Central Aust '09
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We had quite a decent trip from Luxor to Cairo, we were used to the sleeper train thing now, and the carriage attendant woke us early for breakfast. The train was to terminate at Cairo Ramses Station, however we wanted to depart one stop early at Giza, since this was closer to our hotel and of course the main tourist attraction of Cairo - the Pyramids!
We pulled into Giza Station and departed no problem. We had already decided to save ourselves the hassle of maps and buses, and just to take a taxi - they are pretty cheap, even if the driver is ripping you off a bit! We found a taxi in the carpark out front, and asked him to take us to the Hotel Pharao Egypt. He grabbed out backpacks and threw them onto his roof rack. He then jumped in the car, with both Briony and I confused that he was not attaching the bags to the car. He yelled something about "it will be okay" and started his car. So we jumped in and began our journey to our hotel, constantly expecting to see our bags go flying off the edge and not to mention the fragile shisha and statue we had in the bag!
Fortunately our bags were still present when we arrived at Hotel Pharao Egypt, and we checked in without a problem. We had a shower and cleaned up, and after only a short wait we received notice that our guide was waiting downstairs. We grabbed our day packs and met her at reception.
Our vehicle for the day was a modern van, a Tarago or similar. It had a full leather interior and really was quite comfortable. For the next half hour we drive along crazy Cairo roads, overlooking all styles buildings that were all stained in that black pollution clour of Cairo. Of course also along the way we saw plenty of weird sights om the roads, donkeys and horses and strange trucks and buses, and the classic was 3 people and a ladder on a motorbike!
We soon arrived at the Pyramids complex, parked the car and our guide gave us the tickets. We spent some time looking at the Pyramids and trying to take some photos, but they are so huge it's actually difficult to take a decent photo. We walked right around the complex, seeing the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), Pyramid of Khafre (Chepren), and the excavations from the Solar Boats.
We actually took the opportunity to go inside one of the Pyramids too, the smaller of the two main ones. It was simply a long, straight corridor, that ascended at a fairly sharp angle. Eventually it opened out into a huge room which to our suprise was not decorated but rather just had a big tomb in the middle. After a few minutes we headed back outside. We took some photos of ourselves standing next to the massive building blocks of the Pyramids, they really are bigger than they look! We figured that we had seen everything thre was to see, so we headed back to meet our guide.
The next stop was of course the Sphinx which is only a few minutes from the Pyramids carpark. We entered the Sphinx complex and our guide waited out the front. We just looked around at the building that surrounded the Sphinx, took a bunch of photos and met up again with our guide. The Sphinx and Pyramids are recommended simply because that's what you do when in Egypt, but to be honest there actually isn't a whole lot to see that everyone hasn't already seen on TV.
Another trip in the car and we were off to see the Funerary Complex of Zoser at Saqqara. which included the stepped pyramid. Another look around and some photos, and we had seen enough of this temple. Here we saw a guy with his camel. He wanted to charge a fee for us to take his photo. We managed to sneak one in and it would have to be the funniest shot ever if it wasn't for the man's hand in the way. In hindsight it would have actually been cool to get some photos of these dodgy Egypians, for the one or two dollars it would have cost us. Moving right along in our day we were back in the car again!
We drove for a short distance, past some rubbish-strewn rivers and we could actually see tyre marks where a truck had obvioulsy just reversed up to the river and dumped its load. Gross. Eventually we got to the Memphis Complex which has a bunch of artefacts and statues, most in pretty decent condition. The highlight of the complex is the absolutely enormous statue of Ramses II which is laying down inside the main building. Just one fist is half the height of a person, so you can imagine how huge (and heavy!) the whole thing is! And the statue is sculptured so well, it's very accurate.
Back in the car and past some more rivers full of rubbish, we eventually returned to Cairo and our guide dropped us off at the Cairo Museum. After a good 2-3 hours wandering around looking at hundreds of pieces, we eventually found the tomb and mask of Tut Ankh Amun. It's funny that these items are just so old, so perfect and so awesome, but they seem to have less of an impact because all through Egypt yo see so many wonderful things. The Cairo museum though, is pretty chaotic. It's an old building, and literally just has 'stuff' everywhere - half the items are not even behind glass or a rope barrier - thet are just sitting there out in the open. And of course in usual tourist style, half the people can't resist touching the items.
