Friday, 26 June 2009

Visiting Mt Sinai and St Catherine`s Monastry

Visiting Mt Sinai required a very early start. Actually a late start, and no sleep. We left our hotel about 11.30 pm and drove for a couple of hours. Paul had napped during the day and spent the journey chatting with other travellers, but me who had had a daytime coffee and was not able to nap tried my best to doze - a hard thing to do in the middle seat of a minivan.

We arrived at the base of Mt Sinai about 1am and started our climb. Thankfully it was a bit cooler than here on the coast, although the smell of the camels and the dust they stirred up as they went past you did make breathing difficult on occasions.

The walk up was stunning. The only lights were the firefly like lights of the torches as we walked so it meant that we had on of the best star views, ever.

After a couple of hours, and about as much break time as walking time we made it to the top. We rugged up and star gazed and dozed for an hour or so until the light started to creep over the hills. For the most part it was quiet although there was the occasion bedouin ringtone and singing pilgrims as the sound track as the sun made its way up through the dusty haze.

View from Mt Sinai

View from Mt Sinai

Paul and Flavio having breakfast

Amy at sunrise

A local Bedouin tat seller

There are two routes up the mountain. The first, the camel track , is the obvious choice for the upward climb, but feeling fit (or at least sleep deprived enough to think we were) we opted for the 3750 steps of the Steps of Repentance - named as such for the Monk who constructed the staircase as an act of repentance. It was not as hard on the knees, or the soul, as we had been led to believe, but there would be no way I would ever climb them in the upwards direction!

Paul about to start the Steps

In good Egyptian fashion, although most climbers were down the mountain by 8am, the Monastery was not to open until 9am. So there was more attempted dozing on the rocks and hiding from the already very hot sun.

St Catherine`s Monastery

The Burning Bush, or a cutting from it

I have to confess to being an Icon geek. It is quite a simple but colourful form of art and St Catherine`s Monastery has some of the best preserved 6th and 7th century icons (I guess the dry heat is good for them). So once we had made our way through the pilgrims, the church, past the brambles growing from a cutting of the burning bush I made a beeline for the treasure sanctuary to check out all the art and the bling.

As I was leaving I asked the monk at the door if I could take his photo, and was a bit put out when he said no but said he would take my picture. Figuring that this would give me the chance to ask again I said yes. But I didn~t really have the chance. Once he had taken my picture he asked if I would like to have another look at the icons and took me back inside. Only this time, in contravention of the no photo signs throughout he was happily snapping photos of the icons for me and showing the hidden images within some of the icons, only to be revealed by good explanation and a torch light.

An icon with a hidden picture and a ray of light

Micro mosaic

After some time Paul and I managed to excuse ourselves from his company to head back to our waiting bus. I asked again if I could take his picture, and while it seems he was happy to play with my camera and take photos of the icons and mosaics, it seems that he needed permission from the High Priest if I was to take his photo.

PS Thanks to Flavio for letting me use his laptop for a bit!

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