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The Middle East – Paths of the Wind [Continued]

Cairo is one of the most incredible, dirty, amazing and densely populated cities on earth! About 18 million people live or cling to life there. Most of the city is a ruin, a009568 Cairo Traffic on the road in from Sinai slum, a garbage dump, with traffic like nowhere else on the planet, constantly honking and grinding its way through a seething mass of pedestrian humanity, traffic jostling and weaving for a place on dusty and desolate sun-tortured streets and alleys.009658 Cairo - local transport solution 01009681 Cairo - local transport solution 02009726 Cairo - local transport solution 03 Other modes of transport also feature heavily on the dry and worn ways of the city’s suburbs. The once proud mistress of Egypt, Old Cairo has become a ruin that is home to vast millions of people living in dire poverty. Yet despite this, there is a vibrant life pulsating with vigorous energy that pervades this ancient metropolis.009690 Minor Disagreement

Enjoying accommodation in Giza City, with the Great Pyramid fully visible from our suite’s window, it being a mere kilometre away, we possibly possessed the best view in the whole city!009585 View from our Window - early morning Our hotel had the air of faded, past glory, the remnant of a distant era of English colonial prosperity. Dust and tiredness covered everything, the mantle of time worn heavily by the establishment.009617 At the Pyramids The Pyramids on the other hand, seemed ageless in their magnificence, and in complete disregard of their bleak surrounds. A staggering achievement of human genius? The question remains a contentious one to this day.009626 Khafre Valley Temple next to the Sphinx - Joan and our guide Mimmo Our very own personal Cairo Tour Guide, Mimmo, a trained Egyptologist with two Masters Degrees, showed us around the Pyramids and the Sphinx on the Giza plateau. Joan and I entered the Great Pyramid, climbed the Grand Gallery, and scrambled our way to the King’s Chamber – perfection – all supposedly made with copper, and stone, and wooden tools, and hand-woven ropes and human muscle power!009706 Step Pyramid, Sakkara [with stabilisation scaffolding]

Sakkara stood in stark contrast to Giza, the Step Pyramid, the Red Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid, the first Pharaoh’s original tomb: a mastaba largely buried, and unused, appeared almost fragile and ravaged. Gaining special access to a rarely visited later pyramid of particular interest covered internally with hieroglyphic inscriptions and tomb paintings, and much more, delighted and enthralled. Having studied ancient history and religion at university, and having taught them at senior high school, I was familiar with much Mimmo had to say and we engaged in not a few interesting discussions on Egyptological and religious themes – fascinating and intriguing!009711 The Red Pyramid [right] and the Bent Pyramid [left]

Later visiting the Ahmad Ibn Ţūlūn Mosque [completed in 879AD], the largest mosque in Cairo, our Tour Guide being a Muslim, showed us around;009786 Inside the Ahmad Ibn Ţūlūn Mosque as a Christian, it was a beautiful place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Many other monuments, locations, and sights we visited and wandered, however I will not go into everything. Two typical sites are shown below.009741 Surburban canal leading to the Nile009749 The Nile

The monasteries of Wadi El Natroun in the desert between Cairo and Alexandria featured the next day. There are four monasteries still extant from the very earliest times of Christianity, the oldest being about 1,700 years.  009910 Inside the ancient Church of the Monastery of St Bishoy009914 Mediaeval Refectory of St Bishoy Monastery010051 With Father Bartholomew - Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great, Scetes, Egypt

Touring these, again I was given special access and guided tours by knowledgeable and highly educated monks with whom I have made friends, and contacts for the writing of The Paradox of Life.009961 Inside the Church of El Sourian Monastery

Istanbul, Turkey was the next port of call; a fantastic, beautiful city, the exact opposite of Cairo – spotlessly clean, gardens everywhere, modern – no horses and carts in the streets as 010292 Exterior of the Blue Mosque010142 Interior of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey 01010152 Interior of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey 02 in Cairo – very much a modern European city. Again, we had our own personal expert guide – he approached us as we waited in the queue to enter Hagia Sophia – the greatest church in the world for 1,000 years – a great masterpiece of the Byzantine Empire – it is now a museum. Our guide Canghis [pronounced Ganghis] an eighty-year-old man who is an architect, a lawyer, and an amateur historian, showed us the great and beautiful sights of the city. The Topkapi Palace, mosques, museums, one containing ancient Hittite and Egyptian treasures, churches, the massively fortified wall of Constantinople, The Bosporus that forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia  – we explored all with Canghis for the next two days. At night, we wandered about the tourist area of the city where we had our hotel, and enjoyed spectacular displays of lights in the fountain between Hagia Sophia and the fabulous Blue Mosque – truly one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It could not have been better.010297 Hagia Sophia and coloured fountain010480 Inside the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey010541 Florence by Night 01010545 Florence by Night 02010561 Duomo and Lanterns, Florence, Italy

Eventually we had to return to Italy, and Turin. We were ‘home’ for a day when Joan expressed a desire to see Florence – so we booked a hotel, hired a car [and was up-graded to a Mercedes-Benz] and spent the next few days seeing the sights, even attending an opera recital. Again, it was another wonderful experience, despite the cold, and the rain, and light snow.010592 Opera Recital, Florence, Italy010633 Pisa - Duomo and Leaning Tower

Returning via Pisa, the Leaning Tower and Duomo provided yet another vision of grandeur and wonder, inspiring awe at human vision and ingenuity.

Stopping in the snow on the high mountain passes on the way back to Turin provided the perfect backdrop and end to a month of exploration unparalleled by any other in our lives.010634 Pitstop - Italian Alps 01010651 Pitstop - Italian Alps 02 [no enhancement]

Much I have not mentioned, being just too much to write about, but you have the bones of it above. As for the future……………

To be continued………………