Because this is my third trip to Egypt, I asked Randy to write a few paragraphs about our visits to Cairo, Aswan, Luxor and part of Alexandria, for a fresh impression of this country. Here are some of his thoughts:

Upon arriving in Cairo we 'settled in' for a bit in Zamalek, a town on an island in the middle of the Nile. It was just 10 minutes from downtown Cairo, but much quieter and less hectic. Just what the doctor ordered after zooming around 3 countries in 3 1/2 weeks. Stayed around Cairo for a short week, taking in the Egyptian museum and the pyramids of Giza complete with Sphinx, and returning to spend the last 2 weeks of Egypt in Cairo before flying out.

Click here for pictures of Cairo

Cairo represents a microcosm, albeit a large one, of all of Egypt. It's a bustling, modern city with donkey carts and ancient ruins in its midst, and seems to be the focal point of the attempt in Egypt to bring these two worlds together. Both geographically and culturally, it lies somewhere in the middle: not as modern as Alexandria, not as ancient as Luxor. During our return trip to Cairo we spent some time in the area called Islamic Cairo. This too was in the middle, as cultures go. Many of the buildings and customs were from medieval times -- not as old as the pyramids, but certainly more whiskers than New York. My first impression of Cairo and its magnificent relics was one of awe and reverence for the incredible civilization that once existed here, and the struggling one that is trying to find its identity. After seeing all of Egypt and returning here, it was surprising to find that impression hadn't diminished.

On to Aswan, the southernmost city in Egypt, where we hung out for a week, having slowed the pace quite a bit now. It's this part of Egypt that has the bulk of the temples and tombs, because this is where the Pharaohs came to be buried. Went to some temples and to a Nubian village on the west bank of the Nile. Also took in one of the better souks (marketplaces) in Egypt. The climate in Aswan is ideal in the winter, with daytime temperatures ranging in the 60's and 70's. In the summertime, we were told, temperatures get as high as 110 degrees. That certainly would make for a different experience. While the people were incredibly friendly here, we soon discovered that literally everything (from a can of soda to a night's lodging) had two prices: a local price and a tourist price. Even at restaurants that had prices clearly stated on the menu, we would be presented with a bill that was higher than the amount we had purchased. Most of the people, when confronted with this, would simply smile and give back the extra money they had taken. After a while it became a little tiring to have to call them on it with every single transaction. After leaving the Aswan/Luxor area and moveing on to Alexandria, it took a little while to readjust from a position that assumed everyone was trying to scalp you.

Then to Luxor with it's magnificent temples and tombs of the pharaohs. As in Aswan we experienced what we came to call 'ghost hotels' because the tourist traffic was so low that we were sometimes the only people staying at a particular hotel. When we asked one person about the shooting of 35 tourists that took place at a Luxor temple in November of 1997, he became very upset and referred to it thereafter as the "accident". Many locals actually said tourists were beginning to come back, which indicated how bad it must have gotten. Certainly whenever we were in any tourist area, there was a very heavy military presence. Like in all of Egypt, we never felt unsafe no matter what time of day or night. In Luxor we were fully exposed to the grandeur of the antiquities. The Egyptian people seem to have a strange relationship with their ancient ruins. While in many places they are almost completely dependent on them economically, they seem to have little respect or reverence for them. Garbage and litter that we wouldn't tolerate along ordinary roadsides is scattered everywhere at monuments and temples. As some friends we met on the road stated, "it seems like they shoot themselves in the foot by not taking better care of their national treasures."

Click here for pictures of Luxor/Aswan

It was in Luxor that I had my first encounter with a technological wonder: the Egyptian washing machine. To imagine this apparatus start out, if you will, with an image in your mind of washing machines in America circa 1932. Cast out this image as being far too modern and utilitarian, and restart with an oil drum and a hose. These things are sold new here in stores as we speak. What we have found all over Egypt is that many hotels will allow you to freely use these devices. We (read Margie and Candi) have become quite adept at the procedures involved in the use of Egyptian washing machines.

We then traveled to Alexandria, where life is vastly different from Upper Egypt (i.e., Aswan and Luxor). It is much more modern both in lifestyle and economy. People are focused more on commerce and are less likely to be dressed in traditional Muslim garb. Women roam the streets freely as opposed to the more cloistered life of women in Upper Egypt. "Alex", as the locals call it, is a most beautiful port city. One oddity we experienced was a great difficulty getting anything accomplished here. We left after 12 days, feeling like we hadn't done very much at all.

I'll turn it back over to Margie to describe to you what we did get accomplished in Alexandria.

The Catacombs of Kom ash-Shuqqafa

These tombs in Alexandria are straight out of an Edgar Alan Poe story. To get to the catacombs you walk 99 steps down a circular stone staircase, 30 meters underground. Dungeon-like and eerie as all get-out, this burial site included an unusual combination of Pharaonic/Greek art. Try to imagine a Greek body with a snake head in the classic Pharaonic stance. It was like putting a Cootie-bug together using Mr. Potato Head parts. The place even felt weird. As we walked in and out of the rows and rows of tombs, we noticed pockets of thick oppressiveness, like something was still there! Yikes! And I could hardly believe that one area was built for families to come relax, eat, and visit their formerly-alive loved ones. The final touch was exquisitely made when the guard pointed out the places in the wall where torches were placed. It was probably the first time in my life I looked forward to climbing 99 stairs to get out.

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