Cairo: Touch the Antiquities!

Trip Start Nov 01, 2007
Trip End Mar 01, 2008

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I spent today at the Egyptian Museum, which houses some of the most famous works in the world in atrocious conditions.  Basically, everything is just scattered around warehouse style, with little or poor explanation, showing visible damage where tourists have obliged in their desire to touch a 3000 year old artifact.  It was kind of depressing...I'm all for countries keeping their own antiquities, but when they clearly cannot take care of them, I'm not so sure.  I mean, I leaned up against a case to get a better look, and the whole case rocked, sending the mummy inside teetering and dropping off pieces of cloth/human. 

The artifacts are incredible though.  Everything is exquisite, and in total abundance.  What would occupy its own room in the US is just one of many in a room.  The King Tut exhibit is as breathtaking as you would imagine, with only a small number of items listed as on the touring exhibit.  It literally doesn't put a dent in the collection.  The solid gold facemask was impressive, but also the 3 nested, gold plated rooms to hold the sarcophagus were pretty incredible.

I kept wandering through the museum, but was pretty much overwhelmed with all of the incredible pieces.  About this point, this guy approached me and started trying to befriend me.  This is absolutely stereotypical for someone who gives you a shitty tour and then exhtorts money.  I was friendly but not talkative, but the guy latched on to me and told me about how he was there to practice his English, blah blah blah.  Classic scheme.  I decided to keep wandering aimlessly, looking intently at the artifacts, in an attempt to be so slow as to piss off the guy and make him leave.  He stuck with me, and at the end, said it was nice to meet me, to enjoy Egypt, and instead of asking for money, just left.  Shows you how sterotypes are sometimes inaccurate.

Spent the afternoon wandering downtown.  It was at this point that my lungs really started to hurt from the smog that hangs over Cairo.  It has to be the dirties city in the world, with the dirty cloud making LA seem like clear skies. 

I went to a nice restaurant for lunch and my first experience with the "baksheesh" demanding attendants.  I think they just raid the TP and paper towels, and then sell them back to anyone who needs to use the restroom.  Annoying.  At least you only have to give them 50 piasters, which is about 8 cents.  My whole lunch was $7.  Definitely cheaper than Vienna.

My two new favorite words are "la, shukron" which means "no, thanks".  When you just speak a little Arabic, I think the street people and/or annoying scam artists don't mess with you as much.

That evening, I had to hide out a bit while Katie showed her apartment to a potential roommate.  She lives in a neighborhood with no Westerners, so having a male in the house with unmarried women is actually illegal.  I spent the evening walking around the Four Seasons and Grand Hyatt, two heavily guarded, glittering towers on the Nile.  The road between them is the only place that I've seen a crosswalk concept being enforced, although in this case by AK47 wielding tourist police.  So apparently these hotels are the hangouts of choice for wealthy Egyptians.  Everytime I walked through the metal detectors, I set them off, but because I was Western, nobody batted an eye.  This is a theme throughout Egypt.

We went to the bazaar-like area to check out the tourist and regular stuff...pretty cool.  We saw some beautiful woven silk carpets and inlaid wood chests while being harried by the vendors promising "best price, just for you" and assuring you that it was "free to look".  Katie replying in Arabic really makes people a lot less annoying :). 
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