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
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
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
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
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.
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