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Touched down in Egypt and the Middle East….


View 11 months around the world on geldere's travel map.

Cairo was our first stop in the Middle East and was definitely a sensory overload. For starters, the traffic is insane and the drivers even more so. Crossing the street here is a sport as you have to dodge and weave in and around the traffic. After finally making it across a street feeding into Tahrir Square (the center of most of the 2010 revolution protests), we spent our first full day in Cairo enjoying the Egyptian Museum. The museum houses over 100,000 relics and antiquities from all periods of Egyptian history (some items are upwards of 4000 years old). Similar to the Louvre in Paris, if you spent one minute on every item, it would take you nine months to see the whole museum. It’s stuffy and poorly labeled, but it has some of the most amazing pieces of history I’ve ever seen (no photos were allowed inside). We spent time seeing the highlights, including the royal mummy rooms (it is amazing to see 3500 year old bodies) and the Tutankhamun collection (King Tut as most people know him). What’s amazing about King Tut is that he was a fairly young and insignificant ruler, but his tomb someone how escaped grave robbers for thousands of years. So, when it was rediscovered in 1922, it harbored some of the most amazing artifacts ever found in Egypt. King Tut and the rest of the 100+ pharaohs believed in the afterlife, so they had items placed in their tombs that they believed they would need: mummified animals for food and as pets, weapons, jewels, figurines of servants to take care of them, chariots, boats, etc. The King Tut collection is so impressive; one can only imagine the stuff that more prominent pharaohs would have been buried with.
IMG_7849.jpg Outside the Egyptian Museum
IMG_7854.jpg In front of the museum
IMG_8164.jpgA view of the street from our hotel

We set out on day two with a driver to view what Egypt is probably best known for, the Pyramids. We started with the Pyramids of Giza as they are the largest and most famous. They are the only surviving wonder of the ancient world and are approximately 4,000 years old. They were the tallest man-made structures in the world until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889. That’s crazy - they were built thousands of years ago and no one else built anything bigger until 140 years ago? Blows my mind. Anyway, there are three main Pyramids (Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure), all built with the sole purpose of holding the sarcophagus of the abovementioned pharaohs. In short, they are extremely elaborate tombstones that were designed to take pharaohs into the afterlife. The site of Giza also houses the Sphinx which was carved almost entirely from one huge piece of limestone.
IMG_7883.jpg In front of the Sphinx
IMG_7893.jpg The Sphinx and one of the 3 Pyramids of Giza
Before arriving in Egypt, I thought Giza was it for pyramids, but it turns out there are more, dozens more. So we also visited the sites of Saqqara, which has the Step Pyramid of Zoser (the world’s oldest pyramid/stone monument), and Dahshur, which has the Red Pyramid. You can walk down into the Red Pyramid via a 120-foot long, narrow tunnel. I got halfway down and decided that it was far enough for me (I am not obsessively claustrophobic, but the tunnel was making me insane) and let Jeff continue the rest of the way. We rounded out the day with a stop at Felfela, a restaurant specializing in Egyptian food. After dinner, I tried a cup of the “local Egyptian coffee” which was reminiscent of chewing on a coffee bean and could really put some hair on your chest.
IMG_7968.jpgThe Step Pyramid of Zoser
IMG_8006.jpgInside the Red Pyramid- a bit freaky for me!

On day three, we decided to take a day trip to Alexandria, a city about two hours north of Cairo located on the Mediterranean. It was founded by Alexander the Great around 332 BC and boasts some amazing sights and history as well. We stopped at the Roman Amphitheatre (the only one in Egypt), Pompey’s Pillar (a Roman monument), the Catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa (which date back to the 2nd Century AD - no pictures allowed in the catacombs), and the Citadel (a fort protecting the harbor). We also visited the impressive and modern Alexandria Library. The city of Alexandria use to house the “Library of Alexandria”, another wonder of the ancient world, but it was supposedly dismantled and destroyed by the ravages of time and war. The ancient library now has a near mythical quality, but the modern library is a seemingly fitting replacement. We recently read the Alexandria Link, a fictional book about the ancient library and Israel if anyone is looking for something good to read - very appropriate for this phase of our trip.
IMG_8040.jpgThe Roman Amphitheatre
IMG_8056.jpgA Tea Street Vendor
IMG_8073.jpgPompey's Pillar
IMG_8100.jpgThe new library
IMG_8097.jpgJeff absorbing all that knowledge

We spent our last day in Cairo exploring the Citadel, a collection of three fortified mosques from the 12th century. It is also a popular spot for locals to spend the day. We turned out to be a huge attraction for the local children who wanted to practice their English and have their photos taken with the blonde haired people. The kids would say “Hello, what is your name” and then run away - it was cute. My favorite photo of the day was when a woman came over and asked if I would take a picture with her baby. I was happy to oblige, but no one asked the child if he wanted to have his photo taken. Jeff got a good photo of the child’s reaction.
IMG_8138.jpgInside of of the Mosques
IMG_8147.jpgOh, this picture makes me laugh- total despair on the kid's face :)
IMG_8157.jpgA view of one of the mosques in the Citadel
IMG_8160.jpgThese girls asked to take a photo with us- they were so sweet

It is definitely interesting to be in a country that is in the midst of a revolution. The government was thrown out in 2010 and the military is now in charge. This November, a new legislature is set to be elected, but there is no date for the presidential election yet. While we were in Cairo, there were small protests most nights and a large protest that shut down Tahrir Square on October 6th, a national holiday. For most people, it is business as usual, but everyone is looking forward to electing a new government.
The other thing that surprised me was that everyone smokes. Almost everyone chain smokes anywhere and everywhere – buses, taxis, restaurants, hostel lobbies, etc. My favorite was a guy who was smoking and using his inhaler - I wanted to let him know it was counterproductive, but the lesson seemed futile.
We are heading out of Cairo on an overnight train bound for Luxor. We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 00:11 Archived in Egypt

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Malcolm X visiting Cairo, photographed in 1964 by John Launois and published in the Saturday Evening Post:

http://bit.ly/mVL1Xh

Reenacted on location by Denzel Washington in the 1992 movie "Malcolm X":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He4j5sfdZQU

by Michael-S

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