Jayne in Luxor  Jayne at a Temple  Egyptian firefighters and us Jayne at UNDP Computer Center in Luxor
 
Return to Egypt
April 2003
Part II (Luxor)
disclaimer

At the Luxor airport, we walked through the gauntlet of people waving placards for hotels and various groups, looking for someone holding a sign for Hotel Nefertiti. But our driver was no where to be found. We went outside and, after looking around confusedly, a tourist policeman came up and asked if we were waiting for someone. After explaining, and just when we were about to flag down a blue and white (taxis are a different colors in Luxor), up our driver walked. The policeman took him aside and gave him a talking to... He turned out to be sweet, just perhaps a bit lazy... As we drove into the city, the driver told us about various interesting things we were passing. I fell in love with Luxor as we drove through fields of sugar cane, wheat and date palms, then into the city sitting right on the Nile.

The Nefertiti Hotel is on a side street near the police station, and the owner met us at the door -- a handsome, young Egyptian named Aladin (which is pronounced El-Adeen). We went inside and walked up the clean, freshly painted cement staircase, past latticework at each landing that let so much light and air light in. We saw our room on the third floor and I literally danced around it; it was exactly what I had hoped for. We walked up to the fourth floor, where there were a few tables for food inside, a well-worn pool table and a small patio outside with more tables. There was a partially-obstructed view of Luxor Temple and its alley of Sphinxes, the Nile, and Hatshepsut's Temple across the Nile, carved into the mountain side. I almost danced across the patio. I'm one of those people that dwells on everything that goes right on a trip, because I know just how many things can go wrong.

Aladin sat with us in the lobby, offering us juice, apologizing for the confusion about the car, and talking to us at length about how proud he was of his hotel, his philosophy about how to treat people... it turns out that he has some kind of professional relationship with the Pension Roma, and has learned a lot from Madame Cressaty. He told us in a very non-pushy way, that he had a tour package of the primary sites of the Theban Necropolis (the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and Hatshepsut's Temple) with a local company, with less than eight other people. It was about a fourth of the price of what we would have paid American Express. He also talked about a donkey ride we could take through the West Bank to other sites another day. There was no hard sell, just as the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet message boards had promised of this place. We took him up on the Theban Necropolis and Tombs tour for the next day.

It was still quite early, so we decided to visit Karnak and Luxor Temple. As we walked to find a horse and buggy (my idea), we passed the long row of fire trucks for the town, then the fire station. The doors were all open, and a group of men were sitting in a circle and a fireman was in the middle, talking to them. It looked very informal -- the uniforms are pretty worn, and most the guys wear them quite casually. Some said "hello" as we passed, so I pointed to Stefan and said, "Fireman." Well, that's all it took: Stefan got a tour of one of the trucks. They wanted to show him everything, just as he would have had one of them been at his station. Then the chief came over and explained in very broken English that they were having a seminar for local men about how to fight a fire on their own before the firemen got there, and the importance of fire safety. We felt like celebrities. As we walked away, I wanted to kick myself for not taking any photos, and decided to do so later if the opportunity presented itself.

I tried to pay for a horse and buggy at the rate that it said to in the book, but the drivers all refused. Finally, we gave up and just took someone at his quoted rate -- and I realize now that even that was a deal. I asked him to please not gallop his horse, per the suggestion in the Rough Guide from Brooke Animal Hospital, a free clinic for animals in Egypt, and he acted offended that I had implied that he would do such a thing -- but I'm sure if I offered him baksheesh to run his horse, he would have done it. We got a nice visual intro to more of the city, passing the Luxor Museum, and a center run by the University of Chicago. The Karnak temples are about two kilometers from Luxor Temple, and were once joined to it by a massive alley of Sphinxes, portions of which have been restored and other portions which are under restoration, but the alley will probably never be fully restored, as it runs under at least one mosque, the police station and several homes. Karnak... gads, what can I say?! The Rough Guide devotes seven pages of description to it, and calls it the second most grand thing you could see after the pyramids of Giza, and I'm inclined to agree. It's actually made up of at least three temples. There's nothing symmetrical about it, which makes it all the more interesting to explore. If you have ever seen The Spy Who Loved Me or Death on the Nile, you saw a lot of Karnak. It is massive and covered in hieroglyphics, some of them several stories tall. There's also obelisks at Karnak, the first we'd seen, which are just amazing to behold. The whole place was once filled with statues -- now there's just a few. You could get close to everything. You could touch most things, which, ofcourse, we didn't... but the desire to reach out and touch the deeply carved symbols is almost overwhelming. These stand in stark contrast to the Pyramids, which have little or not hieroglyphics on them or in them; the temples of Upper Egypt are COVERED. You get lost in looking at all the writing.... The vast majority of what filled these temples that is still in existence, as well as in all of the other temples we visited in Luxor, is now in the museum in Cairo, or in the British Museum.

Once you get deep into Karnak, you come to -- what else -- an over-priced imbiss. We had brought plenty of bottled water with us, but decided to stop at the small stall selling books and gifts, and I ended up buying a book of lithographs by David Roberts. You have probably seen his drawings of Egypt before and not known it, as was the case with me -- they were done in the 1830s, and they capture the Sphinx at a time when only its head was visible above the sand, Karnak partially covered by the desert as well, and so many other famous, gorgeous scenes of ancient Egyptian sites in the 1830s, before McDonald's were built nearby... the book turned out to be the perfect companion to my Rough Guide, providing even more detail about places we were visiting and giving me a sense of not only how these places looked 200 years ago, but how these landscapes have endured for thousands of years... and as an added bonus, when I saw the book for sale later, it was always more expensive than what I had bought it for at Karnak. And I should note that I never saw the book I bought as cheap as what I paid at Karnak.

We planned on spending an hour and half at Karnak, and spent almost three hours instead. There's just soooo much to see. Our driver had insisted on waiting to drive us back, then gave us an awful time about extra payment at the end because he said we took "extra time," but it was still worth it. During the drive back to the hotel, he went a different way, and we saw all the places where the Sphinx alley should be, or was being excavated. The houses were mostly mud brink on the edge of town, and there were goats wandering all over the place.

