Tag Archives: Giza Plateau

A Little Ancient History

My first visit to the Pyramids

TRAVEL THERE: VISITING THE GIZA PLATEAU

No traveler can really claim to have visited Egypt unless they’ve been to the Pyramids.  It’s like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower.  I’ve had the privilege of visiting Egypt twice and both times we made the trip out to Giza.  You can’t really appreciate my second experience until you hear what happened the first time.

My First Visit to Giza

Just like my most recent trip to Egypt, family was the reason we visited Egypt in 1996.  The primary motivation was Sophie, Bill’s mom.  Some business needed to be taken care of in person, but it was also my first time to meet most of his family, including Sophie who was not well enough to travel to the States for our wedding.  We crammed a lot of tourism into our 19 day stay, but family issues dominated our time there.  Well, family issues coupled with luggage woes.

In spite of our lack of luggage and our family business, Bill got me to the Pyramids within 48 hours of our arrival.  I was wearing the same outfit I wore on the plane, because it was the only one I had, but I was gleeful nonetheless.  Bill hired a car and driver for the day, but that was a very different prospect than having Ezzat on hand for our more recent visit.  Ezzat looked out for us, protected us and did everything he could to enhance our time in Egypt.  The anonymous driver we hired in 1996 treated us like tourists.

The Papyrus Museum and Perfume Factory

Yes, it happened to us.  Instead of enjoying a day at the most important tourist site in Egypt, we spent our morning at a Papyrus Museum (make that souvenir store) and before the day was over watched perfume bottles being blown and silver cartouches being poured against our will.  Bill may have thought he was a native, but to our driver he was just another gullible American tourist.

I won’t bore you with the papyrus shopping opportunity, but what happened next was important.  Our driver did not drive up to a big gate that said “The Pyramids” or buy any entry tickets.  He drove through a slum and parked in front of a hovel.  He and Bill had a significant conversation about it, but since I didn’t know what to expect I was not alarmed.  I probably should have been.

The driver had brought us here to be the reluctant guests of a local headman.  This guy, we’ll call him Ahab, had a great little industry going on.  Limo drivers brought him unsuspecting tourists and Ahab would convince them to open up their pocketbooks to benefit himself and his neighbors.  The driver may have misunderstood who Bill was, but by the end of the day, he and Ahab found out they hadn’t picked the right mark.

Initially, things seemed all right, unconventional, but entertaining.  Ahab’s “family” put me on a camel and Bill on a horse.  For awhile we rode down a street, then out into the desert and across a cemetery.  Suddenly, we were at the Pyramids.  We walked about for a bit, took a few pictures and then our “guides” arranged for us to go inside one of the Pyramids.  It was siesta time and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  My strongest memory was heading back to Ahab’s. For a moment, I sat atop my camel looking across the Nile to Cairo with it’s crosses and crescents kissing the horizon. 

Then things didn’t seem alright.  We were ready to return to the hotel, but we were in Ahab’s control and he wasn’t ready for us to leave.  Today, we would have used our phone to contact Uber, who would know where we were thanks to the magic of GPS.  In 1996 we just had to pray for things to turn out OK.

We sat forever in a perfume showroom chatting with Ahab.  This was where we were supposed to open up our pocketbooks.  Bill had paid for our unique transportation to the Pyramids, but now his pocketbook was shut tight.  On the surface everything appeared normal, but the air was thick with non-verbal confrontation.

When it became apparent that nothing short of a firearm was going to convince us to buy any perfume-filled bottles Ahab offered us the opportunity to buy some cartouches.  He even took us into the factory where they were made, but Bill wasn’t buying a cartouche either.  I was ready to buy all their perfume and cartouches – if they’d just let us leave, but not Bill.

I’m here to tell the tale, so obviously the limo drive did eventually return, but he wasn’t glad to see us.  No commission would be forthcoming.  On the very quiet ride back to the hotel, Bill told me to get out of the car and get to the room as soon as the car pulled to the curb.  I minded him with alacrity and I don’t think any of us really want to know how things went for that driver.

No animals were involved in our most recent visit to the Pyramids and that’s just part of the good news.  Come back next week and I’ll share the adventure with you.

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The Marvelous Mena House

TRAVEL THERE: AN AMAZING HOTEL

I was predisposed to love the Mena House.  I’d been hearing about it for years and it sounded like my kind of place.  It had historical significance and it was a luxury hotel Bill’s place of birth would make affordable.  Let me tell you about it.

Arriving in Style

 I will admit there is something posh about being delivered to your hotel by a private driver and car.  We pulled up to the security gate to be sniffed by dogs, checked by metal detectors and generally gone over with a fine tooth comb, but our driver handled it all while Bill and I marveled at the Pyramids looming over us.  I thought we’d have a view of them.  I didn’t realize we’d be next door.

The lobby was opulent and we were treated like dignitaries.  Being treated like dignitaries takes a little longer than just being tourists, but it was kind of fun.  We were whisked to our room on a golf cart by a servile employee of the hotel and escorted around our new digs as if they rooms of the old palace, instead of the very comfortable modern room we’d reserved.

A Delicious Meal

Our next stop was lunch.  We wandered across the grounds and found a nice patio restaurant which served food all day long.  The prices were reasonable, the service was attentive and the food was amazing.  The travel gods were shining on us.

