After having both of their flights cancelled in December, my family successfully arrived in Cairo at around 3:00am in April. Although Cairo is The city that never sleeps
, at 3:00am there are very few souls awake.
A couple days before my family arrived, my coworker laughed when I read off my family’s itinerary to him. In only 8 days, my family and I managed to cover the major things in Egypt. They requested to see as much of Egypt as possible. I did the best I could and I hope they enjoyed themselves.
Here is what we squeezed into those 8 days:
Day1: Coptic Cairo, Khan Al-Khalili, Sufi Dance Performance
Day 2: Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Gayer-Anderson Museum, Mosque of Sultan Husan, Koshari for Lunch, Egyptian Museum, AUC Downtown Campus, Dinner at Taboula (Garden City)
Day 3: Day trip to Alexandria: Roman Amphitheater, Catacombs, Pompey's Pillar, Fort Qaitbay, Dinner Qadora (fish restaurant), And Cafe on the Cornish
Day 4: Giza Pyramids, Saqqara Pyramids (step pyramid), Dashur Pyramids (Red and Bent Pyramids)
Day 5: Fly to Luxor: Luxor and Karnak Temples
Day 6: Luxor (West Bank), Colossi of Memnon, Hatshepsut Temple, Valley of the Kings, navigation to Edfu
Day 7: Temple of Horus (Edfu), navigation to Kom Ombo, Temple of Kom Ombo, souvenir shopping
Day 8: Aswan, Philae Temple and High Dam, fly back to Cairo, fly back to the US at 3:00am (April 19th technically) Day 1
I allowed them to sleep in until 11:00am before we started our tour of Coptic Cairo (my first visit as well!) However, my mom was up by 10:00am and ready to go. The Coptic Museum was very impressive and well organized. I joked with my family, telling them that they should enjoy this organization, because the Egyptian Museum is a different story.
It was also in the Coptic Museum where my family first observed the excess of workers for one particular job - a trend popular in Cairo (something that I wrote about during my first months in Cairo). This instance, the workers were cleaning the floor of the museum and there had to be over 10 people assisting in cleaning one area. After Coptic Cairo we headed to Zamalek to have dinner at Mezzaluna, a small restaurant specializes in pasta. We planned to get to the Sufi Dance Performance in Khan Al-Khalili early to get
good seats. That planned was nixed when we encountered bumper-to-bumper traffic throughout the entire city. It took us around one hour to get to our destination for a 15 minute cab ride. We were lucky to grab the last remaining seats, coincidently next to people visiting from Michigan (they were visiting 2 teachers working in Cairo, from Michigan as well).
It was interesting to see the type of treatment I received when my family was in Egypt versus on my own. Blonde hair in Egypt is considered exotic (as in many other places outside of Europe and America), and therefore, just because my twin sister has blonde hair attracted a lot of attention. By the end of the trip, I think they had a total of 8-10 marriage proposals. Day 2
We traveled to the Old City, otherwise known as Islamic Cairo. There we visited the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, again my first visit. The mosque has really nice architectural features, very few tourists and great views of the rest of Cairo. Next to the mosque is the Gayer-Anderson Museum. Each room in this museum/house is furnished with influences from different regions of the Middle
East and North African including: Moroccan, Syrian, Lebanon, etc. The house also has some interesting birthing chairs and was used to film a scene from one of the James Bond movies. After, I wanted to take my family to an Egyptian handi-craft store, but unfortunately, it was closed - possibly because it was Orthodox Easter day...
Since we were already in Islamic Cairo, we walked around the area and headed to another mosque, the Mosque of Sultan Hasan, near the Citadel. This is probably my favorite mosque, because it has a very unique design compared to others. I would highly suggest making a visit. After, we jumped into a cab and headed to Downtown for lunch. We had the traditional fast food of Egypt - koshari at Koshari Tahrir, which my sister really enjoyed.
Once we were done with lunch, we headed to the Egyptian Museum to explore the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts in the world. I tried my best to follow the mini-self tour that the Lonely Planet guide provided. On my first visit to the museum I decided to pass up the Royal Mummies Exhibit, because I knew I would be back. It's also
an extra charge: 50 Egyptian pounds for students and 100 for adults. It was definitely worth it! The mummies are well preserved and the signage is excellent, compared to the rest of the museum. After several hours at the museum, we rested on the AUC Tahrir campus before we headed to a Lebanese restaurant called Taboula in Garden City. My family enjoyed the atmosphere and food at the restaurant. This definitely is one of my favorite restaurants in Cairo. Day 3
We woke up early the next morning to head to Ramis Train Station to start our day trip in Alexandria. The train took 3 hours and it was definitely an eye opener for my family, because they were able to see the smaller towns and villages located in the Delta region. The day was filled with visiting all the tourist attractions. My family was surprised to see that there were very few tourists in Alexandria. Personally, I would say Alexandria is a good get-away from Cairo, if you still want to be in a city. They also noticed that life is much slower and less chaotic compared to Cairo. Interesting fact: The city of Alexandria has
over 4 million people - not a small city at all. We were also able to make some cheap purchases at a small market that catered to tourists, near Fort Qiat Bay on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Day 4
My co-worker was generous enough to lend me his driver and car for the day to see all three major pyramid sites. It was such a great gesture, which is a main characteristic of Egyptians.
Side note: Hospitality and generosity
Many times I have been offered food, drink or cigarettes by my taxi drivers. According to my Arabic teacher, it is part of Egyptian culture; it is rude to eat, or drink amongst someone with sharing ones food or drink. Therefore, people are always inviting you/others to share with them their food or drink.
There were floods of tourists at the Giza pyramids! There were also many touts (or souvenir salesmen) badgering you and trying to sell you postcards, or pyramid figurines, amongst other things. My family was quite annoyed and I forgot to tell them the best way to deal with the touts, is to just avoid them.
was hot and once we go to the third pyramid site, Dashur, we were pretty exhausted. However, we decided to climb down into the Red Pyramid. On our way out, the lights all turned off, leaving us in complete darkness. There was a large Swiss tourist group inside the pyramid as well, and we were surprised that no one began to panic. I was able to use the light on my phone to get us out. There was a lot of humidity inside the pyramid and it was an exhilarating feeling catching the first breathe of fresh air outside the pyramid. As soon as we emerged from the pyramid, we encountered a strong sand storm, which pelted our skin with tiny rocks and sand. We ran down the pyramid and back to the car as quickly as we could. This concluded our day long excursion in the desert visiting these symbolic ancient structures.
The next day we were flying to Luxor (Upper Egypt) to set sail on our Nile cruise. This experience will be in another post.
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