Then we had a fantastic lunch at our hotel. Instead of taking our order, the guy walked out with stuff already prepared -- traditional Egyptian food, and it was DELICIOUS. Before sunset, we walked over to Luxor Temple, which was oh-so-near where we were staying, although it was a challenge to find the entrance. On the way, we went through one of the most serious gauntlets of vendors ever -- it rivaled The Khan. Yes, it's annoying, this barrage of calls to buy things, the insistence, the constant pleas -- but it's no more annoying to me than the 45 minutes of commercials, sans previews, that I sit through before a movie at Kinopolis, or the "live" commercials forced on you every second at a professional basketball when the players aren't actually bouncing the ball, or friggin' pop up ads on the web. I feel overwhelmed in the West by advertising -- I am somewhat amused by vendors in Egypt.

Luxor Temple isn't nearly as big as Karnak, but the complex took us a couple of hours to explore nonetheless. We took it all slowly, exploring the Sphinx alley a bit before heading into the temple, past to Collosi (big honkin' statues) and an obelisk (the other of the pair is in France -- they traded it for an ugly, broken clock at the Citadel; apparently, Egyptians used to not be so good at making deals). There's a lot of sexual overtones at Luxor Temple -- sex is what it celebrates, for the most part, and you realize this in one of the back rooms in particular, which are covered in carvings of a man with an enormous schlong. There are four stone baboons out front, which also use to have schlongs, but the French hacked them off (since when are the French prudish?). We noticed there was a cartouche that had been destroyed on every pillar of the main square, but we never found out what that was about. I don't think it had anything to do with Hatshepsut (more on her later). There were also Greek and Roman alterations to the Temple, near the rear -- they frequently converted Egyptian temples to churches. In the middle of the temple, about three stories up (this was all once covered in deep sand) is a mosque, which serves as a tribute to the city's patron saint; there's no way the locals will allow it to be torn down, so there it sits, high above your head as you walk through this ancient Egyptian temple. There are drawings by David Roberts of so many of the sites we visited partially covered in sand, or with the waters of the Nile right next to them. The sand was a blessing -- it helped preserve a lot of what can now be enjoyed. And protects more to be discovered later...

While in Cairo, the groups of tourists we encountered most were French or Italian. That was true of Luxor as well, although we did pass a group of Spaniards and a group of Japanese. We listened to an Egyptian guide speak Japanese, and marvelled -- he probably speaks English as well, and if you think about it, that means he knows three ENTIRELY different languages that are written in completely different ways, have completely different grammar rules.

When darkness fell, we decided to walk back into the Sphinx Alley. All of the statues and temple walls were lit in yellow light. It was lovely. We took a picture with Stefan's camera, my head serving as a tripod. Then we just stood there, not saying a word, looking at a scene out of a dream. And after just a short moment, the call to prayer started, "Allahu Akbar," blasting from the mosque in the middle of the temple and calling from the mosque right behind us, where the Sphinx Alley should continue. The moans wafted through the night, offering the most exotic sonic backdrop you can imagine for the lit ancient monuments before us. I think if I could ever relive a moment in Egypt, it would be this moment.

We went to bed early, so we would be ready for our tour the next day. Someone in the building next door had their TV blaring all night, and it should have bothered me, but it was just one piece of noise amid a sea of street sounds and calls to prayer -- I slept well the whole night. It was cool at night, and no mosquitos!! I woke up once and there stood Stefan in the window, smoking, staring down at the constant motion of the street. He looked hypnotized.

We awoke and went upstairs to the roof top cafe see if the Rough Guide was right and that breakfast would be above average. WOW. Fresh bread with butter, cheese and other spreads, cereal and milk, a boiled egg, and tea or coffee -- we were happy, happy campers (wish the Pension Roma did cereal too). The view in the morning was lovely -- I could not stop staring at the West Bank of the Nile, the distant cliffs.... Amazing.

We headed down to meet the tour guide, who turned out to also be named Aladin. We got in a small VW-like van, similar to our van for Giza. I remembered my sea bands, which was good as I had to sit in the back. There were five other people in the van, all younger than me, all budget travelers (probably just a step above back packers). Two were from New Zealand, one was from Germany, one was from Holland, and the two people next to me -- I just couldn't tell for the longest time. I listened to them and thought, "Italian, no. Spanish. No. Italian. No." Turned out they were speaking Catalyn -- they were impressed that I had been to Artes. Everyone was WAY nice -- we were with a group that was there to learn and enjoy. Everyone was very sensibly dressed -- no tank tops or shorts.

We drove through Luxor -- it's not a very big city, past the section of town that's for upscale hotels and shops (including Club Med), and then out onto a road along the Nile, and far upstream of the river towards a relatively new bridge, with our guide telling us about the areas we passed. The fields were gorgeous, all filled with various crops, and the guide explained that it was harvest time. We would see a lot of sugar cane on the small railway cars that dotted the landscape, as well as wheat ready to be loaded and carted away. He pointed out the banana trees of Banana Island, and explained that sugar cane is not allowed to be grown near the road, so that it cannot provide cover for snipers.

Luxor tourism is probably down 75% -- or worse. Good for us, dreadful for the people who live there. Luxor is suffering not just from the downturn in travel following September 11 and the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq, but also from a series of terrorist attacks on tourists in the 90s, culminating in a slaughter of 60 German tourists and their Egyptian guides at Hatshepsut's Temple. Egypt has lived off of tourism since the time of the Romans at least, and they will do anything to protect it: they bulldozed the town where the terrorists were from, and I don't even want to think about the roundups that followed which, while probably getting most of the guilty, also must have included many innocent people as well. The Egyptian police are known for shooting first and asking questions later when it comes to protests or would-be terrorists. Aren't you glad you didn't know any of this before I left?! It weighed on my mind a lot -- not so much out of fear that it would happen to me, but because I thought of the terror previous victims must have felt, how awful it would be to experience that. Remember -- we have religious terrorists in the U.S., who blow up health clinics and federal buildings, and shoot doctors in their homes. I've encountered those people face-to-face, when I was threatened by a couple while I staffed a booth for CARAL; I wish people in the U.S. were concerned about all religious extremists, not just those of one particular non-Christian faith.

 

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We crossed the Nile via the very swanky bridge, and went through numerous checkpoints on our way back down the Nile toward various destinations on the West Bank. What houses there were mud brick huts, for the most part, although you would occasionally see more sophisticated two and three story-structures, with a satellite dish or two, and upper floors seldom finished (rumor has it that so long as a building is under construction, you don't have to pay taxes on it there). Most of the landscape along the road was open fields of crops, with people and animals working the fields, canals crisscrossing the fields, and free-walking donkeys, small herds of goats, and one or two massive bison along the side of the road.

