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Friday, June 25, 2010

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 5

              Up late today, not much really left to see in Cairo. So down we went to that brilliant breakfast buffet. Saw the reporter on BBC saying they'd burnt down the biggest mall in Bangkok, pretty sad if it's Central World they were talking about. Oh well, atleast our favorite haunt in Thailand, MBK, still stands. It was a good thing we'd chosen Egypt for our vacation this time around instead of our earlier plans for Greece, where tourists are impeded by protests with the economy in shambles.

It's my parents' anniversary, and after breakfast we took a walk around our massive hotel. Our new driver, Karam, took us to the Egyptian National Museum, a big red building adorned with plaques in Latin, proclaiming what exactly I do not know, with a garden (predictably overflowing with visitors of several nationalities) and a few statues even outside it.

Unfortunately, cameras are to be left in a safe deposit at a counter outside the museum, no photos allowed inside, though occasionally we'd find someone violating the rule. My university ID (I'm not a history student, I'm an engineer :P ) got me half price entry here too, so remember to carry your student's ID card with you if you have one - the savings at the end of the day are significant when it comes to ticket prices at attractions.

Inside the museum, there was no dearth of gold, lapis lazuli, and marble. Wherever we looked, there were artifacts from the Middle Kingdom, Old Kingdom, New Kingdom and the Greco Roman period. The mummies recovered from various tombs in Egypt (from the Valley of the Kings and Queens as well) are placed in rooms where hygrometers and temperature sensors carefully monitor the ambient conditions. Of course, to see the mummies, you'll have to pay extra - yep, we took separate tickets for these rooms as well. Well-preserved jewelery, wonderfully decorated sarcophagi and ceremonial chariots and such make up a large part of the rest of the first floor. There's even an exhibit of animal mummies - including cats, dogs, birds and a large Nile crocodile that was found in one of the tombs with a baby crocodile in its mouth. It's obvious that to ancient Egyptians, the afterlife was of greater import than the way they lived.

The highlight of the Egyptian Museum is King Tutankhamun's tomb. The much-hyped Pharaoh's gold sarcophagus is in a separate section along with his scepter, flail and other adornments. In death, he had several sarcophagi of gold, wood and what not, one inside the other. His golden death mask has become the symbol of Ancient Egypt around the world, and several of the items from this exhibit have toured the world for many years. Tutankhamun (once Tutankhaten) had a very tumultuous family history. Confusing as it is, his own biological sister was his mother and his queen wife was his grandmother too. I know, don't try to understand it, just know that the ancient Egyptians had rather rotten habits when it came to choosing mates.

On the way out of the museum, the guy at the camera counter looked longingly for some baksheesh as he handed us the camera. He probably thought my Dad was Egyptian from his looks and decided to try his luck.
Got back to the hotel soon enough and began packing. Checking my mailbox after so many days (yes, 5 days without e-mail is a LOT) had me staring at "150 new messages" :O. Caught some Dirty Dancing on TV (that's the show's name by the way) later with a DSP book for company.

Come evening, it was time for a walk outside to the two bridges between Giza and Cairo. Friday's a holiday here Walked past a wonderful park filled with couples cuddling each other. I can imagine if this was Chennai - the policeman with his lathi would have had a field day shooing people away from the beach. Over the last few days it's become apparent to me that this is a well-planned city with good infrastructure, wide roads, parks, big footpaths, a metro and it's all very well policed. Even though there aren't too many public toilets, no one seems to spit or piss on the road. There're a lot more cats around here than dogs.

We stood over the bridge watching the Nile flow past and the feluccas sailing peacefully on it. Horns aren't heard too often but the vehicles most certainly zoom by pretty fast. A fire engine whizzed past, first time I've seen one here in Egypt. Walked back to the hotel as it was getting dark, besides we had a dinner reservation at 8.15pm. Once again, a very nice spread, but they do not place water on the table by default and ice creams are never part of the buffet here. Nobody seems to bother with ice-cream either :(

The waiter was a huge fan of Amitabh Bachchan and kept asking us questions about him. The buffet did have an overdose of pastries, though that isn't a bad thing in my book. With dinner done, we headed back to the room where there was more packing to be done, and electronic devices to be charged. Kept switching channels to catch Bourne Identity and The Marine simultaneously, before I fell asleep. In case you're wondering, no I didn't see any Cruzes today.


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