THE FOUR SEASONS AND JAPAN

I am a Starwoods guy. Whenever I can, our family stays in their hotels because that is where I stay on business. A friend coached me when I first came out of university – pick a hotel chain and stick with it – that is how he gets a free week in Maui every year.

That qualifying statement complete, the Four Seasons is impressive. We stayed at the Four Seasons in Cairo years ago and it is one of the best hotel we have ever stayed at. The view helped.

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Recently we were speaking with someone who had managed the restaurant at the Four Seasons in Tokyo. We were discussing the Japanese culture, creativity and education. He provided the following insight (paraphrased from memory):

It was a real challenge at the restaurant because our staff struggled with the westerners. At a Four Seasons it is very common for the guest to not order off the menu. They expect to order what they want and have us prepare it.

This is very different than the Japanese clients. I cannot remember any Japanese client every asking to order outside the menu. It just isn’t how they think and our servers really struggled with dealing with the custom ordering.

It just isn’t how the Japanese were taught to think and as the world continues to change, I wonder as to what will be required out of the Japanese education system, is it being altered to deal with change? (I believe the answer is no). We all need a good dose of Finnish education.

EGYPT: THE LAST PART

We closed out our day in Luxor and headed to the airport to head to Sharm el Sheik, on the Red Sea, for some R&R.

We stayed at the Hyatt  in 2 attached family rooms (versus the Four Seasons which was a single room for the same price). In retrospect, if we were going back we would go to the Four Seasons and take a smaller room for the same money – the experience in Cairo was that good.

Personally, I loved the weather. It was 80 the majority of the time – not too hot. BUT, it was not hot enough for others and I can understand that. One of the things that was very obvious at the resort was the Russian wealth. You could spot them, they were the ones with very big logo wear and lots of gold. In conversation with a Brit, he made the following observation:

‘It is like the UK years ago, we came into a lot of wealth after a long period of no wealth and went on a spending spree – showing that wealth’

Russia is now No. 2 in the world for billionaires. New wealth indeed.

The hotel was beautiful with an 80′ water slide, a lazy river pool with waterfalls and pretty good service. But the highlight was the snorkelling, the Red Sea is known for their diving and right off the beach was a coral garden which was beautiful. A few photos below.

A great way to end the trip.

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I bought an underwater camera case for our point and shoot, it worked amazing (great for videos also). A $200 investment I will not regret. I also upgraded all of our snorkelling gear at the dive shop, another good investment.

You swam along the shallow coral from the beach and then it would drop off …

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Truly amazing to snorkel with the family.

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There were hundreds of fish and they would simply swim beside you.

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A few videos from the Canon point and shoot below. I love the movie facility on these cameras, use it all the time. 

And so concludes our Egypt trip. My only recommendation, if you can do it, go. Travelling to Egypt is the opportunity of a lifetime.

EGYPT PART VI: OUR LAST TOURIST DAY

We finished out the tourist part of our Egypt trip with visits to the temples in Luxor, specifically the Temple of Karnak.  For probably the 50th time in 4 days, I was struck by the magnitude of what was standing in front of me. Columns that must have been 100 feet high, intricately sculpted and adorned.

The complex is a vast open-air museum and the largest ancient religious site in the world. It is probably the second most visited historical site in Egypt, second only to the Giza Pyramids near Cairo. It consists of four main parts (precincts) of which only one is accessible for tourists and the general public. This is the Precinct of Amun-Re, and this it is also the main part of the complex and by far the largest part. The term Karnak is often understood as being the Precinct of Amun-Re only, as this is the only part most visitors normally see. The three other parts, the Precinct of Montu, the Precinct of Mut and the Temple of Amenhotep IV (dismantled), are closed to the public. There also are a few smaller temples and sanctuaries located outside the enclosing walls of the four main parts, as well as several avenues of human and ram-headed sphinxes connecting the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Amon-Re, and Luxor Temple.

The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the length of time over which it was developed and used. Construction work began in the 16th century BC. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. Few of the individual features of Karnak are unique, but the size and number of features are overwhelming. Construction of temples started in the Middle Kingdom and continued through to Ptolemaic times.

