I couldn’t have woken up one day and decided to visit Egypt. Honestly, it never crossed my mind. In retrospect, this really perplexes me. The fact that it is one of the two countries mentioned in the Bible that exists to date should have burned a fire of curiosity in me.
Fortunately, the pandemic did when it laughed off all my initial travel plans, dangling Egypt as a fitting alternative. I applied and got my visas within three days. Isn’t this something!
I arrived in Egypt via the Cairo International Airport when the sky was turning black. I remember being welcomed by a brief brush of wind that gently tossed my scarf which landed on my face, and the jostling that accompanies taxi operators outside the airport.
The driver we had organised to pick us up was gracious enough to wait for us. Our flight had been delayed by three hours.
I was beyond myself with excitement when we started our drive to our Airbnb in Giza Governorate, our home for the next few days and also home to the world renowned Great Pyramids of Giza.
Driving through the night granted me a glimpse into Cairo’s life under a dark sky. At one point, the driver missed a turn. Noticing this, he simply reversed on the busy highway and took the right one. It wasn’t the last time I saw this.
Most Kenyans going to Egypt do so via travel agencies. Well, I charted my own path. Being in Egypt takes you on a journey through its rich history, culture and tradition with hints of modernity in high-rise buildings, expansive malls, vibrant street food, good roads and access to the internet. Here were my favourite spots.
The Giza Pyramid Complex, Giza
Of course, I’d list them. I knew seeing the pyramids standing tall in the arid expanse of the Giza Plateau - unmoved by the full force of sandy wind that slammed into me – would be astounding but I wasn’t prepared. First, the stones used were neck high.
Secondly, I couldn’t hug these squared rocks, aligned perfectly next to one another. They were huge. With such a neat arrangement, I theorised that the pyramids weren’t built but were probably carved out of an existing rock.
But I digress.
If you find yourself gazing at these brain-wracking pieces of ancient architecture, make sure you enter one of them. I entered the tomb of Khafra. We knew there’d not be much inside, but the walk to the tomb was thrilling. The path was narrow and steep downwards.
The only way in was walking in backwards while bending. Woe unto you if you’re claustrophobic! Also, make sure you take a camel ride. Though I felt like I was grinding a rock, the pyramids from this view appear larger and closer. Talk of heightened pleasures.
The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, Cairo
The final resting place for the royal mummies, the objects and pieces in this museum tell stories from past civilizations into the contemporary period. The mummies are displayed in a hall below and the presentation is top-notch. By using lighting and music one feels as though they’re entering a tomb. This was a moment of contemplation.
I reflected on the fragility of life, here today and gone tomorrow, and marveled at the sheer extent of human knowledge thousands of years ago. I mean, one mummy had a patch of natural hair still attached to the skin by its roots. How impressive is that?
Take a Stroll through the Corniche, Alexandria
We arrived in Alexandria City after taking a comfortable and spacious train ride from Ramses Station. (Tickets available at the station.) The Corniche is a waterfront busy road offering expansive views of the Mediterranean Sea.
I laughed at how to my left was chaos, to my right was calm. Halfway through, I decided to hop on their matatu to my next destination – the Citadel of Qaitbay. There are no conductors. You simply pay the driver a flat rate no matter where you start or finish your journey.
The Citadel of Qaitbay, Alexandria
From afar, the picturesque fortress looks like a small sand castle. Closer, it’s a giant monument with a presence due to its thick limestone walls. Named after its builder, it reminded me of Fort Jesus – only grander and more magnificent.
I didn’t know it before my trip but it excited the child in me. The Citadel looked more like a castle than a defense stronghold. With several towers, chambers, and walls, visit here to walk through the passageway, take pictures with the gun turrets in its garden, see the splendor in its bare, undecorated interior and for the unparalleled views of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Royal Jewellery Museum, Alexandria
A museum set within a former palace belonging to Princess Fatma Al-Zahra, the building itself is a work of art. Its ceilings, windows, walls and floors are masterpieces made from wood, decorated glass and stone.
You’ll see a different kind of Egypt here; one of luxury, opulence, elegance and taste extraordinaire in a collection of jewellery made from diamonds, gold and pearls, and exquisite painting. I took slow, feather-light steps as I imagined myself a royal princess.
Enjoy the Street Food
The tens of types of breads and cakes, many types of nuts and seeds, dates, spicy pickled vegetables packed in polythene bags, juicy orange oranges, super-hot filter coffees and humongous sweet strawberries among other foods.
Egypt is conservative. Aim to dress modestly. Think long dresses and skirts, scarfs and loose-fitting pants with covered shoulders for ladies. Keep off shorts. Arabic is the main language which made moving around challenging. Most signage is in Arabic with few English-speaking people.
This had me cancelling a few Uber requests. Either the driver couldn’t understand me or I missed him because I couldn’t read the car’s registration member. You can’t call via WhatsApp but you can receive calls if you have an Egyptian phone number. Budget for Tips.