Friday, September 27, 2019

Race Report: Pyramids Marathon (part two)

In front of the Egyptian Museum
My first full day in Egypt was a success, starting with the marathon through the storied Pyramids of Giza, and I was prepared for my last full day in Cairo before traveling on further in Egypt. After a good night's of sleep, I woke up Saturday morning prepared to explore as much of Cairo as I could during the daylight hours that I had.  I packed up my bag and checked out of my room, leaving my bag with the concierge before calling for an Uber to take me into Cairo.  My first stop was the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, better known as Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.  I arrived just as the museum was opening that morning, and with that, I came at the same time of busloads of tour groups.  They clogged the entry gate, but eventually I made my way inside, purchasing a ticket that cost me about $20, for an all-inclusive ticket that included the royal mummy rooms and a "photo pass" in order to take pictures. As soon as I passed the crowded lobby area where many of these groups were congregating, I went off on my own to explore the massive interior.  I was actually alone for a good amount of time, appreciating the exhibits despite the noise of crowds not too far away.
Enjoying a virtually empty exhibit room at the Egyptian Museum
Overlooking the ground floor in the main hall of the Egyptian Museum
Beautiful Egyptian golden mask!
The rose colored building facing Tahrir Square is home to the world’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities. Artifacts from the New Kingdom time period (1550BC-1069BC) are on exhibit in the halls of the ground floor. On the floor above (the first floor), there are artifacts from the final two dynasties of Egypt, including items from the tombs of the Pharaohs Thutmosis III, Thutmosis IV, Amenophis II, and Hatshepsut, as well as many artifacts from the Valley of the Kings, including artifacts from the tomb of King Tutankhamun (King Tut). Here, one can view golden mask of King Tut, but photos were not allowed. Two additional special rooms contain a number of mostly intact mummies of kings and other royal family members of the New Kingdom, kept under specific climate control, but photos were not allowed there either.
Sarcophagi aplenty!
Bab Zuweila Gate
After having my fill of the expansive museum, I got an Uber to take me the short distance over to Islamic Cairo.  While Egypt is currently a majority Muslim country, it wasn't until 641 AD that the country was conquered by Arab Muslims.  Cairo's Old City is the heart of Islamic Cairo, characterized by hundreds of mosques, tombs, madrasas, mansions, caravans, and fortifications dating from this era.  Specifically, I had the Uber take me to Bab Zuweila gate, one of three remaining gates in the walls of the medieval city of Al Qahira and considered one of the major landmarks of the city. This gate with its two minarets was built in the 11th century, and was notorious for being an execution site during Mamluk times. The minarets were formerly used to scout for enemy troops in the surrounding countryside, and today, are hailed for providing one of the best views of Old Cairo. I used Google Maps to map out a walking route through the maze of streets, and enjoyed casually walking from the gate up toward Al Azhar Mosque (built in 970), the first mosque established in Cairo to earn its nickname as "the City of a Thousand Minarets."
Walking down a busy market street in Islamic Cairo
The "Khan."
Eventually, I had to make my way across an incredibly busy street that I had been on two days before, on my drive in from the airport into the city.  This street was separated by a thin fenced median that had periodic and unintended pass throughs -- clearly, this area wasn't pedestrian friendly.  But I constantly saw locals making their way to the north side of the street using this short cut, so I followed suit, even with cars careening down the road.  I crossed the street over to Cairo’s famous “souq quarter,” better known as Khan el Khalili. The “Khan” today is mainly occupied by locals rather than foreign merchants and shopholders, but is significantly geared towards tourists. Shops typically sell souvenirs, antiques and jewelry, but many traditional workshops continue to operate in the surrounding area and the adjoining goldsmiths' souq, for example, is still important for locals.

