December 9
Susie's Birthday Trip

That's right - I took Susie to see the Pyramids.

Each year, we bundle our frequent flier miles for a birthday trip to a fun and exotic destination. Susie has always been fascinated by the pharaohs, and it seemed the timing was right. Crime is minimal in Egypt, the exchange rate is great, and there have been no terrorist incidents since 1997. Meanwhile, some idiot is shooting up the freeways in Ohio. Go figure...

Welcome to Egypt!

We do thirty trips a year for kiting events, and while they are really great fun, they aren't vacations. We take just one vacation a year.

And before you start thinking that we're making way too much on all our kites if we can afford fancy holidays, I'll tell you that the business-class air tickets cost us 230,000 miles but only fifty bucks in taxes. The deluxe queen-suite at the Nile Hilton, overlooking the river and with a view of the monuments in the distance, was $110 per night including the Executive Lounge that provided breakfast, afternoon snacks, warm hors d'oeuvres each night, and free drinks. Group tours of the city were $25 per person, but for a total of $60, we could hire a private guide and driver for the entire day.

So basically it was cheaper than a trip to Wildwood New Jersey.

We flew out of Portland on United at midnight Sunday, landing in Chicago at 6 am. Since we had a nine hour lay-over, Al Sparling met us at O'Hare and took us to breakfast. Our next connection was through Frankfurt, Germany, and at 3 pm the next afternoon, we touched down at Cairo International. Hotel staff met us at the gate and escorted the birthday girl through customs and to her hotel limo.

Hotel View

We find Hiltons around the world to be professional and comfortably international. All the staff - from the concierge to the maids - spoke English. Our room was large, clean and very comfortable. The hotel was right next to the incredible Egyptian Museum. And because I mentioned the purpose of the trip when I made the reservation, there was a cake waiting on the dresser.

Our first stop was to the American Express desk to plan our excursions for the next three days. Then Wednesday morning, we set out for Giza and the Great Pyramid.

Khufu Khufu Khafre

For 5,000 years -- right up until the early 1900's -- the Great Pyramid of Khufu was the tallest building in the world. Over 2 millions blocks of stone make-up this amazing structure.

Of course, words and statistics don't really describe the sensation as you approach the desert and watch the monuments grow larger and larger and larger. Susie and I sat in the shadow of the monolith as our guide, Mira, explained the history and construction theories of the four dominant structures - Khufu, Khafre, Menkaure, and the Sphinx (think Kung-fu, Cough Drop, Macerene...and Spinx).

Pyramid Fun Pyramid Fun Pyramid Fun

It takes a while for the awe to wear off, but then you start to have fun. You can wander among the stones, take silly photos, or think of games to play with the ever-present post card hawkers.

We took the special tour into the heart of Khafre, a hot, stooped, claustrophobic climb down into the burial chamber. Three days later my legs still ache.

Camel Ride

We then negotiated for a Camel ride. The rate was twenty Pounds ($3) for fifteen minutes - round trip. Or you could pay forty and they would take your wife one way off into the desert and leave her there. These guys knew all the tricks, all the jokes, and all the moves. One would present you with a free ride and then want payment to help you get down. Another would take you into the desert and want a bonus to bring you back. Or you could buy a camel right there and they would promise to deliver it to you hotel.

GKPI should hire some of those Camel Merchants as consultants!!

In the afternoon, we visited old Cairo for tours of the citadel, mosques, and ancient churches. Twenty percent of the city's residents are Christian and there are theories that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus visited the Coptic Quarter.

We then returned to our hotel for a light dinner and a good sleep. We had big plans for Thursday.

Grand Mosque

At 5:30 am, we left the Hilton for the airport. We had scheduled a one hour flight south to Luxor for tours of the temples and historic sites. The flight was easy and when we deplaned, our guide from American Express was waiting.

We began the day on the west side of the Nile in the Valley of Kings. Tombs dug into the rugged and remote hills housed the remains and treasures of ancient pharaohs including Ramses and Tutankhamen. While most had been ransacked thousands of years ago, funerary artwork still graced the walls of corridors leading into the mountainside.

Valley of the Kings Valley of the Kings

At all of the sites, we found soldiers, tourist guards and plainclothes police. Many carried automatic weapons. Look closely at the two fellows on the right and you will see machine pistols slung from their shoulders.

