding the MS River Hathor that is to be our home for the next four days. But first we had several hours in the beautiful modern Luxor Museum with its stone heads of Akhenaten, mummy cases, model ships from tombs, and The Wall of Akhenaten from the Karnak Temples showing scenes of daily life. Just before boarding the ship, we shopped in the souk (open market or bazaar) for the ingredients for our cooking lesson onboard: tomatoes, onions, lemons, okra, spices. We also overpaid for saffron, despite being hovered over protectively by our guard and the bus driver, but Hanaa was so disgusted that she got our money back! As one merchant said, "You are in an Egyptian market." In other words, buyer beware.

The ship is a lovely small cruiser (owned by the company) carrying our two groups--just under 30 passengers with 44 crew members. There are two decks for sunning, the top one with a small chilly pool and exercise equipment. We spent the afternoon with Jennifer, one of two female couples, who is a delightful person and avid birder. She pointed out over 50 species over the next days including purple herons (like our great blues), white egrets, cormorants, hooded crows, stilts and plovers. Jack was busy photographing the fishermen and life on the river banks so I had full use of the binoculars.

Before dinner, we entered the Esna lock, watching the process as we did at the Three Gorges Dam in China. Dinner was many delicious courses: soup, spinach ravioli, mango sherbet, veal in wine sauce with dessert of fruit and banana chocolate tart. The ship docks at night so we don't miss any scenery.

Day 7, December 13, Thursday:

Despite the elegant dinner last night, we were hungry for breakfast after arising at 6 to watch the sun rise and try the exercise machines. As in Malta, there is muesli with separate condiments of almonds, raisons, walnuts, dried apricots, figs, dates and coconut. So I am content with that while Jack has a big hot breakfast. Our table talked politics the whole time and everyone seemed to be anti-Bush.

On deck we enjoyed more bird watching before disembarking to see the temple at Edfu, a temple to the falcon god, Horus, that was begun in 237 B.C. and finished 180 years later by the father of Cleopatra. It is sandstone and on the now familiar plan of earlier temples with many reliefs detailing various rites including 44 recipes for perfumes! We traveled to and from the ship by 2-person horse-drawn buggies and faced the usual array of insistent vendors at the temple entrance.

Mid-morning the captain gave a talk about the MS River Hathor (Hathor, the cow goddess and wife of Horus) explaining the water filtration system, the Caterpillar engines, the capacity (up to 36 passengers), the speed etc. We went to the bridge and met the river pilot, barefoot in turban and robe, who has guided ships on the Nile for 35 years and never uses maps as they are all in his head and the river is ever-changing anyway.

Returning from Edfu we had the "light" lunch on deck instead of the regular lunch: guava flip soup (chilled), salad with sandwiches and apple raisin tart. Tonight is Egyptian dress and food so we bought galabiyas: orange for me and white for Jack plus a blue and white turban for him and a glittery scarf for me. Big splurge of about $20. The dinner and party were fun and we all danced.

Day 8, December 14, Friday:

At 4 am the ship moored next to us left with a parting toot that woke me. I wasn't sure I hadn't dreamed it till Phyllis confirmed it. Phyllis is a single New Yorker who travels a lot and buys a lot, so we tease her that she is keeping the local economies afloat single-handedly. Joe and Kathryn are our other pals, psychologists from Louisville, Kentucky (who dress in black and white!) with whom we are spending a lot of time.

After breakfast we walked to Kom Ombo Temple (2nd century B.C.), a Greco-Roman temple sited beautifully high above a bend in the Nile. This is Egypt's only "double" temple, one side dedicated to the croc god, Sobek, and the other to the falcon god, Haroeris or Horus the Elder. Besides the beautiful site, two things stand out: first-- the carvings of medical instruments (scalpel, forceps, sponge, retractor, saw) with a squatting woman birthing a child and secondly--details of the 365-day Egyptian calendar and festivals.

On returning to the ship, we set sail for Aswan and had lunch, again on the sun deck (lentil soup, vegetable pizza, sandwiches and profiteroles). Then we boarded feluccas to sail to Kitchener's Island to see the Botanical Gardens there and do a bit of bird-watching with Vicki and Jennifer. On the return sail the young boy assisting sang Nubian songs with drum accompaniment.

It appears that one of our group, Sharon, broke her arm when she fainted and so she and Howard will fly home to California for surgery. A doctor came on board and then sent her for an X-ray. Two other women are sick as well--bad colds apparently. The day ended rather depressingly with blinking Santa hats and a rather showy final dinner. I skipped the folkloric program.

