Capturing History Through the Written Word

In this digital age, we actually still are fans of owning physical books that we can open and read. Throughout history, the sharing of stories by writing them down has been an important part of preserving knowledge about the cultures that they represent. To some extent, everyone who has a web site and shares their stories is continuing in this same tradition, but obviously on a grander scale in this world where we are all connected electronically. One of the things that we find fascinating is when we come across an ancient text during our travels. Whether it is the Book of Kells in Ireland, papyrus hieroglyphs in Cairo, or just an ancient bible in a church, seeing the care given to these books and manuscripts is an important reminder of how much respect needs to be given to what has been written by our ancestors.

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Ancient Bible in a Church in Cairo

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Library at Trinity College in Dublin

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Writings and Books in the Sigmund Freud Museum

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Writing on Papyrus in the Cairo Museum

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Historic Books in a Church

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More Papyrus Writings

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People Enjoying the Trinity College Library

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Ancient Bible

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More from Freud

 

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The Valley of the Kings

There are many fascinating sites to visit when in Luxor, Egypt, and the Valley of the Kings is certainly one of those. We spent two days in Luxor, first visiting the east bank of the Nile with Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple and then visiting the west bank on the second day. Two days is the minimum amount of time needed to visit Luxor, but it would probably be best to spend three to four days if possible. The Valley of the Kings is probably best known for the discovery of King Tutankhamun (King Tut) by Howard Carter in 1922 and you can watch a short documentary at the main entrance showing the removal of the treasures and sarcophagus that were found. You can purchase an extra ticket to go into the tomb of King Tutankhamun, but since he suddenly died at the age of 19, his tomb is small and unimpressive and not really worth the extra entrance fee.

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First View of the Mountain

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Colorful Paintings and Reliefs

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Sarcophagus inside of Tomb

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Walking Through the Tombs

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Pyramid Shaped Mountain

After centuries of building the pyramids to house the pharaohs on their journey to the next world, they came to the realization that the pyramids did as much to attract looters as they did to symbolize their wealth and importance. Often the treasures were stolen from the pyramids within a few years, if not months, from the burial of the pharaoh’s mummified corpse. To help conceal their burial locations, the pharaohs started building their tombs in the valley of the mountain Al-Qurn (The Horn) because it was shaped like a pyramid, which symbolizes eternal life. Starting in 2100 BC, this isolated location became the final resting place for at least 63 pharaohs, although new tombs are still being discovered.

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Vivid Colors

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Boat to Travel to the After Life

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Empty Tomb

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Entrance to King Tut’s Tomb

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Tomb Entrance in the Side of the Mountain

Many of the tombs have been damaged by treasure hunters, floods, and more recently the effects of tourism as people enter these ornately decorated burial sites. In order to reduce the impact of people entering these tombs, the ticket allows entrance into three tombs that are selected on a rotating basis as they restore other tombs. Be sure to bring plenty of water as walking through the Valley of the Kings is hot, dry, and dusty. Fortunately, there is a tram that will take you up the hill to the base of the valley and there are a couple of covered areas to provide some shade from the relentless sun. Also, if you want to take photographs inside of the tombs, you will need to buy a photography ticket, which is 300 Egyptian Pounds (about 18 USD). Through some miscommunication with our guide, we did not have a photography ticket and were stopped by one of the guards, which led to quite an awkward moment. Fortunately we were able to get everything straitened out and our guide returned to the entrance to get us a ticket, but not without some embarrassment on our part.

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Market at the Entrance to the Valley of the Kings

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Trams to Take You to the Tomb Sites

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Ceiling of One of the Tunnels

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Painting of the Workers

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Hot Day in the Valley

A long tunnel leads to the actual tomb chamber and the longer the life of the pharaoh, the deeper into the side of the mountain is the tomb. On the sides of the tomb are the two anti-chambers, one that housed food and necessities for the pharaoh in the afterlife and the other that contained the various treasures. The paintings and hieroglyphs are amazingly vivid and tell the story of the greatness of the pharaoh. Regardless of the time of year that you visit, expect there to be large crowds visiting the tombs along side of you. Take advantage of the slower moving lines to fully appreciate the details of the reliefs that adorn the walls as you slowly descend into the heart of the mountain. Unfortunately your guide is not allowed to go inside with you, so they will likely explain what you will see by showing you pictures (which are available for purchase) prior to entering the tombs.

