An elegant sufficiency

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

In Cairo

An early start today, because we were leaving the ship in Suez and driving to Cairo for the day, rejoining everyone in Port Said this evening. The canal convoy was scheduled for 8am and our convoy of coaches was due to leave at 5.30am, though we had been warned that the Egyptian authorities were somewhat relaxed about the timetable.

We gathered in the restaurant and waited patiently until it was our turn to take the tender ashore - around 6.30am. We hopped on a shuttle bus for all of 100yds to the passport control point, and then climbed aboard the tour coach, guided by Viva - a lively and knowledgeable Egyptologist and our guide and hostess for the day.

The convoy assembled. Around ten or twelve coaches in all, each with a security guard on board and with black police pickup trucks interspersed through the group. When we reached a junction, the other traffic was brought to a halt so that we could pass through unimpeded and from time to time (maybe to relieve the boredom?) the police vehicles would pull alongside the coach and the young policement squatting in the back of the trucks would peer inside and smile.

We drove through vast urban sprawl, firstly that of Suez and then to the outskirts of Cairo. Rubbish littered the dusty streets and the general state of building was unfinished - to save on tax, according to Viva.

Eventually, we spotted what we'd come to see, over the tops of the blocks of scruffy flats. We'd heard that the pyramids were close to the city and the approach is less that impressive, but that was probably an understatement.

Though there were a few coaches there, we felt it was nowhere near as crowded as it might have been and having pinched ourselves to prove we were really here, we headed for the Cheops boat as recommended.

It was truly amazing and hard to imagine it was 4000 years old. Comparisons with the Mary Rose and the Vasa seemed inadequate, and I couldn't quite believe it was stitched together!

Much to see and little time though, so after another photo opportunity, we headed for the Sphinx, trying to avoid the countless (and persistent) salesmen along the way. So much tat!

It's unbelievable how quickly the time passes at such places and with everyone feeling peckish, it was time to drive over to the Mena House Hotel for a spot of lunch.

I loved the huge chandelier in the entrance portico.

Next stop was the inevitable "shopping opportunity". Don't you just hate such places? Surely we can't be the only ones who hate wasting good time hanging around amongst the tacky souvenirs on offer. But hang around we did, wondering what kind of a home could accommodate such chairs? Not ours, that's for sure!

Final stop of the day was the Egyptian Museum where Tutankhamun's treasures lay in store for us, the mummy room was said to be fascinating and countless other antiquities awaited our attention. No photographs here, sadly, so I will simply have to say that we were awestruck by the exhibits. To view Rameses 2nd's mummified body, with hair intact after 3000-odd years, view the beautiful craftsmanship in the items for the Pharoah's tombs and last but not least, that oh-so-familiar King Tut's death mask itself rounded the day off brilliantly.

After tea at the Nile Hilton, we jumped back on board our coach, reassembled the convoy and, having fought our way through the incredible Cairo traffic, we sped up the motorway to Port Said, where the ship (and hundreds of T shirt salesmen) were waiting.

"Welcome Home" said the officer on the gangplank.


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