Cairo, pyramids & sphinx 15-20 Jan 2011

Trip Start Sep 09, 2010
Trip End May 28, 2011

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Where I stayed
Egyptian Nights Hotel

Flag of Egypt  ,
Sunday, February 6, 2011

Saturday and Sunday 15th & 16th January

Booked into a cheap and cheerful place called the Egyptian Nights Hotel, in downtown Cairo for 2 nights at a bargain total price of 40 for two.  So that's 10 each per night. It will be interesting to see what it’s like! We travel with the Upper Egypt bus company and leave Luxor at 6.30pm. I don’t sleep very well, it is freezing cold sitting in the window seat and the journey is mainly through the desert at night so probably near zero temperatures, bloody chilly. We have many stops on route and it seems to take ages.  We eventually arrive in Cairo at about 8am and disembark in what looks like the middle of a roundabout! We jump into a taxi and luckily the hotel is reasonably easy to find and not too far away. It is right opposite the Egyptian Museum…however the taxi driver doesn’t know exactly where it is…but as we discuss its location a passer-by must have overheard us and directed us just up the road.

Well it didn’t look too promising on first impressions. A large almost Victorian style building that looked like it hadn’t had a face lift since it was first built and the electrics…and the lift in the centre of the building especially, looked decidedly dodgy. Alaa described it as looking like a prison! I thought that was a tad harsh. We weren’t supposed to check in until 12pm but they had a room ready for us. Again we had to go through the rigmarole of showing them our contact to say we could stay together…at one point I thought they were going to say we had to get separate rooms. But thankfully it was ok, except we had a twin single bed room and no TV. The website said all rooms had cable? Anyway we were shattered as we both had not slept well so we climbed into one of the single beds and huddled together for warmth as it as a cloudy and chilly day in Cairo. We slept for a few hours then go dressed and ready to go out. As the weather was not that good I suggested we visit the museum opposite the hotel today and then the pyramids tomorrow. The hotel offered trips to the Giza and Step pyramids for 180LE each around 20, but Alaa called a friend in Luxor, who has a friend who is a taxi driver in Cairo and we have booked him for the whole day for 200LE.  So half the price.

The tourist entrance fee to the museum is 60LE, just over 6,  but for Alaa and I it was only 10LE so just over 1! The museum is going to be relocated in 2012 or 13 I to a brand new building near Giza. The Egyptian museum is pretty antiquated, from the looks of it I think it was built in the late 1890s maybe early 1900s. Dad and I visited it when we first came to Egypt back in November 2009, but we were on a tour and only got an hour or so, so I wanted to go back and spend more time there, also Alaa had not been there. There is so much to see in the museum, not surprising perhaps when you think it has nearly 5,000 of history to cover! But maybe there is too much and I think if you were to look at every single exhibit it would take you 2 full days. Typically the English guide is sold out, so  we attempt to do the tour in historical order so we start with the Old Kingdom and artefacts dating back to 3,000 BC. It is incredible what of the things the Egyptians were doing back then, compared to the rest of the world. I wonder if they were transported forward in time to now if they would think things have improved…I’m not so sure.

We spend over two hours going around the museum and see Tutankamun’s mask and treasures discovered by Howard Carter in Thebes (Luxor Valley of the Kings) in 1922 - 90 years ago….just think if he had not dedicated his life to finding the tomb of the boy pharaoh would as many people be so interested in Egypt as they are today?  We also visit the mummys exhitibion…we saw Hapshepsut, Ramses II, Tutmosisis II,  III, IV, Amenhotep II and Seti I.  It’s a bit weird knowing you are looking at dead people who lived thousands of years ago, but well worth the extra entrance fee. 

When we return to the hotel. I enquire about the room not having a television, and they offer us another one. This is much better, it is still facing the main road…so very noisy…but it has a double bed and we can chillax and watch some English speaking movies in an evening. We walk around Downtown, the streets are very busy and full of shops….mostly selling shoes, I’ve never seen so many shoe shops in my life…eat your heart out Oxford Street. We eat and then relax watching TV…a luxury as in the flat in Luxor the TV only has 3 blurry channels which mainly show Egyptian movies dating from 1950s to 1970s…so to watch proper TV is great and to catch up on the latest news.

