When my grade school friend Jessica reached out to me to see about joining us somewhere in the world she specifically wrote in an email,
“What are your plans for October?”
“Barcelona and Croatia,” I replied.
“Croatia sounds interesting.”
And just like that it was set and we started to plan a two week trip together in Croatia. While trying to coordinate flights Peter mentioned that we would need to part ways in Zagreb as Jessica’s return flight to the US was out of Split and the flights to our next destination, Cairo, left from Zagreb. Her reply:
“I’m SO jealous you’re going to Cairo!! If I had known that was on your itinerary I might have joined you for that. Egypt has always been my dream :).”
Peter, not one to let anyone pass up their dream travel plans, wrote this:
“Just a crazy idea, but we could do 1 week in Croatia and then 1 week in Egypt. It would be fine with us. We’d miss some of Slovenia (Ljubljana and Lake Bled) and just drive straight from Plitvice Lakes to Zagreb for a flight to Cairo. Totally doable. If that’s something you are interested in, let us know and we’ll plot out a timeline to make it work. I’ve actually heard you don’t need that much time in Egypt and that the pyramids and Sphinxs are a day-trip from Cairo so a week would be more than enough. We could play with the timing.”
A couple emails back and forth regarding safety of Egypt and Jess was on board and we all bought our tickets from Zagreb to Cairo. This all happened within 24 hours of Peter’s email to Jessica inviting her to Egypt. And just like, the girl that dreamed of visiting the pyramids in the 7th grade had a ticket in hand.
Seven weeks after these emails, on October 23, we found ourselves at the Zagreb airport on our way to Cairo.
At the Zagreb airport Peter noticed a man sitting by himself with a familiar face. He eventually pinpointed him as the lead actor in the movie we had watched at the Zagreb Film Festival the previous night who had introduced the film in person at the festival. He then convinced Jess it was him too. I wasn’t convinced. And after a few minutes of them badgering and insisting that it was him, to prove my point, I walked over to the man and asked him. Sure enough, he gave me the strangest look and replied that he was not an actor. Not to be outdone Peter replied, “that’s exactly the answer an actor would give to avoid attention.”
Boarding commenced and we were off to Egypt on Turkish Airlines. We had a layover in Istanbul where Jess and I walked around, chatted, shopped, and bought some incredibly good Cadbury chocolate. Two words mint-crisp. I haven’t seen mint-crisp Cadbury chocolate in the US, but if you ever do, buy it. Don’t think, just buy it.
We landed in Cairo late in the evening. Peter had hired Memphis Tours to take us around Egypt for our entire duration. Getting around Egypt on your own could be quite daunting and potentially unsafe. After learning what our points of interest and time-frame were, Memphis Tours took care of everything from the pick-up at the airport to our departure days later. Every minute, check-in and transition was thought through, organized and executed well. This was especially nice for Peter who for once could leave the organizing, thinking and logistics to someone else and truly enjoy Egypt despite still having to work in whatever free-time he could grab.
The Memphis Tours customer service began the moment we touched down in Cairo. We deplaned and were greeted at the gate by Mohammed, our tour manager. He walked us to the visa desk and took care of getting all our visas. He raced us through immigration and customs, grabbed our luggage and escorted us to our car. Within 20 minutes or so of landing we were getting stamped into Egypt. We felt like celebrities and he made our welcome into Egypt incredibly easy.
Mohammed drove us straight to our hotel, The Mena House. The hotel is world famous due to a peace treaty being signed here between Egypt and Israel in 1979, but also because of the views of the Pyramids. You can sit on your balcony while gazing out to the horizon to see the last existing member of the seven wonders of the world. It was such a magical moment walking to our hotel room that evening while looking up to the night sky to see the golden pyramids casting a shadow from the moon overhead. I think we were all in a bit of awe yet excitedly went to bed early for our exploration of Cairo and the pyramids the next day.
