Back in Cairo again. Coming back to the King Hotel was like coming home again - the place was so familiar, even though we had only been there three times. We had two nights here before our flight to Dubai. The first night was our final night together as a group so we went out to dinner at a restaurant/pub recommended by our guide. The food was ok but the prices and atmosphere were not so great. Most of us drifted back to the hotel well before 10pm.
The morning saw various members of our group head their separate ways - some to further travel or other hotels in Cairo or Alexandria, others to Europe to meet up with friends and family while the rest of us stayed on at the King for our final night. James and I decided to head to Islamic Cairo to see the Citadel. We jumped in a taxi outside our hotel and got no further than 2 metres before the taxi reversed into the driver side door of a car coming around the corner. I think it is safe to say that our driver was not making use of his rear view mirror, and
that both drivers were quite unhappy. We decided to make a quick exit as a small crowd was quickly gathering to watch the impromptu show.
We walked up the street to the main road, where we decided to call home to say g'day to our families. As we were digging around in our backpack to find the phone card a man appeared begging for money. We shook our heads and continued to look for the card. He persisted, waving his arms and signing that he wanted us to give him money. Again, we said no and with the phone card in hand turned to use the phone. Suddenly, I felt something hit my feet and heard James yell. I looked down and saw shards of glass shattered around my sandals. James grabbed me and pulled me away as I looked up to see the beggar brandishing another small pane of glass at us. Luckily, the shopkeeper across the road, who we had spoken to a few times, came out and started shouting at the man. We used this distraction to make a quick exit. As we walked, I checked my feet - no scratches, just a couple of bits
of glass that got stuck on the sole of my foot. Good thing that I have been travelling for three months and the skin on the soles of my feet is as thick as a rhino hide. Still, we were a bit shaken by this incident and decided to visit Emad and Hamdy, the shop owners who we had spent a bit of time with while in Cairo.
Hamdy was quite upset when he heard about our adventurous morning and kept apologising about it, as if it was the fault of all Cairenes. After giving us a cup of tea, he organised a taxi for us and we were soon back on track and headed to the Citadel.
The first thing we noticed when inside the walls of the Citadel was the lack of rubbish and presence of both rubbish bins and cleaners. Nowhere else in Egypt have we seen any of these things. Do the Egyptians value the Citadel more than the Pyramids? Maybe. There are several mosques, houses and museums within the Citadel walls. We visited the Mosque of Muhammad Ali and the Mosque of Al-Nasir Muhammad. The Mosque of Muhammad Ali was beautiful, with domes
covered in gold and coloured tiles and light streaming in from the windows. The minbars or pulpits were equally as impressive with intricate wood carving and decorations of gold. Outside the mosque we were able to get a glimpse of Cairo from up high, although most of it was obscured by the smog that perennially covers the city.
The Mosque of Al-Nasir Muhammad is essentially a courtyard open to the sky with covered walkways around its sides. Opposite the entrance is the area for prayers and the minbar. This is covered by a dome which amplifies sound. A guide showed us how we could stand in a certain spot, clap our hands and listen to the echo. Cool!
By the time we had finished walking around the Mosque of Al-Nasir Muhammad, it was time to head to Khan el Khalili. We had planned to meet Allan, Geoff and Linda (from our tour) there for Egyptian pizza. Although it was only a 3km walk, we were short on time so we decided to grab a taxi. After negotiating a price with three various drivers, we jumped in. We got as far as the other side of the road (which
took 5 minutes due to the necessary u-turn and horn blasting) before the taxi got a flat tyre. Great. We were stuck on the median strip with three official lanes (which means five cars per road) on each side of the strip. Sigh. Took another five minutes before we flagged down a taxi and were on our way to the pizza place.
Egyptian pizza is essentially pizza dough, opened like pita bread, then cooked with all the ingredients inside. This way, it is slightly flaky like pastry and kind of doughy like pizza. And super tasty. After lunch, Geoff and I went on an adventure to find a toilet. Three flights of stairs, 1 Egyptian pound and several gags later, we felt that we could tick that experience off on our list.
