Touching down in Cairo at 1.30 in the morning, we were driven to our hostel and were wowed by the sheer size of the city. Cairo is a 20 million person sprawling metropolis, and every one of these people seems to drive around honking their horn all night. We were too wired to sleep for a while, and began planning our time in this huge city.
Day one in Cairo saw us head to Giza. Stopping at the obligatory papyrus showroom en route, we arrived at a camel stables. Mounting onto our faithful steeds, Micky the camel and unnamed horse, we looped around the ancient monuments. The size of these wonders of the ancient world was fairly astounding, and due to the social upheaval in Egypt there were far fewer tourists than expected. The necessary 'pyramid lean' and 'sphinx kiss' photos were taken, before our transport trudged back across the desert sands to our waiting car. After a power nap we headed to Khan el-Khallali, the historic Cairean bazaar. Traipsing about, buying sheesha pipes, steel lamps, halava and other random items, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. We hoped to see a Sufi whirling dervish show that evening, and when we enquired at the 600 year old El Ghouri mosque for directions, the man at the door pointed out the right building, then invited us inside. Touring this incredible structure, in the heart of Islamic Cairo, was amazing. Climbing to the top of the 10 story minaret we were afforded a birds-eye view of the markets sprawling in every direction. We continued on to the show, but we're told by Mohammed, every second person's name, that we should come back at eight o'clock. In the meantime he would show us to his friend's store. The friend made beautiful, intricate mother of pearl boxes and chess sets, but we had made a decision not to buy too many items that would simply sit gathering dust on shelves. Mohammed also, for some reason, walked us through a local back alley and into a printers press, where bundles of the Koran were being readied for deliveries to schools. The workers didn't really know what we were doing there, and neither did we, but it was great nonetheless. After a quick dinner of ta'amiya, eggplant and fu'ul, we headed back to the Sufi show, only to find it was sold out. Dejectedly we searched for some beers, but in an Islamic controlled city such as Cairo this can sometimes be hard. After being offered Amstel Zero (0% alcohol, 0% fun), we were approached by Moustafa, who asked what we were after. Telling him that we were after a few Stellas to finish our day, he told us to wait in his store (a perfumery) while he went and got them. Waiting, in a slight state
of bewilderment, we wondered what was going on. Eventually Moustafa returned, beers in hand, and proceeded to work his salesman magic on us. We left, half an hour later, with a few flower essences, our beers and only after our host had given Tom a back massage. A huge first day in Cairo.
Day two saw us up and away early to get to the Egyptian Museum before the tour buses rolled in. The museum is enormous, with so many exhibits you become blasé about 4000 year old coffins. The artifacts are amazing however, with Tutankhamen's treasures the highlight. The golden death mask, sarcophagi, chariots and other items found in the boy king's tomb are stunning. The level of detail on every piece is so intricate, no space is left unadorned. We spent several hours wandering about the place, covering 3500 years of history and leaving slightly bewildered. Heading to the famous, multi leveled Abu Taurek for a late lunch/early dinner of kushari, we loved the mix of lentils, rice, spaghetti, macaroni, vermicelli noodles, fried onions and chickpeas, all smothered in spicy tomato sauce. We had researched a few bars in the downtown area where we were staying, and hit the rooftop at the classic Odeon Palace. Enjoying the city wide call of the muezzin is something not soon forgotten. From here we walked to Al Naeem for tea and a sheesha in a little lane way, before picking through the crowded streets of shoppers (the streets were crowded with shoppers every night until around midnight!), grabbing a quick shwarma for the walk.
Day 3 and we were back to the Islamic sector. This was Easter Monday in Cairo, we are still unsure why it is different to home, but it meant that the streets were deserted. This was a welcome change, halving the walking time from our previous effort. Roaming around the ancient part of the world's oldest surviving city was amazing, with sabil of Tusun Pasha being a particular highlight. This restored underground reservoir, with a 1,500,000 litre capacity, was used to provide accessible drinking water to suburban residents too poor to afford their own tanks. Being able to explore the ten metre deep underground tanks, with some of the greatest echoes either of us had ever had the fun to experience, was great. We walked back to the Khan el-Khallali, so Mads could upgrade to a bigger sheesha pipe after the previous night's enjoyment, and then took a taxi to the Citadel. This burial monument to Mohammed Pasha, the man who took Egypt back from the Ottomans, was breathtaking. Situated on a hill overlooking Cairo, the dome and spires tower into the sky. To venture inside Mads was required to hire a robe, complete with a pointed hood that made her look rather like a Klu Klux Klan member. After the Citadel, we wandered through the military museum, which could've been great if it wasn't for the amount of people putting their children on every available exhibit for a photo and half the rooms not being open. Another taxi, with a self-proclaimed tour guide, took us past a few monuments, en route to our hostel. Here we changed for dinner and walked across the Nile to Zamelik Island. Dinner was at Abu Al Said, and we gorged ourselves on dips, including a deliciously intriguing fava bean and coriander dip, vine leaves, lamb meatballs, moussaka and a few pigeons stuffed with frik. Back to the hostel to pack our bags and then we felt it was necessary to relieve our pre-post holiday blues with another lane way sheesha. After the dinner we had eaten, even Tom didn't feel it necessary to grab a shwarma for the walk.
Our sad last morning of the trip, and we went to search for a renowned leather goods store. Unfortunately due to the four days of feasting following the end of Lent, we were out of luck, but some shopping was still done. We write this from Cairo airport. By no means are we excited to be sitting on planes for the next twenty hours, and we know that after about three days at home we will feel a strong urge to pack up our bags and catch a bus somewhere, but we do look forward to catching up with friends, family and especially pets in the very near future.
For the last time from Africa, Madtom signing off.
P.s. for those that, like Tom, don't mind a statistic or two:
16,050 km of road and rail travel
59 different beds
36 different beers
19 books read (each)
1 bout of serious stomach problems each,
0 dollars left in the bank.