These are some lo-rez pictures I took on our trip to the Middle East back in 2000. This first batch is from Egypt, below that is from Israel, then Turkey.
We began by flying from New York to Istanbul, then to Cairo, next to Israel, then back to Istanbul. On board Turkish Airlines, they pass out a little card that I thought was comical: pork.jpg
Lisa was just shy of her 16th birthday back then, and was quite a controversy amongst many of the locals we met. I can't tell you how many people asked me if she was my wife, but we stopped counting at 8! When we landed in Cairo, they crammed us sardine style into a shuttle to the main terminal, as is usually the case with big third world airports. I remember Lisa asking me; "Dad, seriously, does everybody here smell like this?" Once at the Cairo Airport, an Egyptian businessman who worked for the Russian airline Aeroflot asked me if I'd be willing to sell her... really! I told him no thanks, but he gave me his card just in case I ever changed my mind. Scary. There was a family of Egyptians vacationing from Alexandria that we met at Giza who just wanted to have their pictures taken with us Yanks -- it was all very strange.
Egypt was a breathtakingly beautiful place, but it also has some of the worst poverty I've ever seen. We took a road trip South to the ruins at Saqqara, and the tenements and mud huts along the way were almost indescribable. Open dumps, dead animals, you name it. But on the other hand, the beauty of the Nile Valley was like something out of a dream; lush and green, with mile after mile of pastoral scenes of rural farmers and villagers going about their daily lives like they have for five thousand years. The contrast between the cosmopolitan Egyptians and the rural Egyptians is staggering. Driving in Cairo is probably one of the most frightening things I've ever experienced in my life. Rather than honking at the guy in the next lane, our driver would often roll his window down, reach out and bang on the car next to him with his knuckles to get him to move over. Unorthodox by American standards, to say the least. Streets are clearly marked, but the markings are completely ignored by everybody, including the police. If you want to pass the guy ahead of you, you just drive up on his RIGHT, putting your right side wheels up on the sidewalk, and honk your horn like a maniac to let the pedestrians know that you're behind them. They scatter for their lives, but nobody ever seems to get killed, at least not that we saw. The Egyptians also dress in different clothing from one another to distinguish their "class"... the garment so many Arabs wear throughout the region is called a Ghalabia. In Cairo, almost everybody wears a white one. Rural people wear black ones, and students wear a tan or brown version.
Here are a few pictures of that trip, in near chronological order. This first picture is from our hotel window looking out over Cairo and the Nile. The city is so huge that it defies description. Over 20 million people live here, with an additional two to three million commuting in every day. It's by far the largest city in Africa, almost triple the population of New York City. The second picture is also from our hotel room. I was anxious to see if I could spot the Pyramids from our room, and sure enough, off in the distance... there they were!
We hired an Egyptian guide named Mohammed to show us around; he appears with us in some of these shots. Looming high on a hill above Cairo is the Mohammed Ali Mosque and the Citadel. From this vantage point, you can see the city sprawled out in all directions -- literally as far as the eye can see. As in most cities in this part of the world, Cairo has it's own traditional outdoor bazaar, called the Khan al Khalili. There are stalls upon stalls of junky trinkets and souvenirs, but my favorite items here were the hard to find food items. This place oozed with spices and dried fruits not available in the states. We had a blast shopping for bargains and haggling with the shopkeepers over prices. And yes, they truly are offended if you don't at least try to negotiate their asking price. We also spent an entire day at the Egyptian Museum; home of Tutankhamen. This place is just beyond belief. Besides the Tut exhibit, there's also an entire room full of mummies of Egypt's greatest pharaohs. Ramses the Great amongst them (of "The Ten Commandments" fame). They say you can probably spend five days there and never see the same exhibit twice, it's that huge. The King Tut exhibit was far different from the version that tours the world every few decades. When you see it in Cairo, you see it all. I remember seeing it in San Francisco in 1979, and that was only a fragment of what's on display here.
On our second day in Egypt, we left Cairo for a road trip south to Giza, Saqqara, and Memphis. Here are a few shots.
Lisa standing in front of the Great Pyramid of Cheops
In this picture, you can see the partially hidden entrance to the gallery that leads to the burial chamber about 30' above the Mastaba. It was hidden for centuries, until grave robbers discovered it and plundered the tomb many centuries ago.
