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The pyramids and the Great Sphinx

Read Matt Lauer’s personal stories from Egypt.
/ Source: TODAY

Having never been to Cairo or Egypt for that matter, I really didn’t know what to expect. Upon arriving on Saturday afternoon, my first impression was that this largest of all cities in Africa was a bit overwhelming. From the architecture to the traffic, my ride to the hotel was spent snapping my head from side to side. The mosques were beautiful. It’s easy to see that religion is at the center of life in this part of the world.

OUR HOTEL WAS THE Mena House, located in Ghiza, just a few hundred yards from the Great Pyramids and Sphinx. The view was spectacular, at least for 5 minutes, until it was erased by an old-fashioned sandstorm that seemed to swirl out of nowhere as it cut visability to mere feet. It lasted almost an hour, and when it was over, the locals simply dusted themselves off, and got back to business.

Our dinner that night was aboard a barge on the Nile River. The food was so-so, but we were treated to a fireworks display over the city. I thought our host, the Minister of Information, arranged it for our benefit, but it was actually a celebration of Sinai independence — just a coincidence.

I interviewed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday morning. We talked about the prospects for peace in the region. I found him to be open and honest, although enormously frustrated by the stalemate in current negotiations.

The afternoon was spent in Luxor, to the south of Cairo and also on the Nile. It was magical. It is the richest area in the world in terms of ancient monuments - including the legendary Tomb of King Tut.

The most sobering moment of the day came at the Temple of Hatshepsut. It was there in November of last year, that Islamic extremists massacred 58 tourists. It was impossible to stand there without feel a bit sick to my stomach. The temple was closed at each side. When the shooting started, the tourists would have had nowhere to run.

Monday’s show went off without a hitch - maybe a bit too hot and dusty, and the flies were way too aggressive, but the pictures were amazing. Standing in the shadow of history’s most famous monuments, the pyramids and the Great Sphinx, it was impossible not to feel small, both in size and significance.

We were in the presence of kings and queens, but there was little time to remain in awe. We had a plane to catch…

More tomorrow…