Luxor

The Luxor Temple is in the heart of the city of Luxor. Surrounding the city itself, both on the West Bank and East Bank of the Nile, are amazing ancient sites.

The Luxor Temple is in the heart of the city of Luxor. Surrounding the city itself, both on the West Bank and East Bank of the Nile, are amazing ancient sites.

Luxor is Egypt’s number two stop on the tourist trail. Loaded with Ancient Egypt sights, there is no wonder why it’s so famous. It’s most known for the Valley of the Kings, but there is so much more. Unlike Cairo, there are not as many Islamic sights, but the plethora of ancient sights by far makes up for it. Thebes was the capital and most important city in Ancient Egypt with several dynasties, including the 17th, 18th, and 19th, arguably a high point in Ancient Egypt.

After our 11-hour overnight bus from Cairo, we arrived at the Boomerang Hotel, our home for the next three days. Run by an Australian woman who is married to an Egyptian man, it’s one of the top ranked hotels in Luxor. We were able to get a private room for $14 per night – a great deal. Luxor is split into the West Bank and East Bank. Most accommodations are on the East Bank while just outside the West Bank are many of the sights.

We had two nights and three full days in Luxor, and we took advantage by staying busy. Our first afternoon was spent at the Karnak Temple, located just a mile from Luxor’s city center. Our second day had us on an organized tour, where we visited several historical sights on the West Bank in the ancient city of Thebes. Finally, our third day, we took a ferry to the West Bank and hired a taxi to take us around to three sights that we picked out and were interested in. I’ll talk about each day in its own section.

Day 1 – Karnak Temple

The entrance of Karnak Temple

The entrance of Karnak Temple

The East Bank of Luxor has two main sights, the Luxor Temple, located right in the heart of the city on the banks of the Nile, and Karnak, located about a mile north of the city. Recently uncovered by excavations is what they now call the Avenue of the Sphinxes, a small road that connected the Luxor Temple with the Karnak Temple which was lined with Sphinxes.

We made our way to the Karnak Temple along some back roads. Immediately, we could tell Luxor was a whole different ball game than Cairo. A man offering a horse carriage ride stalked us for about 10 minutes trying to have us pay him 5 Egyptian Pounds ($0.70) for him to take us to the Karnak Temple. We prefer walking most places, so we politely refused, and he continued to follow until we got close enough to the temple that he finally gave up. When we got a bit closer to the temple, four boys around the age of 7 or 8 years old came out and were heckling us to give them money. They kept coming behind me trying to open zippers on my bags. I made sure to keep my wallet and other valuables in a good place, so I wasn’t worried. They pestered us for about 10 minutes before a man from a nearby house started yelling at them in Arabic. They finally went away. Thank you, sir! It was clear that tourism is much more important here in Luxor, and that people are much more desperate at the moment. I read that Luxor’s tourism industry makes up 85% of its economy. A 98% drop in your main industry for four straight years means that people are strapped for money, and this desperation definitely showed throughout our time in Luxor.

Inside Karnak Temple.

Inside Karnak Temple.

Karnak, built around 2000 BC (yes, about 4,000 years ago), is said to be the second biggest ancient religious site in the world – only Angkor Wat in Cambodia is bigger. The temple is dedicated to three gods, Amun, Mut, and Khonsu, each with its own temple within Karnak. The Amun Temple alone is made up of 61 acres, enough to hold 10 European Cathedrals. Karnak was developed for more than 1,200 years, with over 30 different pharaohs contributing to its construction.

Karnak was the holiest of all holy places during the Middle Kingdom. Like the pyramids, one must have marveled at such a larger-than-life temple. To me, the most impressive part of the temple is the Hypostyle Hall, the precinct of the Amun-Re Temple. The Hypostyle Hall is made up of 134 massive columns in 16 different rows in an area of over 50,000 square feet. The columns range in sizes from 30-60 feet and are about 10 feet in diameter. Up and down these columns are writings in hieroglyphics. Looking at this hall of columns and comparing it straight up to the Parthenon in Athens, I would call Karnak more impressive. What makes it even more incredible is that Karnak was built almost 2,000 years before the Parthenon!

We took about 3 hours at the Karnak Temple, walking around and admiring the enormous statues, the hieroglyphics, and the carvings in the walls of the temple that have still kept their color after 4,000 years. It really is one of the greatest sites of Egypt and a must-see for anyone visiting Luxor. We stayed until it closed and were literally the only people left in the temple as we walked out. As it was getting dark, we ended up getting a horse carriage ride back to the city center, a nice ride as the sun set on the other side of the Nile.

Day 2 – West Bank Tour

Inside Habu Temple on the West Bank

Inside Habu Temple on the West Bank

We lined up a tour through our hostel. The tour cost 50 Egyptian Pounds ($7) and lasted from 8am until 2pm and included a guide. We hit several of the main sites on the West Bank, including the Valley of the Kings, Temple of Hatshepsut, Medinet Habu, and then stopped for a quick view of the Colossi of Memnon.

Valley of the Kings

valley kings

The Valley of the Kings is the most important burial site of the New Kingdom pharaohs between the years of 1550 and 1070 BC. There are 63 known tombs in the valley – 26 built for kings and the rest for royal family members of other elites. In comparison to the pyramids of  the Old Kingdom, which were built with an extravagant exterior but not much in the interior, the tombs at the Valley of the Kings were hidden inside of a mountain but were decorated lavishly with carvings of offerings, depictions of their supposed daily life, and of other scenes to forever immortalize the pharaoh. It was thought that these carvings, along with actual offerings in the form of food, gifts, clothes, and other goods, would be taken into the afterlife. The idea was to give the deceased king everything they will need as they spend their eternity in another life.

The ticket to the Valley of the Kings lets one enter three of the fifteen tombs. At one time, usually only ten are open in order to give the others a rest and to limit deterioration. Our guide recommended tombs 11 (Ramses III), 8 (Merenptah), and 6 (Ramses IX). Each of these were dug deep into the mountain in their respective locations, a few were dug about 150 feet inwards. Descending down, elaborate carvings depicted images of the pharaohs, as well as the said offerings. Many pictures of slaves were shown with their hands behind their backs and some even decapitated. Many showed the gods of Horus (god of kings  falcon), Ra (sun god), and Anubis (god of funerals – a jackal). All of the mummies, except for King Tut’s, have been removed from their tombs and placed in the Egyptian Museum or other museums around the world (like the British Museum). The tomb of Ramses III still contains his sarcophagus, which was incredible to see still inside the tomb. We took about 20 minutes for each of these tombs, looking at every little detail of the carvings. Since these have been covered since their existence, the insides are very well preserved with almost all the colors and carvings still remaining.