The nearby Temple of Hatshepsut was built by the fascinating queen who propagandized that that she was really a man in order to be able to serve as king. Artwork on the walls was remarkable. Look at the faces of these workers, each different, smiling and talking, in scenes painted more than 2000 B.C. That's as long before Jesus as we are after him.

Hatshepsut  Temple

The Hatshepsut Temple was the site of a deadly assault by fanatics against tourists five years ago. The omnipresent police made us feel oddly secure.

River Cruise

We visited another set of tombs in the Valley of the Queens, and then took a cruise across the Nile for lunch before starting our afternoon in Karnak Temple.

BTW - All our meals were great. Usually they were served buffet style with plenty of cold soda, beer, or wine. Of course, we avoided 'street food'. The rule is to not eat anything that isn't peeled, boiled, or baked.

The magnificent Temple of Karnak is actually three main temples, several smaller enclosed temples, and groups of outer temples. This vast complex was built and enlarged over a thirteen hundred year period. The main hall is considered to be one of the world's greatest architectural masterpieces.

Karnak  Temple

Karnak  Temple Karnak  Temple Karnak  Temple

Late in the afternoon, we flew back to Cairo.

Friday, our third day in Egypt, began with a short walk to the enormous Egyptian Museum. It was right next to the hotel, but we had decided to visit the historical sites first, and then come to see the museum displays.

Museum Museum Museum

Our guide, Mira, explained highlights in the huge collection. We gazed at the mummified face of Ramses, marveled at lifelike statures, gasped at the golden funeral mask of Tut, and considered carvings from the family life of Akhenaten, the revolutionary pharaoh who rejected multiple gods and worshipped the Sun.

Museum Museum Museum

And then, properly motivated by the riches of Egypt, we went shopping.

Kahn Elkhalili is a typical Tourist Market. There are thousands of shops, but really only five stores -- jewelry, perfume, leather, copper, and clothing. OK -- so I'm exaggerating a little, but only a little. And of course, every three steps, someone is after you to come visit, come inside, come look. These guys have been working tourists for a thousand years and evolved the process to a well-practiced science!

Bazaar

Susan and I have developed our own shopping style. Never look too interested. Never name a price. Let them make offers to you. We communicate to each other in the few words of Chinese we know -- good, bad, or so-so -- so our adversary won't know what we're saying.

We decided to bring a camel saddle home. The owner wanted $75. We said too much and started to leave ... slowly.

The price came down with every step we took toward the door. Finally he settled on $30 and we turned around. I offered $20. Now he looked pained. It was all part of the game. He said twenty was impossible.

Finally I asked if he had a cardboard box so we could get our new footstool on the plane. A fine box was brought from the attic immediately. I then said adamantly that I would only pay $20 for the saddle... but that I would also give him $10 for the box. At first he was confused. And then he burst into a huge smile. A deal was struck and everyone had saved face.

At dusk, we drove back to the pyramids for a one-hour sound and light show. The English program was first, followed later by French, and then Russian.

Then we returned to the Hilton and cleaned up for a birthday dinner in the roof-top restaurant.

Night Show

Saturday was our final day in Egypt. And it was the first day we slept in. Flights out of the city toward Europe start at 2:30 in the morning and we had plans to go to the airport at midnight. So we took one day to relax and review some of our favorite sites. We spent the afternoon roaming the Museum again. We even found King Tut's underwear.

I'm a believer in short, intense trips. Three to four days are perfect for getting a taste of a city. After that, you need a month to get the deeper flavor. Egypt was brief, but the taste was wonderful.

So at midnight, our limo deposited us at the Lufthansa counter and we checked in for the long flights home. Three passport checks, two x-ray screenings, and a friendly frisk for concealed weapons, and we were on our plane to Frankfurt.

We had another long layover but kite friend Karl Bumler arranged to meet us at dawn and show us around yet another city. The next flight brought us direct from Germany to Portland.

Birthday Welcome

So now the vacation is over and we're focused on getting holiday deliveries out to all of you After that, we have the KTA Trade Show in early January.

Thanks for your patience while we were away. We apologize for the awkward emails we sent during late night visits to the hotel internet cafe. Check back next week for a few new things and an end-of-year mark-down just for Update readers.

Pyramid Panorama Cruise

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