The journey of a thousand miles begins with...the perfect pair of shoes.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cruise: Egypt, Day One

I know I said I was going to post more frequently, but I got derailed by an ear infection (Han Solo) and a cold (me), plus, I'm lazy.   But now we're all better, except that I'm still lazy, so let's go to Egypt, shall we?  Yes, let's.  Warning: Photo HEAVY.

After 2 full days at sea, just relaxing, we arrived at the port of Alexandria, early in the morning.  Since we were ported for 2 days, we did an overnight excursion, and got to stay at a swanky five star hotel in Giza (more on that later).  The morning was HOT and we were grateful to get on the air conditioned bus!  I will tell you that this was a mere 2 weeks after the protesting at the American Embassy in Egypt (in response to that idiotic film), and RC wasn't sure we'd be porting at all.  We were watching carefully every day on the RC website, because they canceled Egypt on the cruise that ran the week before us.  Indy was practically holding his breath.  Fortunately, it was deemed safe, and to Alexandria we went.

Alexandria was...dirty.  It honestly looked like it had been bombed in many places.  I was more than a bit perplexed, but one of our super awesome tour guides, Emmy, said that the area around the docks was not the best, and that we would see much more beautiful areas later as we got into Giza and Cairo.  Um, we have a different definition of beautiful, let me tell you.  Some of these first photos are blurry because we were on a moving bus, but they'll give you a sense of the area.  It was early morning, so none of the shops were open, and as a consequence, they all looked boarded up.

Does McDonald's deliver in Egypt???  I forgot to ask the tour guides.

 Traffic!  Oh, heavens, the traffic.  It was completely insane.  This is shortly after we got on their version of the highway (I don't know what they would call it, so we'll stick to highway).  There weren't just cars and trucks on the road.  There were donkey carts, dromedaries (not camels, but more on that later), bicycles and other dubiously wheeled "vehicles," along with the occasional random pedestrian, who decided to cross the highway.


Hey look!  A truck load of people driving at least 50mph.  That cannot be safe!  At one point there was a semi loaded with bricks that reached a little higher than the middle of our bus windows and there were about 10-15 people laying across the bricks while the truck trundled down the road.  Sadly, I did not get a photo of that.

Aww, there are my babies!  As you can see, Indy is geared up and ready to excavate. 

I took this just as we came around the corner and the Pyramids of Giza came into view.  As soon as I snapped this, his bolted straight up and was practically salivating, he was so excited.  I have to say, it was a bit awe inspiring to see them looming off in the distance.

Gigi, Indy, me and Han Solo ON A PYRAMID! 

After we climbed the pyramid (IIRC, it's the one to the far left in the photo below), we drove around to the other side.  While we generally only see 3 pyramids and the Sphinx in photos and whatnot, there are actually the 3 larger pyramids (the largest one built for Khufu, also known as Cheops, around 2650BC), and 6 smaller ones, for a total of 9.  There may be more tombs in the area that were just under a mastaba (a flat, raised slab), or whose pyramid simply crumbled.

Look at my little Indiana Jones!

Is this not an amazing photo?  I have always wanted to see the pyramids, but to be honest, I never thought it would happen.  It was completely surreal.

And now on to the exciting ride!  We all rode dromedaries!  Nope, not camels.  Camels have 2 humps, dromedaries only have one.  Dromedaries are a kind of camel, but people in the Middle East and North Africa call one up camels and two hump dromedaries.  And now you know.  Han Solo emphatically did NOT like it at first.  He cried and cried, but once we were up and moving, he decided it wasn't so bad, and eventually started laughing and waving to people as we passed.  Indy was a bit...petrified, as you can probably tell from the death grip he has on the pommel.  After a while though, he relaxed.  A little.  Gigi offered to ride with him, but he said he needed to ride his own.  I think he might have regretted it.  :)  He and I had actually been on a camel dromedary when we were in Tunisia, but that more just a get on, get up, snap some photos, walk around the dock for 5 minutes, hop off, kind of thing.  This was a real ride. 

There's Gigi!  In her whole entire life, I'm pretty sure my mom never thought she'd be on a camel  dromedary.

We rode for about 30 minutes across the Giza plateau, we piled on the bus and drove to the Sphinx.  Indy was practically jumping up and down on the bus waiting to get off.    The Sphinx is believed to have been built by Khafra, the son of Khufu, in honor of his father around 2500BC.  It was originally painted red!  I did not know!

It was a long, freakishly hot walk from the bus to the point the photo below was taken, and we still had  a good way to go before we actually got to the Sphinx.  Gigi was not up for the walk down, so she opted to take Han Solo back to the air conditioned bus, while Indy and I soldiered on to get a better look.

This is as close as you can get.  Indy was terribly upset that he couldn't touch it. :)

After the Sphinx we went shopping here.  Indy got a cartouche with his (real) name on it in hieroglyphs.  They made it while we waited.  It was really cool to watch.  He loves it and wears it everywhere. 

