Pyramids and Sphinx!

Trip Start Jan 08, 2007
Trip End Apr 30, 2007

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Saturday, April 7, 2007

World Cruise
Cairo, Egypt
Saturday, April 7, 2007, 6am - overnight

Excursion: Cairo and the Pyramids, Suez to Alexandria, 2 days, 1 night in a hotel, free for all guests

We disembarked at the ungodly hour of 7am. One of the dining room crew took our overnight bag out to the bus for us. Errata: the dining room staff is in charge of all luggage, all the time. My guess as to why they are in charge of luggage: they are really strong from carrying all those food and dish trays overhead.

We had to tender to the port, which ticked Capt. Dag off royally.  The weather was very windy, making it impossible to get the ship safely up to the pier.  So they unexpectedly had to tender us and our luggage into the pier. The seas were very choppy, making getting on the tender a little tricky, especially for people with mobility problems.  Here's the view from our balcony, and you can see how far out we are.

I am writing this in Italy--we were too tired right after Cairo to write, and now it's been so long that the details are  no longer fresh in our minds. So I'll just do the best I can, briefly, and you'll have to take it on faith that this was an extraordinary experience.

I have wanted to visit the pyramids since I was a young girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old. Seeing the pyramids was as fabulous and exciting as I imagined. I really didn't care what the world cruise itinerary was, so long as it included the pyramids. Now that the cruise is on its last legs, no other stop has equalled (or, I'm sure, will equal) the pyramids.

Again, Capt. Dag changed the itinerary. We departed the ship in Suez, where the ship went through the canal without us. We rejoined the ship in Alexandria, the next evening. Originally we were supposed to rejoin the ship from the other end of the canal, but road construction led Capt. Dag to have us bussed directly to Alexandria. We just have to take it on faith that Capt. Dag knows best.

It took about 2 1/2 hours on the bus to reach Cairo. Fortunately, since we were to spend a lot of time on it, this bus was extra large with enough leg room and a very clean and well-stocked on-board bathroom. This is the first, and probably the last time that our guide will encourage us to use the on-bus bathroom to the exclusion of all others.

One of the most interesting and ubiquitous sights were the unfinished homes.   It seems that the owners have to begin paying taxes as soon as the building is complete, so they never complete their homes. Often these buildings are owned by the people living in them. As a family grows, they will complete new rooms or a new level. Until they need it, they don't finish out the part they don't need.  They don't put windows or doors on the unused rooms because rats would set up housekeeping-they apparently like enclosed rooms better than open-air ones. These buildings are obviously for extended families, who all live together.

Egypt is considered a third-world country, according to our guide, Mervat. It isn't as poor as many of the countries we've already visited, but there were plenty of slums.

The first pyramids we visited were in Giza, just across the Nile from Cairo. We arrived around 10:30am on the first day. The Giza pyramids include Cheops' pyramid, known as the Great Pyramid, and the only remaining wonder of the Seven Wonders of the World.

  The Egyptian hawkers were all over us. Their approach is unique.  Some were selling things, others stand around various sights and hold out their hands for baksheesh if they point something out to you or take your photo, for example.

I had to laugh--the hawkers, only in Egypt, said, "Please try to say yes" as they offered their wares. When you think about it, that makes an interesting statement about their culture. They kind of irritated John, I could see, because they were very insistent and they got really close physically. I must have been having a good day, because I thought they were funny.

Before we went any further, it was important to get our camel photos. John sat on his. I rode mine. This was supposed to cost us no more than $3US each, absolutely not a penny more. We paid $10 for both of us because...well, you really had to be there to see how we failed to control the transaction, but we ended up with 2 camel jockeys instead of one, and I so appreciated the way they hustled us that I wanted John to give them $5 each, which he grudgingly did.

My memory gets a little fuzzy now, but there is a temple associated with each pyramid. There are 180 or so pyramids, of which maybe half have been found. They are in 3 major areas in Egypt, and we went to Giza the first day and Memphis the second. The world cruise went to Luxor last year, so that wasn't included on this year's itinerary.

Another interesting thing about Egypt was the presence of so many donkeys, horses, camels, and mules.  One of the other guests said that just 20 years ago you had to ride a camel to get close to the pyramids, but now of course they have bus parking areas very close, plus tourist shops right next to the pyramids.  Still, there are camels and horses if you want to ride around the walking area among the pyramids.

After Giza we went to lunch in a hotel.   We had some trouble getting salt and pepper shakers, and some other problems with service, but the food was good and everything was very clean.  The food was generic except for the desserts, which were traditional Arabic sweets.

In the afternoon (by now I'm really getting tired) we drove through the city of Giza  
and stopped at an upscale papyrus store.   There were a lot of these stores in Cairo, and the one we went into was very, very nice. They demonstrated how papyrus is made, then we were supposed to shop and buy some paintings done on papyrus. We didn't. Upstairs was a very fancy gift/jewelry shop, where many guests bought gold cartouches. We didn't.

By now it's mid-afternoon, so we made a quick trip to the Sphinx.  This, too, was incredibly exciting.  The sphinx is right in front of its own pyramid, and you can see that it was very hazy all day. Most of our photos didn't turn out at all.

  I was intrigued by all the carts right in the city of Giza, as well as in every town and along the roads in the coutry. They use these carts instead of trucks.

We checked in to our hotel, the Conrad (the best level of Hilton) hotel in Cairo at about 3:30 pm. The hotel and our room were lovely and luxurious, although the hotel wasn't as clean as a four or five star hotel usually is. The plan was to rest and grab a snack, if necessary, before the evening's festivities. And a shower--it was hot and dusty all day, so we were pretty dirty.

We left the hotel at 7 pm for the Egyptian Museum. I don't have any pictures because pictures aren't allowed in the museum. We saw the entire King Tut exhibit, in situ, plus other amazing Egyptian antiquities. Our guide, Mervat, went around with us, explaining everything. Even John, who as you by now know hates museums, enjoyed this treat. We spent about 90 minutes in the museum. This was really fabulous because the museum was closed to other visitors while we were there. Normally it is wall to wall people.

We had dinner in the museum garden. It was a buffet, there was a live musical group, and we ate by candle light. Our guide, who has been in the business for 15 years, said she has never heard of any other group having dinner or any other event in the museum garden.  The food was mostly local. By the time we left the exhibits, the food had been sitting out for quite awhile so it was cold so I didn't eat much. We sat with April and Gordan and got to know them better, which offset the disappointing food somewhat. 

We returned to the hotel at 10:30pm (way past our bedtime so we were exhausted) and left a 7am wakeup call for the morning.

Continued on the next entry...

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