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Published: June 11th 2017
Hazy Cairo morning
The party boats are finally quiet!
I'm afraid the party boats won the battle last night. They were crazy loud and kept me awake most of the night, despite the ear plugs, so I got up at 6:30 feeling pretty groggy. We called the desk and arranged to change rooms to the quiet (hopefully!) side of the building, so we packed up our things, and headed down for another good and filling breakfast.
We met Hend at 8:30 am, and we were off to Memphis (not Tennessee! - the ancient capital of Egypt) and Saqqara. Today is the first day of the weekend (Friday and Saturday are the weekend here) and so the traffic was comparatively light. We got to Memphis in less than an hour. It was sunny and fairly hot (high of 33 or so) but it is not humid so it is quite comfortable. The drive was more interesting than the drive to Alexandria yesterday. We passed fields under cultivation, and saw lots of donkey carts along the way (along with a couple of camels laden down with sugar cane).
Memphis is kind of an outdoor museum, with statues mostly from the time of Ramses II (around 1250 BCE). It was interesting,
and whet my appetite for more. It was quite a pretty location surrounded by palm trees. We spent some time there, then headed to Saqqara, a short distance away. Memphis was the town (located on the east side of a tributary of the Nile) and Saqqara was the burial place, so it is located on the west side (the Egyptians believed the sun died each night when it set in the west, and was reborn each morning when it rose in the east).
We watched a short video on Saqqara, and saw a model of how the whole complex would have looked in ancient times. The Saqqara complex includes the step pyramid, which was the first stone pyramid ever built (the architect was Imhotep). It was built for Pharaoh Djoser, in around 2600 BCE (so it is around 4600 years old!). Hend gave us a good explanation of the site as we walked around, and I enjoyed seeing it very much. There were numerous vendors but they were not too persistent. We saw several other tour groups here but once the largest group was through it was not crowded at all. It was fairly hot, but there was always
a breeze so it was not too bad. We could enter one pyramid, which we did by a fairly short low passageway. The hieroglyphics and paintings were amazing inside the pyramid. You are technically not supposed to take photos, but Hend advised the guard would expect a tip whether we took photos or not, so we might as well take them (without flash of course). We took lots of photos, and the guard suggested I climb in the sarcophagus, so I did! It was quite fun actually. Too bad there wasn't anybody else in the pyramid, or I could have jumped up and given them a scare!
We then toured a mastaba (another kind of tomb). This one was the tomb of Idut, circa 2360 BCE. Hend advised no photos were allowed here, which we respected. The carvings were incredible in this tomb, with some of the colours still quite vibrant.
We then walked back to our mini van and our trusty driver Ahmed, and drove back to Cairo. Before we left Saqqara Hend bought us some fresh dates, which are really good. Much better than the dried variety. We could have stopped for lunch but we were
still full from our big breakfast so we had a few snacks when we got back to the hotel (about 12:45 ish). Our new room was ready (just down the hall from our original room). We are very glad to be away from the party boats, and I sure hope I get a good night sleep tonight! We really enjoyed the view of the Nile but our new view is pleasant (we can see the Cairo tower).
We rested up a bit in the room, and I worked on the blog, and then we met Hend (and 5 other people who are also on the walking tour so it wasn't a private tour after all) about 3:40. Hend and the five others (all Aussies who are on an Intrepid Egypt tour that starts tomorrow) came from their hotel, then we met them just outside our hotel and started the walking tour of downtown Cairo. We walked over the bridge over the Nile that is closest to our hotel, into Tahrir Square. It was pleasant walking over the bridge. The party boats hadn't started yet! Tahrir Square is not like I imagined it would be from the news accounts during
the 2011 revolution. It is a large area, basically a large intersection where several traffic arteries meet, kind of a large traffic roundabout. The Egyptian Museum is in Tahrir Square (it was right next door to the political party building which was burned during the revolution. Luckily the Museum was not damaged).
Hend talked about the revolution and the events that led up to it. Mubarak was very unpopular and the government was corrupt and any opposition to it was met with severe sanctions. The revolution had its origins in one family's quest for justice for their murdered son. A young man posted a video or photos of police selling drugs on facebook, which got a lot of attention. He was arrested and was beaten to death by the police. The family posted photos of his beaten body on a memorial facebook page and asked people to go to Tahrir Square to protest. Many people came out, all for their own various reasons. Within a short time they shut down Tahrir Square and eventually forced the regime to resign.
The army ruled for a year or so and then elections were held. Hend said the only two eventual
candidates were somebody who was similar to Mubarak, and the Islamic Brotherhood. Because the people didn't want a repeat of a Mubarak-type regime, the Islamic Brotherhood was elected. Morsi did not govern well, and caused a great deal of unrest, and eventually was turfed out, again by popular protest. This was in 2013 (either called a revolution or a coup, depending on your viewpoint). Morsi is in prison now, awaiting trial. Mubarak is also in prison, however he is in a military hospital, not an actual prison (Hend implied he is in a pretty comfortable place). Egyptians are not very satisfied with the current state of affairs (prices and taxes keep rising and there is high unemployment), so who knows what the future will bring politically.
We then walked around the downtown area for a couple of hours, stopping to view street art (graffiti from the revolution, and political graffiti from after the revolution). We eventually ended up at a very well known and very busy restaurant called Abou Tarek that serves only one dish: koshary. Koshary is a vegetarian dish made of two kinds of noodles, macaroni, chickpeas, lentils, fried onions, and tomato sauce. On the table are
small pitchers of garlic infused vinegar and chilli sauce, which you can add as you like. I used both, and the koshary was really good, and filling.
I would have really enjoyed a beer but as usual no alcohol was served, so I had to make do with a 7 up. A poor replacement for a nice cold beer, that's for sure. Abou Tarek is five floors, and packed with locals. It is obviously a very popular place. I think we might have been the only tourists there.
After our meal we walked a short distance to a place that serves the best ice cream in Cairo, Hend said, called Elabd Patisserie. It was an extremely popular bakery that also serves ice cream. They serve only four flavours: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and mango. I had strawberry and mango, and Susan had vanilla and strawberry. It was good, but with a distinctive sort of gummy texture. It reminded me of the ice cream we had in Turkey.
Ahmed then picked us up in the mini van and Susan, Dominica and I were dropped off at our hotel, while the others drove back to their hotel some distance away.
The others are on an Intrepid tour also starting tomorrow (we are on a Peregrine tour) but it sounds like their hotel is really not very nice. I'm glad we are at the Novotel, it's a nice hotel, our room is great, and the buffet breakfast is excellent. I forgot to mention before the security at the hotel. Cars can't drive right up to the entrance unless authorized by the guard, and there are metal detectors at the entrance everyone has to go through, and bags must be put through the x-ray (or whatever it's called) machine.
Oh yes, back to the room. So no more party boats, but there is a wedding going on in the park area directly below us! Live drumming and dancing, including a sword dance. Quite interesting to see. Susan posted a video on facebook if you want to check it out. The wedding party seems to have moved inside now, so it has quieted down.
Tomorrow we meet Hend at about 8:45 am for our tour of Islamic and Coptic Cairo. It is a variation of the usual Islamic Cairo day tour as we are omitting the bazaar and adding in Coptic
Cairo. Dominica is taking a break tomorrow, and Susan and I will be joined by 3 others who were on our walking tour this evening, and one woman who will be on our Peregrine trip. The tour is around 5 hours, then we have some free time until the group meeting at 6 pm. Looking forward to another great day!
We are enjoying our traditional gin and tonics now, as I work on the blog. Maybe tomorrow we can find a place for dinner where we can get a beer!
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