Despite leaving the Chicago and Frankfort, Germany, airports later than scheduled, our plane arrives in Cairo on time. We have no trouble deplaning, going through customs, claiming our luggage, and connecting with our transportation to the hotel. Since we havenâ€™t slept more than a few minutes while in the air and have been awake for more than 24 hours, we are glad for this punctual arrival.
It is Saturday evening of the week before Thanksgiving and my daughter Pam and I have arrived in Egypt, one of the great cradles of civilization, for a weeklong tour to see some of the oldest human-made wonders of the world. Â We are to connect with my son Dave and his girlfriend at the hotel. Â Their flight had arrived a couple of hours earlier.
Itâ€™s getting dark as our limo driver moves out of the Cairo airport, northeast of Cairo, and heads for our hotel in Giza, southwest of the city. We find ourselves in the biggest traffic jam Iâ€™ve ever seenâ€”stopping and starting every few yards in the Saturday night traffic most of the way to our hotel.The stopping isnâ€™t done for traffic lightsâ€”we donâ€™t see any during the entire tripâ€”but for blocked traffic, which I surmise may partially be due to no traffic lights to regulate the high level of traffic.
Finally we arrive at the Mena House, our hotel while in Giza, where our tour guide Rabie meets us. We sit in the bar and sip a delicious, refreshing non-alcoholic drink while Rabie outlines tomorrowâ€™s activities for us.Â Iâ€™m so tired that I donâ€™t comprehend much but perk up when Pam spots Dave and his girlfriend approaching us.Â We hug and exchange travel experiences, including the stop-start ride from the airport to the hotel, then head for our rooms.Â Tired as I am, my body clock is still on Chicago time, and while I fall asleep quickly, Iâ€™m awake at 1:30 AM Egypt time (5:30 PM CST). Â I lie in bed until it's time to get up for the day.
In the morning, before we leave the room for our breakfast, Pam and I go out on the balcony of our room to check the weather. Itâ€™s hazy--perhaps from the vehicle emissions of all those cars we saw last night as we rode from the airport to the hotel. Though our view is somewhat obscured by the landscaping of the hotel, we see something weâ€™re unlikely to see from a room at any other hotel in the world: a pyramid.
Palm trees and early morning mist veil a pyramid as seen from the balcony of our hotel room at the Mena House in Giza.
After eating at the hotelâ€™s exceptional breakfast buffet with its many choices and friendly and helpful staff, Pam and I head for the hotelâ€™s entrance where our tour group is to gather at 7:00 AM to begin the dayâ€™s activities. Here, too, we can see a pyramid. What an extraordinary place to stayâ€”in the shadow of a huge human-made structure built more than 4500 years ago.
With the Pyramid of Cheops looming through the morning mist, people, cars and a coach stand ready at the entrance to the Mena House in Giza to assist tourists in getting to the nearby site of several prominent pyramids and the Sphinx.
In the light of day, we notice that vehicle license plates give information in both Arabic and English. The Arabic script looks graceful and reminds me of English calligraphy.
License plate of a tour bus with information given in both Arabic and English
Itâ€™s still very early when the coach with our tour group of 18, Rabie our guide, the driver, and an on-board security person, leave the hotel and head for the first site we are scheduled to visit: The Pyramids of Giza. Traffic is lighter than last night and the distance between the hotel and the site is short. Weâ€™re soon there.
Rabie, who has a background in archeology, notes that all the art and architecture of the Egyptian ancients was motivated by their religion, which believed in an afterlife. He explains that pyramids arenâ€™t just graves, but they were built to provide for the needs of the entombed person in the next world.
The Pyramids of Giza are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Massive and towering, they canâ€™t be missed. Looking at them from a distance highlights their enormity and the bare desert ground on which they stand emphasizes their immensity.
The three largest Pyramids of Giza and their current heights (left to right): Pyramid of Cheops (also known as the Great Pyramid of Giza) 450 feet, Pyramid of Chephren 448 feet, and Pyramid of Mycarinuw 203 feet.
Tour buses look like toy vehicles as they drive away from the three Pyramids of Giza.
Looking at the pyramids at a closer range doesnâ€™t make them look any less formidable.
