Published on Monday, December 10, 2012
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - Giza, Egypt: This afternoon, most of the group arrived at the historical Mena House Oberoi Hotel, literally in the shadow of the pyramids at Giza. The hotel, named for Menes, the first king of Egypt, was built for the festivities for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. It has been expanded over the years, and it is one of the best hotels in the Middle East. Mena House has hosted many important guests, as reflected by the name of the beautiful Churchill Garden where we had our welcome cocktail, followed by staff introductions and a buffet dinner.
Wednesday, October 17 - Giza / Saqqara: We started our morning with a short drive up to the Giza Plateau to visit the Great Pyramid built by King Khufu. Most of the group went inside to reach the Grand Gallery and the king’s burial chamber, with its empty granite sarcophagus. We then drove south to a ridge for a panoramic view of the Giza group—three main pyramids built by three successive generations of one family—and visited the Solar Boat Museum. Next we visited the Sphinx, where we came across a group of men and women on horses,commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Australian Light Horse Cavalry operations of World War I. After lunch in Andrea we drove on to Saqqara, which has some of the most important funerary monuments of Egypt. We visited the tomb of Kagemni with its vivid carvings of daily life scenes including hunting and scribes. We also visited the Stepped Pyramid of King Djoser, the first completed pyramid and the first major building made of stone. We headed back to the hotel for a buffet dinner in the Rubiyyat room, after which some of us headed back to Giza for the sound and light show at the pyramids.
Thursday, October 18 - Alexandria / Embark Clipper Odyssey: This morning we headed north to Alexandria, the city founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. Our first stop was Kom el Shawqafa, “Mound of Pot Sherds,” a catacomb dating all the way back to the 2nd century, decorated in a fascinating mixture of Egyptian and Roman styles. We descended a deep circular shaft to the burial area and a room with three large benches for funerary feasts, followed by the small Tigran Tomb with the scene of a mummy on a funerary bed. Some of us went into the catacombs that may have housed a library, or the bodies of animal mummies associated with the cult of Serapis. We made a brief stop at Kom el Dikka, the site of a Roman theater, baths, and an exhibit of some of the sculpture that has been recovered from Alexandria Harbor. We enjoyed lunch at the Fish Market Restaurant before we went to the Library of Alexandria that opened in 2001.
Soon we reached the port to embark the Clipper Odyssey. After dinner, we were all glad to finally be “home” and head into the Mediterranean.
Friday, October 19 - At Sea: With a beautiful sunny morning, we kicked our lecture program into high gear, starting with Ron Wixman speaking on The Middle East—The Origins of Civilization. Our safety drill was enlivened by a long-eared owl that kept circling low over the ship, an appropriate segue for Peter Harrison’s talk on Bird Migration. After lunch, Allan Langdale spoke on The Architecture and Meaning of the Islamic Mosque, and Emily Teeter presented Ancient Lebanon and the Phoenicians, and a briefing on Byblos and Baalbek. Jeff Gneiser informed us that because of the unrest in Beirut, we would be diverting to Cyprus tomorrow. The evening ended with Captain Mykola Tililyuk inviting us for cocktails, the presentation of his officers, and his special welcome dinner.
Saturday, October 20 - Famagusta, Cyprus: Today we made history, as far as we know, as the first cruise ship to dock at Famagusta harbor in Cyprus in about 38 years. We docked beneath the walls of the city, with a wonderful view of the gothic cathedral of St. Nicholas which has served as a mosque for the past 400 years. When was the last time you saw a gothic cathedral with a minaret? We entered to see the beautiful tracery and ribbed vaults.
Allan took us to the 15th-century Venetian Palace and the impressive Church of Saints Peter and Paul. The side door was richly ornamented, and flying buttresses were added to both sides of the structure in the Ottoman Period. The soaring ruins of the church of St. George of the Greeks capped off a wonderful walking tour of the medieval city. Here we could see the damage done by the Ottoman cannon balls, and we could even see some iron balls still embedded in the walls.
