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Published: October 22nd 2019
Our first morning in Cairo, we had the first of what turned out to be daily incredibly early wake up calls. The reasoning was twofold. First, it would avoid the worst heat of the day and, second, it was supposed to give us a head start on the heavier crowds. It succeeded on the first account, but on the second it seemed to fail miserably. We always seemed to arrive at the most crowded time, and everyone seemed to leave around the same time. After a couple of experienced I began to wish we'd set out a little bit later and have some time to ourselves at the monuments.
We were told that the main season hadn't started yet. I hate to think what it is like in the middle of the heavy tourist season.
Anyway, this was a most anticipated day. Seeing, and touching, the great pyramid in person was in my bucket list since childhood. The oldest of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and the only one remaining largely intact. I had a very good idea in my head of how impressive it was going to be, but seeing the actual size of it, and
comparing the size of the people to those massive blocks was much more imposing that I anticipated.
What I didn't realize until standing next to it, is how uneven and ragged the remaining underlying core structure is. The limestone casing that once covered the pyramid was smooth, but that is gone. What we see today are the blocks needed to anchor the limestone blocks to stay in place. It makes sense and it's awesome regardless.
Much to my unexpected delight, we found out that for an additional price we would have the opportunity to enter the great pyramid. Needless to say, I was the first one with my hand way up in the air. That was definitely a bonus. I couldn't believe it!
Well, It is entirely satisfying to be able to reach the King's Chamber and stand next to that enormous stone sarcophagus, but getting there is not for everybody. The passage is narrow, barely wide enough for one person, and there are people going up and down at the same time. It's incredibly hot inside the pyramid, at least when we were there at the end of September, and the climb is steep. There are
I've seen that in pictures so many times!
also passages that are not what I just mentioned, but also low enough that requires crouching to pass through. Anyone suffering from any form of claustrophobia, bad knees, or bad back won't be able to stand it.
Inside the chamber, not only the sarcophagus is impressive, but here the stones blocks are smooth, and fitted together perfectly. Quite an amazing structure, inside and out.
We didn't go to each pyramid. Our close encounter only involved the great pyramid but, afterwards, we drove to another lookout area with great views of all the pyramids.
Here, all of our companions who wanted to could have their own camel ride experience around the area. There were camels, carriages, and horses available for a quick trip around the area with great photo opportunities. I should have done it, but I passed. The memory of the precariousness of getting on and off the camel was still fresh in my mind. Instead, I opted for taking pictures of the encampment and the pyramids, before we headed out to the Sphynx, another much anticipated stop.
I knew I was not going to be able to get next to the sphinx, and much less
Compare the size of the people to the size of the blocks!
touch it, but it was still hard not to be able to, since we were so close to it. However, It is still a great experience seeing in person his poor vandalized face on that head that is too small for that big, eroded body.
I didn't realize before I got there that the enclosure is not just walls, but that there is a massive mortuary temple to enter before getting to the enclosure. It is built with enormous blocks, like the pyramid, and it looks as solid today as it must have been those many thousands of years ago.
Here I had my first encountered with a wily Egyptian and his quest for Baksheesh. I must say I totally lost the battle. I was taking my first photo of the Sphynx when a helpful young man approached me with some useful hints. It didn't take long before he had my camera and was taking cute, touristy photos of me and the Sphynx. Of course, I intended to tip him, but I wasn't prepared for the outrageous amount he suggested as his payment. The look on my face must have been priceless. He did lower the price to
a more acceptable amount, although still way too much. I decided to use it as a learning experience. After all, I did agree to let him take all those cute photos. Lesson learned.
That afternoon we had opted for an additional tour to Memphis and Saqqara.
Going there, it's hard to believe that Memphis was once the mighty capital of ancient Egypt. The centuries have taken their toll.
The open air museum is a sad example. The mostly broken pieces in display that have been rescued from the silt are not much. I'm sure the most impressive pieces have been carried off to more prestigious museums. However, the one colossal statue of Ramses II in the museum building was worth a stop.
33 feet long, carved from limestone and perfect. It was once shown standing with one leg forward and arms at its side, to demonstrate that he was alive when it was carved. Now it lies on its back, his feet broken and missing. His perfectly proportioned body shows several hieroglyphics. The names of his wife and daughters on his belt, the name of his successor on his hand. A twin statue that was restored
The Great Pyramid
Just finished climbing the grand gallery. It's a steep climb, but easier than the passage to get to it, where it's dark, narrow, and the low ceiling required crouching to get through.
will be in the honor spot at the entrance of the new Grand Museum. It deserves the place of honor. It's a thing of beauty.
There are a couple of other pieces worth mentioning. A sphinx believed to be Hatshepsut, and another beautiful statue of Ramses II.
