Exploring Cairo in Depth

When I took the Overseas Adventure Travel trip, Egypt and the Eternal Nile, I spent a few extra days in Cairo before the start of the trip. I personally found chaotic Cairo to be a highlight, along with Luxor and Aswan.

I had a nice half day independent tour of some unusual things my first morning and saw things our tour did not. The first stop was a place called Garbage City. It’s where all the garbage in Cairo goes to be recycled. There is quite a smell there, but people live there and can be seen on the street sorting through the garbage. I saw quite a few tuk-tuks as well. We passed some other parts of Cairo that looked like it could be India, there was so much garbage. I originally thought all that was just being sorted for Garbage City, but in fact, I saw that kind of garbage lining the streets all over Cairo.

Garbage City is on the way to the Cave church, which is a Christian Church built into the natural opening of an ancient cave. There were biblical scenes sculpted on the outside. It really is one of the more unusual things I have seen. There is another ” night church,” that’s also a cave church with biblical scenes sculpted around it. I heard and saw Coptic priests reading and chanting something I was told was the beginning of their pre-Easter celebration. For the Coptic church I was told this lasts longer and starts at a different time then the Christian Church. They hold services at both churches where they also have enormous amphitheaters.

One of the most delightful parts of the day was visiting a perfume store. They gave me a delicious hibiscus drink and told me about the history of perfumes in Egypt and let me sample many. Of course, they wanted to sell, and there are also cotton stores and papyrus stores in abundance.

There are 106 pyramids in Egypt. My guide the following day was also an Egyptologist, and the amount of knowledge he had at his disposal was overwhelming. He took me to nearby Memphis, and to see the pyramids in the area. There is small Sphinx in Memphis, which is just an ancient, dead city now, but also famous statues of Ramses 2. Egypt has had four capitols. By the time of Ramses 2 the pyramids had already been built and the capital was Luxor. So that’s why there is so much to see in Luxor. It was literally a different period, and remembering the pharaohs was done differently in Luxor than the building of pyramids.

Anyone can walk into the pyramids, and at Saqqara it’s a walk down into a tomb. I preferred the above-ground tomb for the family buried there with all the hieroglyphics. The steps down into the other tomb and the entrance into the pyramids wasn’t of interest to me. I tried it in Saqqara, and it looked like a very uncomfortable walk that would lead to a lot of squatting in the dark for absolutely no benefit. And that was the easy one. My guide saw me attempt it and could tell I would not enjoy it, so I backed out of the attempt. He said they got harder. The one at Danshur was the most difficult he told me, but he has taken groups in. But both those pyramids give a real sense of being out in the desert alone with the wind and ancient pyramids. This was quite a departure from my experience at the Great Pyramids of Giza!

The pyramids at both Saqqara and Dahshur are worth exploring. The OAT trip doesn’t include them in the itinerary, but the Grand Circle Travel trip, Ancient Egypt and the Nile River, does.  I booked my tours to see them independently on Viator.com

The first day of the OAT tour we went to the Egyptian Museum. I never saw King Tuts death mask when it was touring the US, but I finally did in Cairo. It will never be leaving Egypt again. That and his chariot were the two most outstanding of the gold objects we saw associated with King Tut in Cairo.

There are over 136,000 major artifacts in that museum, and they haven’t transitioned to the new museum yet, which is still under construction in Giza. The museum is all part of Tahir square, where they had the Arab Spring. I was picturing what I recall from watching the news back then, and all the people who looked out the window over the square (which looked round to me, but that was probably just one section of it). Today, it’s against the law to have more than six people congregating in one place without a special permit unless it’s obvious it won’t be for purposes of protest, such as our tour group, which was of course perfectly legal. From what I learned on the trip, many of the changes that were made as a result of the upraising weren’t necessarily for the benefit of the people.

I was glad upon reflection about the Egyptian Museum, that I had already been to Saqqara, Dahshur and Memphis, and experienced the above ground tomb of a prominent family and all the hieroglyphics.. It’s nearly identical to what is in the first floor of the Egyptian Museum, only of course it’s in the desert. I was able to appreciate the museum all the more for having seen the real deal. And of course, everything related to King Tut is phenomenal. We also saw an exhibition of royal mummies, including the famous Queen Hatshepsut.

We saw the Great Pyramids of Giza the following day, as well as the Sphinx, and saw the Boat Museum in between. In Giza, it was non-stop harassment by camel and donkey vendors as well as all the kids who want photos with tourists. The people in our group who went inside the Pyramids didn’t exactly rave about it. I walked around among all the craziness and took photos.

After the Boat Museum. which was more nonstop kids everywhere, we saw the Sphinx. And there is one terrific view of the Sphinx with the Great Pyramid behind it, but we were not allowed to get a photo of it!  Others have reported that in order to get that photo, they had to walk to a place where the view was as fantastic as we saw on the bus and have the bus pick them up there. It is the exact spot for the one truly great photo of the Sphinx and the Pyramid together, National Geographic in quality. We were allowed all the side shots we wanted of the Sphinx from where the bus dropped us off.

After leaving Cairo and going up the Nile for five days from Aswan, we flew in from Luxor and had a nice last day seeing parts of Cairo that we missed. We saw the Ben Ezra synagogue, a hanging church (on top of a Roman ruin), and a cave church that was very different from the one I saw on my first day.

What was so interesting about this complex of synagogue and churches, is the biblical significance. Where the synagogue is located, is theoretically where baby Moses is supposed to have arrived in the basket. The Nile was once in that part of Cairo. Where the church resides just steps away, was also supposed to be the biblical site where Joseph, Mary and Jesus arrived. If all that’s true, that must have been one trek in hot sun, since the Nativity was in Bethlehem. And if all of this took place literally with in square feet of each other, it would be considered one of the holiest sites on earth. Since it doesn’t have that prominent distinction, I looked it up, and read that its more legend than anything.


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