Kathryn and Ken's European Vacation
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Day 32: Alexandria, Egypt
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Day 29: Istanbul, Turkey
Day 30: Kusadasi, Turkey
Day 31: Rhodes, Greece
Day 32: Alexandria, Egypt
Day 33: Cruise at Sea
Day 34: Corfu, Greece
Day 35: Dubrovnik, Croatia
Country



Egypt


Hotel


MS Rotterdam



Temperature

Hot, hot, hot with a high of 40įC

 


Day 32: Friday, October 6, 2006     Alexandria, Egypt

The Awesome Pyramids


Currency:  Egyptian pound
Language:  Arabic

Alexandria, population of 3.5 to 5 million, is the second-largest city in Egypt, and its largest seaport. Alexandria extends about 20 miles (32 km) along the coast of the Mediterranean sea in north-central Egypt.  Alexandria, known as "The Pearl of the Mediterranean", has an atmosphere that is more Mediterranean than Middle Eastern ; its ambience and cultural heritage distance it from the rest of the country although it is actually only 225 km. from Cairo. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, Alexandria became the capital of Greco-Roman Egypt, its status as a beacon of culture symbolized by Pharos, the legendary lighthouse that was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and the Library of Alexandria (the largest library in the ancient world). The setting for the stormy relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Alexandria was also the center of learning in the ancient world. But ancient Alexandria declined, and when Napoleon landed, he found a sparsely populated fishing village. From the 19th century Alexandria took a new role, as a focus for Egypt's commercial and maritime expansion.  We did not get to see much of Alexandria as we had all signed up for the "Giza Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Nile in Style" Shore Excursion.


The ship docked about 6:00 am.  We got up early for breakfast and joined hundreds of our fellow passengers boarding scores of buses for the 3 hour trip to Giza to see the Pyramids.  The 8 people in our Calgary group managed to get on the same bus.  We drove through early-morning Alexandria and then hit the freeway.  We had an amateur-comedian tour guide named Mohammed and he was constantly telling bad jokes, poked fun at Egyptian politicians and the fine art of corruption.  Seated across from him was a young man in his twenties dressed in a three-piece suit.

Originally I thought he was a tour guide trainee until we stopped for a break and he got off the bus along with several other young men who were similarly dressed.  When they opened their suit coats you could see that they were all carrying large automatic pistols.  Tourism is the number one industry in Egypt and they were on the buses as security guards.  We're not in Bashaw anymore Toto.  The Egyptian government wanted to make sure nothing happened to us like when a bus load of tourists had been hijacked in 1997.  Part way through the trip, our caravan of buses had to stop at a police road block.  As soon as

Look closely and you can see the security guard's gun

all the buses were there, we were given a police escort the rest of the way.  Egyptian drivers are crazy.  I'm not sure why they have lines painted on the roads because they do not drive between them.  It is not uncommon to see five cars across on a three-lane highway.  On our trip we saw lots of irrigated farms in the desert - the main crop was dates.  We were provided with a tasty box lunch for the trip and soon arrived in Giza.
 

Giza is on the west bank of the Nile river, some 20 km southwest of central Cairo and now part of the greater Cairo metropolis.  Its population is 4,779,000 (1998). Giza is most famous as the location of the Giza Plateau: the site of some of the most impressive ancient monuments in the world, including a complex of ancient Egyptian royal mortuary and sacred structures, including the Great Sphinx, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and a number of other large pyramids and temples.
 

The Pyramids of Giza

Due largely to 19th-century images, the pyramids of Giza are generally thought of by foreigners as lying in a remote, desert location, even though they are located on an elevated plateau in what is now part of the most populated city in Africa. Consequently, urban development reaches right up to the perimeter of the antiquities site, to the extent that in the 1990s, Pizza Hut and KFC restaurants opened across the road.  Click on the photo at right to see a satellite image of how the pyramids are surrounded on three sides by the city.
 

Satellite photo of the Giza plateau.

The bus took us to a small hill west of the pyramids so that we could take photos of the site.  The panoramic view was awe-inspiring and breath-taking.  Our tour guide had warned us that there would be lots of peddlers and he was right - they were selling all kinds of tourist junk.  This was our first contact with "baksheesh", a tip for services rendered.  There were lots of men with camels.  My "best friend" Ali latched on to me right away and promised that he would get me the best picture.  He wanted me to get on the camel but, with my bad knees, I thought better of it.  He did manage to convince Kathryn to get up.  She had warned me that it would cost extra to actually ride the camel

Ken holding Kathryn's camel with the Pyramids in the background

as it was lead around, so we only had Ali take a photo.  I paid him the pre-arranged price but my best friend became angry with me when I wouldn't give him the extra baksheesh he wanted because Kathryn got on the camel.  We managed to find our bus amongst the sea of buses parked on the hill and we were driven down and dropped off right at the pyramids themselves.  There are three the large pyramids and three tiny ones.

