Monday, 23 March 2009

Day Seventy Two: An extremely long day in Cairo

OK it is now 8.10pm which doesn’t sound too bad does it? However it does mean that we have been going for 17 hours non stop as we are up and about at 3.10am this morning to prepare for our trip to Cairo to see the Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Cairo Museum where good old King Tut’s treasures are kept. This will only be a very brief blog tonight just to give you the highlights and we will bore you with the details when we get home.

There were at least 6 coaches booked to do trips to Cairo, some of them doing our tour, others included a trip on the Nile while others also went to see the stepped pyramid at Sakkara. Most of us were swilling around the Conservatory at 3.30am eating a continental breakfast just to give us some sustenance before the long haul to Cairo from Suez and then we endured the badge getting and sitting in the Theatre Royal before being sent down to the bowels of the ship – Deck 3 – to embark on the tenders. This could not have been a worse way to start the day as those of us on the first tender had to float around in the dark while all the other tenders were filled so that we could be escorted across the neck of the Red Sea to the opposite bank where our coaches were waiting. It was a good hour from leaving the theatre to landing on shore and one or two people were feeling quite queasy by the time we actually landed but once on the bus all that changed as we met Manal our guide. She was great the whole day long and extremely knowledgeable about Egypt, the Pharaohs and antiquities and she guided us perfectly if a little loudly for the complete tour.

Our coach journey was also conducted in convoy across the dessert and apparently this is provided free by the Tourist Police and is mandatory for all foreigners in coaches. All coaches as well have to have an armed guard on board although what good they are I don’t know as ours was asleep most of the time, however he did have a reassuring bulge in his jacket. It took the best part of 2½ hours to get to the Meridien Hotel in Cairo where we had a lovely buffet breakfast that set us up for the rest of the day (well at least until lunchtime). On the way to the Meridian we passed the outskirts of Cairo and there behind the buildings we got our first glimpse of the pyramids peeking between the buildings, naturally many shutters clicked and many videos whirred as we saw these huge monoliths that nowadays are not far from the edge of the city. And right after breakfast we saw them for real and we were able to wander around and get lots of photos while being besieged by hawkers selling 20 postcards for one US dollar and almost everything else for the same sort of price. We took snaps of each other with and without Ted before the coach moved us on to a different view of the Pyramids where you could see all three simultaneously but with an optical illusion effect that makes the middle size pyramid look bigger than the large pyramid. Back onto the coach and off to see the Sphinx.

That sucker is big! and since they have excavated his front legs he is also very long, we got some great shots from the coach as we came down the hill and then some good frontal shots from the viewing platform itself. I was looking for an alternative side view when I was suckered by a guy claiming to be a guard who led me to the tombs of the King and Queen that I didn’t particularly want to photograph and I was forced to give him $1.00 just to get rid of him – he would have liked more but I’m not that much of a soft touch. With the Sphinx behind us we clambered back into the coach to go to the Cairo Museum, incidentally the temperature in Cairo was a pleasant 74F but it was very dusty around the pyramids and the sphinx and Hilary had a bit of trouble with sand getting in her sandals.

The Cairo Museum was great but it could have been so much better. Manal provided us with Whisperers a headphone system where she could talk quietly and the whole group could hear what she was saying about a particular exhibit. These worked fine but my disappointment with the museum was the poor labelling of all the exhibits and the lack of lighting and dramatic impact that they could have made. The top floor is dedicated to Tutankhamen and this was fabulous in its quality but poor in its presentation, even the wonderful gold mask that is so famous is not well lit but the good thing is that you can see all around it, including the back where I had not realised that it is covered in hieroglyphics. We saw just about all the pieces that were discovered in the tomb including the gold leafed outer casings that were nested one inside the other, the sarcophagus as well as all his chariots, sticks, and I was particularly taken with the alabaster pieces – I’ve decided that there is something special about alabaster, I don’t know what it is but I like it. All in all I could spend a lot more time in the museum but I would like to see it updated. For those of you that remember Norwich Museum around 1950 or so that was the kind of standard that the Cairo Museum has.

Museum over it was time to go back to the Meridien for a buffet lunch which was equally as good as the breakfast, plenty of vegetarian options, some excellent desserts, free Egyptian wine or beer if you wanted it and nice clean loos. Our final stop was a shop (of course) and it was done under the guise of watching the process of making papyrus where after the demonstration lots of different pictures were available to buy. On the coach on our way to Cairo our guide Manal did a good selling job with us by bringing around samples and a catalogue of jewellery and clothing that we could order to be made for us with embossed lettering spelling out our names in hieroglyphics and we didn’t resist. Hilary has bought a solid gold cartouche pendant which has Julian on one side (5 symbols) and Sam plus the symbols for health wealth and happiness on the other (5 symbols). These symbols are embossed on and I bought silver cufflinks with Sam embossed in gold. Not going to tell you how much they cost though as they were not cheap. Oh yes and I also bought a blue polo shirt with Sam in a cartouche as well. Why? I am asking myself that right now.

Shopping over we settled down for our 3 hour trip to Port Said to pick up the Oriana which had successfully made the transition through the canal and was berthed and waiting for us on our arrival. Our journey was made swift by the constant police escort that led us all the way from Cairo and stopped traffic at every intersection so that we could drive straight through even if the lights were red. That’s it for tonight, Hilary is too tired to blog but will catch up with you all tomorrow. Night all.

Ps Now that we are in the Mediterranean it has turned cold, something less than 60F when we have been used to temperatures of 75 and above – I think my swimming days and sitting out by the pool are over. It is probably back to the warmth of the Crows Nest from now on.


samw7 said...

The bluebonnets are out!. I saw them on MoPac for the first time today and immediately thought of the two of you.
So glad that you had a good day seeing the pyramids and Cairo. I remember having such a good time, and then I figured out it was 30 years ago, which really made me feel old. I agree about the museum. It sounds as though it hasn't changed at all.
Sorry to hear that the weather has turned cooler but I guess it is preparing you for the journey home. I can't wait to see the jewelry. Hope you get a good nights sleep.
Love to you both,

Jessica said...

Egypt sounds like great fun! I'm hoping Nathan and I get a trip out there at some point soon.
I would like to see pictures from the glass bottom boat, the coral and fish sound lovely.

Pat said...

Your day sounds exhausting but well worth the visit. Sorry about the weather cooling but at least you will have time to adjust. It must be ages since you had to think about wearing a cardi or jacket.i.e. apart from the air conditioning.
I can't believe a week wednesday you will be home. What am I going to do each day without your blog to read. It has been brillient and you should both congratulate yourselves on the output.
Love Pat