Thursday, April 18, 2013

Preparing for Egypt, Part Twelve

While we're spending a couple days in Cairo checking out the Giza Plateau and a nearby lake, we'll also be visiting the world-famous Cairo Museum and spending an afternoon walking around Old Cairo. So today I'll be talking about them and saving the Pyramids--the grand finale!--for last.

The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (as it's more properly known) has over 120,000 items, many of which are in storage and are brought out on a rotating basis. Sometimes, of course, the museum lends pieces out for "traveling shows"--a few years ago, I saw an exhibit of relics from Tut's tomb and other pieces from the Armana Period and pieces from his father's (Amenhotep III's) reign. I'm pretty sure the coffin of Queen Tiye was included in that exhibit, and it was an extraordinarily beautiful thing. I can only imagine how many times my breath will be taken away during a walk-through of this museum.

The museum is divided into sections, of course, one of which is the Royal Mummies, and of course there's a section on Tut, which features what is probably the most well-known piece from his tomb: the death mask:

Other sections of the Museum focus on art from the specific time periods, such as Predynastic and Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, late period, and so on. There's a section on papyri and coins. Pieces I'm particularly curious to see are the Narmer Palette (the first recorded depiction of ancient Egypt, both Upper and Lower kingdoms, being united); the tiny statue of Khufu (only 4 inches, and the only statue ever found of the man who built the Great Pyramid; all of the Armana art; and of the mummies, Ramses the Great, Seti I, and Hatshepsut (now that her mummy has been identified, she's on display).

As for Old Cairo, it is called such because it is the most ancient part of the city (parts of old cities on the site that existed before the present, larger, sprawling city of Cairo). It is largely made up of the Coptic Christian community, but there is also the Amr Ibn Al A'as Mosque (Egypt's oldest mosque) and the Ben Ezra Synagogue (said to be on the very site Moses was found in the reeds as a baby). There's also a Coptic Museum. And, obviously SHOPPING! (Note in the photo on the right hand side that Visa is accepted--don't leave home without it, ha.)

Which reminds me of an interesting habit regarding tipping in Egypt. The basic rule of thumb is this: anybody who does any sort of service for you should get baksheesh. The word carries with it the connotation of "bribe," "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours,"and so on--which is gross when it comes to political favors--but the polite thing for tourists to do is to remember that the average person in Egypt makes in a year what the average American makes in a single month. So, even, say, a guy sweeping the sidewalk in front of a store you pass by might put out his hand for baksheesh. It's typical to give people asking for random requests such as this a one-pound note (that's about .16 cents in American money), so we've been advised to bring along lots of ones and fives for tipping. But, just like in America, the amount of the tip should depend on the difficulty of the service provided, so a waiter or the man at the mosque keeping an eye on your shoes would get more, and a tour guide would get considerably even more baksheesh, especially if he is a very accommodating one. Beyond having on hand money for tips and souvenirs, we've basically been told (since our accommodations, food, flights, admission tickets, etc, are all pre-paid) to bring only about half the amount of money we think we should bring. Besides, the ubiquitous ATM is all over Egypt. Items in Egypt are simply not that expensive, and in the bazaars, you are expected to haggle.

Haggling. Gulp. Should be interesting for an introvert like me.

"Heck if I know..."

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