An Unexpected Day

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When we woke up this morning we really didn't have any plans.  We were supposed to go to the pyramids today, but since we did them yesterday we had nothing in line.  We went out to find some breakfast and found a walk up place right next to the restaurant we went to last night.  We ordered two pita sandwiches, one was bean and egg, and the other falafel.  I gave the cashier 5 pounds and she gave me 1.5 pounds back.  If you do the math, it is about a quarter per sandwich, not bad.
We ate breakfast out by the pool so I decided to jump in for a little bit.  You would think that since this was the middle east that a dip in the pool would be nice in the morning.  It was freezing.  The water was absolutely ice cold since the sun hadn't had a chance to heat it up for the day and we must have had another cold night.  With the pyramids in the background I stayed in as long as possible, which wasn't too long at all.  
Our original plan was to take an overnight train tonight to Luxor, but due to the whole revolution thing, the train stopped running for a little bit and we just thought it would be easier and safer and more reliable to fly to Luxor, so we booked another night in Giza and are flying out tomorrow.  The hotel we were at this morning was really nice, and out of our price range (why the prices would go up when it was empty and nobody is coming to Egypt, who knows) so we packed up our stuff and walked directly across the street to another hotel for the night.  The taxi drivers outside offered to give us a ride, but we tuffed it out.
We decided to go into town for the day and hired a taxi to take us into the city.  He gave us a pretty good rate, about half the price as the first guys we talked to.  On the ride there we figured out why.  The whole time he was trying to get us to hire him for the day.  We knew we were going to need a few rides, but kept refusing figuring we'd get a taxi from place to place.  The driver just kept lowering and lowering his price until eventually as we were about to get out of the cab he thew out 80 pounds for the day.  Taking out what we already owed him, it was less than $10 for the rest of the day.  It would have cost us twice as much on our own and we liked him, he was an old egyptian guy that has been driving cabs for over 40 years and spoke good English, so we took him up on it.
Our first stop was a place called The Citadel, which is pretty much a castle up on a high plateau in the middle of town.  In the center was a huge mosque for Mohammed Ali, who I guess was an important king or something here, and not just a boxer.  I'll be honest, we were a little nervous to go in the mosque.  We had never been in one before and didn't want to break any rules.  It ended up being pretty simple, you just take off your shoes and go in.  I don't think it was really a working mosque, since it was pretty much empty on the inside, but it had a huge vaulted ceiling with probably a hundred round lights dropped all the way down from it hanging in a circle overhead.  There were a few people there praying, but mostly it was just tourists hanging out sitting on the oriental rugs that covered the floor.  
There was a great view of the city from the citadel since it was far up hanging over a cliff.  Having never been to the Middle East before, it was different.  It is pretty much exactly what you'd expect Cairo to look like.  I don't know how to explain it, I guess I'll just put up a picture.
 There was a museum of Egyptian military history there that we spent some time walking though.  It was kind of interesting to see how long Egypt has been either controlled by or influenced by the West, mostly England.  We got a bag of chips and an Egyptian family walked by.  A little girl was looking at Jacki so she asked her if she wanted a chip.  She gladly came over and took one.
I guess this is a good spot to talk about what we think about the Egyptian people so far.  We don't really have a lot of experience with Muslim people except for a few friends back home, and there is obviously a lot of stigma related to how they react to Americans.  After the whole revolution thing here, I think everyone was a little nervous about us coming here at all.  I can honestly say though, that the people here have been without a doubt, the friendliest and most welcoming people that we have come across so far.  Not once have we felt in the very least threatened or unsafe.  We do get a lot of stares, since there aren't too many non-Egyptians here, but they are always followed with a smile and a wave.  I don't even know how many kids have come up to us and said "Hello!" to practice the English they've learned in school.  From there, we have actually had a chance to have little conversations with a lot of people so far, and as soon as they find out we are American, they light up.  It turns out that everyone here seems to think very highly of America.  Especially Obama, and we have gotten a few people say they didn't like George Bush much, but it is just so surprising to see how positively they view America.  Now I'm sure there are exceptions, like there are everywhere, and some of the people selling stuff can be pushy, but having been here for only a couple days, our first impression has been very very positive.  There are some people that probably don't like us at all, and maybe some of the other people are just being polite, but here is an example of how friendly they have been to us:
After the Citadel we headed to the big market in town called Khan El Khalilli.  Traffic was kind of bad so we walked a little way to the market and stopped at a small falafel joint for a bite to eat.  There were only a few small tables but we got one in the corner.  Soon after we sat down, a family of 4 came in, and since there weren't any tables left they sat with us.  The father was dressed in a suit, and with him was his wife and two kids.  He spoke pretty decent English and kept saying how happy he was to meet us and that we will eat with his family.  They brought over bread and sandwiches and bean dips and we talked the entire time.  I tried to offer to pay for it, but he had already paid for everything, including what we got, before even sitting down.  The kids, 3 and 4 years old, were a little shy at first, but eventually warmed up a little.  While talking to them they asked if we were dating, and when I said that we where married, they got even more excited than they were before.  They just kept saying how happy they were to meet us and that we are now their friends.  We talked about the Egyptian revolution and he said that everyone is happy and free now, and that if we would have came a few months earlier people would have not been as happy.  They offered us over for lunch the next day, which we politely turned down.  He said that he is a farmer, but we have a feeling that he was being pretty modest and that he owned many farms since he was dressed very nice and had mentioned all of the camels, horses, and cattle he had there.  After eating we took pictures, which the kids were very interested in.  The whole ordeal was probably the last thing we expected in that tiny place on a dirty busy Cairo street.  It was great though.
 The market was absolute madness.  It was nothing like a tourist market as we expected, there were people everywhere and everyone kept warning us of pick-pockets.   Afterwards, Jacki noticed that my back pocket was turned inside out, probably just a coincidence from the morning, but who knows.  I had everything locked tight in secret pockets so they didn't have any chance.  We bought a few nicknacks at the market and a few egyptian sweets.  Also Jacki bought a small box for cheap, but when we got back at night we noticed that the inside smelled like death (and I mean bad), so it'll be left behind.  
On the ride home the taxi driver bumped a car in front of him, the guy got out of his car but just waved it off, even though I know it broke the headlight on our car.  If I haven't mentioned what Cairo streets are like yet, they are bizarre.  There aren't any lanes, stop signs, or traffic lights, which we've gotten used to, but also you have to avoid the animals.  I have never seen so many animals in such a large city before.  There are 20 million people that live in Cairo but still there are donkeys pulling carts, people riding camels, we've even seen a couple people herding sheep and goats down the road.  Where all these animals go at night, I don't even want to know.  
All in all it was a very unexpected, foreign, surprising, great day. 
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Trooper on

Morr, morr; we wont morr! Hope y'all are enjoying Egypt. Sounds like dry heat is better than wet heat and breakfast can be running thru the street instead of outside the city... Be safe and enjoy your falafel.

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