The Egyptian port of Suez is the gateway to Cairo and the Pyramids at Giza. It has been a commercial hub since the 7th century, when it was the eastern terminus of a canal linking the Nile River and the Red Sea. The spice trade and the pilgrimages to Mecca made it prosperous in the Middle Ages, and in the 15th Century it became a naval base. In 1869, the opening of the Suez Canal secured its development, and today it is one of Egypt's largest ports. The city was virtually destroyed during battles in the late 1960s and early 1970s between Egyptian and Israeli forces occupying the Sinai Peninsula, but has since been reconstructed.
This was the day I'd probably been looking forward to more than any of the others on this holiday - at last I would be seeing the Pyramids!. We were at anchor by 6am, and caught a tender to the shore at about 7am - first having to walk through an x-ray machine with our bags in the customs building before we could board the coach. The first stop of the day was in Cairo, which was a huge, sprawling city full of mad drivers! We parked up outside the Museum of Antiquities, leaving our cameras on the coach as they are not permitted inside the museum. It was a bit of a palaver getting in as we had to offload our bags through an x-ray machine at the entrance to the grounds, then again when we entered the main doors of the museum. We had a guided walk around certain parts of the building before being left to explore on our own. The museum is a very run-down place with no air conditioning but lots of interesting artefacts and mummies. The amazing thing for me was the amount of treasures that the ancient Egyptians managed to bury in the tombs when their rulers died. I'd not realised, either, but as soon as a prince or prince was born, a tomb was started in preparation for their eventual death and burial within it - that's the reason Tutankhamun's tomb was much smaller than the other Kings in the Valley Of The Kings. He was only 19 when he died, so they did not have long to prepare the tomb.
However, we couldn't visit the museum without a look at the famous Mask of Tutankhamun, so we managed to forge our way into the room where it was on display. I have honestly never been so uncomfortable about being in a room before. It was absolutely heaving with people, and you had no choice about which direction to shuffle along in - I was virtually carried along and felt very claustrophobic all the way. I managed to see the Gold Mask, but I don't honestly remember that much about it, to be honest. The jewellery on display was incredible - they used it not as decoration on the body, but as a magical protection for the mummies. In particular, I was fascinated to see the detail in pieces such as the collar, shown on this site here
After safely making our way out of the Tutankhamun room, we made our way across to the room full of mummified animals - pets were often mummified and we saw several cat mummies in this room, along with larger pets and animals - we even saw a mummified crocodile!
We had a brief stop in the gift shop, where I bought a few post-cards and some papyrus bookmarks as souvenirs/gifts, then we boarded our coach again to take us for our lunch at a lovely hotel. I forgot to mention earlier, but on each of the coaches today, we had an armed guard with us (in some respects, this was reassuring, yet at the same time a tad unnerving!). At one point, as we were walking down the street outside the museum and following our guard, I felt as though we were in a film - these guards were dressed immaculately in suits with their weapons highly visible, they all wore dark shades and had ear-pieces with which to communicate - it was just all a bit surreal!
After lunch we drove the short distance to the Pyramids of Giza. I say short, since I'd expected them to be in the middle of the desert - instead of which, we were just on the outskirts of Cairo itself! We were warned that the locals would try to get money from us if we tried to take photographs of them or the camels, so we made sure (in true Yorkshire style, and because we didn't actually have any cash left to spare) that we only took surreptitious photographs of them! My previous experience of Africa, in 1985/6, came back to me when we walked across to the first pyramid:
Our guide on the coach had advised us all to at least get our photograph taken next to the base of one of the pyramids in order to show the relative size of just one block. As you can see, they are as tall as me, if not taller, and equally as wide. That is to say, they are as wide as they are tall, not that I am wide, you understand! The thought of moving just one of these blocks by hand is incredible - I was awe-struck when I initially stood in front of them. In order to access the pyramid base shown in the above photo, we had to cross a roped area - near to which was a policeman. We were tentatively stepping over the rope, despite the fact that our guide had told us we were allowed to do this, when the policeman waved us forward as if to say "yeah, that's fine, go ahead" so we marched confidently towards the base and snapped away. However, as we climbed back over the rope to walk on to the next pyramid, he came up to us with his hand out for money!!!! I marched away shaking my head and Keith soon followed. I'd seen plenty of this behaviour in Africa when I travelled across the continent in my youth, so knew instantly that he was just trying it on and hoping we would be intimidated into parting with cash, when in actual fact we weren't obliged to give him anything!
