It only took 43 years but I’ve finally been to Cairo, Egypt and touched the Pyramids!
I spent 5 awesome days in Egypt, mostly in Cairo but I also flew out to Luxor for 25 hours (straight, no sleep) and I crammed in about 10 days of sightseeing in 4 days. I don’t recommend this approach. LOL
None of this would have been possible without the help of my new friends at Memphis Tours. They took care of every detail. They were with me literally every step of the way. They were knowledgeable, friendly, and punctual and left me wanting or worrying for nothing.
Security is tight all over. My luggage was x-rayed so many times I’m surprised it hasn’t fallen apart! Everywhere you go you see police and army in the streets and all major buildings. My hotel even had a bomb-sniffing dog that checked each car, armed personnel at the parking lot and hotel entrance, along with x-ray machines and guards with metal detectors in the lobby. You are at once comforted by these measures but you can’t feel that it’s unfortunate these measures are needed at all.
I stayed at the incredible Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel which offered views of the pyramids from your room window. I arrived after dark and therefore had to wait until morning for the first live view of my long awaited dream. With camera in hand, I threw open my curtains and there they were!! After so many years I was finally gazing upon the pyramids with my own eyes.
A quick shower and breakfast and I was ready for a day of exploring. First stop – the Pyramids of Giza! OK…they are incredibly huge. I won’t bore you with the numbers but suffice it to say there are thousands upon thousands of blocks of solid rock of which the lightest is 2 tons!! You cannot fathom how much work it must have been to build these things. It’s an urban myth that they built by slaves. Craftsmen who toiled for their king in fact built them. Those who died during the process were buried alongside the pyramid to be with their King. A great honour and one not afforded slaves.
It’s one thing to look at the pyramids from the viewing area or climbing all over them, but it’s an entirely different thing to climb onto a camel and head out into the desert for a truly breath-taking view. It’s the only way to get out there but well worth the trip. I was literally in the desert for some 45 minutes trying my best to look dashing on the back of a camel. I had the easy job though! It’s important to note that no camel was harmed during my exploration. A truly stout beast of burden, this one!
By the way, if you ever try taking pictures while riding a camel you’ll get a better appreciation of my results. LOL. I did stop on a few occasions to get better shots.
After I was done playing Lawrence of Arabia, we left for the Sphinx. Like the pyramids, you are immediately struck by the sheer size of it. It’s difficult to believe that it was once buried up to its neck in desert sand! Like all sphinx found in Egypt, it is the guardian for whatever is behind it. In this case, it is the second of the three great pyramids, belonging to the Pharaoh Khafre.
Following our stop at the Sphinx, we continued on to the Cairo National Museum. Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed in the 100 plus year old museum. The building itself is worth the entry fee. It is, sadly, ageing quickly. The Egyptian government has already started building a new on at a location much closer to the pyramids. I’m told it will be the biggest museum in the world…bigger than the Louvres. This museum is a great place to spend 2 or 3 DAYS!!! There is so much to see. It boggles the mind to walk from room to countless room filled to the ceiling with Egyptian antiquities. The second, top floor is reserved exclusively for King Tut artefacts. Everything is there. I was fortunate enough to have seen the touring King Tut exhibit in Toronto way back when I was 19 or 20. Nothing beats seeing those beautiful pieces in the Cairo museum. The golden sarcophagus. The golden death mask. The gold covered throne. The innumerable bits and pieces made of gold, precious stones and unbelievable craftsmanship. I easily spent close to one hour in that room alone. Luckily it was off-season and the regular crowds have yet to return to Egypt since the revolution of a few years ago. When the museum is full, you are given roughly one minute to look at any one artefact. I spent at least 10 minutes lost in the beauty and history to the death mask alone.
The next day was my “25 hour straight without any sleep, flying some 1,300km round trip from Cairo to Luxor, visiting three temples and the Valley of King Day”. OK, in retrospect, not the best plan I’ve ever conceived. But…I have this job that expects me to show up so…you do what you have to.
So I wake up at 2:00am for my 3:00am pick-up to the Cairo Airport. My flight to Luxor left at 5:00am. Why so much time you ask? Security checks are a very serious and sadly necessary fact of life. They add time to your schedule but it gives you piece of mind. I landed in Luxor at about 6:15am. My Memphis Tours guide and driver were there waiting for me!
