From Portland to Egypt

Okay, we live in Portland. I get it. It rains. In fact it rains a lot. Not as much as Seattle, but it is fair to say that we get our fair share. This said, the wet weather plays havoc when taking outdoors photos. I for one, tends to freak when the rain comes in contact with my camera. With the days being hit and miss, I haven’t been able to get much camera time in. I am okay with this since we were preparing for our art display which began on February 2, at Montinore Winery and will continue through April 1. There will be a reception for those who love wine and fine art on Saturday February 18, from 5 to 7 pm at the winery tasting room. We are very excited we were invited to display our art work and we hope you will join us.

So as I find myself typing this blog. I am having a difficult writing because Mr. Perkins, our metro-sexual male cat refuses to budge from his place between me and the keyboard so I can type. For whatever reason, he suddenly has decided to revert back to the days as a kitten perched between my lap and keyboard purring like a motor boat. Nearly three next month and no longer the little kitten who once sat in this very position. Now he weighs in at roughly 15-17 pound range, lap sitting becomes a challenge. He eats well only the best for our Prima Donna – Darwin’s raw cat food; which translates to an extremely healthy and muscular cat with little to no fat. If you would like information on Darwin products for your dog or cat please visit the link I have provided. Awesome products. Back to photography.

After some thought, I decided to post some of our photographs from various places we have traveled. I chose Egypt as this was the last place Lloyd and I traveled. We have been extremely fortunate we love to travel and have done so often. Our last trip was to Egypt, with a little jaunt to Belgium, before and afterwards.

Since we were in the vicinity we took a mini stop in Belgium before flying into Cairo, so I could rest and but more importantly to visit our dear friends who live outside of Brussels: One couple lives in Deist, near Leuven; the other in Tongeran which is near the Dutch border and city of Maastricht, Holland. While in Tongeran, our friends took us across the border to Maastricht, Holland to one of our favorite pubs where we had a beer or two, at Ouden Vogelstruys which has been around since the 13th Century and the oldest pub in Maastricht, Holland;  wicker chairs only please. Now how is that for an ordinance. We also visited a few of the sights we missed from our earlier trips. I promise to post a segment on our Belgium trips later. Before I do, I will leave you with a bit of Belgium trivia.

For those who don’t know, Belgium is known for its fabulous Abbey Beers (One’s gotta love those Monks), fine lace, mussels, and of course – chocolate. We, along with our great friends, spent many a night filled with food, wine, and of chocolate. Our adventure was wonderful and wouldn’t have been nearly as wonderful if it wasn’t for our dear friends, with whom we adore. I promise to share our Belgium adventures another time. But I will say that our trip to Belgium and Egypt was by far one of the best and certainly most memorable trips we have ever taken.

Off to Egypt through our eyes.

We timed our trip as we left Egypt on the day of the Elections and the day the revolution began. We in fact, were some of the last to leave before the uprising began. How is that for luck and planning?

While we were in Cairo, things appeared normal. We never saw any signs that a revolution would be starting. Not once did we worry about our safety. It was only after the fact did we learn of the troubles and were some of the last foreigners to leave the country before things got hairy. Scary stuff. We felt horrible for the people. Some of the destruction occurred in places we had seen and some no longer exist.

I was so thankful we hired a personal driver and guide for our trip. This practice is required for Americans and highly recommended for non-Muslims when traveling in the Middle East, especially since 9/11. We would not be safe otherwise.Now with the unrest in the city, I doubt many if any Americans will be traveling to Egypt any time soon.

Prior to the Revolution, Egypt was probably one of the safer Middle Eastern countries to travel. As I mentioned we were never in danger; we had wonderful guides and a driver with us the entire time. Our first guide, Lamiaa, we met in Cairo, she was excellent and very knowledgeable of the history of Lower Egypt. She guided us through the Cairo and the surrounding areas of Memphis and Saqqara. The area known as Lower Egypt because of the direction the Nile River Flows. Our second guide, Tarek, met us in Luxor located about one hour south of Cairo by plane.

