Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Right Place at the Right Time–Egyptian Museum Cairo

Timing is everything when you travel. And those who travel know it.

Arriving on the one day each week a recommended restaurant is closed or on the day that an employees’ strike or a national holiday has closed a local attraction can be a major disappointment when you’ve got your sights set on that particular experience.

Egyptian Museum, Cairo
On the other hand, there is no joy like realizing that your timing was perfect, as was the case with our visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  We lucked out and visited during a rare period (Dec. 1, 2015  – Jan. 7, 2016) when cameras were allowed to be used inside. (No one is sure why the Antiquities Department loosened the rules; some say it was part of a nation-wide effort to increase tourism and others, more skeptical, say it might be a precurser to allowing cameras but charging a fee to use them.)

Whatever the case, this shutterbug was one happy gal! Without further adeiu let us take you through the Museum, housed in the same stately pink building since its opening in 1902 at the north side of Cairo’s Tahrir Square:

Interior looking towards Entry Door - Egyptian Museum - Cairo

The Museum itself is somewhat a relic. Some items are still displayed in the vitrines they were placed in when the Museum opened. Some have type-written (as in typewriter) information cards.

P1030501Some of the display halls were so dimly-lit they felt spooky; so dark you couldn’t see the displays or read information. It would have made a great setting for an Agatha Christie novel.

There are certainly splashier and more-modern Museum’s in the world, but the somewhat musty charm of this place only added to the feel of ‘antiquities’ and it seemed a perfect home for the some 100,000 objects housed in its 15,000 square meters of space.

Around 3100 BCE the kingdoms of Upper Egypt in the south and Lower Egypt in the North merged into a single state

The Old Kingdom 2649 –2134 BCE
The Middle Kingdom 2040 – 1640 BCE
The New Kingdom 1550 – 1070 BCE

The grandeur, the size was stunning - Egyptian Museum, Cairo
At every turn there was some jaw-dropping display with an incomprehensibly old date.  We’d bet that even the most die-hard ‘not-interested-in-Museums’ of you out there would be blown away by a visit here. From the largest, like the statuary above, to the smallest, like this intricate necklace, there was something incredible to leave the viewer shaking his/her head. How did they create with such precision and detail so many thousands of years ago?

This necklace's detail was stunning - Egyptian Museum - Cairo
One of the most remarkable things about our visit was how empty the Museum was - a sad commentary on the impact of terrorism and political upheavals in recent years. Again, as I wrote about the Pyramids, there were no crowds during our visit. We often had entire display rooms to ourselves.

Sphinxes - Egyptian Museum - Cairo
These grey-granite sphinxes were created for Pharaoh Amenemhat III (1855 – 1808 BC) and one couldn’t help but be struck by the intricate carving and design done so long before computers - for that matter, before paper and pencils.

Sanab - Egyptian Museum - Cairo
One of my favorite displays was of Senab, and Egyptian dwarf, chief of all the Palace dwarfs, who was charged with the care of the Palace wardrobe.  With his wife, Senetites, at his side, his two children stand where his legs should be had he been of normal height.

Another who doesn’t get a lot of acclaim – at least not like King Tut – was the one identified as:

"House of the Toilet" Egyptian Museum - Cairo
While researching this after our visit, I found little information about that particular position but did learn that the English had a “Groom of the Stool” who was considered the ‘most intimate of an English monarch’s courtiers’.

Moving on. . .to the New Kingdom. . .

Royal Bed - Egyptian Museum Cairo
How’s this for a bed frame?  Still not quite sure how they got in and out of it.

Chariot - the real deal Egyptian Museum - Cairo
Thoughts of Charlton Heston and Ben Hur came to mind when we got to the chariot displays – only these weren’t movie props, these were the real thing!

PicMonkey Collage
Oh the gold jewelry. . .Egyptian Museum - Cairo 
The jewelry room was astounding – the workmanship and details simply amazing. The photos above from the left, show a head crown, a ring and a collection of gold bracelets.

Death Mask - King Tut Egyptian Museum Cairo
And then we arrived at perhaps the most famous of the displays: Tutankhamun (King Tut) Galleries, with some 1,700 items filling much of the first floor. King Tut was the young New Kingdom Pharaoh who ruled from 1336BC to 1327BC.  The items on display were buried in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

PicMonkey Collage
Casket and body armor King Tut - Egyptian Museum - Cairo 
While mercifully King Tut’s remains are still in the tomb in the Valley of the Kings, pretty much everything else is on display from his death mask, to the caskets to the body armor in which he was buried.

