There’s definitely some risk of critical itinerary items getting jettisoned when you don’t allow for some periods in a trip as down time. However, on a timeline as short as ours here, we don’t really have that luxury. Thankfully, (or, since we’re in Egypt: Al-ḥamdu lillāh) everything is on schedule so far.
Today we spent the morning touring the pyramids and Giza plateau by camel, the afternoon at the national museum in Tahrir Square, and did a little shopping after dinner. It’s been a pleasant cloudless day, dry and manageable, and free of any civil unrest. I kid a little on that, but in all seriousness we haven’t witnessed any disturbances of any sort, including in downtown Cairo. We drove all around Cairo today and witnessed nothing but the most polite and welcoming behavior all around.
Enclosed are some of the shots we took around the pyramids. Some thoughts…. The Great Pyramid is one of those sites that really just hits you all over the moment you set eyes on it. Like St. Basil’s Cathedral first coming into view as you step into Red Square, or a first glimpse of Angkor Wat or the Taj Mahal, there’s just a moment where you fall into silence for a bit in awe of the place. It’s really hard to appreciate the scale and power of the Great Pyramid, no matter how many pictures you’ve seen, until you stand looking up at it from the base. It’s truly an incredible site, and it’s no wonder that it has captured our collective imagination for millennia.
We both started out nice and early, taking a drive to “Mena Village” near our hotel. This was a bit of a rougher area, and we enjoyed a little tea while our guide readied a couple of camels for us to tour the plateau. We also paid to go inside the Great Pyramid and Martha was able to check off a bit of a bucket list qualifier: we were the first inside, and the only ones inside the burial chamber of the Great Pyramid for a little while. Historically, this is a place that limits the number of daily tickets and you need to move through assembly line style. We were able to enjoy the echo to ourselves and take in the idea of standing in the middle chamber of this huge and ancient monument all by ourselves. It remains a pretty steep climb through a tunnel with slatted steps while crouched, so when you get to the chamber it really does give a sense of isolation. It wasn’t a big part of the day, but it was really cool. Unfortunately, no cameras allowed inside though.
As for later in the day, the museum had both police and military security out in extreme force. You seriously do not want to mess with these guys. They didn’t bother us in any way though and didn’t object to a few pics getting snapped before we went on our way. The museum also did not allow cameras, which was a little annoying but understandable. I had counted on maybe picking up a book afterwards, like in the “museum store.” Unfortunately, the museum store had been looted completely in the revolution and subsequent riots and they’ve just left the store an open and empty husk on display. Since there really aren’t any tourists right now, it kind of makes sense that there isn’t an imperative to reopen the store immediately. The museum itself is absolutely massive though and we really had our fill of Egyptian antiquities. You truly could spend two days there poring over artifacts.
Most of the larger items are completely out in the open with nothing stopping you from getting as close as you ‘d like. The area I found the most interesting that is open right now is a display of repatriated items that were looted in 2011. Hundreds of objects were stolen from the museum and hundreds have been returned from a dozen or so countries where they appeared up for auction or were otherwise located. The exhibit showed pictures of the items before they were stolen and you could compare where thieves broke objects out of carelessness or to make them more portable. The descriptions were very interesting. The signs said this exhibit would be up until August. I assume they’ll recatalog the items eventually.
Dinner was a Cairo specialty of pigeon stuffed with spiced rice which was fantastic. Off to Luxor tomorrow!