• Portugal!

    Portugal: Palace of Pena. Go Now!

    Portugal
    Although next to the seas and made famous by trade, Portugal boasts dynamic landscapes and architecture, including the Palace of Pena (pictured) near the town of Sintra. Go to Portugal!

  • Dominican Republic!

    Dominican Republic: Houses on the beach. Go Now!

    Dominican Republic
    Dominican Republic is home to the oldest European settlements in North America and still holds a Spanish charm, but for many tourists, the greatest attraction is the beach. Begin Your Journey!

  • New Zealand!

    New Zealand: Mountainous interior. Go Now!

    New Zealand
    Striking extremes meet in New Zealand from coast to mountains, from North Island to South Island, and from the Maori to the Pākehā (or ethnic Europeans). Explore New Zealand!

  • Japan!

    Japan: Traditional foods. Go Now!

    Japan
    Japan has a rich culture that is visible today in the country's dress, architecture, language, food (pictured), and lifestyle. Begin Your Journey!

  • Bahrain!

    Bahrain: Desert. Go Now!

    Bahrain
    This tiny country has overcome the desert and has found a way to thrive, like this tree on al Jazair Beach. Explore Bahrain!

  • Bulgaria!

    Bulgaria: An old Turkish bridge. Go Now!

    Bulgaria
    The isolated mountains of Bulgaria hide cultural gems around every corner, including this old Turkish bridge in the Rhodopi Mountains. Explore Bulgaria!

Egypt

Pyramids of Giza

Cairo

March 16, 2010
Egyptian Museum & Islamic Cairo

I flew into Cairo from Amman this morning, arriving in Cairo at about 1:00pm, at which point I had to find transportation to the city. I took a shuttle bus to the airport's bus station then tried to find a bus to central Cairo, but struggled with the different numbers and my lack of Arabic. Eventually I found a girl who spoke English who helped me find a bus that was in no hurry to leave.

My bus downtown sat for nearly 30 minutes, then started, but soon stopped to pick someone up, then started and soon stopped again... this pattern went on nearly every block. No one seemed to be in a hurry except me; the delay, plus the traffic, greatly tested my patience and I have little of that to begin with. Thankfully, the bus driver never stopped once we left the airport, he only slowed down as people jumped on and off.

Eventually a guy sat next to me and we tried to talk. He's a soldier and helped me get off in the right place, however he didn't seem to really know where we were on the map and had a vague look on his face when I said the street I was going to. Fortunately, he claimed to know where it was and he eventually said "maybe here," which was good enough for me; I got off.

After checking into my hotel, experiencing a few near death experiences crossing the roads, and trying to shed myself of guides trying to sell their services, I made it to the Egyptian Museum. The entrance and courtyard to the Egyptian Museum was filled with people just milling around and talking. The people here and on the sidewalks of the city walk like they drive and I struggled to determine what was more common: traffic jams or pedestrian jams, but I knew I've been stuck in both today.

After getting into the museum I went straight to the Mummy Room to see Ramses the Great and his father Seti I, the two most well preserved mummies and great leaders in the storied history of dictators. Once I had visited both mummy rooms, I looked at the second floor highlights, which included the museum's centerpiece: King Tut's mask. Unfortunately, this sight along with many of the highlights were congested with tour groups stopping in the middle of the aisles and seemingly having no idea that they were blocking the entire aisle. I don't understand how a person can have no perception on where they are located and just stop at random without thinking there may be someone behind them. This happened probably ten times in about ten minutes and it became quite irritating, pushing the little patience I had left even further. It was as if as soon as a person stepped into the museum they had lost all their logic.

I eventually made it downstairs and circled in chronological order, stopping whenever anything struck me, but not searching for anything in particular. Once the museum had satisfied me I took off to Islamic Cairo.

Islamic Cairo is chaotic, colorful, loud, congested, dirty, and reeks of pollution... I loved it. Once I made it to Khan al-Khalili I put my map away, submerged myself into the chaos, and got lost. Eventually I stumbled upon a spice shop and began my negotiations for the secret of the kebab spice. I got the secret recipe, a bag of spice, a cup of tea and a long conversation for about $6. After finishing my tea I worked my way around men carrying carpets, pushing carts, and salesmen trying to sell anything you could think of.

I eventually made my way to a main road only to find another salesman. He led me to his father's papyrus shop and got me some reddish tea. The work was beautiful, but I debated whether I actually wanted any papyrus... or more importantly I debated who I would buy it for. I looked around, found something I liked and made a ridiculous low offer. He said no, so I finished my tea and started to leave as the price suddenly fell to my offering price; the piece was beautiful and we had an agreement so I bought it, then the young man walked me out and showed me to the main road, which led me back to my hotel.

I kept my map in my pocket as I tried to find my way home, but eventually got lost and found a place to eat. Here I met a couple Dutch girls who were very eager to talk; they were friendly, but soon we were all tired and went on our own ways, leading me straight to bed.

March 17, 2010
Giza, Memphis, & Sakkara

By 6:00am I was out the door and had hired a taxi for the day to visit the pyramids of Giza and everything in the south including Dahshur, Memphis, and Sakkara. As we were driving down to Dahshur I tried to determine how much money the government "wastes" each year in painting lines on the road, because people just ignore them anyway.

