Old Cairo: Coptic, Islamic, Khan al-Khalili Bazaar
After we got back to the lovely Mena House Oberoi yesterday, we decided to check out the pool. Hubby and bro went in and said it was great. I laid on a comfy chair and napped. It was brilliant! At sunset the pool closed so after we took some sunset pictures, we retreated to the rooms to change for dinner.
We decided on the Moghul Room for dinner. It is reputed to be one of the best Indian restaurants in Egypt and the world. We sat down at 9pm and were very impressed with the décor of the restaurant, the attentiveness of the staff, and the delicious food. We had a great dinner but ordered too much food, and then ate it up since it was all so good. We may return on our last night in Cairo!
We slept well and had a 10am meeting time with Ahmed Hamed Yousif for our last day’s tour in Cairo. He was on-time as always and had 50LE worth of change for us (as requested since we had to give too much in baksheesh at the bathrooms the previous day). Those 1LE coins are hard to come by and disappear very quickly. We checked out of the hotel with no problems and then were off for our day.
Let me say again how much we all enjoyed the Mena House Oberoi. Our rooms were lovely (big, modern, clean, comfortable, well appointed); the views were to die for (I mean, seriously, I could see the pyramids from the bed!); we enjoyed the gorgeous flower arrangement and delicious celebratory cake to welcome us; and the staff were unfailingly friendly and helpful. Each morning my golf cart ride was waiting before we even called. We probably thanked Ahmed Hamed Yousif 1,000 times for the upgrade and really mean it. It was a wonderful way to start out trip!
|Moghul Room dinner|
|Moghul Room dinner--delicious!|
|On our balcony|
|Bye, bye room #334|
|View of the pyramids from the Ring Road|
First stop on today’s tour was Coptic Cairo. We walked through the old street, took pictures of the old doors, and toured Sts. Simeon and Bacchus church. It is, per Ahmed, the oldest Christian Church in Egypt and the holy family hid in the crypt on their travels. The crypt was closed for restoration, though.Then we went to Ben Ezra synagogue, the oldest Jewish temple in Egypt. Recently restored and resplendent. In this area we also heeded the sounds of mass and stood in St. Barpara for a little while. I love the smell of the incense used in churches. When we left the church we could hear the call to prayer as well as the mass and it was very harmonic together. Ahmed has pointed out that mosques and churches are built next to each other in symbolism of friendship and acceptance. The Metro station in this area had a neat symbol of two hands joined which he said is another symbol of this tolerance and acceptance and coexistence.
Afterwards we walked past the old castle on the left and new metro station on the left to the Hanging Church. It is really beautiful. We took lots of photos. We then walked back down the hill to peek in St. George’s Cemetery--above ground tombs like in NOLA. I noticed a car parked and covered under a tree on a small road in the cemetery--the entrance to the small area was nowhere to be seen. I figured the car was a Mercedes or BMW but it was a Chevy! Such an amazingly well protected parking spot for such a modest car. Ahmed said no one had checked for the model of the car before me--so now we all know!
|Beautiful Old Doors|
|The Hanging Church|
|Chevy's perfect parking spot|
|Symbol of coexistence and friendship|
We drove a short ways to the Amro Mosque. Ahmed Hamed Yousif said it’s the oldest in Egypt and that it is still in use today, unlike Ibn Toulon mosque which is more of a tourist site. I was allowed to wear my boot, nice that. We walked around the large mosque and took pictures. It was very peaceful.
We then drove through the busy streets (Tamer doing a great job) and could see daily life in Cairo. The streets were busy with all kinds of people, animals, cars, motorbikes, everything you can imagine. It was great! We passed a souk--all kinds of merchandise and foods : we were all impressed with the beautiful displays of fruit in particular. We arrived after awhile to Ibn Toulon mosque and toured it. Sincerely a little bit of a let down after Amro mosque. But its minaret is on the 5LE note so it was nice to see it in person. Hubby and bro decided against the climbing the tower--legs still not recovered from the Red pyramid tomb raid yesterday!
I was very disappointed to see that the Gayer Anderson Museum was closed. We have really enjoyed visiting museums that were former homes with the furniture and art and collections of the time they lived there in other on other trips but no luck in Cairo. Cant win ‘em all, right?
|With Ahmed at Ibn Toulon Mosque|
|The minaret is on the 5LE note|
From here we made our very, very slow way to Tahrir Square. Traffic was atrocious--it took forever to get there. I had requested this be included and do not regret seeing in person the place we saw on TV for those 18 days. It was empty of tents and protesters but still had a few hardy vendors selling Egyptian themed items. It’s really a traffic circle, kind of like Place de la Concorde in Paris, that connects several different streets. We got pictures and a video, particularly of the pink Egyptian Museum with the burned our National Party Headquarters in the background. Ahmed Hamed Yousif said he and his friends were some of the many Cairenes who protected the museum during the troubles.
|Tahrir Square: Egyptian Museum and National Party Headquarters in background|
|No one camped out; flowers waiting to be planted. Terrible traffic|
|Curious girls as we arrived at Khan al-Khalili bazaar|
|Some of the wares for sale|
|The streets were teeming with people|
We had our first Egyptian “fast food” al Felfella since we were running out of time due to the terrible traffic: shwarma chicken sandwiches, delicious! We arrived at Khan al-Khalili bazaar and it was teeming with people. Ahmed pointed Al-Azhar mosque but we choose not to enter. We noticed lots of people in galabeyas and Ahmed said many from the countryside had come in to the Hussein mosque for a celebration of the birth of Mohammed’s grandson (I think). It was a very interesting scene.
Khan al-Khalili was as we expected--busy, lots of vendors asking for attention, close quarters, colorful and fun. We made a beeline for Guzlan and ordered cartouche pendants for our girl friends and stuff for ourselves. We left Guzlan and got hooked by a Christmas ornament seller and bargained for some cute ones with Ahmed’s help and supervision. We then had mint tea at El Fishawy which was delicious and scenic. Hubby got his shoes shined (the young man wanted to take the shoes away to shine them but we were all reluctant at that. Ahmed suggested he take only one at a time and made us all laugh and produced a good result).
I requested a bathroom break and our excellent guide lead us to the “one 5 star toilet” in the market (Oberoi tea room). Another props for Ahmed Hamed Yousif! We then made our way to the square where our driver met us for our ride to the airport and flight to Aswan. We had a little time to wait and I realized I misplaced my sunglasses. The last time I remembered having them was at tea. But we figured one of the cute little girls who were milling around playing with my hair picked them up and went off with them.
No big deal as they were only $5; easily replaceable. But Ahmed wasn’t satisfied and ran back to El Fishawy to check. Alas, the sunglasses were not there (found ‘em later in a shopping bag) but he wanted to do everything he could to make sure we had a good time.
Our drive to the airport was interesting. So many near misses! Mohamed and Mo(hamed) met us along the way to ensure a smooth check-in. The flight was on time and very easy. We were met at the airport by Khalid who escorted us to the Movenpick Aswan.
Khalid did a good introduction to Aswan and smoothed our check-in. Unfortunately the only room with a king sized bed, with a lovely Nile view was not suitable for my ears. The AC had a high pitched whine that gave me a headache. We switched rooms a couple of times and it’s better AC whine-wise but has two double beds. Just for two nights so no biggie. The room is clean and large and very beautifully located on an island. The staff are nice but not like the excellently attentive group at Mena House. Very long and tiring day so off to sleep with a 10:30am meeting time with our guide for the next few days, Mohammed.