Flight and Arrival
At the end of April 2007, me and a couple of friends, Mona and Kelly Stevens, took a trip to Egypt to see the many mystical archaeological wonders of this amazing country. I am revising some journal entries I made on that trip to post here on my new webpage/blog. We decided on an organized tour when we did this but decided to arrive early so we could explore Cairo on our own for a day. I hope you enjoy my trip down memory lane as much as I enjoyed this amazing trip with two terrific friends.
The flight to Egypt was uneventful. We had to shuttle between Newark airport and JFK and that provided a little excitement. I am glad we had six hours between flights since it took us 2 ½ hours to get between airports. I had a good seat on the International flight from New York to Cairo on Egypt Air. LOTS of legroom but as usual I was not able to sleep. I arrived exhausted. After getting to Cairo our Tour Company had a representative meet us. He got us through customs with incredible skill and speed. It was a wild ride through Cairo to our hotel, reminded me of Istanbul but not quite as bad or scary. Still it was quite an experience for Mona and Kelly. I think in America it would qualify as a thrill ride like a combination of Bumper Cars and a Roller Coaster. Three to four cars crowded across two-lane road with only millimeters to spare between them. I don’t know why they even bother to paint the stripes in the road. No one pays any attention to them. Cairo is a busy and bustling city with lots of cars and poor infrastructure. I think the population of Cairo is 23 million but don’t quote me on that. The city is a lot dirtier than I expected. Not only is there sand and dirt from a desert environment but lots of trash and rubbish lying around. I did notice some feeble attempts at street cleaning but they were with hand held brooms. The poverty here is very evident as is the wealth of some people.
The Cairo Marriott Hotel was a remarkable sight. A palace at one time, the Gezirah Palace built for the Khedive Ismáil Pasha in 1869; it was expanded and converted into a hotel. I had a great room, large with a queen size bed, a couch, desk and dresser. It contained a nice large screen TV with a ton of channels in at least six languages, and a large balcony overlooking the garden. The beautifully appointed bathroom held a large tub/shower combination, marble counters, and good lighting. There are at least six restaurants and a couple of nightclubs here in the hotel. The pool and garden areas are large and beautifully landscaped. The staff handled our arrival efficiently and courteously.
After getting to my room, a quick shower and other absolutions gave me enough energy to make it down to the patio area for lunch and a couple of beers with Mona and Kelly, very nice! The weather here is fantastic this time of year. The sun graced a cloudless sky with a nice cooling breeze, perfect for walking and touring some of the city on foot. After lunch, Kelly and I made a quick run across the road to look at and take some pictures of the river Nile. It looked better than the Mississippi but not much. Then it was back to the room for me for some well-deserved sleep. Twelve hours later, I woke to our first full day.
I got up early for the breakfast and met my friends for a fabulous buffet with lots of choices. Then it was off to accomplish the first of our goals in coming to Egypt. Kelly and I wanted to play a round of golf under the Pyramids. We made tee times for 9 am at the Mena House Golf course. Mona decided to accompany us and act as the official photographer. We arranged for Limo service to the course, which turned out to be very reasonable. Remember the comments on the traffic; well it gets even more interesting when you are riding in a new Mercedes limo. We arrived at the golf course and hotel afterwards safely, always amazing in this traffic. By the way, if you think that trying to drive here is crazy you should try being a pedestrian and crossing a street. Talk about taking your life into your own hands.
We arrived at the course and were quite surprised by it. It was a small 9 hole course without much of a Club House, no carts, only walking. Thank goodness, we were given a caddy; otherwise, I wouldn’t have made 18 holes having to carry my clubs with my bad knees. The caddies were nice and mine in particular tried to be very helpful giving me tips on my swing. His suggestions for improvement were very helpful. Despite the nature of the course, we had a good time and got several pictures of us golf club in hand with the great Pyramid of Giza in the background. Kelly played his usual good game but I managed to see a lot more of the golf course than he did. Mona followed us around snapping pictures but enjoyed the morning and the exercise. After playing, it was back to the hotel. I spent the rest of the day lounging about the hotel. Lunch on the patio, a nap, read a little from my book on Egypt, another nap and then it was time for dinner. We decided on the Egyptian Nights Restaurant here in the hotel. There were many exotic choices. After dinner, we went for a little walk to work off some of the calories. Then it was back to the room for bedtime and resting up for another day.