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Hieroglyphs and Cartouches

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Fascinating Painting

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Walking Down to the Tomb Chamber

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Scarab Relief

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Colorful Details

Touring the Valley of the Kings was an incredible experience and one of the many highlights of our time in Egypt. We recommend getting the photography ticket as it is the only way, other than purchasing post card photos, to truly capture the magnificence of these tombs. Mummification and the building of tombs wasn’t just for pharaohs, there are also the Tombs of the Nobles, those who were rich enough to create a lasting memorial to themselves, as well as the Valley of the Queens. To walk through the tombs with the vivid colors that have survived for three to four thousand years is something that we will certainly never forget.

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Beautiful Despite the Damage

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Telling a Story

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Walking with the Gods

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Inside of a Tomb

 

 

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Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor, Egypt

The Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor is an extremely impressive site in Egypt and is probably the second most visited site in Egypt behind the Great Pyramids of Giza. Part of what makes it so fascinating is the sheer size of the complex as well as the length of time during which additions and modifications were being made to the complex. In addition to visiting it during the day, we also went to a sound and light show at night, which provided another unique view of the temples. In some ways, seeing it at night gave us some insight as to what it might have been like to have seen when the temples were still in use.

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Entering the Complex

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Temple Columns with Hieroglyphs

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Ram Heads and Lion Bodies Guarding the Temples

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Amazing Obelisks

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Destruction and Details

The temple complex is made up of four main parts, although only three of them remain as the fourth was purposely destroyed. Over 30 pharaohs contributed to building elements of the Karnak Temples, but of primary note were Seti I, Ramesses II, and Hatshepsut. In fact, Hatshepsut, a powerful female pharaoh, was responsible for creating the obelisks that are on the site, which were built from single blocks of granite from quarries in Aswan. There are hieroglyphs demonstrating their devotion to the gods, especially Amun Ra, the king of the Egyptian gods.

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One of the Many Statues

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Obelisk Details

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Temple Complex at Dusk

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Row of Statues

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Colorful Details Protected from the Elements

There are so many features, columns, statues, hieroglyphs, and even a pool for purifying the bodies of the pharaohs and priests, that visiting the Karnak Temple Complex is overwhelming. You could visit the temples hundreds of times and still find something new on every visit. We visited with a professional Egyptologist as a guide and he provided a wealth of information to us as we walked through the complex. He was able to point out which features were built by which pharaohs and helped us understand why it was so important to them to create such impressive structures.

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Hard to Imagine the Scale

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Fallen Stones

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So Many Places to Wander

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Statue Details

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Inside of the Temples

Even though the temples have been flooded by the Nile River, been effected by earthquakes, and defaced by the early Christians as well as other Egyptians, the remaining details are simply staggering. To walk through a site that was so important to connect the pharaohs with their gods is truly humbling. It is hard to digest how difficult it must have been thousands of years ago to create these temples and statues on the scale that they did. With the limited tools available at the time, the talent and ingenuity of the people that built these structures, carved the statues, and painted the hieroglyphs is nothing short of amazing.

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Hieroglyph Details

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Free Standing Column

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Walking the Grounds of the Complex

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Standing Guard

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Beautiful and Historic

If you are planning a visit to Egypt, taking time to go to Luxor and visit the Karnak Temple Complex is something that cannot be missed. In many ways, we were even more impressed with the temples in Luxor than of the pyramids that are so often the focus of people when they visit Egypt. It is experience that you will never forget.

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Frozen in Time

Have you ever wished that you could stop time? For those of you who are old enough to remember, there was an old Twilight Zone show where a man has a magical stop watch that will freeze time for everyone but himself. There probably isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t wish we had our own magical watch, but obviously that is never going to happen. The closest thing that we have to stopping time is through photography, where we can capture a moment in time and relive it forever. One of the things that we enjoy is seeing photographs of water that was in motion, but has become instantly frozen in the lens of the camera. Seeing these images are probably the closest that we will have to stopping time, so until we find our magical watch, we will have to make the most of the time that we have.

