Egypt, Cairo and Giza
Evening of Sunday, August 5 and Monday, August 6
As soon as we boarded Egypt Airlines flight heading from Barcelona to Cairo, we couldn’t help but feel we were on our way to someplace exotic and different. Arabic music played on the speakers and there were many families on the flight.
Upon leaving the plane, we knew we were in another land. All forms of dress passed through Cairo’s international airport; burquhas mixed with southern and middle African clothing which mixed with western dress.
Upon arrival we were greeted by our tour leader from Memphis Tours, Hassan, and he speedily whisked us through what would have been the confusing process of finding our luggage, obtaining our visas, customs, out of the airport and into the van driven by Ahmed.
Being in Egyptian traffic is, I imagine, similar to the effect of Harry Potter’s flue powder…on acid.
Traffic lines are just for suggestion, and not adhered to. All manner of vehicles travel both swiftly and slowly on the four lane (sometimes stretched into five lane) rim road traffic.
Most cars have at least one or two dents in them and the horn is used in lieu of turn signals. However I did see a few turn signals used. At one point, I saw the left hand signal go on before a right hand lane change took place. I think, with my driving skills, I would be right at home here.
Intermittently, we would breathlessly watch pedestrians dodge through the four lane traffic. This is tantamount to running across the 401 or I90 during rush hour.
Amongst the fast paced traffic, there are slower moving donkeys or horses with carts and even the odd camel.
There are many motorcycles, often carrying three or four family members. Women in Burquhas ride side saddle with young children or babies on their laps. There are also numerous motorcycles with flat beds attached to the back, usually with overflowing occupants and their numerous appendages hanging out.
At one point Graham saw a motorcycle driving in the opposite direction on the 4 lane one way road. I also saw a taxi backing up at a fairly quick pace on the same road.
Graham loves the tuktuks, which are like slow moving, little three wheeled cars.
Vans and enclosed cars are often filled to capacity with people sitting on the laps of other travellers…reminds me of high school days.
Many apartments decorated with lights for Ramadan swished past as we made our way to the hotel.
While Toronto traffic often seems stressed and angry, I don’t know how to explain it, but here it almost seems to have a good natured spirit to it.
If in a relaxed state of mind, it is quite interesting to people watch in Egyptian traffic.
Oberoi Mena House Hotel
Our hotel is a garden of calm amongst the cacophony of Cairo. After our van passed through the security gates, two gentleman greeted us and whisked the luggage up to our room.
Our only moment of worry was when our visa card was declined when we tried to pay the balance of our tour cost. We had called Visa twice in advance to advise them that we would be in Egypt. Hassan said not to worry, we could clear it up the next day.
Our connecting suites are spacious; ours with a king size bed and the boys with two singles. Many thoughtful touches are added including fresh fruit, complementary bottles of water, house coats, slippers and really nice toiletries in the bathroom.
Best of all are the balconies with fabulous views of the pyramids.
Monday, August 6, 2012
My husband woke me at 5:30am so that I could take a picture of the pyramids in the early morning light. I then went back to bed until 7am. The beds are really comfortable.
We sat beside the full length window, in the hotel restaurant for our buffet breakfast. All the staff are aware of Graham’s peanut/treenut allergy and have been very careful that his food has not come into contact with any of his allergens.
We had a huge choice of both, middle eastern and western food for breakfast. Graham especially enjoyed the honey and I loved the vine wrapped packages and different cheeses. Cameron even found chocolate rice krispies. There was definitely something for everyone.
Maha, our Memphis tour guide met us in the lobby at 9am. She is a knowledgeable, (degree in Egyptology), friendly lady with perfect English. Our tour leader, Hassan also came by and let us use his phone to clear up our problem with Visa. All is fine now that we answered all the security questions and confirmed that we were in Egypt and that the charges we want to put through are legitimate.
Pyramids (and camels) at Giza
Ahmed took us for a two minute drive into the grounds of the pyramids. Maha warned us not to talk to any of the hawkers or we would be inundated for our whole tour. There weren’t many tourists at Giza which is great for us but not so great for the tourist industry and the people who depend on it to make a living.
The pyramids are awesome…I don’t know how much better I could put it. Hard to believe that over 100,000 people worked and died building the largest pyramid (Cheops).
