Sunday, December 29, 2019

Casanova and Michael Jackson

We finally made it to the pyramids yesterday morning. It was like saving the best for last.

We set out around 7 a.m. with a guide named Mohammed, and we drove west across the river into Giza. In every photo you ever see of the pyramids, they look like they're out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by desert sands and a wide blue sky. Well, let me tell you, those photos are lies. The pyramids are basically in suburban Cairo. There are hotels across the street and residential buildings sprawling around for miles.

What gives the pyramids a sense of isolation is the fact that they're built on a plateau, and when you see them from certain angles, the city is concealed beneath the horizon of the hill. Of course they're huge, and you can't help but marvel at the technology involved in hauling those massive stones around and fitting them together so snugly, not to mention quarrying them in the first place.

Yes, we rode camels. Dave rode Casanova, and I rode Michael Jackson. (Don't spread that one around, please.) Casanova's face was rather artfully shaved, as you can see above. Don't ask me how one endeavors to shave a camel.

The boy who led our camels was quite insistent that we tip him -- "I take care of you, you take care of me," he kept saying. But he did take some rather spectacular iPhone photos of us, so we rewarded him appropriately.

We also visited the sphinx, and were then diverted by our guide to a papyrus gallery, which offered ridiculously tacky colorful artworks painted on handmade papyrus. I bought one largely out of a sense of obligation. Plus they gave me coffee.

We moved on to a coptic Christian church, built over an area where the Holy Family allegedly stayed when they fled to Egypt shortly after Jesus' birth. There were signs saying "The Holy Family walked on these stones," and "The Holy Family drank from this well."

I was reminded of those signs you see all over the northeast United States: "George Washington slept here." We may have George, but the Egyptians have Jesus. I think they win.

Then we went to a large, Turkish-style mosque in Cairo's citadel, with towering minarets. We were able to go inside and see the vast, carpeted space and the stained glass windows. I always feel privileged when I can enter a mosque, because in Morocco, it wasn't permitted.

From a terrace outside, we got an amazing view of the city, including the pyramids in the distance.

Then we went to the Khan el-Khalili market, a huge warren of narrow streets lined with shops selling pretty much anything you could imagine -- spices, blankets, clothing, food, housewares, jewelry, carpets, knick-knacks. There were miniature figures of Oum Kulthum and tiny pyramids made from alabaster. I got a beautiful scarf with a blue paisley design and accents of golden thread -- maybe a bit dandyish by western standards, but lots of guys here wear them.

I caught this kid watching the commotion in the streets from a shuttered window. (And trust me, there was a lot of commotion.)

We went to dinner with our main guide, Cesar. He recommended this place for authentic Egyptian food, and it was hopping -- there were people waiting out front to get in, and a guy in dark glasses and black leather controlling the crowds. I felt like I was standing at the velvet rope at Studio 54. We were eventually granted admittance, and inside we once again met...

...Egyptian Santa Claus!

(Yes, that is all our food. Cesar ordered it for us, in the Arabic tradition of hospitality. It was more than we could ever begin to eat, but it was definitely our best meal in Egypt.)

Finally, I'd told Cesar that I really wanted to see Tahrir Square, where the Egyptian Arab Spring protests took place eight or nine years ago. We had coffee in a little coffee shop there -- a fantastic place populated by older guys smoking hookahs and disconsolate youths looking glum, all watching a football game on TV. (Maybe that's why they were glum.)

We have had an incredible visit. And now, back to London!


Alphie Soup said...

What a great day out in Cairo!

Camels, Christian Coptic church, a mosque,smog, a market selling nearly everything under the sun, an Egyptian dinner AND Santa.
How good is all that?
And the Pyramids!
Friends visited Cairo and the Pyramids and when I saw the photos I was stunned to find they were in the middle of what might pass for suburbia.
What a wonderful ending to your holiday.
London will look a bit mundane after all this.


Yorkshire Pudding said...

That was one amazing day! A day to daydream about when you are busy checking out chargers at your library desk (sorry to remind you). The only thing missing from this excellent blogpost was the camel boy's iphone pictures as you rode upon Michael Jackson. Did Michael bellow and spit?

Sharon said...

My gosh that's a lot of things to put into one day! But it all sounds wonderful. I love the photo with Santa but, I can't believe all that food. However, the holidays are all about the food so it is appropriate. It sounds like you have had a wonderful trip. You'll need to rest up after such an adventure.

Karla said...

You two have such exotic (to me) and fun adventures traveling! Thanks for sharing them with us, and keeping it REAL - the good, bad and ugly parts of travel! I have no wanderlust, but when I read what you write about travel, and see the pictures, it makes me think "Hmmmm, maybe....!"

Ms. Moon said...

I believe I knew that about the pyramids being surrounded not by vast deserts but by suburbia but my brain chose to forget it.
What a feast!
What a trip!
Thank you for sharing it.

Mary said...

What an amazing day. You'll have to check out Rick Steves travel blog when you get back home. His recent entries have been about Egypt, including a cruise on the Nile.

Red said...

I like the last photo, there's so much going on. 1. A serious look at the ethnic food. 2 A great photo of the two of you with interesting facial expressions. 3. The out of place Santa!

ellen abbott said...

that table full of food looks fabulous. I want to try it all! it's shocking when you see a monument in situ after seeing only pictures. the Alamo is like that, the pictures making you think it's on a plain but it's right in the middle of downtown San Antonio. and it's little. What a fantastic trip. I am so jealous.

Edna B said...

I love the photo of the camel and that watercolor painting. Your photos are wonderful. I'm so glad you got a photo of both of you with Santa Claus. It's such a fun photo. How come you haven't posted a photo of you riding on a camel? Hmmm? Your trip has been fabulous. Thank you for taking us along with you. You have a safe trip home, hugs, Edna B.

Vivian said...

Thanks again for sharing your vacation.

robin andrea said...

Such great photos and stories of Egypt. I had wondered about being able to see the Pyramids from Cairo, and so glad to read your explanation. They're right there and not out in the sprawling desert somewhere. Wow. I had no idea. A wonderful journey you just shared with us. Thank you!

Joanne said...

Thank you SO MUCH for writing about and sharing your journey. I loved every minute of it. Egypt is most intriguing, for sure.

Allison said...

Great travel writing and photographs. I had no idea the pyramids were surrounded by the suburbs. Peoples' photos of themselves and their camels never show that.

Sabine said...

Great pictures and traveller's tales. Very enjoyable. Thanks and safe home journey.

Catalyst said...

You are a wonderful tour guide and I, too, have enjoyed Egypt through your eyes.

John Going Gently said...

Looks fantastic.....
The little boy at the window is wonderful

jenny_o said...

Sounds like your trip has met, or even exceeded, your expectations - which is a rare and wonderful thing :)

e said...

You have some wonderful photos and I've enjoyed following this adventure. Happy New Year to you and Dave!