The King Tut Exhibit: A Little Bit of Egypt in Portugal

It’s always fun when you figure out that those half-forgotten memories of long ago grade-school lessons weren’t entirely wasted.  We remember (vaguely) learning about ancient Egypt, the pyramids and the hieroglyphs, our imaginations taken immediately with the idea of cloth-wrapped mummies, tombs and the stylized drawings of a proud people shown in profile.  Recently, we’ve been researching a future trip to Egypt (just a pipe dream for now but…) so we didn’t have to think twice when we found out that the Tutankhamun – Treasures of Egypt exhibit was at the Pavilion in Lisbon, January – May, 2017.  A recent trip to the city combined a visit to our lawyer with spending time with friends and sightseeing.  And, once again, we found our curiosity piqued and interest captured by the story of King Tut, the boy king in a civilization from over 3,000 years ago.

 

Funerary mask of Tutankhamun

The story really begins with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter.  By the time of Carter’s arrival at the end of the 19th century, most of the ancient Egyptian tombs in the Valley of the Kings had been discovered, typically empty and looted of their treasures.  Carter had started out his career in his teens, sketching artifacts for other archeologists and eventually becoming a well-respected archeologist himself.  Following an interruption of his explorations by WWI, Carter began to focus his efforts on looking for the tomb of the little-known Pharaoh, Tutankhamun.  Akin to an urban legend, knowledge of the tomb’s location had long been forgotten over the intervening centuries, buried by debris from the building of subsequent tombs or deposits by flooding from the Nile.  Financial support for his expedition was received from George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, a very wealthy, amateur Egyptologist (and incidentally, the owner of Highclere Castle, the future home of one of our favorite TV shows, Downton Abbey). After years of intense and systematic, albeit fruitless searching, and just as Lord Carnarvon was threatening to pull his support, the steps to the burial site were discovered in November of 1922, near the entrance of the tomb of King Ramses VI.

 

Tutankhamun’s Tomb (source)

The short film we watched before entering the exhibition built up the suspense for what followed but it’s not hard to imagine their excitement as Carter and Lord Carnarvon descended the steps for the first time and discovered a door with its original seal still intact.  After entering, they found a secret chamber and Carter describes the next few moments:

“…as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold – everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.”

 

 

 

King Tutankhamun’s tomb was the most intact of all the tombs that had been excavated in the Valley of the Kings, with more than five-thousand priceless, well-preserved artifacts meant to accompany the king on his journey to the afterworld.  Consisting of four rooms, one of which had murals painted on the walls portraying the king’s funeral and journey to the next world, the innermost chamber was behind a sealed door and guarded by two sentinels.

 

 

 

When the sealed chamber was opened in February of 1923, perhaps the most fascinating find of all was the stone sarcophagus containing three coffins, one inside the other and each more fabulous than the last.  The third coffin was made of solid gold and inside was the mummy of King Tutankhamun.

 

 

Much of what is known about the Egyptian Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, who’s multi-syllabled name was quickly shortened to a more manageable nickname of “King Tut,” derives from the discovery of his tomb as he was a relatively minor figure in ancient Egypt.   The son of King Akhenaten and his sister, Queen Tiye, he ascended the throne following the death of his father at the age of nine or ten and ruled from approximately 1332 – 1323 BCE.  Upon becoming King, and following the custom of keeping the royal bloodlines all in the family, he married his half-sister, Ankhesenamun.  The mummies of the couple’s two daughters, both stillborn, were found in his tomb, and with King Tut’s death, the family line came to an abrupt end.

 

There’s much speculation about what led to King Tut’s untimely death at the age of nineteen and modern forensics specialists have tried to solve part of mystery.  A reconstruction of what he might have looked like shows he was slight of build, taller than we would have guessed at approximately 5 feet, 11 inches, and that his left foot was severely deformed (a congenital birth defect)  with evidence of ongoing bone necrosis.  He would have needed a cane to walk and several walking sticks were found scattered about the tomb.  It’s possible that he suffered from other physical disabilities arising from his parents’ sibling relationship. (The death of his own daughters may have also been caused by unknown genetic defects due to the restricted gene pool.)   More than one strain of the malaria parasite was found upon DNA examination and researchers concluded that King Tutankhamun probably contracted multiple malarial infections, including an especially virulent strain which would have weakened his immune system. Towards the end of his life, there’s conjecture that an infection resulting from a severe leg fracture may have been the ultimate cause of his demise.