James and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Khan el Khalili. It is a fantastic place, once you get past the souvenir row. It is full of meandering alleys that you can get lost in. Tiny shops front onto each street selling anything you can imagine. We found some great souvenirs (not stuffed camels that play Arabic music, nor the Tutankhamun mask bottle
opener) and presents.
Around 5pm we jumped in yet another taxi and raced back to the hotel. We collected Jen and headed out to the pyramids to watch the super cheesy Sound and Light Show. We weren't disappointed with the monologue - it had all the cliches about ancient civilisations and the rising and setting of the sun etc. Fantastic.
Our last day in Cairo was spent doing various chores. James spent time on the internet and getting CDs of photos burnt while I endured a manicure and pedicure. So tough. Once back at the hotel we packed our gear, and along with Jen got a transfer to the airport. The transfer took 50 minutes and in the time we didn't see anything but highway and apartment buildings. No parks, no suburbs, nothing but medium and high density housing. Cairo is huge.
Cairo airport sucks. There is no internet cafe (although they have just installed a wireless hotspot for those fortunate enough to have their own laptop) and no book store. Nothing to do for the 5 hours we were there (our flight was delayed for 2 hours). Needless to say, I am now really good at
Bricks and Solitaire, the two games on our Ipod.
The flight itself was good. We had planned to sleep as we would be arriving at 3am but once we settled into our seats we discovered that Emirates has movies and tv on demand, with over 1500 titles to choose from. Eep! And it was only a two hour flight. Why couldn't we get something like this on our 14 hour flight?
We landed and got through customs in record time and were soon on our way to the hostel. The hostel is the only cheap accommodation in Dubai and still works out at about $50 a night. Still, its private rooms are like a three star hotel with an ensuite (hot shower), air conditioning and tv. We were out as soon as our heads hit the pillow.
We slept through our alarm so didn't leave the hostel until about 11am. Our first stop was the Gold Souk, the place to be if you want massive amounts of gold jewellery to choose from. Unsuprisingly, we could not afford to even step into the shops and satisfied ourselves with pointing out the ugliest pieces. We wandered through a couple
of back streets which then brought us to Dubai Creek (which is actually a river). The Creek divides two major areas in Dubai and therefore has a lot of river taxis. These are called abras and for 1 dirham we caught one to the other side. We had no real destination over there but just wanted to ride one. From there we headed to the Mall of the Emirates to book our ski tickets for the following day and window shop. James was keen to replace his shoes (which are held together with electrical tape) and I was keen to a new watch. Neither of us got what we wanted but we did make a few other purchases.
After the Mall we headed to the Arabian Adventures office to join up with our Desert Safari/Sundowner tour. We were quite keen to get back into the desert seeing as we had enjoyed it so much in Egypt. During the ride to the office, James spotted a sign that summed up the extravagance of Dubai for me. It was for a new apartment and office complex: Free Jaguar with every apartment purchased, and go into the draw to win a Private
Despite a mixup with the pickup time and location (their fault, not ours), we were soon heading out into the desert in a brand new Chevrolet Yukon. Comfy. What can we say about the Arabian Adventures tour? It was like our trip to the Western Desert and other parts of Egypt summed up in 3 hours and in the company of 37 4WDs and 200 people. We did some 4WDing over the sand dunes, we rode a camel, drank Arabic coffee and smoked sheesha. But it was so touristy. I expected it to be a bit lame but it was SUPER silly. I mean, we arrived at the 'tented Bedouin camp' (which had flushing toilets and electricity) and there were a whole bunch of camels lined up near the parked cars. James joked that it would be funny if we just got to ride the camels around the car park. Which is exactly what we did. A one minute camel ride. We just laughed. It was so ridiculous. The food was good though. And we got to see some belly dancing, which we didn't see in Egypt.
Once back at our hostel, we packed our bags
again and headed to bed. Tomorrow we would be transferring to our fancy hotel!!
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