Next stop: Giza, Egypt
Giza was even better than I could have ever expected. I had heard all sorts of feedback regarding Egypt- its safety, dirtiness, crowds, etc. but nothing could have prepared me for the magic that comes with seeing the pyramids and the sphinx right in front of you…….
With an extreme delay in my arrival time to Giza, I was tired and bummed. I was so determined to see these pyramids that I would do whatever it took. As soon as I missed my flight in Italy, I contacted my bed and breakfast in Giza who I had prearranged a driver with. I told them that I was not scheduled to arrive until 2am and was there any way I could possibly get a ride at that ungodly hour? Fortunately me they seemed to have no problem with the time and I was told the driver would be waiting for me. When I finally received my bag and walked out in the darkness of Cairo I was shocked to see dozens of cab drivers waiting for passengers. My driver Muhammad greeted me with a sign and my name and escorted me to his car. As he drove me through the dark streets of the city I was surprised to see people waiting for buses, eating meals at restaurants, and walking along the side of the road. As we got deeper into the city, I saw worked scrubbing side walks and even operating a fork lift in the complete darkness. It was bizarre! Muhammad told me it was the city that never slept. No kidding.
I arrived at 330am to my hotel. I was exhausted, I was confused, I wanted to sleep but was so excited to see the sites that my body only let me rest until 8am. Breakfast was on the rooftop and I had purposefully selected a small hotel right next to the pyramids for a breakfast view of the landscape. Walking up the steps to the roof, I had butterflies of anticipation in my stomach... it was the moment I had been waiting for since I was a child. And then there it was, in all its glory, right in front of me. Having seen the Roman and Greek ruins, in my mind I thought what I would witness would be somewhat destroyed- I mean these structures were CRAZY old- but what sat before me looked so beautiful and well preserved I almost felt as if it was fake. There was a Disney-like quality to the surreal landscape that stood before me. How could anything so old, large, and impressive be sitting so close to me?
All the chaos of the past few days, the money spent, the research done, the friends and family members I worried, all of it was worth it simply for this one moment. But then I got to explore. You could literally touch and walk onto the pyramids. I felt like I was committing a crime (which became a theme in Egypt). Where were the guards? Who was protecting this relic? Yes there was a payment to get in but then it was fair game! I couldn't believe it. Men on horses and camelback beckoned to me and other tourists for a ride to see the pyramids from all sides, but in my typical fashion, I wanted to walk.
I have always hated the feeling of being trapped— in a tour where I cant peruse things at my leisure, in a public vehicle where I cant stop as a please, on an animal’s back on some group adventure. I didn’t want to miss out on things and as a photographer I always found that I stopped more and for longer periods of time than any of my fellow companions.
I was fortunate enough to visit the Sphinx first and met a very nice man who lived in Germany and was Hungarian. We had both arrived to the pyramids so early that they were virtually empty. We were the only visible non-Muslims and were both traveling alone, so we gravitated towards each other and decided to join forces for our exploration. We walked around all the pyramids and even stumbled upon some archeologists who were in the process of uncovering more tombs! I couldn't believe after all this time they were still finding things!
After our explorations it was back to the hotel to pack and leave for Alexandria. Nothing like rushing through some of the most important history in the world!
My 3am driver had specifically told me to try the "hot hummus” before I left and I thought it would make the perfect pre-travel quick lunch. Contrary to the hummus I had experienced everywhere else in the world, hot hummus was a broth that could be made spicy or mild and contained chickpeas. It was warm and intended for eating and then drinking. Odd. Tasty yes, but I was not into the concept of drinking the broth that had a similar salty consistency to brine so I finished the meal once the last chickpea had been consumed.
Faster than I could have imagined it was off to the train station to head north to Alexandria. The traffic was absolutely insane the entire drive. It was not rush hour, this was just what the hours of daylight were like in Cairo. In a city with an average of 3 actual lanes, cars, motorcycles and trucks had decided to fashion 5-6 lanes across. There were no cross walks and local people ran and weaved across main roads and highways. Everyone honked, but more as a friendly warning, thank you, or permission, rather than out of anger. There seemed to be absolutely no order to anything, and yet, everyone was able to work together in a beautiful strategic mess.
While the airport process was moderately simple (even though it took more than 45 minutes to get my bag) the train station was a whole other process. Cars cannot approach the station directly so I was dropped off in an intersection of downtown Cairo by a man who only spoke Arabic who pointed in a general direction to signify the train was that way. I had a massive rolling suitcase, a heavy camera bag and my purse, plus was running on 5 hours of sleep. It was not a good combo. Through motioning and making Choo Choo noises for directions, I finally entered the train station. This building, like every other entry to a building in Egypt including large hotels, required all luggage and humans to pass through a screening machine. Once inside I was equally lost. Where did I buy my ticket and where were the trains? The only signs were in Arabic and I was beginning to doubt my adventurous spirit and desire to make it on my own.
