Alexandria and the Mediterranean Sea

The ancient city of Alexandria is all but destroyed. But the sea that made this place of such vital importance is still very much present. The stunning blue of the Mediterranean hugs one side of Alexandria, its waves unchanged for thousands of years as it has watched the Ancient city crumble, only to be replaced with a modern city that is now meeting a similar fate. 

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I am an ocean girl. I can sit on the beach all day, my hair curling in the salty wind as I soak up the sun and the rhythmic rushing of the waves. And still, I was surprised at just how drawn I was to the Mediterranean. The blue is unlike any body of water I have ever seen before! The water is so clear, unlike the Pacific and Atlantic beaches I have been to on either coast in the U.S. And in lieu of the sandy or pebbly shores I am more familiar with, the sea comes right up to the city in most places, hugging tight to the main corniche and spraying innocent passersby with gentle salt kisses, or hurling itself at giant tumbled stones in places where the waves are strongest. 

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Luckily, our hotel was right on the corniche and our first stop in Alexandria was a beautiful garden overlooking the sea. It is a common spot for families and picnickers, and made for a lovely afternoon stroll. 

I could not get over how beautiful it was to watch the waves crash against these mossy rocks. 

I could not get over how beautiful it was to watch the waves crash against these mossy rocks. 

Afterwards, we were treated to our best meal of the entire trip. As we were right on the Mediterranean, there was no way we were not going to have seafood. We found a fish restaurant where you pick your own fish and tell the chef how you want it prepared. Along with the warm fresh pita bread and delicious hummus and garlic sauce, we had fried red snapper, grilled jumbo shrimp, and a salt-baked seabass. I ate until my stomach hurt with a giant smile on my face. Not a bad Christmas dinner! 

Luckily our restaurant looked over the Mediterranean Sea, and we had a great view of the Citadel and boats in the harbor at sunset. 

Luckily our restaurant looked over the Mediterranean Sea, and we had a great view of the Citadel and boats in the harbor at sunset. 

The Citadel was built in the 15th-century as a defensive fortress. It is built on the exact location of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. 

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Our guide, who was Muslim himself, also took us to the most famous mosque in Alexandria. El-Mursi Abul Abbas Mosque, named for the saint whose tomb the building is built over, was stunningly beautiful and detailed. It was a small moment in a long line of great ones on the trip, but I really appreciated the time our guide took to share more of the culture and religion of modern day Egypt with us. The Muslim influence is everywhere in Egypt - you see women with their headdresses and hear the call to pray coming from intercoms attached to the minarets. It gave us a chance to talk and ask questions about these customs, their significance, and how they shape the culture. As someone who is religious myself, it was deeply personal and special to me that he shared this with us. 

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We then visited the Alexandria Library, the second largest public library in the world after the one in New York. It was built in 2002 and contains nothing of the original library, but it is wonderful to see Egypt try to reclaim some of the curiosity and intelligence that led to the rise of their ancient culture. We also visited the Catacombs. Again, it was a no photos allowed situation. They discovered these catacombs completely on accident - a donkey fell three-stories down the access shaft one day. I had never visited catacombs before, and they were eerily quiet. Due to modern day developments, ground water is seeping into the catacombs and has completely submerged the lowest level, leaving the air heavy and humid but oddly still. The catacombs were huge, and their origins in the 2nd century led the decorated tombs to be adorned with art that is a mix of Egyptian and Roman traditions. Besides the Mediterranean, the catacombs were probably my favorite place to visit in Alexandria. 

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After the catacombs, we explored more Roman influence and stopped by the Roman Theater. With the ability to seat 800, this dual-sided amphitheater was the central location of culture and entertainment. 

To the side of the theater, archaeologists are still uncovering more remnants of the Roman city. 

To the side of the theater, archaeologists are still uncovering more remnants of the Roman city. 

I haven't been to Rome and explored the ancient sites there, but I honestly felt transported back through the centuries and across the sea. 

I love this original mosaic floor!

I love this original mosaic floor!

Our final stop in Alexandria was Pompey's Pillar. At almost 90 feet tall, it's hard to express the size of this thing! Its unique in size, the largest of its kind outside of Rome. It is also not made of drums (or individual slices) and is a single piece of Aswan granite. The Roman Empire erected these monuments as testaments to their victories. In this case, it boasts a Roman victory over an Alexandrian revolt. That's one way to really rub salt in the wound, huh?

