We spent spent the morning of our first day packing. Late that afternoon, we drove to Orlando to catch a flight to the JFK Airport in New York. Our flight to Cairo departed about midnight. We met various curious folks in JFK wandering the airport waiting for the flight to depart. Among them, an older Egyptian lady with a cat. She advised us that we should not exchange currency in New York as the rates are much better in Cairo. Indeed, she was correct. We also met the wife of Dr. Bob Brier, and then, Bob Brier himself who was leading another tour group also embarking on our flight. Elizabeth persuaded me to introduce ourselves, and Mrs. Brier was kind enough to oblige. Dr. Brier was delighted to meet Elizabeth. I explained that Elizabeth had been listening to his Teaching Company lectures. Dr. Brier asked Elizabeth what she thought of the tapes. She said that she listened at night when she was going to sleep. True, but politically incorrect. It was already such a long day that we were ready to go home before we started!
We arrived in Cairo in the late afternoon local time after the overnight flight. Our guide from Blue Sky Travel, Nader, met us at the gate. He helped us purchase visas and navigate our luggage through the crowds. By the time we reached the streets of Cairo it was already dark. Cairo was vibrant and alive with activity. We drove past many interesting places including the City of the Dead. The air was fresh with the smell of the third world. We knew that we had arrived!
On our first night, we settled into the Oberoi Mena House. The Mena House has remarkable history. It was originally built as a hunting lodge for the King of Egypt and later hosted many important dignitaries and events, including the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979. Best of all, it's located at foot of the great Pyramids, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. As we were driving towards the hotel we saw the pyramids alight from the "light and sound show." After settling in, we lucky to witness the arrival of an Egyptian wedding party reception. The pyramids were lit in spectacular glory, but it only lasted a moment. Unfortunately, the moment was too fleeting for a photograph.
We enjoyed a European dinner at the hotel restaurant. Afterwards, we exchanged some USD$ for some Egyptian Pounds. The children also changed some of their money under vigilant parental eye. We somehow sensed the exchange cast away a certain pecuniary innocence. . .the exchange rate was something less than 7 Egyptian Pounds for 1 US Dollar. Afterwards, we took a walk, and saw some tourist police; some joke that they have no bullets in their guns, but we found no reason to test the theory.
Above are images of 50 piastre notes, worth 1/2 of an Egyptian Pound, or about 7¢ US. Coins are no longer in circulation, so small notes are commonly exchanged for tips. We frequently used these notes to tip for toilet paper or other small favors. We carried them in wads!
After our first night in Egypt, we awoke disappointed to find ourselves in a fog bank that obscured the view to the Great Pryamids. The picture above shows the Mena House gardens with the great Pyramid of Khufu barely visible in the foggy background. After breakfast, we were on our way to see the gift of the Nile.