Monthly Archives: April 2013

Travels with Trolls

The snowy weather wasn’t the only element of Norway that made us feel at home. The legend of trolls are born from Norse mythology. Troll culture is very popular around Oslo. Folklore describes the characteristics and habits of the creatures in great detail.

A troll holding up the Norwegian Flag.

A troll holding up the Norwegian Flag.

It is also said that around the rural areas of Norway, the rock bodies of trolls can be found. According to Norwegian fairy tales, trolls turn to stones when they neglect to hide from the sun. The tourist shops were riddled with trolls. Figurines, dolls, books and games lined the shelves. We were greatly amused by this element of Norse culture.

 A Norwegian troll.

A Norwegian troll.

We also had the opportunity to study a more realistic side of Norwegian culture. Just outside Oslo, the Norsk Folkemuseum displays the way of life in Norway throughout the history. The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History is recognized as on of Europe’s largest open-air museums.

Cabins at the museum.

Cabins at the museum.

There we were able to see over a hundred traditional style buildings with completely furnished in accordance to the style of the era it mimicked. We were able to explore the banks, bars, pharmacies and petrol stations of Norway’s past. The experience was completed by staff dressed in traditional clothing.

The folk museum's grocery store.

The folk museum’s grocery store.

 

Norway's old petrol station.

Norway’s old petrol station.

Enjoying our time at the folk museum gas station.

At the folk museum gas station.

One house we toured dates back to 1649. Called the Bogstad Manor, the house has been preserved and with the original decorations and furniture to illustrate the lifestyle of the Anker family to visitors. The house is shown today in the way Peder Anker, an industrialist and Prime Minister kept it in the 1800s.

A dining room in the Folk Museum.

A dining room in the Folk Museum.

We had an excellent time looking through the beautiful home he established in addition to the other old buildings. We were walking through a different time as we explored offices with typewriters and banks complete with antique calculators.

A small silly troll.

A small silly troll.

We concluded our day in Oslo with a dinner at another city’s Hard Rock Cafe. By the time we left there, the sun had set. We walked back carefully, wary of trolls travelling around in dark.

– Siobhan

Winter Viking Land

It had been several months since we had seen snow. There was plenty of snow to see in Olso. The weather was colder than we had thought so my parents bought two matching hats with Norwegian flags on them.

Wanda's Norwegian hat.

Wanda’s Norwegian hat.

The hat did not stop the frost from forming on Seamus’ beard. While we trudged through the snow we thought about stanzas from The Cremation of Sam McGee and wondered how the Vikings handled the weather without electricity.

Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;
Robert  W. Service, The Cremation of Sam McGee

It was not too much colder than Canada but we had grown accustomed to nice weather. Still, we embraced the climate. A few snowballs were tossed and a small man of snow was made.

In the midst of a snowball battle.

In the midst of a snowball battle.

A small snowman.

A small snowman.

Building a snowman.

Building a snowman.

Once we had acclimatized we went to a historical museum where we satisfied our wonderings about how the Vikings had lived. The museum had a fantastic collection of Viking treasure. We saw swords, combs, coins and ornaments of all kinds. The Viking weaponry was astonishing. They were certainly a race of fierce warriors whose wrath was likely felt by my father’s ancient ancestors. Looking through the glass at the barbed blades and iron faces, I pitied whomever was targeted by the axe of a Viking.

The remains of a Viking warrior.

The remains of a Viking warrior.

Learning of the Viking customs and traditions, it was clear they were a force to be reckoned with. They wore horned ritual helmets, groomed themselves with animal antlers and bathed in hot springs. Viking men had intimidating names such as Ivar the Boneless and Sweyn Forkbeard. It is hard to doubt the warrior spirit of a people who imagine a utopian afterlife where patrons battle all day and feasted all night. Valhalla is not everyone’s idea of paradise however it quite suited the Vikings.

Wanda the warrior equipped with viking weapons.

Wanda the warrior equipped with viking weapons.

The Vikings had many unique ideas about afterlife. The remains of grave stones with runic inscriptions have been found throughout Scandinavia. More famous are the Viking burial ships found in Norway. Ship burials were common with the Vikings. While in Oslo we were able to see two of these ships. At the Kulturhistorisk museum we were able to look over the best preserved Viking ships in the world and the treasures that they had held.