Tomb of Ramses IX

Tomb of Ramses IX

The Valley of the Kings was an especially warm place. Where Cairo was usually in the 60s or low 70s, Luxor was in the 70s, but the Valley of the Kings was in the low 80s. It’s complete desert once getting out that far, as it extends past the reaches of the Nile. It was great to be visiting the site without many tourists around. There were plenty around; however, I was told that at one point there were 20,000 tourists visiting the Valley of the Kings daily – now it’s just around 500 per day. Whereas we were two of six of eight people in a tomb at a time, I heard that one used to have to wait two hours to enter a tomb. After visiting in the lowest of all seasons, I can’t imagine it being so busy.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut

The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

Queen Hatshepsut was the first ruling monarch in Ancient Egypt. After her stepson passed away, she ruled for about 20 years during the 18th Dynasty in the years of 1490 BC and 1470 BC. In her later years of rule, we was depicted with many male features, such as a royal headdress, kilt, and a false beard. It is thought that she may have hidden the fact that she was a woman in order to retain control of the monarchy.

Queen Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple took about fifteen years to build. It was built just below the desert mountain with three terraces. It’s unique style and design make it a great place to visit for an hour.

Statues of Queen Hatshepsut

Statues of Queen Hatshepsut

Medinet Habu

Entrance to Habu Temple

Entrance to Habu Temple

After making a brief stop at a lame tourist shop in Deir el-Medina, the old workers’ village, we made our way to Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramses III. Having had just seen Ramses III’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, it was great to see his mortuary temple afterwards. Whereas the Valley of the Kings was his burial site, Medinet Habu was his shrine, his memorial (I also saw his mummy in the Egyptian Museum). Ramses III lived from 1186-1155 BC in the 20th Dynasty. He is considered to be the last great pharaoh to have great authority over the country.

Medinet Habu was one of my favorite temples that we visited. I was so impressed by the layout, the large carvings and depictions covering the walls, the enormous columns, and the large statues. It is not as visited as many other places, but I would highly recommend it. An interesting part of the temple is that Ramses III’s name in hieroglyphics is carved much deeper than any others. This was done because it was known that Ramses II carved his name all over statues and temples that he did not build, so Ramses III made sure that no one could erase his name from his mortuary temple.

Inside Habu Temple

Inside Habu Temple

Colossi of Memnon

Colossi of Memnom

Colossi of Memnom

Finally, we stopped at the Colossi of Memnon for a quick view and a picture. The massive statues depict  Amenhotep III, who lived in the 14th century BC. These statues used to guard Amenhotep’s mortuary temple. However, the temple was built in the Nile floodplain which destined for it to be destroyed. It is thought to have been bigger than Karnak, but the unfortunate location has destroyed almost all of the temple.

Felucca

Felucca on the Nile

Felucca on the Nile

Early afternoon, we went again for a felucca boat ride on the Nile. This time, we went with the owner of the hostel with her two children, as well as a guy from the Ukraine. The calm day made our felucca ride a bit slower, but we worked our way north to Banana Island, a strange place to visit. A small island which grows many bananas, I’m not sure why I had to pay the 10 Egyptian Pounds ($1.40) to enter the island. Within a hour, we were back on the felucca making our way back to Luxor. The sunset shined the sky with bright colors – something you would hope as you let the wind guide you down the Nile RIver.

Day 3 – Self-guided Tour

Luxor Temple during the day

Luxor Temple during the day

As I mentioned before, our third day was spent in Ancient Thebes on the West Bank visiting sites we didn’t go to on our tour. We took a ferry from Luxor’s East Bank to get to the West Bank, and then we found a taxi to take us to three different sites. We paid 50 Egyptian Pounds ($7) for the taxi plus tip, which was a great deal since he made sure to be waiting for us at a set time to take us to the next site. We decided to visit the Tombs of the Nobles, Ramesseum, and Temple of Seti I.

Tombs of the Nobles

Walking to the Tombs of the Nobles

Walking to the Tombs of the Nobles

The Tombs of the Nobles is similar to the Valley of the Kings, except that it comprised of the tombs of very important and powerful people – people who were ranked very high up but weren’t part of the royal family. There are hundreds of tombs uncovered, and they are still finding more tombs today. We bought a ticket to visit two of the tombs, Nakht TT52 and Menna TT69.

The main physical difference between the Tombs of the Nobles and the Valley of the Kings is that the Tombs of the Nobles depicts images of normal, daily life. Whereas the pharaohs wanted to be seen as godly figures, the nobles were shown doing ordinary things. Also, rather than being carved, most of the images in the Tombs of the Nobles are paintings that have still survived with their many colors. Nakht is thought to be the main astronomer of his time, and Menna is thought to be the overseer of agricultural activities.

Opening up a tomb for us.

Opening up a tomb for us.

Ramesseum

Ramesseum and its fallen statue of Ramses.

Ramesseum and its fallen statue of Ramses.

The Ramesseum is the mortuary temple of Ramses II, also nicknamed the “House of a Thousand Years.” Taking about 20 years to create, the temple had some of the most impressive granite statues of Ramses II. One, however, was taken by Giovanni Belzoni, an Italian engineer who took the statue to England. The other massive statue has fallen and lays on the ground in the Ramesseum Temple.

Because this temple also rests on the floodplains of the Nile, much of it has been destroyed. The remains are still an impressive site, as the huge columns still stand as well as various parts of other statues.

Temple of Seti I

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Our last stop was the Temple of Seti I. Seti I was an important pharaoh in the 19th Dynasty and was the father of Ramses II. He ruled early in the 1200s BC. He happened to be one of the mummies I saw in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. I must say that the Temple of Seti I was the least impressive of all the temples we visited. It may be that this was the last temple we visited, and we saw some of the most impressive temples that have survived. Either way, it was nice to see but I would’ve been happy skipping it.

That ended our time in Luxor. After getting back to our hotel, we just walked around the city for a bit and did some shopping. Right before leaving, we had dinner consisting of chicken, rice, tahini, and bread. It was a great way to end three full days of sightseeing in Luxor and ancient Thebes.

Although the people weren’t my favorite in Egypt, the sites around the country are unlike anywhere else I’ve been. The temples and pyramids are so old that the Ancient Greeks considered them to be ancient. And they were just as impressive, if not more impressive, than the works of the Greeks.

Egypt is a safe country. I even met several solo female travelers who would get a lot of attention while walking through the city, but they seemed to have never felt in danger. With the lack of tourists in the country, prices are cheap and even the most famous attractions are relatively empty. I’m glad that I had the chance to visit the fascinating country this year!