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DON'T MISS

  • The Mediterranean Sea!!!
  • Seafood - So fresh, so delicious.
  • Catacombs - Alexandria is the best city in the whole country to observe the marriage of Egyptian and Roman culture. 

CONSIDER PASSING

  • The Citadel - It has been renovated so recently that the charm of seeing an ancient fortress is definitely missing. 

Luxor at Sunrise and Egyptian Temples

| Don't miss part 1 of our visit to Luxor here. |

The next morning in Egypt started early for us with a sunrise hot air balloon ride. Sorry for the slew of photos that follow; I couldn't pick just one!

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Flying low over the city. 

Flying low over the city. 

Looking back on the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut's Temple. 

Looking back on the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut's Temple. 

Crossing the Nile.

Crossing the Nile.

Luxor Temple from above. 

Luxor Temple from above. 

It was cold and beautiful and a lot of fun. Sadly, we were supposed to fly directly over the Valley of the Kings but the wind was not in our favor. We did get to cross the Nile, though.

After that, we hit Habu, Karnak, and Luxor Temples. 

Habu Temple. 

Habu Temple. 

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The ceilings were adorned with beautifully colored vultures. 

The ceilings were adorned with beautifully colored vultures. 

Karnak Temple is fascinating. More than just your standard Ancient Egyptian Temple, Karnak's construction lasted 1,500 years. It is considered the most important place of worship in the New Kingdom. Its main structure (let alone its additional sanctuaries, pylons, and obelisks) is considered the largest religious structure ever built. The entire complex covers more than 2 sq km. 

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When they were excavating the temple, they found the "temporary" mud brick walls still in place. They used these walls to help lift the stones into place, and then removed them when they were done. In the case of Karnak, it was under construction on and off so frequently that these were still in place thousands of years later! 

When they were excavating the temple, they found the "temporary" mud brick walls still in place. They used these walls to help lift the stones into place, and then removed them when they were done. In the case of Karnak, it was under construction on and off so frequently that these were still in place thousands of years later! 

It was incredible to see the scale of what these ancient architects and workers were able to accomplish. 

Can you believe the size of these columns?! 

Can you believe the size of these columns?! 

Looking back on a small portion of Karnak Temple for some sense of scale. 

Looking back on a small portion of Karnak Temple for some sense of scale. 

From Karnak Temple, we headed over to Luxor Temple. 

A walkway over 3 km long connects Karnak and Luxor Temples, lined the entire length with sphinxes on either side. 

A walkway over 3 km long connects Karnak and Luxor Temples, lined the entire length with sphinxes on either side. 

With its central location in downtown Luxor, the Temple has been used through the ages for many purposes. That, along with the years of debris, led to a Muslim mosque bring built directly on top of the temple. 

I love this picture because it shows the Ancient Egyptian religion (on the left), the Muslim mosque (with the beautiful carved windows), and the temple site that was used by Christians for worship (below the mosque). 

I love this picture because it shows the Ancient Egyptian religion (on the left), the Muslim mosque (with the beautiful carved windows), and the temple site that was used by Christians for worship (below the mosque). 

Lost his head and still faithfully worshipping. 

Lost his head and still faithfully worshipping. 

Cannot get over the scale of their buildings! 

Cannot get over the scale of their buildings! 

Some of the Roman influence at Luxor Temple. Seeing the similarities and differences of these two great cultures as they melded thousands of years ago was one of the most interesting things we observed during our trip.

Some of the Roman influence at Luxor Temple. Seeing the similarities and differences of these two great cultures as they melded thousands of years ago was one of the most interesting things we observed during our trip.

After Luxor, it was on to Alexandria! But that's a story for another day.

DON'T MISS

  • VALLEY OF THE KINGS - my absolute favorite part of the entire trip
  • Hatshepsut's Temple - amazing architecture
  • Luxor Temple - it has the most interesting story to tell of Egypt through the ages
  • Karnak Temple - a little piece of every Pharaoh (well, not quite, but you get the drift!

CONSIDER PASSING

  • Habu Temple - it was a good temple to see to make up for Esna, but not so high on the list otherwise. 

  • Eating - Hope you have some packed food, because Luxor had the worst food in all of Egypt and we gave it quite a few chances... 

  • Hot air balloon ride - I know; I'm as shocked as you that this would be on here! But tourism is so down in Egypt and everyone's looking to make a few extra bucks, so they way overpacked our basket. There was no room to even turn around, and our Asian friends struggled to even take a selfie! In the end, I wish we had rather saved a few bucks and slept in. But, we also did not fly the intended course so... 

