The Hidden Peacock at Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque – Isfahan, Iran

Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque in Esfahan, Iran.

If you look up, at just the right time, you'll see a peacock on the ceiling,” our guide, Javad, explained as he walked us under the gilded and tiled dome of Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran.

We craned our necks, searching for just the right angle. With the aid of sunlight passing through a nearby window, an image of a peacock — previously unseen, now tail shimmering — was revealed to us brush strokes. Intermittent cries of “Oh!” indicated when everyone in the room “got it.”

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Hurghada Fresh Market, Egypt

Hurghada Market in Egypt

When most people think about the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada, Egypt they likely imagine relaxing on the beach, scuba diving, adventuring in the desert, golfing, and lounging at a big resort. Hurghada does have all of that.

Rarely, however, does one think about fresh markets and a taste of local Egyptian culture. It's there in Hurghada, if only you look hard enough.

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Pyramid Hopping in Egypt

Do you remember learning about ancient Egypt in elementary school?

I do. I recall images of Cleopatra, mummies, hieroglyphics, and women with black bobbed hair and men dressed in kilts, all strutting. I remember pyramids that seemed too big to be real, as if aliens must have been the ones to deposit them in the middle of the desert.

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Street Market in Old Alexandria, Egypt

Fun at the street market in Alexandria, Egypt

When time is limited, you have to make tough decisions. In Alexandria, Egypt, I decided to hit the streets of its old town rather than going deep into the ancient catacombs. I was looking for interaction, for life on the streets.

And rather than heading down the main street, I found the loneliest alleyway to take me in a different direction. I ended up in a vein of street markets that wasn't so lonely after all.

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The Hanging Church of Coptic Cairo

Hanging Coptic Church in Cairo, Egypt.

Coptic Cairo. The name alone exudes ancient, mysterious, almost mystical. People still live, work and worship in the same place as they have for thousands of years. It's a humbling walk back in time in this secluded Old Cairo neighborhood, whose tranquility belies the 22-million strong bustle of modern Cairo just outside.

One of the highlights of Coptic Cairo: The Hanging Church, suspended above firm ground on palm tree trunks connecting two ancient Roman fortress towers.

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