We stopped briefly at the Colossi of Memnon. These two massive, seated statues are in pretty bad shape, with the faces and most details obliterated, and big gaps between the remaining stones. One colossus was heard to "sing" once upon a time -- the wind reverberating through all the cracks. It was a phenomenon that attracted many tourists during antiquity, including the Roman emperor Hadrian (he of Hadrian's wall fame, the wall in Britain, oh so far away). A later Roman emperor did some more repair work on that statue, and it never sang again (frown). It used to flood all around the Colossi, leading to some lovely sketches by David Roberts. Then, as now, the desert stops definitely and abruptly along the Nile, as the fertile land begins. The Nile needs to flood, to keep the land so fertile, but the Aswan dam stopped this, so now there are canals everywhere. And with the canals, so many diseases... and not so many crocodiles.

We passed the Ramesseum both going and returning home, but never stopped. It's now a small complex of stones, a former temple repeatedly ruined by flooding and an earthquake. Shelly even wrote a sonnet to it. It's kind of sad... and now surrounded by mud huts and fields. I'd like to see it on my next trip.

Our first stop was Hatshepsut's Temple. Our guide cheerfully told us that, if we had trouble pronouncing "Hatshepsut", just remember "hot chicken soup." And you know... it does work... Hatshepsut was probably the first and maybe only Egyptian female pharaoh. She was named regent when her husband died and the heir, Tuthmosis III, was just a child. She started representing herself as a male pharaoh in art work, gradually assuming the throne. When she died, Tuthmosis III, after gaining the throne at long last, tried to remove her cartouche from every monument in Luxor. Hatshepsut built this temple on the Nile, carved into a cliff, as a mummification temple. It is covered in fascinating hieroglyphics celebrating everything from a trip to Africa to a party with exotic dancers doing backbends... I wish we could have spent more time there. Behind and all around the temple are tiny caves -- tombs -- all the way up the cliff. Over the cliff is the Valley of the Kings. I would loved to have taken more pictures, but I was so awe-struck that I forgot. And that's probably for the best -- it's so much more meaningful to be in a moment and enjoy it and truly live it rather than distant yourself from it in the hopes of capturing as much as possible on film. And I'm sure there is a ton of photos in books and on the 'Net of Hatshepsut's Temple already.

As I mentioned earlier, it was here that around German tourists and their Egyptian guides were murdered in the 1990s by Islamic extremists. We stood right where they had been standing, and I thought about how it had been that day, those people looking at all these beautiful reliefs, some of them with paint still on them, and they probably so happy just to be here, just like us. It broke me heart.

Lining the long, long walk to Hatshepsut's Temple from the parking lot is a long line of vendor stalls, with people urgently trying to sell you stuff. It's a good idea to go into a nice hotel or upscale shop first and look at how things are priced, and what things you might want to buy, and then have those ideas in your head for times like these. But you shouldn't feel bad if you buy something somewhere, and then see it a little cheaper somewhere else -- as one of the members of our tour group said, you are talking about "pence" (pennies) when you are talking about the difference in 10 and 20 Egyptian pounds, really, from our point of view. Plus, it's amazing what looks okay in Egypt is just absolutely breathtaking when you get it home.

There is a village near Hatshepsut's Temple, and Aladin told us something that is confirmed in both my guidebook and by the outspoken innkeeper of the Magic Hotel (where we stayed our last night in Cairo -- more on that later): this village of the West Bank makes its living by robbing tombs and selling stolen antiquities. It is already impoverished, and the Egyptian government has cut off all water -- the people walk throughout the day down to the Nile and haul water. The government has built another, supposedly nicer village not too far away, but the people won't budge -- the money from selling stolen artifacts is too much of a draw. Nearby the temple is a modern structure, built from mud and in the style of the desert, so that it doesn't stand out too much. It houses Polish archaeologists working on nearby finds. The building was really quite lovely -- I'd like to build something similar in Arizona, Utah or New Mexico for my home someday, after I win the lottery.

Then it was on to the Valley of the Kings, which looks just like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" -- but Indy never did show up on the horse to carry me away...

I would like to do the donkey ride to the Valley of the Kings some day, at dawn, to get the same experience as early travelers, high on the cliffs then down the trail, in silence broken only by the steps of the animals... but that's another trip. On this tour, we took the perfectly wide and modern road that snakes through the hills and takes you to these little road trains for your visit to the tombs. We went inside three tombs, but I can remember the names of only two: the Tomb of Ramses IV and the Tomb of Tuthmosis III. A new tomb was discovered when the road was widened, and we could see the workers down at the entrance as we walked passed. It was already plundered by Egyptians long ago, but I'm sure it still holds amazing finds -- another reason to return some day.

The tombs are stuffy -- the air circulation is poor. But they are utterly fascinating. The scenes on the walls are painted, rather than carved, and depict a fantastic afterlife with the Gods. Some tombs have easy entrances right off the road, but others are high up in a cliff. Many have a long, grand walkway to where the King's body once was. The paintings are beautiful -- I'd love to have a book of them, for further study. Everything is covered in paintings, including the ceiling, and before we went in, our guide gave us a good idea of where we should look for the most interesting stuff. In one of the tombs on the ceiling, I saw one of those weird characters that inspire people like Erich Von Däniken to say that the Egyptians were visited by ancient astronauts... it is pretty weird, considering you don't ever see these kind of creatures anywhere else.

Inside of every tomb and pyramid is a guy who insists on following you around and showing you everything. Sometimes it's someone who is beyond annoying and points at pictures on the wall and shouts, "Ramses!" But sometimes, the guy does point out some interesting things you would probably have missed otherwise. If you hire a guide, as we always did, he or she actually does not go into a tomb with you usually. It's to both cut down on the number of people going in and out of tombs and pyramids, and also, to guarantee the guy inside some baksheesh.

In the Tomb of Ramses IV, there is ancient Greek and Coptic graffiti near the entrance. It's a long tomb, and the walls are behind protective clear hard plastic. At Luxor Temple the day before, we had walked by two large white SUVS (such things stand out here) with colorful logos on the hood and door. They were for a Chinese film crew, doing some kind of long term shoot in Africa. We encountered the actual film crew inside the Tomb of Ramses IV, with one of them walking down the long processional with a local tomb guide, as two other men filmed with expensive-looking equipment.

Then we walked through more of the valley to the Tomb of Tuthmosis III, cut high in a cliff -- you have to climb a substantial metal staircase to get there. Before we went up, we sat outside in some shade, provided by the sun hitting a cliff a particular way, and our guide pitched us to buy some cartouche necklaces -- he would call in our names on his cell phone while we were inside, and we would have them delivered to our hotel by sunset. Stefan decided to buy one for himself, and I bought one for myself and for Mamaw (which I still haven't sent her as I post this, so please don't mention it to her yet!).

