Egypt is one of the most amazing places we've ever visited. Even after seeing pictures of the pyramids, tombs and sights millions of times on tv, in books, and in magazines they were still awe inspiring in person
Egypt was incredible. My parents joined us for the two weeks we spent here, and then went to Jordan. We spent several days in Cairo, cruised down the Nile, and flew for a day trip to Abu Simbel. Our whole trip was amazingly hot -- it simply wasn't possible to be outside during the middle of the day.
Although we'd seen countless pictures of the Pyramids, they were still stunning up close. It's one thing to see a picture, another to stand at the foot of one, stare up, walk around, and climb into its belly. It's amazing to think that the ancient Egyptians built such magnificent structures around 2600BC. The challenges they faced -- from quarrying the stones, transporting them on the Nile, moving them to the site, to precisely shaping and assembling them (without the use of mortar) -- were awesome, and all the theories as to their construction are weak.
We enjoyed our time in Cairo -- the only city we visited that was big enough to keep us from being constantly hassled to spend some of our tourist dollars. We had wonderful kabobs on the street, and like Jordan, wonderful schwarma. Our hotel provided yummy fresh yogurt for breakfast and delicious fresh fruits.
The Egyptian Museum was amazing. It was jam packed with ancient artifacts, so many in fact that it was completely overwhelming. We especially enjoyed the King Tut exhibit and the sheer number of artifacts. Some of the items (including the Rosetta stone) were replicas -- the originals were taken by the British and put in the British Museum in London during colonial times.
From Cairo, we took a day trip to the El Fayyoum Oasis. It was wonderful to see everything so green in this dry country and to see a small working city. We also visited a rug factory and were torn between being in love with the intricate rugs made of silk or wool and being saddened by the small children (weaving fine rugs requires nimble little fingers) being "trained" to make rugs. Most Egyptian families cannot afford to send their children to school, and instead children spend their childhoods working to help support the family. Although there has been no violence against foreigners in this area (and no terrorist attacks against tourists since the horrible incident in 1997) the government requires that you arrange this trip in advance so that they can secure your route appropriately. We were accompanied by an armed guard in our car and followed by a jeep containing soldiers carrying automatic weapons! We felt like diplomats.
Coptic Cairo was our favorite part of Cairo - it was originally built as a Roman fortress town and is incredibly well preserved. We enjoyed wandering around the narrow streets and visiting each of the beautiful Coptic churches. We also visited a beautifully restored Jewish temple - though few Jews live in Egypt now, they once lived quite peacefully amongst the Christians and Muslims. The temple we visited rarely has services -- there aren't always enough Jewish men to hold them -- but foreign donations had clearly had a big impact in restoring the temple.
Islamic Cairo and the adjacent market were also wonderful. We wandered around the streets looking up at beautiful minarets and watching craftsmen make traditional goods like pots stamped out of tin, intricate lamps, and more.
We also got sick for a couple days in Cairo -- pharaoh's revenge they say. All we know is that it was nasty. We're both fine now, but we're being a lot more careful about what we eat.
Our Nile cruise was wonderful -- a relaxing, and relatively cool way to see the sites and rural life along the river. The river itself was absolutely beautiful. It was very peaceful to float down the Nile viewing the rural countryside. Initially, we thought we were too active and independent to travel on a cruise, but once we learned that foreigners cannot travel by car in Egypt without police escort and are not allowed on the long distance trains, the cruise quickly became the best option. We were very surprised by the high level of police presence in Egypt, especially compared to Jordan, where we felt very safe, but rarely saw armed guards. In Egypt, whenever we toured by car, a military vehicle filled with guys with lots of guns followed. On the streets in Cairo, these police can be found on practically every street corner, and they all have *big* guns! No wonder Cairo is the 2nd safest big city in the world (behind Tokyo).
The one downside to the cruise? Each of the stopping points on the cruise is heavily touristed.
"Wanna <insert noun>? How much you pay? I make good price for you!"
We heard these 3 sentences over and over and over again in Egypt. At first, it was cute and fun, and we'd have a funny chat with the merchants that lined all the tourist sites. Over time, it became tiresome, and by the end, frustrating and repulsive. Even on a hike through the Valley of the Kings in Luxor we encountered people trying to sell us stone carvings!
The temples and tombs were incredible -- they just got better and better every day & our appreciation for them grew as we learned more about ancient Egypt. We were astounded with the level of detail of the drawings and the number of temples that still have their original painted colors after thousands of years. Highlights included the Karnak temple at Luxor (huge) and Nefertari's tomb. For Nefertari the journey to get the tickets was half the fun -- only 150 tickets are sold per day and the ticket office opens at the same time as the bridge required to reach it, 6am, so everyone makes a mad dash to the ticket office! We woke up early and were third in line for the bridge. After crossing the bridge, our driver raced with everyone else, quickly becoming the lead car and (luckily for us) never loosing that lead. We raced to the office and bought four of the remaining tickets.
Our hottest day was in Abu Simbel - at over 110 degrees, we were miserable even sitting still in the shade and we could hardly walk in the sun. The site itself, however, was wonderful. The temples are very well preserved and it's interesting to imagine how they were disassembled and reassembled while the Aswan Dam was being built to save them from flooding. After visiting the site we quickly returned to the air conditioned airport to await our return flight!
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