 

 

Luxor's West Bank and the Valley of the Kings

| Don't miss part 2 of our visit to Luxor here. | 

As we continued to sail down (or rather, up) the Nile toward Luxor, we were supposed to stop at the Temple of Edfu but couldn't because they were doing restoration work on the lock and we had only a small window to get through it. So, instead we stopped to take a look at the Temple of Esna and did the full temple tour at Habu once we arrived in Luxor.

The Temple of Esna is interesting because it has only been partially recovered. It is right in the middle of the city, but they can't kick the people out who  have been living there so they have to wait until their houses fall into disrepair. This could take a loooooong time in Egypt, where most people seem to live in houses that I would already consider in bad need of some TLC. 

Typical Egyptian street, this one leading to the Temple of Esna. 

Typical Egyptian street, this one leading to the Temple of Esna. 

Throwing this picture in because Layne thought this kid with the dead bird was hilarious. He followed us up and down the street, simply as interested in the unfamiliar (us) as we were in him and his city.

Throwing this picture in because Layne thought this kid with the dead bird was hilarious. He followed us up and down the street, simply as interested in the unfamiliar (us) as we were in him and his city.

After Esna, the Nile treated us to another gorgeous sunset as we docked in Luxor. 

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The next morning, we got up for a full day ready to explore the West Bank! First up was the Valley of the Kings. The absolute worst thing about the Valley of the Kings is that they do not allow pictures! In fact, they make you check your camera and you're not even allowed to bring it  into the valley for use outside of the tombs! If I were to describe it to you... it's basically all blinding white limestone, carved into this tiny valley with these random offshoots, which turn out to be the tombs that were built over the course of nearly 500 years.  There are over 60 known tombs, and they're still discovering more. Your ticket gets you access to 3 tombs, and which tombs are open to you is rotated so that wear and tear remains equal. The basic set up is you walk down into the tomb, down, and down, and down, alternating from stairs into a room then stairs and maybe another room of two before you reach the final room with the sarcophagus. The first rooms you pass through are called "false tombs." Meant to deter tomb raiders, they were originally sealed and left empty to trick robbers into believing that someone had beat them to the punch. 

I'll spare you the details of which exact tombs we visited since I don't have pictures but I will say - WOW. The Valley of the Kings may have been my favorite stop of the entire trip. You would not even believe the colors!!! They made the paints by mixing the raw pigments with egg whites, which gave the paintings a shiny finish. 

The one illegal photo Layne was able to sneak on his iPhone by holding it just out of his pocket. Can you believe how vibrant these colors are thousands of years later?!

The one illegal photo Layne was able to sneak on his iPhone by holding it just out of his pocket. Can you believe how vibrant these colors are thousands of years later?!

After the Valley of the Kings, we headed over to Hatshepsut Temple.

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This is truly a stunning piece of architecture made for the world's first truly powerful woman. The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut stands apart from all other remaining temples and buildings left over from ancient times. 

Obligatory tourist photo 

Obligatory tourist photo 

Hatshepsut ruled Egypt for at least 22 years and is widely renowned as one of the most successful pharaohs. Despite her gender, she was able to seriously take care of business, expanding trade routes and constructing buildings the likes of which had never been seen before. She was the genius behind the Unfinished Obelisk, what would have been the largest obelisk in Ancient Egypt. Her endeavors were so prolific that almost every major museum in the world has a sculpture originally commissioned by Hatshepsut - The Met in New York even has the "Hatshepsut Room!" 

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Stunning hieroglyphs here. 

Stunning hieroglyphs here. 

The Queen herself! She often had herself depicted as a man, better for demonstrating her power. The false beard is part of the canon of Egyptian Art. In this case, the rounded end means that Hatshepsut was dead at the time this sculpture was created. 

The Queen herself! She often had herself depicted as a man, better for demonstrating her power. The false beard is part of the canon of Egyptian Art. In this case, the rounded end means that Hatshepsut was dead at the time this sculpture was created. 

We finished out the day by visiting the Colossi of Memnon. Two statues reaching 60 feet in the air stand side-by-side as they have for thousands of years, too heavy to be transported up the Nile. Say what you want about Ancient Egyptians, but you can never accuse them of thinking too small!

