I'm back on the road and back with the blogs for a few weeks, and as the title suggests I'm EGYPT!.
My earliest memory of learning about the ancient Egyptians comes from when I was in year 4, so when I was around 8 years old. Ever since it's been a dream to come and visit some of the oldest structures in the world, built by some of the most amazing humans to ever walk the planet...or aliens 😉.
I wanted to come when me and Dave first set off 15 months ago, but due to flight prices going up when we wanted to book we went straight to India, much to my dismay.
Given the current “situation” in the country, now seemed like the perfect time to visit Egypt. A situation that doesn't exist by the way! The best example of what people's opinion of Egypt is comes from my Mum. When I told her I was coming here she told me I'm not because it's too dangerous. Now my Mum doesn't really keep up to date with international politics, like most people, so she can be forgiven for having that perception.
I have to admit that I also wanted to take advantage of this perception and have the tombs and temples to myself.
Where does this perception really come from? Western cities such as London and Paris have had “terrorist” attacks more recently that Egypt, with the last bit trouble happening back in 2013. If you think of Paris you don't think of danger (maybe the danger of pretentious French), but when people think of Egypt they automatically think “danger”.
Let me tell you, I've been in the country less than a week and can categorically state that it's not dangerous here, no more so than anywhere else. All the tourist areas are heavily protected by the military, you even have to scan you bags when using the Metro in Cairo! I haven't been for a while but last time I checked you can walk into the London underground without a sole searching for any bombs etc.
It really is unfortunate this stigma exists because I've found Egyptians to be nothing but friendly and hospitable. If you're willing to spend money in someone’s restaurant/hotel then they can't do enough for you. Even complete strangers in the street, who aren't trying to make money from me stop and ask where I'm from before welcoming me to Egypt. Walking the streets of Cairo at night feels completely safe, contrary to London for example where you make a wrong turn and you could get mugged.
Now is the perfect time to visit Egypt as a backpacker. It's cheaper than India!!!
I'm currently sat writing this post in an air conditioned room, that's private, I have free breakfast and “WIFI” for £2 GBP a night! Granted the wifi is some of the worst I've ever used, but you can't complain.
Feteer, which an Egyptian pizza cost just E£3 (12p) next to my hostel, you can get a kebab for no more than E£15. Beer is less than £1GBP
Having read online before I arrived that if you have a student card you get half price entry at all the monuments I decided it was worth it to try and track one down before visiting. It was fruitless, the one place that does print them were having “technical issues”. Never have I regretted not buying a fake student I.D. On the Khao San Road, Bangkok more. Although when we're talking about making a a saving of £1GBP maybe I'm just cheap.
First stop on my agenda was the Cairo Museum, one of the best in the world. Entrance is E£75 + E£50 for your camera and a further E£150 for the royal mummy room, which I didn't visit.
The bottom floor is filled with huge statues, the caps from the top of some of the pyramids, great chunks off wall from temples etc. This was my first sight of ancient Egyptian stuff and it instantly blew my mind. I've seen ancient things before, things actually much younger than everything inside the museum, but never in my life have I seen any so well preserved. The carvings look almost like they were done yesterday, and some paint still remains in places.
The upper floor has smaller artefacts such as jewellery, coffins and a room dedicated to Tutankhamen. The jewellery is astonishing in itself, and really wouldn't look out of place in a modern day store. Both in terms of design and build quality, and Tutankhamen's is next level. Following a chronological order of history if you can work out what direction to walk, the final rooms have Greko-Egyptian and Roman-Egyptian artefacts.
Attempting again in the morning to track down a student card on the second day I headed to “Islamic Cairo”, of course all of Cairo is Islamic, but this refers to the ancient area, from when Saladin marched his army south in the name of Mohammed. The area contains one of the oldest Islamic universities in the world, still in use today for (I think) training Imams.
Having seen Islamic buildings, mosques and the Taj Mahal I decided against spending too much money looking at buildings that weren't nearly as impressive. I went to the citadel and entered the Mohammad Ali mosque (A former leader who was in power when the French invaded, not to be confused with the boxer) which is quite reminiscent of the mosque in Istanbul. Beautiful interior and architecture and a great view over the skyline of the city, with the pyramids of Giza looming in the background and easily as big as, if not bigger, than the modern sky scrapers of Cairo. Testament to Egyptians good humour, after the security guard patted me down he waved me through declaring “no bazooka”.
Day 3 was the day. The moment I'd been waiting for, for as long as I can remember. I set off on the Metro to Giza at 7AM. Got stuck inside the Metro station for 20 minutes because I couldn't find the exit, I was literally walking around like a headless chicken despite being pointed in the right direction by the police, who subsequently laughed at me everytime I walked back past them.
