There are several places in the world that I always dreamed of going, but never imagined that I would set foot. Egypt was definitely one of them. Everyone that I told that I was going to Egypt would look at me with this incredulous look and say, “Is it safe?” I guess my answer these days is, “Is any place really safe?” I mean, kids are afraid to go to school in the USA, and tourists/citizens get hurt in Spain, England and France… so, as far as Egypt goes, I wasn’t so afraid for my safety as I was hoping that I didn’t offend anyone. I wasn’t sure how strict they’d be on the dress code- I had no idea that Cairo was an “open” country, that, despite being predominantly Muslim- was a little more lax in their rules for dress for women.
Our flight from Rome to Cairo went off without a hitch. In fact, the service was even better than our United flight to Germany at the start of our trip! We had arranged a private guide for us in Egypt- and wowza was he enthusiastic! When we set foot off the plane, before we even got to the spot where we got our visa, there was this guy who met us to help us to get to the right place. It was WAY more casual than I read it would be! We spent $25 on Visas for entry into Egypt- and got a fancy, shiny sticker for our passports. Once we were through customs, getting our bags was easy, getting an ATM for Egyptian Pounds was easy, and getting to our driver was so easy. So far- we all looked around at each other-and we all said that Cairo was lulling us into a an eerie sense of security from what we all had anticipated.
The first thing I noticed about Cairo is that everything was very brown, and the sky was hazy. We were definitely in the desert, and whether there is sand or pollution in the air- it was difficult to see very far around. I also noticed that Cairo was very, very poor. There were unfinished buildings, tall towers of apartments with unfinished windows and doors- clothes and fabric waving in the wind. So many trash heaps and kids running around. We passed by an accident of watermelon spilled and cracked all over the road, and by billboards in Arabic for google, Apple, and Coca Cola. The lane markers were merely a suggestion as people formed 2 lanes, then 5 lanes, and 3 lanes and weaved through traffic creating an interesting chaos that was humorous if you could get past the feeling like your life would end at any moment with a truck T-boning your car! Side note- I had NO idea that there were 26 million people who live in Cairo proper! No wonder there was a constant traffic jam!
As we were driving, it took about 45 minutes to our hotel- I wasn’t sure which directions the Pyramids were- I kept darting my eyes around to see if I could see them. I had read that they were rather near the city- but I wasn’t sure what that meant. We were staying at the Le Meridien Hotel & Spa in Giza. I had booked us “Pyramid View” rooms and was excited to see if our hotel lived up to the photos. Just as I was daydreaming the possibility of the view, the pyramids suddenly popped into view and… there they were. Just a little peak over the left side of the highway, it was like they were playing “peek-a-boo” with us. Looking around at everyone we just kind of looked like little kids pulling up to Disney World….craning our necks to try and catch a glimpse of what we had come all this way to see. Pulling into our hotel, we were all a bit speechless as the pyramids were literally across the street. As we checked into our hotel, everyone was very nice…. and we soon learned that everyone also had an outstretched hand. Tipping was more common here than I’ve ever experienced. Granted the US Dollar to the Egyptian Pound was 17:1 so when we tipped it was all of a couple dollars, but it was just funny that we literally had to tip anyone who talked to us… the guy who helped us with the visas… the guy who drove us to the airport…the guy that took our luggage from the car… the guy who brought the luggage to the room… the guy at the pool… the tour guide… the driver… the papyrus scroll maker… EVERYONE. And they got MAD when you didn’t.
When we drove up to the hotel, the car was searched and a bomb/drug sniffing dog circled the car. Entering the hotel we had to pass through metal detectors and put our bags through a security screening not unlike the airport system. To that I say: Have at it. It actually made me feel safer to know that they were scanning everything. By the time we checked in and were able to get up to our rooms, we rushed over to the windows, pulled back the drapes and I think we melted into 5 year-olds meeting their favorite superhero. The shrieks and giggles we had staring at the Great Pyramid and one of the others as the sun was setting was enough to make me pinch myself to see if I was dreaming. Seeing these great giants didn’t seem real. It looked as though I was staring at a massive Hollywood movie set. Our room also overlooked a massive pool and the whole thing left us pretty speechless.
As we were getting ready for dinner, a laser light show started and lit up the pyramids with sparkles, neon lights and spot lights. I had to laugh a little- it really was like a Disney show on a pile of bricks that are 1000s of years old. We spent the end of our travel day having some delicious food out on the patio of the Hooka Lounge, listening to some live music, having overpriced drinks, and just relaxing before our long day of touring the Pyramids the next day.