Day 9, December 15, Saturday:

After disembarking from the ship, we took our little bus with a new driver and guard to the motor boat to transport us to Philae Temple, moved from its original site to high on Agikia Island to avoid being flooded by Lake Nasser. On the way I asked Hanaa again about finding a way for us to see Abu Simbel and she was able to book us through Thomas Cook.

As we wandered about Philae we found carvings of a harpist and an oud player, thanks to a little baksheesh to a guard, and could see the old Aswan Dam in the distance. Returning by boat to our bus, we crossed the Aswan Dam on our way to the newer High Dam that controls Nile flooding and provides the bulk of Egypt's power. The Nile is indeed the life blood of this country; it provides electric power, irrigation, fishing, transportation, washing, in short, it is a ribbon of green and life winding through the desert.

Next we stopped at the Papyrus Institute where we saw how the stems are sliced, soaked to remove the sugar, arranged in overlapping grids, and pressed for days to remove the water. The longer the materials are soaked and pressed, the more durable the product. We bought two sheets with Arabic writing for the boys. Then we lunched at a hotel and arrived at the New Cataract Hotel in Aswan, a hotel with a truly to-die-for view of fleets of feluccas on the Nile with desert dunes rising high in the background where the Aga Khan mausoleum is located.

After a rather chilly late afternoon swim, we returned to Philae Temple for a sound and light show, the temples and carvings glowing in the changing lights. This lovely day was capped by a terrific Egyptian buffet at the hotel: many types of tagine (cooked in pottery pots) and the sweet coconut and honey desserts we have everywhere.

Day 10, December 16, Sunday:

Abu Simbel. We were up at 4 am to meet the special rep for our flight 170 miles south of Aswan. The Thomas Cook rep drove us to the airport where we rejoined the rest of our group and flew the short hop, boarded another bus, and drove to the famous site. We thrilled to the temple from the air with the four colossi flanking the entrance and Lake Nasser glittering all around and almost as wide as the horizon. Everything here is on a grand scale: the Eastern Desert stretching for miles on one side of the Nile and the Western Desert on the other with Lake Nasser spreading out in the vast middle.

Jack, Phyllis and I walked through the main temple for Ramses II, about mid-13th century B.C., looking for the paintings of battles and offerings to the gods. The 20-meter high colossi of Ramses, Queen Nefertari and the queen mother dwarf the figures of the gods, a new wrinkle. Like Stonehenge, the temple records the year in a special way: on the anniversaries of Ramses' birth and coronation, the sun's first rays penetrate the hypostyle hall and into the sanctuary where they light the statues of Ramses and two of the three gods. The other, smaller temple of Hathor honors the beautiful Nefertari. The hall's square pillars have Hathor (cow goddess with horns) capitals. The carved and painted figures in both temples are exceptional, telling stories of valor in battle and showing offerings to the gods with traces of the original colors.

The setting is beautiful and we lingered, spotting osprey and maybe a falcon hovering above. Sitting at the café in the warm sun, we watched in awe as flock after flock of black cormorants went streaming by, the thousands of birds I associate with images of Africa. This area beyond the dam is arid and undeveloped and only a few miles from the Sudan border.

Unfortunately, our return flight was cancelled because of mechanical trouble so after some delay we boarded our Egypt Air bus, somehow got permission to go in a convoy with another bus on the restricted highway to Aswan which has been closed to foreigners for security reasons. Armed guards were on each bus but low key. Also on the bus was movie star Patricia Arquette, wife of Nicholas Cage, with her young blond daughter. Driving through the desert was interesting at times, especially when we saw mirages of blue water that actually reflected the stone outcrops.

At 3:30 we finally arrived for lunch at an outdoor hilltop restaurant with a panoramic view of the Nile and city of Aswan where we had Nubian foods, tagines mostly. At Aswan's spice market we finally bought the Iranian saffron (said to be the best) and hibiscus for tea. A long but wonderful day. Petals were strewn over the turned-down beds and on the bath mat in our hotel and we had some fruit and watched an old movie on TCM along with a little news on CNN showing Al Gore receiving his Nobel Prize.

