Cairo - Day 2, Museum, Mosque, Lunch, Nile Sunset

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February 5th 2023
Published: February 19th 2023
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We got to sleep in just a little more, until about 8 today, before having breakfast and checking out by 9am. So, no free time in the afternoon as was listed in our program, which meant I had to cancel plans with a colleague I had intended to meet up with. Well, we were kept just as busy today as the day before and I knew I would suffer at work on Monday...

Egyptian Museum of Antiquities

Our first stop and one of the trip highlights was the Egyptian Museum (for some reason, I always default to calling it the British Museum..... take from that what you will....). The new Grand Egyptian Museum is set to open in 2023, but has been delayed many times for various reasons.... so don't hold your breath. But we drove by the site and it does like it will be incredible! Set to hold about 18,000 exhibits from about 50,000 artefacts, it is intended to be the largest archaeological museum in the world. I definitely would come back for a visit just for that.

But first, the older museum which I also found extremely impressive. And extremely crowded. As expected, Amina had us on a tight schedule, where she would show us around some of the main points of interest on display at the museum, and maybe some free time later (which did not happen). We started at the entrance of the museum with yet another statue of Ramses II. We each had little headsets of dubious quality so we could hear Amina. We moved further in and noted the sarcophagi of royals vs nobles, which was interesting. Some cool hieroglyphics on door frames and even one from a tomb interior. Then further into the hall are little rooms with items on display. Super crowded in here as I believe these are the focal points for tourist groups. With the headset I was able to walk around the room to see the various items and still listen to Amina talk about the focal objects. There were a couple of really cool statues made from volcanics with incredible attention to detail that I did walk up to observe closely when there was a break in the crowds. There was another one of a statue of a man with a backpack - the oldest depiction of using this type of pack.

We moved then up to the first floor, intending to view King Tut's treasure exhibition, but it was a long line, so we walked around while she discussed other items first. While she was talking about King Tut and his burial, life, and family, and other miscellaneous artefacts, I wandered around upstairs and noted some small objects on the upper floors of the rooms we had previously walked through - small statues, coins, jewelry, etc. There was also a long hallway with sarcophagi and tombs - they packed the dead within various layers and many were intricate. I saw the longest papyrus in the world (20m) which was the Book of the Dead - amazing and my favorite thing I saw! There was one exhibit in one hallway of a couple who were buried together and included their history as well as many of the items found within their tombs. We also got to see their mummies; these are the only two remaining mummies at this museum, while the rest have been moved to the new Grand Museum.

Finally we got to see the King Tut exhibit (no photos), which was pretty cool I guess. It was so crowded, of course, but the gold was so in your face. As Amina had discussed while we waited, King Tutankhamun died fairly young and 5,000 artefacts were pulled from his tomb, which was discovered in 1922 in the Valley of Kings. This is the first intact tomb discovered for a pharaoh - imagine if you had found one who had ruled for 67 years, like Ramses II.

Really, I could have stayed here all day long as I am sure we only saw a small portion of the museum itself not to mention the many many artefacts. Now I am ready to start reading more history about ancient Egypt as it really is fascinating. (*the two building photos are from my friend, Thomas)

Lunch time - Kushari!

Of course we were still on our tight, tight timeframe and our meal was basically ready for us, so we walked up steep stairs to this little alley restaurant and got ready for one of the classic meals in Cairo: Kushari. I had absolutely no idea what to expect but I was starving. We were first brought out little side dishes of fried onion, roasted chickpeas, and a tomato sauce which you could add a hot sauce to which would make it spicier - I like my food spicy! We picked at the chickpeas and onions until we were lightly scolded. Then they brought out the dish and it was carb overload! Macaroni, rice, lentils... then you add the side ingredients and mix it up to your taste. It was absolutely (and surprisingly) delicious! I could not eat the whole thing, of course, but I would definitely recommend it and would have again.

The Citadel and Mosque of Muhammed Ali

Our next stop was the Citadel, and I was super interested as I had read much about Saladin, the Arab ruler who had fought the Crusaders. He is believed to have been Kurdish, but he conquered much of the middle east and was revered even by his enemies. I most recently read about him in the historical fiction book, Land Beyond the Sea, where he was a main character along with the unfortunate Christian King Baldwin IV (leper king), who was equally admired. Sharon Kay Penman was one of my favorite authors who sadly passed away a couple years ago and this was her last book - she brought real history to life as no one else I have ever read before or since. I recommend this book if you are interested.