I’m whisked off to the Valley of the Kings. I’ve read and seen so much about the Valley that I can’t wait to get there. My guide, a former history teacher no less, was passionate about the facts and stories he related. The one unfortunate surprise about the Valley of the Kings was that there were no cameras allowed. So the few pictures you see here are from other sources 😉
This valley was picked for a few prime reasons: isolation, proximity to the Nile and the naturally shaped ‘pyramid’ mountain that overlooks the entire place. There are over 40 tombs within the valley. Most are open to the public while others are closed for renovation or because they are unsafe. I visited four different tombs. I’ll spare you the history lesson but suffice it to say I loved every second. I even had the opportunity to go into King Tutankhamen’s tomb. He died at such a young age, there was no time to build a proper tomb for him. It is much, much smaller than the other Pharaohs, with only two small side rooms. This is where all his treasure was found. You can’t help but think how many treasures there must have been in the other older, more famous Pharaohs’ tombs. The one very cool thing with King Tut’s tomb is that his mummy is still there, preserved in a special case for all to see. Unfortunately, my ‘other source’ wasn’t alone in the tomb to get a picture. LOL
From the Valley of the Kings, we made our way around the mountains to Hatshepsut’s Temple. One of only two females to ever rule Egypt as a woman, her temple is truly a beautifully huge place! It had trees from all over her empire growing in the courtyard. The shrine on the right side has some of the clearest original colours left on its hieroglyphics. The colours are still bright and distinct and amazing to look at considering they are more then 3,500 years old.
Our next stop was Luxor Temple. A very small and compact temple it boasts many columns and a mosque! This mosque was built while most of the temple was buried under sand. When the temple was re-discovered, it was decided to leave the mosque where it is instead of having it moved or destroyed. The mosque recently rebuilt its minaret but left the original one standing.
The last stop of a very long but awesome day was Karnak Temple. Wow! What a place. It has 134 massive columns where 122 of them are to meters tall and the other 12 are 21 meters tall. Some have a diameter of over 3 meters!! That was built with stone from kilometres away in a time where there was no modern equipment of any kind! These columns figure prominently in the Sound & Light Show but more on that later.
Karnak also has two obelisks. Each is intricately carved with hieroglyphics and while still very tall today, they are not whole and no one really knows their exact original heights.
I believe I spent about 2 hours wandering around Karnak. Every corner had a new and amazing something to discover. My tour guide, Ahmed, kept up the chatter and I only wish I could remember half of the stories he told. I must have looked the perfect tourist with camera in hand and mouth hanging open in awe!
A meal and a tour of the city of Luxor in a horse-drawn carriage was next. It was a very odd feeling to be dropped off at the front gates of Karnak Temple in a horse-drawn carriage but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. By this time it was dark and time for the Sound & Light Show.
I wish I could describe or that my pictures fully related the awe of this presentation. We began at the gates of the Temple. All was dark. To add to the perfection of the evening, it was also a full moon.
And then it began. Music and lights came on. What a sound system!! Even my brother would approve. As different areas are bathed with lights and video, the narration relates the history of the temple and its builders and inhabitants. Your head swivels in all directions to try and take in the majesty of the show.
Then, you are lead deeper into the Temple and the show continues. It was so amazing to walk around this ancient temple at night, your way lit only by the lights and projected images all while learning more and more about a civilization long gone but, luckily, not forgotten.
We eventually made our way to the seating area across from the sacred lake. The presentation then continued making full use of the lake as a reflection pool. From our vantage point, the lights revealed incredible vistas of coloured columns, obelisks, shrines and statues of all sizes and shapes. If only all of history could be related in this wonderful interactive and colouful manner. I know my marks would have been better in school.
After experiencing this amazing show, it was time for a bit of a light snack, visit a few local shops for souvenirs and back to the Luxor airport for my flight back to Cairo. I was back safely in my hotel room in Cairo by 3:00am. Just your average 25-hour day!!!
Needless to say my last full day in Egypt started much later than the others. The smartest thing I did was to leave that whole day open for whatever might come up. A long sleep followed by a leisurely stroll around my hotel was exactly what I needed to recover.
In the evening I was whisked off back to the Giza plateau for the Sound & Light Show at the pyramids. While not is interactive as Karnak, it was equally impressive and amazing. The entire show takes place while seated in front of the Sphinx and 3 pyramids. The music and narration is entire top shelf! Your attention was very smoothly moved from one end of the desert to the other by having the narrator’s voice switch from speaker to speaker. They used laser lights to ‘draw’ on the pyramids to show where the tombs and passageways were. They even had projections on the face of the Sphinx. All very brilliant.
So ended my long-awaited odyssey to the land of the Pharaohs. My tired feet, sore back and sleep deprivation were a negligible price to pay for this unequalled experience. I left Cairo for the reality of the working world the next morning. I had finally replaced a lifetime of yearning with a lifetime of memories.
Well…maybe I need to go back and take the Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan and see Abu Simbel…