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Published: February 22nd 2016
After a good night’s sleep, I met the Binkleys downstairs for breakfast. The buffet was elaborate with multicultural influences, more fruit and pastries than imaginable as well as a honeycomb station. I took some of the smoked salmon to the omelet cook and had him do scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and red onion. He surprised me when he lined a ring mold with the salmon, filled it with the egg and folded the salmon around the eggs for an elegant presentation. After breakfast Dave, Merry Jo and I lingered over coffee for a long time enjoying each others company.
At 8 we met our guide and driver for the day of touring. Our guide was a very pleasant, knowledgeable woman named Hanon. It was funny that she wasn’t sure of the dynamic of our group. As we were explaining that we were friends meeting up for a few weeks of travel I joked that Dave and Merry Jo were my parents. To be honest I don’t think she bought what I was selling, but it did buy me some incredibly icy looks and promises of retaliation from you know who. Dang, this got real quickly. We threaded our way
through the nightmare that makes up Cairo traffic, working our way to the other side of the Nile to Giza. Hanon was full of information and gave us straight forward answers to our questions. Out of nowhere, there they were- the Pyramids. For those of you who know me personally, you will understand this. The sight of these pyramids standing tall in the background over the city, houses and shops brought the same level of excitement I get when I first see a roller coaster at an amusement park. Yeah, they were roller coaster great.
We had to exit the car, have the car sniffed by the dog while they examined the trunk. The car and driver drove in while we passed through security. We had been offered the option to climb 60 meters up into the largest pyramid up through a short, narrow passage into the burial chamber in the center of the pyramid where there awaited a room full of… nothing. There is a sarcophagus at one end, but that is it. We were advised that if we were claustrophobic, this may not be a good idea. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to do it.
Seriously, how many times will I be in Cairo, Egypt and be able to do this? We stood in the shadow of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and learned lots of interesting information. She had a hieroglyphics key that put the symbols into our alphabet. I was feeling the love when I started translating my name. B= Traveling everywhere. Man, they had my number, I was liking this. R= talk too much. Dang, this thing was fake. I couldn’t picture that at all. E=Fair and just. Ok, we were back on track I was hoping one of my letters stood for Badass, but none did. Not sure where I picked up that trait, but Travel Brendan is rocking this.
When it was time to do my climb I headed up toward an entrance grave robbers had created in the pyramid. It is not the original entrance, but connects with an original path up to the burial chamber. The first part was not bad. There were some rocks sticking out here and there, but nothing too bad; however, around the corner was a steep climb with short ceilings. We were not allowed cameras, so I will
have to paint you the picture with words. There were boards with slats spaced out for traction on which to walk. The ceiling was so short that I could not even stand hunched over. I had to crouch and scamper like a hermit crab. Sure, this was not my favorite thing, apparently I forgot that I am wildly claustrophobic, but I was ok with that. What I was not ok with was that I was behind a group of 2 elderly ladies who stopped to catch their breath every few steps. With them were 2 other people, one of whom reeked of sweat. The passageway was very hot, so I could understand it, but the combination of having to crouch, stop and wait, and the aroma was starting to get to me. And by no stretch of the imagination were we going to move faster. After much longer time than I was comfortable with, we made it to the burial chamber. The walls were coated with beautiful granite from Aswan. It was amazing. The room was stifling hot, but beautiful. The feeling of standing inside the Great Pyramid was remarkable and once again I remembered what I write each trip.
Notice the granite covering at the top
Traveling is not always comfortable. If I wanted comfort I could stay home and watch documentaries. Travel is about the realness of life and it does not always mold itself to our needs. After marveling at the chamber, I headed back down. Oddly, coming up was easier than trying to scamper like a hermit crab going down the passageway. I could tell that this day was going to be as incredible as I had imagined.
Back on the ground with Dave and Merry Jo, we walked up towards the next largest pyramid. This one still has some of the marble coating attached near the top. Although the pyramids are now rough cut rocks, they were once coated with granite from Aswan to reflect the sun. We stopped for lots of pictures before getting in the car to drive to the panoramic view that shows all three giant pyramids lined up. One activity we had agreed on was that we wanted to ride the Arabian horses in the desert with the pyramids in the background. Please don’t think any less of us, but we had guides leading the horses. I think it was because they could see the wild looks
in our eyes and were afraid we would gallop our steeds across the desert, wind blowing in our hair as we soaked up the majestic sight. Whether that was the case or not, we did have 2 kids leading us, but that worked out well because they knew exactly how to pose us for pictures. One by one we were given instructions on how to pose. After our photo shoot we headed back where I promptly hit the kid in the head with my camera during my less than graceful dismount. It’s nice to know that good old plain dorky Brendan is along for the ride. I was standing there waiting to tip them when all of a sudden I was being wrapped with an Egyptian scarf and before I knew it I was sitting on a camel. I could see Dave and Merry Jo being similarly wrapped and helped onto camels. We had some photos taken, and look quite fierce if I do say so myself. Camels are an interesting animal to sit on while they stand or sit. The front goes down first and it happens quite suddenly. I grabbed onto the saddle and managed to not fall.
