Vacation 2013 - Egypt & Greece, Day 3 "I Heard You Like to Camelbak While You Camelback"

Friday, April 26, 2013 – Day 3

After too long in transit, today began our official site-seeing in Egypt! We took in the view from our room in the early morning haze of Giza.  

Breakfast was first on the agenda - it was buffet-style, plentiful, and it offered multicultural options. I pretty much tried everything I could possibly eat and refilled my plate a couple of times.  

Apparently, I had missed this as we sat down, but we dined in full view of the pyramids in the breakfast room. We were finally seeing them in daylight, and soon we would see them up close!

We headed outside right on time to meet with our driver and guide. We met Maha, who was to be our guide for the entire trip.  She was very knowledgeable and passionate about her job, so we really enjoyed traveling with her.  There was so much to take in as we began our drive down to the Ancient City of Memphis to see The Colossal Statue of Rameses II at the Memphis Museum.  Many buildings looked deserted and unfinished as this was a way to evade paying taxes. Many times, families would live on the lower levels of buildings and leave the upper levels unfinished. We often shared the road with water buffalo and other animals.

While we generally prefer to do our own driving while traveling, I think Egypt was the one major exception to this. We were very happy to be chaperoned - I am not sure if we would have made it back in one piece otherwise!

Rameses is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian empire. Maha explained that Rameses liked to have all of his statues depict him in his youth, when he was at his strongest.  The statue was originally taken from a temple in Memphis and displayed in Cairo. After about 50 years of being displayed there, it was returned to Memphis to save it from exhaust fumes that were starting to deteriorate it.  

Maha also explained that Rameses wanted to be sure that everyone recognized his likeness, so he carved numerous cartrouches on his statues. This was to deter others from rubbing off his name and claiming the statue as their own. A cartrouche is an oval with a line at one end that indicates the text enclosed is a royal name.

The statue was found half-submerged in water, so you can see that one side is much better preserved than the other.  

Outside there were more statues and artifacts to see, including the Sphinx of Memphis and a smaller (although still very large) statue of Rameses. 

We stopped to get what Maha referred to as 'Egyptian breakfast'. This reminded me of a falafel pita with eggplant. It was very tasty. She explained that this is what Egyptians prefer to eat later in the morning.    

Next, we drove to Saqqara, a vast, ancient burial ground which serves as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis.  As you can see, there are some restoration efforts going on to keep it from collapsing. 

We started out by entering the temple at Saqqara that serves as an entrance to the Step Pyramid complex.

There was a lot to see inside as Maha explained how it was built.

Our next stop was a Carpet School. These are apparently a big deal in Egypt, and older children will be sent here to learn the carpet trade. We were given an opportunity to try our hand at sewing carpets then taken upstairs to the sales room.  Honestly, this caught us a little off guard. We were unaware that these attempts at solicitation would be built into the tour, and we ended up feeling pressured to make a purchase. But at least now we have an authentic Egyptian carpet!  :-P

There were many carpets to choose from of all sizes and made from different materials.

This was the first place we experienced "Egyptian hospitality". It is common for shopkeepers to offer you refreshments when you visit their place of business.  Our default choice became hibiscus juice. It was very tasty here - although we found it to be rather bitter at other places where there wasn't enough sugar. 

Finally, expensive rug in hand, we headed back to the car to make our way over to behold the Giza pyramids!

It was here that Maha warned us to avoid talking to anyone and to just stay behind her.  She told us not to look anyone in the eye. And once we started talking to someone, she wouldn't be able to help us. This sounds scarier than it actually was - we never felt like we were in danger; Egyptians are just aggressive solicitors. :P 

 You are supposed to make a wish the first time you touch a pyramid. :)

 There was even a little staircase that led up a portion of the pyramid, so here we are just hanging out on a pyramid!
 Maha insisted that we do the touristy shots. ;)

Of course we had to ride a camel in the desert! As we rode through the desert, Francisco took a swig of water and commented, "Yo dawg, I'm drinking from my Camelbak while on a camel back." We didn't quite have the meme down, but it was inspiration enough for me to take a drink as well so I could Camelbak while I camel-backed. ;-)

We had purchased additional tickets to actually be able to go inside one of the pyramids. We picked the smaller one so it would be a shorter trip. It was very cramped, and you had to walk bent over down this long ramp.  We weren't allowed to bring cameras inside, but we managed to take a couple of shots with a cell phone camera.  Some guy kind of followed us down the ramp and kept explaining things to us. He kept offering to take our picture, and we just tried to keep moving. :-P  People don't take photos for free in Egypt.

Our last big stop of the day was the Great Sphinx of Giza.

More tourist shots before moving on.

The pyramids and the Sphinx are all located in the same complex.

 Which incidentally was directly across the street from our hotel. Amazing!

We had dinner at a local restaurant. Our tour included one meal per day (the Egyptian breakfast was just a little bonus).  Maha made sure everything was vegetarian for us, and there were just plates and plates of food brought out.

Back at the hotel, we walked around the grounds a little bit to admire the view.

 Whew, what a long day! Back to the room to recuperate!


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