During my brief visit to Egypt, this diverse, historically and culturally rich country surprised me in a number of ways. Here is the second half of that story. (Be sure to read Part One of my Egypt assignment.)
Surprise #8 – Egyptian food is unique and delicious
Despite not being allowed to eat street food, I did find some true foodie gems in Cairo. You can read about them on USTOA’s blog. I’m still dreaming of the falafel.
Surprise #9 – Egypt reminded me of India
As I mentioned in the intro, I had visited Morocco not long before my Egypt trip, and I expected the two countries to have a lot on common. While there were a few similarities, on many more occasions, I found myself comparing Egypt to India. It’s difficult for me to articulate the similarities but one obvious one was the traffic. It seemed like absolutely everything is on the road in Egypt – Much like India.
All of these photos were taken through our bus window while driving through Egypt:
Surprise #10 – The best attractions are the unknown ones
This actually shouldn’t be a surprise to me. We find this proven again and again around the world. While the pyramids are a must see, there are a few places we visited that aren’t on the typical tourist path.
The ancient capital of Egypt, Memphis, boasts the Mit Rahina Museum. We were virtually the only people on site to admire the enormous sculpture of Rameses II, carved from a single block of limestone. Even missing half of his legs, Rameses is over 13 m long.
We were also the only visitors at Egypt’s oldest known pyramid, the step-pyramid of King Zoser (or Djoser). The courtyard complex includes some incredible carvings inside the tombs and we didn’t have to share the space with anyone else.
Surprise #11 – Sometimes a 3:30 am wake-up call is worth it.
My third and final day in Egypt was spent in Luxor. But to complete our jam-packed schedule we had an early morning flight. Very early. We left the hotel at 4:45 am to head for the airport. By 8am, we were in Luxor.
Our first stop of the day was my favourite of my whirlwind trip – Karnak Temple.
I’ve used the words vast and huge several times in my descriptions of Egypt – but everything about this site is on an enormous scale. It was also one of the few sites busy with other tourists (but still not nearly as busy as it was before the revolution in 2011).
The section of Karnak open to the public, the Precinct of Amun-Re, is only part of this incredible temple complex. Over 30 pharaohs contributed to the expansion of this site, giving it endless decoration and complexity.
The most striking feature is the Great Hypostyle Hall, built around 1290-1224 BCE. The hall is 5,000 m2 (50,000 sq ft) and has 134 columns in 16 rows, which used to support the roof (now long gone). The two middle rows are taller than the others are and reach a staggering 24m (80 feet) high. They are covered in carvings, which once would have been richly (or garishly depending on your perspective) painted.
It’s impossible not to be awed while walking in the shadow of these huge pillars.
Surprise #12 – You could explore the Valley of the Kings and Queens for days
We had an afternoon to explore the tombs littered throughout the Valley of the Kings. For 500 years, Pharaohs and other powerful nobles were buried in tombs on the west bank of the Nile. 63 tombs have been discovered but it’s believed many more are hidden here.
The most famous of these tombs is that of Tutankhamun. Little remains inside the tomb. After seeing an entire wing of the Egyptian Museum dedicated to its contents, it’s incredible to stand in the tiny space that once housed so much opulence.
Photos aren’t permitted inside any of the tombs and entrance is limited to protect the brightly coloured paintings that decorate the interiors. Some are so richly decorated they must have taken years to carve and paint.
The Valley of the Queens is located nearby. In addition to housing the burial sites of the Pharaohs’ wives, it was also used for princes, princesses and other nobility. The most striking of these is Hatshepsut’s temple at Djeser-Djeseru. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to enter this temple, but even its exterior is stunning.
Surprise #13 – The Nile is a fantastic place to watch the sun set.
One of the highlights of A&K’s tour of Egypt is a cruise down the Nile on the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV. I was fortunate to spend my final hours in Luxor on the ship’s deck, watching the sun sink quickly to the horizon. My first (and only) moment of relaxation included a comfortable lounge chair and a gin and tonic in my hand.
All too soon, I was whisked downstairs to eat a quick supper before being driven to the airport for my flight back to Cairo. There, I had a few short hours in a hotel, before my dawn drive back to the airport and my flight home to Brussels.
Surprise #14 – I want to go back to Egypt.
Despite my whirlwind tour, and several wonderful trips elsewhere since, I find my memories of Egypt coming back to me at strange times. I haven’t been able to shake it, and I find myself wanting to return. I feel I barely scratched the surface of this historically and culturally rich country. I want to experience the hospitality and curiosity first hand and next time I’m definitely going to seek out the street food.
You can see all of my Egypt highlights for AFAR in my Wanderlist 4 Magical Days in Egypt.