The Wrap Up...
09.04.2011 - 14.04.2011
After saying reluctant goodbyes to our new friends, we checked back in to the Sonesta St George and we amused ourselves by going for a walk through Sharia as-souq (which we think roughly translates to “shop street”) in downtown Luxor, and having a great lunch at a local kebab joint. On our travels through various bazaars and souqs in Egypt it seems as though all of the local shopkeepers have rote-learned the following basic English phrases:
“Hello my friend.” - Harmless enough right?
“Welcome to Egypt.” - Thank you
“Where are you from?” - New Zealand always seems to draw blank looks.
“Welcome to Alaska, lovely country, lovely people.” - You have no idea where it is do you?
“You want postcard, papyrus, maybe alabaster cat? I make very good price...” No thank you.
Their friendly banter is simply a cunning method of getting you drawn into conversation to such an extent that you feel rude simply walking away when they throw in the hard sell. Having said that, Rob almost had to buy something from one of the vendors who had obviously been the butt of a cruel joke – His sales pitch, in near perfect English, was: “Hello, I sell complete rubbish.”
Lunch on Sharia as-Souq, Luxor
We also visited the Luxor Musuem and Mummification Museum that morning, which were both very interesting but small enough to be thoroughly explored in about half an hour each. Later that evening we went to Sofra, a great little Egyptian restaurant in the centre of Luxor, and ran into Grace and Steve, two Canadian honeymooners we met on the cruise. The restaurant came highly recommended by Lonely Planet, so its not surprising that we bumped into each other there. Both the food and the company were excellent but, unfortunately, one of the mummified geese at the museum rather resembled the stuffed pigeon Eve ordered for dinner which impacted on the overall culinary experience.
On Monday, we flew into Cairo in very high winds which made the landing interesting... It didn't help the nerves when one of the passengers received a phone call just before we touched down! Rob could have punched him – seriously, if the seat belt sign had not been on, that guy would have been in trouble...
The drive from the airport to our hotel gave us our first taste of the infamous Cairo traffic which did not disappoint. We passed a speed camera on the way in, which struck us as rather optimistic because the traffic density made it difficult to maintain a speed above 30kph for any length of time. The road rules in Cairo (if there ever was such a thing) seem to have devolved into an extreme form of anti-etiquette, whereby drivers attempt to cut off as many other motorists as they can while beeping their horn as furiously as possible. Add a million or so pedestrians to the fray and you get pure, unadulterated chaos.
We managed to catch up with Isobel and Martin (two friends we met on the cruise) for dinner at the Buddha Bar on the first evening, and we staggered back to our hotel several hours later somewhat the worse for wear. The next morning we were both a bit green and our guide was 45 minutes late, so we were not off to a good start...
After a shaky start the tour commenced with a visit to the Egyptian Museum which required us to walk through Tahrir Square. There were several thousand protesters still in the square when we arrived. We were lucky the museum was open because it had been closed the previous two days due to security concerns. It was evident that there were still some security concerns – That is the museum beyond the row of tanks...
The museum itself is looking fairly dated and could do with a major overhaul. We were glad of having a guide who could rush us through all of the important pieces so we didn't get bogged down in the 4000 years of history inside the museum. We could easily see how some people lose themselves for a whole day in there. The highlights were the Tutankhamun collection and the royal mummies. We were not allowed to take photos inside the museum, so here's a photo of a man with a donkey instead...
From the museum we drove to Old Cairo and visited some of the oldest religious sites in the city including the “Hanging Church” (its not really hanging), the oldest mosque in Cairo (don't ask us to pronounce the name), and the Ben Ezra synagogue. Our tour guide was studying to become a priest, so we think he was a bit more interested in these spots than we were...
Our next stop was the Citadel of Saladin and the mosque of Mohammed Ali (no, not THAT Mohammed Ali!!) The Citadel is a massive medieval fort built on a hill overlooking Cairo. There would have been an awesome panoramic view back over the city towards the Nile and the west bank if not for the smog. We did get our first glimpse of the pyramids through the smog, way off in the distance. It was a pretty moving experience to see them loom over the western part of the city and we couldn't wait to see them up close.
Mosque of Mohammed Ali
After the Citadel, a two hour drive in rush hour traffic, and an argument with the guide over how much money we owed him, we were in desperate need of a drink. However, when we got back to the hotel we discovered that we had unwittingly booked ourselves into a dry hotel – not a drop of alcohol in the place! We stopped short of getting stuck into a bottle of nail polish remover, and decided to take this opportunity to give our livers a brief reprieve.
The following day we had a different guide and he was absolutely fantastic. We started the day by driving to Saqqara to see the Step Pyramid, which was the first pyramid ever built. Unfortunately, the exterior is currently being restored with brand new polished limestone blocks, which looks really out of place and kind of cheapens the experience. Like putting new Falcon wing mirrors on a Model-T; or Michael Jackson's face (too soon?).
We moved on to Dashur to see the Bent and Red Pyramids. These two are off the usual tourist trail and we cannot understand why. They are older than Giza and come with an interesting story... The Bent Pyramid is so named because the guy building it started off at too steep an angle and, realising his mistake, changed it half way through construction making it look, well, bent.
The Red Pyramid was the second attempt (for the same Pharoah) and is named for the polished red granite that used to cover the structure. We had the opportunity to go inside the the red pyramid which was awesome but literally breath taking. We got out almost as quickly as we got in. It was hot and smelly... We think the air conditioning was broken :P
After an hour drive back to Cairo we headed to the Great Pyramids at Giza. There are nine pyramids at Giza but it is the largest three that rightly get all the attention. The Great Pyramid (the biggest) is built at perfect angles and at midday it casts no shadow. The knowledge and skill required to build these monumental tombs has unfortunately been forgotten, as UNESCO discovered in the 70s – thankfully that restoration attempt was abandoned! At least we are still able to admire them today (unlike the other six wonders of the ancient world).
And admire them we did! Eve literally spent hours watching the sun set behind them. We spent the night at the Mena House, which was built right next to the Pyramids in the 1800s as a British hunting lodge. The view from our room was spectacular!!
It was incredibly difficult to leave that view the next morning and head to the airport for our flight to Cyprus.