Several of you have asked if we visited the new state-of-the art museum for which construction began in 2002. There is no ‘new’ museum yet. It was begun during the time the former-now-disposed President Hosini Mubarak led the country. The Grand Egyptian Museum was to be on the Giza Plateau, about two kilometers from the Pyramids and Sphinx. Since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution ousted Mubarak the fate of that project so closely tied to the former president has been uncertain. 

New paint job just completed in this hallway - Egyptian Museum - Cairo

As Lonely Planet guidebook advises, “In the meantime, enjoy the fresh paint job here in the Downtown Egyptian Museum – that’s likely the only real improvement in antiquities exhibits that tourists will see for awhile.”

Thanks again for taking a walk through history with us today.  We know your time is valuable and appreciate that you spend a part of it with us.  Happy and safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking with:
Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Wanders Among Cairo’s Ancient Wonders ~

"I bear witness of the will of Cheops, my father: to defy time, forever. I saw Anthony and Cleopatra pass. Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon paused at my feet. I saw ambitious dreams of conquerors whirling like dead leaves. As my motto, I chose an Arab saying: 'The world fears time, but time fears the Pyramids.'

From the book "Wonders of the Pyramids: The Sound and Light of Giza," introduced by Zahi Hawass. American University in Cairo Press (AUC Press, 2010)
Great Sphinx - Giza, Egypt
Sometimes we’ve been let down by a tourist destination; usually the kind where we’ve believed the hype and expected more than what we found. We wondered if our outing to Giza, the Cairo suburb where the Pyramids and Sphinx are located, would be one of those experiences.  Smog could obscure our views and suburbia has surrounded these centuries old desert delights, guidebooks warned.

Sphinx with suburbia as a neighbor - Giza, Egypt
On the flip side, sometimes we end up in such amazing places that we need to pause and allow ourselves to absorb the place; a mental ‘pinch’ you give yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming – the kind of moment in which you give thanks for being fortunate enough to be at that particular place on earth.

The latter is how we found ourselves on the morning we toured the Egyptian Pyramids and Sphinx. They didn’t disappoint! As imagined scenes we’d carried with us through the years came to life, we tried to comprehend the scope of  history to which we were bearing witness. Our brains were numbed by the size and the grandeur of these wonders from the Ancient World.

Wandering among Ancient Wonders - Giza, Egypt
The Sphinx (which means ‘strangler’) with the body of a lion and the head of a person, simply knocked our socks off - as proven by the number of photos of us we let the guide take of us with the Sphinx as a backdrop. 

But we almost needed a photo like the one above to assure us we hadn’t dreamt it all.  Yes, we really were standing at this amazing structure believed to have been built for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khafre during his reign, 2520-2494BC. (The date alone is mind-boggling!)

The Great Sphinx and Pyramid - Giza, Egypt
Egyptians built sphinxes, usually with the head sporting the likeness of a Pharaoh or god, to guard tombs and temples.  This one, the Great Sphinx of Giza is one of the oldest and largest statues in the world; its head believed to be the likeness of the Pharaoh Khafra. It faces to the east (sunrise) and guards the pyramid tombs to its rear.

At 241 feet long, 20 feet wide and 66 feet high, it is enormous. The eyes alone are 6 feet tall, the ears three feet and the nose - before it was knocked off - is believed to have been five feet long.

(About that missing nose:  for decades Napoleon and his men got the blame for the ‘nose job’ but other stories say it was Turkish soldiers and yet others say it was chiseled off by someone who considered the Sphinx as evil.)

Undated photo - source and attribution not available
I found this un-dated photo of the Sphinx covered with sand (source and attribution not available). which shows how erosion and weather have affected it in the last 4,500 years.  The Sphinx once had a beard which served to help support the head. A portion the beard is in the British Museum in London.  Beard or not – the Sphinx should be on your ‘must see’ list.

Sadly, pollution and rising ground water are now joining that blowing sand as threats to the Sphinx, which is said to have been carved from bedrock in an ancient causeway, and repair work is on-going.
The Giza Plateau

The Plateau is home to the Great Sphinx and the famous Pyramids, Wonders of the Ancient World.  What we hadn’t realized before our visit was the vast number of cemeteries and tombs – far less grand in size and design that are tucked into the hill along the causeways and that border the Pyramids.

Camel ride vendor rides among tombs - Giza Plateau, Egypt

Standing in the shadow of the first of the three Pyramids on a warm late December morning it was easy to understand why they are considered such wonders.  You can’t help but wonder how in the world they were ever built back in a time without computer-assisted-drafting and modern-day construction equipment.

