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
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!