In the afternoon, we took buses to the site of the ancient Greco-Roman city of Salamis, dramatically poised at the edge of the sea. We toured the Roman bath complex and the theater, a Roman villa, and saw the recent excavations of one of the main streets of the city. Some went to the beach where they snorkeled in the clear shallows and saw ancient Roman stone sarcophagi underwater. A full day in a remarkable area of the world.
Sunday, October 21 - Kyrenia: This morning, we visited the mountainside village of Bellapais, made famous as the place where Laurence Durrell wrote his novel, Bitter Lemons of Cyprus. The highlight of this quaint village is the famous 12th-14th century gothic monastery of Bellapais. Again, Allan took us through the site, showing us the graceful arches and traceries of the partially ruined abbey. A highlight was the refectory, where the monks ate their meals in the middle ages.
The steep sides of the wooded Kyrenia Mountains rose behind the monastery, and the views to the Mediterranean were spectacular. We went on to Kyrenia Castle, where the upper walls gave a great view of the sea and the picturesque little medieval harbor at Kyrenia. We also visited a museum housing one of the most famous excavated shipwrecks in history, the Kyrenia ship. This 45-foot ship, dating from around the time of Alexander the Great, sank with its hundreds of amphorae and stone mills 2,300 years ago. The wreck was discovered in 1967 about a mile off the shore.
After dinner an award-winning film, The Forgotten Stones of Famagusta, written and hosted by Allan, was shown in the lounge along with a special dessert.
Monday, October 22 - Jeita, Lebanon / Byblos: This morning began with a video entitled, The Silver Pharaoh about King Pseusennes at Tanis. After an early lunch we drove north along the coast and through the mountains to Jeita Grotto. Discovered in 1836, the grotto is composed of upper and lower caves formed in the Jurassic period. We took a small tractor to the upper caves where we entered a concrete-lined tunnel for the brief walk into the grotto. It was astounding, like an enormous cathedral of natural forms that varied in color from white to green and brownish, depending upon the mineral content of the water. We walked along the pathways, marveling at the different forms, then returned to the entrance and walked to the lower grotto. We rode through this lower grotto in flat-bottom boats and could hear the rushing of the river outside as we went through the calm pools. What an experience!
We were soon at Byblos, one of the most important sites of Phoenicia. We walked down the charming souk to the Crusader Castle, and many of us went to the roof for a panoramic view of the site. Among the highlights are the city wall and the obelisk temple. This temple, dedicated to the god Resef, was a center of worship by the locals and especially the sailors who came here to ask the gods for a safe voyage or to thank them for a good return. The “obelisks” that stood on the platform of the temple are the beytels, the representations of the god.
Some of us went to the area of the royal tombs to see the sarcophagi strewn around. Others made the descent into the tomb chamber of King Ib-shemu-abi where we could see the white stone sarcophagus still in place. Originally there were nine tombs here, dating from about 2000-1200 BC. Lots of beautiful jewelry and gold weapons were recovered from the tombs, and today the material is in the National Museum in Beirut. Some of us enjoyed lunch at a charming seaside restaurant, overlooking the harbor.
We boarded our buses for the drive back to the port and immediately left for Egypt. Jeff gave us a briefing about tomorrow and Emily recapped our day in Jeita and Byblos.
Tuesday, October 23 - Port Said, Egypt / Tanis: This morning, we made our way to Port Said as Jack Grove gave his talk Med, Red, Black & Dead about the four seas, and Emily presented Hieroglyphs 101 and a briefing about Tanis. In the afternoon a group of stalwart archaeology fans left for Tanis with Emily, a group of birders went off with Peter for Lake Manzala, and the third group departed for a city tour with Allan. The Tanis group saw some of the royal tombs and quite a lot of the site until darkness fell.
The city tour drove through town stopping at the Military Museum, and a few people ventured out into the city on their own. Everyone met over dinner and in the early morning, we were bound for the canal.
Wednesday, October 24 - Transit of the Suez Canal: We awoke to find ourselves well under way. By mid-morning, we were anchored in the Great Bitter Lake, the widest part of the canal where the north and southbound convoys pass. Our guides, Mohammed and Hisham, gave a briefing in the lounge before a barbeque lunch on deck. In the afternoon, Allan presented Monasteries and Icons, followed by a cocktail party and dinner.
