Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Egypt - Part 1

If there is anywhere in the world where I have felt intense culture shock; Cairo has to be the greatest. Cairo Airport is quite old and many parts of it have not been refurbished for quite some time - since around 1986. Walking off the plane it was immediately obvious that this was not a wealthy country. Duty Free consisted of some old CRT TVs(tube TVs as opposed to LCD or Plasma) and some ovens, fridges and washing machines. Suffice to say there were not many people heading into it nor walking out with their newly purchased fridge in their Duty Free bags.

Once we purchased our Egyptian Visas we passed on through the Passport check and on to the baggage carousels. There were about 4 carousels of which one of them was just heaving with locals, climbing all over them, waiting for their bags. I half expected some sheep or other livestock to start coming through on the conveyor belt. At around midnight after a 4.5 hour flight it was all quite a surreal experience. Thankfully we had our travel organiser to meet us there and take us to our hotel on the west bank. The drive was interesting to say the least. Driving across the city on a 3 lane motorway where 50% of the cars didn't have their headlights on and the remaining had masses of flashing party lights was a slightly harrowing experience to say the least and when combined with dodging families of Egyptians crossing the road in the dark... well - there it was - Welcome to Egypt!

Our first day in Egypt was gainfully taken up by sitting by the pool and soaking in some sun. After a less than brilliant summer in the UK we had quite the craving and there are few better ways to start a holiday! Later on we headed into Cairo city on the east bank of the Nile. We had heard of a good spot to watch the sun go down, that being the Windows of the World restaurant at the top of the Ramses Hilton. The Bottom photo of the sunset on the previous post was the view we got and also the photo immediately below.

From the Windows of the World - Ramses Hilton

We then went for a wander and found a brilliant restaurant called Falfale. I am officially a great fan of Egyptian food, every meal that we had in Egypt was delicious and always well prepared. The service was also great but they were a bit cheeky and asked for Baksheesh over and above the service charge. We were certainly going to learn that this is pretty common practice and they will try it on every chance they get.

After a reasonable nights sleep we set off for our first bit of tourist activity - Giza and the Great Pyramids. Since our entry into Cairo was by night we did not get to see much of what the city looked like. The drive from the hotel to Giza was short but interesting. Our guide pointed out that the state of the city was due to moves from the government to redevelop Cairo and from what we could see that means building large apartment blocks (similar to council buildings) and relocating the communities into them. The main problem appears to be that none of this work is even close to being finished and the resulting buildings are generally empty and incomplete. The surrounding area hasn't been developed at all and is rapidly filling with rubbish. Later on, driving along the motorway through the city, we would see piles of rubbish dumped on the road burning.

Very typical Cairo housing along the side of the motorway.

The pyramids were every bit as amazing as I had expected and quite rightly I went a bit snap happy. We had a very good guide who was very knowledgeable and did a great job of showing us around. After seeing the Great Pyramid and the large lines to get into the tomb our guide suggested that we have a look at a smaller tomb around the side. I don't think I have ever been in a more claustrophobic situation in my entire life and didn't enjoy the experience at all. Only by the time we got to the bottom of around 20-30m of tunnel could we stand up and strangely there was no ventilation. It really was a get in then get out feeling for me and I think I may have done it in record time and took no photos!

Khafre's Pyramid - Myself and Kim in front.

Menkaure's Pyramid - the smallest of the Great Pyramids.

Following our mole impressions we managed to get around the rest of the Pyramids at Giza, snapped off a stack of photos and then headed to Saqqara (also spelt Sakkara and Sakkarah). This is the site of not only the oldest Pyramid in the world but also the oldest stone construction ever made. It really was a very special place and for someone to build a Pyramid 2700 years BC that reaches a hight of 62 Metres is just amazing. The Pyramid is called the Pyramid of Djoser.

Saqqara - Pyramid of Djoser.

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