Day 2: Coptic Cairo, Koshara, and the Nile

Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
Trip End Sep 04, 2008

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Monday, June 23, 2008

I slept so well last night and woke up at 8am, really happy to find myself not jet-lagged.  Today's plan was to visit Coptic Cairo early, rest in the hot afternoon, and go back out when it's cooler. Coptic Cairo is the traditionally Christian part of Cairo and has several churches and a museum.  It was only 6 stations away from the Nasser metro station, right by the hostel.  I must have gone during the rush hour because the station was bustling (and not nearly as much on the way back).  I went up to the ticket booth, repelled a guy trying to jump in front of me, and stuck a 1EGP bill out.  I got a yellow ticket in return. 

Fortunately, the cart that stopped in front of where I was waiting was one of the two women's only carts, with an obvious streak of the women's bathroom symbol across the carts.  The train was jam packed, so I would not have wanted to be crammed in with Egyptian men.  Instead, I was crammed in with and rubbing against Egyptian women, ALL of whom were in head-to-toe gears.  I am pretty sure that wasn't the case yesterday.  I believe the public transportation, like any other city, tends to cater to the lower-income population, who in turn tends to be more conservative.  In the wealthier parts of Cairo, people are probably less conservative.  The degree of attention I drew, which was quite large, varied depending on the places I was in and who I was with.  I will detail more about that later.

When I got off the train station, I directly facing the Coptic Museum.  It was 20EGP for students, so I decided to leave the option for later.  Right next door was the gorgeous hanging church.  The mosaic walls at the entrance were very colorful, and the way the rays of light illuminated the interior of church was so... holy.  There happened to be a mass going on, as it was Sunday morning, so I got the rare opportunity of observing it.  On the down side, I didn't get to go all the way inside and walk around the church.  I walked around other churches and synagogue, received a vial of holy oil from a nun, and accidentally stalked a couple holding hands and walking down the cemetary.  The cemetary was not luxurious or highly maintained, but the shades and the tomb decorations made it a nice walk.  some of the angel statues were absolutely gorgeous.  They seemed to have a Roman influence, with flowing garments and expressive faces.  I did not take a picture in respect to those who passed away.

After two hours, I was standing again in front of the train station and was left with desire for more Coptic action.  Conveniently, the museum was beckoning me.  If you did not like the Egyptian Museum because of its chaos, check out Coptic.  It is incredibly well organized, labeled and designed.  The themed sections had information in 3 languages at the beginning, and the artifacts were arranged in an aesthetically appealing and logical manner.  The building itself was very unique, with decorative ceilings, windows and balconies.  I saw 4 tour buses lined up outside letting out a mad crowd of people.

By the time I came back to the hostel, I was pretty exhausted from walking around in the heat. Salma came over a little later, and we hung out with three other people here- the main topic of amusement was the crazy girl, or The Jap.  It was funny how a Jewish boy, an Egyptian guy, and a Korean-American girl used the same phrase to refer to her, and everyone knew exactly who we were talking about.  Some of her quotes:

"Is there HIV in Egypt?  Because I need to get my nails done."
"I was sleeping in my room and then came out because I heard someone say, 'Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, there is a cute boy.'" -after bursting out into the lobby naked with a blanket wrapped around her.  People came in and saw her like that, and she later told them that she was "sleepwalking".

My friend's cousin also joined us, and we decided to go out for "koshara", a type of Egyptian food.  The one we went to was a short distance from the hostel and specialized in koshara.  Koshara was kind of like spaghetti with more texture and flavor.  It had noodles, macaronis, lentils, onions, mildly spicy tomato sauce, oil/vinegar mix type of thing, and something else.  I felt like I was doing a tasting on the travel channel.  It was really good!!!  The cousin was not too excited about it because I guess she eats it like Asians eat ramen noodles.  The place was filled with locals, and the owner tried to entertain me by doing some shoulder dance and whipping out a Cairo guide and showing off their ad.  Oh, he also turned on the TV advertisement for the shop really loudly. 

After that we walked over to Talaat Harb, a street with lots of shops.  I wanted to get a long flowy skirt (to fit in).  I just feel like a regular t-shirt and capris make me stick out so much, especially coupled with a hat and glasses.  I think the ideal outfit in Cairo- for me- would be a really long dark skirt and a long-sleeved linen tunic.  While sunglasses and hats top the what-to-pack-for-Egypt list for us tourists, the locals strangely don't wear them.  The Cousin was wearing a head-to-toe outfit as well.  I felt really cool walking with two Egyptians, and I figured I would receive less attention being with them but I was wrong.  I think if you are with a GUY, nobody gives you any crap.  We were in this small mall, and a group of guys were saying something.  The Cousin turned around and started machine gunning them with counter-attacks.  My friend tried to pull her back, and it was so intense!  Apparently the "Giza girls" really are tough and don't take no crap from anyone (there are stereotypes for different parts within Cairo).  It was also apparent that Egyptian guys bother local women too.  I thought it was only a foreigner-directed thing.  Is there an end to their sleaziness?  The only saving grace for me is that I don't understand what they're saying.  It's not desirable for a woman to argue with a man like that, but when it happens- this topic came up later in the hostel when we were all hanging- you ALWAYS side with women.  That's a good system in my opinion.

Then we went over to the biggest bridge on the Nile River.  I forget what it's called... A-something Nile.  The bridge was packed with people just hanging out, and I can definitely see why people would do that.  The sunset and wind had a nice cooling effect.  We walked over to the opera house on the other side of the Nile, and it was so neat!  There was a piano concert going on, and we could hear it from outside.  I really like this place.  I guess I do have a problem with those who call me "sinia" which means Chinese (I learned how to say "I'm not Chinese!").  It's weird because everyone asks me if I'm Japanese in English... maybe they think Japanese = Chinese.  I can't really blame them since if you gave me a mix of Middle Easterners, I would not be able to distinguish them.  I just don't know the cultures enough nor have I met enough of them to know the difference.

Tomorrow I am off to the PYRAMIDS (finally!) and Islamic Cairo.  That would wrap up Cairo for me.

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