Cairo...

Trip Start Oct 07, 2007
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Trip End Oct 31, 2007


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Flag of Egypt  ,
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Plan: Last long drive, also leaving at 4am, 6 hours in the car. We could leave later, but then we arrive in Cairo later-- and since I wanted to spend 4 days in Cairo and had to squeeze it into two, well, bring on the early travel. I can sleep in cars. I want to see Islamic Cairo, Coptic Cairo, and go through the market (again); suck out every bit of the city before falling asleep with a view of the pyramids.
Hotel: http://www.starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien/property/overview/i ndex.html?propertyID=1807

The flight was short, and much appreciated when the alternative was driving, but I am not sure Ben will feel the same way after the long flight home tomorrow-ah! It is too early to think of that yet, and I spend the day attempting to avoid it...
 
We wander through the crowd for the last time, looking for our last guide, and the last sign displaying the last misspelling of Ben's name. What we find instead is a wonderful surprise. Wael has come to meet us for our last day! I almost walked right by him because I didn't expect to ever see him in a suit and tie-cleans up nice... It is an amazing feeling to run into someone you know in such a foreign place. It has been almost two weeks since we parted in Luxor, and although we have spoken a few times to sort out a hiccup or two, it is fun to be reunited as friends.
 
When we get our bags, and make it to the van, there is one more surprise: Rado! They have both changed their plans to make sure they were the ones to entertain us for our last day. Rado confirms that he has already taught his wife the basics of Milles Borne, and was surprised that when he met his second group of Canadians, they are not familiar with the game...
 
Our plan today covers all the last of the can't misses that you can fit in a day... Our first stop is to Coptic Cairo. I had read about the churches, and I am interested to see their contrast with the mosques. The first one we visit was the most beautiful: the Hanging Church gets its name for how it was built on a gate and you can see through the floor to the path below. What catch our attention are the mosaics leading to the front door, the inlaid woodwork inside near the altar and stain glass. 
 
From there we walked to the Church of St. George, the only round Church in Egypt, then carried on further still to the Covent of St George where we walked into the small cell that is reputed to have held St George himself, and where he was martyred. It is Ben's first taste of devout Christianity, and their dedication to their Patron Saint. I think both of us feel a little uncomfortable among the ornate and personal memorials and tokens left behind. It was interesting to hear Rado teach us about the history of the buildings, but he made a lot of assumptions about the religion he assumed we knew as second nature.
 
Continuing the tour we stopped at St Sergius Church. It is considered a minor stop on some extensive pilgrimages to Egypt because it is believe to have sheltered the Holy Family in its crypt at some point during the exodus from Palestine. What I found interesting was the neon sign that led the way to the sacred place.
 
Next up, one of the last remaining Synagogues in Egypt. When Israel was created, most of the Jews in Egypt returned to their homeland, except for one large family who felt they were just as Egyptian as they were Jewish and stayed, and are still there to this day. According to our guides, despite media interpretation, or political strain between Egypt and Israel, there are no current issues, or ill will between the individuals of the 'People of The Book.' They are all Egyptian first, and religious second. Of course, this sounds great in principle, but I slightly more inclined to believe them when you can turn around and see a Church, a Synagogue and a Mosque on the same main thoroughfare, and this is not the beginning to some bad joke. 
 
For a change of pace we headed into Islamic Cairo to check out the Citadel, and Mohammed Ali's Mosque (or the Alabaster Mosque.) The mosque itself was stunning; the view of the city rendered me speechless. It was really interesting to enter, (respectfully clad, long pants, long sleeves, no shoes, and a head scarf for me) and see the beautiful construction and artwork. Rado spent a long time answering our questions, explaining their beliefs and rituals... We spend a long time contemplating life, and discussing philosophies. 
 
The mosque itself no longer holds weekly prayers, as it has become a main tourist destination, and so it has become a little slack in its above mentioned appropriate attire, but I still found it shocking that some people were either completely ignorant, or were simply and blatantly disrespectful. You don't have to share the beliefs to respect them, but if you are entering someone else's shrine, at least have the decency to attempt to respect their wishes, even if your interest is architecture and not spiritual. Ok, I am finished gripping.
 
Once we had taken in all that we could, we looked down on our next destination, the Mosque of Sultan Hassan, and Rado's favourite in the whole city. It is side by side with another massive and equally impressive mosque-but we were running on a tight schedual. The Mosque of Sultan Hassan was beautiful, and because it is an active mosque seemed more serene and sacred. The only other people in the whole place were a couple of art students trying to replicate the intricate patterns.  
After such a full morning, it was time for a quick lunch before we attacked the behemoth Egyptian Antiquities Museum.
 
It feels like a giant flea market-I can't remember where I read that description, but as soon as you walk through the doors, it seems way too appropriate. Its displays out grew the building a long time ago, and yet many of the most famous displays are only replicas and are described with the caveat "The original is in Berlin/London/Paris/Denver..." They are also never happy displaying the best example of something, if they have one turquoise scarab, they have a hundred, and they are all displayed side by side.
 
Rado did a really great job showing us all the highlights, the must sees, but you could spend years in there looking at everything. In fact they are in the process of building a new museum that will open around 2010 that should display everything a lot better. Ben's favourite, by far, was the wooden statue of Ka-Aper. It is carved out of one piece of sycamore, except for the arms. It was amazingly lifelike.
 
I would be hard pressed to pick a favourite, feeling as though I would not be giving everything a fair shot, but I will explain my impression of Tutankhamun's treasure, since that is what most people want to know. First, even though you know the discovery was a huge find, after touring Egypt for a month, listening to all the history of the great Pharaohs, it is amazing that this small, short-lived reign had such amazing treasures; it makes you wonder what the greater Pharaoh would have left behind, if only they weren't pillaged.
 
His gilded throne was beautiful, the coffins impressive, but the mask... it really does take your breath away. Ben couldn't get over how none of this amazing art was ever meant to seen after the tomb was sealed, how so much effort went into makings things that were to be hidden forever. Imagine that. No one was ever meant to see any of these fine things.
 
Even the 'mundane' items were gorgeous; I clearly remember his beds that are carved as different animals. It is clear why people focus on these things during their time in the museum, but there are many, many other amazing things to see. We did not get a chance to see the Mummy room, we choose not to see it, even though they are the best persevered mummies in the world, we felt that it wasn't really worth the extra ticket, and that we had seen enough mummies in place throughout the trip. We did check out the mummified animal room-that was weird.
 
Advice: I would highly recommend visiting the Museum among the last things you do on a trip to Egypt. Because we had seen almost all the critical sites, we were able to understand the context of all the pieces. Rado was always saying, "remember when we were in this temple, and there was a whole in the floor? This is the statue that stood there." It was really neat to understand what we were looking at, and from where they came.
 

I don't think anyone ever feels like they have enough time in this museum, maybe the new one will be set up a little better, and be easier to maneuver... but it can't be missed. We ran out of time before we were burnt out, and we headed back to the van to struggle through traffic back to our hotel. There are a couple very appropriate videos that give you a slight idea of the traffic 'rules' in Cairo.


I had originally booked the five star hotel for the last night thinking we would be able to enjoy its amenities, I had never counted on making great friends whose company we didn't want to part. We went up to our room long enough to drop our bags, but spent the rest of the night, much like we had through the desert, locked in deep conversation with Wael. It talked late into the night until my eyelids felt heavy I had to retire for at least a small nap.

Having arrived in the dark, and left in the dark, we never did see the pyramid view of our last hotel, but by then it was old news, and there were more important and more lasting things to take care of.
 
-Ash
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