Doubtless, the early death of King Tutankhamun would have taken the Egyptians by surprise and they would have scrambled to complete all the rituals necessary to observe the customary seventy days between death and burial.  Considering his status, many researchers have observed that his tomb was smaller than expected, leading to the conclusion that the tomb occupied by the King was originally intended for someone else.  Much of King Tut’s burial equipment was made for the female pharaoh Neferneferuaten (aka Queen Nefertiti) including his middle coffin, the royal jewelry and the iconic gold mask.  That of course leads to the question of where she was buried and with what, but we digress.  Seventy days after his death, King Tutankhamun’s mummified body was laid to rest inside its eternal home and the tomb was sealed to lay undisturbed for three-thousand years.

 

 

The discovery of King Tut’s tomb, the most complete ancient Egyptian royal tomb ever found in modern times, received world-wide press coverage and generated an enormous interest in ancient Egypt and Egyptology.  Howard Carter remained in Egypt for another ten years, working on the excavation and cataloging the 5,398 objects found in the tomb (everything an Egyptian Pharaoh might need for a comfortable afterlife) until the excavation was completed in 1932.  King Tutankhamun’s linen-wrapped mummy rests, as it has for over 3,000 years, in his underground tomb in the Valley of the Kings, now encased in a climate controlled-glass box to prevent the “heightened rate of decomposition caused by the humidity and warmth from tourists visiting the tomb.”  Artifacts found in his tomb are kept at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo but popular exhibitions of the archeological finds began touring in the 1960’s, make them the most travelled relics in the world.

 

King Tutankhamun’s throne

The discovery of King Tut’s tomb has inspired several songs and dances as well motivated untold numbers of kids to learn more about Egypt.  His image has graced the cover of National Geographic’s magazine five times which, considering he’s been dead for 3,000 years, sounds like stiff competition for #45 with his eleven Time covers. Visiting the exhibit was a fun trip back in time on the “Wayback Machine” and when we exited the building we couldn’t help but hum a few bars of Walk Like An Egyptian!

Note:  The exhibit, Tutankhamun – Treasures of Egypt consisted of 100 full scale reproductions made in Egypt using traditional methods.  We found that little factoid out after we went but it only makes us more enthusiastic to see the real deal one of these days!

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash

 

Egyptian Boat Model

 

75 comments

  • Fascinating! So glad I found your site, thanks to Peta.

    Liked by 1 person

  • As always, great history here Anita, and lots that I didn’t know. Given all the forensic discoveries, I’m surprised that Tut lived as long as he did. Given the inbreeding, he probably didn’t start the race that strong anyway. When you go to Egypt, make sure to visit the Valley of Kings as well as Cairo. In addition to the wonderful antiquities, it will give you a real feel for working conditions for Carter and his contemporaries. ~James

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s fun to revisit an old story and update our learning and King Tut’s tale was especially interesting with the advances in scientific knowledge. It really does sound like he spent a lot of his life ill, doesn’t it? Cairo, the Pyramid of Giza, the Sphinx, the Valley of the Kings, the Suez Canal … are on our must-see list as well as a sail down the Nile on a felucca. And it will be interesting to put ourselves in Carter’s shoes. A real-life Indiana Jones adventure!

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  • Much has been written about Tutankhamun and other kings of Egypt. But I read your post with pleasure. Unfortunately in Egypt, nebyl, but I hope someday to see the great pyramids. Thank you for the interesting post and photo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Brian for your comment and we’re so glad you enjoyed this post. You’re right that a lot has been written about King Tutankhamun and it’s interesting that his story continues to fascinate so many people. With recent improvements in forensic studies it was a real learning experience to be able to see what he may have looked like as well as get some insight into his family life and health. And here’s hoping that we all get a chance to see the pyramids and Egypt!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Hi, Anita. Your post took me back to the Cairo and 2004 where I wandered the museum almost every day for a week. I was wondering how all those artifacts made their way to Portugal. I would go back to the museum in a heartbeat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You sound like you approach a museum the same way we do, Nancie – slow and trying to absorb as much as you can! (Hence, the several days.) When we were roughing out our trip at the beginning of the year we pretty much decided we needed at least a week in Cairo to see the sights and, like you, go back and forth to the museum. If we get there, we want to see as many treasures as we can and the museum sounds vast!

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  • Egypt and its history remains endless fascinating and one of my favorite exhibits is the massive one at the British Museum, which always makes me feel almost as if I’m a tomb explorer…almost. Brilliant that you were able to see the iconic treasures and sarcophagus of the famous boy pharaoh.

    Liked by 1 person

  • I loved this blog post Anita, as it has also been a dream of mine to visit Egypt. Hubby is not as keen on it as me so I was grateful for the backstory you provided, as this trip may not ever rise to the top of the bucket list for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  • We both loved your post and your passion for Egypt came shining through. You filled in some of the gaps in King Tut’s story and for that we thank you. As for “Walk Like an Egyptian” it is now stuck in our heads. We’re sorry we missed the exhibit in Lisbon, but so glad that you guys made it. As for seeing the real deal – who knows, it may become reality.