Monday 17th January

We get picked up at 10am by our driver Abrim to visit the Giza Pyramids and Step pyramid at Saqqara. Unfortunately the weather is bad again, even worse than yesterday. It is really overcast, cloudy, cold and looks like it going to rain. In fact it is so bad I suggest we go to Saqqara first which is a good half an hour drive out of Cairo hopeful by the afternoon the weather will have improved. We get to Saqqara and a cold mist, like an English wintery morning surrounds the local area. We go to the museum first which is a modern new building opened about 4 years and gives an interesting insight into the history of how this pyramid, which is even older than the ones at Giza at almost 5,000 years old, was constructed.  We enter through an impressive entrance wall and then pass through a passage/colonnade. We then enter the main site of the pyramid but it was shrouded in mist so not the best view. It really is like a cold miserable winter’s morning in England…this can’t be Egypt can it? We walked around for a while, we saw one tomb but it was closed to visitors and only open for private viewings. In Luxor and the Valley of the Queens I think it is Nefereti’s tomb which you can visit but only for $10,000.It is supposed to be wonderful, but alas I won’t ever see it.

Alaa talks to an Egyptian man wearing a tradition galabea. He then leads us to some private tombs at the back of the site where there are very few people. For a small price we can see inside. Here we see impressive carvings in the stone with a spluttering of colour. It is truly amazing how skilled the artists of the time were, these were definitely not cavemen drawings. Just think what the world would be like now if the pharaohs had survived and Egyptian culture had continued and progressed instead of dying out and along with the rest of the world falling into the dark ages. You can only imagine what could have been achieved by now if we had progressed from the days of the pyramids.  I overhear a tour guide saying it has been raining at Giza. We then head to Memphis apparently this was the first capital of the old kingdom of the pharaohs. Here there is a statute of Ramese II and the first and oldest sphinx ever made of limestone. It is now mid afternoon and we need to get to Giza which is probably an hour away. I hope it has stopped raining.

We arrive at Giza driving through the narrow and dirty streets of downtown Cairo and Giza. Giza is a city that has sprung up over the last 20 years. Tower blocks of flats now surround the pyramids - years ago this area was still much the desert and you would have had a half hour drive from Cairo into the desert with not much else to disturb the amazing views at you approached the pyramids. But life has crept up onto the pyramids. As we drive up to the entrance we get hassled immediately hawkers asking if we wanted a horse and carriage ride up to the ticket hall, we say no, there is shouting and banging on the car. Egyptians really can’t talk quietly, they seem to shout all the time and seem angry although I know that is not actually true. However it gets worse. Alaa gets out tickets we pay a fraction to get in. As we walked towards the great Pyramid so Alaa gets approached. When dad and I visited we were continually hassled. They kept asking Dad if I was his wife and he was such a lucky man….they try and sell you gifts and get you to ride camels and horses, its just hassle, hassle, hassle and spoils the experience. Well Alaa got hassled by this guy asking him to go for a ride in a horse and carriage, I was telling Alaa to ignore him, there was shouting and then the tourist police got involved. I didn’t understand what was going on but it was not good. Later Alaa told me that the guy insulted him by saying, words to the effect,  that he was not a man as he was letting me make the decisions. So can you can imagine, that put us both in a bad mood, and the weather was lousy. I know its not all about the pictures, but it does help if you have the pyramids and a lovely blue sky as a backdrop. At least it was not raining, but it was grey and grim.

I had visited the inside of the Great Pyramid with Dad…it’s a long climb up the inside into a tiny room. So this time we visited the 3 Pyramid, this time we had a long climb down into a number of chambers. It was good and worth a visit. By this time it was well into the afternoon. I didn’t realise but they closed the sphinx at 4pm, so by the time we had walked down and taken a few pictures along the way we had missed getting in by 5 minutes! Blast.  So all in all not the most successful day. I was upset for Alaa as it hadn’t been the best experience for him. It was ok for me as I’d been before. When we get back to the hotel I check the weather forecast, it is supposed to be a much brighter day…if that is true I really think we should go back to the Pyramids, bearing in mind we get in for about 1 each I think it would be shame not to do it properly.

Tuesday 18th January

Check out is at midday by which time the morning mist is breaking up and blue skies have returned to Cairo - hurrah! So off to see the Pyramids again. Had an unfortunate experience on the way. The traffic suddenly slowed down as we drove along a flyover,  we then saw the aftermath of an awful accident. Apparently three young boys who has been sitting in the back of  a open ended pick-up truck, as they do all over Egypt….were thrown out onto the road when it crashed.  They had bad head injuries and their blood splattered bodies were lying by the side of the road. At least they were not dead, but it was a hideous sight to see and  really shook me up, its something I've never seen before.

