Egypt Tour

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Cairo - The Museum and Pyramids

It is March 22 and last night’s 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 1900’s 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 we’ve seen in books or on TV. What wasn’t 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 – they’re 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 we’ll 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 Noah’s 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. It’s 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 Khufu’s great pyramid. It’s 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. Khefren’s 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 didn’t seem to understand that we liked his camel but couldn’t breathe if we got too close. We had an amusing tour of Khefren’s Grand Vizier’s tomb led by a young guard who didn’t really speak any English but who could really tell a story with his ability to gesture well.

We drove on past the Solar Boat to the temples for Khefren’s funerary arrangements and the Sphinx. They’ve 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 Khefren’s 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 Zoser’s 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 jewelry section.

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 it’s any kind of recommendation) President Mubarek showed up for dinner with several of his officers and some foreign heads of state.

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