The next morning arrived quickly and started with a delightful buffet breakfast. The choices were many, the service exceptionally friendly, and the architecture and decor of the room itself was over the top. From the gold accents, to large floral bouquets, to massive chandeliers, the hotel carried a sense of ancient Egypt while also providing doses of luxury. I already felt like my sense of sight was on overdrive and we hadn’t even been to the Pyramids yet.
Our tour-manager introduced us to our driver and tour-guide for the day, Kamel. He was one of our favorite guides we have had on all of our travels. He never stopped smiling. He was professional, knowledgable, had a great attitude, and he never stopped taking pictures of us. He was a very devout Muslim with a scholars open and pragmatic mind and a great person to spend the day with.
From the hotel we took the very short drive to the pyramids. Many travelers are scared to visit Egypt right now due to the lingering fears of violence after the 2011 revolution that ended the three-decade presidency of Mubarak and the expansion of ISIS activity into the Northern parts of Egypt. For better or for worse, because of this, we practically had the pyramids to ourselves. Speaking to our tour-guide he really painted a clear picture of what visiting the Pyramids was like pre-revolution. Pushing, shoving, hordes of people in big tour buses and groups creating mass chaos. We were pleased to be there with virtually no crowds.
Honestly, I can’t really describe what it feels like to stare up at such an iconic structure that was constructed 2.5 centuries before Jesus Christ making it over 4,500 years old. The Great Pyramid of Giza (pyramid of Khufu) is the most massive structure on planet earth. What’s even more wild is learning that the pyramid was built with such precision that current technology cannot replicate it, leaving scientists and archeologists baffled. The Great Pyramid is the only remaining 7th wonder of the ancient world still standing and while newer lists have come out to market existing places, this is the only original you can actually visit. So there we were looking at it, climbing on it, riding camels to it. Truly mind blowing.
Kamel told Jess and I that we were Queens for the day and gave us Egyptian names. I think this shot captures that sentiment. The diagonal line of the pyramid in this shot also captures the engineering perfection.
Here are some photos of our first look at the Pyramid. Including our first group show when we arrived. You can see in the background how thin the crowds were.
The pyramid next to Khufu, is the pyramid of Khafre, his son. He had the daunting task of following up the greatest pyramid of all time. He failed to make it bigger but used the land to make it appear taller by building it on higher ground. An optical illusion makes Khafre’s pyramid appear to be bigger even though it is about 10 feet shorter. Boys will be boys. Who has the bigger pyramid? This pyramid lacks the precision of the Great Pyramid as it was built a lot faster so it it has a sharper angle and the four corners aren’t perfectly aligned. Obviously still impressive.
After visiting the two pyramids we headed to an area with a panoramic view of all three pyramids. The 3rd being the Pyramid of Menkaure.
Next we had Kamel organize some camels for us to ride to a lookout point for some photo opps. Our camels had some great names: 007, Bob Marley, and Casanova.
Jessica was given the camel for pregnant women. I’m assuming that her camel was the most docile so I wasn’t sure what that meant for Peter and I.
Between Jess and I we had so many great pictures. Here are some of the highlights.
Jess’s camel actually had the most personality. Camels do this odd sounding gurgle combined with something that sounds almost like a shriek with their tongue sticking out. It’s strange but also entertaining. Here is Jess attempting to imitate her camel.
Jess’s camel in action.
On a different note, don’t camels have the best expressions?
Once we were finished up with our camels we tipped our guides. Way too much I might add. As Jess and Peter were discussing it they later realized they calculated the conversion wrong and our guides each got about a $20 tip for a $10 ride. Could have been worse. If you had just been staring at ancient pyramids atop camels you might not be thinking as clearly either.
Kamal then took us over to the Sphinx which was now later in the day so the crowds started to increase a bit, mostly with local school children. This is when we all realized that Jess and I would be popular with the Egyptians. It was while gazing at the Sphinx that we found the locals gazing at us and asking to take pictures with them. They loved Jessica’s red hair. We would catch people sneakily walking behind her and then touching her hair to see if it was real. We took a couple pictures, but were advised by Kamal that it was probably best not to take pictures because then everyone would ask. I guess this is what the Kardashians feel like every day.
