King Zoser’s pyramid at Saqqara
Today, Evan and I went to Saqqara, Memphis and Giza. Our guide, Sahar, and a driver came to pick us up early in the morning, and we headed to Saqqara first, passing Giza along the way, to see the oldest Pyramids in Egypt. We saw the step pyramid of King Zoser, which is nearly 5000 years old, and which was almost eclipsed by the palace structure leading up to it (photo coming as soon as we are able). There were also a bunch of stray dogs, who followed our tour guide around. She usually feeds them, and today was no exception. We also went to see a tomb that had some amazing designs on the walls, and some even with the original paint.
We left the desert to head back past the “green line,” which marks the boundary between the lush irrigated land and the barren desert, and went to a carpet school. We saw people making knotted and woven carpets, and I learned how to make a knot, and made my mark on a carpet! Then, of course, we went to the shop where we looked around, got quite a sales pitch, and ultimately left without anything, though they did have some very nice carpets.
Statue of Ramses II at Memphis
Next it was off to Memphis, where we saw a few ruins and statues in an outdoor museum. The most impressive piece was a giant statue of Ramses II.
After Memphis, where the Pharaohs ruled, it was off to a papyrus store to see how the world’s first paper was made. We got to see papyrus plants, then see our guide to the store slice off the outer skins, cut the center into strips, soak the strips (which would normally take six days), arrange them in a criss-cross pattern, then press them flat (which would normally take another six days). Then we got to see the finished product, write on it, test its strength, and get it wet.
We browsed the artwork, and saw plenty of the expected Egyptian themes, as well as some Christian ones and even two Jewish ones – a Happy Hannukah one and a Ten Commandments one. We settled on a plain sheet for us to decorate with our own artwork.
The Sphinx and a pyramid
We finally made it out to Giza, bought our tickets and stepped out to see the pyramids. They were huge, as expected, and we got to stand on some of the lower steps. We opted not to go inside, because from everything we’ve read and heard, walking down a steamy claustrophobic passageway to an empty room was not worth the extra cash. Our guide took some funny photos (coming soon) of us “holding” pyramids, and at one point hung out of the window of our moving van with Evan’s camera to take a photo for us.
The one disappointment was that being at the pyramids felt like being back at the bazaar. We couldn’t turn our heads without being asked to ride a camel – “Egyptian Cadillac! Its name is Michael Jackson! No? Will you come back later?” We stayed off the camels, didn’t buy any plastic pyramids, and weren’t lured by a boy yelling, “Ice! Ice!”
We also saw the Sphinx, which seemed to be home to quite a number of pigeons. There was also a great view from the Sphinx to the three pyramids in the background.
Oh, and guess what’s right in front of the Sphinx? A Pizza Hut! That must be the most scenic Pizza Hut in the world.
We ate dinner in Zamalek (a district on the island in the center of the Nile) at a restaurant called L’Aubergine. The food was good, and upstairs there was a bar packed with people watching the Euro 2008 finals (¡Viva España!). It seemed to be a bit of a Westerner’s haven.
Now we’re back at the hotel, figuring out what to do tomorrow.