A Travellerspoint blog

May 3 - Saqqara

sunny 98 °F

Next we drive over to Saqqara to see the oldest pyramid, the Step Pyramid of Zoser, which was designed and built by the architect Imhotep. And for those of you who know nothing of Egyptian history, Imhotep was never a priest and he did not become a mummy who returns from the dead to bring his lover Ankhsunamun back to life so they can live happily ever after. Ankhsunamun was the wife of Tutankhamon who lived during the New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty; Imhotep lived during the Old Kingdom, 3rd Dynasty. I know, I know – Timothy was also disappointed to find out none of that story was true.

On the way there we stop for lunch at one of the few places to eat, Pharous Tourist Restaurant. Clearly the only restaurant for some miles as they are set up to receive large groups of people. Lunch is very good with lamb and chicken kebabs, whole wheat bread, baba ganoush, grilled vegetables. There’s so much food we have to tell them to stop bringing it. By the way, when you visit here make sure you don’t clean your plate unless you want more food. Always leave something on your plate when you’ve had enough to eat.

Here you go, Regina! As you requested, here is the first of what I hope are many food porn pictures:


Saqqara is very impressive but unfortunately we cannot go in to the pyramid – it is unstable and too dangerous for visitors. We walk through what’s left of the enclosure wall (very modern looking for something that was built several thousands of years ago) through the reconstructed Colonnade and into the Great Court. Ah yes, it’s good to be king.




I would like to go into another pyramid but it’s not going to happen here. It’s now about 2:30 in the afternoon and it is really hot. 95? 96? Something like that.

One more stop here at Saqqara before we head back to Cairo. Here’s a ruined pyramid with an underground burial chamber, the Pyramid of Unas. The pyramid looks like a big pile of sand but when we walk closer to it we can see it is made up of small blocks that have disintegrated over time. There is a staircase leading down to the passageway and a nice “guard” to lead us down there and make sure we don’t do anything illegal. Like taking pictures. Taking pictures is a no-no. At the entrance there is more crouching down and crawling through a somewhat short passageway to get to the burial chamber. The chamber is amazing – all of the walls are covered in hieroglyph texts and there are stars carved into the ceilings. The rest of the chamber is empty except for a plain stone coffin. The guard reminds us we can’t take pictures (he pantomimes most of this as he only knows a couple of English words). Well, okay, maybe just one picture; just as long as we don’t tell anyone. Us? Who would we tell?

StepPyramid1.jpg StepPyramid2.jpg

Five, maybe six, pictures later, the guard leads us out of the burial chamber and we are ten Egyptian pounds poorer for it.

Last stop is the Ramses train station to purchase our tickets for the sleeper train to Luxor. That is a fun experience. The train station is being renovated but that shouldn’t stop you from getting inside the station to catch your train or purchase tickets. Looks like a few people have already fallen through the plywood floor in a few places. Made it back to the van in one piece and it’s on to the hotel. There we say goodbye to Shaimaa and our driver letting them know we had a great time. We are now Facebook friends with Shaimaa.

Posted by MeijiBlack 16:45 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

May 3 - Mit Rahina Museum, Memphis

sunny 96 °F

Next stop is the Mit Rahina Museum in Memphis. There used to be a huge city here but all that remains are a few excavated temples. The statuary left has been set up in a small clearing but there’s really not much to see: a couple of column bases with hieroglyphs carved into them containing Ramses II cartouches. They are not made of sandstone so the glyphs look fresh.


The second largest Sphinx in Egypt – he’s quite small compared to the Sphinx of Giza and he’s carved out of a 26-foot long single piece of granite.


All very nice but they built an enclosure for the really impressive find here: an unfinished statue of Ramses II lying (fallen?) on his back. He is incredibly beautiful and the detail is wonderful.


This gentleman sits inside and makes sure none of us climb around on Ramses.


Since there’s not a lot to see we are here for maybe 20 minutes then we are off to Saqqara.

Posted by MeijiBlack 15:55 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

May 3 - Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx

sunny 94 °F
View Egypt - May 2011 on MeijiBlack's travel map.