We really did appreciate the welcomeness of the locals. Everywhere we went locals would say, “thank you for visiting” or “welcome to Egypt.” There were countless times that a woman would approach me and ask me where I was from and then welcome me the country. With tourist numbers so drastically hit by the revolution the appreciation was palpable.
Another funny and consistent joke we heard would be delivered from Egyptian men congratulating Peter on having two wives. We lost track of how many times we heard, “You lucky man. Two wives.” Add in the fact that Jess was pregnant and you could see where our dynamic could be a bit confusing.
Our Cairo tour continued with many sites and stops along the way.
We visited the Hanging Church which was the only church we visited because it is Coptic Christian, not Muslim. In this picture you can see the locals smiling at us.
For a break in the day we feasted on a traditional Egyptian lunch on the Nile River.
After lunch we visited the Egyptian Museum. On our way there we had to pass through Cairo University where there had just been a bombing two days prior. 11 were injured and none were killed. As we were driving to the museum we passed Cairo University. I questioned Kamal about the bombing and he responded with a smile and a hearty laugh. When I asked him why he didn’t seem nervous he said, “It’s Friday. School is closed.” And that was that.
We arrived to the museum which is on the edge of Tahrir Square which Peter was very excited about given its political significance. There was heavy duty military tanks idly armed with soldiers ready to manage any uprising, protest or issues in Tahrir Square.
Upon entering the museum, we went through an X-ray, metal detector and had to check-in our phones and cameras. Inside we were able to see artifacts collected from ancient tombs, including lavish jewels, carriages and masks from King Tut’s tomb. After a little discussion of whether to pay extra to see actual mummies, we decided to go for it. How many opportunities will you have to see real mummies?
Our next destination was Cairo’s Old Bazaar, Khan El Khalili. This area is a maze of shops, restaurants, public gathering areas and overall liveliness. Peter skipped the shopping and stayed back with Kamal to partake in some political and religious discussions over hookah. Jess and I enjoyed walking around taking in all the various shops and of course haggling with the owners to get the best price.
As the sun started to set Kamal hurried us back to the car. We had one last adventure to conclude this big day and that was the evening light show back at the pyramids. It was nice to have Jess with us because she was laid back but also wanted to make the most of our experiences and see as much as possible. The light show was set-up with 1,000+ chairs but sadly just about 30 were occupied. Our tour-manager later told us that seats needed to be booked in advance before the revolution – now they can’t even fill a few dozen seats a night. The light show was a bit cheesy, but in reality, the real joy was sitting in the cooling Cairo air, gazing out to the pyramids in the night sky and wanting to pinch yourself to make sure it was all real. The Pyramids and Sphinx are highlighted in the dark sky while dramatic haunting music is played. They project a superimposed image of the Sphinx on to the actual Sphinx which hilariously narrates with an animated mouth the ancient history of the Pharaohs and building of the Pyramids.
Mohammed, our tour-manager, picked us up from the show and took us for a quick bite at Felfela before the end of a very long, amazing, and adventurous day came to a close. We sat eating falafel, hummus, and other tasty Egyptian cuisine while discussing our incredibly packed and perfect day. Looking back, I don’t think any of us had processed what we had just seen.
We sent Mohammed on his way and let him know we liked the idea of walking back to the hotel. As we approached the wing of the hotel where our adjoining rooms were located we noticed a large crowd of people on the grounds. When we got a closer look we realized it was a wedding. A large wedding. Turns out it was about 500 people. To cap our already magical day we were able to witness an Egyptian wedding from afar. It looked like a FUN party. Lot’s of dancing, food, people, and a live singer.
Finally we got back to our room. In my mind I thought nothing would make the day any better. That was until my husband walked out of the bathroom looking like this.
I laughed so hard that I cried.
Early in the morning we were off to our next adventure in Luxor to check out some ancient tombs.
Thanks so much for keeping up with our travels. We are so grateful to be doing this.