Sunday, June 15, 2008

Egypt Trip: Museum of Antiquities, Memphis, Sakkara, Carpet Factory, Papyrus Institute, the Pyramids and the Sphinx (Day 2)

Alarm went off at 7:00 - rang the girls who were already awake. Downstairs for breakfast - me 2 croissants and a banana yoghurt with cereal, others similar.

All ready and in lobby at 08:30 to meet the day's guide. Amal is her name, nice lady, good English, very knowledgeable.

Museum of Antiquities

Decided to go to the Tut museum straight away, as it would be less crowded. By the way, if I thought the Sunday evening traffic was 'interesting', Monday rush hour was even more so!!

Amal queued for the tickets, we queued to get into the Museum - so we were at the front. Very good tour of the museum, all the salient bits covered - paid to take photos, but no flash allowed, so we will see how things come out. The exhibit for King Tut was spectacular - no wonder everyone makes a fuss. There was one point by a case containing one of the inner burial chambers, where there was a definite pause. There was a black and white photo, taken by Burton, in the case. Mary asked Amal if the photo was original - she said it was. The girls and I both remarked afterwards that we thought that that was the time Mary would mention that she was distantly related to Burton. But she didn't and the moment passed.

Its really great having your own guide. Apparently Travel Plus - who are Peltours rep in Egypt - specialise in family, small groups and individual guides, so there you go.

We wanted some postcards from the Museum shop, but we weren't allowed to exit using the usual routes, so we didn't go past the shop. Apparently this was because the Prime Minister of Pakistan was about to arrive and the place was thick with 'Secret Police' in 'Plain Clothes'. Yes dark glasses, walkie-talkies and black-windowed cars. Amal explained to them that we needed to get to the shop so she and the girls got ushered through. I was a bit behind and was refused access. Amal explained, in Arabic, that I was actually required because a) I was the husband and b) I had the money. Got waved through with some good natured banter - and we bought cards.


From the Museum we drove South to Memphis and saw the statute of Rameses II lying on its side and also the Alabaster Sphinx. It was 'scorchio' (or so we thought) in the late 20's Centigrade. Archaeologists estimate that the Temple was at least half a mile long. However, currently it is all built on or farmed so they cannot dig to find what is obviously there. Again paid to take photos, but this time flash is allowed - well it would be, everything is outside! Rameses is surprisingly well preserved. It was found lying on its right side, so left side was actually sticking up through the ground being trodden on, driven over etc. so is a bit manky. Also the locals had been mining stone so part of the crown and half of one leg was missing!

In the Temple Grounds was a smaller statute of Rameses II (vertical), which had evidently been on a world tour. When in the States it had been mishandled and broken, so it ain't going to travel no more!


From Memphis we went a few miles back towards Cairo to Sakkara (Saqqara) to see the Stepped Pyramid of Djoser (Zoser). This Pyramid - evidently Imhotep was chief architect - was the largest structure ever built in stone - this was 27th century BC and everything prior to this may have been big, but was made of mud brick or worse. Obviously nowadays it is the oldest large building made of stone that we know of. Amal gave us lots of detail (and diagrams in the sand) of how and why it was built 'stepped'. The surrounding Temples and funeral houses are gradually being excavated and rebuilt, largely by an old Frenchman Jean-Philippe Lauer who has been there for years. Again, very hot. We had not brought any water and had an early breakfast, so we were all feeling a little jaded. In the distance to the North we could make out other pyramids - the furthest away being the 3 at Giza.

Carpet Factory

On the way back to Cairo and Giza we stopped at a Carpet Making Factory and had a demonstration of weaving. 2 small children were making a silk rug - 64 knots/cm. Woollen rugs only have 32 knots/cm. They were so fast doing the knots that the guide had to ask them to slow down and show us the type of knots they used. Also Mary took their photograph whilst they held up their 'pattern' against the framework. Courtesy in Egypt dictates that we are always offered refreshments whenever we stop. So as the guide showed us round the showroom - in the vain hope of getting us to part with our money - we all had a cold bottle of Pepsi. Our 'guide' around the showroom made lots of small talk. Guess what? He only went and asked if the girls were twins! Usual responses - mildly miffed from both girls. They always guess that Katie is the eldest!!

