I had one of those flights from hell—an eight-hour layover in Amsterdam, then four and a half hours on the tarmac when taking off; then we couldn’t land in Cairo because of fog, so on to Luxor; six hours in confusion in the Luxor airport until we were taken to a resort and given rooms; then finally flown to Cairo the next morning.
After recovering, I walked all around downtown Cairo, picked a better hotel (The Grand), got airplane tickets to Aswan, then met my friend, Jan, who arrived late in the day. Jan and I had a great dinner at the Felfela restaurant where we ate fuul, shish kabab, baba ghaunouj, and eggplant. We love the Egyptian food, so far, anyway.
The next day we started Cairo sightseeing in earnest. First the Citadel, then a couple of mosques—one was the Ar-Rifa’i Mosque where King Farouk and the Shah of Iran are buried. We walked through a food market to the Khan al-Khalili which is a big ancient market. We had a good lunch in the Khan al-Khalili Restaurant.
It’s Ramadan so everything is very busy. The owner of the hotel in which we’re staying has tables set up outside the hotel for men to eat free because it’s Ramadan. Later we walked across the street to a fruit market and bought some fruit for a snack.
Crossing the street in Cairo is definitely thrilling—Wow, that traffic!!
Saturday we had planned to go to the Egyptian Museum, but we encountered a young man who told us that the President and the Prime Minister were visiting the museum that day, which would make it difficult for us to visit because of security. He advised going there another day, so we took his advice and went to visit the Coptic Museum and churches. We toured the Convent and Church of St. George (for some reason St. George is very popular here), the Roman Towers, The Coptic museum, the Hanging Church which is the oldest in Cairo—4th century, the churches of St. Sergius and St. Barbara and the Ben Ezra Synagogue for good measure.
That evening we took a taxi to the Al Ghouri Madrassa to see Sufi dancing, but alas, because of Ramadan, it wasn’t going to be on until 11:00—too late for us! So we took a taxi back to our hotel, but because of Ramadan it took so long through horrendous traffic that after an hour when we saw that we were at the Midan Talaat Harb and knew the way back to our hotel, we got out and walked to our hotel, stopping on the way to refresh ourselves with an espresso.
Monday we visited the Museum of Islamic Art, which was lovely—no shortage of things to see in Cairo! We continued on, back to the Khan al-Khalili where many shops were closed because of Eid, the big holiday at the end of Ramadan.
We had tea in the famous Fishawi’s Coffeehouse with many people smoking hubble-bubble pipes, and did a walking tour shown in our guidebook north of the Khan al-Khalili, viewing a wonderful Ottoman house being restored as well as the oldest mosque in Egypt, the Al Azhar University and mosque and wonderful little byways and alleyways with lots of local color.
On Tuesday we took a little two-day trip, first to Mena House at Giza. This is a beautiful, luxury hotel built in 1869 right near the pyramids. It housed Empress Eugenie for the inauguration of the Suez Canal. We could see the pyramids from the balcony in our hotel room.
The Sphinx and pyramids were thrilling; we spent some time walking from one to another, ooohing and aaahing, although the site was overrun with children that day who were on vacation to celebrate Eid. Seeing the Egyptian pyramids and the Sphinx for the first time is really a fantastic experience. How many pictures of these things have we seen, and here they really are!
After our luxurious night at Mena House, including dinner in the Mughal Room, we left for Wadi Natrum, a nearby valley that has four monasteries. This was the place where Christian monastic life began in 318 AD. It was also supposedly where the Holy Family hid out when King Herod was killing all the Jewish baby boys. We visited two of the monasteries, St. Macarius and St. Berchoi. Each place a monk showed us around—each monastery was certainly ancient and still a going concern to this day.
Tomorrow we shall fly to Aswan.