A difficult language...
[So, Egypt...yeah, it really hasn't sunk in yet that we went here...I'll try my best to give a concise recap, but a lot happened so here goes...]
So after our relaxing stay in Santorini, we headed to that urban jungle known as Cairo. I would say that our group was obviously more nervous (as well as parents, professors etc) about going here than any other place and rightfully so considering current world conditions/politics etc... So, I guess you could say there were mixed emotions going into the trip...excitement, fear and so on. We had a flight out of Athens-Cairo that left close to 1 am. The flight wasn't too long, though it was completely full.
A little nervous
Now, I don't want to boast too much, but I did manage to find a tour group in Egypt that would take care of all our needs once we were there. Supposedly, there was going to be someone holding a sign with my name on it when we arrived. We walked past a bunch of people calling out names in Arabic and I was like "What have we got ourselves into!?" Luckly, I saw a man holding a sign with our tour groups name on it so we were safe...He helped us get through customs (which took forever) and get our cool Egyptian visas for our passports. We then proceeded to the van through an extremely crowded and crazy exit, especially for 3 in the morning!
On the way to the airport, I kept saying in my head, "Matt, you're in Africa".
A statue of Ramses II in Memphis
..it was really surreal. We got to the Zayed hotel which was about 1/2 hour away from the airport, got an early morning juice that tasted like Tang and then checked into our rooms. We were set to meet with our guide, Mina, in the morning at 11 am. The girls stayed in one room and then the guys split into two rooms. Kevin and I roomed together and given everyone's poor or low expectations of the hotel, it was actually really nice. The beds were really comfortable and the air conditioning worked really well. My only problem with sleeping was the volume of the Muslim prayers around 4 am...They echo pretty well in the city, so I just turned the air conditioner louder.
The first pyramid at Sakkara
Anyway, our first day in Egypt was scheduled to be a relatively free day for us to get to know the city etc. After meeting with Mina and getting details about the country and local customs, behavior etc, we headed out to explore the area around our hotel. I think we were all really nervous about being out on our own, but he assured us that we would be safe at any time of the day or night. We got to the main street and I was instantly amazed at how crowded, busy and crazy the city was! One of our professors (who I don't personally like) says that Cairo is like a busier, dirtier version of Rome...I guess he was true.. The city is heavily populated by cars, so much that they predict more cars than people in 2010.
Our tour guides joked that if you could drive or cross the street in Cairo, then you could in any other place in the world. I guess I'll segway into driving for a bit...So, driving is absolutely out of control in Cairo. Picture this...no lanes, no stop signs, no traffic lights, no safe pedestrian crossings...just pure chaos! They have traffic at every time of the day and a lot of it is because cars can just park wherever they want or drive down any street, regardless of if the traffic is supposed to come towards you! It's hard to describe in words, but experience it if you dare...
So we ate our first meal in Egypt...japanese food! It was from a fast food type chain and wasn't really that great but whatever.
We got some snacks at the local market and then went back to the hotel to rest until our cruise on the Nile River at 5:30. Our ride on the Nile was supposed to be at sunset, but somehow the sun disappeared by the time we got there. It was ok though, as we got to spend nearly an hour and 1/2 on a felucca (oriental sailboat) touring probably the most famous river in history. We were all pretty tired after that and dinner and we had a huge day ahead of us...
Our second day in Egypt was probably the best day of the trip. We were scheduled to visit the ancient capital of Memphis, then the first pyramid at Sakkara and finally the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Our guide for this day was Sam.
Oasis of palm trees
He was a really knowledgeable guy who actually appears on the Discovery Channel on "Secrets of the Sand"...(Sam, if you're reading this, I expect a free trip next time for all this promotion!) He took us to our first stop of Memphis. There wasn't too much here that was awe inspiring, other than a huge statue of Ramses II that was laying down on its back for visitors to view overhead. This site got us into the mood for what was ahead. We then head to Sakkara, which was the site of the first pyramid ever built. The pyramid was pretty big and again, was a good prelude to what was to come. Our next stop wasn't on the itinerary, but was really interesting nonethesless. Our guide took us to a local carpet school, where we got a tour of how they make the handmade silk and wool carpets.
Making the carpets...
I thought we were just in for a tour and then the owner had a sit down and offered us free drinks ("Egyptian hospitality") He then started showing us all the carpets they had and began throwing them on the floor in front of us. A couple of his workers joined in and before you knew it, there was this whirlwind of carpets in front of our eyes. They then casually said that we could browse around and see if we liked any. This turned into a really stressful time because the moment I even eyed a carpet, one of the workers swooped in on me and began to put on his best Egyptian schmooze. I was interested in the silk carpets until I found out that they ranged from $150-$4,000 USD. I had to haggle and struggle with him for what seemed like an eternity.
I'm at the pyramids!!!
I really wasn't interested in buying anything in the end, but I settled for a 12"x18" $5 camel hair piece...oh well, so much for Egyptian carpets...
Our next stop was the Giza Pyramids, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Sam explained to us how the pyramids were essentially built for a pharoah, his son and his grandson. The largest one contains 2,300,000 blocks that can weigh up to 10 or 15 tons each. The size of these pyramids is just massive. You really realize just how big they are after you've climbed up like 3 stones and feel pretty high off the ground and there seems like hundreds of rows above you still. We spent a good deal of time here, taking pictures and just standing in awe.