Slept in this morning but made the 9am meeting time with Mona and Kelly. A couple cups of coffee and a piece of Chocolate Cake and I was ready to go. We decided to do the Egyptian Museum today on our own. It was a 15-minute walk from the hotel along the Nile. We took our time getting there and I snapped some interesting pictures, including a cow carcass floating down the river. Finding the entrance to the Museum turned out to be a little bit of a trick. We managed to see some interesting scenery finding it. We knew the museum would be part of our tour but we noticed that we would be spending very little time there and it is a BIG museum and we wanted to see it all. We even opted for doing it without a guide. Not sure if it was a mistake or not but I definitely recommend that you buy a book explaining the exhibits before going in. A lot of them are just numbered with no explanation cards and many don’t even have that. The ones that do have cards look like they were typed up in the 1920’s or 30’s when they were discovered. The exhibits could use some serious work. I understand that a new museum is being built and that it will be much larger and partially outdoors. It sounds like it will be fantastic. We ended up practically running through the place but we did get to see everything but the royal mummies, which had its own entrance fee. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that till we were in the museum. Maybe next trip.
Afterwards it was back to the hotel again to rest up for the first big day of the official tour. First I took a little nap, then iced my knees down, and did a little more reading on the balcony of my room. After that, I decided to start this journal so that I wouldn’t forget anything and could possibly offer some helpful tips to others traveling to this exotic land.
We had to be up early to get ready to meet the Tour people. First a good breakfast and then we met the guides in the lobby of the hotel. From there we marched to the meeting room in Egyptian Nights and they gave us a highlight of the rest of our trip. They divided us into two groups (the Habibi and the Pharos) which consisted of about 32 or 33 people each. Mona, Kelly and I were in the Pharos group and Mohammed was our guide, an actual licensed archaeologist. Of course, the guide for the other group was a Mohamed also (a different one). After the meeting, we separated into our groups and were loaded onto two buses and off we went for the first part of our tour.
On the way there we passed a place Mohamed called the city of the dead. Apparently, it is a VERY old Cemetery made up of small houses. A family owns each house and they are expected to bury their dead in the house they own. That is interesting enough but there is a twist to the story. It seems that since Cairo is getting so crowded, the families are renting out the dwellings. Then when there is a death in the family that owns the house, the people occupying the house have to clear out until the funeral and burial are completed. On the same road, we also passed the quarry where they mined the stone to build the Pyramids.
Our first stop, the Citadel and the Alabaster Mosque, Mohamed gave us a history lesson on the place. Of course, I took plenty of pictures and only partially paid attention to what he was saying. The place was spectacular and had a commanding view of the city. It was a pity that the sky was so smoggy and cloudy. It definitely limited the view on this day.
Then it was back to the Cairo Museum again only this time with our guide. He took us through several rooms, explained the different Dynasties, how their artwork and building styles had changed, and finished up with the King Tut exhibit. Overall, I learned some things from him that I did not know before and he pointed out some important pieces that I had missed on my first pass through the Museum. Therefore, it was well worth the trip there again.
Then it was back to the Hotel for a late lunch. Afterwards, it was off to the Sound and Light show at the Pyramids of Giza. It was very nice. Omar Shariff did most of the voice over and the lights were colorful and spectacular. The music during the show was perfect. Before the show started there was an Egyptian marching band in costume playing the bagpipes, they also played on our way out. Unfortunately, at that time, my camera wasn’t good enough for night photography. All that made for a long day and it was almost 11pm when we arrived back at the hotel. The next day, we left Cairo.