I have traveled to a lot of places, but I would never consider myself to be a true world traveler until I explored the Great Pyramids of Giza. After speaking with a coworker, she said the best time to go is either in the spring or in the fall. Considering that my wife and I were thinking about going to Hawaii for Christmas, we decided to go at the beginning of April.
We first flew into Cairo International Airport where my I met up with one of my best buddies from Germany, Philipp. As we exited customs, my wife and I had to buy a visa from one of the local banks in the airport. I went to the ATM to take out cash to pay for our visa with Egyptian Pounds, but we quickly learned that they only want dollars or euros instead of their own currency. They will tell you that they don’t take Egyptian Pounds, but if you are persistent enough, they will be forced to take it. After we claimed our bags and rental car, we headed off into the night towards Alexandria. As I got onto the interstate, I noticed that in a city of more than 24 million people, almost no one was on the interstate. I couldn’t believe it. I was on a five-lane highway and less than a handful of cars could be seen going in either direction. I decided to put the pedal to the metal and trim down my transport time. The only things I saw that were lit up as I was driving through the Sahara in the middle of the night were a couple gas stations and lots of mosques. After arriving in Alexandria, we checked into the Hilton that we were staying in.
After catching up on a little sleep, we headed to the dive center located on the bay near the citadel. Located in the Bay of Alexandria is the remains of the ancient lighthouse and Cleopatra’s palace. I had been trying to set up a dive for a couple months because there is only on doctor who operates all the dives for bay. But just as we coordinated the best dates that would work out for us and booked our tickets, the Egyptian Navy decided that they were going to occupy the bay for exercises while we were there. We headed to the dive shop to see if there were any changes to the situation. On the way to the dive site, I couldn’t believe the traffic. Cars cutting in front of other cars with razor thin precision all while going at high speeds with no regards to the lines on the road. If the traffic wasn’t bad enough, people kept crossing right in the middle of the mix. There was one point that I almost killed a family of four, but I just happened to pull up the e-brake just in time. After arriving at the dive center, we were met with bad news that they Navy still wasn’t letting anyone dive.
Once the disappointment had settled in, we decided to Uber to the Bibliotheca Alexandria. Located in the library are some of the greatest collections of literary work ever known, and it houses the only remaining manuscript from Alexander the Great.
The library was constructed by Ptolemy I Soter, who was a Macedonian general and the successor of Alexander the Great. Some of the first Bibles, Qurans, and Tanakhs that were printed in other languages other than their own origin are there.
While we were walking around and taking in the overwhelming sea of knowledge that surrounded us, somehow we stumbled upon the Miss International Eco beauty competition contestants who were being escorted around the library for cultural exposure.
We took a picture with Miss USA, explored the rest of the library, and then headed to the famous Alexandria Citadel.
The Citadel is located on the site of where the Lighthouse of Alexandria used to stand. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but it fell into the bay and Mediteranean after it was badly damaged over three earthquakes from 956 to 1323 AD. The Citadel of Qaitbay was built on that location in 1477 AD. We walked around the Citadel and experienced firsthand why the fortress is considered one of the most important defensive strongholds, not only in Egypt, but also along the Mediterranean Sea coast.
We explored the Citadel and then promptly headed into Old Alexandria to see Pompey’s Pillar. Pompey’s Pillar is the only remaining pillar from one of first buildings in Alexandria, and it is named after one of Alexander the Great’s generals who was killed by Cleopatra’s brother. It is the only known free-standing column in Roman Egypt that was not composed of drums; it is one of the largest ancient monoliths and one of the largest monolithic columns ever erected. Once the photo-ops were taken, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and relax for the night.
The next morning, we headed to the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa located back in Old Alexandria near the Pompey’s Pillar. The catacombs of Kom Kom El Shoqafa, meaning “Mound of Shards,” is a historical archaeological site located in Alexandria, Egypt, and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. The catacombs were lost after the fourth century and wasn’t rediscovered until 1900 when a donkey accidently fell into the access shaft. The catacombs descend 100 feet and passes through three different burial levels. The catacombs once housed over 300 bodies and is truly a sight to see when you visit Alexandria.
The next day, we headed to Giza for the next leg of our trip. On the way to Giza, people kept running across the highway and never used the cross-walks or overpasses. Traffic was terrible in Alexandria, but now people were running across the road while cars were going 80 mph instead of 40 mph in the city. Philipp and I decided to drop my wife off at the hotel before returning the rental back at the airport. On the way from the Mercure hotel in Giza to the airport in Cairo, I had one of the most intense driving experiences of my life. I know I said earlier that no one was on the interstate at night when I first got there, but that was at 01:30 in the morning. I was on the Cairo interstate at 20:00, and the highway was certainly alive. Cars were going whatever speed that they want, the lines on the road were irrelevant, no one used a blinker, and people still kept playing frogger with their lives. I have never up-shifted and down-shifted with more ferociousness in all my entire life; it was fast and furious.
