Of course I would prefer to bike like an Egyptian but my Brompton is still stuck somewhere in Saudi Arabia. Even if I would have gotten it back on time for this trip it wouldn’t be practical visiting all these great monuments on a bike. Therefore we cruised on the Nile instead.
After a long day on planes we arrived in Aswan, the starting point of our cruise. First we visited the High Dam that created Lake Nasser and currently provides 20% of Egypt’s electricity. The dam was built with the help of Russian engineers for which Egyptians are still grateful; it’s a rare sentiment towards Russia these days. Right after that we were brought to a small island for an ancient Egypt primer: Philae Temple. Our private tour guide explained who is who in Egyptian mythology so now we can distinguish Omon Ra from Osiris or Isis from Hathor.
The next morning at 4am we were on our way to Abu Simbel to visit the Great Temple and the Temple of Hathor. I always wanted to see them with my own eyes; it’s been a long wait and now my bucket list got shorter. Both temples are impressive, specially the Great Temple of which iconic images are seen in all tourist brochures. Upon our return to Aswan we hopped on our cruise ship to sail down the Nile to the Temple of Kom Ombo and then further down to Edfu.
Edfu Temple is the second largest in Egypt but far from being the oldest: it’s a mere 2500 years old. It was a rather quick visit after which we sailed for almost 8 hours to Luxor. Most of that time was spent on the top deck enjoining the sun and surrounding scenery.
Luxor was the last stop on the cruise itinerary. There was a lot to see there: The Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens (Hatshepsut or Hot Chicken Soup), Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, Colossi of Memnon. At the end of the day we had maxed out our ability to absorb information and imagery. It is extraordinary how well preserved some of the temples are, with original colors still visible after some 3500 years.
I also celebrated my 60th birthday there.
After some deliberations we decided to take a sleeping train to Cairo. You sleep while they bring you to your destination, easy right? Yes but… The train dated from the early eighties with a corresponding level of comfort. Everything that could rattle did rattle the whole night long. I could hear it no matter how far in I pushed my earplugs. And we arrived four hours behind schedule. Luckily, our activities in Cairo were neither structured nor scheduled. Upon arrival, we headed off to visit El Ahzar Mosque only to be turned away because it was time for Friday prayers. Instead, we visited the Egyptian Museum. Throughout the visit I kept on thinking: “WTF!?!” These precious artifacts were dusty, poorly lit, scarcely explained and stored in makeshift cases and frames behind plexiglass joined together by packing tape. Mostly, the museum resembled a storage room more than a proper exhibition, with the exception of Tutankhamen hall. But that alone was worth the admission fee.
We arrived at Giza Necropolis close to the opening time of 7am but were stopped at the check point by an armed guard. He said that ticket office would open at 7:15am instead of 7am. Then another guard said 7:30. At 7am I asked the policeman who controls the time of opening, he answered 9am. When I pointed out that the official website says 7am he told me 8am but a few moments later he said: you can enter now. …Egypt.
And there they were, the magnificent pyramids, they truly are. The shear size of these structures is overwhelming, adding the age they were built makes it a mind boggling engineering feat. There’s a total of nine pyramids in Giza: three great ones and six smaller ones. Far on the horizon one can see the even older pyramids of Saqqara.
We arrived early to beat the crowds, and oh boy did we ever! For two ours there was no one around, not even touts or trinket sellers. We spent a long time in one particularly astonishing viewpoint from where we marveled this wonder of the world. When the camels started to arrive to carry tourist we moved on to the Sphinx. By that time there was a bunch of school kids all over the place and for some obscure reason many of them wanted to take selfies with Julie or me or both of us. I now can understand celebrities: after a while it became annoying.
Seeing the pyramids at the very end of our trip was like a giant cherry on the cake. Even after seeing truly amazing sites throughout the trip, being alone with the pyramids left us speechless. Wow!!!
We got out of the hotel close to noon to visit islamic Cairo: a few mosques, a citadel, a souk. Meandering through the narrow streets of old Cairo I was astonished or appalled by the dilapidation of everything from roads to mosques. Cairo is a huge sprawling megapolis and it is dirty, loud, grey. Even monuments like the Citadel Salah El Din is crumbling. If not for the pyramids I probably wouldn’t even go to Cairo. But we found an ice cream that was on par with the best I’ve eaten. The food in Cairo was generally very good and very cheap. So, there was a bright side.
I am very happy we visited Egypt to see these ancient marvels. Even Julie, who was a bit reluctant to go, was awestruck.
Egypt was country #98 for me and #70 for Julie.
Egypt in numbers:
0 km – distance cycled
2630 B.C. – year that the oldest known pyramid in Egypt was built
147 m – original height of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the highest of them all
6 853 km – Nile’s length