So today…. the pyramids!
I would use the term "culture shock" to sum up the first couple of days in Egypt. Not so much for me, but for my mom. I think it was so fortunate that I was there, because each day I would push her to expand our circle a little more and explore a little farther. And I'm happy to say that at one point she even said "I think I'm going to like it here". It's amazing what a little sleep, good food and a few creature comforts for the apartment will do. She has even learned a few Arabic words and to count from 1 to 10.
In my mind, the real turning point came with the visit to the pyramids.. To realize that you are living just a short drive away from them, really makes you realize how fortunate you are to have this opportunity. It makes all the heat and dust fade a way a little bit.
Speaking of heat, as we (dad had the day off so it was the three of us) drove to Giza, our guide Ashraf told us that we had arrived in the middle of a heat wave (a little reassuring that it’s not always that hot) and that we were experiencing the hottest temperatures in 11 years. Apparently Luxor (up river) has only received 3 minutes of rain in the last 5 years! With stats like that it’s no wonder that 90% of Egypt’s 90million people live only a short distance from the Nile… and my parents house is no different, within minutes of driving we got our first view of the infamous Nile River. I will write a lot more about the Nile at another time, but for now, it was exactly as I had pictured it with rushes and vegetation lining its banks. It wasn't much longer after that before we got our first views of the pyramids.
According to Ashraf, the Giza pyramids were built by three generations of a family; the Great pyramid (largest of the three) also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheopes after the name of the King who built it, was built about 4500 years ago and was then followed by the other two built by his son and grandson. As is the case with so many of these ancient monuments, there is an astrological connection, with the three large pyramids aligning with the stars in Orion’s Belt. There are also a number of smaller pyramids built for the wives so we actually saw 6 in total at this site. At one point in history the Nile River actually flowed quite close to these pyramids and you can still see the arches and causeways that people would have walked from the rivers edge to they Great Pyramid.
We spent some time at the Great Pyramid, climbing up the first couple of levels so that we could peer in the opening (we chose not to pay to go inside because everyone warns about how hot and claustrophobic it is…and in a heat wave… there will be other times). The base of each side measures 230m and is made up of 30-ton blocks, so we felt absolutely dwarfed standing next to it. After a while of wandering and pictures we drove past the other two and up to a “viewing platform” to get a view of the whole complex. One benefit of travelling around Egypt in a heat wave… we were one of only a handful of people brave/crazy enough to be out in the heat. So we were able to get pictures of the pyramids without hoards of people in them.
On the far side of the square is the Cairo Museum, and from the moment you step inside, it’s like going back 100 years. It is very unlike any modern museum that I have ever been in, and it’s a shame that they’re in the process of building a new one because it will loose some of its charm. To start, there is no air conditioning aside from the rooms that hold some of King Tut’s jewelry, and the room that holds the mummies, so it is almost as hot inside as it is outside. Secondly it is CRAMMED full of artifacts, very few of which are behind glass. If you want to touch that 4700 year old sarcophagi, you go ahead and reach out and touch that 4700 year old sarcophagi. Of course, things like Tutankhamen’s mask and the mummy of Ramses II were behind glass, but I was amazed at the number of things that weren’t. Ashraf did an excellent job of guiding us to the highlight pieces through the old, middle and new Kingdoms, and while I feel like I could easily go back and spend another couple of days just wandering around, we did get a really good overview of the collections they have. It was definitely a day to remember!