Stopping for a coffee at El Fishawy
In addition to shops, there are several coffeehouses, restaurants, and street food vendors distributed throughout the market. One of the oldest and most famous coffeehouses is El Fishawy, managed by the same family since 1773. Here, I stopped for a coffee and to enjoy the ambience of my bustling surroundings. Also nearby is Al Hussein Mosque (built in 1154), considered to be one of the holiest Islamic sites in Egypt.  I ended up having a nice cheap lunch for about $10 nearby as well, a chicken shawarma sandwich and lemon mint drink at Naguib Mahfouz, a well-known classic old Cairo restaurant.

The Saladin Citadel
After lunch, I got another Uber to take me up to the Saladin Citadel, a medieval Islamic fortification in Cairo. Its location, on Mokattam hill near the center of Cairo, was once famous for its fresh breeze and grand views of the city. Two mosques, the Mosque of Muhammad Ali and the Al Nasir Muhammad Mosque dominate the complex, as well as the national police and military museums. The views from Gawhara Terace of Saladin Citadel are quite extraordinary, especially when the weather and skies are as agreeable as they were today! We could even see the pyramids of Giza in the distance, usually not the case from the regular haze that blankets the area.
Outside of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali
Getting to tour the expansive interior of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali
What a view!
Inside the dome of St. George Church
After a fair amount of time exploring the views at Saladin, I get another Uber, and 15 minutes later down from the hill I'm in Coptic Cairo, part of Old Cairo which encompasses multiple sites, including the Babylon Fortress, the Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church (one of the oldest churches in Egypt), the Greek Church of St. George and many other Coptic churches and historical sites. It is believed in Christian tradition that the Holy Family visited this area and stayed at the site of Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga), now a cavern church.

Exterior of the Coptic Museum
Coptic Cairo was a stronghold for Christianity in Egypt up until the Islamic era, though most of the current buildings of the churches in Coptic Cairo were built after the Muslim conquest of Egypt. However, this gated area is under very heavy security, as Egyptian authorities have strengthened checks and security measures around the churches and the most important Christian places of worship for fear of attacks from Islamic terrorist organizations.  I finished my time in this area by spending some time at the Coptic Museum, which houses the largest collection of Egyptian Christian artifacts in the world. It was founded by Marcus Simaika in 1908 to house Coptic antiquities,  including the worlds’ oldest psalter, lots of interesting woodwork and metalwork plus stones from the ruins of the St Jeremiah monastery in Saqqara, featuring both Christian and pagan religious imagery.
Coptic artwork
Beautiful Coptic mosaic
The Step Pyramid of Djoser
Which made it perfect timing to travel out of Cairo and head down to Saqqara.  Saqqara and Dahshur are some 45 minutes south of Giza, but they are definitely worth a visit. Here you can see some pyramids built a bit earlier than the more famous ones in the Giza Necropolis, such as Saqqara’s Step Pyramid of Djoser, and Dahshur’s Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid. These are amongst the oldest, largest, and best preserved in Egypt. One can even go inside the Red Pyramid, and actually have a much better experience than at the ones in Giza for the sheer fact that there are far fewer crowds that come visit these sites.
Climbing out of the Red Pyramid
With the sun beginning to go down, I needed to get back to Giza fast - first to pick up my backpack that I left at the hotel, and then needing to navigate through traffic to the Giza train station. I took my last Uber back to Giza, and in the end would end up spending barely $17 altogether on multiple rides while I was there that added up to three hours of driving time. In planning this trip, I found that there was an overnight sleeper train from Giza to Luxor, which not only would save me money from the flight, but it would occur during hours when I would be asleep, not taking away from my valuable sightseeing time!  The train was definitely an adventurous way of getting to Luxor, and admittedly, I took the more "luxurious" tourist sleeper train rather than the usually more crowded "locals" train with recliner chairs that was a bit cheaper.  The overnight trip took close to ten hours, leaving at 7:45pm from Cairo Ramses Station and 8:15pm from Giza Station, arriving at 5:45am at Luxor Station. Traffic of course, was terrible getting to the train station, so I VERY stressed out getting to the station in time. Thankfully, I arrived with 15 minutes to spare, and got on the train ready to make the long trip down to Luxor, enjoying an entire cabin within my specific car to myself.  I befriended the Americans (who also happened to be from New York!) who were in the neighboring cabin, before drifting off to sleep...actually dozing pretty decently since I was wiped from all my sightseeing on Saturday... likely the rocking and swaying of the train on the rickety tracks, plus the earplugs I put in helped!

