Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Museum of Competing Tour Guides

Number Two on my “Top Three awfullest Guided Tours” list is the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, better known as The Egyptian Museum in Cairo—but I like to refer to it as the Museum of Competing Tour Guides.

You know the phenomenon: one person starts shouting more loudly to be heard over another person who’s shouting more loudly to be heard over another person who’s shouting, and so on. Only the New York Stock Exchange during a hailstorm is louder than this place. Safe to say, no one ever understands anything a tour guide screams within these marble walls. If you’re interested in ancient Egyptian history, you’re better off reading a book or marrying a mummy.

Our guide was nice, albeit a little hoarse, and she tried her best to outscream her colleagues; but the tour was too chaotic and LOUD for me. Eventually I wandered off by myself—with my fingers in my ears—to see what I could see (as my grandfather used to put it). As it turns out, there’s a lot of, uh, really old stuff in this museum. And that’s about the extent of what I saw on my solo circuit. Oh wait. I found a sarcophagus for a midget. That was cool.

The shiny lapis lazuli stone of the tour was the five minutes we were shuffled into a room to view the Tutankhamen exhibit . . . alone, without our tour guide. In fact, there were no guides in the King Tut room, just browsing tourists enjoying the silence . . . for five whole minutes. Pitiful, yes, but at least they don’t put you on a moving sidewalk so they can control the amount of time you spend contemplating the wealth of dead people as they do with the British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. But the monarchy isn’t dead, Chris, you insist. OK, dead and dying people. There are no moving floors in the Egyptian Museum, but they do have a grand staircase—which elderly people must climb to go to the bathroom.

At the top of this grand staircase, you’re greeted by the fact that you are expected to pay to go to the toilet. This wouldn’t be unusual except for the fact that you, fresh off a cruise ship, are on a tour of a museum in a country where you have not exchanged money. You have nothing but dollars, euros or pounds, and you—a seventy-year-old woman from Aberdeen (with a walker and a weak bladder) who has just climbed her own little Mt. Everest to pee—are not about to pay the guy five quid (the smallest note you have). He’s lucky you’re too tired to fight. You either hold it, or once again, you look like a rude tourist who doesn’t understand the predicament of the poor guy who cleans toilets for a living. I did not hold it, and I’m sure my father didn’t either.

I’m sure my father said something like, “See that screaming tour guide down there? Yeah, the one with blood streaming out of her mouth. Go ask her for a few piasters. But ask loudly.”

I must be off,
Christopher