Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Pyramids and the Sphinx!

We arrived in Alexandria for our bus tour to Cairo. It was going to be another long day, but we were going to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx! Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only the Pyramids remain.

It was hazy as we sailed into Alexandria.

The port terminal looked really nice and new.

Once again, there were lots of security people around.

Hmmm…somehow the name Alexandria conjures up majestic and beautiful images, but that certainly wasn’t what we saw near the port. The streets were very dirty.

We passed by the statue of Muhammad Ali (not that Muhammad Ali!), who is considered the founder of modern Egypt.

And this guy catching a few winks before the day started.

Ahhh…so it wasn’t all dirty streets. This area of Alexandria was well kept and much more modern.

On the bus, our guide, Eman, passed around some interesting photos. This one shows that many of the world’s treasures are hidden beneath us in the water. There are many submerged artifacts near Alexandria including the original lighthouse (one of the other Ancient Wonders). This is a picture of a 70 ton statue being raised.

Eman also showed us some examples of Egyptian papyrus. We had seen many vendors selling what they say is papyrus, but she warned us that they are fakes. These are some beautiful works on the very strong and durable papyrus. On the left is a cartouche, a very popular item to buy in Egypt. They take the letters from the hieroglyphics that you can see around the oval area to spell your name, and put it inside the oval vertically.

They also paint beautiful pictures on papyrus that tell stories of ancient times.

We went through this toll station with Greek architectural style with Alexandria written in Greek and Arabic...

With again, lots of security...

Grape vines…can’t say I’ve ever heard of Egyptian wine!

There were many speed bumps along the road, and wherever you had a speed bump, someone had set up a market.

McDonalds…alive and well in Egypt. I wonder if they have all the same items on the menu?

This whole area is their "Silicon Valley."

Lots of beautiful coloured flowers to brighten the highways.

We passed by the hotel where we would be having lunch. Once again, lots of security. I’m not sure they were all doing things, but they appeared to be busy.

Eman passed around this picture of one of the pyramids showing that it was originally covered with a layer of fine limestone, but most of it had been taken away to adorn newer buildings in Cairo.

Ta da! The real pyramids! You can see a small amount of limestone still exists near the top. On an interesting note, they have found recently that the Pyramids were not built by slaves, but rather by farmers and craftsmen who needed work during the flood season of the Nile. These monuments are not only a tribute to the building skills of the people at that time, but also to the wisdom of keeping an entire society at work during the “off season.”

The Pyramids are in Giza, about 10 miles from Cairo. You can see Cairo from them on one side…on the other side is desert.

The three pyramids of Giza. The Great Pyramid alone covers 13 acres. Napoleon calculated that it contained enough stone to build a 10-foot wall around all of France.

Kim at the Pyramids…

Jim and Kim at the Pyramids! We don't look too posed, do we?

Camels and cars…this gives a better perspective of their size.

One of the many vendors trying to sell you a camel ride or a picture with a camel. Sometimes if you even took a picture of the camel alone, they would harass you for money.

You can actually enter this pyramid…

Through this small opening. We heard that it was hot and you have to walk hunched over. Not so good if you’re claustrophobic, so we decided to pass on that.

Most of the building blocks for the Pyramids weighed between two and three tons. An amazing engineering feat considering the Pyramids were all built before 2200 BC!

Our security man on the left who rode in our bus for the day. A cutie-patootie!

The vendors are seriously out of control. It is hard for them right now, as they rely on tourism, and since the Revolution (as they call it) in 2011, tourism has really declined. Egypt is in a sad state right now…a country in transition. The vendors follow you, try to engage you in conversation, and hand you “free gifts.” Really, all you want to do is enjoy your few minutes at the Pyramids. They were by far the worst of any we have ever encountered.

This is what awaits you as you get off the bus. We would get mentally prepared to run the gauntlet. I made the mistake of talking to one of the vendors at the Valley of the Kings and couldn’t get rid of him then. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

You can see how close Cairo is…

These two white buildings cover the site of two ancient boats that are being excavated. The cedar boats are about 50 feet in length and are believed to be over 3000 years old.

And then we arrived at the next wonder…the Sphinx! It was carved around 2500 BC and is the largest monolith statue in the world, meaning it was made out of one piece of limestone! Good thing they don't get much rain. The nose was supposedly broken off in 1378 AD by a Muslim who was outraged at the Egyptian peasants making offerings to the Sphinx. It is also believed that the Sphinx had a beard.