At the Viking ship museum.

At the Viking ship museum.

A carved head on the sleigh buried with the ship.

Carvings on the sleigh found in the ship.

The collar of a viking dog.

The collar of a viking dog.

Both ships, the Oseberg and the Gokstad date back to around eight hundred AD. Both were built with the sole purpose to bury noble people. The Oseberg ship held two women and a sundry of gifts and tools for the afterlife. At the museum we saw delicately crafted combs and clothes. The ship’s contents had been perfectly preserved. We were amazed to find carvings and clothes in mint condition. Larger items such as sleds and trunks were also discovered in the ships. Furthermore, fifteen horses, six dogs and two cows were condemned to journey these women to the afterlife.

Wanda and Seamus by the Viking burial boat.

Wanda and Seamus by the Viking burial boat.

The museum also contained a fascinating display investigating the remains of the Oseberg’s occupants. Evidence from the skeletons concluded that one of the women was approximately eighty years old and had likely died of cancer. The other women, expected to be the older woman’s maid or servant, was merely fifty.

The skeletal remains of Olaf.

The skeletal remains of Olaf.

Similar investigations were conducted on the Gokstad ship. In the museum we saw a recreation of the skeleton of the man who was buried within the ship. It is thought that the skeleton belonged to Olaf Geirstad-Alf, a ledgendary king of the House of Yngling. The magnificence of the ship certainly matched the reputation of Olaf. In fact, after his death, he was worshiped as an elf. Poems also were dedicated to him.

Long while this branch of Odin’s stem

Was the stout prop of Norway’s realm;

Long while King Olaf with just pride

Ruled over Westfold far and wide.

At length by cruel gout oppressed,

The good King Olaf sank to rest:

His body now lies under ground,

Buried at Geirstad, in the mound

It was incredible to see such ships. The Vikings were undeniably masters of the sea. Although the boats we saw were built with the purpose of burial, similar boats had been made and used to travel wide and far. Ships of the same make would have carried the first European Canadians to Newfoundland before any of Columbus’ endeavors. Learning about the Vikings was amazing. That said, we were glad that the present day Norwegians were less combative.

– Siobhan

The Life of Jesus

Previously, we had walked in the steps of Jesus after he was sentenced to death on the Via Dolorosa. In Bethlehem we occupied the cave where Jesus had been born. On our last days in Israel, we completed our touring by visiting the sites that Jesus had been between these times. During the day we saw the River Jordan where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.

The Jordan river.

The Jordan river.

Seamus dipping his fingers in the water where Jesus was baptized.

Seamus dipping his fingers in the water where Jesus was baptized.

The river is near a military base because it is near the border. To access it one must drive through a minefield. This fact did not deter tourists from visiting the area. When we arrived at the river many people from all over the world were taking photos and some were even brought bathing suits to test the waters. It was quite chilly so we refrained from these kinds of actives however we did dip our fingers into the water. We also visited Nazareth. The phrase Jesus of Nazareth appears frequently in the New Testament. This is because Jesus is thought to have spent his childhood in this city. It has been reported that when Jesus eventually left Nazareth he moved to Capernaum where he lived in the House of Peter. On the northern shore of Galilee, the Capernaum’s industry revolves around fishing. Fishing was essential to the village in the time that Jesus was there as well. Many of the Apostles were fishermen before they were made into “fishers of men”.

The entry gate into Capernuam.

The entry gate into Capernuam.

The remains of the House of Peter under the church.

The remains of the House of Peter.

It was in this area the the Sea of Galilee Boat, also known as the Jesus Boat was discovered. The boat is recorded to be from the first century CE during the lifetime of Jesus. The Jesus Boat, although having no certifiable relationship with Jesus, is nicknamed because of its age and Jesus’ association with fish.

Wanda on the sea of Galilee.

Wanda on the sea of Galilee.

We did not get to see the boat but we did have the opportunity to sail out into the Sea of Galilee in the same area where the boat was found.On a boat named Faith we floated along the sea with an Indonesian tour group. The tour group was very happy to be there and erupted into song and dance several times.

Our boat on the Sea of Galilee.