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A still-asleep Luxor street, right after I arrived.

Morning over the Nile and Luxor
I stepped off the train at 5:45am and hit the ground running in Luxor, which was still asleep, except for the market vendors near the train station, just starting to set up when I arrived.  From the Luxor train station, I walked the empty streets of the city alone toward my hotel, the Pavillon Winter Palace. Luxor Temple is practically right next door, and the hot air balloons were beginning to rise above the horizon on the other side of the Nile in the West Bank. I dropped off my bag at the reception since my room wasn't ready yet, and then spent the next hour uploading my photos and videos from Cairo the day before in the lobby of the historic Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor, a historic British colonial-era 5-star luxury resort hotel built in 1886.  My hotel, the Pavillon, was built in 1996, and shares many amenities with the Winter Palace, including the gardens, pools, tennis courts, terraces and restaurants. The Winter Palace is best known for several important guests over the years, including Lord Carnarvon, the patron of Egyptologist Howard Carter, who in 1922 discovered the intact tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings; and Agatha Christie, who wrote her novel “Death on the Nile” here.
The Avenue of the Sphinxes
One massive column...
Eventually, the city finally started to wake up, so I made my way over to Luxor Temple for its 8am opening. While getting lost trying to find the entrance, I ended up meeting a local guy named Noby, who happened to be a driver. He gave me his information on WhatsApp if for any reason I needed a cab ride, most especially to the airport the next day. I eventually found my way to the entrance and got inside the temple, with its grounds virtually empty, having the whole open air museum to myself. As part of ancient Thebes, the East Bank’s Luxor Temple was dedicated to the rejuvenation of kingship; it may have been where many of the kings of Egypt were crowned in reality or conceptually (as in the case of Alexander the Great who claimed he was crowned at Luxor but may never have traveled south of Memphis, near modern day Cairo.) The Avenue of the Sphinxes was a 1 1/2 mile long avenue of around 1,350 human headed sphinxes that once connected the temples of Karnak and Luxor. This road was used once a year during the Opet festival when the Egyptians paraded along it carrying the statues of Amun and Mut in a symbolic re-enactment of their marriage. To the rear of the temple were chapels built by Amenhotep III of the 18th Dynasty and Alexander. Other parts of the temple were built by Tutankhamun and Ramesses II. During the Roman era, the temple and its surroundings were a legionary fortress and the home of the Roman government in the area.

Jumping in the peristyle...
After leaving the temple, I chanced upon Noby again when I was walking back toward the hotel. I told him of my plans for the rest of the day, and he proposed to drive me everywhere I needed, with all these places I’d realize were far apart from each other. So I hired him for the rest of that day, taking me from site to site on the West Bank of the Nile.  We started off by taking a ferry across the river, as his car was on the other side. It was quite exciting taking a ferry across the Nile River to the more rural West Bank and the town of Gourna. Here, the Theban Necropolis is where many of Luxor’s main tombs, temples, and monuments are located. We headed straight for the ticket booth past a field where women were sorting through fresh tomatoes that morning. The ticket office lies at the base of the necropolis, roughly 2.5 miles from the ferry landing. At the ticket booth, I was able to purchase tickets for the key West Bank sites I wanted to see that day, reserving some of the major sites for the following day with a group tour - so that afternoon for the next three hours, we headed to the Tombs of the Nobles (Menna, Nakht, and Amenemope), the Seti I Temple, and the tombs of Inherka, Senedjem, and Peshedu at Deir el Medina - the workmens’ village.

