Day 13 - The Pyramids, Egyptian Museum
Pyramids day - what originally prompted me to go on this holiday in the first place. That and Lucinda's holiday snaps from last year. But before I go on to tell you all about these great big piles of bricks otherwise know as the pyramids, first the boiled egg incident.
Egg on my face
Throughout the holiday, we have seen hard boiled eggs at every breakfast meal. John once showed us all a cool way to remove the shell which he'd picked up from the film Angelheart. I was about to make a point of using this very method - that is to roll the egg along the table under the palm of your hand - when Andy said: "No, do it on your head ... I'll do it for you." He picked up his egg and cracked it against my forehead. For the first time in the holiday the eggs weren't hard boiled. We had picked up raw eggs that were intended to be used for omelettes. The expression 'egg on face', anyone?
Anyway, back to our first visit of the day - the pyramids. When we arrived on site John said: "Look, there's a pyramid." It was so smoggy that it actually needed pointing out - not the picture postcard image that we're used to seeing. Then again, as Miss Positive 1997 Kali said, it looked more mystical. Shrouded in mist, more like.
Pictures don't really do the Great Pyramid justice and you can never truly appreciate it unless you're stood at its base looking up at the awesome collection of slabs rising into the sky. Even the smallest blocks were chest-height.
I also paid to see the 'solar boat' which had been unearthed next to the Great Pyramid back in the 50s and now sits in a purpose-built structure next to it. The structure does detract from the view of the pyramid but the boat inside is well worth a look and is incredibly intact. The mystery of this is what was the boat there for? Why was it buried fully intact?
Panoramic view ... of mist
We drove up on to a plateau to get the panoramic view but once again we couldn't really see much because of the fog. And on top of that, my camera decided to seize up mid-exposure. The batteries had stopped working, so I borrowed John's batteries which successfully unlocked the camera. Phew! John had been borrowing my wide angle and zoom lenses all holiday so it was time for him to return the favour! But the gods, and the there's a lot of them out here, must have been smiling down on me today.
Next we visited the sphinx which was undergoing some kind of restoration, so the scaffolding spoiled it a little. The surprise for me here was that it is much smaller than I expected it to be.
Thn cam another Geoff incident. At the 'wishing well' - actually a hole left behind when they excavated a statue from the tomb next to the sphinx - I threw in a 50 piastre note, the grand some of 10p in effect. We all know what wishing wells are for - good luck, so why not? The note fluttered down and veered off course, landing by the feet of Geoff's better half Eileen, not in the well. She picked it up and threw it back in for me. "Are you mad?" Geoff said to Eileen, thinking she'd thrown her own money in. "It was Ian's - it didn't go in properly," she replied by way of explanation. "Oh, that's alright," said Geoff, "I thought you were going bonkers." Then he turned round, saw that I was stood right behind him and he quickly added: "Not that you're bonkers, Ian," he added, while trying to pat me on the back in a pally kind of way. Idiot. If anybody could do with a little luck on this holiday, it's those two - worth a gamble for 10p, I reckon.
After the pyramids we went to the Imhotep Papyrus Institute where we were given a brief demonstration of how papyrus was, and is once again, traditionally made and then we took a look around the gallery. It was at this point that I spotted the person in the photo that Lucinda had taken one year previously. Here was my opportunity to hand-deliver the print that she'd promised she would send.
"Hello," I said. "Hello," he replied. Good so far. "I've never met you before in my life but I think I have something that belongs to you," I told him. I reached into my bag and pulled out the photo and passed it to him face-up. I watched the reaction on his face - confusion, surprise, disbelief and finally, once I explained how I came to have the photo in my possession, outright laughter. He thanked me more than a few times and then went to show it to his colleagues, relaying the story to them as he did, which amused them as much as him. It's not every day that a complete stranger unexpectedly brings a photo of yourself from across the globe.
After a further mooch around the gallery I bumped into him a second time and he took me over to the desk where he gave me a gift in return - a papyrus greeting card. All in all, an amusing incident both for him and for me.
Finally, we went to the Egyptian Museum for two hours - not enough time to see everything but we packed in all the main points, including the treasures of Tut Ankh Amun. Our guide, Mohammed Ali (yes, another Mohammed), tried his best to speak above the sound of power drills and angle grinders - a result of renovations taking place inside and out the museum - and a pack of German tourists.
The evening - a 'free evening'. Kali was due to go to the airport to meet another Explore group as their tour leader was in hospital being treated for dehydration following an over-indulgence of beer. Uh oh, I thought, what are we going to fail to do tonight then? I thought it wise to get a few suggestions from Kali before we headed off into the centre of Cairo. At the same time, I asked her to spell some of the Arabic phrases that I've picked up over the last couple of weeks.
The Egyptians have picked up plenty of useful English phrases. You know the kind of thing, phrases we use on a day-to-day basis like "tally ho". Hmmmm. Or what about "See you later alligator"? Surely the classic was when one of the vendors came up and said: "Hey lads, come have a shufty at these!" Oh - "I give you good price, Asda price", that's another one. Hang on, I'm getting carried away here. "Special Eeeenglish friend." That'll do for now.
Anyway, back on track: I asked Kali where I could develop a film on a one-hour service to check that the shots I'd taken at the pyramids were OK, given that my camera had seized up. She told me where to find one just around the corner. Of course, I had told her a big fat lie. I knew the shots would be alright, I just wanted to develop the picture I'd taken in Hurghada of her and the puppy now that I'd finished the film; I just didn't want to rouse suspicion as to why I was only going to develop one film among so many. If the picture's a good'un, I thought, it would make a nice goodbye gift for her, and something a little more personal something bought from any old street vendor.
My gut feeling was right - it was a cracking photo and those who saw it when I came back from the lab thought it would indeed make a nice gift.
We tried ...
Kali gave her suggestions to where we could go this evening out and, on our own, we arranged three taxis to take 15 or so people to Felfelas Restaurant off Sharia Talaat Harb. And we all arrived! Woo-hoo! And we all ate a darn fine meal each. The waiter was a bit of a grump though. We then went to find New Arizona - a club which Kali recommended but hadn't yet been to. We didn't find it, although we had a damn good look and walked up and down one street four times alone in our desperate search. We found something that looked like a club - neon sign outside - but the belly dancer photos in the foyer suggested something else and the sign was only in Arabic script. The chap on the door tried to convince us that we were at the right place but we didn't go for it. Plan B - go to the Cairo Tower. We tried but we failed ... but not completely. One of our three taxis made it while the other two taxi drivers didn't understand where we were asking to be taken. And so it was that most of us ended back at the hotel while Liz, Ian C and Paul did get to see Cairo from the top of the tower.