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Cairo City Tour
Rating : (5.0) (5 Votes)

Pros : The pyramids
Cons: Crossing the roads!!

Cairo, Egypt
September 04, 2005

As the actual start date of our escorted tour throughout Egypt did not start until the following day, we decided to book a Cairo city tour (through our tour company) to occupy us on our free day. To our surprise, all but one of our tour group members had arrived early and we were all doing the city tour together. It was an interesting mix of people -two Canadians, an Australian mother and daughter and another couple who lived in Belgium but who were of Chinese and Dutch descent. We also met our tour guide Ihab, who would be accompanying us in Cairo and Luxor.

After another harrowing drive through central Cairo, we arrived at our first stop, Saqqara. Here we had a guided tour around the sit of the first pyramid ever built - Zoser's Step Pyramid. It served as an intermediate between the primitive mastabas that the ancient Egyptians first used as tombs - large slabs of stone that would cover the burial site - and the prism-like pyramids which are famous worldwide today. As we walked around the site, which I should metion was in the desert surrounding Cairo, we were warned not to engage in conversations with the touts trying to sell things as they would get you into a neverending conversation in an attempt to ultimately rip you off. There were many locals at this site, some riding camels who would try to entice you to hop on for a ride on what they called their 'Egyptian Cadillac'!

Our next stop was a perfume house where we met a very interesting proprietor, Adelino. Once inside, it was very dim, the walls covered in mirrors and glass with rows upon rows of shelves housing hundreds of different types of pure flower essenses. Around the perimeter of the room sat red velvet couches, which we sat comfortably in and were treated to some drinks and a Koshari lunch. Koshari is a tasty, tradtional Egyptian dish of macaroni, noodles, chick peas and a chilli-tomato paste. After our lunch, we were treated to a sampling of around twenty different, delightful perfumes, all having varied but beautiful scents. Although you were not pressured to buy, you felt obliged to purchase something in return for Adelino's hospitality. I chose the 'student' sized bottle, the smallest (and most affordable) size of the lot. I had it filled with the pure flower essences from one of my favourite perfumes - L'Eau D'Issey - sans alcohol and additives.

Next, we visted the Coptic Christian part of Egypt and the Hanging (or Suspended) Church, built atop one of the towers of Babylon. Then we were off to the Al-Saladdin Citadel high above Cairo, which houses the Mohammed Ali Mosque (no not that Mohammed Ali). The mosque was quite impressive both inside and out and we were required to remove our shoes before entering. From the Citadel, we had an incredible, albeit obscured, view over all of smog-covered Cairo and out towards the Giza Pyramids. Something that was incredible to hear was the Muslim call to prayer, the adhan, ring out from loudspeakers across the city.

We returned to the hotel and the group decided to venture out into the chaos of Cairo together to get something for dinner. However not long after we left the hotel, we encountered one small problem - how to cross the road! This semmingly simple task back home was almost impossible to get through alive in Cairo. The main road we had to croass was about eight lanes wide (but we all know that means nothing in Egypt!). WIth no proper crosswalks anywhere in sight the restaurants across the street might just as well have been mirages. We stood grippe din fear at the side of the road for a very long time, contemplating our next move - to cross or not to cross. In a daring sprint Emi and Gilbert (the couple from Belgium) made it across half way, but I was seriously ready to give up and turn back around. I decided I would rather starve than to risk my life! As I watched the locals do it, they seemed as if they had no fear and just trusted that the cars would weave around them as they did the other traffic ont he roads. I wasn't about to be so trusting just yet. I guess a lady had seen the looks on our faces as we stood mustering up the courage to run and she kindly offered to take us under her wing as she has crossed before many times. So we all stood behind her and her daughter as she led us, like baby ducklings, safely across to the other side of the road. Now all that was left to worry about was how we were going to get back - this time in the dark!

This thoguht proved to be a little overwheliming on an empty stomach so I told myslef I would just deal with it when the time came. We settled on McDonalds (yep we really felt adventurous) and on the return journey, the traffic seemed to have subsided somewhat. I closed my eyes, hung on tightly to Bry's arm and ran across. To my surprise, when I opened them on the other side I was alive and well! Now that was an exhilarating experience.

After breakfast, we met our 7th tour group member, Christine from the States, and began our pre-tour briefing. Then it was off to Giza to marvel at the mighty pyramids. The anticipation was mounting as we neared the site, as it usually does when seeing something in person for the first time. The pyramids were indeed magnificent, more majestic than I could have ever imagined. I just stood in awe of the sheer size not only of the pyramids themsleves but also the massive limestone blocks they were made of. While these blocks weighed around two tonnes at the very top of the pyramids, the blocks which composed the base of these great structures weighed up to thirteen tonnes! Also, in the Great Pyramid alone there are around 2.5 million of these limestone slabs. The pyramids had once been covered in a smooth, shiny alabaster shell, but this had all been removed to make the citadel we saw the day prior. Back in those times, no one really cared to protect thest ancient wonders. I could only imagine how they must have looked in all their glory, shimmering brightly in the desert sun. The Great Pyramid is the most famous of all as it is architecturally perfect, symmetrical in ever way. The other pyramids are stunning as well, but somehow are just not as asthetically pleasing as the Great one.

We were able to go into one of the pyramids, crawling through a small tunnel deep down into the center of the pyramid. At the beginning I could feel a claustrophobic panic approaching, but luckily the tunnel never shrank further and I told myself this was once in a lifetime experienc I just could not pass up! Once inside the actual tomb, you could move around but there was a very eerie feel to the place. It was dark and gloomy with very thick, humid air. There was not much to see here, just an empty sarcophagus, the mummy had been moved elsewhere. Next it was time to see the Sphinx, which was just as incredible to see in person. The pyramids made for a nice backdrop as we walked around the largest stone carving ever made. However our tour guide warned us that many people are disappointed when they first see the Sphinx, because they think it is much bigger than it is in reality.

We then went for a quick visit to a papyrus shop where they make the ancient paper and received an informative demonstration of the process. After a lunch of koshari, we made our way to the famed Egyptian Museum which houses thousands of ancient Egyptian artifacts. My favourite part was the King Tut exhibit, where we saw all the treaures that were recovered from his tomb - an astonishing amount of pure gold and jewels as well. King Tut was a very young king who was in power for only a short time and died while still in his youth. Seeing all the treasures found in hs tomb, one could only imagine what would have been found in the other tombs belonging to the great kings, that is if only they had not been looted many years ago, the treasures all stolen.

As if our day had not been exhausting enough, our final stop was the Khan AL Khalili Bazaar - another world onto its own. Walking through its crowded streets was a surreal experience and I think we were one of few tourists in these markets that day. You literally could get anything you wanted here, if you were up for the haggling involved in securing a good price. I will admit I did not feel particularly comfortable here, as I was groped a few times and one man went even so far as saying something quite rude to me. As well, some streets were quite overcrowded and you had to push and shove your way through. We eventually made our way back to meet our tour guide at a local restaurant with his Australia/Greek wife and joined them for a chicken shwarma dinner before catching our overnight train down to Luxor. What a day!