A closer view of the Pyramid of Chephren. Tourists who mill about the area appear puny compared to the Pyramid.
Dave and his girlfriend let me take a picture of them.
Dave and his girlfriend pose for a photograph near Chephren.
Then Dave takes a photo of Pam and me with my camera.
My daughter Pam and I at the Giza pyramids
Moving further into the site, I can see the Great Sphinx in the distance and head in that direction. As I walk the raised path toward it, I note the town of Giza on the opposite side and stop to snap a photo.
Situated on the outskirts of Cairo, Giza, the third largest city in Egypt, is located on the west bank of the Nile River. With 2.5 million residents, Giza is tied as the second largest suburb in the world.
The Great Sphinx of Giza models a mythical creature with a lionâ€™s body and a human head. The statue, which shows a reclining sphinx facing east, boasts several records. The Giza sphinx is the largest monolith statue in the world, a monolith being a large chunk of bedrock used in architecture or sculpture. It is also the oldest known monumental sculpture. (1) (2) (3)
A face view of the Great Sphinx of Giza with its lion paws not visible. The mutilation on the face was done by Mameluke soldiers during shooting practice. (3) Mameluke refers to â€œa military caste who held the Egyptian throne from about 1250 until 1517 and remained powerful until 1811. (2) Who built the Great Sphinx and when it was built are under debate.
I move to a wall that runs the length of the Sphinx to get a different view.
A side view of the Sphinx better shows the monumentâ€™s large size.
Before going to our next archeological sites in Memphis and Sakkara, our tour makes a stop at the Papyrus Institute in Giza. Papyrus is the material that ancient Egyptians used for writing, and papyrus paintings are a popular souvenir of the country. The Papyrus Institute, a government-approved shop, makes and sells authentic papyrus. So-called papyrus paintings can be bought elsewhere on the street, but they are not always authentic. The Institute also gives demonstrations of how papyrus is made.
Our group lines up to watch an interesting presentation of papyrus being made. The employee doing the demonstration notes that papyrus is a sedge, a plant with a three-sided stem that grows along the Nile River. My ears perk up at the mention of the word sedge because Iâ€™m familiar with some sedges that grow wild in my area.
An employee of the Papyrus Institute in Cairo holds a leafy stem of papyrus as she demonstrates how papyrus is made and used. On the wall behind her are examples of some of the hand-painted papyri sold at the Institute.
Unfortunately, Iâ€™m in the back and canâ€™t see over the heads of the taller people in front of me. I crane my neck trying to see and hear the presentation better. Noticing me attempting to get a better view, fellow traveler Dr. Manju Bansal beckons me to move into the space she has made for me in the first row. I gratefully take her up on her invitation. Manju is a professor in the Molecular Biophysics Unit at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and has been in the United States a number of times. I enjoy conversing with Manju during the week.
After the presentation, tour members wander through the shop viewing the various papyrus paintings, which come in all sizes. In my past travels, I havenâ€™t bought a lot of souvenirs. But I like the painted papyri very much, and the smaller ones arenâ€™t too expensive and would be lightweight and easily transportable. Having wanted another wall hanging for my apartment, I buy a papyrus painting of birds in a tree. Pam and Dave also buy paintings. The clerk makes a scroll out of the painting and packs it in a cylinder.
When I get home, the papyrus painting is in perfect shape, and I have it matted and framed.
The papyrus scroll I bought in Egypt now hangs on a wall near the entry of my home. I cropped the matting and frame out of the photo to better show the work itself.
I leave The Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx in a reflective mood: Awe-filled at the grandeur of the structures Iâ€™ve just seen and grateful for their survival through the ages. I wonder how earlier humans without the benefit of modern-day power tools could imagine and build such enduring magnificence.
(2) American Heritage College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. 2004. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA
(3) David Roberts: A journey in Egypt. Commentary on Roberts drawings by Rita Bianucci. Casa Editrice Bonechi, Florence, Italy. 2010
Arthur Goldshmidt, Jr., A Brief History of Egypt, Checkmark Books, 2008
Future posts will include coverage on Memphis-Saqqara, Abu Simbel, cruising the Nile River, and Aswan.