Turmoil in Egypt, but that didn't stop us! Shawarma, anyone..?by Eric Waddington
Anyone with access to a newspaper, television, computer, or just about any wireless device knows that there has been a lot of turmoil in Egypt lately. Revolutionary wars, attempts at Democracy, questionable military intervention, oustings of leaders, and riots at Tahrir Square. In spite of some of the disturbances, we recently took a trip there. I wouldn't necessarily suggest that to everyone; we went last year (in between the two "coups" that overthrew their leaders) - Tahrir Square was still shut down by protestors and there was still a level of danger, but we had some connections and a local tour guide that made this trip somewhat safe and certainly something special. Tourism was down 80% from the previous year, so we pretty much had the tourist destinations to ourselves...
As fans of the arts, we found Egypt to be full of the works of incredibly creative people. According to our tour guide, Egypt is the oldest destination on earth for tourism. The ancient Romans and Greeks started the trend, often visiting in order to catch a glance of the ancient Pyramids. During colonial times, Napoleon and the British actually looted Egyptian arts and treasures to fill their national museums. This had an effect on everything from Events like these and the recent revolution, have had a profound effect on culture and the arts in Egypt. We even found the land itself to be a work of art including the monuments of the Nile Valley, mosques and monasteries, and also fantastic dunes, ancient fortresses, and prehistoric rock art.
One of our favorite stops was definitely the Egyptian Museum, one of Cairo’s top attractions. There is an extensive collection of papyrus and coins used by the ancient Egyptians. There are also artifacts from the final two dynasties of Ancient Egypt and artifacts taken from the Valley of the Kings. There are even objects from the Tomb of Tutankhamen and the Royal Mummy Room containing many royal mummies from pharaonic times. Although badly ruined, one of the most impressive sites is the Temple of Karnak. Come to find out, it is the largest ancient religious site ever built, and represents the combined achievement of many generations of Egyptian builders.
One of most impressive structures of Karnak was the Hypostyle Hall, a hall filled with 134 engraved columns. The Hypostyle Hall wiped us out so we took a break to catch some grub and were impressed by the food as well! We had Egyptian "Shawarma" from some local street vendors. It was similar to a spicy gyro sandwich. Very tasty! Note: If you saw the little clip at the end of the credits in The Avengers when they're all huddled around a little ethnic joint (while the workers are sweeping up rubble,) "shawarmas" are what Tony Stark mentioned they were eating! We also had the "mixed grill" which is a big feast with a variety of grilled/bbq/roasted meats - including, believe it or not, the pigeon... And it was TASTY. Nice little dark meat bird. Delicious. They raise them on pigeon farms out there, so they aren't just plucked off a city statue or something. Pretty much every meal comes with freshly baked flat bread and a variety of hummice-like sauces to dip it in. Needless to say, the food was also a work of art!
After a nice meal we got back to our tour. The Pyramids of Giza were last on our tour and are the indisputable top attraction in Egypt and were built over the span of three generations. The Great Pyramid of Khufu is an awe-inspiring 455 feet high making it the largest pyramid.
Having a local tour guide show us the real, legitimate, local-flavor of Egypt was what really made this trip special. The fact that we experienced both the ancient world through the tourist destinations as essentially a private tour (since tourism was so far down due to the political turmoil in Egypt) made it that much more enjoyable (however it was hard to see so many Eyptians struggling to earn money when they typically relied on tourism for funding.) In summary, the trip was absolutely incredible and we hope to return soon.