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Wandering around Cairo
Unrest in a Beautiful Country
There has been a great deal of unrest in Egypt since the popular uprising of the "Arab Spring" of 2011. The example of Egyptian people asking for and then demanding civil rights and democracy galvanised the whole Middle East and encouraged popular revolution in many countries. Now it is hard to know what will happen in Egypt. Will the military gradually give over control to a democratically elected government? Will Egypt develop democratic, functioning political parties?Will the country become free, stable and economically viable?
I have visited Egypt twice and been very impressed with the warmth and vitality of the people I have met there. I have had a lot of fun in Egypt. I hope to return to a country when the Egyptians find creative non violent ways to create a society that works for them.
Cairo a City of Friendly People
I watched the people's revolution in Egypt on TV. Seeing the thousands of brave people in the central square I remembered my two independent trips to Egypt and Cairo. In both trips we took taxis and public transit to Cairo from Eilat Israel. People in Israel said not to go, that it was too dangerous. However I don't think it is any more dangerous than visiting Israel, or many other interesting countries like Mexico or America. The drive across the desert to the Suez Canal was a bit bleak and we hoped to see the Canal. However it is a well guarded military area so we saw nothing. Just high walls. There was a brief stop at a cafe where Marie-Belle tried a Hookah pipe for the first time. I was offered a puff but declined.
In Cairo I picked a cheap pension from " Lonely Planet Egypt". It was in a modern neighbourhood near the central train station. The taxi driver asked local people for directions and soon found our "hotel" above a shop in a neighbourhood of stylish shoe stores. The streets were packed with well dresses shoppers.
The elevator didn't work and the pension was the fourth floor of a former apartment building. The whole building was decrepit with peeling paint and worn out rugs.In the past it must have been luxurious and there were some lovely old furnishings. The man running the pension was friendly, the water was hot and the bed sheets worn but clean. It cost about $30 US for two of us and breakfast was included.
FRIENDLY FAMILY RESTAURANT
That night we were directed to walk around the block to a busy family restaurant for dinner. We spoke no Arabic and the polite families there didn't know much English. But between the waiters and the customers we were well fed on a tasty bean dish, a rice dish, salad and pudding desert with tea for about $2. each. I was wishing I could speak just enough Arabic to chat with the mothers and children who kindly shared their table with us.
The next day we walked to the National Museum of Egypt which was spectacular, especially the King Tut section. A well dressed man tried to convince us that the museum was closed. He said instead of seeing the museum we should visit his brother's jewelry store that was having a special sale just that day. We almost got sucked in. The museum was SPECTACULAR.
Later with advice from friendly people just outside the museum we easily found the city bus to the pyramids. It cost about 25 cents and went from right outside the National Museum to the suburb on the outskirts of Cairo that borders the pyramids. From where this pyramids bus stopped it was a short walk up the hill past cafes and souvenir stands to the pyramids. It was a nice area and looked like it would be fun to explore but we just walked past because we couldn't wait to see the pyramids.
Wandering around Cairo
After seeing the pyramids by city bus and visiting the National Museum we wandered the streets looking in stores. Since we were in a middle class neighbourhood the lager stores were all fairly western styled. The streets were very busy with traffic, and the sidewalks bustling with people. Many women wore stylish headscarves and a few had their faces covered. The shopkeepers of the tourist stores were friendly,if persistent. They have been selling to tourists for hundreds of years-since before the time of Alexander the Great. They are pros at the hard sell.Everyone wanted us to come in for tea and "Just look." Its actually a pleasant experience to have tea with one of these shopkeepers if you want some of his wares. Polite bargaining is a fine art in many stores.
Old Cairo Neighbourhood
The Lonely Planet Egypt recommended the Old Cairo mosque area. The taxi that took us passed a large synagogue. It was boarded up and guarded by Egyptian police. I guess there are not many practicing Jews left in Cairo these days. The taxi driver was very experienced with tourists, multi lingual and polite. He dropped us in the main square facing two large beautiful mosques. They were both peaceful and lovely inside with colored marble, stained glass windows and gracefull rooms opening into corridors and courtyards.
Outside on the street was a shop that served tea and pastry and another chance to smoke a hookah pipe if you wished. Marie-Belle had already tried a hooka on our trip to Cairo and I again declined the offer.
Behind the tea shop was a tourist market full of enough colorful clothes and artwork, jewelry,carpets and handicrafts to keep tourists happily shopping a long time. the prices were much lower than down town in the museum area. There were also shops for the locals Cairo residents to buy vegetables,pita,cheeses pastries, candy,live chickens and kitchen utensils. It seemed that every shop keeper wanted us to come in an have tea. Some were very very persistent and got on my nerves. I tried not to get riled by them and save my energy and attention for the bright and good humored Egyptians.
We wandered the winding old streets of this old neighbourhood finding schools and goat pens amid the shops and apartments. It was hectic on the main squares but quiet on the back streets. People were friendly and helpful. Once we got away from the main streets and busy traffic I liked Cairo. We met many warm, bright , well educated and well meaning citizens. I hope the people of Egypt can benefit from their courageous people's revolt. It will be wonderful if they are able to build their state in a way that works for them.
UP the Nile
LUXOR AND ASWAN are up river from Cairo, that is south towards Sudan. I have travelled to Luxor by bus and by taxi. In Luxor is the spectacular Luxor temple which is the most impressive site and its easy to see. We walked and bicycled there from our hotel.
Near Luxor are two more must see sites: Valley of the Kings-an excavated site full of tombs of rich and famous Pharaohs. Nearby are tombs of middle class people and also the temple at Valley of the Queen. We bicycled and hiked to these sites one day. If you go be sure to take lots of water as it can get hot in the desert.
Aswan is up river from Luxor. It is a scenic town where the main recreation is boating in the classic 'Fallucca" sailboats. The tourist office recommended a trustworthy captain and we enjoyed a beautiful overnight trip down the Nile back to Luxor.