To Cairo and bust!

Well, I’m finally in Cairo, and I am exhausted already.  More due to life in general outside this trip, but it hasn’t been exactly a cake walk coming here either.  So here it goes; I lost all my other journals (bye bye Yemen, Nepal, Alexandria memories) because I lost all my DAMN files. This is the first one back to writing since what can only amount to a catastrophe (enter drama queen).  It might also be my last since this period of trip hopping is coming to a surprising end; this is due to the need to save money and because …. oh yeah…. I’m getting married…WTF! (I can safely say as a post script from my future self, this could not be further from the truth).

What a difference it makes from one journal to the next (and the lost ones in between), It’s stressful but exciting, especially now that it’s actually happening – marriage that is.  But this isn’t about that, let’s get back to business here. This trip kind of came out of nowhere.  I’ve been preoccupied with so many things before the engagement, like getting a suit, talking to the right people (aka senior family members on both sides) and the fact that I need to save money (hustling was quickly dropped as an option).  I’ve been so stressed out about the things that have to be done with everything associated with marriage…. that I was going to cancel this trip – it was booked pre-engagement.  Due to no refund policy, and assuming (falsely) that this might be my last trip for a long while, I thought I’d give it a go.

I have been to Egypt twice already, granted now I will be seeing the pyramids finally, but it’s becoming like a familiar second home…which is nice.  As I listened to the adhan (call to prayer) both on TV and outside, in this city of a thousand minarets, I’m kind of glad I made it.  Less with that curious excitement I felt on other trips I considered “exotic”, and more like the familiar holiday break of a place I’ve read and heard so much about.

OK, so now for the trip…. didn’t sleep well at all last night, probably about three hours total. It was a longer trip than I would care for coming here, both by plane and the four-hour car ride from Alexandria (well the cons of going budget flights).  I did end up buying a stack of Fateer Mishaltat with honey on the way – one of my favorite carb laden, sweet Egyptian snacks.  I also enjoyed talking to the driver en-route, his name is Melaad, and an Indian couple on their second anniversary from Dubai.  On top of that when we started from Alexandria, I had a tea and smoked some sheesha (aka hookah) with the tour guide…Ahmad…. really cool guy.  I think I inhaled too much smoke though, and felt like hurling the whole way (at least I had my favourite, apricot flavoured tobacco).  I’m already beat being in this hotel, which is surprisingly nice, but I do have an early start tomorrow.

My “quaint” hotel room, it’s all about location!

Didn’t help that I just found out I’m leaving on the Friday at around 5 p.m. so there goes half that day and so I should at least do something today.  Nothing is really open for tourists because its late, so I’ll be strolling down the Nile cornice and taking it easy.  Tomorrow will be a packed day with the pyramids and museum; and maybe work my way to the famous Khan Al Khalili souk at night…will be crazy busy.   Thursday I will do the Cairo tower and the citadel, and Friday hopefully there is time for the Hanging Coptic Church and the surroundings…. stay tuned – weather-wise its kind of coolish – very pleasant. (President Hotel, 5:04 p.m.)**

Well there goes the schedule, didn’t last long…. apparently I was more tired than I thought, I slept through from around 6pm last night to 5 am…. oh well, better relaxed than not.  Will see what will happen later “today”. (President Hotel, 5:10 a.m.)**

What a very productive day.  Started off with breakfast at the hotel…. not bad, saw the Indian couple from yesterday and moved on. Left about half an hour earlier than I thought and went straight to the museum.  My guide was Shaimaa and the driver is Ala’a (found that out at the end of the day) both very nice.  The museum was insanely huge!! Initially wasn’t sure about going there with a guide but it was really worth it, otherwise I would have missed the highlights and would have been bogged down with the other stuff.  Huge is an understatement, apparently has over 210,000 pieces!!  Weirdest thing though…saw my old boss from a year ago here…wtf?! Let’s just say I turned my head and pretended not to see him, we did not part ways amicably. Despite that (or maybe because of it) stumbled on amazing alabaster stuff; Tutankhamen’s mask of course and ancient day to day things from sandals to beds.  I found that more fascinating than the royal palaces and the grand artifacts, always more curious to see how people lived.

The amazing Cairo Museum

Next stop, went to the pyramids, and what can I say – it was AWE-INSPIRING!  This would be the second time I trick the Egyptian ticket guys (no small feat), they wanted proof I was Arab from my passport, so I said I forgot it and showed my UAE driver’s license; with a thumb strategically placed to avoid showing the “Canadian” part of it under “Nationality”. Pulled it off, got a discount (yes Arabs get a discount for a change); even the guide was impressed.   Small wins, happy moments.

OK, back to the 7th wonder of the world, it was way bigger than I thought.  Went into the tomb in the second one (medium size or Grande in Starbucks lingo), wasn’t too impressive.  It was really humid and was a narrow steep walk down and then back up.  Saw the sphinx…just beautiful and amazing; and these sun boats in this museum made of wood that were found around the pyramids just hidden there.   Those were impressive.

Sheer grandness – Pyramids, Sphinx, Ships

Passed by the Al Azhar mosque/university…. wasn’t on the agenda but prayed there and read some Quran, beautiful minarets and archways. Will be back there tomorrow to see the other stuff around the area around it.  Made our way to Khan al Khalili, Cairo’s most famous souk cum meeting place cum hooking up spot cum great cafes. Ended up buying all the souvenirs I wanted (and some I didn’t realise I wanted). Had a strong coffee with Shaimaa talking about everything from Iraq, Sunnism and Shi’ism, Urban Planning, history etc. We had it in this famous hangout called Feshawi café, and then got back to the hotel.