A look around...

You can see the proximity of the Sphinx to the Pyramids. The Sphinx looked smaller than I had imagined it to be. (I guess everything is dwarfed by the Pyramids.) It is 241 feet long, 20 feet wide and 66 feet high.

Eman showed us this picture of the Sphinx. Over the years, due to sandstorms, it gets buried and has to be dug out. At one time around 1400 BC, it was buried up to the shoulders. The last time it was dug out was in the 1960s.

These horses looked so sad. It was really hot.

The gaggle of vendors at the site. It would be nice if Egypt tourism could do something about this. They need to make a living as well, but it really does detract from the beauty and awe of the site.

Jacaranda trees in bloom…so pretty!

I seriously hoped this camel was just resting…

Lots of younger people around…

Beautiful Egyptian cotton clothing…

And bread! We were hungry by now…

One of the side streets…

This is right in Cairo. They said that if Egypt is old, Cairo is considered young. I did expect a big modern city, but we hadn’t seen that part of it yet.

This looked a little younger!

How many people can you fit in the back of a truck? Quite a few!

Goodbye Pyramids!

But it wasn't time for lunch yet…we did the obligatory jewellery stop so people could buy cartouches.

And then we visited an art gallery specializing in papyrus. He showed us how the paper is made. It was quite interesting and the art was really nice. We had to keep saying to ourselves “admire and move on.”

Lots of debris and garbage…can you see the expression on the tuk tuk driver’s face? Whenever we waved, people would wave back. The economy has suffered a lot with the unstable political situation. They are so happy to see tourists.

Lunch!! See the steel pillars at the bottom right of the photo. These are lowered by the man in the booth when he has determined that you belong at the hotel.

This band might have played something if buddy on the left hadn’t been checking his phone. Kind of broke the mood!

You can see the Pyramids from the hotel…hence the name, Le Meridien Pyramids.

An Egyptian license plate...

Lunch was great, and then it was back on the road heading to the Egyptian Museum. So much garbage…it’s like they have given up.

Interesting how they set up a market under the overpasses. Anywhere you can find shade…

A herd of sheep/goats…this is in the heart of Cairo.

We headed to the Egyptian Museum. It is supposed to be huge with 107 exhibit halls and 120,000 treasures and nine mummies. We passed by these guards.

We weren’t allowed take pictures in the museum, so we bought some postcards. The museum itself is looking sad and neglected. Many of the displays are not tagged and it’s all amazing stuff, but it would be nice to know what you’re looking at. The best display is, of course, the treasures they uncovered from King Tut’s tomb at the Valley of the Kings.

This shows King Tut’s tomb as it was found with chariot parts, beds, and chairs—all in gold gild.

The mummified King Tut was in a solid gold sarcophagus surrounded by several gold gilded boxes.

The solid gold sarcophagus, a bed and a chair. The mask in the centre was larger than life in solid gold.

Look at the detail on the back of the chair...

This container stored King Tut’s organs, which were removed before mummification to be used in the resurrection. The container is about 7 feet high with solid gold statues on each side.

They had a lovely gift shop, which was closed down. The situation in Cairo has created a huge downturn in tourism and everyone is suffering. Hopefully, it will get resolved in the next election, but they are a long way from being a prosperous country.

And then it was time for our 3 hour ride back to the ship. As we crossed back over the Nile, Eman pointed out various hotels, but no other points of interest. It did look like a nice area.

This burned out building is right next to the Egyptian Museum and belonged to the party of ousted President Mubarek. During the Revolution in 2011, Tahrir Square was the centre for demonstrations when the people of Egypt finally said "no more."

We had heard that the traffic in Cairo is a nightmare, but we didn’t see any evidence of it. Then we found out it was a holiday. No wonder it seemed so tame.

Scarabs! They are considered good luck in Egypt, and I bought a small silver and turquoise one to wear on a chain. Once we knew about them, we started noticing them in many different places.

A much needed new housing development…

These are pigeon houses. Pigeons are considered a delicacy in Egypt, and these houses, or dovecotes, are made of mud brick and shaped like mountains, which the pigeons supposedly prefer. The pigeons are kept for food and for fertilizer much like people keep chickens.

And the sun started to set on another fact filled and awesome day.

We passed by this refinery as we headed into the port.

We had seen this Costa ship in a few ports. I am sure we were all on a similar itinerary.

Once again, we were looking forward to two sea days before our next port of  Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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