Egypt November 2010
We flew from Detroit to Civitavecchia ( Che vek e ahh ), the airport outside of Rome. At the airport we were greeted by the Princess hostesses where we boarded a bus to travel to Civatavecchia (Pronounced Che veck e ahh), the port where we boarded the Star Princess. From there we sailed for two days to Alexandria, Egypt.
On our first day in Egypt I sent the following email back to friends at home:
On Thanksgiving Day we went to the Pyramids. It was a 4 hour drive from the ship to Cairo. Giza is a suburb of Cairo. We had to get up at 6:00am to shower and get breakfast before getting on the bus at 7:30am. Then it was a 4 hour ride to reach the pyramid park. We made three stops in the park of 15 - 20 minutes each. One at a lookout point (sand dune) that was high above the pyramids, the second at a midpoint between two of them and finally at the sphinx. In all, we were in the park about 1 ½ hours.
Our first venture was to visit the pyramids at Giza. We boarded a bus and rode for about 4 hours to Cairo. This is when we learned that Giza is a suburb of Cairo across the Nile river. The photos that open this segment were taken as we left the ship and entered Alexandria to get to the highway to Cairo. It is about 8:30am. We noticed the amount of automobiles on the streets that are interspersed with donkey drawn and horse drawn buggies and wagons.
Along the way we passed a lot of areas where the roads were being rebuilt. The base of the highway is mostly compacted sand with a small amount of gravel on top before the paving is installed. As we approach Cairo we see our first camel being used for transportation.
Our approach to the pyramids was via a roadway that led us alongside them to a large parking lot about a mile away. This is where the merchants set up their booths to sell souvenirs and the like.
One of their moneymakers is to get a tourist to get on the camel for a buck or two (they ask for $5 but normally settle for $2 or $3). The man in this photo got really ticked off when he caught me taking a picture of his camel. I acted confused that he would get mad for me taking a photo. He then gave me his stick and told me to stand by the camel and offered to take a picture of me with my camera. I declined and let crystal take it instead. He turned his back on me and searched the crowd for someone else to solicit. I took a close-up of the camel who obligingly smiled in the best way it could. I then walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around with a stunned look on his face. I then handed him $2. At that point he got the biggest smile on his face and said in the most genuine way I have ever heard anyone speak, "Thank you very much." I shook his hand, said "you're welcome" and left.
We found the Princess photographer that we were told would be available to take photos. He had staked out a good vantage spot so that he could take photos of people with the pyramids in the background without a lot of distracting people and events going on. The pyramid on the left is actually the largest, tallest and most intact -- the Great Pyramid of Khufu. While it appears to be smaller it is only an illusion from this vantage point as it is built in a lower valley, if there are valleys in the desert. It is one of the seven wonders of the world. For 4,300 years it was the tallest building on earth until the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 to take that distinction.
The base of Khufu is nearly a perfect square with only a difference of 7 1/2 inches between the longest and shortest sides out of a total length of 756 feet. It is built entirely of limestone containing around 1,300,000 blocks weighing 2.3 to 15 tons each. The normal stones measure approximately 3' x 3' x 3'. Where the burial chambers are located there are larger stones to bridge the opening that forrms the burial chamber. The opening and tunnel to the chambers measure about 36" wide x 48" high. At the time of the construction (approximately 2,500 years BC) it was probably tall enough for people to walk through comfortably.
The stones for Khufu's pyramid were quarried south of the construction site and transported by river barge up the Nile to Giza. Some slave, but mostly employed people, dragged the stones from the river up sand ramps to build it. It is thought that the ramps were made of desert clay mixed with water and bonded with limestone debris left over from the work. As the pyramid was completed a cap stone covered the surface and was smoothed and polished. During the Middle Ages people took the smooth mixture, and some of the marble base stones, away for building in Cairo.
The pyramid next to it, with the cap, is the Pyramid of Khafre. It is 446 feet tall with sides of 704 feet. Through the years it has lost some of its original height once being 471 foot tall due to its weight causing it to slowly sink into the sand.
Next to it is the Pyramid of Menkaure, the smallest of the three main pyramids. It is only 203 feet tall, with sides of 344 feet. It differs because the other two were cased in fine Turah limestone Mekaure's pyramid was only cased for the first 45 feet up but with pink granite. The granite was later removed to build an arsenal in Alexandria.
Pyramid of Khafre in the background.