Thursday, October 25 - Sinai / St. Catherine’s Monastery: We arrived at Sharm el Sheikh this morning after a night of very calm seas. We departed for the drive through the wilderness of Sinai to the Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to St. Catherine, weaving through incredibly harsh but beautiful landscapes. The monastery is walled, and until recently, people entered it by a basket that was lowered from the top of the walls. We first saw the burning bush, a symbol of faith, before we entered the church, noting the original wood doors from the time of Justinian. The walls and pillars of the church were covered with wonderful icons, and dozens of silver lamps and ostrich eggs were suspended from the ceiling. A monk was busy filling the oil lamps. It was an incredible sight, and Allan’s lecture yesterday really made it all understandable. We then visited the museum with beautifully exhibited examples of icons, manuscripts, vestments and metal work. We drove a short way to the Wadi Raha Village restaurant where we had a buffet lunch, before we headed back to Sharm el Sheikh, with the birding group stopping in town. The rest of us stopped at the al-Mustafa Mosque, constructed in 2000 in a beautiful modern interpretation of Mamluk medieval architecture. This evening we had a recap of the day’s activities.
Friday, October 26 - Sharm el Sheikh / Sinai: This morning we had a choice of snorkeling, birding, or visiting the souk. The snorkelers went to Ras Mohammed National Park which has some of the best snorkeling in the world, the birders searched for more migrant species, and the rest of the group strolled through the shops in town. This evening Emily gave a talk on Petra and the Nabateans in preparation for our visit, and we enjoyed a barbeque dinner on board.
Saturday, October 27 - Petra, Jordan: We awoke in the port of Aqaba where we could see four countries (Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia) and two continents (Africa and Asia). We drove north along the King’s Highway, the ancient route through the winding villages toward Wadi Musa and Petra. After a quick stop at the Mövenpick Hotel we walked to the site with our guides, down to the narrow Siq, passing large stone cubes called “djinn blocks” that are symbols of the Nabatean gods. At the end was a magnificent façade of the Treasury, built by King Aretas III around AD 100. We walked through the Street of Facades, a series of tombs with their Assyrian decoration, and to the theater. We continued down the colonnaded street that was once full of shops and the entrance to temples, then through the remains of the city gate. A beautiful buffet lunch was very welcome, after which some of us hiked up more than 800 steps to the Monastery, while others visited the Byzantine Monastery with its mosaic floors that depicted the seasons, animals, and birds. Dinner this evening was at the hotel where we noticed many photos of the 18-year-old crown prince Hussein with images of his father King Abdullah II, and his late grandfather Hussein.
Sunday, October 28 - “Little Petra” (El-Beida) / Wadi Rum / Aqaba: We drove through the hills above Wadi Musa to el-Beida, or “Little Petra,” which is somewhat of an administrative center for Petra. We walked through loose sand to the first rock-cut façade, then through a mini-siq into a series of courtyard-like areas with rock cut facades. We drove south to Wadi Rum to explore that area by 4-wheel drive vehicles; the landscapes were astounding. We enjoyed an elaborate desert lunch in a Bedouin tent, what a production! Each table had centerpieces, linens, and stemware, plus all the food and beverages. One of the highlights of the lunch was zarb, a mixture of chicken, lamb, and potatoes that was cooked underground on coals for three hours. Just when lunch was winding down, a group of men dressed in the formal uniform of the desert patrol came out and danced to a drum and bagpipe, some of us even joined in the dance. After lunch, we drove back to Aqaba and spent the night alongside the pier.
Monday, October 29 - Pharaoh’s Island, Egypt: This morning we drove to a beach club for our trip to Pharaoh’s Island in Egyptian waters; the island is topped with a castle built by Saladin, which has been heavily restored, but was interesting to wander through and to see the beautiful views from the crenellated walls. Some of us snorkeled before lunch, while others just lazed on board. We ate grilled seafood with the Castle of Saladin rising up before us. After another snorkel, we headed back to Aqaba in time for Emily to give a presentation on the monuments of Luxor. The captain hosted a cocktail party before our last evening on board.
