Luxor Part Six: a day in Cairo and some fond farewells

29-30 July 2014

Despite being in bed for a few hours, I had only had about 45 minutes sleep before my alarm went off at 5am. We were getting picked up at about 6.15am to be taken to the airport, so we had to be up and out. An hour after we managed to drag ourselves out of bed, we were set to head to the lobby when I glanced at my watch – it read 5am. That couldn’t be right – my phone said it was nearly 6am, but The Flatmate’s phone agreed with my watch. Then it changed its mind and switched to 5am. We called reception to find out what the time actually was: it turned out my phone clock had jumped ahead an hour. We should have had another hour in bed.

We tried to go back to bed but unsurprisingly it was hard to sleep and soon enough we were in reception, waiting for our mini-bus to pick us up. Because we had booked the trip last minute, we had to pay extra as it was only going to be the two of us. That was a bit annoying, but on the other hand, we were getting a private tour.

We were taken to the airport, put on our plane and flew for about an hour to Cairo. There we were collected by our tour guide who took us to our first stop: the city’s citadel. There we took some pictures whilst our guide introduced us to the site. Next it was time for the big one – the pyramids.

Exhausted, The Flatmate and I both fell asleep each and every time we hopped in the bus – our guide was not impressed with us but he complained too of having had no sleep the night before. Upon arrival at the pyramids, we decided we wanted to take the opportunity to go in the Great Pyramid of Giza. Entry to the general site had been included in the cost of our trip but actually going inside the pyramid was had not. We were happy to pay  the extra though, I mean how often do you get to go into an ancient pyramid?

As excited as I was to see them, I had been ready to be disappointed with the pyramids. I’d hyped them up so much it seemed inevitable, and yet I wasn’t. The three pyramids stood tall and proud together as we queued to get inside the biggest one. The entrance to it felt like a cave, with its jagged ceiling. We were quickly faced with an upward climb up a rather small tunnel. It was hot and steep and rather unpleasant but eventually we emerged into a tall hall. From there we climbed further into a chamber which housed an empty tomb. The idea that this could be built today – let alone thousands of years ago – without machines was just unbelievable. The theory that the Egyptians had alien help seemed far more believable from my current viewpoint.

After we climbed back down, through the pyramid, our guide took us to a nearby vantage point for a bit of a photo shoot, including selfies, panoramas and pictures of us attempting to ‘balance’ a pyramid on our palms. Once we were all photo-ed out, it was time to go and see the Great Sphinx. As we walked along, people asked to take pictures of us. The Flatmate even had a baby thrust at her. If we’d charged tips then we probably could have made back the cost of our trip. Eventually, our tour guide refused to let us stop for any more photos, otherwise we probably would have been there all day.

It turned out, we would have had time for the photos as by the time we had finished seeing the pyramids and the sphinx, we were still too early to go for lunch. Instead, we went via a papyrus shop where we were told about how the sheets were made. As with the majority of tours I’ve been on, the guide often takes to a place where they get commission if you buy anything. I assume that’s what this place was. Whilst there were some really lovely images painted onto the papyrus sheets, they were sadly beyond our price range – plus we had already invested in some bargain ones in the market in Luxor.

Finally, we were ready for food. Our guide took us to a restaurant which felt a little far out of town and we seemed to be the only ones there. Still, we were treated to a delicious spread. The only problem was that there was more than we could eat. Not that that was a particularly great problem by any standards and we happily stuffed our faces full of hummus and other dips, falafel, aubergine, vegetables and meats from our mixed grill.

Full of food, we moved on to the Egyptian Museum. Our guide took us to a few choice pieces so that he could tell us about their history but then he left us to explore the rest ourselves. I have never seen a museum with so much stuff in it as the Egyptian Museum. It was practically a giant storage unit – literally everywhere was covered in artefacts from all over Egypt. This included an exhibition of royal mummies which was well worth the extra we paid to get into and the museum’s crown jewels: the items from Tutankhamun’s tomb, including his golden death mask. King Tut was placed in a coffin inside a coffin inside a coffin (I forget how long this goes on for), like a Russian doll. We’d seen one of his golden sarcophagi, along with his mummy, in the Valley of the Kings and the rest was on display here. Considering the relatively small size of his tomb, I couldn’t believe how much had been found inside of it.

Our next activity was a wander through the city, looking at some of the incredible architecture. I didn’t know what to expect from Cairo, apart from the pyramids, but there is much more history to the city than just the ancient stuff, as evidenced by the array of intricate Islamic buildings. Our walk then took us to a market. We had been told this would be part of our itinerary but had not been told how much time we were actually going to be spending here. This may have been because our return flight had to be booked later in the evening than we expected – a fact we hadn’t even been told until we called up to ask the night before. Unfortunately, this meant that we hadn’t brought nearly enough cash with us so after we shopped for a short while we had to move on. My last purchase was a necklace with my name written in Arabic. Since it was custom made, we had to wait for it to be made so we grabbed a drink in the meantime. It was worth it though – I was subsequently informed by multiple people who saw me wearing it that it did in fact say ‘Ellis’.

Finally it was time for dinner and bizarrely we were taken to a TGI Fridays on the River Nile. That is not what we were expecting from our cultural day in Cairo. Now, I do love TGIs but, annoyingly, we didn’t have much of a choice in the food we could order. We were given a set meal that did not have anything that was served with Jack Daniel’s sauce. Sadly, this was the moment our trip started to go downhill. We’d had a couple of little disputes with our guide during the day – which I won’t go into – but this now meant a rather awkward atmosphere at dinner, so much so that we actually asked to be taken to the airport early. This meant we had three hours before our flight instead of the 45 minutes we needed, but it was better than sitting awkwardly in silence.

After a long, long, long wait, we eventually made it onto the plane and back to Luxor. It was a shame our day had ended the way it did, particularly as it really wasn’t a cheap trip, but it had all been worth it – we got to see the pyramids after all. By the time we got back to the hotel, we found the boys in the bar, which had just closed. We explained our long day to the barman and he agreed to fix us up a couple of cocktails. Refreshed and rehydrated, we all cracked out the cards again until the bar was shut. We then moved on for a midnight swim. All in all, it was the perfect way to spend our last night in Egypt.

The next day, we made the most of our final pool-time, popping out only to go the market to pick up a few final souvenirs and to say goodbye to the locals we had made friends with. We grabbed some lunch at the hotel – a club chicken sandwich covered in cheese, with a side of chips, not the most cultural choice as our final meal but it was exactly the comforting food I wanted. All to soon, it was time to settle up and so I reluctantly dragged myself out of the water (after seriously considering not moving and just staying on indefinitely) and left for the airport. It had been an incredibly good holiday.

Read about the rest of my trip:

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