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10 Days in Egypt & Israel – Day 3

By tam-admin | December 1, 2007

Saturday
We meet our guide, Mohammed, in the lobby and begin the morning with a drive to south Saqqara to visit the Step Pyramid built for Zoser – Egypt’s first pyramid. We also visit Memphis, Egypt’s first capital, to enjoy the open-air museum displaying statues of Ramses II, an alabaster sphinx, and other remains. Even in October, the sun here is harsh. Bring sunscreen, a hat, lots of water and start your days early!

The Step Pyramid.
Photo: The Step Pyramid.

Statue in Memphis.

Photo: Statue in Memphis.

We head back to Giza, passing dozens of children playing along the streets and in small parks. They’re dressed in bright new clothes, carrying toys and candy they received from the celebration of Eid al-Fitr. Nearly every boy has a toy machine gun in hand. According to our guide, this is due to the influence of American movies.

Boy with toy gun received for Eid-al-Fitr.

Photo: Boy with toy gun received for Eid-al-Fitr.

We arrive back in Giza and take a tour of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre, the Pyramid of Menkaure and, of course, the legendary Sphinx. Many tourists take horse drawn carriages or camels around the Giza Plateau. Whether you’re riding a camel or in a car, take the road around to the back of the pyramids for a far less crowded view. If you’re an animal lover, you may want to forego the animal rides. Most animals here are treated quite cruelly. You’ll find most to be emaciated with scars on their exposed hip bones from being whipped. On one of our stops, we witnessed a girl riding a camel who returned to her tour guide sobbing because the camel guide had refused to quit whipping the animal after she asked him repeatedly to stop. The camel guide’s punishment? A sound slap across the face by the tour guide. Surprisingly, this is not the last time we’ll see this during our stay in Egypt.

Great Pyramid and Sphinx in Giza, Egypt.

Photo: Great Pyramid and Sphinx in Giza, Egypt.

Also worthy of note: the Great Pyramid only offers 300 tickets per day to tour the inside. It sells 150 in the morning and 150 in the afternoon, so be sure to get in line early – they sell out quick.

We return from a full day of Egyptology lessons, relieved that we were able to salvage our last day in Cairo, and happy to have gained a great deal more knowledge about the sites than we would ever have been able to get on our own. The fantastic concierge at the Le Meridien checked in with our guide during the day to make sure the trip was going well. They have also arranged for us to have 2 days of private guides once we get to Luxor

After a quick bite to eat, we end the evening by taking a taxi to the Khan al-Khalili market in Cairo (complete with the standard perfume sales pitch). As we jump out of the taxi, the driver tells us to stay close to each other and hold hands in the market. Young Egyptian men are known for collecting in groups and surrounding female tourists in order to rub up against them (and worse.

Locals and tourists collect at the market to dine, shop, socialize and people watch. This enormous outdoor market sells everything imaginable and is open from early morning to very late at night. Small streets and alleys are lined with smooth talkers selling their wares. If you’ve been to any of the large Asian or Middle Eastern souks (markets) – the same rules apply here: haggle, haggle, haggle. I’ve always found in these markets that it’s easiest to shop around, then select one or two places where you can get everything at once – you’ll be able to get a much better deal. Haggling over a single item that costs 20 Egyptian Pounds (about $3.30 US dollars) will not garner you much of a discount. You’ll have much more leverage haggling over numerous items because the shop owner risks losing a much larger sale. Also, in nearly any of the markets, if there’s an item they don’t have that you want, tell them – most will run to the next stall and haggle a deal for you in exchange for making a small profit of their own. Shops typically greet tourists with “welcome home,” and in Egypt we’ve found that a successful round of haggling ending with both parties happy generally results in the shop keeper giving you a free gift before you leave.

Stall at Khan al-Khalili market in Cairo.

Photo: Stall at Khan al-Khalili market in Cairo.

After a leisurely stroll through the market and some very successful haggling, we head back to the hotel and prepare for our early morning flight from Cairo to Luxor.

Check back to find out what happens tomorrow for Day 4 in Egypt!

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