They're pretty big
..We were at the pyramids! We even got the chance to go inside the second pyramid. It was SO hot, humid and gross in there, but worth it. To get into the tomb inside, you have to hunch down pretty much all the way there, which is pretty uncomfortable because you can't even lift your head up. The tomb itself was not that impressive because there wasn't really much in there, but it was worth it to say that we've been inside the pyramids.
The next thing we got to do was ride camels on the Giza plateau. This was probably my favorite part of the trip, just because it was really funny and surreal to be riding on a camel in front of the pyramids. The camels make all sorts of weird noises (I think someone said they sound like Chewbacca?) and tend to like to pee for longs periods of time.
Kevin looks excited
When the camel gets up from its laying down position, it lifts its hind legs first so you feel like you're going to fall off. Thus, Veronica's loud scream when her camel stood up! The ride was for about 30 minutes....wish it could've been longer, but maybe I'll be able to do it again sometime. We rushed from the camel ride to see the famous Sphinx. Now, it seems like everyone thinks the Sphinx is really huge, but its actually small in comparison to what you would think. We barely made it into the gates before they closed, but got about a minute in front of the Sphinx to take quick pictures and then back out. We grabbed a quick dinner at KFC (Mmmm) and then headed to a perfume store. I was honestly more interested in my chicken strips than perfume, so I almost stayed inside the van.
Then I was like whatever and went inside with the others, which I was glad I did. The perfume place is more like a showroom I guess. We were all seated on these low cushions on the ground with shelves of perfumes and fancy glassware above our heads. This place basically had all the bases for every famous perfume/cologne in the world minus the alcohol. So what you're getting is pure extract from the flowers. (That's at least how they sold it to us) We were given all sorts of samples to try and smell and most of us ended up buying something for ourselves or others. Our last stop of the day was a papyrus store, where they briefly showed us how the make papyrus and then we were free to browse the walls for yet another thing to buy.
Smile before they spit on you
I gave in again and bought an Egyptian "Tree of Life" drawing, with my name written in hieroglypics next to it. So, we ended the day with that, headed to our hotel, ate dinner and passed out from exhaustion!
Our next day in Egypt was a little more low key. We spent the morning touring a mosque, Christian church and synagogue. Then we headed to the Egyptian museum, where we saw the treasures of Egypt including King Tut's massive collection. The museum was definitely in the worst condition of any famous museum I've been too so far...the items are not displayed nicely so it makes them seem not as important. Anyway, my favorite part had to be the King Tut collection, which was just so huge and comprehensive.
Yes, I'm happy to be riding a camel
The had some really inventive items there too (for the time period) like a shade device, underwear, socks and a fan. I was amazed that ostrich feathers and socks could last for thousands of years! King Tut's death mask was awesome to see in real life as were his caskets. He was quite a spoiled little king! We also got to see a bunch of weird mummified animals including a full size crocodile, cats, fish, baby bull, dog and monkeys. A lot of these animals still had visible fur, toe nails and all sorts of things that I really couldn't believe made it this long!
We had a break to rest after this and then headed to the Giza Sound and Light Show. The show basically told the story of Egypt and the pyramids through the use of sound and light on the actual pyramids.
It was narrated by the Sphinx and was pretty cheesy I guess, but it was really cool to be there at night and see them all lit up. This ended our third day in Egypt so we only had one more to go, which ended up being a day trip to Alexandria. Alexandria is about 3 hours away by car from Cairo, and boy what a three hours it was. I was looking forward to sleeping on the way but it was impossible. If I could describe it to you, it would be like riding Indiana Jones all the way there. It wasn't the car, but more the roads. You would just bounce and bob around like crazy and get a huge jolt every here and there that would send you inches up into the air! So it was a long ride there for sure. We saw some interesting sights there, including some catacombs, which I really loved, and the new library of Alexandria.
We headed back to Cairo, ate dinner, packed and relaxed before leaving the hotel at 12:45am to catch our 3:45 am flight. We got into Cairo around 5:45 am and then caught another flight to Rome at 9 am. We had to take two trains to get back to school and this, coupled with a surprise Italian time change, created a whole day of traveling.
Whew, that was so long! If you have read this far, I applaud you and give you kudos for being a faithful and interested reader! I don't even think I can re-read this over myself, its so long...Anyway, Egypt was awesome and we had no problems whatsoever. The people there were very nice, unless they were trying to sell you something. The prices were relatively cheap and I enjoyed getting more for my money for once.
Giza at night...
One thing I didn't mention is how Americanized Egypt is. They have the most American products of anywhere I've been so far. We saw McDonalds, KFC, Hardees aka Carl's Jr, Pizza Hut, Sbarro, Papa Johns, Chilis, Hard Rock Cafe, Johnny Carinnos, Baskin Robbins etc etc. We even got to indulge in Skittles, Hot Cheetos, gingerale, Snickers and every type of Pringle ever made! This might not sound like much to those of you at home, but here, its huge! Anyway, my hands are gonna fall off pretty soon...enjoy the pictures...ahhh finished...