Day 1-2: Egyptian Museum + Citadel, Cairo

by - November 16, 2010

Sorry for taking so long to update the blog - I am now in the Sahara Desert at the Bahariya Oasis, where the internet is easier to come by than in Cairo.  With a new era of blogging comes a new format.  I now plan to write my blog “on the hoof” in my moleskine diary and ten just type it up when I get to an internet cafe.  This is partially because with a third world internet connection, I don’t want to hang about, but it is mainly because I aspire to be like the hypothetical love child of Indiana Jones and Howard Carter.  And this hypothetical love child would carry a moleskine.

We had to get up at like half 4 in the morning for our 9am departure.  I did some last minute packing and found that my watch had stopped, leaving me with the choice of either having no watch (which would kill me) or borrowing mum’s pink Swatch.  I went with the latter and all of the Egyptian men give me funny looks.  The flight out (Heathrow to Cairo with BMI) was very painless - we arrived early and didn’t queue at any of the desks or checks, allowing me time to buy some sunglasses and an epic full English breakfast.  The flight was just over 4 and a half hours long and as it included TVs in the seats, lunch (all day breakfast amusingly) and free drinks - the two of us had wine, the time flew by.  Like the plane did.  See what I did there.  Upon arrival we headed through passport control and got our visas with Danni getting her stamp from Canada completely obliterated by the massive Egyptian one.  In her annoyance she left her passport on the customs desk (tourist mistake number 1), but luckily the guy shouted after her.  The hostel sent a free pick up to the airport, but it took a while for us to find our name sign as the guy had written “Mr Alex” on it.  I commited tourist mistake number 2 as I tried to get into the driver’s door. We are learning.

The view from the balcony

The drive to the hostel on the roads of Cairo was an experience in itself.  There was a constant sound of horns, the road markings appeared to be strictly decorative, there were no rear seatbelts and there was a variety of people and animals walking around the roads/highways.  However we arrived at our hostel (Hotel Meramees) in one piece and waited around for Tom to turn up before going out for a late night walk to the River Nile - an experience that was quite special, with it being probably the most famous river in the world.  We also had our first Egyptian meal at the grand cost of 57p each for a chicken sandwich.  Our hotel has a balcony over the street, so we sat up until the early hours. 

The Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Tom had been staying at a different hostel and had already been to the Egyptian Museum, so didn’t make his way over with us in the morning.  We were woken up at about half 4, by our very own “Allah Akhbar” alarm clock - the balcony on our room is literally in front of a minaret, before heading downtown.  The museum is very grand and surrounded by massive security - we went through two sets of metal detectors.  Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos and its hard to describe the place, but part of the spectacle is the sheer amount of artifacts and how intricate and intact they are.  The museum itself is pretty rustic, but this is part of its charm - despite the grand building, it has the feel of an old fusty bookshop.  The only part of the museum with shiny steel and glass is the Tutenkhamun exhibit - this was so amazing to see “in the flesh” that we went in and saw it twice.  On the topic of “in the flesh”, we decided to pay the extra fee to visit the special exhibit holding the actual 4000 year old corpses of the Pharoahs - so we have seen the actual body of people like Ramses and Nefertiti, which when you think about it is massively impressive.

The Citadel, Cairo
We left thoroughly impressed and met Tom before getting a taxi to the citadel - the 700 year old castle complex that used to be home to the rulers of Egypt.  The area is built on top of a hill with a wall around it and contains several mosques and museums along with epic views of the city.  There were however loads of touts and sellers and we received our first offer for Danni’s hand in marriage - in the form of 50 million camels.  So you won’t be hearing anything else of her, but we now have a lot of free transport which is nice.  The people of Cairo are very talkative - they always say hello and welcome to Cairo and only a small proportion actually then proceed to try and sell you stuff.  They seem genuinely warm and interested.  Next to the citadel is Al-Azhar Park, which used to be a landfill site, but was turned into the city’s only park (and green space).  It was very well laid out, with rivers, streams and gardens along with a well priced restaurant where apparently Cairo’s elite hang out.  We ate there - me and Tom were adventurous and tried the Lebanese chicken, only to find it was very…youghurty.  Having finalised our plans for the rest of the trip, the three of us (we didn’t actually trade Danni) went to the train and bus stations to get tickets for the rest of the trip.

Buddha Bar - Sofitel Hotel, Cairo

After returning to the hostel and freshening up, we went out to sample the other side of life in Cairo at the Four Seasons Hotel bar, on the banks of the Nile.  We were welcomed in and sat at a polished table next to the grand piano and a view over the river and the high rise city centre.  After a bit of sipping expensive spirits, we went for the equally upmarket but slightly more exciting “Buddha Bar” at the Sofitel Hotel.  The security was tight, but once inside it was wonderfully opulent and there seemed to be an assumption that as three 18 year olds had the nerve to sit at the bar of a five star hotel, we must be someone important and were treated as such by the staff.  We stayed out until like 3am - early by Cairo standards, and got a taxi back to the hotel.  A classy end to a very busy day.

Me and Tom at the Four Seasons

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