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Cairo Museum, Citadel, Market, and change of plans

We were in the lobby early to get our refund from the first tour company (which they brought, as promised) and to check out of the hotel. We asked if they had a room for another night, just in case we would need it, and the lady said sure, but that she'd check (because it might not be the same one.) Also, we had to meet our tour guide for the day. Today, we had gone with viator for our guide. Hani met us and brought us to the Egyptian Museum. Outside, there were antiquities scattered about the yard. A small pool that had lotus and papyrus growing in it was also located outside of the museum. Hani explained the symbolism as each plant was the symbol for half of Egypt, and together they represented a unified Egypt. We had to check our cameras outside as well, since they wouldn't let us bring them in the museum. I have no pictures of the museum, and the post cards at the gift shop weren't that great, so, sadly, I have nothing to show for it. However, what we saw inside was pretty great. King Tut died young (they just announced some discoveries about his health problems a few weeks ago), and nobody really knew about him at the time. As a result, his tomb wasn't really raided until an archeologist named Carter got there. Carter took photographs of everything in situ, and those photographs are on display at the museum. They show how everything was just piled in there, but they also show what direction certain items were facing, which leads to some understanding of why the items were in the tomb to begin with. They found ancient folding chairs, travel pillows, chariots (with spare parts), as well as thrones jewelry, and of course, all of the masks and burial items that grace the covers of every book about ancient Egypt. Many things (like the sarcophagus containers) were nested inside a larger one, like little Russian dolls. In addition to the King Tut areas, we explored the other sarcophagi and burial items. They had found some 3000 year old underwear, and some of the cloth was still intact after all that time. They had sarcophagi made of wood from Lebanon, of stone, and of woven materials as what people were buried in depended on their wealth in life. Some of the sarcophagi were even from the Romans who were in Egypt and had adopted some of their ways, but still had their coffins decorated with Roman faces and grapes. They had some ancient wigs, made of real human hair, but done up in one crazy hair style. One of the more interesting things that I noticed is that all of the items that were made in the styles that are always shown in books are old kingdom items. The new kingdom art was actually quite different from the old kingdom pieces, even to the point where my untrained eye could tell that they were different. A lot of the stone items were covered well so that you couldn't touch them, but a lot of them were hanging out in the open with "don't touch" signs on them. It almost seemed as if they wanted you to touch those items, since rules don't really seem to mean much in the country and those items weren't covered like the others. Certainly in passing people in a crowded area, I bumped into a pillar or two that was just sitting in the open with nothing around it. When we got back into the car from the Egyptian museum, we got stuck in traffic. I heard the driver get upset at the other drivers, saying, "yalla, yalla." (Let's go. Let's go.) I heard our guide respond with "Insha'allah," (if God wills it). I was so proud of myself for understanding the entire exchange as that's about all of my Arabic right there. As we drove in the traffic, where of course lane lines mean nothing, stop lights mean nothing, and it just seems to be a general free-for-all, we learned about the Nile riverbus and fellucas. We learned about Egyptian divorce and the intricate rules as to who can initiate it and how, the government TV stations vs. satellite, and the trash collectors. The trash collectors do just that- they collect trash. Oh yeah, and they store it on the roof of their home. They go through the trash, picking out anything useful or that can be recycled, and sending the rest who-knows-where. It made me feel better about not having a recycling bin to throw the water bottles if somebody was going to go through it. Of course, it's not just anybody somebody. There's some sort of garbage collecting family and they have the monopoly on garbage collecting. It all sounded a little like the trash mafia somehow. We passed the "city of death" as well. The "city of death" is an area where originally people were buried. Their families then came to live with them. Eventually, small structures were put up. So now, there are people living right above a graveyard. Apparently, there is a project underway to move the graves out to the desert, since the dead people are more likely to be able to be moved than the live people. Eventually, we made it over to the citadel and Alabaster Mosque. Here, we learned that the crescent is a symbol due to the Muslims keeping the lunar calendar. Our guide also told us that's where the food croissant comes from- the French won some war with somebody Muslim and wanted to show their superiority and celebrate their victory by eating the symbol of the losers. The citadel appears to be a standard fort, although it is a fort with quite a view. Not only can you see all of Cairo, but you can see all the way to the Giza pyramids, and even the Saqqara pyramids. It is actually a pretty pleasant place to walk around. It was pretty cool being right there when the call to prayer happened, as well. We took off our shoes to go inside the Alabaster Mosque. Inside is Mohammed Ali's tomb. (The ruler, not the boxer.) The inside is just amazing. The whole floor is covered with gorgeous carpet that has an intricate design all over it. The ceilings are covered in art. The chandeliers that hang down are breathtaking. Even the perfectly- shaped window coverings must have taken tons of effort. It was seriously gorgeous. After all that beauty, we went down to the Khan al Kalili market to buy some of our own. The market was originally a place where merchants passing through could stop, rest their caravans, and show off their wares. Today, it is a tourist trap. Every shop has tons of souvenirs- hookahs, belly dancing costumes, boxes covered in stone, shawls, and jewelry. It's a fun place for tourists