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Extremely colorful paintings inside!
The Tombs of the Nobles, also known as Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, are an an important archaeological site composed of more than 400 tombs. Some of them are open to the public and, since the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens receive all the focus when it comes to tombs, the Tombs of the Nobles don’t get much of the attention they deserve. The paintings and hieroglyphs inside these tombs are quite impressive and very well-preserved. The tombs that are open to the public are divided into groups of three, each group requiring a separate ticket. I chose the Tombs of Nakht, Menna & Amenemopet, which are known for having very colorful paintings. Most of these sites do not allow photos. But the guide, who is essentially "required" to join you as you view the tomb, will let you take some without flash for a little baksheesh (tip).

The Seti I Temple from afar
Next, we drove over to the Seti I Temple. Despite being located in one of the greenest areas, next to a palm grove, the Seti I Temple receives very few visitors. Seti I died before the temple was finished, so his son Ramses II was the one who actually completed it.  One of the chambers contains a shrine dedicated to Seti's father Ramesses I. The ruler reigned a little under two years, and did not construct a mortuary temple for himself. Most of the temple was severely damaged in the 1994 flood, and so most of it has been restored. The walls of the columned portico at the west facade of the temple, and those of the hypostyle court beyond it, contain some superbly executed reliefs. However, the entire court and any pylons associated with the site are now in ruins, and much of the eastern part of the complex is buried under the modern town of Qurna.
Some of the Seti I Temple's beautiful reliefs
Foudnations of the pharaoh's palace, the earliest surviving example of a palace within a memorial temple.
Descending down steep staircases
Next, we went to Deir el-Medina, or the "workmens' village," an ancient Egyptian village which was home to the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings during the 18th to 20th dynasties of the New Kingdom of Egypt (ca. 1550–1080 BCE) Sites I visited here include the tombs of Sennedjem and Inherkau, which required descending some very steep staircases, and a temple, on the north end of the site. The site was first discovered in 1922, when the world's press was concentrating on Howard Carter's discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings. This work has resulted in one of the most thoroughly documented accounts of community life in the ancient world that spans almost four hundred years. There is no comparable site in which the organization, social interactions, working and living conditions of a community can be studied in such detail. With a separate ticket entry, I also visited the colorful tomb of Pashedu.

Preserving the beautiful works behind glass in Deir-el-Medina
One of the elaborate ceilings in Deir-el-Medina
Looking down at the ruins of the village from a higher elevation.
Karnak Temple as you enter
Super hungry after being able to do all this touring on the West Bank, we then headed to go get food, so he brought me to a local spot called Isis Restaurant in Gourna - where I enjoyed some chicken shish taouk, and went in on those fresh vegetables that were likely harvested just across the street... which by the way, the ladies working on the tomatoes made quite a bit of progress since we passed by three hours earlier... Upper Egypt, where Luxor is located, has the best tomatoes and cucumbers in the country, which get transported out to Cairo and other parts of the Middle East.
Ceilings still showing bright colors
Afterward, he took me to the massive Karnak Temple in the north of the city, where I spent over two hours wandering the complex.  At 247 acres in size, Karnak Temple can simply be overwhelming. Situated a little bit outside of the city, Karnak is the second largest ancient religious site in the world, after the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to its building, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. It was the most important religious complex in Ancient Egypt and everything is built there at a massive scale. From its huge decorated pillars to the obelisks, statues and kiosk, the Karnak Temple will definitely leave you breathless. I ended up spending two hours wandering around this site, taking in the great temple at the heart of Karnak - which is so big that St Peter’s, Milan, and Notre Dame Cathedrals would fit within its walls. My jumping photo is in the famous Hypostyle hall, which at 54,000 square feet and featuring 134 columns, is considered the largest room of any religious building in the world.

I was wiped out after spending two hours at Karnak and the whole morning seeing sites on the West Bank. Before taking me back to my hotel, Noby treated me to a fresh sugar cane drink, known locally as “aseer asab.” Considered by many to be Egypt’s “national drink,” asab, or sugar cane, actually comes from this area (Upper Egypt) then gets transported all over the country. The juice is extracted from the raw cane, crushed in a special machine. It’s incredibly refreshing, and I can imagine how tasty this would be during Egypt’s relentless summer heat.  Noby then took me back to my hotel and I finally checked in, completely exhausted. Being outside and in the sun took a toll... plus I had been awake since roughly 4:45am!  By 7pm, I was knocked out cold in my hotel room, fast asleep for the next six hours. I stayed up from 1-3:30am, catching up on my Instagram posts, then went back to sleep for another three hours before I began my last day in Egypt.

