Cairo logs
Arriving at Port Said
Arriving at Port Said
After boarding the ship in Alexandria it was just a short, overnight sail to Port Said, the port city for Cairo. Anne and I were anxious to leave the Atlas and begin our week touring throughout Egypt. Spending the day in Alexandria we experienced our first taste of Egypt, however, we still had no real idea from just those few short hours exactly what Egypt would be like. We were in for numerous surprises and they would begin as soon as we docked in Port Said.
Luggage ferry
Luggage Ferry
In Port Said we met our guide, Zenab, for our escorted tour through Egypt. We were fortunate as our group only consisted of 16 people. Of the 16 one other couple was in our age group and the remainder considerably older. We waited on board the Atlas, watching them off load our luggage to a small boat (right), while Zenab cleared the necessary paperwork with immigration and customs. With things seemingly in order we boarded the small taxi boat for the ride to the docks. Passing through customs a customs inspector became very interested in my cameras and, for whatever reason, he made a written entry regarding the cameras in my passport. With the formalities behind us we were free to board the tour bus for the drive to Cairo. Having only 16 in the group was a blessing. We had plenty of room on the bus and got plenty of individual attention from the tour guide throughout the trip.
The bus ride from Port Said to Cairo would take about two hours and fully introduce us to the poverty and living conditions that existed within Egypt. There wasn't much to see on the road from Port Said to Cairo, mostly desert with a few small towns or villages. We did catch a glimpse of a few smoke stacks of ships passing through the Suez Canal, but we never actually saw the canal. Geoff and Anne from Palo Alto, Ca. were the other couple on the tour that was our same age and we quickly made friends during the bus ride. About midway through the journey Anne asked Geoff to ask Zenab if we could stop as she needed to use a bathroom. Zenab quickly came to speak with Anne and tired desperately to get her to wait until we arrived at the hotel in Cairo, about an hour away still, but Anne indicated she needed to stop now and couldn't wait. Within a few minutes we found ourselves pulling into a small village. In the center there was a gas station of sorts and small convenience store. Anne and I looked forward to getting something cold to drink while there. Leaving the bus Anne and Geoff went in search of the bathrooms. Once located she walked inside and immediately came back calling to Anne, Geoff and myself. She invited us to take a quick look at the condition of the bathroom. We did and were shocked by it. Imagine the dirtiest bathroom you've ever seen, multiply that by 100, and you probably won't even come close to how filthy that place was. The smell alone was unbearable. It was enough to make anyone who had to use the bathroom change their mind. But Anne needed to go. She didn't, however, want to touch anything inside the bathroom. Having seen the deplorable conditions Anne and I left in search of a cold drink. Anne asked her husband, Geoff, to stay and stand in the doorway while she went to the bathroom. That way she wouldn't have to touch the door to close it and she would have some semblance of privacy. From that point onward we made sure that we didn't need to use a public bathroom throughout the rest of the trip.

Cairo's smog

Our first view (left) of the city was not encouraging. Like Alexandria the skyline was partially obscured in the distance by heavy smog. But, as we approached it seemed to get better. Maybe it was just our excitement at actually being in Cairo that seemed to make it better. Let's face it, there are many cities throughout the world that have a smog problem so why should Egypt be any different?

The City of the Dead
City of the Dead

Tents in the City of the Dead
City of the Dead

The first thing that we really got a good view of was the massive cemetery they call the "City of the Dead." The "City of the Dead" is also a"City of the Living" as many of the poorest people in Cairo make the cemetery their home. Almost everywhere you looked you could see makeshift housing and people scurrying about doing their daily chores and carrying water.

I guess the next thing you'd say we were introduced to was the traffic. Having traveled all over and experienced some of what we think is the worst traffic nightmares, like the Long Island Parkway at rush hour, the San Diego Freeway between Los Angeles and San Diego on a Friday afternoon, or the beltway around Washington, D.C., well, let me tell you, that's nothing compared to Cairo. The traffic was horrible. The road conditions were not good and the slightest thing could, and often did, bring traffic to a standstill. You can't imagine how bad the traffic is until you've experienced it firsthand. But, Anne and I were anxious to arrive at our hotel, the Holiday Inn at Giza because we knew from there we would get our first glimpse of the great pyramids at Giza. We weren't disappointed at all.

Holiday Inns are not by any means my first choice of hotel, but this was a fully escorted tour and all the arrangements where made by the tour company, TWA Getaway Vacations. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the Holiday Inn at Giza. It was a modern hotel and very nice, you might even class it as a luxury hotel with all the amenities we expect of modern western civilization. And, more important, we had a wonderful view of the pyramids at Giza right from the hotel grounds and our room.
Holiday Inn with pyramids in background
Holiday Inn with the pyramids
at Giza in the background
Holiday Inn Giza pool
Swimming pool at the Holiday Inn with pyramids in the background
The Holiday Inn proved to be an excellent base of operations while in Cairo. It was close to the pyramids at Giza, close to the center of the city and far enough outside to make access to the roads easy and quick.

The hotel was not without it's little quirks, like most hotels. There were two things in particular. First, no matter how well you managed to make sure the shower curtain was inside the tub and apparently closed, the floor still got soaking wet from leaking water. Second, you're cautioned not to drink the water or even use ice cubes in your drinks. I soon learned why. We put some sodas on ice one night in the sink. The next morning when I returned the bottom of the sink was covered with sand that had been in the ice cubes. The restaurant was good and served western style meals, but we stayed away from all fresh vegetables and salads as advised by our tour guide.

Arriving at the hotel after a full day, Anne and I were both pretty tired. All I wanted to do was get something good to eat and just sit back and relax. Anne learned that there would be a light and sound show, like the one we attended at the Acropolis in Athens, that first evening, but I begged off feeling I was too tired to attend. Unfortunately they would not repeat the show while we were there and we would miss it altogether. Believe me I've regretted being the reason we missed that show and have wished a thousand times we had gone. Sorry honey!

With the exception of traveling from Port Said to our hotel at Giza, the only other thing we accomplished was to exchange some of our money into Egyptian Pounds at a pre-approved government office. As is often the case, in third world countries there is a black-market for US dollars, and Egypt was no exception. To get the best rates possible you went to pre-designated government offices and not to the local banks. This required us to walk several blocks from the hotel, the first time we were alone on the streets of Cairo. Changing the money took some time, but I have to give it to the Egyptians. They did things with a flare. Our visas, obtained from the Egyptian Embassy in New York, had beautiful and colorful stamps on the pages of our passport, and the money exchange receipt form also contained such stamps. I still have the receipt a full 17 years later. Walking the streets was a bit uneasy at first. There weren't to many people on the streets in the area that we were in and those that were did not look that safe. We were approached several times by individuals offering money on the black-market, but declined having just changed some money. We did stop to look in several stores on the way back. We made our first purchases there, a gold Ramses II cartouche for Anne and a gold Key of Life for me, both well known Egyptian symbols.

Continue to the next page to discover the treasures of Sakkarah and Memphis, the old kingdom.

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Athens : The Acropolis at Night | The Parthenon
Rhodes: Lindos | The Acropolis at Lindos
Alexandria: Port of Alexandria | The City | Roman Ruins and Palace
Cairo: Port Said to Cairo | Sakkarah | Memphis | Life in the Nile Delta |The Great Pyramids at Giza | The Great Sphinx at Giza
Life in Cairo and the Mosque | Life in Cairo and Sadat's Memorial
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