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Aswan is Awesome

The sleeper train we took to Aswan... not so awesome. But we arrived refreshed enough and checked ourselves into the most amazing hotel. We stayed at the Movenpick on Elephentine Island. It's accessible only by boat, and every single view from the island is stunning. If anything, I wish we had more time in Aswan. It's not that there was a laundry list of sites that we didn't get to... it's just so beautiful that I never wanted to leave. 

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Our first day in Aswan we left completely open. We had lunch on the water, I got a massage, and then we took a feluca ride at sunset. There's something about the way the Nile narrows and flows around the massive blocks of granite that make Aswan famous that is just breathtaking. On one side you have lush green palm trees and the city, and on the other are rolling hills of golden sand. 

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The rocks in the water look unreal; huge and striped with water levels of the past. 

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Thanks in large part to the pollution that is omnipresent in every Egyptian city, even smaller ones like Aswan, we were guaranteed a gorgeous sunset. 

Credit where credit is due - Layne is the master behind this, my favorite photo from Aswan. 

Credit where credit is due - Layne is the master behind this, my favorite photo from Aswan. 

Aswan also treated us to some of the best food of our trip. Our second most delicious meal in all of Egypt came courtesy of El Doukka, traditional Egyptian fare of hummus, pita, and chicken tagine. It is widely recognized as some of the best food throughout the whole country, and the reputation is well-deserved. It's also where I first tried the hibiscus juice karkade. It is so good! Sort of like cran-apple, but lighter, and it definitely has the unique hibiscus flavor. I wish it was more widely available outside of Egypt. 

The next morning we began our site-seeing. We kicked things off at the Unfinished Obelisk. The way they made obelisks in the ancient day, like all feats of construction, was truly interesting. They made a series of holes in a steady line around the intended shape of the obelisk, then put wood in the holes, filled the holes with water, and as the saturated wood expanded it evenly cracked the stone in a relatively straight line. They then use diorite, an extremely hard stone, to pound and polish the surfaces of the obelisk until flat and ready to be carved and decorated. It was during this step that the unfinished obelisk was abandoned. A crack was found in the rose granite, and to be structurally sound, an obelisk must be a single piece. Had it been completed, it would have been the tallest obelisk ever constructed. Finished obelisks were transported on the Nile during flood season, and raised by huge groups of men pulling ropes tied around the stone. The whole process took around just 7 months. There are only 7 left standing in Egypt today; 22 others have been stolen by or gifted to other countries. 

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Next up - Philae's Temple. 

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Until even 100 years ago, the bright colors of Philae's Temple were visible. But then... sigh... humans. They built a dam and decided "hey - nobody cares about this temple, right?" And so it was covered in water. Apparently, you used to be able to take a boat out and glide along the water's surface, looking down at the partially submerged pillars in the Nile. But then they decided that their initial decision was the wrong one, and over the course of 7 years they transported the temple out of their new lake and moved it onto a nearby island. 

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This was our first chance to really walk among an ancient structure and freely explore - not like the pyramids where you were cramped and the Robber's Tunnel was unadorned. 

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The detail of the hieroglyphs is astounding. And for the most part, you are completely unrestricted. I could walk right up and run my hand along the cravings, admire the sharpness of every line and the smoothness of every curve. 

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After Philae's Temple, we boarded our cruise ship for Luxor. At sunset, we docked at another temple. This was the Temple at Kom Ombo, or the Temple of Two Gods, Haroeris (a form of the god Horus) and Sobek (the crocodile god). 

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It quickly became too dark for photos, which is a shame. This temple had some of the most important hieroglyphic scenes - a seasonal calendar, and the depiction of the first known hospital in the world, but our guide did not get us to them until it was too late. 

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Still, it was an incredibly beautiful temple. I love the columns with the fluted tops, meant to resemble the lotus flower. Next to the temple was a museum for mummified crocodiles - an odd tradition, but they believed that the spirit of Sobek transferred from one crocodile to the next and historians think they kept this sacred crocodile on the temple grounds. 

DON'T MISS

  • Philae Temple - Stunningly gorgeous and extremely interesting history.
  • El Doukka - Best true Egyptian food of the whole trip. 
  • Sunset feluca ride - The Nile has unending beauty, and it was never more apparent than at sunset on the Nile in Aswan. 

CONSIDER PASSING

  • High Dam - Learning about the Aswan High Dam is more interesting than actually seeing it, unless you have never seen a dam before. If you have... it's a dam. Concrete wall on one side, big lake on the other. That's how it goes. 
  • Sound and Light show - They have one at Philae Temple. We were originally supposed to attend, but apparently it is cancelled 95% of the time, and we were in that 95%. Don't waste your time like we did for a show that is subpar and likely to be cancelled anyway! 

