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Published: February 11th 2010
Right, its about time I posted something on here as otherwise I'll have done so much stuff that there's no way I'll be able to cram it all in. Sunday was a long day of travelling, I set off from the North in the late morning and had made it onto the plane at 5 and with the sun setting behind us we sped off into the night towards the middle east. No problems landing and getting baggage in Cairo. The next job was to try and find Tom who had hoped to meet me, initially there was no sign of him, and a number of eager cab drivers were starting to offer me 'good price'. They were quite persistent and I was midway through explaining to one of them the sheer pointlessness of him taking me into central Cairo as I was meeting a friend here, when Tom arrived in a battered Lada (not seen one of those for ages). There was no room to wait so the taxi had to start driving off which left myself and Tom running down the slip road after the taxi, eventually he managed to pull over, we bundled ourselves in and headed for downtown Cairo.
Upon arriving at Tom and Andrea's I was pleasantly surprised to see I had a rather large room with a nice bed to stay in. The apartment is very nice and quite spacious for a downtown place, and shortly after arriving we headed down to the local bar where you can buy the local 'Stella' for £E10 (£1 sterling approx), and later on we went for Shisha. The next morning Tom was at work but Andrea had the afternoon off to show me round but had uni in the morning. This gave me the opportunity to go to the Egyptian Museum, which is a treasure trove of relics from ancient Egypt, even if it isn't particularly well organised. The highlight of this was the relics from Tutankhamen, I've never seen such large large and beautiful objects as the solid gold sarcophagus and mummy head piece. However, I was less impressed by having to pay £E100 to see the mummy room, which was abit of a rip off for what it was even if it did boast some big names such as Ramses II. After that I met up with Andrea outside the university and we headed off for a trip round downtown Cairo. There was some very cheesy clothes shops with huge amounts of lingerie that was trashy to the point of comedy. We also went to a nice bookshop which had an interesting series of books all written by the same bloke with titles including; 'How to make success of your life,' and 'Divorce: its not the answer'. After that we headed for Shisha, tea and Backgammon outside under some palm trees. That evening we went to a beautiful restaurant on the Northern tip of Zamalek, an island in the middle of the Nile. The place was amazing with gentle music and everything was clean and white, both the food and shisha were excellent and the panoramic view of the Nile was incredible.
The next day I was on my own as Tom was at work and Andrea was at uni. I had a well deserved lie in and then headed for Coptic Cairo, where all the old Christian churches are, down here most of the churches were Greek, but there were also some Roman remains of ancient Babylon. Going through the narrow streets through gates put in in the 1st century AD was awesome, although there was no shortage of people coming up to you to 'help' you round and then asking for money. I think it says rather alot about the employment prospects in Egypt if people in their prime are reduced to this sort of 'work' to earn money. After Coptic Cairo I jumped in a battered Lada taxi and went off to the Citadel which advertised views of the whole city and was originally built by Salah al-Din, I managed to get a reasonable deal on the cab, probably double what a local would pay, and maybe 50% more than Tom/Andrea would have paid, but whichever way you look at it £2 sterling isnt bad for a 20 minute taxi ride. At the top there was a beautiful mosque, a smaller replica of the Haiya Sophia in Istambul. The views of the city were excellent and in the distance I caught my first glimse of the great pyrmamids of Giza. The Citadel is also home to the visiting palace of Mohammed Ali (not the boxer), which had a large elegantly decorated gold throne which was very impressive. Then it was time to go and eat with Tom and Andrea at a traditional Egyptian restaurant where I had a very tasty fish dish.
The following day I was woken up by the call to prayer from the local mosque and Andrea had the day off so kindly offered to show me round Islamic Cairo. The first stop was the incredible Al-Azhar mosque with a 1000 year old marble floor dating back from the Marmaluke period. A friendly fellow offered to show us some of the schools as this building also boasts the oldest surviving university in the world. We were also allowed to go up the minaret, inside which was pitch black and pretty steep, it as well worth it though as the view from the top was excellent. We then headed into Islamic Cairo which mainly consists of long very narrow winding streets where merchants sold pretty much everything from scarfs, to spices, to shishas, and there were some beautiful antique shops towards the back where I could have quite happily bought everything. We then headed to a shisha place called Al-Fishawys which has been open every day for 200 years now which is a great effort in my book. After this we headed to the next really important mosque which is said to hold the head of Hussein, the death of whom resulted in the split between Sunni and Shia muslims which is yet to be reconciled. The carpet was incredibly soft and the room containing Hussein's head has an enormous silver mini castle inside it which is said to contain the head of Hussein. After this we headed back downtime to meet Tom after work. This was to be the night of the bar crawl as Tom had a list of bars which are fairly few and far between in downtown Cairo, with it being a muslim country aand all that. It was a bar crawl of contrasts, with some excellent roof gardens and some places where we chatted to the generally cheerful locals. A highlight was the former British Officers club which I doubt has changed much in the last 50 years, there were chairs made from barrels and tranquil classical music added to the serenity of the place which made a delightful contrast to the busy hubbub of Cairo generally. The low point was the 'girly' bar named Rivera which has to be one of the most awkward bar experiences of my life. We were unsure of what was meant by 'girly' bar because not all bars here tolerate women customers sadly so we thought it could either be a woman friendly bar or a brothel. Sadly it turned out to be the latter, with manky middle aged prostitutes that were also singing, it was especially cringeworthy when they came over to our table and started to sing to us personally, there was also a woman with her burka rolled up drinking a beer which was quite amusing. Needless to say we drank up as fast as possible and legged it to the next place vowing to avoid 'girly' bars from that point onwards.
Today we had a late start to head out to the highlight of my trip to Cairo; the great pyramids of Giza. They were spectacular, although there was a mild sand storm. We managed to get ourself some camels to ride and trekked round the desert side of the pyramids which was a wonderful photo opportunity. We then headed down to see the Sphynx which was also excellent.
Anyway I'm running out of time now as I'm going to get a shave in a minute and I'm flying to Nairobi tonight. Hope all is well back home!
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