You just have to resign yourself to constant sales pitches from EVERYONE and, for me, I actually want to buy stuff some times, so I'm fine with it. Really, on the whole, Egyptian people are very friendly. Sometimes pushy, yes, and most do try to sell you something and that can be a downer when you thought someone was just being friendly, but this is what they have been doing for thousands of years -- literally. More than 80% of their economy depends on tourism, and right now, people are desperate -- I can't begrudge their constant desire to make a living. The monthly wage here is 140 Egyptian pounds -- regardless of the exchange rate, I make or break someone's salary just by going out not. You pay for stuff every step of the way, but ultimately, you pay a heck of a lot less at the end of the day than we would here at home. They have a wonderful sense of humor about it -- it's like a game.

Anyway... back to the tomb. Tuthmosis III is, you will recall, the step son of Hatshepsut (Hot Chicken Soup). There will be a test later, by the way. The tomb is one of the oldest in the valley, from around 1450 BCE. Our guide called it the sauna tomb. Good description. Yikes. The walls of the tomb depict 741 deities as stick figures, which according to the guidebook, some visitors find disappointing -- stick figures?! I loved them. They reminded me, vaguely, of American Indian rock art. This tomb has many, many levels, and it takes a while to get to the burial chamber. The original sarcophagus is still there, and Stefan had brought his flashlight, so we peered inside the slightly raised cover, just as the guidebook had suggested, to see a lovely carving of an Egyptian goddess on the floor of the container, her arms going up the side -- so that she could embrace the mummy once inside.

We were so lucky because, most of the times, we were the only ones in the tombs. As our guide said, "Lucky for you, bad for us." It's true...

You can pay extra and go to Tut's tomb, but as both the guidebook and our guide noted, everything from the tomb is at the museum in Cairo. For historical purposes, it would be terrific to go, but we were pressed for time, and didn't feel like it that day. It was back to the van, and to the obligatory visit to an alabaster workshop. No one wanted to buy anything but me. I ended up with two small busts of Nefertiti, one of alabaster, for myself, and the other of some other cheaper stone, all black... geesh, I just don't know stones... I bought them because of the hotel we were staying at, and because the following week would find us in Berlin, looking upon the bust of Nefertiti all other busts are pattered after.

Our last stop on the tour was the Valley of the Queens. As we stood outside getting briefed by the guide, one of the local tomb workers stood on a bench, bowing and kneeling as he prayed to Mecca. And the guide just blabbled on and on right next to him about the tombs we were going to see. That's what people do here -- someone's praying right next to another guy trying to sell you a carving of something. It's a bit freaky.

The Tomb of Amun-Hi-Khopshef is interesting: it's the royal burial place of a prince, and he's portrayed as a boy with a braided side lock throughout the tomb. It was in this tomb that I realized Stefan and I had acquired an elementary knowledge of the major Egyptian gods and goddesses -- we could pick them out ourselves, in their various forms, without any help from guides. I guess after hearing it so much it finally sinks in.

Many of the tombs have been defaced by local zealots who believe it is against God's will to represent people in art work. It's sad to go in and find all the faces rubbed out of paintings that are about 3,000 years old. Ofcourse, Christian zealots did the same thing in the Americas, to "pagan" art and writings by the Aztecs and Mayans and other native peoples...

It was on to the Tomb of Queen of Titi. I don't remember much about the inside, but just as we were coming out, a guide approached with about four people. He saw my book and said, "Give me! Give me! I show you where they talk about me!" And sure enough, he is in this edition of the Rough Guide -- his nickname is Moonshine.

It was getting into the early afternoon when we headed back to Luxor. The guy from New Zealand suggested we all have lunch together. Ofcourse our guide INSISTED we go to a restaurant he recommended, rather than that which was recommended in both Lonely Planet (which two people on the tour had) and the Rough Guide (which I had). In Egypt, every person, I don't care how poor they are or what they do in life, has a particular restaurant, a particular hotel, a particular papyrus shop and a particular alabaster shop that they are bound by blood to take any and all tourists they encounter to. But it turned out to be a really good restaurant. Yes, they gave us a dessert we didn't order, and the New Zealanders got fussy, but I kept thinking of what the German guy said -- you are arguing over pence. Plus, DANG but the desert was good! Yum and double yum. We sat outside and talked and had a generally nice end of our afternoon. The guide showed up before we left with our cartouches (and before I saw the face attached to the hand outstretched in front of me bearing something to buy, I told him, "La la!" I was so embarrassed when I looked up and it was him...).

Stefan and I walked back to our hotel, took a nap (absolutely essential to do this almost regularly on a trip like this), freshened up, and then walked along the water front to the Luxor Museum as night was falling. It was fun to look at all the luxury boats along the way -- if you want to just see Egypt but not participate in it, these are good ways to do that. Actually, I'd love to do a faluka from Aswan to Luxor next trip...

The Luxor Museum is, happily, open until 9 p.m. There were very few people inside. We had a nice time lazily looking over things. It's sparse compared to Cairo, but it's nice because each item that they do have is individually lit, with enough space around it that you can study it on its own and not feel overwhelmed. Not surprisingly, we closed the place down.

It was a good day. In fact, it was a great day.

The next day, I awoke at around 4 a.m., and Stefan was laying in his bed, wide awake. He said there was no way he could go on the donkey ride. He was ill. He was beyond ill. I felt soooo bad for him. You don't dismiss this kind of illness lightly -- I know this from my last trip. I postponed our donkey ride tour until the next day, then went back to bed a while. Later, I took my development studies book upstairs and had breakfast on the roof, watching five hot air balloons rise and fall over the West Bank. Oh, how I want to do the balloon ride in Luxor. I periodically checked on Stefan, brought him some breakfast, but for the most part I studied on the roof (which I really, really needed to do) and tried to make myself scarce. I got on to the hotel's computer to check my email, and ended up IMing with my friend Jerry in Oregon. I would have loved to have written more emails, but the "a" key wasn't working at the time (I had to cut it from a web page and paste it as needed). One of the hotel guys came up as I was walking away and asked for help to check his email, and so he sat down and I walked him through. And I not only didn't ask for baksheesh (ha ha), I also really enjoyed helping him. I would love to help people use the Internet more often.

