Karnak the Magnificent

What Luxor, Egypt attraction is the largest place of worship ever built?

It doesn’t take a wizard to proclaim the magnificence of Karnak Temple in Luxor. After the pyramids at Giza, it’s the 2nd most visited site in Egypt. It’s really a temple complex, with multiple temples added and embellished by a long series of pharaohs over the course of 2,000 years. It was known to the ancient Egyptians as The Most Sacred Place and is reputed to be the largest place of worship ever built anywhere.

Click to see Egypt tours that include visits to Karnak Temple. Continue reading

Crete

Knossos fresco

Knossos fresco

Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, 160 miles long and 37 miles across at the widest point, located 99 miles south of Athens at the very southern border of the Aegean Sea and of the European continent. One blog post will not do justice to Crete’s many, diverse attractions but we’ll take a stab at an informative overview.

Crete was the center of the highly sophisticated, pre-Greek Minoan civilization which thrived from approximately 3,000 BCE until it vanished about 1,500 years later. Its main city was Knossos but it had settlements all over Crete, around the Aegean, and even on mainland Turkey. At its height, Minoan influence rivaled that of ancient Egypt.

Most tourism development on Crete is on the north coast of the island; some areas are densely packed with mass market facilities. The main centers are Heraklion, Chania, Hersonnisos and Elounda.

Venetian Harbor, Heraklion

Venetian Harbor, Heraklion

Heraklion is the commercial and administrative center of Crete, the major city on the island and one of Greece’s largest cities, not so much a tourist destination as a hub for air and sea traffic. It is, however, a sophisticated city with excellent dining, shopping and nightlife and its proximity to Knossos and world-class archaeological museum are reason enough to spend at least a few hours in Heraklion.

Phaistos

Phaistos

Knossos is 3 miles from Heraklion. It’s the most thoroughly restored of Crete’s Minoan ruins but the accuracy of the restoration is questionable and has a bit of a theme park feel. For less flashy but still very grand Minoan ruins, see Phaistos, about 40 miles southwest of Heraklion, and Aigia Triada, a few miles from Phaistos. Artifacts from the Minoan sites can be viewed at the excellent Archaeological Museum in Heraklion.

Venetian Harbor, Chania

Venetian Harbor, Chania

Chania is an exceptionally picturesque little city, especially the well-preserved old city with Venetian and Ottoman buildings clustered around the harbor.

On the far northeast end of the island, about 50 miles from Heraklion, is Elounda, mostly known for luxury resorts.

White Mountains (Lefka Ori), Crete

White Mountains (Lefka Ori), Crete

Crete’s interior is mountainous and cut through with stunning gorges. A serious hiker can easily spend weeks trekking about. More casual hikers should check out sections of the coast-long E4 trail, especially in the White Mountains near Chania and the Psiloritis Mountains near Heraklion. The Samarian Gorge, near Chania, is a very popular day hike.

There is a great variety of beaches on Crete, from long and sandy to short and rocky. In general, those on the north coast are more crowded than those on the south coast. Knowing when you’ll be there and specifically what you desire in a beach experience will help us suggest where to go.

During season (April-October), there are multiple daily flights from Athens to Chania, Heraklion and, to a lesser degree, the new airport at Sitia. Flights from Rhodes and Santorini in high season are also a possibility.

Cruise ships dock at Heraklion. Ferries travel from Athens to Heraklion and Chania and from Santorini and Rhodes to Heraklion.

Foto Good Friday

the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed and was arrested

the Holy Sepulchre, held by some traditions to stand on the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus (alternatively to the Garden Tomb)

the Holy Sepulchre, held by some traditions to stand on the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus (alternatively to the Garden Tomb)

the Holy Sepulchre, held by some traditions to stand on the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus (alternatively to the Garden Tomb)

the Garden Tomb, held by some traditions to be the site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus (alternatively to the Holy Sepulchre)

the Garden Tomb, held by some traditions to be the site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus (alternatively to the Holy Sepulchre)

Mighty Aphrodisias

tetrapylon, Aphrodisias

tetrapylon, Aphrodisias

The site of Aphrodisias in south-central Anatolia (Asian Turkey) was a major cult center of the regional version of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and fertility. Around the 3rd century BCE, Aphrodite was merged with the local Great Mother goddess of fertility, worshipped here in the lush Dandalas River Valley for more than 5,000 years before the Greek pantheon settled in. Continue reading

For the Birds: the honored falcons of Abu Dhabi & Dubai

falcon waiting room

waiting room at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital

Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the world’s largest falcon hospital and a world leader in falcon medicine. Since opening in 1999, it has treated over 55,000 falcons. The hospital also treats other kinds of birds, has expanded to include a clinic for pet cats and dogs and a shelter for strays and operates a trap-neuter-release program for feral cats and dogs. Continue reading

Old Cairo

Everyone knows about ancient Egyptian attractions in the Cairo area – the pyramids at Giza being the most famous, by far. While there were important settlements nearby for thousands of years, the city of Cairo proper originated with the Roman Fortress of Babylon in the 3rd century. The fort was built on the banks of the Nile around a harbor and the Nile-end of a canal that connected the river with the Red Sea. This had long been a strategic area, the border of Upper and Lower Egypt, where the river begins to spread out into the delta, only a few miles north of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, which dates back to 3,000 BCE, at least.

Roman walls of the Babylon Fortress in Old Cairo

Roman walls of the Babylon Fortress in Old Cairo

The Roman fort still stands, surrounding the area known as Old Cairo or Coptic Cairo. Coptic Christians settled within the fort very early in the Christian era and it remains a Coptic enclave still. The fort encloses numerous churches, monasteries and convents, as well as the Ben Ezra Synagogue and Amr Ibn al-As, Cairo’s oldest mosque.

The main attractions:

St. Virgin Mary’s Coptic Church/The Hanging Church (El Muallaqa) is the most famous church in Old Cairo. It’s built atop the bastions of one of the fortress gates, with the nave hanging over the passageway.

the Hanging Church, Old Cairo

the Hanging Church, Old Cairo

Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga) stands on ground where, according to tradition, the Holy Family stayed on their flight away from the murderous Herod the Great.

Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, Old Cairo

Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, Old Cairo

The Greek Orthodox Church of St. George is built around a tower of one of the fortress gates. A peaceful cemetery stands within the grounds of the church.

St. George's Greek Orthodox Church, Old Cairo

St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church, Old Cairo

Originally a church, the Ben Ezra Synagogue was established in the 9th century, when Abraham Ben Ezra purchased the building from Coptic Christians who needed to raise money for taxes.

Amr Ibn al-As Mosque is Cairo’s oldest mosque. It was built in the 7th century for the commander of the first Arab army to conquer Egypt.

This quiet, atmospheric area feels worlds away from the surrounding chaos that is Cairo. It’s well worth a few hours of exploring.

Click to see Egypt tours that include visits to Old Cairo.