Our boat on the Sea of Galilee.

The Indonesian tour group singing and dancing.

The Indonesian tour group singing and dancing.

Carp outside of the Basilica of the Feeding of Five Thousand.

Fish by the Basilica the feeding of the multitude.

While we were in Capernuam were were able to visit the remains of one of the oldest synagogues in the world. Nearby, we also saw the Octagonal Church which is built upon the the ruins of the House of Peter. The church is covered with beautiful mosaics that mimic the style found in the Basilica of the Feeding of Five Thousand. The name of this Basilica refers to the miracle of the seven loaves and fish. We visited this basilica in Tabgha. It was in this area the the Gospel of John states that Jesus fed five thousand people with only five barley loaves and two small fish.

The disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said.

This was not the only famous occurrence of Jesus dining on fish. On Mount Zion, we visited the Room of the Last Supper where the last meal between Jesus and his Apostles were shared before his crucifixion. Nearby, we enjoyed a “biblical” lunch that is suppose to be similar to the meal that Jesus and the Apostles had on their last night together. The meal consisted of a whole fish, some hummus with bread and some rice and french fries.

The Mcdonalds next door to the restaurant where we ate our biblical meal.

The Mcdonalds next door to the restaurant where we ate our biblical meal.

Our biblical meal.

Our biblical meal.

As dessert we had dates. We are fairly certain that Jesus and the Apostles did not have french fries for dinner but they probably were not eating next door to a Mcdonald’s either. Another difference between our meals was that we drank water not wine. Later on, however, we visited Cana where Jesus attended the marriage where he performed his first miracle. There he turned water into wine.

– Siobhan

In a Kibbutz

The kibbutz was strikingly different from the hotel we had stayed at in the city. The kibbutz was located on a hill in the country side, apart from the rows  of office buildings and corner stores. The isolated area surrounding the kibbutz was refreshing. The sense of community was another  nice

An outcrop at Acre.

An outcrop at Acre.

change from the bustling urban areas we had been through lately. At the kibbutz there was also a pleasant and friendly attitude. The whole ideology behind community is quite nice. Traditionally farming settlements that share labour and collectively enjoy the profits, kibbutz have recently broadened out into different trades. Today, kibbutzim manage a variety of different enterprises and have made their mark in the Israeli hospitality industry. Our stay in the kibbutz was fabulous. The accommodations were great and the atmosphere was enjoyable. The socialist communities are little utopias that operate on the same principles and with the same cheerful attitude as Smurf village. During the evenings we enjoyed delicious group meals and during the day we toured.

The courtyard of the crusader's fortress.

The courtyard of the crusader’s fortress.

The main hall of the fortress.

The main hall of the fortress.

A man making fresh pomegranate juice.

A man making fresh pomegranate juice.

While we stayed at the kibbutz, we visited a crusaders fortress in the town of Acre. Built and rebuilt several times, the fortress has been constructed and used by Ottoman, Muslim and Crusader groups. The main hall was spectacular. Impressive gothic arches supported the structure above us. We walked over the same cobbles that knights of the past had crossed. A highlight for us was to journey through the underground escape tunnels that had been built under the fortress. The tunnels were dark and cramped but were still easy to pass through compared to the Cu Chi tunnels we had explored in Vietnam or even the tunnels we crawled to reach the tomb in the Pyramid of Giza. When we were once again, above ground we rested in the courtyard and enjoyed some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice from a man with a fruit cart.

The tunnels of the crusader's fortress.

The tunnels of the crusader’s fortress.

We also drove to the Mount of Olives during our stay at the kibbutz. The first thing we noticed when approaching the mountain was the cemetery. The sun glinted off the tens of thousands of pale graves that are embedded in the ridges of the mount. The cemetery is over three thousand years old and has collected over a hundred thousand graves.

The graves on the ridge of the Mount of Olives.

The graves on the ridge of the Mount of Olives.

Our main destination on the Mount of Olives was the Paternoster Church or the Our Father Church. The church is named such because it is said to be built over the cave where Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. This cave is still accessible today. The church is decorated with plaques of the prayer in over sixty different languages. We found the prayer written in everything from Cree to Gaelic.

A part of Gethsemane.

A part of Gethsemane.