Our trip was rather spur of the moment, and arranged through a fabulous travel company. A first for us, if anyone is interested, please send us an email and we would be happy to provide you with their information. We have done our fair share of traveling both domestically and internationally. Egypt was different. Our decision for a guide was based on the necessity; we would have preferred traveling alone than with a group of people we don’t know. So we opted for a private guide and driver. If the political issues ever settle down, I highly recommend adding a trip to Egypt to ones bucket list. It was that amazing!

This photo is perhaps one of my favorites I shot while in Memphis, Egypt. Lloyd and I each share a fascination of Egypt from its history to the discovery of such fabulous artifacts. To be standing before Ramses and the great pyramids was very emotional. It could be compared to standing in the Vatican I suppose. Or in Florence at the Duomo. We were awestruck. There is no way to describe the moment we both laid eyes on the pyramids.

Honestly I’ve never felt so overwhelmed as I did standing looking up at the top of the pyramid; walking around knowing Cleopatra, Caesar, and Marc Antony once stood, where Ancient Egyptians walked thousand of years ago was surreal. Little has changed if you can imagine. Of course the modern conveniences, but minimal in most areas, an occasional street light. Most of the streets remain unpaved; which equates to a lot of dust. There is little vegetation, we saw some along the Nile River, and at the nicer hotels or wealthy residents, which we observed behind large walls, gated, and men standing guard with their full arsenal of weapons ready in hand, done to protect the tourists.

Tourism is the primary industry, the revolution largely has crushed the economic stability of the country. With the unrest, the countries economy likely will plummet in a downward spiral. Very sad. So much fighting in those countries. Most don’t understand what is like to live the way we do. Freedom. While, granted we have our own poverty and problems. We can go most places in the US and not feel threatened that you may hit a bomb and blow up, or be attacked by rebels with high powered weapons. We can not even begin to fathom how lucky we are to we live as we do in a country where fighting is seen from a distance. Only those who have found their way into the military to serve this country can understand the importance of freedom. We sit by while these brave men and women fight each day for our freedom.

While Egypt is a tourist mecca the country remains extremely poor. Certainly there is wealth. We saw some mixed among the poverty. One thing I noticed,  (I always pay particular attention to is the environment – the water – pollution. Once a scientist, always a scientist. I notice when places are dirty, or polluted. Ingrained in my brain my entire career. While in Cairo and Giza especially, I was stunned at the degree to which the country was polluted. Certainly you can expect some when traveling outside of the US, but this was really bad. We have traveled to many places outside the US and I believe that Egypt was by far one of the dirtiest countries we have encountered. The garbage in the streets, in the canals which flows through Giza filled with trash. The water was heavily polluted with trash garbage and crap…literally. The banks of the Nile River were particularly disgusting. It was rather interesting signs were posted along the River telling people not to dispose of their trash in the water go figure. The River was so bad I can only imagine what it would be like in the summer with the sweltering temperatures. It was if Cairo was a hoarder. A trash hoarder. Trash piled up along banks of the River along the streets, back alleys, vacant lots. Anywhere and everywhere. Disgusting. Children were playing in it sifting through it. Argh. If you think that is bad, it was heart wrenching watching children no more than 2 or 3, maybe 4 playing on the fitly sidewalks and in the streets along with the traffic of cars, animals, carts, people. There parents somewhere, hopefully.

Noticeably, the further south we traveled the River and country- side seemed less polluted, which made sense as there were less people. Yet, the villages continued the trend to throw their trash in the River.

Vendors fill the streets such as the one below in various places around the cities and towns we visited. and what is ironic is that while this type of clothing is being sold, none of the Egyptian woman wear this type of clothing. It is for the tourists who have Egyptian night on the ships. This photo was taken further south of Cairo but it exemplifies what you see on the streets, especially in heavily touristy places.

