The Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx are now off our to do list!
25.03.2010 - 30.03.2010 28 °C
Istanbul was an amazing city with fantastic history with awesome sites to match, but now we were on our way to Egypt, which boasts some of the world’s oldest and greatest history of all and its most famous tourist venues. Needless to say, Thanh and I were very excited to be going to the land of the pharaohs, pyramids and Nile. Our flight back home is fast approaching (April 8th from Paris) so we only had time to visit Egypt for ten days. Our plan is to visit Cairo for five days and then and then Luxor for another four. This blog is about Cairo and we will have another one up for Luxor soon.
I am fortunate to have good friends, Angela and Rob, presently living in Cairo. They are originally from Perth, Australia, but Rob works for an international oil & gas company and was transferred to Cairo over a year ago. They’ve settled in Maadi, a peaceful suburb an hour south of downtown Cairo. The married couple have a beautiful apartment and we were very spoiled to have stayed there. Angela and Rob took very good care of us.
Our plane landed around noon and Angela and her driver were at the airport to pick us up (Rob’s company supplies free car and driver for their employees). After unpacking a bit, eating stuffed vine leaves and cabbage rolls, the three of us took a stroll around the neighborhood for a couple of hours. Once Mr. Benkovic returned from work we met up with friends of theirs, Sam and Dave, at a very cool and atmospheric traditional Egyptian restaurant called Abu El Sid. I went crazy and ordered their specialty, stuffed pigeons. It was good but there wasn’t a much meat on the bones. When the meal was done we all shared a shisha filled with apple flavored tobacco Afterward, we all headed to a crowded bar full of expats and Cairanese Copts for a few drinks. Copts are basically Egyptians who embrace Christianity rather than Islam, hence their liberty to drink alcohol.
The next day we woke up and made ourselves our first homemade breakfast in a long time; tomato, capsicum and cheese omelette. The four of us, Angela, Thanh, Rob and myself, took the metro to visit the Coptic neighborhood of Cairo. There we visited the Coptic Museum, the Greek Orthodox Cemetery, the Church of St. Sergius and the Hanging Church.
The Coptic museum was a fascinating museum with lots of art, especially Christian style art, dating back to the Greco-Roman times to the Islamic era. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside.
After having a quick lunch at the museum, we strolled around the Greek Orthodox Cemetery and I discovered the Chruch of St. Sergius. This church is historically important because this is the place where Virgin Mary and baby Jesus sought refuge from the persecution of King Herod of Judea. I went inside and went to the historic basement and took some pictures.
Before calling it a day and heading home we visited the Hanging Church, another historic Coptic place of worship, built around the 9th century.
Our second full day saw us spend over three good but overwhelming hours at the Egyptian Museum, and then a super relaxing Felucca ride along the Nile with friends.
The Egyptian Museum may be one of the most fascinating and important museums on earth since it possesses countless of ancient Egyptians artifacts dating back over 5000 years ago. Unfortunately this is not a secret and we were not alone. The place was packed, wall to wall, with tourist, especially those on organized trips. Nevertheless, we got to see some pretty amazing stuff including a dozen or so mummies. Apart from Tutankhamen’s magnificent burial mask, the pharonic mummies may be our highlight in the museum, even if they creeped Thanh out a little but. We spent four hours here and we still left feeling that we didn’t spend enough time discovering. Sadly, cameras were not allowed inside the museum.
Our afternoon was much more relaxing as we embarked on a two hour, peaceful, felucca ride along the Nile with Angela, Rob and our new friends Sam and Dave. This sail boat ride is certainly one of our Cairo highlights. Besides the good company, we enjoyed some good snacks, drinks and a fantastic sunset! After we docked, we headed to Sam and Dave’s friend, Mike, to have several cocktails before calling it a night.
The next morning we woke up very excited, and with reason; we were going to the Giza Pyramids! The Giza Pyramids! The pyramids are high on most people’s do to list and we were about to check off this big one! Anyways, Angela organized a driver to get us to Giza and drive us around. Our driver, Mohammed Ali, was very kind and thoughtful. He brought us everywhere we wanted to go and also brought us to some places which had fantastic panoramic views of the pyramids. In total, we stayed four hours at the site to properly soak in the three pyramids, the Solar Boat Museum, and the Sphinx. We took to the time to take plenty of pictures, climb a pyramid, enter another, walk around the mid-sized one, just sit and admire, and we even spoiled ourselves by taking a camel ride! The Sphinx is the last thing before leaving the Giza complex and it didn’t disappoint us either. It’s not as large as I had imagined but it was fantastic just the same. Needless to say, the whole experience was amazing and very memorable!
After checking off one of the wonders of the world the day before, we chose to visit downtown and Islamic Cairo, and the Khan al-Khalilli (bazaar) found within Islamic Cairo.
There’s not much to report regarding he dull downtown area besides having eaten “kushari”, for lunch, a mix of noodles, rice, black lentils, dried onions and a tomato sauce. It was very cheap, super yummy and very filling.
Islamic Cairo was fascinating and interesting. This area felt very middle-eastern and exotic. The roads are narrower and more twisty-windy here and there are plenty of minarets standing high and tall. The men and women seem to dress in a more traditional fashion as you saw very few women without their head covering and many men wore the galabiyyas, which are a full length robes.
Khan al-Khalilli is little like Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar but it’s much smaller, not covered, and doesn’t have as many nice things. We wandered around here for an bit until we stopped at the famous Fishawi’s Coffeehouse for some mint tea and a cherry flavoured shisha. This place was very cool and atmospheric. While there were several tourists there, the place was full of Arabs which made the experience feel authentic. Apparently it’s been open for over two hundred years!
Luxor is next and our flight out of Cairo was in the late afternoon, so we didn’t do much on our final day in Cairo expect head out with Angela to get some fresh made pitas and falafels so we could make ourselves lunch back at the apartment. Unbelievably, twenty pitas cost us 1 LE ($0.20 Canadian)! That’s a penny each! Who knows how they make money with those prices?
Some Egypt observations:
- Work weeks in Egypt are from Sunday to Thursday, thus Fridays and Saturdays are weekends here.
- The use of roman numerals in Egypt is very rare. They use Arabic numerals for everything and it’s important for tourists to memorize them.
- Certain carriages on the Metro are reserved for women only.
- Drivers here, like in most developing countries, have poor judgment and are very dangerous. We easily saw a dozen or so car wrecks around town. For some reason, the seem to leave damaged, un-driveable cars corrode on the side of a road or highway for days and weeks. Strange.
We would like to take the time to thank Angela and Rob for their hospitality and generosity. We felt very welcomed and we really appreciated the comfort of your home, the tasty meals, and especially the companionship.
From Cairo we now head to Luxor, which was the ancient city of Thebes. Luxor is where some the best historic sites of Egypt lay, like Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings! We can't wait!