Friday, March 27, 2009

Cairo Tips

We were fortunate to have friends that have lived in Cairo. They shared many places that they would recommend we visit. Everyone agreed that staying on Zamalek Island is the best bet for foreigners. There is a large ex-pat population there, as well as several nicer hotels (Marriott + Longchamps).

Here were their other suggestions if you're planning a trip yourself:

Kate is my old roommate who taught 2 years at the American International School in Cairo. Here are her recommendations:

 Cairo (3 days)
  • Egyptian Museum
  • Great Pyramids
  • There is a Sphnix light show which is pretty tacky, they make the sphnix look like it is talking but mildly entertainning
  • Step pyramid (Saqqara - further outside the city)
  • Sequoia restaurant on Zamalek
  • smoke shisha
  • feluka little boat ride at night on the Nile
Alexandria (1-2 days) - it is a nice contrast from Cairo
  • easy train ride from Cairo (you could do it in a day)
  • library
  • light house
  • nice park
Nile cruise (ususally around 4-5 days long)
  • we used Sonnesta which is an international hotel chain, it was great
  • they are small boats but still nice, i don't know if there is a nicer ship, I just know Sonnesta is a safe bet
  • it includes your own english speaking guide when you get to the temples
Sharm el Sheik (4-5 days)
  • flights leave from the Cairo Airport or you can take an overnight bus (thats what I did)
  • There is amazing scuba diving and snorkeling there the best in the world apparently behind Australia
  • It is a beach destination with a day trip to Mount Sinai
  • You can catch a bus to Mount Sinai and I think there is a monastery you can stay in for the night and then you hike Mount Sinai and reach the top when the sun rises. I never did it and really regret not doing it. The people I know who have done it say it is beautiful.

Lizzy went to my University and then studied Economics in International Development at American University of Cairo. She said..."so here are a few suggestions (in order of how much I enjoy them) depending on how much time you have...":
  • Some night you should get a group to join you and rent a little sail boat (known as a Faluga) and cruise the Nile. You can pick up a boat just across the street from the Four Seasons / which is also right next to the Grand Hyatt
  • You have to spend a day doing Pyramids and I recommend heading out to Saqqara and the Step Pyramid in addition to the three great pyramids. There are far fewer tourist and you can climb inside one of them.
  • One night you should go to Al Azhar Garden for sunset - you are overlooking Khan al-Khalili, al-Azhar University, and an area sometimes called, 'Islamic Cairo". At sunset you can enjoy a view of the pyramids, and of course the call to prayer...which is something really unique. It is also near Khan al-Khalili (see below) so you could do this in the same night. 
  • You have to go to the main souk: Khan al-Khalili... but if you don't like hassle then I suggest walking around for 15 minutes and then heading towards Hussein mosque which has a huge courtyard that families often go to at night just to spend time 'out' and catch up. There is also a quiter part of the souk (without many tourist) on the other side of the main highway and that is nice. You can also make your way towards the 'tent-makers' souk, but you might need someone to explain it to you. 
  • On this same side of the main street there is a free Sufi mystic performance twice a week that is wonderful and sponsored by the ministry of tourism. 
  • There is also a cool mosque named Al Ghouri mosque and it is possible to climb the minaret there if you make a donation.
  • You should head to Sequia in the Zamalek neighborhood for great Shisha (the water pipe tobacco) a really nice dinner (they have great Sushi). Most hotels know where this is but taxi drivers don't so make sure to get a street address and phone number (for the taxi driver to call from his mobile) before heading there.
  • Also in Zamalek, you should visit the Marriott hotel, it is a grand colonial building with a cool garden where you can get drinks and enjoy a few minutes of relaxing quite.
  • Near there is a cool bookstore named Diwan and an awesome pizza place called Maison Thomas.
  • There is an awesome place that does 'zar' music every Wednesday, named 'Makan' near the Saad Zagul mausoleum. It is really unique and worth a stop.
Here are our observations and tips:
  • If you go to Cairo, presumably you will arrive very late. Our flight got in at 12:50am - not exactly a great time to have the taxi drivers fight over you. Instead of heckling with the taxi drivers, we planned ahead and booked with Cairo Shuttle Bus, which cost 80 LE (approximately 10€) for a half hour drive into the city. It was probably more expensive than some of the Taxis, but it was quick and reliable. 
  • As soon as you arrive you start opening your wallet. We were immediately paying approximately $15 USD for a visa (no photos needed) at the the currency exchange counter. Getting Egyptian Pounds is cheaper and easier once you arrive in Egypt. During our visit 7.7 LE was equal to 1€. Despite a low cost of living it's very easy to spend a fair chunk of money, particularly if you get a guide and driver, however ours were very well worth it. 
  • Learning a bit of Arabic really helps gain some smiles from the locals. Rani told us if you touch something electric you get shocked and then what do you do? You run. So to say Thank You, simply say 'shockrun' (shukran - شكراًَ).
  • As a woman you will feel most comfortable being very conservative. I realize the heat makes a lot of people want to peel the layers off, but you will attract far less attention and blend in. Finding some loose fitting pants or tunics made of cotton or linen will also help you against the sunburns. If you plan to enter a mosque make sure you bring a scarf to cover your head.
  • Animals are treated entirely different. We saw horses in the river, presumably getting a bath and people were throwing large rocks at them. We also saw one of the guards at our hotel mistreating a dog, which I shudder even thinking about. I realize it's a different culture, but I don't like to see animals or people being blatantly mistreated.
  • Cairo traffic is unlike anything you've probably ever seen. It's worse than New York City, and also worse than Rome. There's not a lot of rhyme or reason to it. We did see a couple wrecks - only minutes apart, although Rani told us that was actually a rarity. Unfortunately, when it's not, insurance is not typically involved.
  • The sound of the street is filled with honking horns, which we were told denote emotion - from anger to joy. During one traffic jam I even heard a car next to us put an emergency siren to use, despite obviously not being an emergency vehicle.
  • The smog is really wretched. Often times it seems that big businesses take advantage of the fact the people don't have much, so instead they pollute and make a profit off the vulnerable. From what I have read the air quality is really awful in Cairo. I didn't exactly have to read that, because you can see it with your own eyes.
  • I also read that Egypt is a hot spot for medical tourism, and unfortunately the cities poorest of the poor are often told they can get several thousand dollars for a kidney or other vital organ. It's no surprise when the people aren't paid the full amount they were promised, nor do they have follow up health care.
  • Many of the buildings are dilapadated or appear to simply be made from brick - some even have live stock, such as goats, on the roof tops. You quickly appreciate space, nature, and what a celebration Ramadan is to the Islamic religion.
  • Our trip was too short and frankly there is so much to see and digest that it is somewhat exhausting. As much as we read about things, this was a trip that wasn't simple to plan for, even with recommendations and advice from friends who had lived there.

