If you’ve never been to the Pyramids at Giza, you’re almost certainly imagining them wrong. Disabuse yourself of any notions of an adventurous trek out into the desert at the end of which you see the magnificent pyramids standing alone against the sands.
Given the right vantage point in downtown Cairo you can vaguely make out the shape of the pyramids in the distance through the smog and haze that constantly hang over the city. As you drive from downtown to Giza, you look out your windshield and BAM! on the side of the road, there are the Pyramids and the Sphinx. They’re even extending the subway, so in the future you will be able to hop on at the airport and ride it right out to the Pyramids. Not quite as romantic and mysterious as you’d hoped? Sorry.
N and I had a packed day ahead of us. We grabbed a black & white in front of the Four Seasons and asked him to bring us to Tahrir Square so we could see the Egyptian Museum. The museum itself has an absurd amount of Egyptian treasures, but it’s poorly lit, poorly organized and many of the exhibits are not marked at all. They are moving to a new facility in 2013, and one can’t help but hope that they will do the artifacts justice with a more professional presentation. Whether you go to Egypt before or after the move to the new facility, this is obviously a must visit.
The most troubling thing about the museum, is how little respect for their own history so many Egyptians seem to have. In addition to other issues in and around the museum during the Arab Spring, some rioters torched a building directly next to the Museum, apparently without any thought or care that the fire could spread to the museum and destroy countless priceless items.
We made a deal with the black & white who took us to the museum, and when we exited, he was there waiting for us. He took us back to the Four Seasons, so we could get our bags and then we agreed to retain him for the trip out to Giza. Like I said, it can be a bit jarring that you’re driving along on the highway, then you look out the window and…
The driver got us to the Mena House Oberoi in efficient fashion and we tipped him well for the effort. The hotel is comprised of a main building which has the historic suites and a number of guest rooms, while there are other satellite buildings with additional rooms. Somehow my cheap rate did not entitle me to the Montgomery Suite, so it was off to the satellite building for me. Still, you can’t argue that they are all rooms with a view…
I was working on an article about the Oberoi, and I later had a lengthy chat with the manager who showed me around the grounds and explained the fantastic history of the hotel to me. The Oberoi started life as a vacation home for an aristocratic English couple, it has played host to countless celebs and even served as a barracks during the two world wars (the Montgomery suite is named after Monty’s preferred room when he was in residence during the North African campaign). Even if not for the unparalleled proximity to and views of the pyramids, this hotel would be a must visit property for any lovers of history.
While I would be staying overnight and departing the next afternoon, N had a flight that very evening to Sharm el-Sheikh, so there was a time crunch. We walked out the hotel’s main gate, turned right and walked up the hill to the Pyramids. While purchasing entrance tickets you need to duck a staggering array of touts and beggars, really this is the worst part of the experience.
Inside the onslaught doesn’t stop. People pushing trinkets, postcards, trying to get you to pose on horses, camels, etc…Telling them firmly to leave you alone a half dozen or so times will usually do it. I managed to get away from the hassles and spend some time checking out the Pyramids.
I have been to a lot of sites in the world that people claim to be “blown away” by. The Great Wall in China, the Taj Mahal in Agra, Red Square in Moscow, etc… I usually leave nonplussed with my reaction being “eh, it was impressive but not amazing.” The Pyramids were the first such attraction that really did blow me away. Each level of brick in those Pyramids is made from blocks of stone almost the height of a man, and they stretch upwards forever. For ancient people to have constructed them…it defies belief. I understand that the political climate in the region isn’t ideal now, but you need to understand that Egypt has to have tourism to survive. If you stick to heavily touristed areas like Cairo and Giza, I like your chances.
Down the hill from the Pyramids is the Sphinx. It has been argued for decades as to how the Sphinx lost it’s nose. A popular theory is that it was shot off by foreign troops who used it for target practice, however the nationality of those troops is also hotly debated. The two things that jumped out at me about the Sphinx were 1. how absurdly close it is to being part of downtown Giza (it is literally across the street) and 2. What bad shape it is in. I don’t know if it’s proximity to the pollution of Giza and Cairo or just a lack of funds for upkeep, but it was looking pretty ragged. I hope that efforts are made to better preserve it.
N and I wrapped up our tourism around the time we were told the area was closing. We walked back through Giza to the hotel and after baking in the sweltering summer heat of Egypt, enjoyed returning to the air conditioned confines of the hotel.
N and I are big Ohio State fans, and today was also the opening of the Urban Meyer era with the Buckeyes playing Miami of Ohio. This was obviously not on T.V. in Cairo, but thanks to the wonders of technology, I was able to watch the game on my laptop via Slingbox.
So, this is how N and I watched the game. In the seating area of the hotel room at the Oberoi, drinking Sahara beers, with sunset over the pyramids out the window to the left. A surreal setting to watch football in. A little after halftime N had to leave to make his CAI-SSH flight. I said goodbye and told him I’d see him back in the world. Ohio State won big and I slept well that night.
Mena House Oberoi Report Card
Pros: Great rooms with unbelievable views of the Pyramids, amazing history, very close to the pyramids.
Cons: Large parts of the hotel will be closed for renovations in ’13.
Verdict: If you want to stay in Giza this is far and away the best option. I would stay here again without hesitation, and would not really even consider other options.