After taking the typical, but with my warped sense of humour, highly amusing, pictures of us and the pyramids, it was time for our camel rides.
Twenty years ago, while on our honeymoon, my husband and I went on a three hour camel ride tour through the desert in Aswan. I was so sore afterwards that I could barely walk for days. I also remember the camels as being rather evil and a tad gross. They would make these startling belching noises, cough up phlem, loudly chew it, then attempt to spit said phlem at us. I am also certain that my camel attempted to bite me on numerous occasions. Getting up and down on the camel was also quite unnerving; you would climb atop of the beast from a lying down position, then were thrown forward as the camel first raised his hind legs, then thrown back when he raised his front.
Did I mention that camels are a little stinky?
This time around the camels seemed friendlier. Getting on and off was a tad less startling because I knew what to expect. My camel seemed to have an itch on his private parts which he attempted to scratch with his teeth on numerous occasions. He also started to roll over when I was getting off of him, but his driver (trainer) was quick to get him back in a sitting position so that I could extricate myself from his back.
Our ride lasted about a half hour this time, so I am optimistic that I will not be walking like John Wayne in the morning.
Solar Boat Museum
We next stopped at the Cheops solar boat museum. The pharaohs had two solar boats made for the after life; one to get them across the sky in daytime, and one for night. This well preserved boat is housed in a museum, located at the spot where it was discovered. We put on huge booties over our shoes to go into the museum. The boat looks to be about 60 feet long.
Although missing his nose, this mythical beast is still impressive. He has the face of Khefren, the body of a lion and guards the pyramids.
Of course we took many more tacky tourist pictures in front of this wonder.
It was time to move onto shopping. We first stopped at a papyrus factory where we learned how real papyrus is made. Real papyrus has a much better quality and lasts longer than copies which are made on banana leaves and sold in many tourist places. (They are also much more expensive, but worth it in my opinion).
I fell in love with the birds in the first tree of life and the last judgement papyrus paintings.
Ironically, the papyrus paper museum and factory had no toilet paper in the washroom. (Fortunately I noticed before I went). Our guide informed us that most public washrooms do not have toilet paper. Note to self: carry Kleenex.
We next stopped at a jewellery store and an Egyptian cotton store before moving on to lunch.
The upper floor of the restaurant was almost empty because it is Ramadan and during this holy time, Muslims do not eat or drink (even water) between 3:30am and 7:00pm. Tourists are taken to quieter, more private places to eat during this time.
Once again, Graham’s meal was individually prepared. We especially enjoyed the freshly made mango juice and strawberry juice. Freshness can never be under-rated.
Our restaurant had an amazing view of the pyramids and our waiter then took us up to the roof for more great shots.
Late afternoon and Evening
During this hottest time of the day, we went back to the hotel and wrote, napped and read. My husband and I decided to walk around the hotel property. We took an organized tour of the historic part of the hotel. It was built as a palace in the mid 1800’s then sold twice to English families in the 1880’s. The final family turned it into a hotel and it has been added onto over the years.
Winston Churchill and Jimmy Carter both stayed here. The furniture in the old part is mostly original antiques. They shot the movie Cairo time here.
There are many water features throughout the grounds and a luxurious, huge pool which we went for a dip in with the boys before heading out to supper.
We were on our own for supper, and because after swimming, we didn’t have much time to eat before we were picked up (and John and I were too full from lunch). We took Maha’s recommendation and went to the falafel/Shawarma place that was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The boys loved it and had double portions.
As I mentioned, crossing a road (4 lane) in Egypt is rather daunting. We waiting for a break in the traffic, prayed and ran.
Maha joked that the Egyptian traffic is why Cairo Muslims pray five times a day. She said in all reality, there are not many accidents because the Egyptians are used to this and most of them don’t drink alcohol. It’s good that there are not many accidents because vehicle insurance is not mandatory.
We did end up getting sucked in by a guy at the falafel place to go to his perfume shop. I bartered and now smell like lotus flower.
The sound and light show was enjoyable, if a tad melodramatic…I think they got the sound track from Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra movie. Excited by the spectacle of the loud sound and bright lights; stray dogs barked in the distance.
We sat right near the front because there was hardly anyone there. It seemed that there were actually more tour guides and workers there than paying tourists.
I had problems getting to sleep, I think I’m still adjusting to the time change (6 hours).