Cold swimming pools aside, Egypt is a fantastic place. Much different from where I’m from, but when I went there back in 2015 I felt quite comfortable. Sure, Cairo is a bit of a messy city and tourism there — at the time that I went — was not what it used to be1, but one thing I liked was the fact that everything was open pretty much all the time. Walk down a major road at midnight and you could get yourself pretty much anything from fast food, snacks, fresh juice, a new scarf from a clothing store or even play football with some street kids. Yes, at midnight.
The most famous thing about Cairo — and maybe even Egypt as a whole — are, of course, the pyramids. Now, Egypt actually has 118 pyramids across the whole country, but what people mostly think of when they talk about the pyramids in Egypt are the main ones: the Pyramid of Khafre, the Pyramid of Menkaure, and the Great Pyramid of Giza (the biggest one) which are all located in the “Giza pyramid complex” which consists of these big three pyramids, along with the famous Great Sphinx of Giza (the big cat-lion statue with a human head), a few additional smaller pyramids and some other sites. This is the place where most tourists go when they want to “see the pyramids”. Including me.
When you see the pyramids in person, they really are more amazing than you’d expect. The biggest one of the three main pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Giza, is absolutely gigantic. You stand at the base and it towers over you, stretching upwards towards the sky and blocking out the scorching sun. The pyramids are, perhaps, not as spectacular as they once were2, but spectacular nonetheless.
But it’s not just about the height of the pyramids. I mean, I’ve seen buildings that are way taller than the Pyramids, even been in some — like the Empire State Building3. Even the Eiffel Tower is basically double the height of the Great Pyramid. It’s about standing there and thinking about how old the old pyramids really are4. How they were built at a time when machines weren’t around. How they remained the tallest thing that mankind had built for thousands of years. How they’re so strangely shaped. And then, in that moment of witnessing these incredible pieces of architecture, you look and you see some local kids trying to climb the Great Pyramid and see how far they can get. To be fair, it is their country and these Egyptian kids can do whatever they want with something that’s theirs, but I just found it a bit funny to see eight-year-olds jumping around and playing on a world famous monument that was built more than 4,000 years ago like it was some sort of jungle gym.
You can go inside the Great Pyramid, too. That’s a spooky experience. You have to climb through this dark tunnel which is at an incline — so you’re climbing up but also kind of along — and after going up this tilted elevator shaft, you get to this small, dark room with nothing but this coffin in the middle. The coffin is made from some kind of stone and it’s got an open top. It’s empty, though. But it is pretty spooky. We were met with a guide who was there to help you take pictures and stuff. He even said it would be okay to climb into the coffin — I guess it was called a sarcophagus in the Ancient Egyptian days — and take a picture. No thank you, I said.
The interesting thing about the pyramids is that when you see a photo of them — including the photo above — it seems like they’re in the middle of the desert, far away from any kind of civilization. But they’re actually not. The Giza pyramid complex is basically in the middle of Cairo. There’s a Pizza Hut right next to the Pyramids. So you can actually have a slice whilst looking at the only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World5.
If you go to Cairo, you have to check out The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. It’s where they’ve got a lot of the mummies — except for Cleopatra, of course, whose body was never found6. You have to pay a little extra to see the “mummy room”, but it’s so worth it. If you go to Cairo, definitely check it out. They’ve got the mummies in display cases all preserved and everything. Like I swear I looked down and saw the three-thousand-year-old, browned, mummified body of Ramesses II7. There he was. Right there in front of me. A man who lived over 3,000 years ago now in a glass box for all to see8.
Cairo isn’t the only place to go in Egypt, though. During my visit, we also visited Alexandria, which is located on Egypt’s northern coast and touches the Mediterranean Sea. Alexandria also has a lot of great history and cool things to check out like the Citadel of Qaitbay — which I know sounds like one of the locations in Game of Thrones9 — but it’s actually a fortress of sorts located right on the coast and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the modern rebuild of the legendary Library of Alexandria which was one of the most well-known libraries of the ancient world and had all sorts of scrolls and documents from all over. Even the city of Alexandria itself is named after one of the well-known conquerors of the ancient world10.
Aside from all the history, Egypt still has a lot to offer. There are a ton of traditional markets, impressive Islamic architecture, magnificent deserts, lots of great food, plenty of stray cats and a cultural hand gesture for “hold on”11. Now for some pictures.
1 I went in late 2015 and pretty much everyone we spoke to told us that tourism in Egypt had been steadily declining and they told us to please go back to England and tell more people to come to Egypt. So that was a few years ago, however, the pandemic has affected tourism all over the world, so yeah.
2 Because they are made from limestone (amongst other things), the pyramids used to be gleaming white and smooth. I wasn’t around back in ancient times, so I don’t know what it looked like, I just Googled it. And you can too.
3 Going up to the top of the Empire State Building is a lot of fun. Probably the longest elevator ride I’ve ever taken. And it’s an incredible view. If you ever go, go up to the top at night. You won’t regret it.
4 It’s a bit hard to wrap your head around how old the Pyramids are. I mean, I personally get confused about exactly how old these old things are. Like how long really is 1,000 years? How long is 5,000 years? Given the fact that I’ll never live to experience that amount of time, anything more than 100 years is basically all the same to me because it’s so hard for me to put it into perspective how long thousands of years really are. But if you are able to piece history together in your mind, you can think of it as the Romans being the halfway point between today and back when the Pyramids were built.
5 There were seven Wonders of the Ancient World, as you may know. But more on that another time.
6 The search continues for Cleopatra’s lost burial site, but according to the documentary Cleopatra's Lost Tomb, the burial site could possibly be Taposiris Magna near Alexandria in northern Egypt. By the way, when we talk about Cleopatra, we usually mean Cleopatra VII. Because there were actually six other Egyptian queens named Cleopatra, but they weren’t as “famous”, I guess.
7 Yeah, it’s actually spelled with a double “S”. Ramesses. Who knew? I didn’t know. Did you know? And yeah, this is the same Ramesses II from that Ozymandias poem.
8 Back in 1974, they had to send Ramesses II’s mummified body to France for restoration, since, you know, three millennia is a long time and a makeover was probably well overdue. But that’s not even the funny part. The funny part is that when his body was sent overseas, they actually had to issue a passport for him. That’s right. Because apparently there was — or still is, I’m not sure — a law in France that any person, no matter if they were living or dead, had to have a passport. So the Egyptian authorities had one made for Ramesses II, at the ripe old age of 3,277 years old. And on this passport, it even said his occupation: “King (deceased)”.
9 Okay, so I’ve ranted about Game of Thrones before, and I have told myself that that show is dead to me — like some sort of kiss of death in the mafia — after that horrifically terrible ending that was devastating to me after I had been watching the show for six years. But I would be lying if I said that I don’t miss that show. The frustration of not getting a satisfying ending is pretty intense, with the worst part being that the show was, as most of you might know, so damn good. The ending could have been so, so, so much better and they ruined everything. Ah, well. I’ll just wait for the rest of the books to come out so I can find out the real ending. Whenever they get published.
10 Alexander the Great.
11 You can search online for this hand gesture to see what it looks like, but here I go trying to put it into words: hold out your hand, palm facing upwards, and bring all your fingers together so that the tips are touching. That right there is the hand gesture you show in Egypt as well as other places in the Middle East for when you want someone to wait a moment.
Esta noche, vamos a aprender muchas palabras y frases en la idioma bonita se llama español y — sorry, I left the Spanish mode on. Come, let’s go learn some.