Saturday, 20 August 2011

... Egypt: Walk Like An Egyptian

I started out in the morning once a). I'd corrected my watch to the proper time (no thanks to the air stewardess who got it wrong) and b). I'd refueled with breakfast (boiled egg, figs, bread & coffee) with plans to pay a visit to Islamic Cairo. I think I'd walked about 3 blocks in the blazing heat before I flagged down a taxi. Not everyone knows what "the Citadel" is and so I was advised to instead ask for the Mosque of Mohammed Ali. I also agreed a price before getting in. Soon we were whizzing through the streets of Cairo at light speed in a vehicle that resembled a skip on wheels. My cabbie delighted in trying his broken English on me and in return trying to teach me some Arabic. A very useful phrase I am certain will be "No, thank you". The more "modern" Cairo disappeared as Islamic Cairo took it's place with some amazing architecture.

At the eastern edge of the city is where you'll find what was home to Egypt's rulers for 700 years. The Citadel began construction in 1176 by Saladin in a bid to fortify the city from the Crusaders and with additions by the Mamluks, Ottomans, Napoleonic French and Mohammed Ali it now houses a collection of 3 very different mosques, several palaces and terraces with views over the city. it also became a military garrison where the British Army were barracked during WWII and parts of it to this day are used by the Egyptian Army. You pay an entrance fee of LE50 which also includes entrance into the Police & Military Museums.

The Mosque of Mohammed Ali, a mosque that took 18 years to build, dominates the fortress. Entrance is via its marbled courtyard and inside is a vast array of twinkling lights. The south end of it affords some great, although usually hazy, views of Cairo in particular the huge Mosque of Ibn Tulun and today was no exception. My snot is already running black which I'm sure paints a pretty picture.




The smaller and 500+ year older Mosque of An-Nasir Mohammed is a little sparse inside because it's marble was stripped by an Ottoman sultan.

As expected you remove your footwear upon entering and some Mosques, as I found out later at Al-Azhar, want your entire arms & head covering if you are female.

Al-Azhar Mosque and Khan al-Khalili were my next port of call. A quick (and very cheap) cab ride there and I was fully immersed in the core of the medieval city. You are overcome by aromas of livestock, spices, petrol and sewerage as you weave your way in amongst the street vendors, donkey-drawn carts and merchants selling everything from stuffed toy camels to gold and spices. Of course the previous days annoyances were even more rife here, "Hey pretty lady where are you from? Come look for free". The best way to brush it off was by wearing sunglasses so that even if you can't resist the temptation to look at the person they will never know. That and silence. Yes, an Ice Queen facade works wonders! I suspect that almost anything can be bought here. I had wanted to visit Fishawi's Coffeehouse but it was closed during the day due to Ramadan. In fact finding food was proving to be a real problem as a result and I was starting to get hungry. One of the most sacred Islamic sites in Egypt is here, the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein. As I arrived prayer was just beginning and so it was interesting to watch people arrive for that. Prayer meant I had to wait to enter the Mosque of Al-Azhar but the caretaker was kind enough to tell me when and also loan me a full length robe to enter. This has been the centre of Sunni Islamic education for more than a millennium and is one of Cairo's earliest mosques. The marble floored central courtyard Is a fantastic place to stand and soak in the atmosphere plus burn the soles of your feet as you gaze up at the three minarets added in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries respectively.

I decided to walk back to downtown. It's a little tricky in parts namely because you can become disoriented namely trying to not get killed when crossing any road. But aside from one incident of walking in a circle twice I made it back safe n' sound, gagging for a cold drink yet minus a stuffed toy camel.

I stopped off at my first night digs to collect my backpack and then it was back on the road to my next hotel in the Doqqi area which would require me crossing the Nile by two bridges. Lunch came in the form of a packet of peanut M&M's, two chugged down glasses of orange juice and a whole bottle of water. I'm pretty certain I squelched as I walked down the street towards Midan Tahrir. It was pretty cool crossing the Nile and admittedly for a brief nanosecond I thought about how lovely and refreshing it would be to join some kids swimming in it. But then I thought about Nile crocodiles which naturally became an entire lame Hollywood horror movie played out in my head. They had to be "mutated and with laser beams on their fricking heads" naturally. Hey, if you can have a movie about a sharktopus....! Don't ask... It was likely heat exhaustion getting to me.




Stuffed at dinner on a wonderful cumin-lentil soup, salad and a drink made from lemon & mint, it was easy to fall into bed for an early night to rest up for a day to come of all things Pharaonic... And may be a camel thrown in there for good measure.

The Pyramids of Giza await my sheer awe and wonderment.....


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