Like I mentioned, in all likelihood too much, the roads are paved and covered with sand dirt giving the impression they are not paved, major highways seem to be less sandy, however. No wonder the dust storms. There is little vegetation, the roads are all dirt, you can’t call it soil it is sand. The only places we saw greenery was at the hotels and along the Nile River, and maybe some around the mansion. The streets for all intent and purpose posses no street lights. Traffic is a free-for-all. Cars, buses, travel vans, people, animals, horses and camels alike all share the road. Seriously, people stand in the middle of the road and carry on conversations. Do they realize they are holding up traffic? They don’t care. It was crazy.

To say their traffic system works would be a joke. I have driven in Manhattan, I have driven in Italy, I would never drive in Egypt. It was a bit daunting to even be a passenger in a car that may or may not break down and relatively no road rules; the rules they have –  not enforced. We saw a man riding on the trunk (boot) of a Toyota Tercel. No kidding. I tried to snap a quick picture, but I was a bit too slow. Moving object. Darn Moving objects.

We began our trip in Cairo, our accommodation the Mena House which borders Giza in fact a mere 700 meter from the Pyramids and some stunning views. Vast amounts of barren land occupies the acreage between the airport and Cairo/Giza, with pyramids to the left all the way to our hotel. The pyramids are all constructed on the west of the Nile because the ancient kings believed this is where the sun set and the dead were thought to enter the Underworld. Easily there could have been one hundred small pyramids along the drive. We also observed existing digs that Egyptologists, Archeologists, and other scientists were working at. The following image is a view from our terrace at Mena House.

The reason we chose to stay at Mena House is largely because this hotel was one I referenced in my Novel, “The House of Thoth;” so the hotel had special meaning for me to actually ‘see’ the Palace hotel I wrote about. The main part of the hotel once only used by royalty throughout history, converted into a hunting lodge for royalty, then sometime in the early 1900s the palace was sold and converted into a high-class hotel.

When I first saw the Mena House, I was mesmerized, by the accuracy of my descriptions. It was nearly as eerie as the book. How I managed to write about a place I had never seen is beyond me. When my eyes first caught sight of the pyramids, they leaked. Witnessing greatness, this fantastic was extremely emotional.  I could not have been able to convey this emotion in my book without having seen it first hand.

That said, Mena House is a unique hotel in Cairo/Giza, because of its rich and unique history. The hotel grounds are comprised of 40 acres of gardens including a golf course, and has a prime view of the Great Pyramids of Giza standing a mere 700 meters away. The hotel gave the impression you were in an oasis as one passed through he entrance guards positioned at gate and at the hotel entrance. Tranquility immediately consumed oneself, unlike the pandemonium and chaos beyond the hotel – traffic – cars, animals, people the real Egypt. We were hidden behind the walls, for our own protection with guards at every entrance and exit, from the street entrance before one drives up the grand driveway, to the guards which stood outside to the guards standing at their post – our friendly x-ray machine.

Impressive. A security check greeted us as we walked in. It was  very close to going through security at US airports, no kidding. It wasn’t that bad, because we had a guide introduce us as guests of the hotel and we were fine, there after. We felt safe always. Some guests, were a bit rude because they had inconvenienced. If you saw the inside and all the antiques, you would understand, police guards and AK-47s but hey! I would rather endure a few extra minutes of inconvenience for my life. My days are numbered as it is, I want to enjoy the time I have left, not blown up because of a little inconvenience was taken away.

Gold, silver, granite and marble embellished the hotel, especially in the palace. We spent some time at this little bar at the entrance to the hotel and outside by one of the most amazing pools I have ever seen, to relax from travel. It was sweet. We had a driver in a mini cart take us to the pool. That sucked. We decided to stay and relax for a while. The cart would come and get us when we were ready. Gee…Just wait until you see the photos.