The next morning, I woke up to one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen, the Great Pyramids of Giza. We threw on our clothes and headed down to have breakfast and meet up with Phillip. He was in Jordan a couple months before and had made friends with someone who put him in contact with a doctor of archaeology who worked at the pyramids and would give us a private tour. The good doctor picked us up at our hotel and took us to the pyramids for a proper VIP tour.
We started by ascending up and into Kings Khufu’s Pyramid (The Great Pyramid). The space to crawl is only 4ft x 4ft and ascends at a 55-degree angle for a little over a hundred meters. It is very hot inside the pyramid, not because of the heat of the desert, but due to lack of air circulation. The walls were actually very cool to the touch. The small crawl space opened into a huge room that was made of great triangle arches.
On the other side of the grand corridor was an opening that led directly into Khufu’s tomb. The room is massive; the room roughly measures 20ft wide x 40ft long x 40ft high, and the only thing that remains after grave tomb raiders is just his empty sarcophagus.
We exited Khufu’s tomb and were taken by the doctor to one of the local guides who had camels and horses waiting for us to explore the ruins between the pyramids. I was personally looking forward to riding a horse because I have ridden camels before, but I never really rode a horse. I’ve ridden on horses before, but I was never in charge of the reins. However, my wife and buddy wanted to ride camels because they thought it would make for a better picture.
So we got camels. The camel that I got had a saddle that was too small, and with every camel stride, it felt like I was the guest of honor at a prison party. A little over halfway through the camel ride, I jumped off and started walking because I couldn’t take it anymore. The guide was riding a horse and offered to switch. He asked me, “Have you ever ridden a horse before?” I naturally replied, “Of course!” I had no idea what I was doing, only what I had seen in movies. I picked it up within a matter of minutes, and it was heaven compared to the camel. The saddle fit perfect, and the horse was much faster. Too bad it was just for the last stretch of the tour. I told myself that I wanted to come back the following day and explore the desert again by horseback.
Once we thanked our guide, he took us to the doctor’s office located on the back side of the Pyramid for afternoon tea time. The doctor’s office was adjacent to a building that houses a fully intact ancient royal boat that was completely buried while intact right next to Khufu’s pyramid. The royal solar boat is huge and was used transport the king up and down the Nile. It was buried next to his pyramid so the king could navigate the afterlife with ease.
The doctor proceeded to take us to a subterranean tomb that housed the remains of Khufu’s mother and another one for his wife. These tombs weren’t nearly as big as the King’s, but they were very well preserved and the hieroglyphics to could clearly be seen.
From the tombs and pyramids we headed over to the Sphinx. We took some great pictures, but the doctor didn’t have too much to say about the Sphinx because it is still riddled with so many mysteries. We explored the temples next to Sphinx and then headed back to the hotel for a much-needed shower and some dinner.
After rinsing off, we headed down to the hotel bar to meet up with Philip for dinner. While we were at the bar, we meet a German businessman named Roland. Mr. Roland (as the staff referred to him) had developed a way of harvesting the humidity in the air and convert it into purified drinking water without the use of any electricity. He sold his water devices not only to militaries, but also hotels including the one we were staying at, if you control water in the desert, you’re a pretty popular guy. We had a couple of drinks with Roland, before he sent his assistant to his room (Roland lived at the hotel) to grab bottle after bottle of top shelf booze from all around Europe. By the end of the night, we were all properly drunk and decided to meet for breakfast.
The next morning, Roland took us to the roof to see some of his water-harvesting devices. While we were up there, he asked us what we were doing for the day and we told him that we planned on going back to the pyramids to go horseback riding. Roland then said, “I will go with you and have my assistant get you five of the best horses!” Roland then sent for his drivers, and we were on our way to the stables located along the wall that ran next to the pyramids. There are two walls that separate the city from the pyramids. The backside of the pyramids doesn’t need a wall because you would have to literally walk in from the Sahara Desert to avoid paying entry. Only guides and certain personnel were allowed to ride in the desert because the government deemed it dangerous. Roland’s assistant took us straight to the stables where five beautiful horses were waiting for us. After mounting our horses, the police opened the wall for us, and we were able to ride in the desert behind the pyramids where there were no tourists and we could get the best shots of the pyramids without people in the background. We explored the desert for a few more hours and then headed back to the stables and then back to the hotel to get ready for our dinner cruise on the Nile that night.