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That first day in Luxor, though, was a lesson for me in being grateful for what I’ve got back home in the US. Luxor was such a completely different place than Cairo, an entirely different energy, and I arrived in the morning at first a bit turned off by the excessive amount of bribes that seemed to be the "norm" here. I later realized I was actually more unprepared in understanding the concept of baksheesh. After thinking about it more, what I’m giving these locals who provide “access” or understanding to some of these unique sites is literally just a dollar or two out of my pocket in each situation... and they don’t have very much in the first place.

Moreover, I had a fantastic day due to being able to connect with Noby. I may have agreed to a price too high for Egypt, but hiring him for what roughly amounted to $28 that day was a drop in the bucket for me... that was his day’s wages, and likely a really good day for him at that. He provided some great conversation too, and I appreciated him for being “real.” The country’s tourism has suffered a great deal in this last decade, and thankfully it’s starting to look back up again.

Our full bus headed to the West Bank
The next morning, after a delicious breakfast at my hotel (finally getting to try out ful medames, Egyptian cooked fava beans, a breakfast staple here), I walked down to the Happy Land Hotel where I joined a group guided tour to the West Bank yet again, but this time visiting more of the major sites on the West Bank, on suggestion of my friend Budi, who came to Luxor the previous month. On the agenda were: Colossi of Memnon, Medinet Habu (the mortuary temple of Ramses II), Deir el-Bahari (the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut - notable for being the only female pharaoh), and the Valley of the Kings (with access to three tombs of our choice of the ones that were open at that day).  We had quite a multicultural group, with folks from the US, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Peru, and Chile among the tourists. Imad was a fantastic tour guide, and he was actually quite funny when giving us his account of ancient Egyptian history.

Colossi of Memnon. They do whistle!
Our first stop was to the Colossi of Memnon, two massive stone statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III, who reigned in Egypt during the 18th Dynasty. The sandstone the statues are made of were quarried in el-Gabar el-Ahmar, near modern day Cairo - some 420 miles away - and were transported over land to where they stand today in Luxor. When an earthquake shattered large parts of the statue in 27 BC, it started to make a “whistle” noise when wind blew through the cracks.

The first pylon of Medinet Habu
Medinet Habu, or Habu Temple is the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III. Many of the cartouches in this temple contain some of the deepest carvings in all of ancient Egyptian sites. And it also has some of the most vivid and colorful paintings on some of the surfaces, rare for such an open air site. The site is surrounded by a massive mudbrick enclosure, original to when it was built. It’s actually surprising how rarely this site is visited compared to other major West Bank sites (namely the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut Temple), because it really has quite lovely features.
Incredibly colorful ceiling decoration at Medinet Habu!
Humongous reliefs on the side of Medinet Habu's first pylon
In front of Hatshetpsut Temple
Hatshepsut Temple, located beneath the cliffs of Deir El Bahari is the mortuary temple dedicated to Amun and Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh of ancient Egypt, who ruled over the country for twenty years during the 18th dynasty (in comparison to other female rulers, one of the longest and most prosperous.) Her temple, built by her chancellor (and rumored lover) Senenmut, is considered one of the "incomparable monuments of ancient Egypt” and the closest Egypt came to classical architecture. Here, our guide Imad gives a short history and explanation of the temple. The entrance is set back a bit of distance from the parking lot and “gauntlet” of tourist shops, so a taftaf electric train takes tourists closer to the entrance. This was the one site I was most excited to see during my entire trip to Egypt, having learned about it in a history of architecture class during college!