This particular bar was embellished with gold. For an Arab nation, we were ignorant to the fact that you can drink alcoholic beverages (full bar lists) in the hotels and nicer hotels. A bit of trivia – Egypt actually has wineries to the north near the capital city of Alexandria, where they produce reds, and sparkling wines. We were skeptical initially, but we tried both the sparkling and red table wine. We were pleased. The sparkling was excellent and soon became our friend, particularly the rose sparkling. It was prepared in the french style and actually received some of their grapes from South Africa and France.

Mena House has once welcomed kings and emperors, and now Heads of State and celebrities. The royal history of the hotel is reflected in luxurious interiors embellished with exquisite antiques, handcrafted furniture and original art work and magnificent antiques. The hotel located a mere 700 meters from the great pyramids. We could see them from the balcony of our room. I felt like a princess.

Let me begin by saying it was so terrible to lay out by the pool with the wait staff bringing cocktails, or in our case a bottle of their local sparkling wine. The other pool below, is attached to the main pool by troughs of water which flow along the sidewalk and drain to the fountains, and other pools on the grounds.

The grounds simply exquisite. Water flowed from four directions a cascading staircase of water which then traversed in the manner you see in the two photos with small foot-wide concrete streams of flowing water which connect to the various pools and fountains. The pools reminded me, which I am sure was the intent, of what ancient water structures and ponds for royalty were like in a palace setting.

After two full days of lounging in the sun, we were off to tour with our with our guide, Lamiaa; which for the life of me, I could not get the pronunciation correct the entire trip. I won’t tell you what I kept wanting to call her. Think Seinfeld. Anyway, she is an Egyptologist who guided us around Cairo, Giza, Memphis, and Saqqara.

The statue of the small sphinx (small is relative, as the great sphinx is enormous;  small was roughly 30 feet high) was basically in the middle of the town of Memphis which held a few artifacts behind a secured area. The city was basically constructed either around or on top of the many artifacts. Archeologists were on digs in the middle of the small city. Local traffic merely drove around what ever was going on. I am telling you, it is amazing more people aren’t killed on the roadways. Maybe they are, we just don’t hear about them. If the archeologists found artifacts of significance, construction would stop and more Egyptologists/Archeologist would come and explore the site. I never understood the significance. The system, while appeared to work at least in their minds, was in my mind a huge cluster-fuck. There is not other way to describe it. I apologize if I have offended anyone. From what we saw a majority of the cities and villages were constructed around the artifacts if not on top of them. Again, who determines what is significant. Is this where Dr. Zahi Hawass, who up until recently was the former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs comes out and calls construction off?

This photo and the first photo were statues of Ramses held in a secure location at Memphis.

A close up of the Sarcophagus made from granite. One can see the details after 4000 years. Our buildings crap out in a six months to a year. A fact that fascinates me about our country.

This image is a detailed portion of Horus, carved into the granite. I find it curious why most areas outside of the US and Canada, and to an extent Australia simply lose site of their history. Americans have, and the trend continues. Before long, no one will know their lineage.  In the US, builders build a building which maybe will last 10 or 15 years, then it is either torn down or remodeled. Only in rare instances do we have buildings that have been around longer than one hundred years. As citizens, we have lost sight of our heritage, whereas people from other nations have a strong sense of self, their culture, their buildings, and their antiquities. Egypt, and many other Middle Eastern countries, and European and Asian countries know their lineage and maintain buildings, old and new and artifacts some 4000 years ago. What made us change our ways of thinking?

This is a statue of Hathor one of the many goddesses the Egyptians worshiped. She is found all over Egypt in various temples and buildings. Hathor is commonly depicted as a cow goddess with head horns in which is set a sun disk with Uraeus or head ornament. One of the treasures Saqqara offers is the great step Pyramid of Djoser. There was construction taking place while we were there, I image this occurs on a regular basis.

The photo above is one of the step pyramids of Djoser. The photo below is the entrance to the temple of Djoser in Saqqara.

