National Museum / Old Cairo / Citadel / Pyramids at Night
We meet our guide, Soliman, today, and are thrilled by the fact that he has an excellent command of the English Language, and seems to be extremely knowledgeable. We leave the hotel at 9am, and several of the guys are only in short sleeves since we fully expect to return to the hotel before attending the Sound and Light Show at the Pyramids tonight.
It is a workday in Cairo, and the streets are jammed with traffic. We make our way slowly to the Egyptian National Museum, which is already packed with tourists waiting to enter. I feel sorry for Soliman once we commence touring, as there are so many groups that each guide has to shout to make
himself heard and there is a lot of competition and jockeying for positions so that groups can see the amazing artifacts on display.
Soliman does an excellent job of moving us efficiently through the mobs, and we get a great taste of Egyptian history and art. Of course the most dazzling exhibit is the gold room containing the treasures of King Tut. We also see eight mummies, including that of Ramses II, one of the most powerful of all Egyptian Rulers. They generally creep everybody out, but really must be experienced.
Our next stop is Old Cairo, with narrow and winding lanes. We visit an old Coptic Church that is known as the "hanging church" because of how it was built over a branch of the Nile in the past. There are relics (wrapped body parts) of ancient saints, and a very odd photo of a Coptic holy man at the entrance. We pop into an ancient Synagogue, and I overhear a couple of people mention that it is the first Synagogue they have ever been into in their lives! I love when people have "firsts" on Toto Tours!
Next we go to the Citadel, a high walled area of Cairo, to visit the Mosque of Mohammed Ali (the one I saw from the air flying into Cairo). We take our first group photograph, then sit on the carpets inside as Soliman talks about Mohammed Ali (a king of Egypt), and gives us an overview of Islam. It is fascinating to listen to him speaking about the religion while observing local people coming in to say their prayers.
It is nearly 3pm now, and we're starving! Egyptians usually have a tiny breakfast, a late lunch (which is their main meal of the day), and a late dinner (just before bedtime). We are learning to eat like Egyptians today. Our lunch is at a beautiful café owned by the Oberoi Hotel chain, and situated inside the famous Khan el Khalili Bazaar. It is very classic (and classy) Egyptian food, and we all get our fill of really wonderful Egyptian bread and condiments (yogurt, tahini, babaganous, tabouli-all spelled incorrectly no doubt), a delicious tomato soup, followed by a mixed plate of falafel, chicken, lamb and beef. There is baklava and some yummy custard things (cookie sized) for desert.
We enjoy a half hour to wander on our own through the bazaar, meeting back at the bus at 5pm. Given the horrible traffic and the fact that the guide would like to introduce us to a papyrus factory near the Pyramids, we simply cannot return to the hotel before the Sound and Light Show.
Everyone is an absolute trouper about the long day and the fact that some of them do not have jackets and are likely to be cold after the sun goes down.
Leaving the bazaar we cross by the City of the Dead (also known as the Dark City since there is no electricity there and it is pitch black after the sun goes down). It is a huge area of old tombs where poor, homeless people also live alongside the dead. The sun is going down, and our first glimpse of the Pyramids at a distance is in silhouette before a glorious sunset.
We spend a fun hour at the papyrus factory, enjoying the explanation of how this most ancient paper is made, shopping for gifts, and sipping coffee. At 7pm we go nearby to the site of the Sound and Light Show. We are all greatly amused by the band of Egyptian bagpipers playing things like "Amazing Grace" and famous Irish tunes. The show is less than an hour, but it is really quite frigid by the time it is done. Nevertheless, it has been a truly fantastic introduction to Egypt today, and everyone agrees that the tour is off to a wonderful start.
We return to the hotel at 9:30pm, and have an early start tomorrow. Most of the guys head straight for "Harry's Pub" but I set the wake-up calls, run out and purchase water, then retire to my room to blog and then sleep-grateful for a truly awesome day!