People sing in Egypt all the time. They sing while they work. And I love that sound of acapella singing from another room, regardless of what language. On the speakers on the roof of the hotel, they usually had music playing as well, often a capella music -- a male or female voice singing about something, not sure what (I always recognized the word "Habibi", which is "my darling"). I enjoyed sitting around and listening to singing that day

I decided to walk to a place I knew I could get a coke for a reasonable price. Stefan asked me to buy him cigarettes too, and told me what Aladin had told him to pay for a pack. I have always vowed that I would NEVER buy Stefan cigarettes. While I never discourage him from smoking, I never, ever want to make it easy for him to do it. But I decided, JUST this once, under these dire circumstances, because I understood how miserable he was, I would buy him cigarettes. I couldn't subject him nicotine withdrawals as well as Pharaoh's Revenge. I was nervous about walking out by myself -- I had never walked around any part of Egypt by myself. And what was surprising: for the most part, people didn't bother me when I finally did it. It was a combination of reasons: one, a lot of people already had seen me, so I wasn't "fresh." Two, a single women can do things like scream and cry and call the police. I got asked if I wanted a taxi about a million times, but that's all. I walked to a tiny store, and there was a very short young Egyptian guy in it who was obsessed with trying to guess where I was from. I told him I needed a carton of Marlboro Lights for my husband (you get a lot less grief calling your boyfriend your husband in Egypt), and he complimented me on and on for not smoking myself. I also got a coke, and when I pulled out my money to pay, I realized I was three pounds short. I told him I didn't have enough and would leave the coke and come back later, and he said, "oh, no, no, take it and just come back later an pay!" I explained that I may not be able to come back today, and he said, "No problem! No problem! I trust you!"

This same day, I also got a chance to speak with one of the women who constantly is cleaning the hotel. Her name is Samia. That hotel is SPOTLESS, and I know why -- Samia, her sister and the other woman there never, ever stop working all day. Samia was sweet as could be, and was concerned about Stefan. Everyone was concerned about Stefan. By nightfall, he was feeling much better, so we decided to take a chance on him still feeling better in the morning and to schedule the donkey tour for the next day. Then we went out for a walk out on the town. We stumbled upon the Coptic Christian part of town, and I pointed out to Stefan how you could tell that's what it was: the women didn't have their hair covered, had skirts that showed their ankles, and were often wearing skirts and blouses rather than one long tent dress. If you looked into the few shops that were open, you could usually see a Coptic Christian icon of Mary or Jesus. We passed a Methodist Church and a Catholic Church as well.

When you are in Luxor, and sometimes in Cairo, you will come to a store where the shop keeper has put a TV outside, with a bench in front of the TV, and there will be little boys on the bench, playing video games of soccer matches. I wonder how long they work to be able to pay to play.

We went into a shop that called itself "No Hassle." It was one of few shops that does not allow you to bargain, and also isn't as pushy as the other stores. The prices were reasonable, so we bought all our postcards there, and I bought a little carved wooden donkey -- I wanted to have a donkey so badly, Donkeys remind me of Buster, so sturdy and sassy and stubborn. Later, as we approached the busy train station and all the restaurants all around it, I could hear Pink Floyd's "Money" blaring from somewhere. How ironic. And I should note it's one of the few times I heard Western music in Egypt.

The next day, as dawn came, Stefan said he felt okay, so we went downstairs at 5 a.m., and the staff had a little bagged breakfast waiting for us. A grizzeled, gray-bearded guy dressed in the traditional Egyptian long gray gown and white turban, Abdul, lead us out of the lobby, down the streets, and on to the folks ferry to go across the river to the West Bank. We were the only people on the ferry other than the driver -- we were reverse commuting for that time of day. We got to the other side of the Nile, got off the ferry, and as we started walking up the street, I found something I had half way been looking for all along -- a community telecenter run by the company I work for. I vowed that I would stop on our way back and visit.

We walked another block and Abdul told us to eat our breakfast in a nearby parking lot. We did so as he walked away. About 20 minutes later, he returned, but it turned out he wasn't leading us -- his son was. The boy could not have been more than 10 years old. We mounted our donkeys and off the three of us went. I think we picked up steering fairly quickly, although we had a problem when we came to where the donkeys spend their nights, and they went right into their corral despite our best commands not to. Mine was gray, and he was not used to affection, and had no idea what to do when I petted him. We rode them through the West Bank town, with the locals getting a kick out of the Western tourists on donkeys. I'm sure we were a sight. We went along a dirt road, with crops on either side of us, and it was great to get that up close and personal with the landscape, and seeing just how hard people were working in the early morning in their fields, before it got too hot. At one point, Stefan's donkey started farting really loudly and I said, "Gee, honey, I hope that's not YOU." Guys just love fart jokes (grin).

Our first stop was Medinet Habu, also known as the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III. The Rough Guide says its second only to Karnak in size and complexity, and better preserved in its entirety. They were right. Because it was so early, and because its usually the last stop on a tourists' tour, we had the whole, gargantuan place to ourselves! During Coptic times, some pillars were removed and some hieroglyphics covered to make a church, but most of the Coptic carvings and coverings have been removed. For me, the most striking thing about the temple are the most violent hieroglyphics I had ever seen -- depictions of a huge Ramses II battling Libyans, with scribes counting piles of limbs and genitals. There are numerous depictions of Egyptians holding bound enemies by the hair, preparing to cut their throats. Incredibly disturbing. I think we were supposed to be there for only a half hour. We were there for more than an hour.

I needed a bathroom, so, I started walking the long dirt path down to it. I finally got there, and the guy standing there handing out toilet paper said, "You are American." I nearly fell over. He was the first and only person in all of Egypt to guess correctly, and he'd guessed it solely by me walking towards him. I told him he was the very first person who had guessed right, and he said, "Well, that's because I'm smart." We had a nice chat. Like so many Egyptians, his mantra is, "All people are good. I love all people. Some leaders are misguided. But we must love them just the same." He's a better person than me, surely, to be able to say such things.

We got back on the donkeys and headed onward, passing the Colossi of Memnon, and this time, I could see that there was a lot of excavation work going on. I wondered if it was the Polish archaeologists, or another group. There were lots of signs telling you not only not to trespass, but not to take pictures -- wonder what's up with that...