Al Azhar University detour
Cairo nightlife: Al Feshawi, Khan al Kahlili, and the Nile

Said goodbye (naturally) and gave them what I thought was a small tip…felt guilty afterwards, that’s going to linger with me!  After a quick rest, got ready and left the souvenirs back in the room; then off I went towards the Nile and walked down Zamalek island in the evening, took me about an hour.

Thinking maybe I can walk to the citadel tomorrow within two hours, but I might walk to the tower and cab it to the citadel and church and back to save time and effort…. who knows. This is how my mind wonders when I’m supposed to have a leisurely relaxing walk to reflect.  Here I am thinking logistics!

After getting briefly lost I meandered into this great bookstore called “Diwan”, got a CD and an actual scrapbook, and had that famous Egyptian mango juice on the way (was a rip off though at 4 Egyptian pounds).  Couldn’t resist and bought a MAD magazine (a vintage one) and had some grilled fish for dinner.  Now I’m perfectly ready to chill before bed for another big day tomorrow.

Thinking of going to the tower first thing then the citadel and mosques and finishing off at the church before making my way back along the cornice probably through a walk – why won’t my brain shut it! (President Hotel, 10:00 p.m.)**

I’m writing about today but not exactly at my best here. I think I have sunstroke, or getting sick or both, plus I ate too much, a shawarma and a burger with a massive bottle of Pepsi (like a I’m talking about a litre here). Just writing about it makes me want to throw up…. seriously.  I’m actually documenting my thoughts on the toilet trying to avert a crisis (I know I know, a case of too much information – TMI much).

On top of that, my body is aching with all the muscles I have (and some didn’t know existed) in pain. It’s been a long day.  So I first woke up early and walked (got lost as usual) towards the tower; amazing views. Then took a cab to Sayiddah Zainab (Prophet’s granddaughter) mosque, was fascinated by the respect she has here; then walked my way through….um…so yeah, I just threw up that burger!  Good thing I was near the toilet typing this – not regretting that TMI now are you!  Much better.

Morning walk in Zamalek
Sayiddah Zainab Mosque

So anyway, walked my way through to Ibn Tulun mosque and went up the minaret. The top alcove was crazy cozy, real tight.  This happened just after the Anderson historical house museum which had amazing Turkish stuff from the turn of the century, well worth the trip.  I’ve also saved crazy entry fees on this trip just by talking Arabic, so if you can wing it, do it!

Anderson historical house museum
Ibn Tulun Mosque

After that I kept walking to the Rifai mosque…AMAZING, just incredible architecture, and I didn’t even get charged at all for going in, I did a little prayer there (yes “I say a little prayer for you” was playing as I typed that last bit).

A Rifai Mosque

Walked to the famous citadel, and after a long journey and occasional panic for my lost tickets, at the security check something weird happened.  After the usual disorganised push to the front from the crown, all of a sudden we hear a women screaming and crying from the booth (couldn’t see much) and a banging, some people thought she was being hit.  As they rushed us through, apparently they handcuffed her husband and she was pleading for them not to hit him.  Worked in our favour though, because when they were rushing the hundreds of people through to avoid a “scene”; none of us were checked for tickets!  So much for security. The irony of it all, that one man got caught and about a hundred others didn’t even get checked going in, you would think it would be tighter after that?  Oh well, bonus for me.

Cairo Citidel

The citadel (as a building) was great and everything in it, but the army museum was weird, it was so crowded you couldn’t stop and look through any of things on display.  So really it was just a rushed walk all the way through, and you couldn’t walk in any other direction, felt like sheep to the slaughter house!  Just as well though, it looked more like a propaganda museum than anything really. The Palace Guest house museum was really just about a throne chair which was small, nothing that impressed me over and beyond what I saw in the Anderson house.

At this point I was beat, and as I began to ponder whether I should be waking all the way up to the Hussayn mosque (Prophet grandson), I came to my senses and got a cab.  I made sure the same driver came back, because getting cabs was generally hit and miss.  We also agreed that he’ll pick me up tomorrow and take me to all the churches and the Al A’as mosque (the first mosque in Cairo) throughout old Cairo.  All that for about 100 pounds plus a tip, which is a good deal.  The mosque was OK, nothing too unique.  Again impressed with the respect they have for Hussayn (apparently his head is inside the mosque).

Hussayn Mosque
A stroll along the Nile – admiring retro Cairo

On the way back I realized I need more money and I must have tried four or five ATM machines, I finally opted to the HSBC machine I went to yesterday, even though I was crazy hungry at this point and tired as hell.  Made my way back through a different route and gorged on food, and well, you know the rest…. (another TMI alert) still can taste the puke…. yuk! Anyway tomorrow is the last day, tired and exhausted but loved it here.  Much like all the other travels, not sure when the next one like this will be…but for now I am content, had my fill (famous last words)! (President Hotel, 7:45 p.m.)**

Last day…not much to report other than I visited the churches.  My only regret was that I didn’t go inside the hanging church, I was told I could only after prayers and that would have been to late for me; although I realised that wasn’t true when I saw other tourists go in. Instead I ended up taking pix inside the St. Barbara church which wasn’t allowed….so there is that serendipitous balance there.

Cairo’s Coptic Quarter

All in all, everything went well, and ready to order a burger before my drive back to Alexandria and then to the airport.  Apparently I didn’t learn from the vomit hell of yesterday…will keep that extra info to myself for a change. (President Hotel, 3:21 p.m.)***

has anyone else been to Cairo?  What did you think?

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