Published: December 27th 2010December 20th 2010
There are 2 pages of photos on this blog. Sorry about that. We did go a little snap happy!!
Arriving at Cairo airport at 2.30am wasn’t much fun. It was more fun though than being stranded at the airport because the UK is snowbound! Whoever scheduled the only daily flight from Tunis in the middle of the night clearly hasn’t made the journey. Still, it was all very efficient and before we knew it we were agreeing a price with a taxi driver to take us to the Pension Roma
who were expecting us to arrive at such an ungodly hour. We would have arrived a little sooner if the taxi driver had had any idea where he was going once we reached the city centre!
The Pension was comfortable enough for the money (just under £20 a night for a double room with breakfast) and we slept very well before forcibly stirring ourselves. Our mission for the morning was simple – find our way to Ramses train station and get ourselves a sleeper cabin for the following night’s train to Aswan. Ramses station is undergoing massive reconstruction at the moment but we negotiated the rubble, dust and crowds
to join the short queue at the correct counter. We didn’t have enough Egyptian money to pay for the tickets and they didn’t accept credit cards either so we ended up giving away all of our Sterling. £80 lighter we were happily in possession of our tickets.
Outside the station we soon encountered the chaotic scene that is the daily life on Cairo’s roads. After finding a bank that would accept our debit cards (at the third attempt!) we popped into a juice bar for some refreshing freshly squeezed orange. The sugar cane juice the locals drank looked lethal so we steered well clear of it!
About half an hour’s stroll down the busy streets we came to the Egyptian Museum. We just went into the gardens having been into the museum on our previous visit to Cairo 17 years ago. This time our experience was somewhat less explosive! It was nice to see some artefacts for free and the gift shop is quite incredible; they really know how to try to get you to part with your cash. Our walk then continued across the River Nile close to the Cairo Tower before we caught the metro train
back towards the hostel.
After a quick lunch and a much-needed snooze we ventured out into the Downtown area of the city for dinner. Cairo is a vibrant city full of hustle and bustle but it felt perfectly safe. We found the excellent Estoril Restaurant
where we had Lebanese/Middle Eastern dips washed down with Egypt’s own Stella beer. Artois it is not but it is perfectly acceptable.
Police raids on tea houses!
Feeling quite satisfied we had a walk around and found a sheesha cafe
with tables and chairs outside where we sat to take in the atmosphere. Tea is served black, Turkish style, and just how we like it. We sat for a while puffing on a sheesha when suddenly tables and chairs were being whisked off the street leaving bemused tea drinkers still clutching their hot glasses. It seems we were caught up in a police raid on a street cafe that doesn’t have a licence to be a street cafe. Any chairs and tables found in the street were swiftly carted off by the swooping police and we were left with no tea and no sheesha. It was quite exciting really and meant we
didn’t have to pay!!!!
The next morning was our only full day in the city. We had choices to make as the tourist sites close early in the winter. Having been before, we decided not to revisit the pyramids, settling instead for a look at the clutch of Coptic Christian churches and the Citadel. Getting to the Coptic quarter was easy as the metro stops right outside. We were immediately shocked by the amount of tourists there! We began in the Greek Orthodox church of St George where icons of England’s patron saint were numerous. There we lit candles to remember many people in our lives who we have lost recently. Then we had a stroll around the cemetery finding a small, renovated church which claimed to be the spot where Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus took shelter from Herod’s mass infanticide. Another church nearby also laid claim to this! The synagogue was interesting to visit but no cameras were allowed and it was full of kids on school trips. The “Hanging” Church was a highlight though. It apparently “hangs” above the water gates of ancient Babylon.
High on a hill
above the smog is Cairo’s ancient Citadel. It is a much bigger site than we had anticipated and there was no chance of seeing everything inside before it closed for the day. We did manage to walk around the Mohamed Ali Mosque
named not after the boxer but one of the Pashas in days gone by. It is beautifully constructed and decorated, and its terrace offers fantastic views over the city.
There are museums nearby dedicated to the police and to prisons but we only had time for one so we went to the Military Museum. Inside we had a whistle-stop tour of Egypt’s military history. They have certainly been very active in the region! There were exhibits about Saladin, a replica of the Prophet Mohamed’s sword, illustrations of famous battles and many, many busts of important figures throughout history. Outside were various tanks and aircraft. It really was quite interesting but a shame that only the main corridors were open and all of the side rooms were in darkness.
Night Train to Aswan
Our taxi struggled with the heavy traffic but eventually dropped us off somewhere downtown where we had a lovely meal before heading back
to the hostel to collect our bags. Before we knew it we were making ourselves comfortable in our compartment on the night train. It was smaller than the former Soviet ones we had been in before but it was ok. We were surprised to be served an airline-style meal and we succeeded in breaking the fold out table. That meant an engineer (!) had to come and fix it before we could get our beds out!!
Sleep was fitful bit not too bad. The train creaked and groaned a few times but it didn’t disturb us too much. When we woke up we were in tropical Egypt, alongside the River Nile and surrounded by lush vegetation. Luxor came and went at 7am (missed by Russzzzzzz!) and, after breakfast served on a plastic tray, we arrived in Aswan at around 10.30am.
There are more photos below