My email comments contained the following:
The pyramids are huge but we found it surprising to learn how rugged they were. I was expecting to see smooth huge hunks of stone neatly stacked atop each other. This is not the case. In all of Egypt there are 110 pyramids. We saw three of them plus three small ones. The small ones were for the wives of the kings that were buried in the big ones. Almost all of the small ones were destroyed by the Romans. They used the stones to construct houses for themselves when they settled in the country. Originally they were covered with fine limestone but it has been taken away to decorate building in Cairo.
Pyramid of Khafre. The cap that remains once covered the pyramid entirely as did the Pyramid of Khufu.
The closest we were able to get to the pyramids was about 1,000 feet. Our only stop at the pyramids was in a parking lot where the camel jockeys gathered to coerce us to get our pictures taken on a camel.
Many small pyramids still exist. They were burial places for the kings wives. Many have been completely removed over the years and used for buildings in Cairo.
Closeup of Khafre. Note the mortar that separates the stones. It appears to be an average of 4" thick.
The white building houses a boat that was removed from inside the Pyramid of Khafre. We were only given 20 minutes at each stop so there just wasn't time to view it.
The road from the pyramids to Cairo.
On our way we come to the Great Sphinx and stands in front of Khafra. It is sculpted from a soft sandstone rock formation. No one knows how it got there. It measures about 225 feet long and 65 feet high.
When it was discovered by Napoleon it was completely buried in sand up to its forehead. Over the years it has lost its nose, beard, cobra emblem and other pieces. In ancient times the Sphinx as brightly colored as can be seen on some of the remains on the side of its face.
In the evening there is a light show highlighting the Sphinx and the Pyramids. We were unable to attend them. We suspect the group that opted for the two day tour and stayed overnight in Cairo may have seen them. We watched the show via DVD's that we purchased aboard ship.
The following six photos were taken by Ron Kiser.
When traveling we meet some really nice people. During lunch we sat with Ron Kiser and his wife KAY and spoke about our experience and thoughts about the pyramid tours. They took a different tour than we did and it became obvious that we should have opted for the tour they took. In addition, they also chose the option to enter the pyramids.
When we were traveling to Giza we were asked by our guide of anyone wanted to enter them. He told us the cost ( $40.00 ) for a 20 minute visit. My wife has claustrophobia and I knew she wouldn't. Nobody else wanted to as well.
If we would have we would have been able to get closer than 1,000 feet. Above is Ron and his wife standing in front of the granite base stones of Khufu that measure about 4' in size. The limestone rocks above are smaller.
On the north side of Khufu is the entrance. Ron told us that they had to wait for the previous person to leave as there is no room in the narrow tunnel to pass each other. On one of the DVD's we purchased we are shown the journey into the pyramid so we got to do it via video.
Step Pyramid at Saqqara. It was built for the King Zoser around 2700 BC. The pyramid has six tiers and is over 240 feet high and 525' & 540' on it sides. It is aparent in the above photos that continual maintenance is routinely performed.
Thank you Ron for these photos.
My previous email continue thus:
Then we were taken into Cairo to a tourist trap that sold gold and papyrus. What a waste of time. From there we drove about an hour to the Nile and got on a river boat for dinner. Right after dinner a band performed with a belly dancer who was really good. The music was strange to me as I had never heard it before but the locals thought of it as being quite normal. It was fun. While the show was going on I stepped outside and took some pictures of the city as we passed it. I was expecting more out of the Nile River trip. I expected us to travel 10 or 20 miles at the least and come upon the pyramid site. So much for expectations.
We left Giza and travelled through Cairo on our way to our next stop that is supposed to be a diner cruise aboard a river boat on the Nile. The following photos are some of the sights we saw while traveling on the bus.
Typical street signs to major destinations.
These are typical apartment building in Cairo. One of the main streets through town had a nice boulevard.
We didn't expect to make a stop at a jewelry store but the guides put ii on our itinerary anyway and we spent an hour at this location. I would have preferred to spend the additional hour back at the pyramids. This is supposed to be a high end store the 'Cohar Gallery.' The guide promoted it as the best place to buy a dangly piece for a necklace that the owners could engrave your name in it in Egyptian. (How would you know?)
I found it to have a lot of impressive looking junk that I couldn't take home even if I liked it.
While waiting for the bus to return Crystal got a shoeshine from a street merchant. Although the color of shoes she was wearing was blue, it was surprising to see that the black polish the vendor used didn't change the color much.
Finally we are on our way again.