Size as compared to modern day vehicles and buildings - Giza, Egypt
We’ve all seen photos of the Pyramids but until you are there, looking at their towering height and substantial girth and the size of the stones used to create them, you can’t quite get the feel of  just how enormous they are and the feat of their construction. Each stone weighs several tons and the number of them used in construction is mind-blowing: 2.3 million in the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) alone!

Humans carved and placed these stones - Giza, Egypt
I am not a fan of small places so we opted not to crawl/walk through the Pyramids. It can be done at an additional cost (not included in the entry ticket).  We opted to climb a bit of the stairway to the entrance – I am five feet tall to give you an idea of the size of stones put into place by the hands of human workers.

Camel ride, anyone? Giza Plateau, Egypt
You can also hire camels to get you from one viewing area to another, but we chose to be driven by our guide. The ‘crush’ of souvenir and camel ride touts didn’t materialize; we may have been approached by a few but they quickly left us alone when we indicated no interest in their products.  Tourism has tanked and those who make a living from those visitors are suffering.

Mystical, magical and somewhat smog-obscured Pyramids - Giza, Egypt
You could visit the Pyramids on your own, using public transportation or taxis to get there. We opted for a half-day private tour and selected a company, Ramasside Tours, that had been highly recommended by Tripadvisor users. We’d used the same company for our airport to hotel transfer and again for a transfer when it came time to leave Cairo. Our guide was knowlegeable and the driver had nerves of steel.

We hope you’ll join us next week when we head off to explore the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo. Thanks for the time you spent with us today. Happy and safe  travels to you and yours ~

Linking up today:
Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Cairo, Egypt ~ Such Colors and Contrasts

“What are its colors?” my artist friend Christine asked last spring about a place I was describing over dinner.

Loved the front of this building housing a number of international schools - Zamalek district
Colors? Hmmm,. . . I hadn’t really thought about that for any place we’d visited.

The old newspaper reporter mind of mine has been on auto-focus: ‘Just the facts, Ma’am’, approach to photos and the notes I take while traveling. I’d think more about the scene’s story than its colors. But the question was a good one and has niggled my brain all year. Christine has me refocusing and thinking about how integral colors are to a ‘sense of place’ and its narrative.

Recently opened Ritz-Carlton between Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Museum
And so many of you have remarked on the modern buildings in Cairo, saying the city didn’t look like what you’d envisioned. Colors and contrasts – no where are they more apparent than in Cairo; we just needed to let our mind’s eyes roam freely. We’ll ultimately get to some of those famous tourist destinations but today - with no particular destination in mind -- let us show you some of Cairo’s colors and contrasts:

PicMonkey Collage
On a clear day in Cairo you can see. . .
One of the disheartening contrasts is the impact of the early morning smog on what could be a 24/7 beautiful cityscape. These photos were taken within a few hours of each other from the deck of our room at the Cairo Marriott Hotel. The smog was worse on other mornings.  In a city of nearly 24 million people driving an estimated 8 million cars, smog is inevitable. Air pollution is so bad that tour companies advise scheduling trips to the Pyramids (which are surrounded by suburbia) in the mid- to late-morning. An early morning visit could find them obscured by smog.

Building housing the Ancient Egyptian Music School - Zamalek district
The city’s architecture is a kaledescope of contrasts.  Strolling through ‘our’ Zamalek neighborhood we happened upon this stunning building just a few blocks from our hotel; home to the Ancient Egyptian Music School.  What a contrast with the recently opened Saudi Arabian Embassy Tower a few kilometers away.

PicMonkey Collage
Saudi Arabian Embassy Tower - Cairo
The 32-story Embassy Tower which opened in Sept. 2014  is the largest foreign embassy in the city.

Residential high rise towers - Giza

Residential high rise towers – most a stark tan or gray color thanks to a coating of dust and smog - line roadways like tunnel walls. The two pictured above are in Giza, the Cairo suburb that is home to the Pyramids.  (In fact, the suburbs encircle the Pyramids that we so often envision as being out in some vast desert along the Nile.)

PicMonkey Collage
Shops in the Zamalek district - Cairo
Setting out on foot, as we often did, you’ll find all sorts of colors in the displays of small vendors and shops that line the streets.  These photos are of a few of the many small stores in our Zamalek neighborhood, about a mile’s walk from our hotel.

PicMonkey Collage
Scarves, flowers and bread added color to the Cairo street scene
No matter what street you explored there was color and contrasts to be found. That photo on the lower right shows their famous Arab bread still puffy and hot from the oven, pita, we would likely call it. . .some of the best bread we’ve ever eaten. The vendor carried his display on his shoulder and set it up for sales on a street corner.