We turned off the paved road, onto a dirt road, and the boy had us tie up our donkeys and walk down a very long dirt road by ourselves towards Eir el-Medina, the Worker's Village. It's in this little valley, which must have been both for their protection as well as to keep them inside. It housed mason, painters and sculptors who created the royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings. They were state employees. Their tombs are right next door to their village, sometimes marked by tiny pyramids. We went into just two tombs, and I'm not sure of either of their names. They were right next to each other, and both covered in paintings, but these were of families enjoying life, rather than the dead person in the afterlife. We decided to see the Ptolemaic temple, dedicated to Maat and Hathor, which was on our way back to the donkeys. On our way in, there was a guide outside of it, and he begged to show Stefan something. It turned out to be a small ornamental canopic jar with the head of Anubis, the dog-headed god of mummification, as the top. I tried not to look thrilled, but I knew that Stefan had been wanting to buy just one -- they usually come in fours -- and everywhere wanted to charge him extra for breaking up a set. And here was this LOVELY one being offered to him right then and there. It's small, made of a very heavy piece of wood. I totally dig it.

On our way back, we stopped back at the Ptolemaic temple. It's outer wall is made of mud bricks, so it's dark against the landscape. The temple guide said he would be with us in a moment, and he walked off with two other tourists who had shown up. So we sat down in what shade there was with another guide. He was a sweet guy, and when he finally realized we were not going to buy anything no matter how hard he tried, he sat down with us for a chat. Stefan gave him a cigarette, which the guy was thrilled about. We had a nice conversation with him, about the difference in various kinds of tourists. The only kind he doesn't like are the Russians. Stefan agreed with him big time on that. But as so not to offend any Russians readers, I shall not say more... the main guide, the one with the keys, never came back, so we decided to return to our donkeys.

The donkeys were tied up outside of a house that was near a huge pile of garbage. Our little-boy-guide directed us inside, and in we went, past a woman helping a goat kid suckle its goat mommy. We went upstairs out into the open air of the roof briefly (there was no roof on the staircase, nor door -- it rarely rains, so there's no need). I was wearing my field glasses around my neck, and the boy wanted to see them, so I let him, and he was beside himself. "Oh my god" he kept saying as he looked around the landscape with the glasses. It was way too hot to be up there, so they brought us back down and into their living room, where they were watching French/Arab TV. Inside was very cool, not too dark. It is a mud brick hut, with plastered walls, worn carpets on the floor, and the most questionable wiring job I've ever seen. The people were nice, but disappointed we didn't want to get high (I knew what was up as soon as I saw the large picture of Bob Marley inside). We drank tea (you drink a lot of hot tea in the desert -- cause you know the water has been boiled), and I made sure I paid the baksheesh to the mother in charge instead of the guys.

We went back a slightly different way, riding right by the ruins of the Ramesseum. We were on dirt paths in the middle of people harvesting wheat with hand scythes. We got stuck for a moment behind a donkey cart full of cut sugar cane, and the two guys atop the cane made smoking signs, so Stefan gave them his remaining cigarette. Our donkeys realized we were going home and were galloping, and both Stefan and I couldn't stop laughing. I can only imagine what we looked like. I'm sure locals are still laughing about the sight we made.

We went to Abdul's house, a series of mud huts surrounded by a mud wall, conveniently located next to -- surprise! -- a papyrus museum. We sat in the little boy's room and talked for a while, waiting for Abdul. While there, they tried to get us to buy some jewelry, ofcourse. The little boy asked to see the binoculars again, so I handed them over, and he and his brother ran outside, with me calling after them "You let your sisters see through it too!!!" The mother offered us more hot tea, flavored with mint. This room was sparse, with just two huge beds, and I'm sure at least two people sleep on each. There's also a TV (yes, a TV), and woven mats on the dirt floor. The mud brick walls here weren't plastered, and had some pages from a Sesame Street coloring book on the wall -- the boy said his sister had colored them. It was cool inside, and felt good, but I was dieing for a cold Coke.

I asked the boy and his older brother a million questions. They said they went to school, but I think they were lieing. There was a school right across the street from them, full of kids, but they weren't there. I suspect they go to something once a week, some basic education program. They know tourist English ("Want to buy... want to see..."), but they didn't know how to answer questions outside of visiting places and buying things, and that broke my heart. One of their little sisters took a break from her chores and came in shyly smiling. All the girls were working on laundry and what not. The mother came in with food, two massive plates of stews for all of us to share, what I call Ethiopian style, and we sat down on the floor around it. I ate a little and it was really, really good. I would have eaten more, but the chickens coming into the hut, and one of them hopping into the plate and back out again, made me lose my appetite quickly. Again, they offered us the chance to get high, and we declined. They could not believe we were saying no and kept asking why (and the primary reason why is because, hello, using drugs in a country where I am a foreigner just does not strike me as a good idea).

Abdul showed up at last, and took us to -- ofcourse -- the Papyrus Museum next door. The owner came out, greeted us, and before he even got going, I told him, we have been to papyrus shops already, plus an alabaster shop, and then I smiled. He smiled and said, "Understood. Just come in and talk then." And we did! He offered us cokes, refused baksheesh for them, and we just talked. He was wonderful. He doesn't believe Americans have a full picture of the Middle East, and that the news skews what they hear -- and I told him he was exactly right. He hates Saddamn Hussein -- everyone does, really -- but he just does not see the point of the invasion, particularly now, all these years after Hussein did his worst atrocities. We talked about how machines are now built to break, and how much he likes old German products, because they last and last and last. He was just the nicest guy. His name is Hagag Mustafa. If you go to Luxor, go to his shop in the West Bank, Lescarabee Pappyrus Museum. and send our regards to Abdul and his family living next door.

Abdul sat there too, but he was obviously disappointed. He had not made as much money as he wanted to off us, and I was afraid he was going to blame his son. When we were done at last, he asked if we wanted to go back by donkey or car, and we said car. Actually, we went in the back of a truck -- it's kind of a private/public transit service, where guys have put a cover on the bed of their truck, with benches on either side. You flag one down, get in, ride to your destination, and flip a light switch to let the driver know you want off at the next stop, and you run around to the cab and pay him then. Abdul took care of all that, and brought his son along as well.

We got back to our starting point, and I pointed at the telecenter and said I was going to go in. Abdul looked at me, as if to say, hey, this isn't on the tour! I was frustrating him. I didn't care. We went in, and we found the WOMAN in charge. Whoopee!! A young woman in charge!! Her name is Fatema. Her English is very sparse, but we managed to communicate. I took out my card, so that she understood we work for the same company. The telecenter has its own server, and air conditioning! It charges a really low fee for use of the computers, and offers extremely-low-cost classes. I get the impression that, primarily, the users are young Egyptian men, but not really poor people. She was running a computer virus program on most of the computers, and we walked up to one that she wasn't "cleaning" so I could show her a web site, and the guy who had just left had been looking at a web site called "Ohh La La!" You can imagine what THAT was about. She just mumbled "typical" and closed the window. She told me if I needed anything -- ANYTHING -- to call her, and at that moment I so regretted not hooking up with her sooner. I'm sure she would have been wonderful to us, and I would have loved to have really gotten to see Luxor from her point of view. I thought about her all the rest of the day -- what a hard life she must have, trying to work in a world where women aren't supposed to, in a very small town in Egypt... and I wondered if I could work in a similar situation...

