It was my grandmother's 70th Birthday in May this year and my Mum, my sister Sophie and my Mum's three sisters decided to have a "girly" long weekend in Dorset during the May half term. Consequently, my Dad and I had most of the week on our own. My Dad came up with a few options of places to go ranging from Paris to Rome but also suggested going to Cairo. As I have always wanted to go to Cairo and see ancient Egypt, I thought that this was a brilliant idea and a fabulous gift from my Dad and I readily agreed to the trip.
It was a five hour flight to Cairo and my Mum drove us to the nearest underground station for us to reach Heathrow airport in time for our early morning flight - of course the anticipation was killing me as and I desperately wanted to see what an Arab country was like, especially one with all the mysteries of the ancient world that I imagined Egypt to have. We enjoyed the flight - I enjoy my Dad's company as he is such a good story teller and of course, he had been to Egypt about 20 years before so was telling me about all the things I could expect - I couldn't wait! When we stepped off the airplane, the first thing I could feel was the intense heat that was thrown against my face and it seemed to suck the moisture from not only my face but seemed to reach right into my mouth and towel dry my tongue - I knew then that I was in a desert country.
When we stepped off of the tarmac into the custom hall, the first culture shock hit me and I have never seen so many guns pointing at me as if I was public enemy number one, although on the other hand, it seemed like I was the prime minister arriving! My Dad had arranged for us to be met by a personal driver, and he treated us like visiting royalty, escorting us to the car, looking after our luggage and settling us in for the journey. Although we aren't used to that kind of service at home (well apart from my Mum!!), for comfortably-off Westerners with our standard of living this was probably just an average means of transport. I was really interested in seeing Cairo as we drove to our hotel and while it was not immediately as spectacular compared to some of the cities I have visited, it seemed a fairly average city with a lot of slums, colourful graffiti, stray dogs but balanced with some fairly modern buildings too.
On the next day my Dad and I decided to visit the market, which was called the Khan E Khali Bazaar and which had a range of shops and stalls that I had never seen before with most of the goods on offer being so cheap that I felt that I could virtually buy the whole bazaar. I bought a lot of souvenirs right away as this was one of the aims of my visit - I am a great shopper and collector, especially on holiday, and this visit was going to be no exception! The market was based near the city's main Egyptian museum, is one of the major areas of Cairo and which houses all the mummies and Egyptian artefacts, which are of course key to defining the history of Egypt. The sun was scorching and I felt as if I was inside an oven, but suffering the heat was worth it we ended up spending most of the morning in the colourful, bustling market, taking refuge in the little tea-rooms and of course buying about three shopping bags of a wide range of goodies to take home, for example I bought an old Egyptian coin which in this country would be worth a lot of money because it is an ancient artefact. The texture of the coin was very rough; I made me think of all the hands it must have been through. I also allowed my imagination to wander and dream about the very strong sun in the sky, beating down on the coin; how many hardworking slaves in Ancient Egypt had stood where I stood now with the sun beating down on them as they toiled in the heat and the dust all those centuries ago, battling with famine and the anxiety of not knowing if they'd see another day? The smells of anywhere new is always something that lodges in your memory and this was no different; we visited a perfume shop that had a whole range of intoxicating perfumed oils and lotions and we bought a full set of different liquids all in their own intricately made glass bottles to take back home to my Mum and Sister.
There were so many different spices and perfumes and I just know that when I smell any of these intoxicating aromas, or the smell of meat mixed with the aroma of jasmine and various herbs of the Arabic world, this will remind me of various soap shops that we walked past. Also, I think that the smell of raw meat reminds me of walking past open meat stalls in various supermarkets, such as, Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's I will be instantly transported back to that busy market!
We had a really full and interesting day but eventually decided to head back to the hotel and take an afternoon nap so that we would be in the best shape to be ready for a lovely dinner in the hotel in the evening.