Anyway, one thing I remember from the book was the new castle in Cairo, with a well (I did not realize it was such an accomplishment until we came) and that he had left it in his younger brother's hands at one point while he went on campaign. So, I was quite excited to see this castle. The Citadel itself is relatively straightforward and I like that it seems to be a working area, not just abandoned or used solely for tourism. Of course we were on a schedule and that meant we had limited time to admire the fortification itself.

Instead, our main purpose to visit was one of the mosques within: Mosque of Muhammed Ali. And I will not complain one bit because it was absolutely stunning. It is less than 200 years old, but has a real old world, commanding presence to it as well as intricate and beautiful architecture and aesthetics. Just lovely. You have to take your shoes off or put a protective covering over the top, but we were all dressed modestly so did not need headscarves or anything. The courtyard was a sight to behold itself and I tried to walk around in peace for a few minutes. Then you enter and I think I just gasped. The ceilings / domes are high and intricate. The lighting is calm. The space is huge. The columns are polished. I was spellbound. One of the loveliest mosques I have see, though it was different as most are very light, while this one had a bit of a cathedral feel to it in that it was lit from the interior and less from sunlight.

Then you step out the other door where you get amazing views over the city of Cairo. From here, you can also see the two tall pyramids in the distance - incredible. We were given a few minutes to get photos before having to leave again (before using a rare restroom).

More shopping

Our next stop was another sales pitch. It was to a jewelry store with the intention of getting our name in hierglyphics on a necklace or something. Not my cup o' tea, but I was hoping to see some nice jewelry (another of may favorite souvenirs - small and memorable). Plus I have been wanting to get proper stones on either a ring or earrings, so maybe this was my chance. These were some strange pushy salespeople. And I think I was kind of at my limit of sales. Nothing really stood out at me and it was way more expensive than I thought it should be; I can get this stuff in Dubai, maybe even cheaper. So, I made my way back to the bus (we were on a schedule anyway!). I felt like this was definitely a tourist trap and the many guys sitting along the corridors seemed to have a glint in their eyes when they saw us walk through. A couple people got stuff, but most seemed to be also put off by the prices and the people, so that was a bust.

Nile River Sunset cruise

By this time, I think everyone was just completely exhausted! But we made our way back to the river to see the sunset on a tiny sailboat at sunset. The guy was nice and we were cold. However, there was no wind, so no sailing. Apparently. We kind of went around in a little circle near our little jetty. The sunset was definitely amazing, but after about 15 minutes going in a circle we were like.... ummm... is this worth it? Very different from the memorable boat trip I had on the Nile in Khartoum! We eventually had to get towed back to the jetty. For real. I guess that is pretty memorable.

Khan el-Khalil and Dinner

Our last tourist trap activity of the day was to go to one of the main markets. I was done at this point. I go to bed early anyway, and with the time difference and the crazy busy schedule and work.... So, I sat with Amina at a coffee / tea shop and had some hot chocolate since it was quite cold. We were at a table along the sidewalk, so I was constantly asked to buy cheap junk. There are only so many times you can say "no thank you" and I am not a crowd person even without that. So, I was just counting the minutes until we could leave. Everyone else had a wander around the market for last minute souvenirs, while I enjoyed the beautiful mosque to my right. After about 90 minutes there, we were finally hustled on the bus to go to dinner and to drop off Amina - she was great!

Dinner was held at a small restaurant where they originally wanted us to sit outside. In the cold! All of us protested and they let us in. Thankfully, we had ordered one of three meals ahead of time so they were basically ready when we got there. It was an italian themed restaurant (Italian being questionable) and I got chicken with mushrooms and veggies - it was quite satisfying! And we had free, clean bathrooms as well. Yay!

Then it was time to head to the airport. I am surprised at the airport because this is such a large tourist destination, but it seems so primitive. Coming in was fine, but leave was just weird. We had to go through security three times. The "lounge" upstairs was ok, but nothing special, though it was nice to be away from the crowds for a few minutes. Then we were boarding, going through security for the third time and then waiting..... and waiting... We were delayed for over an hour, but were all crammed in a small room with not enough seats, so we wound up on the floor and had to go back through security when I wanted to go to the dirty bathroom again. Thankfully, once the bus came to take us to our plane, I got my window seat and completely passed out!

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13th March 2023
Egyptian Museum of Antiquities

Will the museum ever open
We were in Egypt in 2017 and it was due to open in 2020. I'm sure it will be spectacular. The antiquities and history are positively endless. Thanks for taking us along.

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