Having Rani to help answer questions and take care of everything we would need to explore the city was something that helped make our trip wonderful. Of course people can and do get around town on their own, but I highly recommend having a private guide to make things easier.
  • Cairo has several fringe societies, namely - The City of the Dead and Mokattam's Zaballeen (Garbage Collectors). While pollution is a great problem in Cairo, many of the Coptic Christians are trying to help the issue in sorting trash and recycling, which you can read more about from Kids with Cameras, an interesting way to empower the often outcasted youth in this community. You can even purchase prints to help their cause!
  • There was also a film called “Garbage Dreams” by Director Mai Iskander that premiered this month at the SXSW Festival in Texas, that is based in this area. While we didn't make a special trip to this area, I'm pretty certain we passed it.
If you care to read about a tourist's perspective about the City of the Dead or Zaballeen, just click on the links.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Zamalek - الزمالك

We stayed on the island of Zamalek, which was highly recommended by friends. I wouldn't recommend our hotel (The Marriott Zamalek)... I know it's beautiful, but it's just too big.

I have to admit it felt extremely decadent to stay at our hotel once we saw the surrounds. While we were at the Khan el-Khalili I overheard one of the tourist police ask Rani where we were staying. I don't know if that was a safety measure or just curiosity, but I'm certain people thought we had money as soon as they heard which hotel was ours.

The only reason we stayed there was because we weren't entirely certain what we were getting into, and safety was key. However, after visiting I think a smaller hotel would be better - it's not such a display of excess, they would be more customer oriented, and I would feel as though our money was directly helping local business as opposed to this enormous chain.

As for the positives, there were so many pretty details that I appreciated whenever I passed by. The lights and the metal work were particularly beautiful. I'm also a big fan of Moorish architecture, so those little elements definitely didn't go unnoticed.

