The Other Egypt (Andante Travels), 20-30 December

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Some enjoyable desert between Siwa and Bahariyya

This tour seemed to be about Graeco-Roman Egypt, but in the event we spent a lot of time looking at peripheral memorials of Dynastic Egypt.  Since our Guide Lecturer, the very lovely Caroline Hebron, was an Egyptologist (and very good at what she did), many interesting themes went unexplored. They might have included:

–the importance of Alexandria in the Roman Empire,

–the paradox of the second city of the Empire being non-Roman (and the capital of Egypt being non-Egyptian)

–the place as a locus for the clash of civilizations (Jewish-Greek riots being a constant in Hellenistic Alexandria) as well as cross-cultural transfer (the Septuagint, for example)

–the importance of Alexandria in the development of ancient philosophy, and hence in the formation of Christianity

–Alexander the Great’s practices in regard to Greek and foreign oracles

–how and why Alexander’s empire became ‘orientalised’ but never Egyptianised

–who (and why) are the Copts?

–the place of Alexandria in the history of the Jews

–daily life in Hellenistic Egypt as illustrated by the Oxyrhynchus papyri

–the Oxyrhynchus papyri and others from the Fayoum as shedding light on the Greek of the New Testament.

Because of the unsettled political situation in Egypt, in Alexandria we were lodged in a hotel at the edge of town in its own compound, so never really got to see modern Egypt.  The result of this was that we were very much in a lovingly-tended bubble and I got rather bored–in fact, small-boy-taken-on-incomprehensible-adult-jaunt bored.  I also spent a lot of time admiring the prints left by different footwear in the sand.  And I developed a mild but quite persistent case of traveller’s diarrhoea as soon as I got back, which must have originated some time around the middle of the trip.

The guests were largely women of a certain age–we had something like 7 men as against 15 women, and only one (younger) couple.  It took me a long time to realise that the average participant was free at Christmas not by choice, but because she was widowed or divorced, and so a certain amount of overpressing on the cheery sociability front was entirely normal.

My highlights were:

–a night ride from Cairo to Alexandria and seeing a real Egypt of crashed cars, wrecked roads and businesses open at 2 am;

–visiting a Coptic monastery and seeing (for a change) cheerful people and women dressed like human beings;

–very blocky apartment blocks in Alexandria and Cairo that were what a city ought to look like in my opinion

–the very diplomatic way Louise asked Caroline how she managed her personal life with half her time spent in London and the other half in the Middle East, with the ensuing beautifully-managed discussion.

There is an official blog (describing a tour in November) here.  And now for some more pictures with brief descriptions.

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Serapeum with “Pompey’s Pillar”

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The Corniche in Alexandria

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Tour Manager escorting guest

St Menas Monastery made a nice change with cheerful people (not just those tourists) and women dressed like human beings

St Menas Monastery made a nice change with cheerful people (not just those tourists) and women dressed like human beings

The heating system at the Shali Lodge Hotel in Siwa was not so sophisticated, and I managed to be both freezing cold and mosquito-bitten

Riotous underground drinking party

Riotous underground drinking party at the Shali Lodge Hotel in Siwa

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Intense professional discussion

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Temple of Ammon, Siwa–where Alexander the Great may have been declared son of Zeus

Hackneyed shot with poor composition

Hackneyed shot with poor composition

The convoy rests

The convoy rests

Tracks in the desert

Tracks in the desert

Lunch in the desert

Lunch in the desert

Photostop

Photostop

Temple of Sobek, Qasr Qarun

Temple of Sobek, Qasr Qarun

Prototype and partly-collapsed pyramid of Snerefu, c2600 BC

Prototype and partly-collapsed pyramid of Snerefu at Meidum, about 2600 BC

Guide and drivers

Guide and drivers

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