Catch up with Egypt: Part 1 of 2!
At the end of Day 7 / Part 1, my two friends and I boarded a sleeper train bound for Cairo. We woke up the next morning... to a very, um, grayish-brown sky, and mountains of trash piled up against garbage-choked canals. Welcome to Lower Egypt!
After being delayed several hours on the train, we arrived in Cairo and were whisked off to the Pyramids of Giza. It may come as a surprise to you that the Giza Plateau is actually located within a bustling urban district. As we drove through the smog and traffic ("This is just morning mist," our guide said; it was noon), the Pyramids suddenly loomed through the buildings and haze. It's not hard to imagine, from this vantage point, that the Pyramids could have been the work of something extraterrestrial, something beyond human.
But by ancient human hands they were really built.
We got to go inside the Great Pyramid, and ride camels and get a photo op. The place is perpetually swarming with tourists and insistent touts, but it's still a must-do for your traveling lifetime, easy-peasy.
After braving the crowds at the Pyramids, we next braved another kind of crowd--Cairo traffic--in order to get to the Egyptian Museum. The problem with Cairo traffic is that there are an incredible number of vehicles on the road and simply not enough space for everyone to go. Whereas in the States you can take back roads or detours in order to avoid congestions, in Cairo there's nowhere to go but on the main path, along with everyone else.
It took a while for us to get to the Museum, with the result that we had less than two hours to spend in a place that can take the better part of two days. The Egyptian Museum is dizzying with the scope of its contents--the treasures discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb take up a good quarter of the museum, and there are two extraordinary mummy rooms featuring a dozen or so pharaohs--but is also an example of how important the display is for the object: long stuffed to the brim, artifacts are displayed three deep, and the few captions that exist are faded from decades of neglect and poor lighting. Let's hope that the long delayed Grand Egyptian Museum project gets back on its feet, so that future visitors to Egypt can properly enjoy the museum!
No cameras are allowed in the museum, so instead, here's a picture of the outside:
I also bought The Illustrated Guide to the Egyptian Museum, which is a full-color inside look into approximately half of what the museum contains, to supplement my short visit. Did I mention that I love and appreciate books? Oh, you knew that already?
Probably my favorite day of the whole trip! Today was the day when we went outside of Cairo to explore the oft-overlooked pyramids of Dahshur and Saqqara. These interesting pyramids are the precursor to the ones at Giza; they're also great because they're rarely visited by the tourists that mob Giza, and thus, you can have a much more enjoyable and intimate experience with these pyramids, and really get an idea of what it might've been like to come across these structures in the middle of the vast desert.
Dahshur and Saqqara yield some very unique pyramids, such as the Bent Pyramid, which the pharaoh Sneferu had his workers start building at a 54-degree inclination, until they realized that the slope was too steep for the structure to sustain itself, and thus completed the pyramid at 43 degrees. Whoops?
Saqqara is home to the Step Pyramid, considered the first pyramid attempt, and the first time that anyone (in this case, pharaoh Zoser's architect Imhotep, that poor genius maligned in the Mummy movies) attempted a stone structure on such a large scale. Prior to this, people of importance had been buried in squat mastabas, and Imhotep expanded the idea into what we consider representative of Egypt.
We took a two-day, one-night trip to Alexandria! This city is a far cry from what it was back in the days of the Greeks--in fact, the original Alexandria is completely underwater, due to shifts in water level and all that--but it's an incredibly pleasant city. Sights and highlights included Pompey's Pillar:
Colorful fishing boats along the harbor:
And library lover's paradise, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Ohmigod, I'm in love:
Every community needs a library like Alexandria's. Swoon. Swoon swoon. Swoon. Okay, I'll try to stop now.
And thus basically concluded our Egypt tour. We arrived back in Cairo in the evening, and caught planes to our various homes (US, China, South Korea; yes, we are a very international crew) the next morning.
It would be pointless to try to express how awesome the trip was, and how lucky I was to be able to do it with my friends. Without a doubt, Egypt is still a must-see destination (although with proper caution; I'll write more about this in a bit). I hope y'all will be inspired to put Egypt on your list of destinations to visit before you die, if it's not there already!