We met our guide, Shaimaa, about 8:30 a.m. this morning: she is very nice and very enthusiastic. We outlined a rough schedule of what we wanted to do and headed out to the Giza Plateau first thing. Traffic is very bad and it took almost an hour to reach Giza. The traffic police are slowly making their way back to work. A few of the intersections have traffic police directing traffic but many are empty: lots of honking of car horns regardless of whether the traffic police are present or not.

A few cars along with four or five big tour buses were parked in the visitor lot of the Great Pyramid. The pyramids are far enough apart that you might not want to walk to each in the heat. It appeared most everyone, including the tour buses, drive to each pyramid.


We decided we wanted to go into the Great Pyramid - 60 Egyptian Pounds (LE) for the general pyramids ticket and an extra 100 LE ticket to go inside the Great Pyramid. I was surprised by how few people were there, maybe 40 or 50 people total. A lot of the people were climbing up to the entrance of the Great Pyramid so I thought we were going to have a lot of company. I had read that climbing around in the Great Pyramid was very claustrophobic so I was a little worried about the number of people who were going to be inside. Turns out I didn't need to worry about it: everyone was climbing up to the entrance to have their picture taken then walking right by the entrance. Shaimaa took our picture, our bags were checked to make sure we did not have a camera, we handed our tickets to the guard and went in.


The ramp (or Ascending Passage) to climb up to the Grand Gallery runs about 129 feet at a 26-degree angle. There are railings on both sides and a ramp with cross pieces to step on. They are not stairs exactly just metal bars to hook our feet onto so we don’t slip down the ramp. We then need to crouch down as we are climbing so we don’t hit our heads.


Once we reach the top of the Ascending Passage we enter into the Grand Gallery – we are still climbing at the same 26-degree angle but we can now stand up. The height of the Grand Gallery space is narrow but the height is about 28 feet; we continue to climb for another 157 feet. At the top of the Grand Gallery we then crouch down and crawl through another space to reach the King’s Chamber. This is as far as we can go in the Great Pyramid; the other passageways and chambers are closed to the public. We passed six people in the Grand Gallery as they were climbing down from the King’s Chamber – not easy since the width of the ramp is not made for two people to pass. Once we reached the King’s Chamber we were (amazingly!) all alone for about five minutes before two other people joined us. I have read that the King’s Chamber is usually crowded with tourists so I felt extremely fortunate to have a few minutes alone. All four of us sat with our backs against the wall since there really isn’t much to see there. There is the open granite coffer and two ventilation holes but that’s it. Amazing to think as we sit there catching our breath, “I can’t believe I’m sitting inside the Great Pyramid!” There is no writing on the walls, no paintings, nothing to look at. The coffer is a big piece of carved granite but it has nothing written on it either. The coffer is too big to have been brought through the passageway we just came through so it must have been placed there as the pyramid was being built.

After about ten minutes we hear more people coming so we decide to head back. We can walk down the ramp of the Grand Gallery facing forward but once we reach the Ascending Passageway it seems safer to turn around and back our way down the ramp holding onto the railings on both sides. Another nice workout for our thighs. (And we will be feeling it tomorrow!)

After we leave the Great Pyramid, we walk over to the second pyramid, the Pyramid of Chephren, and meet a camel along the way. His owner says his name his “Michael Jordan” but I don’t know if that’s true. He seems like a very nice camel.


After checking out the Pyramid of of Chephren from the outside (we don’t go in), we drive over to an area behind the pyramids for our camel ride. Shaimaa says if we hire our camels there we can then walk them back to the Great Pyramid and get some good pictures with all six pyramids in the background.


There are maybe 30 or 40 camels available to hire and Shaimaa says we shouldn’t pay more than 200 LE per camel. We get to ride the camels back to the Great Pyramid – Shaimaa and the driver will meet us there. We don’t actually tell the camels where to go, unfortunately, their handlers hold their rope and walk along with us. They tell me my camel’s name is Robin Hood; t.s.’ camel is named Michael Jackson. (Again, I don’t know if this is true – they usually ask us where we are from before they give us important information like the names of our camels.) They seem like nice camels but they don’t appear to appreciate it when I talk to them.