Abdul and his son sat there and watched this all, and seemed terribly confused by it. I had way, way deviated from the official tour. Afterwards, Abdul left us at the ferry, to go back on our own. I felt bad for him, but what could I do other than give him a big tip? After we crossed, as we were getting off the ferry, this not-so-little boy started whining for baksheesh. Stefan ignored him. He whined louder. I told him, "Enough" in Arabic. And he yelled, in this really mean way, "No Hallas! Baksheesh!" And I just glared at him with a look that said you are about to go swim in the Nile you little prick. That was the second time that happened to us with not-so-little boys. They are just like everywhere -- they hit this pre-teen age and they turn into little jerks.

That evening, after a late lunch and nap, we decided to walk around town again. First, we headed to the place where I had bought the coke and cigarettes, and still owed a balance. The little guy working there was thrilled that I had returned, and we had a long, long, long chat, where he did most of the talking. He had to tell us all about his girlfriend, who he will marry as soon as he gets enough money. He held me hand the whole time he talked. For some reason, I found it really sweet. I loved hearing about how he first saw her, how he arranged to be introduced to her, how absolutely crazy he is about her, how she calls him to tell him wherever she is going to anything social and to assure him she will behave properly... I kept thinking that this is what our great grandparents must have gone through.

Two Dutch guys who were also staying at our hotel had told us where we could go to have a beer, something Stefan and I were DIEING to have. We found the place relatively easily, and it turned out to be a quite nice evening: we sat outside, with napkins around the bottles (to hide that we're drinking beer), watching the insanity of the small intersection. It was amazing to behold. A guy walked up, started talking to us (so what else is new), and it turned out to be Moonshine, the guide I'd met earlier, the one in my Rough Guide. Nice guy. But kind of sad. Business is bad. We watched two cats beg for food under a table full of German women, and I watched a dog laying by the side of the road in cool mud -- he looked so sweet, and so pitiful. Egypt is not an easy place if you are an animal lover... or an animal...

Walking back, Stefan recalled that I had said I wanted an embroderied shirt. So, we stopped in a store on the way back to look for such. I half-heartedly bargained -- I just didn't care anymore, and I was happy with the price he named. I got two BEAUTIFUL shirts, one blue, one purple. It was a nice way to spend the last night in Luxor.

The next day, under the impression that we had oodles of time, I woke early and planned on studying and playing on the computer upstairs for a while. Stefan, most unfortunately, was sick again and in misery. I left him in bed, to sleep late and relax. It was around 8:30, and, after breakfast, I sat down at the computer. After just a few minutes, one of the guys from the hotel came up. "Didn't you want to leave the hotel at 9:30?" he asked. I said yes, and looked at him puzzled. Finally I said, "that's an hour from now." He replied, "Oh, no, the time changed last night. It's 9:30 now."

Damn.

Stefan took the news relatively well. Plus, luckily, we had packed everything the night before, so it took us not even five minutes to walk out the door. Also, we had already paid the hotel, and gotten our things out of the safe. We put enough cash in the safe the first day we stayed at both the Pension Roma and the Nefertiti Hotel to be able to pay for all our night's stay there, so that no matter what happened, we could pay the bill.

But I just HATE it that we didn't get to say goodbye to everyone at the hotel. I didn't get to say goodbye even to Aladin. I just hate it.

The trip to the airport was a breeze -- Luxor really is such a small town. I started saying, "Goodbye, Sphinx Alley. Goodbye, Karnak. Goodbye, sugar cane," and the driver thought it was funny and joined in. Stefan and I laughed quietly when we went through one of the checkpoints, and before we approached, the driver pulled his seat belt across him and held it in his hand, then released it after we passed.

It was incredibly hazy, and hot. We had been lucky and gotten the last spring days of Luxor; now, the heat was on. Visibility was zero as far as seeing the cliffs in the distance. I should have known right then our flight would be delayed. After a long while, through word-of-mouth with other passengers, we learned that it was, indeed. So I people watched for a bit, trying to guess where everyone was from, which wasn't hard, simply by looking at the way people dressed, if nothing else. There were these two Americans that I'm sure in Key West would have been perfectly dressed. But in Egypt -- they looked like Americans on their way to Key West but stranded in a slightly conservative Muslim country where not even the men expose anything above the knee. I guess they had been staying at a resort where dress didn't matter. I have nothing against resorts, I really don't -- they pump massive amounts of money into the economy, and some people really, really love that experience. And if it makes them happy and doesn't hurt anyone, I ain't agin it.

I had no idea when we would be taking off, and decided that I needed some kind of information. I got up and asked one of the airport workers if he knew when the plane would take off and he was very gracious but said, "In Shallah, (God Willing) very soon." You hear this a lot in Egypt. After waiting an hour, suddenly, bam, it was time to board, NOW.

During the short flight, my goal became to get us to a hotel as soon as possible once we reached Cairo. We had meant to call the Pension Roma from Luxor, to see if a room had freed up (you may recall that they were booked up as of when we left for Luxor), but didn't in our rush to leave. I decided we'd spend our last night at the Magic Hotel, which had been my second or third choice when we were planning from Germany. I wrote the address out on a sheet of paper, and prepared after landing to find a cab to downtown as quickly as possible, which I did very easily (Jayne's going native...). The driver liked to have never found our hotel, but it was hard to find, indeed, nestled on a dead-end street quite out of the way. The Magic Hotel is in a fantastic location, totally away from traffic noise, and only a block away from a Tahrir Square, a major, major intersection that we had driven through I don't know how many times while in Cairo the first time. It's probably three blocks from the Egyptian Museum as well. The hotel, which is more of a hostel, was virtually empty of guests, the staff was way helpful, the TV lounge was huge and well lit and more friendly than the Pension Roma, and there was a fan in our room (hurrah). The downside was that they were on the third floor with no elevator, there was no grandness or mystery about the place like the Pension Roma, and our room was tiny and dumpy. Mostly clean. The bed was probably more comfortable than the Pension Roma, once you adjust the wooden planks under the mattress... It had a little balcony, which was nice, and I stood out on it for a long while, to enjoy a last evening in Cairo. I have no regrets staying there at all that last night, and I'd recommend it to anyone who isn't going to spend much time in their room.

