Mediterranean cruise on the Queen Victoria: Part 2, Egypt

November 26, 2011 at 05:43AM     Travel Cairo Egypt Queen Victoria

Stebila family at the Pyramids of Giza
Read the first part of this travelogue here.

After sailing through Greece and Turkey, we spent a day at sea and crossed the Mediterranean to the port of Alexandria. For me, Egypt was the highlight of the cruise. I'd been to all of the other countries (and continents) on the cruise, but never to Egypt (or Africa). What traveler doesn't imagine visiting Egypt and seeing the only remaining wonders of the ancient world, the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx?

Pyramids of Giza
A few weeks before our cruise, we received word from the cruise line that the tour we had originally booked was no longer available due to security concerns. Our original tour included a visit to Giza for the pyramids and sphinx, as well as the archaeological museum in Cairo. That museum is located right on Tahrir Square, the site of Egyptian pro-democracy protests for the past year. Not a great place for tourists. As a result, we had to change tours and substituted a visit to the museum for a cruise on the Nile.

It's a long bus ride from Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea to Cairo and Giza, first along the chaotic roads of Alexandria and then through the mostly uninhabited desert. Giza is a suburb of Cairo and the city comes right up to the plains on which the pyramids are situated. Our first stop was a scenic outlook with a great view of the pyramids, one that countless tourists before me have visited. I really like the picture above that I took from that outlook. Though most would seek a photo with a blue sky, I love how the clouds darkening the sky above the pyramids contrast with the sun lighting the plains from off-camera. I thought about Photoshopping out the vehicles on the road, but decided that I actually liked them there; they provide a sense of scale, movement, and contrast the ancient pyramids with modern transportation.

Pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure
I was the only passenger on our bus who wanted to go inside a pyramid, but the tour guide graciously let me go while everyone else on the bus had to wait (I was under strict instructions: 15 minutes, max!). I went inside the smallest of the three pyramids, the Pyramid of Menkaure. I descended, hunched over, down a long, narrow, low-ceilinged staircase and then made a few turns and further descents before reaching the burial chamber. It's not decorated, and archaeologists say it was never decorated. But it's still amazing to be underneath that much rock. I was chased by a mummy but made it out safely.

Sphinx and the Pyramid of Khufu
The Sphinx is located just a few hundred metres from the pyramids. It's much smaller than the pyramids, and in a pit below ground level, so you're practically at eye-level with it when you see it head-on. In case you're wondering, the reason that the top of the pyramid in the picture at right looks different from the rest of the pyramid is that the top is the preserved original limestone covering. The whole pyramid was originally covered with a smooth limestone finish, but this valuable and portable stone was gradually stolen and only the most inaccessible bits remain.

We were scheduled to depart Alexandria that evening, but while at dinner the captain announced that the port was closed due to high winds, and as a result we would be unable to depart that evening. In fact, we spent almost the next whole day in port and departed about 24 hours after our scheduled departure. This meant missing one of our ports of call in Greece — Olympia — but my folks and I were not too upset as we had visited Olympia in 2005 and were not planning on taking an excursion this time around. On our extra day in port we couldn't go ashore as the ship had already cleared customs and immigration for departure, but the Queen Victoria is such a lovely ship that an extra day on board was quite enjoyable. We went for afternoon tea, took in a lecture on British architecture, and I took a yoga class. Before I knew it, it was time again for dinner. Though I am not a particularly seasoned cruiser, Cunard seems to have far better food than most other ships, each evening's dinner equal to a fine dining experience.

These blog entries seem to get longer and longer... our journey continues in another post...