to come and try to bargain for souvenirs, but I can't really see too many locals showing up to try to get a tambourine for just a little bit cheaper. Every shop has pretty much the same stuff as all of the others, so you really can bargain and still get what you want. My sister wanted a particular shawl, and one of the guys let her walk away when she offered 15 LE (about $3). So, at a nearby shop, she found the exact same shawl with the same pattern and offered 20 LE (about $4) with more success. In general though, the store keepers hawk their goods to you. As we walked by one shop, the retailer even shouted at us, "Belly dance? I have your size." Actually, on the way back, one of the places we passed was a similar-looking market, but instead of swarming with tourists, it actually had locals in it. As we passed the downtown, our guide explained the various other buildings to us. Some of the buildings had been rent-controlled for 80 years and people were paying what their great grandparents had. We passed the old synagogue as well, and I got some pictures of that. Ultimately, we had the driver take us to the Marriott, again, as we had to work out a plan to get to Luxor. When we got to the travel agency, our friend Amir wasn't there, and his colleagues were telling us that there was no hope. Not only had they not gotten us train tickets, now the flights were all taken. My sister didn't believe that they had tried to get us train tickets and kept saying that the lady in charge was intentionally trying to keep us from getting to Luxor, even though we would have hired their tour in Luxor, had they been able to get us there. I don't understand why she thought the lady wouldn't want our money, but we went to check on the internet to see what was available. By the time we checked and got back to the travel agency, our friend Amir was back. He offered to try to get us plane tickets and to keep checking for cancellations, which we appreciated. While he was doing that, we grabbed lunch at the hotel. It was just pizza, but at least it was Egyptian pizza with some sort of local greenery on top. At least where we went, the didn't really seem to have anything more Egyptian anyway. Upon return, we determined that we had 3 options: take the train, but sit instead of having a sleeper car; spend the night in Cairo and pay an extraordinary sum of money to fly through some other city tomorrow and only have half a day in Luxor; don't go to Luxor. Since Luxor was the whole reason I was in Egypt, I wanted to take the train, but my sister informed me that 1- she thought somebody would mess with her bags while she was sleeping (to which I countered that she can hold on to them as I would be; it's not like I want my stuff taken either) and 2- she would be so miserable that she would make my life miserable (to which I really couldn't respond). I knew that if we did decide to pay the money and only see half of Luxor, I would be upset about spending the money and not seeing it all. I would regret my decision, and I would never see the other half of Luxor. If I didn't go at all, I might be able to be tempted to go see it another time. So, it seemed like the right choice was to not go to Luxor. I was upset at the situation, but also at myself for not making sure that we were both on the same page about everything. I should never have taken the fact that we both had been on separate successful trips to other third-world countries to mean that we would be compatible on this one. Fortunately, I remembered that Shanaenae had been to Alexandria and really enjoyed it. As long as we were going to have to be in the Cairo area for another day, I thought it would be a good idea to book a tour to Alexandria. We did. Again, I wasn't sure whether to tip Amir for putting so much effort in for us, or not because it is his job to sell tours and I'm sure he made commission or whatever for the Alexandria tour we ended up booking. The whole tipping thing was a little hard for me to figure out. In any case, if you're in Cairo and need to book a tour, I highly recommend working with Amir at Misr travel in the Marriott, as he was very helpful, much more so than his colleagues. We went to catch a cab to our hotel, but was told that since it's just of the street, nobody really wanted to take us, and we should walk. So, we did. We got there and I noticed that our bags were not in a secure storage area like how most hotels store them. The only thing preventing somebody from walking in off the street and taking them was the bellhop, or maybe the front desk person. We asked for any room for 2 nights, and were told that they only had 1 bed, and not a 2-person bed. We were not very happy about that, but apparently there were conferences in town. They suggested going next door to the New President Hotel. I was ready to go look at the rooms, see if they were clean, secure, and reasonably priced, and then stay there if they weren't, but my sister wasn't even willing to look at the place since she hadn't read about it on the internet first. While I tried to argue that the purpose of internet reviews was for people who couldn't look at the rooms themselves to have something to go on when deciding where to book, and that since we were here in the flesh, we didn't need them, she wanted to stay at the Marriott. So, we went to the Marriott, which of course, didn't have any rooms either. We went online, booked the Novotel down the block, and then headed that way. By this time, it was dark. Even though the cab caller was suggesting we walk, I told him that since it was after dark, he could just get us a cab anyway. We checked into the Novotel, and went to our room. At first, I was pretty upset that we were spending money on amenities we didn't need. (I most certainly wasn't going to go to the pool.) However, we actually had quite a view of the Nile River, so that made me feel a little better. We spent the rest of the night in our hotel room, and got a good night's sleep before we had to get up to go to Alexandria.

Egyptian museum

Egyptian museum


at the Egyptian museum

at the Egyptian museum


at the Citadel

at the Citadel


Alabaster mosque

Alabaster mosque


Citadel window

Citadel window


Citadel ceiling

Citadel ceiling


view from citadel

view from citadel


market

market


View from the hotel

View from the hotel

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Egypt

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