For this museum lover, the Egyptian Museum was a lifetime dream. The day started warm but pleasant. My cab driver Mahmoud was a riot; an old smiley man, head barely reaching my shoulder, with knowledge of seemingly random English words. We were on the road for over half an hour, most of it stuck in traffic. Mahmoud tried to tell me about landmarks we passed but he was hard to understand. It didn’t matter. Mahmoud and I were fast friends. He taught me some Arabic, I taught him some Portuguese. He couldn’t pronounce my name, so he called me Cinderella.
On our way to the museum through chaotic streets, there was much to see. Of special note were palaces in Turkish and Indian architecture. And a man riding a bicycle with one hand, while the other balanced a huge double tray of baked goods on his head. Uncovered. Collecting dust and fumes.
Dust is ever present. Following the advice of other globetrotters, I wore closed toe shoes. In respect to cultural norms, I also wore long pants, long sleeve tunic, and a scarf that double as hijab as needed. When I returned to the hotel, all of it was covered in dust, and my feet looked as if I’d walked through a coal mine.
The sun was high and strong by the time I arrived at the Egyptian Museum. It’s a beautiful old building surrounded by magnificent iron fences. I bought my entry ticket and went through the outdoor entrance behind a small tour group. Reached the security checkpoint where the x-ray revealed the camera inside my bag.
Security guy: camera ticket please?
Security guy: ticket for photos
Me: where do I get that?!
Security guy: same place as regular ticket
Back outside I go, buy the extra ticket that allows me to take photos (not displayed or explained the first time). Back inside. The same smiling security guy hands me a flag pin from Australia, which had fallen off my bag during screening. That prompted a whole conversation about all the flags on my bag. I’m really enjoying chatting with the locals.
I had a lifetime of expectations built up, and the museum was both amazing and very depressing. The artifacts themselves are breathtaking and the collections are endless. I could spend my entire trip there and not see everything properly. But oh, how heartbreaking it is to see them in such conditions.
The building is old and badly maintained. Walls are dirty, cracked and stained. Some rooms are so dark it’s hard to read the yellowed display cards. There is no air conditioning, just a few small fans here and there. No apparent security either. Hordes of tourists roam unchecked, touching, leaning on, and even climbing on priceless artifacts. I had to leave a room before totally losing my shit on adult visitors who were taking turns sitting on a 3000-year-old statue.
My favorite piece was the magnificent throne of Tutankhamun. That awe-inspiring item alone was worth the visit.
Several pieces were recovered from the 2011 break-in of the museum. Many were found smashed to pieces, and even months-long restoration didn’t bring them back entirely. That was heartbreaking.
The heat was oppressive by the time I left the museum, and the drive back to the hotel wasn’t nearly as much fun without Mahmoud.
My evening ended with a boring but necessary visit to a nearby mall. Rookie mistake: I bought a new SD card for my Nikon, and it turned out to be incompatible. I couldn’t take the great photos I wanted at the museum, and had to make do with my phone. Worse - I still haven’t been able to find the appropriate card for the camera. Tomorrow will be a pilgrimage to camera shops.