On our way to Saqqara we stopped at a country club type place obviously geared to host hoards of hungry tourists visiting the area. We were seated under an enormous tent that could accommodate not only our group, but two other bus loads of people who showed up around the same time.
I must admit that the food, a variation of what we'd had the night before, was not bad. The grill was going to one side of the tent, so the food was freshly cooked.
The grounds were beautiful, but the bathroom required the customary 5 Egyptian lbs. as baksheesh to the attendant. That is, if you wanted either toilet paper, or a paper towel, etc. It varied.
The visit to Saqqara was very meaningful to me. As a lover of Egyptian history, being in front of what is believed to be the oldest complete stone complex
The Great Pyramid
Inside the King's Chamber. Next to the sarcophagus. Don't overlook the walls, with the blocks fitted together smoothly and perfectly.
in history, was remarkable. Built during the third dynasty, the site was closed to the public for a long time for preservation purposes, so I was happy I was able to see it in person. The step pyramid of Djoser, the brainchild of Imhotep, was a treat for me to see. Unfortunately, no possibility of accessing the tunnels under the pyramid.
While we were there we were able to observe the efforts being taken to try to preserve the pyramid. The first step has practically been rebuilt with new blocks to reinforce it. I was happy to see that they are trying to preserve this one. There are many pyramids in the area that are now in various states of dilapidation. I hope it doesn't happen to this one.
Just as impressive was the mortuary temple to enter the complex. The interior might have taken a beating, but the outer walls themselves look indestructible, built of those massive blocks, so perfectly fitted together. The enclosure wall that surrounded the entire complex is collapsed in some areas, so it's difficult to tell that the pyramid was the central feature in an enormous courtyard, within the mortuary complex.
The Great Pyramid
Look at the size of those blocks at the base of the pyramid. They are fitted like steps and used to support the smooth limestone casing that once covered the pyramid.
loved the false doors throughout the temple, and I was also impressed by the colonnade entrance, although I saw much bigger columns later on.
As we were leaving, we caught a glimpse in the distance of the pyramid of Dahshur. Alas, not for this trip, but I won't lose hope of going there someday.
On the way back from Saqqara, we spent some time visiting one of the carpet schools that have become a successful career for older children and young people.
It seems that, in many rural areas, the government was having trouble getting parents to allow their children to stay in school after a certain age. Because of the meager earning possibilities, marrying young is not possible for many so they want to start earning as soon as possible. The school sessions are twice a day, with some children going in the morning and others in the afternoon. So, Nasser came up with a compromise. Those kids who stayed in school could learn to make carpets and earn a living the other part of the day.
It has become a successful business. They had beautiful carpets, rugs, and tapestries not only of Egyptian cotton
but other materials as well. I made sure not to look too closely at any of them. I think my purchase in India will suffice in that respect!
Even though we were exhausted, we decided to push ourselves for another experience in Cairo that evening, a Nile Dinner Cruise. Although I would have preferred to go on a boat called Nile Pharaoh with a theme cruise, we decided that since we were unsure of the timing, it was more efficient to make a reservation on the Nile Maxim since it was practically across the street from our hotel and it was supposedly operated by the Marriott anyway. I had read that it was the more luxurious of all the boats, and that the food was award winning.
Well, the boat's décor did live up to the reviews. It's very Parisian chic, but that's where it stopped. Honestly, it was a disappointing experience. The price of the entrée covered a free salad buffet that was very extensive and certainly not bad. The entrée dishes were hit and miss. My shrimp curry was good, but my friend's more ambitious salmon with shrimp was average at best.
The service, at
least by our waiter, was also disappointing. He rushed our order, but we had to ask for a drink Menu that he didn't offer. Also, I was shocked that at this type of establishment our waiter did his best to scam extra tip from us by saying that the tip listed on the bill went to the ship and not him.
The atmosphere on the boat was fun though, and the crowd included a wide range of people, from people with strollers to people in wheelchairs. There was a band that played everything, even salsa, and even a conga line formed around the dining room at some point. There is no ban of smoking in restaurants, so there were at least three smokers seated close to us. It was not a huge problem for me, even after having gotten used to not seeing it in the US, but some people would find it hard to tolerate.
The views were very nice. The Cairo Tower specially was a beautiful sight from the water with its illumination. That was very nice.
My main disappointment came from the actual shows. There was a Tanoura dancer, a swirling male dance, that
was very entertaining and visually stunning, specially when his flowing costume lit up with lights. It was followed by a belly dancer. My main interest in the dinner cruise had been to see an authentic belly dancer, but this wasn't it. It was a version of Bollywood belly dancing with a cabaret style outfit and movements. Oh, well! A couple of Tahtib dancers joined her for the latter part of the show, but by then we were watching through the floor to ceiling glass windows from the outside.
However, it was a great relief that we only had to cross the street and go up a ramp to get to our hotel room and fall in bed.
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