Friday, April 12, 2013

A Brief Outline of a Trip to Egypt

At some point I will write at tedious length about my holiday in Egypt last October. In the meantime, here is a quick run through of the exciting fun I had there.

Egypt is the monster of the Arab world and a lot of the time it seemed like all 80 million Egyptians were driving past whatever hotel we were staying in. We were doing a pyramids and temples tour run by the popular company Intrepid that took us up and down the Nile Valley and nowhere near any of the popular Red Sea resorts. Taking a tour insulated us from some of the obvious inconveniences of the country and also saved us the trouble of having to decide for ourselves what to see.

Egypt has a lot of things that are a bit of a faff for a visitor - the amount of hassle you will get when walking the street in tourist areas, the constant fear that the food you eat will make you ill, the heat, the noise, the deranged traffic, and so on. But it has a lot going for it too, with amazing things to see the like of which you will never encounter anywhere else. Particular highlights included:

Philae Temple
Philae Temple, where ancient Egypt stops. It seems to have been where the worshippers of the ancient Gods made their last stand. It features a hieoglyphic inscription left unfinished when the temple was closed by the Byzantines - the end of ancient Egypt.

Headless Rameses
Abu Simbel - Rameses II's cyclopean monument to his own ego, an exercise in impressing the otherwise troublesome Nubians.

The library in Alexandria - not the repeatedly destroyed ancient library but a recently constructed modern library stunning in both its sleek architecture and use of the most advanced technology.

We were there
The Pyramids at Giza. The fucking pyramids, for fuck's sake.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo - one of those museums that should be in a museum.

Al-Fishawy's coffee shop in the Khan Al-Khalili Market in Cairo - too lazy to wander around a market in which people will try to sell you things? Then why not sit in a coffee shop and let the market come to you! The rest of the market is great too.

Abou Tarek has no other branches
Abou Tarek's restaurant in Cairo. Abou Tarek has no other branches and only serves kushari, a surprisingly tasty Egyptian staple that contains rice, spaghetti, macaroni, lentils, onions, and chickpeas and is served with a tomato sauce and then seasoned with hot and garlic sauces. NOM NOM NOM. The restaurant seems to have a series of pop songs about itself.

And so on. It was also nice to spend a couple of days after the tour in central Cairo, seeing a non-tourist side of the city and so experiencing a largely hassle free time that made us feel invisible after the various tourist sites.

We had a slight frisson of political excitement when we were unable to get a taxi back to our hotel because Tahrir Square was full of demonstrators. The taxi driver dumped us at the square's edge and got out of dodge as fast as he could, and we did the same, hopping into a metro station as fast as we could. Later we discovered that supporters and opponents of Egypt's president had been laying into each other in the square earlier in the day. Ten minutes walk away there was no sign at all of any of this.

That was the only even remotely edgy situation in which we found ourselves, and it was not that edgy. I would ultimately have to concur with the views of the man at the pyramids who sold me a pile of souvenir crap and urged us all to tell our compatriots that there are no problems in Egypt and that everyone should come and visit there as soon as possible.

See also: They Saw Me Coming - Things I Brought Back From Egypt

This is the trip I went on: Egypt Experience

More pictures

Even more pictures

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