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  • Judging by your photos this looks like a superb exhibition. I admit I was wondering how it was that so many priceless objects were allowed to be included. I was thinking how disappointed visitors to the Egyptian Museum would be to discover so many exhibits were travelling – then I read your last sentence. I have been to Egypt and seen the real things but I would still visit this exhibition if I could.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The exhibit was great Lyn and really caught our imaginations as well as motivated us to pursue our plans to visit this “Bucket List” destination. How lucky for you to have seen the exhibits for yourself and your point about those people visiting the Cairo museum is well taken. 🙂 But, wow, would I love to see the real artifacts up close and in person!

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  • My father was fascinated with King Tut and when I was little he read me many stories about King Tut. I always wanted to visit Egypt, too. However, when we tried to plan trips to Egypt, violence would erupt and we’d postpone our trip. We still haven’t been to Egypt. But, when King Tut was making his rounds in the U.S., we were in New Orleans and visited the exhibition. Thanks for the memories, Anita.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think King Tut’s story has stirred the imaginations of people from several generations and it’s so interesting that his name is almost universally recognized. We put off the visit to Egypt this winter because of those same fears, Debbie and worries about how the new administration’s foreign policies might affect visitors. At this point, we’ll wait for a few more months and reevaluate the political climate. Interestingly, this post brought out a couple of options (one friend of ours has a local guide she’ll put us in touch with and I discovered a friend just yesterday who is living near Cairo now 🙂 ) so that might help with planning a visit as well as reassure us. Hope this is a dream that comes true for us and you and Ron, too!

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  • Great post!!! Always a great read!

    Liked by 1 person

  • I remember when this exhibit came to New York! Thanks for all the great pictures and backstory.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Hello guys! so happy i have stumbled upon your blog…you have such a great story and look lovely together! my name is Anita as well, nice to meet you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks and welcome, Anita! Back in the US, Anita is not a very popular name but when we were traveling through Latin America people would always say, “Oh you have a ___fill in the name of the country__ name!” It always made me feel a little more “local!” Richard would always introduce himself as Ricardo and with a little bit of our basic Spanish, we would try to immerse ourselves in wherever we happened to be. So many amazing people!

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  • ME BE in Panama

    Great stuff, as usual, you two. Always a historical mystery waiting to be solved. We have a question for you: Do you have a favorite photo of a place and/or people I can use? I’m putting together the new site, byallmeanstravel.com, and I’d like to include one of your pix, plus a citation, if that’s okay.
    byedgington48@gmail.com

    Thx

    Liked by 1 person

    • We do love our history and it’s always fun to dig just a bit deeper for the really interesting factoids! I sent you two an email and we’re looking forward to hearing about your experiences in Medellin. The expat newsletters (I’m sure you know the ones I mean!) have been really hyping it up lately but, after seeing so many of the cities and countries that they extolled during our travels (Boquete included) we’re always very wary of their message since it comes with a not-so-subtle sell message. Getting an unbiased opinion and reading about your experiences promises to be a lot of fun. Good luck Mariah and By!

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  • In my days as a 6th grade elementary school teacher I taught ancient civilizations to my students (as well as every other subject) and of course Egypt was always a highlight for the kids as we went all out, including an annual Egyptian Festival where Queen Maghamsetput would greet her people each year. I taught in the city of Los Altos, but in the nearby city of San Jose there is the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum which houses the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in western North America, so the annual field trip was always a big hit for the kids. It truly was a fascinating culture and time in history. I learned more in those years of teaching 6th graders than I ever knew, and sadly, I’ve probably forgotten most of it. Would love to see the pyramids one day, maybe when peace reigns over the land. Is that possible?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I looked up the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and it sounds like the annual field trip would have definitely been the highlight of learning about ancient Egypt in your classroom, Patti! And I’ll bet that with a bit of a quick review, a lot of what you learned about Egypt will return. We are back to thinking in earnest about a trip to Egypt later in the fall (fingers crossed) and interestingly enough have had a couple of local ties pop up in the last few days which might make planning a trip much easier (and less expensive) as well as safer. One of these days we will have to Skype! 🙂

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  • What a fabulous post, Anita! I have been to several Egyptian exhibits and never tire of them as they are so intriguing. I found the image of Tut and info about his genealogy and malaria fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Doreen. I can see that you share our enthusiasm and interest in ancient Egypt and seeing the exhibit reignited our interest. Learning more about his family as well as finding out some of his health history and imagining King Tutankhamun’s life was so interesting and made this man from long ago become a person that we could understand much better.

