What a day this turned out to be! We were up early to pack and to grab some of the carefully selected buffet breakfast in the Mena House Hotel’s palatial dining rooms. We’d heard many tales of Egyptian belly so were picking the safest options (avoiding peeled fresh fruit and things that had obviously been washed in local water). This culinary pickiness was confirmed by our tour guide Abdo, who we meet later down in the lobby, with the simple explanation that Egyptian water had too much purifying chlorine added to it and so was disagreeable to Western tastes. An argument that seemed slightly self-serving but was delivered with such a broad smile we could not help but take it was the truth.
We had engaged an Egyptologist for the day whose name was Hamdi. He was a pretty friendly chap and soon put us at our ease. Once aboard the Egypt Lady van we drove all of sixty seconds to the Pyramids proper (I told you it was close!)
We had the full statistical tour chat from Hamdi (the largest of the three pyramids has two million blocks, weighs six million tons, was built by farmers not slaves etc.) took our snaps, fended off the annoyingly persistent touts and climbed up one or two of the levels on the Great Pyramid. The tourist police let you get to level three before blasting their whistles at you to climb no further. The middle sized Pyramid we decided to enter. Crouching down we scrabbled in. It was hot, humid and really rather fun. No cameras were allowed in sadly. Well, not officially anyway. Tee hee.
We when drove round to the panorama location for the obligatory tourist snaps. Sadly, it had just started to rain but we didn’t let that spoil the view or our excitement. Hamdi knew just the right places to stand and suggested one or two fun shots to take too. An old hand at this obviously.
Back in the van we circled round to see the Sphinx. Carved from a solid piece of rock this noseless guardian of the Pyramids was as large as it was impressive.
After that four and half thousand year old spectacle we dropped by a Papyrus factory to see another one. We watched a demo of how the plant gets peeled, sliced, soaked, laid out and pressed to form the ancient paper material. I ended up buying a couple of replicas too. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?
Then it was on to The Egyptian Museum to get what was the merest whiff of some of the treasures it contained. Numerous antiquities were on display from statues, vases and mummies to Tutankhamen’s death mask and his solid gold coffin. It was quite some collection. We were both rather surprised at quite how easy it was to touch the exhibits though - forbidden to do so but the finger stains told a different story. In fact one of the Egyptologists we spoke to thought that both France and Britain should hang on to their Egyptian treasures until the new Egyptian Museum is completed (it’s currently under construction). Prime example cited was the Rosetta Stone. “Keep it for now”, he said, “It’ll be safer.”
After the wow factor of the museum we headed for a bite to eat at the downtown and rather down market Egypt Lady hotel – a rather tacky experience to be honest made even more bizarre when the heavens opened and the rain poured through the roof into the restaurant. We scrabbled to the bar for cover but the rain just kept on coming down - in buckets. On advice we left for the train station early just in case there were any weather related delays. Cairo traffic is pretty much the worst I have ever seen in my life – add to this the torrential rain, the mud and the weekend crowds - it made the traffic in Blade Runner look like a ride in the countryside. It was bumper to bumper gridlock all the way to the station. It got so late that we had to abandon our minibus and leg it down the dimly lit mud slide that was highway 1, jumping a spike covered wall to make it to the station on time. Once there we ended up waiting for two hours on the platform anyway as all the trains were delayed. Grrr. Still, at least we hadn’t missed our train.
When the train finally arrived, we climbed aboard and prepared ourselves for a night in a sleeper cabin and the 500 mile journey down south to Luxor. What a day!