After a long, steep climb up the gallery of the Great Pyramid, with our bodies contorted to avoid banging our heads on the low lying stone ceiling, we finally reached the burial chamber. I was amazed to see that people were allowed to actually touch the sarcophagus. There were cigarette buts in it, gum wrappers, etc. Not a very dignified end for the final resting place of one of the greatest Kings of Egypt.
This just cracked me up...
Lisa and I doing our best to blend in. Not too bad, huh?
After Egypt, we were off to Israel for a week. I must admit that I found it very weird to be flying directly from an Arab country to Tel Aviv. Things like that just weren't possible the last time I was here, and it gave me the willies!
We spent our first night in Tel Aviv, then rented a car and drove North to Kibbutz Sdot Yam, where I stayed when I was a teenager. It's a communal farm built right on the Mediterranean coast. Half a mile to the north of Sdot Yam are the ruins of Caesarea, Herod's port city of ancient Judea. We stayed with some wonderful old friends from those days, and had a great time. From there, we drove north to the Upper Galilee. Our first stop was the Arab town of Akko, where you can get the best hummus and kabab on the planet. It's a little place called "Abu Christo's" that my parents used to take me to when I was a kid in the early sixties. I was delighted to find that it's still there, and the food hasn't changed one bit. Abu Christo was a Greek immigrant who came to Israel (actually, Palestine at that time) back in the forties and opened up his restaurant along Akko's ancient waterfront. Eating there again was incredibly nostalgic. From Akko, we drove up to Tzfat, a picturesque town with gnarled old olive trees that were planted by the Romans. The town itself has a rich history in Judaism, and was the center of Jewish learning for centuries. Now it's been sort of overrun by painters and sculptors, and has become a bit of an artist colony. Next we visited Nazareth, then Capernaum, then on to Tiberias along the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee. We tried to enter Jordan, but were unsuccessful. The Jordanian border guards turned us away because we had a rental car, instead of being in a tour bus or diplomatic vehicle... the only ways you can enter apparently. We stopped at Tel Beit Shean and climbed to the top of the mound of crushed civilizations. On the the way down, just off the path a few yards, I found this ancient flint knife (on the left) that probably dates back 10 or 12 thousand years. After Tiberias, we headed back towards the coast, but first, we stopped at Meggido, or as it's known in the bible-- Armageddon. No wars to speak of on that day thankfully. This was the sight of King Solomon's stables, and who knows how many untold battles over the millennia. And wouldn't you know it... we were walking along on a foot path that had been traveled by literally millions of people over the last 3,000 years, when Lisa bent down and picked up a red stone bead! I have no idea how old it is, but it's probably been in that very spot since before the time of Christ. After our trip to the Galilee, we then set off to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Jerusalem was beautiful, especially for Lisa who fell in love with the open market in the Old City. After a few days there, we went down to Jericho, then headed South along the shore of the Dead Sea to the hidden Oasis of Ein Gedi. This was where David hid out from King Solomon during a tempestuous point in their relationship (I think I've got that right anyway). Here, we saw some interesting critters you don't see every day; amongst them, a Hyrax and an Ibex. We also went up to Herod's mountaintop fortress of Masada. The last time I was there was 1962, and it was a desolate, rustic place out in the middle on nowhere. If you wanted to visit the top of the fortress, you had to get up at 4:00 am and hike for about 4-5 hours to reach the summit. Now, you pull into a huge parking lot full of tour buses, they pack you into a tram, and you're at the top within a minute! There are cafeterias, gas stations, hotels... it's changed so much that it was almost hard for me to remember how it looked when I was a kid. Sadly, Lisa's backpack was stolen out of our rental car, and amongst the lost items was the roll of film that had the Masada pictures on it. Too bad.