One thing I did absolutely loved (besides the palatial architecture) was the Bakery with Egyptian pastries. Most of them were sweetened with honey and coconut, but they were so very delicious. It's probably a good thing I can't find too many recipes to try, but believe me - I'm still looking!

While in Zamalek we also tried the shisha, which is typically a flavored tobacco. I really hate smoking and everything to do with it, but so many people told us to try it when we were there. Then my paranoia kicked in after I read about being cautious since it's a way tuberculosis can be spread.

Fortunately we could try it with a brand new tube, which was opened in front of us. It doesn't have a smokey smell - it's closer to incense, which is the only reason I decided to take a couple puffs from Stefan's Apple shisha. We decided to try it with our Egyptian dinner, which unfortunately wasn't super unique. I told Rani the falafel that he bought for us was better than our dinner - I don't even want to know what the price difference was. The best parts of the dinner were the 'foul medammes' and the baladi bread.

Zamalek also has the Cairo tower, which is the main tourist attraction on the island. It took us a little bit of effort to get to the Tower, because we were wandering around, but we saw so many things during our walk.

The view is really beautiful and you can slightly make out the Giza pyramids in the hazy distance. Again, the smog is very noticeable when you're so high above the rest of the city.

It's very startling to see how congested things are, and then there's Zamalek with ample sports fields and the most green grass and trees in sight for a long long way.

I always love reorienting myself with a nice view over they city. From the tower we could not only see the pyramids, but also the much closer Egyptian Museum and the Citadel area.

As we were leaving the Cairo Tower we spotted the most beautiful tree. I would love to know the history behind it and how old it is, because it's so beautiful and ancient looking. I loved that someone else also valued it, because the road was built around it.

I also admired the flowers growing on the trees. The bright contrast and colors from nature and life are very welcomed amidst the neutral browns that seem to be painted across Cairo - from the desert to the buildings there isn't a lot of color and vibrance. With such a struggle to live, I'm not sure how much time there is to appreciate something as simple as color or nature, but I warmly welcomed it even after only a couple days.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Khan el-Khalili - خان الخليلي

This is one of the main tourist stops in Cairo. There is a lot of action going on at this souk with plenty of interesting to things to stop and look at, particularly if you don't mind haggling.

On our way to the market Rani warned us that the shop workers were good. He said they would take one look at us and know where we were from, as well as speak our language. I told him we'd have to give them a hard time and say we came from Iceland.

As soon as we walked down one of the busier streets someone greeted me with a 'Hey Signora/Señora' - I don't know if they thought I was Italian or Spanish. Rani told me they must be just learning. Later I got a good laugh out of a woman saying with the biggest American accent 'Hi how are you doing?'

I would have really loved to spend more time at there. I saw so many beautiful things - from tunics and leather shoes to beautiful jewelry from semi-precious stones. There is also a beautiful and extensive spice market.

I don't mind the action of people trying to get business and keep things exciting. I realize some people find this intimidating or irritating, but I think it adds to the ambiance.

Not all of the market was hustling and bustling. There were quieter side streets and alleys. The winding narrow streets are very beautiful and several have gates from the middle ages.

Different areas of the market serve different purposes, so you don't have to walk very far to find a large variety of cottons, souvenirs, or jewelry. We came for a little bit of shopping and also for lunch.

Rani bought us some falafels down a quiet side street. The only action was a few men smoking shisha and a few stray cats waiting around for discarded lunches. I never would have ventured there on my own and yet sitting in one of the shady side streets and sharing tea and falafels while Rani smoked some shisha was simply wonderful.

I'm also willing to bet I will never have a falafel that was so delicious in my life. One was only falafel with some vegetables, while the other had a bit of baba ganoush added to it. Both were more delicious and substantially cheaper than the Egyptian meal we had the night before.

I expressed some interest in getting a traditional galabeya / galabia gown after I saw one near the Coptic area that I liked. I love tunics in general, although I tend to go for plain ones, but I thought it would be nice to have something conservative to wear during future Mid-East visits.

We walked down the street and then I saw a shop that sold a variety of traditional clothes. I asked about a light gray galabeya and was told they were for men. So much for simplicity! He continued to pull out a variety of options and finally I saw one that looked simple enough, but was fit for a woman. Of course the one I chose was handmade, so it was more expensive, but still incredibly reasonable.

