Today would be our first “BIG” day on our 9 day journey through Egypt! We were about to step back 4500 years to Egypt’s 4th Dynasty as we visited the awe-inspiring Pyramids of Giza, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World in Ancient times. Our day started early as George, our tour guide and certified Egyptologist, met us at the Hilton Ramses at 8:00am. While it was only a short drive from our downtown hotel to the desert on the West Bank of the Nile River in Greater Cairo, our early start was an effort to avoid the larger crowds and intense heat that would occur later in the day.
As we approached the cluster of the pyramids making up the Giza Necroplis, it was impossible not to be awed by the size and symmetry of these ancient architectural structures. Each of the 3 pyramids was built for a king. The oldest and largest pyramid, referred to as the Great Pyramid, was built for Khufu, 2nd King of the 4th Dynasty. Each side of this pyramid is roughly the length of two and half football fields and is aligned to one of the four cardinal points of the compass.
We parked in an expansive lot on the east side of the pyramids and continued to marvel at the impressive site before us. Approaching from the east and looking west, the view is spectacular. In the foreground are the 3 magnificent pyramids surrounded by the golden sand dunes of the desert and topped by bright blue sky. Unbelievably when you turn around you can see the city coming right up to the edge of the pyramids!
We spent about an hour walking around the pyramids and climbing onto the stone platforms at their base after which we boarded our tour van and drove about a kilometre west of the pyramids into the desert. Here we disembarked and prepared for our next excursion - a desert camel ride. Our small group of six each mounted a camel and then we braced ourselves as our camels trudged through the sand back towards the Great Pyramids of Giza. The experience was surreal!
Following our trek around the pyramids we boarded our van and drove a short 5 minutes away to another spot on the Giza Plateau to get a look at the Great Sphinx of Giza. The Sphinx, like the pyramids dates back to the 4th Dynasty and is the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt. It measures about 73 meters in length and stands 20 meters tall. We spent about 20 minutes at the Sphinx, walking from the head to the tail along an elevated boardwalk.
It was approaching 11:00am when we left the Sphinx and it was already getting very hot. As we drove away from the Giza Plateau heading east back towards the Nile and Cairo we stopped at an Aromatherapy shop where we were served tea and Turkish coffee while someone demonstrated an array of fragrances created from essential oils. We purchased a sample package consisting of Rose, Lotus, Orange and Mint. We stopped in at the Papyrus shop next door where we were shown the ancient and painstaking process of making papyrus from reeds.
After our brief stop at the shops it was time for lunch. George had picked out a garden restaurant, the El Ezba, which specializes in Egyptian food. Since it was Ramadan, and most of Egypt was fasting, the rather large open air restaurant was virtually empty. Our small group of 7 were seated at a long rectangular table. Several servers set up our table and brought 4 sizzling hibachis which were lined up in the middle of the table. Each hibachi was grilling a different meat or vegetable. Several serving dishes heaping with food were also set on the table. Once all of the food was delivered, we served ourselves and enjoyed a feast of grilled chicken, kafta, falafel made from fava, dips, pita, spring rolls and rice.
Following our hearty lunch we headed back into the desert to visit the famous Stepped Pyramid in the Saqqara Necropolis, approximately 25 kilometers south of the Giza Pyramids that we had visited in the morning. The Saqqara Necropolis is an ancient Egyptian mortuary with a vast courtyard surrounded by ceremonial structures and located near the ancient city of Memphis. While the Stepped Pyramid is the most famous and prominent structure in this necropolis, there are many other pyramids that can be seen from this elevated site in the surrounding desert. As we trekked around the burial ground, it became very windy and we witnessed several dust devils making their way across the desert. It was approaching late afternoon and the sun was beating down mercilessly on the hot desert sand. It was time to head back to Cairo.
It took a little under an hour to drive from Saqqara back to our hotel in downtown Cairo. We enjoyed some time by the pool to cool off and relax. Our friend Sammy, who lives in Cairo and teaches at the Canadian International School, had arranged for us to have a sunset dinner on a feluca, on the Nile. A feluca is a traditional Egyptian wooden boat with a single canvas sail. Since there is no galley on a feluca, the food for our dinner was prepared just ahead of time and brought on board before we set off. We boarded our small wooden boat which had been lavishly decorated for Ramadan. A long wooden table was set up beautifully down the middle of the craft. We each took a seat at the table and the pilot navigated away from the dock and we began our sunset cruise on the Nile. The meal consisted of a variety of traditional Egyptian fare including salads, hummus, stuffed potatoes, moussaka, bread, mushroom soup, meatballs and stroganoff. We sailed quietly along the Nile, eating, drinking wine and chatting all while enjoying the glorious sun set against the backdrop of Cairo.
After our dinner cruise we Ubered to Road Nine in Maari, a suburb of Cairo. This is a stretch of road that is bustling with street markets and restaurants. It was vividly decorated for Ramadan and since it was well after sundown, the street was overflowing with people celebrating and feasting. We walked up the street for about a kilometer and back to our starting point before hopping in and Uber and heading back to our hotel.
I have to say that as much as I had been anticipating our trip to Egypt and the visit to the pyramids, I couldn’t have imagined a more spectacular day. We had started our morning in the Egyptian desert admiring the great Pyramids of Giza and ended it with a an amazing sunset cruise on the Nile!. Little did I know that this would be just of one many unforgettable days in Egypt.
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