When we returned to Sdot Yam, we decided to take one more looooong tour around the ancient city of Caesarea, the ruins of which are half a mile to the north of the Kibbutz. Caesarea Palaestina, called Caesarea Maritima by the Romans, was a city built by Herod the Great about 25-13 BC. It lies on the seacoast midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Caesarea itself was built upon on the site of an even older city called Pyrgos Stratonos or "Strato's Tower." Herod certainly didn't neglect this new city: his palace at Caesarea was built on a promontory that jutted out into the sea, with a decorative pool surrounded by stoas. There was an amphitheater, two hippodromes (or circusi), and an amazing aquaduct that brought fresh water from the north (It was in the sand field between this aquaduct and the smaller one in the distance that my family found some of our most interesting artifacts back in the '60s). The Good Life for the citizens of Caesarea began in 13 BC, when it was made the civil and military capital of Judea. Two thousand years ago, Caesarea was a bustling center of commerce and shipping, as well as the seat of power for the Roman Procurator of the time, Pontius Pilate, who made the city his official residence. Now, it's one of Israel's many archeological tourist attractions; a Roman city with the ruins of Byzantine, Crusader, Arab, and Turkish remains built atop Herod's original structures. Dig down a little, and you'll find some relic of a bygone civilization. In this picture of the fortress gate, look closely at the slightly darkened mound of dirt to the right of the gateway, almost to the edge of the picture. I found this glass seal there (center item) by poking around for about thirty seconds. It's too old to make out the writing, but it was once used to stamp the owner's name into soft clay or wax. It's one of my prized possessions.
Lisa sitting atop the remains of Caesarea's Crusader moat.
In Jerusalem, we of course went to the main religious sites. It's remarkable when you consider that the most revered shrines of Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all here, literally within a stone's throw of each other. For Christians, it's the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Christ was crucified and entombed. It's now a building that houses several Christian denominations; Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, etc. Each mini-church within the Sepulchre is cubby-holed it's own little segment of the building, isolated from one another by just a few steps. On the floor at the very center of the Sepulchre is a star shaped inlay of black marble. According to legend, this is considered the Center of Christianity; the point from which Christ ascended to heaven.
This is the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem; the tomb of Christ.
The slab that Christ's body was placed upon after being taken down from the cross.
Here, Lisa's standing before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem -- followed by a shot of her ol' man in the same exact place thirty years before.
To Muslims, the city of Jerusalem (Al Quds in Arabic) is sacred because it's here that the Prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven. The site where this event took place is now enshrined by the Dome of the Rock... which as luck would have it is built atop the ruins of King Solomon's Temple; considered the holiest relic of Judaism. Can you see a potential problem here?
The temple at Capernaum, where history records that Jesus gave his sermons.
Next stop: Istanbul!
We spent the last five days of our trip in Istanbul; one of my favorite places on Earth. Turkish culture is rich in history, and the cuisine is to die for! The deals to be had in the Grand Bazaar (Kapalaiçarsi in Turkish) are legendary, but if ever the phrase "let the buyer beware" was appropriate, it's here. This is the gateway to the Grand Bazaar, which is the biggest covered marketplace on the planet. Once you set foot inside this cavernous thousand year old mall, you're in for an expreience you'll not soon forget. There's another slightly smaller market in Istanbul that the Turks call the Egyptian Market, but is known by tourists as the Spice Market. It was here that I was officially transported to hog heaven. Tons of exotic foods and spices, lots of leather goods, gold, jewelry and silks... I could have stayed there for weeks. But the most interesting sights in Istanbul from a cultural point of view, are the many huge mosques that dot the city. The two biggest, and certainly most famous, are the Blue Mosque and the Hagya Sofia. Upon entering (after removing your shoes first, of course), it's like going back in time. The walls are adorned with Islamic prayers and legends, all covered in gold leaf. The floor is covered from one end to the other with hand woven wool carpets, all of which should be in a museum somewhere. And the smell of some exotic incense fills the entire building. I firmly believe that Turkey is the best kept secret amongst people who like to travel; not enough people know the beauty of this exotic country. Below are a few scenes taken inside the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, and some of the treasures within. The daggers and rifles are all studded with gold, emeralds and pearls. Gotta have that when you go to battle ya' know. The Sultans also had enormous collections of jeweled thrones, crowns, furniture, you name it. After a while, looking at all that gold just becomes so... boring.
I love this first picture of the Blue Mosque because it was taken from the very same spot that I ate an impromptu picnic lunch back in 1971. I sat on that very bench and had some sort of lamb and eggplant stew that I bought from a street vendor. I even recall the price; the stew, some bread and a cold beer came to £4 Turkish, or 28¢. Those days are long gone.
This is the entrance to the Topkapi Palace. If you don't know what Topkapi is, rent the 1964 video of the same name; "Topkapi" with Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, a very funny flick, and the inspiration for the Mission Impossible series and films.