Exploring Cairo and the Great Pyramids

Egypt has been at the very top of my travel bucket list for a long time now. Ever since I was a little girl, reading The Egypt Game over and over again, I wished to be closer to this ancient culture. When the Tutankhamen exhibit was on loan to a museum in LA, I begged my dad to drive me down from Vegas, and then spent hours staring at each artifact like it held the answer to life. And for the Egyptians, it did.

When Layne first began exploring the opportunity to move to Nairobi, one of my requests was that if we were to be that close, we had to go to Egypt. He kept his word, and soon after arriving we decided that it would make the perfect Christmas trip. Being so far from our family would be hard, but spending time in a country so removed from anything familiar, and better yet a country that is 80% Muslim and therefore free of any reminders of the holiday we were missing, seemed like the best way to enjoy our time. AND IT WAS! After years and years of dreaming of it, Egypt did not disappoint. We spent 9 days exploring up and down the Nile, and every moment was magic. So, how to digest the trip of a lifetime?

One city at a time.

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Let's start with Cairo. Well, Cairo and Giza, a metropolis divided into two cities by the Nile. It's where we spent our first two and final day of our trip. Our hotel was located right across from the pyramids. They dominate the Giza skyline, drawing the eye again and again though they have changed little over 5,000 years. On the morning of our second day, we headed straight for them, dying to be closer to the limestone giants.

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Can I just say... Amazing. Nothing captures the scale of these pyramids. They just go up and up and up.

This is about half of the pyramid. 

This is about half of the pyramid. 

Knowing they were built by ancient hands using ancient tools and methods only makes them that much more astounding. Originally, they were all covered in smoothly polished limestone like we see at the top of the second pyramid, Khafre.

We were able to go inside the largest pyramid, Cheops, the oldest and most intact of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was cramped and HOT inside, the cooler December temperatures unable to beat out the strength of the desert sun. You take the Robbers Tunnel, first straight in, then up and up and up, and your posture slowly lowers as you go from ducking slightly to avoid rocks to bending almost in half as you continue to climb. At one point I was even crawling beneath the stone. Eventually, just when you think your heart might give out from the heat and the steepness of the climb, you emerge into the King's Chamber. The rose granite sarcophagus stands empty on one side of the room. Looking up, you see the giant slabs of stone ceiling. I couldn't help but imagine their crushing weight.

All around the 3 main Great Pyramids are smaller pyramids and tombs. It was here that I got my first look at hieroglyphics and the amazing colors that have persevered for thousands of years. The Sphinx is also on the site, located below Khafre. It has been badly damaged, but was still incredible to see. Originally, it was carved out of a single block of limestone! The only way to bring it to this site was to cut it from the quarry and bring it up the Nile. 

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Two rumors about the famous face of the Sphinx: It is said to be carved in the likeness of the pharaoh who's pyramid it guards, King Chefren. The missing nose is often attributed to Napoleon. That guy just had to leave his mark on everything, huh?

Two rumors about the famous face of the Sphinx: It is said to be carved in the likeness of the pharaoh who's pyramid it guards, King Chefren. The missing nose is often attributed to Napoleon. That guy just had to leave his mark on everything, huh?

After thoroughly exploring the full pyramid complex, we hopped on some camels. The base of the pyramids are surrounded by Egyptians in Bedouin dress, with brightly decorated camels. One thing I did not realize was just how TALL camels are. Layne climbed onto his sitting camel first, and then as it stood, I found Layne's tennis shoes at my eye level. Luckily, they found a slightly smaller camel for me. But the experience was hardly comfortable, and as the rebellious camels were led by their owner out into the desert, I found myself holding on and breathing deeply as I rocked back and forth, jostled so the sand beneath me was closer and further and then closer again. Getting off turned out to be the hardest part; the camel sits by bending their front legs first, pitching you forward. If you're not carefully holding on and leaning back, you could easily be thrown off.

This camel was deceivingly cute and clean. Do not be fooled... 

This camel was deceivingly cute and clean. Do not be fooled... 

Does anyone else get their camera back with photos like this? 

Does anyone else get their camera back with photos like this? 

Our guide getting some love from the camel. 

Our guide getting some love from the camel. 

