There are no reasonable ways to describe the chaos that is Cairo. Words fail me!
Cairo is a huge, polluted, dirty city and our hotel was right in the thick of it - just around the corner from the huge Sadat Square, a block or two from the Nile, next to the Museum of Antiquities and right in the middle of a shopping and market precinct. The city has a faded air of Paris in the Art Deco buildings and riverfront corniche. It must once have been very beautiful. It is still a vibrant, busy place with crowds of people about day and night.
The night we arrived Debs took us to the Stella Bar just along the road for a beer or three. It is a local institution, the second oldest bar in Cairo built around the turn of the last century where intellectuals have in past eras debated all the big questions of life and where the underground movement between the World Wars would meet. It's dingy and smokey and terrific.
The first morning, we headed for the famed Museum of Antiquities which required us to negotiate our way over about 10 lanes of fast, unpredictable traffic. The rule is stick close by a local trying to do the same thing, preferably with the local on the oncoming car side. It's pretty hair-raising and requires lots of nerve - if you hesitate, you will never get there.
We spent a quiet day just roaming around the museum as fancy took us, but deliberately leaving the Tutankhamun Galleries till the last. The treasures there were spectacular and everything else in the Museum just pales by comparison. The sheer amount of "stuff" the Museum holds is phenomenal; much of it is unclassified and simply scattered around in piles accumulating dust. There is obviously not nearly enough money in a poor country to allocate to it all.
A little anecdote for you about Egyptian security that sums up the security we have seen wherever we have been in Egypt: We took in our backpack a knife to peel some oranges, not thinking that it might cause trouble... We went through the first two security checks to the Museum - x-raying of bags and walking though the metal detectors. The bags passed through both with no problem. We walked through, setting off the alarms, as did everyone walking through. No problem! Later we went outside the Museum building itself to the cafe for lunch and when we returned and went though security again, we were pulled aside and challenged about the knife. So on the third go, they had found it! So Russ took it back to the hotel while I watched the security guards at the entry. Why didn't we get caught the first two times? Easy - the guys spent most of the time chatting with their colleagues and not looking at the screen. And this was the kind of security we have encountered everywhere in Egypt. To put it mildly, it is a joke. Thousands of Tourist and Antiquities Police inhabit the country and most of them sit around doing absolutely nothing.
One night we got together with everyone for Linda's birthday. Debs arranged a flash resataurant, a present, party hats, whistles and a cake. Hans was particularly taken with the whistles -if they hadn't taken away his whistle early on, we might have been thrown out!! Terrific night.
Next day was our day out with a guide. We did all the biggies - Memphis, the Saqquara Step Pyramids and then Giza for the big pyramids and the Sphinx. The guide was very good - having the explanations puts what you are seeing into context. The Giza Pyramids are most impressive and quite stunning from a short distance. We didn't pay the extra exhorbitant amount to go into the Cheops Pyramid to see nothing but our entry ticket did include being able to climb down into a smaller pryamid around the back. So some of us, not prone to claustrophiobia, climbed down the steep ramp, doubled over under the low ceiling to enter the burial chamber and see...nothing. At least it didn't cost!
Then we fought off the most incredible crowd to get to a vantage point to see the Sphinx (thank goodness it isn't high season - we couldn't move as it was) - pushing, shoving, pushing some more, a crowd about 10 wide trying to fit into a passage only one person wide. It is much more impressive close up - it looks quite small and insignificant from a distance when you first see it. And then it was more pushing and shoving to get out again...
We chose to explore Cairo on foot and getting lost (some of the time). We thought we would pass on taxis and Cairo traffic if we could! Cairo is a very confusing city to walk. Although street names are also in English, they change names halfway along their distance. We wandered around the old Islamic Quarter, through souks both tourist and local, into an ancient mosque and then through the narrow streets and lanes where locals live and work. Even in the middle of the city we encountered the odd sheep wandering along a lane!
Then the night train back - but that's another story.
PS Don't forget there are photos on this blog if you want to be truly bored by someone else's holiday snaps. Just click on the Photos tab at the top of the screen...