A few pictures. The temple entrance.

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At one point more than 3000 sphinxes lined the way to the temple.

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It was a very hazy day – but this picture gives you a good idea of the SIZE of the columns and the temple.

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Everywhere you go, the stone is inscribed with the symbols of the time and the cartouches of dead Pharaohs.

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If you view the columns in the right picture you will notice that the markings are wiped away at a certain point. The guide explained that a French archeologist thought it would be smart to wash away the silt within the temple and therefore had a portion of the Nile redirected to the temple to ‘give it a good clean’. This may be an urban myth (cannot find reference of it on the web) as the more likely explanation is that the damage is simply from Nile flooding.

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This wall amazed me, it was incredibly high and marked all the way up. What was so interesting is that the inscriptions had survived.

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This shows what is left of the 2nd floor! I could not believe it when I saw it – you put up these monster columns and then decide, why not put on a 2nd floor?

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The bottoms of the beams that cross the columns give a hint of the colour that would have adorned the temple a long time ago.

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This is the point where my son took an interest in my camera and decided that he would like to take a few shots. He then started asking very pointed questions – How much does it cost? If I were to put together my birthday and Christmas could I have one? When you upgrade, would I be able to have one? Uh huh.

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Now this is pretty cool. The guide showed us a wall that they figure was used for teaching. It is their version of math. Look at the below – the upside down U represents 10. Go down the left column – and add to the bottom where the sum sits.

There is a fascinating piece of work in a side temple. If you look closely you will see that the outline of the person in the middle is removed – that is Hatshepsut, one of the few women who ruled as Pharaoh and was recognized as one of the most successful Pharaohs:

In comparison with other female pharaohs, her reign was long and prosperous. She was successful in warfare early in her reign, but is generally considered to be a pharaoh who inaugurated a long peaceful era. She re-established trading relationships lost during a foreign occupation and brought great wealth to Egypt. That wealth enabled Hatshepsut to initiate building projects that raised the calibre of Ancient Egyptian architecture to a standard, comparable to classical architecture, that would not be rivaled by any other culture for a thousand years.

The defacing is very interesting:

Toward the end of the reign of Thutmose III, an attempt was made to remove Hatshepsut from certain historical and pharaonic records. This elimination was carried out in the most literal way possible. Her cartouches and images were chiselled off the stone walls—leaving very obvious Hatshepsut-shaped gaps in the artwork—and she was excluded from the official history that was rewritten without acknowledgment of any form of co-regency during the period between Thutmose II to Thutmose III.[citation needed]

At the Deir el-Bahritemple, Hatshepsut’s numerous statues were torn down and in many cases, smashed or disfigured before being buried in a pit. At Karnak there even was an attempt to wall up her obelisks. While it is clear that much of this rewriting of Hatshepsut’s history occurred only during the close of Thutmose III’s reign, it is not clear why it happened, other than the typical pattern of self-promotion that existed among the pharaohs and their administrators, or perhaps saving money by not building new monuments for the burial of Thutmose III and instead, using the grand structures built by Hatshepsut.

Amenhotep II, who became a co-regent of Thutmose III before his death, however, would have had a motive because his position in the royal lineage was not so strong. He is suspected by some as being the defacer during the end of the reign of a very old pharaoh. He is documented, further, as having usurped many of Hatshepsut’s accomplishments during his own reign. His reign is marked with attempts to break the royal lineage as well.[citation needed]

For many years, Egyptologists assumed that it was a damnatio memoriae, the deliberate erasure of a person’s name, image, and memory, which would cause them to die a second, terrible and permanent death in the afterlife.[citation needed]This appeared to make sense when thinking that Thutmose might have been an unwilling co-regent for years. This assessment of the situation probably is too simplistic, however. It is highly unlikely that the determined and focused Thutmose—not only Egypt’s most successful general, but an acclaimed athlete, author, historian, botanist, and architect—would have brooded for two decades before attempting to avenge himself on his stepmother.