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Fountain in Athens, Greece

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Geyser in Iceland

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Fountain in Coroico, Bolivia

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Waterfall in Bolivia

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Fountain at Piazza Navona in Rome

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Trevi Fountain

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Another View of Geysir Starting to Erupt

 

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Tips for Visiting Egypt

Egypt is an amazing country with such a rich history and so many fascinating sights to see, but we did learn that there are a few things that will make your visit even better. We didn’t do a lot of planning in advance of our trip, but Egypt is definitely a location that requires at least some investigation prior to the start of your journey. We wish we didn’t have to say this, but we need to at least first say that visiting Egypt is safe. As we told people that we were planning a trip to Egypt, we heard over and over again that they thought that it was too dangerous to go there since the revolution in 2011. The fact is that we felt completely safe during our trip and the people there wanted very much for us to let others know that tourism is important to the country and they very much want people to start returning to visit once again. With that said, here are some of the things that we feel people should know before going to Egypt.

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Pyramid in Dashur in Giza

  1. Hire an Egyptologist for a Guide – To say that there is a lot of information needed to truly understand the meaning behind the temples, hieroglyphs, and pyramids is more than just an understatement. With 122 gods, 26 dynasties, hundreds of pharaohs, wives, and children, the information is truly overwhelming. Having a guide with a thorough knowledge of the history and the stories behind these impressive structures is crucial to having any idea as to why the ancient Egyptians went to the effort to build such massive structures and statues. You can obviously appreciate the grand scale and detail without having a guide, but you will miss out on the true meaning if you don’t have a guide with expert knowledge in the subject. We actually used three different guides during our trip and each provided their own unique insights into different aspects of the sights that we were seeing.
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    Standing Outside a Pyramid

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    Amazing Statues

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    Obelisks in Karnak Temple in Luxor

  2. Dress Appropriately – There are two aspects to dressing appropriately when visiting Egypt. First of all, it is a mainly Muslim country, which means that you don’t want to expose too much of you skin or dress too provocatively if you don’t want to offend the locals. Pants should be below the knees and shirts should cover the shoulders. Some people say that you can wear shorts and tank tops at the tourist locations, but we believe that you should respect the local culture whenever you are out in public, so we don’t think it is appropriate, especially not short-shorts. You can wear shorts and swimming suits back in your hotel or on the cruise ship, but not when out, especially in Cairo. The other aspect of dressing appropriately is taking into account the weather in Egypt. Although Cairo sits in the Nile delta and is more humid, you will spend most of your time in the desert heat with temperatures that can reach well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). You will want breathable clothes that are lightweight and you will likely want to wear a hat to protect yourself from the strong rays of the sun. Also, wearing comfortable shoes that aren’t open-toed is a must, especially considering the amount of walking you will do in these large sites and since you will be walking on a lot of  sand.
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    Statue in the Egyptian Museum

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    Comfortable Shoes

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    Valley of the Kings

  3. Visit More than just the Great Pyramids – This might seem obvious, but a lot of people visit Egypt and the only place that they go is to the Grand Pyramids of Giza. With over 100 pyramids, there is a lot more to see in Giza alone, but you should also get out to visit Luxor, Edfu, Aswan, Alexandria and more. Although the pyramids are truly impressive and are one of the seven wonders of the world, we actually were more impressed with Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings, and some of the other sights that we saw during our time in Egypt. The more temples and other historical sites that you visit, the more that you begin to not only appreciate the grand scale of what was built thousands of years ago, but also start to appreciate more of the flow of history as different pharaohs updated these sites throughout the history of the country.
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    Colorful Hieroglyphs

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    Temple in Aswan

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    Colossi of Memnon

  4. Have Cash, Especially Small Bills – Although you will find that most places take credit cards, you will also find just as many places that don’t take anything other than cash. You can use Egyptian pounds, Euros, or US dollars, but we recommend using Egyptian pounds so that you don’t have to do the math every time you go to purchase something. Another thing that you will find is that you will need to tip people and having small bills will be important to have because you will likely find that nobody has change to give back to you. One thing to be aware of is that there will be many people trying to get you to give them money for one thing or another. The best thing to do is to try to avoid making eye contact with those people who are trying to hustle you to get a tip. They can include guards in the temples, attendants in bathrooms, children at the historic sites, etc. If you let them show you something or take your picture, you will be obligated to give them some sort of tip. As a country, the desire is to get the population away from hustling people for money, so you should try not to reward them for their bad behavior.
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    Giant Statues

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    Shopping in a Bazaar

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    Statues at Karnak Temple

