Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jewel of the Nile: Cairo

I'm back from an amazing ten day vacation to Egypt. It was absolutely everything I thought it would be and more! I am still sorting through the 600+ pictures to get it to a more reasonable 100. That's still way too many to share on the blog so I'll pick out some of my favorites for you--starting with Cairo.

We went on the Jewel of the Nile operated by On the Go. A very well-traveled co-worker of Dan's recommended this tour as one of his all-time best trips. I would very enthusiastically second that opinion.

Dan and I have always wanted to go to Egypt together. I am a big ancient history fan, so seeing the pyramids and Egyptian temples was high on my bucket list. When we found out we were moving to England, it seemed like a great time to travel to Egypt since the cost would be a lot lower than if we were traveling from the States. Unfortunately, a little thing called the Arab Spring happened. Thankfully, Egypt's revolution was relatively peaceful. There was terrible violence initially, but in the year since the deposition of Mubarak, the country seems to be moving along fairly well.  We decided to take the plunge and adopt a now-or-never attitude. And we convinced six of our friends to join us. Best. Decision. Ever.

Our first day in Egypt was a bit of a wash since we got in after dark and had left our house for the airport at 3:15am. Our hotel was absolutely incredible though and we had a nice, if extremely overpriced, meal downstairs. We stayed in the Mena House Oberoi--a former palace and the site where the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979 was signed. It also has views like this:

View from my balcony!

Yeah. Awesome.

Our first full day started with a bang. We met our tour guide Saleeb, an Egyptian archeologist (with a Ph.D.). He is one of the best tour guides I've ever had! He took us to the Egyptian museum and blew our minds. That place is like the Louvre and you could literally spend months in there and still not see every piece. He showed us a few highlights and explained the significance of each item. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum, so you'll just have to trust me when I tell you how amazing it is. One of my favorite parts was when he showed us the mummy that HE HELPED DISCOVER!!! And then he showed us a video of him holding the mummy during the excavation!!! Yup. Our tour guide is practically Indiana Jones.

The gang with Sal

Other favorite parts of the museum:

  • Mummies: There were a lot of good ones, but the best was of a wife of a government minister who was given the all-star mummy treatment. Normal mummification takes around 70 days. It took priests more than 100 days to take her entire body apart and mummify each muscle individually. They swapped her real organs with gold replicas and replaced her spinal cord with ivory so she wouldn't shrink over time. A very close second were the 9,000 year-old (!!) animal mummies (crocodiles, cats, dogs, monkeys). Insane.
  • Prince Rahotep and Princess Nofret Marriage Statue: I just love the details of this 4,000 year-old statue. They were so life-like it was creepy--especially the eyes. The prince's mustache showed that he was a powerful man in the Army. Even today Egyptian military men almost always have mustaches.
  • [source]
  • King Tut's Collection: Of course a highlight of this museum is King Tutankhamen's funerary mask, sarcophagi and jewelery from his tomb. I couldn't believe how detailed and ornate each piece was. It was really incredible to see it in person. Oh, and we saw his used condom. Gross.
image from here

The Egyptian Museum is right next to a  former government building that was burned during last year's revolution. Thankfully, there was no real damage to the museum and looting was very minimal. Here's what the government building looks like from the outside though:

Burned building near Tahrir Square

I could have spent all day in that museum. Sal's enthusiasm definitely rubbed off and I was seriously in danger of having an over-excitement breakdown.

We had the rest of the day to relax, have a nice local meal and experience our first shisha. Shisha (a.k.a. hooka) is a way of life in Egypt. It's flavored tobacco that is smoked through a water pipe.  Sal said he smokes 30 shishas a day!! How he has time for that I'll never understand, but I do get the appeal. You'll be hearing lots more about our shisha adventures in the coming days.

First shisha of the trip

And  now, a preview of tomorrow:

View from our bus

Read about our other stops along the Nile:
Abu Simbal
Edfu and Kom Ombo
Luxor I
Luxor II


  1. it is a shame that your view was blocked by those pointy things. So far I can tell you were really impressed. We cannot wait to read the rest.

  2. What an awesome view from your balcony!!! Can't wait to hear about the rest of your trip - Day 1 sounds like it will be hard to top, but I have no doubt that you did!