Mummies, Pyramids and Chaotic Cairo
Trip Start Feb 28, 2009
10Trip End Mar 31, 2009
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My four and a half hour flight from Heathrow to Cairo was fairly painless. I had organised my visa before I left so I was straight out of the airport with my bags, no worries. Determined to travel in my own way, I took the bus from the airport into central Cairo. I had no understanding of Arabic, so I had to rely on locals to direct me to the right bus. Once in the city, I was able to navigate to my hostel as most of the street signs had English translations.
Cairo itself is mad. It has a population equivalent to the whole of Australia so there are just people everywhere
The next day I set out to explore the city. I took the Metro down to the Coptic precinct and back, then set out for Al-Azhar Mosque and Khan Al-Khalili. I managed to get horribly lost on the way and ended up down near the Citadel. On the way back, I passed through the Northern Cemetery which has as many living occupants as dead. More like a sprawling town than a cemetery, it was interesting to see a different side to the city. This area was in stark contrast to the manicured gardens of Al-Azhar Park which was just across the road.
In the evening I met up with the tour group that I would be spending the next 15 days with, and the following morning we headed out for Giza. There's no denying that The Pyramids are spectacular. It is just astounding how the Ancient Egyptian managed to construct such enormous monuments. We went inside Khafre/Chephren's pyramid which was the second largest and on the wall inside the burial chamber was the inscription 'Discovered by G Belzoni - March 2 1816' (in Italian). This just happened to be 193 years ago to the day. Next was the Sphinx, which is at a point below the Giza Plateau. The Sphinx was absolutely beautiful. There is nothing that compares to it. It's pretty weathered but considering it's age this isn't surprising. It's hard to imagine what it must have looked like when it was first completed.
The afternoon was set aside for the Egyptian Museum. This houses an overwhelming amount of relics from the Pharaonic period, with apparently another 100,000 items in the storage basement. The way everything is set out it feels a little like a warehouse and while you're advised you not to touch anything, nothing is protected and this rule isn't really policed. A highlight for me was easily the mummy rooms. It was quite surreal to be standing in what was basically a hallway, beside the mummy of Ramses II, one of the most celebrated Pharaohs of ancient times, and being separated only by a simple perspex case. Another highlight of the museum was the famous death mask of Tutankhamun. This completely lived up to my expectations, beautifully crafted and easily the most beautiful artifact in the museum. And thats quite a big call.
That evening, after such a huge day, we boarded the overnight train to Aswan.