We said good-bye to the pyramids and headed over the to Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. In operation since 1902, the Museum is located right on Tarhir Square, which hosted the revolution in 2011. The Musuem was actually broken into and ransacked during the time; the bookstore has never re-opened. All around Egypt, there are ongoing excavations and the Museum's collection is ever expanding. They have so many pieces at the moment, at times it feels more as though you are walking the back hallways of a musuem than the main exhibit floor. Crates and boxes of rich Egyptian history are everywhere; outside they have sarcophagi just lined up outside the building with no protection from the elements. They simply have no place to store them! They are building a new museum closer to the pyramids which will open in a few short years and hopefully give many of these pieces a more dignified resting place.

Seeing this infamous mask in person is indescribable and surreal. 

Seeing this infamous mask in person is indescribable and surreal. 

You can't go to Egypt without appreciating its history, known to us largely thanks to the papyrus scrolls. True papyrus is sold only by government shops, and they give you a demonstration on the ancient ways. The take the papyrus reed, triangular in shape, and peel the green fibrous outside off. Then they cut the white part of the plant into strips. They pound the water out, first with a mallet then a rolling pin. They then soak it in water for a minimum of 6 days, longer for a darker end product. Then it goes into the press, after laying the pieces flat and weaving them together. Papyrus is waterproof, completely erasable and reusable, and strong. I was in awe the whole time. We bought ourselves a painting on papyrus because I just could not resist. 

We also visited a jewelry shop, a dime a dozen and loaded with Egyptian gold and silver. If you're interested, better to buy from a shop that will guarantee its product than at a small kiosk or bazaar. Egypt is the only country with the lotus as a native flower, and for thousands of years they have used the lotus oil in perfume. We visited a perfume factory, where they will sell you the pure oil in glass jars, and they offer a variety of smells. We couldn't believe how pure the smells were, and recognized the lotus oil as the base of many perfumes we know. Each one we tried was strong and true - lemon, strawberry, mint, frankincense, myrrh - it was really incredible.

Afterwards, we headed to the train station and spent the next week exploring the rest of Egypt, finally returning to spend our final afternoon in Egypt back in Cairo. After grabbing some hot falafel from a local shop, we headed back to the pyramids (honestly - I can never get enough). But instead of using camels to explore, this time we opted for a more modern form of transportation.

Can you tell we were enjoying ourselves? 

Can you tell we were enjoying ourselves? 

I am what you may call "indoorsy." You are more likely to find me curled up with a book than chasing my next adrenaline high. And the last time I was on an ATV, it rolled completely backwards and flipped over those of us on it. That was about 11 years ago. I have been terrified ever since. But I knew Layne would absolutely love it, and he did, so it was worth it. I was hardly a daredevil, but at least I kept up. And I have to admit, I did enjoy it. The wide desert landscape, blood red setting sun, and cool wind wiping past my face was exhilarating.

After our ride, we spent some time in a coffee shop, drinking with the locals and enjoying the streets of Giza. People watching is one on my favorite pastimes, and is always more interesting in a foreign country. And with everywhere in Nairobi behind guarded gates, there is no real ability to stop and just watch the city stroll by. We watched the horses and the donkeys go by alongside the cars, observed a rousing game of dominoes, and tried to stay out of the secondhand smoke that is inevitable in Egypt. On the way to the airport, we stopped at Khan el-Khalili bazaar. It is well worth a visit to explore the winding market streets, though much of the souvenirs are the same you see everywhere else.

DON'T MISS

  • The Pyramids - Duh. Do be sure to go inside one; either Cheops or Mykenios (the smallest)  are open to the public. 
  • ATV ride - It was the only time we were out exploring the open desert, and was honestly a ton of fun.
  • Museum of Antiquities- The King Tut exhibit alone is worth it.
  • Papyrus shop - The demonstration and history lesson were riveting. 

CONSIDER PASSING

  • Camels - they were fun, fine. But if you can't get a good price or are short on time, I'd pass on this one. It is not a super comfortable experience...
  • Perfume and jewelry shops - It was interesting to smell the lotus flower oil, but this felt like it took up quite a bit of time. Again, if you're rushed or not interested in purchasing the oil or jewelry, you are likely to run into both items along your path.
  • Sound and Light show - I didn't even mention this above, because it was soooooo boring. They offer sound and light shows on the temples and pyramids. We did the one at the pyramids on our last night, and it was long, cold, and the storyline was confusing. I would recommend passing, on all of them.