Day 11, December 17, Monday:

We are both on the verge of catching colds but a long sleep was restorative and we were off by 9 am, walking to the hotel dock to catch a motor boat to the western side of the Nile. There we were each assigned a camel and driver and mounted up. When a camel rises, it begins with the rear legs so you lean backward, then the front legs go up and you lean forward. There is a cushioned saddle and a pommel to grasp. I was a bit disconcerted when my driver handed me the reins and demonstrated "gauche" and "a droite" and walked behind, but the camel was cooperative. Going downhill was alarming and again I was told to lean back. Someone snapped photos and we were off. Our first ride was short--maybe ten minutes--to an abandoned monastery, St. Simeon's, where 200-300 monks lived in the 6th century. This is said to be one of the best preserved early Christian sites in Egypt. It is high above the Nile and fortress-like with nothing but desert all around.

The second ride lasted about 40 minutes as we rode slowly to a Nubian Village--a group of adobe houses all colored blue. After dismounting, we entered a house and our hostess served mint tea and snacks and showed us typical Nubian wedding attire and explained various customs. Dowries, for example, are gold jewelry, often finely crafted as we saw on an elderly woman who lifted her sleeves to show off her bracelets.

Then we motored by boat to an island surrounded by protected little islands that are wildlife sanctuaries. We were greeted with wet cloths to clean our hands and hibiscus juice and climbed to a grove where the hotel had set up linen-covered tables and upholstered chairs for our "picnic" buffet that featured many Nubian dishes.

Finally we landed again at the hotel dock. Jack and I wandered over to the Old Cataract Hotel that is on the same grounds as the new one to see the earlier and more interesting architecture of the original building.

At 5 pm we met once more for a quick look at a nearby Coptic Cathedral and then spent several hours at the Nubian Museum, a modern museum demonstrating current Nubian life and detailing Nubian history including the Nubian conquest of Upper Egypt and assumption of the throne for a time. The museum houses 3,000 artifacts that would have been submerged when the High Dam was built. Dinner was at a local restaurant.

Day 12, December 18, Tuesday:

Today we departed at 7 am for the flight back to Cairo via Luxor. Our new hotel is Le Meridien Pyramids, a luxury hotel outside Cairo in Giza. We must be sure to swim here because one can see all three pyramids from the pool!

After a rest and shower, we gathered in a hotel meeting room for a Power Point presentation by a woman economist who is also an Islamic scholar. She outlined the requirements for Muslims: give oneself to Allah, pray five times a day (dawn, morning, noon, sunset, evening), help the poor, and make the Hajj if possible to Mecca, the period we are in now. In fact we had seen pilgrims in JFK Airport when we checked into Egypt Air. The lecture was well organized but a bit evangelical. For example, she proudly said: "The Quran is the only holy book that still exists in its original language."

I like that Muslims don't believe in original sin and don't blame Eve for the Fall, but find the discussion a bit irrelevant, as if it is just another cultural history lesson, another version of Akhenaten insisting on his new monotheism and banishing the old gods only to have his successor come along and restore the old gods, then Coptic Christians come along and use the temples and chisel out the gods' faces, and on and on, each new group insisting on the truth of its beliefs and attempting to erase earlier religions. There were some rather confrontational questions: "Why was the woman who was gang-raped in Saudi Arabia blamed and the men let off?" The speaker said this was wrong and against Islamic justice and writings. But when I asked if non-believers are condemned after death, I am not sure I believe her when she says that good deeds & a good heart, not just rigorous prayers, are what count.

After the lecture, we drove to an apartment in a Cairo outlying district. There is little traffic now, unlike the gridlock we experienced on first arriving, because of the holidays and the Hajj and subsequent feast days. There are sheep and cows in trucks everywhere going to families to be sacrificed and shared with the poor. Our hostess, Nama, speaks excellent English and lives with her husband (a Xerox franchise owner), son and daughter in the top two floors of the building her father owns, along with other family members in other apartments. The exterior is unprepossessing as are the hallways, but the interior is spacious and handsomely furnished. Plus there is a second floor with a beautiful roof garden overlooking the city. The reception rooms consist of a double living room with oil paintings, beautiful rugs (of course) and many sofas and chairs. Nama is a fine cook so our dinner was delicious home-cooked Egyptian food, a welcome change from restaurant food. As she was serving dessert and showing us the roof garden, her young son, Sharif (15), and husband arrived. Jack talked soccer with the boy and father for a bit, some of us presented little gifts to her, and we departed for Le Meridien.

Day 13, December 19, Wednesday:

This morning we breakfasted with one of the Chinese couples in the other OAT group. They are a May-December marriage: she is a beautiful young woman who grew up in China and he a distant relative of hers who is an American engineer. Unfortunately, she is not well.

