Salam and welcome to Egypt! 😀
Travel Talk Tour Package:
To visit such a complex country like Egypt, I decided to book a tour with Travel Talk tours. The tour package cost 300 USD, since I booked during a sale period. This 15-day tour included 21 meals, transportation, and accommodation. Additionally, since Egypt’s extensive history spans back over 6,000 years, one major benefit of the tour was having a knowledgeable Egyptologist guide.
To get to Egypt from Jordan, I flew from Amman to Cairo with Royal Jordanian Airlines. The airport in Amman is about an hour from the city, so I paid about 25 USD for a taxi ride. My flight was only 1.25 hours and cost about 100 USD. The airline didn’t have entertainment, but the sandwich and muffin were nice, and the views were outstanding. Cairo is surrounded by nothing but desert, and I could even see the great pyramids during the landing! 😀
Travel Talk picked me up from the airport, helped me buy my 25 USD visa, and took me to the hotel in a comfortable air-conditioned van.
Secure transportation is one of the other benefits of traveling with a tour company. For tourists, the police seem to go above and beyond for our safety. On our private tour bus, we had an armed guard escort, as well as, a police car trailing behind us for our longer drives. Every city we entered had police checkpoints where the guards would deem what would be the best road for our bus to take. They wanted to ensure we were safe, especially during nighttime travel.
While in Giza, I stayed at Pyramids Park Resort.The place had a gorgeous swimming pool, attentive staff, and an outstanding breakfast buffet.With my single booking, I was also assigned a roommate, Joanna, a Polish woman living in London, currently working in hospitality.
At the hotel, I also met my tour guide, Sam. He studied Egyptology in University, and has been a tour operator for over 16 years. On our first few days in Egypt, he gave us the basics, to help us understand the significance of the historic sites that we would be visiting. To keep things entertaining, he drew his explanation in the sand with a stick, and kept calling his drawings a P.O.S. 😛
Brief History of Egypt:
Basically, the history of Egypt began in 3,100 B.C. and can be divided into distinct eras. The first era was the Pharaonic Era, when all the famous kings ruled Egypt. Then, during the 1st century B.C. Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, which started the Greek and Roman Era. During this transition time, known as the Ptolemaic Period, Queen Cleopatra ruled, and also the Coptic language was created, which is a descendant of hieroglyphics. This was also the time that people saw the pyramids as pagan buildings, and were told to deface them.
After this time, there was an extended Arab and Ottoman Era. Finally, centuries later, Egyptians began ruling the country again. That being said, their most recent unjust rulers have created quite a violent uprising. For this reason, in 2011, the country overthrew the government in a coup coined Arab Spring. This led to their first presidential election in 2012, in which Sam said, the country elected yet another bad ruler. For this reason, they had another coup and election in 2013, where thankfully, the chosen candidate won by over 97%. That being said, those violent times really hit the tourist industry hard. People have been afraid to visit here, even though the country is now much more stable now. Anyway, in an effort to bring back tourists and investors to Egypt, the president has greatly reduced the Egyptian pound, which has made my whole travel experience here incredibly inexpensive! 😀
Anyway, let’s get back to the history of Egypt. In chronological order, I’ve listed the most important rulers of Egypt during the Pharaonic Era. I’ll be visiting their historic sites later on, so I thought it was important to give you an overview beforehand. I added a few funny clips to keep you interested. 😉
Famous Rulers of Egypt:
First, there is King Djoser who built the Step Pyramid. Then, King Khufu built the Great Pyramid. King Amenhotep I helped in building the ancient city of Thebes. Queen Hatshepsut was a female pharaoh who improved imports of exotic goods, and also has an impressive tomb in the Valley of the Kings. King Amenhotep III was called a fertility god who also had a tomb at the Valley of the Kings, protected by the Colossi of Memnon. King Akhenaten declared himself the only god of Egypt, and had a temple built for himself at Karnak. Queen Nefretiti ruled with Akhenaten. King Tutankhamun is the most famous ruler, since his tomb was never robbed, and his body and treasures were found intact in the 1920s. King Ramses II was the most powerful pharaoh and Queen Cleopatra was the last ruler of the Pharaonic Era.