We try to take photos of each other as we ride towards a small plateau near the pyramids. Riding a camel is not uncomfortable but its not smooth either. Tim is worried I’m going to drop my phone and keeps telling me to put it away. I get a few good shots of him before I do since he has the pyramids behind him; I just have a desolate western desert behind me.


We make it to the plateau and the guides take our picture: sitting on the camel with our hats on – check; sitting on the camel with our hats off – check; off the camels and standing in front of the pyramids – check; crouching in the front of the pyramids - check. Yes, they are very familiar with all the tourist poses and have it covered. They also like doing this silly thing where they ask us to hold out our arm like we are touching the top of the pyramid. Very touristy and I don’t care for it (at least when they ask you to do that at Disneyland they add a picture of Tinkerbell on your outstretched hands).

Pyramids12.jpg Pyramids16.jpg

A nice gentleman strolls up on a donkey and offers us cold drinks. We buy a couple of Cokes and he waits for us to finish our drinks (he wants the glass bottles back). Once we are done with our sodas he then offers us bottles of water. We say no but I realize later I should have taken him up on his offer – we are not drinking enough water and we are sweating a lot.

My camel likes to roll around in the dirt while waiting for us. The handler kicks the camel in the flank to get him to stop so I kick the handler. (My foot does not actually connect but he gets the point.) Then we climb back up on our camels and head back to the pyramids. All in all it takes maybe 30 or 40 minutes. A very touristy thing to do but I’m happy to have done it.

We then drove over to see the Sphinx. He's (she?) much smaller than I thought he would be. Here are a couple of pictures (and no silly tourist pictures of the Sphinx kissing one of us on the ear!):


And finally, here is Monday's front page of one of the local newspapers:


Posted by MeijiBlack 07:49 Archived in Egypt Tagged giza_plateau great_pyramid camel_rides Comments (2)

Tuesday, May 3

sunny 61 °F
View Egypt - May 2011 on MeijiBlack's travel map.

8:00 a.m.

For some reason the local time on our phones and laptop is not set correctly; it tells us it is an hour later. Which means we went to sleep an hour earlier than we thought. At first I thought that was great but then I realized it also meant I woke up an hour earlier. But it still means a good night's sleep of 8+ hours.

Last night we decided to spend some time getting to know the neighborhood. We are in Downtown Cairo a little ways from Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Antiquities Museum. We went and checked out Tahrir Square which has a lot of people selling t-shirts celebrating the January 25th revolution. If there were any protesters out I didn't recognize them as such. We also walked down to the Nile to see the sunset and walked around the Garden City a bit. Many of the embassies are located in Garden City so there is a strong military or police presence everywhere there. Actually I'm not sure if they are local military or if they are security hired by each embassy. I do know that they are heavily fortified - major stone and cement barricades at each entrance with lots of guards carrying machine guns.

I was worried I might feel unsafe or that the people here might not like Americans but we have met lots of nice people (even ones who aren't trying to sell us something). Many people will chat with us when we are waiting to cross the street. They ask us where we are from and often they themselves claim to have been to the US. Not sure if that's really true because they say they want to give us their business card. As we have discovered that really means they want us to visit their shop and purchase something. They don't carry business cards with them - we have to go to their shop which is "right over here".

Crossing the street is an adventure but easy to do if you are willing to get out and walk for a while. We feel like experts after walking around last night. At first we spent some time studying the larger intersections - like Tahrir Square - to figure out the best route. But that's not necessary - just find the largest crowd of Egyptians and cross with them if in doubt. Eventually there will be a slowing of the cars and that's when you make your move. Keep an eye on the cars but don't run. Most drivers take that as an invitation to scare you by speeding up.

Unfortunately a minor tragedy has struck on our first day here (well, it's a tragedy for me): I lost my hat on our first night out. Incredibly stupid of me - I left it at the place we had dinner. I went back to try and find it but nobody had turned it in. I'm not even sure if I left it there; I just remember that being the last place I had it. Of course there's no way I'm spending two and a half weeks without a hat so we will need to spend a little time finding a replacement. In the meantime I will borrow a hat from t.s. - he brought two hats (smart boy).