A colorful encounter at the Sphinx
And the people also sport a wonderful mix of colors, as these school girls show. I think we often have notions of how women in this part of the world dress and it is good to be reminded that you can’t make blanket judgements about people and places. These girls not only brightened the landscape with their colors but their smiles as well. These girls were on a school outing at the Sphinx and several of them raced over to ask me to pose for ‘selfies’ with them. Our guide wanted to shoo them away. But I found it an enchanting experience and agreed to pose only if they would pose with me. And yes, these teens in Egypt have cell phones!

Floral display Ritz Carlton lobby- Cairo
Some of the most colorful and posh places in Cairo were the elegant hotel interiors and the flowers and arrangements that filled their lobbies with color.  This is taken in the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where its common areas where in full bloom with magnificent floral displays (and a large Christmas tree surrounded by toy soldiers as well).

PicMonkey Collage
A scene from Arabian nights - JW Marriott Cairo
We happened upon a scene right out of Sheherazade’s Arabian Nights at the JW Marriott Hotel, where we spent our last night. Hotel staff had been busy all day setting up for this wedding celebration and turned a conference meeting room into a fantasy setting fit for a Pharaoh. . .

With that, we’ll close for this week. Thanks to all of you for the time you take joining us on these armchair adventures via TravelnWrite. We welcome our new ‘subscribers’ who receive our posts in email form (for free) and new followers. 

Next week we are off to the Pyramids and the Sphinx. . .but first. . .

A BIT OF HOUSEKEEPING: for those who follow TravelnWrite on Google Friend Connect.  Google recently announced changes that could impact your ability to receive the blog – and we don’t want to lose touch so take a quick look at the Blogger announcement below  (this doesn’t affect those of you receiving the blog in email format in your in boxes):
“[Beginning] January 11, we’ll remove the ability for people with Twitter, Yahoo, Orkut or other OpenId providers to sign in to Google Friend Connect and follow blogs. At the same time, we’ll remove non-Google Account profiles. . .[these] changes that will eventually require readers to have a Google Account to sign into Friend Connect and follow blogs.”
Bottom line:  We noted two profile have been lost, but you’ve still been able to write comments (I think).  If TravelnWrite, has disappeared from your reading list, you may need to sign up for a Google Account, and re-follow our blog in order to get the blog.  OR skip the ‘following’ and sign up to ‘receive the blog by email’ Put your email address in the box on the right-hand column of the home page. Feedburner will send an email asking you to to verify that you want to receive emails from us, confirm you do and posts will arrive in your inbox.
Linking this week with:
 Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Egypt: Tourism vs.Terrorism

It wasn’t a question of whether we would visit Cairo, Egypt as it’s been on our bucket list for a long time.

Luxor Temple - Spring 2015
It was simply a question of when. A question that surfaced more frequently after our cruise through the Middle East last spring gave us a appetizer-sized introduction of Egypt. That two-day snapshot whetted our appetites for a larger serving of this amazing country tucked into the northeast corner of the African continent.

View of the Nile from our hotel room in Cairo
Your responses back in November to the news of our return to Egypt; specifically, Cairo, were a mixed bag: a surprising number told us of your own recent travels there and offered suggestions of things to do, places to see ~ others sent well-wishes to be safe.

Tahrir Square - site of the 2011 Arab Spring - was a rather empty, non-descript area
As we booked the trip, I have to admit that visions of Pyramids and Antiquities competed with scenes of Tahrir Square during the 2011 Egyption Arab Spring revolution and the October 2015 Russian plane crash in Egypt’s Sinai – its cause, perhaps the result of an act of terrorism.

Stepping into history - Pyramids at Giza
So, we could have kept Cairo on our ‘someday’ list. . .but in reality, when intrepid travelers reach their 60’s – even with good health and can-do  attitudes like us – they have to be honest with themselves. In our case that included asking: ‘How much longer do you wait to do those things you’ve always had on the bucket list? How long will you be able to climb those pyramids?’

And waiting until a destination is ‘safe’ these days, well, . . sadly, as daily headlines remind us, may be a very unrealistic approach.

Downtown Cairo - 'Paris on the Nile'
So the adventure began Saturday before Christmas we were on an Egypt Air flight (less than two hours from Athens, ticket cost: $175 each)  from Athens bound for “Paris on the Nile”, as Cairo, Egypt was once known.

That same Khevide Isma’il (the one I introduced you to last week in the “palace” post) was so taken by Europe’s grand cities that he sought out a Parisean city planner, Baron Haussman, to lay the framework for this core district. It does have the feel of a European city’s layout.