After going from window to window I was finally pointed in the right direction and found myself in line for a ticket praying saying the name Alexandria was enough. Once again success, but where to find the train. I was 2 hours early, having given myself plenty of buffer time after my flight debacle in Italy. I was told to wait on one platform, but after 20 minutes of waiting there, two other passengers who were waiting told me to go to another platform. Frustrated I made my way to the other side of the station. When I arrived, I was told to go to another platform, so again I moved my things. Confused as to how it was so hard to sort out which platform to wait on, I stood near the main entrance to all the platforms. My face must have said it all because instantly multiple Egyptians came up offering help. They knew I couldn't understand the language so each person that came up addressed me in English. One man was a dentist also traveling to Alexandria and he offered to escort me to the platform, help me with my luggage, and wait with me to make sure I got on the train alright. I was so relieved. We sat on a bench and talked for the remainder of our waiting time. He had packed a lunch of repacked croissants and drinks and offered me one of each. We talked about his life in Alexandria and his desire to come to America. I was so grateful to have fallen into such luck.
Each ticket has a number marking our seat and cabin. Oddly enough he had a seat in the same row and cabin as me! When the train arrived we boarded together and prepared for the three hour journey north. A man sat next to him who was from The Sudan and the three of us chatted for the remainder of the journey. The Sudanese man was on a trip and his hotel was close to mine. He was fluent in Arabic and offered to arrange a driver for us and to drop me off first. I have lived my life based upon vibes, energy and intuition. I am extremely perceptive and can sense when something is off. I think it’s this ability that has protected me so much over the years- both physically and mentally. I have been able to tell when people are lying well before they come clean, I have been able to tell when a situation is dangerous well before it transitions to a point of danger. Something about these two men seemed so comfortable and normal. I had learned all about their jobs and lives and dreams. I was not being asked on a date or any sort of excursion. Instead, I was being offered a safe escort to my hotel by one and a phone number in case I should need anything in Alexandria by the other. I accepted the invitation and was grateful to have help with my luggage and navigating a new city in the dark. The man even waited for me to ensure my check in was complete and I was safe within the hotel before he left. I took the elevator up to the room alone with a smile on my face, grateful for my good fortune and ability to trust my intuition. I couldn't wait to get something simple to eat and go to sleep. It had been a very long very days with very little sleep. I had a king bed, a massive shower, and nothing pressing on the schedule. :)
Want to know some specifics about my trip? Check out the details here!
Transport time required: nearly 1.5 hours to get to train station during daytime Cairo traffic. 45 minutes to get from Cairo airport to Giza hotel at 3am but about an hour for my suitcase to come out. As it is the city that never sleeps, there were dozens of cab drivers available at this time of day but I prearranged my driver with the Pyramid View Inn Bed and Breakfast for $20 for peace of mind. The train trip was nearly four hours and my cab drive to the hotel was about 25 min.
Modes of Transportation Taken: Plane from Milan to Cairo Airport. Pre-hired Cab from Cairo Airport to Hotel. Uber from Hotel to Cairo Train Station. Train. Cab to hotel in Alexandria.
Currency Required: Only cash accepted for drivers, food, entry into pyramids, etc. Accepted USD at hotel for payment and they were able to convert my USD cash to Egyptian pounds for the exact exchange rate I told them with no transaction fee.
Languages Spoken: some English. Arabic.
Perceived level of Danger: I never felt in danger in Giza, at the airport or at the train station. I did get very confused by how to get into the train station from where they dropped me off, no one at the train station spoke English, I really struggled to buy a ticket and find where my train was, and a kind passenger going on the same train who spoke English took pity on me and helped me with everything. Give yourself well over an hour of time to sort out buying tickets, where the train is going to arrive. I also never felt in danger in Alexandria. I had been so prepared for feeling in danger but shocked that the feeling never surfaced.
My Advice: If you plan to travel often I suggest switching to Tmobile and taking advantage of their international plan. This saved me and I used my GPS every day as well as emailing hotels or guiding services, using What’s App to coordinate with locals, using the internet to research places/facts/things. This was the single most important thing I had with me for my trip and helped to subside fears of being in trouble/lost/late/confused/etc.
Bring USD. Bring as little luggage as possible to make life easier. Smile a lot, ask for help, be very patient, give yourself excess time for everything possible. When people try to sell you things or talk you into experiences, say no thank you, unless of course you want it. Be willing to negotiate and walk away. Don't get frustrated or angry. Say “Shokran” (thank you) often. Listen to your gut ALWAYS. If this isn’t something you are used to and you are not a very perceptive person, I suggest trying to become more in-tuned. It will keep you safer as you travel and in your daily life. On your first night in a new place, eat either in your hotel or right across the street. Don’t try to explore a new place in the dark, theres no point. Just wait until the morning.
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