Saladin Citadel, Mohammed Ali Mosque, Egyptian Museum and Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, Cairo


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Africa » Egypt
January 18th 2013
Published: January 24th 2013
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The air quality in Cairo is dreadful with a pall of smog hanging over the entire city. This morning it was even worse than yesterday - we could not even see the pyramids on the way to breakfast!!

Amal (it's Amal rather than Ammar) met us this morning at the hotel and loaded us into the minibus and sent us off with the driver to meet Shereen at the citadel. On our way to the citadel we crossed the Nile River. Although we crossed The Nile last night we couldn't see it in the dark, so this was our first glimpse of one of the world's most famous rivers.

Our driver collected Shereen from the side of the road just outside the citadel and then drove us inside the citadel walls. The Saladin Citadel of Cairo was constructed in the 12th century under the direction of Salah ah-Din who ruled between 1176 and 1183. The citadel is one of the world's great monuments to mediaeval warfare as it was built to defend the city against the Crusaders.

Located inside the substantial walls of the citadel is the Mohammed Ali Mosque. The mosque was built by Mohammed Ali during the Ottoman era in the Turkish style and resembles the great mosques of Istanbul. While we visited the mosque Shereen explained the five pillars of Islam to us. From the terrace of the mosque there was an amazing panoramic view of the city of Cairo down below.

From the citadel we drove right into the centre of Cairo for our visit to the Egyptian Museum. Shereen came into the museum with us and guided us around a number of the key exhibits, culminating in the section of the museum that is dedicated to housing the treasures of Tutankhamen. Wow, I was so excited to see the funerary mask with my own eyes. Today it was my turn to think that something was smaller than I expected. Although somewhat smaller than I anticipated, it is still a very impressive 11 kilograms of solid gold!!

Shereen gave us half an hour of free time to explore some of the museum's other treasures. With half an hour only giving us time to view a very small number of the museum's exhibits I think all of us are planning a return visit on our free half day back in Cairo at the end of our tour.

Next it was off to the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar which dates back to the 14th century. The bazaar is located next to a mosque and we arrived while the Friday noon prayers were still in progress. This prayer session is the most important session of the week with all Moslems encouraged to attend mosque for this call to prayer.

Shereen pointed out a restaurant where she would meet us after we had looked around the bazaar. She also recommended it for our lunch if we wanted to eat something before we went back to the hotel. We all decided to have something to eat before we looked around the bazaar. This turned out to be a bad idea because most of the restaurant's staff were at the mosque, Shereen seemed uncomfortable that we were with her (rather insensitively, it didn't occur to us until later that we probably intruded on her prayers) and when prayers finished it was crazy busy in the bazaar as everyone streamed out of the mosque.

After eating our beef shawarma sandwiches, Bernie and I ventured upstairs to use the restaurant's toilet. Hmmn, if we had known our food was being prepared in such close proximity to the toilet perhaps we would have waited to eat back at the hotel?? The toilet was the most rustic that we have encountered yet and let's just say that I was glad to have some emergency toilet paper in my bag and hand sanitiser! Never mind that it would have been nice to have some Domestos and a toilet brush too and maybe some knee room between the bowl and the door. It's times like this that you really wish you could pee standing up.

To explore the bazaar, Shereen suggested that we should walk down the street on the left side of the bazaar, cut through the bazaar and return on the street parallel to the one we started from. That sounded pretty straight forward so we dived in to explore the bazaar. We found a snow globe (the only thing we had in mind to purchase) within the first five minutes, but continued deeper into the bazaar. At one stage we encountered an altercation and something being burnt. We skirted around that and kept on looking for a street or lane that looked like it crossed the bazaar.

The further we went into the bazaar, the less we were being hassled. Maybe most of the tourists turn back before we did?? Bernie's new best friend whose sister lives in Tasmania coaxed us into a side street which we thought would take us to the other side of the bazaar so that we could return to the square in front of the mosque. Wrong - we nearly ended up walking into someone's house. So we retraced our steps and took another turn thinking that surely we would reach a street parallel to the first that would take us back out of the bazaar. Wrong again! After a couple more false turns, that got us no nearer to where we began, we resorted to retracing our path back to where we started. We were five minutes late back and Shereen was just about to come looking for us. How embarrassing.

We dropped Shereen off near where she lives and our driver set off to to take us back to the hotel at Giza. Without being asked, he stopped on the bridge over the Nile for us to take photos. Initially we thought that he was saying that he needed to stop for himself, but then we realised that he was stopping for us to take photos ... on the side of the freeway over the bridge, as you do!! Well, they do here anyway.

People seem to stop whenever and wherever they want/need to, park anywhere and drive allover the road. The chaotic traffic consists of all manner of vehicles - cars, coaches, minibuses, motorbikes, bicycles, horses and carts and donkeys with carts all jostling for position. I felt very fearful for the horses and the donkeys, but somehow the Egyptians seem to make it work ... although it does take a long time to reach any destination!!

Back at Le Meridien Giza the sniffer dog gave the minibus the once over at the hotel entrance. Today the Labrador was back on duty. Last night when we returned to the hotel a German Shepherd was on duty. Sometimes, but not every time we have returned to the hotel, they have checked under the chassis with a mirror on a stick. There is a metal detector and an X-ray machine at the entrance to the hotel building, but no-one seems to take much notice of either of those.

Since it was only the middle of the afternoon, we had drinks at the pool bar, where we could look out towards the pyramids, and then massages down in the Hotel's spa. That filled in the time nicely until dinner. Dinner was not included tonight so we had to do our own thing. Although Shereen had recommended a restaurant down the street from the hotel we decided to pay to eat at the hotel's open buffet. After the bazaar I think we all felt like we had had enough adventure for one day!!

Steps for the day: 13,536 (9.24km)

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