Papyrus Institute

Suitably refreshed we travelled on, this time stopping at a Papyrus Institute close to Giza. There we were shown how they make the paper from the reeds. We also succumbed to purchasing pressure and bought some examples, customised to our names in hieroglyphics. They did the writing on the spot in gold paint, dried them with a hair dryer, then filled in the outline using map pens. All rolled up and into a crush proof(ish) cylinder and we were off. What attracted us was the vividness of the colours used. They were happy we had bought some wares, we were happy because we had bought something with a king/god on a throne, which we are going to hang in our downstairs loo - geddit?

Lunch at Jolie Ville Movenpick

Before we arrived at Giza we stopped at the Jolie Ville Movenpick Hotel for our lunch. This is a posh air-conditioned hotel and the food was a lovely buffet lunch. We stuck to salads and a pudding, Amal had Big Salad and a Large Main Course. She said it was because we had to also replace the heat we had lost in the sun, not just the water. Good one! I will try and use that myself sometime. Asked Amal about tipping - should have tipped the chap in the Carpet place but not the chap at the Papyrus Institute - guess which way round I did it - OOPS. (As we left the restaurant I tipped the waiter 10% - getting the hang of things. But I didn't feel comfortable tipping the bloke in the gents toilets who was sweeping the floor - this was despite the fact that he turned on the taps for me at just the right point in the proceedings, passed me paper towels just when I needed them and finally opened the waste bin so I needn't touch it - is this what rich people feel like?)


A short drive down the road and we are at the Pyramids. They are huge. Lots of coach parties, as you would expect, plus the inevitable hawkers. Photo opportunity - All 3 Pyramids; Girls with Pyramids; me with Amal and Pyramids; whole family and Pyramids. Then closer to inspect - not the Great Pyramid of Cheops but the 'smaller' one in the middle built for Chephren his son. Enormous stone blocks, plus all the preparation work of the hillside - I don't know how they managed it. Both Pyramids are built to exactly the same 'geometry'. Amal told us to watch the outlines as we snaked down the road. Both were exactly the same, merging with each other as our perspective changed with our viewpoint.

The Sphinx

From here we were picked up by the mini-bus and dropped off by the Sphinx. Had a good look round the temple. Amal told us the stories of how they mummified the Pharaohs etc. had a closer look at the Sphinx and a photo opportunity of Sphinx (with Pyramids) - its still very hot.

Next we stopped at the riding school close by for the camel ride (all all-inclusive holidays include camel rides - don't they?). Taking advantage of the courtesy thingey meant we had a 1.5 litre bottle of cold water between us before we went on the short camel ride. Lad who led us round (by the cemetery) kept telling me, in a conspiratorial whisper, to give him 'big tip'. At the end gave him LE2. He asked me "What's this? What's this?" Back came a short, growled "baksheesh!" from yours truly. He accepted with grace, as did his little helper.

Back to Base.

Back along the jolly old 6th October through the rush hour to our hotel. Big tip to Amal, smaller one to our driver. Rush hour is marginally safer as they go slower - no less noisy though.

Air conditioning going full pelt in room - super. Had a little rest, then went on an adventure to find bottles of water in local shops. Eventually found the shops by taking the real left out of the front, not the rear, of the hotel.

[OOPS - forgot to mention that we sat outside in the Terrace Restaurant and had drinks before this - just sign the chitty darling].

Was begged at by a small child and a small boy tried to sell me roasted peanuts twice - once on the way to the shops and once on the way back. By the time we returned to the hotel with our 5 litres of water (yes 5 - one each - and a spare for me to carry) we were all hot and sticky, so shower, change of clothes and down to Omar's Restaurant for a meal. Tonight's theme was Bavarian Buffet - Mary had the cut down 'salad only' part of that, the rest of us had more traditional salads. I had a couple of bottles of the local Egyptian Beer Stella - not as good as Greek Amstel but OK and cold.

Back to rooms and to bed - even longer day tomorrow.

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