Thursday, February 8, 2007

Day 8. Back to Cairo.

Ugh. I had been dreading going back to Cairo and all its chaos. Compared to Cairo, the atmosphere of both Aswan and Luxor is relatively sedate and I was beginning to enjoy the slower pace of life.

What I relished even less was returning to the smog and pollution that enshrouds Cairo. Unfortunately, like many major cities in developing countries, Cairo is in bad need of air pollution controls. Add that to the fact that smoking is a popular habit among Egyptian men and you have just about the worse air you could possibly breathe.

After my first two days in Cairo, my throat was dry and scratchy and I was constantly trying to clear it - I did not want to re-live the feeling. On the other hand, there's so much to see and do in Cairo that it's worth any discomfort that I would have to temporarily endure. After all, we were only going to be in Cairo for one day.

















We arrived in Cairo by overnight train from Luxor.

While we were waiting for the train in Luxor to arrive, Ahmed showed up with the jewellry that we had purchased from him earlier in the day. I love my bracelet! Unfortunately, Lei's ring was about 3 sizes too large so it would have to be re-done. Ahmed would arrange for the ring to be delivered to her 3 days later, when we were in Nuweiba.



It had been a long, activity filled day so I was looking forward to a good night's sleep on the train - no early morning call to prayer to jolt me awake!

The train ride was uneventful and we arrived into Cairo bright and early in the morning. We walked back to the hotel and checked into our rooms.

Lei and I dropped off our laundry at the Front Desk before heading out for the day. With both my hiking pants at the laundry, all I had to wear were my capris - which end just below my knee. Walking out on the street, I suddenly felt very uncomfortable with my calves exposed. For the previous 7 days, we had been very conscientious about the way we dressed - covering up and keeping very conservative out of respect for the Muslim culture. Exposing one's shoulders, knees and even ankles is frowned on. Scary isn't it? Just how quickly one can be influenced by the norms of another culture. I couldn't wait to get my hiking pants back on!

We hailed a taxi. A few days in Aswan and Luxor and I had forgotten what it was to ride a taxi in Cairo. It begins with negotiating the fare (5 EG to where we were headed) and then praying for your life as the cab weaves in and out of traffic lanes - leaving barely inches between them and the other cars AND pedestrians AND animals that are also weaving in and out of traffic. It's insane! Once you make it to the destination, you just want to get out and kiss the ground - thanking God that you've arrived in one piece! I know I sound dramatic but I'm really not kidding about the experience!



Our first destination of the day - back to the Khan al Khalili bazaar for one last trip to el Fishawy for mint tea and Turkish coffee. We then went to see if the Internet cafe was open and it was not so we strolled back out to Muski to wait for Sunny Land Papyrus to open. We had discovered Sunny Land the first day we were in Cairo and Daniel subsequently recommended it. Lei had her heart set on getting a papyrus painting.



LOTS of Egyptian pounds lighter, we both left Sunny Land with tubes of papyrus paintings tucked under our arms. They must use the same cardboard tubes all over Egypt as no matter where I went, I could easily identify anyone who had bought a papyrus painting!



We took a taxi back to the hotel, dropped off our papyrus and headed out, on foot, in search of lunch.



Lei retraced her steps to the restaurant with the "yellow chairs" and we both had shawarma for lunch. By the way, don't ask us for the names of any of the restaurants we went to in Cairo - we can only identify them by the color of their plastic chairs :-)

After the shawarma, we then found a bakery and had our last bites of Egyptian pastry. The next stop was to find a place to buy Kleenex for Lei (her nose is always running) and an ATM as we had just about exhausted our funds.

Then, we headed by taxi to the Citadel.



The Citadel is a fortified complex begun by Salah al-Din (1171-93), known to Christians as Saladin, the foe of the Crusaders. His nephew, Al-Kamil completed construction of the complex.

The main feature of the Citadel is the Mosque of Mohammed Ali.

Lei and I headed for the ticket booth and soon faced a mob of people. At first, we behaved like Americans and tried to find the queue to stand in. That got us nowhere so we pushed our way through the crowd and with no apologies for crushing anyone in our way.



Once we were inside, we headed straight for the Mosque. We took our shoes off and carried them in our hands. As with the al-Azhar, we entered a very serene sanctuary.....despite the crowd of people milling around.

From the Mosque, we were able to get a bird's eye views of the city.....



....and of Islamic Cairo where we had been on our first full day in Cairo.

The interior courtyard of the Mosque is beautiful - with intricately carved cast iron windows and....



....an unusual carousel like structure in the middle. I don't know what the structure is but....



....its walls made for a beautiful backdrop for a photo of Lei.



The inside of the mosque is lit by a huge chandelier that also shines light up onto domed ceiling and what a magnificent ceiling it is - reminded me of a Fabergé egg.



We walked around some of the other structures in the Citadel complex but none compared to the Mosque.



After spending quite some time wandering the grounds of the Mosque, we retraced our steps back to the entrance and left.

We then negotiated with a taxi to drive us to Coptic Cairo. Coptic Cairo is a relatively small neighborhood, with a landscape that is occupied predominately by churches. Without knowing it, we had arrived in Coptic just as the churches were closing for the day so all we could do was take photos from the outside.

Photos of the Monastary and Church of St. George taken from different angles.





Roman Towers.



We bumped into Sandy and Zdena as we strolled alongside the Monastary and Church of St. George. They were on their way back to the hotel so we decided to go with them to take the subway back.

From the subway station, we walked back to the hotel. After dinner, we collected our laundry, repacked our packs and called it a night. We needed a good night's rest as it was going to be an early morning departure to our next destination and it was going to be a long ride in the mini-van.

Lei's posting on our day back in Cairo.