Of course we couldn’t travel all the way to Egypt without seeing a camel. They were everywhere. It may be cheesy but, I wanted to ride a camel. Where else would I have the opportunity to do so again? We did. We went on a wonderful sunset camel ride over the sand dunes saw the Bedouin camps all under a full moon. It was amazing. The moon so full and bright lit up the dunes like a dream.

The thought may sound like a romantic dream. But try to take a picture while sitting on a camel is not possible. I felt like I was about to fall off the entire ride. Don’t get me wrong. I would ride a camel again. But, man they bounce your ass around like its a bumper car. Even when I stopped I continued to bounce. None of our camel shots turned out. Big surprise – rather disappointing. We have the memories. I have to say that I have ridden a horse or two growing up, and now a camel, and man those camels do not do nice thing to the body.  Rugged. Wow. I seriously don’t know how people used to ride this animals like horse. Comfort. Not present. Smelly, check.  At least they have pretty blankets.

The trip would not be the same if we could not see the great  Great Pyramid and the Sphinx. I was so excited and emotional when I gazed up and stared at the size of the blocks which comprise the pyramid and the rocks which would become the Sphinx. Magnificence. I was speechless. A grand moment I will never forget.

Seeing the Sphinx and great Pyramids on TV or in a book, or magazine pales in comparison to seeing them up close and in person. Wow.

King Khufus Solar boat was discovered next to one of the pyramids. When unearthed, the entire structure was buried under 15 to 20 feet of sand. How they every located it, is beyond me. Ground penetrating radar? The boat was laying in pieces laying in the ground, mere feet from where it currently resides. The structure was refurbished. Apparently, all the pieces were present, and the structure itself only required a few repairs. The photo below is the real refurbished boat displayed in this enclosed room adjacent to where it was discovered and next to the great pyramids. I guess that the boat was kept where it was found to protect it from vandals and the weather.

As we were leaving Giza, we stopped to take one final glance at the Pyramids without all of the people. From this vantage I gazed up then down and there it was – a horse and buggy on the road. I cracked up. Had to capture the moment.

After seeing Cairo, Giza, Memphis and Saqqara, we flew south to Luxor where we were greeted by our new guide Egyptologist Tarek. He was amazing; one of a few guides, we learned well versed in reading hieroglyphs. Evidently, It takes years to learn how to read hieroglyphs, which is why not all Egyptologist can read them.

In Luxor, we drove to Karnak Temple seen above, which is outside of Luxor. The temple of Luxor and Karnak, both contain many amazing structures and art from the past. It makes you wonder what it was like to have lived back in the day. The following image was in its day painted blue as evident by the structures blue tinge.

This image, my husband shot, is from the base of the grand structure stands at least 50 feet in height. The lower picture ‘Two Ramses Unite’ is the image carved at the base of Ramses. We had our photo taken on either side and we look like ants. Well almost. You get my point. This statue was large.

Our guide took time to explain to us the meaning of many of the glyphs and Cartouches (the oblong oval portion of the picture below) we saw. Very overwhelming. We were really grateful to our friends Mike and Kelly who before hand had given us a DVD with a set of lectures. We learned a lot from the lectures; those with what we both had already knew helped us tremendously as there is so much to learn. And when you see the artifacts they begin to look alike and where you have been and where you were headed, you see my point. A lot of information for one’s brain to keep in such a short amount of time.  Below is a representation from Kom Ombo which shows three cartouches, the oval-shaped design with the hieroglyph inscription only given to royalty.

From Luxor we boarded our ship to begin our journey up the Nile River toward Aswan. The ship was small in terms of cruise ships, holding about 75 people. We were really lucky in that for what ever reason, the stars aligned correctly, or something but we ended up in the Presidential Suite. Life certainly did not suck. The room was lager than most five-star hotel rooms. No kidding. A sitting room king size bed a huge bathroom and sitting and dressing area, TV. The works. And two large windows to see out.  We spent most of our time while on the ship on the top floor at the pool or deck with a bottle of Egyptian Sparking wine. Perfect.