Side note: The kings of Egypt were called pharaohs, which means ‘the great house.’ Essentially, Egyptians believed the king’s body was home to an actual god. For this reason, kings were worshiped both during life and after death. That being said, the most famous Egyptian god is Amun, known as “King of the Gods.”
Pyramids and Temples in Egypt:
Pyramids and Temples were both built to honor pharaohs. The difference being that pyramids are burial tombs for them, and temples are used to worship them. Temples were also a big part of daily life in ancient Egypt, used as a town hall, medical facility, and education center.
Inside the pyramids are ancient burial tombs. The ancient Egyptians believed in reincarnation, or life after death, and they came to this conclusion after studying the sun. They watched as the sun would rise in the east, set in the west, and then rise in the east again. They felt that, like the sun, humans must also rise again.
Interesting fact: Since the sun sets in the west and rises again in the east, the Egyptians decided to bury all their tombs on the west side of the Nile River. They believed that the sun would carry these bodies to the east to rise again. For this reason, the burial tombs are located in Giza, on the west bank of the Nile.
Anyway, they also specially prepared these bodies for reincarnation, with a process called mummification. During this process, all bodily fluids were removed and internal organs placed in canopic jars. The only exception being the heart, since they believed that the heart was the seat of the soul, and would be used as judgement to determine whether or not they were a good person, worthy of being reborn again. The bodies were also wrapped in bandages and placed in a tomb, sealed with a scarab. Scarab beetles represent rebirth. During burial, these mummified corpses were also placed with their earthly possessions, to use in the afterlife.
Random fun fact: Egypt lies in the northeast corner of Africa, and the Sahara Desert covers nearly three-quarters of the country. Oddly enough, the word ‘Sahara’ in Arabic actually means desert. Essentially, we’re calling it the Desert Desert. Hah! 😛
Also, the Nile River is the source of life for Egypt and 96% of the population lives along its banks. For this reason, the major cities and most historic sites lie either to the west or east bank of the river. The first two places we visited along the river were Giza and Cairo. 😀
Sightseeing in Giza
The Pyramid of Djoser
The Pyramid of Djoser, or Step Pyramid, was built in 27th century B.C. and is the oldest pyramid in the world.It was designed by Imhotep, the first known pyramid architect, as a burial chamber for King Djoser. Architecturally speaking, the pyramid has a six-step terrace along its facade, with a labyrinth of tunnels underneath, including a burial tomb inscribed with hieroglyphics.
Fun fact: Out of over 100 pyramids in Egypt, only 4 have hieroglyphics on the inside, including this tomb.
Leading to the pyramid are a series of columns, designed to resemble the palm tree bundles that lined the Egyptians earthly home.The Step Pyramid was also built on the Saqqara Pyramid Complex, which houses ancient remains for 16 succeeding Egyptian rulers.
Cost: 80 EGP (4.50 USD)
The Great Pyramids of Giza
The Great Pyramids of Giza are the only one remaining ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.’ The pyramid was built as mortuary for King Khufu. They estimate that it took over 20 years to construct, and the workers were actually paid farmers, who were helping during the off-season. They also theorized that they transported the massive stones to the pyramid using boards rolled over palm trees, and that the stones were carried up the pyramid by either an angled ramp, a circular ramp, or a pulley system.
The compound was later expanded to include two other pyramids for Khufu’s successors, King Khafre and Menkaure.
Oh yeah, another benefit of traveling with a tour is that you meet lots of nice people to enjoy these historical sites with! 😀
Fun fact: Sam explained one theory behind why this pyramid kept getting bigger. Apparently, Egyptians believed that when their burial pyramid was built, the king was supposed to die. Well, when the Great Pyramid was complete, the king decided he didn’t want to die. For that reason, he kept requesting that pyramid add more and more levels, further delaying his death.
The Great Pyramids are guarded by a Sphinx, with a human head and lion body to represent the combination of ultimate wisdom and strength.
