Egypt | Cairo – Giza
Happy to report the ‘view of the pyramids’ hype held up. Our hotel resort literally looks at the Great Pyramid of Giza. We can see it partly-covered by a haze.
Our hotel is Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa. It’s not quite the 4-star billing but it’s clean and comfortable. The ancient Great Pyramid and fellow pyramid ‘companions’ are only 850 metres away from our hotel. Initially I thought you would have to be bordering on insanity if you thought you’d be able to walk to this historic site. A thick stream of crazy ‘Formula One-inspired’ drivers separates you and more than 4,500 years of history. One night, we took fate into our own hands and walked to Mena House for drinks at the hotel’s bar which further reinforced our original decision to take private transport instead.
We’re thankful we pre-booked the services of a guide for our time here in Giza and Cairo. We need him just to cross the streets!
Today is day one of our Great Tour of Egypt and we’re leaving no stone unturned in our desire to see as much of this country while we can.
We flew out of Brisbane just before midnight and arrived in Cairo around 5.33pm the following day. The flight was happily uneventful, but it was long – circa 25 hours including stopovers in Kuala Lumpur and Muscat.
The plane was 30 minutes late landing so we were relieved to be greeted by our smiling Cairo representative. He was a godsend. We skipped the long queues and exited Cairo International Airport without much ado. Except for one small hiccup.
When visiting Cairo, you need lots of small change. Not coins – they’re useless. You need Egyptian pounds (livre égyptienne EL or EGP) Lots of them for never-ending tipping.
There are three bank agencies and an ATM near the airport exit. We withdraw a large sum of EGP and headed off with our Cairene contact. (In hindsight, we should have taken the large notes and exchanged them for small ones while in the airport. 100, 200 & 500-pound notes won’t help when you need to tip 50 EGP. Let me caution you here: the exchange rate is approximately $1AUD to less 12 LE / 10 LE is about 75 cents. So, it sounds like a lot of money but it’s not.)
Fast forward to day one in Cairo.. We had a reasonable night’s sleep but woke at 4.40am. Our hotel serves breakfast from 4am to 10am so if you want an early start you can rise and shine at an ungodly hour.
We shower, dress in appropriate attire for a Muslim country, and head outside for our first look at Giza.
The air is very different to our blue-sky city and the traffic pierces the air like the shrill of a strange beast. It’s exhilarating. The cacophony of traffic heralds. A walk around the resort reveals what we’ve travelled so far to see – the Grand Pyramid.
So, was it a gripping first sight? Yes, but being there at the foot of this mighty pyramid is even more so.
Camera crazy Monty’s gimble and microphone caused us a small delay in accessing the site.
We had pre-paid tickets in hand and were making our way to the official entry with a small stream of tourists.
A rather gruff voice says to our guide something untranslatable. Brisk communication takes place and we are asked to leave the queue and see the head of security. No, we are not able to take Monty’s ‘dead cat’ microphone onto the site. Why? We don’t know?
So, the ‘dead cat’ microphone (the microphone is covered in a fluffy cap to reduce white noise pollution while recording) is stuffed in my bag and we return to the queue and make a smooth entry along with the other eager visitors.
There they are. The Pyramids of Giza: the Great Pyramid of Khufu stands before us, the Pyramid of Khafre and Pyramid of Menkaure keeping it company. Each of these pyramids house the tomb of a different Egyptian Pharaoh.
The Great Pyramid is breath-taking. It is thought it took 20,000 laborers and more than two million blocks of stone to create the Great Wonder of the World. And it’s the stone – not sun-dried brick – that gave permanence to these ancient monuments.
Not one to say ‘no’ to travel experiences, Monty and I agree to pay 300 EGP for the thrill of climbing inside a claustrophobic ‘grand gallery’ tunnel to reach the King’s chamber.
This crawl is not for the faint-hearted, the unfit or the overweight. One spritely-looking gentleman in his seventies reached the half-way mark and had to stop his ascent. Puffing and needing air he recognised it was time for him to return to base.
The room is empty of its golden treasures. The air is thick, the sarcophagus empty and, in the semi-darkness, you’d be struggling to see hieroglyphics if they were there. For some the journey is arduous. It is also hot and confined. However, it is worth doing, even for the opportunity to say you’ve done it. Personally, I found it inspiring. To think the Egyptians climbed along these small tunnels carrying the treasures of its pharaoh to the final resting place.
While we were at this site we ‘enjoyed’ a camel ride around the sandy desert. Although I felt uncomfortable about this part of the experience (the camels look so thin and unloved) it did give us the opportunity to ride past Giza’s seven pyramids and gain a panoramic perspective of these tombs cast against the city backdrop. Monty took some incredible photos soon to be uploaded to Monty and Me.
Dismounting from the camel, we strode over to the Sphinx. Even though this monument is 45 metres long and 22 metres wide and taller than a six-story building, it didn’t seem to be as big as our imaginations had envisaged it. The Sphinx was originally buried up to its neck in sand but has now excavated to enable visitors to view it in all its glory. You are unable to get too close though, barricades prevent you from doing so. A good thing too as I can imagine tourists getting carried away and wanting to climb over it for that ‘once in a lifetime’ photo opportunity.
During our time at the pyramids, the possibility of copious quantities of sand in my shoes never happened; it’s not like walking along the beach. Clothing was another mystery solved: everyone wore what they liked. Women and men in knee length shorts, women in sleeveless t-shirts. Our guide Mohammed said Cairo is very open-minded about dress code, it’s only when visiting mosques that the cultural codes must be adhered to.
Next stop Sakkara, the oldest pyramid in Egypt.
Good to know:
Entry to the Giza Plateau, the Great Pyramid & Cheops Boat Museum to see the solar boat is 400 EGP per person.
An additional 300 EGP per person to climb inside the Great Pyramid.