Thursday, 5 May 2011

Egypt Day 1

This was the first time I'd been on an organised tour. While it took me a few days to adjust to being on an itinerary rather than making things up as I go along I had a fantastic time and highly recommend Explore, the tour company we used. We had an excellent guide throughout our trip, as well as several good local guides to take us around the various temples and tombs. Big thank you to Wael Wanas our indefatigable guide. If you want to know more our tour details are here. Egypt is a fantastic country, both the people and the history are great and it deserves all the support it can get on the dawn of what will hopefully be a bright future.

Agree (100)

We arrived in Egypt on Easter Saturday evening and went for a wander, trying to find Tahrir Square, the focal point of revolutionary activity in the recent Spring Uprising. We failed to find Tahrir Square as we didn't use our map, not wanting to look like tourists (durr) but the atmosphere was great. We were out at around 11pm and it seemed all of Cairo was out enjoying the evening. All the shops were open, as well as street vendors and food stalls. As we mooched around lots of people said "hello" and "welcome to Egypt" to us. Families were out with kids of all ages, groups of men sat outside coffee shops smoking their sweet smelling sheesha pipes, people queued up outside bakeries waiting to sample sugary baklava and other local delicacies. We didn't stay out long as we had an early start the next day but it was a lovely welcome to Cairo.

The next morning we set of for Giza, a suburb of Cairo to see the Pyramids. It may come as a surprise that town of Giza extends all the way to the pyramids so you get the contrast of modern city against a backdrop of 4,000 year old monuments.

Giza

I've put some of my photos of the pyramids on Flickr so I won't bore you with them all here. As well as being astounded by the pyramids and the excitement of being able to go inside them, I also admired the textiles sported by the camels, luring tourists on to their backs.

Pyramids


Of course, I had my knitting with me...

What else would you do in front of a pyramid?

... and realised my Bothered Owl project bag has a mummy on it...

One for The Bothered Owls

... if only I'd had some spare loo roll with me to recreate Karloff's sterling performance.

After the pyramids and a sphynix we went to a Papyrus shop to see how papyrus is made. It was interesting and seemed more straightforward than wood pulp paper.

Papyrus demo

We ate our lunch of falafel on the bus on the way to the Egyptian Museum. Cameras are not allowed in the museum so I can't show you the woven garments found in Tutankhamen's tomb. (It seems there is an official website for the museum but it is down at the moment, maybe a little post-revolution upgrade is going on? http://www.egyptianmuseum.gov.eg) I did ask if any spindles or weaving tools were on display but apparently they are in storage at the moment. The museum is awesome (and I don't use that word lightly). It was pretty empty due to the lack of tourists in Egypt at the mo so we were very lucky and had Tutankhamen's treasure room to ourselves. There is so much to see. I found myself idly wandering past the magnificent and famous gold headdress thinking "oh yeah, that thing" and had to mentally slap myself to go back and take it in properly. There was exquisite metal work and seeing the pharonic collars brought back making costumes in junior school out of cardboard. Nice to see the real thing.

After the museum we went to Islamic Cairo (the old quarter) where we wandered with our guide, Wael, taking in the medieval streets...

Islamic Cairo

... and slower pace of life

Sheesha pipe

We had a fortunate opportunity to visit an old shopping centre which allowed women to shop without having to be completely covered, so they could see what they were buying. There was a band practising in the building and we caught sight of our first Whirling Dervish. We had limited time to look round and with the mesmeric music playing felt like we were in some sort of ancient north African episode of Benny Hill (without the scantily clad girls of course)as we dashed up and down narrow spiral staircases.

Spot the whirling dervish

We stopped in a courtyard cafe for a refreshing mint tea and Turkish coffee...

Mint Tea Break

then went for our first Egyptian dinner where I tried Besera which is like a bean version of hummus, and koshari which you can find a recipe for here. We also had our first taste of hibiscus tea which I am sipping as I write this. It has a dry taste similar to cranberry juice and with a the addition of a little sugar tastes more like Ribena. I've developed a taste for it so will be searching for it in London when my holiday supplies run out.

We walked back to our hotel watching the buildings change from Islamic Cairo to modern Cairo and flopped into bed, tired but exhilarated after a brilliant first day.

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