From the north, the first one is the Great Pyramid of the 4th Dynasty King, Khufu (or Cheops). It was the first pyramid constructed on the plateau and many consider that it represents the pinnacle of the pyramid age. This pyramid contains ascending chambers and passageways not found in any other pyramids. At 150m, the great pyramid ranked as the tallest artifact on the planet for more than 4300 years, only surpassed in the 19th century. Around two million stone blocks, each weighing more than two tons, went into the main pyramid. It's been said that there is enough stone in the Giza pyramids to build a 3m-high, 30cm-thick wall around France, and that the area covered by the great pyramid could accommodate Westminster and St Paul's in

Map of the pyramid complex

London, St Peter's in Rome and the cathedrals of Milan and Florence, all combined.  In the middle is the Pyramid of Khafre (or Chepren).   Khafre was a son of Khufu and his is the second largest known pyramid in Egypt, only approximately 10 meters shorter that the Great Pyramid.  It looks larger than the Great Pyramid in photos because it was built on a bit of a hill.  The third one is the Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinos), son of Khafre. Although much smaller than the other two pyramids on the plateau, the lower courses were originally encased in granite. It has three subsidiary pyramids called the Queens' Pyramids.
 

We were given 50 minutes to explore the pyramids.  For Ken, this was absolutely the best experience of the entire trip but also the most frustrating.  We were actually standing next to the only remaining  Seven Wonders of the Ancient World but the area was swarming with peddlers, including children, who literally follow you around pushing camel rides, postcards, souvenirs, bottled water, etc.  There were white-suited Tourist Police but they only seemed interested in catching pickpockets.  We had taken several photos including one of me standing right next to the Khafre pyramid.  There were signs prohibiting climbing on the pyramids and one of the Tourist Cops started towards us.  I thought we were in trouble for me being too close to the pyramid but he offered to take our picture for us.  We thought that was great and then he

"Let me take your photo"

motioned for his buddy to get in the photo.  When the photo was done, they both had their hands out saying "baksheesh".  We learned a lesson as we were continually asked by other "cops" and young kids if we wanted to take their photo.  I only wish that we could have been left alone to take in the majesty of this incredible site. For as long as anyone can remember tourists at the pyramids have 'suffered torture that no pen can describe from the hungry appeals for baksheesh that gleamed from Arab eyes,' in the words of Mark Twain, who visited in 1866. Everyone who comes to Giza has to run the gauntlet of camel and horse hustlers, souvenir and soft drink hawkers, would-be guides, agonizingly persistent shop owners and sundry beggars.

We then got back on the bus for a short ride down to the entrance to the Sphinx.  Carved from the bedrock of the Giza plateau, the Sphinx is truly a mysterious marvel from the days of ancient Egypt. The body of a lion with the head of a king or god, the sphinx has come to symbolize strength and wisdom. From the north side the profile of the Sphinx reveals the proportion of the body to the head. It would appear as though the head is small in proportion to the body. Because of the changing desert terrain, the body of the Sphinx has been buried several times over the past several thousand years. Most recently in 1905, the sand has been cleared away to expose the magnitude and beauty of the entirety of the Sphinx. The paws themselves are 50 feet long (15m) while the entire length is 150 feet (45m). The head is 30 (10m) feet long and 14 feet (4m) wide. Because certain layers of the stone are softer than others, there is a high degree of erosion that has claimed the original detail of the carved figure.  The most popular and current theory of the builder of the Sphinx holds that it was commissioned by the 4th Dynasty King, Khafre.  The Sphinx lines up with the Pyramid of Khafre at the foot of its causeway. As one rounds the northeast corner to the front of the Sphinx, the alignment of the two structures becomes more apparent. Originally it is believed that the Sphinx was painted and was quite colorful. Since then, the nose and beard have

been broken away. The nose was the unfortunate victim of target practice by the Turks in the Turkish period. It is often erroneously assumed that the nose was shot off by Napoleon's men, but 18th century drawings reveal that the nose was missing long before Napoleon's arrival.
The statue is crumbling today because of the wind, humidity and the smog from Cairo. The rock was of poor quality here from the start, already fissured along joint lines that went back to the formation of the limestone millions of years ago. There is a particularly large fissure across the haunches, nowadays

This is Ken's favourite photo of the Sphinx

filled with cement, that also shows up in the walls of the enclosure in which the Sphinx sits. Below the head, serious natural erosion begins. The neck is badly weathered, evidently by wind-blown sand during those long periods when only the head was sticking up out of the desert and the wind could catapult the sand along the surface and scour the neck and the extensions of the headdress that are missing altogether now. The stone here is not quite of such good quality as that of the head above. Erosion below the neck does not look like scouring by wind-blown sand. In fact, so poor is the rock of the bulk of the body that it must have been deteriorating since the day it was carved out of the stone. We know that it needed repairs on more than one occasion in antiquity. It continues to erode before our very eyes, with spalls of limestone falling off the body during the heat of the day. So, today, much of the work on the Great Sphinx at Giza is not directed at further explorations or excavations, but rather the preservation of this great wonder of Egypt.
 