One of the most interesting places on our itinerary was a trip to the Valley of the Kings and Queens. Not at all what you would expect. That and this was the area were King Tut was discovered and where Queen Hatshepsut had her enormous temple built.

The following images are those which were taken on route to the Valley of the Kings and Queens; and full of hidden tombs yet explored, but believed to hold the remains of royalty. Of course as with most of the tombs, robbers have long since had their day, and the grand artifacts which graced the insides no longer are present.

If you look very closely at the top of the cliff there are two men, hence the name of the photo. The cliffs were some two to three hundred feet high. Amazing that men built tombs inside.

For a scientist, I have to say I was amazing to see such dramatic landscapes comprised limestone and sandstone, even granite cliffs, then flat and hilly scapes of sand; little to no vegetation. Vegetation was primarily along the Nile River.

This image you can see about twenty or so tombs that once held great treasures. Most of those have either been robbed of its contents or scientists are working in them, or had been, or they have been robbed of all contents. The next images are a few photos taken from the tomb of Hatshepset. Her tomb is colossal.

There are a great deal of temples and tombs up and down the Nile River. It is quite impressive. It had to take many years and man power to erect these tombs many during the same time frame. It makes you think, how could such structure be built with suck accuracy, strength, and hand carved. I borrowed a few of the following images from Lloyd as he was able to filter some of the sun’s rays better on his camera at the time. The sun was extremely bright the day we were here, and the skies so blue.

From this image you can see the mass structure. The people are barely visible.  The ramp contains a staircase while the other side is a smooth ramp. Inside the temple there are two levels with statues similar to those below.

The above photo and the one below are courtesy of Lloyd. You not only see the statues but you get a feel for how blue the sky was. Neither of these images were altered after they were taken.

This photo was also borrowed from Lloyd’s collection. You can really understand the size comparison here. The image with the guards below, is a within Hatshepsut’s temple. Some of the temple was lost during an earthquake at some point in history. I forget the date 57 AD?

Guards such as those in the above photo ‘Guards For our Protection,’ depicts two of a myriad of the men on guard holding weapons, all to make sure the safety of the tourists. The guards are everywhere keeping the tourists and artifacts safe.

The people we met are friendly and in no way were we in danger at any time during our trip. Yes the guards, police, and military were strongly present. Yes there are big guns, AK-47s and old US machine guns (likely) all to protect us. The government would indeed fall if it were not for the Tourist. The tourism industry is the prime industry, and without it the country would crumble, and because of the revolution, the country has suffered tremendously.

The ‘Man Kneeling’ was taken by Lloyd while I was facing the other direction taking pictures of the guards with guns. This is probably one of Lloyd’s favorite photos, and I have to say I have grown to like it as well.  The following images are similar to those capture by Lloyd. Notice the color of the sky. No kidding. The sky was this deep color of blue. Nearly surreal.

This photo was shot at the temple on the second level.

This photo depicts Hatshepsut. She is portrayed in her godly state as she wears the false beard and the beard curls upward. The way in which one can determine whether the king was a god was by the false beard; if it curled upward, this meant the king was also a god. A regular straight false beard is that of a man, who is king. Queen Hatshepsut is the only Queen in history who was also depicted as a King wearing a false beard and man’s clothing depicting she was deemed a god by the gods. Thus, the nation recognized her as a Queen and ruler of the country.

I have so many more photos to share, but I think this is plenty for this blog. I will take you on the journey to Aswan, Kom Ombo, Edfu, and the temple of Philae at a later time. I will leave you with the mystery tomb at Hatshepsut’s temple. I hope you were not overwhelmed by the mass of photos. While this is a photo blog, I wish not to bore you or ramble to much.

Lloyd and I together shot thousands of photos will we were away on our four-week journey to Belgium and Egypt, thank goodness for digital cameras.

Another day, I will share with you the remainder of the photos from our trip which will also include Belgium and Holland.

Thanks for reading.



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