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Cairo: Pyramids and Mosques

The Great Pyramids of Giza, just outside of Cairo

The Great Pyramids of Giza, just outside of Cairo

For several years, I have wanted to make a trip to Egypt. The pyramids are the most recognizable structures in the world, and seeing these is something I had dreamed of for many years. I had considered a trip to Egypt when I was living in Prague in 2011; however, the revolution broke out in January of 2011 and the country was pretty unstable for a few years afterwards. Just recently has the country seemed to have regained its composure with free elections. After doing research, I found that the country is now as safe as ever, so Chika and I decided to take a week-long trip to finish out our time in Europe. With such little time, we chose to do four days in Cairo and three days in Luxor. We started out with three full days in Cairo, then an overnight bus to Luxor, three full days in Luxor, an overnight bus back to Cairo, and then one full day in Cairo before flying back to Thessaloniki.

Tourism has long been Egypt’s most important industries. Luxor’s economy is said to be driven 85% by tourism, a substantial amount. After the revolution in 2011, the country was unsafe but has recently come out of this. People, however, are still hesitant about the safety, and this shows by the continued lack of tourism. Speaking with locals who work in the tourism industry, we were told that Egypt’s tourism industry has dropped 98% since 2011. That’s four straight years with just 2% of a hugely important industry. This meant a few things for us. Firstly, ultra cheap accomodations and tours. We paid about $7 per person per night for a private room. We took day tours for a fee of just $6. Secondly, everything is empty. December is usually the peak season, but hostels were at 10% capacity, many important temples and tombs were completely empty, and we rarely saw other toursts walking in the streets. It felt as if we were a few of the first people discovering the country as tourists, kind of like in Myanmar. The difference, though, is that Egypt has long been a tourist destination for its incredible historical sights. Thirdly, and the most negative aspect of low tourism, was that very few tourists means there is much less money going to towards vendors. It seems that the same amount of vendors are still there, but the amount of tourists has dropped substantially. This means they work extra hard for each dollar they earn. For us, that meant being hastled every step of the way for a horse carriage ride, to step inside their store, or for a taxi ride. In Luxor especially, we were hastled every few minutes by someone wanting something. As you can imagine, this part became extremely annoying and frustrating. Just walking around without being bothered wasn’t a possibility. However, this is just the downside of traveling at this time.

I must say that I always felt safe in the country. Never at one time did I feel in danger or that I was in a place that I shouldn’t be. We did run into a lot of friendly people, as well, but unfortunately friendly people aren’t coming up to you while walking down the street; only the people wanting something will do that.

Seeing the Sphinx in Giza

Seeing the Sphinx in Giza

Everything in the country, except for the sights, were very cheap. Sometimes we would eat lunch for $0.50 per person. A delicious falafal costs 15 cents or maybe even 30 cents, but only two or three of these and you’ll be full. One meal, we had chicken, salad, tahini, and bread for just over $2 per person. Sights were more expensive and did add up. Depending on the sight, it would cost between $5 and $14 for an adult. This most likely added up to our biggest expense, as we would see at least 2-3 sights per day. Outside of this, though, everything was very cheap.

Without further adeu, I’ll get right into it. Here is what we did in the Cairo area:

Pyramids Tour

IMG_0046

Because the pyramids are such an important sight in Egypt, we decided to pay for a premium tour so that we had a great experience and learned as much as possible. We decided on a tour with Emo Tours, based out of Cairo. We paid about $80 per person for a private tour, and that included all entrance fees (which all added up to be about $33). We had a local guide, named Galal, and a private driver in a comfortable van. We could’ve taken a cheap tour for possibly $45 total, but we wanted an incredible experience for our one day we had to visit the pyramids. See, that’s what being frugal is all about! Our tour took us to several different important sights, including Saqqara, Dahshur, Memphis, and the Giza:

Saqqara

Step Pyramid at Saqqara

Step Pyramid at Saqqara

Saqqara is an important historical site with its famous Step Pyramid (or Pyramid of Djoser), one of the first architectural steps torwards the pyramid. Whereas a pyramid had a flat surface leading up to the peak, the Step Pyramid has different levels, like steps, that lead to the top. Completed in 2648 BC, this was an important stage in setting up the building of the pyramids. The fact that it’s still standing is incredible in itself, a mere 4,600 years later. Renovations have been done on this site for the past few years to ensure that it continues to remain stable, and the scaffolding on the outside shows this.

Just outside of the Step Pyramid is the recently found tomb of Mereruka. The tomb was of Mereruka, an important official outside of the royal family in the 6th Dynasty. Contrary to the pyramids, which feature extravagent and an enmormous exterior, this tomb was buried underground. But inside the tomb were magnificent carvings of offerings and depictions of daily life, many of which still hold their original colors. To be inside such a decorated tomb which was intended to be buried forever is an incredible feeling. Just to imagine the artists carving these depictions over 4,000 years ago is extraordinary. The Egyptians were well ahead of their time when it comes to man-made structures and art.

Dahshur

Bent Pyramid at Dahshur

Bent Pyramid at Dahshur

Dahshur holds two important remaining pyramids. The first is what is now known as the Bent Pyramid, named from the shape of the pyramid’s sides which seem to be crooked as they reach the top. This bent look was caused by an overestimation of the Pharoah Sneferu, who thought the size and dimensions of this pyramid could be done. It turns out that the angles and dimensions didn’t exactly work, and the walls partly collapsed, giving the pyramid a rounded look. This was a failure for the pharaoh, who wanted a massive pyramid structure for his tomb. He was, however, stuck with the Bent Pyramid, which still stands today.

Red Pyramid

Red Pyramid

Just 200 meters away from the Bent Pyramid stands the Red Pyramid, most famous for its tunnel that leads down into the tomb of Pharoah Sneferu. Getting into the tunnel, we had to climb about 1/3 of the way up the pyramid to the entrance. Afterwards, we climb down about 65 meters (almost 200 feet) into the tomb. Anyone who gets claustrophobic should not go inside, as we were deep inside a pyramid without too much space and no fresh air as we made our way down. Inside, we two two empty rooms where the tombs used to lay. Seeing the inside of the pyramid is out of this world. The huge stones lie side by side, stacked on top of each other. Each one weighs at least a ton, and they are so well cut that even a razor blade could not fit in between two of the blocks. The inside of the Red Pyramid is now bare, but going down into it is an experience in itself.

Memphis

Museum at Memphis

Museum at Memphis

Next, we drove with our guide and driver to the site of ancient Memphis, the capital and most important location of the Old Kingdom Dynasties in Ancient Egypt. The actual site of Memphis is still be excavated and one cannot go onto the site, but an open-air museum is set up to see many of the important statues. Included is a sphinx, several monuments featuring hyieoglyphics, and several statues of Pharoah Ramses II, including a massive statue of the powerful Pharoah which is now laying inside a building. Ramses II was an important figure because he ruled for so long, living until the age of 90 and ruling for 66 years. He was known for building many statues of himself around the country to show his authority. Statues were normally made from red granite, sent up the Nile River from Aswan, about 500 miles away. The statues were built to last, and this is proven by the fact that I am gauking at the statue over 4,000 years ago.

