Pyramids and whatnot

Part 5 of the Egypt report. Part 4 here.

Usually I write about the sights first and everything else after, if at all. Egypt really threw me for a loop!

Our first stop was probably not the first stop of many tourists, the Agricultural Museum in Cairo, which was *fantastic*. A highpoint of our trip, to be sure. I had circled it in our guidebook, but it was the enthusiastic recommendation by my friend Neil that ensured our visit. There were only a couple of other visitors in the place, so we were allowed to visit the dioramas (life-sized and scale), aged taxidermy, and other 1930s weirdness in peace. A bird was nesting in one of the stuffed antelope heads on these walls. Pleasant Egyptian music played in the diorama space. The wooden floors had been waxed, and were slippery in places. This is my favorite kind of museum, mixing folklife with natural history, dioramas and taxidermy.

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We chilled in the park for a bit, and some laughing Egyptian men had their picture taken with us in front of a white topless lady statue. The park was pretty empty, due to an admission fee, included with the museum ticket, and it had nice fountains and benches and trees and statuary. We looked at some birds and then headed over to the Ancient part of the museum complex, where we saw mummified animals of all sorts. The museum buildings smelled of mothballs which were keeping the ancient artifacts intact.

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The expression of one of these cats got me a little teary, 4,000 years after its death.

Next stop, the jam-packed Egyptian Museum, to see the royal mummies, treasures of Tutankhamen, and everything else you care to imagine that could have been taken out of an Ancient Egyptian site. Chinese tourists were the majority of the crowds in evidence, as they are everywhere these days, but there were others as well. Still, it was not a madhouse. I threw caution to the wind and left my bag with many important things in it with a guard at the gate. It was intact when I picked it up hours later.

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Tutankhamen grave goods, tongues out

Some things we saw: vast numbers of stone statuary with engraved hieroglyphics, the royal mummies whose tombs and temples we would later visit, rooms and rooms of painted wooden sarcophagi in 19th century glass cases, a great display of sketches by ancient artists, practice makes perfect! I forget what these are called – I’ll try to add it later – but it was a really human room, especially as we ducked into it to escape the Chinese hordes in the adjacent Tutankhamen room.

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Ancient artists sketches

We didn’t have enough time in this museum. One of the many things we need to return to. Also, it would be great to go back, now that we have seen the tombs where the mummies and their goods lay for millennia until they were plundered by modern, civilized, grave robbers, and moved to this museum. The government is planning to move some of the stuff to a new, fancier, museum, but I like this old one. I like old museums generally, and this is a gem of its type.

This girl, below, got her companion to photograph her next to every fancy Tutankhamen thing, and she had the same expression and pose every time. I had to capture them.

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The Pyramids, of course, were next. Slava & I disagreed about how to do our trip. We did it his way, which was to take the hotel package – a driver with a good car would take us to Giza and Saqqara. It was our second full day in Egypt, and we learned a lot about how things work. We rode horses around the pyramids on the back side where there were no crowds. It wasn’t what we had planned, but we enjoyed it. By the end I was stressed out and forgot to go to the fancy hotel for a drink overlooking said pyramids, but we made up for this later.

After Giza, our driver took us to an OK outdoor restaurant at Saqqara, home of the oldest pyramid, and its complex. The bathroom attendant was a ten year old girl, poor thing. Saqqara was crazy – the Government is ruining the pyramid of Djoser, the oldest pyramid in the world, having hired a construction company to fix it after a recent earthquake instead of hiring conservators. Not cool.

 

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As with every other historic site in Egypt, your entrance ticket is just that – no map or context or anything. I always carried my guidebook, which was heavy but invaluable. In fact, I had to buy a new bag for the trip so I could carry water and a book and my super 8 camera and a snack and my wallet and….

There are other things to see at Saqqara besides the sad pyramid – temples and tombs. The best was the Serapaeum, which I want to visit again someday since we had issues with the guard which were a result of our being new in town. Sometimes, no matter how closely you read the guide book, you still need to figure out how things work in real life. Anyway, the Serapaeum is a large underground tomb for sacred bulls. It’s full of granite sarcophagi for the bulls. It’s well-lit and very atmospheric. It was one of the best places we visited in Egypt.

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bull sarcophagus behind me

We were close to closing time, but we made it to the fantastic Mastaba of Ti, the ancient tomb of a royal hairdresser. Very cool. Mom nailed it when she said it sounded like a Monty Python sketch.

Our last day in Cairo was kind of a bad travel day due to my mood, but we walked around and saw some crazy shops and in the evening had a drink at a historic hotel that had some Boston College (where my dad went) paraphernalia on the wall from the 1920s. Small world, always.

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