Sunday, October 31, 2010

Israel and Egypt - 5

Day 12
This morning was the beginning of the end.  The final 2-day leg of our trip in Cairo, Egypt and then it would be off for home.  But first there was much to see.  After breakfast, we loaded on the bus and made our way across the city towards our first destination.  On the way, we witnessed literally hundreds of mosques and poverty like I have rarely seen in my travels.  I can honestly say I have never seen as many minarets in one city as we witnessed in the city of Cairo.  Another interesting feature of Cairo was the area that used to be kind of 'above ground' tombs or crypts for the dead that has now become 'housing' for a thriving community.  The poor from the countryside apparently come into the city seeking work, and because they have no place to stay, they camp in these now empty crypts.  When they do find jobs, they send for their families who come and live with them in these tombs.  This trend has continued to the point that this large area of tombs and crypts is now a thriving ghetto of sorts...kind of disgusting.

Anyhow - past that area, we came to the well known Nile River, which we followed alongside for a short time before crossing.  Cameras clicked and our group oohed and ahhhed at their first sighting of this famous tributary.  It seemed that our journey took us deeper and deeper into the poverty of the city and for a time, we traveled alongside an irrigation ditch that contained filthy water and every kind of garbage you could imagine, including dead animal carcasses.  It was not very appealing.

Soon, the world famous Pyramids of Giza came into view through the spaces between the high-rises and other buildings.  The city has grown literally right out to the edge of the Pyramids site.

Arriving at the Pyramids, we disembarked and waited for our tour guide to bring us our tickets (which were very cool and which we kept for souvenirs).  Then, once inside the gates, we stopped for a group picture.  This was hilarious, because the guy who was taking our picture had an antique 35mm film camera with just a regular lens on it and also because, when we got the pictures back, there was an Egyptian teenager smoking a cigarette and casually posing at the edge of our group in the picture.  Too funny.

The Pyramids are hard to explain.  We've all seen pictures of them, we know what they look like.  But pictures do not do them justice.  Standing in front of the Great Pyramid and realizing it's sheer magnitude literally takes your breath away.  It is HUGE.  It is over 455 feet high and the length of each side across the base is 756 feet.  That's the big one.  The others seem just as large when you're standing near them.

From the Great Pyramid, we made our way to a lookout point where you can get a panoramic view of all three.  After the obligatory photo ops, we then boarded the bus and were let off near the Sphinx, again a spectacular piece of history.  Actually, the night before, Julio Iglesias had performed an outdoor concert in the shadow of the pyramids near the Sphinx.  They were just tearing down the stage and seating areas while we visited.

After our visit to this incredible site - we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch.  The waiters here were a lot of fun and we had one of the best lunch meals of the entire trip at this restaurant.  The seafood was especially tasty.  Mmmm - huge prawns, sea bass and calamari - very delicious.  I had the mixed grill, which was chicken and beef shiskabob, also very good, but I did enjoy sampling my sister-in-law's seafood dish as well.

After lunch, we rode the bus out to Saqqara where the oldest Egyptian pyramid stands, the Pyramid of Djoser.  This pyramid is considered to be the predecessor of the other pyramids and dates back to 2700 B.C.  In all, 117 pyramids have been found throughout Egypt.

Our last stop of the day was at a school where they teach the art of making oriental rugs.  Here as this 'school' they teach Egyptian boys how to knot these beautiful works of art, starting them sometimes at a very young age.  We observed older boys working at their craft who were incredibly fast and skillful, as well as one very young boy who was just learning.  The said thing about these places is that these boys, while they do learn a marketable skill, never have the opportunity to attend real school and get a proper education.  We also didn't get the sense that they were paid very well for the incredible work that they did or in line with the high prices of the finished products.  A couple of people in our group made purchases and then it was back to the hotel to rest up for our final day.

Day 13
Nearing the end of our trip, we made the decision to make this a light day and give the group some free time before heading to the airport for the journey home.  Originally we had planned to visit the Egyptian Museum as well as a synagogue and a mosque and somewhere in the middle of all that, we had planned to visit the Khan El Khalili Bazaar.

Our adjusted plan would see us visit the Egyptian Museum and then drive to the Khan El Khalili Bazaar to give our group an hour and a half or so to wander the alleys and the stalls in search of bargains and bartering fun.

Our first stop was at the Egyptian Museum.  Here we witnessed hundreds, maybe thousands of artifacts and treasures found in various pyramids and tombs throughout the country.  Some of the most exciting of course, were the items found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. The only drag was that we weren't allowed to take any pictures inside the museum.  We saw the incredible mask and the gold leaf covered sacarphogus as well as all kinds of gold jewelery and tiny statues and so many other things that it is hard to remember them all.

From the museum, we went to the Bazaar.  What an experience!  This is the place where no price is actually the price and where you can find just about anything you can possibly imagine.  And quality...? Well quality is always questionable and only a discerning eye and a skilled and calculated negotiation can get you the very best of deals.  We had a great time shopping and bartering and all met back at the bus at 12:30pm to go for lunch together on a boat moored in the Nile River.

After lunch, it was back to the hotel and the rest of the day was free to do whatever we wished.  Many chose to get a little rest before our farewell dinner and our last evening in Cairo.  We set the time to meet in the lobby and go to the airport, 1:00am to be exact and everyone left dinner to spend their last evening in Cairo doing whatever they wished.  Sharon and I used the time to take a cab to the nearest shopping mall and find a department store to buy another piece of luggage because we had too much weight to take back in ours.

At 1:00 am our group made their way to the airport as planned and began the long process involved in flying home.  Two flights and many hours later, a tired bunch landed in Toronto and our amazing and incredible journey came to an end.  And after two weeks, it was good to be home!

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