Massive statue of Ramses II

Massive statue of Ramses II

Great Pyramids of Giza

The Great Pyramids of Giza

The Great Pyramids of Giza

Finally, after a lunch of mixed grilled meats, tahini, bobaganoush, bread, and salad, we made our way to Giza to see the most famous pyramids in Egypt. These three pyramids were built at the peak of the pyramid constructions of ancient Egypt. The biggest and most impressive pyramid is the Pyramid of Cheops. Standing at 481 feet tall, it was the first pyramid built of the three. Construction consisted of 2.3 million limestone blocks, each weighing at least one ton. The pyramid was built in 20 years, and this would mean that one limestone block was stacked every two minutes for ten hours per day in those 20 years.

Two other pyramids were built by Khafre and Menkaure . The second pyramid, Khafre, was built very cleverly; although it wasn’t as big as the first pyramid by Cheopps, it was built on a higher level of ground, giving one the illusion that it’s the same size or even a bit taller. The third and final of this cluster is the smallest and less impressive of them. Interestingly, though, is that on the side of this third pyramid is an opening where tomb raiders planted explosives in order to get in and rob the tomb.

Also at the front of these pyramids is the famous Great Sphinx of Giza, built by Pharaoh Khafra in 2500 BC. The human face on the lion’s body turns the king into a god-like figure. The Sphinx sits in front of the three pyramids, almost seeming to guard the tombs of the pharaohs. The Sphinx is bigger than I expected, and more impressively is that it was carved out of one piece of limestone. Although many sphinxes were built during Ancient Egypt, the Great Sphinx of Giza is the biggest and most recognizable. To this day, it is said to be the largest monolithic statue in the world!

The pyramids were made more for propaganda reasons than for any other reason. The pyramids are actually located on the edge of the city of Giza, just outside of Cairo. The pyramids were built so grand so that the common person would see the structure each and every day and be reminded of the god-like powers of the pharaohs. It was used to keep the common citizen in line so that the pharaohs could continue their dominance. This clearly worked, as the pharaohs were able to dominate the country for about 3,000 years. As a normal person in those years, I can only imagine waking up and seeing these massive pyramids rising over the desert along with the powerful sphinx. How else could these be built these incredibly large structures unless the pharaohs were really gods?

This one shows the size of the Pyramids.

This one shows the size of the Pyramids.

When standing a bit of a distance from the pyramids, they don’t seem that large. Because each individual stone is so massive, it feels like an optical illusion while looking up at the pyramid. The size of the stones means that there aren’t that many visible stones leading up to the top. Until you see a person standing on one of the stones do you realize how big each block really is, and you finally have the size of the pyramid in perspective. Each pyramid used to have a limestone casing covering the outside, giving it a smoother look. Over the years, however, this casing has been removed to be used on other projects. Only the very top of the second pyramid at Giza is still intact.

The pyramids are obviously a highlight for anyone’s trip to Egypt. I’m so glad that we decided to pay a premium price for a great tour. We received so much great information and our guide, Galal, was a straightforward guy who did everything to make our tour fantastic.

Islamic Cairo

Mosque of Muhammad Ali

Mosque of Muhammad Ali

Cairo, it turns out, has so much more than just the pyramids. So much has happened in the region since 2500 BC, including the introduction and culmination of the Islamic religion in the city. Once considered to be one of the most important Islamic cities in the world, Cairo boasts hundreds if not thousands of mosques dating back to the 9th century AD. Cairo is nicknamed the City of a Thousand Minarets (the tall, slender tower rising from a mosque).

Islamic Cairo is a part of the city that is known for its mosques, Islamic monuments, old markets, and small streets. Walking in this part of town does feel like going back in time 1,000 years, The dusty alleyways and shops selling anything from tea to sheesha (hookah) seem like they could have been pretty much the same as the 10th century. The Gates of Cairo, built in the 11th and 12th centuries, block Islamic Cairo from outside forces, including, it seems, time. There are so many mosques and sights to see in this area that we were only able to visit a few of them. Included in these are Complex of Ashraf Barsbay, Qalawun complex (mausoleum and madrasa), Al-Hakim Mosque, Al-Hussein Mosque, Al-Azhar Mosque, Bab Zuweila and Bab Al-Nasr City Gates. This was all in just an afternoon’s walk!

Al-Azhar Mosque

Al-Azhar Mosque

The most impressive and most important of these is the Al-Azhar Mosque. Established late in the late 10th century, Al-Azhar is also a university; in fact, it’s the second oldest continuous running university in the world (only the University of Al-Karaouine in Morocco is older). After taking off our shoes and walking through the entrance, we step inside the open courtyard, its marble paved flooring and various Mamluk and Fatimid  period minarets creating a surreal atmosphere. Stepping inside this courtyard feels like a world away from the crazy streets of Cairo just outside. Many people come to the mosque to pray, to study, or to just take photos. Many young people were sitting in the courtyard and also inside the Prayer Hall reading books that I assume were about Islam. Most of the tourists we saw seemed to be from other Muslim countries, as we only saw a handful of people that looked like Westerners.

The Qalawun complex is a large area consisting of a madrasa (school), a hospital, and mausoleum, and, of course, mosques. Built by the Sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad Ibn Qalawun in the 1280s, it is still an important sight for Muslims. Its mausoleum is considered to be the second most beautiful mausoleum in the world, only behind the Taj Mahal in India. Holding the tombs of Al-Mansur Qalawun and his son, Al-Nasir Muhammad, both important rulers in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The Citadel and Around

The Citadel overlooking the city

The Citadel overlooking the city

On our third day in Cairo, we decided to explore the Citadel and the mosques in that part of town. We decided on a taxi to get to that part of town, as taxis are incredibly cheap. The 20-minute taxi ride cost us just 10 Egyptian Pounds (or about $1.40). Well worth it!

The Islamic fortification located on Mokattam hill was built between 1176 and 1183 AD to protect the city from the Crusaders. The Citadel now hosts the famous Muhammad Ali Mosque, the  Al-Nasir Muhammad Qala’un Mosque, and a variety of museums including the Egyptian Military Museum and the Egyptian Police Museum.

The Muhammad Ali Mosque is the centerpiece of the Citadel overlooking the city. One can view the large domes and the minarets of the early 19th century mosque. Relatively new,  it was built in memory of Tusun Pasha, Muhammad Ali’s oldest son. Interestingly enough, Muhammad Ali was an Albanian commander of the Ottoman Army, and he is considered to be the founder of modern Egypt with his reforms of the military and economic policies. Likewise, the Muhammad Ali Mosque is very similar to the mosques that are found in former Ottoman Empire territory, including Turkey and the Balkans.