As I went to change Stefan and Rani began haggling. Initially the man wanted 300 LE, however Rani was helping Stefan barter. I laughed as the man told Stefan 'don't listen to him, this is between us!' After agreeing on 225 LE (less than 30€) Rani told us that you tend to get something free after you buy and that we should get something else with it.

Outside this shop was a spice display and Stefan said 'how about some spices outside?' Stefan or Rani suggested some saffron and then we learned the man that owned the tunic shop didn't even own the spice shop! The spice shop owner quickly appeared and he exchanged a few words with the man we had bought the dress from and then he gave us a small bag of saffron.

The only unfortunate aspect of the 'Khan' is that it's been a target for attacks, the most recent happening in February 2009 in the open plaza near the Al-Hussein Mosque.

On one street there were tourist police and they wanted to look in Stefan and Rani's bags. I offered to open mine and he kept saying 'no' and waving me through. Another tourist police said 'hebebe (sweetie) where are you from?' to me, which really surprised me, particularly because I was with men. I don't know what traveling here as a single woman would be like.

This is the largest souk in Egypt and it dates back to the 1380's, so I definitely think it's worth a visit. All of our friends that have lived there recommended that we check it out and I'm glad that we did. Rani said it's great to hang out there at night and then added around 2AM. I didn't realize they stayed up so late!

I'm looking forward to wearing my galabia on future trips. I've really wanted to get to Morocco, so hopefully we'll get to go sometime soon!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cairo - القاهرة

We woke up early to explore Cairo city -as well as visit to several of the religious sites, a souk, and the Egyptian Museum.

Cairo is occasionally called "the city of a thousand minarets", because everywhere you are it seems a mosque is not far away. One thing I appreciate anywhere I travel is the attention and detail that was once paid to places of worship. The intricate patterns and textures are inviting and beg to be looked at more closely.

Another interesting feature is that buildings that are unfinished are not subject to the same tax laws, therefore many of the buildings appear to be continually having something done.

Our first stop was The Citadel, which sits perched on a large hill overlooking the city. Typically the highest hills or view points in any city end up also being the center for government, which was also housed here for sometime.

The main features of the Citadel are the The Alabaster Mosque at the Citadel of Salah el-Din and the striking view over the city and into Giza. The mosque was supposedly built here due to the air quality. Salah el-Din is said to have hung meat around the city at various places and it took longest to spoil in this location. Judging from the smog below I would have to believe the air quality throughout the city has not improved.

I quickly understood why the smog is wrecking havoc on the ancient monuments as well as people's health, but thankfully we were distracted by the sights to concentrate too much on the air quality.

The Alabaster Mosque is truly beautiful. While we were there the dome was being restored with silver leafing. The Ottoman style architecture is also unique. The other mosques in the city do not have the same appearance. To enter the mosque you are required to take your shoes off, or get shoe coverings, and as a woman to put a head scarf on out of respect. I enjoyed feeling the cold stone under my feet as I tried to better understand this fascinating faith and beautiful architecture.

It was nice to be invited into a sacred place and to have Rani answer our questions about his faith and religion. We took a seat on the bright colored carpets as he explained the details of the prayer room to us. Islamic churches do not have icons, therefore you will not see images of prophets or people decorating the sacred space.

The call to prayer (Adhān) is really pretty special. In ancient times a man with a resonating voice would be 'the caller' and announce to everyone that it was prayer time. Different areas of the middle east follow different calls and the same thing is not always said in each country or each denomination (Sunni and Shia). In Egypt, Sunni is the most practiced form of Islam.

Before going to prayer a cleansing ritual is required and it follows a particular order moving from right to left and is done three times. It consists of washing the hands, mouth, nose, face, arms, forehead and hair, ears and finally the feet.

Just like other religions, some people are more devout than others, however answering the call to prayer at the proper times is supposed to gain favor in God's eyes. If someone misses prayer time they can pray on their own. Driving down the heavily congested roads I noticed a Qur'an in nearly everyone's window.

The 5 pillars of Islam include:
Shahadah - declaration of one God. This is written inside the mosque and also part of the call to prayer.
Salah - ritual prayer. This is required 5 times a day (dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, nightfall)
Zakat - alms giving from the rich to the poor
Sawm - fasting during Ramadan
Hajj - pilgrimage to Mecca

During Ramadan and fasting Rani explained there would be tables of food lining the streets and this was part of giving alms. I asked if he had been able to make his hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), which costs between $5,000 and $10,000, but he's still working towards that.