The Lord's Prayer in many different languages.

The Lord’s Prayer in many different languages.

The Lord's Prayer in Scottish Gaelic.

The Lord’s Prayer in Scottish Gaelic.

While on the Mount we also visited the gardens of Gethsemane. According to the gospels, these gardens are where Jesus spent his last night of freedom with his disciples before his arrest. The area is also the site of some of the oldest olive trees which are nearly a thousand years old. These trees confirm Israel’s long history with the olive. In fact, the olive is listed in the Hebrew Bible as one of the seven species that are noteworthy products of Israel. Near the gardens, we were shown an old device used to make olive oil and the process of making the oil in its different varieties was described to us. This was appropriate since Gethsemane actually translates to oil press.  After we left the garden we returned to the kibbutz. There we enjoyed hummus made with the olive oil that Israel has made for hundreds of years.

– Siobhan

Via Dolorosa

We dedicated this day to walk in the footsteps of Jesus along the Via Dolorosa. Before we headed out on our journey we went to the Western Wall. The Western Wall is the last wall standing that protected the Jewish Temple which is in ruins. The wall is now sacred and is used in prayer. Some people write their wishes on a small slip of paper and place it in one of the cracks in the wall, then they kiss the wall in hope that their wish will come true.

Mom putting her wish into the wall

Wanda putting her wish into the wall.

Many people praying at the Western Wall

Many people praying at the Western Wall.

After placing a wish in the wall we went to the Via Dolorosa. The path has fourteen stations. Station one, which marks the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, is where Jesus was condemned to death because he was thought to be starting a rebellion against the Roman occupation.  Every station is marked with a gold medallion with a roman numeral on it. Station two is where Pontius made his Ecce Homo. He then placed thorns upon the head of Jesus, gave him his cross and set him on his way of the rest of the Via Dolorosa.

Our group approaching station two

Our group approaching station two.

Next is station number three where it is believed that Jesus fell for the first of three times along the path of the Via Dolorosa. Not far after the mark where Jesus had fallen he met his mother Mary at station number four. After station number five is where Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross for a little way. The Via Dolorosa is about half a mile, so it would have been exhausting carrying such a large item. While we were walking the Via Dolorosa, we saw other tourists walking the same path carrying large crosses on their backs to make their experience more similar to that of Jesus. The labour induced sweat on Jesus’s brow in addition to the punctures from the crown of thorns. A women named Veronica wiped off the blood and sweat using her veil and it is said the Jesus’ face was then printed upon the cloth. The spot where Veronica wiped Jesus’ brow is station six.

Dad standing in front of station five

Seamus standing in front of station five.

The medallion marking station number five

The medallion marking station number five.

After Veronica’s help Jesus still fell yet again at station number seven. Sation number eight is where Jesus met a group of women and preached to them. Station number eight is now the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Charalampus where people go to pray. Station number nine is where Jesus fell for a third and last time. He fell right outside the church. The holy sepulchre is where it is believed that Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. Jesus’ tomb is held under the church where Jesus was crucified and buried deep with in the ground and a large rock placed in front of the tomb. Jesus then resurrected and moved the rock from his tomb in full health.

Dad inside the church

Seamus inside the church.

-Meadhbh

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Prepared with our passports, we left early in the morning to visit Bethlehem. Bethlehem is just over the border between Israel and the state of Palestine. Before we crossed the border, we visited Rachel’s Tomb. This site is important to Jewish people to such an extent that it has been marked as the third holiest site in Judaism. Rachel, known as the “eternal mother” draws in visitors from all over the world. The interior was crowded with praying tourist  and locals. The tomb of the

Graffiti on the wall.

Graffiti on the wall.

matriarch, Rachael is literally on the border. Leaving the tomb, the barrier between Israel and the state of Palestine was immediately visible. After a small security check we drove along the barrier into Bethlehem. Parts of the barrier were fence, but for the most part we saw towering concrete wall. Graffiti artists had covered the concrete with objections against their canvas. The wall is very controversial mostly because the border was never agreed on. Our first stop in Bethlehem was the Church of Nativity. The church is one of the oldest in the world and is said to have been built over the birthplace of Jesus. The church is very beautiful and is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. We entered the church through the Door of Humility. Even the likes of us, people not renowned for our height, had to duck down quite a bit to get through the entrance. A guide told us that the size of the door was made to prevent animals and horsemen from entering the Basilica.