Mohammad Ali Mosque

Mohammad Ali Mosque

Another interesting fact about the Muhammad Ali Mosque is that it houses a clock that was given to Muhammad Ali by King Louis Philippe of France in 1845. In return, the French were given an obelisk of Luxor which is now in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Ironically, the 19th century clock has never worked. Yet, the obelisk is one of the greatest creations from Ancient Egypt, probably about 3,500 years old and used to stand in the Luxor Temple. I think France got the best of that deal.

The second mosque in the Citadel, and my favorite of the two, is the  Al-Nasir Muhammad Qala’un Mosque. It was built in the early 1300s by the Mamluk sultan Al-Nasr Muhammad. Being built during the Mamluk, it has an entirely different design than its neighboring mosque of Muhammad Ali. Its large arches, minimalist internal decorations, and large green dome give it a unique look. I have not seen another mosque with a green dome like this one, which gives it more of a central Asian look.

Next, we walked down from the Citadel to the Mosque/Madrassa of Sultan Hassan and the Al-Rifa’i Mosque. These are two of the biggest mosques in the city, which became clear as we walked in between the two enormous buildings. From afar, we must have looked like ants walking on the sidewalk towards the entrances of these two mosques.

The Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan is another Mamluk era building, started in 1356 AD and finishing just three years later without a day’s rest. An interesting part of the construction of this mosque is its failures and incompleteness. Although the exterior of the mosque is impressive, the inside is clearly unfinished. The entrance to the mosque is impressively decorated in Mamluk style and the mihrab (indentation in the mosque pointing towards Mecca; this is the most holy place of every mosque) was lavishly decorated, but the rest of the inside of the mosque was strangely bare and unfinished. The mosque was designed to include all four of the Sunni schools of thought: Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanafi and Hanbali.

Al-Hassan Mosque and Al-Rifa'i Mosque

Al-Hassan Mosque and Al-Rifa’i Mosque

Just next door is the Al-Rifa’i Mosque, a newer but equally as massive as the Al-Hassan Mosque. It was finished in 1912 and used a similar Mamluk architecture. It is the resting place for many former Egyptian royalty, including King Farouk, Egypt’s last reigning king, who was buried here in 1965.

Finally, we made our way to the Ibn Tulun Mosque. On our way there, we were both overcome with hunger and decided to pick some random place to eat. We ended up at a small restaurant serving one thing, kushari, which is a mix of macaroni, rice, lentils, and crisp fried onions topped with a tomato sauce. We both ordered a bowl of the delicious yet simple dish and walked out full after spending just 7 Egyptian Pounds total, or just under $1 for two people!

Kushari, a mix of macaroni, lentils, and other good stuff.

Kushari, a mix of macaroni, lentils, and other good stuff.

The Ibn Tulun Mosque is the oldest surviving Cairo Mosque. The mosque was finished in 879 AD after three years of construction. The mosque is located within an outer wall, acting almost as a line of defense much like a fortress’s moat. This mosque is another that is quite bare on the inside, but this adds to its appeal. The Ibn Tulun is another square shaped complex with covered corridors surrounding the courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard is a domed sabil (fountain) which was constructed in the 13th century.

Ibn Tulum Mosque

Ibn Tulum Mosque

Another distinctive feature of the Ibn Tulun Mosque is the minaret. The spiral staircase leads up to the top where the Call of Prayer used to be done. Rather than a slender tower, it looks more like a taller building with an outside staircase. It’s the only of its kind that I have seen to date.

Just on the other side of Ibn Tulun, we paid to go up to the top of a minaret for a view. With the Citadel in the distance, the crazy streets of Cairo below, and the Ibn Tulun Mosque just down to the side, we were able to take in what a unique and interesting city Cairo is. I have never been to a place like it, where inside the city of over 8 million people you still see plenty of horses pulling carts of fruits and vegetables and other foods and items. Islam plays such a strong role in the daily life, as mosques and their tall minarets are located all around the city with the call to prayer sounding five times daily.

Felucca Ride

Felucca ride on the Nile while watching the sunset

Felucca ride on the Nile while watching the sunset

Another popular activity along the NIle River is to take a felucca ride. A felucca is a wooden sail boat which used to be an important mode of transportation. However, motorized boats now make it easier to get around. Felucca’s are now used mostly by tourists to relax on the Nile from northern Egypt all the way down to the southern part of the country.

To finish out our last day in Cairo before taking a night bus down to Luxor, we negotiated for a 45-minute felucca ride on the Nile. Doing this in downtown Cairo is not as exotic as it may sound, as nice hotels, lots of traffic, and some skyscrapers line both sides of the river. However, it was great to be out on the calm river away from the craziness of the city. The dusty roads full of ridiculous drivers seemed so far away while the wind took us down the Nile. The sun set in the distance, and we were able to catch glances of it in between the upscale hotels.

Egyptian Museum

Egyptian Museum right on Tahrir Square

Egyptian Museum right on Tahrir Square

After coming back from Luxor, we had one full day in Cairo. We intentionally waited to visit the Egyptian Museum as our last sight. We knew we would learn so much more in Luxor which would then let us appreciate the 120,000 pieces of the museum. The museum is located at Tahrir Square, now famous for the events of the revolution in 2011.

The museum is full of incredible statues, crafts, jewelry, arches, sarcophagi, tombs, mummies, and, probably the most famous of them all, King Tutankhamen’s funerary treasures. The items in the museum date back to even before the Old Kingdom, which reigned from 2686 BC, and they range all the way through Alexander the Great’s conquering in third century BC all the way through Roman times. Sadly, the museum is not very well organized or put together. There are inconsistent labels, insufficient space, and items are generally not as well taken care of as they should be. It is possibly the best collection of ancient artifacts, and it’s too bad that they are not well-kept. They are, however, building a new museum out in Giza, so hopefully this will improve the conditions.

King Tut's Mask

King Tut’s Mask

One of the most interesting items in the museum is King Tut’s famous funerary mask, which was found when his tomb was uncovered in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter. Whereas most tombs had been robbed in ancient times, King Tut’s tomb had been sealed for more than 3,000 years and the treasures were found intact. The amount of gold and jewelry and other gifts to King Tut is astounding, especially since he was the pharaoh only for 9 years before his death at the age of 19. Just think of the grandeur of the tombs of pharaohs who reigned for 30, 40, of even 50 years!

The other most interesting exhibit is of the mummies that are on display. The museum currently has about 15 mummies, which are placed in glass cases, where you can take a good look at their faces, hands, arms, and feet. The rest of the bodies are still covered in the linen. To see the mummies or some of the most important and powerful rulers, including Ramses II, Seti I, Ramses IX, Queen Hatshepsut, and Amenhotep I.