Prayer is always directed towards Mecca. I'm not really certain how they always know which direction Mecca is, however I did once see a man open a muṣalla prayer mat in Marienplatz and begin praying here in Munich.

As we talked with Rani about his new marriage and his life, we quickly understood things more clearly. Some things are still strange to me, coming from a Western culture (such as being able to marry 4 women), while other things I already knew (Jesus was viewed as a prophet, however they view the Holy Trinity to be polytheism).

We also discussed divorce, which is very common in Egypt. He told us he went broke from getting married. He was required to provide (and he continually stressed this) proper furnishings - including curtains, carpets, and furniture. If he were to take another wife his current wife would have to agree to it. If the woman had previously been divorced he would not have to offer as much. He said this was not as common as it once was, I assume due to the rising economic costs. His father had a second wife (which he called his step-mother) and for some time they lived in the same house, however they later had two separate households.

Women are also able to divorce men, however in doing so she renounces any say on their belongings. Lower and Upper Egypt differ as well. In Upper Egypt it sounds as though it's not as traditional and women would be able to help pay for a wedding, while in Lower Egypt that was considered shameful for a man.

Stefan asked about the veiling of women and whether the woman in full burkas were more devout. Rani told us it depends on her upbringing and what is agreed upon by her husband. He suggested that some women don't veil at all (most likely the women living in Western areas, such as the US). I recently read that many Islamic women in the middle east are suffering from vitamin D deficiencies due to their hijab and being covered except for hands, feet, and occasionally face.

In contrast, Egyptian men can display their piety by having a 'zebibah' or dark mark on their foreheads from hard pressing into the carpets during prayer. It's worn as a badge of honor and I saw several men with darkened foreheads through our trip.

After leaving the Mosque we drove past the City of the Dead, which intrigues me. We did not stop and Rani stated that the tourist board discourages tourists from visiting, perhaps because they don't like to publicize some 500,000 people that live amongst the graves. I don't think I would have even realized that it was a graveyard because it looked so different from the graveyards that I am familiar with.

We visited Coptic Cairo, which is the Christian area of town. The tourist police stopped Rani and wanted to see identification, which quickly became common place for him. The area is not very large and the churches are very compact. Stefan and I were impressed with Rani's knowledge about other religions.

As we visited The Hanging Church he helped clarify some of the things we saw among the 'Copts' as he called them. We arrived not long after a mass and I had to remind myself that it was Sunday.

Immediately I noticed the smell of incense. The walls were covered with intricate details and many of the parishioners were walking up and touching or kissing everything in sight, which was odd, but in their eyes it helps gain blessings from various saints. The ceiling of this church was based off Noah's Ark, therefore it looks like an upside down boat.

The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who is said to have passed through this area during The Holy Family exodus through Egypt. Supposedly a miracle also occurred and the Virgin's image appeared on a pillar in the church.

Many of the men had very tanned and beautiful faces with long cotton gowns. They were very striking and their faces seemed to tell so many stories. The entire area exudes so much beauty even through the struggles.

The next church we visited was St. George, which is a Greek Orthodox church. Much of the church has been rebuilt, but it is still striking.

After touring around the Coptic area we made our final stop at the Ben Ezra Synagogue, which was tucked away in a very beautiful area. It realy felt like we were walking through history. Rani compared it to old Jerusalem, however we haven't been able to visit yet for a comparison. There are no longer many Jews in Cairo or Egypt in general, so the synagogue remains Jewish property, but it's not fully functioning.

The image in the middle is supposed to be the well that baby Moses was found at. We also went to the crypt where the Holy Family stayed, but it has been extensively damaged due to rising water, which is a major problem in this area. Unfortunately, once again, photos were not allowed.

I saw so many things at the near by shops - beautiful lanterns, old antique cameras, and subtle tunics and clothing. We saved our quick shopping trip for the Khan el-Khalili, the famed souk of Cairo.

In the Egyptian museum I was surprised to find there is no air conditioner and many of the items had interesting labels that looked as though someone simply typed them on on a typewriter and placed them near the objects. My favorite label was near the replica Rosetta Stone and instead of saying 'The Greeks' it said 'The Geeks'. There are over 165,000 objects in this museum and it's definitely outgrowing it's confines.