PicMonkey Collage
Street scenes taken while shopping in Cairo's core district 
With traffic circles and building facades, Cairo’s downtown definitely felt European but it also felt a bit crusty. Buildings are dirty and power-washing is long overdue. Smog from some eight million cars can do that to the best of buildings, I guess. While not the showstopper it could be with a bit of cleanup, we felt safe and comfortable everywhere we explored.
“Improving Egypt’s tourism sector depends on improving the view of the country’s domestic situation, as many countries believe that Egypt has no security or stability for the time being,” Elhamy el-Zayat, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, said last September in announcing a new marketing campaign. “The biggest challenge for Egypt is to shift this perspective, especially since Egypt is the heart of the Arab world, which has now become a source of news of violence in the world.” -

Cairo Marriott and Omar Khayyam Casion on the Nile River
The bottom line is: we felt safe everywhere we went in Cairo, whether on foot, by taxi or by private transfer or tour.

Our Cairo Marriott Hotel’s location, on an island in the middle of the Nile River, put us in walking distance of the Egyptian Museum, Tahrir Square and the Cairo Tower. We used  taxis a couple of times to get to and from the downtown area, had a private car/driver/guide tour of the Pyramids, and arranged private transfers from the airport to hotel,and between the Marriott and the JWMarriott for our last night’s stay.
“I often get asked ‘is it safe to go to Egypt?’ and I say ‘a weekend in Paris isn’t exactly safe.’ . . . None of us can guarantee our safety on planet earth – it all has to be put into context.”  -- Professor Joanne Fletcher, BBC’s Chief Egyptologist, who has completed a four-part documentary on Egypt, now airing in England.
 Cairo traffic - this roundabout to the bridge was a maze of merging cars
The Real Danger in Cairo

Frankly, the most danger we faced was in crossing the street. Cars don’t stop, nor are there pedestrian crossing lights.

Our Lonely Planet Egypt guidebook warned of the traffic and suggested that crossing a street with locals; having them act as a sort of buffer for you might be the best way to cross. “Never, ever hesitate or turn back once you’ve stepped off the sidewalk, and cross as if you own the road. But do it fast!” it advised.
The calm Nile a contrast to the traffic next to it in Cairo
That sounded reasonable, until put to the test. We set out for Tahrir Square and strolled from our hotel along the serene Nile River to a point it became necessary to cross six lanes of traffic.  Twice I stepped off the curb, took a step or two, then hastily retreated back to its safety when I saw the cars barreling towards us, four lanes from the left and two from the right. (Might I add The Scout, was becoming somewhat frustrated with me at that point.)

Warm and Welcoming

What happened next is an example of the warm and welcoming people we encountered in Cairo. As I was about to start whining, “I can’t do it!” a man hustled toward us through the traffic from across the street, and asked in perfect English, “Where do you want to go?” My rather lame answer, “Just across the street.” prompted him to motioned for us to follow him into the traffic – this time he stretched his arms in traffic guard fashion to slow the oncoming vehicles.  After he got us across the street he jogged back to his parked taxi where he’d apparently been watched our antics.

Tourism in Egypt has dropped from 17 million to 9 million,
according to Egypt’s Tourism Authority.

PicMonkey Collage
Crowds? None - on this morning visit to the Pyramids

Our visit, the week before Christmas and during Prophet Mohammed’s December 23rd birthday holiday, usually ranks as the busiest tourist week of the year. But it wasn’t. Terrorism seems to have struck a harsh blow to the already dwindling number of visitors since Arab Spring. Even during this usually-busy week we found the ‘crowds’ sparce at key tourist attractions like the Pyramids and the famous Egyptian Museum. Good for us who enjoyed the space and freedom to roam, but definitely bad for Egypt’s economy. Those crowds, we’d read and heard about, simply were not there. The only large groups at the Pyramids and the Sphinx during our mid-morning weekday visit were bus loads of Egyptian school children.

And how glad were we as we photographed  from inches away King Tut's mask, stood transfixed at the Sphinx or stepped up onto the Pyramids that we hadn't let 'fear of possibility' keep us from visiting. How about you? Have you ever let the fear of possibility keep you from traveling somewhere?

You've told us that you want more about Cairo which is good because like Scheherazade, we do have more tales to tell. Hope you’ll be back for more of our adventures in this Land of the Pharaohs. . .

Map picture

A big Happy New Year and wishes for great adventures and safe travels to you and yours in the coming year ~ Our sincere thanks for being with us in 2015! A big welcome to those who’ve just happened upon TravelnWrite for the first time. Hope you'll stop by often~

Linking this week with


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...