…. A more recent hypothesis about Hatshepsut suggests that Thutmose III’s erasures and defacement of Hatshepsut’s monuments were a cold but rational attempt on Thutmose’s part to extinguish the memory of an "unconventional female king whose reign might possibly be interpreted by future generations as a grave offence against Ma’at, and whose unorthodox coregency" could "cast serious doubt upon the legitimacy of his own right to rule. Hatshepsut’s crime need not be anything more than the fact that she was a woman."[42] Thutmose III may have considered the possibility that the example of a successful female king in Egyptian history could set a dangerous precedent since it demonstrated that a woman was as capable at governing Egypt as a traditional male king. This event could, theoretically, persuade "future generations of potentially strong female kings" to not "remain content with their traditional lot as wife, sister and eventual mother of a king" instead and assume the crown.[43] While Queen Sobekneferu of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom had enjoyed a short c.4 year reign, she ruled "at the very end of a fading [12th dynasty] Dynasty, and from the very start of her reign the odds had been stacked against her. She was therefore acceptable to conservative Egyptians as a patriotic ‘Warrior Queen’ who had failed" to rejuvenate Egypt’s fortunes–a result which underlined the traditional Egyptian view that a woman was incapable of holding the throne in her own right.[44]Hence, few Egyptians would desire to repeat the experiment of a female monarch.

In contrast, Hatshepsut’s glorious reign was a completely different case: she demonstrated that women were as equally capable as men in ruling the two lands since she successfully presided over a prosperous Egypt for more than two decades.[45] If Thutmose III’s intent here was to forestall the possibility of a woman assuming the throne, it failed. Two female kings are known to have assumed the throne after Thutmose’s reign during the New Kingdom: Neferneferuaten and Twosret. Unlike Hatshepsut, however, both rulers enjoyed brief and short-lived reign of only 2 and 1 years respectively.

Read the rest of the story here. Fascinating.

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We then headed to the Temple of Luxor.

Known in the Egyptian language as ipet resyt, or "the southern harem", the temple was dedicated to the Theban Triad of Amun, Mut, and Chons and was built during the New Kingdom, the focus of the annual Opet Festival, in which a cult statue of Amun was paraded down the Nile from nearby Karnak Temple (ipet-isut) to stay there for a while, with his consort Mut, in a celebration of fertility – whence its name.

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The guide pointed out why there is only one obelisk:

The temple properly begins with the 24 metre (79 ft) high First Pylon, built by Ramesses II. The pylon was decorated with scenes of Ramesses’s military triumphs (particularly the Battle of Kadesh); later pharaohs, particularly those of the Nubian 25th dynasty, also recorded their victories there. This main entrance to the temple complex was originally flanked by six colossal statues of Ramesses – four seated, and two standing – but only two (both seated) have survived. Modern visitors can also see a 25 metre (82 ft) tall pink graniteobelisk: it is one of a matching pair. The other was taken to Paris in 1835 where it now stands in the centre of the Place de la Concorde.

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It is interested to see Muslim and Christian history scattered among the early ruins. In many historic stories, it was clear that later conquerors disapproved of the Egyptian religious symbols. In this temple there is a mosque built right on top of the temple.

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This is a fascinating statue of the boy Pharaoh Tutankhamen. What makes it unique is that in all other places, the Pharaoh is depicted as a giant statue with his wife or wives depicted as minor statues at his feet. Here they sit side by side – very different.

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The below paintings are from Roman times. The plaque below describes how they came to be.

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And so ended our tour of ancient Egypt. One last entry remains, finishing on the Red Sea. All I have to say is I will go back and if you can, go to Egypt. It is beyond words.

EGYPT PART V: LUXOR DAY 1

Luxor is known for a few key things – the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and Karnak temple. Our tour guide explained that many people on Nile cruises hit those key sites in a single day, then head out. He suggested we take a different approach.

On the first day we hit the Valley of the Kings, as everyone does:

The Valley of the Kings (Arabic: وادي الملوك Wadi Biban el-Muluk; "Gates of the King")[1] is a valley in Egypt where for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the kings and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom (the Eighteenth through Twentieth Dynasties of Ancient Egypt).[2][3] The valley stands on the west bank of the Nile, across from Thebes (modern Luxor), within the heart of the Theban Necropolis.[4] The wadiconsists of two valleys, East Valley (where the majority of the royal tombs situated) and West Valley.

