Motti Verses

A joyful Israeli couple travel alone in Egypt – Cairo and the Pyramids

Landing comfortably in Cairo airport at midnight after a quick 55 minute flight from Luxor is misleading. Arriving at the airport 5 hours before with sweet memories of our trip in Nubia and cruise on the Nile river did not hint to what awaits us when we landed in the capital city. Constant security checks, delays and slow baggage delivery made the evening hectic. It had nothing to do with us being an independent couple traveling alone with Israeli passports. Egyptians and foreigners passengers alike looked exhausted when finally leaving Cairo terminal.

An overpriced taxi drive to the city was a piece of cake when late night Cairo introduced itself to us. Endless vehicles with no such thing as traffic lights or driving signals; our driver was singing and announcing: ”welcome to Cairo. No one sleeps here”, he giggled. With an ultimate freedom to drive and turn wherever and whenever he wanted, with no rules applied, we probably experienced a culture shock.

A Renovated and spacious room at the Conrad Cairo (photo by Motti Verses)
The relaxing view of the river Nile from our executive room balcony (photo by Motti Verses)
The executive lounge on the 22nd floor is a retreat facility – exactly what one needs in this bustling city (photo by Motti Verses)

How relaxing was the feeling to enter the skyscraper of Conrad Cairo at a very late hour and feel an upscale hotel. Our spacious room had a balcony overlooking the river, but the moment we opened the door, we immediately felt the smoggy air, the noise and the endless horn blowing of the passing cars. We closed the door quickly and continued to enjoy the air conditioning of the pampering renovated room. We just had a quick shower and went to sleep as adventurous and exciting days awaited us.

An early breakfast was served for us at the executive lounge on the 22nd floor. The Nile view from its balcony was bewitching. This retreat facility is exactly what one needs in this bustling city. The team members there are friendly, courteous and proactive. Food and drinks were great and the lounge’s calm atmosphere is a true asset.

But we were in a hurry to meet our guide Khaled. He was waiting for us in the street corner in his gray, Chinese small car. Acquaintances and followers on Facebook recommended his service and we acknowledged. He was a middle aged guide with a lot of experience and Egyptian know how. Most of all he is cautious. He knew we were Israelis and numerous visitors of our nationality used his services. He advised us to speak English in public, lay low and trust him. After the freedom in deep Egypt that was a slight change, but it made sense to us. It is different in Cairo and we cooperated.

The next hour, on the way to Giza, a province in a suburb of Cairo, we experienced a pure driving lesson for Cairo. Seated in the back seats we witnessed Egypt’s sprawling capital. 22 million inhabitants live in this bustling metropolitan area. The traffic we witnessed at night turned out to be just the promotion. Legendary Cairo’s traffic congestion is a nightmare. Some unnoticed markings on some roads might be seen. The traffic laws do exist in theory. In reality there are no lanes, no laws, and no order on most of the roads. As a visitor one just has to let go and accept the traffic patterns. Still, no car accidents were seen. This roads madness still somehow flows and works. Khaled was patient but persistent. Driving with him was a test of survival combined with a battle of wits. A war zone to say the list. Entering Giza wasn’t promising. The entire area looked bustling and certainly not in a good shape. But when we saw the picks of the famous pyramids on the horizon we forgot everything.

An enchanting scenery – Giza pyramids and the sphinx (photo by Motti Verses)
How gigantic are the stones of the Giza pyramids? (photo by Motti Verses)
A must visit place for every traveler – the pyramids of Giza (photo by Motti Verses)

Entering the gates via heavy security with thousands of tourists was easy and comfortable. In front of our eyes we saw the greatest of them all. With impeccable geometry and sheer bulk –  the Giza Pyramids. The Great Sphinx is probably the most famous sculpture in the world, with a lion’s body and a human head. The powerful protector of the entire site. Some security officers were alarmed to check my iPhone video recording, as I was using my usual wired microphone to achieve professional audio quality. Our guide calmed them down, however Liat’s mood slightly plunged. No passports and documents were asked. Some say it was just a way to pressure him to receive a bakshish, a form of getting some money. A familiar occurrence here. I can’t be sure, but all was fine after the tiny incident.

For the next two hours we walked around the 3 amazing pyramids. What an excitement it was to experience the last remaining wonder of the ancient world for 4000 years. An astonishing wealth of mathematical and construction genius. How on earth were they built and why? Egyptologists are suggesting answers, but for some reason I kept remembering my favorite science fiction movie “Stargate”, which suggested an alien intervention. The scenery in Giza was enchanting. Camels, horses, carriages, bazaar counters, tour buses and inhabitants enjoying a peaceful rest on the pyramids shaded gigantic stones, while we are constantly tongue- tied. 