As we drive towards the Pyramids we wind once again through the narrow and muddy streets that lie between the myriad of blocks of flats which intrude right up to the perimeter of the Pyramids and Sphinx….An artist called David Roberts painted many atmospheric pictures of the ancient sites in Egypt in the 1800s which captures a time when the Pyramids and the Sphinx were still half submerged in the desert sand.  Well now to one side of the Pyramids you can still ride out into the desert and dream of life in the time of the pharaohs, but to the other is the new city of Giza which encroaches right up to the entrance gates….even 30 years ago when my dad first visited Cairo you could still drive from downtown and there was nothing on the way only the incredible sight of the Pyramids on the horizon which are still an absolute wonder to behold.

To think of the amazing achievements accomplished by the people of this nation 5,000 years ago, and now if you look down the road directly in front of the Sphinx all you see is the squalor and poverty that the people are living in today - it‘s hardly progression and people are probably living in worse conditions than in the times of the Pharaohs….I do wonder what they (the Pharaohs) would think if they could see it now? But we had a much better day. We used the same taxi driver and he took us up to a viewing point that I had not been to before where you get a view of the 3 pyramids in a row….fantastic. As we drove back down I decided I wanted to go on a camel! So off I went on camel ride for an hour into the desert, which meant that we got to see the pyramids from a totally different angle - it was great. On the way back Alaa joined me on the back of the camel and then he rode us back to the road.  It was getting late in the afternoon so wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on the Sphinx again. We didn’t but I think Alaa was getting a bit embarrassed when I got out Paddington Bear and started taking his photo! So all in all a much better day was had but us all, including Paddington.

Our taxi driver, asked us first if he could take us to a carpet shop just around the corner from the exit at the foot of the Sphinx. He gets commission even if we don’t buy anything, so I said I was ok to visit. They showed us how they hand produced the carpets which were made from camel’s wool and silk. The silk carpets were gorgeous and so soft to touch. Apparently the large carpets which were hanging from the walls cost up to 5,000. I saw this lovely smaller carpet - ideal for a wall hanging, with the alphabet in hieroglyphics. I had something similar which I had bought in India a few years back. I bartered the shop keeper down, even though the prices are probably inflated….but anyway this is my 40th birthday present to myself!! They were lovely carpets though so if you ever visit  look out for Queen Carpet School, 21 Hospital of Sphinx Street, Giza. It rains just as we leave the carpet shop!

By the time we get back to the hotel having driven through busy peak time traffic in Cairo it was getting late. We picked up our bags and then the driver dropped us off at KFC to get our first food of the day! There was a heavy police presence, I wanted to know what was going on. As we left KFC Alaa got out his mobile to phone the taxi driver, but was then ushered away and told to move on by some plain clothed policeman. When Alaa asked why he was told it was ’none of his f***ing business - charming. We later found out that someone important had died and a member of the government was going to visit the family to show his respects and so they were having to close the roads to enable him safe passage…seems a bit extreme.  We then head to Cairo bus station which is new, clean and modern. Our bus is supposed to leave at 9pm,  but it is about an hour late.

Weds 19th January

We arrive in Luxor around 10am after a 12-hour journey.  The journey was ok, but cold again and the weather turned for the worst as we headed through and beyond Hurghada. It was like a desert storm and when we were about 2 hours away from Luxor at around 6am as we stopped off at a roadside cafe it really was grim, dusty and cold….but it cleared up by the time we got home. We went straight to sleep and I got up at 4pm!

Thursday 20th January

Have booked for 2 night stay at the Hathor Hotel in Aswan. The train will cost us 25 LE each, around 3  and is only a 3 hour journey away. We will leave early on Sunday morning and return on Tuesday. We had a bit of an issue with the flat we have been renting so we have decided to move out on Saturday instead of staying until the end of the month, so we will leave for Aswan and then I will spend my remaining few days in Luxor with Alaa’s family. Alaa has a job driving some English tourist to Hurghada when we get back, so he will not be in Luxor when I leave next Friday L. I am sad to think he will not be here, but its good that he has some work.
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