We pack up and leave Luxor on Tuesday. The airport is brand new, empty, cool and has free wireless. Our flight to Cairo is short and we can see the great pyramids at Giza, the step pyramid of Zoser and the other ‘great’ pyramids in Dashur from the plane as we approach Cairo. Stepping off the plane, we are immediately relieved that it’s about 25 degrees cooler than Luxor. We check into the Cairo Hyatt and get a small but nice room with a fantastic Nile view on the 29th floor. Our welcome refreshments in the business lounge are sipped with the great pyramids visible in the distance.
We are halfway through our trip and badly need to do laundry. Fortunately, the Internews office here helps me find a local by-the-kilo laundromat and I head to Garden City with two small garbage bags full of dirty clothes. Overall, we’ve packed very well — the bags aren’t over-stuffed and we can comfortably move through airports and stations. Good luggage helps a lot. For Christmas, Trish and I bought ‘each other’ new Briggs and Reily stuff and it has held up well. With the new airline fees, one has to pack in smaller bags, so we got four medium bags that are small enough for the kids to roll if they have to (and sometimes they do).
Trisha and I each have a spacious roller laptop carry-ons that we love for the long plane rides. I’d recommend those to anyone who travels. They reduce back strain a lot in airports and we can carry a lot of gear in them. Another winner is Trish’s great over-the-shoulder day bag by Eagle Creek. It looks good and exposes her back to the breeze, which is great when it’s hot.
When I get back to the hotel, we hit the smallish pool and then have an expensive, but great meal of Indian food. Egyptian cuisine can be good, but we’ve had a lot of it and the change is delicious. Out on the Nile, party boats of all sizes shimmer with electric lights. The city doesn’t skip a beat as it gets dark. Cairo rivals New York as a late-night city, but after a few work calls it’s bedtime for us.
On Wednesday morning we go to the Egyptian Museum. We grab a cab outside the hotel and drive the short distance to the museum, housed in a ghastly pink-orange, turn-of-the-last-century building. Tour busses line the outer gate entrance and we have to push a bit to get in. It’s the first tourist place that has been crowded. The three security checks in a hundred yards don’t make things go any faster.
My plan was to spend a few hours now and return another day for the rest because the collection is so extensive. Instead, we were in and out in 90 minutes with no need to return. It’s not that there aren’t great things there — the museum is the preeminent Egypt collection in the world. But it’s a freaking disaster! Inside, the heat is immediately noticeable. There is no air conditioning. You start to look around and it looks cluttered. Less than a quarter of the stuff is labeled in any language, and maybe half have nothing but handwritten numbers. It’s semi-organized but it’s very hard to tell where one area starts and another one stops.
And most of all, there is simply too much stuff. It’s impossible to mentally absorb any information when staring at 40 or 50 wooden sarcophagi grouped together. It looks like the attic of an eccentric old man. But the real attic is worse. Three years ago, they found the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut, one of Egypt’s most famous Pharaohs, in the museum’s third floor attic, where it had languished, unidentified, for over 100 years. It certainly makes you appreciate the hard work museums do to curate and make the items accessible to the public.
And yet, the place is charming. It feels like Egypt — dusty, cluttered, functional and unselfconscious. I am more stuck by the state of the museum itself than anything I saw. And we saw some good things. The Tutankhamen stuff is amazing. Trish was surprised and pleased to see the funeral mask/headdress on display. We saw some great jewelry, and of course the mummies.
Trish went to see the human mummies. Since I had seen them the year before, I stayed with the kids, who were too scared. Nearby was the animal mummy section but neither kid wanted to go at first. Lily got up the courage and enjoyed it a lot. She and I then dragged Emma in physically resisting until she saw the 12-foot mummified crocodile. That piqued her interest. Egypt is building a new museum near the great pyramids for about 2012 (maybe). If you can get to Cairo before then, this museum-pocolypse is unforgettable.
We had lunch on the Nile with my colleagues from the Cairo office, a friendly bunch. Then some pool, work, dinner, more work and sleep. It’s the second day of an easy schedule and we all appreciate the slower pace. Tomorrow we pick it up again and hit the only remaining wonder of the world.
[Photos by Trisha Creekmore]