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Some of the Hatshepsut Temple decor
The relief sculpture within Hatshepsut’s temple recites the tale of the divine birth of a female pharaoh – the first of its kind. The text and pictorial cycle also tell of an expedition to the Land of Punt, an exotic country on the Red Sea coast. While the statues and ornamentation have since been stolen or destroyed, the temple once was home to two statues of Osiris, a sphinx avenue as well as many sculptures of the Queen in different attitudes – standing, sitting, or kneeling. Many of these portraits were destroyed at the order of her stepson Thutmose III after her death. The Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw is responsible for the study and restoration of the three levels of the temple.

About to go deeper into the valley
The Valley Of The Kings is the most famed collection of elaborate tombs of the pharaohs from Egypt’s New Kingdom - from the 16th to 11th century BC, a period of almost 500 years. There are 62 tombs in the valley, but only 18 or so are publicly accessible. Even then, only a fraction of these are opened at the same time, with the Ministry of Antiquities periodically rotating access to the tombs in order to mitigate the damaging effects of mass tourism (including increased CO2 levels, friction, and humidity, among other factors.)

An entry ticket to the Valley of the Kings includes access to three tombs of your choice; photos inside the tombs were previously not allowed until recently, but can only be taken if a photo permit is additionally purchased and presented to the guards in each tomb. Guards are very strict about photos in the tombs, and will vigilantly seek out tourists who bypass the photo policy. Also, access to the popular tomb of Tutankhamun is a separate ticket (but photos are not allowed at all in that Tomb.) Only eight tombs accessible at the moment, and visitors can visit three of these eight with the 200 LE ($11.43) visitor pass. In order to take photos inside the tombs, you must pay an additional 300 LE ($17.14) for a photo pass. Three extra tombs require an extra ticket - the Tomb of Tutankhamun is 250 LE ($14.28), Ramesses V & VI is 100 LE ($5.71), and Seti I, the largest and one of the best decorated tombs in the valley, is a whopping 1000 LE ($57.14).  During this visit, I went to the tombs of Ramesses IV, Ramesses IX, and Merenptah.

Outside the famed Tomb of King Tut
An electric taftaf train took us deeper into the valley from the Visitors Center, up to the actual entrance of the tombs. I opted to not pay for an entry into the Tomb of Tutankhamun, and instead just take a photo just outside of it, the famed tomb discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. The novelty of it all was that you were in the actual tomb, but the price was high, and besides, photos inside are strictly prohibited. In the last 97 years since Carter’s discovery, the condition of its intricately painted plaster has deteriorated dramatically, with much of it crumbling away from the walls. A renovation was just recently completed by the Getty Conservation Institute, most significant restoration of the tomb to date. The only other draw: Tutankhamun's mummy is encased in a glass sarcophagus in its original resting place.  So if that was worth another $15... great, but it wasn't necessary for me.

Tomb of Ramesses IV
The Tomb of Ramesses IV (KV2) is one of about eleven tombs that has been open since antiquity. Laid out in a straight axis, it is one of the closest tombs to the entrance of the valley. It contains the second-highest number of ancient graffiti within it, with some 656 individual griffitos left by both Ancient Greek and Roman visitors. This tomb also contains around 50 or so examples of Coptic graffiti, mostly sketched onto the right wall by the entranceway. The tomb was likely used as a dwelling by Coptic monks, and there are also depictions of Coptic saints and crosses on the tomb's walls. The pharaoh’s red granite sarcophagus, one of the largest in the valley, lies in the burial chamber. Nevertheless, while the paintings in the tomb have deteriorated over the years, the colors are still quite vibrant.  