Dahshur was the first stop; it is small and there's little to see, but the entry fee includes a trip into the Red Pyramid so I took advantage of this and went in the pyramid to see a few small chambers then climbed back out.

The next stop was Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt. There is little to see there today other than a giant status of Ramses the Great and a small café across the road. After seeing the area I went to the museum where my driver was waiting with a friend of his. We had tea and I received a tour of his papyrus shop.

The next stop was Sakkara, which is home to the first pyramids and the Step Pyramid. There was also a great museum here that told the entire history of stone architecture and the evolution of the pyramids. This was the first location in the world to create stone architecture and soon these structures evolved into better pyramid building and stone architecture in buildings of all sorts. The site itself is highlighted by the Step Pyramid, but as you look into the distance to the south, the landscape is dotted with pyramids.

As we left the park, the fine sands of the desert ended and the jungle began, moving from sand to palm trees with no transition area. Once you enter the Nile River plateau there's a canopy above you created by the trees and farms everywhere. To ancient Egypt the black soil of the Nile River delta symbolizes life and the red sands death. The pyramids stand in the desert, the land of death and as we entered the land of life the farms took every inch of land available.

As we drove through this area my driver constantly stopped to shop around for a goat and plants. Fortunately, he didn't buy a goat, but did buy some plants after a few stops.

Our final destination for the day was the Great Pyramids of Giza. The area is notorious for scams and on the way in we stopped at a red light only to find a guy trying to talk my driver into hiring me. As we started moving, this man jumped on the back of the car until eventually my driver stopped to let him in. He tried to convince me to hire a camel or horse, but I had no interest, a lot of time, and water so turned him down a couple dozen times. At the next light another person jumped on the back of the car, but the first salesman started yelling at him until he got off.

As I entered the sight itself I was horded with salesmen, but simply walked past them to the ticket office and into the gated area. The first sight was the Sphinx... staring straight at me. There's little to say about the pyramids and the sphinx that pictures can't portray better. The awe and might of them comes in the time they were built, the size and perfection of their construction, and the shear size of them. The structures themselves seem impressive, but without the knowledge of their history they are just huge structures. In many ways the pyramids are like Berlin: they are impressive, but much, much more impressive when you understand their history.

Before leaving I stopped back at the Sphinx and if you are looking for the world's most unoriginal idea, have your picture taken so it appears that you are kissing the sphinx; every Pole there was obsessed with the idea.

My driver took me back to central Cairo so I could get a shirt from the Hard Rock Café then go on a fallucah ride. Unfortunately, the winds and temperature didn't cooperate; it was about 60° and windy so I decided to stay on shore and look out over the Nile instead.

As I was looking at the Nile I met a couple young men who sat beside me. The one got very aggressive about God and soon had a person translate to me that there is only one God. I appreciated his effort to spread the word of God, but the way he did it was slightly frightening and I soon created an excuse and left; he smiled at me and said politely said goodbye.

After a quick dinner in central Cairo, I got my bags from the hotel, fought off a sales pitch to hire their driver to the airport and went downstairs to hire a taxi for half the price.

Continue the above trip to: Oman

*    *    *

October 3, 2010
Five Things You Didn't Know About the Egyptians

Returning to Egypt helped me recognize a few odd things, so without further ado, here are five things you probably didn't know about Egypt:

1. The Egyptians like to eat pigeon
...or at least that's one of the most prevalent sources of protein so they must eat it. Despite their lack of taste when it comes to pigeon and other traditional foods, they more than make up for it with their incredible shawarmas, which consist of slow-roasted lamb meat diced with tomatoes, onions, and parsley on a bun. Egypt's version of Turkey's kebab or Greece's gyro can compete with the best of them.

2. There's more here than just pyramids and the Egyptian museum
Despite popular belief, Cairo is a thriving city with people and a culture that goes beyond stone architecture and statues of dead Pharaohs. For most Cairenes the pyramids are too far away in neighboring Giza to drive to so have only been to them once or twice in their lifetimes. This odd race also embraces technology and only seems to communicate via facebook.

3. TV Satellites attach to anything
Every apartment has a satellite dish or 30 on its roof, even make shift homes which appear temporary have somehow managed to attach a satellite dish to the tarp acting as a roof. Unfortunately, the television still doesn't offer much for the English-speaking traveler unless you enjoy the Matrix trilogy and unheard-of American movies on repeat at all hours of the day.

4. The Cairenes stay out until midnight… or later
If you open a business in Cairo and ask your employees to start work at noon they may complain and not show up. Much to my surprise and pleasure the days in Cairo begin no earlier than 10:00am and never end until midnight at the earliest. Their meals begin with breakfast at about 9:00 or 10:00, then lunch at about 3:00 or 4:00 and dinner at about 10:00. This helps them avoid the heat as the streets fill with children playing soccer into the morning hours.

5. They park anywhere they want
The roads don't allow left turns so drivers must go a mile out of their way to take a U-turn instead of simply crossing traffic. While driving a mile out of your way you often find the roads filled with cars and horse carts, as cars behind you flash their lights on and off to either let you know they're there or to piss you off. Once you finally arrive to your destination you can park on the side of the road in a parking spot, double park, triple park, park on the sidewalks, or if you can't find any place to legally park just open you hood so it appears your car has broken down.

Learn more about Egypt Return to Justin's Travel Blog