Thirty years ago I stood in line at the Art Gallery of Ontario to see a major tour of King Tut artifacts.
Winnipeggers with longer memories -- and lifespans -- probably remember the exhibition that came to Winnipeg in 1965, the first time Tut artifacts came to North America.
Tut was just 19 when he died after reigning from 1355 to 1346 B.C., and it was fascinating to see items that were touched and worn by the young pharaoh, or found in his tomb.
It's still fascinating. And yes, people still stand in line to see them.
For the first time in decades, Manitobans have a chance (within reasonable driving distance) to see treasures that were lost for more than 3,000 years.
The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, accompanied by the Omnitheater film Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs, has been entombed at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, Minn., for a limited engagement since Feb. 18. Residing there until Sept. 5, it makes a perfect side-trip -- or main attraction -- for a trip to the Twin Cities this spring and summer.
The exhibit features 100 artifacts unearthed from the tomb of Tutankhamun or from those of his relatives, including Amenhotep, Shabaqa and Hatshepsut.
During the recent March break, my family -- two adults, two teens, and a friend of our daughter's -- took in the exhibition during a fast-paced, one-day excursion from our resort about an hour away from the Twin Cities. Besides Tut, the day-trip included shopping and sightseeing at the Mall of America and several other stores in the area.
The Omnitheater movie is a must-see to get into the proper mood for the exhibit. It uses modern-day footage as well as re-enactments to help tell the history of the pharaohs and put King Tut into historical context. A close-up of Rameses II lets you see the face of a pharaoh believed to be the one in the Exodus story.
As the doors to the treasure room are opened, it's hard not to think of the words uttered by Howard Carter in 1922 when, after entering Tut's tomb and opening a hole in a wall just big enough to allow him to peer through, he was asked if he could see anything. "Wonderful things," replied Carter.
The first wonderful thing we encountered was a statue of Khafre, a king in Dynasty 4, seated on a throne. Khafre's reign was from 2576 B.C. to 2551 B.C., and his tomb, situated behind the Great Sphinx, is the second-largest pyramid at Giza.
There's Tut's bed, which historians believe was used while he was alive, as well as miniature model boats intended for use in the afterlife. An ivory game box, with pieces inside a slide-out drawer and two game boards, is one of four toys found in Tut's tomb.
For me, some of the most interesting -- and most intimate -- artifacts in the exhibit are the 20 golden covers which protected the fingers and toes of Tut, as well as his golden sandals. While Tut's gold burial mask is still in Egypt, you can see the incredibly detailed golden mask of Psusiennes I, who ruled about 300 years after the boy-king, as well as an ornate collar fashioned from beads with three gold falcon heads, worn by the daughter of Amenemhat III.
While a large part of the exhibition is filled with artifacts from Tut's tomb, including items from his mummy itself, there are some household items as well -- including a limestone latrine toilet seat used during the reign of Akhenaten. And if you were lucky enough to be a cat in the pharaoh's household, you too could get your own fancy sarcophagus, too.
The entire exhibit takes about 90 minutes to go through and, because all of the tickets have entrance times on them, there are no mobs of people inside to push through.
After emerging into an elaborate gift shop (King Tut coffee mug, anyone?), there's a brief movie showing the latest research to emerge on Tut as a result of DNA samples taken just last year. That's when you find out that, at his death, Tut had had -- well, maybe I'll leave that for you to discover.
Aside from the Tut exhibit, the Science Museum is fabulous, complete with dinosaur bones and fossils, a science experiment gallery and an exhibit of past questionable medical devices. If you haven't been there it's not to be missed.
As we'd toured the museum in recent years, it was time to hop in the van and drive a few kilometres to the mall, which, in the Twin Cities, usually means the Mall of America.
Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium
But, before shopping, we really wanted to see ... an aquarium. While the mall has more than 500 shops in its 4.2 million square feet, bt also houses a number of attractions like the Nickelodeon Universe indoor amusement park, Moose Mountain Adventure Golf and the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium.
Thanks to a renovation completed just last month, the aquarium has gone from hosting 5,000 sea creatures to about 10,000, and has added far more hands-on activities. You won't find Sponge Bob here (he's up a floor at the amusement park), but you will see a myriad of creatures that share his undersea home, including sea horses, sharks and jellyfish.
One exhibit pool allows you to climb a short flight of stairs to get an overhead view of stingrays. There's even a small elevator for those using wheelchairs or walkers.
One creature in Minnesota for the first time is a 100-pound green sea turtle. Nicknamed Bubble Butt, she's also an example of what can happen when man and wildlife collide -- in this case, the turtle and a boat propeller. Her shell was so damaged that she can only bob in the water, unable to dive. Aquarium staff add weights to the shell, allowing her to go under water.
We missed the sharks being fed, but we felt like lunch as we passed through long glass tunnels with these pointy-teeth denizens just inches from our faces. There are sand tiger sharks, nurse sharks and sandbar sharks, but most unusual was the green sawfish with its long toothy snout.
Another interesting -- and colourful -- area was the jellyfish exhibit. Here, different species of jellyfish are kept in their own tubelike aquarium with coloured lights bathing them as they swim around with pulsing, fan-like pulsing motions. They kind of look like flowers being blown around, but you'd much rather get pricked by a rose than touched by a jellyfish.
OK, you can't go to the Mall of America and not shop. Armed with a discount coupon book -- available for $9.95 at the information centre or $3 less if you print off a coupon from CAA's sister AAA website -- we quickly went through some of our favourites and discovered a few new ones.
And, beyond the mall, we still had a few more to cover.
It won't take 30 years to pay off the bills we racked up at the stores, but I'm hoping it won't be another 30 years before I again meet Tut. Whenever it is, the boy-king himself won't be getting any older -- and people will still stand in line.
IF YOU GO:
King Tut Exhibit: It costs $25 for adults to see the exhibit and the museum itself from Monday to Friday, and $30 on Saturday or Sunday. For seniors (60 and over) it's $23 and $29 respectively; for children four to 12 it's $16 and $18. It's a few dollars more for the package that includes the Omnitheater movie.
* It may make more sense to actually join the museum as an annual member and get entrance, parking and giftshop discounts. It cost us $95 to join as a family (two adults and two children), and then the admission price dropped for both entrance packages to $18 for adults, $14 for seniors and $14 for children any day of the week.
The museum membership also capped parking in the museum's parkade at $5, gave us a 10-per-cent discount at both the King Tut giftshop and the museum's regular giftshop, and gives us free admission to more than 290 museums around the world, including ones in Minnesota, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario.
* To avoid standing in line to see the Tut exhibit, reservations can be made by calling (651) 221-9444 or going to smm.org/tut
Sea Life: Admission is $19.99 for adults (13 years and older), $14.99 for children (three to 12) and free for kids two and under. It's located in the lower level of the Mall of America.