Cost: 80 EGP (4.50 USD) for the Great Pyramid and Sphinx.
Shopping in Giza:
Aside from the souvenir shops near the pyramids, we stopped at few specialty shops as well. Our first visit was to an essence shop. They sell oils, in scents similar to brand-name cologne. Essentially, these potent oils can be combined in a 1:10 ratio with alcohol to create copious amounts of perfume. They can also be added to olive oils for massage, water for a soothing bath, or even directly into your laundry. They also sell neat perfume vials, even little genie bottles. The shopkeeper began by handing out everyone peppermint tea, and then he went around dabbing essence on our arms to sniff. 🙂Based on the mildly tacky decor and vibe of the shop, I kept getting visions of Anchorman. I was just waiting for the owner to bring out a vial of Sex Panther. “60% of the time, it works every time.” 😉
Sightseeing in Cairo
Cairo is the capital of Egypt, and lies in close proximity to Giza, on the east side of the Nile River. While Giza’s main attractions are burial pyramids, the bustling metropolis of Cairo has a variety of unique attractions as well.
The museum contains the world’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiques. If you want to bring a camera, it costs extra, so I left mine on the bus. Highlights include the mummy of Hatshepsut, the golden throne of Tutankhamun, and statues of various kings who ruled during the Pharaonic Era.
The grounds are also teeming with friendly kitties. 🙂
Cost: 75 EGP (4 USD)
Most Catholics in Egypt are Orthodox. This Orthodox church is built on a water gate of the old roman fortress of Babylon. Essentially, it literally hangs on the ruins. Visitors can even see the ruins from sheets of glass laid across the church floor. The church has gorgeous ivory inlaid screens and a marble pulpit. The church also uses the Coptic language, which is the ancient Egyptian dialect.
Amr Ibn Al Aas Mosque
This is the first mosque built in Africa. During our visit, we discussed the five pillars of Islam. These include reciting the faith, praying five times each day, paying alms to the poor, fasting during Ramadan, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. In this mosque, like all others, there is a niche which faces towards Mecca.
Religion plays a major role in Egyptian life. 90% of the population is Sunni Muslim, and the Islamic ‘Inshallah’ or ‘God Willing’ can be heard by nearly everyone on the street. They also believe in modesty in this holy site. While many mosques require shawls with long dresses, this mosque distributes cloaks. We looked like some kind of cult, and apparently, I was the ring leader in pink. 😛
Shopping in Cairo:
Shopping in the city is a true cultural experience. Just walking the streets you’ll spot donkey-drawn carriages, random goats munching on garbage, camels, and lots of colorful buildings covered in drying linens. While shopping, I also found ISIS. Apparently it’s not so hard after all. 😮
Khan al-Khalili Bazaar
The shopping alleys in Cairo are chaotic, but good deals are possible. Expect to haggle and pay no more than half the price that is offered to you. I was able to find purses, scarves and handbags for a few dollars, and we ended the shopping trip with hookah at a local cafe.
Another popular souvenir to buy in Egypt is 100% Egyptian cotton clothing and sheets. I was too indecisive to buy anything, but apparently they sell 1,600 thread count sheets, while they can only export 1,200 thread count. I suggest buying some if you are here on vacation. They were incredibly soft and smooth!
Budget Meals in Cairo:
As part of the tour package, all breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 2 dinners were covered. For other meals, I chose to buy groceries at the supermarket, like ramen, fresh fruit, and pita with hummus. These were portable and convenient for all the long bus drives we made throughout the country. Since it’s a Muslim country, you’ll also notice almost no liquor in the markets. Most shops sell lots of non-alcoholic beers, like pineapple and peach malt beverages. My favorite snack was kebab chips, but they also sold a delicious basil apple juice and a banana milk. 😀 Anyway, after visiting Cairo and Giza, we made our way to the ancient city of Luxor. This 9-hour drive went quickly, as we were given tasty falafel sandwiches and sodas, plus they entertained us with some unconventional movies, like Fifth Element. 😛Stay tuned to hear all about Luxor. Until then. 🙂