Tuesday, October 30 - Luxor: We arrived at Safaga and after rejoining our guides Hisham and Mohammed, we began our drive through the eastern desert to meet the Nile at Qena. Even entering the town, we could tell it was different—very rural and then suddenly, the great pylons of the Karnak Temple were visible. We had lunch at the beautiful Luxor Hilton with its very inviting pool, then visited the Luxor Temple in the center of town. We were met by Ray Johnson, the Field Director of the University of Chicago’s Epigraphic Survey, who walked us through the temple discussing their on-going work at the temple. Afterward, our guides took us back to the entry showing some of the very interesting scenes of Alexander the Great, and the images of the sons of Ramesses. Some of us went shopping and the birders reported success with great numbers of migrant birds. Before dinner, Emily gave an informal talk about priests and priestesses in ancient Egypt and also about the ancient Festival of the Valley in preparation for our visit to the west bank.
Wednesday, October 31 - Karnak: This morning we met John Shearman, the Associate Director of the American Research Center in Egypt, for an introduction to their work at Karnak. John walked us to the Khonsu Temple; we visited three chapels that are normally off-limits to visitors, all of them decorated by Ramesses III. The walls of the first were sooty and dark gray, but there were patches where it had been test-cleaned and without the soot, one could see bright, intact, pigments. We went to another chapel that had been completely cleaned—it was incredible with its whitish background and brightly painted scenes of the king offerings to the gods.
After thanking John, we rejoined our guides to tour the rest of the temple. By noon, we headed for the Nile to board feluccas for lunch. We eventually drifted into the shore by the Luxor Museum whose beautifully installed exhibits showcase the most beautiful sculptures and relief from Luxor. Some of us went to the local market, while the rest of us went back to the hotel to relax. Later we visited the Chicago House, the Egyptian headquarters of the Epigraphic Survey of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. Ray Johnson, the Field Director, explained the work of the Survey and we had a cocktail/coffee reception in the courtyard. We then traveled by horse-drawn carriages to the Old Winter Palace for dinner in the beautiful garden.
Thursday, November 1 - Luxor: Some of us got up with the sun for hot air ballooning over the west bank. The views were incredible as we floated over the great temples and tombs. Everyone gathered at the Colossi of Memnon, two 69-foot tall statues, before we met Brett McClain of the Epigraphic Survey at Medinet Habu, the commemorative temple of Ramesses III. We toured the temple and continued to Deir el Medina, the village where the artists who built the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings lived and were buried. We visited the tombs of Sennedjem and Iry-nefer, topped with mini-pyramids about 20 feet tall. Lunch was at the very elegant Al-Mudira (which means “the lady boss”), a beautiful hotel with antique woodwork from all over the Middle East. After lunch, we visited the Valley of the Kings, the burial place of the kings of the New Kingdom. We visited the tomb of Ramesses III and some of us Ramesses IX. We also visited the tomb of King Tut that was very small, especially considering the thousands of objects that it once contained. Some of us continued to Deir el Bahri, the temple of Queen Hatshepsut with its graceful terraces. This evening, we had a farewell cocktail party and dinner by the Nile. During dinner, a belly dancer performed, followed by whirling dervishes who put on an incredible show, spinning and doing amazing feats with their illuminated skirts.
Friday, November 2 - Cairo: Early this morning we flew from Luxor to Cairo going directly to the Egyptian Museum. Mohammed and Hisham walked us through the highlights of the collection, including the monuments from the Old Kingdom, treasures from the tomb of King Tut, jewelry, and statues. We drove a short distance to Filfila for an Egyptian lunch, including hummus, taamaya (similar to falafel), shasouka (a beef, egg, and tomato stew), kofta (spiced ground lamb), and kebabs, followed by umm ali (a milk pudding). Afterward, we headed out to Heliopolis to check in at the Fairmont Hotel for the evening. Many of us had very early departures in the morning, so we had an early dinner, saying goodbye to our new friends. What a trip!