We came back to the hotel, freshened up, and then met our driver who was waiting to take us to our riverboat in the center of Cairo. Aboard the riverboat, we were greeted with a huge buffet consisting of all authentic Egyptian and Arabic food. In addition to the wonderful food, we were treated to a belly dancing show followed by an Egyptian dance similar to the twirling dervishes in Turkey.
After the cruise, my wife and I decided to turn it in for the night, but Philip decided to go party at some nightclub with Roland until he caught his flight early in the morning.
The next morning, we woke up and had tea on the balcony as we overlooked the pyramids from our room before we headed to breakfast and then to the Cairo Museum. Once breakfast was inhaled, I requested our Uber and we headed to Tahrir Square.
Tahrir Square is where the Cairo Museum is located, but more importantly, it is the location of the Egyptian revolution of 1919, 1952, and 2011. While we were there, we took a picture with the statue of Omar Makram.He is celebrated as a national hero for his resistance against Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and beyond the statue is the Omar Makram Mosque.
As we walked up to the museum, we were greeted by a guide who worked for the museum and was offering us a good deal of $65 that included hiring him as our own personal tour guide and entry into the museum.
We were so glad we hired a tour guide because the place is so massive and has so many rare items that it would take forever to read all the placards and you still wouldn’t know the whole story. There were so many important pieces that tourists just walked right by because they don’t know the significance.
One of the most important pieces that I remember our guide showing us was The Israel Stela. The Israel Stela, also known as the Merneptah Stele is a huge tablet of rock with clear hieroglyphs that was found in 1896 in Thebes, Egypt. The monument was found where it had once stood in ancient Egypt, at the temple that honored Pharaoh Merneptah. Some refer to the stone as the “Victory Stele” because it records the military campaigns and victories of Pharaoh Merneptah, the son of the mighty Ramesses II. The discovery of the Israel Stela is very important in the study of Biblical Archaeology. It is the oldest evidence for the existence of Israel in the land of Canaan in ancient times outside of the Bible. There were so many significant pieces of history that I would have never thought to stop and look at because they were either dingy and ugly or just really small.
There are too many great pieces to mention here, but I will talk about King Tutankhamun’s funerary mask. The mask measures 54 x 39.3 x 49 cm and gilded with gold ranging from 18KY to 22.5KY!
Tut’s mask and coffin are in a separate room from the rest of the museum that houses. There is a whole wing of museum dedicated to King Tut, but it’s not because he was a great king (he only ruled as pharaoh for ten years before his death at 19), but rather because his tomb is most intact Egyptian tomb in history.
Somehow his tomb evaded tomb raiders and grave robbers for more than 3200 years! We saw more parts of the museum like the mummified pet section, and then we parted ways with our guide.
On the way back to the hotel, I had the Uber driver drop us off at the Khan el-Khalili so I could pick up some souvenirs (conversation pieces) before we left Egypt. Khan el-Khalili is a major souk in the Islamic district of Cairo. This bazaar district is one of Cairo’s main attractions and has served as trading for tourists and Egyptians for over 500 years.
My wife and I grabbed some souvenirs and shawarma, then Ubered back to the hotel for our last night in Egypt. That night we just stayed in and ordered room service because the conversion rate made EVERYTHING so cheap. For example, my wife ordered a huge bowl of spaghetti bolognese (with extra meat sauce) for $2.30 USD, and I had a steak dinner for $4.35 USD! The next morning, we lounged around (ordering more room service) until it was time to check out and head to the airport.
For a Valentine’s Day gift, I bought my wife tickets to see Aladdin in London’s West End. It seemed like the perfect end to an Egyptian vacation. So on the way home, we stopped off in London for a couple of days and then headed home (and back to reality).
Egypt is one of the most intriguing places I have ever been to. In our time there, we only scratched the surface of the history that Egypt has to offer. I have been to a lot of places and try to collect more countries before I spend money going back to one I have already seen, but Egypt is different. First of all, the conversion rate is so good that you live like a king for only dollars a day. Second, I never got to see Cleopatra’s tomb at the bottom of the Bay of Alexandria. And third, I still want to see Luxor and Mount Sinai. The country is so rich with history and culture that if a person can only travel to a few places in their lifetime, Egypt needs to be one of them. Egypt, I shall return! So it is written, so it shall be done!