Our first venture today is to Saqqura, south of Cairo, that is an area of 30 kms. along the desert where Memphis had its necropolis from about 3100 B.C. The nobleman's tomb that we saw first was resplendent with carvings illustrating everyday life: fishing, baking, making music, dancing, and even manicures. The birds are so detailed that we identified a heron and a king fisher. Next, some inspected a low passage with hieroglyphics, and we walked around the step pyramid of King Zoser. The surrounding temples had lovely, tapered "engaged" columns (attached to the wall) in the style of papyrus stems.

Next on the agenda was a rug factory where we saw young boys weaving and drank mint tea while checking out the showroom of beautiful silk and wool rugs. We bought a simple camel hair prayer rug for Spencer.

Lunch was outdoors in a local restaurant specializing in what Hanaa calls "whirling chickens" (rotisserie). We watched the traditional preparation of flat round pita bread baked in earthen ovens and then sat at a long table and feasted.

On the way we stopped to see the traditional sacrifice of cattle at what turned out to be an orphanage. Joe and Jack got out to take photos and the headmaster misunderstood and became upset until the men made clear that they wanted to contribute to the orphanage and expressed interest in the tradition of sacrifice and sharing. In the end, they made us gifts of sandwiches of the newly barbecued beef.

The day's highlight was our visit to the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza. As Napoleon said, 40 centuries of history look down at you from these pyramids. Towering in the desert is Cheops, the largest of the three. Nearby is the recently excavated "solar boat," a huge traditional sailing or rowed vessel meant to accompany Cheops in the afterlife, perhaps having ferried his mummy to the tomb before being dismantled and buried. A museum has been erected over the site of the find and the boat meticulously reassembled. The scale of the boat is like the pyramids, staggering. Likewise the Sphinx which we circled (nearly) and enjoyed in the sun with our first clouds of the trip.

The Chinese group went to Mena House for dinner and entertainment, but instead we inspected two ouds that Hanaa arranged for us to see. Unfortunately, one was a little crude and the other garish. So we had a light supper of quiche and salad at the hotel café and turned in.

Day 14, December 20, Thursday:

Today was a tour of spiritual Cairo. We began with an old Roman gate, the Church of St. Sergius (where the holy family is said to have rested in their flight from Herod), Ben Ezra Synagogue (9th century, said to be where pharaoh's daughter found Moses in the reeds), the 4th century Hanging Church (so-called because it is built over the Water Gate of Roman Babylon and may be the oldest Christian place of worship) with barrel-vaulted wooden ceilings and many icons.

Mohammed Ali mosque (also his mausoleum) was next. Although modestly covered from ankle to wrist, I was required to wear a green cape (while many men in tight pants walked around unbothered) and we all had to remove our shoes. The interior is huge and there were some of the faithful praying, facing Mecca, despite the din of visitors.

Lunch was in a lovely local restaurant (mixed grill, fragrant rice and veggies plus appetizers and desserts) in the souk or Egyptian market. Afterwards we wandered and bargained, having a bit of fun in the process and purchasing a small black stone canopic jar. The weather has changed and it is cooler, cloudy, and even briefly rainy.

Our farewell dinner was on a floating Asian restaurant on the Nile with fireworks across the river. We have become fond of our sister group and they were there too. Nobody is sick anymore: Kathryn and Nancy both recovered after various doctor visits and medications. And neither Jack nor I ever got a cold after all.

Tomorrow we all leave: Jennifer and Vicki are off to Paris; Bill and Nancy to Vienna; Sharon and Marilyn to Nevada; Joe and Kathryn to Kentucky; Phyllis--ever alert to "retail opportunities" returns to New York; and of course we will soon see snowy Boston.

The highlight--and surprise--of the day was finding a serviceable oud for Andrea at the large and fascinating shop associated with the Coptic church. We even managed to coax a padded case out of the sellers and added a small wind instrument and several inlaid boxes to the purchase.

Day 15, December 21, Friday:

Rising at 4:30 to have one final incredible breakfast at the mile-long buffet at Le Meridien, we hear one last call to prayer, exchange hugs, and are off to the airport. On the bus I take over Hanaa's microphone briefly to recite a bit of doggerel (a limerick) in appreciation of her guidance. (We also give her a large tip.) Even as we make this final bus trip together in the dark of pre-dawn Cairo, she is pointing out items of interest and has seen to it that we are first in line to go through security and get our seat assignments. Her attention to detail has been meticulous and I, for one, will miss her musical speaking voice, a most pleasant memory associated with this amazing adventure.