"Welcome to the new Egypt".
Monday 28 February 2011 - Sunday 6 March 2011
As spoken to me by the guy sent by the travel company to collect me from the airport in Cairo.
I flew from Muscat to Cairo via Dubai. Muscat is an odd airport, as it has no airbridges so everyone is bussed around the airport, occasionally stopping at the wrong plane, before doing another loop of the airport, getting new instructions from the bus dispatcher, and then ending at the right plane.
Other than the unplanned tour of the airport, both flights were fine. The flight from Dubai to Cairo had quite a few business people on board, but seemed to have very few tourists.
I was met by the Oasis agent who fought through the scrum at the arrivals door and was driven to the hotel. Given the arrival time and the Cairo traffic, it took nearly two hours to get to the hotel in the Mohandseen district. Both the agent and the driver spoke very good English and we passed the time talking about the recent events and what they mean for Egypt.
Tuesday 1 March - My first ever day on African soil. I caught a taxi to the Egyptian Museum. It is probably the only museum in the world at the moment guarded by half a dozen very large tanks, soldiers and military policemen. Lots of soldiers in the area and patrolling the museum itself. Quite a few locals inside but I only saw maybe ten tourists throughout my entire visit. Great feeling when a complete stranger says hello and welcomes you to Egypt. There is some great stuff in there, but it is all rather cluttered up and the signs need improving. There is a lot of stuff with numbers but no explanation of what it actually is. Saw King Tut’s treasures and had the room to myself. Afterwards walked back to the hotel, across the Nile River. Is about 4 km along traffic congested roads so probably got home quicker than I would have in a taxi (and much cheaper)!
The entrance to the Egyptian Museum.
The tanks guarding the Egyptian Museum. The military policeman I was standing next to was not overly impressed that I was taking photos of tanks, but I pointed out that the locals were doing so, he seemed to accept that.
A victim of the revolution in Cairo.
Wednesday 2 March – Organised through the hotel a car and guide to take me to Saqqara and Dashur. These pyramids are much older than those at Giza. Saqqara has the Stepped Pyramid of Zoser (built 2660BC) and the Tomb of Titi. There are also temples and tombs of high ranking officials. At Dahshur, there is the Red Pyramid of Snofru and the Bent Pyramid (closed due to the interior being too dangerous), also by King Snofru. These pyramids were built in about 2600BC.
The entrance way to the Saqqara complex.
The Step Pyramid.
The Funerary complex in Saqqara.
The Step Pyramid, Saqqara.
The Red Pyramid is open and you can climb down a narrow flight stairs to the various chambers inside. The guide (who looked about 80) had a torch which he showed you the various rooms and the superb engineering that went into making the place. It was very interesting, given that these pyramids were the prototypes for the Giza pyramids. The afternoon was spent wasted going to the railway station and back to get a train ticket for the following day.
Me inside the Red Pyramid.
My guide inside the Red Pyramid, Dahshur.
The Bent Pyramid, Darshur
Thursday 3 March – Cairo to Alexandria on the train. It seems that all of Cairo was at the train station and given that they are rebuilding the place, it was chaotic to say the least. Train trip was fine, lots of towns, fields with crops and so on. Had map issues again as my hotel was not anywhere near where I thought it was. It was 15km along the corniche near Montazah Park.
Friday 4 March – A long walk along the corniche until I got bored. There are a lot of cafés and these are great for sitting, drinking tea and watching the world and his wife go past.
The beach at the end of the corniche.
The corniche in Alexandria.
Saturday 5 March – A long walk around Montazah Park. This is a very large park and includes Montazah Palace, built in 1892 by Abbas II, the last ruler of Egypt and Sudan to hold the title of Khedive. Alexandria was spent basically relaxing until the Oasis Overland part of the trip started. Again there were a lot of soldiers and tanks around the Palace and when one of them says that you cannot walk down a particular path, you do not argue with him, especially if he is sitting on the turret of a large tank.
A new lighthouse near Montazah Palace.
The Montazah Palace.
Sunday 6 March – Back to Cairo on the train. I met the Oasis Overland tour leader, Dave Hunt, and some of the other tour members in the evening. A few beers were drunk afterwards.
Hotel review – Swiss Inn, Cairo. This is a typical Egypt budget hotel in that the reception is on the ground floor but the rooms are on floors 12 and 13 of the building. Reasonably tidy, average breakfast, good location, and decent staff.
Hotel review – Aifu Horizon Resort, Alexandria. This is one of the strangest places I have ever been in. It is the lower two floors of six tower blocks connected by passage ways. Bit hard to describe. It is also very odd being about the only guest in the hotel, as there is no one around, no staff, the restaurants are closed and so on. There is a shopping mall next door which had a couple of reasonable eating places. The hotel room was huge, so big that it had an echo in it.