Entering the Door of Humility.

The Door of Humility.

Candles in the Church of Nativity.

Candles in the Church of Nativity.

After touring the church we passed through an even smaller doorway and descended into the cave where it is said that Mary gave birth to Jesus called the Grotto of the Nativity. A lovely altar decorated with a silver star with fourteen points to signify the exact birthplace. While we were exploring the underground area, a spontaneous chorus of “Silent Night” filled the area. The diversity of the languages of the different visitors made for a version of the carol that we had never heard before.

Mary and Jesus in the Church of Nativity.

Mary and Jesus in the Church of Nativity.

Bethlehem is also established as the birthplace of the biblical king, David. As we drove through the streets of Bethlehem, our guide depicted the tales surrounding the king. She told us about the tale of David and Goliath. Meadhbh was quite taken with the idea that David overcame the giant equipped with only stones and a sling.

The altar of the birthplace.

The altar of the birthplace.

The Star of David was also explained to us. The overlapping triangles were a symbol that David marked his armour with. Today the star is recognized as a Jewish symbol. Before sunset we had left Bethlehem and had returned to the other side of the wall.

– Siobhan

In The Holy Land

Breakfast was had in Egypt, by lunch we were in Jordan and we had our last meal of the day in Tel Aviv, Israel. Traveling between these countries left us exhausted so we spent the remainder of our day resting in our rooms. The next day, however, we started with an early morning. First on our agenda was to visit Jaffa old city. Jaffa is a small town resting upon a hill of forty feet. It has been inhabited since 7 500 BCE. We walked through the old city and saw Simon the Tanner’s house along one of the streets. There was also a beautiful fountain decorated with zodiac figures. We took turns tossing in coins aimed at our respective zodiacs. If we hit our targets, we were granted a wish.  We explored through the small town until we came to the edge of the hill where we could behold the view below.

View from the hilltop

View from the hilltop

Siobhan tossing a coin at the zodiac fountain.

Coin tossing at the zodiac fountain.

We later headed to the Caesarea. The Caesarea is believed to be a storehouse dating back to 90 BCE. It is thought that the storehouse was claimed by King Alexander Jannaeus to be a shipbuilding industry. Alexander wanted to enlarge his kingdom and in order to do that he had to build ships to travel and rule new grounds. Alexander’s kingdom often hosted gladiator games, sports competitions, and plays that many enjoyed and participated in. We also saw where doctors performed their medical services using herbs and ancient regimens.

Wanda at the Caesarea

Wanda at Caesarea

Our day also included Tel Megiddo, the site of ancient ruins. The Megiddo was a major trading route between Egypt and Assyria. These ancient ruins also set many historic battles. Very old battles, as they have been inhabited since 7 000 BCE. The ruins fell around 586 BCE but the Tel remains today. We saw that they were very advanced. There were remains of baths and toilets that used a complex water system. The toilets were even flushed out by controlled streams.

Dad standing near the ruins.

Seamus standing by a row of columns that once held up a ceiling in the ruins.

The toilets in the ruins.

The ancient toilets in the ruins, complete with daily flushing mechanisms.

A theater where they help plays.

A theater where they held plays.

We concluded our day by learning about a more recent matter. Tel Aviv has a very thorough holocaust museum. The museum had many monuments in memory of murdered jews and people who assisted them. We saw original items from the holocaust such as guns, trinkets and notes. The museum was very informative about the troubles during the holocaust and what happened after the Russians defeated the Germans and freed the Jews. Readings and videos explained terrible conditions that people had to endure. Food was strictly rationed and men were treating each other terribly. While there, we also saw The Hall of Pages. This tower contained thousands of pictures of those killed during the holocaust. By the time we arrived back to our rooms we had a lot of Israeli history to reflect upon, both ancient and recent. That said, we still had only seen a fraction of the wonderful things to see in Israel.

