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For as long as I can remember, Egyptology has fascinated me. Maybe it was the cheesy King Tut specials that aired on National Geographic, I don’t know. Those archaeology specials featuring Dr. Zahi Hawass exploring the tombs of Hatsheput, King Tut, and so many more ancient pharaohs made my eyes widen in awe and excitement. When my dad asked me what I wanted as a graduation gift, naturally the first thing to come to mind was a trip to Egypt, but political uprisings and sheer cost made my dream trip far out of reach.
When Russell and I began discussing where we should go for our honeymoon we agreed on two things. One, we are not sit-back-and-relax-on-a-beach people, so we did not want to vacation in Cancun. Two, we agreed it would be orchestrated in full by him, and I wouldn’t be told the destination until we arrived at the airport. The last place on Earth (literally) I expected to go was Egypt. Lo and behold, I was in for the honeymoon of a lifetime.
Thanks to our handy saving strategies (see 6 Tips for a Perfect Wedding Day on the blog) we were able to afford this incredible experience. We flew to Egypt the day after the wedding (after a layover in Brussels) and arrived at the airport in Cairo. Hailing a taxi was much harder for folks who live in the middle of cornfields, like us. Tourism is down due to political issues, so being the few white-skinned tourists trying to not look lost made us prime targets for taxi drivers looking for business. At first it was difficult to understand the words behind the broken English accent. I caught on quickly, having been familiar with the accent from TV specials, but Russell definitely had to ask them to repeat themselves once or twice. Fortunately, Russell had planned ahead and booked a driver who helped us through the international technicalities at the airport, and we were off.
Free drinks on the flight!
Our first two night were booked at the Ritz-Carlton. Even in foreign countries, the grandeur of the luxury hotel name is still magnificent. Caroline, the front desk employee was abundantly gracious, and showed us to our lavish room. No sooner had we set our bags down in the room, we got a phone call from Caroline who offered a free upgrade to a suite overlooking the Nile River, after she heard it was our honeymoon. The view was tremendous, overlooking the tall stone buildings through the smog of Cairo across the river. She also booked us complimentary dinner reservations for local cuisine the next evening which we were looking forward to.
I was extremely eager to get to see the Egyptian museum which was literally next door, but we had to made a run to the local grocery store for snacks and a few other necessities (who says snacks aren’t a necessity?). The taxi drivers waited outside the hotel, so it was easy to find someone. It was quite an adventure getting used to the driving. While 3 lanes may be painted on the street, they manage to squeeze five lanes out of it. Everyone drives at their own speed, cuts across when they want, and use their horns OFTEN. We only almost got in four or five accidents that were really close calls the whole trip, but every driving trip was stressful. We also knew to barter on price before leaving, unless they had a meter, which we preferred. Since it was hard to find a metered car, or good price, we passed up quite a few rides. Eventually we made it to the store, and were surprised to see some familiar brands. We eventually made it back to the hotel alive, and relaxed from a long day.
The first day of arrival was a culturally significant holiday: the first day of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month long fast for the Muslim religion, one of the five pillars of Islam. From our experience and research, it is a time to focus more on spirituality, fasting without food or water from the sun’s rising to its setting. After dark the streets are filled with delicious food to satisfy the hunger of fervent fasters. Music plays and colored lights glow, as shops are open later into the night to combat the hours they are closed in the heat of the day. People flock to outdoor and indoor shopping centers, kids play in the streets, and everyone is joyful.
We visited the Khan el-Khalili outdoor shopping center after a few days of being there. We were definitely nervous of pick-pocketers and thieves, but never did the general public make us feel afraid. Bartering is the only way to buy anything, and we definitely refined our negotiating skills. Sometimes walking away spurs them to come to your price. Once a shop owner came and found us far down the street to barter for a rug we liked, but we didn’t have enough cash with to work with him. We always had to be on guard, as in any major city, but the whole experience was enriching. We often had to ignore people shoving trinkets in our face, and they would call to us in different languages, hoping to spark our interest. Once someone called out to get our attention”Hello?! Human?” which was absolutely hilarious to hear their English vocabulary.
The next morning we were finally able to walk around the city and venture out. After treating ourselves to room service for breakfast, we dressed in our modest clothing and headed out. I had not known to pack in culturally appropriate clothing, covering most of my legs and shoulders, so my wardrobe was limited until we pick up a few items.We learned the hard way that most shops closed from two or three pm until after sunset. Other cultural questions came up later. At first we weren’t sure if it was rude for us to eat and drink in public, but the concierge assured us that there was no expectation of tourists to follow their customs.
Later, we toured the Egytpian Museum in Cairo which was filled with statues, artifacts, and parts of the sarcophagus from King Tut’s tomb. Massive pillars lined the entrance with a huge staircase in the middle. There was so much to see and we only saw parts of it before it closed for the day.
Russell thought he was Anubis, god of mummification…hmm I don’t think so…
Upon returning to the hotel, we freshened up and headed to the hotel restaurant for our dinner. Caroline surprised me with a huge bouquet of roses, along with a traditional fez for each of us. We ate outside with live local music, lights, and champagne (which was special since they are forbidden from drinking alcohol during Ramadan). Our appetizer was nine different dishes of dips, such as hummus, to dip bread in. Most of the food was Lebanese, with a few more local foods. Molokhia was served next, which is a green, slimy okra mash poured over rice. It lacked in flavor, which caught us off guard when the waiter said it was made with pepper instead of okra. For the main course lamb, beef and chicken were served along with roasted veggies, and dessert was hot Arabic tea and a bread pudding type of dish. We were stuffed, and they even packed the leftovers into a swan shape and sent it up to our room. We slept like a rock that night…
That was only the first few days there! Check back later to read more about our Adventures in Egypt!
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