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  • I remember seeing a big Tutankhamun exhibition in London in the 1970s. A fascinating period of history!

    Liked by 1 person

  • You’ve had an appetizer plate – hope you go for the full-meal-deal and see the Egptian Museum in Cairo. You did a lovely report on King Tut and it makes me want to return again to Cairo. We’ve got a different routing going back this spring so won’t get our shot of that wonderful place (of course we won’t have to pack lap tops and cameras in checked bags either – so I guess there is a trade off in skipping Egypt this time).

    Liked by 1 person

    • So do we Jackie and thanks for all the info you’ve given us about your trip(s) to Egypt – future fodder for planning! We always like slow, immersion style travel and we’d definitely want to stretch out our time there to absorb the culture and history, sights and sounds. I know that being able to layover in Egypt on your way back to the Pacific Coast has been a bonus so I’m sure you were a little disappointed for this trip. I like how you were able to find a silver lining though! 😉

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  • The “Tutankhamun – Treasures of Egypt” exhibit really gets around! I’m sure I saw it here in San Francisco many years back. I would go see it again, given the opportunity. Perhaps I’ll cross paths with it again some day when I am traveling. I do hope you make it eventually to the Valley of the Kings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’ll keep researching and take a look at making a trip this fall again once the weather gets a little cooler and we can get more of an idea what the political climate might be like. It’s nice to live in Portugal because the flights aren’t too expensive or long.🙂 This is a bucket list biggie so we’re crossing our fingers that we can make this happen. And, we’re with you, Carole because we’d go to another Egyptian exhibit in the future if we get an opportunity to see one!

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  • This sounds like an interesting exhibit. I’m always fascinated by how historians and archaeologists piece together what happened ages ago or how a person lived. King Tut’s story is a good example. And I think I too would have hummed Walk Like An Egyptian a little once.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Walk like an Egyptian” was a catchy tune that kept going through my mind for days after (in fact it was the working title for this post!) but we also had to go back and watch a few of Steve Martin’s King Tut sketches on SNL on You Tube. 🙂 Obviously, even though King Tut’s tomb was discovered almost a century ago, his legacy continues to fascinate people of all ages. And we agree, Donna – It’s interesting how historians and scientists were able to draw some conclusions about King Tut’s life and health. The artist’s rendition of what he may have looked like and speculation about his life made him much more real to us!

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  • Would love to see the originals, better yet imagine what Carter saw in 1922. When I was a kid I dreamed of being Indiana Jones, I think he might have actually contributed to my travel lust 🙂
    It’s amazing that it took until 1922 to discovery Tut’s tombs.

    Frank (bbqboy)

    Liked by 1 person

    • We had a great time trying to imagine what Howard Carter must have experienced in his years of living in Egypt in the early years of the 20th Century and the wonder of excavating some of these burial sites. I can definitely see why Indiana Jones would be inspiring to so many kids – unknown adventures and the anticipation of discovering some ancient wonders. I wonder how many kids have become archaeologists because of the Indiana Jones movies? Finding King Tut’s tomb after World War I was definitely in Egypt’s best interests as they were able to claim national ownership of the antiquities rather than having the treasures appropriated and scattered to museums elsewhere in the world like so many other ancient discoveries!

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  • Goodness – THREE THOUSAND years! Hard to wrap one’s (paltry few hundred year U.S. history) brain around such ancient history. I viewed some of the artifacts at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo a half dozen years ago, but never made it to the tomb itself in the Valley of the Kings. As always, thanks for the abundant juicy historical tidbits!

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    • It’s staggering isn’t it Dyanne? And you’ve hit the nail on the head as we too are constantly amazed at the history and age of buildings throughout Europe. We see many artifacts here that date back to the Romans but thinking of the ancient Egyptians and adding another thousand-plus years into the mix is truly astounding. You know we love our history but trying to picture King Tut as a young man was what made those old school lessons really come to life. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to see visit Egypt in the not-too-distance future. Fingers crossed!

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  • Fascinating blog post Anita! From an aesthetics point of view we appreciated the sarcophagus photos but most captivating was the substantive description of King Tut as a human. His congenital heritage and the recreation of what he might have looked like. History has a way of becoming more graspable when you bring it down to humans, within their life time what they managed to accomplish or not. Thanks for the terrific photos and education on the person that lies beneath the mythology.