We knew that we would need to pay anyone if we wanted to take photographs of their camels, however, and had been warned that we could well be duped into parting with more money than we'd initially agreed upon. We'd also been told that these people could get quite aggressive so in order to avoid any unpleasant scenes, we did the decent thing and took a photograph from a distance!
As you'd expect in the middle of the desert, the weather was incredibly hot, but it was also very windy so we were constantly trying to keep our eyes shielded from the sand blowing about. It is a shame that there were so many camels around, as the smell of camel shit was everywhere, and coupled with the sand-storm and the numerous flies that were obviously attracted to the camel shit, we didn't relish the experience as much as I'd hoped we would. Our guide told us that the government are going to knock down some of the buildings on the outskirts of Cairo and prevent any further buildings from being constructed in the future, in order to preserve the area around the pyramids. If this doesn't happen, they will be just ruins within the next 50 years, I reckon. Despite the fact that it was such a hazy day, you can see the main streets of Cairo just at the other side of these pyramids:
It may sound as though I didn't enjoy our trip to see the pyramids - not at all, I thoroughly soaked up the atmosphere and history of these impressive structures. I just thought I'd share the reality of actually being there as well as the joy. In fact, just look at this next photo - isn't it obvious I'm enjoying myself? Look, I'm smiling like a mad woman - despite the fact that I could have had a mouthful of flies within seconds of the shot being taken.
We drove down the road a short distance to see the famous Sphinx in front of the three pyramids of Giza - which, incidentally, are named Cheops, alternatively called Khafre (which is the one behind me in the photo above), Khufu (shown in the photo of me next to one of the blocks at the base of it) and Menkaure. They are all named after Egyptian Pharaohs, which you might expect.
Here is a photo of the Sphinx with the three pyramids in the background. The following image is a much clearer view of the Sphinx, however.
I particularly liked the skull shaped rock formation shown on the right of this image we took, I may well use it as inspiration for a painting in the future.
We had one more stop on the tour, to a papyrus-making shop - this was an unscheduled stop and not advertised as part of the day, but I was so pleased we'd included it. I only wish I'd had the foresight to use my video camera when we first went inside. We were given a demonstration of how papyrus is made, which I found fascinating. To begin with, the outer rind of the papyrus stalk is removed and discarded. Then the inner fibres are sliced into thin, but fairly broad, strips. These are then soaked in water to release the sugar. The water should turn a milky colour after a few days. The strips are then taken out of the water and pounded with a mallet of some description in order to make them more malleable during the drying process. To dry them, each strip is laid just overlapping the adjacent strip until you get the size of desired paper sheet. Then, strips are laid at right angles to the first layer, and weighted down with a clamp for 6 days until all the water has been crushed out of it. If you hold a sheet of papyrus up to the light, you can see the different strips of papyrus still at right angles to each other.
We had the opportunity to get come photos of a few of the painted papyrus sheets for sale - before we were told that we were not allowed to take photographs! However, I could have spent a lot longer in the shop just admiring all the artwork on these hand-made papyrus papers. Here's an example of the artwork involved:
I was told that they paint them all with watercolour paints! Exceptional results, in my opinion. I would love to have a go at making my own paper with this method - I believe there are online shops that sell papyrus making kits, so it's definitely something on my ever-increasing "to do" list! We couldn't resist purchasing the papyrus shown below, which is now framed and hanging in our living room - it displays our names in Hieroglyphics written in a cartouche either side of the Egyptian cat. Perfect!
In case you're wondering, "Helen" is on the left, "Keith" on the right. We also got a tree of life painting on papyrus as a free gift - that is also now framed and in our bathroom.
Today was definitely a highlight of the trip for me. I'd always thought I would see the Great Pyramids of Giza one day, I just didn't know when it would be. I very nearly travelled through Egypt in my youth, but somehow or other never actually got there - so I was extremely happy to have finally made it. A long day, for sure, but worth it.