Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

Why I Love Returning to Egypt

When your job involves travel, everyone asks you about your favorite destination. My all-time favorite destination—no waffling from me, as the late Tim Russert would have saidis Egypt, Egypt, Egypt. I was mesmerized the first time I went and still breathless the 20th. And I’m always happy to give advice on my favorite destination!

Cairo is a must, first see the pyramids and spend as long as you can in the Egyptian Museum, but then head south as soon as you can. Upper Egypt, the land of ancient Thebes, and further south to Nubia immerses your senses in the lives of the ancient Egyptians. The scent of the lotus blossoms and turmeric, the lightweight cotton shawls covering heads from the sun, and the warm stones and sacred lake at Karnak temple would all make any of the Ramses very much at home. But the ultimate highlight is a small, deep tomb in the Valley of the Nobles.

The tomb was for a scribe who must have lived life to the fullest. The typical tomb scenes of everyday life are as vibrant as the day the tomb was sealed, but what makes the tomb so memorable is that the scenes also depict this scribe and his friends having a wonderful time. There are no frightening snakes to scare you away at the entrance like the royal tombs—remember, he was only noble—and no tedious mummification depictions and ceremonial gods and pharaoh scenes—just one continuous fun party with lots of food, beautiful women in featherweight flowing linen gowns, and most of all, lots of wine!

In the final scene, near the empty sarcophagus, the figures are all satiated, resting and smiling the biggest ancient smiles I have ever seen. You leave the tomb feeling that you have viewed a photo album of the best party—the party of this man's life.

I must have been Egyptian in a previous life (I hope I was noble) though more likely I was a tomb builder. Maybe on my next trip I will happen upon another “party.” After all, there are so many undiscovered tombs and new discoveries happen every day. At least that is my excuse for asking to return again and again.

Check back the week of March 23 to read about Jean's on-the-road experiences on our World Leaders Symposium, The Middle East in the 21st Century.

Click here to learn more about Smithsonian Research in Alexandria, Egypt.

Click here to learn more about decoding Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

Click here to learn more about our tours to Egypt.