What do you do when you get an extra day off school for Labour Day (in the UK we call this May Day) ? Well . . . . . we get up an hour earlier than on a school day (5am instead of 6am) and spend 6 hours in a mini bus (3 hours there and 3 hours back) . Of course once you’re the mini bus you do go back to sleep – once you’ve seen one pile of sand it starts to loose it’s appeal. We headed south from Cairo towards Ain Souknah and the coast road to Hurgharda, once we reached Souknah we drove south with the sea on our left until we reached the turning for St. Antony’s Monastery. This monastery claims to be the oldest in the world built in the 5th century, http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/antony.htm will give you some of the details. The place was well laid out, the monks gave informative tours and there was a very good gift shop at the end. We spent 2 hours there looking at the fortress the monks would hide in from the Bedouins, the 6th century refectory with it’s lipped table for breaking the hard bread on and catching the crumbs the olive press and coffee grinders. we saw the Saint associated with the church and, like St Helena, they have a splinter from the original cross. There was a glass floor to examine the bread ovens from an older monastery and, of-course, the original icons painted on the walls, Big eyes because of their holiness, small mouths because they don’t talk a lot and ears to listen with.
The monastery has it’s own water supply from a source in the mountain but they aren’t too sure how it gets there as they are 400 ft above sea level and it won’t be rain! Anyway it is sufficient to supply the needs of the 120 monks who live here. To enter the monastery people were originally hauled up with a harness and food was delivered by basket in a similar manner. Nowadays there is a gate and the monks work at candle making . . . .
From here we dove another 85km (20km as the crow flies) to St. Pauls. This is a smaller monastery built for the first Egyptian hermit St. Paul and houses only 90 monks. Once again we received a guided tour from the monks, saw icons and relics, drank from the spring (still of unknown source) and found my tessellation as the pavement outside the gift shop!
For some reason there is a lot of building going on here. We stopped at the canteen for a drink and then back in the bus to head for Cairo.