Egypt would never have been my first choice of off-season holiday destination.
My vision for this final trip before returning to a hard winter of training was sun and relaxation. And Egypt didn’t seem like the best destination to achieve this.
But, honestly, I got all I wanted with the bonus of a new cultural experience, sightseeing and a number of ‘what the locals do, where the locals go’ moments.
Cairo, Egypt – Travel Diaries
I imagine the pyramids are what about 99% of people would think of when Egypt is mentioned.
Well, what can I say about seeing the pyramids in real life?
Breathtaking. Remarkable. Awe-inspiring. Mind-blowing. Captivating. Intriguing. Baffling!
To understand part of why I feel this way, let me share with you a few pyramid facts that our guide shared with us (I’m not going to fact-check these against Google because this isn’t wikipedia and I’m trying to be time-expedient, so please don’t use this as an ultimate source of knowledge):
- The Great Pyramid of Giza build began circa 2550 BC and took twenty-one years to build.
- The Great Pyramid is made up of 2.3 million separate bricks! The bricks are about 1.5 metres tall at the bottom and get smaller as you ascend the pyramid. SEE PICTURE OF ANNI AGAINST IT.
- Each brick weighs several tonnes.
It’s hard to get my head around the fact that these tombs, one of which is listed amongst ‘The Seven Natural Wonders of the World’, are still standing after several thousand years.
Let that sink in.
And just think: these impressive tombs were built several thousand years ago with endurance and impermeability in mind. These were built with the specific purpose of ensuring an ‘eternal home’ (Pr-djt) for their deceased occupants so that they could live again in the afterlife.
And I am probably most in awe at the fact that their mission of ‘resurrection’ kind-of occurred. They’re not literally alive, obviously. And they haven’t resurrected in a ‘Jesus is risen’ sense. (Now, THAT is something else!) But their civilisation – the people, kings, queens, scribes, warriors, dogs and cats, cows and rabbits, alligators and birds – have risen from their sleeping tombs and been brought to life again for a modern-day audience.
So the endurance that they sought has been (sort-of) realised.
It just feels really poetic.
Papyrus – Paper and Baskets
Clearly, the Ancient Egyptians had brilliant minds.
Mummification. Pyramids. Paper and baskets.
Yes – I’m listing ‘paper and baskets’ alongside such an intricate burial practice that one of the dogs at the museum still had all his fur in tact and such excellent construction that the pyramids still stand tall several millennia later.
Communication. Enduring communication.
As part of our pyramids’ tour delivered by the upbeat Emad (our driver’s name was Mohammed and you can book this tour HERE), we ended at Golden Eagle Papyrus. [SIDE NOTE: I’d suggest you buy your papyrus paintings from the market because you’ll get it at 1/10th of the price, e.g. you’ll pay £10-20 for a medium-size rather than upwards of the £200 they try to charge at Golden Eagle Papyrus.]
Anyway, at the Golden Eagle Papyrus, we learned about the process of making papyrus paper and the various other uses of the papyrus plant (baskets, furniture, etc.). Ultimately, the papyrus paper is dried out, smashed and weaved in such a way that it is not only perfect for writing and drawing on; it’s also waterproof so it’s useful in myriad ways!
Graduating their writings from stone carvings to a slightly easier way of wielding wood and ultimately to papyrus paper and quill would have increased their writing efficiency exponentially. This meant law, instruction, wills and prayers could all be codified for themselves and future generations. How impressive!
This again contributes to the enduring nature of communication between our modern-day world and the Ancient Egyptian’s world several millennia ago.
A Resurrected Civilisation
It’s at the Egyptian Museum where the sleeping civilisation has truly been brought to life again.
Doctors of cryptography continually decipher, even to this day, the hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt to breathe life into what would otherwise be a very dead, buried and unintelligible language.
Archaeologists carefully exhume and restore bodies of people and animals, their stone carvings, pyramids, temples and sphinxes.
And the guides – local Egyptian people – bring energy, vitality and excitement to a dead civilisation.
Our Museum guide was incredible. He was a lovely old man who plodded around with great enthusiasm, deliberately sharing his wisdom and knowledge of this ancient world. We explored and revived these men, women and animals of old for close to two hours across the two floors of the Egyptian Museum. He answered all of our questions without hesitation and gave us more than our money’s worth! (I only felt saddened that I didn’t have extra cash to give him a big tip!) At the end, both myself and Anni were physically and mentally exhausted from all we’d learned…and all the walking!
