In the land of the pharaohs

This may seem as if it has nothing at all to do with writing, but in a way it does. Because everything a writer does, every experience, every conversation, every new fact learned, somehow influences the stories we tell. And so my recent trip to Egypt (my third, over a lifetime) may well end up in a book someday. I don’t know how it will work its way into a story. Perhaps it’ll be a memory of sun glaring on sand, perhaps the smell of the wind over the Nile, but there’s a good chance a detail, however small, will end up in a book.

But for now, it’s enough just to tell you I had a wondrous time there.

My two previous trips to Egypt were unescorted. And, if you’ve been to Egypt, you know how exhausting and frustrating such trips can be. Solo travelers must contend with the heat and the hucksters and all the arcane and unspoken rules that operate in a land where even Herodotus, 2500 years ago, found himself taken in by dishonest tour guides. But this time, my husband and I took the easy way out. We joined a tour.

And what an amazing tour it was. The one compelling reason I signed up for it was this man:

Egyptologist Bob Brier is a man I’ve admired for some time. Known worldwide as “Mr. Mummy,” his lectures on ancient Egypt are among the most popular recordings for The Teaching Company. Some years ago, I listened to all 48 of his lectures and was inspired by his wild enthusiasm for the subject. I read his marvelous book, The Murder of Tutankhamen. When I found out that he and his wife, art historian Pat Remler, were leading this particular tour to Egypt, I immediately signed up.

Am I glad I did.

One of the objects of the trip was to learn to read hieroglyphs. Bob’s lessons were the highlight of every day.

Within a few sessions, we were able to read and write simple sentences, move between past and present tense, and recognize the names of pharaohs in many of the cartouches on the temple walls. It took a lot of drawing practice, but after a few hours my vultures and quail chicks actually started looking like birds. Ancient hieroglyphs may represent a dead language, but that’s what made it so much fun — it was knowledge gained just for the sheer joy of it.

There was a lot of plain old touristy stuff involved, of course. At the temple in Kom Ombo, we stopped to contemplate this amazing wall:

I don’t know if you can see it, but it’s a carving of ancient Egyptian medical instruments. You can see saws and knives and forceps and even a sponge. It’s a reminder of just how medically advanced the ancient Egyptians were, and as a doctor, I was amazed by how modern the instruments looked.

After our week in Egypt, Bob and Pat escorted us back to London, where we shared another amazing day with them, touring the Egyptian collection in the British Museum, and the fabulous Petrie Museum, one of those quiet, out-of-the way gems that has in its collection the oldest garment in existence. The Petrie Museum is open to the public, but it seems just obscure enough that very few people actually find their way to its doors. Quiet and old-fashioned, it actually turned into one of my favorite places, and I can’t wait to go back.

Note: For those who are interested in traveling with Bob Brier, check out the website for Far Horizons. They specialize in cultural and archaeological tours.

8 replies
  1. Rhonda Lane
    Rhonda Lane says:

    What a marvelous trip! Sometimes, a group tour is the way to go, especially when it’s with such an esteemed authority.

    So — now that you can write in hieroglyphics, will you be publishing in Ga’ould? 😉
    (apologies for the “Stargate” reference, if the joke didn’t ring any bells.)::ducking::

    BTW, my husband and I enjoyed meeting you at Mohegan Sun. We got to watch the night shuttle launch, and we’re now hoping for a safe return.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. therese
    therese says:

    When and why did the “tour” concept get a bad name? In Rome this summer I encouraged the three others with me to take the tour of the Coliseum since it included Palatine Palace (they’d never heard of it) and the second half of the tour was more amazing than expected.

    Tour guides know their stuff, have so much to offer in tidbits and history. The only issue I’ve ever had with tours is – the tourists. They wander, interrupt, have to use the bathroom, before the tour can begin. Tourists ask random questions that prove they’re on the tour because they’re here.

    So once again I’ve learned a great tidbit from you, for future travel, sign up with a tour guide of choice and avoid the random tourists of chore.

    Your post shows your energy is already restored and the ideas are already churning. Post more about your trip!!!

  3. Abe
    Abe says:

    SabaaH el kheer, Tess

    (That’s how they say “Good Morning” in Egypt.)
    I am so glad you had a great time. I am so amazed at the places you visit and the things that you share with us. You really are an extraordinary person.
    As to the picture of the camel, I hope that your donkeys don’t get jealous. Maybe next time you can get a picture of the basin in the King of Egypt’s kitchen. You know….Pharoah Faucet. (I just heard a collective “groan.”)
    Anyway, thanks for sharing. Have a happy Thanksgiving.
    Abe

  4. Mahealanij
    Mahealanij says:

    Thank you for sharing.

    A trip to Egypt and Ethiopia has been on my “Things to do before i die” list for as long as i can remember. The birth place of astronomy & possibly even time. I’d love to see the glyphs and hear the stories of queen makeda and stand in the shadows of the great pyramids. I guess Im in love with the history. It certainly is exciting to see those pictures…

    aloha.

  5. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    It’s always struck me as slightly ironic how much these carvings look so much like our modern comic book format

    Telling a story (or quite possibly in this case) simply passing on information to others, in pictures.

    There are of course, other examples all over that area in “text”, but a good portion of the stuff they left behind is undeniably in the visual arts

  6. soniavcf
    soniavcf says:

    thanks for all your explanations, they were really interesting 🙂 Let’s see if you finally write a book about this, it is a good idea!

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