We have decided to hire a guide for our trip to Giza today. We plan to see the Pyramids and surrounding area today. On the way back we will stop at the Ramses train station and pick up our tickets for the overnight train. (We didn't bother trying last night.)

Posted by MeijiBlack 22:55 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

We have arrived in Egypt!

sunny 99 °F
View Egypt - May 2011 on MeijiBlack's travel map.

We arrived in Cairo about 2:30 p.m. this afternoon. It is pleasantly warm - the weather on my phone says it's about 99 degrees. Downtown Cairo is everything I have read about - busy, noisy, dirty, cars everywhere ignoring the driving lanes, people crossing the street everywhere, with almost every type of architectural style you can think of.

Arrived at our hotel, the Talisman de Charm Hotel, and turned on the television to find out that Osama bin Laden has been killed.

We are now heading out to the Cairo train station to purchase our train tickets for the overnight sleeper train on Thursday. As tempting as it is to go straight to sleep we need stay up for a few more hours.

Posted by MeijiBlack 07:39 Archived in Egypt Tagged traffic train_station cairo overnight_sleeper_train Comments (1)


sunny 54 °F

We arrived 15 minutes early in Chicago and have plenty of time to catch our continuing flight to Frankfurt.

I am so ready for some sleep! I'm trying to get on an Egypt clock; it is a little past 11:30 pm there so I need to be sleeping.

Posted by MeijiBlack 12:03 Archived in USA Tagged chicago frankfurt Comments (0)

Almost ready to go...

We are almost completely packed and ready to go. The shuttle van called to confirm our pick up at 3:05 a.m. I am working on a few last details (while watching a rerun of Star Trek (Season 1, Episode 20 - "Court Martial") - notes for the house sitter, etc. - and t.s. is taking a nap.

Posted by MeijiBlack 11:35 Archived in USA Tagged packing Comments (0)

Update - Completed Egypt Reads and Films

Completed as of April 26, 2011

Finished reading:
4/26/2011 - The Last Camel Died at Noon
4/21/2011 - One Thousand Miles Up the Nile
4/18/2011 - The Deeds of the Disturber
4/10/2011 - Lion in the Valley
3/26/2011 - The Mummy Case

Finished watching:
No films (darn it)

Posted by MeijiBlack 22:01 Archived in USA Tagged egypt books Comments (0)

Mara's Blog

We will be staying at Mara House in Luxor and Mara has a great blog with tips on planning a trip to Egypt. I have been reading up on it and have found what I think are great ideas/tips:

How Many Days in Luxor - this was very helpful in planning our time in Luxor
Travel Like You Are Never Coming Back
Tummy Bug Pharaoh's Revenge
Cultural and Linguistic Misunderstandings
Clothing What to Wear in Egypt
Luxor Hospital Accidents Illness
Transport Trains Planes Taxis

Posted by MeijiBlack 21:41 Archived in USA Tagged itinerary planning local_blogs Comments (0)

Getting close...

sunny 71 °F

Two weeks from today we will be on our way to Egypt! Although I have a lot of (office) work to do between now and then, I am so excited! We made the final payment on our cruise yesterday so it's a done deal.

As I write this entry, it is about half past nine in the morning and I am sitting at the table in the backyard (underneath the umbrella, of course) enjoying the wonderful weather. It is finally spring and warming up for summer. I don't think it will be as warm today as it was yesterday (it was a high of 88 degrees F) but I love sitting outside reading or working on my computer.

Right now I am reading "One Thousand Miles Up the Nile". I actually had purchased this out-of-print book a year or two ago from an amazon seller but have not taken the time to read it until now. I believe Elizabeth Peters based her Ameila Peabody Emerson character on the author, Amelia B. Edwards.


There's still a lot I want to read before we leave but I'm just not going to have enough time. Bummer.