After the museum we went to find a taxi. This didn't take long, and we took a journey to Khan Al-Khalili, the famous bazaar. This was probably 20 minutes drive away, I don't remember the fare but it was quite reasonable. We didn't really take any photos in the bazaar, we really should have as it was huge and just packed with people offering you 'bargains'. Bargain or not, the stuff was pretty cheap, you can pick up tobacco and all sort of clothes, musical instruments and anything you like at a good price - depending on your haggling skills! We really could not be bothered haggling, so we just asked for a good deal, let them give us 2 or 3 prices, and then paid up.
One of our missions at the bazaar was to find a proper Egyptian Tabla (drum) for Briony. We'd seen a few but none really took her fancy. We kept walking around and we came across a store that just sold musical gear. Looks like it was run by a guy, his son plus two other boys that were either friends or sons. They had heaps to choose from, and they were happy to give us a demo. We ended up buying a lovely Tabla from there, we got a good price and it's pretty good quality too.
After getting the Tabla we decided it was time for some food. Over near the mosque was all this outdoor seating, sort of cafe style but not quite so 'modern' as we would see at home. Basically a bung of food stores, with long tables extending from their door out into the courtyard. We eventually decided on a pizza joint, although they are all pretty full on and they'll try to snag you as you walk past, so you eat at their restaurant. The pizza was good, and was a decent price. The service was good too. But then alf way through our meal, we heard all this beeping which was a little out of the ordinary. Suddenly all the workers from the food shops came outside, picked up all our stuff and moved us to a different table while they apologised continuously. Weird, but we just did as told. Then out of nowhere came all these tray-top cars with brown-clothes police, running and yelling all over the place.
It just turns out that the cafe owners are not allowed to have the tables outside, and something about the last person to have the tables cleared from the court yard gets a fine! Personally, I think the tables outside were fantastic. Obviously the police thought otherwise.
After the pizza it was time to head back to the hotel. We were loaded up with 10 ballpoint pens, about 10 packets of flavoured tobacco, 4 bellydancing hip scarves, and Briony's terribly heavy Tabla! We were approached by a guy offering a cab, we followed him and he showed us his car. Rather than the usual black & white Peugeot, this was a 1990s era Hyundai sedan. We jumped in and told him to take us to the hotel. Along the way he chatted a bit, he was great, and then he put on a Whitney Houston album - on cassette tape! He had this pumping full blast as we drove through Cairo city for 40 minutes, eventually landing back at our hotel. He gave us his business card (complete with a Mercedes photo on it!) and said that if we need a ride anywhere, call him any time!
The next morning was our last in Cairo. We woke, packed all our gear, took some photos from the hotel room and then went for breakfast. The breakfast at Pharao Egypt hotel was excellent - there was coffee, juices, bread, fruit and my favourite part was definitely the fried falafel!
After breakfast we had some time to kill before our flight home, so we went for a 40-minute walk just to see what was around. We really didn't have too much of an idea where we were going, we just wandered down towards and then along Midan Sphinx and what looked like the main road. There were a few shops that we didn't bother going into, but our walk is pretty much summed up by "cars" - that's about all we could see and hear. We walked around and then back again, nothing really to report except that it was hot!
We were directly across the road from the hotel, and we learned that the classic stories are true - you don't look, don't think, if you want to cross the road just do it! Basically there were I think 3 lanes of traffic going in one direction. They were all emptying from the main road in a giant mess, not in 'lanes' like back home, they were just going wherever the car would fit. We stood there, watching and waiting. We figured that eventually there must be a gap when a traffic light in the distance went red. And then we realised that in our whole time there we had not seen any traffic lights! After 5 minutes we had seen no gap, so we just held hands and crossed the road. Sure enough, all the cars just go around you - just don't stop or be undecisive - you have to start crossing, and finish crossing!
Back at the hotel, we made sure we had all our gear, and then we called our Taxi driver friend to give us a ride to the airport. We stayed in our room for a little while until arrived, and we were on our way to leave this crazy but awesome place.
The drive to the airport was perhaps 30-40 minutes, through all kinds of chaotic traffic. Our driver gave us some chat and pointed out some of the important buildings along the way. When we got there we asked him how much money he needed. He told us "whatever we want to give" - which was pretty vague as remember the taxis have no meters and we had no idea how much distance we had covered. We had 100 Egyptian Pounds with us, and we figured that we would not be needing that money any more. So we gave him the hundred. I think this was a good pay for him, but to this day I still can't be 100% sure!
At the airport was nothing exciting - just an airport. We hung around, went to the shops to have a look and kill time, then grabbed a bite to eat and waited for our plane. Eventually we were off, another 20-odd hours to get home, via Rome.
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