-Meadhbh

Valley of the Kings

Ancient Egyptians left behind so many reminders of their greatness. We saw their pyramids, we saw their temples, and tombs. On our last day in Egypt, we saw their valley. One of the greatest things that the pharaohs of ancient Egypt left behind is the Valley of the Kings. During a span of five hundred years, over sixty tombs and chambers were formed through the dedication and toil of past Egyptians.

Seamus holding the ticket to view Tut's tomb.

Seamus holding the ticket to view Tut’s tomb.

Just after sunrise, we went to the valley. The air outside was still cool as we walked through the cliffs layered by limestone and marl. The natural pyramid, al-Qurn, dominated the horizon. We visited a number of tombs during our time in the Valley of the Kings. Underground, we studied the decorated corridors leading to the tomb. The colouring used to enhance the inscriptions are still preserved. Part of the steps taken to ensure the preservation of the tombs are rules forbidding photography. We obeyed these rules, of course, part in fear of the authorities and part in fear of the curse of pharaohs.

The ticket of entry to the Valley of the Kings.

The ticket of entry to the Valley of the Kings.

A photo from the Nile on our last day.

A photo from the Nile on our last day.

Most of the treasures that had buried in the tombs had been stolen by tomb raiders. Luckily, the treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb had been recovered. We had the pleasure of seeing a huge collection of the young pharaoh’s postmortem possessions, from the famous head mask to his underwear, in the Egyptian Museum a few days before. Visiting his tomb completed his experience. We were especially lucky that his mummy, despite its frequent museum touring, was on site when we visited.

On the flight leaving Cairo

On the flight leaving Cairo

After some time, we said goodbye to Tut and left the tomb. Later to leave Egypt on our flight towards Israel.

– Siobhan

Unfinished Obelisk

One of our favourite sites near the bank of the Nile was the abandoned construction site of a massive obelisk. The ancient Egyptian obelisks have made their way around the world. Over a dozen of the pillars have been removed from their original sites, typically near a temple, and were transferred to spots all over the world. Today, Egyptian obelisks can be found   in France, Israel, Italy, Poland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. One obelisk that will likely never be relocated is the unfinished obelisk of Aswan.

Wanda sitting in front of the unfinished obelisk.

Wanda sitting in front of the unfinished obelisk.

To view the unfinished obelisk, we left the ship and journeyed to a a stone quarry. On a flat panel of granite, it was clear that the initial steps for forming an obelisk had taken place. The project had to be abandoned when a cracking developed during the carving process. Perhaps, the Egyptians were too ambitious. The unfinished obelisk is nearly a third larger than any other Egyptian obelisk. It has been calculated to weight over a thousand tons. Even with one of its faces attached to the bedrock, the obelisk is incredible.

A finished obelisk.

A finished obelisk.

We were able to see a completed obelisk further down the Nile at the Luxor Temple. There were also obelisks to see at the Karnak temples. The Karnak temples were especially amazing to explore. A highlight for us was a large scarab beetle statue. The god Ra is represented sometimes by the scarab beetle. Just as the beetle rolls a ball of food and a nest for eggs and later larva, Ra is said to roll across the sky to aid in the metamorphosis of bodies and spirits.

A pond in the temples.

A pond in the temples.

A statue guard at Hatshepsut's temple.

A statue guard at Hatshepsut’s temple.

The scarab also symbolizes good luck, which is the reason many people who visit the statue walk around it twenty one times before making a wish. The temples were expansive and every inch was decorated with care and intent. This type of decorating was consistent in all the temples we visited, but most lacked the tremendous size of the Karnak temples.

The elaborate design of the temple.

The elaborate design of the temple.

Enjoying a tour of a temple.

Enjoying a tour of a temple.

A temple along the nile.

A temple along the nile.

We were impressed by the inscriptions we saw in the temples of Edfu, Kom Ombo and Isis. At first glance the inscriptions seemed to be simply elaborate decoration but our guide explained the images to us. Most of the inscriptions we saw were of pharaohs making offerings or being blessed by various gods. However, some of the inscriptions were detailed records of ancient Egyptian life. Our guide even explained one scene to be a doctor helping a women give birth. The images depicted modern surgical procedures such as hand-washing.

Inscriptions of a pharaoh making an offering.

Inscriptions of a pharaoh making an offering.

A more recent inscription on the temple walls.

A more recent inscription on the temple walls.