    Strangely we were just talking about taking a visit to Egypt one day. Perhaps one day, making our way down the Western coast of Africa ~ all the way to South Africa ~ right now like you say, pipe dreams. Though pipe dreams focused on long enough, can become reality 🙂

    Peta & Ben

    Liked by 1 person

    • King Tut’s incredible amount of “precious stuff” is magnificent and had us oohing and ahing but learning more about him was our big takeaway from the exhibit. As for getting to Egypt – You’re right about pipe dreams, Peta & Ben. Things do have a way of becoming reality if you focus on them and explore the possibilities. If you had told us in 2010 that we’d be where we are now we would never have believed you.🙂 Thinking outside the box and grabbing opportunities is what makes life endlessly fascinating! And maybe our paths will cross in Egypt – you never know!

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  • I didn’t know about King Tut’s deformed leg, and the fact that he had walking sticks in his tomb. Missed that from years before. Thanks for presenting this “old” story in a fresh and new way. I really enjoyed it. Fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

  • I have been to Egypt, but only to scuba dive in the Red Sea and I also visited the Sinai. Would be wonderful to visit Cairo and the Valley of the Kings. Seeing this exhibition is the next best thing, it is absolutely fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scuba Diving in the Red Sea sounds fascinating Gilda and I imagine the landscape below the water is as amazing as the history and antiquity above. Egypt has long been on our bucket list and, while the exhibition was terrific to see, I think it only made us more interested than ever to move this travel destination closer to the top of our “Must See” list!

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  • Oh I loved this post. I remember seeing all his paraphernalia in the museum when we were in Cairo in 2015 – it had been a lifelong dream for me and well worth the wait. I do hope you get there. Egypt is amazing in every way you could imagine. Going into the tombs in the Valley of the Kings where they found his tomb had me in tears. I have such a connection to Egypt. We decided do with a tour there for security and it worked out really well. I do recommend Intrepid.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the recommendation for Intrepid, Alison (how did you know I was going to write you with that question? 🙂) and we’ll be sure to look into them. They have a great reputation. We travel a lot like you and Don, finding it more fun to go it alone and at our own pace but I agree that signing on to a more formal tour for safety reasons makes a lot of sense. We are so looking forward to seeing the Valley of the Kings and spending hours in the Cairo Museum. Egypt is a lifetime dream of ours as well!

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  • Keith Fredrickson

    We visited the tut exhibit in Seattle when it toured the US….Way back in another life time. Still have the table top book. It will be great fun to visit Egypt. Have fun. We are enjoying Moab Utah this week, loving the country. K&Corky.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You picked an awesome area for a get-away, Keith and Corky, and probably as unlike your home in Oregon as you could get! We hadn’t thought about coffee table books for a long time but I always loved to leaf through the photos whenever friends or fam would have them out and I imagine that the photos from the King Tut exhibit would be amazing. Hope you’re well and that our paths cross sometime in the not too-distant future. And hey, there’s some great wind-surfing in the Algarve if you ever get the urge to head our way! 🙂

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  • Love this post! The first thing l thought was Steve Martin dressed as King Tut..and then l thought of the Bangles song..haha! Fascinating story about the young king. I wouldn’t mind seeing this exhibit at all. In the rendition, he looks a really old man poor thing. Expected with the gene pool like you say. Boy, they really didn’t like to share the wealth in those days :-). Solid gold coffin??? “It’s good to be the king!”

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    • HaHa! We remembered the old Steve Martin skits too. And the “Walk Like an Egyptian” song developed into an earworm that went around and around in my head for a few days! Poor King Tut really didn’t look healthy did he? Still, it was fascinating to see what he might have looked like in real life and get more of a glimpse into what life would have been like in ancient Egypt. As you said, “It was good to be king!”

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  • Fabulous post! I love being a student in your history class. Keep well.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Fascinating. My wife and I will be in Portimao next month, but only for 4 days. Not enough time to see the exhibit. We are looking forward to retiring in Portugal.

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  • Always a fascinating story and I enjoyed your contribution to it!

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  • Loved this post, brought back wonderful memories from when I was in Egypt in 2007. Such an amazing place to be. The Valley of the Kings was spectacular and being in King Tut’s tomb was so amazing. I’m glad they have these exhibits around the world for people to see, Egypt is a bit unstable now, too bad, I’d love to go back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’re so glad that you enjoyed our post and that it reminded you of your own amazing trip to the Valley of the Kings. Listening to other traveler’s stories and tips has moved Egypt toward the top of our bucket list and we’ll revisit the idea of going again in the fall. Hopefully, we can find a way that gives us an adventure while minimizing some of the risks of violence from the political factions and terrorists. We were glad too, to see this exhibit as it gives those of us who haven’t had a chance to see Egypt yet a little glimpse of some of its ancient wonders.

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