I had to check my camera, so there are no photos of the interior, but I can safely say it is a very impressive museum with a very extensive and priceless collection. We saw King Tut's death mask and his many tombs.

We also saw the animal mummy room. It seems as anything living could be mummified - from dogs and alligators to fish and birds.

The history is so immense and I continually found myself questioning how much progress people really have made over the last four and a half thousand years.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Giza - الجيزة‎

The pyramids at Giza are striking. It's interesting because they are much closer to the city and civilization than one would expect. They are also paradoxically larger and smaller than expected.

Personally, I enjoyed Saqqara more, but perhaps that was because it was the first pyramid I saw that made me think to myself 'I'm really in Egypt'. There were more tour buses at The Great Pyramid Complex - and of course more people.

I didn't expect the exterior to be so craggy. In it's prime it was covered with casing stones made of white limestone, most of which are no longer there (you can see what's remaining towards the bottom of the pyramid). Archeologists suggest the pyramids would have a sheen to them from the sunlight glowing off the façade. I'm sure that was quite a sight!

The Khufu (Cheops in Greek) Pyramid is the last remaining of the original Seven Wonders of the World. It was constructed over a 20 year period around 2560 BC. It remains the largest, despite the fact the Pyramid of Khafre appears larger, due to its placement on the plateau.

Rani took a few photos of us from different perspectives while we stood on the pyramid. They help to give some perspective to how big each boulder truly is. A common misnomer is that the pyramid were built using slave labor. While I am sure the days of hauling, measuring, and cutting these enormous stones was a grueling task, Rani told us that it was more of an honor to be involved in building something so grand, and for the King no less. It does make a lot of sense that the people would have to work together in order for the pieces to fit so perfectly and really stand as a test of time.

We paid an extra 30 LE to go inside the Pyramid of Khafre, which was not overly exciting. First, we had to hunch down and walk into serious dank humidity. There really wasn't much to see besides a painted inscription on the wall and a sarcophagus.

We weren't allowed to take our camera in, however Rani took a few photos of us as we were exiting. For once the midday sun felt rather cool. I couldn't stop thinking about the grave robbers and how much they must have really been after treasure. Many of the graves were robbed eons ago. Some of the mummies were desecrated by being stolen and boiled and later used for medicinal purposes.

The bodies were meant to be preserved and used in the afterlife, along with everything else they might possible need, including various beds, chairs, amulets, and even their organs.

Going inside was not for the faint of heart. We also understood more clearly why people would believe in a curse, considering several men died after entering the pyramids, not long after they were discovered. Even thousands of years later the air down there is not the best.

Surprisingly the photo on the right depicts what used to be a bank of the Nile River. Now the Nile is not even in sight because it has substantially receded. You can see a bit of Giza in the background - it's so very close.

We went from the pyramids down to the Sphinx and the temple valley. There were many tourists, as well as what appeared to be locals - presumably celebrating Mother's Day.

The Sphinx itself is undergoing some restoration thanks to UNESCO. The proportions looks a bit off, so it most likely has undergone restorations in the past as well. We saw several young children selling postcards and taking photos of tourists or positioning them for photos so their faces would line up with the Sphinx. Even the youngest are well versed in selling things. It made me stop and think about how drastically different our childhoods are.

We admired the structures and before we knew it the area was closing. The day passed so quickly and we were very worn out, but we walked away feeling like we'd certainly spent a day of our lives living and learning. These are the moments that I live for.

The flood of people came from the Giza complex. The young girls look so expressive with their bright colors, while maintaining their Islamic traditions. I truly cannot imagine what it would be like to grow up as a young Islamic girl. Rani would tell us more about that in the coming days, but as always, I have so much to learn.

After we left the complex we walked down the street. It is so different to see taxis and cars sharing the streets with horses, donkeys, and camels. The juxtaposition of old and new gave me a lot to think about. Looking at the sophistication of building such monumental structures - and then the stark contrast in how dilapidated and run down most of the city is.

That is something that I really struggled with. The Egyptians that we encountered were highly and impressively educated. There has to be more to it, as to why this once powerful city could fall into such poverty and disarray. It does make me understand how religion is of the utmost importance to many of the people in this amazing area.