A visit to the pyramids at Giza is a marquee item on many bucket lists. Indeed, the pyramids were one of the destinations that the dying old men visited in the crappy Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman movie that inspired the whole bucket list craze in the first place. To be sure, seeing the pyramids up close and personal is a surpassing experience (and one which is covered in my next post). But there’s much more to Egypt than those piles of limestone bricks in the desert. This is the first in a series of articles in which I’ll comprehensively recap my two week tour of a magical land that’s been around since the dim mists of recorded history. That tour took place in September 2012. (As sort of a prologue to the series, I wrote about how Egypt became country no. 25 on my World Karaoke Tour. Check out that article to find out what happened when I sang “Walk Like An Egyptian” in Egypt!) Today’s subject is Cairo, the capital city in which my adventure got underway. Future installments will cover the other checkpoints on my Egyptian itinerary: not only Giza, but also Luxor, Karnak, Dendara, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Philae, the Valley of the Kings, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Memphis, and Saqqara. And I’ll also write about my cruise on the Nile, that wonderful liquid highway by which I reached many of those immortal locales.
Last month, an article in the New York Times travel section discussed the idea of sharing moments with history. The concept is that when you travel to an area that’s steeped in history, your journey isn’t only geographic; you’re also transported along a temporal dimension. Egypt works particularly well as such a time machine; wherever in the country you go, you find yourself in the long shadow of the past. And Cairo is the perfect gateway to that time machine. It’s a 21st-century megacity that sits, in part, on land mentioned in the Old Testament; and in it you can commune with various historical moments along the continuum between the Bronze Age and modernity. (Hat tip to one of my favourite travel bloggers, Jenna Francisco of “This Is My Happiness”, for bringing to my attention the aforementioned Times article and its notion of communing with history.)
Before I could explore all that history, I had to overcome fears stoked by a present-day crisis. Just days before I was supposed to be in Cairo, anti-American demonstrations had flared up at the U.S. embassy there. Some of the footage that the TV news channels were broadcasting looked pretty frightening. I wondered: should I reconsider my trip? Since you’re reading this article now, I obviously proceeded to go. And I was so happy that I did!
Once I arrived in Egypt, it quickly became apparent that the perils were overblown and overhyped by the American media. The protests fizzled out within a few days and had always been minor in scope (involving only a few hundred people in a city with a metropolitan area population of nearly 19 million). Ultimately, I never felt in danger in Cairo or anywhere else in Egypt. To the contrary, all the locals I met were friendly and hospitable. What’s more, to the extent the subject of my nationality came up, Egyptians uniformly had good things to say about the United States. That made me very glad that I didn’t act ashamed of where I was from or pretend to be from Canada (as one of my Facebook friends had actually suggested I do — not that I would have ever considered putting a maple leaf on my daypack). Anywhere I go, even in my home city of New York, I just have to exercise common sense and appropriate caution. Egypt, including Cairo, turned out to be no different in this regard. (One factor that enhanced my sense of well-being in Cairo: both hotels there in which I stayed were like fortresses. You’re required to pass through a metal detector every time you enter; bomb-sniffing dogs are on hand; and vehicles, including taxis, that pull up into the hotel’s driveway must pop their trunks open for inspection. And it’s not just the hotels; metal detectors are ubiquitous at the entrances to tourist sites throughout Egypt, although outside of Cairo, those screening checkpoints are frequently unattended and disregarded.)
The thing that can legitimately be deadly in Cairo is the traffic. Continue reading