Egypt

December 13 to 15, 2018

So, I’ve been on board the ship, the Aegean Odyssey, for eight days now.   On day 2 my greatest fear came to pass:  rough, rough waters and seasickness, requiring a visit to the nurse and an injection.   It knocked me out for 12 hours and by the time I woke up all was calm again.

Since then we sailed down the Suez Canal, disembarked and were hauled to Cairo on coaches where we spent the next three days being bussed from place to place.  The city is home to more than twenty million and its roads clogged with four million cars.

You can imagine the congestion day and night. It helped that our convoy of buses (we’re about 200 people on the ship) had a police escort from the port to our very nice hotel, the Marriot, where we were greeted by a five-piece band wearing Pharaoh outfits as we staggered off the buses. (The average age of the ship’s passengers is around 70.)

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The Pharaohs greet us as we arrive at the hotel in Cairo 

During those three days we did all the tourist things:  the Cairo museum (a spectacular new one is being built closer to the pyramids but won’t open until 2020.)  But the old one was wonderful, too.  We went on a weekday and the place was packed with local school kids (not to mention wall-to-wall tourists like us) who chased us around wanting to talk to us until museum personnel chased them away.

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Entrance to Cairo museum

The following day we were bussed to Memphis (capital of the Old Kingdom where the forty-foot-tall  statue of King Ramesses II was unearthed) and Saqqara, the vast necropolis of Memphis, to see the well-preserved stepped pyramid of Djoser built in 2700 BC.

As if that wasn’t enough activity for one day, that evening we had cruise on the Nile, which included dinner and “folkloric” dancing. The entertainment was great fun but had more in common with Las Vegas than folklore.

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Cairo city lights from as seen from our barge on the Nile

The next day, of course, came the pyramids in Giza and the Sphinx.

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Also interesting was my encounter with the clerk who ran the tiny pharmacy in the hotel.  Here’s what happened:  I went down to buy some toothpaste.  The guy behind the counter started flirting with me.  He kept asking me where my husband was, which made me laugh as he was about forty years my junior.  And he talked and talked until finally he accepted the twenty-Euro note I gave him. It was the only currency I had, left over from Athens.  I was so tired I didn’t even look at the change he gave me.

Sometime during the night, I realized he’d cheated me.  The toothpaste cost about forty Egyptian pounds.  He should have given me about 350 in change but he’d given me only 155 pounds.  The idea that he must have considered me a stupid woman, without her husband standing by, and ripe for cheating infuriated me.  The next morning, I marched straight to the tour operator.  Together we went to pharmacy (the same guy was on duty) and got my money back.

I used that money toward the purchase of very pretty gold ring.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

From Cairo we were driven (yes, by bus) to the port of Ain Sokhna, Egypt, on the Gulf of Suez.  I was glad to get back on the ship.  We remained docked there overnight for an excursion the next day to visit a pair of Coptic monasteries, founded by the followers of hermits of St. Anthony and St. Paul of Alexandria around 400 AD.   A resident monk took us around in each monastery and told us their stories.  Alas, our group was so large and the things to see many, in sometimes narrow spaces, that the tours took a lot time and little time remained to wander aimlessly to draw in the spirit of the places and feel the texture of stone buildings warmed by thousands of years of desert sun.

 

Then it was back to the bus for the two-and-a-half drive back to the ship.  I’m starting to hate that bus but there’s no other way of seeing these places.

Tomorrow we go to Petra.

 

Athens

After enduring two delayed flights (Toronto-Frankfurt-Athens) and an hourlong bus ride from Athens airport to Grand Bretagne Hotel I fell into (very comfortable) bed and stayed there for twelve hours until breakfast at 6:30 a.m.  Walked into hotel restaurant still dopey, headachy and hardly seeing at all. Waiter brought silver jug with coffee.  I drank one cup and a second one before the light in my head came on.  At which point I looked up and finally noticed the sight looking back at me through the wall of windows.  It was still dark but in the distance stood the Acropolis with the Parthenon lit by floodlights from below.

I ate my scrambled eggs (okay, I also had a mini croissant, a small slice of custard pie, and some kind of cookie) without taking my eyes off the site.

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Later in the day our group went up to the Acropolis where I stared up at the momumental columns slack-jawed before walking to the nearby Acropolis museum to visit the Parthenon gallary where original blocks of the Parthenon frieze and much more is on display.

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As to the people, on the whole, Athenians do not seem particularly friendly towards strangers.  Big city busyness, I guess. However, when I came out of the pharmacy and stood staring at my map to figure out how to get back to the hotel, a woman with a dog (of course!) approached me and helped me find my way.

I also have to make a confession now:  I had dinner at a Chinese restaurant tonight.  I have no excuse except that I longed for vegetables and knew I’d get still-crisp broccoli there.

Until next time.