Colorful works in Tomb of Merneptah
The Tomb of Merneptah/Merenptah (KV8) descends into a burial chamber 525 feet from the entrance. The corridor down to the chamber is fairly steep, which made the return ascent to the entrance fairly tough. The chamber itself is a three aisles hypostyle hall, with multiple niches in its front and rear walls. The lid of the royal sarcophagus remains in the chamber, depicting a recumbent figure of the pharaoh Merneptah, the thirteenth son of Ramesses II. His father was known to have been one of the oldest pharaohs in history, ruling for some 66 years. Merneptah, who ruled for almost ten years during the 19th dynasty, was of advanced age when he was pharaoh, and only came to power because all his older brothers had died. 
The entrance of the Tomb of Merneptah, built into the cliff.
Tomb of Ramesses IX
The Tomb of Ramesses IX (KV6) in the sits opposite the tomb of Merneptah. Of the three I visited, it has some of the nicest and most well preserved wall paintings, with particularly brilliant colors especially on its ceiling. Notably, the yellows, dark blues, and blacks used to decorate this chamber are visibly striking and have stood the test of time. It was actually unfinished at the time of death of Ramesses IX, so seemingly, only half of the originally planned decoration was completed.

At the Luxor Museum
After lunch at the "Crocodile Restaurant," the bus took us back to the other side of the river, where I was dropped off near Luxor Temple.  I retreated back to my hotel to rest my legs for a bit, then met back up with Noby who took me to the Luxor Museum where I got to check out a really well done museum that was nicely arranged, perfectly scaled, and not so overwhelming and chaotic like the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

More from the Luxor Museum
The Luxor Museum is located right on the shore of the Nile River in Luxor, Egypt, and this was my last stop on an amazing five day trip to this incredible country. Established in 1975, the range of artifacts on display at the Luxor Museum is far more restricted than the country's main collections in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum; this was, however, deliberate, since the museum prides itself on the quality of the pieces it has, the uncluttered way in which they are displayed, and the clear multilingual labeling used. 

After I was finished going through the Luxor Museum, Noby was outside waiting for me, ready to drive me to Luxor International Airport. My EgyptAir flight was a little delayed in leaving Luxor and we landed about 30 minutes late in Cairo. I had to walk out of Terminal 3 to go next door to Terminal 2 for my flight onward to Moscow on Aeroflot. After security checkpoints to get to the check in counters (as is normal procedure in the Middle East), I got to check into the Sky Priority lane as Aeroflot is a partner of Delta's through the SkyTeam alliance, where I was the only one on line, bypassing a regular economy line about 40 people deep. After getting my boarding pass I proceeded up to passport checks, where I got into another separate line for Sky Priority, bypassing one that was snaking around the upper level like crazy already.  I also get access to the brand spanking new Saudia lounge thanks to my status (Saudia is also a SkyTeam partner.) So, with a couple hours of cushion before my nearly 2am flight to Moscow, I got to enjoy some dinner.

We had a fairly thorough security check right at the gate just before the flight, so passengers were requested to come to the boarding area quite early; literally every passenger was directed to remove everything out of their cabin baggage to be inspected by security agents and get certain things swabbed for explosives. After all of that hubbub, we then got onto the plane and I slept for most of the 4+ hour trip onward to Moscow -- after all, it was essentially an overnight flight.  We landed at 7:30am there, with the weather considerably colder than in Egypt; after passing through the transit area where Russian airport security took a cursory glance at my passport, I went on into the terminal to rest up in one of Sheremetyevo Airport's many lounges and have a little breakfast before continuing on to my 9:30am connecting flight back to New York.

It was a bit of a madhouse at the gate for the New York flight, and it wasn't until boarding time when I realized we were going to be bused to the airplane.  I honestly could’ve used a thicker jacket (i.e. my overcoat, which I left at home since Egypt wasn't going to be that cold - plus it was extra stuff to carry), since the long sleeved light jacket I wore on the flight out ended up being worn daily as the wind made it pretty chilly in Cairo.  I had completely disregarded the fact that I'd be in Moscow in February, and it was downright frigid as we were bused out to the plane onto the tarmac; the temperature was 16°F outside, but with a 4°F realfeel!  Thankfully, we weren't outside for too long, and got on the plane for the long trip back to New York.  We landed at 12:30pm, and like usual, I went straight to the office to pull in a few hours of work on my return.  I was exhausted after a whirlwind trip through Egypt, but I accomplished quite a bit in my five days there!

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