Tipping was taken care of and very happily received. Hanon thanked us as we headed back to the car, telling us that the animals would be able to eat tonight. The lack of tourists has had a dramatic impact on the lives of the Egyptians and their animals. It was very true that we did not see as many tourists as one would expect. I do hope that the tourism industry will pick up soon.
Only a short distance from the pyramids is the Sphinx. I had watched a documentary on the Sphinx and how it had been covered with sand up to the head. For some reason I had thought it was going to be much larger. It is very big, especially when considered that it was carved out of 1 piece, but pictures made it more grandiose. We took turns being posed for pictures with the sphinx and generally simply enjoyed the beautiful day while marveling at the sights we were seeing.
On the way back towards Cairo from Giza, we stopped at a perfume and oil place. While enjoying hibiscus tea, we were dotted with more fragrances than imaginable. He would dab the in certain
places so as to not mix them up. I hadn’t planned on buying anything, but was so impressed with some of them that I did some shopping. Since my suitcase weighed 47 pounds on the way here, I will have to make some tough decisions on what gets to return home with me. Sorry old socks and T-shirts, you may have hit the end of the road.
Once back in Cairo we went to visit the Citadel and Mohammad Ali Mosque. I’ll be honest, I was bone tired and on overload at this point so I am not going to have much to say about either. Looking back, it may have been post traffic shell shock that was making my brain turn to mush or simply adrenaline overload. Regardless, we went into the mosque where we sat on the floor and listened to some very good information about mosques and chatted some on politics. The Revolution is not that far back and has had dramatic impact on daily lives of Egyptians. Hanon had a good perspective on what it was like and how things have changed. The longer we talked, the more I became one with the floor. We
left the mosque and braved the ride back to the hotel where we rested until it was time to meet in the Jazz Bar before dinner. Now, the Jazz Bar is one of my favorite places in the hotel. It is calm, quiet, has a panoramic view of the Nile and serves the most incredible pretzel stick that I have ever encountered. To be honest I had to eat a whole lot of these pretzel sticks for research on what made them so flippin’ good. The conclusion was that they have not only rosemary, but cumin seeds in them. Combine that with sea salt on top and add an Egyptian Stella beer and it is happiness with a cocktail napkin. It was difficult to restrain myself from eating too many and spoiling my appetite for our Chef’s Tasting Menu downstairs.
Down in the Osmanly Restaurant on the mezzanine level we were met by the same waiter from the night before. When the back waiter poured still water in my glass, I didn’t say anything, but Abdou the waiter remembered that I had requested sparkling water the night prior and had him change it. The Chef brought out a mezze
platter with babaganoush, hummus, dolmas and a cucumber cheese mixture. He also made a roasted pumpkin, tomato and eggplant platter. I apologize in advance for my overuse of amazing, delicious, incredible and so on. It is not easy to sit here writing and try to convey how special this meal was. While we were enjoying these dishes, he brought out a hot soup. Not going to lie, I was so excited by the flavor that I didn’t get the name of it. I took a picture, of course, but that probably isn’t going to help identify it. Nameless, but wonderful is how I will remember it. The next dish was probably as delectable as the others- if one likes liver. I am not one of the chosen ones who enjoy liver, but I tried the dish and found it to be perfectly lovely. It was beef liver with pomegranate molasses, onion and chile. Not to give short shrift to the liver, I moved quickly to the two selections of Turkish flatbread. The vegetarian had spinach and goat cheese while the other had Turkish sausage and a tomato base. By now we were slowing down quite a bit. As much as
we hated to do it, we asked him to prepare only one more dish; it was the beef filet and molasses dish that he had described to Merry Jo the previous night and the dish that started this gastronomic feast. Worthy of accolades bestowed upon it by the Chef, this was simply amazing. To end the night, he brought out a cheese pastry baked in a shallow tin topped with fresh cream. My evening was complete. I was as content as I could be and I am not afraid to speak for my friends when I say that they were as well. If food is love as they say, and I truly believe it is, then we are fortunate people to be loved by this gifted Chef.
As I sit here writing this blog, I can see how lucky I am to have been able to enjoy such a great day. To enjoy it with friends makes it even more special. I hope that you have enjoyed being along on the day with me and that you can feel how magical today was. Hang in there, more is yet to come.
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