A Free Historical Tour

As we lazed about enjoying the view our nephew Steven and his friend John arrived.  They’d fallen for the 8:30 sight-seeing tour I’d rejected.  While they regretted waking up early, they were very happy with their day.  We decided to meet up again soon and see the free historical tour of the hotel I’d seen advertised in the lobby.  The parade of celebrities who have stayed at the Mena House is pretty interesting, but not anything compared to the amount of history that has occurred since it was built in the 1800’s as a lodge for royalty.

The Rest of the Stay

The only problem we had with our stay at the Mena House is that it was too short.  We loved hanging out in our room and enjoying the patio with the great view of the pyramids.  We loved wandering around the hotel and grounds, photographing all the beauty both natural and man-planned.  The service was amazing.  The food was great – whether we were enjoying the free breakfast buffet, having lunch with a view or enjoying a Middle Eastern feast at the Khan il Khalili restaurant (named after the famous Cairo bazaar).

I have a fantasy of returning to Giza some day to see the wonderful museum being built to replace the Cairo Museum and the Mena House would be the perfect place to stay – but I doubt I could ever get Mr. Bill back to Egypt.  The place he has fond memories of growing up in doesn’t exist anymore.

If you’re still hungry for more about the Mena House, watch this video.  If you want to know about visiting the Pyramids, then come back next week.

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A Plethora of Pyramids

Saqqara’s Step Pyramid

TRAVEL THERE: DON’T LET GIZA BE YOUR ONLY PYRAMID EXPERIENCE

If you go to Egypt, you’ve got to see the Pyramids, but don’t stay in some Cairo hotel and take a day trip to the Giza Plateau.  Get out of the city and stay at the Mena House.  Someday, hopefully, they’ll finish the new museum that is supposed to replace the antiquated Cairo Museum and doing it this way will make even more sense.  But even if they never finish the museum (a distinct possibility given the tomorrow/bokrah mentality) you don’t want to be just another tourist.  There’s more to the Pyramids than you see at Giza.

Dusk at the Pyramids

A Tourist Trap to Avoid

Before I go into what you should see, let me steer you away from the Light and Sound Show.  I had been warned, but back in 1996, the Luxor Temple Sound and Light Show was one of the highlights of my trip.  The stunning display was interesting and entertaining.  Chances are that in 1996 the Pyramid Sound & Light Show was pretty amazing, too, but it’s not anymore.

There’s a huge outdoor theater which would seat hundreds of people, suggesting the show was once a really popular attraction, but I’d be surprised if there were 50 people at the performance we attended.  What’s more, the parking lot and entry were right next to a spot used as a toilet by the local camel population.  You need to be careful where you step and the smell will bowl you over.

I had threatened to enjoy the performance from my balcony at the Mena House, but wasn’t sure if I could see it from there.  It really doesn’t matter whether I could see it or not.  The balcony would have been a better choice.

The obligatory Sphinx and Pyramid picture

You Will Go to Giza First – and You WILL Like It or ELSE

Egyptians don’t see their country the way we do.  I had great difficulty convincing my nephew that I really did want him to schedule our guide to visit Dashour and Saquara.  Having already seen Giza, I really didn’t want to waste my time there, but skipping it altogether was not to be allowed.  What’s more my excellent guide, Zuzu insisted we had to start the day there.

My nephew and his friend had toured with Zuzu the day before and warned us that he was a little, shall we say, stubborn.  With Steven and John, the main problem was that he was going to give them all the information they paid for whether they wanted it or not.  I didn’t see that being a problem for me.  I challenge any guide to tell me more than I wanted to know about what I’m seeing.  However, Zuzu was a little stubborn in other ways, too.

When we got in the car to begin our day, I explained how I had already been to Giza before and I preferred to start at Dashour.  Zuzu said we would get to Dashour, but we’d start at Giza.  I tried several approaches to convince him I was the customer and he should do it my way, but whatever tack I used, he wasn’t going for it.  I didn’t want to be that Ugly American, so content in the knowledge we would get to all three pyramid locations, I decided to sit back and enjoy the tour.

Solar Boat Shoes

The Solar Boat Museum

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to the Giza Plateau at all, because my previous unorthodox tour had not included the Solar Boat Museum and I wanted to see it.  I just didn’t want to waste time stomping around the Pyramids and the Sphinx, if it meant I’d miss out on Dashour and Saqqara.

Well, we did stomp around the Pyramids and the Sphinx.  And guess what, they looked just like they did last time we were there.  Granted Zuzu provided more background information than I got from Ahab’s guides, but after a lifetime of watching shows about Egyptian archaeology, Zuzu didn’t have much to add that I hadn’t already learned from Zahi Hawass and Giorgio A. Tsoukalos .

The Solar Boat Museum is fascinating, but they make you wear these awful shoe covers and pictures are not allowed.  The boat was buried in the sand somewhere around 2500 BC.  It had been disassembled before burial and the pieces were intact when it was found in 1954.  It was painstakingly reconstructed over a number of years and then in 1985, the Egyptians built the museum to show off the treasure.  Don’t miss it if you visit the Pyramids.

My Giza duties fulfilled, Zuzu let Izzat take us to Dashour.  Come back next week and enjoy that part of our day.  In the meantime, here’s a video of our visit to the Pyramids.

 

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