Khaled was persistent and kind to take our pictures in the best scenic places. We felt very comfortable with him. After a cold drink break by his friend’s kiosk, surrounded by a group of resting smelly camels, we were ready to see more. Our Egyptian guide was knowledgeable. He is certainly not a certified enthusiastic charismatic egyptologist. A low key quiet person would be a true characterization. But his next itinerary he prepared for us was rather magnifying.

Founded 5000 years ago, the close-by ancient city of Memphis was Egypt’s first capital. The huge 13m long 83 tons weight statue of Ramesses II there left us speechless. Saqqara is an ancient burial complex located near the Nile. This is where the transition to the pyramid design for burial started. The way deep inside, straight to the tomb, is easily accessible here. Dahshur is home to some of Egypt’s best preserved pyramids, built before the famous Giza structures. The Bent Pyramid we saw was obviously built far too steeply. We made our way down its long and never ending narrow tunnel to find the tomb. Definitely a memorable challenge with some overstretched muscles. 

The huge 13m long 83 tons weight statue of Ramesses II in Memphis Egypt (photo by Motti Verses)
The Saqqara pyramid – an ancient burial complex located near the Nile (photo by Motti Verses)
The Bent Pyramid of Dahshur, home to some of Egypt’s best antiquities (photo by Motti Verses)
Down a long and never ending narrow tunnel to find the tomb of the Bent Pyramid (photo by Motti Verses)

We didn’t miss a full museums day. Cairo offers something that no other place in the world can – authenticity. A visit to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization is breathtaking. Observing 20 royal pharaoh mummies – 18 Kings, and 2 Queens –  is an intriguing experience. This modern museum with 50,000 artifacts was inaugurated 2 years ago. The Egyptian Museum is the oldest archaeological museum in the Middle East, and houses the largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities in the world. The highlight of Egypt’s wonders here are the treasures of boy-king Tutankhamun, synonymous with Egypt’s Pharaonic past. An unbelievable highlight.

Observing 20 royal pharaoh mummies at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization is an intriguing experience (photo by Motti Verses)
The Egyptian Museum next to Tahrir square – a location and focus for political demonstrations (photo by Motti Verses)
The Egyptian Museum houses the largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities in the world (photo by Motti Verses)

Passing through Tahrir square next to this museum, the major public town square in downtown Cairo, was special. This square has been the location and focus for political demonstrations in Cairo since the early 20th century. I was excited.

Our guide’s driving and care made our stay in the city relaxing. A local escort is definitely needed here. However the main sanctuary was our home away from home – the Conrad Cairo. The hotel is offering 615 rooms, 100 of them are in the executive category. Unwinding in the hotel facilities, taking a dip in the pool or visiting the international casino here, open 24 hours, is an attraction for thousands of guests staying in this hotel, while enjoying this never resting city.

Courteous smiling commercial Boss here is Sherif Medhat.” The hotel is almost totally renovated and our guests arrive here mainly for leisure purposes”, he says. “We cater to the European market, mainly for travelers from Spain, UK and France, but also from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Our casino here is a major attraction, open 24 hours a day”, says Sherif, while patiently touring the hotel with me.

Contemporary modern design facilities with an international casino, open 24 hours
(photo by Motti Verses)
Jayda Nile Terrace, the best of Egyptian-Lebanese cuisine (photo by Motti Verses)

Numerous restaurants are a real temptation in this Conrad and we chose the buzzy out-door atmosphere, overlooking the river: Jayda Nile Terrace – the best of Egyptian-Lebanese cuisine there is. The evening with the Nile scenery and the illuminated motor boats was a joy to our eyes.

As our flight via Amman was departing in the evening we were granted a late checkout. “Shalom Velehitaot”, said the smiling receptionist. Khaled was so kind to take us to the airport, driving again through the maze of traffic gems. Heavy security was repeatedly a challenge in the airport. Still all the security and immigration employees were extremely courteous at us with our Israeli passports. Warm and hospitable people. This is the Egypt I liked so much.

55 minutes flight time to Amman and 20 minutes to Ben Gurion airport. Is it really over? So close, but a world apart. A trip every Israeli should experience in his or her lifetime.

About the Author
The author is a hotel expert, traveler, writer, videographer and the former Head of Public Relations of Hilton Hotels and Resorts in Israel
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