The area has been a focus of concentrated archaeological and egyptological exploration since the end of the eighteenth century, and its tombs and burials continue to stimulate research and interest. In modern times the valley has become famous for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun (with its rumours of the Curse of the Pharaohs[5]), and is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. In 1979, it became a World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the Theban Necropolis.[6]

It is an amazing tour, the only downside being that you are not allowed to take pictures in the tombs. They will also confiscate your video camera at the entrance (unless it looks like a camera). All around the valley, work continues as men excavate. I was still left wondering – what was in these tombs? If King Tut’s tomb had so much, what wonders were in a major tomb? We will never know.

Workers in the valley.

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The entrance of a tomb. The circle represents the insignia of the Pharaoh – called a cartouche.

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The workers excavating. All I can say is that in 40 degree heat, it must be hot work. In the summer, tourists go at 530AM as it is in the 50s by 10 am.

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Perhaps this is the video of the roof of a 3000 year old tomb taken by someone who put his video camera on his arm and swung it around without making it look like it was on … or perhaps not.

Truly amazing and must be done. The vibrant nature of many of the tombs is stunning.

BIG TOURIST TIP: The Valley of the Kings and Luxor International Airport are the BEST places to buy your mementos. As we exited the Valley of the Kings you go through a market with everything. We bought this wonderful hand crafted tile and a few other things. The prices are very reasonable compared to most other places. While we were in Cairo the guide took us to a tourist place to shop and the prices were 4X. Lesson learned. Personal anecdote:

As we moved to escape the market (the guide had warned us – they are aggressive), this guy latched onto me trying to sell me small figurines. I was not interested but he kept at it, $20USD for 3, $15USD for 3, $10USD for 3, $8USD for 3. We are getting close to the parking lot – I am not bartering – just not interested and almost out of USD (personally – with home much these guys make – I refuse to barter them, I can afford it) …. $6USD for 4 ….

The whole time my boys are watching and finding this quite funny because they know I will break. Sure enough, I stop. OK, what do I have to lose? I say OK. He says ‘Come on, $10USD for 3’. Nice try. I walk away with 4 for $6USD and two boys who have a very good laugh about my inability to extricate myself from the seller.

Once our tour was completed we took our guide’s advice and skipped the Valley of the Queens, Deir el-Bahri and the Tombs of the Nobles and headed to the workers village. His logic was simple – Valley of the Queens is just a lesser version of what we just saw and the workers village is under travelled so we will have it to ourselves (he was right). We did drive past the Tombs of the Nobles .. the tombs are in the right hand corner above a village that is being removed by the Egyptian government.

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The workers village was our last stop for the day and as fascinating as the Valley of the Kings:

Deir el-Madinah (Arabic: دير المدينة‎) is an ancient Egyptian village which was home to the artisans who built the temples and tombs ordered by the Pharaohs and other dignitaries in the Valley of the Kings during the New Kingdomperiod (18th to 20th dynasties)

The settlement’s ancient name, Set Maat her imenty Waset, means "The place of Ma’at (or, by extension, "place of truth")[1] to the west of Thebes." The village is indeed located on the west bank of the Nile, across the river from modern-day Luxor. The Arabic name Deir el-Madinah (and variants on the transcription) means "the convent of the town": this is because at the time of the Muslim conquest of Egypt, the village’s Ptolemaic temple had been converted into a Christian church. One legend maintains that the inhabitants of the village worshiped Amenhotep Ias the founder and protector of the artisans’ guild.

The people of Deir el-Madinah were responsible for most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Queens and the temples of the Theban necropolis. The workmen of the village often referred to themselves as "servants in the place of truth". The tombs they constructed included the famous tombs of Tutankhamen and Nefertari, and the memorial temples of Ramses II, Amenhotep III, and Hatshepsut – all of which, in their various states of preservation, can still be seen today.

