So if you’ve been following our lives (or this blog), you know we’ve been to quite a few amazing places. And yet, this trip to Egypt was our favorite cultural trip EVER! We had been trying to get to Egypt for some time, but the political climate never seemed right. This time, we were gonna do it. First stop – Cairo for Elliott’s #1 bucket list item: The Pyramids of Giza.
This is only the second trip in our lives that we took through a tour company. Normally, we like to explore on our own, and not be tied down to a slow, shopping-heavy trip full of typical tourists. However, Egypt’s tourism industry has been crippled by the revolution of 2011, and hasn’t really recovered. As a result, we were offered what amounts to a private tour for two, fully customized to our wants and needs, courtesy of Nile Holiday.
To begin with, we were met at the airport and accompanied to our 5-star hotel. Just driving around Cairo, we started to get a good sense of things. In this city of 20 million people, traffic signs and lines on the road are seen more as quaint artifacts than actual rules for driving. It didn’t faze us, so instead we just took photos as we weaved through traffic. Cairo is also known as the City of a Thousand Minarets, and the mosques are just begging to be photographed. (Side note – I have a thing for Islamic architecture.)
Even better, our room had a direct view of the pyramids! That almost totally made up for our delayed luggage. (Shout out to Alitalia for losing our bags 100% of the time we’ve flown with them.)
We were introduced to our private guide, and made plans for our time in Cairo to hit the ground running. On our way to our first stop the next morning, there were many modes of transportation to choose from. We ended up going with the air conditioned, private car, but we could probably have traveled in a more local style such as…
We opted to start our discovery in Coptic Cairo. The Copts are North-African Christians, whose faith is similar to that of the Eastern Orthodox. Coptic Cairo is a complex of several old, historic churches, museums, and even a synagogue (which did not allow photos, much to our dismay).
The Hanging Church got its name from the fact that it is actually suspended over an old Roman fortress. Once it was possible to pass underneath it. The architecture is a beautiful combination of Christian and Arabic.
Inside, there was a school group on a field trip. They seemed more interested in us than in the church. Many of the students (and teachers too) wanted photos of us or with us. The kids wanted to talk to us, but most could only say “hello.” It reminded us of our celebrity status in India.
We also stopped at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church which is over 500 years old, the St. Sergius church which is supposedly built on the spot where Mary, Joseph and Jesus stopped when they came to Egypt, and the Ben Ezra Synagogue which had a unique combination of Jewish and Arab architecture. (The aforementioned forbidden photos exist online. Thanks, other people! 🙂 )
Having gotten the churchiness out of the way, it was on to the second most important thing to see in Cairo – The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities!
This was so important that we specifically allocated an extra day to see it. I had read somewhere that if you spent 60 seconds looking at everything in the collection, it would take the better part of a year to see it all. What I didn’t realize is that only a small portion of the collection is on display. Thanks to our knowledgeable guide, we saw everything significant in about four and a half hours.
Wanna see some highlights? Okay, well when you walk in the door the first things that greet you are some giant statues of Pharaohs. Our first ancient Egyptian statues! Bonus – they had hieroglyphics carved on the base.
I was awestruck immediately. The pose of the king with his left foot forward depicts him as a leader. The things in his hands cause him to make a fist which naturally makes his arm muscles flex. This shows that he is strong. The pose of him holding the crook and flail of Osiris portrays him as divine. (I didn’t make this stuff up; our trusty guide told us!)
There was so much amazing statuary, but the one that struck me the most is this one of Hathor, Menkaure, and a Theban god.
Mankaure was a one of the pharaohs who built himself a pyramid at Giza. (We’ll get to him later.) The Theban god was just to say, “Hey people of Thebes, we respect your religion, and our gods are cool with yours.” This was also our introduction to Hathor, the goddess of joy, love, dance, music and foreign lands. All these things play a part in our lives, so I was instantly drawn to her. I was also drawn to the perfect, smooth detail of everyone in this carving.
There were also many wooden carvings with hauntingly realistic eyes.
And of course, it wouldn’t be Egypt without some coffins and mummies.
There were so many amazing things, that we could easily overflow this post with photos. We saw the King Tutankhamen exhibit, but we were not allowed to photograph the famous golden burial mask. Since Tut was buried with seemingly everything he’d ever owned, there was no shortage of photo-worthy objects. We also saw many everyday objects from Egyptian life 3,000 years ago. (Okay, maybe a few more photos)
That night it was off to Giza for the sound and light show at the Sphinx. This show was featured in the James Bond movie “The Spy Who Loved Me.” As a diehard 007 fan, I was looking forward to seeing the updated version. Imagine my delight when the show opened EXACTLY the same way it did in my movie from 1974! (No I’m not THAT old, I watched it many years later. 🙂 )
Afterwards, our guide offered to show us some nice places to eat, but we were more excited for street food. He almost couldn’t believe it when we asked for a local shawarma joint. What’s shawarma? Only the best middle-eastern street food there is! It’s meat (usually beef, lamb, chicken or a combination) slow-cooked on a vertical spit. It’s then shaved into small chunks which are stuffed into a pita with tomatoes, cucumber and hummus or tahini. The end result is similar to a Greek gyro, only much more delicious. It was a great ending to an amazing day.