For me, it was very interesting to see the mummy of Ramses II (click here to see a picture). As you’ll see in my next post about Luxor, he built many large statues of himself around the country to show his dominance. His enormous red granite statue that we saw in Memphis shows him in a marching position with strong arm muscles, muscular chest, and ready to do battle. He was immortalized in these statues. However, seeing his bony skull and skeleton makes him look not so immortal. I guess it shows that even the most powerful and the most god-like pharaoh will face death. And that is no different than anyone else on this planet.

That marked the end of our time in Cairo. The city offers so much to see that even four full days seemed like a rush. It’d be easy to spend at least two or three more days to take more time and visit other parts we didn’t even have the chance to visit.

Now on to Luxor.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Pristina, Kosovo – 6th Destination On My Balkans Trip

Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, doesn't have too much to do, but it does have a nice pedestrian street through the center.

Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, doesn’t have too much to do, but it does have a nice pedestrian street through the center.

I decided to end my two week trip in Europe’s newest country, Kosovo. There is still much tension between Kosovo and Serbia, as Serbia still claims Kosovo to be part of its country. This is shown by the fact that one cannot enter Serbia for the first time if they are entering from the Kosovo border – they consider this an illegal entrance. I planned my trip to enter from Serbia to Kosovo on a bus from the two capitals, Belgrade to Pristina.

I arrived at the border on a 2/3 full bus at about 8pm. As we pulled up to the checkpoint, I noticed that it was snowing and that the cars had a thin covering of white snow on them. I then started looking around more. Whereas every other border patrol I had seen was permanent, this border was still set up as temporary. Every building was temporary, sitting on the concrete, as if it could be picked up and moved tomorrow. Only 108 countries in the world recognize Kosovo as an independent country, of those include the US, the UK, and most of the west. Kosovo claimed their independence in 2008.

USA, EU, Albania, and and Kosovo - the flags hung all around Pristina.

USA, EU, Albania, and and Kosovo – the flags hung all around Pristina.

As I walked around Pristina, I was most surprised to see the flying flags. Almost every time there was a Kosovo flag, there was also an Albanian flag and, many times, an American flag. Yes, they’re flying the Red, White, and Blue in Kosovo. Let’s just say that much appreciated the US’s help in gaining their independence. The most important leaders for this movement can be seen by their streets and the statues. I walked down Bob Dole Street and George Bush (Sr.) Boulevard. The best is taking a stroll down Bill Clinton Boulevard to see the Bill Clinton statue greeting traffic. Seeing these makes one realize how recent they have become a country. I’ve never seen another country fly the American flag, so it was fun to see this around the city.

Bill Clinton greets everyone on Bill Clinton Boulevard.

Bill Clinton greets everyone on Bill Clinton Boulevard.

To be honest, Pristina doesn’t have a whole lot to do for a visitor. They have a nice pedestrian street called Nena Tereza (Mother Teresa), a few mosques, a cathedral, a few strange communist buildings, and a market. Other than that, I didn’t find too much to do. I only spent two nights and a day and a half there, but I didn’t do much more than this. It was the coldest stop on my trip, as well, as temperatures hovered around 35 degrees.

I most enjoyed talking to people in Kosovo. People are curious about foreigners and were friendly and open. They are excited to be independent, although unemployment is up around 40-50%. It seems that the government was more military oriented. The same thing happened in Nicaragua after the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship; the coup didn’t actually know how to govern. I imagine the learning curve is steep but they are making progress.

The Newborn sign is a popular symbol of Kosovo's recent independence (according to 108 countries, at least)

The Newborn sign is a popular symbol of Kosovo’s recent independence (according to 108 countries, at least)

From what I learned, Serbia’s main fear at the moment is that if they recognize Kosovo’s independence, Kosovo will immediately join Albania. Kosovo is made up of 92% ethnic Albanians, they speak Albanian, and obviously they feel more Albanian than anything else. I would imagine that this would turn out to be true, that Kosovo will try to join Albania. It would just make sense from an economic standpoint as well as cultural.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit other parts of Kosovo. Prizren is supposed to be a nicer city, although smaller, and there are supposed to be some other nice towns, as well. It was good to talk to people and learn more about the young country. However, there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Pristina, so I stayed just two nights and a day and a half. After this, I took a bus down to Skopje, Macedonia, and then another bus to Thessaloniki, Greece.

Republic of Kosovo

Republic of Kosovo

That was the end of my 15 day trip around the Balkans. I enjoyed skipping around from country to country, only visiting one place in each. Each country has its own unique history and vibe. A few of the places, like Kotor, Dubrovnik, and Sarajevo, are incredibly beautiful cities. Others, like Shkoder, Belgrade, and Pristina, have great energy with open people. Even though the conflicts in these countries are pretty recent, they’re all very safe countries and perfect for traveling. They’re inexpensive, interesting, easy to get around, and have good food. I can say that I took advantage of those 15 days and had a great time!

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Belgrade, Serbia – 5th Destination On My Balkans Trip

Belgrade hosts some interesting architecture and a great vibe.

Belgrade hosts some interesting architecture and a great vibe.

My next bus trip was from Sarajevo heading to Belgrade, Serbia. After checking the buses, I realized that a minibus was the best option. It was only a few euros more expensive and provided door-to-door service. It turned out to be a much better ride than the trip I had between Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Sarajevo, where I was strip searched.

I was picked up from my hostel by an animated gentleman in his 50s. He was extremely energetic with his joking around, and he was happy to hear that I was from the Chicago area. His son, it turns out, has lived in Chicago for a few years. Apparently, there is a big Serbian population in Chicago (along with Polish, Bulgarians, Japanese, Greeks, and many more nationalities). This was just the beginning.

We ended up picking up 3 other Serbian guys and then started our way to Belgrade. A younger guy, in his 30s, told me that the others like to hunt for food on the way. I thought it was kind of a joke, but I was in for a surprise. About an hour from the Bosnia/Serbia border, we pulled into the driveway of a house in the middle of nowhere. “They want to buy cheese here,” I was told. So we all go inside this house, where we were greeted by and 75 year old man and his 18 year old grandson. We sat down in the dining area, which had a small kitchen attached. The wood floors and old furniture reminded me of an old country house in the US. Immediately, the grandfather pulls out an unlabeled bottle of a clear liquid, home-made rakija.

The guys chatting and drinking rakija.

The guys chatting and drinking rakija.

Rakija is an extremely popular type of alcohol in the Balkan regions made from plums. It’s usually home-made, like moonshine, and ranges in alcohol percent from 40-60%. They brought out shot glasses and started pouring rounds. Next, the grandfather’s son and son’s wife come in with two different kinds of home-made cheeses, one from cow milk and one from goat milk. We started digging into this delicious cheese with the bread they also put on the table. Between the grandfather and the minivan driver, they had a long, animated conversation. I was told afterwards that they were negotiating the purchase of two goats for Christmas. This was seriously the most interesting bus ride I’ve ever been on!

