Monday, 4 April 2011

Cairo, Egypt

Our last stop in the middle east was Cairo, Egypt.  I stayed here for five days.

The Great Pyramid of Giza.

We had a great lady showing us around in Cairo.  Her name is Hend Harb and she's a private tour guide.  My sister heard about Hend's wonderfulness through word-of-mouth (a mutual friend used Hend as his tour guide in Egypt a couple of years ago) and Hend exceeded our every expectation.

Hend Harb and me by The Great Sphinx.

Visiting Cairo with Hend didn't even feel like hanging out with a tour guide.  It felt like hanging out with a close friend or a family member.  The lady is wicked smart, funny, and her English is excellent.  If you're visiting Egypt and would like to use Hend Harb as your private tour guide her email address is:

Our first stop in Cairo was Saqqara, a large, ancient burial grounds.  Saqqara features The Pyramid of Djoser (aka. The Step Pyramid).

Six steps on The Step Pyramid.

Renovation on The Step Pyramid is ongoing.

Roofed collonade corridor leading into the Saqqara complex.

A cute dog frolicking in the Saqqara complex.

After leaving Saqqara, we headed to The Great Pyramid of Giza (aka. The Pyramid of Cheops).  The Great Pyramid of Giza is one of three pyramids in The Giza Necropolis.  It is the oldest, largest, most intact, and best-known pyramid in Egypt.  In fact, it is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  

After seeing my first "Wonder of the Ancient World" I was so impressed that I wanted to know what the other six are.  They include:
-Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Iraq)
-Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Turkey)
-Statue of Zeus at Olympia (Greece)
-Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (Turkey)
-Colossus of Rhodes (Greece)
-Lighthouse of Alexandria (Egypt)

The Great Pyramid of Giza took my breath away.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is an engineering marvel.  The picture below, taken at a sideways angle, demonstrates how straight the edges of this pyramid are:

For a couple of Egyptian pounds (1 USD is about 6 Egyptian pounds) we were able to take a short camel ride at The Giza Necropolis.  It was my sister's first time on a camel and she had a blast.

My sister and her camel, Mickey Mouse.

Life doesn't get much better than this.

Two of the three pyramids of the Giza Necropolis.

The Giza Necropolis also features The Great Sphinx.  A sphinx is a mythical creature with a human head and a lion's body.  There are many sphinx throughout Egypt.  However, The Great Sphinx is the largest sphinx.  One of the most remarkable things about this statue is that it was carved out of a single piece of stone.

  Smooching my new Egyptian boy toy.

Slightly better view of the sphinx's lion body.  One of the three Giza pyramids is visible in the background.

While Egypt is predominately an Islamic state, there is also some Christian influence.  We visited Saint Virgin Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church (aka. The Hanging Church).  

Outside The Hanging Church. 

I did not know this because I guess I wasn't paying too much attention when I was in Catholic school a couple of decades ago, but the Bible says that Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to Egypt when Jesus was a young boy in order to escape Herod's massacre of children in Bethlehem.  The Hanging Church is built over one of the places where they lived.

The Virgin Mary supposedly planted these palm trees outside The Hanging Church.

We also visited a famous mosque in Cairo called The Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha (aka. The Alabaster Mosque).  Muhammad Ali is considered the founder of modern Egypt because of the many reforms he instituted.

Exterior of the mosque.

Interior of the mosque.

I should also mention the Egyptian Museum.  It houses 120,000 antiquities, including mummies!  No pictures are allowed inside.  It's well-worth the time, especially if you have a great guide like Hend to explain some of the antiquities to you.

A pond with lotus and papyrus in front of the Egyptian Museum.

In addition to the obvious tourist sites, Cairo also has great food and souvenirs.

The papyrus plant.  One Egyptian souvenir you can buy in Cairo is artwork drawn on papyrus paper.  Incredibly durable, papyrus artwork is guaranteed to last 1,000 years.  Be sure to buy at a reputable location; many vendors try to sell tourists fake papyrus.

Some treats at an Egyptian bakery.

Abou Tarek, a famous restaurant in Cairo.

The signature dish at Abou Tarek's.  It's called koshary and it rocks.

Smoking apple-flavored hookah at a cafe in downtown Cairo.


Cool lantern hanging outside the cafe.  I snapped this picture in the middle of a conversation with sis and an Egyptian professor we met at the cafe.

The Nile River.

Hend took me to this shopping mall in Cairo.  It's the largest shopping mall in Africa.  We saw "The Rite" with Anthony Hopkins, a horror movie about exorcisms.  Afterwards, we had cappuccino at a Cinnabon in the mall.  Random, I know.  I'll always remember that.  Thanks, Hend!

A man creating blown glass art (another very Egyptian souvenir).

After two months, travel has changed me in so many ways.  Before this trip, I realize I was oblivious to many important events going on in the world.  It's not that I couldn't understand; I just didn't try to understand.  It was enough for me to acknowledge them superficially and not really try to pry below the surface, into all of the intricacies.  

I put almost no effort into trying to figure out where these countries with "strange" names are located (Tunusia, for example), what their people and culture are like, and how their governments work.  I suppose I had tunnel-vision; all I really saw was what was happening in the United States.  

Tahrir Square:  location of the Egyptian Revolution in February 2011.

A peaceful demonstration taking place in Tahrir Square.

Getting the Egyptian flag painted on my hand by a demonstrator.

Go democratic Egypt!

After a few weeks overseas, I find my world perspective shifting.  Suddenly, I want to know where every country in the world is located.  I've got a world map and I study it nearly every day, trying to memorize all of the countries...  Madagascar is here.  Sri Lanka is there.  Armenia is over there.  Oh, that's where Oman is located!  

Somehow it's liberating to put "names to faces."  To really try to put a name to a face.  This is just one of the many ways in which travel has changed me.

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