Let me give you a bit of your own tour through pictures…
Ramesses II sits beside his first and greatest love, Queen Nefertari (meaning ‘beautiful companion’) with her arm wrapped around his back and their three children by their feet.
I could cry just looking at and learning about this picture of love.
Poor, great King Tutankhamun who ascended to the throne as Pharaoh at the tender age of nine and was killed [historians believe] only nine years later.
We saw several mummies on display, so well-preserved that their features were as visible as if they’d only just died, their hair on their head shone with health and fullness, and the nails and sandals on their feet were only partially worn away. This was also the case with the dog pictured further above and several other well-mummified animals.
Again, this was another mind-blowing, see-it-to-believe-it moment. It’s still astounding to me.
They’re LITERALLY a few millennia old and THIS is what they look like. Wow.
At the Pyramids I learned more about the history of the Kings and Queens – Pharoahs – of Ancient Egypt.
They were respectful of one another’s legacies and renown, but proud and equally intentional about establishing their own enduring legacy.
For example, after the death of the Pharoah who built (well, his people did anyway) the Great Pyramid of Giza, his son and successor didn’t want to undermine his legacy with a larger pyramid, but he still wanted to be seen as great.
‘What is the best way to establish my greatness without outshining another?’ he asked his advisors (I’m assuming he asked for advice or perhaps he was just super smart and came up with the idea on his own. IDK.).
Answer: An optical illusion!
The Great Pyramid originally stood at 146 metres tall (it has been reduced in height to 136 metres today due to erosion and ransacking); the successor’s pyramid stood 10 metres shorter, but was built on a site that was about 10 metres higher than The Great Pyramid’s site, so … you do the maths. Essentially, he said, we’re both awesome. Look at how great we are! And I love that level of respect and solidarity.
(I did fact-check this info here: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/pyramid/geometry/height.html )
I appreciate this has been a long, winding post, but I just wanted to quickly jot down these memories and experiences for posterity, as I’ve been rubbish at updating my blog over the last year and a half (Can I blame the pandemic? Ha!)! So let me ‘quickly’ summarise…
Outside the Egyptian Museum
I’m a Bible-believing Christian, which means I’m now going to go back and see how this timeline I’ve learned of here in Egypt links with the timeline in my Bible.
I’ve been informed that it was the Rameses II pictured above who reigned as Pharaoh when Moses fled to freedom and the Promised Land with the Israelites in Exodus. So I’m excited to do some cross-referencing over the next few days/weeks/months.
Anyone with any knowledge in this area, please drop me a message!
On Grave Digging
On a final note, yes all of this grave-digging is disruptive and a little part of me wants to protest, ‘isn’t it mean to unearth someone’s final resting place?’. But it doesn’t seem that staying buried and hidden was ever the intention of the Ancient Egyptians. They ruled to be seen – in life and death. That’s why they built the pyramids. That’s why they went to such great lengths to preserve their precious dead through mummification. That’s why I want to give voice to their intentions – because what they’ve achieved feels heroic. And their whole existence impresses me. And now when somebody asks, if you were to travel back in time to any period in time, where would you go who would you meet, I’ll have another answer to go alongside ‘meeting Jesus’.
How about you?
Were you of a similar mindset to me before reading this? Were you previously a not-so-eager visitor to the country and also experienced a change of heart on your visit?
Finally, when you go back, will you take me with you?
Until next time, Egypt. Off to watch The Prince of Egypt now.
P.S. Thanks to a great friend and fellow-athlete, Annimari Korte for suggesting ‘Egypt’ as an unexpectedly worthwhile relaxing holiday destination! She’s been here many times before so was practically a local, including knowing some Arabic words and phrases and introducing me to her friends in the area. It really helped to visit Cairo knowing I could escape being a tourist every now and then to experience ‘local-life’, including an Egyptian night-out at SASS Restaurant (and club) and the local market where several stall-owners heckled me as ‘brown sugar’, which made me laugh, and where every single person accepted my ‘no thanks’ at first asking and didn’t intrude upon my personal space as I made my way through the market. Final observation: Driving here is chaotic, but that’s for another, much shorter blog!