Today we visited the Egyptian Museum. I better understand now the people’s sentiments about the displays. It’s true that very few of the items in the huge warehouse-of-a-building are marked, but for me, that didn’t diminish the coolness factor of the place. In fact, the lack of descriptions left more to the imagination as we slowly walked through the huge collection of Egyptian “stuff”.
I was glad that we decided to visit Cairo when we did in early 2015 before the throngs of tourists return to this place. The museum was still relatively full, in my opinion, but we waited behind only two other people for about 30 seconds to see Tutankhamen’s mask and navigating through the tour groups wasn’t all that disruptive to our experience. I can only imagine what the place would be like with 3 times as many tourists there. Honestly, we’d probably have opted not to go at all if the lines had been longer and the competition to see the collection had been stronger.
A local told us a few days ago that the Egyptian Museum is going to be moved out to Giza near the pyramids to a new, larger, and more modern building soon. This would be a behemoth project, but I suppose, since the tourist numbers are so low here right now, the timing is right for it. If the museum was out in this area where we are living right now (Nazlet al-Samaam village), there would be almost no need to venture into the center of the city. I mean, it seems as though there’s a lot to see throughout Cairo. The city is exceptionally friendly and it would take years to get bored here, but for people on a weekend excursion to Egypt, having the pyramids and the museum in one place will make the antiquities even more accessible, at least in some respects. Once the tourists come back in full force though, I suppose they might also be less accessible in other ways.
Before we got to Egypt, we were really concerned about the safety of the area around the museum including Tahrir Square especially. But today is Mohammed’s birthday, a national holiday, and I didn’t feel like there was any reason to be concerned about going to this area. There were tanks lined up in a parking lot. A man with a black ski mask went through our bags before waving us through the lot to the museum line, but he smiled at us warmly through the little hole in his mask. There was a lot of barbed wire and a strong military presence, but nothing that set off alarms in my head like the armed men did who were wearing black and carting around big guns in Tunisia. I’d expected for the Fear Factor of Tunisia to be much lower than that in Egypt, but in fact, the opposite has been true.
There are so many people here who are hurting because of the lack of tourists: friendly, interesting people. For intrepid travelers who like to venture away from the herd, Egypt is a real gem right now. Once the tourists come back to this country, it won’t be possible to experience the pyramids, the museum, or the desert without the presence of other tourists. I’m glad we decided to brave it and I’ll gladly return again someday soon (UPDATE: We went back in 2016 and spent 2 months there learning Arabic). And I’ll be really happy to have already seen the big Cairo destinations before the hordes of tourists come back. Next time, we’ll go down to Luxor and see the Valley of the Kings, Karnak, or the White Desert perhaps; places that are always less accessible and less frequented by tourists.