  5. Take Time to Learn About the Culture, Religion, and Recent History – Obviously in a country with over 5000 years of history, there is a lot to learn and understand. There is also a lot more to Egypt than just ancient history and it is important to understand the current culture and how it came to its current state if you want more than to just visit the country like it is a museum. Going to the churches, mosques, synagogues, markets, and other places that are part of the daily lives of the current residents of Egypt is important to understanding the country as a whole. Egypt was self-ruled into 3rd Century BC and then it has been invaded and ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Ottomans, French, and Germans. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that Egypt was once again self-ruled, which is important to understand how the culture has evolved to the point that it is at today.
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    Old Town Cairo

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    Inside of a Mosque

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    Mosque in the Citadel

  6. Try to Buy Authentic Merchandise – You will find markets and vendors selling trinkets and other items almost everyplace. Unfortunately, most of the time these items have been manufactured in China and are not actually made in Egypt. Although there is nothing wrong with buying those items and they will help the overall economy of the country, but if you really want to bring something authentic from Egypt, you need to be careful with where you purchase it. There are many wonderful places to buy carpets, tapestries, essential oils, spices, alabaster artwork, papyrus paintings, etc., but you find just as many knock-offs of the same items. We recommend working with your guide or concierge of your hotel to find the best places to purchase something truly handmade in Egypt if you want to bring back something special with you.
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    Weaving a Rug

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    Working with Alabaster

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    Cutting Papyrus

  7. Pack a Smile and a Sense of Humor – You will find yourself spending a lot of time learning about the history of Egypt, seeing these amazing pyramids and temples, going to museums, etc., but visiting Egypt doesn’t have to be like a school field trip. The people of Egypt are very friendly and having a smile on your face will make them more likely to interact with you in a positive way.  Not everything that you do has to be educational or historical in nature. Ride a camel, go out on the Nile River in a Faluka, walk through a bazaar, or just generally relax. Lets face it, if you have fun and enjoy yourself, you will have better memories. It is true that there is more to see than you will likely ever be able to get to in a single visit, so don’t stress yourself out.  See what you can and be sure to make the most of the time that you have.
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    Pyramid in Giza

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    Sailing in a Faluka

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    Camel at the Pyramids

Egypt is truly a special place with so much history since it is the cradle of civilization. We knew before we visited that this would become one of our favorite places and it certainly lived up to our expectations. We didn’t get to all of the places that we would like visit, so we will have to plan another trip sometime in the future. Hopefully, if you do plan a trip to Egypt, you will find some of these tips to be useful.

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When the People Move On

No matter where you travel, you will often find towns and cities where the people have left in large numbers because they couldn’t make a living where they were. They aren’t necessarily ghost towns, but they will be in time if nothing changes to keep the people from leaving. This is true no matter the country or part of the world. There is something very sad about seeing these places, but you certainly can’t blame the people who have left in order to try and make a better life for themselves and their families. There are times when these places find a way to transform themselves and revitalize their economies and there are other times when they simply disappear into history never to be heard from again. When we happen to come across one of these places with their dilapidated buildings, we try to take the time to document them through photography. One of our favorite such memories was visiting one such village, Chimboata, during our time in Bolivia.

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Empty Streets of Chimboata, Bolivia

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Crumbling Farmhouse

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Roof in Need of Repair

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Homes in the Village

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Needing a Some Fresh Paint

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Center of the Village

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Someone’s Home

 

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Our Trip to Egypt Has Come to an End

Right now, we are sitting in the Frankfurt airport waiting for the next leg of our flight. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to visit our friends here, which makes it doubly sad as our adventure comes to an end. We spent our last couple of days learning about the culture, the people, and the religions as opposed to the ancient history that dominated the majority of our trip. We can hardly wait to get access to to all of our photos and talking more in-depth about this incredible experience.

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We Have Arrived Back in Cairo

After a busy day in Aswan, we flew back to Cairo yesterday so that we could spend a full day in Giza. We have already realized that we have barely scratched the surface of what Egypt has to offer that a return trip is definitely in order. Our trip is close to coming to an end, but not without making friends as well as memories.

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A Semi-Liesurely Day in Egypt

Although just as fascinating as every other day so far, today was not quite as hectic. It was partially due to the fact that our tours were broken up into two parts. More amazing temples and doing our best to absorb 5,000 years of history. Still so much more to see.

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Our Nile River Cruise has Begun

After spending the morning visiting the tombs in the Valley of the Kings outside of Luxor, we have started our cruise down the Nile River. The weather is hot, but not as hot as it could be. We have had limited internet connectivity while on the ship, so we apologize if we don’t respond as quickly as normal.

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