You enter the valley and before you are the excavated ruins of hundreds of village homes:

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A 3,000 year old kitchen sink.

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You then have the opportunity to enter their Ptolemaic temple and for the first time, I was allowed to photograph (without flash).

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Fertility seemed to be a common theme in the temple. Unfortunately, I did not capture the name of the fertile man/god depicted in the below, but I do remember the story and why he is on the walls of the temple:

(I paraphrase – apologies). The young men of Egypt went to war, leaving behind an old man to guard their women and children. When they returned from war, many, many of their women were pregnant. They took the culprit out into the desert and cut off his limbs, leaving him for dead.

Thirty years later, the young men of Egypt, many being his sons, went off to war winning great battles against their enemies. When they returned, the people realized that the descendants of this man had brought great strength to Egypt so they returned to where he was abandoned in the dessert, thinking that they would bring back his remains and properly entomb them. When they came upon the spot where he had been abandoned, they found an oasis. Fertile in life and death.

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We finished with a tour of the tomb of Sennedjem, one of the lead artisans who spent his spare time building his own tomb. The paintings (which we were not allowed to photograph) were by far the brightest and most well preserved in our tour of Egypt. Another great end to the day. One more day of exploring to go.

EGYPT PART IV: THE NILE & OFF TO LUXOR

As we flew out of Cairo I was struck by the Nile. A few pictures of the area around the Nile and the areas in between make it really clear – the Nile means life in Egypt.

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There is nothing where there is no water .. nothing.

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Turns out that in the Luxor area, agriculture remains a staple industry – focused on sugar and fruit. What was interesting to me was the clash of modern and ancient. Donkeys pulling carts while Russian tractors blew down the road.

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I had to laugh when I saw the Belarus tractor. My dad and Uncle use to sell those tractors. The Russians desperately needed cash so they started exporting these tractors prior to the end of the cold war. They are what you expect – cheap, simple and a solid workhorse.

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The other way to move produce.

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The odd shaped train cars caught my attention. Turns out that when Egypt was occupied by the British they built a railway to move sugar cane.

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As a diversion, we took a trip to a banana plantation to do something other than a history trip.  It allowed us to sail down the Nile on a beautiful day. Unfortunately for the 2 sailors, there was no wind and they had to work incredibly hard for 2 hours to get us to the plantation – which should have taken a half hour by sail.

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We stopped to watch this fellow. He is making mud bricks by hand (or to be accurate, by feed). A different world.

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The plantation’s oven.

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My son took this picture, sunset on the Nile.

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A beautiful evening.

EGYPT PART II: THE PYRAMIDS

Our first 2 days in Egypt were in Cairo. It is a mad city – 27M people, crazy traffic, people hanging off buses, 20 year old cars belching out smoke. People often call Cairo dirty, I found it fascinating. Everywhere you turned you saw a different sight whether it was ultra wealth or ultra poverty.

We stayed in the Four Seasons right beside the zoo, which was a tactical mistake. It was my first time experiencing a Four Seasons and to say that I was blown away would be an understatement. The service was out of this world. Coincidentally, the week before I had Richard Abraham speak to my broad team about relationship selling and he referenced the Four Seasons as the penultimate in service – I have to agree. The problem … every hotel was disappointing in comparison.

The view of the Nile from the hotel.

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The Cairo skyline from the balcony, overlooking the zoo.

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The first day was the Pyramids of Giza. How do you describe this experience? Words like awesome, mind boggling, breathtaking seem to trivialize the experience. Simply put, you stand at the bottom of the tomb of Khufu and look up and you hear the facts – 4,000 years old, the highest standing building in the world for 3800 years (Lincoln Cathedral in London replaced it some time in the 1300s), each stone is approximately 2.5 tonnes, there are a little over 2M of these stones and it is just beyond comprehension. Consider these engineering details:

The accuracy of the pyramid’s workmanship is such that the four sides of the base have a mean error of only 58 mm in length, and 1 minute in angle from a perfect square. The base is horizontal and flat to within 15 mm. The sides of the square are closely aligned to the four cardinal compass points to within 3 minutes of arc and is based not on magnetic north, but true north. The design dimensions, as confirmed by Petrie’s survey and all those following this, are assumed to have been 280 cubits in height by 4×440 cubits around originally, and as these proportions equate to 2 x Pi to an accuracy of better than 0.05%, this was and is considered to have been the deliberate design proportion by Petrie, I. E. S. Edwards, and Miroslav Verner. Verner wrote "We can conclude that although the ancient Egyptians could not precisely define the value of pi, in practise they used it".[7]

The magnitude of effort when they had no form of mechanical support is unfathomable. Early theories on the use of slave labour have now been overturned and the current labour beliefs, based on archaeological study, are quite interesting:

In addition to the many theories as to the techniques involved, there are also disagreements as to the kind of workforce that was used. One theory, suggested by the Greeks, posits that slaves were forced to work until the pyramid was done. This theory is no longer accepted in the modern era, however. Archaeologists believe that the Great Pyramid was built by tens of thousands of skilled workers who camped near the pyramids and worked for a salary or as a form of paying taxes until the construction was completed. The worker’s cemeteries were discovered in 1990 by archaeologists Zahi Hawass and Mark Lehner. Verner posited that the labor was organized into a hierarchy, consisting of two gangs of 100,000 men, divided into five zaa or phyle of 20,000 men each, which may have been further divided according to the skills of the workers.[8]

The site is huge. You start the journey at the ticket office ….

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It is very steep, people are no longer allowed to climb it (I wouldn’t anyway!). When you stand at the bottom and look up, this is what you see (the woman provides perspective on angle and size of blocks):

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I did a lot of this – simply staring. Oh yes, I looked the tourist part (LOL)

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You can take a gander into the pyramid and we did climb into the entry point but did not wait (it was not open yet). Of interest, it was HOT. It hit 38 degrees that day so we had to remain well hydrated. There are vendors moving around – a bottle of water is usually 5 L.E. (Egyptian pounds) which is around £0.50 or $1 USD – finally a country that does not rip you off. Go to a museum in the UK and you can pay up to £4.

We moved around the side of the pyramid and were greeted by the camel owners trying to sell us a ride (our guide took us past these guys). They did everything they could to try and convince us to take a picture of their camel for only $1USD.

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You have a great view of Cairo. Amazing, I never saw a single cloud in Cairo or Luxor.

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We moved around the pyramid to the Eastern Cemetery and the tomb of Queen Hetepheres.  Our first stop was to enter into the tomb of the builder where no photos were allowed. It is important to note, if you want to take a photo or two – simply have a few USD with you. We saw our first hieroglyphics here. Standing outside his tomb you can see the 2nd pyramid which still has portions of the lime cover in place:

At completion, the Great Pyramid was surfaced by white ‘casing stones’ – slant-faced, but flat-topped, blocks of highly polished white limestone. Visibly all that remains is the underlying step-pyramid core structure seen today. In AD 1301, a massive earthquake loosened many of the outer casing stones, which were then carted away by Bahri Sultan An-Nasir Nasir-ad-Din al-Hasan in 1356 in order to build mosques and fortresses in nearby Cairo. The stones can still be seen as parts of these structures to this day. Later explorers reported massive piles of rubble at the base of the pyramids left over from the continuing collapse of the casing stones which were subsequently cleared away during continuing excavations of the site. Nevertheless, many of the casing stones around the base of the Great Pyramid can be seen to this day in situ displaying the same workmanship and precision as has been reported for centuries. Petrie also found a different orientation in the core and in the casing measuring 193 cm ± 25 cm. He suggested a redetermination of north was made after the construction of the core, but a mistake was made, and the casing was built with a different orientation.[5]

When the pyramids were first finished, one has to wonder – how did the limestone shine in that 40 degree sun? It must have been brilliant.

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A single standing column in the ruins.

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A view of the ruins in the eastern cemetery.

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We carried on to the Queens tomb which was VERY deep. The below shows how steep the climb was, but the tomb itself was unremarkable with no noticeable markings.

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So ends this entry … The Sphinx and our camel tour came next.