The first thing to say about Egypt is that contrary to all the
warnings we were given by most people who'd heard about our plans
to visit, we felt it was one of the safest places to visit. Ever
since the terrorist attacks back in 1997 (compounded by all the turmoil
in the Middle East), there has been a huge drop in tourism and they
really welcome foreign tourists with open arms (sometimes too open
but more on that later). Also, the crime rate in Egypt is extremely
low (the fact that punishment is swift and harsh may have something
to do with that).
It was a bit of an adjustment to step out of the first class cabin of a British Airways jumbo jet and enter the world of Egypt, but we adjusted fairly quickly. Given our lack of knowledge of the country (we didn't find anyone who had visited recently and could give us accurate advice) we decided to purchase a tour for our entire visit in advance - this was a private arrangement just for us and included picking us up at all the airports, checking us into hotels, taking us to all the sights and providing professional guides to explain what we were seeing. It was quite expensive (esp. considering how cheap things are in Egypt) but we have no regrets, being on our own in a country like that with little up-to-date knowledge on how to get around would have likely caused us to fret too much and not be able to enjoy it nearly as much.
We arrived very late on September 1st so we basically just drove to our hotel in a van supplied by the tour operator and went to bed. One note - if you decide to book a visit to Egypt on your own we'd recommend sticking to hotels that are rated 5 stars, unless prices rise a lot it's hardly worth risking staying in anything less (to give you an idea, the rates for a double room in various 5-star hotels in Egypt and Luxor ran around $50-$60 a night at the time we visited).
In the morning we were greeted by a view of the Nile from the windows of our hotel room.
We didn't have much time to admire the view, though, as it was time to go visit the famous Egyptian Museum. The chaos in front of the entrance was pretty over-whelming, and we were glad we had someone with us to show us what line to get into next and all that. One word of advice if you go - decide ahead of time whether you want to take pictures inside, it's 10 Egyptian Pounds (about $1.50 at the time we visited) extra and they have an X-ray machine whose sole purpose appears to be to look for cameras on folks that didn't pay the camera surcharge at the entrance.
Our next stop was Giza and we soon discovered that the pyramids are a bit like the Grand Canyon - no matter how many pictures you may have seen and how much you've heard, it's only when you're actually standing there that you can truly appreciate the immense scale of the things. Pictures can't really tell the story but we'll try anyway ...
One thing you notice right away is just how huge the blocks are that the pyramids are built out of.
Climbing the pyramids have been forbidden for many years, so at least one of us was spared the humiliation of trying to climb to the top and failing miserably. Did we mention that it was almost 110 degrees Fahrenheit ? We're quite used to those kinds of temperatures, but we don't often climb pyramids during the summer in Nevada / Arizona.
The pyramid in the middle of the next picture (the pyramid of Khafre) is actually not the largest one but it's built on higher ground (and it's closer) so it appears bigger. Note that some of the limestone veneer that originally completely covered all of the large pyramids remains in place at the top of the pyramid of Khafre (you can see it better in the next two pictures); this gives us at least a limited idea of what the pyramids may have looked like in their heyday.
As soon as the camel returns the "negotiation" commences - "we gave you a good camel ride, you pay us $20". "We told you no camel ride and you said photo only, no camel ride!". "I have many hungry children, nice camel ride, give 20 Euros!". On and on it goes until you either break down and pay then an insane amount of money or simply make an offer and start walking away. Of course, even after the main perpetrator accepts your money (with a lot of grumbling) the other members of the gang will besiege you as you're trying to make your escape. All in all a very educational experience which cost us - because one of us is a cruel and heartless person - about four bucks.
Right next to the pyramids is the "Solar Boat" museum which houses one of the boats that - historians speculate - may have been used for transporting the pharaoh's body to his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. They had two boats - one with sails and one with oars, since in direction they could sail with the wind and in the other they had to row. While they were going up / down the Nile on one of the boats, the second boat was disassembled and stored on the first boat. Here is a model of the boat to give you an overall idea, as it's quite difficult to capture the real thing in one frame.
Here is a picture of the real thing, with a small person for scale. Of course the boats were found disassembled and it took quite a bit of work to put them together.
Of course, no visit to Giza would be complete without a stop at the Sphinx.
The best way to end the day is a nice, slow ride on a terribly smelly beast.
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