After a long and relaxing sleep, the next morning, we decided to visit what is called the "Gem of Egypt" and the world famous pyramids. There were many more pyramids than I expected as there are actually three major ones and three smaller ones. The one I liked best was one known as the step pyramid as this was a major landmark in history for the Egyptians. I cannot imagine how long it would have taken to construct these "Wonders of the World". Again my mind wandered back to the Egypt of 3000 years ago when I tried to imagine what it would have been like to be part of the many thousands of poor slaves who were forced to build these massive constructions; I was finding difficult just to stand or walk in this intense heat - how hard would it be to pull massive stone blocks into place, or using rope and tackle having to pull the stones up and into their place and then to have these monuments to hard labour stand for thousands of years - the whole scene and where it stood in history was mind blowing. Another equally impressive installation sitting serenely nearby was of course the Sphinx which dominates the pyramids with its beauty and its uniqueness. To see and touch the Sphinx had been one of my life long ambitions and of course, I had to buy a memento - a small replica of the beautiful monument, although this souvenir had been painted. Although this is not currently the case, who's to say it wasn't originally painted? At the end of this long, hot and sweaty day making tiring journeys to, from and inside the pyramids, I desperately needed a shower and then we had a relaxing meal and after dinner drink by the moonlit pool (although did have to battle the treacherous nightlife in the form of mosquitoes!), we repeated our pattern of fairly early night and off to bed.
Lying in bed of an evening, I heard various different noises of the Arabic world, my imagination was very much alive this holiday due to the lack of internet, television and video games, I had a lot of time to think and reflect on what might have gone on in the surroundings around me. I acted out many scenes in my head, filled with various battles and mysterious tales that have been centred in and around Ancient Egypt.
We were very tired the next day and so we decided to take it easy and decided against some trips from the hotel. We woke up lazily at around eleven in the morning, because of the exhausting past two days. After a scrumptious breakfast, we went to the swimming pool which was a clear as a diamond with lovely clean as water. The pool was neither too hot nor too cold but just perfect and the water was of the same quality as in England with no dirt. We swam for about half the day and then made our way to the restaurant again for lunch, this time a buffet laid out perfectly with such a vast selection of delicious food that I felt quite confused as to what I should have for lunch. In the afternoon, we decided to visit the mosque of the Emperor which was so beautiful with all carvings of the Quran and people praying - it almost felt like you were in Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, everything was just so authentic. I think when you are faced with a completely different religion or culture, there are very stark differences and on the surface, you feel that there are no similarities; this is especially true with the differences between Christianity and Islam. However, it is only when you study the religions in depth that you come to realise that there are some things that are very similar or in fact the same. During my visit to the mosque I also learnt some Arabic (for numbers) which sounded like a language made by God.
Later on in the evening, we had a real contrast to the holy experiences of the day when we went to watch a typical Arab belly dance with a woman dressed in an Arabian dress showing her bare stomach. It was like a dance exhibition for a king, and she had thousands of pounds worth of jewellery all over her. The dance lasted for about thirty minutes and it was performed while we ate some typical Arab fare for dinner. Finally, we went back to our hotel and because we already had had dinner, went straight to bed.
All so quickly, I reached the last day of our fantastic visit to this wonderful country with such diversity, such rich culture and rich smells and tastes. Our flight was quite late at night so during our last day we visited the world renowned Egyptian museum, which contained wonderful artefacts. One artefact which startled me the most was the picture of Tutankhamen, one of the great rulers of Egypt, which was full of rich colours and was truly a work of a great artist. I never imagined that the people of so long ago would have had such refined and great skills, especially artistic and also construction work. The museum was really fascinating and I felt honoured to have witnessed so many treasures. We finally made our way to the airport and even though I didn't want to go home, we had to - our flights were booked and so we could not stay longer. The airport had the same high security situation with the guards holding guns on display. I will never forget this trip and the only thing that would have made it even better was if I had my mum and sister with me too.