The sun setting over the Nile.

The sun setting over the Nile.

An amazing story was carved into the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut. Hatsheput, the fifth pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty, was one of the first recorded women in power. Such an important person, of course, left behind an incredible temple inscribed with her accomplishments. On the walls of this temple we saw that she was a avid traveller and had formed many trading relationships on her journeys. She brought myrrh trees back to Egypt along the Nile on one of her voyages and planted them near the temple.

Seamus and Meadhbh in front of the Hatshepsut temple.

Seamus and Meadhbh in front of the Hatshepsut temple.

Near the Nile we also saw two stunning statues known as the Colossi of Memnon. The twins, bearing the face of Amenhotep III, sit beside each other, guarding the land. Although their form has not been perfectly preserved, the sight of these two giants is quite something. In addition to the ancient spectacles along the river, we also saw a modern architectural attraction. The Aswan dam is extremely useful in Egypt.

The stone statues called the Colossi of Memnon.

The stone statues called the Colossi of Memnon.

It controls floods, aids irrigation and generates hydroelectricity. Just as it was in the days Hatsheput and the other pharaohs who built temples along the river, the Nile is a integral part of Egyptian lifestyle.

 – Siobhan

Life on the Nile

In Egypt, we saw many of the famous manmade marvels of the country. Equally famous and marvelous is the Nile river. We have been by many rivers over the last year.

A sailboat on the nile.

A sailboat on the nile.

 Last summer we said goodbye to the Mackenzie river outside our doorstep at home and have since had spent a good deal of time around rivers. In the United States we had a creole lunch on the Mississippi and walked along the Savannah river and Rio Grande. In Australia we saw the Yarra, Murray and Brisbane rivers. Not to mention the number of rivers that we used as transportation in Vietnam and Thailand. All of these rivers, though impressive in their own right do not measure up to the longest river in the world. Puns aside, the Nile is absolutely spectacular.

The view of the village from the Nile.

The view of the village from the Nile.

Meadhbh on a small transport boat on the Nile

Meadhbh on transport boat on the Nile.

Our accommodations in Egypt had an excellent vantage point of the river. From a ship on the Nile we were able to enjoy the river twenty four hours a day. Our situation was fabulous. I felt like Agatha Christie’s character Hercule Poirot was going to emerge from one of the ship’s cabins at any time. Although there was a lot to see from the ship, we took many opportunities to explore the areas around the ship’s docking points.

The nubian family's Nile crocodile.

The Nubian family’s Nile crocodile.

 The first spot we came by was near a Nubian village. The Nubian people, an ethnic group in Sudan and Egypt, have an intense culture. The evidence of such was all over the village. While visiting a family we noted that hand painted art decorated the walls. Men sat along the walls supping on hibiscus tea and drawing from ornate sheeshas. The rooms were laden with the heavy fragrance of flavored tobaccos. The most outstanding element of the home was undoubtable a pair of wriggling crocodiles in a pit in the center of the main living area. Supposably, Nile crocodiles are to be found in every traditional Nubian home. The animals serve as a talismans of the home and are often mummified after death. The Nubian people we visited were great hosts and knew how to entertain their guests. While we were there, they fed their crocodiles, which was quite the show. They also offered us some of the hibiscus tea, a great refreshment against the Egyptian heat and the drink of chose for weddings, and other celebrations.

Seamus smoking a sheesha.

Seamus smoking a sheesha.

Seamus was also encouraged to try the sheesha. After some persuading, a few puffs of apple flavored tobacco were taken from the water pipe. It took a few trials but after a while the water in the belly of the pipe bubbled and smoke flew out of Seamus’ nostrils.

A nubian woman making a tattoo with henna on Wanda.

A Nubian woman making a tattoo with henna on Wanda.

Wanda's finished tatoo.

Wanda’s finished tatoo.

Meadhbh looking over the Nubian village.

Meadhbh looking over the Nubian village.

It’s not typical for women to smoke the sheesha. Instead, we took interest in a more feminine Nubian custom. From a small heated baggie, a Nubian women piped out elegant henna designs onto our arms and hands. While we waited for our henna tattoos to dry we went to the roof  the home and looked over the rest of the village and the beaches of the Nile.

– Siobhan