Whenever you start traveling, you will most likely create lists of where you would like to visit. These lists will include exotic beaches, and far off places, maybe some difficult to acquire visas, but the lists most always include several staples: Machu Picchu, Great Wall of China, and of course The Great Pyramid of Giza. When you compile the lists from the Wonders of the World and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a visit to Egypt is practically a requirement. The pyramids are over 4,000 years old. Just let that sink in. The Great Pyramid is the only remaining treasure from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and it was the oldest of those. In addition to the pyramids, Egypt has the sphinx, religious history, early forms of writing, engineering feats, etc. For me personally, having been born in Memphis, I wanted to go to the original Sister City in Egypt.
Now, I have been to a lot of airports in a lot of different places around the world, but the Cairo airport takes the cake for being one of the absolute worst. It ranks low on almost all potential elements: Cleanliness, logistics, ease, visa process, customs, things to do, clear signage, etc. You would think that they don’t want tourists to come into their city. Except when you do some research, you come to learn that tourism is one of their biggest economic sectors. It is a good thing that we arranged for airport pickup.
Once we walked in, we had a guide waiting for us with my name on a card. I had already exchanged money for local currency when I saw him. Apparently, this was a mistake. You cannot use local currency to buy a visa. Luckily the guide quickly fixed this mistake. It was also lucky, because my friend Sam apparently had the same name as someone they were looking for. He had been shuttled to a different line entirely before we figured out what was happening. Our guide took care of that situation.
Once through the maze of incoherent directions, we made it outside. Our driver was nowhere to be found. So we waited… Finally he appeared. Living in Saudi Arabia, I am used to terrible traffic and bad drivers. Egypt was surprisingly just as terrible. People trying to go all directions in one lane. Motor bikes weaving in and out. It was something I am glad I did not drive myself in.
We finally made it to the Nile Ritz Carlton. It used to be the Hilton, and it was the oldest hotel in Cairo. Walking in, we were treated with that amazingly familiar Ritz charm. I have said it before, and I will keep saying it, the Ritz Carlton is just how a hotel is supposed to be.
My room was upgraded to a Nile River view, which gave me the chance to see the mighty river. It was beautiful. We didn’t have anywhere to be for a while so I went down to explore the hotel. The lobby was adorned with beautiful flower arrangements. From there, I decided I should try some of the local beers before our Nile Cruise. That is when I met Veronia. She had the most honest smile I had seen in a while. As I tasted some of Egypt’s local beers, she talked to me about living in Egypt and growing up there. It was so pleasant.
Sam finally made his way down, and we met with Mahmoud, our tour guide.
Nile River Cruise
While there we aspects of this that I liked, if I cut one thing out and replaced with another, it would be the Nile Cruise. I thought the crowd would be more like our age, but no, it was all children and elderly folks. The room had blacked in windows, and the buffet was mediocre at best. It was cool that the boat was called Le Memphis. And it was nice to go upstairs and see the city from the river. But if you visit Egypt, skip the river cruise. I heard of some cruises that take you all the way down to Abu Simbel. And those are supposedly amazing.
I will say the belly dancing was cool to experience. And it was fun that she brought me up on stage. The Egyptian Tanoura dancers were great too. I just feel like the whole thing could have been better.
The next day was going to be a long day, so we hit the rack early. We woke up and had breakfast in the hotel, and then we were picked up. If you plan to visit the pyramids, do it on Friday. The traffic is basically nil. This allowed us to add even more onto our packed day.
First place we headed was Sakkara to see the ancient step pyramid. From there we could also see the Bent pyramid of Dahshur. These original pyramids helped pave the way for engineers and architects of the ancient world to create the Great Pyramid.
After exploring the tombs and museum, we headed over to Memphis. Memphis was the original capital city of Egypt. It was incredibly cool for me to finally experience being in the original Memphis. We got to see the Memphis Sphinx and the Colossus of Ramses II.
From here, we headed to a papyrus museum where I got to learn, hands on, how papyrus scrolls were made. Of course I had to pick up a couple of their cat paintings. Not only was it cool to see how these ancient scrolls were made, it was also intriguing to learn the stories behind some of the scenes.
When Sam and Mahmoud finished their Jummah service, we partook in a traditional Egyptian dish called Koshary. I was skeptical, because it looks like the chef just chucked everything from the kitchen into one bowl. But it is quite tasty. Especially surprising because there isn’t any meat in it.
Recharged and refueled, we were ready for the big highlight. It is called many different names (The Great Pyramid of Khufu, The Great Pyramid of Cheops, The Great Pyramid of Giza) but it all refers to the biggest pyramid in the trio you most commonly see in pictures.
There were kids everywhere: unattended running wild. People are constantly trying to sell you anything from leaflets to postcards to promotional Marlboro hats. Men are offering camel rides. Other men had carriage rides to the viewpoint. Overall, I witnessed some horrible cruelty to some beautiful animals there, camels, horses and mules. I ask you this, if you do visit, don’t give these abusers your money.
Sam and I climbed up on the first level of the pyramid. Yes this high is allowed. I don’t want to be confused with that selfish German tourist who broke the law for a selfie. Ugh, disgusting. From here we headed out to the vantage point that is most commonly used for taking the typical pyramid pictures.
But Mahmoud had an idea for an epic pyramid. Points for originality. The tough part was that our first attempt didn’t work fully. So we had to reshoot it. By now we had a crowd of people taking pictures and cheering me on. Apparently, they kept calling me, The Big Show.
After this, we packed it up and headed to the Sphinx. This was built to protect the pyramids. It is now a great place for selfies. It is funny how time has a way of doing that.
We hit up a nice jewelry store, where I was able to purchase an amazing cartouche necklace and some other goodies for my family.
The last event for the day was the laser light show at the pyramids. Now this seems like something that would be super cheesy. But it was very informative, and I really enjoyed it.
It was finally time to head back home. We had seen thousands of years of history in around 12 hours.
When we got back to the room, they had fixed my door, which was great, but they had left a note and a gift as a token of apology. Turns out someone had eaten the chocolates out of the gift box. So I ended up receiving an empty box. After a slight ordeal, the Managers were able to fix the whole situation. I ended up enjoying a great evening at the bar drinking some hand-made cocktails and talking more about Egypt. People make mistakes; hotels make mistakes. What defines them as good is when they remedy their mistakes and accept blame. I applaud the Ritz staff on their demeanor.
We still had one last thing to do. Luckily our hotel was next door to the Egyptian Museum, and Mahmoud was willing to take us through it at blitz pace just to see the important pieces. We also lucked out because they were selling photography tickets, allowing guests the opportunity to take pictures of the artifacts. We saw the treasures of King Tut and mummies. It is cool to see so much history in one building.
Just like that, it was time to head to the airport. As much of a nightmare as the airport had been on the way in, we knew we were going to expect some terrible things. Inefficient lines, seemingly dense security guards, and less-than-intelligent fellow passengers make this whole experience way more awful than necessary. But we made it through.
I am very glad to have gone to Egypt. It was everything I thought it would be. The traffic hindered our ability to hit up most of the nightlife. But our awesome tour guide allowed us to see all the elements I really wanted to experience. I got some great pictures, and I experienced another historical treasure. I strongly recommend a tour guide, especially if you don’t speak Arabic. Also be careful with ATMs. Most of them limit out how much you can withdraw each time. Mix that with their weak currency and you get a lot of fees.
As a note to self, I need to remember to wear a shirt other than my yellow shirt next trip… Oh sorry, Antoine, I mean Our Yellow Shirt.
Until next time.