We are going through the main residential area of Cairo. Our guide told us that very few building are ever 100% finished. Most often an apartment at the top is left unfinished. The reason, in Egypt the owner isn't taxed on the building until it is finished.
Typical downtown shopping / living district.
Finally we reach the Nile. On this tour I had expected to get aboard the ship and cruise up the Nile for quite a long way to Cairo. It was a bit of a disappointment. I wish we had opted for the tour that our friend Ron took.
We get aboard the vessel and are immediately directed to the buffet area and have dinner. During dinner we were treated to the gyrations of a belly dancer and Egyptian musicians.
When diner was about to end the boat left the dock and proceed to go around 5 or more miles downstream. I opted to go outside and take some photos while the dancer and musicians continued to perform.
On the Cairo side of the Nile the office and commercial building are impressive and the apartment building are well kept.
On the opposite side things change a bit. It becomes apparent that the tenants aren't as well off and the looks and use of them is evident.
I kept noticing that there were portions of the building that were not finished. This can be see if you look closely at the upper right apartment in the above photo. The glass is not installed.
We left the ship around 5:00pm for our journey back to the Princess. My email comments about our return are as follows:
We got back to the ship at 8:20pm and went to the Lido Deck and got a snack before going to our room. It was a long day. In the morning I woke up around 4:00am to go to the bathroom. When I went back to bed there was a mosquito that kept buzzing me for a couple of minutes. (We left the balcony door open. We were on deck #11.) Around 5:00am Crystal woke up hearing a swarm of mosquitoes in the room. She said the buzzing kept changing pitch. After bit she realized it was the dawn call to worship that is broadcast from minaret towers all over the city. We got a laugh out of that one.
The next day we took the 'easy tour of Alexandria.
It was early morning about 9:00am when we left the ship for an 'Easy Tour of Alexandria.' Since we had spent the entire day traveling and walking on the previous day it seemed like a better idea to take the easy tour versus the 'regular' tour. I now think that was a mistake.
It was a sunny day as we made our way through the outskirts of the city toward our first destination -- the highly acclaimed library. We had read how large and elaborate it was with large conference rooms and an observatory. What we didn't expect was to have only 20 minutes to visit the facility.
When we got there we realized that we should have picked the afternoon tour. Everything we could photograph was cast in deep shadow. The glass roofed portions of the building is the main covering for the building. With only 20 minutes we didn't even have the time to walk to the entrance to look inside.
Surrounding the glassed structure is a nice looking reflecting pool.
The round structures shown below is the exterior of the observatory.
The entrance to the observatory was close to our stop but the building was closed for another hour.
We re-boarded our bus and headed toward our next destination that was touted as a tour of the Palace grounds / gardens.
This they call a Palace. Unless you were invited you couldn't enter.
Alongside the Palace and toward the rear is another building. We never did learn what it was for. Again, this was a 45 minute stop with no guides or communication relative to what it's significance was.
We walked around the building and noticed the cars parked in the lot. Almost all had dings and scratches. It was then that Lynn spotted the cat sleeping.
The cat didn't seem to pay any attention as Lynn took it's picture. Crystal on the other hand took a photo of Lynn's better side.
The gardens were largely unkempt and we didn't take any photos of them. Our cow pastures are more well manicured. We decided to walk down a paved path toward the sliver of ocean that we could see in the distance.
The trees were interesting as they were interspersed between volcanic rocks.
Crystal was intrigued by the planting amid the rocks and the number of cats that freely roamed around. They were all looking for a handout from anyone.
Crystal noted something crawling around on one of the rocks.
At the end of the path a stone bridge crossed another walkway below.
Views from the bridge.
In the distance we get a preview of our next stop -- a fortress and an old lighthouse.
We arrive at the fort and get dropped off for another 30 minutes or so. When we tried to enter the fort we learned that there was an admission required and at least a half hour wait. The lighthouse that we were told about had been destroyed by a storm over 20 years previous. What a waste of time. The only thing to do was look at the junk the street vendors were selling.
When we left we drove through the city proper. The photos were taken as we drove and will give you an idea of what living in Alexandria is like.
As we make it through the city we find ourselves at another 30 - 40 minutes stop -- a mosque.
Of course, we got our fill of street vendors even though the prayer were being held while we were there. We were not allowed to enter.
The guy in the red garb kept telling me where to stand to take a photo. It occurred to me that he probably hadn't taken a photo in his life. When I started to leave he wanted $5 for his help. I ignored him.
We waited for the bus to return to the ship. It was now noon and people were taking their lunch breaks.
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