Belgrade

Entrance to the Kalemegdan Fortress

Entrance to the Kalemegdan Fortress

Belgrade has been an important settlement dating back thousands of years. Its location of being at the confluence of the Danube and the Sava rivers has made it such a powerful city, from Vinca culture, to the Romans, to the Ottomans, to the Austro-Hungarians, and finally to Yugoslavia and now Serbia. The name Beograd (as it is in Serbian) is thought to come from when the Slavs arrived and saw the white walls of the fortress. As they arrived, they screamed “Beograd! Beograd!” , which means “White City”.

Belgrade’s long history of foreign invasions has given the city a large mix of architecture styles. Walking down a street, you may see a late 1800s Austrian style building next to a dull Communist style building next to a modern Western shopping mall. Walking all around downtown is like this. You’ll see colorful buildings next to big concrete blocks that might as well be a prison. It made me realize that everything that is constructed, in a way, is living history. It was all designed, influenced, and created by something in the past. Walking down any random streets in Belgrade makes this very clear.

Museum of Yugoslav History

Tito's mausoleum.

Tito’s mausoleum.

The Museum of Yugoslav History, a 20 minute bus ride from the city center, drew my interest in the fact that it holds the mausoleum of former Yugoslavia dictator Josip “Tito” Broz. I knew next to nothing about him before visiting the museum and the mausoleum, so it was a good learning experience. Tito was in power for 39 years, which ended in 1980 when he passed away. For being a dictator, he was very famous around the world, even with the United States. The museum showed pictures of him with JFK and many other leaders from around the world. The museum was set up almost as a memorial to Tito, but it was interesting to see. It spoke of his style and careful elections of clothes, even changing 3 or 4 different times in a day. He traveled around the world to meet leaders and locals alike, and the pictures depicted these travels. His mausoleum is in the middle of the building they call the House of Flowers, and his wife, Jovanka, who died in 2013, lies next to him.

Drawing of Tito.

Drawing of Tito.

The Old Museum, located in a separate building, houses all the gifts that Tito received from countries from around the world. From traditional 1800s dresses from Montenegro, to a Carnival costume from Bolivia, he was given a huge variety of gifts. He was even given ancient Japanese daggers and instruments from Myanmar.

Free Tour

Tour guide for a good 3 hours!

Tour guide for a good 3 hours!

I took the free walking tour in Belgrade, as well. The tour had a surprisingly high amount of people, about 15, for being 40 degrees outside. Our guide took us around to the main sites as well as lesser known places but with great stories. The main site is the Kalemegdan Fortress, the fortress I mentioned before with the white walls. It overlooks the Sava and Danube Rivers, the most likely place of attack in ancient times. It is thought to have been built in 535 AD by Justinian I, the then Byzantine Emperor. Looking at the fortress walls, you notice different colors and shapes and patterns of stones – this is the variations from being rebuilt by different empires. From the Byzantine Empire, to the Slavs, to the Ottomans, and the Austro-Hungarians. Surprisingly and disappointingly, the tour guide mentioned nothing about the current conflict with Kosovo.

NATO Bombings

Several bombed buildings are still standing from the 1999 NATO bombings on Belgrade

Several bombed buildings are still standing from the 1999 NATO bombings on Belgrade

One unfortunately attraction are several buildings still left over from the NATO bombings on Belgrade in 1999. After Serbia refused to give Kosovo its autonomy and its subsequent occupation of military forces in Kosovo, NATO developed an air strike strategy on Serbia. Many buildings in Belgrade were bombed, including the Serbian Radio and Television building, Ministry of Defense, and the Chinese Embassy. To this day, several of the buildings are left standing as if they were bombed yesterday. These seem to be a memorial to those who were killed in these attacks and a reminder of what happened. These buildings reminded me of the Philippines after Supertyphoon Yolanda, only that this destruction in Belgrade was caused intentionally. To see these crippled buildings is a reminder of how brutal war can be and how recent this conflict occurred.

I must say that Belgrade is not the most beautiful city in the Balkans. As far as good looking architecture, Kotor, Dubrovnik, and Sarajevo are much more interesting. However, Belgrade does have a nice feel to it. Serbians seem to be very warm and welcoming people, the exact opposite of the stereotypical closed Eastern European that one may imagine. I definitely felt welcomed into their country, and I really enjoyed learning more about its recent history in the historical city of Belgrade.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina – 4th Destination On My Balkans Trip

After hundreds of years of Ottoman Empire rule, Sarajevo still keeps its Turkish flavor.

After hundreds of years of Ottoman Empire rule, Sarajevo still keeps its Turkish flavor.

When you picture the city of Sarajevo in the country of Bosnia and Hercegovina, you probably remember the infamous siege of Bosnian forces in the early 1990s. The siege lasted 44 months and devastated Sarajevo. Now almost 20 years later, Sarajevo is still recovering from the very recent siege. The tourism industry has become an increasingly important part of the economy, as more and more publications have been raving about Sarajevo.

I did not know exactly what to expect, but I was surely surprised when I arrived at 10pm. I walked from the bus station and immediately saw the city’s tallest building, the Avaz Twist Tower, a modern skyscraper that could easily be in Chicago or Singapore. Walking down its wide boulevard (nicknamed Sniper Alley during the siege), I passed western shops like Mango and McDonalds, all in modern western style buildings. At first glance, the city was nothing special and I started to wonder why I had left Dubrovnik to visit such an ordinary looking place. I quickly brushed away these thoughts and kept walking with an open mind.

Some parts felt much more Western than Turkish.

Some parts felt much more Western than Turkish.

The next morning, I went for a walk along the main pedestrian street, Ferhadija. Walking east, I arrived at a point where everything changed. A painted white strip on the street stated, “Meeting of cultures where East meets West.” This couldn’t be truer. Look west and you see 8 story buildings with banks and international stores. Look East, and you see one story wooden houses, a clock tower with Arabic numbers on it, a cobblestone street, and the city’s first mosque. This area, called Baščaršija, is like a small slice of Istanbul. This point where East meets West became my favorite part of the city, as the change is so drastic and so sudden.

Continuing down Saraci, you find tourist shops, small alleyways, more cobblestone streets, small restaurants serving cebapi (pronounced che-bah-pi), tripe soup, and other Bosnian foods. You’ll also find an indoor bazaar, where local vendors have been selling anything and everything since the Ottoman Empire times. Go even further west and you’ll run into the Moorish former City Hall, a building in downtown Sarajevo that could be in the middle of a city in MoroccoHead south towards the river and you’ll run into the Latin Bridge, where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated which, in turn, started World War I.

