Egypt ~ Sinai & Cairo

30 March 2021

Listed on TripAdvisor as a top thing to see in Sharm el Sheikh, the King Tut Museum turned out to consist entirely of brilliant replicas. Ha! Failed to do my homework on this one but it was a cool break from the hot beach nonetheless.

Fell in love with Egypt decades ago but had never visited the Sinai peninsula to see Sharm el Sheikh and St. Catherine's monastery.

A majority of the tourists for Sharm's sunny beaches are Russians, but I correctly guessed the high season would not be so crowded this year.

I'd never seen Dulles airport so empty in the middle of weekday. I flew Egypt Air nonstop to Cairo, then a one-hour flight to Sharm el Sheikh.

For miles up and down the coast, beachfront hotels hug the shoreline. Photo shows a corner of Naama Bay in the heart of Sharm.  

The fantastic Al Sahaba Mosque in Sharm el Sheikh has many Ottoman elements and looks historic, but it opened in 2017!

Also new (2010) is the Heavenly Cathedral (Coptic Orthodox), and I was not expecting to see such a large, beautiful church in Sharm. The exterior is fairly plain, but the interior is spectacular.  

What better place for a two-story stained-glass window of Moses holding the Top Ten than at this cathedral in the Sinai? On the right is my photo of Mount Sinai itself, and I will not get into the biblical archeology debate over alternative sites.

St. Catherine's Monastery began in the sixth century AD and has an extraordinary history. It is the world's oldest Christian monastery and world's oldest library, continuously operating. Its collection includes thousands of ancient manuscripts.  

Long story, but I was able to meet with Father Justin, the Archimandrite head of the monastery and the librarian of the phenomenal collection.

Father Justin, the one American monk here, was born a fellow Texan whose parents went to Baylor. Felt like we were old friends. He is a smart, upbeat, easygoing guy and it was a special treat (I should probably say "blessing") to get to spend time with him and hear about recent discoveries of more ancient documents, digitizing the collection, preservation steps, and more.

After visiting the monastery, Salim was my Bedouin guide for some hiking in the Sinai.

Departed Sharm/Sinai for a return visit to crazy, chaotic, cracking Cairo. This was my view across the Nile to the island of Zamalek.

I wanted to see friends and return to some of my favorite spots around the city. (It helped that prices at most of the nicer hotels were slashed.)

I'd not been to the pyramids in decades — but still as awesome to me as ever.

Mena House Hotel is close to the pyramids. From my room I could see the Great Pyramid. Above was my view at breakfast. Five minute walk to the entrance. 

When the gates opened at 8:00, the whole complex was nearly empty. A thrill to walk around and have it almost all to myself for two hours.  

Near solitude with just me and the Sphinx but, after an hour, a few friendly students started arriving and wanted photos so that was fun. (Look how tall middle-class boys are these days with more protein and less koshari carbs.)

Skipped the camels and carriages and spent hours walking around the area on a breezy, pleasant day.

Back in the city, I had to revisit the packed alleys and lanes of Khan el Khalili, Cairo's famous souk. However, this photo is a "main street" in the area.

From a hotel rooftop in Khan el Khalili, I got this shot of the historic minarets and mosques in an area called Islamic Cairo. In the distance is the Citadel.

These days any stroll is likely to encounter Instagrammers angling for that perfect shot. Above right is in Sharm El Sheikh. Below right are two friendly young women in Cairo about to stage a photo. One wanted a photo with me and let me reciprocate with this one.

No trip to Cairo is complete without visiting the old Egyptian Museum, but a majority of its collection has already been moved to the massive new Grand Egyptian Museum opening soon out by the pyramids. 

Above are two of the biggest statues I saw still at the old museum: Ramses II (left) and Senusret I (right). And below are some of the cast rehearsing for the lavish procession that will transfer of the Pharaohs' mummies to the new museum.
In fact, soon after I left, the dramatic procession was held:

The top treat was seeing friends in Cairo, especially two outstanding scholars...
Visiting with long-time friends Dr. Laila at the American University of Cairo and Dr. Magda who engineered my first visit to Egypt decades ago.

All in all, the Sinai proved to be a wonderful new travel destination, especially getting to meet with Father Justin. It was also wonderful to revisit some Cairo classics — people as well as places! For me, Egypt never gets old. And my friends certainly do not.