Ken was quite surprised by the Sphinx.  Like most people, he had a preconceived idea of its size from photos like the one on the left from our cruise brochure which are taken from in front of the Sphinx and make it look quite large.  In fact, as the photo from the Internet at right shows, the Sphinx, although very large, is relatively small in comparison to the pyramids and is basically in a large hole.

We took lots of photos in the 20 minutes we were allotted here and you can see them in the slideshow below.  Then it was back on the bus as we headed to Cairo.  We stopped at the Merit Center El Bazaar, so we could shop at the jewelry store and shop. Kathryn and I each bought cartouche pendants with names in Egyptian hieroglyphics - we got one for brother Bing to for looking after our house while we were gone.  These would be delivered to us later at the restaurant after the engraving was done.

We then headed to Cairo and dinner on the Nile.  Cairo (Al-Qāhirah, which means "The Vanquisher" or "The Triumphant") is the capital city of Egypt. While Al-Qahirah is the official name of the city, the name informally used by most Egyptians is "Masr" (Egyptian Arabic name for Egypt). It has a metropolitan area population of officially about 16.1 million people. Cairo is the seventh most populous metropolitan area in the world. It is also the most populous metropolitan area in Africa.
 

Included in our Shore Excursion was dinner on the Nile.  We were sort  of expecting another box lunch but when, we boarded the Pharaohs Floating Restaurant, we were surprised to sea a regular first class restaurant. Once we got under way, we were treated to a huge full buffet with every kind of meat, vegetable and salad that you could imagine - and one beer was also included. We cruised up and down the Nile for about an hour and a half. After dinner there was some entertainment.  First there was a typical female belly dancer.
Pharaohs Floating Restaurant

She was followed by a Whirling Dervish.  The whirling dance that is proverbially associated with dervishes, is the practice of the Mevlevi Order in Turkey, and is just one of the physical methods used to try to reach religious ecstasy.  This fellow was wearing several brightly coloured "skirts" that whirled around as he spun.  Some times he would lift one over his head and spin it crazily for a long period of time.  He probably spun for over 20 minutes straight without stopping.

Whirling Dervish


After dinner we went up to the roof of the houseboat and took some photos of Cairo including the famous Cairo Tower.  The Cairo Tower is free-standing concrete TV tower standing in Zamalek district on Gezira Island in the River Nile, in the city centre. At 187 metres, it is 43 metres higher than the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Cairo Tower was built from 1956 to 1961. Its partially open lattice-work design is intended to evoke a lotus plant. The tower is crowned by an observation deck and a revolving restaurant.

After we docked, we boarded the bus for the trip home.  Our cartouches were

Cairo Tower

delivered to us and we settled in for the three hour ride.  Several people tried to sleep on the way back but Mohammed continued to natter away.  Somehow he was much more entertaining on the way to Giza. We picked up our police motorcade escort just outside Giza.

It was dark by the time we arrived back at port but, wouldn't you know it, just as we got off the bus, there were several tables set out on the sidewalk selling all kinds of souvenirs.  This time we bargained and actually bought several nice Egyptian keepsakes and presents for people back home.

The dress code for dinner was casual and there was a huge BBQ on the Lido deck.  We took one look at the long lineups waiting to be served and decided to go back to the dining room.  It was only about half full and we got great service because many of the waiters had nothing to do.

The entertainment that night was comedian Marty Brill who we had already seen so we dragged our weary bodies off to bed.

I took the Egyptian Honking Rules off a website.  It really does describe how they drive in Cairo.

Egyptian Honking Rules

If you haven't been to Egypt before, you are welcome to come visit us and see both the pyramids for which Egypt is famous and the crazy driving for which Egypt is notorious.

In case you do decide to visit (you really are welcome), let me help you with a certain cultural aspect of this country. It will help you if you need to drive or even if you have the unfortunate task of trying to cross any street here. What I want to provide for you is a set of rules regarding honking. In Canada, we tend to honk only once in a long while when someone is close to hitting us or after a close miss to express our displeasure. But not so in Egypt. Honking can mean a lot of things and be used in a variety of ways. I'll provide here an abbreviated list of when you should use your car horn. Please honk your horn:

  1. When another car is approaching you from the front.
  2. When another car is approaching you from behind
  3. When another car is approaching you from either side
  4. When no car is approaching from any direction (In case someone is thinking of coming near you)
  5. When you are passing another car
  6. When you are approaching a side street and see a car entering the intersection
  7. When you are approaching a side street and don't see a car entering
  8. When you see a pedestrian (regardless of location)
  9. When you donít see a pedestrian (in case one is lurking in the shadows)
  10. When you enter a roundabout
  11. When you leave a roundabout
  12. When you feel anxious about something (anything)
  13. When you are excited
  14. When you feel sad
  15. When you feel happy
  16. When you aren't sure if you should honk, do it anyway.

Click here for a slide show of Day 32 photos.

Day 33

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