Posted by MeijiBlack 09:30 Archived in USA Tagged planning countdown Comments (0)

Hmmm... what clothes to take...

And do I need some new clothes?

Of course, the answer to that question is always "yes" but... that requires money.

I checked the weather forecast for the next week and it's going to be 99 degrees (F) on Sunday. I know we aren't leaving for another two plus weeks but I definitely need to be prepared for some warm weather. I know it gets warm in May but I was hoping this year it might stay in the eighties. Doesn't look like that will happen but we will see.

Although it will be warm (okay, it's going to be HOT) I still have to wear long sleeves to avoid getting sunburned. Yes, it may be uncomfortable wearing long sleeved tops but a sunburn is even more uncomfortable and lasts longer. I will be bringing plenty of sunblock but that's not always enough...

Posted by MeijiBlack 09:30 Archived in USA Tagged packing clothes planning Comments (0)

30 days to go! No April Fool's joke!

My "to do" lists

Slowly but surely working on my "to do" lists for this trip. I have seven lists created in my Paperless phone app. (I know, I know, but I warned you about the tedious-ness of this back in my July post.)


1. PB BOOKS - I like to take paperback books with me on trips and leave them wherever I'm at as I finish them. I find a lot of the smaller hotels will have a location where guests can leave books for other guests to pick up.

2. TO DO'S BEFORE WE LEAVE - items to purchase, research to be completed, books to read, book itinerary details, etc.

3. WEEK BEFORE WE LEAVE - items that are best completed in the week before we leave: purchase magazines (so I have the latest issues), confirm house sitter, prepare laptop for trip, trip details to emergency contacts, etc.

4. DAY BEFORE WE LEAVE - manicure + pedicure, letter/instructions for house sitter, and of course, packing (but that's another list...)

Then there are my "bag" lists:

We had a total of nine flights on our last international trip and, of course, I wasn't paying attention for at least one of those flights: we had been sightseeing that morning with a flight in the late afternoon. I forgot to take the 6 oz tube of sunscreen out of my purse and it was confiscated when I went through security. Damn it. I had just opened it that morning and it was almost completely full. A very expensive mistake as it was a face sunblock I can only purchase in the U.S. Argh! Take away moment here: I need to double check my purse and carry-on bag when packing for every flight and make sure I don't have anything over three ounces.

Posted by MeijiBlack 05:59 Archived in USA Tagged planning to_do_lists Comments (0)

Vacation Clock Reboot

The vacation clock says 41 days until we leave. It can't be! Yikes! Lots to do!

Posted by MeijiBlack 20:25 Archived in USA Tagged planning Comments (0)

Flight Change

Flight from Istanbul to Cairo cancelled

So we received an "urgent" call from the airline today: the flight from Istanbul to Cairo has been cancelled and all other flights are completely booked through the next day. So we start all over again trying to find award seats to get us to Cairo on approximately the same timeline. We had already booked the rest of our trip based on that timeline so we were not as flexible. Fortunately, the airline understood that and was able to get us on another flight going through Frankfurt. Bit of a bummer... I liked the idea of going through Istanbul. Ah well, we'll save that for another trip.

Posted by MeijiBlack 20:36 Tagged cairo flights itinerary Comments (0)

New Carry-on

So I didn't end up with my Mandarina Duck luggage, unfortunately. We decided to take an old laptop on this trip and the carry-on I wanted to buy would not fit a 15" laptop.


After some research I chose a carry-on from Vintage Luggage. I can roll this around without having to use it as a shoulder bag and it has a rear pocket that allows me to slide it over the handle of my larger carry-on bag.

I like that it has a top opening which allows me to store it under the seat in front of me and I can get into it easily while sitting in my seat. (My other carry-on bag had a butterfly opening which made it difficult to get in and out of in a small space - a small space like an Economy airline seat.)

Overall, I'm pleased with it and I'm looking forward to trying it out on this trip. Considering all the moving around we will be doing on this trip (7 flights, 2 trains, and 1 boat), I'm hoping this new bag will work out well.

Posted by MeijiBlack 20:14 Archived in USA Tagged planning luggage Comments (0)

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