The manager threw a fit that I had been giving Stefan cold water. "He needs hot lemon. You must give him hot lemon." It was a COMMAND. The front desk was covered in postcards and letters from previous guests, which I always think is a really good sign. They had lots of flyers up about various activities they can arrange for guests, which gave the place a kind of community feel.

I was hungry, and thought Stefan might need some food, even though he said he didn't. He pretty much was down to mumbling "I don't know" to any question I asked him. I had no idea if I was being helpful or annoying. I knew there was an Arby's -- yes, an Arby's -- not three blocks from us. I hated going to an American fast food place in Egypt for a second time, and if it had been a McDonald's, I wouldn't have gone at all. But I was hungry, I didn't want to think, and I knew where it was -- all big pluses when trying to determine where to eat on your last night in Cairo when you have to go out on the street, ALONE.

I studied the map in my guide book forever, doing my best to memorize it, because I wanted to look like I knew where I was going. Not 25 steps after leaving my street, a guy immediately tried to become my best friend. I just smiled and continued to walk, looking straight ahead. "Where are you from? Where are you from? British?" Shake my head. "German?" I shrug -- cause I am from Germany, in terms of where I was before Egypt -- and he tries to speak German with me. I just smile, continue to stare straight ahead. He was fishing, hoping it was my first day in Cairo, hoping I hadn't been to the pyramids or the Egyptian museum or anywhere else yet, so that he or one of his cousins could take me.

I walked two more blocks, went into Arby's and, gads, it looked just like ANY Arby's you have ever been in. I felt like I had walked through a time portal. I got food and headed back to the hotel. This intersection is the busiest one I have seen IN MY LIFE. There is a huge roundabout in the middle and I think there's, like, seven lanes of traffic. I had gotten lucky crossing the street before hand -- this was one of the rare places in Egypt where people adhere to the street lights. But I knew I'd be there for half a day if I waited for the light again. So when a couple in front of me plunged into traffic, I was totally on their heels, my heart racing. I have never done anything like that in my life and I don't ever want to again. I don't even want to know how close the cars were passing me.

I got back to the hotel and sat with the hotel manager in the lounge to watch TV and let Stefan alone. The lounge has a huge TV. "Whatchoo want to watch? Whatchoo want to watch? My TV, I get one hundred twenty eight channels. Whatchoo want to watch?" I really couldn't think, so I just said the news, but not CNN. He put it on Fox. "Argh! I really hate this station. Is there any other news channel?" Fox "news" is the American equivalent of Al Jazerra, truly -- I wish more Americans realized this. "Oh, but it is important that I watch Fox," he said. "Then I know how Americans think." And, well, he's right on that regard. He turned it to Deutsche Welle (pronounced "Doitcha Vella"), which is the BBC of Germany, with lots of TV and radio stations and news programs. They have a really excellent English news station (which I so wish I got in Bonn), and we watched that.

Two German women came in to talk to the manager. They were amateur belly dancers, and had come to Egypt for equipment, costumes and some exposure to great dancers. The manager had given them tips and leads, which they were very grateful for, but they were tremendously disappointed in a woman that was supposedly a legend -- I so enjoyed eavesdropping on their retelling of this crazy night of bad belly dancing and Egyptian men literally throwing money around. The manager told them the same thing that a friend of mine who lived in Egypt for many years told me -- the best belly Egyptian dancers perform only at weddings and very special private occasions, so the only way to see them is to get invited to such, and that's almost impossible for a non-Egyptian.

After a long while, Stefan came out and joined us. The manager immediately called over an attendant, said something to him, then the guy disappeared and came back with hot lemon juice, which we all insisted Stefan drink.

One of the cool things about budget hotels like the Pension Roma, Nefertiti Hotel and the Magic Hotel is that guests leave their books if they finish them during their stay. You can find some rather interesting things on the shelves. I found a course book from the American University, and delighted in reading through it. Oh, to have had money to go somewhere like this place way back when. Except for Arab language courses, everything is taught in English, in the style of an American university. Most of the students are Egyptian, so if you go, you get the best of both worlds -- exposure to another culture but within your own, if that makes any sense at all... can you imagine studying archeology, or the history of ancient civilizations, and then heading out to look at the very thing you are studying?!

When I win the lottery, all I'm going to do is get degree after degree in history. Right after I build that house in the Southwest.

Stefan gave up and went back to bed. I went back and studied. Then I went out onto the balcony again to have yet another look at Cairo. No mosque was nearby, so there were no more calls to prayer. That disappointed me. The building right across from us was some kind of Ambassador's home, I believe. It was a clean, white, very nice building with guards out front, and there was roof garden one floor above us that looked was ultra swanky, from what I could see. Next door, a building was being renovated, and the scaffolding was held together by some kind of thick twine. As I write this, there is scaffolding outside my window here in Germany, put together with modern, thick bolts. I went out and tried to shake it once -- it didn't move a bit. I bed the other scaffolding has a bit of give to it... scary.

Part of me hated leaving Egypt, but mostly, I was ready to come home. Stefan was having a miserable time, and I was feeling a little under the weather myself. Plus, I missed the dogs, particularly Wiley, who I wondered about constantly.

The next morning, we left too early for breakfast. After we boarded the plane, I was so excited because we had a big selection of great movies to choose from, so many that I wanted to see. And wouldn't you know it -- the entertainment system broke. British Airways was immediately and genuinely apologetic, and handed out customer comment cards to everyone; I wrote simply, "You have been so apologetic, I could never be angry about the entertainment system -- you are so unlike on American Airlines." We had an overpriced lunch at Heathrow, then flew back to Frankfurt. Then a train to Mainz, then another to Koblenz, where Stefan left the train, and I went on to Bonn, where I got off the train and into a cold night wind and pouring rain. I took a cab home, and as I got out and walked down the long brick walkway in the cold, wet night to my building's front door, I marvelled at the difference -- everything was suddenly overgrown and lush. It must have rained most of the time we were gone. It felt strange to be cold.

Will I go to Egypt again? I hope so. I have an iternirary all planned already. But I'd prefer not to go for a while -- give them time to open that new tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and give me time to explore some other countries. On this trip, I was reminded all over again why it is such a special place, and why I love to travel so much. I treasure Egypt in its own special room in my heart.

Go to Egypt.

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