 We had lunch at a very posh hotel and then drove to Cairo to the Egyptian museum.  To get there, we had to circle the famous Tahrir Square.  There were no demonstrations or revolts, just green space with a monument in the middle, lots of garbage, and a traffic circle that would make Brits cringe.  Indy was not really interested in this though.  He had one thing on his mind: King Tut!  Unfortunately, we were not allowed cameras in the museum, so you'll just have to use your imagination.  I'll tell you though, whatever you're imagining, it was ten times better.  :)  The King Tut exhibit was of course the big draw and it was mind boggling.  IIRC, not even 1/4 of what was found was on display, and what they had on display filled almost the entire top floor of the museum.  The big thing Indy wanted to see was King Tut's mask.  I was looking forward to that too.  Emmy told us that there had been a theory that Tut had been murdered by a blow to the back of the head, as his skull is caved in and missing a chunk.  This is not so.  In his excitement and hurry to get to the mummy, Howard Carter, was not as careful as he should have been when removing the gold mask, and a chunk of Tut's skull came off with the mask.  It is still there today.  Emmy told us to look for it and it's there, clear as day, stuck to the inside back of the mask.  Eww.  As an aside, for any Downton Abbey fans, the Highclere Castle where the show is filmed is owned by the Earl of Carnarvon.  The sponsor of the Tut excavation was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, great-grandfather to the current Earl.
When we were done at the museum (really, we could have stayed forever), everyone but us went on a Nile River dinner cruise.  We would have loved to do the cruise, but my sweet little Han Solo was just about done.  He was so good all day and rarely got upset (except over the camel dromedary), but it was a long, hot day and I knew he wouldn't make it through a dinner cruise that lasted until midnight.  Since we were the only ones not going, the tour company called a cab to get us to the hotel back in Giza, which is about 15-20 minutes from Cairo.  One of the tour guides, Hussein (completely AWESOME) offered to ride back with us, to make sure we got checked in okay.  I'm so glad he did.  It was quite possibly the most fun and exhilarating, yet terrifying cab ride of my life (and I've been in a cab in Naples)!  Here's the thing, they drive wherever they want.  And I mean that in all seriousness.  There doesn't seem to be any traffic rules.  Or at least not any that are adhered to.  At one point, I asked Hussein if people just didn't use the lane lines, because there were 3 lanes painted on the road, but 6 lanes of traffic (yes, 6 in the space of 3 lanes).  He and the cab driver, who had mad driving skills, laughed and told us the lane lines were really there for decoration.  Okay.  Our cab driver went up on curbs, and what passes for sidewalks (with people on them) to get around cars, trucks, carts, camels dromedaries and other random things on the road.  We came within inches several times of the sides of other cars, sped around incredibly tight curves and hit things I'm probably better off not knowing about.  We were in the back of the car laughing so hard we were crying at the sheer absurdity of it.  He we hadn't been laughing, we probably would have been screaming.  At one point, we made a particularly fast hairpin turn and Indy looked at me and said "Mom, I think I might have just peed a little."  Of course this set me and Gigi off into more hysterical giggles.  Gigi said it's a good thing she wasn't wearing a blood pressure monitor because she was sure it was through the roof.  My dad would never have survived the ride.  He'd have done a tuck and roll out the door 3 minutes in.   By the time we got to the hotel I swear I lost a good 10 years of my life and gained many gray hairs.  It was totally awesome.  The tour company paid for the cab, but I tipped the driver generously because any man who could make it through that deserved it.
And then there was the hotel.  Ah, the hotel.  Here's the thing about Egypt; it's dirty and loud.  No, I take that back, it's not dirty.  It's freaking filthy.  I've never seen anything like it.  I don't know if they don't have trash collection or what, but everyone just throws their rubbish on the street.  Even in the wealthiest part of Cairo, where all the Embassies are, there was just rubbish everywhere.  And poverty.  Most of them are genuinely poor.  I guess I have never given much thought to Egypt outside its monuments, and it was truly eye opening to actually be there.  Now, I have read in books that romanticize the grand era of Egyptian archaeology and in them they always feature some grand hotel that is an oasis from the outside world.  Let me tell you, those books were not lying.  The hotel we ate lunch at earlier in the day was gated and absolutely gorgeous inside.  It was nothing compared to the hotel where we actually.
The Mena House Hotel has a long and famous history.  It was named after Menes (also called Narmar, or Memphis), who united the upper and lower kingdoms of Egypt and became the first pharaoh.  Mena House sits at the base of the Great Pyramids, so the view was spectacular and has hosted many, many famous people, including Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle, Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, Charlie Chaplin and Agatha Christie (and a whole bunch more).  It was also the place where, in 1977, Egypt and Israel fist sat down to find a peace settlement.  The Mena House meeting led to the Camp David Agreement. 
Upon arrival, we once again had to go through a set of gates and suddenly, we were in a different Egypt.  This Egypt was calm and quiet and manicured to perfection.  We were quite literally surrounded by luxury.  The staff practically jumped the moment we got out of the cab.  They even had golf carts to drive us down to our rooms.  We were given 2 connecting rooms that were lovely with hardwood flooring and dark cherry furniture, and had a garden view (sadly, no pyramid view, but still, couldn't complain) and were stocked with every amenity you could think of, including slippers and plush bath robes.  The beds were so comfortable it was almost sinful.

This is the hotel lobby.

Indy and Gigi shared this room.

Han Solo and I got this one.  Gigi was originally supposed to stay in here on her own, but the crib fit better in this room (because it only had a king size instead of 2 queen), so I was more than happy to take it off her hands.  :)

The view from our balcony.

The main courtyard.

The view from the entrance.  Not too bad, eh?  This is now the wallpaper on my computer.

The main entry.

A walking path near the entrance.

I love how this photo turned out.  The shadow caught my attention and it was time to go, so I did a quick snap, not expecting to get something so lovely.

The chandelier hanging in the portico.  It was gorgeous when it was lit up at night.

After a ridiculously priced, yet delicious meal, a great night's sleep, and a hearty breakfast, we were ready to conquer Egypt again (Why not?  Everyone else has: Persia, Assyria, Hyksos, Romans).  Day 2 led us to the 2nd largest sphinx excavated to date and Step Pyramid at Saqqara, where we actually got to go into a tomb!  Come back for that!


marty (A Stroll Thru Life) said...

Oh wow, what an incredible trip, I loved reading all about it and seeing the pictures. Hugs, Marty

Sue said...

Yes, you rode camels. Bactrian camels have two humps. Dromedary camels have one hump.

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