It is March 22 and last nights arrival was
tiresome. Aside from Olympic Air having to taxi in to the debarkation
area (about a 20 minute drive), we had to catch up with luggage,
pass through customs and get to our transportation (at the far
end of the parking lot). Fortunately, we had Kaled, our trusty
tour coordinator to guide us through the motions and get us
checked in to the Sheraton Gezirah Hotel.
Our room is first class with a beautiful view of the Nile and
a skyline that includes the bridge and Cairo.
We woke early and met Kaled at breakfast to plan our next few
days. We left the hotel about 9 a.m., met our private tour guide,
Sherene, and headed off to the Cairo Museum of Antiquities.
Sherene allowed us almost three full hours (instead of the usual
one and a half). The museum
was built in the early 1900s and has an old feel to it
many labels are missing or are original typed cards but
lighting is good and displays seem well organized.
Sherene guided us through the Old and Middle Kingdom artifacts giving us a
tremendous amount of detail to digest. Then, she took us upstairs
to "Tut Land"! She gave us thorough explanations of
so many of these things weve seen in books or on TV. What
wasnt impressive? ! ! The wooden chariots, furniture,
dolls (for future service), all with very fine details
ivory, ebony inlays, gold leaf. The life size statues of Tut
had those remarkable eyes that seem to follow you theyre
made with unusual blue veined alabaster inlaid with lapis and
onyx (as the iris and pupils). The "Tut Room" held
two sarcophagi as well as THE MASK and the fabulous collection
of collars and other jewelry that were enclosed in his wrappings.
It was more stunning than photos. Imagine the 1170-kg solid
gold sarcophagus inlaid with lapis and other precious stones
and carved with hieroglyphs, cartouches and sacred spells
unbelievable! The concept that this was a minor pharaoh, dead
at 19, his tomb and treasure had been thrown together in a hurry
(70 days of the mummification process), leaves one awestruck
to consider the treasures that must have been amassed for pharaohs
who lived to be sixty or even ninety!
After Tut, we were on our own. We visited the Amarna gallery and also saw the
painted limestone floor removed from the temple at Amarna. It
had amazing density of colors and a strong wildlife theme illustrating
fish and other water creatures, land dwellers and on to the
birds in the sky. We ducked in and out of some New Kingdom rooms,
and found Thot-Mosis giant carved black granite sarcophagus.
The museum catalog was not available in any language we could
read, so well have to order a copy when we return home.
From the museum, we rode through old Cairo to visit the "hanging" church. It
is named this because the floor of the church was suspended over older buildings and
courtyards. It had a Noahs Ark roof, a marble pulpit with 13 columns, censors and
other icons dating from the 10th century. Their "Mona Lisa" (Madonna
and child) is the oldest known to exist in the large-eyed Coptic style.
Our next stop was the Mena Papyrus Institute. Here we saw a demonstration of the craft
that was rediscovered within the last 15 years. Its a sort of soak and strip the
reeds, pound the pieces flat, roll over them with something akin to a regular rolling pin,
basket weave the strips together and dry in a heavy press. There were hundreds of finished
papyri on view to tempt us.
Onward to Giza! Here we had the opportunity to touch and sit
upon Khufus great pyramid. Its the largest of the
three, and taller than I expected when seen from a distance.
However, after walking around the complex, all the pyramids
seem small in proportion to the vastness of desert sand. The
city is near their doorstep and continues to expand 17
million people of whom 49% are uneducated. Khefrens pyramid
still shows the top quarter of limestone fascia (approximately
4" thick). They must have been dazzling in the brilliant
white of limestone, topped with electrum (an alloy of gold).
We took our time and wandered around to see the smaller one while repelling offers for
camel rides. One young man had an especially pretty little dove colored female who was
very clean and had flowers woven onto her bridle. He just didnt seem to understand
that we liked his camel but couldnt breathe if we got too close. We had an amusing
tour of Khefrens Grand Viziers tomb led by a young guard who didnt
really speak any English but who could really tell a story with his ability to gesture
We drove on past the Solar Boat to the temples for Khefrens
funerary arrangements and the Sphinx. Theyve finally found
a way to restore its base reliably and are progressing very
well. It is as visually stunning as expected and makes quite
a statement posing in front of Khefrens tomb.
The sheer size of it all is overwhelming!
We drove on to a spot that was perfect to take pictures of all three pyramids and
enjoyed a panoramic view out to Zosers pyramid in Sakkara, our destination for
tomorrow. Our final stop was an eye-pleasing bazaar shop in Giza too many
temptations from fine shell inlay work, basalt and wood statues to the dreaded
We went to El Kebabgy (adjacent to our hotel) for dinner. We enjoyed their very purist
humus with tehine, taboulleh (a little bulghar, lots of green and tomato), a nice salad
with cumin and cayenne dressing, and a mixed grill of marinated lamb, kefta, lemon herb
chicken and succulent pigeon (a national favorite). It was quite a feast. The restaurant
was clean and airy with a trio of musicians serenading us. It got busier as the evening
got later, and (if its any kind of recommendation) President Mubarek showed up for
dinner with several of his officers and some foreign heads of state.