I got in a taxi to the Giza plateau, on the way my tired mind managed to negotiate myself a taxi for the day to take me to Saqqara and Dashur for a fee that was only 150%!m(MISSING)ore than I should've paid. Never mind I suppose $10 will go further for him than me.
The reason I set off so early was to arrive at Giza before the throngs of tourists. The taxi driver decided to take me on his own route, despite me clearly stating three times GIZA, SAQQARA, DASHUR. Safe to say for those who know me, this made me incredibly angry and if it wasn't for the majesty of the pyramids and tombs at Saqqara I might have let it ruin my day. In hindsight knowing now that Giza was fairly quiet anyway, the order I visited the pyramids was probably the best as I saw them in the order they were built.
Starting with Saqqara, a site with four pyramids including the step pyramid which was the first one built. The other “pyramids” more closely resemble sand dunes and piles of rocks. The step pyramid is constantly in a state of repair and had scaffolding surrounding it, somewhat ruining the view, but I suppose it's better like that than the alternative which is what's happened to the others. So due to the step pyramids feeble structure you can't actually enter. BUT you can enter the tombs underneath the “sand dunes”. Of all the pyramids I entered that day the interior of these ones was the most impressive with hieroglyphics littering the walls.
The tombs surrounding the pyramids belong to the nobles and priests of the Pharaoh to whom pyramids belong. Stunning carvings are on the walls and the paint remains in some places. One such place had an entire corner still fully painted. To stare into the corner it's easy to imagine the grandeur of the place in former glory.
Next onto Dashur. Dashur is 35km away from Giza and thus not many tourists visit, despite these being the biggest pyramids in Egypt behind two of the ones at Giza. They're everything Giza is not, surrounded by the desert and no one trying to sell you things. The pyramids at Dashur represent the 2nd
attempts by the ancients to built pyramids. The “bent” pyramid and the “red” pyramid.
The bent pyramid so named because thy began construction at the same 53 degree angle of the step pyramid, before realising it would collapse on itself and changing the angle to 43 degrees halfway up.
The bent pyramid is the only one with most of the limestone slabs that used to cover the pyramids before being quarried away in earlier centuries still intact.
The red pyramid is the first official pyramid shaped pyramid, standing 105M tall, when I entered I had the whole thing to myself. Descending around 40M below was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, it really made me feel like a real explorer. Lara Croft has nothing on me. The path descending has a wooden ladder type thing covering it, the original path is smooth limestone. Any potential tomb robbers weren't getting back out of they got to the bottom!
If you go to Egypt to see the pyramids I can't recommend going here more. An absolutely amazing and humbling experience.
Last but certainly not least, but also not most, the great pyramid of Giza and it's slightly smaller friends. I don't know if my expectation was too high for a world wonder after seeing the Taj Mahal, or because other pyramids were around, people trying to sell me camel rides and trinkets or simply because it's not in the middle of the desert, I don't know. But I was underwhelmed. Mistaking another pyramid for the Great one probably wasn't a good start...literally my whole life I thought the one at Giza with the limestone caps still around the top was the “Great pyramid”, it isn't. Naturally this didn't stop me entering or enjoying it. E£200 for entry inside the pyramid, honestly if you're not as interested as I am or you're on a tight budget I wouldn't recommend going inside. Its hot, you're climbing up a steep ramp similar to the descent path in the red pyramid and the top is an empty “burial chamber” and you can't visit the “queens chamber” below because it's closed off for visitors...although I've heard they've found a new room so it could be something to do with that. To enter the red pyramid you only need to give the guard E£20 baksheesh (bribe).
What makes the great pyramid so interesting is the fact that nothing was ever found inside. No mummy, no possessions for the afterlife. Nothing. In fact the only reason it's “Khufu's” is because of a small marking in the very top chamber, which isn't accessible to members of the public.
The Cheops museum contains a huge wooden boat that was allegedly just used to carry the soul and possessions to the afterlife, but there's another theory that dips into the realms of the unorthodox that this boat was capable of travelling the seas. That ancients actually travelled the seas, there some hieroglyphics in Australia, but shortly after they were discovered the area was closed off to all none Aboriginals...government cover up?
My last stop was the sphinx via camel ride, which by the way is an awful mode of transport! So uncomfortable. Not really as enigmatic as you might imagine, it's still really cool. The fact it now faces the city of Cairo though does take away some magic. Next to the sphinx there's a former temple. The stones on the inside are made of granite and some of the biggest cut stones I've ever seen. Quite how people can say humans lifted these stones with their bare hands I don't know, same with the stones used to build the pyramids. If you could get enough people to life these blocks there certainly wouldn't be enough room for everyone to get a hold of them. I can't help but think they had tools that we've not given them credit for...or of course y'know....aliens....
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