Monday, November 13, 2006

...but I was in Cairo!

So more than a month back, when we saw that this past weekend was both a long weekend AND the weekend of the Marine Ball (no offense to the Marines...some of our guys are good friends, but ball gowns are not my thing and we went last year), we decided to go to Cairo. I can't remember ever NOT wanting to see the pyramids.

We flew over on Thursday night after work. The flight is only about an hour from Ben Gurion Airport. A friend at work, Heather, told us she had a friend in Cairo from when she lived there and he drove a taxi for a living. We called Ali first thing Friday morning and hired him for the day to take us around. Let me tell you, that was a great decision! We drove down first to Dahshur, home of the Red and Bent Pyramids. These are the third largest pyramids in Egypt, after the ones at Giza. The Bent Pyramid was one of the first attempts at the kind of pyramid we know today, built by the 4th dynasty Pharoah Sneferu (2613-2589 BC). But the angle was too steep and the pyramid became unstable, so his engineers had to reduce the slope, hence the name. Not satisfied, Sneferu tried again, this time creating the Red Pyramid using the angle his engineers had used at the top portion of the Bent pyramid. It is the first true pyramid. Sneferu's son, Khufu (aka Cheops) is the builder of the first, and largest, true pyramid at Giza.

The Bent Pyramid

We actually went inside the Red Pyramid because we had been advised that the big pyramids would be just as empty inside but would be more crowded. We got hit up for bakshish, a sort of tip, usually one Egyptian pound (about 20 cents) for the first time there, and by none other than the tourist police. We paid again to the old guy who took us down into the pyramid. You have to back down the ramp to go in, and while the ceilings inside are amazing, the smell is well, I guess there aren't toilets around.

Our next stop was Saqqara, home of the Step Pyramid of Djoser. The Step Pyramid is the first pyramid and was built by Imhotep in six mastabas for the 3rd dynasty Pharoah Djoser. It was here, in the pyramid of Titi, that we got the "Fish Tour," our new descriptor for all bad tours. A guy wanting bakshish followed us around the tomb, pointing to the wall carvings and saying "fish" when he saw a fish. Accurate, but not so very helpful. I think he knew maybe 6 words in English. He would point to an empty pedestal and say, "Baby statue. Not here. Egyptian Museum Cairo." We ultimately gave him a pound to go away.

Me at the Step Pyramid

From there we headed to Giza. A friend had recommended we ride camels around the back side of the pyramids, and after coaxing M a bit, we decided to do it. Ali, our taxi driver, took us to a reputable camel stable and we got an hour ride around the pyramids. It was a great way to see the pyramids, away from the traffic and vendors. But boy does that make you sore! Our camel driver said that this is how you really learn to walk like an Egyptian!

On Saturday we went to the Egyptian museum. Ali had warned us about people on the streets luring you with with how they love America and their brother was in America and blah blah. And still we almost fell for it, with a "doctor" (read: perfume shop owner) telling us the museum didn't open until noon and trying to get us to come to his shop. At the last minute, we escaped and continued to the museum. The Egyptian Museum is every bit as incredible as it is billed, and though we opted not to pay the extra 100 pounds to see the mummies, we did get to see some amazing stuff. We even saw Tutankamen's burial mask, which is extraordinary. That night, we headed back to Giza for the sound and light show. In our defense, we already knew it was hokey before we went, but some kitsch you just gotta do. So we went. The talking sphinx was a riot, and at least now I know that the three biggest pyramids there were built by father (Cheops or Kufru-2589-2566), son (Khafre) and grandson Menkaure). Khafre also built the sphinx, and the face on it is his. His is the most recognizable of the three pyramids, with some of the limestone exterior at the top. It is actually smaller than the Great Pyramid in deference to his father, but it looks bigger. The real highlight of the show, however, is the end, when Egyptians dressed in the kind of "ancient Egyptian" costume you'd have worn as a kid at Halloween played the Road to Tiperary on bagpipes as an exit march.

Sunday we went to Old Cairo and visited Salah Eddin's Citadel. Built in 1176, it has amazing views of the city and two really beautiful mosques, the Mohammed Ali mosque and the Mohammed Nasser mosque. Since this was an organized tour, our Muslim guide also took us to the Hanging Church (named for its location) and the grotto where, according to the guide, Muslims and Christians hid Mary and the baby Jesus when they came to Egpyt. I'll leave it to you to figure out what is wrong with that picture. She also took us to a synagogue that she said was no longer used because there were no Jews in Cairo. Of course, she also said Christians were 50% of the population. It is more like less than 10%. And she wrapped up the tour with a trip to a perfume factory. I left with a headache but no bottled scents.

Me and M on camels at Giza

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