Vijecnica  (City Hall)

The old City Hall, with its unique architecture, was just recently finished after being bombed in the early 90s.

The old City Hall, with its unique architecture, was just recently finished after being bombed in the early 90s.

The former City Hall was destroyed during the Siege of Sarajevo, as the Serbs targeted important cultural buildings. At the time, it was also the National Library, and over 2,000,000 books and documents were destroyed in the burning of the building. The building was renovated and actually was just recently finished this year. It is now a beautiful building that houses an exhibition about the history of Sarajevo from 1914 to 2014. The cost of the museum was about $2 and was a good read to understand the last 100 years in the city.

Free Tour

Red marks the place where a grenade exploded, and the damage still remains on the Cathedral.

Red marks the place where a grenade exploded, and the damage still remains on the Cathedral.

The most powerful part of visiting Sarajevo was the free tour. Our guide, Miram, is a 29 year old girl who grew up in a town outside of Sarajevo. Not only was she knowledgeable about Bosnia’s long history of being controlled by outsiders, including the Ottomans and the Austro-Hungarians, but she also recounted her experience during the Siege of Sarajevo. She wasn’t even 10 yet when the Serbs started their ruthless bombing. She remembers going to school for two hours in the morning from 8am until 10am, a relatively safer time to go because the daily bombing never started until late morning. After 10am, she would spend the rest of her day in their basement. The goal of every day was to survive, and the basement gave her and her family a relatively safe place to be as the grenades rained down on their village. Miram spoke about the food rations they were given. Because they were unable to farm and were cut off from any other countries, most of their food was provided by humanitarian organizations. The mush they were given was one of the worst things she has ever tasted, and it was essentially the only thing available for almost four years. She heard a rumor that the food they were given was leftover from WWII, a mere 50 years later. Almost every bite would have a dead worm along with it.

The most shocking of her story was how she explained the sound of the firing of a grenade. After the initial “bang” of the launch, she would then hear the grenade in the air, much like the sound of an airplane. After this, they would never know where the grenade was heading, so they would wait and listen to the sound of it dropping. Then the following explosion would follow. She got so used to this sound that the exact sound is still vivid in her mind. The fact that she is just two years older than me shows how recent this was. While I was riding my bike up to the swimming pool on a hot summer day, she was sprinting from school and back to avoid grenade explosions in her town.

The market where one of the deadliest explosions occurred during the siege, when 68 people were killed.

The market where one of the deadliest explosions occurred during the siege, when 68 people were killed.

She had one close call. On her way home from school, she was about two blocks away from her home. She heard that all too familiar sound of the grenade being launched from a distance. And she froze. She had no idea if it was best to go back, forward, or stay where she was at. She then heard the sound of her mother screaming for her to run to the house. Luckily, she arrived safely. However, she saw the damage later on of the grenade in the exact same spot where she had frozen up.

On the tour, she pointed out several places where buildings were damaged by grenades, including the cathedral. On the sidewalk just a few feet from the cathedral is an indent from the exploded grenade, which is now painted red to honor those who died in this time. On the side of the cathedral walls are damaged parts which weren’t repaired in order to remember this time and those who passed away. Throughout the city, there are many places where you can see bullet holes in buildings and other damage. It’s all very recent and still fresh in the minds of Bosnians.

Tunnel of Hope

Tunnel of Hope. In the basement lies the tunnel that connect Sarajevo with the outside world.

Tunnel of Hope. In the basement lies the tunnel that connect Sarajevo with the outside world.

The Tunnel of Hope lies about 10 miles outside of Sarajevo, right by the airport. The tunnel was a key passageway which provided access for Sarajevo to the rest of the country. Food, weapons, and other supplies were brought into the city through this half-mile underground tunnel, which goes under the airport. The tunnel was constructed in 1993 and was very important to the livelihood of Sarajevo. Without this, it’s very possible that Sarajevo would’ve fallen and Serbia would have taken Bosnia.

Getting to the tunnel isn’t the easiest thing to do if not on a guided tour, but I had met a Brazilian guy on my tour who had rented a car and was heading out to the Tunnel of Hope. He offered for me to join him, as well as a Canadian and an Australian.

We arrived to a two story house, the disguise for the tunnel which was built underneath. We had a local guy, whose name I can’t remember, guide us through the exhibit. He was about 40 years old and was very passionate while talking about the Siege of Sarajevo. The most interesting part is how he described those four years as the most horrible but also the most beautiful years of his life. Like me, you may be confused on this and how it could be in any way described as beautiful.

The tunnel.

The tunnel.

He explained, “In that time, we were all together. It didn’t matter if you were Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic, or Jewish. We were all Bosnians.” He said that that was the only time that he could go into anyone’s house with no questions asked. Nowadays, he doesn’t even know his neighbor. He was very proud to say that he is a survivor of this time, something that holds Bosnians close.

The only part of the tunnel that can be visited is about 75 feet long. It was only a few feet wide and I needed to bend down a bit to walk through. The fact that this was a lifeline for Bosnia makes it an incredible place, extremely important for the country’s people.

Jazz Music

Sarajevo is known for its jazz music. Unfortunately, I just missed their big jazz festival in November. However, I took the opportunity to spend one evening at a jazz club located just one block from my hostel. For the cover fee of just $3, I was able to watch the Sarajevo Jazz Guerilla Band the small, quaint venue of The Monument, along with several people from my hostel. Being so famous in Sarajevo, seeing a live jazz show was a great way to spend an evening.

Border Search

I had taken the bus from Dubrovnik, Croatia, to Sarejevo. This turned out to be one of the most annoying border crossings I’ve ever had. I was on a bus of about 25 people, sitting by a guy from New Zealand who I had met in Dubrovnik. The border patrol took our passports and then returned to ask the Kiwi and I to bring our stuff with them. We were taken into a small room, as three border patrol guards starting searching our bags and asking if we had any drugs. I guess we seemed like the common young traveling guys who would smuggle drugs across the border. Unfortunately for me, to save space, I had taken out ibuprofen from the plastic bottle and put it inside a small Ziploc bag. You can imagine their first thoughts as they found this. Because of this, they started asking more questions and searching more thoroughly, even asking me to drop my pants to make sure I had nothing hidden in this region. When I said I don’t smoke marijuana, he asked why not. I simply responded, “Well, because it’s illegal.” I don’t think he could believe that we wouldn’t have anything on us. Afterwards, they let me go and I happily packed up my stuff and got back on the bus.

Like I said, I was surprised by Sarajevo. The meeting of East and West was very prevalent. I also ate way too much cebapi (sausages with pita bread and raw onion). No wonder why tourism is increase substantially every year in Sarajevo.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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